What Matters in Jane Austen? by John Mullan (Bloomsbury, 2012) is a literary theory light book for the masses of Austenites around the globe. But I hope that does not scare casual readers away from it, because What Matters in Jane Austen? is full of observations about the novels to help even the most casual of readers fall in love with Austen’s well crafted novels once more. (more…)
In Frankenstein (originally published January 1818), Mary Shelley questions what makes one human, ultimately questioning the meaning of life. When Dr. Victor Frankenstein imbues his cadaverous monster with life, he has become a God-like creator, and his monster, a gigantic being with the ability to feel all emotions and use all of his senses, is his Adam.
Like Adam, Frankenstein’s creation must learn right and wrong. He also desires a mate so he will not be lonely. Unlike Adam, the creation has no creator guiding him: Frankenstein, and all other humans who see the creation, consider him a monster, simply because he is ugly. I don’t blame them: he was eight-feet tall and was created from cadavers, butcher’s meat, and scavenged body parts. The monster wasn’t exactly someone you’d want to sit across from at dinner.
Frankenstein was nothing like I imagined. Both Frankenstein and his monster were complex characters with multiple facets to them. I believed it would be a superficial horror story, with a monster tormenting the world.(more…)
- Dare I compare Frankenstein to Dracula? “Silly” and “superficial” was my impression of the vampire story, although I’ll admit I’ve only read it once now. ↩
In A Little Princess (1905), Francis Hodgson Burnett creates a turn-of-the-century London-based Cinderella story. The protagonist, Sara Crewe, is a truly remarkable heroine. Although raised with extravagant wealth and spoiled with whatever servants, toys, clothes, and so forth she could desire, she remained kind, pleasant, sensitive, and polite.
But reading of a perfectly spoiled child, no matter how remarkable she is, does not make for a fascinating story; one needs conflict to drive the action. In Sara’s case, her adversary is the head mistress of her London boarding school, Miss Minchin, as well as a few other girls in the school who are jealous of her status. When Sara’s fortunes are unexpectedly reversed on her eleventh birthday, her life is placed squarely in the hands of the cross Miss Minchin, who now feels she has a right to put young Sara to work in order to get the unpaid bills covered.
I have compared Sara’s plight to Cinderella, and A Little Princess is a formulaic story. It did feel incredibly familiar, so maybe I did read it or watch a movie version of it at some point. But even if this was my first exposure to the story, it is pretty clear what will happen. This does not necessarily detract from the story. A Little Princess is a story about positive attitude, believing in oneself, and living with positivity and politeness, as if one were a “princess,” even in dire circumstances.
A Little Princess is the kind of book I would have loved as a young child. Sara has an adored doll she talks with (as had I as a young girl). Sara dreams she is a princess, something I likewise enjoyed pretending. She loves to read and to learn, and lives in the stories she imagines as I always have loved doing. I was a romantic, naive child, and in many ways Sara was the same. When her fortunes changed, she depended on her pleasant imagination to get her through. Sara was the perfect girl, the girl I wished I could be.
All that said, as an adult, I found Sara annoyingly too good. I am afraid I am like Miss Minchin: someone so “perfect” would have driven me nuts. I don’t want to be mean as Miss Minchin is, but I’m afraid that’s more in my character. To go along with my pessimistic view of human nature, I’ll add that Sara’s attitude just didn’t strike me as realistic. Personally, I don’t subscribe to the “positive thoughts gets you better” philosophy, so the convenient healing of ill old gentlemen, while it added to the charm for children, simply made me roll my eyes. The book was certainly not a favorite for me this time.
However, even with those inherent feelings of “Oh gag me. No one is like this!”, I still can’t wait to read it to my little girl, when she gets a little older. There are important concepts in the story. I want my children to learn, like Sara did, that no matter what their circumstances, they can rise above them by remembering who they are, including being both my child and a precious spirit child of God. I believe in that in some respects, then, my son is a “prince” and my daughter a “princess”, and I hope I can instill that deep in their hearts, much as Sara’s father did for her.
Miss Buncle is an aging old maid in a boring town in the suburbia of London, 1930s. When she finds herself in need of funds, she decides to earn some money by writing a novel. Miss Buncle’s book causes waves in the careful social fabric of the small town because she has written about the people she knows, albeit with different names, of course. Those who have not been portrayed nicely certainly do not appreciate the caricatures by the anonymous “John Smith” and vow to find out who has written the book. As Miss Buncle watches the chaos, she can only find inspiration for more fiction!
Miss Buncle’s Book (to be published September 2012 by Sourcebooks; originally published 1934) by D.E. Stevens is a laugh-out-loud experiences as one considers proper and shy Miss Buncle overhauling her small town’s social order. It is in part an humorous portrayal of the old-fashioned traditions in a tight-knit community of the early twentieth century as well as a mingling of various amusing personalities. But it also seemed to me to have a deeper perspective on self-realization. As some of the people of the town viewed themselves through the caricatured view of the unknown author, they changed their own actions: the “mean” person tried to be more kind; the old bachelor allowed himself to think in terms of falling in love, and even shy Miss Buncle found herself loosening up. (Did she really leave the tea party without politely excusing herself?!) If I were in a novel, how would I be portrayed? What faults and strengths would be caricatured in myself?
I was delighted to see that Sourcebooks is republishing this lost classic (to be published in September). It has been previously republished overseas by Persephone Books, and it was about time that it made it’s way to America as well! People who enjoy the humor of The Help by Kathryn Stockett or those who enjoy a look at a small town community, such as that in the much older Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell, may also enjoy this book. It is, after all, a book about a woman writing a book about a woman writing a book. Satire abounds, but there is also plenty of subtlety hiding amidst the humor.
Note: I read a digital copy from the publisher via netgalley.com for review consideration. I was not compensated for this review.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (originally published serially in 1910) is a book full of memories for me. When I was a young girl, I recall staying home, sick, from school one day. My mom took our copy of The Secret Garden down off the shelf, and, just for me, she began reading it aloud.
The day when I brought my newborn daughter Strawberry home from the hospital, I pulled my copy down and began reading it aloud to her. She was about four days old. I read it during those first months when I was in a daze of sleep deprivation. I read it as I helped her calm down for the night. I read it more recently as our bedtime story. I finally finished it for her last week, when she was 5.5 months old.
The Secret Garden is a book about the magic of positive thinking. Burnett takes two cantankerous, negative, and spoiled children and places them together in a new setting: a garden that needs a bit of TLC in order to bloom back in to the beautiful and magnificent haven it once was. With a loveable animal charmer child, young Dickon, the children learn the power of positive thinking and experience the benefits of hard work in the open air. As sour orphan Mary Lennox and her invalid cousin Colin Craven resuscitate the seemingly dead garden and put in a bit of work, they too begin to blossom into pleasant people. (more…)