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Dark Academia Books

Dark academia – a subculture quite wonderfully concerned with higher education, the arts, writing, poetry, the pursuit of self-discovery, and Greek and Gothic architecture – seems to have taken over my Pinterest and YouTube feeds over the last couple of years. Whilst this largely appears to be focused on the aesthetic side of the culture, I wanted to make the genre applicable to The Literary Sisters. I have therefore put together a list of eight books – many of which are my favourites – which I would classify as Dark Academia, for your perusal.

  1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

‘Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last—inexorably—into evil.’

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

‘Orphaned as a child, Jane has felt an outcast her whole young life. Her courage is tested once again when she arrives at Thornfield Hall, where she has been hired by the brooding, proud Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. Jane finds herself drawn to his troubled yet kind spirit. She falls in love. Hard.

But there is a terrifying secret inside the gloomy, forbidding Thornfield Hall. Is Rochester hiding from Jane? Will Jane be left heartbroken and exiled once again?’

3. The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde

‘Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it first appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting influence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment. Of Dorian Gray’s relationship to autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.’

4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

‘Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange, situated on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before; of the intense relationship between the gypsy foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw; and how Catherine, forced to choose between passionate, tortured Heathcliff and gentle, well-bred Edgar Linton, surrendered to the expectations of her class. As Heathcliff’s bitterness and vengeance at his betrayal is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past.’

5. The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

‘Bright, bookish Oscar Lowe has made a life for himself amid the colleges and spires of Cambridge and yet is a world apart from the students who study in the hallowed halls. He has come to love the quiet routine of his job as a care assistant at a nursing home, where he has forged a close relationship with its most ill-tempered resident, Dr Paulsen.

But when Oscar is lured into the chapel at King’s College by the ethereal sound of an organ, he meets and falls in love with Iris Bellwether, a beautiful and enigmatic medical student. He follows her into a world of scholarship, wealth, and privilege, and soon becomes embroiled in the machinations of her older brother, Eden.

A charismatic but troubled musical prodigy, Eden persuades his sister and their close-knit circle of friends into a series of disturbing experiments. He believes that music — with his unique talent to guide it — has the power to cure, and will stop at nothing to prove himself right. As the line between genius and madness blurs, Oscar fears the danger that could await them all.’

6. Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

‘Obsessed with creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the material to fashion a new being, which he shocks into life with electricity. But his botched creature, rejected by Frankenstein and denied human companionship, sets out to destroy his maker and all that he holds dear. Mary Shelley’s chilling Gothic tale was conceived when she was only eighteen, living with her lover Percy Shelley near Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva. It would become the world’s most famous work of horror fiction, and remains a devastating exploration of the limits of human creativity.’

7. The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

‘In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge schoolmate – a handsome, aristocratic young poet named Cecil Valance – to his family’s modest home outside London for the weekend. George is enthralled by Cecil, and soon his sixteen-year-old sister, Daphne, is equally besotted by him and the stories he tells about Corley Court, the country estate he is heir to. But what Cecil writes in Daphne’s autograph album will change their and their families’ lives forever: a poem that, after Cecil is killed in the Great War and his reputation burnished, will become a touchstone for a generation, a work recited by every schoolchild in England. Over time, a tragic love story is spun, even as other secrets lie buried – until, decades later, an ambitious biographer threatens to unearth them.

Rich with Hollinghurst’s signature gifts – haunting sensuality, delicious wit and exquisite lyricism – The Stranger’s Child is a tour de force: a masterly novel about the lingering power of desire, how the heart creates its own history, and how legends are made.’

8. Atonement by Ian McEwan

‘Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.

On a hot summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses the flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century.’

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‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Oscar Wilde ***** (Reading Ireland Month)

I read Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest as part of Reading Ireland Month, hosted by Cathy746books and The Fluff Is Raging.

Oscar Wilde is one of the authors I absolutely adore. And yet, despite being an English Literature graduate, I had never had the chance to read The Importance of Being Earnest until now. I had dealt with some of its jokes and punch lines in a translation course, I watched scenes of a Greek TV adaptation and of another theatre adaptation of it, but I had never really read the actual and full text.

122638I doubt there are many of you literary people that are unfamiliar with the plot of this ingenius play, but I will provide a short synopsis just in case. Set in England during the 1890s, the play presents the ostensible love troubles and struggles of Jack Worthing and his friend, Algernon Montecrieff, as they try to gain the affection of the two ladies they are in love with. Instead of adhering to the conventional processes, though, they both decide to take up a different identity and lie about their lives; lies that ensue in a number of misunderstandings, false alarms but unexpected revelations as well.

Wilde’s humour and satire are insurmountable. He does not hesitate to poke fun at the society that prevailed at his time and at the people that constituted it. He makes rather scathing and poignant remarks through his characters’ voice and comments about the behaviour of the people at the time, as well as about issues like the publishing of novels by not particularly bright people and so on.

The plot is not necessarily great or even unpredictable nowadays, but Wilde’s writing style and the social issues he decides to tackle still coincide with how society works and how people behave and think in our very own time, despite the fact that more than 100 years have gone by since the time it was written and set in. People’s constant lying in order to impress others, climb higher in people’s estime and attain a more respectful treatment reverberates the behaviour of the people of today as well.

I might be quite biased when it comes to Oscar Wilde and his brilliant work, but I thoroughly enjoyed every part and every moment of this play. I loved the humour, the dialogues, the wit, the characters’ reactions – pretty much everything. I highly recommend this play to anyone who wants to spend some time laughing and snickering over a beautifully written plot and some greatly constructed characters. This play is a perfect companion as a quick evening read or even as something to cheer you up after a tough day. It has definitely wetted my appetite for the rest of Wilde’s plays, an endeavour which I shall embark in soon.

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Saturday Poem: ‘Sonnet to Liberty’ by Oscar Wilde

These are the letters which Endymion wrote
To one he loved in secret, and apart.
And now the brawlers of the auction mart
Bargain and bid for each poor blotted note,
Ay! for each separate pulse of passion quote
The merchant’s price. I think they love not art
Who break the crystal of a poet’s heart
That small and sickly eyes may glare and gloat.

Is it not said that many years ago,
In a far Eastern town, some soldiers ran
With torches through the midnight, and began
To wrangle for mean raiment, and to throw
Dice for the garments of a wretched man,
Not knowing the God’s wonder, or His woe?

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Five Very Different Detectives

Detective fiction is a genre which I have always enjoyed.  I loved reading things like the Famous Five and Secret Seven series when I was quite small, and progressed quite naturally onto Arthur Conan Doyle’s marvellous Sherlock Holmes stories.  Of late, I have come across some incredibly interesting – and not at all cliched – detectives, and thought that I would make a little post about them.

1. Oscar Wilde (The Oscar Wilde Mystery series by Gyles Brandreth; the first book is Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders)
Wilde is a most interesting choice of detective, and he is rendered incredibly well by Brandreth.  He comes across as a realistic and rather noble figure in Brandreth’s fiction, and much research has been put into his mannerisms and turns of phrase.

2. Flavia de Luce (The Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley; the first book is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie)
Flavia de Luce is untypical in the sense that she is only almost-eleven years old when the series begins.  She is obsessed with chemistry and busies herself with solving the mysteries which begin to occur around the small village in which she lives.

3. Daphne du Maurier (The du Maurier Mystery series by Joanna Challis; the first book is Murder on the Cliffs)
Daphne du Maurier makes a fascinating and rather level-headed solver of mysteries.  She continually talks about how the deaths which she involves herself within can provide inspiration for her work.  She comes across as an intelligent and shrewd character; much like a far younger Miss Marple in some ways.

4. Cordelia Gray (The Cordelia Gray Mysteries by P.D. James; the first book is An Unsuitable Job for a Woman)
Contrary to those around her, who believe that a woman’s place should not be embroiled in mysteries for a living, the very proper Cordelia Gray inherits a detective agency and is thrilled by the challenge.  As with Daphne du Maurier, Gray is an intelligent character who continually reasserts the facts throughout the books in which she appears.

5. Christopher (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon)
Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone is perhaps an obvious choice for a ‘different’ detective, but he is one of the best.  Christopher has Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism.  “He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbour’s dog murdered he sets out on a terrifying journey which will turn his whole world upside down.”

Which are your favourite ‘different’ detectives?

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Flash Reviews (20th January 2014)

‘The Charioteer’ by Mary Renault

The Charioteer by Mary Renault ***
Renault is one of the Virago authors whom I have most been looking forward to reading, particularly because April so adores her.  The Charioteer has been recently reissued, and many new reviews can be read in major publications, most of which praise it highly. From the start, I felt that I was reading something ultimately special.  Renault’s writing is absolutely lovely, and her characters and scenes are so very believable.The many years which pass between the chapters is an interesting technique.  Laurie, our protagonist, jumps from being a five-year-old to a seventeen-year-old applying to Oxford, and at the next juncture, he is twenty-three.  Despite all of the lost time between chapters, it does feel as though we get to know him rather well.  The Charioteer, which deals with Laurie’s homosexuality, is a very sad novel at times.  A lot of pain has been woven into his story, manifesting itself both physically and emotionally.  Overall, I found that the story was an interesting one, and Renault certainly addresses some important and topical issues, but my qualm with it was that I could not warm to Laurie.  I also found that I enjoyed the first two chapters far more than the rest of the novel.  Regardless, I would still very much love to read more of Renault’s work.

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‘Before I Die’ by Jenny Downham

Before I Die by Jenny Downham ****
I first read Before I Die when the paperback came out.  I did enjoy it, but found it incredibly chilling, coming as it did just a couple of years after my own grandmother passed away from cancer.  After watching ‘Now Is Good’, a 2012 film which is based upon the book and which stars the lovely Dakota Fanning, a re-read was prompted.

Before I Die tells the story of Tessa from her own perspective.  Four years previously, she was diagnosed with a form of leukaemia, which has become terminal.  Tessa has made a list of all the things which she wants to do before she passes away.  The novel is so very sad, even when you are prepared for what is coming, but Downham handles the topic so sensitively.  Tessa’s narrative voice is incredibly strong.  She is not always the most likeable of characters in terms of her actions, but everything she does is consistent with the shattering news which she has to face.  In this way, Downham has rendered her book rather a gritty read at times.  I liked the way in which she has blended several different stories together, and the way in which she shows how Tessa’s illness affects those around her, as well as herself.  I enjoyed Before I Die far more the second time around, and to everyone who has read and adored John Green’s beautiful The Fault In Our Stars, I say go and read this.

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The Christmas Truce by Carol Ann Duffy ***** (re-read)
Carol Ann Duffy’s Christmas books are absolutely beautiful, both in terms of the words and illustrations.  I first read The Christmas Truce, which tells the lovely story of the British and German soldiers putting down their arms during a First World War Christmas, and spending a peaceful day together, swapping gifts and playing a football match, last year, when I spotted it in the lovely Notting Hill Book and Comic Exchange.  This is a book which I will gladly read every single year, and one which I will never tire of.

Purchase from The Book Depository

From ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ by Oscar Wilde (1907)

The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde ****
I absolutely adore Oscar Wilde, and this is one of just two works of his which I had not yet read.  The sense of place throughout this poetry collection is stunning, and his writing sublime.  I adore his use of language.  A wealth of subjects have been considered here – Milton, Nelson, Ancient Greece, death, nature, Scandinavian myths and legends, travelling, religion and history just to name a few.  Sadly, I did not quite fall in love with The Ballad of Reading Gaol enough for it to rank amongst my favourites, but it is still lovely.  My favourite poems were ‘The Harlot’s House’ and ‘Les Ballons’, which you can read below.

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Les Ballons

Against these turbid turquoise skies
The light and luminous balloons
Dip and drift like satin moons,
Drift like silken butterflies;

Reel with every windy gust,
Rise and reel like dancing girls,
Float like strange transparent pearls,
Fall and float like silver dust.

Now to the low leaves they cling,
Each with coy fantastic pose,
Each a petal of a rose
Straining at a gossamer string.

Then to the tall trees they climb,
Like thin globes of amethyst,
Wandering opals keeping tryst
With the rubies of the lime.

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Sunday Snapshot: Classics

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
No classics list for me would be complete without Jane Eyre.  The story is a timeless one, and it resonates with

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre (Photo credit: Valerie Reneé)

readers today as much as it ever has done.  Bronte’s writing is beautiful, and the characters and settings she crafts are marvellously lifelike.  Jane Eyre is at the peak of the classics list for me, and I’m sure I shall read it many more times in future.  It stands to reason that many film versions have been released of the book, and I feel that Bronte is as popular as she deserves to be.

2. Middlemarch by George Eliot
I studied English and History at University, and as George Eliot was a relatively local resident to the city, my Humanities building was named after her.  Middlemarch was the first of her novels which I read, and I was blown away by it.  The sense of place and time which she builds up is truly stunning, and I felt as though I was right beside the characters as they lived their lives.  As a social and political study of the 1800s, you cannot get much better than Middlemarch.

3. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
I adore Hardy’s writing style, and his descriptive passages are rarely equalled in literature.  Tess of the d’Urbervilles is not a happy book by any means, but it exemplifies the hideous poverty which many had to live through.  Tess is a lovely character on the whole, and she is also incredibly memorable.  This novel proves a marvellous introduction to Hardy’s writing.

4. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
I find Wilde fascinating, both as an author and a singular figure.  He was such an exuberant and witty character, and this shines through in everything he writes.  Many are familiar with The Importance of Being Earnest from various film versions and theatre performances, but I feel that the best way to appreciate the play is in its original form.  Wilde’s writing sparkles, and his characters are simply superb.

5. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
As far as I am concerned, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a timeless book, much like the aforementioned Jane Eyre.  I have read it countless times, yet still find it utterly magical.  Carroll’s imagination is stunning, and the many film versions of the book – yes, I have seen lots of them – have made such wonderful use of the original material.