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!