Imperfect and absurd, the modern literary heroine is a woman of our times



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Unapologetically experimental yet utterly captivating, this new type of heroine has become a reader favourite.
JL-Pfeifer/Shutterstock

Sally O’Reilly, The Open University

The way women are portrayed is changing. In film, The Favourite has won numerous awards and features three women, variously wild and untameable, as joint protagonists. Other movies such as The Wife and Can You Ever Forgive Me? show older or unlovely women as sympathetic leads. Brava! But what’s happening in fiction? What are readers looking for in their modern, made-up women?

In this period of widening gender equality, it seems the time is right for new portrayals of women in fiction. Readers are diverse, and want many different things, and various female “archetypes” have existed since storytelling began. Early tales included murderesses and proxy witches such as the Greek figure Medea and Grendel’s mother – who is nameless – from the Old English poem Beowulf.

There were deceiving femme fatales, such as the Sirens who lured sailors to shipwreck, tragic mistresses, including Dido and Cleopatra and poor, resourceful girls like Gretel in traditional fairy-tales.

These enduring archetypes have been customised and reimagined by each succeeding generation. Chaucer’s Wife of Bath is full of worldly wisdom and Shakespeare presented women who were wily and devious like Portia and Lady Macbeth as well as tricked and deceived like Juliet and Desdemona.

Victorian heroines like George Eliot’s Dorothea Brooke claimed their right to passion and equality – and in the 20th century female characters engaged with the world of work as well as matters of the heart, battling for self-determination. The eponymous heroine of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is one example, setting out to impose her will on her impressionable students, though she is ultimately betrayed.

Unpredictable women

So where do we find ourselves now? One notable characteristic of the modern heroine is that her flaws are not only centre stage, they are celebrated. Jane Austen wondered if anyone but herself would like domineering Emma Woodhouse – but now every heroine worth her salt has as many vices as virtues. Women behaving badly fill the pages of books in every genre – from Katniss Everdene, the rebellious heroine of Suzannne Collins’ The Hunger Games to Frances Wray and Lilian Barber, the unlikely conspirators in Sarah Waters’ page-turning novel The Paying Guests.

There is also a recognition that female experience is as universal as male experience. The heroines of contemporary fiction reflect the rich diversity of female lives. Examples include Hortense Roberts, one of the main characters in Andrea Levy’s seminal novel Small Island who finds tenderness in her bleak new homeland, and Elizabeth Strout’s astonishing Olive Kitteridge, whose true complexity is revealed in a narrative that spans decades. Their everyday experiences are compelling and heartrending.

Genres are blending and heroines are complicated. They are morally ambiguous and their behaviour is unpredictable. The doomed mistress is fighting back and taking on the characteristics of the proxy witch. This is demonstrated by the typical heroine of the new crime sub-genre domestic noir which focuses on women’s experience and emotions in the home and workplace. She may find herself married to the modern equivalent of Bluebeard, but he is unlikely to get away with murder. This is exemplified in novels like Gone Girl – Amy Dunne outsmarts her husband and excels in trickery, cunningly creating mantraps while seeming to be the perfect wife.

Scarred, imperfect or absurd

Publishing’s latest passion is for redemptive, feel-good fiction, known as “up-lit”, and this also reinterprets existing tropes. Gail Honeyman’s lonely Eleanor Oliphant hits the vodka behind closed doors and attempts to conceal her dysfunctionality and traumatic childhood from the world, but is stronger and more able to grow than we first realise. One of the reasons for Eleanor’s wide appeal may be that she springs from a line of literary heroines – that of the spirited outsider.

Honeyman draws parallels between Eleanor and Jane Eyre, another abandoned child who finds her own path. Readers are engaged not only by Eleanor’s predicament, but by her determination to transcend disaster. Her most recent antecedent is Helen Fielding’s Chardonnay-swilling Bridget Jones, who is herself the direct descendant of Jane Austen’s best-loved heroine, Elizabeth Bennet.

Women who make their own rules are selling well in literary fiction too. In Conversations with Friends, Sally Rooney’s young Bohemians Frances and Bobbi are brimming with anarchic attitude, sharing “a contempt for the cultish pursuit of male physical dominance” and luxuriating in “shallow misery”. They lead unapologetically experimental lives, creating ripples of sexual confusion.

Following the various cases of male bullying and sexual harassment that have hit the headlines, it seems that fictional heroines reflect a mood of noncompliance with the world that men have organised. The 21st-century heroine may be scarred, imperfect or absurd. True love may be on the cards, but so might illicit sex. And while she may change in the course of the narrative, revealing strengths and strategies that surprise us, conformity is optional. Here’s to the good/bad heroine, long may she remain unredeemed.The Conversation

Sally O’Reilly, Lecturer in Creative Writing, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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John W. Campbell – The Father of Modern Science Fiction


The link below is to an article that looks at John W. Campbell, considered the father of modern science fiction.

For more visit:https://lithub.com/the-man-who-made-science-fiction-what-it-is-today/

Seven academic books that helped to shape modern Britain


Diarmaid MacCulloch, University of Oxford; Ian Kershaw, University of Sheffield; Richard English, Queen’s University Belfast; Ruth Lister, Loughborough University; Simon Frith, University of Edinburgh, and Veronika Fikfak, University of Cambridge

To celebrate the diversity, innovation and influence of academic books over the course of modern history, seven specialists share the book they believe has been most influential on modern British culture and society, as part of Academic Book Week.

1. The Law of the Constitution, by A.V Dicey

Veronika Fikfak, lecturer and fellow in law, University of Cambridge

It is a measure of A.V.Dicey’s influence that more than 132 years after the first publication, the relevance of his writing is at the core of the UK’s departure from the European Union.

While students and scholars have read Dicey for more than a century as a basic constitutional text, the general public will have become familiar with his arguments on parliamentary sovereignty and the primacy of parliament only recently – with Gina Miller, the lead claimant in the legal fight to get parliament to vote on whether the UK can start the process of leaving the EU.

Dicey argued that the British parliament is an “absolutely sovereign legislature” and had the “right to make or unmake any law”. His legacy in the UK constitutional sphere is unrivalled, and to this day he is referred to as “the great constitutional lawyer”, whose writings have not only shaped the constitutional landscape of the UK until now but are also very likely to decide our future.

2. The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-Class Life, by Richard Hoggart

Simon Frith, Tovey professor of music, University of Edinburgh

When it was first published in 1957, Richard Hoggart’s book made sense of the upheavals in post-war ways of life by referring back to working-class culture – and Hoggart’s own childhood – in pre-war Britain.

What is clear now though, is how important the book became for our understanding of what came next: consumer culture. The book was both a founding text for the academic fields of media and cultural studies, and an inspiration for a new generation of novelists, dramatists and film makers – not least for the team behind Coronation Street, launched in 1960.

3. Modern Ireland 1600-1972, by Roy Foster

Richard English, professor of politics, Queen’s University Belfast

At a difficult point in Anglo-Irish politics, this book brought to a very wide audience the insights of the latest and most important academic scholarship on Ireland. And it considered “Irishness” in terms of a layered and inclusive sense of identities which was then less widely accepted than it has subsequently become.

As the Northern Irish Troubles began to be transformed into a much more benign peace process, and as relations between the Republic of Ireland and the UK continue to be shaped in ways that are significant for both islands, this book heralded a more inclusive and subtle interpretation of how properly to understand Ireland. Indirectly, it made it possible to know a fuller reality of British experience too.

4. The Invention of Tradition, by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger

Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor of the history of the church, University of Oxford

As the UK began to come to terms with its retreat from imperial narcissism, Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s book was a dose of common sense. These essays edited in 1983 concentrate on the creation of the UK and its empire, and nationalist reactions against those developments. It is still just as relevant now as it was when it was published, posing many questions for the understanding of our history.

5. The English and their History, by Robert Tombs

Ian Kershaw, emeritus professor of modern history, University of Sheffield

As its title suggests, Robert Tombs’ magnificent book published in 2014 focuses on English, not British, history. However, England’s history was – long before the union with Scotland in 1707 – deeply entwined with that of Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Tombs’ book not only incorporates these interrelationships but is greatly enlightening about them. It is a book that cannot be ignored by anyone wishing to know more about the history of the isles.

6. Poverty in the United Kingdom, by Peter Townsend

Ruth Lister, emeritus professor of social policy, Loughborough University

Published in 1979, this is a monumental work, which helped modern Britain better to understand itself. Not only did it provide the most comprehensive in-depth picture of what modern poverty means for those affected, it also represented a milestone in developing our understanding of poverty.

Its opening words provided a relative definition of poverty, rooted in a concept of relative deprivation, which still resonates nearly 40 years later and which has influenced subsequent research and policy. As predicted at the time, it ranks as the modern day successor to the classic works of Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree.

7. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, by John Maynard Keynes

John Kay, supernumerary fellow in economics, University of Oxford

In a letter to George Bernard Shaw, Keynes wrote: “I believe myself to be writing a book on economic theory, which will largely revolutionise … the way the world thinks about economic problems.” The author’s assessment of its impact was correct. The analysis of the book was the dominant influence on macroeconomic policies in the 30 years that followed World War II, and we still debate, and employ, Keynesian policies today.

The Conversation

Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church, University of Oxford; Ian Kershaw, Emeritus Professor of Modern History, University of Sheffield; Richard English, Professor of Politics, Queen’s University Belfast; Ruth Lister, Emeritus Professor of Social Policy, Loughborough University; Simon Frith, Tovey Chair of Music, University of Edinburgh, and Veronika Fikfak, Lecturer in Law, University of Cambridge

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Does ‘translating’ Shakespeare into modern English diminish its greatness?


Sheila T Cavanagh, Emory University

An uproar ensued after it was reported that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) – southern Oregon’s 80-year-old annual theatrical extravaganza – would be commissioning playwrights to “translate” all of Shakespeare’s plays into modern English.

The project drew jeers from Shakespearean professors, arts practitioners and others who believe passionately in the power of Shakespeare’s original texts, who abhor any attempt to “dumb down” their language.

OSF Director of Literary Development and Dramaturgy Lue Douthit and OSF Artistic Director Bill Rauch maintain that OSF is undertaking a bold, not sacrilegious, experiment. Nevertheless, howls of outrage have followed what Douhit ruefully has deemed a “career-ending” announcement for those involved.

As an educator and lover of Shakespearean drama, I remain committed to the value of presenting Shakespeare’s plays in their original language. I require my students to read Shakespeare’s plays in their original form, and through my work on the World Shakespeare Project, I’ve witnessed undergraduates in places such as Uganda, rural India and Buenos Aires enthusiastically respond to the challenge.

Yet the outrage over the OSF’s new modernization project is misguided. The organization – which is known for experimentation – is simply participating in larger, centuries-long tradition of molding, melding and adapting Shakespeare’s original texts.

Shakespeare for dummies?

Among those criticizing the new project is Columbia University Professor James Shapiro, a prominent Shakespearean scholar who maintains that “by changing the language in this modernizing way…it just doesn’t pack the punch and the excitement and the intoxicating quality of [the original] language.”

Earlier this month, before an audience at Shakespeare’s Globe, he added, “It’s a really bad idea.”

Notably, however, Shapiro (along with many others) responded quite differently to the translation of a different classic text. On Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney’s oft-praised 1999 rewriting of Beowulf, Shapiro wrote in The New York Times:

Examples like this add up to a translation that manages to accomplish what before now had seemed impossible: a faithful rendering that is simultaneously an original and gripping poem in its own right.

In this instance, at least, Heaney’s talent apparently overcame Shapiro’s objections to the concept.

The playwrights the company has commissioned to “modernize” the language of Shakespeare’s works may or may not achieve the majesty attributed to Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf. But for whatever reason, changing the language of Shakespeare remains an anathema, while the setting, costuming and theoretical conceptualization of his plays are fair game for innovation.

The hottest theater ticket in Britain at the moment, for example, is Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, which caused similar outrage for opening with the famous “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy, rather than the traditional “Who’s there?.” By the end of previews, the speech was moved back to (one of) the places it traditionally resides. Cumberbatch’s audiences have been comparatively silent, however, about the production’s addition of modern props, like a phonograph player.

London’s Young Vic Theatre, meanwhile, is currently presenting a strong version of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, with a set filled with dozens of naked, anatomically correct, inflatable dolls. Like the phonograph player on the set of Hamlet, it’s unlikely that theatergoers will object to the dolls, nor will they protest the video screens employed during the performance.

But when it comes to changing the language – well, the main objection, it appears, stems from concerns that it will encourage series such as Shakespeare for Dummies or No Fear Shakespeare, which presents original Shakespearean text adjacent to what its editors call “the kind of English people actually speak today.”

Such projects are understandable, if worrisome. Shakespeare does have a reputation for being too dense for ordinary people to easily comprehend.

At the same time, there are many remarkable projects that bring Shakespeare’s plays to even the most unconventional audiences. There’s Curt Tofteland’s Shakespeare Behind Bars, which offers prisoners the opportunities to present full-length Shakespeare plays, while former Royal Shakespeare Company artist Kelly Hunter’s project Shakespeare’s Heartbeat uses Shakespearean drama as the basis for games designed for children with autism.

Play on!

It’s worth noting the OSF is not planning to replace Shakespeare’s original texts during its current presentation of the complete Shakespearean canon, which will take place over the next decade.

While the company hopes that the newly commissioned versions of Shakespeare will be performed in Oregon and elsewhere, they also retain their commitment to presenting the conventional texts, albeit with regular tweaks and cuts.

As Shapiro and many others admit, Shakespearean drama has been altered, rewritten and reimagined repeatedly since the plays were first presented during the reigns of Elizabeth Tudor and James Stuart.

‘Is life even worth living? That’s what I keeping wondering…’
Dylan Martinez/Reuters

During the English Restoration, King Lear was given a happy ending. More recently, the 2001 film Scotland, Pa. offered a modern retelling of Macbeth, set at a fast food restaurant. Henry IV found itself placed among male prostitutes in Oregon in Gus Van Sant’s 1991 film My Own Private Idaho. Even Justin Kurzel’s acclaimed new film Macbeth opens with a twist: the funeral of Macbeth’s toddler.

The best adaptations – West Side Story, the musical Kiss Me, Kate and the Japanese film Throne of Blood – thrive. The bad, silly and unfortunate – Romeo and Juliet: Sealed with a Kiss and Animal Planet’s Romeo and Juliet: A Monkey’s Tale – fall by the wayside.

As poet Andrew Marvell might say, there is “world enough and time” for any number of Shakespearean adaptations and iterations.

While Shakespeare’s original language is remarkably rich and compelling, like Cleopatra, “age will not wither it.” Neither will OSF’s revisionary experimentation.

The Conversation

Sheila T Cavanagh, Professor of English, Emory University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Article: Modern Life & the British Library


The link below is to an article that takes a look at how the modern world and the old world of the British Library are clashing.

For more visit:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-war-of-words-at-the-british-library-8734405.html

Website: Booki.sh


Social networks and web applications are rapidly multiplying all over the web and it should come as no surprise that a large number of such sites are dedicated to books in one way or another – as well as being useful to those that read books, offering ways to save and share quotes, words, etc. At the BookShelf will be bringing these types of sites to the notice of its readers, as I think they can be of tremendous use and benefit. Some will be useful to most and maybe others to very few, but they are all useful to someone, with the possible odd exception of course.

Booki.sh is a site that allows you to store your ebook library in the cloud, meaning that you can access it wherever you are, provided you have Internet access and the necessary device to do so. Your device only needs a modern web browser in order to use Booki.sh. Booki.sh provides it own software, so it will work in your device in a similar way to an ebook reader (the website explains how to use the software when reading a book).

Do you really need Booki.sh? Well that is another question – if you have a Kindle for example, you probably do not as you already have your library handy (or a very large selection of it on your device) and an ebook reader. However, if you do not have an ebook reader as such on your device (lap top, etc), Booki.sh could be very handy and useful. Either way, it won’t hurt to have a look and decide for yourself.

For more, visit:
https://booki.sh/

This Little Church Went to Market, by Gary Gilley


I have just bought three books by Gary Gilley, two of which I already owned (and had forgotten that I did – probably because of the move, storage and other issues over the last few years). The three books, which I intend to read back to back as it were, are:

  1. This Little Church Went to Market – Is the Modern Church Reaching Out or Selling Out?
  2. This Little Church Stayed Home – A Faithful Church in Deceptive Times, and
  3. This Little Church Had None – A Church in Search of the Truth

As can be seen by the titles of the three books, they all have to do with the modern church and its current state.

So today I start on the first of the three books, ‘This Little Church Went to Market.’

Edmund Barton, by John Reynolds


Yes, I have finally managed to put up another post on this Blog – been quite a while I know. I apologise for that – been very busy with other pursuits.

Today’s book review is on ‘Edmund Barton,’ by John Reynolds. This book is the first in a series on Australia’s Prime Ministers by Bookman Press. The Bookman Press series sought to re-publish the best biographies on each of the Australian Prime Ministers to coincide with the centenary of Australian Federation. ‘Edmund Barton,’ by John Reynolds, was first published in 1948.

This book, though about Edmund Barton, is also a good introduction to the process of Australia becoming a federation of colonies to form the modern day nation of Australia. A biography of Barton must be a study of the beginning of Federation as Barton was probably one of the most important players in bringing Federation to pass, which also meant the creation of Australia as one nation. It is a fascinating introduction to just how a modern Australia was born from the federation of the various colonies that were then situated on the Australian mainland and in Tasmania.

As far as reading goes, I found the book to contain much that interested me, as I have not read or studied a lot on the federation of Australia and the process by which it was achieved. For me this has been an important addition to my understanding of Australian history in an area in which my understanding was quite poor. Having said that, I do not think the book is necessarily an easy read, but requires discipline to keep at it.