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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.” (Letter to Cassandra.)

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). 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.” (ibid.)

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?

 
 

April Munday

June 12, 2018, 8:43 am

I can recommend Edgeworth. I’ve read Belinda and Helen. They’re more florid than Austen, but a lot of fun.

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