Friday, 18 August 2006

Book meme

Cristy tagged me for the long-form book meme that's going round - thanks, Cristy, I wanted to have a go at this one.

Just to vary the mode a little (and to give myself a lift on Friday morning) I'm going to do the meme as the Everything! Jane! Austen! edition.

1. One book you have read more than once

The only thing of JA's (including her letters and minor works) that I haven't reread over and over is her epistolary novel Lady Susan. It is not very good, frankly: the one second-rate thing in her entire canon. It was written somewhere around the time she began to think of writing fiction for a public rather than just for the entertainment of her friends and she hasn't quite got the confidence to continue writing in her own voice - it makes too many concessions to a pre-formed idea of what long novelistic fiction should be like. Publishers who think writers have to adapt themselves to already existing market preferences should be made to read this book and compare it to Austen's mature and innovative fiction (which sold, of course!)

2. One book you would want on a desert island

The answer to this question alternates between Emma and Mansfield Park - I tend to choose whichever one I've read most recently. They both have enough in them to keep a person going for decades. Emma is a sunny book and it knows and enfolds the world with a semi-Divine love and intelligence; Mansfield Park is a book about the fragile survival of a damaged psyche and reading it is like walking on a darkened shore filled with shifting sounds that momentarily forms harmonies and chords then fly apart again. Emma might make me feel like I was at home on my desert island, Mansfield Park might help me reconcile myself to being alone.

3. One book that made you laugh

Impossible to choose just one. When I need a laugh I sometimes read Jack and Alice, about the drunken, gambling-addicted Johnson family and Charles Adams, who was "so dazzling a Beauty that none but Eagles could look him in the Face", or Love & Freindship, a compact masterpiece of satirical parody anticipating the highest heights of Monty Python by a hundred and fifty years:
ONE Evening in December, as my Father, my Mother, and myself were arranged in social converse round our Fireside, we were, on a sudden, greatly astonished by hearing a violent knocking on the outward Door of our rustic Cot.

My Father started -- "What noise is that," (said he). "It sounds like a loud rapping at the door" -- (replied my Mother). "It does indeed," (cried I). "I am of your opinion; (said my Father) it certainly does appear to proceed from some uncommon violence exerted against our unoffending door." "Yes (exclaimed I) I cannot help thinking it must be somebody who knocks for admittance."

"That is another point (replied he); We must not pretend to determine on what motive the person may knock -- tho' that someone does rap at the door, I am partly convinced."

Here, a second tremendous rap interrupted my Father in his speech, and somewhat alarmed my Mother and me.

"Had we not better go and see who it is? (said she) The servants are out." "I think we had," (replied I).

"Certainly, (added my Father) by all means." "Shall we go now?" (said my Mother). "The sooner the better," (answered he). "Oh! let no time be lost" (cried I).

A third, more violent Rap than ever, again assaulted our ears. "I am certain there is somebody knocking at the Door," (said my Mother). "I think there must," (replied my Father). "I fancy the servants are returned; (said I) I think I hear Mary going to the Door." "I'm glad of it (cried my Father) for I long to know who it is."

4. One book that made you cry

The letter Jane's sister Cassandra wrote to their niece Fanny Knight describing Jane's death, aged 41, after a long and painful illness: "She felt herself to be dying about half-an-hour before she became tranquil and apparently unconscious. During that half-hour was her struggle, poor soul! She said she could not tell us what she suffered, though she complained of little fixed pain. When I asked her if there was anything she wanted, her answer was she wanted nothing but death, and some of her words were: "God grant me patience, pray for me, oh, pray for me!" Her voice was affected, but as long as she spoke she was intelligible."

Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were published shortly after Austen's death; there is a note in the margin of an Austen family copy of Persuasion (chapter 4) which brings tears to my eyes. Next to the lines
How eloquent could Anne Elliot have been! how eloquent, at least, were her wishes on the side of early warm attachment, and a cheerful confidence in futurity, against that over-anxious caution which seems to insult exertion and distrust Providence! She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.

somebody (Cassandra, most likely) has added "Dear, dear Jane! This deserves to be written in letters of gold." (Cassandra had been engaged, like Anne Elliot, to a young man who went from England on the business of the Empire, but unlike Captain Wentworth, he died while abroad.) What must it have cost Cassandra Austen to lose so young a sister like Jane? It doesn't bear thinking about.

5. One book you wish you had written

Jane Austen: or The Secret of Style by D.A. Miller. Reading this filled me with the purest envy.

6. One book you wish had never been written

Jane Austen: Irony as Defense and Discovery by Marvin Mudrick. Dude, if you hate and fear and despise a writer, maybe choose somebody else to work on?

7. One book you are currently reading

Related to Austen I am intermittently dipping in and out of about eight books on the topic of book illustration in the nineteenth century. The one I'm getting the most from is The Illustrator and the Book in England from 1790 to 1914, by Gordon N. Ray.

8. One book you have been meaning to read

When (if) I suddenly come into big sums of money I will buy copies of the newly edited and annotated texts of all Austen's novels which Cambridge University Press are publishing. The volumes already out sell for about US$120. The one I'm keenest to read (careful new editions turn up new information) is Sense and Sensibility.

9. One book that changed your life

Roger Gard's book Jane Austen: the Art of Clarity is a good solid piece of literary criticism but not spectacularly mindblowing. But it happened to be the book that I was reading (curled up on the bed in our rented flat in Eildon Road, so around about 1993-4) when some mental switch flipped and I received intimations, for the first time, of what reading could potentially do and be in my inner life. A small personal epiphany.

10. Now tag five people:

No tagging from me today - please, help yourself.


cristy said...

Excellent. I like the themed version. It made me realise that I have never actually read Mansfield Park and now I have an urge to do so immediately.

Zoe said...

This is getting ridiculous.

And what a lovely post, Miss Laura.

Kate said...

Oh bugger off Zoe, I never get Bazlotto.

I've also never read Mansfield Park... (writes another book on the to-read list)

Drewzel said...

My year 11 English teacher sort of spoiled my enjoyment of Jane Austen.

We had some assignment about reading multiple books from the same author (I think we were doing Pride and Prejudice) so I went the hack and put a lot of work into it as I was loving Jane Austen at the time. I even got my sister's uni reference: 'A easy guide to essay writing' and used footnotes, bibliography and the works.

My bubble was severely burst when my teacher gave it back with a "C" grading and some smart arse comment about it not being my own work. Needless to say, many years, year 12 and uni later, I haven't ever approached research and essay writing with the same gusto.

That same teacher incidentally told my parents at parent-teacher night that I was the best English student in the class, work that one out. She never bothered to give me any good feedback.
Maybe I was a pretentious wanker in high school (too many Smiths albums) but I got so sick of being taught by has-been, no never-was, insecure old hacks. Bah.

But happily, Laura, you've inspired me to go find my copy of Emma and re-read it. Yay!

tigtog said...

I haven't read Mansfield Park for 20 years, and will have to rectify that as I don't think I got the most out of it at the time.

I adore the Pythonesque scene.

tigtog said...

I just remembered Austen's hilarious History of England, which I saw Diana Rigg read a few years ago when all those Knights and Dames toured the colonies with the Royalty themed show whose name escapes me (I swear Ian Richardson can pronounce hyphens).

Lucy Tartan said...

Bazlotto probably needs a bit of a top-up, I haven't been maintaining the carrect ratio of cat / notcat pictures. Zoe appears to have a special relationship with Lady Luck.

Mansfield Park isn't liked by everybody. Some people can't stand the heroine but I think she's alright. You just need to get to know her.

Glad you liked the ferocious knockings on the door, Tigtog. It is very Monty Python, isn't it? One of the nice things about English loony comedy is how consistent it is, over time.

JM said...

I never get bazlotto. 4 Baz and 1 bugs, 4 Baz 1 gay acrobats, but never Bazlotto. :(

Ampersand Duck said...

Inspired meme response.

I even got Bazlotto once, and I'm not the winning type!