Catherine Moreland

At the risk of subjecting you – my lovely readers – to another ‘fangirl’ style gush (see Holden Caulfield & George) I have to admit the reason for my envying Austen’s Northanger Abbey heroine, is basically because she gets to make out with Henry Tilney.


Mr. Tilney may well be my new favourite Austen hunk. He’s a bit more fun than Mr. Darcy, and doesn’t come with any of the incest-adjacent awkwardness of Edmund Bertram or Mr. Knightly. He’s understood to be discreetly handsome, very intelligent, and a lover of books – both novels and history. So if you’re anything like me (see: low self esteem & probable future librarian) your loins must quiver at the thought.

Of course as with any Austen man there is some criticism surrounding Tilney’s treatment of women in the text. Admittedly he’s a bit of a jerk towards Catherine by subtly poking fun at her naivity. But even when he picks at the semantics of her word choice I cannot help but forgive him. After all, Catherine is devastatingly immature in a lot of ways and Henry is really only being flirtatious. I think my weakness here is because my favourite Austen characters are always the ones who playfully undermine others through quick wit and wordplay – a la Mr. Bennet.

Come shall I make you understand each other, or leave you to puzzle out an explanation as you can? No, I will be noble. I will prove myself a man no less by the generosity of my soul, than the clearness of my head. I have no patience with such of my sex as disdain to let themselves sometimes down to the comprehension of yours. Perhaps the abilities of women are neither sound nor acute, neither vigorous nor keen. Perhaps they may want observation, discernment, judgment, fire, genius, and wit. 

Can’t you just see the cheeky gin on his face? Perhaps not? But I choose to believe his speech is full of jest and endearment rather than arrogance, because he’s still the perfect gentleman where it counts. He’s considerate and attentive when Catherine receives bad news from her brother, he forgives her when she lets her imagination get the better of her, and his love for his sister seems to breed a respect for women in general – at least as much as the context permits. Plus he redeems himself in the end (spoilers) through the most romantic of gestures – going against his father’s wishes to seek our heroine’s hand.

Of course Catherine’s success in marriage isn’t the only reason I wish I was more like her. She also has a family who compensate for lack of money with unconditional love, a wild imagination that can add intrigue to the dullest of situations, and an admirable sense of independence considering her age. The only real criticism I have is that her tomboy side could have been played up. But instead of placing the blame on Catherine here I’ll implicate the age and the author. Perhaps Austen was unaware of the ground to be forged here.



Can we talk about Colin Firth?

I first fell madly in love with him when he played Mr. Darcy in BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (1995) – I was seven at the time. Pride and Prejudice was our ‘rainy-day movie’. Mum used to make us hot chocolate and we’d crowd around the TV in our pyjamas to laugh at Mrs. Bennet and swoon over Mr. Darcy. When he emerges dripping wet from that lake at Pemberly and enquires awkwardly after Lizzie’s family my heart just melts! This love affair then continued on through Bridget Jones (2001) and Love Actually (2003) of course. I turned a blind eye when he did Mama Mia (2008) (wtf?) and was dazzled again when he played George in A Single Man (2009). I tell you this because my love for Colin may have influenced the way I feel about George. It was lucky that Tom Ford did such a good job with his film because shamefully I saw it before I had a chance to read the novel. Thankfully when I did read it my love for George was only reinforced. On the back of my Vintage Classics copy of A Single Man (1964) there is a quote from Gore Vidal about Christopher Isherwood: “The best prose writer in English” and I am quite close to agreeing. His words wash around inside your head like warm milk and make you want to stop people in the street and read to them. I tend to feel this way about a lot of books I suppose but with A Single Man I really irritated my friends.

A Single Man is a story about nothing and everything. George lets us in on a day in his life, from when he wakes in the morning to when he goes to sleep at night. The stream of consciousness style of narration manages to do quite a lot with little plot. Through his consciousness we learn what it means to be a middle aged, English, gay man living in Southern California. We are introduced to a parade of characters, from the students at the University George teaches at, to his separated female friend Charlie, to George’s lost lover Jim. George’s strength is subtly communicated through devastatingly relatable descriptions of his thought processes.

And it is here, nearly every morning, that George, having reached the bottom of the stairs, has this sensation of suddenly finding himself on an abrupt, brutally broken-off, jagged edge – as though the track had disappeared down a landslide. It is here that he stops short and knows, with a sick newness, almost as though it were for the first time: Jim is dead. Is dead.

If you’ve ever lost someone, particularly a lover, this will hit you like a shovel to the face. There is so little to it word-wise but you can feel the sinking feeling in your stomach, your tear ducts shiver ever so slightly, then you shake it off just as George does. This connection is established very early in the novel so we see the events that follow through his pain-filled but brave perspective.

George is a fighter and a survivor but he is also somewhat bitter. He seems to accept his misfortunes in a stoic manner but has little patience for the ignorance of other people. Even when it comes to his best friend Charlie he seems to be more disgusted than empathetic. For this though I cannot manage to blame him. Even when he loses his temper to his students his words are too precise, too passionate and too refreshing. In fact his little outburst might be my favourite part of the novel.

Do you think it makes people nasty to be loved? You know it doesn’t! Then why would it make them nice to be loathed? While you’re being persecuted, you hate what’s happening to you, you hate the people who are making it happen; you’re in a world of hate. Why, you wouldn’t recognise love if you met it! You’d suspect love! You’d think there was something behind it – some motive – some trick –

The whole speech is a little controversial and given the oppression we assume George has experienced as a homosexual it is confronting to hear him talk about minorities being in competition with each other. To be honest I haven’t quite worked out why I like this part so much, or even what George’s real point is – although he doesn’t know either. Perhaps it’s simply the eloquence he maintains while losing his temper. When I lose my cool I tend to lose my already sub-par grasp on the English language too, so it is certainly admirable. But what is more admirable is the fact that even though George in an outsider in so many ways, he has not let it completely spoil his respect for human connections. We learn this as he relishes his drunken exchanges with Kenny.

He tries to describe to himself what this kind of drunkness is like. Well – to put it very crudely – it’s like Plato; it’s a Dialogue. A dialogue between two people. Yes, but not a Platonic dialogue in the hair-splitting, word-twisting, one-up-to-me sense; not a mock-humble bitching-match; not a debate on some dreary set theme. You can talk about anything and change the subject as often as you like. In fact, what really matters is not what you talk about, but the being together in this particular relationship.

So I wish I was more like George for all of the above and more. He is resilient, intelligent, independent, eloquent, and dayam sexy!

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John R. Isidore

Well I suppose I had better confess as early as I can that I have not seen Bladerunner(1982). I am a bit of a Dick lover (Philip K. Dick that is) and from what I have read, Bladerunner is loosely based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) – the novel in which John R. Isidore comes to life. I thought I would make mention of the film as this may assist in your orientation if you haven’t read the book.

Okay so if you’re still with me let’s proceed (Science Fiction haters with caution)…

John R. Isidore is a ‘chickenhead’, one of the remaining humans on Earth after a world war that drew the majority of the population to Mars. (I told you to proceed with caution.) Isidore is not allowed to emigrate due to his inferior intelligence – a product of radiation exposure during the war. As he is not the main protagonist in the story it is not immediately clear why his point of view is told at all. However, when he plays host to a group of rogue androids that have escaped their lives of servitude on Mars his function is revealed. Isidore is an outcast, and even though he may seem a passive follower given his blind acceptance of his situation you cannot help but feel there is something more to him.

As many of Earth’s animal species were rendered extinct by the war, the possession of an animal is a symbol of status amongst those left on the barren planet. Despite his mental deficiency, Isidore is given a job with a company that produces and maintains mechanical animals for those who cannot afford the real thing. My favourite part of the novel is when Isidore is sent to collect a malfunctioning cat.

Even though I know rationally it’s faked, the sound of a false animal burning out its dive-train and power supply ties my stomach in knots. 

Eventually Isidore finds out the cat is real and this devastates him further, but even when he thinks it is fake he cannot stifle his empathy for the dying creature.In comparison to other characters in the novel Isidore Is is truly likeable – even my opinion of the protagonist, Rick Dekard, is ambiguous. Isidore is an outcast in a society of the damned, he is lonely (perhaps his loneliness is what makes him so easy to identify with) and eager to help. He helps the androids who do not attempt to hide their disgust with him, and he even helps Deckard to take his new friends away from him.

To me, J. R. Isidore is a kind of ‘everyman’. I have often thought to myself, whilst reading a doomsday or postapocalyptic novel, who I would be in that context. I wouldn’t be Rick Deckard; I wouldn’t be the hero or the villain, I would be the little person. And I hope I could retain my empathy, and remember to love, like Isidore.

No one today remembered why the war had come about or who, if anyone, had won. 

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Dorothy Vallens

I’m sure that no one with a computer is new to the sentiment ‘you can’t smile until you’ve learnt how to cry’, you’ve probably encountered its various forms in shitty chain-emails, or as a Facebook status from your 14 yr old cousin. What is that actually saying anyway? Most babies cry at birth, and start smiling voluntarily weeks later, so it’s not really getting at anything too profound in a literal sense. But in a new-age, spiritual, hippy, touchy-feely way, there’s something there. There’s a hint at the connection between pleasure and suffering. I don’t say ‘pain’, but suffering – a far richer understanding of what pain can be.

Dorothy Vallens (Blue Velvet, 1986) suffers. She suffers the abduction of her son and her husband. She suffers ritualistic rape. She suffers manipulation and psychological torture. She is a victim.

You want to be more like Dorothy Vallens? Are you a complete masochist? Well in response to those questions I’d say; Yes, I would like to be more like Dorothy Vallens, and no, I am not that much of a masochist.

No woman wants her beauty to be defined in purely physical terms, but that is not to say that she doesn’t want to be physically beautiful. Dorothy Vallens is undeniably beautiful. But this is not purely attributable to the physical beauty of Isabella Rossellini, or the saturated shooting of David Lynch. Dorothy is the femme fatale; she is vulnerable and wildly desirable, but impenetrable (not literally/physically). She needs and wants help, but she will not be won. She does not end up with Jeffrey (the man who liberates her from Frank), nor does she seem to want to be with him. Dorothy is a stunning woman, but what is so engaging about her is that there is so much more going on, and it’s right below the surface; she is forlorn, abused, talented, wicked, and she needs you – and everyone can tell. That’s a formidable presence.

Dorothy doesn’t simply suffer. Neither can it be said that she is a feisty heroine, Lara Croft-ing her way out of servitude. She is a victim, but she is not victimised by her victimhood. She grins a cracked-tooth grin as Frank slaps her, and she begs Jeffrey to hit her at the height of pleasure. She’s forced to sing, but she enjoys singing. It seems hard to say that she does not enjoy some elements of her abuse, or the attentions. And we can’t simply assume that it’s because of repeated abuse. We can’t assume that she didn’t enjoy a bit of S&M with Don – her husband, or that she never grabbed a mic before meeting Frank. Sure, she suffers at the hands of Frank – that is undeniable – but she doesn’t only suffer. She gets her kicks, even though she’s being used in the basest way.

Try pigeonholing Dorothy as just a dirty pro-bono prostitute. Nup. She’s a wife and mother, and cares desperately for her son and her husband. Don and ‘little Donny’ need her, as both mother and wife, but also as their safeguard, she must ‘stay alive for Van Goh’. And both Frank and Jeffrey need her. This woman is vital, in every role that women have been mythologised (yeah, okay, probably not as a virgin): mother, wife, whore, body, damsel in distress, martyr, obsession, dependant, Mata Hari, beauty, and muse.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want Frank Booth to gag me with a strip of blue velvet, and I don’t want to be sent my husband’s ear without his accompanying live body. I also don’t want to find Kyle MacLachlan in my wardrobe. I certainly do not see Dorothy Vallens as an ideal of what it is to be a woman (there is, of course, no such thing), nor do I see oppression and suffering as necessary to obtain womanhood. I would not like to be in Dorothy Vallens’ situation, but I would like to be more like Dorothy Vallens. Energy rumbling below the surface of a surreal/un-real woman who didn’t allow herself to be reduced to a body with no agency or self-determination; they may take her liberty and body, and determine her suffering, but they can’t take or determine her pleasure.

Post courtesy of Lauren Bertacchini

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What’s it going to be then eh?

I know what you’re thinking, Alex? The guy who did all the raping and murdering? You’re right, but allow me to explain.

Alex is just down-right cool. He is intelligent, appreciates the arts, and plays by his own rules. Let’s put it in context – consider who you would be if you were native to the dystopian world in which Alex toils. His feeble conformist parents? The minister of the inferior interior? Or one of the activists who compromises their own values in pursuit of their cause?

I have a couple of theories about why I favour such a sociopath. I like to think my admiration stems from jealousy of his articulation and flair for irony. Or perhaps respect for his confidence, something I was never fortunate enough to possess. But I fear there is something more sinister at work here as entering the dark, gritty world of A Clockwork Orange fulfils a kind of fantasy. I mean why do we read if not for escapism? I know that I would never do the things he does, I know I would never be so disrespectful of authority and my community, so a little trip in to the me that would never be is a kind of thrill.

If you haven’t read the book you have probably seen the Stanley Kubrick film. To help support my case I should tell you that the film is an adaptation of the American version of the novel in which the final chapter is left out. I suppose the main theme of the novel isn’t necessarily lost by this omission, however the chapter does have a certain redeeming function for Alex. When he leaves the hospital he is back to his old routine of consuming narcotics and carrying out acts of ultra violence. He even has a new set of droogs at his side; but it somehow isn’t the same. By running in to his old companion George and his wife he has an epiphany and decides what he really wants is a wife and son. He recognises the chaos of his youth and decides to move past it: “all it was was that I was young. But now as I end this story, brothers, I am not young, not no longer.”

I suppose it is a bit hard to stomach his dismissal of such harsh crimes and blaming it all on his youth, but it helps my case if he comes good in the end. Tolkein described stories as a way of escaping the binds of reality and undertaking adventures in safety, he says it is “possible to read stories in peace of mind, free from fear.” I think it is necessary to mention this as I am sure that if the guy knocked on my door late at night I certainly wouldn’t answer it, but in my imagination and from so far a distance Alex is someone to be admired.

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Holden Caulfield

I have decided to start off with a personal favourite. Who doesn’t love The Catcher in the Rye? Okay, a lot of people. In fact whenever I identify it as one of my favourites I am usually met with disappointed sighs or rolled eyes. For me though, the good outweighs the pretentious.

Holden Caulfield, you had me at sentence one.

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of  crap, but I don’t feel like going in to it, if you want to know the truth. 

I suppose it may be my own fault for reading so much Austen (or my mother’s for owning so much Austen) but I just devoured this book for its voice. Holden was speaking to me in a language I understood. Bob Dylan once said he admired performers who had eyes that said ‘I know something you don’t know’. I think Holden would have been somebody like that – and he was letting me in on the secret.

The moment I knew I wanted to marry Holden was a little further in, about chapter four, when he recounts his relationship with Jane Gallagher. You have to love a guy that notices the little things, especially when he stands up to a jerk who doesn’t.

I told him he thought he could give the time to anybody he felt like. I told him he didn’t even care if a girl kept all her kings in the back row or not, and the reason he didn’t care was because he was a goddam stupid moron. 

Cue swoon. Truth be told, I haven’t been known to keep all my kings in the back row, but reading this book made me re think my strategy.

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