Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar Night

As a movie buff, I generally look forward to the Academy Awards. There are movies I root for and movies that I hope crash and burn (I won't name names, but...[cough] Avatar). There are speeches that makes me laugh and cry and speeches that successfully put me to sleep in record time. Oh, and I love passing judgment on the endless parade of dresses -- the good, the bad and the ugly.

This year we're watching the epic-length show with an Oscar Party. I'll be cheering on The Artist, Midnight in Paris, and the ladies from The Help over an abundance of food. Chatting with friends and family during the boring bits will hopefully keep me conscious during the lengthy ceremony. Will you be watching? Which films/actors would you like to see awarded the Golden Statue?

P.S. Thank you for your excellent Edith Wharton recommendations. The House of Mirth was the clear winner, so I'll shortly be digging into it for my first Wharton experience!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Edith Wharton

Confession: I don't like American literature. I just don't. Not being a great fan of American classics, I've largely avoided interaction with many of the nation's celebrated writers. John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain: overrated. All of them. As an American, I'm aware I am not exhibiting much patriotism in my indifference (even extreme dislike) of my country's canon, but there it is. I honestly have never regretted migrating to England for my education in order to focus on British texts.


Lately I've felt like I'm missing out by excluding Edith Wharton from my library. I've not read a single work of hers, and I'd like to change that. A friend has been consistently encouraging me to give The Age of Innocence a go, then I'll come across an enthusiastic review of Ethan Frome. While I'm currently (and quite happily) buried under a pile of books all vying for my attention, my thoughts keep wandering to Edith Wharton. Clearly my literary subconscious is dying to get to know her, and I need to arrange a meeting soon.

So, as one who is entirely ignorant of this acclaimed author, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject and as well as any recommendations. I'm inclined to begin my Edith Wharton education with The Age of Innocence, but I can't be sure. Where would you start?  Do you have a favourite Wharton text? What is it about her writing that you like if, indeed, you like it at all. Please, educate me!

P.S. Even though I've not read a word of Edith Wharton's, I am dying to visit her former home and museum The Mount. Methinks I see another literary pilgrimage on the horizon. Check it out:

Friday, February 17, 2012

Literary Love: Favourite Fictional Couples

The story that started it all...

Ever since I read Jane Austen's quintessential tale of Regency courtship Pride and Prejudice during my teenage years I have been fairly obsessed with classic love stories. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy started a habit that has continued well into adulthood -- nor does it show any signs of abating in the future. In honour of Valentine's Day, I would like to share a list of the beloved couples that comprise my favourite narratives. These appear in no particular order, because I didn't think I could bear the stress of ranking them in addition to narrowing the list down to one (long) post...

 Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe

From the moment he called her carrots I was hooked! When he told her, on what seemed to be his deathbed, that 'there would never be anyone for me but you' I was a goner. A favourite of mine from my days in high school, I'm still quite taken with Anne's overactive imagination.

Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy

I'm generally not a fan of Jane Austen sequels, modernizations and what not, but I have to make an exception for Helen Fielding's Bridget Jone's Diary. I relate to Bridget because she's an older single woman who is reminded of her marital status on an annoyingly regular basis, and she constantly puts her foot in her mouth. I often say the most thoughtless things, only I can't attribute it to inebriation like Bridget does. If Ms. Jones managed to snag herself a Darcy, then there's hope for the rest of us awkward single girls, right?

Helen Huntingdon and Gilbert Markham

The inclusion of this pair from Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall may spark controversy. I know many who maintain that Gilbert is a bit dumb and Helen, therefore, deserves better. But I love that Gilbert can see Helen is outspoken, independent and far more intelligent than he is -- yet he's not intimidated by it. That's rather forward thinking on Anne's part. When Helen and Gilbert undergo a separation midway through the novel, I was so moved I cried to the point where I could no longer see the page.

Margaret Hale and John Thornton

Oh, the tension! The tension between these two in Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South is so palpable you could cut it with a knife, proverbially speaking. Watching Margaret and Mr. Thornton overcome preconceptions and misunderstandings (much like Darcy and Elizabeth) as they slowly come together is a complete joy! Thornton gets bonus points for carrying around a flower from Margaret's childhood home. I know some were disappointed when the book didn't have the epic kiss the adaptation portrays. If you look closely at the final pages of the novel, it's there. What else could Gaskell have meant by 'some time of delicious silence'? I ask you!

Margeurite St. Just and Sir Percival Blakeney, Baronet

They seek him here, they seek him there. I certainly did seek him everywhere, rabidly consuming the novel, the film and the musical. Set against the dramatic events of the French Revolution, I almost wished I was a French aristocrat at risk of losing her head -- just so I could have the privilege of being rescued by the enigmatic Sir Percy. Instead, I named my dog after him. 

Beatrice and Benedick

The witty banter of this dynamic duo has officially made Much Ado About Nothing my favourite Shakespeare play. This is quite a distinction, because anyone who's anyone knows that choosing a favourite Shakespeare play is virtually impossible. In addition to the comical, playful insults they pass back and forth at lightning speed, these two also have their sweet moments. Refer, for instance, to the line in which Benedick first confesses his love for Beatrice: 'I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is that not strange?'

Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth

As much as I adore my beloved P&P, there's something about the quiet maturity of Persuasion that makes Jane Austen's final novel utterly enchanting. I love the way Anne blossoms before the reader's eyes, the poignant discussion of constancy in relationships, how Wentworth notices and appreciates our heroine in a way no other character does and the theme of getting a second chance at love. Captain Wentworth, for the record, writes what is possibly the best letter in literary history. 'You pierce my soul.' How can that be beaten? If by chance you are unacquainted with this wondrous epistle, do yourself a favour and read it now. You may want to read it sitting down though. I myself some women have been known to swoon.

Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester

Again, this can be seen a controversial choice. I'm sorry Heathcliff fans, but Rochester is the clear winner for me. As I have remarked before, Rochester would not kill my dog. Percy wouldn't fare so well as the hands of Heathcliff. But seriously, this novel kills me. I reread the good bits all the time once in a blue moon. The passion, the celestial telegrams, Rochester's attempted seduction, their eventual reunion, the brilliant simplicity of 'Reader, I married him.' I. Can't. Get. Enough. I don't even mind that he has a wife hidden in the attic. Observe the following passage where Rochester is speaking to Jane (p. 291 of the Penguin edition):

I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you -- especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I've a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.

How can that not win a reader over? I ask you!

And while this last selection isn't a literary couple, I had to give a little shout out to...

The Ladies of Cranford

I love that Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford validates the lives of Spinsters, particularly since nineteenth-century society consistently exhibited a propensity to write these women off. Masked behind an amusing veneer of Victorian propriety, these ladies are unbelievably kind and loving. Watching them take care of one another (even at great personal cost) moves me to tears. That's love.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It's a Readathon...

A Young Girl Reading -- Fragonard (1776)

Cassandra over at Literary Stars is hosting a readathon this coming weekend, taking place on Saturday and Sunday (the 18th and 19th)! She's eager to celebrate her end of term in true literary fashion, and I am eager for any excuse to read for lengthy periods of time. I'm not sure what I'll be digging into just yet (Charles Dickens? Wilkie Collins? Non-fiction?), but I'll be updating this post throughout the event to let everybody know what I'm reading and the progressing I'm making. It probably won't be much -- I generally read at a tortoise's pace -- but I'm looking forward to a literary weekend. If you anticipate having some free time over the coming days, please join in here. Happy Reading!

Readathon status updates appear after the jump...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

I used to loathe Valentine's Day. I saw it as a pink and red assault on singletons the world over. It took years before I fully realized that whether I'm in a romantic relationship or not, I am surrounded by people whom I dearly love. That's always something to celebrate. Obviously we should express our appreciation for the those who enrich our lives throughout the year. Still, it's nice to have a holiday dedicated to the purpose. It serves as a reminder to not take the love given to us for granted. So, I would like to thank the friends and family members who infuse my days with their warmth and humour. You make my life a joy and I love you for it! Happy Valentine's Day!

The above is my attempt at creating Valentines of the edible variety. Sadly, the recipe I used was not a good one, and the sugar cookies I meant to make came out like crumbly shortbread biscuits that are begging for more butter. At least they're pretty, right?

P.S. In honour of V-Day I'll be writing a post about my favourite literary couples. First, however, I must pare down my epic-length list into something that will accommodate a single blog entry. I won't lie, this will be tricky. :)

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Charles Dickens Museum, Vol. I

It occurred to me when I wrote about the Dickens Bicentenary that I had yet to share my experience visiting the Charles Dickens Museum when I went on a mini-break to London last Christmas. So, in honour of this quintessential author on his 200th birthday, I would like to take you on a little tour of his former home on Doughty Street, London.

In hindsight, I explored the museum at the perfect moment. I was finally starting to comprehend of the brilliance of Dickens novels and was consequently more open minded to embracing what I saw there. Visiting just three days after Christmas, I wasn't faced with crowds of tourists. Victorian Christmas decorations (particularly in the drawing room) brought a holiday atmosphere to the home of one who wrote so effectively about Christmas and the spirit of giving. It was a lovely touch. Mostly, however, I greatly appreciated that the museum was quiet and peaceful, allowing me to have a personal experience with these Dickensian relics.

So, on the with the show...

Welcome to 48 Doughty Street!

 The entrance hall
Pause for a self-portrait
 Down to the cellar...
For a view of the kitchen
Bars from the Marshalsea
where Dickens's father was imprisoned for debt
Bust of the young author
Looking onto Doughty Street from Dickens's study
His paper knife
Late photo of Catherine Dickens -- poor woman!
Catherine's handkerchiefs
Room at the back of the house
This page from a manuscript was accompanied by a note
explaining that Dickens lived in a time when there were no computers
News flash!
A creative representation of the literary imagination

This concludes part one of the tour. Part two shall follow shortly. In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend! 

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Dickens Bicentenary!

Today Charles Dickens turns 200! Or he would be if he weren't, you know, dead. On this auspicious occasion, I would like to let it be known how grateful I am for the lasting legacy of his funny, poignant and heart-felt writing. In this intriguing video of Simon Callow highlighting Dickens's London, Callow comments on the author's frequent presence on the city streets. 'He was everywhere, and he sort of still is in my imagination.' Well said! Dickens, thankfully, still is everywhere today. He pops up in bookstores, contemporary London, university education and (today especially) the worldwide web. He's given us the word Dickensian; such a delightful word to utter, Dickensian. Needless to say, I'm thrilled with his continued literary presence; may it extend far into the future.

Being the literary geek that I am, I have debated for weeks about how best to celebrate this blessed, blessed day. Naturally, some Dickens reading is the order of the day, so I have made a few reading plans for the month. First on the list is Great Expectations (my reasoning behind this selection is fully enumerated below). I also own a beautiful second-hand copy of Sketches by Boz, and I'm looking forward to burying myself in some classically Dickensian depictions of Victorian London. Finally, I am simply dying to get hold of Claire Tomalin's new biography on the man in question. A classic novel, periodical pieces and a biography: I think I've conjured a well-rounded reading plan in honour of the bicentenary.

The Drawing Room at Christmas

Ideally I would have made a trip to the Charles Dickens Museum in London today (the photo above is from a visit during Christmas 2010). Since I am roughly 5,000 miles away I might compel my family members to sing happy birthday to the long-dead author over a cake complete with birthday candles. I also came across a lovely Dickensian questionnaire (courtesy of the lovely blogs A Room of One's Own and Yet Another Period Drama Blog), my answers to which shall appear after the jump.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Artist

Having been nominated for (and won!) a plethora of awards this year, I was quite looking forward to seeing The Artist. I am here to inform you that the hype is warranted. I absolutely fell in love with this creative and poignant motion picture.

The Artist chronicles silent film star George Valentin's fall from grace as Hollywood is invaded by the 'talkies' while he is rendered obsolete. Peppy Miller, the fan-turned-actress with whom George shares a flirtation, has managed to transfer her talents over to speaking roles. The gap between them proves a difficult one to breach. Throughout the narrative George is accompanied by his adorable terrier (played by canine superstar Uggie). Watching their entertaining antics was a highlight of the film for me. But then, I clearly have a soft spot for feisty terriers.

I admit I was a bit apprehensive about seeing a silent film -- despite hearing rave reviews that assured me its charm needed no verbal translation. I've built my life around words! I needn't have worried. Viewers quickly adapt to gleaning dialogue from the title cards. In fact, I was amazed at how much more I noticed when not distracted by dialogue. Facial expressions, sets, costumes: these all provided added layers of meaning and insight, and I was forced to take notice. It's almost a lesson in subtextuality. Both hilarious and heart-warming, The Artist is a cinematic treat. I'll be rooting for it throughout awards season!

P.S. I highly recommend watching Uggie's appearance on Ellen. He has so much character!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Bossypants; Or, Converting to Feynasticism

In my last post highlighting New Year's resolutions, I resolved to get better acquainted with the world of non-fiction reading. When a friend lent me Bossypants I was eager to dig into a biography that has been consistently lauded by critics as one of the best of the year.

I did, however, have a few trepidations. Tina Fey is somebody I like more than I find her funny. I love her geek-chic glasses, unabashed feminism and the fact that she's living proof that adult virgins can be awesome too! I'd like to hang with Ms. Fey some time. But Sarah Palin impersonation aside, our senses of humor don't always jive. Let's take 30 Rock as an example. Everybody tells me how uproariously funny it is, but the few times I've watched the show it barely manages to evoke a mild giggle from me.

Having said that, Bossypants is a hoot! After wading through the initial upbringing and early adulthood chapters -- they're amusing but not the heart of the memoir -- I raced through the final two-thirds of the book. I just couldn't get enough of Fey's writing. 'Why has she never penned a full-length book before?' I asked myself. 'When will she write another one?' The humour with which she imbues subjects such as women in positions of power, celebrity photo shoots, standards of beauty, working moms and the need to take one's pants off as soon as one gets home is both hilarious and thought-provoking. One highlight for me was the chapter entitled 'Dear Internet.' In it, Fey writes ironic responses to nasty remarks people have posted about her online. Let's look at the letter dedicated to the commenter who asserted she ruined SNL and is only celebrated because she's a woman and outspoken liberal:

'Huzzah for the Truth Teller! Women in this country have been over-celebrated for too long. Just last night there was a story on my local news about a "missing girl," and they must have dedicated seven or eight minutes to "where she was last seen" and "how she must have been abducted by a close family friend," and I thought, "What is this, the News for Chicks?" Then there was some story about Hillary Clinton flying to some country because she's secretary of state. Why do we keep talking about these dumdums? We are a society that constantly celebrates no one but women and it must stop! I want to hear what the men of the world have been up to. What fun new guns have they invented? What are they raping these days? What's Michael Bay's next film going to be?

When I first set out to ruin SNL, I didn't think anyone would notice, but I persevered because -- like you trying to do a nine-piece jigsaw puzzle -- it was a labor of love.

I'm not one to too my own horn, but I feel safe with I'll say it. Everything you ever hated on SNL was by me, and anything you ever liked was by someone who did it against my will.


Tina Fey' (p. 165)

See what I mean? A hoot! So, I would like to go on the record to say:

Dear Miss Fey,

You are pure brilliance! As lovely as it is that we are a country obsessed with noting what drugged-up pop stars wear to their court dates, it's nice to see a woman showcased for her intelligence, humour and classiness. One who actually knows how to read. One with natural (photoshopped) beauty. And yes, one who now has to take her pants off as soon as she gets home. Have you considered running for President? I think you might have a shot, even if you can't see Russia from your doorstep. I look forward to your response in your next book -- please say there will be a next book!



P.S. I have to take my pants off as soon as I get home too.