Thursday, 15 November 2012

Haunted House

I meant to write a post about the brilliant Mumsnet Blogfest that I attended on Saturday sooner, but had been unable to put down Sarah Waters' chilling tale of a decaying way of life called The Little Stranger. In some ways, though parallels occurred to me between the book and the Blogfest. Bear with me, though!

In the book the decaying way of life is the life led by the relatively few, the upper classes living in their country estates. A family, mother, daughter and son try to keep their dignity as the estate in which they are living is slowly crumbling and they can do nothing to stop it. The narrator is a doctor who befriends the family and represents the new order, coming from humble means. His mother, in fact, served at the house in question and he has childhood memories of the house and family's glory days. He tries to help the inhabitants of the home, he falls in love with the daughter, but there is a growing sense that the more he tries to help the worse their situation grows. The books brilliance lies in its ambiguity. There is something 'queer' a foot in the house, an evil perhaps that is slowly destroying it and its inhabitants. Could it be a ghost, a former maltreated servant perhaps taking revenge or an inherited family madness, or hysteria brought on by isolation, the world moving forward leaving them behind. All ideas of the supernatural are at first quashed by the level headed doctor, who in turn questions his own involvement in their demise.

At the Mumsnet Blogfest there was a very real sense of two worlds. One, moving faster than anyone can imagine and no one can gauge, that of the internet and the blogging world. The other of print publishing, which some have already called dead. Nevertheless, at the Blogfest there was a keen sense of the ongoing struggle between them. A question was raised by Graceunderpressure about the feeling that she had, although she had published, of somehow being perceived by the publishing world as second rate because she was a blogger. For me that sounded like a snobbery akin to a class system. A blogger might empathise with the good doctor in Waters' story then, romancing the squire's daughter, only to be spurned, and feeling the sting of the old order and put in ones place.

In the story the family house develops a spirit of its own, and by the end of the book even a rational man like the doctor is prone to believe it. Only when he has claimed the crumbling house as his own, which nobody wants to buy, does the spirit that has tormented its inhabitants fade.

I watched too, with growing trepidation, the old order on the keynote panel Private Lives on a Public Stage: How much should you reveal online at the Blogfest. Liz Jones truly cut a tragic figure amongst the other speakers, appearing to have dug herself into a hole of her own "spilling your guts" style of journalism to the point where she has no relationships. When asked what she wouldn't blog about I remember her saying - her nieces and nephews - she has no children of her own. Suddenly my neighbour made me aware of a groundswell of twitter criticism directed towards her. It felt suddenly eerie to me. Liz Jones, up there on the stage, straining to hear what the interviewer was saying while the silent majority was mobilising online.

The house of publishing is haunted, just like  Hundreds, the stately pile in Waters' book. And the cause is ambiguous too, but unhalting, just like in Waters' book.

But Liz Jones aside, how much do bloggers need the shoulder of print publishing to lean on anymore or to react to?  In short, do we still have to look up to it or feel affected by it to justify ourselves?

The 'family' who dwell inside the house of print publishing and all its grandeur are asking themselves if they can survive this new era just as bloggers must ask themselves why they wish to take over the crumbling house that is left behind.

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