Thursday, November 21, 2013

Review: THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE by Robert Louis Stevenson

book cover Original Publication Date: 1886

Genre: mystery, horror

Topics: madness, good vs evil, society

Review by heidenkind:

Mr. Utterson, a London lawyer, is concerned that his friend, Dr. Jekyll, has developed a relationship with an unsavory character named Mr. Hyde, especially as Hyde has been connected with several incidents of violence and assault. Eventually Jekyll assures Utterson he's cut off all ties with Hyde, but the mystery of Hyde's connection to Jekyll persists, especially after Jekyll disappears.

A few weeks ago, I got it into my head that I was going to read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This is a book I'd had no interest in reading before; and, considering I DNF'd Treasure Island earlier this year, I didn't have super-high hopes for it. I was pleasantly proved incorrect—I loved Jekyll and Hyde, and this novel will definitely land on my short list of favorite reads of the year.

Robert Louis Stevenson had me from the very beginning of the story with his comparison of Utterson—a completely conventional, moderate, and reasonable man—to that of his friend and distant relative, Mr. Enfield, a "well-known man about town":

It was a nut to crack for many, what these two could see in each other, or what subject they could find in common.

In this way Stevenson immediately sets us up for a story about the multiple sides of men's characters—for, if Utterson was completely mild-mannered and Enfield completely dissolute, how would they manage to enjoy one another's company so much? Clearly there's a little of Utterson in Enfield and vice versa.

Fittingly, it is through Enfield that the character of Hyde is introduced, seen in a disreputable part of town knocking over a little girl. Utterson also knows Hyde, or knows of him, because Hyde is mentioned in the will of his friend, Dr. Jekyll. Like Utterson, Jekyll is an upstanding gentleman whose friends are "all intelligent, reputable men and all judges of good wine." So what would Jekyll have to do with a reprobate like Hyde? Utterson wonders.

Obviously we all know the answer to that question, even if we haven't read the book. But the real issue driving the story is WHY—what would drive Jekyll to even conceive of a way to isolate a part of his personality and then switch from one to the other?

Jekyll and Hyde was not what I was expecting based on the adaptations I've seen. It's more of a detective story than a horror story, and neither Jekyll nor Hyde are as good or evil as they've been portrayed. Is Hyde really evil, or is he just uncivilized? He knocked over the girl by accident, and he did offer recompense to her family. It seems like Hyde's demonic nature is more perception than reality; as soon as people see him, they detest him. According to Enfield,

I had taken a loathing to my gentleman at first sight. So had the child's family, which was only natural. But the doctor's case was what struck me. He was the usual cut-and-dry apothecary, of no particular age and colour, with a strong Edinburgh accent, and about as emotional as a bagpipe. Well, sir, he was like the rest of us; every time he looked at my prisoner, I saw that Sawbones turn sick and white with the desire to kill him.

How else is a person supposed to react when people treat them like that?

Jekyll wasn't the mild-mannered shy physician I anticipated, either: he's a gentleman bachelor NOW, but it's stated that in his youth he was "wild," and there's a certain "slyness" about his face.

It's for these reasons that I don't see The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as being a tale of good versus evil—instead, it's a cautionary tale about conformity. Jekyll wants to be normal and to fit in with those men who are respectable and intelligent, so he tries to remove the part of himself they would shun if they knew about it. Whether it's addiction, the id, or a demon, Hyde represents whatever society rejects. In Jekyll's attempt to conform to society's definition of a gentleman doctor, he in turn rejects the part of himself that society finds distasteful, and in the process he destroys himself.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of those deceptively simple novels, like Animal Farm, that's a good story and also makes you think. It's accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds and can be read simply as a great story, an indictment of Victorian society as a whole, or anywhere in between. Definitely a book I think is a must-read.

Download The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|Internet Archive

Monday, November 11, 2013

Happy Birthday, Anna Katherine Green

Today is—or would be, if she was still alive—Anna Katharine Green's birthday. Green was the first woman to publish a mystery novel (The Leavenworth Case in 1878), and her books tend to be really weird. I don't know why I keep reading them, but I find them bizarrely fascinating. Like watching a Japanese game show: you have a general sense of what's going on, but you can also tell there are things getting lost in the translation. Except in Green's case, the translation is one of time rather than language.

By coincidence, I'm taking a class on historical fiction through Coursera right now called Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction, and Anna Katharine Green is one of the major authors featured. Apparently she was not just the first woman to publish a mystery novel, but was also the first person to write a historical mystery! Mind: blown.

The book in question is titled The Forsaken Inn; and yes, it's already on my Kindle. I thought it would be fun to include the instructor, Bruce Holsinger's, lectures on it here (I really hope the videos work):

Green was a realist? HOLY SHIT YOU GUYS, her books make so much sense now (I'm kidding, they still don't make sense). As a side note, Holsinger's obvious enjoyment of Green's very Victorian writing style is kind of adorkable.

One of the most interesting things I'm learning from this class is how much information can be found in the title pages of old books. They're like the metadata files of books in paper!

Anyway, happy birthday to Green, a very interesting and innovative author in her time period. Nice to see her getting some more attention!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Review: PYGMALION by George Bernard Shaw

Original Publication Date: 1912 -- Genre:  Play, drama -- Topics: Coming of age, bildgunsroman Review by : Liz Inskip-Paulk (
Although having been vaguely familiar with this story, I’d never actually sat down and read the actual play or researched its background, so decided to do that this week. I’m quite new to reading plays and it’s rather a different experience than reading a novel, but it’s enjoyable all the same. This one, based on Greek myth, is a familiar story structure based on taking someone (sort of Noble Savage/Frankenstein idea) and then transforming them into a higher class of creature (a la Cinderella tale).  And as a sign of the times and the national culture, this play’s characters are extremely class-ridden. (There’s also a trace of the ongoing science versus art debate as well.)

In this case, the characters of Dr. Higgins and Colonel Pickering, two self-taught scholars in linguistics, pull flower seller Eliza Doolittle off the streets and teach her how to become a Duchess. There are, of course, unforeseen events that occur and it’s actually much more serious that the adaptation “My Fair Lady” would have you believe. There’s definitely an element of Higgins/Pickering (both men) being Superior Gods of a type, and Eliza (the female character) being molded/taught and in the position of a child or less being.

 (It’s also argued that Pinocchio is an adaptation of this Greek myth as well, and the narrative was well known before this play and now afterwards, Magnum PI and Star Trek: Voyager, for instance, both have versions, and then there are numerous Hollywood versions including Pretty Woman and with an interesting twist backwards, the Stepford Wives.)

According to Greek myth (and Ovid, although I haven’t read Ovid), Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he carved. (The statue’s name was Galatea, FYI, and quite frequently the two names are paired together. (Doesn’t come up too often in my social circles though.)  The story finishes with a happy ending in most versions (as there was a popular demand for that), but Shaw plainly didn’t want that to happen (even though it did in some of the more commercial stage productions – which he hated.) In 1916, four years after the play had first been staged, Shaw was cross enough to add an afternote to the play in which he explains why he thought the ending had to be the way he wrote it. (It’s not a predictable ending, for the most part. The narrative is also quite feminist for the times, although that decision is supported by Shaw’s background and philosophy.)

 “I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me, I’m not fit to sell anything else.”

Shaw was an Irish playwright and worked to establish the London School of Economics (although it’s not clear to me what the connection would be between these two areas.) His mum was a professional singer, one of his sisters was a professional singer, so there was stage in his bones and childhood experiences.  He was an ardent socialist (clear in this play) and, curiously enough, is the only person who has ever been awarded both the Nobel Prize in Literature (1925) and an Oscar (1935) for his work on Pygmalion. Having no want for public honor, Shaw wanted to refuse the Nobel but accepted it at his wife’s bequest. The financial prize was personally rejected and he asked that it be used to finance translation of a Swedish playwright’s work.

Interesting note: Shaw joined the British Interplanetary Society, a group focused on space travel and exploration, when he was 91. I love that he was always learning something new throughout his life.


Download Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

Monday, October 21, 2013

Review: THE HOUSE OF THE VAMPIRE by George Sylvester Viereck

book cover Original Publication Date: 1907

Genre: horror

Topics: vampires, love, art

Review by heidenkind:

Ernest is a young writer with great ambition, so he's thrilled when the famous author, Reginald Clarke, offers him a room in his house while Ernest works on the next Great American Novel. Weirdly, though, Ernest can never focus on his own work; and in the meanwhile Reginald Clarke's most recent writings seem to be taken directly from Ernest's ideas, even though he never told anyone about them. Will Ernest's girlfriend and bestie be able to rescue him from Reginald Clarke's clutches before he loses his talent and writing ability forever?

When Chris reviewed The House of the Vampire here last year, I immediately knew I wanted to read it. A psychic vampire who steals people's ideas? Sounds like a few professors I've known (haha, I kid—but the relationship between Clarke and Ernest does have a very mentorship-gone-wrong feeling to it that sometimes happens in academia).

Despite Chris's review, though, The House of the Vampire wasn't exactly what I was expecting. I was thinking Reginald Clarke's house would be chock full of young artists participating in a bacchanal free-for-all, but instead Reginald Clarke—he's always referred to by both his first and last names—very monogamously focuses on destroying one artist's life at a time.

There was also less homosexual innuendo than I expected, considering this book is touted at the "first gay vampire book" (aside from, you know, Carmilla). Ernest and his bestie have a rather close relationship, but both he and Reginald Clarke are obviously interested in women; and honestly, in comparison to the Victorian vampire novels I've read, the sexual innuendo in The House of the Vampire bordered on nonexistent. Reginald Clarke's psychic vampirism is a metaphor, of course, just not for sex. Instead, it represents unchecked power. Rather than being modeled off of traditional vampires, Reginald Clarke is more along the lines of Nietzsche's Übermensch, which  Rüdiger Safranski said, "...represents a higher biological type reached through artificial selection and at the same time is also an ideal for anyone who is creative and strong enough to master the whole spectrum of human potential, good and 'evil', to become an 'artist-tyrant'." (Wikipedia) That's a pretty close description of Reginald Clarke, and I would say that it's clear George Sylvester Viereck was not a proponent of Nietzsche's philosophy IF I didn't also know he was a full-on Nazi. Interesting dichotomy of belief there.

I was also pleasantly surprised—even shocked—at the depth of insight Viereck brought to Ethel, one of Reginald Clarke's former victims and Ernest's muse. She's The House of the Vampire's single major female character, so it's not like the book passes the Bechdel Test or anything; but Viereck does treat her as a 100% human, fully-realized character who drives the actions of the main characters in the second half of the book. She's intelligent, independent, and sympathetic. She might be the best female character written by a man I've ever come across.

Overall The House of the Vampire was a very interesting, entertaining, slightly creepy read. It's more about art and ideas than vampires, but I'm cool with that. Definitely worth checking out.

Download The House of the Vampire by George Sylvester Viereck at Project Gutenberg|Librivox

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review: RED SHADOWS by Robert E. Howard

book cover Original Publication Date: 1928

Genre: adventure

Topics: revenge, swashbuckling

Review by heidenkind:

Solomon Kane, an English adventurer with a wicked blade, is wandering aimlessly around France when he randomly stumbles across a girl. She's been robbed and attacked and left to die. As her life fades away, Kane decides to seek vengeance! against leader of the brigands who killed her, Le Loup.

Red Shadows isn't a Conan story, which is slightly disappointing. But it is a swashbuckling tale with swordfights, gigantic Baroque hats, and over-the-top dialog. ("Fires of Hades! A girl!") So it's still really fun.

The writing style is more abrupt than Robert E. Howard's Conan novels: each chapter feels like a vignette and then we're abruptly moved to a completely different place and time. I kind of think Solomon also has less personality than Conan; or at least, his motivations are less clear. Conan's motivation is self-interest, which isn't particularly complex, but Kane is a like a vengeance machine. Like that's all he does, for no benefit to himself that I could see. In fact, it seems to bum him out. Maybe some of his backstory is revealed in the later stories, but for Red Shadows there wasn't a lot of character development going on. Maybe if the only female character hadn't died in chapter one I'd be happier with this novella.

you killed my father prepare to die

Still, overall it was a good story. Kane travels to Africa in his obsessive quest to take down Le Loup, which is totally random, and there are literally pages where all Howard talks about are his characters' eyes as they have the longest stare-down in history. I love it. And I definitely wouldn't object to reading more Solomon Kane stories, because who doesn't love a highly skilled swordsman whose mission is vengeance, right?

Download Red Shadows by Robert E. Howard at Project Gutenberg Australia|Librivox

Monday, August 26, 2013


Original Publication Date: 1899
Genre: American, classic 
Topics: coming-of-age; feminist; Louisiana
Review by : Liz Inskip-Paulk (

"The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation."
This book (a novel? A novella?) is really the story of a coming-of-age of an adult woman in Louisiana who is struggling with becoming an independent person while being married to a wealthy man she doesn’t particularly love.  A young male acquaintance named Robert is the catalyst for her realization of the possibility that she could be happy and independent, but how to do that, in this world of strict etiquette and gender expectations?
I had been thinking (from an earlier reading) that this edition of Chopin’s work was an early Feminist work (published in 1899). However, then, on further delving, it was pointed out that very few people read “The Awakening” when it first came out as it was not a commercial success and it received some pretty awful reviews so it wasn’t republished.  
Her other short stories were published and even anthologized, but “The Awakening” didn’t really receive much positive attention until 1969 when a volume of her work was republished and regained attention.  And this is rather a shame, as this is a good read with some great descriptions of Bayou coastal life and life in the South.
On reflection, Chopin’s The Awakening’s critical rejection could also have been to the misogyny of the time – most of the media reviewers were men (at that time), and as her leading character was a frustrated married woman who refused to accept the limitations of the woman’s role and instead chose an alternative way (thus completely rejecting societal mores), it might not be that surprising that the male reviewers did not embrace this radical viewpoint.
 "Has she," asked the Doctor, with a smile, "has she been associating of late with a circle of pseudo-intellectual women—super-spiritual superior beings? My wife has been telling me about them."
So, yes, it’s a Feminist work but it’s been quite widely argued that it wasn’t written to bring attention to the issue of feminism, emancipation or any other cause. Chopin was not involved in any Feminist or other causes (according to researchers) and it’s argued that Chopin was just writing the world as she saw it as an artist and writer and not trying to change the world. She wasn’t using it as a tool to further women’s suffrage, even accidentally.
However, as I write this, surely it’s clear from even a cursory reading of this that Chopin believed in the right of a woman to have an independent life and was a pre-supporter of Woolf’s concept of “a room of her own”, whether written down or not.  And by so doing, wouldn’t it be logical that she would want all the other freedoms that would come with that? Or was it the whole concept of individual freedom that Chopin was admiring and gender was irrelevant? And how would race fit into that? (She lived for most of her life in Louisiana which was a huge piece in the slavery industry picture then.)
I don’t know. It’s tough to read something that was written at the end of the nineteenth century without looking at it with the perspective of a twenty-first century reader. How can you really ever take that pair of glasses off because your (own) experience of life has to influence how you interpret things, especially works as nebulous as art? Perhaps Chopin was really just writing this to make a buck and there wasn’t any extra meaning to this whole thing.
Download The Awakening by Kate Chopin at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: THE SEVEN SLEUTHS' CLUB by Carol Norton

book cover Original Publication Date: 1928

Genre: middle-grade

Topics: friendship, equality            

Review by heidenkind:

In the small town of Sunnyside, seven high school girls start a club called the SSC, which originally means Spread Sunshine Club until one of the girls figures out their brothers are in a Conan-Doyle sleuthing club. After he tells her girls can't solve mysteries, they decide to change their name to the Seven Sleuths Club and look for mysteries to solve. But before that happens, they have to deal with their annoying brothers, schoolwork, and a new girl in town who's a bit of a snob.

The Seven Sleuths' Club is a combination of Little Women and The Babysitters' Club, with Moral Lessons about treating everyone equally regardless of class or race (and, more subtly, irrespective of gender), the value of hard work, and the importance of kindness and compassion. Despite that, the book doesn't come off as preachy—I probably only noticed the Moral Lessons because I'm old and I notice stuff like that. The lessons are well-integrated into the story and if I was a middle-grade reader—the novel's intended audience—it wouldn't have been too twee for me.

Although there are eight main girl characters, the heroine of the story is really Geraldine, a rich city girl whose father sends her to Sunnyside because she's traipsing out with boys at night without telling him. As her dad explains in a letter to the Colonel, who's taking care of her, "Now I want Geraldine to have boy friends in a frank, open way, but of this sub-rosa business, my son and I heartily disapprove," which is quite open-minded of him. At first the girls of the SSC make fun of Geraldine because she's a horrible snob, but gradually we learn she's just a poor little rich girl who never had a mom to teach her manners and she gets an attitude adjustment.

The girls of the SSC were pretty interchangeable as characters—they're all more or less church-going goody goodies—but I liked Geraldine. Another character whom I LOVED was Danny O’Neil, the son of a tenant farmer who's Irish. Danny's passion is art but his dad beats him whenever he sees him drawing. Now here's the kicker: for Valentine's Day, he carves book ends for one of the girls because he know she loves to read! BEST GIFT EVER. He is so sweet.

The Seven Sleuths' Club most definitely passes the Bechdel Test—the girls talk about school work, events they're planning, their hobbies, and of course what sorts of mysteries they're going to solve (it takes nearly the entire book for them to find one). But I'm not sure I would call it feminist or say that the girls have demonstrable agency, since all the decisions they make are a response to what men do. It starts with the formation of the club—the boys have a detective club, we need a detective club!—and moves on to Geraldine, who only decides to "improve herself" when the boy she's crushing on says he wants to marry a girl who's a decent homemaker. *eyeroll* Still, there are some light—very light—digs at the boys, and eventually the two clubs join in an equal partnership. Oh, and the idea that men and women can't have platonic friendships? Carol Norton obviously doesn't agree: although there are a few romances going on in the story, for the most part all the girls and boys in the novel are simply friends who hang out together.

While The Seven Sleuths' Club isn't exactly feminist by modern standards, and is a little preachy and overly cute (although much less so than other books of its ilk like, say, Little Women), I still enjoyed it and loved the characters. Definitely worth checking out if you're interested in historic middle-grade fiction!

Download The Seven Sleuths' Club by Carol Norton at Project Gutenberg|Librivox

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review Round-Up

I haven't posted a review here in a while, not because I'm not reading but because I don't have a lot to say about most of the books I've come across in the last few weeks. I've abandoned most of them, but even those I've managed to finish have been meh. Just in a reading slump, I guess. I did find The Wheel Spins (book The Lady Vanishes was based on) interesting, but it's not in the public domain. I have some brief thoughts on the following novels, though, which might be worth checking out if you're interested.

The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard

book cover Original Publication Date: 1935-1936

Genre: fantasy

Topics: war, sorcery, revenge, quest, adventure

Review by heidenkind:

Conan is the King of Aquilonia after killing the previous ruler. You know that's not going to last long, and it doesn't: a group of conspirators raise the evil sorcerer Xaltotun from the dead so they can depose Conan and put some other guy on the throne. Due to luck and a slave girl with a crush, Conan manages to escape with his life, but can't regain his throne without a magical stone called the Heart of Ahriman.

This is the first and only novel-length Conan the Barbarian story Howard wrote. I didn't dislike it, but it also wasn't as amazeballs as some of the shorter stories I've read by him. There was only one major female character, who was kind of boring, and I found Xaltotun more interesting than Conan. I did think Howard did a great job of making Conan seem more human in this story, but where were the crazy twists?? The Hour of the Dragon was just too long and felt slightly draggy.

Download The Hour of the Dragon by Robert E. Howard at Project Gutenberg|Librivox

Miss Pim's Camouflage by Lady Dorothy Stanley

Original Publication Date: 1918

Genre: science fiction/fantasy

Topics: World War I, espionage, old lady, germanic horde

Review by heidenkind:

Miss Pim is a middle-aged spinster who feels nearly invisible. Then, one day, she doesn't just feel invisible—she becomes invisible! Soon all the guys at the War Office are feeling her invisible body up and then she's off to France to work as a spy, with the ultimate goal of assassinating the Kaiser.

I really loved the concept of this novel. Old lady adventures for the win! However, there was just wayyyyy too much anti-German propaganda in this book. I mean, I know me some anti-German propaganda (it's impossible to avoid in early 20th century English novels, and even some American novels), but in the case of Miss Pim's Camouflage it was so insanely over-the-top I felt like it overshadowed the story completely.

Interesting side note: if Google is to be trusted, Dorothy Stanley was also a successful painter known as Dorothy Tanner.

Download Miss Pim's Camouflage by Lady Dorothy Stanley at Google Books|Librivox

Aucassin et Nicolette

book cover Original Publication Date: 12th or 13th century

Genre: chantefable (combination sung poetry and verse)

Topics: love, honor, chivalry

Review by heidenkind again:

Aucassin is the son of a count and he really wants to marry a girl named Nicolette, but his dad's like, "Yeahhhhh, Nicolette is pretty and all, but she's a slave and not really appropriate marriage material. How about this nice princess?" And Aucassin's like, "This isn't the 11th century anymore, Dad, I can do what I want. I hate you!" So the count locks Aucassin in his room the dungeon and sends Nicolette away to a nasty viscount. Will these two crazy kids ever get together?

At first I really enjoyed this poem because Aucassin was an idiot. It was quite entertaining. But then Aucassin also turned out to be really mean. I can handle stupid, and I can handle nasty, but stupid AND nasty? I was kind of hoping he'd take a short plunge into a long spear, but instead he and Nicolette ended up getting together through a series of coincidences that were eye-rollingly unbelievable. But Wikipedia says it's meant to be a parody, so maybe that was the point? Either way, Aucassin was too annoying for me.

Download Aucassin et Nicolette at Project Gutenberg|Librivox

Monday, July 1, 2013

Review of THE SECRET ADVERSARY by Agatha Christie

book cover Original Publication Date: 1922

Genre: mystery, adventure
Topics: espionage, wwi, love, master criminal

Review by heidenkind:

Tommy and Tuppence are old friends who run into one another in post-WWI London and find themselves in the same boat: they're broke, unable to find work, and on the verge of being thrown out of their respective abodes. As they're musing over their impecunious fortunes, Tuppence has an idea: they should start their own business and be professional adventurers! Tommy agrees to put an ad in the paper just to humor her, but no sooner do they part ways than Tuppence receives a job offer from a very suspicious bloke. Beggars can't be choosers, however, so Tuppence agrees to accept a retainer, and in short order she and Tommy are sucked into a world of international intrigue, missing documents, spies, and master criminals. And that's just in the first few chapters!

This is only the third Agatha Christie novel I've read. The other two were Murder on the Orient Express, which was very good but didn't inspire me to read more Hercule Poirot books; and The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which was just okay. So I wasn't expecting to be wowed by The Secret Adversary.


The Secret Adversary is a very different type of book from Christie's Hercule Poirot novels. For one, it's hilarious. Whenever Tommy and Tuppence get together there's snappy, clever dialog, and the story is delightfully ridiculous with plenty of opportunities for hijinks. The coincidences in this novel are just mind-boggling, but whatever. As long as Tommy and Tuppence continue having adventures, Christie can throw as many incredible happenstances into this book as she wants.

Speaking of Tommy and Tuppence... I LOVE THEM! I need my own Tommy and Tuppence to hang with, you guys. I AM SERIOUS. The other characters in the book are also really fun, from Julius P. Hersheimmer, the American billionaire, to Albert, the elevator operator who loves gangster movies.

As for the mystery, it worked surprisingly well considering the pool of suspects consists of basically two, possibly three, men. Christie does a great job of planting red herrings that had me thinking I knew who Mr. Brown—the criminal mastermind—was, but at the same time not being quite sure.

The Secret Adversary is in no way a realistic book. It is a proudly fluffy, sublimely ridiculous tale. In a lot of ways it reminded me of The Man Who Was Thursday (which I loved), only much less metaphysical: the cabal organization, run by a mysterious man who is everywhere yet whom no one has ever seen; a series of fun, entertaining adventures; and then everyone lives happily ever after. In a word, delightful.

I can't wait to read all of Tommy and Tuppence's other stories! If you haven't read anything by Christie before, The Secret Adversary is a great place to start.

Download The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie at Project Gutenberg

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

THE SHEIK by EM Hull - Discussion

book cover Original Publication Date: 1919

Genre: romance, adventure

Topics: sex, power, exoticism

Discussion by heidenkind and Anachronist from Portable Pieces of Thought:

Diana Mayo is a frigid, rich, spoiled noblewoman who was raised by her brother and has always done more or less exactly as she pleased. When her brother plans to go to America for some heiress shopping, she decides she'd rather take a trip through the desert, on her own, with no protection aside from an Arab guide. Of course the Arab men carting her stuff around the desert aren't as amenable to her telling them what to do as her brother was (and he wasn't), and before you know it she's been kidnapped by a sheik. But on the plus side, at lease he's rich and handsome!

I had many feels about The Sheik, so I asked Anachronist from one of my favorite book blogs, Portable Pieces of Thought, to help me discuss it here, since I was curious about what her thoughts would be. Read on!

Did you like the book?

HEIDENKIND: Like is a strong word. lol My feelings about this novel are actually kind of all over the place. On one hand I disliked it but on the other hand I found it interesting. And parts of it were entertaining. I don’t know. It’s not something I’d want to read again, but I am weirdly glad that I read it because I feel like I know something now. But I’m not sure what the thing is.

ANACHRONIST: ‘Like’ is rather a wrong word here. I agree it was an interesting book, I am really pleased I read it because it made me understand so many romance trends still floating around, repeated and recycled over and over again. It is, I believe, an important book, like a landmark. Would I like to read it again? No. Would I like to read any other Hull romances (this one was the first of the series)? No. Some aspects of it were outrageous, some were simply silly and unreal and it left me frustrated.

The Sheik has been called the first modern romance novel. Agree or disagree?

HEIDENKIND: It’s definitely not what I would consider a romantic novel, but I can see parallels between it and a certain type of romance that was popular in the ‘70s and early ‘90s, where the hero rapes the innocent heroine and then they fall in lurve. A type of romance novel that I HATE, by the way. On the other hand, Diana is a much different heroine than you see in those types of novels. Usually they feature innocent young girls down their luck; Diana is a rich bitch who thinks she’ll always get her own way.

ANACHRONIST: Modern romance novel? No way. What about The Taming of the Shrew? I know, it is a play but still it features a cock-sure, aggressive alpha male who has to tame an assertive, independent female by showing her the right place. True, they get married first but overall the formula seems to be the same.

Was EM Hull the EL James of her time?

HEIDENKIND: I can see some similarities. Not necessarily the completely-stealing-a-plot-from-another-author similarity (although maybe Hull did, who knows), but I was reminded of Fifty Shades a lot while reading this book. They both portray sex as a game of domination and submission, with the woman in the submissive position. Way to twist gender stereotypes. /sarcasm

ANACHRONIST: Mrs. Hull definitely created a stir with her novel similar to 50 Shades but actually her success was more flamboyant. The Sheik, was first published in England in 1919 and quickly became an international blockbuster. They sold over 1.2 million copies worldwide and then some, especially after the film adaptation with Rudolph Valentino in 1921.Within the first year of its release, that movie exceeded $1 million in ticket sales and helped to solidify Valentino's image as one of the first male sex symbols of the screen. I suppose E.L. James would love to follow that kind of success but I would hate to see it repeated.

Wikipedia says The Sheik is the, “depiction of a strong, self-sufficient woman being tamed and subdued by a man who rapes her repeatedly.” Do you agree with this statement?

HEIDENKIND: Diana is certainly raped all through this novel and not just by Ahmed; but I don’t agree that she’s a strong woman, and I don’t think she was subdued, I think she was psychologically obliterated. I think she was all bluster and pride, but she had been pampered all her life and had nothing to shore up her self-identity when she lost everything: no faith, no loving family, no purpose or accomplishments. There’s that line she feeds to her brother before she leaves, “I will do what I choose when and how I choose, and I will never obey any will but my own.” That’s challenging the gods, girlfriend, and you’re about to get whacked. She doesn't even have the foresight to take reasonable precautions when she goes on a trip by herself to a place that’s not exactly Disneyland. Diana sets out a journey arrogant and conceited and the world ground that all down to dust, as it does. Kind of like the Odyssey, actually, only if Odysseus got Stockholm Syndrome and never made it home.

ANACHRONIST: I completely agree that Diana is hardly strong or self-sufficient to begin with. Yes, she is financially independent, yes, she flaunts her disregard for social proprieties wearing trousers, smoking publicly, rejecting suitors left right and centre. Still she is just a brat - without brains, imagination or at least a healthy dose of self-preservation.

You mentioned already challenging the gods which is the very idea that came to my mind as well; I think Diana also was attention-seeking, immature girl who loved challenging the society at large. In my opinion she did so because she didn’t know how to express her frustrations connected to the age of puberty and a transformation into an adult woman better. I suppose she emulated Diana/Artemis, the virgin goddess of hunt, but she has forgotten about getting some backbone in the process.

Funnily enough, with her ‘liberated’ attitudes Diana was scaring all those ‘civilised’ men around her to death (or maybe they were just too lazy or too stupid?)  until Ahmed saw her, understood and accepted her challenge. Mind you he did so only for his own selfish reasons and he chose a wrong way to deal with Diana. Rape only creates more issues, never helping to solve any problems.

What was the most uncomfortable scene for you?

HEIDENKIND: The one where they broke the horse, definitely. It was like watching a gang rape. Horrifying, and not the least because you KNOW it’s a foreshadow for what’s coming. Hull might as well have added a banner above the corral that read, “Diana, this is what is going to happen to you.”

ANACHRONIST: Breaking the horse was ugly indeed but I also hated the scene in which Ahmed killed Diana’s lovely mare, Silver Star, just because Diana didn’t want to slow down and he knew his horse wouldn’t be able to overtake her mount. It was such a waste of a beautiful animal and all because of the stupidity and foolhardiness of one she-brat. It was completely WRONG.

HEIDENKIND: That was horrible, too. The horses in this book were all-around treated pretty terribly, actually.

What did you think of Diana’s sudden realization that she loved the sheik?

sassy gay friend slow down crazy

HEIDENKIND: laff ←what I did. I saw it coming, so I was just like, “SLOW DOWN, Crazy.” What made it funny was the bigotry she threw into it. “I love him, that filthy, godless brute of a savage!” “...few weeks [ago], she would have shuddered with repulsion at the bare idea, the thought that a native could even touch her had been revolting...” Ha! Yeah, you’re totally in love. This is a great relationship.

ANACHRONIST: I actually snickered and guffawed  in the most unladylike manner. Diana brought it unto herself with her own stupidity and I wished her, apart from a nasty bout of calf love, Stockholm-syndrome flavoured,  also a bad case of rash on her lovely, white bum. And everywhere else.

What do you think were Hull’s intentions with this novel?

HEIDENKIND: I’m not entirely sure. I don’t think she set out to write a novel about love. In a way it’s like a female adventure novel, but the final message isn’t like something you would find in an adventure novel whether the protagonist is male or female. Instead of finding herself, Diana becomes completely dependent on Ahmed for her self-identity. Maybe it’s a metaphor for British colonialism?

ANACHRONIST: I think (and I might be wrong) that a) Mrs Hull was one bored woman and wife who dreamed of adventurous romance with a dash of masochism as a form of subconscious punishment for her unholy dreams b) she, the ‘good’ and ‘conventional’ girl, secretly despised and envied all the ‘bad’, ‘intelligent’, ‘independent’ girls so it was also her form of revenge c) she wanted to earn some money of course and here she proved to be a very shrewd businesswoman who succeeded admirably.

What’s the difference between the sheik, Ahmed Ben Hassan, and the men Diana knew in England?

HEIDENKIND: Well, Ahmed’s a “GODLESS SAVAGE,” obviously. Basically all the men in this book want Diana because she’s wild and untamable, but Ahmed is also wild and able to tame even the most stubborn of animals (as we saw at the corral scene), so only he is able to turn Diana into his bitch.

ANACHRONIST: Ahmed is a sadist who flaunts his proclivities - and he does so for a reason (I can’t say more as it would be a major spoiler). Civilised men Diana knew  just tended to hide those tendencies far better and were, I suppose, more lazy. Ahmed loved to tame his animals by breaking them; English gentlemen despised work in any form and preferred their wives or horses to be brought to them completely tamed and docile. Work is for ‘niggers’ right?(/sarcasm)

HEIDENKIND: That’s a great way to put it. Do you think Hull was using Ahmed as an example of a “real man,” then?

ANACHRONIST: Hard to say. There was certainly some fascination with his brutality and physical prowess so perhaps she indeed wanted to indicate he was more manly than his ‘civilised’ equivalents but to me he was one sick case of a sadist.

Which was more annoying in this novel, the misogyny or the racism?

HEIDENKIND: There’s a toss-up question for ya. I think the racism was more annoying, just because Diana was the only female character in the entire book, aside from that one woman Ahmed’s rival stabbed in the throat. So the misogyny felt as if it was contained to her, whereas the racism was obviously applied to all non-whites.

ANACHRONIST: I think it was a draw. The racism was pretty ugly but in perfect accordance with the period. The misogyny, especially when coming from a woman, was more difficult to swallow but also fully understandable.

What did you think of the ending in comparison to the rest of the book?

HEIDENKIND: The ending felt really long and drawn-out. After Diana was rescued from Ahmed’s rival, the story lost a lot of momentum, but we had to sit through pages of backstory about Ahmed, and then Diana spiraled into psycho panic mode because wasn't raping sleeping with her anymore. It seemed like a tortured attempt to provide a “happy ending.”

ANACHRONIST: HEA was silly because in real life there would be no HEA for two such deranged individuals as Ahmed and Diana. Sooner or later he would kill her - no matter whether with his kindness or his rage. Or she would kill herself.

the sheik movie gif





HEIDENKIND: I think what REALLY annoyed me about the HEA was the fact that it only happened because Ahmed was a “secret Christian.” If he’d been an actual Muslim, Diana would have returned to England and the story would be about a love that was never meant to be, or something like that. And fiction STILL follows that rule. I’m thinking of the The English Patient, for example.

ANACHRONIST: The English Patient is an excellent example. When it comes to our sheik It wasn’t only about his faith, it was also about his parents - Ahmed was in fact an aristocrat, well-educated and rich, who chose to stay among Arabs on the desert and follow their lifestyle. Such a plot twist showed that deep down Mrs Hull didn’t want to test the tolerance of her readers. If your character is a brutal savage AND a British peer you have to forgive him a lot because he is simply entitled to it. If he is only a native brutal savage,’s better to kill him off or turn him into a baddie. Or both. What was the difference between Ahmed and that rival sheilk, Omair? Personally I saw none, apart from the fact that Omair was a real native. Now look at their fates.

Would you recommend The Sheik to others?

HEIDENKIND: Some others. I definitely think it was worth reading and that it deserves more attention than it has right now. But at the same time I think it has it a limited audience.

ANACHRONIST: It is a very interesting book from the history of literature’s point of view, especially if you are following the development of romantic novels. No, you won’t be entertained or awed by it, some parts will most probably make you sick, some will bore you to death but they will also make you understand a lot of current and past trends. A book only for discerning, motivated readers.

Download The Sheik by EM Hull at Project Gutenberg|Librivox

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Fyodor Dostoyefsky

Original Publication Date: 1866

Genre: Classic Russian literature

  Topics: poverty, crime, conscience, confession, justice

  Review by :  Patty @ A Tale of Three Cities 

I read Crime and Punishment by F. Dostoyevsky over a period of three months.  This is, in my opinion, the best way to read such a chunk of classic Russian literature - in a rythme that is manageable, with plenty of time to dwell on a plot written in a remarkable style and taking place in an era and a society that are mostly foreign to us.  

And yes, Dickens writes about similar circumstances but I find his writing style more "understandable".  Also, the British reality is perhaps nearer my vision of past history in Europe.  

Russia, mid-19th century. Our main hero, Raskolnikov, is evidence of a desperate society. He's estanged from his family and the little money he receives he almost immediately spends. He's also estranged from the rest of the world, and feels he's not suited to work. This is a problem -- he can not go on living like this and a solution will have to be found as soon as possible. 
The first part of the novel also serves as an introduction to the Russia of that era.  Raskolnikov is not at ease with himself, that is clear – but then I read about Dostoyefsky’s life and his experience of being in an execution camp, and witnessing a fellow inmate go mad — he was never the same afterwards, with bouts of epilepsy. Given the stark living conditions at the time, I can well imagine Raskolnikov having witnessed similar situations and having “taken” the decision to abstain from everything. 

The novel is full of descriptions of poverty and addiction that are heart-breaking, and I applaud Dostoyefsky for remaining true and not presenting everyday life through a coloured lens. We have to remember how lucky we are and how bad things can be (even to this day). Continuing on this, I’m also surprised to see how much things have not changed: while the standard of living has certainly improved since those days, I can still see a lot of people forgetting their problems/sorrows in drinking, and how people still get married for money. This lack of human contact, warmth, family closeness and support is evident even today around me. (Haven’t we learned anything from the past?)
The novel is also full of interesting little tidbits: the yellow ticket (yellow identity card for prostitutes), the reference to “a nigger in a plantation” (how did poverty-stricken 19th century Russians know what was happening in the US of that time?)

In any case, Raskolnikov decides that the solution to his financial problems will be the death of his landlady Alyona Ivanovna, who is also his money lender.  He has a dream sequence that I thought would make clear the incorrectness of the scheme.  But no, Raskolnikov has created a world of fallacy around him. I always thought that his conscience was eminent in him - yet, he turns out to think of himself above all others! All his theories about why he’s poor, why he’s not studying, why he’s drawn away from society, slowly give way to a very calculating person who gets away with murder (pun intended...) but then – he pretends to be a victim of fate... a very disagreeable character indeed! 

The deed done (with an extra dead body, just because), Raskolnikov is slightly “redeeming” himself and becomes disconnected with the world around him. He gives away some of the money and hides the rest - his disdain is evident for having wanted the money in the first place and committed the crime.  But he also wants to find out if he can really get away with it - with murder!

Raskolnikov almost immediately blurs out his confession. Of course people will not believe him! But I was intrigued that he went back to the house of the murders and, upon seeing that everything was being made up, he was puzzled: 
“he somehow fancied that he would find everything as he left it, perhaps the corpses in the same places on the floor”
So, is he disappointed that his actions did not have a lasting effect? The murders have completely changed his life but apparently not everyone else’s – what a let down...
Enter the two women in Raskolnikov's life:  Sonya, a daughter who has to sell herself so that there is money on the table.  It was very interesting to see Sonya's character developping: in stark contast to Raskolnikov, she may be facing similar dire situations, but she managed to emerge full of grace. And Dunya, his sister, who when faced with an attacker, has every “moral right” to kill him when she could – she is in self-defense. But she just did not have it in her to carry through with it. And this is what distinguishes her from her brother. One can have all the arguments needed for killing, but at the end of the day the importance is whether one can go through with killing another human being. No Napoleonean aspirations, no desire to “clean up” society of scoundrels will ever justify pulling the trigger and kill according to Dunya. Not so for Raskolnikov, who is still living in his dream world, where he looks down on everyone else. A little social remark perhaps by Dostoyefsky — women in full control, while the lead man only knows how to faint?

Dostoyefsky gives  us a superb insight into his views and his implication with the philosophical movements of the time.  When Raskolnikov writes an article on crime, we are introduced to the concept of Nihilism: actions are morally sound if they lead to the greatest possible “happiness” (Raskolnikov’s reasoning of the murder).
The rationalising of the act however gets worse:  from the logic of commiting the murder to help society get rid of Alyona Ivanovna – because she was a parasite, Raskolnikov now says he just wanted a dare – no ulterior motive, just a dare to prove he’s superhuman! We are left with a dangling question of whether or not justice will be served...

This complicated story of Raskolnikov and his entourage, with the question of whether or not he will confess, will remain so until literally the last sentence.  Never has a chunk of literature kept me interested and devouring the pages like this one.  An excellent work of fiction with little gems of serious research, philosophy and psychology.  Well done Dostoyefsky!

I must confess I did not like the Epilogue. I felt cheated – such a great complicated story, just to be “fixed” with a simplified and politically-correct ending...  

Download Crime and Punishment by F. Dostoyefsky at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

Monday, June 10, 2013

Review: ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, by L.M. Montogomery

Original Publication Date:  1908

Genre: children's novel

Topics: coming of age, nature, fantasy world vs. reality

Review by : Patty @ A Tale of Three Cities (

Sometimes I wonder how I went through childhood without any of the "classic" children's books.  True, I had Verne's fantasy novels and Charlotte's web, but I think I jumped too soon on to "adult" literature and am left wondering whether I've missed on something.  Making up for this, then, is to read such novels now - starting with Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery - and try to imagine whether I could have appreciated them at a younger age...

Anne is an orphan.  As an adult, I could not really see the purpose why all lessons have to be taught through the eyes of a "marginalised" person - no one lives on cloud no. 9 anymore.  I realised, however, that as a child, living under relatively "pampered" circumstances, I would have paid more attention to the experience of another child who did not have my luxuries, whose living conditions would have been new to me.  It's also a very good introduction to the notion of "social exclusion" and the great gift the majority of us have to actually belong to a family, a community, an organised society.

Through a misunderstanding, Anne is delivered to siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who were actually looking for a boy to help out with their farm.  After an initial mistrust towards her, she is welcomed in their little family as well as in the village of Green Gables.   She is the typical dreamy girl, ready to escape in her fantasy world within seconds, not understanding why adults cannot use this ability as well.  Having just seen "Peter and Alice" in theatre, which asks the question of when one stops being a child and becomes an adult, I had to rewind and get all the scenes in my mind again.  

The beautiful trait of children is that they have healthy imagination and are able to escape real life, into a world where all is wonderful, safe and warm.  There are no societal constraints yet.  This age is such a great lesson in still believing things can change for the better, that tomorrow is another great day, that we all need to lighten up a little - I myself don't think that often.  Now, don't get me wrong - I don't mean that we should all disregard reality and start living in fantasy worlds.  But this safety mechanism can actually prove a much-needed pillow that can ease the burden.  Just like grown-up Anne, we can find a compromise between our perfect world and the real world.  I would just like children to retain this ability the longest possible.  They'll have to deal with society and harsh reality for plenty more years...

Anne also breaks an unwritten rule:  she's not blonde, she's redhead.  What a scandal this must have brought about at the time of publication!  Of course she hates her hair in the beginning, just like all children hate something about themselves (some even into adulthood...).  After some hilarious incidents, where the colour goes to green instead of black, Anne grows older and accepts the colour of hair and comes to actually like it.  Just as I finally came to like my nose...

The book explores Anne's everyday life - her friends, her studies, her challenges (this is really a Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age-tale).  There is never a dull moment and we get to enjoy every little  mishap that can happen. 

"Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing"

(what a great sentiment, also disregarded in our present time...)

But Anne also quickly realises her potential:  she receives the Avery Scholarship in English, which will enable her to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree.  In 1908?  A child's tale that promotes equality?  (That got me thinking and I soon discovered that many more of such children's tales are in reality full of ideas such as equality, compassion, support, tolerance...  Why are such grand schemes only to be found in tales and not reality...)

But life is not always spread with roses.  Anne will in the end decide to return to Green Gables to care for Marilla, who is now alone remaining in the house.  She will agree to tone down her ambitions because she wants to care for the person who cared for her.  Instead of reaching out for the stars, she is looking forward for 

"the bend in (the road). I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend"

And this is the gracious landing into the world of adulthood.  Where we can no longer avoid a nasty situation by slipping into fantasy world.  Rather, we accept our responsibilities, but remain optimistic.  We make decisions based on our convictions and on what we believe is best for us and our loved ones -- and we look forward to the whole great trip called life...

Download Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Review: RED NAILS by Robert E. Howard

book cover Original Publication Date: 1936
Genre: fantasy
Topics: adventure, revenge

Review by heidenkind:

Valeria is a female pirate who is on the run after killing a man who tried to rape her. In the remote jungles of, I'm guessing here, the Yucatan, she meets Conan. After killing a dragon, Conan and Valeria find themselves in a strange and ominous walled city home to two warring clans: the Tecuhltli and Xotalanc. Valeria and Conan are welcomed by the rulers of the Tecuhltli and agree to help them defeat of the evil Xotalanc--in exchange for a reward of course--but only after they complete their task do they realize they might have made a deal with the devil.

This is another really good Conan the Barbarian book. I've read several since The People of the Black Circle, and while all of them have been enjoyable, most are pretty short and I don't have a lot to say about them. Red Nails stood out because of the female characters, the twisty turns, and its sheer awesomeness.

There are not one, but TWO central female characters in Red Nails. The first is Valeria, who is like a proto-Xena (total Xena Warrior Princess fan right here). She's tough and she doesn't take any shit from anyone, including Conan, who basically spends the entire book trying to get into her pants.

The second female character is Tascela, the queen of the Tecuhltli who immediately becomes enraptured with Valeria. I don't want to say what her deal is because that would spoil the story, but she's also a really interesting character with her own agenda, and she's a lot more than she appears.

Second of all, Red Nails is so twisty! I never could have predicted where the story was going at the beginning. Toward the end I was like, "Huh-wha?" but in a good way. It's only about 150 pages, but it has a full three acts, the glory and decimation of an entire civilization, AND Conan gets the girl (actually Conan isn't in the story that much, it's mainly Valeria's book, and she's the one who saves the day).

Third of all, this is an awesome adventure. I'd put it on par with Captain Blood or a movie like Romancing the Stone. But Robert E. Howard also isn't afraid to ask questions, like what is the nature of a society driven by war and turmoil? I loved the scene where Techotl, the person who brings Conan and Valeria into Tecuhltli, is like, "But wait, what are we going to do with ourselves once we kill all the Xotalanc?" GOOD QUESTION, Techotl.

So basically Red Nails is the literary equivalent of bacon. IT'S IRRESISTIBLE GOODNESS. Everyone likes bacon, even if it's not healthy for them. And the Conan books are pulpy awesomeness. I love Robert E. Howard so hard, you guys.*

Download Red Nails by Robert E. Howard at Project Gutenberg|Librivox

*Side note: Have you read Howard's Wikipedia page? They make him sound like Norman Bates if he'd written novels instead of killed people.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: THE GOOD SOLDIER - Ford Madox Ford

Original Publication Date: 1927
Genre: British, English, classic
Topics: The Lost Generation, morality, wealth
Review by : Liz Inskip-Paulk (
This title has been on my TBR list for ages, and as I happen to be going through a phase of reading early 20th century books, this rose to the surface of the TBR pile. This is the story of two couples who get mixed up in each other’s affairs, all from the perspective of one of the husbands who happens to be an unreliable narrator (or is he?).
This is not a book to daydream through – it jumps across countries, it goes back and forth with time, and it discusses each of the characters in turn, so, as a reader, you’ll need to keep your wits about you in keeping everything straight. (Or I did, at least.) In fact, I would probably suggest that this would be a book to be read in great big swathes of time so you can dive into the story and experience the narrative as one continuous stream. Overall, it’s rather a bleak and sad read, but it’s still very good. Not every book has to be a happy read.
This reminded me of Fitzgerald’s writing (i.e. The Great Gatsby) in that it spotlights an opulent over-the-top and superficial lifestyle but with barebones morality – money can buy you lots of things, but it can’t buy you happiness. There is also a similar ennui that pervades the story – there are people having affairs with each other, but they’re not acknowledged or addressed in any way – only a vague sense, a hint of things gone awry and no energy is spent to change things…
This was published in 1915, so it’s set before the Great War (WWI) and before the Jazz Age (which might have been an American thing anyway). Ford (or Madox Ford?) founded several literary magazines, one of which was when he was in Paris in the 1920’s and hanging out with James Joyce, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and others of that “Lost Generation” group.

His writing in this book reminded me of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but this was written and published years before, so I wonder who influenced whom in writing style. (If indeed, they did.) I know that Ford collaborated with Joseph Conrad, but not sure about others. They must have been familiar with each other’s writing though, so if one goes by chronological reasoning, Ford must have influenced Hemingway.
Ford was smack in the middle of the Modernist period (info of which can be found here from Wiki) and I was reading about this creative “movement” (good word for it as it was constantly changing and reflected the huge transformations going on in the world), I was struck by how inter-linked the worlds of painting, sculpture, literary and music are.
The early 20th century was a huge time of cultural unrest for many places – the uneasy acceptance of more machinery-based industry, a time of change and possibility, but also of disruption and unbalance, of questioning culture and the things about you… Having just read Forster, Fitzgerald, Madox Ford and others, learning about this time period helped to change it in my head from being a flat one-dimensional time to one of depth. It’s hard to explain, but it’s similar to the difference you see between normal TV and high-res.


Download The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

Friday, May 31, 2013

Review: CHARLOTTE TEMPLE by Susanna Rowson

book cover Original Publication Date: 1791

Genre: Moral tale

Topics: Fallen woman

Review by : Iris on Books

Charlotte Temple is titled after its main protagonist. We first meet Charlotte when she is fifteen and attending boarding school. She is pretty, innocent, and sweet. This makes her an easy target for her suitor, Montraville. While Charlotte knows she is overstepping the boundaries of propriety, she is egged on by both Montraville and one of her teachers, La Rue. During the promised last meeting before soldier Montraville is bound to sail to the United States she agrees to elope with him, accompanied by La Rue and another man. While Charlotte experiences severe doubts, she ends up on a boat to America. Soon she starts to experience the mental and other consequences of what she has done..
This is what you get for randomly picking one of the preloaded girlebooks books from your ereader based on alphabetized titles and book length. So yes, this is a cautionary tale, complete with all the warnings, sentiments, and drama you might expect from such a story written at the end of the eighteenth century. It was not the most riveting read imaginable.
Susanne Rowson often directly addresses the reader, particularly those girls of an impressionable age to whom she offers the book as advice. Her main argument seems to be that it is only a small step to utter ruin once you even start contemplating transgressing social conventions a little. In this regard, her Charlotte Temple portrays the exact message we might all expect in this type of novel: if you do not listen to your parents or anything they have told you, you might just be persuaded to elope, even if you have doubts other social actors might have such power of persuasion over you (or physical force) to make you oblige to their wishes, once you have taken the one step towards transgression, you will end up ruined, utterly ruined.. And ruin leads to health problems leads to loss of the joyful life you might have had..
What interested me though, was how in the middle of this conservative and expected message, there were small glimpses of a more liberal understanding of what happened to Charlotte. Firstly, her parents remain convinced that she is to be forgiven if she is found. Secondly, Rowson provides commentary on some characters with statements that read that the social boundaries between "innocence" and "ruin" might be too sharp, and that only a little kindness might save those on the wrong side of that line from further harm. Of course, this is inevitably overshadowed by ruin and doom, as cautionary moral tales were expected to end. But it were the little prods and glimpses of this other view that held my interest throughout what I mostly experienced as a not all that engaging and predictable story.
In the middle of this more sympathetic view of Charlotte though, she does lose most of her agency. Throughout most of Charlotte Temple, Charlotte is simply guided by the social forces around her. Whether it is the egging on and later the force of La Rue and Montraville, or the help she receives from some others.. Charlotte herself is a victim, a person being acted upon instead of acting herself, for most of this tale. It makes sense, having to keep Charlotte relatable and sympathetic, she has to be cast more as the victim than the perpetrator, but it also takes away from the small subversions that can be glimpsed in what I mentioned above. I do not judge the book for that, but as a modern reader it is quite difficult to shake the wish for more, even while realising that this might never have been possible.
Charlotte Temple, then, is mostly of interest within the history of cautionary or moral stories. The story in itself, for a contemporary reader, might offer too little out of the ordinary and a writing style that is not exactly engaging. However, it seems to take a particular place in the history of US novels, as it became a bestseller at the time.

 Download Charlotte Temple by Susanna Rowson at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|Girlebooks