Friday, 29 June 2012

Slovakia - a literary landscape

Our first day at Ruzomberok - a very bright, modern university in a small rural town.
Ruzomberok is surrounded by hills and forests and is a ski resort in the winter.  It has a lovely collection of art deco buildings lining colourful streets.  There's not much money here and it was quite interesting browsing the fashion shops - not a Benetton in sight! 


The bars are very colourful too!  Being a Leo I couldn’t resist this one.  The beer is cheaper than anywhere else in Europe.


At the Katherine Mansfield Conference there were some very enjoyable talks.  It’s called ‘Katherine Mansfield and Continental Europe’ and focuses on her European context.  KM lived in Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France at various times, had a love affair with a Pole, and even began to learn his language in order to translate his literary idols.  One of her best friends, Samuel Koteliansky was a Russian and she collaborated on translations of Russian writers with him. 
Elizabeth von Arnim (Countess Russell)

KM’s cousin was the Countess Elizabeth von Arnim, best selling author of ‘Elizabeth and her German Garden’, and a novel still available called 'Enchanted April'. We had an interesting talk by Jennifer Walker, who’s writing a new biography.  Elizabeth later become the Countess Russell, Bertrand Russell’s sister-in-law and was at the centre of literary life in Europe.  She and Katherine had an uneasy relationship.
Jean Rhys
The scholar Angela Smith (all the way from Stirling in Scotland) talked about Katherine Mansfield and Jean Rhys - their similarities and correspondences.  I’ve always loved ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ and ‘Good Morning Midnight’, but never thought of those books with such close reference to Mansfield.   Rhys and Mansfield were both exiles, expatriates living in France, both had problems of identity, were sexually adventurous.  But they were very different characters and Katherine’s fatal illness gave her writing a darker undertow.

That’s the wonderful thing about events like this, discovering the links between writers, the subtle cross-referencing and borrowing we all indulge in.  An interesting talk by American scholar Sydney Janet Kaplan, proposed links between a KM story ‘The Escape’ and TS Eliot’s first wife Vivienne.  TSE may even have borrowed his title ‘The Hollow Man’ from Katherine’s story.  Her portrayal of his neurotic wife may well have caused the rift between them - causing TSE to refer to KM as ‘a dangerous woman’.
One of the beautiful churches here
We’ve been beautifully fed all day - Virginia Woolf said that the mind doesn’t function well unless there is good food and wine to feed the flame at the base of the spine.  Slovakian hospitality is unbelievably generous.  We have also been introduced to Slovakian Pear Bandy - Kruski - which is dangerously delicious!


We finished the day in front of the world cup on TV - a great antidote to too much thinking!  Tomorrow we're being taken to a spectacular castle.  I'm exhausted and excited at the same time.

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