Reading While Human

This week I read a wonderful essay titled “Reading Jane Eyre While Black”  that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. Not only does it compare two of 19th -century England’s most fascinating writers — Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen — but it hits on many of the issues I’ve been thinking about lately. About authorial intent, and how there will always  be something a little mysterious about it, even to the author. Also how as both readers and writers we bring our own biases, both the known and unknown, to the page.

Tyrese L. Coleman makes many interesting points along the way, but one key theme is how “Jane Eyre” has been ruined for her by Bronte’s depiction of Bertha Mason, whose craziness and evil is inextricably linked to her West Indian origins and implicit blackness. Continue reading

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When Ideas Acquire Solidity, Part II

Almost five years ago now, I wrote about the strange feeling of going to the a local copy shop to print out copies of my novel in preparation for a manuscript workshop. More specifically, about the strange feeling of walking out of the store with them, that something existing only in my mind had now taken a physical form, had become a thing that existed in the world, like a rock or a highway or a batch of cookies cooling on the counter. Continue reading

Jane Austen Projekt auf Deutsch?

img_0528-1A few days ago I was surprised (but pleased) to learn that someone in Germany wants to publish The Jane Austen Project. Although foreign rights are one of the topics a standard publishing contract covers, the idea that this would ever happen had always seemed more hypothetical than real. Perhaps because Jane Austen seems so rooted in Englishness  — though I knew, in an abstract way, that she was famous beyond her own language.

There is something so strange about the idea of my own story existing in a form I can’t read myself, that it will go to a place I can’t. I remember thinking about this the last time I read Anna Karenina. Reading his words, I felt so close to Tolstoy’s amazing mind — and yet these words were not his, only some approximation. But then, language is always only an approximation, the cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to. Everything, ultimately, is lost in translation.

What Did Mr. Darcy Actually Look Like?

 

imgresThe internet has been all over this, a “dramatic re-appraisal,” as the headline breathlessly puts it.  But we never knew just what Darcy looked like in the first place —  about all Jane Austen gives us is “fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance of his having ten thousand pounds a year.”  The piece by John Sutherland and Amanda Vickery is great, a  thorough exploration of early 19th-century ideas about male desirability,  ticking through things like the importance of cravats, of knowing how to move gracefully, and of having a well-turned leg. None of this was news to me, so I personally can’t be too surprised to learn that  the first readers of Pride and Prejudice probably did not imagine him as looking like a certain late 20th-century English actor.

darcy firth

What surprises me, instead, is that seems to be seen as surprising. Continue reading

Ambiguous ‘Brooklyn’

Brooklyn

Lots of books I read and enjoy but rarely think of again; it’s a rare few that take up residence,  that I find myself revisiting either in rereading or just thinking about, those books that I urge friends to read, both because I think they will like them and because I want the pleasure of discussion. Some of these I’ve written about here: “Middlemarch,” “Anna Karenina,” “The Golem and the Jinni,” “Mrs. Engels.”

“Brooklyn” by Colm Toibin fits in this group, but  I did not, upon finishing, immediately start urging people to read it.  I felt its peculiar force very vividly, but it did not occur to me this feeling would scale. It seemed to me then like a book particularly written – not just for me, that would be ridiculous – but for people like me, who grew up in families like mine. (I was wrong; it’s since become a best-seller, a major motion picture and Toibin’s best-known novel.)

I started it around 10 p.m. one weeknight, thinking I would read a chapter or two before bedtime. Continue reading

‘Longbourn’ and Pig Shit Realism

 

Longbourn

All the time I was reading Jo Baker’s “Longbourn” I had the sensation of not being able to decide if I liked it.  This is unusual;  feckless and tentative as I am in most realms of human activity, I am generally confident in my literary judgments.

The story, in case anyone  missed the large splash it made upon publication in 2014, is “Pride and Prejudice” from the viewpoint of the Bennets’ servants. A brilliant, can’t-miss idea. I like to imagine Ms. Baker, tormented by insomnia and casting around for her next idea for a novel, sitting up in bed.

HOLY SHIT! I’LL CALL IT ‘LONGBOURN!’ Continue reading

New Beginnings, Old Problems

I’ve been away from this blog for so long I feel almost obliged to fashion some adroit explanation — picnic, lightning — but the truth is, I was doing other things. Reading, writing, rethinking, rewriting. (When does rewriting have an end? I can only say, not yet.)

After “The Golem and the Jinni” I proceeded to read a string of amazing books I wish I had stopped to write about, for now I cannot do justice to them: Continue reading