The Literature, the Author, His Character and His Beauty

Knitting is a fantastic use of time, in my humble opinion. Really, I think it’s fantastic. It stimulates the mind, increases dexterity, and creates something meaningful simultaneously. I suspect however that much can be said about English literature; it certainly stimulates the mind, if you find the right piece, and makes you dexterous insofar as your vocabulary increases, your capacity for accommodating other ideas grows, and you begin to perceive the world in innumerable different ways. Therefore, the question can be asked: why do children not want to read anymore?

I find this dilemma difficult to empathise with because I have never struggled with not wanting to read. I’d read under the duvet with torches, with glow in the dark things, mobile phone lights… anything that would allow me to see the words on the page and translate them into something fantastic in my mind. Harry Potter and company would transport me to alternate universes. Therefore, I think it is almost unfathomable that children wouldn’t want to be a part of this world; at least not through their own imaginations. Certainly through obvious, glaring media, but not of their own accord, or because they want to experience the novels in the purest form, without the director’s interpretation affecting how one perceives the characters, and the settings.

The castles, dragons, wizards and people who emerge from the realms of my imagination are always exponentially more interesting and more exciting than those put on a screen. The capacity to create an image that everyone is involved with is certainly an advantage of cinema, however it is not fundamental. It treats the integrity of the character and the setting as it was prescribed by the author as superfluous, something that can, and should be, altered at any given moment. This essentially defies the authority of the author as the creator of the literature, and in this way, we can consider that television, film and video gaming has murdered the literary beauty of the literature they seek to portray.

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A good example here is the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. The perception of the artist of the young man exploits the reality of the young man himself, although it was never intended to be so; all that was intended was for the young man, Gray, to be Basil’s muse, the influence that allowed him to create his art, instead of the exploited and caged creature that he inevitably becomes. I have always been a Wilde fan, and enjoy curling up in armchairs, reading the plethora of work he left us. Nothing is more wonderful than reading, with a pot of tea, on a cold, wet evening; this is not a rare occurrence in this part of the world. It becomes as enchanting as exploring antique book shops, and wandering over hills, having picnics. This simple pursuit then replaces all of these things, because it removes itself from reality; it takes us away, beyond the limits of our minds as they were, unexplored and untouched, and instead, creates something infinitely more beautiful than we truly acknowledge it as.

“But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face.” – Oscar Wilde

And so, upon this final quote which I think rather nicely summarises my final paragraph, in that beauty is destroyed as an entity the second intellectual understanding is applied to it, I recommend that everyone dives into Wilde for a while. He’s great fun. I’m planning on writing a fairly lengthy blog on Oscar Wilde very soon, too!

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Good Afternoon, Mrs. Woolf

It is not an overstatement to say that Virginia Woolf and I have had a somewhat turbulent relationship; from adoration, to despair, to overriding hatred, and then finally a return to understanding and adoration. It has however, been rather one-sided. Over the years, from the beginning of my A-levels to the present day, I have been bound to read a variety of Virginia Woolf’s works; To the Lighthouse, Orlando, A Room of One’s Own… and so forth. It was very rare that I picked up Woolf of my own freewill (in fact, I’m not sure it has ever happened… ) because I found her fiction somewhat challenging, and as I found with Jane Austen, I thought that nothing really happened. Nothing of any note, at least. Nothing quite as gripping as a Robert Ludlum thriller; I felt it was all rather dry, focussing on the tiniest possible events in the upper middle class, bourgeois world in which she lived. As tends to happen however, I changed my mind.

To begin with, I was fascinated by To the Lighthouse, because whilst I found the prose itself beautiful, I deemed the novel a nemesis of mine; the unclear narrative, and the stream of consciousness technique has never been a particular favourite, largely because I am of the opinion that stream of consciousness has its platform, for instance in dreams, and in speech; however not written on a page, without any external context. I found it simply too dense, too difficult to relate to; it challenges all the boundaries of everything that was literature before the technique, and it is similar to linguistic doodling; pretty, perhaps; even beautiful, but nevertheless, without any coherent structure, and lacking in refinement.

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Orlando however was far more structured, however as tends to be the case with Virginia Woolf, some kind of boundary had to be pushed; in this case, it was the idea of gender. In the novel, the protagonist changes gender from a man to a woman, quite literally overnight; fundamentally however, she remains essentially the same in terms of person. I personally enjoyed Orlando, especially since it also includes a trip through the ages, over the course of Orlando’s life, from the Elizabethan Age to the 20th century. The protagonist is less a description of a person as opposed to a description of a persona; a symbolic representation of the fluidity of the concept of gender. For further information, Judith Butler’s essay on “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution” is fascinating.

And so by the end of 2009, I was firmly against Virginia Woolf, and was seriously considering building a time machine so that I could have gone back, changed her mind about being an author, and subsequently saved myself the agony that was that particular essay. Fortunately this somewhat childish plan changed when I had to read A Room of One’s Own. For the first time, in any of Woolf’s writings, I found her engaging, even charming. The content of the essay was delicate; it suited the theme of feminism extremely well. As a result, I became a full-time lover of Virginia Woolf, abandoning the turbulence of our previous relationship.

An astonishing element of literature, and of one’s relationship with the author, is the fact that one work can open one’s eyes to the others; providing almost a key of understanding, and a different perspective. This of course questions Roland Barthes assertion that the author is dead; when a person forms their own perception of the author, and understands their background, education and ideas, this can open up the text to the reader. It can exist in its own right, however it can also be inaccessible in this way, and so understanding a biography is just one of the ways in which a text can be understood.

Overall then, I’ve fallen for Virginia Woolf. I’m feeling tempted to go back and revisit To the Lighthouse, to see if I appreciate the techniques a little more this time around; I suspect that everything could be understood with a little perseverance and the right sort of teaching. Everything except calculus, that is.

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