My name is Slawka Grabowska. I organize Donostia Book Club. We meet every month to discuss previously chosen books or short stories. Check out our FB page! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Donostia-Book-Club/105225566276875?ref=hl
Thank you so much for our last meeting! There were many new people and I've talked to some of you after the meeting. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I did!
As promised, here is ´The Door´, a short film based on one part of the book. Enjoy!
As for our next meeting, it will be dedicating to Zelda Fitzgerald and her ´Save me the Waltz´. I've found out there is a problem with book delivery at the library, so it's still not available (hovewer our next two books, for April and May, are already there!). So if you want to have the physical copy I can refer you to amazon.es:
As always, if you have any problems with the digital copy, send me a message here or an email.
I hope to see you all in March!
The Nobel Prize in Literature 2015 was awarded to Svetlana Alexievich "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time". But one has to wonder how her own suffering translates into her books. I hope to read one day her biography written by someone as talented as she is!
Svetlana Alexiyevich, a Belarusian investigative journalist and non-fiction prose writer who writes in Russian. Awarded Nobel Prize in 2015. Alexievich has never made any public statements about her personal life.
She was born 31 May 1948 in the Ukrainian town of Ivano-Frankovsk into the family of a serviceman. Her father is Belarusian and her mother is Ukrainian. When the father had completed his military service, the family moved to Belarus, and settled in a village where both Father and Mother worked as schoolteachers. (The father's grandfather was also a rural schoolteacher.) In many interviews she talks about life there as life without man: one could hear just voices of women and their laments. She grew up hearing about death and war.
Already in her school days she wrote poetry and contributed articles to the school newspaper. After finishing school Alexiyevich worked as a reporter on the local paper in the town of Narovl, Gomel Region. At that time she needed two years work record (as was the rule in those days) in order to enroll in the Department of Journalism of Minsk University, entering it in 1967. She studied journalism at the University of Minsk between 1967 and 1972. During her university years she won several awards at the republican and all-Union competitions for scholarly and students' papers.
After her graduation she was referred to a local newspaper in Brest near the Polish border, because of her oppositional views. At the same time Alexiyevich taught at the local school. She was torn between various career options: to continue the family tradition of school teaching, scholarly work, or journalism. But after a year she returned to Minsk and began an employment at the newspaper Rural Newspaper. For many years, she collected materials for her first book War's Unwomanly Face, which is based on interviews with hundreds of women who participated in the Second World War. This work is the first in Alexievich's grand cycle of books, "Voices of Utopia", where life in the Soviet Union is depicted from the perspective of the individual. Several years later she took the job of a correspondent for the literary magazine Neman and was soon promoted to the head of the section for non-fiction.
She tried her voice in various genres, such as the short story, essay, and reportage. It was the famous Byelorussian writer Ales Adamovich who made a decisive influence on Svetlana's choice, particularly his books I'm from the Fiery Village and The Book of the Siege. He wrote them jointly with other authors but the idea and its development were entirely his, and it was a new genre for both Byelorussian and Russian literature. Adamovich was looking for the right definition of the genre, calling it "collective novel", "novel-oratorio", "novel-evidence", "people talking about themselves", "epic chorus", to name a few of his appellations. Alexiyevich has always named Adamovich as her main teacher. He helped her to find a path of her own.
In one of her interviews she said: "I've been searching for a literary method that would allow the closest possible approximation to real life. Reality has always attracted me like a magnet, it tortured and hypnotized me, I wanted to capture it on paper. So I immediately appropriated this genre of actual human voices and confessions, witness evidences and documents. This is how I hear and see the world - as a chorus of individual voices and a collage of everyday details. This is how my eye and ear function. In this way all my mental and emotional potential is realized to the full. In this way I can be simultaneously a writer, reporter, sociologist, psychologist and preacher."
In 1983 she completed her book The Unwomanly Face of the War. For two years it was sitting at a publishing house but was not published. Alexiyevich was accused of pacifism, naturalism, de-glorification of the heroic Soviet woman. Such accusations could have quite serious consequences in those days. All the more so since already after her first book I've Left My Village (monologues of people who abandoned their native parts) she has already had a reputation of a dissident journalist with anti-Soviet sentiments. On order of the Byelorussian Central Committee of the Communist Party Alexiyevich's already composed book was destroyed and she was accused of anti-Communist and anti-government views. She was threatened with losing her job. They told her: "How can you work on our magazine with such alien views? And why are you not yet a member of the Communist Party?"
Deemed unpatriotic by authorities, her early works remained unpublished until the political reformation in the mid-1980s initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalizing policy of perestroika. In 1985 The Unwomanly Face of the War came out simultaneously in Minsk and in Moscow. In subsequent years it was repeatedly reprinted; all in all more than two million copies were sold out. This novel, which the author calls "the novel-chorus", is made up of monologues of women in the war speaking about the unknown aspects of the Second World War that had never been related before. The book was hailed by the war writers as well as the public.
In the same year her second book came out: The Last Witnesses: 100 Unchildlike Stories, which has also languished unpublished for the same reasons (pacifism, failure to meet ideological standards). This book also ran into many reprints and was acclaimed by numerous critics, who called both books "a discovery in the genre of war prose". The war seen through women's and children's eyes opened up a whole new area of feelings and ideas.
The 40th anniversary of the war was marked by the theatre production of The Unwomanly Face of the War at the renowned Taganka Theatre (staged by Anatoly Efros.) The Omsk Drama Theatre received the State Prize for their production of The Unwomanly Face of the War. The play based on this novel was running in many theatres around the country. A cycle of documentary films was produced on the basis of The Unwomanly Face of the War. The film cycle was awarded with the State Prize, and received the Silver Dove at the Leipzig Festival of Documentary Films. Alexiyevich also received many other prizes for this work.
Published in 1989, Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from a Forgotten War exposed the hidden, undocumented futility of the Soviet intervention (1979–89) in the Afghan War (1978–92) and served to demystify the role of nationalism and Soviet autonomy. The title referred to the zinc coffins used by the military to return the dead. To collect material for the book Alexiyevich was traveling around the country for four years to meet war victims' mothers and veterans of the Afghan war. She also visited the war zone in Afghanistan. The book was a bombshell and many people could not forgive the author for de-mythologizing the war. In the first place the military and Communist papers attacked Alexiyevich. In 1992, court proceedings have been opened against the author and her book in Minsk. The democratically minded public rose in defense of the book. The case was closed. Later several documentary films and plays were based on this book.
In 1993, she published Enchanted with Death, a book about attempted suicides as a result of the downfall of their socialist mainland. They were people who felt inseparable from the socialist ideals, who were unable to accept the new order, the new country with its newly interpreted history. The book was adapted for the cinema (The Cross).
In 1997 she published Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, which confronted the devastating consequences of the Chernobyl disaster as told by witnesses and victims of the catastrophic nuclear power station accident. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, is a very personal matter for the author: her sister was killed and her mother was blinded by that catastrophe. After that she adopted her niece and lives with her.
Neverthless, Alexievich said that “Voices from Chernobyl” was her easiest book to write: nothing like those events had happened before, “so people had no culture to protect them.” She began researching the book almost immediately after the disaster, in 1986, so she was able to capture raw feeling on the page. “I realized you have to follow history,” she said. “This genre works for epic stories only.” Still, the events serve to get at the hidden heart of a person. “I work to create an image of time and the person who lived through it.”
Labeled a dissident journalist with anti-Soviet sentiments, she experienced intimidation as well as harassment: her writing was subjected to censorship or banned from publication, she was publicly denounced for “defamation” and “slander,” and her opposition to the political regime in Belarus forced her into an extended period of self-imposed exile. She has periodically lived abroad, in Italy, France, Germany and Sweden, among other places. For much of her adult life, though, she has lived in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, in a nine-story concrete apartment bloc in central Minsk. Its standard-size kitchen—which is to say, quite small—is outfitted with a couch, because it’s the room where, in keeping with the Soviet intelligentsia tradition, all the important conversations happen. When Alexievich is there, her kitchen is indeed the site of many important conversations. In a 2013 interview with German television, she said she hoped the international attention would give her “a degree of protection” in Belarus, where press freedom is under constant threat.
She returned to Minsk a couple of years ago, admitting that her plan to wait out the reign of the Belarusian dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, had failed. This project proved too long, even for her.
Nevertheless, she persisted on her chosen path. She enlarged the scope of her creative vision with the publication in 2013 of “Secondhand Time”, which examined the legacy of communism in the aftermath of the demise of the Soviet Union.
"If you look back at the whole of our history, both Soviet and post-Soviet, it is a huge common grave and a blood bath. An eternal dialogue of the executioners and the victims. The accursed Russian questions: what is to be done and who is to blame. The revolution, the gulags, the Second World War, the Soviet-Afghan war hidden from the people, the downfall of the great empire, the downfall of the giant socialist land, the land-utopia, and now a challenge of cosmic dimensions - Chernobyl. This is a challenge for all the living things on earth. Such is our history. And this is the theme of my books, this is my path, my circles of hell, from man to man."
Alexiyevich's book have been published in many countries: USA, Germany, UK, Japan, Sweden, France, China, Vietnam, Bulgaria, India -- 19 countries in all.
She has to her name 21 scripts for documentary films and three plays, which were staged in France, Germany, and Bulgaria.
Alexiyevich has been awarded with many international awards, including the Kurt Tucholsky Prize for the "Courage and Dignity in Writing" (the Swedish PEN), the Andrei Sinyavsky Prize "For the Nobility in Literature", the independent Russian prize "Triumph", the Leipzig Prize "For the European Mutual Understanding- 1998", the German prizes "For the Best Political Book" and the Herder Prize.
Alexiyevich has thus defined the main thrust of her life and her writings: "I always aim to understand how much humanity is contained in each human being, and how I can protect this humanity in a person."
These questions acquire a new implication in connection with the latest events in Beloruss where a military-socialist regime is being restored, a new post-Soviet dictatorship. And now Alexiyevich is again unwelcome to the authorities in her country because of her views and her independence. She belongs to the opposition which also includes the country's finest intellectuals.
Her books add up to a literary chronicle of the emotional history of the Soviet and post-Soviet person. She continues to develop her original genre. In each new book it is employed in a new way. One can't help recalling Lev Tolstoy's maxim to the effect that it is more interesting to follow real life than to invent it. "Many things in man still remain a riddle for art," says Alexiyevich.
For her 50th anniversary a two-volume collection of her works came out. In the introduction the critic Lev Anninsky says: "This is a unique work, which has probably been undertaken for the first time in Russian, or rather in Soviet and post-Soviet culture: the author has traced and recorded the lives of several generations of Soviet people, and the very reality of the 70 years of socialism: from the 1917 Revolution through the Civil War, the youth and hypnotism of the great utopia, Stalin's terror and the gulags, the Great Patriotic War, and the years of the downfall of the socialist mainland up to the present times. This is a living history told by the people themselves and recorded and selected by a talented and honest chronicler."
Alexiyevich is currently finishing her book The Wonderful Deer of the Eternal Hunt made up of love stories. Men and women of different generations tell their personal stories. "It occurred to me that I've been writing books about how people kill one another, how they die. But this is not the whole of human life. Now I'm writing about how people love one another. And again I ask myself the same question, this time through the prism of love: who are we and what country we are living in. Love is what brings us into this world. I want to love people. Although it's increasingly hard to love them. And getting harder."
I'm sure most of the booklovers have heard at some point of their literary journey about Toni Morrison. And if you haven't read anything by her yet, it's time to catch up.
The first African-American to win the Nobel Prize in literature, an important figure in literary debates concerning how and why one writes about a specific racial or cultural group, all of het fiction, from her first novel, The Bluest Eye, to 2012's Home, explores both the need for and the impossibility of real community and the bonds that both unite and divide African-American women. Toni Morrison is a key player in the creation of a black literary aesthetic. Morrison has always sought to create an alternative to dominant assumptions about how we read and write about people. As a member of an oppressed social group and as a woman, she is interested in what it means to be subordinated and made invisible. Her writing is embraced by feminist critics who regard her prose style as distinctively female and who see her work as a continuation of Virginia Woolf's stream-of-consciousness narration. However she has a very unique style, unique narrative technique, varying from book to book and developed independently, even though its roots stem from Faulkner and American writers from further south. The lasting impression is sympathy, humanity, of the kind which is always based on profound humour.
She, herself says about her works: My work requires me to think about how free I can be as an African-American woman writer in my genderized, sexualized, wholly racialized world and in her book of essays Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992) she adds: My project rises from delight, not disappointment
She was born in the small steel-mill town of Lorain, Ohio on February eighteen, 1931 and named "Chloe Anthony Wofford". She changed her name to "Toni" when she was an undergraduate at university. The second of four children in a black working-class family, her home state of Ohio reflects Morrison's own interest in the hybrid African-American experience as it combines the northern industrial feel of its big cities with a southern atmosphere and rural history. Morrison's family history also mirrors her interest in that her grandparents had migrated to Ohio from the Deep South. Through them, Morrison became familiar with southern black lore, black history of opression, great migration and struggle for equality.
She received her BA in English from Howard University and went on to get her master's in English at Texas Southern University. Returning to teach at Howard University, Morrison married a Jamaican architect with whom she had two sons. The couple divorced in the mid sixties and Morrison began a publishing career with Random House, eventually becoming one of their senior editors. She is known for her pioneering work as an editor of AfricanAmerican authors. In the late eighties Morrison began teaching at Princeton University (since 1989, a chair at Princeton University) where she continues to write cultural and literary criticism.
She began writing a short story in the late sixties that she was encouraged to expand into a novel. She made her debut as a novelist in 1970, soon gaining the attention of both critics and a wider audience for her epic power, unerring ear for dialogue, and her poetically-charged and richly-expressive depictions of Black America. This first novel was called The Bluest Eye. Since then Morrison has come out with a new novel every couple of years. Up to now she has written 10 novels and all of them have received extensive critical acclaim. She is also a member since 1981 of the American Academy of Arts and Letters She received the National Book Critics Award in 1978 for Song of Solomon and the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Beloved. Both novels were chosen as the main selections for the Book of the Month Club in 1977 and 1987 respectively. In 2006 Beloved was chosen by the New York Times Book Review as the best work of American fiction published in the last quarter-century. And of course in 1993 the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Toni Morrison "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality". In Award Speech Ceremony Professor Sture Allén, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy praised her for giving ¨the Afro-American people their history back, piece by piece¨. Morrison co-authored the children's books Remember, the Who's Got Game? series, The Book of Mean People and The Big Box. Her books of essays include Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination; the edited collection Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality; and the co-edited collection Birth of a Nation'hood: Gaze, Script, and Spectacle in the O.J. Simpson Case. She is also an author of some musicals and lyrics, among them “Honey and Rue”, premiered January 1992; 'Four Songs' November 1994; 'Sweet Talk' April 1997; and 'Woman.Life.Song' April 2000; And the opera 'Margaret Garner' with music by Richard Danielpour, premiered in May 2005.Morrison has also authored Dreaming Emmett, a play produced in 1986, whichtells the true story of a fourteen-year old black boy who is murdered for allegedly whistling after a white woman.
She is probably most know because of her trilogy: Beloved (1987), Jazz (1992) and Paradise (1997).These three novels by Toni Morrison are linked not by shared characters or setting, but by a set of recurring themes, predominantly the exploration of African-American history from the mid-nineteenth to the late twentieth century. Morrison has stated that the books were intended to be read as a trilogy, but has never officially given the series a name. It is variously referred to as "The Beloved Trilogy", "The Jazz Trilogy", "The Morrison Trilogy" or merely "The Trilogy" by reviewers and critics.
Jazz is often considered the most vocal and I believe with a reason: the narrative's deliberately ungendered, unspecific voice and its avatars take center stage against a Harlem backdrop.the narrator whose identity is a matter of each reader's imagination. But what it consistently calls ¨the City¨ with a capital C only indirectly functions as historical background. It seems to be doing much more than encoding Afro-American place. The metropolis in 1926 is a vast receptacle of actual, historical, vocal, and memorial traces. As a new composite, the City is conditioned by the Great Migration from the rural South which started in the 1870s and climaxed between 1910 and 1930.
And here enters the music, the race music, as Toni calls it in the book. The author's approach is similar to the style in which jazz is performed. The opening lines of the novel provide its theme, almost the synopsis, the lives of a number of people. In the course of the novel we perceive a first-person narrator, varying, supplementing and intensifying the story. The final picture is a highly composite image of events, characters and atmospheres, mediated in sensual language with a deep inherent sense of musicality. Toni Morrison's way of addressing her reader has a compelling lustre, in a poetic direction (although she hates her prose being called poetic, it's the best description one can think about!).
Jazz is the story of a triangle of passion, jealousy, murder, and redemption, of sex and spirituality, of slavery and liberation, of country and city, of being male and female, African American, and above all of being human. Like the music of its title, it is a dazzlingly lyric play on elemental themes, as soaring and daring as a Charlie Parker solo, as heartbreakingly powerful as the blues. Like her other works, Jazz draws from a specific historical moment, the Harlem Renaissance, and seeks to embody, both in its form and in its themes, the culture and feeling of the era. While Morrison objects to the term "magic realism" when applied to her work, novels such as Jazz reflect a distinctive mix of fantasy and reality and a blurring of internal and external worlds. While Morrison has worked towards creating alternative models for African-American fiction she has courted controversy among scholars and readers who object to her endeavors to re-tell a cultural legacy.
As I have mentioned, we get to know what happened at the very first page: the impacting start of the story with Joe Trace (50 years old, perfect husband, door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra cosmetics) killing his lover of two months, 18 years old Dorcas. During the funeral, Violet, his wife, tries to cut the girl's face with a knife. And here starts the huge flashback, that itself includes other flashbacks, at points getting back to 1880 and 1926. The book doesn't focus on specifics of the geography or historical events, but definitely presents black history, although in a less traditional way than the one we are used to.
Themes are clearly visible in this book: violence, motherhood (or it's lack), race, African-American struggle for identity and their space in the society. Less obvious but not less important are motifs of orphans (Joe, Violet, Dorcas), music (Morrison did something unique--- she was able to use a musical genre as a structuring principle for an entire novel with her novel Jazz. The novel’s structure mimics a jazz orchestra.) and doublness (Violet – Violent, Dorkas in Joe's eyes and Dorcas in Felice's – her friend – eyes; Joe's double-coloured eyes). Also symbolism is present in this story, two most visible symbols are birds (caged vs. red-wing ones: Violet vs. Wild) and green dress (passes hands from Vera Louise Gray to Joe's mother, Wild).
The best part of the book is, no matter how much you have read about it before, there is no posible way to spoil the Reading for you: there are no spoilers for books that reveal the main point of action at the very first page!
I've used numerous sources writing this entry:
PLEASE, IF YOU SEE ANY MATERIAL USED BUT NOT MENTIONED LET ME KNOW! THANKS!
Thank you for our last meeting! I have to say I've enjoyed the book soooo much! There are still may things to discover in this text and I believe that's what makes it a true masterpiece. I will post on our blog about it as soon as posible!
Meantime, I would suggest you to start reading our next book: Voices from Chernobyl by Swetlana Alexievich. It´s 252 pages, but as a non fiction it might be different for you, maybe you need more time (or less, who knows wink emoticon ).... If you have any problems with getting the copy, send me an email and I'll try to help you.
Our next meeting is on February, 8th. Same place, same time as always smile emoticon
First of all i would like to thank you all for our last meeting and those who could celebrate with me after. It might have been just half an hour, but it ment a lot to me and next time we will plan it better and in advance!
To those who've missed our last meeting: we already have a list for 2016, both dates and books.
I hope you find there something interesting for you. As always books were chosen mostly by you and I just completed it since there were not enough titles.
Our next meeting is on January, 11th at 19:45, same place as always: the activity room on San Jeronimo Street. I will soon prepare a poster and make it available to everyone. Meanwhile you can already start Reading ¨Jazz¨ by Toni Morrison. It's a part of trilogy, but can be read individually. Physical copies should be already available in all municipal libraries, or will be very soon. If you want to buy it, I've bought my copy at Amazon.es.
I hope to see you all at the next meeting. Have a great festive season!
"People turn their heads when I walk past them. They know where I’m going. My feet almost stumble on the uneven pavement of the cobblestoned street when I sense Mark’s gaze on me. This is the only time he takes notice of me, and it’s for a reason I wish didn’t exist. All the other times I want him to see me, his eyes skip right over me. I’m a wolf in sheep’s clothes to these people. A potential threat.
I already know what will happen once I get to the Clinic. I’ll have to talk to that clueless psychiatrist so he can measure my possibly violent tendencies. Because that stigma has been on me ever since I turned twelve and the person I loved most in the whole wide world was Purged from this city.
My name is Sarah, and my father was a violence offender."
I'm usually not keen on sequels or follow up series, but this one is definitely worth reading. We are back to the world of the Island series, but this time on the Dartmoor city's side. The action takes place some years after the original series and shows the consequences of all the previous events but also some dark secrets kept in Dartmoor. If you haven´t read the Island, don't worry: he story makes perfect sense on its own, and there are enough references to clear up any confusion. (Although surely it would be much much better to catch up with the first 3 books, if anything to enjoy Jen Minkamn's amazing writing skills!).
I'm not going to lie: I've received the copy for free in exchange for an honest review but I have to say I couldn't enjoy more. I've read most of the books written by the author and, through the time, you can clearly see her growing in skills. This book has it all: fully drawn, well developed characters, plot that just makes you drill over every single word, good pace that doesn't bore you. Check for your self what kind of fences can people encounter in post-apocalyptic world. What restrains the survivors of the last war... ever? I guarantee you will just get as hooked as I did. I'm impatiently waiting for the second book.
On her return to Glasgow, her short stories began to be published in anthologies of new Scottish literature. In the early 1990s she was a regular panellist on STV's Scottish Books programme. She went on to undertake an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, and then completed a PhD at the same university. During the same period, Jane wrote a number of short film scripts. Several of these scripts won awards, including two BAFTA nominations, for "Bait" (1999) and "Going Down" (2000). In 1999 and 2000, Jane was shortlisted for the BBC's Dennis Potter Award.
After UEA came a two-year stint as the Arts Council Writer-in-Residence at HM Durham Prison (1992-4). As she said about that job: ¨My remit was to help prisoners to write poems, fiction and memoirs, two and a half days per week. Otherwise, I was free to do my own work.¨ It was there that she began her first novel, structured as a set of short stories. One of these short pieces was about a farmer-poet and a girl he acquires songs from. However, Harris says that as soon as she invented the voice of the girl, Bessy started taking over and she ended up ditching the farmer and focusing on Bessy and "Missus" - the woman who employs her as a maid.
The project ground to a halt at about 10,000 words when Harris started to write short scripts for her husband, film director Tom Shankland; two films, Going Down (2000) and Bait (1999), were nominated for Bafta awards. Jane worked as a script and novel reader for film companies and for The Literary Consultancy, and as a script editor.
When she rediscovered her novel in a box in the attic in 2003 she says that she couldn't believe she had abandoned Bessy. She sent the first 100 pages to publishers, and a bidding war took place between Faber, Fourth Estate and Hodder for UK rights. The Observations was published by Faber & Faber (UK) and Viking (USA) in hardcover in 2006.
Recognized as a talented author, she taught Creative Writing for many years, principally at the University of East Anglia. Jane currently lives in East London and is married to the film and TV director Tom Shankland.
Her latest novel, Gillespie and I, was published to critical acclaim in the UK in May 2011 by Faber and Faber. Her first novel The Observations was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2007 and has been published in over 20 territories worldwide. In France, The Observations was shortlisted for the Prix du Premier Roman Etranger (2009), and in the USA it won the Book of the Month Club’s First Fiction Prize (2007). Waterstone’s, the UK bookstore chain, chose Jane as one of its 25 Authors for the Future. In 2007 she was also nominated for the British Book Awards Newcomer of the Year and for the Southbank Show/Times Breakthrough Award. In 2011, Richard and Judy chose The Observations as one of their 100 Books of the Decade.
Although we don´t know a lot about her, on her website we can read the list of her favourite books. Among them are classics like Jane Austen; Charlotte Bronte; Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Ford Maddox Ford or Leo Tolstoy:, but she also reads Daphne du Maurier, F Scott Fitzgerald, Vladimir Nabokov, JD Salinger, Kazuo Ishiguro, Patrick Süskind, John Irving, Raymond Chandler, Thomas Harris and John Updike. She also mentions some of her favourite films (The Big Lebowski, Hannah and her Sisters, Husbands and Wives, All About Eve, The Ladykillers, It's a Wonderful Life, Festen, Singing in the Rain, Some Like it Hot, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid).
The Observations (2006)
The Observations is published in the UK by Faber and Faber, in the US by Penguin, and in Australia/New Zealand by Allen & Unwin. Since its release in the UK and US it has been published in the Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Greece, Spain, Germany, Norway, Poland, France, Portugal, Sweden and Brazil. It is due to be published in Israel, Serbia and Montenegro, Romania, Croatia, Russia, Turkey.. An audiobook version is available, narrated by the author. There is also a Danish audiobook version.
Synopsis: set in Scotland in 1863, is narrated by the lively, sharp Bessy Buckley, who leaves Glasgow and happens into a job as a maid at Castle Haivers. Arabella, her mistress, encourages Bessy to write her thoughts and experiences in a journal. She also subjects Bessy to odd experiments, but Bessy goes along with them because she is flattered by the attention and quickly grows attached to her mistress. Things change when Bessy snoops in Arabella's locked desk and discovers the book Arabella has been writing, The Observations, a study of the "habits and nature of the Domestic Class." Bessy is incensed to read criticisms of herself in the account, and also learns of Arabella's affection for one of her predecessors, a girl who died under mysterious circumstances. Bessy concocts a revenge that ends up having consequences far more lasting than she ever envisioned …
On her website we can read: ¨Two key sequences in Gillespie and I are drawn from my own experience while I was working and living in Portugal. During that time, I did happen to save the life of an old lady whom I found collapsed, unconscious on the ground. And, for a short while, I lived in the home of another Portuguese lady who owned a pair of birds. The descriptions of Harriet Baxter’s birds and all of the narrative concerning them (right up until the very end) is based closely on the two birds with whom I shared a home in Portugal.¨
The park where the Great Exhibition takes place is now Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow’s West End.
Harriet’s Glasgow lodgings are on the top floor of one of the residences at the western side of Queen’s Crescent, just off West Prince’s Street.
Ned and Annie Gillespie live just around the corner from Harriet on Stanley Street, which was renamed some time earlier in the last century and is now known as Baliol Street.
Merlinsfield: Merlinsfield, Harriet’s father’s property, as featured in Gillespie and I, is based on a real place near the hamlet of Bardowie, called Robinsfield. This was a home and studio on the outskirts of Glasgow, once designed and used by artist Robert MacAuley Stevenson. The Robinsfield building has now been divided up into executive apartments.
Gillespie and I, was published to critical acclaim in the UK in January 2011. It is a chilling tale, largely set in the late 19th century, and involving anonymous letters, sleazy journalism and a notorious court case. It would appear that I am to be the first to write a book on Gillespie. Who, if not me, was dealt that hand? As she sits in her Bloomsbury home, with her two birds for company, elderly Harriet Baxter sets out to relate the story of her acquaintance, over four decades previously, with Ned Gillespie, a talented artist who never achieved the fame that she maintains he deserved. Back in 1888, the young, art-loving Harriet arrives in Glasgow at the time of the International Exhibition. After a chance encounter, she befriends the Gillespie family and soon becomes a fixture in all of their lives. But when tragedy strikes – leading to a notorious criminal trial – the promise and certainties of this world all too rapidly disintegrate into mystery and deception. Featuring a memorable cast of characters, infused with atmosphere and period detail, and shot through with wicked humour, Gillespie and I is a powerful and haunting second novel from one of today's most striking new voices. (Text taken from the hardback edition of Gillespie and I)
In Gillespie and I, Harris returns to Victorian Scotland, this time to the Glasgow of 1888, a city in the middle of the International Exhibition, complete with national pavilions and gondolas on the river Kelvin. The narrator is Harriet Baxter, a spinster of independent means, who is recalling the events of the novel from her flat in Bloomsbury 50 years later.
The story starts when Harriet saves a woman from choking on her false teeth. She turns out to be the mother of Ned Gillespie, an artist not dissimilar to one of the Glasgow Boys. Harriet becomes friendly with Gillespie, his wife, Annie, and their two daughters, and rapidly becomes indispensable to them. “Knowing how much Annie yearned to improve her painting, I tried to help out around the house whenever I could so that she could devote more time to her Art. Personally, I have never had much talent for any of life’s accomplishments.”
She commissions Annie to paint her portrait, and saves Gillespie from humiliation in the press. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that the family is plagued by trouble; the elder daughter, Sybil, is plainly disturbed — she is blamed for pornographic graffiti that appear on the apartment walls and there is evidence that she may have tried to poison the whole family at Hogmanay.
It is not until about two thirds through the story that the reader begins to suspect that Harriet is not a dutiful spinster but something much more powerful. It turns out that she has met Gillespie before, in London, and as the story unfolds the reader is gradually led to understand that Harriet Baxter is no Nick Carraway narrator-as-bystander, as in The Great Gatsby, but the ultimate solipsist.
The clue is in the title. Harriet lies at the heart of this brilliantly plotted, blackly comic book like a black widow spider at the centre of her web. Not since The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has a writer come up with such a gloriously unreliable narrator, with the added bonus that Harris, unlike Agatha Christie, can actually create characters with real depth and subtlety. She is also adept at evoking the atmosphere of Victorian Glasgow without ever letting her clearly exhaustive research slow down the story. Like a Hitchcock film, every detail is there for a reason. You wonder why she almost throws away the detail that real gondoliers were imported from Venice to ply their trade on the river Kelvin during the exhibition, only to find that it plays a crucial part in the second half of the story.
The opening of Jane Harris's clever and entertaining second novel gives little indication of how dark it will become. Harriet Baxter, a cultured and refined woman approaching her 80th year, sits in her London flat in 1933 writing a memoir of events that happened in Glasgow in 1888. We are addressed directly as "Reader", as in a Victorian novel, such words as "sojourn" are used, and the writing is measured and stately. Yet a faint tinge of something wild and overwrought underlies.
This, we are told, will be a testament to her "dear friend and soul mate", the artist Ned Gillespie, who burned all his paintings and committed suicide. Now, for posterity, she will be the first to record the true story of this "forgotten genius".
The back-story forms the main body of the book, but we never lose touch with its present-day narrator, whose situation will be revealed eventually as the last act of a chlling drama. Its origins begin when the 35-year-old Harriet, freed from the bondage of caring for an elderly aunt, decamps to Scotland to savour her freedom and take in the first Glasgow International Exhibition. A thoroughly modern woman of independent means, she briskly saves the life of Ned's mother who has fallen down in the street and is choking on her false teeth. A close friendship with the entire family ensues.
Knowing as we do that Ned will destroy his work and himself, it is intriguing to be introduced not to a tortured genius but to a pleasant and stable sort of man with a loving wife and children, and a career which, while not stellar, is moderately successful. Soon, Harriet is practically part of the somewhat chaotic Gillespie household. Ned's wife Annie, also an artist, appreciates her help with the two unruly little girls, Sibyl and Rose. Harriet, having money, is able to support Ned's work.
"On the surface," she tells us in her even way, "the Gillespies did seem like a fairly stable family. However, ere long, I began to see beneath the façade." Sibyl, Ned's beloved and troublesome elder daughter, has begun to show signs of violent neurosis, drawing obscene pictures, smearing excrement on walls, planting sharp objects in her little sister's bed.
There is deep disturbing psychology in what follows, but things are not always what they seem. Harris plays with the reader's expectations and perspectives brilliantly, and to reveal too much more of the plot would be criminal. Suffice to say that our growing unease will be more than justified.
It is with the most subtle sleight-of-hand that Harris brings us to the gradual realisation that we are being manipulated, and that the whole story is one of manipulation. But of whom and by whom? Multi-layered, dotted with dry black humour and underpinned by a haunting sense of loneliness, this skilfully plotted psychological mystery leaves a few threads dangling, all of them leading back to an old woman living in London in 1933 with two greenfinches in a cage and a mysterious servant/companion called Sarah Whittle, of whom she is afraid. Equally filled with shifting perspectives, this parallel drama draws the book to its quietly nightmarish end.
This text is a compilation of information found on:
Thank you all for our last meeting. I am really sorry that so many of you couldn't come and thank you so much for all the wonderful emails! I believe by now I have responded to all of them. Later today I will post on our blog all about the author, Jane Harris and her book ´Gillespie and I´, so you can catch up with everything that was said on Monday.
Our next meeting is on December, 14th and we will talk about ¨One Day¨by David Nicholls. If anyone has problems getting the copy, don't hesitate to contact me by email.
And, at last, I would like to share a great news with all of you: Donostia Book Club was accepted as part of official Donostia Kultura program for 2016! I've been waiting for this for quite a long time, as some of you already know, and I couldn't be any happier about it! Thank you, Arantxa Arzamendi!!!
I would like to celebrate it with all of you, so if you have time and would like to join me, after our December meeting we could go for some drink and/or pintxos in the old town.
I hope to see you all in December,
John Updike en su ensayo sobre Bruno Schulz le llamó ¨un gran escritor que sabe cautivar el mundo¨. En el mismo texto citó a Isaac Bashevis Singer que dijo que ¨Schulz escribió unas veces como Kafka, otras como Proust y, en ocasiones llegó a abismos tan recónditos que ninguno de ellos había alcanzado antes".
Es cierto: aunque a lo largo de su vida también se desempeñó como artista gráfico, pintor, dibujante y crítico literario, el autor de los relatos recogidos en Las tiendas de color canela y Sanatorio bajo la clepsidra, que evocan en ciertos aspectos la obra de Franz Kafka, cuyo Proceso tradujo al polaco, es considerado uno de los mayores estilistas de la prosa polaca del siglo XX.
Polaco de origen judío nacido el 12 de julio de 1892, hijo de Jakub Schulz, un comerciante judío de tejidos en Drohobycz, una pequeña ciudad al suroeste de la Galitzia austrohúngara (luego Polonia, hoy Ucrania). Los padres de Schulz no cultivaron tradiciones judías y en su casa hablaban solamente en polaco. Desde pequeño hablo tanto polaco, como alemán. A una edad muy temprana se interesó por el dibujo. El mismo en una carta dirigida en 1935 a Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, uno de los representantes de la vanguardia polaca, Bruno Schulz escribió: "Mis inicios como dibujante se pierden en una bruma mitológica. Aún no sabía hablar cuando ya llenaba todos los papeles y márgenes de los periódicos con garabatos".
Tras finalizar el bachillerato, Schulz ingresó por consejo de su entorno en la Facultad de Arquitectura del Instituto Politécnico de Lwow. Era el año 1910. El mismo año, por la enfermedad de Jakub Schulz, la familia tuvo que vender su tienda y todos se mudaron a la casa de la hija mayor: Hanna Hoffman. Pronto una enfermedad que afectó el corazón y los pulmones obligó a Bruno a interrumpir sus estudios y ingresar en un sanatorio en Truskawiec hasta 1913. Cuando intentó volver a la clase, el comienzo de la Primera Guerra Mundial se lo impidió. Después de eso, Schulz viajó con toda la familia a Viena, donde asistió a algunos cursos de Arquitectura y comenzó a frecuentar la Academia de Bellas Artes.
Al cabo de un año la familia se vió obligada volver a Drohobycz y pronto después, el 23 de junio de 1915 murió a los 69 años el señor Jakub, padre de Schulz. Su enfermedad afectaba a toda la familia ya desde hacía años y el efecto de eso se ve mucho en obras de Bruno, especialmente Las tiendas de color canela.
Schulz vuelve dos veces mas a Viena para continuar sus estudios, pero la verdad es, que no había nada de cosmopolita en el; su genio se alimentaba en lo local y lo étnico. Menos para estudiar, trabajar o cuidar su salud no salía de su ciudad natal, y su vida adulta fue la de un ermitaño.
En 1918 despues de 123 años, se restaura Polonia en los mapas, la ciudad de Drohobycz es otra vez teritorio polaco. Al retornar a su localidad natal a partir de 1922 enseñó dibujo en el instituto de Drohobycz y empezó a exponer sus obras. Ese año editó un volumen singular, El libro idólatra, que parece inspirado a medias por las pinturas negras de Goya y La Venus de las pieles, de Sacher-Masoch.
Lo más curioso es que Bruno Schulz comenzó a escribir para aliviar el aburrimiento provinciano. Todo empezó con la colección de cartas enviada a su amiga, la novelista y poeta Debora Vogel, en las que narraba episodios de su infancia, que fue descubierta por otra escritora, Zofia Nalkowska. La correspondencia en el caso de Schulz, cuya vida giraba totalmente en torno al "arte", representaba una auténtica "autobiografía fragmentaria". En ocasiones, Schulz relataba cuentos o fábulas enteras a sus amigos, hoy en mayoria perdidos, en las cartas abundantes que les enviaba. Nalkowska quedó fascinada por la originalidad y la fuerza poética de aquellos textos, y le propuso a Schulz su publicación. Son esas cartas que se convirtieron en Las tiendas de color canela, que para sorpresa de todos publicó en 1933.
El libro es pequeño y está compuesto de relatos cortos, conectados únicamente por el tema, que se supone componen una novela. Los relatos no tienen casi trama y no son cuentos en el estricto sentido de la palabra, así como no son capítulos de una novela tampoco . Es más bien una crónica de su infancia en Drohobycz elevada por Schulz a la categoría de “República de los Sueños”. Describía a los comerciantes de la nueva era (a un lado, el mundo de las tiendas humildes y anacrónicas; al otro, la temible calle de los Cocodrilos), a Jakub Schulz, el padre contradictorio, dulcísimo y tiránico, un soñador al que la enfermedad permitió abandonar el negocio de telas y que en el libro aparece como un demiurgo enloquecido, a la temible Adela, la criada que quintaesencia el orden racional. El universo literario y vital de Bruno Schulz, como escribió Kapuscinski, “era un triángulo formado por las calles Florianska, Zielona y la plazoleta de la panadería”.
De no ser por el exito de Las tiendas de color canela, probablamente no habría salido de ese triángulo. Pero la excelente acogida crítica le llevó a colaborar en varias revistas literarias. Se hizo amigo de Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz y de Witold Gombrowicz. Fue el primero en escribir una reseña entusiasta de Ferdydurke de Gombrowicz. Witkiewicz fue quien le animó a escribir Sanatorio bajo la clepsidra, su segundo y último libro de cuentos, que publicó en 1937.
En ese libro lo mas visible es la desolacion y la soledad. El padre había muerto, pero Josef, el mismo protagonista del libro anterior, el alterego de Bruno, lo encuentra de nuevo en el misterioso sanatorio del título. Un médico, que bien podría llamarse Valdemar, le dice: “La muerte que alcanzó a su padre en su país aquí no ha llegado todavía”. El sanatorio quizás no sea muy distinto del sheol judío, una suerte de purgatorio donde los muertos siguen existiendo pero viven una especie de vida congelada, la sombra de una vida: no experimentan nada ni tienen conciencia de nada, ni siquiera de Dios. Así lo vio Wojciech Has, el genial adaptador del Manuscrito encontrado en Zaragoza, cuando llevó al cine Sanatorio bajo la clepsidra en 1973.
Con ese libro empezó un periodo muy oscuro en la vida de Bruno Schulz. La escritura de Sanatorio bajo la clepsidra no fue fácil. En 1935 murió Izydor, su hermano mayor, y Bruno tuvo que hacerse cargo de toda la familia: su madre, Henrietta, su tía Hannia, las dos hijas de esta, la esposa e hijos de Izydor y una vieja prima. Sus únicas fuentes de ingresos eran las clases, que tuvo que multiplicar, y las reseñas literarias. Para ganar algo más de dinero tradujó al polaco El proceso de Kafka (1937) con la ayuda de su novia, Jozefina Szelinska. Fue una relación breve y tragica: la familia de Jozefina se convirtió al catolicismo y se opuso frontalmente a que se casara con un judío.
En el mismo año, 1937, Bruno Schulz viaja a París en un insensato intento de exponer sus dibujos. Pero ese intento acabo en un fracaso absoluto: se plantó allí sin apenas contactos y en pleno verano, con las principales galerías cerradas. En otoño 1938 la Academia Polaca de Literatura le concedió el Laurel de Oro, un premio muy prestigioso pero sin dotación económica. Escribe su unico relato en idioma alemán, una pieza de 30 páginas: Die Heimkehr, de tema similar a El sanatorio de la clepsidra, con el fin de interesar con su obra a las editoriales alemanas, pero este pasa desapercibido.
Entre clases y reseñas solo encontró tiempo para trabajar en un nuevo relato, Cometa, casi una “nouvelle” y para preparar una novela larga, El Mesías, interrumpida (y desaparecida) a causa de la guerra. El estallido de la II Guerra Mundial en 1939 tomó a Schulz viviendo en Drohobycz, que estaba ocupada por la Unión Soviética. Tras la invasión alemana de la Unión Soviética fue forzado, al ser judío, a vivir en el gueto de Drohobycz.
El 1 de septiembre de 1939 Alemania invadió Polonia.
El 11 de Septiembre el ejército nazi entró en Drohobycz.
El 17 lo hizo el ejército ruso.
El 24, los alemanes se retiraron dejando el territorio en manos de los soviéticos, que mantuvieron a Schulz en su puesto docente pero le obligaron a dibujar carteles de propaganda.
La ocupación soviética duró dos años: desde el 17 de septiembre de 1939 hasta el 22 de junio de 1941, cuando Alemania invadió Rusia.
El 1 de julio 1941 los nazis ocuparon Drohobycz por segunda vez. Cerraron las escuelas y Schulz perdió su trabajo. Poco más tarde recluyeron a todos los judíos en el gueto. Schulz y su familia fueron trasladados a una casa en ruinas, en el número 18 de la calle Stolarska. Le encomendaron una nueva tarea: catalogar las bibliotecas polacas confiscadas primero por los rusos y luego por los alemanes.
Felix Landau, Haupt schar führer (entre suboficial y jefe de pelotón) de las SS había llegado a Drohobycz al mando de un destacamento encargado de confinar y exterminar a los judíos de la zona. En su terrorífico diario, que envíaba en cartas sucesivas a su novia, hablaba de sus cotidianos “ejercicios de tiro” y de que “tiene un nuevo perro, que dibuja muy bien”. Ese perro era Bruno Schulz. Un “perro” era un “judío útil”, un esclavo al servicio absoluto de un nazi.
El primer (y último) trabajo que Landau encomiendó a Schulz era la pintura de un mural en la habitación de su hijo pequeño, con escenas de los cuentos de los hermanos Grimm, por el que recibirá “varias raciones extras de comida”. Y entonces pasó que en uno de sus “ejercicios de tiro”, Landau asesinó al “dentista personal” de un jefe de la Gestapo llamado Karl Günther.
El 19 de noviembre de 1942, Schulz estaba planeando escapar del ghetto, de Polonia ante la insistencia de sus amigos y familiares. Había conseguido los papeles falsos que un contrabandista le había conseguido y algo de dinero gracias a unos amigos, a los que encomendó la custodia de sus dibujos y manuscritos.
Aquella mañana había terminado el mural infantil y cruzaba el “barrio ario” rumbo a su casa de la calle Stolarska, con unas barras de pan bajo el brazo como pago por su labor. Su amigo Izydor Friedman fue testigo de su muerte, que tuvo lugar en la esquina de las calles Czacki y Mickiewicz. Todo fue muy rápido. Karl Günther se acercó a Schulz, desenfundó su pistola y le disparó un tiro en la nuca. Luego, al parecer, se presentó ante Landau y le dijo: “Mataste a mi perro y yo he matado al tuyo”.
Dicen que Schulz había terminado ya la primera versión de su obra maestra, El Mesías. Su libro, como su cuerpo, probablamente enterrado en alguna fosa común, aún no ha sido encontrado. Se especuló mucho con que la novela estuviera en poder de la KGB.
En 1946, uno de los supervivientes del ghetto de Drohobycz reconoció a Felix Landau en Linz. Fue detenido por soldados del ejército americano y conducido al campo de prisioneros de Glasenbach, del que logró escapar en agosto de 1947. Diez años más tarde le localizaron de nuevo: bajo el nombre de Rudolf Jashcke dirigía una tienda de decoración de interiores en Bavaria. Acusado de incontables asesinatos, un tribunal de Sttutgart le condenó a cadena perpetua.
Se puede decir que Bruno Schulz murió dos veces: asesinado por los nazis y sepultado por los comunistas, que le consideraron una reliquia del pasado, un típico ejemplo de la podredumbre burguesa. A finales de los cincuenta, sus amigos y compatriotas Jerzy Ficowski y Artur Sandauer localizaron algunas cajas con sus dibujos y manuscritos. Aunque se habían perdido muchísimas cartas y El Mesías jamás apareció, había suficiente material como para comenzar a reivindicar su obra y darla a conocer mundialmente, tarea a la que dedicaron sus vidas.
La escritura de Bruno Schulz ha sido fuente de inspiración para Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Nicole Krauss, Ugo Riccarelli, David Grossman, para el teatro de Tadeusz Kantor (especialmente La clase muerta, inspirada en su relato "El jubilado"), para Jonathan Safran Foer y su texto llamadoTree of Codes que es una reeescritura de La calle de los cocodrilos, su cuento favorito de Schulz.
Su escasa obra, se engloba dentro del realismo simbólico, y se caracteriza por su prosa poética con gran complejidad narrativa.
In his memoir ¨Boy. Tales of childhood¨ Roald Dahl describes among many personal events, his origins. His father, Harald Dahl, immigrated to England from Norway around the turn of the century (1900). After the death of his first wife, he took a trip back to Norway in hopes of finding a wife to help him raise his young son and daughter. He married Sofie Magdalene Hesselberg in 1911 and the couple moved to Dahl's home in Llandaff, South Wales. Over the next six years they had five children: Astri, Alfhild, Roald, Else and Asta. Roald was born on September 13, 1916 in Llandaff. Unfortunately Astri, the eldest, died of appendicitis in 1920. Harald Dahl, heartbroken, quickly deteriorated after his daughter's death and he died of pneumonia a few months later. Roald was only 4 at the time. Sofie Dahl, pregnant at the time with Asta, was left with three of her own children, two step–children, a big estate, and her husband's dying wish that his children would be educated in English schools, which he thought the best in the world.
Sofie decided to stay in Wales and carry out Harald's wish. But she wasn't ready to move to England yet. First she moved the family into a smaller, more manageable home in Llandaff and then one–by–one sent each of her children to Elmtree House, a local kindergarten. Roald Dahl and his siblings were raised to be very conscious of their Norwegian heritage. Not only did his mother speak the language around the house, she also read them Norse myths and took them on annual trips to Norway to visit relatives.
When Roald was seven Sofie decided it was time for him to go to a proper boy's school, so she sent him to nearby Llandaff Cathedral School. He spent two years there and his only memories of it are described in Boy – one involves an older boy whizzing by on a bicycle, and the other involves The Great Mouse Plot that earned him and his friends a savage caning by the school's headmaster. This violent incident was what prompted Sofie to withdraw Roald from the Llandaff school and finally send him off to a British boarding school: St. Peter's. Roald attended St. Peter's from ages nine to thirteen, and he was so homesick at first the he even faked the symptoms of appendicitis (which he remembered from Astri and his older half-sister Ellen) to go back home. He eventually adjusted to school life, but he never learned to like it. In Boy he describes savage beatings, sadistic headmasters, prejudiced teachers, and even an abusive dormitory Matron. His nightmarish description though, is somewhat tempered by his concession that his memory of it was "coloured by my natural love of fantasy". Schoolmates remembered him as a tall, soft–faced boy, not especially popular but very close to the few boys who became his friends. He was good at sports like cricket and swimming, but academically he was one of the worst. One of his main hobbies was reading, and some of his favorite novelists were the adventure writers Rudyard Kipling, Captain Marryat, H. Rider Haggarrd, and G.A. Henty. Their books emphasized a kind of heroism and masculinity that would later influence both Dahl's life and his own writing.
By the time Roald was thirteen the family had moved to Kent in England, and he was soon sent off to the famous Repton Public School, a private school with a reputation for academic excellence. He resented the rules there. His account of it in Boy includes fagging (younger boys, "fags", were basically personal slaves to the older prefects, called "boazers"), beatings, the torture of new boys. One particularly scandalous section alleges that a former headmaster of Repton, Geoffrey Fisher (who had subsequently become Archbishop of Canterbury), was a sadistic flogger (a person who whips). According to Dahl, the vicious beatings that this man would deliver, combined with the fact that twenty years later he crowned Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey, made Dahl doubt the existence of God. In Jeremy Treglown's biography, however, he discoveres that Dahl got his dates mixed up. The beatings he was referring to happened in 1933, a year after Fisher left Repton. Dahl might have gotten Fisher mixed up with J. T. Christie, his successor or the dates were not accurate in his memories.
Not all memories of Repton were bad, though. Dahl fondly recalls in Boy that "every now and again, a plain grey cardboard box was dished out to each boy in our House, and this, believe it or not, was a present from the great chocolate manufacturers, Cadbury". Inside were twelve new chocolate bar inventions that the boys were asked to sample and critique. Dahl and his schoolmates took this very seriously, and Roald used to dream of working in a chocolate company's inventing room. He said in Boy, "It was lovely dreaming those dreams, and I have no doubt at all that, thirty–five years later, when I was looking for a plot for my second book for children, I remembered those little cardboard boxes and the newly–invented chocolates inside them, and I began to write a book called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory".
While Dahl hardly excelled as a student, his mother offered to pay for his tuition at Oxford or Cambridge University when he graduated. Dahl's response was: "No thank you. I want to go straight from school to work for a company that will send me to wonderful faraway places like Africa or China.". And that he did. After Dahl graduated from Repton in 1932, he went on an expedition to Newfoundland. Afterward, he took a job with the Shell Oil Company and after 2-year training in Englad he was posted to Tanzania, Africa, where he remained until 1939.
Going Solo,a memoir describing those years, talks about many of the exciting adventures Dahl lived through, including the time a green mamba entered his friend's house and the snake-catcher had to be called in. Another time a lion carried off a native woman, and Dahl's subsequent account of her rescue was printed in an African newspaper and became his first published work.
Soon, because of the World War 2, all the Englishmen in the territory were rounded up and transformed into temporary soldiers, responsible for containing the German population. This experience prompted Dahl to formally join the Royal Air Force and learn to fly warplanes. In November 1939 he drove cross–country to Nairobi, Kenya to enlist and was awarded with the rank of Leading Aircraftman. After eight weeks of basic training and six months of advanced flying instruction, the RAF deemed him ready for battle.
Unfortunately Dahl's very first venture into combat territory resulted in a crash in the Libyan desert in 1940. He was flying an unfamiliar airplane (a Gladiator) and was supposed to join 80 Squadron in the Western Desert. Unfortunately the co–ordinates he was given were incorrect, and he suddenly found himself losing both daylight and fuel in the middle of nowhere. He was forced to attempt a crash landing, praying for luck that he didn't get. The plane crash left him with serious injuries to his skull, spine and hip. The Gladiator slammed into the sand at over 75 miles an hour. Dahl's head struck the reflector and fractured his skull, pushing his nose in and blinding him for days. He managed to pull himself from the burning wreckage and was later rescued by 3 soldiers from the Suffolk regiment. Following a recovery that included a hip replacement and two spinal surgeries, Dahl was finally deemed fit to resume flying duties again in the spring of 1941.
80 Squadron was now engaged in the tragic RAF campaign in Greece, and after rejoining them Dahl was soon thrust into the desperate routine of trying to stay alive. On his first trip up, he encountered six enemy planes and managed to shoot one of them. The next day he shot down another over Khalkis Bay. His victory was short–lived, though, as the German Messerschmitt fighters swarmed down upon him and he barely made it back to the base alive. Over the next four days he went up twelve more times, fighting against incredible odds and miraculously making it back to base each time. On the 20th of April the Germans discovered the camp and ground–strafed it, but luckily they didn't hit any of the seven remaining aircraft. Dahl and the other man in 80 Squadron fought for many more months, and their battles are described in Going Solo.
Dahl began to get blinding headaches (from his earlier accident) he was invalided back home to Britain in 1941. He wasn't there for long. Through his friendship with artist Matthew Smith, he became acquainted with some important men in the British government and Dahl was transferred to Washington, D.C to help with the British War Effort as "assistant air attache." Some experts believe Dahl was secretly working as a spy for the British Secret Service under William Stephenson ("Intrepid"). Dahl himself boasted as much during interviews later in life. It's an intriguing possibility.
One of Dahl's first duties in America was to get close to as many well–placed people as possible. Newspaper–owner Charles Marsh was one of these, and he and Dahl struck up an immediate friendship. Another duty was to help create a kind of British propaganda to keep America interested in the war and sympathetic to Britain's effort. Famous English author C.S. Forester asked Dahl to tell him his own story, so that he could write it up. Dahl thought it easier to put something on paper himself, and the result was so good that Forester decided not to change a thing. The finished story appeared anonymously in The Saturday Evening Post in August 1942 under the title ¨Shot Down Over Libya¨.
The story was introduced as a "factual report on Libyan air fighting" by an unnamed RAF pilot "at present in this country for medical reasons." Of course, the "factual" part might have been a little bit of a stretch. As mentioned previously, Dahl's crash was actually caused by lack of fuel and wrong directions, not from any enemy shooting. Much later, when this discrepancy was pointed out to him, Dahl claimed that the story had been edited and misleadingly captioned by magazine editors looking for a more dramatic tale.
Of his early writing career, Dahl told New York Times book reviewer Willa Petschek, "As I went on the stories became less and less realistic and more fantastic." He went on to describe his foray into writing as a "pure fluke," saying, "Without being asked to, I doubt if I'd ever have thought to do it."
Sometime later he wrote a story called "Gremlin Lore" about the mythical creatures that supposedly sabotaged RAF planes. Since he was a serving officer, Dahl was required to submit everything he wrote for approval by British Information Services. The officer who read it, Sidney Bernstein, decided to pass it along to his friend Walt Disney, who was looking for War–related features for his fledgling film company. In 1942 Disney decided to turn Dahl's story into an animated feature called The Gremlins.
Problems immediately began to surface with the project. What did Gremlins look like? How could Disney copyright a name already known (and invented) by countless RAF pilots? Should the film be satirical or purely fantastic? Beyond these concerns, audience enthusiasm for the film began to wane as the War dragged on. Ultimately the project was scrapped, though Disney did put together a picture book in 1943 entitled Walt Disney: The Gremlins (A Royal Air Force Story by Flight Lieutenant Roald Dahl). This book, published by Random House in the United States and by Collins in Australia and Great Britain, is extremely rare and is considered a prize by any serious Dahl collector. It was his first book.
Dahl went back to writing macabre and mysterious stories for adult readers. By the fall of 1944 he had a literary agent, Ann Watkins, and he had published a number of stories in American magazines. While Dahl, like any young writer, was trying out styles, he was also making sure each story contained some overt propaganda for the War effort.
In 1945 Dahl moved back home to Amersham, England to be near his mother, Sofie. He enjoyed the rustic country life, making friends with some of the working–class men in the village. Among them was a butcher named Claud Taylor, who would later be immortalized in the "Claud's Dog" series of stories. Meanwhile, in 1946 Reynal and Hitchcock published Over to You, a collection of Dahl's war stories. It was released in England soon after by Hamish Hamilton. The book received mixed reviews but was ultimately successful enough to prompt Dahl's next effort: a full–blown novel about the possibilities of nuclear war.
The novel Dahl wrote, Sometime Never, was published in the United States in 1948 by Scribner's, and in England a year later by Collins. There's no easy way to put this: the book was a total flop. It was almost an adult version of the Gremlins story, beginning with the Battle of Britain and continuing on to the end of the world. Despite its utter failure, the book is remarkable for being the first book about nuclear war to be published in the United States after Hiroshima.
In the years following Sometime Never, Dahl renewed his friendship with American Charles Marsh, helping the newspaper man amass a valuable collection of British art and antiques. Dahl also helped his mentor set up a charity known as the Marsh's Public Welfare Foundation. In return, Marsh set up a trust in Dahl's name and invested thousands of dollars in a Dahl–family forestry operation in Norway.
These years in England had been profitable ones for Dahl, but he came to miss the sophistication of New York life. As the 1950's began, Dahl finally began to see some money from stories sold to Collier's and The New Yorker. He applied for and was granted a permanent American visa, and soon found himself taking up residence with the Marsh family back in the Big Apple. He slid easily back into the circuit of celebrity parties, and it was at one of these functions in 1951 that he met his future wife, 10 years younger actress Patricia Neal. Patricia Neal's most scandalous claim to fame, however, was her long affair with Gary Cooper, her co–star from The Fountainhead (King Vidor, 1949). The affair with Cooper began two years earlier, in 1947, and by 1950 Cooper's wife had found out and joined the battle. On one occasion, Treglown reports, Neal received the following telegram: "I HAVE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU. YOU HAD BETTER STOP NOW OR YOU WILL BE SORRY. MRS. GARY COOPER." Eventually Mrs. Cooper got her way, but not before her husband had made Pat pregnant and persuaded her to have an abortion. Guilty and scared, Neal called off the relationship.
Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal were married on July 2, 1953 at Trinity Church in New York,the same year that Someone Like You was published,
Patricia Neal won an Academy Award for her role in Hud in 1961. The marriage lasted three decades and resulted in five children, one of whom tragically died of measles (sarampion) in 1962. He wrote a touching letter 26 years later in favor of vaccination.
Dahl told his children nightly bedtime stories that inspired his future career as a children's writer. These stories became the basis for some of his most popular kids' books. In his New York Times book review interview he said about writing books for children " You have to keep things ticking along. And if you think a child is getting bored, you must think up something that jolts it back. Something that tickles. You have to know what children like."
Neal suffered from multiple brain hemorrhages in the mid-1960s, some say Dahl stood by her through her long recovery, some that he became exceptionally cruel with his remarks about and to her, as he despised the fact she became so dependent on others. He could not stay completely faithful in middle age. He took up with the wealthy heiress and mother of Anderson Cooper, Gloria Vanderbilt, gamely coaxing her into the bed he shared with Neal while she shot another film on location. He was finding women were still extremely attracted to him even in his advanced age. Patricia Neal made a friend out of a young woman, Felicity Crosland, who worked for David Ogilvy's advertising agency, but the moment she saw Patricia's husband, it was all over. When his daughter Tessa found out about the affair, she became another way of hiding the relationship from Patricia. Everyone who criticized Dahl for cheating on his wife was excommunicated from his good graces. The Dahl family even vacationed with Crosland, and in Stephen Michael Shearer's biography of Neal, he describes a moment where Felicity gave Neal a triumphant look in a women's bathroom, gloating over the theft of her husband. While she did eventually put the pieces together - the little love notes, the glances between the two - the marriage continued until 1983, with Roald begging his wife to allow him to continue seeing Crosland.
The couple would eventually divorce in 1983. Soon after, Dahl remarried to Felicity Ann Crosland, his partner until his death in 1990.
After suffering an unspecified infection, on November 12, 1990, Roald Dahl was admitted to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England. He died there on November 23, 1990, at the age of 74. He was buried in Great Missenden. Over his decades-long writing career, Dahl composed 19 children’s books and nine short story collections. He also wrote several television and movie scripts.
Dahl first established himself as a children’s writer in 1961, when he published the book James and the Giant Peach. The book met with wide critical and commercial acclaim. Three years later, Dahl published another big winner, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Both books were eventually made into popular movies. A film adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factorywas released as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in 1971, and an originally titled remake of the film, starring Johnny Depp, was released in 2005. The movie version of James and the Giant Peach was released in 1996.
In addition to James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl's most popular kids' books include Fantastic Fox (1970), The Witches (1983) and Matilda (1988).
Despite their popularity, Dahl’s children’s books have been the subject of some controversy, as critics and parents have balked at their portrayal of children’s harsh revenge on adult wrongdoers. In his defense, Dahl claimed that children have a cruder sense of humor than adults, and that he was merely trying to appeal to his readers. Other critics have accused Dahl of portraying a racist stereotype with his Oompa-Loompa characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
This text is a fusion of two great biographies from:
Picture from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/7931835/Roald-Dahl-was-a-real-life-James-Bond-style-spy-new-book-reveals.html
Our September book was ¨Herland¨by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A book probably too revolutionary for its times, as some of the subjects still seem to be quite bold today. But we couldn't expect less from a woman so progressive as Charlotte was. So let me first introduce this amazing woman to you and then we'll focus on the analysis of her work.
An American author, lecturer, feminist, and social reformer,
She wrote and lectured extensively on reforming marriage and the family, attracted as much attention with her writing as with her own marriages and family life. She made headlines not only with her ideas, but with her life
She was born in the New England town of Hartford, Connecticut. on July 3, 1860. She was a descendant of the prominent and influential Beecher family, the great niece of Henry Ward Beecher (clergyman and social reformer) and his sister Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin). At the age of 15 her ancestry fascinated her a lot and she even claimed that´s why she was talented. But despite that, she was born into poverty. Her father Fredrick Beecher Perkins, a librarian, a writer, and a book editor who was said to have learned nine languages before his marriage, abandoned the family when she was a child.
Upon Gilman's birth, the doctors told her mother Mary Fitch Westcott that another pregnancy would kill her. Immediately after this announcement, Fredrick left the home. Some try to justify him saying he was afraid he would kill his wife by having another baby with her. It was reported that Mary later gave birth to a fourth child, but that child, same as one before Mary, died. Only two children survived: Charlotte and Thomas Adie,
Mary raised them in the brink of poverty after 1866 when her father abandoned them. At an early age Charlotte vowed never to marry, hoping instead to devote her life to public service, probably because of what she had seen as child at home.
Her mother, a talented musician, sold her piano when Gilman was three in order to pay the butcher. She never owned another one. The broken family was forced to move “nineteen times in eighteen years to fourteen difference cities.” Gilman’s father, who made infrequent visits, encouraged her education in the areas of reading, in the sciences and history. Gilman was also an avid reader, and she credits her father saying that if ever she needed reading advice, he was the man to call for suggestions. She moved so often as a child that her formal schooling totaled just to four years. Gilman managed to educate herself through reading and even sent herself to the Rhode Island School of Design for 2 years. She claimed that she had trouble in school because its ways and her ways didn’t fit together. She once took a test in grammar in which she claims that she came her closest ever to getting a 100 percent, but her teacher removed half the points because she placed three curly lines under her name. Calisthenics (rhythmical exercise) was one of her most favored subjects and she later writes that she encouraged her former teacher to open a gym for girls. She attended this gym twice a week for three years taking dancing classes, playing the “racquet,” and running.
To help support her family she had to work. She designed greeting cards, taught art, and was a governess. In 1882 at the age of twenty-one, she was introduced to Charles Walter Stetson (1858), a Providence, Rhode Island aspiring artist, and the two were married in 1884. She initially refused his proposal, because of the gut feeling it was not right for her. In her early marriage, she developed a depression. A year later she gave birth to their only child, Katharine Beecher (1885). Following the birth Gilman fell deeper into her depression. Her mother took charge of Katharine’s care.
Gilman first attempted to recover from the depression by taking a long trip to California. She saw immediate results and was so hopeful that she anxiously returned home to her husband and baby where the depression also returned. Afterward, in 1887, she voluntarily sought help from Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell’s famous “rest cure” being cared for in his institute in Philadelphia. Following her unsuccessful stay in the institute Dr. Mitchell sent her home and prescribed that she refrain from writing and limit her reading time. She subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown. Gilman later wrote about his advice saying that he told her to, “Live as domestic a life as possible. Have your child with you all the time. Lie down an hour after each meal. Have but two hours’ intellectual life a day. And never touch pen, brush or pencil as long as you live.”
Her time with Dr. Mitchell later inspired her to write “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a story about a woman who, following the prescription, actually suffers from delusions. Her original attempt at publishing “The Yellow Wallpaper” failed as Horace Scudder, the editor of The Atlantic wrote, “that it was so terribly good that it ought never to be printed.” It was eventually published in New England Magazine and later reprinted by William Dean Howells in Great Modern American Stories at the request of author and admirer William Dean Howells. This story brought her many good responses from women who had suffered from depression. She writes that she sent a copy of “The Yellow Wallpaper” to Dr. Mitchell and while she never heard a reply from him, she did later hear that he modified his “rest cure.”
In 1888 Gilman fled to California, later bringing Katherine to live with her. She supported Katherine, herself, and later her mother by running a boarding house. Her time in California was spent gaining status as a writer, social critic, and lecturer. She writes that, “With Pasadena begins my professional ‘living.’” In what she calls her first “year of freedom,” she wrote thirty-three short articles, twenty-three poems, and ten child verses. She lectured to women’s clubs, men’s clubs, labor unions, suffrage groups, church congregations, and Nationalist clubs. She writes that all these lectures were written down and that as of the time of her autobiography, she still had them. Gilman also became a Nationalist during this time.
Meanwhile, her marriage to Stetson had dissolved and they mutually agreed to a divorce in 1894. Stetson later married Gilman’s closest friend, Grace Ellery Channing. The three agreed that Katharine would be best raised with her father and Grace. This decision caused much negative talk amongst society about Gilman as she was accused of “abandoning” her child and being an “unnatural mother.” To cope, she left California in 1895 and from that time through 1900 Gilman lived a somewhat nomadic life as a voracious lecturer and writer. She also spent this time writing her first book In This Our World a collection of poems with feminist themes.
In 1896 Gilman was living in Chicago, Illinois where she continued to write and associate with numerous other pioneering women of social reform including Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, founders of the settlement house `Hull House’. Gilman’s Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Relations (1898) became a best seller which was translated into several different languages and highly lauded internationally, making her one of the few commercially successful women writers of the time. It was about the “socioeconomic factors which force women into domestic slavery.” In the book she makes clear that until women learn to be economically independent, true autonomy and equality could not be found. She continued to write, producing six nonfiction works, eight novels, nearly 200 short stories, hundreds of poems, plays and literally thousands of essays Other social essays written over the next twenty years include Concerning Children, The Home, Human Work, and The Man-Made World.
In Concerning Children (1900) and other works (among them Herland), Gilman propounded ideas about communal child rearing and education to free mothers from domestic servitude. "When we do honestly admit that a child is being educated in every waking hour by the conditions in which he is placed and the persons who are with them, we shall be readier to see the need of a higher class of educators than servant-girls, and a more carefully planned environment than the accommodations of the average home."
From 1909 to 1916 she single-handedly wrote and edited a monthly feminist magazine called The Forerunner in which she serialized her novels What Diantha Did, The Crux, Moving the Mountain, and Herland. At the end of her life, she wrote The Living of Charlotte Perkins.
In 1900, she married her first cousin, George Houghton Gilman, a lawyer in New York City. Unlike the marriage of her parents and her own first marriage, this one was a happy and fulfilling relationship. The two lived in New York until 1922 when they moved to Norwich, Connecticut where she wrote His Religion and Hers. George died in May 1934, two years earlier Gilman was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Following her husband’s death, she returned to Pasadena, California to be near her daughter. They were also joined by Grace Channing Stetson, now a widow. In 1935 Gilman finished her final piece, her autobiography, and on August 17, 1935 at the age of 75 she committed suicide by overdosing chloroform that she had been accumulating for some time.
Gilman’s work and popularity lay silent for thirty years after her death, but in 1960, with the feminist movement, came a revival of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and her short stories such as “The Yellow Wallpaper” were revisited by feminist such as Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar for its symbolism and association with feminist issues. In 1993, Gilman was named the sixth most influential woman of the twentieth century in a poll commissioned by the Siena Research Institute. In 1994, she was inducted into the National Womenís Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.
Regardless of the admiration of her ideas, it seems that there was notice of poor ability in some aspects of her work. Ann J. Lane wrote, “Many Gilman enthusiasts do not much like her fiction. They consider it too ideological, too didactic. Gilman mischievously used the commonly shared forms and structures of her day—farces, domestic novels, mysteries, adventure stories—and infused them with her own brand of feminism and socialism.” She also notes that, “Gilman gave little attention to her writing as literature, and neither will the reader. She wrote quickly, carelessly, to make a point.” Her socialist writings, however, seemed to be praised in all respects.
Time to talk about HERLAND (1915) ;)
It is the feminist Utopian novel. A tale of three male explorers who discover an all-female society, free of war, poverty, and oppressive domination. creating around this homo-social (or one-sex) society a culture, political system, and familial arrangement that grew out of the society of women, rather than simply the absence of men It was followed by With Her in Ourland (1916) and His Religion and Hers in 1923.
She introduced her readers to a country of women who worked cooperatively. Her characters were drawn in accord with the ideas Gilman presented in her nonfiction work The Home: Its Work and Influence (1903) and her serialized article "The Dress of Women" (1915).
In both of these works, Gilman railed against the condition of women who were relegated to a life of confining costume and care for child and home. She envisioned a world (imagined earlier by Melusina Fay Peirce, also) in which women were free from the drudgery of cooking and cleaning and could engage in intellectual pursuits—a world in which women threw off their corsets and breathed freely.
Gilman strove to understand the basis for the societal strictures that defined "woman" so narrowly. She was inspired by sociologist Lester Ward to investigate and trace the developments in human history that had led to such inequitable gendered divisions of labor
Gilman questioned why childbearing was done only by women. She felt that Walter Stetson had as much right to raise their child as she did. Gilman fictionalized many of her ideas about family and home in Herland.
“But when we began to talk about each couple having ‘homes’ of our own, they could not understand it . . . A man wants a home of his own, with his wife and family in it.’
‘Staying in it? All the time? . . . Not imprisoned surely!’
‘Of course not! Living there—naturally,’ he answered.
‘What does she do there—all the time?’ Alima demanded. ‘What is her work?’”
“We had expected them to be given over to what we called ‘feminine vanity’—‘frills and furbelows,’ and we found they had evolved a costume more perfect than the Chinese dress, richly beautiful when so desired, always useful, of unfailing dignity and good taste.”
The interesting thing is that the first 3-4 chapters are quite typical for all the Utopian novels of these times: the men start their journey and in an adventurous style describe everything they see, the ¨new world¨. However, the following chapters are suddenly different. There are at least two reasons for that:
1. The novel was published in chapters in the magazine. So each month there was another chapter, which simply means the fluency and continuity were not as clear as in normal novels.
2. Gilman focuses so much on a description of Herland's society and social structures, that her novel turns into an over-sized essay on women's condition in her times. It's not as much fiction anymore as a criticism of her own society.
2) What does Gilman see as the lot of women in her own society? How does that compare to the place of women in Herland? Would Herland´s rules translate easily into her own society? WOuld an Utopia like that ever function? (obviously leaving apart the impossible biological part of it!)
3) According to Gilman, how did men outside of Herland gain control over women economically, socially, culturally, sexually? How did the women of Herland avoid that fate? Do you agree with Gilman's assessment of the origins of gender restrictions?
4) Gilman traces out the history of the development of relations between the sexes in Western culture and in Herland. What are these histories? How and why do they differ?
5) What were the counterbalancing positive traits women's culture provided for "nationalism" and "patriotism" according to Gilman?
6) Is a narrative about race visible in Herland? What race are the women who live in Herland? Is there any racial difference? To what might you attribute Gilman's treatment of race?
7) In what ways is the "feminist utopia" of Herland feminist?
Quite obviously all these ideas were not just mysteriously planted in my mind. This blog is in fact a patchwork of some articles and blogs that I've read preparing our September meeting. It is almost impossible at this point to mark each fragment and its accurate source, but below you have the list of all the sources I've used: