Behind the scenes in the bookshop.

bookshop Ruth & AnnieI’m unpacking books with Annie.  Can this really be work?  Feels like Christmas to me.  I breath in that special massed-book atmosphere and can’t wipe the grin off my face.

Make no mistake, this is my summer holiday.  We’ve already had a swim in the Moray Firth, and a ramble with our dogs along the marshy shoreline.  Those were good, very good, especially that dip in the invigorating North Sea.

The highlight though, is my book day.  I’m a little old for work-experience, but offering to help gets me close. One of my not-so-secret fantasy-occupations has always been bookseller.  If there’s one thing more tantalising than browsing shelves, it’s got to be glimpses of well-stocked store-cupboards behind the counter.  Who knows what treasures wait there. Can this be bettered?

Oh yes, when a box, or bag, comes in for unpacking.  Stories spill out.  ‘No one,’ says Ruth, ‘offers to sell books to the bookshop without telling us why.’  I think of the boxes I’ve delivered to charity shops over this last year, and how I’ve carefully explained about my neighbour moving house, or my aunt, clearing space.

Ruth is deftly sorting a box.  She turns each book over and flicks through the pages, looking for damage, not quality of story or writing. She knows what’s popular, I don’t, and there are shelves and shelves of books on the other side of the counter.  I’m drawn to the spines on the vintage shelves.  As I’m dealing in alternative-me scenarios, I should say that in that world, these are what my walls would be lined with instead of wallpaper.

book shelves

I’m tempted, but resist them as too much responsibility.  It’s not that I don’t look after my books, exactly.  But I don’t take care of them the way Ruth and Annie do the Logie Steading Bookshop, which has no trace of spider-webs in the corners, or dust.  When I return home and notice how unkempt my shelves are, I spend an hour improving them.  It won’t last, though for a few days it’s good for my soul to see them all gleaming.

bookshopMeanwhile, will you just look at all those books?  I wasn’t looking for Narnia, but there’s something about an open door that demands I step through.  It’s no wonder that by the time I drifted back to the desk I’d gathered a heap of books.  How long did it take? I’ve no idea, time lost all meaning.  Which is just how it should be, isn’t it?

This is all so unlikely for my alternative-bookseller-self, who I can’t help feeling a little worried about. I suspect she’s liable to spend a lot of time reading her stock when she should be concentrating on customers.

 

 

 

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Thoughts on some Agatha Christie short stories.

Ag christie regatta_mysteryMy copy of, The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories, claims that Agatha Christie is ‘The Queen of Mystery’, and I’m inclined to believe that might be a fair assessment.  How many other writers have won the esteem of such a vast raft of readers over so many decades?  I can think of only a handful.

Most authors who have had time in the limelight eventually drift out of fashion, even in the second-hand market.  Some will be picked up again by publishers who specialise in reminding us of neglected, but worthwhile reads, many more will fade.  That’s fine, it has to be, or where is the room for new writers?

Agatha Christie, though, seems to have a special place in this system.  I’m not going to claim she’s universally loved or admired.  I’ve met plenty of people, including readers of mystery, who don’t rate her for various reasons. Still, her books continue to be published, and bought.  Last time I saw my friend Ruth, the bookseller, she told me Christie was one of her most asked for authors.

So, what’s the trick?  I think Christie is like a good quality bar of chocolate: comforting.  In her novels we’re in fairly safe hands.  The murdered are usually people we either don’t know, or aren’t sure we like, and the solution is generally tricky to predict.  We might be able to identify romances in the making, but you’ve got to be a careful reader to assemble the crime-clues correctly.

Romance might be the key.  Characters, generally with forgivable flaws, are gradually revealed to be secretly falling for someone who seems to be unsuitable.  Often they mistakenly suspect the object of their attention is the guilty party, and are conflicted about providing vital evidence. In the process of discovering this, they learn something about themselves.

Oh dear, how cynical I sound.  But, break any story down, and doesn’t it become flat? In a Christie novel main characters, even the caricatures, are not flat.  They have quirky dialogue, or entertaining mannerisms. They’re active and interesting, digging up red-herrings to keep me guessing.

In the past, I’ve read a lot of Christie’s short and long fiction.  As I contemplated the Harper/Collins paperback I thought about why I’ve preferred her novels.  Had I given the short-stories a fair read?  I flicked a couple of pages over.  Nothing else had caught my eye, and this paperback was less than a pound. Reader, I bought it.

I’d like to be able to say I had a revelation, but I don’t want to mislead you.  The stories are nicely written.  Setting and situation are delivered economically.  There’s snappy dialogue, tight plotting with twists that I mostly didn’t foresee, and neat solutions.  So, I’ve been asking myself, ‘why don’t I like them?’

In general, these felt dated, and irrelevant in a way that her novels don’t.  The novels draw me in gently, settle me into situations far outside of my experience, whether that means a smart ‘otel on a private island, an archaeological dig in a desert, or dinner at a crumbling stately home.  There are introductions, a chance to find my feet.

The short stories dropped me into an upper-middle-class 1930s world, often with characters I’d never met before.  Four of the stories featured Poirot. ‘Phew,’ I thought, ‘throw me a life-buoy, Hastings, old chap, will you? Please?’  He tried.  Miss Marple tried too.  I couldn’t adjust.  I tried to think myself into the period.  These, after all, were not written with an eye to the future. It felt like hard-work.

Sometimes a lot of characters tried to hold my attention, in others several significant doors were opened or shut in the same paragraph. The focus was on the puzzle, and some puzzles seemed big for the space they occupied.

Was there one story I liked? I’m afraid not: there were fragments.

‘Problem at Pollena Bay’ came closest.  The premise was so simple I actually worked out the solution, but the characterisation was strong.

Am I sorry I read them?  No, I learnt a lot by working out what I didn’t like.   I’m not sure I need to re-read them, though I’ve not given up on Christie’s short stories.  Apparently she wrote over 100.  I’ve a long way to go.

Empire building.

Graves 1934 - I ClaudiusThis week I finished reading I Claudius, by Robert Graves. I’ve been chipping away at the pages for more than seven days, content to take it slowly.  This is a hefty read.  I’m not talking about page numbers here.  I mean it has a big cast, and covers a lot of history.  I’ve had to concentrate, or become lost in the labyrinth of names and connections, even after I discovered the handy family tree at the back.

No wonder the book has been waiting on my shelf for more years than I care to number.  It might have stayed there longer if Jean Lee hadn’t nudged me, when discussing my Elizabeth & Mary post. On her recommendation I dusted off Graves and stepped in.

It’s AD 41, and Claudius is writing ‘this strange history of my life’.  To explain himself, though, he must also explain his parents, and grandparents, who have all been prominent Romans.

Claudius skips back and forth through time, referring to various key events in the decline of the Republic and the establishment of his Grand-uncle, Augustus, as Emperor.  Characters, Graves demonstrates, are formed by their pasts.

In this story that premise is somewhat simplified.  It’s focus is the Claudian family.

…one of the most ancient of Rome…There is a popular ballad…of which the refrain is that the Claudian tree bears two sorts of fruit, the sweet apple and the crab, but that the crabs out-number the apples.

I don’t think I’m giving much away if I say that ‘good’ Claudians are largely defined by their desire to re-establish the Republic, and work for the greater good.  ‘Bad’ Claudians long for power, and believe me, when they are bad, they are very, very bad.

I liked the reticence of Claudius.  Dark deeds are explained, but not in graphic detail, and the darkest ones of all are hinted at.  Graves doesn’t hang about.  He creates a scene with a few telling details, then moves on. Even the fight scenes, which he seemed to enjoy, were not dwelled upon.

So thanks Jean.  You were quite right, I did find it a rewarding read.  I didn’t expect to, I’m not sure I wanted to, but I became involved.  Look at this opening sentence:

 I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as ‘Claudius the Idiot’, or ‘That Claudius’, or ‘Claudius the Stammerer’, or Clau-Clau-Claudius’ or at best as ‘Poor Uncle Claudius’, am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the ‘golden predicament’ from which I have never since become disentangled.

You have to applaud, don’t you? Clause follows clause yet doesn’t lose me along the way. It establishes a character I am inclined to empathise with.  Here’s a modest chap, it says, despite my great name: and what about these other names I endured for forty-three years?

Claudius has been a treat to look forward to.  I’ve needed only a chapter, maybe two, each day, until I got to the last fifty pages or so.  Then I had to sit down and race to the end.

This book is an epic, and should satisfy readers on that level.  What raises it above many others in the epic-style, for me, were the moments when I emerged from the text with a shiver of recognition.  It was published, in 1934, and was read then, by many, as an allegory for the situation in Europe.  I suppose, by their natures, good allegories can continue to seem relevant.

What I was taught, when I listened…

an inspector calls‘Hey, Cath, I’ve got to tell you about this,’ said Kay, as I stepped into the kitchen last night. ‘We’ve been reading An Inspector Calls, and half-way through our teacher stopped us and made us watch a video of the ending, and she completely spoiled it, because it made the ending rubbish.  I was SO disappointed: I was really looking forward to finding out what happened, and she gave us a stupid version. Can you believe it?  We actually get to read something I like, and then she has to ruin it.’

I hung my coat on the back of a chair and took my place at the table.  ‘That’s rough.’

‘I know.  But I’m still going to read it to the end, because they completely got it wrong, and I know what should have happened.  Besides, it’s a set book, so we have to.’

‘Good.  It is a great play, isn’t it?  Perhaps you should go and see a theatre version now, and get another perspective.’

‘That’s what I want to do.’

It’s lovely getting an unexpected gift.

Throughout the last three years Kay has been responding to my hopeful questions about how she’s finding her English classes with a range of negatives, dismissing some of my long-term favourites as ‘boring’ or ‘silly’. In combination with similar reports from some of my other nieces, I’d begun to wonder if my old favourites were going to become part of a specialist reading list rather than a pleasurable one.

As my gran used to say, every dog has it’s day. Maybe it is harder for children of the digital age to relate to descriptions of lives lived in the early industrial age, and classic literature will move forwards to the 1940s or later.

I’ve frequently thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t grow up with the same reading lists that earlier generations had. Authors fall out of fashion, but they rarely disappear completely.  There have been a lot of pre-Victorian novels I’ve failed to complete, and I can’t think of one that I regret, so far – I’m always prepared to be persuaded on that, of course.

In a previous post I’ve worried whether the latest methods for teaching literature in secondary schools are damaging reading patterns, but Kay’s joy in the Priestly text came from an immediate engagement with the story.  Her disappointment was because someone else had imposed their interpretation on her.  She wanted to understand the character developments and motivations on her own terms.

That’s what reading is about, isn’t it?

Stories that matter

 

Cheltenham Literature Festival 2017

September 2017, a phone call from Claire.

‘The ticket line opens in five days, Cath, are you up for the Cheltenham Booker this year?  It’s 1937.  I’ve got the reading list.’

‘Great, any you know?’

‘I read Mice & Men years ago, for school, and I’ve seen the film of the Hobbit – does that count?’

‘Pretty much, I think.’

‘The rest I’ve never heard of.  I’ll text you the list.’

Text from Claire:

Which 1937 title deserves to win our very own Booker? Our all-star line-up of Damian Barr, Adam Kay, Jackie Kay, Adam Thorpe and Alex Wheatle discuss A.J. Cronin’s The Citadel, Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. They fight it out to determine which would have triumphed, had The Man Booker Prize existed eighty years ago. Chaired by James Walton, with an introduction by John Coldstream.

Saturday 14th October at the Lit.Fest with Claire: 1.30pm.

‘Good seats, Claire.’

‘Thanks, have you read any of the other books?’

‘Only extracts off the internet, and plot summaries. You?’

‘No.  I’m waiting to hear the outcome, then I might buy the winner.  I love this event, it’s introduced me to so many good writers.  I bought another Elizabeth Taylor the other day.’

 

chelt booker 2017

2.45pm, overheard in the crush on the way out.

‘Steinbeck should have won.’

‘Don’t you think the panel caved-in quickly at the end?’

‘I’m just going to the bookshop for the Zora Neale Hurston, first. I’ll meet you at the Hive in about ten minutes.’

‘I still can’t believe they knocked out Hemmingway in the first round.’

‘Well, does it matter if the characters are all male?’

‘I agree with Adam Thorpe, I don’t like plots to be too tidy.’

‘Not too dark though, surely.’

‘…so I’m going to read it again….’

‘What if it is a children’s book?  Animal Farm nearly won last year.’

‘Are the female characters only in the film, then?’

‘Personally I won’t read fantasy. Fiction should be realistic, not about fairies and dwarves…’

‘Amazing to think it’s really about The Somme.’

‘Actually, this is my ninth Booker.’

‘…and it reminded me of Doc Martin…of course so did Doctor Finlay, now I think about it.’

‘But is it a book only of it’s time?’

‘The thing is, this is an authentic black woman’s voice at a time when there is no black voice.’

‘That first line is just beautiful.’

‘…and I’ve always liked Maya Angelou, so it’ll be interesting to see how she compares.’

‘I can’t think how I’ve never heard of her before.’

chelt lit fest

I’d like to recommend Elizabeth Jane Howard.

elizabeth jane howardThe Long View is a novel told in reverse.  It begins with a portrait of the marriage of Antonia and Conrad Fleming in 1950, when their son is getting engaged, and then steps back through various key moments in the adult life of Antonia.  Hmm, I thought, turning the novel over, shall I: shan’t I?

Could I care about the domestic angst of an upper-middle-class, middle-aged woman in the 1950s?  I tried the first page, ‘This, then, was the situation.

I do like beginnings in media res, a technical term that translates to ‘into the middle of things’.  Clearly this is not a high-octane action sequence, it’s something much more juicy.  ‘Want a bit of gossip?’ the narrator is saying, leaning in close over our coffee cups.  ‘I’m going to share secrets.’

This, then, was the situation.  Eight people were to dine that evening in the house at Campden Hill Square.  Mrs Fleming had arranged the party (it was the kind of unoriginal thought expected of her, and she sank obediently to the occasion) to celebrate her son’s engagement to June Stoker.

Then there’s that lovely piece of subtlety, ‘she sank obediently to the occasion’.  Lovely, a narrator who will leave me room to work things out.  I was hooked. Time to step back from the stereotyping and residual prejudices, and see what a skilled writer can do with a domestic situation.

On arrival the men would be politely wrenched from their overcoats, their hats, umbrellas, evening papers, and any other more personal outdoor effects by the invaluable Dorothy, until reduced to the uniformity of their dinner jackets…

Remember I said this is a story told in reverse?  It isn’t flashback, with the narrator balancing the pressures and consequences of previous events against an on-going development, this is an exact reversal of time.  Once we have gathered what the situation is in 1950, that segment closes and we step into 1942.

That’s a tricky game to play.  In a novel I’m expecting some sense of continuity, of development.  There are five segments to this story, taking us back in uneven stages to 1926.  Each requires us to begin again with setting, situation and characters, and go forward for a while, getting to know a younger Antonia.  How will she do it, maintain my interest, my belief in the wholeness of this concept?

Well, one trick is repetition.  Here’s the beginning for 1942:

‘The situation is perfectly simple.  All you have to do is to meet me from the 7.38 at Euston.’

Thus Mr Fleming on a trunk call from the previous night from goodness knows where.  Indeed, put like that, what could be simpler?  With the world at war, meticulously grinding vast cities exceeding small; with such catastrophes as Singapore and Dunkirk behind one..’

Reassuringly the same tone, and style, but now neatly, economically, creating setting and, did you see it?  SITUATION.

Each of the other three sections open with a reference to situation, but with a fresh take, a subtle re-setting of tone.  All build up to a domestic event that will impact on Antonia, and in so doing, reveal other layers of story and backstory.

Gradually, my picture of Antonia is rounding out.  I learn something about why, at the outset, she is expected to be unoriginal, and why she might sink ‘obediently to the expectation’.  More importantly, I think I understand how this process has evolved.

Elizabeth Jane Howard 2Told chronologically, it’s a novel that might easily be defined as a saga.  Told in reverse, with economy, it becomes an intriguing and sophisticated exploration of character. Read this, and you might never make easy assumptions about a marriage again.

Read this, and you might be tempted to try out some of these strategies in your own writing.

The Year 1000

the year 100I’ve been time-travelling again.  I bought this in an Exeter charity shop, for my research shelf, a couple of weeks ago, then got stuck into it during the train journey home.  I’ve been dipping in ever since.

It’s not a heavy tome, based as it is, on a small document from AD 1020-ish, called The Julius Work Calendar.  There are twelve beautiful line drawings from that document.  They act as chapter headings.

For instance, January is titled, ‘For All The Saints’.  It explains not just how and why saints were important, it begins by building character:

If you were to meet an Englishman in the year 1000, the first thing that would strike you would be how tall he was – very much the size of anyone alive today.

…the bones that have been excavated from the graves of people buried in England in the years around 1000 tell a tale of strong and healthy folk…Nine out of ten of them lived in a green and unpolluted countryside on a simple, wholesome diet that grew sturdy limbs – and very healthy teeth.

I love this kind of detail, combined with the cartoonish drawings, it brought the book to life.

How does it connect to saints?  Well, because  there was the need to replace the:

‘…legion of little people, elves and trolls and fairies, who inhabited the fears and imaginings of early medieval folk… the Julius Work Calendar was to provide a daily diary of encounters with [saints]…’

Isn’t it beautifully logical?  It is also, of course a little more complicated, but I’d have to quote the whole chapter to explain.

This book is about the practicalities.  Here are hay-makers, from the middle of the year:

Julius calendar July

…the toughest month of the year…since the spring crops had not yet matured.  The barns were at their lowest point and the grain bins could well be empty.  Tantalisingly, on the very eve of the August harvest, people could find themselves starving in the balmiest month of all…

The rich could survive on the contents of their barns, and they had the money to pay the higher prices commanded by the dwindling stocks of food.  Grain and bread prices could soar to exorbitant levels.  But this scarcity made July the month when the poor learned the true meaning of poverty…grinding up the coarsest of wheat bran, and even old, shrivelled peas and beans to make some sort of bread.

November: Females and the Price of Fondling, addresses the fact that there is no mention of women in the Julius Work Calendar.  Documentary evidence is slight, but Lacey and Danziger interpret what there is in a positive light:

All human beings were menn, the term being used for both sexes. …In the year 1000 the role that women played in English society was more complex than surface impressions might suggest.

Using wills and divorce laws (yes, it seems people could easily, and fairly, divorce then), they provide some examples of powerful women taking control of kingdoms and religious houses.

But, what happens if a wife commits adultery? Canute’s Law 53 says ‘…her legal husband is to have all her property, and she is to lose her nose and her ears.‘  There’s no mention of what happens to the man…

Already I’m at November, only one month and a short conclusion to go, how will I survive my return to the digital age?

Actually, I might time-travel in that region again, but with a different companion.  Michael Wood’s Doomesday has been gathering dust on my shelf.

 

“The Figure in the Carpet”? – I’ve Read It!

henry jamesI had an hour to spare yesterday, so I picked up a little black Penguin Classic that I’d been loaned.   It’s been waiting for my attention since March, but I have to be in the mood for James, even when he’s writing short.

Let me start by being Jamesian, and call this text as he preferred to, a ‘short tale’, rather than a novella, in a sentence that is longer than you might have anticipated, when you set out on it (are you still following me?).  Sorry, couldn’t resist having a play with some clauses, but I promise to behave now.

Back to March, then, when Helen stopped me on the way out after a discussion about the novella, What Maisie Knew.  We’d drawn comparisons with some other James texts, raising mixed responses.

Holding out the small Penguin Classic, Helen said, ‘This one isn’t so well known, but I think it’s more interesting than The Turn of The Screw. Would you like to borrow it?’

Intriguing.

I knew I wasn’t going to have time to read it just then, but Helen said that was fine.  Though she may have changed her mind about that by now, of course.  However, that’s how the little book came to enter the sea of research that is my desk, and for a while sank below the surface.

This wasn’t the easiest of novellas to get into, but is there such a thing as an ‘easy’ Henry James?  He could write short sentences, and use simple language, but mostly he chose not to.  There are various theories about why he developed that style, and how it connects him to the modernist writers, but I’m going to stay with the straight-forward approach in this reading-reflection.

I’ve given a lot of thought to the question of what makes a good story, and one of the definitions that comes high on my list is, does it entertain or intrigue me?  After my first dash at the text I might turn to reviews and analysis to see what I’ve missed, but before that, I want to be engaged by the writing.

This time I wasn’t, I’m afraid. I couldn’t decide whether James meant the un-named narrator to come across as irritatingly priggish – to use a Victorian term – and I didn’t really care whether he learned what the ‘figure in the carpet’ was.

In fact, I felt cheated by his title.  Here was an image that suggested surreal.  It has mysterious possibilities, yet turned into a story that never attempted to explore anything other than the vanities of a few characters who seemed flat.

Titles, I tell my writing groups, are important: are worth taking trouble over.  They can set a tone, imply a theme.  Readers are influenced by them.  I expected a mystery on the lines of  Turn of The Screw, because I saw a parity between the two titles.  Was that my mistake, or James’s?

Thoughts on writing.

I’ve been reading novels, light reads, because classes finished, and I wanted to unwind with something that only required me to jump on board and follow the action.  If, after a few pages, I’m not engaged with the story, I close the book. It’s taken a lot of training for me to be able to do that.

BOOKSHELFGenerally I’ll take in any words on view, from cereal packets to old magazines and notices in waiting rooms.  I do the same with fiction, going from trashy novels to heavy classics to comics as they come to hand.

This eclectic approach means I’m fairly widely read, so I don’t regret it.  However, I’m glad that I got to the point, with Moby Dick, where I couldn’t face another graphic description of the killing and dismantling of a whale.  I needed a classic novel to make me understand I did not have to, and would not be able to, read everything.

I used to think that there was a list of fiction that well-read people knew, and I imagined it as covering, perhaps, two sides of A4 paper.  What I’ve come to understand is that there are lists of all kinds in circulation, mostly much longer than that, and they’re constantly taking account of new writers, and re-discovered writers, from the ancient to the nearly modern.

In case you haven’t noticed, let me tell you that there’s an awful lot of fiction available now.  With all the different ways there are to become published, it feels like we’ve come round to the heydays of the pamphlet all over again.  That means good opportunities for readers and writers.

My reactions to fiction are not fixed.  Some old favourites no longer work in the same way when I go back to them.  I enjoy them, and admire the writing, but my experiences of life, and other literature have all impacted on my responses.  So, that favourite-reads list is not just expanding, it’s also in a state of continuous flux.

When I decide not to continue reading something I’m not saying the writing is no good, I’m recognising that at that particular moment, it does not work for me.  On another day, this might be different.  What I had to remind myself was that reading should be about entertainment.

Ten reasons for reading Pamela, by Samuel Richardson

  1. Because it’s a good read, with a heroine who has worked hard to improve her pamela by richardson. 1 jpgcircumstances.  Pamela shows physical and moral fortitude in the face of relentless attempts at seduction made by her employer – as well as an admirable ability to write letters and journal entries in some very, very trying circumstances. Pray for me, my dear father and mother; and don’t be angry, that I have not yet run away from this house, so late my comfort and delight, but now my terror and anguish.  I am forced to break off hastily.  Your dutiful and honest Daughter.
  2. How many other texts could get away with this quantity of exclamation marks in one small section of text? Indeed, my dear father and mother, my heart is just broken! I can neither write as I should do, nor let it alone; for to whom but to you can I vent my griefs, and keep my heart from bursting! Wicked, wicked man! I have no patience when I think of him! But yet, don’t be frighted – for – I hope – I am honest!
  3. Richardson is wonderfully ingenious when it comes to creating cliff-hanger-situations: ‘My dear mother, I broke off abruptly my last letter, for I feared he was coming; and so it happened.’
  4. If you’ve any interest in social history, then this account of a servant voice from 1740 is wonderfully revealing.  Pamela’s writings not only provide information about the running of a Georgian household, but also gives some ideas about the family circumstances of servants. In his reply to Pamela’s first letter, her father says, We are, it is true, very poor, and find it hard enough to live, though once, as you know, it was better with us.  But we would sooner live upon the water, and, if possible, the clay of the ditches I contentedly dig, than live better at the price of our dear child’s ruin.  pamela by richardson. 3jpg
  5. Because it demonstrates the value of feedback: Richardson asked his wife and her friend to read the developing manuscript, and he used their domestic knowledge to create a ‘true’ picture of Pamela and her circumstances.
  6. Read it because it is an epistolary novel, and can remind us of how entertaining a good letter can be, whether fictional or not.
  7. Because,this novel offered, for the first time, a fiction in which (as Margaret A Doody puts it) a character speaks ‘for herself in her own manner’.  Pamela is a voice from the working-class who, by standing her moral ground, challenges the moral-standards of the day, and examines the balances of power between the sexes. “Honest, foolish girl!” said he.  “But is it not one part of honesty to be dutiful and grateful to your master?” 
  8. Because the ‘voice’ of Pamela is convincing.  Initially, Richardson hid his authorship, and allowed the public to assume Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded was an autobiographical account of a real event.
  9. Because even classic novels have flaws, and thinking about what doesn’t work, and why, is a useful way to focus our attention on our own writing.
  10. And finally, because having read this one, you could be tempted to try a contrasting, and loosely related comic novel by Henry Fielding, called, Joseph Andrews.

There are, of course, many other reasons for reading this novel.  Please don’t be put off by the nearly three hundred years that have passed since Richardson published it .  Although there are some differences in the way we use language, and a few words that we might have to look up, if you read, or write, historical fiction, I recommend this classic novel.  pamela by richardson. 2 jpg