This week I have been contemplating the imperfect past of a romantic author, namely me.
It is imperfect in two distinct ways. First – it was often a pretty messy present at the time. Second – I’m not at all good with recalling precise details. In fact, the only bits I remember with any clarity are the stuff where I went badly WRONG.
Example: I’m drifting with a vague image of some day, pleasantly foggy, footsteps on wet pavement maybe. And then BAMM!! I’ve fallen over a stranger’s suitcase.
I’ve probably pushed the poor chap into the gutter, to boot. And he’s bleeding and going to miss his train and I can’t even apologise properly because he doesn’t speak enough English…
This week my eye was drawn to a couple of exchanges about Gone With the Wind on social media.
The book has always been controversial, even when it was first published. It was a huge, instant bestseller, so you couldn’t ignore it. But historians challenged its accuracy and many people were disturbed by its depiction of slave-owning as acceptable and the novel’s attitude to the slaves themselves.
It was published in the USA in 1936, between the end of the Great Depression and the start of the Second World War. It was a debut novel, written by Margaret Mitchell, a 35-year-old woman, and set in her native Georgia.
And it was enormous, a five-part tome covering the whole of the Civil War in the South and its aftermath.
In spite of that, it sold 1 million copies in its first year and won her the National Book Award in 1936 and the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.
The 1939 film of the book was the great colour-filled masterpiece, from the gloriously costumed drawing rooms of Clayton County to the terrifying burning of Atlanta.
It won ten Academy Awards, including Hattie McDaniel’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar, the first award ever to an African American. Though her treatment at the ceremony was shameful, as Queen Latifah is the most recent to point out. It’s all part of the long controversy, social, artistic and academic, that the work has inspired.
Mnemonics, as a word, is no advert for English spelling. And English spelling most certainly needs help. What’s the point of that silent M at the start? (Blame the Greeks. Their spelling isn’t easy either.)
English spelling (and pronunciation) may well be the world’s worst. How many students, trying to learn English as a foreign language, have been flummoxed by: through, thorough, cough, enough, hiccough, sough, dough?
I often have problems with words where changing the spelling changes the meaning: practise/practice and the like. The spellchecker is no help to me with that, of course.
My regular bugbear is affect/effect. I have to stop to work out which is correct when I’m writing. The Oxford Dictionary tells me that affectand effectare quite different in meaning, though frequently confused. (A statement of the bleedin’ obvious?) Continue reading →