The Sleeper and the Spindle, Neil Gaiman

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This book’s breathless Goodreads summary does it few favours:

“A thrillingly reimagined fairy tale from the truly magical combination of author Neil Gaiman and illustrator Chris Riddell – weaving together a sort-of Snow White and an almost Sleeping Beauty with a thread of dark magic, which will hold readers spellbound from start to finish.

On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.”

For a start, big promises there. This is, as the summary suggests, a sort-of-remix and fusion of two fairy tales. Fairy tale retellings are big right now, and so people who don’t have a specific yen to work with a specific story are getting suggestions from their publishers along ‘why not crank out–‘ lines. I think we might be at the tail end of that boom, but I don’t see it producing great work, as I’ve said* in an SH review of Over the Garden Wall (which I liked). You’re Angela Carter and you want to return to those texts, or you’re any of the five people Catherine Butler flags up as reworking Tam Lin , or you ain’t. Some writers find a prompt qua prompt generative and productive, but that’s due to a certain responsive turn of mind on the writers’ part. Prompts really aren’t for everyone, and there is something to be said for the simple motivation of wanting to work on a topic: it indicates that you have something to say about it, or at least that you’re interested in the subject. And how can readers hope to be if you aren’t?

What do such retellings do? There’s a facile quality to the ‘watered-down Carter’ impulse that wants to make these remixes Dark and Sexy, an impulse which (again, as I’ve said before) demonstrates a total ignorance of the source material, which has never needed help there. The same is true of the similarly Carter-lite impulse to make these stories Correct, in modern soft-left terms. Not to reimagine them as radical or progressive, but to make them 90s girl-power feminist, with perhaps a titillating hint of homo. Note that these are largely treatments coming from straight authors (or semi-competent, rather complacent gays–we do make them, alas).

This telling is not the most egregious example of this breed I’ve seen (that honour belongs to something I once asked for a review copy of and then said nothing about, out of politeness), but man it sure is on trend.

Back at the start of uni, I really liked Neil Gaiman. And then someone did to me what the tenth Doctor did to Harriet Jones, Prime Minister’s reputation by whispering into my ear, ‘isn’t he safe? All that influence, all the capital and leverage in the world—why isn’t Gaiman more progressive, more experimental, or more interested in pushing himself than your average polite solicitor at a garden party?’

There is something to be said for enjoying art without feeling your reception is dominated by the weight of others’ opinions, but that said, my god she was right. Gaiman’s not bad, he’s never BAD, but he could be good–he could write a GREAT book, and he’ll never fucking care to, because he’s swathed in Being Neil Gaiman and what would be the point, even? Who’d want it? People just want him to Be Neil Gaiman. And if that doesn’t endure, if he dies and after a good long while he’s the Trollope who doesn’t get read much these days or what have you, well, it was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it? There’s an almost conservative drag to his work, which is never better than Sandman was and never even interested in being better, really. It’s never building on any of that, Gaiman’s never pushing himself or answering the changed questions of changed times. He just continues, like a reliable chain restaurant of the better class, a Pizza Express possibly, to offer up aimless, floating, serviceable prose. We all like Neil Gaiman, of course. He is competent and inoffensive and says nothing deeply felt. What is not to like? Quick, get a tattoo of something from “The Doctor’s Wife”. (I have no spoon, yet I must gag.)

I’m not just dragging him, really. I got accused the other day of taking unnecessary side-swipes and–sometimes, well, yes. Sometimes I’ve made cheap jokes, and sometimes I’m even retrospectively sorry about that, in a “badly done, Emma” sort of way. But honestly, this is me making the difficult effort to articulate a critical point, and this (contextualization via snark) is one tool I have to employ. I don’t even think it’s necessarily a bad one. There will be casualties, or at least I will feel and say that in some capacities something people like, often even something I love, didn’t work, structurally or politically or what have you. If you want a celebration that makes you feel great just for occupying the economic or social categories of Geekdom–I’m sorry, I don’t even believe in that? And I’m not happy about where we are, or even where we’ve been or where we’re going, or at least I’m not exclusively so. I don’t know that I ever feel anything unambivalently, does anyone? I’m not going to pretend that I am: I wouldn’t be good at it, for one.

“The Sleeper and the Spindle”, then, is wellish written, but not amazing. Information gets doled out quite subtly, but this feels like a bit of a gimmick to me. The world seems bigger than it is because we’re given pieces of it out of order, which suggests a rich back-story. Fine. The technique works, just not–seamlessly, and I do feel a little shown around the Potemkin village.

The Queen is very much figured as a Queen rather than a princess–in charge, doing the work of governing, a bit martial–but her motivation never really crystallises through these back-story hints. All right, so at the end she’s questing, in search of nothing–again, fine? A bit bleak. Like Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, but with dwarves. I never FEEL The Queen’s desires, either for freedom or for people. The homoeroticism is as static as the picture book illustrations, and lacks the visceral sensuality of the most restrained Aubrey Beardsley print. Given that this is written in a more novelistic than folkloric style, perhaps I should enter more into this character and her desires, psychologically?

The role of women in this world is weird (again with the light overlay of an unchallenging feminism). The Queen is a Cool Girl because she’s martial and don’t let no man tell her what to do. People keep adding ‘and some women too!!’ after saying something about what knights or merchants get up to, et al. In other words female participation is still exceptional, but there’s a Girls Can Do It vibe. This is the faux Middle Ages a la Murphy Brown. I don’t think there’s a problem with discarding bits of the kyriarchy that aren’t doing work in your narrative, but the nervous positioning of women in the text and the way female valorisation is tied up in assumptions of masculinity have me like ‘k’.

There’s a suggestion that the Queen is sexually drawn to the evil fairy at the heart of this story, even as she was (it’s hinted) drawn to her wicked stepmother. Putting in subtext knowingly is always odd. I’m not sure that subtext has to arise accidentally to function (I’ve heard that in stagings of “Peter Pan” the author knew exactly what he was doing and what he wanted the play to evoke, for example), but it does have to be nurtured in a particular way. I’d have to think more about how one generates subtext, or serves as a good custodian to it. Suffice it to say that incestuous mothers (and fathers) are old hat in fairy tales, as is this sort of veiled eroticism, and that I can think of less blatant and yet more dangerous and enticing examples fairly easily. I guess that’s a trade-off I’m looking for? If you’re writing now, consciously employing these tools and looking to generate these effects, then shouldn’t your effects be equally resonant, or differently so, or do anything other than sort of weakly gesturing at what’s already been better-said with fewer words? (As the Dowager Duchess said about Mary’s shit boyfriend’s communism.)

A1vDbflXiqL._SL1500_.jpgThe book is very beautiful, though I don’t feel as capable of talking critically about art as I do about fairy tales. (There are a few stupid touches: that goff skull bedspread is probably available at Hot Topic even now.) There’s a Tolkenian quality to the map images on the endpapers. Overall it’s the sort of picture book that I kept fretting I was going to besmirch with fingerly snail-trails.

So what do we gain from “The Sleeper and the Spindle”? I theoretically love remixes: why do they always disappoint me, of late? This whole great glut of them just feels unmeant and unnecessary. This example isn’t different. Not bad, not superlative, not much.

***

* The relevant bit of the earlier piece: “The New York Times claims OtGW “has the look of a dark fable but the mood of a fairy tale, more Wes Anderson than Tod Browning.”

Look, guys, how long ago did Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber come out? Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers? I know you know that Freud had some words to say on fairy tales, and that Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment had some follow-up thoughts. There is zero excuse to be working as a critic, and talking about fairy tales, and not to know about their adaptability, their sensuality and terror, the way they convey and contain cultural and personal fears, their potency, their scratchy humour. A mature and nuanced perception of fairy tales is a cliché at this point: it’s been academically accepted for damn decades. You’re seriously contrasting fairy tales with “dark fables”? You want to talk about how fairy tales’ “wistfulness” (which I find a rich and interesting mode, by the by: nostalgic and sad, and not something we should rush to temper and excuse) needs to be shaken up by sassy modernity? Are you an immortal who’s lived for centuries? Did you go to uni in the 1860s and thus miss this 101 material? Have you not read much since? Do you straight up know nothing about fairy tales and give zero fucks? If so, why are you writing about them?

(To be fair to these people, I also ask this whenever someone who doesn’t like or get the mode gets pushed into doing a “sexy grimdark fairy tale revamp” by their publisher. No one involved remembers that this material is always-already fairly sexy and dark. Just stop.)”

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Papers in Search of Good Homes

you-know-nothing-nwc8ld

I have only made a conference paper into an article once, and am currently in the process of doing it a second time. I’ve realised I have.. several that needed to make this transition. Scrapping the ones I hate too much to do anything with, there are still quite a few that I think could go somewhere… but where? I’m keeping an eye out for calls, but please let me know if you’ve any thoughts!

* Enchanting the World

 Horace Walpole sought via literary and material projects to bring the fantastic into the mundane, and to dwell in that altered reality. The writer of The Castle of Otranto and the builder of Strawberry Hill, Walpole was an originating figure in both gothic revival architecture and gothic literature. But even as Walpole was collecting artifacts and building a utopic, ‘gloomth’y retreat from modernity and the city (and, as a queer man, crafting spaces for himself outside of heteronormative relations), he was the PM’s son, serving in Parliament, and, via his extensive correspondence, participating actively in Society. Networking is as much the source of Walpole’s legacy as any discrete accomplishment; it was the means by which he founded genres. I’d like to propose that Walpole’s activities are not strangely juxtaposed, but in fact fundamentally intertwined.

 Using his letters, fiction, and art criticism, as well as Brooks’ The Gothic Revival, Pearce’s On Collecting and Rose’s The Pleasure of Ruins (with a little Burke, Sontag and Benjamin), I’ll discuss the centrality of place and materiality to Walpole’s conception of the fantastic. Even as Walpole’s seemingly disparate projects are actually interdependent, his aesthetic of bright, cheerful, ‘gloomy-warmth’ and literary camp positions charm at the core of the gothic. We normally view the gothic sublime and charm as diametrically opposed (threatening wilderness vs cosy domestic space), and the real-world spaces these aesthetics relate to as similarly at odds. I aim to trouble that unstable binary and illuminate the connections between the canny and the uncanny, the foundational kinship between Walpole’s dream-worlds and his real one.

* Inhumanity and Enchantment in Fairy Tales

In “The Fairies in Tradition and Literature” (1967), folklorist Katharine Mary Briggs presents several cases of humans being pulled into fairy mounds, threatening or benign. Some appear as ghosts, having been killed by the experience or having died before coming to the mound as spirits. Others are alive, but now too altered to ever leave. Still others manage to return to the mundane world. Of those that escape, some can lead normal lives, and some have been too changed to survive. The last may experience depression and madness–hunger for the lost world, restless suffering under an incomplete and irreversible change. But what precisely have these people been altered or changed into? Generally, how human are people in the altered states ofenchantment?

Fairy tales are often the stories of liminal encounters, and the people in fairy tales are threatened with change, or promised eucatastrophic alteration. Out of my wider research on the many roles charm (broadly defined) plays in fairy tales and folklore, I’d like to distill a discussion of the transformations wrought by various forms ofenchantment. We’ll determine what underlying logics organize the relationship between enchantment and humanity in these stories, and what forms any ‘violation’ of one’s humanity may take. This discussion can help us access the ways Western fairy tales define the porous boundaries between humanity and the inhuman. We’ll close with a look at what more modern authors working with the literary legacy of the fairy tale have done with enchanted states, and ask whether their treatments perpetuate, build on or reject the fairy tales’ theories of the enchantment process.

* The Afterlives of Christopher Chant: Handing Down Formative Trauma in the Chrestomanci Series

Diana Wynne Jones claimed she was influenced by Jung, but her Chrestomanci series seems more in conversation with Freudian thought, specifically Laplanche’s seduction theory. This paper will use Laplanche’s framework to examine the series’ conception of child-rearing as cyclical transmissions of trauma from reluctant fathers to reluctant sons. The paternal relationships here aren’t along genetic lines, but along the lines of magic users. De Witt (and/or Uncle Ralph) is effectively Christopher’s father, Christopher Cat’s, and Cat ‘fathers’ Tonio. These men resent their ‘sons’ for shameful weaknesses they see in their own pasts: the traumas of their rearing. These traumas linger and play large roles in the formation of these men’s identities.

Farah Mendlesohn has helpfully noted how often children distrust adults in YA, but I believe this series enacts a more nuanced and interesting series of failures, and supports Laplanche’s contention that such transmissions of trauma are at the heart of child-rearing. Jones’ work is brave and somewhat rare in describing this aspect of relations between children and adults in texts intended for young readers. The series itself may also serve to enact this trauma-transmission dynamic. This inquiry opens up a consideration of magical training situations in terms of the grammar of the Freudian family romance, and may also enrich our broader considerations of the role of family in Jones’ work.

* Epithalamion: Dangerous Domesticity in the Wimsey Series 

Popular discussions of Golden Age detective fiction often make gestures to the disjunction between peaceful, pastoral settings and murderous subject matter. These juxtapositions implicitly postulate a stable, rural domesticity that functions as a painted backdrop. But home-making is always work–and preventing a home from denigrating and sliding into chaos requires constant vigilance. This paper investigates the complex, fraught ways Dorothy Sayers’ Wimsey series does domesticity. Through examining the novels’ domestic spaces–Peter’s flat, Talboys, Shrewsbury, the scenes of crimes, country houses–we can explore what work these depictions accomplish beyond furnishing instrumental clues, as well as the constitutive role of commodity fetishism/collecting and the interplay of domesticity and class in these novels. 

How is Sayers’ domesticity an evolution of other eras’ and genres’ methods of thinking about and portraying the domestic? What separates it from the domesticity of, for example, a ‘tec story’ like Dickens’ Bleak House, or from the home-making of contemporaries such as Wodehouse or Tolkien? Rather than writing about a fuzzy, undefined present, Sayers insists on cataloging structures in flux via her use of detail and almost constructing a historical fiction of the present. What does this quite unusual use of hyper-local, domestic time accomplish? What can Sayers’ successful homes, as depicted in the early Wimsey books (Peter’s flat), Busman’s Holiday (wherein Harriet Vane says a world of interesting things about class, national identity, urban vs rural tensions and the domestic when she comments ‘I have married England’), Thrones, Dominations, and the WWII propaganda letters between members of the Wimsey family tell us about what is at stake in all this home-making? This examination of a particular series should open up a more general conversation about the temporal and physical spaces that, at least as much as the murders, define Golden Age production and continue to draw readers to it.

* From Christian Charisma to the Vampire: the Evolution of the Sorcerous Seducer from the Medieval to the Early Modern Era (thinking possibly about http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=f596bfc80ffd59af42abf622d&id=0e15467487, but vv unsure)

Charm is a concept that combines unearthly (sometimes magical) power derived from inhuman sources with a contrastingly earthy ability to viscerally attract others, sexually or simply by force of personality. Over the course of the Medieval and Early Modern periods, the figure of the Charming Man passed through the three key stages, which represent evolutions of the type. These are individuals imbued withChristian Charisma, Faustian sorcerer figures, and vampires (in their various incarnations).

While the stages I identify have been studied in their own right, their relationship to charm and that concept’s evolution has not been properly explicated. Thus the connections between these instances of a recurring trope have remained obscure. Most previous work on, for example, vampires, such as Nina Auerbach’s seminal Our Vampires, Ourselves, has nodded to folklore and proceeded to focus on texts from the 19th century onwards, without realizing that the persistent appeal of the vampire is not necessarily rooted in and bounded by vampirism itself. Rather, vampires represent an instantiation of a shifting-yet-persistent constellation of ideas about masculinity, supernatural and temporal power, sexuality, and mesmeric triumphs over reason and consent.

We can trace a firm, cohesive lineage from Charisma in the sense of a divinely-conferred “ability to penetrate the neighbour to the bottom of his heart and spirit… and the gift to help him to freedom” (Ernst Wilhelm Benz) to sorcerers such as Faustus and Prospero, and thence to the vampires of 18th century poetry (with a gesture towards the incipient Vampyre of Polidori). In asking what the shifts and continuities in this lineage mean, we allude to the larger question of our changing relationship to the concept of charm. The evolution of the Sorcerous Seducer is part of a larger, cyclical pattern of the sublimation of magical thinking and the persistent return of that which is repressed.

* The Fantastic Modernism of G.K. Chesterton (probably going to offer Fantastika, http://www.fantastikajournal.com/1st-special-edition-issue.html)

EXCERPT:

In March, I attended “The New Modernist Studies in America”, a postgraduate seminar at Queen Mary. In its own words, the seminar focused on “the ways in which the field of modernism has shifted and transformed in recent years, to some degree becoming co-opted by, and melding with, postcolonialism and what used to be called postmodernism” (though the content of the seminar left me with a different opinion as to who was swallowing who). As a non-specialist, my knowledge of these transformations lacks sophistication, but the totalizing Gesamtkunstwerk proposed by the seminar discomforted me, and indeed seemed in direct contradiction to modernism’s historical challenge to the totalizing grand narrative.

This vision of a modernism that stretches from the Edwardian era to the present seems, for all its discussion of multiple modernisms, to remove spaces for the consideration of ‘subaltern’ authors and to further enshrine the canon of European High Modernists in a broader context. It refuses an ending: modernism is not a historical moment that can be evaluated, but a never-ending disassociation. Twentieth century and current work can only be considered and valued insofar as it is in conversation with a modernism dominated by Joyce, Eliot and Woolf.

The non-modernist dimensions of works claimed for modernism are thus academically neglected. In this particular seminar, Kazuo Ishiguro, who has strongly-felt roots in the Victorian realist tradition and an obvious affiliation with speculative fiction, was unreservedly claimed for the modernist team. It would be wrong to say there’s nothing modernist about The Unconsoled, but I believe that Ishiguro’s work yields just as fruitfully to other forms of interpretation. Unfortunately, these avenues are foreclosed by a dogmatic view of the literary production of the twentieth century as the story of modernism (at least as far as concerns the literary production worth talking about).

Work that is not arguably modernist but that falls within the ‘golden period’ of modernism has no proper academic home. Where there are a thousand dedicated Joyceans, ‘golden age’ non-modernist work is studied erratically, if at all. An expansive modernism pushes the things it can’t absorb into the margins: things like fantasy and, relatedly, writers like G.K. Chesterton. I’d like to use his 1908 novel The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare to address this component of our prompt:

“Are certain ontologies, aesthetic strategies, approaches to character and subjectivity, ethical situations, or political concerns peculiar to modernism and fantasy?”

I would ask whether it is fair to claim that fantasy and modernism’s strategies and political/ethical concerns are de facto or even generally different. If a popular hierarchy of valuation holds that modernism is a superior mechanism for aesthetic experimentation and political/ethical essaying (which I believe it would be pointless to deny), are the foundations of this judgment legitimate?

* All Your Bastards Rising: Conditioning Illegitimacy in Transformative Fiction

MA Thesis (17k? Because I was younger when I wrote this, it’ll need cleaned up, and I could see it losing a few thousand words. But not the 9k necessary to make it hit the OTW cut-off.)

No formal abstract exists, so I suppose I’ll c/p a little bit:

Whether or not fanfiction’s detractors are conscious of it, their anxiety and the terms of its expression derive from a long intellectual tradition. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar speak of “an implicitly or explicitly patriarchal theory of literature” 7

which usefully illuminates the argument’s context. “In Patriarchal Western culture, therefore, the text’s author is a father, a progenitor, a procreator, an aesthetic patriarch whose pen is an instrument of generative power…”(Gilbert & Gubar, 6). The air of wounded horror or patronizing moralism that suffuses these public repudiations of ‘illegitimate’ creation thus becomes explicable. It’s not just the integrity of authors’ own creations at stake. If authorship is an activity rather than a select class, performable and, to a degree, masterable by anyone given practice and certain socioeconomic opportunities, then the Authority of Authorship and the patriarchal pride associated with creation are at risk.

What is it to, as Hobbs says, “pretend to be creating a story”? As I hope to demonstrate, fanfiction does all the work traditional literature does. It has, both as a process and as a product, all the claim traditional literature has on validity and artistic merit. Thus, though it must include related elements in order to make its points, the matter of this paper is not a vindication of the rights of fanfiction. This has been capably achieved by refutations of Hobb’s essay on fanfiction (and similar pieces) by people working within fandom, who argue that fanfiction “viewed critically, easily holds up to the original work and, in some cases, does it one better.”8 I am instead primarily interested in an investigation of the arguments marshalled against the validity of fanfiction, both as artistic work and as a means of interacting with media, and an attempt to determine the sources of such arguments’ motive forces.

Why isn’t fanfiction popularly or academically believed to be literature, and what specifically about it does not cohere with our criteria for such validation? Is fanfiction by its nature incapable of achieving equality with its parent-canon or with other original work? What does it mean to support this position or to find it problematic? What do such stances reveal about our conception of the literary and legitimacy?


*
“Do You Speak For This Planet?”: Doctor Who as a Dialogic National Epic (MA paper: again, would need to substantially bring up to date)

Excerpt:

As Doctor Who changes and evolves, it provides multiple (and sometimes conflicting) responses to issues, negotiating conflicting and changing ideas about English identity, English vs. Britishness, and related considerations, including inextricable, uniquely English or British performances of class, gender, race, and post-colonial and political positioning. The text has, at various times, positioned itself as a document of the mainstream/a shared site of cultural signification, and as marginal/in political or cultural opposition. If Doctor Who is not immediately recognisable as a national epic, that is only because we are not yet accustomed to the transformations of dialogic post-modernity on the seemingly static constructions of the ‘national’, the ‘epic’ and the ‘national epic.’

It would, however, be misleading to speak of Doctor Who as though it were a national epic from the moment it began. It took time for the programme to sketch out its mythology and parameters. Pinning down the moment it became a national epic is something of a Sorites paradox/parable of the heap, and not an ideal point of entry into how it functions as an epic. We can instead discuss Doctor Who as a dialogic national epic by tracking the Doctor’s development into an ever-evolving, quintessentially British hero.

* DIY-Culture as an Anti-Capitalist Endeavour? DIY Craft and its Juxtapositions with the Corporate (MA paper, same caveats)

Excerpt (forgive the clunky intro, it was what they wanted):

In order to examine DIY craft, particularly its sites and modes of interaction with the corporate, the first section of this paper will interrogate the definition of DIY culture formulated by Amy Spencer in DIY: The Rise of Lo-Fi Culture. Spencer conceives DIY practices as “translations” of unifying anti-corporate ideals, and consequently valorises the DIY practitioner as an anti-establishment figure. This paradigm is based on a simplistic binary opposition between DIY and the corporate, which I will argue is inadequate to describing DIY practice.

In the second section, I will use the Cath Kidston brand’s reliance on ‘consumer-producers’ to illustrate the complexity of the relationship between DIY craft and corporate modes of production. This analysis of the Kidston brand will serve as a synecdoche. With it, we can allude to the myriad of reasons people engage in DIY practice, many of which are wholly unconnected with Spencer’s anti-capitalist ideology.

From this consideration of the interaction between DIY and the corporate, the paper’s third section will examine the DIY ethos of anti-capitalist purity as a construction of privilege, insufficiently considered, which causes real harm to female DIY craft practitioners via the Etsy Ghetto effect.

In the final section I will explore the relationship of DIY to the corporate in light of Autonomist Marxist thought and Olga Goriunova’s work on “open content”. This will contextualize and reframe ‘selling out’ and ‘appropriation’ struggles, clarifying the ways in which these struggles are endemic to late capitalism.

To conclude, given these questions and the comparative paucity of writing on DIY, I must return to the question’s components: ‘writing a history’, ‘key junctures’ and ‘meaning as culture,’ to address methodology. Do Spencer and others engaging in scene-documentation have any responsibility to the movements themselves, and the people working in them? We will glance at a parallel question in the history of exploration and archaeology.

* “That Graceful Charm Which Lingers in Every Little Tasteful Work of Woman’s Hands”: Consuming Femininity in Dickens (submitted somewhere, can’t say whether it’ll get in)

Charm, a slipperier and less obvious attribute than beauty, has long been a vital component of  literary descriptions of women. It has described and coded their embodied physicality, their gendered identity, and ultimately their sexual appeal. Lewis’ The Monk uses ‘charms’ as a  euphemism for female genitalia. Dickens calls charm the defining characteristic of “female society”, and curiously notes its absence “where the lady of the house [is] a mere animated  doll.” Yet there has been relatively little academic attention paid to the linkages between  charm and constructions of femininity, or indeed to charm as a broader concept. This article would interrogate charm as an aesthetic mode, which shifts and develops over time (from totems to twee), yet always remains tied up with the feminine.  It would examine connections between charm, models of femininity and the marriage market (perhaps the ultimate realisation of consumable gender) in 19th century novels, particularly those of Dickens. 

In so doing, I’d like to look at how these novels stage male consumption of femininity: not just of beauty, or straightforwardly of sexuality (or even exactly of the prospect thereof), but of women’s (constructed) gendered essence. Via these novels, 19th century and contemporary readers consumed and consume media constructions of femininity, the literary idea of women. What is it to watch men watch women, and how do these novels involve and implicate their readers? Consider also the title (from Nicholas Nickleby), ‘every little tasteful work of woman’s hands’, and the material cultures that construct gender in these novels. Femininity here arises from labor, the graceful execution of ‘tasteful work’. But what consumptions does this emotional and productive labor itself involve? What do Kate Nickleby, Fanny Squeers, Tilda Price or Madeline Bray need, materially, to perform femininity in this way, or what lacunae cause them to fail to? Who is consuming the tasteful work of woman’s hands, and how?

Using the work of Woolf, Freud and Rose Macaulay, I will interrogate what can be gleaned from Dickens’ definition of charm as a precipitate of women’s “native grace and true  gentility of manner” in light of Dickens’ contradictory associations of charm with  nostalgia/novelty, earnestness/falsity, domesticity/public display, and sexual availability/purity-childhood. Long before this Dickensian understanding of the term was  shaped, charm was a potent Middle English word with almost exclusively negative, magical meaning. I will argue that this heritage lingered (and to an extent, still abides) in the term, giving it its witchy or vampiric erotic charge. In the 19th century, this sublimated trace content enabled charm to function as a means of thinking itself-sublimated sexuality. This mechanism was accessible to those who could successfully sublimate the erotic and economic content of courtship or social intercourse. By  thinking about how Dickens curates the relationships between charm, femininity and sexuality, this article opens a necessary consideration of the neglected broader role of charm as a concept in our understanding of representations of women. 

Links, August 14

SFF

LITERATURE
Mythago Wood: A True Fantasy Masterwork
on considering reading George R.R. Martin
Once Upon a Time review – Marina Warner’s scholarly history of the fairytale
Ombria in Shadow
All of the Books – recommended reading
Winter’s Kitchen
Such Sights To Show You: Women in the Works of Clive Barker
Dagon’s Bargain
Sunshine (novel)
Fred Saberhagen
Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany
Mira Corpora, by Jeff Jackson
‘I’ve spent parts of today re-reading Julie Phillips’ James Tiptree, Jr. The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (I’m up to the 1950s so far, pre-Tiptree). It remains an incredibly interesting read, but also a very discomfiting one, because Phillips is very committed to the idea of Sheldon as a “woman writer”.’
10 SF/F Books That Have Stuck With Me by Gail Carriger
Anita Nair, Idris: Keeper of the Light
APPRECIATION: KATHERINE ADDISON’S EMOTIONAL PRECISION IN THE GOBLIN EMPEROR
Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall
On Being Undone by a Light Breeze, by Vajra Chandrasekera
Things We Found During the Autopsy by Kuzhali Manickavel
The Madonna and the Starship by James Morrow
Obscure Cities
Frankenstein and the Vampyre: A Dark and Stormy Night
Barriers & Cages: SFF utopia

The Country of Ice Cream Star
In the ruins of a future America, fifteen-year-old Ice Cream Star and her people survive by scavenging in the detritus of an abandoned civilization. Theirs is a world of children – by the time they reach twenty, each of them will die from a disease they call posies.
When her brother sickens, Ice Cream sets out on the trail of a cure, led by a stranger whose intentions remain unclear. It’s a quest that will lead her to love and heartbreak, to captivity and to a nation’s throne, and ultimately into a war that threatens to doom everyone she loves.

“THEN, A HELLBEAST ATE THEM”: NOTES ON HORROR FICTION AND EXPECTATIONS
Bernardine Evaristo, The Emperor’s Babe
Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales
weird world fiction syllabus
Sleeps With Monsters: The Mystic Marriage by Heather Rose Jones
David Mitchell offers clues to new novel The Bone Clocks – interactive
10 Science Fiction And Fantasy Stories That Editors Are Tired Of Seeing
Strange Horizons Book Club: Tigerman
Call and Response by Paul Kincaid: Reviewed by Liz Bourke
Top Ten Most Common Short Story Names Clarkesworld Sees
Archive of Edwardian-era Writer of Horror, Sci-fi Donated to UCR: ‘Hodgson was one of the most important writers of weird fiction of the early 20th century, acknowledged by H.P. Lovecraft as a seminal influence on his own horror fiction, said Latham, a scholar of science fiction studies. “His novels ‘The House on the Borderland’ and ‘The Night Land’ are masterpieces of macabre atmosphere and dreamy inventiveness, works that once read can never be forgotten,” Latham said.’

Shirley Jackson’s dark powers are back at work from beyond the grave: “Garlic in Fiction, a new collection from the late master of shocking but subtle horror, is due next year. I’ll be watching out for it, and so should you”

WOMEN IN SF PANEL PART 1
SLF DIVERSE WRITERS AND DIVERSE WORLDS GRANTS
The Strange Horizons Book Club: Fire in the Unnameable Country
The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer: PASTORAL AS UNCANNY
Nine Worlds Book List
Nine Worlds: The ‘Just Don’t’ list from Writing the Other workshop
FRIDAY FIVE: 5 SCIENCE FICTION STORIES ABOUT EXISTING TECHNOLOGY
The Mermaid’s Wish – recording now online!

AWARDS
Over-sensitive male feminists who can’t take a joke? I’ve blogged about the day the #BaenAwardStories hashtag died.
I have read the Clarke Award shortlist and

Links, June 23

THEATRE





(meh–I dislike some of their casting choices, and the mood’s fucked)

New play by Robert Shearman to debut in London
Holy shit! Matthew Barney’s insane new film/opera/thing comes to London
The Hard Problem
Fringe 2014, part 1
The Hunger Games is Coming to a London $tage for $ome Rea$on
Dirtbag Henry IV
45 Hamlets for Shakespeare’s 450th birthday – in pictures
Best Shakespeare productions: what’s your favourite Hamlet?
Macbeth – review
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, adapted for the stage by Daniel Winder
WHY YOU DIDN’T GET CAST
She Acted All 12 Zodiac Signs. She Nailed Yours Perfectly?naff
Till a Richard Killed Who?
Alan Jay LernerDerbyshire actor John Hurt condemns savage cuts to arts spending
These Photos Of John Malkovich Recreating Famous Portraits Prove He Can Play Basically Anyone
Video of a Man Walking Backwards through Tokyo Played in Reverse
Donmar Warehouse’s “Julius Caesar” – Broll (Excerpts)
The National Video Archive of Performance
Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales told in a London basement
“Bright Star”: Globe’s Reward For the Faithful
Hattie Morahan on the Changeling

FAIRY TALES
Thousandfurs
Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales: An Immersive Fairytale for Young and Old review – ‘Instagram theatre’
Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Young and Old

Puss in Boots, Diana Wynne Jones

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I like this innovative presentation of a short story. One pound for this nice little thing. It’s a good idea, I wonder if it paid? I don’t know the original story that well, so can’t comment on Jones’ adaptive choices. If DWJ is good at illustrating the whole of a personality, she’s also good at a different form of characterization that derives from reactions to situations and events. Macro vs micro? Pacy, round incident and dialogue–a great ‘fleshing out’, and very simple too.

I also like the way this retells a fairy tale without–an obnoxious, sophomoric, ungenerative 90s comics need to scream ‘fuck you dad!!’ and grimdark the thing? Sooo maaaany fairy tale retellings try and ‘punk’ the text without really *getting* the darkness already embedded in the text. Not that this “Puss in Boots” is particularly redolent of tension between the canny and the un–but Jones embodies the story in a way that’s fuller and more satisfying than it might have been if she’d chosen to buck the text without some real reason to do it, some objective such fighting works in the service of. Fighting for fighting’s sake isn’t terribly interesting or generative, and often seems to reify rather than destabilize structures. Like what Ethan Robinson says about the fail condition of subversion being reification.

The Fanghorn illustrations are fine, but don’t particularly do much for me. Weird because they seem very touted on the back cover and the title page, like that’s a thing I should have come for.

Fringe 2014, part 2

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[This is the second part of Erin Horáková’s report from the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Part 1 can be found here.]

Sleeping Trees’s Treelogy consists of three comedy shows, all of which are adaptations: Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree, Treasure Island, and The Odyssey. We saw the last of these offerings. Without costumes, props, lighting more complex than a (lit) bulb, or a set, using only physical comedy and human-produced sounds (think Bjork’s Medulla), the three-man company manages to deliver a cinematic epic, with cyclops battles, ships and all. Their take on the text is loose, so if it’s going to bother you that the hero’s kid is not called Telemachus, maybe skip this one.

Low-fi Fringe shows are either excellent or utterly embarrassing. Odyssey featured a good script, great delivery, genuinely welcome repeated gags, and crisp character work. In terms of sheer skill and polish, we’re definitely in the former camp here. The production, which here consists of sheer prep work, is slick as hell.

Full review here

The Strange Horizons Book Club: Ombria in Shadow

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Welcome to the first instalment of the Strange Horizons book club! On the fourth Monday of each month, we’ll be posting a round-table discussion about a speculative work (or work of interest to readers of SF), and we invite you join us for further conversation in the comments. November’s book will be Nick Harkaway’s novel Tigerman (other forthcoming picks are listed here); but this month we’re discussing Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip.

McKillip’s 25th novel, Ombria was first published in 2002, following which it won the World Fantasy Award in 2003. It has received its first UK edition this year as a Fantasy Masterwork from Gollancz. It is the story of a city, and a succession: as the novel opens, Royce Greve, the Prince of Ombria, is dying, and his great-aunt Domina Pearl is planning to rule as regent for the Prince’s young son, Kyel. We meet three viewpoint characters—Lydea, the dying ruler’s mistress, who is expelled from the palace on his death; Ducon, his bastard nephew, who may be in a position to challenge Domina, if he chooses; and Mag, a “waxling” who may or may not be fully human, who lives with the sorceress Faey in the city’s shadows and past. What follows is a power struggle of sorts, a questioning of loyalties and identities, and ultimately a moment of crisis and change for all Ombria.

Read full article