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Incoming Podcast!

A photo of a microphone

This photograph was taken by Chris Engelsma.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been contacting authors, re-reading books, and creating questions. I had been wanting to start a podcast for a long time but put it off because of silly worries. I finally got myself in gear, said enough was enough and it was time to get it done.

I’m excited to announce that episode one of The Worm Hole podcast will be uploaded next Monday, 28th October. The guest is Nicola Cornick. We recorded the episode on the 16th and it was a lot of fun.

It will initially go out via SoundCloud (there’s a mobile app for it as well as the web browser version) and be shared on iTunes as soon as possible following that. I’m also looking at TuneIn as a future possibility. The link will be available as part of that day’s blog post, so those of you who are on my mailing list will get it, too, and I’ll be posting it on Twitter. New episodes will go out on the second and fourth Monday of each month.

Hope you all enjoy it as much as I (we!) enjoyed making it.

Updated – first author finalised.

 
(Very Subjective) Thoughts On Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway

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I’ve chosen to eschew my regular review/discussion format – I don’t feel I can do Mrs Dalloway justice, and I’m not sure I ‘got’ it.

I appreciated a lot about the book. So much of it was poetic – poetry in prose. The language was sometimes difficult to read – I don’t mind long sentences but my word! – but the choices made, and the rhythms, were lovely.

The portrayal of PTSD – then ‘shell shock’ – at the time when it wasn’t fully understood was very careful and caring. If Woolf’s book, albeit published several years after the war (1925), played a role in helping people to help veterans further and later, I wouldn’t be surprised. Woolf shows the symptoms well, creating a balance of flashbacks and other mental health issues that came as a result. She shows the effect of misdiagnosis and the beginnings of understanding.

I appreciated the look at love, unrequited, and same-sex.

The inclusion of suicidal thoughts and an actual suicide is interesting in its context. I wasn’t sure whether it’s ‘right’ to see anything here in items of hindsight, Woolf’s mental health and her later choices – I wonder if, perhaps, the book reflects a few of her thoughts pertaining to herself. Certainly if nothing else, she explores it all in its social context.

All these things I ‘got’ but I was left feeling that I was still missing something, hence my choice to bypass a review. All opinions are valid, but I felt too strongly about missing something – can I really evaluate something with which I struggled so much?

I struggled with the stream of consciousness. When I was able to keep my attention on the words – try as I might this was a continual problem – the moment the perspective changed I was right back at the beginning.

I didn’t ‘get’ the sudden changes in perspective. Had the book been solely from Clarissa’s point of view it would’ve been easier. I realised these extra characters might turn up at the party but still their inclusion seemed irrelevant.

I suppose I’m not sure what it was, exactly, that Woolf was trying to say overall – I’ve not a clue. Society at the time? Relationships – problems in love? Attitudes to each other, two-facedness? I did like how everything revolved around Clarissa whether the characters intended it to or not, whether they liked her or not.

Can you enlighten me? Was I somewhat right about the book or completely wrong? And how have you found Virginia Woolf yourself?

 
Jane Austen – Sanditon

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Austen’s potential finest?

Publisher: N/A
Pages: N/A
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: N/A
First Published: 1825
Date Reviewed: 9th October 2019
Rating: 5/5

Mr and Mrs Parker are travelling through Willingden in search of a doctor for their small town, Sanditon, when their carriage overturns. Mr Heywood comes to their rescue; the couple end up spending a fortnight at the Heywood family home as Mr Parker is injured. The two discuss with the Heywoods their fabulous residence, a burgeoning spa town in need of more visitors. When they leave they take with them Charlotte, the eldest child of the Heywood family.

Despite there being only eleven chapters, Austen’s last unfinished novel has a lot going for it, both in terms of enjoyment and inevitable contemplation. That the author finished work at the end of a chapter, a bog standard chapter at that (she’d still been setting up the scene), suggests, I reckon, a sudden downturn in her illness; it makes sense that she might’ve put her pen down at the end of that last day of writing with the intention of continuing either the next day or when she felt better. There are, so far as we know, no notes to suggest where the novel was headed.

So reading Sanditon is both a wonderful and a grounding experience. The eleven chapters are excellent, not so much in themselves (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with them), but in what they represent, the promise for the rest of the book. The text presents itself as a bit of a departure from the rest of Austen’s oeuvre. Whilst the author had previously used the seaside, mostly notably in Persuasion, Sanditon has a different atmosphere with its use of leisure, health, and tourism. There are a lot of previously-used devices in it – ‘poorly’ relatives who Austen is keen to show are just attention seekers; book-loving heroines; a potential second Lady Catherine de Burgh who has many relatives looking at her with pound signs in their eyes.

Austen is known to have lived in two spa towns – Bath and Southampton. With Sanditon situated on the coast around the Sussex/Hampshire area, closer to the middle of the coast than Eastbourne, it’s possible she looked to Southampton for at least part of her inspiration. Certainly it has been suggested that she preferred Southampton to Bath1. She stayed in Southampton three times, once in a house that was only a few minutes walk from the beach. (Southampton no longer has a beach – land has been reclaimed – but we know where the house stood and where the water originally came up to.) Whether based on Southampton or not, however, it’s interesting to ponder whether the now city might be more well known in the context of her life than it is had the book been fully realised. Either way, the descriptions of Sanditon are wonderful, full of atmosphere. Although there’s certainly more description in terms of people than place it’s not difficult to imagine the scene.

Sanditon contains echoes of the brilliance of Pride And Prejudice – might that book be less known if Sanditon had been completed? Interestingly, though, Charlotte says a lot less than Elizabeth; she’s more of a device. In Charlotte we can perhaps see further evidence, beyond Northanger Abbey, of Austen’s 18th century writer’s influences. Either way, at least in the chapters we have, Charlotte is more a device to show off Sanditon and its people than a character in her own right. This is quite different for Austen, so it is very possible that Charlotte was yet to come into her own. Perhaps Austen was playing a longer game, writing more slowly, planning a book more lengthy than her others.

Would Charlotte have overtaken Lizzie in our affections? One of the major themes is books. One of the first things the Parkers do upon returning home is visit the subscription library; Charlotte takes out a number of books including Frances Burney’s Camilla, which was also one of Catherine Morland’s reads and so likely Austen’s too. In her descriptions Austen mentions her favourite poet, Cowper, and Voltaire. She spends a chapter on Sir Edward Denham’s fiction preferences. This is where her wit shows best:

    But if you will describe the sort of novels which you do approve, I dare say it will give me a clearer idea.”
    “Most willingly, fair questioner. The novels which I approve are such as display human nature with grandeur; such as show her in the sublimities of intense feeling; such as exhibit the progress of strong passion from the first germ of incipient susceptibility to the utmost energies of reason half-dethroned—where we see the strong spark of woman’s captivations elicit such fire in the soul of man as leads him—though at the risk of some aberration—from the strict line of primitive obligations to hazard all, dare all, achieve all to obtain her. Such are the works which I peruse with delight and, I hope I may say, with amelioration. They hold forth the most splendid portraitures of high conceptions, unbounded views, illimitable ardour, indomitable decision. And even when the event is mainly anti-prosperous to the high-toned machinations of the prime character, the potent, pervading hero of the story, it leaves us full of generous emotions for him; our hearts are paralysed. T’were pseudo-philosophy to assert that we do not feel more enwrapped by the brilliancy of his career than by the tranquil and morbid virtues of any opposing character. Our approbation of the latter is but eleemosynary. These are the novels which enlarge the primitive capabilities of the heart; and which it cannot impugn the sense or be any dereliction of the character of the most anti-puerile man, to be conversant with.”

Really Edward, ‘I love epic romance’ would have sufficed…

There is so much to like about Sanditon, indeed the one and only drawback is that it ends with absolutely no clue as to where it was to end up except that someone will probably be given an inheritance by Lady Denham, and that if Austen has anything to do with it, Sir Edward is going to annoy Clara Brereton. If we consider that a marriage is a likely feature of Charlotte’s future then perhaps the arrival of the Parkers’ relative, Sidney, in the last paragraph, is a hint because it’s unlikely to be Sir Edward.

Footnotes

1 Local historian, Cheryl Butler, holds this view and believes it’s possible we don’t know more about Austen’s time in Southampton due to Cassandra’s burning of her letters. (Information learned from her talk ‘Jane Austen & Southampton Spa’ given at Cobbett Road Library, Southampton, in 2018.)

 
On My Old N/A Rated Books

A photograph of three books with bookmarks in them

In my 10 years of statistics post, I mentioned the books I’d decided not to rate. To recap, this happened a few months before I started blogging; when I started blogging I went back to the previous year’s books (started blogging March 2010, started keeping statistics September 2009, and noted the books I’d read in the months prior) to help me write reviews so that I had a bit of a backlog to fall back on. In doing this I decided to rate the books I was intending to review; I decided that books I wouldn’t review – which often included books I’d attempted to review and given up on – didn’t need a rating.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and so on. Although it’s hardly the end of the world that I don’t have those books rated, I feel a bit of a bad reader for having essentially left them out of the running. Some were books I didn’t enjoy and probably wouldn’t enjoy today. But others I loved.

My thoughts here aren’t towards the books themselves – they have all been mentioned here over time – but the general idea of having books on my list with N/A in the rating column: should I be adding ratings? I certainly like the idea – not only would it complete my log for the year, it would feel like I’m doing them justice, finally.

But is giving a rating in hindsight – 10 years’ hindsight in this case – a viable option? No matter how much I try to think back, and no matter that I do in almost every case remember my general thoughts on the books, my present reading self will surely come into play. I’ve changed, and my expectations have changed. Perhaps I could give two ratings – one in the context of today, one that I believe I would’ve given then. But isn’t today’s context irrelevant if I’m not re-reading the book? (And, unless I’m reviewing them, does a rating of any context matter beyond completion?)

This all comes back to the question of how much we remember of books read years ago, and how we change over time. By the very fact that I’m wondering how useful a rating given in hindsight might be – that is, not useful in the context of today – aren’t I saying that it doesn’t matter because I’ve moved on? It might have been a reflection of my reading then, but without a re-read – that would show change more clearly – or, indeed, a review, which these books necessarily lack, there is perhaps not much objective use in having these ratings.

How much do I remember of these books? Where the thought was particular, for example I remember one book became almost illegible, suddenly, at 3/4 the way through, and another that it was decidedly average and dry, I could give a rating more in keeping with the time. Where the thought was more about my feelings, I’m not so sure. And the subjective and objective would be mixed without my knowing.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever rate them – it might do them justice in terms of back then, but it wouldn’t be informed and thus also wouldn’t do them justice.

In what ways do you consider your opinions of your old reads relevant and irrelevant?

 
Next Stop Procrastination #12

A photo of Salisbury Cathedral on a sunny summers day

There have been some phenomenal literature-related articles recently, but perhaps the most intriguing find for me was a post on Medium, published two years ago. It’s under Miscellaneous – Jenny Odell’s speech transcript on how to do nothing. Given its original format, it’s a very long read, but utterly worth it. I also highly recommend the article about narrating audiobooks; it’s fascinating.

Author Specific

‘I knew Christopher Robin – the real Christopher Robin’
Sylvia Plath didn’t want her mother to know she’d written The Bell Jar
Interview with Philip Pullman ahead of The Secret Commonwealth
The journey that changed Geoffrey Chaucer’s life
How The Guardian became the first newspaper in Britain to use the F-word
The trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Book Specific

The politically radical family that inspired Little Women
Considering the secret of Northanger Abbey
Teaching Jane Eyre: a teacher’s perspective
An appreciation of Claire Fraser (unfortunately this link has since been made inaccessible for readers in the EU)
On the magical landscapes of Anne of Green Gables
Olivia Laing on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, 80 years on

Writing

What is the difference between a preface, a foreword, and an introduction?
Maybe the secret to writing is not writing (on taking breaks)
Can language be understood as a spiritual medium?
When being a disabled writer means being an educator

Libraries & Bookstores

A photo appreciation of libraries
Saying goodbye to my beloved bookstore
On opening Ghana’s first subscription-model library

Misc. Literature

Authors and translators on their unique relationship
500 year old library catalogue reveals books lost to time
Why narrating an audiobook is a lot harder than you think
Picturing writerly demographics in the Norton Anthology of American Literature
2019 is the first year in 20 years that copyrighted works are entering the public domain (includes list and contextual information)
How to visit the graves of 75 famous writers
The curse of reading and forgetting

Other Links

(Reddit thread of the happiest facts people know)
What the blue hour is and how you can use it for photography
A disabled life in a superhero universe
Soft foods helped humans form ‘F’ and ‘V’ sounds
The crew of the Mary Rose may have included sailors of African heritage
The people who wear historical dress every day
Southampton’s medieval vaults
An unpublished essay by Judy Garland written to promote The Wizard of Oz
How to do nothing (long read)

 

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