Tag Archives: literature

The strange cult of Emily Brontë and the ‘hot mess’ of Wuthering Heights

22 Jul

Over this ecstatic high summer, visitors to the Haworth parsonage museum will be able to watch a film that simulates the bird’s-eye view of Emily Brontë’s pet hawk, Nero, as he swoops over the moors to Top Withens, the ruined farmhouse that is the putative model for Wuthering Heights. You’ll be able to listen to the Unthanks, the quavery Northumbrian folk music sisters who have composed music in celebration of Emily’s 200th anniversary. If that’s not enough, you can watch a video installation by Lily Cole, the model-turned-actor-turned-Cambridge-double-first from Devon, which riffs on Heathcliff’s origins as a Liverpool foundling. Finally, Kate Bush, from Kent, has been busy on the moors unveiling a stone. In short, wherever you come from and whoever you are, you will find an Emily Brontë who is sufficiently formless yet endlessly adaptive to whatever you need her to be – a rock, a song, a bird in flight.

So begins Kathryn Hughes’ critical take on Wuthering Heights as we near Bronte’s 200th anniversary. You may read the rest of the essay at The Guardian here.

Romantic or racist? Perceptions shift on ‘Little House on the Prairie’

13 Jul

In Minnesota, Waziyatawin’s daughter came home from school one afternoon shaken and deeply disturbed by that day’s read-along.

The book? “Little House on the Prairie.” Her mom says the then-8-year-old was upset by hearing her teacher deliver the novel’s phrase, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” When Dr. Waziyatawin, a Dakota historian with a doctorate in American history from Cornell University, petitioned the Yellow Medicine East District in 1998 to stop teaching the book in third grade, her request was rejected.

In Kansas, Laura McLemore, who was named after the Little House series’ author Laura Ingalls Wilder, dedicates herself to preserving the legacy of the author, dressing up as the fictionalized Laura character to make the pioneer-era books come alive for school kids.

In Boston, when James Noonan, a research affiliate at Harvard Graduate School of Education, read the book to his 3-year-old daughter last year, he says he struggled to find a “middle path,” pointing out racism and talking about the perspectives of the Native characters not included in the series. “I’m not trying to censor it. I’m trying to ask important questions about it and not let Ma’s perspective speak for itself,” says Dr. Noonan.

These divergent responses reflect a still-unsettled struggle over how society should deal with books – especially ones long revered as classics – that contain racism. The “Little House on the Prairie” ​series, ​which follows the fictionalized Ingalls family as they settle in Kansas, ​has for decades been a third-grade reading staple, translated into more than 40 languages a​s well as adapted ​for TV.

So begins Rebecca Asoulin’s report on differing ways of dealing with how Native Americans are regarded in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic books. You may read the entire story at the Christian Science Monitor here.

On Willa Cather, by Jane Smiley

5 May

Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies

Jane Smiley is, of course, a novelist who is place-conscious. Her introduction to Willa Cather, another place-conscious writer, is at The Paris Review; you may read it here.

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24 Apr

Avengers Infinity War

Like Iphigenia, Job is the plaything of forces beyond his comprehension. In the universe of myth, the existence of super-beings means that humans have less power, not more. “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble.” That’s the subtext—or, in Job’s case, the actual text—of the old stories about gods.

Superhero stories completely reverse this idea. It’s not an accident that the first superhero lifted his name from Nietzsche’s Superman. The whole premise of the superhero is that the Gods are dead and irrelevant, and that humans can, and should, expand to fill the space left in the cosmos by that divine absence.

The typical superhero film is about some flawed guy (it’s usually a guy) who lacks self-confidence. But then he gains superpowers, finds his inner strength and humanity, and self-actualizes by saving the innocent and bringing evildoers to justice. Instead of Icarus flying too high and then plummeting to Earth, the superhero flaps those wings and whooshes up to bash that evil sun right in the snoot.

So argues Noah Berlatsky at Pacific Standard. You may read his entire argument here.

The Beloved Classic Novel “The Little Prince” Turns 75 Years Old

4 Apr

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Though reviewers were initially confused about who, exactly, French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s had written The Little Prince for, readers of all ages embraced the young boy from Asteroid B-612 when it hit stores 75 years ago this week. The highly imaginative novella about a young, intergalactic traveler, spent two weeks on The New York Times’ best-seller list and went through at least three printings by December of that year. Though it only arrived in France after World War II, The Little Prince made it to Poland, Germany and Italy before the decade was up.

So begins Sam Spengler’s concise account of the background for The Little Prince. You may read the rest of her piece at Smithsonian.com here.

A.A. Milne, Pooh, and Christopher Robin

14 Nov

Christopher Robin Milne

With the new movie “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” Patrick Sauer recounts a bit of the backstory on A.A. Milne, his son, and the famous Pooh books here at the Smithsonian: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/winnie-pooh-became-household-bear-180967090

A Walk in Willa Cather’s Prairie

26 Sep

Alex Ross provides a wonderful report-essay in the New Yorker on Willa Cather and the new National Willa Cather Center: A Walk in Willa Cather’s Prairie | The New Yorker

As I Lay Dying: He is Risen Indeed

19 Apr

Beautiful reflections by Calvin College literature professor Jane Zwart on William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying and Easter: As I Lay Dying: He is Risen Indeed – THE TWELVE


19 Dec

I love Christmas carols and I would have a hard time choosing my favorite, but as a historian—and a specialist on the American Civil War, particularly—I have always been deeply moved by “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

Historian Robert Tracy McKenzie recounts the story of this Civil War Christmas carol in this post at his blog: “FOR HATE IS STRONG AND MOCKS THE SONG”: A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS CAROL | Faith and History

Bibliomania, the Dark Desire For Books That Infected Europe in the 1800s

5 Dec

Bibliomania? Book lovers and collectors in 19th-century Europe feared becoming a victim of the pseudo-illness.

As for me, I have managed to be cured–sort of: Bibliomania, the Dark Desire For Books That Infected Europe in the 1800s | Atlas Obscura

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