Bibliodyssey: October’s Overview and Books

This month has involved mainly texts for my degree, an MA in English Literature in which I’m currently studying the myth of King Arthur in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and a module wonderfully titled ‘Violent Death in Renaissance Drama’. Mythology may be my primary area of research and I love it dearly, but I have a heart full of passion for Renaissance drama. In my fantasy academic career, I would write delicious papers on uses of mythology and then season them with Renaissance interludes. Beware my love letter to the Renaissance below.

So the books/texts/sources examined this month were: Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King (yes, all of them), a modernised Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur*, John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi* (again), a medieval play called Everyman, Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Thomas Heywood’s A Woman Killed with Kindness* and a selection of Shakespeares, including Measure for Measure*Hamlet*, Julius Caesar* a brief glance at Macbeth* and The Winter’s Tale*. I also re-read Howl’s Moving Castle.

I’ve just made the executive decision to move my discussion (read: love letter to) Renaissance drama to another post, because this one was reaching truly epic proportions as it was.

October: The Books

I have to confess that I hadn’t really read much Tennyson before I came to the Idylls of the King – I knew ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and ‘The Lady of Shalott’, but largely there’s a hole in my knowledge where the C19th should be (side note: my brother’s impersonation of Brian Blessed bellowing ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ is not to be missed). I don’t know, I think I was suspicious of the C19th from a young age because I knew that the literature and history of the time presented things in a very specific way. I feel like a lot of my early knowledge of history and literature was moulded by an awareness that my mother was taught something very different, my mother being Irish, and learning to hold different parts of history and different perspectives together. (I’ll post more on post-colonialism another time.)

So basically, in my knowledge of history, literature and time there’s a large gap where the C19th should be. And when I came to read Tennyson, I think I was a little disappointed because he was everything that, in writing and in what I read, I’ve been trying to escape: the verse, the capitalisation all down one side, the encoded C19th values. And it took me a very long time to get into them, because as I read them, I was underwhelmed by their poetry. I struggled to find anything to discuss about them, because their ideology seemed so clear. But that’s a very peculiarly literature-student issue, I know. As actual poems, they’re well-crafted and not unenjoyable. I just like things with irony, with a sense of holding odd ideas together to make them fit, or for searching for ideas in the text, not such solid and obvious politics. But still.

I just spent two paragraphs saying that I felt underwhelmed by Tennyson for vague post-colonial reasons. Oh, me.

The version of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur I was reading was Helen Cooper’s Oxford World’s Classics modernised-English edition. It is, overall, a fantastic version, with an introduction into the texts and contexts that is scholarly, interesting and lucid. She has edited most sections quite subtly, but in one or two places there are large sections missing from the original text, which would be a bother to a scholar but for a casual reader probably does make it more accessible. I like this edition very much, and I would recommend it highly to anybody wanting a way into Malory but without having to tackle all of the middle English language and spellings. (Actually, I love the middle English spellings, I think they’re wonderful, but this was the edition we were told to buy for my first year, so this is the one I have.)

I also read, for funs, the magnificent Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle. It is one of my all-time favourite books, because it’s entertaining, clever, very funny and it unfolds so elegantly, revealing the underlying patterns and that nothing is spare, or made up to fill a plot hole, because there are no plot holes. Yes, dear reader, a book for children that has no plot holes, an interesting main character and endearing twists that actually make perfect sense once you’ve been around them. None of this “she was sekritly a sekrit important thing all along, and I’m going to pretend I’ve been withholding information because I can’t think of anything else” nonsense. And there’s one particularly wonderful twist that I will never stop enjoying (it’s in the chapter “Howl Goes to a Strange Country in Search of a Spell”, and he certainly does, and it’s absolutely not what you expect, and it’s wonderful, and if you have read it you know exactly what I mean).

I posted my thoughts about the relationship between the Howl’s Moving Castle book and film on my other blog, Aisling Edits, where I indulge my desire to edit everything, and consider books and films and whether I think they work. If you don’t mind spoilers, go and check it out.

Next up: the other half of October’s Bibliodyssey, which will be a journey through half of my Renaissance Drama course texts. Oh yes, dear reader, there will be more to come. But first I’m going to have half an hour off for a cup of rejuvenative tea.

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