Coffee in the City of the Ladies

Would we drink coffee with Christine de Pizan?

Kristy: Yes. Let’s start with the general life stuff: girl was married at fifteen and a widowed mother of three by twenty-five. I know that wasn’t unusual for a woman of her social class in that day and age, but knowing these facts and knowing what it was like are two different things. I would like to get her perspectives on women’s lives in her day, because based on what I’ve read of her writing, she’d have a lot to say, and it stands a good chance of being insightful. I’ll confess I don’t love her writing–like most allegories it gets a little heavy handed–but I love it for what it does. Over six hundred years ago Christine was writing about the overlooked place of women in history, and issue we have still not come close to solving. So I’d like to buy her a cup of coffee and chat about women in history, literature, and education. I’d be interested to see what she thinks of where we are now, though I’m afraid she’ll just be disappointed we haven’t gone further.

Cammy:  What the heck?  Sure.  I didn’t know squat about her existence until Kristy mentioned her, but she definitely sounds like a ground-breaker.  Single mom is a tough gig.  Single mom in the middle ages is even tougher.  And I do like a good allegory (even the heavy handed ones) so despite the fact that she was a poet, I might be able to handle coffee with the gal.  I’m sure Kristy will be stuck with the lion’s share of the conversation, but with so few notable female figures in history, how can I miss a chance for coffee with one of them?

Coffee Nevermore?

Would We Have Coffee With Edgar Allan Poe?

Cammy:  I’ve never been a Poe fan, outside of a slight soft spot for the “Tell Tale Heart.”  The whole dark, macabre subject matter just doesn’t usually appeal to me.  Also, he married a 13 year old, which, by the time he was around, was already creepy.  That said–I want to have coffee with him, morose and slightly off balance though he may be.  90% of this has to do with the preview I saw today for some kind of horror flick tied to Poe and “The Raven.”  Watching the preview, I had to wonder what Poe would think.  Because while there’s plenty of dark and horrific subject matter in his work, he never seemed to me to be going for the kind of cheap thrills you get in the never ending list of shitty gore-or films that are forever pouring into theaters.  Would he find it as craptastic as I do, or would he be intrigued?  Given that he was also into cosmology and cryptography (further topics for potential nerd discussion), I tend to think he would probably take a dim view of the shitty horror thing.  All in all, I think that conversation with him is bound to be at least interesting, as long as we can keep him away from the bar and he can avoid being too depressed/crazy to chat.

Kristy: Yes. I’ve spent enough time teaching the man’s work I feel like I ought to. Also I’ve always admired his work stylistically, even when I haven’t been that enamoured of the subject matter (my opinions on the macabre have gone back and forth a few times). This was a man who understood the craft of writing. With that in mind I’d like to hear his thoughts on the current state of popular literature. Like Cammy I’d like to hear his thoughts on contemporary horror. Did he avoid “going there” because of social constraints of his time or was his style of horror a more deliberate choice. I like to think he’ll find contemporary horror to be a bit cheap in its use of gore and superficial emotional content. I also want to ask him all those nerdy English major questions: How autobiographical is his work? Who was the subject of “Annabel Lee”? We know his biography was distorted after his death, but how much? If nothing else I should get some great material for future lectures.

Sassy Gay Time Vampire

I strongly suspect that many of our readers are already familiar with this week’s time vampire.  It’s even been linked in our comments once.  But I discovered a few days ago to my great horror that friend of the blog Mary had not been introduced.  I felt like I had failed as a friend.  So lest we fail any of our other readers here’s a delightful little Time Vampire:

The Sassy Gay Friend

In a nutshell it’s a series of videos focusing on moments in literature and history when characters make really bad decisions and hypothesizing how things might have ended different if said character had a sassy gay friend.  (spoiler:  Sassy Gay Friend always makes things better).  Yes, recent videos are sponsored by Mio (I haven’t tried Mio, but it contains sucralose and is therefore evil), but they are still amusing.  I love them because not only do they bring the funny, they bring the smart funny.  They poke fun at absurd moments in literature which people never talk about (SGF to Juliet:  You took a rufee from a priest!).  Also they are full of allusions to other literary works (I don’t want to remember that night I spent with Bob Marley).  They’re the kind of videos that simultaneously amuse you and make you feel smart because you actually did your English homework.

The nice thing about this Time Vampire is that it’s not going to suck away too much of your time.  There aren’t that many videos and (sadly) new ones aren’t released that often and none of them are more than a few minutes long.  But warning:  watching one will probably result in you needing to watch them all.  And even once you’ve watched them all they may become a minor addiction.  Not so much an addiction as that thing you turn to when you get down.  “Man, I’m sad.  I’m going to have to watch some Sassy Gay Friend.”

A final warning to our readers:  There are a lot of imitators out there.  And to some extent, who can blame them?  I mean, just yesterday Mary and I were speculating on how Eowyn might have benefited from the help of a Sassy Gay Friend.  (Though just now we have decided that Boromir would have benefitted from one even more)  The difference between us and them is we respect the SGF enough not to make a poorly done and not all that funny Sassy Gay Friend:  Lord of the Rings on our own.  So we strongly recommend that you not watch any Sassy Gay Friends that do not work for Second City.

What, what, what are you doing?

Literary Drinking Games

This weekend friend of the blog Teapot sent Cammy and I a link to an Anne of Green Gables drinking game.  Score!  Now said drinking game is based on the television mini-series, but it got me thinking.  Why aren’t there drinking games for books?  I know, I know, there’s a limit to how much most of us can drink before we lose the ability to read, but think how much more fun it could make certain literary works up to that point?  Reading the English translation of Torn from the Nest would have been so much more pleasant if I’d gotten to take a sip of alcohol every time a certain character said, “Frankly.”  Granted, I also might have wound up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning… But you get the point.

For example, I’m taking a semester long course on Spenser’s The Faerie Queene right now (something which I’m generally regretting) and alcohol would make the experience so much less tedious.  We could drink every time there word “Phoebus” appears.  Every time there’s a random procession.  Every time you have to stop and take an Excedrin because your head hurts from getting hit over the head with the symbolism.  Every time Spenser is clearly winching about Queen Elizabeth I not giving him that promotion he wanted…

Pride and Prejudice:  Every time someone tries to blatantly prostitute their children.  Twice if it’s someone other than Mrs. Bennett.

Moby Dick:  Every time there’s a chapter on the intricacies of the whaling industry without a shred of plot.

Tristes Tropiques:  Every time for no discernable reason Lévi-Strauss starts talking about a completely different geographical location.

The Fountainhead:  Every time someone tries to act like rape is part of a normal, passionate relationship.  (I personally need a whole shot every time that happens).

Hamlet:  Every time there’s a sly reference to Hamlet and Ophelia getting it on.

Song of Roland/any Charlemagne romance:  Every time Roland acts like a dumb jock.

Seriously, I think I’m on to something here.  This could revolutionize lit classes…  And actually get undergrads to read!

For Sarcastic People Must Be In Want of Coffee…

In our attempts to add some variety to MTV, MPB: Year Two, we’re opening our doors to yet another dimension of coffee (or beer) chatting:  fiction.  Fear not, we still have plenty of real folks to caffeinate with in the future, but now and then, we’d like to dabble in the less-than-real sandbox.

To kick off:

Would we have coffee with Mr. Bennett?

Cammy:  Hells yeah.  Of all characters in all of Pride and Prejudice who would be most guaranteed to have hysterically dry observations mocking the stupid people in the immediate vicinity?  Mr. Bennet’s our guy.  For one thing, I have a sneaking suspicion that he has his own booth in the back of the Spacial Anomaly where he goes to avoid his wife and daughters when his library just isn’t far enough away (or he want’s a fresh crop of nut jobs to observe).  I honestly don’t want to quiz him or get any kind of inside story, I just want to sit at the table–probably with a book or a notebook to occupy time when he gets absorbed in his own book when there aren’t enough people coming in and out to watch–and exchange quips about others.  I think Kristy and I are far enough from being Mary, Kitty & Lydia-esque (definitely far enough from Lydia) and can comport ourselves in reasonably Lizzy & Jane-like fashion to avoid being targets of his mockery, and be included as contributors to the ridicule.  Of course, if he’s been in that booth during some of our other coffee visits, he might have a thing or two to give us hell about.

Kristy:  Before I go any further, I just want to make it clear, in case any of our readers were laboring under any delusions, that neither Cammy nor I is nice enough to fall into Jane territory.  Just so we’re clear.

But to the matter at hand, of course, I’d drink coffee with Mr. Bennett.  Or tea or port or whatever the man drinks.  Like Cammy, I’m more interested in people watching and listening to the snark than actually interrogating him about anything.  And frankly, having seen what he has to put up with, I think we should buy the man a drink of some kind.

Cammy:  She’s right about the Jane thing.  The best we could get here is two Elizabeths.

Coffee With Jane Austen? Happy Thought, Indeed

Cammy:  Damn skippy I’d have coffee with her.  I appreciate some snarky, people-watching sarcasm and who better to bring that to the table than Austen?  A sense of humor that speaks across centuries is a gift.  I’d also like to pick her brain about about how she let’s the “bad” (relatively speaking) guys off so easy.  I mean, she had it in her power as the author to kick Wickham’s ass, to lob off Willoughby’s nuts, and generally to dole out a lotta suffering on the male assholes.  But she doesn’t.  I’d like to get to the bottom of that one–either to find out why she’s not vengeful, or get closer to figuring out why I am.  And most importantly of all, I owe this woman the beverage and pastry/snack of her choice as a big, fat thank you for Mr. Darcy who was the first literary man I ever had a crush on (even before I saw him portrayed by Colin Firth).

Kristy:  Definitely.  Again, gotta love the snark.  And the Mr. Darcy.  (Who I also loved before seeing Colin Firth take on the role.  And even before I think we were supposed to love him in the book.)  I’m also interested in clearing up a couple of scholarly debates about her life and how much of it was reflected in her writing.  Was her mother really Mrs. Bennett like?  Was her relationship with her sister dysfunctionally codependent or just close?  Why did she accept a marriage proposal only to change her mind the next day?  Also interested to get her take on how we were supposed to view some of her characters/plots; I’ve always suspected that being American and born too late I was missing a few things no matter how much socio-historical research I do.  And I’d like her take on my “Lydia Bennett has ADHD” theory.

Damn it, Cammy.  Now I want to watch and I have no time!

The Rochester Conspiracy

Like most people I had to read Jane Eyre in high school.  Tenth grade to be exact.  Now I know Mr. Rochester with all his Byronic manliness is supposed to sexy, but he didn’t necessarily appeal to all of us.  And at some point one of my classmates mentioned a story she’d heard about in which it was revealed that Rochester was actually the one who drove his ex-wife Bertha mad.  The story closed with Jane locked in the attic as the crazy wife while Rochester seduced the next governess.  (As best I can figure, she was talking about Wide Sargasso Sea and gave an incredibly incorrect summary)  This just confirmed what many of those in my 10th grade literary arts class has suspected:  That Rochester was evil.

It only took a short time for us to figure out that not only was Rochester responsible for every bad thing that happened in Jane Eyre, he was responsible for a whole host of evil deeds.  At the end of The Awakening, Edna doesn’t commit suicide–she’s drowned by Rochester.  Ever wonder what the Russian translation of Rochester is?  It’s Raskolnikov.  Yeah, the guy from Crime and Punishment.  What did Rochester do after all of this?  He changed his name to Rasputin and destroyed the Russian Empire.  Forget Disaster Girl, turns out Rochester was responsible for most every atrocity in history.  I’m betting he was on the ground crew for the Hindenberg, gave out the route of the Lusitania, rejected Hitler from art school… you name it.

The main lesson you need to take away from Jane Eyre boys and girls is “Rochester is the root of all evil.”

Don’t fall for the “I locked my crazy ex-wife in the attic for her own good” line.  He uses that on all the governesses.