Friday Favourites: Romantic era female writers who aren’t Jane Austen

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I have never really been the biggest Jane Austen fan. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t describe myself as a hater but I can’t say that she inspires me greatly. And let me tell you something, being a bookish person who doesn’t automatically adore Austen is tough. I don’t judge anyone for liking her but there’s a certain amount of blind faith in her that means you can’t go against her without getting some backlash. My issue is that Austen has been turned into some sort of literary heroine. Somewhere along the way, female writers in history appear to have been erased from the public consciousness and Austen has taken the crown for most important female writer ever. This is nonsense. It’s like the fucking Beatles all over again. Jane Austen did not invent female writing. She has great insights into human nature and is quite funny. But it’s like romantic-comedy. It’s safe because everyone knows where it’s going. The reason that Jane Austen survived wasn’t that she was doing anything incredibly revolutionary or different. She survived because she’s readable. That’s not a bad thing. Obviously readable is good but it’s not necessarily exciting. Austen’s novels never did anything daring enough to have people decry them. They just stayed in the middle of the road. And as for Austen being a feminist? Yes, she writes about strong female characters but Austen was not influenced by the burgeoning feminist narrative going on at the time. It’s very much domestic feminism and it’s very much confined to its little bubble. The main reason that Jane Austen is often given the position of the greatest female writer is that you’re not encouraged to read the others. For whatever reason, they’ve been removed from the conversation. So, here are some of my favourite female writers who, in my opinion, are better than Jane Austen. I’ve not included every single one but there are definitely some women here that I think everyone should read.

Friday Favourites: National Poetry Day

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screenshot_20191003_212118_com8728582950616342181.jpegYesterday was National Poetry Day. I always consider myself a big poetry fan but, if I’m honest, I don’t read a lot of it these days. I have too many novels that need reading. Although I do try. After Rupi Kaur and Amanda Lovelace were all over Bookstagram a few years ago, I decided it was worth giving them a try. After all, everyone I saw was talking about how life-changing they were. I read them. I didn’t get it. Anyone who read my ramble about poetry last year will remember, I got quite angry about them. I don’t get it. It’s not poetry. It’s formating. But, that’s not the point. I want to reconnect with poetry by celebrating some of my favourite poems. I’ll be honest, as a lover of all things Romantic, most of these will probably be pretty obvious but there’s got to a reason we’re still talking about them after all these years, right?

30 Books For My 30th – Book 27

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dscn7366Dear Byron,

I don’t even know if I really do love your poetry. I love you as a person and your reputation so much that I can no longer distinguish between the two. You’re like the Sean Bean of Romantic poetry. I have such a great love for Sean Bean that I have no judgement over his films anymore. I can’t separate the awesome Northern badass for the awful characters he’s playing these days. Similarly, whenever I read your poems I just think of the rock star you once were and can’t tell if I actually like them. Chances are your poems are much more impressive than Sean Bean’s recent filmography but, hopefully, you get my point.

You see, I’m already getting flustered talking to you. I’m like all of those women who believed you were writing love poetry to them. You were the first rock star poet, man. You were like Tom Jones. Did women throw their underwear at you too? Did you appear someone to read your poetry and loads of horny women would just throw their undergarments at you? They did faint in your presence after all. You turned all of your female fans into the heroine of a gothic novel. How could I not love you? I’d probably have been one of them.

But I do, also, appreciate your poetry. Although, you are responsible for one of the most embarrassing moments in my university career. During my third year I took a half-course on you and Shelley. I was excited. I already loved you and I took the chance to do anything linked to Romanticsm. In one of our seminars we were tasked to analyse small sections of the poem Don Juan. My friend and I were given Dudù’s dream sequence, which pre-seminar I had only skimmed over. It took us both a ridiculously long time to understand what was going on. Our tutor thought we were both idiots and I felt so naive. Still, we got there in the end.

I’m not stupid enough to believe that you are the best poet to come out of the Romantic period but I believe that you, more than the others, really sum up what it meant to be a poet of that era. You rejected so many social norms and did what you wanted. You embraced your celebrity, you wanted a fun and exciting life, and you were an artist in your own way. More than anything, you’re fun. I mean, what would vampire fiction have been without you? John Polidori based the first ever true fictional vampire on you. You’re the reason we have Dracula, dude. You’re quite a guy. I’ve never felt the same way reading the poets of Keats, Shelley or Wordsworth as I do reading yours. You may not be the greatest but you’re the most entertaining. And the one that caused the biggest stir. Nowadays, women may be more likely to swoon over pretty-boy Keats. If we’re talking about the real Romantic pinup then, in my heart I know, it’s you.

There is no instinct like that of the heart,

30 Books For My 30th – Number 19

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dscn7286Dear Wordsworth,

This is a difficult letter to write. It’s always hard to reach out to a past love without it being weird. Because I did love you once. Or at least I think I did. I, at least, felt like I should. You were so important a figure. So distinguished. So loved. It was like I didn’t have a choice but to love you. Especially because I’d already decided that my future lay, at least in terms of my education, in the realm of Romanticism. If you want to study this period it’s kind of impossible to ignore you. We all know you were like the father of the whole movement. Plus, I went to a university in Lancashire, near your beloved Lake District, so they properly loved you.

So I tried. I played the part. And I did love some of your poems. Tintern Abbey is a wonderful piece of prose and the first book of The Prelude is a fabulous thing to read. I don’t think you are terrible, by any means, but I can’t say that I was as enamoured as I felt I should be. I don’t wish to sound rude but there are better poets out there. Obviously there are worse (not mentioning any names *cough* Keats) but it’s not like you were that special. I kept thinking “maybe I’m just not getting it” or “maybe it’s just too clever for me”. I started to doubt myself and just forced myself to like you more. I got deeper and deeper until I genuinely didn’t know what to believe anymore. But, really, I think you’re okay.

Have you ever heard the song ‘If I didn’t have you’ by Tim Minchin? I don’t see why you would have considering you died in 1850 but go with me for a second. In that song, the comedian postulates that if he hadn’t met his wife when he did then he’s probably just have fallen in love with someone else. It’s a great song, worth a listen if you ever feel like it. But, my point is, if I hadn’t ever read any of your poems then I don’t feel as though my life would be missing something. Basically, if I didn’t have you then some other poet would do. And even you have to admit that in between all of your big hitters there are a lot of duds. Coleridge knew it. Hazlitt knew it. You must have known it. Surely just because ‘I wandered lonely’ has stood the test of time doesn’t mean we can forgive all of your boring political shit later in life? Right?

But maybe this isn’t a fair assessment. I think it’s safe to say we have a pretty messy break-up so it might be clouding my judgement. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the greatest idea to write my undergraduate dissertation on a poet that I wasn’t sure I liked but that was the choice I made. For months I studied your poems, your diaries, and you letters. I knew you so well it meant there were very few surprises left. Our relationship started to go stale. By the end, we were like the married couple in ‘Brothers on a Hotel Bed’ by Death Cab For Cutie. Saying goodbye from our own separate sides. We spent too much time together. Stopped appreciating each other. We only stayed together for the essay. Once it grew up and moved out of the house we had nothing left keeping us together.

So, that’s why I haven’t really been in touch with you lately. I went through a period of saying hurtful things about you to make myself feel better. It wasn’t the most mature thing I’ve ever done but it made me feel better. And I learnt my lesson. Everything I wrote about in my postgraduate dissertation is still something I love. I ended up finding something good. So I hope you have too. One day, maybe, we can be friends again. After all, we went through so much together that it feels like such a shame to waste it. We’ll see.

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive

30 Books For My 30th – Number 18

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dscn7269Dear Frankenstein,

Before we get into the nitty gritty of this letter let me just say happy birthday. What a wonderful year; both of us celebrating significant ages. Your 200 does make my mere 30 years seem a bit trifling, so thanks for that, but at least you’re one of the few things that actually makes me feel young these days. And, let’s be honest, you look really great for it. If I look half as good when I reach my bicentenary year then I’ll be happier than a mad scientist bringing a corpse back to life.

Now, in relation to a lot of the books on this list, we haven’t known each other for that long. I think I first read you as a 15-year-old probably. I guess I wasn’t in a big rush because I’d seen so many hammy, black and white film adaptations. You see a big lumbering monster capturing women and fleeing from angry mobs with pitchforks a hundred times then you’re not necessarily in a rush to read the book.  I expected you to be camp and overly kitsch. A bit embarrassing. But, thankfully, I was introduced to an English teacher who made me read you. And I’m so glad they did.

Let me be honest with you for a second; I’m a pretty bad bookworm. I don’t tend to reread books all that often. There are certain ones I make an exception for but it’s very infrequent. I don’t set aside a few weeks every year to read the same novel again and again because I love it so much. There are more than a few people who I follow on Instagram who will read the Harry Potter series at least once a year sometimes more. How can they do that to themselves? Do they not have a massive library of unread books to read first? And, really, I’m of the belief that too much of something is a bad thing. If I were to revisit my favourite books too often then I’d eventually hate them. And I already dislike most of the books I read these days. I’d have nothing left. So I tend to just fall in love with a book and deposit it safely on my bookshelf and never speak to it again. Well, I might occasionally stroke it or take it down to photograph it but I tend not to open its pages. It’s safer.

But you broke the mould. You changed the rules. You have the honour of being the book that I have reread most in my lifetime. Okay, so we’ve established that that’s not a very meaningful title to give, especially after I’ve just read something by someone claiming to have read you 50 times, but for me its huge. I’d love to say I did it off my own back but I didn’t. Nope, you followed me everywhere I went. I couldn’t get away from you. You were my Annie Wilkes. Every time I thought I’d got away you would come back in and cut off another of my feet with your axe. I read you for about 5/6 years in a row for my English studies. I started to think I was cursed or something. Every time, I thought to myself, there is literally nothing more I can get from this book but, every time, I was wrong.

You are so much more than the story of a man creating a murderous monster. Yes, you’re the grandfather of modern science-fiction. Yes, there is a lot of mythology surrounding your creation. Yes, you revitalised gothic fiction of the age. But you have so much more to say. So much to say about the human spirit, about science, about obsession, and about fitting into society. You were revolutionary. You changed everything. You changed literature. You changed me. I enjoyed every new read even more than the first time. I fell more and more in love with you every time. And I will continue to fall in love with you every time I read you.

You are a beautifully crafted novel and by someone so young. There is such heartbreak and pain within your pages along with such exciting prose. You are, to borrow a word found so frequently in your film counterparts, alive! I don’t think any book out there has made me feel so many different emotions every single time. You have created some of the most memorable and human characters I’ve ever read and are one of the most interesting books I’ve ever studied. You could debate on who the real victim of this novel is for years and still change your mind every other week. You were, most likely, my first introduction to proper gothic fiction and I’m sure you started my obsession, even if I didn’t know it at the time. You are a book that I will never get bored with and will recommend to everyone. You are everything.
I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine

30 Books For My 30th – Number 14

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dscn7213Dear The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,

Picture the scene: September 2010, a 22 year-old me is at an English department meet and greet before starting my Postgraduate degree and I’m stuck talking to my strange new Professor. It’s all as awkward as you’d hope until he asks me one simple question: “why did you chose to study the Romantic period?” Well?

It was an Ancient Mariner,
And he really spoke to me.
With his long grey beard and glittering eye,
He changed the life of me.

I’ve decided it’s better that I don’t continue the rest of this letter by butchering Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s sensational words but, hopefully, you get the point. The reason I was so desperate to study Romanticism was you.

It was during my A Level studies that I was first introduced to you and it really did change my life. I’d read and kind of enjoyed poetry before but it was all rather pedestrian. It was poetry that seemed as though it was meant to be studied but not enjoyed, if that makes sense. I didn’t hate poetry, by any means, but I still hadn’t been brought around to the idea that one could really enjoy consuming it. Until we studied the epic tale of a crazy old sailor. I was genuinely amazed by what I was reading. I didn’t know poetry could excite me so much.

This was a new world and I was obsessed. I loved every line. I loved every rhyme. I loved every time … I read you. You were the first poem that I read so often I was able to learn you off by heart. And I’m not just talking about your first two stanzas. I knew loads. Not all of you, because you’re quite long, but I still think it was pretty impressive. I’m sure even Coleridge needed to be reminded of the later stanzas too. You were the first poem to convince me I could, and should, read poetry outside of the classroom. I admit, being about 15/16 at the time, it was a little depressing that it took me so long but I was never very taken by sonnets.

You were so much more than the poems we’d studied previously. You were archaic but new. You were gothic and scary yet reassuring and joyful. Expertly mixing the supernatural with the natural. You were everything that early Romanticism stood for and I wanted more. Just like your titular mariner, you hypnotised me. Your words opened my eyes to a new world of prose. Your simple structure and metre only complimented the complexity within your story. The dramatic tale and the ever-moving narrative would always draw me in. Still always draws me in.

I admit that, as the years go by, I can see all the faults that Coleridge saw. The moral is a little hammy and the archaic language is a bit much. Turns out you aren’t as perfect as my naive teenage self once thought you were. But. I still love you. I always will. You changed the whole trajectory of my life. I went to university and studied as much of this era as I could. You pushed me further towards gothic fiction. Everything I achieved during my four years of higher education can be traced back to you. You inspired me. You made me.
Farewell, farewell!

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30 Books For My 30th – Number 11

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dscn7164Dear Novels of Sensibility,

I’ll be honest with you, I could have survived without you in my life. And I had managed to avoid you for most of my life. I’d skirted around your edges but hadn’t really dipped my toe into the vast pool of sentimental fiction. A pool no doubt made up of the tears of your many over-emotional characters. Of course, it would be more like a fucking ocean than a pool. I know you were trying to put forward a positive message to be in touch with your emotions but, even you have to admit, your characters are super annoying. Most of your books are super annoying.

I’m not entirely sure it’s your fault but I just don’t think you fit into the world any more. Who wants to read stories about weedy young women who faint all the time? Now, as a lover of gothic fiction, you might say that I should be used to novels where women faint at the drop of a hat. In a way you’re right. However, you’ve basically removed all of the best bits of gothic novels and just left the fainting and crying. Nobody reads gothic novels for the fainting.

One of my fondest memories of you comes from my postgraduate degree when I was studying you. We’d been discussing Pamela in a seminar when our tutor made a comment about Pamela’s fainting saving her from being raped. My friend asked the legitimate question of “wouldn’t it just make it easier for him?” and he was completely stumped. It was hilarious! But that’s the thing I don’t get about you. Sentimental people are saved from dangerous situations because their would-be attackers take pity on them. It doesn’t make sense. If a creepy, pervy uncle wanted to rape you and you fainted then it wouldn’t suddenly stop him wanting to rape you. Surely he’d just thing “bingo!”?

As a lover of all things associated with the Romantic period, I’m glad I studied you and I value the historical context you provide. But I don’t have time for your weeping men and easily shocked women. You’re a type of novel intended to keep society, particularly women, from causing a fuss. To just “be nice” and not complain. You were a reaction to the French Revolution where you wanted to prevent people from taking a stand politically. You’re basically just horrible propaganda intended to mollify your readers. To create a society of men who were more likely to cry over every flower they saw than start a political uprising. To ensure women stayed indoors and fainted at the very thought of being able to make their own decisions. You kind of suck.

I will bear any thing you can inflict upon me with Patience,


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30 Books For My 30th – Number 3


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dscn6980Dear The Monk,

January 25th 2018. Mark it in your calendar, my friend. That was the date I openly said, for the first time, those three little words: “Is my favourite”. I don’t know what came over me to be quite so bold. I’m normally not good at making the first move but, after 11 years in each other’s lives, it felt right to make it official. You are my favourite book … for now at least. I’ve never been decisive enough to have a favourite before so I can’t exactly promise it’ll be forever. But it’s for now. And for someone as uncomfortable with commitment as me, that means something.

I have to be honest with you, this has come as something of a shock to me. Particularly because you didn’t make the greatest first impression on me. It was sometime in the academic year of 07/08. I was in my first year of University and you were part of my Romanticism module’s reading list. I was a typical undergraduate: too much fun and not enough reading. I also had a massive crush on my tutor so wasn’t exactly concentrating on the books for most of my seminars. I read most of you and, from what I remember, I liked you. I mean, I enjoyed you enough to write about you in my final exam so you must have made something of an impression on me. But not a huge one.

It wasn’t until my postgraduate degree some 3 years later that I truly started to love you. In fact, and I hate to tell you this, I don’t think it was completely because of you that I fell in love with you. I mean you’re great and everything but it was your history that interested me. I came back to you because of 3 pieces of criticism that were written about you or linked to you. The first, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, praised you and critiqued you in equal measure. The other two hated you and your kind. One, by Thomas James Mathias, was outraged that an MP and had published something so scandalous. The second, an anonymous letter entitled ‘The Terrorist System of Novel-Writing’, hated all books of gothic horror and related them to the French Revolution. (Incidentally, that letter is, by far, one of the greatest pieces of correspondence that I’ve ever read.) It is from those 3 pieces that my postgraduate dissertation was born and my love for you cemented.

You scared the shit out of people, man. How could I not love you? You were described as politically dangerous. You’re not even that good a book in the grand scheme of things! Yet everyone was up in arms about you. I adore you for that. I’m not sure what it says about me that I see myself in a book but I see myself in you. You’re melodramatic, misunderstood, and a bit of a mess. Just like me. You mean well, you’re fun, and you make an impact. A bit like me. I’ve never believed in the idea of a human soul mate but book soul mates? You’re the one I’d been looking for.

Yes, you’re a bit all over the place and there are bits of you that don’t make sense or simply don’t fit. Coleridge was right that you had more potential that you don’t quite live up to. Your language is as times poetic and brilliant. At others, it’s abysmal. But you’re clever; you just hide it really well. You have a great political message regarding the aftermath of the French Revolution and the scene where an angry mob storm a convent is mesmerising. I could have written my entire dissertation on that passage alone.

Reading you is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. You’re insane. These days, you won’t be as widely read, which is unfortunate. I’ve bonded with people over you better than I have with most books. When you meet someone who has also read you there is an instant connection thanks to memories of your “beauteous orb” and wanking monk. I’ve had conversations with an ex-colleague about you that have left our co-workers visibly scared and confused. We’ve a history of inappropriate Facebook posts on each other’s walls inspired by your pages. Not many books can do bring people together like that. But you can. I’m so glad I read you. I’m just sorry it took me so long to realise what had been staring me in the face this whole time.

You are mine, and Heaven itself cannot rescue you from my power,


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