Magnum Opus Part II

Aaaaand I just hit “Send” on the second and final part of my Magnum Opus: “Once Upon a Movie Screen: Four Favourite Fairy Tales and Their Disney Film Adaptations, Part II: ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Frog Prince'”.

Once it’s marked, and I’ve edited both parts together into one big paper for submission to my uni’s thesis collection, I’ll let you know the abstract.

Until then – I can’t believe I’m done, I can’t believe I’m done, I can’t believe… And she lived happily ever after until the end.


Even the Bigwigs Make Mistakes

One thing I’ve learned in the course of my grad studies: even the “experts” are not infallible. During undergrad studies, one tends to look at anyone who is published with wide-eyed awe (“It’s in print, therefore it must be true!”), doubly so if the publication in question is a book. But in grad school, I’ve found out that not only do the “experts” disagree with each other (often quite violently, up to and including name-calling) and, what’s more, that I can disagree with them, too, but that sometimes they’re just plain wrong.

Case in point: my new guru Jack Zipes. In Why Fairy Tales Stick: The Evolution and Relevance of a Genre (New York: Routledge, 2006), he spends some time analysing the Cinderella story, and brings several examples of adaptations that subvert the original story. One of those examples is Gail Carson Levine’s Cinderellis and the Glass Hill, the story of a farm boy with two brothers who don’t like him, who is nicknamed “Cinderellis” because he gets ashes all over him, and who gets himself a princess from the top of a glass hill. So Cinderella/Cinderellis, glass slipper/glass hill – pretty obvious, eh? Zipes thinks it’s great that Levine turned Cinderella into a boy and all.

The only problem is that she didn’t. Cinderellis and the Glass Hill isn’t a retelling of Perrault’s (or Grimm’s) “Cinderella”, but of Asbjørnsen and Moe’s “The Princess on the Glass Hill”. When I read Levine’s story last night, I recognised it right away – I had just read “Glass Hill” in Lang’s Blue Fairy Book a week ago. The main character is a farm boy called Cinderlad, and yes, he wins a princess by climbing a glass hill, but there’s no wicked stepmother, no ball, no animal helpers; the story pattern is quite different. It’s Aarne-Thompson-Uther Type 530, “The Glass Mountain”, not Cinderella’s Type 510A, “Persecuted Heroine”. Cinderlad isn’t persecuted by a step-family, he’s just unloved and laughed at by his real brothers – it’s an “apparently-stupid youngest son of three makes good” story.

And Zipes missed it. Which makes me feel quite smug, that I’ve caught out this scholar whom I respect so much in a flat-out mistake like that. Now, if he had stuck with analysing Levine’s Ella Enchanted, it would have been a different matter…

And Yet One More

One more post on Jane Austen, and I’ll have done for the summer.

The term paper is finished – 6,000 words on the P&P and S&S film adaptations (the 1995/2005 and 1995/2008 ones). My main point in it is that the newer movies are as much influenced by the older ones as by the books, and it’s really clearly seen in the characters of Mr Darcy, Margaret, Edward and Colonel Brandon. Film adaptations are a form of reader-response criticism – well, at least that’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

So after three months of full Austen immersion, I still don’t hate her (which is not a given; I can get tired very easily of subjects, especially if I have to do work on them). In fact, I’m more of a Janeite than ever, and now I’ve got the education to back me up. Educated fanatics are the worst kind; look out, world.

I think I could do a whole other course on Austen. I could have things to say about the adaptations of Mansfield, Northanger, Persuasion, and Emma. And I’d like to look at how, or if, Austen created the “romance” genre as we know it today (the storyline of proud rich man/feisty prejudiced girl has been repeated over and over in thousands of Harlequin novels and rom-coms). What did Austen mean when she said “I could no more write a Romance than an Epic Poem”? (That’s from a letter to the Prince Regent’s librarian, Sir James Stanier Clarke, who wanted her to write a “Historical Romance illustrative of the History of the august house of Cobourg” – heroic propaganda, in other words. Had that guy even read what Austen usually produced?) Obviously, the term “romance” meant something different then – but what? So I wouldn’t mind exploring Austen’s place vis-a-vis 19th-century Romanticism – is she, or is she not, part of that movement? I think not, but then I don’t know enough about Romanticism (yet). And how do we get from Romanticism to today’s red-hearts-and-Valentines “romance”? The last is where it veers off from Austen a bit – but regardless, suffice to say there’s still so much to think on and study, I could be busy with this for a long time yet. No wonder people get whole PhD’s studying Austen.

And speaking of people who haven’t actually read Austen: apparently the Brits are going to put her on the £10 note, starting in 2017. The accompanying quote, as this article in the Guardian points out, is one that’s a bit of a blunder: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading!” That’s said by Miss Bingley, for the sheer purpose of sucking up to Mr Darcy. Major irony on Austen’s part. It’s like a fridge magnet I have: it came with a box of herbal tea, and has an oh-so-cute teddy bear in a rocking chair on it sipping from a steaming mug, and bears the inscription: “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort! Jane Austen”. In that case, the quote comes from Emma, and is said by Mrs Elton being her usual annoying self – she really doesn’t mean what she’s saying any more than Miss Bingley does in the £10 quote. But then, I suppose, using as certified Austen quotes some lines that are examples of her incredible gift for irony is, in a strange way, quite apt. Those of us in the know can enjoy our quiet chuckle, and appreciate how definitive of the great Jane Austen those words are, after all.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that – this line is one of the most over-quoted in English literature. So I think I will sign off for now. Thanks for reading my effusions! I’ll be back in the fall with Children’s Literature and Fairytales.

How To Write a Term Paper

1.) Pick a topic. Find something you’re interested enough in that you won’t end up hating it after having completely immersed yourself in it for weeks on end.
2.) Vaguely think about it off and on while you do the other assignments for your course, hang around on Facebook, and read murder mysteries in your off time.
3.) Hit the library. No, wait – first hit the library’s website, and surf around, following improbable rabbit trails through the jungle of Library of Congress Subject Headings.
4.) Repeat step 3.) on Google. It’s amazing the stuff you can find – say you’re researching Austen film adaptations, you might find out that Jennifer Ehle played some other costume drama with Jeremy Northam, and that she looked a whole lot better with her hair natural, rather than that dorky wig they put on her for the 1995 P&P. This step can occupy you for a long, long time.
5.) Go to the library and pick up the two dozen books you ordered in on your topic. Stack them around your computer.
6.) Panic.
7.) Send an email to your prof, whining about not getting ahead. Try to change your topic a time or two.
8.) Procrastinate.
9.) Panic.
10.) Get several pads of sticky notes, the real skinny strips, preferably fluorescent-coloured. You need them to mark sections you’re going to quote in the books. Don’t even THINK about actually highlighting library books, or even just underlining stuff and making notes in pencil. You will be smote by the library gods. (I’m sure there are some. Some Greek gods of libraries? And they’re very smiting, believe me. Especially after having had their powers enhanced by my righteous indignation at all those scribbles and markings in the margins. Grrrrrr…)
11.) Repeat step 4.)
12.) Go on the library website, pull up the databases the library subscribes to, and repeat step 3.) Save about three dozen references in a special folder. The next day, go back and open every single one of those .pdf files which will all have titles like 678459q84.pdf, and rename them so you can actually recognize them when they’re closed. Go back into the databases, repeat your search, then actually save the references to the files you’ve found. Export them to RefWorks.
13.) Panic.
14.) Eat copious quantities of snacks.
15.) Start reading. Or at least, open those .pdf files, and skim over the contents. Highlight interesting sentences, even if you have no clue what the author said on the page before or after the quote. (Yes, you may highlight. The library gods do not care about alterations of electronic files.)
16.) Crack open the covers of those library books, and follow the general principle of step 15.), replacing “highlight” with “sticky-note”. You may write on the sticky note, if you manage to not draw outside the line and accidentally write on the page of the book. If you do the latter, you will be smote.
17.) Procrastinate.
18.) Panic.
19.) Feel put upon.
20.) Pace.
21.) Open several text files in your favourite writing program, such as Scrivener. One will be your main text body. Another will be random notes. Scribble down everything and anything that came into your head when you were doing all that pacing, procrastinating and panicking (see, they have a purpose!). Copy and paste quotes you want to use from the .pdf’s; swear at the fact that Adobe Reader won’t let you copy something you’ve highlighted. Go back and pull a clean .pdf off the net, so you can copy and paste from it. Manually copy quotes from the hardcopy books. Throw all those citations randomly into your notes file.
22.) Sleep and eat. Don’t panic too much at this point, it interferes with sleeping and eating.
23.) Whine at your family and friends about the stress levels you’re under. Tell them what you’re writing about (it helps. See “pacing, procrastinating and panicking”). Stop telling them when their eyes glaze over.
23.) Open your notes file. Sort your ideas into a semblance of sense. Cut and paste the quotations, and stick them in the right categories.
24.) Panic.
25.) Open your text body file in one window, your notes file in another. Take a deep breath. Start typing.
26.) Keep telling yourself “Just write, just write, just write – you can edit it later – just write… yes, this sounds awful… just write…”
27.) Make sure to frequently hit “save”.
28.) Repeats steps 22.), 23.), 24.) – 27.) as often as needed.
29.) Include in-text citations as  you write, or leave them to the end, as you choose.
30.) Read over what you’ve done. Fix the really glaring nonsense (if the wording makes you gag, chances are your prof won’t like it either).
31.) Boot up RefWorks, pick the four references you actually used of the three dozen you saved, and build your Works Cited list. Manually enter the reference information for the hardcopy books.
32.) Copy and paste it to your text file.
33.) Pick a snappy title for your piece.
34.) Export everything to the file that will be your final paper file.
35.) Spellcheck and format your paper. Swear at the word processing software which does weird things with margins and fonts, and insists on spellchecking in US English instead of British or Canadian. No, I do NOT want to change “colour” to “color”!
36.) Hit save.
37.) Have a glass of wine or two to celebrate. Go sleep.
38.) Open the file, read it over. Shake your head at all the mistakes you’ve missed. Fix them. Make sure all your citation information is correct and shipshape.
39.) Save everything to a few other files, just to make sure you don’t lose it. Give the files an academic-sounding name. (No, “Bob” won’t do.)
40.) Read the paper over again, just to be sure.
41.) Address an email to your prof; attach the file. Quadruple-check that you’ve actually attached the file and aren’t sending him a blank mail. Hover your mouse pointer over the “send” button. Take a deep breath, then another for good measure. Panic mildly. Click “send”.
42.) Abandon yourself to The Euphoria of Completion.

There you have it – Forty-Two Steps to Writing a Term Paper. Well, they work for me, anyway. You’re welcome.

First Draft

Well, the first draft is in the can. Of course, so far from not having enough to say to fill up the 5000-word paper, I had far too much to say, and ended up dropping more than half of what I had planned on and of the references I had copied out to use. I guess there’s good reasons people have written so many books on Austen and the film adaptations of her books.

So now to rewrite this thing into some semblance of sense…

A Truth Universally Acknowledged


My prof suggested that I write a blog in order to document my research in the course I’m currently taking. Well, why not, says I? The course is a Master’s level reading course on Jane Austen. That’s truth, though not universally acknowledged. Although, hopefully, by the time I’m done I’ll be university-ly acknowledged.

So the first thing I’ve got to do is re-read the novels. Tough, I know, but one has to suffer for one’s scholarly pursuits. I decided to read them in the order they were published, with the exception of Northanger Abbey – even though it was last to be published, posthumously, along with Persuasion, it was the first actually completed in its published form. So I’ll read it first.

I love the story of how Austen had sold the manuscript anonymously to a publisher in 1803 for the princely sum of £10. The guy just sat on it, wouldn’t publish it. In 1811, Sense and Sensibility came out, and became a smash hit. Three other novels followed, all very popular. Then in 1817, Austen’s brother Henry went to that publisher, and bought back the manuscript “by a lady” for the exact £10 that were paid for it. And THEN Henry Austen told that publisher that this book that had been languishing at the bottom of his Georgian slush pile was, in fact, written by one of the bestselling authors of the day. Oooops… That’s got to be one of the biggest raspberries in publishing history.