What is your favourite book of all time?
Who is your favourite poet? ( links to a poem if poss)
I must confess that I have no idea how to read poetry. Most poems are a page or two long, and thus take a second or two to read. After that, I’m stumped. Are you supposed to sit still and mull over them for a while? – recite them aloud? – meditate on the deeper meaning and symbolism?
In school, we tore them apart: every word, every nuance, every semi-colon was analysed to the bone. I don’t know any poets, so I can’t speak with authority on how they produce their work, but I don’t think anyone could possibly think that much about what they’re writing. It would make a science of an art (shades of Dead Poets Society). Not to mention their heads would just explode.
I’ve just now finished Volume I of Cecilia; or Memoirs of an Heiress. I’m disposed to like Fanny Burney very much indeed, mainly because she fills an Austen-sized hole in my soul.
I do regard Austen as a genius, or at the very least a woman of great talent. I was reflecting on this in the shower – as you do – and I realised that never once does she describe any character in her books. She mentions Lizzie Bennet’s and Miss Crawford’s bright dark eyes, and Fanny Price’s pale blue ones – but that’s it. No description of clothing, appearance, or action hardly; no mention of how they move. It all rests entirely on what people do or say.
Now that I come to think about it I can appreciate what a daring move that is – how much do I, do we all, rely on all these things to convey personality and character? Yet, you can tell Mrs Norris and Mrs Bennet would dress fussily and Mr Palmer fashionably, without ever being told.
However, I’ve never felt I could empathise greatly with any Austen character – with the exception of Miss Crawford, who is of course a Bad Girl. I don’t know if it’s the effect on her writing of being a clergyman’s daughter, but the strong moral principles shown by all Austen protagonists are taken for granted. The Good People never have any trouble abiding by them, and the Bad People’s Badness is solely derived from their departure from these codes of behaviour. In effect, I don’t think I’ve ever read an Austen girl being perturbed, as such, or ever in much danger of flying into a passion or even getting angry.
Whereas Cecilia, although suffering from an overabundance of ‘benevolence’ and ‘generosity’ – a budding Communist, actually, from what I can tell, although about 100 years too early – does have quite a few trials. I’ve rarely seen the frustration of women’s low place in society so subtly yet powerfully conveyed. Cecilia can’t remonstrate with Mr Harrel or Sir Robert for the latter’s impudence or the former’s audacious obstinacy. In her place I would have screamed. She just ... can’t. Do anything. Add to that the calm assumption of people like Mr Briggs, that any female can’t be trusted with a penny, and you have a boiling pot of frustration. No wonder Freud diagnosed so many hysteria cases among women. How on earth else would you unleash your aggravation?
You never get a sense of that with Austen; the Good Women are respected because they’re Good, and Bad Girls get what’s coming to them.
On the other end of the scale, I sensed a deep similarity of situation between Cecilia and many young people today. (Or maybe it’s just me, but I’m a young person, and ... if I cloned myself this theory would work fine.) Cecilia’s difficulty fitting into her new social situation – her dissatisfaction with the society she’s supposed to keep and the entertainment in which she is supposed to indulge – how many of us can’t identify with that? She prefers to stay home and read rather than go out and do things she doesn’t enjoy, nor understand the basis for said enjoyment. Sounds familiar.
I was also tickled by Mr Gosport’s dissection of the ton into all these rival sects. These, too, have contemporary parallels. The Supercilious are like the ‘cool’ people, the ones who go to the right clubs, listen to the right music, wear the right clothes and drink the right drinks. They don’t talk to anyone who doesn’t go to, listen to, wear or drink the right things, because obviously these people are infinitely inferior to them and would have nothing of worth to say.
The Volubles could be anyone. The Insensibilists remind me of Goths or all those, really, who just can’t be bothered. The Jargonists are like career girls and boys, who are only interested in banging on about things that only make sense to a select number of people.
The use of language by Miss Larolles in particular made me decide that words like ‘exceedingly’ and ‘pecuniary,’ while they sound very grand to me, are the equivalent only of ‘cool’ and ‘loaded.’ (I know pecuniary doesn’t mean wealthy, but it’s in the same ball-park. And there really isn’t any slang – that I know of – for ‘fiscal.’)
To conclude: I like her a lot – but in spite of all I’ve said, in what may be taken as a derogatory light, I love Austen best. How could I not someone so wholeheartedly cynical and unrelentingly sarcastic?
Salient point to note: I don't like this book much. Then again, it would be hard for anyone, I think, to try and compete with Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Vikram Seth in the whole India-for-the-Booker arena. 150 pages in and nothing has happened worth remembering. It needs diamonds or sherbet or a squirrel with a gun! Like now.
I mislike the way ‘pretentious’ (my word, not theirs) writers make generalised statements out of things that are unique and individual. Take love: no two people love the same way, express it the same way, experience it or get over it the same way. Case in point –
Because new love makes sightseers of couples even in their own town
I mean what. Even if 99% of people turn into sightseers (!) on falling in love, even one percent excludes you from using ‘everybody’ in that assertion. It only takes one white blackbird ...
Also, wasn’t the Macarena invented in, like, 1994? Someone in this book knows how to do it in 1986. Is she just forward-thinking or am I wrong?