Sunday, 1 March 2015

An Excellent start to the Bath Festival of Literature

The Bath Festival of Literature  started yesterday evening, and I went to the first of the events I have booked, today. They were very different - one an interview with Mark Bostridge, who is the biographer of Vera Brittain, was an advisor on the film 'Testament of Youth' and who has just written a new book, Vera Brittain and the First World War. The second event was Austentatious, an improvised Jane Austen play...

I enjoyed both events.

Mark Bostridge was interviewed by Elizabeth Day, who is herself a novelist and a journalist for the Observer. Bostridge explained that he felt Brittain's story was a compelling one, particularly in being one of the first to address and explore the grief of the war, rather than its heroism, but also to show how it was possible to move on.

He spoke about the difficulty of writing a biography of someone with a living family; the family will say they want truth, but may not want it when they hear it.. he gave a couple of examples. 

One was a letter which Brittain wrote to her friend after her marriage, saying extremely uncomplimentary things about her husband on their wedding night, and the other, later, about an unpublished memoir written by her brother Edward's Commanding Officer, in which he disclosed that Edward had been warned by his CO that his letters to another officer were being read. Bostridge linked this to an incident in Brittain's novel 'Honourable Estate' in which a character caught having sex with another man deliberately got himself killed by going over the top. Bostridge explained the social and legal consequences of homosexual behaviour, at the time. 

He did explain that of course it is impossible know with any certainty whether Edward was gay(although he did attend Uppingham school, which was apparently exposed as being notorious for bullying and "filthy behaviour" . . 

He also spoke about the importance of realizing that Testament of Youth was written some 15 years after the event, and that having also read Brittain's letters and diary, it was fascinating to see the change to her attitude. For instance, her diaries show a very patriotic, almost Jingoistic enthusiasm at the start of the war, and was enthusiastic about her brother joining up, which is not reflected in the finished work.

Bostridge said that he was, on the whole, happy with the film - other than the scene where Brittoai learns about Leighton's death. He also pointed out that the film is somewhat misleading in how Brittain's parents treated her wish to attend University - he sad that Brittain's mother was very enthusiastic and supportive, and that Britton herself had reservations, fearing that going to Oxford would make it harder for her to marry well! 

All in all, very interesting. I haven't yet seen the Testament of Youth film but do want to do so. 

I then headed over to the Forum, for Austentatious. 

Which was a complete change of pace, and a whole lot of fun. 

It is an improvised performance of a 'lost' Austen(esque) novel based on a title suggested by the audience - in this case,'Who cares what colour *that* dress is', beating 'Maids in Waiting' (Described by the cast as 'the Made in Essex of its day) and described as one of Austen's 700+ lost novels..

The play was performed by a cast of 5, masquerading as a cast of thousands (well, 10s, anyway) and included a ball, an elopement, some jam, many references to what happened 'last time', and a happy ending for at least one couple! 

Photo from @Viv Groskop's twitter feed and (C) Viv Groskop
It was a whole lot of fun. Austentatious are currently touring - well worth seeing if you can (dates on their website, here)

I am looking forward to several ore Bath Lit Fest events next weekend including seeing Kazuo Ishiguro, and Celia Imrie.

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