Log in

Into The Abyss Of Suburbia [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
...and the stains drip between fingers...

[ website | FF.Net ]
[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Maria Edgeworth's 'Tales and Novels' [Aug. 16th, 2016|09:44 pm]
...and the stains drip between fingers...
[Tags|, , ]

Link to Volume 1

Edgeworth's general work is recommended for the experience of the thing - intensely moralistic, didactic, repetitive, and comes across as an important step in the development of modern-day fiction. Edgeworth's depiction of women's lives is also important.

Edgeworth usually comes across as much more intelligent and well-meaning than Jack Chick, to compare her to another didactic practitioner. The main jarring factor is that multiple early tales are very anti-Semitic. The only Jewish character Edgeworth seems able to write in these short stories is an antagonistic male pawnbroker and cheat, drawn entirely from stereotype. Later in her career, through the novel 'Harrington', Edgeworth apologised for her past anti-Semitic writing (credit to her for trying to turn things around).

Surprisingly, black and mixed-race characters receive a fair amount of narrative sympathy and are heaps better written than, say, GONE WITH THE WIND or Thackeray's Miss Schwartz. Don't count on Edgeworth for a searing anti-racist tract, but she has mixed-race and black secondary characters who have their own goals and at least two dimensions.

And then there's a story which definitely reads to the twenty-first century with lesbian undertones. Innocent high-minded lass Anne Warwick is Led Astray by the seductive, emotive pleadings of her lady pen pal Araminta! Anne elopes to Araminta's pastoral cottage and then discovers that life is not the romance she was expecting in this cautionary tale.

Edgeworth also wrote about Irish idioms and against cultural stereotyping; her non-fiction writing is fascinating.

The novel 'Belinda' contains Edgeworth's deconstruction of the 'Wife Husbandry' trope - Clarence Hervey adopts a young orphan, Virginia, intending to raise her as a pristine, unspoiled, pastoral wife, only to find that this doesn't work out. Clarence falls in love with an educated, strong-minded woman instead and Virginia grows up to discover she isn't attracted to Clarence, but Clarence feels he has to ask Virginia to marry him as she's his responsibility, and in turn Virginia feels her gratitude won't let her refuse. 'Belinda' was based on a real event: a friend of Edgeworth's father, Thomas Day, attempted to raise a young orphan, Sabrina Sydney, as his bride. It didn't work out as expected.

Two other interesting things edited out of 'Belinda' in later editions, changed from the writer's first choice, are:

  1. Mr Vincent, a West Indian Creole, nearly marries Belinda rather than being merely esteemed by her

  2. A white English girl, Lucy, marries Vincent's black servant Juba rather than a white Englishman

Edgeworth's writing about women's education is also worth a read. She and her extremely large family (her father was married four times) had interesting ideas and practices about children's education, many of which still seem viable.

This bit in Edgeworth's 'Harrington' endears her, as she is mocking and criticisng her own early work for its anti-Semitism:

And here I must observe, that not only in the old story books, where the Jews are as sure to be wicked as the bad fairies, or bad genii, or allegorical personifications of the devils, and the vices in the old emblems, mysteries, moralities, &c.; but in almost every work of fiction, I found them represented as hateful beings; nay, even in modern tales of very late years, since I have come to man's estate, I have met with books by authors professing candour and toleration—books written expressly for the rising generation, called, if I mistake not, Moral Tales for Young People; and even in these, wherever the Jews are introduced, I find that they are invariably represented as beings of a mean, avaricious, unprincipled, treacherous character.

Interesting fact: Edgeworth also reviewed Jane Austen's Emma and didn't like it.

There is no story in it, except that Miss Emma found that the man whom she designed for Harriet's lover was an admirer of her own-& he was affronted at being refused by Emma & Harriet wore the willow*-and smooth, thin water-gruel is according to Emma’s father’s opinion a very good thing & it is very difficult to make a cook understand what you mean by smooth, thin water-gruel. - Edgeworth on EMMA

Pearls before ... people who are unable to appreciate pearls, and all that sort of thing. (At least Edgeworth and her family were 'much entertained' by MANSFIELD PARK.) Edgeworth can be mocked for poor taste and didactic writing, but she helped make the novel what it is today, worked hard and was prolific, and was active in helping Irish people during the famine.

Plus, when Edgeworth was in school, she wrote a story about an adventurer who habitually wore a mask made out of the dried skin of a dead man. This greatly pleased her audience at the time. Sadly, this juvenilia never made it into her published work.
Link1 comment|Leave a comment

WHAT ANSWER? by Anna Dickinson [Feb. 7th, 2016|08:52 pm]
...and the stains drip between fingers...
[Tags|, , ]

This 1868 novel is sentimental, overwrought, and mediocre, but depicts an interracial romantic relationship and ringingly denounces racism. The novel primarily treats on northern racism in the United States Civil War period; even in the states which don't allow slavery, African-American people are mistreated and segregated. One telling incident is a black man who lost a leg fighting for the north but isn't even allowed to sit in a railway car with white people (taken directly from the author's life).

The story has the courage to end in tragedy, depicting brutal war and vile lynching.

There's the same flaw as UNCLE TOM'S CABIN and Dumas' GEORGES in the idealistic way many of the non-white characters in the book are treated. Racism isn't wrong because some black people are exceptional noble geniuses; it's wrong because all black people are human. But the idealistic characterisation also has a wish-fulfilment function (last time I heard, there are plenty of books with white exceptional noble geniuses as the protagonists), and the point these books are making is right and important and very necessary.

The writer led a grand life and contributed a lot to her society. She seems to have started as a child prodigy, publishing an anti-slavery essay in William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper The Liberator at age 13. She grew up to be an activist and lecturer, spoke before the American House of Representatives, performed as Hamlet on Broadway, won her freedom from an insane asylum, and may or may not have been a lesbian in her personal life.
LinkLeave a comment

Morality Tale (a ranking question) - outcomes [Feb. 3rd, 2016|06:57 pm]
...and the stains drip between fingers...
[Tags|, ]

The different morality ranking responses to this story were absolutely fascinating.

James is a forty-year-old businessman. James has been married to Marie for fifteen years. One day, James collides into a young woman wearing a waiter’s uniform in the street, Caroline. Caroline and James start talking, go on a date, and sleep together. Caroline then tells James that she is underage and she deliberately set out to blackmail him for money, or else she will tell the police and his workplace. James tells his wife Marie about the blackmail. Marie murders Caroline by poisoning her. Marie’s brother, George, is a police officer who covers up the murder.

These were the tiny statistical sample of six (worst to least worst).

gehayi: Caroline & George, James, Marie
houseboatonstyx: Caroline, Marie, James, George
speakr2customrs: George, Caroline, Marie, James
morbane: Marie, George, Caroline, James
LateToTheParty: George, Marie, James, Caroline
blueinkedpalm: Marie, George, James, Caroline

Most likely to be worst: George (3)
Most likely to be least worst: James (2), Caroline (2)

Total character scores (4=worst, 1=least worst):
George: 4, 1, 4, 3, 4, 3 = 19
Marie: 2, 3, 2, 4, 3, 4 = 18
Caroline: 4, 4, 3, 2, 1, 1 = 15
James: 3, 2, 1, 1, 3, 3 = 13

(Above results 100% scientifically unreliable.)

Ethical priorities that came up in the discussion:
George - breaching duty, loyalty to family, responsibility to society
Marie - protecting husband, protecting herself, whether impulsive or premeditated, whether considered alternatives
Caroline - premeditated, underage
James - cheating, whether knew/suspected underage, whether moral responsibility to check

I found it pretty interesting that motive was commented on in the responses, since I don't think any character had a defined motive in the story. The reasoning each character had behind their criminal acts was up to the reader.

My personal ranking ended up pretty similar to the average gaol times for the different crimes committed - Marie for murder, George for accessory after the fact, James for statutory rape, Caroline for blackmail (committed while underage). (Blackmail is very bad though - the corpus of Agatha Christie and DL Sayers provides a few instructional examples, as does JK Rowling's CUCKOO'S CALLING.)

I guess that makes me something of a consequentialist.
Link7 comments|Leave a comment

Morality Tale (a ranking question) [Feb. 1st, 2016|08:43 pm]
...and the stains drip between fingers...
[Tags|, ]

I came across the Robin Hood Morality Test and the Alligator River Morality Test lately, where the idea behind the short stories is to tease out attitudes and opinions by ranking the different characters' ethics. Who's the most moral and who's the least?

James is a forty-year-old businessman. James has been married to Marie for fifteen years. One day, James collides into a young woman wearing a waiter’s uniform in the street, Caroline. Caroline and James start talking, go on a date, and sleep together. Caroline then tells James that she is underage and she deliberately set out to blackmail him for money, or else she will tell the police and his workplace. James tells his wife Marie about the blackmail. Marie murders Caroline by poisoning her. Marie’s brother, George, is a police officer who covers up the murder.
Link8 comments|Leave a comment

LIFE'S LITTLE IRONIES by Thomas Hardy [Nov. 6th, 2015|11:01 pm]
...and the stains drip between fingers...
[Tags|, , ]

This is a set of excellent short stories. Generally with a tragic bent, Hardy's able to capture these human miseries with verisimilitude and strong writing. For people who didn't like Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the short story format cuts down a lot on overly lengthy descriptions, melodrama, and heavy-handed symbolism. For people who liked Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Hardy's talent is still on display here. With a few exceptions, these stories are great.

Many of the stories focus on the lives of women; 'For Conscience' Sake' is a take on sexual double standards and what a man should do to atone for a wrong committed twenty years ago.

'The Son's Veto' is a story of a mother's sacrifice; 'On the Western Circuit' is a tale of mistaken correspondence, young lovers, and an unhappy marriage. These two are rather sentimental stories; they remind me of short stories LM Montgomery wrote at a later time. But, being written by Hardy, there's significantly fewer happy endings. There's not much innovation in terms of plot, but I found 'The Son's Veto' especially compelling in terms of execution; it makes a strong beginning to the volume.

'The Melancholy Hussar of the German Legion' stands out as Hardy's historical fiction; Napoleonic-era Hussars enter a small English town. There's a lot of attention to detail, including some inhumane practices of the day.

'The Fiddler of the Reels' is probably the weakest story - about a malicious violinist with a terrible charisma - but even so it contains a lot of interesting detail about nineteenth-century dance tunes and social dances.

The strange sagas of the lives at the village of Longpuddle in 'A Few Crusted Characters' are an interconnected collection well worth reading. Complex relationships and deep feelings haunt the small village, just as Miss Marple would point out. You can find all sorts of wickednesses and mysteries in a village. This set is probably the jewel of the collection.

Recommended as well-written nineteenth-century short stories that show many of the author's strengths.
Link3 comments|Leave a comment

(no subject) [Oct. 28th, 2015|06:15 am]
...and the stains drip between fingers...
[Tags|, , , , ]

Dear Yuletide Writer,

Thank you for writing for me! I hope you have a wonderful Yuletide. Our shared rare fandom is joy, optional details are optional, and please don't get eaten by bears.

Things I like to read include: adventure, humour, horror, slice-of-life, alternative universes, ghost stories, tragedy, suffering, irony, drama, mystery, complicated characters, complicated relationships, character development, underexplored parts of canon universes, plot twists, banter, capable/competent characters, female characters having adventures or being central to the story, femslash, gen, het, slash, rare characters in the spotlight, unusual stories, being surprised, and many other things that hopefully cover what you enjoy writing. I'd love to read a story you want to write.

If there're any questions about this letter, feel free to go through the Yuletide Mods, or simply write the story you want to write - I'd much rather read fic that went in a direction you liked writing than a story that stuck to a prompt that wasn't working for you.


FandomsCollapse )
Link4 comments|Leave a comment

Yuletide fic festival nominations starting! [Sep. 26th, 2015|08:49 am]
...and the stains drip between fingers...

Nominate here

Official how-to-nominate tutorial

Yuletide is a brilliant end-of-year fic exchange built around rare fandoms. Nominate the fandoms you love, request stories you’d love to read, make someone else’s request come true by writing for them - and then read all the other stories in a huge collection of amazing rare fandoms.

Step 1 (optional): Nominate - pick 3 rare fandoms and up to 4 characters per fandom. Rare fandoms basically means that there’s less than 1000 completed stories that are over 1000 words and in English. Rare fandoms don’t have to be things like books, video games, or TV series - they can also be things like architecture, historical figures, advertising campaigns, and music videos.

Step 2: Sign up - after nominations end, sign up to participate. Out of all the nominated fandoms from everyone, select the ones you want to write, and the ones you’ll request stories from. Even if you didn’t nominate you can still sign up.

Step 3: Write your story. You’ll be matched with someone who requested at least 1 fandom you volunteered to write. Someone else will also receive your request and write you one of the ideas you asked for. Some people also write extra stories, which are called treats.

Step 4: Posting and reading! On December 25 or so, Yuletide goes live. Your recipient gets the story you wrote for them, and you receive a story from a mysterious author written for you. Every author is anonymous until January 1, and there’s plenty of reading and reviewing to do for thousands and thousands of fandoms and stories.

LinkLeave a comment

The Exile's Punishment - fandom meta [Aug. 15th, 2015|12:39 pm]
...and the stains drip between fingers...
[Tags|, , , , , , , ]

Regis is a ruler, a powerful spellcaster, or both of the above. Wallis is a wrongdoer, who was once Regis’ lover, relative, or best friend. When Wallis does something utterly evil, Regis can’t bear to execute someone they still care about - so Wallis is exiled instead.

And, because fiction is never about plans going right, the exiled Wallis prepares for revenge and comes back worse than ever.

Examples of this trope include My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic; Baldur’s Gate; and the truly execrable novel ‘The Fifth Sorceress’ by Robert Newcomb.

So, the question is: what’s the ruler’s ethics here? The exile’s attempt at revenge inevitably puts many more people’s lives at risk. Maybe the ruler’s the worst villain here, for endangering people twice over.

First, mercy above justice. In the course of justice, none of us should see salvation; we pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy. If the ruler shows mercy to a wrongdoer, that’s a good sign.

But second, let’s demand fairness. If some people get away with light punishments for serious crimes because of whom they’re related to, or whom they befriended, or whom they used to date - that’s nepotism. We don’t enjoy that.

I’d like part of the answer of this to be that the ruler shows mercy when they can, as a habit, not just to the few people they’re close to. And the ruler’s mercy becomes them better than any crown, sceptre, or sword. The ruler’s mercy is one of the things that separate them from the wrongdoer, one of the qualities that their country values most in them. Their mercy is not a weakness.

Another part of the answer should be, I think, is that the exile punishment sometimes works, or could have worked. Maybe some wrongdoers make new lives for themselves in another country and accomplish something terribly important to someone, by walking along the right road at the right time or by using their skills to help instead of harm or by retiring to grow vegetable marrows and solve murder cases. Maybe the story of that one exile who came back with deadly vengeance isn’t the only ending. Maybe the ruler choosing the exile punishment was a risk, a risk on the side of mercy, and it failed in that one case - but it was a better kind of failure than some ruthless successes.

Above all, I don’t want the answer to the story to be, 'You know what would’ve solved this exile problem? Capital punishment. Lots of capital punishment. Summarily execute the wrongdoer instead of bothering with exile, and that would totally save the day.’ That’s not a solution that works in real life, and I find it fundamentally unsatisfying in fiction.

The ruler isn’t going to be perfect (work toward democracy already!). The wrongdoer could have a complicated personality, an admixture of light and dark as they make the choice whether to use their exile to strive for change or repeat their cruelty. The ruler faces a difficult choice, balancing mercy and justice, duty and passion, sentencing a loved one for a terrible crime, mediating punishment and payment and protection of the land, and hoping to the last hope that people can choose to change.

Mostly, I’d like stories of this type to let mercy be a good quality.

Full credit to Shakespeare and Portia.

Link10 comments|Leave a comment

GEORGES, or THE ISLE OF FRANCE, by Alexandre Dumas (pere) [May. 28th, 2015|09:35 pm]
...and the stains drip between fingers...
[Tags|, , , ]

My father was a mulatto, my grandmother black, my grandparents apes. Summing up, sir, my pedigree starts, where yours ends. - Alexandre Dumas

Note: as this novel was published in 1843, some of the terminology I use below reflects the novel's era rather than modern language standards.

This novel is a blatant wish fulfilment fantasy, but the commentary on racism makes it interesting as does the strength of the writing and possible autobiographical content. Georges grows from being a smart little boy into the smartest and the strongest and the bravest man alive through a personal system of deliberate hardcore training. He's born on the Isle of France (Mauritius), educated in France in the Napoleonic era, and returns to his homeland post-Napoleon to start a revolution.

Georges is a mulatto and his goal in life is to fight prejudice against him and his family. (This anti-racist message is somewhat confused by the fact that Georges' father Pierre Munier is a slaveholder who only "seldom" punishes his slaves and has an appeals process if a slave is flogged unjustly, and that Georges' brother Jacques is a slave trader who attempts "as far as possible" to sell husbands to the same place as their wives and children.) (People advance toward liberation one step at a time. Also, the narrative is at least somewhat aware of the moral ambiguity here.)

You can't ignore the dynamic that it's glorious and awesome and powerful to have a mulatto protagonist who owns every heroic virtue known to mankind. It's heady excellent stuff.

The nautical terminology and descriptions of naval battles will be great fun to people who like Hornblower and similar. One of the major characters is a pirate and Georges' nemesis is an ex-navy man for Great Britain: this pays off. There's also a lengthy description of a condemned man waiting for capital punishment - an excellently written, chilling, suspenseful bit that shows why it's really good so many countries have now got rid of judicial killing.

Although Georges' many perfections come across as shallow characterisation, Georges also has hubris and a complex about revenging his pride. These flaws bring him down. He challenges the racism in his society by leading a revolt, but the world retaliates against him. Dumas lets his protagonist suffer. The Negro revolution, where twelve thousand masters dominate eighty thousand slaves, is crushed by the clever white people supplying the inferior black people with a hundred barrels of free booze - a suggestion originally made by Jacques, Georges' brother.

So all this long toil which Georges had imposed upon himself was thrown away; all this lofty study of his own mind, his own strength, his own worth, was useless; all this God-given superiority of character, of education at the expense of others, all this was crushed in face of the instincts of a race that preferred brandy to liberty.

However, the characters of Laiza and his brother Nazim are represented as two black men with brains and courage. They were sold as slaves but are highly ranked in their own country, and they desire freedom. Laiza falls in love with a white woman who doesn't return his affections, Sara, and his feelings are represented as noble and decent. (He never expresses his feelings because by then Sara and Georges have fallen in love.)

Black women don't get much of a lookout: barely a mention, except that Jacques the slave trader favours black prostitutes above white. Georges' mutual affection for wealthy white heiress Sara is portrayed as a mark of his superiority. Dumas' real life grandmother was black. Her name was Marie Cessette-Dumas; she was a slave owned by the estate, and is described as 'a great matriarch to a saga of distinguished men'.

It's difficult not to map Georges' story to Dumas' father and his lengthy, impressive military achievements (he is the highest ranked person of colour of all time in a European continental army). I also didn't realise that Thomas-Alexandre Dumas fought in the Vendée, the same incident where Mademoiselle de la Rochefoucault and Renée Bordereau took up arms and Anthony Trollope wrote a mediocre novel. This novel also foreshadows Count of Monte Cristo, where although Dantès is nearly as impressively talented as Georges, the moral ambiguity of the Count's revenge makes him a more interesting character. This book's relevance to history and autobiography is probably its main strength and claim to importance. Additionally, many sections of it are very entertaining.

The Robin Hood retelling that follows 'Georges' in the online copy I read is not nearly as fascinating as this novel. It's generic, bland nonsense told in the unforgivable language of highfalutin. It adds nothing to the English folk tale. Also, it commits the cardinal sin of characters who talk way too much on what they assume is their deathbeds. It's so bad it comes off as almost a parody, but isn't funny enough to be a good parody.
LinkLeave a comment

THE STARS' TENNIS BALLS by Stephen Fry [Mar. 24th, 2015|09:13 pm]
...and the stains drip between fingers...
[Tags|, , , , ]

"We are merely the stars' tennis balls, struck and banded
"Which way please them" - John Webster, Duchess of Malfi Act V Scene 3

The wordplay and use of the language is unashamedly brilliant. Fry's inexhaustible pool of references and jests can't stop catching attention. This is a quick, intense read.

This is a shameless modern alternative universe of Count of Monte Cristo - a fanfic, only a fanfic that happens to be based on text long out of copyright, and fanfic written by an author with the abilities of Stephen Fry.

Prose and pacing are impressive. Plot is hollow. It's a pavlova with grand topping but not much in the shell. The novel suffers from the paradoxical flaws of taking both too much and too little from the original.

Ned Maddstone, an anagrammatical Edmond Dantès, is a public school boy with a lovely life - son of a knighted Conservative MP, captain of the Harrow eleven, about to be made Head Boy, sure of going to Oxford, and most importantly to him, in love. His beloved is Portia (derived from Mercedes - Mercedes-Benz - Porsche), a kind and intelligent young woman who's developing a love for art. Two jealous classmates and Portia's jealous cousin frame Ned for cannabis possession and distribution. Unbeknownst to the schoolboys and to Ned himself, Ned is also carrying a note from one Irish terrorist to another in his jacket - and the note happens to implicate the mother of the senior investigator. Maddstone is thus packed away to a secret Swedish mental asylum and drugged to the gills for long years, until a fellow inmate, Babe Fraser, trains him with the skills he'll need for revenge. Nedd Maddstone becomes wealthy Simon Cotter - Monte Cristo.

But where Dumas wrote elaborate scheming on Dantès' part and Mephistophelian tempting of people close to the people he wanted revenge upon, Fry's Maddstone operates on the principle of throwing enough money and other people's time at a problem until sufficient corruption is exposed to either the law or less savoury people. The second half of the book, the execution of Maddstone's revenges, is inexcusably rushed. Even when Maddstone's plots could have seemed ingenious if shown in progress, the novel skims over the story. And while it's perfectly sensible characterisation that people who are willing to frame an innocent man once will probably not stop at that crime, Fry's novel comes across as weak because of the antagonists' convenient flaws set up like ducks in a row: Rufus Cade (Caderousse) is a drug dealer involved with people who like to use machetes, Barson-Garland (Baron Danglars) likes porn of underage boys, and Gordon Fendeman (Fernand Mondego) likes raping thirteen-year-old girls.

Fry's novel tries to convey moral ambiguity over the revenge plot, but doesn't come close to Dumas' work. In the original, the Count of Monte Cristo executes his revenges step by step, starting with the least guilty (Caderousse) and intended to finish with the most (Danglars). But Dantès' second and third schemes have unexpected consequences: he's brought to change his mind about murdering Fernand Mondego's son, and he's appalled when he learns his machinations killed a child and nearly killed a friend's lover. And so the fourth scheme ends with an apology after a small amount of torture. In Fry's novel, it's Portia who expresses the cost of revenge. She understands that the man who changed to use all his money and his power to extract costs on an eye-for-an-eye rate of exchange is not the man she loved. Portia's a modern woman, better written than Mercedes, and with about the same role in the plot.

Fry's changes to the plot also alter the relative culpability of Ned's persecutors: the schoolboys believe they're framing him for a drug charge, but the Kafkaesque hell of Ned's political imprisonment is caused only by the investigator. This novel keeps the order of saving the worst revenge for last - not halted by any hesitations. It also has the effect of painting the revenge in a darker shade, even though the former schoolboys make unsympathetic victims due to the other crimes they committed in the intervening years.

(Additionally: just a little thought about the probable outcome of the schoolboys' plot if Nedd hadn't the fatal letter in his pocket will show that their idea was a stupid idea.)

There's a good sense of the inevitability of Ned Maddstone's revenge in this novel, but it's lacking in complexity.

Although Fry makes his plot less interesting by refusing to imitate Dumas' complexities and convolutions in the revenge plots, the novel also could be said to take too much from the original. The character naming scheme is interesting, but anagrams/puns/casques are not enough to sustain a novel. The fact it takes Dumas' characters but not the meaty revenge plot leaves a void. What if this book were allowed to spin off in another direction entirely? An original stuffing to this hollow frame would also have solved the lack of depth problem while it gained credit in its own right.

This book is a gripping thriller and extraordinarily well told. In truth I couldn't look away from my computer screen. But, when it was over, I realised I'd craved much more.

Alfred Bester's STARS MY DESTINATION redid Monte Cristo better.
LinkLeave a comment

[ viewing | most recent entries ]
[ go | earlier ]