You may have read a review on my blog last year called ‘Heathcliff vs Darcy: Who’s the Bigger Sh*t?’ and this year I am back at Cheltenham Literature Festival’s only event with a rude word in the title!
I have returned for another session that ‘blends erudite bookish analysis with shameless swearing’. This year its parents from the world of literature that are being debated over, each author hoping their nomination wins the title of ‘Literature’s Worst Parent’.
Sebastian Faulks led the debate between four authors which at times got a little heated as they fired points and counter arguments back and forth. In this years line up is professor of classics at the University of Cambridge Mary Beard, The Times deputy books editor James Marriott and novelists Nina Stibbe and Derek Owusu.
Nina Stibbe was up first and she chose Linda Radlett from ‘The Pursuit of Love’ by Nancy Mitford. Words such as “neglect and hatred” were thrown around and although Nina acknowledged that she didn’t have the advantage of a “body count” she claimed that Linda has affected not just her own children but generations of others!
Derek Owusu chose Okonkwo from ‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe. He won the debate by a large margin with his cool, calm and collected approach to debating. His assurance that Okonkwo’s toxic masculinity and manipulative ways was worthy of the title was entirely convincing. He said the worst things about Okonkwo were the fact that the character gives the reader hope that he will change… child-abducting and machete-wielding aside of course…
Claudius from Shakespeare’s Hamlet was James Marriott’s nomination for literature’s worst parent. His argument was my favourite. He got a smattering of votes but it didn’t matter as the entertainment value he brought to the event outshone all the others. He took the millennial biangle, mentioning avocados several times and comparing Claudius to a “bigoted baby boomer helicopter parent.”
Mary Beard stayed true to her passions and chose the Greek tragedy Medea written by Euripides. Despite there “hardly being a good parent in all of classical literature” Mary decided that the murderous mother of two was a head and shoulders above the rest. This argument definitely had “body count” on it’s side after Medea murders her own two children as well as another woman before fleeing to Athens.
Each argument was as convincing as the next, full of wit and humour as well as satisfying logical points. This sequel to last years debate did not disappoint and I will be keeping an eye out for a similar event at next year’s festival.