A Classic Couple: Middlemarch and Nervous Conditions

A few months ago I discussed Tsitsi Dangarembga’s 1988 novel Nervous Conditions in the context of feminist writing and postcolonial literature. Today, I’ll like to talk about this remarkable novel in a slightly different context: coupled with George Eliot’s classic 1871 novel Middlemarch. Published over a century apart and set against very different backdrops, these two novels are nevertheless tied together by many surprising similarities.

+ Multiplicity. Like the widely read classic Middlemarch, Nervous Conditions emphasizes the multiplicity of women’s voices and experiences. Dangarembga takes this a step further, demonstrating that so-called “Third World women” also possess a multiplicity that deserves to be recognized. Tambu’s (the narrator) mirror-like statements framing this novel remind the reader that although the story may be her own, it is also that of others. There is multiplicity in wholeness, just as it requires a plethora of women’s voices in order to establish and maintain a thriving tradition of women’s writing.

+ Challenges facing women. Both novels discuss rather taboo challenges facing women that are not often brought up in everyday conversation. Through Dorothea Brooke’s tense relationship with her husband Edward Casaubon, Eliot shows that marriage is not always inherently satisfying and gratifying for women. In Nervous Conditions, Dangarembga tackles the ominous topic of eating disorders. Rather than generalize disorders in the same way that women’s experiences of colonialism have been reduced to inaccurate stereotypes in literature, Dangarembga imbues Nyasha’s “nervous condition” with nuance. Like Nyasha, Dangarembga refuses to remain under the restrictive power of the patriarchy.

+ Opposing idealogical norms. Eliot strives to present a certain form of “moral realism” in her novel and is therefore much more concerned with representing fundamental truths than with recounting the minute details of daily life. One aim of her moral realism is to expose overlooked moments, as seen when Dorothea is disappointedly sobbing on her honeymoon with Casaubon in Rome. The belief that marriage must be flawless and fulfilling at all times is therefore dashed to pieces by Eliot’s realistic gaze, exposing the commonly held romanticized view of this life event. Disenchantment is a vital component of Eliot’s moral realism due to its emphasis on the true representation of an experience rather than one’s idealized, preconceived notions of a situation.

Similarly, Dangarembga opposes the notion that the literary sphere must be dominated by male voices. There is no singular experience of being a woman, meaning that there should be more than one woman’s voice being heard–and read–in the male-dominated literary sphere. In writing Nervous Conditions as a novel about African women and largely for African women, Dangarembga has indeed asserted the perspective of women into the otherwise male-dominated literary sphere of postcolonial writing. By engaging with the idea of multiplicity in the present, Dangarembga strives to ensure a multiplicity of African women’s voices being heard in the future.

While obviously very different, Middlemarch and Nervous Conditions still possess many similarities that may surprise unsuspecting readers. I highly recommend both of these novels, particularly if you’re looking for more literature that focuses on women’s experiences in different socioeconomic classes and cultures.

Click here to check out other Classic Couples from past posts.

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with Middlemarch? What are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Top Ten Tuesday: Short Stories that Exceed Tall Expectations

Happy Tuesday!! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us to share our favorite short story collections. While I usually prefer reading novels over short stories, I have enjoyed several fantastic collections. Here are a few of my favorites!

Apparently I haven’t read enough short story collections to fill this entire list.. but the ones I have read are excellent!

What are your favorite short story collections? What do you think of the ones I’ve mentioned here? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Our Day at Efteling | Holly Goes Abroad

Our little journey through the Big Big Trip my friend and I took during our spring breaks continues with this week’s exciting installment: Efteling in the Netherlands!

Prior to my friend telling my about Efteling, I didn’t even know it existed. Efteling is an amusement park in Kaatscheuvel in the Netherlands that first opened in 1952. Not only is Efteling the largest theme park in the Netherlands, but it is also the one of the oldest theme parks across the globe. With thirty-five rides and over five million visitors every year, it’s a wonder I had never heard about Efteling before. Since I absolutely adore amusement parks and will go on basically any ride imaginable, I was thrilled when my friend proposed adding this to our itinerary.

Fortunately, getting to Efteling from Amsterdam was fairly simple and straightforward. After taking the tram to the center of the city from our Airbnb, we hopped on a train that took us to a closer station, and then boarded a bus directly to Efteling from there. Our excitement was almost tangible as we walked (read: basically skipped) down the long walkway to the park’s entrance. We were here! At a Dutch amusement park! What a time!

I’m not going to lie: this park was nothing like what I initially expected it to be. But I loved it. For someone who is used to the happy-go-lucky side of Disney World (which I also adore), it was really fun to experience a fantasy park with a bit of a darker twist. Many of the rides were pretty dark (both in terms of lighting and story line) and we never could predict how a ride would end. Of course, things were complicated by the fact that everything was in Dutch–we had no idea what any of the rides were supposed to be about! It was hilarious making up stories about what the animatronics could have been trying to tell us.

After being in tourist-dominated Amsterdam for a few days, it was strangely refreshing to be somewhere that didn’t cater to tourists. Few signs were in English, and those that were offered only limited translations. While this was a bit intimidating and disorienting at first, by the end of the day I felt so much more confident about my ability to navigate in a place without relying on other people knowing English. It was also fun seeing so many excited little kids run around. I couldn’t help but think about what I would have thought of Efteling had I come when I was younger. I’m 99 percent positive that Young Holly would have been terrified of all the creepy, dark rides!

My favorite part of the day was definitely walking through the strange fantasy forest section of the park. A long, winding path weaved its way through countless fantasy figures, from more well-known ones like Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin to ones that left us scratching our heads (like that guy with the super long neck in the photograph above!). Walking along these paths was a nice break from standing in lines for rides and provided us with some hilarious photo opportunities.

As you can probably tell from the photos, Efteling was a WILD time. It was definitely one of my favorite parts of the entire trip! Would HIGHLY recommend to anyone visiting the Netherlands!

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

Have you ever been to Efteling? What are your favorite amusement parks around the world? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders | Review

In the span of just a few days, George Saunders’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel Lincoln in the Bardo was recommended to me by three different friends, all of whom have very distinct reading tastes. Knowing a worthy book recommendation when I see one, I immediately knew that this novel had to go straight to the top of my reading list for the summer. It’s difficult to explain what this book is about, so I’ve included the Goodreads synopsis for clarification:

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this is one of the strangest novels I have ever read. Even calling it a novel feels a bit odd–it’s almost more like some sort of textual collage, a conglomeration of quotes that somehow comes together to form a whole. Though Lincoln in the Bardo may be bizarre, it’s also brilliant. In the spirit of Saunders’s mosaic of a novel, here’s a list of reasons why I loved it:

  • It’s unique–I have truly never read anything like it.
  • The blend of historical quotes and fictional pieces that Saunders writes to look like actual quotes from real people. This fiction/fact mix mirrors the more fantastical elements of the story itself.
  • Plays with the stereotypical image that many of us have of Abraham Lincoln by revealing a plethora of possible sides to his personality.
  • Fast-paced due to the constant changing perspectives and the wide variety of voices. Never feels like the story is dragging or moving too slowly.
  • Beautiful, lyrical writing. All of the characters have really distinct voices and Saunders’s writing style clearly portrays their different personalities and backgrounds.
  • So. Many. Emotions. You can’t help but feel for poor Lincoln, Willie, and all of the souls wondering where they went wrong in life.
  • Not a conventional “ghost” story, not a conventional historical fiction novel, not a conventional novel– I love how this book breaks all necessity to adhere to any sort of convention at all.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop my list there for now. Needless to say, I highly recommend Lincoln in the Bardo no matter what genre of books you tend to read. And thanks to all those who recommended it to me–you were so, so right!

What are your thoughts on Lincoln in the Bardo? Would you recommend any of Saunders’ other work? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

A Classic Couple: Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea

Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel Jane Eyre is one of the books that first made me fall in love with classic literature. I remember reading it on a family road trip before my senior year of high school, captivated by Jane’s independence and resilience. For years librarians, professors, and bookish friends who know that Jane Eyre is a favorite of mine have been recommending that I read Jean Rhys’s 1966 novel Wide Sargasso Sea. This famous response to Brontë’s classic tells the story of Antoinette–more well-known as Bertha, the “madwoman” that Mr. Rochester keeps hidden away in the attic of Thornfield Hall.

Although this Classic Couple is quite an obvious pairing due to the inherent connection between them, there are nevertheless plenty of interesting similarities and differences to discuss.

+ Protagonists. What I love about both of these novels is that they feature independent, determined, intelligent women as protagonists. While Jane must work against the systemic sexism of her society in terms of marriage and professions, Antoinette is forced to confront an even more paralyzing hurdle: being a Creole woman who is considered neither black nor white in a society dominated by a pervasive racial hierarchy. Although Antoinette is ultimately locked in the Thornfield Hall attic as a “madwoman,” she regains a sense of empowerment through setting the building on fire. In this way, Rhys subverts the “madwoman in the attic” trope by showing that Antoinette can be just as empowering a figure as Jane–if not more so.

+ Mr. Rochester. Both novels feature Mr. Rochester, albeit in very different contexts. While Brontë romanticizes him as an enigmatic love interest that ultimately redeems himself in the end, Rhys exposes the colonialism that runs through his veins. As soon as he hears rumors of the “madness” that runs in Antoinette’s family, Rochester no longer wants anything to do with the marriage. It is clear by his racist comments that he wishes his wife to be more “English” and is repeatedly disappointed to find that she remains connected to her family, her past, and her home. Rhys’s Rochester is someone to be avoided rather than desired, thereby turning Brontë’s characterization of such a man upside down.

+ The attic. It feels strange to read about Grace Poole and the attic of Thornfield Hall from the perspective of Antoinette rather than that of Jane. While Brontë portrays the attic as a space that protects the rest of the house from “madness,” Rhys exposes it as a form of confinement that promulgates this damaging, inaccurate, colonial trope. Antoinette’s brief encounter with Jane outside of the attic reduces the eponymous character of Brontë’s novel to a flat figure, just as the character of “Bertha” is portrayed in Jane Eyre. Escaping the attic is Antoinette’s only way to reclaim a sense of freedom, independence, and control in an England that does not even feel like reality.

There is so, so much more I could discuss about these two novels, but I’ll save that for later posts. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little scratch on the surface of a much larger discussion, and I highly recommend reading both of these brilliant novels.

Click here to check out other Classic Couples from past posts.

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with Jane Eyre? What are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Best 10 of 2018 {So Far}

Happy Tuesday!! Can you believe that we’re already over half way through 2018 already?! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us to share the best 10 books we’ve read so far in 2018. I’ve already read far more than I expected to this year–mostly due to my sprawling required reading lists at Oxford–so I have plenty of books to choose from. Picking only ten won’t be easy!

Here’s to another six months of lovely reading days and great books! ❤

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year? What do you think of the ones I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Amsterdam Adventures | Holly Goes Abroad

This summer I’ll be sharing adventures from the Big Big Trip through Europe that my friend and I took during our spring breaks. Last week I talked about our days exploring Edinburgh, so today I’ll cover the next place we visited: Amsterdam! Amsterdam is one of those cities that seemingly everyone studying abroad in Europe visits. Not only is it beautiful and packed with amazing sights to see, but it’s also very easy to get around. Here are some of the highlights from the few days we were there:

Rijksmuseum

This was our first stop in Amsterdam and it definitely didn’t disappoint. The Rijksmuseum is enormous–just when we thought we had seen everything, there was another corner to turn or another floor to explore. I loved the variety of artwork there as well as the interactive features it had (like the third photo of me standing behind a wooden cutout). We spent hours in this museum on our first morning in Amsterdam, but we easily could have spent another few perusing the rooms that most interested us. The architecture of the museum itself is also gorgeous. I spent so much time gazing up at beautiful ceilings!

Van Gogh Museum

The Van Gogh Museum is one of the most well-curated museums I have ever visited. Each floor presents a different time in Van Gogh’s life, going chronologically upward following a floor of self-portraits. Placards throughout the museum basically tell Van Gogh’s life story, meaning that you need to know little to nothing about this brilliant artist beforehand in order to enjoy this museum. They don’t allow photography, which I actually preferred. It’s nice to be able to simply enjoy the art without everyone around you constantly stopping in order to get the perfect photo of it. Whether or not you’re a fan of his artwork, I would highly recommend adding this expansive museum to your Amsterdam “must see” list.

Tulips & Parks

Amsterdam is a beautiful city to begin with, but the gorgeous April weather we had during our visit made it even more amazing. I adored walking through parks and taking in all of the colorful tulips scattered in front of the giant “I Amsterdam” letters. After spending several hours in museums in the mornings, there was no better way to spend the afternoon than by strolling through so many green spaces.

Canals

I loved walking along the canals the crisscrossed through the city, especially in the mornings when it was quiet and the evenings as the sun began to set. One afternoon we took a canal cruise as a little break from walking everywhere. It was lovely to watch all of the adorable houses go by and learn more about the history of the city. And the house boats were so fun to see!

Trams

I. Love. Trams. Amsterdam was by far the easiest city to get around that we visited. Not only are the trams relatively cheap if you plan ahead and by certain tickets, but they are also reliable and come quite frequently. Fortunately there was a tram stop near our Airbnb (we were staying about a thirty minute ride out of the city center) so we were easily able to take the tram back and forth from our accommodations. Such a great mode of public transport!

All in all, I had an amazing time in Amsterdam and would absolutely love to visit again if I get the chance. Even though my friend and I packed a lot of exploring into a few short days, there’s still so much I’d like to see. Now I know why so many students visit this wonderful city when they study abroad!

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

Have you ever been to Amsterdam? What are your favorite things to do there? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

GRIMM TALES: FOR YOUNG AND OLD by Philip Pullman | Review

To be honest, my only real interaction with fairy tales prior to reading Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales: For Young and Old was from watching Disney movies and reading a plethora of retellings over the years. For some reason I never actually made a point to read the Grimms’ tales themselves, or even anything remotely similar. It wasn’t until I happened upon this book in a store in the Edinburgh airport that I decided it was maybe finally time to read them–and in what better form than a book by Philip Pullman, writer of The Golden Compass? 

What I really appreciate about this collection of stories is that they are told with that classic fairy tale charm that Pullman does so well. They’re not retold in a modern setting or given a creative twist; rather, they’re simply retold based on a conglomeration of Pullman’s research on the origins of each tale. While I immensely enjoyed reading the stories, my favorite aspect of this collection was actually the section after each story where Pullman explains a bit of its history. He also shares his thought process behind any editorial decisions he may have made. Did he favor one storyteller’s version of the ending over another’s? Was there a character that he gave a greater or lesser role to? What does he see as being the main function of the story? I loved gaining these little insights into how Pullman retold these stories. His authorial voice acts as the common thread tying this amalgamation of stories together.

I read this book in various airports and flights, which ended up being the perfect setting. I would highly recommend Grimm Tales as a great book to take traveling because a) the stories are captivating and entertaining, b) they’re concise, which is ideal for reading in short bursts in distracting places, and c) the stories don’t relate to each other, so you can easily put this book down and pick it up again later without having to worry about remembering where you left off. There’s also something really comforting about reading these familiar stories, which is a bonus if you’re like me and get nervous or stressed while traveling.

It was also really interesting to read fairy tales I thought I was familiar with from Disney movies or other retellings. How different the actual versions are from what we’re shown as kids! I loved the dark, rather sinister, clever twists incorporated in the earlier versions. Among my favorites were Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Rumpelstiltskin. I wish someone would make movies based on the original versions of the stories rather than the romanticized ones we’re shown when we’re young. They would be so interesting to watch!

Overall, I’m so glad that I randomly stumbled upon this book in the Edinburgh airport. Not only was it the perfect book to take traveling, but it also reminded me how much I enjoy reading short story collections and Philip Pullman’s writing in general. If you’re looking for a book to take with you on your summer adventures, then look no further than Grimm Tales! 

What are your thoughts on Grimm Tales? Do you have a favorite fairy tale? What do you like to read when you’re traveling? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

JUNE 2018 | Wrap-Up

What a wild month of June it was! So much has happened recently that I don’t even know where to begin. (I know I say something like this every month, but this time I really mean it!). Here’s what I’ve been up to:

In June I read a total of 5 books:

  1. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
  2. Grimm Tales: For Young and Old by Philip Pullman
  3. The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. Why I Am Not Going to Buy A Computer by Wendell Berry
  5. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Between finishing up my time at Oxford, adjusting back to living in America, and starting work, I’ve hardly had the time to read. However, the books I did end up reading were fantastic, making it difficult to choose just one favorite. While I loved having my mind blown away by learning that The Lost World was the inspiration for Jurassic Park (which I discuss in my recent Classic Couple post) my favorite novel from June would probably have to be Lincoln in the Bardo. A full review will be posted shortly, so for now I’ll just say that this book is both bizarre and brilliant. I love the unique format as well as the fascinating blend between historical fact and fiction. Would absolutely recommend it!

+ MOVIE: My mom and I have been looking forward to seeing the new Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom for months, and we finally went to the theater to watch it on opening weekend. I know there have been some mixed reviews of it, but I really enjoyed it! There were some great plot twists at the end that made me gasp and one character in particularly that had us laughing out loud throughout the entire film. If you’re a fan of the Jurassic Park franchise in general, then I would highly recommend checking this out!

+ MUSIC: My music choice this month is very general, but very exciting: I finally purchased Spotify Premium! I used to always burn music to CDs to listened to while community an hour back and forth to work every day; however, now I can just connect my phone to my car and play whatever I want. My friends have been telling me to do it for ages, and I definitely should have listened to them earlier–it makes life so much easer (and my car rides so much better!).

+ FOOD: Since moving back home from Oxford I’ve loved being able to eat my mom’s cooking again. It feels great to be able to eat things I know for sure are safe for me to eat with my nut allergy (including my favorite burrito place, which is inexpressibly better than the burritos I ate in Oxford).

+ PLACE: I’m sure you could probably guess what I’m going to list as my favorite place this month: OXFORD. As I discussed in a recent Holly Goes Abroad post, leaving Oxford was incredibly hard and I miss it terribly. I’m so grateful for my amazing year there and cannot wait to hopefully venture back someday ❤

I spent the first half of June running around Oxford trying to squeak in all the last-minute things I wanted to do while simultaneously finishing up essays and tutorials. In a recent Holly Goes Abroad post I discussed all the fun adventures that summer term has to offer, like punting down the river and playing croquet on the Mansfield College quad. Of course, it wasn’t all fun in games–there came a time when I had to say goodbye to it all, friends and places and experiences and memories included. Before I knew it I was hopping on a seven-hour flight and heading back to New Hampshire to start my last summer as an undergrad (eek!!).

I’ll take literally ANY excuse to play with sparklers!!

My summer thus far has mostly consisted of working at the same nonprofit I’ve been at for the past few summers and studying for the LSAT (the law school entrance exam) that I’ll be taking in July. While I miss exploring new places and hanging out with my friends dearly, it’s also been nice to catch up on some reading, writing, and spending time with my family. I’ve picked up my WIP again and I’m really, really excited about it–I can’t wait to eventually show you all when it’s done! I’m a little over halfway done with a rough draft at the moment, so fingers crossed that I can finish it before the end of the summer.

My mom and I pick strawberries every summer. It wouldn’t be June without it!

 Here are some notable posts from my blog this past month:

Here are some posts that I loved reading this month:

How was your month of June? What was the best book you read? Did you do anything really fun or exciting? Let me know in the comments section below!

And for all my fellow Americans out there: Happy Fourth of July!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Festive 4th Covers {Bookstagram Edition!}

Happy Tuesday! And for all of my fellow Americans, happy Fourth of July Eve! (That’s a holiday, right?!?) Today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is Fourth of July themed, which means it’s time to break out those red, white, and blue book covers. This week I’ve set myself a little challenge of only using photos from my bookstagram. Let’s see how many I can find!

What are your favorite red, white, and blue books? What do you think of the ones on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Happy Fourth!

Yours,

HOLLY