Friday Reads

17612893

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a (according to the census) single woman, in her late twenties, of absolutely no fortune whatsoever, must have watched the BBC series as a preteen and fallen hopelessly in love with Pride and Prejudice.

I watched it on a Sunday night with my mum, and Monday mornings were spent comparing Feels About Mr Darcy with the other 11 year olds, owing to me going to a VERY good primary school where the rest of the girls also watch Period Dramas with their mum’s on a Sunday night.

I read the book, then read all of Austen’s other books, which I loved, and still loved up to last week (apart from Mansfield Park which is crap). I had Austen themed tea towels. I’ve written multiple massive essays about how much I love Austen. I’ve got a rather expensive bracelet made up of a Persuasion quote and when I was 18 I wrote the one essay for my A Levels that actually got an A on the use of satire in Northanger Abbey.

And now my heart feels like it had been ripped out and turned the right way round. I feel born again, renewed. I feel like I’ve realised I’ve got a skull on my cap badge and I’m the bad guy. And this is all because of this wonderful, wonderful book.

Longbourn is Pride and Prejudice from the servants perspective, but it is so much more than that. It is a social history of Britain at a time where the lower classes were being thoroughly shat upon by their so-called betters. I’m also reading Becoming Queen by Kate Williams at the moment, the biography of Princess Charlotte, George IV’s daughter who died in childbirth, and so am becoming more and more aware of the politics of the time but it is SO GOOD to be able to read  a book about a working woman from the period, as you do tend to hear about posh people rather than anything else.

Sarah, one of the Bennet’s housemaids, is fed up with her life but has no tangible way out of it. She dreams of travel, of London, of handsome men who will say handsome things to her-but of course this is the life reserved for a masters the Bennet girls who are ‘pretty and good, and therefore deserve good and pretty things’. Meanwhile Sarah must wash the period blood off their handkerchiefs and mud off Elizabeth’s petticoats and try not to burst the blisters on her palms.

Into Sarah’s life, and the lives of the other servants at Longbourn including the long-suffering but kindly Mrs Hill who is the only servant mentioned by name in the original book, comes a new face. James Smith, arriving in the dead of night and presenting himself mysteriously to Mr Bennet, is employed as footman-which brings great esteem to the Bennet household and men are more expensive to employ so make the family appear richer to their neighbours.

James’ arrival is not the only change in the neighborhood-Netherfield Park is let at last (much to the chagrin of its housekeeper who then has the mammoth task of airing and redecorating all of the rooms). Along with Mr Bingley comes his army of servants, including his own, black, footman, who joined the party from his Caribbean estates and likes England because it means he is no longer a slave.

And this is where I paused. Because of course Bingley’s wealth would come from slavery, as would the money of pretty much every high-ranking person with no title in the novel. It sickened me, to think that I hadn’t thought of this before. I was incredibly ashamed of not linking the periods in my head before and it made me think about Austen so very differently. Because she writes her heroes that you’re supposed to fall in love with, and you do, but they are actually scum. Slaving, evil scum. And I fell for this! I’ve fancied Mr Darcy since I was eleven and he associates himself with those who more than likely make money from the notion that you can own a person. Why have I NEVER cottoned on to this? Why aren’t we TALKING about this? Why is our literary heritage so utterly dissociated with our, quite frankly shameful, social one? I wrote a letter to my MP asking for Austen to be put on a BANK NOTE FFS and she was writing positively about SLAVERS. I am disgusted with myself.

This aside, the book is about hard work, and no rest, and living your life at the whims of others. The Bennet girls become petty, thoughtless, bitches. Yes, their situation may be massively limited compared to that of the men, but they are so utterly privileged compared to the servants and the other working class people that would have surrounded them.

The novel is also excellent in how it works the other characters. Mr Wickham, who in P&P is a cad and a bounder who acts appallingly on occasion because a terrifying predator -we are suddenly very much aware that, in P&P, those are children he is seducing. Mr Collins is seen through the eyes of those who are desperate to remain in employment when Mr Bennet dies, and the marriage to Charlotte Lucas becomes something else entirely.

The book is also a love story, and a good one at that. It is real and vivid and well-played. It matches the action of Pride and Prejudice exactly, but is more than that. As a book in its own right it is wonderful, I’d have loved Sarah and James and Mrs Hill even if they weren’t servants to the Bennet household. I’ve never read anything by Jo Baker before but boy is that changing now!

Loved it, hated myself for a bit whilst reading it, but loved it. You NEED to read this book. I’m now looking forward to the Pride and Prejudice celebration at Morley Lit Fest tomorrow more than anything else in the world, though I might burst into tear when I see her and scream YOU MADE ME HATE ELIZABETH BENNET AND WHAT DO I DO NOW??? at her.

Book of the year.

Advertisements

What I’m Up To This Week

This week I’m mostly darting around Yorkshire Looking At Things.

I’m one of the guest reviewers for The Pickeld Egg , Ilkley’s What’s On guide and official blog of the Ilkley Lit Fest, so I’m going to a LOT of events with them. I’ve reviewed Alexandra Harris and Maggie O’Farrell so far and shall stick more links up on here as and when.

On Friday I’m off to the preview of the Place and Memory art exhibition running in Holy Trinity Church, one of my favourite setting for art exhibitions in the city. Place and Memory looks at hidden corners of the city using personal and collective memories from eight different artists. I’m not massively arty, but I do like something different, and in a very book-heavy week I’m looking forward to expanding my mind in other ways.

I’m currently reading Jo Baker’s amazingly brilliant book Longbourne, I’ve been nose-to-spine with this most of the weekend and the story of the servants side of Pride and Prejudice is just such a brilliant idea-especially the story of Hill the housekeeper-you wonder why no one has done it before. I’ll be going to the celebration of Pride and Prejudice in Morley on Saturday as part of the Morley Lit Fest which also kicked off last week. REALLY looking forward to that.

Then on Saturday night I’ll be joining ForBooksSake as they take over the Ilkley Lit Fest for one night only, with their literary pub quiz. Haven’t hung with the ForBooksSake massive since the Women’s Lit Fest in Bristol back in March so that’ll be awesome.

We’re also, this week, putting the final final touches to the Leeds LadyFest programme of events for the 19th October. We’ve got a Cunning Plan to have facilitated round table discussions timetabled throughout the day on various issues that are important to us and those coming to LadyFest. So far we’ve got proposals of discussions on Body Positive living, the experiences of working class women within feminism, BUT WE WANT MORE! As I’ve said before, we REALLY want to cover all experiences and issues and so if there is something we aren’t doing or covering, PLEASE let me know. If you want to pitch a discussion you can lead please please please email me bookelfleeds at gmail dot com.

Tickets for LadyFest are on sale, so if you want a ticket, get in there quick! You must be a member of Wharf Chambers or a guest of a member to attend.

Oh, and it’s Leeds Meeples on Sunday! And I don’t know about you, but after everything else this week, I’m going to need to get my board game on!

This is my friend's cat, Pam, who I was looking after this weekend, having a lovely snooze. This is what I shall look like during most of November!

This is my friend’s cat, Pam, who I was looking after this weekend, having a lovely snooze. This is what I shall look like during most of November!

Wakefield Lit Fest

I was delighted this year to be invited to take the Travelling Suitcase LIbrary to Wakefield Lit Fest for the second year. I said last year how impressed I was by the scope and creativity of the festival and this year the team’s hard work has clearly paid off with double the authors, talks and events. I can’t even imagine the amount of work that goes into creating a festival like this so all credit to them .

WLF1

Once again I set up shop in the Orangery, a beautiful house and garden next to Wakefield Westgate train station. This time I was in the temporary cafe, built presumably to cater for visitors to A Maze For Yorkshire, which closes on Saturday. I went round the maze myself (being over four foot tall I was at a slight advantage in being able to see round the corners) and it was a real giggle. I love the Orangery, and think it is a beautiful space and would make a cracking venue for a wedding or a very posh party.

WLF2

The swap itself went well, I saw a few familiar faces and there were a couple of people who had been the year before and loved the books they took so I was really pleased to be able to swap books with them again. This was probably the first swap I’ve ever done in a couple of years where I came away with less books than I went with, which I was very grateful for on the ridiculously busy train home.

I came away with a couple of Jennifer Weiner’s I’ve not read, so am looking forward to that. I also had a weird conversation about why this is a ‘Lit Fest’ rather than a literature festival. I’ve never really thought about it, I always just say lit fest, because I go to so many and it is easier to say, but these men seemed really upset by the shortening of it and I felt unable to respond. I hope they find a satisfactory explanation at some point!

All in all though, a lovely, tea filled evening. Thank you Wakefield!

Lit Fest Love

So a few months ago now, Leeds got all ansy about the editor of Granta magazine being quoted as saying Leeds was “completely out of the literary world”, which I wrote a post about.

bookmarks

This morning, my basic premise that actually Leeds and Yorkshire in general is amazing for literary events and we should be bloody thankful for that was proved true by the launch of the Ilkley Lit Fest programme, and an email announcing the headline acts for Wakey Lit Fest.

Ilkley this year includes Alexander McCall Smith of the Ladies’ Detective Agency fame, Germaine Greer, Shirley Williams, and Sarah Dunant, whose latest book Blood and Beauty I reviewed a couple of weeks ago and is marvellous.

What I’m most looking forward to, however, is Maggie O’Farrell, on Saturday 5 October. Maggie O’Farrell is the author of bestsellers The Vanishing of Esme Lennox and The Hand That First Held Mine, her latest Instructions for the Heatwave I reviewed for ForBooksSake a while back.

For me, however, she is the woman who wrote the book that made me cry more that anything else other than possibly The Red Tent as a teenager. After You’d Gone is simply a beautiful beautiful piece of writing, includes the best description of a first date ever ever and a relationship that to be honest I’ve been measuring every one in my life to, which is I know a stupid thing to do (it being fictional and all) but read it, and I’m sure you’ll understand. I’m going to meet Maggie O’Farrell and I’m just going to cry in front of her I know it.

And Wakey is just as mint! Tracy Chevalier, whose latest book The Last Runaway I reviewed earlier this year and enjoyed massively, is one of the headliners on the 21 September, which I’m also massively looking forward to. The full programme isn’t being announced until the 19 August, but I’m sure will live up to expectations! I’m also planning a wee book swap and if that’s as wonderful as last year’s I’ll be in for a treat of a night-that was the book swap that saw me discover The Group!

And of course marginally closer to home we’ve got Morley Lit Fest, another of my highlights of the year.

I’m going to be going to see Alison Weir on Sunday 6 October for sure, she’s discovered A Dangerous Inheritance, which is now out in paperback and marvellous.

A very very busy looking September/October  for me AND we’ve got LadyFest on the 19th October. So don’t expect to see much of me outside of a festival until gone half term!

Leeds LadyFest/Big Bookend/Summer summer summer time

After a month of doing seemingly nothing but uni work, I’m so happy to be getting back in the swing of things. I love learning about librarianship, but sometimes one can read too much about the importance of the reference interview…

This weekend is another great example of how ace Leeds is. On Friday I’m going to the Leeds LadyFest fundraiser at Wharf Chambers, which is a Rocky Horror themed party. They will be screening the film from 7.45pm, and will be selling bags of props to join in and get the ‘proper’ Rocky Horror experience. If you’ve never ‘done’ Rocky Horror before you should, it is hilar, and from £5 on the door in a safe environment you can dress up, or not, have a good giggle and raise money for LadyFest, which will be happening in October.

Then on Saturday I am so very very excited to be going to see one of my favourite historical fiction authors, Anne O’Brien, at the Leeds Big Bookend Festival, which is running across the city centre over the weekend and you should definitely check out. I discovered Anne O’Brien at last year’s festival, during the talk on women’s historical fiction, which was fascinating (in fact you can see the back of my (then ginger) head in this photo which I have shamelessly nicked from the Big Bookend website).

I read The Virgin Widow before the talk, which is about Anne Neville and takes a very different stance on her life and marriages to The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory, which I believe is part of this here White Queen thang that’s on the telly soon. I read The King’s Concubine over Christmas and loved it. She writes very easy to read but really gripping accounts of various historical women, and wrote for Harlequin Romances for years so knows how to keep up pace and plot and is a fantabulous speaker and I am SO looking forward to seeing her again!

AND it is going to be sunny, and I get to sit in the park with a Nice Boy for a bit of this weekend IhopeIhope so on an extremely personally level literally nothing could be better! Hooray for Leeds!

Completely Out of the Literary World?

Living in Leeds, according to John Freeman, the editor of Granta magazine, quoted in The Guardian yesterday, makes you “completely out of the literary world”.

Freeman was speaking in reference to the hometownof Sunjeez Sahota, a writer whose work I have not read, who was including in the magazine’s 20 most promising young writer’s list. I don’t know anything about how Sahota got into reading or writing, but I do know this-saying that living in Leeds makes you ‘out of the literary world’ is xenophobic, incorrect, and further evidence of a London orientated arts culture that rips the heart out of the North and then tells us it’s our fault for being so oafish and uncultured.

Leeds has a vibrant, and growing, literary culture. The people of Leeds swap books, go to bookish events, support local writers, and discuss what they are reading in a variety of ways, all of which are celebrated and welcomed in the city. Libraries, social clubs and bookshops work together to support and promote literary initiatives and, from LadyFest to I Love West Leeds, literacy and literature is interwoven with arts, music and other creative enterprises to form part of a pulsating, vibrant, local culture, often run by people doing it on a shoestring or no budget, for free, for the love of it, in their own time.

Leeds has two local literature festivals within city boundaries; Headingley Lit Fest, whose mission statement is to highlight Headingley’s historical and contemporary contribution to literature, and the ever-expanding Morley Lit Fest, which last year included events by AL Kennedy, Fiona Shaw and Monique Roffey.  These festivals are not only excellent examples of local people coming together to create something marvellous, they’re also very very good value for money – especially compared to that beacon of literature in the North, Ilkley Literature Festival-a mere half hour away from Leeds. We are hardly strapped for literary things to see and do.

 This year sees the return of the Leeds City Centre Big Bookend, where local writers present their work. This festival is also creating its own ‘writers under 40 to watch’ list in the form of the LS13 Writers competition, which no doubt Granta will be subsequently ignoring, it not counting until London notices you.

What I suspect Freeman means is that Leeds isn’t the home of any major publishing houses, and you don’t see many agents wooing fabulous clientele in Wagamama’s Trinity. Except there are, and they probably do, in between signing books in a pen shop (?).

This quote has made a lot of people, including myself, who had dedicated a hell of a lot of time, effort and my own money over the past three years on the Leeds lit scene, a bit miffed. But it’s also brought just how big the lit scene in Leeds is to the forefront of a debate, and that is something that, actually, we should be thankful for.

If you live in Leeds, and are as pissed off as me at this, join me in celebrated our literary scene on World Book Night, on Tuesday 23 April, in Arcadia, Headingley from 7. I’ll be packing the Travelling Suitcase Library to the brim with wonderful reads, let’s show em that Leeds Loves Literature, and no flippant comment from someone who should know better is going to change that fact.

Hats!

I’ve been all over the place this last week, wearing various different hats (though still can’t afford a tiny top hat…).

On Thursday I wore my book hat and hosted a Recommended Read/Travelling Suitcase Library event for World Book Day as part of Ryedale Book Festival. Held at the Old Lodge Hotel in Malton, which is possibly the poshest place I have ever been to (they had individual faceclothes to dry your hands in in the loo…) the evening was delightful, and I met a few local authors (and got some new books!) and also met my Gran’s favourite Jessica Blair, also known as Bill Spence, a genuinely lovely gentleman who gave me a lot of supportive advice.

Me Bill Spence

Then on Saturday I was wearing my Isn’t Leeds Brilliant hat. Love Rouge, my favourite bakery in Headingley, is back open and massive, with an upstairs dining area, and still serving the most delicious cupcakes, as well as breakfasts and a huge range of teas. Although I couldn’t stop for breakfast (which I WILL be doing At Some Point) I did treat myself to some of their delicious cupcakes, including the red velvet and the nutella cupcakes making my kitchen look sexy below.

Cupcakes

Then in the afternoon I volunteered to help out on the tea and cake stall at Left Bank Leeds during another fantastic Steampunk Market, which I always go and spend far too much money in. This year being no exception, I walked away with the cutest purple handbag, two pairs of earrings and a couple of comics. I loved working on the tea stall, and can strongly recommend giving a few hours of your weekend to help a great cause, the more I learn about Left Bank the more I love it. I also got to go in the Vestry, which was a bit of a treat! The tea stall was serving cakes and buns by Murtons Bakery, on Cardigan Road, and I can confirm their jam tarts are spectacular.

Me Left Bank

All in all, a cracking weekend. Mother’s Day is never the happiest of weekends for me and throwing myself into having a Lovely Time made this one my favourite for a while!