Tag: Austen

Guest Post: The Problem with Literature

Posted October 3, 2013 by Guest Post in Guest Posts, Literature / 0 Comments

Want to be the next Shakespeare? Forget literature. Shakespeare wasn’t trying to write enlightened literary fiction. He was writing the Elizabethan equivalent of daytime television – easily digestible, relatable stories (mostly stolen from elsewhere and given a quick spit and polish to make them look and sound new) that would appeal to an audience of mostly illiterate working-class people. He didn’t care about being a great artist or creating work that would last for centuries. He just wanted to make money.

I think modern literary authors forget that. They want to create art. They want to be taken seriously. God forbid their work be mistaken for trashy pulp fiction. God forbid it be accessible. True art, according to the modern literary author, is by nature elitist. In order to understand it, one must have more sophisticated tastes than the types of people who read mass-produced romances or pulpy sci-fi thrillers. One has to be discerning. Every great literary author wants to be remembered as the next iconic genius.

Except that our last iconic genius wrote exactly the kinds of fiction these aspiring greats treat with such derision. Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth – these might be timeless classics, but to The Bard, they were how he paid the bills, and to the people who paid to see his plays performed, they were the equivalent of a good popcorn flick. We talk about Shakespeare, Kit Marlowe, Dickens, Conan Doyle as though they were trying to create enduring works of highbrow literature. They weren’t; they were writers working at their trade. It just so happens that they were very good at it, which is why we still enjoy their work today. But they had no lofty aspirations, no desire to be seen as anything more than working writers. Oh, sure, Shakespeare enjoyed the patronage of two successive monarchs. I’m not denying that he was a master wordsmith and a well-regarded one at that. But to the people who crowded into the globe to watch his work play out on stage, he was nothing more than an entertainer. Not an artiste, not a figure of reverence. He wrote theatre for the masses. He was Elizabethan England’s answer to JK Rowling, not Vonnegut.

If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d probably be writing for some wildly successful primetime drama. Dickens and Conan Doyle, were they to stick to the serial formats they preferred, would probably find a home in graphic novels. Byron was something of a poseur, but he wrote his generation’s equivalent of Harlequin romances. Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters? They’d have been penning this summer’s hottest chick lit. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing things that people will enjoy just because they’re fun. There’s nothing wrong with writing to entertain, to captivate, to thrill. And just because work is engaging and accessible, doesn’t mean it can’t also be challenging, thought-provoking and enduringly popular.

The Bard was a genius at his craft, no doubt about it. I just came home from a fantastically staged production of Macbeth, a play still enjoyed by audiences around the world centuries after Shakespeare’s death. I hope to one day pass on my love of Shakespeare to my children. But I’ll also pass on my love of fantasy novels, detective mysteries, cheesy sci-fi and even the odd paranormal romance. Why not? Fiction is meant to be fun. Sure, it can also be a lot of other things, but if we don’t enjoy reading it on some level, what’s the point?

If you’re writing for an audience of people who think enjoying fiction for its own sake is below them, you’ll never be the next Shakespeare, or the next Marlowe, or the next Dickens or Mark Twain or Agatha Christie or Jane Austen. Hell, you won’t even be the next JK Rowling (and believe me – someday, we’ll talk about her work with the same reverence we reserve for the works of long-dead white men today). Don’t focus on creating literature. Focus on creating great entertainment. Take your readers somewhere new. Give them a means of escaping. Take an old story and make it sing again. Make it fun, for heaven’s sakes, because I can guarantee you that five hundred years from now, we won’t be talking about dry and dusty tomes written by pretentious poseurs with delusions of grandeur. We’ll be talking about what was popular, just like we do now. We’ll be talking about theatre for the masses. We’ll be talking about this generation’s Shakespeares. And if you’re not willing to do what he did – to write for all people, to amuse, to engage, to entertain – then you’ll never be one of them.

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Longbourn by Jo Baker

Posted October 2, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

Longbourn by Jo BakerTitle: Longbourn (Goodreads)
Author: Jo Baker
Published: Knopf Doubleday, 2013
Pages: 368
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: ARC from Netgalley

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Longbourn follows the daily lives of the servants of the Bennet house. Sarah is an orphaned housemaid who spends her day doing laundry, polishing the floor and emptying chamber pots. The house is blooming with romance and heartbreak, not just for the Bennet sisters. One day a mysterious new footman arrives and the servants’ hall is under threat of been completely upended.

A unique reimagining, this novel tells the story of Pride and Prejudice told from the people serving the Bennet’s. I get the sense that this book was inspired more by Downton Abbey more than Jane Austen but never really seems to live up to either. All the drama of Bingley, Wickham, Mr Collins and Mr Darcy play out as a background characters for the drama that is happening with the servants.

I only read Pride and Prejudice earlier this year and absolutely loved it so I was a little wary of trying a spin off novel. The idea of a novel in the style of Downton Abbey did interest me but I felt let down. I got nether Austen’s wit and humour nor the drama for Downton. Some of Austen’s memorable characters didn’t seem to line up too well in this novel either; Mr Bennet comes to mind, his sarcastic humour appears completely absent in this novel. This could be written off as the servant’s perception of the Bennets and other characters.

There are some redeeming qualities in Longbourn; the novel seemed historically accurate, and while I don’t know for sure if this is correct, it did felt like this novel aligns with what I’ve read in Pride and Prejudice. Also I have to admire the way Jo Baker wrote; she is no Jane Austen but the prose was still elegant and I found myself continuously being impressed with her style while always looking for ways she may have ruined Austen’s masterpiece.

I always felt like the Bennets were wealthy enough to allow Mr Bennet to be a man of leisure but not enough to stop Mrs Bennet from worrying. So when servant hall in Longbourn seem smaller than what you would normally expect, it didn’t come as a surprise to me. The arrival of a new footman means that Mr Bennet has finally given into the demands of his wife and in comes the mysterious James. While the servant’s seem pleased with the new addition, Sarah doesn’t and soon she becomes aware of his interests towards her. You can probably guess where this is going and I won’t spoil it for you.

I spent most of the book worried that Baker will do damage to a true classic and I think this did detract from my enjoyment but for the most of it I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. I did how ever feel as if this novel dragged on in parts and the fact that this was marked as a book for Downton Abbey fans seemed completely wrong. If you are a Downton fan I would recommend The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro well before I recommend Longbourn.


Top Ten Tuesday: The Worst Movie Adaptations

Posted July 9, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Adaptations, Top Ten Tuesday / 0 Comments

I had so much fun doing Top Ten Tuesday last week that I thought I would join in again. Top Ten Tuesday is a book blogger meme that is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and this week the theme is: Top Ten Best/Worst Movie Adaptations. I want to look at ten books that should have never been made into movies because they never work and never will work in this particular format. These are mainly books that have a strong internal monologue, the emotions and inner turmoil is vital to the book and/or they are too many narrators to really work.

10. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
There was a mini-series that wasn’t too bad but the latest attempt at adapting this movie was so bad. I’m a fan of Zooey Deschanel, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Stephen Fry and John Malkovich but no one could save this movie.

9. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I’m sorry but the 2005 film just doesn’t work for me, there is none of Austen’s wit and only really covers the basic story. I only recently read Pride and Prejudice and adored it but most of the things I love about this book don’t translate to film.

8. Dune by Frank Herbert
David Lynch was faced with the impossible task of turning this seminal sci-fi classic into a movie and he failed, hard.

7. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
One of those movies, I wish I could unsee. The book was so great, why would they destroy that with a film adaption?

6. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The most recent adaptation was a horrible, horrible adaptation of such a wonderful book. It was weird how they did the movie and they left so much out. I’m not a fan of Keira Knightley so I was looking forward to the end. I’ve not seen any of the other adaptations of this classic and I never want to see them.

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I keep meaning to write about the Baz Luhrmann version but keep putting it off. This is a book about unlikeable characters and symbolism, and that never worked. To be honest I don’t think Baz read the book and just tried to remake the old Robert Redford movie.

4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
I’ve never seen a Dracula movie that actually works, it’s hard to be faithful to Bram Stoker’s seminal piece of literature and still try to adapt it.

3. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
I’m looking at you Demi Moore, Gary Oldman, and Robert Duvall. It doesn’t work and it shouldn’t be tried again. Try something like a modern retelling like Easy A, it’s not The Scarlet Letter but at least it works.

2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Most of this novel plays out in the mind of Rodion Raskolnikov; mental anguish and moral dilemmas don’t translate on the screen, I never have watched a Crime and Punishment adaptation and I don’t think I ever will.

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
No, just stop it, you will never get it right in a movie, you can’t tell both Victor and Monster Frankenstein’s story at the same time and explore their thoughts and emotion on the screen. Stop trying to ruin my favourite book.


Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Posted April 21, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

Pride and Prejudice by Jane AustenTitle: Pride and Prejudice (Goodreads)
Author: Jane Austen
Published: Pulp! The Classics, 1813
Pages: 320
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is often considered one of the greatest novels of all time; the story of proud William Darcy and the prejudices of Elizabeth Bennet. From Lizzie’s perspective their spirited courtship plays out on the page; in this witty comedy of manners, upbringing, morality, education, and marriage in early 19th century society.

Most of you would already know this story; you’ve probably seen an adaptation or two in your time. For me, I was never interested in reading this book, I knew what it was about but I never knew what to expect. Eventually I had to read this book, in part for university and because it’s a classic that will always remain on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die List. This is the novel that just will not die; 200 years later since this was published the book still sits very often in the top ten in a lot of bookstores and other literary lists. It’s been adapted multiple times as well as been retold many times (highlights include Lost in Austen & The Lizzie Bennet Diaries). The novel has also inspired a range of other books including books by Georgette Heyer, Agatha Christie and Helen Fielding.

First of all I want to look at Jane Austen’s attempt to play with the traditional quest format to offer us this rather clever novel. Let’s look at the novel from a traditional storytelling point of view. The potential princes in this novel; Darcy was considered clever and cold, Mr Wickham was too hot, then there was Mr Collins, the one that could save the ‘castle’ who should be just right, but he was not warm but tepid and boring. The pattern is reshaped and slowly the princess’ heart has been won, even if she doesn’t know it straight away. Then Austen needs to make the suitor eligible to win over the heroine; so she sends him on a quest to win Lizzie’s heart. Then like all quest stories, the story ends abruptly, with a marriage and a happy ending. This ancient pattern only provided the basic story structure for Jane Austen to weave her story into.

The interesting thing about this novel is the fact that this book has no physical action in the entire book; the novel rather concerns itself with the complexity of courtship and marriage in the landowning classes in provincial England. Austen writes about the people she knows, doing the activities we would expect them to do. Yet she manages to write it with such wit and skill that the novel refreshing and remained so popular.

Elizabeth Bennet is clearly Austen’s favourite in the book; the character is stronger and smarter than even the men in the book. Yet she goes to great lengths to make sure that this is believable. While she is clever, Lizzie still has romance/the sublime on her mind; her references to the Lake Distracts could be considered evidence of this. I feel like Jane Austen is trying to show that a woman like Lizzie should be deserving of the family home more than someone like Mr Collins. The Bennet’s are not middle class in this novel; Mr Bennet doesn’t work, he is a man of leisure, landowners but without a son their property will be inherited by Mr Collins. So we have this impending doom (according to Mrs Bennet) with only one hope of saving the family, marriage. When Lizzie Bennet rejects Mr Collins and eventually marries Darcy, Austen tries to tell us that character matters more than rank when it comes to romance, but then there is still a whole lot to do with rank and class that remains within the novel.

At the start of the novel Lizzie and Darcy hate each other but by the end they are the perfect couple. So what is Austen trying to tell us with this change in momentum? To do this let’s look at the other relationships; First off there is some evidence that Mr and Mrs Bennet got married at a very young age, lust had brought the two together and there might have been a pregnancy. Now that the lust has cooled they find they have nothing in common. Mr Collins and Charlotte are almost the opposite; there is no passion in their marriage, it was more of a business arrangement, no kids and unhappy in their marriage. Mr Bingley and Jane are just smitten with each other; there is no real evidence that there is anything more than just an infatuation. So when it comes to Lizzie and Darcy, they are written as the opposite, they are not smitten, they have to make their way there. They develop a healthy respect and admiration as well as love. All the details are focused on Lizzie and Darcy; all the other characters are rather underdeveloped, they feel more like caricatures, yet we still need to look at the other couples to see what Austen was trying to achieve.

Now I want to look more at the writing and style rather than character and plot. Pride and Prejudice started off as an epistolary novel, it has been said that this was originally written as a series of letters; this is why there is a huge lack of character description. This is also a novel of wit so let’s focus more on how Jane Austen achieves that.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Looking at the very first line we get a sense of Austen’s ironical attacks; Bingley and Darcy both have women lined up but both don’t seem too keen to marry. Single men with large fortunes have the luxury of doing what they want. It is only Mrs Bennet that is trying to convince the reader that the opening line is indeed true. Just in the first few lines we can see the subtlety of Austen’s language. This book is full of other slight digs at society and it took me a second read through to really see them, but they are there and I suspect that is why this book continues to remain popular; no matter how many times you read this book there is still something to discover.

Jane Austen likes to dig at the concepts at Class and Courtship, but more so towards love and marriage. It is interesting to see that many people read this book at face value and just gloss over any attempt at irony in this book. This book is riddled with discursive and dramatic irony but to Jane Austen’s credit she was able to do it in such a subtle way that it can be easily overlooked or missed. For a cynical person like me, it was this irony that I respect the most. I love that you can read this book as a great romance or as an ironic look at love and marriage. While the irony plays out in the book, Jane Austen’s fundamental optimism makes sure no damage was done and the outcome is a happy one.

I expected Pride and Prejudice to be a romance, exploring the courtship of Lizzie and Darcy, which it is, but I was so pleased that there was so much more in this novel to explore. I read this novel and then went back and reread this novel right away; this was mainly because I needed to for Uni but I found this deliciously cynical voice come through the second time that changed my opinion of this book. I’m not sure if Jane Austen’s novels are always so ironic but if they are, she has found herself a new fan.


Monthly Review – March 2013

Posted March 31, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 2 Comments

Happy Easter everyone, hope you are all enjoying the long weekend. I hope everyone has had a wonderful month of reading and had time to fit Lolita into their busy schedule. I’ve noticed a lot of mixed reactions to this book which would mainly be a result of the controversial nature of this book but it really is one of those books that have helped shape twentieth century literature, so well worth checking out. Still a lot of action happening with the reading challenge as well; looks like two hundred books been added this month. For those who don’t know about the reading challenge, there is still time to join in the fun, so check out my introductory post here.

A reminder that next month’s book will Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami for our Japanese literature theme. I haven’t read much Murakami but expect some great discussion on this book, hopefully with some thoughts to the Magical Realism genre.

Highlights for my month’s reading included Infinite Jest which I’ve finally finished; the beautiful painting of Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding; Lolita; and In a Lonely Place. I would like to mention two other books that really blew me away. First, Pride and Prejudice which I finally got around to reading after putting it off for far too long (also have you seen the Lizzie Bennett Diaries?). Also Tenth of December; while I’m not much of a reader of short stories George Saunders showed me just enough to change my mind. What have you been reading this month and what were the highlights?

My Monthly Reading