Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice (Final Thoughts)

Who or what organizes a society like that in Pride and Prejudice? By that I mean, who or what is control of the order of things? If the primary motivation for man is to find a wife and the primary motivation for woman is to find a husband, who benefits from that priority? Is it the rich men, the rich women, or just the rich? That question continues to nag me after finishing the book a week ago.

Is the book ironic, and, if it is, what does that mean? The book seems to be saying, Elizabeth is a free person–free from the constraints of society–which of course leaves her with complete freedom to marry the richest man she finds, so long as she can convince herself she loves him. That may be a bit harsh, but it’s not too far off base, is it?

Are Darcy’s acts truly heroic? I have this feeling that we still don’t know enough about Darcy to form an opinion. Even Darcy’s truly good deeds–like saving Elizabeth’s sister from a poor start to her life with Wickham–don’t seem too heroic when you consider they were made possible because Darcy is so wealthy. The money he throws at the Wickham problem–twice–is a temporary fix. And, we know that Darcy isn’t going to suffer in the least because he has enough money to be able to spare some for Wickham without it effecting his lifestyle at all. We know from the track record that Wickham will be back and will need money again and will likely go back to his old ways. And we’re to be thankful to Darcy for arranging this?

And, the ending. I’m haunted–like in an existential way–by the idea that our “happy ending” that has Darcy marry Elizabeth is still a rush to judgment. It’s too soon to say they’ll live happily ever after because we don’t know who Darcy is, except to say he’s wealthy and tied to Pemberley, which, by the way, just sounds like a super-swell place to raise some children who will fall right into line with what Pemberley can make of them.

I went back and tried to find out when Pemberley was first introduced in the novel with the idea that maybe I could put together an argument that the true hero of the novel was Pemberley. I was thinking, maybe, I could argue that Pemberley is really the thing that has set up the order of the society Austen writes about in Pride and Prejudice, and I was thinking I could probably, pretty-easily argue that Pemberley is the true victor in the Darcy-Elizabeth union because, if I can say anything about the novel, I can say that the estate is set up to be well-managed, tastefully arranged, and just an all-round pleasant place to visit friends and family. In other words, Pemberley is the suburbs before they got so over-crowded and cookie-cutter.

What did I find? Well, Pemberley is first mentioned on p. 19 of the edition I’ve been reading, or at the second to last paragraph of Volume I, Chapter VI. There’s a joke between Darcy and Miss Bingley about how Darcy and Elizabeth will live happily ever-after at Pemberley with his new charming mother-in-law, Elizbabeth’s mother, who Darcy isn’t too fond of at the start of the novel. So, does that support my idea? I think I could probably argue it does, because the first time we’re introduced to Pemberley there’s talk of a new generation moving in with the old and we can just imagine Darcy reading by the fire in the comfortable confines of the manor while lovely conversation is had in another room, far far away from where Darcy is reading (if Darcy has his way). So, this is a friendly introduction, along side a tasteful jab at Darcy’s “future mother-in-law.” Ha Ha! Mother-in-laws…we all guffaw.

But, our next interaction with Pemberley is much different. After that scene, we see Pemberley shrink back from it’s sigh of relief and we hear that–just like everything else–Pemberley’s future is uncertain because it can always be sold away. p. 26, Volume I, Chapter VIII.

The other thing that worries me, is that Pemberley is as much associated with Wickham as it is Darcy. Remember, Wickham was raised at Pemberley because his dad managed the Pemberley estates. p. 132, Volume II, Chapter XII. So, that’s an unlikely start for a hero, isn’t it? Although, the Bible seems to be full of heroes that have at least one bad son, right? (For one example see the Book of Genesis where Adam and Eve give birth to Abel, but also Cain).

The thing that I keep coming back to, a week after putting the book down, is that the turning point of the novel is when Elizabeth visits Pemberley. If Pemberley had one spell left to cast, if it had the ability to kind of pull forth from the earth some last drop of mana, it did it. So, Pemberley ends up like Darcy’s spider web, then? And, Elizabeth can’t overcome the societal cycle set up to Pemberley’s/Darcy’s advantage?

One last question, who gets what they want in the novel by its end? Darcy? He gets Elizabeth, so check. Elizabeth? Well, if what she wants is an estate and a husband then, yes–check. Pemberley? We don’t actually have a clear answer to this because we don’t know if it gets a male heir out of the relationship, but let’s assume that happens, even though the novel doesn’t give us room to assume that will happen. Look at poor old Mr. Bennet who did not get a son and so has to deal with that nasty business of the entail. But, assuming Darcy and Elizabeth have a MALE heir then it gets what it wants. So, maybe the answer is that men and estates have conspired together to get what they both want and need to assure their continued happiness and even Elizabeth is not powerful enough to overcome what Pemberley and Darcy can do together. Remember the first line of the novel? “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” And, for the rest of the novel, off go that good fortune (Pemberley) and that man (Darcy) in search of a wife (Elizabeth).

So, there’s my case. It’s all laid out before you. Our true hero in the novel is Pemberley. And if you’ve followed my case and maybe even nodded your head up and down a couple of times, there’s just one thing left to say: Austen is a master ironist. Which means, what she says isn’t what she really means and that the real meaning is the implied meaning, not the literal meaning. Which means, your thoughts either way are as good as mine as long as they’re supported by the text, literally or implicatively.

Our discussion of Pride and Prejudice has been broken into multiple parts. You can find the prior discussion here: Volume IVolume IIVolume III to Chapter X, Volume III Chapter X to END.

Twice Upon A Time: New Twists on Old Tales

This article was written by Noelle Sterne.

Maybe you loved fairy tales as a kid but dismiss them for your children’s writing projects. Fairy tales, though, are worthy precursors of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and the Harry Potter empire. Re-tales can help you break into publishing and lead to startling success—Gail Carson Levine won the Newbery Award with her Cinderella adaptation of Ella Enchanted (1997) and a movie and DVD (2004). Snow White gets ninja training in Snow White and the Huntsman (2012).

In “Grimm,” a current television detective is descended from “Grimms,” who must keep a balance between humans and supernatural characters. He pursues dastardly characters based on the classic fairy tales by the Grimm brothers. In “Once Upon a Time,” another contemporary TV series, the residents of “Storybrooke” are fairy tale characters whose memories of their origins have been erased by an evil villainess and who live in the real world under her curse.

Legendary characters remain alive and plotting. To show you how other old tales can be freshly recast, here I compare aspects of the traditional “Jack and the Beanstalk” story (Jennifer Greenway, Classic Fairy Tale Treasury, Andrews and McMeel, 1995) and several other versions in print, variously irreverent.

Different Characters

Jack’s mother. Traditional: Jack’s poor widowed mother shouts at him for trading the cow, their only possession, for a few beans. She calls him stupid but gets over it.

Val Biro (Treasury of Children’s Literature, Hutchinson, 2000) shows Jack’s mother going berserk. “Beans? . . . You are an idiot! Nincompoop! Dunderhead!” (p. 305).

The Bean-Trader. Traditional: He’s a “strange little man . . . in a bright green suit” (Greenway, p. 142). In Biro, he’s “a gnarled old man with twinkly eyes” (p. 304). In Steven Kellogg’s Jack and the Beanstalk (Harper Trophy, 1997), a wizard gives Jack the beans and watches his adventures from a hot-air balloon. Andrew Lang (The Red Fair Book, Dover 1890/2000) depicts the bean-giver as a butcher.

Jack’s First Castle Encounter. Traditional: The giant’s wife warns Jack he could be her husband’s next breakfast meat. In Lang, on the way to the castle Jack meets an odd woman with flowing hair wearing a “quilted red satin” pointed cap (p. 127). She’s the bearer of a complex subplot: a noble knight, his wife and children lived in the castle. The Giant killed the knight and his wife and one child escaped. Jack’s mother is the noblewoman and Jack is the rightful heir of the castle.

Personality Traits

Jack the Good Boy. Traditional: Jack tries to help his mother, makes an impulsive, flighty decision, and later shows his courage and resourcefulness. “Jack was a giddy, thoughtless boy, but very kind-hearted and affectionate” (Lang, p. 125).

Jack the Dangerously Curious. In Ann Beneduce’s saga (Jack and the Beanstalk, Philomel, 1999), Jack endangers his life by “always asking ‘What if . . .? and ‘Why?’ and ‘Where . . . ?’” (p. 2).

 Jack the Sharp-Witted Wiseguy. Biro simultaneously gives children a mathematics lesson and shows us Jack’s quickness and sassiness. The gnarled old man asks, “I wonder if you know how many beans make five?” Jack replies instantly, “Two in each hand and one in your mouth” (p. 304).

Plot Variations

Traditional: Jack steals the golden egg-laying goose from the Giant’s castle and trades the eggs for food. He, his mother, and the goose live happily ever after.

In Lang and Biro, Jack makes three trips to the castle: first he steals a golden-egg laying hen, and then bags of gold, and last a bejeweled singing harp. Having more than proved himself, as heir apparent he finally (re-)possesses the castle.

Jack gets a sports update in A. J. Jacobs’ take (Fractured Fairy Tales, Bantam, 1997). He comes to the city and joins the chronically-losing baseball team, the Boston Beavers. Showing his misplaced knowledge, Jack eagerly keeps asking the coach when he’ll get to make a touchdown.

Finally, in yet another game the Beavers are losing, the coach puts him in the game and tells him to run to the outfield. Jack pulls a magic bean from his pocket, plants it in center field, and waters it. The bean instantly grows and becomes a towering stalk.

The slugger of the opposing team hits an almost-sure winning homer. But Jack jumps on the beanstalk, shinnies up, and, just in time, catches the enemy’s high fly. He saves the day, the game, and the team. With Jack’s magic beans, the Beavers—now renamed the Beans—go on to win game after game.

Points of View

Traditional: Jack sees his life as an adventure.

In Giants Have Feelings Too (Steck-Vaughn, 1996), Alvin Granowsky favors the marginalized. The giant’s wife laments, “After I was so kind to [Jack], he stole from us, and he hurt my husband. All because we are giants!” (p. 3).

Raymond Briggs’ sequel, Jim and the Beanstalk (Putnam, 1970/1997), shows Jim visiting the now-aged and infirm giant, who has weak eyes, bad teeth, and little hair. Like a budding social worker, Jim gets him bifocals, false teeth, and a wig.

Gender Switch: Jack the Girl

In Denise Vega’s Jill and the Beanstalk (Newfangled Fairy Tales, Meadowbrook, 1998), Jill, like Jack, sells her poor mother’s cow for the magic beans and climbs up the beanstalk to a magnificent castle. Once there, she shows her courage and asks the giant for a tour of the castle. Ignoring the giant’s outer threatening appearance, she empathically counsels him to stop eating little boys, and he is surprisingly cooperative.

Jill then befriends the giant and his wife, whom she persuades to climb down the beanstalk and live peacefully among the people. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Jill then gives tours of the giant’s castle and makes so much money she gets her mother needed medical attention and has the cottage repaired.

Kate is equally spunky in Mary Pope Osborne’s, Kate and the Beanstalk (Atheneum, 2000). She starts out in a Jack-like situation and when she sees the beans, she can’t resist. They “shone like dark gold” and Kate admits, “I don’t think I can live without them” (p. 3). But when she learns of a noble family’s inheritance, which the Giant has stolen, with a true kind heart she immediately resolves to right the wrong. Kate doesn’t know it’s her own family.

She shows herself resourceful when she enters the castle, disguising herself twice. When she sees the enormous cooking duties of the giant’s wife, Kate offers to help her make breakfast. Finally, after vanquishing the Giant, Kate and her mother take rightful possession of the castle, and she offers the giant’s widow a job as cook and companion.

Writerly Ever After

See all these inventive variations? You can revamp any fairy tale you choose in imaginative, funny, outrageous ways. You’ll stretch your creativity, challenge your writing audacity, and connect with today’s children. And your new-old tales will surprise editors into acceptance, entice parents and teachers into buying your books, and delight young readers.

Note: Jack too has had his share of Hollywood glitter. Films were produced, and I’ve probably missed a few, in 1947 (with Mickey Mouse as Jack), 1952 (with the old-time comedians Abbott and Costello!), 1965, 1972 (a Japanese version), 1995, 2002, 2005, and 2010. Jack seems to be evergreen: a new version, “Jack the Giant Slayer” just appeared in 2013.


For reading more old and new fairy tales and even publishing your own, see these:

  1. Cabinet des Feés: A Fairy Tale
  2. Enchanted Conversation: A Fairy Tale
  3. Horn
  4. New Fairy
  5. SurLaLune Fairy


Author, editor, ghostwriter, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 300 pieces of fiction and  nonfiction in print and online venues. Her column in Coffeehouse for Writers is titled “Bloom Where You’re Writing.” With a  Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has assisted doctoral candidates to complete their dissertations.  Noelle’s book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books) uses examples from her practice,  writing, and other aspects of life to help readers let go of regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. 

With Trust Your Life, she has been invited to participate in the Unity Books “Summer of Self-Discovery,” a reading series on  Goodreads with two other Unity Books authors of positive messages. Goodreads members and others are invited to join the  Unity Books book discussion group on Goodreads and take part in free author webcasts. For more information, see the Unity page (as of May 1, 2013) and the Unity Books Goodreads discussion group:
Visit Noelle at

Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice, Vol.3 (Ch.X to END)

Our discussion of Pride and Prejudice has been broken into multiple parts. You can find the prior discussion here: Volume IVolume II, Volume III to Chapter X. Here we discuss Volume 3 from Chapter X to the end of the novel:

1. The question, “who knows what and when” is an important one in the book because knowledge influences opinion.

When you’re in the business of being happy, opinions matter. Consider that statement in light of Mrs. Bennet’s impression of Darcy on p. 217. Does she know everything she should know in order to form an opinion of Darcy?

2. Is what Mrs. Bennet wants for her children directly tied to what she wants for herself? p. 223.

3. Does Elizabeth ever seem concerned with what her elders think of her? p. 232.

4. What is the novel’s main idea?

Could you make an argument it’s expressed at p. 233 when Elizabeth expresses the touchstone by which she chooses to live her life: “I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.” Does Elizabeth manage to act this way at all times?

5. Does Elizabeth change Darcy, permanently?

At p. 241 Darcy says Elizabeth has “properly humbled” him. In what way? Will the effect of that humbling be permanent? Will it last a life time?

6. Did Pemberley change Elizabeth’s opinion of Darcy, and, if so, what about the visit did it? p. 244

I had previously asked whether you thought Elizabeth’s visiting Pemberley would change her opinion of Darcy. On p. 244 she admits as much. A few pages later, on p. 248 there appears to be a contradiction. On p. 248 Elizabeth is not willing to say what changed her opinion of Darcy or when it started to change. How can you explain the contradiction? Is it a matter of who Elizabeth is talking to? Does this present a problem for Elizabeth if she is to live by caring only about her own opinion of herself as opposed to by everyone else’s? How can you reconcile the two positions about when her mind started to change with regard to Darcy?

7. Will Elizabeth and Darcy live “happily ever-after?”

8. Is reading Pride and Prejudice today a form of escapism?

9. Does the fact that Jane Austen would be expected to read her novels at gatherings of family and friends change her approach to writing the novel? Might she be more concealing on certain points? Might she exaggerate certain characters’ traits to avoid having any of her family and friends recognize themselves in the novel?

10. Go back and read the 1st sentence of the novel again. Now, what could we say, after a complete reading of the novel, a woman wants? Does Jane accurately express what a man wants? What is a woman in want of in this novel?

11. What would the world look like if we had all of our needs met? Will we still finds things that worry us enough to fill our days?

Austen seems to be taking on this idea, perhaps because that’s what she knew she could write about with ease. Do you see the novel as a reflection that is still relavent today? Do most of us really live so differently, especially since we’re having this discussion via our private access to computers, cell phones, tablets, etc.? Does the novel have something to say to the modern reader?

Thanks for reading Pride and Prejudice with me. I welcome your thoughts, today, tomorrow, or in the future when you get around to reading this novel. For next time I may have some closing thoughts on Pride and Prejudice, if anything new strikes me by then, but we can start to talk about our next book, too.

In May, I propose we read Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I’m going to be working with the edition found in The Mrs. Dalloway Reader so I can get some help with the text. For Sunday May 5th, I propose we read from p. 195-275 of The Mrs. Dalloway Reader or, for those with a different edition, until the line “At tea Rezia told him that Mrs. Filmer’s daughter was expecting a baby.” If you have to buy the book, consider buying it used. I found a copy for $2.00 plus shipping at

Shakespeare’s Fool: Feste in Twelfth Night

This is an essay by Anjali Amit.

Twelfth Night is a play populated by confused characters. Orsino imagines himself in love with Olivia; what he really loves is the idea of being in love. Olivia thinks she cannot love because she is in mourning for her brother, yet falls head over heels in love with a woman disguised as a man. Viola dresses as a man. There are many instances of foolishness and foolery in the play, but only one sanctioned Fool. Feste occupies that position, if a Fool, the ultimate outsider, can be said to have a position.

Does he have a position? He belongs to Olivia’s household. Duke Orsino’s serving man informs him that Feste was “a fool that the lady Olivia’s father took much delight in.” So he is not a Johnny-come-lately. Maria leads us to believe that he is a paid retainer who could be laid off.

You will be hanged for being so long absent; or, to be turned away, is not that as good a hanging to you?

That does not faze him. Unlike Malvolio he is secure in  his station in life.

Let her hang me: he that is well hanged in this world need fear no colors.

He knows what is expected of him. The great households need entertainment, and Feste is ready. He bandies words with Olivia,  calls Olivia a fool to her face, understanding that he would not be misunderstood. He is secure in the knowledge that his position gives him the license to speak thus.

Indeed, Olivia enjoys his badinage. When Feste’s logic proves her a fool she turns to her steward and asks: “What do you think of this fool Malvolio? doth he not mend?”

He is not above exchanging witticisms with the ‘downstairs’ crowd. 

Sir Andrew Aguecheek: Begin, fool: it begins ‘Hold thy peace.’

Feste: I shall never begin if I hold my peace.

He pins Sir Toby exactly:

He is but mad yet, madonna; and the fool shall look to the madman.

If that were all he did he would still be an interesting character. Shakespeare however, was not content with merely continuing tradition. He took the role of the Fool and deepened and enriched it, so that he who used to be just an entertainer became also a philosopher and a commentator on his society.

Many of the plays have a Fool. It speaks volumes for Shakespeare’s craft that he is able to bestow on each a different character. Touchstone in As You like It is cruder than Feste, Sir Falstaff, the most vividly portrayed of Shakespearean Fools, is a blend of crudity and philosophical courage, the Fool in King Lear is all philosopher.

Feste’s role is that of a commentator and connector. He is an outsider to the world inhabited by Orsino’s court and Olivia’s household, and so free to comment on the foibles of the characters who inhabit those worlds. This is what he declares of the Duke:

Now the melancholy god protect thee; and the tailor make thy doublet of changeable taffeta, for thy mind is a very opal. 

To Malvolio he says: …you are mad indeed, if you be no better in your wits than a fool.

If there is foolishness ‘upstairs’ there is foolery ‘downstairs’. Feste wanders between ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’, plot and sub-plot, and becomes the bridge that reveals the social mores to both: the characters in the play and its audience:

These wise men that give fools money get themselves a good report — after fourteen years purchase.


would I were the first that ever dissembled in such a gown.

But all is not just empty word play. Feste may not have a position but he has heart. He cares for his mistress, and in proving her a fool his aim is to show her that blindly following convention can make one less than human. He holds up our excesses to enquiry. Fools are sanctioned to do so.

The strongest commentary Feste offers on his world is that he is there. Authority that allows itself to be mocked is confident of itself. A shaky authority holds rigidly to its rules. Malvolio rails against Feste, Olivia loves and protects him.

There is though, a touch of sadness to the merry fool. His songs reveal a melancholy beat. Exeunt all, except the Clown, is the stage direction for the last scene. Alone, he sings his final song:

A great while ago the world begun,

With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,

But that’s all one, our play is done,

And we’ll strive to please you every day.

The striving to please is done for the day. The cast has already departed, the audience also leaves.The outsider is alone again.


Anjali Amit does not subscribe to the ‘eat to live or live to eat’ debate. She reads to live. Occasionally she writes stories for children, and has been known to create a crossword or two.

Photo: Some rights reserved by jmmcdgll.

Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice, Volume III (to Ch. X)

Previously, we discussed Volume I and Volume II of Pride and Prejudice.

When we left Elizabeth she was heading to Pemberley with the expectation that Darcy would not be present at his estate. Here are some points to ponder as you read the first part of Volume III:

1. Does Elizabeth’s opinion of Darcy shift after her visit to Pemberley? Why?

Elizabeth visits Pemberley and immediately engages in a bit of daydreaming where she imagines herself as the mistress of Pemberley. p. 159. What is the turning point in Elizabeth’s opinion shift on Darcy? Is it this visit to Pemberley or did it start even before this visit?

2. Does Elizabeth’s opinion shift when she hears the kind words Darcy’s servants offer on his behalf? p. 161.

3. Elizabeth and Darcy’s story is interrupted by Lydia’s engagement to Wickham. Is Lydia to blame for her behavior? Does Elizabeth bear any responsibility for not sharing what she knew about Wickham?

4. Is the loss of female virtue “irretrievable?” p. 187.

Some rather harsh conclusions are drawn about Lydia’s honor after she flees with Wickham. Remember Lydia is just 16 years old. Is it fair to hold any 16 year hold to a permanent fate for making a poor decision? Is Lydia to blame?

5. Wickham is the ultimate proof of the danger of first impressions believed too strongly.

When Wickham first came on to the scene he was charming, handsome, and nearly won Elizabeth’s heart. Impressions of Wickham change by  p. 191 where he is generally viewed as “the wickedest young man in the world.” Can you see the danger in buying too heavily into a first impression of anyone? How could Lydia have safeguarded herself from Wickham’s wicked nature?

6. What role does Darcy play in Lydia’s marriage to Wickham?

For next time, let’s finish the novel. As you read the last part of the novel try to think about whether Austen’s Pride and Prejudice should be taken at face value or whether there is an underlying satirical tone. If you haven’t read the novel before, try to guess how it might turn out between Darcy and Elizabeth and test whether your expectations are met. If you know how the novel ends, try to read it from a different perspective, for example, could you read the novel as social criticism? What is more important to the characters: marriage, or marriage into wealth or class privilege? Can you separate marriage from the financial consequences in the novel or are the two intertwined at every turn?

Phot0: Some rights reserved by jo-h.

How to Read and Write Poetry

This article was written by Chris Ciolli.

Too many readers (and writers) view poetry as a mystery, an oddity to be kept in a curio behind a locked glass door. We might look at it and think it’s pretty, but we’re loath to take it out, trace its shape with careful hands to try to figure out how it’s put together, and perhaps, how we can create something similar.

This is silly, because poetry has a lot to offer to readers and writers, even those writers (likely the majority) that have no serious goal of scraping by as full-time poets. Comprehending words on the condensed, concentrated level that poetry demands helps readers and writers become more careful in their craft. And yes, reading, not just writing, is a craft. Reading is an art, that when performed correctly makes great works of literature, poetry and prose alike, come to life.

Since April is national poetry month, why not take a break from your regular reading habits and take some time to hone your poetry reading and writing skills?

Reading Poetry

A common misconception is that because poetry is short, it’s fast reading. Nothing could be further from the truth. To get a good idea of a poem’s meaning and construction, multiple readings are always required. Rare is the reader that “gets” a poem on the first reading, and the best poems unfold like flowers, revealing layers of meaning over multiple readings. What works best for me is first reading the poem quickly and silently to get a general feeling of what it’s about, or what emotions or images it conveys. Then I read it aloud, so that I can hear how it sounds outside my head. Sounds are as important in poetry as they are in music. After I read it aloud, I read it sentence by sentence (if it has punctuation) and then a second time line break by line break, to see how the poet is playing with phrasing and multiple meanings. Some readers prefer to read poems aloud first, and silently later; the order of your readers isn’t as important as reading the poem more than once.

After each reading, record your impressions of word and sound repetitions, line breaks that change the meanings of sentences, the style, speaker/voice, and any overall theme you perceive. Scribble notes about how the poem makes you feel, and what you especially enjoy or despise. Don’t expect to understand everything in a first sitting, or ever. Poetry is about subtleties, the implied as opposed to the overt, and to truly enjoy it, ambiguity, and a sense of mystery must be embraced as part of the process. In my experience, sometimes the best tactic is spending half an hour or so with a poem for a thorough first reading, and coming back to it the next day with fresh eyes.

Writing Poetry

Writing poetry, just like writing anything else, tends to be infinitely improved by reading poetry. If you read poetry often, and with an aim to learn about how and why a poem works (or even why it doesn’t) you will find yourself writing better poetry. But how to start writing poetry? Writing poetry is like so many “creative” activities, about a mindset: It’s about seeing stories to tell, scenes and sounds to describe, interest and beauty all around you, not just in historic happenings, but also in seemingly unimportant daily events. Which is not to say you can’t write an epic poem about the Trojan War (although who wants to compete with Homer, anyway?), but rather that in poetry the “devil’s in the details.” Besides which, for poets that have an interest in getting published in literary journals, modern poems are most often about a specific image or experience, and don’t usually extend longer than a page.Getting started can be difficult, as so many writers feel ridiculous trying to write poems. Break through any mental barriers to working on your poetry with daily timed exercises. Sites like Poets & Writers offer weekly poetry-writing prompts or you can use some of the exercises included below.

Poetry-writing Exercises

  1. Describe a memory as vividly as you can in a page or less.
  2. Become a loved one, and try to communicate a message or a memory in his or her voice.
  3. Write a free-association poem starting with a favorite quote. Let one image or idea connect to another and another, for at least half an hour.
  4. Compose 5 haikus in an hour or less about a theme or experience.
  5. Show the reader a specific place in 100 words or less.
  6. Make the reader feel what you feel, right now, in 50 words or less.
  7. Think about 5 of your favorite words. Build a 5 stanza poem around them, including one of the words in each stanza.
  8. Meet up with a friend and take turns writing two lines each in a continuation poem. This can also be done via email with each writer writing a stanza and sending it along.
  9. Listen to your favorite song on repeat. Try to write new words to fit the music.
  10. Write about a favorite painting. But go beyond the painting. What can you smell, hear, and taste?

A final note: Poems, like all writing, should be left alone for a few days, or a week, if possible before you start revising or playing with them further. Whenever possible, give the words time to breath and settle down before you go rearranging them at will.

Further References for Reading and Writing Poetry:

Online: 12 Ways to Write a Poem How to Write a Poem: Maya Angelou’s Advice

The Guardian: How to Write Poetry: Poet Wendy Cope Explains What Makes a Really Superb Poem How to Read a Poem Adrienne Rich on What Poetry Makes Possible (Video) Ten Tips for Writing Haiku

Writer’s Relief: The Language of Musicality in Poetry: Vocabulary for Poets 


The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems by Frances Mayes

Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio–”Poetry is not a means to an end, but a continuing engagement with being alive”.

Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan G. Woolridge

The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser


Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at, and check out her art at

Photo: Some rights reserved by summonedbyfells.

Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice, Volume II

Here are some areas to consider as you read, or after you read Volume II of Pride and Prejudice. The story is becoming more and more Elizabeth and Darcy’s story:

1. What is Elizabeth’s chief aim in the novel? What is Darcy’s?

Characters can be motivated by any number of things, but I’ll throw out a few potential suggestions: Marriage, Happiness, Wealth, Class Status. What do you think is motivating Darcy and Elizabeth, understanding their motives may be different. Or, is it unfair to put one motivation on these characters? Are they more complex than that?

2. What external or internal forces work against Elizabeth and Darcy?

Who or what works against Darcy and keeps them from getting what they’re after? Think about this as you read the rest of the novel. Is there anything that stands in the way of Darcy’s happiness? Elizabeth’s?

3. The novel itself asks this question, “…what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive?” Also, “where does discretion end and avarice begin?” p. 102

This touches on a question we’ve asked already, what are the proper motives for marriage? Is there a line between marrying for prudent reasons, because they set you up for a good life, and greed?

4. It’s funny to read what “nice things” the characters have to say about Lady Catherine.

Words used are: “attentive neighbor;” “respectable;” “sensible.” I get a good laugh hearing what each character has to say about her. Do you think the novel is intentionally funny? p. 105.

5. Elizabeth is a natural contrast to Lady Catherine.

Elizabeth is self-taught for the most part and she is proud of that fact, isn’t she? Is that a healthy form of pride? Contrast that with Lady Catherine. How was she taught? Does she display any particular result of that teaching? p.110.

Is Lady Catherine a social critic, and, if so, is she doing society good through her criticism?

Is Lady Catherine a role model, and, if so, who is she set up to model for? Elizabeth and her sisters?

6. Is Elizabeth justified in her anger at Darcy?

Elizabeth believes Darcy separated Bingley and Jane. Is Elizabeth justified in her anger on this point? Elizabeth also believes Darcy was unfair in his dealings with Wickham. Same question, is the anger justified? p. 123, 127.

7. What is the effect of the 3-page Darcy letter?

The three page letter from Darcy is the most we’ve heard from him by way of explanation or apology. p. 128-134. Does the Darcy letter effect your answer to question 7? Should Elizabeth be ashamed of herself ? She expresses as much on p. 137.

8. What is the effect of Darcy having used the letter to convey his thoughts?

The letter gave Elizabeth a chance to study Darcy’s response at a comfortable distance. p. 140. What other effects did delivering his message by letter have? Was it an effective way to communicate? Does this method of communication particularly suit Darcy?

9. What is the effect on children of marrying for wealth? Love? Happiness? p. 155

10. What is Elizabeth’s primary aim in life? To be happy? Is that a noble aim, alone? p. 157.

11. Will Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberley have any effect on her opinion of Darcy?

We conclude Volume II with Elizabeth going to visit Pemberley. Do you think Pemberley will have an effect, either positive or negative, on how Elizabeth views Darcy? Should it?

12. What is a romantic? Which characters in the novel could you make an argument for being “romantic?” Elizabeth? Charlotte Lucas? Jane? Darcy?

For next time let’s read to p. 208, or Volume III, Chapter X for those with another edition.

Tips for Reading a Translated Novel

This article was written by Leslie Collins.

Great literature crosses cultural and language barriers. Fortunately, you don’t have to learn German to enjoy German literature. Most great works of literature have not one, but dozens, or even hundreds of translations available. A translated novel is not without its pitfalls, however. A work of fiction is often rooted in its own culture, with nuances of language and historical context that might not always make it through the translation.

So how do you pick the right translation for you? How do you make sure you’re getting the most out of your reading? Here are a few tips on getting the most out of a translated foreign novel.

Choose Your Translator Carefully

Despite what you may think, all translations are not created equal. An Oxford professor who has devoted an entire career to studying one work may have a different outlook than a freelance translator who just needed the money. Translators often have different ideas about how certain words or phrases should be interpreted, and a handful of sentences can skew the tone of an entire work in unexpected ways. Before picking up a translated novel, check reviews and blogs online to see what other readers have to say about it. Devoted fans of literature tend to be more detail-oriented than casual readers, and you can use this to your advantage.

Pick the Right Edition

Finding the right version for you may not end with a good translation. Not all editions are created equal, either. Many translations of foreign works, like Beowulf, have editions that feature the translation on facing pages with the original language, or extensive footnotes. What edition to choose depends on what you’re looking to get out of the novel. If you’re looking to glean historical context and cultural nuances, a translation with lots of footnotes and additional information might be useful. If you just want to lose yourself in the story, you’re better off finding an edition without the extraneous material.

Pick Multiple Editions

Granted, not everyone has the time to read the same book several times. But if you’re truly looking to know the material inside and out, consider picking up two or more editions of the same book. Reading them back-to-back is likely to raise questions and bring to light surprising differences between the translations. If you’re the kind of person who can handle it, you might even try reading both translations at once!

Have a Dictionary Handy

Foreign language translations are, by their very nature, frequently inaccurate and incomplete. Many translated novels have some words that simply don’t translate well to other languages. In cases like this, it helps to have a foreign language dictionary on hand to catch the occasional foreign phrase that the translator may have found too slippery to deal with. Learning the “dictionary definition” of foreign words can also reveal context or nuance you may otherwise have missed.

Do Some Research

If you’re truly looking to glean a deeper understanding of the work you’re reading, take your engagement beyond the book itself. Do some independent research on the author, the subject matter, or the time period. You might be surprised at what contextual clues you might uncover. Many authors (and even translators) take certain historical or cultural facts for granted, and a casual reader might miss them entirely.

Find a Fellow Reader

For literature enthusiasts, nothing beats a lively discussion of a literary work. Try to find other people who have read the work in question — perhaps in your book club, online, or in your circle of friends — and see where your interpretations and conclusions differ. You may be surprised at how different (or similar) your experiences were.

Reading outside your language and culture can be a broadening and rewarding experience, exposing you to new ideas and concepts. Reading a foreign-language novel, even a translated one, is a great way to expand your horizons.


Leslie Collins works for Pimsleur Approach. She has yet to learn German but she enjoys reading Kafka in translation.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Kyle Taylor.

Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice, Volume I

This was due for discussion yesterday, but I got wrapped up in Easter activities. I hope you’ll accept my apologies for my tardiness. We’ll still have plenty of time to discuss the novel throughout April. Here’s a stab at some areas to consider from Volume I, to page 89:

1. What does the opening line set us up for?

The opening line of Pride and Prejudice is one of the most famous in literature. In fact, you could read the first two sentences and get a pretty fair idea of what the entire book’s about. So, what does the opening sentence set us up for? Marriage, obviously, will play a major role. p. 3.

2. How long does it take to truly know someone?

The discussion on p. 5 near the end of the page relates to how long you must be acquainted with someone before you really know anything about them. A fortnight is mentioned. Do you think you can truly know someone in 2 weeks?

3. Is a daughter’s marriage a valid goal for a parent?

Who doesn’t want their daughter to marry well? But what does Mrs. Bennet mean when she says she wants her daughters to marry well? Is marrying well related to happiness or wealth? Is Mrs. Bennet well-intentioned with her wish? Do you find her wish for her daughters endearing or do you find that her wish limits her daughters? Would a similar wish in our society be tolerated? p. 7.

4.  What is pride?

The first discussion of pride takes place on p. 14. How do you define pride? Is pride a bad thing? Does your definition of pride differ from Mary’s?

5. How is one’s social status defined in the novel?

For certain characters, having an occupation other than that of estate Lord is viewed as a negative in terms of one’s social status. Look for other ways the characters determine social status. Wealth? Occupation? Marriage? p. 25.

6. Are first impressions ever fair?

First impressions and one’s judgment of people play an important role in the novel. One view is that first impressions are rarely fair because people change so much over time. p. 30. Another view is that first impressions are an important part of the social “game.” Can you understand someone the first time you meet them? Is it a fault to establish a first impression of someone and then rigidly adhere to it? Do you find yourself making early impressions of people and then refusing to move away from that initial impression despite evidence to the contrary? Is that a kind of prejudice? See also p. 64.

7. Is it fair to feign interest in a particular activity so as to make yourself more appealing to the opposite sex?

On p. 37 we see Miss Bingley reading, but more than reading, she’s watching Mr. Darcy read. It seems she is pretending to enjoy the activity so as to make herself more attractive to Mr. Darcy. Is that a fair way to behave? Is there any danger in acting that way? On one hand it’s endearing to care enough about someone to want to please them by engaging in activities they enjoy. On the other, I worry whether Miss Bingley is prepared to keep that up for the rest of her life. p. 37. What’s the danger in acting like someone you’re not to obtain a marriage proposal?

8. Are there certain types of pride that are more acceptable than others?

On p. 57 certain types of pride are defined. We’ve already considered whether pride is a bad thing, but do you think there are certain types of pride that are more acceptable than others? What is the most endearing form of pride you can imagine?

9. What are the “right” reasons to marry?

Reading Pride and Prejudice has us consider what the proper or “right” motivation is when it comes to marriage. Cultural differences explain why certain societies might prefer one motivation over another. Do you believe there is a universally “right” motivation to marry? p. 72. What is the goal of the institution of marriage?

10. What does the entail stand for?

The entail is defined on p. 19. What is it? What does it stand for the novel?

For next time: Let’s read to  p. 158, the end of Volume II.

If you care to share, I’d love to hear what you found interesting about Volume I.

Photo: Some rights reserved by simononly.