Ann Radcliffe and the female Gothic genre

Radcliffe's most famous work

Radcliffe’s most famous work

One of the most challenging and rewarding courses I’ve taken is on Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823). Regarded as the principal creator of the female Gothic genre, Radcliffe is credited as establishing a standard and new formula for Gothic fiction which earned it great respect and a larger readership. Patriarchal authority and institutions were challenged and examined in the Female Gothic. Unlike male writers such as Matthew Lewis who wove scenes of sexual assault into their work, Radcliffe’s terrors come from implied or possible physical assaults, and the “explained supernatural”.  Her essay, “On the Supernatural in Poetry”, examines how she distinguishes between “terror” and “horror”.

We read four of her six novels in class: A Sicilian Romance (1790), The Romance of the Forest (1791), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and The Italian (1797). The Mysteries of Udolpho, which most recently inspired Guillermo del Toro and his movie Crimson Peak, is 672 pages long and is considered Radcliffe’s masterpiece.

Radcliffe is a great storyteller with an incredible sense of adventure. I found myself captivated by her exotic settings and intriguing characters. Although few modern readers have heard of her, Radcliffe has influenced several writers including Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), Jane Austen (1775-1817), Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), and more recently, Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) and Anne Rice (1941).

For more on Radcliffe:

Online:

Ann Radcliffe (biography)
Ann Radcliffe (Encyclopedia Britannica)
Ann Radcliffe – An Introduction
The Female Gothic – An Introduction

Books:

Davison, Carol M. History of the Gothic: Gothic Literature 1764-1824.  Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2009.

Ellis, Markman. The History of Gothic Fiction. Edinburgh: Edinburg University Press, 2000.

Heiland, Donna. Gothic & Gender: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

Mulvey-Roberts, Marie. The Handbook of the Gothic. New York: New York University Press, 2009.

Wright, Angela. Gothic Fiction: A Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2007.

 

Paperbacks and fresh maple syrup

A horse drawn wagon filled with delicious maple syrup for sale

A horse drawn wagon filled with delicious maple syrup for sale

Local farmers were out selling fresh maple syrup at St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market. The place was packed with people, mostly families out enjoying a sunny March Break day. Located 1.5 hours west of Toronto, this is the largest year-round farmers’ market in Canada.

Along with some wonderful ready-to-eat foods like perogies, souvlaki, and apple fritters, you can find everything from handmade quilts to used vinyl records. I spent quite a bit of time perusing used books, finally getting the following copies to take home:

The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom. I read the book years ago and loved it. It’s a fast read so I can re-read it again fairly quickly. For a novel summary, click here:

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s been on my list to read since 2010! For a summary, click here.

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb. The cover image has always intrigued me. I’d like to finally get around to reading it. For a summary, click here.

Hope In The Desperate Hour by David Adams Richards. Another book I’ve wanted to read for a while now. For a summary, click here.

Writers as readers

Writers love to read. It was my turn to post something on the 11th Floor Writers‘ blog so I asked the members what they were reading. They had a lot to share. Please click here to continue.

Contemporary Poetry

Billy CollinsIn Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem: A Guide to Writing Poetry, Wendy Bishop states that “contemporary poets prefer rhyme that doesn’t call attention to itself; concrete, particular images; and conversational… language.” Since starting a course in contemporary poetry, I’ve been intrigued by Billy Collins’ poems. They epitomize the “unexpected phrases and strong sensory details” that Bishop includes in her characteristics of contemporary poetry.

See or hear Collins read his poems by clicking on the following links:

Forgetfulness (animated)
I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to Art Blakey’s Version of ‘Three Blind’ Mice
Some Days (animated)
Walking Across the Atlantic (animated)
Now and Then (animated)
The Trouble With Poetry

Stories for writers

oatesI’ve had to read many interesting stories since enrolling in a fiction class as part of my MFA studies. I wanted to pass along some of the titles.

The following stories are housed in Joyce Carol Oates’ book entitled Telling Stories: An Anthology for Writers. You can read them online by clicking on the story titles.

“Aren’t You Happy For Me?” by Richard Bausch

An excellent example of how a story can be constructed using mainly dialogue. How would you react if your 22-year-old daughter phoned one day and said that she was engaged to a 63-year-old man?

“That Evening Sun” by William Faulkner

Written in 1931, this is a dark and disturbing story about a white family’s reaction to the fears of their black servant, Nancy.

“In the American Society” by Gish Jen

Told from the point of view of a Chinese-American girl, this story looks at a family’s attempt to assimilate into American culture and sheds light on the immigrant experience.

“Father’s Last Escape” by Bruno Schulz

If you’re a fan of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, you’ll appreciate this story. In this story, the father turns into a crab which the mother later cooks for dinner.

“Borges and I” by Jorge Luis Borges

A short autobiographical work that looks at the private versus the personal self. It ends with the line, “I do not know which of us has written this page.”

Two books

I have a tendency of reading more than one book at a time. Right now, Chang-Rae Lee’s A Gesture Life is sitting on my nightstand. It’s what I’m reading at home. Judy Fong Bates’ Midnight at the Dragon Café is in my bag. It gets read everywhere else, especially in my car as I wait for my daughter during her piano lessons and band practice.

A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee

A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee

Lee, a Korean-American writer, immigrated to the States in 1965. A Gesture Life weaves some heavy issues into the storytelling, including the treatment of Korean comfort women by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II – something the protagonist witnessed during his years of military service. Needless to say, it has a profound effect on him that lasts a lifetime.

Midnight at the Dragon Cafe by Judy Fong Bates

Midnight at the Dragon Cafe by Judy Fong Bates

Fong-Bates is a Chinese-Canadian writer. I’m only a couple of chapters into Midnight at the Dragon Café, which was recommended to me by a friend. The book was the 2011 One Book Community Read for the city of Toronto.

The boy ate an apple

appleOne of my goals this year was to read books by writers of Asian heritage, or to read more stories with protagonists of diverse backgrounds. I regret that growing up and all through these years, I haven’t made it a priority to expose myself to stories told in multicultural voices.

Through high school, university, and college curriculums, I have been exposed to a wealth of brilliant writers, from Chaucer to Hemingway, and many Canadian writers in between. I didn’t even stop to consider that all the stories I read were told from a Western perspective. This has had an interesting impact on me as a reader and now as a writer. I assume every character I read about is white unless told otherwise. I’m not alone. When I wrote ‘The boy ate an apple’ on the chalkboard and asked a classroom full of students, “What ethnicity was that boy?” All of them, even the black and Asian students responded, “white”.

As Canadian educators, writers, and readers, we need to do a better job of promoting diverse voices and experiences. It is 2013, yet the reading lists for Independent Study Projects in senior English classes haven’t changed much since the 80s when I was in high school. To throw in the odd book by a black or Asian writer to “modernize and update” the list isn’t enough.

 

Recommended Read:

Requiem by Frances Itani

Requiem by Frances Itani

I recently finished Frances Itani’s Requiem, a story about Bin, a Japanese Canadian struggling with loss on many levels. Although set in 1997, the story takes readers back to 1942, a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Twenty-two thousand Japanese Canadians in British Columbia were interned, in what is one of Canada’s darkest periods in history.