Literature, and inappropriate books…

Tonight I thought I’d talk about… literature. Literature can mean many things to many people, but when you’re at school it generally refers to English Literature, or “Eng. Lit.”, and if schools are anything like they were when I was at school, from about Year 4 onwards you’ll be given a list of books to read and study; you’ll be asked questions about them in assignments, tests, and exams, and be expected to write essays on them. A very few of these books you will enjoy, others you’ll find dull, boring, maudlin and morbid, and some are just straight out nasty, but you have to read them anyway. They’re supposed to be “literature”, good writing, in most cases considered to be “classics”, with many deep and meaningful messages about different social issues either now, or in the past.

I just thought that I’d mention four of the books that we had to study between Year 4 and Year 6 (for us oldies, that’s Intermediate, Leaving, and Matric!), and which I thought, at the time, mind you, to be totally inappropriate for our age group! Let me know if you’ve had to “do” any of these, and what you thought of them – I’d be quite interested! 🙂

1. The Mayor of Casterbridge
by British author Thomas Hardy. It is set in the fictional town of Casterbridge (based on the town of Dorchester in Dorset). The book is one of Hardy’s Wessex novels, all set in a fictional rural England. It was one of our English Literature novels in Intermediate (Year 4?) and my first “taste” of “proper” English literature; I didn’t like it, and have never really developed a taste for so-called proper Literature since, thanks to most of the novels we were given to study as part of the curriculum of the day. The Mayor of Casterbridge struck me as being a cross between the dull, boring, maudlin and and morbid Sons and Lovers (see below!), and a vacuous Victorian melodrama.
It’s about a rather nasty man who, whilst drunk, auctions off his wife and baby daughter. He swears off drink, and goes on to run a successful business. He has an affair, his long lost wife comes back with the now grown up daughter, who eventually turns out not to be his daughter but the daughter of the man he sold his wife to, all those years ago. Things go from bad to worse, people find out what he’s really like and hate him. He loses his business and goes bankrupt. When he finally dies, he’s penniless and alone. End of story.

Why did they make us read that? The only point it seemed to make is that some people are true rotters, and others are nice – but at our age, we already knew that anyway. Boring. I’d give it an “appropriateness” rating of 4 out of 10

2. Sons and Lovers
Sons and Lovers is a 1913 novel by the English writer D. H. Lawrence. The Modern Library placed it ninth on their list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century. While the novel initially incited a lukewarm critical reception, along with allegations of obscenity, it is today regarded as a masterpiece by many critics and is often regarded as Lawrence’s finest achievement.
If that was his finest achievement, I’d hate to have to read his worst! 😦  It’s the story of the artistic son of a woman who had married badly, and below her class status. His relationship with his mother makes it virtually impossible for him to form any loving or close relationships with other women, and to me the whole book seemed tired, maudlin and totally depressing and pointless. And this is supposed to be suitable reading for a bunch of blossoming young ladies, discovering the delights of romance and love for the first time? This one I’d give an “appropriateness” rating of 3 and 1/2 out of 10.

3. Lord of the Flies
Lord of the Flies is a 1954 dystopian novel by Nobel Prize-winning English author William Golding about a group of British boys stuck on an uninhabited island who try to govern themselves with disastrous results. I guess the word “dystopian” gives the game away, rather… Horrible, horrible story! I almost couldn’t believe what I was reading, and I really, really don’t want to write about it. It seemed to go from bad, to worse, to Stephen King-type horror. I hoped that I would never have to read anything so awful again as long as I lived… but I was wrong.. The worst was yet to come… Lord of the Flies gets an “appropriateness” rating of 1 and a bit out of 10.

4. Bless the Beasts and Children
Bless the Beasts and Children is a 1970 novel by Glendon Swarthout that tells the story of several emotionally disturbed boys away at summer camp who unite to stop a buffalo hunt. The book covers some social issues of the 1960s and 1970s.
This story made Lord of the Flies look as friendly and comforting as Whinny the Pooh! It is a thoroughly horrible story about misfits, one of whom ends up committing suicide in an attempt to stop a buffalo hunt (cull, actually). After a great deal of angst, and delving into the boys’ many and varied psychological problems, it ends with the suicide of one boy driving over a cliff in an attempt to stampede and scatter the “cull” herd – and you just know things will not be pleasant for the rest of the misfits. I would never, ever countenance this book falling into the hands of sensitive and emotional teenagers, and yet this “literature” was one of the books we had to study for English Literature in Matric (Year 6). It gets an “appropriateness” rating of -10 out of 10!

Who decides what is good enough to be classified as “Literature”? And who chooses the books for the Years 4 to 6 English Literature curriculum? Upon what, exactly, do they base their selections?

Why anyone would deliberately go out of their way to read…. these sorts of books… is totally beyond me. They may be well written, but so are a lot of other books that are not considered “literature”; they may well cover and explore some of the social issues of their time(s), but so too do a lot of good novels that, once again, don’t fall into the “classical” meaning of the term “English Literature”. And surely there must be many, many classics of the English Literature standard that aren’t quite so depressing and mind numbing as the examples I’ve given above – but apparently they weren’t thought to be suitable for young ladies between the ages of 14 and 17. Such a shame, too, as English Expression and English Literature* were my two best subjects – I don’t think I ever got an exam mark under 90, or a grading lower than A-; just think how much better I could have been if we’d been given something slightly more interesting than those pitiful examples! :/ Oh well, all water under the proverbial now…

Weigh-in this morning was… amazing… 🙂 down to… (wait for it!) 119.9kg! 🙂 No, I’m not going to say that I’ve broken the 120kg barrier… yet! .9kg is just too close for comfort! 😉 Tomorrow’s the first of the month, and I start taking the fluid retaining Provera again for ten days :/ I’ll say that I’ve broken the 120kg barrier when I get down to, say, 119.5kg… But I’m very pleased, anyway 🙂 I did my exercises today, too… maybe that’ll make a difference?

Stay tuned, and find out all the latest tomorrow night! 🙂

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