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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Living Literature

Last week I started a thread I'll revisit over the next while. Literature and the voices I've picked up over the years that live in me and support me as I go about doing my thing. It seems just too perfect that today does happen to be World Book Lovers Day. Too perfect!

An image that often plays across my inner film theatre film screen come from the autobiography of Janet Frame. Frame occupies a central place amongst the icons of NZ literature. Her many works are searching and challenge ideas about normalcy and the role of the imagination. Owls Do Cry is perhaps her best known text, and this may be due to its more accessible nature. It closely follows the torturous time Frame spent in the 50s and 60s in psychiatric hospitals in NZ. During that time she experienced over 200 doses of ECT, each like an execution, she writes.

And now for the image. Drum Roll please!

The first volume of her autobiography, To the Island, starts with her further most ancestors, and moves gradually forawrd till she reaches her own parents:
Mother and Father, then....Mother, a rememberer and talker....Mother in a constant state of family immersion even to the material evidence of the wet patch in front of her dress where she leaned over the sink, washing dishes, or over the copper and washtub, or, kneeling, wiped the floor with oddly shaped floorcloths - old pyjama legs, arms and tails of worn shirts - or, to keep at bay the headacheand tiredness of the hot summer, the vinegar-soaked rag she wrapped around her forehead making her seem to be seldom at home, in the present tense, or like an unreal person with her real self washed away.

When Mother talked of the present, however, bringing her sense of wonderous contemplation to the ordinary world we knew, we listened, feeling the mystery and the magic. She had only to say of any commonplace object, 'Look, kiddies, a stone' to fill that stone with a wonder as if it were a holy object. She was able to imbue every insect, blade of grass, flower, the dangers and grandeurs of weather and the season, with a memorable importance along with a kind of uncertainty and humility that led us to ponder and try to discover the heart of everything.

Oh that was a long extract. But oh I enjoyed lingering in the text as I typed it out. The single part that figures in my movie vision,especially when I am at the kitchen sink, is Frame's mother with her 'wet patch in the front of her dress'. So totally immersed was she in family life that she wore the evidence of it on her very person. I found I had to keep typing after that since I love the mother-daughter tension that comes out towards the end of that paragraph. The mother suffering from bad headachess, and the daughter noting with regret that the mother was  more absent than present, and like an unreal person with her real self washed away. And then the delight and warmth I feel when Frame writes of her mother's infectious joy in the small things of the world. "Look, Kiddies, a stone!" I do sometimes hear her joyous voice in mine when I share delights with our girls.

For me, then, these paragraphs capture much of the joys and pains of mothering.

Do you hear voices from literature that speak to you about mothering? That speak to you and shed understanding on your relationship with your parents?

Thanks for stopping by and sharing Literature Love with me on World Book Lovers' Day!


  1. I've never read Frame, but really want to seek her out now. What a wonderful piece of writing. So rich and vivid.
    Thanks for sharing Lorraine. :)

  2. So glad you liked her. Do contact me if you have trouble locating her over here. I think you and I may inhabit a somewhat similar patch of the world.
    Thinking NZ Lit has inspired me to think Keri Hulme and her "The Bone People". Let me see if I can find some favourite passages to entice you with next week!)

  3. I'm not familiar with Janet Frame, but the passages that you quote and her life story have intrigued me. Thank you!

  4. I enjoy learning about Janet Frame through you. I think you are every writer's dream. You have such reverence for the printed words.

    Readers make good writers. Keep on with both. Thanks for this lovely discovery. So happy to have found your blog. Mila

  5. Mila and Rachel: So glad you have enjoyed her. There are beautiful passages about fiction and the nature of autobio that have shaped my understanding of fiction, and of the fabrication of our selves.

    Oh! More Frame, or Hulme! Who will win? I'm not a planner, so we'll see next week which just seems to be the right one. Oh! I love a surprise!

  6. I must confess that I haven't read Frame, but I do love Hulme. Bone People was a memorable & important book for me and inspired me to write in different ways.

    I have always wanted to read Frame. Will have to do that soon (ahem, when I start reading again... my reading life is on hold while I struggle through this motherhood thing for a bit longer). :)

  7. Deborah: A Hulme lover! Beautiful! She is fabulous with her prose-poetry. How lovely that she found her way over the Tasman. I'm ashamed to say I've only started reading Australian authors since being here, so I admire your diversity.

    Reading with small children is really just too tough. Finding a way to chisel out writing time as you're doing is fabulous, and that will keep all your lit love bubbling away.

    For me, it took joining a bookclub to really motivate me to get reading again. My reading muscle shrunk so dramatically that I only read maybe a book a year for the first 8 years of mothering.

    And struggle through mothering? You are a triumph and so inspiring!


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