All entries for October 2007
October 30, 2007
October 25, 2007
Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7060533.stm
An article I came across on BBC news today, related to a Radio 4 broadcast this morning that set out to explore "the lives, deaths and immune systems of heroines of English literature through the eyes of modern medicine" (listen again here). The article was slightly less promising that it sounded, aiming to investigate what was "actually" wrong with the seemingly endless stream of sickly women in "classic" (referring here to Romantic and Victorian) fiction. Three doctors of medicine and literature were asked to "diagnose" women such as Marianne in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, one doctor prescribing a case of typhus, and another reckoning that the symptoms indicate a streptococcal sore throat and later septicaemia. However, I think Dr Neil Vickers is probably on the right track: he states that "Marianne's illness is simply a plot device," claiming that "Austen needs a life threatening illness in order to return the previously overexcitable Marianne to the 'sense' of the book's title." The rest of the article includes similar diagnoses of Cathy in Wuthering Heights and Bleak House's Lady Dedlock. What would perhaps be more interesting is to think further about why Victorian heroines are so often ill; why is it an appropriate and believeable plot device and how does it function amongst women? Of course much work has explored this: Helena Michie's and Anna Krugovoy Silver's work immediately springs to mind. The related recurring motif of the sickroom in Victorian literature is another interesting area yet to be explored (as far as I know), raising questions about constructions of "femininity" and the spaces in which it is played out.
Writing about web page http://www.bl.uk/news/2007/pressrelease20071022a.html
This is going to be a really fantastic resource when it is up and running. The British Library have digitised over one million pages from 46 newspapers from the 19th century, creating a searchable online database that will be available to Further and Higher education institutions. Even better is their 2008 objective to digitise 3,000,000 pages of British newspapers and offer worldwide access to the collection.
October 24, 2007
Following on from my previous post, a word from George Eliot on the subject:
We women can't go in search of adventure - to find out the North-West Passage or the source of the Nile, or to hunt tigers in the East. We must stay where we grow, or where the gardeners like to transplant us. We are brought up like the flowers, to look as pretty as we can, and be dull without complaining. That is my notion about the plants: they are often bored, and that is the reason why some of them have got poisonous.
From Daniel Deronda, Book II, Chapter 13, p135 (Penguin).
October 22, 2007
- Not rated
This was a useful discovery in Leamington's Oxfam Books this weekend (in fact, I had a good weekend for second-hand buys as I also picked up Angela Carter's Love and Heroes and Villains, a copy of Charlotte Brontes' Tales from Angria which includes many of the Brontes' poems and memoirs, and I'm waiting for delivery of an 1842 map that I came across on ebay). This collection brings together a vast number of extracts from over 300 travel writers from nearly every period of written history, from the Ancient Greeks Xenophon and Pytheas, to writers from the 1980s (the collection was published in 1985) such as Patrick Marnham and Colin Thubron. Predictably, the anthology includes only a handful of women travel writers (see my previous entry for more on this). However, it does at least incorporate a selection of multicultural voices, allowing for a diverse range of perspectives on different countries, such as a Russian naval officer's description of a Maori chief, a Macedonian general's observation of the customs of the "Ichthyopagi" on the Makran coast of Baluchistan, and a Chinese sailor's impressions of eighteenth-century London. The arrangement of the book according to the continent being written about aids this sense of shifting perspectives and also makes it a useful resource. There's also a nice section at the beginning called "Advice on Travelling" with interesting ideas on what to take and how to behave: Prince Hermann Puckler-Muskau, for example, advises "in Naples, treat the people brutally; in Rome, be natural; in Austria, don't talk politics; in France, give yourself no airs; in Germany, a great many; and in England, don't spit." (16). I'm certainly looking forward to reading this book more thoroughly as it seems as though it will hold many new discoveries.
- Not rated
This is a wonderful anthology of writing by women travellers, originally published in 1994 as The Virago Book of Women Travellers and re-published in this larger, illustrated paperback edition earlier this year. The collection draws together 46 extracts spanning nearly 300 hundred years, from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's 1717 letter in Embassy to Constantinople to Leila Philip's 1989 The Road Through Miyama. The extracts are arranged chronologically, allowing the anthology to "chart feminism through women and their journeys" as Mary Morris writes(11), whilst emphasising the book's concern with providing the beginnings of a tradition of women writers. Travel literature is a field that has historically been somewhat dominated by male writers, largely due to the simple fact that less women have been able to travel: "for centuries it was frowned upon for women to travel without escort, chaperon, or husband. To journey was to put oneself at risk, not only physically but morally as well" (8). Yet this collection seeks to make clear that many women have travelled and written seriously about their journeys, and provides a space in which these narratives may be heard. The women in this collection are the exceptions, and their writing is often exceptional, frequently portraying events in which perceived gender constraints are overcome by women determined that their sex should not prevent exploration. Sometimes their defiance is explicit, such as in Lady Mary Anne Barker's narrative in which she is the only woman on a bush-trekking expedition in New Zealand, in amongst a group of men who share, as she writes, the "unexpressed but prevailing dread" that "I should knock up and become a bore, necessitating an early return home; but I knew better!" (57); at other times, gender limitations are surpassed more discreetly, as in the case of Isabelle Eberhardt who, maintaining that "the human body is nothing, the human soul is all" (55), travelled through North Africa in disguise as a man.
Whilst gender issues resonate throughout the extracts, the anthology is striking in its variety. The extracts are taken from a number of different narrative forms, including letters, travel books, journals, diaries, extended prose narratives, articles, anecdotes, memoirs, and essays. The accounts encompass a wide range of destinations, including Turkey, Peru, the American Prairies, West Africa, Morocco, New Zealand, Madagascar, Persia, Russia amongst many others, each location offering a new adventure or encounter, whether it's rambling across the Dolomites, horse riding in Iceland, or harvesting rice in Miyama. The style of each writer is as varied as the content, but each displays a vivid attention to detail whether describing unfamiliar landscapes or the customs of foreign societies.
The collection draws together writers who are well-known for their travel writing, such as Flora Tristan and Isak Dinesen, those who we may be more familiar with as writers of fiction, like Edith Wharton, women who we may know for their non-fiction writing, like Mary Wollstonecraft, along with many others who are relatively unknown, especially to readers who know little about travel writing. The collection does have its limitations, the editors recognising in the introduction that the selection lacks racial diversity in its focus on women writers from England and America. However, the anthology provides an excellent and highly enjoyable introduction to women's travel writing for general readers and many indicative starting points for further research for those who want to find out more; I've already been prompted to investigate the work of Frances Trollope from reading some of her writing here. Although each extract is short, the anthology gains from being read over time as the pieces have been well selected and are packed with ideas that engage the reader and leave you needing time for reflection before moving onto the next piece- it's taken me a couple of months to get only half way through as I've been enjoying reading the book so much! The beautiful illustrations encourage this, making it the perfect book to leave lying on your coffee table to dip into on a lazy afternoon.
October 15, 2007
Well, I'm going to contribute by posting an extract or two from Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony because one of the novel's main concerns is with nature and the landscape, and also because the writing is beautiful. Silko's work is informed by Native American concepts of the land in which the land is experienced as an intrinsic part of being: as Paula Gunn Allen writes, "the fundamental idea that permeates American Indian life" is the notion that "we are the land […] The land is not really a place, separate from ourselves, where we act out the drama of our isolate destinies [...] It is rather a part of our being, dynamic, significant, real." However, the advancement of modern America over Native lands is not only resulting in economic, social and political marginalisation for traditional cultures but threatening the land that constitutes such an integral part of Native American identity; as Silko writes, the landscape is scarred by the effects of man and provides a constant reminder of destruction, “every day they had to look at the land, from horizon to horizon, and every day the loss was with them.”
Yet Ceremony works to reclaim the sacred spaces that are increasingly becoming lost and through the protagonist Tayo, Silko reforges the connection between people and place. The following couple of extracts draw demonstrate the drawing together of these elements in relation to two other features that are central to the relationship with the land, storytelling and the Native American concept of time. The extracts offer an enlightening perspective on the environment from a culture that cannot comprehend threatening the land for human gain.
The sky was hazy blue and it looked far away and uncertain, but he could remember times when he and Rocky had climbed the Bone Mesa, high above the valley southwest of Mesita, and he had felt that the sky was near and that he could have touched it. He believed then that touching the sky had to do with where you were standing and how the clouds were that day. He had believed that on certain nights, when the moon rose full and wide as a corner of the sky, a person standing on the high sandstone cliff of that mesa could reach the moon. Distances and days existed in themselves then; they all had a story. They were not barriers. If a person wanted to get to the moon, there was a way; it all depended on whether you knew the directions – exactly which way to go and what to do to get there; it depended on whether you knew the story of how others before you had gone. (19)
The ride into the mountains had branched into all directions of time. He knew then why the oldtimers could only speak of yesterday and tomorrow in terms of the present moment: the only certainty; and this present sense of being was qualified with bare hints of yesterday or tomorrow, by saying, “I go up to the mountains yesterday or I go up to the mountain tomorrow.” The ck’o’yo Kaup’a’ta somewhere is stacking his gambling sticks and waiting for a visitor; Rocky and I are walking across the ridge in the moonlight; Josiah and Robert are waiting for us. This night is a single night; and there has never been any other. (192)
October 12, 2007
October 11, 2007
Writing about web page http://www.virago.co.uk/news.asp
I'm very much looking forward to these forthcoming adaptations of Sarah Waters' Affinity and The Night Watch, particularly as I managed to miss both Tipping the Velvet (BBC, 2002) and Fingersmith (BBC, 2005). I haven't read Tipping the Velvet, but Affinity and The Night Watch are more complex novels than Fingersmith in terms of their narrative structure, and will present interesting challenges in adaptation; The Night Watch in particular, as it moves backwards through the chronological order of events without any return to the starting/end point. Affinity meanwhile is composed entirely of diary entries, and will require careful handling of the spiritualist theme which makes the novel the darkest and most intricate of Waters' novels. The novel is in good hands, however- the screenplay is being written by Andrew Davies who adapted Tipping the Velvet and numerous others including Bleak House (2005), and the wonderful 1995 Pride and Prejudice. It doesn't say who's working on The Night Watch but as it's another BBC adaptation, hopefully it'll live up to the success of their previous two productions.