Saturday, 22 December 2012

Hard Times. Like the ones you'll have reading that novel.

Well, here I am, reading again Hard Times. I’ve been put in the third year again due to an administrative mistake (it will count as the last year anyway). I was assigned that novel two years ago and here is what I remember before reading it (again!):
-                     Didn’t like it. In fact, I think it’s the worst novel by Dickens. By a wide margin. It turns out that he had to improve a social magazine’s sales, so he wrote a story about the evils of capitalism… to sell more numbers of said magazine. Of such a ludicrous paradox came an awful novel.
-                     Scene I remember better: children being taught in the first episodes what I would call ‘science’ and the novel calls ‘facts’. I actually liked this beginning when I was in high school and I was discovering I had no head for numbers, physics, etc. Now, it comes out as preaching to the choir. But given Dickens’ original readers, that was probably the point. And yes, I began it in high school, but didn’t go too far with it.
-                       Characters: I hated them all. Mr Gradgrind is the only one who is slightly likable and maybe Louisa. And both of them loved a prissy little creature by the name of… Sissy Jupe. Hate! I vaguely remember her always surrounded by children and being generous and good and, well, incorruptible pure pureness in its basest form. And she is probably supposed to represent perfect womanhood. And she’s boring. Like pretty much everybody else in this book (someone should have told Dickens that when he wrote this kind of ‘lovable’ heroines he was creating someone his readers would hate forever. And another ludicrous paradox here. Not the kind Oscar Wilde liked, those were cool).
-                     Message: something to do with factories and progress being a bad thing. I’m sorry, but that message is totally lost on me. I know industrialisation was probably horrible in the beginning, but I’ve always felt that now that it’s passed, it’s not such a bad thing. I mean, there has to be a balance and all that, but what Dickens seems to be proposing (or Ruskin, Carlyle, and the like) is more in the lines of: ‘let’s go back in time, when we didn’t have to suffer seeing the poor people suffer for working long hours in factories. Or worse, the precious English countryside destroyed’. To give credit where credit is due, at least Dickens actually worked in a factory when he was a child. But he does not understand the working-class actual problems. He is all whimsical about the middle-class children not having fun at school, but when he introduces a working-class character with real problems, well then he is incapable of seeing that this situation makes those children’s problems seem very frivolous by comparison. Maybe that’s why he’s so melodramatic about the fate of the boy (not really sure what happened to him, but I’m pretty sure he dies at the end). I guess that’s the last paradox; he wrote about the effects of industrialisation in a poor town, but he had only a slightly better idea of what they were that his contemporaries, and ultimately he shows some fear and contempt toward his working-class characters and only really sympathises with some of his middle-class characters.
And that this message is not subtle, but constantly hammered on the reader’s head only makes it worse. That happens a lot actually, especially with environmental movies.
It is a pity, because I like some of his novels a lot. We could have read Great Expectations or Bleak House or something really challenging by Dickens. But, alas! I’m in my third year again. It seems I’m not gonna learn anything this year. Well, maybe I’ll like Hard Times better this time. That was what I could remember. It will be nice to compare.
(And thanks to Dickens we got Christmas! So I won’t hate him while reading the novel. I just couldn’t).

Monday, 24 September 2012

Summer is over ... Yay!

Well, I'm back to writing after a long Summer vacation, or rather I'm trying. I remember I was full of energy at the beginning of the summer, thinking about all the short stories I wanted to write, all the books I wanted to read, maybe I could do some exercise? Go for long walks? After the first week or so, my energy deflated.  I'm blaming the heat on this! Actually, hot weather always does that to me, and I've always spent all my summers here in Badajoz, one of the hottest places of Spain.
But luckily, I'm moving out again and to one of the most beautiful, lively Spanish cities! Granada is full of people (especially students like me), pubs with delicious cheap food (free with a drink), long long walks full of interesting views and buildings and people,...
God, I've missed that! Badajoz is so small, the only good thing is that going to Portugal from there is very easy. But it doesn't have much, other than some interesting modernistic buildings (including a copy of La Giralda). I really feel uneasy here, instead of relaxed. I feel like I'm wasting my time, and Granada is so close. Ah well, no nostalgia for me then.
Some people called Badajoz Little Seville. Either an insult or a compliment.
One of those modernist buildings I've mentioned.

Today, it rained for the first time in four months and I remembered that I like this town when it rains: the light changes, the smell is great (autumnal), the sky becomes completely white with the clouds. Almost my last day here.

At least, I got a nice haircut this summer.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Vampires in the Victorian Literature.

As you could see in my presentation, vampires were popular in the 19th century because they worked so well as symbols of the breaking of rules, especially sexual transgressions. You had the cruel parasitic abuse of the nobility in the aristocratic and sick Dracula (preceded by Polidori’s Lord Ruthven), that has somehow remained until today. This portrait of an aristocrat, apparently and morally obligated to be perfect, has a hint of rebellion that I’m sorry to say, is mostly gone now-a-days.
Another popular one was the female vampire, who symbolised not only the feared liberation of women but also the forbidden passion of sapphism. Carmilla was a short story by Sheridan LeFanu, in which Laura narrates her romance with Carmilla, a creature reincarnated through her name (I always wondered what would happen when she run out of different spellings for her name). I really liked this story and I recommend it for its psychological accuracy in portraying Laura’s dilemma, though this is quickly destroyed by the slayer, the first Van Helsing, who appears more as a reactionary figure who destroys the rebel woman rather than the benevolent saviour of the innocent damsel in distress. Perhaps they are one and the same.
Those two archetypes are now-a-days parodied to no end and a real vampire doesn’t exist anymore; they are superheroes with another name, a name that evokes darkness and romance, and subsequently betrays it.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

I miss when regaining humanity was the happy ending.

Last week I went to see Dark Shadows, a movie I expected to like with all my heart, not only because it was the comeback of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, but also because I’ve read in the interviews that that they were returning to the old way vampires were: dark, evil creatures who felt remorse for their hedious crime, and not the goodie pieces of meat they are now. 

After the movie, I was confused, I didn’t know whether I liked or not. A little like after just watching The Phantom Menace for the first time, though I was even more confused after that one. Partially, it was because there were too many things going on too quickly, but also because I really really wanted to like it. An hour later, I decided that no I hadn’t enjoyed the movie at all.
So, yeah I tried to enjoy Dark Shadows and for a while it worked. Let’s say the first 45 minutes. And later the movie still could redeem itself. It was when it was over when I felt the disappointment.
Now, why? I love Tim Burton-Johnny Depp’s movies. And no, I don’t consider Alice to be one of those. Or a real movie, for that matter. I joked with my friends after the movie saying that as an ex-gothic teenager I was ‘contractually obligated’ to like them, but before this movie it came naturally. But the only thing I really liked from this was the soundtrack. And I don’t mean Danny Elfman’s, which I didn’t even notice. I mean the 70’s songs, especially Alice Cooper’s cameo (I’m pretty sure I’ve heard ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’ in some princess movie when I was a child). 

Anyway, I saw a comic review that compared the original soap opera with Burton’s adaptation and realised why I didn’t like this movie, or anything vampire-related since Buffy, except for the parodies and works that didn’t have vampires as protagonists, like Bite Me or The Dresden Files:
If I have to analyse the movie, I'd say that the first half is actually pretty funny and the characters are interesting, though the editing is confusing. Who is supposed to be the protagonist? For almost 15 minutes you're convinced me that it's Victoria but for the rest of the movie is Barnabas. That is a reflection of the soap opera, for a season or so Victoria was the protagonist and then Barnabas appeared and she ended up fading in the background and leaving the cast. And that would be fine, except that the rest of the cast almost disappears in the movie (in a couple of cases literally), so the promising characters go underdeveloped. Especially bad for Victoria, who ends up being a boring pure pretty girl with a sad past that doesn't affect much the story.
And now, spoilers, the end. Oh my God, the end. There, you have Twilight in 5 seconds. Oh the irony! Victoria, who has not been seen for an hour or so, is hypnotised by the evil witch to jump the cliff and killing the witch is not stopping it so Barnabas goes after her and she, on the edge, tells him to turn her into a vampire. He says: No, I love you and I couldn't possibly pass this curse onto you! (you're immortal, powerful and the only flaw is that you can't see the sun, but after 200 years you must be used to!). So she jumps, he jumps after her, bites her and now they're two monsters ... I mean superpowerful beings. Hooray!  And all the time I was thinking: 'if only Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) came back'. Yes, there are three women after Barnabas, a blonde, a dark and a redhead. Man, it has to suck being him! 
Barnabas Collins is a horrible character here. He's a self-righteous mass murderer, and at first you don't have to take that seriously, but after he murders a friend (whose transgression was taking his blood because she felt old), you realise he's really a bastard . Even the villain is more sympathetic in retrospective. You almost feel that if she were a vampire instead of a witch she'd be too cool to kill in the end or something. Barnabas seduces her, uses her and finally kills her. It was like seeing a high-class prick tormenting his maid.
But the biggest problem is that, though he complains about being a vampire who wants to be a human again, that he and his lover are vampires at the end of the film is treated as the best ending. That was bad in many levels, but was worse is that they said they were coming back to the old vampire, who is a monster that has to kill but also a human so can be redeemed. Not the typical hero, but a very complex villain protagonist. It seems that the original Barnabas Collins was like that, a charismatic character who at first was the villain but later on became the protagonist by being compelling both in his remorse over killing and his romanticism.
Jonathan Frid: he looks like a real vampire, remarkable!

Now, vampires are very different. They're the hero-protagonists, always portrayed by sexy actors. They're not dark anymore, they're perfect. At least in Buffy the protagonist was a human, since then humanity is so lame. In Twilight, Bella's only aspiration is to be a vampire, in True Blood the protagonist is a human for the first two seasons, but she's actually a powerful 'fairy', and so on. Humans can't be humans anymore, which is also bad for the vampire character too, since he has to obligatorily complain about being a monster when he's actually a super hero, so he comes out as whinny and emo. I think that's the problem with this movie and vampire fiction in the last ten years. We humans want some respect back! After all, we don't go around killing people (well, most of us). Powers are very well, but they don't make the protagonist. Not even the hero.

Monday, 7 May 2012

What’s so wrong with the new Irene Adler?

(By the new IA, I mean the one in Sherlock, the radically new and excellently written BBC miniseries. And btw, spoilers ahead).
It seems that the main source of criticism in ‘A Scandal in Belgravia’ is the character of Irene Adler, a character in the original that, as the other important elements of the show, has been ‘modernised’ and included in the new series. And yes, Adler is very important, as she is the closest thing to a romantic interest Sherlock Holmes has ever had, so of course she must necessarily be included in the plot (and I’m being sarcastic here).
But, really, I can see how Adler is interesting and I liked her in the original story. In ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ she’s an opera singer who had a compromising picture with a prince and escapes the detective in the last minute, winning the  misogynist Holmes’s everlasting admiration. And then she never reappears.

Lillie Langtry, the likely inspiration of the opera singer, royally lover Irene Adler.

While I was watching the episode, (I paused a little, ‘cause you know, they last one hour and a half) I was enjoying the character of Irene Adler. Yes, when I’ve heard that she had been changed to a dominatrix with compromising pictures in her smart-phone I had my doubts, but then I discovered that it led to a lot of fanservice, so why not? I was just a bit pissed off when Sherlock couldn’t guess anything from Adler simply because she introduced herself naked. Yes, I know, more fanservice and a clever twist to the ‘first naked impression’ or ‘meet cute’, but I couldn’t but thought that the real Holmes would have guessed something from her hair or her perfume or something (yes, I’m a fan of the original Sherlock Holmes, and yes, I have that moment at least once per episode, except for the last one).

Yes, she's naked and still looks like a dominatrix!

It was in the last twenty minutes when I realised all the wrong they had done to the character. First of all, it's Moriarty who is behind the plan, she’s just a pawn in his hands. Secondly, she’s in love with Sherlock after all, and therefore, vulnerable. And then, there’s this little detail of she being supposedly gay. So, yep, the typical insulting and boring fantasy of the lesbian who falls for the male protagonist. Anyway, I was eager to forget all these flaws because the episode has been entertaining and all, but mainly because I was convinced that she was going to be killed at the end, and I didn’t care since she was kind of a bitch. It would be like in A Game of Shadows although they did that to ship Watson and Holmes… I mean to focus on their relationship (if the next movie finishes with the two of them riding to the sunset I won’t be surprised).

So, yeah, I was quite relieved when Mycroft tells Watson that Irene has been assassinated by some terrorists, but don’t tell my brother in case he has feelings, please. I mean, I wasn’t celebrating it, only thinking that it was the best for the story. And then they ruined it all by showing the most stereotypical Arab terrorists almost beheading a crying Irene and Holmes rescuing her. Well, fuck you, new series! I mean, Sherlock! So you have not only degraded an interesting, resourceful character to the damsel in distress, the bad girl who was having too much fun so she was punished but saved in the last minute in the most humiliating way possible; you’re threatening us with her reappearance!
It is pretty sad when a Victorian author writes a more interesting independent woman than Steven Moffat, in this century and in a series set this age. Doyle only wrote her for a short story, so the characterisation is very concise, which actually works in her favour since it turns her in a mysterious character. They could have tried that, instead of creating a woman from whom we end up knowing too much and who is just a shallow character. And don’t tell she shows us Sherlock has emotions and that’s her final victory. Of course he has emotions, I don’t need a fucking promoted love interest to tell me that, and that’s what female main characters have been doing since the beginning of times, so I’m fucking tired of it! I hope the next Irene will be at least more original.
Also, if it’s true what it’s said on the internet about Irene Adler being basically a copy of the same author’s River Song (I’ve only seen her in two episodes, but yeah I can see the similarities) then the most important episodes of the 11th doctor are gonna suck. Oh, and I’m beginning to dislike Amy as well.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Why Would We Read a Novel Like Pamela?

Pamela is one long, epistolary novel written in the XVIII century. The protagonist is Pamela, a whiny teenager whose master wants to shag her, but is unable to rape her, due to her Incorruptible Pure Pureness. It doesn’t sound too appealing today (unless instead sounds familiar cough! Twilight cough!).

However, the style of the novel makes all the difference. It’s written as a collection of letters, mainly Pamela’s to her parents, which means that what the innocent Pamela ignores the parents interpret to her. In the first letters, she describes her master giving her presents ‘out of kindness’ and holding her hand. She genuinely doesn’t know was going on, or at least, is confused (some critics’ reaction: c’mon! it’s bloody obvious!), her parents have to tell her, as delicately as possible, why Mr. Booby is suddenly so kind to her.
The book is pretty funny in that sense, actually. Pamela’s first letter is so full of irony, at least to the reader, I was laughing the whole time. For example, when she writes that her master told her that he would ‘be a friend to you’, I thought ‘Yeah, friend’, and when he added that she ‘shall take care of my linen’ I chuckled; ‘ah, so that is what they are calling it now, “taking care of the linen”. Of course, it all depends on knowing the plot in advance, but it’s pretty obvious.

To sum up, it is a really interesting reading. It shows you how innocent people at that time were, for instance. As for the sentimentality of the novel, parts of it are very well written, so it’s more than bearable. The only problem is the redundancy in my opinion, and also that it’s really easy to parody. I couldn’t get over the part when Pamela tries to run away, but can’t because she confuses a cow with a bull. You can’t really take her seriously after that.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Roxane, the Fortunate Mistress.

Defoe’s Moll Flanders set the realism of the novel higher and was one of the first one to use an original plot. Besides, the narrator is a rather interesting woman, which was pretty original too. Roxana shares all this with its predecessor. Nonetheless, though the novel has its defenders, Moll Flanders is considered a better novel.
This might be partially because some early messy editions eliminate the ending or change it to a more moral and factual one, or, related to this, because the story is much more repetitive than Moll Flanders, except for the beginning and ending. Nonetheless, Roxana is a very interesting work historically speaking, since it gives us an insight to marriage and women’s state in the XVIII century.
Marriage in the XVIII century was a very precarious matter, even with the passing of the Marriage Act of 1753, which fixed the legality of marriage in England and Wales, excepting the religious minorities. In spite of this and parental interest, a wise marriage was still difficult to get. A woman’s property could be spent by the husband with no repercussion, as it is the case of Roxana. She finds herself abandoned with five children and no means of subsistence, so she becomes a prostitute and cleverly seduces rich men. This story points out the insecurity of women’s life; Roxana’s situation is much better as a prostitute than in her legalised marriage, hence the title; she is a ‘fortunate mistress’ bur she used to be an unhappy wife.
Actually, marriage would degenerate during the last half of the XVIII century and the XIX century, partially because it didn’t adapt itself to the economic and social changes, but instead adopt the morality of the middle classes. A married woman could be more independent in the XVIII century, being part of the family business, than a XIX century woman, who had to be even more careful with her reputation.
In general, Defoe’s Roxana’s main influence seems to be A Serious Proposal by Mary Astell, considered the first English feminist, and therefore the story defends education for women as a way to prevent the fate of Roxana. Also, the protagonist is a lively woman who never loses her strength of character, instead of embodying the degeneration of the XIX century fallen women. It seems as if there could have been an earlier advance of the feminist cause, but somewhere all that was lost for a long time.