Books

Decoding the Image: The Inclusiveness of Picture Books

“The pure visual perception [of picture books], freed from concerns with function […] and labels, is perhaps the most highly sophisticated sort of seeing that we do” – W. J. T. Mitchell

childrens books

In todays society, picture books are commonly assumed to be the province of the young or pre-illiterate child; their simplicity in form promises an easy access into the narrative for youthful readers. However, I intend to show that picture books are so much more than this as a form of literary-visual art, and here’s why!

  1. Picture books are not ‘dumbed down’ versions of ‘adult books’; many of the plots of children’s literature map the similar themes of pursuit, discovery, freedom and forgiveness which function in our own literature.
  2. The singular tag-lines which accompany these images take on an almost poetic function, concisely indicating the action of the scene without endangering a loss of coherence that may stem from a novel-length narrative.
  3. Picture books, as is universally recognised, are some of the easiest narratives to follow, however we should not overlook this simplicity. This provokes a dualistic fusion between the image and the words on the page; the choosing of a certain image can make even the simplest of sentences appear more sophisticated. 
  4. This form of literature improves our decoding skills as writers/readers; what does the image say? Why did the author choose this image to best represent their story?
  5. Picture books allow their intended audience to learn how to respond to the world and how to see themselves and others; they become an important means of integrating younger children into our culture and society. 

We must not forget, the audience of picture books is only half children. As it is usually the parent who selects the book, it thus must appeal to both the parent and the child in equal measure, which is greatly important. From my own experience of my father reading these same books to me as a child, an intimacy is shared between you as a pair – as if you are both within the story amongst the action, but also in your own individual world together.

Picture books create a partnership between the parent and child that is intimately connected by this form and, if the literature succeeds fully, unites its pair of readers in a special bond. 

 

Books

Written to Visual: My Top 8 Book-to-Film Adaptations

I have to admit, 9 times out of 10, a book always provides me with more of an immersive experience than a film ever has. There’s something about sitting alone, just you and one book in dialogue with each other that appeals to me; I personally prefer to visualise my own scenes and characters within my mind than have them defined and shaped for me on screen. However, there are many book-to-film adaptations that I do love and would recommend as must watches. Here are just a few!

**SPOILERS TO FOLLOW**

1. Stand by Me

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My favourite film of all time and a true classic! Also, a great adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Body with only a few changes of the years in which the action is set and the location of Castle Rock. One of the saddest, but most heart-warming films I have ever seen. (P.S. Don’t even talk to me about Chris’ murder at the end of the film, I’m still hurting!) (P.S. P.S sorry for the spoiler but, come on, if you haven’t seen Stand By Me by now, where have you been for the last 30 years?)

2. The Shawshank Redemption

Another classic film! But that’s a given if Morgan Freeman is starring in it, right? Also, another adaptation of a Stephen King novel, and a great one at that. It’s no wonder that the film was nominated for seven Academy awards in 1994, including Best Picture. Brava, Frank Darabont!

3. The Green Mile 

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Sooooo another fantastic Stephen King adaptation (who can guess one of my favourite authors? I’m so transparent.) I really loved this film because of how honest it was; every emotion and pain you felt when reading the book, this was delivered on screen just as perfectly. A longer film admittedly, yet it captivated me throughout.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird

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A Harper Lee book I was made to read in high school, and have loved ever since! The film, directed by Robert Mulligan, really did the novel justice too. Truly authentic and thus no surprise that it won three Academy awards and was a box-office success. Whilst dealing with severe social issues of rape and racial inequality, the book and film both permeate a warmth and humour that made the narrative so interesting to me. A must watch!

5. Clueless

“Excuse me? I’m only number five on the list, as if!” The best Jane Austen Emma adaptation to date, without a doubt. So funny, so light-hearted and so easy to watch! With Austen renowned for her witty satire and humour, I’m sure she would have loved Amy Heckerling’s take on her classic novel.
6. The Silence of the Lambs 

This gif was just about the only non-scary image from this entire film (I didn’t want to emotionally scar you guys), because trust me when I say The Silence of the Lambs is one of the most frightening horror-thriller films to exist. An authentic take on Thomas Harris’ novel of the same name, and a timeless classic that never ages! If you’re a huge fan of the film and haven’t read the book, I would definitely recommend you do so – it may reshape your understanding of Clarice as a character.

7. The Harry Potter Series

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I mean, of course Harry Potter has to make it onto the list; a great collection of books by J.K. Rowling and a great selection of films to follow. The franchise is huge and deservedly so, the narrative holds so many different genres to appeal to all – fantasy, drama, coming of age, mystery, adventure, horror and romance. If you are part of the tiniest percent of the world who have neither read nor watched it, I would highly recommend!

8. Bridget Jones’s Diary

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One of the best ‘lazy Sunday, procrastinate in bed all day with a huge supply of goodies’, films to exist. Bridget Jones’s Diary is a great film for all ages to enjoy – so funny and extremely relatable. As Helen Fielding, the author, and Sharon Maguire, the director, are close friends, this makes the series even better to me! One of my favourite romantic-comedy movies and a film I’ve watched countless times, that will never get old.

What would you list as your favourite book-to-film adaptation?

 

 

 

 

Books

Books of Nostalgia: The Literature of My Childhood 

Just a quick disclaimer, this is a great digression from my usual academic reviews of literature!

“The more that you read, the more things you will know” – Dr Seuss

So, I imagine most of my fellow bookworms can relate when I say I have a huge collection of books; from stories of my childhood, novels I enjoyed in my teens and some of my most recent purchases. This is one of the main reasons I enjoy reading; literature acts as a kind of visual soundtrack to my life. Giving away a book would be breaking my sentimental attachment to them, I just can’t do it!

As I was rooting through my collection earlier today, I found some of my favourite picks from my childhood and thought I would share in case others can relate! Nostalgia time …

1. The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson 


Jacqueline Wilson was one of my favourite authors as a child! The Story of Tracy Beaker and all of the unique characters who came with it – of naughty Tracy, Justine Littlewood, Elaine the Pain and Weedy Peter, welcomed me into their story and enveloped me into their world. Even just looking at the illustrations by Nick Sharrat brings me back to being young again. A complete classic!

 

2. The Crazy World of Electra Brown Series by Helen Bailey 

This series really was my guide to surviving high school! The crazy, whirlwind life of Electra Brown was a great one to follow (even if she was tediously shallow) and such an easy one to read. I’m not afraid to admit I was never the popular girl in school, so this book really helped to make light of it all. One of few book series that actually aroused fits of laughter, whilst also delving into some serious issues surrounding adolescence. Some light-hearted fun for all!

3. The Famous Five Adventure Collection by Enid Blyton

Okay, so I’m delving way way back into the past here with The Famous Five (I’m surprised I even found this). ‘Five on a Treasure Island’, ‘Five go Adventuring Again’ and ‘Five Go to Billycock Hill’ were three of my favourite Five stories. An escapade with Julian, Dick, George, Ann and Tim provided me with a sense of freedom and adventure that every child craves! With drawings, journal entries and old maps, this book allowed me to feel as though I was on a journey with them, and I loved that!

4. The Hutchinson Treasury Of Fairytales by Brian Hutchinson 

As everybody knows, fairytales are the fabrics of most people’s childhoods and Hutchinson’s, I would argue, was one of the best, without a doubt! As well as the stories, what really made this book for me was the delicate illustrations accompanying each tale; this brought the magic alive. From favourites of Grimms to Anderson, this is a treasury for every child and a book to be handed down from generation to generation!

Always remember: some of the greatest inspirational quotes and lessons of wisdom come from children’s literature.

In the famous words of Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh:

“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

Books

A Modernist Work of Genius: An Analysis of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway

“I want to criticise the social system, and show it at work, at its most intense” – Virginia Woolf

virginia woolf

Set four years after the First World War, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway examines the cracks within her society and the haste and confusion of the modern age, as civilisation attempted to return to reality following the violence and chaos of warfare. As most modernist writers fought to achieve, Woolf reacts against Realism of the Victorian tradition in an attempt to emulate a more authentic and real experience of Modern day; one physically and psychologically damaged by  industrialisation, war neurosis and other aspects of modernity.

Time and Control:
Originally entitled ‘The Hours’, the notion of time in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway is vitally important; the interior monologue and competing narratives of the novel facilitate Woolf’s presentation of a fragmented world undergoing physical, social and spiritual change – a change implemented by time.

As the events of the novel all take place in one day, predominantly following Clarissa Dalloway in preparation for her party that evening, the conventional conception of chronological time is converted to non-spatial time to align with the heroine’s consciousness. On a seemingly insignificant day, Woolf’s extended treatment of moments lays bare the daily lifestyle of Clarissa Dalloway; her thoughts, her feelings and her memories. The chiming of Big Ben pervades and often interrupts Clarissa’s narrative to convey the influence of time as a governing force; Woolf allows clocks to dictate Mrs Dalloway’s life to expose her character’s absurdity and physical polarity. As Woolf speeds up, slows down and stations time within the novel, she asks her readers to question – why do we allow this notion of time, merely a social construct, to dictate our own lives?

If you have a greater interest in the concepts of time, I would definitely recommend Henri Bergson’s work, as his delineation of clock time (monumental time of authority) and mind time (the flexible, temporal experience of time within the human mind) had a great influence upon Woolf’s work. 

Shell Shock and War:
The narrative of Mrs Dalloway does not solely focus upon the life of Clarissa; the novel holds a broader social significance in its tackling of issues of empire, the problems of an old, outdated class system and, perhaps most importantly, the aftermath of WW1. Through her character of Septimus Smith, a past war-veteran suffering with the psychosomatic trauma of shell-shock, Woolf exposes the horror of wasted lives post-war, giving meaning to their suffering in an age which did not understand.

I aim to always keep a distance between the biographical history of a writer to their works, however, in Mrs Dalloway, mental suffering connects Woolf to her characters. Woolf suffered from severe bouts of mental illness and depression throughout her life, first following the death of her mother and secondly the death of her father, before taking her own life by drowning in 1941. Woolf’s tragic death, to me, further emphasises a grave social issue which her novel sought to raise – the lack of understanding of mental health.

Through the suffering of Septimus Smith, a man metaphorically frozen in time and haunted by hallucinations of his past, Woolf gives voice to her own inner world and critiques doctors alike Dr Holmes who contend there is nothing seriously the matter with Septimus, he is only “a little out of sorts.”

Stream of Consciousness and The Mind:
Through the mode of stream of consciousness, Woolf illustrates the thoughts of “an ordinary mind, on an ordinary day” in an attempt to represent the inner workings of psychology. Through her character’s myriad impressions, Woolf examines the dark places and hidden depths within the psyche – an experimental art of many Modernist writers of the period.

In her consistent switching between exterior and interior monologue, weaving between the minds of her most central characters, the reader experiences a degree of omniscience through Woolf’s free indirect discourse – although we still feel we read the novel through the thoughts of Clarissa. This fragmented style of narration, mapping the sensory perceptions of differing characters, allows Mrs Dalloway to become a new reading experience – one without a central plot to drive the narrative, one lacking in linearity and one consumed with moments of Epiphanic realisation.

Bottle and Fishes c.1910-2 by Georges Braque 1882-1963

 

As in Cubist art of the period, Woolf’s competing narratives, juxtaposing the ordered world of Clarissa to the disoriented of Septimus, function as an array of opposing images structured to convey one whole – how it felt to experience and be caught up in the machine age.

 

 

 

Books

My Top 3 Books for Fans of Stranger Things

Okay so, if you’re anything like me, you binge-watched the entirety of Stranger Things 2 around two days after it’s release on Netflix last month, and now you’re stumped with what to do with your life for the next year in waiting. What did we even do before the American science-fiction-horror series came onto our screens in 2016? Fear no more! This list intends to ease the pain with a collection of books to read to bide your time…


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1. Boys Life by Robert McCammon
Published in 1991 and receiving the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1992, McCammon’s novel, set in the early 1960’s, is a coming of age tale for all fans of Stranger Things. Observing the changes in America at the time, with connection to the Klu Klux Klan and the Civil Rights Movement, the narrative follows a 12 year old boy named Cory Mackenson; whose witnessing of the death of a driver by drowning (later discovered already dead and handcuffed to the wheel) opens a new world of fascination. From an ancient mystic who communicates with the dead, to a clan of moonshiners, Cory confronts the secrets pervading his ‘idyllic’ hometown. Through the themes of pursuit and discovery, Boys Life mirrors the Stranger Things sequel in the way that it reels its audience in and never lets you go; the magic and mystery emulates the freedom and imagination embedded in ones childhood. 

2. Blight by Alexandra Duncan
Duncan’s dystopian, science-fiction novel Blight follows seventeen year-old Tempest Torres, a girl orphaned and left at the gates of an industrial farm for the future at age 5, and now a member of the security force guarding the fence from scavengers. After a group of rebels create an explosion, blowing up the research compound, a ‘blight’ is released into the air which kills every living thing that comes into contact with it. As Tempest holds the seeds that she believes may be the solution, she teams up with a scavenger boy named Alder, hoping to correct the error whilst instead discovering the even bigger plot behind the blight – that her company may not be so blameless. As a novel of discovery and fantasy, showing one’s drive to prohibit evil, Blight appeals to Stranger Things fans on account of the similarity of Tempest’s world to Hawkins, and Eleven’s.

3. Carrie by Stephen King
One of Stephen King’s first published and most famous novels, Carrie is set in the then-future of 1797 and follows the bullied, misfit Carrie White, a high school teen who uses her telekinetic powers to exact revenge on her tormentors. (see the connection, right?) In the process, Carrie facilitates one of the worst local disasters in American history at her prom, causing the deaths of two students and a school official. Similarly to the intrigue and fascination surrounding Eleven, most predominantly in her bad-ass scene of Season 2 when she charges in on the party after a long disappearance, Carrie’s agency and powers mirror Eleven’s and position King’s novel as a must-read for all Stranger Things fans.

I hope this list helps! 

Books

Throwback Thursday: Eliza Haywood’s Love in Excess

png;base64921a169294c5746bFirst published in 1719, Love in Excess was Eliza Haywood’s best known novel; a work of amatory fiction following the sexual escapades of Count D’Elmont and the competition of Alovisa and Amena for his attentions. Working against a “custom which forbids women to make a declaration of their thoughts”, Haywood’s racy, immoral depiction of sexual desire contributed to her known title as The Great Arbitress of Passion. Haywood touches upon the absurdness of social, gendered rubrics embedded in her society; if a woman was required to attract and marry an eligible suitor, why did civilisation forbid her to show an interest in him until he had formally declared his love for her? 

Revolutionary in it’s day, the heroines of Love in Excess were at the forefront of an early campaign for women’s independence, offering an empowering foundation for what the New Woman later stood for.

Haywood’s narrative challenges the stigma surrounding female sexuality in the 18th century; Alovisa’s carnal, lecherous instincts and appetite for desire, rendered a seductress as “loose as wanton fancy could invent”, rejects the custom of feminine Sensibility in favour of overtly coquettish behaviour. Although her desires are policed in the novel, as Alovisa “runs on her husband[‘s] sword”, a symbol of his phallic power, Haywood only punishes her heroine with death to expose how virtue was required to survive in the patriarchal, masculinised eighteenth-century society. Similarly, Amena’s allowance to be manipulated by D’Elmont, succumbing to her sexual desire, leads to her position as the fallen woman within the novel. However, Haywood’s narrative does not ask us to suppose “poor Amena” as blameworthy; her narrative invites us to challenge society’s construction of contradictory principles women must adhere to.

The principal reason I would recommend this book as a must read is on account of it’s resonance to today’s world, almost 300 years after the novel’s primary publication. Our society still holds a stigma surrounding a woman’s proposal to a man, with significant studies showing that many view this as “a man’s job”. Our civilisation still objectifies women who are comfortable with their sexuality, labelling women who express their enjoyment of sexual encounters as “loose” or “wild”. We can still see the uncomfortable scepticism pervading modern society surrounding a woman’s declaration of their sexuality. My message, as is Haywood’s, is to strive to create a culture which positively embraces feminine sexuality. Eradicate the delineation of sex as a “taboo” subject!

Accordingly, for all feminist critics looking for a new, hidden gem to sink their teeth into, Love In Excess is one I would certainly recommend! Haywood’s work centres upon the suppression of women within her social realm, and the need for writers to shadow her approach in addressing societal restrictions and contesting for change.

Books

Feminist Regression: Comparing the Victorian Carmilla to the Contemporary Twilight

bella twilight          carmilla original

What is your first thought when you hear the word ‘vampire’? A villain? One to be feared? Correct. However, the modernisation of the figure means that all of this has changed. The evolutionary process of the Vampire has permeated the literary field for several generations, positioning the figure as a vehicle for debate about the state of the society in which it is found. In Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, we can date the transition of the vampire figure from the beastly villain of early folklore to the humane companion of contemporary fiction, emulating their conversion from a transgressive threat to a conservative reinforcement.

When examining the two novels, we can see how the contemporary Vampire novel returns to conservative, heteropatriarchal gender roles and problematically reinstates masculine authority. Whilst the traditional, parasitical vampire of Carmilla was a disruptive figure who unsettled standardized systems through her queerness, the modern vampire of Bella exhibits a dearth of authority and a lack of female agency, engaged in an almost abusive relationship with Edward. Accordingly, Carmilla’s dominance is destabilised by Bella’s narrative.

How was Carmilla Revolutionary, and how does Twilight regress?

  1. Sexuality – Carmilla’s homoerotic sexual assertiveness and cunningness subverts patriarchal order in the Victorian era, as the intimacy of herself and Laura holds the potential to relegate men to powerlessness. In contrast, Bella’s lack of sexual agency and maternal role reinstates traditional beliefs surrounding a woman’s identity. Her relationship with Edward reintroduces heteronormativity through the heroine’s infatuated dependency and the reconstruction of sexuality as reproductively oriented.
  2. Travel – Carmilla’s obtrusive entry into the story, vicariously interrupting the silent and solitary life of Laura, allows her to segregate from civilised society and radically promote her transgressive desires. In opposition, Bella’s spatial movement to Forks, a place with outdated internet and invasive community-mindedness,  coincides with her reinversion into a benighted gender role, becoming a 1950’s style housewife to her undomesticated father and a subordinate to Edward.
  3. Female Victimhood – Le Fanu’s Carmilla sees the radical defining of women as perpetrators of abuse, as Carmilla’s identity as the vampire femme-fatale confronts the debased categorization of the female as inherently fragile. Conversely, in Twilight, the fetishization of violence and female victimhood reinstates the traditionalist power notions of women as emotionally and physically weaker than men (seen especially in Breaking Dawn, when Bella converts to a vampire, as solely male Cullens teach her how to fight – an overt reinforcement of masculine strength and female vulnerability.) Even when Bella initiates agency in ‘saving’ her mother in the closing section, it is met with defeat in needing to be saved from James by Edward, positioning the heroine as the archetypical damsel in distress.
  4. Motherhood and Maternity – The absence of the mother in Carmilla and Laura’s non-normative denial of a maternal figure leaves her vulnerable to attack, as her father’s transition from the traditionally masculine public sphere to the feminine domestic realm, striving to fulfil the mother function, is transgressive. In her vampiric attack on Laura, awoken by a “sensation as if two needles ran into [her] chest”, Le Fanu radically defamiliarizes the act of breastfeeding as one to be feared. In direct opposition, Carlisle’s unquestioned leadership, idealistic relationship with Esme and innate paternalistic responsibility to ameliorate the indiscretions of his children reinstates the orthodox necessity for a nuclear family structure. The contemporary narrative’s rejection of transgression, fashioning a unit of ‘vegetarian’ vampires, terminates the deviancy introduced by Carmilla and appropriates cautious narratives through their humaneness.

Therefore, through the idealisation of abusive relationships and privilege of whiteness, Meyer’s insidious novel is not one to be passively consumed by readers. As the figurative woman in love, Bella is problematically subjected to masculine power and lacks female autonomy; a direct reinforcement of the patriarchal conservatism that Carmilla ought to destroy. A plea to all authors of Vampire fiction; revert to the traditional! As much as change is good, do not lose the deviancy and transgression which circulates around cultural conception of the vampire.