Monday, 27 December 2010

'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen

'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen - one of my all-time favourite novels (I also adore the BBC dramatisation of it with the gorgeous Colin Firth).

Well anyway, I was prompted to re-read it yet again the other day. Why? Because our eldest son Alexander's girlfriend Simone is studying it as part of her English Literature degree with the Open University. She is reading a posh, large edition of it, with lots of lovely pictures of the BBC dramatisation in it. Whereas the edition that I have sitting on my shelf (published by Pan books) is a very small paperback edition, but includes a superb introduction by Brigid Brophy. However, unlike me, Simone unfortunately (especially for her, as she is studying it) doesn't seem to like the book much at all. She is struggling to read it, it seems, and the whole process is taking her a long time (even though she is a quick reader). Then, again, of course, reading Jane Austen is challenging. But let's just hope that such things do not effect her ability to obtain a good degree. She has been finding the degree challenging, although has also made some good progress overall.

So, anyway, I decided to read 'Pride and Prejudice' again. With the classics (whether this be in literature, music or whatever) I find that every time one reads, listens, watches, or observes, or whatever one usually gets something new and different out of the whole experience.

This time I got many new and different things from reading 'Pride and Prejudice'. First of all, I thought in more concrete terms about some of the similarities between Jane Austen and myself. This is something that I have felt instinctively for many years; but reading 'Pride and Prejudice' again, this time I thought about it more explicitly. It is a well-known fact, of course, that Lizzy in 'Pride and Prejudice' represents a side of Jane Austen (and that Emma in Jane Austen's novel 'Emma' represents another side). I also love the book 'Emma' and, once again, also particularly loved the BBC dramatisation of it, with Doran Goodwin and John Carson. I can see elements of both of these characters (Lizzy and Emma) within myself. This includes factors such as looking at life through both intelligent and satirical eyes; wishing to be cultural and accomplished whilst also having awareness of one's own limitations (Lizzy's awareness of her limitations on playing the pianoforte, for example); being attracted to a certain type of man (intelligent, dark, strong-minded, sometimes distance, having manners in certain circumstances but not necessarily so in others if it does not seem to be appropriate etc); loving to read novels (Jane Austen enjoying this from a child, as I did - her father had a library of 500 books by 1801 and Lizzy enjoying books); a religous upbringing (Jane Austen herself, with her father being a clergyman); the need to use our brain within the situations that we find ourselves in (this applied to Emma on a large-scale, which was why she became a match-maker of course and obviously to Jane Austen herself); having a family that could often be embarrassing (this applies to various members of Lizzy's family, including sisters Lydia and Mary as well as her mother; also to Emma's father who was always complaining about the drafts etc) and to having a particularly annoying and silly mother (in this case, Lizzy's mother).

I feel a great affinity with Lizzy in regard to her mother. Like Mrs Bennett my mother was confused, silly and always going on about her nerves! We are introduced to Lizzy's annoying and daft mother on just the 2nd page of 'Pride and Prejudice', with Mrs Bennett saying this to Mr Bennett:

"You take delight in vexing me. You have no compassion on my poor nerves."

And he replies:

"You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty five years."

I love the satire! Similarly, my mother - she was always going on about 'her nerves' and all the things that were wrong with her. She was a right hypochondriac!

In regard to Lizzy's mother, Mrs Bennett, we have various gems. Jane Austen says that Mrs Bennett was:

"...a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; her solace was visiting and news." (p. 3)

'Nerves' for a certain type of woman could be just so useful!

And here we have something about Mr Bennett's view in regard to Mrs Bennett:

"Her [Lizzy's] father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown." (p.175)

Then, towards the end of the book, when Jane, Lizzy and Lydia are all married we discover that Mrs Bennett still:

"...was occasionally nervous and invariably silly." (p. 286)

So, she never fundamentally changes. And Mr Bennett, by marrying such a person, caused many and various problems for the family of course. Still, he was an intelligent man and managed to see his way through many and various situations, somehow or other (although he recognised the fact that he was also often very fortunate in how things finally turned out).

In regard to the humiliation and embarrassment brought upon the family by the behaviour of Lydia with Wickham we have statements such as this:

"But she [Lizzy] had never felt so strongly as now, the disadvantages which must attend the children of so unsuitable a marriage, nor ever been so fully aware of the evils arising from so ill-judged a direction of talents; talents which, rightly used, might at least have preserved the respectability of his daughters, even if incapable of enlarging the mind of his wife." (pp. 175-6)


"Lydia - the humiliation, the misery she was bringing on them all..." (p. 204)

I similarly, have suffered considerable embarrassment from certain members of my family on and off over the years!

As I have already said though, what I particularly loved and appreciated reading the book this time round, was the powerful and insightful introduction to the book by Brigid Brophy. Brigid Brophy made me think very clearly about some very important points about the novel as an art form; thereby emphasising the brilliance and genius of Jane Austen in a slightly different way for me (as opposed to enjoying the novel on a somewhat simpler level).

Brigid Brophy talks about the beautiful forms that Jane Austen created, and how she did this partly by being ruthless with her work, and destroying that which needed to be destroyed.

"Jane Austen's novels are beautiful forms because of what she destroyed in uncovering them. No element is without counterpart. No action merely ends a phase - it is always a resolution, not merely the last note but the key note, exactly in tune by virtue of its relation to all the notes that went before and theirs to one another." (p. x)

This reminds me of Mozart's work in some ways; having just the right amount of notes, and in the right order etc. (as opposed to some of his critics at the time, that said that his compositions had too many notes! Dear oh dear).

And then there is Mr Collins, the silly and annoying cousin of Lizzy's that also never read novels. As Brigid Brophy says:

"...Mr Collins declares he never reads novels. Jane Austen couldn't have said anything more damning than that." (p. xv)

Here then, Jane Austen is emphasising again how infuriating she can personally find silly and annoying people to be, whilst also making it clear just how wonderful she thinks the novel is. And Lizzys' love of reading is also articulated in the following way when she is reading a book, and then looks up to say to Mr Darcy:

"How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book! - When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library." (p.40)

'How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book." I couldn't agree with her more!

Yet, in 'Emma' we witness here the compassionate side of her in regard to those that are less intelligent, with Miss Bates, who is so good-hearted and kind, but not very bright. Also, how guilty Emma felt at one point, when she felt that she had not treated her right and where she had spoken in public about the limits of her conversation.

Moving on, Brigid Brophy rightly turns on its head, the notion that Jane Austen wrote limited novels that just mirrored the society and the surroundings that she was brought up in. This is an accusation that is often thrown at her work, and is really just so unfair. I am reminded of the work of the philosopher J.S. Mill which I have written about in my newsletters and on my 'Ruth Rikowski Updates Progression' blog. J.S. Mill had an amazing ability to be able to write clearly and in an approachable way, which can then sometimes perhaps be taken for granted. I think something similar can apply to Jane Austen's novels. On one level they can appear to be so clear and simple and just lovely, creating a beautiful environment with interesting people - we can just escape into it, and perhaps wish that the real world was more like it, and leave it at that (or at least I can on one level, that's for sure). But although this is all very nice, if we leave it at that, then we are grossly under-estimating the power and brilliance of Jane Austen's work of course (although in reality, to be fair, that does not really happen much). As Brigid Brophy rightly says:

"It is sometimes implied that Jane Austen was a great novelist despite these limitations on her own experience and on her subject matter. But there is no 'despite' about it. Her subject matter constituted bricks quite adequate to building the structures her imagination conceived, as the perfection of the finished structures bears witness. Her own circumstances were actually helpful in that they included the opportunity for her to make herself technically competent - indeed, virtuoso - at writing novels. The technique of fiction is every bit as hard and lengthy to acquire as that of architecture or counterpoint" (p.v-vi)

Charles Hazlewood also thought this about Mozart's work; that much of the brilliance and passion of Mozart's work arose precisely from the life circumstances that he found himself in; and that his work should not be seen as something separate from this. But geniuses have the unique ability to be able to do this; to transform everyday occurences and passions into something else; into something creative, artistic and wonderful, that we can then all enjoy. This is what I see as being the big difference to be.

Brigid Brophy continues, says that:

"Far from passively and impartially reflecting back everything in her own milieu, she is a ruthless suppressor of all items which would not forward her plot or carry a structural weight in her design. A mirror reflects an assemblage in which the elements don't, as old-fashioned water-colourists used to put it, 'compose'; Jane Austen's novels are cogent, dynamic designs - structures of organic engineering." (p. vii)

Then, Brigid Brophy makes it clear that she thinks that Jane Austen's level of genius is on a par with that of Marx, Freud, Shakespeare and Mozart, and I quite agree with her about all of this. She says:

"The twentieth-century, which has been rightly taught by Marx and by Freud to get down to economic and sexual brass tacks, would quickly dismiss a merely mirroring Jane Austen as reflecting far too small a corner of England, too well protected against the intrusion of brass tacks to be statistically significant...Instead, of fading, Jane Austen is in the twentieth century standing out more and more unmistakenably. For the first time since one of her contemporary reviewers [Whately, later Archbishop of Dublin] recognised her as a Shakespearean genius, it is clear that she wrote her books not as a more entertaining way of passing the long rural, upper-middle-class winter evenings than needlework, but because she was a passionate artist whom nothing - not even if she had been a vivandiere - could have stopped." (p.ix)


"The imagination of a great novelist is an instrument as penetrating and analytic as the imagination of a Marx or a Freud. And indeed Jane Austen's artistic insight into the worlds she created carried her down to the very same brass tacks as those two thinkers reached by thinking their way down into the structure of the real world outside themselves." (p.x)

Furthermore, Brigid Brophy says that:

"The ground-plan of all Jane Austen's structures is laid out round two axes, her two great realistic perceptions: the economics of being a woman at a time when marriage was the only key to financial independence; and the power of sexual attraction, which may tempt you towards an imprudent marriage or towards a love which, not being reciprocated, won't lead to marriage at all. The novels Jane Austen constructs about these two great pillars are no more naturalistic than Mozart's operas or Shakespeare's comedies." (p. xii)

She concludes by saying that:

" many great works of art, Pride and Prejudice is itself a metaphor of art: an ever-living monument to the power of the imagination, constructed by an imagination of genius round imagination's two principles." (p.xvii)

Wow - Brigid Brophy's introduction is almost an amazing piece of art work in itself, I think!

The ability to re-create life in its various forms, into a beautiful work of art - what a truly wonderful, wonderful gift that is! And how much we can benefit from all of that. And of course, Jane Austen had this gift in abundance.

So I come to the end of another little episode for me in regard to Jane Austen. Although, perhaps now I will re-read one of her other novels, perhaps with new, refreshed and different eyes. Have to see.......

Monday, 20 December 2010

'An Apple from Eden' by Emma Blair

'An Apple from Eden' by Emma Blair (Little, Brown and Company, London, 1998).

Every novel by Emma Blair is proving to be a winner for me! I find them all page-turners, whilst also giving me the 'feel-good factor'.
The story focuses around two families; the rich Seatons and the working class Flynns, whose lives become intertwined at the time of the Great War. The book deals with passion, romance and tragedies set amidst various social class issues.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

'Moonlit Eyes' by Emma Blair

This was a great book - 'Moonlit Eyes' by Emma Blair (Time Warner paperbacks, London, 2002). I couldn't put it down.
This is about a black couple, New York saxaphonist Pee Wee Poston and his wife Beulah coming to live in Islington and living next door to Albert and Jess Sykes and their children Ellie and Paul. Pee Wee and Beulah have come to London in order to be near their son Julius, a high-flying diplomat at the American embassy. The Sykes are friendly and helpful to Pee Wee and Beulah, even though they see them as being in a class above them, and there is also the race issue.
War then breaks out. Son Paul is evacuated but is unhappy. He comes home, but it results in him getting killed. Ellie is heart-broken and blames herself a lot. Then tragically, a bomb hits the house and Ellie is also killed.
Albert goes to convalesce in a home supported by his trade union. He is really happy there, does lots of odd-jobs for the matron there and decides to stay. Meanwhile, Ellie and Julius fall in love.
At first, Albert is concerned about the race issue, but then he accepts them.
So, there are various tragedies throughout the book, and the book addresses various social issues, but there is a happy ending.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

'P.S. I Love You' by Cecelia Ahern

I tried giving this book 'a go', 'P.S. I Love You' by Cecelia Ahern (HarperCollins, London, 2007) but I was disappointed. I only got a third of the way through it; it just did not engage me enough.
Holly and Gerry had been childhood sweethearts but Gerry dies suddenly at only the age of 30 years. He leaves Holly a lot of letters that she must read at times that he has stipulated. May be that was it - the topic was just a bit too depressing for me. It seemed fairly obvious to me roughly where the plot was going, but I didn't feel that I wanted or really needed to know somehow.

Monday, 6 December 2010

'The Other Woman' by Jane Green

This was a good book - 'The Other Woman' by Jane Green (Penguin, London, 2005). I read one other book by Jane Green, so I thought I would try another, and yes, I enjoyed it.
Ellie and Dan are in love, and are proof that opposites attract. Ellie's mother died when she was a baby. Dan's mother is possessive, wanting to organise everything, including their wedding etc. But Ellie took this in her stride at first, thinking that it was nice, that there was a mother figure around. However, after a while, it all got a bit much. A big problem is that often Dan won't defend her in regard to it all.

Dan says, for example, "Oh, for God's sake...can't you just give it a rest? All I've been hearing for weeks now is you bitching about my mother." (p. 91)

Ellie replies, saying:

"That's because you never stand up for me. If you were to actually show some balls and defend me, or agree with me when your mother is manipulative or unreasonable, then it wouldn't wind me up as much." (p.91)

But then "...Dan explained how he feels pulled between the two most important women in his life..." (p. 92)
A difficult situation.
The Daily Express describes the book as "A compelling page-turner from start to finish" - and I very much agree.

Friday, 3 December 2010


I love music; I can't live without music; it is my lifeblood; it is like bread and water to me.

My love of books is fairly well-known now, I think, but not so much my love of music. Well, in essence, music is just as important to me as books. I just could not carry on/live without either. Books and Music - the essentials of life, as far as I am concerned!!

I have been a little reticent about talking about all this publicly; when I first got published, I took the professional approach; then the political and Marxist theoretical approach.

It is only over the last year or so that I have started making my love of literature and music more public. And as I say, the focus has still been very much on the novel (apart from my long piece about Michael Jackson - as I was so beside myself over his sudden death).

Anyway, I now feel that it is time to rectify this anomaly, and to say something more about my love of music. As with books, I have loved music for as long as I remember. But I guess the big difference is that with books, reading books, it was all very much my decision (well reading a book has to be doesn't it - it is such a personal, individual experience). As a child, I took myself off to the local public library; I choose which books to borrow; I went home and read them. Then, of course, there were the books that I got for presents. But even then - one chooses whether or not to read them, what order to read them, whether to read all or some of them, whether to re-read them etc. And of course, this love of books has remained with me forever. When some people say that they never read a book I am very puzzled - however, do they get by in life, I think? But of course, that is only my way of looking at it all. We are all very different, when all is said and done. I love getting into the minds of different people; or at least, people that think, that have things to say and express; and that can do this well - i.e. getting into the minds of published authors. This is so, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, but of course, fiction was my first love.

As a child, music, in contrast, was all around me (it was not something that I decided to do on my own in the way that reading books was). My mother loved to sing and dance; I sang hymns at church; I was in a choir; my mother was in a choir; I went to concerts (I remember being very keen on Gilbert and Sullivan, for example); I listened to music on the radio; and I learnt the piano and the recorder (although I wasn't so keen on the 'learning the piano fiasco' - the cold front room and all that - no central heating in those days). Anyway...But then in my mid teens I started buying some records of my own. Cat Stevens was one of my first loves here.

Then, when I went to university I bought myself a record player and lots of records (certainly did not want a TV). Lovely! I also used to go to university discos about 3 times a week and danced very energetically and enthusiastically; I was in heaven. I absolutely loved it. Lots of wonderful music used to waft across the campus as well; Pink Floyd's 'The Dark Side of the Moon' was the ultimate; it was brilliant. The sounds of that wafted across the campus, from student's rooms, more than any other album or artist. We all loved it. The sun shone, and Pink Floyd sang.

And so, this love of music has continued ever since - always looking out for the next interesting album, the next artist etc. These days I borrow lots of CDs from my local library in Ilford - that way I can get familiar with a large repertoire of music without it costing me too much. Great. I love it.

So, I read, I write, I listen to music, I dance, I sing etc. Truly wonderful; I am in seventh heaven as long as I have all this. Take it all away from me and I would be doomed. But I certainly don't intend to go down that path!

Although I had private piano lessons as a child (and also learnt the recorder actually), I was not properly classically musically trained. This is one of the problems with music. It can still be very much a class/elitist thing, when all is said and done. You know, middle class parents having the money and inclination to send their children to private music lessons (particularly important given how poorly resourced music departments in schools tend to be). Breaking out of that mould is very difficult. And can folks make a living/make money out of music? Well, very difficult. So, folks often choose the 'safer' career options; but without music we are all the poorer. What an impossible life it would be without these wonderful creative outlets. Dear oh dear! But it is wrong that, once again, those that are not so well off can tend to suffer.

In regard to music and libraries, whilst we all know that libraries are for borrowing books, we can sometimes forget, or at least look over the fact, that they can also be very good for borrowing music!I have gone through various phases with this one; well, I go through phases with my library-usage anyway, but more so with music....

When I was on maternity leave with our eldest son, Alexander, I used to borrow a lot of music records from our local library in Coventry - yes, it was still records in those days!

Then, on and off over the years, I have borrowed music CDs from the local library - and of course, this was easy when I worked in the public library service myself. Furthermore, our middle son, Victor, worked at Kensington Central Library for a couple of years. They have a wonderful music library there -with lots of music CDs but also lots of music scores and books about famous composers etc. Anyway, he borrowed lots of CDs whilst he worked there; some of which I liked but quite a lot of which did not appeal to my tastes all that much. Still - it was all an interesting experience!

Then, last year, after my father-in-law died I picked it all up again. The music selection in my very local library was useless; but Ilford Library (not far away) has a wonderful collection I discovered. Now, months later, I am borrowing music CDs again on a regular basis. It means that I can listen to a large repertoire of music without it costing me too much. I also like the physical thing of going into the library - so, no I don't want to get it all from the Internet, if anyone asks. I have heard some wonderful music by this method. I love listening to new music as well - so this is a great way in which I can keep cheerful, listen to and absorb a lot of new music, sharing music with others, as well as having a great time dancing around, relaxing etc - without it all costing a lot of money. Winners all round - until the cuts start biting. Whatever is Cameron and his crew doing to the public library service, and indeed, to our public services and way of life, in general. But I try not to think about it all too much; it is too depressing, and just all to dreadful. Why did people vote in all this rubbish? But then again, whilst the electorate can be blamed for voting in Thatcher, they can't be blamed for voting in Cameron in the same sort of way. Cameron does not have a mandate from the people for this right-wing government; but still, he continues, never-the-less.

I love such a lot of different types of music; I could not begin to say where it begins and ends. A lot of the time, these days, I prefer the softer artists over the heavy rock and metal ones, it has to be said; but then again, I/we go through phases with music, and a lot of the time, it can depend on one's mood, can it not. It is the continued freshness and the difference that I love; and the ability that music has to reflect your mood - I put on a certain type of music when I am in one mood; and a different type of music when I am in a different mood. One can express oneself through music in ways that it is not possible to in any other way. And we need a variety of ways in which to be able to express ourselves.

But certainly, I love listening to new music; to music that I have not heard before. I am not one of those that likes to keep listening to the same thing time after time after time.

At the moment, there are a number of strands to all of this music for me: listening to music (CDs etc); dancing; singing in a choir; going to concerts; seeeing live bands (including our local folk night, 'Forest Roots'), watching music programmes on the TV and DVD; enjoying our middle son Victor's band, 'Cold Hands & Quarter Moon' and all the excitement around watching them grow, develop, listening to the new songs that Victor writes etc. etc.

Perhaps, I will write some other blogs about particular artists and albums that I enjoy/have enjoyed. Have to see.

But for now, let's sing and dance, and enjoy all the wonderful things that music can offer and bring to us.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

'Forget-Me-Not' by Emma Blair

In the Emma Blair mode, I decided to re-read 'Forget-Me-Not', (Little, Brown and Company, London, 2001) as I managed to pick up a copy in a library book sale the other day. This is a good book; by which I mean that it is a book that really engages me, a book I can't put down! Over the years, this has been the most most important criteria for what I classify as being a 'good book'. I have gone down various other paths, of course. and doing A' level English Literature obviously made me think a lot about the beauty of classical literature, which I then read and enjoyed much of over the years. But my childhood love of novels stemmed from picking up a book that enticed me, engaged me, took me to somewhere else, that enabled me to forget about day-to-day reality, for a period. And it is that main love that has remained with me throughout the whole of my life. A sort of socialisation process that I gave myself, I guess, if you get my drift.
Anyway, themes of boarding houses, newspaper reporting and acting run throughout this novel - an interesting combination. Tim Wilson, a newspaper reporter for the Torquay Times (yes, 'Fawlty Towers' springs to mind!) and his mother run a small boarding house and the interesting actress Elyse Davenport comes to stay at it.
Meanwhile, Tim is besotted with Katherine Coates, the daughter of a business colleague of his late father. But Katherine's mother Ruth has higher sights for her. In order to make what she wants happen she tells Katherine that she only has a few months to live. Katherine complies and marries Miles; but then Miles tragically is killed at war. Meanwhile, Katherine's father Jeremiah can hardly bear Ruth any longer and has an affair with Henrietta. As war is looming, Tim doesn't want to die not knowing what sex is all about, doesn't want to have sex with a stranger, so Elyse and Tim decide to make it together. But tragically, Elyse is actually dying (and not fabricating it as Ruth was). She dies, and finally Tim and Katherine are together.
So, it was interesting, having a novel that combined all this plot against the backdrop of the artistic, creative world.