‘North and South’ – Book of the Week

Just a quick one!

‘North and South’ by Elizabeth Gaskell particularly caught my eye as its perception of the North/South divide (in England) is still a widely discussed subject to this day. The North/South divide is a common phrase used and is the topic of many comical commentaries of English Society. The people of the North in the novel, as stereotyped today as well, tend to be; friendlier, drink more, poorer and tougher. Southerners are typically seen as stern, rich, well-educated, feeble and that stereotype of British people that America is in love with (think Hugh Grant). Though of course applying character traits to certain groups of people simply because they were born in Chelsea or York is hugely unfair and inaccurate, they are strong stereotypes which have lasted the test of time due to the relevance of ‘North and South’.

This book explores ideas of capitalism and socialism, left-wing and right-wing, class issues and cultural identity. Gaskell throws her hat into the ring of old money vs new money. A rich Londoner Margaret travels to the North and learns to see the beauty in the simplicity of the working-classes. She meets a business owner, Thornton, whom she expresses her distaste in his lack of welfare. He points out to her that he “started from the bottom now we here” (Drake) and that if he can do it with no help or handouts then so can anyone. This idea of a self-made rags-to-riches story is key in our social and political discussions nowadays. Lord Sugar of the UK’s Apprentice came from humble beginnings and now is a self-made billionaire. However, the argument could be made that perhaps people need a little boost in life to get them to where they need to be. Let’s take Donald Trump of America’s Apprentice (oh, and POTUS). Trump was given from his father a “small loan of a million dollars” and now is estimated to be worth $3.1 billion.

For Gaskell to summarise the debate of welfare would be to ignore the masses of pros and cons on either side and to close the book on one of the ongoing issues of the political sphere. I feel Gaskell used her novel in order to explore ideas on both sides, and exposed her characters to the other’s perspective. Although Gaskell lands on a fairly pro-welfare note by having Thornton increase the wages and working conditions for his employees, she does not overlook the importance of rugged individualism and self reliance. These issues explored are rather relevant even today, and that is why I recommend this novel to anyone interested in exploring politics in a narrative form.

 

Lots of love, Evie x

‘The Time Machine’ – Book of the Week

“Oh wow, you are blessing us with a second ‘Book of the Week’?” I hear you praise. Yes reader, I feel I need to make up for my sporadic (and by that I mean pretty much not at all) posting recently. Plus, I just finished this book and wanted to share with you my thoughts.

Hollywood owes a great deal to H.G. Wells’s classic ‘The Time Machine’. It has been the inspiration of works such as ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Planet of the Apes’, and even ‘Men In Black III’. Wells was a pioneer of the concept of Time Travel and used his writing to bring it into the mainstream consciousness.

The story goes that an unnamed time traveller goes to the year 802,701 AD and discovers than humans are the shared ancestor to two new species: the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi, the time traveller finds out, were the ruling classes. They are small, fair, beautiful, kind yet also very weak and stupid. The Murlocks were the working classes who now live underground. They are hairy and scary and speak only in grunts and screams. The time traveller spends his time with the Eloi as they look the most human and therefore he feels he can connect with them better. Yet, when he learns more about the Murlocks, he realises that he was unfair to judge them on their appearances as they are in fact closer to the humans the time traveller is used to. They may look like monsters, but they are intelligent and resourceful, and they are strongly family-orientated and hard-working. The time traveller then travels back to current day to tell his friends about his discoveries.

When I first picked up my copy of ‘The Time Machine’ I did not expect it to spark a deep conversation around class issues. A great deal of SciFi texts and films now are more focused on their special-effects, action scenes, and jamming in as many Pop-Culture references as possible instead of aiming to tackle bigger issues that society faces. In Britain today we do still have somewhat of a class structure, however nowadays it is more nuanced, less rigid and more allowing for social mobility. In 1895, when the text was published, ideas about welfare had only really been born. Before this time, the poor man was poor because he is lazy, or he is stupid, or he simply was not a good enough Christian. It was not because the nature of capitalism predisposes certain marginalised groups in society to be able to earn less money than others. Wells’s use of his notability in society to spread important messages regarding class certainly aided bringing the cause to the public’s attention and may have helped in the establishment of welfare and possibly even the free healthcare we benefit from in the UK. It is only a short book but it is packed full of so much whimsy and adventure, and I recommend it to anyone looking to liven up a rainy afternoon.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of this text, I would love to hear! Also, let me know in the comments below what book you would like me to cover next.

Lots of love from Evie x

‘The Psychopath Test’ – Book of the Week

I came across Jon Ronson about two years ago when I happened to click on a Ted Talk of his entitled ‘Strange answers to the psychopath test’. I have always had an interest in psychology, made stronger when I studied it at A-Level, and so in intrigued I clicked on it. Psychopathy, it turns out, is something I thought I knew more about than I did. It turns out that Psychopaths aren’t all violent serial killers or crazed sex offenders, and there is an estimated 1 in 100 (or 1 in 25 if you believe the psychologist in Shane Dawson’s latest YouTube series- which I highly recommend). They blend into society and could be you or me. In Ronson’s book, he explores the realm of psychopathy but also various other mental illnesses. He looks at the child psychology crisis; about how children are being diagnosed with ADHD and Austism at an alarming rate. He looks at anxiety and how on can not possibly be both a Psychopath and also suffer from GAD. Ronson talks to diagnosed psychopaths, psychologists, neurologists, journalists, sceptics and a variety of others to present a well-rounded exploration of the topic.

Now, you’re probably asking yourself, what is ‘The Psychopath Test’? Well, the name of the book is in reference to the Hare Psychopathy Test which is the formal test which is being currently used to define if people are Psychopaths or not. There are 20 items on the checklist, and with each item you will be awarded either 0, 1, or 2 points. At the end you count up the points and if you score 30 or above you are considered a Psychopath. Of course, this system carries many flaws (as Ronson explores) and should be carried out by a trained professional, but I will add the checklist below as I know you are dying to find out if you are a Psychopath:

  1. Glibness/ Superficial charm
  2. Grandiose sense of self-worth
  3. need for stimulation/ prone to boredom
  4. Pathological lying
  5. conning/ manipulative
  6. lack of remorse or guilt
  7. shallow affect
  8. callous/ lack of empathy
  9. parasitic lifestyle
  10. poor behavioural controls
  11. promiscuous sexual behaviour
  12. early behaviour problems
  13. lack of realistic, long-term goals
  14. impulsivity
  15. irresponsibility
  16. failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  17. many short-term marital relationships
  18. juvenile delinquency
  19. revocation of conditional release
  20. criminal verstility

I do absolutely recomend this book if you are as interested by Psychology as I am. It packs in so much information and knowledge, while also maintaining an investigative and engrossing style. Below I will add the original YouTube video I watched. This video has one of the many stories in the book in it, so if you find it intriguing then there is a lot more where that came from.

Let me know down below your score from the test! And also mention in the comments if there are any books you recommend.

Lots of love, Evie x

‘Pygmalion’ – Book of the week

A tale as old as time, a social outcast is taught to become a social elite just in time for a big event. We see this in ‘She’s All That’, ‘Pretty Woman’ and countless other 90s RomCom classics. But where did this tale begin? Pygmalion (also known and made famous as ‘My Fair Lady’ after the hit musical starring Audrey Hepburn). It is not a long play so this review may be shorter than others.

Plot

The play begins when a common flower girl (Eliza Doolittle) mistakes a Note Taker (Henry Higgins) for a police officer and causes a commotion saying she is innocent. Higgins reveals he is not a police officer, rather a linguist, which is why he was taking notes. He believes he can work out the exact town you are from just from your accent.

Henry and another linguist, Pickering, are sitting in his laboratory when Eliza comes in and demands speech lessons. Higgins bets Pickering he can turn Eliza into someone who can speak English like a Duchess.

Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s father, comes in and demands money from Higgins for the right to teach his daughter. This is absurd, but he is a smooth talker and soon gets his money.

A few months later Higgins receives an invite to a party, and decides the bet has to be completed by then. Eliza’s speech is flawless, but her grammar is not. Higgins’ mum warns Higgins of treating a woman like a language robot, but he does not listen.

A few more months pass and Eliza, Higgins and Pickering get back from the party. It apparently went off without a hitch. Eliza is the perfect vision of a lady and people were fooled into thinking she is a Duchess. However, Higgins and Pickering are too busy congratulating each other that they forget to praise Eliza. Higgins and Eliza get into a fight and Higgins nearly hits Eliza.

Eliza goes missing and Higgins rushes to his mother’s house to tell her. Mrs Higgins suggests that Higgins forget about Eliza and let her go as he has finished his experiment with her. Also, she says that Alfred Doolittle has come into a lot of wealth since we last saw him and can now look after Eliza. Eliza comes downstairs (she was upstairs listening the whole time) and argues again with Higgins. She tells Higgins she does not want to be his little experiment anymore. Higgins gets so angry he tries to strangle her, and the two part ways, Eliza swearing never to see him again.

Quotes

“I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me I’m not fit to sell anything else.”

“If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you best teach it to dance.”

“If women were particular about men’s characters, they would never get married at all.”

Review

This is such a clever and iconic story, retold again and again and never loses its relevance. The name of the play ‘Pygmalion’ comes from Greek mythology where a man named Pygmalion creates a statue called Galatea. Originally the statue is just a stone, but he carves away at her and spends so much time paying attention to detail that when the statue is finished, she is the most Godly and beautiful statue ever created. Shaw took this piece of mythology and retold it in the setting of Victorian England. He also took away the awe and magic of mythology and replaced it with the mundane trivialities of life; such as getting a taxi in the rain, and how to pronounce “cow”. This clever retelling of the story of Pygmalion is what aids to make it so accessible for a (then) contemporary time. Another change is that Galatea is no longer a statue, she is a real woman. This change allows the audience to see what it feels like to be an object of experimentation. To be dehumanised to nothing more than a project for a man.

Thank you for reading this review, I hope you enjoyed. Let me know what you think in the comments below and also let me know if you have any books you would like me to summarise and review!

Lots of love, Evie x

‘Animal Farm’ – Book of the week

As a bit of a history buff George Orwell’s classic ‘Animal Farm’ really struck a chord in me. Not only is it a stand alone fantastically gripping tale, but it also tells the story of one of the most famous political events in history: the Russian Revolution. There is a great three-part documentary series on the history of Russia if anyone is interested called ‘Empire of the Tsars: Romanov Russia with Lucy Worsley’. Orwell is mainly known for his classic ‘1984’ which spookily accurately predicts a future where the government is spying on us (and all our emails). However, ‘Animal Farm’ is equally as celebrated for its clever use of a fable to tell one of the most convoluted and bloody political events in history.

Plot:

The prize boar at Manor Farm, Old Major, has an epiphany one night. He gathers the other animals to discuss how man is the only creature which does not produce anything, he only takes. He tells them that the only thing between the animals and a free and righteous life is to overthrow the humans and take the farm for themselves.

One night the farm animals drive Farmer Jones out. They rename Manor Farm ‘Animal Farm’, and lay down the laws of animalism, which has seven basic rules:

  1. whatever goes upon 2 legs is an enemy
  2. what ever goes upon 4 legs, or has wings, is a friend
  3. no animal shall wear clothes
  4. no animal shall sleep in a bed
  5. no animal shall drink alcohol
  6. no animal shall kill any other animal
  7. all animals are equal

Two pigs named Napoleon and Snowball start ruling the farm. One day, the humans attempt to take back the farm, but the pigs lead the other animals into battle and chase away the humans.

Napoleon and Snowball argue over whether or not to build a windmill. Napoleon sees it as a waste of resources and time, but Snowball believes it will be a benefit in the long run. When the other animals start siding with Snowball, Napoleon gets angry and chases him off the farm. Another pig called Squealer tells the animals that Snowball was nothing but a traitor, and that is why he is no longer allowed at the Animal Farm.

Napoleon changes his mind and realises that perhaps a windmill is a good idea. He gets the other animal to slave away building it. The pigs realise they need human tools to build the windmill, and so make a deal with the humans to do some trading so they get what they need.

Overtime, the seven rules laid out originally seem to change. Little by little at first, but eventually they are unrecognisable from the start. Only one rule appears to remain, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

Eventually the pigs get so crooked that they almost appear to be human. They walk on two legs, drink, wear clothes, sleep in beds and are in cahoots with the humans.

Quotes:

“Weak or strong, clever or simple, we are all brothers”

“Man is the only creature that consumes without producing”

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and man from pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which”

Review:

‘Animal Farm’ is a fable for the Russian Revolution. The Old Major is a mixture of Lenin and Karl Marx, Napoleon is Stalin and Snowball is Trotsky. The Old Major’s initial rules for Animal Farm come from a good place and look to empower the oppressed, which reflects how communism was originally meant to help poorer people (proletariat) become more equal to the rich (bourgeoisie). Lenin wished to overthrow the oppressive and murderous Tsar and replace his ruling with a socialist government, much as Old Major looked to overthrow the farmers who did nothing but take. Napoleon represents Stalin, someone who allowed power to corrupt him and the ideology of communism. Napoleon was given an inch and so took a yard. He gave himself and the other pigs priority over the animals and made exceptions and bent the rules for them. Stalin went so far in his oppressive reign that he no longer ruled by respect but now with a whip, and the Russians could not tell the difference between him and the Tsars. This book is so short and simply written, but the key message of it is still heard loud and clear. The use of the farm and the animals makes the story easier to understand and access as a reader who is unfamiliar with Soviet history. The political rivalry and tension is felt, and the transformation from Utopian communist society back into distopian fascist society is clear and present. No wonder this book is considered a classic, and it will only take perhaps a day or even an afternoon to read so I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of ‘1984’ or is a history buff like me.

Thank you for reading my summary and review, I hope you enjoyed! Let me know in the comments what you think and if you have any book requests you would like me to cover!

Lots of love, Evie x

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‘Of Mice and Men’ – Book of the week

Note: Apologies for not writing anything at all last week. Work has gotten very busy and on top of that I am feeling a little fluish. I have gathered the energy to write my weekly book review, and promise that regular weekly posts will now continue. During my absence I have also come up with some more article ideas and recipes, so subscribe if you haven’t already to get immediate updates when I post!

‘Of Mice and Men’ is a GCSE classic, and it is easy to see why. A simple yet well written piece with a gripping plot, even teenagers will enjoy it. I never studied it at school myself, yet I envied my friends who did as their text seemed a great deal more fun than what I was made to study. I only read this book recently as it was on my list of “book to read before I die” and I have to say it did not disappoint. The shocking twist at the end was spoilt for me by a friend, however I still enjoyed the build up to it.

Plot:

The story follows the lives of two farm-workers: a skinny man named George, and a great large (yet mentally challenged) man named Lennie. Lennie is kind-hearted and has a passion for animals, yet he is so big and strong that he squishes and accidentally kills them when petting them.

George and Lennie arrive at their new jobs tending to a farm. George tells Lennie that once they have worked hard and saved enough money they will buy their own farm. He tells Lennie he can have as many rabbits as he wants living on the farm.

They meet their boss’ son, Curly, and his wife. Curly makes fun of Lennie being simple-minded. George warns Lennie to stay out of Curly’s way.

Lennie and George discuss their future plans to buy a farm. An elderly farm-hand, Candy, overhears them and offers to give them some money if he is allowed to live on their farm, too. Lennie and George are over the moon as this means they only have to work for a month now to save up the amount of money they need to buy the new farm.

Curly’s wife finds Lennie alone and starts flirting with him. It is established that she is not the most loyal of wives. She teases Lennie to play with her hair. He gets excited and grabs on to it hard. She screams in agony which freaks Lennie out and he accidentally breaks her neck and kills her. Lennie realises what he does and runs away. Curly finds his wife dead and gets his friends together to hunt Lennie down and make him pay for what he has done.

George finds Lennie by the stream and is told of what he has done. Lennie asks George to talk about their farm and rabbits to calm him down. George promises Lennie that he will never have to work hard again and he can just spend his life petting all the animals he wants. As George is promising Lennie all this, he shoots Lennie in the back of the head.

Quotes:

“I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s
why.”

“As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.”

“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”

Review:

‘Of Mice and Men’ sheds a harsh light on the American Dream and exposes it for what is really is: nothing more than a dream. The nature of capitalism has it so that no matter how hard they work the poor get poorer while the rich get richer. Curly was a bad man, yet he got to own the farm and boss around George and Lennie while not ever doing any real labour himself. George and Lennie were never going to get that rabbit farm, and it is clear throughout the novel that George understands that truth. Lennie was not built for the harsh realities of the world, and George knew that the accidental killing of Curly’s wife would mean Lennie would be imprisoned which would push him even further away from his dream. George killing Lennie while discussing the rabbit farm was done out of kindness, as now Lennie would never have to live in a world where that was never a reality. Lennie is now preserved in the version of the world where the rabbit farm was just a few weeks away. This novel reflects the theme of capitalism explored in ‘Death of a Salesman’ (link to my review: https://evierichards.blog/2018/07/27/death-of-a-salesman-book-of-the-week/ ) where Willy had to die in order to be free of the harsh reality of the American Dream. Although a sad book, ‘Of Mice and Men’ is definitely one to read. It is short and powerful, and I refuse to believe there is ever anyone who walks away from it with a dry eye.

 

Thank you for reading. Let me know if you have any questions or comments below, and do you have any texts you would like me to review?

Love from Evie x

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‘Metamorphosis’- Book of the week

“When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed into a monstrous cockroach in his bed.”

The opening line more or less sums up this short story from Franz Kafka; bizarre. I spent my entire first reading of ‘Metamorphosis’ trying to find the meaning of it all. What is the significance of turning into an insect? Why is he a giant cockroach, rather than a regular sized one? What does this all allude to or represent? I will try to unravel the mystery of this short story in my review.

Plot:

Gregor Samsa awakes one morning to find that he has turned into a gigantic insect. He tries to roll out of bed but realises that his new body will not allow him to do this. He reflects on how miserable his life is as a travelling salesman and how he would quit if only his parents and sister did not rely on him for money. He looks at the clock and is worried as he is late for work.

His mother calls him him and he tries to reply, but his voice is nothing more than an insect screech. On the other side of his bedroom door his manager tells Gregor that he is not happy that Gregor is late to work, and that he needs to work harder. Gregor tries to protest but the manager can not understand him. Gregor opens the door to talk to the manager but upon seeing this giant gross insect the manager runs away. Gregor’s dad shoos Gregor back into his room with a newspaper, and is seemingly unphased by Gregor turning into a cockroach.

Gregor spends his life living under a sofa. His sister, Grete, feeds him rotting food which he happily eats as a cockroach. He listens in to his family discussing how bad their financial situation is now that Gregor is a cockroach and can not provide for them, and he feels guilty.

Gregor’s mother sees him for the first time climbing the walls and passes out. Gregor’s dad returns home from his new job and mistakes Gregor for attacking his mother and throws an apple at him. Gregor scatters back into his bedroom.

Gregor’s family slowly falls into poverty. They have to fire their maid and hire a cheap cleaning lady. They take on three boarders in order to have some extra income. However, one day the boarders spot Gregor and are disgusted. They move out because of the poor conditions of the house. Grete tells her father that they have to get rid of Gregor or they will continue to lose money. Gregor’s father agrees and said he wishes that Gregor could understand them and move out of his own accord. Gregor does understand, and decides to die as it would be the best thing for his family.

When Gregor’s family finds his body they feel relieved. The cleaning lady throws him out. The family manage to gain some money and Gregor’s parents try to find Grete a husband.

Quotes:

“I cannot make you understand. I cannot make anyone understand what is happening inside me. I cannot even explain it to myself.”

“You are at once the quiet and the confusion in my heart.”

“I can love only what I can place so high above me that I can not reach it.”

“I usually solve my problems by letting them devour me.”

Review:

Have you ever heard of the term ‘Kafkaesque’? Kafka’s writing had such a strong theme and style that a new term was developed for it. Kafkaesque describes an overly complicated and frustrating experiences. Kafka used to be an insurance broker, and the complex excessive administration and bureaucracy involved inspired his most famous works such as ‘The Trial’ (leave a comment below if you would like a review of that) and ‘Metamorphosis’. ‘Metamorphosis’ can be considered a Greek myth, but for the modern industrious age. When Gregor Samsa awakes to find himself an insect rather than a human, he is more concerned about being late for work than his life-changing transformation. Gregor spent his entire life working hard for his family to provide for them, with little thanks. So, when Gregor becomes unable to work due to his condition, thy turn on him. They do not provide for him the way he provided for them, and eventually try to get rid of him. Working hard with little thanks and love made him less and less human, until he was little more than a small bug to both his boss and his family. It is possible that Gregor’s transformation could be a metaphor. He did not turn into a bug, rather he had been s**t on his entire life made him suddenly mentally unable to work. Suddenly he cannot get out of bed, he cannot communicate and he cannot work. Without being able to work he is useless to his boss and his family, and so they value him better dead than alive.

 

Thank you for reading this review! I hope it cleared up this absurd book for you. If you would like me to review ‘The Trial’ (or any other book) please let me know in the comments below.

Love from Evie x