The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Bits and Pieces

This fantastic map has the names of 181 British authors all over it, forming the places that they are associated with, and you can buy it at The Literary Gift Company as a poster. You can also see it in more detail too. It may help with decisions for our future literary holiday locations. There is also a USA version, and the website has brilliant gift ideas for anyone who loves books.

The Bluecoat Centre in Liverpool is hosting its Chapter and Verse Literature Festival from the 13th to 17th October. The festival is following the theme of 'A New England' this year. There are various talks, debates and workshops taking place.

I went to see the new Jane Eyre Film last week. It is one of my favourite books so I do not tire of watching a new movie or TV version. This one is really beautifully shot, atmospheric with gorgeous locations. Mostly enjoyable but there is something missing between Rochester and Jane here. Their relationship seems rushed and inevident, in a story that thrives on sexual tension and hidden passion, I just did not feel it which was a shame.

Bloomsbury have an extensive part of their website dedicated to reading groups, including reading group guides to many books that are worth checking out, if only to see which ones you have read.

Finally, I am still reading The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton and loving it. I have wanted to read it for ages and it is not disappointing so far. Look out for my review when I have finished it.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920

After a little break during August I am back on schedule with this Literary Theory book that I have been making notes on each month.

We covered Englishness and Spies in July so it is time to cover chapter 12 in Part II and chapter 13 in Part III.

Chapter 12 - Awakenings

Books that sold a minimum of 50, 000 copies were known as a bestseller but this was not always a good label. They did however promise more than entertainment, and this could have been in the form of spirituality or instruction of faith. Sexuality could sell books as long as it was presented as regenerative. Regeneration could be acheived if the character was saved from a kind of inertia resulting in lack of character. In the female character this was the bland condemnation caused by marriage or spinsterhood. Awakening of desire in females was considered to be powerful and essential at the same time, but more dangerous and less contained within the bounds of social and literary decency.

As the numbers of female readers grew the liberation of modern young women in fiction ensured a bestseller. Desert romances became popular, telling the stories of violent sexuality and mysticism in the French Sahara. The muscular desert men will make the city female all woman. Acknowledgement and celebration of desire are where these novels are closest to serious fiction. E M Forster and D H Lawrence both explored the awakening of desire in women. and exploit the romantic stereotype to this end, exploring as well as denigrating it. Romance needed to be broken to acheive sexual awakening in women. Mystycism supercedes romance.

There are parallels between Freuds studies on the sexual fantasies in women and Lawrence's novels, particularly The Rainbow and Women in Love, polarities of character which develop sexual maturity. There is also a lot of imagery involving horses, being broken in violently, like the women, or stallions being ridden by women. Lawrence criticises 'half-heartedness' or a 'sort of rottenness in the will' in womens characters. This degeneration can be reversed by a sexual awakening.

Part III The Psychopathology of Modernism

Chapter 13 - Sex Novels

There were 2 preoccupations in fiction at the end of the 19th century, desire and disgust, and the Edwardians were no strangers to either. There was however more attention being bestowed upon these elements at this time. The prominence of regeneration theories ensured an equal amount of attention given to 'rottenness' and 'images of monstrosity' (p197), Mr Hyde, Moriarty, Count Dracula, the picture of Dorian Gray and Kurtz in the jungle, are just some examples. However Edward Garnett (a literary advisor) advised that sex novels were valuable because they challenged the norm.

There were two movements of this type of novel: the first being New Woman novels of the 1890's which were seen as a threat to the institution of marriage. The second wave was linked to the suffrage movement around 1905. Sex novels should not be too closely allied with the womens movement however, but the exploration of women's sexuality was prominent, and causing a lot of controversy.

The most ambitious and influential novel regarding a female character, who not only found herself in sexually charged situations and consequences, but also elicited a sexual response from every male character and the narrator as well, was Tess from Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

Another contraversial book at the time was The Blue Lagoon by H de Vere Stacpoole, about an adolescent boy and girl shipwrecked on an island. Sexual gratification takes place, unusually, before any real desire, being a mechanical instinct in the first instance. Desire and exploration comes later, making this novel a departure from convention.

Representing the body in new ways was another angle that the Edwardian writers took. Erotic detail came out of minute detail. The Victorians had become preoccupied with scars in description, expressing moral identity. The Edwardians developed this as a provocation to desire giving 'bodies a new presence in fiction' (p203). There was also the offence caused by H G well's Ann Veronica because a woman made advances to a man.

Morality was increasingly being regulated by the state, with many initiatives being born to clean up any influences that were thought to be amoral. Criminal law was being used to reform public morality and erotic fiction became a target with lots of outcry and bannings. Censorship was not a government concern so pressure had to be exerted by the public.

It seems that passages were taken from books and paraded as amoral, but many of these were taken out of context. Lesbian undertones, alluded to in The Rainbow by Lawrence for example, were assumed by the author to be explainable by characteristic context, but the opposition did not see the passages in this way.

Any writing that included sexual activity as a means of procreation were seen as justified, it was recognition of sexuality that was frowned upon. Sex was not to be equated with pleasure. Terrorism, spies and perversion were all seen as social decay and therefore a threat to society and the human race.

Contemporary works that illustrate the above points include...

A Room with a View by E M Forster

Women in Love and The Rainbow by D H Lawrence

Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

The Blue Lagoon by H. de Vere Stacpoole

Ann Veronica by H G Wells

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Look out for the next 2 chapters in October!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

One Day by David Nicholls

This book has proved quite a hit on our novel holidays, being a recommendation and a lucky dip choice, so when someone else, who came with us this year, bought it for me last Christmas, it seemed appropriate to read it while away in Dorset. I thought I would finish it there, but actually finished it in Sweden.

Telling the story of Dexter and Emma, who meet on the last day of university in 1988 and remain friends over the next 20 years, we catch up with them on the same day each year, 15th July, St Swithins Day. As each chapter ends you jump another year ahead for the next one, and find out what is happening with them both and their relationship with each other.

Told with lots of humour, and wry observations of couples in the modern age, the concept of advancing a whole year with each chapter invites cliff hangers, pre-empting of plot, and lots of anticipation in the reader. It is a clever ploy, and works excellently here. The book is clever without being over complicated.

The ease with which the pages turn allows you to bond with both characters completely. You feel as if you know them, or have known someone like them, and become involved very early on. We are allowed into their secret feelings and will them together. Some of the other characters are very well developed too, Dexters mother, Emma's excrutiating boyfriend Ian, or the robotically imperfect Sylvie, making this book a very satisfying read. It is not slushy or sentimental, but identifiable, funny and engaging.

I really enjoyed taking Emma and Dexter on both of my holidays. In fact it was the perfect holiday book, easy to read, as well as to put down and pick up. I laughed out loud a couple of times, and there was a chapter near the end that made me cry openly. The nostalgia from the 1980s and '90s was also a pleasure, and the last chapters completed the book really well. Someone I work with was also reading it at the same time and we shared some of the same scenes that stuck in our minds. It is now out as a film so it will be interesting to see how they have interpreted it.

I really enjoyed it and will recommend it. I would also love to read another by the same author. If you are in the mood for something warm and moving, spanning life in England from the 1980's, not too taxing but very entertaining, then give this book a go.

You can read about this book and the others by David Nicholls on his website by using the link.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye