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  • Cristina Merrill 5:00 pm on 2018/01/08 Permalink
    Tags: , charlotte bronte, curmudgeons, , , , , , , , lovable grumps, , , the wolf and the dove,   

    Our Favorite Sexy Curmudgeons: 8 Guys Whose Frowns We Want to Turn Upside Down 

    No one wants to be tied to a grump, but once in a while we come across that brooding kind of man we wouldn’t mind cheering up. You know the type. He doesn’t give the best first impression, but once you get to know him, it’s easy to look past his gruff exterior and appreciate the wonderful man within. (And you just know all of that seriousness and pent-up longing will release itself in some very pleasant ways!) Guys like these may not always make the best Plus Ones at dinner parties, but they’ll definitely make you remember dessert.

    Here are 8 of the sexiest curmudgeons in romance who can brood all they want!

    Hareton from Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
    No, we are NOT going in the Heathcliff direction! (True, he had it rough, but he was still awful.) Instead, let’s focus on Hareton. He wasn’t raised under the best of circumstances, to say the least, but throughout his harsh life he managed to show an innate sweetness. As he grew older he displayed a loyalty that would bode well for his upcoming marriage to young Catherine. A guy like that may not make the best impression on society, and he might curse in your presence upon your first meeting, but he’ll ultimately stay faithful to you and he’ll always be honest about his feelings.

    Sir William of Miraval in Candle in the Window, by Christina Dodd
    Sir William of Miraval is not the happiest of knights. He was blinded in battle, and his caretakers are growing frustrated with his awful attitude and poor hygiene. (Dude’s quite depressed, so he gets a pass at being curmudgeonly.) He meets his match when Lady Saura of Roget is summoned to help him get his act together. She’s blind, too, but this is a woman who know how to run a house and keep everyone in line. William soon falls in love with her, and he displays a fierce loyalty that would make any woman sigh. William, we knew that beneath that rugged, filthy, muscled exterior was a tender-hearted man yearning to break free!

    Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
    There are many mighty good reasons why Mr. Darcy ALWAYS comes up in romantic conversations. He didn’t always have the best manners, and he could hardly be called the life of the party, but when a guy is willing to help your crazy family by keeping your nutty sister on the straight and narrow, well, there’s a lot to be said for that. (Imagine a guy who stays with you even though your extended family posts weird things on social media on an hourly basis.) Mr. Darcy, you practically invented the smolder, so you can smolder all you want!

    Wulfgar from The Wolf and the Dove, by Kathleen Woodiwiss
    To be fair, this Medieval knight had an exceptionally harsh life. He was a bastard, which wasn’t easy in those days. (He and Jon Snow of Game of Thrones would probably have a great deal to talk about.) You’re also under a lot of pressure when William the Conqueror wants you to, well, help him conquer England. This attitude of his mostly changes, though, when his posse conquers Darkenwald, the home of the very proud and beautiful Aislinn. It takes a very long time until they actually get along, and boy it’s fun to read that roller coaster of a relationship. Carry on with your growling ways, Wulfgar, and flex your muscles while you’re at it!

    Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
    Love him or hate him, Mr. Rochester was a curmudgeonly curmudgeon who needed some major intervention—and lots of time to soul-search—before he could find some inner peace and have his happy ending with Jane. True, he’d been through a lot in his life—bad marriage, saddled with a kid he wasn’t even sure was his, lost his eyesight, lost his hand, and more—but that doesn’t excuse some of the things he did. (Buddy, you might want to consider taking up poetry writing!) Still, he had some good qualities, and he ultimately changed for the better thanks to Jane. Mr. Rochester, brood as you please, and please make sure you show Jane your appreciation as often as humanely possible!

    Rocco from A Girl’s Guide to Moving On, by Debbie Macomber
    Poor Rocco’s a little bit in over his head. He’s the macho-est of macho men, and he has a teenage daughter with whom he doesn’t exactly see eye-to-eye. Fortunately he meets Nichole, the modern-day equivalent of a gently-bred lady who recently ditched her cheating husband. Rocco may be more at home in a biker bar than, well, in many other places, but he’s solid, muscly proof that surprises can come in the most unexpected of packages. Rocco, bring on the cranky. We know that inside you’re really just a marshmallow with nothing but love for your woman!

    Rhys Winterborne in Marrying Winterborne, by Lisa Kleypas
    Welshman Rhys Winterborne worked extremely hard to get to where he is. He owns a major department store, and even though he is supremely wealthy, his modest background means that society doesn’t have much room for him at their social gatherings. He’s determined to win over his lady love, and what’s more, he knows he’s not always the most pleasant man to be around. You can’t go wrong with a guy who admits his faults and is eager to prove his devotion. That said, he also shows an exceptionally sweet and caring side. Rhys, no one is fooled! Admit it. You’re a softie.

    Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades series, by E.L. James
    Christian makes all of the other guys on this list seem joyful by comparison. He spends a lot of time brooding over Anastasia and his dark past. (Christian, buddy, you should seriously consider volunteering at an animal shelter. Giving your time just might help!) And he certainly knows how to, ahem, release his frustrations. Whether his dark ways turn you on or off, no woman can deny that life with Christian would never be boring!

    Who are your favorite fictional curmudgeons?

    The post Our Favorite Sexy Curmudgeons: 8 Guys Whose Frowns We Want to Turn Upside Down appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Tara Sonin 3:30 pm on 2017/08/24 Permalink
    Tags: , cat on a hot tin roof, charlotte bronte, , darkness and light, , , , , , , , , , , ,   

    The Gothic Novel Survival Guide 

    So, you’ve found yourself in the 18th or 19th century, stuck in a gothic—or Southern Gothic!—novel. Surrounded by mysterious settings, dangerous characters and a bit of romance, these novels can prove fatal, but nothing you can’t survive, if you follow these instructions:

    1. First, are you in Europe or America?

    The Gothic genre originated in Medieval Europe with The Castle of Ontranto, the story of a man who undoes his life while trying to prevent a prophecy from coming true (think Macbeth meets Oedipus Rex) while Southern Gothic novels like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil are the American response to the popularity of this genre, and deals with the South’s blood-tainted history as a result of slavery. So, depending on where—and therefore, when— you are, you play by different rules.

    2. If you’re in Europe, figure this out first and foremost: if there’s magic, hide on the sidelines.

    Look, I’m not saying Dracula isn’t kind of sexy (especially the Gary Oldman movie version), but in the Gothic genre, magic and mystery almost always spell death. The people who survive are the ones who don’t get mixed up in it. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, wishing for eternal youth has horrific, murderous consequences when a man decides to trap his youth inside a painting, but ultimately damns his soul. (The servants survive though, so probably best to stick to the downstairs parts of the great, gothic houses.)

    3. Are you a woman? Then decide: villain, or victim?

    There are two types of women in gothic literature. There’s the mysterious, often off-the-page villainess (such as Rebecca, in the classic gothic novel about a woman unraveling the truth about her new husband’s dead first wife) and Jane Eyre (whose romantic anti-hero Rochester keeps his mentally unstable wife locked in an attic until she tries to burn their house down). But there are characters like Jane, who is in many ways a victim of circumstance—an orphan, abused, forced into a life of servitude—and Nelly, in Wuthering Heights, the narrator of the story and servant to the family. She isn’t culpable for the tragedy that ensues as a result of Catherine and Heathcliffe’s romance, but she witnesses it, and lives to tell the tale. As I said before: villains usually have a tragic end, but as far as gothic literature goes, they’re usually the most infamous (and interesting) characters.

    4. If you’re in a Southern Gothic novel, outrun your past—fast.

    In books like The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, and plays like Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, the characters are obsessed with events that happened in the past that they cannot undo. If your past is haunting you, it can be almost as powerful as the magic present in the European gothic novels. For the characters in The Sound and the Fury, three brothers fixating on what happened to their youngest sister, Caddy, caused the ruin of their entire family; and in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick’s inability to confront the truth about his sexuality led to tragedy both for his marriage, and a close friend. If you’re going to survive the Gothic South, either make peace with the past, or invent yourself a new one.

    On second thought, these books may be much more fun to read than they are to live through, but with these steps, you’re primed to make it to the 21st century intact. Unless, of course, I’m one of those gothic villainesses haunting you from the shadows of your past, waiting to take you down.

    What tips would you offer someone who’s just trying to live through a gothic novel?

    The post The Gothic Novel Survival Guide appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Kelly Anderson 5:00 pm on 2015/06/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , charlotte bronte, , , , , , , , , ,   

    For Your Next Cocktail Party: A Crib Sheet of Classic Literary References 

    I love hanging out with book nerds, for many reasons. One of them is feeling like I’m part of an elite club, one with secret handshakes and passwords and everything. (Remember before Game of Thrones became a TV show, when the “Red Wedding” was a nerd password?) But sometimes, even we’ve missed a few passwords along the way, and can feel left out in the cold when our fellow book nerds drop references they assume we’ll catch. We find ourselves smiling and nodding along, the door to our lovely club closed.To ensure this never happens to you, here’s a list of the top 10 literary references to prove your book nerd mettle (or, you know, allow you to have a richer literary experience, or lead you to reading some awesome books or something).

    1. The madeleine (from Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust)
    If there is a quintessential reference that marks you as a “literary person,” it’s knowing what someone means when they say, “It was my own madeleine moment.” In case you haven’t yet tackled the Mount Everest of reading, here’s what that’s all about. In Search of Lost Time is a seven-volume mega-novel tracking its protagonist through his youth into middle age. In our narrator’s telling, time and memory are blurred together as one, an ever circling mark, reaching back into the past as often as it reaches forward. The most famous moment comes fairly early in the first volume, Swann’s Way. The narrator bites into a madeleine, setting off on one of the novel’s first deep dives into the past, instantly transporting the reader to his childhood family home, with every last detail of the room as clear as day. The madeleine is a famous example of sense memory, nostalgia, and the irresistible power of the past.

    2. The Green Light (from The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
    There are a lot of famous symbols in this tale of American decadence, nostalgia, and yearning in the Jazz Age, from East Egg, to Daisy, to those creepy eyes your teacher insisted every last one of us write an essay on, but the green light is the most famous of them all. Throughout the book, Daisy, Gatsby’s lost love, is representative of the ultimate attainment of everything his life can offer: the American dream. We witness his increasingly piteous attempts to convince himself he can re-create a vanished, never-really-was past with her, all of which crash and burn fairly quickly. The green light, which stands at the end of her dock, is a forlorn symbol of all of Gatsby’s doomed hopes, something always on the horizon and never quite reached, something he forever travels toward, “boats against the current, borne ceaselessly back into the past.”

    3. The Wife in the Attic (from Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë)
    Look, if there’s any way I can get anyone else to fall in love with this tale of a brave girl, with no resources or family to speak of, who nonetheless makes a career out of doing the right thing every single time…I’m gonna do it. But more than that, the book is a goldmine of useful literary references—none more so than the specter of the wife in the attic, the haunting figure whose chilling laugh and nighttime wanderings build tension, and the bombshell who kicks off the book’s powerful third act. However horrifying a figure she is, a reference to her is generally much more likely to be pointing to frustrated female desire, sexuality, or energy, especially as seen through an uncomprehending male gaze and in the corset of 19th-century society. If we’re talking about poor Bertha, the least we can do these days is find solidarity with a woman whose very existence was too threatening to be mentioned.

    4. Shakespeare’s Sister (from A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf)
    Maybe you like the band, maybe you’re a fan of the song, but chances are this isn’t the first time you’re hearing this phrase. But where does it come from? Virginia Woolf took the attic wife metaphor farther, giving the trope her own sober-eyed, equally incisive spin. In her masterpiece of an essay, A Room of One’s Own (itself a reference you should probably also know—and read—as soon as possible), Woolf posited the existence of Shakespeare’s sister, a woman whose talents may have equalled those of the Bard, whose imagination, drive, wit, and talent may have also been on offer to the world, but whose gifts were never discovered because no one bothered to ask. “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman,” Woolf states, and Shakespeare’s silent sister was Exhibit A.

    5. “Ew! Ew! Cannot unsee! I want to pull an Oedipus!” (from Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles)
    You might not think that references to a play published thousands of years ago would still be making the rounds at the literary hors d’eouvres table, but here we are. This one’s used as a punchline as often as anything, but it’s as worth getting the joke as it is being involved in whatever Freudian deconstruction of the latest New Great American Novel contender is underway. Oedipus Rex is your classic tale of parent incest and murder: Oedipus, King of Thebes, discovers he is the source of a curse placed upon his land when, unbeknownst to him, he killed his father and married his mother, fulfilling a prophecy that he would be “son and husband to his mother and brother and father to his own children.” When he comes into possession of this delightful information, Oedipus does what most of us might: he immediately puts out his own eyes with his mother/wife’s hairpins, and wanders lost for eternity. Soooo, all in all, a nice, wholesome family show.

    6. “STELLAAAAA!” (from A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennesee Williams)
    This one is much more Brando in origin than it is literary, but Tennessee Williams gave Brando the platform, so I think the bookish folks can still take credit for it. It comes from A Streetcar Named Desire, arguably Williams’ most famous play, centered on one of the saddest entangled trios that ever there was, married couple Stella and Stanley and Stella’s glamorous, down-on-her-luck sister, Blanche DuBois. These three, along with sundry hapless others along for the unfortunate ride, proceed to tear each other apart. At one point, the proceedings reach such a low point Stanley finds himself screaming for his wife to come back to him. While the moment feels sincere when you’re sitting there with the house lights down, wrapped up in a thick blanket of emotion, it’s now become an easily mocked signifier that someone is being a weeee bit melodramatic, usually in the context of a (probably rightfully) disintegrating relationship.

    7. “A plague on both your houses!” (from Romeo & Juliet, by William Shakespeare)
    This one comes from Romeo and Juliet, home of, oh, about a thousand other references I could have named. This, as most of us know, is the tale of a pair of star-crossed lovers from quarreling families who must conduct their romance in secret, and who meet an inevitably doomed end (well, it must have been inevitable, what with the timing on that just-seems-like-you’re-dead poison, right?). What’s less often mentioned is the collateral damage of their passion—namely the friends and family who go down defending what they think is family honor in the face of this romance. Mercutio, the most heartbreaking casualty, dies defending his friend Romeo. Amid the laughter of those who have never taken him near seriously enough, he finally cracks his jokester facade to let everyone involved know his opinion of the senseless bloodshed. Which is how it is generally used now: as a shorthand for endlessly, pointlessly squabbling parties who just can’t seem to get it together.

    8. Tilting at windmills (from Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes)
    This reference comes to us via Spain’s national work, the story of an old man who has convinced himself that he is a knight errant, bent on defeating villains and saving damsels in distress. He sets out on a quest to rid the world of evil, accompanied only by his faithful “squire” Sancho Panza. This book is rife with the ironic symbology of his darkly comic journey that we know to be doomed at the outset. In one particularly famous episode, our supposed knight spots a group of windmills that he convinces himself are giants, and proceeds to haplessly attack them. It’s generally used to refer to someone trying to accomplish a hopeless, if idealistic task that is unlikely to produce the desired result. Just like the don, you’ll be tilting in a circle uselessly, forever, if you continue. There is a sort of admirable beauty to it, but of the sort that comes to us via the tradition of the Fool, not the Hero.

    9. “The book was rather Dickensian….” (Charles Dickens, generally)
    Ah, yes. Now we’re getting into the part where literary folks contribute their own vocabulary. There are a legion of these shorthands. Some are infamously overused, and often considered pretentious (try to deploy the term “Kafkaesque” in conversation and see how fast your couch miraculously empties). But this is a pretty stolid classic that’s stood the test of time, and is too common to get you regaled to the snooty corner. The term “Dickensian” tends to be used to denote the atmosphere of a book: a richly described, likely urban and layered milieu reminiscent of Victorian England. It’s likely filled with social injustice and dark corners, woven into the sort of pervasive class system that defined English society at the time. It is epitomized in books like Oliver Twist and Bleak House, books with both entertainment and a social message at their cores. Remember that part in a Muppet Christmas Carol where everybody in the streets is singing about how mean Scrooge is? Yup. It’s like that. But with no puppets and singing. More workhouses though.

    10. “The dog recognizes me.” (from Homer’s The Odyssey)
    You’ve seen this one in a thousand movies, read it in a hundred romance novels: the hero returns from war a changed man. He leaves a young skinny boy, and returns a grizzled battle veteran nearly 10 years later, walking in off the road to a family that no longer recognizes him. But someone does—and it’s usually the dog. The idea that animals see essential truths long before humans do is a old one—in this case, one of the oldest, dating right back to Homer’s The Odyssey. When the wandering hero Odysseus makes his way home after the fall of Troy, he encounters many obstacles that delay his journey (many of them famous references in their own right). He finally arrives incognito, disguised as a beggar, in order to get the lay of the land, and no one recognizes him. Except the dog. A reference to Odysseus and his faithful hound is a reference to this famous moment.

    What essential literary references have we left out?
     
  • Kelly Anderson 5:00 pm on 2015/06/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , charlotte bronte, , , , , , , , , ,   

    For Your Next Cocktail Party: A Crib Sheet of Classic Literary References 

    I love hanging out with book nerds, for many reasons. One of them is feeling like I’m part of an elite club, one with secret handshakes and passwords and everything. (Remember before Game of Thrones became a TV show, when the “Red Wedding” was a nerd password?) But sometimes, even we’ve missed a few passwords along the way, and can feel left out in the cold when our fellow book nerds drop references they assume we’ll catch. We find ourselves smiling and nodding along, the door to our lovely club closed.To ensure this never happens to you, here’s a list of the top 10 literary references to prove your book nerd mettle (or, you know, allow you to have a richer literary experience, or lead you to reading some awesome books or something).

    1. The madeleine (from Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust)
    If there is a quintessential reference that marks you as a “literary person,” it’s knowing what someone means when they say, “It was my own madeleine moment.” In case you haven’t yet tackled the Mount Everest of reading, here’s what that’s all about. In Search of Lost Time is a seven-volume mega-novel tracking its protagonist through his youth into middle age. In our narrator’s telling, time and memory are blurred together as one, an ever circling mark, reaching back into the past as often as it reaches forward. The most famous moment comes fairly early in the first volume, Swann’s Way. The narrator bites into a madeleine, setting off on one of the novel’s first deep dives into the past, instantly transporting the reader to his childhood family home, with every last detail of the room as clear as day. The madeleine is a famous example of sense memory, nostalgia, and the irresistible power of the past.

    2. The Green Light (from The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
    There are a lot of famous symbols in this tale of American decadence, nostalgia, and yearning in the Jazz Age, from East Egg, to Daisy, to those creepy eyes your teacher insisted every last one of us write an essay on, but the green light is the most famous of them all. Throughout the book, Daisy, Gatsby’s lost love, is representative of the ultimate attainment of everything his life can offer: the American dream. We witness his increasingly piteous attempts to convince himself he can re-create a vanished, never-really-was past with her, all of which crash and burn fairly quickly. The green light, which stands at the end of her dock, is a forlorn symbol of all of Gatsby’s doomed hopes, something always on the horizon and never quite reached, something he forever travels toward, “boats against the current, borne ceaselessly back into the past.”

    3. The Wife in the Attic (from Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë)
    Look, if there’s any way I can get anyone else to fall in love with this tale of a brave girl, with no resources or family to speak of, who nonetheless makes a career out of doing the right thing every single time…I’m gonna do it. But more than that, the book is a goldmine of useful literary references—none more so than the specter of the wife in the attic, the haunting figure whose chilling laugh and nighttime wanderings build tension, and the bombshell who kicks off the book’s powerful third act. However horrifying a figure she is, a reference to her is generally much more likely to be pointing to frustrated female desire, sexuality, or energy, especially as seen through an uncomprehending male gaze and in the corset of 19th-century society. If we’re talking about poor Bertha, the least we can do these days is find solidarity with a woman whose very existence was too threatening to be mentioned.

    4. Shakespeare’s Sister (from A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf)
    Maybe you like the band, maybe you’re a fan of the song, but chances are this isn’t the first time you’re hearing this phrase. But where does it come from? Virginia Woolf took the attic wife metaphor farther, giving the trope her own sober-eyed, equally incisive spin. In her masterpiece of an essay, A Room of One’s Own (itself a reference you should probably also know—and read—as soon as possible), Woolf posited the existence of Shakespeare’s sister, a woman whose talents may have equalled those of the Bard, whose imagination, drive, wit, and talent may have also been on offer to the world, but whose gifts were never discovered because no one bothered to ask. “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman,” Woolf states, and Shakespeare’s silent sister was Exhibit A.

    5. “Ew! Ew! Cannot unsee! I want to pull an Oedipus!” (from Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles)
    You might not think that references to a play published thousands of years ago would still be making the rounds at the literary hors d’eouvres table, but here we are. This one’s used as a punchline as often as anything, but it’s as worth getting the joke as it is being involved in whatever Freudian deconstruction of the latest New Great American Novel contender is underway. Oedipus Rex is your classic tale of parent incest and murder: Oedipus, King of Thebes, discovers he is the source of a curse placed upon his land when, unbeknownst to him, he killed his father and married his mother, fulfilling a prophecy that he would be “son and husband to his mother and brother and father to his own children.” When he comes into possession of this delightful information, Oedipus does what most of us might: he immediately puts out his own eyes with his mother/wife’s hairpins, and wanders lost for eternity. Soooo, all in all, a nice, wholesome family show.

    6. “STELLAAAAA!” (from A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennesee Williams)
    This one is much more Brando in origin than it is literary, but Tennessee Williams gave Brando the platform, so I think the bookish folks can still take credit for it. It comes from A Streetcar Named Desire, arguably Williams’ most famous play, centered on one of the saddest entangled trios that ever there was, married couple Stella and Stanley and Stella’s glamorous, down-on-her-luck sister, Blanche DuBois. These three, along with sundry hapless others along for the unfortunate ride, proceed to tear each other apart. At one point, the proceedings reach such a low point Stanley finds himself screaming for his wife to come back to him. While the moment feels sincere when you’re sitting there with the house lights down, wrapped up in a thick blanket of emotion, it’s now become an easily mocked signifier that someone is being a weeee bit melodramatic, usually in the context of a (probably rightfully) disintegrating relationship.

    7. “A plague on both your houses!” (from Romeo & Juliet, by William Shakespeare)
    This one comes from Romeo and Juliet, home of, oh, about a thousand other references I could have named. This, as most of us know, is the tale of a pair of star-crossed lovers from quarreling families who must conduct their romance in secret, and who meet an inevitably doomed end (well, it must have been inevitable, what with the timing on that just-seems-like-you’re-dead poison, right?). What’s less often mentioned is the collateral damage of their passion—namely the friends and family who go down defending what they think is family honor in the face of this romance. Mercutio, the most heartbreaking casualty, dies defending his friend Romeo. Amid the laughter of those who have never taken him near seriously enough, he finally cracks his jokester facade to let everyone involved know his opinion of the senseless bloodshed. Which is how it is generally used now: as a shorthand for endlessly, pointlessly squabbling parties who just can’t seem to get it together.

    8. Tilting at windmills (from Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes)
    This reference comes to us via Spain’s national work, the story of an old man who has convinced himself that he is a knight errant, bent on defeating villains and saving damsels in distress. He sets out on a quest to rid the world of evil, accompanied only by his faithful “squire” Sancho Panza. This book is rife with the ironic symbology of his darkly comic journey that we know to be doomed at the outset. In one particularly famous episode, our supposed knight spots a group of windmills that he convinces himself are giants, and proceeds to haplessly attack them. It’s generally used to refer to someone trying to accomplish a hopeless, if idealistic task that is unlikely to produce the desired result. Just like the don, you’ll be tilting in a circle uselessly, forever, if you continue. There is a sort of admirable beauty to it, but of the sort that comes to us via the tradition of the Fool, not the Hero.

    9. “The book was rather Dickensian….” (Charles Dickens, generally)
    Ah, yes. Now we’re getting into the part where literary folks contribute their own vocabulary. There are a legion of these shorthands. Some are infamously overused, and often considered pretentious (try to deploy the term “Kafkaesque” in conversation and see how fast your couch miraculously empties). But this is a pretty stolid classic that’s stood the test of time, and is too common to get you regaled to the snooty corner. The term “Dickensian” tends to be used to denote the atmosphere of a book: a richly described, likely urban and layered milieu reminiscent of Victorian England. It’s likely filled with social injustice and dark corners, woven into the sort of pervasive class system that defined English society at the time. It is epitomized in books like Oliver Twist and Bleak House, books with both entertainment and a social message at their cores. Remember that part in a Muppet Christmas Carol where everybody in the streets is singing about how mean Scrooge is? Yup. It’s like that. But with no puppets and singing. More workhouses though.

    10. “The dog recognizes me.” (from Homer’s The Odyssey)
    You’ve seen this one in a thousand movies, read it in a hundred romance novels: the hero returns from war a changed man. He leaves a young skinny boy, and returns a grizzled battle veteran nearly 10 years later, walking in off the road to a family that no longer recognizes him. But someone does—and it’s usually the dog. The idea that animals see essential truths long before humans do is a old one—in this case, one of the oldest, dating right back to Homer’s The Odyssey. When the wandering hero Odysseus makes his way home after the fall of Troy, he encounters many obstacles that delay his journey (many of them famous references in their own right). He finally arrives incognito, disguised as a beggar, in order to get the lay of the land, and no one recognizes him. Except the dog. A reference to Odysseus and his faithful hound is a reference to this famous moment.

    What essential literary references have we left out?
     
  • Kelly Anderson 5:00 pm on 2015/06/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , charlotte bronte, , , , , , , , , ,   

    For Your Next Cocktail Party: A Crib Sheet of Classic Literary References 

    I love hanging out with book nerds, for many reasons. One of them is feeling like I’m part of an elite club, one with secret handshakes and passwords and everything. (Remember before Game of Thrones became a TV show, when the “Red Wedding” was a nerd password?) But sometimes, even we’ve missed a few passwords along the way, and can feel left out in the cold when our fellow book nerds drop references they assume we’ll catch. We find ourselves smiling and nodding along, the door to our lovely club closed.To ensure this never happens to you, here’s a list of the top 10 literary references to prove your book nerd mettle (or, you know, allow you to have a richer literary experience, or lead you to reading some awesome books or something).

    1. The madeleine (from Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust)
    If there is a quintessential reference that marks you as a “literary person,” it’s knowing what someone means when they say, “It was my own madeleine moment.” In case you haven’t yet tackled the Mount Everest of reading, here’s what that’s all about. In Search of Lost Time is a seven-volume mega-novel tracking its protagonist through his youth into middle age. In our narrator’s telling, time and memory are blurred together as one, an ever circling mark, reaching back into the past as often as it reaches forward. The most famous moment comes fairly early in the first volume, Swann’s Way. The narrator bites into a madeleine, setting off on one of the novel’s first deep dives into the past, instantly transporting the reader to his childhood family home, with every last detail of the room as clear as day. The madeleine is a famous example of sense memory, nostalgia, and the irresistible power of the past.

    2. The Green Light (from The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald)
    There are a lot of famous symbols in this tale of American decadence, nostalgia, and yearning in the Jazz Age, from East Egg, to Daisy, to those creepy eyes your teacher insisted every last one of us write an essay on, but the green light is the most famous of them all. Throughout the book, Daisy, Gatsby’s lost love, is representative of the ultimate attainment of everything his life can offer: the American dream. We witness his increasingly piteous attempts to convince himself he can re-create a vanished, never-really-was past with her, all of which crash and burn fairly quickly. The green light, which stands at the end of her dock, is a forlorn symbol of all of Gatsby’s doomed hopes, something always on the horizon and never quite reached, something he forever travels toward, “boats against the current, borne ceaselessly back into the past.”

    3. The Wife in the Attic (from Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë)
    Look, if there’s any way I can get anyone else to fall in love with this tale of a brave girl, with no resources or family to speak of, who nonetheless makes a career out of doing the right thing every single time…I’m gonna do it. But more than that, the book is a goldmine of useful literary references—none more so than the specter of the wife in the attic, the haunting figure whose chilling laugh and nighttime wanderings build tension, and the bombshell who kicks off the book’s powerful third act. However horrifying a figure she is, a reference to her is generally much more likely to be pointing to frustrated female desire, sexuality, or energy, especially as seen through an uncomprehending male gaze and in the corset of 19th-century society. If we’re talking about poor Bertha, the least we can do these days is find solidarity with a woman whose very existence was too threatening to be mentioned.

    4. Shakespeare’s Sister (from A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf)
    Maybe you like the band, maybe you’re a fan of the song, but chances are this isn’t the first time you’re hearing this phrase. But where does it come from? Virginia Woolf took the attic wife metaphor farther, giving the trope her own sober-eyed, equally incisive spin. In her masterpiece of an essay, A Room of One’s Own (itself a reference you should probably also know—and read—as soon as possible), Woolf posited the existence of Shakespeare’s sister, a woman whose talents may have equalled those of the Bard, whose imagination, drive, wit, and talent may have also been on offer to the world, but whose gifts were never discovered because no one bothered to ask. “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman,” Woolf states, and Shakespeare’s silent sister was Exhibit A.

    5. “Ew! Ew! Cannot unsee! I want to pull an Oedipus!” (from Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles)
    You might not think that references to a play published thousands of years ago would still be making the rounds at the literary hors d’eouvres table, but here we are. This one’s used as a punchline as often as anything, but it’s as worth getting the joke as it is being involved in whatever Freudian deconstruction of the latest New Great American Novel contender is underway. Oedipus Rex is your classic tale of parent incest and murder: Oedipus, King of Thebes, discovers he is the source of a curse placed upon his land when, unbeknownst to him, he killed his father and married his mother, fulfilling a prophecy that he would be “son and husband to his mother and brother and father to his own children.” When he comes into possession of this delightful information, Oedipus does what most of us might: he immediately puts out his own eyes with his mother/wife’s hairpins, and wanders lost for eternity. Soooo, all in all, a nice, wholesome family show.

    6. “STELLAAAAA!” (from A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennesee Williams)
    This one is much more Brando in origin than it is literary, but Tennessee Williams gave Brando the platform, so I think the bookish folks can still take credit for it. It comes from A Streetcar Named Desire, arguably Williams’ most famous play, centered on one of the saddest entangled trios that ever there was, married couple Stella and Stanley and Stella’s glamorous, down-on-her-luck sister, Blanche DuBois. These three, along with sundry hapless others along for the unfortunate ride, proceed to tear each other apart. At one point, the proceedings reach such a low point Stanley finds himself screaming for his wife to come back to him. While the moment feels sincere when you’re sitting there with the house lights down, wrapped up in a thick blanket of emotion, it’s now become an easily mocked signifier that someone is being a weeee bit melodramatic, usually in the context of a (probably rightfully) disintegrating relationship.

    7. “A plague on both your houses!” (from Romeo & Juliet, by William Shakespeare)
    This one comes from Romeo and Juliet, home of, oh, about a thousand other references I could have named. This, as most of us know, is the tale of a pair of star-crossed lovers from quarreling families who must conduct their romance in secret, and who meet an inevitably doomed end (well, it must have been inevitable, what with the timing on that just-seems-like-you’re-dead poison, right?). What’s less often mentioned is the collateral damage of their passion—namely the friends and family who go down defending what they think is family honor in the face of this romance. Mercutio, the most heartbreaking casualty, dies defending his friend Romeo. Amid the laughter of those who have never taken him near seriously enough, he finally cracks his jokester facade to let everyone involved know his opinion of the senseless bloodshed. Which is how it is generally used now: as a shorthand for endlessly, pointlessly squabbling parties who just can’t seem to get it together.

    8. Tilting at windmills (from Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes)
    This reference comes to us via Spain’s national work, the story of an old man who has convinced himself that he is a knight errant, bent on defeating villains and saving damsels in distress. He sets out on a quest to rid the world of evil, accompanied only by his faithful “squire” Sancho Panza. This book is rife with the ironic symbology of his darkly comic journey that we know to be doomed at the outset. In one particularly famous episode, our supposed knight spots a group of windmills that he convinces himself are giants, and proceeds to haplessly attack them. It’s generally used to refer to someone trying to accomplish a hopeless, if idealistic task that is unlikely to produce the desired result. Just like the don, you’ll be tilting in a circle uselessly, forever, if you continue. There is a sort of admirable beauty to it, but of the sort that comes to us via the tradition of the Fool, not the Hero.

    9. “The book was rather Dickensian….” (Charles Dickens, generally)
    Ah, yes. Now we’re getting into the part where literary folks contribute their own vocabulary. There are a legion of these shorthands. Some are infamously overused, and often considered pretentious (try to deploy the term “Kafkaesque” in conversation and see how fast your couch miraculously empties). But this is a pretty stolid classic that’s stood the test of time, and is too common to get you regaled to the snooty corner. The term “Dickensian” tends to be used to denote the atmosphere of a book: a richly described, likely urban and layered milieu reminiscent of Victorian England. It’s likely filled with social injustice and dark corners, woven into the sort of pervasive class system that defined English society at the time. It is epitomized in books like Oliver Twist and Bleak House, books with both entertainment and a social message at their cores. Remember that part in a Muppet Christmas Carol where everybody in the streets is singing about how mean Scrooge is? Yup. It’s like that. But with no puppets and singing. More workhouses though.

    10. “The dog recognizes me.” (from Homer’s The Odyssey)
    You’ve seen this one in a thousand movies, read it in a hundred romance novels: the hero returns from war a changed man. He leaves a young skinny boy, and returns a grizzled battle veteran nearly 10 years later, walking in off the road to a family that no longer recognizes him. But someone does—and it’s usually the dog. The idea that animals see essential truths long before humans do is a old one—in this case, one of the oldest, dating right back to Homer’s The Odyssey. When the wandering hero Odysseus makes his way home after the fall of Troy, he encounters many obstacles that delay his journey (many of them famous references in their own right). He finally arrives incognito, disguised as a beggar, in order to get the lay of the land, and no one recognizes him. Except the dog. A reference to Odysseus and his faithful hound is a reference to this famous moment.

    What essential literary references have we left out?
     
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