Is there an ECCO in here?

Posted: August 19, 2010 in Uncategorized

I have to say, I was more than a little disappointed when I went on ECCO.

In its own words, the site claims to have “over 180,000 titles (200,000 volumes).” It concentrates on the eighteenth century, so it would be safe to assume that all of the important authors of this century would be represented in this database, correct?

Apparently not.

On the first page, I searched for “Frances Burney.” These were the results.

Subject category: “Sorry. There were no documents found that matched your search criteria. Please change your criteria and try again, or try applying the additional options available in Advanced Search.”

What if I search the title? Would that work?

Nope. Same answer.

All right, ECCO. You’ve left me no choice. Full document search time.

I attempted this and received exactly three results. A catalog of the 500 greatest authors of Great Britain, something in German, and a work called “Literary Memoirs of Living Authors of Great Britain.”

Perhaps the last one would work for me? I clicked on the link and searched inside the document for “Frances Burney.” There was exactly one line about her. It was an afterthought in the section about Charles Burney, calling her “the equally celebrated novel-writer Mrs. D’Arblay.”

I then searched for “D’Arblay” under the title and subject search options. Nothing, as usual. I was not in the mood for a mad goose chase through “full article” again.

So, maybe Frances Burney just wasn’t important enough to catalog in the Eighteenth Century Collections Online. However, if this is the case, why was John Lynch able to compile an eight page list of resources of articles and books written about Burney’s life and works? Why does Wikipedia have a list of references in Burney’s biography almost as long as the article itself? Why is she included in the “Norton Anthology,” which is, at best, a survey of the most important works of the eighteenth century?

ECCO. How you have failed me. Grade: D+.

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Vathek Fan Fiction

Posted: August 17, 2010 in Uncategorized

We briefly touched upon the idea of Vathek fan fiction in class today- namely the fact that it’s highly underrepresented in the fan fiction community. Well, I think this is just horrible. So to fix this, I have written my own. This is really the beginning of what could be a longer story, but for now, it’s stand-alone. And it’s a bit of a crack pairing, so be forewarned. 🙂

She knew that he was dangerous. What else could he be? A man promising treasure in exchange for unwavering obedience couldn’t possibly be someone worth trusting. And yet, hadn’t he shown proof? The treasures he brought to the kingdom were clearly not of any kind she had ever seen before.

Carathis knew her good-for-nothing son agreed. All he did was eat and whine and cry for his mama, but he knew good treasure when he saw it. After all, that was how he was raised.

What was it that attracted her to the Giaour? Was it the promise of jewels and infinite power? His mystery? His general demeanor- so quiet, so tricky, and so commanding? Or just his soft brown eyes?

Maybe it was his potential power over her so. Not as a father figure, per se, but still a good influence. Her son’s temper was out of control of late. He threw his food and tantrums and slaughtered his servants (or at least their beards- best plea-bargain Carathis had ever made, if she did say so herself), and no one seemed ready to stop him anytime soon.

From the next room, she heard a yell.

“I asked for wine! Not water. Not juice. Wine!”

“But sir, this is wine. The best in the village. Our most accomplished farmer grew and harvested the finest grapes in his collection specifically for your table.”

“Rid this man from my sight. Find the farmer. Both die tomorrow. Guard, go quickly before I decide to execute you, too.”

There was a pause.

“I want my WIIIIIIINE!”

Carathis reflected for a moment. No, Vathek definitely needed a father figure. Where had that Giaour gone, anyway?

***********

The Giaour looked down to the bottom of the cliff.

“What are you doing here?”

The Genie lifted himself out of the crevice. Having extremely large and muscular arms made this seem easy. It was either this, or his ability to fly.

“Why haven’t you called me, Giaour?”

“How would I call you? How would I reach you? Yelling your name off the roof of the tallest building might just draw the Caliph’s attention, you know.”

“As if you don’t want their attention. I’ve seen your treasures and your faux mysterious facade.”

“Is that what we’re calling them these days?”

The Genie paused.

“You should have stayed in Eblis.”

“Go away. The children actually have to die this time.”

“As if it matters. I’ve seen these people. They don’t need to be any more evil. They’ve well deserved their trip to Eblis.”

“I think you’re wrong.”

“Well, they’re evil enough. Especially that mother. The Caliph is a spoiled brat, but Carathis has no reason not to know better.”

The Giaour smiled.

“Oh, she’ll know something, all right.”

The Genie grew sour. Sour at the Giaour.

“Stay away from the children. They’re mine. They could have been yours, if you weren’t an ass.”

“Get over your jealousy. It’s boring.”

“I’m leaving.”

“Good.”

And the Genie sunk back into the canyon.

**************

Vathek sat alone, surrounded by sweets and thinking about love. All of the servants seemed to be in love, and all of the townspeople coupled with children. Vathek liked love. Love was good. He had also always liked the name “Nouronihar.” It was a shame he would never meet a woman with that name.

Thankfully, his mother never understood love. How could she? He supposed that she loved him, but then, who didn’t? He sighed to himself. Perfection could be so exhausting sometimes. Or maybe he was just thirsty. That seemed to happen a lot of late.

Carathis barged in.

“Vathek, my son!”

“Your handsome young man?”

“What?”

“Never mind.”

“My son, we need to talk. You need a father figure.”

“Do I?”

“Yes. You are cruel and disobedient, and you need a father to whip you into shape.”

Vathek stared at his mother.

“I could have you executed, you know.”

“Listen to your mother, you spoiled brat.”

“Why do I need a father? You’re certainly manly enough for both of us.”

“Well, it just so happens that I’ve found you a father figure, my son.”

“Who?”

Coincidentally, the Giaour swept into the room.

“Ah, there he is!” Carathis exclaimed. She gave the bewildered Giaour a gigantic bear hug (though it was called a “camel hug” in their city- no one really knew why, as camels could not really give hugs).

“Now, be good and listen to your father, Vathek,” Carathis implored as she left the room, kissing both Vathek and the Giaour on the cheek before exiting.

“What is she going on about?” the Giaour asked. Vathek rolled his eyes.

“Never mind my mother. Tell me what you want.”

“Well, you’ll need 500 children…”

More upon request.

The Child’s Tristram Shandy

Posted: August 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

Reading Tristram Shandy has made me really hate Lemony Snicket. Either that, or I now worship him even more. I can’t really decide.

Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler, narrator/author of A Series of Unfortunate Events, wears his love for reading on his sleeves. The books are full of in-jokes and references to everything from Ramona Quimby Age 8 to Moby Dick (high points: a submarine called Queequeq, a man named Ishmael who insists that everyone call him “Ish.” No one ever does). In The Slippery Slope one character even says “Well-read people are less likely to be evil.”

Fine. It is completely all right with me, Lemony Snicket, if you want to give little winks and nods to the readers in the audience. Quote poetry all you want. Give shout outs to every writer, classic and non-classic, out there. Do not, however, rip them off entirely and make me spend years defending your genius to people who laugh at me for reading a children’s book series at the age of twenty-one.

The thing is, A Series of Unfortunate Events, I have come to discover, is essentially a poor-man’s Tristram Shandy. In a way, it’s sort of the exact opposite of the story. In Tristram Shandy, we spend the entire novel learning about Tristram’s family and the people around them in the events leading to his birth, which seem to be more important than the events of Tristram’s actual life. In the Snicketverse, the novel is really about the Baudelaire children- Violet, Sunny, and Klaus- but we spend the entire thirteen books getting hints and snippets of the previous generation’s actions that led to the Baudelaires’ story. At the end of Tristram Shandy, the reader leaves wanting to know more about the narrator, and he never will. At the end of Series, the reader really, really leaves wanting to know more about the Baudelaire parents (who, without their children knowing, spent years in a secret fire-fighting organization, living in clues and silent messages that, one way or another, involved nearly everyone to ever come up in the series) and yet, we will never know the details.

Well, this isn’t really a problem. After all, lots of novels end with unsolved mysteries. Big deal.

Lots of novels, however, do not include intentionally blank pages of texts and warnings to the reader to stop reading in the middle of the chapter.

The black page in Tristram Shandy? See The Ersatz Elevator, when the Baudelaire children fall down an empty elevator shaft.

The “Shut the door” stopping the reader from reading the remainder of Volume I, Chapter IV? Hostile Hospital, whenever Snicket uses a capital STOP as a visual sign that the reader should stop reading (or is at the end of a telegram).

Even telling the reader that the rest of the chapter is only for the most inquisitive, and no one else should ever read it? See the TV Tropes entry on the Snicket Warning Label. Every other chapter is littered with Snicket begging the reader to put the book down now, and walk away and read something else? Are we supposed to? Probably not, considering the whole thirteen-book series was a best seller.

It was bad enough when I read Moby Dick and realized that Ishmael’s diversions on the properties of whales and whaling were subtle versions of Snicket’s discussion of the water cycle in The Grim Grotto, designed as a stalling and distraction technique to keep from describing the infinitely more interesting horrors happening at sea. Realizing that he had ripped his entire style from Tristram Shandy has made me lose all respect for Daniel Handler. Either that, or I have renewed respect for his brilliance. I’ll leave that up to you.

Privacy

Posted: July 27, 2010 in Uncategorized
Pixel Girl complains about reading Frances Burney’s journals. James tells Pixel Girl a secret.

As I was reading Frances Burney’s journal and letters, I was struck at how much I felt like I was intruding upon her private thoughts. Having kept journals for a decent amount of my life, I know how intimate writing a journal can be, and how terrifying the thought of another person reading my journal can feel. I can only wonder if Frances Burney would have cared that her journal and private letters were being read by college students all over the world, three hundred years after she wrote them.

The parts of the reading that were most uncomfortable for me were the description of her mastectomy and her description of the “Nobody” to whom her journal was addressed. In the case of the mastectomy, I felt uncomfortable because of the graphic nature of the descriptions, but also because of the potential reason behind the gory description. It is possible that Burney only meant to describe the details to Esther “as a warning…should any similar sensations excite similar alarm” (2822). However, if she wasn’t truly shaken by the incident, she might not be able to describe it so readily. When the NCVS (National Crime Victimization Survey) first came out in the US, victims were able to describe their experience in being victims of crimes. What the survey takers soon learned, however, is that victims tend to either minimize or exaggerate their level of distress. I don’t believe that Burney was exaggerating; however, extreme stress of memory can cause the victims to go overboard in description. Burney meant for this letter to be read by her sister, someone very close to her. It definitely felt like an intrusion to be reading her description of a horrible medical procedure that she had to deal with, especially one concerning intimate portions of her body. I felt very much like one of the doctors described, watching her naked and blindfolded and feeling reluctant to hold her breast for the procedure.

The other section that made me feel uncomfortable was the description of the “Nobody” to whom the journal was addressed. At first, it seemed comical that she would spend so much time figuring out how to address her journal, and it made me wonder if she had intended the journal for publication the whole time. However, I soon remembered all of the journal entries where I’ve discussed the exact same question, wondering how to address the journal, my purpose in writing, to whom I’m writing, etc. I wouldn’t want or expect for these entries to be made public any more than the full journals; as such, it seems wrong to imagine that Burney included these chapters for anyone but the “Nobody” in question.

I can only hope that 300 years from now, “Nobody” publishes my journals and letters to the masses. My apologies, Frances Burney.

Dr. Vathek

Posted: July 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

As I was reading Vathek, I kept thinking of the similarities between the Caliph and Dr. Faustus of Christopher Marlowe’s 1604 play.

The obvious first comparison is that Vathek and Faustus both make deals to receive unfathomable riches (literally in Vathek’s case and in the form of infinite knowledge in Faustus’ case). In order to make these deals, each swears allegiance to a person (or in Faustus’ case, a demon) who can help him achieve this goal. The Giaour’s offer, “Wouldest thou devote thyself to me? adore the terrestrial influences, and abjure Mahomet” (Beckford 22) seems very similar to Mephistopheles’ offer to Faustus, “But, tell me, Faustus, shall I have thy soul?/And I will be thy slave, and wait on thee,/And give thee more than thou hast wit to ask” (Marlowe 14). Both Vathek and Faustus basically sell their souls for treasure.

Moreover, in the end, Vathek and Faustus both get what they want, albeit in a form unlike what they initially expected. Vathek does get to see his treasure in Eblis; however, Eblis is also an earthly form of hell. In Dr. Faustus, Faustus receives knowledge of the heavens; however, he is never allowed to join the heavens or appreciate their beauty from inside. In fact, Faustus curses Mephistopheles for this exact reason, stating, “When I behold the heavens, then I repent,/And curse thee, wicked Mephistophilis,/Because thou hast depriv’d me of those joys” (Marlowe 18). It is implied that if Faustus would repent, he’d be allowed back into heaven, but he claims, “My heart’s so harden’d, I cannot repent:/Scarce can I name salvation, faith, or heaven,/But fearful echoes thunder in mine ears” (19). Likewise, Vathek is allowed to appreciate the treasure for three days before being held forever in Eblis’ prison, which he cannot escape.

Finally, the torments of both Hell and Eblis are described as being due to an absence rather than an addition. When Vathek, Nouronihar, Carathis, and the four princes fall into Eblis, it is said that “their hearts immediately took fire, and they, at once, lost the most precious gift of heaven: -HOPE” (Beckford 119). This is very similar to Mephistopheles’ lament that Hell is not a fixed location, and that “This is hell, nor am I out of it:/Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God,/And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,/Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,/In being depriv’d of everlasting bliss” (Marlowe 10). In both cases, the torments that Faustus and Vathek are doomed to experience are a result of an absence of Heaven’s gifts, rather than an addition of pain or torment as described in, say, Dante’s Inferno.

Of course, the main difference between Faustus and Vathek is that Faustus is prideful and seeking knowledge, whereas Vathek is a complete jerk who tries to murder fifty children for treasure. But in the eyes of their authors, both Faustus and Vathek are worthy of eternal damnation in different forms but with the same general spirit.

Cited:

Marlowe, Christopher. The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus. http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/779

The title quote is from the song “Nil Se’en La,” as sung by Celtic Woman. Aside from the obvious relation, in that I’m about to talk about ballads and music, it’s an interesting lyric in that it doesn’t appear in the possibly original Clannad version of the song. Such is the case with covers- they expand and change over time, lyrics remain and shift according to the whim of the artist, and this is only over the course of two relatively modern versions of the same song. Naturally, ballads from the eighteenth century are likely to experience lyric shift over the years, performed in a perpetual game of telephone until they only barely resemble each other.

However, just as interesting as the lyrical shift in ballads is the tonal shift. We heard Shirley Collin’s version of “Barbara Allen” in class, and the song took on a very melancholy, soft tone that emphasized the tragic nature of the story. It was very easy to feel the sorrow of a young man failing to make peace with his true love upon his death, as well as the sorrow of the aforementioned true love upon failing to forgive the dying (and, admittedly unfaithful) young man who loved her.

However, I’m including below the Colin Meloy version of the song, which we almost listened to on Wednesday. The tone of this version, though the lyrics are basically identical to Shirley Collin’s version, is entirely different. Here, the song is pretty much as harsh as any mellow, folk-based indie artist is likely to get when performing a traditional ballad. The emphasis in this version is therefore on the harshness of the story, on the brutal reality of the “hard hearted Barbara Allen,” cheated on and leaving her love to die alone and miserable.

Then again, this is the man who wrote “O Valencia,” which is probably the perkiest, most upbeat song about a woman being accidentally shot by a family member while trying to escape with her boyfriend. So maybe Colin Meloy was just having fun and messing with the Shirley Collin’s version. You can decide.

(PS: I know I promised Defrosters versions of my entries. However, the Defrosters are currently in the middle of both an in-story Xanatos Roulette and an external potential licensing for cell phones, so they’re taking a bit of a break from talking about 18th Century Lit for now. Sorry!)

Hey, all. Stevie here. This is the intro video for my English 306: Later 18th Century Literature blog, as presented by Pixel Girl and James of the blip/youtube series, “Defrosters.” To see other, non-18th century lit related episodes, email me at sbramson@fandm.edu.

Intro to my blog here: stevietheicequeen/wordpress.com.

Also, follow Pixel Girl’s twitter, username defrosterpixelg.