Death in Poe’s Short Stories

I’m a disgrace. A year has officially passed since I started this blog and I haven’t dedicated a single 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 realise 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 is 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.

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.

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 whose 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 which 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’.

[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

Books that teach you how to do a smooth stalking

Back in olden times – before the internet was a deeply entrenched part of our culture, and we weren’t all technologically savvy – if you wanted to do a stalking you had to rely on your own wits.

Our poor ancestors couldn’t just do a sneaky stalk of someones Facebook wall, they needed to put in the man-hours to gain valuable intel.

This is quite noticeable in older literature. Here are some examples from classics that are about as subtle as a brick to the face.

The Great Gatsby (Scott Fitzgerald, 1925)

I like to think that there was one Gatsby party that was so excruciatingly shit and awkward that it didn’t make it into the novel. One that wasn’t exactly off the chain, and everyone was in bed by 8.30pm. I’ll level with you, I only made it up to page 52 of The Great Gatsby, then I lost interest. For all I know the rest of the book could’ve just been 100 pages detailing this one crap party Jay held.

Anyway, if this novel has taught us nothing else, its that if you’re trying to win back your former lover, she’ll be nothing but massively impressed if you buy the house directly across from her and throw loud parties every single night.

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Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1985)

In this book Florentino shows his lady-love that smooth is his middle name by cracking onto her at her husbands funeral. Dude! I know you’ve been waiting a really long time for her to be back on the market but maybe pick a better time.

Of Human Bondage (W. Somerset Maugham, 1915)

Look there’s no denying that in this book Mildred is a piece of human shit, BUT in fairness she did repeatedly say to the main character Phillip that she wasn’t interested. She even made a point of telling him more than once that she didn’t like having to kiss him. This doesn’t deter Phillip though, he knows that he can’t change her mind but he still can’t let go of hope.

This is actually a pretty good book, but you do feel quite drained reading about these futile feelings Phillip holds. I just wish I could give him a hug and say please just let her go.

Perfume Story of a Murderer (Patrick Süskind, 1985)

This is a pretty odd book. I think the moral of the story was virgins smell fantastic.

Anyway, I’m over-simplifying the plot here, but majority of Perfume is Jean Baptiste Grenouille lurking around French markets then secretly following around women who happen to have a nice natural scent. He’s a bit of a wrongin – there were also some blatant un-dealt with mummy issues here.

Rebecca (Daphne de Maurier, 1938)

Rebecca is about an unnamed protagonist who marries a older man, Maxim. When Maxim takes her back to his giant house (called Manderley), she is haunted by constant reminders of his deceased first wife Rebecca. Specifically, the housekeeper – Mrs Danvers, is not particularly impressed that Maxim has remarried, and throughout the book gets increasingly more passive-aggressive towards the main character.

Its very much a book of its time, in that the main character could’ve just told Mrs Danvers to fuck off if she wasn’t bound by very British conventions of social etiquette.

Anyway, while Mrs Danvers doesn’t teach you how to do a stalking, but she’s filled with diamond tips on how to do an obsession.

She loathes Maxim’s new wife only because she adored Rebecca so much; and the house is kept precisely as Rebecca had left it not because Maxim likes it that way, but because Mrs Danvers wants it preserved.

The doing uni readings experience

For somebody who really loves reading, I’m surprisingly terrible at keeping up with uni set readings.

There’s always the best of intentions in week one: the reader is all nice and shiny, and I’m convinced that despite previous instances where I’ve been a lazy dropkick, this will be the semester where I’ll just be a beacon of productivity.

But then out of nowhere it’s suddenly week four, and the reader is somehow reflecting my motivation levels – pages are falling out, its covered in little drawings from times I’ve zoned out, and its a bit dirty cause it did fall in a puddle. I don’t know how this happened, I highlighted the shit out of those first readings, things were going splendidly.

And its not that the topics aren’t interesting….well for the most part. I’ve narrowed it down three things that may be the issue:

  1. I’m just not gripped. Sometimes they really can go on and on, to the point where I genuinely start to believe that by the time I finish reading it I’ll be dead.
  2. The semester goes ridiculously fast and I have other things on
  3. Eventually time gets taken up with reading for assessments and/or panic writing an essay

But it’s still early days into semester and all is not lost. Thankfully its still in that beautiful little period that doesn’t last very long, where the amount I have to get done hasn’t actually dawned on me yet, and the gnawing sense that I’m about to be up shit creek hasn’t arrived.

So the big plan I have to be an adult for once and do these readings on time is the same as when it comes time to writing my essay; I’m going to pretend I’m the guy from the movie Misery. My heart may not be in this reading/writing I’m doing, but I value one day being able to leave the room I’m currently trapped in, so I carry on writing.

To finish off here’s a picture of me essay time semester two 2015; as you can tell, at that point I was loving life, getting loads of sleep and not dead inside at all.

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Oh Sigmund you lovable perv.

This is a very obscure reference, but there’s an episode of Red Dwarf (a BBC sci-fi comedy from the early 90s) where they all get trapped in a physical representation of one of the character’s psyche – kind of like a way darker version of Inside-Out. It’s an interesting concept, and it makes me wonder what my own brain-world would look like as an actual place, and just how strange/fucked my Id, Ego and Super -Ego would be as tiny little people with their own personalities.

Plus I wonder whether they get into adorable, tiny little fist fights while I’m in the middle of making a decision sometimes (like if I’m about to send a risky text, is my Super-Ego screaming ‘think of your dignity!!!’ while trying to overpower my Id who’s throwing chairs?)

According to Freud our psyche consists of three parts:

  • The Id (or unconscious) is concerned with desire
  • The Ego is about negotiation with the real world and is driven with instinct to protect itself
  • The Super-Ego is the self-critical component of the Ego.

Our unconscious mind is sculpted by past experiences and repressed impulses. It is highly influential on our behaviour, beliefs, feelings and such, yet it is inaccessible to the conscious mind. However, these thoughts can be revealed through methods such as interpreting dreams, or ‘parapraxis’ (aka Freudian slips).

Interpretation of dreams is significant in psychoanalysis because when we are sleeping our conscious resistance is down (fuck knows what that dream I had the other night where my friend was dating a talking beach-ball with no face means). Specifically, in relation to reading, Freud believed that books and paper were female symbols, and that reading had the ‘unconscious significance of taking knowledge from the mother’s body’.

Our neuroses are the product of unconscious and conscious dishonesty, and then there’s the Oedipus complex side of psychoanalysis, which theorises that as children we go through developmental stages which include fancying the parent of the opposite sex (I love the idea of Freud pitching this theory and being like ‘we’ve all been there right guys? It’s not just me?’).

Basically according to Freud what our brain-world would look like a deep, possibly terrifying jungle with talking trees hurling your mamma jokes constantly (*side note: I do believe that Freud’s your mamma comebacks would have been second to none).

But if you do want to have a good stare into the unconscious (or as I’ve dubbed mine the heart of darkness), maybe don’t discuss your deepest fears and feelings with Freud himself. His theory of transference suggested that strong feeling, particularly sexual ones, which were focused towards others, frequently become redirected towards the doctor during the process of analysis (oh Freud, you gorgeous thing, thinking you’re so darn irresistible).

From a literature perspective, one particularly fascinating thing about Freudian theory is when literature references are utilised to explain concepts. For instance, the story of Tancred and Clorinda (from an epic poem, Jerusalem Delivered) is used to describe ‘traumatic neurosis’. Tancred accidentally stabs Clorinda and does not hear her voice until the second wounding, which Freud used as an example of how a survivor will replay traumatic experiences and be especially haunted by that which was unknowable to them during the incident.

Psychoanalysis was also used by Marie Bonaparte (a friend of Freud’s) to analyse Edgar Allan Poe’s psyche through his stories (apparently if you marry your cousin, you get a rep as being a bit weird).

Miss Marple Conspiracy Theory

Ok so this is a confession but I’m quite tragic and a hundred years old, and the only crime show I’ve ever taken a genuine interest in is the BBC adaptions of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple (but only the ones where Geraldine Mcewan played Miss Marple, those other old ladies couldn’t hold a candle to Geraldine!!).

She’s just so adorable, look at her! She can handle this shit! Unlike Poirot who’s probably just slacking off in the corner combing his precious little moustache. Poirot smells! He’s probably just planning on blaming the butler for everything again because he looks a bit shifty.

Anyway, I’ve read a few of the Miss Marple books but I watched the show first. I remember watching it for the first time at my grandparents house: I would have been twelve and it was the adaption of Body In The Library. This was before I was aware that I was a lesbian, and I remember at the time being super excited that a lesbian couple had done it (which is a really strange/concerning thing to be excited about).

The things I loved about Miss Marple were that the plot-twist was never obvious, the murderer would always go to these great lengths to create a seemingly perfect alibi, and the brain of Jane Marple in general.

But there’s one thing which raises doubts for me.

The bulk of the time in the stories Miss Marple just happens to be visiting the village. And so often she’s attending a party then suddenly a murder happens.

I’m starting to think that maybe she has done some of these murders because she gets a high from using her brilliant mind to pin it on somebody else? And maybe nobody ever suspects her even though she’s been present at so many murders, because she’s just so cute?

Jane! How could you? I trusted you!