07 September 2006

Ever been had?

Libby Purves explains why the Betjeman hoax is such a good thing for "the whole trade of popular literary biography":
Sometimes it seems from the book pages that modern British readers are far keener to read clever-dick analysis and Hello!-style gossip about great writers than we are to approach their actual works, laying ourselves innocently and humbly open to what they have to say to us. It is good for publishers’ profits but less good for our souls. I was lucky enough years ago to study literature under tutors who demanded that we acquire only the most basic historical context and sketchy personal information about the masters, but who insisted that we knew each text and judged it by its intended meaning, its truth and the skill of its execution.

However good a biography, you still get closer to a writer’s heart and spirit by going back to the works themselves. It really is not necessary to know whether Jane Austen was a virgin, or which of T. S. Eliot’s wives it was who slept with Bertrand Russell. Interesting, but not essential. In youth I learnt much formative wisdom from Howards End before I ever found out that E. M. Forster was gay, or indeed a bloke at all; I read Evelyn Waugh at 12 in an equal state of uncertainty about the author’s gender, and nonetheless revelled in the acid beauty of the prose.

Later, in long university months of studying Paradise Lost, I dutifully checked up on the politics and religion of the time but felt only a passing interest in the fact that the blind poet dictated it to his daughters (and that interest was mainly because my tutorial partner and I had a theory that the damn thing was meant to be six times as long, only the duty daughter sometimes got bored and sneaked out of the room for a nap leaving Milton orating to the cat).
(via Bookninja)

2 comments:

Sal & Jamie said...

Hi Ana,

This is off your post topic but I was in the process of researching Colegio Bureche, as I am thinking of applying for the classroom teaching jobs going there from next January, and I stumbled upon your blog. Do you work at the school? Could you please tell me what it is like to work there? I am very interested in the school and Columbia but have reservations given the warnings regarding the dangers of the country. My email is sallyalderton@gmail.com

I also have a blog:
www.sallyandjamie.blogspot.com

I would really like to chat with you!

TOR Hershman said...

Interesting thought, about Milton's cat.
Well, he/she did better, at least temporarily so, than
Schrodinger's cat.

My theory is that Earth DNA shouldn't have advanced beyond felid.

My model shows that in 222 & a half million years dog people will rule the world BUT.....they'll have cats for pets.

Stay on Groovin'
(Hooray for Little One Hershman, the world's most famous [living] cat)
Safari,
TOR