Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 2, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation: Alice in Wonderland, to …

Cover of the first edition, illustrated by John Tenniel, Macmillan 1865

This month’s #6Degrees starts with a childhood favourite, Alice in Wonderland.  I loved it, and I also loved the recording by Joyce Grenfell, the details of which I’ve never been able to locate online but was possibly a spin-off from the 1949 film in which she starred as the Ugly Duchess.

Our family has ‘history’ with Joyce Grenfell.  We once lived in Chelsea, and Joyce Grenfell lived in the same apartment block.  She took exception to my mother hanging out my sister’s nappies on the roof garden.  No doubt there were ‘words’.  So when I saw in the OpShop My Pleasant Places, book 2 of Grenfell’s autobiography, I bought it out of curiosity to see if her ‘pleasant places’ *wink* include Chelsea…

I have nearly a hundred ‘opshopfinds’ listed at Goodreads: my most recent is Vigil (2001) a novel by Nadia Wheatley.  I’ve read, in the course of my career as a teacher, many of her children’s books and I read with interest Sue’s review of Wheatley’s memoir My Mother’s Daughter at Whispering Gums. Wheatley’s award-winning The Life and Myth of Charmian Clift (2001) has been on my radar for a while too but my all-time favourite is the children’s book My Place (1987).

Illustrated page by page by Donna Rawlins, and winner of multiple awards, My Place is the story of an inner suburban plot of land in Sydney and its surrounding milieu.  It starts in 1988 (yes, the Bicentennial year) and goes back generation by generation 200 years to the Indigenous child who lives there with her people.  It gives a snapshot of life during WW2, the Depression, WW1, and the emergence of Sydney as a city in the 19th century, all depicted from a child’s perspective, with a favourite tree to climb, and a milk bar for buying lollies, and a route to walk to school and so on.  Many readers recommend it for teachers to read in class, but I think the best way for a child to love it — and get the most from it — is to have a copy to pore over the brilliant illustrations in detail, and to flick backwards and forwards in time.  That’s the way a child will come to love and value Australian history, IMO.

Update, the next day: Thanks to a comment from Mary Daniels Brown (see below), I was prompted to find a video of this great book:

My Place brings immediately to mind Sally Morgan’s ground-breaking memoir with the same title.  For many of us, My Place (1988, again the Bicentennial year) was the first book we’d ever read by an indigenous author, and it was a revelation.  I read it when it first rocketed onto the best-seller lists, and I ‘read’ it again more recently as an audio book read by Melodie Reynolds.  It has, as I said in my review, lost none of its impact.  Some books are like that.

Another book with a shattering impact is Stone Girl, by Eleni Hale. This novel tells the story of a teenage life as a ward of the state, and it’s a book our decision-makers should be reading.  It’s partly autobiographical and it also draws on incidents that the author knows about from the people she met while in state ‘care’.  I heard about it at an author event at the Bayside Library (the event was blogged by my friend Mairi) — and that was all I needed to read the book for myself.  You can read my review here.

I love the way libraries are now hosting author events on a regular basis.  Just recently I attended an author event with Emily Goddard at Parkdale Library.  As far as I’ve been able to tell, the play she wrote ‘This is Eden’ is not a book (yet?) but the sellout performance last week at the Kingston Arts Centre was stunning.  The students who were there in droves went away with a strong sense of Australian history as it hasn’t been delivered before.  Likewise, the audience was impressed at the MTC performance of Black is the New White by Nakkiah Lui which The Spouse and I attended a week or so ago.  I’d read and reviewed the play during #IndigLitWeek but it was brilliant to see it brought to life. They’ve put on extra shows so there are still tickets for next weekend if you are quick.

So that’s my #6Degrees: from a classic children’s book to a play that deserves to become a classic!

Next month’s book is the only novel by Jane Austen that I didn’t like: her posthumously published Sanditon, which I reviewed here.

Thanks to Kate at Books are my Favourite and Best for hosting:)

Image credit:

Alice in Wonderland cover of 1865 ediiton By Lewis Carroll – https://alice.fandom.com/wiki/Alice%27s_Adventures_in_Wonderland?file=Alice_in_Wonderland.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=81524629


Responses

  1. Enjoyed your links Lisa – but you didn’t say whether Chelsea was mentioned in Grenfell’s book!

    I haven’t heard of Vigil at all. I’ll be interested to see what you think. (Thanks for the link, btw, too.)

    I’m in Melbourne next weekend for one of our brief se- the-kids-and-grandkid-visits, and one of the kids suggested we see Black is the new white. So we have booked and she and we are going. We saw Lui’s later, I think, play this year at the Canberra Theatre Centre, so are looking forward to seeing this one now.

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    • LOL I haven’t read it yet!
      But *pout* it’s not in the index though the book starts in the 1950s.

      That’s wonderful about Black is the New White. You will laugh yourself silly and still leave with plenty to think about:)

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      • I’m sure I will Lisa – I do love Black comedy. She’s clever isn’t she.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Next month’s book is the only novel by Jane Austen I haven’t read! I’m curious now, did Grenfell reflect fondly upon Chelsea?

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    • I think they’re making a film of Sanditon, Sue will know for sure:)
      I haven’t read the Grenfell yet, I can see it’s going to have to be sooner rather than later… but I wonder how well she is known these days?

      Liked by 1 person

      • This was the first I’d heard of her…but that’s not something to go by.
        Kate said the Sanditon adaptation is a television series to air on Fox BBC.

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        • I’d never heard of it either until it was published and promoted to tie in with Austenmania.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I’ll have to look at your review to see why you didn’t like it.

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            • Don’t do that until after you’ve read it!
              It’s not very long…

              Liked by 1 person

              • And then read mine!! As an Austenite, I think my perspective is a bit different to Lisa’s!

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      • Sanditon, the tv series, started yesterday I think, but on Foxtel, which we don’t get so I haven’t seen it. Being an unfinished novel it’s even more of a challenge to adapt and get Austen fans on-side than usual. I first read a “completion” of Sanditon in about 1975/6, by “another lady”. There have been a small number of completions written.

        Most non-Austen fans wouldn’t have heard of it – or of The Watsons – her other unfinished novel. Or, indeed, of her juvenile of which there is quite a bit (including Lady Susan) and which has been published, in various editions and various combinations over the years. But, they are mostly of interest to Austen fans and academics, not to readers in general.

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        • Thanks, Sue…I think you make an important point. Juvenilia, letters and unfinished texts are invaluable to enthusiasts and scholars, but IMO jazzing them for Austenmania and marketing them to general readers is unfair both to the reader and to Austen herself. Imagine the damage that could be done to a young reader who thinks she’ll start with Sanditon first because it’s short, and then decides she doesn’t like Austen.
          It’s the same as those cynical publishers who release a ‘first novel’ that had been rejected for jolly good reasons, after an author has won a major prize.

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          • Thanks Lisa. It’s a bit of a conundrum, isn’t it, because Austen (or whomever) enthusiasts want these works to be available and they know exactly what these works are when they see them on the shelves. My view is that there is some onus on readers to be aware of what they are reading. I think the first rule when you read is to consider form and context. I agree that it would be sad (a tragedy in fact!!) if a young reader were put off by Austen by reading Sanditon first, but surely they would notice pretty quickly that it’s not short because it’s short but because it’s unfinished. If they didn’t notice that then they’re surely not much of a reader? (The publisher should of course make it clear on the title page but if they don’t it would surely be clear on the last page!)

            As for first rejected novels being published after an author has won a prize, wouldn’t the author have some say? (Of course, if the author has died that’s different again, but that probably wouldn’t be just after they’ve won a prize.) Again, there’s some context here. I appreciate that some publishers will not make clear the context, and that’s a shame, but I like to think that a reader following an author knows what they are reading and why? What about Patrick White’s Happy Valley that he wanted buried and never re-published? I’m so glad Text did that.

            The whole relationship between author-reader-publisher is complex. I don’t like to think that the reader is some blank slate upon whom things are foisted willy nilly, but an active, thinking part of the trio?

            Of course, I’m not naive. I take your point that publishers will do their best to get us to buy books. Our job is to be careful and knowledgeable consumers. (Which is not to say that I haven’t been taken in on occasion! However, I take that on myself. I should have taken more care!!)

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            • Oh Sue, I read an absolutely sordid article the day before yesterday, all about book marketing (and BTW how you and I and anyone else on social media is part of their strategic planning whether we know it or not!) I am even more on guard against marketing campaigns than I was before!
              I agree that the reader isn’t a blank slate, but I’ve been caught out. A while ago now I bought a Margaret Atwood thinking it was a new one because I didn’t recognise the cover. I’d already got a copy and read it, but so long ago I’d forgotten its title. And (no names to embarrass the culprits) I have two first-novels-published-second that should never have seen the light of day.
              I think my point about Sanditon is that it was published at the height of Austenmania to take advantage of it, and there would have been many readers who weren’t great readers but had just been swept along and were discovering her books because of the films. I bet many of them would just have thought it was another of her novels that everyone was raving about. When the copy I had was offered as an early reviewers copy at Library Thing, there was nothing to say it was unfinished and I thought it was an undiscovered work. Much like the way i was conned by Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony. (Yes, I can be really naive, when I want something so badly that I almost will it to exist).
              I like the way some publishers make the tone and standing of their books clear by tagging them as scholarly editions.

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      • Sandition is coming out soon on Foxtel I believe.

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        • That’s right, see Sue’s comment.

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  3. I did My Place as one of my Year 12 texts – I agree, it hasn’t lost its impact (and yes, I think probably the first book Id read by an indigenous author).

    And yay! I’m off to see Black is the New White next week – really looking forward to it.

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  4. Sandition was aired on British ITV recently. I recorded it but haven’t felt inclined to watch it yet – it caused some media interest by inventing an un-Austen-like ending. Haven’t read the novel yet, either. So you lived in Chelsea! Very posh! I remember Joyce G well from tv in my youth, and a hilarious recording of her ‘nursery teacher’ routine (‘George, don’t do that, it’s not nice’)

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    • LOL they’ve sexed up quite a bit of Austen in film. Remember that absurd scene with Darcy plunging into a pond?
      I didn’t think Chelsea was all that posh when we lived there in the 1950s. Could it have been? (We lived at 147 Kings Rd, above a toy shop, but it was a Bang and Olufsen shop when we did our nostalgia visit in 2001).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Of course there are less well to do areas – as the Grenfell fire disaster showed. I had a flat in Clifton as an undergrad at Bristol University- a shabby genteel terrace of crumbling Victorian townhouses. Now gentrified, but when I visited a year or two ago my building was still shabby!

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    • Here in Melbourne we live in a suburb in the process of gentrification, but it’s uneven, some pockets are still (relatively) affordable, while others are IMO worth a ridiculous amount of money. I think it’s a shame, it makes it impossible for young people to live anywhere near their parents. In fact, our suburb is gentrified because the children of the well-to-do can’t afford to buy in the suburbs they grew up in, so they’ve moved in here.

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  6. I’ve only read the Sally Morgan book and loved it. Would like to reread it as it was quite a few years ago I read it. Our library doesn’t seem to have any author events but we have Fuller’s Book shop which has events once, twice and sometimes three times a week. It turns 100 years old next year and lots is planned that I am looking forward to. If I ever get organised I’ll do one of these ‘degrees of separation posts’ .

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    • Fullers is marvellous. I hear about some of their events via the Tasmanian Writers centre, and I am quite envious!

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  7. The illustrated children’s book My Place sounds like an absolutely fascinating way to explore local history. I’m interested to see if I can find it here in the U.S.

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    • I’ve found a video of it! I’ll add it to my post above…

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  8. If the publisher still owns the rights to an old publication, they can certainly reprint it without the author’s permission. If they have an ongoing relationship with the author (or, sometimes, the agent), they would be foolish to do so. I remember when [LH, famous name edited out] had a big bestseller years ago and [LH famous global publisher’s name edited out] realized it owned the rights to a weak book he had written under a pseudonym. He was NOT happy about our republishing this old medical thriller with his real name in huge letters but because he was published elsewhere my horrid boss didn’t care (and probably got a big bonus for the work I did selling this book to the chains).

    Another lovely thing she did was removing the name of the ghostwriter (who died before publication) of a book *by* [LH: celebrity actor’s name edited out]. She probably counted on the fact that the writer’s wife was too distracted by losing her husband to notice that his name had been removed. Not all ghostwriters get their names on the cover to begin with – because it would defeat the purpose of having people think the celebrity wrote the book. It usually has to be negotiated in advance.

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    • Hello Constance, this really is very interesting indeed!
      I apologise for editing out the authors’ and the publisher’s names: while I don’t doubt what you say, bloggers are occasionally held responsible for what is published on their blogs, and I prefer to err on the safe side by not identifying your examples.
      But there is no doubt that publishing is no longer the ‘gentlemanly’ pursuit it is claimed to have been in the past.
      Cheers
      Lisa
      PS I enjoyed your #6 Degrees of Separation… I am always unlucky with my comments at Blogpost and they disappear into cyberspace!

      Like


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