Thursday, 19 August 2010

Then the desire to accomplish something written swoops down...

... as Elizabeth Smart recorded in her journal entries for 1932.

Elizabeth Smart
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Cried.
I am not familiar with Smart's writing nor of her long term relationship with the poet George Barker (another new name to store in my literary index, another set of books to add to my Amazon wish list) but when reading about her I am drawn to her anxiety as a writer, it reads as something familiar, like my skin has been ripped open and my inner self revealed. Her words echo phrases and sentiments that I have often recorded in my own journals; they are my anxieties, my fears, my doubts about my own ability. Yet said so much more eloquently, with such poetry.

I often sit trying to find the words to say what I need to say, both in my private writings and in my academic ones and I am flabbergasted by my own ineptitude; my lack of vocabulary.  I am stunted compared to the likes of Mansfield, Woolf, West and Smart. And yet ironically I often find that their writing speaks to me in my own intuitive language and sometimes (when I am at my most delusional it has to be said) I wonder, maybe, just maybe I can write something like them. Something lasting and worthwhile, something that has integrity, meaning and above all truth. Something that speaks to another in our own language.

BUT - I have a thesis to write, ideas to formulate and a career to forge - I cannot afford to allow this self doubt cripple me. I have to merely 'get on with it' -  As Smart records - "Oh I need something but I don't know what it is ... I am cheating myself. I am not being myself ... All this pretending to get at the core. This must happen. It CAN. It WILL" [emphasis my own]

Now that the summer months are closing down and getting ready to greet the autumn, the children have returned to their routines of school and homework, perhaps I can begin to create some kind of routine (though I loathe that word and I am not good at sticking to any routines, even those I impose on myself).  It's a slow start. Reading is always good to get the inspiration flowing and the ideas percolating.

Then the desire to accomplish something written swoops down, with an even worse churning, and different yearnings all straining to begin, and remorse at beginning twenty and having done nothing.

The desire is strong but there are forms to be completed, formalities to be concluded and rewrites and new writes to be tackled.

Book Review

Currently reading (nearly finished) Lesley McDowell's 'Between the Sheets': The Literary Liaisons of Nine Twentieth Century Women Writers. It has been an interesting reading experience that has been blighted to a degree by the recurring typographical errors, such as misplaced commas, reversed letters, misspellings, grammatical faux pas. If I were Dr McDowell I would be having a word with my Editor as this has to be the worst proofreading I have seen in a published book for many years! There is also some sloppy research. McDowell claims that The English Review collapsed in 1910 after only a two year print run under the editorial hand of Ford Hermann Hueffer (later Ford Madox Ford) when in fact the journal continued to be published until 1920, under Austin Harrison's editorship - arguably the journal was never quite as radical as it had been under Hueffer, but nevertheless it didn't stop in 1910 when he left.  A full print run of ER as well as other  journals can be found at the Modernist Journals Project webpages where a comprehensive digital archive of little magazines, both American and British, is being compiled. 
It isn't as well written as I would have liked, given the subject matter and the author, who holds a Ph.D and of whom I would have expected slightly more competent prose. But it is a useful book that has introduced me to some new writers and facts that I was unaware of - though the slip up regarding the ER would possibly make me check her research, rather than rely on it. I am reading it mainly for the chapter on West which was useful for my research, but didn't give me anything 'new'. Arguably this book's originality lies in its compilation rather than its content. Much of the details are already common currency when talking about these women writer's. McDowell is attempting to reverse public opinion of these women as victims of male literary ego; the argument that their romantic/sexual literary couplings with prominent male authors was somehow empowering rather than damaging, is a little thin in places. Most of these relationships ended badly and involved a great deal of physical or mental suffering. McDowell would have us believe that despite this, their writing was somehow enhanced by the women's associations with literary men - as if their suffering was almost necessary to the creative process, and that the writing would never have achieved such heights without it... which I find to be quite a reductive and frankly dangerous message to peddle to young women artists. I would recommend this book, but would not recommend you take it too seriously, which is a shame and a disappointment for me as I had high hopes when I bought it. 

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