I've belatedly realised that I unconsciously echoed Gerard Manley Hopkins with the title of my last blog post — not all that surprising, considering he is one of my favourite poets.
When I was a teenager (before I discovered Hopkins — I owe the pleasure of that revelation to one of my university lecturers*), I used to keep a scrapbook of poems I liked. I would painstakingly write them out by hand and decorate them with amateur drawings and cut-out pictures. (That was the kind of literary lover I was from a very young age).
It occurred to me when I was doing a spring clean out not long ago and I stumbled across this tattered scrapbook that Pinterest would be the perfect place to keep such a collection in this day and age. Pinterest, after all, appears to be nothing more than digital scrapbooking, and I was already using it to pin pictures in the same way I used to do when I was young and would cut and paste pictures I liked from magazines into the blank pages of a scrapbook.
However, I was disappointed with the poems I found on Pinterest — there seemed to be a lack of many well-known poems, none from New Zealand, bare snippets of others, and very few with any integrated artwork. I had expected Pinterest to be full of beautifully illustrated poems.
Of course, some of you will be rolling your eyes at my naivety as the reason for this lack will be obvious to you: copyright laws. Until I started thinking about pinning poems on Pinterest, I hadn't really understood that individual poems bear copyright in their own right, not as parts of a book or collection (which can therefore be quoted/reproduced). I now know that without the author or publisher's permission, it is only permissible to publicly reproduce a few words or a short phrase from any individual poem -- unless the material has entered the public domain due to copyright expiration. Copyright expiration is different for every country, but as far as I can fathom, works originating in the US have entered the public domain if they were published in the US before 1923 or if it is seventy years after the author's death; in New Zealand, fifty years after the author's death; and in the UK, seventy years after the author's death.
If my understanding is correct, this means I can publicly share poems on Pinterest which were published before 1923 or written by authors who died over 70 years ago. If you are interested in what kinds of 'antique' poems catch my fancy, you can read them on my Poetry board. My other favourite 'scrapbooks' at the moment are my Nursery Rhymes board and Fairy Tale Illustrations. Nursery Rhymes may actually be my favourite kinds of poems.
Here's hoping that by pinning artworks to Pinterest, I'm not breaking any art copyright laws. If so, then I guess I'm in good company with 100 million other users. I don't mean to sound flippant, however - a bit of research seems to suggest that links to other websites are permissible, which is probably how Pinterest manages this potential minefield. At least I have learned that I can't just share whatever artwork takes my fancy on my blog without permission. Luckily, there are a lot of great websites about, like Pixabay, that have fantastic royalty-free images like the ones above and below.
It was Horace who said, "A picture is a poem without words." Here's to enjoying the beauty of both.
*Margaret Belcher taught me Victorian Poetry and Prose in the third year of my Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Canterbury back in 2000. We had a laugh together when I returned from term break as a Hopkins fan after I'd earlier stated my extreme dislike for his unique style. What do you think of Hopkins? Is he an 'olive writer' (an acquired taste)? You can find my favourite Hopkins poems, including "Spring and Fall: to a young child" (first published in 1918) on my Poetry board.
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is one of those books you hear a lot about but probably only get around to reading if it's required for a course — or you're scrolling through the free e-books provided on your reader and feeling virtuous.
I fell into the latter category this week and almost gave up reading in the info dump of the first few pages as readers are taken on a tour of the factory that conceives, grows and brainwashes the children of the future. However, Huxley caught my attention when he started splicing two or three conversations together so that I had to multi-task like mad and by the time I got out of the tail end of that I was hooked.
I gave A Brave New World three stars on Goodreads — although it's not the sort of book you really 'like', I found myself reading on with fascination, a little like the inability to look away as you drive past a car crash. The tragedy is not Huxley's style (although it is rather stilted), but his dystopic future, which has to be one of the primary forerunners of all dystopias. I felt some pretty strong echoes of Walter Tevis's Mockingbird (an excellent modern development and revision of some of these themes) and was surprised to realise that cloning was a motif as far back as 1932.
What delighted me about A Brave New World was the clever integration of known cultural and scientific theory with those yet to develop in the society of the future. Consumerism (the society worships 'our Ford') and psychoanalysis (their god is sometimes known as 'our Freud') is melded with historical figures like Malthus and future historical figures (at least, they aren't real as far as I and Google are aware) like Pzifner and Kawaguchi. Of course, the theories we are familiar with are either taken to the extreme or interpreted in unexpected ways – such as Freud's theories on the autoeroticism and erotic awareness of children leading to the enforced erotic play of all future children.
Sex is a major theme of the novel. 'Everyone belongs to everyone else' which means everyone is expected to be promiscuous and avoid monogamy at all costs. The desire for a strong passion (and sometimes pregnancy) is replaced by hormonal surrogates that burn themselves out. However, sometimes a few grammes of soma are needed to get a girl through a particular sexual encounter, as evidenced by Lenina and the Arch-Community Songster. Which brings us to some of the problems of the novel.
As I'm sure many reviewers before me have pointed out, Huxley's dystopic future is both sexist and racist — and I'm not sure if this is an intentional aspect meant to heighten the dystopia or an accidental side-effect of Huxley's conditioning. When clones are created, males are kept fertile, but only a small proportion of women maintain their fertility, the rest to be turned into 'freemartins', made sterile by an increase in male hormones. Contraception becomes the responsibility of the fertile women after they grow up. I don't think I need to point out that the sterility and responsibility could have been spread around in a less sexist future.
Racially, the clones are created in a caste system, from Alphas to Betas and down to Epsilons (familiar terms in contemporary werewolf novels, although Omega seems to be preferred these days to Epsilon). Alphas run the world and have more free will — or, at least, freedom of thought. The castes have different employment, interests and intelligence ratios (all enforced by genetic manipulation and conditioning) and are identified by their different coloured clothes — although skin colour, from the little we read of it, also seems to be matched to different castes, with pale skin being equivalent to alpha status. It's possible I've misinterpreted this as there is a 'feely' movie later in the novel featuring a sexual encounter between a 'gigantic Negro' male and 'golden haired young brachycephalic Beta-Plus female' and given the conditioning to dislike other castes it seems likely sexual encounters are meant to only occur within castes; however, the representation of the black character is typically racist (a knock on the head leads him to become a sexually voracious 'black madman') and he is replaced by the end of the feely with a trio of 'handsome young Alphas'. Skin colour/race unmentioned generally equates to whiteness in early texts so I think we can assume Huxley intended these 'handsome' Alphas to be read as white.
The 'Beta blonde becoming the mistress of all her three rescuers' is just a sample of the sexism evident in the future culture - i.e. she's their mistress, they're not hers. In this future, Alpha men have all the powerful jobs (management, conditioning, media) while alpha women work in the fertility section of the factory, monitoring the bottles in which children are born, and, if Linda's example is meant to be representative, have little awareness of how the system really works. In a sexually free future, men seem to have gained more freedom of choice than women, with Bernard Marx noting that men discuss women (in this case, Lenina) as though they are 'meat' to be had. Lenina is invited off on weekends away with various lovers, but she isn't the one doing the inviting or planning. In other words, women are the passive recipients of male desire. However, later in the novel a female friend does encourage Lenina to simply take what she wants …
Which brings us to John, the Savage. The 'Savages' in their 'Reservations' in America could have been presented as utopic in comparison with 'civilised' culture, since they are able to continue living a 'natural' life, but instead they are represented as 'sullen', strange and brutal. The conditioning John receives from his childhood amongst them has a harsher impact than the conditioning of 'civilisation' does on figures like Bernard Marx, Helmholtz and the Director, although John's descent into madness really occurs once he submits himself to the influence of Shakespeare and confronts an inability to reconcile his sexual ideals with reality.
It's difficult to decide whether John's wild insanity or the regulated sanity of civilised society is more disturbing, although perhaps we can take a guess as to the author's intention from the differing fates of these characters. Compared with John's, the future lives of a reconciled Marx and Helmholtz on an island of interesting people don't look at all bad…
It was impossible for me to read Bitterblue (2012), Kristin Cashore's latest contribution to her Graceling series, without recognising its remarkable thematic resonance with Melina Marchetta's Lumatere series. If you enjoyed one, be sure to try out the other. Both feature haunted kingdoms.
Cashore's novel is narrated by the eponymous heroine, Bitterblue, who featured as a child character in Graceling but now reappears eight years later as a young woman struggling to rule a kingdom which has been traumatised by decades of monarchical abuse. Bitterblue's father was King Leck, the villain of Graceling (and its prequel, set 35 years before, Fire). Leck's Grace (his magical gift or power) was an ability to convince others to believe everything he said, even at the second or third degree; his disgrace was an obsession with manipulation and the infliction of physical and emotional pain.
Bitterblue, whose memories of her father and her childhood are piecemeal due to the fog-like effect of Leck's Grace, spends the novel trying to discover (and uncover) what actually happened during his reign. She believes that only by understanding the past can she help her people to recover their wits and remake the kingdom. What did Leck actually do to people? What were his crimes? And how can those abused by him recover and move on with their lives?
The story is metafictive in many ways, with a strong focus on the creation and passage of knowledge through conversations, letters, diaries, oral storytelling, reading and books. This is a novel that concedes the power of language, a novel that features both ciphers and printing presses. But the significance of knowledge goes beyond mere language: fabrications and truths are also weighed against each other in symbol, in art, and in behaviour. The final revelations are harrowing, but the sympathetic characterisation allows for hope and healing.
Bitterblue, unlike its predecessor, Graceling, demanded a comparison with the work of Melina Marchetta, because Marchetta's fascinating Lumatere series also features a haunted kingdom.
In the first novel of Marchetta's trilogy, Finnikin of the Rock (2008), the people of the kingdom of Lumatere are divided into two: those who were trapped by a magical barrier inside the kingdom when it was annexed ten years before (and have not been heard from since), and those who escaped the annexation of the city only to be trapped outside its magical barrier and forced to live in exile as refugees, forming diasporas where they could, and suffering wherever they could not. The novel is about attempts to break down the magical barrier and bring the exiles home.
Its conclusion and the next two novels, Froi of the Exiles (2011) and Quintana of Charyn (2012) deal with the consequences of re-unification. Those who had been trapped both inside and outside the kingdom endured tragic abuses and now they must try to find some way to heal as individuals and as a community. Such healing doesn't come instantly or easily. And their kingdom is not the only one to be so haunted.
Although both Cashore and Marchetta's series reveal traumatic details of abuse and suffering, neither are voyeuristic; both approach this theme with sensitivity and a genuine attempt to explore the issue of how large groups of people can rebuild lives which have been broken and battered by widespread abuse. Given the world we live in, with its many haunted individuals and communities, their attempts seem, to me, incredibly worthwhile reading.
In A Corner of White (2012), Jaclyn Moriarty illustrates that rare combination of 'quirky' style and 'quirky' imagination that many readers will find delightful – the kind of talented eccentricity one expects from a novelist like Patrice Kindl.
It has generated mixed reviews so evidently its eccentricity won't appeal to everyone – but, personally, I was 'wowed'. And if you want something different, something unique, something erudite yet engaging and entertaining, this is your novel.
For starters, the plot is fun. Madeleine is home-schooled with friends Jack and Belle in Cambridge. Her mother is kooky, her friends exceptional, and her unusual education takes readers down rarely travelled philosophical and historical paths. Then there's the world of Cello. The motif of travel between fantasy worlds is far from new, but Moriarty invests it with new life because she limits it to the level of communication by post (or, in this case, broken parking meter) and because her world of Cello is so enjoyably novel. Elliott lives in a part of the kingdom known as 'the Farms'. His townsfolk wrestle with the daily alteration of seasons, the constant threat of attack by hostile Colours, and daydreams of Royal visitations and redemption from the Butterfly Child.
But forget the thought-provoking plot. What really makes this book stand out is the style in which it is written, because Moriarty does fun things with language. She writes with precision and twists of perspective. And she does fun things with narrative style. She gives us epistolary excerpts and tidbits from textbooks. She carefully unfolds intriguing items of information like an origami artist unravelling a many-coloured masterwork.
For this is a book about colours and it is a colourful book — but it's not coloured candy. There are depths here, some of them dark, and an opacity to the characterisation of both protagonists. Light has not yet been shed into all corners. The novel ends well, but I'll be waiting with anticipation to turn the next corner of white and unfold more of the Colours of Madeleine.
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