Yeats in the Offing

It may only be week 5, but I feel like my brain has left town, with the eagerness of a Labrador at the beginning of the grouse shooting.

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Is anyone else’s brain smashed?

No! Wait, I don’t mean literally! But that sense of ‘Oh dear, everything inside my head is turning to moosh, and I don’t like it.’

To put it another way, I am glad that my skull is made of bone, therefore, is unlikely to combust into thin air. The result is, which to my great excitement includes a word I never knew existed before, a ‘quaggy‘ mess.

It may only be week 5, but I feel like my brain has left town, with the eagerness of a Labrador at the beginning of the grouse shooting. Please do excuse any mixed metaphors. They are floating about my head for a somewhat, understandable reason: this semester has seen my almost-full-body submersion into poetry. Therefore I grant myself full liberty within any metaphorical landscape from here on in.

At the present moment in time, I am supposed to be writing an essay on the symbolism of W.B. Yeats; one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century, among the top Irish, and international, writers that we have ever produced, or as I now call him, ‘The-Reason-For-My-Head-Being-In-A-Quaggy-Mess’.

 

William Butler Yeats

 

To be fair, it’s not all of his fault.

I did sign up for this.

Yes, I am a class-A idiot. Specifically, an ENG531 Class-A idiot.

Let me explain.

wooster is miffed at jeevesWhen I started looking at the module selection for third year, I noted that there was a module devoted to ’20th Century Irish Writers’. Smiling with the certainty that some type of Wodehousian-fate would love, I passively acknowledged that it looked good, but I would never take the class. Another bout of Irish literature? Please, let’s just not.

Yet as online enrolment loomed around the corner, and I had little-to-zero interest either of the modules I was considering as a third option, I could almost hear P.G. Wodehouse narrate this paragraph of my biography:

‘Despite the quiet reluctance of a cat on a hot tin roof, Nesta saw that she either had to brave the fray, or spend the next semester knee-deep in Knitters Digest in a last ditch move towards sanity. After all, when one puts these things into perspective, some writers from the motherland couldn’t damage her as much as an accidental prod of a knitting needle to the chest, in an attempt to alleviate the boredom.’

Yet, it was not as hum-drumly practical as this alludes to. Ulster may not be the forefront Irish university, nor may it shine the brightest on the world’s stage, but it is an Irish university. As such, I thought that I had better commit myself to a semester of Yeats, Joyce, and Beckett, as a slight penance for not biting the bullet in previous years. In an odd sense of patriarchal nationalism, I felt that it was almost a duty to spend time looking into Irish writers.

After my A-Level experience (which had no marks, or tarnish left from a totally joyous experience of school, where everything always went the right way), I had walked away believing Irish writers to be self-obsessed, and narrow minded. Self-obsessed, as most of the work was personal to their own circumstances and opinions; narrow minded, as they constantly referred back to Classical literary tropes, which I then had to learn off my heart to include in essays that used as much brain power that would power a G-Wiz for 15 minutes.

Needless to say, I was bored, stressed, and unhappy for these years.

The last thing I wanted to do during the last year of my undergrad, was to relive all of those experiences. Uni has been my best experience of education; one that has not helped in the total decline and demise of my mental faculties.

Entering Lt10 on Thursday morning of week one, was the closest I have felt towards dread (concerning my studies) than I have felt in a long while. As I sat down, lifting my file-block, pens, and endurance onto the table, my brain clocked out. I sat like this for, roughly half-an-hour, when suddenly, something the lecturer said, caught my attention;

‘It’s important to look at Irish writers, for not only have they shaped the international literary climate; they have also shaped the perception of Ireland. Yeats may as well, could have worked for Sligo’s tourist board, Joyce Dublin’s, and Beckett, a particular view on a very Irish mindset. They helped put us on the map: I [the lecturer] therefore think that every student from Ulster, or another Irish university, should spend at least one semester looking into their work. Not only is the writing to an international standard, but these writers helped to shape the world in which literature is alive in the modern age.’

That may be paraphrased, but it was the jist of my struggle: overlooking my prejudices, and accepting that maybe there is something more to Yeats than his Leda, Joyce’s all-over-the-show-formwise masterpiece, and Beckett’s streams-of-consciousness. I needed to build a bridge, have some patience and compassion, and get over it.

A few weeks later, I still am wrestling with Yeats. I still am rolling my eyes to 360-degrees whenever someone talks about ‘the symbolism in Yeats’ poetry on loss/Ireland/women etcetc’; but I am beginning to have respect. Not just for what Yeats achieved in his lifetime, but what he achieved in his poetry.

It’s self-focused because poetry is allowed to show the soul of the poet, to be the external-processing needed whenever tragedy strikes, and to give himself focal points to immortalise into epochs in the narrative of Irish history.

And Yeats isn’t narrow-minded. At least, not in the ways in which I used to think he was.

So now, as my quaggy mess of a brain starts to churn back into it’s working mode, and as I delve back into my work, I just want to encourage you to be open minded to the things that you’ll learn. Guard your heart (Pvb4:23) defiantly, but be wise. Don’t shut doors because of bad experiences: don’t close down a chance because you’re afraid of the consequences: don’t stop learning.

It’s how we grow up.

 

Love,

Nesta

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Setting the Record Straight

‘Make a little room in your plans for romance, Anne girl. All the degrees and the scholarships in the world can’t make up for the lack of it.’ – Anne of Green Gables

Confession: I love Gilbert Blythe. Always have, always will. It’s just a fact of life.

I have been in love with him, say, for most of my life. He is tall, dark, clever, funny, kind, devoted, a little proud, handsome and the first boy I’ve ever met who used Tennyson and the Bible within the same sentence to justify an argument. Unfortunately, he married Anne Shirley after a childhood and time of early youth growing together on Prince Edward Island, Canada.

He also, worst luck, is a fragment of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s imagination. He belongs to her world of legends and the færy beings that inhabit some corners of the world. 

His sole existence only within L.M. Montgomery’s stories is the truest thing about him. Despite all of my searching and watching and looking for a twenty-first century, Gen-X version of Gilbert, I cannot find him. Even committing this to type is painful. (Deep breath to calm nerves and wipe eyes) Moving on.

There are plenty of blogs out there telling the world about how brilliant Gilbert is. How he trumps Mr. Darcy, despite the latter’s income and penmanship; how he is a-hundred-thousand times better than Romeo who is a bit tragic, in the melter-kind-of-way; and one of the best male figures in literacy, ever. Period.

This may just be my opinion, but at a young age Gilbert told me something, through Charlie Sloane of course. He told me that ‘being smart was better than being pretty.’ This pretty much changed they way I thought about boys, my brains and all of the stuff we don’t get taught in school, all around the tender age of three.

Anne biffs GilbertConsider this then as an ode to Gilbert: to his love, character and perfection that will never be matched on earth. He wasn’t a saint however, and all the better for it. Anne sums up my feelings on the subject entirely; ‘I wouldn’t marry anyone who was really wicked: but I’d like to think that he could be wicked, and wasn’t.’

So without further adieu, I announce that Gil is my book-boyfriend. I’ll spend the rest of my days with his literary presence on my bookshelf and until any one reads of him in the Anne series or watches Jonathan Crombie act him, you may consider yourself on the bench.

With the love that’s left over,

Nesta xx

P.S. Anne girl, consider yourself privileged.

Bookish: North and South

As you may be aware, I love a good book. Or at least, a good story.

What better feeling is there than cuddling up on the sofa for an afternoon, knowing that these sheets of paper in your hands will influence your emotions, thoughts and coffee intake?

The short answer; there is no nicer feeling.

On a recent trip to London, I was deprived of these trusty home comforts during an afternoon’s reading. Nevertheless, it was an experience, however modest, that I will always treasure as special.

After a beautiful afternoon spent in the midst of Covent Garden, I decided to call into Waterstones, pick up a book and then find a park or coffee shop to sit in and loose myself for a few hours.

If, for some unfortunate reason, you have never set foot in a bookshop, then you are missing out.

Traditionally there is a higgle-de-piggildy type of organised chaos. Walls are lined with yards and yards of books, with titles ranging from books discussing the fall of the Roman Empire, to the proper way to reorganise bookshelves in your new apartment, to the black backed Penguin Classics.

Stepping amidst this oasis of book-lovers, I immediately started to scan the shelves, looking for a story to spend the afternoon revelling in.

Dragging myself out ten minutes later, I had in my hands one novel and one play; North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and (oh joy of joys!) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling and Jack Thorne.

I picked up North and South because over the past few months I had become increasingly interested in 18th and 19th century literature in my own university work. Despite the fact that I would love to tell you that the plight of the working class and their everyday struggle was my main motive in purchasing this book, I would be too precocious for words.

In reality it was this story’s central relationship between protagonist Margret Hale and the tall, dark and broody Mr. Thornton, that made this book an absolute need on my wish list.

Not going to lie to you either, I also had my interest peaked by Richard Ermitage’s beautifully detailed portrayal of Mr Thornton in the BBC’s production of this drama.

As for The Cursed Child, does one really need an excuse to delve into the world of Harry Potter?

Wandering around for somewhere to read, I found myself walking past the British Museum, around the back of Bedford Square and eventually found myself on the edge of Camden, in Russell Square Park. It was here then, that I settled down on a park bench to immerse myself in Gaskell’s imagination.

Until it started raining.

Then, Starbucks.

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The story of North and South follows a young woman, Miss Margret Hale, from her happily situated life, divided between her Father’s parish in picturesque Helstone, to the residence of her Aunt Shaw in Harley Street. Margret, who despite growing up beside her far prettier cousin, Edith, is the heroine who is accessible to all level-headed female readers; clever, practical, striking in her manner and equipped with a keen sense of wit. For this Margret becomes the much easier person to like of the two. Edith gets all she wants, including a marriage based on love, but Margret’s good sense makes her much easier to like.

Over the course of the story, Margret’s circumstances change with Edith’s marriage to a young and attractive Colonel Lennox and her own father’s decision to move his small family of three up from the southern hamlet of Helstone, to the cold, northern industrial town of Milltown.

It is from here that we really see what Margret’s character is full of. She shoulders responsibility of the household whenever her mother’s health deteriorates, meeting every new person and challenge with the same poise and ladylike ability that epitomises the ‘new woman’ heroine.

Unfortunately this ‘new woman’ status was not always well sought by wider society in the Victorian era. Gaskell therefore, had to introduce a plot line to sell her work.

Enter John Thornton.

It could be argued the whole narrative is about Margret and her relationship with Mr. Thornton. However, in saying this, some readers may be encouraged to think that this book is just a repeat of Pride and Prejudice’s love-hate relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy.

This is not the case in any shape of form.

While Margret’s friendship with Thornton was rocky at the best of times, the key fact was that they remained friendly towards each other. There was not a massive emotional upheaval at the first proposal, at least on Margret’s side, and neither was there a major excuse for her to reject Thornton’s advances, there rules out the George Wickham of the story.

Her father was even Mr Thornton’s tutor in the Classics, spending evenings talking about Ovid, Homer’s Iliad and Aristotle’s Poetics. This is a far cry from Darcy’s own education at Cambridge.

Thornton’s depth of character and utterly honest nature is so refreshing. This coupled with glimpses into his internal monologue creates a dimension to his character, which I had rarely come across in Victorian literature before. The feelings, which he holds for Margret, the friendship between himself and his friend Mr Hale, the relationship between even his own mother and sister, were shown through small intersections of Thornton’s internal monologue.

By creating Margret and Mr Thornton’s dynamic, Gaskell developed them into such colourful characters, which make this novel a delight to read. Not only do they depict the archetypal educated middle class of the Victorian era, but the relationship between the two allow the surrounding social issues to be given an appropriate platform to discuss these issues on.

If this is one of Gaskell’s novels that has been pushed out of the limelight, in favour of The Cranfield Chronicles, then this in my attempt at bringing it to the centre stage.

Gaskell, who was great friends with Charlotte Brontë, managed to move away from the gothic romanticism that Jane Eyre drips with. Maybe she avoided this style in North and South because she was a happily married woman who saw more in the world than her friend did. Yet despite the social awareness that permeates throughout Gaskell’s work, the relationships are often at the centre of her work. Ultimately, relationships between different people will always provide a relational subject that the novel’s audience can relate to.

This book is a dream to read. It is not always easy to read, this I grant you. The language can trip you up sometimes and yes, now and again you need to go back over certain paragraphs.

But that is just in the beginning five, ten chapters at most.

After that, you’ll just want to read the book over and over again once you finish. The plot lines are thick, the suspense is rife, the descriptions unimportant in the vast scale of character descriptions.

On a scale of one to ten, I would put North and South at a high eight.

 

I hope you enjoyed this new type of post. Yet again I will try and write more frequently, despite being back into uni and all of my reading lists.

Nesta xx