Good morning my loves!
I hope you’ve had a great week and have something lovely planned for the weekend, even if it’s doing nothing like me! As for me, as this post goes live, I’ll have been on holiday for four days and only had one headache – which is a record for me at the moment!
Today’s post is one that I am super excited to share. If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen me tweeting about starting a new series, the desert island books with lovely authors, and I couldn’t be more excited to have Alis Hawkins as the first one, seeing as it was our conversation that sparked the idea! I shall stop rambling on now and pass you over to Alis!
Thanks for asking me to kick this feature off, Amy! Glad our conversation on the book tour for In Two Minds inspired you!
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Why? Because it’s the grand cru champagne of novels – sparkling, satisfyingand with more depth than you might expect.
Jane Austen wields her glittering, finely-honed literarytools with huge confidence and dexterity and creates a world that, even though it’s separated from us by two centuries, is instantly recognisable and believable interms of its family dynamics. From the beginning we understand the dilemmas and feel for Lizzie and Jane as they try to mitigate their mother’s meat-marketing instincts, their father’s propensity for abdicating responsibility and their younger siblings’ tendency to be completely – though dissimilarly – hopeless.
People are apt to be sniffy about Austen’s ‘restricted pallette’ and the way she confines herself to ‘domestic themes’ but I just don’t think those people are looking hard enough. Calling P&P a romantic novel is like calling Hamlet a family drama, it kind of misses the point. The novel deals with universal themes, particularly how the individual is constrained by the norms and expectations of the society she lives in. For instance, both Elizabeth and her flighty little sister, Lydia, want to marry for love but whereas Lydia throws caution to the winds and flies in the face of societal rules (with an abandon which kind of makes her a heroine to modern, far more individualistic eyes) Lizzie is more circumspect and is more aware of the effects of her own actions on the rest of her family. Individual wishes vs family needs vs societal expectations – what could be a more universal than that?
But back to those glittering literary tools. Just considerthe opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice.
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife’.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a sentence to die for. It’s a one-line work of genius. In twenty-two words Austen tells you what the book is going to be about andsimultaneously lets you into a secret: she’s going to poke fun at people. Because, if you really want a truth that’s universally acknowleged, the book soon makes clear, it’s that prospective wives are in want of single men of good fortune. And none more so than the Bennett girls who will be penniless and homeless on the death of their father.
And, though she doesn’t labour the point, the bit of legalese which entails that the estate currently in the hands of Mr Bennett, father to the four Bennet girls, must be passed on to a male heir is at the root of the whole P & P narrative. This oppressive bit of inheritance law makes it essential that at least one of the girls must marry well so that she can make sure that the others have a roof over their heads. So, from a feminist point of view, you could argue that every single action in P & P is a commentary on the way in which the law of inheritance – a tool of the patriarchy – serves to keep women subservient to men and to force them into marriage.
Simple ‘romantic fiction’? Not so much.
If I really was on a desert island and I genuinely only hadroom for three books, I wouldn’t use up my allowance with three novels because they wouldn’t be able to cater to all my different moods and needs. Poetry would be essential. As well as helping me to keep experiencing the full range of human social emotions even in the absence of any other humans, I could learn poems off by heart so I didn’t forget how to speak or go doo-lally.
And I wouldn’t take a single poet’s work I’d need more breadth than that. So I’ve chosen the longest anthology I could find – A Poem for Every Day of The Year, compiled by Allie Esiri.
There are some poems in this anthology that I wouldn’t pay much attention to in the usual run of things – long narrative poems for instance – but it contains some gems that you’d never come across unless you were looking to be surprised. And that’s the joy of poetry, I think – being surprised by the way somebody else sees the world, and looking at things differently through their eyes.
And, sometimes, poetry can just be delicious and sensuous in and of itself. Like Dylan Thomas’s Fern Hill or John Keats’s Ode to Autumn. Then there are the poems that make you work your brain – I still remember the delight of working out all the meanings in one of John Donne’s poems for the first time when I was sixteen and had just started studying A-level English.
With 366 poems to choose from, there’s bound to be one that meets my needs on any particular day and, when I’ve learned them all off by heart, I can use the pages to light fires with.
I have a magpie mind and can’t resist an interesting fact. I love learning how things in the world work together to bring about history and geography, science and technology. As a teenager, I remember being hugely impressed by a TV programme by James Burke called Connections which explained things like how you could see the development of modern fertilisers as a primary cause of the First World War.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, my magpie mind loves podcasts and I’ve recently been listening to one which is very much in that Burkian vein. Actually produced for the BBC World Service by economist and broadcaster Tim Harford, Fifty Things That Made The Modern Economyis a series of short, 15 minute programmes about things that have resulted in us being where we are now.Everything from paper to the supply chain, radar to double entry bookkeeping. It should really be called A Hundred Things… because we’re now into series two.
And, of course, the podcast has now morphed into a book so I’ll take that because although I find the podcast fascinating, I don’t remember above half of what I hear. OK, maybe a quarter. And being able to read about human ingenuity and tenacity might just inspire me to make a boat to escape the island, or some means of signalling to the planes overhead.
Because, quite frankly, I’d be rubbish on a desert island.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Alis for kicking this off! I urge you to pick up one of her books. My recommendation is None So Blind, the first in a series of Victorian era novels set in West Wales. I’ve loved both that have been released and I’m eagerly waiting for book number 3 – which I’m sure will be just as brilliant!
You can find Alis here
Find out about my books at www.AlisHawkins.co.uk
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You can also follow me on Twitter – @Alis_Hawkins
See me also on Crime.Cymru.
Peace and pages