I haven’t read War and Peace. Have you?

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How often have you been dating, interviewed, or even quizzed on Facebook and in a moment of panic told a porky when asked ‘have you read War and Peace’?

Mumble mumble mumble

Well, you’re not the only one… According to pollsters almost half of us claim to have read more than we have. The stats don’t surprise me. I know I’ve done it. Why? Because claiming to have read War and Peace instead of  Twilight means people will see our smarter and more cultured selves? I dunno, you tell me. It seems silly when you think about it.

With Tolstoy’s Russian masterpiece weighing in it at 1,225 pages, getting through the tome takes commitment , (32.63 hours worth of shopping, eating, gaming), and with twitter and the BBC serving up instant gratification versions, ‘enhancing’ your Good Reads account has never been easier.

The reception to Andrew Davies’ adaption was good, really good, but can a well received TV series transmit everything Tolstoy poured into his masterpiece? It’s a question that the Handmaids Tale recent televisual success has also left me wondering, (because, between you and me I  haven’t actually read that one either).

But, if you agree with Stephen King that ‘the word is only a representation of the meaning’ then its arguable that it doesn’t matter how many (or how few) words a story is told in as long as at least one of them captures the essence of its meaning. So with this theory in mind, when your teacher, mum, date next asks the question and you don’t have 30+ hours to spare, do you think checking out the twitter take, quoting King and saying yes will leave you guilt free?

I’m not sure, but i’d like to think to find out. And with that final kick of motivation… i’m off to read Tolstoy….

LEO TOLSTOY: WAR AND PEACE
Napoleon invades Russia. Russian aristocratic families sent into a tizz. War ensues. French retreat. Russians celebrate. Lots of them marry.

 

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Application to membership: Daphne Du Maurier fanclub

Had it not been for my insatiable interest in the uncommon, the Gothic and the antiquated (as found in Jamaica Inn), I would have dismissed Rebecca without trial. I found its literary predecessor Jane Eyre unrewarding and as a rule, find plot-lines hitched on ‘other women’ devices’ uninspiring.

But this isn’t a dissection of my literary palate, it’s a request for membership to the Daphne Du Maurier fanclub, (and a celebration of sleep depriving work). The author’s knack for dragging characters like Mrs Danvers into 21st heads is why I read Rebecca in 48 hours. Prose of the kind used in Jamaica Inn explains why I overlooked the romance’s blurb.

And, though there should be a world of difference between the smile of a man and the bared fangs of a wolf, with Joss Merlyn they were one and the same. Jamaica Inn

Mary was no hypocrite; she was bred to the soil, and she had lived too long with birds and beasts, had watched them mate. and bear their young, and die. There was precious little romance in nature, and she would not look for it in her own life. Jamaica Inn

I was rewarded for overstepping my literary borders with the freedom to roam through Du Maurier’s heroine’s lovesick head. Although I couldn’t relate to the pointedly nameless and submissive character, the depiction of her bought of love is displayed so vividly that even the most confident tinder user can’t help but sympathise.

He had not said anything yet about being in love. No time perhaps. It was all so hurried at the breakfast table. Marmalade, and coffee, and that tangerine. No time. The tangerine was very bitter. No, he had not said anything about being in love.

Not only did the writer’s characters and narrative style allow me to enjoy Rebecca, the skill with which Du Maurier manipulates her reader through plot twists, saw  a 21st century feminist rooting for a wife stifling chauvinist. I’ve never agreed with the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ idiom (where books are concerned), never judge a book by its genre however, was a rule I left Rebecca constemplating.

 

Spring

In celebration of the reemergence of lawnmowers and the shaving of legs: IMG_0984

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

“I think trees should bloom earlier in the spring. They act like they are on a schedule. It’s not like they have anywhere to go.”
Jarod Kintz, This Book is Not FOR SALE

Terror and Wonder at the British Library: The Gothic mind

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(The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli on display in Terror and Wonder. Print made by Thomas Burke. London 1783)

I’ve contemplated the question and I’ve considered the contenders; (fantasy for its opportunities of escapism or maybe satire, for its ability to evoke social thought through humour), but still I’m adamant, a more effective display of words power doesn’t exist beyond the Gothic.

Since 1764 and Horace Walpole’s publication of The Castle of Otranto, writers have manipulated sequences of words into spectres that stalk our culture and haunt our nights. By tapping into our imagination and suckling on the yellowing puss of our supressed fears, the genre has thrived. Arguably, the Gothic’s success is inevitable, because, for all the fears we suppress, humanity just can’t resist fingering that yellow head: our desire to explore the darkened depths of humanity is as inescapable as our interest in the inexplicable and the unknown. In consequence, there’s now a bloodsucking vampire under your child’s bed and a mysterious woman in a nightdresses hovering on the horizon.

From October the 4th to January 20th, the British Library reaped the advantages of winter’s shadows by hosting ‘Terror and Wonder’. Subject to morbid curiosity in, I dragged 4 overgrown boys to Kings Cross library, promising vampires and zombies. Having never visited a BL exhibition before, I was unsure what to expect from the ambiguous claim, especially after viewing an advert which wouldn’t be out of place at The London Dungeons.

In the libraries own words however, the exhibition presented ‘two hundred rare objects that trace’ humanities obsession with spine-tingling fancies. From Frankenstein to Jekyll, Hamlet to The Shining, the exhibition trailed the veins and arteries of the gothic, displaying in its wake, the extent to which the genre has infiltrated out culture. (Visitors exited through a room featuring Martin Parr’s photos of the annual ‘Whitby Goth Weekend’.) Spread across a labyrinth of darkened rooms, the display succeeding in being thorough without ever wilting into tediousness. It was an event in which, even if gawping at old manuscripts and illustrated editions failed to maintain your attention, the video clippings, film props and macabre pictures would. By presenting the genre in all its mediums, the library provided ample opportunity to indulge the imagination.

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Vampire hunting kit on display at the British Library

Near the ‘Vampire slaying kit’ in the midst of the abundant ‘Victorian gothic’ section, I noticed a 19th century newspaper clipping highlighting the rational Victorians fascination with The Ripper slaughters. I realised that the events success was as much do with it being thoughtful and well put together, as because like the genre itself, it feed on our enduring fascination with humanities inner Jekyll.

If you door wafts tonight and you’re content that it’s just a draft, you need to check out some of these creepy classics;

The Castle of Otranto, 1764, Horace WalpoleAn adventure as much into the beginning of the Gothic as into Otranto. Look out for Walpole’s attempts to combine ‘old’ and ‘new’ romance. Do you reckon he succeeds?

The Monk, 1796, Matthew Lewis- Scandalous and gripping, Lewis’s novel includes a murderous raping monk on the rampage. What more do you need to know?

Dracula, 1897, Bram Stocker- Stocker’s father of all vampires plots relocation to England in order to gain fresh blood. Long and short, this Transylvanian vamp would munch any shiny wannabes for lunch. A must read for vampire fans.

The Gormenghast Trilogy, 1946, Mervyn Peake- Although most commonly assigned to the fantasy genre, I’m including Peake’s trilogy for the gothic strands it draws upon- the towering presence of Gormenghast castle itself representing a central gothic feature. (Additionally included in my list because any opportunity to continue promote Peak is not to be missed.)

The Women in Black, 1983, Susan Hill – A modern classic written in traditional gothic style that, thanks to Hill’s talents, lives up to its predecessors. (I challenge you to watch the two man west end stage adaption without jumping).

Although not a book, I’m including The Babadook (2014,) because in addition to being the scariest film I’ve ever seen, the films exploration and representation of the ‘grief monster’ perfectly demonstrates the argument that the gothic works by feeding on what we supress.

Happy 451st Birthday Shakespeare!

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26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616

In celebration of the world’s greatest playwrights birthday, here are some of my favourite Shakespeare factoids:

  • His works have been translated into every living language.
  • The search for clues about elusive Will’s life during the years of 1582-92, (the period between his marriage and emergence in London) has revealed only three documents that name him.
  • He coined the phrase ‘the beast with two back’s’ (in reference to sex,) within the play Othello.
  • The world’s most renowned writer never attended university.
  • Suicide occurs a superstitious 13 times throughout the Bards plays.
  • The Oxford English Dictionary credits him with coining almost 3,000 words.
  • Despite it having been customary for bones to be dug up to make room for new graves, Will’s have remained undisturbed. I imagine the curse he penned for his grave has had some influence:

Good friend for Jesus’ sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here:
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.

‘This life, which had been the tomb of his virtue and of his honour, is but a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’
William Shakespeare