Wind in the Willows (was Re: HP review)

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Fri Jul 4 05:36:12 EDT 2003


Roger wrote:

>On Thu, Jul 03, 2003 at 04:25:57PM +0100, Charles Butler wrote:
>>Wind in the Willows for example (I pick it because I was having just
>>this conversation a couple of days ago) really is imbued with anxiety about
>>the working class, isn't it?

If I were looking for the working class in WitW I would probably suggest
that the niche is filled by the rabbits and the field-mice.  I don't think
there is all that much authorial anxiety about them and their behaviour...
The Stoats and the Weasels are a criminal gang, terrorising everyone, for
my money.  Or, given the quasi-military nature of their organisation, a
gang of mercenary soldiers taking over an area after they finish with a war
somewhere.

Not liking the Mustelidae in general (Badger and Otter excepted) is a very
reasonable thing for any country-dweller, anyhow, without any stuff about
them representing the working classes.  They are smelly, vicious,
unreasonable creatures with sharp teeth, in the main, and have a reputation
(which they absolutely deserve) for going into a mindless killing frenzy
when they have once shed blood and smelt it.  I don't *think* Grahame was
likening the English working man in the 1890s and 1900s to a ferocious and
mindless killer, particularly when I consider that the only audience for
whom he wrote that book was his pre-teenage son: it was not intended for
publication, it was a lot of bedtime stories and letters loosely pulled
together into a narrative.  I can't off-hand see any reason to bother with
subtexts in the particular case.

>It certainly _can_ be read that way. It can also be read as a Green
>polemic; or as a version of the Jekyll and Hyde story; or as "an
>important text in debates about gender, cultural myth, national
>identity and the 'heritage industries'"... whether one _should_ do this
>is entirely another matter.

Whether anybody is meant to accept anyone's "_should_" on such a subject,
yours included, is another matter again....  If anyone wants to read it as
a confirmation of entrenched whatever, let 'em, say I.  It's their loss,
not mine.

>Or one can just read it as a _story_ which isn't trying to make any
>particular Point.

If one does that, though, one isn't demonstrating one's superior ability as
a critic and scholar, and showing off how well up one is in the field of
Literary Theory.   One doesn't get tenure that way, nor sell one's stuff
for publication.

>I'm afraid I have little time for the modern critical
>schools which profess to find what turns out to be the critic's personal
>bugbear in every piece of writing he deigns to read.

Why be afraid?  They are most unlikely to bite you, and not being in their
field you can safely just put their work in the round file without paying
too much attention to their maunderings.

Leaving aside any views on the vailidity of assuming the authorial
intention as being important or relevant, it gives *me* an acute attack of
the gigglies being told with Authority that something I have written is
relating to something I never heard of; so you can always picture the
Author, whoever it may be, sitting on a cloud somewhere reading a critical
text about his or her books and what they Mean, and howling with laughter.
:-)  Indeed, you can if you like envision DWJ at her dining-table having a
hearty laugh over some of the guff that's been written about her books and
what she "obviously" meant by them.  She was for instance fascinated to
learn that one of her books was heavily influenced by *The Turn of the
Screw* -- which she has never read and thus certainly has not been
influenced by....

<sniggle>

Minnow


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