Tea or Books? #49: Death of the Author?, and The Woman in White vs Possession

Wilkie Collins, A.S. Byatt, and the death of the author (sort of) – episode 49 is quite the mixed bag.


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I found it quite hard to describe the first half of this episode – though hopefully it will become clear! – and probably the best thing to do is to tell you how Karen described it when she sent us the suggestion (thanks Karen!). Here goes: ‘is it legitimate to read a biography to shed light on an author’s work, possibly colouring/enhancing your interpretation, or should the novels be allowed to stand alone as works of art and appreciated for themselves, independent of their creator?’

In the second half, we compare The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and Possession by A.S. Byatt – Victorian vs neo-Victorian – and I Have Thoughts.

In the next episode, we’ll be doing a Q&A – any questions welcomed; pop them in the comments – and early next year we’ve each chosen a book we really think the other one will love. And we reveal them to each other at the end of this episode…

The books and authors we discussed in this episode are:

Swans on an Autumn River by Sylvia Townsend Warner (as published as Stranger With A Bag)
Katherine Mansfield
‘The Phoenix’ by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Element of Lavishness by Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell
Victoria: a Life by A.N. Wilson
Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker by A.N. Wilson
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Virginia Woolf
Mrs Woolf and the Servants by Alison Light
Ivy Compton-Burnett
Agatha Christie
Forever England by Alison Light
Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster
Letters From Menabilly by Daphne du Maurier and Oriel Malet
William Shakespeare
Beryl Bainbridge
Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
John Clare
Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh
Elena Ferrante
Dan Brown
A.A. Milne
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Two Middle-Aged Ladies in Andulusia by Penelope Chetwode
John Betjeman
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Possession by A.S. Byatt
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
No Name by Wilkie Collins
The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins
The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt
The Matisse Stories by A.S. Byatt
The Garrick Year by Margaret Drabble
The Millstone by Margaret Drabble
The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
The Boat by L.P. Hartley
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

6 thoughts on “Tea or Books? #49: Death of the Author?, and The Woman in White vs Possession

  • December 12, 2017 at 8:28 am
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    Some suggestions for topics to discuss in future episodes: reading new books or re-reading old ones; novels written in the first person v. novels written in the third person; and detective stories v. ghost stories.

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  • December 13, 2017 at 4:04 pm
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    I enjoyed your discussion of seeing the work of an author through the prism of their lives, and while I agree with Rachel that we are all Freudians now, I still think I can enjoy a novel even if the author was an unsavoury character. Simon, your point about how authors should invent stories and not use thinly disguised people from real life bemused me. Elizabeth von Arnim, for example, wrote whatever happened in her life into her novels, most obviously in her novel of an abusive marriage, Vera. To have an autobiography to compare with her canon would be fascinating (though I have read two biographies of her which draw heavily on her journals). Is that too shaming to admit?!

    PS Hay on Wye – I just spent a week near there in a lovely cottage. I spent a fortune on Delafield in Addyman Books. They had just received and were cataloguing for Abebooks a huge collection of original editions, one even signed (£125! I regretfully declined to buy that one). I had to restrain myself from buying them all and still went back next day for more. He gave me a 10% discount, a free hessian bag and a free Marie Corelli novel!

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  • December 14, 2017 at 3:53 pm
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    I read the Woman in White several years ago and I have to say that I agree with Smon—quite slow. I did finish it though. I am on page 116 of Possession and loving it (glad to hear that I can skip the poetry). I read and loved the first 2/3 or 3/4 of The Children’s Book and then just completely lost interest and never finished it. I’m hoping to find the two books for the new year episode.

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  • December 15, 2017 at 8:59 am
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    Loved the podcast, as always. I sometimes wish that I could separate the writers from their works, but it’s tough — Dickens in particular bothers me nowadays because he clearly had issues with women. I know how badly he treated his wife and it shows in how he depicts women in his books — they’re either young, beautiful angels devoid of personality, or they’re harridans or shrews. I tried to read Great Expectations a few months ago and was just disgusted by all the female characters.

    I also found TWIW rather slow, and I got annoyed by Count Fosco and his long villainous monologue. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who skipped the poetry in Possession! I did like The Children’s Book, though. And Crossing to Safety is just wonderful, I hope you like it.

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  • December 15, 2017 at 11:37 pm
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    Really interesting discussion and I’m so jealous of your hol, Simon! As for TWIW I read it ages ago and think I loved it. I wonder what I would think of it now? Sorry you struggled with it!

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  • December 16, 2017 at 9:07 am
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    I absolutely The Woman in White when I read it. Simply raced through the novel. Also loved his other novels of the 1860s: No Name, Armadale and The Moonstone.

    So pleased that you’re going to discuss The Boat, by the way!

    Reply

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