Mrs. Poe: Book Talk

Title: Mrs. Poe
Author: Lynn Cullen

Goodreads Rating: ☆ (3.6)
My Rating: ☆ (4.5)

            As recommended by a friend, I took a trip to the bookstore recently and picked up a copy of the beautiful Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen. I was warned that it was a difficult book to get into, yet the drama of the plot would build and soon captivate me. As a voracious reader who has plowed through dozens of titles with a similar “structure”, a slow beginning would not cause my interest to wane; the riveting plot and hope of a thrilling ending led to my purchase of the book, in spite of the warnings I had received. Let me begin by saying this: my lack of hesitation served me well as this was a fantastic read.
            Set throughout the 1840s, the main focus of Mrs. Poe is Frances Osgood, a female poet, who is struggling to make it as a writer in New York as her husband has left her and her children. She soon meets Edgar Allan Poe, and the two form a bond in spite of their marriages. Soon, the two begin their affair, but as Frances learns Mrs. Poe is sick, she begins visiting her and she soon realizes that she must decide whether to remain with Mr. Poe or to leave all together. As stated on Simon and Shuster’s site, Mrs. Poe “is based on the historical fact that Poe and Frances Sargent Osgood published a very public exchange of love poems in 1845.”
            After reading the synopsis and various reviews of the book, I must say that I had high expectations. Seeing that it was loosely based on an event in literary history made the story all the more passionate; I couldn’t wait to dive in and feel the emotions between Mrs. Osgood and Mr. Poe. I am, and always will be, one for a great love story, so this story was just itching to be released into my mind. As I began reading, I could sense how the story could be considered dull. I felt that there was an overall lack of action and event. Let me just say, however, if this is something that discourages you as a reader, this atmosphere does not last long. The tension between the two main characters arises fairly quickly and livens up the plot. Another area of the story which I found to be quite intriguing was the integration of the various historical contemporaries. Throughout the novel, you will find reference to many well-known authors, poets, journalists and reporters, and more. History may not be my strongest subject, yet I do find fascination in learning about those who shaped our past. To find reference to these people within Cullen’s work was a pleasant surprise as their connection to Poe gave me new perspective.
            Although this book was beautifully written, I felt I could not give it a full five stars. The eloquence of Cullen’s style heightened the drama and made the work great as a whole, however, I did find myself pushing through at some points. When you’re so enthralled with this mesmeric plot, it can be quite disappointing when you find yourself in a patch where the action has died down. In its entirety, though, Mrs. Poe is a wonderfully written novel, and is one I would likely recommend to those who enjoy a thrilling romance…with a bit of a history lesson.

Wuthering Twi-Heights

“What were you reading?” I muttered, not really awake at all.
Wuthering Heights,” he said.
I frowned sleepily. “I thought you didn’t like that book.”
“You left it out,” he murmured, his soft voice lulling me toward unconsciousness. “Besides…the more time I spend with you, the more human emotions seem comprehensible to me. I’m discovering that I can sympathize with Heathcliff in ways I didn’t think possible before.”
- Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer, Chapter 11
            For those who know me, they can testify to my love for the Twilight novels. Picture me, decked out in my favorite Team Jacob gear, waiting in line at book launches, midnight movie premiers, DVD releases, and any other event you can think of. Now, having read all four novels many times, one thing that would often catch my attention was Bella Swan’s affinity for Wuthering Heights. Stephanie Meyer would often allude to this text and throw in passages from Brontë’s novel itself, which ultimately led to my decision to pick up Wuthering Heights for the first time. As a reader, if there is a word or a phrase that I haven’t heard before, I feel that I have to look it up to get the full meaning. With each allusion to Brontë’s novel, I felt this same urge; Meyer mentions this book so often within her own, that it must be integral to the storyline of Bella and Edward, right?
            Many lovers of the series equate Bella and Edward’s love to that of Romeo and Juliet, however, further inspection reveals parallels between Wuthering Heights as well. Bella herself even uses Brontë’s story within Eclipse to convey her range of emotions: “I was selfish. I was hurtful. I tortured the ones I loved. I was like Cathy, like Wuthering Heights, only my options were so much better than hers, neither one evil, neither weak.” As I began my journey into reading this novel for myself, I began to see the many similarities between the two books and I understood why Meyer felt it appropriate to reference such a classic within her own work. Although it was obvious that neither story were identical, there were elements of the two that intertwined and crossed paths – essentially, parts of it could be one story. Thanks, Thomas C. Foster. In his book How to Read Literature Like a Professor, he points out that, “What happens, if the writer is good, is usually not that the work seems derivative or trivial but just the opposite: the work actually acquires depth and resonance from the echoes and chimes it sets up with prior texts…” As all readers of Emily Brontë are aware, she is brilliant with crafting such raw emotion into eloquent diction; the humanity she conveys is not always kind, but it is honest. That being said, parallels can be drawn as Meyer creates a similar atmosphere with her characters. I think we can all agree that Twilight is not as eloquently worded as the 19th century novel, yet the effect is still there.
            Backtracking to Foster’s book, he makes another point that I felt applied to both of the aforementioned novels. He writes, “So vampirism isn’t just about vampires? Oh, it is. It is. But it’s also about things other than literal vampirism: selfishness, exploitation, a refusal to respect the autonomy of other people, just for starters.” He continues on with his point to add, “This principle also applies to other scary favorites, such as ghosts and doppelgängers (ghost doubles or evils twins).” Ghosts might sound familiar, perhaps because Wuthering Heights is crawling with them. While Meyer was jumping on the bandwagon with YA fiction and writing about vampires, Brontë was doing the same thing back in her day as she borrowed elements from the gothic novel and integrated them with romance. The way in which supernatural characters harbor underlying meaning creates another parallel between both Wuthering Heights and Twilight. In Wuthering Heights, Catherine says, "We've braved its ghosts often together, and dared each other to stand among the graves and ask them to come. But, Heathcliff, if I dare you now, will you venture? If you do, I'll keep you. I'll not lie there by myself: they may bury me twelve feet deep, and throw the church down over me, but I won't rest till you are with me.” Meyer borrows this idea of eternal love as Bella vies for Edward’s agreement to turn her into a vampire; she longs for this everlasting love so they can be together forever. Foster points out that many taboo subjects were often able to be discussed through the use of the supernatural, such as ghosts and vampires, and I believe it is fair to say that both authors write about such.

            Now that I have developed as a reader, I have come to realize the significant impact Brontë’s work has on us. As I sat down to write this post, I found myself pondering how this comparison is an example of how Wuthering Heights displays literary merit. Almost 170 years later, we can still find relevance within Emily Brontë’s writing, enough so that it served as inspiration for a more modernized adaptation. In all honesty, Wuthering Heights has become one of my favorites over the years, and being able to see the modern day connections that it bears is truly a fascinating experience. 

"Base Details" by Siegfried Sassoon

            In spite of the fact that I am such an avid reader, I am not very fond of poetry. I would much rather find myself lost in the pages of a heavy tome than confounded within the lines of poems. For as long as I can remember, analyzing (and simply understanding poetry) has been a weakness of mine. Today, however, I am going to be taking on “Base Details” by Siegfried Sassoon.
            As I found myself reading through the poem, the message I believed Sassoon was trying to convey was that there was a stark difference between soldiers and Majors, yet creating a satiric tone while doing so.  He gives the reader the impression that soldiers are forced to do the fighting, while the Majors are given the luxury of safety. This overall meaning was illustrated through Sassoon’s use of poetic devices, the most prominent being imagery. The first example was given as the poem reads, “I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base,/ And speed glum heroes up the line to death” (2-3). Sassoon utilizes vivid diction as a portrayal of two things: the treatment of soldiers, and how they feel about it. We now see that the Majors are aiding the soldiers in their demise as they force them to the line of battle, or “death” as Sassoon writes, however, we also see that they are unhappy about it. As Sassoon refers to the soldiers as “glum heroes,” we learn of the disparity behind their heroic action.
            This use of imagery is continued throughout “Base Details” and Sassoon sets the tone with his diction, but the end of the poem best exemplifies this point. The poem states, “And when the war is done and youth stone dead, / I’d toddle safely home and die – in bed” (9-10).  These two lines are the epitome of everything Sassoon meant the poem to be; as the war comes to a close, the soldiers who were willing to give their all will be gone, while those who were watching from the sidelines will be able to return home. He uses imagery such as “stone dead” and “toddle safely home” to place emphasis on this point – the Majors will be able to stroll back unscathed while the glum heroes will be the ones left behind, stone dead.
            Upon completing this poem, I felt slightly differently about analyzing and understanding poetry. Whether it was Sassoon’s style or my fascination with the era of the First World War, something drew me into this poem. The way the imagery intertwined with the purpose of the poem worked well and created a critical tone that made the poem enjoyable, yet significant and important. The satirical style of the poem was consistently evident and Sassoon’s imagery highlighted it well.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Book Talk

Title: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Author: Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Goodreads Rating:  (3.27)
My Rating:  (4)

            I walked into Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with much anticipation, but loads of skepticism clouding my excitement. In all honesty, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. When I purchased my copy of the book, one of the first things I noticed was that it listed both Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith as the authors. This eased my worries a little; I no longer felt that Austen’s language would be utterly butchered as the book must have contained a majority of it to keep her as a contributing author. Once this was settled, I was able to delve into the novel. After I did, I can say with ease that I was not disappointed.
            For a quick synopsis of the book: set in 19th century England, a plague sweeps throughout the nation and basically leaves the countryside in a state of war. The Bennet sisters, who are highly trained in the defensive arts, are battling those who are taken ill by this mysterious plague, all while fighting the force of their mother who (as in the original novel) is captivated by the idea of her daughters marrying into well-off families. From here on, the plot basically remains the same, but with a lot more zombies and battles.
            Before reading this book, I read many reviews where readers were left feeling unsatisfied and disappointed. I was under the impression that I would feel the same, however, I most certainly do not. I truly enjoyed reading it and reemerging myself in the world of Pride and Prejudice. Before I begin, I'd like to point out the illustrations. They really enhanced my experience as I really enjoy reading books when the occasional image is thrown in there. Aside from that, I think the main thing I liked about it was that it read like a Jane Austen book; I could open up to any page and it would feel (for the most part) as if I were reading Austen’s original work. The additions and changes that Grahame-Smith made did not feel too tacky or overdone, they felt modern and entertaining. I also really loved how cinematic it felt. The true driving force that inspired me to read the book was that it is being adapted into film. The further I found myself in the book, the more I could visualize the movie; there are some books that translate well on-screen, and this seems to be one of them. Although I feel the imagery for the plague and zombies could have been better provided in the book itself, the idea of the book as a whole is an exciting idea for a film, and I am very much anticipating it!
            As someone who enjoys reading YA fiction and classic literature, this book felt like an amazing fit. The addition of the zombies did not feel too far fetched as I still find joy in reading Young Adult novels set in fantasy worlds. When this was mashed with one of my favorite classics, I did proceed with caution, but in the end I found myself delighted. In the end, I’d have to give the book 4 stars. It was a fast paced, fun read and I really enjoyed myself, but I felt that the author held back on the whole zombie battle aspect. The book wasn’t original enough for it to garner a 5 star review from me. Last but not least, spoiler alert, I’m so glad Charlotte Lucas got the plague. Definitely saw that one coming.

Persuasion: The Art of Persuading Readers to Find Irony

            As I have previously discussed, Jane Austen is well known for her satiric critique of social class, and Persuasion is not exempt from this Austen-esque mannerism. From its very opening line, Austen makes it clear that that this novel is to prominently feature status and wealth within its pages. She exemplifies her satiric style in many ways throughout Persuasion, beginning with the way she crafts her characters to create her desired tone.
Characters - Jane Austen for children - Part 5 | Jane Austen Brazil:             Although it seems simple, the way Austen writes her characters illustrates her critique upon social class. She crafts many characters who focus themselves upon status, wealth, and looks. For starters, we have the Elliot family. Sir Walter Elliot is so concerned with status that the only book he concerns himself with is the Baronetage, which is a record of British nobility. He even goes so far as to criticize the Navy because it has a “means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction, and raising men to honours which their fathers and grandfathers never dreamt of” and he also believes “it cuts up a man's youth and vigour most horribly” (19). Although Anne Elliot had pointed out that they were deserving, hardworking men, Sir Walter made sure to emphasize the point that it gives them a false sense of status and ruins their looks – the two qualities he holds to the highest regard. The way she crafted such a character conveys satire in a very specific manner; Sir Walter Elliot serves as a device to help Austen establish an ironic tone in the beginning of the novel. He is the first character we are introduced to, and right off the bat we are given a character of nobility who is only concerned with status; he exudes conceit and arrogance, which are characteristics of the high society-types Austen is satirizing.              
            This pattern is continued throughout Persuasion with a multitude of other characters. We are presented with others such as the rest of the Elliot family and Lady Russell, Anne’s mentor who encouraged her to end her relationship with Wentworth as she deemed him unworthy. Although he comes into great wealth later on, when he and Anne first meet, he is not believed to be of high enough income or status to marry her. Her family and mentor look down upon him in result, which furthers the tone Austen is trying to create; in spite of the fact that Anne is happily in love, the main concern here is social status, so her family really does not care and they encourage her to end things anyway.
           Austen’s classic criticism of social class shines through in Persuasion just as it does in any other – her social climbing characters help to carry on her witty and ironic style and prove her satiric work. Their mannerisms, attitudes, and auras all emanate the impression that they are better than everyone else; they come across as the conceited, upper class characters Austen meant to criticize. For Austen, revealing this ironic tone is an art and she does so differently each time. In the case of Persuasion, Sir Walter Elliot harbored it and portrayed it from the very beginning. 

"O": A Film Review

Cast: Julia Stiles, Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Andrew Keegan

Director: Tim Blake Nelson

Avg. Rating: 

My Rating: 

Thanks to my new-found love of Othello (and my everlasting love of Josh Hartnett), I found myself watching O. For those who don't know, O is a rather modern retelling of Shakespeare's Othello in which the characters are high school students in attendance at a prep school. The movie as a whole, while not unpleasant, was just so far from Shakespearean quality that one cannot help but think of it in a disapproving light.
I felt that O was a decent film; it followed the basic plot and structure of Othello, the actors were all rather suitable, and the overall atmosphere felt reminiscent of the original work. In spite of this, the film just could not pull together to form a stellar adaptation. Here we have Odin (Othello) and Hugo (Iago). The setting of the film and nature of their friendship makes the film feel very Othello meets A Separate Peace - you have these two friends who, although on the surface appear to be fine, have underlying issues as Hugo feels Odin is outshining him in all areas. This could have made for a great film had it not been an adaptation, however, I have just become so partial to the original work that I can no longer picture it in any other way.  
         Disregarding the text, the film still could have used work. Although the actors did a fair job at conveying the emotions required for a Shakespearean adaptation, the overall plot dragged the quality down. The fact that Odin and Hugo were basketball playing teens in attendance of a prep school made some parts of the film seem tacky and overdone. The soundtrack was right there to reinforce this atmosphere.
          As a whole, O was not a film I looked upon with distaste. I found myself enjoying the film here in there because it gave Othello a modernized feel and made it more relatable; everyone experiences jealousy, but translating the story to the present day made it feel more realistic to me (although I still enjoy the original more). I feel that if I were to look at O and Othello as separate entities, each would hold their own qualities that would make them great.

The Significance of Social Status

            It was once recommended to me that if I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, I should continue my Jane Austen experience with Persuasion. When given the task of selecting a work of satire to read and blog about, this recommendation immediately came to mind. When reading Pride and Prejudice, I really enjoyed the way Austen satirized social class; her effortless wit and eloquent diction made for an agreeable read. If I enjoyed my first Jane Austen novel so much, what would make the second any different?
Jane Austen:             Although I may only be roughly halfway through the novel, Persuasion has not failed my theory quite yet. From its very first lines, I knew that her commentary on social classes would be right up to par with that of Pride and Prejudice; I was utterly convinced as Austen drew me in with, “Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch-hall, in Somershire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage…” (3). For those who don’t know, the Baronetage Austen speaks of is in reference to The Baronetage of England, a book which lists all British nobility. Right from the start, it becomes clear that Austen is satirizing the way people of her time viewed wealth and status as she references this book that tracks those of high society.
            Now, don’t get me wrong here – Austen’s style and commentary did catch my attention, but they were not the first thing that came to mind as I perused the first half of Persuasion. What truly caught my attention is that Austen’s criticism can still be pertinent 198 years later (score one for literary merit!). Just yesterday I finished the satiric Crazy Rich Asians duology written by Kevin Kwan and I found myself making so many comparisons between these two novels and Persuasion; although Kwan was published within the last few years, his work has been compared to that of Austen’s countless times as he sarcastically writes about wealth, status, and love. As a reader, it is a pleasurable experience to find novels published approximately 200 years apart, yet still have the opportunity to find parallels between them. The blend of history and the present day has already made Persuasion all the more exciting to read!
            As I make my way through the rest of Persuasion, I’m hoping that I am able to find more features that are still relevant to life today. We still view social status with high regard in the modern day whether we realize it or not, and seeing what Austen has to say about it in her day is fascinating. My goal for the end of the year is to have made my way through as many of Austen's works as I possibly can; I would like to wade through each novel and examine her satirical commentary.