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Institute of Continuing Education (ICE)


After his bold beginning, Ed hands me the blogging baton and I can begin the second leg (a hard position to run, a sprinter friend tells me).

In town, the Cambridge Spring Wordfest is about to commence and looks very exciting this year; the book of the festival is to be Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamberthe all-time best dangerous book for girls.

Published in 1979, it’s one of those books that changed – and continues to change – lives, and I wish a free copy of it was given to every teenage girl buying the anaemic Twilight series. Carter rewrites the classic fairy tales, including ‘Bluebeard’ (the heroine’s mother gallops up in the nick of time and shoots the murderous husband) and ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ (Little Red chops off the Wolf’s paw, then later notices that Granny is missing a hand…). The Bloody Chamber tales luxuriate in the atmosphere and imagery of these strange stories we give to children, but invert their warnings and interdictions. Her wild girls embrace wolves and find their mates in manly beasts rather than beastly men.

Rewriting and reworking classics has become routine: the spirit of Carter’s revolutionary work has, in the latest round of fairy-tale revision, been repackaged for TV audiences in generic and disappointing TV series such as Grimm and Once Upon a Time. Of course, literary recycling is a time-honoured tradition, with stories and myths passing from generation to generation to be rebeaten into new shapes for contemporary audiences so that we can trace the passage of hard-wearing characters from Oedipus to Little Red Riding Hood from era to era. Occasionally, new kinds of rewriting manage to both delight readers with their own originality and send us back to an original to test out the limits of their reinterpretations. And, like film versions of novels, rewritings divide readerships who either enjoy any opportunity to encounter old favourites again, or are horrified by the freedoms taken with much-loved classics.

Later this year, I’ll be teaching the various adaptations that have been made of Jane Austen’s novels, including the many film versions and the recent run of supernaturally-infected rewritings including Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. One of the essay titles for the summer school students who will be taking a similar course will invite them to produce their own rewriting of Austen.

Dr Jenny Bavidge, ICE Academic Director for English Literature

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