Classic novels, retold

For my Day 19 Zero to Hero post I published a gallery of photos accompanied by a cento, which is a poem created with lines by poems from different authors. The Zero to Hero challenge for Day 21: “publish a post inspired by your post from Day 19”.

Initially, ideas for this post didn’t flow freely but composing the cento got me thinking about reimaginings and retellings of other peoples’ work. A lot of retellings are of classic novels ‘updated’ for the modern age. Sometimes these reimagined works add something new to interpretations of the original, for example, a novel which retells Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, from the point of view of the servants was published last year and received very good reviews. I haven’t had the time to read it yet but I saw copies in a bookstore today and was very tempted to buy myself a copy!

Public domain photo source

Public domain photo source

However, most of the time I feel that rewriting a classic novel to bring it up to date is unnecessary. I wrote about this in September when I published a post, “Do Modern Retellings of Classic Novels Actually Work?”, in which I discussed Joanna Trollope’s updated version of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

One of the problems I found when reading the novel was the sheer amount of social differences between Jane Austen’s time (the Georgian era) and modern-day life:

“Do modern retellings of classic novels work? It is impossible to translate the restricted roles which women had in Austen’s time to the present day. Therefore, some of Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility comes across as a bit far-fetched; Marianne and Elinor do not need to marry to find a way out of their impoverished situation. This type of issue is one of the problems with updating classic novels into a modern-day setting”

Click here to read the full post. What do you think about updated versions of classic novels?

Snow and Poetry

For Day 19 of Zero to Hero, the challenge is to “publish a post using a format you’ve never used before”. The slideshow below contains a photo gallery (a format which is new to me) of wintry pictures which I took a couple of years ago, plus a cento I composed to go with them. A cento is like a poetic mash-up, with lines from poems by different authors rearranged into a new, unique poem. For a wonderful example of a cento that the BBC recently produced as a promo for one of their channels, click here: BBC Cento.

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And here is my complete cento in order. All of the authors’ names and the titles of the poems are in the captions of the gallery slideshow. In respective order, I composed the cento with quotes from poems by Robert Frost, Emily Bronte, John Clare, Thomas Hardy, George Meredith and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
And fifteen wild Decembers
From those brown hills have melted into spring.
The winter comes; I walk alone.

Around the house the flakes fly faster,
And all the berries now are gone.
Sharp is the night, but stars with frost alive
Leap off the rim of earth across the dome.

The secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Jane Austen and the importance of reputation

For Day 16 of Zero to Hero, the challenge is to write a personalized interpretation from today’s Daily Prompt. Technically speaking, it is now yesterday’s prompt because this post is a day late. But better late than never, right?

The prompt: Do you have a reputation? What is it, and where did it come from? Is it accurate? What do you think about it?

Because we can do anything we like with this prompt, essentially anything about the theme of reputation, I’m not going to talk about me. Instead, we’re going to time-travel a couple of hundred years to nineteenth century England. In a little village named Steventon nestled in the rolling hills of the southern county of Hampshire, one of the world’s best-loved authors lived and wrote. At that time, she wasn’t well-known and published her books under the pseudonym of “A Lady”. Today, millions have read her works. Her name is Jane Austen.

As readers, our own personal experiences influence our interpretations of what we read. Although that holds true whatever we read, when we read books set in other times and places I think it is very advantageous to have an idea of the context of time/place. Things which seem anachronistic or outlandish in the twenty-first century did not in the nineteenth, especially the rigid societal rules which governed a woman’s choices and reputation during the time in which Austen wrote.

Jane Austen, in a watercolor painted by her sister in 1804. (Photo credit: Wikipedia. This image is in the public domain).

Jane Austen, in a watercolor painted by her sister in 1804. (Photo credit: Wikipedia. This image is in the public domain).

For me, as a fan of Austen’s novels, one of the delights of reading classic literature is being able to look through a window into another era. Social etiquette was much more complex in Austen’s time than it is now and women were constrained by the expectations of a patriarchal society. As Anne Elliot succinctly says in Persuasion: “Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands” (ch. 23).

Strict standards of decorum applied and if a woman seriously transgressed the boundaries, it was bad news for her reputation. Austen does not shy away from depicting improper behavior according to the standards of the age. In Sense and Sensibility, the spirited Marianne rebels against the social customs of the time. She “pointedly refuses to conform to false modesty in courtship” (Todd, 2007: 301) by traveling alone with her suitor and corresponding with him via letter. But in doing so, her reputation is put at risk.

Why does it matter? A good reputation was everything, especially in the close-knit social circles of the Georgian middle and upper classes. A woman would provoke gossip if she danced more than two consecutive dances with the same partner, unless she was engaged or married to him. Young unmarried women were not allowed to be alone with male company: they had to be chaperoned. Society placed so many restrictions on women during this time, in terms of manners, conduct, education, professions, clothing and pretty much everything else.

Costumes from Jane Austen film and television adaptations

Costumes from Jane Austen film and television adaptations – photo copyright Grace @ Cultural Life (2013)

Women were effectively competing in a marriage market and if they did not marry (Austen herself remained unmarried), the choices were limited and poverty was never far away. As Austen said in one of her letters, “Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor. Which is one very strong argument in favor of matrimony.

I enjoy Austen’s sparkling prose and her well-written characters and I love watching adaptations of her novels. It is very easy to look at her world through a rose-tinted view. The film and TV adaptations of Austen novels are always lovely to look at; everything is very pretty and perfect and there is always a happy ending. But realistically I wouldn’t want to live in her era and be compelled to follow the regulations of society with hardly any freedom to choose my own future.


Todd, J (Ed). (2007). Jane Austen in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

More linguistic discussion!

Cultural Life has become very language-focused recently. This wasn’t entirely planned by me, it simply seemed to happen! I promise I will soon start writing about something other than language because variety is the spice of life, as the cliché says, but bear with me for the moment! I’ve had a great response to my linguistically themed posts and I’m glad you’re all enjoying them. Within the next few days, I’ll publish a follow-up post discussing the results of the “How do children learn language?” poll in my previous post. If you haven’t voted yet, now is the time to vote!

Public domain image source

Public domain image source

This post is a Zero to Hero blog challenge post: day 12. It is slightly later than planned because it involved research and research takes time. But it doesn’t take very much time when you simply can’t find anything about the thing you are researching, unless you are me, in which case you are frustrated by the lack of information and persist in researching and trying to find something, even when it’s past your bedtime and you really should be turning out the light.

Public domain image source

Public domain image source

What was I researching? Let’s start at the beginning. Our day 11 Zero to Hero challenge was to leave three comments on three different blogs which we hadn’t read before. Our day 12 challenge was to take one of these comments and write a blog post about it. So, off I trotted into the great blogosphere and it didn’t take me long to find something which made me stop to investigate: this post at jblblog, about the usage of “at all” at the end of a question. For example, the author of the post, JBL, has come across this feature “in the context of a cashier or waitperson asking the question “Would you like a receipt at all?”” (quote from linked post: “At All”).

I have never heard “at all” used like this before. It interested me and I wanted to find out more about why it is being used and what (if anything) it signifies, where it is used (JBL comments that it is common in Minnesota but apparently in Arizona too) and whether there are any linguistic studies of its use.

Unfortunately, I’ve drawn a blank and found nothing. Despite searching Google Scholar and various different academic journals and trying various keywords I haven’t found a single study about this use of “at all”. I even sent an email to one of my linguistics teachers; she said that although she has heard it used in this context and suggests that it “sound[s] like something you would associate with service speech“, she isn’t aware of any papers about it.

Having thought about it, my theory is that “at all” used in this type of way could be a linguistic device used to signal politeness. That theory would fit, considering JBL’s observations of it being used by service providers such as cashiers and restaurant staff. However, for now there isn’t a concrete answer about this interesting discourse feature.

Have you heard “at all” used at the end of a question? Do you use it at the end of questions yourself? If you do use it or have heard it in use, it would be great to hear from you in the comments section.

We need to talk about language

I am catching up with the Daily Post’s Zero to Hero blog challenge today. One of the great things about the Zero to Hero challenge is that you don’t have to take part in every single task. It isn’t a blog challenge where you have to publish a post every single day; some of the challenges are about working behind the scenes on your blog, such as personalizing your theme.

I am unsure about changing my blog’s theme. Maybe it’s because I like routine but I also like my blog theme. It is clean, fresh and it works well for me. Additionally, because my theme is a fairly old one I am unsure whether I could change back to it if I changed my theme and decided I didn’t like it. Fortunately, WordPress allows you to preview themes before clicking the final button so I will do some experimenting with different themes today and who knows? Maybe Cultural Life will get a new look soon, or maybe not, depending on what I decide!

The assignment for Day 6 of Zero to Hero was to “publish a post that includes a new-to-you element”. I have chosen to do something which I have never done before: include a poll in my post. I always appreciate readers’ comments but this time I am interested in seeing your votes, although I would also love it if you left a comment as well. The poll is at the bottom of this post. As you have probably guessed from the title of this post, I am going to talk (albeit briefly) about language.

Language Acquisition wordle. Created by Grace @ Cultural Life using

Language Acquisition terminology. Created by Grace @ Cultural Life using

Last weekend I read an article written by Harry Ritchie in The Guardian which talked about the lack of discussion about language. I think about linguistics a lot but that is unsurprising, considering I am studying it! But there are no news reports or Oscar-winning documentaries about language and one of the points that Ritchie makes is a suggestion that the world should be told about the amazing and fascinating discoveries made within the field of linguistics. Although, like every academic discipline, linguistics can seem dry and dull, it is a science and so much of it is fascinating, all the more so because we all use language every single day.

Also, the article mentioned the fact that child language acquisition, specifically environmental influences on it, is something which is not being researched as much as it could be. Theories and hypotheses abound as to the exact nature of how children acquire language because no one knows for certain how they do it! Some of the theories, concepts and terminology are floating around in the Wordle above. And that brings us to the subject of the poll: “How do children acquire language?”

I would like you to vote in the poll without referring to any other sources, for example, doing a Google search for the question. There isn’t a single right answer – simply pick the one you feel most drawn to – and I am simply interested in seeing the outcome of the vote. The poll is anonymous but it would be great to hear your thoughts in the comments section below this post. Now, what are you waiting for? Get voting!

Re-introducing Cultural Life

I'm a Zero to Hero Blogger!

I have been blogging since 2011 (has it really been that long?) and I have learnt a lot about blogging and my aims for Cultural Life since then. However, I think there is always more to learn and so I decided to begin my blogging year in 2014 with the Daily Post’s “Zero to Hero: 30 Days to a Better Blog” challenge.

My regular readers already know me pretty well but for those of you who are new to Cultural Life, day 1 of the Zero to Hero challenge starts with a question-and-answer introduction. Hello and welcome!

Why are you blogging, rather than keeping a personal journal?

I started blogging to share my thoughts and writing with others and to meet other bloggers who share similar interests with me. I think an important part of blogging is about taking part in a community and that is one of the reasons why I started blogging via the WordPress platform. It feels so inclusive and welcoming!

What topics do you think you’ll write about?

After much deliberation and consideration I chose the name, Cultural Life, because I wanted it to be broad enough to give me scope but still give a sense of what my blog is about. Culture can be interpreted in many different ways and it means different things to different people.

Merriam-Webster contains several definitions of “culture”, including the “acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills” (Merriam-Webster). That neatly sums up my principal blogging topics. I write about books (I am a keen reader), language and linguistic science (my passion), movies and cinema, travel, food and other aspects of culture. Sometimes I write fiction, although that tends to be infrequent.

Here's a pretty picture of somewhere I visited last year (Scone Palace in Scotland). Because all text and no pictures in a blog post isn't fun.

Here’s a pretty picture of somewhere I visited last year (Scone Palace in Scotland). Because all text and no pictures in a blog post isn’t fun.

Who would you love to connect with via your blog?

I am open-minded but I enjoy connecting with other people who share my enthusiasm for discovering new things: new books, new films, new recipes… I love good book and travel blogs.

If you blog successfully throughout 2014, what would you hope to have accomplished?

Well, I would love to be featured on Freshly Pressed again. One of my posts was Freshly Pressed in February 2013 and it was so exciting. I was thrilled and the response from readers was wonderful!

Failing that, I would be very happy to achieve my goal of posting a minimum of one post per week. Also, I would like to increase active participation in my blog, for example, through readers’ comments. I have come a long way since I started writing in 2011 and now I rarely receive zero comments on my posts but it is always great, as a blogger, to know that your writing is actually reaching someone’s eyes and not simply floating unread in a blank void!

Thank you for reading and if you are a new reader, I hope you will stick around!