Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Star Wars Episode 7? Yes Please!

This is the news that made my day yesterday and left me to excited to post about it until now:

Disney to buy Star Wars producer for $4.05 billion!

Have you regained consciousness? Have you been able to read the article? No? Let me summarize. Disney has bought Lucasfilm Ltd, which includes the Star Wars and the Indiana Jones franchise. But this is not the best news: there will be a new Star Wars movie in 2015. Here I will give you another breather!

Walt Disney Company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger (L) and filmmaker and Chairman of the Board of Lucasfilm Ltd. REUTERS/Rick Rowell/Disney/© 2012 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
So, let's think about this. We have here a massively influential and popular franchise that has made millions, if not billions, and continues making money. It all started with my father's generation that stood nect to Luke on Tatooine, watching the twin moons rise. It continued with my generation that together with Anakin discovered an entire galaxy. And now we don't only have an amazing Clone Wars series in its fifth season, we also have the promise of more movies. And here I want to make an argument for why these movies won't be terrible.

Yes, there are many people, older people, previous generation people, who say the prequel trilogy is...bad. My first response is usually: Excuse me heathen? But I do understand where this comes from. The original trilogy was their childhood escape, it was what they grew up with and united them with people all across the world. And it is hard to accept when someone, even when it is George Lucas, makes changes or additions to this. My favourite Star Wars movie is 'The Empire Strikes Back' and I love the original trilogy, but I will never say that the prequel trilogy isn't good because I think it is brilliant. Star Wars has never been about the good acting and George Lucas never listened to anyone else about the direction of HIS story. He has a right to do with his movies as he pleases. Why is it suddenly crucial whether Han Solo shot Greedo first or not? He is still a scoundrel and we still love him. It doesn't matter as much whether it is Darth Vader's ghost or Anakin's ghost that appears at the end because what matters is that Ani is forgiven. And JarJar is not an abomination, he fits perfectly into the Star Wars galaxy. Was Lando's onion-headed friend in 'Return of the Jedi' any more normal?

So, after this small rant against people who feel like they own the movies rather than spend time on cherishing and sharing their memories and accept they would have been disappointed with whatever Lucas would've come up with (I will stop now, promise) I think we can appreciate the joining of Disney and Lucasfilm Ltd. Disney has been producing amazing movies since the mid-nineties. When they realized they were running out of good ideas (they still need to figure this out relating to their terrible series) they started to acquire Pixar, Marvel and now Lucasfilm. I loved the old Disney movies, especially visually, and remember them with the same fondness with which I remember watching Star Wars as a 6-yr old! I truly belief that in putting these two companies together, we could have some amazing movies coming our way.


Because let's be honest, the Extended Universe has more than enough to offer for more movies. When Bob Iger (Disney's Executive Producer) says he found that there was a '"substantial pent-up demand" for new "Star Wars" movies' he is more than right. Star Wars fans will always want more! Look at all the books that come out, the amazing games that have some of the best effects you will ever  find in a game, the TV series that is massively popular for the simple reason that it is amazing. There are so many stories out there that are begging to be turned into a movie script by capable hands. And who says Disney isn't more capable than any other company out there to handle these stories? George Lucas will remain a creative consultant and we simply have to keep our faith in him. For all those haters out there who say he ruined it, please think about how you never would have had it without him! Also, this article by the Guardian on how this deal was almost 'destined' to happen is pretty good! Except for the bit about the universal agreement the prequels are terrible and that it all seems so commercial now. It would have been commercial back in the day had the business been the same as it is now.

And we'll end on a positive note:
Don't hate, that's the path to the Dark Side! May the Force be with you! ;)

Review: 'Hard Times' by Charles Dickens

I think that by now my dislike for Dickens has been well noted so this review might be a surprise to some. But I had to read it for one of my modules, Studying Literature, and to be honest, I am happy they made me read it. I still don't really like Dickens, but at least now I know why he appeals to so many. 'Hard Times' has been described as being very different from any of other of Dickens' novels so maybe I got the wrong impression here, but then again, I could never get myself to get through 'Great Expectations'. On a side note, this is the first book of my 100 Classics list that I've read for the Classics Club and reviewed. Let's hope I can make this a habbit! Excuse the terrible synopsis below, but the one on Goodreads was even worse.

'Hard Times' is set in the industrial Coketown, overseen by Mr. Bounderby and Thomas Gradgrind, who runs a school bent on teaching only Facts and eliminating any kind of sentimentality or fancy. Gradgrinds children, Tom and Louisa, are his prime examples of how his education works. Mr. Sleary's circus offers a different view of life and from there Sissy Jupe enters Coketown. As we track their lives and see the workers in town gather into trade unions, the consequences of industrialism and swearing by Facts are explored.
Yes, I admit that was a terrible summary but to be honest, what I knew of the story before I started wasn't much more promising. I don't think I was ever more prejudiced against reading a novelthan I was against this. I knew I would have to read it and therefore I would power through but I was almost convinced I would dislike it all the way. Imagine my surprise when I actually liked parts of the story. But the one thing that remained was that I didn't like Dickens' writing style. I feel like he treats the beautiful moments in this novel harshly, cluttering it with to much description that is unnecessary and mistreating some of his characters.

Almost from the first moment on, I favoured Louisa. She seemed to have a mind of her own, even if she was weighed down by the Facts in her life. But she had spirit enough to make up her own mind and accept her fate. But then Dickens offers her an escape, only to make her fall and disallow any chance for her to rise back up. I still cannot find it in my heart to forgive him for that. He seems to punish his character for making a moral journey, for growing up and exploring. A character that seems to have no development at all, Sissy Jupe, is eventually rewarded for not changing and remaining, in my opinion, slightly ignorant. During one of my lectures, we were told that women in Dickens often represented a safe haven for men and therefore had to be ignorant of money, work and anything relating to the bad outside world. I guess reading it from a modern perspective makes this hard to understand and appreciate, but I also felt it let down the story to praise the idle and punish the troubled.

Another character that really gripped me was Stephen Blackpool. Married to a drunkard, he is in love with Rachael but (hypocritically) not allowed to divorce my Mr. Bounderby. Unwilling to join the Union because he promised Rachael to stay out of trouble, he finds himself ostracized by the other works. Wrongfully blamed for a bank robbery, his life seems filled with misfortunes, yet I felt he was the most prosaic character of the novel. This is the moment he leaves Coketown after being fired:
'With these musings in his mind, and his bundle under his arm, Stephen took his attentive face along the high road. And the trees arched over him, whispering that he left a true and loving heart behind.'
This is a beautiful description and there are many of these connected to Stephen. But just like Louisa, I feel Dickens mistreats him as a character, almost failing to see his potential as a character. In my eyes, he was the tragic hero of the novel and one of the few that made me want to continue reading.
Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens really seems to find pleasure in endless descriptions that add nothing but show us he knows his way around with words, something we knew all along, judging by the length of his novels. It interrupts the natural flow of the story and asks quite a lot from the reader. Constantly you have to stop and adjust your mental image of the setting or of the people. Critics have had a field day with this novel, because it is apparently very different from Dickens' other novels. George Bernard Shaw, who I will always admire for the brilliant 'Pygmalion', agreed with other critics who commented that it seemed as if Dickens was out of his comfort-zone with this novel. Not only wasn't it set in his, and my, precious London, but he also seemed to write his description of the working class for the middle-class. I agree with Shaw when he says that the character Slackbridge, the vile leader of the Union, is "a mere figment of middle-class imagination". Dickens seemed more concerned with comforting the middle-class rather than giving us an honest portrayal. 

So, overall I give this book...

4 UNIVERSES!!!!

I am terribly torn over this book. There were some (two) characters I liked, there were some descriptions and scenes I liked, but there was a lot I didn't really like. There is no doubt that Dickens is a great author. Even though I don't like him personally, he is a favourite with many others and had a lasting impact on English literature. The ending left me unsatisfied but there were also a certain justness to it. Will I be using it for my assessments? Hopefully not, if I can avoid it. Unless I can bang on about how Louisa and Stephen are unjustly treated.

So, have you read this book? Do you like it?

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Teaser Tuesday: Tolkien and Shakespeare

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB over at Should Be Reading. Today I will (hopefully) tease you with two teasers from Brian Rosebury's 'Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon', a book I have decided to use for one of my lectures and the glorious 'Henry IV Part One' by Shakespeare.

'Gollum, obsessed by the desire to repossess the Ring, talk to it continually, speaks of himself in the third person or in the plural except at moments of intermittent rationality, and is effectively driven insane bu te final crisis on Mount Doom, when he must either seize the Ring from Frodo or see it cast into the Fire and destroyed: he pursues Frodo to the Cracks of Doom 'with a wild light of madness glaring in his eyes', and in the few moments of possession dances 'like a mad thing' on the brink of the chasm.'Page 46 - Brian Rosebury
and
'Prince Henry: 'The land is burning. Percy stands on high, and ether we or they must lower lie.' EXITFalstaff: 'Rare words, brave world! Hostess, my breakfast come! O, I wish this tavern were my drum!'Page 114 - Shakespeare
So, these are my teasers. What are you teasing with? Don't hesitate to leave your link below in the comments!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Review: 'Life Knocks' by Craig Stone

 I absolutely loved this book. The writing style was such that I was unable to put it down. I was absolutely distraught when my Kindle broke halfway through and I had to wait for my new Kindle to arrive so I could continue reading. This book has laugh-out-loud moments which can lead to slightly embarrassing moments in public, but trust me, they're worth it.
Life Knocks is the story of a guy who falls from grace, but rather than confront that fall, decides to hide in his room and pretend it never happened; but, little by little, Life Knocks...The story will confront, challenge, evoke laughter, tears and, in parts, possibly offence...But then life never claimed to be Disney world. Step outside your bubble, because the only thing to fear in life is living in one.Life Knocks is cheaper than a coffee and the Disney Princess Cinderella Flocked Chair – which according to Argos is the perfect addition to any child’s bedroom or playroom.
This book is both hilarious and touching. Stone's writing style is almost poetic at places and he has a talent for coming up with the most amazing metaphors and descriptions. Look at the quote below:
'He has a boxer's nose that rests violently across his cheek and his old bald head is littered with dents and divots as if his favourite past time is rubbing his own face with a cheese grater then trying to iron out the grazes with a hot iron.'
It starts of quite normally, but then just turns into what would seem absurd wasn't it for the fact you can completely imagine how it looks. I loved reading these kind of descriptions because this is how I think. The awkwardness of some of the moments was very recognizable whereas other moments were simply aspirational.

The book has almost too much to offer. It is funny, emotional, slightly heart-breaking and enraging. It is like life. At the beginning the narrative structure, the switching back and forth between past and present, was a bit confusing, but halfway through I really started to appreciate it. In life, we always look back on our past experiences in the hope to find some kind of sense or reason for why we are where we are now. Perhaps a warning here is in place. If you object to recreational drug use, drinking or general life enjoyment, this might not be your book. In which case you should really question your own sense of reality. Missing out on a book like this would be an utter shame. 

I haven't read 'The Squirrel That Dreamt of Madness', Craig Stone's first book,  but am seriously considering buying it. I don't think I have ever read anything quite like Stone's writing. It is funny, witty and deeply insightful. Stone describes life itself beautifully and despite the depressing moments in the book, life is definitely winning. In a literary scene where a lot of books are written by formula and where authors use stereotypical expressions, it is amazing to find something this refreshing and authentic. 

Overall, I give this book...

4 UNIVERSES!!!!

If you are looking for an intelligent, hilarious read this is your book. Colossus' story could be yours and Stone's writing style allows the reader to be very close to his life and create a truly enjoyable reading experience. I recommend this to...well, everyone really. I can't imagine who wouldn't want to read this. 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

In My Mailbox: Not Enough Shakespeare

I got so many books this week, it's almost ridiculous if it weren't for the fact that I do English. So I bought 8 books that I will either have to read for modules or, in case of the grammar book, I will need to make sense of my modules. In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren. I am not looking forward to Dickens, but at least I have until Friday to read 'Hard Times'.

I went slightly overboard in the library. I only wanted to get one, because I am 'defending' the position in one of my modules that 'The Lord of the Rings' should be taught in our first year. But then I found 'Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon', which mentioned 'The Road to Middle-Earth'. And the other one just seems amazing and all the essays in it are really interesting.

Here are the books I bought:
'Richard II' - Shakespeare
'Henry IV - Part One' - Shakespeare
'Henry IV - Part Two' - Shakespeare
'Henry V' - Shakespeare
'Hard Times' - Charles Dickens
'Zofloya, or the Moor' - Charlotte Dacre
'Jane Eyre' - Charlotte Bronte
'Rediscover Grammar' - David Crystal

From the library:
'Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon' - Brian Rosebury
'The Road to Middle-Earth' - T.A. Shippley
'J.R.R. Tolkien, Scholar and Storyteller' - Mary Salu and Robert T. Farrell

For Review:
'Daughter of the Goddess' - Rita J. Webb

What I posted this week:
The English Canon and Classics
I did Follow Friday
Review for 'The Silent House' by Orhan Pamuk

I will be very busy reading in the near future. But I am looking forward to most of these, especially to Shakespeare. I simply love Shakespeare. Maybe I should start a blog, just for Shakespeare. Ok, I think I need more sleep! So, what books did you get?

Friday, 26 October 2012

The English Canon and Classics

Last week I had an Academic Community seminar and we were talking about the English Literature Canon. Of course this led to me thinking about Classics and their position in the Canon. There are a lot of different opinions about the Canon but I think there are some definite advantages. The canon, for those who don't know, is a "collection" of English literature works that are considered important in shaping literature through the years. For example, there is no canon without Shakespeare. He has had a massive influence on English culture and heritage and is recognizes by most people as a literary genius. 

There simply are texts, classics, that have changed or heavily influenced the development of English literature. And it therefore shouldn't surprise anyone that these have been put together into a so-called collection. A Canon can be really helpful if you want to guide your reading. When I composed my '100 Classics' post for the Classics Club I browsed through many different lists of Classics and articles about the Canon to see what would be considered Canon-worthy. In my eyes, a book becomes part of a Canon if it has a lasting impact on people. If it has made that impact, I think it is worth my reading time.

One of the main criticisms of the English Canon is that it is full of DWEMS (Dead White European Males). Yes, this is an official term. I disagree. I have never met anyone who says that Virginia Woolf, the Bronte Sister, George Elliot or Jane Austen do not deserve to be part of the English Canon. Of course there are more men in the Canon because they have been writing for longer and their writing has often been more influential because they were more likely to write about serious issues. Of course most of them are dead because contemporary authors aren't often "elevated" to being part of the Canon, although I'll get back to that point later. Women have slowly been working their way into the Canon as they have in everything else. Personally, I wouldn't want Ann Radcliffe to be part of the Canon just because she's a woman. I dislike her writing actively. I feel that pressuring women or culturally diverse authors into the Canon means you start looking for texts that fit those categories rather than looking for good texts, not saying that those texts aren't good. But the author shouldn't be the reason why the text is chosen to be part of the Canon.

Also, the Canon is an open 'thing'. It is not controlled by someone or by an institution. If my generation decides they love a book and we tell our children about it then this book will become part of what is the 'canon' when we are adults. In short, I agree with the philosopher John Searle, who said: "In my experience there never was, in fact, a fixed 'canon'; there was rather a certain set of tentative judgments about what had importance and quality. Such judgments are always subject to revision, and in fact they were constantly being revised." There are lists, surely, about what people consider the biggest works in English literature but these change and develop. Modern authors like Ian McEwan are practically part of the canon because his works win a lot of literary prizes but have also been made into popular movies, e.g. 'Atonement'. In the future, 'Harry Potter' might become a part of the Canon because it has come to represent England and British literature for many people.

I personally also believe that the Canon is a good thing for authors themselves. The Canon represents a collection of authors and works that are inspirational. Other authors, including aspirational ones like myself, should use the Canon as a way of gaining inspiration. The Canon shows how literature has developed, which themes have spoken to readers over the years, which literary devices to and don't work, etc. Knowledge of these works also enhances your reading pleasure. There are tons of intertextual links in modern writing, some obvious some less so and finding and understanding these can be amazing.

So, what do you think of the canon after my very short brain storm on it?

Dickens' Friday

Gain New Blog FollowersI really have been missing all these Friday memes, hopping around the blogosphere and seeing what everyone else has written! So I decided that this Friday I would finally find the time to force myself to blog.

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's qst is:

Q: What writing device or trick most irritates you when reading a book? For example, if an author employs an omnipotent narrator that is sometimes considered bad form.

Oh God, where do I begin. Actually, what irritates me the most, probably, is interior monologues that go on for pages. Not even a very beloved character can survive this device. This is one of the reasons why I disliked 'Twilight', because Bella's monologues were never ending and incredibly boring. Authors should, to a certain extent, think of their characters as human beings. No one's thoughts are interesting or profound for longer than maybe a paragraph. Then they start thinking about food, going to the toilet, how bright the sun is and how much you miss Disney. (Maybe that's just me, I don't know.) But so far, I don't think I have ever read a book where this worked properly.


Anything else? I disliked the epistolary form back in the day but since 'Frankenstein' I quite like it, if it is done properly. It also worked in 'We Need to Talk About Kevin', even if the book disturbed me. I also used to struggle with dialects in books, but once I reread 'Wuthering Heights' I sort of warmed to Joseph's accent even though it was hard to read.

For Book Beginnings (Rose City Reader) and Friday 56 (Freda's Voice
) I chose 'Hard Times' by Charles Dickens. I'm not a Dickens' fan but I have to read it for one of my modules so I thought what better way to inspire me to get started than to use it for these memes?

BB:
'Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root our everything else. You can only form the minds o reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the prnciple on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I will bring up these children. Stick to the Facts, Sir!'
I think that's quite a harsh way to open a book, especially since a book is fiction and therefore not Fact. Although perhaps this is exactly the kind of paradox Dickens wants to create. Damn you, Dickens.


F56:
'"I wish," whimpered Mrs. Gradgrind, taking a chair, and discharging her strongest point before succumbing under the mere shadows of facts, "yes, I really do wish that I had never had a family, and then you would have known what it was to do without me!"'
Well, that's quite a turn from the opening. Here we have someone succumbing to Facts rather than glorifying them. But I don't think I like Mrs. Gradgrind, she sounds a bit weak and overly dramatic.

I have decided, out of pure frustration at having to read Dickens I would also do a Friday 56 from Richard II, which I am reading at the moment for a different module.
GREEN: 
'Alas, poor Duke, the task he undertakes, Is numbr'ing sands and drinking oceans dry. Where one on his side fights, thousand will fly. Farewell at once - for once, for all and ever.'
That is simply beautiful. Shakespeare has made me all happy again.

So, how about your Friday memes and answers? Leave a link in the comments!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Review: 'The Silent House' by Orhan Pamuk

I got this book through NetGalley because I had always wanted to read something by Pamuk. I don't have time for a very long review so I'm going to do this quickly.
In an old mansion in Cennethisar, a former fishing village near Istanbul, a widow, Fatma, awaits the annual summer visit of her grandchildren. She has lived in the village for decades, ever since her husband, an idealistic young doctor, ran afoul of the sultan’s grand vizier and arrived to serve the poor fishermen. Now mostly bedridden, she is attended by her constant servant Recep, a dwarf—and the doctor’s illegitimate son. Despite mutual dependency, there is no love lost between mistress and servant, who have very different recollections—and grievances—from the early years, before Cennethisar grew into a high-class resort surrounding the family house, now in shambles.
Though eagerly anticipated, Fatma’s grandchildren bring little consolation. The eldest, Faruk, a dissipated historian, wallows in alcohol as he laments his inability to tell the story of the past from the kaleidoscopic pieces he finds in the local archive; his sensitive leftist sister, Nilgün, has yet to discover the real-life consequences of highminded politics; and Metin, a high school nerd, tries to keep up with the lifestyle of his spoiled society schoolmates while he fantasizes about going to America—an unaffordable dream unless he can persuade his grandmother to tear down her house. But it is Recep’s nephew Hasan, a high school dropout, lately fallen in with right-wing nationalists, who will draw the visiting family into the growing political cataclysm issuing from Turkey’s tumultuous century-long struggle for modernity. 

The novel is structured quite interestingly. Every chapter is narrated by one of the 5 main characters' perspective, which means that you always get a different view of the story. My favourite was probably Recep, who starts of narrating the novel. Pamuk represented his loneliness quite well and I like his stream of consciousness. In the opening chapter, Recep sits in a bar and I found the situation described very realistically. Often scenes in novels are realistic but still maintain this "fictional" aspect. These seemed very lifelike. The same counted for Fatma Hanim, who narrates second. I loved her descriptions in the second chapter of wandering through her house, thinking about how none of it would change if no one ever touched it. 

As I already said above, Pamuk's writing style is very realistic. I did some research after finishing the novel and he said that most of the details in this novel, the stories, the settings, were from his childhood. The characters are his childhood friends or family members. I think it makes a lot more sense that when an author writes from memory. He is more likely to write, perhaps romantically. These are memories he writes from so they are both realistic, but also there always seems to be a positive twist to them. I also really liked how Pamuk presented Turkey's 'struggle' by introducing Hassan. Although he is in love with a girl, his beliefs, and hers, are more important.

I give this book....

4 UNIVERSES!!!!

I really like Pamuk's writing style. Because they all are interior monologues, written in stream of consciousness, the reading is much easier than I feared. I loved learning more about Turkey and its history because it is one of those countries I don't know a lot about. I realize this review hasn't exactly been extensive, but I highly recommend the novel to anyone.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

'Wind over Marshdale' by Tracy Krauss launches today!!!


Tracy Krauss is launching her book WIND OVER MARSHDALE on Tuesday, Oct. 16. Full of intrigue, romance, and plenty of surprises, see what’s hiding just beneath the surface in this seemingly peaceful town. You can help her achieve ‘best seller’ status by purchasing the book at amazon.com TODAY – and receive all kinds of cool free gifts while you’re at it! I myself have read Krauss' books and I can tell you she's very good!
Here’s how:
1. Go to the Landing Page on Tracy’s Website
2. Buy the book at amazon.
3. Go back to the Landing Page and fill in the form with your name, email and purchase number.
It’s that easy! You’ll be directed to your free gifts and all you have to do is choose which ones you want.
About the book:
Marshdale. Just a small farming community where nothing special happens. A perfect place to start over… or get lost. There is definitely more to this prairie town than meets the eye. Once the meeting place of aboriginal tribes for miles around, some say the land itself was cursed because of the people’s sin. But its history goes farther back than even indigenous oral history can trace and there is still a direct descendant who has been handed the truth, like it or not. Exactly what ties does the land have to the medicine of the ancients? Is it cursed, or is it all superstition?
Wind Over Marshdale is the story of the struggles within a small prairie town when hidden evil and ancient medicine resurface. Caught in the crossfire, new teacher Rachel Bosworth finds herself in love with two men at once. First, there is Thomas Lone Wolf, a Cree man whose blood lines run back to the days of ancient medicine but who has chosen to live as a Christian and faces prejudice from every side as he tries to expose the truth. Then there is Con McKinley, local farmer who has to face some demons of his own. Add to the mix a wayward minister seeking anonymity in the obscurity of the town; eccentric twin sisters – one heavily involved in the occult and the other a fundamentalist zealot; and a host of other ‘characters’ whose lives weave together unexpectedly for the final climax. This suspenseful story is one of human frailty - prejudice, cowardice, jealousy, and greed – magnified by powerful spiritual forces that have remained hidden for centuries, only to be broken in triumph by grace.

What others are saying:
Tracy Krauss has a deep talent. I am looking forward to more from her.
  • Tom Blubaugh, Author of Night of the Cossack
Tracy Krauss typifies all that is good in modern Christian authorship. She is consistently there for her readers and elevates her every effort.
  • Joyce Godwin Grubbs, Author From the Grassroots
Tracy’s characters are raw and real; her plots edgy and electric.

  • Lisa Lickel, award winning author of Meander Scar, A Summer in Oakville, The Map Quilt and other inspirational novels.
There is plenty of intrigue and mystery to keep any reader's attention, but for lovers of romance, this one will make your heart pound.
  • Michelle Sutton, reviewer and author of more than a dozen inspirational novels
Author bio:
Tracy Krauss is a high school teacher by profession, and a prolific author, artist, playwright and director by choice. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Saskatchewan and has gone on to teach Art, Drama and English – all the things she is passionate about. After raising four children, she and her husband now reside in beautiful Tumbler Ridge, BC where she continues to pursue all of her creative interests.
FREE STUFF:
Here’s just a sampling of the FREE e-gifts from generous supporters:
-    a free copy of  25 Years In the Rearview Mirror - compiled and edited by Stacy Juba; Shoot the Wounded by Lynn Dove; Live Without Stress by Shelley Hitz; Alternative Witness by Pauline Creeden; and Writing Your Family Legacy and Reflections of the Heart, both by Linda Weaver Clarke
- a free first chapters of such best-selling books as From Spice to Eternity by Yvonne Wright; Angels of Humility by Jackie MacGirvin; and Silence by Barbara Derksen
- beautiful downloadable greeting cards by Brenda Hendricks; and poetry posters by Violet Nesdoly
- the ‘Fit Test’ by author and trainer Kimberley Payne; plus a chance to win an ‘amazon’ gift card courtesy of Ruth Hill
-          And much more!
All if you buy your copy of WIND OVER MARSHDALE at amazon.com on Oct 16! All links will be operational on the ‘Landing Page’ at www.tracykrauss.com/ 
DISCLAIMER: This ‘Best Seller book launch’ has been coordinated with the help of the ‘John 3:16 Marketing Network’ and many other generous supporters. The free gifts are deliverable electronically over the internet or by email by individual authors and supporters. They are not in any way associated with, nor deliverable by, amazon.com 

Monday, 15 October 2012

'Whoso List to Hunt' by Sir Thomas Wyatt

In my 'Studying Literature' module we have now moved on from 'Wolf Hall' and started on Thomas Wyatt's poetry. And I thought, what better way to analyse and inform myself then to share with you. I will analyse this sonnet, 'Whoso List to Hunt', and in the process find out more about Wyatt and sonnets. How much does Wyatt look like Henry VIII in this portrait? It's almost wrong.


Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind, 
But as for me, alas! I may no more. 
The vain travail hath worried me so sore, 
I am of them that furthest come behind. 
Yet may I by no means, my worried mind 
Draw from the deer; but as she fleeth afore 
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore, 
Since in a net I seek to hold the wind. 
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt, 
As well as I, may spend his time in vain; 
And graven in diamonds in letters plain 
There is written, her fair neck round about, 
"Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild to hold, though I seem tame."


First, the sonnet form and Petrarch. The two go hand in hand. 'sonnet' comes from the Italian word 'sonetto', which means 'little sound'. A sonnet is usually a poem of fourteen lines and Thomas Wyatt used the Italian rhyming scheme. This means:

  • an octave, existing out of 2 quatrains (verses of 4 lines). This octave forms a 'proposition' and explains the problem at hand.
  • then there is the sestet, existing out of 3 tercets (verses of 3 lines). This is supposed to give the answer to the problem.
This form was developed by the Italians and Wyatt and Shakespeare both used it. He also uses the iambic tetrameter. Now, onto the analysis.

'Whoso list to hunt' is a question that asks whoever wishes to hunt because he knows a 'hind' worth hunting. The 'hind' here could be interpreted as meaning a woman. Hunting was often a metaphor for courting, putting the men in the position of 'hunter' and thereby making him the dominant one. The second line shows he himself once hunted but has given up. This might refer to him having given up hunting this specific woman, but it could also be that he has given up on hunting itself. He calls it 'vain' and says it has worried him 'sore' which means he always 'cometh behind'. He here admits he is no good at the hunt and always comes in last when trying to make a conquest. We can here see how Wyatt is introducing the 'proposition' or 'problem' to us. 

Although he admits he is failing at the hunt in line 4, he also says he cannot 'draw' his 'wearied mind' from this 'deer'. Here, the use of 'deer' could be given an extra connotation. Phonetically, it is very similar to the word 'dear', again implying that the poem is not about actual hunting but rather courtship. He follows her 'fainting', but  he again admits defeat in a line that I think is beautiful.
'I leave off, therefore/Since in a net I seek to hold the wind'
I really like this line. He is implying this woman cannot be won, especially not by him. She is like the wind, always escaping his grasp yet always around him as well. 

The sestet starts at line 9, with Wyatt putting every other hunter 'out of doubt' about the futility of their hunt. Around her neck, this hind has a necklace 'graven with diamonds' that reads 'Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am'. 'Noli me tangere' means as much as 'do not touch me'. The pursuit of this hind/woman is pointless because she alreadt belongs to Caesar and no other man can therefore have her. The necklace also says 'and wild for to hold, though I seem tame'. This woman is wild and strong although she may make the appearance of being soft and tame. Here it is easy to explain the poem through historical context, almost too easy. Wyatt, in 1536, was almost thrown into the Tower for allegedly sleeping with Anne Boleyn, the Queen and wife of Henry VIII. This poem could be read as Wyatt showing us how his pursuit of Anne was pointless and tiring as she belonged to the King ('Caesar') and could therefore not belong to him. It could here be noted he did get close enough to see the necklace on her 'fair neck', implying some kind of intimacy.

The lecture today said this was the major trap of historical context. It is too often used to explain away a poem and other interpretations are therefore missed. A possible interpretation he offered for this sonnet was the denial of a relationship between Anne and himself rather than a confirmation. Wyatt was a courtier and as ambassador he had to have a good relationship with the King. By saying he, nor any other man for that matter, could catch Anne but that she herself wore a necklace that stated her as the King's, he could be seen as protecting himself against Henry's possible wrath.

So, what do you think? Does this sound like your kind of sonnet? Do you even like sonnets?

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Review: 'Wolf Hall' by Hilary Mantel

This might have been one of the quickest reads I have ever done, considering the circumstances and everything else I had to/wanted to do. I found out on a Friday that I had to read this book for the next lecture on Monday, barely read anything on the Saturday. Thankfully on Monday we were told we had to finish it by the next week, which was especially good for everyone else because the bookstore on campus had run out of copies and during the weekend so had loads of bookstores in Nottingham. On Monday I promised a friend she could borrow my copy so I sped through it and finished it by Wednesday.

First of all, this is a very long book, almost too long considering the period it covers. As a subject, Mantel has chosen Thomas Cromwell, the man that is seen as responsible for the Reformation, Anne Boleyn becoming Queen and Henry VIII turning into a despot. Historically speaking, he is despised. Some see him as the devil, during his life and now. Strangely enough, Mantel achieves the near impossible. She made me like Cromwell, a historical character I had slightly despised before that. Here he had a compassionate side and seemed a family man. What was also interesting to read about was his ascent to power. This is where the next point comes in.

Hilary Mantel seems to have a penchant for long descriptions of things that, at the first glance, might seem pointless. I will admit to the sin of having skipped one or two, or three, yet as the novel progressed I started to see the use of these descriptions. Cromwell slowly becomes more and more powerful and his attributes slowly increase as well. The effect of this is that when he moves house, we get a long description of all his belongings. The same thing happens to Cardinal Wolsey. When he is kicked out of his house there is a long description of all his belongings that now belong to the king and we see how closely reputation was linked to wealth and how the loss of either means the loss of the other.

Throughout the novel there is reference to the meeting between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The Biblical account of their meeting is that the Queen visits Solomon after having heard of his great wisdom. First it belonged to Wolsey, then it passes on to the King who then gives it to Cromwell, where it remains throughout the rest of the novel. In Sheba, Cromwell sees a previous lover and she is also compared to Anne Boleyn. I am still puzzling over the exact meaning of the tapestry and the imagery in itself. It wasn't the one to the right.

Overall, I quite liked this book. There is a massive difference in attitude if you have to read a book for a course or whether you pick it up out of free will. I did think to myself last year that maybe I should read this one as we looked at it during high school. I don't regret reading it and think that I might actually pick up the sequel, 'Bring Up The Bodies', which hopefully isn't quite as big. I give this book...

4 UNIVERSES!!!

It is a masterly book that clearly took a lot of imagination and dedication. Although it almost killed me to keep reading at some times, Mantel shows herself as a great author by being able to keep the reader interested in a character after 600 pages. We haven't even reached Cromwell at his most powerful, yet we like him and want to know more. I definitely recommend this to anyone who likes the Tudor reign and isn't afraid of big books. Perhaps, if you're a fan of Anne Boleyn this isn't your book.


The Viking World - Lecture 2: The Viking Expansion

This may have been one of the longest lectures I ever had. It was a lot of information pushed into one and a half hours. She started of apologizing for the lecture and all the information, which made me grab my pen a bit tighter. To my shame, I have to admit I was terribly tired at this point (it was 4 PM) and had a hard time trying to stay present, especially when she was telling stories about the Vikings. It was so easy to close my eyes and dream of, thinking about Vikings on the seas of Europe. But I battled through and here present to you a write-up.

The expansion began around the 8th century and followed the trade routes that had been established since the 6th century. These routes stretched all over the world. An example is a statue if Buddha that was found in Helgö, now in Sweden, and came from India. Although the Vikings are often associated with the beginnings of piracy and raiding, these things happened way before. The only reason the Vikings were so much better at it was the higher agility and speed of their ships. The 8th century saw raiders from Denmark and Norway attack Lindisfarne, Britain in 793 and also Europe and Ireland. These were still 'smash-and-grab' raids, which means the Vikings came in, smashed up your door, took whatever you had and left again. There are a number of sources that describe these raids. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 793, mentions the 'heathens' that attacked Lindisfarne. In 798, the Annals of Ulster described the 'burning of Inis Patraic' by more 'heathens' and in 820 the Royal Frankish Annals described the raids on France. Men as Alquin of York always referred to them as 'heathens' for one particular reason: they were God's punishment. He wrote letters saying the raids were the fault of the people as they had sinned and now God had sent these 'heathens' to punish them. 

The 9th century saw the 'smah-and-grab' raids develop into more. There was now migration and settlement as well. There are questions as to why the Vikings suddenly felt the need to move away. One reason offered is overpopulation, but our lecturer dismissed this one rather quickly, stating that Norway's population now is at least 5 times as big as then and the country still has vast amounts of empty land. Another was a shortage of farm land but back then the climate was better than now and there was a lot of space. Another claim is that they ran out of women due to female infanticide (killing female babies). But as I already wrote in last week's Viking write up, women were rather important to the Vikings and traveled with them, so this one doesn't make sense either. The Vikings migrated all over the world, there are even reports of Norse soldiers served in the guard of the Emperor of Byzantium. There is also prove in England that the migration was rather large. The English language has been deeply influenced by Old Norse, from vocabulary to pronunciation.

During the 9th century, England didn't exist as such. It were loads of kingdoms that had rivalries with each other as well. In 866 it was reported a 'micel here' (great army) came across England from Denmark and it was said to have women and children with it. The kingdom of the West Saxons, modern Wessex, held out the longest under the attacks. King Alfred started the process towards an English nation and talked of the 'Angelcynn'. He believed that in order to rule people you also had to win their hearts and he used the Vikings as 'the other' to create a feeling of unity among the Saxons. Part of this was starting the translation of books into English. Between 880 and 890 he made a Peace Treaty with King Guthrum, dividing the country into two. The land conquered by the Danes was now known as the Danelaw and covered most of the north of England, but this was largely empty land. King Alfred started a campaign to to conquer back the Danelaw, yet not everyone was enthusiastic to be ruled by them. Alfred's grandson, Aethelstan, was the one who eventually kicked out the Vikings for good during the epic Brunaburgh Battle and made the Five Boroughs part of England. There is hardly any literature of this time but there are stone-carvings which show proof of the intermingling of Viking and English culture.


In the 10th century, the Second Viking Age started with renewed attacks. One of these was the Battle of Maldon where the Anglo-Saxons were defeated. This was during the reign of Aethelread, who is often called 'the Unready', although his name actually means 'the Clueless', which isn't much better. He tried to buy of the Vikings, which of course led to them demanding more and more every year. In 1002 on the 13th of November he ordered a massacre of Vikings, which might have been harsh but was acceptable at the time. But then Sweyn Forkbeard from Denmark came in and after him his son Cnut. The latter eventually defeated Aethelread and married his wife, Emma, who became his way to become English. Funny enough, Cnut's first wife was ruling in his stead in Norway. Scotland was also attacked at this time, yet it had the same problems as England. It wasn't a united country and easily fell to the Vikings. Burial sites found in Scotland tell us a lot about this time. Ireland had to suffer from raids in the 8th century but also saw the Vikings settle in the 9th century. But eventually, in the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, the Irish defeated the Vikings. 

The influence of the Vikings mysteriously ended in the 11th century. I wonder why but maybe that's what I'll find out next week. So, are you liking the Vikings?

Academic Community - Lecture 1: What is a text?

This was the first week in which I had an Academic Community Lecture because it is every other week. The first week I had a seminar and then this week a lecture, etc. etc. I was quite looking forward to this lecture because when we had a Taster Lecture of everything on the Friday of Freshers' Week the lecturer for this made us all laugh. He walked up to the desk, put down a Frosties box and said: 'I am just going to say this again, you have done amazingly well to be accepted here, so I would like to raise a toast to you.' And then he lifted a piece of toasted bread out of the box. So I had a good feeling about this lecture, even though the module itself was a bit vague to me.


The word 'text' is used by most people and seen as a relatively simple word, yet it is everything but simple when you think about it for a bit. The Oxford English Dictionary calls it a 'printed or written work' or 'a written work chosen as a subject of study'. The main word here is 'written' which begs the question: what about songs and images? For example, to a researcher in Old Norse culture, there are barely any written texts available. But burial sites that were found say a lot more than any words could. What a person is buried with is like a biography of their lives, revealing a lot of information about their status and culture. Also, if you look a bit deeper at the etymology of the word 'text' in the OED you see it is derived from the Old Northern French 'tixte' which itself came from the Latin 'textus' which means 'that which is woven'. That sounds like a tapestry, rather than a 'text'.

Another question which is brought forward by the term 'text' is 'what text?'. Look at Beowulf for example, is the 'text' the actual manuscript in Old English or the Seamus Heaney translation? There are differences between the two versions and this leads to another question. Is a text what the author intends or is it the reader's own interpretation? A text is changeable, it is not written in stone. (Like the pun?) Here, another lecturer came in who talked about the many changes in the manuscripts of D.H. Lawrence. My favourite example was a photo of the manuscript for 'Women in Love' where you can clearly see both D.H. Lawrence's notes and his wife's. Some critics have said that the wife's notes should be taken out because the 'text' is only what Lawrence has written, yet taking out her additions changes the novel severely. Again, what is a text and who is the author? The language Lawrence uses is not his either since language is a common good.

Then, a lecturer for drama came in to talk about the importance and meaning of text for drama. What is important to remember in drama is that many texts are transcripts of performances. They were never meant to be read, a way in which many people are introduced to Shakespeare, but rather were meant to be seen. Richard Schechner in his paper 'Drama, Script, Theatre and Performance' argued the importance of the drama, the play itself. I am still slightly confused as to what he meant exactly, so I found the paper on JSTOR and am going to read it. So I'll come back to this at some later point. As a novel can have different versions the same counts even more for plays. Every time it is staged, there is a different version of the play. So which is the real version? The way it was played at the beginning, with men for women's roles, or a minimalist version?

And finally we learnt there are 2 different kinds of texts: a representational text and a referential text. The former is what most people sit down to read such as poetry, a novel and this even includes a painting. These texts usually engage the imagination, not straightforward and often ambiguous. A referential text is what most people often read almost unawares. It is the text on the back of your milk bottle or aspirin pack or even a road sign. These texts simply engage you on one level, impart information and are supposed to be completely unambiguous. I still find myself baffled by them sometimes but that might just be me.


So, that was my first Academic Community lecture. Doesn't sound too bad, does it? What do you think a text is?

Monday, 8 October 2012

Redesigned Book Covers

I just discovered these redesigned book covers for a 100 classics on Shortlist.com. Apparently, they got a 100 artists from 28 different countries together to create alternative covers and to be honest, I am not a very big fan. I understand that a project like this would choose artists that will make something unusual, something that publishing houses perhaps wouldn't think of, but I still feel like most of the covers aren't that amazing

Of course they chose 'Jane Eyre' and 'Wuthering Heights' as 2 of their classics, who wouldn't? But I don't really like the covers. I am slightly baffled over the Jane Eyre one because I wonder whether this is supposed to be Bertha Mason, Rochester's first wife. If so, why did they put her on the cover? I understands he is what originally stands between Rochester and Jane but I would much rather have seen something else I think. If it is Jane, I don't quite get what it is supposed to say. The 'Wuthering Heights' cover I just don't really like. The book has some great moments, much better than the idea of Catherine at the window, which doesn't even actually happen. Perhaps the artist was also referencing the popular Kate Bush song, but I just think something better could have been chosen. What I do like is the slightly twisted look of the cover, but the colours on Catherine are just off. Both of the covers have a distinct Gothic and scary look, which at least for Jane Eyre I think is slightly over the top. Yes, the mad woman is in the attic but for the rest it is a love story. 'Wuthering Heights' is very dramatic and psychological and yet the cover here is more hysterical.

Here are three other ones I didn't particularly appreciate. From left to right, 'Frankenstein', 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Picture of Dorian Grey'.
 I really don't appreciate the 'Frankenstein' cover. I don't even think it is very original because the pop culture references are everywhere. There were never any bolts in the Creature and he was never a servant of any kind. I just think the cover is slightly tacky which is a shame because the book has so much to offer. The same counts for the cover for 'The Lord of the Rings'. I mean, where did this "artist's" creativity come in? He just blended some of the artwork from the movie itself, even used their print and is now passing it of as a redesign. Next to that, it represents a situation that never actually takes place in the book. Yes, indirectly, Frodo and Sam are fighting Sauron but by that tie he doesn't look like that anymore. I would have appreciated some originality. I spent a long time thinking about the 'The Picture of Dorian Grey'-cover and am still slightly undecided about it. I think it might be one of the few that I find artistically interesting. I don't get the spinning top thing though. The angry and the sad face are clearly meant as references to the character of Dorian and Basil Hallward. But although I don't get it, I like it much better than the other two.

And yes, there are two covers I do like. As you may know, I am currently reading 'If On a Winter's Night A Traveller' by Italo Calvino and am enjoying it. I really like this cover because I feel it represents the different and complex layers of the book pretty well and also shows how together they create something quite beautiful. I would definitely buy the book with this cover. Next to it is 'Emma' by Jane Austen'. I don't really like the book itself that much and perhaps that is why I like the cover because in its design the drawing is rather childlike which I feel fits Emma's character. She isn't that grown up and the novel is very much about her being educated, so this cover could give people the right kind of indication about the book.c

So, what do you think? Do you agree with me or do you really like these covers? Hop over here for all 100 of them and over here for the Shortlist website.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Massive Lecture write-up!

I have been terrible at keeping up with writing these write-ups, but there are reasons which hopefully won't impede me next week. Last Thursday was a really busy day as I had lectures from 9 to 4:30 and then had to leave at 6:45 for an English social which involved drinking. Then on Friday I had 2 seminars and a lecture and was really tired. The same evening, an evening where we had told ourselves we'd take it easy, I got terribly drunk and I can't really remember what happened. Not good people, it might sound hardcore but it is a scary experience! Anyways, I decided to move on from this and spend this Sunday night writing a mega write-up of both Thursday and Friday and start with a clean slate tomorrow.

My Thursday started with a lecture in 'Introduction to Drama' at 9. This was the module I had been worried about because the assessment involves a performance but you can imagine my relief when she told us we would be assessed on our direction of the 10-min. performance rather than on the actual performance. I was also really excited to see we would be reading 'Medea' and 'Oedipus Rex', two of my favourite Greek tragedies. Next to that we're also reading 'A Doll's House', which I analysed to bits last year in college. I think it is safe to say that although the seminars might still throw me in the occasional panic attack I might actually enjoy this module.

At 11 I had a seminar in 'Beginnings of English' where we analysed and compared a modern and a Middle English (ME) version of 'The Lord's Prayer'. I really liked seeing how it had changed, what had changed, the influence of French on English and the different letters of Old English that survived into ME. I simply love learning about these old forms of English because that is what I eventually want to continue doing  for a Master and PHD, if I'm lucky enough to survive my Bachelor with a degree. And I practically swooned when the lecturer read the prayer in ME because it sounds amazing.

Then I had a break until 2 when I had a lecture in 'Shakespeare's Histories' which is about Shakespeare's tetralogy ('Richard II', the two 'Henry IV' and 'Henry V'). Of course I loved this lecture, why do you even ask? 'Henry V' is one of my favourite plays after I saw it at the Globe and I really enjoyed the BBC's 'The Hollow Crown' over the summer. Shakespeare is brilliant and the lecturer is a lot of fun. I even made a contribution to the lecture when I commented on the 'I, no, no, I' in 'Richard II'. We were comparing editions and in a modern one it had been changed to 'aye, no, no, aye' which removed the possibility of a phonetic interpretation that Richard doesn't know himself anymore. What's also good, this lecturer does research into authorship, which I did my Extended Project on, and I already approached him on whether I could do something with it in my second term this year.


I then rushed to a lecture on 'Language & Context'. This might be the one module that will cause me problems. I barely know grammatical terms in Dutch and I know even less in English. Although I think that for me as an aspiring writer it would be useful to know more about language I find it a bit difficult to get excited over. Yes, it is interesting that people associate hard angles with sounds like 'k' rather than 'm', but it is not as exciting as the Vikings.

My Friday started at 9 with a 2-hour seminar in 'Studying Literature'. The lecturer is a lot of fun and keeps things entertaining on an early Friday and although we largely rehashed what we learnt in the lecture on Monday I really enjoyed it. In groups we looked at different passages in 'Wolf Hall' where Mantel talks about history and myths. The conclusion was that history in itself is a narrative and that historical fact is never actually a fact. There is always another story that could be told.

I then ran to a 'Beginnings of English' lecture where we again rehashed many of the things we discussed in the seminar. For example, the three changes that Old English went through to become Middle English: the inflexion became less harsh, the order of words in sentences became crucial in determining meaning and the vocabulary grew because of the addition of Latin and especially French words. English remained the language everyone knew, even though Latin was the language of law and French the language of nobility.


Afterwards I had a seminar in the dreaded 'Language & Context'. Again, nothing against the content of the module. I actually think it will improve my writing and probably help in my other modules as well. But it is just so different from the other modules. With those I could immediately see links and this is just completely new. I quite liked looking at the different kinds of sentences and trying to determine in what context they would be said and how, but it just seems slightly anticlimactic after having looked at Old English or the Tudor Era.

So, overall the two days were pretty good if slightly stressful. The weekend has been great as well since Nottingham is host to the massive Goose Fair every year. I don't think I have ever spent this much time upside down but it was definitely worth it. So, let's hope next week is just as good.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

The Viking World - Lecture 1: The Vikings

I spent most of yesterday battling my way through 'Wolf Hall'. It seems my brain has to get used to reading under pressure again after the summer in which I had all the time in the world. I also went to a kick-boxing lesson in the evening, which meant I was ruined for the night. But here I am, with a write-up for yesterday's lecture and later there will be a post about my lecture today.

The first thing our lecturer did was dispel the myth that Vikings had horns on their helmets This was introduced in the 19th century and made popular through use in performances of the operas in 'The Ring of the Nibelungen' by Richard Wagner.  The Viking Age, also knows as the Vendel Period, ran from 793 to 1066 and was followed by the Middle Ages. This time period was established as being 'Viking' because in 793 the first recorded Viking raid in England took place, on Lindisfarne in Northumberland. 1066 spells the year of the Norman Conquest and the decreasing influence of the Scandinavian people. It is also said the end of the Viking Age is rather around 1100, from when the earliest writings in Scandinavia are found. 

The Viking Age was very much a period of social change. The Vikings had the advantage of sea fare  which was crucial in Scandinavia since the distance from the top of Norway to Oslo is further than from Oslo to Rome and can only be traveled by boat. They spread across most of the world, discovered America, traded with China and there are even Islamic/Spanish accounts of them. An example of this is Rusland. 'rus' means rower' in Swedish, I believe, and that name was given by the Vikings who traveled there and it has stuck. Indirectly, the Vikings also led to a unification of people into some sort of states, such as England for example, because they formed the 'other' against which they could unite. (Map shows where they traveled and their territories)

In itself, the term 'Viking' is to vague a term to describe the Vikings. It comes from the word 'vikingr' which means as much as 'thug' and has mainly negative connotations. Later on, again in the 19th century, this term was romanticized into becoming what it is to us now. At the time they were rather called 'heathen', 'Northmen' or 'Danes. They came from across Scandinavia and therefore 'Viking' doesn't even describe a certain area of origin. The term is used usually to denote certain qualities that modern media attributes to them, describing them as purely masculine and aggressive. Yet they often took of to eventually settle. For them, travelling was a much bigger operation then now. Household were moved, which included cattle, weapons and....women.

Female Vikings was another major point in the lecture. Because the image of the Vikings is so manly and violent that not a lot of people know about their women. According to the lecturer, a friend of hers at the museum was once asked whether there even were Viking women. Yes, some people are that dim. Viking women traveled alongside their men. Proof of this could be a spindle that was found in North-America, which could only have been used by a woman since spinning was a female occupation. This leads to the further knowledge that women had jobs and roles in society and weren't bound to their domestic homes. Women, surprisingly, also had quite some rights. For example, they were allowed to divorce their husbands if they lost status (a marriage was between equals, so if he lost his status she could leave) or if he no longer satisfied her. Yet men and women weren't quite equal since, just like slaves, women weren't allowed to vote in the 'þing', the assembly where law was spoken.

What was most important to the Vikings was a reputation that would remain long after they had died. They certainly achieved this and I will leave you with this, my favourite line from this lecture:
'I have a liking for a Viking!'

Monday, 1 October 2012

Studying Literature - Seminar 1: 'Wolf Hall'

Yes, I have decided to do write ups of my lectures. Not only will they help me order the many excited thoughts in my head but some of you, ok maybe 1 one you, might find this interesting. Today, this very Monday, I started my degree with my first lecture in Studying Literature. Imagine when, last Friday, I found out that by today I was supposed to have finished 'Wolf Hall', Hilary Mantel's 650-page book on Thomas Cromwell. Thankfully, I had bought the book before the lecture because Moodle informed me of my destiny that morning. That way I was able to avoid the rush to the bookstore on campus, where 'Wolf Hall' had sold out by the end of the lecture. Am I the only one who is puzzled by the fact these books sold out while the lecture was still going? Anyways, of course I wasn't able to finish the book because Freshers-week doesn't stop until Sunday. But, being almost 400 pages in by the time the lecture started, I felt rather prepared.


I have decided that I absolutely love lectures. This is exactly how I want to be taught. My lecturers were telling me what they know, I was furiously making notes and felt smarter at the end of the hour. The lecturer started of by discussing the term 'historical fiction'. There are those literary critics which say that 'history is textual' (Bennet & Royle 2009, 119). Everyone knows the saying that history is written by the victors, yet few realize how true this is. What we see is fact is what someone once decided to write down. In that sense, literature is part of history in that what we write down will be the source for others to judge our presence, their past. This is where the scary-looking term 'historiographical metafiction' came in. All it means is:
'fiction that is self-conscious about how it represents the past, drawing attention to the artificiality and textuality of its language and form'
Historical fiction presents history, yet makes it somehow contemporary enough so a modern audience can connect with it.


My lecturer has a true passion for 'Wolf Hall' because while reading novels she is usually aware of their artificiality, whereas in 'Wolf Hall' she almost forgot she was reading historical fiction. There are some features to the novel that make it a very present and intimate read, even though the novel takes place in Tudor England. First of all, Mantel uses the third person for Cromwell, always. This leads to very confusing sentences where you are never sure which 'him' or 'he' Cromwell is. Not that his first name, Thomas, gives much of a clue either because that seems to have been a popular name. The novel is also written in present tense, something that I believe is crucial in making a historical fiction novel work, if it's a true historical fiction novel. Most people know what happened to Cromwell and during his life and therefore the ending and plot aren't much of a surprise. Yet the present tense makes sure the reader is caught in the moment together with Cromwell, rather than looking at him from the outside. And thirdly, although the narrative is third person, it is coloured by Cromwell's opinions and beliefs. So we are very close to him, even though there is a certain distance between him and the reader.

That was just the first 30 minutes of the lecture. The second half seemed to go a lot faster as another lecturer came in and wondered how and why this novel is interesting to modern readers. Cromwell himself was very much a self made man in a time of great social change and turmoil, which almost sounds too current to be true. The 16th century meant significant poverty next to massive wealth, fear for civil wars and massive changes in national identity for England. The story of just one man's role in this seems uninteresting but it is fascinating to see how influential Cromwell was. One of the questions we are meant to ponder for next week is how we feel about someone who rises to the top so steadily, coming from nothing. Cromwell is usually presented as a conniving and sly person, the Holbein portrait probably doesn't help, yet this novel gives him a kinder, compassionate side as well. So all that is left for me is to finish the last 200-odd pages and decide what I think about Cromwell. We were also asked to find out how much Henry VIII spent on art. After fruitless searches, I found a 5-page paper called 'Henry VIII: A Machiavellian Musical Monarch'. To say I am excited would be too much, but I am rather intruiged. What I already found out is that he employed, next to Holbein, a female painter: Levina Teerline. That is rather extraordinary, don't you think?


So, what do you think of my first lecture? I am absolutely in love, but does this sound like your cup of tea? And as an extra question: should I watch 'The Tudors' again, as "background" to this novel?