Category Archives: Thoughts, Criticism, and Other Informal Ramblings

Literary Depression

In my last post, I talked a bit about Matt Haig’s literature-heavy antidote to depression, and mentioned that his own book had helped me immensely during some of my most despairing moments. That was true.

I also said that reading a book tipped me into the first quasi-depressive episode I ever experienced. That was true, as well.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about that contradiction, lately. I think that Haig is right when he says that reading is a pathway out of ourselves, and out of minds that are turning on us. But I also think that that outward journey can have devastating effects when we crash back into ourselves too suddenly. Continue reading

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Things That are More Victorian than Victorian Literature: Crimson Peak

I’m back! Though I can’t make any promises about when my next post will be, due to a combination of overwork and my frankly hellish mental state these days.

Speaking of hellish, though: I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write about something as obviously Victorian as Guillermo del Torro’s thriller/romance Crimson Peak. I also couldn’t write about it effectively without giving away major plot points, however, so read at your own peril…

I was going to begin this post with something like “I came to Crimson Peak for the incest and stayed for the class commentary,” but then it hit me just how thoroughly the Shmoop writing style has permeated my consciousness, and I began to feel a little bad about the extreme glibness of my writing these days. Though—as you see—not bad enough to resist throwing the line in anyway. Continue reading

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(Sort of but Not Really) Reviving the “Tragic Flaw”

Being (I guess) a morose kind of person, I spent a large chunk of my time in graduate school researching tragedy. I was specifically interested in the concept of gendered tragedy in George Eliot’s novels—a kind of tragedy in which the protagonist’s agency is always already radically curtailed by virtue of her sex. What would hamartia—the “error” made by the prototypical tragic protagonist—look like in such cases?

Of course, one of the first things I discovered while researching was the fact that the pop culture understanding of tragedy—and of hamartia in particular—is grossly misinformed. Most of us, I think, were told sometime in junior high that a tragic hero has a tragic flaw—some kind of moral failing that precipitates his downfall. This, as it turns out, is almost certainly not what Aristotle had in mind when he wrote the Poetics; though hamartia can refer to an error in moral judgment, it can just as easily refer to an error with no readily discernable moral dimensions. And even if we do take Aristotle to mean the former, it strikes me that this is not quite the same as a character flaw: the emphasis is on a discrete moment in time in which the character made a mistake rather than on an inherent tendency (or, at the very least, a pattern of behavior). Continue reading

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My Gripe with Stephanie Meyer (Besides the Obvious)

If there’s one thing I’ll never forgive Stephanie Meyer for (besides general misogynistic grossness), it’s ruining the Brontës for me.

Let me tell you a little story, in belated honor of Valentine’s Day. I did not read Jane Eyre until my sophomore year of college. I read it because I was required to read it for a course, and if I hadn’t been forced to read it then, it probably would have been years before I got around to it. I had read (and adored) Wuthering Heights, but the things I liked about Wuthering Heights were not things I expected to find in Jane Eyre. I thought at the time that I only enjoyed love stories with a twist. Star-crossed love, obsessive love, unrequited love—they all fascinate me; what I didn’t like (and still, for the most part, don’t like) in a story is happily-ever-ever love. I knew Jane Eyre was more or less a happily-ever-after kind of romance, and as a 19 year old with pretensions of academic seriousness, I didn’t expect to like it. Continue reading

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Quick Thoughts on Mockingjay – Part 1: Rebellion, Propaganda, and Metafiction

Please Note: The following post contains some spoilers for both Mockingjay – Part 1 and the Hunger Games series as a whole, so read at your own discretion.

Right up until last week’s premiere, I was concerned that Mockingjay would be the stumbling block when it came to adapting the Hunger Games trilogy. No, I do not count myself amongst the readers who grew exasperated with the final installment’s unrelenting grimness; if anything, Suzanne Collins earned my undying respect by painting such a plausibly—if dishearteningly—bleak portrait of a revolution (let’s not forget how frequently real revolutions die out, are hijacked, or result in a regime even worse than the one that preceded it). My concern therefore had less to do with Mockingjay’s tone or subject matter than it did with its structure. In both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the Games themselves function as a kind of narrative scaffolding; they carry with them their own climaxes and conclusions and, at least in Catching Fire, are the linchpin in the plans of both the Capitol and the insurgency. Mockingjay lacks this obvious structuring device, and in the added absence of the coherence provided by Katniss’s first-person narration, the movie seemed likely to falter. Continue reading

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Fingersmith, or: The Most Victorian Novel Ever Was Written in 2002

Regrettably, this will be a fairly short (and very informal) post; I have to return my copy of Fingersmith to the library, so I don’t have time to mine it for the quotes that would allow me to talk about it in more detail. I also haven’t quite decided whether the title of this post is misleading—whether Fingersmith really is a true-blue Victorian novel (just with a queer twist), or whether its use of so many quintessentially Victorian tropes and plot devices somehow makes it even more postmodern than, say, The French Lieutenant’s Woman or Possession (two other wonderful 20th/21st-century spins on 19th-century literature). Either way, though, it’s a fascinating book. Continue reading

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Twists and Turns

It’s strange which moments stick with you. I don’t typically remember my first viewing of a movie unless it becomes an instant favorite, but I do remember, quite distinctly, the first time I saw Jane Eyre. It was the 1943 version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, I was probably seven or eight years old, and I was watching it with my mom. Or rather, my mom was watching it while I was in the room; I don’t recall being particularly interested in it myself, since I had no taste as a child. Maybe I was paying more attention than I remember, though, or maybe the foreshadowing is simply too obvious to miss (admittedly, it’s been several years since I saw that version). It’s even possible that at some prior point in my life, I had heard something somewhere about Jane Eyre that had, for whatever obscure reason, lodged itself in my unconscious. Whatever the reason, at one point fairly early in the movie, I turned to my mom and asked—much to her surprise—whether Mr. Rochester’s secret had anything to do with a hidden first wife. Continue reading

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Dickens’ Woman Problem?

I have a confession: I’m a feminist, and I love Dickens.

Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure which part of that sentence is supposed to constitute the real admission, since God knows people hate the word “feminist.” That said, I’ve met several women who are quick to write off Dickens’ entire oeuvre as patriarchal nonsense, and it pains me a little. Because while I don’t especially want to linger on Dickens’ private life—frankly, it’s not pretty—I think he often gets a bad rap where his novels themselves are concerned.
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The TExES Content Exam Doesn’t Care About Content: A Rant

As I offhandedly mentioned in an earlier post, I’m currently working on becoming a certified teacher. For a variety of reasons, my desire to work in a public school is somewhere in the negative thousands, but it’s my earnest hope that the experience of student teaching, combined with a graduate degree in my field, will land me a job at a private school. In the meantime, though, I’m studying for the TExES exam in secondary English. In theory, these exams are designed to ensure that first-year teachers have the “content knowledge” required to succeed in the classroom.

It’s probably a measure of my naiveté that, when I first heard about these tests, I assumed that “content knowledge” meant “content knowledge”—as in, knowledge of a field of study. Of course, it rankled a bit that two degrees in English did not constitute sufficient proof of my content knowledge, but since we do love our standardized tests in America, I was hardly surprised. I was also generally sanguine about the test; I did well on the GRE subject test in literature, so I thought that this test would be no problem at all.

I was in for two rude wake-up calls. Continue reading

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The (No Doubt) Much-Anticipated Follow-Up on Boy, Snow, Bird

If you’re at all interested in film studies, gender studies, or both, I highly recommend taking a glance at Jack Halberstam’s article on The Silence of the Lambs. In the meantime, though, I’ll do my best to cut through the critical language and offer a (no doubt oversimplified) synopsis. “Skinflick” was written in part as a rebuttal to accusations of transphobia in The Silence of the Lambs’s depiction of Buffalo Bill. Halberstam argues that Buffalo Bill should not be read as transgendered, but rather as a kind of critique of the very notion of gender (or identity) as stable, internal, and unified:

Buffalo Bill kills for his clothes and emblematizes the ways in which gender is always posthuman, always a sewing job that stitches identity into a body bag. Skin, in this film, is identity itself rather than the surface of an interior identity. Buffalo Bill, in other words, is a limit case for gender, for identity, for humanness. He does not understand gender as inherent, innate; he reads it only as a surface effect, a representation, an external attribute engineered into identity (176)

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