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My Brit Lit Year

My Brit Lit Year

As we sprint headlong toward 2017, I’ve been taking stock of what I’ve accomplished in 2016.  Looking back, I realized that British literature has been a recurring theme this year.

The theme was set on New Year’s Day.  My husband and son joined me for the last ten days of my stay in London, and we’d crammed as much sightseeing as possible into the first five days of their visit.  We definitely needed a day of rest and recuperation!  I switched on the telly while I was waiting for them to wake up, and I caught the first episode of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.  I had never seen Colin Firth’s legendary portrayal of Darcy.  Before I knew it, I was hooked.  I watched all six episodes back-to-back.   Appropriately, we took a trip to Bath two days later.

My second British literature encounter of the year was with Lewis Carroll.  Last fall I went to an exhibit at the British Library celebrating the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland.  It inspired me to re-read my own battered copy of Alice in Wonderland earlier this year.  It was a gift for my third birthday, and the charming illustrations by Marjorie Torrey enchanted me.  I longed to join Alice in meeting the Cheshire Cat and taking tea with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare.  My favorite part of the book was when Alice fell down the rabbit hole:

“…she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book-shelves: here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs.  She took down a jar from one of the shelves: it was labeled Orange Marmalade.”

My husband is a big Sherlock Holmes fan.  In August, we visited the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at the Toronto Reference Library.  Part of the collection is housed in a room that invokes the spirit of Holmes’s study.  In addition to Conan Doyle’s works, the collection includes biographies, books related to his interests, such as spiritualism, and books written in the Sherlockian tradition.  Visitors can look at any of the books on the shelves, no matter how old they are.  I leafed through several 100-year-old copies of The Strand Magazine while we were there.

Steve and I both enjoy Sherlock, the modern take on Sherlock Holmes starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  I was fortunate to see Cumberbatch in Hamlet at the Barbican in London last fall.  You can read about it in My Great London Adventure blog.

I also encountered numerous luminaries of British literature when I was in New York in September to do research for my book, Finding England in America.  I went to the Charlotte Bronte exhibit at the Morgan Library, and toured the New York Public Library, where I saw Charles Dickens’s writing desk, the stuffed animals that inspired A.A. Milne to write Winnie the Pooh, and an exhibit on Percy Bysshe Shelley.  I strolled past statues of Alice in Wonderland, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Burns in Central Park.  I also saw Something Rotten, a wacky Broadway musical about Shakespeare.  The show begins touring nationally in January, so watch for it at a theater near you.

Speaking of Shakespeare, I recently read The Millionaire and the Bard by Andrea Mays.  It’s a fascinating story about Henry Folger’s obsession with the Shakespeare First Folio.  Folger and his wife donated their collection of First Folios and other Shakespearean artifacts to create the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.  I highly recommend the book, and I want to thank my friend Maureen for bringing it to my attention.  I also recommend a visit to the Folger Library the next time you’re in Washington.  It has the largest collection of Shakespeare-related materials in the world.  Thanks to Henry Folger, it has 82 of the 233 First Folios known to exist.

I’ve also been re-reading some of Shakespeare’s plays in preparation for an upcoming talk I’m giving on Shakespeare.  Join me at the Lisle Library on November 29th to learn more about Finding Shakespeare in America.  It will be the perfect way to cap off a year of British literature.

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