Posts Tagged ‘literature’

Examining This

Well the State exams are always a good laugh, aren’t they? Last year letting the second English paper out of the bag, this year giving out accountancy papers with missing pages. I was passing through a secondary school at the weekend and picked up someone’s discarded English Higher Level Paper 2. A nasty, shiny, slippy pink paper it is too, with some of the dullest questions imaginable. 

“Emily Brontë explores extremes of passion and reason in interesting ways in the novel Wuthering Heights.”
Respond to this statement supporting your answer with suitable reference to the text.

I “did” Wuthering Heights for my own Leaving Certificate twenty-one years ago and was swept away by its power. But how I would hate to be answering that question. I can’t remember what it was in my day – something similar, no doubt, perhaps something on light and dark, civilisation and nature, storm and calm. 

I’ve reread it every two or three years since, I’ve approved of or tutted at film and television adaptations. I don’t think I am still in love with Heathcliff, these days, but it’s their love – his and Cathy’s –  that knocks the breath from your lungs, anyway. I’m sorry to admit I’m sucker for literary tourism of a kind the Brontës would have loathed (I photographed the beer-sticky spot in Jamaica Inn where Joss Merlyn could have died – yes I am aware he is a fictional character), so I’ve supported the Brontë industry at Haworth, and walked a tame bit of the moors. I’ve slipped between the mossy headstones and oohed at Charlotte’s tiny clothes behind glass at the Parsonage, muttered “Come, Anne, pillapotato” in the kitchen, scrutinised miniature manuscripts, delighted in their Irish blood, gobbled biographies, pondered authorship mysteries, but I delight in the knowledge that I will never again answer an exam question on the text. Did anyone sitting the Leaving Certificate answer that Emily Brontë explored extremes of passion and reason in rather humdrum ways? I suppose if anyone’s going to hack at the shins of (yes, arguably) the world’s greatest novelist it will be a pouty teenager. 

Imagining the setters of questions inevitably made me think of Yeats:

Lord, what would they say
Did their Catullus walk that way?

Emily’s father used to fire a pistol into the air for effect, and she herself is supposed to have been a crack shot. I know. She might have felt just as much like aiming at me, shamefacedly touching Branwell’s chair at the Black Bull, as at exam setters innocently writing questions.

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Not only has church fete season kicked off, guaranteeing a glorious summer of fairy cakes, second-hand fondue sets and the smell of freshly mown brass bands, hurrah, but for the next couple of months there’s event-gorging aplenty.

My wishlist at the moment, with budget, work, childcare and dogcare out of the picture:

Pat Boran reading from his memoir The Invisible Prison in Blanchardstown (tomorrow, 20th May)

La Traviata on 5th and 6th June

clashing partially with

1st – 6th June 2010
I want to be at Natasha Walter, Antony Beevor, the Gallery Press 40th, David Mitchell, Joe O’Connor and pretty much everything actually.

Dunlavin Arts Festival
18th – 20th June
Never been but is only an hour away and a few forebears farmed there.

5th – 10th July 2010
Anthony Horowitz, the Fish readings, Leanne O’Sullivan, Peter Sirr. Perhaps Michael Palin. 

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Secret Lives

I’m currently fascinated by The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings, as I was a Maugham fan in my teens, starting with the short stories, which I still enjoy, though it’s a long time since I read one of his novels or plays. Sometimes when I read a book and it drips through my mind like water, I wonder whether it’s my own lack of attention, these days, that’s the problem – I read with such greed and fascination as a teenager that the characters and plots spring right back into my memory as they’re dealt with in this biography. Maugham was such a prolific writer – perhaps too prolific at times, as he did rehash plots and characters endlessly – and so steely in his ambition to succeed, to be known, to make money, that he makes someone like me – who can barely prepare a shopping list – feel like a complete slattern. Such discipline and industry is needed to carry an idea through into a completed book or play, and to be able to complete again and again and again simply because one has decided to do it, is a trick worth learning. For all his well-earned wealth and celebrity, though, Maugham was unhappy and largely disliked, but he was ill set up for life by the loss of his much loved mother when he was only eight, followed by a swift rehousing to a dreary Kent vicarage, where he passed the rest of a pretty miserable childhood. 

I haven’t even finished the biography yet but I know another rereadathon awaits, of the novels at least. He’s not in vogue at the moment but The Gate had an enjoyable and beautiful production of The Constant Wife a couple of years ago – maybe there will be a little Maugham revival in the wake of this biography.

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I haven’t seen Tim Burton’s Alice yet but I’ve been looking at the books again. The story never bothered me when I was a child but the illustrations did, yuck. I have a Folio Society copy which was printed in 1961 but given to me by my grandmother in 1980, the same year that the facsimile edition of the handwritten and illustrated Alice’s Adventures Under Ground was published. 

God that neck still gives me the creeps. So does this big-head-tiny-body shot which is the look of the Red Queen in the new film. Shivers.

Interesting to compare Carroll’s own flamingo shot with Tenniel’s. 




21st March – Hmm I have now seen it. Wasn’t it a boy who slew the Jabberwock? 

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