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

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter

Steaming through this Literary Theory book that I found unread at the beginning of the year, it is time for the next two chapters.
We covered Awakenings and Sex Novels in September. We now move on to chapters 14 and 15...
Chapter 14 - Disgust
While sex was being used to sell books, feelings of disgust were also being used in literature of the day to provoke reaction in the reader, particularly in the popular genre of detective stories. Disgust is an involuntary reaction, complete and spontaneous, and often influenced by cultural parameters. Different cultures find different things disgusting.
A good example is the description of an open wound on the drivers leg as he transports Tess and Angel to their wedding in Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. It is deliberately placed by the author, especially as Tess and Angel cannot see it, but we as readers are made to think on it as something out of place. We instantly react to it, and Hardy clearly uses it as a literary device.
Disgust was also used to distinguish class, with lowly work having its own sights and smells giving rise to reaction, and a certain elevation of feeling in the higher classes. Revulsion can also signify change of character for the worst, or as a reaction by another character. We cannot control our feelings of disgust and this gave authors a 'point of entry into the subconscious'. (p217).
Reactions of disgust come into their own in detective novels, describing violence, death or bad character. Death was central to these novels instead of sex, and the physical disgust of a corpse is mirrored by the moral disgust of a murder, and these are powerful emotions to use. Murders are messy, hinting at violence, inciting horror and also fascination. Corpses are dirty and the detective has to sift through the dirt to solve the murder. The detective, in contrast, like Sherlock Holmes, is emotionally unattached, clinically precise and very British. The epitome of deduction and control, and therefore the antithesis of the chaos of crime.
Chapter 15 - Henry James's Odd Women
Henry James wanted to expand his literary prowess by attempting to write from the point of view of characters most unlike himself. So during 1896 and 1899 he wrote a series of novels from a womans viewpoint.
An obvious example of these novels is The Turn of the Screw, a ghost story provoking horror and revulsion, and told through the point of view of the governess employed to take charge of two children in a seemingly haunted house.
There are arguments that this is not a ghost story, but one of hysteria and sexual repression, but James' own notebooks concentrate on the feeling of evil and corruption from across a divide. The devil is duplicitous and the 'two devils' in James' novel replicate this. Also there is the repetition of possession as the children become the medium for the two ghosts. Horror can be connected to disgust and James was clearly intrigued by this.
In The Turn of the Screw and also What Maisie Knew both used social and sexual vulgarity, of 'classes mingling promiscuously' (p241) to evoke feelings of disgust. The women in these novels are vulnerable because they stand at the gate through which vulgarity pours. Their strength in this position does not count. Other than their refusal of desire and revulsion they are denied their own identity. This makes them unique in the fiction of the period.
Contemporary works that illustrate the above points include...
Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Ulysses by James Joyce
The Sherlock Holmes novels of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
What Maisie Knew by Henry James
The next two chapters will be covered in November.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Our Sweet Little Time: a year in haiku by Hamish Ironside

It has been a while since I recommended a Haiku poetry book and indeed since I got a new one. Inpress Books are an online bookstore for independent publishers and have a great collection of Haiku books. The prices are reasonable with free postage in the UK and now they also operate a loyalty scheme.

Every now and then they e-mail me promotions and it was from one of these that I picked up on this little treasure. It follows a year in Hamish's life, month by month, in Haiku poems and accompanied by illustrations by Barnaby Richards. The poems offer snapshots, thoughts and observations of monthly events, including the birth of his daughter.

This is a lovely book, I love contemporary Haiku and I found many of these already among my favourites. The book as a whole is a complete set of intricate parts that fit so well together.

The best Haiku are those that, for 3 lines, can provoke emotional reactions. Even when their subject is sad the best ones can issue a warmth from the strength of feeling in such a tiny compact form. There are many of these in this book.

I love Haiku and have done for a long time. Our Sweet Little Time is an excellent and welcome addition to my collection and I will dip into it often.

Recommended for Haiku fans, and also for those new to this form of poetry.

You can check out the British Haiku Society by following the link.

You can also read excellent Haiku poetry online at sites such as The Herons Nest.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

This was one of the titles I received on the Book Blogger Holiday Swap from last Christmas. Annabel Gaskel from Gaskella was my Secret Santa and the book was one of a number of goodies that made their way to my house. I started it while I was on holiday in Sweden and I have wanted to read it for some time.

Set in New York during the late 19th century, the novel follows the tightly knitted and highly constrictive society of the rich and privileged, governed by manners, etiquette and duty. This is a world where nothing is said outright, communication is subtle and with few surprises. Their lives are mapped out for them, and their biggest fear is any kind of discrepancy that would mean a blight on their families good name.

The narrator explains the intricate hierarchy of families while introducing us to the main players while attending the opera. Our main character, Newland Archer, handsome, successful and from a respected family, is soon to announce his engagement to May Welland, pretty, dutiful and from another good family, when the arrival of her cousin Ellen, throws a cat among the pigeons. The Countess Ellen Olenska, beautiful with bohemian leanings, was a childhood friend of Newland's, but has lived in Europe after marrying a Russian Count. Ellen's return, after the breakdown of her marriage, causes the New Yorkers tongues to wag, especially as her ways are not those of the families she had left behind. As her family try to support her, while limiting the damage her presence can do to them, Newland and May agree to bring their engagement forward in order to deflect public opinions of Ellen. Newland, however, has begun to question the constraints of duty and longs for a freer view away from duty. When he is asked, as a lawyer, to advise the Countess against seeking a divorce, an act that would do untold damage to her and taint her family, Newland finds himself becoming helplessly drawn to Ellen, and she to him.

I started this book not knowing how I would find it. I saw the movie with Daniel Day Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer years ago, so I knew it was not an action packed affair, relying on the agonies of restraint, suppressed passion and the unsaid. A few people have said that they had to suffer its boredom on college literature courses, so I was very pleasantly surprised to find a lot of humour right at the beginning, while the narrator gives us a wry view of the great and the good. I found myself reading passages out to friends because I found it unexpectedly funny. The names are fantastic...Newland Archer, Lawrence Lefferts, Sillerton Jackson, and there seems to be a constant twinkle in the eye of the storyteller.

The sumptuous interiors of the houses and the expectations in behaviour are fascinating, and as alien as an anthropological study of an ancient tribe from a rainforest. Where this novel shone for me was the breathless intensity of forbidden feeling between Newland and Ellen, and the stifling lack of honest expression between Newland and May.

There were times where this compression of feeling was painful. On leaving Ellen after a brief meeting, where his feelings, as yet inexpressed and new, threaten to engulf him, this is a man who is surrounded by those who frown on feeling anything much,

'He bent and laid his lips on her hands, which were cold and lifeless. She drew them away, and he turned to the door, found his coat and hat under the faint gas-light of the hall, and plunged out into the winter night bursting with the belated eloquance of the inarticulate.'

The language is elegant and succinct, and I enjoyed reading this book very much because of it. I am guessing it was the suppression of feeling that made you, the reader, feel so much when it was alluded to. It is clear that Newland adores Ellen, it is shouting out of him, silently. His examination of his feelings for May are equally painful.

This is not a book for those who like pace and movement. It is populated by detail and stiff characters, dictated to by endless tradition. I can see why some, who are made to read it, view it with dread and boredom. I however really enjoyed it. Its lack of outer feeling made me feel so much. It reminded me of Jane Austen's witty and detailed examinations of the well off. I liked the historic setting, in a world changing so fast and desperately hanging on to their values for fear of any alternative.

Recommended for classics fans and those who enjoy historic society novels, and Jane Austen fans looking for something different.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

September Roundup

I was hoping to post as usual last week but a nasty cold waylaid me and I find myself at the end of another month. It is my favourite time of year and I often feel hugely nostalgic because I have vivid memories of going back to school wrapped up against wind and rain, kicking through leaves, when I was a child. Now I am older autumn means moving from the garden to spend more time in the kitchen, baking, preserving and making hearty meals.

But how has the reading been going?...

Read - 3/4 of my book

Completed - none, but I'm not far off

Currently Reading - The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox

TBR Pile - still at 110 (according to GoodReads) with no more added this month after a lot of new books in august.

Challenges -

I am close to the end of The Age of Innocence which was #2 on my personal challenges this year.

I covered chapters 12 and 13 in The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920, the literary theory book that I have been making notes on each month.

Wishlist Additions -

The Leper by Sigmund Brouwer

Mice by Gordon Reece

The Secret World of Slugs and Snails: Life in the Very Slow Lane by George Gordon

The Contagious Power of Thinking by David Hamilton

The Taker by Alma Katsu

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Discoveries -

The Literary Gift Company, a website that sells the ideal gifts for your book reading friends and family.

Events -

This years Chapter and Verse Literary Festival starts at the Bluecoat in Liverpool on the 12th to 17th October.

Hopefully there will be a few more books under the belt by the end of October.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye