Tis About Lit and Reading It

Category Archives: Prose

Oh two posts in two days, I must be on a roll.

As the summer break is coming to an end, students must once again break out of the comfortable cushion that the holidays naturally carve for themselves. Tis only natural. So it is also natural for any Literature student to acquire these books, in the pursuit of learning and education (“pssssht”).

Interestingly, I am not doing any British modules this semester. While it was an adventure reading Crusoe and romping between 18th and 20th Century Britain. I have decided to take time-travelling to a whole new level by traipsing into the weirdness of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Initially rather reluctant to take this module, my love for fantasy literature (Yes, I am a closet Harry Potter, C S Lewis and Diana Wynne Jones – God bless her soul-  fan) has pushed me to study it as a serious pursuit. I cannot help but wonder if my passion will be dulled by such intense study of literary theory of magic.

Also, I am rather excited about studying American and Asian American Literature, I suppose they would make a fascinating combination of modules. The White Man’s perspective and the Eastern perspective of said White Man.

The following is the booklist. I have realised that I am rather inefficient at keeping track of what I read so do bear with me as I try to cross them out on this list. So mechanical but much needed, yes?

EN3243: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card

Hexwood, Diana Wynne Jones

Miles Errant, Lois McmAster Bujold

Anno Dracula, Kim Newman

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

Ilium, Dan Simmons

A Philosophical Investigation, Philip Kerr

EN3234: Asian American Literature

The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston

M Butterfly, David Henry Huang

Jasmine, Bharati Mukherjee

Sister Swing, Shirley Geok-lin Lim (just finished reading).

Selected writings (handout) of Garrett Hongo, Wakako Yamauchi, Carlos Bulosan, Bienvenido Santos, Russell Leong and others.

EN3231: American Literature

“Self-Reliance”, Ralph Waldo Emerson

“American Scholar”, Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Young Goodman Brown”, Nathanial Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

“Civil Disobedience”, Henry David Thoreau

“Bartleby, the Scrivener”. Herman Melville

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass

“Paradise of Bachelors, Tartarus of Maids”, Herman Melville

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And all that the Lorax left here in this mess/was a small pile of rocks, with the one word…/ “UNLESS”…… UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot,/nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Well, it has been awhile since I last updated this blog (“awhile” is a bit of an understatement) and I am back to save this blog! With my new reading lists up, I suppose I will blogging about my reading experience again (they shall be up as soon as my modules are confirmed).

Other than “reading Lit”, I also “teach Lit”. Not as a full-time job in a public school. That would just  quash all the creative spirit out of me and turn me into a teaching drone with multiple lesson plans.

Teaching Literature to a 13-year-old girl has been a rather interesting learning experience (I’m afraid this is not a euphemism disguising the positive for the negative). While recognising metaphors and detecting tones in poetry has become second nature to me, at the same time assuming that the rest of the world is running at the same pace as me (literary-speaking). So imagine the poor girl’s alarm when I gave her Wordsworth’s Daffodils and Frost’s The Road Not Taken for poetry analysis. Imagine the poor girl’s alarm! Whilst my heart was filled with pleasure and dancing with them Daffodils, she “gazed– and gazed– but little thought” or any notion of the meaning of the poem could she understand. Nothing “flashed upon [her] inward eye”.

Rather disheartening. Teaching metaphors is a lot more challenging than one would think. It is my personal belief that no teacher or professor can ever teach one the skills of Literature without first having any liking of it. The key to it is appreciating it and liking it. Not a professional opinion that should be taken seriously.

On another note, her school is doing one of the most famous political allegories of the twentieth century. If you are guessing, 1984 comes as a close second. Yes, it’s Orwell’s novella Animal Farm! I suppose Animal Farm would be an appropriate text to teach teenagers metaphors and allegories so I do not yet despair over their choice of text.

To encourage or set her mind thinking about allegories, I have chosen Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. Well yes, a children’s book but I view it as a great text to expand further the ideas of alliteration, metaphors, similes, onomatopoeia and allegories. Of course, fantastic creatures and plants like the truffula tree and Brown Bar-ba-loot are meant to excite the senses, but consider their playfulness and wonderful way it twists and turns the tongue.

Tutoring Literature has made me realise that something as simple as The Lorax could help one expand their vision of the literary world. Literature is not about thick books, flowing prose and poetry that no one understands (take the top Prof of Literature at Oxford for instance). It’s about books that help us perceive and make sense of the world better. So save those Enid Blyton books, save The Lorax!


It has been a short while since this blog has seen any new content. Oh I am still enjoying the 20th Century texts, however, I have not yet churned out a post that will not make me look like a cathartic poet who needs release of her emotions through writing these blog posts.

Reading The Female Quixote (Charlotte Lennox) brought a slight reprieve to my other reads, but it was a wonderful prelude to re-reading Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen) now. But it was no wonder, since Austen herself used it as an inspiration for her first piece of work (Northanger Abbey, written in her early twenties!). Unlike Austen’s first fully written novel, however, The Female Quixote does not receive as much publicity and fanfare today.

According to Wikipedia, Norma Clarke has ranked it with Clarissa, Tom Jones, and Roderick Random as one of the “defining texts in the development of the novel in the eighteenth century”. Not that Wikipedia has been a defining authority on books and Literature but it would astonish me to think that Wikipedia would purposely fool its earnest readers to gain more credibility to its perceived nature by academics.

Written in imitation of the manner of Cervantes (Don Quixote),  Lennox was a female writer with a great amount of humour and sensibility. Possibly a female celebrity writer in her hey-day, given that Samuel Johnson was rather enamoured with her literary output. Nonetheless, Austen today overshadows her female contemporaries.

No matter. They all enjoyed writing about fops (Sir Clement Willoughby), men with little or no sense (Mr. Collins) and (hypochondriac) women who indulged too much in the social life that dresses becomes their only occupation (Mrs. Allen).

“I will allow the Ladies to be sollicitous about their Habits, and dress with all the Care and Elegance they are capable of; but such Trifles are below the Consideration of a Man, who ought not to owe Dignity of his Appearance to the Embroidery on his Coat, but to his high and noble Air, the Grandeur of his Courage, the Elevation of his Sentiments, and the many heroick Actions he has perform’d”

The Female Quixote, P. 280, Charlotte Lennox.

Indeed, even fops today are regarded with a degree of censure by me. Oh don’t mind me, I have no quibble with the man who dresses “nicely” but there is a fine line between dressing attractively and dressing to attract. Although Arabella was prone to such romantic sensibilities and foibles, she does make a sharp observation about society, that appearances are of utmost importance. “[H]eroick Actions” are more likely secondary or forgotten. Their superciliousness would raise the eyebrows of our fellow Austenites.

Oh but tis a perennial ailment of society today too, but instead, gaining the approval of the media and society.

 


“The Ugliness of Vice… ought only to be represented to the Vicious; to whom Satire, like a magnifying Glass, may aggravate every Defect, in order to make its Deformity appear more hideous; but since its End is only to reprove and amend, it should never be address’d to any but those who come within its Correction, and may be the better for it: A virtuous Mind need not be shewn the Deformity of Vice, to make it hated and avoided; the more pure and uncorrupted our Ideas are, the less shall we be influenc’d by Example. A natural Propensity to Virtue or Vice often determines the Choice…”

Lennox, Charlotte. The Female Quixote (p. 277).

Instead of following the conventional reading list assigned to the 18th C module, a student has expanded her knowledge of eighteenth century literature to include The Female Quixote into her repertoire. No matter, she is still very much subordinate to her readers and scholarly texts; much as she would like to flatter herself that she is a notch above the lesser reader.

Naw I’m kidding.

If you happen to be doing an eighteenth-century Literature module now, perhaps you would know that the typical eighteenth-century individual believes that Virtue derives from within or the inner Spirit as I like to call it. Skeptics today believe otherwise, but that debate should be left for the disenchanted and disillusioned twentieth-century novelist.

The eighteenth-century novelist/writer endeavours to expose the follies of the un-virtuous (namely the aristocrats), which is ironic as their nobility has been usurped by their rude and terrible manners. The satire was particularly popular because of the role it played in mocking, ridiculing and just poking fun of the higher-ups. Personally, I do not think it any different from what we do today- as much as we try to maintain the facade that we are a classless society – the ‘higher-ups’ take another form, like political or government authority (@FakeSarahPalin or @FakeObama). I can imagine Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne or even Charlotte Lennox to amuse their audience with their ‘superfluous’ social commentary. What dost thou think?

However, unlike their 20th C counterparts, they still had vehement faith in the cultivation of the inner Spirit and that goodness still existed. It was only the performative ‘goodness’ or gentility that they were highly critical of. It was only when Virtue wore no mask or was not privy to motives of deception that they were convinced of its purity. And it is this same purity that they upheld.


“In some the feelings, perceptions, and passions, are naturally dull, slow, and difficult to be roused; in others, they are very quick and very easily excited, on account of a greater delicacy and sensibility of brain and nerves.”

– Robert Whytt, Observations on the Nature, Causes, and Cures of those Disorders which are commonly called Nervous, Hypochondriac, or Hysteric, To which are prefixed some Remarks on the Sympathy of the Nerves.

Some have often wondered about the excessive use of the word “sensibilities” or “sensibility”. A sensible reader would know that “sensibility” does not mean what today’s context would have it to be. Rather, it is very much the opposite of what today’s definition demands.

Rather, it refers to the “acuteness of feeling, both emotional and physical..”. The words may bamboozle you there so I shall refer to the example of Mrs. Bennet  (Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice) falling into constant fits. Or perhaps Madame Duval’s (Frances Burney’s Evelina) tendency to exaggerate her illnesses to be much worse that it is (hypochondria). Of course, I don’t pretend to be smart and know everything about sensibilities. Austen’s revamp of Sense and Sensibility could also give you a clearer idea of what sensibilities  are. Also, Wikipedia may also give you a short-handed version of sensibility.

Many 18th Century novels are devoted to the ‘study’ of sensibilities that perhaps mock the aristocratic and upper classes. The caricatur-ic faints and excessive dramatics can be attributed to their high sensibilities. Today, drama is reserved only for theatre and film (Not so much today due to the emphasis on modern realism). However, perhaps it is also because we have become less in touch with our sensibilities and senses. Passion is deemed a dangerous thing. Not to mention that fainting from a man’s touch is considered abnormal and a method of drawing unnecessary attention to one’s self, which also may be something that Fielding mocks in Richardson’s Pamela and makes the subject of his novels.


“Once upon a time, in the forest, lived a woman who was so beautiful that the mere sight of her healed the sick and gave a good omen to the crops… Meanwhile, in a part of the forest that had become a town, a great prince roamed sadly along the corridors of his palace.” – Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Chapter: Leviticus.

This charming introduction to an ‘authentic’ fairytale in the Chapter Leviticus is simply subversive, yet may seem like a digression from the main text or body of the book. Though digression has a purpose in “diverting” the reader from the main text, this ironically points the reader to a deeper meaning and understanding of the apple and inner garden of the text.

Sterne himself was quite partial to it:

“Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; – they are the life, the soul of reading; — take them out of this book for instance; — you might as well take the book along with them; – one cold winter would reign in every page of it…” – The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Laurence Sterne.

Imagine yourself in a field. Surrounded by wheat and blue skies. You know you are physically present- that bluey-blue sky cannot be false. Neither than the swaying wheat gently pressing on your feet. They are undeniable facts. But the “why” may elude you. Naturally, you walk in this endless field. As you are walking, you find apples on the ground. They don’t look terribly bad. Apples are a part of nature and so are wheat. Cognitive dissonance. It looks odd. Why are apples in a wheat-planted field? Of course, you don’t know that at the end of this wheatfield is a garden carefully managed by a farmer.

And that, my friend, is like reading texts within a text. At least to me.

Intertextuality is a feature that Postmodern critics have been quite (lack of a better word) critical about as it is made up of odds and ends. However, it is deemed as a more political gesture and social commentary of society. Even today, Postmodernism is still largely the reigning queen of modern Literature.

Like the previous chapters, Winterson parodies her chapters according to the title. Leviticus is the book of priests; it is a manual that the Levites (priests) used. And perfection is emphasised quite a lot. It is also the first chapter in the book (Oranges) that Jeanette has her “first theological disagreement”.

Perfection is not flawlessness. To Jeanette, it calls for a “perfect balance of qualities and strengths” and not utter un-blemish. This is a battle that she will fight cudgels against theologians about but it also signifies her rebellion against a patriarchal order and the war that they fought previously; Winterson makes a subtle reference to World War II and Hitler’s pursuit of an Aryan race.

Winnet Stonejar and Sir Perceval are what make Oranges the Postmodern novel. Without it, tis be like eternal winter.

 


The title: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit leads me to question multiple things.

If oranges are not the only fruit, what other fruits are there? The absoluteness of her statement puzzles readers, yet at the same time, one realises also that she is brought up categorising items. The organised home and family would perhaps then imprint or inculcate an organised nature. Nurture to bring out nature.

The first few paragraphs already assure us of young Jeanette’s childhood as one without “mixed feelings”, because “[t]here were friends and there were enemies.”

Categorising it neatly into two categories:

“Enemies were: The Devil (in his many forms)

Next Door

Sex (in its many forms)

Slugs

Friends were: God

Our dog

Auntie Madge

The Novels of Charlotte Bronte

Slug Pellets

Nonetheless, the character’s mother’s overzealous religiousity had an influence on her early years. The religious discourse engaged in the text perhaps implies a pseudo-authoritarian household with rather cult-like elements perhaps implies the nature of life as easily sorted into friends and enemies. Of course, as some of you may already know, this religious order or any form of order breaks down as the novel ends. Perhaps not ending in the [Modern] conventional sense.

Like Genesis (Bible), the character is immediately pitted against external (negative) forces with the Devil’s potential. As I shall read on later, the intertexual references to the Bible are weaved into the narrative. I foresee a certain change on dynamics as the Bible (as a textual authority) devolves into a narrative vehicle (for Winterson) to express or describe her lesbianism.

So far, there has been no sign of literary catharsis yet. I enjoyed the first chapter and this slim copy was what enticed me to have a start on this novel. The cover is not particularly enchanting but it came highly recommended by another Literature-buff of mine.

The first chapter: Genesis starts with a description of Jeanette’s mother. Highly semi-autobiographical, I have already set expectations of what to expect from this novel. However, I cannot deny that the straight-forward literary style of the author took me off-guard.

A rather rough synopsis: (although I made the mistake of telling my lovely audience readers my opinions first); Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is a semi-autobiographical novel of Jeanette Winter’s experience as a missionary child and how she battled against her mother’s resistance to Winter’s lesbianism.

Of course, typical of it portraying a girl struggling against religion. Pardon  my personal gripes. Living in a multi-religious society myself, I have never quite come to terms with the pressures of living in a sacred society (ie., Hindi India, Protestant Britain… ). For me, I can only imagine their pain. Their resistance.

Anyways so far, the character’s mother’s fanatical religious acts seem based on her infatuation with a pastor – completely heightening the legalisation of a lusty act.

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