Review: Thornfield Hall, Jane Stubbs

More than anything, this book felt opportunistic.  Last year, Jo Baker wrote the wonderful Longbourn, which looked at Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants and now Jane Stubbs is trying out the same trick with Jane Eyre - even the cover looks similar.  Baker's book was a revelation - it put an entirely new perspective on Miss Lizzie's free-spirited gallivanting through the countryside when you knew that Sarah the housemaid would have to do battle to get her petticoats back to a reasonable state.  Still, a big reason why Longbourn was so effective was because the serving classes had been so completely beneath the notice of Austen and her characters.  Baker was at liberty to effectively do whatever she wished.  But Jane Eyre was a different matter - Jane herself may not have been quite a servant but she was certainly not gentry either meaning that she was not blind to what went on below stairs.  Indeed, the central plot of Jane Eyre rather turns on this.  So Stubbs has given herself a tricky task and it never quite feels as though she boxes herself out of that particular corner.

Saturday Poem - A Red, Red Rose

So tomorrow is Burns' Night.  Actually, it isn't because this is a Scheduled Post, but like a pre-recorded chat show, I am going to pretend.  Tomorrow is Burns' Night.  So in the great man's honour and because I still miss Scotland (going to a ceilidh soon, very excited), this week I have picked one of his poems for my Poetry Please.

A Red, Red Rose

O my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June:
O my Luve's like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho' 'twere ten thousand mile!

Robert Burns

For the full archive of past Saturday poems, visit Poetry Please in the Features.

Review: Saplings, Noel Streatfeild

Since the moment I first received my copy of Ballet Shoes on my seventh birthday, I have been a Noel Streatfeild fan.  It did not matter that I had no co-ordination or sense of rhythm, or even that I had a tendency towards being tone deaf - via the Fossil sisters, I experienced a life on the stage.  From there, I read White BootsCurtain Up!Thursday's Child (this one as a bed-time book with my mother), Ballet Shoes for AnnaThe Painted GardenWhen The Sirens Wailed and more.  I remember reading Dancing Shoes while sitting next to my mother who was watching a rugby game and loudly cheering as New Zealand trounced England - I had other things to think about, I was reading a Noel Streatfeild book.  It was with great sorrow that the nice Waterstones man had to tell me when I was ten that he was unable to locate a copy of The Growing Summer and so I had apparently read all of her books that were available.  I have frequently revisited Streatfeild since, but always with the feeling of returning to childhood - a happy, safe environment where things always work out in the end and there are iced buns for tea.  Next to all of these, Saplings was a big surprise.

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Memorable Fictional Children

It takes a very particular kind of author to write a fictional child with any kind of credibility.  There are the saintly and the sickeningly sweet who the average child tires of quickly, recognising them as an artificial construct designed to inspire one to do better.  Examples include Katy Carr the saintly, Clover Carr the equally saintly (in fact just most of the Carr family, thank you Susan Coolidge), Milly-Molly-Mandy, Sara Crewe (but somehow I still love her anyway), Little Lord Fauntleroy (what a creep).  Even in adult fiction there are many fictional children where the author has gotten so completely carried away making them sweet and adorable that they have forgotten to give them a personality.  A particularly atrocious example is Oliver Twist, I had to study him in my penultimate year of university and it was a real struggle, not helped by Dickens' creepy obsession with how small Oliver is, or indeed Oliver's generally loathsome moralising and wretchedness.  Then there are authors such as Dorothy Koomson who add in a few diction problems to a child and expect it to automatically make them adorable.  It doesn't.  But then occasionally there are some who just step off the page, where the author has managed to really capture something from the eye-view of the child or even better, those fabulous trouble-makers who go where the average youngster dare not.  So I decided to celebrate those which stuck out most in the memory.

Review: The Awakening, Kate Chopin

The Awakening was a book that truly surprised me, not least the fact that it was published in 1899.  This is most likely the earliest feminist novel that I can ever remember reading.  My copy came with a bracing foreword that instructed me that although the protagonist's name was Edna, it was the only aspect of the novel which had dated.  I finished it and agreed more or less.  I have never read The Doll's House or indeed watched it on stage but it seemed that the two stories have a fair number of themes in common.  The Awakening considers the concept of the self outside the defined roles of wife or mother but it is not a particularly comfortable read.

Saturday Poem - The Listeners

Seriously spooky poem this one.  I thought I hadn't heard of it, then I realised that the Year 6 class in one of the schools I worked at did a dramatic reading of it.  But given that the whole year group spoke at once, I don't remember understanding a word.  I try not to wonder too long at poetry - it's dangerous stuff - but the Traveller's search of meaning and connection is haunting, his search in many ways belongs to all of us.

The Listeners

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,  
   Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses  
   Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,  
   Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;  
   ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;  
   No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,  
   Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners  
   That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight  
   To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,  
   That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken  
   By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,  
   Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,  
   ’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even  
   Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,  
   That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,  
   Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house  
   From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,  
   And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,  

   When the plunging hoofs were gone.

Walter de la Mare

For the full archive of past Saturday Poems, visit Poetry Please in the Features.