Thursday, 6 February 2014

Viva España

I meant to write a long post about my upcoming journey and Valencia last night, but amid the stress of packing (and finding clothes that are suitable for a weather that's 20 degrees warmer than here) I simply forgot. I don't know if I'll have access to the internet in Spain but I doubt it, so there probably won't be any new posts until next Saturday.

So I am now at an airport, one of my favourite places in the world. From here you can get to any place on earth in a matter of hours. It is the ultimate liberty.
But for now, I'm not discovering the world, just Valencia.

I hope you all have a great week!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The Classics Club Spin!

The Classics Club has announced its fifth official Classics Spin and I am excited, mainly because I have never managed to participate in a spin before, even though I love the idea.
To take part you have to post a list of twenty titles from your Classics Club list and on Monday a number will be announced which will determine the book you should read until April.

Here comes my choice of books and I have included some very scary titles so I will just hope that the lot won't fall upon one of them.

  1. Don Quixote (yes, I'm starting with scary)
  2. Uncle Tom's Cabin
  3. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
  4. The Canterbury Tales
  5. Villette
  6. The House of the Seven Gables
  7. Moby Dick (ugh.)
  8. Beloved
  9. Northanger Abbey (please, please, please)
  10. Anna Karenina
  11. I know why the Caged Bird Sings
  12. Gone with the Wind
  13. Mrs Dalloway
  14. The Good Earth
  15. Tess of the D'Urbervilles
  16. Ulysses (the fear is self-explanatory)
  17. Moll Flanders
  18. The Bell Jar
  19. The Crucible
  20. The House of Mirth
The books I'd be most happy about are Northanger Abbey (could you tell?), Gone with the Wind, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and The Bell Jar. Which ones I would not be too ecstatic about was noticeable I think... although they'd certainly make for a challenge. So good luck to me and everyone else participating!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Bleak House I & eerie similarities to my life

After the first eleven chapters of Bleak House many questions have been answered, but so many more have been raised. In the former category belong among others: Is this book going to be awesome despite the fact that it probably could literally kill someone with its size? (Unless there is a Shutter Island-like plot twist at the end, oh yeah!) Is Esther worthy of being Dickens's sole female narrator in all his works? (Yup.) And who calls his home Bleak House? (A guy who was, jugdging from circumstantial evidence, clinically depressed. Thank God there's an explanation and that's not just the normal name of the place!)

The infinitely more interesting latter category consists of life-or-death questions such as: What on earth is the stupid Jarndyce suit about at all? Who is the second Jarndyce? And how can a goddamned suit have wards?! Also, can Esther become any more gay for Ada? And did Dickens do that intentionally, like Victor Hugo with Enjolras and Grantaire (you will never convince me otherwise of Hugo!)? (Probably not is the sad answer to the last two questions).

Anyway, this seems to be turning into one of these long books with dozens of narrative threads which all connect in the end, or at least I hope so because at present the only narrative I am really interested in is Esther's. Esther. I don't quite know what to think of her. On the one hand she is mildly annoying with the sheer amount of her modesty (and I am still not totally convinced that this is not absolutely appropriate for a woman in Dickens's mind), but on the other hand she seems to be pretty badass and I like how psychologically accurate her horrible childhood translates into her adult behaviour. 
Something else I don't quite understand about Esther is the significance of her getting the keys to Bleak House. Is it an honour because it means that Mr Jarndyce trusts her so much that he sort of makes her Lady of the house? Or does it mean she is something like a housekeeper?

Oh, and can we take a moment to contemplate that this might be the book with the best minor characters ever? I mean Mr Boythorn with his carnary is clearly someone everyone would want in their life and Miss Jellyby is awesome not only because of her name, but also because she is a wonderfully sulky, well-drawn character. And this book might or might not be instilling a life-long fear of charitable philantropists in me.

However, what I've been noticing apart from the fantastic characters is the vast amount of symbolism concerning birds in Bleak House. Good, my cover has birds on it so I might be a tiny little bit oversensitive on the matter, but still: little Esther has a caged bird, the mad lady has dozens of them in her apartment and Mr Boythorn even included his carnary in his will. The obvious meaning would be freedom, but that doesn't make much sense in Esther's case at least, so I am curious how this will be developed further.

And to conclude I need to talk about Guppy and how he is the ultimate proof that Dickens was a time traveller and based his works at least partly on my life. 
So I once fancied a guy who we actually called Guppy (long story). And because I was young and dumb (which I am still, but shh!) I had a crush on him without really knowing him very well and was pining like Esther on Ada, until he behaved eerily much like his literary counterpart and made a very dramatic, very overdone declaration - to one of my best friends. I can't even tell you how glad I was not to be in her position as my tender feelings dissipated at light velocity and I was left with a sheer unbearable amount of secondhand embarrassment!

And with this romantic story onwards to chapters 12-17!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

February and The Byronic Project

February is starting with the world covered in snow. It has been constantly snowing all week long and doesn't show signs of stopping yet, which is great because I currently spend my days curled up in bed. My obligatory post-exam period illness has caught up with me, so instead of going out to celebrate I am staying in and watching the snowflakes dance outside my window.
One twelfth of the year is already over. That doesn't sound like much, but considering how quickly this time has passed it is enormous. But I am very much looking forward to February, for several reasons.

First, I am participating in Alice's readalong of Charles Dickens's Bleak House which is going to be a lot of fun judging by her readalong of Wilkie Collins's Woman in White in ye olden days.

However I am a tiny little bit worried because the goal is to read the whole 800+ pages book in February, with posts on every Tuesday between the 4th and the 18th. This will require a lot of dedication (and time, considering my tortoise's reading pace), but I have been wanting to delve into Dickens's world again for quite some time now. And I have high hopes since a friend recently especially  recommended me Bleak House upon hearing that my two favourite Dickens novels are Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities.

Second, I am going abroad again! Next Friday I am leaving Austria to go to Spain for a week-long language holiday with my class. Valencia lies on the west coast, directly at the beach where it currently has 20 degrees, and is famous for its modern museums and its food, especially the delicious rice and seafood dish paella. To say I am looking forward to this week would be the understatement of the year!
And finally: I have figured out a list of books for my Byronic Project. Originally I wanted to include a lot more works which feature good Byronic heroes, but then I decided to limit the project to books which played an important role in the creation of the archetype, amongst other things due to time constraints. I would like to finish the project before the presentation of my paper in June. So the final choice of titles is this:

Paradise Lost by John Milton
Since the times of the French and American revolutions Satan has been considered the true hero of Milton's epic poem and the earliest traceable source for Byron's heroes. For the Romatics Satan is a rebel against God’s omnipotence which he regards as tyrannic, and in his hopeless rebellion against almightiness becomes a tragic character. He also displays other personality traits which will later become characteristics of the Byronic Hero: he is persuasive, passionate and charismatic, rallying the other Angels into war and, tempting Eve into tasting the Forbidden Fruit, he is also seductive.

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage by Lord Byron
The first real Byronic Hero is sketched out in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, a narrative poem published in 1812, when Lord Byron was only 24 years old. Childe is the medieval term for a young man waiting to become a knight, although Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage is a contemporary nineteenth century account of a young man’s travels and worldviews, based on Lord Byron’s own travels through Europe. The protagonist is the son of a wealthy family, disillusioned and bored by his pleasant life who seeks distraction and escape from society in foreign countries.The picture Byron draws of Harold is almost that of a completed Byronic Hero, charming, wealthy, beautiful, but also dark, immoral and flawed. Harold’s great flaw is his pride and arrogance; he feels superior to all other human beings but with this superiority comes a persistent loneliness and melancholy. Because he feels so superior to society he deliberately breaks its conventions and lives by his own principles, looking for excitement in scandalous behaviour.

Manfred by Lord Byron
The hero of this epic poem is supposed to be an especially good example of the Byronic hero. He is also the first who is haunted by guilt over a crime committed in his past, a pattern that would become very popular later (Mr Rochester, anyone?).

The Vampyre by John Polidori
This short story written by Lord Byron's private physician not only has its titular hero based off Byron himself, but also came into being together with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein during an especially cold and wet summer at Byron's villa in Switzerland. It was an enormous success and sparked the vampire craze that spread throughout Europe, leading to the creation of Dracula and thereby strongly influencing our notion of the vampire as an elegant and seductive but terrifying gentleman.
I am very excited to better acquaint myself with these fascinating characters!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Life, Byronic Heroes and Haruki Murakami

It's finally snowing
I can't believe it's been two weeks since I last posted something! Time has flown, mostly because the last weeks were packed with exams. Needless to say I didn't really have time to read or blog, my daily rhythm consisted more or less of school, lunch, study, repeat.
However, the worst is over now and the good thing is that not blogging for a while gave me the chance to really think about where I want to go to with this blog and with my reading in general.
And because my life has been rather boring apart from integral calculus and acid-base balance I have been pretty pensive on the whole, thinking about life and the future, but that is something for another day to discuss.

Concerning my reading a new project has appeared on the horizon, although I still have to work out the details. Ironically it was inspired by school. The Austrian school system requires every student to write a scientific paper and present it as part of our final exams and I chose to write about the Byronic Hero, his literary origins, characteristics, pervasiveness of popular culture and so on. It is an absolutely fascinating topic because the idea of these dark, passionate, world-weary, rebellious and attractive characters is as captivating to me as it has been to most since around the time of the French revolution, and also because supreme examples of Byronic Heroes can be found in many great books. Just think of Mr Rochester, Heathcliff, Sydney Carton! While I have thoroughly read some of the books I mention in my paper I have only skimmed others, especially those dealing with the roots of this archetype, which include for example Paradise Lost. This is why I am bringing the Byronic Project to life. Details should be up soon, hopefully.

On a different note I actually did read something during my study breaks, a rather special book even.
Haruki Murkami, whom I have loved ever since reading Norwegian Wood, published a new book in September.
Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is supposedly his first book after Norwegian Wood that is not surrealistic and it sold more than a million copies during the first week of sales in Japan. As soon as I heard of it I googled the book and found out that the English translation will be published towards mid-2014... Can you imagine my surprise when I went by my local bookstore by chance and saw the German version already sitting there in the window display?
Of course I bought it immediately and I was not disappointed. Although it was far from flawless the book had this special Murakami feeling to it that I'd been missing since Norwegian Wood and I could barely put it down (which severely endangered my Chemistry mark). The story follows 36-year-old Tsukuru Tazaki who leads an ordinary, boring and anonymous life in Tokyo. In school he was part of a group of five friends who meant everything to each other and lived in total harmony completely in their own world, until one day the other four told Tsukuru that they never wanted to see him again. The reason? He should know. Sixteen years of loneliness follow. But when Tsukuru finally manages to connect to another person again and even sees a chance to win love, he has to deal with the pain of his past in order to reclaim the life that would have been his if not for that great tragedy. So he goes on a journey to visit his four old friends, to solve the mystery of his past and to finally discover himself before his time is over and it is too late.

This is ultimately a book about life, how we live it and about how we use the time given to us. It is about all the things that perish in the flow of time and, most importantly, about finding those which don't. A strange melancholy beauty that is so much Murakami's signature pervades the novel and at the end you really feel none the wiser about the great mystery of life, you only sense an elusive wisdom that cannot be put into words. There are several loose threads in the book which are never really resolved and often you have to accept vague allusions as the only conclusion you get, but that is another signature of Murakami.
His books are never easy and always very complex, but if they weren't they would only be half as beautiful.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie... From a Feminist Perspective

Peter Pan is one of these stories everyone knows. Written as a highly successful play it was adapted by J.M. Barrie into a novel in 1911 and later followed by countless other stories about the boy who would not grow up. Understandably, like most other children's classics it is dear to the hearts of many and of course the idea of staying a child forever without ever having to face the disillutionments of growing up carries an eternal appeal, but reading the novel for the first time I could not help noting some aspects that genuinely astonished and bothered me.

First off, the story is very surrealistic and symbolic in ways that cannot be explained by its fantasy world. There are many passsages such as this description of Mrs Darling which cannot be targeted at children (only).

“She was a lovely lady, with a romantic mind and such a sweet mocking mouth. Her romantic mind was like the tiny boxes, one within the other, that come from the puzzling East, however many you discover there is always one more; and her sweet mocking mouth had one kiss on it that Wendy could never get, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the right-hand corner. ”

However, more than anything the novel contains some surprisingly dark parts. The Lost Boys, who are after all children less that twelve years old, go into battles and even kill pirates without thinking twice. It reminds me of Grimms' Fairy Tales where the most brutal things happen to the villains but don't bother children listening to them at all. As Barrie writes, children are indeed "gay and innocent and heartless".

Still, all of this might have surprised me but it is not where my problem with the book lies. The problem is this: amid all his beautiful ideas and poetic descriptions J.M. Barrie gives his female characters only one-dimensional, boring and ultimately worrisome narratives.
While Peter is cocky, playful, selfish and sometimes cruel, in short a typical child, Wendy is brought to Neverland as a "mother" for the boys and then immediately assumes the role of a miniature housewive (with the exception of those times when she is portrayed as a damsel in distress waiting for the hero to save her).
Although she is no older than Peter Pan he automatically expects her to care for him and the other boys and to often do housework while the Lost Boys have fun and go on adventures.
For Wendy Neverland is no childhood paradise because even there she already has to act as a grown-up little woman. Shaped by her society's expectations, she is happy to embrace this domestic existence.

There are several hints of romantic feelings Wendy might possibly have for Peter, although she is too young to really fall in love with him and probably only imitates the adults she knows by making Peter the "father" of the Lost Boys and therefore her husband. However, Peter resists this idea. He says his feelings towards Wendy are "those of a devoted son" and wants to stay a careless child, unwilling to burden himself with the responisibilities of an adult even in play. This does not keep Tiger Lily, Wendy and Tinkerbell (who even tries to kill Wendy) from being jealous and hating each other over him though. I think I do not have to explain how harmful a narrative is in which the only way women interact is in their struggle to "get the man".

While I liked some parts of the book I would not want my daughter, should I one day have one, to read it.
I want her Neverland to be happy and exciting and full of possibilies beyond marrying and domestic bliss.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

A very late Readathon Wrap-up

I know, I know, I am tremendously late in reviewing the Classics Club Readathon which ended three days ago, and I should have known that I would not have time to write a wrap-up post in time because it was exactly the same last year.
But in my defense school started for me on Monday, meaning that I again have to endure endless hours of boredom during the day and work through dangerously high piles of homework in the evening.
Oh, the sweet joys of education.

Anyway, back to the Readathon! Here is the ending questionnaire:

1. What book(s) did you read during the event?
    Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Siddharta by Hermann Hesse
2. What book(s) did you finish?
    All except Siddharta, that was too much theologic philosophy for the early hours of the morning.
3. What did you like about our event?
    It was a really great way to start the year with a lot of guilt-free reading.
4. Do you have suggestions for future Readathons through The Classics Club?
    Maybe make them semi-annual? It would be great to have such a big Readathon in the summer as well!
5. Would you participate in future Readathons?
6. Anything else you’d like to share? (Favorite quote from your reading? Funny anecdote from the event?)
    I loved The Great Gatsby and there are many beautiful quotes in it, but my favourite is this one about          Gatsby from near the end of the book:

"He put his hands in his coat pockets and turned back eagerly to his scrutiny of the house, as though my presence marred the sacredness of the vigil. So I walked away and left him standing there in the moonlight—watching over nothing."