Sunday, December 15, 2013

Biographical fiction, Jude Morgan, David Lodge.

 Jude Morgan's  'Secret Life of William Shakespeare'

Jude Morgan makes interesting comments about the development of his work.
 He was motivated above all by wanting to re-instate Shakespeare as a real person, not as a cultural icon only.
The known facts are few: born, went to grammar school,  married an older woman, Anne, when he was eighteen, was a father at nineteen and two more children followed. He worked away from home a great deal. ( I don't want to draw fatuous comparisons but I do wonder whether Edward Thomas noticed those parallels with his own situation.)

Morgan writes:

Armed with these bare facts, the biographer must draw only the most likely conclusions, and emphasise that they are informed speculation. The novelist has an easier time of it. We are liars by profession. People pay us to make up stories for them. On the other hand, like all con artists we have to be persuasive. As soon as the reader shakes their head in scepticism, as soon as they feel something doesn't ring true, the deal is off. So in writing about Shakespeare I strove to give the feeling, not that 'this is how it might have been' but 'this is how it was'.

On language, he chose not to use archaisms: the reader would lose that sense of immediacy, of life happening in the present for the characters. He just tried to avoid anachronisms.
Unlike me he scarcely used the dating of the works to deduce what Shakespeare's concerns and life events might be, because, as he says, Shakespeare was the least autobiographical writer, probably what makes him great.
I found it very instructive and actually reassuring to read this novel, as I could see parallels in mine in several ways - especially  giving a major role to the protagonist's wife and having a secondary, less likeable writer friend as a counter-foil, a context of the other writers and trends of the times - quite unconsciously arrived at I thought, but maybe stemming from some teaching and the many thousands of novels read in my life.

David Lodge - I did write to him saying how valuable I'd found his writing on this subject in the past and recently, and asking if he would consider reading and commenting. He wrote back very promptly, declining with reasons and adding 'I may well buy it and read it one day' and wishing me luck.  I think that was very kind and very understandable.

I didn't enjoy 'A Man of Parts' very much as I found Wells such an unattractive, shallow character.  'Author , author '  was much more rewarding  and its subject  - asexual, intensely moral and unspontaneous Henry James, could hardly have been more different. So that is interesting, I suppose, Lodge choosing such contrasts.


Written in December 1914, one of Thomas's first poems.  It's been that sort of day today.


Gone the wild day:
A wilder night
Coming makes way
For brief twilight.

Where the firm soaked road
Mounts and is lost
In the high beech-wood
It shines almost.

The beeches keep
A stormy rest,
Breathing deep
Of wind from the west.

The wood is black,
With a misty steam.
Above, the cloud pack
Breaks for one gleam.

But the woodman's cot
By the ivied trees
Awakens not
To light or breeze.

It smokes aloft
It hunches soft
Under storm's wing.

It has no care
For gleam or gloom:
It stays there
While I shall roam,

Die, and forget
The hill of trees,
The gleam, the wet,
This roaring peace.

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