Monday, February 28, 2011

The Innocent Libertine by Colette

Since my conference paper was on a story of Colette's I've been trying to read more of her work before I expand my paper or seek publication.
This novel is actually a compilation of two shorter pieces about the same character, a girl named Minne. Published together in 1909, I was a bit shocked at some of the racy content. Perhaps the nude, reclining woman sketched on the cover should have tipped me off-- and not to be stereotypical, but French art and literature does have a reputation.
In the first part, we are introduced to a fourteen year old girl name Minne. She has an overactive imagination and likes to pretend she is the mistress of a notorious criminal. She pores over the papers reading about thieves, killers, prostitutes, and dreams of being the queen of them all. Her devoted, widowed mother doesn't notice these strange tendencies, but her cousin, Antione does.
They visit with her Uncle and cousin over the summer and Antione, just a few years older than Minne, discovers he has feelings for her. She does not show any signs of reciprocating and tells him she is engaged to another man-- her assassin of the underworld. Perhaps saddest of all, Minne does seem to believe there is a man of mystery waiting for her.
After an incident which leaves Minne's virtue in question we begin the second part of the story. It takes place a few years later, after Minne and Antione's marriage.
Though Antione has gotten over his awkwardness, Minne is still unsure of loving him. She feels that she was forced into the marriage. Feeling emotionally and sexually unfulfilled, she begins having affairs, looking for a man that will 'make her like other women.' She finds no happiness in these liaisons, however, feeling that her lovers are using her to find pleasure that she never experiences.
Minne is an interesting character that does many rash or questionable things, but still gains the reader's sympathy. At times she can behave in cold and extremely aggravating ways. Antione is also a likable figure. He is so in love with Minne that he is willing to allow her almost anything to make her happy.
The picture Colette paints is of, no doubt, a slightly unconventional heroine. Unlike figures such as Madame Bovary, another unfaithful wife, her story ends well. She isn't punished for her sins, nor does she feel especially guilty. She does maintain a sort of internal innocence in spite of her actions. Of course there are one or two loose ends left by one of Minne's former lovers that one can't help but wonder about.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Whirlwind of Theatre

Sorry my updates have been rather spaced out I'm in the midst of rehearsing several Tennessee Williams plays for performance next month while teching (and now performing) a production of The Vagina Monologues that our college is presenting. All the proceeds are going to a local women's shelter.
I'll, be honest, I was rather squeamish about the idea at first, but it's a really touching show that makes you realize how much women are still victimized around the world and in this country. I'm glad that I've been able to contribute.
Of course, due to the stress, lack of sleep, and fact that I've been living off sandwiches and iced tea, I'm now sick. That makes rehearsals and performances even more tiring.
I think Tennessee Williams has been inspiring me. I took a playwriting class a few years ago and was disappointed with my results. My play didn't become what I had envisioned by the time it needed to be presented in the play festival we held. I haven't really done anything in the way of writing for the stage since, but I've been thinking about it more lately. Maybe I'll give it a go during April's Script Frenzy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sherlock Holmes 2009 Rewatch

Now that I am not such a Holmes novice, I decided a re-watch of the 2009 film was in order. I have to say, my perspective has changed considerably.
I do still think the sets were lovely, and the idea of a steampunk Sherlock Holmes still has a lot of potential. The film makers were clearly trying to make Holmes into an action hero. With his boxing, single stick fighting, and mixed martial arts mentioned in the original stories, he was a Victorian action hero.
However, sometimes deductions took a back seat to explosions in this movie. The more I get to know Holmes through my readings, the less Robert Downey jr. seems to fit the character. His physicality aside, he's a bit too sloppy and more annoying, less ingenious. Though Holmes did have anti-social tendencies and chaotic living habits, he was 'cat-like' in his personal grooming and could be very charming and suave.
Though they included Adler's photograph kept from the end of "A Scandal in Bohemia," and had this take place after that story when she returns to England as a divorcee, they over-played the relationship between Holmes and Adler. I'm not against her being considered a possible romantic interest, but she seems to be completely in love with him and refers to Holmes as her 'weakness.' During "Scandal," they only met once briefly.
I still do enjoy Jude Law as Watson, he brings a more capable side to the character, showing him to be the soldier, the man of action he was in the stories. Though, I do think they overplayed his gambling, I suppose that was their way of making it their own.
It's a fun and enjoyable movie, but it's not Holmes. To get to know the character, I'd recommend the Jeremy Brett series. He fits the image of Holmes to perfection.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I survived... Women's Studies Conference 2011

I presented my humble offering at 9:30 this morning and it actually went quite well. I received some very interesting and encouraging feedback from professors from different colleges. Though I was still tinkering with edits until 10 pm last night, the editing seems to have paid off. My professor, whose class I originally wrote the paper for is encouraging me to submit the paper to some scholarly journals.
That is why immediately after the conference I went to the library to check out some of my author's other works. The author my research is focused on is Colette, a French author from the early 20th century. Unfortunately, many articles on her are at least partially in French and it is hard to find good translations of some of her works. Even my college's library had more French texts than English translations.
I took French in high school. I can't say I was overly devoted to it. I knew that it would help me in literary studies, especially 19th century literary studies because one often finds French phrases sprinkled through such novels.
High school French helped with with novels such as Jane Eyre, The Awakening, and Lolita; all of which contain phrases in French. I did have to run to my French dictionary for some more complex or obscure terms, but it was enough. However, what little I recollect from high school is not enough in this case. Understanding linguistical nuances is almost always impossible once a text is translated. Take Chekov for example-- hilarious in Russian, depressing in English. All the satire is lost. I had no idea why The Seagull was classified as a comedy when I first read it.
Still, I feel good about my showing today. I was afraid that being in a room full of bright young things and professors would make me feel stupid, or out of my depths, but instead it was very stimulating and made me feel smart. Between sessions I had the opportunity to engage in some very interesting discussions. I've never thought of myself as a scholarly writer-- creative writing has always been my preference, but perhaps I can do a little of both.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gearing Up for the Conference

My first scholarly conference is this weekend. The first I'll be presenting at, but also the first I'll be attending. I'm still doing some last minute revisions on my paper-- it actually makes me worry that I'm fiddling too much or will mess something up, we're getting very close to the end now.
I realized that I didn't know how I should refer to citations within my paper, so I had to consult one of my professors yesterday. The last thing I want is to sound like a total moron. I don't want everyone to know this is my first conference. I think the citation question has been resolved, but I'm still nervous. I've been practicing how I'll respond to questions about my paper that I don't know the answer to or questions that are antagonistic: "Thank you, I hadn't considered that." I think this is a safe fall back.
The panel makes me most nervous. There could be some tough questions.
I'll report back this weekend if I survive.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Short Stories

I don't think I'm entering the Jane Austen Made Me Do It contest. I'm just not feeling it- the story doesn't feel alive to me and if it doesn't to me, it won't to the readers. Maybe next year.
However, I am entering a story I wrote over the summer to the college lit. mag. I like it, but I am always self conscious about other people reading and judging my writing. In my non-fiction class we're reading On Writing Well by William Zinsser and he says that you have to write for yourself. Eventually, if you want to do this for a living, other people have to get involved and it's not just for you any more, though. For my non-fiction class we're writing short memoirs this week, which is fun, but also challenging. Sometimes while I'm writing, I find I'm writing about other people, not myself.
Sometimes I think it's easier to write fiction, inventing a truth within the world of your story can be easier that expressing a truth from your own world.
I'm still working on rewriting my novel. Some days, after I've finished a book that was incredible; interesting, well constructed, with good characters, I feel like I am so presumptuous to think my book could compete. Yet, I love my characters too much to keep them to myself.
I've been practicing building suspense by writing some shorter stories with my characters solving puzzling mysteries in under 5000 words. I think I'll end up piecing these shorter mysteries together to create a book told from the sidekick's perspective that covers her first year working with the detective. We'll see.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

History Parody Spam: Musical Edition

I saw this on Lady History's Tumblr yesterday and I convulsed with laughter. Convulsed. It works so well and could be such a great tool for teaching high schoolers about the Revolutionary War, it really could.

Did you noticed I figured out how to resize YouTube videos? It wasn't very complicated, I'm not proud it has taken me this long.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Save Undershaw

Arthur Conan Doyle's house, Undershaw, was the place where he wrote arguably his best novel: Hound of the Baskervilles. However, in recent years it has fallen into disrepair. Unlike the homes of many famous authors, not much has been done to preserve Doyle's home. A new preservation trust is trying to fix that. Writer and actor (and Mycroft) Mark Gatiss is helping out with the project. Here's what he had to say on the trust's website:
“I would like to express my whole-hearted enthusiasm for the campaign to save Undershaw. It seems to me a very sad reflection on our times that the home of one of our greatest and most popular writers should be so neglected and in danger of unsympathetic redevelopment.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle occupied several residences in his prolific and thrilling career, only Undershaw bears the stamp of his massive personality. Here the Hound of the Baskervilles first breathed spectral life and Sherlock Holmes himself was resurrected from the Reichenback Falls. Here Stoker, Barrie and Hornung and many others were entertained. It’s no exaggeration to say that Undershaw was the centre of Doyle’s life during perhaps the most fruitful and fascinating phase of his career. It must be saved and take its place among the sensitively preserved residences of this country’s other literary giants. This is certainly a three-pipe problem but not, I am convinced, an insoluble one.”

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

At the Baker Street Irregulars' yearly celebration, everyone waits anxiously to hear Alex Cale reveal his finding- a lost volume of Arthur Conan Doyle's personal journal from 1900, just before he resurrects Sherlock Holmes from his supposed death at Reichenbach falls. However, the morning of the big reveal finds Alex dead and new Sherlockian, Harold, is on the case.
The book also traces the events that happen to Doyle after he kills off Holmes and during this missing section of his journals as he and his friend, Bram Stoker, become involved in investigating a series of murders in London.
The novel does use some real events and people to frame the narrative- such as the Sherlockian scholar Richard Lancelyn Green's mysterious death in 2004 and what public records there are about Doyle's life at that time. However, since it is a work of fiction, Moore allows himself to play with the possibilities.
The novel could easily breech the realms of absurdity with the character of Harold adopting Holmesian deductive techniques. Moore makes his novel self aware, it is unlikely, and his characters know that. His characters are ordinary, likable people. One has to feel sorry for Doyle, dogged by rabid Holmes fans and becoming secondary to his own character. Sometimes it is a little hard for Holmes fans to like Doyle due to how dissmissive he was of Sherlock Holmes, but The Sherlockian makes him sympathetic, taps into his experience watching England mourn a fictional character.
The chapters switch back and forth between Harold's adventure in 2010 and Doyle's mystery in 1900. Sometimes after one chapter ends on cliff-hanger, it's almost a little bit painful to have to wait to see how it will conclude (but by the time you finish the chapter that follows in, you feel the same). Moore adopts that method of building dramatic tension that Doyle himself used when publishing his longer stories in the Strand, it leaves you eager to see what happens next.
At twenty-eight, Graham Moore has made an excellent debut with The Sherlockian. He no doubt has an exciting and entertaining career of intelligent novels ahead of him. Whether he sticks to the mystery genre or not, I'll be interested in seeing where he goes next.