Dear Readers,

I now consider this blog to be my Juvenelia. Have fun perusing the archives, and find me at my new haunt, here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

DH Lawrence and Charlotte Bronte: Bringing Sexy Back?

For the last week or so I've been delving into two books; the high-minded Victorian tale of The Professor by Charlotte B and the uber-scandalous Lady Chatterley's Lover, by DH Lawrence.

Unsurprisingly to all who have read the latter, Lady Chat bears as much resemblance to one of those Harlequin romances as to anything else. This is not to say that the book is terrible or even bad. Obviously Lawrence has a great deal of skill with words and literary talent and a lot to say; but in between the sometimes-titillating sometimes-dated sex scenes, the book was actually filled with many boring passages railing about industralization and intellectualization (we get it, DH, let's reject our mechanized, over-thinking society and get it on). This is strikingly similar to the problem I have with romance novels, which as a genre I truly admire for their popularity and readability. I can just never get through the non-sex parts in any of them without being impatient and bored, so I give up.
Anyway, I'm glad I read Lady Chatterley because of its social import and also because obviously there's still something appealing to all of usabout the lady of the house mixing it up with the groundskeeper--didn't Eva Longoria have a thing with her gardener on Desperate Housewives? I should give DH a fair shake and read The Rainbow and Women in Love.

Also, DH Lawrence seems to have had some serious issues with female pleasure taking longer than male pleasure. Was he concerned deep down that his, ahem, pen wasn't potent and sharp enough?

Onto far less explicit pastures. The Professor, which is essentially a precursor to the more well-known Villette, was so much more than a minor novel to me, its humble peruser. Told from the perspective of a young man who goes to Belgium to teach young ladies, the book was chock full of repressed sex, and that's why it was so darn good.
First of all, there's the knowledge that the book is being written by a woman posing as a man writing from the perspective of a man who's in love with a woman (who may be a stand in for the author herself) which definitely gives the read a sexy, gender-bending feel.
Secondly, there' a desperate love triangle between the "sensually beguiling" Belgian Zoraide Reuter, a beautiful, charming, intelligent and wicked schoomistress, our narrator William Crimsworth, a remarkable self-controlled teacher with a weakness for the fairer sex, and the sweet and good-tempered Frances Henri, the latter's star pupil, who (yes, she does) gets excited and feels most comfortable when she's being dominated and scolded by her teacher/"master."
The fact that all of this arises from Bronte's repressed personal life, and the knowledge that the book's composition came on the heels of Bronte's unrequited love affair in Belgium is mysterious and far more of a mental turn-on than all the four letter words DH Lawrence so daringly inserts (no pun intended) into Chatterley. While there's no awkward naming of genitalia in Bronte's Professor, all the smouldering passion that breaks the surface only at certain times carried me through its pages in a truly stimulating whirr of anticipation.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Do leather pants count as breeches?

Mere months after being named a runner-up in EBC's survey of the hottest men to ever canter through a Darbyshire field (or hail a hansom cab or some such) onscreen, Hugh Grant's career comeback continues.

And his resurgence prompts me to ask this question: how can someone play the same bloody role (with small variations) in every single movie he's in, and still be totally winning and captivating and generally adorable?

I'm not sure... truth be told, I keep waiting to be tired of Hugh, but I never am. This evening, I saw the sometimes-cute, sometimes-cloying Music and Lyrics mostly for him, and he made the entire thing worth it (so the the hilarious songs by those Fountains of Wayne dudes).

As for his co-star Drew Barrymore, who also plays the same character in every single film she's in, her sunshiney-sweet personality makes me want to know her as a person, but I find her far from convincing as an actress. Whereas my homie Hugh is probably an unendurable cad in real life, but a pleasure to watch onscreen.

Now, lest you think I'm misogynist because I love him for the same quality I fault her for, I'd like to point out that Entertainment Weekly's Liza Schwarzbaum had it right when she pointed out that Emma, Renee, and Sandra all were better foils for the self-deprecating, biting humor that is Hugh's forte than Drew. And she needs someone like Owen Wilson or Matthew McConaughey to match her laid-back goofiness.

Take-away points:
*Hugh is the man
*Liza Schwarzbaum is smart
* (and EW is a fine-ass magazine.)
*I like movies with nice happy endings
*popcorn is good too

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Why Maureen Dowd Is Dead To Me

Maureen, you may be tough, but you ain't no feminist role model for me. I used to admire you, now I disown you.

Mo Do has managed to cleerly insert herself into the public discourse again by baiting mogul and Obama-maniac David Geffen into launching an attack on the Clintons, Mo's favorite target of old. While the Clinton camp reaction was overblown and Obama is doing the right thing by firing back and otherwise ignoring the fray, I'd like to call my small but loyal readership's attention to the person I believe the culprit in the middle of all this.

What business does Dowd, a political commentator, have airing what amounts to an essentially personal dispute between DG and the Clinton's? It's because Dowd is never content to just discuss news, she has to constantly thrust herself in the center of it. Her nasty nicknames ("poppy"-- that's hilarious! not) and unceasing puns are a diversion from the facts that she rarely has anything of real journalistic merit to say, and also a way to cannibalize whatever she is reporting on and make it her own.

Despite her obsession with her barrier-breaking career, Dowd allows herself to fit snugly into, nay, define the stereotype of the female as snarky, substance-less, gossipy and self-obsessed. And some of her biggest fans are men; I question whether they like her because she's a "Strong woman" or because she's really not that strong at all, but rather an "hilariously biting gossip who could use a good screw." Just look at the picture she willingly posed for in her own magazine!

Yes the way Dowd writes about, and discusses men, also shows me that even at her age, she's still looking for a real power-broker type to take her out on the town, not an equal partnership. She audaciously opened her Rolling Stone story on Stewart and Colbert by wondering whether they'd be intimidated by her.

Dowd claims to be greatly interested in the advancement of the fairer sex. But her 2005 column about how more women should be columnists seemed to me to be a "why can't more women be like me? Gosh, isn't it too bad!" kind of statement. And her great feminist pretensions are undermined by the fact that her number one persona non grata is Hilary Clinton, one of the strongest (if admittedly extremely flawed) women in politics. Is Dowd that insecure (yes, she is, another reason men like her. I think her insecurity is patently obvious)?

As an aspiring columnist (someday, fingers crossed) myself, I hope that I can emulate some of the more positive aspects of her column, her sense of humor and wit. But I also hope I can avoid some of the pitfalls that she's fallen into.

If she wants to be a diva, she needs another stage. And I need another strong female role model, cause Paul Krugman doesn't quite cut it in that sense.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Agnes Grey

I read this minor but sweet Anne Bronte work with a great deal of pleasure. The prose is simpler than her sister's, and methinks she might have been a bit simpler as well. Certainly, she seemed much less ambivalent about religion than either Emily or Charlotte; after all, the heroine/alter ego in the story falls head over heels for the local curate because his sermons are so noble and heartfelt.

Still, the humility that goes along with her obsession is rather charming. At the end of the day it's Agnes' simplicity and scrappiness that wins the reader over, mixed with her none-too-charitable view of the fliratious, impulsive and spoiled young ladies in her charge.

Another charm the story held was for me in particular its description of how frustrating it is to teach spoiled, ungovernable children, particularly when parental authority is lacking. That as well the way governesses were such a terribly exploited class, come through very clearly.
I think The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is definitely a better, richer, book, but I'm happy to have added this to my Bronte-repertoire as well.

On another note, dear readers, would you believe that it took me five minutes to remember the name of this book's heroine? Stick that one in your pipe and smoke it.

Also, I wonder if this Agnes and the Agnes from David Copperfield are like doppelgangers? Their personalities are so similar, although I suppose Bronte's agnes is less insipid.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

American Pastoral

My verdict on this Pulitzer winner was mixed. As a study of how tragedy can affect even those who try to lead blameless, unobtrusive lives, it was first rate and cut to the quick. The quotation that stuck with me (and that's not coincidentally widely reprinted) to this effect is:

He had learned the worst lesson life can teach — that it makes no sense. And when that happens the happiness is never spontaneous again. It is artificial and, even then, bought at the price of an obstinate estrangement from oneself and one’s history.

This is perhaps no different than the conclusion that many authors have drawn about tragedy and its aftermath, but the painstaking way Roth maps out the history of "The Swede," whose every move is calculated to try to bring happiness and success and kindess into the world, must be unparalleled. And his silent inability to cope after his world falls apart, after his world betrays him... I just found parts of the novel so gut-wrenchingly absorbing and fascinating and true in that respect. The other excellent observation Roth makes is about fanaticism and its connection to a disproportionate feeling of hurt. He paints an uncomfortable picture of the way societal extremes--murderous and peaceful ends of the specturm-- are closer together, and the undeniable attraction those extremes have for some people.

My problem, then with Roth, boils down simply to his misogyny. From his "robust" writing style to his inability to draw a single sympathetic female character, the book suffers from its overwhelming preoccupation with maleness. I searched myself long and hard to discover whether my feelings about Roth's storytelling might be parallel to the way a man feels reading "my" authors--Austen or Bronte or Toni Morrison...perhaps Anita Shreve or Maeve Binchy even. But while these women writers might focus on issues close to some female readers's hearts, (and some of them might be fond of writing "rakes" and "cads" who get their comeuppance) they are often harsh on characters of their own sex and always write compelling and redeemable male characters as well. I'd be interested to know if in his wider ouvre, P. Roth has written any really good leading ladies. At least from what I understand about his other work, the pattern described above pretty much holds.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Which Short But Poignant Minor Bronte Novel Should I Read Next?

The Professor by Charlotte or Agnes Grey by Anne?

Once I finish both, I will have officially read them all.

Help me! I have a long train ride ahead.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

North and South--Book and BBC

Have made me give up American Pastoral, and work, and breathing, for a few days.

But how worth it it's been! What a fantastic story.
I'm in literary love.


I love it when a wonderful book and a wonderful movie adaptation are each wonderful in a different way. Although the Gaskell book exposed social ills, Victorian-style, and featured more romantic chemistry and less caricatures than a Dickens novels, the movie successfully managed to amp up the drama on both counts by taking us into the mill and casting the unconventionally gorgeous Daniela Denby-Ashe and the properly smouldering and rough-shod Richard Armitage.

I haven't been that absorbed in a book in ages; the edgy love story wasn't all that pushed me through it either. Margaret Hale is an incredible character; flawed but fiesty, kindly inclined but young and naive. Gaskell's style is properly Victorian without being difficult. I love her straightforwardness. She's like an Eliot for the working classes.

I also found the novel to be incredibly proto-feminist in the way that it advocates a union between female and male to bring about social change. Gaskell has presented us with a strong woman whose kindness influences a formerly male-run institution to move forward in a compassionate way, and to me that's not a cop-out, it's incredibly insightful for its time. And actually for ours. Because feminism isn't just about women being badasses and assuming power, it's also about formerly patriarchal institutions gaining a bit of gentleness. You know who understands that? Elizabeth Gaskell, that's who!

Hillary Clinton, are you listening?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Weekend Round-Up Part Two: Dracula and John Mayer, separated at birth?

So last night, ever impatient to ingest MORE CULTURE, we were frantically switching back and forth from the Grammys to Masterpiece Theater's rather modern take on Stoker's Dracula (one of my favorite novels!). But at times I felt like I was watching twins who chose very different paths in life... except not really... I mean Jessica Simpson and the sensual Lucy? Kind of similar...blonde, voluptuous, flirtatious... holy cow!
So that's why John Mayer is dating her.
Maybe she sees all that blood loss as a good diet tool, or maybe she wards him off with a crucifix courtesy of daddy Joe or ooh, perhaps it's just the garlic on her pizza-hut-spokeswoman breath that keeps him away. Interesting.


Weekend Round-Up Part One: That Dude from the Strand

After a matinee viewing of Little Miss Sunshine (yes, it was great!) near Union Square, we ventured over to The Strand to partake of some cheap-ass classics (namely, North and South and some Bronte minor works) and yes, some cheap-ass T-shirts ($3 and made by rip-off central American Apparel no less).

Now, the staff at the Strand are a pretty hipster crew, 'tis true. They're like the Kim's Video people except with a less universally-beloved medium to boast about (I am an avowed bookworm but in terms of the hipster social hierarchy, music is definitely king) which, I guess, makes them insecure or something. Or so I learned last night.

So here's how it went down. I handed my four $3.95 19th century novels and one t-shirt to the chick at the register, followed by my ratty old Bank of America card. Chick snarled at me. Fine, I've come to expect such treatment at Le Strand; despite my cool woolen hat and trenchcoat, I'll never be like them. So be it.

But then she disappears, and in her place is a new dude, "Mr. I'm-Too-Cool-For-School-so-I-work-at-the-Strand" who angrily slams my receipt down at the table and literally shoves the shopping bag at me. I exchange an eye-roll with my boyfriend, sign the receipt, and half an hour later over some mediocre Pad-See-Yew down the block, realize that the "I'm too tortured for eye contact" cashier forgot to give me my credit card.

Was this punishment for buying a butload of Bronte instead of Paul Auster or Nabokov? Was it because my bangs don't fall flat over my face due to the fact that, heaven forgive me, my hair is naturally curly? Was it because I bought a Strand t-shirt and he thinks I'm a tourist (but I was drawing my first breath in a NYC hospital while he was fantasizing about city life in some suburban bedroom)? Or was it because I was committing the cardinal sin of smiling with excitement over my book bargains, and in his mind, LITERATURE IS SERIOUS?

I wasn't sure. But as I ventured back into the store an hour later, having been treated to the mediocre Thai due to my absent card, I was seriously ready for blood--or to grab my credit card and slink away into the night.

"Excuse me," I said politely to a cashier with dreadlocks. "But I believe my credit card might be..."
SLAM. Mr. "Spoken words are a restrictive societal restraint, but I still work in retail" who happened to be at the next register, literally managed to stick my credit card aggressively in my face while deliberately looking in the exact opposite direction and keeping his vow of silence.

I couldn't help laughing aloud, and even the dreadlocked cashier appeared totally sheepish. And with that, I was on my way, clutching my precious plastic.

But I have a few words for "my" special cashier, whoever he is:

"Hey Mr. Snot-Nosed Strand Employee! I have an idea. Stop wandering your eighteen-miles of musty books with a disdainful look on your face for a second to PULL THE GIANT WAD OF OVER-ANALYZED BRETT EASTON ELLIS NOVELS FROM YOUR SKINNY WHITE ASS, YOU WASHED-UP THIRTYSOMETHING LOSER. I may love literature, but I hate pretentious literary wannabes like you. Take that, you snobby snobby man.

love and kisses,
the unashamedly happy nineteenth-century novel and cheap-t-shirt loving native New Yorker,

Friday, February 09, 2007

Harvard's New President Has "Innate Differences"

...which is to say, for the first time in its, err, storied history, the Harvard University Presidency will have a vagina! Yep, it's gonna be Drew Gilpin Faust, innoffensive Dean of the "Institute for Advanced Study," i.e. the bombed-out-detritus of what once was Radcliffe College. The Crimson, my former stomping grounds, has it here and here. And here. (And they say Harvard kids are overachievers. Please).
Congrats on the scoop.

Will this announcement usher in an era of change at the famously elitist institution? Or will stuffy capitalist white-male-like Harvard Corporation members just look all the more longingly at the literal ivory towers dotting campus, using said towers as substitute phalluses, since their president doesn't have one?

What does it all mean?
And furthermore, should we care?
I mean, Penn and Princeton (not to mention, oh, Israel and India) and Brown (as a black woman, Ruth Simmons consolidates two groups that ex-president Larry Summers mortally offended) did it a long time before we did. This kind of choice should have happened before the "Summers Era" made it absolutely necessary. Now Hah-vahd is just jumping on the female-president bandwagon. But still, with the Pelosification of congress and Hilary on the march, and now four Ivies helmed by shes, it's clear that we're entering a new era of equality, and that's cool. Now let's start hiring some female and minority professors who can teach as well as write academic papers and diversify academia. Heaven knows it needs it.

Note to President-to-be-Faust: you don't have to cop a Hilary and pretend you have cojones by supporting stupid "mannish" things, like wars. The whole reason Harvard hired you was because a "strong" ( inconsiderate) and "visionary" (bad listener) man-president ripped the university apart trying to prove he had the balls to stand up to insidious groups like women scientists, Af-Am scholars and student activists. So go ahead and use those supposedly-female consensus-building tools (myth of the patriarchy, yo, cause gender is socially constructed!) as well as whatever kickass leadership skills
got you here in the first place. Amen.

oh, Harvard, thy campus is laden with phallic symbols.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


For real this time. Just watched the first installment of the BBC's 2004 Drama North and South which was a present from my honey for my bday.

I am totally blown away. I am a miniseries whore, 'tis true, but this one sucked me in so quickly! From the first moment of screentime, the series reminded me of the times in high school when my family used to gather together on Sunday nights to watch Russell Baker introduce so many many Masterpiece Theater adaptations, particularly the Dickens novels Martin Chuzzlewit and Our Mutual Friend.

Victorian novels, because of their serial nature and plot twists, are obviously perfectly adapted to multi-part TV series (as, like, everyone who's ever watched the BBC is aware) and you really get to recreate that feeling of waiting for the next issue of Household Words (That's Chaz Dickens' magazine that published many pieces of Victorian novels) so you'll know what happens to your protagonist, be her name Mary, Margaret, or Mercy.

And in this case, I cannot wait to find out what befalls Margaret (well, I know, but to see it unfold). She's such a spunky, proud, perfect 19th century heroine. Gaskell knows how to write 'em. The cotton, the dreary industrial landscape, the angry mill workers and the brooding hero are all pitch-perfect. Oh, and the coughing chick who you know will be dead by act 3. Coughs might be one of the most universal literary/visual cues ever, along with mirror-gazing and window-gazing.
Or navel-gazing, which is all I'm doing at the moment, so I'ma sign out for now.

FUN WITH MY Birthday presents

Okay, well I'm going to be literary and name my new special wind-up toys after appropriate characters:

He's speedy, he's 'umble, he goes places quicker than his species suggests: meet Uriah Heep, the snail.

She's unsteady, she walks in half-circles, she's pretty but she never gets anywhere: meet Lily Bart, the brontosaurus.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I'm Just Sayin's All...

Back in college, there was one album upon which my group of friends, whom I'll now identify by the music they liked freshman year, could all agree. Yes, "Weezer/Rufus Wainwright" girl, "Ani DiFranco/Dar Williams" girl, ""Common/D'angelo girl" "Reggae" girl, and me, "Bob Dylan/Bob Dylan" girl, all gathered around with our Carlo Rossi jug wine and incense and hookah (which I later broke dragging down to an art studio so another roommate could draw its portrait--but that's another story) and turned on JUSTIFIED, the hip-hoppening Justin Timberlake album featuring such gems as the ubiquitous "Cry Me a River" and the underappreciated "Seniorita."
"He's totally the next Michael Jackson!" said "Common/D'angelo" girl, who had purchased the album for our pleasure. She was right. And how we loved it, each exiting from our little corner of self-satisfied indie-dom for an album's length to appreciate the future King of Pop.

Similary, I recently blogged about how re-obsessed with JT I had been since the hype surrounding Futuresex/Lovesounds reached its frenzy--naw I'm lying. Since he was so funny on SNL. And who wasn't smitten by D*ck in a Box?. But today the New York Times highlights just how far he's gone bringing sexy back--into hipsterdom.

Saith Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy:
"You can go to hipster clubs, and they like it. I think at first they liked him ironically, but now they just like him.”
But the Quote of the Day comes from Tony Corasdale "a punk promoter" and singer for "an anarchist hardocre band" in Philly:
“Believe it or not,” he added, “Justin Timberlake has some major fans in the anarchist punk community.”

TRUE WORDS. And since I already heard Hot 97 offering Timberlake tickets, this means he's effectively crossed over into indie and hip-hop, basically making him the SUPREME LEADER OF EVERYONE. So there, seventeen years olds whom I tutor who make fun of me unceasingly for my JT obsession. Take that kiddies. The New York Times done proved you wrong.

Wait... hold on a second.... I think I sense some BREAKING NEWS not unrelated to our topic.
Oh, shit! Could it be true? Are soulful british pop phenoms Coldplay actually making an album with Timbaland, the hottest producer this side of anyone (and the genius behind FutureSex/LoveSounds)? Looks like it might be. What intrepid reportage.

Monday, February 05, 2007


Okay. So last week I blogged about certain plot elements of the so-bad-it's-way-past-so-bad-it's-good (so in other words, it's bad again) show Studio 60 on the sunset strip. This terrible, terrible, terrible, episode ended with a not-so-cliffhanger "To be Continued" involving an awkward would-be-couple stranded on a rooftop, a drunken 20 year old stereotypically offensive asian girl, and a snake and ferret trapped beneath the floorboards...
but here's the thing:
The purpose of shows using "to be continued..." is hopefully to advance the plot somehow and create dynamic tension.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Egalitarian Bookworm Birthday...

So... this weekend brought with it a quiet but lovely birthday celebration for fellow-ette, sans her twin (not her gothic double, but her actual twin) who is in the British Isles, celebrating with his American football team in a Glasgow pub. (I heart you!)

In addition, the revelry brough a litany of literry themed-gift my way, including the following BBC series from my fellow: The Duchess of Duke Street, and North and South, which are super-exciting, a Maeve Binchy novel from mom and dad (that's like icing on the literary cake), and some antique-looking sparkly earrings worthy of the Victorian aesthetic. And some lavender body butter, a wind-up dinosaur toy, a meal at New Leaf Cafe at a time of my choosing, and a camera, none of which are literary, but all of which are lovely. Merci buttercups a tous.

Felow-ette is spending this superowl sunday making spaghetti and watching the Beauty and the Geek marathon instead of that other contest of brains and brawn. Can we discuss how unbeleivably bitchy the beauties are this year? They're clearly in it for personal gain. Come on Ashton, reverse the premise already and give us some male beauties and female geeks.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


"expecto patronuuuuus!"

Oh em geeeee Oh em geeeee Oh em geeeee Oh em geeeee Oh em geeeee Oh em geeeee ....

This is the most exciting egalitarian bookworm news in seriously forever... just picture it... droves of people, grown-ups and children alike, waiting on line in BOOK STORES, clutching BOOKS, staying up all night READING. It's like the days when brits used to flood the docks at liverpool, waiting for the latest installment of a Dickens or a Collins novel! Huzzah!

How will we last until then? Is Harry's fate sealed? I know JKR and Harry won't let us down.