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My three favourite novelists
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Evie
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2012 11:07 am    Post subject:  Reply with quote

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
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Novelists of the foremost rank must, I think, probe even beyond these things. What writers probe into depends on the areas of humanity most interest them, and one can't make general rules on this matter. But in the most basic terms, literature we term "great" must look beyond merely social satire, or social observation. The greatest of writers probe much further: they probe into the very nature of the human soul itself - our vaguest sensations and intimations, our deepest feelings and thoughts, our most intense fears and desires, our transcendent joys and sorrows, our inner lives, our moral lives. Once I have acquainted myself with Austen's work, I suspect I'll find that this is precisely what she does.


I do indeed think she goes beyond social satire - the satire and wit are tools rather than an end in themselves.  I would hesitate to say that she probes into fhte very nature of the human soul, though...  She does probe the mores of the day and exposes them to scrutiny - as well as the universal issues of a sense of self, family, love, sex, desire, fear, and the practicalities of life (the need for someone of Elizabeth Bennet's status to be married, for example, was a practical one, not to do with love, as she would be consigned to poverty without it - no chance for women to go to work, other than in scandalous ways, and support themselves in those days), she also brings to light such things as hypocrisy, both social and religious, snobbery, the injustices of the class system, the way an individual can overcome all of these with the right attitude and level of self-esteem.  Much of it may seem old hat when written like that, but of course she did this 200 years ago, when the novel was still in its infancy, and as a woman.

She also did it in prose that still sparkles and springs off the page with its freshness, even after all this time - that is what makes me really love her novels, the writing is so delicious and alive.  The rest is what gives her reputation as a great writer depth and substance.


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Mikeharvey



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2012 11:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Ann - I haven't read WET MAGIC!! How did I miss that one?  One of my treasured possessions is a first edition copy of E.Nesbit's short story collection OSWALD BASTABLE AND OTHERS.  One of the line illustrations has been most beautifully and carefully coloured in by a previous child (I presume) owner.  I feel quite tender and sentimental about whoever it was.

Have you read Jaqueline Wilson's recent homage to E.Nesbit -FOUR CHILDREN AND IT?  A group of modern children encounter the Psammead and have wishes granted including - delightfully - meeting the five children from the original story!


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TheRejectAmidHair



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2012 12:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Ann, thanks for that recommendation. I do enjoy reading good literary criticism. The insights of those who have thought deeply about literature always enhance my own views.

Evie - of the Austen novels I read the last time round, the one that particularly keeps coming back to mind is Persuasion. And it seems to me that there is in it considerably more depth of feeing - indeed, considerably more passion - than I had thought when I was reading it. As with the music of Mozart (and Austen's works are often compared to Mozart's) this depth of feeling, and this passion, lie below the very formal and decorous surface, and, as a consequence, are easy to miss. But I'm fairly sure it's there is Persuasion, and this makes me suspect it may be present in her other novels also.

For, speaking personally, depiction of surfaces, if it goes no further, doesn't really interest me - no matter how elegant or how sparkling or even how accurate this depiction may be. I am, of course, speaking personally here, but the literature I value most is that which probes further than that - much further. I suppose that, temperamentally, I am overly serious in this respect, and don't value sparkle and wit and elegance as much as I might: I put this down to my having discovered the Russians at an impressionable age! But yes, I do want literature to probe deeply into the human psyche. Humans are social creatures, but they are also much more.

The reason why I had previously not enjoyed Austen very much is that I didn't really see her probing much further than the surface. Social satire, yes; social observation, yes; ridiculing that which deserves to be ridiculed, wit, sparkle, elegance ... yes to all of that. But it lacked, or seemed to lack, what I most demand from literature, but what I find difficult to articulate except by speaking in such vague terms as "the human soul" or whatever. It lacked, in short, what I get with such unembarrassed directness from the great Russian novelists.

And yet, the emotions of Anne Elliot stay with me. They keep returning to mind, when I hadn't expected them to return. As with the finest whiskies, they have left a powerful aftertaste that I had not expected when I was drinking them. And this makes me suspect that, as with Mozart, Austen does delve into the inner life, and does so seriously, without satire, without cynicism; but that this exploration is not on the surface, as it is with Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky: it is couched in terms elegant and formal and decorous, but they are by no means superficial.

Anyway, I shall find out. If I love Mozart - and I do - and if Austen's art is indeed comparable to Mozart's, then there is no reason why I shouldn't learn to love Austen also. Despite appearances, the music of Mozart is not less passionate or less deeply felt than the music of Mahler.

I started on Northanger Abbey this morning on the train.



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Apple



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2012 3:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TheRejectAmidHair wrote:
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I do enjoy reading good literary criticism. The insights of those who have thought deeply about literature always enhance my own views.
Well I'd better shut up then and contribute no further in this discussion!!  Wink



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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2012 3:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am conscious I haven't posted on this thread - things have been enormously busy recently - but the three names that sprang most readily to my mind were those of Dickens, Austen and Wodehouse. A predictable trio, perhaps, but there we are.


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Evie
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2012 6:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Himadri - I was thinking as I was writing that the one I expect you to enjoy most is Persuasion.  It is the most mature of the novels, and possibly the most satisfying.  I don't think you will find the depths you find elsewhere, but I think there is depth beneath her sparkling surfaces - there is more than observation and satire, though not the depths of inner exploration of a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky nor the social depths of Dickens or Eliot.  

But I always love craftsmanship, so perhaps I am too dazzled by hers to worry as much as I should about these things!


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Evie
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2012 6:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My own three favourites are George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and probably Lawrence Durrell...I will say more about why when I've thought about it a bit more!  It's tough to narrow it to three.


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TheRejectAmidHair



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2012 7:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Evie wrote:
Himadri - I was thinking as I was writing that the one I expect you to enjoy most is Persuasion.  It is the most mature of the novels, and possibly the most satisfying.  I don't think you will find the depths you find elsewhere, but I think there is depth beneath her sparkling surfaces - there is more than observation and satire, though not the depths of inner exploration of a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky nor the social depths of Dickens or Eliot.  

But I always love craftsmanship, so perhaps I am too dazzled by hers to worry as much as I should about these things!


Oh well, there's only one way to find out!



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Evie
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2012 9:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I always take Virginia Woolf's comment about Middlemarch - that it was the first novel by a woman novelist to be written for grown-ups - to be a sideswipe at Jane Austen.


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TheRejectAmidHair



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PostPosted: Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Evie wrote:
I always take Virginia Woolf's comment about Middlemarch - that it was the first novel by a woman novelist to be written for grown-ups - to be a sideswipe at Jane Austen.


That's a bit hard on Ann Radcliffe!  Very Happy

It's a swipe at the Brontės as well, though I know you don't care for them.

Austen has had a great many distinguished admirers as well, of course. Walter Scott, the most famous novelist of the time, admired Austen tremendously, despite having very different aesthetic values. Subsequent admirers have included Tennyson, Henry James, and the Shakespearean scholar A. C. Bradley.

I find myself a bit puzzled by George Eliot, to be honest. There's no doubting the stature of Middlemarch, but nothing else I have read by her is anywhere near that standard - not even The Mill on the Floss. Daniel Deronda is very much a novel of two halves: the strand involving Gwendolen Harleth was superb, clearly foreshadowing Henry James' Portrait of a Lady; but the other strand, involving Daniel, I found unconvincing. This is one novel that really could do with a surgical operation.

The George Eliot works I have yet to read are Scenes from Clerical Life,
Felix Holt (which Tolstoy admired), and the historical novel Romola.




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