Getting Between the Sheets: Homoerotic Tendencies in Play and Production

*An essay written while studying abroad for my Shakespeare and His World class.*

People have always been curious about the unspeakables, topics of conversation that are never to be mentioned, and yet are constantly brought up in hushed tones. Probably because people were interested in the dirtier ways of life, the thrill of gossiping. One prime example of this is the topic of sexuality and particularly homosexuality, especially in the Early Modern Period. Roger Thompson’s article “Attitudes Towards Homosexuality in the Seventeenth-Century New England Colonies” expresses the idea that “sodomy was literally unspeakable. It was customarily described as ‘a sinne not once to be named’” (31), although there were clearly people discussing this subject and even partaking in the act, or else there would not be these theories today. Everyone was interested in the things they were told to turn away from either by their family, government, or church; but censoring only made the curious strive for outlets to learn and discover these tainted topics.

The Early Modern Period was witness to plays and stories highly charged with eroticism, specifically homoeroticism. Charles Forker explains that the “Restoration comedy…[was] often thought of as obsessed with sex and dominated by lubricity” (1). The authors and playwrights in this time capitalized on the sexual comedies that their audience wanted to read and see; one of the authors leading this trend was William Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s characters Iago and Rosalind can be read untraditionally as having homoerotic tendencies that add interest and help explain the storyline better, therefore these tendencies should be shown in productions. Shakespeare’s plays contain many layers and are capable of being read on many different levels, such as the homoerotic. In this essay, I will focus on the plays As You Like It and Othello, and using a video production of each, discerning whether or not the production succeeds in showing this other, “unspeakable” side of the play.

Shakespeare’s time may have seen a rise in plays and stories that depicted curious interactions with two men, however according to Robert Matz and his article “Slander, Renaissance Discourses of Sodomy, and Othello,” “the early modern period recognized no distinct homosexual, or therefore heterosexual, identity” (261-62). Forker agrees with Matz and adds on the “notion of sexual orientation or preference as implying a gay subculture within the predominantly heterosexual one would probably have been unrecognizable to Marlow and his contemporaries” (1). Simply put, the time period did not have the terminology used today, and obviously, that topic was quite delicate and therefore not mentioned enough to have required its own terms. Nonetheless, Shakespeare still experimented with this genre of sexuality. Shakespeare’s Division of Experience, written by Marilyn French, argues this by saying: “Shakespeare…attempted to synthesize the gender principles in more earthly locales…[such as the] male figures assimilating, absorbing the qualities of the feminine principle through education and…suffering” (30). And Valerie Traub’s article “Gender and Sexuality in Shakespeare” even further backs up French’s argument idea: “Masculinity, for instance, is typically associated with sexual aggression in our own time, whereas during Shakespeare’s life, women were considered to be more lustful than men” (129). Shakespeare, as seen in Othello and As You Like It, manipulates the gender roles in his plays, deciding for himself who can be more lustful or feminine and who cannot.

The play As You Like It contains one of Shakespeare’s most iconic characters: Rosalind. Traditionally read, Rosalind disguises herself as a man named Ganymede and retreats to the woods to find her father, the Duke Senior, and have her family restored to their original power back in the city. There are romantic interests involved, the wrestler Orlando and Rosalind have a blossoming relationship while she is disguised and it truly flourishes in the conclusion of the play when her father becomes the rightful duke and she can remove her disguise. This is the traditional read of the play and how it is generally performed on stage or in movies.

There are, however, many other ways of reading into the character of Rosalind and her interactions with others. As Catherine Belsey explains in her article “Disrupting Sexual Difference: Meaning and Gender in the Comedies”: “[Shakespeare’s comedies call into] question a set of relations between terms which purposes as inevitable an antithesis between masculine and feminine, men and women” (171). In As You Like It, Rosalind impersonates a man and completely succeeds. When she finally removes her disguise, no one is embarrassed or chastises her, which is how one would assume that, as a woman, she would have been reprimanded for her actions. Belsey also reminds that the “place of the woman in the dynastic family is clear and well known” during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and it is clear that Rosalind is stepping out of her intended place by dressing herself as a boy, which allows for her to “escape the constraints and the vulnerability of the feminine” (176, 182), “perform heroic actions that were generally reserved for men” (Rackin 74-75). Women were held down during this time, and Rosalind is definitely no exception. Her father was banished from the city and she now lives under her uncle’s roof, only to be banished as well. It is reasonable that she despises being a woman, which is shown when she tells Orlando, while dressed up as Ganymede: “I thank God I am / not a woman” (Shakespeare 3.2.337-38). Perhaps Rosalind is simply boosting her masculinity by appealing to something many men would have agreed upon, but she describes it as being too “giddy” (3.2.338) which in turn has ruined the whole female sex for her. Valerie Traub’s other article about homoeroticism states: “Of all the male names available to her, [Rosalind] chooses that of the young lover of Zeus” otherwise known as Ganymede. Traub also explains that this male name “was used from medieval times well into the seventeenth century to mean an object of homosexual desire” (137). Shakespeare must have been aware of this knowledge when picking Rosalind’s new persona, therefore creating her to have homoerotic tendencies.

There are two separate characters that intertwine with Rosalind/Ganymede. First, there is Rosalind’s cousin and childhood friend, Celia, who gives up her royal life to disappear into the forest alongside Rosalind. She too changes her identity, but to that of a lowly farm girl since her stature is smaller than Rosalind’s. In the traditional read of the play, Celia/Aliena is being an understanding cousin and friend by helping Rosalind find her father and restore her rightful place in the kingdom, even though that means removing herself from royalty. To Celia, nothing is stronger than friendship, other than love. An un-traditional read brings forth the idea that Celia is actually in love with Rosalind, who does not return this romantic love. The one-sided relationship is clear from the first act when Celia claims that she can “see [Rosalind] lovest [her] not with the full weight that [she] love [Rosalind]” (1.2.7-8) and the way in which she addresses her cousin: “my sweet Rose, my dear Rose” (1.2.21). Familial love is very present in this society and Celia and Rosalind had been friends since early childhood, however, Celia’s love for Rosalind is vastly different than Rosalind’s love for Celia.

When Duke Frederick, Celia’s father, and Rosalind’s uncle, banishes Rosalind, Celia does not think twice about running away with her cousin, whereas Rosalind does not think of anyone but herself and allows her innocent cousin to leave the safety of her home to follow her. Celia demands that she be banished by her own father, and with a simple argument from Rosalind, Celia is determined to flee to the forest with her cousin, saying: “Rosalind, lack’st thou then the love / Which teacheth thee that thou and I am one?” (1.3.95-96). Rosalind not only does not persist any further that Celia should stay where she belongs, but she is also oblivious that her cousin and dearest friend has romantic feelings for her.

Another example of Celia being in love with Rosalind is when Rosalind, disguised as Ganymede, demands to be married to Orlando in the woods:

Rosalind: Why then, can one desire too much of a good

thing? (To Celia) Come, sister, you shall be the priest

and marry us.–Give me your hand, Orlando.–What

do you say, sister?

Orlando: (To Celia) Pray thee, marry us.

Celia: I cannot say the words. (4.1.115-20)

Celia is aware of the game Rosalind is playing on Orlando, so why would she be so uncomfortable with helping in this childish marriage? Celia does not want to bear witness to her love being married to someone else, even if it is not a real wedding. Seeing Rosalind leave her for someone else is heartbreaking and she cannot even to joke around; and the audience only hears from Celia one more time after this wedding scene, as if she has been silenced from this scene.

This scene is also very important for the other relationship that intertwines with Rosalind/Ganymede. Orlando, son of Sir Rowland de Bois, falls in love with Rosalind in the first act, seeing her as a gorgeous and rich duchess at his wrestling match. When he flees to the woods from his murderous older brother, Oliver, he brings with his infatuation and defaces many trees with Rosalind’s name. He ends up meeting Ganymede and Aliena, where Rosalind/Ganymede convinces him to play in a love game in order to cure Orlando of his love for Rosalind, which is to make him dote on Ganymede as his love. This love cure means that Orlando must come “every day to woo [Ganymede]” (3.2.393-94), and oddly enough Orlando complies. The main question the audience has is does Orlando know that Ganymede really is Rosalind and is that why he plays along with her little game? Or does he in fact harbor some homoerotic tendencies? In the wedding scene, Orlando immediately jumps up to marry Ganymede. He does not question that he is about to “marry” another man, something known to be not allowed during this time.

The Globe Theatre put on As You Like It and filmed it to make it accessible to everyone. In this adaptation, there are definitely some homoerotic tendencies shown between Orlando and Ganymede. When Orlando first meets Ganymede in the woods, he is slightly perturbed by the young lad asking him questions, but does not immediately dismiss him and is instead curious about Ganymede. He tells Rosalind/Ganymede that his “accent is something finer than [he] could purchase in so removed a dwelling” (Shakespeare 1.2.331-32). Orlando, played by Jack Laskey, is questioning where Ganymede comes from, but Orlando’s words come out flustered and he hesitates frequently as if he is trying to understand who this person is in front of him. Perhaps this is because he recognizes his love Rosalind behind the short hair and men’s clothing, or perhaps he is discovering something within himself.

The ultimate scene that differs from the original text is the fake wedding scene. Once the two men speak their vows, they share in a kiss, which is not stated in the original text. The producer, James Whitbourn, definitely paid attention to the multiple layers that this play can be read. Once again, one could argue that Orlando does know that Ganymede is really Rosalind in disguise, and is, in fact, kissing Rosalind. However, if he really did know, then why wouldn’t he simply tell her, instead of playing along with the game? Instead, he steps willingly and excitingly into a homosexual marriage and kisses his new love before him.

This production was fantastic at portraying the homoerotic relationship between Orlando and Ganymede/Rosalind, however, it does fall short of portraying Celia’s relationship with Rosalind. In fact, Laura Rogers, the actress playing Celia/Aliena, is a stronger and more powerful character than how Naomi Frederick portrays Rosalind. Their relationship, and the two actresses who play them, is the only aspect of the production that disappointed me, other than those few scenes, the Globe did put on a great show and accurately stayed with the original text, even adding new and different stage actions.

Neely discusses in her article: “Othello, like the other problem plays, has generated passionate and radically conflicting responses–responses that are invariably tied to the critics’ emotional responses to the characters and to the gender relations in the play” (79). The play Othello features a Moor who is the general of the Venetian army. He has just married a beautiful woman, Desdemona, and has appointed Cassio to a higher up position in the army. All of these actions anger what I presume to be considered the main character of Iago. “[Iago] experiences himself doubly rejected when Othello…[marries] Desdemona and [chooses] Cassio as his most intimate professional associate” (Stockholder 95). Iago, much like Rosalind in As You Like It, can be read and interpreted on many different levels. Traditionally and simply put, he is jealous of Othello’s success and wants what he cannot have. However, I believe that there is more to this character that Shakespeare wants us to see.

Iago is upset because he wants both what Othello has possession of, and Othello himself. As Ronald Draper phrases it: “Iago’s feeling towards Othello seems to be a contradictory mixture of envy and resentment” (108). This interpretation can be seen in Act 3 Scene 3 where Othello discovers the handkerchief he gifted his new bride has been found in Cassio’s bedchamber, therefore insinuating an affair. Iago, the mastermind behind this false accusation, is present to comfort and console Othello by taking vows of homage that, as Matz describes,  recalls a marriage ceremony (264). The scene even ends with Othello telling Iago that he is now his lieutenant (3.3.481) and Iago replies: “I am your own for ever” (3.3.482). Matz also argues, however that “[the term] ‘friend’ (or ‘lover’) was a term that in the Renaissance included and frequently overlayed political and effective alliance: to be a powerful man’s ‘bedfellow’ was to have a most valuable political access–and honor” (262). Othello very clearly is gaining more and more trust in Iago, because Iago is making himself available whenever something negative happens that sets Othello off, and his trust shines through in this scene. Othello could very well be “marrying” a great friend who has brought forth some truth to his life, but perhaps while he is saying his own brotherhood-type vows, Iago is giving himself over to Othello. The scene ends with a very intimate sentence from Iago, and nothing from Othello, almost as if what Iago has said was under his breath or did not warrant a response from the angered Othello.

Iago will do anything for love–even kill. In the introduction to his casebook on Othello, John Wain argues that “Unaware of the power of love, [Iago] cannot imagine the suffering into which he will plunge Othello by plausibly slandering Desdemona” (12). Iago knows perfectly well about the power of love because he is controlling it. Even if one takes away the notion of Iago having homosexual feelings for Othello, Iago certainly still loves himself and will do anything to move himself up the social ladder to ultimately be successful like Othello. He knows that by framing Desdemona, he is setting her up for death because if she does not die at the end of the play, his secret of planting the handkerchief in her room will come out eventually and then Othello would come after him. Because of this, he has to be aware that Othello will be sorely upset about his bride supposedly cuckolding him, leading him to think irrationally. Randolph Splitter goes even farther saying: “Iago’s ‘love” for Othello, Cassio, Desdemona or anyone else is buried in a general mistrust of human relations” (193). Perhaps the only human Iago trusts is himself and his own actions, hence why he is always thinking of himself and his desires.

Using a modern adaptation of Othello titled “O”, I will describe how the movie portrays or does not portray any homoerotic tendencies from Iago. This movie, starring Julia Stiles, Josh Hartnett and more, is a teenage drama that takes place in a high school setting. Odin, or Othello, is the only black student at a prestigious boarding school and is the star basketball player, winning awards like Most Valuable Player of the year from his coach, who also happens to be Hugo, or Iago’s, father. Hugo and Michael, or Cassio, are both on the basketball team with Odin and when Odin wins his MVP award, he shares it with Michael instead of Hugo, which starts Hugo’s plotting to make himself succeed more than Odin.

Overall, the movie does excel at keeping with the overall plotline of the play all while keeping it in a modern setting and interesting. Almost all events from the play happen in some way or another, despite all of the murderings. However, what is left out is the homoerotic tendencies that Iago possesses in the play. It is clear that Iago obsesses over Othello and Othello’s actions, which is evident in this adaptation. The camera is always cutting towards Hugo’s reaction to something Odin does, for example during the basketball games when Odin only seems to pass to Michael, the camera will cut to Hugo’s expression of anger. Hugo accurately portrays Iago’s jealousy towards Michael/Cassio, but falls short when it comes to the intimate male-male scenes. There are small interactions between Hugo and Michael where Hugo says phrases such as: “I love you man, but you’re a momma’s boy” or “Mike, am I your boy?” Taking out of certain context, these sentences can be portrayed slightly homoerotic, however, in the movie, Josh Hartnett (Hugo) does not indicate any romantic feelings towards Michael, but instead says these phrases towards him with a brotherly love.

Because the movie leaves out these homoerotic scenes that take place with Iago and Cassio and Iago and Othello, the movie loses what makes Iago so interesting. Since this movie is newer, having been filmed in 2001, I assumed that there would have been more tolerance and willingness to include such things. The setting, a private school with connected dormitories, would have fit extremely well with having one of the characters be gay. But instead, the director decided to stick with the traditional and in turn lost the many-layered Iago from the play. If the movie accurately portrayed these scenes, they could have earned a better following of younger fans and ultimately portrayed Iago how Shakespeare wanted.

Both Rosalind and Iago are complex characters, to say the least. They leave many things up to the interpretation of the audience and reader, but what is important is that all of the facts are presented when reading and/or watching Shakespeare’s works. When a production leaves out the necessary details, whether they be homoerotic or not, they are leaving out key points that Shakespeare originally intended to be seen. Forker agrees by saying:

“Shakespeare, as usual, provides the healthiest and most humane view of sexuality in the period by refusing to isolate sex from a more comprehensive view of the human condition, from those moral and spiritual values in the light of which he invites us to assess all aspects of human experience.” (10-11)

Shakespeare wanted to make his audience think. He could have come up with any simple storyline or character and create a normal play that entertained but does not stick with the audience. Instead, he toyed with his audience’s emotions and thoughts, making them see things they were curious about, but not brave enough to think about. He helped the people of the early modern period realize how closely their sexuality connected with their everyday lives (6-7). And to create a production that does not include any of these aspects is to offend and disregard the play and Shakespeare’s original meaning.

Works Cited

Belsey, Catherine. “Disrupting Sexual Difference: Meaning and Gender in the Comedies.” Alternative Shakespeares. By John Drakakis. London: Routledge, 2002. 170-94. Print.

Draper, Ronald. “Unholy Alliance: Othello and Iago.” Othello. Ed. Linda Cookson. London: Longman Group, 1991. 106-26. Print.

Forker, Charles R. “Sexuality and Eroticism on the Renaissance Stage.” South Central Review 7.4 (1990): 1-22. JSTOR. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.

French, Marilyn. Shakespeare’s Division of Experience. New York: Summit, 1981. Print.

Matz, Robert. “Slander, Renaissance Discourses of Sodomy, and Othello.” ELH 66.2 (1999): 261-76. JSTOR. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.

Neely, Carol T. “Women and Men in Othello.” William Shakespeare’s Othello. By Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. 79-104. Print.

  1. Dir. Tim B. Nelson. Perf. Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles, and Martin Sheen. Chickie the Cop, 2001. Amazon Instant Video. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.

Rackin, Phyllis. “Boys Will Be Girls.” Shakespeare and Women. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 72-94. Print.

Shakespeare, William. “As You Like It.” The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 655-80. Print.

Shakespeare, William. “Othello.” The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Ed. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. 873-907. Print.

Splitter, Randolph. “Language, Sexual Conflict and Symbiosis Anxiety in Othello.” Iago. By Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1992. 191-200. Print.

Stockholder, Kay. Dream Works: Lovers and Families in Shakespeare’s Plays. Toronto: U of Toronto, 1987. Print.

Thompson, Roger. “Attitudes towards Homosexuality in the Seventeenth-Century New England Colonies.” Journal of American Studies 23.1, Sex and Gender in American Culture (1989): 27-40. JSTOR. Web. 05 Apr. 2015.

Traub, Valerie. “Gender and Sexuality in Shakespeare.” The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare. By Margreta De Grazia and Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. 129-46. Print.

Traub, Valerie. “The Homoerotics of Shakespearean Comedy.” Shakespeare, Feminism and Gender. By Kate Chedgzoy. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave, 2001. 135-57. Print.

Wain, John. “Introduction.” Shakespeare, Othello: A Casebook. By John Wain. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1994. 186-208. Print.

William Shakespeare: As You Like It. Screenplay by William Shakespeare. Prod. James Whitbourn. Perf. Jack Laskey and Naomi Frederick. Opus Arte, 2012. ITunes. Web. 8 Apr. 2015

Call Me By Your Name

I‘m going to preface this by stating that I did the worst thing any avid, professional reader–like myself–could do: I saw the movie first. Honestly, what’s probably worse is that I didn’t even know it was a book. I just thought it was a super romantic and transgressive movie. While I’m not wrong in thinking that, the book truly adds to the feelings I experienced when watching the film adaptation.

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Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
Published by Picador; Media Tie In edition on October 3rd, 2017
Genres: Coming of Age, Romance, LGBTQ, Identity, Heartbreak
Pages: 256
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


I almost don’t even know where to begin writing this review; it was simply soul crushing (just like the movie was, but even more so). I needed a palate cleanser after reading a few YA books one right after another–don’t get me wrong, it’s still my favorite genre to read, but I needed something deeper. After seeing the movie, and discovering that it is, in fact, a book, I knew I was going to read it. So why not choose the present? And this book seriously took my breath away.

But I think I’ll begin by stating the obvious: this book is hot. It’s definitely hot in the way a trashy erotic novel has a clutching, slow build that sets the reader up with pure arousal before finally allowing the release when the two main characters meet together, but also in the way that Aciman creates the most romantic relationship I have ever read. Ever. And I’ve read plenty of books that contain relationships forming, breaking apart, re-creating, dying, flourishing, etc. And nothing has compared–to this day–to the beauty and rawness that Elio shows to us as the narrator.

What never crossed my mind was that someone else…in my immediate world might like what I liked, want what I wanted, be who I was (25).

The book is told by Elio years after his life with Oliver in the small Italian town, which is not how the movie portrays their meetings–it showcases it as it’s happening, not told years later. But this doesn’t lessen the romanticism of it all as fifty or so year old Elio reminisces, albeit painfully, on his seventeenth year at his home when Oliver, a twenty-four-year-old graduate student, came to work with Elio’s professor father and their relationship blossoms. That’s, of course, the horribly watered down version of this tale, so I apologize for my poor summarizing skills. But what’s important is that Elio is seventeen, living in a wistful little beach town where the heat is tremendous and he doesn’t know who or what he is yet. He’s seventeen and we’ve all been there–unsure of ourselves, unsure of others, unsure of almost everything, but more importantly his sexuality. And what he finds in Oliver is what he didn’t even know he was looking for.

“Do you like being alone?” he asked.

“No. No one likes being alone. But I’ve learned how to live with it.” (76).

Like my previous reviews, I always want to include some critical analysis and literary tools to my thoughts on the book. In order to successfully show his readers the conflicting relationship between Elio and Oliver, Aciman’s writing style is extremely important–he couldn’t just throw together their dialogue and scenes, and he triumphs in showing us so much with so little. If you’ve ever read some of Hemingway’s short stories (particularly Hills Like White Elephants), then you might be familiar with his diction and dialogue choices. Specifically, the lack of flashy word choices and obvious sentences–Hemingway does away with those and makes his readers think about what he’s really trying to say. This is, whether consciously or not, what Aciman implores with his writing. Obviously, we know that this story is about a steamy romance, full of sex and heartbreak, between two men, but this is never explicitly stated (of course, regardless of the sexual scenes). The 21st-century terminology for LGBTQ love is endless, but Aciman doesn’t implore any of these. There is a special subtly to Aciman’s writing that allows for anybody to fill Elio and Oliver’s relationship. Since this story is about Elio finding his own path, coming to accept himself and what he desires in life, and needing to acknowledge and move on from the changes he cannot control, but this story could really be applied to anyone’s romantic life, which is definitely why the story is so deeply moving to anyone who reads or watches.

Another stylistic choice Aciman implores is that, in the movie, we don’t see Elio’s slight stream of consciousness that showcases his seventeen-year-old rambling brain, full of emotions and thoughts and desires and hatred towards himself, his family, Oliver. Being seventeen and unsure of your own identity isn’t a clean process; by having Elio go back and forth in the same sentence (that could be eight or more lines long) Aciman forces the reader into the messy brain of a young, confused man.

This book is a must for anyone who a) saw the movie (and if you did, then seriously, you need to read this because you are missing out on so much more background and future between the two) or b) anyone who wants to feel the heartbreaking whirlwind of a romance between Oliver and Elio because Aciman doesn’t just tell you about their flourishing love, but makes you feel it in your own soul, you feel the crushingness of Oliver leaving to return to the states that summer and then you feel their aging as the years pass for Elio without seeing Oliver, but never forgetting. We all have our own Oliver–that person who will haunt and materialize throughout our lives, both in good and bad shapes. He or she is the person we can never forget, nor want to because they made us who we are. We couldn’t be in our current or future relationships without having their love at the beginning of our life; without learning who we are through them. And Aciman gives us this story to reminisce through so thank you, Mr. Aciman.

I’m going to leave you with the most beautiful part of the whole book:

“You are the only person I’d like to say goodbye to when I die, because only then will this thing I call my life make any sense. And if I should hear that you died, my life as I know it, the me who is speaking with you now, will cease to exist. Sometimes I have this awful picture of waking up in our house in B. and, looking out othe sea, hearing the news from the waves themselves, He died last night. We missed out on so much. It was a coma. Tomorrow I go back to my coma, and you to yours.” (240-41).

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Stevenson the Feminist: Flipped Gender Roles in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

14 May 2016

Stevenson the Feminist: Flipped Gender Roles in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Welcome to the Victorian era: there are horse drawn carriages, exponential growth in industry and science, and, most importantly, men continue to rank as the superior gender simply because of women lacking a certain genital. Being oppressed as ever, women were not only still inferior in more ways than one, but were absent from the pages of literary texts and bookshelves among all classes. Perhaps this is because women had a larger societal role to play besides spending their leisure time writing–in fact, women did not have leisure time even in the upper class. Either way, many of the famous stories to come out of this period did not feature women and were written by men for men. One example would be Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, published in 1886.

The lack of women within this text is evident–the role of women is to simply be a maid of Dr. Jekyll, a prostitute outside on the streets, or the maid that witnesses Mr. Hyde’s murder of Sir Danvers Carew. Other than these few characters, women do not grace the novella with much of a presence. Because of this, the story is commonly read as misogynistic and takes on a feminist lens when discussed. Taking a feministic read of the novella to argue about the lack of women, and therefore what Stevenson was thinking when writing, is not necessarily incorrect. However, in this essay, I aim to discuss that though there is a lack of biological women in the text, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde inhabit the characteristics of females, therefore, rendering any additional female characters as unnecessary.

Firstly, women are not completely void from the text. In a way, in regards to the maid that watches Hyde’s gruesome murder, they do play a small role. Without that maid watching, the hunt for Hyde would not have begun, or would Dr. Jekyll be forced into choosing between his two sides. As Charles Campbell says, women are the “key to a reading of the novel as it concerns the suppression of sexuality” (310). He suggests that: “The men of the novel are the city incorporated as lawyers, doctors, scientists, and sadists; they are associated with fog, lights and interiors. The women are the city as sexuality, innocence, sentiment, and victims; they are associated with street life, the outside of buildings and doors” (316) and this critic is not incorrect, but he misses a bigger point throughout the text. The maid did not necessarily have to be a maid. It really could have been any passerby, male or female, but more likely male since the women were constantly off performing their duties. This shows that women in the text, though seeming to have a role, are still unnecessary.

The Victorian period was the starting point for many new discussions regarding sex, as showcased by Antonio Sanna’s work: “The late nineteenth century saw an explosion of discourses on sex and sexuality” (Sanna 21). Sex became a part of a conversation; it was not totally accepted, but it was a curious subject and earned its place in discussion. Furthermore, “the attacks and campaigns against sexual excesses such as masturbation and coitus interruptus, which had lasted for the whole nineteenth century and were commonplace in medical literature, now focused on homosexuality” (22). Perhaps sex became a familiar subject because homosexuality became a more familiar action, which is why many critics see “The all-male pattern [in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde]…[suggests] a twist of thought that Jekyll’s secret adventures were homosexual practices so common in London behind the Victorian veil” (Nabokov 187) and these critics are not incorrect. They see Jekyll’s “secret pleasures” as a “strong argument” for the exclusion of women in the text (Linhan). Suppose that Jekyll’s secret pleasures and need for Hyde is because of his undisclosed homosexuality, this is a further point that women are unnecessary. Men are able to find love and release from their needs with other men, therefore taking on a “feminine” role as the second partner in certain erotic escapades.

Continuing with the erotic, as discussed by Parker in How to Interpret Literature chapter on Feminism, the term “the gaze” is used when talking about women’s role in literature and movies. “The masculine subject gazes, and the feminine object is gazed at” (170); the only use of women in a text, and also on screen, is to be looked at, to be gazed at. Their sole purpose is to serve as an idealistic image for the protagonist, generally a man, to physically look at and that is that. This then turns erotic when: “Written literature often lingers over a narrator’s or a focalizer’s erotic gaze at a focalized character and often at a focalized woman” (172). Since the feminine object, a female character, is constantly being looked at and described, the gaze of the narrator can seem erotic and obsessed to some extent. And this is probably why scholar Laura Mulvey claims that “This is what men do: they look, and they look in abusive ways; and this is what women do: they are looked at, and they remain passive” (173). Perhaps this is why there is a large push for female protagonist novels, especially in the young adult genre of fiction to be written, since women generally did not have much a part to play in literary scenes. Stevenson’s novella then could be seen as a fantastic example of not objectifying women to the gaze, seeing as women do not play a large part in this novella. However the gaze is still present, it just is not directed at women.

The reader is constantly drawn to Hyde’s physical appearance. Mr. Enfield attempts to describe Hyde to Mr. Utterson in the first chapter: “There is something wrong with his appearance; something displeasing, something downright detestable…He must be deformed somewhere; he gives a strong feeling of deformity…He’s an extraordinary looking man” (Stevenson 11-12). Immediately the reader, alongside Utterson, contemplates how atrocious this man must be, therefore transforming Hyde into the “looked at” and the reader into the “gazer”. The descriptions continue: “Mr. Hyde was pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation, he had a displeasing smile, he had borne himself to [Utterson] with a sort of murderous mixture of timidity and boldness, and he spoke with a husky, whispering and somewhat broken voice” (17). I understand men to lack such eloquent vocabulary especially when describing another man, at least today, but the speaker spends ample time lingering and reporting on what Hyde looks like more than once. The speaker goes into such detail, narrowing down to the way he talks and smiles, not just his physical stature–crossing the line to the erotic and forcing the reader to tag along. This further exemplifies Hyde as the feminine object, and the speaker–and therefore the reader too–as the looker, willingly crossing the line into eroticizing Hyde.

Though the descriptions of Hyde are not as pleasing as a woman would be described, when contrasted with Dr. Jekyll, the gaze turns even more erotic. Jekyll is described as “handsome” whereas Hyde is distasteful (20). The speaker enjoys focusing on the hands of both men, showcasing Jekyll’s transformation into Hyde through his hands. Jekyll recounts a morning when we woke up to realize he was actually Hyde:

My eye fell upon my hand. Now the hand of Henry Jekyll (as you have often remarked) was professional in shape and size: it was large, firm, white and comely. But the hand which I now saw, clearly enough, in the yellow light of a mid-London morning, lying half shut on the bedclothes, was lean, corded, knuckly, of a dusky pallor and thickly shaded with a swart growth of hair. It was the hand of Edward Hyde. (54)

The reader is led through this long-winded description of the difference in hands; Jekyll’s hand being attractive, masculine, whereas Hyde’s hand is baser and off-colored. Once again, even though Hyde is not represented as attractive and feminine per se, the notion of spending time to describe and stare at the men’s features connotes the gaze as previously mentioned. Forcing the reader through this descriptive session, submits him to perform the gaze as well as sealing the image of the men’s physical features for the reader to revert back to when thinking about the two characters later. Furthermore, by setting up Jekyll and Hyde to be described so specifically and so often, renders the description of women useless, since the gaze is forced in a different direction, this time towards men instead of women.

More so, the few female characters are the ones performing the gazing and looking, as exampled by the maidservant who witnesses the gruesome murder of Sir Danvers Carew: “It seems she was romantically given, for she sat down upon her box, which stood immediately under the window, and fell into a dream of musing” (21). The maidservant happened to sit down next to her window and watched as an older man, Carew, approach Hyde to inquire about something, but instead of answering, Hyde simply beats Carew to death with his cane before running away–all witnessed by the maid. While she watched Carew down on the ground, she contemplates his appearance: “the girl was pleased to watch [his face], it seemed to breathe such an innocent and old-world kindness of disposition, yet with something high too, as of a well-founded self-content” (21). This is an obvious example of a woman taking on the role of the gazer, and the object of the gaze is a well-off gentleman. This maid servant’s only scene in the novella is this one, where she slightly objectifies Carew and serves as witness to Hyde’s murder. After this scene, she is never brought up or mentioned again. She lacks any purpose outside of this one task, which is sure to anger some female readers, forcing them to take a feminist approach when analyzing this text.

When using a feminist lens to interpret literature, the scholar must ask what type of agency do the women in the story get? In the case of this novella, the women, much like all women in the Victorian period, lack agency completely. Not only is the reader introduced to the women who are of the lower class, maids or prostitutes, therefore suggesting that they have no outside agency other than the orders they get from their masters or what they must do to obtain money, but the reader comes to the realization that the women lack agency because the men of the text have taken over their agency. Jekyll’s main servant, Mr. Poole, takes charge of delegating the housekeeping and performing any acts Jekyll insists. Not only this, but Poole is the one who confronts Utterson about Jekyll’s state of mind, proving the man has worrisome tendencies like a woman might: “Mr. Utterson was sitting by his fireside one evening after dinner, when he was surprised to receive a visit from Poole. ‘Bless me, Poole, what brings you here?’ he cried; and then taking a second look at him, ‘What ails you?’ he added, ‘is the doctor ill?’ ‘Mr. Utterson,’ said the man, ‘there is something wrong.’” (32). Poole, though being the head of Jekyll’s servants, goes out of his way to contact Utterson out of fear for his master, which even as Utterson believes to be quite out of the ordinary. Poole treats the ever-changing Jekyll delicately, feminizing a man with multiple accolades. The men perform tasks commonly suited towards women: Poole rushes over Utterson’s home instead of sending a female servant over, therefore giving her some agency; Utterson and Poole are the only who tend to Jekyll/Hyde, never letting any of the female staff near him.

Continuing with women’s lack of agency, Jekyll himself embodies the characteristics of a female by, in a way, giving birth to Hyde. By finding a way around traditional birth, Dr. Jekyll proves that women are unnecessary to the final extent–now men can create a different life without the use of a woman. Obviously, Jekyll does not physically go through pregnancy, but he does bring life to a different form from his own body, much like how a woman gives life to something created by her body. In fact, the first transformation into Hyde resembles that of labor: “The most racking pangs succeeded: a grinding in the bones, deadly nausea, and a horror of the spirit that cannot be exceeded at the hour of birth or death” (50). Though I have never given birth, from other descriptions and images, the process seems horribly painful and not too dissimilar to Jekyll’s transformation. Additionally, in a way, when a person has a child, they are no longer a singular person but instead two: constantly watching out for another human being, feeding, caring, and loving a small person. Jekyll has created, to some extent, another person to now watch out for and care for, and when he realizes that Hyde became too much for him to handle, and he tries to subdue Hyde’s power, Hyde only forces himself farther into Jekyll’s life.

A man has taken over not only the basic tasks like running errands and caring for a household, but now reproduction as well, showcasing that women are completely unnecessary. Many “[Suspect] that Hyde is Jekyll’s illegitimate son” (Nabokov 187), but he is much more than that. Jekyll disavows what he has done by taking on the role of a father figure of Mr. Hyde: “[I] had more than a father’s interest; Hyde had more than a son’s indifference” (Stevenson 55). Hyde certainly is a son, a teenager even, but in reality, Jekyll has taken on the motherly role by creating and caring for this extra being. Mothers are the caregivers of their children, rearing them while the father attends to the other more masculine tasks, and in some scenes, Jekyll deals with an unruly teenager and has to raise him a certain way–therefore taking on both roles of the mother and father. Even further, “Hyde was ‘knit’ to him, he writes ‘closer than a wife,’” (Linehan 204). Jekyll does not want to admit that his creation forces him to a maternal role, however, the evidence is apparent–a mother to child bond is certainly closer than that of a wife and husband, nothing can oppose the link between the mother and her newborn baby. Therefore, nothing can oppose the bond between Jekyll and his Hyde.

The lack of biological women in the text is apparent, however Stevenson makes up for that lack by creating the men to take on women’s roles. The main question, however, remains: why does Stevenson create his male characters to perform feminine duties? During this time in Great Britain, women’s suffrage movements were taking on the streets and government. There were seventeen different societies created, all devoted to women’s suffrage, in the span of a few years that then created the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (Myers). This article featured on UK’s International magazine notes that: “Britain did not leap from no voting rights at all to full suffrage, but that there were many bills taken to parliament and many small gains ahead of the 1918 declaration of suffrage for women, and then the declaration of full suffrage for women in 1928” (Myers). Some of these smaller bills included rights to hold property, agricultural rights, and more. Women rose more and more out of the dirt that their male oppressors shoveled over them, and perhaps this novella is a conversation at that. The women advocated for more rights, as they should be, but throughout this time, some men were left behind. Most men were likely to disagree with their wives and sisters, people they have had innumerable control over for the better part of their lives, suddenly rising to challenge their government; and these men were left to tend to things some of those fighting women may have left behind. In a way, gender roles flipped with women taking on government and men left to take care of the house. Perhaps this is the conversation Stevenson implements in his novella–the gender rolls overturned forcing the men to take on the feminine roles.

Stevenson has been called many things–misogynistic comes to mind–but what about feminist? I am not suggesting that by showcasing women as lacking is in any way feminist, but perhaps this lack shows that women are off fighting the battle for equal rights. They aren’t on the streets toiling around, performing meaningless tasks, but instead, they are at parliament arguing for their societal freedom. This, then, forces the men to take on those female roles because their wives, sisters, suitors are battling for their rights, which leaves the men to take care of the children, the home, and ultimately to their own devices. Therefore, instead of looking at Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Stevenson as anti-women, one should read the novella through a lense of women’s empowerment.

The claim that women are unnecessary may not seem that empowering for women, but in this tale perhaps it can be seen as such. Instead of viewing women as a threat against the male dominance as they attempt to counteract the ardent dominance, which would have been considered the reason for the lack, Stevenson renders women as unnecessary. Women are unneeded in this text because the men have taken over the mundane and everyday tasks that a woman would normally be forced to perform. By depicting them as nonessential, Stevenson showcases that women do not need to be the only humans undergoing the stressful tasks of the everyday world–like housekeeping, running errands, and birthing children. Women should welcome this notion of being unnecessary because for once they will have a break from stereotypical womanhood. Men are obliged to finally cover their wive’s tasks, no longer portraying women completely and utterly necessary in order for life to continue.

Stevenson, whether conscious or unconscious, has created immense dialogue for women for centuries to come. Most of this conversation will revolve around the lack of women in his most known text, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but as I have attempted to point out in this essay that there is a concrete reason for the absence–the women are off, battling the British government and the men are finding ways to cope with their loss, learning to take on the mundane and feminine tasks that they never would have thought to cover, but end up enjoying those duties. Poole takes pleasure in running errands for Jekyll and Jekyll takes pleasure from “birthing” Hyde and creating his dual-personalities. In the end, men actually enjoy, to some extent, performing feminine tasks; this shows women as unnecessary, not because of misogynistic tendencies, but instead puts women in a place of equality.

 

 

Works Cited

Campbell, Charles. “Women And Sadism In Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde: ‘City In A Nightmare’.” English Literature In Transition 1880-1920 3 (2014): 309. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 May 2016.

Linehan, Katherine B. “Closer than a Wife’: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll’s Significant Other.” Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism 292 (2014): n. pag. Gale. Web. 5 May 2016.

Linehan, Katherine B. “Sex, Secrecy, and Self-Alienation in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Performance Adaptations, Criticism. Ed. Katherine Linehan. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. 204-13. Print.

Myers, Rebecca. “General History of Women’s Suffrage in Britain.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 27 May 2013. Web. 10 May 2016.

Nabokov, Vladimir. “A Phenomenon of Style.” Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Performance Adaptations, Criticism. Ed. Katherine Linehan. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.184-88. Print.

Parker, Robert Dale. “Feminism.” How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2015. 148-84. Print.

Sanna, Antonio. “Silent Homosexuality in Oscar Wilde’s Teleny and The Picture of Dorian Gray and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” Law and Literature 24.1, Silence (2012): 21-39. JSTOR. Web. 05 May 2016.

Stevenson, Robert Louis. “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Performance Adaptations, Criticism. Ed. Katherine Linehan. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003. 7-62. Print.

A Darker Shade of Magic

When I picked up V.E. Schwab’s, A Darker Shade of Magic, I had also picked up the beginning of her other series, This Savage Song and when I began reading ADSOM, I knew I would love it so much that I actually put it down in favor of trying to read This Savage Song first. Not that I didn’t enjoy This Savage Song, because as you can see from my previous review, I actually loved it quite much, but something about ADSOM that just captivated me. Perhaps because it is so well talked about, and I owned both the regular and collector’s edition before even opening either cover, but I knew I would fall in love, and fall in love I did.

A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab
Published by Tor Books on February 24th, 2015
Genres: Epic, Fantasy, Magic, Family, Friendship, Sacrifice, Power, Royalty
Pages: 400
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 5 out of 5 ★★★★★


I pretty sure I fell in love with ADSOM more so than This Savage Song because it fits in to what I believe is an uptick in “adult” fantastical epics, and I’m obsessed. I use the word “adult,” in quotes of course, because technically–legally–I am an adult a few years over. I am not a “young adult” any more and teens these days, thirteen, fourteen year olds, are more “young adult” than I ever was at their age. To me, there is a rise in actual adult fantasy books–those that yes, include romance, but isn’t cheesy (and I hate to use that word because not only am I a big fan of really any dairy by-product, I also adore cheesy books); the romance generally includes more adult overtones, i.e. sex and adult relationship problems. The characters are not in high school, or if they are of that age technically, they are far more advanced due to circumstances. Smaller so, but still important, there are more swear words and the diction itself is mature, as if each writer sat with a thesaurus attached to their keyboard. Some examples that, not only do I love also, but would include in this strange hybrid category are Sarah J. Maas’ series’ (particularly A Court of Thorns and Roses series simply because I enjoyed it better than A Throne of Glass) as well as Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows and A Crooked Kingdom. These novels, and including Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, are modern-day fantasy epics–encroaching on the classics of Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings where the worlds are vast, the characters are multifaceted and there are tougher subjects being covered.

Though I was trying to meet my deadline of finishing ADSOM before the 14th (which I did!), I only put it down because I had to (family dinners, going through security, sleeping, etc.). Schwab truly has something special in her writing and I got a taste of it with This Savage Song and then a whole mouthful with this.

What I’m trying to do in my reviews, something I haven’t done in the past but I believe is extremely important now, is to connect the novel / book to any modern-day events or problems or happenings that I see manifest themselves through the author’s writing. As we continue the use of the hashtag #TimesUp, it only seems fitting that I begin my discussion of Schwab’s book with the woman in black, Lila.

Lila, Lila, Lila–what can I say about you? Honestly, dear reader, I hated her when I was first introduced. She just seemed so…stubborn and stupid and was probably going to get Kell killed (spoiler, it almost happens more than once no thanks to her) and she just all around annoyed me. It felt like Schwab was trying to make her too aggressive, to fit into that typecast of “I don’t need no man” womanhood, but little did I forget that I am reading a modern adult fantasy, where the characters grow and evolve much more subtly than that of regular YA novels and, at the end, Lila grew and evolved on me.

Not that Lila wanted to be pretty. Pretty wouldn’t serve her well… Why anyone would ever pretend to be weak as beyond her (66).

As someone writing my own strong, lead female character, I grapple with my creation. How strong do I want to make her? Even though I’m a millennial feminist in my own ways, I also do love a good trashy romance beach read where the female lead gets swept off her feet and falls in love–and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Why can’t us women, in the 21st century, have both? Once again, I’m drawn to Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series lead, Feyre. She gets both–a life-altering romance that sweeps her not only off her feet, but changes her whole mindset, as well as has the strength to sacrifice herself for her kingdom. And though we don’t see any blatant romantic scenes between Kell and Lila, I believe that perhaps, if she graces the second or third books with her presence, perhaps there can be something between them and I would love it.

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Another connection I make between our modern world and the four Londons is the use of language. If you own the exclusive collector’s edition, then you know that there is an appendix consisting of a dictionary of words used by the Antari and Arnesian, but even without the appendix, the reader knows that language is important to the story. Kell needs his Antari tongue in order to travel between Londons, where he brings correspondences to and fro between the kings and royals–the only way the royals have access to each other is through Kell and Holland and these scarce formality letters. Furthermore, there are two different versions of speech: English and Arnesian. In Gray London, where Lila is from, everyone speaks English, but in Red London, where Kell is from, only the royals and wealthy speak English and even then, the accents are heavy.

The queen spoke in English. Kell knew that she hadn’t studied the language, that she–like Athos–relied on spellwork instead. So where under her close-fitting clothes, a translation rune was scarred into her skin. Unlike the desperate tattoos made by the power hungry, the language rune was a soldier’s response to a politician’s problem. Red London treated English as a mark of high society, but White London found little use for it (94).

What I want to focus on here is how Schwab notes that Red London treats the English language as a mark of high society–how true is this? Red London is the most decadent, but also the most pleasant London of the four. There are, naturally, unhappy people, as in any kingdom, but for the most part, the people are happy and they love their king and queen, and yet they have two different languages spoken: the common tongue, and English. There is a stigma, I believe, hovering around people like myself, who continue our eduction in a dying field: English. I have my Bachelor’s in English Literature, am currently getting my Master’s in it as well, and will hopefully add a PhD soon. I have a high vocabulary and read voraciously (if I didn’t then this blog wouldn’t make much sense would it?). I do remember during my undergrad, when I was still a dual major student in both literature and the art of teaching (as in I was going to be trained to become a high school or lower English teacher) and terms like code-switching and Ebonics came into my vernacular. I have studied the English language very, very little, but I do feel like I know some about it! I love reading about the creation of the Oxford Dictionary and just how language changes. Starting not even with the beginning, we have Old English that barely looks or sounds like English, then we move onto the Early Modern era (aka Shakespeare’s time) where “thee” and “thou” was prevalent, and we can fast forward even more so to somewhat modern, where words like “groovy” and “dude” come and go and the word “like” and “literally” and “can’t even” make an appearance. So while our language is constantly evolving, there are people who still believe English is the “true” and “right” tongue. Yes, perhaps English is technically the universal language, but that’s only according to some stuffy men at the UN. Even within the United States, where English is the native language, there are dialects: words that are said and used regularly on the east coast rarely pop off the tongues of those on the west, and don’t even get me started on the grammatical errors in the south. Will there be a time when my own country finds little use for English? Probably not, but will it continue changing? Of course.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Maas or Bardugo, to anyone who enjoys fantastical epics loaded with adventure, and to anyone who was impressed with This Savage Song and wants to see Schwab take it to the next level. To wrap up, I want to leave you all with a quote from Lila that some of us, including myself, need to think more about in today’s world:

“You have a house if not a home,” she spat. “You have people who care for you if not about you. You may not have everything you want, but I’d wager you have everything you could ever need, and you have the audacity to claim it all forfeit because it is not love… Love doesn’t keep us from freezing to death, Kell,” she continued, “or starving, or being knifed for the coins in our pocket. Love doesn’t buy us anything, so be glad for what you have and who you have because you may want for things but you need for nothing” (235).

This Savage Song

Of course, I had heard of Schwab’s other series, beginning with A Darker Shade of Magic, and had been interested in quite some time (don’t worry, I am currently reading that one now!) but I hadn’t really heard much about her earlier duo. To be honest, I didn’t even realize it was the same author at first since she uses only her initials on the Shades of Magic series.

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This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Published by Greenwillow Books on July 5th, 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Demons, Family, Friendship, Romance, High School, Fear
Pages: 464
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review: 4.5 out of 5 ★★★★☆


To begin, I just want to say that I don’t think I’ve ever given a book here 4.5 stars out of five. I don’t even have a half star image to use.

As we pass the first-week mark of 2018, it doesn’t seem like much has changed in terms of our environment. The North East where I live is still frozen, but Chicago is thawing out on this balmy, 34 degree Monday. San Francisco was just hit by a moderate sized earthquake a few days ago and I’m assuming parts of southern California are still on fire, but since the news only reports on things for about two days and forgets about them, how am I ever to know? Things certainly haven’t changed immediately in the political sphere of the US and even though it’s a new year, new you, I highly doubt that they will. While the women of the Golden Globes made their voices loud, people are still laughing about it on Twitter and such. And what was I doing during all of it? Finishing Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song. I had originally picked up her A Darker Shade of Magic to read first and after reading a few pages I knew I would like it too much that I didn’t want to get sucked in right away–I wanted something lighter, I suppose. And that clearly didn’t happen. This Savage Song is breathtaking–and, more importantly, relevant.

“What do you want?” chided Leo. “To be ordinary? To be human?” He said the word as if it stained his tongue.

“Better human than a monster” (81).

Schwab tackles the question: What makes someone a monster? And while not not successful, can this question ever really be answered? Based in a world where monsters, like the ones from our childhood nightmares, exist, This Savage Song directs the readers’ attention to how a label or an identity can be changed. August Flynn is one of our two main characters and he is, more or less, a monster. As one of only three known Sunai–the deadliest and most unknown monsters out there–the reader would like to assume that he’s creepy crawly like how the other monsters (Malchai and Corsai) are, but he isn’t. August is a timid boy, cute but probably not sexy, too young for me no doubt, but all around sweet. He doesn’t want to be a monster; he doesn’t want to be what this society has already labeled and created him as.

On the other hand, our other main character, Kate Harker, is a human but does this make her any better than August? She might not kill people and feed on their souls, but she’s still…a bitch through and through. Her father runs the north end of their city, Verity, and forces people to pay for his protection from the things that go bump in the night. Kate really only wants to please her father and make him see that she is capable of running a corrupt empire like he does.

She was her father’s daughter. A Harker. And she would do whatever she had to do to prove it (119).

August lives in the southern part of Verity, the war-torn half that offers as much protection as possible–but still isn’t enough–and doesn’t force the residents to pay for it. North and south sides are obviously opposing, the north and Harker’s domain want control of the entire city to build a greedy corporation that “protects” people from the monsters Harker himself controls. The Flynn family in the south, though far less wealthy and resource heavy, are honest and good people. They don’t want a war, but they realize that they cannot let Harker take over Verity for his horrid reasons. In a way, Schwab’s tale takes from Romeo and Juliet. To warring families with children of the same age that team up together to fight the battle their families created for them.

Of course, there’s bad guys and fight scenes ensuing all over the place as the reader inches closer and closer to the climax, but something that never really happens, while I, as a fangirl, was certainly craving it, was August and Kate never had a romantic moment. Sure there were times when I could feel the tension crackling off the pages myself, but even in the end, there was never an embrace or a kiss or anything. And I left both shocked and pleased. Sure, Schwab could have finally let the fangirl’s dreams come true and let Kate and August be together–perhaps this happens in the next book, I wouldn’t know since I haven’t read it yet–but she didn’t. Schwab chose to exclude that crucial part of any good YA romance-type book because, at least what I’d like to believe, is that this book isn’t about Kate or August really. They are just the examples, the vessels used to further discuss her main, overarching question of who is the real monster?

“And you?” asked Kate…

When August answered, the word was small, almost too quiet to hear. “Lost.” He exhaled, and it seemed to take more than air out of him. “I’m what happens when a kid is so afriad of the world he lives in that he escapes the only way he knows how. Violently” (308).

I could pick up the first five YA books on my shelfie and find at least one kiss scene in each of them–and don’t get me wrong, I love the kiss scenes, when my heart fills and flutters and happiness pools inside me cause two people that aren’t even real are happy–but by omitting that scene from This Savage Song, Schwab forces the reader to think closer about who is the true monster in this story. Is it the actual monsters? Sure, they do horrible things and are creepy, and are rightfully labeled “monsters” because they kill and eat people. But then there are people who think they’re doing good, but end up doing bad–like Kate’s father for example, or August’s older brother Leo. These characters might not look like monsters in the traditional sense, but their beings are monstrous.

There are too many people in power right now who aren’t technically a Malchai or Corsai or Sunai, but they still are monsters. Women are still mistreated left and right, and have to work in solidarity to at least be heard (hinting at the Golden Globes again) and even when we do speak out, we’re mocked or cringed at for not letting Guillermo del Toro be happy for winning his (rightful cause he is a great director) best director. Our president doesn’t care about us citizens unless we’re in the one percent and a white male. He could care less about anyone else; he only himself like Kate’s father. He might as well have branded his minions with T’s under their eyes, like Harker does his.

So while people hashtag New Year New Me, maybe we should really be looking at our own actions and those of the people around us. Just because we are human, doesn’t mean we are not monsters.

He was a Sunai–nothing was going to change that–but he wasn’t evil, wasn’t cruel, wasn’t monstrous. He was just someone who wanted to be something else, something he wasnt (351).

 

Jackaby

This is an old book! I’m not sure why no one has told me to read it, seeing as it has two sequels and it’s really good, but alas, I had to find it on my own and I’m glad I did.

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Jackaby by William Ritter
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on August 25th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Thriller, Historical Fiction, Romance, Friendship, Mystery
Pages: 304
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Nobles

Final Review: 4 out of 5 ★★★★☆


The quote on the front of the book, by the Chicago Tribune, somewhat accurately sums up this book: “Sherlock Holmes crossed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer”–I’m not sure I see the Buffy part, other than banishing demons, but certainly the Sherlock Holmes part. Particularly because Jackaby himself is quite quirky and odd, much like Sherlock or the eleventh Doctor.

The story follows immigrant Abigail Rook, who, coming from England, is searching for a job that can pay her enough so she can live, and seeing as it’s 1893, finding a place to sleep at night in the warmth is important. She stumbles upon an advertisement for Jackaby, an assistant in his investigative service, and the rest is the book. What really drives readers in is the mystery entwined with fantasy to the point that it seems real: there is some sort of demon on the loose, killing victims for their blood (oh here’s the vampire reference). Abigail, never having heard of any of this before, is of course bewildered but stays strong, thinking the murders are a mere sick joke.

What makes this book different however, which is important because the similarities to Sherlock Holmes are quite striking, is the charming demeanor of everyone but Jackaby. Of course he’s going to be odd, carrying around tons of random objects in his pockets, drinking potions that allow him to see through walls and what not–all of this is almost expected seeing as it is a piece of fantasy writing. However, having Abigail be a strong and smart woman–she wanted to be a paleontologist!–instead of necessarily a damsel in distress (she does have her few moments though, since we all do!) makes for an interesting pair. Ritter also could have made Abigail and Jackaby love interests to each other, and refreshingly so, he didn’t. Instead, there are certainly underlying backstory regarding Jackaby’s past, as well as Abigail’s, that keeps the reader turning the pages.

Furthermore, the non-lead characters, such as the ghost roommate, Jenny and the strange ghost-seer Hatun, are potentially more intriguing and just as influential as Jackaby. Women are important in Jackaby’s life, in fact all the female characters, save for a few classic strumpets who hate Abigail for not being more proper, are linked to the fantastical realm and are sought after by Jackaby. Hatun, for example, is described as:

see[ing] a different world than [Abigail] or [Jackaby], a far more frightening one, full of far more terrible dangers, and still she chooses to be the hero whom that world needs. She has saved this town and its people from countless monsters countless times. That the battles are usually in her head does not lessen the bravery of it. The hardest battles always are (104).

Hatun may be called the crazy lady that takes care of an invisible troll to the towns folk, but to Jackaby, she is truly necessary in solving this case. Jenny, the ghost roommate, makes Abigail feel more at home, being the one to talk her down when the magical realm becomes too much her to handle, and allows her to steal the clothes Jenny can no longer wear (since she’s a ghost). Miss. O’Connor and Mrs. Morrigan are, as well, crucial to the murder investigation. And, of course, Abigail, being another set of eyes for Jackaby at all times. Ritter may unconsciously or consciously alerting the readers that no man can ever truly do anything on their own, and when they do, in the case of the bad guy (no spoilers here!), they will undoubtedly get caught by a woman.

At first, I was really hoping this story would be an historical, fantastical twist on the classic Jack the Ripper open case. Jack the Ripper being some sort of fantastical, demon-like creature, that instead of stealing organs to do god knows what with, is either eating them or using them for something else, much like the strange creature Abigail and Jackaby face here. Then, Jackaby, being able to see things that no one else can, would understand that he is simply a misunderstood demon and needs to be sent forth from our world–that’s how I would have wrote this story and maybe in one of the sequels, the story continues (I wouldn’t know, I haven’t looked at them yet).

Please give this book a chance, given its age, if you’re interested in something fun and quirky to read. Jackaby is laughable and the character relationships are deep. I haven’t decided if I’m going to pick up the next two books, more because I have so many books to read already and less because I don’t want to. Jackaby doesn’t necessarily end on a cliff hanger, but it certainly does end with the reader interested in learning more about the dynamic duo.

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Welcome to my Museum of Heartbreak

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leder’s book has inspired me to create my own mini museum of heartbreak for this review. you can see different pieces of me, scattered across a handful of years, countries, and cities. this gifts came from friends, relatives, mentors, and exes have given me, as well as gifts to myself.

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The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder
Published by Simon Pulse  on June 7th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Teen Read
Pages: 288
Source: Amazon // Goodreads // Barnes and Noble

Final Review 5 out of 5

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penelope marx thinks she knows about love thanks to the many romantic stories she’s read. she knows what loving best friends are like, as seen in her two best friends ephraim and audrey, and what loving the new, mega-cool boy at school must be like. she comes to realize, though, that those ideals of love are simply that: ideal and not reality. when she actually gets the chance to date the new boy, his lips are chapped and he is actually kind of rude to her. audrey starts picking the mean girl over penelope and eph is always out dating a different girl.

she begins to realize that heartbreak is in her future, but not just from the new boy. there will be fights on subway platforms of new york, in the hallways of their school, in the natural history museum where her father works, and other scattered places around new york city; fights that involve her parents, her friends, her boyfriend, and everyone in between.

follow penelope as she learns to overcome one of the hardest obstacles we must all face at some point or another: heartbreak.

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once again, i am pretty speechless about a book, same as i was with han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. i’m speechless for different reasons, of course, but speechless nonetheless.

first and foremost, leder’s writing is utterly and completely captivating. i, and i’m sure many other creative writers, have been told countless times to “show and not tell” when it comes to our writing. there is something so lame and pointless in simply saying “the rain fell” when you could be saying something more beautiful, more poetic such as “the sky gave way to thousands of dancing droplets that heated up my skin in their tiny splotches” or something to that affect. well now times that by ten and you have leder’s voice. there are endlessly highlighted sentences and dog-eared cornered pages of this book that i keep turning back because why can’t i write like this?

Keats invited me to his party.

I wanted to hug the acne-ridden freshman passing by; I wanted to dance with the football dude laughing at a dirty joke across the hall. I wanted to burst into a full musical number, complete with a choir of singing unicorns and my cat, Ford, tap-dancing across the hall with a top hat and cane. I wanted to kiss a baby on the cheek, draw chalk tulips on the sidewalk, and buy grape popsicles for everyone in the city of New York.

Keats invited me to his party (page 68).

the story is ever so slightly cliched, but you know what, who cares? i still give it my whole five out of five stars because of leder’s writing style, characters, and storyline, though cliched yes, still captivates. truly captivates. i found myself loving each character in a different way: whether i was loving to hate the new love-interest keats (i mean come on, who doesn’t use chapstick these days? and seriously your shit with cherisse??) but also love to hate and pity and love eph because ugh eph. in a way i didn’t want the book to end how it did, but also cherished the ending as well. siiigh. i want a dreamboat, skateboarder, with beanies and long hair, and smooth lips, but also a coy smile cause he know’s–i don’t know what, but he know’s it.

He kissed me, and I thought of tearing mint leaves, of licking salt water off my lips, of the mornings you wake up heart alive, no alarm (page 140).

i found myself relating more and more to penelope as the book continued. we’re both literary nerds, we both fall in love with the wrong people at the wrong times, we put our trust into the wrong people as well, but still have close-knit group of friends that no matter who or what happens, we’re still friends. leder creates penelope to be a little like all of us–so we can see ourselves through her and her journey. we’ve all had to deal with heartbreak before, it’s one of the worst pains in the world by far, and somewhere deep we know that our heartbreak, at the ripe age of 22, is only just beginning. there’s going to be rejection letters from schools, boys or girls that decide they don’t like us anymore, a death, a disappointing parent or friend or mentor, even the inevitable end to a fantastic, noteworthy time in our lives: these are all cases of heartbreak we all encounter on a daily basis. leder simply broke it down into tender, charming little pieces for us to swallow and take with us as we curate our own museums of heartbreak.

It was Sunday, and I had never felt so pretty, so noticed, so delirious, like every part of me was light and perfumed and lovely (page 160).

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