By John Sutherland

ISBN-10: 0300205317

ISBN-13: 9780300205312

This little background takes on a really colossal topic: the wonderful span of literature from Greek delusion to image novels, from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Harry Potter. He introduces nice classics in his personal impossible to resist manner, enlivening his choices with humour in addition to studying: Beowulf, Shakespeare, Don Quixote, the Romantics, Dickens, Moby Dick, The Waste Land, Woolf, 1984, and dozens of others.

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Then, discovering “stacks of diaries,” she unashamedly begins to read them. Her first surprised discovery is that Saul’s journals run chronologically, “not all split up” like her own (534). She struggles to reconcile her impressions of the Saul Green she thought she knew with the “totally self-pitying, cold, calculating, emotionless” man who inhabits the pages of his journal. What is absent from his writing about himself is “vitality, life, charm” (534). She acknowledges that this may be a product of the diary form itself.

The he-man’s pose” (517), he seems a caricature of Hollywood film studs. Soon after Saul arrives, a bracketed sentence in the blue notebook signals a development with decisive emotional and narrative implications for the progress of Anna’s incipient emotional breakdown: “[From this point on in the diary, or chronicle, Anna had marked certain points in it with asterisks, and numbered the asterisks]” (515, brackets in original). One may understand this bracketed comment—along with others that appear at various points in Anna’s notebooks—as information later inserted by her as the invisible editor of The Golden Notebook.

What interesting parallels she might have drawn had she been disposed to do so. According to sketch 14 in The Golden Notebook (quoted above), Lessing knew that Sigal knew she was reading his journal and that he was tailoring his entries for her eyes. One must wonder: did she read his revealing marginal notes as well or did Sigal add them only after he had removed his journals from her further inspection—by which time both writers had already begun to fictionalize aspects of their relationship for their respective literary purposes?

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A Little History of Literature by John Sutherland


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