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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Eyre’

Alan Bennett on ‘Smut’

January 10, 2012 | by

If Alan Bennett needs any introduction at all, I would need more than a paragraph in which to write it. I would start by explaining how, in the early 1960s, he formed the comic revue Beyond the Fringe, along with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and Jonathan Miller. I would go on to describe his subsequent half-century of writing for television and the stage, which has included such hugely successful plays as Forty Years On, The Madness of George III, and The History Boys. Perhaps I would round things off by suggesting that he has provided the most authoritative introduction to his own writing life through his wry, tender, autobiographical writings, collected in Writing Home and Untold Stories. His latest book, Smut, includes two long stories, the first of which, “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson,” concerns a formerly staid widower whose life is changed by some adventurous student lodgers. Meanwhile, The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes describes an intergenerational family romp that is set in motion by the marriage of attractive, vain, and gay Graham Forbes to the outwardly plain Betty, who nonetheless harbors secrets of her own. To find out whether this book represents the sort of “holiday from respectability” that his protagonists take, I talked to him over the phone last Friday morning.

Were these two stories conceived as a pair?

No. Most of the short stories I’ve written have started off because they wouldn’t turn into plays, and certainly the first one in this book, “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson,” has quite a theatrical beginning. The other one probably dates back further. I wrote a play called Habeas Corpus and it’s a bit in that style. It’s a farce and not a realistic story. I think the notion, particularly in the first story, of somebody breaking out, like Mrs. Donaldson, who is breaking out after a fairly humdrum life, keeps recurring. Read More »

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Unread Books; Changing Character Names

November 4, 2011 | by

I’ve never read Moby-Dick or War and Peace, but people think I have, because I told them so. What is the great book you have never—but should have—read?

Just this morning—at five o’clock, to be exact—I was staring at the ceiling, thinking about Krapp’s Last Tape and how shocked my favorite college professor would be if he knew I still haven’t seen or read it. At least I hope he’d be shocked. I have never got through any of Beckett’s novels (and have seen almost none of his plays, or anybody else’s). I have never got through Henry Green’s Living or Concluding, though neither one is a long book, and I have sometimes heard myself call Green my “favorite” postwar English novelist, as if I had read enough to have one. I have never got through Jane Eyre or Giovannis Room or Journey to the End of the Night or Zenos Conscience or Pierre—I have never got through chapter one of Pierre. I have never read The Life of Henry Brulard and am not sure its even a novel. I have never read Memoirs of an Anti-Semite (but have said I have). I will never reread Dostoevsky as an adult, which in my case is more or less the same as not having read him. I couldn’t finish The Recognitions: I stopped 150 pages from the end, when the words just stopped tracking, and have never managed five pages of JR. I can’t remember which Barbara Pym novels I read, it was so long ago, and there are so many I haven’t. I have never made it to the cash register with a novel by Ronald Firbank. Thomas Hardy defeats me. So does D. H. Lawrence: you can love a writer and never actually feel like reading any more of his novels. I have never read Lady Chatterleys Lover. I never got to the end of Invisible Man. I have never read Stoner or Gormenghast or Blood Meridian or Wide Sargasso Sea (see Jane Eyre, above). Or any Faulkner novel all the way through besides The Sound and the Fury. I have never enjoyed a novel by Eudora Welty enough to keep going. I think I got to the end of V., which may be even worse than having put it down, and know for a certainty I never got far in Gravitys Rainbow. I have never read U.S.A. or Tom Jones or Tristram Shandy or Pamela or any novels by Irwin Shaw, James Jones, Mavis Gallant, or Dashiell Hammet. Or Raymond Chandler. I have never read Tender Is the Night, but just the other night someone used it as an example of something, and I nodded. Read More »

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Kate Beaton on ‘Hark! A Vagrant’

October 11, 2011 | by

Kate Beaton makes comics about the Bröntes, Canadians, fat ponies, the X-Men, Hamlet, the American founding fathers, Raskolnikov, gay Batman, Nikola Tesla, Les Misérables, Nancy Drew, Greek myths, and hipsters throughout history. Little is spared her lively pen and waggish, incisive wit. Born in Nova Scotia, Beaton studied history and anthropology, discovering through her university’s newspaper that she could put her knowledge of people, places, and dates to work in a humor column and, later, in comic strips. In 2007, she launched Hark! A Vagrant, which now receives more than a million hits each month. Her new book, of the same name, lampoons Kierkegaard, lumberjacks, Marie Curie, Jay Gatsby, Anne of Cleves, Oedipus, and everyone in between.

Do you remember the first comic you drew in college?

It was about Vikings! Vikings invading the school campus. It was a how-to guide for dealing with this breaking news. The Vikings were very interested in biology class, apparently. In comics, everybody is an expert in their own sense of humor, so either you’re funny to someone else or you’re not. And it’s putting yourself out there quite a bit for someone who is a little bit shy, which I was. I didn’t put my name on the first comics I submitted in case people hated them. You don’t want to be that person who’s unfunny. Trying to be funny and not being funny? That’s awful.

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Age Gaps; Authorial Décor

July 29, 2011 | by

The man Im dating is smart, charming, charismatic, handsome ... and almost twice my age. Everyone around me keeps saying that our relationship is destined to fail. Do you have suggestions for reading that will give me hope for a happy ending?

Oh, dear. As a wise relative once said to me, “It’s easy to love in a vacuum—it’s other people who are the difficulty.” While it’s true that literature does have its share of unhappy May-December relationships (Laughter in the Dark, anyone? A Gentle Creature? Keep these titles far from smug naysayers!), there’s no shortage of success stories, either. Off the top of my head: Jane Eyre, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Little Women, Gigi, Little Dorrit, Daddy Long-Legs … and I’m sure readers can name others. I’d even add Rebecca to that list—the DeWinters may have their issues, but I wouldn’t say the age gap is one of them. I can’t pretend any of these is guaranteed to make your friends keep their views to themselves, but I hope they provide a little comfort.

I need help putting together my first-ever apartment. Can you share the decorative tastes of any writers you know? Or literary passages about especially inspiring interior spaces?

My decorating training began and ended with a childhood love of a 1928 book called The Young Decrorators, in which a bunch of kids learn the basics of interior decoration.

That said, I do have a few ideas. If you’re looking for literary inspiration, I feel bound to invoke Joris-Karl Huysman’s paean to hedonism, A Rebours (variously translated as Against the Grain and Against Nature):

He had long been a connoisseur in the sincerities and evasions of color-tones. In the days when he had entertained women at his home, he had created a boudoir where, amid daintily carved furniture of pale, Japanese camphor-wood, under a sort of pavillion of Indian rose-tinted satin, the flesh would color delicately in the borrowed lights of the silken hangings.

This room, each of whose sides was lined with mirrors that echoed each other all along the walls, reflecting, as far as the eye could reach, whole series of rose boudoirs, had been celebrated among the women who loved to immerse their nudity in this bath of warm carnation, made fragrant with the odor of mint emanating from the exotic wood of the furniture.

So there’s that. On the other end of the spectrum, I am also a major fan of Dorothy Draper’s Decorating is Fun which, while not technically “literature,” is colorful enough to double as entertaining reading. And Serious Pleasures, the biography of bright young aesthete Stephen Tennant, contains jaw-dropping descriptions of his home, Wilsford Manor (inspired by Huysmans). As to authorial décor, you might get a kick out of this slideshow of writers’ homes.

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