Hybrid memories: Dorothy H’s reading journey

By Val Hewson and Mary Grover

Dorothy was born on 26 January 1929 and, one of a family of eight, grew up in Malin Bridge in the north of Sheffield.  She married Fred in 1953, having met him at the regular Thursday night dance at the City Hall.  They had no children because, she says, she ‘had had enough looking after her younger siblings’.  Dorothy studied book-keeping and typing and spent 40 years working in a small business, where she ‘did everything, did [her] own filing, quotations, invoices, statements’.    

Dorothy’s reading memories are bound up with film and television.  This is hardly surprising, as she belongs to the first generation to grow up and live all their lives with film, radio and television.  Talkies started in 1927, two years before she was born.  The BBC began broadcasting in 1922 and experimented with television in 1929, the year of her birth. In the 1920s and ‘30s, cinemas – some of them glorious Art Deco picture palaces – were being built around the country, and in the 1930s radio ownership grew quickly.  During World War II radio and film became even more popular, with people relying on them for both news and entertainment.  The television service came into its own with the coronation of The Queen in 1953, the year Dorothy married, and it has been with us ever since.

Gaumont State Cinema Kilburn: an Art Deco picture place (Photographed by Nathan, licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Gaumont State Cinema Kilburn: an Art Deco picture place (Photographed by Nathan, licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War epic, is a good example of Dorothy’s ‘hybrid memories’.  She still has the copy bought for her 21st birthday by the sister of a boyfriend, but remembers enjoying the movie, and comparing it with the book:

Oh yes, I read it and of course when you see the film there is a lot cut out for the action, isn’t there? … until you sort of saw the adaptation into the film you don’t get the same feeling about it when you’ve read the book.

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh are Rhett and Scarlett in Dorothy’s mind, as they are for so many people of her generation. (She does, however, think that Elizabeth Taylor would have done a better job as Scarlett.)

Gone with the Wind

Rhett and Scarlett (public domain)

Change genre from epic historical romance to crime fiction, and Dorothy again associates actors and characters, book and adaptation.  David Suchet is Poirot, Humphrey Bogart is Philip Marlowe and Jeremy Brett is Sherlock Holmes.

Filimg Poirot, London, 2009. (By hairyeggg. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Filming Poirot, London, 2009. (By hairyeggg. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license)

Then there is comedy.  Dorothy enjoys P G Wodehouse’s stories about Blandings and its porcine Empress, but is unimpressed by a recent television adaptation:

The television thing that was on not long ago, I couldn’t really put it to the actual stories that I had read. … No, I don’t think it was as good enough [sic].  I think they sort of set it a bit more modern than it actually was. … And you never heard about the pig!

Dorothy’s hybrid memories make us consider the relationship between screen and page.  The two media feed on each other, promoting the film of the book and the book of the film. In the 1930s, for example, the celebrity of the author could boost the popularity of a film as much as the allure of a Clark Gable could help make Rhett Butler a romantic icon. Between 1925 and 1939 over fifty of Edgar Wallace’s stories were filmed, but it is the author we remember, not the films.

Caricature of Edgar Wallace by Low

Caricature of Edgar Wallace by Low (public domain)

Dorothy appreciates the ‘double experience’ of film and book.  She has always been happy to engage with both page and screen, influenced by both in her choice of reading and viewing; and using her own imagination but also drawing on other people’s.

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