Archive for February, 2008

The Black Prince

Iris Murdoch. I couldn’t go to sleep last night till I’d finished it. But all in all I’d say it’s a pretty creepy book. And tedious at times. This is all part of the point, as the main character is creepy and tedious, and the plot outlines his literary and sexual fantasies. Still. Despite this, you get the sense when reading it that you’re in the hands of a near genius. Sometimes the text flashes like a mirror or flicks around like a snake and bites you.

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February 20, 2008 at 11:59 pm 2 comments

The Green Knight


Illustration from the manuscript of the fourteenth-century poem. Sourced here. I love this manuscript, and have seen it with my very eyes!

Iris Murdoch. I finished this a couple of weeks back. It was my read-on-the-plane/bus/train book as I came back from Norway, and I was hooked straight away. On the cover it says it’s a romance, and it reminds me a bit of Possession in this way (one of my all-time favourite books). Lots of characters and colour and mystery and happy endings. I’ve been meaning to read this for absolutely ages because I adore Gawain and the Green Knight, and this is obviously some kind of variation on the story.

I thought the way she alluded to the story was mysterious and convincing – she doesn’t present an exact allegory, but rather captures some of the horror and strangeness and vitality of the original. There were a lot of characters and it was completely charming, in a very English penniless upper middle class sort of way. And that’s all my brain can manage I’m afraid! I liked it so much that as soon as I finished it I bought a copy of Murdoch’s The Black Prince. I chose this one because of the medieval connotations of the title. I’ve nearly finished it – it’s not as light and playful but rather clever all the same… I’m not enjoying it as much, though I do admire it, and have a feeling that something spectacular might happen at the end. If any Murdoch fans chance upon here, any recommendations?

February 19, 2008 at 10:30 pm Leave a comment

Beowulf

I taught Beowulf this week. It was so much fun reading it again – apart from reveling in the shiny, heavy language, I kept making all sort of new connections. (New for me, anyway.) I thought it was so interesting the way fratricide is emphasised in the narrative, and how Grendel’s descent from Cain (specifically, from Cain’s murder of Abel) is played against this. He is a monster – an enemy of God, and of the people of the story, but the people of the story commit the same sin which made him a monster in the first place. One of my students asked if this was another example of the Christian author of the poem distancing the Christian audience from the pagan practices of the past. An interesting thought…

I also asked them to read Tolkien’s ‘The Monsters and the Critics’, but I told them it was optional – a mistake I will not be making again (none of them read it). I enjoyed rereading that, though, too. When I was an undergraduate, I missed out on the Early Middle Ages module, but I made a point of reading Beowulf and that essay. Beowulf didn’t do a lot for me the first time I read it, but the essay made me shiver with delight. The way he talks about dragons! (I have a fondness for dragons.) This time I couldn’t help noticing how both universalism and nationalism frame his interpretation of the poem. He says it is a poem about man confronting the darkness of impending doom and inevitable death. He says this quite poetically. But – it’s not just that. The poem isn’t just about universal ‘man’. It is about a very specific society, which it goes to great pains to construct. The monsters don’t threaten humanity, but the Scandinavians. Hence my theory about Grendel, which I outlined above…

Anyway. The students weren’t quite as excited about it as I was, but it is a difficult poem and I think they did pretty well. Next week, the sagas….

February 16, 2008 at 10:37 pm Leave a comment


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