Category Archives: Culture

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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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.

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My year in ‘philosophical’ quotes

I’ve decided to put every single quote that I considered to be quite insightful into this blog post, a few of these are provided by my delightful friend Shannon (who didn’t mean to become so quizzical about everything she came into contact with) A few are provided by me (a lot were uttered whilst I was either drunk or high, don’t take some of these too literally for the sake of your good sense)

‘I don’t think love is difficult to understand, you know when you’re in love, lust is the most deadly of all emotions, it combines elements of everything you wish to escape Gluttony, want, sin and of course: Love.’

‘They call it the future because it’s not happening now, it’s neither the past nor the present, it’s the future’

‘Contrary to popular opinion life is the longest thing you will ever do, if you don’t like it, then you can remove yourself from it. But it is eternity that I am afraid of, forever; you can’t remove yourself from that, no matter how harsh it may seem’

‘I find the concept of time extremely puzzling. Take John (our history teacher) he has taught for 35 years, I haven’t even been alive that long. It is all very fascinating’

‘I’m pro-choice and the reason that I’m pro-choice is because I’m protecting the value and sanctity of human life, a penis belongs in the vagina: The opinions of men, religion and others do not’

‘I often try to forget the past, but sometimes I can’t help but cling on to it, I may have my future ahead of me, but the past will always look more convincing when it comes to being happy’

‘The reason I first tried drugs is because I was curious, the reason I continued to try drugs, was because I became even more curious of my limitations and boundaries involved with the trip. The reason I stopped doing drugs is because I ran out of money’

‘People in comas may as well be cauliflowers or some other form of vegetable and everybody hates vegetables’

‘People disgust me, but then I realise that Jesus died for them as much as he did for me and then I feel like I’m the unclean one’

‘If religion is so great why does it cause so many wars? But if Jesus is so great then why do so many people die because of these wars?’

‘Of course I’m still in love with them, have you ever seen somebody else’s heart beat so heavily with a suppressed aching? There must be a limit to how much the human heart can endure!’

‘Every time I fornicate it is fucking but I don’t give one’

I apologise for the ramblings of the inner workings of my mind.

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A Brief Look at Americans and Literature (and Why We Suck?)

About a month or so ago I was patronizing a particular bar that I’ve grown fond of. Good crowd, great beer selection, awesome bartender (i.e. plenty of buy backs) and a well-stocked jukebox. It was a good Friday night and for most of it, it was just my boyfriend and I just shooting the shit over a few drinks. The night wore on and more people came and went and my boyfriend had just put some more tunes on the jukebox. For a good portion of the later part of the night, there was an older, Irish man sitting next to us. He was at the bar by himself and enjoying a few Budweisers, not really talking to anyone. As my boyfriend and myself were people watching (i.e. making fun of other bar patrons) one of his songs came on, a Johnny Cash tune. It was this song that lead me into one of the most intellectual and philosophical discussions I’ve had to date, as well as creating a new way I view American culture, especially in regards to education and literature (and just about everything else!)

The song came on and the elder gentlemen next to us (sadly, and despite our lengthy conversation, I did not actually catch his name. We had no formal introduction, but I believe the bartender may have referred to him as “Martin,” at some point, so for brevity’s sake we will call him that) began talking to us about Johnny Cash’s prowess as a musician. The conversation was welcome, since it had mainly been the two of us the whole night, even if it was drunk small talk. This brief agreement on Johnny Cash’s music, however, opened the floodgates to a fulfilling, worldly conversation neither of us were expecting. Music led to conversations about beer and drinking which led to nationalities which led to government which led to politics which then led to literature. I’ve never had such a down-to-earth, yet  intellectual conversation about literature with another person (and that’s including being a literature major in college). I think this says a lot about American culture and the educational system.

Martin is from Ireland and he is a brick layer. A menial job, so to say. He mentioned nothing about having any sort of higher education. Just a regular working class man. But he can unflinchingly quote Joyce, Keats, Shakespeare and Shaw without batting an eye. And he did so, often, throughout our conversation. Not to prove anything about himself. Not to feel superior – only because it is what he knows and understands and applies to life situations. And he wasn’t throwing out quotes willy-nilly, either. Every single one was appropriate in the conversation, and he was able to give his opinion and analysis on every one. It was amazing, but it also made me sad, as I thought about my own culture. Americans can quote so readily movies and tv shows and oft-misquoted or mis-credited celebrities. Hackneyed lines and responses we use so frivolously because that’s what we know. Do we ever try to quote Twain, or Faulkner or even any contemporary American authors, hell any reputable authors from any country, even, in a realistic sense in a way that can sum up our opinions or even facts about what’s happening in the world? And not just because it’s something we learned in class the other day or heard on a podcast. Rarely. Very rarely.

Martin didn’t just take a class on applying literature to cultural politics. He didn’t go to the library and dig his nose in a book for hours for conversational fodder (at least, I hope to God he didn’t). Martin just knew what he was talking about – because he was raised to study, admire and absorb these wonderful writers from his country and all over. As Americans, we really need to place an importance on literature – especially on our children. Expand their horizons beyond summer reading lists. Let them experience the classics before they’re forced to study them in college. Let the working class be just as educated as the upper. We all deserve it. We all have a right to be open to the wonderful words that surround us in this world. Even if it just comes about in a conversation over a few drinks – it will be a conversation that will last with you forever.

Let literature in.

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