As a Matter of Fact

Georgette Heyer’s romances are particularly good, because:

  1. she did meticulous research and applied it very elegantly, making her books historically very accurate without info dumping,
  2. her prose is very witty and funny, and it reminds one of writings from the early 19th century without imitating it,
  3. her heroines all have agency and strong characters, but in a realistic way for their time,
  4. all books have plots/stories beyond the romance and could carry themselves equally well as comedies, mysteries, swashbucklers, etc.,
  5. both romantic leads always have independent characters, relationships and interests beyond their romances,
  6. there is no sex but more sexual tension than in most novels with sex,
  7. very good side characters who lead their own lives and could very well work as “heroes of another story” rather than just extras,
  8. good balance of trademark style and variety,
  9. bold use of various relationship dynamics for her main couples and outside of that, rather than the usual will-they-won’t-they,
  10. pets, kids, funny relatives, etc. to give a very complete, fun feeling to the whole story and as common ground for heroine and hero.

On reading comprehension

There are so many posts online claiming that decent reading comprehension and critical thinking would cause a reader to interpret all sorts of things into writing that were never intended to be there, and would also cause them to have a negative opinion of any book they read.

But in my experience, and with the many bad reviews I have read, and annoying discussions I have participated in, only show that in most cases, the opposite is true. The amount of nonsense people read into books, and false claims they make while discussing them beggars all belief.

I have read numerous reviews that describe and criticize things that never appeared in the books in meticulous detail. I have argued with people whose interpretation of the author’s intentions and the characters’ actions are so unfounded that it makes one wonder if they have ever learned to read or think. I have seen people run down books based on aspects of them they have made up themselves.

And it’s not only a matter of (a lack of) formal education—many people who act as though being an English major were somehow their identity can hardly understand even a simple text. And reading is, after all is (and should be!) a widespread interest, and accessible and available for everyone.

The real problem lies with the individual approach to reading, the way many readers decide what would happen in a book beforehand, and the arrogant conviction that one could break down an individual literary work into a simple set of tropes, upon which to decide whether a book is good or bad, problematic or not.

And people often find exactly what they are convinced to dislike in a book, and, given the chance, often choose the most negative interpretation.

And because of all this, actually learning to read properly is important. Not only to know when a blue curtain means depression, but also when it doesn’t, and not only to know when a story is terrible and problematic, but also when it isn’t, and not only to know that when a pleasant story is actually only shallow and stupid, but also when it actually is good.

The Lizzys and the Darcys

I think it’s rather funny, how in the discussion about the adaptations of Pride and Prejudice from 1995 and 2005, it is so very frequently claimed that those who prefer the 1995 version do so because of Colin Firth, whereas those whose main concern is Lizzy prefer Keira Knightley and the 2005 film…

whereas I just absolutely adore Jennifer Ehle, while I don’t care very much for Knightley’s Lizzy (though I don’t dislike her—she’s Lizzy all right, just without the brilliance of Ehle’s performance) and I actually find Colin Firth’s performance as Darcy—though certainly very good! as he is an expert actor—to be one of the weaker aspects of my otherwise favoured adaptation. In fact, I nearly prefer Matthew Macfadyen’s Darcy… simply because I prefer his vibe.

On the other hand, his performance, though I generally like him a lot, is comparably bland, just like Keira’s. But my critique of his performance is the opposite of Firth’s: Darcy needs a balance of actual mean snobbery and well-meaning awkwardness, and Firth is mostly the former, Macfadyen the latter. That is, I think, also the reason why both appear to specific, different groups of fans. Both are good Darcys, but with distinctly different appeal.

I actually think the 2020 version of Emma is in many ways like 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice—though not as good—and equally popular on the internet, because the characterization of the leads is so very adjusted to the taste common, modern taste. (I suppose I am an exception!)

As for Mr Darcy, I would even go so far and say that Laurence Olivier’s version had quite a good snob-awkward-nice balance, maybe better than any other Darcy I’ve seen. And Greer Garson is a very lovely Lizzy, even outshining him, though only almost as perfect for the role as Jennifer Ehle.

Anyhow—I really like both the 1995 and 2005 versions in different ways, and all four leads, too. It’s just that my preferences and reasons for them don’t really align the way that people usually claim they always would.

Song of the Week: Over the Hedgerows

From the soundtrack of my all-time favourite series All Creatures Great and Small, this lovely instrumental by Johnny Pearson evokes the frosty, early spring like no other melody.

It had been used in numerous episodes, most famously in the lovely lambing scenes in Attendant Problems.

That Thing about Narnia

I find very often that readers of The Chronicles of Narnia, even fans, who complain about the religious aspects of it, have a very, very limited, and more than that, prejudiced understanding of them.

It seems especially that those who read or re-read them at an older age, with full awareness of the existence of these themes, have already made up a very clear idea of them and of how they influence the stories, and it shows.

I mean—there are obvious ones, like the Deeper Magic in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which everyone will get, and about which people usually don’t complain, but otherwise it seems that the ideas readers have of the influences and themes are extremely off.

I need to say here, that I don’t claim to have a superior understanding—most things go over my head, I’m often surprised about what I still find, and whenever I read books or articles about Narnia, I am amazed how much there still is to find and to learn about.

But I do understand the basic way in which Christianity and Religion work in Narnia. And it’s not what most non-religious (and even some Christian) readers think it is.

The first thing is: the Narnia books are not missionary work. They are not books that try to convert things to Christianity—only kids who are raised in Christianity or have in some other way studies its basics (in school, for instance) will even figure out some of the parallels, and even that isn’t a given. The books will not in any way make a child after reading think “Oh, boy, I sure need to become a Christian now.” Religion, in that sense, is not even a subject, and only sparsely referenced as a normal everyday thing, just like in most pieces of western media.

The next thing is: these books don’t teach the world view of modern day American alt-right Protestants. A lot of people, especially on the internet, seem to think so, which is rather odd, considering the books were written in the 50s, by an English (Northern Irish, actually) atheist turned Anglican, whose own unusual religious development, and whose (academical) interest in Paganism and other non-Christian religions certainly kept him open-minded in these respects.

And then there’s all that talk about the Problem of Susan, of course, and about how the Scrubbs were actually woke people, and how everything was sexist and all that “because of those evil Xtians who try to convert the children”.

I see so many posts about how people just ignore the religious themes, and how people who like the books despite them, and that’s all fine and well, but they often have no idea what they are. They are not a case of “hurr hurr white old man wrote bad old-fashioned worldview”, they are on an entirely different level, in certain references and images and quotes that they may actually like a lot, and more general in the Fight for Good and everlasting Hope.

And if you get rid of the religious aspects, you get rid of all that you like about Narnia, and be left with only a shallow little bit won’t appeal to you at all, and probably a good deal of what you think is that annoying Christian influence.