Just William and Me

By Fiza Rashid

Sheffield Hallam student Fiza Rashid returns with a guest post about first reading Richmal Crompton’s Just William books.

{By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29925217)

I had never heard of Richmal Crompton nor the Just William series before I started this project so I had no idea what to expect. My very first thought when reading Just William was that it is very similar to Horrid Henry. They are both a collection of episodic stories about anarchic characters who are constantly looking for chaos and if they cannot find it, they will create it. While reading Just William, I noticed that secret societies are quite popular in children’s literature, for example The Famous Five and the Purple Hand Gang in the Horrid Henry series, which adults know nothing about. However, unlike Horrid Henry, William sometimes actually means well but his ill-conceived plans almost always end in disaster. For instance, in the very first story, William Goes to the Pictures, he attempts to re-enact the movie he watched, accidentally knocking his father into the bushes when imitating a crook escaping the police and lowering his voice to flirt with the girl next door which leads her to think William has a problem with his lungs.

These books offer a glimpse of middle class English family life in the 20th century which is something I’ll probably never understand. I was quite surprised by how complex the language was since these stories are mainly targeted towards children; it seems to me that only adults would understand some of the jokes in these stories and that these books are about children, not for them. 

There are some blatantly racist and orientalist passages which I don’t see why Crompton thought it appropriate to include in a children’s book. For example, the ‘Red Indians’ game William and his friends love to play where they hunt and partake in cannibalism with their faces ‘smeared black with burnt cork’. This isn’t the only time he paints himself a different skin colour. He paints himself brown in The Native Protégé from William Again where he is mistaken for a Bornean child and mocks foreign languages, and in William the Money-maker from Still William, the Outlaws hold an exhibition where they each impersonate a different native.

The emotionally distant parents and the abuse that the children and the domestic staff endure is also very uncomfortable to read.

I suppose it’s all down to generational differences. Some of these books were published during the Second World War and therefore a lot of children used Just William with its stories about adventures in the countryside as a form of escapism. Peter Mason, one of the interviewees from Reading Sheffield, talks about how he loved the Just William books and how he can’t understand children’s literature of today. I don’t think there is a huge difference though; I think children still do love these trickster characters.

William reminds me of my youngest siblings as they always twist my parents’ words into something they want to hear. In A Question of Grammar from Just William, William asks his father if he could have a party to which he replies, ‘No, I did not’. Having learned about the concept of double negatives at school, William takes this as an agreement and organises a party which I thought was really funny.

William’s adventures and chaotic behaviour were fun to read. I loved the way Richmal Crompton effortlessly switched between the perspectives of a child and the adults and I loved the imagery of children playing in the woods and having their own adventures without the adults intervening. As a child who spent most of their time outdoors, I identify with this a lot. However, the narrative structure of the stories quickly became predictable and repetitive. I enjoyed how William always got himself involved in an adult’s business and tried to do the right thing but ended up in trouble instead. But I do think William was just unnecessarily cruel at times so I don’t sympathise with him at all. The mischievous, mean-spirited, ‘boys will be boys’ attitude of these stories annoyed me and so I quickly lost interest.

None of the other characters stood out to me except Dorita. I really liked her character; she reminds me of myself when I was younger as we both hate fancy wedding clothes. It is a shame that she only ever appears in the first book of the series.

Madeleine Doherty, another interviewee from Reading Sheffield, says her brother had the Just William books and she describes them as ‘boys’ books’ so I was curious to see if any girls actually did read these books. From an article on the newspaper database, I found that a lot of girls did read Just William and that they actually identified with his character and ‘not those drippy girls’. Another article suggests that many girls between the ages of 9 and 14 loved William and found him attractive because he’s so witty, but honestly, he doesn’t seem that way to me.

Bibliography

Crompton, R. 1990. Just William. UK: Pan MacMillan.

Crompton, R. 1995. William Again. London: Macmillan Children’s Books.

Crompton, R. 2006. Still William. London: Macmillan Children’s.

Roe, S. (2011). Peter Mason. Reading Sheffield. Retrieved from https://www.readingsheffield.co.uk/readers-stories-2/peter-mason/

Cooper, T. (2011). Madeleine Doherty. Reading Sheffield. Retrieved from https://www.readingsheffield.co.uk/readers-stories-2/madeleine-doherty/

Southworth, J., 1988. How to be a male chauvinist piglet at 11 and still make girls love you 66 years later. Daily Mail, May 2, 1988.

Telling tales on a naughty schoolboy, 1992. Daily Mail, Sept 12, 1992. 48.

My Reading Journey

By Fiza Rashid

Our latest Ideas into Action guest post, from Sheffield Hallam student Fiza Rashid.

A stack of books I own or have borrowed from the library

I have lived in Sheffield all my life. I attended primary, secondary school and sixth form in Sheffield. I am now in my second year of studying English Literature at Sheffield Hallam. 

From a very early age, my dad would take me and my siblings to our local library in Firth Park every weekend. Here I became obsessed with Roald Dahl’s books, especially Matilda. I saw myself in her and I started to identify with her. I am 19 years old now and even now, when watching the film with my 4 year old sister, I feel the same sense of comfort I had back then when I read it for the first time. A lot of interviewees on the Reading Sheffield site talk about their love for The Famous Five series but to be honest, I found them quite boring. 

I really loved Jacqueline Wilson’s books. Lizzie Zipmouth was another fictional character I identified with; it’s about a young girl who struggles to settle into her new home. Lizzie Zipmouth refuses to speak to anyone and as someone who has struggled with selective mutism throughout primary and secondary school, it was comforting to see that reflected in a children’s story. 

I also remember my mum had these children’s story books in our native language that she would read to us because I couldn’t quite read the written script back then even though I could fluently speak it.

Books were insanely expensive back then (and still are) so I never really had any books of my own as a child but now that I’m earning a bit of money, I can afford to buy them to keep and reread to my heart’s content. I mostly buy second hand books because I love to see the notes other people have written inside. I dislike reading eBooks; I don’t know why but I find it really difficult to read using electronic devices.

When I was a child, I read Horrible Histories and Horrible Science a lot. I have always loved history and science; I find those subjects very fascinating. At my primary school, they always had Goosebumps books on the shelves in class and they were terrifying to me back then but I absolutely loved them. My cousins and even my uncle loved them and we all agree that Welcome to Dead House is the best book out of the series. I read a lot of dystopian fiction in secondary school. I was obsessed with that genre, but I’m older now and I find the fixation with dystopia in popular culture very off-putting. Why would I want to read about a post-apocalyptic world when for my country, the world ended in 1608?* 

However, I did study Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro for my A-Levels which is a dystopian sci-fi novel but I really enjoyed it and it will haunt me forever.

My copy of Never Let Me Go that I forgot to give back after my A-Level exams

I remember being very excited about the scholastic book fair each year and one of the most memorable books I’ve gotten from there was Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. I first read it when I was 11 which was around the age she was when she started her diary. I think her diary is relevant during this pandemic. I don’t want to compare her experiences to ours because it is extremely different but her words express feelings of isolation and longing that so many of us have felt during lockdown.

My siblings and I also read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. These were also books we had gotten from the scholastic book fair. It was about a teen boy’s life written in the form of a diary (or journal because he specifically told his mother not to buy one that said ‘diary’ on it but she did anyway) with silly illustrations which was very funny and relatable.

A Series of Unfortunate Events was another series that defined my childhood. I got up to the fourth novel but I stopped because the library at my secondary school didn’t have the fifth book and I refused to skip ahead and not read them in order. I hope one day I’m able to finish the entire series. 

I stopped reading as many books when I started sixth form. The jump from GCSEs to A-Levels was huge and I had no idea how to cope with the workload. Our education system’s destruction, intentional or not, of a person’s natural desire to read seems to me like an act of violence. My child-like love and desire for reading diminished; it just didn’t bring me joy anymore. I feel like as we grow up, reading is framed as elitist or only supposed to be done when we absolutely need to. Sometimes I feel guilty reading for pleasure because there is always something I should be reading for my essays.

I am trying to take up reading as a hobby again and one of the ways I am doing this is by reading with people. I discuss books with my friends over Facetime and sometimes I even read to them. They keep me accountable and they make it enjoyable. I believe community is essential to all learning which is also the reason I chose this project.

I also set goals for myself each year. Last year in 2020 I set myself the target of 50 books and I surprisingly exceeded that goal reading 59 books (although I feel like this was only achievable since the country was under lockdown because of Covid-19 and I wasn’t worrying about studying or my part time job anymore). My favourites from last year were On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and Circe by Madeline Miller. This year I plan to read 60 books. I’ve read 14 books so far and hopefully I achieve, or even surpass, my goal. 

My copy of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Note: All images are the copyright of Fiza Rashid.

Bibliography

Dahl, R. (2003). Matilda. United Kingdom: Penguin Books Limited.

Deary, T., & Hepplewhite, P. (1993-2013). Horrible Histories. London: Scholastic Corporation.

Frank, A. (2007). The Diary of a Young Girl (Pressler, M., & Massotty, S, Trans). London: Penguin.

Ishiguro, K. (2006). Never Let Me Go. London: Faber

Kinney, J. (2007). Diary of a Wimpy Kid. New York: Amulet Books.

Miller, M. (2018). Circe: A Novel. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Snicket, Lemony. (1999-2006). A Series of Unfortunate Events. New York: HarperCollins.

Stine, R. (1992). Welcome to Dead House. New York: Scholastic.

Vuong, O. (2019). On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. London: Penguin Group

Wilson, J. (2009). Lizzie Zipmouth. London: Young Corgi.

* This refers to the colonisation of South Asia. 1608 was when the British first arrived in India.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

By Thea John

Sheffield Hallam student Thea John writes about her reaction to D H Lawrence and Lady Chatterley’s Lover for her contribution to our Ideas into Action project with the university.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a book with a storied history. I first came across it as a mention of a play and mutterings of an obscenity trial while I was doing my GCSEs. At the time, my thoughts on banned books were rather teenage, but I found that I had read several stories I considered shocking already and did not need to read another.

The Daily Mail article on the result of the obscenity trial reads thus, ‘DON’T BE PRUDES, JUDGE SAYS’ with a picture of packets of the full copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover that would then be sent to go out to booksellers. It is an interesting thing to consider this very English book was suppressed by the English for thirty years even when it was published in full in other countries.

The book is so very English, tied to a very English point of view, even though Wragby Hall (where much of the story takes place) is a fictional location. It talks about the pits, the town of Tevershall, London, Scotland, Sheffield – it’s a book that makes me feel English for having read it. These are places that I can connect with even after all these years.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is more than just a story about an upper-class woman and her lower-class lover. Though it is that, it also served to me if no one else, as a window into history. I must admit I did not think all that highly of the book at the beginning. It was not a writing style I was accustomed to and it was not language I was accustomed to. It was a difficult read for me to the point that I had to find an audiobook to get used to it. But once you get past more archaic language and structure it is quite an insightful piece of literature.

It is quite worth it.

Themes that I found within included, capitalism, the class divide, nationalism, feminism, environmentalism, and of course sexuality. I devoted most of my research to be around the obscenity trial and I had forgotten Lawrence as a person except what I believe of him through this book – a very thoughtful man with many thoughts on women, sex, men and classism. I took him for another middle class, but Siegal puts it best, ‘collaboration with the class enemy’ is what has gotten him to this point. He sounds exactly as though he is the one looking down on the working class and I rather thought him to be projecting himself into this work through the cuckold that is Lady Chatterley’s husband, Clifford.

Clifford’s character was crippled and made impotent by the first world war. He is about as much of an antagonist in this as he is a victim to Connie, Lady Chatterley’s, affairs. He speaks to her after her first affair about their marriage and his love for her. He encourages her to have a child, even if it won’t be his, for Wragby, to protect this place that they both love. Lawrence writes here of an asexual ideal, a sexless marriage that is not a loveless one, but from the perspective of Connie it is a terrifying trap.

An article from Doris Lessing about Lawrence formed the base of my thoughts on the Clifford-Lawrence connection. She writes about the anti-war message, but I focussed on the part where Lawrence was apparently dying of TB as he finished Lady Chatterley’s Lover and that his own wife was off having an affair. Yet viewed through his own writing I must assume he didn’t begrudge her this, he understood. The sexless marriage was not something his protagonist could abide and she suffered for it, even when she was getting what she wanted.

Though in the 1930s I can understand the scandalous nature of this book, I can’t quite imagine it in the 60s. I read through the interviews and they seem to be aligned to my own thoughts; from the perspective of nowadays, this book is not a shocker. It is about as obscene as any number of things that I have read on Twitter this week; not counting for length or skilled prose of course. The thought of hiding the book away as I read it had not even crossed my mind until I read Betty R’s interview.

It’s a curious meeting of the now and the past. The talk of divorce and the car journeys they take (to Sheffield). But then, ‘the bitch-goddess Success’ and I remember whose work I am reading. Though I do also feel that way about success, reading it after a paragraph about the English intelligentsia is very jarring.

And that is when Mellors is introduced. Mellors is her Lover. The Lover. At first just another man to look at Connie and feel nothing more than disdain, I disliked him. I felt that Connie deserved someone to desire her how she wished to be – even if that was Michealis- rather than deal with another man who cared nothing for her. But she grows to desire him, first in the intrigue of someone new and then physically after seeing him bathing. I still dislike Mellors, I have grown close to the character of Connie after being party to her thoughts and emotions. Her second affair is longer and more passionate. But I feel that that is all it is. It is all sexual passion rather than love and sex together. I have not read any more of Lawrence’s works, so this is definitely presumptuous, but his own feelings on sex and relationships must be within this. The viewpoint being Connie’s I must assume that Lawrence himself felt or observed someone who felt they needed sexual contact to live their lives to the fullest. Connie and Clifford could live their sexless marriage together, but Lawrence declares they cannot. Clifford would not abide a man out of his own class, or any man at all, in truth even as he knows what Connie truly desires.

Thea’s Reading Journey

By Thea John

I was born in Nottingham and we moved to Sheffield by Halloween of 1999. Basically, I’ve lived here my whole life and haven’t lived in any house other than the one we live in now. My grandmothers were a large part of my early life, though I can only recall my granny on my dad’s side actually reading to me. We are firmly middle class, both sides of grandparents are first generation immigrants, and I don’t know if they went to any kind of university. My parents both came from London and met at university – I’m not sure if I would call either of them big readers. But education was certainly something that has always been encouraged.

We were Baptists, so we went to church. Cemetery Road Baptist Church, the building was lovely but I wasn’t much of a good Christian. I enjoyed the psalms and hymns but the only book in that place was the Good Book. Maureen Lambert, one of the Reading Sheffield interviewees said ‘your faith changes all the time’ and I think she’s right. The Bible meant a lot of different things to me as a child, but I was much more invested in the songbooks. I’m attracted to bright colours, so I bought myself a purple covered version.

Growing up my brother and I spent more time arguing over the television than sharing books with each other. It’s very disconcerting to think of a living room without a tv in it. Unlike many of the interviewees, I’ve only lived without it in my university halls. Though, there has also always been a bookshelf, even if my brother’s was full of video game cheat sheets, we definitely read them. We had the Horrible History comics, that were given to us from an old family friend. We then got the proper books when they started to be released. We went to the theatre performance they did at the Lyceum one year even.

I stole his Horrid Henrys for my own bookshelf, then the Horrible Histories. If my brother brought home a book, I would look at it first and decide whether it was worth my interest. My stepmother was the one who introduced my now most loved book series – Harry Potter. First heard as an audiobook camping trip while my parents were trying to set up a tent whilst being rained on. My brother would insist on being the first person to show interest in them, but I was the one devoured the rest of them as soon as I could. I was about six at the time I heard the initial audiobook. After that I was a proper bookworm, I finished The Deathly Hallows in the dark of my room, under the covers. At some time in junior school, I was outraged that my dad wasn’t reading to me, even though at that point I could very well read on my own; he made me read him a book that was like a thousand Arabian nights. Each night we read a chapter, it was about a tree and at the top of the tree was a magical land that changed every time they went up the tree.

We’ve got family friends who used to send me a book for Christmas and my birthday every year. But I suppose I’ve always been more into ‘boy’s’ books – the Saga of Darren Shan, Skullduggery Pleasant, Alex Rider, CHERUB. And they used to send things that any girl might read rather than what my brother would read.

As a tween becoming a teenager I moved from audiobooks and paperbacks to Japanese comics, graphic novels and webcomics. I re-read Macbeth in graphic novel form and relished in the adaptation; it was novel to me (pardon the pun) to explore my favoured words through a new medium. I really fell in love with drama at secondary and through that plays. There’s something so lovely about reading as a group and scripts are the easiest way to do it. Everyone gets a character and that’s how we read The Tempest for the first time.

I tried to push myself into reading more of the classics, Dickens (more than A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations), War and Peace, Gulliver’s Travels, Pride and Prejudice. I did read a little of each of them, but I was quickly bored – ‘It was too old for me.’ – to quote another one of the interviews (Shirley Ellins). The writing style stopped me in my tracks and I moved on to films. I hope that I too find them more accessible to read when I get a bit older.

So, I read less as teenager. Less published books, so I had to make do with the assigned reading. I always ended up enjoying the assigned reading despite how determined I was to not care, Lord of the Flies and Mister Pip are stories I really love despite their grim contents, and Shakespeare, especially Macbeth. Animal Farm was my first introduction to how something can grow off the page and take wings. Ironic considering how much money I had already spent on the Harry Potter series. I find I’m fond of a happy ending, but I read for the terrible things that happen to characters. I write for the terrible things I can do to characters; when you’re the author the power you hold over character is absolute. The internet is a good place to be if you have a creative imagination and decent Wi-Fi!

Through GCSE and 6th form I was much the same, head in my phone and trying to clumsily write stories without having to come up with brand new characters. Though I did that anyway. Over lockdown, I got to spend time with my younger siblings and though I know that I’m here now, seeing the things they’re learning makes me wonder how different I would be if the curriculum had been changed earlier, to quote a final interview, ‘It’s so vastly different’. (Barbara Green)

Charles Dickens and Popular Culture


By Olivia Vigrass

Sheffield Hallam student Olivia’s take on Charles Dickens in her second guest post for us.

Charles Dickens is perhaps one of the greatest authors of the 19th century and still has an impact on popular culture today. Some key novels still affecting popular culture today include A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. Perhaps the most relevant in our times is A Christmas Carol. For many people it is now a Christmas tradition to watch one of the many film adaptations every year, including my own family. This shows the lasting effect Charles Dickens has on popular fiction in the 21st century.

As a student who has studied A Christmas Carol in multiple settings over my school years, it is easy for me to have an academic pre conception on the novel. However, I mainly associate A Christmas Carol with the musical film adaptation which is The Muppets Christmas Carol. By taking an iconic classic that is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and combining it with the popular kids show of The Muppets, a timeless piece of popular culture was created. This novel reminds me of Christmas Eve and being with family, and anticipating what the next day would bring.

On its initial release, A Christmas Carol was published in staves in the newspaper. The fact that the novel was publishes in staves and not a complete novel, changes the way in which it would have been read compared to how we read it as a full novel. The activity of reading would have involved the whole family gathering to listen every time a new stave was published, which makes the reception of the novel different than today. By publishing it in staves, the people who read it would have to anticipate the next chapter for a period of time before being able to read it. This makes the reading experience perhaps a lot more exciting than how we read it today. Since we have the full novel available, we don’t have to wait to turn the page over to the next chapter, this changes the experience for us, perhaps making it not as an exciting experience.

In Charles Dickens’ career, he was well known to draw upon his criticisms of the rich and the poor. It is clear in A Christmas Carol, that Dickens is using Scrooge as a criticism of a rich man who has loads of money but refuses to be charitable and kind. The contrast of the rich in the novel being the Cratchit family who barely have enough to feed the family let alone treat their ill son, Tiny Tim. By the end of the novel, Scrooge has a change of heart after being visited by the three ghosts and decides to help the Cratchit family and Tiny Tim gets better. Dickens is expressing social attitudes he wishes to be conveyed in society, where the rich have sympathy towards the less fortunate. Comparing to today’s attitudes, it seems as though there might not be a clear poverty line in this day and age but there are still people less fortunate who could use help from those who are better off. It could be suggested that today, there is a wider use of charities compared to the 19th century, where people who would like to help can donate money anonymously and help that way.

The genres which Charles Dickens focused upon covered a variety of forms, mostly involving the criticism of the poor in some way. It could be suggested that Dickens drew from the popular 19th century genre of melodrama in order to create a sensational reading experience for the reader. It is clear that in A Christmas Carol there is use of sensationalism as there are ghosts and spirits which evoke feelings of sympathy or pity from the reader of the story. It could also be a novel of the Gothic genre, in some ways, as there are themes of death too, involving the predicted Tiny Tim’s death and Scrooge’s predicted death. Overall, the dark themes are overshadowed by the bright themes of Christmas and family.

It is clear to see that A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens has taken on many different lives and forms over the past 177 years. These include film adaptations including animated versions, plays for theatres and radio. The book was published in 1843 and in 1844, it was already being adapted for stage. It is clear that the book still has a large cultural impact, as it reappears every Christmas in many different forms. As I said earlier, it is also a common novel of study for different levels of education.

Charles Dickens (public domain)

Olivia’s reading journey

By Olivia Vigrass

The latest in our reading journeys from the Sheffield Hallam University students taking part in the Ideas into Action initiative.

As a child, I was surrounded by reading in school and out of school. Of course I went through the standard practice of learning how to read when I started primary school like most other children in this country. I was also familiarised with reading at home, as my parents used to read to me before I went to sleep, some of the books including The Little Princess series, those being some of the key books I remember from that long ago.

As I grew older, particularly when I was about 11 or 12, when I started year 7, me and my group of friends all took an interest to reading young adult books and tended to share our thoughts on them. One particular key series that sparked my love of reading was The Hunger Games trilogy, which me and my friends read and then we would anticipate the release of the films and go and see them together multiple times. It seems like in 2012, young adult reading really took off, and I was a huge fan of all the dystopian novels released and publicised around that time. An author that remains strong in my memory of that time was John Green, the book that left the biggest mark on me of his was the teen romance of The Fault in Our Stars. Until I read that, I had never thought a book would inflict so much emotion and make me cry! It is also a nostalgic experience for me, when these authors bring out books now, as I love to read them and it really takes me back to my early teens. In comparing myself with Elsie Brownlee’s reading journey, it is easy to see that our generational differences create very different reading journeys. In comparison to Elsie who grew up in the early 1930s, it is clear that I had more freedom when it came to reading books and so did my friends. Elsie’s journey focuses around the library setting and her love of books that stemmed from there, ‘At about the age of eleven, Elsie became a fervent library user.’ Me and my friends all purchased our books with pocket money, showing that we had a bit of power in buying exactly what we wanted to read.

As I got older and entered High School, I constantly had a book on the go, and I really think my love of reading began to grow even more. When I was 16, I read the Harry Potter books for the first time, which was strange considering that the franchise had been around for so long! I had never read them because I thought they were a bit childish and overhyped but I was completely wrong. Even now, I still find comfort in reading them as they are a great escape from the world around us, especially in times like these. Another popular book series that I deemed as overhyped was the Twilight series, but I read all of these around about when I was 17 and I completely fell in love and they are still some of my favourite books I’ve ever read!

When I was at the point of deciding what I wanted to study at university, I was in no doubt that English Literature would be the one for me and I have never regretted this decision as it has opened so many genres and books to me that I never would have picked up. Some including classics such as Wuthering Heights and gothic novels which I had never even heard of such as The Castle of Otranto and Beloved. I believe that this degree has opened my mind to authors and contexts that I was ignorant of before. It is also so lovely that I can talk to like-minded people about reading and books that I couldn’t do before.

Currently my reading interest is horror novels, particularly by Stephen King. So far I have read Carrie and The Shining, and I am now reading Pet Sematary. I feel like being in lockdown has really re-sparked my love of reading as it is a great escape for me.

When I leave Sheffield Hallam University, I am going to do a masters in Global Media and Culture, as I would love to become a writer for a social media company. Elsie, who I mentioned earlier, had a dream to work in a library. Elsie: ‘I thought, “I’d love to work in a place like this. I’d LOVE to work in a place like this.”’ (2015). Even though libraries are still working today, it is much more accessible to buy books from online, physical copies and e-books alike. As we are both women, it is interesting to see how her father practically chose her job for her, yet I have the choice to do whatever I would like to in the future, ‘Elsie’s father thought further education for girls a waste of time as they were bound to get married’ (2015).  I feel lucky to have a different approach on the life I want to live.

The commercialisation of Anne of Green Gables

By Natalie Haigh

Here is another blog post by Natalie Haigh from Sheffield Hallam University through their Ideas into Action project.

Anne of Green Gables, written by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery and published in 1908, is a wonderful and heartwarming novel that is full of adventure and beautiful landscapes. Moreover, it is a novel that has firmly secured a place in the hearts of millions of readers around the world. The novel’s popularity speaks for itself. Anne of Green Gables has been translated into 36 different languages and has sold over 50 million copies worldwide, making it an undisputed best seller and piece of popular fiction. Although the novel was originally written for readers of all ages, it proved to be exceptionally popular with younger audiences. Subsequently, the novel was established as a children’s classic in the world of literature. The novel follows the story of Anne Shirley, a 12 year old red-haired orphan girl who is adopted by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. Matthew and Marilla are siblings who live on a farm called Green Gables in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Anne is sent to the two siblings accidentally as they originally requested a boy. Despite the mix-up, Anne is an extremely curious, high-spirited and imaginative child who brings unexpected adventure into Matthew and Marilla’s lives. With that, Matthew and Marilla decide to keep her.

Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne Of Green Gables (Credit: Library and Archives Canada / C-011299)

Upon reflection, one of the reasons why I personally enjoyed the novel so much is because of the many beautiful and inspiring themes within it. From hope and perseverance, to forgiveness, hard work and true happiness, the novel sheds light on how making mistakes and learning from them is what allows Anne to develop and blossom into a better person. Therefore, I could not help but feel touched and inspired by Anne’s fictional character and her remarkable outlook on life at such a young age.

Anne of Green Gables is the first novel in an anthology series. Due to the immense popularity of her first novel, Montgomery went on to write a series of sequels to continue the story of Anne Shirley. She wrote five more novels, in which Anne grows older in each. The overriding response to the novel is that it is a beautiful and heartwarming story. It is the character of Anne and her ability to remain in high spirits, regardless of what life throws at her, along with the beautiful themes in this novel that make it such a popular piece of fiction. And one that holds a special place in the hearts of millions of readers all over the world.

Although the novel was very popular all over the world, it was extremely well received in Japan where it is known as Red-haired Anne. According to journalist Levinson-King, one of the main reasons for the novel’s appeal and popularity in Japan is ‘because the world of Green Gables is filled with kawaii, which means the quality of being cute, romantic and beautiful in Japanese.’ He goes on to write that the Japanese ‘love the story because it is full of beautiful scenery and puff sleeves and cute things, like tea parties’ (Levinson-King, 2017, BBC News Article). Therefore, the immense popularity of the novel in Japan can be attributed to the beautiful imagery it includes which aligns with Japanese interests and beliefs. As a result of the novel’s popularity,

Japan has developed the commercialisation and commodification of Anne as a popular cultural and media image, so that an “Anne industry” has developed (Ochi, 2006, p. 361). 

The ‘Anne empire’ that has emerged off the back of Montgomery’s heroine protagonist spans merchandise, books, plays, television series, museums and musicals to name a few.

Why has this commercialisation occurred in both Japan and Canada, particularly in the leisure and tourism industry?

The real Green Gables (copyright Pam Gibson)

One extremely significant and profitable part of the commercialisation of the novel, is the tourist attractions that have been created in Prince Edward Island, Canada. The Green Gables Farmhouse where the novel is set is situated in Cavendish in Prince Edward Island, and is an extremely popular tourist attraction, particularly with Japanese tourists. Scholar Baldwin interestingly writes:

Perhaps the most surprising indication of the continued popularity of Anne is the growing number of Japanese who flock to Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, to visit the recreated home of a Canadian girl who never existed, and to examine objects she might have used had she been a real girl’ (Baldwin, 1993, p. 2).

Baldwin acknowledges how astonishing and bizarre, yet how remarkable it is that thousands of people are so invested in Anne’s fictional character, that they are prepared to fly across the world to Canada to see the recreated home that Anne’s fictional character grew up in, and pay a lot of money to do so. Baldwin goes on to shed light on an interesting question:

Why do so many Japanese people, especially young women, worship Anne Shirley, a red-haired wisp who comes from a very different culture and time period, and who makes allusions to authors, events, and people with whom the Japanese reader is unfamiliar?

Baldwin compiles the opinions of different scholars in response to this question. He writes:

There are several theories about why the Japanese are so fond of Anne. According to American writer Donald Ritchie, a leading expert on Japanese popular culture, the people’s passion for Anne can be explained by the cult of innocence, which is highly prized in Japan. 

Emiko Mori, by contrast, attributes the Japanese admiration for Anne to her frankness and spontaneity, which ‘are things Japanese perhaps find hard to be. We are afraid to be that way’ (Baldwin, 1993, p.2). Therefore, it can be suggested that there are many reasons as to why Anne is such a popular figure in Japanese culture, and this cannot be pinned down to one specifically.

But is this excessive level of commercialisation of Anne of Green Gables problematic in any way? It can be suggested that large corporations are taking advantage of Anne’s popularity through the creation of tourist attractions, and are subsequently knowingly profiting from a piece of popular fiction that they did not write or create. Therefore, this raises an interesting question as to whether it is moral and ethical to profit from someone else’s work, especially when the creator of that work is now deceased. These corporations are continuing to profit from Montgomery’s legacy and her work after her death, which could be considered to be problematic and a sensitive subject. In contrast, the commercialisation and commodification of Anne of Green Gables could be viewed as positive and beneficial. Arguably, these corporations are helping to keep the legacy of Anne’s fictional character alive. Moreover, they are providing the loyal and avid readers, who cherish the novels dearly, the opportunity to visit the story world in real life. This experience will undoubtedly evoke feelings of joy, nostalgia and excitement in those people. Not to mention all of the jobs that the ‘Anne empire’ has created, and the boost it has given to the Canadian economy in particular. As Baldwin notes,

the number of Japanese tourists to Canada grew from 2.9 million in 1976 to 5.5 million in 1986, and Japan became Canada’s second-largest source of overseas tourists’ (Baldwin, 1993, p.2).

Bibliography

Baldwin, D. (1993). L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables: The Japanese Connection. Journal of Canadian Studies, 28(3), 123-133.

Drain, S. (1986). Community and the Individual in Anne of Green Gables The Meaning of Belonging. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 11(1), 15-19. doi:10.1353/chq.0.0082.

Gray, P. (2014). “Bloom in the Moonshine”: Imagination as Liberation in Anne of Green Gables. Children’s Literature 42, 169-196. doi:10.1353/chl.2014.0009.

Ledwell, J & Mitchell, J. (Eds.). (2013). Anne around the World: L.M. Montgomery and Her Classic. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24hnsz

Levinson-King, R. (2017). Anne of Green Gables: The most popular redhead in Japan. BBC News, Toronto.

Ochi, H. (2006). What Did She Read?: The Cultural Occupation of Post-War Japan and Translated Girls’ Literature. Retrieved from: http://hermes-ir.lib.hit-u.ac.jp/hermes/ir/re/14565/0100706501.pdf

Shelagh J. Squire (1996) Literary Tourism and Sustainable Tourism: Promoting ‘Anne of Green Gables’ in Prince Edward Island, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 4:3, 119-134, DOI: 10.1080/09669589608667263

My Personal Reading History

By Natalie Haigh

Natalie is a student at Sheffield Hallam University and has been taking part in our joint project through the university’s Ideas into Action initiative. Here is Natalie’s account of how she became a reader.

My name is Natalie Haigh, I’m 22 years young and I was born in Rotherham in 1998. I grew up in Rotherham. My parents moved there before I was born and still live there to this day. My grandparents also live in Rotherham and have lived there for the majority of their lives, as my grandad worked as a solicitor nearby in Sheffield. When I was five years old, I attended a very small primary school in my local village which was a largely working class area. I then moved on to a comprehensive school close by where I completed my GCSEs. After leaving comprehensive school, I moved on to study at a college in Rotherham where I completed my A Levels. That brings me on to the present day. I am currently a second year student at Sheffield Hallam University where I am studying for a BA Honours degree in English Literature. An English Literature degree was a natural choice for me because I have always had a passion for reading and writing ever since I can remember.

My very first memory of reading was in primary school. I can vividly remember learning to read. I read the Biff, Chip and Kipper books by Oxford Reading Tree. Reading was the activity that I always looked forward to the most at primary school. I can remember the extremely cosy reading corner where my teachers read all sorts of different books to my class. My favourite was Sheila Lavelle’s novel, My Best Friend because it was filled with mischief and adventure. I loved it so much that whenever my teacher would come to the end of a chapter and tell us it was time to move on to maths class, I begged her to start the next chapter and carry on reading to us. The same teacher created a reward scheme for my class. Every time a member of our class excelled at something or made a kind gesture towards someone, she would reward them by putting a marble in a jar. We kept a record of how many marbles were in the jar and collected them, because when the jar was filled with one hundred marbles, my teacher granted us a full Friday afternoon to do anything that we wanted. This was called ‘Golden Time’. I would always go to the cosy reading corner during Golden Time, and I would sit and read books there for hours. Meanwhile, most of the other children were off painting or watching films together. I have such fond memories of Golden Time because it was a rare occasion when I could read at school all afternoon without any distractions, in a comfortable and cosy environment.

My parents and grandparents always read to me too. My grandparents had a house full of books and I would often stay over at their house. I remember being fascinated by their bookcase. As a small child, their bookcase seemed huge in comparison to me. I have always been very inspired by my grandad and what he achieved in his career. He always told me that he learnt everything he knew from books and reading. Therefore, he was always very encouraging when it came to reading and was keen for me to read as much as possible. One thing he taught me to always do when reading, which stands out in my memory the most, is that when I come across a word I do not know the meaning of, I should look up its definition in the dictionary and make a mental note of it. This is something that has stuck with me and that I continue to do today. My grandad always had either a book or newspaper in his hands, and my grandma has a love for glossy fashion magazines. My grandma has an extremely vivid imagination and she would tell me fascinating stories about her childhood and the adventures she got up to. Reading the Biff, Chip and Kipper books and hearing the stories of what my grandma got up to when she was younger sparked my interest in adventure stories. I went on to read Enid Blyton’s The Magic of the Faraway Tree and Joyce Lankester Brisley’s series, Milly-Molly-Mandy. I noticed that the Milly-Molly-Mandy book series was also loved and treasured by one of Reading Sheffield’s interviewees, Margaret C. When I was around ten years old, I was given Beaver Towers by Nigel Hinton to read by my favourite teacher, another children’s fantasy novel that I absolutely adored and could not put down.

Moving on to comprehensive school, I was given the novels Animal Farm by George Orwell and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck to read. As much as I enjoyed reading and studying these novels, my personal reading tastes evolved and I became far more interested in reading thought-provoking self-help books, books about business and enterprise, and autobiographies of people who inspired me. In fact, I actually went through a phase of feeling guilty about reading non-fiction. I battled with personal insecurities that stemmed from me thinking those books were not academic enough for me to tell people I was enjoying reading, or even to include in this blog. However, I eventually came to my senses and realised that those were the sorts of books I enjoyed, and that ultimately, were a huge part of my personal reading journey. I was reading so much fiction in school such as Animal Farm and Of Mice and Men, that I had a yearning to read something new and refreshing. I noticed that Reading Sheffield’s interviewee, Jocelyn Wilson, also spoke about reading the right sort of books. She says

I did a project on keeping a notebook of all the things I’d read… I know that it was criticised by the person who taught English at school, saying, “I can’t think why you read all this rubbish when you’re capable of reading something so much better” (Hewson, 2015, Jocelyn’s Reading Journey).

I strongly resonated with this part of Jocelyn’s reading journey as I personally felt a lot of pressure to read fiction, especially in school. Therefore, I did not want to discuss the sort of books I was actually reading and enjoying with my school teachers, purely out of shame and fear that they would be unimpressed and disappointed that a lot of the books were non-fiction.

One contrasting factor of my own personal reading journey to those of Reading Sheffield’s interviewees, is that I am from a different generation. The rise of social media and advances in technology changed the way I was reading. Rather than going to my local library and taking out books to read, I found myself reading most books on my Kindle. I also read a lot of different people’s online blogs. Blogs were a new and exciting medium to experience. Moreover, I could easily interact with the authors of the blogs and engage in conversation with them about their works by commenting and receiving instant responses. I quickly discovered that an entire online community for authors and readers existed in the world of blogging, sort of like lots of online book clubs. Therefore, reading started to feel more like a social activity than an independent one. Moreover, so much of the reading that I do is online now, which is one of the main ways that my reading history contrasts to many of Reading Sheffield’s interviewees. Now, the vast majority of my time is taken up by reading books, plays and academic works for my degree. For me personally, whenever I go on holiday is the time that I really indulge in reading books that I genuinely want to read. I take a few books away with me every holiday and I usually get through them all. On holiday, I don’t have to worry about anything else. I can get completely immersed in a book whilst soaking up the sun. And it is during times like those when I remember why I fell in love with reading.

Bibliography

Grover, M. (2019). Margaret C’s Reading Journey. Reading Sheffield. Retrieved from: https://www.readingsheffield.co.uk/margaret-cs-reading-journey/

Hewson, V. (2017). Jocelyn’s Reading Journey. Reading Sheffield. Retrieved from: https://www.readingsheffield.co.uk/jocelyns-reading-journey/

‘A completely new novel to me’

By Archie Harris

Here is another of our Sheffield Hallam student guest posts – the first in which a student of today reviews a book or author popular with our original 20th c readers. Archie chose to write about L M Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

Anne of Green Gables was a completely new novel to me at the beginning of this process, with me having neither heard of the novel or Lucy Maud Montgomery herself. However, I am incredibly grateful to be involved in this course as I feel lucky to be exposed to such a plethora of new and intriguing tales I may have never discovered throughout my regular day to day life. The first in a series of seven novels chronicling the adventures of titular character Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables is generally considered a classic of their youths for many people born in the 20th century. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the quality of the novel is through its sheer longevity. Originally released in 1908, Anne of Green Gables has withstood the test of time and still remains a classic read for younger generations starting their journeys into a love of fiction. This permanence is not only due to the high quality of the writing and storytelling but also the nostalgic warmth it brews in many parents, compelling them to read it to their children and have them fall in love with it too.

With the high volume and high intensity of university work, I usually do some research and preparation before reading a book, frequently spoiling the plot for myself to make the process of analysing and discussing the novel more streamlined. However, for this I decided to take myself back to my childhood and simply dive headfirst into the pages with no prior knowledge or expectations whatsoever. And what a joyous experience it was, watching young Anne subvert the prejudices of those around her and win their hearts made me feel like a child again, a sensation I have been chasing since I flipped the last page.

From the moment we are first introduced to Anne until the very end of the novel we cannot help but to support her in everything she does and wish her the best. This feeling is paralleled by Matthew Cuthbert who, despite mistakenly adopting Anne when in search of a young man to help with the farm work in his old age, falls in love with her rampant imagination and spirited soul before the pair can even make it back to his home from the train station. Anne even manages, eventually, to win the affections of Marilla Cuthbert despite her stern and traditionalist approach. Watching their relationship develop over the course of the novel was humorous, touching and come the end of the novel, utterly heart-shattering.

The epitome of Anne’s character and the reason she is so endearing and means so much to so many is her complete selflessness and unwillingness to take anything lying down. Her back and forth rivalry-come-friendship with Gilbert Blythe, whom I notice is much revered by those of Reading Sheffield, particularly Val seems to have had a soft spot for this young gentleman, is one of the most satisfying relationships we see blossom over the novel. We see an immensely strong friendship and mutual respect develop over years from the childish teasing of Gilbert calling Anne ‘Carrots’ in reference to her red hair, which led to him getting a slate smashed over his head, to the pure altruistic act of him giving up his job so she can work closer to Marilla and care for her as she is going blind and has lost her brother Matthew. This coupled with Anne giving up her life’s dream and everything she has worked for since moving to Avonlea to make sure her adoptive mother receives proper care demonstrates exactly why both of these characters, and the novel as a whole, are so effortlessly charming and endearing.

It was therefore no surprise to me, upon closing the novel, that when I researched reviews and opinions of others on Anne of Green Gables I was greeted with nothing but a wave of glowing commendations for this book and smiling tales of people’s childhoods spent buried in the pages of this wonderful novel that has touched so many. It was these recommendations accompanied with my own overwhelmingly positive experience that persuaded me to purchase more books in the series to get lost in over the course of, hopefully, a long hot summer of 2021.

L. M. Montgomery’s bright outlook on the world is a welcome contrast to the bleak views of many, especially through recent struggles, Anne’s smile and burning red hair shines through the dark clouds for so many. Montgomery’s writing is spectacular in this novel, incredibly accessible to a modern audience for the time it was written and fluently funny throughout. She tickles your funny bone with one hand and tears your heart out with the other as every emotional beat hits harder than the last. We smile every smile and cry every tear along with Anne as we become totally and completely captivated by her story, willing her to succeed at every venture despite her tendency, particularly early in her adopted life, to accidentally do something she most certainly is not supposed to. My personal favourite being when she accidentally gave her friend Diana wine instead of raspberry cordial, causing her to return home drunk and triggering her mother to be less than pleased, yet Anne of course still wins her over as she most certainly will win you over if you are yet to read this novel. Anne of Green Gables is a defining work of fiction for many childhoods past, present and future as its sheer charisma is undeniable. It is clear to see why, 113 years after its release, it is still being printed across the globe.

My Reading Journey

By Archie Harris

Students at Sheffield Hallam University have been exploring our interviews with Sheffield readers and our research. They have each written their own reading journey and a reflection on a book or author mentioned by our original interviewees (click here for more information on these tasks). We hope this has given the students an understanding of the world their grandparents and great-grandparents grew up in. For us, reading the thoughts of people born 70 or so years after our interviewees, in a very different world, have made us look afresh at our material. We’re pleased to publish the work of the students over the next few weeks.

In preparation for writing this blog I took what I saw as the most logical step and phoned my mum up to try and pick her brains as to what she remembers about reading to me as a young child. What followed was five minutes of me scrambling around my room trying to find a pen as she rattled off countless books and series that, at least according to her, I had spent half my childhood with my head buried in. The most prominent of which was a collection of Dr Seuss short stories I used to have read to me over and over every night when I was a toddler. To this day my mother and I can quote those stories and often do to cheer each other up on down days around the house, particularly the classic that is Too Many Daves, a personal favourite of mine as a child that my mother and I still quote around the house to this day. It was Dr Seuss that I believe kickstarted my lifelong adoration of poetry and poetic form as most of his writing has an almost musical rhythmic quality. Another of my great loves as a child was the Mr Men series, owning the whole collection and reading each one over and over until the binding was worn out. I even went as far as to paint myself blue, bandage up and go to World Book Day at school as Mr Bump. Mr Sneeze also stands out in particular as one book that got especially battered as I read it almost constantly as a toddler, turning over from the last page and going straight back to the beginning. My mother passed down her love of reading to me and I grew up with my nose in a book. As I had no siblings to play with the next best thing was to immerse myself in a whole new universe to transport myself away from rainy Derbyshire.

To be honest, as much as I enjoyed personal reading, I was far less infatuated with the assigned reading in primary school, often reading a book as fast as possible to simply get it out of the way so I could get back to the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid I was probably reading at the time. My grandparents also had a profound effect on me and my reading journey, two or three times a week they would take me to the library whenever they picked me up from school to grab a new book to read. Thirteen years later I now suspect this was to shut seven-year-old me up for an hour or two, which was successful for them and also got me even further interested in reading.

Like most people my age, one of the major literary influences in my early life was the Harry Potter series. I had seen the first couple of films and was instantly engrossed in the fantastical universe J K Rowling had created. This inspired me to pick up all seven books and speed read them before the next film came out to make sure I was up to date, an unfortunate side effect of this was that I had little to no filter between my brain and my mouth as a child and would not hesitate to mention something that happens later in the series to one of my friends that had not yet got around to reading some of the later books. For this I could only apologise. This started a domino effect leading me to binge read many series of books, although somehow missing out on Lord of The Rings until I was much older. The Percy Jackson series hugely impacted me early in secondary school, cultivating a fascination with Greek mythology in tandem with my ever-growing love of literature. This led to an intense yet brief obsession with all things mythological which was reignited for me at university as we began to study The Odyssey and the heavily explored mythos surrounding it.

In secondary school I was indeed that one kid that genuinely enjoyed Shakespeare and poetry. My enjoyment of Shakespeare was more of an appreciation of his immeasurable impact on the English language and culture, with his stories being told and adapted in many forms of media to this day. However, my love for poetry was, and is, very palpable and real. Almost daily you will find me writing some nonsensical poetry on my laptop to be shoved into my folder and never read again. The release of emotion from writing and reading poetry, for me, is unmatched and I will continue to produce poetry for the rest of my life. I have my year 10 English teacher to thank for this, as she pushed me to continue to pursue poetry beyond what we had been studying in class.

Most of my reading outside of university is news articles nowadays as I try and keep up to date on the world and on things I am interested in. This led to me writing a few articles for football magazines over the past few years as when I feel so passionately about something the words come easily. Because of how much I enjoyed the process of writing and editing these articles, I am looking into perhaps pursuing journalism or something similar as a vocation or as a postgraduate degree.

Regrettably, I have neglected to use a library in years now, favouring reading online or picking up books from the charity shop. This has also coincided with me having to read more for school and university work, so I feel I have less time and motivation to read for pleasure. Hopefully after my degree is finished I can relax and spend more time browsing the library and reading for pleasure in the sun like I had done so much as a child.