Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Oxford Literary Festival




I'm talking at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival at Christ Church on Saturday (March 31st, 12 noon; very much hoping that some blog readers might be coming).
Oxford is where I spent some of my childhood -- mostly very happy years, though also shadowed with several darker episodes, when my father's mental health was at its most fragile -- and Christ Church is a place that I associate with Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland. It was here, my father told me, that Carroll -- or rather, Charles Dodgson, a mathematics don at the college -- had written his stories of Alice; and so when I went there with my sister, to the gardens and meadow, I half-imagined that we might glimpse the White Rabbit disappearing through a little gate, or even Alice herself, slipping just out of sight. My father was an academic at a different college, so Christ Church felt like foreign territory, which made it more magical, but I do also think of it as as a locked doorway into a past that contained moments of madness and incoherence, as well as joy. Like Lewis Carroll, my father loved riddles and clues and codes, but was also troubled by them, when his mind was at its most tormented.
As a child, I was as disturbed by the Alice stories as I was intrigued by them; their unsettling strangeness more frightening than the Narnia books that comforted me. Wonderland is a dangerous place to visit -- the pool of tears in which Alice nearly drowns, the ferocious Queen, the lunacy of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party -- but I look forward to returning to Oxford, and searching again for that elusive door into a forbidden garden...

9 comments:

kairu said...

Somehow Oxford always reminds me of the Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane books, especially Gaudy Night, which mostly takes place in the (fictional) college where Harriet took her degree. It also reminds me of C. S. Lewis, whose Narnia novels dominated my childhood even more than Alice and Lewis Carroll ever did...

(And of course, forbidden gardens always lead back to The Secret Garden).

Have a wonderful time in Oxford.

enid said...

I love Alice and have many copies. In London last year I took my granddaughter to a superb shadow puppet version which was mesmerising. I think lots of children's books are sad and scary.I also love The Secret Garden and it is so sad. Enjoy Oxford. I think of Sayers and Inspector Morse too and also Instance in the fingerpost by Ian Pears.

Justine Picardie said...

I loved The Secret Garden, too -- and of course, Narnia, always. I remember my father had a Lewis Carroll edition called 'The Annotated Alice', which explained the riddles and puzzles -- or at least, it was supposed to, but some too cryptic or surreal for rational explanation.

Lou said...

Enjoy the festival,Justine! My 17 year old daughter is on a Literary Tour of the U.K. with her school (from Melbourne,Australia).I've just checked her itinerary and she will be in Oxford for the festival. I'm just a little green with envy!Nonetheless I will be happy when she returns home safely from the other side of the world...

Justine Picardie said...

If you daughter would like to come to see me at the festival, I can sign a book for her and/or you.

Cottage Garden said...

I hope your talk went well Justine.

Just this evening I watched an Arena programme on BBC2 about Jonathan Miller, in which they showed clips of his version of Alice in Wonderland, made in the 60s I think. No animal heads for the characters and a particularly scary courtroom scene. Miller has achieved so much and in so many different fields. Quite amazing really.

Ellen said...

My daughter and I were lucky enough to hear your talk on Coco Chanel at the Oxford Literary Festival and we were enthralled. Thank you for making the subject so informative, yet very personal and unexpectedly moving. I managed to embarrass my teen with a quick weep!

Lou said...

Thankyou for your kind offer,Justine.Unfortunately, I read her itinerary a little bit too late.Never mind,one day I hope to travel to England myself...just have to save my pennies up first...(which might be a while ...teenagers are rather expensive!).

Justine Picardie said...

Ellen, thanks so much for the feedback -- it makes it all worthwhile!
And Lou -- hope to see you in the not too distant future. My oldest son has just come back from Australia (he's a musician), while the younger one turned 18 yesterday. They grow up so quickly...