Reading List: Campus Novels

Science fiction author Joe Haldeman once said:

Bad books on writing tell you to “WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW”, a solemn and totally false adage that is the reason there exist so many mediocre novels about English professors contemplating adultery.

And yes, ageing white professors cheating on their wives is definitely a recurring theme on this list – but there is also some sexual experimentation, a murder or two, slapstick comedy, and plenty of cheap wine.

In Omnia Paratus!

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Reading List: Postcolonial Rewritings of the Imperial Canon

After my reviews of Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (here) and On Beauty by Zadie Smith (here), I decided to dedicate a full post to postcolonial rewritings and reworkings of the Western literary canon.

These are some works that I could think of off the top of my head, but if there are any more out there that I should know about, please let me know in the comments!

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Book Review: “On Beauty” (2005) by Zadie Smith

"Belle" Portraits - 2013 Toronto International Film Festival

Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

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It should be obvious from the first line that this novel is inspired by a love of E.M. Forster, to whom all my fiction is indebted, one way or the other. This time I wanted to repay the debt with hommage.

So let’s talk about E.M. Forster’s Howards End (1910), one of the last great “condition of England” novels. In this genre, the writer draws a picture of English society and its many problems, often showing that change is necessary for a better future. In this book, Forster examines class relations in particular and argues that the strict social hierarchy of the Victorian age has no place in the modern world. He is critical of Edwardian society, but also seems hopeful that these issues can be resolved and that people will be able to find a way to connect despite their differences.

In On Beauty, Zadie Smith takes the plot of Howards End into the twenty-first century. There are still two families, one liberal and one conservative, who find their fates intertwined by a sudden engagement. There is still a young man looking to climb up the social ladder and, like Forster, Smith asks the reader to rethink the meaning of identity in a multicultural world. However, she adds an extra dimension, one that makes this novel instantly relevant to today’s society: race.

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Reading List: Mansions and Estates

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Lyme Park (Pemberley House in the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice” mini series).

After discussing Downton Abbey and class differences in my review of the RSC’s 2014 production of Love’s Labour’s Lost, I thought that it would be a good idea to take a closer look at the quintessential English estate in literature. They have become an object of nostalgia, a romanticised vision of a time gone by when men were gentlemen, women were ladies, and life was all beautiful gowns and dancing with handsome counts at the ball. Or was it? …No, of course not. And in a future post on the Merchant-Ivory film adaptations of the works of E.M. Forster and the heritage industry under Margaret Thatcher, I will tell you how these buildings became the chosen icon of a glorified British past and the old world order.

For now, here is an overview of some of the most famous fictional estates in British literature.

Look for the cracks in the wall.

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Book Review: “A Broken World: Letters, Diaries and Memories of the Great War” (2014), eds. Sebastian Faulks and Hope Wolf

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Thanks to the centenary I have caught the WWI bug and I have started working my way through Great War literature. After Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, I figured it was time for a non-fiction account and decided on this collection of letters and diaries, edited by Sebastian Faulks and Hope Wolf. The selection is varied, including not just British documents but also German, Russian, and Indian voices, plenty of women (much appreciated!), and mostly “ordinary people” with the occasional familiar name thrown in (Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, and so on). The fragments are not in chronological order, but have been organised by place and theme instead: ‘Hearing and imagining from afar’, ‘experience at close quarters’, ‘how the war divided us’, and ‘searching for what is lost.’ We get stories from all over Europe, ranging from published articles to letters from loved ones.

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Reading List: The Law

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Lady Justice statue on top of the Old Bailey, London.

Lady Justice can be a cruel mistress and since writers thrive on the pain and confusion of their characters, there are a number of famous lawyers and court scenes to be found in fiction.

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