The Love of Literature …

I am speaking about myself now as writer, and as a scholar, and as a Conjoint Fellow to the School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle, Australia.

I contribute to the view that education is key to an increased and deeper knowledge of the world and life, and potentially to an understanding of others and oneself, and which can ultimately contribute to the success and the physiological and psychological health and mental well-being of the individual and society. The focus is on achieving academic success and mental well-being for students. Along with numerous other academics from across the world, I firmly believe that the study of Humanities can help foster insight and understanding and communication in students to assist them to build on strategies for coping with studies, and allow them opportunities to develop skills that could contribute towards their future success out in the field, and help them to maintain a well-balanced life-style. Success has got to be found, and it won’t be found by serendipity, it has to be worked at.  I agree that the power of hard work and application is necessary to success, and that a measure of success is necessary to one’s sense of well-being. I am very much a believer in the potential power of the Humanities to run through all disciplines, and the importance that this would have to students’ learning, development of life skills, and psychological well-being, regardless of their chosen discipline.  To use the words of Associative Professor Alistair Rolls: “Interconnectedness of disciplines is key.”

Speaking now as a writer, and as a scholar, I can say that personally, I do not believe in the power of crystal balls or black magic or fairy-dust in any way, other than as literary devices in various genres such as, for instance, Medieval romances, fairy tales, Elizabethan works, and some fictions; a few examples that come immediately to mind are Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and the fairy stories of Hans Christian Anderson, the Harry Potter series, the Tales of King Arthur by Malory, and the Mists of Avalon by Marion Bradley, and Elizabethan plays like Shakespeare’s Macbeth (remember the Three Witches?)  [1]

Nevertheless, if, in my earlier life, it had been at all possible  (and which of course it was most certainly not) to look into a crystal ball for a sneak preview on how my life would eventually pan out career-wise, I might possibly have seen that it was potentially inevitable that I would end up as a scholar in the Humanities. I have always wanted to be a writer, but little did I ever realise that I would, one day, become a Conjoint Fellow to the School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle, Australia.

To tell you a little about myself: I have been a keen story-teller and an avid reader from as far back as I can remember. As well, I have always loved the stories (and in particular Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Midsummer Night’s Dream,) that my father always read to me, and encouraged me in when I was a toddler.  Words, the marks they make, the sounds, the structure, the placement, and the lilt, and the magic in the printed page have always held me in thrall. This is not to say that I always understood every word I was “hearing” or reading, or what it was exactly that I was reading.  When I was a child I was neither a discerning reader, nor selective in what I read; any book or newspaper or pamphlet or comic, any magazine, journal, article, note, letter, or scrap I could lay my hands on would do. For a time, I even took a keen interest in what the “bugger-up” louts scrawled on telegraph poles and behind toilet doors (just a small aside here—when I come to think of it now, from my present day stance, I suppose that in one way, toilet-door communications could even possibly be seen as a new form of life-writing).

To give you an idea of my love of reading: I remember one Saturday, shortly after my eighth birthday, when I’d been sent into the dining-room to dust the furniture. Once there, I whisked the duster around a bit, hit-and-miss, then began poking around, sticking my beak into everything out of curiosity and to relieve my boredom, and discovered that the top of the window-seat lifted up to reveal a large space choc-a-bloc with adult reading material.  Fascinating! From that day on I became very keen about dusting the dining-room. In fact, I insisted that it was my job and mine alone. Never has any dining-room been given so much attention.  Over the next several weeks, I’d give a few quick flicks of my duster, then spend the rest of the allocated time working very hard over the box-like space under the window-seat. I read my way through Marx; through the adult serials in old Women’s Weeklies; through the erotically-charged Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence (which had been banned from the outset in Australia, but an English publication had somehow reached the window-seat in Australia,) and which I didn’t then understand,  but which I nevertheless suspected must be a great book judging from the quality of the cover; through a  number of old Mills and Boon romances, also from England, and which I also didn’t understand but knew were worthwhile reading anyway since they’d been secreted away; through Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell; through a bundle of old love-letters someone had chosen to bury under the window-seat and which I felt had far too many “darlings”—too sweet, yuck!; … And those works I have mentioned here are only the ones I can remember from this great treasure chest of literature.

Unfortunately, I was spied upon, and my secret reading activities were discovered. The adults in question were horrified and told me that I couldn’t be trusted, that I’d been spawned by the devil, and, moreover, that since I had seen fit to waste valuable time on such a useless occupation as reading, I was henceforth to be strictly monitored. I was then given extra menial chores, and, to help me get back on the straight and narrow and see that making up stories of my own was very, very evil, I was provided with a simple Bible picture-book as being more suited to my age and status.  They tried their best to do a good job on my head, and I carted this picture-book thing around in my school bag. Somehow my school teachers became involved: when they bought in on the act it was then acknowledged that reading was never a waste of time, and that I was an extremely advanced reader for my age, and probably destined for something.  The upshot was, I was then given access to books that would satisfy me.  The problem was, though, I was a human vacuum; I swallowed books, and would read three or more in one week. The adults at home screamed–What! You can’t possibly have read that whole book in that time, spin them out a bit! Do you think we’re made of money? You are not to read a whole book in less than a month!

At eight and nine and ten years of age I read plays by my old friend Shakespeare, poetry by John Donne, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats, and quickly read my way through  Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, and then reread it a second and third time because I enjoyed it so much. I also read my way through publications such as (the adolescent version of) Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; through the entire “Anne” series by Lucy Maude Montgomery, and particularly loved Anne of Green Gables (I have this set still); through the “Pollyanna” series by Eleanor H.  Porter but found Pollyanna insipid and not to my taste; through Henry Lawson’s works (which I thought were absolutely wonderful) and the writings of Banjo Patterson (and which I didn’t care for as much as those by Lawson); and so on and on … you get the idea. I got away with this because my teachers actually gave me some of the books to keep, and always sent notes home to say that reading the books they provided was a major part of my homework.

Many of these books I was given I still have, and of course still read: for one instance, I have all my old Charles Dickens’ books still. I did, and still do, get a lot from Dickens, especially his Oliver Twist, a work I first read when I was eight years of age. I felt for Oliver, and for the children who were incarcerated with him in England’s orphanages and poor-houses, but at that stage I didn’t look at Charles Dickens, the author himself.

Years later, when I enrolled in the School of Humanities in the Bachelor of Arts Degree at the University of Newcastle, Australia, some of my childhood favourites were on our mandatory reading lists—to name but a few; Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets , for instance, as well as Lady Chatterley’s Lover (which, I am pleased to say I came to gain an understanding of),  the works of the 17th century poet John Donne, and the poetry of the Romantic poets Keats, Wordsworth, and Shelley.

Years later again, when I  re-enrolled in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle, Australia, to do my Master of Philosophy Degree, I chose to do my dissertation on the damaging childhood.  In my MPhil study, I wrote my creative work, a memoir titled The Carpet Child, from personal experience of my own damaging childhood.  In my exegesis to go with my creative work, I looked at literary works by other writers, past and more modern day authors, as models for various ways in which to write about the damaging childhood, and as fair examples of these authors’ techniques and methods.  The literary works I studied in depth in this context were: Our Kate, a memoir by Catherine Cookson; Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, and which is a different treatment of memoir from that of Catherine  Cookson; a semi- autobiographical work entitled Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man by James Joyce; and one of the loves from my childhood, the novel Oliver Twist  by Charles Dickens.

Notes:

[1] Aside from Shakespeare’s own imagination, these three witches in Macbeth may have been drawn from a number of possible sources including Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587), a history of England, Scotland and Ireland;  British folklore; Norse mythology; and the then contemporary treatises on witchcraft, such as King James VI of Scotland’s Daemonologie. The figures of the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth in turn influenced the literary realm, and even modern-day works–one example of which  is  The Third Witch in the Harry Potter series.

The Three Witches first appear in Shakespeare’s Macbeth Act 1.1 Their role in the work is as both agents and witnesses. Shakespeare’s witches are prophets who hail Macbeth, and prophecise his ascent to king and his eventual downfall. The witches represent evil, darkness, chaos, and conflict, and their activities and trappings set an ominous tone for the play. Their presence communicates treason and impending doom. Back in Shakespeare’s day, witches were seen not only as political traitors, but also as spiritual traitors–“the most notorious traitor and rebel that can be.”  To the audiences of  Shakespeare’s day, these types of characters were perceived to have the ability to straddle the play’s borders between reality and the supernatural. Witches were seen as being deeply entrenched in both worlds, and were confusing figures that were able to defy logic, not being subject to the rules of the real world.  It was generally undecided whether they could control fate, or were themselves merely its agents. The witches’ lines in the first act of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air”, are often said to set the tone for the remainder of Shakespeare’s play by establishing a sense of moral confusion. Indeed, the play is filled with situations in which evil is depicted as good, while good is rendered evil. The line “Double, double toil and trouble,” communicates the witches’ intention to seek only to increase trouble for the mortals around them.

____________

Image | This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s