Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet – Act I, Scene II

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Read my summary of Act I Scene I first!

A lot of important character and plot building in this scene, so buckle up.

Scene II sees all of our major players gathered together and Claudius calls together his court. Present are – are you taking notes? – all of the lords, including Polonius with his children Laertes (finally, a child not named after his father! Points to Polonius for original thinking!) and Ophelia, and Queen Gertrude. Hamlet is also with them, but he’s off in a corner doing what he does best – sulking and wearing black.

Claudius mourns the passing of his brother, Hamlet Sr., for all of about thirty seconds before saying “Oh well, life goes on” and getting on with the running of the country. After a vaguely shifty defence of his decision to marry his sister-in-law in that suggests he totally knows that it’s kind of weird he reassures the nobles that Fortinbras – that’s the Norwegian prince trying to avenge his father from the previous scene – isn’t going to be a problem. He’s written a letter to Fortinbras’ uncle telling him to get his nephew under control, which is the King equivalent of running crying to someone’s mother because they threatened to beat you up in the playground.

Claudius does a bit more king-ing, giving Laertes permission to return to his university in France, and then turns to Hamlet (who is still sulking in the corner) and addresses him as his nephew and son. This familiarity pisses Hamlet off no end.

Gertrude can’t seem to understand why Hamlet is still upset about the death of his father after a whole two months. Not everyone can move on as fast as you Gertrude. Claudius joins in, telling Hamlet that everyone’s fathers die eventually and that it’s silly – sinful, even – to get too hung up about it. He tells Hamlet to think of him as his new father, which is something that step-fathers should never say unless they definitely want their kids to hate them. Claudius wraps up this example of A+ parenting by refusing to let Hamlet return to university in Wittenberg because he wants to keep him close by.

So now we have:

  • A suspiciously dead father.
  • An uncle who has gained a throne and a wife out of the aforementioned suspiciously dead father.
  • Some excellent parenting skills.
  • The ‘call me Dad’ speech.
  • A whole load of resentment.

Prepare for the fun.

Hamlet is the only one less than thrilled about their current situation. He’s finding no joy in life since his dad’s death and is hanging on to the memory of how great and loving his father was. We don’t really hear from anyone else what kind of a king Hamlet Sr. was, so it’s entirely possible that Hamlet Jr. is idealising him just a little, comparing him to a god against his uncle: “as Hyperion to a satyr”.

What particularly upsets him is that Gertrude remarried only a month after his father’s death. He attributes her flakiness to her sex: “Frailty, thy name is woman!” Ouch. He’s also very unhappy with the fact that the marriage is to his uncle, which he considers incestuous. Why this particular point is important will require a brief history lesson, so bear with me.

Most people are probably familiar with Henry VIII and the divorce debacle. Henry wanted to get rid of his first wife Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn, giving the reason that his marriage to Katherine was unlawful because she had previously been married to Henry’s brother Arthur before his death, making her marriage to Henry, according to the scripture he provided, incestuous. Whether Henry actually believed his argument or if he just wanted to marry the younger woman he was infatuated with is up for debate, but Henry used it as a reason to break away from the Catholic Church, marry Anne and have a child. Why is this important? Well, Elizabeth I was the daughter Henry and Anne had, and she also just so happened to be Queen while Shakespeare was writing Hamlet. She needed people to believe her father’s argument because otherwise his divorce was invalid, making his marriage to Anne unlawful and Elizabeth a bastard and therefore unable to rule. Shakespeare was probably inspired by these events while writing, but carefully stayed on the side of the argument that would allow him to keep his head.

Hamlet really hates his current situation but because he can’t do anything about it he’s just going to stay quiet and monologue about how sad he is, making him relatable to pretty much every teenager out there.

Horatio and the guards from the previous scene arrive and Hamlet is happy to see Horatio – or as happy as Hamlet is capable of being – who is his friend from university in Wittenberg. Hamlet shows a spark of wit in this conversation, albeit a slightly macabre one; he jokes that the wedding came so soon after the funeral so they could use the leftovers from the funeral dinner for the wedding feast. It makes a refreshing change after the downer soliloquy he just delivered and shows that he has more emotions than “sad”, such as “slightly sad” and “sad with a hint of melancholy”.

The topic of Hamlet’s father comes up because that’s Hamlet’s favourite topic, besides slut-shaming his mother, and Horatio brings up the ghost they saw the previous night. Hamlet is understandably concerned by this news. The fact that the ghost is armed suggests another worrying omen for Denmark, and dead fathers appearing is generally never a good sign. Hamlet decides to stand watch with the guards that night in case his father shows up again because he wants to talk to it.

I get that Hamlet is probably desperate to talk to his father, but I can’t help but wonder if he should be more careful; ghosts don’t usually show up for anything good. Demons and evil spirits run rampant through Elizabethan literature and a suspicious ghost turning up would probably have been shorthand for Trouble. Hamlet himself seems at least vaguely aware that this could be something demonic, briefly mentioning Hell, but doesn’t seem to care much. He needs to remember that just because something looks like your father and dresses like your father does not make it your father. A dead father by any other name would not be called Dad, or something like that.

To wrap up: Hamlet hates Claudius, his mother, the court, life in general, Denmark and fun, but he kind of doesn’t hate Horatio.

Hamlet, Sarcastic Classics

Hamlet – Act I, Scene I

I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while. Let me know if you enjoy it, or if I’m just trying too hard to be funny! Just kidding. I always try too hard.

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Our story starts on a dark and stormy night in Denmark. We arrive just as the night watch is changing shifts at the royal castle of Elsinore, and rumours are flying that there’s a ghost has been spotted for the past few nights stalking the battlements. Horatio, who has been to university and therefore is the smart one of the group, is sceptical about the existence of any ghost but agrees to listen to the guard’s story anyway. It’s common knowledge that spirits have excellent dramatic timing, so the ghost chooses this exact moment to turn up.

It looks strangely like the King of Denmark who recently died and Horatio asks exactly what it thinks it’s doing floating around looking like the dead king. The ghost seems to take offence at this line of questioning, probably because Horatio ruined his dramatic entrance, and leaves. Horatio, who has been to university and knows about these things, instantly declares this a Bad Omen for Denmark.

The guard asks if this has anything to do with all of those weapons and ships Demark has been making recently and our resident exposition man Horatio says that he’s probably right. Things aren’t good in Denmark at the moment; in fact, you could say they were rotten. (Ha ha, literary reference to a line that hasn’t happened yet!)

Some years ago the king, who was called Hamlet but isn’t our Hamlet and shall henceforth be known as Hamlet Sr., killed the King of Norway Fortinbras in a duel. The terms of the duel required the loser to relinquish all of his lands to the victor, which seems like a pretty reckless agreement to make if you ask me. Now Fortinbras’ son who is also called Fortinbras – were there only five names in the whole of the middle ages? – has grown up and decided that he wants to claim back the lands his father so carelessly lost. Denmark is preparing for war, and all the omens are saying that this will not go well.

Pay attention to Fortinbras, because the first time I read Hamlet I didn’t and then when he turns up again I was all “who the hell is this guy?”. He’s also worth paying attention to because he draws some interesting parallels with Hamlet. Both of their fathers have *spoilers for a 400 year old play* been murdered, but they both have very different ways of dealing with it. Hamlet chooses the noble path of sulking, which is very satisfying but doesn’t really achieve anything, whereas Fortinbras decides that the best way to deal with his grief is to invade Denmark. I like Fortinbras. He thinks big.

The ghost tries again with its dramatic entrance, but the cock crows and ruins his big moment again, so he buggers off. Horatio orders one of the guards to poke the ghost with his spear, which really makes me doubt Horatio’s position as the smart guy. If you’re looking for ways to piss off a ghost attacking it with sharp objects is probably pretty high on the list, and it’s not like they could really hurt it anyway because it’s a freaking ghost. Horatio ignores the guard who points this out to him and decides that the best thing to do is to tell Hamlet that there’s a spirit wandering around with his dead father’s face, which may be one of the strangest things your best friend can say to you, although I’m not sure it would quite break into my Top 10.

And so begins the greatest soap opera ever told. Buckle up, it’s going to be a melodramatic ride.

Film Reviews, Reviews

Sucker Punch Review: I Hate Zach Snyder

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Beware of spoilers if you haven’t seen this yet. Also beware of anger. Lots of anger.

Sucker Punch came out in 2011 and I saw it a couple of years after. I’ve been thinking about it recently and I’ve only just been able to put into words quite what I think about it.

The plot is slightly convoluted but definitely interesting: Baby doll is committed to an asylum by her evil stepfather who pays off a corrupt official to have her lobotomized. In her head Babydoll creates a fantasy world where she envisions the asylum as a strip club/brothel where she teams up with four other girls to escape before she has to meet the High Roller, a wealthy man who has ‘bought’ her. Every girl has to dance, and it turns out that Babydoll’s dancing is hypnotising to men. The girls use this as a distraction while they steal the items they need to escape. We never see Babydoll dance; instead we see a post-apocalyptic fantasy/sci-fi world where the girls fight through armies of robots and literal dragons to get the fantasy representation of the items they need to escape the brothel. The film switches frequently between layers of the story, and each version of events parallels the other two.

There’s a lot about the film that I really like. The action sequences are great, and I like the multi-levelled plot even if it is a little up itself. The general idea of girls working together and empowerment is great. If this film had played itself straight then I could even have accepted the skimpy outfits (I would have rolled my eyes a lot, but it’s hardly anything new and the film’s based on video games, so what do you want?) and I would have probably enjoyed it. The problem is that the director, Zach Snyder, claims that this is the ultimate feminist film.

When faced with accusations of sexism in the way he dressed his female characters Snyder threw back this:

Someone asked me, “Why did you dress the girls like that, in those provocative costumes?” And I said, “Well, think about it for a second. I didn’t dress those girls in the costume. The audience dressed those girls.” And when I say the audience, I mean the audience that comes to the movies. Just like the men who visit a brothel, [they] dress the girls when they go to see these shows as however they want to see them.

I’m not entirely sure what he’s trying to say here, but it seems to be his slightly pretentious way of saying that the characters are only dressed like they are because that’s what the audience wants to see, and it’s the audience projecting the sexuality they want to see on to the girls. I remember reading an interview (although I can’t find it now) where Snyder claimed that the people who thought the film was overtly sexual were of the same ilk as the men who frequent the brothels in the film. Basically, if you interpret the women as sexual, you’re projecting your own debauched sexual perceptions onto them and don’t you feel stupid and dirty now you disgusting pervert.

This argument is bullshit. No Snyder, the audience didn’t “dress the girls”, you did (or at least the wardrobe department under your direction). The film purposely uses traditionally sexualised imagery – girls in short skirts and tight crop tops, pigtails, the name ‘Babydoll’ – in a sexual context – a brothel/strip club – with camera angles designed specifically for the male gaze – hello panty flashes and between-leg shots – and then tries to turn around and tell the audience off for interpreting these things as sexual. Don’t get me wrong, I get what Snyder thinks he’s trying to say: that these things shouldn’t be inherently ‘immoral’ and that not everything that women do or wear should be sexualised. I’m totally all for this message! It’s just that there’s a huge difference between subverting a trope to a get a point across and just doing the thing and claiming that it’s a critique. Someone filmed all those upskirt shots, Snyder, and it wasn’t me.

It’s not the point he’s trying to make that I don’t like; I’m all for women in both film and real life wearing whatever they want as they kick robot butt. What really rubs me up the wrong way is Snyder’s attitude. When people said that they thought the film was sexualised, he threw his head back dramatically and cried that ‘People just don’t understand my art!’, and even went as far as to suggest that the people who didn’t like the film were perverted idiots. It didn’t seem to occur to him that if people weren’t ‘getting it’ then he probably communicated his message badly – really badly.

However, the outfits aren’t even the thing that made me really angry. There’s so much more.

Not on the ‘unnecessary sexualisation’ track but definitely on the topic of ‘Zach Snyder doesn’t know how to tell a story’, it also pulls a ‘twist’ ending where the film tries to claim that the protagonist is actually Sweet Pea because she survives to carry on the story, suggesting that Snyder doesn’t understand basic narrative concepts; the protagonist is the main character, the one that drives the story i.e. Babydoll. Sweet Pea survives, sure, but only because of Babydoll’s actions and sacrifice that form the entirety of the plot. Sweet Pea has barely any screen time and does very little other than argue with Babydoll. Survival does not a protagonist make. This is a very mild complaint compared to the others, but it still irritated me a lot.

On a more severe note: obviously the women are constantly under threat of sexual violence with several attempted rapes for multiple characters (but they’re definitely not sexual beings guys), which is an unfortunately common thing in fictional media. It’s a disgusting and unnecessary shorthand for disempowering a female character that shows up in stories that really don’t need it, and this film is particularly guilty of fetishising it; a lot of the dramatic tension comes from the fact that the girls are under constant threat of assault, and you almost anticipate the moment when it will happen. A large part of the plot is the build up to the unwanted encounter between Babydoll and the High Roller who she has been ‘sold’ to, and this is literally what Babydoll is fighting to avoid.

This leads me on to the thing that angered me the most: the High Roller. In the theatrical cut he’s curiously omitted, and the film ends up making very little sense. What happens to Fantasy!Babydoll after Real!Babydoll’s lobotomy? How does her meeting with the High Roller turn out? What’s up with that doctor? Despite the fact that the film is practically incoherent without it, however, I think I’d really rather watch that version than the extended cut which includes a proper meeting scene between Babydoll and the High Roller. The reason? It’s disgusting.

Babydoll is captured, accepts her fate and goes to meet the High Roller who has ‘bought’ her. She expects a rape; however, he’s gentle with her and talks to her like a human being. He has no intention of raping her, but instead he’ll wait until she comes to him willingly. The scene is painted both by the film itself and the actors and directors as a love scene and as Babydoll finally owning her sexuality. Babydoll has found a man who doesn’t seem to want to hurt her. Awww, how sweet.

But we seem to be forgetting the tiny fact that this man has literally bought her virginity. He basically says to her “You’re going to sleep with me, but you’re going to enjoy it. Also, I totally own you.” Does Snyder just completely not understand what rape is? Just because it’s not violent doesn’t mean it’s consensual! He may not be going to take her by force, but other than when it happens Babydoll has absolutely no choice in the matter: she will sleep with him. How is it possible for Babydoll to consent to a man who literally bought her? WHY DID YOU DO THIS SNYDER?

So please, if you’re going to watch this film, do so with a critical eye. Enjoy the baddass action scenes. Enjoy the multi-layered plot and the connections between the worlds. Enjoy Oscar Isaac’s face with his stupid moustache. Hell, even enjoy the skimpy costumes; that’s what they’re there for after all. Just please, never call this film feminist.

And Zach? If we ever meet in real life, we’re going to have words.

Other Stuff, Personal

#justanxietythings

I had an actual blog post about the links between music and writing planned and half-written…and then this happened.

(I’m assuming that everyone’s familiar with the ‘justgirlythings’ meme?)

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I’m trying to be much more open about my mental health, hence…whatever this is. I think it’s so important to talk about the problems we have to abolish the stigma around mental illnesses and make sure that people aren’t afraid or embarrassed to get the help that they need.

I remember reading something once that argued that you don’t blame someone who has broken their leg. You don’t tell them they’re making up how much it hurts. And if they need to take painkillers to alleviate the pain a little then that’s not shameful at all. Why is it any different with mental health?

While in theory I subscribe to this entirely, I still find it incredibly difficult to talk about my mental health face to face with people, even those closest to me – often especially those people. But I’m working to change that, and I hope anyone else who also suffers feels that they can do the same.

So yes, I have anxiety, I have depression, and I’m currently getting help for other problems I haven’t got a name for yet. I have mood swings, hallucinations and psychotic episodes, and those are things I have to learn to deal with. But with the right support and a maybe a little help from medication I can live a normal, productive and healthy life. I’m still learning how, but aren’t we all learning really?

My Writing, Poetry, Writing Stuff

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I originally wrote this a few years ago in response to a relationship with a friend that turned sour, although it wasn’t all that sweet to begin with. It’s a little strange, but it was what I needed to say at the time and definitely helped me process what happened; the therapeutic power of writing.

You take up all the space.

You stretch elegantly, feline, filling every corner with yourself. And, like a cat, you have claws for those who cross you.

I feel them as you laugh lightly and place your hand on my thigh, exactly the way you know I hate so much. Your smile says you mean nothing by it, but in your eyes I see the challenge. Say something.

I never do.

I am a chosen one, privy to the barbed wire of your tongue as you spit venom about someone who has no idea they have invoked your wrath. I pity them, whoever they are, but I pity myself more as I hover too close to your sharp edges.

You tell me secrets that you create from thin air to bring us closer and I thank you for trusting me as though they were a sacred gift. All I really want is someone to tell my own secrets to, for they weigh heavy on my shoulders, but my life holds no interest for you and you tell me so. I bite my tongue and wait for the day when maybe you will like me enough to let me speak.

I am lucky you like me, you claim, as though you have an armoury stored away specifically to pierce my heart were I ever to fall from your good graces. I cannot think if anything I have done that you could use, but I strive to be better so you have at least a few less bullets with my name carved into them.

Were you anyone else, I would say I was weak for letting you drag your nails across my skin. But I convince myself it is for your own good, for rather you scratch me than yourself. I will bleed so you don’t have to, and never mind that I’m draining myself dry. If I can stand your poison for just a little longer then maybe your bottle will be empty, and then all it will take is to pour you full of perfume and we shall all smell sweeter.

Then one day you deploy your arsenal with military precision. Which do you want first, my head to mount above your mantelpiece, or my heart to roast on a spit? There was a time when I would have given you either.

You take up all of the space even now you’re gone. The places in me you used to occupy echo with the emptiness, the crumbling ruins of a temple I built for you.

For now I blame myself. Maybe just one more day would have changed things, one more day and you would have smiled at me just once without bared teeth.

But at least now your hand is not on my thigh, and for that I am glad.

What I'm Listening To, What I'm...

What I’m Listening To: Hello From The Magic Tavern

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I’ve been away with this weekend for my granddad’s 90th birthday, so I haven’t had much of an opportunity for reading or writing anything (hence this post being a day late…whoops). I thought instead I’d talk in a little more detail about something I mentioned in my Some Good Things post. I stumbled across Hello from the Magic Tavern while searching for a new podcast once I’d caught up on Welcome to Night Vale. It has some of the same bizzare humour of Night Vale but with its own very individual charm.

The premise is simple: Arnie falls through a portal behind a Burger King and finds himself in Foon, a stereotypical High Fantasy world. He sets out to document the world he’s found by setting up his podcasting equipment in the local tavern and, with the help of two local co-hosts, he interviews a different fantasy trope character each week. There are a few podcasts of this type out there, but what sets Magic Tavern apart is the fact that the show is entirely improvised.

Because of this the characters are all wonderful, if a little weird. They’re all based on fantasy tropes but become something much more in the hands of the improv actors. Arnie’s co-hosts each week are Chunt, a shape-shifter currently in the form of a badger who changes form whenever he has sex with a different creature, and Usidore the Blue Wizard, who has hundreds of names and questionable magical ability. Some of my favourite guests have been Flower, a sentient flower with a serious attitude problem, Baron Ragoon, the very polite but clearly evil Steward of the Shrike Valley, and the Great Eagles who constantly have to rescue Usidore the Wizard (*cough*Tolkein*cough*). Arnie plays an affable everyman to these crazy characters, asking the important questions, usually involving the sex lives of the guests.

Despite the playful and slightly slapdash nature of the show Magic Tavern has actually managed to create an extensive and detailed fantasy world. I’m always hugely impressed by how much the actors remember from previous episodes, and I do wonder if they make notes on every throwaway comment and have crib notes in front of them. It’s great fun when two world-rules contradict each other and the actors fight to enforce them both in the most convoluted ways possible. The world of Foon draws from both fantasy tropes and the real world, and I really love is the actors’ habits of taking very familiar Earth things (often because they slipped up) and making something quite literally magical out of them. Probably my favourite one of these is Offices & Bosses, Foon’s version of Dungeons & Dragons where you navigate office politics and fight the terrifying Photocopier. They take these things and run with them – there’s even a separate Offices & Bosses podcast episode – and it actually creates a world that, while it can’t quite be called realistic, is definitely rich in detail.

However, the real triumph of the show is the camaraderie between the actors. The three main characters (Arnie Niekamp as himself, Adal Rifai as Chunt and Matt Young as Usidore) have great chemistry and riff off each other well with quick wit and a healthy dose of deprecating humour. This attitude extends to the guests too; it probably helps that most guests are part of Chicago’s extensive improv scene and likely know and have worked with each other before. The result is a beautiful mess of pop culture references, stupid catchphrases, attempts to make the others corpse and forcing each other to make up songs and limericks on the spot. It’s a delight to listen to and is really what makes Hello from the Magic Tavern worth checking out.

So if you like fantasy or improv comedy or even just podcasts then I would highly recommend Hello from the Magic Tavern.  You can find all the episodes on their website or on any podcast-streaming site. It’ll definitely brighten up your day to hear the jingle or another one of Chunt’s catchphrases. Go check it out!

What I'm Reading, What I'm...

What I’m Reading This Month (February 2017)

I’m far too fickle to do a TBR for each month. I change my mind far too often, or suddenly find a new book that I just can’t wait to start even though I’m halfway through something else. So instead I’ve decided to do something a bit less structured part-way through the month and talk about what I’ve read, what I’m reading and what I’m excited to pick up with absolutely zero commitment to actually reading it because I’m flaky and will never change.

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I actually picked up The Foxhole Court, the first book in the All For the Game series, as an ebook for free a while ago. I finally got around to reading it a few days ago, finished it quickly and moved instantly on to the second. I’m enjoying the series so far and am really excited to see what happens next, although I do wish that the pace of the first book had been a bit faster and I’m slightly unsure of Sakavic’s interpretation of mental illness. I’m still looking forward to the rest of the series though, and will probably review them as a trilogy once I’ve finished them all.

This month I’m also very into using Project Gutenburg, where you can read books that are out of copyright for free either as a downloadable ebook or on the site itself. I’ve read a couple of shorter things on here, including The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde which is one of my absolute favourite plays. If you haven’t come across Gutenburg yet then I would highly recommend it.

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I’m also currently reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and although I’m not very far through I’m getting a sort of Dead Poets Society meets Gossip Girl feel from it. I’m enjoying it largely because Miss Brodie reminds me of some teachers that I had at school. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that Spark tells you what ultimately happens to each of the girls early on, but the characters are likeable even as slight caricatures – I identify especially with Sandy – and I still want to know how they reach their futures.

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I’ve had Richard Siken’s poetry collection Crush for a while now – I actually studied and wrote about one of his poems, You Are Jeff, for my English Lit A-Level – but I’ve never really sat down and dedicated time to reading his work properly. I’d like to do that at some point this month, because his poems are raw and beautiful and deserve proper thought.

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Because February seems to be Neil Gaiman’s month (I’m so excited to get my hands on Norse Mythology!) I think I might pick up one of his books I’ve had for a little while but haven’t got around to yet. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never read anything Gaiman’s written alone, but I love the work he did with the late great Sir Terry Pratchett and think he’ll definitely be my cup of tea. Good Omens is wonderful and if his style is anything similar I know that I’ll really love Neverwhere.

 

So that’s a small taste of what I’m reading this month in lieu of an actual TBR. I’d be really interested to know people’s thoughts on the books I’m reading, or any recommendations of anything similar!

 

Book Reviews, Reviews

The Asylum For Wayward Victorian Girls Review

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Chances are you’ve never heard of Emilie Autumn unless you move in very particular musical circles; I very much stumbled across her when someone referenced her in a blog. Her style is self-described as ‘victoriandustrial’ with a bit of musical theatre thrown in, which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but something I actually quite like (if you want to check her out I’d start with Opheliac, which is generally considered to be her best album). She’s bipolar and an outspoken feminist, both of which feed into pretty much everything she does. She’s occasionally a bit controversial in her comments and her aesthetic has garnered accusations of romanticising mental illness, but overall I like her and her music has actually helped me through some tough times.

In 2009 Autumn self-published The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls to accompany the tour she was on and is based on the time she spent in a mental institution. Part autobiography, part historical novel, part fantasy, AFWVG is an odd mish-mash of styles mixed in with handwritten notes, recipes and photographs including shots of Autumn herself and as a whole looks stunning.

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I would definitely describe this as a Marmite book: either it works for you or it doesn’t.

The fictional half of the book is told in letters ‘received’ by Autumn during her time in the mental institution. Emily-with-a-Y, a Victorian violin prodigy who is condemned to life in The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls, a place where vulnerable girls are mistreated and abused, and ultimately part of sinister dealings by the corrupt Asylum doctors. It’s fairly standard fare, but for the most part it’s executed reasonably well. Emily-with-a-Y is likeable and very human, although she does fall prey to the ‘Chosen One’ trope a little as the Asylum doctors find her a little too interesting for no apparent reason. There are also a few issues with overly-loquacious style and structure – there are places where the action begins to pick up pace only to be followed by a whole chapter describing the food at the Asylum – but I found it relatively enjoyable and, with a good editor (which will be happening now that Autumn has signed with a publishing house) it definitely has potential.

You do need to let historical accuracy go a little which people have complained about, but I don’t think that that was what Autumn was going for. Although her description can be a little clunky at times she does create a vivid, gritty world that holds genuine fear for the female characters and, although the villains are exaggerated, she draws parallels between their attitudes towards women and sentiments that are still held by some today that manage to cut close to the bone.

But it’s the autobiographical parts of the book that are by far the more interesting. Autumn bares her soul in these sections, drawing on things that she wrote around the time she was committed to create not just an account of her time in the mental institution, but a holistic look at what it means to be ‘crazy’. She’s definitely not always likeable in these parts, but she’s brutally honest about it and it’s both harrowing and beautiful. These parts aren’t for the faint hearted – the three diaries she includes sections of are very difficult to read – but I would honestly say it’s worth it. If you’ve ever been through anything similar then Emilie’s thoughts and experiences will probably speak very personally to you.

Unfortunately, I get the feeling that Autumn became more interested in the fictional world that she created than telling her own story because the autobiographical chapters become less and less frequent and don’t receive any proper conclusion. Instead she meshes the two worlds she’s written about together, which is fair enough, but I would have liked some closure or reflective thoughts on her time in the institution. I would definitely call this my main complaint because I enjoyed (although maybe that’s not the right word) the autobiographical parts much more than the fiction, although I realise that how much Autumn tells us is entirely up to her as it is very personal.

I’m not sure I could say that I recommend this book. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and I know that a lot of people didn’t like it, either because of the faults in the composition of the fiction or because the autobiography didn’t connect with them, and I can definitely understand why. I have to say that I’m glad I read it though because it spoke to me personally. I think it’s the kind of book each individual would have a different experience with, so if it sounds like your kind of thing then check it out. Just make sure you have a strong stomach.

My Writing, Writing Stuff

Vacuous

I kissed you and you tasted vacuous

You are a void,

a chasm into which I would have willingly thrown myself

just for the thrill of the fall.

I know that you do not love me.

Why should you? Ghost that you are,

solid things of earth hold no interest for you,

and I have too much substance.

My body is flesh and blood and bone and you are air.

I am altogether too human,

too full of hopes and fears and crushing reality to hold your attention for long.

You who float freely above my head,

the tips of your toes brushing my outstretched fingertips.

Perhaps I could grasp your ankle and rise with you

to dance with you amongst the treetops and bed myself down in the clouds next to you.

But I fear that you will drop me

and laugh at my shattered body from above.

If I am to reach your lofty heights it shall be my blood that is spilt in sacrifice

and the offering I make shall be at my own temple

not to your tempestuous god.

I used to think your heart was made of rubies and your words of gold.

But now I know.

There is a black hole where your heart should be.