Tag Archives: literature

New job. New book. New mantra…

Firsty, for those of you looking in for a review of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters as promised at the end of my last post, well, there has been a change of plan. Rather than a review, this post is more of an update about what’s been going on with my reading life over the past few weeks.

commuter readA little over a month ago I began a new job and happily anticipated poring over the pages of Wives and Daughters during my new rather heftier commute. My intentions were good. After the first couple of weeks of work, it became abundantly clear to me that Wives and Daughters  was not a book I was going to especially enjoy reading. Within two chapters I was forced to acknowledge to myself that I was, well…bored. Never mind, I thought, I’ll soldier on, I’ve done it before with other books. Then my attitude began to shift. This, I think, is where I began to draw a distinction between reading at home in my armchair, and reading at bus stops and on buses. Continue reading

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On Jane Austen’s doorstep…

Austen doorIt’s been roughly two years since I posted about having moved to a new town and, surprise, surprise…I’ve done it again. This time I have moved south to the beautiful Georgian city of Bath. Those of you who are familiar with my love of Jane Austen can imagine, I’m sure, how excited I am to be walking the same streets she walked.

Austen plaque Bath

Not a stroll goes by without me spying a street name mentioned in Northanger Abbey or recognising a location from Persuasion. And I’ve become rather a pain when it comes to spotting and reading the little historical plaques that adorn the buildings in Bath  in which famous men and women have lived or stayed. Only the other day I made my long-suffering other half cross Great Pulteney Street in excess of four times in order to check if any of the plaques mentioned anything about Austen.

Great Pulteney Street © Charlotte Jones, 2014I thought, therefore, with the landscape, literally, on my doorstep that it was only polite to re-read Austen’s two novels which are largely set in Bath. Naturally, there is no self-interest whatsoever in my having to read two Austen novels. Cough cough. Continue reading

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Filed under 19th century, Books, Fiction, Jane Austen, Novel, Re-reading, Reading

A fine, stout love…reading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

“You must give me leave to judge for myself, and pay me the compliment of believing what I say.”

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

If you have visited In my good books… before then it’s likely you’ll be aware of my love affair with Jane Austen and, more specifically, Pride and Prejudice. I’m well aware that many people consider a woman who likes Jane Austen to be something of a cliché, and I am subsequently conscious of the fact that my owning up to it may cause people to form certain judgements about me. I’m not quite sure when confessing to liking Austen made you a hopeless romantic who must, without exception, be neurotically in love with Mr Darcy, but that is the reaction I have frequently encountered. It’s my opinion that Colin Firth and Bridget Jones probably have a lot to answer for.

Most little girls fall in love with ponies or pop stars…for me it was Elizabeth Bennet. I read Pride and Prejudice at a comparatively young age and it was love-at-first-page. Not only did I find a heroine to look up to, but I also encountered some of the most enjoyable prose I have ever read. I have subsequently lost count of the number of times I have read Pride and Prejudice; a re-reader by nature, my copy of Pride and Prejudice has never been left on the bookshelf for a whole year.

Jane Austen has been a good teacher. She has taught me to value good grammar. She has widened my vocabulary. She has increased my love of reading. She has given me a greater appreciation of people and how their minds work. She has taught me to pay close attention to what others say and what they do (and what they don’t say and do). She has taught me that love comes in many forms and is never simple. She has helped me to understand the importance of responsibility. Above all… “which perhaps I ought to have mentioned earlier”… she has taught me that people have within them the capacity to change, and that it is within our power to determine the nature of that change.

Pride and Prejudice is a story about judgement. The novel primarily addresses the judgements we make about others but also dwells on the ways in which we see and judge ourselves. Austen’s novel is deftly littered with ‘clues’ and ‘giveaways’ which skilfully denote the true nature of her characters. There are many examples of characters saying one thing and then doing the exact opposite…Wickham’s avoidance of the Netherfield ball, Mr Bennet’s proclamation that Wickham and Lydia will never be admitted to Longbourn and Lady Catherine’s declaration that she would have been a proficient piano player. Darcy, by contrast, is held up as that rare example…someone whose bark is worse than their bite…he may speak rudely, but his actions reveal him to be a better person than he appears. He asks Elizabeth to dance at the Netherfield ball, he respects and likes Mr and Mrs Gardiner, he confesses his deceptions to Bingley, and he loves Elizabeth.

If Pride and Prejudice was merely a plainly written story, its engaging plot and endearing characters would make it eminently readable; but, as it is, Austen’s style of writing renders Pride and Prejudice unique. I’ve always felt that Austen’s writing in general, but Pride and Prejudice especially, has a distinctive rhythm, a beat which I have never encountered in any other book. Right from the outset that immortal line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” carries that unique rhythm and bounce. Austen’s narrator is also no babysitter. Austen never spoon-feeds her readers telling them what to notice when, or pointing out character’s errors of judgement – it is up to the individual reader to notice and understand the events and conversations taking place.

I cannot let this review pass without paying homage to Austen’s characters, they truly are expertly and lovingly (or, in some cases, loathingly) written. Like Austen’s other novels, Pride and Prejudice has some real gems. Take, for example, Mr Collins, who never fails to make me smile. He is the perfect mix of obsequiousness and absurdity – he is…funny. Indeed, those who have never read Pride and Prejudice could be forgiven for imagining it to simply be a romance about a rude man, a few ball gowns and some big houses – what they miss is the fact that Pride and Prejudice is genuinely funny, full of intrigue and immeasurably witty. It frequently makes me laugh out loud.

Lastly I must mention the inimitable Elizabeth Bennet. No other heroine, or perhaps real woman, will ever live up to her. She has spoilt me forever. I hungrily turn the pages of each new book that I read, searching for another Elizabeth – another woman with her wit, her self-conviction, and her teasing manners – I have not found one. Although, she is by no means perfect, Elizabeth is never idle in her quest to better understand herself. Throughout Pride and Prejudice we see her finding out new self-truths and learning from her mistakes, bettering herself. With every read, Elizabeth makes me more determined to be sure of myself, speak my mind and enjoy what life offers me. Austen does not suffer wallow-ers gladly.

If you have not read Pride and Prejudice I urge you to do so. I believe it is timeless, and that if you take the time to penetrate what could, to some, seem like wordy 19th century prose then the rewards are endless. At the end of my rather battered Penguin Classic comes the ‘Notes’ section of the book, it states, “It is perhaps worth commenting on just how little requires, or would profit from, annotation in this book” – although published nearly two hundred years ago Austen’s novel still only requires four footnotes to aid the modern reader – there are not many books that could boast that. Some might say this is because Austen’s novels are inward-looking family narratives not concerned with the world outside and this is undeniable, however, if a novel can teach you about what governs our actions as human beings and teach us how to examine our own faults, then I find it hard to acknowledge it as introverted.

Put simply, I love Pride and Prejudice, ardently, and always will.

“Laugh as much as you choose, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion.”

I read this book as part of the ‘Back to the Classics Challenge’ in the category of ‘Re-read a Classic’.

Having earlier reviewed Nancy Mitford’s novel The Pursuit of Love, I move on to its companion novel Love in a Cold Climate.

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Working words…a review of Art Objects by Jeanette Winterson

As this post’s title suggests I have to confess a diversion away from my intended course of reading. Faced with the reality of having to return a book by Jeanette Winterson (one of my very favourite writers) to the library without reading it, I have deviated. Instead of my review of When God was a Rabbit (forthcoming), you now find yourself reading my review of Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery…not the most catchy of titles, I grant you, but it does have something, I think.

The book contains nine essays conveying Winterson’s ideas relating to writing, painting, drawing, music and more. Art Objects is Winterson’s take on, well, art objects; but that makes the book sound rather clever and serious – which it is – but I don’t want to imply that it is just clever and serious…it is so much more.

“Learning to read is more than learning to group the letters on a page. Learning to read is a skill that marshals the entire resources of body and mind…the ability to engage with a text as you would another human being. To recognise it in its own right, separate, particular, to let it speak in its own voice, not in a ventriloquism of yours. To find its relationship to you that is not its relationship to anyone else….Art is the realisation of complex emotion.”

Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery

I find it rather a complicated book to review. I think this is because it deals with concepts and ideas which I have not yet reconciled within myself. That is to say, I don’t know what I think and, as such, find it difficult to evaluate what Winterson believes. But if Winterson is to be believed then the act of reading art should be difficult. Art Objects is a book that poses a lot of questions and, for me, anyway, Winterson has the happy talent of being able to express her own opinions without demanding that her reader either accept or reject them as their truth.

“The worst nineteenth-century drudge could at least depend on eternal life. The twentieth-century robot depends on lasting until retirement.”

Winterson’s take on art in the twentieth (and, supposedly, twenty-first) century is both insightful and inciting. Her vision shows us trudging through our lives – forming an orderly line from the cradle to the grave – stopping only to visit the supermarket, watch the TV and sleep. Her predictions of libraries as museums and stories written in the language of the soap opera present a very dreary image of the present and a disturbing projection of the future. Her ardent fear of books merely as a simulation of life is obvious…I quake to think what she would make of my addiction to the computer game the Sims (a world where language and words have been sifted down to a series of options between two characters); and yet…only the other day when one of my Sims gave birth to twins, I can honestly say that the dismay, worry and stress I felt were equal to any emotion art has ever created in me.

If you are or have ever considered yourself a writer then this book is something you should read. I say should read, but perhaps I mean must? It is immensely thought-provoking, it challenges you and it makes you ask questions of yourself as a writer…it also makes you evaluate your motives and ideas. It shoves you into taking a step backwards and compels you to see yourself for the writer that you are. For me, this book made me see that I have only really dipped my toes into the bottomless pool of writing and that perhaps I should learn a little more about the nature of the pool before I attempt to swim. This book also comforted, thrilled and terrified me in equal measure…but perhaps it wouldn’t hold such potency over someone who has not attempted to put pen to paper and create.

But Art Objects is not merely a book for those who write, it also has much to offer those who read (and to a lesser extent those who paint, draw or appreciate art in its non-literary forms). I’m not saying that all of this book will be relevant to anyone who has ever read or appreciated art. There will be parts of it that do not sing to your tune. For me, it was Winterson’s essay on ‘The Psychometry of Books’ that I took issue with. In this essay Winterson tells us of her love of book-collecting. As someone who finds themself incapable of discarding any book, I thought I might relate a little better to Winterson on this topic than I did, alas, it is here that she and I disagree. Winterson extols the virtues of physical books and whilst I do agree with her about the relationship a reader develops with a particular book (every books weighs and smells the same on a Kindle), I refuse to accept that a signed first-edition is of more value to the reader than a Penguin classic…but (to quote match.com) that’s just me. It also depends on your notions of value…but that’s a different beast altogether.

I’m conscious of the fact that I don’t want to end this review on a negative. I don’t agree with everything Winterson writes and I think, perhaps, the difference in our age has come between us a little in my reading of this book (something she’d probably see as an insult to her writing), but believe me when I say that this book has made me think about myself as a reader and as a writer more than any other book I have read since beginning this blog. I am still in total awe of Winterson as a writer, she is a true sculptor of words. Whether you agree with her meaning or not, for me, no other living writer relates to words as she does, there is no one so capable as Jeanette. No author so precise, so constant, so unrelenting when it comes to the beauty of a sentence.

She understands language as art and, therefore, creates it. She has faith in imagination and, therefore, hers runs free. Prior to reading Art Objects, I thought I had made that leap of faith where imagination and art are concerned…in reading this book I’ve come to realise that though my feet have left the ground I have a long way to go before I land safely on the other side where the likes of Winterson, Woolf, Tolkien and Austen stand, calling me on.

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Filed under 20th century, Books, Jeanette Winterson, Non-fiction