I have not posted here since an outing in February to a wonderful dramatization of the Bronte sisters’ life. I am not keeping up with my reading list (although I do so on Goodreads). I started another #100daysofwriting challenge and quickly began forgetting — not to write, I never forget that — but to take a daily picture and post it on Instagram.
Feckless though I am, it struck me it might be fun in retrospect to have had some record here of the progress of the novel I imagine myself to be writing. Though it may come to nothing (the novel-diary plan, I mean — the novel will come to something, though hard to say what), mere risk of failure is not enough of an argument against. So here goes, in hopes that it can encourage others as much as myself.
I got a half-baked notion to write about the Brontes back in 2013, though I did not form any resolve until 2017, also an alarmingly long time ago. Continue reading
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
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
A 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.
The 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 — 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.” But 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, knowing how to move gracefully, and having a well-turned leg. None of this was news to me, so I wasn’t surprised to learn that the first readers of Pride and Prejudice probably did not imagine him as looking like a certain English actor.
What surprised me instead was that was seen as surprising. Continue reading
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
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