This was a first for me – a book cover that informs you of the main elements of the plot (see picture above). Pranks? Infiltration? Secret society? Boys? How thrilling! On top of this premise, I had heard good things about this author’s other book, We Were Liars, so I was very excited to start reading this novel. In some respects The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks was better than I had expected it to be; Lockhart manages to tackle issues of gender and power in a thoughtful yet accessible way. How many young adult books introduce their readers to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon? I know sixteen-year-old me would have been hooked (and would have worked the Panopticon into every single one of her school essays and presentations for the rest of the year).
“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.
Until recently, you would not have been able to find this memoir in your local bookstore – you would have had to resort to either a specialised publisher or Project Gutenberg. It still doesn’t have a cover art picture on Goodreads, that’s how little this book is read these days. However, I have eight magic words for you that kicked it right back into the public eye: “Now The Subject of a Major Motion Picture.” Thank you, Suffragette (2015). Republished under the title Suffragette: My Own Story, this autobiography chronicles the first steps of the British suffrage movement from approximately 1900 until the beginning of the First World War, when the activists decided to temporarily lay down their arms.
Vlada Roslyakova by Pierluigi Maco for Vogue China (January 2007).
If you are interested in gender, gothic writing, and fairy tales, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is a book that should be at the very top of your To Read list (as well as Jeannine Hall Gailey’s Becoming The Villainess - write that down). It is one of those titles that cannot be avoided in certain circles and frankly, it is a miracle that I didn’t read it sooner.
A still from the 1996 mini series.
When we think of the name “Brontë”, Anne is never the first sister to come to mind. Many of us will have read either Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre at some point in our lives, maybe even both, but who among you could name one of Anne’s books (before reading the title of this post)? It seems that that history has delegated her to the position of “the other one,” even though her first novel, Agnes Grey, was well-received and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall had been an instant success; it quickly outsold Emily’s Wuthering Heights and was sold out altogether in only six weeks. Charlotte Brontë, for one, thought Tenant was an immature work. In a letter to W.S. Williams, she wrote:
That it had faults of execution, faults of art, was obvious, but faults of intention of feeling could be suspected by none who knew the writer. For my part, I consider the subject unfortunately chosen – it was one the author was not qualified to handle at once vigorously and truthfully.
After Anne’s death, she prevented the book’s republication, because it seemed to her “hardly … desirable to preserve.” So is this why The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is not read by highschool students all over the world today? Because it’s just not very good? I think not. There are some pacing issues and a few nitpicks here and there, but I would argue that there is a far more influential factor: romanticisation, or, the lack thereof. Read more
Vittoria (Kristy Bushell) and Brachiano (David Sturzaker) with Flamineo (Laura Elphinstone) watching in the background.
Read my book review of The White Devil by John Webster here.
A few hours before we attended the RSC 2014 production of John Webster’s The White Devil (Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon), my fellow students and I attended a lecture by Martin Wiggins at the Shakespeare Centre. He spoke passionately about how these characters are all prisoners of circumstance, driven to crime without the financial means to sustain their honour, and discussed the play’s detached analysis of morality whilest quoting Hamlet (“nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so”). All interesting points, but Wiggins barely touched upon what struck me the most about the play when I first read it: its depiction of brutal misogyny. My professor seemed to agree and raised his hand to ask Wiggins about it: “But what about gender?” Wiggins pulled a “not this again” face, the face of a man who has gotten this question a lot lately and is starting to get a little annoyed. “That is not what Webster’s play is about, though.” Seeing the quick look of skepticism my professor and I exchanged, he added: “you will see that the current production makes much of gender, but it is a jazz riff on the text, not a straightforward representation.”
A number of critics seem to agree with Wiggins: this is director Maria Aberg’s The White Devil, not John Webster’s. But is this really a problem?
Libby Masters (“Masters of Sex”).
I came across this tiny little book in an antiques store in West Kirby and the second I laid eyes on it I knew that I had to have it (and the owner gave it to me for free because sometimes the world is wonderful like that). I’d been curious about Patricia Highsmith’s work for some time, the title is hilarious, and the serenely smiling 1950’s housewife on the cover made it even better.
“Penny Dreadful” still.
“It would not be too much to say that Anglo-American feminist criticism barely existed before [Gilbert and Gubar] rocked literary studies.”
Deborah D. Rogers, The Times Higher Education.
In 1979, Susan Gubar and Sandra M. Gilbert published The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, a hallmark of second-wave feminist criticism. Over 700 pages long, The Madwoman in the Attic presents an analysis of a trope found in 19th-century literature. Gilbert and Gubar proposed that all female characters in male-authored novels can be categorised as either an angel or a monster; women in fiction were either pure and submissive or sensual, rebellious, and uncontrollable (very undesirable qualities in a Victorian daughter/mother/wife).
Gemma Arterton in the 2008 BBC adaptation.
When I first read Tess of the D’Urbervilles, I was nineteen years old; every fifty pages or so I would let out a sound of frustration, slam the book shut, and fume silently with my arms crossed for a few minutes before sighing and picking it up again. Tess made me angry. Six years and a whole lot of gender studies later, this book makes me furious.
And that is a good thing.