Archive for gothic novels

the Frankenstein chronicles

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2019 by xi'an

Over a lazy weekend, I watched the TV series The Frankenstein Chronicles, which I found quite remarkable (if definitely Gothic and possibly too gory for some!). Connections with celebrities of (roughly) the time abound: While Mary Shelley makes an appearance in the first season of the series, not only as the writer of the famous novel (already famous in the novel as well) but also as a participant to a deadly experiment that would succeed in the novel (and eventually in the series), Charles Dickens is a constant witness to the unraveling of scary events as Boz the journalist, somewhat running after the facts, William Blake dies in one of the early episodes after painting a series of tarot like cards that eventually explains it all, Ada Lovelace works on the robotic dual of Frankenstein, Robert Peel creates the first police force (which will be called the Bobbies after him!), John Snow’s uncovering of the cholera source as the pump of Broad Street is reinvented with more nefarious reasons, and possibly others. Besides these historical landmarks (!), the story revolves around the corpse trafficking that fed medical schools and plots for many a novel. The (true) Anatomy Act is about to pass to regulate body supply for anatomical purposes and ensues a debate on the end of God that permeates mostly the first season and just a little bit the second season, which is more about State versus Church… The series is not without shortcomings, in particular a rather disconnected plot (which has the appeal of being unpredictable of jumping from one genre to the next) and a repeated proneness of the main character to being a scapegoat, but the reconstitution of London at the time is definitely impressive (although I cannot vouch for its authenticity!). Only the last episode of Season 2 feels a bit short when delivering, by too conveniently tying up all loose threads.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2016 by xi'an

I do not remember precisely for which reason I bought this book but it is most likely because the book popped up in a list of suggested books on a Amazon page. And I certainly feel grateful for the suggestion as this is one of the best books I read in the past years. And not just the best fantasy or the best Gothic book, clearly.

Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was published in 2004 and it soon got high-ranked in most best-seller lists, winning the same year both the Hugo and the Locus prizes. But, once again, while it caters to my tastes in fantasy literature, I find the book spans much more, recreating an alternative 19th Century literature where fairies and magic plays a role in the Napoleonic Wars, including Waterloo. The tone and style are reminders of Dickens, the Brontës, and Austen, but also Gothic 19th Century masters, like Ann Radcliffe, Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley. Even the grammar is modified into archaic or pseudo-archaic versions. But more importantly and enticingly the beautiful style reproduces some of the light irony of Dickens about the author and the characters themselves. Utterly enjoyable!

The story itself is about a new era of English magic launched by the two characters on the cover, after centuries of musty study of magic without the power or the will of practising any form of magic. (The book enjoys close to 200 footnotes documenting the history of magic in the past centuries, in a pastiche of scholarly works of older days.) While those two characters can manage incredible feats, they seem to have a rather empirical knowledge of the nature of magic and of what they can do about the ancient magicians of the fairy kingdoms that border Northern England. There is no indication in the book that magical abilities are found in other nations, which is most advantageous when fighting the French! A central axis of the plot is the opposition between Norrell and Strange, the former hoping to take complete control of English magic (and buying any book related to the topic to secure them in a private library), the later freely dispensing his art and taking students in. They also clash about the position to take about the fairy or Raven King, John Uskglass, from excluding him from the modern era to acknowledging his essential role in the existence of English magic. They separate and start fighting one another through books and newspaper articles, Strange leaving for Venezia after loosing his wife. Eventually, they have to reunite to fight the Raven King together and save Strange’s wife, even though the final outcome is somewhat and pleasantly unexpected. (Mind this is a crude summary for a novel of more than 1,000 pages!)

While it seems the author is preparing a sequel, the book stands quite well by itself and I feel another book is somewhat unnecessary: Dickens did not write a sequel to David Copperfield or another perspective on (the Gothic) Great Expectations. But in any case Susanna Clarke wrote there a masterpiece a feat that I hope she can repeat in the future with an altogether book. (And while I liked very much the Quincunx for similar reasons, I deem Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell to be far far superior in its recreation of Victorian Gothic!)

Dracula [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , on August 10, 2014 by xi'an

As I was waiting for my plane to Bangalore a week ago, I spotted a cheap English edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula in De Gaulle airport. I had not re-read the book since my teenage years (quite a while ago, even by wampyr’s standards!), so I bought it for the trip ahead. I remembered very little of the style of the [French translation of the] book if the story itself was still rather fresh on my mind (as were the uneasy nights after reading the novel!).

“I can hazard no opinion. I do not know what to think and I have no data on which to found a conjecture.”

Dracula is definitely a Victorian gothic novel in the same spirit as Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho I read last year, if of a late and lighter style… Characters do not feel very realistic (!), maybe because the novel is written in the epistolary style, which makes those characters only express noble or proper sentiments and praise virtues in their companions. (The book could obviously be re-read with this filter, attempting at guessing the true feelings of those poor characters forced into a mental straitjacket by the Victorian moral codes.) However, even without this deconstructive approach, the book is quite fascinating as a representation of the codes of the time. More than for a rather unconvincing plot which leaves the main protagonist mostly in the dark [of a coffin, obviously!]. The small band of wampyr-hunters pursuing Dracula seems bound to commit every mistake in the book and miss clues about his local victims and opportunities to end up Dracula’s taste of England earlier… And the progress of Dracula in his invasion is too slow to be frightening.  Anyway, what I found highly interesting in Dracula is the position and treatment of women in this novel, from innocent vaporous victims to wanton seductresses once un-dead, from saintly and devoted wives to unusually bright women “more clever than men” but still prone to hysteria… Once again, many filters of (modern) societal and sociological constraints could be lifted from this presentation. I also noticed that no legal authority ever appears in the novel: the few policemen therein lift rescued children from cemeteries or nod at the heroes breaking into Dracula’s house in London. This absence may point out issues with Victorian society that may prove impossible to solve with out radical changes. (Or I may be reading too much!)