Illustration by Elise Stevens.
If you thought that Roald Dahl’s children’s books were deliciously gruesome (and they are), wait until you see what he has in store for the adults. In Kiss Kiss, Dahl combines horror and comedy to give us eleven memorable short stories. He obviously delights in making his readers feel as uneasy as possible right before pulling the rug out from under them, grinning at the shocked look on our faces. As a teacher, I get to experience some of this joy myself. I am currently teaching this collection to a group of sixteen-year-old students, and every week, I get to watch them as they slowly realise what is going on in each story. One by one, they all suddenly turn to me and go: “Ooohhhhhhh! Oh God, that’s terrible!”
“An Education” (2009) still.
“Sylvia Plath – interesting poetess whose tragic suicide was misinterpreted as romantic by the college girl mentality.”
Annie Hall (1977)
That quote is the perfect illustration of why it can be difficult to say that you love Sylvia Plath, especially for young women; her name and the title of her novel have become synonymous with a whole set of implications neither Plath nor the reader ever asked for.
In Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys tells the story of a young Creole woman, Antoinette Cosway, growing up on the island of Jamaica. However, you probably know her as Jane Eyre‘s Bertha Mason, the iconic “mad woman in the attic.” We follow Antoinette as she tries to navigate racial tensions, her ultimately doomed marriage to Rochester, and the many problems in her family. In Jane Eyre, Bertha is a furious spectre, barely more than a grunting animal trying to scratch our heroine’s eyes out. Wide Sargasso Sea, on the other hand, gives Antoinette a voice, her own story to tell, and even her own name (I’ll get back to this).
If you have ever taken any class that touched on postcolonial literature in your life, you already know this title. Wide Sargasso Sea is one of the ultimate must-read titles in the field, a work that other postcolonial rewritings of classic literature are measured by; this is how it’s done. As a fan of both Jane Eyre and reworkings/reimaginings of well-known stories, it is downright embarrassing that I have not read this novel until now. However, when I came across a copy in a second-hand bookstore, I decided that it was finally time to correct this oversight. So did it live up to the hype?
The 2014 Dutch stage production by Toneelgroep Oostpool
The first time I saw Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was a few months ago and when I sat down in the theatre I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that it is a famous play and that I thought the title was funny. After the first ten minutes or so I thought I had it all figured out: it was a comedy of manners about a loud wife and her grumpy husband. I settled in for a night of easy laughs, maybe a bit of slapstick along the way. Little did I know that by the time the first act was over, the audience would be left in a stunned silence, which was finally broken by the man sitting behind me who let out a quiet “…Jesus.”
Not that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf isn’t funny. It is, in fact, absolutely hilarious… Until it’s not.
“Death found an author writing his life” (E. Hull, 1827).
This is one of those texts that are absolutely inescapable for literature students. Wherever you live, whichever classes you choose, at one point in your academic career you will encounter Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author.” Whether you agree with him or not, Barthes introduced a concept that was truly revolutionary and is still a game-changing read for many first- and second-year literature students to this day.
So let’s blow some minds.