August 04 2021

BBC - Novels That Shaped Our World Series 1 (2019)


BBC - Novels That Shaped Our World Series 1 (2019)

BBC - Novels That Shaped Our World Series 1 (2019)
English | Size: 2.36 GB
Category: Documentary

Examining the novel from three unique perspectives.

1. A Woman's Place
Ever since Samuel Richardson's novel Pamela, published in 1740, the novel has been a predominantly female literary form, offering far more opportunities to women writers than any other and consistently turning a powerful lens on the full range and depth of women's lives. Yet novels that explore women's stories, characters and emotions have often been attacked as frivolous - and sometimes by women themselves. But they are only frivolous to people for whom love, sex, friendship, family and one's own prospects in life are trivial matters. And there have been plenty of very serious female novelists too, from George Eliot and Middlemarch to Virginia Woolf and Orlando.

Women's rights have always been at the heart of the novel. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale has long been a famous rallying cry for feminism. The battle for women's suffrage is the subject of the propagandist novel No Surrender, written by Constance Maud in 1911. Works like this were forgotten until imprints like Virago republished them in the 1970s. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is another case in point - now seen as an icon of African-American women's writing, its reprinting was promoted by one of the most significant novelists of the last few decades, Alice Walker, author of the lacerating The Color Purple. The episode brings the discussion right up to date with a novel from 2019 by a black British writer and about a black British woman, Candice Carty-Williams' Queenie.

2. The Empire Writes Back
Robinson Crusoe, the hero of the first ever novel published in English, in 1719, was a slave trader. Right from its inception, as this programme investigates, the English novel was closely bound up with the dynamics of colonialism and marched along, in lock step, to the British Empire's rise, decline and fall. Slavery, which predated the empire, but was an inescapable part of it, is the subject of two famous American novels more than a century apart - Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin and Toni Morrison's Beloved. The legacy of slavery is also at the heart of one of the most famous novels of all, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and its 'prequel', written a century later - Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea.

The British Empire was often taken as a given - even God-given - and widely celebrated. In the novels of some writers, though, it was questioned more deeply - such as Rudyard Kipling's famous espionage yarn Kim. Fifty years later, a very different type of spy, James Bond, fought to keep the empire going when it had in truth already gone. By then a new voice had emerged - that of writers from the newly independent former British colonies, like Nigeria's Chinua Achebe. At the same time, immigrants from the Caribbean were coming to the UK in search of a warm welcome and a better life. Their mixed experiences began to be told in the Trinidadian Samuel Selvon's The Lonely Londoners, published in 1956. The twin evils of racism and slavery come full circle in recent works like the former Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman's series Noughts and Crosses and the 2016 Man Booker prize winner The Sellout, a savage comedy by Paul Beatty - in which a present-day African-American Los Angeleno keeps a slave.

3. The Class Ceiling
Class is present from the time the very first novels in English appeared. This episode begins with one of the most famous portrayals of the fate of the poor and the destitute - Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist, published in 1837. The 'Condition of England' novel, by writers such as Dickens, Disraeli and Elizabeth Gaskell, whose Mary Barton is set in industrial Manchester, drew attention to and invoked pity for the lives lived by the have-nots in a 'two-nation' society. But, though sympathetic, they fell short of offering support for the aims of working-class movements. By the turn of the next century, though, these had grown in strength. Novels like Robert Tressell's The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, published in 1914, pressed not just for reform, but for socialism to take root. In the USA, meanwhile, class was thought by some not to exist. F Scott Fitzgerald's high society The Great Gatsby showed that it did, while the sparkling Jeeves and Wooster series of PG Wodehouse showed that it could be funny.

In the late 1950s, DH Lawrence's infamous adultery-across-the-classes novel Lady Chatterley's Lover was put on trial for obscenity, and a new generation of working-class writers emerged with honest portraits of their own communities. Working-class people could now read novels by and about themselves. The episode closes with two books from recent decades that Charles Dickens would surely have recognised - Irvine Welsh's incendiary Trainspotting and Avarind Adiga's 2008 Booker Prize-winning The White Tiger. Dickens and Gaskell wrote about the fallout from the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom. The White Tiger shows the fall out from the tech revolution in India. The story of class in the novel has never gone away.

Further Information

BBC

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