One hundred and sixty years ago today, 27th July, the Victorian gentleman writer, George Borrow, set off with his wife and daughter to travel around Wales. ‘Wild Wales’ the travelogue he wrote about his journey, has a wonderfully intimate and chatty style which starts at chapter one. It’s a classic and I found a copy in its great 1950’s paper cover, in Wells market.
There is much to learn about voice in George Borrow’s writing. His strong preferences come across from the beginning and he is charmingly manipulative with his wife and daughter. (Yes somewhat sexist, but you have to forgive him because he is a man of his times).
Here’s the first paragraph from Chapter One.
“In the summer of the year 1854 myself, wife, and daughter determined upon going into Wales, to pass a few months there. We are country people of a corner of East Anglia, and, at the time of which I am speaking, had been residing so long on our own little estate, that we had become tired of the objects around us, and conceived that we should be all the better for changing the scene for a short period. We were undetermined for some time with respect to where we should go. I proposed Wales from the first, but my wife and daughter, who have always had rather a hankering after what is fashionable, said they thought it would be more advisable to go to Harrowgate, or Leamington. On my observing that those were terrible places for expense, they replied that, though the price of corn had of late been shamefully low, we had a spare hundred pounds or two in our pockets, and could afford to pay for a little insight into fashionable life. I told them that there was nothing I so much hated as fashionable life, but that, as I was anything but a selfish person, I would endeavour to stifle my abhorrence of it for a time, and attend them either to Leamington or Harrowgate. By this speech I obtained my wish, even as I knew I should, for my wife and daughter instantly observed, that, after all, they thought we had better go into Wales, which, though not so fashionable as either Leamington or Harrowgate, was a very nice picturesque country, where, they had no doubt, they should get on very well, more especially as I was acquainted with the Welsh language.”
It’s a good opening. I think it’s always worth trying out a modern day version of a classic/ You might include details or sentence structures you don’t normally use.
e.g. In the summer of 2014, my husband and I decided to go to Wales for a long weekend. We are city people, living in the country not too far from Bristol and at the time of which I am speaking, were tired of all the familiar distractions of our house, with its shelves of unread books, the washing up that always needed doing, the garden thick with weeds. We didn’t know where we would go to start with. I proposed Wales from the first, but my husband wanted to stay in Herefordshire and go to Hay on Wye. I said he’d spend too much money on books and he should be cutting down, it was like an addiction, but he said because we’d been eating vegetarian for the last month, we had money to spare. I then said I was being selfish – of course he should go to Hay. He might pick up something he really wanted with the spare cash. Of course, he backed down then and said he had too much to read already. Why didn’t we go to Aberystwyth and visit Nanteos Mansion where I used to live as a student…
Oh that was fun. I should carry on with that if only for the energy, copying an opening creates. And I might go to Wales, inspired by George Borrow.
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