Friday, 22 August 2008

Awesome, yet rough, with bonus internal reading log (ouch sounds a bit uncomfortable)

Long intervals between posting is becoming the default rather than the exception which I'm not at all happy about; but there's just. no. time. It's not that I don't have the free minutes (of course I do) but by the time they roll around I'm no longer able to think good.

You know life is demanding when clicking through for one's daily dose of Achewood is like stepping for a moment into a kinder, gentler altogether less abrasive world.

It's possible that this feeling is partly due to the punishing self-imposed public transport and bedtime regime of reading terrible novels about Jane Austen and time traveling. The one I'm on now is typical in that the (invariably American, even in novels by English writers) Mary Sue figure unexplainedly goes back in time, meets JA and instantly becomes her BFF. JA in this book is a terrifying sociopath who can't stop smiling knowingly or roguishly and who speaks entirely in schizophrenically aphoristic phrases stolen from the mouths of Mr John Knightley, Sir Edward Denham, and Mr Bennet among far, far too many others. When I'm finished with it I'm going straight onto Seducing Mr Darcy which a quick look through indicates is depraved and silly in equal measures.

Before these I read Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict which really wasn't too bad at all. It was fun, actually. I liked that when the time traveling heroine of this novel (who not only went back in time, but woke up living in another woman's body - creepy) actually had her inevitable yet long-delayed encounter with the Author, she embarrassed herself by carrying on like a crazed stalker, fully aware that she wasn't making the best of impressions but unable to stop herself just the same. This strikes me as a plausible scenario, if you allow the premise. Anyway, the novel was readable enough to keep me going to the end out of more than a sense of duty.

Something all these books share is a repeated insistence that people in the Regency period were dirty and smelled disgusting. It's presented as a piece of gritty historical realism meant to dispel the protagonist's romantic fantasies. But I sort of doubt it's actually true; without having had time to do any proper investigating, it looks like partly the notion that English people don't wash, and partly granting too much credence to the direful warnings of modern cosmetics marketing that we can't be clean unless we use a lot of soaps and powders and creams and sprays.

Since the last reading log I have also reread Richard III, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Udolpho, for teaching.

I am intermittently reading Inventing Human Rights: a History, by Lynn Hunt, a book that is much shorter than a name like that might suggest is necessary. It's very good, I think. I am pretty ignorant about the circumstnaces of the various declarations and conventions on human rights and the book is giving me a broad survey with what seem to be pivotal moments explained in the sort of detail that helps you understand how changes came about. But the chapter relating eighteenth-century novel-reading to the development of empathy is the only one covering material I know about independently and it has some strange things in it - like the implication that Frances Burney only wrote three novels - which suggest a perhaps sketchy grasp on the material. And to be honest, literary historians have been aware of what novel-reading taught people to do and be for a long time and it's a bit disconcerting to not see any of that body of knowledge drawn on. I'm whining on like this because the point is that slight wrongness in one part of a work of this scope makes you tend to doubt the parts where you really have to trust the writer's erudition is as sound as it appears to be.

I've not been sleeping well and when I wake up between three and four in the morning I give the zonked-out Basil a pat and read two or three chapters of The Clocks by Agatha Christie. It's one of those books that you can really tell she wrote in a one continuous forward movement never pausing and never looking back, never even hesitating momentarily to rethink a word choice or mentally grope around for a slightly more interesting piece of dialogue.

One thing about it does puzzle or baffle me slightly however. It is set in a suburban street - Christie calls it Wilbraham Crescent - which is said to have been put up by a Victorian property speculator. This apparently means not only building the houses but also laying out the road and lots. And the street, which is crescent-shaped, is said to be 'inside out' - with the houses' rear gardens adjoining back to back, and the road apparently ringing the lots. The street numbers are continuous around the loop or U or whatever it is. There seems to be a solid wall on the outer side of the street. Can you get your head around this? Have you ever heard of or seen anything like it in reality?

Since settling on the booklist for the women's writing course I have also begun a reread of the amazing Swastika Night, a badly timed and indulgent reading choice but obviously answering to some current psychological need, most likely brought on by the daily televisual displays of olympian fascistic domination which I trust will soon be brought to a close.

1 comment:

Zoe said...

Laura, I know that pattern from a housing development near my primary school. There wasn't a solid wall, as such, but terracey places with a thigh height brick fence and often more shadecloth, etc up. That's the back of your house, but is the entry. The houses open onto fairly dingy and dry open park with a few trees and a bodgy playground. At two or three points around, there's a break to the street. If you think about it as concentric circles it might be clearer.