Blind Spots

imagesAccording to my eye specialist we all have a blind spot.  Certainly, this is true where I’m concerned.  Every time I have to have a field test the same small patch in my left eye comes up completely black.  I can’t see a thing there at all.  It’s got to the point now that when someone new carries out the test I tell them where the blind spot is going to be before we start.  It’s a good way of checking the accuracy of the equipment.

What’s really interesting about this is that on an every day basis I am completely unaware that I can’t see through that part of my eye.  I suppose the rest of vision compensates for it and the brain fills in the bit that’s missing.  The same is true, I think, where our literary blind spots are concerned.  Until someone or something points them out to us, we are blissfully ignorant of their existence.

And all this is a way of leading up to a humiliating abasement of myself in the face of my own literary blind spot. Why didn’t someone point out to me that Pushkin’s Boris Godunov was a play and not the novel that I thought it was?  You were all simply being too polite to rub my nose in my own ignorance, weren’t you?   Yes, I thought so.  Well, you can all stop pretending you didn’t realise how stupid I was being because I discovered that for myself this morning when I decided that I ought to read the original and trolled over to Amazon to see if I could get a copy.  No problem at all. Lots and lots of translations of Pushkin’s play are available.  Which one would I like?  I bow my head in shame.

Of course, this probably goes someway to explain why I thought Adrian Mitchell had done a reasonable job of transposing one narrative form into another and really rather enjoyed the current RSC production of his version of the history.  He wasn’t creating a different form at all.  Now I’m simply left wondering if the original Pushkin had the same faults that I did think were apparent in what I saw yesterday.  Overall, I suspect not.

The major element of the current production that left me thinking that this was a transposition from prose to drama was the amount of back story that it was necessary to fill in.  Interestingly, given the location, Mitchell uses the same technique Shakespeare so often employed.  A couple of characters come on at the beginning and tell each other all the history that they already know just so that the audience can know it as well.  Think the opening scene of Antony and Cleopatra.  I would imagine that Pushkin wouldn’t have felt the need to do this because his audience would already be aware of Godunov’s backstory.  It would have been a bit like Shakespeare starting his play Henry VIII with the information that the King had had six wives.  Given that many of them would have lived through the consequences, the Globe audience probably didn’t need that rubbing in, thank you.

Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed the production, although I think I will get hold of a copy of the original just to see whether Pushkin does fill in the background of how Godunov came to the throne.  The only other disappointment was the number of empty seats.  It used to be rare that you could get a ticket for the RSC if you didn’t book very early on, but this winter that hasn’t been the case.  I suspect the current financial situation is beginning to bite.

But, back to blind spots.  The problem is, of course, that with this sort of blind spot you don’t know you’ve got it until you haven’t got it any longer.  Convoluted, I know, but true.  There is, however, another type of literary blind spot altogether: the literary blind spot that prevents you from understanding why everyone in the universe except you thinks that a particular book is a work of genius.  While the rest of the world raves about a particular novel, play or collection of poems, you are left at best wondering what all the fuss is about and at worst convinced that the collective critical faculties of the reading community have taken a day off work.  Most of you know what falls into my blind spot.  Try as I might, I simply cannot find the merit of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.  I know this marks me out as some sort of literary barbarian, but that’s how it is, I’m afraid.  I also have to admit to feeling the same way about pretty much everything Thomas Hardy ever wrote.  If you want to remove me from your list of blogs you follow right this minute, I will understand.

But, what about you?  What about your blind spots?  I’m willing to wager that if you’re honest you’ve all got at least one, but are you willing to admit to them?

Come on, I’ve opened myself up to humiliating abasement this afternoon.  Are you brave enough to join me?

20 thoughts on “Blind Spots

  1. Never read Pushkin so I had no idea either – I’m not particularly highbrow when it comes to literature, though! I read an interesting theory about WH in that it appeals to the very young because they can empathise with extremes of passion and emotion. Certainly, I loved it when I was younger but as I get older the antics of Heathcliffe become increasing daft! I like Emily Bronte’s poetic prose though.

    1. Nicola, I think part of my problem with ‘Wuthering Heights’ may well be the fact that I didn’t read it when I was young. This may account for the fact that I just feel like telling them all to go and have a cold shower.

  2. I’ll join you happily. Among others, Madame Bovary, Fahrenheit 451, and The Great Gatsby. The latter I liked just fine, but I just don’t get why it is on so many “favorite novel ever” lists. The former two I barely made it through I was so utterly bored. And I had to teach Mme Bovary. Oh, and probably anything by Virginia Woolf: as I’ve tried her twice now to dismal results.

    Apologies in advance for lovers of any of the above!


    p.s. Like certain filmmakers, I like to pretend that the second half of Wuthering Heights doesn’t exist. Much more tolerable that way.

    1. Oh Sylvie – ‘Madame Bovary’. We set it for one of our reading groups and without thinking to check I picked up what must be the most unsympathetic translation ever made. I couldn’t think what on earth all the fuss was about it and I suspect that now even if I was to be given a decent translation I would never be able to read it with any pleasure.

      1. I don’t know, I read the original and taught a decent translation. The characters were just so unsympathetic. However, I remember liking L’Education sentimentale, so it’s not Flaubert. It’s true, though, that a bad translation can ruin things.

        If you take on Eugene Onegin (which I highly recommend), be wary. I wrote a little bit about the translation issue when I saw the ballet last year: Otherwise, I’m sadly lacking in Russian literature. Not a blind spot, more like a Grand Canyon-sized gap.

        1. Me too, Sly Wit. For some reason it’s never taught on any UK syllabus. I suspect you have to be studying Russian to come up against it.

  3. Alex, I loved Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, but have never made it through anything else, and since he is supposed to be Russia’s greatest writer, he is apparently in my blind spot. I do have a collection of his short stories: maybe you’ll inspire me to read them!

    1. I do love the opera of ‘Eugene Onegin’, Kat, but I haven’t read the original. Maybe that is where I should start. Although I know Tolstoy and Chekov the rest of Russian Literature is a mystery to me. Perhaps I should look on line for a course that would help me get better acquainted.

  4. I’ve never read Pushkin either, so didn’t know anything about Boris Godunov. I loved WH as a teenager, not so much when I re-read it a while ago, although I still loved Emily Bronte’s writing. My blind spot holds mostly poetry, although I do like some of the narrative type.

    1. I’m not good on poetry,either, Margaret. I know and love the material from the Elizabethan period but anything after that is very patchy. I think part of my problem with ‘Wuthering Heights’ is that I didn’t read it as a teenager and so by the time I did come to it I just wanted to give them a good shaking and tell them to go away and grow up. Not very sympathetic of me, I know.

  5. You’re not alone in your distaste for Wuthering Heights! I wonder whether our own personal blindness is a good thing – how else can a wide variety of books be enjoyed by a wide variety of people? After all, we don’t like Emily Bronte’s novel, but many people do, so her work is covered and our own reading time is freed up to find some other author to enjoy. Interesting stuff to think about – thanks for writing!

    1. Oh yes, Samantha, I couldn’t agree more. And if we all liked the same things then what would we have to discuss in Book Groups? I’ve just come in from a really stimulating discussion of ‘Any Human Heart’ that wouldn’t have been half as good if we’d all liked it.

  6. I can’t deal with either Margaret Atwood or Michael Ondaatje. Here in Canada, that’s practically literary blasphemy, but there you have it. I do, however, adore Wuthering Heights, and I can see the merits in Hardy (though he’s so depressing that I only read him on sunny afternoons when all else is right with the world).

    1. Depressing is exactly right, Naomi. Hardy is one of those writers that I did read as a teenager but I see enough misery in the world these days without reading ‘Jude the Obscure’ again:)

  7. Not knowing much about Pushkin and only ever having read one or two short stories by him very long ago, I had no idea of your mistake. For me, I just don’t get what’s so great about The Great Gatsby. I’ve read the book three times to try and figure it out and it still eludes me. I, however, am not going to read it a fourth. I have thrown in the towel on that one.

    1. I think I have read ‘Gatsby’. The trouble is I might just be remembering the film. I think you’re right though to give up. Sometimes you just have to recognise that a book isn’t worth the time spent on it.

  8. Not liking Hardy or Wuthering Heights? Alex, I may have to cross you off my Christmas card list! (Only joking, of course). To be fair, I’d really like Cathy and Heathcliff to ‘pull themselves together’ too. Give me Jane Eyre any day.

    I have a strong objection to anything with dragons in it. There’s just no need, in my opinion!

    1. Oh yes, Karen, ‘Jane Eyre’ is another matter entirely. The ‘voice’ in that is so strong that I find myself talking in Jane’s voice for days after I’ve read it.

  9. Ha, not knowing about Pushkin’s play is nothing. I once told a first year translation group that la Fronde was a region in France. It was just my luck to have a student there who knew it was a political group. Well duh! I tended, though, to think it was good for the students to see their teachers were human and could get things wrong. Otherwise they believed we knew everything – which was far from true! 🙂

    1. Yes, I agree about that, Litlove. The other important lesson it teaches is that there is no shame in admitting you’ve been wrong about something. As Salley Vickers says in one of her novels, ‘It’s the mistakes that let the light in’. It was the first point I always made to my first year grammar classes where students were always terrified to speak for fear of making a mistake.

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