Tis About Lit and Reading It

Monthly Archives: February 2011

Available at Kinokuniya (Singapore) at 40.14$.

The Andreas sisters were raised on books – their family motto might as well be, ‘There’s no problem a library card can’t solve.’” – Summary taken from Eleanor Brown’s website.

Indeed, I was hooked from reading this very quote, perhaps it appealed to the Shakespeare geek in me or that I enjoy everything to do with Literature that is cleverly interwoven into texts, especially one so wonderfully written by Brown.

Yes, the use of the hyperbole is justified if you read the excerpt to her novel.

Of course, first impressions can be deceiving. But who cares? My literary appetite knows no boundaries and is hankering for a read of this  novel.

Of late, there has been a trend of writing “literally literary” novels, joining the ranks of books like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (an epistolary novel) and one of the earliest I can remember reading, Love Walked In by Marisa De Los Santos. Some may mourn its lack of originality but really, I enjoy it because of the clever textual references. For the elitist in me, it works as an ego-booster.

And when one looks at Modern/Post-Modern books, you’ll realise that there is a trickling-down of original scripts, words, phrases, wit. And you start to realise.. There is a limit. Unfortunately, writers do not have the luxury of languishing in the sun or be trapped in their ivory tower. And writers are still human. And humans imitate each other. And yes, this is linked to Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.

Writers like Winterson today rewrite words and texts so much so that this recycled material is made new. It is almost a religious process, which brings to mine several Biblical verses (Does 2 Corinthians ring a bell?). They recognise that there is no longer any sense of originality, that they do not reflect reality but rather, it participates in reality’s deceit and hypocrisy.

The natural step would be to re-write, re-construct and re-cycle.

“People like to separate storytelling which is not fact from history which is fact. They do this so that they know what to believe and what not to believe… Knowing what to believe had its advantages. It built an empire and kept people where they belonged, in the bright realm of the wallet…” – Winterson, Jeanette. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Chapter: Deuteronomy.

It is something for you to think about really. Shakespeare too is re-written so many times, though purists may mourn, the essential core remains unchanged. And perhaps I will go so far as to say that it too remains untainted. Indeed, it is wonderful that the possibilities are endless in Literature.


Time and tide has taken me to the realms of 18th Century novels that it has not allowed me to crash on the couch we call “Virginia Woolf”. However, reading To The Lighthouse has been a pleasant experience.

Su Reid comments on how readers often misinterpret the difficulty of Woolf’s novel. Thus despite my initial exasperated difficulty to understand the novel, I was glad that I endeavoured through it. I don’t pretend to be used to the diction and form of the novel; in fact, most of it was a struggle.

Because To The Lighthouse is truly a Modern masterpiece.

There are many reasons why I believe Woolf’s novel is a Modern masterpiece. In her famous essay “Modern Fiction”, she writes about how the “[typical] writer seems constrained, not by  own free will but by some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant who has him in thrall, to provide a plot…” Indeed, how true that is. To The Lighthouse has eluded the conventional novel structure, instead, she models for herself a new “framework of steel”, an alternative (?) for the novel.

The Modern Novel places an emphasis on realism. To stay as true to reality as much as possible. You know, when one reads about “reality” and staying true to “reality”, we often like to think it objective. However, what if “reality” is an amalgamation of subjective thoughts, hearts and minds? People are the source of all things “refreshing”. We may be creatures of habits, but when different creatures of habits meet, there is an explosion of colours.

“The perpetual task of poetry is to make all things new. Not necessarily to make new things.” (Eliot, T S). Hark that. To The Lighthouse has somehow, by an insidious (and perhaps conniving) and clever way, breathed life into novels. She does not claim refuge in the petty things like pandering to her readers, but there is still a hint of stylistic devices used to convey her thoughts to us.



Pamela admiring her wedding ring.

“In the library I felt better, words you could trust and look at till you understood them, they couldn’t change half way through a sentence like people, so it was easier to spot a lie.” – Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.

Mm not so with Pamela, or at least several readers would heavily disagree with that statement if they had read Pamela.

For every epistolary novel, we would well expect that it is composed of letters. Some great classics have been epistolary novels, unfortunately,  not every epistolary novel is a great classic because one is completely subject to the view and perception of one. The typical novel would perhaps be made up of many perspectives to enrich one’s reading experience.

Pamela, fortunately, is one such novel that belongs to the former category of epistolary novels.

Unlike Austen’s Lady Susan (one of Austen’s few novellas) where one reads or hears the voices of many. Pamela is unusual because one only hears her narrative (accompanied by the occasional reply from Pamela’s parents). We believe that her account of events are true. And it is the truth that constantly eludes us readers. If you are the mild-mannered critic, you may feel that you are on the deceived end.

Many have commented on her mistaking a cow for a bull, so perhaps she is one for the dramatics. Cows and bulls may be of the same species (and type of animal) but they are made of vastly different temperaments.

Pamela- The Virtuous Vixen?

The textual authority of Pamela, thus, perhaps comes into question many times. Some even wonder if she has been putting Mr. B. of for the sake of virtue. If her goal was marriage to Mr. B, however, I would congratulate her on her success. However, that would attract the attention of critics and think her the virtuous girl posing as a vixen or more aptly, the “virtuous  vixen”.

In fact, in Shamela (Henry Fielding’s reply, dripping with heavy sarcasm and scorn), there seems to be some deceit when the mental camera swivels to a different thought-process:

“… I pretended to be shy: Laud, says I, Sir, I hope you don’t intend to be rude; no, says he, my Dear, and then he kissed me, ’till he took away my Breath- and I pretended to be angry…” – Shamela, Henry Fielding.

Other critiques, of course, think that there is some measure of self-fashioning that Pamela practices. However, the expression of her sorrow and sense of injustice of the world does not go unnoticed. The example of taking Psalm 137 and fashioning it into a Biblical mourning of her fate, we are called to identify with the genius of Pamela’s mind.

Perhaps it is naivete, but I choose to see the “white” side of this bonny lass then suspect her of deceit.

© Nicole K, Nic Reads Lit & NicoleKdot

…and your selfish disdain for the feelings of others made me realize that you are the last man in the world I could ever be prevailed upon to marry.

-Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.

That was the impression I got of Pamela and Mr. B at the beginning and a tumultuous courtship to a marriage with social obstacles. Indeed it is like Austen (minus her charm). However, the wit of the character Pamela almost bordered on Austenesque me thinks. It is thus no wonder Austen drew some of her inspiration from Richardson’s Clarissa (albeit more toned-down and less pornographic, in the Regency sense of the word).

Rather interestingly, why Elizabeth could never be prevailed to marry Darcy was his lack of tact and presumptions that she would have accepted his marriage request because of her social standing. In a similar fashion, Pamela recognises her position as a Lady’s waiting-maid. A position much lower than the Bennets (Pride & Prejudice) who were of the gentry class, though penniless. However, the Andrews have descended into near poverty by the male Andrews’ debts.

“Had I marry’d with the Views of  most Gentlemen, and with such as my good Sister… would have recommended, I had wedded a fine Lady, brought up pretty much in my own Manner, and used to have her Will in every thing.” Pamela (P.445, Oxford’s World Classics).

His persistence is heartening, but does this not reflect Darcy’s long struggle, often curbed by the social boundaries that dictate norms? Of course, to begin with, Mr. B was not a likeable character. Charming, rich and handsome, which gave him a license to be over-bearing and presumptions to “oppress” Pamela.

Mr. B stumbles on Pamela writing letters. Oh no!

“Oh! what can the abject Poor do against the mighty Rich, when they are determin’d to oppress?”Pamela (P. 99, Oxford’s World Classics)

P for Poor and P for Pamela. Because of the nature of the text, we see everything from Pamela’s point of view, or more precisely, her letters. She writes succinctly and with such accuracy that one has to stop and ponder about the objectivity of the relation of events. Personally, it is the equivalent of reading one’s incessant Facebook statuses and pictures, a never-ending tirade.

Unlike the public setting of social media, however, Pamela does not have the advantage of restricted privacy settings. In fact, her letters are Pamela’s heart, heavily evidenced in her flurry to conceal her letters in her “bosom”.

Mr. B infringes on Pamela's privacy.

Like the tyrant he is, Mr. B demands to read her letters, suspicious of conspiracy (even Kim Jong Il would be blush in the face of such un-political demands). And it is letters that dictate the outcome of circumstances. The letters that underlie false appearances. In other circumstances, letters hide a different meaning.

“What is thou meanest by shewing me this Letter? -Why, Madam, said I, to shew your Ladyship how I was engaged for this Day and Evening. – And for nothing else? said she.” Pamela (P. 394, Oxford’s World Classics).

The act of “shew”-ing is often cast in doubt, something worth exploring I believe in my next blog post.

Like every other Austenesque story, Mr. B’s words “That her Person made me her Lover; but her Mind made her my Wife.” parallels those of Darcy’s to Elizabeth. Of course, I do not wish to continue drawing parallels between both novels, although it is rather tempting too.

For now, I shall leave you to enjoy the delight of Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness.