For those wondering what this blog, To Be an Electric Telegraph, happens to be about, please read “First Post.” But, key point from that longer essay is this one:
My favorite Victorian writer, Elizabeth Gaskell, began her first novel as a way of working through the death of her son. Her grief is there, but Mary Barton isn’t about Gaskell’s son. It’s about Manchester, industrialization, fallen women, murder, working class issues, and how to recognize true love. Perhaps she would have written a different story if not for the death of William, one less punctuated by the despertation grief can prompt. I don’t know. What I do know is that her advice to a writer starting out still resonates with me:
It is always an unhealthy sign when we are too conscious of any of the phyiscal processes that go on within us; & I believe in like manner that we ought not to be too cognizant of our mental proceedings, only taking note of the results. But certainly–whether introspection be morbid or not,–it is not a safe training for a novelist….Just read a few pages of De Foe &c–and you’ll see the healthy way he sets objects not feelings before you. I am sure the right way is this. You are an Electric telegraph, something or other–
I like the idea of setting objects not feelings before people. Nor do I think Gaskell is suggesting writers should forget feelings; rather, a novel needs to be about things and people not just feelings. Introspection itself isn’t enough. And it isn’t healthy. Gaskell after all did write the first biography on Charlotte Bronte, and she found Haworth stifling. I especially like her last bit of flip advice: “You are an Electric telegraph, something or other–” I find the metaphor of writing as transmission, as reaching out through the ether, as being about objects not feelings, infinitely compelling.
So this is a blog about objects. About books, travel, music, places, theory, ideas, and pie.