Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Nice to Meet You, Mr. Wells.

I’ve progressed from men of property to men of parts:  A Man of Parts by David Lodge.

David Lodge draws on letters, autobiography and novels to create a fictional biography of H. G. Wells. I haven’t read any books by Wells, in fact the only thing I knew about him prior to beginning this book was that he had a fairly unconventional marriage. Katie Roiphe’s Uncommon Arrangements explored Wells’ belief in free love: Basically whilst Wells was a married man, he had an arrangement with his wife that he could have affairs as and when he pleased. A Man of Parts focuses on the relationships Wells had with various mistresses and how that affected his career and beliefs.

I’ve only ever read one other fictional biography, which was The Paris Wife and was about Hemingway in the Paris literary scene of the 1920s. I really enjoyed that book because of the dynamic created by looking in on a circle of writers. A Man of Parts doesn’t disappoint in this way: H. G. Wells’  contemporaries were writers like Ford Madox Ford and Henry James. The discussion about why different writers choose to write was interesting. For example Henry James was portrayed in this novel as writing towards the higher (?) purpose of creating art itself. He was interested in beauty rather than structure. Wells in contrast was writing to change the world. He used his novels as a medium for expressing his social and political views. The discussion of writing was very welcome in a book about a writer; I enjoyed reading about how Wells worked best and how prolific his writing was.

H. G. Wells was a writer of a very particular era. (Yes, more war talk!) His writing prior to the war was political and heeded warning messages for the future. This changed to a very pessimistic and hopeless outlook after the second world war. He was also a socialist, and  advocated women’s rights, particularly for unmarried women with children… Whilst he was impregnating mistresses, he was looking after them!

You don’t need to have read H. G. Wells to appreciate this book, in fact, Lodge may just convince you to read them. The book relies heavily on the theory that art copies life, and so each of the novels appears to be a product of each period of H. G. Wells’ life. To such end, I now have Ann Veronica and Tono-Bungay ready and waiting. They aren’t so much science fiction as his more famous novels, more social commentary, and from parts of the book that I found most interesting. I’d also like to read Mr. Britling Sees It Through, but I will have to hunt out a second hand copy first as its out of print.

I’ll let you know what I think of H. G. Wells’ own writing in a few days…

Looking for Edwardians

Happy March to all! Its safe to say I am thoroughly sick of winter and am loving seeing the light last a little bit longer each evening. Firstly on a little side note I’d like to thank Jessica Francis Kane for featuring my review of The Report on her website. I’m chuffed!

Now that spring is here, it is time to indulge in my ever growing obsession with the Edwardians. The time that is always described as a perpetual summer before the horrors of war; and there is no better place to start than with The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy.

The family saga follows the Forsytes through the generations, the first book in the series is The Man of Property, set in the 1880s. I find this period of history so fascinating because it is so unique: the changing society between Victorians and Edwardians makes for a clash of changing attitudes. A lot of the book discusses the modernisation of marriage and relationships, particularly when it comes to things like divorce.

Galsworthy’s construction of the plot really gets you hooked, although there isn’t really defining moment contained in a sentence or a paragraph. Everything about this book is so gradual – finding out who the Forsytes are, what defines them in society, their wealth and pursuit of it… Reading it makes you completely complicit with their world.

At the end of the book there is the Interlude: Indian Summer of a Forsyte. which really secured the book in my affections. The writing is so beautiful, I have to include this quotation. Bear in mind, it looks like a spoiler, but it isn’t:

The stable clock struck four; in half an hour she would be here. he would have just one tiny nap, because he had had so little sleep of late; and then he would be fresh for her, fresh for youth and beauty, coming towards him across the sunlit lawn – lady in grey! And settling back in his chair he closed his eyes. Some thistledown came on what little air there was, and pitched on his moustache more white than itself. He did not know; but his breathing stirred it, caught there. A ray of sunlight struck through and lodged on his boot. A bumble-bee alighted and strolled on the crown of his Panama hat. And the delicious surge of slumber reached the brain beneath that hat, and the head swayed forward and rested on his breast. Summer – summer! So went the hum.

The stable clock struck the quarter past. The dog Balthasar stretched and looked up ay this master. The thistledown no longer moved. The dog placed his chin over the sunlit foot. It did not stir. The dog withdrew his chin quickly, rose, and leaped on old Jolyon’s lap, looked in his face, whined; then, leaping down, sat on his haunches gazing up. And suddenly he uttered a long, long howl.

But the thistledown was as still as death, and the face of his old master.

Summer – summer – summer! The soundless footsteps on the grass!

How can you read writing like that without falling in love?