A writer of great literature, or just a great writer?

Today, an article was published in The Guardian written by Jonathan Jones, an arts correspondent. I’m not going to link to it, because I don’t want to increase that man’s hit count but you should read it, just to see how ridiculous this man is.

In brief, The Shepherd’s Crown was published this week. This is Terry Pratchett’s posthumous novel, the last in the Tiffany Aching series. I have read it and, although I wouldn’t rank it as one of my personal favourites due to MASSIVE SPOILERS, it is a good Pratchett book. It deals with death, and what happens to the living once somebody you love has died. It talks about how to forge your own path when you live under the shadow of somebody great. It shows the importance of accepting the faults of others, and how sometimes you have to learn to band together, even with people who irritate you, when a bigger threat occurs. It’s also about six inch blue men who like thievin’, fightin’ and drinkin’, Horace The Cheese, a Lancre Blue who has a very vicious streak indeed and the importance of garden sheds. It is, in fact, very much a Pratchett novel

I read the first few chapters through blurry vision, crying as much for the death of an author I loved as for the death of the character that he decided to let go. I’m biased, I know. I love his work. I have since I was thirteen. His work varies in quality – there is a Golden Age of Pratchett, coming after the first few where he was cutting his teeth and before the later books, where he was writing in a different style, either deliberately or because of the “embuggerance”, the variation of Alzheimer’s disease that robbed us of him. I’m not a fan of the later works, particularly – I’m not really fond of Moist von Lipwig, if I’m to be honest. I’m a Golden Age girl, and always will be. My personal favourite is Lords and Ladies, although I’m always up for a bit of Soul Music. I prefer my Sam Vimes in Guards, Guards! than in Snuff, but I also like the books that seem to be out of continuity, like Small Gods.

I will, however, take one of his works that I’m not so fond of over any other writer in the genre, though. I love him and his books that much.

That’s just me, however. That’s my opinion. You’re allowed not to like him. You’re allowed to have read one or two of his books and thought, “Sorry, not for me.” That’s fine. That’s what it should be like. Everyone is entitled to their honest, informed opinion.

But writing an article for a newspaper – a big newspaper, one of Britain’s best sellers – saying that Pratchett is not a good writer, that the fans that mourn his death are venerating somebody who doesn’t write great literature when you haven’t read one of his books yourself is just not on. If Jonathan Jones had read a book and disliked it, that would be fair. But he hasn’t. He says so in the very first paragraph of his article!

How can you criticise a book – or over forty, actually – if you haven’t bothered to read one? Can you do that? Can I write an article criticising, oh, I don’t know, a series of paintings by an artist that I haven’t bothered to view myself? Of course not. It’s the same as saying “I hate chocolate ice cream” when you’ve never tasted it. It’s stupid, and beneath somebody who claims to be educated.

Because Jonathan Jones is educated, you know. In the article he goes to great length to point out that he knows what Great Literature is, because he’s just finished Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Austen wrote Great Literature, Jones assures us. Why on earth are people mourning Pratchett and claiming that he is a modern day genius when there are people like Austen around, creating books like Mansfield Park?

Oh dear, Mr Jones. Oh deary, deary me. And probably lawks.

Let’s start with the fact that nobody ever sits down to create Great Literature. Writers write to tell a story. Some writers, like Austen (and Pratchett) use satire as a method to tell their story. Some writers, like Austen (and Pratchett) use humour to tell their story. Some writers, like Austen (and Pratchett) attack commonly held ideas about how society works, and how people are unfairly treated. They shine a light into dark areas. They hold a mirror up to the world. And, if they’re Pratchett, they make us laugh as they make us open our minds. Oh, wait, Austen did that too.

Silly me. As a Pratchett fan, I can’t possibly understand how Great Literature works.

But when Austen sat down to write Pride and Prejudice or any of her great works, she didn’t know she was writing Literature, with a capital L. No other writer did either. Let’s be honest, when Shakespeare was banging out hit after hit for the Globe, it’s not like it crossed his mind that half a millennium later teenagers would be trying to puzzle out the dirty jokes in Romeo and Juliet under orders from the Department for Education.

It’s other people who make stories into Literature, not the writers. It’s the fans, and the critics, and the teachers who put the books onto school and university syllabuses.  It’s the people who won’t shut up about how great this writer is. It’s the other writers who have been influenced by them.

If a writer can make a story speak to people, even people born long after they themselves have died, that makes it Literature.

I think that Jonathan Jones picked an Austen book as an example of great Literature because he gets to show that he’s a modern, enlightened man if he picks a book by a female author. What a shame he chose Jane Austen, because I think that if she was alive today to read the article, she’d be quickly creating a character for her next satire; that of an arts critic who writes pompously and scathingly about an author he proudly admits to never reading. Actually, I take that back  – I’m not sure she’d take something handed to her so easily. Jonathan Jones has made himself too easy a target.

It’s the ultimate irony- in showing his proud Literature credentials, Jonathan Jones reveals himself to be clueless about the author he holds up to be a master of the genre.

I think that she’d be howling with laughter about this ridiculous article. I think Pratchett would find it amusing, too.

So no, Jonathan Jones, when people think of the canon of English Literature, most people wouldn’t put Pratchett there with Austen, or Swift, or Pope. The thing is, though, when Austen, Swift and Pope were writing, they weren’t considered great writers of Literature either. That’s what time is for.

Come back in a hundred years, and we’ll see where history ultimately lands on where it puts Terry Pratchett – beloved comic fantasy writer and satirist, or guilty of committing acts of great English Literature.

I know where I put him, though, and I suspect it’s where his millions of devoted fans put him too – on their bookshelves, and in their hearts. And at the end of the day, I suspect I know where he would have wanted to end up.

Sense and Sensibility, or why I’ve never liked Marianne

Alright, I understand. We’re not supposed to like Marianne. Jane Austen, as ever, was making a point when she created that insufferable brat. Anybody who storms around the place declaring heavily emphasised poetry and crashes out deeply romantic and tortured piano sonatas deserves to be caught in a few rain storms and tumble down a few hills. 

Elinor isn’t supposed to get away without criticism either; she’s her sister’s polar opposite, cool and calm in a crisis. Too cool and calm – what real woman could have tolerated Lucy Steele’s simpering confidences about the man she loves? Elinor is too self-sacrificing; her happiness is an afterthought, the result of the venal action of a money-obsessed social climber, not because of any action on her part. For all of Marianne’s teenage dramatics, she at least tried to be a bit proactive when it came to her love life. 

However, whenever I re-read it, or listen to the audio version, or watch the Emma Thompson film, I do so side with poor Elinor, the sole voice of reason in an overcrowded cottage filled with pre-, post- and actual menstrual hormones. There’s a scene in the film where Marianne is crying -again- because Willoughby has turned out to be less than trustworthy. The mother starts crying because her hopes for her middle daughter haves been dashed. The younger daughter starts to cry because everyone else is crying. Elinor is left alone in the hallway, clutching a cup of tea. Does she cry too? No, she’s too sensible. She sits on the stairs and drinks the tea, probably wondering if there’s any chance of a biscuit. 

I think that I am one of nature’s Elinors. I too am usually wondering if there’s a chance of a biscuit. 

I just cannot bear Marianne’s story arc in this book.  After being disgraced in London when discovering Willoughby has ditched her for a £50000 dowry, Marianne goes on an insane walk in the countryside and gets caught in the rain which brings about a life-threatening fever. 

Can this woman not just catch a simple cold? Not that being wet brings on a cold, of course, but artistic license and all that. 

Once she has recovered from the fever, she finally notices the well-off middle aged man who has been inappropriately lusting over her since the Dashwoods moved into Devon. She decides, in what is in no way a snap decision brought on by a traumatic incident, that she needs to have more sense and less sensibility in her life so she marries Colonel Brandon, a man she has never expressed a positive opinion about before. 

We’re supposed to see this marriage as her becoming more rational and sensible – Brandon is a catch, after all, if your taste runs to strangely affluent ex-soldiers. I can’t help but see it as yet another Marianne snap decision, an action she hasn’t fully thought through. Being Mrs Brandon gets you out of the crowded cottage but it does resign her to a middle age caring for an old, invalid husband. Has she truly come to care for him, or is this her clutching at straws? 

Has Marianne actually started to act with sense? I’m not completely convinced. I think this act of “sense” is just an over abundance of sensibility in disguise. 

I dislike the teenage hysterics of Marianne. If she were around today I’d hate to read her Tumblr.  It would be mostly quotes from poems she hasn’t read all the way through with a few arty black and white shots of naked male torsos. I pity her, but as an innate Elinor I just cannot understand her depth of emotion. Willoughby was a lying arsehole? Move on! Don’t go on cross-country hikes to check out his  house, especially when it’s raining. It’s the modern equivalent of stalking his social media feeds. 
Trust me- that house will still be there once the rain has stopped, Marianne.  Delete him from your contacts. 

She just does stupid, irritating things that annoy me. She doesn’t think. She just does whatever she feels like and hopes it isn’t a complete disaster. 

I really think that this book needs just to be called Sense, showing that thinking rationally gets you what you want better than having hysterics.

Pass me another biscuit, please. 

Review my book! Welcome To Havenbrook, by Eleanor Bennett

Come to my page at askDavid.com and review my book! Welcome To Havenbrook! – The naughtiest town in North …

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It’s a great collection of short stories about the wonderful town of Havenbrook, a secret spanker’s paradise! Join couples old and new as they try spanking as foreplay, domestic discipline and role-playing!

Buy it from Amazon UK here!

Buy it from Amazon US here!

Oh my word! Oh my lots of words, actually!

Today I’ve seen my first self-published ebook, Welcome To Havenbrook! jump up the Amazon rankings!

It’s unbelievable – in the course of maybe twelve hours, it’s gone from #44 to #13 in the erotica short story ranking, according to the UK Amazon site!

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I wish I had paid attention to the other rankings, but I can only assume that they’ve gone up too.

This is so exciting! I know that that I won’t make any money from this book, but hey – somebody’s actually bought it! My words are on their Kindle!

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Here it is! Buy from the British Amazon site here!

Buy from the American Amazon site here!

Now I’m going to find some ice cream to celebrate!

A Room Of One’s Own

I must admit that I’m a little bit afraid of Virginia Woolf – residual damage from being forced to read To The Lighthouse in the Upper Sixth, I think. All that fuss over a major character, to kill her off in a paragraph and not mention her again. Oh, groundbreaking literary style, I know, but oh Lord, so difficult to understand! I would rather have read more Chaucer and if that isn’t a searing enditement of my struggle with that damned book literary masterpiece, I don’t know what is.

(Looking back, I may have disliked my A Level Lit syllabus far more than I realised at the time. But hey, Don’t Look Back In Anger…oh wait, I didn’t like that one either….)

The one thing that I do agree with Virginia Woolf on is her idea that to write fiction, a woman was in need of a “room of her own”.

Now, I’ve benefited from the sort of education that Woolf was challenging the world to give to women. Because of that education I have a job that allows me to support myself independently of a husband. Of course, that job isn’t best-selling novelist, more’s the pity! But that job lets me borrow a shockingly large amount of money from a bank to buy my own late Victorian house brick by crumbling brick. In that house, I have a room of my own to write in, although I don’t tend to use it. I’m far more likely to be found on the couch downstairs with my netbook on my lap than in the spare bedroom where the desk and The World’s Oldest Computer live. Perhaps it’s because there are so many bits and bobs related to my job in there that I just don’t feel comfortable writing fiction in it. Perhaps it’s the dusty vibration plate machine staring balefully at me from the corner of the room sending me – hah – bad vibes.

I think I’m going to have to do something with that room – repaint it, perhaps, or move the job-related junk to another place. I could certainly shift the furniture around. I’m a dab hand at that, a gift from my loving mother who isn’t happy unless she’s rotated the living room furniture three times a year.

I can’t stay on the couch for much longer – my back is killing me! I’m certainly going to have to accept Woolf’s idea and create a room of my own.

passionate about the past