Restoring the sex and rage in … Jane Austen

A little something I’ve been caught stealing from the Atlantic for you Jane addicts out there. (See what I did there, other Gen X people?)

The pressure to sand the sharp edges of her plots into “You go girl” fairy tales is also wrong. These are not books about “empowered” women, even though many of the female characters are eloquent, clever, and resourceful. Most of the “happy” endings crumble under scrutiny. Only Elizabeth Bennet really gets it all, as Darcy is a magical combination of hot, rich, morally upright, not boring, not drunk—and not two decades her senior. Austen’s other heroines often profess to be happy, but cracks are visible in their facade. Will Marianne Dashwood really learn to love Colonel Brandon, a much older man who “still sought the constitutional safeguard of a flannel waistcoat”? Or is she, like Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice, pragmatically settling for a home and family because spinsterhood is so unappealing? Kathryn Sutherland, an English professor at Oxford University who consulted on The Watsons, told me that the characters’ obvious emotional intelligence can make their onscreen representation unsatisfying because it “doesn’t map easily onto the kind of slick romance we want from Jane Austen.”

Halloween-month update: Igor Keats?

Was John Keats a graverobber? No, like, actual bodies, not the lines of dead colleagues. This is a supercool conspiracy read. How would it alter his legacy? Hell, I’d get him a movie deal.

But what if Keats’s fixation on the morbid physicality of death and on sites of corporeal decomposition was not (or was not only) anticipatory of his own imminent passing, but was in fact informed by his own intimate experience digging in freshly rumpled graveyard soil?  What if Keats personally got his hands dirty in the illicit nocturnal economy of procuring fresh corpses for medical schools, such as Guy’s Hospital in London, where he had enrolled as a student in October 1815? How would that alter the way we perceive him, his life, and his extraordinary literary legacy?

Poetry is like a drug…store

You’ve heard of emerging poets, but have you heard of “emergency poets?” You can’t unlearn these things, people.

Literature academics from Keele University are opening an innovative “Poetry Pharmacy” to dispense literary “first aid” as a way of bringing the therapeutic benefits of poetry to the local community and to support mental health.

“Emergency Poet” Deborah Alma, a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Keele, and senior lecturer and poet James Sheard have started the venture as a novel way of showcasing poetry, focusing on good mental health and well-being.

The “Poetry Pharmacy”, set in a Victorian shop in the high street of the Shropshire town of Bishop’s Castle, is holding a launch event on Thursday 3 October and will officially open to visitors on Friday 4 October.

(From tip line submission by Art.)

The first novel?

In my house full of teenage gamers, the name “Genji” means something different. But in the literary world, it’s a 1000 year old novel written by a woman in ancient Japan. (Video at link.)

Written 1,000 years ago, the Japanese epic The Tale of Genji is often called the world’s first novel. Following the life and romances of Hikaru Genji, it was written by a woman, Murasaki Shikibu. The tale had an unprecedented global influence; in 1925 an English translation by Arthur Waley was reviewed by Virginia Woolf in British Vogue.

Pullman on genre and bias

Philip Pullman is a damn genius. Here’s the text of a talk he gave telling people to read whatever the hell they want to read. Looking forward to the new adaptation of His Dark Materials for the telly. (Truly one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read, and ostensibly for children — trailer-that-doesn’t-look-shitty-like-the-movie-from-2007 below.)

Not only that; do we really believe that men have nothing to learn from stories by and about women? That white people already know all they need to know about the experience of black people? Segregation always shuts out more than it lets in. When we say, “This book is for such-and-such a group,” what we seem to be saying, what we’re heard as saying, is: “This book is not for anyone else.” It would be nice to think that normal human curiosity would let us open our minds to experience from every quarter, to listen to every storyteller in the marketplace. It would be nice too, occasionally, to read a review of an adult book that said, “This book is so interesting, and so clearly and beautifully written, that children would enjoy it as well.”