Tag Archives: Jane Austen

Six Degrees of Separation – from Where Am I Now? True stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame to An Unquiet Mind #6Degrees

Six Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the others on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

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This month we’re starting with Mara Wilson’s Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame which I’ve not read but I gather is about Wilson’s experiences of being a child star in movies such as Mrs Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street and Matilda. She grew up to become a writer but continued her acting work as part of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast team whose fabulous show I’ve seen on stage. I know – it’s a podcast – but trust me it works.

Emma Tennant’s Girlitude is about a protracted girlhood, covering the early years of Tennant’s life from 1955 when she became a debutante and entered the ‘marriage market’. Tennant departed from the straight and narrow with a turbulent love affair, briefly getting back on track with her marriage to Henry Green’s son before taking up a semi-nomadic life, frequently attracted to unsuitable men.

Later in life Tennant penned a series of successful ‘tributes’ to Jane Austen’s novels, although not to Mansfield Park in which Fanny Price is taken in by her wealthy cousins eager to remind her of the poverty of her origins. With the arrival of the frivolous Crawfords it soon becomes clear that Fanny’s morals are infinitely superior to her cousins’.

I read Katherine Mansfield’s The Garden Party and Other Stories many years ago, long before I’d learned to savour a collection of short stories rather than inhaling the entire book in one go. As a result, I remember very little about them apart from an impression of fine writing

Katherine Mansfield was a New Zealander as is C. K. Stead whose The Necessary Angel I read and very much enjoyed earlier in the year. Set in Paris in 2014, it’s about a professor at the Sorbonne and the three women who play significant parts in his life during the year the novel spans. Polished, witty and intelligent, it manages to be both cerebral and thoroughly entertaining.

Janet Frame’s autobiographical trilogy, An Angel at My Table, is more sobering than entertaining although it does have a happy ending. Frame was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia as a young woman and confined to an asylum from which she was liberated after winning a national literary prize.

Kay Redfield Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind is also an account of mental illness. Jameson’s bipolarity afflicted her as a young medical student and continued to do so for most of her adult life. After years of struggling with vivid but destructive manic episodes followed by paralysing depressions, Jamison sought help and went on to become one of the foremost American practitioners in its treatment.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from a child actor’s memoir to a striking account of mental illness. Part of the fun of this meme is comparing the very different routes other bloggers take from each month’s starting point. If you’re interested, you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees, check out the links over at Kate’s blog or perhaps even join in.

Six Degrees of Separation – from Pride and Prejudice to Under the Visible Life #6Degrees

Six Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the others on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month we’re starting with Pride and Prejudice. It would have taken a very determined person to avoid Jane Austen’s sharply observed, elegantly expressed novel on love and marriage among the English bourgeoisie over the last couple of decades. There have been a multitude of tributes paid to it, not least the BBC TV series featuring a wet-shirted Colin Firth emerging from a lake after a swim. Not sure what Austen would have made of that.

Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary is surely the best known of those tributes, all about a young woman’s trials trying to find the man of her dreams when he’s practically under her nose. He’s even called Darcy which might have given her a clue. In a clever bit of casting, the much-ogled Firth played Darcy in the Bridget Jones films which may even have eclipsed the books in terms of their success.

Bridget Jones began life in a newspaper column in the now defunct print version of the Independent which leads me to Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series, originally a San Francisco Chronicle column, also all about relationships with a good deal of product placement and outlandish adventure thrown in. I loved them but not the TV adaptation which failed to capture the charm of the books for me.

Which leads me to another TV adaptation, this time a successful one. I posted an entry in my Blasts from the Past series recently on Jake Arnott’s tale of 1960s East End gangsterism, The Long Firm, which prompted me to seek out the DVD of the BBC’s excellent dramatisation, It turned out to be just as good as I remembered – Mark Strong fits the part of Arnott’s complex Harry Starks perfectly.

When I passed Arnott’s novel onto H, my resident contemporary historian, he was struck by the accuracy of its period detail. The only other novel I can think of that fits this exacting bill is Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters’ Club, so good H included it on his undergraduate reading list for the period. It’s about four school friends growing up ’70s Birmingham and facing strikes, IRA bombs and appalling fashion trends.

Coe wrote a book called Expo ’58 set in the same year as Roddy Doyle, author of The Commitments, was born. Doyle’ s funny, touching novel is set in working class Dublin and follows a group of disparate people who form a band, belting out classic soul numbers. While some of the members are there for lack of anything else to do its the camaraderie of making music that keeps them together despite their many falling outs.

Which brings me to my last book, one which I’ll grab any chance to write about – Kim Echlin’s Under the Visible Life about two very different women bound together by their love of music in a friendship that endures through love lost and won; marriage, arranged and otherwise; and raising children in the most difficult circumstances. Music is the breath of life to Katherine and Mahsa, running through their story like a constant yet ever-changing refrain. A memorable, beautifully written novel

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from an early nineteenth century classic about love and marriage to a novel about friendship and a shared love of music. Part of the fun of this meme is comparing the very different routes other bloggers take from each month’s starting point. If you’re interested, you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees, check out the links over at Kate’s blog or perhaps even join in.