Did I ever mention that I'm a literature snob?
Well, I am.
Not that I have any grounds for supercilious glances over my prescription lorgnette. If something has won the Booker or a Pullitzer Prize, it's more than likely that I haven't read it. Mine is not a subtle mind: I can discuss theme, metaphor and analogy, but I prefer a good story with characters I can care about, and I read with my feelings as much as my intellect. Give me troubles faced, solutions found, and an ending that's a resolution and a new beginning. But don't patronise me. I may not be subtle. I may be lazy. But I'm not stupid.
From the classic cannon I love Henry Fielding, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell. I loathe D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy with a passion born of having my nose rubbed in their misery at school. Everyone told me that Tess of the D'Urbevilles dies in the end, but so transfixed was I by her character and predicament that I read on willing it to be different in my copy. Needless to say, I was disgusted with Thomas Hardy, the sanctimonious git, and have never read another of his books. Now that I'm grown up and sensible, with a handle on his purpose in writing what he did, I know I ought to set aside my seventeen-year-old self and try his other works. Jude the Obscure looks interesting. However, I can't get past his basic premise, which appears to be that life's a bitch and then you die. Is this really where I want to spend my weekend? Hardy fans, please recommend your favourite, and I'll go get myself a copy.
However, I draw the line at D.H. Bloody Lawrence. What possesses exam boards to inflict 'Sons & Lovers' on unwary yoof? Grim, grim, grindingly grim. So he had a miserable childhood: if he'd been American, he'd have got therapy, but being English he had to grim and bare it, so he wrote the book. Ok if it made him feel better. You go, David. But why put thousands of adolescent English Lit students through it? Volcanic acne, looming exam pressure, tumultous hormones, and D. H. Lawrence too? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaghghghghgh....... noooooooooooo.... please.....
I've heard the mutterings about the dumbing down of exams and courses, and the need to expose yoof to Great Literature, but for goodness sake, has it got to be miserable to be worthwhile? Welcome to adult life, boys and girls, and this term we're studying blood and circuses, or the married state; next term focuses on sexual repression and social hypocrisy; and we'll finish with existentialism, maybe even a little nihilism if you're really good. Good grief! Compassion please!
Now that I think about it, they ought to make 'It's Grim Up North' a sub-genre. Lawrence reigns supreme on the literary front, but Emily Bronte must come a close second. But what about the British films of the 90s? Raining Stones (1993) Brassed Off (1996), The Full Monty (1997), even Billy Elliott (2000). Interestingly, the late twentieth century film market being rather different from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century literary market, all of these portraits of the 80s death throes of British industry and the communities it sustained are full of humour. Funny, that.
BIG TANGENT: There are many people who hold that Margaret Thatcher's premiership (1979 to 1990) was a good thing. I believe that she started well, having the nerve to take on a network of unions which, decades after their establishment as the foundation of dignity in the workplace, were complacent, greedy, out of control. I also believe that, had she known when to stop, Margaret Thatcher might have saved Britain's industrial base, but of course that's not how things turned out.
In a 1987 interview, when England was giddy with consumerism and the cult of the designer kettle, Margaret Thatcher famously said of society, 'there's no such thing! Only individuals and families'. Having lived most of my life in the north of England, where the towns that had developed, and the cities that had flourished, around steelmaking, coalmining and related trades and commerce, were by this time on their knees, I heard this with great bitterness, as her personal legacy. I include the speech, which includes several home truths about a culture of dependence which needed to be addressed - but what I still don't see how killing the patient counts as a cure.
There, aren't we glad I got that off my chest? Better out than in, as my warty old wet nurse used to cackle, while warming my 'andful of 'ot gravel over a dung fire. Eeeh Ugly Aggie, where are ye now, ye cracked cow? Bless. (You never forget Nursie.)
End of Tangent.
Books? Some other time.