Friday, 24 October 2008

Halloween Parties and other animals...

Okay. I'm sat here, at my keyboard, typing, in a Miss Havisham outfit; full Regency decaying lace gown, mittens, and heeled shoes. This Miss Havisham outfit in the picture to the left, as it happens. And God, I'm nervous. The party? 'Horror in fiction.' - the annual English Lit university bash. I'm technically supposed to be one of those drivelling Gothic heroines - Elizabeth, who gets strangled by the Monster in Frankenstein - or one of the wet ones from Mysteries of Udolpho who recite poetry and get threatened by brooding dark Guy de Lusignan look-alikes. I'm kinda wishing I'd just done Hermione instead of looking like a deranged Elizabeth Bennet - it's a lot easier to get into a taxi, after all. No ugh - long trains that get caught on shoe heels or in doors and stuff to worry about.

But - here's the thing. When there's a dressing-up party I get carried away. Last time I was Mrs Lovett, instead of just being Goth I eagerly dug up an old theatrical brown crinoline costume no-one wanted and went all eh... overboard, shall we say...

And now there's Miss Havisham. I have no excuse for Miss Havisham.

Perhaps I'd better explain. In Manchester, there is a theatre, called The Royal Exchange. And there is a place called Royal Exchange Costume Hire.

Yup. Actual costumes from actual productions.

This is very stupid where people like myself are concerned. You can volunteer to work there, serve customers, and get free theatre tickets in return - and of course, since you know about it, get costumes from there.

I'm now officially a costume junkie. It's the biggest dressing up box any potty little girl can imagine. I've tried on Georgian polonaises from She Stoops to Conquer, Tudor gowns from various Shakespearean productions - a half-score of weeny, breathe-in-and maybe you-won't pass-out-before -you-can-peek-in-the-mirror gowns from Oscar Wilde plays. Miss Havisham was in a version of Great Expectations I actually went to see.And now I'm sitting here, typing, wearing the costume. Phew!
But no denying, it has been an education. For a start, corsets, Georgian, Victorian or any period at all, hurt. Seriously. It's amazing, considering the whole 'I can't breathe!' thing of recent films, Keira Knightley, etc, etc, that I assume corsets were pain-free, but soemhow I just went 'ooh the romance!'
Don't be fooled! They hurt, you end up directing all conversation to your boobs rather than your face (don't ask) and you'll have marks from the steel/plastic whalebone substitutes for about a week afterwards.
But there, rant over. ASIDE from horrible corsets of evil, it's a little girl's party princess historically accurate dream.
And, as it happens there just happens to be a medieval-themed birthday party coming up that gives me the perfect excuse to try on a red and gold sequinned gown that could be suspiciously like Sybilla from Kingdom of Heaven....
Ah well. No matter it's a size 8 because actresses are all size zero! Just breathe in and smile so you can live the dream, darling...

Thursday, 23 October 2008

'Gams' Across the Web

This is to pick up on a theme mentioned by Mercury Gray about connectivity ( if I own her at writing, she definitely owns me! Tu Salus Fidelium was directly influenced in many ways by a certain little fic called God Wills It) It's very much the whole 'six degrees of separation' thing - and really, when you think about it, absolutely amazing! We no longer have to send messages by pigeon, or messengers in tricorne hats on horseback, or messages in bottles. We're all engaged in a kind of wizardry that would have seemed devilish or miraculous to the people in the past; and in a sense we are very much indebted to our 'invisible friends' - people we'll probably never see, but are very much there for a pleasant exchange of opinions over the Web.
It's a very good thing I don't have to explain this to some one from the sixteenth century. I'd probably be burnt at the stake for communicating with 'spirits'.
But one of the things that absolutely staggered me a little while back was that someone else also reads and loves the Adventure of English!
Now, The Adventure of English is an overlooked little book in (weird!) England. For sixth-form college we did a module that really fired my imagination on Old and Middle English, and we watched an episode from the series. And did that inspire me! I was so taken with it I was daydreaming about one day learning to speak Old English (just in case I get dramatically transported back in time a la Timeline into Ivanhoe and Old English comes in handy to plead for mercy) Only to discover everyone one else was more... 'mweh, it's just class. Let's go out tonight...'
Well, I don't excuse my nerdiness. It's part of who I am. But it took a lot of finding on Amazon to track down the book accompanying the TV series - alas, I couldn't track down the DVD. It hasn't been released yet. But it was very much worth it. I had no idea anyone outside the UK had even heard of it!
Just goes to show. So - to the fellow reader of The Adventure of English who, like the truth in the X-files, is out there somewhere - wes hal! And thanks...

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

"The Pha-antom of the Literature Room is there..."

Apologies! This was, in fact, the title of a vague idea that came to me a while ago. Only ... it appears I forgot to actually write anything - a lamentable mistake when I'm supposed to be a coherent university student who doesn't make mistakes like forgetting to write anything. It comes of sleepless writers block.
But anway! To begin...
Amongst my many past sins, one of them is... Phandom. Yes. It's true. The now satirical sneerer at all things Andrew Lloyd Webber was once a rabid phan (and still has slight moments of regrettable costume envy). Now, I have no problem with the book - Leroux an excellent writer, and I love his detective stories like the Mystery of the Yellow Room, and The Perfume of the Lady in Black.In my view, they are perhaps better than Phantom, which, let's face it, is really a one-off pulp hit. But I was young - my 'salad days, when I was green in judgement and slightly in love with Gerard Butler'. Mercifully, after lengthy sittings of watching better things, I gave up Phantom for good.
But a chance conversation with an still fervent phanatic brought something to my attention. Why does music and science get all the masked evil geniuses? The hideous creations, the gothic fantasies? Why do no crazed Literature professors lurk in high towers at university and command hunchbacks to open mouldy caskets of old dissertations? Why are there no caverns where masked antiheroes declaim poetry, possibly to something a little like 'the Music of the Iambic Pentameter?' And why are there no outcast monsters made up of old pages of dead quotations howling vengeance on humanity?
Alas, Mary Shelley neglected literature most sadly when she chose science instead of books....

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Books, Museums, and Mausoleums

Does anyone else have something of a grudge against the idea of e-books? The idea popped up a few days ago, when someone suggested that one day books will be completely redundant and the world will belong to what can pop up on a tiny Ipod/Blackberry screen.
They were quite startled when I let out a wail of dismay at the idea. They thought it was an excellent idea. And it is, in theory - you can access a world of words at your fingertips in a matter of seconds.
But...what of the book fetishists?
A book fetishist, by the way, is not someone who will just dip into a book 'occasionally', when you have the time. It's not even the more earnest type of student who have to own books simply to write their own miniscule, very precise notes for dissertations. It's the sort of borderline obsessive (like myself) who simply HAS to own books for the sake of it. The physical, sensual pleasure of owning a book - the fresh, clean smell of newly printed pages, the way the print smudges in some of the cheap Penguin classics when you run a finger down them, the luxury editions with coloured pates in glossy paper, the lovely embossed feel of a cover with slippery acrylic words - the fancy, Christmas books with raised velvet lettering or soft morrocan leather covers...
Ah. Paradise.
Where's all this with an e-book? Besides, there is something very private about the act of reading a book. It's between you and the pages, no-one else. Computers are there for people to glance over your shoulder and make disparaging comments. Ipods are... well, the idea of trying to read Ivanhoe or some of my favourite reads on a tiny little mp3 player screen - ugh!
Books must live - or else end up like the books in the John Rylands Library.
It's one of the saddest mausoleums I ever saw. It's exclusive to Manchester, and there are certainly some rare manuscripts there. There's a giftshop, too - and a decent cafe if anyone ever cares to go. It's also hailed as 'gorgeous, Gothic, romantic'...
Well. It is, but it's Victorian Gothic, in the slightly tasteless, 'look, let's invent some fake history!' style. Outside it could be a set from Harry Potter. Manchester had an odd complex about itself way back in the 1800s - slightly defensive, in a very North And South way. The rich industrialist whose money built the John Rylands Library was a staunch Protestant, so his widow hires an enthusiastic Ruskin-influenced architect and...
Well, that's where it goes amusingly wrong. The inside feels like a church. It looks like a church, too. There are lots of statues staring piously down from all over the place. But - John Calvin? John Knox?
What went wrong there?
And it's decorated in the sort of style Calvin and Knox burnt people at the stake for. They're Puritan marble statues in 'High-Church Gothic' Disneyland.
Really, you have to laugh. But not for the poor books. No-one's read them in decades because of the special permits you need and the forms - so they sit imprisoned in bookcases with wire mesh like a dank dungeon and quietly moulder away. It's a tomb for dead words that scarce three people read in a year.
For book fetishists like myself, this is horribly depressing.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

A Casual Definition

Herman Melville defines a 'Gam' as:

"GAM.* NOUN- A social meeting of two (or more) Whale-ships, generally on a cruising ground; when, after exchanging hails, they exchange visits by boats' crews..."

Now, originally - not being used to the idea of a blog - I intended to wax intellectual on my readers and make some wonderful statement about how 'like unto a whale-ship is the casual surfer of the Internet, and, yea, how like unto a cruising ground is the Internet itself..."
Which is true, and does offer some interesting points to consider (as a student of English Literature I could spend hours on this, but never mind) but in itself is as pretentious as a studied Shakespearean style monologue with a soupcon of natural history and a large helping of obsession (and yes, that pointed remark is directed at Melville, damn him!)The point I was trying to make is that a 'gam' is communication -no matter whether it's the nautical solemnity of sea-captains between whaling ships, or books - like a rowing boat between readers and the author, poets, with their lines of poetry - or even a keyboard acting as a sort of metaphorical 'rowing boat' between the unknown vessel that is writer and reader on a weblog. Which also fits in rather nicely with something that really inspired me in my very first lecture of the year. As a freshman I'm probably being rather naive that it never crossed my mind before - but the lecturer suggested something that made me sit up as if I'd been electrified. The idea that books read you, just at the same time as you read books.
Now, I'm pretty sure what she truly meant was that we come to a book with a whole series of impressions, thoughts, experiences, and these come into play when we open a piece of fiction for the very first time. What we get from the book also comes from what's inside us, so to speak. But when I heard her say the phrase that books can read you, I sat bolt upright with a sort of horror.
Imagine this - becuase this is what emerged as a sort of instant image in my head.

The humble English Lit student is sitting quietly in a cafe somewhere, patiently struggling through Moby Dick for the twenty-seventh time. She's tired of toiling through the 'interesting facts about whales' section - sometimes she even gets sick of the 'jolly sailors' section. She skips to a page folded over with a particularly good rant from Captain Ahab.
And just as she does...
Someone, with a heavy creak of an ivory peg leg against the tiles, comes and sits down next to her. Also deeply immersed in a book. It could, in fact, be Captain Ahab - if Ahab frequented places like Costa Coffee.
The Lit student snorts at a particularly indecipherable part. 'I give up!' she says disgustedly. 'How on earth are you supposed to analyse a man who can declaim something about the "personified impersonal's personality?" in the middle of a storm? He must be a demented English tutor!'
'Thou shouldst read mine,' the whiskery stranger says with a scowl at his own book. 'T'is naught but simpering women's foolishness. Nary a whit of substance or matter!'
The student looks sympathetic. 'I hate it when books defraud you into thinking they're something they're not.'
'Aye, t'is a sad thing when the instruments of wisdom become no more than a bauble for female vanity. Too concerned with her own merit!'
'Complete egotistical maniac!'
'Aye, and too concerned with articles of dress!'
'Ah, mine's too concerned with weaponry. And vengeance. '
'Oh? Well, the heroine seems to do nothing but idle her time away with books! Talks of nothing else but-'
'Damn whales, and the way of hunting the poor things-'
'always damn tap-tap-tapping...'
'And both complete obsessives,' both finish, in a long slow chorus. They both exchange glances of sympathy.
'Mind if I take a glance at yours?' The student asks, as Ahab scans the cover of Moby Dick with a suspicious stare. 'I've never seen one with before...'
To our heroine's horror, the book's title...
Is her own name.
As she was reading Ahab, Ahab was reading her. And neither came to a flattering opinion of the other.

A fairly average vignette - there were some worse ones that came to mind, of course. Ahab is child's play compared to some - who would want Mr Hyde gibbering quietly away as he read your life, or any of the Cthulhu brood of H.P Lovecraft? Of course, some I didn't mind - I quite liked the thought of the tragic Monster from Frankenstein bending his head over a copy of me, for instance (the book version of the Monster, that is. NOT Boris Karloff or Robert de Niro). And if one can be er... selective, say, about what others read about you, then who could possibly object to Mr Rochester or Mr Darcy sitting stiffly down in their echoing libraries to read about you in turn? The only awkward thing is if they can read EVERYTHING about you. Your fears, most embarrassing moments, deepest secrets, unflattering things you've thought/said/done/wished you hadn't done...
Now there is a terror to haunt a student's waking hours! Be careful what you read. It might just read you back...