Thursday, March 4, 2010

Janespotting: The Monk by Matthew Lewis

I'm continuing my perusal of Gothic novels mentioned by Austen in Northanger Abbey, and after the interminable tepid delays that made up Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho, I had higher hopes for Matthew Lewis's The Monk. After all, the rogue John Thorpe, who lies to Catherine in order to monopolize her time, declares the novel the only "tolerably decent one [to] come out since Tom Jones." The latter novel, a 1749 work by Henry Fielding, was notorious for its inclusion of prostitution and general naughtiness, and Lewis's work, published in 1796, would garner a similarly scandalous reputation.

So I eagerly opened the file (thanks, Project Gutenberg), hoping to be rewarded with loads of Gothic excitement and melodrama. And I wasn't disappointed: not only were we introduced to the title character in the first chapter, we got the essentials of the plot. The Monk of the title is Ambrosio, the head of the Capuchin order in Madrid, noted for his eloquence and piety, and in the first chapter several key figures come to hear him preach: Antonia, a beautiful young girl whose widowed mother is hoping to get financial support from an estranged relative; Don Lorenzo, a cavalier who falls in love with her; and Lorenzo's friend Don Christoval, who is seeking his missing sister.

Chapter two brings several shocking events: a pregnant nun! (The missing sister.) A woman disguised as a novice! Ambrosio forsaking his vows to indulge in carnal pleasures! It just gets dirtier and nastier and more tragic: witchcraft! murder! riots! rape! incest! a couch!* Because Ambrosio was raised in the cloister and never faced temptation, his confidence in his upright character had no basis in experience, and he falls victim to a female temptress, and then to Satan himself. For the other characters there is tragedy and triumph, all equally as melodramatic (and unlikely).

It was much juicier (and shorter) than Udolpho ... and sure, it wasn't particularly deep and meaningful, but at least it was fun. I could totally buy that young girls would be both fascinated and scandalized by the book, whereas Udolpho was a stretch. So which is more typical of the Gothic genre? My next (and last) Gothic experiment, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, should break the tie.

*if you've never experienced the Reduced Shakespeare Company's Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), get thee to a theater or DVD rental place.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I feel like Prom Queen!

... except with worse hair, no fancy dress, and a lot more stress. About a year ago I decided to up the amount of freelancing I was doing, so I reached out to contacts from my old employer and said, "Hey, I'm still here." I did a few pieces for a few people, and now I have more work than I can handle. I'm regularly booking myself between three to four months in advance. For 2010, January was devoted to pieces on children's authors (over 9000 words worth); February has been African American biography (it's not quite done, but it will total close to the same); March will be creative types appealing to teens (probably another 9000); April will be bios for middle schoolers (probably around 6-7000); and May will be more bios for high schoolers (7-8000 words). If I'm not careful, I'll forget to schedule time off for vacation this summer ... one of which will be a working vacation at a conference.

Besides this, I was asked to add duties at the animal shelter, so I've doubled my hours there; I'm working on important publicity for the marching band; and I'm still teaching TKD once a week. I've never been more popular! So how come my brain feels like it's dissolving? Anyway, that's my excuse for neglecting the blog ... but new Janespotting is coming, I finished another gothic novel and this one was fun, so keep an eye out later this week.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Photo of the Week--3/1/10

I'm smiling now, at the bottom of this hill on the Greek island of Santorini. That's because I was unaware of exactly what lay ahead of me. We had only an evening on Santorini during our cruise of the Greek Isles, and there was a long line for the cable cars you can see just above my head. We wanted lots of time in the city above, so we decided, why not take the old-fashioned way? I guess I wasn't paying attention to the path the donkeys took to get there: steep, full of switchbacks, and only about three donkeys wide. I would have preferred that the donkeys stay to the inside of the road, but no, they were trained to stay to the right, near the edge. I had visions of my obituary: "plunged to her death in an unfortunate donkey-riding accident." Needless to say, I made it to the top unscathed, except for smelling slightly like donkey.