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Edwardian Age and Literature

The end of July always marks the time for revision of reading plan for the rest of the year. With Reading Deliberately being the only reading challenge, I have more flexibility to read what I enjoy reading. I’ve always been attached to literature in the Edwardian period (1901-1913). Despite its short pre-eminence, the period is characterized by its own unique architectural style, fashion, and way of life. The Edwardian Age was named after King Edward VII, and this brief epoch lasts from the end of Queen Victoria’s reign until the outbreak of World War I (the Great War). Authors like James Barrie, Arnold Bennett, Joseph Conrad, Ford Maddox Ford, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Alfred Noyes, Arthru Symons, P.G. Wodehouse and H.G. Wells displayed a strong reaction against the propriety and conservatism of the Victorian Age. Their work often exhibits distrust of authority in religion, politics, and art and expresses strong doubts about the soundness of conventional values. It was during this period in which a significant distinction between highbrow literature and popular fiction was emerging. The rest of 2010 shall be devoted to reading from the aforementioned authors, but not exclusively:

Other than Edwardian literature, I also like to explore new favorite authors. Marilynne Robinson is one. Until this summer, I have only heard readers sing choruses of praises for her works. If readers find Marilynne Robinson’s Home lacking a plot (waiting for something to happen but it doesn’t), then the predecessor, Gilead, which I’m currently perusing, is an ongoing letter that spins off to all the directions surrounding an old reverend’s coming to terms with his self. It’s more a memoir than a novel. Robinson’s prose couldn’t be any more beautiful and contemplative. I bring up this book because I’ve received e-mails about how I can come to read so many books. A passage from Gilead is just so right-on:

But I’ve developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except, of course, that some very tedious gentlemen have written books. This is not a new insight, but the truth of it is something you have to experience to fully grasp. Thank God for them all, of course, and for that strange interval, which was most of my life, when I read out of loneliness, and when bad company was much better than no company. You can love a bad book for its haplessness or pomposity or gall, if you have that starveling appetite for things human, which I devoutly hope you never will have. [39]

I read when most people are still dreaming in bed during the crack of dawn. I read when people are out at the bars having swigs. I read when people on the plane are fast asleep. I read when people are clicking insouciantly on their iPhones. I read, therefore I am.

16 Responses

  1. Loved the last paragraph you wrote here, Matt. And what a lovely passage to pick from Gilead… I don’t think I honed in on it when I read, and seeing it here is like reading it through new eyes. But then again, I always feel you bring new life to books!

    • Gilead has many beautiful passages except the book is just a flow of thoughts instead of any form of a plot. I enjoy reading Home more.

  2. I’ve only read Galsworthy (The Forsyte Saga) and Hardy (Tess…) out of your Edwardian list and loved them both.

    • I have never read Galsworthy and it frustrates that I couldn’t find any at the bookstores. Thomas Hardy I have read through high school and college. One author I really want to read after finishing Somerset Maugham’s biography is Arnold Bennett.

  3. Hey Matt, not quite relevant to this post (apologies) but I am one ofthe judges on a new book prize called The Green Carnation Prize’ and you might just be the person to nominate some books!!!

  4. I’m looking forward to seeing which Edwardian authors you end up reading. I am very interested in that period as well. I need to read more by Marilynne Robinson, too. Like you I squeeze in reading whenever I can as well.

    • Marilynne Robinson is certainly a representative of Christian- and literary fiction. I find Gilead stretching my patience despite her beautiful writing. Edwardian period is very inflential despite a short period in time. I have always associated Somerset Maugham an “Edwardian” author even though he has published prolifically until 1950s.

  5. I had to chuckle at the iPhone reference. I’m reading and commenting on your blog via my iPhone now! But I’m not your standard user. I also review, and I’m a librarian as well. But I know what you mean re: those who surf or text instead reading. The need for constant banal texting mystifies me. I worry about the future of our society, I really do.

    • I have friends who read blogs on their iPhones as well. 🙂 I don’t deny the convenience of i Phones. I just feel frustrated that people tend on communicate more through texting than actually carrying a conversation.

  6. Such a wonderful quote! I wholeheartedly agree. The neverending list of books to read is what keeps me alive. And I too, would much rather stay home then go out for drinks, a major complaint of my friends.

    • Even when I go out to have drinks with friends, in the back of my mind lurks the thoughts of what book I might be reading next. So many books wait for me at home that sometimes I can’t help excusing myself to leave the company!

  7. Great post – and great last para. As for Edwardian literature, I have been thinking recently that I’d like to read some more Arnold Bennett – it’s been a long time since I last read him. Maybe he’ll be my first Kindle read? Though I am also considering Katherine Mansfield for that honour.

    • Arnold Bennett is on my watch list, after I finished reading Somerset Maugham’s biography. Bennett seemed to be at all the literary events that Maugham attended.

  8. Was he really? Well that adds to my interest. I’ve only read a little Maugham – last one was The razor’s edge – but I’ve been stunned to discover how many of his novels and stories have been stories into movies. He was a great storyteller.

    • Almost every work of fiction is autobiographical either in details or in emotion. Cakes and Ale alludes to his contemporary writer (Hugh Walpole) who had no talent but made fortune out of his books.

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