William Faulkner and the End of Man

Like James Joyce, William Faulkner has an unjust reputation as a ‘difficult’ writer. Perhaps for this reason he is relatively underrepresented online. William Faulkner On The Web is by far the most comprehensive online resource on the writer and his works. It includes summaries of his works, bibliographies, character analyses and a great deal of other material. Faulkner. In fact Faulkner was a man of high ideals and surprising optimism; his stories are often very funny in a bleak sort of way. While novels such as As I Lay Dying take a humorous look at the grim lives of their characters, Faulkner is also sympathetic and perhaps just a little bit admiring of their resilience.

But what about his idealism and optimism? On December 10, 1950 William Faulkner addressed an audience in Stockholm to accept his Nobel Prize. In his speech he argued that the fear of global destruction had distracted writers from the real purpose of literature, which is to understand the problems of the human heart. He went on:

Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.

Here’s a link to the whole speech.

Upcoming TV Adaptations

Angela Macmillan made contact to point out that the BBC is working on several interesting-looking TV adaptations of eighteenth and nineteenth-century novels. Cranford Chronicles combines several novels by Elizabeth Gaskell and sports an all-star cast:

Francesca Annis, Eileen Atkins, Michael Gambon, Philip Glenister, Lesley Manville, Julia McKenzie, Imelda Staunton and Greg Wise are set to star alongside Judi Dench in Cranford Chronicles, a new five-part period drama created by Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin for BBC One and written by Heidi Thomas (I Capture The Castle, Madam Bovary, Lilies).

Based on three Elizabeth Gaskell novels – Cranford, My Lady Ludlow and Mr Harrison’s Confessions – this witty and poignant story follows the small absurdities and major tragedies in the lives of the people of Cranford during one extraordinary year.

Writer Andrew Davies is involved in an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Jane Tranter, Controller, BBC Fiction, had this to say:

This adaptation of Sense And Sensibility is classic Andrew Davies: his writing goes straight to the heart of Jane Austen’s novel and together they create a piece of work that is bold, original, authentic and powerful.

And as if that wasn’t enough it sounds like Davies’ new adaptation of Fanny Hill will steam up the nation’s TV screens this winter:

Alison Steadman, Hugo Speer and Samantha Bond lead the cast in a raunchy new version of John Cleland’s saucy 18th century novel Fanny Hill.

Adapted by Andrew Davies for BBC Four, Fanny Hill is the story of a young country girl who falls into prostitution in bawdy 18th century London. Forced to take a succession of lovers to survive, she slowly rises to respectability but only after enjoying wholeheartedly the fruits of her labour.

Considered the original erotic novel, Cleland wrote Fanny Hill whilst in debtors prison in 1748 and it has remained a firm literary favourite ever since.

Posted by Chris

Booker Prize longlist announced

Judges have announced the titles longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize for fiction. The prize is one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards. The longlist of 13 will be cut down to a shortlist in September.

The long list:

Nicola BarkerDarkmans (Britain)

Edward DocxSelf Help (Britain)

Tan Twan EngThe Gift Of Rain (Malaysia)

Anne EnrightThe Gathering (Ireland)

Mohsin HamidThe Reluctant Fundamentalist (Pakistan)

Peter Ho DaviesThe Welsh Girl (Wales)

Lloyd JonesMister Pip (New Zealand)

Nikita LalwaniGifted (India)

Ian McEwanOn Chesil Beach (Britain)

Catherine O’FlynnWhat Was Lost (Britain)

Michael RedhillConsolation (Canada)

Indra SinhaAnimal’s People (India)

AN WilsonWinnie & Wolf (Britain)

 

 

Pitmatic

Earlier in the week a dictionary of the lost language of Pitmatic was reviewed in The Guardian. Coming from a North East family I find this fascinating. The dialect of the North East is a wonderfully playful, and self-conscious one. Both my grandfathers used to take great delight in baffling me with words and phrases I had no hope of understanding. Melvyn Bragg, in his Routes of English series on BBC Radio 4 covered Pitmatic a few years ago. You can hear people speaking it here. And there’s more on the Woodhorn Colliery archive page.

With the closure of the last Northumbrian pit in 2005 Pitmatic is dying now, so it’s great to hear someone has managed to preserve its vocabulary if not necessarily the impish spirit:

The first Pitmatic dictionary, including pit recollections and analysis of the origins of the dialect’s words, has been compiled by Bill Griffiths, the country’s foremost Geordie scholar, whose previous work includes the standard Dictionary of North East Dialect. His new book reveals an exceptionally rich combination of borrowings from Old Norse, Dutch and a score of other languages, with inventive usages dreamed up by the miners themselves.

“The golden age of writing about the pits by working pitmen for working pitmen and their families is over,” said Mr Griffiths. “It is time to save and share what we can.”

Here’s the link to the review.

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100 Years On The Road

This year is the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s famous rambling American epic, On The Road, but few people will have noticed that it is also the centenary of another book about the road, by another famous American Jack. Jack London’s The Road, published by Macmillan in 1907. The Nation is carrying an article by Jonah Raskin about London’s book, which picks up on the way American life changed in the 50 years between them:

In the years between 1907 and 1957 America changed radically–it became a world power and developed a full-blown mass culture–and those social and cultural changes are reflected in these two books. The Road depicts an industrial America in which hobos and tramps are an integral part of the system–“a reserve army of the unemployed,” as Marxists have called it–who help keep wages down. On the Road describes a postindustrial America in which cars are everywhere, almost everyone can afford a car, a radio and a television, and the mass media shape the lives of American citizens.

You can read a free ebook of The Road by Jack London here and another with pictures here. The link to the article in The Nation is here.

Thanks Angie.

Charles Simic–US Poet Laureate

The Guardian reports that Charles Simic has been named poet laureate of the United States by the Library of Congress. Simic, who left Yugoslavia aged 16 in 1953, is also editor of the Paris Review, and a contributor to the New York Review of Books. From the article:

Simic’s appointment was announced by James H Billington, the librarian of Congress. Asked why Simic was chosen from the shortlist of 15 candidates, Billington replied that it was down to "the rather stunning and original quality of his poetry … His poems have a sequence that you encounter in dreams, and therefore they have a reality that does not correspond to the reality that we perceive with our eyes and ears. He’s very hard to describe, and that’s a great tribute to him."

Speaking by telephone from his home, Simic described himself as a "city poet", joking that he has "lived in cities all of my life, except for the last 35 years." He originally wanted to be a painter, he said, until "I realised that I had no talent."

Here’s the link to The Guardian and another to the New York Times.

Posted by Chris, Powered by Qumana

Women Writers Before 1700

I came across this excellent site via Language Hat and thought it should be shared. It’s a compilation of women’s writing from around the world translated into English. This is a truly wonderful resourse, with proper referencing and scholarly support. Great for browsing. From the site:

The entries are on women who produced a substantial amount of work before 1700, some or all of which has been translated into modern English. Each entry will tell you about the print sources from which the translated passages are taken; it will also tell you of useful secondary sources and Internet sites, when those are available.

 Here’s the link.

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The Book of Hopes and Dreams

Dee Rimbaud made contact recently about The Book Of Hopes And Dreams, a charity poetry anthology, published to raise money for the Medical Aid (Afghanistan) appeal of the Glasgow-based charity Spirit Aid, (an entirely volunteer run organisation, headed by Scottish actor and director, David Hayman).

As a volunteer organisation, Spirit Aid are able to ensure that 90% of all the funds they raise go straight to the projects they are involved in (unlike most of the bigger charities whose admin and advertising budgets swallow huge percentages of all donations).

The Book Of Hopes And Dreams, which is a celebration of the human spirit (even in times of great adversity) has captured the imagination and hearts of some of the greatest living poets of our times; all of whom have freely contributed work to this anthology. There are contributions from Margaret Atwood, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Heath-Stubbs, Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage, Tony Harrison, Alasdair Gray, Edwin Morgan, Penelope Shuttle, Anne Stevenson, Jon Stallworthy, Alan Brownjohn, Ruth Fainlight, David Constantine, Moniza Alvi, Cyril Dabydeen, Elaine Feinstein, Vicki Feaver, Michael Horovitz, Tom Leonard, Robert Mezey, Lawrence Sail, Jay Ramsay, Charles Ades Fishman, Geoffrey Godbert and Ian Duhig, amongst others.

The book costs £9.99 and can be ordered in all high street bookstores in the UK. It can also be bought outside the UK via the publisher, Bluechrome or from UK Amazon. Not only is it brimming over with the work of award winning poets, its message is resoundingly positive and optimistic in outlook, which many will find refreshing, given the zeitgeist for poet-modern irony, ennui and despair.

More importantly, royalties from every copy sold will go towards providing mobile clinics, doctors, nurses and medicines for the people of the far flung, mountainous region of Baglan in North East Afghanistan, where the population hadn’t received any medical care whatsoever for 25 years, until Spirit Aid raised funds for their first mobile clinic.

Dee writes: ‘I hope you will consider buying this book, because it really will help to save lives. It will also help to improve the quality of peoples’ lives. And who knows, with its uplifting tone, it may even improve the quality of your life or inspire your own writing endeavours. Mike Matthews, one of the contributors wrote me recently and said: "The anthology is fantastic, and it has served as a major inspiration for me to continue to write every single day, for the poetry in it is genuinely high quality and uplifting. I have not been able to stop writing since it came out, and I carry it around with me everywhere, opening it before every writing session."’

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Famous Poems as Limericks

Boing Boing, the self-styled “directory of wonderful things” posted a link yesterday to a collection of limericks based on famous poems. This kept us entertained for quite a while. Here’s my favourite:

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

There was an old father of Dylan
Who was seriously, mortally illin’
“I want,” Dylan said
“You to bitch till you’re dead.
“I’ll be cheesed if you kick it while chillin’.”

And here are two we prepared earlier:

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

There was an old man of the sea
Who stopped wedding guest number three
And told him a tale
Of a bird and no gale
That left the poor chap on his knees.

My Last Duchess

The ambassador said “Well, you know,
The Duke has put on quite a show,
But you look at her picture
And suddenly it hits yer:
She’s charming, but where did she go?”

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Recommended Reads: Poppy Shakespeare

Poppy Shakespeare bookI have just finished reading Poppy Shakespeare by Clare Allen. Set in a North London day hospital, Allen draws on her own experience as a patient in the psychiatric system. It focuses on the lives of two characters, N, who has been a patient at the hospital for thirteen years and Poppy Shakespeare, a newcomer who is certain she isn’t mentally ill and is desperate to return to the outside world. Clare Allen explains:

‘What interested me in writing Poppy Shakespeare was the idea of taking a ‘normal’ person and landing her bang in the middle of this ‘upside-down’ world.’

The ‘upside down’ world which Allen describes is a place where the attempt to get better becomes overshadowed by the need to conform.

‘In the common room to be ‘abnormal’ was normal. Which is to say our normality was more or less the opposite of what might be considered normal in the world outside…so long as conforming meant being mentally ill, it made it a very difficult place to get better.’

Allen’s frustration with the system that surrounds her characters is felt throughout the story. It reasserts itself at every point, effectively causing the reader to share in this emotion. The helplessness and desperation can draw you in and drag you down, but Allen is also interested in exploring the way in which words cope with extremes of emotion and experience.

Through my work reading with dementia patients as a project worker for Get Into Reading I have become particularly interested in the way in which words and stories connect on a deep level, even when individuals have lost sense of their own personal story. Allen echoes this notion in speaking of her own experience.

‘When I arrived at the day hospital… My life had shrunk to a series of seconds, each to be somehow survived. I got through by walking, constantly walking, reciting poetry over and over to keep the thoughts from my head.’

In reading this book I was struck by the resilience of individuals, whose experiences seem unimaginable and impossible to survive. That they do survive and keep going despite this is a stark reminder of human strength, our ability to endure. That it stands so close to the contrasting frailty of a system which threatens to destroy this resilience once and for all is strangely paradoxical. And this in itself helps create the sense of claustrophobia which dominates the novel.