(I read much less elegantly/yellow-ly)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte: a Review

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It's silly how much trouble I had writing this review. Certainly, I had thoughts about this book - but actually documenting them? Dumbly difficult.
What a little gem, though. Anne is the overshadowed Bronte, generally considered the least interesting of the three, if not dismissed outright as talentless in comparison with her sisters. Which is unfair - she wasn't worse, she was different. She was more of a realist than her sisters, and I would argue that she does her thing just as well as her sisters do theirs.
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Anne wrote Agnes Grey when she was 27, after working as a governess from when she was 19 to 25. She died two years later, after also writing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Basically, Agnes Grey is the story of a young girl who, after her family falls on hard times, becomes a governess and realizes that being a governess is terrible because they aren't treated like human beings. Did anyone else know about how terrible life was for governesses? They were too low class to be socially acknowledged by the people they worked for and too high to be acknowledged by the servants, so they were stuck between the two in a lonely limbo filled with judgement and ostracism. Agnes is made to feel unwanted and inferior wherever she goes, and has nobody to talk to about ANYTHING, such as when a kid spits at her or she starts seriously crushing on the nice new curate in town. I mean, how do you bottle that stuff up?
Obviously, governesses were responsible for the academic and moral education of their pupils. Fair enough. OR WAS IT? Because in Agnes Grey, Agnes'  employers  are completely oblivious and unreasonably demanding  - they are blind to their children's faults, spoil them rotten, blame Agnes for anything that goes wrong, treat her with blatant disrespect - and after ALL THAT wonder why she has no control over the kids!!!

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Some of Agnes' experiences with her pupils exceed the regular hyper, bratty infuriating variety and are truly horrible:

"Tom, who had been with his uncle into the neighbouring plantation, came running in high glee into the garden with a brood of little callow nestlings in his hands.
Mary Ann and Fanny, whom I was just bringing out, ran to admire his spoils, and to beg each a bird for themselves.
"No, not one!" cried Tom. "They're all mine. Uncle Robson gave them to me - one, two, three, four, five - you shan't touch one of them! no, not one for your lives!" continued he, exultantly, laying the nest on the ground, and standing over it, with his legs wide apart, his hands thrust into his breeches-pockets, his body bent forward and his face twisted into all manner of contortions in the ecstasy of his delight.
"But you shall see me fettle 'em off. My word, but I will wallop 'em! See if I don't now! By gum! but there's rare sport for me in that nest."
"But Tom," said I. "I shall not allow you to torture those birds. They must either be killed at once, or carried back to the place you took them from, that the old birds may continue to feed them."
"But you don't know where that is, madam. It's only me and uncle Robson that knows that."
"But if you don't tell me, I shall kill them myself - much as I hate it."
"You daren't. You daren't touch them for your life! because you know papa and mamma and uncle Robson would be angry. Ha, hah! I've caught you there, miss!"
"I shall do what I think right in a case of this sort, without consulting anyone."...
So saying - urged by a sense of duty- at the risk of both making myself sick and incurring the wrath of my employers - I got a large flat stone, that had been reared up for a moustrap by the gardener, then, having once more vainly endeavored to let  the little tyrant to let the birds be carried back, I asked what he intended to do with them. With fiendish glee he commenced a list of torments, and while he was busied in the relation, I dropped the stone upon his his intended victims, and crushed them flat beneath it."

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So THAT'S scarring. Then, in her second situation (she's fired over the bird thing, obviously) one of her charges is Rosalie,  a girl a few years younger than her. As soon as Rosalie realizes that Agnes is maybe-possibly starting to get something (a really cute something, by the way) going with Weston, the aforementioned nice new curate, she immediately snatches him away and doesn't let Agnes spend any time with him, not because she likes him, but so she can torment her governess and get some attention. Because she's bored and she CAN.  Agnes  has to watch the one source of happiness in her new life just slip away from her and ROSALIE KNOWS IT.

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Fortunately, the story resolves happily for Agnes. But as a girl, I feel very lucky that I don't live in the Victorian era. Pretty dresses, yes. Rights as a human being, no.
 I've read several comparisons of Anne's style with Jane Austen's, which I would say isn't totally off the mark; they both write with a particular feeling of light, refined warmth and deliberation.  Anne presents the infuriating unjustness of a governess's situation with a kind of measured, quiet indignation. Final verdict: Agnes Grey is short and sweet and very, very good. Give it a try!
Sorry for all the sad men GIFs today. (Although, would you really call Dawson a man?)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Fun Continues! Well, I'm having fun.

Barnaby Rudge: (I have to begin this post with a reminder to my readers that I by no means encourage them to read Barnaby Rudge. It's very bad.)  There's one girl named Dolly Varden who's sorta fly. She's the "pretty and high-spirited lass" type character, kind of a pre-Dora, but, unlike Dora, she doesn't get punished for being flirty and carefree! And she doesn't faint when she gets kidnapped.

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You go girl.
 My favorite thing about Dolly Varden is that, because she was a very popular character, there are a lot of things named after her. Such as:

A type of cake tin that makes Barbie dress cakes:
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A type of trout:

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A dress style:
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A Long Beach hotel:

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An alt-country band:

Which brings me to another point I want to make! There are a lot of bands named after Dickens characters. Oh yes, next post.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Dickens Ladies 3

The Old Curiosity Shop: the Marchioness. A miserably-treated but spunky servant girl who strikes up a friendship with the book's other amazing character,  Richard Swiveller, who is a sort of benignant ne'er do well clerk at the law office where she works/ is neglected/ bullied by her evil mistress who is ACTUALLY SECRETLY HER MOTHER GASP. In this generally overwrought novel that oozes with saccharine sentiment, the Dick- Marchioness plot line is genuinely super touching because they are original, charming, lively and weird. We all know Dickens' how eccentrics are the best. And while Little Nell is being a flowery, infuriating sadsack, the Marchioness is learning cribbage and generally being awesome.

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 "Mr Swiveller began to think that on those evenings when Mr and Miss Brass were out (and they often went out now) he heard a kind of snorting or hard-breathing sound in the direction of the door, which it occurred to him, after some reflection, must proceed from the small servant, who always had a cold from damp living.
Looking intently that way one night, he plainly distinguished an eye gleaming and glistening at the keyhole; and having now no doubt that his suspicions were correct, he stole softly to the door and pounced upon her before she was aware of his approach.
"Oh! I didn't mean any harm indeed. Upon my word I didn't," cried the small servant, struggling like a much larger one. "It's so very dull down-stairs. Please don't you tell upon me; please don't."
"Tell upon you!" said Dick. "Do you mean to say you were looking through the keyhole for company?"
"Yes, upon my word I was," replied the small servant.
"How long have you been cooling your eye there?" said Dick.
"Oh, ever since you first began to play them cards, and long before."
Vague recollections of several fantastic exercises such as dancing around the room, and bowing to imaginary people with which he had refreshed himself after the fatigues of business; all of which, no doubt, the small servant had seen through the keyhole, made Mr. Swiveller feel rather awkward; but he was not very sensitive on such points, and recovered himself speedily.
"Well--come in," he said, after a little thought. "Here--sit down, and I'll teach you how to play."
"Oh! I durstn't do it," rejoined the small servant. "Miss Sally 'ud kill me, if she know'd I came up here."
"Have you got a fire down-stairs?" said Dick.
"A very little one," replied the small servant.
"Miss Sally couldn't kill me if she know'd I went down there, so I'll come," said Richard, putting the cards into his pocket. "Why, how thin you are! What do you mean by it?"
"It ain't my fault."
"Could you eat any bread and meat?" said Dick, taking down his hat. "Yes? Ah! I thought so. Did you ever taste beer?"
'I had a sip of it once,' said the small servant.
"Here's a state of things!" cried Mr. Swiveller, raising his eyes to the ceiling. "She never tasted it--it can't be tasted in a sip!
Why, how old are you?"
"I don't know."
Mr. Swiveller opened his eyes very wide and appeared thoughtful for a moment; then, bidding the child mind the door until he came back, vanished straightway. Presently he returned, followed by the boy from the public house, who bore in one hand a plate of bread and beef and in the other a great pot, filled with some very fragrant compound…Relieving the boy of his burden at the door, and charging his little companion to fasten it to prevent surprise, Mr. Swiveller followed her into the kitchen.There!" said Richard, putting the plate before her. "First of all, clear that off, and then you'll see what's next."
The small servant needed no second bidding, and the plate was soon empty...
"Now," said Mr. Swiveller, putting two sixpences into a saucer, and trimming the wretched candle, when the cards had been cut and dealt, "those are the stakes. If you win, you get 'em all. If I win, I get 'em. To make it seem more real and pleasant, I shall call you the Marchioness, do you hear?"
The small servant nodded.
 'Then, Marchioness,' said Mr Swiveller, 'fire away!'
The Marchioness, holding her cards very tight in both hands, considered which to play, and Mr Swiveller, assuming the gay and fashionable air which such society required, took another pull at the tankard, and waited for her lead."

They're my favorite, the end.

Awesome Dickens Ladies Part 2

Nicholas Nickleby: the Infant Phenomenon, hilarious member of the acting troupe Nicholas joins.
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A jigsaw puzzle of Nicholas Nickleby. 
"This, sir," said Mr. Vincent Crummles, bringing the Maiden forward, "This is the Infant Phenomenon--Miss Ninetta Crummles."

"Your daughter?" inquired Nicholas.

"My daughter--my daughter," replied Mr. Crummles; "the idol of every place we go into, sir. We have had complimentary letters about this girl, sir, from the nobility and gentry of almost every town in England."

"I am not surprised at that," said Nicholas; "she must be quite a natural genius."

"Quite a--!" Mr. Crummles stopped: language was not powerful enough to describe the Infant Phenomenon. "I'll tell you what, sir," he said; "the talent of this child is not to be imagined. She must be seen, sir--seen--to be ever so faintly appreciated. There; go to your mother, my dear."

"May I ask how old she is?" inquired Nicholas.

"You may, sir," replied Mr. Crummles, "She is ten years of age, sir,"

"Not more?"

"Not a day."

"Dear me," said Nicholas, "it's extraordinary."

It was; for the Infant Phenomenon certainly looked older, and had moreover, been precisely the same age for certainly five years. But she had been kept up late every night, and put upon an unlimited allowance of gin and water from infancy, to prevent her growing tall, and perhaps this system of training had produced in the Infant Phenomenon these additional phenomena."
So, that's pretty great.

Buuut I have a whole lot to say about her, so I'll do another post. Who in the world could it be? THE SUSPENSE!!

Where I forever and always disprove the claim that Dickens couldn't write good female characters....Part 1 DUN DUN DUNN

That Dickens was abysmal at writing lady type characters is sort of a literary given. And I mean, sure, headstrong, heavily-bearded dude writing in the Victorian era. When some other guy named Coventry Patmore actually wrote this poem:
Man must be pleased; but him to please
Is woman's pleasure; down the gulf
Of his condoled necessities
She casts her best, she flings herself.
 How often flings for nought! and yokes 
Her heart to an icicle or whim,
Whose each impatient word provokes 
Another, not from her, but him;
While she, too gentle even to force
His penitence by kind replies,
Waits by, expecting his remorse, 
With pardon in her pitying eyes.


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     Plus, Dickens had numerous decidedly bad relationships with women throughout his life, almost all of which were caused by his being a dick (ummm like when he left his wife Catherine for the 18 year old Ellen Ternan). 

    So what with disgusting cultural norms and icky personal baggage, there's no denying that Dickens' fictional depictions of women are mostly repugnant and frustrating, either doe-eyed weepy angels or monstrous vicious shrews. BUT you are missing out on quite a bit you think all his women characters are terrible. He sucked but he was also an extraordinarily brilliant person and he wrote some pretty kickass female characters to match, even if they kind of slip through the cracks.  For all the Little Nells and Lucie Manettes, there are also your Betsey Trotwoods and Helena Landlesses. Let's talk about them!

The Pickwick Papers: As the majority of the book is about a bunch of old guys who ramble around the countryside and drink, there are SURPRISINGLY not a lot of women. There only one of marginal interest is Mary Weller. Mary Weller was actually the name of Dickens' nursemaid when he was little, and she used to tell him creepy stories.

Oliver Twist: Nancy. As a prostitute and thief she is the complete antithesis of a "good" Victorian woman, but rather than vilifying her as would have been more acceptable based on the morals of the time, Dickens makes Nancy the compassionate, valiant heroine of the story. And a lot of readers don't realize that, based on a comment she makes to Fagin about Oliver's age,  she's only 16 or 17. Damn, right?  She is tragic, strong, compelling and morally complex in a novel where most of the characters are either ALWAYS picking wildflowers at six in the morning or ALWAYS kidnapping orphans.

We'll pick up again next time with Nicholas Nickleby. I still have nothing to say about Agnes Grey, so I'll probably just rant about governesses some time soon.

Monday, August 12, 2013

While I try to think of things to say about Agnes Grey, there's this

Me: "It's a song by The Smiths rewritten to be about Charles Dickens's life."
Supportive Friend: "Everything about what you just said sounds terrible."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


As of today, my blog has received 500 views!! In terms of the overall blogging world I don't know if that is pathetic or respectable for a fledgling blog, but TO ME it feels like a big fat whopping deal. So thank you thank you thank you, readers!!! I am very grateful to anyone who takes time out of their day to hear/read what I have to say. (Now, somebody make me a celebratory cake.)

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Or we could have a dance party.