Byron and the decline of poetry

So today I finally finished reading Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Lord Byron, needless to say I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself because it is long. This is the only Byron that I’ve ever read, and it’s in preparation for a course unit that I will be doing on him this year at University. I do feel somewhat guilty that it has taken me so long to get around to reading him, he’s been on my to read list for a long time now. I thought some of it was really beautiful, particularly the opening sections; although it was only my first reading so a fair amount of it went way over my head. I’ve studied classics, so the descriptions of Greece and Italy and the mentions of the pagan Gods were also aspects I found interesting.

I’ve always adored poetry, but predominantly the more modern authors; Plath, Lowell and Eliot have always been my firm favourites. However, I do always try to keep an open mind and give all poets a chance. I’m not a major fan of the Romantic movement, but I’ve only really encountered Blake and Wordsworth, and the movement is so much bigger than those two figures. So that’s a large part of the reason that I opted to study Byron, I wanted to give the movement a bit more of a chance.

Although University has taught me that most of the people on my English Lit course don’t share my enthusiasm for poetry. I can’t pretend it didn’t confuse me- a lot. I know it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and many people prefer books (totally understandable), but I am talking about a borderline vehement dislike from nearly everyone who I’ve spoken to about it. I can see why some people don’t adore it; I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how it’s too veiled etc, but I favour the Confessional movement so that’s not totally applicable to my personal taste.

There’s a total of fourteen people taking the Byron course unit, out of nearly 150 English students, and a few have already mentioned to me that it’s only because there’s less reading involved in what is going to be a content heavy year. I really did think that such seminal figure in poetry would have attracted a lot more enthusiasm, and that the sole appeal wouldn’t be the thought of an easier workload. I took a look at the other course units that were on offer, and Byron was the only unit that solely focused on poetry. Which got me thinking, I actually have not had the option throughout my degree to do a unit which is entirely focused on poetry. If course units are renewed based on popularity, then Lord Byron certainly won’t be making a triumphant return for next year’s English students.

I wonder if this is part of a wider trend across universities, is poetry just being viewed as slightly out of fashion now? I do hope not, because I think there is poetry out there to suit everyone, just like books, you just have to be open minded when trying to find it. file

If anyone reading this has any experience with reading Byron, or the wider Romantic movement in general, I’d love to hear your views as I am relatively new to it from an academic perspective 🙂



What does your favourite book look like?

This is a subject which a friend and I have been debating for as long as I have known him. I am not referring to the look in terms of the artwork on the cover; what I mean is, what sort of state is your favourite book in?

For well over ten years, The Picture of Dorian Gray has been a favourite of mine (as of yet, I have been unable to ever truly decide upon one definitive favourite book). As can be seen in the picture I own two editions; one is just about clinging on to life with the aid of a roll of sticky tape (with a spine that is now more crooked than Dorian Gray’s morals), the other has only been read once. Having multiple of the same book is not an unusual thing for me; I have two copies of Machiavelli’s The Prince, two copies of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil and four copies of Pride and Prejudice, and several other too  numerous to list.

Many of the books for which I have multiple copies can be neatly separated into three categories; old and in need of binning, new pretty hardbacks and sentimental gifts. Yet for some reason, when I go to re-read Dorian Gray, I will always go immediately to the older edition. This is not even because of a sense of vanity in not wanting the newer one to worsen in appearance, it just does not feel the same. The older copy has accompanied me to four countries, journeyed with me on more trains than I could begin to count and survived three home changes. This edition will also be the one that I use for my dissertation which I will begin drafting in a few weeks. I have a strong sense of attachment to the older book, not just because I love the story so much, but because it has been with me for so long.

The newer edition looks lovely on my bookshelf, and I will freely admit to being a book lover who takes pride in the appearance of her collection. Yet all of the books which I love the most are now barely in a fit state to be read. Perhaps the edition does not matter greatly; in a logical sense anyway, the paradoxes of Lord Henry will jump off the page just as vividly in either book- they are the same words spoken by the same character. Despite this I know that whenever I re-read my favourite stories, they will be the ones with my own thoughts scrawled in the margin, coffee stained pages and half attached covers.



Trainspotting and the depiction of women

There are few people who are not aware of the buzz that is surrounding the filming of the Trainspotting sequel (styled T2: Trainspotting 2). The film will be based upon Irvine Welsh’s sequel, Porno, which was released to mixed reviews in 2002. Speaking as a member of the generation who was still in nappies when everyone’s favourite degenerates first hit the big screen, I am beyond excited. With this has come a renewed interest in the Trainspotting series (which is now made up of Trainspotting, Porno and Skagboys- in order of publication).

I have been a fan of Welsh for years, and his unapologetic depictions of the more unfavourable aspects of our society was one of the reasons I took a degree in English Lit. Although I was surprised to learn in a group conversation one day, and from some criticism online, that there is a rise in the number of women developing an issue with the depiction of their sex in the Trainspotting series. There are those who feel that Welsh has yet to create a female character who is an example of the better nature of the female sex. This begs the question, why exactly are women supposed to be given special treatment in the series?

The fact of the matter is that most of the characters are not well endowed with a list of attributes as long as Begbie’s hit list; it is not just women who are depicted badly in Welsh’s world. The characters are so well loved because they are startlingly real; they have flaws, make poor decisions and seldom learn from their mistakes. Admittedly, some of the more horrific mistakes are from the women. Alison’s response to finding her child dead from neglect is something which few people did not feel disgust at. However the fictionalised baby Dawn represents numerous children who were neglected by their drug addicted parents; it is not as if we have never heard such stories in the news before. Welsh should not be accused by some of having misogynistic tendencies, for writing about a real issue.

For those who are familiar with Porno, when considering women one particular scene will inevitably spring to mind; involving the degradation of an inebriated woman. It is beyond gut churning, but to me this is still not grounds to label Welsh as being unsympathetic towards women. Very few people will go through life and not see a person who has had far too much to drink humiliate themselves; likewise, very few will have seen a woman in that state treated in the depraved manner which Welsh depicts in that particularly harrowing scene. However, people need to remember the fact that a depiction of women which is negative or unsympathetic does not automatically translate to misogyny.  Welsh sheds light on the underworld of modern society, and he has never held back when doing this.

Although Porno involved one of the most grotesque moments in Welsh’s literary career, it also introduced one of his most endearing characters. Nikki Fuller Smith is given a voice and a perspective; she is intelligent, hilarious and more than a match for any of the men who Welsh has created over an extensive career. Yes, she is a sex worker- but the perspective of a naïve prude would hardly be of interest to those who are attracted to Welsh’s work. Personally, I hope that Welsh continues his tirade of unapologetic realism, he is a reminder that not all art has to be aesthetically pleasing.