READING: FINDING A STORY WITHIN A STORY.
Nina MK, Ph.D.
While younger children love listening to a story, and middle-school students enjoy an adventure tale for its own sake, world-weary teenagers may need something else to stimulate their imagination, and to help them develop a taste for reading. Today, with ICT at our fingertips, it is quite possible to combine a reading lesson with Web research, achieving very good results in various aspects. Choose a story within a story which you found fascinating. Use any way of presenting it that you feel comfortable with. One simple way of attracting your students’ attention is to give them a task which, as only you may know, will produce rather amazing discoveries. Let us take one example of an Amazing Story from the Web.
* Divide your class into two groups
* Write down two names on the blackboard: Group 1, Gordon Daviot; Group 2, Josephine Tey.
* If you have the facilities and the time in the classroom, allow them a few minutes for web research. If this is not feasible, leave it for homework.
* Suggest that both groups choose a Speaker who will present the collected data to the whole class.
Both groups should eventually come up with the same name: Elizabeth MacIntosh. This fact alone is often enough to evoke senior students’ interest. You may add a few biographical facts to their findings, and show them how a research into (seemingly) one person may lead to such diverse topics as the British Monarchy, playwrights, detective fiction, history, women’s rights, and so on. Several discussion questions offered either before or after the research, and the reading itself, prove to be very useful in developing communication skills. For example:
1) If you ever wrote a book, would you use a pen-name? Why/Why not?
2) Do you prefer prose, poetry or drama? Why?
I first came across the name Gordon Daviot in the famous actor Rex Harrison’s memoirs. Another theatre legend, Sir John Gielgud, mentioned his admiration for the play “Richard of Bordeaux” by Gordon Daviot, published in 1932. It was the first and very successful drama by a young playwright, whose name became familiar in the theatre-world, yet whose identity remained unknown for a long time. Reading about Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne, I also found this fascinating, and seemingly unconnected tidbit: On February 14, 1952, massive crowds assembled at Westminster Hall to pay their last respects to King George VI, who died on February 6. All the newspapers, naturally, were full of the funeral. A notice in the obituaries column in London’s “The Times” went unnoticed. “Gordon Daviot, playwright and novelist, February 13, 1952, in London…”
Mary Higgins Clark, a well-known thriller writer, often mentioned Josephine Tey, whose novels were a great influence on her. “The Man in the Queue”, first featuring Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, was written in 1929 for a literary competition, which the newcomer won. Another novel, “The Daughter of Time”, is now accepted by historians as a valid new interpretation of the history of Richard III. It is a fascinating example of the way a human mind works: Inspector Grant, while convalescing after he received a serious wound, tries to solve the young princes’ murder mystery of ages past, and to eventually clear Richard’s name (at least in his own mind). While it is obvious that Tey respected her senior colleagues, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, with an occasional quote from their works, for her, the main question was not Who, as in the popular nickname for the genre, “Whodunit”. She was mostly interested in the workings of a human mind and in the question Why people commit crimes. In that, she was a precursor of many modern theories and trends. Maybe that is why her books are still in print.
Further research into Gordon Daviot and Josephine Tey, indeed, leads us to the same person. Elizabeth MacIntosh was born in Inverness, Scotland, in 1896. She received training and began her working career as a physical training instructress at a college in Birmingham. After several years as a teacher, she had to return home to take care of her ailing father. Modern students find it immensely fascinating that a woman was expected to break up her career, and her whole life, to take care of her male relatives; or that if she was single, she was not supposed to live by herself, but was expected to obey her family orders. It is amazing that she found the time to write. Obviously, in her own mind, plays and detective novels were two completely different occupations, so she needed two pen-names!
Elizabeth, Bessie and Betsy… As we know from a nursery rhyme, all these are really the same person. In our case, more unusually, Elizabeth, Gordon and Josephine are also the same person. It is clear from both her plays and her detective fiction that she was fascinated by history, and by psychology. In all of her works, the characters try to search the past in order to understand the present. And in all of her works, she tries to find explanations for the human behaviour.
Elizabeth MacIntosh never married. It is not known for sure whether she had a love interest that might have perished in World War One. She can definitely write about romance in everyday life. Although she was born and bred in Scotland, she loved England with all her soul. She left all of her considerable fortune to the National Trust for England, for the preservation of historical homes and monuments. Her valuable personal possessions, including an early Victorian gold ring set with emeralds and diamonds, which she had worn for the greater part of her life, she left to the Inverness Museum.
I have conducted a lesson on Elizabeth, Gordon and Josephine many times, with unqualified success. “The Franchise Affair” is perhaps the best novel to recommend to young readers. After the first incredulous expostulations, “But the main characters are over 40! Is there romance when one is SOOOO old?!” teenagers become quite entranced with the twisting tense plot.
You can also search <Guttenberg books online> to read the texts of various books
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