Thursday, December 31, 2009

On Friendship

I wish I had friends. I see all these people who are part of a real group of people to which they belong. I see people loving others and sharing with others knowing they'll be understood. I wish I had that. It costs me to say it because it sounds like I can't be on my own and need other people to be dependent on to live. I thought that in coming to Oxford I would have more of a chance to finally have this life, to stop feeling so alone even in a room full of people. First of all, I'm in an English-speaking country. You've probably noticed everything I'm interested in is in English - I can't help it. I wish it could be different, it'd be easier if I found things in French to be infinitely more interesting than things in English, but I don't. It's a coincidence and I wish it were different and easier but I can't help it. It's not my fault that most, almost all, of my favourite things happen to be in English. At "home" (but isn't home where the heart is?) nobody understands what drives me, what makes me feel alive. It's different here, even if I didn't meet anybody I'd consider a friend, everything is eerily familiar, because the culture is more mine than "home" is. I wish I could never leave this place.
So why can't my hopes come true? I had great expectations when coming here, as I said, and yet today I'm as lonely as ever and don't know whom to call to complain about homophobic people in my neighbourhood and dream of a world where pansexuality would be the norm.
Am I cynical? Maybe. I don't know exactly. Most of the people I meet seem to be content with very simple things which I personally find simplistic and therefore dangerous. Perhaps I over-analyze, perhaps I ask too much and give too little.
I am hugely interested in fandom but don't feel like I belong there either. A lot of the people I meet are huge Disney fans - I can't stand Disney. It's moralistic in the worst way, racist (Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Aristocats) conservative (mariage is still everybody's goal), misogynist (do I need to give you examples? Seriously?) and full of saccharine (boy meets girl, happily ever after, birds sing and dress women up for crying out loud). I don't like musicals - people seem to love them, it makes them happy. I find them cheesy and forced. I don't celebrate Christmas, I'm an agnostic becoming more and more of an atheist with every passing day and I don't understand how even irreligious people can think it's okay to have a special day of the year to show others you love them. I'd say "I love you" every day if I had anybody I felt that towards, not just one day a year. I don't like animés - the girls are weak or used for their sexual availability, the humour is not mine, the interesting themes not developed enough for me. I'm not sentimental. I don't see life as a constant search for the perfect couple. What would interest me, at best, would be friendships because people have things in common, not love stories although I'd argue that friendship is love. Babies do nothing to me, it's not because people or things are small that they are pretty. Innocence does nothing to me, people call innocence what should be called ignorance. I don't believe in essentialism, I've already said it here but conversations that start with "men are" and "women are" make me want to break something. Men are not, and women are not. Pre-constructed ideas of what women should be and men should be according to an arbitrary model are not a way to keep me interested. Same goes for "the (insert favourite nationality here) are". Determinism can be, and thank humanity for that, conterbalanced by free will. We all have a brain, use it. I can't be bothered with people who haven't even reached that stage of understanding.
Perhaps it makes me a cynic indeed, but I'd like to thing of myself as a realist. I don't sugar-coat and can't stand cowards who do.
I'm interested in philosophy, in questioning the "why" behind everything and finding foolproof concepts to live by (why no death penalty? "it's not human" is not foolproof, if you were serious about having a strong point of view you'd see that and try to find something else. Personally, I say that mistakes are human and if a judge sentences a person to death and after the death further evidence makes it clear that the person was innocent, there's no way to repair anything, whereas if the person is still alive, things can be done. Right now that's the point I've reached, I'd like to find even stronger arguments when DNA tests make it clear the accused is the culprit). I stick to them. At the same time, I'm desperately interested in fiction, in how ideas that I have or should have can work in stories that to me could be real. It gives me hope. My favourite works of fiction depict my utopia. Always.

So there you have it. I know some people think I'm cold because I question "the child in them", whatever that means. It just leaves me frustrated and heartbroken to see people my age or even older haven't bothered to do what I did, which is to move on and look for truth. But it's nothing compared to shallow people who love the same works I do but because the physical appearance of this actor gives them a model to project their fantasies on (fantasies that include Mills and Boon-like scenes, mariage and children). On the other hand you can't deny I'm extremely passionate about some things. More than anything I wish to find in friendship is understanding, I can't explain what seem to be the most basic things to me to my friends, they have to come with this baggage already. But they also have to be passionate about worthy works of fiction which gives them a way to look at life in the face. Is it too much to ask for humanists who are free and open and would dance with me to Glenn Miller, go take Charleston classes and regroup to swap excellent books we read and for marathons of Gilmore Girls which we would watch for Lorelai, Rory, Paris and Emily? Apparently it is. I've been looking for them for 21 years and I'm still looking.

I have no idea why I'm posting something so personal here. I should buy a diary. I'm glad to have the comments turned off in moments like these as I'm definitely not looking for any.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)


Guess who has tickets to the Glenn Miller Orchestra concert on January 23? That's right! And row C if you please because I jumped on the chance as soon as I saw this performance on next year's schedule. Saying that I can't wait is a massive understatement.
I don't know yet if I want to post a reminder of what I loved this year, 2009 was pretty bad in terms of new discoveries. September was the worst month of them all and it's a wonder I survived it. 2010 is likely to be as busy as I'll be preparing a really hard exam to sit in June 2011 (only 10% of those who sit pass). But none of that now. I have new names to be excited about so without further ado, let me introduce you to...

P.G. Wodehouse. Now why, why did I wait so long? His books are a complete riot. I grabbed an omnibus at random from the library and it ended up being an omnibus of his last two Jeeves and Wooster novels, Much Obliged, Jeeves and Aunts Aren't Gentlemen, but no matter, they stand well on their own, some references to previous stories were lost on me but not so much that I felt lost. I fell head over heels for him. I am SO glad he was such a prolific writer - he wrote several series of books and a whole shelf worth of stand-alone titles. Jeeves is Wooster's sparkling and bright valet (now that's social commentary for you, that the valet should by far be smarter than the gentleman - by the way, did you know that a valet serves a person whereas a butler serves a house? Fascinating stuff). The latter is terribly slow-minded and gets himself into tricky situations Jeeves saves him from. It's seriously hilarious, their dialogs are an absolute delight and Wooster's utterly eccentric world of the idle rich is captivating and extremely well-captured. The books are formulaic so having read one is having read them all. That being said, both Much Obliged, Jeeves and Aunts Aren't Gentlemen are absolutely excellent and I'd be sorry to miss out on any book by Wodehouse, formulaic or not. I'm well aware of the existence of the TV show starring Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Wooster, which I'll most likely start watching very soon. I sure hope they've done something different with the characters as I'll be reading the books and wouldn't want to be told the same story twice.

I also finished Author, Author by David Lodge. I'm not sure it was such a wise choice to start with this book as an introduction to Lodge. The novel is in fact a biography of Henry James in the form of a novel so the voice was really James' and not the author's. It was enjoyable enough, even though I came to dislike the author, the secondary characters were interesting enough to keep me going. At least, it convinced me I absolutely need to try Oscar Wilde next year as I've delayed this discovery long enough.

In terms of movies, I saw a few but only two stood out. Coco avant Chanel (2009) isn't a very good movie - it's a romance, and romances bore me to tears unless they're funny. This one wasn't. Still, Gabrielle's personality won me over, she's a woman who knows what she's capable of, is honest to the point of bluntness, and doesn't accept charity from anyone on the grounds that she's a woman. She's an orphan and laughs at the eccentricities of the idle rich while she makes sure she finds a job to look after herself. At the turn of the 20th century, it's quite remarkable. She freed women from corsets and created pieces of clothing that were both comfortable and classy so women could breathe and laugh.

It Happened one Night (1934) is believed to be the first screwball comedy - it's one of these movies I'd always planned on watching but up till now I was always keeping it for last as I've reached the end of my list of screwball comedies to check out. Claudette Colbert plays Ellie, an heiress who flees her father's tyranny, meets Peter (Clark Gable playing a journalist) on her way to New York and after a while, falls for him. I've expressed my dislike for Clark Gable before but I'll admit he's actually pretty good in this picture. Their exchanges are quite funny for a while as Ellie does everything in her power to escape Peter whom she doesn't like but as in all screwballs, initial negative reaction leads to witty banter which in its turn leads to realization of true feelings. Colbert is a great actress, I'm glad I finally watched a movie with her.

Have you ever felt that a work of fiction had been created for you and just for you? It's actually different from loving a work to pieces, I'm talking about things you had no idea were in you but which a work of fiction made you realize had been here for as long as you could remember but you didn't have enough vocabulary to express it accurately? It happened to me once with The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, it was terrifying. And it's happened to me this week again, with music. This time I don't feel terror as much as relief. Django Reinhardt's music, The The Temperance Seven's music and Chris Barber's music are simply me. I've beaten around the bush for so long, feeling it was here, closer to who I was but not quite and then I stumbled upon them and it was a complete shock. Finally. Home. Reinhardt pretty much created gypsy jazz, The Temperance Seven and Chris Barber make the most incredibly catchy big band music ever. The Temperance Seven's rendition of The Charleston may just be my favourite song. I want to learn how to dance the Charleston so bad. It reminded me of Mad Men. In My Old Kentucky Home, an episode from season three, Pete and Trudy dance to that. They're complete show-offs but I would kill to be them for just the duration of this dance. So here are several things:

First of all, a contemporary rendition of Reinhardt's Minor Swing:

Django Reinhardt performing The Sheik of Araby:

Chris Barber and his band performing Bobby Shaftoe:

The Temperance Seven's rendition of The Charleston and Black Bottom:

And finally Pete and Trudy dancing to an instrumental version of The Charleston:

That's likely to be my last post of 2009. Have excellent fun with the rest of December, I'll catch you next year!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why Rachel Berry's a role model

I'm not done with Glee. Not yet. I've already said what I thought about the show so I won't say it again. But I still think Rachel Berry (played by the incredible Lea Michele) is one of the best things to happen to television in years.

Here is an article explaining why she's such an amazing role model:

"All of the pieces were there for her character to be a power-hungry manipulator in the mold of a Tracy Flick or a sad-sack Cinderella of a social outcast who only comes alive and sheds her wallflower ways when she sings. But Rachel Berry is neither. She’s written as a complex, mercurial character. She films MySpace Le Mis tributes in her bedroom and announces to the school celibacy club that, believe it or not, high school girls want sex every bit as much as boys do. She can throw a diva hissy fit over not getting a coveted solo in one scene and then extend her hand in friendship to her former tormentor and the girlfriend of her crush in the next. And I love her for it.

How utterly refreshing is it to see a young female primetime character whose entire focus or major story arc doesn’t revolve around relationship drama and/or getting/keeping/deceiving/ditching a boy? Sure, Rachel pines for the sweetly dumb Finn, but she’s pragmatically resigned to his current status as Quinn’s baby daddy-to-be. And Rachel has bigger fish to fry anyway. She’s convinced that she’s going to be a star and damned if girl doesn’t have the ambition, confidence and straight-up vocal chops to back up her Broadway dreams.

Sure, Rachel’s got her flaws. She’s bossy, abrasive and high maintenance, but these are all tempered by self awareness. She knows she’s bossy, abrasive and high maintenance and will candidly own up to it. And she’s also achingly vulnerable – admitting that she wants glee club to succeed because being part of something special makes you special by proxy, confiding in Puck that her problem is that she wants everything too much and harboring an unspoken but all-too-evident fear that it’s only for the sake of her talent that people deign to associate with her at all. The insecurity behind the theatrics is more than enough to offset her occasion bouts of know-it-all-ism and social tone deafness.

Glee might be a giddy, implausible (Terri’s fake pregnancy, Sue Sylvester’s, well, everything), over-the-top romp, but Rachel rings true as complicated young woman who knows exactly who she is, but still struggles to balance meeting her own self-imposed type-A expectations with her desire for peer acceptance and friendship. TV and especially young women who watch TV need more Rachel Berrys to relate to."

And here's proof of Lea Michele's talent, her rendition of Don't Rain on My Parade. Lea is the only person who has ever made me consider giving Broadway theatre yet another chance. Lea has just been nominated for a Golden Globe. My vote goes to her.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Between the lines

I think I'd like to post little updates about things before posting my usual "this is what I enjoyed reading/watching/listening to recently."
I'd been meaning to read P.G. Wodehouse for a long while now and it's only recently that I decided to borrow an omnibus from the library. Long story short - I was in the middle of Much Obliged, Jeeves when I decided to check out the group dedicated to P.G. Wodehouse on LibraryThing, The Drones Club. I read a few posts and a few of my favourites were written by Rule42 so I checked his/her profile which is very detailed and in which he/she gives an extensive list of his/her favourite authors. I agreed with a lot of what was said about literature in general and our tastes (humour, humanism) seem to match quite a bit (even though we only have two books in common, both by Evelyn Waugh (whom I've never liked but I might give him yet another chance, religion is my problem when it comes to him). So I did my research and added a lot of books to my list before heading for the library. Here's my To-Be-Read Pile:

1. Wodehouse Omnibus 5 (to finish, I have two stories left, having read the novels)
2. The Rachel Papers - Martin Amis (Rule42 loves his father but I figured I might as well add Martin's first book to my pile as well)
3. Jeeves in the Offing - P.G. Wodehouse
4. Something Fresh - P.G. Wodehouse
5. Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K Jerome (this one was here before I "met" Rule42)
6. The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters (finally! I had to make a reservation for this one as all the copies are impossible to get hold of unless you specifically have it put aside for you)
7. The Grand Sophy - Georgette Heyer (this one was here before as well, I don't like Heyer much, I've read two books by her and her heroines are so weak, she seems to be a solid favourite for many people though and I'd hate to miss out so I'm giving her another chance)
8. Trouble for Lucia - E.F. Benson (was here before - it's not even the beginning of the series but that's all I could find at the library when I went)
9. The Old Devils - Kingsley Amis (his son Martin's favourite)
10. Crome Yellow - Aldous Huxley (best known for A Brave New World which I couldn't find)
11. The Code of the Woosters - P.G. Wodehouse
12. Author, Author - David Lodge (I wanted Changing Places, which is the first book in a series but this will do, it sounds interesting. This line in the blurb won me over: "Thronged with vividly drawn characters, some of them with famous names, Author! Author! presents a fascinating panorama of literary and theatrical life in late Victorian England.")
13. The Sirens of Titan - Kurt Vonnegut (this line in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction won me over: "A fine and complex satire about the folly of mistaking good luck for the favour of God". Also, a reviewer on Amazon said "if you've never read Vonnegut, this is the place to start")
14. Swing Swing Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman - Firestone (apparently the definitive biography of the man, I love his music so much)
15. Burr - Gore Vidal (oh dear, can I just say, FINALLY! I've been wanting to read Vidal for the longest time but I never knew where to start. Well, this is it! I was going to start with his essays but couldn't track a decent collection anywhere so I settled for fiction. Burr is the first in a series of chronicles of the US entitled "Narratives of Empire". It wasn't the first to be published but it's the first chronologically. Historical fiction at last. Took me a while to find something I desperately wanted to read in that genre but I'm absolutely looking forward to reading it!)

I also entered a contest here to win a copy of Thank You, Jeeves in its Everyman Wodehouse edition (a gorgeous hardcover book). Fingers crossed as I'm planning on collecting them all in this edition but don't have much money, being a student.

I have to dash - today's Dissertation Day, I'm currently analyzing how the "in the next episode" trailers at the end of Sense and Sensibility (2008) and Emma (2009) participate in the dramatization of the story. Great fun!

I didn't buy or borrow this but I thought the title was most appropriate. Be dangerous with me?


Thursday, November 19, 2009

The title of this blog, as I explained when I opened it, is a direct reference to Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, one of my favourite novels. Here it is in its entirety:

But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.

Follows a very dull list of quotations that are so generic they couldn't be useful to anybody (which is the point). Catherine, despite everything, is the heroine of this book. I am personally in training for a heroine - always trying to be a better person, and this journal is my attempt to be just that, through works of fiction because I'm a great believer in the power of texts (be they books, movies, shows, music) to change lives. As you've probably noticed, they're changing mine everyday!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy Birthday!

In Training for a Heroine turns 1 today! I'm obviously still in training and looking forward to a new and exciting year. This blog has proven to be everything I imagined: a place for me to talk about things I'm passionate about in the way that suits me best. I have never ever seen it as work so let's hope I'll have as much fun with it as I do now. I wish I could expand it, buy a new layout and perhaps a domain. We'll see how it goes. In the meantime, please help yourself to some coconut cake!

Background music: The Andrews Sisters


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My God! How the Money Rolls in!


Hey there! This journal always reminds me of how much I love my life. So here I am, listening to the amazing Boswell Sisters and writing about some of my most recent delights.

I read a great book entitled Anything Goes: A Biography of the Roaring Twenties, written by Lucy Moore. I read another book about the 20s earlier this year (also excellent), Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern by Joshua Zeitz. However, while the latter focuses exclusively on women in the 20s, the former is about the 20s as a whole in the United States, or at least the gist of it. It works only if you include precise portraits of precise people and include them in a broader narrative of what happened on a national level. Lucy Moore does that very well, the word "biography" is really accurate - you learn as much about Al Capone's life , Bessie Smith's career (I loved that part of the book) as you do about Black Tuesday, the Scopes trial and the revival of the Ku Klux Klan. I like reading about this decade a lot, as you may have noticed, because in a way, it's a completely anachronistic era, sandwiched between two world wars, full of extremes. I like the cultural aspect of it a lot - a lot of the music and a lot of the films, but Moore makes it clear the decade was only roaring for a certain category of people only. In short, if you were white and could afford the excess, you could probably have a good time in the 20s. Not so much for the majority of people, though. I found it interesting that in her portrayal of the Fitzgeralds, Lucy Moore differs a bit from Joshua Zeitz. While Zeitz's section devoted to the couple is more complete, Moore's understanding of them is perhaps greater. They sure had an interesting life and even if a lot of it wasn't happy, it becomes clear really quickly that they did enjoy a great part of it. That's completely out of topic but the covers to both the paperback and the hardback editions are gorgeous. I could find no information about the artist, though - such a shame. Lucy Moore's bibliography is divided into chapters and she adds helpful comments for people to go further - I certainly will.

I also read two of Philip Pullman's books - The Tin Princess, which is the last book in the Sally Lockhart series, and Count Karlstein, a part novel part graphic novel book. I enjoyed them both, although my favourite book by him will probably forever be The Tiger in the Well, the third book in the Sally Lockhart series. In The Tin Princess, Sally doesn't make more than an appearance as the focus is on a much younger heroine - as usual, the plot is challenging as the political intricacies are very hard to understand but I feel are worth it in the end. The characters are really full of life and colourful even though they're not as developed as the characters from former books are, which does make them look like stereotypes. I thought the end was completely and utterly ridiculous, it reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe, and not in a good way. Still, I found enough to enjoy.
Count Karlstein was a lot better. I was very pleasantly surprised at all the author could do in such few pages. The book was so funny, to begin with. Two girls escape their uncle's castle where a terrible end awaits them and they meet several characters while on the run. It's a parody of Gothic literature, which is always hilarious anyway, and in this the characters are simply wonderful. A woman named Miss Davenport made a lasting impression on me.

I read another good graphic novel - Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale, her take on the fairytale, in which Rapunzel saves herself and wouldn't be out of place in a saloon. The book was hilarious - fairytale clichés are poked fun at, and the story is highly entertaining. Here's what may be my favourite comic strip:

Now to moving pictures. I haven't seen a movie I liked in its entirety in a long, long while. The Purchase Price (1932) was a complete mess and yet some scenes were enjoyable on their own if you can forget the general structure and think of it as a series of shorts starring one of my favourite actresses, Barbara Stanwyck. However, I literally fell in love with the first part of Blonde Crazy (1931) starring James Cagney and the fantastic Joan Blondell. I must say I was really impressed with James Cagney's acting, I will definitely watch more movies with him. Bert (Cagney) makes sure Anne (Blondell) gets a job and that's how they meet. Very quickly, though, Bert reveals himself as a con with a heart and he convinces Anne to join him in tricking rich people (some very clever tricks there, my favourite being one in which Bert manages to steal a very expensive bracelet by placing it on a rich man's account and then lying about his identity to retrieve it once he goes to the rich man's place to take the bracelet away from the servants). The first half was so enjoyable - I don't think I have EVER seen that much slapping in a movie in my entire life. Anne doesn't take anything from Bert, when he's going to far, her answer is simple: she makes him think he's tricked her too but then she delivers a witty line, slaps him, and leaves. It must happen more than 10 times in the movie. The sexual innuendo is extremely funny as well as Bert's lines are barely toned down. Some scenes are complete classics: at some point, Bert tries to enter the bathroom when Anne is taking a bath, the audience sees both Anne in her bath and Bert at the door, then Bert leaves and tries to find the money Anne has hidden... in her bra. The moralistic end was a huge disappointment, and I do mean huge because I was enjoying myself until they decided to turn this movie into yet another sentimental "I'll wait for you forever while you go to prison for your crimes" story. It deserved better and I wish the director, Roy del Ruth, would have developed his vision until the very end. Shame for a pre-code.

James Cagney and Joan Blondell.

TV-wise, I gave up on two shows: Mad Men and Glee. I've always had a love/hate relationship with Mad Men but you can be sure I'm giving up for good now. This show has no point of view. You can't root for any of the characters - Joan makes quite a lot of racist comments in the second season, Pete is a rapist - I'd like to think the creator is saying that a rapist isn't special, you can't recognize him. A rapist is your milkman, a rapist is your co-worker, a rapist is your neighbour. I don't think the show is that smart, though, let's face it. Don and Betty, I have so many issues with these two I don't even want to go there. And the show has no point of view. It just films that, and moves on to the next shot. I hate this show. That's not being subtle, that's being in denial.

Glee. Oh dear, Glee. I watched it for quite a few episodes because it was catchy (clearly not my type of music as you may have noticed but still), the actors are obviously very dedicated and also I loved the characters. Rachel is one of the main characters - she gets a lot of criticism for being focused, for knowing what she wants and for going for it because she knows that if she's not the one who's going to audition for a part and been given more solos, nobody's going to do it for her. I personally see nothing wrong with that. Go Rachel. No, she doesn't need your help and she does what she wants. So obviously people hate her. Because she's her own person and she's a girl. Quinn is a cheerleader who knows what she wants and she's mean. People hated her at first, and then loved her because, guess what, Quinn is pregnant and she's lost about it. Quinn needs help, so Quinn is loved.
See where I'm going here?
Another BIG issue for me: Emma. Emma is a woman who works at the school the glee club is at. She's in love with a teacher who's married. He's miserable with his wife. Emma is the kind of person I want to shake and yell at. She longs to be with Will, but Will is married. So what does Emma do? She says yes when a complete ass she doesn't even like proposes to her. Because that's what women do in 2009. Right? WRONG. I can't believe they're actually writing a female character who prefers to be married to a guy she hates than be on her own and make her own happiness.
And then there's Sue. Sue is a witty character. She's funny because she's entirely mean and completely focused on what she wants: to win. Sue gets excellent one-liners and everything that comes out of her mouth is quotable and witty. Right? WRONG. Because Sue is so incredibly over-the-top and delivers deadpan lines like nobody's business, she can get away with racism. I'm going to quote an excellent review I found on a blog:

“Oh, but they’re just using humour to defuse tension when dealing with complex issues.” No, they are not, they are using humour to avoid dealing with complex issues. People who really think like this watch Glee and have their norms reinforced, the takeaway from the show being that, yeah, being racist and ableist and sexist is fine and dandy. People who don’t share these norms get to watch Glee and not have to confront the realities of how damaging these norms are, because the show glosses over them to make them all fuzzy and family friendly.

Here’s the thing: When you are in a position of privilege, you really do need to be reminded of that. You need to see the way in which your privilege can be harmful, can be a tool of oppression. If you don’t, you aren’t going to learn about how to manage your privilege. Glee does not make people uncomfortable (unless they are extremely aware of these issues). It just uses oppression as a humour vehicle. Which, can I say, yuck?"

So I stopped watching Glee. A few catchy songs don't make it okay.

Speaking of catchy songs, I know I've already mentioned Louis Prima here but he's truly one of my favourite singers. Louis, Keely Smith and Sam Butera would probably the three singers I would bring with me on a desert island because if we have to die, at least let's die swinging. Their songs are hysterical. Angelina and There'll Be No Next Time are some of my all-time favourites. I love singers who have so much fun they constantly ad-lib. That's music for me.


Sam: But he took me to see
that little friend of mine

Louis: Oh that little motha'


Louis: I remember him

Sam: ROOM 229!!

Louis: Yeah! He was crazy!

Sam: He said sam
Your payments are wayyy behind
I said don't worry judge
It won't happen next time

Louis: What'd he say?

Sam: He said mmmmmmmmmmm Next time
There'll... be no next time
You're going to jail right now.

That's it! Tell me quick, wasn't that a kick in the head?

Groucho Marx


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Out and About (?)

This is a depressing post. I'm in Oxford and I'm a student. That means I don't have a salary at the end of each month and that means I'm not too far from London but not that close either. I'm going to list all the things I'm missing out on this year either because of money or because I don't feel like going back to Oxford alone in the middle of the night after a show.

1) Chuck Berry in concert in Oxford (New Theatre). That's what hurts the most, because I don't even know when he's going to tour again. Money problem and I only found out recently so the seats that remain are pretty dreadful and I would probably be better off listening to The Chess Box in my room for I doubt I'll see much of him from row R seat 16...

2) John Barrowman in La Cage aux Folles in London (Playhouse Theatre). I could have gone to a matinée and be back in Oxford early in the evening but it doesn't erase the fact that it's very expensive.

3) The Puppini Sisters in London (Pigalle Club). The show is incredibly cheap (£20) but it starts at 8pm and hotel rooms are so expensive in Piccadilly, I couldn't possibly pay for one so I'd have to go back to Oxford on my own in the middle of the night after the show.

4) The Rat Pack Live from Las Vegas in Oxford. It's a musical about Frank, Sammy and Dean with a real live band. Expensive. It's actually not that expensive compared to the others and it's in Oxford, reviews are very good, although some are mixed. Ultimately, though, I think I'll pass. I'd rather listen to Frank, Dean and Sammy, not people imitating them, even if most of the audience must go for the ambiance.

I can't believe I'm not a millionaire.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sibylle: A Manifesto

I started this blog on November 18, 2008, almost a year ago. So far, I've let my tastes speak for me but I think perhaps it's time I come out into the open. You won't find any picture of me but I think self-definition is important.

I'm a humanist. I'll take Wikipedia's definition because it's the broadest, strangely enough: "Twenty-first century Humanism tends to strongly endorse human rights, including reproductive rights, gender equality, social justice, and the separation of church and state." I'm an agnostic atheist ("the view of those who do not claim to know of the existence of any deity, but do not believe in any.") I tell people I'm an agnostic so they leave me alone.

Therefore I'm a feminist. "Women are not born, they're made." Hence my argument about why we still need feminism today: because a toddler doesn't care if the toy is pink or blue, because dolls are for everybody and cars for everybody. Society imposes its vision of gender differences from cradle to grave. I'm against that. It all goes against self-determination, and this for me is everything. The right to be whomever you are. Since we're talking about feminism, I might as well add right now: for me, getting married is admitting that you need state recognition for your love. I don't need the state to recognize my love for anybody or recognize my right to live or do whatever with whomever. I don't need marriage. On a practical side, divorces are too expensive, and I believe people should stay together if they feel they want to, not because they have to. In short, I don't believe in marriage.
I don't believe in having children either. I can be passionate about a lot of things and people but becoming a mother is beyond me. I refuse this. It's slavery: work for no pay, and actually it's expensive. I don't want my life to revolve around one person, I don't need this sense of purpose. My purpose in life, as far as I'm concerned, is to be happy and be the person I am.
I believe in open relationships, in catching moments of happiness whenever, I believe in being open and true and honest.

The reason I love Harry Potter so much is because it gave me, as Time magazine puts it, "social, moral and political inspiration". You can change what you think isn't right. There's an alternative to doing nothing and stare at the world. Take action. And the reason why I love Hermione is because she's the perfect example of this: "Get all the education you can, but then, do something. Don't just stand there, make it happen." (Lee Iacocca) Education is important because it gives you your weapons to be the change you want for the world. That's why I want to teach.

Sentimentality saddens me. It's terrible and yet so many people indulge in it. I avoid sentimentality at all costs. When I tell people I'm working on Jane Austen, I can see they think I'm on their side - the side of the people who think Jane Austen is sentimental, somebody who writes for women (oh dear), places marriage at the center of things (oh dear) and loves romantic things (oh dear). She's not any of these things. She's witty and would mock so many people's idea of her today. I don't read her for escapism, I read her before her writings are not neat, because Elizabeth fell in love with Darcy when she saw how grandiose Pemberley was, because Brandon fell for Marianne because he reminded her of his childhood sweetheart, because Tilney fell for Catherine because it was obvious she liked him. I love Jane because none of her marriages work. I love Jane because she laughs at people swooning over wet shirts, I love Jane because she's daring. I love Jane because she's funny. I love Jane because she's on the side of justice and because her wittiest characters always win. I love Jane because she would laugh at Twilight, and yet she's one of Stephenie Meyer's favourite writers (another one who hasn't read the same books I did, obviously). She would laugh at people relaxing on a Sunday night while watching a period drama. She hinted at things they don't pay attention to: people died from a cold, poverty was everywhere and could happen overnight, women were trapped and went from father to husband. I love Jane for all these reasons, not because I want to live in early 19th century (oh dear) and swoon each time I reread Pride and Prejudice because it's genteel.

I don't think anything was "better back then" or worse, "simpler". I love a lot of black and white movies (the idea of "classic" is disturbing, like there's the canon and then the rest, we can do better than that, come on) because the stories are great, not because they're glamorous. Love Crazy is the story of a couple having fun, The Shop Around the Corner is the story of two people who fall for each other because they really have things in common, mainly literature.

I don't think television is not as good as cinema. Television is just as good. Gilmore Girls for me is the story of women who are a lot like me, who reference works of fiction all the time because they know how much they influence their lives. It's the story of a woman who raised a daughter alone, of independent women who are exceptional because they are interesting for themselves, not because being paired up makes them interesting.

I'm passionate about good food. However, I don't like chocolate, coffee or most teas. Now that I'm at it, I don't drink alcohol, I don't smoke and I don't do drugs. Chocolate, tea and alcohol taste awful. Coffee smells incredible but tastes awful. Cigarettes smell awful. I'm not into destroying myself, I love life. Good food is high on my list of priorities.

I think most of all I believe in wit. Because there are so many funny details in life to miss out on these moments of fun. I'm looking for laughter in almost everything I do. Laughter and honesty, even bluntness. Because "people who are shocked need to be shocked more often" (Mae West said that, hear hear). Wit is hard to achieve because it raises you above a situation and makes you an observer, even if you're involved. I believe witty people are the best because they're subversive in the best way.

And this is Sibylle in a nutshell! I don't believe in changing for anybody. I know who I am. No excuses, no apologies, no regrets (that's Brian Kinney in Queer as Folk) - to me that means one has to be the best person they can the first time around and then, I say, it's take it or leave it.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood

I'm just back from the library and here's a teaser of things to come, the introduction to what I'm sure will be one of my favourite reads this year, Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood by Mick LaSalle.

"The best era for women on screen was not the forties, as has been commonly assumed. The best era had nothing to do with ladies with big shoulder pads and bad hairdoes watching their boyfriends light two cigarettes at the same time. It had nothing to do with women apologizing for their strength in the last ten minutes of every film. It had nothing to do with weeping and constant sacrifice and misery.
Those movies may be enjoyable. We may like those movies. But they don't represent the best in women's pictures.
The best era for women's pictures was the pre-Code era, the five years between the point that talkies became widely accepted in 1929 through July 1934, when the dread and draconian Production Code became the law in Hollywoodland. Before the Code, women on screen took lovers, had babies out of wedlock, got rid of cheating husbands, enjoyed their sexuality, held down professional positions without apologizing for their self-sufficiency, and in general acted the way many of us think women only acted after 1968.
They had fun. Tha's why the Code came in. Yes, to a large degree the Code came in to prevent women from having fun. It was designed to put the genie back in the bottle - and the wife back in the kitchen."

And that's when you know you've found a kindred spirit. I have a class today and I have a translation to finish but I can't wait to read the entire book!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Quick post to urge you all to head over to Obscure Classics - some truly excellent posts to be found there these days and many movies to add to my list of films to watch. Now go read and watch, and don't forget the popcorn. Shoo, shoo!

Charles Farrell and Mary Duncan on a still from The River (1929) by the wonderful Frank Borzage.

So when you said "I'll talk to you soon" I thought you meant "soon" like "soon", my mistake


Long story short: I'll be studying at the University of Oxford till June. I have a second dissertation to write this year (last year was about humour in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, this year it's about the 2007, 8 and 9 TV adaptations of 5 of her novels (everything except Pride and Prejudice, thank goodness, and that includes Emma that is currently being broadcast here in the UK as we speak) and I'm taking some classes on the side, just for myself. One of these classes is a general introduction to feminist theory. It's honestly one of the best classes I've ever taken: the lectures are open to everybody, even the general public who doesn't attend the University of Oxford so if you live in Oxford, I strongly recommend joining us - they take place each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 to 3pm in the Exam Schools (on High Street) in Room 11. The lecturers change every week and we focus on three different authors or directors each time. The lectures are very engrossing and I've learned a lot. They have me wonder why I didn't pick Women's Studies as my major.
Moving out has proven to be terribly time-consuming, which explains my silence. I'm trying to find a new rhythm and it's taking me a while but I'm still breathing and therefore I still need to talk about exciting things somewhere. My #1 reason for picking Oxford was that I could pretend I'd be attending Hogwarts and so far it's working really well. It's so easy to pretend I did receive my letter from Hogwarts - the center of town reminds me of Hogsmeade, it's a medieval village, really. My College is New College, one of the few whose common name isn't religious so I'm quite proud of that, it's really gorgeous. The scene in which Mad-Eye turns Draco into a ferret in the movie adaptation of Goblet of Fire was filmed in my college. You can watch it here. Haven't climbed up the tree yet, though, but just you wait.

The Radcliffe camera. Great loo, helpful staff.

One of the first things I did when moving in was join the local library - it's heaven not having to buy all the books I want to read. The first book I borrowed was Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. You'll perhaps remember that The Hunger Games, the first book in the trilogy, has been one of my best YA reads this year so I couldn't wait to get my hands on the sequel, Catching Fire. The problem is that Catching Fire is the second book in a trilogy and it shows. The thing is, I wanted to explain precisely why the book didn't live up to my expectations but rather made me even more impatient to read the third one but, as usual, I found somebody else who already said it all for me. Read this excellent review right here: this is what I think.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer got such positive reviews everywhere, perhaps my expectations were once again too high for it was really disappointing. It wasn't long enough for me to feel like I knew the characters and books actually don't play that big a part in this novel, the title is a tad misleading, although it was fascinating to learn about the Nazi Occupation of the Channel Islands (you can read something about it here on Wikipedia).
So it seems my only comfort in books for pleasure these days has come from an old friend: Angela Carter, whose Magic Toyshop was simply delightful. Her grasp of language is incredible - I know I've already stressed it but it needs to be said. I completely fell in love with the heroine of the book, Melanie, who has to grow in an oppressive environment and manages to do so in very surprising ways. I was really flabbergasted to find out the book was adapted as a movie in 1987. Out of curiosity, I'm really eager to see the result - the atmosphere of Angela Carter's books is so eerie I always feel animated movies would do them more justice.

Moving pictures now. Not much to say, I'm afraid. It's so very hard to find good things to watch, there are so few and far between. The first season of Skins did make a impression, though. I find this show refreshing - it focuses on a group of teenagers living in Bristol. The direction is completely different from what you're likely to have seen before, it's an odd mixture of extreme realism (in that the topics and the way they're dealt with are authentic and ring true) and very staged moments that gives the show a pretty unique visual identity. My favourite character is a girl named Cassie who is actually responsible for a lot of these staged moments - she's a tragic figure and she brings a Hitchcockian quality to everything she does, which makes for heartbreaking viewing. I recommend the show - even if it's a little too soapy sometimes, I'm very glad I found it.

Cassie Ainsworth played by Hannah Murray, who attends the uni of Oxford as well, it's a small world after all.

Some music to warm your heart. You should know my taste by now so I'm coming up with an artist who's a bit off the beaten path for me, but whom I adore unconditionally. Roy Orbison. Absolutely wonderful, I can't get enough of him. His voice is pure honey and his songs are incredibly generous - he gives and gives and gives. Most artists celebrate or narrate, Roy Orbison just showers the listener with gifts wrapped into notes, it's beautiful. He makes me want to drive my Ford Anglia convertible to new places.

Only the lonely
Know the way I feel tonight
Only the lonely
Know this feelin' ain't right

There goes my baby
There goes my heart
They're gone forever
So far apart


Have a good weekend!

The one and only Emma Thompson. Role model, really.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thoughts on feminism

I haven't posted anything here in ages. I love this journal dearly and it saddens me that my life seems to be too busy these days for me to take the time to properly talk about something. Frankly, it hurts, and you should probably expect a new post very soon because I can't go on like this for very long.
I just want to type something today because I was reading The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter (really good read, my third book by her and she's impressive every time) when someone told me they hated her, "she's such a feminist". This had me wondering:

Why do we still need feminism today?

Because when you enter a toy shop to buy a gift for a newborn baby, they still ask you if it's for a boy or a girl.

Talk to you very soon!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure: Potter Journal


This is something I've been wanting to do for ages and I finally took the plunge but a few days ago. I opened my Potter journal on LiveJournal, where I'll be talking about all things Harry Potter - my reactions to news, my thoughts about specific books, chapters, quotes, movies, events in fandom, excellent fanfictions, fanarts, music. Everything Potter is going to go on this journal and this journal only. I really need a dedicated space. So have a look if you're a fan of Jo Rowling. In order to comment on the Potter journal, you need a LiveJournal account - it's free and simple, and LiveJournal has some excellent communities you can join and users you can watch so I think it's really a great opportunity for you to discover all this. I have no current plans to reopen the comments on In Training for a Heroine, though. I also have no plans to give up In Training for a Heroine, on the contrary, I'm thinking about expanding it. I think that's it! I'm really excited about this, so let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

If music be the food of love, play on. - 60s Part Two

Part two's here! Just click on the name of the band to hear the music. I realise that most of these are British Invasion bands, so perhaps I should just have called this "The British Invasion post", but it wouldn't have been accurate because some of these bands are American, for example The Byrds (although lots of people think they're actually British - they were indeed very influenced by the British invasion) The Turtles, The Archies and 1910 Fruitgum Company. Bear in mind that several of the bands I'm listing kept on recording way after the 60s: my only criteria is that they started in the 60s.

The Archies
Sugar, ah honey honey
You are my candy girl

And you've got me wanting you.

The Tremeloes
Come on, twist little sister
To get that good night kiss.

The Byrds

Now, I've got to say
That it's not like before,

And I'm not gonna play

Your games any more.

After what you did
I can't stay on.
And I'll probably feel a whole lot better
When you're gone.

Freddie and the Dreamers

I'm telling you now
I'll say what you wanna hear
I'll be telling you for many a year
I'm in love with you

1910 Fruitgum Company
Put your hands in the air,
Simple Simon says,

Shake them all about,

Simple Simon says,

Do it when Simon says,

Simple Simon says,

And you will never be out.

The Searchers
Sugar and spice and all things nice
Kisses sweeter than wine
Sugar and spice and all things nice
You know that little girl is mine.

The Troggs
Wild thing...
you make my heart sing...

You make everything
I said wild thing...

The Turtles
Go lightly from the ledge,
Go lightly on the ground
I'm not the one you want,
I'll only let you down

Peter and Gordon
Birds sing out of tune
And rain clouds hide the moon
I'm OK, here I'll stay
With my loneliness
I don't care what they say I won't stay
In a world without love

The Zombies
Well, no one told me about her
The way she lied
Well, no one told me about her
How many people cried
But it's too late to say you're sorry
How would I know, why should I care?
Please don't bother trying to find her
She's not there.

The Yardbirds
To thrill you with delight,
I'll give you diamonds bright.
There'll be things that will excite,
To make you dream of me at night.
For your love.

The Who
Why don't you all fade away
And don't try to dig what we all say
I'm not trying to cause a big sensation
I'm just talkin' 'bout my generation.

The Mamas and the Papas

They say candy is sweet, but it just can't compete with you, baby.
You've got everything I need and nobody can please like you, you baby.

I think that's it. Turns out I enjoy more pop and more rock than I thought I did. But apart from a select few artists, I don't like contemporary pop and rock at all. I'm giving the names of bands that have nothing to do with one another apart from a decade (The Archies and 1910 Fruitgum Company are bubblegum pop, completely different from the rest) and this list ultimately makes no sense. But here it is anyway. Gordon (as in Peter and Gordon) passed away last month. There is only one surviving member of the Mamas and the Papas and none of the founding members of The Animals is still alive. Some of these bands had a very short career (Gerry and the Pacemakers, for example) but most keep on recording and performing today (The Hollies never stopped and never broke up), which I personally find amazing. I would love to go to a concert some day. The 60s was a very prolific decade - even though it's a shame I'll never get to see the original band members perform, I'm happy to look back now with all the advantages this music can offer without the drawbacks of actually living in this world 50 years ago.