Samstag, 28. April 2012

Summer is coming

Sitting as I am sitting here, in a light summer dress on the balcony and looking into the blazing sun nobody would believe me that April is usually a cold and rainy month in Austria. This week the weather here has been like in midsummer and I have spent every minute I could anyhow spare outdoors: studying, reading, eating, all on the balcony or in the garden.

This is the way I'm normally spending my summer holidays, from sun-up to sundown in the garden. Graz has 250,000 inhabitants and I am living close to the city centre, but within the fences of my garden it seems as if the whole city was a million miles away.

Today I had the irresistable impulse to take some photographs of this garden which is as familiar to me as my own soul. I suddenly had the strange feeling that looking at the flowers and the soft green grass I was looking at something that did not exist anymore, looking into the past. It was a very sad and frightening feeling, as if the moment I watched the little garden it already faded into a memory. Even now, looking down from the balcony I cannot resist the sensation that everything I'm looking at is drifting away from me a little more with every passing minute. Soon it will be gone, because this garden where I took my first steps and learned how to ride a bicycle is the living picture of my childhood.

While I am typing these words I almost expect the trees to dissolve in front of my eyes because the little girl who used to climb them is gone too. All the bugs and butterflies ought to disappear, because there is no laughing child left to run after them with flying hair.
Only the dandelion clock seems to belong here, because its white threads are carried away by the wind to unknown directions, much like the girl who isn't little in the least anymore.

I am not satisfied with the pictures I took, they are pretty, but they appear to me like images of a place I am only superficially acquainted with, not like my home.
For me, the warm half of the year is always the time to dream, to make plans of the future and to wonder what surprises and adventures life is going to hold for me. I have found that when the sun blazes down unto the earth, when every breeze seems to whisper of the sea or the deserts of the Orient and the air is so hot it seems almost touchable, the spirit is lighter than ever. The reason why I don't like the photographs is that all the dreams and hopes I have had first while playing in this garden and later wandering it are not visible on them. Such things cannot be captured by a camera.

 It is getting warmer and warmer and soon it will really be summer, not only a very hot April pretending to be July. This is not only literally true, but, something I have realised for the first time today, also metaphorically: I am no child anymore. The spring of my life is drawing to an end and summer is coming. I know that summer will have its own places and images, but looking at the garden again, at my garden, I am a little sad, because spring was a lovely time. No photograph in the world could capture its beauty.

Montag, 23. April 2012

The Woman in White Part II&III

First off: I didn't post last Monday because I did not read the part of the book we were required to read. Yes, shame on me. The only excuse I can produce for not following the schedule of the in all likelihood most hilarious Readathon ever is that I was so busy I hardly had time to breathe.
But if I had know how thrilling this book would become I might have neglected that horrendously overestimated activity in order to read.
Anyway, since I didn't do that this post is going to consist of my thoughts for both parts, wildly mingled of course.

Remember how I said that I couldn't quite warm towards Marian? Delete that without replacement.
Marian is awesome! I am probably the last person in the world to have this revelation, but I have to announce it  nonetheless: Whenever she is moaning about how weak and useless women in general are, she isn't talking about real women at all but about the Victorian ideal of women, which is weak and useless.
There is no obstacle for my belated Marian-Love anymore!

On the whole I am amazed how the characters have changed for the better. I even (shock ahead...please don't faint!) missed Walter Hartright when he was not the narrator anymore and now that he's back I find him neither naive nor annoying anymore. As usual a good, old, potentially deadly expedition to Central America works miracles for the character.
I am also amazed at Laura's amount of own, free thinking and in the (priceless) scene where she refused to sign Sir Percival's secret document she even proved to have a backbone.
To sum it up, Marian is no sexist monster, Walter Hartright no harmless pet and Laura no puppet anymore.
So far so good, but does anyone else miss Professor Pesca?

My favourite scenes were those which sent a shiver down my spine: reading the last entry in Marian's diary, written in Fosco's hand and discovering, in Mrs. Michelson's narrative that Marian had never left Blackwater Park and Laura had been trapped. Wilkie certainly has a talent for creepy writing, even if Laura's "death" was not so impressive for me. There had already been so much delusion and the death of a very important character was described so unemotional that I didn't believe her to be dead for one second.
Thank God I was right, I would have felt endlessly stupid otherwise!

I am rather sad that Anne Catherick has died, I had so many hopes of getting better acquainted with her. I won't admit say that I would have prefered Laura's death, but I am certainly disappointed that we will see no more of The Woman in White. She was so interesting! And completely sane. I will stick to that unless someone can prove me otherwise.

Don't look so innocent, I saw through you all the time!

Oh, and Count Fosco is a matter all of its own. While I found him highly amusing in the beginning, I am now thoroughly afraid of him. Seriously. He is unpredictable and therefore terrifies me.
Good, I only have Marian's feelings to guide me, so perhaps it is natural that he is scaring me, but the extent to which this goes is rather extraordinary:
I had a nightmare in which he hunted me down with his birds and wanted to kill me, all the time praising his cockatoo for being such a 'sweety-sweety-sweet, clever little thing!'.

Samstag, 21. April 2012

Busy Times

It is downright ridiculous how busy I am at the moment. I'm sorry I didn't post anything lately, but I had to decide between blogging and sleeping, and after three sleepless nights my tiredness won over.
I have not quite survived the worst yet, but I thought I'd do a quick update just to let you know that I'm still alive.

The reason for most of the stress is that my piano class at the conservatoire is organising our annual concert on monday which means endless hours of practise, especially because I was a little lazy during the last months.
As if playing part of a huge concert were not reason enough to freak me out, I also have to host the whole evening, because the girl who should have done this originally is moving away: so the last two weeeks were filled with writing speeches, practising like a madwoman and worrying about what I should wear... I'll thank God when this whole thing is over!

As you might expect I didn't do to well with my reading, I didn't even post about The Woman in White last Monday because I wasn't able to keep up with the Readalong schedule, but I am catching up again. And I have many thoughts about this book! I am pretty sure I'll have to read The Moonstone too.

Les Misérables has turned itself into a source of frustration again, but that's not Hugo's fault this time. As you know I went through hell trying to find an unabridged German copy and finally succeeded by borrowing one from a friend of a friend of my mother. So far so good, but seemingly this woman decided suddenly that she needed her book back immediately, despite the fact that it had rested untouched on her shelves for twenty years. I had to give it back when I was only about one third through, and now I have finally given in and ordered an English copy because it is obviously impossible to read this book in German.
But of course it hasn't arrived yet, so there goes my resolution of finishing Les Misérables in April...

Nonetheless I have been reading a lot recently, even if it was not what I had planned: I have to hand in a paper in two weeks and the subject I chose is The Influence of the French Revolution on 19th century literature, so I have been a steady guest in the university library, trying to dig out the few books they have on English literature. So far I am loving my work, it is exciting and I get to write about Dickens, but it is also pretty exhausting.

I hope you are all having a less busy April and for those of you who are taking part in Dewey's 24-hour Readathon (oh, how I wish I could!): Good luck and have fun!

Montag, 9. April 2012

The Knight/Baronet Dilemma: Woman in White Part I

I know we have already analysed poor Wilkie's giant forehead to death, but obviously we are not the only ones who consider it a fact of utmost importance. I am literally quoting from the introduction to my Dover Giant Thrift Edition copy: Collin's father was deeply religious and seems to have been disappointed by his son -a small, sickly child with a peculiarly bulging forehead. There it is! It is officially written down, so we are no perverts anymore for taking so much notice. Okay, I have finished, nevermore shall I speak of Wilkie's anatomical anomalities. From now on I am only going to talk about his writing.

This is the first Readalong I have ever joined and I am more than a little surprised how easy it is to keep up with the schedule. I had actually completed reading last week's part by Wednesday and have been anxious to go on since. I think I don't have to mention how much I'm enjoying The Woman in White so far. For one thing Wilkie Collins is the first Victorian I have ever read who doesn't devote entire pages to descriptions of almost everything in the novel, his book is pretty fast paced and we learn something new every few pages, which is something I always appreciate.

Walter Hartright is a nice guy and not much else and of course he is not original enough to fall for someone else than the fair, sweet, innocent and absolutely boring Laura. I had hoped he was going to fall in love with the ominous woman in white (who is by far my favourite character), but no, he chooses the most predictable path ever.

Of course I have to join into everyone's praise of Marian Halcombe now because she is simply a badass, but I have to admit that her complete looking down on all women makes me like her a lot less than I could otherwise. I know that I have to expect sexism in a victorian novel, but I didn't expect it to come from a woman. Perhaps the damnation of everything feminine is her survival strategy because she is ugly in contrast to her much-admired halfsister, but her abasing of all women still annoys me.

Something else which upsets me is that my brain is obviously not able to understand the difference between a knight and a baronet, and whether it is important or not. But I guess everyone will agree with me that Baronet Sir Percival Glyde has to hide some devilry behind his shiny name.I just hope Laura is smart enough to follow Anne Catherick's advise because this woman is clearly not insane one little bit. It's a mystery to me how she could have been locked up in an asylum for madwomen when she is obviously only a little eccentric. Nowadays she would get her own talkshow!
The only thing I can think of is that she knows some nasty secret she is not supposed to tell anyone. How about this: Mr Fairlie cheated on Laura and Marian's mother with Ms Catherick and is Anne's father, which would explain why she resembles Laura so much. Mr Fairlie of course doesn't want anyone to discover his secret affair but Anne somehow finds out who her father is, so Mr Fairlie asks his good old friend Sir Percival Glyde to institutionalise her and in return he promises to let him marry his beautiful daughter and heiress.

And? What do you think? It's not very good but the only theory I have at the moment, and I can't keep from making theories. I am anxious to find out if I have come somewhere close to the truth. Oh, and I do hope Professor Pesca appears again! He is hilarious!

Sonntag, 8. April 2012

Introducing Rochester

Growing up with two brothers and one sister can be tough sometimes. It definitely is when all of them would preferably spend the whole day in front of a screen, the younger ones playing computer games and the older one working for school and surfing the internet, especially when there is only one ancient computer at home.
I usually have to write my posts in the middle of the night because that's the only time when said computer isn't occupied and whenever I try to shoo my brothers away from their games during the afternoon in order to do my homework the scenario surprisingly much resembles World War II.
However, it doesn't matter anymore because yesterday I have received the most amazing Easter/very early birthday present ever:

Ta-da-da-dam! This is my new Acer Aspire, a laptop which belongs to nobody but me! Apparently I have been moaning about needing a computer successfully, so when my father was shopping in an electric shop and saw the special offer everything played out more than well.
His name is Rochester, paying homage to Jane Eyre, and yes, my wallpaper is a picture of the University of Cambridge...if my classmates find out!
That I have received Rochester means three things:

  1. There will probably be more life signs from me (posts, comments etc.),
  2. I have finally created a Goodreads profile,
  3. Saying that I'm happy would be the understatement of the year.

Should there be anyone whom I have not yet bombarded with friendship requests on Goodreads, please add me. I hope you are all having as nice a weekend as I do and a belated Happy Easter!

Freitag, 6. April 2012

Passion, Mystery and Death: Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu

"Nevertheless, life and death are mysterious states, and we know little of the resources of either.”

Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla was one of the first vampire stories ever written and whoever reads it and Dracula afterwards will immediately detect how much Bram Stoker was influenced by this novella.
The story follows young Laura who lives with her father in an isolated castle in the dark Styrian woods and whose lonely life quickly becomes more thrilling than appreciated when a mysterious and attractive young lady becomes her companion after suffering a carriage accident.

Carmilla unites all traits and qualities typically associated with vampires: she is unbelievably beautiful, young, but seems sometimes inexplicably old, does not talk of her past and is subject to strange mood swings, she leaves her locked room at night unnoticedly to sleep in her coffin and she is melancholy but also falling in love.

Carmilla as a vampire is the incarnation of the world's two biggest mysteries, love and death. She hides an inexpressible sadness, belonging to the world of shadows for almost 200 years already, and while she is pursuing the goal of ultimately killing sweet, innocent Laura, she also feels an unearthly passion for her.
“You will think me cruel, very selfish, but love is always selfish; the more ardent the more selfish. How jealous I am you cannot know. You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me, and still come with me, and hating me through death and after. There is no such word as indifference in my apathetic nature.”

Of course Carmilla, whose real name is Mircalla Countess Karnstein, is the story's villain, but I can not help feeling a very sad sympathy with her. She did not choose her existence, she is a victim herself and while she is technically alive the sadness of death clings to her all the time. I sometimes got the impression that Carmilla wanted nothing more than to pretend to be just like Laura, carefree and living.
She loves young girls because she searches a connection with life and perhaps because they remind her of who she once was, but since she doesn't belong to this world anymore she can only bring them death.
Nonetheless, I hoped for her to escape from the vampire hunter who is introduced when the story reaches its climax.

Carmilla is an extraordinary gothic novella, which is outstanding mostly due to its haunting atmosphere and beautiful writing, and also because the subject of the vampire, as it is introduced here will fascinate almost every reader. It is not so much scary as it is melancholy, but reading it by candlelight in the middle of the night sent more than a little shiver down my spine and anxiously turning the pages I felt as if I was seeing the beautiful Carmilla in the dark castle with my own eyes.

Montag, 2. April 2012

The Woman in White: Initial Thoughts

The Woman in White Readalong is starting today and before we dive into the book we are supposed to record what we already know about it.
Well...Frankly it's pretty miraculous just how little I know about this book. I thought it was some kind of ghost story, but obviously I'm a Philistine since it's not (but come on: The Woman in Black is about a ghost and The Woman in White is not? That's neither fair nor logic). My only comfort is that spying on looking at the other participants' posts they don't have much knowledge ahead of me. This book is a mystery!
Anyway, I am just going to summarise what I know about the author and you should not be surprised that most of it is Dickens-related since it all comes from a Dickens biography:

  • Wilkie Collins wass no woman (you might think this information is unnecessary, but trust me, it's not. I am experienced.)
  • He was obviously a very close friend of Charles Dickens, which is more or less the reason I am interested in him
  • He wrote a play about an Arctic expedition called The Frozen Deep. In this play two men fall in love with the same woman and the one who is not chosen by her ultimately sacrifices his life so that the other one can survive. Does this sound familiar? Exactly, because it was what influenced Dickens so heavily that he wrote A Tale of Two Cities and created the character of Sydney Carton.
  •  Dickens and Collins appeared in the two starring roles of The Frozen Deep.
  •  The play was so successful that they took it on tour and Queen Victoria demanded a special performance.
And that's it. Next monday I will have read everything until the end of Hartright's Narrative, though presently I have no idea who that is and you, my dear readers will be enlightened with me. Let's find out whether good old Wilkie deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence with Dickens.

Sonntag, 1. April 2012

April, month of chunksters

Today is the first day of April, which means that one quarter of the year is already over. Easter is advancing fast and everything is changing; moving forward, at least in my perception.
It's unalterable: when the birds start singing and the winter jackets disappear into the wardrobes to rest half a year I grow restless. My head is full of travelling plans, but since I am not financially independent I have to transfer my planning to other areas of life, books namely. During the first three months of this year I didn't finish more than nine books (a post on the last one, Carmilla, which I finished last night by candlelight is coming up soon). I have also been reading about the first quarter of Les Misérables, which was surprisingly enjoyable, but plunged me into desperation for a while nonetheless, simply because I didn't see any progress. I am looking forward to intensifying my work on it, because with this book I want to read more and more once I pick it up, but since it is not very plot-driven I do not pick it up as often as I should. My intention is to finish it in April.

I have signed up for Reading Rambo's The Woman in White Readalong starting tomorrow. I am really looking forward to exploring this book, after all Wilkie Collins was a close friend of Charles Dickens and also, since the ominous woman in white is obviously no ghost my curiosity demands to know who she is to get a whole book named after her.
My edition has 500 pages, so considering my slow reading pace I will be busy with that.

This month is going to be dedicated completely to these two big projects, as well as to a third chunkster. Stone of Tears by Terry Goodkind is a fantasy novel a friend wants me to read. I am not too eager to do so, but she and I usually have pretty similar tastes, so probably I will enjoy it.

What is most important is that I am dying to read: I am so excited to explore new books and putting together my list for The Classics Club has opened my eyes to the multitude of amazing books in the world. I am so hungry to read at the moment and every day a new book catches my fancy. Today I came across the trailer for Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami and it has really tried my determination to stick to my chunksters-only reading plans.
Perhaps I'll give in when I am doing well with my regular reading schedule, we'll see. Until then I am just going to hit the repeat button on Youtube.