A visit to the Shelley grave

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I’m waaaay behind with reading Anya Seton’s Katherine so there’s no review to post just yet. Instead I thought I’d put up some photos of a grave we visited a week or two ago in sunny Bournemouth. This was my first time in Bournemouth (it’s lovely, by the way; you should go) and before we left I made a point of dragging poor P around the town centre in search of St Peter’s Church. It was fairly easy to find – just opposite a grotty looking Wetherspoons called ‘The Mary Shelley’ – and we didn’t have to spend too much time wandering amongst the graves because the church had provided a handy exhibition board with a plan to help us out. I expect they probably get quite a few Shelley pilgrims visiting.

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This small looking vault is actually the last resting place not just of Mary Shelley, but also her son and his wife and Shelley’s parents, the journalist William Godwin and the feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, author of Vindication of the Rights of Women.

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Apparently Mary Shelley only visited Bournemouth a handful of times. In the late 1840s her son began work on a new home at nearby Boscombe, hoping the sea air would help his ailing mother, but she died in 1851 before it could be finished. In the last years of her life she had expressed a wish to be buried alongside her parents so they were duly removed from a cemetery in London and placed alongside her here. It’s also said that the heart of Percy Bysshe Shelley, with whom Mary had eloped as a teenager, is buried here. He drowned in Italy in 1822 but his heart was salvaged from the funeral pyre and brought home to England.

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After leaving Bournemouth we wandered into the New Forest for a bit and came across another literary grave. But I’ll save my photos of that for next time I’m short of reviews!

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Top Ten Tuesday: My Literary Dinner Party

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week we were encouraged to visit/revisit some old TTT themes from months and years past… 

Top Ten Literary Dinner Party Guests is not (as far as I know) an old TTT theme. It’s one that I’ve just made up but it sounds like the real deal. The idea came about because of one of those silly late night conversations about which famous people, dead or alive, you’d invite to dinner. Except, last time we had this conversation I had a complete meltdown over it because I realised that a) I had too many guests I wanted to invite and b) the men far outnumbered the women (because ‘history’ is mean like that). In an effort to address the balance someone was going to get bumped off the guest list to make way for Eleanor of Aquitaine and I had a horrible feeling that it would end up being Rick Mayall and that, my friends, would have been a bloody travesty. Wouldn’t Mayall be more fun at a party? But wasn’t a strong female presence needed to balance out Oliver Reed? I agonised over my guest list for so long that P eventually turned out the light and went to sleep.

This, then, is a revised list made up of only authors, poets and playwrights. No Rick Mayall. No Queen Eleanor (I know they both wrote books but let’s just not go there, ok?). Here goes:

1. Oscar Wilde. I bet Oscar gets a lot of imaginary invites to imaginary dinner parties. He’d keep everyone entertained with his witty, entertaining conversation but I wonder if it’d wear a bit thin after a while?  

2. Zadie Smith. Zadie Smith is probably the coolest person I can imagine. I’d turn into the worst kind of grovelling fan if she came to my party.

3. Lord Byron. This could be the worst decision ever. Sure he’d be fun and I don’t particularly mind if the party descends into drunken debauchery under his influence since it’s an imaginary one and I won’t have to clean up afterwards…. But, what if he brings his bear? Or fires his pistols during the starters? Or tries to seduce Zadie? Byron’s a risk. But it might pay off.

4. Mikhail Bulgakov. Purely because I read A Country Doctor’s Notebook last week and I’d like some more of those stories please.

5. Mary Shelley. I’d like to hear all about her  elopement with Percy Shelley, those months in self-imposed exile on the continent, that evening creating horror stories with Byron and Polidori in Italy…. I imagine she’d have some brilliant (but possibly quite sad) stories.

6. Christopher Isherwood. Just because I love every book of his that I’ve read (which, admittedly, isn’t many) and I think they’re all beautiful. Plus, he was a very well travelled man so he’d have some great tales to tell.

7. George Eliot. I like reading about Eliot’s crazy life and her intense relationships with others and I’d happily spend a night hearing about it straight from the horses’s mouth. I bet she and Byron would get on pretty well.

8. Agatha Christie.Maybe Christie would use my party as inspiration for one of her stories, one in which an eclectic group of writers are mysteriously gathered together for no apparent reason and then they all start getting bumped off, one by one… hmm. No. Maybe not a good idea at all.

9. Terry Pratchett. Every good dinner party needs an opinionated, slightly mad (in a good way) guest.

10.  Zelda Fitzgerald. By all accounts, when Zelda was at her best she was intelligent, creative and high spirited; the perfect dinner guest. I’d try to invite her before the marriage though, when she was still Zelda Sayre, and had fewer cares in life.

There are some notable exceptions here: Austen (too prim), Dickens (he might bring everyone down by talking about social reform or something), Hemingway (Byron’s enough for one night)…. What do you think? Have I missed anyone vitally important?!

Top Ten Tuesday: Literary villains

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.This week it’s a Halloween themed freebie so I’ve decided to look at some of my favourite villains. We all love a baddie after all.

I’ve not been too enthusiastic about the last few TTT themes so I had a break for a couple of weeks (which roughly coincided with my more general break from reading and blogging). Top Ten Literary Villains is quite a good reintroduction to the meme as I love a good scoundrel. They’re often much more interesting than the heroes.

1, Mrs Danvers in Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Mrs D was the first character I thought of when I started this list. Bitter, deranged and spiteful, she lurks in the shadows and sets sly traps to humiliate her new and inexperienced young mistress. Cross her at your peril.

2, The gentleman with the thistledown hair in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke. I bloody love this book and thistledown is the perfect fantasy villain. He presents himself as a sort of magical benefactor to the downtrodden but it’s all a horrifying deception.

3, Count Fosco in The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins. Fosco switches from a charming but eccentric friend to an evil monster so easily. Oh the betrayal!

4, Pinkie in Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. The image of the 17 year old gangster prowling the pier with his razor blade and a bottle of vitriol has always stayed with me. You should read this book. It’s awesome. Watch the film too while you’re at it.

5, Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. I know the ‘arch nemesis’ representation of Moriarty is kind of a film/TV by-product but I love it. You know you’ve made it in life when you’ve gained yourself an arch nemesis. I wish I had one.

6, Big Brother in 1984 by George Orwell. Big Brother is watching you.

7, Kevin in We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Is Kevin naturally ‘evil’ or is it all just a reaction to his mum’s obvious indifference? Either way, he’s a chilling character and their relationship is kind of fascinating.

8, Delores Umbridge in the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. Voldemort? Malfoy? Snape? Pffft.

9, The Headmaster in The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross. The demon headmaster is going to take over the world using an army of children he’s hypnotised to do his bidding. Really, what could be more terrifying?

10, Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. One of the things I like about this novel is the fact that you’re never really sure who the real monster is. Victor? Or the being he creates and abandons? I know which side I’m on.

Top Ten Tuesday: Nineteenth Century Gothic

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke And The Bookish. This week’s theme is all about books I’d include on my syllabus if I taught a literature course of my choice.

I’ve included here a combination of books and short stories I’ve already read as well as ones I’d like to read:

1 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. This doesn’t need much of an introduction, does it? I know this book fairly well because I read it for A’level English and then again at university. It was a ground-breaking piece of fiction back in 1818 and an important landmark in the development of Gothic literature.

2. The Vampyre by John Polidori. This short story is worth reading alongside Frankenstein since they have similar origins. I’ve always been fascinated by the story of how they came to be written.

3. The Signalman by Charles Dickens. This wouldn’t be the blue bore without one reference to Dickens a week, right? You can find tons of examples of the Gothic in Dickens’ work but this short ghost story has always given me the heebie-jeebies.

4. Dracula by Bram Stoker. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve not yet read this but it’s been on my TBR list for ages. Years ago I went to Whitby, the home of Dracula, with some friends and paid £3 to go on a ‘haunted house’ tour which eventually culminated in the four of us being chased shrieking through a dark cellar by a man in a mask. Absolutely mortifying.

5. The Hound Of The Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. I was thirteen when I read this and it scared me half to death, until I realised the truth about the hound. If you were being pernickety you’d point out that this was published in 1902 and therefore doesn’t belong on my list. I’d say well, it was probably written in the years before that. I wouldn’t know, I’ve conveniently not checked.

6. The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. This has been on my shelf for about ten years and I’ve still not got round to it. I love Oscar Wilde’s short stories and I can well imagine that any Gothic novel he wrote would be bloody brilliant too.

7. The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins. This isn’t just one of my favourite works of Gothic literature, it’s one of my favourite novels in the world ever. It’s got wicked plots, villainous villains, mistaken identity, madhouses, ghostly figures in the woods…. Seriously, what’s not to love about this book?

8. The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James. Aah, Mr James, my old nemesis, we meet again. I haven’t attempted this one yet but it sounds great. I just have to get over my appalling fear of Henry James.

9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I’ve never been able to decide whether I really love Wuthering Heights or really hate it! But I do like the way Bronte uses the moors to create that brooding intensity. What is it about the Yorkshire landscape that screams Gothic to so many writers?

10. The Fall Of The House Of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe. I’ve not yet read any books by EAP but I’m told this is a particularly good one. I also quite like the sound of The Pit And The Pendulum.

Doesn’t ‘Nineteenth Century Gothic’ sound like a font?