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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, July 20, 2004 - 09:12 pm:   

Except that I'm going to start with something that is none of those. Though I suppose dis-recommendations would fall under this category? Last night, I once again watched Blade Runner, not realizing until quite late that I was seeing the Director's Cut. (Took a while to realize that the voice-over was missing, and then I wondered where the unicorn dream had come from. But I really knew when the movie ended, several minutes too early.)

In my admittedly untutored opinion, it's an excellent demonstration of the proposition that artists don't always know best about their own work, and that everyone needs a good editor.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Friday, July 30, 2004 - 09:28 pm:   

Two novels I've been meaning to recommend for a while now:

Terri Windling's The Woodwife, for anyone who happens not to have read it. The best novel I've read this year. (The best--novel?--I read last year was Jeff VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen). I loved the characters and the story, but it goes beyond that. Underlying the novel is a philosophy of art and its relationship to the world, and of the way the world itself is constructed, that I thought was deeply and fundamentally true. Very much recommended.

Also, Patricia McKillip's Ombria in Shadow. I've read other books by McKillip, and while I recognize that her prose is beautiful, for me it has always lacked a sort of edge, a something that turns beautiful prose into the reader's imagined reality. My reading experience has been like swimming through lovely words, rather than walking on the ground of a believed-in world. But Ombria feels different, real and very much in focus. I think that's because it draws, not only on fairy tale themes and language, as McKillip's novels generally do, but heavily on the gothic: doubles, the castle and the crypt (or in this case the city under the city), labyrinths, etc. (Strangely enough, I found the ending, which I think is deeply influenced by gothic themes, deeply satisfying even though difficult to understand). The darkness of the gothic gives her prose that edge, and makes Ombria very real. Again very much recommended.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 10:49 pm:   

Loved Hellboy!

But query: Is there a movie in which the heroine is large and red, or otherwise unattractive by societal standards? Or do all directors obey the Hollywood prime directive: thy heroine shall be beautiful? (In other words, is it possible to create a Hellgirl?)
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GabrielM
Posted on Thursday, August 05, 2004 - 08:26 am:   

Well, I always root for the Alien queen mum whenever I see ALIENS, but that's just me and likely the result of improper early socialization.

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Richard Parks
Posted on Thursday, August 05, 2004 - 10:47 am:   

It doesn't seem likely. The Hollywood version of Hellgirl would look like Angelina Jolie with the cutest pair of...horns, you'd ever see. Nor would she look the least bit like Ron Perlman.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Saturday, August 07, 2004 - 05:42 am:   

I root for the alien in Species. But I don't think it counts if the alien can turn into a supermodel to mate with human men (in hot tubs).

Ron Perlman, now. What girl, growing up in the 80s, wasn't in love with Vincent?
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Saturday, August 07, 2004 - 06:11 am:   

Does animated count? Fiona's green for much of the Shrek movies.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Saturday, August 07, 2004 - 09:46 pm:   

Hi Dora. Jason Wittman here.

"Or do all directors obey the Hollywood prime directive: thy heroine shall be beautiful? (In other words, is it possible to create a Hellgirl?)"

Two things I've noticed about ugly heroes: first, they're all male, and second, they're all French. Beauty and the Beast is of French origin, and then we have the Hunchback of Notre Dame (de Paris), and the Phantom of the (Paris) Opera. Wonder what this says about the French?


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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, August 08, 2004 - 08:28 am:   

Nice example, Melissa! I didn't see the second Shrek. Does she actually stay a troll (troll? ogre? sorry, it's been a while since I've seen Shrek). Or does she revert to being human at some point?

Hellgirl would also fight crime in high heels! There's Chameleon from the X-men movies. But again, in X2, we see her real (supermodel) self.

Hi Jason! Really interesting point. Wasn't there a short story, maybe by Suzy McKee Charnas, but I don't really remember, in which the opera singer decides to stay with the phantom? Yes, I just found it on her website.

What does it say about the French? I think that French writers understand something fundamental about romance, but I have to think about it before I can articulate it. But also, I suspect that making the "monster" the romantic lead is a modern phenomenon? The Hunchback and the Phantom don't get their girls, and the Beast has to turn into a handsome prince in the end. But Hellboy stays Hellboy, right through that final kiss with Selma Blair.

So, "monstrous" male romantic leads:
Vincent (from the old Beauty and the Beast TV show)
Hellboy
Shrek
Who else? To qualify, the romantic lead must get his girl.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Sunday, August 08, 2004 - 11:28 am:   

Dora,

I'm not familiar with the Suzy McKee Chamas story, but have you read _Phantom_, by Susan Kay? It basically chronicles Erik's life from birth, through the events of the LeRoux novel, and a few years past his death. It's quite a trip along the way with stops in Belgium, Russia, and Persia (where he met the Persian, believe it or not). And in a sense, he does get the girl--but I won't spoil the novel for you.

(Thing is, I've yet to read the LeRoux novel. I also read _Mary Reilly_ before I read _Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde_. Heh.)

The Hunchback doesn't get the girl? Isn't the last chapter in _Hunchback_ entitled "The Marriage of Quasimodo"?

Also, on a sidenote about "Hunchback": I recently made a discovery about the 1997 Walt Disney animated feature (now before you tie me to the pillory and start throwing tomatoes, hear me out).
The screenwriters for that movie did NOT conjure a typical Disney ending out of whole cloth. No, instead, they took out the depressing ending that is typical of all Hugo novels, and substituted the ending of "Metropolis" (the 1927 Fritz Lang silent version, not the more recent Anime effort).

If you compare the two movies side by side, you'll see what I mean. Their climaxes both involve:

1) Someone being burned at the stake.

2) The peasantry rioting in the streets.

3) The hero and the villain fighting over the damsel in distress *in a cathedral*, the result of which is the villain falling to his death.

4) A reconciliation between two parties on the cathedral steps, followed by a happy ending.

But don't take my word for it. See for yourself. :-)

Jason

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Melissa Mead
Posted on Sunday, August 08, 2004 - 01:55 pm:   

Ogre.
Should I say here? I didn't want to post spoilers, in case someone here hasn't seen it yet.

Jason: Oh man! Phantom made me cry. It got pretty upsetting in spots. I identify way too much with characters like Erik.
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Celia Marsh
Posted on Monday, August 09, 2004 - 06:55 pm:   

I'll borrow from a journal post I made about this, but try and elaborate.

I suppose the closest I can think of is Shrek, where the not only is the heroine unconventional in appearance, but she is rewarded properly for her behavior--I love fairy tales, but I hate when the reward for acting properly is the removal of the obstacle that doesn't exist anymore.

Beauty and the Beast is probably my least favorite fairytale over all. The Beast is rewarded for being a lovable type person by being returned to his original form, yes, which is an acceptable reward, but Beauty, who has learned to look below the skin and love people for who they truly are is given a human boyfriend. Even though that's not what her lesson was, even though that's not who she fell in love with.
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gwenda
Posted on Wednesday, August 11, 2004 - 01:11 pm:   

Robertson Davies has an excellent little quote about ugly heroines and Hollywood, which, the Net being what it is, I was able to find online:

Robertson Davies from "Reading"

"Once or twice I have tried to talk to film people about my ugly heroine. I explain to them the extraordinary psychological fascination of the medieval legend of the Loathly Damsel, whose splendour of spirit is confined within a hideous body, and she becomes beautiful only when she is understood and loved. I advise you not to talk to resolutely Hollywood minds about the Loathly Damsel. Their eyes glaze, and their cigars go out, and behind the lenses of their horn-rimmed spectacles I see the dominating symbol of their inner life: it is a dollar sign."
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, August 12, 2004 - 08:05 pm:   

Hi Jason!

"I'm not familiar with the Suzy McKee Chamas story, but have you read _Phantom_, by Susan Kay?"

No! It sounds very interesting. I'll have to see if I can find it, since both you and Melissa recommend it.

"I also read _Mary Reilly_ before I read _Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde_. Heh."

Mary Reilly was a novel? Was it better than the movie? It must have been. (And shame on you! :-) )

"The Hunchback doesn't get the girl? Isn't the last chapter in _Hunchback_ entitled "The Marriage of Quasimodo"?"

Ugh. I don't remember. Now I'll have to go back and read that too! I haven't seen the Disney version. (I've been allergic to Disney since the movie that came after Beauty and the Beast, which I liked a lot. All the ones I saw after that I disliked intensely (the mermaid one, the Aladdin one, the lion one--it's the music that I can't stand, more than the sappiness). But maybe I'll see it to make the comparison! (I also loved the first Fantasia and loathed the second.)

Melissa:

"Should I say here? I didn't want to post spoilers, in case someone here hasn't seen it yet."

Good point. I guess I'll see it when it comes out on video!

Celia, there's a story by Mary Soon Lee called "Shen's Daughter" in Year's Best Fantasy 4. It's a Beauty and the Beast story in which the beast never changes, and his beastliness is sort of beside the point. You might like it. Also, I've heard that in the French movie version, the old black and white one, Beauty looks up at the now-human former-Beast with an expression of doubt, as though she's not quite sure this is what she wanted. I saw it a long time ago and don't remember whether that's true, but there is a (short) moment like that in the Disney version that may be based on it.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, August 12, 2004 - 08:18 pm:   

Hi Gwenda!

I love the quotation. It's interesting, though, that even the Loathly Damsel eventually turns into a beautiful woman (at least, if I'm remembering the story correctly). Forget movies--what literary heroine is ugly (or even better, a monster) and stays that way? The only example I can think of is the "plain" Jane Eyre, though I suspect that she exaggerates her unattractiveness. Anyway, not-Blanche-Ingram doesn't count as monstrous. Same for Fanny Price of Mansfield Park.

Which reminds me of the movie Monster, which I didn't see. But the publicity was fascinating, since it all centered around Charlize Theron's physical transformation. And if you want a monster, well, it's there in the title. There's a Loathly Damsel dichotomy for you: take away the makeup and prosthetic devices, and the monster turns out to be a Hollywood star. What to make of this, I don't know. But there's a cultural criticism paper in it . . .

(I thought I would split my message in two--sometimes when one is too long I lose it . . .)
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Christopher Barzak
Posted on Thursday, August 12, 2004 - 10:17 pm:   

<i>Mary Reilly<i> the book is much better than the movie. It was written by Valerie Martin, who is good in general (well, at least I think she is). I was so disappointed with the movie tie-in. Yes, the book came first. It was a wondeful idea of literary revision and intertextuality, too. The film just didn't get that, though.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Thursday, August 12, 2004 - 10:59 pm:   

Quoth Dora: "Mary Reilly was a novel? Was it better than the movie? It must have been. (And shame on you! ) "

_Mary Reilly_ is written as a diary by Dr. Jekyll's maid (the eponymous Mary). I'd certainly recommend it.

(Shame on me? Look, I buy books faster than I can read them, all right? And since there are so many books out there, it took me a while to come across Stevenson. Give me a break.)

I've checked my copy of _Hunchback of Notre Dame_--which came out in conjunction with the Disney movie, no less ;-)--and the last chapter is indeed titled "Marriage of Quasimodo." And the book has the original Victor Hugo ending, not Disney's.

Quoth Dora: "I've been allergic to Disney since the movie that came after Beauty and the Beast, which I liked a lot...it's the music that I can't stand, more than the sappiness."

If you want good movie music, try the soundtrack CD of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village." Hilary Hahn is the featured violinist, and she sends chills up my spine.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 06:14 pm:   

All right, I'll check out Mary Reilly! I actually love rewritings of familiar books. I just really loathed both John Malkovich and--what's her name? Julia Something. I know it, I'm just having one of those moments.

Shrek 2 doesn't come out on video until, I think, November. Darn.

Anyone else really worried about the movie version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? It has the potential to be so terribly terrible. (Anyone else still filled with barely-supressed rage at the reordering of the series, to put The Magician's Nephew first? So, the planting of the apple in The Magician's Nephew now makes absolutely no sense. There's got to be a Dantesque punishment specifically for people who do things like that. And I don't care if Lewis once wrote that The Magician's Nephew should come first. Keats preferred the second version of "La Belle Dame Sans Merci," and nobody pays attention to him. And see my comments on the director's cut of Blade Runner, above.)

Where am I going with this? Nowhere, really. It's just what happens when you mix lack of sleep with more lack of sleep.

"(Shame on me? Look, I buy books faster than I can read them, all right? And since there are so many books out there, it took me a while to come across Stevenson. Give me a break.)"

All right, Jason! But just this once . . . :-)

"If you want good movie music, try the soundtrack CD of M. Night Shyamalan's "The Village." Hilary Hahn is the featured violinist, and she sends chills up my spine."

Thanks for the recommendation!
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 06:46 pm:   

If you want to know what happens in Shrek 2 I could e-mail you, but it would probably be more fun if I don't.

I really hope they don't mess up Narnia. I love those books. They aren't doing the LWW movie first?
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 10:29 pm:   

I think they are doing it first? (I think only the books were reorganized.) It doesn't really make sense, even in a movie, to start with any of the others . . .

My worry is that they'll completely mess up Aslan. I saw part of a British version years ago in which he was a sort of giant puppet. I couldn't watch.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 - 10:30 pm:   

Oh, and thanks, Melissa! I'll wait patiently to see Shrek 2. But once I see it, I'll want to talk about it . . . :-)
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 03:22 am:   

I have a vague memory of seeing that years ago and being very disappointed, because it was part of the same series that had cast A Little Princess just the way I'd envisioned it.

There was an animated LWW years ago, too. All I remember is the sound of the Witch's voice for a few lines of the Turkish Delight scene.

It's also been made into a musical.
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 03:23 am:   

You're welcome, and sure! :-)
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Celia
Posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 08:12 am:   

At least in the Loathly Lady she got to pick--he got rewarded, yes, but she said, "Pick how you want me to appear," and he said, "Whatever makes you happy." (Drastic paraphrasing.) I'm okay with that. It was a reward, but it was for the right reason--he didn't say, "you have to be beautiful for me/others." That's acceptable in my book. (granted, the moral of the story isn't my favorite (What women want the most is their own way), but then again, it's probably true, so long as you don't limit it to just women.) There's a new Sarah Zettel in the Luna line that just came out--let's see if this works--In Camelot's Shadow, which, according to the reviews is a retelling of a couple of the more interesting of the Arthurian legends, and which I'm actually really interested in reading, despite my hatred of all things Arthurian by now. :-)

What scares me is the only example of an unattractive heroine in Hollywood that I can think of is "Shallow Hal" which I never saw, just heard about, so I don't know how it really works out in the end, but the idea behind the movie was a neat one. And yes, even in that case the unattractive heroine was gwyneth Paltrow in and out of a fat suit, so...
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Minz
Posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 08:39 am:   

There was Bridget Jones' Diary, though I had the grave misfortune of seeing a Zellwegger interview during the media blitz for the film, and mostly she complained about how gross it felt for her to feel her thighs touching due to the weight she had to put on for the film. Ugh. I still think she's a talented actress, and in general I appreciate irony, but UGH!
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Minz
Posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 08:41 am:   

Of course, she still looked pretty good in the film (in fact, I think she never looked better.)
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John Klima
Posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 11:40 am:   

This is for a few posts ago: I am so glad that my copy of Narnia is still in the correct order instead of the 'corrected' order. When I was ten, or whatever, and read them initially, I used to reorder my series so they were chronological. Later I realized the stupidity in this and re-ordered them starting with LWW and so on. I'm completely irritated and aghast that some publisher (yes, I am throwing bricks in my glass house, nyah nyah nyah) decided to do this. Anyone know the reasoning behind this?

Does Karl in Sling Blade 'get' the girl in the end? Billy Bob Thorton certainly wasn't a pretty person in this movie, but I can't remember how the end hangs together. This doesn't quite meet our hostess' guidelines in that Karl is not anyone's love interest, but only when you consider romantic love.

On a side note, what does it say when the last two Oscar winners for Best Actress have been stunning women who made themselves ugly for their winning performances. I thought both performances were good, but did the Academy think the performances were better (more Oscar-worthy) because the women (Nicole Kidman in THE HOURS and Charlize Theron in MONSTER in case someone didn't know) rejected their beauty and chose to be shown as ugly in the films? Is it impossible to think that an attractive women can perform to the Oscar level (this statement is only referring to the past two Oscars)? Is it impossible to think that an average-looking woman could earn an Oscar-caliber role?

To agree with Minz, when Renee Z. put on 10 - 20 pounds to 'fit' the part of Bridget Jones, I thought it was the best-looking I had ever seen her. Will Americans really not go see a film that doesn't have attractive people in it? That doesn't have attractive people (particularly in the case of women) playing the lead roles?

What about every Woody Allen movie? There's your ugly guy getting the pretty girl.

JK
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John Klima
Posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 12:00 pm:   

As for novel recommendations, two short novels--both published by Night Shade Books--that I think lots of people would enjoy are IN & OZ by Steve Tomansula (a different type of love story) and MOVE UNDERGROUND by Nick Mamatas (Jack Kerouac vs. Cthulhu). Both are definitely not your standard novel, but both are quick and fun.

JK
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AliceB
Posted on Thursday, August 19, 2004 - 04:45 pm:   

"To agree with Minz, when Renee Z. put on 10 - 20 pounds to 'fit' the part of Bridget Jones, I thought it was the best-looking I had ever seen her."

This reminds me of the djinn in THE DJINN IN THE NIGHTINGALE'S EYE by A.S. Byatt who, after restoring the main character's body to the one she had ten years before, asks whether she wouldn't want to be a little rounder, and discusses the desirability of "amplitude". Which is a long way round for me to recommend the book.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Monday, September 06, 2004 - 11:14 pm:   

Dora, quick question: what exactly was your objection to the movie Mary Reilly? Was it that the supporting cast were the only ones even trying to speak with a British accent, or was there something else? Just curious.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, September 07, 2004 - 05:59 pm:   

Back from Worldcon, and finally catching up with this thread!

"At least in the Loathly Lady she got to pick--he got rewarded, yes, but she said, "Pick how you want me to appear," and he said, "Whatever makes you happy." (Drastic paraphrasing.) I'm okay with that. It was a reward, but it was for the right reason--he didn't say, "you have to be beautiful for me/others." That's acceptable in my book. (granted, the moral of the story isn't my favorite (What women want the most is their own way), but then again, it's probably true, so long as you don't limit it to just women.)

I rather like the Loathly Lady moral. What women want is to control their own destiny, that's how I read it. And I agree that the sentiment goes for us all, really. It just happens to have been more difficult for women to control their destinies in the medieval era, so the moral has a special applicability. I certainly have to admit that what I usually want is, indeed, my own way! :-)

"On a side note, what does it say when the last two Oscar winners for Best Actress have been stunning women who made themselves ugly for their winning performances. I thought both performances were good, but did the Academy think the performances were better (more Oscar-worthy) because the women (Nicole Kidman in THE HOURS and Charlize Theron in MONSTER in case someone didn't know) rejected their beauty and chose to be shown as ugly in the films? Is it impossible to think that an attractive women can perform to the Oscar level (this statement is only referring to the past two Oscars)? Is it impossible to think that an average-looking woman could earn an Oscar-caliber role? "

I have a theory about this, which is rather involved but I'll mention it here quickly. I think we, living at this cultural moment (post-post-modernism), tend to assume that what is ugly is real and significant, and what is beautiful is illusory and frivolous. A complete reversal from the 18th century attitude, for which we can in part blame the romantics, but much more the modernists who were reacting against Victorian ideas. So, art that is attractive is also seen as nostalgic and escapist, while art that is intentionally unattractive is seen as contemporary and important. (I'm thinking of visual art here, but it goes for all sorts of other things as well, including literature. If we read a book for pleasure, it can't have anything serious to tell us, can it? At least that's a common assumption). If a beautiful actress makes herself ugly for a role, she must be a "serious" actress.

I think this attitude is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of beauty. The Victorians confused what was beautiful with what was merely pretty, and we haven't gotten over that confusion. Beauty has a power, to enchant and captivate. There is something about it outside of our common reality. Like certain Greek statues that seem to exist outside time, or certain poems. The strangest thing about Nicole Kidman playing Virginia Woolf is that, if you look at pictures of (particularly the young) Woolf, she was beautiful. She had character and individuality (and lovely bones). Kidman is merely pretty. The makeup made her look nothing at all like Woolf, but it did suggest, to our modern eyes, that Woolf was a "serious" writer. That's how we seem to think a serious writer should look.

"As for novel recommendations, two short novels--both published by Night Shade Books--that I think lots of people would enjoy are IN & OZ by Steve Tomansula (a different type of love story) and MOVE UNDERGROUND by Nick Mamatas (Jack Kerouac vs. Cthulhu). Both are definitely not your standard novel, but both are quick and fun."

I haven't read either, but I have read some of Nick Mamatas' writing, and he's always a pleasure to read.

"Dora, quick question: what exactly was your objection to the movie Mary Reilly? Was it that the supporting cast were the only ones even trying to speak with a British accent, or was there something else? Just curious."

Hmmm. I guess the absence of anything that interested me. Jekyll and Hyde is an interesting and subtle book about all sorts of things that were important to the Victorians: morality, the ambiguity of 19th century science, what it means to be a human being, what it means to be a Victorian gentleman. I don't really know what the movie was about, except John Malkovitch glowering a lot and some rather strange sexual symbolism. So, I guess the answer is that I found it boring? And Julia Roberts' acting just awful.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, September 07, 2004 - 06:09 pm:   

And highly recommended: Elizabeth Hand's Mortal Love. I'll admit right off that I had a quibble with the conclusion. I didn't respond to it with the joyful exaltation that I think it was trying to evoke, I think because one of the characters involved wasn't sufficiently developed. But.

The novel is gorgeously written, and a complete pleasure to read. My favorite sections were the 19th century ones, which were perfect in tone, as perfect as the modern ones in which Hand uses contemporary language. The novel is dense and beautiful. And it talks about beauty, too. It's a reminder that the romantics and the late Victorians thought of beauty as dangerous, and associated it with lamias, vampire women, La Belle Dame Sans Merci. And it's about art.

The one real problem with this book is that I literally couldn't put it down, which isn't such a good thing when you're forgetting to, for example, eat dinner . . .
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, September 08, 2004 - 09:35 pm:   

Today I came across Elizabeth Hand's essay on the Muse, and I thought I would link to it here because of its applicability to her novel, which you'll see immediately if you read both, although the essay is fascinating by itself. It's so easy, in the midst of the business of publishing (and publicizing), to forget that art emerges from a mystery, from a place outside our control (and certainly the publisher's).

I hope she won't mind if I quote a paragraph:

"This sense of a being eternally straddling two worlds - the real world, and the artist's vision embodied in its presiding spirit - is what defines the muse as a liminal creature. And through his creative process - itself a liminal experience - the artist also becomes a liminal being. I think this is what gives encounters between artist and muse their sense of psychic peril: this constant passage between the borders of the real and the imagined, with the constant threat of one or the other becoming trapped - by creative sterility or simple domesticity, by madness or murderous violence - on the wrong side of the threshold.
--Elizabeth Hand, "The Beckoning Fair Ones: Some Thoughts on Muses," published in the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, May 17, 2004.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, September 23, 2004 - 10:28 pm:   

Now reading Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic. I thought I should read something that was essentially fantasy but being sold as mainstream. So far I like the writing, but don't love the story. I have to admit that I liked the movie better. (I keep thinking that's a Bad Thing, but the movie has structure and tension, which the novel lacks.) On the other hand, the writing is filled with nice images. Question is: are nice images enough?

Also, I can't buy into the way she presents love, as a sort of searing flame that suddenly gets you. (Buy into: I suddenly realized I'm using Jane Austen speak, which is when the author describes a romance but uses economic terms, so adroitly that you don't notice unless you're reading closely.) I tend to think that falling in love is subtler and more complicated.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, November 18, 2004 - 10:30 pm:   

Melissa:

Finally saw Shrek 2! Did you like it better than the first? I think I liked the first better . . . I'm not sure why.

And I'm not sure why, but Fiona's choice at the end seemed too--certain? quick? I mean, half her life was spent as a human being, but she's perfectly comfortably renouncing that part of herself. (I figure, once the video comes out, everyone's seen it, so I won't be spoiling their viewing experience . . .)

I don't mean to say that it wasn't a lot of fun! Because it's definitely a fun movie to watch.

Finished Practical Magic ages ago. I dunno, I've been reading stories that are mainstream but with fantasy elements, and I just don't find them that satisfying. They're missing something that I want from fantasy (and genre writing in general). On the other hand, I loved and very highly recommend Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell. Awesome book, especially to read when you're sick and want to get away from grim, rainy Boston (to grim, rainy London) for a while.
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Friday, November 19, 2004 - 03:37 am:   

I liked the first better too-it felt deeper. The first one got to me emotionally, while the second was more just fun.

I DID get a personal chuckle out of the second, because Shrek came out looking just enough like the hero of the book I'm working on to catch my attention-and I'd been using "Holding Out For A Hero" as writing music.

I did love Puss.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Friday, November 19, 2004 - 11:55 am:   

^Typically, I suppose, I looked at both Shrek films as more than mere entertainment -- they're modern fairy-tales, and scripts for how little kids are going to see themselves and shape their lives. Plus, you know... Nietzsche and stuff.

Longer version here at Anna T's "Can of Worms."
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - 02:26 pm:   

Antonio Banderas as a cat. What's not to love? :-)

I wonder if it had to do with the fact that Fiona didn't really get her own story in the second one? She's the one returning home to her family, but the story focuses on Shrek and the choice he makes. Her choice is already made. The first one focused on the stories of both characters.

On the other hand, it's interesting, isn't it, to have a movie about masculinity and beauty? If you think about it, all the major male characters have stories that relate to their physical appearance: Fiona's father, Shrek, Donkey, Charming, and even Puss, who disarms people (in both senses) by looking sweet and helpless, a traditional female ploy!

I haven't looked at Robert's link yet, but will in a minute. Just wanted to get this thought out . . .
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - 03:41 pm:   

Robert:

Really, really interesting. I wasn't sure, as I read your review, about the way you linked Shrek to major philosophers and philosophical issues, but I think you're right about the movie searching for order after the death of God. God, that is, defined as what gives the world moral order, what separates and creates a hierarchy of value between good and evil, beauty and ugliness. Or as Disney!

Seriously, I think much of modern art is participating in that search. Which makes Shrek a respectable part of artistic history. But I agree that the second movie isn't as good. And I was bothered by the giant Gingerbread Man. In a world where every character supposedly has value, how do you justify sacrificing one?

(Have to admit that I was bothered by Pinoccio wearing women's underwear, specifically because there didn't seem to be a reason behind it. I want the movie to be intelligent enough to do more with it than joke.)
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2004 - 02:15 pm:   

^I'm glad to hear you also see much of modern art as a search, Dora. I've become much more aware of my own presumptions and reading protocols since you commented on my comments on Pullman in the other thread. I think maybe I see "escape" as another kind of search, or perhaps a revision of sorts.
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Greg Wachausen
Posted on Thursday, November 25, 2004 - 09:28 am:   

"And I was bothered by the giant Gingerbread Man. In a world where every character supposedly has value, how do you justify sacrificing one?"

This seemed a little out of place for me too. Although it reminded me of that scene from The Princess Bride, where Andre the Giant puts on a cloak and scares away the castle guards so the heroes could get in without having to fight against unbeatable odds. After seeing Shrek 2 I thought that the giant Ginger bread man (Mongo?) was a subtle Deus ex Machina, and I felt they softened his "death" by showing him singing at the end.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, November 30, 2004 - 02:15 pm:   

Greg: I love The Princess Bride! The difference for me between those two scenes is that Andre was very much a character, whereas the giant Gingerbread Man was a means to an end. I forgot about his singing! I'll have to watch the movie again . . . I did catch a few minutes of the first one while I was watching something else on TV and clicking around during commercials. Even those few minutes felt tighter, more full of tension. But I thought both movies were lots of fun, so I shouldn't complain . . .

I finally saw Prisoner of Azkaban (having a nine month old means watching all movies when they're released to video). I liked parts of it; it seemed more subtle than the first two. But I think the director left out a lot of explanation that was actually crucial to the plot. The movie felt much less tight than the book, which I thought was the best of the Harry Potters. (I became addicted to them when I was sick. It was a huge relief, when I knew I'd have to spend the day in bed, having a thousand pages of Harry Potter ahead of me . . .)

Robert: I'm really interested in the idea of escape. I remember either an interview or a panel in which China Mieville blasted the idea of escapism in fantasy--maybe specifically in Tolkien. I thought, at the time, that the escape fantasy offers is one of its most important assets. I think of it the way Tolkien described it in his essay on fairy tales, which I won't attempt to paraphrase, but here's my version: that we need to leave the world we live in to see it clearly, to go somewhere else in order to look back and evaluate. Sort of like an astronaut leaving the atmosphere in order to see the planet as the globe it is. If all we do is write about the world we actually live in, and the constraints it imposes on us, how can we envision a way of living that is radically different?

That's what I get from a lot of Ursula Le Guin: she takes us somewhere completely different to both critique our way of looking at things and offer possibilities we have never thought of. So escape is a re-vision, a way of seeing again. And it's a search for something else, something we don't currently have.

Of course one could argue that there's a difference between the sort of escape I describe, which involves a critique of our world, and "escapism," which is an unthinking sort of escape, a wanting to get out for a few hours before one has to, again, cook dinner and answer the phone. And that's legitimate. But to that I would say that we have a right to escape, even if we go right back to our ordinary lives without having learned much of anything. If we couldn't escape sometimes, I think most of us would go mad.

Am I making any sense? I value escape both when it's escape-to-reimagine and reading-agatha-christie. (I've certainly had times when I would have gone mad without a good Agatha Christie.)

Modern art as a search. I think that's going to take another post . . .

Meanwhile, what did you learn about your presumptions and reading protocols? I ask purely out of interest, since I'm always trying to understand my own! :-)

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Richard Parks
Posted on Wednesday, December 01, 2004 - 11:27 am:   

It just reminds me of something else Tolkien said, and I paraphrase: "The only sort of person really against escape is a jailor."

I think CM's main problem with Tolkien was his politics (though CM's had something to say on Tolkien's style as well). As for the escapism angle, let's face it -- anything that takes you outside of the here and now is escapist on the face of it, whatever its intent, so CM's been as guilty as any of us.

I tend to agree with escape as a method of changing perspective. Sometimes you have to be outside of something to see it clearly. Again, we're back to intent.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Sunday, December 05, 2004 - 04:09 pm:   

On presumptions and protocols: I had simply forgotten that I had any. I'm usually quite a self-reflective sort, so it was just an odd realization when I realized I hadn't been reflecting.

On escape, searching, and revisionism: I find myself very interested in Victorian-era stuff right now and my intuition is that there's something in that worldview relevant to me (and presumably the modern world). I like the master narrative theory of progress: science, art, and philosophy are very obviously (to me, at least) dialogues that extend forward in time (thus Kant's story leads to Hegel's, which leads to Kierkegaard's) -- but sometimes the individual threads hit dead-ends and we have to go back and follow a previously abandoned thread. This is part of what I see as popular entertainment's role in revising our cultural/intellectual projects (if that makes any sense at all...).

I've been thinking about psychological explanations for murders recently, and I think the death of psychoanalysis (does anyone really believe in Freud anymore?) necessitates a return to older forms of understanding -- or maybe all-new ones. The only way I can explain this further is through narrative, but my attempts to turn these visions into a short story have been unsuccessful so far. I think it may have to be a comic book.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2004 - 11:37 am:   

It just reminds me of something else Tolkien said, and I paraphrase: "The only sort of person really against escape is a jailor."

:-)!

Robert: This isn't exactly what you wrote, but I think it follows from what you wrote. So do you think we need to return to something in the Victorian worldview that we've veered away from and perhaps lost? I find something compelling and relevant in Victorian literature. I wonder if it's the emphasis on character? The whole point of Victorian literature was the exploration of character (well, not the whole point, but a main point). Have we somehow moved away from that? Modern literature doesn't seem to be about character in the way, say, Dickens was. That's part of the reason I loved Jonathan Strange and Dr. Norell. It was deliberate and episodic in its pacing, like Dickens, and it was all about character. (I don't know if I wrote this anywhere else, but when I finished the book I thought, "Why, this has been a sort of love story all along--between Strange and Norell, and between the both of them and their vocation, which is magic.")

I agree with you completely about popular culture. I think Northrop Fry (if I spelled his name correctly?) said something like that, about "romance" (the popular literatures) replenishing "literature" (meaning the high, intellectual stuff).

"I've been thinking about psychological explanations for murders recently, and I think the death of psychoanalysis (does anyone really believe in Freud anymore?) necessitates a return to older forms of understanding -- or maybe all-new ones. The only way I can explain this further is through narrative, but my attempts to turn these visions into a short story have been unsuccessful so far. I think it may have to be a comic book."

Interesting. What older forms, or what newer ones? I know--sometimes the only way I can understand something is to write a story about it.

And just a comment that I want to get out. I've seen a fair amount of fantasy recently that didn't engage in "our cultural/intellectual projects" (usually novels--the short stories I read do tend to in some way, or feel like they do). And I thought, how unsatisfying. The books felt unconnected, as though they were floating in their own atmosphere. I'm not expressing this at all clearly, and will have to think about it further.
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Jason D. Wittman
Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2004 - 12:36 pm:   

A friend of mine who works at the U of Minnesota (English Dept.) says that his literary colleagues there have told him that, when you write a short story, you can't have anything actually happen in it--not if you want it to be literature, anyway. But what kind of reader would go for that kind of story? At the same time, I don't think you can have a story that's all action. You need a character that readers can identify with (and possibly admire, though not necessarily) so the readers can feel they're participating in the story to some extent.

Still...you can't have anything happen in a short story? Look at the literature that survives: Beowulf, The Iliad, The Odyssey, Shakespeare, Dickens. Every one of those works had some sort of action in it.

Anyway, that's my two cents.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2004 - 12:55 pm:   

Jason;

Here's David Moles quoting Neal Stephenson on the difference between "Beowulf writers" and "Dante writers." I think Neal makes some good points that might help make sense of your friend's statements.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Thursday, December 09, 2004 - 07:25 pm:   

What older forms, or what newer ones?

I'm interested in a situation in which the standard psychological explanations (the killer was toilet-trained incorrectly, etc) are rejected by those left behind as inadequate. Instead, they look outside the human sphere for fantastical/supernatural causes, and their process of grieving creates a special kind of narrative (which is the conceit on which my narrative is based). I'm sure that doesn't at all make sense :-)

Some of the things I'm seeing in Victorian literature, which I haven't formally studied and admittedly know little about, is a tolerance for ambiguity often rejected today in favor of scientific preciseness. There is definitely an emphasis on character in Victorian literature that I as a writer can learn from (since characterization tends to be a weakness in my own stories), but also something subtly different about the inner world and how it relates to the outer -- Victorian narratives sometimes almost function as mediations between inner and outer worlds, and the outer world isn't always the default preference or field of revalation.

Anyway, I haven't read much, as I said, so there could be "sample bias" in that I may have read odd or strange passages. If anyone has recommendations (as is the topic of this thread!) about good Victorian texts, I'd be glad to hear them.

I've seen a fair amount of fantasy recently that didn't engage in "our cultural/intellectual projects"

I used to delight in finding the relevance in texts that people usually dismiss, and I still wonder if it's even really possible not to engage in some way with larger ongoing dialogues (whether the author knows they're engaging or not) -- but I do think it's true that some works do a poor job of engaging, and I don't usually have the patience for those anymore.

Oh yeah, thanks for the Northrop Fry quote -- he's growing on me a bit, but I'm still a Harold Bloom man at heart ;)
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 10:34 pm:   

Robert:

What sorts of good Victorian texts are you looking for? (What do you like to read?)

I think you're right about Victorian texts looking at the inner world differently. Part of it is that they were pre-Freud. It's hard to realize, sometimes, how deeply we were influenced by the birth of psychoanalysis. Austen's characters, for example, don't have a subconscious in the way modern characters would, I think, though of course they're not always aware of their own desires. But I think a modern writer would automatically construct a character with subconscious impulses.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, December 12, 2004 - 10:40 pm:   

Come to think of it, I heard that taught as a writing technique at a workshop: characters aren't always aware of what really motivates them, which may be something subconscious. But you as a writer should be aware of your characters' subconscious motivations.

("We must destroy the Dark Lord," said Garf to the Half-Elf. "If we don't, his armies will certainly destroy the Land." He shied away again from the thought that the Dark Lord looked a lot like his father . . .)
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Tuesday, December 14, 2004 - 10:15 pm:   

^I'm not actually sure what kind of Victoriana I'm looking for. Definitely not Jane Austen! (Someday I will discover the mechanism by which my girlfriend can find a different boring TV adaptation of those evil novels every single night and then I'll put a stop to the whole ordeal!) I'm going to keep an eye out for the poems of Arthur Conan Doyle you mentioned in the other thread.

I have access to some vast and wonderful libraries, so I think I will cherish my ignorance and just wander about and pick up the oldest, most obscure texts I can find and see what I connect with :-)
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2004 - 09:20 pm:   

Austen is so much better than her movie adaptations! I swear! But I would never try to convince someone who didn't like her writing that it's wonderful. (Unless I were being paid to torture undergraduates! :-)) I love Austen, but one book I'm sort of reading right now, on and off, is King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard. Is that more the sort of thing you like? It's uncomfortably (for a modern reader) Victorian in its attitude toward Africa and the African characters, but it is a great adventure story.
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2004 - 09:25 pm:   

And talk about a strange relationship between inner and outer. There are almost no female characters in the novel, which the narrator tells you right up front. But if you look at the map in King Solomon's Mines, you'll notice that the landscape itself is shaped like a woman's body. (And I'm not reading into the text here: the mountains they have to climb to reach the unreachable land where the mines are located are called "Sheba's Breasts.")
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2004 - 11:33 pm:   

^I wish I loved Jane Austen and could slip her into little lists of references, citing maybe style or character or attitude (right in between, say, Forrest Aguirre and Jack Kirby), quietly challenging the social expectation that a boy with my interests would never go for that sort of proto chick-lit... but it may be a while before I can work up to it. I think you have me pegged as a King Solomon's Mines type, only I can't actually reread Haggard -- I sort of need to be tricked into reading something that delivers the same kick, but has some unfamiliar angle or take (I'm so fussy!!).

As for "Sheba's Breasts," it's interesting to me how "men's fiction" is almost always really about women -- in this case the dark continent is nature unbound and must, like a woman, be conquered. It would be interesting to write a similar tale but replace the true hero men with wussy modern guys -- we'd find the metaphorical bosom of the world and just stay there forever (actually delivering the, er, white man's burden into the Mine is too much commitment!).
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2004 - 11:47 pm:   

On second thought, maybe I could go for Austen...
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 03:07 pm:   

As for "Sheba's Breasts," it's interesting to me how "men's fiction" is almost always really about women -- in this case the dark continent is nature unbound and must, like a woman, be conquered. It would be interesting to write a similar tale but replace the true hero men with wussy modern guys -- we'd find the metaphorical bosom of the world and just stay there forever (actually delivering the, er, white man's burden into the Mine is too much commitment!).

This is where I have to use emailese and write LOL! The mine is Dangerous too--it's where the dead kings of the Kukuanas are buried, and Quartermain and Co. almost get trapped behind the Mysterious Door. Oh, the Freudian fun one could have . . . (And then there's Umbopa having the sacred snake of kingship tatooed around his waist . . .)

Have you read She and Allan Quartermaine? I have a one-volume set of all three.

It would be fascinating to write a Haggard-type adventure as though it were written by Austen . . . Or the other way around.
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Robert Burke Richardson
Posted on Sunday, December 26, 2004 - 05:48 pm:   

^I read most of She and Allan Quartermaine about five or six years ago, but I don't remember a lot of the details (once I get the feel of a piece of writing and understand the basic mechanics of how the premise, characters, and setting interact, I don't often feel the need to continue reading for plot -- I probably only finish half the novels I start, even if I really like them). I might go back to King Solomon's Mines, though: the details you describe are hilarious!

As for Haggard and Austen colliding, I wonder if Alan Moore's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" would count? (The graphic novel -- NOT the execrable movie!). It's as much a collision of Victorian literary styles (and viewpoints) as it is a revisionist period thing.

I got my hands on some genuine pulp fiction recently -- not the cream, which is oft reprinted and survives to this day, but rather some of the stuff that originally helped give pulp a bad name -- and had some success adapting the voice:

Varantus nodded, but didn’t seem at all reassured. Sadness wrinkled his stately brow, and Gao thought him a melancholy angel.

“Don’t worry,” said Gao. “This latest monkey-wrench won’t derail the headway you and the ambassador have made. Think of this as an opportunity for further cooperation -- a way to cement the peace between Venus and Mars.”

Varantus forced a smile. “What will you do first?”

“First?” Gao asked. “I must consult the Leibniz Machine.”

Morovan led Varantus to the airlock and Gao headed to the room that housed his gigantic reasoning device. He set switches and positioned levers, then opened his derivation log and marked a page February 1st, 1882. If he wanted to get to the bottom of this mess, he would need to be well-armed with logical calculations...


I think the story works as a whole, but there are some rough spots in the prose that make me cringe. I don't think I'm confident enough with my own voice yet to successfully adopt another's. Still, here's my attempt at the intro to an Austenian (Austentatious?) adventure tale:

The eyes of Alsfdj Liu had long been settled in asymmetrical beauty. Their nose was large, and its residence was to the side of the centre of its assigned location, where it lived in so respectable a manner (despite its barroom-brawl-busted stature) as to engage the general good opinion of its surrounding acquaintance. The late owner of these features was a mighty man, strong of sinew, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of his life, had a constant enemy and kangaroo molester in his sister. But her death, which he arranged ten years before his own, produced a great alteration in his visage; for to supply her loss, he invited and received into his face the fist of his nephew, Mr. Spfekhdghj...

...yep, I have a lot of time on my hands today :-)
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Tuesday, January 25, 2005 - 07:05 pm:   

:-)!

Reading your Austentatious prose started one of my days, just recently, with a good laugh! Where I've been (since I've been absent):

1. Taking care of a sick baby.
2. Being sick.
3. In the middle of a blizzard. We now have miniature Mount Everests up and down our street.

Did I mention that I recently found out (from my mother, who is a pediatrician) that babies are capable of catching one cold after another their first winter, so that they spend the entire winter with coughs and sniffles and general crankiness? Funny that she didn't tell me this before the birth of her granddaughter! (Prospective parents, be warned!)

But we're both better now . . .
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Wednesday, January 26, 2005 - 02:57 pm:   

Glad you're both feeling better!
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Theodora Goss
Posted on Saturday, February 05, 2005 - 08:33 am:   

Thanks, Melissa!
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Melissa Mead
Posted on Sunday, February 06, 2005 - 03:13 pm:   

You're welcome!
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Amal
Posted on Saturday, January 07, 2006 - 05:32 am:   

I just read Joanne Harris' Chocolat today, and it's one of the best, loveliest books I've read in a long time ('course I'm just coming off a grad diet of Milton, Marvell, Thomas Hardy and various nineteenth century "novelists of fashion"... All very, very interesting, but not so much on the adoration scale). I loved the movie, but love the book better. It's so delightful and surprising by turns.

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