Dracula

drac

Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is officially the last set book I’ll be reviewing for you this year, possibly ever (depending which courses I pick for next year). I didn’t manage to read them all this year… I skipped Heart of Darkness, but I couldn’t get into it, I didn’t have to do an assignment on it and I didn’t have to be examined on it… so to be honest there was very little incentive!

Anyway, back to Drac.

In all honesty I would probably never have picked this book for myself. It’s not that I don’t adore the vampire side of things – because I really am a bit of a junkie for vamp-infused TV… Dracula has just never really appealed. Maybe because I already knew the story so well, it seemed pointless to bother reading it.

However, there were actually things that I really enjoyed. I enjoyed the often poetic language. I enjoyed crazy Renfield (who doesn’t love a good fruit-loop?). And I enjoyed that it inspired an episode of Buffy (among many other things, obviously). But there were definitely things that grated on me. A lot.

The two main female characters (Mina and Lucy) were insipid. They were so morally sound and perfect and so unbelievable lovable that every man in the book couldn’t help but throw themselves at their feet. My other issue was with said men… how fickle were they?! They all adored Lucy, were willing to give her their blood and pretty much die for her. As soon as she was out of the picture, however, they had no issues desecrating her corpse and moving on to Mina. Not really the enduring love one would normally associate with vampire fiction, is it?

I find it quite hard reviewing books that I’ve studied… if you develop quite sturdy critical knowledge of a novel, it’s not so easy to talk about it in terms of entertainment… after my original reading, I quite enjoyed it (despite all the simpering, heartfelt postulations), but after going a bit more in-depth… I’m not so sure. One of my pet hates when reading stuff by the critics, is when they assume that every author is just writing about sex. But in this case, I have to admit that maybe it’s true. Each character seems to be living out some sort of Victorian taboo… however, I don’t think these references to lesbianism, sexual domination and incest are grotesque enough  o be obvious to all modern-day readers. You probably won’t be able to escape the total misogyny and shameless racism though.

I can say wholeheartedly that I will not be reading Dracula again. I’m glad I’ve read it once, but once was enough. Now that I’m aware that it’s about a bunch of sexual deviants, I don’t think it’s really quite so charming…

D x

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The nineteenth-century novel

Today is the second to last day of Rosalilium’s Blog Every Day in May challenge, and the topic of the day is all about inspiration. The obvious thing for me to do would be to talk about the artists that inspire me, but I’m considering a blog series along those lines, so instead I’m going to talk about my studies.

As you probably all know, I’m currently working on a Literature and Creative Writing degree with the Open University, and this year I’ve been studying AA316 (the nineteenth-century novel). Last summer when I was picking my courses I remember been torn between this one, ’20th century literature: texts and debates’ and ‘Shakespeare: text and performance’. What was the deciding factor, I hear you ask? Classics. I love ’em. I love reading books that take a bit of deciphering, that contain beautiful writing, not just an engaging plot. I love the total delusions of a lot of the characters. I love the quaintness of times gone by. I love the romance and the tragedy. Mostly, I love costume dramas.

One of the things that inspired me to do this module was sheer book envy. That feeling you get, when you’re convinced you should read something but just never seem to get to it… that’s what pushed me into the world of the nineteenth-century novel.

Working through my set books, I’ve come across some real gems. I’ve discovered some things I’ve LOVED and some things that are headed straight to the charity shop… even though I really did hate some of them, I’m glad I suffered through (because at least now I know A- who to avoid and B- that a lot of the time other people are WRONG).

So these are those infamous books I’ve had to read (linked to reviews) –

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

My first ever Austen… underwhelming at best.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

A book I’ve read many a time before, and will undoubtedly read many a time again.

Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

The book that changed my mind about Dickens! Despite my love for all BBC adaptations, my torturous experience of reading Hard Times really put me off… but I absolutely LOVED this one. Enough to download the rest onto my Kindle (thank God for Project Gutenberg!)

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

I enjoyed studying passages from this novel more than actually reading it- there’s some truly stunning prose, but the dialects really bug me…

Middlemarch by George Eliot

In a word… long. Came from a snobby hypocrite, but an enjoyable read.

Germinal by Emile Zola

Enjoyed it waaaay more than I thought I would, could never be described as ‘nice’ but I’d recommend giving it a read… I’m currently trying to track down the rest in the series (not as easy as you’d think!)

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

After a slight struggle with the first chapter I really got into this one only to be left a bit cold at the end, not one to read if you’re looking for a bit of action!

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

DREADFUL.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Again, long. A lot of build-up for a kind of boring scandal… I guess times have changed…

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

A good classic to start off with… purely because it’s so short! I thought it was ok the first time I read it but have enjoyed it more and more as I’ve had to study it. An appreciation for symbolism is required for this one.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Enjoyable, if well-known, story. It’s just a shame about the insipid declarations, total chauvinism and two-dimensional characters.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Started to read and couldn’t get into it, then I realized I wasn’t going to get examined on this one so I’m leaving it for another time, and doing some revision instead!

I’ve definitely got a lot more classics on my ‘to read’ list that I’m hoping to get through…

So what do you think of classics? Do you read them because you enjoy them or because you just feel like you should? Do you just stay away altogether?

D x

What?! EMA time again?!

So today is my last tutorial before the looming deadline of my EMA (End of Module Assignment). I have until the 14th of May to churn out the most insightful, well written critique of the nineteenth-century novel… and I haven’t even picked my question yet.

Typically when we’re talking about an upcoming assignment, my tutor will go round the room and ask which we’re going too. I’m usually the one that has to blag an answer because I haven’t even cracked open the assignment booklet yet. This time, however, I want to be prepared…. These are my choices:

–          Nineteenth-century literary realism does not supersede other, earlier modes such as the romance, the Gothic novel or the fairy-tale; it incorporates them. Examine the ways in which your chosen novels adapt older genres and literary forms.

–          Family life experienced new social pressures and became the site of new ideals and anxieties in the nineteenth century. Explore the representations of family life in your chosen novels.

–          ‘[in Heart of Darkness] Marlow’s narrative methods place considerable demands on his listeners/readers, obliging us to re-examine literary conventions, not just of adventure fiction but of realism itself, and to take an active part in constructing the text’s meanings’. Examine different narrative techniques, paying close attention to the demands they make upon readers, in your chosen novels.

Rules:

–          Reference two to three novels studied over the course of the module. One of these bust be Dracula, The Awakening or Heart of Darkness.

–          Engage with at least two critical perspectives drawn from the Critical Reader.

My first reaction is that I hate question three, so let’s take that off the table.

Question one could be interesting… If I picked this one I think I’d choose Dracula for my obligatory novel, and then incorporate some Jane Eyre and Northanger Abbey. I think this one would be really easy to structure. Starting with a definition of realism and then exploring the genres mentioned (romance, Gothic, fairy-tale) and how these relate to Dracula and Jane Eyre. I would then discuss the literal incorporation of earlier genres in the plot of a novel (using Catherine’s obsession with Gothic romance in Northanger Abbey as an example).

Question two is another one I might quite enjoy writing. With this one I’d focus on Dombey and Son, Dracula and The Awakening. There’s so much I could write about here… the parent/child conflicts in Dombey and Son, the surrogate relationships in Dombey and Dracula, the Freudian nightmare of Dracula, the redefining of the wife and mother in The Awakening… it’s another great question!

To be honest I’m pretty undecided at the moment, but at least I’ve had a bit of a think about it… So which would you pick if you were me?

D x

The Woman in White

This is the book I chose for the ‘colour‘ category of my whimsical reading challenge. It is also one of my set books for the Open University module I’m currently studying (AA316 – The nineteenth century novel), so I would have had to read it anyway.

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Let me start by saying this is a looong book; you have to be seriously dedicated to actually stick with it. Wilkie Collins was not a concise man, despite his apparent fascination with three word sentences.

The novel is formatted as a collection of ‘evidence’ (such as diaries, letters and witness testimonies) to lend some shadow of  ‘fact’ to a totally unreasonable plot. I’m sure the ‘sensation’ of this novel would have prompted a faint or two in Victorian Britain, but I was left wondering what all the fuss was about. Throughout the entire narrative I was promised a huge, outrageous climax (and that’s what made me keep reading!) but when it finally arrived it was a massive disappointment. Scandal obviously has a very different face nowadays.

I would describe The Woman in White as a novel of plot; Collins is far more concerned with showing a panoramic scene than investing in any character development, which meant it was a little bit challenging to bond with the characters. The diabolical villain, Count Fosco, was probably my favourite and that was probably because he just seemed the most interesting (as a non-British middle class delicacy). If a little sinister. I was expecting greater things from Marian Halcombe, our strong-willed heroine, but to be honest I found her a little bit insipid. She was one of those irritating women who were obviously created by a male, because all they do is talk about feminine inferiority. Not exactly what I’d call empowering. She was allowed to live though, which is quite uncommon for ‘rebellious’ women in Victorian literature.

Although reading the novel was pretty hard going, if you look at individual extracts there is some really beautiful writing involved. Not when he cracks out his dialects (which as you know is one of my pet hates), but whenever he’s working on generating suspense. The example that sticks out in my mind falls at the end of epoch 2, when Walter is faced with the veiled lady in the cemetery. This extract also illustrates the development of Gothic literature; Collins incorporates references and literary techniques to evoke a sense of the Gothic in a very domestic environment, establishing himself as a pioneer of his day.

I know I’ve been a little bit negative here, but I invested so much time in this one, that I wish I could have got a little more back… However, I’m still glad I stuck with it, even if I probably won’t read it again.

I hate reading books I’m ambivalent about, they spawn my worst reviews.

D x

P.S. Have you read a book for ‘colour’ yet? Leave a link below!

 

 

 

 

Germinal

Germinal

I could in no way describe Germinal as a nice book. I could, however, describe it as surprisingly enjoyable and extremely well written.

Despite one of my shortest set books, this is the one I’ve been putting off. I blame it on the blurb. Describing it as a “sociological document depicting the grim struggle between capital and labour in a coal field in Northern France” does not make it appeal to the reader. I was emphatically NOT jumping off my seat in excitement.

However, when I actually forced myself to start reading it I found it really entertaining. The characters were so vivid that I felt I was really looking in on their lives, and the sheer grit and general filth provoked a slightly morbid fascination in me. A minor warning- initially the character names can be a little confusing (we have Maheu and Maheude, Mouquet and Mouquette, Levaque and La Levaque) but other than that the narrative really flows, sweeping you deeper and deeper into the mining society.

I have since found out that Germinal is number thirteen in Zola’s twenty volume ‘Les Rougon-Macquart’ series, so I will make it my mission to track down the rest… a Project Gutenberg-based mission I suspect. I don’t know what I liked more, the unrequited love scenes or the comically gruesome death scenes… all covered in a blanket of borderline depressing description. There really is something for everyone!

So tell me, what have you been reading this week?

D x

P.S. I get the impression that this is one of those Love/Hate kinds of books, let me know what you think!

TMA 2 – A sneeze of relief

I think we all remember my excitement at the prospect of doing this assignment; Dombey and Son was great fun to read and the essay question had so much potential… but therein lay my problems:

1. Dombey and Son was great fun to read…

So I wanted to cram in as much as humanly possible. It was horrible having to cut out some of my favourite parts of the novel that were just not relevant to the question. Also, because I tried to squeeze so much analysis in I didn’t really include enough quotes from the book (this undoubtedly affected my mark).

 

2. The essay question had so much potential…

Essentially I was drowning in material. I collected about seven pages of notes from the text book, the critical reader, the novel and the depths of my brain and I don’t doubt that reducing to fit the 1500 word limit led to a less than coherent essay.

As soon as I clicked on the ‘submit your assignment’ button, the panic started to set in. But, because my tutor is epic, I didn’t have to wait long to get my mark. Less than 48 hours after the deadline and it has already been marked. Now I’m just filled with relief: relief that it’s over, relief that I didn’t fail and relief that I can consume this lemsip at a leisurely pace… before I embark on TMA 3 of course!

The next question does seem like the kind of thing to strike fear in the hearts of the villagers, but I’m hoping the Saturday tutorial will shed some light.

D x

The Awakening

The Awakening (by Kate Chopin) is a bit of an odd one to describe. There’s nothing offensive about it, but not a lot really happens… I’d probably describe it as a less dire version of Madame Bovary. The protagonists are very similar in their outlook, adventures and endings, but Edna is much more appealing than Emma. Edna does what she does because she has a completely different view of what motherhood and femininity are, compared those around her. Emma does what she does because she’s bored.

I would say that The Awakening is less pretentious, and because it’s not so hyped up, I didn’t know how it ended before I began. I can also imagine this one being more controversial at the time; Chopin describes female sexuality in a less than subtle way whereas Flaubert provides a critique on the French bourgeoisie.

It is a very short novel, so I struggled to form an attachment with the characters as I would with something longer. However, the narrator actively encourages you to sympathise with certain characters and be suspicious of others. This sort of made me feel as though my response to the book was not my own; it was predetermined by Chopin.

I’m not sure what else to say… I read it because I had to, and knowing that I have to study it is what propelled me on… I didn’t think it was terrible, but nor would I recommend it to anyone. It’s rare I’m so lost for words…

D x