My literary week (4), or, not a page read

Would you believe that today is the first time in a week that I have opened my current novel? Terrible! But it’s just been one of those weeks of being driven by other things, so much so that reading time has taken a big hit. There have, however, been a few literary moments which I thought I’d share.

My lovely Gran


Gran, on her 65th wedding anniversary

On Monday I wrote a post based on the introduction to the Golden treasury of Australian verse which I found in my aunt’s house. The book belonged originally to my grandmother, and was given to her in 1914. Gran was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and the important thing to her was to live a good (Christian) life. However, she didn’t proselytise God. Rather, she promoted treating people well. We grandchildren all remember her Bambi and Thumper ornaments. They were there to remind us all of Mrs Rabbit’s advice to Thumper who had criticised baby Bambi’s wobbly walk. Mrs Rabbit said, as I’m sure many of you know, “If you can’t say something nice… don’t say nothing at all”. None of us have ever forgotten this, though I suspect we don’t always live up to it!

Anyhow, my point is that written in the back pages of the book, and on sheets of paper tucked inside it, are some sayings or inspirational quotes collected by Gran. One comes from Rudyard Kipling:

If we impinge never so slightly upon the life of a fellow-mortal, the touch of our personality, like the ripple of a stone cast into a pond, widens and widens in unending circles across the aeons, till the far-off Gods themselves cannot say where action ceases.

Another she dated 1/8/24 and noted it as “author unknown”, though using the Internet I’ve tracked it down in a webpage called “Bad Poetry”. The poet is Edgar Guest. The concluding lines read:

I never can hide myself from me,
I see what others may never see,
I know what others may never know,
I never can fool myself — and so,
Whatever happens, I want to be
Self-respecting and conscience free.

It might be sentimental poetry, but I do love my Gran’s heart and aspiration.

There are others, including one from Francis Bacon, but the final one comes from the Koran: “If I had two loaves of bread I would sell one and buy hyacinths for they would feed my soul”.

I’ll be keeping this book, needless to say.

My reading group

My reading group had its July meeting this week, and our book was Charlotte Wood’s The natural way of things (my review). It was a very lively meeting in which the realists in our group faced off against the willing suspenders of disbelief, with a couple of fence-sitters in between. Ne’er the twain did meet, I’m afraid, but while positions were maintained throughout, the discussion was, as always, respectful.

Charlotte Wood, The natural way of thingsThe problem was that the realists couldn’t work out why the ten women hadn’t ganged up to overpower their two guards, why they didn’t work out they could dig their way out under the electric fence. The women were twits, one said. They should have fought back. She also felt the rabbit trapping was far more successful than you’d expect and that the book had the longest mushroom season ever! It just wasn’t plausible. The willing suspenders, on the other hand, talked more about the book in terms of metaphor, allegory and parable, though they didn’t all agree on which of these the book represents, if any! We defenders felt that Wood, in the opening scenes, showed the disempowering of the women, explaining why they didn’t fight back.

I won’t go on, but the conclusion was that any book which garnered such an engaged discussion must be a good book!

More on my Jane

You know of course to whom I refer, Jane Austen of course, and this week Mr Gums and I went to see the latest Austen movie, Love and friendship which, strangely, is an adaptation of her juvenilia novella Lady Susan (my review) and not of her juvenilia piece actually titled Love and freindship (sic) (my review). We enjoyed it. Kate Beckinsale, who played Emma in a 1995 movie adaptation of that novel, played that “most accomplished coquette in England” Lady Susan with a light touch. Austen’s juvenilia is known for its broad humour/satire, though Lady Susan, being a transition work between her juvenile and adult period is more restrained than the earlier works. I thought director Walt Stillman balanced the tone nicely, here. His use of humorous title cards to introduce the characters sets the satiric tone but this is off-set by a more straight playing of the script, except perhaps for the comic relief provided by Tom Bennett as the foppish, silly Sir James Martin.

But, there was another Jane Austen event this week, a talk which members of my group attended. The topic was Austen’s continued popularity, and the speaker started with – coincidentally – Kipling, who praised Austen in 1924, saying “Praise the Lord for making her, and her for all she made”.

The speaker was enthusiastic about Austen, but her focus tended to be more on Austen’s Regency legacy – fashion, food, beauty – whereas my group is more interested in her ideas about, insights into, human nature, insights that we can find even in her early work. I’ll end this post with one of those insights that I love from Lady Susan. It was included in the film. Lady Susan says that “where there is a disposition to dislike, a motive will never be wanting”. Oh dear, this is too true. My Gran would, I’m sure, have had a saying to encourage us not to have such dispositions in the first place … though, she didn’t know Lady Susan!

25 thoughts on “My literary week (4), or, not a page read

    • Thanks Carolyn. She died in 1986, so yes, before I knew you, but she was a lovely woman whom we all remember with huge fondness. She had a wonderful laugh – and, you can see her smile.

  1. Pingback: My literary week (4), or, not a page read | picardykatt's Blog

  2. I wrote a longish comment last night but pressed a wrong button somewhere along the way and lost it (only an ordinary amount of wine with dinner!) so here I go again. X-Mrs L and I talk about what it is to lead a ‘good life’ but mostly we do it by keeping out of the way. Happily, our children – who have all the normal vices and then some – do good in active ways, and make us proud.
    As for Charlotte Wood, I agree with you about the women being disempowered, it seems to me prisoners, and people!, mostly go along with whoever is in charge. Also, in this case, the women quickly realised that the guards were as much prisoners as they were. And as for the fence, escape was pointless, their real prison was the desert.

  3. A rich post here, WG. I can’t help but think what your Gran would say if she had gone with you to see L & F? And, she probably would have laughed the hardest when hearing about the 12 Commandments. That’s a nice Stillman touch. You can actually tell which are WS’s or JA’s jokes. But he had melded the language style and humour quite well. I hope when Awards Season comes later this year, Stillman would be nom. for a Best Writing for Adapted Screenplay. He got a nom for Best Original Screenplay with Metropolitan. (1990)

  4. Gran was my greatly respected and much loved Mother-in-law. The respect came first because she had done such a great job in bringing up her son! The love came quickly as she showed me the same sort of love and support she gave her children. From early in our relationship she would defend me against any suspected criticism emanating from her son – that, any daughter-in-law will agree, is a winner for a young wife.
    And many of the pearls of wisdom that came from Jane Austen’s pen (some disguised as humour) were part of Gran’s philosophy of living.

  5. A lot to be said for those Presbyterian ethics! Those words inscribed in your Gran’s books must make them so evocative. In your reading group I think I’d side with the willing suspenders- readers of fiction really have to do this quite a lot!

    • I’d agree with you, of course, about Presbyterian ethics Ian. (BTW I’ve never told you but my brother’s name is Ian. Good name.)

      And, I’m not surprised you’d be a “willing suspender”. I think we fiction readers do need to be able to do that.

  6. I loved hearing about your Gran, what a wonderful woman! My husband and I are always tossing out Mrs. Rabbit’s advice and my sister and I used to goad each other with it when we were kids. It sounds like you had a lively reading group discussion. What fun that must have been. I really want to see the Austen movie and am glad to hear it is well done.

    • She was wonderful … Unforgettable. Love that you like that advice too! You and your sister goading each other with it doesn’t quite seem in the spirit! 😀

      Do try to see Austen. All Austen fans should, not that I like saying should.

        • Thanks, Bill, great to hear your perspective. Interesting though, as some think it doesn’t sticks too closely to her text and they like that! I’ve read it two or maybe three times, the last time being a couple of years ago. I felt it stuck nicely to the characters and plot and I rather liked that. Where do you think sticking too close spoils it – or lessens its effectiveness.

        • JA progresses ‘Lady Susan’ through a series of letters. This movie reproduces the text of some of the letters as dialogue but retains the same episodic quality. For me, L&F doesn’t flow in the way that the various film versions of P&P, for instance, do. And very little is conveyed visually – all the story is in the words. Feel free to disagree!

        • Yes, true re episodic quality. I guess that didn’t bother me, because it captured the style of the book. Lady Susan is such a transition work between her “true” juvenilia and her adult novels – it isn’t fully polished as a narrative in the way Austen developed “the novel” – and yet I felt the film flowed well enough. You are probably right about it being mostly textual. That never bothers me, being more of a textual than a visual person, but I do want to see the film again to assess its overall impact because one viewing wasn’t enough. I liked those satiric title cards, which I think emphasised the film’s satiric tone (but I said that in my post!)

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