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Friday, 24 February 2012

Inspiration and genius - one and the same.
 Victor Hugo

Our blog site is better named than we thought. We are in illustrious company, or should that be infamous?  Arresting Prose was the title of an article in The Observer newspaper in 2004 relating to Psalms for People under Pressure written by Jonathan Aitken, the Conservative British MP, while imprisoned for perjury. Described as an oddly moving book and a commendable advertisement for poetry and possibly Christianity, the author likened Aitken’s writings to that of Oscar Wilde after his prison experiences in The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

The article drew comparisons with Joe Orton, a 1960s English playwright famous for his black comedy; Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest; Tom Paine (1737-1809) one of the Founding Fathers of the United States who wrote Rights of Man and Age of Reason; and Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, whose writings were numerous. All of these people had been in gaol sometimes because, like Aitken, they had broken the law, but more often because they were political activists or didn’t fit the social norms of the time. 

Either way their experiences deepened their writing. Literature and solitude, it seems, go together and painful personal experiences are often inspirational. It is hoped that those of us who are members of the Mairangi Writers and contributors to this blog will not have to go to such lengths to be recognised as authors with something to say.

I would prefer another kind of inspiration: the kind that Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning shared, love. Forbidden to marry by her father, Elizabeth and Robert exchanged a total of 573 letters, the first of which begins, "I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett ..."

Through this exchange of letters discussing other writers, sharing their work and having philosophical debates, they fell in love. Despite her chronic ill-health, strict Victorian upbringing and increasing age (late 30s) she and Robert married in secret and fled the country. She was disinherited and her father never spoke to her again.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology (and the enlightened project leaders at Wellesley College and Baylor University in Waco, Texas) these letters have been digitised and are available online for all to read – ‘just as they were written – with creased paper, fading ink, quill pen cross outs and even the envelopes the two poets used.’

Can you think of anything more inspirational?

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
 Albert Einstein

Vicky The Artful Adin


  1. Ideas and motivation to write come from many and varied places, don't they! Vicky, you've broadened our horizons in time and place with this post.

  2. I think Elizabeth Barrett made a good swap.