Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I have and always will love Jane Austen. I love her even more as I get older because as I tweeted she is the queen of sass. As a kid she was all about the romance but the more I read and grow the more I realize how sassy and sarcastic she is.

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Northanger Abbey is no exception and several times while I was reading the novel I laughed out loud or silently giggled to myself because I was starting to see the parody and the humor.

Northanger Abbey is the story of Catherine, who being a sweet sensitive girl was often railroaded by friends and family but ultimately found love in the end (like any proper Jane Austen novel). There was several times throughout the novel especially near the beginning where I was like “Cat, stand up for yourself already”, but I think Austen was playing with that idea of manners. Catherine didn’t want to offend her potential future-sister-in-law but she didn’t want to offend her friends either and thus she was stuck.

Catherine also had some fun ideas about the gothic because she had read a lot of gothic novels so she was lost in this fantasy world a lot of the time but that endeared her to me even more. She wanted an adventure when she went to Northanger Abbey and even though she didn’t really get one she found love instead. I know this sounds super cheesy but I really liked the pace and flow of this Austen novel. It wasn’t short and stunted like I think Persuasion reads and it wasn’t long and just goes on forever like Mansfield Park. It was the right kind of length and it explored it’s ideas fully in my opinion. There were questions of class, gender, propriety but it didn’t drag nor did it feel rushed.

I really related to Catherine because not only was she young and excited about life but she didn’t know how to speak up for herself. She wanted to be a people pleaser but when she realized that it was ruining her chances of a happy ending she put her foot down. It was a relatively short novel but there was a lot of character growth and it was just a really pleasant read. It was a great book to end the semester on and overall one of the better examples of the novel, as I think of it, that I have seen this semester so far.

-A

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Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I first started reading this book. In the intro it mentioned that André Breton, the father of surrealism, and the surrealist movement  claimed Horace Walpole as one of their own. Walpole himself said it came from a dream and was often dismissed it as a piece of whimsy. Now I didn’t really know what to expect because while I have never studied surrealist writing the surrealist movement in painting is my favorite artistic movement and I have done quite a bit research on it. The surrealists attempted to tap into the subconscious by almost falling asleep and writing from that space, writing from that thin space in-between sleeping and awake. I don’t necessarily know if I would classify Castle of Otranto as a piece of surrealist writing but it certainly didn’t feel entirely gothic or entirely allegory. If I hadn’t known that some people accredited Walpole with the surrealists I might still think of this piece as surrealist.

I really could picture the giant helmet coming down and crushing the son and the giant armor. I have studied enough surrealists to be able to picture it and it was creepy.

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I also think of it as Gothic but it had a dreamlike quality to it I can’t quite place. Considering some liken it to an allegory of Walpole’s own life I don’t know what to really make of it. I also was harkening back to when I read King Henry VIII in my Shakespeare course because Manfred wanted to divorce his wife for a younger woman in the hopes he would get a son so he could pass Otranto onto his son, except as we come to find out Otranto wasn’t his to give away in the first place.

Was the giant knight invading their home part of the curse? Was it an allegory as Walpole struggled with his own problems concerning his birth and inheritance? Was he tapping into his subconscious and writing from a place deep inside where only our dreams can tell us what we are really feeling and thinking?

Compared to the Brontë sisters I wanted something a little more dark and full of a little more fraughtness. I mean people died and there was a lot of fleeing, and terror but I think compared to the horror novels Stephen King writes or to the horror films that are being made it just doesn’t have that scare factor.

It’s definitely dark and dreamy like (not in a good way) but I guess I just wanted a little more supernatural. I know it is only like a 115 pages but still I wanted a little more of “what is going on” factor.

To me the story was more just about fears of inheritance put into a gothic setting.

-A

Emma by Jane Austen

Emma is my all time favorite Jane Austen novel. It is my cousin’s least favorite. Her favorite Persuasion, is my least favorite (except maybe for Mansfield Park). Why is that? I asked my cousin once why she didn’t like Emma and she said the character Emma was too bossy and overbearing. She wanted to control everyone’s lives around her. I admired that in Emma and I think I did so because Emma is the complete opposite of me.

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Emma is headstrong, take charge, not afraid to speak her mind type of girl. I am quiet, in the background, not going to speak at all type of girl. I am more talkative in recent years but I am nothing like Emma.

I also really like the storyline and the actor that plays Mr. Knightly in the BBC version melts my heart. I actually watched the movie as a kid before I read the book the first time and honestly I don’t remember much of the movie except that I really liked that version and I really enjoyed the book both times around.

My guilty pleasure is RomCom’s and Emma is a RomCom. The whole time she is trying to play matchmaker she is screwing up her own chances for love. The whole time I was rereading I was like “Emma, you are such an idiot. You are going to end up with Mr. Knightley in the end so stop worrying”. I love the twist as well with Jane and Frank because for me that is the crux of the whole novel. Emma is so caught up in playing matchmaker that she misses what is truly happening. Of course Frank and Jane wanted to deceive Emma but she let it happen because she was too busy trying to set up Harriet.

I have read P&P, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion and out of all of them Emma is my favorite. I love a strong female character and while I do believe Elizabeth Bennet to be a strong female character, the focus of that novel is her love affair with Mr. Darcy whereas Emma Woodhouse doesn’t really have a love affair. Don’t get me wrong I love romance, obviously, but sometimes I do get tired of the story focusing solely on the love part. Emma does get married in the end but the whole time she isn’t looking for herself she is looking for others. It takes some of the pressure off the main character to fall in love and frees her up to do other things. As with all Jane Austen’s it is a story about class and social structure but I do enjoy the fact that Emma isn’t focused on herself the whole time and how she will find love. She focuses on other people and in the end finds love because it came looking for her not her for it.

-A

P.S. if anyone doesn’t know what to get me for Christmas I would love the BBC version of Emma available on Amazon.

Evelina by Frances Burney

The plot of this novel reminds me of a lot of Love in Excess because it is dramatic, full of intrigue, mistaken identity, incest (?), and ultimately true love prevails at the end.

I love the epistolary style of this novel because I liked hearing from the different characters. The first part of the novel introduces the back story. Basically Evelina comes from a long line of failed marriages (her grandparents and parents had unhappy marriages that ended in early deaths) and even though she could be heiress to two fortunes technically she’s not because her father doesn’t claim her and there is no evidence of a marriage between her parents (her father burned the marriage certificate). Evelina though is said to a proper, happy, all-round good girl and so the people she goes to stay with when she turns eighteen are happy to have her come stay with them. This is Evelina’s first entrance into the world.

Evelina is amazed and made a bit stupefied by London culture because she was brought up in the country in seclusion because of her guardian and the nature surrounding her birth and legitimacy. She turns out to be a pretty independent young woman and that is really interesting because Burney is creating a character, a young woman who can decide for herself. Evelina turns down one man, simply because she doesn’t like him, and selects another based on appearance. This might not seem so out there but considering when this novel was written and the expected meek attitudes of young women Evelina is seen as rather independent. She is not used to these social conventions and while some people may attribute that to her being raised not in society, I almost wonder if this was Burney’s sneaky way of creating an independent, bold, mind of her own young woman.

Evelina has a rough next couple of days because she feels she had made a fool of herself in front of Sir Orville (her love interest) and desperately wants to go back to the country. The rules and conventions of London life have left her feeling isolated and alone and this kind of woman, raised to be an independent thinker, reminds me of a lot of YA novels I have been reading lately where the protagonist is a young woman.

Evelina later encounters her grandmother, who I think just wanted Evelina’s inheritance which of course her guardian Mr. Villars refuses to give her.

Evelina encounters a young man who after dueling a man for the woman he loves found out he dueled his father and the woman he loved was in fact his sister. To me at least, this is some interesting foreshadowing for events that happen later in the novel.

During this whole time Evelina is trying to pursue and stay in Sir Orville’s good graces but she has many other men, whom she despises, courting her as well. This is discouraging to Evelina because every time she blunders, she thinks her chances with Sir Orville are over. She declines in health and is sent to live in Bristol, where she does regain her health. She runs into Sir Orville and he ends up declaring his love for her.

While in Bristol she runs into the same young man who was in love with his sister and it is discovered that Evelina and Mr. McCartney are siblings. Which complicates things because according to Evelina’s father he raised his daughter Evelina. However, when Evelina’s father sees her he realizes she is his true daughter and the facts come out. A servant upon hearing that Sir Belmont was indeed going to raise his daughter she switched out her baby daughter for Evelina and this whole time Sir Belmont was raising a servants daughter. Mr. McCartney and the fake Evelina were able to married then and Evelina marries Sir Orville.

To me this story reads like a Shakespearian comedy and I really enjoyed the story. It brings up some interesting ideas about conduct but it also has a really intriguing storyline. It reminds me a lot of Love in Excess and I know I already said that but it really does.

Are these stories dramatic because the authors want to entice the reader into reading? Was it because these stories were written for women and what women can resist a spicy romance?

Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland

I hated this book. Plainly put this book is PWP (porn without plot). It’s the story of a young girl who loses her virginity to the love of her life, loses of the love of her life, uses her body to survive and ends up being reunited with the love of her life.

I read this book over the summer and it was a struggle. First of all there is no plot. Second of all there was a lot of rape in this book and there was a lot of people justifying that rape which made me so angry. I kept an angry journal which I will now include some of those thoughts with you, my audience.

May 20, 2017

“I’m curious to see how explicit this novel will be considering it is about a prostitute and is the most famous banned book of all time according to the cover on my copy.”

“Can men write about women’s sexuality?”

“Can a man accurately represent a woman, or vice versa?”

“Can I as a woman trust Cleeland’s interpretation of Fanny Hill?” (Basically can I trust him to write an accurate account of the life of a prostitute)
May 24, 2017

To give this a little context I was thinking of the novel Memoirs of a Geisha and how it too was written by a man and was not an actual memoir.

“What is it about prostitutes or women of pleasure that entitles men to write stories about them? What do they know of female sexuality?”

“Even my brother thinks that it’s weird that a man wrote a book about a prostitute.”

“They [the people in the brothel] are literally making Fanny feel as if she wants to be a prostitute and join this little club of theirs. That is their job but when you think about it, it sounds so evil. She’s so young and easily manipulated. She’s being bullied into accepting this life because she’s afraid of being turned out. She doesn’t know any better because her parents never expected this kind of life for her. Prostitution for some girls is a way to survive. That’s not the case for all girls especially those tricked or forced into prostitution. It’s awful but a fact of life.”

“If you make the prison comfortable enough why would anyone want to leave? She was content and happy. She was cared for and she really had no idea of what was in store for her. The book almost makes it seem as if being a prostitute is a happy life full of pleasure and while these girls may have got some pleasure from sex, I just don’t see that kind of life as being happy.”

May 25, 2017

“This man took her virginity so of course she is looking at him like he is a Greek god.” I was questioning the reliability of Fanny as a narrator in the way she described her first lover simply because he was the man who not only took her virginity but showed her love and care.

May 28, 2017

“Mrs. Jones is evil. She saw an opportunity and took it but how evil do you have to be to take advantage of a poor girl who lost her lover, and her baby and promise her to another man?”

“The female version of Casanova.” (I don’t know if I quite agree with that statement now)

May 30, 2017

pg. 80 of my version “Was the maid really resisting or did she just give up in the end because she knew it was pointless to fight? Did she resign herself to being raped because he was the master of the house or did she want him to have sex with her? It’s hard to tell what she was feeling because from Fanny’s perspective it didn’t seem like she was putting up much of a fight but that could be because the girl didn’t feel as if she could put up a fight.”

June 1, 2017

“It’s interesting to read a book about a woman that seduces a young man. It’s almost always the other way around even when the author is female. This Cleland man is an interesting character to have written such a book. It’s also interesting to read about a man who loses his virginity. These just aren’t topics brought up very often.”

June 5, 2017

“These girls are giving accounts of losing their virginity and all of them sound ridiculous and not at all normal experiences. They are overly sexualized and so far the first thing I have come across in this novel that sounds like it was written specifically for a erotica novel.” (I don’t necessarily know if I agree with that now either)

“Harriet was raped by a man and because she felt it was her fault that she put herself in this position she forgives him! (rape culture). It’s crazy to think this kind of thinking has been going on this long. I am sure some people who read this novel when it first cam actually listened to and believed this. She put herself in that situation by FAINTING and the man took advantage of that and chose to rape her. I cannot for the life of me imagine a woman reading this and agreeing with it and be happy that Harriet forgave her rapist and claimed to love him.”

“His passions overcame him and clearly she must have been asking for it. BS!”

July 4, 2017

“This book makes my skin crawl because of everyone’s attitudes about sex. He is pleased he hurt her in the act of taking her virginity and that shouldn’t be the case. I really do not like this book to because of the content, I admit I have read worse, but because of the attitude towards women, sex, virginity, and even rape. No one falls in love with their rapist unless they are seriously mentally unstable.”

 

I didn’t write any notes over the last part of the novel but honestly by that point I was so frustrated and angry I’m not surprised I didn’t keep any notes.

-A

Shamela and Anti-Pamela

As much as I struggled to read Pamela reading Shamela and Anti-Pamela was not that enjoyable either. First of all both stories were written to warn young men of conniving maid-servants who would extort them for money. It totally ignores the abusive relationship, the rape that happens, the rape culture and in fact the authors of Shamela and Anti-Pamela almost seem to be encouraging rape culture. They take the scenes where Mr. B- assaulted Pamela and turn it around so it was Pamela’s idea in the first place. I have read and watched too much about women getting assaulted to just ignore it and be like “Oh, she must have encouraged it” because that is rape culture. Clearly Pamela was bringing that on herself because she was secretly seducing Mr. B- this whole time. It can’t be the man’s fault because in this society and time period it was never the upper class man’s fault.

I laughed at some parts but overall I was angry and disgusted. Not that I really liked Pamela either because it too seemed to be encouraging rape culture by saying Pamela’s reward for defending herself was marrying the man who was assaulting her. However, I feel like Pamela was sending a much different message than Anti-Pamela or Shamela was sending. The story of Shamela basically said Pamela was a farce and it really was a story about a girl who seduced Mr. B- for his money and was sleeping with Parson Williams on the side. It made it out to be Pamela’s fault and so all the sexual assault that went on in Pamela wasn’t real and in fact she was encouraging it because she wanted Mr. B-‘s money. Anti-Pamela is the story of a girl who goes around sleeping with various men for money basically the opposite of the virtuous Pamela but all in all it sending the message that all young servant girls are out to seduce young wealthy men and you must be aware of them. It glossed over all the sexual assault in the book and only addressed it as Pamela’s fault. It is very frustrating to read and not very enjoyable except for when Mr. B- was called Mr. Booby because that is funny.

I can see the critique being made by these authors but as someone in the twenty-first century I can see how these parodies perpetuate rape culture. Not that Richardson was doing a better job but at least he was acknowledging that young women do get assaulted unlike Fielding or strangely Eliza Haywood. I would have thought Haywood, as a woman, would have at least addressed that but she seems more focused on the scandalous tale of a mistress and her “adventures”. There is questions of rape in her novel “Love in Excess” but it is also questionable if those are better defined as rape fantasies. I don’t know what critique Haywood was making because it almost seems as if she is just making fun of Pamela whereas Fielding is making a specific critique which I disagree with wholeheartedly.

Both these parodies bring up really interesting questions about the times they were written in, why they were written and what they are possibly saying about love, rape, seduction, and the overall marriage game.

-A

If only, if only I could rewrite Pamela

If I could rewrite Pamela it would be extremely different. No stories about almost rape, rape, violations of the worst kind, young ladies hiding in dressing rooms crying because they feel like no one is defending them.

Pamela would be the story of a young woman who upon finding herself in a compromising position runs away, finds herself a nicer family to work for, finds a nice man, settles down has some kids and lives happily ever after. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way because Richardson decided that he was going to write a novel about a young woman who is constantly in fear that she will lose her “virtue” and is constantly being assaulted on all sides from men who essentially just want to use her.

Pamela writes “Save then, my Innocence, good God, and preserve my Mind spotless: and happy shall I be to lay down my worthless Life, and see an End to all my Troubles and Anxieties!” Pamela could care less about her own life; all she cares about is preserving her virtue which at this point has it really been preserved? Sure she hasn’t lost her virginity in the sense that her hyman hasn’t been penetrated, she has never had physical intercourse. However, she has been assaulted many times without her consent and so at this point I honestly think some of her virtue has been lost. She resists every time and abstains from participating so she is still pure of heart but in the same way that children who have been sexually abused may never have had physical intercourse but things have been done to them so that they are no longer really that innocent about sex. It leaves marks and honestly I just cannot imagine Pamela wishing to marry this man. The things he says about her and the way he treats her; he kidnapped her! Instead of letting her go he kidnaps her, makes a creepy lady watch her every move, and then calls her terrible names in letters that he writes to the creepy lady. It’s awful and yet somehow through all of this Pamela’s reward for protecting herself from sexual assault is to marry the man who is assaulting her. No wonder people wrote parodies, certainly I would and mine would involve Pamela beating the crap out of Mr. B- and then living a happy contented life with someone who wasn’t trying to rape her.

This whole protecting her virtue idea is perpetuated by her parents who when upon finding out she is safe and who kidnapped all they have to say or more accurately her father has to say is “Persist, my dear Daughter, in the same excellent Course; and we shall not envy the highest Estate, but defy them to produce such a daughter as ours.” The first thing I would do when finding out my child has been kidnapped would be to inform the authorities but in the event that I am poor and the kidnapper is rich I still would not write back “Good for you not getting raped. Surely you will be rewarded in heaven for keeping your virtue intact.” I would be concerned how they were faring and yes I would be upset if they got raped but honestly I would care more about them actually being alive then I would be by the fact that her virtue is still intact. It reminds me of Rapunzel and how mother Gothel was obsessed with Rapunzel’s hair and making sure the hair was safe. She didn’t care about Rapunzel as a person and the same goes for Pamela’s parents. Such an emphasis is placed upon her virtue and not her safety. They are fine with the fact she is kidnapped and in danger as long as she doesn’t get raped; she’ll be fine, she’ll come home, everything will be ok, but if she gets raped and loses her virtue then all hell will break loose. At least this is how I feel about what is happening.

I would never want to be sexually assaulted. Nobody does. But if it happened I am not going to end my life because some sick piece of garbage decided to rape me. I know when this was written such a high emphasis was placed on a woman’s virtue but the real message it is sending is that it is ok to marry your rapist/person who assaulted you because for some sick reason that is your reward for defending yourself against them. This books gives me all the feels and I just want to protect Pamela from Mr. B-.

-A