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In Which I’m Researching Authors Again

Anne Richie

A couple of years ago, I created a bookmark folder in my internet browser for books I’d like to read, placing in it reviews, other articles, and some author websites. I found it a useful way to keep all those pieces of information that I hope to one day use but likely rarely will (I have bought a couple of books due to going through it which I consider makes it a success).

Then, sometime earlier this year, I started a ‘literary criticism’ folder in case I wanted to write articles based on the books those articles were talking about. Purposefully being more picky before I commit anything I read to the folder, it’s working out quite well. What I hadn’t reckoned on, though, was the way in which I’d be wanting to note each new classic author I came across. (‘Classic’ here used for both those who are famous and people less known/unknown who have long since passed.)

I have a penchant for keeping information I may need in the future, mostly because it has indeed come to pass many times that information has been used, and whilst in terms of handwritten notes – university and so on – I keep a lot less, when it comes to the internet and computers all bets are off, particularly in the case of literature. If I come across a person from the past who happened to be a writer, I will be bookmarking that page, no matter whether I’m interested in the subject they wrote about or not.

Still, as much as the information will be useful to somebody and indeed I am using it elsewhere, I wonder about it all. I remember reading a blog several years ago in which it was noted that it’s estimated we can get through about 5,000 books in our lifetime; constantly seeking out old authors only reminds me of this sobering fact. (There were certainly more than 5,000 books in the Beast’s library, which is something I think it’s fair to say we all aspire to emulate.) Even if you seek to read only the best of the best of the best, you will never cover it. (To include another sobering bookish screen reference, a statement by Ted Danson’s Gulliver comes to mind, from his main statement in court about his travels: “I could read every book ever written” – 1996 adaptation.)

I think, beyond the reasonable hope and plan to write about these authors, I just like having the information. I find I retain much more knowledge after a second read of information, and keeping it allows this. It also allows me to look back at people when other connections are made, such as my recent finding of the possible (likely?) inspiration for Jane Austen’s title for the book initially called First Impressions, as well as what got the ball rolling on Northanger Abbey.

Maria Edgeworth

It makes sense that I write about a few of them here. Aside from works on authors I’ve written about recently and thus don’t need repeating yet again, I have work on Christine de Pizan, Mary Hays, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I’ve saved pages on Adela Florence Nicolson (1800s poet from England, died in India, who wrote who the pseudonym Laurence Hope); Amelia Opie (1700s-1800s novelist and leading abolitionist – Amelia’s was the first name on a petition to parliament from women to end slavery); Ann Hatton (1700s-1800s popular English novelist); and Anna Bray (1800s British novelist).

Most interesting so far has been Anne Richie née Thackarey, the daughter of William. Wikipedia says this: Her 1885 novel, Mrs Dymond contains the earliest English-language use of the well-known proverb “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for life”. It would also seem she visited Southampton, my city, where her father once attended a school he found wretched but the city itself he liked. There is also Sarah Burney, half-sister of Frances, who wrote several novels but isn’t much remembered, possibly because she didn’t have too many friends. The Burney sisters’ father was more supportive of Frances, disliking Sarah’s Clarentine, and Jane Austen’s thoughts (as we know she liked Frances’ work) are thus:

“We [the Austen family] are reading ‘Clarentine,’ & are surprised to find how foolish it is. I remember liking it much less on a 2d reading than at the 1st & it does not bear a 3d at all. It is full of unnatural conduct & forced difficulties, without striking merit of any kind.” (Austen 1807, cited in Woolsey, 1892)

But Sarah’s third novel, Traits Of Nature, did very well.

Finally there is Maria Edgeworth who may well be well-known today (and I would have just missed the discussion). She was an early realist writer of children’s literature, and a ‘significant figure in the evolution of the novel in Europe’ (Britannica 2014, cited by Wikipedia, n.d.). Her novel Belinda depicted an interracial marriage and was thus controversial.

Austen, again:

“Oh, it is only a novel… It is only Cecilia or Camilla, or Belinda; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed.” (Austen, 1817)

Unfortunately, when looking through my browser bookmarks for this post I happened upon yet another author. I’d better call it a day.

So today I would very much like to know, do you collect information for later use and are there occasions when you’ve come to use some of it? And which relatively unknown authors of the past do you recommend reading?

Book References

Austen, Jane (1817) Northanger Abbey, John Murray, London, Chapter 5
Austen, Jane (1892) The Letters Of Jane Austen, ed. Woolsey, Sarah Chauncey, Little, Brown, And Company, Boston, p. 97
Doody, Margaret Anne (ed.) Introduction, in Lennox, Charlotte, The Female Quixote (1989) Oxford University Press, Oxford, page unknown.

Online References

Maria Edgeworth, Wikipedia, accessed 8th August 2018

 
The Bookshops Of Hay-On-Wye

Hay-on-Wye is called the town of books for good reason – there are more bookshops than you can possibly visit unless you don’t intend on browsing and haven’t come for the festival. Considering the amount of choice there is, it makes sense to go in with a plan. During my downtime at last year’s festival, I had a mooch around the streets to see what was on offer. Here are five of the best stores:

A photograph of The Addyman Annexe

The Addyman Annexe: 27 Castle Street
Monday – Saturday: 10:00-17:30
Sunday: 10:30-17:30

There are two Addyman locations; this is the largest and stands on the main street you walk down from the festival site. The Annexe sells a lot of literary-related items; last year Taffywood Books mugs jostled for space on a windowsill with old orange Penguin Classics. A special festival section for children’s books took a little space. The shop sells a good range of both new and second hand books and is vibrant in its colour. Don’t miss the upper floor; the stairs are against the wall by the tall yellow shelves in the back room.

A photograph of Broad Street Book Centre

Broad Street Book Centre: 6 Broad Street
Open all week: 10:30-17:00

Situated across the street and a little further down the road from The Granary (a cafe you will come most definitely come across or hear about), is the Broad Street Book Centre. A fantastic rabbit warren of a store, just when you think you’ve reached the end it goes on further, with more books than you’d ever have thought possible from outside. The books are solely second hand and the variety spans all ages and categories, older books and new, from fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Stacked away in a tiny space towards the back is a pretty marvelous selection of very old books, some popular selections, others you may never have heard of but want to buy nonetheless.

A photograph of Murder And Mayhem

Murder And Mayhem: 5 Lion Street
Monday-Saturday: 10:30-17:30
Open some Sundays

This shop does what it says on the tin, except for the murder part! Whilst other shops have books on various surfaces, Murder And Mayhem takes it a literal step further with piles of glorious Allison & Busby mystery classics sat against the walls of the stairs. It’s worth the careful journey north as the room at the top is rather beautiful in its extreme bookish messiness. Back on the ground floor and the room you first enter into is full of wonderful publisher-specific piles. A great many Penguin Classics fight for space along the left wall, hoping you won’t miss them in this unusual arrangement where there are so many more books equally capable of grabbing the collector’s attention.

A photograph of The Poetry Bookshop

The Poetry Bookshop: The Pavement, Lion Street
Monday-Saturday: 11:00-17:00
Open some Sundays from 12:00

At the end of a tiny street away from the hustle and bustle of the town (at least when the festival is on) sits The Poetry Bookshop, in a detached building. A fair space, there are lots of shelves here and everything is carefully categorised. There are also lots of biographies of poets, compilations of literary magazines content, and books full of interviews. A selection of second-hand fiction rounds it off.

A photograph of Richard Booth's

Richard Booth’s: 44 Lion Street
Monday-Saturday: 9:30-17:30
Sunday: 10:30-17:00
Cafe
Tuesday-Saturday: 9:30-4:30
Sunday: 10:30-3:30
Last orders are 30 minutes before closing

Richard Booth’s is one you can’t miss: nestled between others in its terrace, the exterior nevertheless stands out, its design ensuring your interest. At its entrance – very grand, all wood and lovely low ceilings, is the fiction, with a lot of books by authors in attendance at the festival. Awesome stationary – on this occasion sheets of wrapping paper with recipes printed on them – sat beside the counter. It’s worth walking on towards the back – a stunning staircase runs from the centre of the floor up to the new level where a large number of shelves are arranged much like a library. The selection is extensive. Sofas at the end of the main aisle, with plenty of light from the back and above in the roof make for an atmosphere place to read your new purchases. Crime books can be found in the basement.

In addition to a bookshop, Richard Booth’s own a cinema on Brook Street that shows a range of films – many based on books (the new adaptation of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is currently one of those on offer. I’m so glad they kept the full title!)

When I first walked round the bookshops and took my notes, I envisaged writing about them soon afterwards, partly because of the current climate of closures. I wasn’t able to write in time and, deciding to keep it back until the festival tents were up once again, I am delighted to say that all of the shops I visited – ten in total – are still there. Long may it remain the case.

 
The Use Of ‘Ardent’ In Three Classical Novels

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

A drawing of Jane Austen by her sister, Cassandra

I’ve been reading fiction from the 1700s for a few months now – first Charlotte Smith’s Emmeline and then Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote – and every time the adjective ‘ardent’ is used, my mind goes back to the famous scene from Pride And Prejudice. Or, more specifically, Colin Firth’s Darcy bursting into the room to say the adverb version of the word to Jennifer Ehle’s Lizzie Bennet.

The word is used incredibly often in these books, and having never to my knowledge encountered it outside of old works of fiction, I thought I’d look into it. And perhaps add it to my vocabulary for a short time; that sort of thing can be, to use a phrase going out of fashion, jolly good fun.

The origins are 1300s and Latin (ārdent, from ārdēns, ‘to burn’). It replaced the Middle English ‘ardant’. I don’t suppose the list below is particularly needed – ‘ardent’ is one of those words where the meaning is quite obvious – but in order to fully account for it, here is the list of meanings, from Dictionary.com:

  1. having, expressive of, or characterized by intense feeling; passionate; fervent: an ardent vow; ardent love.
  2. intensely devoted, eager, or enthusiastic; zealous: An ardent theatergoer. An ardent student of French history.
  3. vehement; fierce: They were frightened by his ardent, burning eyes.
  4. burning, fiery, or hot: The ardent core of a star.

I think it’s fair to say Austen, and Firth, were looking to use them all.

To my knowledge we don’t really use ‘ardent’ any more; as I said, I’ve never heard it outside of older fiction (or adaptations of those books), but that’s a very subjective statement, so I looked it up. Using the information I had – that the word seemed to be very much in favour in the 1700s – 1750s-80s, if we look at the publishing dates of Emmeline and The Female Quixote – as well as Pride And Prejudice‘s 1813; I found a Google application that produces charts for words. Here we have ‘ardent’ used far more than ‘ardently’ (to be expected) peaking twice, in 1801 and again in 1835 before decreasing first slowly to 1850 and dropping steadily over time. The pretty fast increase from the early 1700s until that first peak aligns with the mid-1700s.

Dates to be considered: 1752 (Charlotte Lennox), 1788 (Charlotte Smith), 1813 (Jane Austen).

(Usage in the two centuries before this was very hit and miss. The graph suggested the early Tudors weren’t too keen on what appears to have been a new word, and the late Tudors and Stuarts couldn’t make up their minds whether to use it or not.)

Looking at ‘ardent’ led to only a short bout of research, as I thought it would – I was looking at something particular, after all – but it’s nevertheless been fascinating. The word itself, and the other possibilities for study I’ve picked up from these two 1700s novels are interesting, which is quite at odds with the reading experience itself – poignant but poorly executed in Smith’s case, and highly frivolous and seemingly simple in Lennox’s case.

What are your favourite rarely-now-used words?

 
Not Knowing Everything, And Not Knowing What We Don’t Know

A photograph of the His Dark Materials trilogy

Going back to the Hunger Games example, if you didn’t know that “Panem” came from the Latin phrase “Panem et Circenses” which means “Bread and Circuses,” would you look it up? (Marciniak, 2018)

This fact was included in a very thoughtful article about cultural literacy. We can’t know everything and we don’t know what we don’t know. This is possibly my biggest fear when reading, and particularly when reading knowing I’ll be reviewing the book, which is about 90% of the time.

The thought that we can’t know everything matches well with my previous post on reading the reference material first. (On that note I should say I chose to start The Female Quixote without looking at the Cervantes. So far, so good – knowing the basics of the earlier text, at 10% read, is all that’s needed.) Unless you have an inordinately large amount of time, and even if you do, knowing everything that is included or referred to by a book is an impossible undertaking. You’d have to find out what you needed to know. You’d need to figure this out for a potential few or several hundred pages worth of text. And you’d need to do this for the referenced books too. I’m starting to get a dizzy as I did as a child when someone told me that heaven is forever and ever (and ever and ever…)

So, we don’t know what we don’t know – my biggest literary fear has got me on occasion; it happens less the older I get and thus the more I realise it’s good to be cautious. When it comes to not getting something in contemporary literary fiction, for example (I think contemporary literary fiction is the least likely place for it) it’s not too bad – you can generally get away with saying ‘I didn’t get this book’, even if you don’t tell others. But for a lot of books it’s very difficult to get around and it can make you feel silly for not knowing. Looking silly isn’t so bad, but making a mistake in, say, a review, can be awful, or at least feel so. At least in the example mentioned in the article, it’s not such a problem. Knowing about Panem might give you a chuckle, a hint of the author’s thoughts very early on, but otherwise it won’t effect your reading too much.

Consider Shakespeare for a moment. When he wrote, he used Greek allusions as if they were pop culture references. And half of the actual pop culture references we still don’t get in Shakespeare’s plays unless we’re scholars of the time period. These are things that go over our heads. They are also things that don’t negate from our reading pleasure and understanding today. (ibid.)

Some books, and other media, if we consider Shakespeare, are written for certain audiences – you can’t expect to understand a book that is on a subject you don’t know about unless it’s a textbook and a beginner’s one at that. This, for me, is where this subject blends into the one about including pop culture in books – the way books will be outdated soon if an author uses things like social media, for example; a person in the future might know or be able to find out what it is but that distinct recognition, relation to it, won’t be there. The reader will, by no fault of their own, lack a particular sort of empathy that might impede their reading of the book. (This is why I’ve not read many books that rely on digital media to tell their story.)

It is in many ways a scary subject – far from the be all, end all, but in context it can make you think twice, and once you’ve discovered one missing link, you’ll spend the rest of the book wondering what else you’re missing.

Do you have this fear? How do you deal with it?

Online References

Marciniak, Catherine (2018), Cultural Literary: Knowing What We Don’t Know, Book Riot, accessed 16th April 2018.

 
Working Through Inexperience, Getting To The Other Side

A photograph of Hever Castle's lake. A few row boats sit on the water.

I believe that experience is important, and that more life experience, reading experience, and writing experience are going to make you a better writer. Oddly, though, writers don’t talk a lot about this kind of progress. I’ve heard lots of writers say that “you can’t teach writing” — i.e., you’ve either got it or you don’t. This seems to be based on an assumption that writing ability is something static and unchanging, like a gene. Some writers, perhaps, don’t want to admit that writing can be taught (which is to say, that writing can be learned), because admitting that you can get better at writing means admitting there was a time when you weren’t a great writer. (Gabbert, 2018)

Something that occurred to me recently is that I’ve been comparing and contrasting books in my reviews and other posts as I wanted to when I first started blogging. I remember reading other blogs and wishing I could write with the knowledge those bloggers did, recognising the gap between my literary experience and theirs. This made me think of the thought I had about my reviews back then, that knowing experience is the key; my reviews were necessarily rudimentary and I thought I should really wait some time before writing.

It’s a fair thought to have and in a small way I stand by it – my first reviews weren’t very good and there’s a definite change over time that’s not linked to conscious decision. I reckon most bloggers feel similarly; but if I hadn’t reviewed back then, whilst I might have gained the reading experience over time, the putting into words would’ve taken a lot longer. The ‘doing’ aspect of progressing is just as important as the learning and mental improvement.

Because that’s the thing about improving over time – you want to try to be good at something from the start but you have to acknowledge that at the start especially, done is better than perfect and you will at some point look back and feel a bit embarrassed at your first attempts even if others say they were good; own worse critic and so on. I relate very much to those bloggers who delete their old posts even though I’d be reluctant to do that myself; no matter what the reason for being less happy with your old work, at some level there’s the knowledge that you do things much better nowadays and aren’t quite who you were then.

I’ve had a few interests in my life where more experience wouldn’t have an effect so I’m happy seeing the changes in reading and blogging, and due to this I’m more aware of smaller changes in newer interests, too.

What hobbies/academic choices/career-related-things have you worked through to get to that other side, where was your starting point, and how was the journey?

Online References

Gabbert, Elisa (2018) What Should I Do If I’m Ashamed Of My Published Work?, Electric Literature, accessed 9th April 2018.

 

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