Tag Archives: Vanity Fair

Musings: On Proseminar and Heroes

Hello friends!

Reading has been slow, mostly because I have several fairly time-consuming assignments for school that need doing: the proseminar paper, a literary essay, and exchange application. The latter is progressing very slowly though, but I’m doing my best to hand it in on time  – because I really fancy the idea of going to the UK for a year!

But now you’ll get a little bit of ranting about the candidate’s essay. It’s getting slightly muddled in my head. I’m having trouble trying to decide on the structure, and figuring out whether I should alter the thesis statement slightly (which would lead to more trouble with the structure) or not. You see, I have noticed that there is something very interesting in the George/Amelia/William plot: George and Amelia’s relationship, while not a romance, has a lot of the elements. Their courtship is clearly described, there is a barrier, an attraction, a declaration, a betrothal – but the point of ritual death turns out to be insurmountable and recognition comes too late. A romance needs a happy ending, and there is none for the Osbornes. What is wonderful is that the reader knows all the time that this is not a romance plot, despite it exhibiting the elements: George Osborne’s character is not that of a hero, and therefore he can’t be the heroine’s match. According to Kay Mussell in Fantasy and Reconciliation, the qualities of a hero are among other things:

  • Eases the heroine’s transition from childhood to adulthood, from father to husband
  • Authority figure; multiple functions
    • Protects heroine from consequences of immature behaviour
    • Teaches her to behave in an appropriate manner as his wife
  • Must be powerful in traditionally masculine qualities while retaining sensitivity to recognize the heroine’s needs
  • Hero and heroine have complementary qualities instead of identical traits, but both place a value on domesticity and love
  • Possesses great skill and status (top of profession or landed gentry)
  • Self-motivated, stable, exciting; resources to support a family in comfort
  • Suitability as head of a family

(from my notes on Mussell; there are other qualities as well but all are not relevant to Vanity Fair)

William, unlike George, is all of these things. Therefore it’s fairly obvious to the reader that he deserves Amelia more than George does.

The problem is, bringing this comparison up would be tricky considering the structure, and besides, it’s only a 15–20 page paper. If I had my way, it would be much longer…

Well, that was my rant this time. You get another picture of the books I’m using at the moment, because just text can be a bit boring:

Research material

There’s one there that might actually be of no use, but we’ll see.

I hope to see you guys soon again – I intend to write a rant/review of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film in honour of the book’s 200th birthday (I know, I know, the actual day is long gone, but it’s still the right year!) and I hope to get to that soon!

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Musings: Picking books and proseminar

Hello readers!

I’ve been very quiet for a long time. Apologies for that. The silence is due to two things: 1) Holidays have made me super lazy and phlegmatic, and 2) nothing has really happened. I’ve been reading very slowly, which might be due to the killer reading schedule I was on for the Victorian novel bit of the proseminar and couldn’t really shake once that was over. You get used to having a deadline with books, and it’s nice to get things read, but that also takes away some of the enjoyment. Much depends on the book, too, of course: if it sucks you in like a really good book does, you’ll read it pretty fast anyway.

I tried reading John Gardner’s Moriarty. When after six days I wasn’t even halfway through and found myself groaning whenever the book caught my eye, I decided to give it up. I hate to give up on a book, but it just wasn’t working. Sorry, Mr Gardner – your style wasn’t for me, at least not now. I’ll probably try again sometime in the future, when I actually feel like it.

Instead, I returned to the Victorians in the form of Sherlock Holmes, and it felt infinitely better. So I made a decision: this year, I will try and not force myself to read anything I don’t feel like reading. I can reread all I like, pick anything I want from the library without thinking about the few dozen books that are waiting for me at home, or, if I so choose, read several books at a time. The last one is a huge decision, because I’ve been reluctant to do that for ages. Uni courses forced me to do it in the fall term – that’s what you get, taking so many literature courses that include weekly reading – and I’m now convinced that it’s okay.

One reason for reading for my own pleasure whatever the heck I feel like reading is the proseminar and, consequently, the dreaded bachelor’s thesis (or candidate’s essay or prosem paper, I don’t really know what it’s supposed to be called) which I will need to hand in around the end of April. My chosen work is William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, and my focus on the romance plot in it. Yup, that’s right. I’m going to be analyzing the whole George-Amelia-William situation. It’s going to be heaps of fun, if only I could manage to decide from where to start…

Spring term starts next Monday, and I’m thrilled to get back to routine and lectures and actual studying. The third period – the first half of the term – is a particular delight: I have only four lectures a week, all of them in English! This includes prosem (surprise!), Academic Writing with one of my favourite lecturers and a really good friend, and a course on Medieval and Early Modern Ireland.

So if I manage only end of month posts and maybe one other post a month, you’ll know why that is. And it might happen that the other post is ranting about research or Vanity Fair or writing. For that, I apologise in advance. Then again, the post titles will tell you what they include and you can skip them.

I still haven’t decided my bi-monthly theme for this year. I suppose I could do Authors, Book-to-Film Adaptations, or Book Covers. We’ll see. For the moment, I’m leaning towards authors.

This post is ridiculously long. If you got to the end, I salute you! There’s no proper reward for doing that, though – sorry about that. Instead you get a picture of my background reading pile. (Had to take one back to the library as someone had reserved it – but I’ll either reserve it again or buy my own, because it’s a very interesting book! There’s also a couple more books I need to pick up from the library.)

Prosem research

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Books in October ’12

This month saw the end of the Victorian madness – well, more or less. I managed to include a couple of books just for my own pleasure, but it was quickly back to school again. I’ve just realised that this is how it will probably be until summer, as I’ve managed to choose a lot of courses with several books to read. And on top of that all the background reading for the final paper. Oh well. There’s always retirement for reading what you wish…

William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair

Two young women, Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley, leave Miss Pinkerton’s Academy together. They are friends, yet the witty and flirtatious Becky looks set to outdo the passive, sweet-natured Amelia with her ruthless determination to grab what she can in life. And so all kinds of battles and fortunes are won and lost against a backdrop of the Napoleonic wars.

Thackeray’s satire on corruption at every level of English society is rightly subtitled ‘a novel without a hero’, since none of its characters have improved themselves by the end. However, it was a success from its first appearance in 1847 and remains one of the greatest comic novels.

(back cover of Arcturus 2010 edition)

At first, it wasn’t at all what I’d expected, although very amusing and rather engaging. Then, around halfway, I was so stressed and tired it was a pain to read. The brutal schedule did very little for this book – but oh gods, when I got to the end, I was completely in love. It’s funny, and insightful, and full of wonderful characters, although all of them have their flaws. It’s Regency. There’s the war. There’s the society. There’s life.

Writing coherently about this book is a little hard, as I’m so enamoured. I hope a reread will sort my head further and get my out of the general feeling of awesome and into the reasons why it is so great.

I’m seriously looking forward to working more with this book. Just… gaah. I want to watch all the adaptations and just get immersed into it.

You can also read about me drooling over the 2004 film adaptation here.

First published: 1847-1848

Pages: 719 (Arcturus 2010 edition)

Orhan Pamuk: The White Castle

From a Turkish writer who has been compared with Borges, Nabokov, and DeLillo comes a dazzling novel that is at once a captivating work of historical fiction and a sinuous treatise on the enigma of identity and the relations between East and West.
In the 17th century, a young Italian scholar sailing from Venice to Naples is taken prisoner and delivered to Constantinople. There he falls into the custody of a scholar known as Hoja–“master”–a man who is his exact double. In the years that follow, the slave instructs his master in Western science and technology, from medicine to pyrotechnics. But Hoja wants to know more: why he and his captive are the persons they are and whether, given knowledge of each other’s most intimate secrets, they could actually exchange identities.
Set in a world of magnificent scholarship and terrifying savagery, The White Castle is a colorful and intricately patterned triumph of the imagination.

(Goodreads)

Another required read for text analysis. Another read-it-quick-as-you-can novel.

I didn’t really care for this one. I’m really bad with modern and post-modern literature. It’s not all bad, of course not, I’ve read good ones, but it seems to me like everything that becomes popular in literary fiction feels somehow… pretentious.

It’s probably just me though. I like straightforward stories, not clever angles from which to look at life.

But I digress. The White Castle addresses identity – always an interesting topic – and doppelgangers. For the most part I couldn’t really identify with the characters, but later on I sort of recognised myself in Hoca (if you’ve read it, let me assure you, I’m not as crazy but understand where the crazy comes from) and from then on found more interest in reading. The end plays with you, and you get to play detective for a couple of pages, but unfortunately the very ending somewhat disappointed me.

Published: 1985 (original title Beyaz Kale)

Translation: Kalevi Nyytäjä (from the English translation by Victoria Holbrook 1990)

Pages: 216 (Loisto 2006 paperback)

Anthony Trollope: Barchester Towers

This 1857 sequel to The Warden wryly chronicles the struggle for control of the English diocese of Barchester. The evangelical but not particularly competent new bishop is Dr. Proudie, who with his awful wife and oily curate, Slope, maneuver for power. The Warden and Barchester Towers are part of Trollope’s Barsetshire series, in which some of the same characters recur.

(Goodreads)

Well written and amusing in its sarcasm, but really, the interior design of a house or who gets to be dean are not subjects I thrill in. The prose is, however, very neat and pleasant to read, and by no means very heavy. There is a romance plot as well as the drama of the religious circles of Barchester, and they blend very nicely together. Second in the series of books situated in the town of Barchester, it suffers very little from the reader not being acquainted with the first part, The Warden. I haven’t read it, and probably won’t, but sort of enjoyed Barchester Towers nonetheless.

First published: 1857

Pages: 586 (Penguin English Library 2012 edition)

Herta Müller: The Passport

The Passport is a beautiful, haunting novel whose subject is a German village in Romania caught between the stifling hopelessness of Ceausescu’s dictatorship and the glittering temptations of the West. Stories from the past are woven together with the problems Windisch, the village miller, faces after he applies for permission to migrate to West Germany. Herta Müller (Herta Mueller) describes with poetic attention the dreams and superstitions, conflicts and oppression of a forgotten region, the Banat, in the Danube Plain. In sparse, poetic language, Muller captures the forlorn plight of a trapped people.

(Goodreads)

Consisting of titled fragments, this work of Müller’s was a positive experience, once I realised it takes place in Romania, rather than Germany. Made more sense after that. It’s got lots of rather nice images and interesting metaphors, and most people in class said they needed or wanted to take time reading it, to better concentrate on the images. Some even considered it a hard read. Now, I may be just stupid or something, but I didn’t think it was all that hard. It took me a couple of hours to get through the about 100 pages, and I believe I got it. (But then again, I believe most of the participants in the class major in Comparative Literature and thus perhaps have a more analytical approach to reading than I do. Who knows.)

It’s very interesting, and I do recommend it. My second favourite of the six I’ve read for this course. (First being Time’s Arrow.) I find the English title rather unfortunate though – the Finnish translation used the original, and while the English one draws attention to the object of desire of the people in the book, the original is more attractive. Without any real knowledge on German, I believe it translates roughly to, “Man is a big pheasant on earth.”

Published: 1986 (originally Mensch ist ein grosser Fasan auf der Welt)

Translation: Raija Jänicke 1990

Pages: 110 (Tammi 1990 edition)

Hannu Rajaniemi: The Fractal Prince

‘On the day the Hunter comes for me, I am killing ghost cats from the Schrödinger Box.’

On the edges of physical space a thief, helped by a sardonic ship, is trying to break into a Schrödinger box.

He is doing the job for his patron, and owner of the ship, Mieli. In the box is his freedom. Or not.

The box is protected by codes that twist logic and sanity. And the ship is under attack.

The thief is nearly dead, the ship is being eaten alive.

Jean de Flambeur is running out of time. All of him.

And on earth, two sisters in a city of fast ones, shadow players and jinni contemplate a revolution.

There are many more stories than can be told even in a thousand nights and one night, but these two stories will twist, and combine. And reality will spiral.

In Hannu Rajaniemi’s sparkling follow-up to the critically acclaimed, international sensation THE QUANTUM THIEF, he returns to his awe-inspiring vision of the universe and we find out what the future held for earth.

(Back cover of the Gollancz trade paperback)

Okay. If you haven’t read The Quantum Thief, the first part in the trilogy, go do that now. Then you can get to The Fractal Prince. And I promise you they are both beautiful.

I didn’t have time to reread Quantum Thief, but I think this second book starts from about where the first one ended. Fractal Prince then turns out to be even more confusing than Quantum Thief, but, I think, the prose is more beautiful. I can’t really grasp a clear plot, a clear goal for the characters, but that doesn’t really matter. Jean, Mieli, and the new character Tawaddud are all interesting, as well as the spidership Perhonen. There’s several timelines that get confused, identities that you can’t be sure of, and some political intrigue which I liked immensely. There’s also more Finnishness in this book than the previous one, or perhaps I was just more attuned to it.

Sometimes I didn’t even understand a sentence, but loved it to bits. That, I think, tells a lot. Amazing prose. So engaging and magical. You don’t need to be a physics whiz to enjoy it. I hated maths, chemistry and physics in high school and do not read much science fiction, but this series has my heart.

Non-Finns who have read Rajaniemi – how do the names and words especially Mieli uses look to you? Mieli, Sydän, Perhonen, Kuutar, Ilmatar, koto, väki… I can’t really get enough distance to the words to not see what they mean and would love to hear what they sound like.

Published: Gollancz 2012

Pages: 300

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent.

(Goodreads)

It was nine years ago when I last read this book. I was thirteen. This was probably the first book ever that I like a lot but haven’t read every year, so the difference between my opinion then and opinion now was actually interesting to compare. It was also my first time reading it in English, so another first! Yay! This reread, by the way, was obviously because of the upcoming movie, which I can’t wait for…

It was more or less as I remember it. Bilbo is a darling, Gandalf is somewhat annoying, the dwarfs are fun. What felt really different though was the pacing. I had real trouble getting through the Battle of Five Armies before, and now I marvelled at how compactly the whole battle was described. I was so looking forward to it, and then it was only a few pages long. Slight disappointment there. In general the book felt much shorter.

What I really admire is Tolkien’s way of writing for children. It’s only very slightly less complicated than the way he writes for “adults”, but The Hobbit is also very obviously a story intended for children. But Tolkien is not patronising or condescending, and that is a true talent.

Published: George Allen & Unwin 1937

Pages: 276 (Harper Collins 75th anniversary edition)

Nick Foulkes: Dancing Into Battle – A Social History of the Battle of Waterloo

The summer of 1815 saw the final and desperate efforts of the European powers to usurp Napoleon’s reign over France.

The pivotal moment was unfolding in an age where war was a social occasion; the military urgency was matched only by the soldiers’ and their wives’ frantic efforts to keep apace of the lavish balls which were being thrown. The intention to deny war with frivolity persevered until 15 June, when the tension broke, and troops exchanged dance partners for weapons and prepared for battle.

Nick Foulkes captures the sense of what it was like to be at the very hub of events when the fate of Europe seemed to hang in the balance.

(Back cover of the Phoenix 2006 paperback)

I really enjoyed this book. It might be the fact that I’m getting really excited about my final paper topic, but it might also be the fact that the Battle of Waterloo and the days leading up to it were very confusing and interesting. The Britons in Brussels didn’t really grasp what was going on, did they?

Foulkes has drawn on a multitude of sources. The most interesting of those are diaries and letters, of such personages as Fanny Burney, Harry Smith, Thomas Picton, Thomas Creevey and Rees Howell Gronow. The book builds the picture of what went on during the Hundred Days that started when Napoleon escaped from Elba and guides the reader through the move of the British upper classes to Brussels and from thence to the battlefield. The Duke of Wellington is, naturally, a very prominent character in the book, but also the families of Capel and Richmond are much represented.

At first it may take a while to grasp the names and social positions of the people through whose reminiscences the world of society and war is shown, but towards the end this gets easier. I could recommend keeping a list, though, and I fully intend to do so on the second reading.

This is a very informative book, and perfectly suited for those who find plain war description heavy reading. The women of the time are amply represented, which is very delightful – my own favourite being Brigade-Major Harry Smith’s spirited Spanish wife, Juana, whose description of the panic on the road from Brussels to Antwerp is lively and a pleasurable read.

Published: Phoenix 2006

Pages: 230 (plus notes, bibliography, acknowledgements, and index)

Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Conceived by a shy British don on a golden afternoon to entertain ten-year-old Alice Liddell and her sisters, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass have delighted generations of readers in more than eighty languages. “The clue to the enduring fascination and greatness of the Alice books,” writes A. S. Byatt in her Introduction, “lies in language. . . . It is play, and word-play, and its endless intriguing puzzles continue to reveal themselves long after we have ceased to be children.”

(Goodreads)

First book to be read for the course titled “Classics of Fantasy Literature” (although I’m very tempted to call it “Classics of Children’s Literature”), Alice is something I’ve never gotten around to reading before. And I found it delightful. Carroll’s prose is flowing and pleasant to read, and doesn’t patronise. It’s absurd, but at the same time full of meaning and things you never thought of. I only wish I had been read this as a child! I also enjoyed how seamlessly the events of the book flow into one another, and you suddenly find yourself quite somewhere else than you were a couple of sentences ago.

It’s also a very quick read, which at this point in time is a definite plus in my books!

I hope I have time to read Through the Looking-Glass as well before I return this book to its rightful owner. I have a feeling I’ll enjoy that one even more.

First published: 1865

Pages: 115 (Wordsworth Classics 2001 edition: this edition actually has both of the Alice stories, as well as a 30-page introduction – I only read Wonderland)

So there you go again. You’ve already seen the books I bought this month, as they are all in the Edinburgh post. That leaves me one more thing to add to this post before leaving to Night Visions festival to see a werewolf movie!

Currently reading:

  • William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair (yup, rereading it already. Hunting down anything to do with the army.)
  • Anne Rice: The Wolf Gift (enjoying it so much!)

Happy Halloween, people!

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Movie Review: Vanity Fair

Okay, so I finished Thackeray’s Vanity Fair today. It was delicious, although, even more so than with Middlemarch, having to read it so quickly wasn’t exactly a good thing. But I’m already looking eagerly towards the probably-happening-very-soon reread!

Now, I wasn’t going to watch the movie until I’d written my paper (i.e. sometime in April), but after reading the book I came to the conclusion that there’s just so much into it that the movie has to be vastly different.

Actually, it wasn’t. I found it surprisingly faithful to the book, though naturally it takes some liberties with characterisation and offers interpretations of things Thackeray only alludes to. My main qualm was that they were trying to make Becky (Reese Witherspoon) look nice personality-wise, and frankly, I don’t think she’s that at all. Other characters I liked – amazing Romola Garai as Amelia, Geraldine McEwan as Lady Southdown, Barbara Leigh-Hunt as Lady Bareacres… Just splendid. And Douglas Hodge was absolutely spot on as Mr Pitt Crawley! He had me in stitches, he did!

You will notice that list didn’t include any of the leading men in the movie. Well. That’s because one of the things that make this movie so attractive to me is the gods-damned uniforms. Uniforms everywhere! And the three leading men – Jonathan Rhys Meyers as George Osborne, Rhys Ifans as William Dobbin, and James Purefoy as Rawdon Crawley – know how to carry them. But they do more than look nice. Rhys Meyers does haughty like I’ve seen no one else do it. Ifans is so in love it broke my poor heart on several occasions. And Purefoy managed to make Rawdon so well rounded that I even began to like the character. Only thing I wish is that someone would teach Mr Purefoy to ride, as his skills in the noble sport made him look embarrassing rather than dashing.

There are some little details that bugged me. Some costumes didn’t exactly look Regency. A general off-ness in some scenes. But most of all, Lady Richmond’s ball. The movie places it on June 17th 1815. However, said ball was held on June 15th, just on the brink of Waterloo. (You can find this famous ball on Wikipedia, if you want to read contemporary descriptions or glance at the guest list.)

I can only recommend the movie. It’s slightly on the long side with 139 minutes, but it’s captivating and very pleasing to the eye. Hard to say how it works without having read the book, but I’d say it’s not hard to follow.

Although I do warmly recommend the book as well.

Vanity Fair (2004)

Director: Mira Nair

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Romola Garai, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Rhys Ifans, James Purefoy, Gabriel Byrne

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