Leaving a Literary Legacy

A Japanese Maple in the garden of Chartwell House. With Robyn Turton

As I walked to the post office on a sunny autumn day in London to send off some magazine competition entries, I was reminded of the film The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. This 2005 release starred Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson and was a lovely based-on-truth story about a mother of 10 who entered competitions and with her winnings saved her family from ruin. The difference between the luck-of-the-draw competitions I had entered and the ones Evelyn Ryan (Moore) went for in the 1950s was the skill required. Ryan needed to write clever, succinct jingles that were better than all the other entrants’ attempts. Judging by the number of times she won she was indeed very skillful.

My daughter and I watched the film on a mobile phone in an AirBnB in Canterbury, Kent. We had taken

The Wife of Bath & Robyn Turton. Which is which?

off a few days to visit this county and were pleased with the number of other skilled writers we had come across on our journey. The first, on our way to Canterbury, was Winston Churchill. We had visited Chartwell House, the WWII home of this gifted man. Apart from being prime minister of Britain and a decorated military man, Churchill also wrote almost 50 books and was an amateur painter. A tour guide at the house pointed out an interesting comparison. Adolf Hitler, too, was an artist and had applied to study at art school but had been refused. What if, posited the guide, Hitler had been accepted at art school?

In Canterbury itself we of course saw some reminders of the author of the famous The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer is credited with being one of the first people to write in English (albeit in Ye Olde English) and his stories are full of ribald humour and so are appealing today. Somebody who wrote in more ‘modern’ English several centuries later was Charles Dickens whose home was Rochester, another city in Kent. My daughter and I did a walking tour of this delightful old city where we saw landmarks that Dickens himself refers to in many of his works. These included ‘Satis House’ from Great Expectations (properly named Restoration House) and Rochester Cathedral which takes centre stage in Dickens’s unfished work The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

‘Satis House’ in Rochester, Kent

It was lovely to have walked in the footsteps of these real historic literary greats – from Chaucer to Dickens to Churchill. And as I strolled back from posting my luck-of-the-draw competition entries I pondered on The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, who herself – however different – left a literary legacy  of her own.





The unusual Mr Pip delights

A review by Brenda Daniels

Mr Pip is the story of a young girl, Matilda (Xzannjah Matsi), who grows up on the island of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. In this tropical “paradise” Matilda’s village experiences the realities of (true life) war, sparked by copper mining activities in the area. While the young girl’s father has left for the greener pastures of Australia, Matilda and her mother, the local Christian preacher, remain behind with other residents.

The only white man left on the island, Mr Watts (Hugh Laurie), is persuaded to be a stand-in teacher. Not trained in the profession, Mr Watts teaches from the one thing he seems to know best – the book Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Pip, the main character in the novel, really captures the imagination of Matilda and his story becomes hers in Mr Pip.

Just as Pip’s name and his search for identity is crucial to the novel, so Matilda grapples with her own identity and where she truly belongs. This is all played out against a military backdrop and incorporates an interplay of opposing elements such as black and white, ignorance and education, European and local, Christianity and traditional beliefs.

The action lapses into scenes in which Matilda imagines herself in Pip’s world. These are strange, fantastical parts to the film, which may go misunderstood by viewers who are not familiar with Great Expectations.

Mr Pip is an unusual, ambitious interweaving of three different stories – Pip’s, Matilda’s, and Bougainville’s. Enthusiasts of Great Expectations will appreciate the fervour with which Dickens’s work is presented. I really enjoyed it.

Mr Pip opens countrywide in South Africa at Cinema Nouveau on Friday 1 August.

The first chapter as it appeared in All Year Round's weekly journal in 1550.

The first chapter as it appeared in All Year Round’s weekly journal in 1550. Photo: Creative Commons

Hugh Laurie plays Mr Watts in Pr Pip

Hugh Laurie plays Mr Watts in Pr Pip. Photo: Creative Commons

Dickens’ complicated relationship in The Invisible Woman

The Invisible Woman stars Ralph Fiennes as Charles Dickens and Felicity Jones as his young lover Ellen (Nelly) Ternan. Despite being married with several children, Dickens is attracted to Nelly when she takes up a role in one of his plays.

For her part, Nelly is an avid fan of Dickens, absorbing his books with an emotional intensity that dictates the action of the film. The two develop an uneasy relationship. It flaunts the societal conventions of the time by their choice to live together. But at the same time, their relationship bows to societal dictates in their choice of living, hiding away in a quiet home in the countryside.

Years after Dickens has died, Nelly, now married and with a child of her own, reflects on her past. Unable to come to terms with what transpired, Nelly remains a tortured soul until she chooses to live differently. This she does right at the end of the film. This choice is mirrored in the ending of Dickens’ well-known work Great Expectations, an ending Nelly ultimately rejects.

Bereft of any humour, The Invisible Woman is a serious film that relentlessly shows how difficult it is to truly know and connect with another person. It opens at Ster Kinekor theatres in South Africa on 4 July.

Felicity Jones plays Charles Dickens' lover in The Invisible Woman

Felicity Jones plays Charles Dickens’ lover in The Invisible Woman. Photo: Creative Commons

Ralph Fiennes plays Charles Dickens in The Invisible Woman. Photo: Creative Commons

Ralph Fiennes plays Charles Dickens in The Invisible Woman. Photo: Creative Commons