Next Episode of The Secret Life of Books is
Classic books are considered with a fresh eye. Returning to the authors' original manuscripts and letters, expert writers and performers bring their personal insights to these great works.In the new series of The Secret Life of Books, we explore another eclectic selection of literary masterpieces: a memoir of drug addiction, an epic Elizabethan poem, a collection of nonsense verse, a Victorian classic, a children's adventure tale, and a nostalgic hymn to rural life.
Tony Jordan, chief scriptwriter on EastEnders for 15 years and creator of Life on Mars and Hustle, brings his writer's insight to a popular classic - Charles Dickens's Great Expectations.
Dickens serialised his novels and, says Jordan, his brilliant characterisation and cliffhangers make him a godfather to contemporary television writers: 'He's a populist, through and through. He wrote for a mass audience - and they adored him for it'.
Jordan investigates why Dickens decided to change the ending of Great Expectations and what this decision reveals about the writer and the man.
By examining original texts and manuscripts to piece together Dickens's troubled life at the time, Jordan discovers how the author's own personal story may have influenced whether his hero Pip would have a future with Estella.
In Shakespeare's day, original manuscripts of plays were thrown away after use. If it wasn't for one printed volume, The First Folio (1623), many of his greatest works, such as Macbeth and The Tempest, would have been lost forever. Actor Simon Russell Beale has long been obsessed with the collection - and what secrets it might give up about its author.
'What can we learn from this wonderful book?' asks Russell Beale. A surprising amount, it seems. 'We can learn that he collaborated, worked with his fellow playwrights and actors, that those great words were not always his. We can learn that his plays changed during his own lifetime. And, more controversially, I think we can find out something about Shakespeare the man, his biography'.
With privileged access to this rare volume, expert testimony from director Sam Mendes, and Nicholas Hytner, director of the National Theatre, plus wonderful solo performances by Russell Beale, the shadowy figure of William Shakespeare comes more into focus.
Award-winning writer Alexandra Harris shows how Virginia Woolf's classic work Mrs Dalloway completely re-imagined what a novel might be.
Woolf came of age as an author after Europe had been shattered by the First World War. 'Everything was going to be new,' says Harris of Woolf's literary ambitions. 'Everything was going to be different. Everything was on trial'.
The result was a new, free-form style of writing that responded to the post-war climate of confusion and uncertainty. Radically, Woolf's central characters - socialite Clarissa Dalloway and shell-shocked survivor Septimus Smith - never meet, while the novel also pioneers a flowing stream-of-consciousness style.
Using original manuscripts, diaries and notebooks to 'catch a glimpse of a great writer at work', Harris argues that the novel also allowed Woolf to creatively channel her own mental illness into the character of Septimus Smith, and in so doing helped keep herself sane.
Cerys Matthews tells the extraordinary story of one of the great literary treasures of the medieval world - the Mabinogion. Its ancient tales, once recited aloud by storytellers, were later translated from Welsh by a Victorian enthusiast, Lady Charlotte Guest, bringing them to an international audience. Their influence can still be detected in works such as JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.
'When I was growing up I had a Mabinogion poster, the illustrations were almost psychedelic', says Matthews, who was enchanted. 'I'd fallen in love with the unpredictable plots, the beautiful language and the larger than life characters'.
Here were unforgettable creations - a king who could stride across the Irish Sea, a woman made entirely of flowers, goats that mysteriously changed into wild boars and the first ever appearance of King Arthur. As Matthews delves deeper into these strange tales, she examines some of the original, ancient manuscripts and visits some of the locations in Wales which first inspired many of the stories.
Journalist and novelist Bidisha was fascinated by Bronte's Jane Eyre as a teenager, but re-reading the story as an adult left her feeling uncomfortable. What Bronte had to say about sex and race was darker and more disturbing than she remembered.
For the young Bidisha, Jane Eyre's perilous, but ultimately liberating, passage into adulthood showed that a young woman could find happiness without compromising her principles. Jane got to have it all. Or did she?
Revisiting this classic Victorian novel seventeen years on, Bidisha sees her erstwhile role model, and the society which spawned her, through very different eyes. Is Jane Eyre really the spirited, independent woman Bidisha admired as a young reader? Is the supposedly dashing Mr Rochester little more than a bully and an abuser? What does the characterisation of Bertha, the mad creole woman in Rochester's attic tell us about Bronte's colonial attitudes?
To better understand her sometime heroine and to search for clues, Bidisha travels to the Bronte's family home in Yorkshire and visits the British Library to examine Bronte's original manuscript and uncover intimate letters written by Charlotte Bronte to a married professor, believed by many to be the man who inspired the character of the abusive Rochester.
Bringing a fresh and critical eye to this classic work, Bidisha reassesses one of literature's most memorable heroines.
Some 200 years since it was written, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is now shorthand for the horrors of science run amok. But when author and anatomist Professor Alice Roberts returns to the 18-year-old Mary's manuscripts, she finds someone concerned with the very act of creation itself. She also discovers clues of another writer's influence, someone very close to Mary.
Alice's travels take her to the Villa Diodati in Geneva, where Mary and her partner Percy spent time with Lord Byron and she conceived the idea of Victor Frankenstein's creature. By showing the disastrous results of the obsessive Victor's attempts to create life, Mary is seen to be critiquing the Romantic ideal of the solitary, creative genius, a notion associated with poets Percy Shelley and Byron. Surprisingly, when examining Mary's original manuscript at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Alice also sees written evidence of Percy's collaborative role in the creation of Victor.
In considering the influence of Mary's parents - her father was the radical philosopher William Godwin and her mother Mary was the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women - Alice further shows that the ideas informing Frankenstein make the novel much more than a simple horror story. Mary's account does deal in death, but ultimately it provokes us to ask questions about how we live.
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