To say that I had been waiting to read Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" for sometime would be true. I don't like even discussing the issue of how To say that I had been waiting to read Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" for sometime would be true. I don't like even discussing the issue of how other reviews, or hype, might influence or have to do with my experience of a work. But I had heard so much about this little novella, seen it so revered among many writers I have enormous amounts of respect for.
And I have to say James lived up to my expectations-- in different ways. I was expecting a ghost story for the ages, and I found what appears to be the grandparent of the modern ghost story, as well as horror fiction, for that matter. You have the story presented as "based on true events," as our narrator reads from a manuscript he has, and presents as true. Within the manuscript you have a young governess and children, living on a secluded, sparse, fog-filled English countryside estate.
As a straight ghost story, the novella works incredibly well; especially, when one considers the fact that the spirits seem out to do physical, present harm to those in the children of the House of Bly. However, readings that involve no such definite specters of the departed appear natural. The governess seems to take a job on a physical attraction toward a man who interviews her for a job, and she cannot seem to even mentally acknowledge crimes and offenses committed against the children she governs by those who formerly cared for them. Repressed sexuality, and suppressed mindsets toward sexual abuse are abundant-- but. I do not believe that is all there is to "The Turn of the Screw." What-- for lack of a better word- is a reality in James' novella appears to be subjective, and purposely elusive-- a true, great literary mystery. ...more
I have always been fascinated by, and loved, the ghost story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. Since childhood, I loved everything I had se I have always been fascinated by, and loved, the ghost story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. Since childhood, I loved everything I had seen about the tale on TV, in the Disney animated version, in children's novel adaptations. But I had never read the original source material of Washington Irving's story.
Irving's tale-- part of a larger work "Sketchbook"-- has everything one could want for a pastoral, autumnal work of the small town tale, fable and ghost story. Ichabod and the drowsy, small village/settlement in New York's Hudson country at harvest is beautifully described, in passages such as this: "It was, as I have said, a fine autumnal day; the sky was clear and serene, and nature wore that rich and golden livery which we always associate with the idea of abundance. The forests had put on their sober brown and yellow, while some trees of the tenderer kind had been nipped by the frosts into brilliant dyes of orange, purple, and scarlet." And it is from this lush, secluded, rural autumn setting Irving explores the nature of myth, of legend, of the ghost story.
The work-- somewhere between a novella and a long short story-- is brief, and spares not a word. The reader is told and shown different pieces, viewpoints of this greater story which has become legend. We are told the story was found in papers, and in these papers we are told of the telling to the papers' writer from another. We see Ichabod, in glimpses, and know only what appear to be flashes on his lead up to the now famous ride home from which he never returns. And then we are left with the many tales the locals tell about what they believe happened to Ichabod-- and we are left to wonder. Did Ichabod meet the Headless Horseman on the fateful night? Was he simply a victim of harassment or worse by Brom? It seems, at first, probable that Ichabod did not meet the ghost, but fell victim to Katrina's other suitor. But the questions abound. Because, if so-- why would Brom attack Ichabod after it appeared Katrina rejected him? There are so many questions left unanswered, and so many answers which become the ghost story legend of Sleepy Hollow-- and the reader is beautifully shown just how local legends are born. ...more
A charming but nevertheless maddening tale that proves the victor always gets to write history. The story of a wretched little farm girl from Kansas A charming but nevertheless maddening tale that proves the victor always gets to write history. The story of a wretched little farm girl from Kansas who, upon traveling to a new land, murders the first person she comes in contact with. She is praised for her bloodstained efforts, and upon meeting a group of bizarre friends, she is contracted by a local politician to murder again. ...more
Yes, yes, I know. All time great poet, etc. etc. I've had to read this multiple times for many classes, and the blatant, almost proudly flamboyant se Yes, yes, I know. All time great poet, etc. etc. I've had to read this multiple times for many classes, and the blatant, almost proudly flamboyant sexism is something I won't excuse. ...more
"Breakfast at Tiffany's," the novella, unfortunately suffers from being less popular than the film it inspired. A film which, while having a good dea "Breakfast at Tiffany's," the novella, unfortunately suffers from being less popular than the film it inspired. A film which, while having a good deal of charm, made a romantic comedy out of something that was never intended to be one. Having said that, the novel is an incredibly solid work of poetic, flowing prose on reflection, memory and belonging, as only Truman Capote could write. The characters of the unnamed, undefined writer and his friend the young, hurt and constantly running Holly Golightly are instantly memorable. Holly may not always be likable, but never do we fail to understand the impression she makes on her friend, the writer. Some of Holly's speeches, about loving something wild and being left to look at the sky, are wonderful. I highly recommend this little gem. ...more
"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood... I like my sister Constance... Everyone else in my family is dead." (1)
Although Shirley Jackson is now given "My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood... I like my sister Constance... Everyone else in my family is dead." (1)
Although Shirley Jackson is now given her just due as one of the most influential literary voices of the last one-hundred years, and is often described as a literary parent, of sorts, to major, even more modern voices such as Stephen King-- there has never been a voice quite like Jackson's. And her talents are on display, with beautiful, eerie force, and at their height in her last complete novel "We Have Always Lived in the Castle."
Yes, Mary Katherine Blackwood, known affectionately as Merricat, has always lived in the castle. The big, looming mansion on a solitary, secluded estate just outside of town. With a large, wandering fence spanning the outskirts of the property, locked at all times to keep the town out. Always, she has lived with her family away from the world, above. She would like to take this further, as she consistently fantasizes about how life would be "on the moon." When we first meet Mary Katherine, she informs us that her family, aside from her sister Constance, ailing Uncle Julian and her beloved cat Jonas has died. They were victims of a poisoning which happened-- curiously enough-- within their own home away from the world. Arsenic was laid in the family's sugar bowl, claiming the lives of all but Constance, Merricat and Uncle Julian. Constance, the maker of the evening's meal, has been spared any charge and the family continues to live freely, alone.
Merricat is simply put one of the most fascinating narrators (unreliable? Or nothing so simply categorized?) I've ever read. Her direct, often fantastical prose reads more like she is entering adolescence than leaving it (which, in reality, she is); and perhaps that adds even more to her power, that she will not be changed, or swayed, simply by growing up. Once, when Merricat is forced to venture into the town, the commoners, the hated for groceries, we are shown just how powerful her imagination is, and how much she relies on it to help her get through the experience: "I am walking on their bodies, I thought, we are having lunch in the garden and Uncle Julian is wearing his shawl." (10) In fact, the only way she is able to get through the experience of the town is to kill the various residents off-- in her mind.
Her life, so grounded in imagination, also relies on a form of magic, an almost individualized, nature-based witchcraft through which she lives out her own superstitions and rules for protection. Merricat shares many qualities with her beloved feline Jonas-- most notably the later half of her nickname, and that Merricat lives out part of this magical witchcraft by burying various things of meaning and for different meanings throughout the vast Blackwood property. She also takes things of value to different people-- a book of debts from her father, and later on his watch-- and places them elsewhere in nature, such as being nailed to a tree. When the unimaginably hated cousin, Charles Blackwood, first enters their home the sisters share with cat and uncle, it occurs when her father's book Merricat has nailed to the tree has fallen down. The younger Blackwood sister continues to draw on nature to use this magic to expel Charles' unwanted, transparent ways from the house, bringing water, leaves and twigs and branches into his bed. And, later on, quite possibly fire.
Charles' presence in the Blackwood home is, at the very least, problematic for several reasons. Though he is a relation, he is an outsider, who, Uncle Julian consistently reminds, is quite obviously only interested in the Blackwood fortune. Male and dominating (unlike Uncle Julian's male but wounded presence), Charles' mere presence in the house threatens everything-- and he directly threatens to end the life Merricat and Constance have made for themselves.
Just like her cat, Merricat has buried things around the property. Possessions of people she has loved. Part of Jackson's brilliance leaves the reader with constant speculation of what else, what people, Merricat may have had buried, as well. And why. Though everyone else in her family has died, Merricat barely mentions her feelings on this, or what she thinks of the memory of her parents, and the others. Perhaps the most telling glimpse into Merricat's psyche happens when she retreats one night to the family's summerhouse, which has not been used in years, and recreates a vision of her family sitting down at dinner. A vision which, quite glaringly, appears revised, the hyperbolic opposite of the way things likely, truly were. "'Mary Katherine should have anything she wants, my dear. Our most loved daughter must have anything she likes... Mary Katherine must never be punished. Must never be sent to bed without her dinner. Mary Katherine will never allow herself to do anything inviting punishment.'" (95-96) And so. Jackson leaves the reader to wonder what Mary Katherine has done to invite punishment that led her to be the way that she is, led her to do what she has done. ...more