A Writer’s Belief


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desk2When you sit down down to write, knowing where to start can be the biggest hurdle. Sitting at my dining table wearing my writing hat, am I really worthy of the cap? That’s pretty much how I feel, when with notepad and pen in hand, I attempt to write something coherent and, let’s be honest, something absolutely bloody fantastic! I have my writing hat on, but the prizewinning story just isn’t happening. How can that be? The tendency to give up actually happens quite quickly for me because writing doesn’t happen so easily. It takes a lot of throwing ideas down on paper, scribbling out, numerous edits, leaving unattended when I get irritated with it and making up, when the words flow from my head down onto the page. Days can go by where I don’t write at all. Then the guilt sets in and the belief in my writerly abilities flies out of the window. If I don’t ‘write every day’, how can I be a writer?

In the last few weeks, I have posted my university assignments on the blog and it’s been lovely receiving ‘likes’ and new followers. Even though the assignments are obviously academic, they were still painstakingly written, pored over, researched, edited and so on. Isn’t that the same then? As I write predominantly fiction in my spare time, it all adds up to the same, whether it’s tweets, assignments, blog posts or short stories. I’m already doing this writing job every day; it’s the belief that needs to be there too, ingrained in my brain like anything else. If I didn’t feel the need to write, this belief would be redundant. So why is it so hard to embrace?hat

I’m sure there are many of you out there that ask yourselves these questions all the time. The mantra, ‘if you want to be a writer, you must write everyday’, quite frankly just sets you up for failure straight away. There are always going to be some days when writing doesn’t happen but if you’re anything like me, it never quite leaves my head, no matter how busy I am; whether it’s thinking about a current WIP, a new blog post or a rewrite of a particular scene.

Whether you’re putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard or tweets to Twitter,  the more support we can give to each other, through ‘likes’, comments and retweets, helps to cement our belief that we are writers. The cap fits all sizes so whether it’s the odd tweet now and again or knocking out stories or articles every week, believe in yourself. You are doing it. I am doing it.wp-1462912253645.jpeg



My New Website-


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My new website

I would love for you to come over and visit my website. Click above and come over for a chat 🙂

Yummy's World

Please come and visit my new website http://cathythewriter.co.uk. This is where my new blog is and I will be sharing news, reviews and stories with the world. 😊

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The heroine of modernist fiction is tempted and tormented by a dream of freedom which cannot be realised- Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Katherine Mansfield’s Prelude


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Women writers at the beginning of the 20th Century began an exploration into the mind and a self-awareness of the individual. These writers concerned themselves not only with time and history but with a sense of perception and an investigation into the inner dimensions of the human mind. According to Peter Barry, the period of high modernism between 1910 and 1930 showed, ‘a movement away from…omniscient external narration, fixed narrative points and clear-cut moral positions’. This was to give way ‘to experimentation and innovation’ (Barry, 2002, p82). The move into high modernism however, demonstrated a shift from the omniscient narrator to the third person free indirect objective, which gave an insight into the minds of all the characters. Virginia Woolf believed, ‘Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end’ (Woolf 2018). Woolf meant that if a writer could be free from the conventional aspects of writing, then they would be able to produce unconventional work that reflected the innermost workings of the mind. This is reflected in Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Mansfield’s ‘Prelude’. If the female protagonists could be freed from their constraints, then they could realise their freedom in whatever form that may be. Ermarth suggests that Virginia Woolf, ‘encourages her audience of women with the thought that “for the first time in history” women have the chance to re-shape the conventions in which both men and women live’ (Ermarth,1983, p16). Both Mrs Dalloway and ‘Prelude’ tempt their female heroines with dreams of freedom and are tormented by the constraints of their gender.

Both texts are concerned with the theme of time. Henri Bergson stated that, ‘Duration is the continuous progress of the past which gnaws into the future and which swells as it advances’ (Bergson, 2018). This shows the advancement of time upon the woman is subjective and both Woolf and Mansfield utilise time as a constraint upon their heroines. Mrs Dalloway is set over a period of twenty-four hours, as ‘a day in the life’ story and ‘Prelude’ over the course of two days. In Mrs Dalloway, the sounds of Big Ben chime throughout the text, ‘with his majesty laying down the law…’ (Woolf, 2003, p93) exhibiting a masculinity and patriarchal symbol to the text. The clock symbolises time marching on and is a constant reminder that it cannot be stopped. It also represents the patriarchal society in which women were living and was a constant reminder of their place. This is in sharp contrast to the internal clock which Clarissa is governed by ‘all sorts of little things came flooding and lapping and dancing in on the wake of that solemn stroke which lay flat like a bar of gold on the sea’ (Woolf, 2003, p93). The language Woolf uses demonstrates the softness of the woman but also an oppression of their gender. Woolf shows us a different side of time, one which only a female can recognise and again showing the way women are trapped by their own sex. This gender awareness shows a response to the new style of writing that women writers embraced.

Mansfield however, shows the progression of time through the stages of womanhood from Kezia the adolescent daughter, Linda the pregnant mother and Mrs Fairfield the grandmother. Each represent a different time in which the female develops. Gubar states that, ‘they form the development of one creative female self…in a matriarchy…governed and graced by women’s rituals’ (Gubar,1983, p35). Mrs Fairfield represented the old traditions with her role being defined in the kitchen, ‘[w]hen she had finished, everything in the kitchen had become a series of patterns’ (Mansfield, 2002, p94). These patterns symbolise the outdated version of womanhood and the desire of Linda to be freed from these constraints. Gordon states that, ‘…Stanley Burnell and his mother live in the bustling present, his wife Linda dreams…in a timeless past, …and Beryl, the unmarried girl, lives in a continually imagined future.’ (Gordon, 1954, p23). It is interesting to note here that neither of the two younger women are in the present, which shows their desire for a different life away from the conventions of their time.

Clarissa Dalloway has given up her dream of freedom and is confined to her class. Just as Jane Austen before her, Woolf demonstrates that women still had to marry to gain status and wealth and have a part to play within the household. Squier states that, ‘[w]hile Clarissa feels invisible, part of the background of her society…Elizabeth is both visible and highly capable…’ (Squier,1990, p180) illustrating the difference between mother and daughter in two very different worlds. Clarissa represses her maternal instincts, a throwback to the patriarchal society in which she has been brought up. Elizabeth however has a different outlook: ‘She would become a doctor, a farmer, possibly go into Parliament if she found it necessary…’ (Woolf, 2003, p99). There is a determinism in her that is not reflected in Clarissa. Elizabeth sees no constraints and believes she can do anything. Even when she moves around London, it is in a modern way: ‘Suddenly Elizabeth stepped forward and most competently boarded the omnibus in front of everybody’ (Woolf,2003, p99). Woolf shows that women are moving forward to a new modern world which will allow them to flourish and realise their dreams whilst Clarissa remains part of the old traditions. Woolf’s use of the word ‘omnibus’ also emphasises new technology emerging with women being a part of it, illustrating how times were changing.

In ‘Prelude’ however, Linda dreams of escape from the burden of being a wife and mother. When the children arrive at the house, she states, ‘Are those the children? But Linda did not really care; she did not even open her eyes to see’ (Mansfield, 2002, p86). This lack of maternal instinct from Linda shows the movement away from the role of wife and mother, to an individual reflection of the self. Linda’s desires come to the fore, showing the interpretation of self-awareness. This was relatively unheard of in the early 20th Century, where women still had to play their part in the household. Mansfield illustrated that to step away from pre-determined stereotypes was to experience freedom for the first time. Beryl, however dreams of being a woman of independent means, ‘as she lay down, there came the old thought, the cruel thought-ah, if only she had money of her own’ (Mansfield, 2002, p88), demonstrating the frustration she felt. As a woman, Beryl would have to marry to achieve wealth but would still be trapped in the constraints of marriage. When she imagines a man in the garden below her window, Beryl’s desires are tempted but are an escapism from her entrapment. Gubar argues that Beryl, ‘exemplifies the lure of romantic thralldom for the youthfully erotic female imagination and the narcissim at the center of such imaginings’ (Gubar,1983, p36) demonstrating Beryl’s wish for a different life.

In both texts, the writing becomes wave-like and gendered. In ‘Prelude’, the portrayal of the aloe tree is androgynous. The aloe flowers once every hundred years whereas Linda us set to reproduce at her husband’s will. The portrayal of the aloe tree is very masculine with its, ‘cruel leaves…’ and ‘long sharp thorns that no-one would dare come near’ (Mansfield, 2002, p115), symbolising the patriarchal entrapment that Linda feels. She then daydreams of the aloe transforming into a ship, which becomes symbolic of her dream of escape, as she imagines herself ‘rowing far away…Faster! Faster!’ (Mansfield, 2002, p114). Waves are feminine, and the aloe becomes a symbol of empowerment in that, to discover the maleness in you, can be to discover your escape route. This is a vision of freedom that Linda sees firstly with the aloe as a phallic symbol, then as an escape. This blurring between the genders, portrays the wave-like writing which represents femininity and the dream of freedom. Linda also has vivid dreams of birds, symbolising her need for escape. Walking in the dream with her father, he passes Linda a small bird, ‘[a]s she stroked it began to swell…it grew bigger and bigger and its round eyes seemed to smile knowingly at her’ (Mansfield, 2002, p90). Mansfield symbolises Linda’s pregnancy with the swelling of the bird, illustrating that both her father and husband have aided society in trapping her within the family life she feels caged in.

Gilbert and Gubar suggest that Woolf believed, ‘the woman writer seemed locked in a disconcerting double bind: she had to choose between admitting she was “only a woman” or protesting she was “as good as a man”’. (Gilbert, 1984, p64). This can be shown in her interpretation of Clarissa and Septimus. The two characters are mirror images of each other because of their bisexuality but their positions in society are in opposition. Both the mirroring and opposing forces create their own level of entrapment, that both seek to escape. This new style of writing responded to the need of women’s dream of freedom. Indeed, when Clarissa is told that Mr Dalloway had been asked to lunch by Mrs Bruton without her, feels ‘suddenly shrivelled, aged, breastless…out of her body and brain which now failed…’ (Woolf,2003, p23). Woolf demonstrates the impact of this lack of solidarity of sisterhood, undermines Clarissa’s femininity and shows her vulnerability.

When Clarissa goes to the attic room to disrobe, there is a linguistic climax and Clarissa ‘did undoubtedly feel what men felt’ (Woolf, 2003, p24). The androgynous text shows Woolf embracing both sides of women’s sexuality and is reflected in her own essay, ‘A Room of One’s Own’, stating, ‘there are two sexes in the mind corresponding to the two sexes in the body, and whether they also require to be united in order to get complete satisfaction…’ (Woolf, 2018). Woolf argues that there are two sides to the individual and that both parts are required to achieve an internal balance.  She also describes Clarissa’s climax as, ‘an illumination; a match burning in a crocus…’ (Woolf, 2003, p24) showing her dreamlike escapism in the confines of the attic room. The language Woolf uses here becomes gendered in that the match represents the male. The reality of androgyny then, is accomplishing the male other within the female and the use of a match representing the penile form is symbolic of a patriarchal society.


In both Mrs Dalloway and ‘Prelude’, the female protagonists dream of escape and a life away from the one in which they inhabit. Trapped by marriage and children, Mansfield portrays Linda realising her desire for escape from the constraints of life but never being fulfilled. Linda’s recognition of the androgynous aloe illustrates the women’s place at home is disappearing and a more liberated life is desired. Woolf’s portrayal of Clarissa shows a woman trapped by class and gender. Mirroring Septimus, Clarissa discovers the male within her and this reflects her desire to be liberated from the constraints of the old traditions. Both Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield tempt their heroines and torture them with dreams, phallic symbols, time and a world in which they cannot escape. Their androgynous writing reflects a world in which it demands not only a desire for women’s liberation but an acknowledgement that both femininity and masculinity are required to achieve a balance within the individual. 


Barry, P. (2002). Beginning Theory- An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Bergson, H. (2018). ‘Creative Evolution’. Handout given in Literature & Modernity 22/02/2018 by M. Jesinghausen.

Ermarth, E. (1983). ‘Fictional Concensus and Female Casualities’. In: Heilbrun, C.G. & Higonnet, M.R. (eds). The Representation of Women in Fiction. Maryland, USA: The John Hopkins University Press.

Gilbert, S.M. & Gubar, S. (eds). (1984). The Madwoman in the Attic. Second Edition. USA: Yale University Press.

Gordon, I. A. (1954). Katherine Mansfield. London: Longmans, Green & Co. Ltd.

Gubar, S. (1983). ‘The Birth of the Artist as Heroine: (Re)production, the Kunstlerroman Tradition, and the Fiction of Katherine Mansfield’. In: Heilbrun, C.G. & Higonnet, M.R. (eds). The Representation of Women in Fiction. Maryland, USA: The John Hopkins University Press.

Mansfield, K. (2002). ‘Prelude’. In: Smith, A. (ed). Katherine Mansfield- Selected Stories. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Squier, S.M. (1990). ‘Carnival and Funeral’. In: Bloom, H. (ed). Clarissa Dalloway. New York: Chelsea House Publishers.

Woolf, V. (2108). ‘A Room of One’s Own’. Handout given in Literature & Modernity 22/02/2018 by M. Jesinghausen.

Woolf, V. (2018). ‘Modern Fiction’. Handout given in Literature & Modernity 08/02/2018 by M. Jesinghausen.

Woolf, V. (2003). Mrs Dalloway. Hertfordshire, UK: Wordsworth Editions Ltd.


Make it New- How do writers of the period represent the lives of the poor and the working classes?- John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?


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Both John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? are set in America during the 1930’s and the plight of the poor and the working classes is represented as a response to the socio-economic problems of the time. Following the Wall Street Crash in 1929, America found itself amidst the Great Depression; a time of mass poverty, displacement and suffering. The Dust Bowl was so named after apocalyptic dust storms in the Mid-West states, which brought severe poverty and drought to the families trying to make a living working the land. Both texts draw upon the migration to the West to seek a better way of life, but this determinism is thwarted by nature and capitalism and by establishing a more naturalistic stance, captures the lives of the working classes and poor in their own environment. James Gregory believes that, ‘…the Dust Bowl Migration left a lasting legacy helping to bring to public attention…the unique vulnerabilities of a sector of the labor force that most Americans had previously ignored’ (Gregory, 2004, p2). In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck endeavoured to highlight the problems faced by the poor to bring their plight to rest of America. During the Great Depression, Hollywood fuelled the American Dream with all its glitz and glamour and thousands flocked to the west coast in search of work in the movies. In They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, the central characters face exploitation and corruption in the seedy underbelly of Hollywood. Richard Gray states that writers of the time, ‘…turned their attention to the lives of apparently average people caught up in a cycle of deprivation- turning to sex or violence…in a desperate attempt to break that cycle’ (Gray, 2012, p508) and McCoy uses this cycle to highlight difficulties faced by the poor and working classes.

In The Grapes of Wrath, nature takes a firm hold of the Joad’s destiny. With the Dust Bowl earning its name, the land they work becomes infertile. As tenant farmers they face an uncertain future when the owner of the land they work on decides to evict them. Using the inter-chapters as social commentary, Steinbeck is able to give a wider overview of the economic and social problems than just the Joad family; ‘The tenant system won’t work anymore. One man on a tractor can take the place of twelve or fourteen families’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p35). The unfairness is stifling and Steinbeck takes full advantage to portray the ecological disaster that has devastated the Mid-West. Thousands of families were displaced with little or no money or food, then lured out to the West with the dream of fruit picking and owning their own piece of land. The anonymous nature of the inter-chapters allows Steinbeck to portray these issues as a universal humanitarian crisis. As a result of this crisis, Steinbeck lays out a solution to the problem in his inter-chapter regarding man’s place in the world:

fear the time when Manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the                  foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the universe                                      (Steinbeck,1996, p151).

Steinbeck is showing that if man becomes less of an individual and stands together with his fellow man as a collective, they are more powerful and more likely to force a change. ‘For the quality of owning freezes you forever into “I” and cuts you off forever from the “we”’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p152). As an “I”, Steinbeck represents the bank and the landowners and everything that is wrong with the country, representing capitalism at its best.

Railton argues that American capitalism is, ‘the roots of which had always been the promises of individual opportunity and of private property as a reward for taking risks and working hard’ (Railton, 1990, p28). Ownership becomes individual yet the “we” that is needed requires action, which is Steinbeck’s revolutionary call for social change. Carpenter argues that, ‘If need and failure produce only fear, disintegration follows. But if they produce anger, then reconstruction may follow’ (Carpenter,1988, p14). This is more distinct with Steinbeck’s final nod towards his solution in the last inter-chapter, ‘where a number of men gathered together, the fear went from their faces and anger took its place…the break would never come as long as fear could turn to wrath’ (Steinbeck,1996, p434-435). It is evident that Steinbeck believed that if all men stood together, they would become more powerful and could effect the change that was so desperately needed.

Similarly, McCoy also demonstrates man’s desire to control nature and the exploitation of the poor. With the dance marathon taking place at the end of the pier in Hollywood, McCoy illustrates how far west Robert and Gloria needed to go in order to achieve the American Dream, ‘…it was built out over the ocean on pilings, and beneath our feet, beneath the floor, the ocean pounded night and day’ (McCoy, 2010, p 15). The ocean is symbolic of nature and shows how it is an unstoppable force that cannot be controlled. Lehan states that nature is, ‘…capable of the greatest endurance, despite the shiny city as a monument to man’s belief that he controls nature’ (Lehan, 1995, p34).  Whilst they are only able to hear the ocean and not see or smell it, McCoy illustrates an artificial world being swallowed up by exploitation and capitalism. Fine believes that, ‘Where the continent comes to an abrupt end against the cliffs, bordering the Pacific, the road, and with it the dream, comes to an end as well’ (Fine, 1995, p44). This is illustrated when Robert meets Gloria in the park, ‘It was very small, only one block square…Once you entered the park you had the illusion of security’ (McCoy, 2010, p9). The security Robert feels, is created by nature and in which, man cannot takeaway. Nature cannot be controlled unlike the working classes and McCoy uses nature to encapsulate the oppression imposed on the poor.

Robert is told to ‘”[k]eep that door closed!”’ (McCoy, 2010, p40) when he is caught watching the sun setting over the ocean and dances over the shadows of the sun to enjoy its warmth before it disappears, portraying Robert’s affinity with nature and as Richards states, ‘all qualify in his imagination as symbols of peace and harmony’ (Richmond,1971, p96). Yet it is the shutting out of nature that is part of the exploitation of the working classes. Richmond argues to view the novel as a ‘satire on the exploitation by racketeers of a desperate, debilitated society…or as a severe reproof of the social system that produced bread lines and relief agencies’ (Richmond, 1971, p92). Whilst Steinbeck sought to sound a revolutionary bell with Wrath and a call for social change, McCoy sought to expose the exploitation of Hollywood and shatter the American Dream. Nyman suggests that, ‘The fact that participants are mere commodities is revealed in that they are actually owned by the organisers who have the right to decide on their fate’ (Nyman, 1997, p261). Utilising Marxist theory, McCoy creates the dance marathon as an allegory of American capitalism; the dance hall becomes a factory, the performers become producers, and the audience become the consumers. McCoy uses this allegorical style to show the alienation of the individual and the capitalist nature of Hollywood, thus exposing the plight of the working class and the poor.

The most important thing to Ma Joad is to keep the family unit together. Steinbeck’s construction of the family unit staying together through any amount of hardship, portrays a hierarchy that was once patriarchal but has been subverted by the mother. Donald Pizer believes that the Joads are honest and primitive and at the same time, ‘there emerges the life-sustaining values of industry and pride as well as an instinctive generosity and compassion’ (Pizer, 1988, p86). This can be seen in Ma’s insistence that Casy travel with them on the road and her forcefulness to Pa saying, ‘”They’s been mean Joads, but never that mean”’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p102). Steinbeck is showing the family as a caring unit regardless of their class or status, giving them a humanity that the American public could relate to. However, Ma threatens violence when Tom suggests that he and Casy separate from the family unit. Threatening the group with a jack handle, Ma refuses to leave saying, ‘”What we got lef’ in the worl’? Nothin’ but us.  Nothin but the folks”’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p169).  There is nothing more important to Ma than to keep the family together and Steinbeck allows her to step forward and be heard, demonstrating the consequences of a separation of the family unit.

The social determinism in Ma and the active role she now has in the family shows the naturalistic theme of the text. The jack handle represents masculinity, and Ma now takes control from Pa in an attempt to take over the very little she has in her power.  McKay argues that, ‘without the unshakeable strength and wisdom of the mother, who must at times assent her will to fill the vacuum of her husband’s incapability, nothing of the family…would survive’ (McKay, 2010, p52). Her normal passive role as wife and mother is being transformed into an active role as Pa stands back and loses his position. Railton believes that, ‘The sufferings inflicted on the family bear witness not only to their strength of character but also to the evils of the social and economic status quo’ (Railton, 1990, p32). Steinbeck shows the family in crisis and the normal strand of hierarchy being lost, just as their land and home has been. The construction of the family unit seemingly breaking down as the effects of the economic and social crisis reaches fever pitch. At the Weedpatch camp however, Ma realises the effects on her are temporary when she receives kindness from the camp manager saying, ‘These folks is our folks…Why, I feel like people again’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p307). Steinbeck’s belief in the family unit, regardless of the adversity thrown at them, is a symbol of hope and this is all the Joads can cling onto.

Where the Joad’s belief in the family unit was their only hope, in sharp contrast McCoy illustrates the alienation of the individual. The dance marathon shows an arena-like world in which the poor were tempted to compete against each other for money. Nyman argues that, ‘the novel’s portrayal of contemporary popular culture…further emphasizes the loss of individuality and the end of humanity’ (Nyman, 1997, p270). Unlike Wrath, there is no family ideal here, only a Darwinian vision of survival of the fittest.  McCoy demonstrates that the exploitation of the individual is having such a profound effect on the working classes, that the family ideal is disintegrating. Richmond argues that, ‘Her denial of Ruby Bate’s desire to have a baby is a veiled wish for her own extinction’ (Richmond, 1971, p94) illustrating Gloria’s horror to bring a baby into the world and as James tells Robert, ‘Gloria wants her to have an abortion’ (McCoy, 2010, p17), portraying the family unit as an inconvenience. Although James and Ruby are married, the idea of another mouth to feed is incomprehensible to Gloria’s negative view of life. McCoy further emphasises this when the Mothers’ League for Good Morals try to close the competition based on their moral high ground. Richmond believes that they, ‘elicit from Gloria a most vociferous rejection of conventional morality as sham ritual’ (Richmond, 1971, p95) prompting Gloria to attack the very ideals that the American Dream is built on, ‘You drive em’ away from home with your goddamn lectures on purity and decency, and you’re too busy meddling around to teach em’ the facts of life-‘ (McCoy, 2010, p86). Not only does McCoy illustrate that the facts of life aren’t just reproductive, but true ‘facts of life’ are lost within the alienation of the individual demonstrating a lack of family ideal in a seedy underworld.

Steinbeck’s use of Old Testament references sees the Joad family’s journey as a pilgrimage and the dust storms as an apocalypse. Just as Jesus wanted to save his sinners, Steinbeck sends the Joads on a journey looking for salvation, as though God has forsaken them. The religious allegory throughout the text demonstrates just how harrowing the plight of the poor and working classes was. Railton believes that, ‘Casy’s presence is what allows Steinbeck to dramatize his concern with consciousness’ (Railton, 1990, p38). By alluding to biblical themes, Steinbeck’s social commentary gives the reader a conscience, therefore hoping to rouse the reader into action. Steinbeck likens the character of Jim Casy to a Jesus Christ figure. He is a minster who no longer preaches anymore but needs to find his own philosophy in life. When he meets Tom for the first time, he tells him, ‘used to get an irrigation ditch so squirmin full of repented sinners half of ’em like to drownded’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p20) and then in explanation tells Tom, ‘The sperit ain’t in the people much no more; and worse’n that, the sperit ain’t in me no more’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p20).  The Joad’s hope is what keeps them going, yet Casy does not diminish this with his lack of faith. Instead, he is their guide to the path of righteousness, rightly or wrongly.  Even at the time of his death, Casy is seen to be sacrificed saying, “You don’ know what you’re a-doin’” (Steinbeck, 1996, p386) mirroring the words of Jesus at the time of His crucifixion.

The biblical theme continues when Rosaharn goes into labour, whilst the flood waters are rising around her. Steinbeck endeavours to expose the family to the most horrendous of hardships in a bid to evoke sympathy to their situation. Railton states that, ‘It is the moment of Rose of Sharon’s conversion. Out of the violent loss of her baby… comes a new, self-less sense of self’ (Railton, 1990, p43). The effect of the loss of the baby is hard to bear for the reader, yet Rosaharn, having found a new strength from within, breastfeeds the starving man, ‘She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously’ (Steinbeck, 1996, p455) seemingly taking over the role of Jesus from Casy. Steinbeck’s final scene is perhaps his most controversial as he makes a final appeal to the conscience of the reader. To show humanity in the face of such adversity, portrays the poor and working classes in such a way that it would be impossible not to be sympathetic to their plight.

In stark contrast, McCoy opts for a more philosophical approach. The two central characters are at opposite ends of a philosophical spectrum. Whilst, the nihilistic Gloria believes her release from the horrors of life can only come through death, Robert’s existential belief is that he can do anything. Richmond believes that ‘her participation in the dance is consistent with her view that nothing makes sense, that as a fugitive from life the contest is the last, most absurd posture of Angst’ (Richmond, 1971, p93). McCoy shows through Gloria’s insistence that the American Dream should come to her, her alienation in a society that promises much but delivers very little. When a celebrity arrives at the dance hall, Gloria refuses to clap and says, ‘You’re goddamn right I’m jealous. As long as I am a failure I’m jealous of anybody who’s a success’ (McCoy, 2010, p28). Though the epitome of the American Dream is those who work hard are rewarded, McCoy illustrates that this is not the case, thus showing how unobtainable it is.

For Gloria, entry into the dance contest is her belief that she will be seen by a Hollywood producer and put in the movies. Yet she is one of thousands whose belief is the same, saying ‘This whole business is a merry-go-round. When we get out of here we’re right back where we started’ (McCoy, 2010, p65), thus encapsulating McCoy’s view of life in Hollywood. However, Robert’s fantastical belief that he will become a director brings little relief to the nihilistic views of Gloria. As the narrative progresses, it becomes clear that Robert moves towards an acceptance of Gloria’s philosophical position. On his reflection of the shooting of his favourite horse, he is told, ‘It was the only way to get her out of her misery…’ (McCoy, 2010, p120) mirroring the same words Gloria uses when she tells him to shoot her. Fine argues that by obliging Gloria, ‘he is indicating that if he has not quite come round to her nihilistic vision, he has come a long way toward it’ (Fine, 1995, p58). McCoy’s portrayal of Robert and Gloria’s philosophical view points illustrate the horrors of life for those in poverty during the Great Depression who are exploited and promised the ultimate American Dream.

Both texts demonstrate a betrayal that the West has not become the Promised Land and capture the plight of people in poverty during the Great Depression. In The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck shows the sheer adversity faced by poor families at a time of an ecological disaster. The realisation of the effects of the Dust Bowl, make the lives of these families virtually impossible. Evicted from their home as tenant farmers, the Joads cling onto their belief that as a family unit they should stay together and head west and with Steinbeck alluding to biblical themes throughout, is designed to evoke sympathy. Using the inter-chapters as social commentary, Steinbeck was able to point out the flaws in American society and to show the effect this had on the working class. In They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, McCoy’s portrayal of the poor and working classes is demonstrated as exploitative and corrupt. The nihilistic Gloria with her deluded view of life is in stark contrast to Robert’s fantastical optimism. McCoy shows the seedier side of Hollywood and through Gloria and Robert, highlights how unobtainable the American Dream really is.


Carpenter, F. (1988). ‘The Philosophical Joads’. In: Bloom, H. (ed.). Modern Critical Interpretations- The Grapes of Wrath. USA: Chelsea House Publishers.

Fine, D. (ed.) (1995). ‘Beginning in the Thirties: The Los Angeles Fiction of James M. Cain and Horace McCoy’. In: Fine, D. (ed.). Los Angeles in Fiction- A Collection of Essays. Revised Edition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

Gray, R. (2012). A History of American literature. Second Edition. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Gregory, J. (2004). ‘The Dust Bowl Migration’. In: Mink, G. & O’Connor, A. (eds.). Poverty in the United States: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics and Policy. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio.

Lehan, R. (1995). ‘The Los Angeles Novel and the Idea of the West’. In: Los Angeles in Fiction- A Collection of Essays. Revised Edition. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

McCoy, H. (2010). They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. London: Serpent’s Tail.

McKay, N. (1990). ‘Happy [?]- Wife-and-Motherdom: The Portrayal of Ma Joad in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. In: Wyatt, D. (ed.). New Essays on The Grapes of Wrath. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Nyman, J. (1997). Men Alone- Masculinity, Individualism, and Hard-Boiled Fiction. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Rodopi.

Pizer, D. (1988). ‘The Enduring Power of the Joads’. In: Bloom, H. (ed.). Modern Critical Interpretations- The Grapes of Wrath. USA: Chelsea House Publishers.

Railton, S. (1990). ‘Pilgrims’ Politics: Steinbeck’s Art of Conversion’. In: Wyatt, D. (ed.). New Essays on The Grapes of Wrath. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Richmond, L. (1971). ‘A Time to Mourn and a Time to Dance: Horace McCoy’s “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”’. Twentieth Century Literature. [Online] 17 (2) pp. 91-99. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/606815 [Accessed 18/03/2018].

Steinbeck, J. (1996). The Grapes of Wrath. USA: Penguin Books Ltd


Return of the Native is concerned not with the modern city but with life in the country. In what ways could the text be regarded as a ‘modern novel’, despite its rural setting?


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During the 19th Century, the novel began its rise to show the struggle between ‘self’ and ‘other’. As the century progressed, authors of the time began to explore this binary divide to understand the ‘modern’. The investigation into human kind and to define and assert the self, began with a search for identity. In The Return of the Native, Hardy’s representation of his central characters question the idea of man’s place in the world. Kucich states that, ‘Hardy’s pessimism was rooted above all, in his conviction of man’s insignificance in natural processes’ (Kucich,2001, p225). This pessimism runs throughout The Return of the Native, as Hardy portrays the dying out of Christianity and lack of connection with nature, as a cause for the alienation of the individual. The crisis of the modern world is in line with the Romantics’ belief that modern people do not understand nature anymore. This can be seen in Wordsworth’s sonnet ‘The World is Too Much With Us’, in the lines, ‘Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in nature that is ours;’ (Wordsworth,2012, p545). Hardy wanted to show that the world needed to stop and take stock before it was too late. He believed that humans couldn’t find their way and life was blurred in the city and to go back to nature was to realign the soul and that identity is only possible in the country. He makes a case for this in Far from The Madding Crowd, where he states that, ‘civilised mankind… are dreamwrapt…’ (Hardy, 2018), showing that human kind is unaware of themselves and cannot find themselves. Perry Miesel states that Hardy’s modern must begin with ‘the extension of consciousness from the deceptive light of the most newly built fire to the surrounding territories of darkness’ but the conflict is that ‘all fires must be extinguished to learn to see in the darkness’ (Miesel,1972, p79). Hardy uses the character of Clym as a receptacle to show the search for his identity on the heath, returning back to nature, questioning religion and a revival of the tragic within the novel, and it is these factors which makes The Return of the Native a ‘modern novel’.

In chapter 1, Hardy introduces us to the heath during a transition of daylight to darkness: ‘Twilight combined with the scenery of Egdon Heath to evolve a thing majestic without severity, impressive without showiness, emphatic in its admonitions, grand in its simplicity’ (Hardy, 2000, p6). The heath is in control and nature is at one with the environment. Hardy illustrates that the heath is far superior and this new kind of aesthetic is what Hardy wanted to portray as a theatre of life. Meisel suggests that, ‘Hardy’s changing use of landscape is important both as mediator between human community and nature and as a means of creating individual consciousness’ (Meisel, 1972, p71). Hardy shows that to be part of the heath and become at one with it, is the human’s salvation from a modern world in crisis. Modern man is longing for new beauty, but nature is hostile and as ‘Civilisation was its enemy…’ (Hardy,2000, p7) was beyond the comprehension of humans. Hardy gives life to the heath, describing it as ‘a place perfectly accordant with man’s nature-neither ghastly, hateful, nor ugly…but, like man, slighted and enduring…’ (Hardy, 2000, p7) personifying it with the traits of man and a new kind of aesthetic sombreness far superior that humankind. Daniel Schwarz states that ‘paradoxically, the heath is not only a metaphor for the cosmos, but it mirrors mankind’s common internal chaos…’ (Schwarz, 1979, p23). Hardy demonstrates this through the heath having a deep impact on the psychology of the characters living on it. His move into naturalism shows an investigation not only into the impact of the environment on the human but to the psyche as well.

The heath has its own time zone, described as, ‘The face of the heath by its mere complexion added half an hour to evening…’ (Hardy, 2000, p5) illustrating a transcendental and mystical space. In stark contrast, when Eustacia walks on the heath, she carries her grandmother’s hourglass because of a ‘peculiar pleasure she derived from watching a material representation of time’s gradual glide away’ (Hardy, 2000, p60).  Using the hourglass, Hardy shows Eustacia having no connection with the heath. This is shown in the contrast between the characters of Eustacia and Thomasin. Hardy describes Eustacia’s relationship to the heath as, ‘The subtle beauties of the heath were lost to Eustacia; she only caught its vapours’ (Hardy, 2000, p59). Eustacia doesn’t understand the heath and wants to escape to the city, where she believes that life is happening away from her. Williams suggests that, ‘In her mind, Paris represents nothing except glamour and luxury’ (Williams,1972, p141) showing her superficial wants and desires. However, the heath will not release her from its clutches. Enstice believes that, ‘she is unashamedly in opposition, to both the heath and the centres of light and warmth that contain its human elements’ (Enstice, 1979, p87), demonstrating that Hardy’s construction of Eustacia has all the elements of what the future holds for mankind if it continues down this path. Thomasin however is close to nature and is described as ‘[a] fair, sweet and honest country face…reposing in a nest of wavy chestnut hair’ (Hardy, 2000, p32). The description of Thomasin and the language used shows Thomasin’s connection to nature. The personification of the heath shows the misalignment between the human and nature. It is a hostile, unforgiving place which humankind needs to come to terms with in the modern world. This forward thinking shows Hardy believing that the relationship between humans and the world is disillusioned and the heath becomes a place of enlightenment.

The character of Clym becomes a Jesus-like preacher on the heath mirroring the Sermon on the Mount of Christ. Hardy describes the inhabitants of the heath as, ‘In name they were parishioners, but virtually they belonged to no parish at all, (Hardy,2000, p100) illustrating the decline in Christianity. Whilst preaching to the heath men, ‘They listened to the words of the man in their midst…while they abstractedly pulled heather, stripped fearns, or tossed pebbles down the slope’ (Hardy,2000, p336)’ Clym wanted to educate them but Hardy shows that this was of little importance to the heath men. They listened to him out of sympathy rather than out of passion for a saviour. Schwarz states that, ‘Our last views of Clym are not of a man who has triumphed, but of one who has been defeated’ (Schwarz,1979, p23). Hardy shows that the decline of Christianity in a rural setting requires something more than the old doctrines and his existential

Hardy’s interest in paganist rituals can be seen throughout the novel. From bonfires being lit across the heath to the mummers ritual play at the Yeoman household, Hardy’s antagonism with paganism is ironized at the end of the novel. During the final few scenes, a maypole is erected for the villagers: ‘In these spots homage to nature…fragments of Teutonic rites to divinities whose names are forgotten, seem in some way or other to have survived mediaeval doctrine’ (Hardy, 2000, p319). The maypole dance is where Diggory Venn and Thomasin are brought together. Throughout the novel, the character of Diggory Venn, the reddleman, is symbolic of paganism. In Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’, nature is described thus, ‘Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw / with ravine, shrieked against his creed/’ (Tennyson, 2018, LVI), which is an imitation of Diggory. A stalwart of the heath and forever coloured red as a reddleman, Diggory morphs from paganism to Christianity through his marriage to Thomasin. Seymour believes that, ‘Their union is not merely emblematic but represents the ‘inevitable movement onward’’ (Seymour, 2000, pxxi) demonstrating Hardy’s belief that Christianity would return. Although Clym states, ‘”Aunt only objected because he was a reddleman”’ (Hardy, 2000, p327), the lack of Christian values shown is symbolic of the traditional Christian stance Hardy objected to. A modern way of thinking came from the heath and Hardy views on Christianity and paganism sought only to show that there is no God. The novel criticises both pagan and Christian positions and portrays neither as valid. Leonard Deen states that the ‘protagonists’ acute sense of isolation in an alien society and in a universe abandoned or forgotten by a god who is after all only a fiction’ (Deen, 1975, p131). Hardy believed that to cling to Christian values was to remain stagnant in life and to go back to the beginning to see the real truth in ourselves was the way forward. Yet whilst his answer was not in the values of Christianity, neither was it in paganism. Hardy’s existential view prophesises the need of a more modern way of thinking, which cannot be found in Christianity or paganism.

It is his readings of social Darwinism theory that Hardy show the misunderstanding of the human role in nature. Hardy deconstructs the human role as makers in god’s image and believes that if we stick to Christian morality we would not be able to evolutionise the two sides of the self. Hardy goes the next step to complete the process of evolution in human nature. Believing the modern world is in crisis, Hardy’s solution is that evolution is the modern way forward. To go to nature in this way, the modern world will find its way again. Meisel argues that Hardy’s confrontation with rationalism is a symbolic one ‘that establishes a parallel between Darwin’s work and the development of Hardy’s fiction’ (Meisel,1972, p5). Humans are not in charge and this illustrates just how modern Hardy’s way of thinking was becoming.


Hardy revives the idea of tragic in The Return of The Native and tragedy becomes a series of events in which the characters all seem to relate. In Hardy’s poem entitled ‘Hap’, the lines, ‘[t]hese purblind doomsters had as readily strown / Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.’ (Hardy, 2018) show the idea of tragic possibilities of fate and that things happen due to time and circumstance rather than some all-powerful being, bringing about the tragic within the text. He shows that the human frame is too fragile to embrace the enormity of the world. In the description of the heath in chapter 1, Hardy states that ‘solitude seemed to look out of its countenance. It had a lonely face, suggesting tragical possibilities’ (Hardy,2000, p7), illustrating the construction of the environment for tragedy.

The character of Eustacia allegorises the entire western culture from her Promethean heroine to her Shakespearean witchlike status. Deen suggests that, ‘She is emblematic of the feeling and infinite desire which rebel against inevitable limitation, and thus is the supremely tragic figure of the novel’ (Deen, 1975, p122).  Hardy epitomises this in Eustacia’s desire ‘[t]o be loved to madness…’ (Hardy, 2000, p58) showing her fatalist ideas do not correspond with human nature. The tragedies that befall Eustacia show her disconnection from a modern world and her lack of understanding. Upon hearing of Clym’s impending arrival back on the heath, Eustacia dreams of a dance in which she is in the arms of a man in armour, believing him to be Clym. Eustacia’s dream is a foretelling of her own death: ‘Suddenly these two wheeled out from the mass of dancers, dived into one of the pools of the heath…’ (Hardy, 2000, p98). Even though she believes the man to be Clym, it prophesises her and Wildeve’s drowning in the weir on the heath. Hardy’s foreboding demonstrates that disconnection with life and want of the fast, urban way of life is the tragedy of the modern world. In this way, he is offering a solution, which doesn’t quite come to fruition for the characters in Native. In The Mayor of Casterbridge however, the character of Henchard comes full circle in his realisation and awareness of his actions. Hardy’s modernist approach links the beginning of time with the end to come to a resolution.

In Native though, Clym’s self-absorption is his tragic flaw. Schwarz believes that, ‘Seemingly without passion or vitality after Eustacia’s death, he is rather anxious lest Thomasin should propose to him’ (Schwarz, 1979, p23). Clym does not have the awareness and thought: ‘…he dreaded to contemplate Thomasin wedded to the mere corpse of a lover that he now felt himself to be’ (Hardy, 2000, p325), showing his incapacity to move forward following Eustacia and his mother’s deaths. Upon partially losing his sight, Clym is left unable to see both physically and ‘intellectually blind in some respects right to the end’ (Williams, 1972, p144).  The most pivotal point for Clym comes when his estranged mother journeys to see him, with the hope of reconciliation. The tragedy that unfolds shows Hardy utilising Clym’s blindness as a metaphor for the lack of vision of the modern world: ‘He had been disturbed and made to dream and murmur by the knocking, but he had not awakened’ (Hardy, 2000, p236). This ultimate lack of understanding demonstrates that none of the characters are in control, giving substance to Hardy’s argument for life in the city. Resurrecting the tragic in novel form, Hardy is able to convey the ancient art form into the modern period, as a resolution for a life which is moving away from nature.


In The Return of the Native, Hardy calls for a realignment of humanity with nature. Hardy believed that to be at one with nature is where identity could be found and that life in the city was too fast. Illustrating the heath as a far superior place in which humans have no comprehension of, Hardy is showing that to return to it, will offer a resolution and even a small amount of understanding is better than nothing. Using the heath as a mystical place that appears to transcend all other faiths and doctrines, Hardy shows that this is where humans can find themselves. Hardy criticises both positions of Christianity and paganism showing that neither are substantial in the modern world. To remain faithful to the old Christian values was to remain stagnant in life and Hardy’s portrayal of both doctrines corroborates this. In his revival of Greek tragedy, Hardy shows that to go back to the old way or to the beginning of time, was the way forward in finding the ‘self’. The tragedy of the modern world is that life moved too fast and in Native, Hardy portrayed a rural setting as the modern place to be.    


Deen, L. (1975). ‘Heroism and Pathos in The Return of the Native’. In: Draper, R.P. (ed). Hardy: The Tragic Novels. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd.

Enstice, A. (1979). Thomas Hardy and the Landscapes of the Mind. London: Macmillan Press Ltd.

Hardy, T. (2018). ‘Far from Madding Crowd’. Handout given in Victorian Novel 08/02/2018 by M. Jesinghausen.

Hardy, T. (2018). ‘Hap’. Handout given in Victorian Novel 08/02/2018 by M. Jesinghausen.

Hardy, T. (2003). The Mayor of Casterbridge. London: Penguin Classics.

Hardy, T. (2000). The Return of the Native. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd

Kucich, J. (2001). ‘Intellectual debate in the Victorian Novel: religion, science and the professional’. In: David, D. The Victorian Novel. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Meisel, P. (1972). Thomas Hardy: The Return of the Repressed. USA: Yale University Press.

Schwarz, D.R. (1979). ‘Beginnings and Endings in Hardy’s Major Fiction’. In: Kramer, D. (ed). Critical Approaches to the Fiction of Thomas Hardy. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd.

Seymour, C. (2000). ‘Introduction’. In: Hardy, T. The Return of the Native. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd.

Tennyson, A.J. (2018). Literature Network. [Online] Available from: http://www.online-literature.com/tennyson/718/ Accessed: 23/04/2018.

Williams, M. (1972). Thomas Hardy and Rural England. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd.

Wordsworth, W. (2012). ‘The World is Too Much With Us’. In: Wu, D. (Ed) Romanticism: An Anthology Fourth Edition. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd

My Summer Reading List


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These are the books that are on my reading list for my final year at University. The children’s literature module looks the most exciting judging by this picture alone! The Dr. Seuss books caused much hilarity from my nine year old, who couldn’t quite believe his mum was going to be learning about The Cat in the Hat! I have already read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and that was fantastic. Not really feeling The Hobbit though but we’ll see.  


I have a couple of American literature modules next year, Contemporary American and Beats. I’ve read Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.  Looking forward to reading American Psycho on this module!




These books are for the Magical Realism module, as is the Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude above, it just ended up in the wrong picture. I am looking forward to this module, as it seems a little bit out there, a bit different.

The final module is called Nature, Now and I have already read Don Delillo’s White Noise; a novel concerned with the mortality of the protagonist Jack as he gets swallowed up in the consumerism of the American way of life. So, the reading list is huge. I’m also doing a Shakespeare module but the plays in this module are all contained in one huge book, that I already have on my book shelf.

Wish me luck, as I disappear into a world of books for the next couple of months…

Raspberry Bakewell cake


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slice-raspberry-bakewell-cakeI thought I would share this post again, as it still remains a firm favourite.

For the past few months, I have been playing around with different recipes to find my signature cake. Something I could be really good at and was easy to make and delicious at the same time. Sounds easy, I hear you cry! Well, it was harder than you think.

After a few offerings ended up in the bin, I came across the BBC Good Food website. I went straight to the cake section looking for something to take my fancy and there it was. Raspberry Bakewell cake. Not a tart, a cake. I read through the recipe eagerly and hunted through my ingredient cupboard to make sure I had everything required. I did. Here is the recipe:


  • 140g ground almonds
  • 140g butter, softened
  • 140g caster sugar
  • 140g self raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 250g raspberries
  • 2tbsp flaked almonds
  • icing sugar, to serve

Prep 10 mins Cook 50 mins

  1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/ gas 4 and base-line and grease a deep 20cm loose bottomed cake tin. Blitz the ground almonds, butter, sugar, flour, eggs, and vanilla extract in a food processor until well combined.
  2. Spread half the mix over the cake tin and smooth over the top. Scatter the raspberries over, then dollop the remaining cake mixture on top and roughly spread- you might find this easier to do with your fingers. Scatter with flaked almonds and bake for 50 mins until golden. Cool, remove from the tin and dust with icing sugar to serve.

And that’s it. I did leave mine in the oven fifteen minutes longer than the recipe called for because it wasn’t quite done.

I have made this cake three times and every time it has come out exactly the same. Delicious. The first time I made, I took half into the office. One of the girls said it was like an orgasm in her mouth, (you know who you are!).

Need I say more….

Here is the link to BBC Good Food Here

My Day at the National Writers’ Conference


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Yesterday, I attended the National Writers’ Conference in the Bramall Music Building at the University of Birmingham held by Writing West Midlands. Having never been to a literary event before, I was somewhat apprehensive and wasn’t sure what to expect. At the registration desk, I had to choose which talks I would like to attend. The talks I picked were, ‘Sustaining a Creative Career’, ‘Becoming a Reviewer’ and ‘DIY and Independent Publishing’. Happy with my choices, I headed upstairs to where the complimentary tea and coffee was on offer. At first glance, it appeared as though everyone knew each other, as many a conversation was being had. On reflection, some delegates had attended together but most people greeted each other warmly, happy in the knowledge that they were in the same gang. This writer’s gang. It had taken me a few weeks to actually purchase the ticket to this event because I had felt like a bit of a fraud. Me, a writer? That title is for those with their name on the front of a book or in a magazine, isn’t it?

Taking my coffee, I started to wander, smiling at people as they walked past and feeling a little bit, well…strange. But standing against a table looking equally out of place, were a young man by the name of James and a lovely young woman called Wendy. I walked over and James introduced himself. The conversation flowed as we talked about what sort of things we wrote and I mentioned my fraudulent feelings and James agreed that most people in there probably felt like that. Feeling a bit more like I belonged in the gang, the three of us headed into the concert hall for the key note address. By now, our gang of three had become a quartet, as a lovely lady by the name of Joyce had joined us. Jonathan Davidson, Chief Executive from Writing West Midlands had this task and talked about belonging in this special and wonderful writing community  and how support from one and another was the key to a life in the arts.

Following Jonathan Davidson, was children’s author and illustrator Shoo Rayner, author of the The Ginger Ninja books and many more. Shoo spoke a lot about independent publishing and how that had worked for him. His illustration books now have a huge following on You Tube, where he posts regular ‘how- to’ videos for illustrating. He also discussed the issue of authors earnings and how little they make when sold through traditional publishers. Having been in the industry many years, it was fascinating hearing him talk so frankly.

Feeling buoyed along, I headed off to my first talk, ‘Sustaining a Creative Career’. Sitting in the back row, my favourite spot, I did hear the man in front of me murmur, ‘It would be nice to have a career to sustain first!’ Yes, that would be nice! The panel introduced themselves and began to tell us about how they got into the industry. It became clear that they had all had numerous flings down different avenues in the arts and one job seemed to lead to something different. One of the key things they all said was, ‘Don’t say no to anything’. This seemed a little bizarre really but their point was, you might be quite good at it, so give it a go! It seemed to work for them in their forays into different areas.

Inspired, I hurried off for the second talk of the day, ‘Becoming a Reviewer’. The panel was made up of a poetry reviewer, a crime book reviewer and a literary critic for the broadsheets. These titles don’t really do them all justice, as their resume’s were extremely impressive. I had never thought about reviewing books before but after listening to the panel give a brief rundown of their life and career, my interest was piqued. The lovely Canadian lady who reviewed crime books, actually does it for free on her own website. As her following and name grew, she was approached by a publisher to do some freelance work and she is now head of PR and social media for Bookouture, the digital publishers. Again, their journeys had taken them on paths they perhaps wouldn’t have first chosen but have now lead them to careers they love.

Time for lunch and Wendy, James, Joyce and I got into the massive queue for quiche, tofu and salad. Heading outside to get away from the stifling humidity, we sat in a shady spot on the grass outside the music hall. Parts of the campus had been taken over by huge marquees ready for graduation and I had a little flutter inside me thinking about my graduation next year. Enjoying the fresh air, we swapped writing stories and both Wendy and James admitted to writing and finishing a novel. Wendy was scared to send it anywhere and James was trying his best to get his novel noticed. Everyone of us has this lack of confidence in our own ability and self- belief. It was nice to know though that it wasn’t just me and being part of the writing community is a way of feeling like you’re not on your own out there. The lovely Joyce, who has recently become a grandmother, announced over lunch that she writes erotica! How fantastic!

Our third and final talk of the day was ‘DIY and Independent Publishing’. This time, the panel was made up of a chap who had founded his own press, a lady who self publishes her own novels and another lady who is the editor-at-large of Unbound, the crowd-funding publishers. All had very different experiences and stories to tell, most of which came from the freedom to have control over your own work, in contrast to that of a traditional publishing route.

As the day drew to a close, the final key note address came from Jo Bell, a well- known poet, more recently made famous for her poetry in the Nationwide TV adverts. Her speech was funny and heartwarming. She pointed out similar phrases I had heard throughout the day about saying yes and having a go, but also about saying no when you need to. She also talked about saying please and thank you when asking for jobs and to put yourself out there; asking can I review something, or please can I take part in that festival, putting your writing forward and the obvious thank yous for those giving you a break. These were her words of wisdom. Simple words but the honest truth of the matter, still.

The day over, I took my goody bag and walked back to the car. I thought about all the great pieces of advice and stories I had heard throughout the day. I was already part of the gang, I had been before I arrived, I just didn’t know it. Just because I’m not published or had my name in a magazine, I’m still a writer because I’m impelled to do so, whether it’s this blog post or a short story I’m trying to get finished. Just because I think they’re not very good, doesn’t mean I should stop, it means I should keep going. Being part of this ‘gang’, this writing community who make you feel that you belong and are always there to support and guide you through this sometimes murky but ultimately pleasure seeking world of writing, is part of what makes us who we are.

What is Realism, how does it work in practice, and what is its function? Chapter 50 Charles Dickens Oliver Twist


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Oliver_Twist_-_Samhällsroman_-_Sida_005In the same way Victorian journalist Henry Mayhew reported on the life of the working classes in his articles published in the ‘London Labour and London Poor’, Dickens captures the social fabric of Victorian London at the time of his writing. Mayhew’s depictions of the London street markets evoke chaotic scenes and images that invade the senses. Dickens’s commitment to capture the same realism in Oliver Twist gives the reader a clear image of the full range of the social spectrum together with a portrait of the city. Part of the construction of realism is symbolism and Dickens uses this with his descriptions of the houses and the way that the Victorian lowers classes lived. This realism projects a comprehensive use of stylistic finesse in a way that captures the reader and evokes an empathy with the lower classes. In Louis James’s book, The Victorian Novel, he states that ‘…Oliver Twist placed social concerns at the heart of the emergent Victorian novel.’ (James, 2006, p159). Dickens also uses his journalistic experience and reports on the social issues of the time; to confront the reader with the real. In the Cambridge Companion to The Victorian Novel, Deirdre David tells us that Dickens aimed to shock his audience with a novel that dealt with the Poor Law introduced in 1834, (David, 2001) and upon defending himself, Dickens claimed the criminals ‘really did exist…’ and ‘…to show them as they really were…’ (David, 2001, p7-8). This intention can be seen quite clearly in chapter 50 of Oliver Twist.

Dickens’ use of place names and descriptions of buildings at the beginning of the chapter allow the reader to see the settings exactly as they are. His lengthy sentences and descriptive list-making symbolise a realistic view of the life of the lower classes in the city, ‘…unemployed labourers of the lowest class, ballast heavers, coal-whippers, brazen women, ragged children…’ (Dickens, 1992, p329). Dickens constructs lists as a way of showing the full range of people living in the slums and this gives the effect of hundreds upon thousands of people. The ‘city’ had become a new theme in Victorian writing and as the interest in ‘the novel’ was growing, this would have intrigued the Victorian readership immensely. The descriptions of places that they knew and heard of gives the novel a sense of the real and the journalistic approach to the start of this chapter evokes a startling imagery of filth and destitution. A ‘maze of close, narrow and muddy streets thronged by the roughest and poorest of waterside people…’ (Dickens, 1992, p329).

Dickens’ use of a metaphor here with his creation of a labyrinthine world with the word ‘maze’, suggests the poor and working-class people will never escape their fate. They are condemned to a life of poverty and again Dickens is commentating on the poor being constrained by this with many turning to a life of crime rather than go to the workhouse.

As Sikes’ whereabouts become common knowledge, the crowd begins to grow gradually from a ‘…multitude of angry voices’ (Dickens, 1992, p334) and then almost immediately to a mob, growing all the while. ‘There were tiers and tiers of faces in every window, cluster upon cluster of people clinging to every house top’ (Dickens, 1992, p336). Whilst Dickens is being melodramatic in his description of the crowd here, his realist approach to this scene portrays an image seemingly layered upon itself, like the layers of society. Similarly, Henry Mayhew categorises the layers of the social classes in his articles. There is even a figure described as ‘…an old gentleman…’ (Dickens, 1992, p336) showing the social makeup of the crowd was not confined to the lower classes. Dickens is using the crowd scene to depict life in the city. The frenzied crowd turns lynch mob and becomes apoplectic as Sikes appears above them. Sikes was a detested and violent criminal and as individuals no-one would have approached him. This new identity of ‘the crowd’ shows the fascination with crowd behaviour and the loss of individual identity within it. As part of a whole, they became energised and hidden, which in turn makes them a powerful and unrelenting force. Again, Dickens was confronting the reader with the real and the crowd scenes depict a visual image of the masses.

Dickens describes Sikes as ghostly, ‘Blanched face, sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, beard of three days growth, waster flesh, short thick breath’ (Dickens, 1992, p333). When the boy Charley sees Sikes hiding with the three robbers, he is horrified and calls him a monster. At this, ‘Sikes eyes sunk gradually to the ground’ (Dickens, 1992, p334). It is as though he cannot bear to hear the words. There is a psychology at play here. Sikes would appear to feel shameful and this makes him human rather than ‘monster’. This realist approach that Dickens uses here does not evoke a sympathy from the reader, rather an understanding of what Sikes has become. He is a product of society’s failings and a victim of his own situation. In David’s The Victorian Novel, she states that ‘Dickens’s novel registers a sincere commitment to fiction as a morally transforming force and a palpable belief that its form emerges naturally from its moral imperatives’ (David, 2001, p7). Dickens embodies Sikes to symbolise everything that is wrong with society and is a product of his environment. Again, this is Dickens commentating on social problems and bringing them to the forefront of the reader.

The realistic approach that Dickens uses in chapter 50 of Oliver Twist gives the reader a true depiction of life in the city. His journalistic style of description and lengthy sentence structure symbolises the chaos and noise of Victorian London and captures the imagination of the reader. Dickens wanted to shock with his depictions of life in the underbelly of Victorian London and shows us the city as it really is. The crowd turned mob imagery gives way to a new identity of ‘the crowd’ and the loss of identity within it showing that people did become truly lost within the masses. Dickens also takes a moral stand and embodies the character of Sikes as evil, representing everything that society has become. He confronts the reader with the real as a way of reporting on social issues in order to bring a gravitas to the poor and destitute.

#amwriting #cathythewriter #olivertwist #charlesdickens


David, D. (ed) (2001) The Cambridge Companion to The Victorian Novel. Cambridge: University Press

Dickens, C. (1992) Oliver Twist. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited 

Harrison, M. (2008). “The Paradox of Fiction and the Ethics of Empathy: Reconceiving Dickens’s Realism”. Narrative [Online] 16 (3) (Oct., 2008), pp. 256-278. Available from: http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.staffs.ac.uk/stable/30219607

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James, L. (2006). The Victorian Novel. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Kucich, J. (2001). ‘Intellectual Debate in the Victorian Novel’. In: David, D. (ed) The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Mayhew, H. (1985) London Labour and the London Poor. London: Penguin

Meckier, J. (1982). Hidden rivalries in Victorian fiction: Dickens, Realism, and Revaluation. [Online] Kentucky U.P, United States. Accessed from: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/staffordshire/detail.action?docID=1915201. [Accessed 17/10/2017]

Ward, J. (1907). The Realism of Dickens. Reviewed in: The Dublin Review 1836-1910.[Online] 141(282), pp. 285-295. Available from: https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.staffs.ac.uk/docview/7909837/fulltext/113EAF18E8914338PQ/1?accountid=17254

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