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.

 

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

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.

April Poems

April flowers bring...

April flowers bring…

Emily Dickinson said, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Organized and sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets, Canada has acknowledged April as National Poetry Month since 1999. The United States introduced the idea in 1996. Great Britain celebrates October as their National Poetry Month.

Sometimes I struggle through a poem, lost in the words or its meaning. I love the freedom that comes with reading them. There are no right or wrong answers – there shouldn’t be. You can read a poem, and it is yours to interpret; yours to personalize. I love how some poems make me feel. Like music, they can provoke me to tears, to laughter. Or they can leave me thinking, reflecting. Sometimes, they even leave me confused and dazed.

A few of my favourites:

The Cross of Snow by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A haunting poem. Longfellow’s wife burned so badly when her dress caught on fire, she died shortly afterwards.

i carry your heart with me by e.e. cummings
One of the best love poems ever.

I Am in Need of Music by Elizabeth Bishop
A classic.

And in honour of both National Poetry Month and the month of April:
Always Marry An April Girl by Ogden Nash

My favourite Canadian poets include: Leonard Cohen, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood and Catherine Graham.

More on National Poetry Month:

Celebrate National Poetry Month with CBC Books

National Poetry Month FAQ

Happy, dark, or ironic – Short stories with a twist

bookcasesWhether they are happy, dark, or ironic, I love twist endings. I stumbled onto “A Letter to God”, a short story by Gregorio Lopez Fuentes (translated by Donald A. Yates). It is about a poor farmer named Lencho who sadly loses his crops during a terrible hailstorm. Poor, but a man with strong faith, he writes to God and asks for money to help him get through the winter. The ending made me laugh out loud – it was so nutty. You can click on the story title to read it online. 

Some of my other favourite short stories with a twist include “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant and “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin.

It takes talent and good storytelling to create a twist ending that works. It can’t feel forced or heavy-handed to be effective.

Here are some links you might want to check out:

My first e-reader (sigh)

koboWhen I was asked if I wanted an e-reader for Christmas, my answer was a flat out, “no”.  I love the texture of paper pages, the smell of new books and the worn-out feel of second-hand books. I also love walking into bookstores and being surrounded by books of all sizes, shapes, and colours.

But when the second book that I really wanted to read was only available in e-book format, I thought maybe it was time to at least be open to the possibility of an e-reader.

As soon as I walked into my local Chapters bookstore, I was greeted by a friendly Kobo salesperson who happily walked me through his display.

“This is the one I own,” he said, and passed me a Kobo Glo.

It didn’t feel so bad in my hands, especially when it was put into a case that looked like a book cover.  

I wasn’t entirely sure if it was a good or bad thing that the reader could customize the font size, justification, margins, and even the line spacing. I knew editors who laboured and agonized over such decisions. The fact that any reader could now arbitrarily change everything seemed somehow wrong.

I love the built-in dictionary though. By pressing any word, I instantly get its meaning. As well, the ability to highlight passages and make notes about them is very cool.

The Kobo Glo also has a built-in light which I’m thinking will be great for reading in my car when I’m waiting for my daughter in the parking lot of her music school.

Still not sure where I stand in the e-book vs traditional book debate. Will find out soon though. I’ve downloaded a few books including The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy which was recommended to me by Donleavy’s grandnephew, and hard to find in print version in Toronto.

Memorable characters

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877)

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877)

“It’s told from the point of view of a horse,” my daughter, Claire, told me when she started reading Black Beauty. “I don’t know if I want to read it.” She finished the book today, and concluded that it was a great read, and Black Beauty was a character she wouldn’t ever forget.

When Claire asked me to name some memorable characters from books I had read, the first few names that came to mind were:

Nomi Nickel, A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (Canadian)
Sixteen-year old Nomi, who lives in a Mennonite community, is abandoned by both her mother and sister. She asks a question that continues to haunt me: “Is it wrong to trust in a beautiful lie if it helps you get through life?”

Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
As a kid, I had a crush on Atticus, and wondered how many fathers were like him in real life. He was so wise and had the right things to say about everything that mattered: “You never really know a man till you walk a mile in his shoes.”

Dunstan Ramsay, Fifth Business by Robertson Davies (Canadian)
I read this book in grade 12 English class. Dunstan’s involvement with Mary Dempster, a woman he spends his life trying to make a “saint,” is a result of his deep rooted childhood guilt: “I feared to go to sleep and prayed till I sweated that God would forgive me for my mountainous crime… I was alone with my guilt, and it tortured me.”

Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables by L.L. Montgomery (Canadian)
I remember wondering if I should add an “e” to the end of my name after reading Anne say, “A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished.”

Iago, Othello by William Shakespeare
I’m wowed by his evil brilliance as much as I fear it. I still get chills reading, “I am not who I am.”