Monday, 16 March 2009

Speaking of which...



I've been avoiding the papers recently, but a friend just pointed out an interesting piece in yesterday's Observer, that was immediately picked up in today's Telegraph. I think readers who have followed this blog -- because this is a blog, above all, about sharing what we read -- will find it intriguing. I've been fascinated by Kathryn Sutherland's academic research into Jane Austen manuscripts and memoirs (amongst many other things), ever since reading her wonderfully thought-provoking book, 'Jane Austen’s Textual Lives: From Aeschylus to Bollywood' (OUP, 2005), her edition of the Austen family memoirs, and her introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of 'Mansfield Park'. I can recommend all of these -- they light up the dark and dusty places in which original manuscripts are often hidden away -- but the twist in the tale, as reported in the Observer, is intriguing, particularly to me, given that 'Daphne' is a story of possession -- of how writers can be haunted by other writers, of what they share, and what they seek to own. I'd never met Professor Sutherland, when she reviewed the hardback edition of 'Daphne' in the Times Literary Supplement this time last year (though we did later have the first of a number of interesting conversations, after happening to meet at the Oxford Literary Festival a month or so afterwards), but I was struck by her grasp of what it was that I was trying to explore in the novel, and also by her encouragement of different kinds of writing, and of the discourse between academia and popular authors, including Daphne du Maurier. So it is odd -- or is it the universe chiming? -- that she herself is now the centre of a tale of possession; of why we are what we read, and how we read what we are...
Speaking of all of this, it turns out that there was also a review of the paperback of Daphne in yesterday's Observer, that seems relevant to this conversation (or at least, the conversation that I hope we will all have on this blog...)

18 comments:

kairu said...

My own paperback copy of Daphne is as we speak winging its way over from the other side of the planet - your side - and I can hardly wait until it arrives. Although the pile of books half-read and to-be-read has completely engulfed my bedside table, cascading onto the floor.

What a fascinating topic in this post, Justine. It reminds me a little of that scene in Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, when Thomasina is bemoaning the loss of the library of Alexandria. "We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind...But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language." (Mikhail Bulgakov put the same idea more succinctly in The Master and Margarita: "Manuscripts don't burn.").

Lou said...

Another case of art imitating art imitating life.The similarities between this story and that of the Daphne du Maurier/Winifred Gerin rivalry are intriguing.I'm also reminded of the recent fallout from Germaine Greer's scathing response to Joanna Murray-Smith's play.I would have loved to have seen Eileen Atkins in that one.The literary/art world must be an intimidating place to be at times!

Justine Picardie said...

Kairu, thanks for the quotes from Stoppard and Bulgakov -- they are very apposite. I actually met (very briefly) Tom Stoppard in the London Library last year. I was awestruck...
Lou -- glad you picked up on all the overlaps. It's like mirrors reflecting mirrors...

lacegrl130 said...

I just finished Daphne and I loved it! I was captivated and I hope you will read my little review. Congratulations on a wonderful story. Well done.

oxford-reader said...

Thanks for this Justine - it really is such a complicated issue, and one I think you look at closely in your novel. Poor Kathryn though, to go through this, I know there's a difference between academic and popular publishing, but this is ridiculous. I shall have to get a copy of 'Textual lives' when I pass the OUP bookshop tomorrow.

Lou - as someone who saw Eileen Atkins in The Female of the Species, I have to say both she and the play were absolutely wonderful!

Justine Picardie said...

This is a bit of an aside, but just saw a screening of a wonderful new film called 'Last Chance Harvey' in which Eileen Atkins plays Emma Thompson's mother. Both ET and EA are brilliant.
Lacegrl: love your name; I feel that I should be sending you a copy of my book about clothes (My Mother's Wedding Dress). And thanks so much for your very encouraging review and comment.

kairu said...

I love Eileen Atkins.

Must go pop in Cold Comfort Farm. I am sure I have other EA movies, but I can't think of them right now.

oxford-reader said...

Justine, so envious that you've seen Last Chance Harvey -- I've been wanting to see it for months, and can't understand why it's coming out so much later here than in the US. It will be a treat to watch when it finally does come out, I can feel that from the trailer!

Lou said...

I am envious of you,Oxford Reader.I think from memory,Eileen Atkins was also in 'The Hours" playing the flower shop lady.I loved that film.It was one of the few times when I have had to read the book after seeing the film.My friend who I went to see the film with absolutely hated it and couldn't believe I would rush out to buy the book.It's funny how people can have such different opinions about a film.I always think of that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine was the only one that hated 'The English Patient'. I must go and see 'Last Chance Harvey'.I have a soft spot for Dustin Hoffman.Anyway,better stop rambling on...

Justine Picardie said...

Love how we've got from Jane Austen to Dustin Hoffman, in a hop, a skip and a jump!

oxford-reader said...

That's the beauty of blogs - would you normally be able to do that in less than six degrees of separation?

dovegreyreader said...

How very intriguing Justine,and what interesting points Kathryn Sutherland makes and of course now I want to read and compare!

Alice @ Jakesbarn said...

Can I recommend the two books by Irene Collins - 'Jane Austen and the Clergy' - and 'Jane Austen: The Parson's Daughter'? The latter has a terribly tacky new cover on the paperback, but don't be deceived by that. Irene Collins is so thoroughly immersed in the world of the clergy of Jane Austen's time - all those questions of simony, and purchase of livings etc - a wonderful background to reading the novels.

Justine Picardie said...

Thanks for the recommendations. And DGR -- yes, you must read and compare!

Lou said...

....back to Dustin Hoffmann...remember he played J.M.Barrie's promoter/manager in "Finding Neverland".Sorry I couldn't help adding that one! Now back to Jane Austen.

Justine Picardie said...

Lou, thanks for reminding me, because I had actually forgotten about that. And I love it when the universe chimes, however quietly...

kairu said...

My copy of Daphne is here at last, Justine, and I plan on spending the weekend curled up on the sofa with it, a cup of tea and a stuffed dog at my side.

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