Having recently chatted about William by E.H. Young, and Howards End by E.M. Forster, I’ve been thinking a bit about the naming of books. In both cases the focus laid at the feet of the man and the house (respectively) comes about mostly through the authors’ decisions about titles. How easily could Young’s novel have been called Lydia or The Nesbitts? Or something hazy like Decisions Once Made or Marry in Haste. You know the sort of thing. (Incidentally, the Oxford University library catalogue has eight books called Marry in Haste, dating from 1935 to 2000. What fun it would be to read them all, one after the other… Although four of them are Mills & Boon.)
As for Howards End – so many other titles would spring to mind first, if one were somehow to read an untitled edition. Helen and Margaret. The Lure of the Wilcoxes. Even, one might say, Sense and Sensibility. If any of these had been chosen, the significance of Howards End itself would have faded into the background.
This might seem a really facile point, but I find it fascinating how much these titles influence the way in which we read these novels – and how differently we would read them, had they more obvious titles. Why does Emma get her own title, where Mansfield Park claims the coveted spot there, and Persuasion’s title is handed over to a noun? Would we read these differently as Delusion, Fanny Price, and, erm, whatever Anne Elliot’s house is called. (Although apparently there is no evidence that Jane Austen chose the title Persuasion.)
Just something to think about when reading a novel – it isn’t something that usually crosses my mind, until titles are as directed as those which inspired today’s post. I know it’s a horrible cliche to end a blog entry with ‘question time’, but… Can you think of any book with a title which pointed your view in one direction, or which would read very differently under another title?