Literary Bad Girls- Part 2

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Sylvia Plath ( October 27,1932- February 11, 1963

This Boston born bad girl studied at Smith College and won the opportunity to spend the Summer of 1953 as one of the guest editor’s of Mademoiselle magazine. Out of these experiences Plath wrote the modern masterpiece The Bell Jar, where her voice is channelled through the character of the main protagonist Esther Greenwood. This wry, morbid voice explores sexism in American society, modern pop culture, her mental struggles and the psychiatric profession. As a Fulbright scholar in Cambridge this emerging poet met the handsome Ted Hughes at a book launch. The intensity of their meeting makes Sylvia a queen of the Bad Girls, during their initial discourse Sylvia bit him on the cheek so hard, her teeth drew blood. This marked an almost savage and elemental aspect to their relationship, gothic in its inception and tragic in its demise.  As a couple they worked and wrote, travelled to America, taught , returned to England. She had two children after a series of miscarriages and Ted had affairs. He left her for Assia Weevil after a tempestuous five years and she committed suicide by putting her head in a gas oven.  What remains of this girl is her legend and of course her canon of work, her poetry collection Ariel continues to be analyzed and admired decades later.Listen her:

BBC INTERVIEWS WITH SYLVIA AND TED

And Ryan Adams beautiful song about her

 

Jean Rhys(1890-1979)

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Read this biography by the brilliant Lilian Pizzichini to get a measure of this Bad Girl with literary talent and artistic integrity.  Rhys had a dreamy childhood in the lush island heat of Dominica, the daughter of a white Creole mother and a Welsh father. A colourful life included a brief stint as a chorus girl in London, a career as an artist’s model and a vagabond and bohemian existence in Paris.

Rhys had three failed marriages, was often alcoholic and destitude, economically on the edge and abandoned by caddish men. Yet it was all these hardships that made her such a great writer, Rhys distilled her experiences into the beautiful prose of books such as After Leaving Mister Mr Mackenzie(1930) and Good Morning, Midnight (1939) and the unforgettable Wide Saragasso Sea, the story of Bertha Mason, the first wife of Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre.

It is a great consolation that Rhys lived to see her work attain critical acclaim and was made a CBE in 1978. The monde recognised this fragile voice of the demi-monde and bohemia, a life full of flawed humanity and fragile dreams.

 

Literary Bad Girls- Part One

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No one encapsulates the allure of the Bad Girl quite like Lana Del Rey with her haunting lyrics, eyes liquid with longing and lyrics syrupy with nostalgia as she sings her breakthrough hit Video Games. Well Lana since you asked I’ll have to confess that I more than like the bad girls, I love them.  My favourite are the literary ladies who kicked up a storm, lived life on their own terms and have been inspirational for generations of others. On today’s post I’ll cover four such luminaries.

 

Edna St Vincent Millay(1892-1950)

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She was the poet who wrote First Fig which in its few short lines encapsulates her life, where she certainly burnt the candle at both ends. She wrote all sorts of transgressive poetry and plays as well as being a very skilled sonnet writer, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for her fourth book, The Ballad of the Harp Weaver. She practiced what she preached and went on to have a life time of bisexual love affairs and was also an outspoken pacifist who sometimes attracted ire. Nancy Milford’s biography entitled Savage Beauty is a great read for anyone who wants to know about the extraordinary life of this poet of the Jazz age.

Dorothy Parker(1893-1967)

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Dorothy Parker famously said that every morning she brushed her teeth and sharpened her tongue. As a novelist,screenwriter, poet and critic , Parker was notorious as the hard-drinking bad girl with a talent for stinging repartee and for her endlessly quotable one liners. Her poems and stories capture the spirit of the decadent Jazz age in New York, often exposing the darkness as well as the dazzle. The philosopher Irwin Edman said of Parker that her talent was the ability to “combine a heartbreak with a wisecrack.” Although married three times, in fact twice to the same man Alan Campbell, Parker’s romantic entanglements were copious and troubled and all this emotional drama surfaces in her stories.  Her vulnerability behind the acerbic manner makes her the ultimate bad girl with a heart. Every book shelf should have a copy of Parker’s collected works, the Portable Dorothy Parker.

 

Anais Nin (1903-1977)

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The author of the erotic short story collection Delta of Venus lived a life that I’ve always found scintillating and fascinating. In an open marriage in 1930’s Paris to an American banker, Nin refused to live a life limited by societal dictates. Forays into the bohemian cafes of Paris led her to Henry Miller with whom she had a very passionate affair. A love triangle developed between Henry, his wife June and Anais, which is the subject of a 1990 film Henry and June, which explores this tangled love story. Her life story is one hell of a read, bigamy, duplicity, affairs and a searing search for self-knowledge make the pages steam with bad girl chutzpah. Noel Riley Fitch’s book is a great read for anyone curious about this most singular literary woman.IMG_1108

 

Zelda Fitzgerald( July 24th 1900-March 10th, 1948)

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Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, born in Montgomery, Alabama was an American novelist and wife of one of my favourite authors F.Scott Fitzgerald. She was a true icon of the 20’s and the original flapper girl who bobbed her hair, drank to excess and was a huge influence on her husband’s work. Her life has enough dramatic material to fill many books and with the re-release of the Great Gatsby last year, there has been a resurgence of interest in Zelda’s life. She was an extremely gifted woman who became torn by the clash between her husband’s career and her own talent, willingly consumed in a marriage marred by alcoholism, mental-health issues and jealousy. When still riding the crest of the Jazz age her exploits included dancing on table tops, diving naked into fountains and riding on the roofs of New York cabs. For me she will always be modern literature’s most famous muse, an iconic woman who was  the original bad girl.IMG_1113

 

This summer I’ve noticed a batch of novels hitting the book shelves featuring modern day Bad Girls. Lena Dunham’s Girls shows the New York twenty- something dating scene with a gritty and unflinching reality, far removed from the manolos and cocktails of Carrie Bradshaw’s Sex and the City. This trend in TV drama is also evident in some of the new books by female authors behaving badly.

Zoe Pilger’s debut Eat My Heart Out is an anti-romance featuring a 23 year old protagonist who has dropped out of university and is
holed up in a fetid Clapham houseshare. Read it and lock up your daughters!
Emma- Jane Unsworth’s second novel Animals is a story shaken and stirred by a litany of disastrous nights out and even more dodgy sexual encounters.

Bryony Gordon’s The Wrong Knickers is her memoir of a decade of decadence as a young journalist in London. As an account of Bad Girl antics it’s amusing and well worth a Summer read.

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Blame it on the Rosé…

DISCOMOVIE

On holidays in France last month I noticed a flurry of activity in the lobby of our hotel in Juan Les Pins. Red carpet was being rolled out the door and young women clad in designer clobber clicked around the foyer in vertiginous heels having animated discussions in their iPhones and clutching clipboards. I immediately sniffed a party of the private variety and the antithesis of the events I attended in Rathmines in the mid eighties where groups of students sat on bedsit floors puffing ciggies and watching their harp stash.

I’ve perfected the art of walking by door people with an air of possession. Book in hand I strode past the PR beauties muttering to myself a little and ignoring the chorus of madams emanating from the entrance. Once out on the beautiful courtyard over looking the beach I was offered a glass of champagne by a friendly waiter. All attendees were extremely chic and all the beautiful people mingled, air-kissed, laughed and posed for photographs with the confidence of movie stars.

I was beginning to stand out a little, cutting a lone figure centre stage with just a Tim Winton book and a glass of bubbly. I noticed a very dapper man sitting near by talking to a woman. He was clearly american and a little intimidating, but I had to ask someone where Tim Winton was.

” Excuse me, but would you know where Tim Winton is? I’d like him to sign my book?” I asked.

“Tim Winton isn’t here. He didn’t win the prize. Whit Stilmann did.” he replied.
“I’ve never heard of Whit Stilmann.” I said.
“I’m Whit Stilmann.” replied the famous American director.
I began to stutter and splutter and attempt to dig myself out of the crater sized faux pas, much mentioning that I love books and films followed and that I’d adored The Last Days of Disco, never realised that it had been released as a book.

Whit took it all with a sanguine and languid sense of humour and later talked about Gatsby and his love of Paris. I introduced him during the course of the evening to my friend Pauline. It was a combination of the rosé, the champagne, the sheer thrill of meeting a famous director but words failed me as my brain scrambled for his first name.

Whit is not part of the normal vernacular in Ireland and I struggled to remember this first name. My brain strayed into the literary memory and I found myself introducing Whit Stilmann as Walt Whitman. It could have been worse, Walt Disney and Ben Stiller were waiting on the tip of my tongue.Don’t blame it on sunshine, don’t blame it on moonlight, blame it on the rose.

ANNE

 

I won’t take you home again Caitlin Moran

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I am getting very tired of the media attention given to Caitlin Moran since the publication last year of How to Be a Woman, a purported must read for all women and now Moran’s second offering to the canon of feminism texts, the strangely named How to Build a Girl.

I feel slightly at odds with the authors of the glowing media reviews, the twitterati who worship at her doc martened feet, the art’s reviewers who enter into states of mesmerisation when she enters the studio. For me it’s just another case of mass cultural hysteria and further evidence of the blandification of our age.

For any woman to purport that she knows the definitive answer to both becoming a girl and subsequently a woman based on her own experiences hints at a very strong ego, stoked by her adoring media chums. I realise that feminism has developed into two strands, the media phenomenon which Caitlin Moran represents and the academic strand descending from Greer and De Beauvoir. I’d rather The Second Sex or The Female Eunuch any day to any SHOUTY missive rank, with the over telling of an obsessional predilection for self pleasure and built with prose devoid of style.

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Am currently looking forward to reading my latest acquisitions which consist of The Vacationers by Emma Straub, Meatspace by Nikesh Shukla, Arts & Entertainment by Christopher Beha, Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken, My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff and The Stinging Fly Summer 2014 Issue 28/Volume 2. I have also just pre-ordered Alarm Girl by the very brilliant Hannah Vincent who is an old classmate from Kingston.

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Here is some vintage footage of the très formidable Germaine and moi.

Holiday reading

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I always love to rediscover an old holiday read on the bookshelf, its pages stained with sun tan lotion, the pages clumped and curling from frequent encounters with my dripping self. I can always remember the holiday where it earned its battered state, the beach or poolside that provided the backdrop to its disfigurement and post- sodden state. Summer reads like destinations should supply just enough entertainment to help the mind unravel. A tome that requires too much concentration as you lie poolside is never a good idea.

I attempted Thomas Piketty’s ” Capital” on day one on the beach and after half an hour was in an advanced state of anxiety about the World, the economy and my own meagre place in all this. I abandoned it for an Autumn night, made immediate peace with the fact that I’ll never have much money, it seems to elude me somehow, like the green light in Gatsby.

I returned to my supply of novels that promised to transport me to other lives and other sensibilites. I can highly recommend the following beach themed books.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub- a deftly observed novel about the secrets,lies and jealousies that bubble to the surface over the course of an American family’s two-week stay in Mallorca.

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler- The character Delia Grinstead vanishes without any reason. She sheds her old life for a new and exiting one, which makes it an ideal holiday read as you lie on the deck chair and think of new schemes and reinventions.

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf- enter into this landmark novel of high modernism and join the Ramsay family in their summer house off the coast of Scotland, as prepare to be transformed by this moving portrait of family life.

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh- From the Ramsays at the turn of the century, you can now join the long-married Jenn and Greg on summer vacation in Mallorca. As you sip your vino be prepared for a very steamy read of lust in the lemon groves. Oh, and it doesn’t involve Greg as the object of this lust..

Alison Moore’s first novel ” The Lighthouse ” brings the reader on a holiday that begins on the deck of a ferry, where we meet Futh who is leaving an unravelling marriage for a walking holiday along the Rhine. What follows is a story of repetition and circularity, which is deliciously unsettling. As a Man Booker contender this book lends a bit of literary cachet to your beach look!

Always good when on foreign shores to hark back to the motherland with that peculiar mixture of smug gratitude at having escaped however temporarily and a sort of nostalgic patriotism for the old isle. These books, recently published by Irish authors are superb.
Eimear McBride’s ” A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” is an experience that needs a little commitment from the reader and this award winning book will teach you more about language and consciousness than a PhD in linguistics. She’s hailed as a Joycean genius, make up your own mind.

Colin Barrett’s ” Young Skins” is probably the best collection of short stories I’ve read in the last few years. These stories are based in a fictional Mayo town, and in both style and scope excavate the gaping holes in lives and loves in post-boom Ireland.

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Short Stories are the new novel

IMG_0017In the week that Alice Munro won the nobel prize for literature it is very apt to discuss the short story, its subtle art and its recent renaissance. As a literary form it was the last to develop. Of all the literary forms I believe the short story to be one of the jewels in the crown. Storytelling in one form or other is hardwired into our human discourse, a way for us to shape the telling of our personal histories and to imagine possibilities ‘that would enchant, terrify, enthral, admonish, titillate’ and entertain. The informal oral tradition of storytelling only became one of the great 20th century art forms when inexpensive publishing technology coupled with the middle-class literacy in the 19th century gave rise to mass market general interest magazines and periodicals to service the new reading public’s desires and preferences. This new medium provided a forum for a piece of short fiction in the five to fifty page range and writers like Hawthorne, Poe and Turgenev rose to the challenge and began to write classic and timeless short stories virtually from the outset. The novel still held sway in mid 19th century Britain even after the influential story “ The Two Drovers” was published by Walter Scott in Chronicles of the Canongate in 1827; a literary text that inspired George Eliot and Thomas Hardy in Britain, Balzac in France, Pushkin and Turgenev in Russia and Fenimore Cooper and Hawthorne in America. In fact the true beginnings of the short story has been laid at Nathaniel Hawthorne’s door with his publication of Twice- Told Tales in 1837. When Edgar Allen Poe read Hawthorne he made the first real analysis of the form with his simple definition of the short story as a narrative that “can be read in one sitting.”
He also encapsulates the ability of short fiction to become more resonant and memorable than its length might dictate. A short story written
with care and skill” is like “a picture painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction.
It is generally agreed by literary critics that Anton Chekov (1860-1904) is the greatest short story writer ever. William Boyd in his essay A Short History Of The Short Story states that the simple reason for this is that Chekhov, in his mature stories of the 1890’s “revolutionised the short story by revolutionising narrative.” This new form of short story introduced a fictional style that corresponded with the random, inexplicable and sometimes agonising lives we all lead- Chekhov abandoned the old authorial manipulation of a story for one not striving for a climax and with characters who speak for themselves without censure or praise. His cool, unflinching, dispassionate attitude to the human condition resounds in writers as diverse as William Trevor and Raymond Carver, Elizabeth Bowen, John Cheever, Muriel Spark and Alice Munro.

Some of my favourite short story writers include F.Scott Fitzgerald especially his collection ” Flappers and Philosophers ” and the works of Flannery O’Connor whose story A Good Man is Hard to Find is one of the finest in literary history. The beauty of Alice Munro’s prose is a joy for any reader and her often melancholy tales of small-town Canadian life demonstrate the gentle power of the short story at its best. . Kevin Barry is a new voice in Irish Fiction who writes dark, blackly hilarious and realistic narratives. His short story “Beer Trip to Llandudno won the Sunday Time’s award last year and having seen him give a very animated reading at a literary festival I began to read his work most notably the short story collections Dark Lies the Island and There are Little Kingdoms. Barry is able to breathe life into characters and make them engaging to the reader; amateur ale enthusiasts on a beer trip to Wales when portrayed by Barry become “sweet, funny and unexpectedly moving” – his account of a hotel owner’s experience in a remote part of Ireland where ” it rained two hundred and eighty seven days of the year, and the locals were given to magnificent mood swings” is especially entertaining.

Short story collections are ideal to read when the reader wants to commit less time to the experience than that required when reading a large novel. The journey can be all the more entertaining despite its brevity and when vividly told the story allows readers to live momentarily but memorably beyond the confines of their own individual existence.