From Austen to Forster in six steps
It’s time for another round of Six Degrees of Separation hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best and for once I have read the starting book in the chain. For anyone unfamiliar with Six Degrees of Separation each month the idea is that from the book chosen as a starting point we find link to another book, and another using whatever flights of fancy and free associations our brains can muster. As always the books in my chain are one I’ve read.
The starting point this month is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in honour of the author’s bicentenary. The story of five daughters of the Bennett family was her third published novel and arguably most popular work in her lifetime, going through three editions before her death. The multiple tv and film adaptations produced since have helped maintain its popularity. One of the key turning points in the narrative arc is when Lizzie Bennet, second eldest daughter, visits Pemberley, the large country estate of Lord William Darcy, a wealthy landowner with whom she has previously clashed. Lizzie’s delight in seeing this estate brings her realisation that she might have misjudged this man and “that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!”
For my next link I’m choosing a book where the central character finds a door into a new world via another large country estate .
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh traces from the 1920s to the early 1940s, the life and romances of the protagonist Charles Ryder, including his friendship with the Flytes, a family of wealthy English Catholics who live in a palatial mansion called Brideshead Castle. He becomes seduced by the charms of the family but ultimately the relationship turns sour, not because Charles is of a different class but because they are Catholic and he cannot understand the hold religion has on their lives. Waugh wrote this as a convert to the Catholic faith and his novel reflects themes of divine grace and reconciliation as the characters struggle with their beliefs.
Like Waugh, Graham Greene was a Catholic convert who also explored the drama of the struggles within the soul from a Catholic perspective. I could chose one of several books for my second link but I think I’m going to opt for The Heart of the Matter (my review) which is my favourite Greene novel. It details a life-changing moral crisis for Henry Scobie, an assistant police commissioner in a British settlement on the West Coast of Africa during World War II. A superb book about a tortured soul who wants to do the right thing but finds himself morally compromised.
Greene was at one time an agent of the British intelligence service and supervised and befriended by Kim Philby, a man later revealed as a traitor and Soviet spy. They worked together in what is known as MI6. Which gives me my next link …
John le Carré is a highly successful British author of espionage novels. He could write authoritatively about spies and their practices because he was, for a time, one of them. During the 1950s and the 1960s, he worked for both the British Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service under his real name of David John Moore Cornwell. He’s best known for his masterful novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy which is a fiendishly intricate plot about a traitor at the heart of the security service. But I’m going to select his third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold which is a tremendously atmospheric novel set in Berlin at a time when the city was divided by the wall. Much of the force of Le Carre’s writing comes from the way he portrays the inner conflict of his characters and in this one, he features Alec Leamas, a British agent, who has been sent to East Germany as a fake defector with a mission to spread disinformation. By the end he has to choose between a German girl with whom he has fallen in love and his duty to his country.
Berlin and the cold war. Now that reminds me of the first Ian McEwan novel I read, The Innocent. Set in 1950, this centres on a joint American and British security operation to build a tunnel from the American sector of Berlin into the Russian sector to tap phone lines of the Soviet High Command. Leonard Marnham is the young Englishman tasked with the set up and repair of the tape recorders used in the tunnel. He’s out of his depth and bungles along until he finds in a spot where betrayal becomes easy.
That idea of an innocent caught up in something he doesn’t fully understand gives me my next link. L P Hartley’s The Go-Between is the recollection of 1900 when 13-year-old Leo Colston spends the summer at a grand country house in Norfolk, rented by the family of a prep-school chum, He gets caught unwittingly in a love affair between his friend’s beautiful sister and a neighbouring farmer. Initially is involvement is all rather innocent, he just acts as postman between the pair but each of them is eventually very nasty to him and he’s made to feel an intruder rather than a welcome guest.
For my final link we’re going to visit another country house though this is on a less grand scale. Howard’s End by E. M depicts the clash of attitudes between three families, the rich and capitalistic Wilcoxes, the half-German Schlegel siblings (Margaret, Tibby, and Helen), whose cultural pursuits have much in common with the real-life Bloomsbury Group; and the Basts, a poor young couple from a lower-class background. Leonard represents the aspirations of the lower classes; he is obsessed with self-improvement and reads constantly, hoping to lift himself up. But he is never able to transform his meager education into an improved standard of living. Through an accidental encounter with the Schlegels he sees a chance to change his fortunes. The Schlegel’s well-intentioned idea of helping him go horribly wrong when, because of their advice he loses his job and becomes destitute. Another example of an innocent seduced by a world outside his own experience.
And with that we’ve looped back to book number 2 in my chain and not just thematically. The TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited starring Jeremy Irons, was in fact filmed at real country house called Castle Howard.
17 thoughts on “From Austen to Forster in six steps”
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Very enjoyable links Karen. But like another commenter I don’t recollect the innocent at all. You’ve intrigued me.
I can’t believe there is a book you’ve not heard of!
Ha ha Karen , you’ve discovered my feet of clay! It’s all been an act 😁
it certainly convinced me. maybe you have a new career opening on those tv panel shows where people have to guess if you are telling the truth or spinning a fake yarn 🙂
Oh, I’d be hopeless… As soon as they found me out I’d go red-faced and burble meaninglessly!
It’s so weird but I’ve never even heard of The Innocent. And it’s set in Berlin! I better get onto it!
Love your Go-Between/ Howard’s nd link – both books that I read a long time ago but enjoyed.
Great chain. You have managed to include three of my favourite books; Pride and Prejudice, Brideshead Revisited and The Go-Between. The others are famaous, great novels as well, still for me to read.
Bravo! Those were some fun connections!
I love it when #6Degrees raises books I’ve read… all these except The Innocent, which I expect I’ll get to one day because I (mostly( like Ian McEwan.
His early work is far superior to his more recent efforts
For the first ( and probably only time!) I’ve read all of these and while I enjoyed all of them am amazed at how you’ve linked these together. I never would have imagined how to connect up Brideshead and Spy Who Came In!!!! Best of all your list has two of my favourite novels ever in Spy and the fabulous Go-Between!
its strange how the mind makes these links
Howard’s End is one of my favourite books, and it owes a lot to the description of the house, IMO.
I marginally prefer Passage to India
A very fine set of links, Karen! Funny you should use an Ian McEwan novel to lead to The Go-Between. I’ve always though Atonement owed a lot to L. P. Hartley’s novel.
oh yes we have the link of the letter that goes astray