Highgate highights

October 29, 2017 in Uncategorized

Sweet William
Beryl BainbridgeBeryl Bainbridge (d:2010) wrote macabre psychological tales set among the English working class. She was labelled a ‘Booker bridesmaid’ for being nominated five times without winning, though did bag the Whitbread Best Novel Award twice. Her best known novel is probably Sweet William – about a woman whose life is turned upside down when a philandering Scot moves in, allegedly based on her second husband Alan Sharp.

The Well of Loneliness
Radclyffe HallRadclyffe Hall (d:1943) is best remembered for this ground-breaking 1928 lesbian novel. The Well of Loneliness, which is not explicit, was nevertheless judged by a British court to be obscene because it defended “unnatural practices between women” and ordered all copies to be destroyed. The book follows a masculine upper class woman called Stephen Gordon who finds love while serving as an ambulance driver in World War I, but whose happiness together is marred by social isolation and rejection.

East Lynne
Mrs Henry WoodEllen Wood (d:1887) is best known for this sensationalist novel in which Isabel Carlyle leaves her husband and children to elope with an aristocratic suitor, Francis Levison, “one of the most superbly malevolent and caddish villains in all Victorian literature.” Mrs Henry Wood, as she was better known, wrote and sold bucketloads of implausibly plotted page turners between 1860s – 90s but is much less well known these days – unlike arch rival Wilkie Collins.

Goblin Market
Christina RosettiPoet Christina Rosetti (d:1887) is most famous for her 1862 narrative poem Goblin Market in which two sisters are tempted by goblins to a market where they are plying delicious fruits. Many have argued the poem contains sexual imagery and allusions to drug addiction. Rosetti claimed at different times that the poem both was and wasn’t aimed at children – you decide!

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas AdamsDouglas Adams (d: 2001) will forever be linked with his classic comic sci-fi radio play Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which spawned bestselling novel, TV series and computer game iterations. It follows the adventures of Arthur Dent after the Earth is destroyed by bureaucratic aliens to make way for an interstellar bypass. As well as being brilliantly entertaining, Douglas predicted Wikipedia, Amazon Kindles and Google Translate in the tale.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning
Alan SillitoeAngry young man Alan Sillitoe’s (d:2010) debut novel follows the repercussions of 21 year old Bicycle Factory worker Arthur Seaton’s night out with Brenda, the wife of a colleague. The novel was one of a number of late 1950s / early 1960s kitchen sink dramas (see also: Taste of Honey, Look Back in Anger, Billy Liar) and was made into a famous film featuring Albert Finney as the anti-hero.

George EliotMary Anne ‘George’ Eliot (d:1880) was best known for this landmark realist novel. It centres on the lives of the residents of a fictitious Midlands town from 1829 onwards – a time of great change with the death of George IV, cholera outbreaks, the Great Reform Bill, and the impact of the railways and industrialisation. Some have called the book the greatest novel in the English language, and it has been described as exerting “..an almost hypnotic power over its readers”.

Das Kapital
Karl MarxWhile obviously not a work of fiction (critics might suggest otherwise) Marx’s (d:1883) biographer Francis Wheen has said the revolutionary philosopher’s treatise on the capitalist system reads at times like a Gothic novel “whose heroes are enslaved and consumed by the monster they created”. Easily the most influential book on this list, without which the 20th Century would have looked very different.

Honorary mention
Jeremy BeadleOne of Highgate’s most bookish graves goes to the 1980s televison prankster Jeremy Beadle (d:2008) whose first love was trivia. He was involved with QI and penned a number of trivia books including Today’s The Day, hence the inscription on his grave as “Writer, presenter and curator of oddities”.

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