Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mrs Dalloway

Surprisingly, due to the sheer amount of 18th/19th century novels/ novellas/ short stories/ poems/ essays penned by talented women that I have read, this month marked the first time I ever picked up Virginia Woolf. It came in the form of her 1925 novel Mrs Dalloway (172 pages). Also, before you say “well Matthew, that may be due to the fact that 1925 wasn’t in the 18th or 19th century”, I am just putting her in the very large category due to the fact that she was born in 1882, feel free to put it down to my own creative license!

I won’t lie, I went into this rather blind. Meaning, I had no expectation of what a Woolf novel would involve, I did not have an idea about the plot, and I even avoided reading the introductions in the edition I have to further add to this Woolf-Dalloway-ignorance (also, don’t worry I will get around to reading the introductions by Carol Ann Duffy and Valentine Cunningham soon because I am interested in what they have to say).

Mrs Dalloway is very much a novel of character. The events all take place on a single day in the middle of June post-World War I; this day, and the evening party of Mrs. Dalloway, seem to be there as a backdrop to put the characters in context but, other than that, rather unimportant. Woolf continually jumps from character to character as she gives you snippets into the life and consciousness of these individuals that fill the same world but in dramatically different ways. Although the novel is narrated in third-person, her narrative voice takes on the tone of the characters she describes (very similar to the narrative style in James Joyce’s The Dead). For example, it is easy to find yourself confused during the descriptions of Septimus Warren Smith but it is very fitting as he feels lost in his own world due to the shell-shock and hallucinations caused by his time in the war.

As I was reading, I came across a few passages that really struck me, not necessarily due to their importance to the novel but for my own interest (and hopefully your interest too).

The first is a description of the women in London that Peter Walsh comes across and his enjoyment of how they ‘paint’ themselves;

of course one fell in love with every woman one met. There was a freshness about them; even the poorest dressed better than they did five years ago surely; and to his eye the fashions had never been so becoming; […] the delicious and apparently universal habit of paint. Every woman, even the most respectable, had roses blooming under glass; lips cut with a knife; curls of Indian ink; there was design, art, everywhere (Woolf 62).

I had quite a lot of enjoyment imaging Virginia Woolf flipping the pages of a ‘celebrity’ magazine and seeing where the ‘art’ of paint has lead many! I would also love to see her thoughts on the ‘duckface’! (On a side note, I’m back to typing after finding myself enthralled in looking at duckface(s) on the internet and realizing it is not a good use of my time).

I can imagine the hotels of the 1920s are very different from today but this passage made me think of every single hotel room I have ever been in (even the nice ones- you know, with a mint on the pillow and such).

These hotels are not consoling places. Far from it. Any number of people had hung up their hats on those pegs. Even the flies, if you thought of it, had settled on other people’s noses. As for the cleanliness which hit him in the face, it wasn’t cleanliness, so much as bareness, frigidity (Woolf 137).

I don’t know about you, but I really hate it when my flies have been with another woman (or man)!

It is argued a lot that the current internet generation is loosing a grasp on language- communication is not what it once was, it is lacking. A social system built on spoken words has been lost and replaced by social media and digital communication (somewhat funny as I type this on a blog). We hear arguments like this quite often (or at least I feel like I do) and they are always shown as a new problem, that this disconnect in communication has never existed between generations before. However, I found this same crisis in Woolf’s novel (if you take away the internet aspect).

the young people could not talk. And why should they? Shout, embrace, swing, be up at dawn […] the enormous resources of the English language, the power it bestows, after all, of communicating feelings […] was not for them (157).

So next time you’re told to get off the computer, and you don’t want to, just argue that the last generation never stopped swinging so you won’t stop surfing!

All in all, Mrs Dalloway is a very quick, worthwhile read if you are looking for something with little plot but numerous of character studies.

The edition I read was ISBN: 0-09-998240-4.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs Dalloway. London: Vintage, 2000. Print.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mansfield Park

As my third time delving into the world of Jane Austen, I knew what to expect when I picked up Mansfield Park (479 pages) and started to roam the pages in search of enjoyment.

I can’t say it was as exciting as the last two Austen novels I read (Emma and Northanger Abbey) but it appeared to be A LOT more interesting while I was reading due to it following so close to putting down Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. After Richardson’s work it was like watching one of the Die Hard films after watching a documentary about the process of making paint (as you know I didn’t hate Pamela I just found it to be a real exercise in patience).

The reason I bring up Richardson’s epistolary novel is due to Fanny Price being a very similar character to Pamela Andrews (low status girl educated in a household of a much higher class; pursued by an unwanted, and then at least slightly admired, lover; and, a serious sense of duty and virtue). However, there is one HUGE difference, Fanny is a much more believable character (at least to this modern reader). Fanny does not deny any intrigue she has regarding things that lie on the line of her morals but still puts her duty to the Bertrams and virtue before her own desire (unlike Pamela who just denies that cravings of this sort exists at all).

Fanny isn’t the only loveable character in this novel filled with some rather scandalous characters (wink wink, nudge nudge- Henry Crawford with both the Bertram sisters). Fanny’s cousin and future husband (don’t worry it is okay back in the early 1800s), Edmund Bertram is a very positive individual and would have been a perfect role model for young male readers at the novel’s release. Although he can be rather naive at times, he is constantly the lighthouse of support for Fanny and always treats her as an equal. Equally as supportive to Fanny is her Uncle, Sir Thomas. Although it is indicated that Fanny did not always find love from him, he begins to see her worth as an individual after he returns from Antigua. Although her Aunt, Mrs. Norris, would love to see Fanny treated in the manner her lower station could provoke, Sir Thomas takes it onto himself to give Fanny the same opportunities he gives his own daughters, Maria and Julia.

In romantic nature, Fanny is rewarded for her patience and virtue in life and gets the man of her dreams- Edmund. Although Austen tackles a narrative based around the clash between morals and desires it never becomes ‘preachy’ and is constantly an enjoyable read that had me rooting for Fanny throughout.

The edition I read was ISBN: 0-14-062066-4.

Austen, Jane. Mansfield Park. Toronto: Penguin, 1994. Print.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Titus Andronicus

In Titus Andronicus- a play full of murder, rape and war- Shakespeare uses children and youth to give the impression of a positive future in store for Rome. The old ideals, that lead to the demise of Titus, the majority of his family, and his enemies, will be replaced by a new outlook that is more accepting and less barbaric.

Among other things, the play focuses around the conflict between the Andronicus family and Tamora’s Goth family; for this reason, children (although not necessarily youth) fill the scenes. However, not all the children present indicate a change in views that will bring about the positive future discussed above, the individuals that do include; Bassianus, Lucius, and young Lucuis. For the purpose of my argument, please note that Bassianus is deemed a ‘youth’ or ‘child’ due to him being younger than his brother Saturninus.

After the death of the Roman Emperor, Saturninus fights to become emperor. He does this not because he would be the better ruler for Rome but because he believes in the pre-established monarchy and his right to the throne as the eldest son. When he supposes that Titus is not going to support him he instantly shouts “Patricians, draw your swords, and sheathe them not/ Till Saturninus be Rome’s emperor” (I.i.208-9). On the other hand, Bassianus fights for a more democratic government and respects whatever decision will be made, as the best thing for Rome, confirming this with Titus by saying ““Andronicus, I do not flatter thee,/ But honor thee, and will do till I die” (I.i.215-6). As can be seen in the language, Saturninus is an instantly angry, unreasonably and self-interested person, whereas the younger Bassianus supports whatever is for the greater good of Rome’s inhabitants. Through Bassianus, Shakespeare is showing a more reasonable thought process held by the younger characters.

Although a warrior like his father, Lucius Andronicus holds a more modern idea of honour and would sooner protect his family than any promises to the city-state. After his brother, Mutius, has been killed trying to protect Lavinia, Lucius instantly stands up to his father, “My lord, you are unjust, and more than so,/ In wrongful quarrel you have slain your son” (I.i.295-6). Lucius is not only willing to protect his family but also put himself in harm’s way to do so; at the time, Rome held a view of power being given to elders yet Lucius sees that the only way to truly be a family man he must stand against his elder, Titus. It is hard to argue that protecting ones family is a complete sign of unselfish values but it isn’t just his own kin that Lucius tries to keep safe. When Aaron the Moor reveals that he has a baby and asks Lucius “To save [his] boy, to nourish and bring him up” (V.i.84), Lucius doesn’t falter in replying “Even by my god I swear to thee I will” (V.i.86). Although Aaron the Moor was integral to; the rape and dismemberment of Lavinia, the death of Quintus and Martius, and the amputation of Titus’s hand, Lucius does not hold a grudge against the blameless baby but protects it due to it’s innocence. In addition to the hatred he holds for Aaron, the baby is also half negro, and although that would give the child less rights at the time, Lucius can still “say thy child shall live” (V.i.69). In protecting Aaron’s child, Lucius shows a shift from feudal blood grudges and moves into a more educated way of thinking by understanding that individuals shouldn’t be held responsible for the crimes of their family; which is the complete opposite of his way of thinking at the beginning of the play when he demands,

the proudest prisoner of the Goths,
That we may hew his limbs and on a pile
Ad manes fratrum sacrifice his flesh
Before this earthy prison of their bones.

Even during the narrative of the play we can see the maturing of Lucius’s understanding of the world; this provokes the audience into believing only good can from Lucius after the curtains close.

Lucius’s good deeds are also extended to his enemies, he will do what is right even for those that have wronged him and his family. When Saturninus dies, Lucius still orders “some loving friends convey the emperor hence,/ And give him burial in his father’s grave” (V.iii.191-2). Even though he has just murdered Titus, Lucius still provides a respectful burial for the former emperor as it is the honourable thing to do despite their former differences. This is completely opposite to the way we could imagine Titus would have acted in the same situation, especially considering when Lucius pleads to “let us give him burial” (I.i.350), regarding his slain brother Mutius, Titus replies,

Traitors, away! He rests not in this tomb:
This monument five hundred years hath stood,
Which I have sumptuously re-edified.
Here none but soldiers and Rome’s servitors
Repose in fame; none basely slain in brawls.
Bury him where you can, he comes not here.

Titus wouldn’t even allow his own son to get a admirable burial due to a family disagreement but Lucius can put aside differences with an enemy to do the right thing. Through the father and son, Shakespeare is showing us a shift from unreasonable, fiery actions to more logical, moral decisions.

These positive changes in Lucius are also passed on to his son, Young Lucius. When Titus is wrapped up in terrible events that have fallen on his daughter, Young Lucius suggests “Good grandsire, leave these bitter deep laments./ Make my aunt merry with some pleasing tale” (III.ii.46-7). The Grandson is able to understand that Titus focusing on his own pain is not beneficial to helping the situation that has and his energy would be better put towards actually helping his daughter deal with her own pain.

In Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare contrasts the actions of the youth with those of the elders to show that the future of Rome is likely to take a positive turn and move from barbaric actions to a civilized way of solving problems. The words and actions of these figures of youth throughout the play symbolize this change when compared to the pre-established ideals of Rome we can see in the older characters.

The edition I read was ISBN: 978-0-14-071491-3.

Shakespeare, William. Titus Andronicus. Toronto: Penguin Pelican Shakespeare, 2000. Print.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tess of the d'Urbervilles

The modern epiphany, as solidified by James Joyce, tended to penetrate the narrative in the latter half of the short story, novella, or novel. However, Thomas Hardy chose to present his epiphany in the first few pages of his novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles (496 pages). All the events that occur throughout the story are thus the effects of the epiphany Jack Durbeyfield receives, from the Parson, stating his family to be descendants of the d’Urberville lineage.

Each of the trials and tribulations that Tess Durbeyfield/ d’Urberville faces can be traced back to her father receiving this news- epiphany- in the first chapter of the novel. As David Lodge states in his The Art of Fiction, “An epiphany is, literally, a showing” (146); this ‘showing’ is not guaranteed to bring about positive or negative results but will inevitably bring about a change of some kind. Although Sir John believes this new found kinship will bring his family close to a state of nobility, as his wife puts it “great things may come o’t” (59), it is the Parson’s news that instigates all of the actions that eventually lead to Tess’s fall.

From the moment the Durbeyfield family receives their epiphany Tess’s collapse has seemingly been set in fate, “as Tess’s own people down in those retreats are never tired of saying among each other in their fatalistic way: ‘It was to be.’ There lay the pity of it” (Hardy 119). All of the choices made by Tess, or for Tess, stem from her newfound heritage and would not have come about without this initial news. This relies heavily on an established past existing before the novel even begins; if the Parson had kept his resolution “not to disturb [Jack] with such a useless piece of information” (Hardy 44) then we could assume that Tess’s life in Marlott would have continued as she expected (a simple, peaceful and safe life like that of her Mother and Father); Hardy shows this when he describes Tess’s state of mind when she does leave to ‘claim kin’ with Mrs. d’Urberville, “she had hoped to be a teacher at the school, but the fates seemed to decide otherwise” (88). Hardy confirms in this language that there were certain expectations Tess had for her life that are disrupted only by the epiphany introduced at the beginning of the text. This is expressed again later in the text, after the death of Sorrow, when Hardy explains that “before going to the d’Urbervilles’ [Tess] had vigorously moved under the guidance of sundry gnomic texts and phrases known to her and to the world in general, no doubt she would never have been imposed on” (149). In this selection it is confirmed that if the epiphany had not intervened Tess would have likely lead a happier, more traditional life and would have never been ‘imposed’ upon and thrust into the events leading to the unraveling of her pure life.

As already seen in the selections of quotes above, Thomas Hardy uses his language consistently to ground Tess’s future in fate. In the nature of fate, it is not strictly the news the Parson delivers that causes the epiphany but whom he delivers it to; as David Lodge explains the epiphany comes when “reality is charged with a kind of transcendental significance for the perceiver” (147). The epiphany is triggered by the importance Sir John puts on the news not by the news itself. This interaction between Parson Tringham and Jack Durbeyfield as the cause of Tess’s ruin is expressed by Angel Clare who, after receiving news of Tess’s sordid past, exclaims that he “think[s] that parson who unearthed [Tess’s] pedigree would have done better if he had held his tongue” (302). Although Angel does not necessary use the language of epiphany, he is putting the weight on this revelation as the sole cause of the tear between himself and Tess in what seemed to hold the potential for a perfect marriage and a blissful future.

Even after the death of her husband, Joan Durbeyfield’s choices are propelled by her husband’s emphasis on the d’Urberville heritage. This is what leads Tess and her family to set their sights on Kingsbere and, in turn, into the hands of Alec d’Urberville. As Tess explains, after Alec asks where they will be going, “Kingsbere. We have taken rooms there. Mother is so foolish about father’s people that she will go there” (Hardy 438). Joan does not take the time to chose a place most suitable for her remaining family to settle but uses the information provided by the Parson as the only determining factor leading her to a place that will lead to their homelessness. Although she can see that this is foolish, Tess is yet again caught up in the knock on effects of the epiphany.

When an epiphany occurs it is not possible to state whether the effects will be positive or negative; to Tess the consequence of the initial epiphany is considerably destructive. However, the exact same epiphany will, presumably, lead to a decent future for another character, Liza-Lu. When Tess predicts her final demise she asks Angel to “marry [Liza-Lu] if you lose me” because “she has all the best of me without the bad of me” (Hardy 485). Through this request, Hardy is showing us that if Tess had escaped the consequences of the epiphany she would have escaped all the ‘bad’. Although Tess loses her virtue, her husband, and her life, the same cause of this loss is what will lead to Liza-Lu likely living a good life with Angel Clare; the novel ends with that Western sign of affection as the two characters “[join] hands again, and [go] on” (Hardy 490).

In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy delves into the potential destruction possible with the modern epiphany. Hardy places this epiphany at the very beginning of his novel so he has the full narrative to investigate just how a life can be changed- shattered- with a single discovery.

Additionally, the second-hand copy of Tess that I picked up came with another unusual bookmark (remember the old CN ticket holder that I got with Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, Tristan, and Tonio Kröger) a lovely postcard.

It is likely you can't read what is on the back so here it is; "Dear Jackie,
Just about to sail back from Dublin, it's been really good. I'm now knackered, fat, I have blood shot eyes. Bought us some gin... been a bit naughty though and opened it the night we met a bunch of rugby players! Tell you later! You should have been there- maybe come next time. See you next weekend?
All my love
Kaz xx"

We can only guess what Kaz was up to with those gin-chugging rugby players!

The edition I read was ISBN: 0-14-043-135-7.

Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Markham: Penguin Books, 1983. Print.
Lodge, David. The Art of Fiction. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1992. Print.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Trial

Huh?!? What?!? How?!? Why?!? These monosyllabic words will fill your head continually as you read Franz Kafka’s The Trial (165 pages). You are instantly dragged into the realistic, yet non-sensical, world Kafka has created for this novella.

Kafka manages to make you feel just as lost as Josef K., the main character, in the events that make up the year of The Trial. When K. is confused, you are confused. When K. questions the ‘facts’ provided to him around the mysterious laws, you question those facts. When K. considers just giving up, you consider just putting down the book because you can’t make sense of it (although you won’t because you really want to see how it all ends).

I am arguably very judgmental of fictional characters and either root for, or against, them continually throughout the course of a narrative. However, I found myself constantly torn between deeming K. the victim or viewing him as an arrogant arse!

As I mentioned in the start of this post, the novella will continually make you question exactly what you are reading and how it makes any sense in the realistic world the narrative inhabits. At some points, Kafka tricks you into believing the story is taking a more logical turn; however, he will suddenly throw a spanner in the work. For example, at the end of Chapter Four the narrative seems to become a more ‘regular’ story but Chapter Five immediately adds that crazy aspect the rest of the story requires;

“…he heard a sigh from behind a door which he had himself never opened but which he had always thought just led into a junk room. He stood in amazement and listened again to establish whether he might not be mistaken […] in the cupboard-like room itself stood three men, crouching under the low ceiling […] one of the men was clearly in charge, and attracted attention by being dressed in a king of dark leather costume which left his neck and chest and his arms exposed.” (Kafka 60)

K. then sees that this leather bound gentleman is beating (spanking) the two cops that arrested K. in the first chapter; this thrashing then continues for a few days.

I’m not sure about anyone else but whenever I opened junk room doors at my old office I never saw, or expected to see, a man spanking two other large men.

The edition I read was ISBN: 978-0-486-47061-0.

Kafka, Franz. The Trial. Trans. David Wyllie. New York: Dover Publications, 2009. Print.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Little Foxes

I have put this post off long enough but I am man enough to finally tackle writing about the ‘bore-fest’ that is Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes (3 Acts, 79 pages).

The story centers around the most loathsome fictional family I have ever come across; the Hubbards. They are a southern American family living in the late 1800s/ early 1900s (the play itself is set in the Spring of 1900). They are the embodiment of all the terrible traits you would imagine linked to the rising middle class of this time that felt it their right to build themselves up in society no matter who they walked over; selfish, angry, rude, and disrespectful describes the majority of this family in a nutshell.

To be fair, this was heightened by the fact that I was reading a production version of the text; meaning that it was filled with very lengthy stage directions and not in the enjoyable novel-esque descriptions of the likes of Bernard Shaw.

The only escape from all of this came in the form of five characters;
  • Addie and Cal- The servants/ slaves of Regina Giddens (an original Hubbard) who show more humanity than their, supposedly, civilized masters throughout the play.
  • Birdie Hubbard- The wife of Oscar Hubbard who has a kind flame in her spirit that is slowly being extinguished by the awful Hubbard family.
  • Alexandra Giddens- The daughter of Regina and Horace Giddens who, like Birdie, does not share the terrible characteristics with the majority of the family and actually seems to be the anti-thesis of her own mother.
  • Horace Giddens- As stated above, the husband of Regina and father of Alexandra. He is mentioned throughout Act One but then only comes onto the stage in the final two acts and really gives the Hubbards what they deserve!
I can imagine, like the bulk of plays out there, that The Little Foxes would be much better as a performance, but I can safely say that the text I read was anything but enjoyable.

The final escape, at least for myself, was singing snatches of Malvina Reynold’s Little Boxes in my head;

Hellman, Lillian. The Little Foxes. New York: Dramatists Play Service, Inc, 1969. Print.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I had mixed feelings when I started reading Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (516 pages); on the one hand I was dreading it, due to the negative things I had heard about it from some modern readers, but on the other hand I was rather excited due to the critical acclaim it received when released, and up to this day, from many critics. After reading it, I have decided to join the latter party.

I had been warned that it was a lengthy read and, although it is a little over 500 pages, it did take me quite a while to finish (much longer than my usual timeline to devour a novel). I believe there are 3 primary reasons why it took me so long (in addition to the fact that it was summer and I had been busy doing other things);
  1. Pamela likes to repeat herself, a lot! Every so often Richardson will have his protagonist spend pages upon pages retelling the story so far; although this fits in the style of this early epistolary novel (presented as a series of letters) it becomes quite tiresome.
  2. There are numerous periods of waiting for Pamela and, although it is sometimes quite interesting to see into how she is thinking, and feeling, in particular situations, they can be a rather slow read.
  3. The novel contains 370 notes (that are provided at the back of the book). I have mentioned my hatred towards the flipping back and forth method of reading a novel but this one was rather quite interesting. Not only did it provide the usual modern explanations of unfamiliar words but it also gave quite an in-depth detailing of different changes Richardson made in the numerous editions of Pamela.

Although many times a ‘slow’ read can be seen as a bad read, I wouldn’t necessarily say it was in my case; it was nice to let myself get immersed in Pamela’s life and take my time while I was there to see the sights instead of buzzing past everything like Roadrunner.

The most interesting part of this novel was the complete change it undertakes half way through. The initial story has the same subject matter as Lolita but is presented from the young girls perspective (Pamela) however the story transforms into a Jane Eyre-esque wealthy/poor love story about half way through. This mixture of subject matter did keep the book readable and not just dreary.

Richardson managed to balance this novel with lovable characters and detestable individuals; he even managed to have some of the characters be nice in some aspects and loathsome in others. This perfect balance keeps the story fresh as you read through constantly similar diary entries/ letters.

Once you look past her constant complaining, Pamela is quite a lovable character and she really does seem to deserve the happiness she finds at the end with Mr. B; the secondary title to the novel is very fitting Virtue Rewarded.

As always, I found some great new words (all descriptions below taken from the Notes (page 517-538);
  • Foolatum a humoursly archaic term for ‘fool’.
  • Trow? do you think?
  • ’Ifackins in faith.
  • Pursy short-winded, puffy or fat.
  • Hap fate.
  • Noisome ill-smelling.
  • Fleers mocking looks or speeches.
  • Chop logick exchange logical arguments.

The edition I read was ISBN: 978-0-140-43140-7.

Richardson, Samuel. Pamela. Toronto: Penguin, 2003. Print.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Seagull

Sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted it has been summer so I’ve been busy and reading Samuel Richard’s Pamela (which I’m nearly done so you should have a lengthy post of that very soon)!

I’ve been rather pleasant in all my reviews the past few months but that doesn’t mean I like everything out there; believe me, I don’t plan on saying many nice things about Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull (4 acts, 71 pages). The version I read was translated by Tom Stoppard and his introductory essay was more exciting than the content and the characters of the whole play.

The conversations throughout the play were considerably lofty without actually saying anything of importance. This wasn’t helped by the fact that each of the characters where either a) boring, b) arrogant, or c) whiny. The only character I remotely liked was Nina; however, after the first act, she started to obtain all the characteristics I hated in the other characters.

This isn’t the playwrights fault but, the Russian names did make it hard for me to follow who they were talking about; also by switching from first to last names throughout. Although, like I said, that is my fault not Chekhov’s.

The only positive thing I do have to say is that I found another one of my interesting words in this play which was early in act one; tarradiddle. This was used in place of ‘nonsense’ which is far less interesting to say!

So all in all, I apologize for this being so short but I really only have more negative things to say.

The edition I read was ISBN: 978-0-571-19270-0.

Chekhov, Anton. The Seagull. Trans. Tom Stoppard. New York: Faber and Faber, 2001. Print.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fat Pig

For the past 4 years Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig (7 short acts, 84 pages) has sat on my bookcase in a total of five apartments/ houses/ residences. For some reason, or another, I have always glanced over it and never got around to actually picking it up and reading it; that all changed this month.

It is such a shame that I never read this play before! The dialogue is fast paced and witty no matter which characters are conversing. LaBute doesn’t aim to make any major statements but gives us a glimpse at a real situation that could be happening to anyone around us and shows us how it stands. The play gives us an account of the courtship between Tom and Helen (a woman on the heavier side of the scales) from their initial meeting to the demise of their relationship. It also gives a perfect representation of the struggles people face if they decide to fall in love with people outside of the norm (even if they seem to be the perfect match).

Remember back when I read Maurice and the main character explained himself as ‘an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort’? Well a very similar famous figure is used in this book as an representation of being homosexual, “I don’t want to come off like some Elton John here, but you’re a good-looking guy” (LaBute 70). Kind of funny how these famed individuals can sum up a life choice without any detailed context. Be it Oscar Wilde, or Elton John, we know exactly what these characters mean when they use them to describe a particular part of themselves.

LaBute also gives us a very good look into a small issue of our internet-centric generation; the problem of some individuals not being able to deal with issues directly;

Carter I know. The guy who first thought up the whole “I hope we can still be friends” thing must be giggling his dick off somewhere…

Tom Probably. (Beat.) You think maybe I should go down there and talk to her? Just…

Carter Oh, yeah, that’s a good idea. Meet her on her turf… with all those accounting chicks around. Perfect.

Tom I don’t want her all mad, though. Maybe just an e-mail…

Carter Yeah, with one of those smiley-face icons or something. Come on, be serious! (50)

I think the above short interaction between those two characters really does show us what is fundamentally wrong with many of the people walking around nowadays- the inability to communicate.

Although it is a very short play, the length of Fat Pig is one of the reasons it succeeds, at least to me, so well. It gives us a situation, lets it play out a bit, then ends on a sad note (the two main characters are actually crying as the ‘curtain’ goes down). There is no moral in this story. There is no happy ending. It simply is what it is. It is really nice to get a snippet of another life with no real context and just enjoy the ride.

The edition I read was ISBN: 978-0-571-21150-0.

LaBute, Neil. Fat Pig. New York: Faber and Faber, 2005. Print.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Death in Venice, Tristan, and Tonio Kröger

I got hold of a nice old (you know one of those books that smell like your great grandparents house and seem to crumble as you turn the pages) collection of Thomas Mann’s three novellas; Death in Venice, Tristan, and Tonio Kröger (191 pages).

I didn’t go into this with any particular expectation (my only knowledge of Mann was a few small references in a number of essays) but I was very pleasantly surprised. This is a translation (by H. T. Lowe-Porter) of originally German works released in the very early 1900s. However, this cannot be seen at all, the work flows off the tongue (figuratively anyway, seeing as I don’t ready out loud) and the beautiful prose appears to have been written for an English speaking audience.

I won’t say that the three stories are amazingly interesting or that anything exciting happens but they are worth the read. All three seem to have a few things in common;
  1. Each involves a loving connection between two individuals which is very much one-sided (Gustav and Tadzio, Herr Spinell and Gabriele, and Tonio Kröger and Hans Hansen/ Ingeborg Holm).
  2. Each involves a forbidden love (a young boy, a married woman, or another man).
  3. Each involves a writer (Gustav, Herr Spinell, and Tonio Kröger).

It seems as though Thoman Mann uses these familiar stories, and tweaks them just enough, not to make interesting narratives but to make a commentary on art, artists, and the difficulties in creating and classifying art.

I have read a number of essays over the years around the creation of art, and the criticism of art, yet I found these novellas hit the point more successfully than some of the better essays I have read (e.g. Walter Pater’s The Renaissance).

For example (from Tonio Kröger);

But what is it to be an artist? Nothing shows up the general human dislike of thinking, and a man’s innate craving to be comfortable, better than his attitude to this question. When these worthy people are affected by a work of art, they say humbly that that sort of thing is a ‘gift’ […] they never dream that the ‘gift’ in question is a very dubious affair and rests upon sinister foundations. Everybody knows that artists are ‘sensitive’ and easily wounded. (Mann 154)

These novellas are filled with insights like the above giving us a much better insight into the mind of Mann and his theories of art than the minds of his characters.

Remember the description I gave of the young girl back when I wrote of Lolita? Well a very similar description appears in Death in Venice. The main character, Gustav von Aschenbach, is obsessed throughout the story with a young boy, Tadzio, and gives descriptions similar in style that those in Lolita; “he was barefoot, ready for wading, the slender legs uncovered above the knee […] a masterpiece from nature’s own hand” (Mann 36-7). It is very interesting that, from what I can find, this novella didn’t provoke the same kind of uproar as Lolita. Is it okay to be obsessed with a child if they are either a) a boy, not a girl, or, b) you don’t act on it?

I really did enjoy this book but mostly, as you’ve probably guessed, for the insight into Mann’s view of art. If you can’t read John Ruskin’s Modern Painters (not that he holds the same views as Ruskin) without falling asleep then I don’t believe these are the novellas for you because the actual plot really isn’t all that interesting.

There was a very interesting bookmark in the secondhand copy I picked up. Whoever had it before me used an old Canadian National Railway ticket holder to keep their place (I also use anything in sight as bookmarks sometimes). The appealing thing about this place holder isn’t what it is but perhaps how old it is. The Canadian National Railway runs for far distances (not short commutes like the GO train) yet the ticket price was only $3.70! I wonder where and when they traveled and how long this ticket has sat hidden in the book. Wow I’m quite a boring person to wonder such things!

Mann, Thomas. Death in Venice, Tristan, Tonio Kröger. London: Penguin, 1962. Print.

Monday, June 20, 2011


I have been aware of Bernard Shaw for quite a long time but, for one reason or another, I have never got around to reading or watching one of his plays. However, that all changed as I read Candida (122 pages).

The story centres around a situation that has been around as long as story telling has (that’s just an educated estimation!); two men fighting over one woman. The woman in question is Candida and the two men are Reverend James Morrell (Candida’s current husband) and Eugene Marchbanks (a young poet).

The first thing I found very surprising about Candida is Shaw’s treatment of stage direction. It seems as though Shaw was worried that whoever would direct his play in the future would, in current terms, f*ck it up! You can see this through his unnecessarily long descriptions of characters and settings (for example the beginning of the play has over 3 pages worth of stage direction before the dialogue begins). His stage direction seems more fitting for a novel, or short story, than a play.

Shaw gives a very interesting insight into love throughout this book. An example of this is when he has Marchbanks explain why shy people can’t find love, “I see the affection I am longing for given to dogs and cats and pet birds, because they come and ask for it” (Shaw 43). So the moral of this is- if you are shy you are less likely to find love than a dog!

The play ends on a very interesting note. Part of the final piece of dialogue (given by Marchbanks) is “I have a secret better than that in my heart”, and the final stage direction is “they do not know the secret in the poet’s heart” (Shaw 81). Up until this point the play has been very straight forward with lots of discussion about love and beliefs yet this final line adds a twist. I can’t say it really adds anything to the play, it is more of a frustration due to the fact that nothing prior provides anything that can be read into as a secret.

During an argument between Morrell and Marchbanks, I came across another of my new words; whelp! Morrell says to Marchbanks, “You sniveling cowardly whelp” (Shaw 39). I have never heard somebody use a synonym for a puppy as an offensive term (although I supposed it makes sense coming from a reverend instead of something really offensive).

My final point about this play is in regards to an ‘extra’ at the back of this book which is called a ‘Glossary of Cockney Words’ (page 120-22). The glossary is given to help understand Mr. Burgess (Candida’s father), when I saw this I assumed it was provided because Mr. Burgess would use cockney slang (I had noticed it on the contents before starting the play). However it only really outlines words that mostly involve Mr. Burgess dropping a h when it is needed and adding a h when it is not needed. Including this somewhat undermines the intelligence of the reader especially when it tries to say it is for “a dialect used by uneducated Londoners” (Shaw 120); as an educated individual from the North West of England (nowhere near London!) that also always seems to drop the h I can assure you this isn’t a special dialect by any means.

On a non-Candida side note: I am getting really bored of the photos I include of books on this blog so seeing as I have an abundance on knick-knacks from second hand stores, you might seem little figures starting to make appearances in the images I provide!

Shaw, Bernard. Candida. London: Longmans, 1964. Print.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Before I start this entry I want you to keep a couple of things in mind;

1) The back cover of my edition has a quote from Vanity Fair describing the novel as “The only convincing love story of our century.” This quote is apparently on a number of editions but I cannot find the review it came from (if you know where I can find it please tell me because I’m quite intrigued to read it).

2) If this novel can be described as a love story I would like to present the following description Humbert Humbert (the narrator) gives of the individual he loves; “honey-hued shoulders, the same silky supple bare back, the same chestnut head of hair […] her lovely indrawn abdomen where my southbound mouth had briefly paused; and those puerile hips on which I had kissed” (Nabokov 39). Pretty lovely and sensual description, right?

3) I was drawn to read this book after it was suggested as a perfect example, during a discussion, of how narration can greatly affect an reader’s view of the subject matter.

If you are not aware, Lolita (317 pages) is Vladmir Nabokov’s infamous novel that at its core is about the love a pedophile, Humbert Humbert, holds for his 12-year-old step-daughter, Dolores Haze (although, you must understand, this is an overly simplified description of this novel). The novel is given as a ‘confession’ from the narrator, Humbert Humbert, as he sits in prison (this is set out by a short introduction from a the friend of a lawyer, John Ray, Jr, Ph.D, who is given the manuscript to edit after Humbert has died in legal captivity).

Although English is not Nabokov’s native language (originally born in Russia) his mastery of the English language and the elegant prose he allows his narrator to use is remarkable. I believe it is this noteworthy use of language that leads to the Vanity Fair review in my first point above.

Throughout my reading of the novel, which I found hard to put down, I found myself feeling considerably sorry for the narrator and somewhat rooting for him. It is only through mentions of Dolores ‘Lolita’ Haze’s age that I was pulled out of these sentimental feelings for Humbert and realized that, no matter what, this protagonist should not get what he wants and desires.

Due to the narration coming from the pedophile himself the subject matter of the novel gets lost within explanations and excuses for his urges and is not shown in the awful light you would expect but given a ray of normality as though every man across the world holds these same desires. I am not saying that I hold desires like this myself but Nabokov’s language tricks you into believing it is ‘regular’.

The novel is spilt in two parts (the first part explaining everything leading up to the joining of Humbert and Dolores and the second part explaining everything afterward- including their two plus years living together across America as ‘lovers’) and the first part ends with a particular passage that sent shivers down my spine and really explains the situation the young girl is in. This comes after Humbert has told Dolores that her mother is dead and that she only has him; “At the hotel we had separate rooms, but in the middle of the night she came sobbing into mine, and we made it up very gently. You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go” (my italics, Nabokov 142). If helpless had to be described in one sentence it would be that last line.

I will not lie and say that this novel is an ‘easy’ read (although it flies by) because many of the more descriptive passages can be hard to swallow, as a reader that is disgusted by the idea of pedophilia, but it is worth it in the long run. Nabokov walks a very fine line through Lolita, between an awful subject matter and beautiful narration, but he walks the line well; for this reason I will definitely be reading his work again.

The final comment I want to make about this book is something for you to think about. In my last post, I wrote about E. M Forster’s Maurice; the main controversy around that novel wasn’t about it being a terrible love story but that the main character was in love with somebody they shouldn’t be, another man. If Maurice, viewed by a modern reader, can now be appreciated as a good love story, due to an acceptance of homosexuality, is it possible that one day, in many years to come, Lolita may be viewed the same way? That is not me arguing for an acceptance of pedophilic relationships but rather pointing out that the only difference between the two novels would be that one socially unacceptable love is now more acceptable but the other still isn’t and therefore the latter can only currently be viewed as a sickening love story, with a few exceptions, like Vanity Fair.

The edition I read was ISBN: 978-0-679-72316-1.

Nabokov, Vladmir. Lolita. New York: Vintage International, 1997. Print.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


I have just finished E. M. Forster’s originally controversial novel Maurice (255 pages). If you are not familiar, it is an early 20th century novel (wrote between 1913 and 1914 but only published until 1971 when the author died) that follows the life, from boyhood to early adult life, of a homosexual man by the name of (you guessed it!) Maurice!

Coming from a very accepting-of-everyone family, thankfully, I naturally wasn’t ‘shocked’ by the novel (wow who could have guessed a man could love other men and not women!) but I can appreciate how courageous and adventurous Forster was by writing a gay novel at a time when homosexuality wasn’t just frowned upon but punishable by law. Hence the reason why there was such a gap between writing the novel and its publication (the author only showed it to close friends during his life).

Anyway, enough about the book as a controversial piece or work, how about we actually talk about the novel?

I have two main things to blog, rant, rave, write, and talk about in regards to Maurice; the main character, and the epilogue (it is no secret now that I loathe epilogues).

I hate to compare good literature to movies but I will do that just now to articulate how I felt about the main character. You know when you are watching a romantic comedy or, more accurately, a romantic drama the main aim is for you to love the main character (the hopeless romantic) and root for him/her to end up with the man/woman of their dreams. However, there are those exceptions that, either due to the writer, director, or actor, when you just can’t root for them because they are just awful people. Maurice belongs to the latter group.

Throughout the novel I did feel sorry for Maurice trying to fit in a world where his happiness (romantically anyway) is dependent on a legally unattainable end. That being said, I could really feel sorry for him at all because he just wasn’t a nice human being; he was arrogant, awful to his friends and family, and just generally full of himself.

In regards to the epilogue; there wasn’t one. Why mention something in a novel that isn’t there, you ask? Well, an authors note at the end of the book mentions that originally he did have an epilogue (basically a ‘where are they now’ idea) but decided against it and I am so happy about that! Forster made the decision (that so many other authors avoid) to let the book end on an interesting note and allow the reader’s imagination decide what happens later on, instead of spoon feeding us an epilogue that offends our intelligence by hinting that we, as readers, as incapable of independent thought. I also read a short summary online explaining what was in the epilogue (apparently it is still in one particular edition of the novel) and it would have completely ruined the whole book for me!

The final thing I want to say is another of the interesting words I find in the pages of the numerous novels I read. This isn’t exactly a ‘new word’ but a new way of describing something. When Maurice is trying to explain that he is gay, without actually addressing it directly, he says, “I’m an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort” (Forster 159). If you are a member of the small amount of people that don’t know who Oscar Wilde is, feel free to search him online to see how funny this description is! Also, at the side is an image of him in all his dandyism.

The edition I read was ISBN: 0-393-31032-9.

Forster, E. M. Maurice. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1993. Print.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Dead

Let’s start this post in good support circle fashion with the following;
“My name is Matthew, and I am a bloggin’ liar”

It feels good to get that off my chest. The reason I am a liar is because I am about to break something I wrote in my first post ;‘I will post when I've finished each text. So I won't be looking back at a text through the muggy glasses of time.’ Between a long weekend away (I’d say a relaxing and mature long weekend, but who am I kidding?) and a busy week, I have had no time to write about my two most recent reading adventures; William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (204 pages), and James Joyce’s The Dead (59 pages).

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I have a love-hate relationship with Mr. Shakespeare and A Midsummer Night’s Dream has always been at the top of the ‘love’ end of things! I can’t help but smile when I read the verses that fill this play. Especially when Bottom or Robin Goodfellow (although due to previous versions, I will always just regard him as Puck) are on the stage/ page (see what I did there?).

For example, I find Bottom’s tendency toward obviousness entirely hilarious. Take for example when he is acting as Pyramus in the play-within-a-play and tries to point out that Snout is a wall; “And thou, o wall, O sweet, O lovely wall,/ That stand’st between her father’s ground and/ mine,/ Thou wall, O wall, O sweet and lovely wall,/ Show me thy chink to blink through mine/ eyne.” (Shakespeare 5.1.183-8)

I think the reason I enjoy this so much is due to Shakespeare’s playfulness with the characters it isn’t bogged down with hubris-filled tragic heroes but filled with love triangles (well, more like a love square) and mythical creatures.

So, please all remember how much I spoke highly of this piece because I am taking a full-year Shakespeare course starting in September so you will likely be hearing some very nasty words about the playwright very soon!

The Dead

I don’t usually write about all the short stories I read because this blog would get so boring and would take up way to much of my time (for example, I read seven just yesterday) but I fell obliged to write about this particular James Joyce story because I have it in a little bound book on its lonesome so it deserve some special attention!

This book is a masterpiece of character studies. From Joyce’s use of the character’s thoughts about each other, their interactions with one another, and descriptions of them, this simple friend and family get together turns out to be an interesting look at how completely different individuals make up a group and fit together.

There is one character in particular that most intrigued me. She is plainly in sight throughout the whole short story and yet the person she really is seems hidden in shadows and mystery. This character is Aunt Julia.

Throughout the story it is insinuated that she is a somewhat unusual character, when compared with her sister Aunt Kate. Just look at this early description of her person; “the appearance of a woman who did not know where she was or where she was going.” (Joyce 6)

However, quite suddenly in the story, out of nowhere (at least to the reader, although maybe not to the other party guests), she starts to sing with a “voice, strong and clear in tone, attacked with great spirit the runs which embellish the air and though she sang very rapidly she did not miss even the smallest of grace notes.” (Joyce 22) How did this seemingly confused, feeble creature suddenly burst into elegant song? I can’t help but wonder who this woman once was. Especially taking into account the fact that she is singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Although I am unfamiliar with the song I found the lyrics online.

Arrayed for the bridal, in beauty behold her

A white wreath entwineth a forehead more fair;

I envy the zephyrs that softly enfold her,

And play with the locks of her beautiful hair.

May life to her prove full of sunshine and love.

Who would not love her?

Sweet star of the morning, shining so bright

Earth’s circle adorning, fair creature of light!”

Having this older woman, earlier described as holding a “large flaccid face” (Joyce 6), sing such a beautiful song just adds more to the mystery that enticed me.

The above is just one of the many characters we meet in the small number of pages this story takes up and I would very much advise you to read the story if you ever get a chance so you can learn about all the others.

This story was originally part of Joyce’s collection Dubliners. After reading this (and also The Boarding House) it is now only my books-to-read list (quite literally, I have a little book so I don’t forget books I hear about)!

The A Midsummer Night’s Dream edition I read was ISBN: 0-7434-8281-6
The The Dead edition I read was ISBN: 0-14-60.0082-X

Joyce, James. The Dead. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1995. Print.

Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. New York: Washington Square Press, 1993. Print.