Thursday, 27 September 2007

How Withering

A while ago I mentioned that I was reading a play called The Brontes. As always, that has an accent which I haven't the motivation to locate. It's a 1933 play by Alfred Sangster, whomever he may be - the only info I can find is on imdb, here, which tells me that he was an actor as well as a playwright.

It's just as well.

I don't own many books of whose provenance I am unaware, but The Brontes is one. Apparently I paid £2.99 for it, and it used to belong to Margaret Cousins, but besides this I know nothing. Not quite sure what made me pick it up and read it a few weeks ago, except curiosity - sometimes I feel in the mood for a play, and this was one of those times. Plays aren't read much anymore - obviously their primary medium is the theatre, but I'd encourage you to take sit in an armchair with one sometime, and see how that suits. Or just read Ivy Compton-Burnett, which is much the same thing.

Fictional books about authors are a funny thing. I've not read many... in fact, racking my brains, I can only think of one other that I've read - The Hours. Well, where Michael Cunningham presented a biographical novel in a clever, three-tiered narrative with many a subtle nuance, Sangster has contributed nothing to the Bronte story which one couldn't gain from reading the blurb on Elizabeth Gaskell's book on Charlotte et al. Whilst we're on that, I blame Gaskell's biography for the lasting, and wholly unsubstantiated, view that Anne was a weak writer - for my money, and this is controversial, Agnes Grey is better than Jane Eyre. There, I've said it.

If you're still reading, I'll carry on. Sangster does all the usual tricks - Patrick is a stern bully of a father; Bramwell is a destructive drunk whenever he appears; Emily is mysterious and melancholy; Anne is timid; Charlotte... well, the stage directions are thus - "She is eager and interested, small of stature, almost bird-like in movement, and might be called insignificant if it were not for the large, dark eyes below the fine brow, for ever questioning - seeking - ". From this point on, whether pondering existential matters, or asking for a cup of tea, Charlotte is perpetually 'seeking...' in an endless ellipsis. Basically, take all the cliches about the Brontes you've ever heard, jumble them along with some 1930s jargon (can you really imagine Emily saying "I can't. I'm all wrong. All jumbled up inside...") and that's what Sangster produced. It's very entertaining.

So what do you think about fictional-books-about-authors? And are there any good ones to recommend? Or bad ones to avoid? Need they be factual?

As EM Delafield wrote, in advice to anyone considering becoming an author:
1) You will, at some point, be expected to write something about the Brontes.
2) There is nothing new to say.

4 comments:

  1. Umm... how about rading 98 Reasons for Being by Clare Dudman. It's a fictional account of part of the life of Dr and children's author Heinrich Hoffman, of Struwwelpeter fame.

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  2. Hello there long time no blog (on my part). I agree on the Anne Bronte front. I have just finished Agnes Grey. Whilst easy to read she manages to paint an interesting picture of life as a governess. I particularly like her contrasting pictures of the various clergy (the reason for reading it).
    Ps Excellent postcard, it made me laugh.

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  3. Not sure if I've ever de-lurked before; if not, I'm pleased to do so now.

    I can't think of many fictional accounts of the lives of real novelists - it seems easier to write about poets, somehow. (Now, fictional books about fictional novelists, on the other hand...) Abba Abba by Anthony Burgess and The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald are two of my all-time favourites of this kind. Both lovely and powerful (however short) reads - though you don't realise how powerful until you've finished them.

    I suppose it's also easier when little is known about the author, or else that particular period/aspect of the author's life. As you say, there simply isn't anything new to say about Charlotte Brontë, 'seeking -' or not...

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  4. Lynne Reid Banks has written two excellent fiction books on Charlotte B.

    I agree with you about Anne. I think she is excellent and underrated and while I would not agree with you on AG over JE, I do think Tenant of Wildfell Hall is better than Wuthering heights. THERE I have said it....

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