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url 2017-02-03 07:12
12 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Updates of 19th Century Novels
Heartstone - Elle Katharine White Heartstone - Elle Katharine White
Arguably, 19th century literature is defined by the extravagance of its poetry. (The Vampire Lestat ain’t got nothing on Lord Byron.) But the craft of the novel was percolating in the background, too, undertaken by such undesirables as women, satirists, and social reformers. If you care to, you can find Victorian jeremiads railing against the social rot perpetrated by novels, which read like anti-television tracts from the first decades of that medium. (My take: give any genre long enough, and it’ll become preferable to the newest alternative. I am constantly begging my children to rot their brains with television instead of YouTube. For crying out loud, put on headphones at the very least.)
 

Because early novels were written on the edge of things—not precisely respectable, and new enough for wide experimentation—many bucked the often rigid social structures of the times. In the second edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which had been subject to much howling by moralists, Oscar Wilde declared, “all art is quite useless.” By which he meant (among other things) that the novel should not be used only as a moral punchline, but should explore the wide variety of the human experience. From Trollope’s intricate family sagas, to the Brontë sisters’ howling family Gothics, to the lurid and/or didactic serials of Conan-Doyle and Dickens, the novels of the era tread a lot of ground.

 

Maybe that’s why they’re such good fodder to update for a contemporary audience: they managed to hit first, and definitively, a swath of the human experience. No, no one has to worry about the entailed estates of the Regency period, but the social burlesque of Pride & Prejudice, the relationship between the sisters, and the sting of betrayal—all still hold true. (Plus, Darcy: rwrrr.)

 

Here are 12 sci-fi and fantasy updates of major 19th century novels. I’ve not included works that already have a science fictional or fantasy twist to them, like Dracula, Frankenstein, or The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; they almost need their own roundup. I haveincluded edge cases like the Gothics, because any supernatural element tends to be ambiguous at best. (Quick: are the ghosts real in The Turn of the Screw?) Come let’s see what’s happening on the manse, in space.

 

I know this is super annoying, but my actual list can be found at B&N SciFi. It was hella fun to write. 

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review 2016-05-22 09:55
Shelley's Political Rant
Queen Mab: With Notes - Percy Bysshe Shelley

This was Shelley's first long poem and it was written initially to his first wife (the Queen Mab of the title) when he was 19. All I can say is that if this was his first poem then Shelley's ability is impressive. However, the nature and contents of this poem did actually get him into quite a lot of trouble, no doubt due to the attacks against the king and also the significant atheistic overtones, and it is not that the atheistic nature of the poem is subtle: it is quite blatant, though it is not as if Shelley was necessarily walking new ground, particularly since Blake and others were writing along these lines prior to him.

 

Mab of the title possibly comes from the reference to her in Shakespeare (which, according to Wikipedia, is the first major literary mention of her). No doubt Shelley would have been familiar with the reference, and in Romeo and Juliet, she is described as a fairy who grants dreams of wish fulfilment to those who are asleep. Maybe the nature of the title reflects Shelley's desire to see a better world where the lower classes do not live under the heel of the ruling class. Unfortunately this has not necessarily come about, even though since Shelley's time social welfare has moved significantly from where it was then and the poorer classes, at least in the Western World, live much more luxurious lives than they did back then. However, there is still a massive distinction between the haves and have-nots, and still an underlying goal in regards to the pursuit of wealth.

 

One of the interesting things that I have picked up while reading this poem is how political and social criticism is nothing new, which is obvious, but having lived through the period of the Bush administration where political and social criticism reached a level of popularity which I had not seen before, it is interesting to reflect on this style of commentary in ages past. In a way, this period of history also saw a rise in such commentary, particularly since Europe had just been through the French Revolution and the United States had formed a republic out of a rebellion against the English throne. However, it was not the American Rebellion that had been the counter-point of this agitation against the ruling class, simply because it was a rebellion of the wealthy merchant classes against the aristocratic classes. What France has signified was a rebellion of the lower classes (though the leaders of the rebellion were still bourgeoisie) against the aristocratic classes, and the desire for a real democracy, not based upon land ownership (as was the case in the United States) but based upon the fact that everybody is a human being and in that everybody is equal.

 

It wasn't as if Shelley was writing anything new because writers before him, such as Rousseau, had already been exploring these issues, and even then writers as far back as Jonathon Swift, had been writing allegorical criticism (since in those days writing in the style of Noam Chomsky would have got you in a lot of trouble). It is not even as if he was a Romantic poet in the style of Wordsworth and Colleridge (though we know that there was a lot of influence from that sector) though he does use the romantic style to forward his political agenda. Even then, one questions whether Shelley had much of an impact in his day, but then in many cases such agitators generally do not live to see the effect that they have during their lifetime (Martin Luther King didn't).

 

Another interesting thing that I have noticed is how Shelley rails against Christianity in this poem. The idea is that the concept of God the Father is a reflection of our understanding of our father from when we were children. However, the tyrant God, as many view him to be, is a reflection of the tyranny of the day. The tyrant God, which is what Shelley is attacking (and what many agitators have attacked before and since) is a means of control over the population. In the same way it is as the idea of the divine right of kings was a method to prevent rebellion against a king because to rebel against the king is the same as rebelling against God. This is something that is still practised today, particularly if you look at parts of Romans which indicate that rulers are raised and deposed at God's whim, and to attempt to remove a ruler yourself is to go against God.

 

However, I do not believe that such passages indicate that God is a tyrant God, but rather a God of order. Nor do I believe that the passage is saying that we have to accept the ruling of any authority without questioning or challenging it. What I believe that it is talking about is armed rebellion, not political agitation. We do see that in the New Testament that where governments order us to behave in a way contrary to the Gospel then we are to question and challenge that order. It is not challenging the government, but seeking to replace a government through rebellion. Further, there are reasons for this warning, and these reasons necessarily come out in other places, and I have written about these dangers elsewhere as well so I will not necessarily dwell on them here.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/580508169
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review 2016-03-25 08:10
The Legacy of Rameses
Ozymandias - Percy Bysshe Shelley,Theo Gayer-Anderson

This is a rather short poem, a sonnet to be precise, being a poem of sixteen lines with a specific metre. Now, while I like poetry, I would hardly call myself a poet in that my skill in writing metre is not the best, and in many cases I fall into a system of rhyme, which I find to be pretty corny (at least to my ears). This does not mean that I have not attempted poetry in my life, and many of the poems that I have written tend to be rather short (none of the epic poetry of Homer or Milton).

 

These days poetry does not seem to be a huge as it was in the past, though there are still quite a number of poets out there. However the modern image of a poet seens to be some guy sitting in a rotting apartment subsisting on a diet of whiskey and cigarettes (and for some reason Alan Ginsberg comes to mind in this regard, though I suspect his diet consisted of more than just whiskey and cigarettes). In my mind, these days (as has been the case in the past) there simply is no money in poetry. In the days of old though poets tended to survive on their own wealth (such as Emily Dickinson) or were patrons of the nobility (such as William Shakespeare) as as such many of their poems where simply praises of their patrons (once again William Shakespeare comes to mind).

 

That does not necessarily mean that poetry is dead, we do see it crop up in movies, and in a way songs these days are simply poetry put to music, but then again this was something that would have occurred in the past as well. Take the Greeks for instance, many of their poetical works (in particular Homer) were either sung, or at least had music playing in the background, which is interesting since it is believed that Ancient Greek drama developed from poetry readings.

 

I should make mention of Percy Shelly though. The truth is, Percy Shelly's claim to fame is not that he was a poet (though many of us in literary circles do recognise his poetic skill) but that he was the husband of Mary Shelly, the author of Frankenstein. They say that she went on to become quite famous while her husband, who was quite famous at the time, disappeared into the mists of obscurity. Personally I believe that that is a little unfair on poor Percy Shelley since this particular poem, and it is a very famous poem at that, is a lot more than simply something written by Mary Shelley's husband.

 

Ozymandias is one of those poems that seems to continue to crop up. I first encountered it in high school during one of my English classes when we were looking at (surprise, surprise) poetry. It seems that whenever the topic of poetry comes up in high school, this is one of the poems that is looked at, maybe because it is short (it is a sonnet), but maybe because despite its shortness, it actually does have quite a lot to say.

 

I won't reproduce the poem here, and anyway, it can easily be found on the internet. Anyway, it is a poem about Rameses II, one of the great kings of Egypt. It is generally accepted (though not by me) that he was the Pharoah of the oppression, that is the Pharoah that ruled Egypt during the period that the Jews were slaves and before Moses led them out of captivity to the promise land. However, this is not the time or the place for me to go into my historical theories on the Egyptian timeline. What this is the time is to comment that what Shelley is doing here is creating an image of a fallen statue in a windswept desert. In his time, Rameses could have been considered the most powerful person on Earth, however in Shelley's time, he was all but forgotten. His works and his buildings survive, but have long since been looted by grave robbers. The remains of his kingdom are still present, but its glory days a long since gone.

 

http://wallpaperim.net/_data/i/upload/2014/10/12/20141012299531-86e3d0b9-me.jpg

Shelley, however, wasn't writing about Ancient Egypt or some long dead king, but rather as a reminder to the people of his day. The year is 1818, and England had recently defeated Napoleon and they pretty much sat on the top of the world. The British Empire straddled the globe, there had been no empire since that had even come to compare to the might and the wealth of the British Empire. While Percey did not know it at this time, but it was the beginning of the Pax Brittania, a hundred years of relative peace where the wealth and the power of the British Empire would continue to expand, and their influence would reach out to all corners of the globe. It would not be until the early 20th Century that Britain would meet a rival that could even consider taking a shot at the title.

 

However, the concern is not so much that Britain was at the top of the world, but rather that this too will pass. Three thousand years in the future Queen Victoria will, so he believes, be another Ozymandias. Even now her statues can be found throughout the former British Empire, sitting in pride of place in many of the cities around the world. Here in Adelaide her statue sits in the middle of the city, as it does in Hong Kong. Everywhere you go in the former empire you encounter reminders of Victoria, whether it be the name of a state, a city, or some gentleman's club. However, like Rameses, this too will pass. The people at Shelley's time will not see it. Most of them would not be alive when Arch-duke Ferdinand is assassinated, and the only memories of Napoleon would be those in the books, or the stories that old men would remember their Grandfather's telling them when they were children. As with Rameses, so to will this pass.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/259800200
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review 2015-11-22 09:32
The Writings of Percy Shelley
The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics) - Percy Bysshe Shelley,Zachary Leader,Michael O'Neill

Okay, this is more a collection of his works compiled by somebody else, and many of these works did not actually see the light of day until long after Shelley died, however this particular book does give you a very broad scope of the poems, and a couple of prose essays, of Percy Shelley. Mind you, I began reading this book while I was in London because I felt that being in that marvellous city I should immerse myself in the literature that was produced there. So, wondering into Hyde Park and sitting down beside the Round Pound with a cup of tea on what was an incredibly cold morning, I opened this book and began to read his poetry. However, as it turns out, most of his work was not written in England but rather when he was in Italy (still, there is something to be said about sitting by the round pond, with a cup of tea, on a cold morning, reading Percy Shelley).

 

Percy Shelley had the misfortune of dying quite young. He was 29 when he died, apparently in a boating accident in the Adriatic sea, and much of his work was written in the final stages of his life, between 1818 and 1821. However, considering the length and breadth of some of his writings, it is amazing what he actually produced in such a short space of time. Now, Shelley was not a poor man, rather he was a member of the upper class who could get away with whiling his time away in Italian villas writing poetry. In those days if you wanted to be a successful writer you needed two things, an education, and free time. These days education (at least here in Australia) is much more accessible than it was in Shelley's time, and even then, you do not need to be a member of the wealthy class to succeed as an author (my friend Peter managed to do it).

 

Now, many people consider Shelley to be a romantic poet, and in a sense while that may be true, and while I have only read a smattering of [author:Coleridge] and [author:Wordsworth], I must say that his poetry seems to be a lot more down to Earth than what we get from the other romantics. If [author:Gustav Flaubert] is anything to go by romantics tend to live with their heads in the clouds letting emotion pretty much rule the day, and rejecting reason and science. Shelley is somewhat different in that he is much more of a political critic, and much of his poetry demonstrates this. In fact, if he is not attacking the current government of the day, he is attacking the church, which, in a way, was very much one and the same.

 

For instance, he writes a poem about how during that battle of Austerlitz the Austrian and Prussian generals sat away from the battlefield in their tents directing the battle, while Napoleon was in there with his men fighting alongside them. In a way it is clear that Shelley had a great admiration for Napoleon because what Napoleon demonstrated was that he was willing to get his hands dirty, to stand with his men, and to be counted as one of them. Remember even when Napoleon was defeated and exiled to Elba, he managed to escape and return to France, and when he did this he was welcomed with open arms and once again made emperor. Even today the French still hold Napoleon on high regard.

 

However it is interesting that despite all of the mourning that Shelley pours out onto the page regarding the failure of the French Revolution, and the restoration of the French Monarchy in 1815, he unlikely ever actually could remember the revolution. The revolution began in 1789, though the root causes go back much further, and ended with the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 at Waterloo. Shelley died in 1822, which means that he would have been born in 1793, which means that he would have been 7 years old when Napoleon was proclaimed emperor and during his teenage years all he would have known were the Napoleonic Wars. He would not have remembered (let alone been born) during Robespierre's reign of terror.

 

Further, we tend to see that Shelley has a rather idealistic view of revolution and progress, yet would fail to see how progress in itself is dialectical. All he knew was the failed French Revolution which came about full circle with the restoration of the Monarchy. Granted, he would have also known of the American Revolution, and even writes about the American Republic, considering it to be one of the freest nations in the world. However, what he does not know, and would have unlikely known, was that all the American Revolution did was simply change the faces of those in power. The position of the labourer in the United States, before and after the revolution, did not change, and in fact there was resistance from the ordinary person in the United States to actually join the fight against the British. The revolution have little to do with freedom and democracy and everything to do with free trade. If you look at the Declaration of Independence you will notice that while it will boldly proclaim that all men are created equal, the rest of the document deals primarily with economic issues with regards to trade and taxation, something which was of interest only to the landed aristocrats.

 

While today the United States proclaims itself as a beacon of democracy to the world, many of their wars are more about opening up markets in regions where the markets are closed. It is using the mantra of political freedom to promote not political freedom but economic freedom, that is the freedom for American corporations to come in, set up shop, and to drive out competition. It is not about justice and equality before the law, but rather about dismantling government regulation and barriers to trade. It is about driving the small, independent businessman to the wall as Walmart opens its doors across the street. It is about using patent law to ban generic drugs and to allow big pharma to provide life saving medicines at prohibitive prices.

 

However, we must remember the time in which Shelley was writing. This was before Marx, and the industrial revolution was only just beginning. It was still a period where the nobility held sway and the divine right of kings determined who would rule. However much had changed because the French revolution, and Napoleon, had spread the idea of political freedom across continental Europe, and the power of the king in England was giving way to the power of the Parliament. It was about spreading the ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers, and the growth in intellectual understanding of the world, and the dispelling of the superstitious myths that dominated the mind of the ordinary people. It was a world that was in flux, a world that had emerged with the superstition of the medieval ages, and was in the road to modernity, and Shelley was one of the guides who helped us move along that road.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/577360858
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-11-09 11:25
The Tragedy of a Failed Marriage
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

 

My first impression of this book was that it was simply about a woman that was really bored and that Flaubert was a genius in that he was able to write such an enthralling book about such a dry topic - but the book goes a lot deeper than that, and to say that Emma's only flaw is that she is bored is to seriously undermine her character. It is not so much that Emma is bored (though in reality she is) it is just that she has such a desire to live life that when she married Charles, the local doctor, she simply did not know what she was getting into.

 

Now, before I go further into this book I should mention that Flaubert is a meticulous writer. He does not simply write a book, he actually paints a detailed picture using words. It is not only a shame that the version that I read was a translation, but that I am unable (at this time at least) to be able to read the book in its original language (being French). Being a painter and being an artistic author are two different things though because it is said that Flaubert would work each and every individual page of this story to make sure, at least to him, that it was perfect (and I can be a bit like that as well, though not so much with my commentaries, which generally come straight out of my head and into the computer), it makes Flaubert and artist in his own right.

 

 

Now, the problem with Emma is not simply that she was bored, but that she wanted so much more, but in wanting more she constantly made the wrong mistakes. She married Charles because he was a doctor, not because he was Charles, and when she discovered that the Charles whom she married was an unromantic and unambitious man, she quickly became bored. However, we also notice, particularly with the party that she went to, that she was enamoured with the high life, to the point that at one time she measured her days from the day she went to that particular party.

 

 

It was the fact that she married Charles for the belief that marrying a doctor would bring her glamour that was her major mistake. Pretty much everything else in the book, including the fact that she not only destroys herself, but she destroys Charles and her daughter as well, stems from this. This is the tragedy of the whole story, and it is a tragedy in the true sense of the word because we can see that the story is going to end badly and that every decision Emma makes moves the story to that rather disturbing ending.

 

 

There are two major things that come out of this: Emma's adultery and her addiction to credit. Somebody has moaned about why books that deal with adultery always end badly, and my response to that is because it is dealing with adultery. I could ask you to name a book where the protagonist of the story is a serial killer and he gets away with it, but then all you have to do is point to American Psycho, however the point of that book is not so much about the fact that the serial killer gets away with it, but rather the contradictions of the American dream (and there is a pretty big debate as to whether he actually is a serial killer, or whether it is all in his head).

 

 

The thing is that adultery is not good. Now I am not talking about anything consensual here (though marriages, or even relationships, working on such a consensual basis generally do not end happily ever after anyway) but I am talking about simply cheating on the person with whom you have taken a marriage vowel. I am not singling out any particular sex here because it works for both males and females in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. You make a vowel to each other that you will remain faithful to each other until death do you part, and thus by committing adultery you are basically breaking that vowel. The idea behind adultery is not sexual but rather the issue of being an oath breaker, which is why the Bible frowns on it so heavily (and you will probably find that a lot of religions and other cultures frown on it just as much, and even our secular society doesn't look too kindly on it either – at least if you get caught).

 

 

As for Emma, she was seduced. Not unwittingly, but willingly. She wanted more to her life than this boring doctor, so at first she flirts with Leon the lawyer, and then with the other guy who, out of the blue, packs up and leaves town without telling her. That was always his attention because he is what we would call these days a swinger. As for Leon, the guy simply became, as the book says, Emma's mistress. This was not the male dominating and seducing the female, this was the other way around, and when Emma really got into trouble she would hound and harrass him.

 

As for her real trouble: that was her debt. On top of her adultery she was also lured into living the lifestyle that she wanted that was far beyond her means, and she ended up having to pay off the debt with more debt, and continuing on down in that horrid spiral. Okay, in the days of Madame Bovary, lending was done more through loan sharks than through the Bank of America, but the effect was still the same. It was living beyond one's means and borrowing from the future to finance the present. However, when the future catches up with you you discover that not only that there is nothing left, but those that you love have been sold into slavery.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/522008380
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