We are excited to announce that The Phlox is knee-deep in revising her next novel, which is (shockingly) yet to have a title. We are excited to provide the public with more details shortly.
It is a realist, contemporary story that explores family relationships, relationship to the natural environment, vulnerability and the body, death, trauma, and strength. The Phlox was inspired by such archetypal stories as Cupid and Psyche, which show a traditional ‘maiden’ archetype interacting with Eros and Thanatos energies and finding her personal power, as well as contemporary coming of age movies such as Juno, Ladybird, or On Chesil Beach (an adaptation from an Ian McEwan novel) that explore the significance of quiet, individual stories with a close focus.
It almost makes Hamlet look silly. All his important internal struggle and angst, all his indecision, all the intrigues—how important everything within the palace seemed, to him and to everyone else involved. But all the time, they had no idea. They were focused on the wrong thing. The audience is left wondering—if they had shifted their focus and put aside internal grievances to make Denmark strong, what would have happened? If they had faced the actual, bigger threat of Fortinbras’ army instead of being distracted by internal turmoil, what would have happened?
Not to say the murder of Hamlet’s father and the grief and betrayal therein isn’t legitimate–but I also think survival is legitimate. That’s the problem with the trees you get distracted by–they’re all legitimate, but at what cost?
You can imagine what a viewing experience this was. My entire idea of this play was turned upside-down; the obsessive Fortinbras shots I at first thought strange and unnecessary, I soon realized were an insightful interpretation. That perhaps the inclusion and role of Fortinbras is not a plot convenience or odd loose end—perhaps it is a very subtle placement by the Bard, a very subtle point for his readers.
It is one of the tragic flaws of we, as a human species, to focus on the wrong things. We focus on the small bad in our lives instead of the huge good. We focus on internal concerns in a family, organization, or even country, at the peril of being a strong and successful whole and facing often greater external threats. We miss the forest for the trees.
Perhaps Hamlet’s tragic flaw is not, as many say, indecision. Perhaps he, and his entire country, were putting their energy towards the wrong things—self-destructive quests that destroyed everything around them.
The Phlox, in case the reader has not noticed (The Snottor is sure the reader has noticed), has been delinquent lately. There are a lot of things to distract her (that’s what she would tell you. The Snottor would tell you something infinitely more rude). She is currently up to her petals in non-blog-related things she is reading and writing. This, of course, wounds The Snottor. She clearly is a bit addled in the brain if she thinks that any other literary pursuits are above the smug grandeur of his blog—and of course, The Snottor being a Luddite at heart, he is helpless to curate and post his own content without her, a baffling reality indeed. (He thinks this post will have a little something for all the Luddites at heart).
Now, back to our haughty reviews of our favorite things. The Snottor, because of his prolonged abandonment, has had lots of time on his hands to read, and has thus discovered this interesting venture.
Mouse Book Club was recently launched by Kickstarter campaign (with the money donated shockingly exceeding the expected amount), and now has a website, podcasts, blog posts, and a wide array of its products to sell.
To see it yourself, and read their (the Phlox thinks far superior) definition of their product, visit their website HERE.
In essence, the Mouse Book Club hopes to start a quiet little revolution. It is manufacturing little books, the size of a smartphone, drawing on material in the public domain. As they say themselves, every piece is picked (and, in the case of longer works, excerpted) with care, and they are not meant to be consumable words. Rather, the fine folks at Mouse hope that these tiny books hold food for thought and the soul within their smooth pages.
They are the perfect size for a pocket, a purse, or a backpack; they are convenient for taxis, lines, airports, lulls, busses, awkward situations—to say the least, The Snottor is quite impressed. They are a handy substitute for the content one can sift through on a phone, highly curated and thoughtfully minimalist to boot.
Whether you explore Mouse or not, it does bring up an interesting idea—the use of spare time. We all have it, even the most busy, The Snottor asserts. What do you choose to do in those spare pockets? What meaningful, tiny moments could you be having?
The Snottor wishes the best, having delivered this erudite dispatch from the muddy Spring-flower trenches.
Hello! Why don’t we return to one of the old guard for this month’s posts—the Bard.
I believe it was Mortimer Adler that read Hamlet over again every year, gaining new insights with each look. You could say society is in the same bucket; new adaptations of this play focus on different things, and different waves of academics bring out one theme or focus, only to be surprised by a later insight from a different voice, highlighting another aspect of the story.
Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Hamlet did that for me. Here’s the backstory:
I’d read this play once before, and was reading it again this year for Literature. I’ve recently enjoyed indulging in adaptations (studying something is an easy excuse), and as you all have seen I’ve gone rather wild with Wuthering Heights. So I watched Branagh.
Reading Hamlet, I found Fortinbras a rather odd thorn. Perhaps a loose end. The arrogant, power-hungry Norwegian prince who conquers Denmark in the end. What was he doing there? He wasn’t in the story enough to really contribute to thematic significance, and his entrance at the end is almost random and seems quite the convenience for our esteemed author. However, Branagh gave Fortinbras more of a presence in his adaptation. Fortinbras already was sprinkled throughout the beginning of the play, but Branagh gave him more wordless shots, flashbacks, and made it always ominous. The viewer is definitely more aware of the threat he poses to Denmark, and of the dramatic irony that the Danes have no idea.
As the film progresses, so does Fortinbras’ looming figure. Branagh highlights the huge scope of the threat during one of Hamlet’s soliloquies as the camera zooms out, leaving Hamlet a speck before Fortinbras’ enormous army (which Hamlet has no idea is actually marching to Denmark).
Act 5 is the most marked difference of all. While in the play, Fortinbras only appears with his entrance at the end, his approach is frequently shown by Branagh, heightening the peril. The audience is agonizingly aware that, the whole of act 5, Fortinbras is swiftly taking a defenseless Denmark—and, again, Hamlet and crew have no idea. The action of act 5, the duels, the poisonings, that seem in the script so all-consumingly important, are constantly juxtaposed with shots of the massive approaching army. In Branagh’s version, Fortinbras is of as great importance, if not more, than the intrigue within Denmark.
Look out for the next installment, up later this month!
(missed the first part of this conversation? find it HERE)
Perhaps Heathcliff, as I said, is not really a man at all. In general, men don’t sympathize with him—women do. Sometimes the sympathy comes from romantic feeling, or because we identify with him, but there is a connection.
What I now think is that Cathy’s love for Edgar is perhaps Emily Brontë’s statement on all romantic love; it will change, it will have seasons, etc. Cathy and Edgar are two very different, highly imperfect people. Although they loved each other (and, as Nelly thought, were actually on their way to happiness before Heathcliff came back and stepped into their marriage), they didn’t have that wild, transcendental attachment of Heathcliff and Cathy that leave so many fans swooning.
But perhaps Heathcliff and Cathy’s love is not romantic at all. Perhaps it is, instead, the deeper relationship that Brontë seems to value above that of marriage—the relationship between a woman and her inner man (or vice versa).
When looked at in this way, Cathy’s speech makes complete sense. Let’s look at part of this passage again:
“My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees.” Although rather unromantic, this could be Brontë’s overall statement on romantic love. Seeing as she never married and seemed content in herself, it’s not that surprising that she might see it in a more removed and secondary way. And it is pretty realistic—long-term relationships do change like the seasons. “My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary.” Just as one’s relationship with one’s self would be. “Nelly, I am Heathcliff!” Heathcliff is her Animus! He is a part of her. “He’s always, always in my mind:” because he’s a part of her. “not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being. So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable;” it is impracticable, because he is contained within her.
Now this is just one interpretation of many, I am well aware, and it is one I personally did not buy a few months ago. But keep it in the back of your mind! Think about it! It’s pretty interesting.
Part of Jung’s theory is that if a person is not in touch with their Anima/Animus, or if they are letting problems with this other part of themselves fester, that this part of a person becomes destructive and sabotages their relationships, that it holds them back from their full potential in all areas of life. Heathcliff certainly becomes a destructive force.
Now this is a concept I find pretty complex and do not yet completely understand. So let me just talk about this in the simpler terms I am currently more comfortable with—as the masculine and the feminine.
I think every person has a mix of both genders within them; some people’s are suppressed, or they’re afraid of or not in touch with one part of themselves. Emily Brontë (as far as we know; there isn’t as much information on her as many would like) did not have any romantic relationships; she hated teaching, and was most happy alone on the moors. Talk about someone who would be very comfortable with themselves—both sides of themselves.
Heathcliff is intense emotion, and intense pain. He is left without the one source of love he enjoyed, Cathy, and is not able to change or break free from his painful feelings and can do nothing but destruct.
At the end, as we know, Heathcliff does change. He tells Nelly he feels some kind of change on the horizon; he feels he has nearly attained his heaven, that of being united to Cathy, and at the end, when their gravestones are alongside Edgar’s, peace can be restored.
All in all, Wuthering Heights has recently been making me think about one’s relationship to one’s self. Perhaps, the idea that, by acknowledging and coming up against the uglier sides within you, you can achieve a greater synthesis of your entirety. How about you guys?
The Phlox has taken a recent disgusted fascination with Rogue Taxidermy, the new “hipster” (The Snottor raises his eye-scales at such words) take on taxidermy as a form of art. The Phlox, as one of the more sappy animal-lover-tree-hugger types The Snottor has ever had the misfortune to meet, does not find that any form of taxidermy sits well with her, but, as an equally-sappy lover of art, she cannot help but be interested.
Lifting The Snottor’s ancient and appropriately stone-heavy bulk up in her measly, understandably struggling flower-arms, she has forced him to peruse the web for such specimens. While the pair of them felt mutually ambivalent about most of the findings, there was the work of one artist in particular that left the Phlox so dazzled that she has coerced The Snottor (with perhaps the morally ambiguous use of ice-cream sandwiches) to discuss it in one of his esteemed and highly looked-forward-to posts.
About this Artist:
In general, Rogue Taxidermy involves the mixture of pieces from various animals obtained in a humane way with other materials, creating such objects as ox-hoof zip-up high heels, baby goats with lustrous mermaid tails, or a cyborg steampunk coyote. These are personally not much to The Snottor’s taste (or The Phlox’s stomach), and although objectively interesting, do not leave him with a lasting artistic impression.
The work of Kate Clark, however, always stands out. Using animals hides, she recreates a life-like wild animal, but with one key difference; she gives it a human face. She creates masks with rubber eyes that look perfectly human yet blend in with the colors and textures of the animal, and which are attached with silver pins to emphasize the seams and thus the reconstruction of the creature.
Clark’s artist statement, which can be found in full here https://www.kateclark.com/artist-statement/ (along with all her art), emphasizes the connection between the civilized and culturally advanced (as she puts it) human with its primal instincts and the connections to bodies that in many cases have not greatly evolved. What struck The Snottor in particular about her work, is the way it treats the relationship between human and animal; in a way, she gives “humanity” to wild animals, but that is not really the right word, The Snottor thinks, because it clearly, as Clark’s art shows, is a quality that belongs to more than human beings.
The point is that Clark, in her art, silently breaks down the boundaries between human and animal, and in that way both raises animals to the humanity of human beings, and also raises humans to the beauty and silent knowledge of animals.
There is something about her work that always captivates, that speaks to some truth that The Snottor thinks was in most of us all along.
What do you think about this? Do you think taxidermy is a perfectly viable form of art, or disgustingly inhumane? Do you have a favorite contemporary artist? Comment below and tell us!
For previous discussion of Heathcliff, and background on Wuthering Heights, click HERE and HERE.
I must confess that I did not at all expect to return to Heathcliff (at least so soon)! But Emily’s character is indelible, I fear. I must have read Wuthering Heights in October and here I am, still wrapped up in processing and thinking about it. It puts most other books to shame by contrast.
So, last time we looked at Heathcliff we were taking him on his literal terms. We were taking the story on its literal terms as well—Heathcliff was Heathcliff, Cathy was Cathy, every character a separate entity and complete human being living in an ordinary (if Gothic and amazing) world.
Back when I was reading Wuthering Heights, I was also indulging in some Jung. In the chapters on the Anima and Animus (every man’s inner feminine, and every woman’s inner masculine), there was a stormy black-and-white picture of Heathcliff and the moors from some older adaptation, with a caption below stating that some people think that Heathcliff, so shocking to so many readers, was in fact a representation of Emily Brontë’s Animus subconsciously coming forth.
When I first read that it sounded ridiculous to me. Mind you, I was still mid-read of Wuthering Heights, taking everything at face-value, taking everything in, reacting to the first impressions of the characters. My sympathy for Heathcliff has taken awhile to develop; when I read the book I empathized with Isabella and the spaniel Heathcliff tried to hang; he became gradually unforgivable to me and I boxed him out of any sympathies just as one would to an abuser/antagonist in real life.
But, as you all know, I have gradually come to feel much more understanding for Heathcliff; although many of his actions remain equally unforgivable, I have gone from viewing his character as a separate entity, to someone I deeply identify with and learn from.
Many are quite troubled by Cathy’s conflicting feelings for Edgar and Heathcliff. It can be hard to understand how Cathy could be so shallow—anyone who at all believes in true love is horrified by her throwing a way a love for Heathcliff so deep just so she could have the flashy Edgar and be the finest woman in the neighborhood.
Here is Cathy’s famous speech, as she tries to decide whether to go through with Edgar’s proposal (which she has already accepted):
“I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.—My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being. So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable;” (Cathy speaking to Nelly, from chapter 9 of Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë).
While Cathy’s comparisons of her love for Heathcliff and that for Edgar are often construed as describing two types of romantic love (I have read of it before being defined as Transcendental versus Empirical love), I can’t help but wonder if Emily Brontë is making a broader statement entirely.
What if Heathcliff is not really a man at all? Now I’m not saying he’s a woman, what I’m saying is this: in general, men tend not to like Wuthering Heights. I know there are lots of men out there who appreciate the book, but in general I (and others) have noticed that men are more likely to dislike the book, and women are more likely to have an affinity to it. Now one could boil this down to the simple fact that many women-fans are in love with Heathcliff. But really? Are we going to leave it at that?
But remember how I called him radical? Find the first part of this post HERE.
Ovid, Waterhouse’s most likely source material, tells. He tells who Orithyia’s related to, what her sons do; he tells of Boreas’ anger, he tells of Boreas’ actions—it is all telling, it is all what happens to her. Victorians did a lot of telling themselves; deciding the proper sphere of women, telling them the ideal they ought to live up to.
Waterhouse, however, does no telling at all. He eschews the plot that Ovid, and most other treaters of this tale, focus on. The story is cast aside for the moment Waterhouse depicts.
The girl is aligned with the nature around her. The colors of her clothes echo those around her, she like the nature around her is buffeted by the wind. The deep, soulful colors and textures connect her to her environment; the viewer’s eyes are drawn to her face, framed by her arm, by the billow of her mantle. Her face, her expression, and the daffodil in her ear.
In such a dark, deep color palette, the yellow is surprising. Daffodils are spring, a season far removed from the setting of the painting. Spring is rebirth, and change, and generally, in the language of flowers, that is just what the daffodil symbolizes.
The Metamorphoses is all about rebirth. Characters meet life anew in changed forms, with their life situations changed drastically—and often tragically—along with it. As Peter Trippi puts it, in his book J. W. Waterhouse:
“it was Ovid’s Metamorphoses to which he [Waterhouse] returned in every phase of his career, celebrating physical transformations as emblems of the passage from suffering to acceptance, from death to eternal life”.
In his portrayal of this girl, Waterhouse accepts the unknown. He does not tell us what is happening to her, how she relates to other aspects of the story. He does not tell anything about her, as his time could be so wont to do. Instead, Waterhouse accepts the silence of the moment, focusing in on the girl’s mysterious expression, an expression showing deepness, deep as the colors she wears, as the circles throughout the painting. The daffodil he places behind her ear suggests her own possibilities for transformation, for metamorphosis, subtly transcending the views of his society and time to create a gorgeous exploration of the mystical feminine.
What do you think about all this? Are you a hardcore Waterhouse fan, hater, or new initiate?Comment below!
Having seen many ‘19s in his days, The Snottor remains undaunted by this one. Looking back he would say that this ’19 is certainly less glamorous than last century’s, and certainly less tense than the century’s before that.
As we approach the dark-night-of-the-soul month of February, and are firmly in the whole chilly, sniffly, and dim post-holiday season before Spring, The Snottor finds that some good inspiration is in high order.
About this Artist:
For those further interested, a fabulous article has been written about Bondas, available HERE.
The Phlox in particular finds Marina Bondas’ life and work deeply inspiring; Bondas is a great artist in her own right, a conservatory-trained violinist–but she has done quite a bit more with her art than just make it.
Marina Bondas was born in Kiev, before moving to Germany with her family as a child; the civil unrest and war in Ukraine ironically has helped her reconnect to her mother country, where she now serves and gives freely of herself to connect with her people.
In a war-torn region, there is much that a brave volunteer, worker or citizen might be called to do, and art is low on the list. There is always need in any war or disaster for health providers, people to staff refugee centers, care for orphans and trauma victims, etc.
Bondas, however, has chosen a different route.
She returns to her homeland, where she performs in refugee centers, private homes, and often for ragtag groups of ordinary civilians she meets along the way. She shares music with people accompanied by the sounds of shelling outside.
Bondas is, in The Snottor’s opinion, the greatest artist alive. War is perhaps one of the most devastating phenomenons of being human; peace is disrupted, safety and predictability are swept away. Loved ones and the future you saw for yourself are lost, not by the forces of the world but to the brutality of other human beings. Art is often the last thing on anyone’s minds.
But art can be one of the greatest tools for humanity; she bravely brings it into the lives of people who need it most, giving them all, and herself, something other than war, something beyond devastation and uncertainty.
She also runs a summer camp in Ukraine to share music with children traumatized by the war many of them no nothing other than. She depends on donations every year to put it on; if you’re at all interested, as The Snottor is (he fishes his coach wildly for spare change), the Phlox has obligingly provided information (from Bondas’ Facebook page) below:
“it was Ovid’s Metamorphoses to which he [Waterhouse] returned in every phase of his career, celebrating physical transformations as emblems of the passage from suffering to acceptance, from death to eternal life” (Peter Trippi, from his book J. W. Waterhouse)
John William Waterhouse is perhaps best known for his paintings of women, particularly in Classical and Medieval settings, retelling classic tales. He often retold stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Ancient Roman Epic about magical physical changes. Ovid’s stories tend to focus on the chaos in the transformations, the fragility of life and the status quo of anyone’s experience, and the randomness of suffering.
One of the hundreds of short tales winding throughout the Metamorphoses is that of “Boreas and Orithyia”. Ovid’s telling of this tale, most likely Waterhouse’s source material, corresponds to the purpose: it is a short transition piece to tie the previous story to the next section, in order to retain his goal of all the smaller stories in his work being connected. Ovid tells the thread matter-of-factly; Boreas, the North Wind, desires to marry the mortal Orithyia, but her father, having a grudge against Northerners (which is how it connects to the previous story, in which a Northerner harms Orithyia’s father’s family), forbids it. Boreas resorts to his customary violence and carries Orithyia off; he forces her to become his wife, and their children (who have wings—the Boreads) join Jason and the Argonauts, tying into the next part of the saga.
Orithyia is never focused on for herself. It is a highly technical story.
But now’s where we get to the actual painting: Waterhouse retells the story, painting a girl being buffeted by the wind. It is not strictly identifiable with the original tale at all, and the only reason we know what Waterhouse is retelling is by the title, Boreas.
It is a completely different composition than Ovid’s, and certainly different from many of the other artistic retellings of the story, all of which depict the moment of abduction. No, Waterhouse’s take is so different as to be unrecognizable from the original plot—not only a different take, I would say, but a radical one.
John William Waterhouse is not usually someone tagged with that appellation, “radical”. To many he is a stuffy old Victorian Gentleman, who, beginning with his own lifetime, often found himself out of fashion and certainly is today. Recently, his painting Hylas and the Nymphs was temporarily taken down to invite museum-goers to participate in a discussion on the portrayal of women’s bodies in art, a good illustration of the negative way some people perceive his portrayals of women—as erotic objects to be looked at.
At first glance, Waterhouse’s painting seems completely in-step with his time. Women in the Victorian Era had limited rights and were idealized, especially idealized for being the center of the home and sexually pure. Women were expected to be modest, and were not encouraged to act in the outside world.
The girl in Waterhouse’s painting is similarly modestly clad; she is beautiful and feminine, she is highly idealized. It is easy to look at this—and many of Waterhouse’s paintings—and write them off as highly aesthetic erotic portraits of the female body unrealistic to the full experience of being a woman. It is easy to look at him and his work and feel no connection between the idealized, Victorian females he portrays and the real woman you might be or know.
But remember how I called him radical?
(tune in next time for the second part of this post!)