Thursday, 28 May 2009

Jane's Fame

Author of bestselling biographies Claire Harman was a Visiting Fellow at Chawton House Library in 2008. BBC Radio 4 have adapted her latest book Jane's Fame for their book of the week at the beginning of June. It starts on Monday 1 June:

It is being read by actress Alice Krige and will be on at 9.45 every morning or you can catch up with it on BBC i-player.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Reading Group 18 May 2009 - The Last Man by Mary Shelley

Our final session of the 2008-2009 schedule was held at the Thedden Grange, home of Sheila, one of the group members. We thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful lunch prepared for us all and the house was so beautiful some of us wanted to move in! Thedden Grange has Austen/Knight/Lefroy family connections and made a more than appropriate setting for our discussion of this month's book, The Last Man by Mary Shelley, which though set in 2073 is a Romantic novel with an apocalyptic vision strikingly like a John Martin painting.

The future visions of Shelley imagine Britain as a republic with a benign protector voted in for 3 years, and after a brutal war between Greece and the Turkish Empire there is a brief period of peace and progress in a democratic Europe; winged flying machines are also imagined, where hot air balloons have mechanised feathered wings to increase their speed. Notably there is no use of steam power's applications at the time Shelley is writing - her Utopia is one of education; reading, writing, discussion and moral imperatives. The Industrial Revolution' s dirt and danger has no part in Shelley's London with its new museum celebrating the achievements of humankind, or the idyl of Verney's life in Windsor. The world Shelley creates is destroyed by pestilence, an indiscrimate destructive force that sweeps away not only those that Verney loves, but all of humanity leaving him alone, the last man.

What Shelley does supremely well is to display a perceptive understanding of human nature and human relationships. At the age of 26 she creates characters whose lives, experiences, thoughts and actions demonstrate considerable experience and understanding of human desires, and the consequences of peoples' choices. In her letters at the time of writing the novel she expresses her own feelings of desolation at losing nearly everyone she has loved - bereft, alone like Verney. She writes of love and loss, betrayal and forgiveness, of noble ambitions and the waste of war. Humanity can apply itself to overcome the problems it creates for itself but it is defeated by inexplicable events like Shelley's epidemic, or the real events of the volcanic explosions of Krakatoa (1883), or Mount Tambora (1816) which inspired Byron's poem 'Darkness'. In The Last Man some of the characters are defeated, like people in Shelley's own life, by despair and take their own lives. Verney is unable to do this and continues on his own,' A solitary being is by instinct a wanderer', hoping that each new place will ameliorate his condition. Verney, like other survivors in Shelley's writing voyages off in a boat at the end and we have the image of a solitary figure sailing away to an unknown fate.

The Last Man is a novel which has transparently autobiographical influences, in particular Adrian who is clearly a portrait of Percy Pyssche Shelley, and Raymond of Byron. The author creates a sympathetic character in Raymond, good, kind and brave, but human and able to behave badly. He is, however, not morally corrupt and in her grief over Byron's death Shelley creates a friend's portrait of Byron that is very much at odds with his public persona.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Mary Wollstonecraft - 250 years on

The BBC are celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mary Wollstonecraft with a series of three letters addressed to her The first is by Janet Todd on Wollstonecraft's treatise Thoughts on the Education of Daughters and there are 3 days left to listen to it on BBC i-player. The second will be Richard Reeves updating Wollstonecraft on her ideas about republicanism. The BBC link will take you to the information page with the episode and schedule details.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Reading Group schedule 2009 - 2010

The reading group has continued busily since September 2008 reading a range of books including The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals by Dorothy Wordsworth and The Wanderer by Frances Burney. As a slight departure, the final book of the 2009-2010 season will be Elizabeth’s Gaskell’s Ruth because 2010 is the bicentennial anniversary of Elizabeth Gaskell’s birth and she had local connections, owning a house, The Lawns, in Holybourne, Alton.

18 May 2009 The Last Man by Mary Shelley

Summer break from June 2009 – August 2009

21 September 2009 A Simple Story (1791) by Elizabeth Inchbald

19 October 2009 Letters written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (1796) by Mary Wollstonecraft

16 November 2009 Millenium Hall (1762) by Sarah Scott

21 December 2009 The Sylph (1779) by Georgiana Cavendish Devonshire

18 January 2010 The History of Mary Prince: a West Indian Slave (1831) by Mary Prince

15 February 2010 Oroonoko: or the history of the royal slave (1688) by Aphra Behn

15 March 2010 Coelebs in search of a wife: comprehending observations on domestic habits and manners, religion and morals (1809) by Hannah More

19 April 2010 The Wonder (1714) by Susannah Centlivre

17 May 2010 Ruth (1853) by Elizabeth Gaskell.

For more information please contact the Library on 01420 541010 or