Thursday 26 February 2015

Literary prejudices

We all have literary prejudices, don't we? Like some people refuse to read Nabokov, at least Lolita, because they think it romanticises paedophilia, or because they are repulsed by the idea of entering the mind of a paedophile. Or some others have no intention of reading Jane Austen because they think her books are sentimental, or shallow and boring, or no more than romcom and chicklit. Etc. 
Well here comes a confession: I have my prejudices as well.
The 1st one is Hemingway. Yes, Ernest Hemingway. I haven't read his books- or maybe I did read something a long time ago when I was a kid, but that doesn't count. Why the prejudice? It started with a Team Fitzgerald vs Team Hemingway thing on the internet a while ago (like Tolstoy vs Dostoyevsky, Jane Austen vs the Brontes, etc.) It's cooled now, but back then I loved Fitzgerald- The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night especially, and some short stories like "May Day", and Hemingway was contrasted with the romantic Fitzgerald as a sort of playboy. Macho. Arrogant. Egoistic. Zelda hated him, he hated Zelda. I saw many comments saying that his female characters were there only to glorify the protagonists, who were more or less versions of the author himself. And then I knew about the Hemingway vs Faulkner thing, I was obviously on Faulkner's side. Hemingway's comeback was, theoretically, a good one, but I loved The Sound and the Fury, and a glance now and then at some of Hemingway's quotes and passages, I thought I didn't like his plain style. Adding to that was the "bells, balls and bulls" remark- Nabokov loathed him. What was I supposed to do? But that's not all. A couple of years ago I read a chapter from Toni Morrison's Playing in the Dark about the black characters in his books. Still remember a few details: the white character was "the man" and the black character was "the nigger", Hemingway wrote "I saw that [the nigger] had seen..." (to avoid a speaking black, created a sentence "improbable in syntax, sense and tense"- Toni Morrison's words), the black man's loud moaning and complaint when he was slightly injured was contrasted with the white protagonist's stoic endurance of his serious wounds so that Hemingway could stress the white character's strength, bravery and manliness.
So before reading him I already had so many prejudices in mind, and they would definitely affect my reading.
Another one is V. S. Naipaul. I know, I know, he's important, he's huge, he's acclaimed by some as the greatest living writer of English prose, and so on and so forth. Perhaps he's great too. But he's an ass. A sexist, no, misogynist. A racist. Heard all the things he said about women and women writers? The things he said about Africans and Muslims? Arrogant and self-important too. Said no female writer was on a par with him. He even said that Jane Austen was "sentimental". What kind of person reads Jane Austen and still thinks her sentimental? Nabokov's also sexist and arrogant, but the things he said were more tolerable. And guess what, Naipaul said this about Nabokov "It's bogus, calling attention to itself. Americans do that. All those beautiful sentences. What are they for?", and about Pnin "It was silly. There was nothing in it. What do people see in him?". I know, I know, writers say bad things about each other all the time. Considered separately, these things are OK, but put together, they create such a negative impression that I want to stay away from his works altogether. If he meant every single thing he said, he's an ass and I can't take him seriously. If he didn't, but said to provoke, he's self-important and ridiculous and therefore also an ass. 
This is double standard, you say. Why am I OK with Nabokov's arrogance and his strong opinions? But I never have the impression that Nabokov expressed his disdain of acclaimed writers only to be provocative, and while dismissing some, he praised others, and he valued true art above all else. True art, originality, genius, beauty. I suppose I'm OK with his remarks not simply because he's Nabokov and he's allowed to say all that, but also because I understand his aesthetics and understand his reasons for having a high or low opinion of a writer. Things Naipaul said just didn't make sense. Like, about George Eliot he said "Childhood, you know, childhood. A little of The Mill on the Floss was read to me. It mattered at the time. But as you get older, your tastes and needs change. I don’t like her or the big English writers". What are you talking about? As though George Eliot's books are for children. 
The 3rd one would be Karl Ove Knausgård. Yes, the Norwegian guy who wrote 6 books about himself and his own life, and called them Min Kamp. The title in English is My Struggle, but it's Min Kamp in Norwegian, like Hitler's Mein Kampf. He's Norwegian, what on earth did he have to put into 6 books? It's about 5000 or 6000 pages or something. Norway's 1 of the most uneventful places ever, nothing happens. Knausgård seems popular in the US, but here he's controversial. Why? Because he put everything into his books, all the details about his personal life and the people around him. He even wrote that his wife snored, or whatever. He wrote lots of awful things about his family and relatives and friends and acquaintances that he antagonised everybody. When he wrote his 1st book, he showed it to some people in the family and they objected to it, but he changed a bit and went ahead and published it, and wrote another 5 books. People wanted to sue him, so now he lives in Sweden. My experiences of Norwegian literature hitherto haven't been very pleasant and have created a negative impression, that sort of influenced my view on Knausgård. And why should I read about this man's life? Why should I read about the real people around him, why should I know their personal stories, private details? Why should I read a book with a painful awareness that he's exposing and using someone else's life and that they're hurt by it? And also the thought that he had to write about himself because he didn't have the imagination to create characters and imagine stories. 6 memoirs sound self-indulgent. My Norwegian friends were assigned the 1st book in their Norwegian class, and many of them talked about it to me. Things like, he went to a party, and then went on for several pages talking about life and death. Boring, they said. I generally didn't trust their judgement, but I remember that. Besides, Knausgård's compared to Proust. Comparisons like that make me suspicious, sceptical. Most of the time they make no sense. Then there are of course people who argue that he's nothing like Proust except the big volumes and the examination of the past and such, that Knausgård has a plain, very plain, unpolished, seemingly careless style. Who likes that? Those who praise him say that he wrote about banality and boredom in a fascinating way, but that makes me more suspicious. I have SAD, that kind of book doesn't sound like something I'd like to read, especially in winter. 
This year, because of the Norwegian literature challenge I started, I've been thinking about reading Knausgård, but I still have some doubt. 
So that's it- those 3 are my main literary prejudices. Fight me. Argue with me. Yell at me if you like. Prove me wrong. Convince me. Show me how irrational and unreasonable I am.
[Out of pure curiosity: What are your literary prejudices?] 

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot

As the Oscar for Best actor this year has just been awarded to Eddie Redmayne for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, I'd like to remind people of another actor who has also won an Oscar for playing a physically disabled person, Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Brown in My Left Foot. Christy Brown's an Irish writer and painter who had cerebral palsy and had to do everything with his left foot.
Here are some videos of the film:

Daniel Day-Lewis receiving his 1st Oscar:

Meeting the press afterwards:

While I feel uncertain about Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Day-Lewis has proven again and again and again and again, in The Last of the Mohicans, in The Name of the Father, in Gangs of New York, in There Will Be Blood, in Lincoln..., and also in his earlier films, My Beautiful Laundrette, A Room with a View, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, etc, that he's the best actor we've got today, as we had Marlon Brando in the golden age of Hollywood, that he makes himself disappear and transforms so magically into his characters that it's difficult to believe they are all portrayed by the same person, that he elevates the art of acting to a higher level, that he sets a higher standard and makes one realise how most other actors only play themselves on the screen. 
Praising Daniel Day-Lewis is never overpraising. 
He may not be know by many people- people are more familiar with Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Christian Bale, George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Tom Hanks, etc. but that doesn't matter. Daniel Day-Lewis is not a movie star, and he's more than an actor, he's an artist. 
If that still doesn't make you want to check out My Left Foot, here is a review by Roger Ebert:
And on Rotten Tomatoes, the rating is 97%:
If you haven't watched this film, it should be in your TBW list. 

Blogspot policy changes

"Starting March 23, 2015, you won't be able to publicly share images and video that are sexually explicit or show graphic nudity on Blogger." 

All the nude photos on this blog will now be removed. However, I'm confused- there seems to be no guarantee that my blog will not be made private after the nudes have been deleted, so there is a possibility that I have to move my blog elsewhere. 
I write this note to prepare you all for what might happen. More information later. 
Thank you. 

Sunday 22 February 2015

The form of The Moonstone

The Moonstone is an epistolary novel. This form has many advantages: the "realistic" look, the various points of view, the mingling of voices, the representation of the numerous sides of each character as appear to other characters, etc.
But there are also disadvantages. Before the documents are written, the truth has already been revealed, and all the writers have hindsight (except Rosanna). Presenting things in the past as they were, without emphasis, without bias, without foreshadowing, would be difficult, and at the same time the writers have to be, if not objective, secretive. They report the events, impressions, actions and feelings of themselves and other character in a manner that creates mystery, confusion and suspense. A professional detective/ crime writer can do so easily, which has a purpose, but it would be difficult for these characters, especially when they're involved. It's like that banal quote going around the internet "What has been seen cannot be unseen". One's remembrance of the past would have a tint of hindsight. 
Or, I suppose the tint of hindsight I just talked about is that in these narratives, nobody suspects Franklin Blake (Miss Clack does, but I'm not sure if she really suspects him, or only tries to defend her dear Godfrey Ablewhite). I myself did suspect him. 
If we look at the series of documents, before there is a hint of the truth, we have the narratives of Gabriel Betteredge, Miss Clack, Matthew Bruff and Franklin Blake. I reject the suggestion that Franklin could be an unreliable narrator who is actually guilty, because that means Rachel Verinder is crazy (for marrying him) and some other narrators like Ezra Jennings and Gabriel have to be liars as well, and that's too much conspiracy theory for me. What bothers me, or, what makes me think, is the part by Miss Clack. I didn't think anything while reading her narration, and I admit reading the novel very fast, a lot faster than I usually read a book and may have missed something, but it seems curious that by the time she writes her part of the story, with the help of her diary, she knows the truth and yet still presents Godfrey in that light. I say that from personal experience- once in a while I may be under an illusion about somebody, a guy perhaps, but afterwards when I realise what kind of person he is and then write about the the past, I cannot depict him as though I don't know his true character, however hard I try. By which I mean, Miss Clack's part is rather strange. 
Hmmm... I'm thinking outside the book again. 

Oscars 2015 [Updated]

- Best actor:
Bradley Cooper in American Sniper
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything
Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game
Steve Carrell in Foxcatcher
Michael Keaton in Birdman

My prediction: the Oscar is already in Eddie Redmayne's pockets; except Steve Carrell, because I haven't seen Foxcatcher, nobody in this category deserves the Oscar as much as he does. 

My wish: Eddie Redmayne is forgettable in The Other Boleyn Girl, ordinary in My Week with Marilyn and Les Misérables, but his performance as Stephen Hawking in this film is extraordinary, almost comparable to Daniel Day-Lewis's phenomenal performance in My Left Foot
Result: Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything

- Best actress:

Julianne Moore in Still Alice
Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything
Marion Cotillard in Deux jours, une nuit
Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon in Wild

My prediction: Julianne Moore or Rosamund Pike. 

My wish: Julianne Moore deserves acclaim and the Oscar for her wonderful, heartfelt and moving portrayal of a successful linguistics professor battling with early-onset Alzheimer's disease; I don't mind if Rosamund Pike wins, because she's absolutely terrifying as the deceitful, calculating, ruthless woman, with a good and innocent look, in Gone Girl; it is also fine for Marion Cotillard to win, though I haven't seen the film, only because I love Marion and like the idea of a French actress getting 2 Oscars. 
Result: Julianne Moore in Still Alice

- Best supporting actor:

Robert Duvall in The Judge
Ethan Hawke in Boyhood
Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher
Edward Norton in Birdman
J. K. Simmons in Whiplash

My prediction: J. K. Simmons, because of all the awards he has won for this role. 

My wish: none. 
Result: J. K. Simmons in Whiplash

- Best supporting actress:

Patricia Arquette in Boyhood
Laura Dern in Wild
Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game
Emma Stone in Birdman
Meryl Streep in Into the Woods

My prediction: Patricia Arquette. 

My wish: anyone except Keira Knightley and Emma Stone, because there's nothing remarkable about their performances; I'm OK with Patricia Arquette winning, after all the mother's the best thing about Boyhood
Result: Patricia Arquette in Boyhood

- Best picture:

American Sniper
Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

My prediction: Boyhood, because of the universal acclaim, the high ratings and all the awards. Or Birdman, for some magical reasons. But definitely not The Theory of Everything nor American Sniper nor The Grand Budapest Hotel, and perhaps not Selma either. 

My wish: Birdman or The Imitation Game; I'm among the 0,1% who don't see the magic of Boyhood (but for now, won't dwell on that) and, just to be perverse, I hope it won't win; Birdman is a creative, interesting execution of a simple, even ordinary, idea; The Imitation Game has my support for no reason than that I like it and find it good as a biopic, better than The Theory of Everything
Result: Birdman!!! 

- Best director:

Alejandro G. Iñárritu- Birdman
Richard Linklater- Boyhood
Bennett Miller- Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson- The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum- The Imitation Game

My prediction: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, because he has won the Golden Globe and some other awards. Or perhaps Wes Anderson, because The Grand Budapest Hotel is a crazy film and Wes Anderson has a distinctive, recognisable style. Definitely not Morten Tyldum. Definitely not Richard Linklater. 

My wish: Alejandro G. Iñárritu, because Birdman is a fine example of how sometimes an idea is less important than the way it is executed; I especially like him to win in case Boyhood gets the Best picture Oscar. 
Result: Alejandro G. Iñárritu- Birdman


Some other awards: 
Best foreign language film: Ida (Poland)
Best live action short film: The Phone Call
Beset animated short film: Feast
Best animated feature film: Big Hero 6
Best cinematography: Birdman
Best film editing: Whiplash
Best documentary feature: Citizenfour
Best original score: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best original screenplay: Birdman
Best adapted screenplay: The Imitation Game

Saturday 21 February 2015

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone, sacred, rare, extremely valuable, and cursed. Possessed by a scheming, wicked man and inherited by his niece, according to the will. Delivered during the day, and stolen in the night, while the doors are all locked and a mastiff and a bloodhound are set free.
Who takes it? The young girl, stealing her own diamond? Her cousin, the delivering man, who wants to protect the diamond as well as the family? Her other cousin, the man of the ladies' committees? Her mother, who still holds a grudge against the dead man and fears the danger and chaos the stone may bring? A servant with the past as a thief? Another maid or servant? The man present earlier at the party who seems to know a lot about the diamond and its origin? The doctor who at the party makes some strange remarks on it? Who steals it? When? Why? How? How to find out? What happens to the diamond afterwards? How to get it back?
The Moonstone is a detective story. A sensational novel. Popular fiction. But what a fine book it is. It is engrossing, captivating. It is unputdownable, to be read in a rush to find out what the clues mean, what happens next and who's done it. And yet, not to be read only for the final twist, the discovery of the thief, and not to be thrown away afterwards, because The Moonstone is so much more. In this remarkably well-written epistolary novel, Wilkie Collins tells the story in the voices of many characters- the documents, each representing 1 character's limited perspective and knowledge, are pieces of the whole picture, different facets of the truth, and at the same time bring life to the characters, make them breathe. Take Miss Clack, for instance. She is a religious, conservative, backward, insincere woman who takes every opportunity to try to convert people to Christianity. Because she is this kind of person, she brings her books and tracts and goes from 1 room to another to spread them around the house. Because she goes from room to room, she happens to be in the right place to listen to a proposal and thus can narrate it to the readers. Later, because she is this kind of person, she adds fuel to the fire and indirectly pushes her cousin Rachel out of the house. However, she's not simply an observer of the events, a narrator, a tool to advance the plot. Nor is she there simply to complement to others' perception and depiction of Godfrey Ablewhite. She exists in her own right. Miss Clack is irritating and (unintentionally) amusing, and therefore interesting in her way. As a religious, poor and hypocritical character, who cares about nothing but trying to convert others and who expresses her offence by saying that it's impossible to offend her (also a way of convincing herself), she's vivid, convincing and unforgettable (plus, she's an unreliable narrator, her part is well-done). The same can be said about all the other characters, who exist in their own right, with a life of their own, intriguing and fascinating the readers because of their individuality, their personalities and peculiarities, not simply there to "make their moves on the chequer-board of intrigue", as Dorothy L. Sayers notes in the introduction.
A good read. Highly recommended to fans of Sherlock Holmes, and Victorian literature lovers, especially those who are more familiar with authors such as the Brontes and Dickens. If you generally like something very different, give it a try anyway.


1 tidbit I'm pretty sure you don't know: in Vietnam there is a practice called bói Kiều, similar to Sortes Vergilianae or Gabriel Betteredge's use of Robinson Crusoe, a form of fortune-telling by opening at random Nguyễn Du's Truyện Kiều (English: The Tale of Kieu), randomly picking a passage and interpreting it and making predictions. 
Our national epic is also used for divinations. 

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Chúc mừng năm mới! Happy Lunar New Year!

Happy Lunar New Year, everyone! 

From photos of the flower street celebrating Tết 2015, in Saigon. 

The trial of Joseph Brodsky

On this date 51 years ago was the 1st hearing of the trial of Joseph Brodsky. Here is the transcript, in English, of the whole trial, for anyone interested:

Some depressingly funny bits from it:


Some passages from "Russian Writers, Censors and Readers" in Vladimir Nabokov's Lectures on Russian Literature:
"For an artist one consolation is that in a free country he is not actually forced to produce guidebooks. Now, from this limited point of view, nineteenth-century Russia was oddly enough a free country: books and writers might be banned and banished, censors might be rogues and fools, be-whiskered Tsars might stamp and storm; but that wonderful discovery of Soviet times, the method of making the entire literary corporation write what the state deems fit — this method was unknown in old Russia, although no doubt many a reactionary statesman hoped to find such a tool. A staunch determinist might argue that between a magazine in a democratic country applying financial pressure to its contributors to make them exude what is required by the so-called reading public—between this and the more direct pressure which a police state brings to bear in order to make the author round out his novel with a suitable political message, it may be argued that between the two pressures there is only a difference of degree; but this is not so for the simple reason that there are many different periodicals and philosophies in a free country but only one government in a dictatorship. It is a difference in quality. If I, an American writer, decide to write an unconventional novel about, say, a happy atheist, an independent Bostonian, who marries a beautiful Negro girl, also an atheist, has lots of children, cute little agnostics, and lives a happy, good, and gentle life to the age of 106, when he blissfully dies in his sleep — it is quite possible that despite your brilliant talent, Mr. Nabokov, we feel [in such cases we don't think, we feel] that no American publisher could risk bringing out such a book simply because no bookseller would want to handle it. This is a publisher's opinion, and everybody has the right to have an opinion. Nobody would exile me to the wilds of Alaska for having my happy atheist published after all by some shady experimental firm; and on the other hand, authors in America are never ordered by the government to produce magnificent novels about the joys of free enterprise and of morning prayers. In Russia before the Soviet rule there did exist restrictions, but no orders were given to artists. They were—those nineteenth-century writers, composers, and painters— quite certain that they lived in a country of oppression and slavery, but they had something that one can appreciate only now, namely, the immense advantage over their grandsons in modern Russia of not being compelled to say that there was no oppression and no slavery."

"... Then the marvelous nineteenth century came to a close. Chekhov died in 1904, Tolstoy in 1910. There arose a new generation of writers, a final sunburst, a hectic flurry of talent. In these two decades just before the Revolution, modernism in prose, poetry, and painting flourished brilliantly. Andrey Bely, a precursor of James Joyce, Aleksandr Blok, the symbolist, and several other avant-garde poets appeared on the lighted stage. When, less than a year after the Liberal Revolution, the Bolshevik leaders overturned the Democratic regime of Kerenski and inaugurated their reign of terror, most Russian writers went abroad; some, as for example the futurist poet Mayakovski, remained. Foreign observers confused advanced literature with advanced politics, and this confusion was eagerly pounced upon, and promoted, and kept alive by Soviet propaganda abroad. Actually Lenin was in art a philistine, a bourgeois, and from the very start the Soviet government was laying the grounds for a primitive, regional, political, police-controlled, utterly conservative and conventional literature. The Soviet government, with admirable frankness very different from the sheepish, half-hearted, muddled attempts of the old administration, proclaimed that literature was a tool of the state; and for the last forty years this happy agreement between the poet and the policeman has been carried on most intelligently. Its result is the so-called Soviet literature, a literature conventionally bourgeois in its style and hopelessly monotonous in its meek interpretation of this or that governmental idea."

"I have now described with less sorrow I hope than contempt, the forces that fought for the artist's soul in the nineteenth century and the final oppression which art underwent in the Soviet police state. In the nineteenth century genius not only survived, but flourished, because public opinion was stronger than any Tsar and because, on the other hand, the good reader refused to be controlled by the utilitarian ideas of progressive critics. In the present era when public opinion in Russia is completely crushed by the government, the good reader may perhaps still exist there, somewhere in Tomsk or Atomsk, but his voice is not heard, his diet is supervised, his mind divorced from the minds of his brothers abroad..."

Sunday 8 February 2015

Other possibilities for Gwendolen and Daniel

Recently some people and I have just talked about all the possibilities in life, all the people we could have turned out to be if we had made a different decision, chosen a different path.  

So, reading Daniel Deronda, I'm following the plot but at the same time, for whatever reasons, thinking of other possibilities. 
Now imagine that Gwendolen Harleth rejected Mr Grandcourt. Would she become a governess, or try to become a singer? If she chose the governess's life, how long could she stay in that job? No, she has to make that decision, to marry Mr Grandcourt, because she has been brought up a spoilt child who cannot bear hardship and misery. If she said no to Mr Grandcourt then and there, later she would try to find another wealthy man to lift her out of poverty. It's also because she doesn't have strong morals that she can break her promise with Mrs Glasher. No, let's imagine that Mrs Glasher never approached Gwendolen, and nobody else told her about the illegitimate children, what would happen? She would of course marry him, but there would be no guilt, no bad conscience. Would they be happy? In that case her marriage wouldn't be as she imagines, because she couldn't have her way, but she wouldn't be tormented by guilt and could still enjoy luxury and Mr Grandcourt's generosity. Would they be happy? 
Or, let's say, Gwendolen killed Mr Grandcourt. George Eliot tells us that she's not a cruel, bad-natured person, but who knows, really. She's desperate, she's miserable, unhappy, she feels suffocated, she abhors her own husband, she's tormented by guilt, she's in a rage at the moment and angry people don't think. Suddenly there's an opportunity. We would have a more horrible Gwendolen, selfish, immoral, cruel, harder to sympathise with, but that would be interesting. 
Contemplate the idea that Daniel Deronda loved Gwendolen. That's not possible, you say, and I agree, Adam Bede may be blind and fall in love with Hetty Sorrel, but there's no way that Daniel Deronda, the unrealistically perfect, the eternally good Daniel Deronda, may love Gwendolen. He might be a bit attracted to her at the beginning, but that's all. Consider another possibility then: Daniel not in love with Mirah. Concern, sympathy, pity, understanding, but not love. How's that? Mirah is the most tedious character in the book- the only thing that makes her human is her jealousy. If not her, Daniel would probably have nobody to love here, but let's forget that for a moment. Or maybe the other way around: Mirah not in love with Daniel. Gratitude, admiration, but not love. That would be fun. Perhaps I am too human to understand these 2 saints. Perhaps I'm a sadist who doesn't want a happy ending. 
It would be fun, too, if Daniel and Mirah still love each other but it turned out that he's not Jewish. That's something. 
Of course, there's no point in any of this. The 2nd strand of the story is about Jews, and Daniel has to be Jewish. That's the pattern of the book, and it has a purpose. And all the things that happen in Daniel Deronda happen because they have to, because it's a fictional world created by George Eliot, because that's what she wants. 
But I can't help it, messing around with this book. Maybe if I were a different person, I would have appreciated Daniel Deronda better. 

Saturday 7 February 2015

Comments from various quarters on Shirley

1/ The Language of Truth: Charlotte Bronte, The Woman Question and the Novel (Harriet Bjork):
- CB: major, if somewhat uneven artist, heretic, Chartist. 
- A woman whose mind contains nothing but "hunger, rebellion and rage" (Matthew Arnold). 
- Fire and fury, emotional involvement=> unhappy and therefore unjust (Thackeray). 
- Personal experience. Social awareness? 
- CB's concerned with the woman question as personal problem and social issue, but not a propagandist, and in the rights-of-women champion sense, not a feminist (Inga-Stina Ewbank). 
- John Gregory's A Father's Legacy to His Daughters=> female sphere, admonitions to women. 
Hannah Moore expresses the same ideas: the bold, independent spirit that is admired in boys must be suppressed in girls; girls "should acquire a submissive temper, and a forbearing spirit".
- Caroline's difficulties are solved by marriage. However, CB expresses in letters that matrimony's not the only alternative to despondency and decline.
- CB "does not claim equality in explicit terms, or emphasise that women themselves should make more active efforts to work for reform". 
- Education, work and self-help: affinities between CB and Hariet Martineau. 
- CB on Mrs Taylor, John Stuart Mill's friend: "hard, jealous heart, and nerves of bend leather", "a woman who had longed for power and had never felt affection". 
- Mother-worship in Shirley
- Jane Austen: heroines' progress towards self-knowledge and adjustment to society, characters confined to upper and middle classes, social order comparatively stable; "self-respecting domesticity is a woman's proper sphere". The "idle" ladies are "not interested in politics, philosophical abstractions or religious controversies", but "absorbed in points of conduct and etiquette". However, "the author expresses a serious moral outlook", depicting men and women as equals in intellect, morals and emotions.
CB: harsher and not so narrow.
- CB's tone: "often sardonic and bitter but never worldly-wise and cynical".
- Jane Eyre as a Cinderella story.
- Significance of dress in CB's novels.
- Shirley's "elegant carelessness" vs Caroline's "nice propriety".
- Shirley and Louis: combine masculine and feminine traits.
- "Shirley and Caroline adapt themselves to the female sphere after their time of protest".
- Ennui of Caroline and other ladies.
- Shirley: "reincarnation of good feudal values in the industrial epoch".
- "Despite her fairy-tale devices, her pseudo-scientific phrenological methods of character description and analysis, her utilisation of Providence to achieve effects which we often find sentimental and moralistic today, her fiction deals with real 'female difficulties'- economic, social and psychological".
- In CB's novels, women don't set out to compete with men in the sphere of intellect, but the author emphasises that the cultivation of the mind makes women more useful for society.
- Philanthropy and Mr Helstone's use of money. Prejudice against Miss Ainley.
- Juxtaposition of male and female social workers in Shirley.
- CB's heroines feel like they're outsiders and shadows.
- Shirley: the protest is voiced by 2 heroines and a 3rd-person narrator.
- Jane Eyre doesn't protest against domestic duties. Shirley does, in her criticism of Milton's Eve.
- "Caroline's yearning for ideal love and motherhood" vs "Mrs Yorke's masochistic acceptance of the situation of women". Mrs Yorke's anti-sentimental views.
Caroline's objection to the preference for female ignorance.
- Caroline: CB's most conventional heroine=> awkward that she cries out against the wrongs of women? Perhaps not. Her thoughts are "expressed in a subdued tone of youthful innocence and uncertainty".
- Caroline: features of "the sentimental heroine who learns to overcome her excessive sensibility and adapt herself to the duties of her sex in real life". But she's not a female Quixote.
- Marianne Dashwood, Jane Bennett, Anne Elliott...=> Jane Austen depicts woman's lot with profound psychological understanding but her novels don't make us feel the need for social reform as we feel it in the story about Caroline Helstone.
- Conventional attitudes in minor characters.
- The double marriage in the end counteracts the protest effect=> "discrepancy between the truth of life and the simplifications and illusions of fiction"=> "jarring note".
- Shirley and Caroline: can labour alone bring happiness?
- Shirley: love of freedom, critical view of the conventions of her time=> "makes a more daring exploration into the nature and role of woman than Caroline or the earlier heroines".
- Shirley and Caroline don't attempt to "ensnare" or "catch" a husband.

2/ The Feminine Political Novel in Victorian England (Barbara Leah Harman):
- CB: "I cannot write handling the topics of the day", "nor can I write a book for its moral".
- T. H. Lister: Women cannot enjoy at the same time "the immunities of weakness and the advantages of power".
=> Shirley's aware of "the threat that underlines the recommendation that women retain moral authority but refrain from engaging openly in public affairs".
- Caroline as a "superfluous" woman: Robert's house is self-efficient, she is unnecessary.
- Shirley's role-playing is more than an empty gesture=> she refuses to confine herself to the experiences of 1 sex or the other.
- Keen understanding of her own curious status=> difficult for us to place and identify Shirley.
- Shirley knows what men do and do not want: "she insists that Caroline not mix romance with work, not mix private motives with public ones, not mix women with men".
=> criticised.
- Self-restraint.
- "the issue of sex in an unexpected place".
- However, their invisibility (the night the mill's attacked) protects Shirley and Caroline from misinterpretation and gives them an edge in the unequal balance of power between men and women.
- Shirley "finds ways to exercise power, assert her agency, gain access to significant experience, even represent her feelings, while still preserving the distinction between public and private action...", "seeks action in covered performances, gains public experience through invisibility, finds knowledge in seeing without being seen, and self-expression in speaking without being understood".
- The novel moves from public to private concerns.
- Who is slave? Who is master?
Shirley proposes to Louis.
- CB "describes the pleasures of private sexual display and insists on their purity at the same time".

3/ Charlotte Bronte (Margaret Blom):
- Caroline's sterile life.
- Shirley and Caroline as idealised representations of Emily and Anne.
- "Deprived of power and totally unable to reform or even to alter the tyrannical system under which they suffer, these women are also betrayed by their own natures, which turn traitor against them and urge them into destructive conformity".
- "Men and women, like employer and employee, are locked in a vicious and useless struggle."
- Discrimination against women in the economic sphere.
- "... a woman's fate is determined by the economic system in which she has no power, because her desirability as a mate is dependent not on innate qualities but on a monetary worth that she is powerless to increase".
- Caroline "has nothing to think of but her hopeless passion".
- Stupid women who willingly accept the role men want them to play: e.g Hannah Sykes.
- For Caroline, a life without love is empty.
- Shirley's situation is more complicated.
CB "depicts Shirley as held prisoner in a psychological trap". She prefers a master.
- "Shirley is driven to accept the loss of selfhood entailed in marriage by her sexual desire, which ultimately triumphs over her desire for independence".
- The "happy ending does not mitigate the bleakness of the vision that informs the novel".
"The novel's depiction of frustration, terror, and hatred is too powerful to be outweighed by the brief, almost laconic, conclusion which describes the public victory celebration and the marriages of the protagonists".

4/ The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (Sandra M. Gilbert& Susan Gubar):
- Gerard Manley Hopkins to R. W. Dixon: The artist's "most essential quality is masterly execution, which is a kind of male gift, and especially marks off men from women, the begetting of one's thought on paper, on verse, or whatever the matter is." He also notes "on better consideration it strikes me that the mastery I speak of is not so much in the mind as a puberty in the life of that quality. The male quality is the creative gift."
Robert Southey to CB: "Literature is not the business of a woman's life, and it cannot be."
- Anne Elliott (Persuasion) and Anne Finch: pens have always been in men's hands.
- A woman writer "must examine, assimilate, and transcend the extreme images of 'angel' and 'monster' which male authors have generated for her". She must kill them both.
- In the Middle Ages: "mankind's great teacher of purity"= Virgin Mary.
In the 19th century: "the eternal type of female purity was represented not by a madonna in heaven but by an angel in the house".
- Coventry Patmore's The Angel in the House.
- Mary Cave: the angel. Would have been unhappy with Mr Yorke as much as with Mr Helstone.
- "The man who offers stones instead of bread in return for the woman's love will receive as his punishment the rocks and stones cast by the other victims of his competitive egotism, the workers."
- Robert views all activity except business as "eating the bread of idleness"=> he necessarily despises women.
CB "implies through him and the other manufacturers that the work ethic of self-help means selfishness and sexism, and, linking the exploitation of the workers with the unemployment of women, she further indicates that the acquisitive mentality that treats both women and workers as property is directly related to disrespect for the natural resources of the nation".
- Shirley's "male mimicry".
- "What Shirley does is what Caroline would like to do: Caroline's secret hatred for the curates is gratified when Shirley angrily throws them out of her house after they are attacked by her dog; Caroline needs to move Helstone, and Shirley bends him to her will; Caroline wishes early in the novel that she could penetrate the business secrets of men, while Shirley reads the newspapers and letters of the civic leaders; Caroline wants to lighten Robert's financial burden and Shirley secures him a loan; Caroline tries to repress her desire for Robert, while Shirley gains his attention and proposal of marriage; Caroline has always known that he needs to be taught a lesson (consider her explication of Coriolanus) and Shirley gives it to him in the form of a humiliating rejection of his marriage proposal. Caroline wishes above all else for her long-lost mother and Shirley supplies her with just this person in the figure of Mrs Pryor".
However, Shirley "succumbs to Caroline's fate".
- It's the narrowness of the woman's lot that makes Caroline ill.
- The end: it's men who keep female minds fettered, so it's only they "who have the power to unlock the chains".
- Caroline's self-starvation is a hunger strike, a form of protest, a rejection of what society defines as nourishing.
- Shirley and Caroline become sisters, through Mrs Pryor, Shirley's surrogate mother and Caroline's biological mother.
Interesting bit: Shirley's father's name is Charles Cave Keeldar.
(Of course, at the end of the book they are married to the Moore brothers).
- Shirley becomes more reticent and discreet.
- "Shirley possesses all the accoutrements of the aristocratic hero, Louis Moore- like the young clerk William Crimsworth- is the male counterpart of a governess."
- Dissatisfied with the ending- the only happy ending for women in CB's society is marriage.
"... At least part of what makes the ending of Shirley seems so unreal is the way in which the plot metes out proper rewards and punishments to all the characters with an almost cynical excess of concession to narrative conventions."
e.g "Robert's indifference has made Caroline ill; he now wastes away at the hands of a woman who is said to starve him."
- Martin Yorke~ Henry Sympson: tools.
- Stress on Shirley's submission.

5/ Critical Essays on Charlotte Bronte (Barbara Timm Gates):
+ "Currer Bell's Shirley" (G. H. Lewes):
- Shirley's not a work of art, but "a portfolio of random sketches".
- The 2 heroes of the book "have both something sordid in their minds, and repulsive in their demeanour". Rochester's a lot more respectable.
- Criticises the characterisation and psychology: especially Mrs Pryor and Caroline.
- Several passages out of place: Caroline speaks like Currer Bell=> unnatural, unconvincing=> "an offence against art and against nature".
- No jealousy on Caroline's part?=> unconvincing.

+ "Public Themes and Private Lives: Social Criticism in Shirley" (Arnold Shapiro):
- Many critics are mistaken to say that Shirley lacks unity. The theme of selfishness, the lack of sympathy between people, connects everything in the novel: public (industrialists' behaviour towards workers, gentlefolk's behaviour towards governesses), private (Mr Helstone, Mr Yorke...)
=> "a world where utilitarianism is the official creed".
- Robert Moore, reflecting society's values (materialistic), is the embodiment of the social criticism of Shirley.
- Shirley and Louis: pride.
- Caroline: "symbol of all those victimised, of all people who are at the mercy of the selfish men..." 
=> in her story, "the social and private themes of Shirley [again] coalesce". 
=> CB offers her cure in individual, human terms. 
- Breakdown of pride between Shirley and Louis at the end. 
- The end of the war, the end of Robert's struggles, the end of selfishness=> love can prevail. 

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Can we express disdain for a book we haven't read?

A man I know thinks that we shouldn't criticise/ disdain a book, in this case, Fifty Shades of Grey, before reading it. Which is true, generally- just think of all the people who refuse to read Lolita because they think that a book about paedophilia is immoral and disgusting, for example.
But how about something like 50 Shades?
Can we say "Life is too short to read 50 Shades" (disdain)*?
Or can we only say "I'm not interested in it"?
Do we have to read 50 Shades to make any comment on it, otherwise must remain absolutely silent?
How much do we have to read?
Do we have to read the whole trilogy? Or 1 book is enough?
Do we have to read the whole book? How about 100 pages? 50 pages? 20? 2?
How about a few quotes, a few passages?
(Can we tell bad writing from good writing based on sentences?**)
What do you think? Discuss!

*: Disdain for 50 Shades does not mean contempt for people who enjoy it. 
You may ask why not simply ignore it and mind our own business. Let's put that aside for a moment- it's not like I'm going around telling people that I hate 50 Shades. But considering that the film will come out this month, the ads are everywhere, the poster, the trailer, all the articles, all the hype, and some of my peers have asked me about it or even suggested reading it.., it's hard not to have some certain thoughts in mind, the same way I couldn't ignore Twilight, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber..., going to class with people who loved them and constantly talked about them. 
**: Please have a look at this post: