Reading List: Tricksters

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Painting by Jan Matejko Stańczyk.

The trickster is an archetype that appeared in the myths of many different cultures and is still popular with writers today. These characters are rule-breakers and agents of chaos; they are often animals (e.g. foxes, crows, coyotes), travellers, or even shapeshifters able to cross boundaries between worlds. For this reason they sometimes function as a guide or messenger, like the Greek god Hermes. Characteristically, the trickster is clever and creative. They generally lie to obtain sex, food, or just to get out of something they don’t want to do, using their wit to outsmart of the Man/the Establishment/the gods/what have you.

Since they are so unpredictable and paradoxical, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly what the perfect definition of a trickster is. As Lewis Hyde puts it in Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art:

[The] best way to describe trickster is to say simply that the boundary is where he will be found – sometimes drawing the line, sometimes crossing it, sometimes crossing it, sometimes erasing or moving it, but always there, the god of the threshold in all its forms.

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Reading List: Female Friendships

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Picture Credit: Bananya Stand.

In honour of Galentine’s Day (what’s Galentine’s Day? Oh, it’s only the best day of the year!), I decided to focus on a topic that is overlooked far too often in fiction: friendship between women. We all know about the Bechdel test, but try putting together a list of books where female friendship is the focus of the story, I dare you. Bonus points if the women in question are not related. It is practically impossible! That said, here are some of my favourite fictional examples of female friendship – the good and the bad. Some of these duos are attached at the hip for life, whereas other relationships go sour in the worst possible way.

If you can think of more titles, please leave a comment below!

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Reading List: Postcolonial Rewritings of the Imperial Canon

After my reviews of Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (here) and On Beauty by Zadie Smith (here), I decided to dedicate a full post to postcolonial rewritings and reworkings of the Western literary canon.

These are some works that I could think of off the top of my head, but if there are any more out there that I should know about, please let me know in the comments!

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Reading List: Death, Grief, and Mourning

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“Funeral of Atala” (1808) by Anne-Louis Girodet.

The space next to me bristles with silence. The emptiness is palpable. Loss isn’t an absence after all. It is a presence. A strong presence next to me.

Trumpet, Jackie Kay.

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Reading List: Depression

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Picture credit: Volkan Olmez.

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

Infinite Jest (1996), David Foster Wallace.

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Theatre Review: “Much Ado About Nothing” (RSC, 2014)

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Edward Bennett (Benedick) and Michelle Terry (Beatrice).

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As I’ve explained in my review of Love’s Labour’s Lost (RSC 2014), this production was presented as Love’s Labour’s Won by the Royal Shakespeare Company. This was a controversial decision that confused audiences and led to heated debate among scholars, since Love’s Labour’s Won is either the title of a lost Shakespeare play or an alternative title for an existing play. Which one? Who knows! An episode of  Doctor Who was dedicated to it, that’s the level of mystery we’re talking here. Still, I can see why one would want to stage these plays as a duology: they are variations on similar themes. Both Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing have a distinct male and female group, men asked to prove their love, strong female characters who are more demanding than forgiving, clear class differences, and a whole lot of banter. Some critics have even argued that Berowne and Rosaline were a kind of try-out for Beatrice and Benedick.

The setting is the same (Charlecote Park, post-WWI this time) and most of the cast members return, but this production fails exactly where Love’s Labour’s Lost so gloriously succeeded: using the setting to enhance the themes of the story.

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Theatre Review: “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (RSC, 2014)

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Read my book review of Love’s Labour’s Lost here.

In 2014, the RSC performed a trilogy of plays set before (Love’s Labour’s Lost), during (The Christmas Truce), and right after World War One (Much Ado About Nothingreview here), thus tying into the year’s centenary commemoration events. The two Shakespeare plays were presented as the Love’s Labour’s duology: Much Ado was retitled Love’s Labour’s Won (a controversial decision resulting in many confused people in the audience and furious debate among Shakespeare scholars), the majority of the cast performed in both plays, and both used the same setting: Charlecote Park, a grand country house and estate a few kilometres away from Stratford-upon-Avon where some say Shakespeare poached a deer and got arrested for it.

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Book Review: “Love’s Labour’s Lost” by William Shakespeare

The 2009 Globe production.

The 2009 Globe production.

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Read my review of the 2014 RSC production here.

The university student is a strange creature, stuck in a curious limbo between adolescence and adulthood. It is said to be a time of great learning: you attend lectures on fascinating subjects (hopefully), figure out how to pay an electricity bill, and do your own laundry. There is the pursuit of knowledge, the desire to evolve, a search for that elusive wisdom that all proper adults seem to possess… But you’re not an adult yet. Instead, you find yourself having water balloon fights outside the lecture hall and drunkenly debating the finer details of The Samurai Pizza Cats at a party while wearing a penguin suit you don’t remember putting on. This delicate balance between work and play, between new responsibilities and having fun, is exactly what Love’s Labour’s Lost is about.

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Reading List: Drowned Women

"Ophelia" (1852), John Everett Millais.

“Ophelia” (1852), John Everett Millais.

Victorians were obsessed with death in general and suicide in particular. For women who wanted to take their own lives, drowning was a common choice and the image of a female body floating in the water became a popular one in the Victorian imagination. This idea was heavily romanticised: it was like these women (especially “fallen women”) had been cleansed of their former sins and had found a quiet beauty in the (imagined) quiet serenity of their demise.

Artists and writers depicted women falling out of windows, jumping off bridges, and walking into lakes. Performances of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet were very popular, the painting of Ophelia by Millais (see above) was painted and exhibited in 1852, and in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Lord Henry asks Dorian how he knows that “Hetty isn’t floating at the present moment in some starlit mill-pond, with lovely water-lilies around her, like Ophelia?”

As Foucault noted in Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (1988),

when civilization, life in society, the imaginary desires aroused by novel reading and theatergoing [sic] provoke nervous ailments, the return to water’s limpidity assumes the meaning of a ritual of purification; in that transparent coolness, one is reborn to one’s first innocence.

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