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Archive for February, 2010

Publisher’s Synopsis: In Oscar Wilde’s famous novel, Dorian Gray is tempted by Henry Watton to sell his soul in order to hold on ot beauty and youth.  Dorian succumbs and murders the portrait painter Basil Hallward, who stands between him and his goal.  Though in the end vice is punished and virtue rewarded, the novel remains one of the most important expressions of fin de siecle decadence.  It is the preface to the expanded edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray that Wilde coined the most famous expression of this aesthetic: “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.  Books are well-written or badly-written.  That is all.”

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Quills

Review: Honestly, I loved this book.  It is definitely going into my list of all-time favorites.  I’m not sure exactly why, but something about this book just really gripped me.  In so many ways, the subjects explored in this novel are extremely relevant today.

Dorian Gray decides to trade his soul for eternal beauty.  At least, that’s what I thought this story was about; however, Gray’s decisions are so much more complex than that.  Yes, there is a painting that ages and changes according to the decisions that Dorian makes while he stays vivaciously young and hansom.  However, the degradation of his soul as seen by the changing picture and the increasingly evil acts that Gray commits are complexly nuanced.  The changes that he undergoes after the painting of the portrait are due to the influence of Lord Henry.  If anything, this story definitely shows the dangers of negative influences.

In many ways,this book is also like a philosophy text.  Lord Henry espouses a particularly hedonistic and cynical philosophy that serves as problematic from a current viewpoint in many ways.  Even more, Wilde’s novel is considered by many as a kind of book for the aesthetics.  He seems to be arguing throughout his book that art should only exist for art’s sake.  I find this to be problematic because I think that this particular piece of art exists for more than just beauty’s sake but to teach a lesson.  Even more, I think that Dorian’s downfall shows the dangers in not listening to the lessons that the various forms of art are trying to teach us.

But that’s just my humble opinion.  I’m sure it has many flaws.  Still, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read this wonderful piece of fiction.  It’s definitely something that stays with you long after you’ve read it.  The characters are remarkably unforgettable.  Wilde is amazing and I definitely want to read more of his works.  He was a scandalous personality in real life and his fiction definitely carries some of that zeal.

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Publisher’s Synopsis: First published in 1886 as a “shilling shocker,” Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde takes the basic struggle between good and evil and adds to the mix bourgeois respectability, urban violence, and class conflict.  The result is a tale that has taken on the force of myth in the popular imagination.

Review: After hearing all the myths about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, most memorable to me is the portrayal in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it was extremely interesting to read the actual source of the man with the “monster” within.

I understand after reading this why it is considered a classic.  The narrative style is interesting: we don’t actually hear an account from Dr. Jekyll until the very end where he explains how he created and drank the potion that turned him into the destructive force of evil that is Mr. Hyde.  Until this tell all ending, we only get glimpses of the strange occurrences from a lawyer named Mr. Utterson.  This book definitely had numerous gothic elements that are definitely still relevant to a modern audience: namely, the anxiety about a source of evil within.

I really enjoyed finally reading this.  I love Stevenson’s writing.  I grew up reading and reciting his poems in various classes and never got around to reading any of his fiction work.  Now that I have, I’m very glad that I finally did.  He is wonderful at creating suspense and providing vivid descriptions that stick with you.  If you haven’t read this, I recommend it.  It’s a short and easy read but definitely worth while.

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Because this is a book that I read for class and it’s difficult to really give a short synopsis, I’m going to skip the usual format for my reviews and just talk about my experience reading this book.  Let me start off by saying, that having finally read this book, I can understand why it has remained so incredibly prolific and beloved to so many people.  It is definitely a page turner and the characters are all complex with multiple conflicting motivations and desires.  Nothing in this story is sugar coated to sound good: it’s absolutely real.

So what is Wuthering Heights?  I always thought it was just a glorified love story.  At least, that’s what I got from the various portrayals of Heathcliff and Catherine frolicking around.  However, it’s so much more than that.  After all, I’m reading this novel in my Victorian Lit class and I’ve already learned that many of the popular writing of the time was Gothic and brought out uncanny elements to deal with the fears of the time.  So in many ways, this story is a ghost story.  It’s about, I believe, at it’s core, the human condition: the fact that people can fall in love and get jealous and make it their life’s goal to get vengeance on those who wronged them even if it consumes their entire lifetime.

At the end, I felt like it was a heartbreaking tale and couldn’t help but wonder if Heathcliff ever found peace.  Even more, it makes you wonder if the two characters left behind: Catherine Linton and Hareton Earnshaw ever can really overcome their family legacy and find happiness together.

So did I enjoy my experience with Wuthering Heights.  There were times that I loved this book and couldn’t put it down.  However, there were also times when I was frustrated with the decisions of the characters and wanted nothing more than to stop reading the book because I felt like reading another page would just break my heart.  That being said, it took me a while to get through the book in its entirety.  For the most part, it’s a smooth read.  Bronte definitely creates solid characters that come alive and her sense of place is almost uncanny at times, but I think that’s all part of the point of the novel.  I’m really glad that I got the chance to read this and encourage those who haven’t to pick it up.  There’s good reasons for why it is considered a classic.

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Hamlet

I must admit that whenever I think of Shakespeare, I think of Hamlet as his most pivotal masterpiece.  This is a play that is not easily forgotten.  Its thematic elements are still relevant today.  Even more, it is so layered that even after years of study, you cannot reach the core.  When I first read Hamlet in high school, I felt like he was a kindred spirit.  His conflicted state seemed to match my own.  Reading it again as a college junior, a young adult on the cusp of entering the real world, I felt his dilemmas to be all the more relevant.  Even more, I studied closely the social implications of his actions.  In class, I did a close examination of his relationship with Ophelia which changes from one of mutual love into an abusive relationship where despite her resistance, Ophelia internalizes the abuse she receives, which as we all know has deathly consequences.  And perhaps, that is the beauty and genius of the play: it shows how cruelly tragic our world can be.  Even with the best intentions, everything can go so horribly wrong.

Now for our film requirements, I watched both the BBC production and the epic Kenneth Branagh version.  Let me tell you, the Branagh version stood out more.  He definitely took an old play that many write off as being difficult to understand and irrelevant for modern audiences and made it into a modern day Hollywood masterpiece.  While dealing with the same text, the same Shakespeare language, and the same characters – he took the play and built it up anew.  The sets and the costumes were brilliant as was the acting.  With Branagh playing the lead, Hamlet, and Kate Winslet as Ophelia, audiences get a brand new look at the timeless play.  I strongly urge anyone interested in Hamlet to see this production.  I absolutely loved it.  While it is an epic four hours, it is definitely worth the time investment.

I just remember sitting in class discussing this play and thinking, this is exactly why I came to college to study English literature.  The conversations inspired by reading Hamlet in a college classroom are the kind of conversation I want to always be having: they are philosophical social criticisms that will always be pertinent because they contemplate the human conditions.  Anyone who doesn’t see that, isn’t really getting to the heart of Hamlet or to Shakespeare because his plays are much more than stories acted out on stage.  They are bolder and deeper than that.

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Education

This quarter has been keeping me much busier than I ever anticipated.  I have lots of news to share with you!  First and foremost, I want to let you know that I am the new Assistant Resident Director of Swig Hall effective next year!  This is a promotion from the position I currently hold as Community Facilitator (also know in more traditional halls as an Resident Adviser or RA).  It’s exciting to be in a position with more administrative responsibility.  Needless to say, it will come with a new set of challenges and I’m sure I will have a lot to share with you all in the future.

My classes this quarter are amazing.  I’m only taking three full time classes and one research project.  The research project is exciting because I will be working with professors that I deeply admire to write an article that will be PUBLISHED!  More on this to come as it is a touch and go project.  We are still figuring out exactly what this will look like, but I’m excited.

My other classes are much more traditional.  I’m taking a Victorian Literature Class with an amazing reading list.  I plan to do some reviews on all of the short stories and novels that I’ve read for the class.  I have a midterm coming up and I figure the reviews will be a great way to prep for the test.

I’m also taking a Shakespeare class.  My teacher is amazing. I’ve always loved Shakespeare, but she brings him out of the past and into the present demonstrating that the issues he addresses are still deeply relevant in a modern society.  Shocking but oh so true.  More on this to come later.  I’m definitely dying to talk about the play that we are reading: we started the quarter off with Hamlet and moved on to Othello.  Both are amazing, obviously, and I even have some film reviews as I have to see film versions of the play for class.

Lastly, I’m taking a women and politics class.  It’s a very interesting and insightful class.  It has already informed on so much and I’m looking forward to picking a topic for research.  There aren’t any books for the class that really need to be reviewed on here, but I’m sure that the information that I learn from this class will be relevant in conversations both now and in the future.

The good news is that I’m dedicated to returning and turning this blog into something stronger.  I have a lot of new found energy that I think will be perfect for a comeback!

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