The Turn of the Screw by Henry James Review

The Turn of the Screw is a novella written by American author Henry James and published in 1898.

It began with a short chapter with a group of people listening to a re-telling of the story, but they are not introduced very much, they are just the introduction. The rest of the book is told from the perspective of the governess of the house. She is hired to take care of two children by their uncle who is too busy with work and uninterested. It’s a ghost story that does not reveal very much about the characters but focuses on the tension between the governess and her uneasiness.

The main focus is on the children because they, along with the housekeeper Mrs Grose, claim they cannot see the ghosts, only the governess can. It can be interepreted in different ways and it is not clear whether it was a haunting or whether the ghosts are in the governess’ imagination because she is the only one who can see them. Other than the governess the children, who have minor speaking roles, can also see the ghost, but the housekeeper Mrs Grose, cannot. She does not believe the governess at first but steadily begins to believe her that there is something wrong with the atmosphere of the house. Her character asks a lot of questions but is slow to reveal information about the house to the governess as she doesn’t trust her.

The governess, a main character, is nameless except for this job title and does not have much description of her appearance either she is referred to as a young woman but doesn’t reveal much about her background and her actual job in the house is not explained because she does not take them anywhere or cook. The governess’ paranoia and distrust of the children is a large part of what makes her suspicious of the ghosts. Her isolation is apparent as the owner of the house does not want to be bothered and the other staff do not believe her until the drastic conclusion at the end.

 


Links

My twitter thread

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The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne Review

 

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The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850 by Nathaniel Hawthorne from Salem, Massachusetts, a US State in New England. This was a puritan era when moral purity was encouraged in every aspect of life, public life and personal life. The main character Hester Prynne is forced to wear the embroidered Scarlet letter ‘A’ on her clothing after being found guilty of adultery which was a crime.

The novel is written in a third person narrative, which the exception of the introduction where Nathaniel Hawthorne speaks directly to the reader, talking about his experience working at the Salem Custom House. The introduction describes the people that he worked with impolitely “I characterize them generally as a set of wearisome old souls, who had gathered nothing from worth preservation from their varied experience of life” (p.g 13) and their work ethic “mighty was their fuss about little matters, and marvellous sometimes, the obtuseness that allowed greater ones to slip through their fingers.” (p.g 12) One particular man he commented “My conclusion was that he had no soul, no heart, no mind; nothing.” (p.g 14) In the preface to the second edition it explains that these comments and the introduction to The Scarlet Letter caused an “unprecedented excitement” in the community that the author was talking about. “It could hardly have been more violent, indeed, had he burned down the Custom house, and quenched its last smoking ember in the blood of a certain venerable personage, against whom he is supposed to cherish a particular malevolence” and the author responds to criticism saying it was written with no ill feeling and it was true so he decided to republish the introduction without changing it, shows slight hostility towards the Custom house.

“BUT WHO CAN SEE AN INCH INTO FUTURITY BEYOND HIS NOSE?”

A native American character is described as Indian (a historical inaccuracy) and his clothing is described as “savage” compared to the clothing the puritans wear, which is described as “civilised” an antonym showing puritan dress in a positive way, while showing Native outfits as opposite to this, a negative trait. Also, the devil, or a demon the characters believe to exist, in the book is called “the black man,” that is the description for him. There are other negative associations with the word black throughout “vileness and blackness” and “black trouble of the soul” describing an illness.

Hester Prynne is cast out of the community so the other puritans do not speak to her in public and the puritan children attempt to throw stones at her and her daughter Pearl. “She was banished, and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere”. The only people who speak to her are the ministers and the governor, who attempt to take her daughter out of her care and have her raised by someone else. Hester argues that she should have custody of the child so they relent “God gave me the child! cried she. He gave her in requital of all things else which ye have taken from me.” The governor’s sister, who is later executed accused of being a witch, also talks to her to encourage her to join witchcraft but Hester refuses.

The word ‘ignomany’ and variations such as ‘ignominious’ appears throughout the book, approximately 20 times in the 200 page book. It means public shame or disgrace and also public contempt. Hester Prynne faces this until her death and her lover is eventually revealed in a plot twist. There is not much dialogue at the beginning of the book, as the main character does not have any interaction with other characters, because she is publicly treated with contempt and the people treat Pearl the same way because of her illegitimacy. Hester and her lover are eventually buried together in a grave marked “On a field, Sable, the letter A, Gules” meaning “On a field, black, the letter A, red”

Links

The Salem House & Nathaniel Hawthorne

https://www.nps.gov/sama/learn/historyculture/hawthorne.htm

Meaning behind the word ‘ignomany’

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/ignominy

Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nathaniel-Hawthorne

Background of the Salem Witch Trials

http://www.history.com/topics/salem-witch-trials

My Twitter thread while reading ‘The Scarlet Letter’

https://twitter.com/xlaurenhw/status/909435733554974720

Dracula by Bram Stoker Review

Dracula introduced the vampire myth to its own area of literature and fantasy. There have been numerous films, performances and television performances of Dracula so he is now a famous villain in literature.

It is an epistolary novel, a novel written in the form of documents. The story of Dracula is woven together with the diary entries of the main characters of the book Jonathan Harker, his wife Mina Harker and Dr John Seward. There is also Van Helsing, Lord Godalming and Mr Morris. Certain words and phrases are in Latin, French and Greek and the One World Classics version that I read had an explanation of the phrases at the back. “Dos pou sto” was translated as “Give me somewhere to stand,” a Greek phrase. There were also biblical references particularly towards the end when the characters realise that vampires dislike the crucifix being close to them, signalling them as irreligious beings, possibly influenced by Bram Stoker’s upbringing as he was attended a private school that taught protestant Christianity. Christianity is largely what influences the characters voyage to find Dracula.

“Give me somewhere to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the earth” -Archimedes

The beginning follows Jonathan Harker’s experience staying with Count Dracula at his castle and how he learns that he is a vampire. The word vampire is not used widely throughout the book, there are several hints that Dracula is a vampire however as Jonathan discovers. As the story progresses, many of the typical traits of a vampire are uncovered It is also hinted that Dracula is a vampire because it is discovered that Dracula cannot be seen through the mirror and does not eat regular food.

Dialogue is sporadic within the novel and there is use of literary devices for descriptive purposes “There for a while there came over her face a repose which was like spring after the blasts of March” a description of Mina, who is described as beautiful. While Count Dracula’s descriptive technique is harsh “You think to baffle me- you, with your pale faces all in a row like sheep in a butchers.” Van Helsing also uses multiple rhetorical questions when he is trying to convince John Seward of the existence of Vampires. “Can you tell me why the tortoise lives more long than generations of men?” As well as being immortal, it is also revealed that Count Dracula sleeps in a coffin and dislikes garlic. Because of this Count Dracula is described as having a “child-brain” rather than the ‘man brain’ of humans. This is a reference to Lombroso the Italian criminologist who believed facial structure was related to whether someone was a criminal and criminality was inherited. “The count is a criminal and of criminal type. Nordau and Lombroso would so classify him.”

Count Dracula is the only male vampire shown in the novel. The others are all women and there is no explanation for why the men do not get bitten by Dracula when attacked. The main female character Mina is described with thinly veiled sexism “She with all her goodness and purity and faith was outcast from God” for reasons which are not her fault. The men have a paternalistic attitude towards Mina and believe the is fragile. “Most we want all her great brain, which is trained like man’s brain, but is of sweet woman and have a special power which the Count give her” They appreciate her for her knowledge but do not believe that it is her own capability, it is seen as ‘like man’s brain’ which is assumed to be superior. Any ability she has is not her own but “a special power which the count give her” so she does not receive the necessary praise for her help.

Dracula appears mainly in the beginning, with Jonathan Harker, but does not have much of a role in the rest of the novel, his character depiction is mysterious and there is not much emphasis on his appeareance “tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache” but mainly on the plans he has to turn people into vampires. His traits are discovered throughout the book by the John Seward and Van Halsing, because they have access to the information about vampirism along with Jonathan Harker’s experience staying at the castle. A long read, with 27 chapters, but the pace was steady and it has helped begin the enduring myth of the vampire in literature.


Links

Bram Stoker’s Great Grand-nephew is writing a prequel to Dracula

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/07/bram-stokers-nephew-dacre-writes-first-authorised-dracula-prequel-dracul-jd-barker

Context of ‘Dracula’

https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/dracula/context.html

Plot overview of Dracula from SparkNotes Editors. (2003). SparkNote on Dracula. Retrieved September 15, 2017, from

https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/dracula/summary.html

Cesare Lombroso, Italian Criminologist & discredited views

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Cesare-Lombroso

My Twitter thread on the experience reading Dracula

 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Review

Huckleberry Finn is Mark Twain’s sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and was published in 1884.

I found the writing of the book to be very difficult to get used to and this made it a time-consuming effort. The author notes at the beginning that several dialects from Southern America are used by different characters. The speech, which there is much of, is not spelt in a formal English way which made it difficult to read. I didn’t really enjoy the book that much as I found it difficult to read and didn’t like ending after Tom Sawyer was re-introduced towards the end.

The storyline does include many little adventures for Huckleberry, while he and Jim run away and are travelling on a raft down the Mississippi river. There are lots of characters introduced and Huckleberry travels around with the raft so that he can escape when necessary. I also feel like there was unnecessary stereotyping of Jim as being ignorant and not intelligent.

It is argued that the book was against slavery in the south of America at the time and the main character Huckleberry Finn appears to be conflicted on whether helping a slave to escape is the right thing to do. The novel is controversial for it’s repeated use of the n-word, a pejorative slur. In context at the time of its publication the word was not seen as unacceptable within the society. Moreover, there have been discussions of censorship of the book, to edit out these words, which has been heavily criticised.

Links:

Sparknotes Context to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/huckfinn/context.html

Video Sparknotes: Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Summary

‘To kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn banned from schools in Virginia for racism’ article by The Telegraph

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/05/kill-mockingbird-huckleberry-finn-banned-schools-virginia-racism/

Classic Book Reviews

This is a compilation of all of the Classic Books I will be reading this Summer/Autumn. I have already written a review of Frankenstein so that is not pictured above.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)

This is one of the great American novels and has themes of race and identity. The author Mark Twain seemed critical of the racism that existed at the time of the books publishing. It is written from the perspective of a boy named Huckleberry Finn as he goes on lots of adventures in his youth.

Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)

This is the 10th novel of Charles Dickens. I am looking forward to reading Hard Times because Charles Dickens books sometimes had critical views of the social and economic conditions in 19th century England.

Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

A gothic horror by the Irish author Bram Stoker. He created ‘Count Dracula’ in a story of vampirism and horror fiction. Many books on vampires have been successful since, for example, Twilight based on the vampire myth. This was a landmark vampire novel and I am excited to read it.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)

This  is a romance novel and is a popular novel in English literature. I do not read many romance novels but I find Pride and Prejudice to be appealing.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)

Emily Brontë was part of the Brontë family and Wuthering Heights was her only novel. This book is a classic in English literature and is part of the period of Romanticism in Europe.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1856)

This was the debut novel of French author Gustave Flaubert and he began the artistic movement of literary realism in France. It depicts ordinary circumstances as they are.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)

This is another American classic that is set in the puritan era in 17th century Massachusetts. This is also considered a romance novel and revolves around legalism and sin.

Gullivers’ Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)

This is the oldest of the novels I have compiled so far and it is a satire on human nature. This one is also by an Irish author.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Marquez (1967)

This is a modern classic by a Colombian author and is a multi-generational story with a magic realist style. I hope to read more literature from other ethnic authors as part of the next collection of classic books I review.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley Review

I enjoyed reading Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, as I found it thought provoking. This is one of the first classic books I’ve written about and I’m glad I started with Frankenstein.

It is a common misunderstanding that the ‘creature’ created in the story is named Frankenstein, however the scientist who created him is actually named Frankenstein. A large part of the book is his flashback. His creation is never given an actual name.

The characters were developed well and they were gradually phased out from the story, so towards the end most of the focus is on the monster and his experience of life and feeling rejected by humans.

“How much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to be greater than nature will allow” – Frankenstein

Personally, I feel that the reader is dissuaded from feeling any sympathy for Frankenstein or the monster, but is encouraged to see God’s creation of humans as superior to humans creations.