I rashly mentioned back in August that I had set myself a read through the winter months of Peter Brooks' latest book Realist Vision published by Yale University Press. This was to be a wallowing revision of that wonderful year spent studying the nineteenth century novel back in OU days. This all in an attempt to tune into that 'Pleasurable Swotting' lobe in my brain. I've always got a real buzz from my autodidactic tendencies and it's time to revive it all now that I will have some spare brain RAM available, but I want to use the space fast before it fills with something rubbish like shopping lists or cooking ingredients I might need for Christmas.
Or perhaps I hadn't quite committed myself so fully to the Peter Brooks task but had just hinted that I'd read a bit of it here and there?
Well, I've been reading along with Peter and he has a beguiling way with him, all so interesting I couldn't but help start to follow the realist novel trail he was laying. A guided read through the nineteenth century via Balzac, Dickens and Flaubert, then a good gaze at the realist paintings of Courbet, then back to books with George Eliot, Emile Zola and some comparisons with George Gissing, more looking and impressionist gazing at Manet and Caillebotte and a final flourish into the twentieth century with Henry James, Proust, Joyce and Virginia Woolf.
'Seeing through the roofs and facades of the real to the private lives behind and beneath...how centrally realist literature is attached to the visual, to looking at things, registering their presence in the world through sight.'
It'll take months and months especially as I'll be doing it all wrong and substituting a few of my own choices instead of following Peter's suggestions.
I'm already Floss-ing instead of Deronda-ing for the George Eliot chapter, though Daniel Deronda is also very high on my list of must-reads.Then I've already read Peter's suggested book, Hard Times by Charles Dickens, several times under duress and am tentatively thinking about wheeling in Little Dorrit instead, it's looking good on the TV so far.
This is a high risk strategy, Boz and I have a chequered history, we haven't really hit it off since Our Mutual Friend in 1971.
But anyway all that aside I thought I'd just skip Balzac, never really read any so I'd get by with just reading what Peter thinks, honestly, call this a reading project.
OK I admit it was cheating and Hesperus intuiting the perfidy of my ways sent me some Honore de Balzac. Firstly a tempting little biography from the Brief Lives series and then the dinkiest of novellas,The Vendetta, just eighty pages or so and now Oxford University Press have sent me even more. Slimmish with delectable artwork covers, Eugenie Grandet and Pere Goriot and suddenly I'm looking at crisp neat new books and thinking perhaps I can cope with Balzac after all. Poor old Balzac, there's no kind way to say it and I expect I'll find out if his mother loved him, but he wasn't exactly the handsomest Frenchman sur le rue was he. Apparently much has been made of the fact that Balzac's mother didn't breast feed him and he ended up staying with the wet nurse for four years which doesn't bode well. I'll report back on my findings but meanwhile let's see what Peter thinks with Chapter One, it sounds like a big deal, Balzac Invents the Nineteenth Century.