Re-Reading ‘The Go Between’ by LP Hartley

I have just started re-reading ‘The Go Between’ by L P Hartley. I last read it longer ago than I care to admit – in my early twenties.
It made a big impression on me then. I was struck by the vivid writing, brilliant use of a string of connected images and the striking ability of the author to relate to the mindset of early youth. Above everything, the symbolism of the rising heat in the Victorian country house party, leading to a last explosion of feeling like a clap of lightning.
Though the book is written in the first person, depicting the experiences of a boy who, as a product of his times, unthinkingly subscribesto elitist and patriarchal notions, his experiences and the general atmosphere of those hot summer days at the Norfolk country house party are recounted so vividly that I found it easy to enter into the mindset of his world. I have only read a couple of chapters so far, but already, I am impressed all over again.
Again, I am struck by the linked skein of allusions and symbols that made the book so vivid to me when first I read it long ago. The symbolical signs of the Zodiac, the Maiden and the Lion, in Leo’s abandoned diary; the paintings famously on display in the Norfolk mansion; the swimming parties in the lake; the Deadly Nightshade plant, which Leo comes upon, flourishing in a derelict, roofless outbuilding, and countless others, including Marcus’ affection for conversing in French, symbolic of the ‘foreign language’ of the code which the adults use, and with which Leo has no understanding.
Set in the school holidays of 1900, the story is about the loss of childish innocence and self-belief of the ‘nearly thirteen’ year old protagonist Leo during his stay at a lavish country house with his friend Marcus Maudsley. Marcus comes from a higher social background than Leo, and unlike him, is precociously socially sophisticated, knowing all the things that are ‘done’ or ‘only done by cads’ (ie, those not gentlemen).
The summer of 1900 apparently started off unseasonably cool, but there was a heat wave in July. The temperature is described as being mostly ‘in the eighties’. I believe
The protagonist Leo Coulson, has recently gone to a public school (note to none English readers: in the UK ‘a public school’ is not a school funded by the state. It is in fact, an exclusive boarding school charging high fees and providing an elite education). The expense of this is steep enough for Leo’s recently widowed mother to have to economise elsewhere. One of the things that she economises over are sets of clothes – well made ones being then, even more than now, expensive. The summer having been cool so far, and the rapidly growing Leo not having any lightweight clothes that fit, they decide that he will do well enough with his winter ones – his thick Norfolk jacket and woolen stockings, etc.
When the heatwave starts, he is teased by the family and their guests about keeping to warm clothing: unexpectedly, the stunning looking Marian, Marcus’ older sister, comes to Leo’s aid, offering to take him on a trip to Norwich to buy some summer clothes as a birthday present. This starts off his infatuation with her, and his role as the eponymous Go Between for Marian and the farmer Ted Burgess as they defy conventional morality in a passionate love affair.
He is to pay a terrible and wholly undeserved price for his innocent involvement…

Servant Heroes in Historical Romance: A Rarity Compared to Servant Heroines

IX: Pamela is Married 1743-4 by Joseph Highmore 1692-1780
IX: Pamela is Married 1743-4 Joseph Highmore 1692-1780 Purchased 1921 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N03575

It is interesting that one of the unwritten rules of historical romance is that the hero must never be a working class man, let alone a manservant.
This is the more intriguing, because a fair amount of heroines are maidservants. Of course, in that, they follow the steps of the heroine of one of the first romantic novels – Samuel Richardson’s 1748 Pamela.
As a matter of fact, this heroine spends almost no time in doing what a lady’s maid normally did, which was to sew and run errands for her mistress, for the simple fact that her mistress dies in the first paragraph. Instead she spends most of her time winning debates about sexual morality with her arch hypocrite of a master, being abducted, fending off his attempts by fainting, or solemnly writing down the compliments she receives.
However, her status is that of a servant, and that is the point. It is a version of the Cinderella motif, where a powerful man is won over by the physical and moral attributes of a fair damsel of lower social status, and ultimately marries her.
This reward of the virtuous drudge rewarded by a grand marriage was an old theme even in the eighteenth century – but Richardson’s heroine was a new version in that she really was born into the servant class, not a well born girl reduced to being used as one by a wicked stepmother, or whatever.
It is very relevant here to note that in Richardson’s time, a woman took on the status of the man she married: he was her ‘head’. Therefore, a man who married a low born woman elevated her in status. The reverse was not true, however much money the woman might have. In the eyes of the eighteenth century, where women had no separate legal identity after marriage, a woman could not elevate a low born man by marrying him. She would in fact lose her previous status in society’s view, even if she was originally from the gentry.
This is the – probably not generally understood – reason why there cannot be a male Cinderella equivalent in English novels. There can be no fairytale ending with one. A low born hero could work his way up in the world, of course, and such a man might rise from being of the servant class, and even eventually crown his rise in status by marriage to a woman of ‘genteel birth’, but he must put in the effort himself.
There is another aspect, of course: while all romantic heroes do not have to be Alapha males, they do have to have some element of power about them. Working men were historically cut off from power throughout the world. In Britain, where so much of historical romance is set, they did not have the vote until 1870.
This makes for difficulties, at least with the Alpha type of male lead. A romantic hero is supposed to be impressive, to dazzle the heroine not only with this looks and charm, but also with his influence, his status among his peers and all the rest of it. That is rather easier to do if he can fill her with awe as the titled owner of a rambling mansion with a team of devoted servants, with attractive and eligible women throwing themselves at him and a thousand connections…
…Whereas, if he can only offer her a broken chair by a smoky fireplace in a leaky cottage and a nice slice of pease pudding, it becomes a little harder to dazzle…
The working class hero, then, is that much harder to depict as a romantic figure. It can be done, but it takes more work, and it does frankly lead to a level of realism in the story that that many romance readers might find offputting.
When I wrote The Peterloo Affair, my main interest was in recreating the historical injustice of the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. However, I hoped to show as well that romantic love is not incompatible with poverty.
For those interested, you can buy the novel here https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07JPFWHTT

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A manservant is even more of a difficult subject for a hero , because of the indignity of serving a master. Heroes are not meant to kowtow to anyone. A footman, for instance, was employed to make life easy for his masters, to wear a fine uniform and wait at table, to bring up the coals, and solemnly to deliver the mail to the master or mistress on an ornamental tray. This is hardly work of the sort that is generally seen as fitting for hero material.
It might be easier to make a hero out of one of the footmen of the first part of the eighteenth century, when they were in fact ‘running footmen’ and a sort of professional athlete. In this era of terribly maintained or non-existent roads, they were hired to run errands at great speed, and at other times, to run in front of the master’s carriage to clear the way. Gentlemen staged races between their footmen, with high stakes placed on them.
It remains true a background of poverty and overcrowding ( even Richardson is realistic to make Pamela usually share a bed – though not willingly with Mr. B) hardly fits in with the fantasy aspect of the story demanded by romance readers.
The Cinderella motif remains perennially popular. From the wildly improbable trials of Pamela at the hands of the would-be rapist Mr. B , on through the haughty but decidedly non-rapist Mr. Darcy’s humbling by the spirited and vulgarly connected Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice onwards, the theme of the socially inferior heroine being courted by a wealthy, aristocratic and hopelessly besotted man is a staple theme in romance.
There are, of course, exceptions. There is, of course, the excellently written former bestseller, Jo Baker’s 2013 varient on Pride and Prejudice, Longbourn.
I haven’t read the criticism, so I couldn’t say how far that is accepted as an historical romance as such. In so far as it is a love story with an upbeat ending, I believe it qualifies as one according to one of the ‘official’ definitions. Still, it is decidedly lacking in the form of romantic gloss, the escapism so beloved of readers of ‘Regency Historical Romance’.
There have been many variants of Pride and Prejudice, invariably from the point of view of characters belonging to the gentry. Longbourn shows the point of view of the servants. As I have noted elsewhere, unlovely realistic details abound. The female lead’s hands are reddened and coarsened by cleaning and by washing soiled laundry. When she first sees the male lead, who is taken on as a general servant, he is wearing a pair of broken shoes with ludicrously flapping soles.
All Pride and Prejudice readers know that Lizzie’s petticoat was ‘three inches deep in mud’ when she went on her hike over the fields to look after Jane at Bingley’s house three miles away –but few have probably bothered thinking about the person who had to launder it. In Longbourn, this is Sarah: ‘If Elizabeth Bennett had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah thought, ‘she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields.’
And I suspect this brings out the whole problem, presumably, about romance writers centring their novels about servants. A servant performed squalid tasks, and had little privacy and less leisure in which to pursue romantic entanglements. Should s/he be sexually approached by the mistress or master, it was not usually through true love…
Clearly, a servant’s situation varied between households and between posts. Higher servants in wealthy households led a very different life from that of lower housemaid’s in ones of limited means. Eighteenth century commentary is full of resigned references to insolent, underworked footmen.
Exaggerated as these no doubt were, as so often, male servants were still usually better off than the women, if only because they earned more money and did not have to do the washing. A footman who had the luck to be tall and strapping could demand a better wage.
In fact, some young, handsome footmen could live almost as a sort of part time gigolo rather than a menial, if the reminiscences of the vain John MacDonald, as reported in The Life and times of John MacDonald (1790), are to be believed. This is, so far as I know, the only autobiography published by a manservant.
Which brings me round full circle to the love lives of manservants…
While there are far more dukes than drudges featuring as romantic leads in historical romance – a comment on the escapist nature of the genre, given that excluding royals, there were only about 28 dukes in Great Britain in 1790 out of a population of about 10,000,000 – there are exceptions to this.
I did come across this list of romantic novels featuring servants on Goodeads. However, as it includes maidservants as well as manservants , I am not sure how many actually feature a manservant for the male lead. There is also a fair sprinkling of governesses, which is odd, as governesses were never classified as servants, though they were hirelings. https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/17945.Servant_Heroes_Heroines_In_Rmance
Of course, a certain best selling romance writer of the late Victorian and Edwardian era, a writer of contemporary rather than historical romance – one Charles Garvice –did write about servant heroes in several of his novels. These stalwart, muscular, stoic young men with a reckless gleam in the eye in due course either turn out to be a man of title or heir to one.
That is certainly true of Love, the Tryant (1900), where the heroine Esther Vancourt engages her distant relative, the disguised Sir John Vancourt, as a foreman on the home farm of Vancourt Towers – which is of course, part of his estate. It is also true of Wicked Sir Dare (1917), where the hero disguises himself as a gamekeeper in order to be nearer to his estranged bride. Neither of these, of course, demeans himself by taking on a post that requires servile courtesy. Both work outside, as befits their hale, hearty temperaments.
And on my earlier comments on the social fate of the upper class woman who married a man from the servant class, there is in the classic love story by DH Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the fate of Mellors, who having seduced and impregnated Lady Chatterley, is left at the end training to be a farmer, a rise in social status for him, and a decided drop for Connie.

Johnson’s Criticism of Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’ and the Problematic Nature of Dark Comedy

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‘To remark on the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the confusion of the names, and manners of different times, and the impossibility of events in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon unresisting imbicility…’

That is not an attack of a piece of work by some hack writer churning out pot boilers. It is  part of a review of William Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’.

It’s by Samuel Johnson, an opinionated writer by any standards. (I should know, being opinionated myself). Part of the problem, as I see it, is that he is applying the standards of the so-called Age of Reason – Johnson was writing in the eighteenth century UK, which prided itself on its ‘enlightenment’ – to a fairy story/dark comedy, which verges on the surreal.

But even taking Johnson’s view – that he represented The Age of Reason in his attack on the play  and its fantastic notions – there is something biased and absurd about a critic saying this of Shakespeare, when he had praised to the skies that  deeply flawed sentimental novel ‘Evelina’ by Fanny Burney. That is meant to be realistic, with believable characters. Any modern reader who has ploughed through it will have noted the absurd co-incidences in it, and also, the wholly unbelievable behaviour of the characters.

It is of course, possible that characters whose behaviour is plausible to one century might seem to have the strangest motivations to readers two centuries later; an intriguing thought.

Johnson, whose approach in literary criticism often seems unimaginative, approached a fantasy story looking for realism in the plot, and was bitterly disappointed.

The way I see it –  and there are many interpretations of ‘Cymbeline’ with critics arguing about what exactly Shakespeare was getting at – is that Shakespeare was experimenting with a new, darker form of comedy. He did this several times later in his career after the much simpler comedies such as ‘A Comedy of Errors’ and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ and most people believe that ‘A Winter’s Tale’ is a far superior play to ‘Cymebline’ which is, if our ideas about the timing of his plays is correct, one that followed his great tragedies.

Well, ‘King Lear’ is a pretty hard act to follow…

Anyway, this play seems to follow on from ‘All’s Well That End’s Well’ in that it combines traditional fairy tale themes and stereotypical characters from such legends with a contrasting realism in their presentation, which can confuse the reader. The events in the stories are quite dark: however, I don’t believe they are meant to be taken wholly seriously.

In ‘All’s Well That Ends’ Well’ Helena, a ‘low born’ but admirable physician’s daughter cures the king of a supposedly incurable malady. Naturally, he asks her what she might want, as he’ll give it to her. What she wants is to marry her guardian’s son, the Count of Rossillion, and this is an interesting twist. In fairy stories, it is usually the enterprising miller’s son or some such who wins the hand of the king’s daughter, and she is assumed to find being given away as a prize quite acceptable.

By contrast, in ‘All’s Well That Ends  Well’ (which is based on a story by Boccaccio) the Count throws a tantrum, goes through with the marriage, but announces that he will never consummate it. He leaves her a note stating impossible conditions for her to fulfil in order for him to accept her as his wife, and runs off to join the army, egged on by a cowardly braggart toady called Parolles.

So, this brings a new, realistic twist to the fairy tale theme. Helena now has to fulfil these impossible conditions – that is of course, a fairy tale convention – and so bring about a happy ending.

‘Cymbeline’ is actually named after a king of Ancient Britain, whom we don’t see much. Unlike that other defective ruler, King Lear, this king is a shadowy presence in the play named for him. He has fallen under the evil counsel of his second wife, who is also a Wicked Witch and Evil Stepmother to the king’s daughter from his first marriage, Imogen, who has secretly married her comparatively low born childhood playmate Posthumus Leonatus. She is, unusually for these times, also the heir,  as his two sons were kidnapped by an estranged courtier (they all reappear at the end of the play). Accordingly, the king is furious with her for making such a marriage, and banishes Posthumus, and puts pressure on her to renounce him and marry the Wicked Queen’s son, who is a portrayed as a buffoon.

Meanwhile, Posthumus has gone about boasting about how Imogen would never be unfaithful to him, and even enters into a bet with an idle fellow called Iachmo, who insists that he could seduce any woman.  Iachmo travels to the court to  hide in a trunk and have himself carried into Imogen’s bedroom, where emerges in the night, and leering at her naked, takes back the news to Posthumus that she has a mole on her breast.

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Instead of wondering if Iachmo has found this out through trickery, Posthumous immediately takes his word and having run off in a rage, returns to address the audience in a wild rant where he says that all women are sex obsessed, and incapable of fidelity: –

Me of my lawful pleasure she restrain’d,

And prayed me oft forbearance…O, all the devils!

This yellow Iachmo, in an hour, was’t not?

Or less; at first? Perhchance he spake not, but

Like a full acorn’d boar, a German one,

Cried ‘O’ and mounted…’

This is very ridiculous (I assume the said ‘German boar’ wouldn’t have said ‘O’ and the actor makes a  bestial grunting noise), and I found it grimly funny. However, it is worth noting that  when on the ‘Goodreads’  ‘Shakespeare Fans Group’ we discussed the play recently, a lot of people said they could see no humour in the play at all.

Later, however, Posthumus orders his servant to kill Imogen. Naturally, the man doesn’t, and Imogen and Posthumous are eventually reconciled. He does repent, even suggesting that being unfaithful to him was a comparatively small fault compared to his own enormous one in ordering her murder ( one wonders: why one earth did he think it fair to order his servant to do his dirty work?).

This, an unusual admission for the times, made me wonder if Shakespeare was here attacking the notion that a woman’s worth was equivalent to her so called chastity – the word ‘honour’ was used of both of women, though not of men. If so, he was well ahead of his time. More than two centuries later, the puritanical Samuel Richardson was writing in ‘Pamela’ as if physical virginity and mental virtue were the same for his heroines, and the astoundingly repressive view of women and sexuality being mutually exclusive so common in Victorian times is a commonplace.

That, however, is to wander off the topic, which I really meant to be, that experimenting in comedy was a tricky matter many centuries ago, and it remains as tricky a form of writing to do today. Humour is so individual a thing, even in individuals within a culture.

After all, sarcasm and irony, historically so much a part of the British character, aren’t invariably part of it. I have met Brits who wouldn’t know an ironic quip if they met it in the road, and these people aren’t in any way intellectually deficient. It is more that their brains seem to be connected in a different way to those who have a  keen sense of the absurd.  No doubt the same applied in Shakespeare’s time. Presumably, there were many in the audience at the Globe who would assume that Postumus, being the hero of the play, is expressing his creator’s own views, even if he is acting rather dramatically…

I have said before that the line between horror and the ridiculous is perilously thin. Sometimes, it seems easier to write unintentional comedy than it is to write it intentionally…

But for instance, one wonders about much of the melodrama in  various Victorian novels. ‘Wuthering Heights’, for example. The scene, for instance, where Cathy lies on the sofa ‘grinding her teeth as if she would turn them to splinters’. Is that meant to be as absurd as I find it? Or Heathcliffe’s hissed remark when Nelly rebukes him for his ill treatment of his bride:  ‘Let the worms writhe! I have no pity!’ seems to me so melodramatic as to be ludicrous.

And that is one of the good things about dark comedy. The two sides of that thin line between horror and humour, comedy and tragedy, meet and combine. I believe that was what Shakespeare, in his darker comedies, was exploring, in ‘Alls Well That End’s Well’ ‘Cymbeline’, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ and others.

Historical Fiction: Celebrated Writers whose Names are Syonymous with the Fictional Depiction of an Age: Part I: Mary Renault and the Bronze Age.

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A horrible fight…

There are some writers of historical fiction on particular historical epochs who acquire such widespread  fame that they are often described as having ‘Made that era their own’.

One of these is Mary Renault, famed for her strong writing and thorough historical research.

Born in 1905 in a middle class home, strongly influenced by her father and suffering from an unsatisfactory relationship with her mother, Renault attended Oxford, became a nurse, and had a life long relationship with another woman with whom she emigrated to  South Africa in 1948. Although many of her novels deal with the theme of same sex love and sexuality, and she acquired a strong gay following, she did not define herself as a gay writer. However, she always saw herself a something of an ‘honourary man’.

Renault  tried various sorts of writing before concentrating on novels set in Ancient Greece. She wrote various novels about Alexander, and also a duo set in the Bronze Age, featuring the mythical hero Theseus, ‘The King Must Die’ (1958) and ‘The Bull from the Sea’ (1962).

In these novels, Renault depicts Theseus as the initiator of the overthrow of the ancient matriarchal societies by the new system of patriarchy.  Although Renault was influenced  by the writings of Robert Graves, author of ‘The White Goddess’ and other works on the ancient Goddess religion, Renault, in line with the conventional views of her era, depicted  their destruction as the inevitable result of historical progress, while Graves’ sympathies were all with female power.

In her introduction to the ‘The King Must Die’, Bethany Hughes comments:  ‘It is perhaps odd that  Renault should choose Theseus, a macho warrior with a bloody biography, as her favoured hero.  The myth cycles of antiquity declare Theseus to be a hero who tricked, bludgeoned and raped his way through life. There are lurid, ancient descriptions of his rape of the eight year old Helen…’

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‘Tanglewood Tales’ with its depiction of the Ancient Greek legends, was read to me when I was about five. I was so horrified by the Minotaur that I couldn’t put my fear into words, and talked instead of being scared of the dragon in the ‘dragon’s teeth’ myth. I was in awe of Theseus for being brave enough to go and fight such a terrible monster, and never having investigated the darker side of the myth, my feelings for him remained benign when I grew up.

This is certainly why, when I read ‘The King Must Die’ and its somehow fragmented sequel, ‘The Bull from the Sea’ , I was startled to find that Theseus obnoxious. When I finished the book and looked over the reviews on the internet, I was dismayed to find  that these books are recommended enthusiastically by not only male readers, but by a fair amount of female readers too.

While I quite agree that an historical society must be depicted to the best of the author’s ability as it was – not sanitized according to modern sensibilities- there are still ways in which the author can use the narrative tone and plot devices to distance herself from the ugly attitudes of the age. This remains true, even if a first person voice is chosen, as it is in the Theseus series.  It seems to me that Renault, having failed to do this, leaves this reader at least with the uneasy impression that on the whole she  sympathized with Theseus  (and many male readers of this series) in thinking that a society that sacrificed one man a year is somehow more bloody and barbaric than one which brutalises countless women.

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I was dismayed by the internalised misogyny which Renault displays. This so detracted from my engagement with the stories, that the lively narration and vivid depiction seemed to me to be tainted by it.

Renault  tries to be fair, but given the attitude towards women in the era in which she is writing, this is difficult.  Though she was in a marriage type relationship with another woman, she seemed to illustrate her generally low view of her sex by her various dismissive quotes (ie, the one on the possibility of a female Shakespeare quoted by David Sweetman in his biography), and she saved her admiration for male figures.

This was probably typical of the women who identified as ‘masculine’  in the era when she was young. By the time feminism and gay liberation appeared, Renault was, in middle age, unable to identify with them.

In this series, only masculine woman  (like the Amazon Queen Hippoylata, who suffers from a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome after her capture) are depicted as admirable. More conventionally ‘feminine’ women are seen as devious, motivated by vanity, and untrustworthy.  There is the extraordinary assumption that the Amazon Queen, though raised apart from men, is nevertheless boyish because she is athletic and courageous. That it is possible to be athletic and physically brave without being mannish was not an idea that seems to have occurred to Renault’s generation.

To be fair to Renault, she does depict some splendid matriarchal women,  such as the wonderful matriarchal Queen who is Theseus’ first wife (or rather, he is her last out of maybe a dozen Kings for a Year, bringing about her own death), and Theseus’ own mother.  I was less sympathetic towards the apostate Amazon Hippoylata.

The result of all these influences is that in ‘The King Must Die’  particularly, the reader is assumed  to b e quite happy in cheering  Theseus on in his onslaught on female power. While  its oddly inchoate sequel, ‘The Bull from the Sea’ has been interpreted by critics as ‘The Goddess’s revenge’, this is incompletely depicted. Theseus in the end kills himself by jumping off a cliff, an anti climatic end. It is surely less drawn out and painful than that which he gives his errant wife Phaedra when he chokes her to death (I have always been puzzled why, as a supposedly brilliant wrestler, he didn’t use the strangle – cutting off the blood to the brain – rather than the clumsy choke – cutting off air to the lungs;  Renault, usually meticulous in research, fails there).

In fact, all of Theseus’ three wives (counting Hippoylata) die through his actions (or inactions) so that I have always felt that the title should be altered to, ‘The Queen Must Die’.

However, my reaction is that of a minority. Most readers of Renault are wholly admiring, or, if they find that internalised misogyny offensive, are able to ‘get past it’ better than I am. Today, sixty years after the date of its publication, ‘The King Must Die’ is still selling well – 30,533 in the Kindle Store at Amazon.co.uk.

Renault’s influence has been pervasive- to the point when her name is almost equated with the fictional depiction of that  period – despite the fact that her style is old fashioned, and that modern research to some extent disagrees with her interpretation. This poses a  problem for subsequent writers on the Bronze Age.

Such writers are invariably, because of Renault’s continuing influence, compared to Renault, and all too often, to the detriment of experimentation.

I have, since reading Renault’s series, come on a couple of excellent ones which take an opposing view of the destruction of the ancient female centred cultures, seeing this as the beginning of warlike cultures, typified by aggression, rape and brutality.

However, while I would find this portrayal sympathetic, it would not be enough for me to have a great admiration  for them, if they were not brilliantly written. For me, these books have all the advantages of Mary Renault’s scholarship, without incorporating that dismal internalized misogyny.

On this, I have just discovered that back in 1971 a male author – Poul Anderson – wrote a novel  ‘The Dancer from Atlantis’, which is actually based on Renault’s own. This is an inverted version, where Theseus is dipicted as the brutal destroyer of the civilisation of Ancient Crete. I would be interested to read this, and wonder it has received so little attention.

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Another story based on the Theseus legend is the brilliant, but eminently tragic, duo by June Rachuy Brindel,  ‘Ariadne’ and ‘Phaedra’, published respectively in 1980 and 1985.

Another saga set in the Bronze Age about the destruction of the ancient matriarchies – though not about Theseus – is Rebecca Lochlann’s excellent ‘Child of the Erinyes’ series of eight books, which is still ongoing, the first book having been published in 2011.

Frequenters of this blog will know that I am a great admirer of this writing. I  have been exasperated by the wearisome tendency of some reviewers – including some males clearly stung bythe unflattering portait of the patriarchy contained in it – to make those invidious comparisons with Renault of all works of fiction about Bronze Age Greece, including Brindel’s and Lochlann’s work.

Renault wrote an interesting, thoroughly researched and vividly portayed series – one which I personally found distasteful, but many will disagree. It was  based on the views of her time. Sixty years have gone by since then.  Surely it is time for readers to move on from interpreting Bronze Age Greece and the Greek legends through Renault’s specific lens, and to investigate new fictional explorations of Bronze Age Greece, ones which are fairer in their treatment of women and female power.

The view that any age or indeed, any aspect of writing is the domain of, or should be depicted using the same approach of, some celebrated author is surely ridiuclous and stifling.

Of course, there will always be a hardcore of admirers of some writers of yesteryear who simply don’t want to move on – who think that particular writing can never be surpassed. However, most readers are hopefully not of so rigid a mindset, and surely the same argument must apply even more to the rest of the publishing world, who are supposedly ever eager for new ideas or new approaches to familiar themes.

But this post is becoming too long: so more on these, in my next post.

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