Bookmarks: Boomin’ Valentine’s Day
Romancing the novel for a modern reader
Valentines Day, and romance, they say, is abloom. All very well, but picture this, if you can: Fitzwilliam Darcy rising from a lake, wet shirt clinging to his rugged torso. On the bank, Elizabeth Bennet whips out her smartphone, takes a photograph and posts it on Twitter with the caption: “OMG.”
There is, of course, nothing of the sort in the Jane Austen classic, Pride & Prejudice. True, in the BBC’s 1995 adaptation, with Colin Firth as Darcy, he does emerge dripping from a lake, causing Ms Bennet’s heart to skip a beat. But without the smartphone, though, such things not yet being available in the Regency era.But the above scene is now included in a new version of the novel, which has been “modernised” for the 21st century by writers at the British digital channel, UKTV Drama. Two other 19th-century novels get the modern-era upgrade as well, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
The aim of the exercise was to test the theory that digital devices would ruin the “art of romance” in classic love stories, and to illustrate how their characters may have acted had the events taken place today, in an era of smartphones, social media and online communications.
In Wuthering Heights, for example, Heathcliff’s stubborn pride could drive him to leave “unmannerly comments” under Nelly’s Twitter poll about “Who should Catherine choose?” while the whole novel is reimagined as a series of blogs by Mr Lockwood.Tess of the d’Urbervilles poses the question whether the book’s unhappy events could have been averted had Angel not ignored his Tinder match with Tess. Or would readers question the depth of Angel’s love for Tess when they learn of his preoccupation with Instagram and Pinterest?
The books’ editor, Professor John Sutherland of University College London, has mixed feelings about the results. He said that he thought there was a valid point to them, but that it was impossible to seamlessly insert modern technology into such stories.
“I think all you can do is be aware that the passage of time does make everything which is written, even quite recently, historical,” he said. “And it’s a very clever trick to be able to contextualise things.”
The books can be downloaded for free HERE
This month marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918, an act that reformed the electoral system in Great Britain and Ireland and which at last allowed women there the vote. There were conditions, of course: they had to be over 30 and own property worth at least £5 (about R3,300 in today’s terms) or have husbands who did. The act also included all men over 21 in the political system. Broadly speaking, it extended the franchise by 5.6-million men and 8.4-million women.When we think of the suffragettes today, the image that most comes to mind is the grainy film footage of journalist and former governess Emily Davison throwing herself under the king’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby. But as a number of new histories remind us, this fatal act was the culmination of a decade of confrontation, some of it extremely violent, in a campaign that not only drew in middle-class women, but factory workers, shop girls, teachers and housewives all over Britain. Many of them were quite willing to go to jail for acts that grew increasingly dangerous.Recommended works include Rise Up, Women! The Remarkable Lives of the Suffragettes (Bloomsbury) by Diane Atkinson; Deeds Not Words: The Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now (Sceptre) by Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst; and Hearts and Minds: The Untold Story of the Great Pilgrimage and How Women Won the Vote (Doubleday) by Jane Robinson.
And if men were disquieted by women with the vote, imagine how they felt when the vibrator came along. In her 1968 essay, The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm, the feminist writer Anne Koedt rubbished Freud’s fantasy of “mature” orgasms and called for it to be replaced with women’s lived truth: it was all about the clitoris. Author Peggy Orenstein noted: “That assertion single-handedly, as it were, made female self-love a political act, and claimed orgasm as a serious step to women’s overall emancipation.”Men were threatened by such behaviour. They feared obsolescence, the loss of primacy. Norman Mailer, in his book The Prisoner of Sex, railed against the emasculating “plenitude of orgasms” created by “that laboratory dildo, that vibrator!”Orenstein was reviewing two new histories — Buzz: The Stimulating History of the Sex Toy by Hallie Lieberman (Pegasus Books) and Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure by Lynn Comella (Duke University Press) — that reveal how a quest for self-knowledge would, as she put it, become “a driver of feminist social change, striking a blow against men’s overweening security and the attempts (still with us today) to control women’s bodies”.
There is a lot of overlap with both books, Orenstein says. Both are “chockablock” with colourful characters, like the pioneering US sex educator Betty Dodson who used a vibrator on herself in her early consciousness-raising workshops. “I am woman, hear me roar indeed,” Orenstein added.
The bottom line
“The adrenaline racing through my body made me feel invincible all the time. And the shame I felt afterward was even better.” — Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction by Erica Garza (Simon & Schuster).