Sunday 25 September 2011

Louisa Musgrove's fall

As something of an Austen purist I'm not keen on sequels, prequels and spoofs of the six great novels. Recently there seems to have been a spate of well-known writers offering modernisations/re-tellings/murder mysteries. It may be fun for them but I won't be buying. Austen's genius was very rare and best left alone in my opinion.

However, I do love Austen biographies, essay collections and novels which pay homage but do not lift the characters and storylines or somehow manage to introduce zombies! I've been re-reading Persuasion for Rachel's reading week and dipping into A Truth Universally Acknowledged, Susannah Carson's selected essay collection.

Somerset Maugham has written an extremely interesting, if acerbic, essay on Pride and Prejudice which includes some radical thoughts on Persuasion. While acknowledging that Persuasion has a 'rare charm' he is unconvinced by the scene on the Cobb at Lyme and asks how Louisa managed to fall on her head when she was being jumped down from the stile. He also raises the question of Captain Wentworth's reaction to the fall:

'Anyhow she was unconscious, and the fuss that is made is unbelievable. Everybody loses his head. Captain Wentworth, who has seen action and made a fortune out of prize money is paralysed with horror.' W Somerset Maugham

My own thoughts are that Austen wanted to demonstrate that Wentworth was not invincible and this was an opportunity for Anne to assert her quiet strength. I'd love to know what you think.

Friday 9 September 2011

Dear Dodie

It takes a good biography to drag me away from my beloved novels and I'm pleased to say that this is a very good biography. It's not speculative or gushing or overly academic.

It follows Dodie's life from adored only child to flamboyant but untalented actress to extrovert saleswoman at Heals furniture store to successful playwright and novelist. Along the way she has an affair with her boss at Heals, marries Alex who is seven years her junior, moves to America during the war years because her husband is a pacifist and forms lifelong friendships with renowned actors, playwrights and directors.

And of course in 1934 she was given her first Dalmatian puppy, Pongo, the first in a succession of energetic, lovable (and destructive!) Dalmatians who inspired her most famous book.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on I Capture the Castle written when she was living in exile in America and homesick for England. Interestingly, she believed that Cassandra represented her girlhood self but when her ex-lover read it he thought that Topaz was very like Dodie.

There are some lovely anecdotes. One New Year's Eve, her husband went to bed early so Dodie crossed her Dalmatian's paws and sang Old Lang Syne with her dog!

Valerie Grove's portrayal of Dodie Smith as an extrovert with a generous heart who, more than anything, wanted to write and to write well is a must-read. Of course, I now want to re-read I Capture the Castle.