Tuesday 6 July 2010

Joyce and Chekhov and Lawrence

I had to put these three images together as I was struck how similar they look. I am not suddenly trying to be all high brow it is just that it was suggested that I look at Joyce's short story 'The Dead' and Lawrence's short story 'Odour of Chryssanthemums'. The idea was to consider how they wrote their short stories, keeping it tight and yet still get information across.
Lawrence I had read for A' level, we did the 'Three Novellas'. There was one boy in the class and a rather new and absolutely delicious male teacher. We spent two whole terms on the 'Three Novellas' as we kept asking questions and referring back to it and the sexual innuendo. I can't even remember what other books we did (or rather didn't do). Poor chap, I wonder if he is still teaching.
Joyce I have to a point avoided. However, that is where I got the term chaosmos from as he uses it in 'Finnegan's Wake', Joyce also uses 'Vanessa' within the narrative. So I was willing to have a go at his short stories and I loved them as I did Lawrence's in particular 'The White Stocking' and for Joyce I was taken by 'Eveline' and 'A Little Cloud'. It was the tightness of their sentences, no word was wasted as each one had a purpose.
It was interesting and a very good exercise to go back to reading some 'grown up' fiction rather than concentrating on the YAF that will be the contemporaries of my novel. Also to read short stories, there is such a skill to writing powerful short stories. It made me go back and look at my own work and consider whether some of the words I am using are superfluous.
Ok so where to does Chekhov come in. Well I was reading Francine Prose's 'Reading Like a Writer' which is a set text on one of the modules I have been teaching. Prose quite frequently refers to Chekhov and having never read any I felt at a disadvantage. I purchased Anton Checkhov's 'About Love' and decided to read it on the ferry over to France. I wanted to see if I found his work as stimulating and inspiring as Lawrence and Joyce. I picked a perfect moment to do my reading. I had a reserved seat which was by broad windows overlooking the sea. Though all the seats said reserved only two other people came in and sat down. Anyone else entering started talking in hushed whispers as if they were in church or a library and there for five hours I read Chekhov.
I enjoyed his writing in particularly I loved 'Fish Love' which made me laugh out loud at the end as I certainly didn't expect that a fish would infect all poets with pessimism. It is only two pages long but the words paint the picture so well it could almost be a novel's worth. My personal thoughts with Chekhov's short stories are 'what you see is what you get'. Once again there were no unnecessary words but I also felt there wasn't as much depth to these stories as Lawrence and Joyce.
I suppose what I am actually saying is that be open to read other things, not just contemporary work, challenge yourself, look elsewhere and analyse it. See why you think it works (or doesn't).
As is said by many, the better reader you are the better writer you will become.

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