‘Members Of One Another’: South Riding (1936), by Winifred Holtby

South RidingSamantha Ellis’ How To Be A Heroine has certainly opened up doors for me when it comes to 1930s and 40s English literature. The literature of the twentieth century has always eluded me before now, mostly because I was convinced that it would be, based on my limited experience with it, either a) depressing, or b) mad, confusing, and experimental. Or possibly both.

But one thing I’ve found, reading Cold Comfort Farm and re-reading I Capture The Castle, is how contemporary these texts can feel. And they’re so easy to read, flowing like Victorian novels – only with telephones and cars thrown in. The same can be said of South Riding, another of the books that Ellis discusses in How To Be A Heroine.

South Riding is set in the fictional South Riding of Yorkshire, and its main character is a forty-year old spinster called Sarah Burton, who comes up from London to become the headmistress of the girls’ high school. She brings with her boundless energy and a desire for reform. She’s a character who believes that “The proper technique of headmistress-ship was to break all rules of decorum and justify the breach” (Book I, Chapter V).

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Lit Major Abroad: Edinburgh – First Impressions

Edinburgh CastleYep. I know I’ve dropped the ball again when it comes to blogging (although, let’s face it, when it comes to my blogging habits, I have all the athletic skills of – well, of me, really). In my defence, it has been a crazy time: new city, new people, new bookstores to discover and spend way too much time in…. But now that winter has begun to sink its teeth into the city, and tourism seems distinctly less appealing in the biting wind (seriously, what is up with the wind in this city?) I thought I’d share some of my first impressions of Edinburgh. Because to be honest, I haven’t had all that much time to stop and reflect on my experiences here so far. Also, it’s essay-writing season over at the university, and I’m a tried and tested procrastinator.

So… where to begin with this famous city of literature? (And I’m not just saying that, by the way – Edinburgh really was named a City of Literature by UNESCO.) Continue reading

‘A Life of One’s Own’: Lolly Willowes (1926), by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Lolly WillowesDo you want to read about an old, respectable English spinster who moves to the country and sells her soul to the Devil to become a witch in the heady days of the 1920s?

Of course you do. It’s a fantastic idea. Forget great parties at Gatsby’s, I want to see an old English lady drop her drop-waisted dress and do Satanic dances on top of a hill. I want to see her chat with the Devil over tea and biscuits. I want it to be kind of like The Master and Margarita only less confusing.

And who knew that in between the two World Wars such a book was actually written? I couldn’t believe that this book existed, but I knew the minute I read about it in Samantha Ellis’ How To Be A Heroine that I had to find it. Quite how Lolly Willowes came into existence I have no idea. But I’m glad it did. Continue reading

Top Ten Bookish Habits I Want To Quit

ReadingParisWe all have reading and book-related habits we’re proud of. Whether it’s a reading plan of such mind-boggling complexity that it makes government spending plans look like a toddler’s crayon drawings, or a meticulously designed reading room that required years of planning, blueprints, and trips to IKEA to get right, we’ve all got them. But for every reading habit we’re proud of, there’s also those habits we’d rather not have. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is devoted to just that.

Top Ten Bookish Habits I Want To Quit

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A Lit Major At The Movies: I Capture The Castle (2003)

I Capture the Castle film posterI Capture The Castle was never going to be an easy film to make. The book is written as the journal of a young girl in 1930s England. The plot is bog-standard, almost on the side of boring (handsome young men come into neighbourhood, pretty young women pursue handsome young men, pairing-up ensues). Considering that the true magic of the book lies in the youthful simplicity and honesty of Cassandra Mortmain’s voice, making a film version seems like a bit of a tricky endeavour.

All this considered, then, the 2003 movie actually does a decent job capturing the tone and style of the book. As you might expect, there are lots of shots of green English landscapes, with the Mortmain’s castle as a centrepiece. Visually, there are some very pretty moments as we explore the English countryside and the recesses of Cassandra’s imagination. Continue reading

I Didn’t Write This Sitting in the Kitchen Sink: I Capture The Castle (1949), by Dodie Smith

I Capture the CastleN.B. This review contains spoilers, so please capture a copy of Dodie Smith’s book before you begin. In return I promise to try and stop making weak jokes with the word ‘capture’ in them. 

I’d love to say that I wrote this review sitting in the kitchen sink. It might begin to express the complicated feelings I have for Dodie Smith’s beloved I Capture The Castle. It might even be a suitable homage to this lovely, quirky book. Sadly, as I’ve discovered, kitchen sinks are not comfortable places to sit, especially when you’re trying to balance a laptop on one knee and a cup of tea on the other.

Which is a shame, because the opening line of I Capture The Castle – “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” – is a real winner. Continue reading

Top Ten Literary Places I’d Like to Visit

Scott Monument EdinburghThis week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt from The Broke and the Bookish is a freebie, and seeing as I’ve recently come to the UK for a year of study, I thought I’d use this opportunity to share my list of top literary places I’d like to visit while I’m here. Whether I’ll be able to visit all (or any) of these remains to be seen; but like all travelling bookworms, I dream big.

Top Ten Literary Places I’d Like to Visit (in the UK)

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Lit Major Abroad: Istria, Home of the Famous Colossal Trousers

Porec StatueAustralians are a travel-hungry people generally, not content to sit on this hot, boring little island for too long at any one time. So we generally go overseas and sit on hot, boring little islands there, because it’s interesting and the people are fun and the food is better. Also we can collect those little bottles of soap and hair conditioner that you find in nicer hotels. Because, let’s face it, you never know when you might ten millilitres of runny, fifteen-year-old shampoo from a bottle that is older than all three of your children.

So in true Australian fashion, I have once again abandoned my home, and have headed to the home of my forefathers – Croatia – on the first leg of a year-long stint which will include plenty of travel, and a year of university study in the UK wedged in there somewhere (but let’s not talk about uni just yet, because it makes me terribly anxious, and also I haven’t bought all of my books yet). Continue reading

Everyone’s Got An Austen: Everybody’s Jane (2011), by Juliette Wells

Everybodys JaneI read this book as part of the Austen in August reading event.

One of the truly curious things about Austen is just how many different incarnations of her there are. In the space of two hundred years, the ghost of Austen has been conjured in many different forms: saint, saviour, genius – and of course, more recently, in a wider and wider variety of guises: lover, detective, even bloodsucking and immortal vampire.

Biographies of Austen, and accounts of her work, frequently try to chip away at the layers and layers of disguises she has been coated with, in an effort to get a little closer to the ‘real’ Austen, to what she ‘really’ thought and ‘really’ wrote. But for me, as for many, the ‘real’ Austen (impossible to ever recover now, try as one might) is sometimes less interesting than the various ideas that people have of her. Partly, because it says a lot about the society they’re living in, and partly because it says a lot about individual desires and experiences. Continue reading

Images of Austen: ‘Reading’ the New Jane Austen Waxwork

ImagesAusten2N.B. I wrote this post last year, when the Jane Austen waxwork had just been announced. It’s hard to say whether the waxwork had as much of an impact as I thought it would when I wrote this post, or whether it was just another media gimmick to distract us from all the real stuff actually happening in the world. Either way, it led to a great deal of musing on my part, the larger portion of which I share with you below.

Last year, the Jane Austen Centre in Bath announced an astonishing breakthrough: finally, after years of dull, disappointing images of the famous author gracing book covers and coffee mugs around the world, they had at last discovered what Jane Austen actually looked like. Hurrah! Cried Austenites everywhere. Finally, a release from the tyranny of the one authoritative portrait of the author! Finally, an image of the writer we can show our children! Finally, an image of a woman we would actually want to be friends with! And how was this miracle achieved? Well, by the patient efforts of a forensic scientist, who spent the better part of three years on a quest to discover the ‘real’ Jane Austen.

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