Wednesday, December 3, 2014

In Praise of P. D. James

Yesterday I found out that P. D. James died on Nov. 27.  I wasn't completely cut off from all news over the Thanksgiving week-end; we watched both the local and national news shows each morning.  Yet there was no mention of her death.

I'm not really surprised.  Would I have ever heard of her if I hadn't gone to grad school?

I first read P. D. James because a grad school friend of mine loved her so much.  During one summer, I read some of her mystery novels and saw a link between her work and the work of other great twentieth century British female writers. I planned to explore that idea in one of the Comprehensive Exam questions, had I been called upon to do so. I can't remember what I had planned to write, only that it revolved around female detective novelists of the early twentieth century opening the door for later writers.

I've forgotten so much, and of course, I'll forget more before it's all over. The flip side, happily, is that I continue to learn.

This morning I'm thinking about Dorothy Sayers and Virginia Woolf and about P. D. James and Margaret Drabble.  I'm thinking about writers who are seen as genre writers and writers who are seen as canonical.  I'm also thinking about how wonderful it is that when I think of canonical British writers of the later 20th century, my brain immediately calls up the female writers.  I have to ponder a bit longer before coming up with names of important male writers of the last decades of the 20th century.

I had forgotten that P. D. James had a civil service career when she was writing.  I cling tightly to these stories of writers who have to manage day jobs while they are writing.

I wish I could manage as brilliantly as James did.  I continue to write, but my publication plans have fallen completely to pieces.

Wait--that's not entirely true.  As usual, I'm being too hard on myself.  I continue to have pieces published on the Living Lutheran site.  I left Thanksgiving leftover festivities on Friday to go to the post office to mail a packet for the Concrete Wolf chapbook contest.  I've sent queries out about my memoir/essay manuscript.

But it's not the same magnitude of what James was able to accomplish.  She published several series of detective novels, along with all sorts of shorter articles and essays.  She wrote a sci-fi novel and a novel which mashes her detective fiction skills with characters from Jane Austen.

Perhaps I shall read Death Comes to Pemberley over the Christmas break.  I'd been planning to read it anyway.  It's not exactly Christmas reading, but there will be time for all sorts of reading in just a few weeks.

In the meantime, my various jobs await.  I have some online classes that are in their final weeks--lots of guidance needed on papers and grading to do when those papers are turned in.  I need to catch up on some assessment work in my main job.  I have two blog posts due to Living Lutheran--hurrah for writing work!

And I'm meeting my writing colleague and friend for lunch on Monday.  I need to have a short story ready.  I have it in my head.  Now is the time to put it on paper.

I will call on the spirit of P. D. James as I calmly and methodically tend to these tasks.  I will remember what can be accomplished, even if one has public servant work to do, in addition to the creative work.

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