Category Archives: British Literature

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!

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under American Literature, Authors, Books, British Literature, Culture, Fiction, Literature, Opinions, Thoughts

Gothic Conventions Used in Frankenstein: Volume one

In my English course we specifically must focus on three schools of thought whilst constructing an essay: Marxist, psychoanalysis and feminist readings. I’ve nearly always grasped the concepts of psychoanalyst with novels such as ‘The Kite Runner’, with ‘Death of a Salesman’ I studied Marxist readings and with ‘King Lear’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ I combined the two elements, only really dabbling my hand in the feminist school of thought. But none the less, this year, it being presumably my last as an English student, I’ve decided to get off my stubborn backside and write this set essay on ‘Frankensteins gothic conventions’ with the view of a feminine light. At first, admittedly I was weary, however, I’ve interlinked the views of feminist critics with other interpretations involving sexuality and fate. Frankenstein is a very interesting novel to search upon if reading into the role of woman in novels. I even found myself enjoying writing this little dissertation, this essay is only brief, there was no formal examination so I spent less time on it as I would normally, but nevertheless I am pleased with roping down from my high horse to ponder upon another view-point. You never know, i might just do some more feminist readings. Enjoy!

Frankenstein is often portrayed and glamourized by critics as the ‘ultimate gothic novel’ however; we must delve into Shelly’s exact use of gothic conventions in order to understand exactly how Shelly utilizes simple gothic motifs to create a world so tantalizing and elusive.

Such use of gothic conventions are used during the creation of the monster, it is through this, that Victor erodes the role of woman in society; he has broken down social barriers and fails to see the implications of the consequences, he flees from the monstrosity he has created and attempts to suppress the blame from himself by citing that the monsters birth was from ‘a workshop of filthy creation’ this quote is a direct allusion to the woman’s womb. Victor is subtly mocking woman’s place in society as beneath a man by branding their internal organs as ‘dirty.’ Victor tries to usurp the role of Woman in the novel;Feminist literary theory would claim that Frankenstein’s act of creation is not only a sin against God and the force of nature. It is also an act against the “female principle”, which includes natural procreation as one of its central aspects and as a result, The Monster then seeks to destroy womankind as a vengeance against woman principles as Victor has deprived woman of their natural function in society.Mary Shelly’s mother was a founder of the feminist movement, a liberal thinker with forceful philosophy who no doubt influenced this rational and predominant theme within the novel. Instantly, this recalls the much broader implications of the human condition and the relationship between man and God. The relationship between Victor and the monster raises many questions as to the meaning of humanity and existence. In his corrupting pursuit for the ‘thirst of knowledge’ Victor Frankenstein is frequently compared to Prometheus, as the novel’s subtitle “The Modern Prometheus” suggests. Prometheus stole fire from the Gods whereas in a bid to create the monster, Victor harnessed the power of electricity and became ‘beheld’ by a ‘most violent and terrible thunderstorm’ it is Frankenstein’s most terrific mistake in presuming that he could displace God, Victor tries not only to find the secret of life but also to remove life’s defects by rebelling against natures natural order and selection. But it is unlike God, that Victor fails to nurture the one thing that he produced. The ‘secret toils’ that he endured suggest that he has been the victim of a shameful ploy. It is by this, that the novel can be viewed as a mock of religion, it is fact his rash, impatient and stubborn desire to create life that the horrible physiognomy of the Monster is a direct result of Frankenstein’s hurry and anxiety caused by his awareness of committing a sin against God. Victor then tries to surpass the blame upon destiny as he describes it as ‘too potent’ Victor’s futile plead is attempting to convince us that destiny is predetermined, and fate is premeditated and that there might be a higher power after all, men are corrupted by the preconditioned aspects of the world, and free will is only a limited scope and far limits Victors scientific desires. It is Victor’s fixated desire only to rid of the ‘distant species’ that he regards as woman who implies he fears also his own sexuality.

As Victor describes the ‘dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils’ it is the pivotal moment of horror as Victor arrives at a climax of his anguished trepidation. Pathetic fallacy is then used to set an appropriate bleak and depressing atmosphere as the ‘dismal rain’ bellows down from above. Victor envisions his mother’s dead corpse. He has an unwillingness to embrace his mother or the face of Elizabeth that he first thought he sought. This could be a deliberate link back to when Victor describes Elizabeth as his ‘more than sister’ and this reveals his fear of incestuous desire, however, by juxtaposing the creating of the monster with this most terrific vision, the void between illusion and reality is opened up as it is blurred in Victors mind, and we can start to trace his descent into madness and deliberate isolation. By creating the monster Victor has destroyed female persona, as previously discussed, however, it is as if he has effectively killed his mother, she is nothing more than a rotting corpse. It is also suggestive that he sees sex as destructive and ‘hideous’. This chapter in volume one involves the three elements of sex, death and the monster. They are thus linked in a single image; this dream episode establishes a clear link between Victor’s avoidance of sexuality. Further regards to sexuality can also be found in the isolation of The Monster–he destroys the female creature horrified upon thinking another could tread upon the earth. The frequent motif of fear of sexuality could also be similarly found in Walton who ‘desires the company of a man whose eyes would reply to mine’ Duality is often a gothic convention and a frequent motif in gothic fiction.

The framed narrative used in Frankenstein is a complex structure; it involves embedded narratives of stories upon stories within stories. The narrative first begins through Walton sending letters to his sister, this approach is commonly known as an epistolary style is a novel in which a character (or characters) tells the story through letters. In Frankenstein, Captain Robert Walton writes letters to his sister. Walton sets the frame and the scene of the novel up, he begins to recount about Victor, the narrative is then given wholly to Victor, presumably to increase our understanding of the character and to increase our paths and awe, before Victors catharsis is then given back to Walton as the novel ends on a denouement. Shelley did not insert the letters by chance; they are purposefully added to provide a deeper dimension to the novel. Walton first allows us to channel a way to suspend our disbelief as with him the novel becomes more plausible as there are now two men seemingly hell-bent on a pursuit, Walton to ‘tread a land never before imprinted by the foot of man’ and Victor to ‘make the secrets of heaven and earth known to me’ It is because of this framed narrative structure that the voices, the stories given to us become blurred as to whom is speaking them and we ask ourselves who exactly is recounting their narrative. A deliberate ploy, perhaps used by Shelly, as traditionally gothic ghost tales are orally given and it was the night previous to writing Frankenstein that her and Lord Byron, along with Percy Shelly told such stories in order to ‘make the blood curdle and quicken the beatings of the heart’ The narrative also involves the role of a listener and each narrative allows the reader to carefully consider the narrative of before and draw upon certain aspects of each one before they are drawn and tied together in a single continuum. We can also consider the reliability of the narrator as a whole, their interpretations, specifically Victors, serves for us to look for parallels and echoes within the plot. Therefore, it is important to behold an open mind whilst reading Frankenstein, otherwise self-absorbance is imminent. Its intention as a cautionary tale is applied as Walton, upon hearing Victor’s narrative on the destructiveness of knowledge and power, turns away from his perilous mission to the North Pole and we see Shelly’s gothic conventions all lay out. Victors attempt to eliminate God and the woman race, carried with it implications that he could not fathom, he rebelled against the laws of nature and is therefore condemned, he is, like Prometheus punished for dabbling in the arts of something far beyond what he academic achievements could possibly behold.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, British Literature, Culture, Literary Criticism, Thoughts, Uncategorized

A personal response to ‘Waterland’

If you have never heard of Graham Swift or his fantastically riveting book ‘Waterland’ you must stop what you’re doing and go and buy it, now. Seriously. I was a bit apprehensive at first, especially when a stoner recommended this novel to me (he probably made spliffs from it or something, I’m not sure I didn’t hang around to ask) but I found myself at the end of ‘Julius Caesar’ (another beautifully written play) and decided to give this novel a go not really sure what I was expecting, providing I’d never heard of Graham Swift before and I was somewhat diversifying from my classic literature (I define this from around 1520-1960’s, many inspiring works were written before of course I’m just merely summarising the bulk of literature in to these years) to a ‘new breed’ of Literature. This novel was first published in 1983 how ‘old’ you class literature is I guess up to you but I am actually begging you to read this novel.

When I enjoy a novel I usually ponder over it for a few hours and mull over it in the confines of my mind but yet, only this book and ‘The Great Gatsby’ have captivated me so much into propelling me to actually translate my thoughts into words. ‘Waterland’ is apparently best known for its setting ‘the fenland’ Swift lyrically takes us on a journey upon these mournful uncertain lands and we are submerged into his imagine. ‘Tom Crick’ a history teacher at a school in London is losing his post for reasons that will later become clear and we are sent on a voyage in to his haunting melancholy past, this quickly becomes a novel of both political history, family and personal history. I must say there is a lot of history and my respect for the subject has increased since reading this.

The prose is constantly lyrically, but yet subordinate clauses riddle their way through and loop their way back to earlier clauses and points, whilst each one maintains its own agenda, its own history within the book. The narration can be cause confusion but once you get to grips with the structure we see the overwhelming sense of powerless mankind faces when faced with reality and the concepts of morality. Needless to say this book explores the past on a level in which I have never experienced before. Not only has this but it contained one of the most though provoking lines I have ever stumbled across:

‘often the future we dream of is built upon the dreams of a long imagined past’

My God that is one of my favourite quotes, only beaten by self-conscious narratives of D.H Lawrence F.Scott Fitzgerald and Arthur Miller. Not that this book is without its faults it does sometimes lose its direction and aimlessly wander, however I compare this to Dickens and Melville, the description is lively, poignant, sometimes even beautiful. The novel forces us to look into our own lives, our own past and question our mental state. Swift forces us on an exploration of uncertainty. The uncertainty of history and of storytelling and the ultimately unfathomable nature of the motives of others. I don’t wish to give too much of this plot away, anything at all in fact I want you to pick up the book! But the chapter with the witch is certainly worth the 200 plus page wait (only spoiler you’ll be getting) it is a mystical tale filled with suspense and a shockingly heightened realism.

And the twist. The twist. I had to sit in a darkened room and almost cry.

9.8/10

If nothing I have said intrigues you just think to yourself that I have enjoyed this book too much that I actually want somebody else too as well.

P.S.  Apologies if found in my other blog I posted it there first by accident.

1 Comment

Filed under Books, British Literature, Literature, Opinions, Reviews

King Lear-A tragic play full of pity and fear?

I apologize for my lack of actual ‘Literary Criticism’ these past few weeks, I didn’t realise the bog standard of work I’d get caught up in. So, here’s another one of my shameful essays, but if you look at it, it is kind of criticism. If it is not, then enjoy reading the torture I’ve endured the past week just trying to make this half decent to hand in, I promise you soon, I’ll do some ‘hardcore’ criticism:

“The audience’s response is full of pity and fear” In your opinion, how does the dramatic effect of the play’s ending impact on the overall tragedy of King Lear?

Max: 1300 words

Shakespeare’s King Lear is often regarded as the most tragic play of all time. A dramatic genre full of tragedy with the potency to manifest feelings of pity and fear and bind the audience together in apprehension. Sheer terror arises through the distinct line of consciousness that runs throughout the play and allows us to focus upon human nature in an entirely different concept. The dramatic conclusion to this tragic drama allows us to question the morality of individualists, examine and evaluate the terrifying social consequences of actions derived from flawed caricatures and to which extent this hold has upon society. Through acknowledging Aristotle’s assertion that pity and fear are necessary emotions in tragedy, we can study whether the bleak ending of King Lear is really an apparently inevitable sequence to an ongoing catastrophe, additionally, why the play’s nihilist ending is perceived to reduce the audience to a state of startled fear and pity.

The finale concluding King Lear, Act V scene iii, revokes within the audience the astounding emotions of intense tragedy. The convulsion of human passion that is plagued throughout the play does not abruptly halt within the final scenes; it’s a continual penetrating pathos that riddles its way throughout the play. When Kent utters in the final scene ‘The wonder is he hath endured so long. He has but usurped his life” We must look to the previous acts to decipher Lear’s exposed characteristics’ and flaws to piece together where in King Lear tragedy was first awakened. Lear in Act I scene i was an egotistical, tyrannical patriarch, his constant error believing authority solely lay in him as the royal monarch. His continual use of the royal pronoun “we” showed his selfishness disdain, a sign of hypocrisy as he is only clothed in the riches and his fall from kingship leads him to strip off his garments, he vainly shouts “Off off! You lendings!” in Act III scene iv. The removal of garments is a serious portrayal of political madness in King Lear; it is Lear’s descent into political insanity through his moral blindness that we feel pity. His casting out of his daughter Cordelia within Act I of the play after she refused to participate in his ‘love test’ by humbly asserting to speak “nothing” ’is the fatal flaw Lear holds. His rashness of his cruel and unjust decision is the first sign of mental instability. Lear’s ideal of hamartia allowed his capricious division of power; to this degree will our pity and fear be modified accordingly.
However, it is not only the fall of Lear that awakens tragedy; Shakespeare uses the literary device of a sub-plot involving the Earl of Gloucester, his bastard son Edmund and his legitimate son Edgar to mirror and portray elements of the main plot. Politically, both King and Earl undergo the same mental and physical torture; both are rejected by their younger offspring as they sought to gain power. Edmund, Gloucester’s bastard son, tricks Gloucester into casting out legitimate Edgar; it is from Gloucester’s “failure to keep his house in order” that Edmund’s Machiavellian, unscrupulous methods thrive. It is this power that plays an extensive role throughout King Lear, the quest for power corrupts, but when absolute power is attained, treachery and deceit flourish.
Gloucester’s blinding in Act III scene vii is a pivotal scene in the play, it is here that we learn to forgive all of Gloucester’s other misfortunes, his exhausted pleas for his attackers to “do me no foul play friends” are given our utmost pity, we no longer see a rash, vengeful Earl, but a fearful, ageing man. It is a metaphoric sense of blindness though that grips King and Earl; Gloucester is transformed from a life of only crediting a social hierarchy to one of resignation. It is when they’ve both been subjected to humility and corruption that they learn of their flaws, Lear allows himself to be rid of his crown of “hardocks, hemlock, nettles…” His sanity is restored in Act IV scene vii when his clothes are; Lear no longer needs to wear the “idle weeds” as a symbol of his jarred senses. Meanwhile, Gloucester’s begs Edgar to be “Away, and let me die” But after his attempt to commit suicide fails, he decides to bear his affliction until the end. It is the afflictions both characters’ receive that allow us to learn the value of human life and compassion, which pity is often the spectacle of.

King Lear initiates two tragic characters, although ultimately ‘good’ prevails, madness and death lurks mysteriously in the darkness. Historic and Marxist Jacobean England critics state that the final moments of the play are remnants of an essentially corrupt and flawed political system, it is hard to distinguish whether justice or corruption triumphs. Lear’s initially established hierarchy is destroyed and disaster is enabled to engulf the realm. King Lear is a brutal play filled with human cruelty; we question whether there is any possibility of justice in this world. The final scene is where Lear endures his agony, he has spiritually grown, wanting to “pray and sing” passively, Lear remains calm but this is short-lived and fearfully torn away as Cordelia, the embedded symbol of human kindness, is savagely killed.

Cordelia’s death is the ultimate horrifying extent of Lear’s consequences, demonstrating man’s inhumanity towards man but also, Cordelia’s death was not the end usually coined by critics or expected by past literary and theatrical traditions. Critic Swinburne asserts that the moral injustice of this play is made more abundant by claiming words such as requital, redemption and mercy have no meaning within King Lear and Lear himself in Act V scene iii questions injustice himself shrieking “Why should a dog, a horse a rat have life/ And thou no breath at all? “ Old religious hierarchies and moral certainties have been stripped away. The old cheap Shakespeare moral that “Truth and Virtue shall at last succeed” are condemned to nothing more than false alterations and we condemn these feelings as we see the limits of suffering have gone far beyond the limits of endurance. The loss of faith is evident to see when people who believed in some futile shred of justice such as Cordelia, are mercilessly sacrificed. Some “brand from heaven” cannot be salvaged back and we condemn what A.C Bradley nobly motioned-that the play has some form of Christian redemption. It was considered to pitiful and gloomy in the 17th century by Tate that he decreed the play be re-wrote. The dramatic conclusion of King Lear allows the audience to fear their own individual fates, passions and how powers working beyond our physical control penetrate the imagination, leaving us pitying the feeblest of lives.

It is foolish to say it is only because of the immense scope of suffering Lear endures that moves the audience to pity, because in reality it is far more than these diminutive suggestions. Lear’s misfortunes are greater than his offences, but, because the audience members perceive that they too could behave similarly, pity is fumbled upon and is both magnified and mitigated. Lear’s downfall from power, his complete reverse from fortune strikes a chord within common human sympathy; the suffering and calamity experienced are exceptionally moving. We are deeply distressed when Lear compares his wits to those of hell “O let me not be mad, sweet heaven!” and we fear Lear’s mental instability. Naturally, we do pity those who’ve had the potential for greatness however, by being exigent, have sacrified it for the temptations of immediacy. The tragedy lies with Lear’s internal psychological conflict, the plays brutal ending juxtaposed with Lear’s caricature only mirrors the grotesque nature within us all. The rashness of human behaviour astounds pity and fear as we question the pre-determined extent of moral and the pre-manipulated freedom of will.

Word Count: 1303

Leave a comment

Filed under British Literature, Uncategorized

British vs American literature

Here’s an enthralling debate that my English lit teacher tried to rapacious jostle down our throats today. But what physically repulsed me more than my fellow peers lack of acknowledgement for any spectrum of the English speaking world (as well as their uses’ of poor satirical humour, grammar and spelling-No joke, this one girl who sits behind me asked me how to spell ‘because’; she’d obviously forgotten the elephant rhyme) is that without even a blind thought, every gullible, moronic, rash and senseless buffoon in my class immediately replied with ‘British’ before laughing as if they’d just pulled off an incredible stunt of heroic patriotism.
Imprudent whims’.
All except me, I have been branded the ‘awkward’ one (or as I like to call myself: The only logical human being in the entire class who actually perceives sense and understanding within everything I look at) purely because I refuse to partake in any preposterous notions that my class mates all seem fine to join in with.
Somebody across the room from me decided to defend themselves’ and shout at me:

‘What have the Americans got on US!? WE have Shakespeare! Austen, Bronte (x4) Dickens, Shelley, Milne, Tolkien, Joyce, Wilde errmmmmmmmm, ermmmmmmm, Wordsworth…..Orwell! Wait what was Virgina Woolf?’

To which I quite coolly responded:

‘So you and your uneducated, shriveled, illiterate mind are willing to allow this debate to be solved by listing a group of names, as if somehow the power of them juxtaposed alongside each other in a sentence quite poorly strung along by you, and your flagrant mouth, is enough to convince me that British literature is greater than American without the use of evidence or by the means of a vigorous discussion? Plus Virginia Woolf was English.’

Then this certain person just creased his lips at the sides and shook his head, as if I was the one who didn’t comprehend the topic and the subject of patriotism. So at this, before I was about to launch into a fully assembled assault on this petulant fool of a child, our teacher stopped us and told us to mull it over in our own time and then come back prepared next lesson for a ‘light, mellow’ discussion (she said this sentence with my specific interests at heart. I don’t think I’ve been involved in a single debate that didn’t end with the other candidate in tears) So, as I was preparing my notes before partaking in yet another mindless debate, I thought, where else to put my reasoning than here:

Firstly, I like to say that the quality of the written work of an author has nothing to do with the nationality of the author.
I’ve judged each individual novel for the content on which it contains and not on the authors race, sexuality, gender, etc. I have found though, that one divide between the two continents books’ are that American literature is wholly centered around politics, satire and cynicism. Whereas British literature I tend to find (especially in the 1800’s) to be centered around romance and ideals of men, differences in class and manners.
Lots of American novelists tend to write with their ‘head’ and ‘mouth’ whereas British authors write with their ‘heart’ (makes sense to my lit class). I do not see how the two are meant to be compared, how you (referring to my lit professor) expect us to calculate the difference between the two, then undoubtably slander the other countries’ works on how they are no ‘match’ for ours, how they have no ‘vigour’ and ‘valour’ Very well, I will amuse you for a short while.

American literature, in my opinion first came into its driving force with the religious and political influence in the late 1800’s, something Britain had some 400 years earlier and who’s whole status as a ‘great’ nation is built upon the backs of our predecessor’s. With this is in mind and if being superficial, I could easily conclude that Britain has produced the greatest amount of literature that there could be, due to its volumes and the incredulous of worldwide attention it receives. When people tend to look overseas for great literature, they tend turn to Britain before searching elsewhere, Americans especially. Yet, in turn Britain looks to America.
I feel we have to break down the walls of cynicism for our minds to stop being so parochial. We must stop looking at lists of authors names and which texts are easier to study and instead

we should consider the product rather than the conditions of its creation. What would it look like to be not-parochial in a literature? What, we should ask ourselves, would a corpus of writing need to do? It would need to look outwards towards the world. It would need to engage with modernity – not just the political conditions of our age but its technological and linguistic texture; its science and its religion; its mass-media and its consumer culture.

American literature seems to have the upper hand in these aspects, with world trade federations in fire, terrorism and racism lurking upon every street corner and 9/11 attacks. Through this, American authors seem to speak more through political driven campaigns, with (in regards to literature) higher emphasize on the characters and plots. British literature seems to concentrate on wit, and chooses themes, styles and significance over characters and plots.

I can’t simply pick on which literature is supposedly better, you may choose and pick and base your decisions upon nothingness as much as you wish but I simply will not. How is it for a class who make rash decisions based upon the country they’re born into decide how one aspect of literature is greater than another? How one country’s works parallel the greatness of another? I don’t believe even the greatest of philosophers’ can determine this. I’m even half tempted to say American literature just to silence your never-ending turbulence of idiotic and senseless questioning. Alas, I’ll close my speech here, before any more sour and unrelenting words are said about you or this class and before I give you reason to question my conclusion.

If anybody can give me a dignified response as to wish they perceive to be better and that your argument won’t be diminutive please do tell me, as I wish to silence this debate that still enrages within the few cubic centimeters inside my skull.

Sources

Some twat in my English class (Hardly even worth a second mention, but I find his remark to comical not to credit)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturecritics/samleith/3561561/Nobel-Prize-judge-is-wrong-to-denounce-American-literature.html

 

Leave a comment

Filed under American Literature, Authors, British Literature, Opinions, Thoughts, Uncategorized