Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice

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A Gender (not Ginger) Post June 18, 2010

After the disappointment that was my earlier post on rank and title (I’m still reeling – it was really good but then I told myself … well, after a few more books it will be better so maybe it was WordPress telling you to hold off on that for now – at least you got the general ideas I was trying to word), I’ve decided to do the gender post tonight because … well, I just feel like being a little academic at the moment.

I know you're hardly as shocked as this AVPM .gif - but look at that boss poster!

Seriously, if you’ve never watched A Very Potter Musical on Youtube, click the .gif above and you’ll be taken to it. I have it on my iPhone – yeah, it’s ‘totally awesome.’

But – anyway. Gender. (And you totally know I just went and watched a part of AVPM).

It’s strange I’ve never really addressed this in the beginning. I guess I thought it was pretty straight forward. It wasn’t until Duchess by Night that I felt like I finally had meat to work with concerning gender.

Harriet is fantastically androgynous – I say fantastically because it really is well … fantastic because it’s different. Under the guise of self-depreciation, we have a woman that can play herself off as a male and even think that she looks better as a male.

“‘[Harriet] need offer no proof of her courage,’ Villiers said. ‘Please recall that she just carried a goose into the ballroom while wearing a nightgown. One doubts Saint George exhibited such steel while setting out to fight the dragon. Yet I am not certain …’ His eyes rested thoughtfully on her chest.

Raising her chin, Harriet reached insider her voluminous sleeves and pulled out a rolled woolen stocking. And another. A third and fourth.

Then she flattened the fabric against her chest. ‘I think,’ she said coolly, ‘that I shall look very well as a man.’

‘Indeed,’ Villiers said. ‘The idea has possibilities.’ p.31

“Actually, her legs looked shapely and strong. The truth was that while Harriet always felt smothered in women’s clothing, she was starting to think that she looked just right in breeches. Her body was a kind built for endurance, with muscles in her legs that came from the way she walked for miles after breakfast.” p.58

“The odd thing is, Harriet, that you do look masculine. I mean that you look perfectly feminine and delectable in a gown, but there’s something, oh, out-doors-ish about you at the moment. I really wouldn’t guess that you were a woman in a man’s costume. I wonder if I could get away with it.” p.59

“And he [Harriet] didn’t look too sissy in a riding jacket. He looked delicate in some lights, but he had a good strong chin. The real problem was his eyes. What man had eyes of burned velvet brown?” p.105

“‘No back talk from you, young Harry,” he said. ‘What is your name, by the way?’

‘Harriet.’

She saw the name settle in his mind, grow into a smile. ‘I like it,’ he said.

‘I like Harry better.’ p.219-220

Harriet even talks about having her own wardrobe altered by Villier’s tailor to take on this new side of her. In a way, Harriet is embracing this masculine side of her. In fact, I felt odd when, at the end, she appears with her hair done up and a dress on.

“Harriet was exquisite as a woman. Her hair was piled on her head, all the curls tamed. In a gown she was even more sensual than in breeches. Now she didn’t have a cravat under her chin, but a gown that plunged in front to show her creamy skin, her small waist … her gown’s billowing skirts made [Jem] long to tip her over, uncover her secrets.” p.349

Let’s even take a look at the name – look how easily Harriet turns into Harry. Even Jem’s name is a somewhat effeminate form of Justinian. So what’s happening here?

Lit f-ing theory time.

Let’s bring in Cixous – poststructuralist feminist theory, okay?

Briefly, in my lit theory course, we wrestled with one of her essays. We were told to read it as we’d read a piece of literature rather than theory and that was helpful – but what it came down to was: there is this sort of voice where females embrace their masculinity and males are afraid to embrace their femininity – you need to embrace both sides though to be a sort of whole being (I’m doing this from memory – if I’m wrong – jump in and correct me).

Anyway – you can see this in Duchess by Night. Harriet is fully ready to embrace this side of herself. But, as one suspects, Jem is not eager to accept he may have feelings for his own sex – a passion for it, a feminine feeling for argument’s sake.

Remember his comment on her velvet brown eyes above?

“Jem ground his teeth. Cope practically coo’ed his little retort.

He should go upstairs right now and tell Villiers that there was no way he could turn a moon-calf into a bull. But Cope was walking up the stairs And the odd thing was that Jem actually liked him.” p.105

“Jem snorted, but, on the other hand, he didn’t want to be alone with Cope. God forbid he should find himself in another discussion of hair color. Not that it was Cope’s fault exactly, but he just seemed to bring out a side of Jem that – that –

Didn’t exist.” p.109

Unlike Jem, Harriet doesn’t mind being alone with women or even chatting to them – she thinks twice, of course, but is able to carry her masculine side out just fine – telling a girl, when they are alone, that she is a eunuch. Harriet isn’t as afraid as Jem to ‘play’ with that side – yes, she’s apprehensive – but she goes further than him.

Jem only becomes comfortable around Harriet when he knows she is a female. The reader, in a moment of dramatic irony if you didn’t catch the Latin bit (when she doesn’t understand Villier’s conversation with Jem in Latin, Jem confirms in his mind that she’s a girl – he reveals this to her during sex), is surprised when during a fencing lesson where Jem is treating her like Harry, he begins to strip her with his sword (wow, that could be a total metaphor, but I won’t go there) and taunt her in a language he really would never have used if she was male and he was attracted to her/him.

It’s Jem being cocky – but revealing his insecurity.

“‘Women are so boring,’ he said softly, his thumb rubbing the line of her jaw. She jerked her head away. ‘I had no idea how arousing it was to fence with someone … with you. It made up my mind. I never thought I was that sort of man, but for you, with you, I’m going into new territory.’

‘Not with me,’ she said though [sic] clenched teeth. ‘I’m not interested.’

‘No!’ she spat.” p.216

After stringing her along, Jem does reveal that he knows her secret. But look at how cocky he suddenly is above. Would he really embrace that side of himself, if Harriet wasn’t a woman?

Yes, this is also the sex post – but the sex is just normal in this text. It’s nothing we haven’t seen in the others. What I really wanted to focus on though was the role gender played.

It’s interesting to note – I spoke of carnivalesque I believe in my ginger post … or maybe the post that was lost (wiki it if so) and in the end things do go back to normal. Harriet resumes her role as does Jem (though, of course, they marry) – but some strange gender balance is restored.

Harriet becomes a mother.

Jem the proud father.

And his daughter Eugenia now at the age to be courted.

But for a couple hundred pages, we get to see this strange play of gender and sex – and it was interesting – it’s something I could really only hope to find when reading these books. Not to demean them or anything – this book was rich pickings for things to talk about – and none of them completely negative … well, until we get to the family bit.

Yeah! word count is at 1383 – finally, I feel accomplished.

WOOT!

Now for a …

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Reference

James, Eloisa. Duchess By Night. New York: Avon Books, 2008.

 

My Week Off: Vlog 1 June 12, 2010

And, yep, I’m planning to do this each week I take off.

I don’t know why. I just am.

 

Bringing in the Lit Theory: Structuralism June 4, 2010

Well, I’m finally a little more well rested than I have been. I’m still a little wonky, but eh. I have to thank B&N.com though for making my evening – I was able to get the special edition of The Full Monty online for a mere $10 (coupons & free shipping for members -woot!).

But blah blah – serious posting time.

I’ve decided that after every three books, I talk a little about structuralism, which will of course bring in the whole point that there is a formula when writing a romance novel.

So – yay! Lit Theory day!

I'm still ashamed I spent money to see this film ... never give in to cinematic peer pressure - even if it involves MGoode

And I’ve even brought out the big guns.

What do I mean by the big guns … beyond linking you to the darn book. This – this is what I mean:

I love this book. I mean - I love it. Look at it! It's gorgeous!

The editors of this book, Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, give a brief introduction of Structuralism before they move into the essays. Oh – I love seeing my notes from class again – makes me giddy. Anyway:

“Levi-Strauss [and early Structuralist] began to see that culture, like language, is a system characterized by an internal order of interconnected parts that obey certain rules of operation. A structure is both like a skeleton and like a genetic code in that it is the principle of stability and coherence in any cultural system, while also being the principle of action that alows the culture to exist in time as a living thing.” p.54

Okay cool – so how does this apply to literature? Let’s move into John Culler’s The Linguistic Foundation.

“Structuralism is thus based, in the first instance, on the realization that if human actions or productions have a meaning there must be an underlying system of distinctions and conventions which makes this meaning possible.” p.56

I don’t want to override anyone with lit theory but breaking down Culler and applying it to literature – we pretty much have this: there are those ‘system of distinctions and conventions’ that make ‘meaning possible’ – ie: the system of distinctions and conventions are the rules that this genre follows and the meaning possible is the assigned ‘genre’ of these texts.

Every little plot device in these novels seem to support this ‘underlying system’ – a system that creates the bodice-ripper, the romance novel.

So – turning to If He’s Wild – what’s the structure? (briefly)

  1. We meet the two protagonists – Hartley is the supposed ‘rake’ (though his actions are excused by his work for the government – nah, that never really is cleared up) and Alethea, the virgin widow
  2. Hartley is taken with Alethea’s beauty, Alethea’s always felt a connection with Hartley since she’s had visions of him – they become the central focus of each other’s affections
  3. Enter impediments – Alethea and Hartley are almost killed several times, they struggle with their feelings, they realize, after these impediments, they love each other
  4. Enter family – Hartley and Alethea live happily ever after (married) with a son who has ‘healing powers’ and Hartley’s nephew and niece

I know a lot of these posts have pitted this third book against the past two – but let’s look at the structure of those past two novels in comparison.

A Highlander’s Homecoming

  1. Protagonists introduced: Robbie, time-travelling duty-bound guy and Isa, the strong willed redhead who lives on her own farm
  2. Robbie is not quick to like Isa but unwittingly does (let’s say it’s because of her spunk) and Isa, of course, takes to him eventually giving into her desires and sleeping with him – they become the focus of each other’s affections
  3. Enter impediments: there’s a land fued, Isa’s tricked into marrying some other dude, she and Robbie wrestle with their feelings but love prevails and she saves him – they go on the run and to save Robbie from dying (and Isa from a bad marriage) they go forward in time
  4. They live happily ever after in the future (married) with their new family

Viking in Love

  1. Protagonists introduced: Caedmon, a sort-of family guy and walking penis, who just wants to stop bedding girls because he gets them all pregnant, and Breanne, another strong-willed redhead that helped her sisters kill their brother-in-law
  2. Caedmon is reluctant to like Breanne as is she, and their sexual relationship starts as more of a pact, but they soon fall in love and they soon become the only object of each other’s affections
  3. Enter impediments: people wonder what happened to the murdered brother-in-law, some people come to visit Caedmon, some really random things happen that really make no sense but are still ‘impediments’ and just before her father can whisk her away from Caedmon, Breanne and Caedmon are trapped by the children and are caught ‘tupping’
  4. Caedmon and Breanne live happily ever (married) after with his kids from previous ‘tupping’ sessions and the strong probability of more children to come

So. I’ll let you put two and two together with that. There is a very strong structure that underlies all three of these novels – the only difference lays in how they are written. All of these ‘events’ or ‘signs’ as Culler would call them make up this genre (and let’s just use that word lightly).

There seems to be always two protagonists with eyes only for each other.

There seems to always be some impediment in the way that almost keeps them apart.

Somehow they overcome the impediment and live happily ever after.

Married. With a family.

“Hartley propped himself up on his elbows and stared at her ‘Alethea?’

She took his hand and placed it low on her belly. ‘Olympia told me there was a child the day we saved you, but I had no sign of it yet. Now I have. Yes, Hartley, you will become a father in seven or eight months.’

He stared at her belly, nearly completely cover by his hand, and then looked at her. It took a moment for the news to really sink into his mind, and then Hartley felt a stinging in his eyes. He blinked quickly and gently kissed the place where his child grew.” p.331-2

Always a family, always married – the endings don’t surprise me anymore but the first time I realized that this was a pattern, I was curious. Beyond the escapist sex scenes, the historical fiction, etc. – there was also this longing or wanted family at the end. It’s almost like a return to innocence or a promise that everything will be all right, everyone will be loved in the end.

It’s not so much curious as it is fascinating that all three of the novels ended this way.

So there – a post about If He’s Wild without the snark – and with a little bit of lit theory – a surprise element of structure: family, marriage – that is the happily ever after.

And passionate sex, of course – all three did end with that as well – but family ends up being the winner here – always having the last word.

So far, at least.

Now – lunch for me – and look what is waiting in the fridge!

BRIE!!!

Excitement.

Monday starts a new book – secret of course!

Have a fantastic weekend.

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

References

Culler, Jonathan. “The Linguistic Foundation.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 1988, p.56-58.

Howell, Hannah. If He’s Wild. New York: Zebra Books, 2010.

Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. “Introduction: The Implied Order: Structuralism.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 1988, p.53-55.

 

“Lout sex, oh, yeah! …” – A Viking Porno May 27, 2010

The most awesome tea mug in the universe - Sarah and I are wearing Viking hats her Grandparents sent. Awesome - I know.

But to the title of this post. That is an actual (italicized) quote from the book:

“Lout sex, oh, yeah! …” p.187

Most of the stuff I read in this novel you really can’t make up. I need a helpful cup of tea. I know in the first text I talked a lot about it reading like fanfiction and what contributed to that. So – an analogy: the previous text is to fanfiction what Viking in Love is to porn.

Yep it’s the sex post – but also a dialect post in disguise. Sure, we’ve got the random use of different period phrases – and I’d say used better, in fact, in this novel. At the end, the author gives a note to the reader explaining why she chose the period and her ties to it (her family was descending from Vikings). Yesterday, I talk a lot about period in the post with my mom and how it’s not so much period-correctness that these novels use – it’s the period itself that makes the books … sexy, I guess.

Oh – and more on that author’s note – my favorite quote is her opening line:

“I hope you liked what I call my medieval version of the Dixie Chicks song video, ‘Good-Earl.'” p.360

You can find that video and song here. Sure enough, the actual ‘plot’ of the novel is summed up in that video. Viking princesses kill the husband of one of their sisters because he’s abusive. It all gets sort of brushed over in the end, though – again convenience. But I applaud Hill for making this note to the reader. It was interesting for me to read why she chose the period, how versed she may be in it and what not.

But then – we’re not looking for period accuracy anymore. That’s probably why I found the note so intriguing – it was a period piece with a period she felt connected to – maybe that’s why the dialect wasn’t totally butchered and why there was a handy-dandy though I never used it glossary in the back of terms relevant to the novel.

So – for period correctness in a romantic novel – I’m applauding Hill. Sure, there’s no bibliography and not the usual things i look for, but we’re given more than what’s to be expected. And I think that’s pretty cool for a Viking Porno.

Clap, damn you! Clap!

You know, I think I could live off of tea. The cup I just made is positively divine and makes me question coffee drinkers – is it worth it without whiskey and Baileys or one or the other?

But moving on. The dialect post in disguise. I don’t know if I can do this but I’m going to change the word dialect to dialogue. There’s a difference obviously – dialect is – just quickly – accent, inflections, what I’ve been talking a lot about. Dialogue is a conversation.

This past school year I was introduced to Bakhtinian literary theory (and I just remembered why I woke up in a panic – I dreamt my computer had burned in a fire and I lost all of my papers from college on theory – no joke). My first exposure to it was during my independent study on Victorian Children’s literature. I had taken a very strong liking to the effects of dialogue – not just between characters (and my favorite part of writing is dialogue) but also between the text and the reader. My wonderful fantastic etc. professor gave me a copy – what I now call ‘The Purple Book’ – of Bakhtinian theory – The Dialogic Imagination.

I sometimes coddle a bottle of Jameson. I also sometimes coddle a book on Lit Theory. I also like to sleep with 'Bleak House' under my pillow. Shut up.

Before I dive into Bakhtin’s actual essay’s – I was given a great summary of his theory in my ‘Lit Theory’ class (haha, go figure). I’m stealing this quote from a recent paper – I don’t have the book as it was a print out, but I will link to it nonetheless as I do have it’s information.

“A speaker and a listener form a relationship. Language is always the product of at least two people in a dialogue, not a monologue.” – Bressler p. 45

The speaker in this case, is the text. The listener, the reader. Easy enough. So, with a text you have a dialogue between the reader and the text. Let’s follow this up with something actually from The Purple Bakhtin Book (form his essay Discourse in the Novel):

“The novel as a whole is a phenomenon multiform in style and variform in speech and voice. In it the investigator is confronted with several heterogeneous stylistic unities, often located on different linguistic levels and subject to different stylistic controls.” Bakhtin p.261

I’ll break it down into what I’m applying this theory to with Viking in Love. I set a reminder though that I’m very new to literary theory and this blog is partially a way for me to continue to explore it. If you have another application of this theory or if you think I misinterpreted it, please comment – I’m not here to be the ultimate source of knowledge – I’m still very much learning.

Okay – back to breaking it down. First – make sure you get the idea of the text and reader as a dialogue (I swear, this is going to pay off once I start addressing the novel). Now, I am going to go make myself another cup of tea, get my computer charger, and explain myself – I’m like the Doctor, sometimes. I need tea to fully regenerate.

Okay – tea fixed, cord found, and now to explain myself. We’ve seen how the novel is a multiform phenomenon in style (the mix of the contemporary with the past) and of course the varying ‘speech and voice’, which I’ve also addressed to an extent that I think is enough to dive a little into Bakhtin here. Keep all that in mind as well, of course. This leaves us with the ‘heterogeneous stylistic unities’ and within these different ‘stylistic controls.’

What I’m going to argue or … I don’t know make a claim for is this: the stylistic controls of Viking in Love are found in the language of the novel, the crude sexuality of the text that interacts with the ‘investigator’ (ie: in this case, the reader). The interaction forms a dialogue of pornography. Rather than watching it on the television, through this dialogue we are having a similar experience through the dialogue of the text to reader.

I would stop myself from touching on Mayhue in this case because her text was practically bowdlerized compared to Hill. Sure, there’s the longing and the romantic descriptions but Hill is to the blunt point. Her text’s contribution to the dialogue of reader and text is raunchy – it’s half of the porno.

The other half is supplied by the reader. While reading the text, the reader is giving the other half of the dialogue, obviously and, thus, adding to the full picture of this viking porno.

Sex scene time!

“She succumbed to the forceful domination of his kisses then and only close her eyes when he moved down her body and began to suckle at her breasts. Turns out that big breasts were not a necessity for love making. Turns out big nipples were good for something.

Ribbons of heat unfurled in her as he brought her to another of those peaking things, just by fondling her breasts and dipping his talented fingers into her woman folds. She had scarce caught her breath when he whispered: ‘Now you can look.’

With arms levered on either side of her head, he was positioned betweist her thighs, his phallus at her woman’s portal. ‘Are you ready?'” p.183

Yeah, I just cock-blocked you all, as they say – but I did it intentionally. And before I forget, there’s this great contest for worst sex scene in a novel that’s held I think every year. You can read and find information about them here.

So – the dialogue of porn. ‘His phallus at her woman’s portal’ – how is the text interacting with the reader? The text is giving a vivid play-by-play of this sex scene – the reader gets pretty much every detail – as if they were watching it on a television screen or computer monitor. It’s lit porn.

Un-cock-bocked:

“‘How would I know?’ she snapped.

Slowly he pushed himself inside her, only a little, then pulled out. Then, in a little more, then out again.

‘You are so tight,’ he grunted out. ‘So wonderfully tight.’

She could tell when he hit her maidenhead, but it only pinched a bit, and the pain was soon gone, replaced by the most amazing fullness. Sweat beading his forehead, he rocked in and out of her until he was buried to the hilt. He rested then, forehead to forehead, and asked, ‘Have I hurt you?’

‘Just a little. Do not stop.'” p.183

You’re welcome for typing all of that.

But again, look how incredibly detailed the scene is. Every moment is charted – we actually get more movement over feeling. The text wants you to picture it – sure, there’s a pinch of pain and ‘the most amazing fullness’ but the dialogue leaves a lot of that up to the reader.

The text is staging a porno on the television in your head created by the dialogue between reader and novel.

This may seem obvious and you’re probably thinking why the hell have I already written about 1500 words talking about what you already know. But i wanted to look at this through lit theory. How the text and reader create this pornographic dialogue – even if it seems obvious. Why not put it in theory terms for fun?

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References

Bakhtin, M.M. “Discourse in the Novel.”The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Ed. Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981, 259-422.

Bressler, Charles E. Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1994.

Hill, Sandra. Viking in Love. New York: Avon Books, 2010.

 

And it begins … May 18, 2010

I’d say cue the dramatic music, but the reality is that it’s just me – sitting on my bed (which I have to leave on Wednesday sadly) typing. I prefer the quiet … the quiet once Florence + the Machine finishes up on iTunes. Which is in … well, about now. Can’t write with noise – sometimes a quiet tv but I prefer the silence.

Anyway. Not what you’re here to read. Before I get into Mayhue’s book, I’d like to take a minute to point out that I’ve graduated.

a ginger graduates

I apologize if my ginger-ness offends anyone

Also, yes. I am a ginger. I have dark hair but, as you’ll notice with pictures, the red does come out. Why is this important? Well – red hair seems to be an issue in the book I am reading for this week. But I’m not going to get into that now.

I will admit – rather freely – I have yet to finish Melissa Mayhue’s A Highlander’s Homecoming. I imagine I will once I’m done writing this post. I blame it on me staying up until 4:30 am watching the newest adaptation of Little Dorrit. Okay – I’m totally shilling here but, SEE THIS ADAPTATION! It’s really worth every minute.

The great thing is, what I really wanted to talk about doesn’t require knowledge of the ending of the novel. It has to do with structure – no, not structure of the story or even Structuralism (I’m going to wait to get through a few books before I tackle the theory – it wouldn’t make sense for me to do it with only one of the books under my belt). What I’m talking about is narrative structure.

I found this year – in my last semester of college in the fantastic Lit Theory class I took (well, that and my independent last semester – we touched on it a bit then too) – that I’m rather a fan of Bakhtin. While I can’t claim to have mastered theory (can one master it?), what I have studied about Bakhtin has peeked my interest. I am absolutely mad about narratives – narrative voices, narrative techniques – as I said in the Mini-Review of Little Dorrit, Dickens could write a phonebook and I would read it because it would be structured so well (I know that makes no sense but if you’ve ever said that you’d listen to your favorite actor read the phonebook, you know what I mean).

Since this blog isn’t asking a question – isn’t looking for something in particular – I thought the best way to go about the first post was to discuss something that evokes emotion from me. And, of course, that’s narrative structure.

When I say that I needn’t read the whole book to discuss what I think about the narrative, it’s true. The voice is established. The writing style is established. Unless someone else takes hold of the pen on the next page – this isn’t going to change. I mean, I may be taking a liberty saying it ‘can’t’ change. Perhaps what I mean is – I don’t expect it to.

My face as it usually looks when reading this novel. And I continue to remain a ginger.

The first thing about the writing style of this book that I noticed was the strange paragraph splits. As a writer myself – I like to have a single sentence or word or whatever hanging in the middle – I’m not criticizing that. What I’m more interested in is the strange splits in this novel. It isn’t that I don’t know what the author is trying to do – she’s trying to create a sort of … dun-dun-dun moment or a ohh moment – you know what I mean. Problem is: she’s doing it rather poorly.

“He rode like a madman, without care or caution, his only thought to reach Merlegh Hall before it was too late.

Before his friend Thomas MacGahan took his last gasping breath.” p.1

Okay – this may just seem very picky to you. And maybe it is. It’s a stylistic movement that’s subjective to the reader. But it was the very first thing I noticed about this novel.

Now – why on earth would that be important? I think – from that split – you can see that moment the author is trying to create. And, in my opinion, you hope she doesn’t abuse it. Splits like that can get annoying to me – but again, subjective. I think it’s the contents of the split that really matter.

But again – this is stylistic and there are more strange paragraphs splits but it isn’t going to do you or me any good to list them. You know what they are – I shan’t baby you – or bore you – with them.

I want to move on to the actual voice of the narrative. On my little notes (which I have to keep instead of always writing in the book as there is no room), I have several things written down that I wanted to include when talking about the narrative in this post:

  • Fanfiction (seen in names, characters, etc.)
  • Repetition
  • Convenience
  • Sexuality (characters/narrative seems drenched)
  • Third-Person Limited
  • Contemporary

These six notes really make up the narrative as a whole. Some of them bad, some of them actually good. But I’ll just go down the list as it is and explain them.

Fanfiction

This is something I tend to talk a lot about when commentating (or maybe it was just because the last book I gave this sort of treatment to was like reading Fanfiction …). It’s not always quality that brings this up – it’s very much content, very much character. I believe I said either in my blog or in my seminar class last semester that I am not talking down to fanfiction – yes, there are good writers out there (pity they don’t use their talent and create their own characters and whatnot), but there are defining traits that tend to sweep fanfiction into a lump (exceptions of course).

First, look at the names. While the main male protagonist – Robbie – has a somewhat normal name, the female has a rather lavish one: Isabella. I know, it’s a normal name for a girl. But, they also shorten it to: Isa. While Robbie is a nickname for Robert – Isa is rather odd for Isabella, don’t you think? Maybe not. But then … look at her character. She’s this hard working, sheep-birthing girl living in her own little cottage in Scotland in the 1200s. She speaks her mind, is lavishly beautiful.

And a ginger.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. What I mean to say is Isa is the ideal female protagonist. We automatically root for her because of spunk and independence. Her flaws are hardly visible. The reader latches to her. Listen to the way she handles herself:

“At the conclusion of her circuit Isa stopped and shook her head slowly before looking back toward her grandfather.

‘No. I’ll no be changing my mind. He willna do at all. I’ve no desire to take such a pitiful example of manhood to husband.'” p.66

Robbie, on the other hand, I feel as though the reader is … distant from. Not in an isolating way, though. We aren’t really meant to identify with Robbie are we? Considering the target audience – probably not. We’re only to esteem him – like him – think highly of him (oh God there I go – Robert, spot that fantastic S&S reference). Pretty much, pine for him. He talks of family, and soulmates. He has piercing blue eyes … actually, a lot of people have piercing blue eyes in this novel but more on that later. We first, of course, cling to his actions. Then, of course, his looks.

“Tendrils of dark brown hair escaped the plaid pulled snugly around his head, curving softly over his strong, whisker-shadowed jawline. His lips, slightly parted in his sleep, were full and strong, and for an instant [Isa] allowed herself to wonder how they might feel against her own.” p.93

Yeah – that’s a bit purply, I know. But the author is setting these two characters up for the reader to absolutely, without a doubt root for. And I have to say that she does succeed.

Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t my preferred genre and I’m not saying that to protect myself. I just say it in honesty – her absolute high regard she has her readers position the characters at works. Fanfiction-ish writing works for this sort of novel.

And just so you don’t think I’m being picky about the names – have a look at a few others: Destiny, Ramos, Adira … blimey (Caroline, how you and your friends ever read these stories aloud is beyond me – I die of laughter after the first page if I had to do an actual reading! So … bravo!).

Repetition

Subtle as it is, perhaps, the repetition in this novel is one of the aspects I don’t like. Where the fanfiction quality has a redeeming factor, almost a helpful factor to this type of novel, the repetition of … let’s say the constant ginger hate (Sarah has had to hear about this all day) is old.

By about the fifth time Robbie says something derogatory about a redhaired girl, I pretty much wanted to shout: WE GET IT! YOU DON’T LIKE REDHEADS!

And, of course, Isa is a redhead. Shock and awe right there, folks.

The other repetition that bothers me is Robbie’s qualities. More than once they mentioned him trying to find a soulmate, of trying to be a family man – oh, yeah, and that he’s a warrior. It’s overwrought. It’s annoying. Say it once and your reader will get it. Say it twice, whatever. But in only 100 pages of the book, I feel like I’ve heard it too much.

While it lends to Robbie’s character, it detracts from the writing. Isn’t there anything else about Robbie? Can’t the author tell us more? (no, is really the answer, I think, but exposition is another post entirely)

I’m not saying Robbie has no backstories – he does. But they are repeated and also repetitive in themselves when there is more than one.

Always wronged by the ginger.

WE. GET. IT.

Convenience

This, I have a huge feeling, is part of the romance novel formula. Many a time in my small margins I’ve written, how convenient. Things are just soooo coincidental (extra o’s to add to my sarcasm). Let’s see a couple examples just for the heck of it.

Set-Up: Robbie has just returned after twenty years to Scotland in the 1200s – in reality, he had been living, by magic, in the future for only nine. So, he’s not as old as he should look back in his old stomping grounds. Is this … a problem? Sure, it’s questioned but look at this:

“The MacGahan flinched as if he’d been struck. ‘Thomas told you of Elesyria?’ He shook his head as if he could hardly believe what he heard. ‘That being the case, I canna doubt yer word, MacQuarrie. I relinquish authority over Isabella to you as my son requested.” p.73

Here’s another gem:

“Isabella? The age would be about right. Thanks to the twenty years the Magic had robbed him of, Isabella should only be four or five years younger than him now.” p.59

The first obviously puts Robbie right where we all want him – with Isa. The second is a little more clever (and by clever I mean … not ‘clever’ but it serves it’s purpose). It puts Robbie at an equal age to Isabella and also removes him as being the father-figure he may have been. A guardian is something different – especially with so little an age gap.

Mayhue pretty much uses such conveniences not only to push the characters together (duh) but also to gloss over any discrepancy that could arise from the match. No. He’s not too old. No. He’s not a father-figure. Yes. He can be her lover.

Sexuality

I didn’t mean to make a pun when I wrote the narrative is drenched in it – though if you’re mind is so inclined to be in the gutter, be my guest. I’m not really talking about sex – more … feeling, emotion. The build up. Sorry.

The moment our protagonists meet – the guy and the girl first catch each other’s eyes – the narrative takes on a different form. The voice itself is the same, but the way the characters are handled changes when they are around each other. The attraction is made very well known to the reader – be it through action, a bit of a meta-narrative (a character will shout something like “Dear God!” in their mind as if there is someone listening), or just descriptions (for instance, see Robbie’s above – that is from Isa’s point of view).

And it isn’t once in a while – it’s every encounter – every encounter is tinged with this longing, waiting, wanting. And it makes the reader – I imagine – long and wait and want for them to get together. It’s not that hard to figure it out and it’s hard not to roll your eyes if this type of book isn’t your cup of tea – I’ll admit it. But, like the fanfiction, it works. Like the convenience, it works. It allows the reader to further back the couple, but also puts the idea of sex on the horizon. The author is being a tease for pages and pages – the reader just has to get to that one, final, climax of a page.

And you know what? I’m not sure what happens after those scenes.

Third-Person Limited

This is an aspect of this novel I can really appreciate. The reader is not give an all access pass to this world the author and narrator have created (and I wonder if I will find that this will be a common theme in the novels – to only be let in to certain heads). The reader spends the most time in Robbie’s and Isa’s mind – and usually the transitions are pretty good.

Marginal note: This is acutally clever.

Usually, the transitions are through some sort of appeal to the character’s mind – like the ones I mentioned in the previous section. Good God! or Blasted! or Heavens! often accompanies the switch in character. It’s a good signpost but also sort of fun when your switching during a dialogue. You have a chance to hear in and out of each of their heads.

I’ll admit, though it’s not the best book ever written, I liked this quality. We are granted access to other minds, but those are far more limited than what we are able to get from the main characters. For this type of novel (I know I keep saying that, I’ll try not to), it seems an intelligent choice.

Contemporary

This is another aspect I took issue with rather than praised. It has to do solely with the narrator’s voice and the context of the story. There seems to be an imbalance between the voice of the narrator and the story being told.

While I know several pages of the story take place in modern times, the voice doesn’t suit the story when Robbie finally goes back to the 1200s (if I’m confusing you, click on the picture of me reading the book and B&N will give you a quick summary). It is not consistent. It tries to be serious, it tries to be witty, but I cannot find the attachment between story and narrative.

I know that sounds strange, especially after I praised the third-person limited view. But have a look at this:

“Her hair hung over her shoulder, captured in a neat braid that easily reached below her waist. Wet tendrils curled around her face, framing eyes so intensely green he’d swear she wore colored contacts if he were home.” p.99

Right, we’re in Robbie’s head and obviously that’s why he can mention green contacts but … it’s tacky. If it was in Robbie’s voice and not the narrator’s, maybe it would make more sense. But in third-person limited, we are with the narrator who relates Robbie to us. The narrator seems to be a little juvenile, a little too contemporary for having to go back and forth (I mean, this isn’t the only instance, much of this opinion is based on her wording – are we to think the narrator is part of the modern world or what?).

What makes the above passage even stranger is the use of the word ‘home.’ What does Robbie consider home? I thought for a while it was Scotland in the 1200s but all of a sudden the narrator is saying it’s our present day?

These ‘contemporary’ inconsistencies are a bother – not just for narrative voice but, in a way, for characterization too. When the narrator adapts to Isa’s head, it’s still the same tone of voice, it is still rather modern.

“Well, the perfect Agnes could have her place at the table, right at the MacGahan’s elbow. Be the perfect lady. Isa didn’t care. Not one bit. Though her curiosity was piqued as to what had brought about the new seating arrangement.” p.65

I know it is incredibly silly to pick at ‘seating arrangement’ but … it’s like the ‘contacts’. The narrative voice swerves through time. If it was just Robbie … okay. But when in Isa’s mind, it’s strange. The narrative voice seems not fully developed to really have a place in time for just as she is contemporary, she’ll (and I don’t know why I’m referring to the narrator as a woman, but there you are), be a little more period. It’s an off-putting imbalance – one you’d probably have to read the book to actually pick up on (examples out of context seems strange, I can tell just reading them to myself ).

So there are my six points on the narrative of this novel. I’m sure I’ll have things to add as I go on but, as I said, the voice is established. It’s not a developed voice but the shaky voice is there nonetheless.

Bored of me yet?

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Bet you all saw that one coming. Well, as I retire for the evening (oh, look at me being all snobbish ‘retire for the evening’), I’ll read until I fall asleep. Of course, I have been working through another book – Villette by Charlotte Brontë.

Me at the end of the day ...

Don’t let the messiness confuse you – I’m loving Villette though … adjusting. I was talking to a friend the other day about the change from Dickens to Brontë and it is a rather difficult one (especially after being so immersed in Dickens). I have to get used to the different style again – not that I’m complaining. I’m a member of the Brontë Society, after all. Expect a Mini-Review of Villette around the end of May.

So – for tonight – adieu. Pass this blog around to anyone you think would be interested. Don’t hesitate to comment or email.

And I apologize, again, for being a ginger.

Reference

Mayhue, Melissa. A Highlander’s Homecoming. New York: Pocket Books, 2010.

 

Serendipity … May 7, 2010

Well, I’ve been in this position before.

Starting a blog. Looking at the book I’m going to be ripping apart. Thinking “Oh Dear God What If I Run Out Of Things To Talk About?”

But I doubt that will be the case.

A few weeks ago, over a three or four day span, I chronicled my reading of the first Twilight book – chapter by chapter. You can find that here. My professor and I both agreed (though he voiced it and I did the agreeing) that it was beneficial. I explored the question: Why on earth is this crap so popular? And I ended up without really finding an answer, but exploring structure, theory, and whatnot. In a nutshell – no answer, but a fun exercise (even though I still maintain my detestation of Twilight). I like tearing apart texts – even bad ones.

So I had a thought.

I’m graduating. My summer is in flux – mom’s getting a divorce, where we’re living may change and that will involve A LOT of packing and arranging, I’ll probably be learning how to drive … Anyway, there isn’t much I can do besides read and write.

Not that I’m complaining.

I’d love to chronicle my experiences reading Dickens and Brontë and Gaskell and rinse and repeat – but that would just be a gushy blog of me lauding Dickens for his structure, admiring C. Brontë for her semi-sort-of biographical work, and finally reaching Gaskell, who I’ve been waiting to reading for ages. But – like I said – that would be self-indulgent and a complete bore for you to read.

So I decided to take a note from Twilight. I’d read some more bad literature – but of a different kind.

Yep. I’m going to read those trashy, bodice ripping, romance novels.

Let me make a quick disclaimer though – these novels are not the only books I’ll be reading over the summer. My plate is full with the authors I mentioned above (though I’ll probably finish reading Little Dorrit before I graduate) and a new Lit theory book coming in the mail (not to mention my own writing, subscribing to a lit journal and whatnot). Just making that clear …

A Visual: Me Reading "Little Dorrit"

Okay – so that’s done. Back to the bodice ripping.

What makes these novels different from Twilight is pretty much obvious: they aren’t works of fiction that people are venerating like a bible, unless it’s Lifetime and you’re Nora Roberts, the book will probably never be adapted into a screenplay. But – more importantly – the novels are taken more as is: trashy, gushy romance. And that is why I have more respect for these books than I ever will for Twilight. They don’t pretend to be something they’re not.

Bodice rippers are full-blown escapist books – I hardly expect to find characterization, plausible plot – anything that makes up the novels I usually read. People – women mostly, of course – read these not for the thrill of the structure or the narrative, but pretty much the thrill of the sex: the guy getting the girl and vise versa.

In no way in this blog am I planning to demean these books. In fact, I want to take a different approach than the one I took with Twilight. I’m not going to go chapter by chapter, character by character blah and blah and blah. Instead, I’m taking a book a week and subjecting it to theory and whatever else comes to mind in the … I don’t know … ‘literary realm.’ I’m not looking to answer a question like I was with the other blog – there’s no thesis, no problem to solve. I’m just … looking.

And probably over-reading – but there’s a bit of fun in that, isn’t there?

Of course, don’t worry: I’ve heard a lot of people liked the snark of my Twilight blog – that certainly won’t be missing here. When I say ‘respect,’ I don’t meant I’m going to treat these texts any less critically. (Come on – I mean, my mode of selecting these books boiled down to word choice – but more on that in a second).

So – there’s my plan. Once a week after I graduate (that is, starting the week of May 17th), one book – a few posts on the book and then a new book the next week for the whole of the summer.

Lucky for you – I’ve already got the first two week’s reading lined up – and here’s the story (no, I’m not going on a tangent – this is actually pretty interesting).

As a senior with all of her work done and graduation just … waiting to happen pretty much, my friends and I have been looking for things to do. Places to walk to, playing games out on our college green – little things, fun things. And one of these things was going to the fantastic used bookstore here in Lancaster Dogstar. It really is this great place – it’s like a little nook of wonderfulness with a great cafe across the street.

My friend Sarah and I decided to take a walk there on a particularly lovely day (meaning yesterday), when we had both finished work – everything handed in and done. My main goal: Find the trashiest book I could to kick this blog off with a good start.

Easier said than done. I think Dogstar is too classy for trashy romance (and I’m hardly going to say that’s a bad thing) and I ended up walking out with … yep, a Gaskell. North and South.

I once walked into an AT&T store for a Blackberry and came out with an iPhone so this has to be normal ...

$2 well spent.

Anyway, I thought after that experience that this was going to be hard. I mean, I knew where to find the darn genre, but to go into Barnes and Noble and pick one up? Just like that?

I need a bit thicker skin before I do that.

But today – today, Val, Caroline, Sarah and I went to Starbucks. And, thanks to a roommate who’s been eating my food, I’ve had to do a little bit of stocking up at Giant. So, I took my little cart and there was the beautiful revelation: while I couldn’t find what I was looking for in a used bookstore, there it was in multitudes – in Giant. A supermarket.

So – those words I mentioned before? I picked up a few and flipped through. I didn’t really know what to look for beyond a sort of Fabio, half-dressed cover so I made a list in my head of words. Throbbing. Bosoms. You get the picture. And, thankfully, in Giant there is self-checkout.

My first two bodice rippers were bought in complete anonymity – well, beyond the fact I whipped them out when I walked over to Starbucks for a good laugh with everyone (but I had Little Dorrit with me so I felt like I had enough ‘street lit cred’ to pull ’em out and joke).

So I named this post ‘Serendipity’ because the first book I chose just goes perfectly with the title of the blog. The title, for the curious, I came up with a few days ago. “Strip the Willow” was my favorite dance in Scotland. It’s pretty much a dance where you get swung around by big Scottish guys and get really dizzy and sometimes they spin you so fast (because they don’t realize you’re the human equivalent of an adult chihuahua) that your feet lift off the ground. Thus: Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice. The second half should be self-explanitory by now.

And now, I introduce the first novel I will be reading:

A Highlander's Homecoming by Melissa Mayhue

Yes, those are REAL sparkles on the cover. I looked at that as a confirmation that this had to be the book I started with: Scottish (like the title) and it sparkles (like my last blog)? Perfect transition. Serendipity.

Downside? This blog doesn’t officially start until the week after I graduate so there’s some time to wait – but hey – I had to give a small preview of what’s to come.

But thinking back to how I stumbled upon this novel (and the other, which will remain a surprise, of course) is interesting. I found it not in a bookstore, but a supermarket. It’s like these books are at the ready – you don’t have to make a special trip to buy them. They’re just … there. Waiting.

And throbbing.

Okay – I’m going to take that as a sign I need to wrap this intro up.

A quick few things before I go to the midnight showing of Iron Man 2: the books I use will be cited, and if you click on the image of them (such as the one above) it will take you to the B&N order page (also summary page if you’re inclined to look it up before I tackle it). I’m completely open to comments, questions, and emails – suggestions even. I don’t want to be a bore so – if you’re reading this blog, following it, whatever – speak your mind! I’m sure I’ll think of a few other things that will come up from time to time but that’s it for now so …

Bookmark this page and check back starting the 17th!

(oh, and if you can’t read the captions of the pictures, just resize the page so the pictures fit better)

And, for those familiar with my Twilight blog – I offer a:

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