In early nineteenth century Russia, one’s status is decided based on how many enslaved workers (serfs) under your name. Likewise, property owners do not pay taxes on the land own but rather on the number of serfs assigned to them at the last census. Even if a serf dies, a property owner must pay taxes on him or her until the next census rights it. In Dead Souls, Chichikov is an up-and-coming middle class man who has cleverly decided on a get rich quick scheme: buy dead serfs (called “souls”) from property owners to use as collateral in purchasing things for himself.
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (published 1842) is a complex satire. And yet, supposedly Gogol did not intend it to be a satire. In all seriousness, he wrote that this part of the novel (part 1 was the only part he completed; part 2 was unfinished and part 3 never begun) was representative of Dante’s Inferno. This is, to me, a stretch, but I can see it. With the humor in the text, however, I saw Dead Souls as far more than a look at the depredation of man’s soul in post 1812 Russia. I saw it as an amusing satire of Russian society in general.
The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare felt a lot like Love’s Labour’s Lost when I read it because there was misdirected love. But The Comedy of Errors takes humor to another level by adding in mistaken identity because of a double set of identical twins!
In The Comedy of Errors, there are two sets of identical twins who were born on the same day, two born to a rich merchant and two born to a poor woman. The rich merchant bought the two poor babies to be slaves to his sons, and when he returns to his home, his ship is wrecked and the twin pairs are separated. Now, more than two decades later, the two sets of twins happen to be in the same town. Since they are unaware that there are two different servants called Dromio and two different men named Antipholous, there are amusing results!
After I read the play, I watched Big Business, a movie with Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin that follows a similar premise: two sets of identical twins separated at birth. Besides the initial premise, however, the modern-day retelling has very little in common with the Shakespeare play. Nevertheless, it was a funny movie to watch.
Although The Comedy of Errors is ridiculous and highly unlikely, it is still a delightful play. It must be quite amusing watching in person as the Dromio and Antipholous characters appear on stage and confuse the residents of Ephesus. This wasn’t my favorite Shakespeare play, but I’m glad I read it. Shakespeare has a wonderful way with plot development!
This week’s Cybils batch includes some fantastic books. I’ve decided to focus on some that are (more or less) based on the concepts of Friends and Telling Stories. These are common themes for picture books, and these books I list below are some fantastic examples. (more…)
Raisin is well in to early chapter books now. With Strawberry’s arrival and my subsequent absence from the blogosphere (as compared to my posting habits before her birth), I haven’t posted on his reading as frequently as it deserves. I feel like his reading skills improve from week to week!
Back in March, I posted about the early readers he was enjoying, including Fly Guy series by Tedd Arnold and P.J. Funnybunny books by Marilyn Sadler. Now, just six months later, I feel we’ve skipped into an entirely new category. Here are some of the early chapter books he currently enjoys. (more…)
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.