Sunday, February 11, 2007

One-and-a-half-handed reading

For me the writing process started a long, long time ago, even if I didn't actually begin writing until fairly recently--rather like Flora Poste in Cold Comfort Farm (one of my favorite books) who claims that she's going to gather material and then, when she's fifty, write a book as good as Mansfield Park. I believe voice is something you accumulate from your experiences, culture, and above all, your reading. And since we've been talking quite a bit here about what books we read in our formative years that have stayed with us and made us into the filthmongers we are, I thought I'd share mine.

The dirty book of my generation was Lady Chatterley's Lover. Copies of it, pawed over so much they fell open at the "good bits," were passed around surreptitiously at my all-girls high school (a very old-fashioned place with uniforms, lesbian gym teachers, the lot). All those rude words! All that running around in the rain with flowers in places flowers don't usually go! Pics here are from the BBC's Lady Chatterley's Lover (1992) starring the lovely and talented Sean Bean and directed by Ken Russell, who also directed one of my favorite movies of all time, Women in Love. And here's a very Ken-Russell-like shot from the production. But seriously, who doesn't fantasize about naked men crucified with flowers while out on a quiet afternoon hack?

Trouble is, D. H. Lawrence got women's sexuality all wrong, in my opinion--poor old Connie doesn't have a "proper" orgasm until she allows the virile working-class gamekeeper into her mantrap. No kidding, he and Freud were responsible for a generation (at least) of Englishmen's incompetent fumbling. (Well, you didn't come because you're not a real woman. Of course they wouldn't admit to wanting to sleep with their mum...) On the other hand, you have to (almost) forgive someone who could write this (quoted by Alan Bates in Women in Love--you must see that movie):

The proper way to eat a fig, in society
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled, four-petalled flower.

Oh, wow. Read the whole poem, Figs, here. There's some wonderful stuff before he goes into a DHL-like rant, as he tends to, and apologies to those who've heard all this before from me.

As for other early influences, Jane Eyre, of course. All that...discipline. I do hope we'll talk about Jane Eyre later--it's worth at least one post and lots of discussion, but I'll share this with you. Last year, some letters came to light that suggested Charlotte Bronte barely escaped court action over her portrayal of Lowood School and Mr. Brocklehurst. You can read the whole story here.

And another book I've always loved, The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is absolutely fascinating and I'll talk about that next time.

Thoughts, anyone?

And you do know the difference between erotica and pornography, don't you? If you need two hands to hold the book, it's erotica ...


Colette Gale said...

Jane, I knew there was a reason you and I hit it off so well.

It was the all-girls' high school--complete with uniforms and lesbian gym teachers (although in my case it was a lesbian biology teacher who went on to be a semi-pro golfer...)!

I am greatly looking forward to your discussion on Jane Eyre, having been privy to your filthmongering thoughts on that some time ago.

And I'll do nearly anything to watch Sean Bean, so off I go to find that movie...

Jane Lockwood said...

Ha. As well as the lesbian gym teachers and a narcoleptic physics teacher we had an English teacher who told us that whenever couples in a Jane Austen novel "went for a walk" they were in fact sneaking out to have sex. It puts an entirely different spin on, say, the scene in "Persuasion" where Anne and a gaggle of characters go out for a walk and swap partners.

Celia May Hart said...

Oh, Jane Eyre is my favorite book of all time.... I'd love to hear your filth-mongering on it!

Pam Rosenthal said...

It puts an entirely different spin on, say, the scene in "Persuasion" where Anne and a gaggle of characters go out for a walk and swap partners.

Not to speak of the tripping-through-the-estate-gate (and who's got the key?) scene in the otherwise baleful Mansfield Park where a veritable orgy of partner-swapping occurs. Perhaps that's why the Cold Comfort Farm girl likes it so much. (Must read that -- but the movie with Kate Beckinsale, Ian McKellan, and any number of other worthies, is pretty great as well).

As for Jane Eyre, now it can be told that when I first read it I put it down after Jane left Lowood -- well, yes, I have read it in its entirety since then. But nothing can beat my eleven-year-old thrilled and horrified throbbing for poor, exquisitely putupon Helen Burns.

Anonymous said...

The dirty book growing up was Alice Walker's THE COLOR PURPLE. I remember my best friend sticking her elbows into me during English class and making me read Celie's and Shug's get-together

meardaba said...

The dirty books for me were both Jane Eyre and Fanny Hill. Hawwwwwwt! I read those two over and over and over again. Good thing my mum saw it as literature!

Lacy Danes said...

Oh yes! I am also looking forward to discussing Jane Eyre. It is one of my favorite stories as well.

Pam... Where was my mind when I read Mansfield Park? Certainly not where yours was, hum... wish it had been. ;-) I may have to reread it now.

I read Mansfield Park many, many years ago… If I read it now I bet I would interpret it entirely different, as is the case with many things for me now days. I seem to catch or interject sexual meaning on many things that I missed when I was younger.


Maria, Lover of All Things Romance said...

Did you know that Ken Russell was on the UK's Celebrity Big Brother this year?

Jane Lockwood said...

Lacy and Celia, I can't wait to talk about Jane Eyre. I live to surprise.

And I have to say that Fanny Hill has always struck me in entirely the wrong way as purple, bombastic, unintentionally funny, and far too long. As an exercise for euphemisms for the penis (mighty engine of desire, snort, snort) it is mind-boggling.

According to Wikipedia, "Cleland's obituary in the 'Monthly Review' said that he had been granted a government annuity of one hundred pounds to prevent his writing further obscenity for pay." I've always thought that meant because his writing was so abominable, not because of what he was writing.

Pam Rosenthal said...

I loved your comments on voice, Jane. Yeah, voice is who we are, and who we are comprises who we were when we were too young and fresh and new to defend against the unique, beautiful, compelling, and empassioned voices we heard through our reading.

I recently read something that referred to sight as "the banal sense." I don't believe that, but I do think that hearing is powerful, and has something of the involuntary about it. I remember how struck I was by a character in Anne Rice's Exit to Eden saying that sexual domination is in the voice. (Not a great book, tho it has its moments.)

I've never read Fanny Hill. In general, I prefer classic French porn, or straight-on 19th century British literature for girls.

And I'm not crazy about the word "erotica." Such a prissy, upright word, sitting primly on the line -- it seems to me a word that's had a nose job or a tummy tuck, and I imagine a horrid coy little heart dotting the "i." I preferred "pornography," but I'm afraid that the internet porn has given it a whole new set of meanings and yukky associations. Too bad about losing it, imo -- now that was a word that was hung.

jane george said...

The most intensely sexual book I read as a young person was Samuel R. Delaney's Dahlgren.

I too look forward to the Jane Eyre discussion. I lived in that book.

On the erotica/pornography front, I recently watched a film on the motion picture ratings system and was left with a fear that books will be next.

meardaba said...

I've always thought that meant because his writing was so abominable, not because of what he was writing.

--> Hah! That might explain MY writing style...

But seriously, folks, I'm pretty sure I liked Fanny Hill BECAUSE of the euphamisms: at the time I was often embarrassed by what I read and would blush at more, errr, revealing words. Well, actually, I blushed at anything (and pretty much still do), but if I was blushing too much my mum would notice and ask what I was reading.
Ohhh, awkward questions.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Oh gosh, Jane I keep meaning to read Dahlgren -- thanks for the nudge. Samuel Delany has written quite a lot of hardcore stuff as well. And my favorite how-to-write text is the afterword he wrote for the current re-issue of Ay, and Gomorrah. The essay's called "Of Doubts and Dreaming."

Oh and one more thing about Delany -- if I had to name one author whose bookstore readings are pure delight, it would be he. Last time he read at my husband's bookstore, my husband introduced him, quite sincerely, as "the nicest titan of contemporary letters you'll ever meet."

Little Lamb Lost said...

Hmm...will return to those classics with a whole new view of reading them.

The Dean said...

From The Dean's Desk:

What a joy to join in this gentle literary conversation with writers, readers, and the thoughtful. The Dean awaits your thoughts on JE. The Dean's first edition copy is a prized possession. Do you all know what the great "outrage" was that publication of JE caused in the reading public of the time? Happy researching--nothing delights The Dean more than scholarship applied in such a noble pursuit.

The Dean