27 Sep 2014

How Everybody Dies in Shakespeare's Tragedies

Throughout his successful career as a playwright, Shakespeare wrote 17 comedies, 10 tragedies, and 10 histories - all that along numerous sonnets of the amount of 154. It goes without saying that tragedies imply killing the main character, or, as it is in case of Shakespeare, multiple characters. And sometimes, it is not the matter of who, but how. Stabbed? Poisoned? Drowned? Strangled? The world of inventive murder is very diverse, so making a proper catalogue is quite a necessary thing - that's exactly what Caitlin S Griffin did. According to her list, Shakespeare usually kills his characters by having them stabbed. Second popular would be poisoning followed by being hanged or beheaded. But it doesn't stop there: sometimes heroes die from a broken heart, lack of sleep, and even grief and shame. And also from eating hot coal (wtf, Portia??).

Some deaths are ridiculous and very inventive. Check them out yourself!
*Timon of Athens, the 10th tragedy of Shakespeare, is not included here

16 Sep 2014

Book Review: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
Publisher: New Amer Library Classics (2009)
Genre: Realistic fiction
Buy from Amazon
Sinopsis: A great American novel about a young girl who leaves her small hometown in the Midwest to Chicago where she climbs her way up, successfully realizing the American Dream at the cost of sacrificing her humanity.

To begin with, Theodore Dreiser is one of my most favourite authors. He writes in the genre of realistic fiction, which at first glance is as simplistic as it gets. On the contrary, however, it requires vast imagination, incredible talent and big scrupulosity for details. In addition to all that, Dreiser has an ability to emphatize with the main characters yet remaining objective and impartial at the same time, letting us, readers, be the judge. Which, reading Sister Carrie, can be quite difficult as this story is a true double-edged weapon. You can condemn Carrie's actions, labeling them as "immoral". And yet, giving it another thought, taking a closer look at her situation, you wonder whether you too wouldn't choose her choices... 

When reading Sister Carrie, the thing that always amazed me was Dreiser's skill to describe boring little details of the everyday life. Routine, littleness, dullness is suddenly interesting. And thinking together with the main character about how to survive on four and a half dollars per week, how to settle accounts with the baker whom you've been owing money for months, how to pay for rent, where to buy food cheap and how to still look presentable when you are completely drowning into poverty, is everything BUT boring. So I'm sure that, even if you won't like the story itself, you will definitely enjoy the novel's flow and Dreiser's writing style.

The story, however, is very enjoyable, too and, most importantly, requires some soul-searching. It opens with Carrie - a typical material girl. She wants to have lots of shoes and dresses, and she doesn't want to break her back working in a sweatshop to get that. Fortunatelly, almost as soon as she comes to Chicago, she meets Charlie Drouet, the salesperson, who liberates Carrie from financial difficulites and makes her his lover. This "deal" makes Carrie feel guilty and uncomfortable... at first. But when Drouet surrounds her with commodities and she gets a taste of nice clothing, she forgets about her shame and asks more and more from Drouet. And when her lover is suddenly not able to satisfy her appetite, Carrie dumps him for another - Hurstwood, a family man. For Carrie, Hurstwood ruines his marriage, ruins his career, ruins his life and is finally left as a broken man. Meanwhile, Carrie becomes a successful self-made woman, who has everything she ever dreamt of: money, clothing, admirers, public acclaim, her own house...  Dreiser ends the novel with a final paragraph that characterizes her "success":
"Oh Carrie, Carrie! <...> Know, then, that for you is neither surfeit nor content. In you rocking-chair, by your window dreadming, shall you long, alone. In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel."
So are they really worth it, those materialist dreams? This is one of the numerous never-ending questions that Dreiser raises in his novel. 

Is Carrie really a horrible person for using men and living at their expense? What about those men, though - aren't they horrible too for using a young woman's youth for their own pleasure and comfort? Considering that all Carrie's lovers were always older than her and had more life experience, one can argue who really takes advantage of whom.

Is it really wrong to leave your man for another one? Do you really have to stay with a man merely out of gratitude for everything he's done to you, even when the romance is dead and you've become strangers to each other?

Is it really wrong to leave a man, who sacrificed his life for you, but who has then spiritually degraded, stopped taking care of himself, doesn't wish to look for a job and is ready to live at a woman's expense? Coming from work home to a pathetic, peevish man dissapointed in life just because you feel sorry for him? Would you choose that?

Carrie answered "no" to all of these questions, and, as reprehensible as one may find her actions, let's ask ourselves whether we could always remain noble and heroic when life is breaking us down. This is already a different story that begins as soon as the novel ends. 

9 Sep 2014

Happy Birthday, Mr. Tolstoy!

Today, in 1828, was born Leo Tolstoy - one of the greatest writers and philosophers of all time. A master of realistic fiction, Tolstoy was critically acclaimed in his early 20s with the semi-autobiographical trilogy Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth, which are now a must-read at Russian schools.

Tolstoy was anti-government and anti-church, as the authority of both he greatly contested. As a result, he was watched by the Russian secret police most of his life, and, at the end of it, he also got excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church (in 1901).

He was a complicated persona full of paradoxes and extravagant habits. Coming from a noble family (Tolstoy was referred as Count Tolstoy in the society), the writer liked to plough and sweat working hard in the fields among the common people and farmworkers, which constituted a solid slice of then Russian society. Tolstoy tried to understand how 'the soul of a peasant worked' but eventually gave this attempt up. Instead, he started making shoes that he gave as presents to his numerous family members. 

At the age of 18, Tolstoy began writing a diary - a habit he was faithful to his whole life. 
In honour of his birthday, Tolstoy's official web-page made public the rarest of the writer's notes - 55 diary journals, which have been kept within the Tolstoy family all this time, were digitalized so that everybody could have a better idea what kind of a person the writer really was.
You can download them here for free [only in Russian]. 

7 Sep 2014

Writers Who Had Good Taste

When it comes to writers, literary taste is considered to be their most, if not solely, important quality. But when it comes to people whose profession is a writer, it's not only their taste in words that we judge. It's their taste in many other things - manners, eloquence, gallantry, elegance, and, of course, their taste in clothing. After all, how else do you make an impression on people who haven't read your books yet?

1854-1900, Dublin-Paris

First thing that comes to mind when mentioning Wilde's name is his belles lettres, inexhaustible wit and most beautiful style of writing. A true jeweller of words, Oscar Wilde supplied many literary almanacs with famous aphorisms and deep insights into human nature.
It is known that his mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, used to dress little Oscar in girl's clothing - perhaps, to take revenge for having a boy instead of a long-wished girl.

In Oxford, Wilde was always ultra-fashionably dressed, sporting culottes (knee-breeches commonly worn in the late Middle Ages and early Rennaisance by upper-class gentlemen), silk stockings, lemon-coloured gloves, and a waistcoat embroided with flowers. Every piece he wore, however, was chosen with perfected taste of a true dandy. Just like Wilde's writing style, his clothes were always artful, memorable, and elegant.

Oscar loved neckties and neckerchiefs, buttonholes, and jabots. Usually he would always have a cigar or wear a stylish cane. And at winter a coat with a big fur collar was a must.

Oscar Wilde was a true reveller: he loved expensive things, first-sort hotels, restaurants, beautiful people - such as Alfred Douglas, also known as "Bosie". Wilde mercilessly spent his fortune on trying to please the young man, whom he spoilt with expensive gifts and whose every caprice he indulged.

1899-1977, Saint-Petersburg - Montreux

"I'm an American writer, born in Russia, educated in England, where I studied French literature before moving to Germany for fifteen years... My head speaks English, my heart speaks Russian and my ear speaks French." - Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov's famous phrase clearly characterizes his cosmopolitanism, which was mostly, of course, oblidged by his life circumstances. Born into the family of then-famous polititian, little Volodia got an excellent education at home.

Nabokov loved to read. He swallowed the books in impressively huge portions, and always seemed to be needing more. According to some sources, at his juvenile age Nabokov read about 3000 books in 3-4 years. By 14-15 years Vladimir had read, or re-read, complete works of Tolstoi in Russian as well as all works of Shakespeare in English and Flaubert in French. 

The light shade of aristocratism cultivated in Nabokov´s childhood also extended to his dressing, which, however, was always well-balanced without any kitchy details. Nabokov loved tweed jackets in light or dark colours, classic shirts and tennis outfits. The random visitors of Swiss forests, where the writer used to spend most of his spare time hunting for butterflies, were always amazed at this elderly but prompt and lively man wearing a cap and golf socks, running about among the thickets with a butterfly net.

Many people considered Nabokov to be lofty and arrogant mostly due to his elegant manner of speaking and ridiculously extensive vocabulary. And indeed, some of his novels are a hard nut to crack. In reality, however, Nabokov was a very friendly and cheerful person with a contagious laughter of a child. A child who was always wearing a superb, excellent-fitting suit.

Nabokov's suit Nielsen and Cie

Shoes Bata Goodyear

Writer's pince-nez and etui

1915-2005, New York - Connecticut

There is an opinion that Arthur Miller (not to confuse with Henry Miller) owes his fame to his even more famous wife - Marilyn Monroe. They were married for 4 years, and, of course, this marriage became the most examplary and immaculate in the U.S. society of the 20th century. 

He - a macho and an intellectual, supplying theatrical world with first-rate plays. She - the most gorgeous woman of her time. At the first glance, their relationship seemed quite unusual. It is known that it took Marilyn a year to win Miller over  - a tall, unarguably handsome and charismatic man, always with a pipe or a cigar in his mouth. The writer never stood out for being an eccentric in clothing: he preferred wearing classic suits, usually of white or black colours.

Miller saw Monroe as a serious dramatic actress, rather than another blond bimbo, as most people did. Magazine covers, Hollywood smiles on the photographs and a generally vanilla image of the couple was an antipode of their real relationship. Marilyn was difficult to handle - a sweetheart in the morning, by evening she used to turn into a demonic creature gulping down tons of sleeping pills. 

"Thanks" to Marilyn, for quite some time Miller lost his inspiration and ability to write - the owner of the myriad of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize (for Death of a Salesman), the author of most popular plays couldn't produce a single line. Nevertheless, Milled is considered to be one of the most productive writers of the 20th century. 

1835-1910, Missouri-Connecticut

"What can be more depressing than the somber black which custom requires men to wear upon state occasions? A group of men in evening clothes looks like a flock of crows and is just about as inspiring." - Mark Twain
In 1906 Twain suddenly began wearing exclusively white. But it seemed so perfect an image for him, that now it is impossible to imagine Mark Twain wearing any other colour.
The famous writer gave hygiene as his reason for preferring white - which was either a way of stirring up the attention of the society, or senile extravaganza. Or both.

On formal occasions, Twain would wear a suit of white broadcloth, "as immaculate as newly fallen snow", white enameled leather shoes, the coat, lined throughout with white silk, white velvet collar, white trousers with a white silk braid down the outside seams, and a huge white mane of hair instead of a hat. During the day, he preferred a light flannel suit - also white, of course.

It was only four years before his death when Mark Twain publicly announced that he would henceforward wear white because it corresponded to the original costume of one of the characters invented by him, Adam (Extracts from Adam's Diary). Shortly after his seventieth birthday, he also declared that he was old enough to wear whatever he desired.

"There is absolutely no comfortable and delightful and pleasant costume but the human skin. That, however, is impossible. But when you are seventy-one years old you may at least be pardoned for dressing as you please." - Mark Twain
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