Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Anglophilia

I have suffered from a touch of anglophilia for about the past 2 decades.  It has ebbed and flowed over the years, but I'm afraid that I will never entirely kick the habit.  To what can I trace the origins of this ailment?  Mary Poppins (the movie, of course, but even more so the wonderful, wonderful books)? The Chronicles of Narnia? A. A. Milne?  A Little Princess and The Secret Garden?  A few years later, my condition only worsened with Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie and Middlemarch and what was perhaps the most delightful discovery EVER, all of the Jane Austen canon.  Oh, how I wished my life had more gentility, more charming accents, more steaming cups of tea, more double-decker red buses, and more clotted cream and scones than my suburban American existence offered...  I realize, of course, (and I think I knew even at the time) that this was more about the highly fictionalized, historical idea of England I was carrying around in my head than the actual England that exists across the pond.  Still, what a delightful idealized, mythical place it is...

Perhaps the most recent manifestation of my anglophilia is my discovery of Nigella Lawson.  She combines my love of all things English with another enthusiasm of mine, food writing (and television).  She writes the best cookbooks!  Seriously, her cookbooks are worth reading just as cozy, scrumptious entertainment alone.  I will admit that her recipes are not the absolute-most-fail-safe out there and I occasionally find something that doesn't work out at all, but her charm and British witticisms make me forgive her.  She has a wonderfully sensual approach to thinking about and cooking and eating food and really, isn't that what enjoying food is about?  Our senses?  She does not go in for healthy food as such (although does not dismiss something just because it is good for you) and her books are not terribly vegetarian-friendly, so they're not really the best match for how we try to eat, but somehow it doesn't matter and I just love them anyway.

Another recent indulgence into all things English is my reading of the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian.  It's a series of historical novels about the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars; the recent movie Master and Commander was based on some of the books.  I haven't seen the movie because 1) I never see movies in a timely manner since having a child and 2) it didn't/doesn't appeal to me at all.  I am not a fan of military/naval/war stories and the Napoleonic Wars?  I think those long, tedious passages in Les Misérables and War and Peace made me want to run away screaming from them forever.  I was motivated to pick up the first Aubrey-Maturin book, though, on the recommendation of someone whose taste I generally share and I am SO GLAD.  So funny!  So detailed!  So exciting!  So full of delightfully opaque seafaring jargon (I still don't know what a flying jib is...) that somehow does not interfere with the pace of the stories!  It's the combination of cleverness and richly drawn humanity that really does it for me, though.  And it doesn't hurt that the books have albatrosses! And scurvy! And Antarctica! And romance! And duels! And spies! And a drunk sloth!  I am currently reading book 6 (out of 20) and I continue to be struck by how unlikely it is that these books would charm me so thoroughly; something so military and adventure-y is not my usual gig. 

Since I've admitted that this England I'm carrying around in my head is almost entirely fictitious and unrelated to the real England, it seems appropriate to mention the Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde, which are set in England in the 1980s in an alternate universe where the Crimean War has lasted 100 years, cloned dodos are kept as pets, time traveling government agents try to keep the universe from falling apart, and it's possible to somehow enter a book.  This series is one of the most wonderful things I've read in the past several years-- highly fantastical, literate, mindbendingly creative.  I LURVE THEM.  I gush with praise and beg you to read them, especially if you love books.  You don't necessarily have to love the specific classic that makes up the setting for each book; the first installment is mostly about Jane Eyre and I will readily admit that none of the Brontës are really that popular with me.  I gleefully gobbled up the most recent installment because Fforde finally got around to using my particular favorite as a setting, Pride and Prejudice.

And oh, how deep and strong and true is my love for all things Jane Austen.  I first read them all in my junior high years (and I am so glad I did) but they are even more wonderful now as a 30-year-old woman.  To give you a glimpse into the depth of my devotion, one Christmas break during college, I read Pride and Prejudice half a dozen times.  I'd get to the end and just turn over all the pages and start over again.  I think my next favorite is the bittersweet Persuasion, but there's also dim, silly Catherine in the hilarious Northanger Abbey and snobby, charming, not-very-perceptive Emma...  I shall restrain myself from effusing further.  In college, I ran with a crowd of girls who included a few equally enthusiastic fans; reading is a pretty solitary activity so we watched movie versions.  A LOT.  The Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma got a lot of play, letting us make fun of the strangely coiffed Ewan McGregor.  My parents gave me a VHS version of the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries one year for Christmas and when we all returned to school for the spring semester, several of us would watch the whole thing every week almost until spring break.  There were 6 VHS tapes and we would watch one every night, taking a night off here and there if something else came up.  And we drank generic Kool-Aid from hand-me-down wineglasses and ate/pretended to smoke pretzel sticks.  Gosh, I miss those days...

We would sometimes use fake British accents around our apartment, especially if we had been especially overindulging in books or movies set in England.  One of our roommates grew up in Zimbabwe and her accent was definitely the best; she could even make it sound different than her white African and black African accents.  We all practiced, though, trying to achieve a higher, more masterly level of anglophile insanity.  Sometimes the most adventurous of us tried to convince us all to use our fake British accents outside the apartment, like on our communal grocery shopping trips.  If I remember correctly, I did OK until it came time to check out; I felt guilty actually representing myself as someone I wasn't to the unsuspecting clerk.

Of course, my own fake-British-accent-using, and anglophilia as a whole, is nothing compared to the fellow featured in this episode (available for free download with a convenient clicky button-type thing) of what is perhaps my favorite NPR show.  The whole episode is brilliant, as typical for This American Life, but the British-accent guy's story takes up just the first 20 minutes or so.  Well worth a listen while you're picking up the house or making dinner or something.  And better yet, evidence that I am NOT in fact the craziest person in the world!

5 comments:

Emily said...

Julia, I really do love your posts. So thoughtful, clever, and entertaining!

I'm looking for something to read after I finish Alfred & Emily by Dorris Lessing. Thanks for the recommendations!

Sarah said...

Hi Julia, I was watching Stephen Colbert last night and he did a whole bit on Jane Austen that is an excellent follow-up to your post. Take a look:
http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/210506/november-13-2008/tip-wag---marvel-comics

(you can skip the first thing about the Pope going green - its unrelated to anglophilia and rather sacrilegious I suppose)

angie.a said...

Great post! I still sometimes use my British accent when out shopping. ;)

astropixie said...

i'm pretty horrible with accents of any kind. i've been trying to practice words that i've heard here in nottinghamshire pronounced especially uniquely (like "lovely" for instance), but i'm afraid i'll never be able to not sound horrible! oh well.

i've been looking for more reginal aterial to read, so i'll take some of your suggestions. any book in particular that you think i should start with?

astropixie said...

regional material, that is ;)