Thursday, September 30, 2010

Just Finished Reading . . .

I've been reading an old but interesting book called Writer's Britain: Landscape in Literature by Margaret Drabble. It was published in 1979 and I picked it up at a book sale. I won't review it because of its age, but it was certainly food for thought.

The book features many photographs, most in black and white but quite a few in color. The photographer was Jorge Lewinski. Some show sites, like Tintern Abbey, which are the setting for poetry, some show authors' homes, Sir Walter Scott's home for instance, and some show settings of novels, e.g. the scenes from Thomas Hardy novels. Scott's home was, I believe, the only place I had actually seen so I'm glad to have more of a mental picture of other literary spots in Britain.

One theme throughout the book was something I had never really given any thought to. It just never occurred to me that writers in general didn't focus on scenery as being interesting or romantic or a feature of a story until relatively recently in history. Woodsworth was one of the first to write poetry about a place in a romantic way and that surprised me, I guess because it's so common now. Many previous authors described waterfalls, for instance, with violent phrases and harsh words - crashing, splitting, tumbling, dangerous.

Most authors of prior times either described poor villages and farms from the disinterested or superior point of view of London elite, or as a practical matter living under the delusion that people lived in filth and stench from choice. And there were writers who wrote of the industrial north of England as though the machinery, etc. was beautiful, but most described such cities as eyesores. Most never spoke of the lives of the people stuck in wretched living conditions.

I'll look at English literature a little differently now, I think. Dickens is a great favorite of mine, partly because of the clever names of his characters but also because he wrote of the underclasses with empathy and honesty.

Landscape is such an important part of literature these days. We learn of characters not just by their home and family, but also the effect of their landscape on their character. That's half the fun of reading about people - I think of a book like The Kite Runner for example. It would be very dull without knowing what the boy's surroundings were like, as well as the culture in Afghanistan, don't you think?

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