Thursday, February 28, 2013

Simple Pleasures: Here Comes the Bride

This week's simple pleasure isn't about those quiet everyday moments that often go unobserved. Instead, this joy comes from the kind of momentous family occasion that only presents itself occasionally.

This Saturday, a mere two days from now, my sister is getting married! She's the first in our family to tie the knot, and coming together to celebrate the love she and her fiance have for one another has brought us infinitely closer.

While planning a wedding is a huge life event for the couple and their loved ones, I've tried to soak in the loveliness of simple details from every fleeting moment of the process. Being involved has been an enormous honour, every step of the way: picking out the dress, sampling cake flavours, assisting at the photography session, planning a bachelorette party. I will forever cherish each of these precious moments.

Life is beautiful!

I am (clearly) not their photographer, but I couldn't resist taking a few photos of my own while acting as the bride's assistant at a pre-wedding photo shoot. Here a few favourites:

 Isn't she a beautiful bride?
 Such apparent happiness in this shot -- I love it

I hope your weekend is as happy as I know mine will be!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

  Venetian Sunset

Dylan Thomas's poem 'Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night' stays with its reader. At the moment, it refuses to leave my mind (maybe because I recently shared it with my students). The poem concerns the author's experience watching the decline of his father's life. Dylan Thomas urges him to cling to life and its remaining experiences with every effort. 

Thankfully, I'm not in a similar position with any of my loved ones. Nevertheless, this poem resonates with me on a personal level. I think of times when I've abandoned goals and worthwhile experiences because I've doubted myself or didn't credit my own abilities. I gave up.

I find the eloquence with which Thomas urges his father to not give up the fight inspiring, whatever one's particular life challenges may present. Don't relent! Don't give in to setbacks or fatigue! Continue our efforts! Fight for what we love with every breath we're given! This is what I take away from the poem. But, of course, Dylan Thomas phrases it far more vividly and beautifully than I ever could....

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The video above features Dylan Thomas reciting this masterful poem (a villanelle to be precise). I love hearing poets share their own work. Their delivery adds a new dimension of meaning to the printed words. :)

Is any poetry inspiring you right now? If so, please share!

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Classics Spin!

Fallen Asleep While Reading (1872)
William Powell Frith

Though I'm currently inundated with a variety of projects, both professional and personal, I'm longing for an entire week of nothing but leisure reading. Hopefully, my March schedule will ease up (keep your fingers crossed for me!) so I can indulge in some good -- nay, fantastic -- books. Ah, what luxury.

Even if it's a bit late, I've decided to join The Classics Spin! The concept is to select twenty unread titles from your Classics Club list: five titles one is dreading, five highly anticipated titles, five titles to which one is different, and five wild card titles (a category of one's own choosing). I'm not particularly dreading any titles on my list, but I'm most intimidated by chunksters right now as I worry that my easily distracted brain will abandon them after a few brief chapters. Time to face my fears. I also mentally chastise myself for not reading the wealth of children's classics sitting on my shelves, so that genre will be represented in my wild card selections.

The Classics Club randomly selected #14 as the title for participants to read, but I'm stealing a page from Cassandra's book by having a random generator decide which title I read so I can still experience the luck of the draw. The goal is to read the text in its entirety before April 1st.

Behold, my chosen titles...

Five Chunksters:

1. The Brontes by Juliet Barker
2. No Name by Wilkie Collins
3. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
4. Cecilia by Fanny Burney
5. Patronage by Maria Edgeworth

Five Titles I Can't Wait to Read:

6. The Warden by Anthony Trollope (barely made a dent in this in January!)
7. Adam Bede by George Eliot
8. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
9. The History of Pompey the Little by Francis Coventry
10. A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne

Five Titles About Which I Am Currently Indifferent:

11. The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
12. The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
13. Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith
14. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
15. East Lynne by Ellen Wood

Wild Card -- Five Children's Classics:

16. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
17. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
18. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
19. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
20. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

And now my randomly generated number: 5

I will be reading Patronage by Maria Edgeworth in March. I swear I didn't cheat! I was sort of hoping I'd 'get stuck' with a chunkster, as I need a gentle push to get going with these. I usually end up loving chunksters, so a little nudge is appreciated. I'm quite happy with this result. :)

If you're also participating in the spin, I'd love to hear what you'll be reading and your feelings about it. Are you apprehensive? Excited?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Simple Pleasures: Literary Jewelry

Brains are the only things worth having in this world, no matter whether one is a crow or a man.  -- L. Frank Baum

Receiving an unexpected package in the mail is one of life's best surprises. So I was thrilled to discover my dear friend had sent me a little something from across the pond. Finding this necklace with a quote from The Wizard of Oz only increased my elation; it was the icing on the cake so to speak. The enclosed note informed me it's meant to function as an anti-idiot charm, and I must say I feel a certain sense of protection when I wear it! Now I'm convinced I should begin collecting literary themed jewelry. Is there a better kind?

I hope your weekend includes some pleasant surprises. :)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Mirabeau's The Lifted Curtain

Comte de Mirabeau -- sexy man!

Wow, I'm busy! With a flu worse than anything I've experienced in years, teaching, marking, researching and preparing for my little sister's upcoming wedding, recreational reading finds itself at the bottom of my to-do list. Still, I have been doing some reading, and I wanted to share some thoughts....

As I briefly mentioned in a previous post, my recent research focuses on two areas: representations of animals and transgressive sexualities. Currently I'm trying to find a way to effectively combine them, and it's proving to be an enjoyable challenge. The Lifted Curtain by Honore Gabriel Riqueti, comte de Mirabeau decidedly falls into the latter category. While he's not known to many, Mirabeau is an eighteenth-century French revolutionary, politician...and writer of erotica. 

If his Wikipedia biography can be trusted (doubtful, but let's run with it!), Mirabeau led a colorful life. Disfigurement as the result of smallpox contracted at the age of three only served to earn his father's disdain. He engaged in a plethora of scandalous affairs, was condemned to death and imprisoned, etc., etc. Really, it reads like a novel. Funnily enough he and the Marquis de Sade were acquainted with one another but, despite their similarities, firmly disliked one another. This snippet concerning how he came to be married especially fascinated me:

After several months of failed attempts at being introduced to the heiress, Mirabeau bribed one of the young lady's maids to let him into her residence, where he pretended to have had a sexual encounter with Emilie. To avoid losing face, her father saw that they got married just a couple of days afterwards. 

I think I can safely assume that, even back then, this is not the how-we-met story about which a young girl dreamed.

With these biographical tidbits in mind, much of The Lifted Curtain doesn't surprise me: thin on plot, heavy on sexcapades in which rules and inhibitions merit no consideration. I won't delve into details in case any shy readers stumble upon this, but suffice it to say this novella seemingly promotes a libertinism in which anything goes in the bedroom...or out of it for that matter.

Yet in The Lifted Curtain and other similar texts I've noticed a worrying trend. While this novella smugly claims to promote sexual freedom in a repressive society, sexually liberated women undoubtedly threaten Mirabeau and his contemporaries. At the very least, a palpable air of discomfort permeates the genre. A stock figure emerges time and again: the woman who is too unrestrained, enjoys sex too much and inevitably comes to a bad end.

The character of Rose serves as a manifestation of archetype. Well, she's not a character, as I'm not sure Mirabeau explores any fictional personage with enough depth to warrant the term; so there's not much to say about her. What happens to her intrigues me. Shortly after her introduction in the narrative, the protagonist's father figure divulges the following:

Rose will be the victim of her own passion and fiery temperament. There is no holding her back. Already she is abandoning herself to pleasure with a fury that I have never before seen in a woman. You can bet your last franc that she will pay a heavy penalty for her excesses. 

Strong words. Interestingly enough, the father figure in question exhibits the most taboo behaviour in the narrative. By far. Nevertheless, his actions are unreservedly excused while the author condemns the woman. Sure enough, she soon meets the afore-mentioned inevitable bad end:

Unable to stop herself in her mad drive for pleasure. Rose finally succumbed to it. When she stopped menstruating, she had an abortion, which took a terrible toll on her. She suffered from agonizing fits of dizziness and her sight began to fail. She more resembled a walking wraith than a human being. The cheerful spirited young woman had vanished. Finally, the lingering illness brought her to the grave. 

Bleak indeed.

What's curious to me as a reader is this: we so often write off, no pun inteded, authors like Dickens for his blatant sexism. (And rightfully so! Much as I love him, misogyny was his flaw.) Yet Mirabeau, the Marquis de Sade and others often get a free pass because they're hiding behind this mask of sexual freedom. What they really mean is sexual freedom for men, or sexual liberation for women as it serves men's purposes. In my mind, this doesn't qualify as liberation at all. They are, as the film incarnation of Bridget Jones would say, 'just as bad as the rest of them.' Many have labelled this genre as progressive, but I just don't see it. While Mirabeau cries for revolution and liberty, his gender politics remain archaic.

Have you noticed any similar dichotomies between what authors claim to promote and what their writing actually suggests? I feel like this happens more frequently than we readers notice or acknowledge. But now that it's on my mind I'm trying to think of further instances. Can you offer any examples?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day! I know many object to the commercializaton of February 14th (and I agree the cliches can easily induce nausea), but I maintain it's nice to have a holiday dedicated to love. Because love, actually, is all around. ;)

Last year on February 14th I wrote about the importance of expressing that love to all the important people in our lives. While I've attempted to abide by that philosophy this year, I've also decided to be my own Valentine today! Oscar Wilde, after all, did tell us that 'to love one's self is the beginning of a lifelong romance.' And I must say, I've rather enjoyed the romantic gestures from myself. I unashamedly bought myself flowers, indulged in luxurious naps, and I'll be whipping up a batch of chocolate cupcakes with pink buttercream frosting later.

I hope whatever you do today, you spend it surrounded by the ones you love!

P.S. Last year I also wrote a Valentine-themed post recounting my favourite literary couples. I enjoyed it so much, I have another one in the pipeline this year. Thoughts about what I've learned about love and relationships from the incomparable Jane Austen have invaded my brain, so expect a post sharing those details in the near future.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Simple Pleasures: Baby Hands With Baby Books

There's nothing cuter than chubby baby hands digging into a baby book. While watching my friend's children recently, I couldn't resist snapping a few photos of her sweet baby boy engrossed in a book. Isn't it wonderful to see little ones enjoying books, knowing that the interest will (with any luck) develop into a lifelong journey with literature as the years progress? This is where the love affair starts!

Monday, February 04, 2013

New Feature: Simple Pleasures

Sometimes art truly changes us, to the fibers of our being as the saying goes. Watching Amelie was undoubtedly one of those experiences for me. I remember being awed with the way she viewed the world, her capacity for imagination, her ability to appreciate the little pleasures each day affords as seen in the following clip:

(Author's Note: if you haven't seen Amelie, I suggest you do so immediately. I hate to hype up media, but this remains one of my favourite all-time films. It's poignant, life affirming and beautiful in every way.)

Since then, I've tried to incorporate her philosophy into my life. And oh, my! What a difference it makes. I've learned that this simple practice makes ordinary days meaningful. Taking notice of the smallest things (the aroma of spices stewing in the kitchen, listening to the rain fall while enveloped in the warmth of a blanket, sharing a joke with a friend): these seemingly insignificant details shape the rapid passing of time into a memorable and happy life.

So, I've decided to begin a new feature on this blog and share the simple pleasures that brighten my the hope that doing so will brighten yours as well.