Things I Thought About Before I Watched ‘Shakespeare Lives!’

Shakespeare FireworksThis year, the world is going Shakespeare-mad. Or, at least, that’s what British tourism companies and theatre troupes the world over are hoping as we mark four hundred years since the Bard shuffled off this mortal coil, and about four hundred and fifteen years since he wrote the phrase “shuffled off this moral coil”. Last Saturday, the 23rd of April, was the official date, which by all accounts was met with the kind of enthusiasm usually reserved for football matches or the final episode of The Great British Bake-Off.

In Stratford-upon-Avon, the Royal Shakespeare Company held a two-hour event to celebrate the work of Britain’s best-known playwright. As I settled in to watch a show which featured British theatre royalty (and, indeed, some actual royalty too), I began thinking about the way that Shakespeare has settled into our collective understanding of literature, culture, and art. Continue reading

Top Ten Books That Have Made Me Laugh

I’ll admit, I’m cheating a little this week – instead of following The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt this week, I’ve decided to make a small modification. This is mostly because I think humour is hugely subjective. It’s also because I’ve been told on multiple occasions that I have a simply dreadful sense of humour, so I feel it’s only fair that I not impose that on others. So instead of sharing ‘Ten Books That Will Make You Laugh’, I’ve decided to list the books that have made me laugh (or, at least, think ‘hey, that’s pretty funny’). Warning: the following may contain incredibly childish jokes, simply dreadful puns, and even a little toilet humour. You’ve been warned. Continue reading

Fat Men, Fat Gods: The Beauty Myth (1990), by Naomi Wolf

Beauty MythIf you’re a woman in 2016, chances are you’ve probably, at some stage in your life, seen a picture of another woman – whether it be in an advertisement, in a film, or just on the street – and thought, ‘Geez. She’s so much prettier than me’. You’ve probably done something painful or inconvenient or expensive to your body at least once – whether you’ve plucked, scrubbed, scraped, steamed, smeared, or even laid down on a table and let someone put a scalpel to your skin. And if you haven’t, then chances are you’re either: a) living outside human society as a cultureless hermit, in which case you probably won’t be reading this anyway, or b) you’re one of the rare people who are actually happy with their bodies, in which case I applaud you and beg you to kindly TELL ME HOW THE HELL YOU DO IT thank you please and kind regards. Continue reading

Mansplain No More: Men Explain Things To Me (2014), by Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things to MeApparently there’s this thing called ‘mansplaining’. It used to be Internet Speak; then it was Word Used By Journalists Desperate to Remain Relevant to Internet Speakers; and finally, in 2014, it was elevated to Word, thanks to its inclusion in the Macquarie Dictionary. And before there was ‘mansplaining’, there was ‘Men Explain Things To Me’.

Of course, I’ve heard the term a few times while browsing the Interwebs. But never having heard of Solnit’s essay, I thought that ‘mansplaining’ was a cute term for when men try and explain their supposedly incomprehensible actions to women. I thought it was the sort of thing that belonged to the world of sitcoms and similar: “No, babe, you don’t understand. Men watch sports because they don’t like knitting /cooking /shopping / insert condescending female stereotype here”. Continue reading

Am I a Bad Feminist? Bad Feminist (2014), by Roxane Gay

Bad FeministAm I a bad feminist? That’s probably the question a lot of people asked themselves when they saw the title of Roxane Gay’s essay collection Bad Feminist (2014). The insidious nature of contemporary sexism – veiled in ancient gendered representations, in advertising and the media, and in the rise of ‘irony’ as a catch-all phrase for dealing with accusations of misogyny – certainly makes it difficult to tell at all times whether sexism is actually happening, whether we’re unconsciously (or even consciously) accepting stereotypes of gender as they are handed to us.

The title of Roxane Gay’s collection of essays instantly intrigued me, because it seemed to be addressing this issue face-on. It seemed to be considering what it means to identify as a feminist in a world where a song about rape (‘Blurred Lines’) can be a chart-topper, and where young women can write on the internet about being perfectly willing to let a man beat them simply because he is a celebrity (which Gay addresses marvellously in an essay entitled ‘Dear Young Ladies Who Love Chris Brown So Much They Would Let Him Beat Them’). Existing in this kind of world as a self-identified feminist is tricky enough, but it doesn’t help when we are daily exposed to such content and, even worse, sometimes find ourselves humming the chorus of ‘Smack Ma Bitch Up’ (in case you can’t tell, my taste in music is almost pathetically out of date) without even realising. Continue reading

War, Peace, and a Scandal or Two: War and Peace (2016)

War and Peace 2016Haven’t seen this adaptation yet? Beware of the spoilers!

Another year, another massive costume drama from the BBC.

I spent the latter part of last year nursing a deep but abiding impatience for the premiere of War and Peace, Andrew Davies’ latest adaptation of a classic novel. I was thrilled; not only had I actually already read the source material (which, when the source material happens to be a 1,300 page book, is definitely something to celebrate) but I was, for the first time in my life, actually in the UK at the same time as it premiered, and could therefore avoid the two-year delay which I would have faced were I still back in Australia. Naturally, I was excited. Add to that the fact that Davies was writing the script. Seeing as I’d loved his adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and Wives and Daughters, I was pretty sure I’d be pleased with just about anything he decided to do with Tolstoy.

There was, understandably, a lot of hype around this particular adaptation. Big names were involved, budgets were large, and the source material was felt to be particularly timely: the fallout from war, the ruthlessness and carelessness of too-powerful men, and the sense of a society and a world on the brink of major upheaval. Continue reading

A Very Short Review of a Very Long Novel: War and Peace (1869), by Leo Tolstoy

War and PeaceThis book is #16 on my Classics Club list.

War and Peace is well-known for being an absolute behemoth of a book. Full of deep characterisation and intricate plotting, it would probably take several reviews to begin to cover all the material in this 1,300-page novel.

So instead of trying to pick apart the immense complexity of this book, I’m going to go in the other direction, and simplify it as much as possible. Because I don’t want to bore you, or end up re-reading the entire book again (seriously, if I have to re-read this thing straight away I will cry). Also there’s a new season of Call the Midwife on at the moment – I mean… I have much work to do for… uni. Yeah. Um. Uni work. That’s right. So in the interests of brevity, I present you with:

Ten Things I Learnt From Reading War and Peace

1. Historians suck. They majorly suck. Why? Because they’re not nearly as clever as Tolstoy, that’s why. So instead they write about ‘destiny’ and ‘great men’ and ‘the will of the people’, and bore readers with extremely long expeditionary essays that seem to – OH WAIT. That’s exactly what Tolstoy does. Only in reverse. Gasp! Continue reading

Lit Major Abroad: Great Scott! Abbotsford, Melrose, and Sir Walter Scott

Abbotsford ThistleFamous writers throughout history have often had their well-known quirks. Many of them have created work-spaces that inspire and surprise. They can be placed into all sorts of categories, from the mildly romantic to the Spartan. And amidst all these categories, Walter Scott’s Abbotsford ranks somewhere between ‘inspired’ and ‘downright mad’.

Scott, who rose to fame in the early nineteenth century as a writer of sweeping historical romances, is one of Scotland’s most famous writers. He helped romanticise Highland culture and brought the stories of Scottish heroes like Rob Roy to the attention of the world. In the early Victorian period, everyone knew his name. From Ivanhoe to Waverley to The Lady of the Lake, Scott was a medievalist extraordinaire. What’s more, he wasn’t content to simply write about the past. He was determined to live in it. Or, rather, to live in a re-created romantic ideal of the past. Continue reading