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Shortlist.com: The 40 Coolest Characters in Literature

Shortlist.com has recently compiled their list of the 40 Coolest Characters in Literature. I’ve got to admit, I was very happy to see a few of my favorite characters made it onto the list. However, there were a couple as to which I couldn’t help but wonder why they were shortchanged (who WOULDN’T want to get a pint with Stephen Dedalus?!) Alas, to each his own.

 

That said–what do you think of the list? Any characters not make the cut that you think deserved to be on there? Got any gripes with any of the characters currently on there? What exactly makes a literary character “cool”? I, for one, think it’s pretty damn interesting and–dare I say it–cool to see some of the best works of literary fiction ever presented on a very entertaining level. I’m a sucker for seeing the juxtaposition of entertainment and high literature!

So, what’s your opinion? Discuss!

 

 

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Centrality and Vulnerability of the Female Form in Gothic Literature

Hello, readers! The Halloween season is upon us, and I uncovered an essay I wrote a few years ago on Gothic Art and Literature, which I originally published on Yahoo! Voices. In keeping with the theme and season, I thought it was appropriate to re-publish it here! Hope you enjoy it, and Happy Halloween!

In Gothic literature, women long for as well as resist male approval. This focus on the centrality and vulnerability introduces a new type of character made popular by the Gothic genre: the “damsel in distress.” The “damsel in distress” is a chief character in Gothic literature, where she is typically incarcerated in a castle or monastery and terrorized by a sadistic nobleman, or members of the religious order. However, though these female characters are portrayed as feeble and powerless, the “damsel in distress” character often seems to ultimately offer a threat to the power of the patriarch. Two examples of this are Matilda in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, and Antonia in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk. In contrast to this, Marie Antoinette is portrayed as a “damsel in distress” in Edmund Burke’s Reflections on a Revolution, as a means of critiquing the horrors of the Revolution and the loss of the “age of chivalry,” yet also praising the patriarchal state existing in France at the time.

In The Castle of Otranto, the “damsel in distress” is best portrayed through the character of Matilda. Matilda is the daughter of Manfred, the villainous patriarch. After the unfortunate “crushing” accident of his son Conrad, his wife Hippolita sends Matilda to take care of her father, but he cannot be bothered. He does not want to see his daughter—it is a son that he desires and lacks. Matilda is affected by her brother’s death and she is hurt by her father’s cruel actions. Manfred’s control over his family and Matilda’s ultimate and unwavering loyalty to him seem to make her a vulnerable, weak character.

Though Matilda is portrayed as weak because of her loyalty to her father, there is a shift in her character by the end of the novel. When Matilda releases Theodore from the dungeon, she subverts Manfred’s wicked plan in the name of charity and love. In doing this, she threatens Manfred’s patriarchy, leading him to fatally stab her. Even in this time of ultimate physical and emotional weakness and vulnerability, she has the strength to forgive him for his digression:

“It will not be,” said Matilda— “commend me to Heaven: —where is my father? —forgive him, dearest mother —forgive him my death; it was an error —Oh! I had forgotten —dearest mother, I vowed never to see Theodore more— perhaps that has drawn down this calamity—but it was not intentional— can you pardon me?” 1

By doing this, Matilda thus takes on a Christ-like form.

This same type of vulnerable, fatalistic character is portrayed in Gregory Lewis’s The Monk. The Monk is what is known as a “male” Gothic novel. A “male” Gothic is a novel in which the central character is male and controls everything. Since the main character is male, the violence and horror are grounded in the “other” i.e. the female. This idea of the “male” Gothic consists of a perversion of chivalry, fundamental misogyny, and a focus on the “male” gaze. The only truly pure woman in a male Gothic is a dead woman. The vulnerable female character in The Monk is Antonia.

Antonia is a pure virgin who was brought up in an old castle. Upon the first description of her, she is veiled so that the young men cannot see her face which, in turn, increases their desire:

Her features were hidden by a thick veil; but struggling through the crowd had deranged it sufficiently to discover a neck which for symmetry and beauty might have vied with the Medicean Venus. It was of the most dazzling whiteness, and received additional charms from being shaded by the tresses of her long fair hair, which descended in ringlets to her waist. Her figure was rather below than above the middle size: it was light and airy as that of an Hamadryad. Her bosom was carefully veiled, her dress was white; it was fastened by a blue sash, and just permitted to peep out from under it a little foot of the most delicate proportions. A chaplet of large grains hung upon her arm, and her face was covered with a veil of thick black gauze.2

Her veil becomes askew, but the reader can only “see” her in bits and pieces. When her face is finally revealed, it too is described in ornate and over-embellished pieces. This is a centralization as well as dissection of the female body. This idea of portraying the woman in “pieces” was also popular in Gothic art history.

Portrait of a Woman with a Man at a Casement, ca. 1440–44 Fra Filippo Lippi (Italian, Florentine, ca. 1406–1469)

Filippo Lippi’s “Portrait of Man and Woman at Casement” c.1440  and Domenico Ghirlandaio’s “Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni” c. 1448, both portrayed women as fragmented, only drawn as profile portraits. This “piecing” of the feminine form creates a fetishized object of desire and degradation for the male viewer.

Domenico Ghirlandaio, Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, 1489-90

The ultimate “male” view of Antonia is possessed by the monk Ambrosio. Ambrosio’s power manifests itself in his language. His words penetrate into Antonia’s soul and, through language, emotion imprisons her, rendering her weak and vulnerable. Lorenzo, one of the young men who desire Antonia, dreams of an unknown force that grabs Antonia before he can touch her. This is a foreshadowing of the terror that is to come, producing a victimization of the woman. During this time, Antonia longs for Ambrosio to be her confessor. She eventually does get to confess to him, and he fantasizes about her.

Ambrosio is fully aware of the extent of his degradation. He feels a “gentle violence” toward Antonia3 and uses ambiguous language to seduce her. When Elvira sees Ambrosio hug Antonia and disarrange her clothing, she warns him to stop coming to their home, to which he vows revenge. He later uses a magic mirror to see his desires, and in it he sees Antonia getting ready for a bath. The reader is then given a description of her naked body:

The scene was a small closet belonging to her apartment. She was undressing to bathe herself. The long tresses of her hair were already bound up. The amorous monk had full opportunity to observe the voluptous contours and admirable symmetry of her person. She threw off her last garment, and, advancing to the bath prepared for her, put her foot into the water.4

Antonia is depicted almost like a piece of artwork. Ambrosio decides to weaken her to her most vulnerable state: he plans on putting her into a deep sleep so that he may have his way with her.

Ambrosio arrives in Antonia’s room and, in her moment of terror, Antonia is eroticized:

Her mouth, half opened, seemed to solicit a kiss: he bent over her: he joined his lips to hers, and drew in the fragrance of her breath with rapture. This momentary pleasure increased his longing for still greater. His desires were raised to that frantic height by which brutes are agitated. He resolved not to delay for one instant longer the accomplishment of his wishes, and hastily proceeded to tear off those garments which impeded the gratification of his lust.5

When Antonia awakes she is then given a juice by Matilda so that she will be unconscious for forty-eight hours. Ambrosio finds her and addresses her, believing that she is dead. He places responsibility on her for his committing murder. When she awakes, she believes that Ambrosio will be her savior. Ambrosio rapes Antonia and again he puts the blame of his transgression on her. Then, in a fate very similar to that of Matilda’s in The Castle of Otranto, he fatally stabs Antonia, saying that she has been “defiled” and she is killed before she has the chance to marry Lorenzo.

While Ambrosio has exerted his power of Antonia, she still poses a grave threat to his patriarchal standing. After her death, Ambrosio is unmasked and tortured. He is condemned for rape, murder and sorcery. When Lucifer arrives, he tempts Ambrosio and tells him the secret of the birth. It is then that the reader finds out that Antonia was actually Ambrosio’s sister. From this one can see the full extent and horror of Ambrosio’s sin. Lucifer then does God’s work by killing Ambrosio, thus killing the villain. Though Ambrosio may have reduced Antonia to her most vulnerable state, she ultimately robbed him of his patriarchal power, even after her death.

While in most novels the female is portrayed as vulnerable, yet still a threat to the patriarch, Edmund Burke’s work offers a variation of this view. He opposes the “male” gothic by critiquing the end of the “age of chivalry.” In Reflections on the Revolution, he poses Marie Antoinette as the “damsel in distress” —a role in which she was often not viewed. Edmund Burke firmly opposed the French Revolution. His championing against the Revolution made him a focal point of many artistic political commentaries of the time. Cartoonist James Gillray’s (1757-1815) Smelling out a Rat shows Edmund Burke “sniffing out the activites of the notorious radical clergyman Dr. Richard Price.”6 Burke is reduced to a fantasmagoria of superstition, emerging from a cloud, holding up tokens of the Church and State, masking himself with his own Reflections on the Revolution. Though Burke’s work is an intellectual and historical one, he fuses in many Gothic characteristics. He rewrites the horrific events of the Revolution as such to give a Gothic view of history. Burke does this as a means of undermining the radical impulse of the Gothic mode. He appropriates sentiment as a means of propping up the monarchy. One way in which he does this is by portraying Marie Antionette as the “damsel in distress:”

From this sleep the queen was first startled by the voice of the sentinel at her door, who cried out to her to save herself by flight…A band of cruel ruffians and assassins, reeking with his blood, rushed into the chamber of the queen, and pierced with a hundred strokes of bayonets and poniards the bed, from whence this persecuted woman had but just time to fly almost naked, and, through ways unknown to the murderers, had escaped to seek refuge at the feet of a king and husband, not secure of his own life for a moment.7

During the graphic and violent French Revolution, the reader gets an image of Marie Antoinette rushing away, almost naked. She becomes an object of pleasure for the viewer. Burke imagines Marie Antoinette as a beautiful prisoner who is suffering, yet still has great faith. This contrasts the popular view of Marie Antionette at the time. She was often portrayed as cruel and unjust. There were many portraits done of her execution, such as Jacques Louis David’s, as well as harsh portraits such as her head on the body of a hyena and the like. Burke chooses to portray her as a “damsel in distress” to show how the fall of the Queen represents “chivalry gone wrong.” The villains in this “Gothic” are the populous, who should have defended Marie Antoinette. While they are chided, the nobility and clergy are glorified, venerating the idea of the patriarchal state.

In Gothic literature and art history, women were often viewed as meek, helpless beings. The creation of the “damsel in distress” character stresses the feminized form, which asserts the dominance of men during the time. However, though the women in “male” Gothic novels are “helpless” and fetishized, this only forces the male gaze upon them, causing the male characters to do evil. The central character may be male, but the violence and horror is always grounded in the female. In the Gothic line of “otherness” even the most vulnerable female character works in the line of evil. The evil-doings of the male characters typically bring them to their eventual downfall. Therefore, the vulnerable “damsel in distress” poses the greatest threat to the patriarchs in Gothic novels.

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Fun With Grammar

Hey, all! I feel like I’ve been severely neglecting this blog, and I want to apologize because that is not my intention. I’ve just been busy working on some creative writing projects, some non-fiction as well as reading as much as I can so I can better update this very blog! I promise (though I feel like I say that all too often) that I will get to a new, thought-provoking (at least I hope) post soon, but for now I thought I’d compile a fun one based on a few things I’ve learned as of late. Working as a proofreader, I’ve spent a lot of time agonizing over words and punctuation. I have a BA in Literature and have been an English/Literature enthusiast since grammar school. However, years and years of writing, rewriting, revisions and editing surprisingly do not prepare us for all the grammatical errors we will encounter in later life. Proofreading has also taught me that grammar is ever-changing.

I consider myself pretty affluent in spelling, grammar and punctuation but I’ve been knocked off my high horse many times for having such thoughts. There are certain things in the English language that I just never really gave a second thought to, or  as it is in many instances, have just been doing wrong all along. And while the internet is a great resource for correcting errors, one will find that it’s hard sometimes to get the  various sources to agree on the same topic (will the MLA, AP and CMS ever agree?!). This has led me to another discovery: grammar is not only evolving, but also way more flexible than one might think! Sure there are plenty of “rules” in grammar (and many that can often be broken in creative writing–with sufficient knowledge of them first), but there are also plenty of instances where the writer has much more control over what to use and how to use it; That’s where the “fun” part comes in.

So, as I’ve been going along I’ve been taking note of certain grammatical tips that I find interesting, and many I’ve made notes of as a reminder myself to keep a keen eye for–not only in proofing, but in writing as well. (Can we skip the part where we go back and count how many I’ve goofed on in these prior two paragraphs?–I’m still learning!!*) I’ve decided to share the notes I’ve made on here, as both useful tips for myself and for anyone who reads this. I’m going to try my best to put these in some kind of readable order, but bear with me; I’m working from notes I’ve jotted quickly in passing.  This is, of course, just an abridged version of grammar and syntax tricks and tips and there’s much more out there to learn on the topic. Below the entry I will include all of the sources I look to most for further reading. That said, here are my notes:

**Keep in mind, these rules are strictly for American English, many of them will differ in British English, etc.**

Our Friend (and Foe): The Comma

  • The Oxford/serial comma boils down to a matter of taste. I suggest always using a serial comma when listing names, especially when crediting them with a piece of work, so no one feels as though they’re lumped in with another person or that two people worked as a team instead of individually. (e.g. “Kevin Mitchell, Jonie Watson, and Michael Tulley,” and especially when only last names are used, so it doesn’t end up sounding like a law firm!)
  •  While listing inanimate objects, it’s okay to omit that extra comma: “please pick up milk, butter and bread.”
  • However, it is best to drop in a serial comma in order to eliminate any ambiguity/confusion: “I’d like to thank my parents, God and my cat” (your parents have some mighty interesting names)  does not read as well as “I’d like to thank my parents, God, and my cat.” But remember: it is always best to be consistent. Oh, and about that whole AP dropping the Oxford comma for good debacle? Just a misunderstanding. Here’s a great article all about it, as well as all about the comma itself.
  • Do not use a comma to replace the word “that.”

Colons v. Semi-Colons  

  • A semi-colon is used to separate two main clauses that are closely related to each other, but could stand on their own as complete sentences.
  • The purpose of a colon is to introduce or define.
  • Do NOT use a capital letter after a semi-colon, unless it is followed by a proper noun.
  • The semi-colon and the colon are the only two punctuation marks which should be placed after closing quotation marks when they follow a quoted text.
  • After a colon, more often than not, the following sentence should start with a capital letter. A few exceptions to this rule include: if the independent clause is a quote, if the explanatory statement is more than one sentence, if the introductory phrase is very brief, or if the second clause expresses a rule.

Santa’s Helpers a.k.a. Subordinate Clauses

  • Subjunctive: “Wishful” sentences call for the subjunctive mood of the verb “to be,” so the right choice is “were” instead of “was.”
  • The subjunctive “were” is hypothetical in meaning and is used in conditional and concessive sentences and in subordinate clauses after verbs like “wish.” The form is “were” for all persons.
  • “Was” is used when supposing something that might be true, but it all depends on the context of the sentence.
  • Conditional mood: Indicating a conditional state that will cause something else to happen. Marked by the words might, could and would.
  • Concessive clause:  A subordinate clause which refers to a situation that contrasts with the one described in the main clause. For example: “Although he was tired, he couldn’t get to sleep.”
  • Subordinate (or dependent) clauses are groups of words containing both a subject and a verb, but cannot stand alone as a sentence. Some examples include: if, although, as, because, since, though, unless, whenever, whether.

Em Dashes, En Dashes and Hyphens–Oh My! 

  • The em dash is an elongated or double dash: ““ or “– –“ (it should be the length of the typed letter “m”).  Always use in formal writing as opposed to a hyphen (“-“).
  • Spaces should typically not be used around an em dash but can change based on dramatic emphasis or the publication it appears in.
  • The en dash is a shorter dash, but longer than a hyphen: “–“ (it should be length of the typed letter “n”). It is only used to denote amount of time or numbers (e.g. “the years 2001–2006,” “April–May”).
  • Do NOT use the en dash with the word “from,” instead use the word “to.” For example, you would write “from April to May” as opposed to “from April–May.”

Apostrophe Catastrophes

  • Apostrophes ONLY indicate a contraction or possession.
  • Apostrophe after names that end in “s”: Classic pre-CE names only need apostrophe, not ‘s. The same goes for names ending with a z-sound (Adams’), and for plural nouns (e.g. cats’, boys’, men’s). But in most other cases, “‘s” is correct. The idea is to convey the notion of possession without creating an awkward pronunciation. Though this can be chalked up to a style choice.
  • Possessive of singular nouns ending in an S or Z sound are usually formed by adding ‘s, unless the next word begins with an S or Z sound.
  • When writing out an abbreviated version of decades:  the apostrophe should only go BEFORE the first number, and nowhere else!
  • The apostrophe at the beginning of the number should be pointing in the direction of the omitted numbers, it should look almost like a small number 9: “ ’80s”
  • Possessive of plural nouns ending in an S or Z sound are formed by adding only an apostrophe, e.g. churches’.

 Verb Agreement

  • Collective nouns are nouns that describe a group, such as “family,” “band” or “couple.”
  • When you are thinking of the individuals within the group as separate things, use a plural verb. (The couple are travelling home in separate cars.”) However, when you think of it as a single unit, use a singular verb. But there is no real rule attached to using was/were with collective nouns.
  • “None” can be singular or plural. It can mean “not one” and followed by a singular verb, or it can mean “not any” and take a plural verb.

 Miscellaneous Musings

  • “Somewhere” is classified as an adverb, but actually has a noun-like function.
  • The phrase “somewhere where” is not necessarily superfluous since “somewhere” can be an antecedent of a relative clause (e.g. “where”).
  • The word “farther” indicates physical distance, while “further” is used metaphorically.
  • In certain cases, “further” and “farther” can be used interchangeably, but if you can’t decide which to use, you’re safer using “further” because “farther” has some restrictions.
  • Avoid using wordy phrases in place of “because.”
  • “Internet” is capitalized because it is a proper noun referring to a specific network, “website,” however, is not.
  • “Web” as a proper noun can be either.
  • Dropping the “had” in “had better” is acceptable only in speech or recorded language.
  • The word “yet” is what’s known as a coordinating conjunction. Others include: for, nor, but, or and so.
  • “i.e.” stands for “that is,” while “e.g.” stands for “for example.” I.e. is used to further clarify a subject, while e.g. introduces examples. Example: “Michelle likes reading old mystery novels (i.e. And Then There Were None and The Hound of the Baskervilles).” These are the only two novels of the genre she likes.  “Michelle likes reading old mystery novels (e.g. And Then There Were None and The Hound of the Baskervilles).  These are just two of the mystery novels she likes.
  • The word for this punctuation mark “?!” is called an interrobang.

And just remember: it is always important to BE CONSISTENT. If there’s anything to take away from this it’s the one major rule of writing, consistency comes first. So, if you choose to stick to an MLA-approved style while writing, make sure you don’t waver between that and Chicago style. If you want to include the Oxford comma in lists, do so every time.  It can be a pain to have to go back and check every time, but it’s worth it for the end result of having an intelligent and eloquently written piece of work. Hope this helped in some way even if it was a bit scattered! I promise to have a part two when I encounter even more grammar tips! The links for all your writing needs are below the cut.

*I’m kidding, of course. Actually, if anyone who’s read this would like to point out any errors in the body of this text, please feel free to comment and chide me. Grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling–it’s all fair game! Sometimes the hardest work to edit is one’s own, so I’m completely open to fixing my errors and learning in the process. Also, if anyone wants to point out any errors, updates, or other ideas and suggestions in the notes I’ve made, please do so! I’d love to hear what everyone has to say!

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ONLY A FEW HOURS LEFT!!

Indecent and Immortal

For those who might not know, today is the first-ever National (and International!) Flash Fiction Day!  Coined in 1992, the term “Flash Fiction” indicates very short stories usually created with writing prompts.  For all you could possibly need to know about Flash Fiction and the day itself, be sure to head on over to the National Flash Fiction Day website!

For more info and ways to get involved, read Flash Fiction Chronicles’ interview with National Flash Fiction Day founder/organizer Calum Kerr, check out all the awesome stories at FlashFlood and be sure to get some awesome prompts from  The Write-In! (NOTE: The Write-In Contest is now closed, but still be sure to go there to read all of the great stories and get some prompts for your own writing!) You can also follow along with Facebook and Twitter! And of course, I wouldn’t know about the day if it…

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Also, be sure to check out this awesome short story writing contest as well!

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Happy Flash Fiction Day! – NEW ROLLING DEADLINE!

For those who might not know, today is the first-ever National (and International!) Flash Fiction Day!  Coined in 1992, the term “Flash Fiction” indicates very short stories usually created with writing prompts.  For all you could possibly need to know about Flash Fiction and the day itself, be sure to head on over to the National Flash Fiction Day website!

For more info and ways to get involved, read Flash Fiction Chronicles’ interview with National Flash Fiction Day founder/organizer Calum Kerr, check out all the awesome stories at FlashFlood and be sure to get some awesome prompts from  The Write-In! (NOTE: The Write-In Contest is now closed, but still be sure to go there to read all of the great stories and get some prompts for your own writing!) You can also follow along with Facebook and Twitter! And of course, I wouldn’t know about the day if it weren’t for the great people over at Every Day Fiction, so be sure to give them some love too!

EDIT: NEW LATER DEADLINE! While this is primarily a UK event, I’ve decided to get in on the Flash Fiction Day action as well! Indecent and Immortal will be hosting our own Flash Fiction Write-In! With a NEW ROLLING DEADLINE, feel free to send in your own fiction of anywhere from 150-800 words based on the writing prompts featured below! Any genre, any subject, any style and any perspective allowed and encouraged! All entries must be submitted to jamier.iib@gmail.com and will be featured on this blog once we get enough entries!

Here are your prompts:

Seasick nanny

Inexpressible doubt

Leather sofa

A peculiar noise

“Way to go, bastard”

Nosy children

A bad luck charm

A Dangerous Sex

“It will be a scream!”

Puny

Korean Barbeque

Collection of dusty old comics

The taste of your own blood

Cherry Motel

A moldy sandwich

Baroque Pop

“The position has been filled”

The Archies Greatest Hits

Paint-Your-Own-Pottery

Olympic-sized swimming pool

Sheep skin

Matchbox Car

Red red lips

An empty roll of toilet paper

Clay basin

Miniature poodle

Super Mario Brothers

No more rain

I need seed

Blister Kisser

Again,  submit those entries to jamier.iib@gmail.com! Be sure to add a little something about yourself (if you wish) or a link to your own blog/site to be added along with your Flash Fiction! And most importantly–have fun with it! Happy Flash Fiction day, everyone!

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A Brief Update

Hey, all! Sorry, I know it’s been a while but I’ve just been so bogged down with work and adjusting to a new fitness routine that I’ve barely had time to read, let alone write (and then let alone write about reading). But never fear! I am not giving up on this blog or anything of the sort — I just need some time to get my act together and sit down and compose.  I’ve already got 2-3 ideas whirling around for upcoming blog posts, and I’ve already started on one, but I’m just figuring out the right time for it to go live. So sit tight, there will be updates yet to come! And, as I’ve mentioned before, if anyone who follows this blog (or anyone at all, really!) is interested in contributing and writing some pieces for this blog–please feel free to contact me at jamier.iib@gmail.com! Any help is much appreciated and encouraged! It would be for free, but you would be given all credit and can publicize your own blog/site/magazine, etc.!

In the meantime, here’s a list of what I’m currently reading and am planning to read in the near future:

The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
 Ferdydurke, Witold Gombrowicz
 Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth
Sweet Tooth Volume 1: Out of the Woods, Jeff Lemire
Morning Glories Vol 1: For a Better Future, Nick Spencer

As you can see, I’m looking to keep myself pretty occupied this spring/summer! And there’s more, too. There’s always more books!

So that’s my list…what are you reading now?  (And if you want friends on either Goodreads or Shelfari–feel free to post links!)

Happy Reading, everyone!

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