Tag Archives: Jane Austen

EIBF and me, 2014

It is here. The programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Book festival. And I’m sorry, but all I can think of is that Sara Paretsky will be there. It’s been three years, and she is finally coming in the summer rather than freezing her nether regions off in February/March. Which is so sensible.

OK, there must be a few other authors scheduled for the two and a bit weeks. Think, witch, think!

There are some very interesting looking events where authors one admires talk about authors one admires. I’m going to have to see if I can catch one of those, because they look like tickets might sell out fast (small tent). Then there is Patrick Ness who will give the Siobhan Dowd talk and Val McDermid will pretend to be Jane Austen.

Wendy Meddour is coming and there is a lovely pairing of Francesca Simon and Irving Finkel. Another interesting pair is Caroline Lawrence with Geraldine McCaughrean. Elizabeths Laird and Wein will cooperate, and Gill Lewis is also making an appearance.

Many more excellent authors like Sophie Hannah and Arne Dahl, Tommy Donbavand and Liz Kessler will be at the festival. I have to admit to paying less attention to the ‘grown-up’ authors again, in favour of my ‘little ones.’ Those who are given orange juice instead of wine (although I am sure not at EIBF!) because they write for children.

Have to admit that many of my hoped for events are school events. I am glad that some of the best looking events are for schools, because it means someone thinks school children deserve the best. I want to be a school child on a very temporary basis at the end of August.

Deck chair

I’m hoping for plenty of stamina on my part. I have planned a number of full or nearly full days, for about two thirds of the festival. (I was thinking of having a holiday at some point.) The event I am fairly certain I won’t be able to go to but wish I could, is Eleanor Updale talking about Vera Brittain. That would be really something.

Perhaps I will see you in Charlotte Square? (If my eyes are – temporarily – closed, just give me a gentle nudge.)

An Austen-free upbringing

After wondering why I didn’t read the books by Jane Austen or the Brontës in my early teens, I suddenly realised why, and who I could blame for this regrettable shortcoming. (Always important, because it certainly wasn’t my fault.)

My Swedish teacher when I was 15, is who. The last year of secondary school we had free reading once a week. I am – with my mature adult hindsight – guessing it was a way to get the non-readers to read. Anything. At. All.

We were allowed to read whatever we wanted, and could bring our own books or use the school library. I generally sat down with an Alistair MacLean, or similar. Generally in English (which is odd for a Swedish lesson, but never mind). Naturally the teacher would have preferred me not to.

So she suggested books I might try. The only one I remember is Pella. I am sure the Pella books were fantastic, and the teacher had most likely loved them when she was young. But I was 15, and I was reading MacLean. Pella would – possibly – have been right for me about three years earlier.

All these years I’ve remembered the teacher’s badly chosen suggested books and I have understood what she was hoping for. I just haven’t thought of what she ought to have pointed me in the direction of instead, because she was quite right in wanting me to better myself with something other than MacLean.

I already loved all manner of romances; the kind where a young governess meets her new employer who is a brooding and somewhat strange man, and where they eventually fall in love and live happily ever after. The Jane Eyre copycats. Reader, I had no idea there existed the real thing and that it would have been much more satisfying. (Not better than MacLean, obviously, but as good…)

We knew of Pride and Prejudice because it had been on television. At that point I was of an age where understanding there’d be a book as well was too much to expect. We knew about Vanity Fair, because that too had been on television. Also, Heathcliff ran around the moors on television, and I knew there was a book, but it didn’t tempt me at all.

I knew about Dickens because we had children’s abridged versions. And yes, he’d been on television.

Mother-of-witch was many things, and for someone of her background she had an astounding number of proper books and books in English. But she had not been brought up on the classic governesses, and so she could not point me in their direction. Which is fine.

But my well educated mother tongue teacher could have. And should have.

Put off

The Hardened Librarian (she’s really Den luttrade bibliotekarien) was blogging about what put her off reading when she was at school. It’s a relief to hear that others – even librarians – feel like that. I know I was certainly put off some books, and authors, by well-meaning teachers.

To some extent ‘all’ Swedish literature got to me. But as with so many things when you are growing up, you don’t know that what you’re experiencing isn’t normal. I must have assumed that in becoming an almost adult I simply had to read adult and ‘proper’ literature, and by definition it would be, if not boring, then not as riveting as it ought to.

Why should it be natural to move from exciting books at twelve, to adult boredom at 14? We’ve already established that in my day we had none of the YA. Hence the sudden move to adult classics. I wonder if (Swedish) schools today serve up more teen oriented reading material? Or do teachers pick adult books because they have forgotten already? Or because it’s the only ‘right’ thing to do?

John Steinbeck, Pärlan

I believe THL and I must be about the same age. We both read, and liked, Nevil Shute and John Steinbeck. Note that these two authors lack in Swedish-ness. I have never read many adult Swedish books. But I have friends who did, and do. I even have friends in the UK, leading English-speaking lives, but who wouldn’t dream of reading in English. Me, I always felt I was destined to come here, and to read books in my other language.

A few years ago when I interviewed Tim Bowler, he mentioned his favourite Swedish writers, and I didn’t dare admit that I didn’t agree with him. (Sorry!) Maybe I should get Tim and THL in the same room and they could discuss Pär Lagerkvist. Could be interesting.

The stupid thing is that I was so taken by the idea that I had grown up that I continued reading all this adult, but oh-so-boring stuff. I wonder why? Just think what fun I could have had in better company.

What puts English speaking teenagers off? At least many of the classics – albeit long – are reasonably interesting and readable. Though I’m grateful I saved Austen & Co until my twenties. I suspect I was more receptive to lengthy romances by then.

In the UK it seems to be customary to know which football team people, including your teachers, support. I think I can do a literary sort of line through my various teachers, showing the favourite author for each of them. When Heinrich Böll was awarded the Nobel, I read his most recent book. My German teacher adored Böll. I read several of his books. I am fairly sure I didn’t like any of them. Why did I do it?

I suppose it’s a good idea to try new writers, and not be too prejudiced. But to continue the punishment once you’ve established you don’t like someone’s writing, strikes me as madness.

Darcy, death and the literary discussion

Death Comes to Pemberley sparked a literary discussion chez Bookwitch, and doesn’t that make us sound ‘intellectual?’ The Grandmother had read the book by P D James, and didn’t think much of it. She was keen to see what they’d done to it on television, though, and I am under the impression we all liked it.

That’s the thing with quality. A good book can be ruined on the screen and vice versa. You just never know. Daughter objected at first that we weren’t getting the 1995 cast from Pride and Prejudice, but warmed fairly quickly to this new Darcy. I didn’t know what to think of dear Wickham, because I need to dislike him, and I happen to like Matthew Goode…

But anyway, it made us talk books for a while (because we never ever mention the wretched things at any other time!)

Who counts as an author of classics? Jane Austen obviously does. Her books are really old. Victorians count. They too are old. But after that my ‘misguided’ companions wanted to put the classic label on all sorts of books by all sorts of recent writers!

I realise that classic-ness is a moving feast. What wasn’t a classic before, will become one at some point. My own gut measure is somewhere around the 100 years mark. If someone alive today was also alive when a novel was written, it becomes questionable. I know that the 1950s was a long time ago, but I happen to have personal experience of part of that decade and the people who wrote books then are not at all old, thank you very much!

So I’m not ready to consider Astrid Lindgren a writer of classic books, whereas I feel that Selma Lagerlöf might have been too recent fifty years ago, but is now definitely to be considered a writer of classics.

On the other hand, I see the flaws in this. Someone younger than me will share that same 100-year-old, but will also see Astrid Lindgren as dreadfully ancient. Is there a right way?

Mansfield Revisited

I can’t but believe that Jane Austen would wholeheartedly have approved of what her colleague Joan Aiken did to her Mansfield Park characters. This reissued sequel is exactly what the doctor ordered for people who loved Fanny Price. I was one of them, because she was such an ordinary heroine, while also being so very extraordinary in her own way.

Joan removes Fanny and Edmund and sends them on a long journey, because we don’t need more from them. Instead we have Fanny’s younger sister Susan, who is now 18 and doing just fine with Lady Bertram. With the whole of Mansfield, in fact, apart from her cousin Julia who will never be pleased by anything.

Add a few new characters, such as the Rev Wadham and his sister Mrs Osborne, who stay in the vicarage while Edmund and Fanny are away. A serpent is also needed, so please welcome back Mary and Henry Crawford! Stir well, and you have yourself a book worthy of Miss Austen herself.

Joan Aiken, Mansfield Revisited

What I admire so much is the way Joan Aiken has adopted what to my untrained eye looks like the true language of the Austen era. It does not feel like a poor modern cousin. I’m sure Joan and Jane would have got on at least as famously as Susan and Mary Crawford do…

Now, it was hard to guess whether Mary was there to be redeemed, or to take up where she left off four years earlier. Plenty of possible future husbands for Susan. The Rev Wadham? Cousin Tom? Henry Crawford? Or someone else entirely? Or will Julia’s scheming for her horrible sister-in-law thwart any dreams she might  nurture? Perhaps Mary Crawford has her eyes set on one of the available men? There’s an interesting symmetry where things appear to mirror what happened four years ago.

Joan kept me guessing. This was a most enjoyable return to Mansfield, and although short, the book contains more than one romance.

Stamps, Who needs them?

When someone on facebook got disgruntled about his most recent trip to the post office a few weeks ago, I had no idea I would be agreeing with him quite so soon. I mean, I was already gruntling along, and have been for years. But this is getting silly.

I have been concerned that I am single-handedly closing down post office branches. But I can’t be that powerful, can I? Besides, I wouldn’t want to.

The fb friend had been the target of the over-selling they engage in these days, even in the tiniest sub post office. I forget what, but have an inkling he wanted stamps and they wanted to sell him insurance. I generally pop in (although it has to be admitted, with increasingly longer gaps between visits) for stamps, other letter services or cash. So I don’t need to be asked if I require a top-up or if they can do anything else for me today? It makes me so uncomfortable I try and work out ways to avoid going in at all.

And if I avoid too many times, then closure of the branch is sure to follow. We don’t even get a newspaper any longer, although the chap on the ordinary shop counter is much more relaxed and never suggests I need a chocolate along with that copy of the Guardian. (The pick-and-mix sweets went three postmasters ago. Unhygienic.)

What I miss is the staff who would tell their colleague that ‘Mrs Bookwitch likes her cash in tens.’ Staff who sold me the stamps I wanted, and if I had forgotten to order them they would get them in anyway, because they knew roughly what I’d be wanting.

Jane Austen stamps

Anyway, on the day when fb friend wanted no insurance, I went in to buy the new Jane Austen stamps. I’d not double checked the issue date, but fb had been awash with comments on the postal Miss Austen, so I felt I was about right.

‘What?’ said the girl on the counter. ‘I would like to buy the new Jane Austen stamps, please,’ I said again. ‘Uh,’ she said. ‘We don’t have them. We only have the Doctor Who stamps.’ ‘OK, I’ll have some of them then.’ (I didn’t recall the issue date, but had no wish to argue.)

She went behind the scenes to speak to the boss, returning to say that they are such an insignificant post office they don’t get the Jane Austen stamps. ‘And we can’t even sell the Doctor Who stamps yet,’ she finished. I thanked her (for what?) and left, with no sale made. Not even a little top-up.

Once home I looked up the dates. Jane Austen was the day before my visit. Doctor Who is today. So it would have been very surprising to get them five weeks early.

This is precisely why I don’t want to go there. I can’t get what I want, and I can’t want what they can let me have.

Doctor Who stamps

The last literary stamp debacle was a couple of years ago when I rashly decided I’d like the fantasy book ones, featuring Nanny Ogden and Dumbledore and all the rest. So I ordered them from stamp headquarters in Edinburgh. The professionals. OK, so it cost a bit extra to have them sent, but I saw this as saving on the bus fare to the main post office.

These professionals sent me only some of what I ordered. I emailed to demand the rest I’d paid for. The automated reply suggested I should expect to wait five weeks for a reply. I emailed back telling them to get their skates on. They apologised and sent me some stamps.

Not all of them, obviously. I wrote back. Had another offer of a five week wait. I mentioned the skates again. They sent some more. Not all of them, obviously.

And so we went on, until my order had been fulfilled. The lovely thing about stamp headquarters is that they sell to philatelists, so wrap every stamp very nicely and well. That’ll be why they charge extra. This way, I had beautifully presented – albeit in short measure – stamps every time they posted some more out. That must have cost them a lot, in the end.

It was with this in mind that I really didn’t want to bring Jane Austen up at the local PO. Nor did I want to renew my email correspondence with those incompetent professionals up north.

One solution is to send no post. I suspect that far too many of us already do this (don’t do this?), and that’s why they are going under. My old postal heart is bleeding, but what can I do?

Darcy’s puddle

Couldn’t help noticing there’s been a lot of Pride and Prejudice stuff everywhere. I’ll pitch in with the famous puddle, now that we supposedly will be flooded again. This swimming pool is more elegant than the one at the bottom of the Bookwitch garden.

Lyme Park

But strictly speaking I’d say the stretch of water in the photo is a similar distance from this – slightly larger – house, although I daresay it’s not all rain water.

I would like it to be summer again. Or spring. Something with sunshine and a little warmth, and less of the H₂O from above. I won’t absolutely require Colin Firth to make an appearance, but if he did that would be perfectly fine.