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.
Sometimes you’re reading a perfectly nice novel, really getting into it, enjoying where the plot seems to be headed… And then the writer does something that makes you put down your book and let out an exasperated sigh: “you were doing so well, why would you do this to me?” Everyone has their own list of literary pet peeves, those lines an author can never cross without losing a bit (or a lot) of your respect. No matter how great the rest of the book is, you will always come back to that one thing, roll your eyes, and say “oh no, I really wish you hadn’t done that.” So aspiring authors, start taking notes: here are ten of my biggest literary pet peeves.
Every once in a while, I like to read a book I know is going to be terrible as a kind of palate cleanser, a way to recallibrate and regroup before diving back into Proper Literature. Mentally copy-editing a bad book is a great exercise and can help you figure out what good writing is (by realising that it is the opposite of whatever this is). My go-to guilty pleasure genre is the Jane Austen spin-off book. You know the ones. What if there were zombies at Longbourne, what if Austen was a vampire, what if a contemporary American girl who is nothing like the author at all what are you talking about suddenly found herself in Regency England… The list goes on.
Austen spin-offs are usually absolutely awful, but in a way, they are much like peanut M&M’s: you know they have no nutritional value and will only leave you feeling slightly depressed and guilty, but you keep buying them anyway because you just can’t quit the sugary goodness.