‘There is a gentlemen, rather the worse for wear…’

[That cover image is Vincent Price in the film adaption of The Mask of the Red Death. Yes, he really does look like a massive weirdo in that costume – like the person who is ruining your otherwise rocking halloween party]

In life, there are countless moments of varying significance that, for whatever reason, manage to get themselves forever lost to ol’ father time. For me personally, the absent memory of how that mysterious dalmatian ended up on top of me the night drinking Yahtzee was invented is the first thing that springs to my mind (or rather DOESN’T spring to mind! It’s about to get a wee bit Twilight Zone-esque up in here!).

It’s usually a rather mundane reality that naturally not every single moment in history was recorded, and that memory is incapable of preserving every lived minute in pristine condition. Yet when it concerns a figure like Edgar Allan Poe – who never really needed any additional assistance coming across enigmatic – this commonplace phenomena becomes ten-fold more enthralling.

Poe’s unexplained disappearance and his subsequent mysterious death four days after he was found, is one of those historical subjects that gets me a little bit excited – as a fan of both some Poe trivia and a good mystery. Plus it makes me wonder whether fellow crime writer Agatha Christie ever thought of Poe during her own eleven day disappearance in 1926.

On 7 October  1849, at Washington College Hospital – in a cell-room normally reserved for drunks; the gorgeous 19th century equivalent of Robert Smith allegedly whispered ‘Lord help my poor soul’ before dying at age 40 – ten days before he was to marry what would have his second wife, fellow widow Elmira Royster Shelton.

Officially Poe death was documented as ‘congestion of the brain’, however an autopsy was never conducted, and as his doctor had denied all visitors, only one account exists of the state Poe was in leading up to his death.

During Poe’s four days of hospitalisation he was in a complete state of delirium, incapable of accounting what had happened since he was last seen on 27 September leaving Richmond, Virginia for an editing job in Philadelphia.

Poe had been found 3 October outside a tavern and polling location (it was during an election), by a printer named Joseph Walker who recognised the famous poet. Poe gave Walker the name of an acquaintance, Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass, and Walker got in contact with Snodgrass asking for help,

Dear Sir, 

There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, he is in need of immediate assistance.

Yours, in haste,
JOS. W. WALKER
To Dr. J.E. Snodgrass.

What’s particularly fascinating though, is that Poe was found dressed in clothes that were not his, yet still in possession of a sword cane he had nicked from a friend of his called Dr John Carter, who Poe had visited the night before he left Richmond (to be fair if any of my friends owned an actual sword cane I would “accidentally” leave their house with it too. I would so “accidentally” conceal it under my jacket somehow).

There are numerous theories that attempt to give an explanation on what precisely caused Poe’s death – such as rabies, carbon monoxide poisoning, alcoholism, a brain tumor. Or more sinister explanations such as murder, or being victim of ‘cooping’ – a type of voter fraud where gangs would kidnap victims and force them to repeatedly vote in various disguises.

What’s annoys me the most though about this never to be solved riddle is that a medium in the 1860s claimed Poe’s ghost wrote poetry through her – if you could communicate with Poe’s ghost, WHY DIDN’T YOU ASK HIM TO EXPLAIN HIS DEATH SO THAT IT ISN’T A TOPIC OF DEBATE 169 YEARS AFTER IT HAPPENED?????

 

 

 

 

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I will be your father figure

This is a bit of a generalisation, but I’ve started to notice that there’s an extensive number of crappy parents in the classics, and I’m wondering what percentage of these are reflections of an author’s own imperfect relationship with their parents. After all many renowned literary figures had fractured relationships with one or more of their parents. [Our gorgeous friend and raven lover, Edgar Allan Poe for instance, had a deeply strained relationship with his adoptive father John Allan, which once erupted into a two day argument.]

What’s more, channeling anger – or any kind of hurt, into creating a beautiful piece of writing is known to be quite cathartic. Or once its done, if you’re still mad, at the very least the person who’s pissed you off probably got the passive-aggressive hint after reading your piece. I’m assuming for example that Sylvia Plath’s dad and her husband, Ted Hughes, both got the very subtle message that there was a dash of hostility directed their way after reading the poem Daddy.

But while there are a lot of literary explorations of strained parental bonds, I want to talk about fictional characters who’s children actually love and admire them. The one’s who are strong role models, and who you hope you could emulate for your children. Because the abundance of neglectful parents in literature, makes it even more touching when you find one that is hopeful and kind. So anyway here are three of my favourite father figures from fiction.

Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird,1960)

[If I didn’t mention Atticus in this post that would be pretty sacrilegious.]

‘The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.’

I probably will end up reading Go Set A Watchmen eventually, it’s just that I’m apprehensive. I don’t know if I could handle flawless Atticus suddenly being reduced to a senile bigot – his character deserved more than that, and more importantly Harper Lee deserved more than to have it published in the first place.

Its understandable why the 2015 release of Go Set a Watchmanthe sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird, was met with extensive criticism. Setting aside the alleged manipulation of Harper Lee, Atticus Finch is arguably one of the most beloved and inspiring characters in 20th century century literature. To have his character lose all the principles that made him a powerful symbol, contradicted the reasons why To Kill a Mockingbird still holds such reverence 57 years after its initial publication.

So on that note let’s forget about Go Set a Watchmen here and focus specifically on the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Set in Maycomb, Alabama during the depression, Atticus is the sole parent of Scout and Jem, who humbly demonstrates throughout the novel, what it means to truly seek fairness and to abide by one’s moral compass.

His children, quite rightly, idolize him as he exemplifies moral strength, both in his impossible role as defense attorney for a falsely accused black man, and in his general demeanor.

What’s more his ability to drop pearls of wisdom that touch your soul, is second to none. That final moment of the book, where Scout is talking about finally meeting Boo and her surprise that he’s friendly, and Atticus goes and drops this sweet exit line – ‘Most people are Scout when you finally see them’, is frankly getting me a little teary right now just thinking about it.

Hans Hubermann (The Book Thief, 2013) *spoilers

‘Trust was accumulated quickly, due primarily to the brute strength of the man’s gentleness’

Speaking of things which make me teary, the bond between Hans Hubermann and his foster daughter Liesel is one of the main reasons Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is one of my favourite books. Even death himself – who narrates the novel, is deeply touched by their relationship and considers Hans to have the best kind of soul.

Set in Germany under Nazi rule, Liesel is taken to live with Rosa and Hans Hubermann at the age of ten, as both of her parents are communists – a label she doesn’t understand. The book is obviously centered around what’s happening in Europe and Germany at that point in time, yet it’s also a story of a girl developing a love for words – a love that’s spurred by Hans, who teaches her how to read and doesn’t crack it with her too much when she occasionally steals books.

They both just hold such a beautiful adoration for each other, and that bit at the end where Death tells us that the final thing Hans’ soul whispered before he dies was ‘Liesel’ –  I can’t handle it.

Jean Valjean (Les Miserables, 1862)

‘Poor sweet little creature whose heart had till that moment only ever been crushed.’

If you’re up for a fun-fact, the year Victor Hugo starting writing Les Miserables was the same year Poe’s The Raven was first published, 1845.

Anyway, just as in the musical adaption of Les Miserables, on the lam prisoner, Jean Valjean (who impressively managed to get his shit together and become a factory owner and the mayor of Montreuil-sur-mer before goody-two-shoes Javert had to spoil everything), rescues eight year old Cosette from her lonely and abusive existence living under the inn-keeping couple, the Thenardiers, after he makes a promise to her dying mother Fantine.

Now because the Thenardiers are campy and funny in the musical adaption, it does tend to kinda gloss over the fact that they really are the worst, and that Cosette has had a life of ongoing traumatic hardship up until Jean Valjean comes into her life.

Their bond is uniquely beautiful because both of them have had deeply lonely existences before finding each other. Plus its touching to read Cosette finally getting to have a parent who is filled with love for her.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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. Also 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?)

So let’s utilise Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis to draw a very simplified map of our psyches. 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, unconscious thought 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 additionally 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?’). So in summary 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).

On a serious note though: one particularly fascinating thing about Freud, from a literature perspective is when references to literature were utilised to support theories. For instance, the story of Tancred and Clorinda (from an epic poem); Tancred accidentally stabs Clorinda and does not hear her voice until the second wounding. This is used to describe ‘traumatic neurosis’, and suggests that what haunts a survivor when they replay traumatic experiences is what 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).

References
Thurschwell, P. (2000) Sigmund Freud, Routledge Critical Thinkers, London
Leys, R. (2000) Trauma: A Genealogy, University of Chicago Press 
Lyons, M. (2011) Books a Living History, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles