A library for Ma and Jack

01 August 2010

Emma Donoghue, author of the highly acclaimed novel Room, offers a fascinating reading list compiled especially for two characters from her own piece of fiction.

by Emma Donoghue

When I was writing Room, I found myself in a position akin to Ma and Jack's captor, in that it was up to me to grant or refuse them any resources. It was particularly painful to limit them to just ten books (the kind Old Nick might plausibly have picked up in a supermarket). So I comforted myself by putting together a sort of reader of writings they might like: here is a taster...

 

Jesu, swete, beo nout wroth;

I have neither clut ne cloth

Thee inne for to folde,

I ne have but a clut of a lappe;

Therfore ley thi fet to my pappe

And kepe thee fro the colde.

 

Jesus, sweet, don't be angry.

I have no rag or cloth

To wrap you in,

I only have a patch of a rag.

So lay your feet against my breast

And keep from the cold.

[modernization by Emma Donoghue]

Anon, from 'Ler to loven as I love thee' [often called 'Jesu Swete'] (before 1372)

 

I was the giant, great and still,

That sits upon the pillow-hill,

And sees before him, dale and plain,

The pleasant land of counterpane.


Robert Louis Stevenson, from 'The Land of Counterpane' (1895)

  

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.


William Blake, 'Auguries of Innocence' (written 1800-03, published 1863)

 

Socrates: Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move … And they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave.


Plato, The Republic, Book VII (circa 370 B.C.E.)

 

So time passed by; and, by the decreasing of their food and drink, they perceived that the end of their imprisonment was approaching. They imagined that their release was at hand; but no sound of a hammer was to be heard, nor were any stones picked out of the wall, and it seemed as if the King had forgotten them. So when they had sufficient food left for only a few days, and the prospect of a miserable death stared them in the face, Jungfrau Maleen said to her companion, "It is time now that we should try to break through the wall."


'Jungfrau Maleen', Grimm's Household Stories (1853)

 

MIRANDA O, wonder!

How many goodly creatures are there here!

How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,

That has such people in't!

PROSPERO 'Tis new to thee.


William Shakespeare, The Tempest, V.i.

 

Undue Significance a starving man attaches

To Food -

Far off - He sighs - and therefore - Hopeless -

And therefore - Good -

Partaken - it relieves - indeed -

But proves us

That Spices fly

In the Receipt - It was the Distance -

Was Savory -


Emily Dickinson, 'Undue Significance a starving man attaches', written circa 1862, published 1891

 

I had now to consider which way to steer my course next, and what to do with the estate that Providence had thus put into my hands; and, indeed, I had more care upon my head now than I had in my state of life in the island where I wanted nothing but what I had, and had nothing but what I wanted.


Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719)