Come Dine With Me

The ultimate literary dinner party line up…

Authors: we just can’t get enough of them, whether it’s reading their articles, books or plays. But what would it be like to have one to dinner? And, even more importantly, who would you invite to grace your table? I have to admit, there’s a pretty wide selection of people to choose from, from Chaucer to Trotsky, and the opinions of the people I asked were even more surprising (Hitler and Jesus were bandied about in the same sentence at one point). Even though it’s impossible to choose everyone, I have narrowed the list down to five people who are invited over, Come Dine With Me style. The food has been frantically prepared backstage, the scoring cards have been prepared and tongues have been sharpened. So, roll on the guests…

The next best thing to having James Bond round… his creator!

Ian Fleming (or should that be Fleming: Ian Fleming?) : where would the evening be without some James Bond-style banter from history’s most daring writer? Ian Fleming didn’t just write about daring exploits, though: he took part in them as well. During World War Two, he was part of Naval Intelligence and worked with the British secret service to conduct several missions into enemy territory (one of his operations was codenamed Goldeneye- you can guess where that popped up later!). As well as being a hotshot spymaster, he also took time out to create the world’s most iconic spy of all time. I have the feeling that Fleming would have been the type of person to regale us all with exciting stories over the coffee and petit-fours, and then activate the jet-pack hidden under his jacket and blast off back home, and for that I’m going to give him an 8/10.

T is for Tolkien

J.R.R Tolkien: This man needs no introductions, but I’m going to give him one anyway. The man of Lord of the Rings fame, he’s probably more likely to sink a pint in the Eagle and Child with his friend C.S Lewis than eat my dubiously home-cooked food, but my second guest would (I hope!) be polite enough to sit through a meal with his fellow wordsmiths. He certainly has plenty of stories to regale us with: he served through the First World War as Lieutenant (incidentally the experience of living in the trenches inspired the Dead Marshes in his books). Also, this man was apparently a fantastically nutty party guest, well worthy of a fictional dinner invite; he’d probably spend the evening talking in Elvish to everyone else and receiving polite looks of incomprehension in return. My rating: 6/10

Shelley’s most infamous novel

Mary Shelley: The Queen of the Gothic genre! She’s the second-earliest author that I’ve included, but arguably one of the most interesting. The daughter of an ardent feminist, Shelley nevertheless eloped at sixteen with the (already married) poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and spent the next ten or so years touring Europe with him and their good friend Lord Byron (yes that one!). The story of how she came up with the idea for her famous novel Frankenstein is well known: picture night-time in a beachside hut, with four or five overactive Romantic poets trying to scare each other, and you have the general idea. In an age where women were generally seen as an attractive mantelpiece ornament, Shelley’s outspokenness and pioneering ideas definitely deserve respect. She would be the type of person who (in my imagined scenario) would creep out the other contestants over the roast chicken and put them off their dinner. For the queasiness (which was probably due to her explanation of corpses whilst eating) it’s going to have to be a 7/10.

Orwell strikes a revolutionary chord

George Orwell: If you think the other people on this list were eccentric, wait until you meet this man. Orwell was actually born as one Eric Blair in India, a descendant of the Earls of Westmoreland, and his father worked in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service (if you think that sounds exotic, wait until you hear the rest!). He then joined the Imperial Police in India and went to live in Burma for five years, after which he lived as a down-and-out (by choice!), exploring Paris and London by tramp’s-eye-view before publishing his first novels. Orwell’s inherent eccentricity was tempered by his strong political views of communism and fascism- something which then drove him to go and fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, subsequently taking a bullet to the neck. Later on, he quietened down, limiting his political activities to writing (and naming his poodle Marx). Similarly to Fleming, Orwell’s range of stories- both real and imaginary- would make for interesting dinner-time conversation, and he and his pets would be very welcome (although heated political discussions over the butter dish with Tolkien wouldn’t really be appreciated). But for his attitude and general crazy life stories, I think that my score will be a groundbreaking 9/10.

Guest of Honour:
Chaucer. Where would my list be without someone of the poetic persuasion? And it doesn’t get much more poetic than this: Geoffrey Chaucer, otherwise known as the father of English writing, wrote the entire Canterbury Tales in verse form, not to mention his epic poem Troilus and Criseyde. In my opinion Chaucer has it all: the rude wit, the epic imagination (although, let’s be fair, quite a few of his Tales were adapted from previous sources) and the interesting life story- he worked as a courtier, a diplomat and civil servant, and in the process travelled to France and was captured during the Hundred Years War, before conducting secret business on behalf of King Richard II- a kind of medieval James Bond. If that’s not an action packed life I don’t know what is. I can only hope that he doesn’t deliver too many withering put downs to the other guests…

To be honest, there isn’t even room in this article for all of the people I would like to include here. These writers simply represent a small selection of the silliest, craziest and most entertaining people to snare us with their imaginations, and if I met any one of them I would probably spontaneously combust with excitement. But nevertheless, the party invitations have been sent out and the table has been set. Let the mayhem begin…

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