Mad March Mayhem!


March has been a crazily busy month for us here at Cultural Life Connection!

Lots of good things have been happening and we have been participating in many cultural activities. Here are some highlights:

The month started off with Huddersfield Literature Festival which was really good. The launch got off to a good start with an interesting reading and Q&A from M.R Carey the author of The Girl With All The Gifts. This book is soon to be made into a film so should be worth looking out for.

Then it was the turn of local and internationally renowned author Joanne Harris to explore the possibilities of song and storytelling (yes, we actually heard her sing!) at the Lawrence Batley Theatre (LBT). These were new stories that she has experimented with by creating them piece by piece on Twitter. It made for a fascinating night, enjoyed by all. She also has some very interesting novels coming out over the next year or so so keep your eyes because peeled my lips are sealed!

The other highlight for me was the creative writing workshop that I participated in led by poet and Arvon tutor Kei Miller. I was nervous to go to this as am a bit rusty with my creative writing but I am really glad that I went because this led to…me signing up for a creative writing course!! I has wanted to do one for a long time but participating in this festival really got me thinking about it and fortuitously I got a call from one I had enquired in a while back and decided to sign up as it seemed like the right time to do this.

Also, we participated in the NTLive event to watch the critically acclaimed Young Vic ‘s performance of The View from the Bridge with lead Mark Strong. It actually exceeded my expectations, was probably one of the best plays I have ever seen! The acting and directing was remarkable. Mark Strong seemed to be ‘Method like’ in his portrayal of Eddie Carbone. The stage set and special effects were amazing too, I will not say anymore on this as otherwise I will spoil it for you but it was fantastic! This was the first time that I had participated in an NTLive event and will certainly go to more. At first I thought would it be off putting seeing it in a cinema, but actually you almost forgot that the screen was there at times it was really good and economical. If you are far from London like me then it makes sense to go to these events. I also found it exciting to think that you were part of a really large audience all around the world watching the same play!!

Along with I’m sure many, many others, I’ve also currently been glued to Poldark on BBC One! I hadn’t actually seen the original adaptation but this one is great, am excited to see where it leads and how they end it. Will they commission another series? Let’s hope so!

As March was so crazy with events it has left me a little behind in writing up my April posts but I will post them as soon as poss! Anyhoot, it gives me great pleasure to say that our next Deadly Sin for the month of April will of course coincide with Easter and be ‘Gluttony!’ It’s actually fairly difficult to find examples of this in films and books but I am persevering and have got a few ideas up my sleeve, so watch out for this over the next few weeks.
Ciao for now!

‘Pride’ in Gardening

Pride in gardening is often seen at this time of year. Such as when people make the first cut of their lawn, taking time to create a nice and stripy appearance. Feeling proud of the first daffodil bulbs coming out in flower and knowing that the best is yet to come…

Pride in gardening however cuts both ways, one fine example of this how in British Colonial Gardens the emphasis would often be on “growing a piece of Britain” abroad in often very exotic and unsuitable climes. Whilst growing exotic plants in unsuitable climates can indeed be an exciting and rewarding endeavour. It was often considered important to create a ‘home away from home’ to keep up morale and prevent home sickness. In colonial style gardens, such as The Old Railway Garden in Munnar (southern India) you will find Roses, Hydrangeas and White Alyssum. However this approach was rather presumptuous as often today as gardeners we try to work with nature and this approach shows a blatant disregard for climate and growing conditions.

Tea plantations in Munnar, Southern India
Tea plantations in Munnar, Southern India

Growing this “home away from home”, was not simply just for the British People residing there. It was an example of what Britain expected a garden to be. The idea of “taming nature”, has always been a mainstay of British gardening culture, this culture was exported with the Empire and taken to its limits. There are reports, that a constant supply of water was needed to simply stop the plants from dying. This is clearly a representation of Britain Knows Best. “Pride” about their gardens, can be seen to be present through this example.

Yet, at the time there was an interesting juxtaposition of the “British” Garden in exotic climes. This can be seen in exotic plants growing in Britain. A fine example of this is the Victorian Palm House at Kew Gardens. Home to a fine variety of lush tropical rainforest plants from the far corners of the Earth. Taking pride in mastery over nature. In contrast, the focus at Kew gardens today is very much one of conservation and sustainability.

Palm House at Kew
Palm House at Kew

Growing exotic plants is still very much alive in British horticulture and many people in the UK grow “hardy tropicals”, plants such as ‘Trachycarpus palms, Yucca and Bamboos’. Although the attitude today is less about ‘pride’ and more about trying to recreate exotic landscapes from holidays abroad.

‘Pride’ in Films

At first it seemed quite tricky to find films for this theme but I decided to look closer at the behaviour of characters to try to lead me onto which films would best represent ‘Pride’ as a sin this month. This month the theme has led me to choose an eclectic selection of films, two of which are World cinema films and the one which is British was from 1944 when Britain was a very different country. This makes me wonder, is there a modern Western film that is not set in the past that can fit this theme of Pride as a sin? If so then please comment to let me know of any suggestions.

Shall We Dance (1996)

In Shall We Dance we see the limitations of living a life full of pride and more positively, ways to overcome these limitations.

Shall We Dance by Masayuki Suo tells the story of Shohei Sugiyama (Koji Yakusho) a Japanese accountant who is weary of his day-to-day life on the constant unchanging treadmill of work and home. Something awakens in him though the moment he spies a beautiful woman staring wistfully out of a dance studio window. He decides to take dance lessons in order to be closer to her. This woman is Mai Kishikawa, (Tamiyo Kusakari) a professional ballroom dancer who is dissatisfied with her current circumstances.

To his initial dismay, another older female teacher takes the beginners class and teaches him and two other new male dancers. He learns to put his prejudices aside and becomes more and more involved in the life of the dance studio and all of its varied characters and his love of ballroom dancing overtakes his original desire for Mai. However, he does not tell his wife he has started dancing lessons and she begins to suspect he’s having an affair…

The sin of ‘Pride’ is perhaps most effectively suffered through the character of Mai in that she was once a great professional ballroom dancer but has cut herself off from that due to an incident at a professional dance competition in Blackpool and now has vowed to turn herself away from that life and become a lowly (as she sees it) dance teacher. Her behaviour is a prime example of cutting one’s nose off to spite one’s face. Shogei, also has pride in that he’s embarrassed to tell his wife that he has started to learn ballroom dancing, though perhaps this is not surprising at the beginning seeing as he’s infatuated with Mai. The way that these characters help each other in overcoming their ‘pride’ which is blocking them from moving on in life and being happy is the real core message that this film delivers.

Festen (2004)

Through Festen we see the dangers of living a life by pride in that it can hide the truth and cause danger to others.

Festen (The Celebration) by Thomas Vinterberg is the first of the Dogme95 manifesto films (a manifesto for more naturalistic filmmaking). The précis of this film is that a rich but socially disconnected family has gathered at the family run hotel to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of the family patriarch. The family dynamic is acrimonious and throughout the film there is the constant discomfort of them being gathered in their childhood home at the site of and so soon after the suicide of eldest son Christian’s twin sister Linda.

There is constant underlying tension in the film which escalates to completely unravel and reveals what a thoroughly dysfunctional family they are and how awful the patriarch himself is in particular. The character of Christian and his other sister Helene are really the only two family members who are sympathetically portrayed. Christian, represents the shunning of false pride and all the negativity that this can bring as he repeatedly tries to smash through the family’s denial of past behaviour and move on with his life and atone for his sister’s death.

Pride festoons and envelops Festen through the Patriarch’s and other members’ insistence on tradition and pretending as though nothing has happened so that the family can continue on their celebration of a man who is a monster.

Brief Encounter (1944)

Brief Encounter best displays pride affecting and restricting the behaviour of individuals at a time in history when divorce was frowned upon.

Brief Encounter by David Lean tells the story of Laura (Celia Johnson) and Alec (Trevor Howard) who meet at a train station and fall desperately in love, despite being married to other people. Everything about this film is evocative from the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 to the bellowing steam from the trains, the black and white stark imagery and close ups of Celia Johnson’s distraught face which all combine to create a multi-textured piece which is even more remarkable considering it was made during World War Two.

‘Pride’ is certainly responsible for the restrained behaviour of Laura and Alec. Despite loving each other desperately, their relationship is never consummated and they do not feel that they can divorce their respective spouses, presumable due to the shame of divorce in society at the time. The problem is their relationship becomes bittersweet as by limiting changes to their life, they are denying their own happiness, all due to a sense of pride in worrying more about what other people would think if they did so.

These are my film selections for this month, get in touch and let us know what your selections would be.

‘Pride’ in History

The most heinous of the seven deadly sins is supposedly that of Pride. It is apparent in the lives of people throughout time. There are many ways in which it presents itself; a General too proud to think that he could be defeated; a king who thought that only God could remove him from office; those who claimed a ship was built so well it was unsinkable…

There are many stories we could tell from history to illustrate the ‘sin’ of pride, but I shall look at a topic which is still a fairly controversial today, that of the Parthenon marbles.

Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum

Why so controversial?

The Parthenon Marbles (also known as the Elgin Marbles) are a collection of marble sculptures from the Parthenon in Greece, which were collected between 1801 and 1805 by Lord Elgin. Elgin himself fully funded the excavation and transportation of these marble sculptures. He planned initially to have them installed into his mansion in Scotland. The British aristocracy had developed a great admiration of the Classical world and many sought to visit the sites of the ancient world and collect artefacts. It was arrogantly believed that the sculptures’ “spiritual” home was that of the modern British Empire, as basis of the Empire was seen to be that of the great classical civilization of Athens.

At Elgin’s expense, the Marbles were put on display at a public exhibition at Old Park Lane, in Piccadilly in London. Was Elgin using this as a showcase, to associate the ancient Athenian Civilisation to the British Empire?

The expeditions to Greece had bankrupted Elgin so in 1816, the Marbles were sold to the British Government and put on display in the British Museum. Ironically, Elgin’s pride would become his downfall.

Parthenon Marble Horse Head

It is true, that Elgin had gained permission to excavate, but this was when Athens was under Ottoman Rule.

When Greece became independent in 1832, there was the idea of the Parthenon as being central to the heritage and of Modern Greek identity. The Greeks started to see the Marbles as rightfully belonging in their homeland of Athens, and this is still a passionate belief by many Greeks today.

It may be argued that, at the time of the excavation, the Marbles were saved from deterioration during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries but this argument is not really relevant for today. It was probably the ideas of greatness, inflated by pride, which played a more significant role in the excavation of the Marbles than any thoughts of preservation. Today, despite Greece now having the capability to look after the Marbles, and a purpose-built museum for their reclamation, there has been a solid refusal to return the Marbles.

The story of the acquisition of the Marbles, the pride and passion of Lord Elgin and other aristocrats who acquired ancient artefacts, and the continuing debates of where they should be housed has diverted attention from the true meaning of the works. The Marbles have become a symbol of politically motivated pride and politics, rather than appreciated for their beauty and contribution to the history of art and humanity.

‘Pride’ Before a Fall in Literature

Hello! In March we are continuing with our ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ theme and examining the theme of ‘Pride.’ For this first post I will be looking at three novels that explore this theme in different ways. Throughout our posts we have had to focus on the negative aspect of pride in its form as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Of course, the immediate book that comes to mind is Pride and Prejudice and looking at pride through the character of Mr Darcy but I thought that would be a little too easy for this topic, so decided to examine others instead. Interestingly enough, all of the novels that I have chosen this month have either already been made into films or in the case of the last book are being made into films.

White Mischief by James Fox

If you are looking for a shocking book that truly shows all of the negative aspects of pride then White Mischief by James Fox is a good bet.

I am quite interested in the true stories of the colonial lives of the ‘Happy Valley’ residents in Kenya. Mostly because their extremely hedonistic behaviour is truly shocking and leads to an early death for the majority involved. The most famous incident in the happy valley was the famous wartime murder of Earl Josslyn Victor Hay, 22nd Earl of Erroll in 1941 at the age of forty. Erroll (formerly a member of Oswald Mosely’s British Union of Facists the BUF) was famed for his licentious behaviour in the valley and had seduced many of the married women in the area; thus creating a long list of suspects. The man arrested and brought to trial for his murder was one of his current cuckolds, Sir Jock Delves Broughton. He was officially freed from suspicion due to lack of evidence and the murder has never satisfactorily been solved with many different people since, putting forward their solutions and naming suspects.

It is clear that the Happy Valley Set’s behaviour was full of the notion of pride in a negative sense and that just because they were wealthy Upper Class, White and Anglo-European they felt automatically superior to others and this gave them free rein over their behaviour. They often treated their servants with contempt and were drunk, on drugs, and vandalised furniture and rooms at parties. Although, there were other aspects at play. Some of these people had left their original countries in a cloud of shame in that they were socially ostracised from their peers due to their scandalous behaviour. However,there was something about the ‘happy valley’ that made them especially licentious in their behaviour. Some say it was the high altitude, perhaps it was, but because they were also surrounded by people behaving in this way then maybe they also felt more comfortable doing so. Continually changing affairs and wife swapping parties were the norm in some houses and Kiki Preston (Alice Gwynne) was known as “the girl with the silver syringe” because she felt free enough to publicly carry around a syringe which she would use to inject herself with morphine and heroin.The continuation of the Second World War and the Mau Mau Uprising eventually caused the Happy Valley set to disperse.

This book is a good introduction to the lives of these people and whilst I would not say that they are likeable (they are mostly the opposite in fact!) you do get an idea of the major players in the murder of Earl Erroll. Other books on this topic I have read are The Bolter: Idina Sackville – The woman who scandalised 1920s Society and became White Mischief’s infamous seductress by Frances Osbourne and The Temptress: The Scandalous Life of Alice, Countess De Janze
by Paul Spicer.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

To explore the consequences of pride in highly impressionable circumstances then The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin Modern Classics) should be a tale that you turn to.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie tells the story of Jean Brodie a teacher at a Girls School in 1930s Edinburgh. The novel focuses on the ‘Brodie Set’ of her select girls that she chooses to influence, with her particular views on love, classical education, history of art and fascism.

“Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.” Miss Jean Brodie, pg 9

An immensely proud character, who states she is in her “prime,” Miss Brodie represents a troubling figure. This novel explores issues such as Brodie’s fascination with Mussolini and fascism which she imparts to her set. Miss Brodie has a blinkered view of the world, she encourages bullying within the group, particularly towards the tragic scapegoat Mary MacGregor. She rigidly type-casts all of the girls into specific roles which are not always accurate assessments of their characters.

Throughout the novel, Miss Brodie is blinded by pride as she believes her views to be superior to others. This can be seen in her expectation that Rose (who she believes to be famed for her sex appeal) will seduce the married art teacher Mr Lowther, whom Miss Brodie herself is attracted to. Because she herself is attracted to Mr Lowther she feels that the prettiest of her ‘set’ has permission to sleep with a much older, married man. This is all because of her pride in being physically attracted to him. In actual fact, another of the set does seduce him. Dangerously, she also advises a girl Joyce Emily to fight for the nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War, terrible advice which has a tragic ending.

The story analyses the strange nature of school life and highlights that pride and insularity can be dangerous in such settings as schools. People in influential positions with little life experience and controversial ideas such as Jean Brodie find themselves with more power than they perhaps should really have. This power can lead to ‘hero worship’ behaviour as the girls are so influenced by Miss Brodie they would do anything for her. The downfall of the group ends when Miss Brodie is dismissed due to her behaviour in that she is betrayed by one of her ‘set’ into telling the headteacher Miss Mackay that she is encouraging them to sympathise with fascism and thus she gets fired.

I think that I find the most interesting parts of the novel to be when the girls are older and are more able to analyse the situation that they were in. They learn with hindsight to realise that Miss Brodie was just a slightly lonely and tragic character who should not have had as much influence as she did. “She was just a spinster…,pg 27” says Eunice from the set as an adult.

I find this a fascinating book because the character of Jean Brodie is a mass of contradictions. She at first comes across as full of arrogance and pride, snobby behaviour and is highly judgemental. Things that Brodie does not approve of are given short shrift. We learn that her opinions and behaviour can have darker consequences as the story progresses.The book has a clever narrative structure in that we view the events as flashbacks and also in the present day when the characters are older and wiser and able to see through the fog of Brodie’s influential pride.

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

To examine ‘Pride,’ and arrogance and how this can lead to ignorance, then The Lost City of Z: A Legendary British Explorer’s Deadly Quest to Uncover the Secrets of the Amazon is a good book to explore.

This book tells the true story of Amazon explorer Percy Fawcett and his quest to find the Lost City of Z. Fawcett was Arthur Conan Doyle’s inspiration for his famous novel The Lost World (Penguin Classics)

Percy Fawcett took his son and his son’s best friend (both of whom were inexperienced) on a quest to find this city in 1925. They faced incredibly hostile terrain and climate in a place crawling with dangerous animals of every kind and also fierce tribes that were unused to different people. They disappeared in the jungle and no one has found them since despite several expeditions created to find them, whereby another hundred or so people may have also perished.

Percy Fawcett was a seasoned explorer and strongly believed that he could find this city. The fact that he brought along two relatively inexperienced people with him shows a lack of judgement that must have been blinded by pride. In fact, the main reason for his thinking in bringing along  inexperienced explorers must have been due to pride; he must have believed that they were infallible because they were associated with himself ‘the great explorer.’ So, not only did he put his own life in danger but also those of two young men, (fairly soon after the First World War) one of whom was his own son. all of this due to pride. His actions can be seen as a continuation of the behaviour displayed by those in the story of White Mischief; in the sense that because they were rich, Anglo-Saxon and White, they felt that they were invincible.

These three books (two non-fiction and one fiction) are the ones that, to me, strongly demonstrate the negative aspects of Pride. What books would you include under this category?