Guest Post by Paul Marriner | Author of #TheBlueBench | (@marriner_p) #HistoricalFiction

 

Publisher: Bluescale Publishing (18 June 2018)

Available in ebook and paperback

618 pages



I’m delighted to welcome Paul Marriner to the blog.  I had been following Paul’s recent blog tour with interest and noting all the good things that reviewers were saying about The Blue Bench.  As a fan of historical fiction, this one definitely appeals to me and I shall review when I can.  In the meantime, Paul has written about his favourite literary quote.

 

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Firstly, many thanks to Karen for the opportunity to write a few words for her great site.

For a few months I’ve been mulling over a particular literary quote. Often, when in ‘mull’ mode, I find that putting virtual pen to virtual paper helps bring some order to the jumble of ideas. So I’ve taken Karen’s invitation as the nudge I needed to capture and clarify my thoughts – I hope there is something of interest here.

If you’re anything like me, in the course of serious research you find yourself being led inexorably by the internet to sites of a more trivial nature. And sometimes, especially if you’ve just made a cuppa, there’s simply no fighting the urge to follow where the trivia takes you. Which is how I found myself on a site with dozens of ‘literary quotes’; yep, a long list of quotes either taken from literature, about literature or by literary figures. There would be no turning back until the next coffee was due.

Four quotes in particular caught my attention:

‘Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced.’ – Leo Tolstoy

‘Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.’ – Franz Kafka

‘Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer’ – Barbara Kingsolver

… like the best quotes, these three seemed relevant and perceptive, with an initial simplicity that invites more considered thought.

But my favourite was another from Tolstoy:

‘There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.’

Now I have to admit I have not read any Tolstoy (seen a few films of the books) but the man seems to have a way with words and the quote struck me as one of the wisest things I’ve ever read. Not only that, I find I can slip it into a variety of conversations and, generally, it’s a conversation ‘stopper’ in a good way – it does seem to make people pause and think.

‘There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.’

Why does it appeal to me so much?

The quote itself is simple and just ‘feels’ like it’s true before even giving it thought. Many quotes are little more than statements from a set of inspirational posters, but this one? There’s far more going on. I know, I’ve been mulling it over for weeks.

But the first thing I should say is that I’m not a philosopher or psychologist. For the purposes of this post I hope it’s ok to assume a general understanding of what we mean by ‘goodness’ in Tolstoy’s quote – based on what are taken to be a basic set of moral principles with some compassion and honesty thrown in. Otherwise, if we start debating what ‘goodness’ means’ we’ll be here all night – and I don’t think Karen wants that.

… back to the quote: Why do I like it so much?

Ok, take politics. It’s easy to see how the quote can be applied to democracies, dynasties, oligarchies and tyrannies – there are numerous leaders that we might consider successful in the sense that they took control, commanded, implemented their vision, gave their followers purpose and were (are) considered ‘great’, but how many of them did that for some greater ‘good’? Not many, even in democracies. And in most, if not all cases I‘d argue there’s a lack of simplicity and rarely a lot of truth.

Or business? There are many examples of corporations being driven to huge profits, expansion (including job and wealth creation) and almost monopolistic market positions by leaders with clear ambitions and a ferocious will to succeed. But how many cared whether society as a whole benefited or their employees were happy? Not many. And when you move into the upper reaches of ‘wealth’ there are very complex structures in place to manage and move money and truth is not a commodity considered necessary or valuable.

In both cases the leaders may have had highly developed communication and organisational skills. They may have been charismatic, convincing, innovative pathfinders in their respective fields. But you can be all those things without being good or telling the truth and it’s possible that they get found out but often, by then, they no longer measure themselves against truth.

Still they are often described as ‘great’.

Then I thought about sports personalities and entertainers. The same applies and it amazes me to think of how the everyday fan may consider their hero ‘great’ when that hero has been convicted of tax evasion on a scale the fan can hardly comprehend as they struggle to save for their season ticket. Would a rich sportsman show such contempt for their fans if they were truly ‘good’? Can they be considered truthful? Their duplicity is almost certainly not simple. Yes, perhaps they were led by misguided or malicious advisors, but nevertheless the buck stops with them.

But having said all that, it would be churlish not to admit that, for example, a singer with sublime talent, captivating voice and a charismatic stage presence, making millions of people happy and selling huge numbers of recordings can be considered a great entertainer – even if they lie and cheat.

Or would it be churlish? Should we go back to Tolstoy’s quote and perhaps apply it rigorously. Are we too quick to laud our heroes? Has hyperbole replaced measured judgement which should be made over time and not in haste.

By now you may be thinking, ‘What’s this got to do with books and reading?’ I’m getting there …

Thoughts turned to my favourite writers. Over the years I’ve described them as ‘great’ and can provide my reasons and argue my corner. In truth I know practically nothing about them as individuals. My perception of them is taken almost entirely from their novels or my opinions on their characters.

And when it comes to writers my judgement is further clouded by two of those elements of Tolstoy’s quotes – Simplicity and Truth.

Part of what makes them my favourite authors is almost certainly due to the basic truths that I find in their stories. And often my favourite characters are inherently ‘good’, usually not manipulative (ie. simple) and seeking some kind of revelation (truth) about themselves. This is not to say that there aren’t wonderful and amazingly entertaining characters that are bad, conniving and deceitful. Of course there are and without them there could be no truth in literature. And for all I know it may be these characters that are closest to my favourite writers’ own personalities.

So, how literally to take Tolstoy’s quote? And does it matter?

‘There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.’

When applying it to our leaders (elected or otherwise) I think it matters hugely and we should try to hold them to account when lacking simplicity, goodness and truth. End of. But for some others, sportsmen or entertainers for example, perhaps not and we can acknowledge they have a great talent in one area but accept failings in others.

When it comes to literature (& probably other art forms such as painting and sculpture) I’m not sure. If the author is holding up a mirror for us to look into and perhaps question ourselves and motives then should we reasonably expect them to have higher standards of ‘goodness’ whatever that is? That doesn’t seem reasonable and, in any event, could it be argued that certain ‘truths’ can only be exposed by those who are perhaps on the ‘bad’ side of them? When it comes to simplicity many great novels are complex pieces of work but perhaps, in the end, even the most complicated can be reduced to simple and direct concepts and ideas. And what of truth? Surely the author should always be seeking to expose lies and shine a light on truth? But in many ethical dilemmas there are far more ‘maybes’ than ‘definites’. In which case perhaps that’s the truth the author should show.

You can see why I’ve spent some time pondering such an apparently simple quote.

And I come back to the question that for literature, does it matter? I don’t know. But in future I’ll think twice before considering a writer as ‘great’ though I’ll happily recommend many of their novels as ‘great books.’

Many thanks to Karen for giving up space on her site and thanks to you for reading. If you have any thoughts please don’t hesitate to come forward – I’m still ‘mulling’.

Now, what do we mean by a ‘great’ book? Hmm…….

 

 

 

|   About the Book   |

 

Margate 1920 – The Great War is over but Britain is still to find peace and its spirit is not yet mended.

Edward and William have returned from the front as changed men. Together they have survived grotesque horrors and remain haunted by memories of comrades who did not come home. The summer season in Margate is a chance for them to rebuild their lives and reconcile the past.

Evelyn and Catherine are young women ready to live life to the full. Their independence has been hard won and, with little knowledge of the cost of their freedom, they are ready to face new challenges side by side.

Can they define their own future and open their hearts to the prospect of finding love? Will the summer of 1920 be a turning point for these new friends and the country?

 

|   About the Author   |

 

Paul grew up in a west London suburb and now lives in Berkshire with his wife and two children. He is passionate about music, sport and, most of all, writing, on which he now concentrates full-time. Paul has written four novels and his primary literary ambition is that you enjoy reading them while he is hard at work on the next one (but still finding time to play drums with Redlands and Rags 2 Riches).

 

 

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