Vixens

Look, we’re all human. Even the most moral of us are flawed. I’m sure, at some point in our lives, we’ve all experienced an internal struggle with choosing between the right thing to do, as opposed to the more fun/less mature course of action.

But then there are some people who take being a shitlord up a notch. These are the types of characters in fiction who we love to hate, and whose terrible personalities/life decisions tend to be the root of the whole plot.

Here are three of my favourite female antagonists from literature who were just the worst.

 Cathy Ames (East of Eden, 1952)

I actually finished reading East of Eden two days ago. It had been a few years since I’d read anything by John Steinbeck, I forgot how much I loved his writing.

Anyway, the reason I read this book really fast was because every time I tried to put it down, Cathy would manage to do or say something, that completely topped the last previous shitty thing she did. Who can leave a book for the night when Cathy goes and drops this line, ‘I wasn’t too tired for your brother’ – holy shit Cathy you actually said that to his face!!!!

East of Eden is beautiful and so much more than the awful things Cathy does, I’m even willing to forgive Steinbeck for calling one of the minor characters ‘Cotton Eye’ (NO! WHY! WHY DID YOU HAVE TO GET THAT BLOODY SONG STUCK IN MY HEAD!!!).

But Cathy’s storyline is what kept me so enthralled; and you know you’re dealing with a truly terrible character when this is how the introduction of her character begins,

‘I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents’

Cathy has a talent for manipulation and is easily able to make herself the object of mad obsession. I don’t want to give too much away, but she takes what she needs and gets a perverse kind of pleasure in bringing out the worst in people. She’s also really crap at hiding her true evil nature anytime she has some alcohol.

Abigail Williams (The Crucible, 1953)

The Crucible was one of my year 12 books, and it has the honour of being the only assigned reading I had in High School, that I didn’t think sucked.

My English teacher gave what is possibly the best summary of its plot when she said, ‘Abigail really shits on her own doorstep’. Yes, yes she does.

The Crucible is a fictional play of the 1692 Salem witch-trials, based loosely on historical accounts. Like the actual events, what starts the allegations is Reverend Samuel Parris catches young girls – including his daughter Betty and adopted niece Abigail, dancing in the forest around a fire with his Barbados slave, Tituba.

The girls initially deny their actions were witchcraft, yet out of fear they begin accusing their neighbours of conspiring with the Devil.

In the play, Abigail is a bit of a ring leader, and the accusations quickly become less about self preservation and driven more by revenge and hate.

Lady Macbeth (Macbeth, 1606)

Macbeth is another set text I had for High School English. I was definitely too young to get something out of it (there was a lot of immature snickering on my part, when Lady Macbeth says ‘unsex me here’).

I remember we all had to watch the Roman Polanski film adaption from the 70s. There was this scene with a whole gang of really old naked witches hanging out in a cave. I really don’t understand what anybody got out of making that scene, there’s no mention of them being naked in the original play and I had to go wash my eyes out with turps.

Anyway, Lady Macbeth is the wife of Scottish nobleman Macbeth, in the classic Shakespeare tale of why you probably shouldn’t kill a king. Lady Macbeth’s ambition is the driving force behind Macbeth stabbing the king so that he could gain the throne.

 

Death in Poe’s Short Stories

 

I’m a disgrace. It’s officially a year since I put this blog up and I haven’t dedicated a post to gorgeous lord of the goths Edgar Allan Poe yet, what is that about? What am I actually doing?

So lets amend that shit right now, and look at Poe’s explorations of death, and the range of ways death has come (or nearly come) to characters in Poe’s short stories.

I have noticed that the moral of a fair percentage of Poe’s work seems to be, Victorian mansions are creepy as fuck and you will definitely get yourself killed in one.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) 

In this, an unnamed narrator receives a letter from an eccentric childhood acquaintance, Roderick Usher, asking for his company, as his sister, Madeline is dying of a rare illness. They are all living together is this decrepit old mansion and Madeline soon dies.

Because her illness was rare, Roderick wants her quickly buried to avoid her body being the subject of scientific examination. So they place her in the family tomb located in the basement of the house.

Over the next few days, both the narrator and Roderick keep hearing these terrible noises, and the narrator starts thinking that the house has an evil aura to it. Then one night (of course its night and of course there’s a storm) they both finally realize that they’ve accidentally encapsulated Madeline while she was still alive, and Madeline then walks in looking really pissed off, ‘blood on her white robes and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame’.

She attacks and kills Roderick, because she thinks he’d done it on purpose, and the unnamed narrator runs off into the night questioning his decision to respond to that letter.

The Pit and the Pendulum (1842)

Set during the Spanish Inquisition, the narrator has been sentenced to death and is having a big ponder while he’s sitting in this dungeon. He then wakes up, tied to a rack while pendulum, ‘like a razor’, slowly descends.

The Masque of the Red Death (1842) 

Look if you’re a royal, and you’re currently avoiding thinking about a plague that’s ravaging your people, maybe don’t have a big mad house party to celebrate how un-plaguey your palace is. Because if you do the red death himself will gatecrash and freak everybody out.

The Tell Tale Heart (1843)

My favourite part of this short story is the reason why the narrator wants to kills the old man in the first place. Its because he doesn’t like the old man’s glass eye – bit of an over reaction there, maybe just put some shades on him instead?

I’m sure you’re all familiar with this story: a man commits a murder with meticulous detail, then dobs on himself because his conscious can still hear the old man’s heart beating under the floor boards.

‘Dissemble no more! I admit the deed – tear up the planks here! – it’s the beating of his hideous heart’

The Premature Burial (1844)

‘The boundaries which divide Life and Death are at best shadowy and vague.’

I love this story because its the biggest anti-climax. The premise is that the narrator has a terrible phobia of being buried alive as he suffers from a condition called catalepsy – which induces day long trances that make it appear as though he is dead.

One day he wakes up confined in a wooden space, he thinks that its finally happened and he shits himself. But it turns out that he’s just fallen asleep in the wooden berth of a boat and its all fine.

The Cask of Amontillado (1846)

This one’s quite an intense revenge plan. What happens is, the narrator is once again shitty with something a friend of his called Fortunato has done, so he puts an end to this madness by luring Fortunato while he’s drunk down to his family’s catacombs in the attic, under the guise that he has a wine that could pass for Amontillado (a type of sherry). The narrator chains Fortunato in the catacombs and walls up the entrance.

 

Who’s the Existentialist that’s a sex machine to all the chicks? CAMUS You’re damn Right!

I haven’t had a lot of sleep over the last two night as I’ve been watching quite a lot of old Twin Peaks episodes. And because I’m sleep deprived while simultaneously trying to follow this beautifully bizarre plot, it got me thinking about Camus’ concept of ‘absurdity’ in comparison.

There’s an automatic presumption around the word ‘absurd’, as a word used to describe that which is odd or strange. For French Algerian existentialist Albert Camus (1913-1960) however, absurdity is found in the mundane and surrounds all aspects of our existence, ‘the Absurd is not in man…nor in the world, but in their presence together’.

He dedicated threes texts to contemplating absurdity; which included a novel (The Outsider), an essay (The Myth of Sisyphus*) and a play (Caligula).

The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) is particularly fascinating and daunting because through its attempt to understand ‘the relationship between the absurd and suicide’ it suggests that absurdity is our only absolute, and that seeking clarity or rationality in our existence is futile, ‘the absurd becomes god…and that inability to understand becomes the existence that illuminates everything’.

Camus compares existence to the mythical tale of Sisyphus who was condemned by the gods to endlessly roll a stone up a hill only to have it continually roll back down.

Now initially this sounds really grim, but what makes this a surprisingly optimistic essay is Camus’ contention that ‘absence of hope (which is not the same as despair)’ and acceptance of the absurd nature of everything, means life is more fully lived, ‘Men who have given up all hope are endowed with a lucid indifference’.

It’s quite beautiful, the idea that life has meaning and is worth living precisely because it has no meaning and full clarity alludes us. There is meaning and depth in ‘the world’s lack of meaning’.

If you are going to try and read all of The Myth of Sisyphus though, be warned it is possibly more hard to follow than Twin Peaks.

[*which dead set I thought was pronounced ‘syphilis’ until I was recently corrected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Fate

Look, I don’t believe things happen for a predetermined cosmic reason. What’s the point in trying and living in this moment if it’s all already planned? But I do believe in book fate – I know it sounds strange, but let me explain.

I used to have a To-Read List, but its length was getting more and more intimating, until it dawned on me that even if I ran away from all of my commitments and started living in a cave and drinking my own piss, there’s no way known I’d be done with that list in no less than 30 years.

So now I just let whatever I’m going to read next find me instead, and scarily what I’m reading tends to find me at exactly the right time and when I’m able to take the most out of it.

There are certain quotes and snippets of narrative, that I still love partly because of the solace they were able to give me at a certain point in my life when I first read them. I needed to read Stephen Fry’s first two autobiographies – Moab is my Washpot and The Fry Chronicles, as an anxiety-ridden 18 year old. This one line in particular made me feel like I wasn’t alone,

“I would always be the same maddening, monstrous, mixture of pedantry, egoism, politeness, selfishness, kindliness, sneakiness, larkiness, sociability, loneliness, ambition, ordered calmness & hidden intensity”

There’s the Fig Tree Analogy from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, which at the time I remember thinking, it perfectly summed up that underlying fear of inadequacy when you’re surrounded by endless choice.

“I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and one by one they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

And then there are certain books which I probably would’ve quit if I had started reading them at any other time. For instance, Confederacy of Dunces: if I hadn’t have gone into reading it knowing that it was on Bowie’s list of top 100 books I would’ve quit it at the start (IF IT’S GOOD ENOUGH FOR DAVID IT’S GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU ELLEN YOU SCUM).

I just love letting some scungy looking second-hand book walk into my life and suddenly it’s changed me a little, for the better. It also gets bonus points if it has one of those old library stamp cards taped on the inside.

 

 

Bertrand Russell on Being BFFs With Your Brain, & Handling War in a Mature Fashion

Originally I started writing a piece on T.S Eliot, but then after finding out a little fun-fact* – that Bertrand Russell got kinky with Eliot’s first wife Vivienne – I got distracted and read a whole heap of Russell’s essays and political commentary (*its not exactly a fun-fact for Eliot, but T.S)

Bertrand Russell (1873 – 1970) was a revered British academic, analytic philosopher, and mathematician, who was particularly well known for his stance on pacifism and later for nuclear disarmament. He was also granted the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950.

During WWI, Russell was fired from his lecturing position at Trinity Cambridge due to his outspoken views on pacifism and conscription. Later in 1918 – the final year of the war, he spent six months in prison for an article, because he had pointed this out:

“unless peace comes soon there will be starvation throughout Europe….men will fight each other for possession of the bare necessities of life”

Although Russell’s views on pacifism dramatically shifted during WWII; the hydrogen bomb’s creation deeply worried him, as it did many other prominent scientists of the time. He spent the rest of his life committed to the fight for nuclear disarmament and was one of the founders of the ‘Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’ in 1958.

Russell wrote several pieces on his fears for mankind’s future without nuclear disarmament, however arguably his most poignant piece of writing on the subject was the speech he gave on BBC Radio London on December  30th 1954 ‘Shall we Choose Death?’  In which he begged as “a member of the species man”,

“Is all this to end in trivial horror because so few are able to think of Man rather than of this or that group of men? Is our race so destitute of wisdom?”

Russell’s writing however was not limited to nuclear weapons or mathematics. He wrote numerous essay where he’d stress the beauty and worth of every field of knowledge.  In Praise of Be Idle and Useless Knowledge in particular discuss the ‘contemplative habits of the mind’ and how they are as humans, a necessity for coping with fears and the struggles of everyday life.

In other words, his work makes you stop and think about how truly beautiful it is to have access to knowledge and creative works.

Consequences of Being Too Pretty in Fiction

[I’m really very sorry that it’s taken me so long to write another post. I swear by about June my life will be slightly less of a shit show and I’ll do weekly posts again. I love this blog, I do hate when I neglect it]

Last week I went and saw the live action version of Beauty and the Beast. Now it’s a musical so there was only so much I was ever going to be able to enjoy it, BUT I did get one very important bit of wisdom out of it.

I couldn’t believe that I’d never noticed it before but the story is essentially a Beast utilising his library to give himself a bit of sex appeal. Books are pretty brilliant like that, its just an easy kind of collection to sex up – I would love to see the Beast try the same tactic using a less enticing collection like stamps, or train sets.

In fact I have a confession, studying publishing and owning a shit ton of books has all been one big ruse to appear hotter – I actually hate books and can’t read you fools muh-hahahaha!!!!!

Anyway, on that note, I want to talk about the consequences of vanity – or even just being too pretty, that have come up in classic literature.

Remedios the Beauty (One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1967)

Up until this point I’ve really wanted to write something on One Hundred Years of Solitude, but I just love that book so much that every idea I’ve had for it just doesn’t seem like it’s going to do it justice.

As One Hundred Years of Solitude belongs to the magic realism genre, a lot of odd shit happens in it and often its hard to keep track because things are constantly happening and majority of the male characters have similar or even the same names.

The narrative is all tied to the history of the Buendía family and the isolated village of Macondo. Remedios the beauty is a minor character who belongs to the second generation of Buendías. Her beauty has such a strong power over men that it leads to accidental deaths of those who are trying to watch her. She is angelic and lucid to the extreme however; she has no self-awareness and cannot take basic care of herself. Her brief appearance ends when suddenly without warning, she literally transcends up to the sky.

Dorian Gray (A Picture of Dorian Gray, 1890)

You all know this story. It’s just such an incredible metaphor – the idea of a physically seeing the moral character of your soul.

This was Oscar Wilde’s only novel, and it centers around pretty boy Dorian Gray. What happens is when Dorian is an innocent, un-corrupted youth, he sits for portrait  painted by an artist, Basil Hallward, who is obsessed with his beauty. After months of work Dorian finally sees the completed portrait – and its the first time it actually dawns on him that he’s really attractive.  In that moment Dorian is bitter that he will have to grow old, and wishes that the portrait could take his place (the book’s very much like a late-Victorian era style Freaky Friday). 

Dorian then later begins to notice that the portrait changes and becomes uglier the crueler he acts. He is blessed with eternal beauty but this horrible painting sits hidden in the attic that reveals the truth.

Narcissus (Metamorphoses, 8 ADish)

So in the story of Echo and Narcissus, the beautiful youth Narcissus sees his own reflection when he is getting water by a stream and not realising that its just a reflection he falls madly in love with it – we’ve all been there right guys?

The Oval Portrait (Tales of Mystery & Imagination, 1842)

This is one of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. What happen is, for weeks an artist is so enthralled with his painting and obsessed with capturing the “rare beauty” of his wife, who is sitting for him, that he doesn’t notice that she has died during the portraits creation.

The Old Man & The Sea

Here’s another nautical themed post – so drop on the deck and flop like a fish!

I read The Old Man & The Sea recently. I’ll admit, I didn’t have high hopes – I’ve watched my grandpa fish a bunch of times and it’s not particularly exciting.

Also while I was reading it I had a hunch that it was going to have a depressing ending, so I kept trying to guess what it would be. For a while I was convinced that one or more of these things would happen to the unlucky fisherman, called Santiago

  1. That he hadn’t hooked a fish but rather the back of another boat and that’s why his boat was moving.
  2. That Santiago would die cause he’s old
  3. The marlin he’s trying to reel in would eat him

But what I did like about this short story is the pure love and respect Santiago has for both the ocean and the giant marlin he must kill.

Also the friendship between the fisherman and the young boy, Manolin, who he taught to fish, is beautiful. I would love for someone to look at me with ‘ sunburnt, confident loving eyes’.

Anyway, here’s some pictures from my new zine Not all Mermaids are Attractive! Thank you Hannah Potter for drawing me these gorgeous torso illustrations, they are everything I was hoping for.

 

The Life of ‘The Well of Loneliness’

radclyffeOne thing which is particularly fascinating and beautiful about books is their historical context, and the lives they take on following publication.

Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, is one of those book where in order to truly appreciate what it has meant to a lot of people, it cannot be studied from a literary perspective alone.

The Well of Loneliness was published in 1928 by Jonathan Cape. It was Hall’s fifth novel, and the product of a long-held ambition to attempt to explain lesbianism to a heterosexual audience.

The sombre narrative which traces protagonists Stephen Gordon’s realisation that she is a lesbian – or ‘invert’, and her struggles living in-between social conventions, was banned in Britain under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act and underwent a trial in America.

At Hall’s death in 1943, the book was selling a thousand copies per year, yet it still remained unpublished in Britain. In 1949 Una Troubridge – Hall’s long term partner, found a publisher prepared to print it, and although the law remained unchanged this time it did not lead to official obstruction.

There were prior novels which touched on lesbian themes, however The Well continues to be considered the first because of the wide-scale controversy it was met with.

Novels published in the same year such as Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Compton Mackenzie’s Extraordinary Women, and Elizabeth Bowden’s comedy The Hotel, all had themes alluding to lesbianism – however these novels ensured that lesbianism was either condemned or satirized.

Michael Baker, Hall’s biographer, contends that it was by making Stephen virtuous that caused moral censure. Additionally, outside of the books content, Hall’s known identity as an open ‘invert’ and her masculine appearance, is another pivotal component in fully comprehending why The Well was the target of legislative restraint whereas other novel with similar themes and emerging during the same period were not.

The public criticism The Well received was a central factor in its eventual suppression. On August 19th – two weeks after publication, an article written by James Douglas, editor of the Sunday Express, appeared which classified the novel as a ‘gloating study in the mental and physical corruption of the flesh .

Titled ‘A Book that should be Suppressed’ it pleaded to the Home Secretary to ‘set the law in motion’ on the grounds that this kind of ‘moral poison kills the soul’. In response, Cape wrote to the Home Secretary, without Hall’s knowledge, and offered to withdraw the novel from sale if he judged it to be obscene. Joynson-Hicks responded with a letter to Cape demanding suppression and to cease sale of the book as it was ‘inherently obscene…supports a deprived practise’ and thus ‘gravely detrimental to public interest’.

Douglas’ condemnation not only sparked Cape’s actions, it led to the first printing rapidly selling out, and with one library in London receiving six hundred inquiries in a single day.  A correspondent to Time and Tide noted that the ‘nauseous details, discussions and suggestion’ which were filling the daily newspapers had a far more harmful affect than the written book itself because it gave ‘certain facts’ attention ‘which ordinarily would never have come to their notice’.

Allegations of obscenity towards The Well led a wider debate on literary censorship. Both America and Britain held a vague, almost absent, legal definition of what classified a text as obscene.

When The Well’s New York publisher Donald Friede was charged in February 1929 with violating Section 1141 of the Penal Code by selling an obscene book, his prime defence was who could determine the dangerous social consequences of one book rather than another?  Hall expressed a similar stance in an interview with the Daily Herald, asserting that it was an ‘insult to the public intelligence’ the belief that ‘literary food must be pre-digested by a government office before consumption’.

Its link to controversy turned it into a bestseller, and it was advertised in America once it had won its obscenity trial as ‘the most controversial book of the century. Suppressed in England and vindicated by an American court’.

The level of publicity it gained also sparked communication with the public sphere to the existence of homosexuality – what was generally (as a Sunday Chronicle article classified it in an article on The Well) an unspoken ‘secret canker of modern life’. In 1921, for example,  attempts to create legislation against lesbianism were denied by Lord Desart on the grounds that it would ‘tell the world there was such an offense’.

The hundreds of letters Hall received which expressed gratitude for ‘having broken the silence’ and personal stories, underscores that the novels existence (as a sympathetic account of lesbianism during this period) alone is symbolically significant. In these letters, Hall writes, individuals expressed a feeling of ‘added humiliation and burden’ which came with the ‘conspiracy of silence’ surrounding lesbianism.

In later decades, the style of writing was considered by some readers to be quite antiquated. However The Well’s historical context and Hall’s bravery, means a respect exists for this book beyond a literary perspective.

(It is worth reading by the way, I really liked it. All books age a little)

Copies of Mills & Boon I’ve found at the Salvos part 3.

I’ve never understood why people would read 50 Shades of Grey to get all enticed when Chuck Tingle books exist! But I do have a conspiracy theory that 50 Shades is secretly about paint samples and advertising is just playing up the sex angle, AND everyone who’s read it is far too embarrassed to admit it, so the myth that its about whips and whatnot lives on.

Anyway enough about filthy paint sample porn, here are some more delightful Mills & Boon finds which – if I’m going by the titles, seem as though they could be equally as disturbing.

How the fuck do you marry someone by mistake? Also where is this secret baby? In the basement or something?

My favourite thing about The Heiress and The Sheriff cover is that the Sheriff has a framed photo of himself.  I don’t think anybody wants to know what he’s planning on doing with the sax that it hurts so good?

I have some heartbreaking news for the Country Doctor – you’re not actually allowed to crack onto your patients.

M Train, Just Kids & Other Reasons I Adore Patti Smith

I have a good feeling about 2017. It has a lot of promise. Last week I got to see Shania Choir
– a choir that sings and dresses as Shania Twain (fuck my life’s brilliant sometimes! I lost my shit when they started singing ‘If you’re Not in it For Love’*), and this April I get to see Patti Smith – one of the coolest people, as well as the artist and poet that I admire most.

So let’s talk about Patti Smith – a woman who’s round about my grandma’s age, but who I’d still gladly try to flirt with if we ever actually met.

There’s this Pattibeautiful clip from an old BBC documentary, Chelsea Hotel, where the young ‘odd little waif like figure’** reads her little prayer for New York.

Now, whenever Patti talks/writes about something she cares about, it’s done with a fragile, poetic eloquence. But the reason I love this poem and this piece of footage in particular is for three reasons

1. It sums up that feeling of moving to a new city and suddenly growing as an individual,

‘I had lived such a sheltered childhood, so family orientated, and all of a sudden I was on my own. And that’s when I learned anything is possible’

2. That Jersey accent, and
3. Because she was so young and shy at this point.

She was only in the midst of developing into the artist she’d later become, and I love thinking about that nervous 24 year old who would later create works that exude such strength.

And I know it’s stating the obvious, but I love her poetry and autobiographies (Just Kids and M Train) for a similar reason – because of the way she describes life, her struggles and the people she loves, with a vulnerability and rawness we can all somewhat relate to. Her poems for example, after her husband and brother had died within two months of each other, ‘myself destined to live, listening closely to a silence that would take a lifetime to express’.

She’s led a full, fascinating life entwined with her creativity: my personal favourite story is how her lifelong friendship with poet Allen Ginsberg began with him trying to chat her up because he thought she was a boy.

Reading all her unique little moments is a reminder to try and live through as many adventures as possible – as the wise one once said’Jesus died for somebody sins but not mine’

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[Side-note: I think I was the only person at the Robert Mapplethorpe documentary who really wasn’t expecting to see THAT many penises.]

*I was a complete disappoint though cause I promised everyone I’d take my top off if they sang that song, and I didn’t in the end.
**That’s a quote from British journalist Charles Shaar Murray

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