Jane Austen's bicentenary

January 25, 2013

On the 28th of January Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice celebrates its 200th Birthday. Recently I wrote an article on it for my student newspaper.

Jane Austen’s ‘darling child’ celebrates its bicentenary

Pride and Prejudice, one of Austen’s most popular and arguably best-loved works, celebrates its bicentenary this January. So arises the question, why are we recognising this 200 year anniversary? What makes a novel, deeply routed in a time of traditional nuclear families and gender restrictions, still relevant to us today- in a world of increasing diversity, and single-parent families?

The playful wit and social commentary of 19th Century Regency England are imperative to critical scholarly debate, and contribute significantly to many of Austen fans’ admiration, without, crucially, seeming anachronistic. As evidenced through the number of homages, film adaptations and abundance of sequels, there is undeniably something timeless about her writing.

Her plots still feature in many of the nation’s favourite love stories and ‘chic flics’ today- think Bridget Jones’ Diary. The strength of this novel and its appeal must be partly derived from the happy ending, the perfect love story. 
Still, Pride and Prejudice includes an awareness of hierarchical superiority, marital necessity, and the plight of the poor. Perhaps it is thus the realism, particularly with regards to the obstacles to love or happiness, which makes for a novel that is still relevant- explored afresh in Bride and Prejudice (2004) with the introduction of a cultural hurdle.

Austen also includes a variety of stereotypes - caricatures, even, that live amongst us in society today.  We have conceited Mr Darcy juxtaposed with the benevolent Mr Bingley. Bingley respectively is a man who is ‘too nice’, alongside the ‘bad boy’, Wickham. Elizabeth’s passion is contrasted with Jane’s seeming reserve. Her characters are irresistible and engaging. The affecting and occasionally disconsolate emotions evoked in the love story are interposed with comical Mrs Bennett and even Lady Catherine De Burgh- the archetypal villain. 
If that wasn’t enough, Mr Collins, the sycophantic skin crawl inducing man, is depicted so vividly as to surely make him a contender for the least agreeable literary husband of all time. Essentially, what is revealed is Austen’s greatest skill: the formation of believable, three-dimensional, and timeless characters.

Even the National Curriculum has failed to put off a generation of students from these books. True, there are many who aren’t so enthusiastic and criticise Austen’s sparse plot line in which ‘nothing happens’, but this does little to overpower the popular admiration for the author and her works.
It seems that Austen’s works are here to stay. Celebrations have been organised across the country. The city of Bath is fully embracing its connection with her, and her books, by hosting a ‘Readathon’ on the 28th January in which celebrities, authors, politicians, and school children will read 10minute excerpts of her text. 2013 also boasts a number of biographies as well as new editions of the novel.
Jane Austen, 200 years later, lives on not only in legacy, but in the constant reinvention of her plot and the regeneration of her characters.


Winter warmers: Toad in the ... Sky?

January 17, 2013

We all appear to have experienced a little snow and the wintery cold seems here to stay. So return home from work, pop on the kettle, snuggle into your slippers and enjoy this beloved dish which promises to warm you all up.
Toad in the Hole is a traditional and well loved dish; what I am introducing is the most incredible twist on this. It truly is one of my very favourite meals: the perfect concoction of sausages, creamy and moist choux pastry, onions, and mustard. It is called Toad in the Sky, which alludes to the delightfully fluffy and comforting yumminess it offers!

500g sausages (or two per person)
275ml milk
50g unsalted butter
150g of plain flour
1 onion
4 eggs
mustard and seasoning

-Preheat the oven to 200°C
-Grill the sausages with the onion in a pan until lightly browned.
-Heat the milk and butter until boiling
-Beat in the flour all at once, until smooth.
-Now add the eggs gradually (let the mixture cool a little so that the eggs don't begin to cook)
-Butter a dish and place in enough batter to cover the bottom. 
-Cut the sausages in half and place them onto the layer of batter with the onions.
-Add in the remaining batter and bake for 40 minutes until golden.

Serve with plenty of vegetables of your choice, and a big dollop of mustard.

If you're in want of a warming and filling meal give this a go and I assure you there will be no turning back!

Do you have any favourite hearty winter meals?

Cup of tea break: 'You should date a girl who reads'

January 14, 2013

Today marks the start of a new series entitled 'Cup of tea break.' These will comprise of small posts to enjoy as a break, from work or revising, without feeling too guilty- hopefully. They should be on something I have found interesting lately or something I have recently learned.
Firstly an essay which will well suit all you book lovers.

You should date a girl who reads.
Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes, who has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.
Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she has found the book she wants. You see that weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a secondhand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow and worn.
She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.
Buy her another cup of coffee.
Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.
It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas, for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry and in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by God, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.
She has to give it a shot somehow.
Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.
Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who read understand that all things must come to end, but that you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.
Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.
If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.
You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.
You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.
Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.
Or better yet, date a girl who writes.
Rosemarie Urquico

Resolutions & The New Year

January 07, 2013

It is one week into a new year, by which time we have been sent into a frenzy of change and improvement, and most of us have made resolutions. Equally, a lot of us have broken them. This year I am not going to make any for several reasons.

I don't think that the 1st January 2013 is a significant enough date to convince me and motivate me to change something about my life or myself. Doing anything that would require change takes a lot of thought and can be most successful with good timing, but rushing a decision in time for the new year, without considering how I aim to accomplish it, would make it hard to achieve. 

Making a resolution doesn't have to be to make a drastic change, but surely if it wasn't in some way difficult or hard work then it could be easily done. What I'm saying is that there is little point in setting myself a resolution to do my laundry just in order for it to succeed.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't make a resolution just because it might fail leaving you feeling futile and hopeless for the following year, but feeling negative so early on is surely detrimental.

Equally I wouldn't deny that the New Year can be a time to reflect upon the previous year and to feel inspired and excited for the next.

So here are some (very obvious) tips if you are wanting to learn how to suck eggs making resolutions in the hope of getting fitter or healthier:

  • Set yourself accomplishable goals
  • Eat enough so that you don't feel the need to overindulge.
  • Do, in reason and sensibly, give way to cravings.
  • Go to fitness classes, (which have a set time) if convincing yourself to go to the gym at an unspecified time is difficult.
  • Do exercise that you enjoy, and eat healthy food that you actually like. 

Be happy and optimistic and don't stress about your resolutions, but think about them as a guide for the direction in which you would like your following year to follow.

As I said, I don't think I will make resolutions per se, but rather targets and goals. I think the new year does offer a  sense of the new, a sense of the achievable, and a sense of inspiration.

So I will leave you with a few inspiring quotes which are relevant to me or that I hope will guide me a little:

“I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” 
 Oscar WildeThe Picture of Dorian Gray

“Your 20’s are your ‘selfish’ years. It’s a decade to immerse yourself in every single thing possible. Be selfish with your time, and all the aspects of you. Tinker with shit, travel, explore, love a lot, love a little, and never touch the ground.”
Kyoko Escamilla

"She believed she could so she did."

"Don't chase people. Be you, do your own thing and work hard. The right people who belong in your life will come to you and stay."

Happy New Year!

A Review: Villette, Charlotte Bronte

January 02, 2013

This Christmas I read 'Villette' by Charlotte Bronte enjoyed with many a mince pie, and the occasional Sherry, Gin & Tonic, or Baileys whilst snuggled up on the sofa.

Summary: The novel follows the life and psychology of Lucy Snowe, an observant and passive orphan. She has little sense of belonging and we follow her from England, when living with her godmother, to the French town of Villette. Here she teaches at a boarding school where she encounters teachers and pupils who offer interesting characters whose study provides a large basis of the novel itself. Lucy experiences loneliness and isolation, love, heartbreak, adventure, dissatisfaction, and a desire for independence. The novel offers an intimate acquaintance with her psychology and leaves us with an ambiguous ending.

My thoughts:
I read Jane Eyre and loved it; I liked this book too and in several ways it is similar.
The disappointment I felt is also similar: it is predominantly the plot line which proves unsatisfactory, everything is a little too coincidental and a little too unlikely. However, if one can ignore these contrived circumstances our focus shifts onto the language used to express the feelings in these novels. 
In this aspect, I love Charlotte Bronte and her exploration into the depth of her characters. Lucy Snowe is full of contradictions which is what makes her so realistic; she is reserved and self-controlled yet experiences extremes of emotion that lead to her physical degeneration. 
We are made aware of the patriarchal constructs that determine her actions or provide the voice of retribution.
We recognise the conflicts that Lucy faces with regards to gender roles in education, in cultural elements, and between Protestantism and Catholicism.

If you were left wanting more after Jane Eyre I recommend having a read of Villette. It is an interesting study of character, although quite a slow read due to its very minimal plot.