LITERATURE, THOUGHTS, STORIES... ...all in a log...

INTRODUCTION

Hello, dear reader! If you are reading this document, you must be interested in english literature, and I will be glad to teach you all I have learnt, during my literature classes at high school. I started studying it more than a year ago, and I was fascinated by the way it prompts deep musings upon many issues of our reality. Going on studying, author after author, theme after theme, my interest on this wonderful subject grew more and more. Some people don't appreciate it the way it would deserve, because they think it's not that good or amusing. Well, I completely disagree, obviously! To me, literature is history, first from the past, but also contemporary. It's the way to escape from the routine, to take some time all for myself to make some reflections. Are you asking yourself "reflections on what?"? Well, this is the best aspect of literature: you can read a passage that explains some author's thoughts, and you can discuss about them. Literature is free interpretation. You don't have to fear to express yourself, because literature is meant to be a mean of self-expression, through the words of authors of all epochs.

In this log, I will explain you every author, and every work he/she has done. I will try to clarify to you the importance of the issues that every work deals with. Don't you ever think that literature is dead and buried. Oh, maybe you think that? I'm not that sure, and I will convince you of the contrary! Just trust me and my log, you won't regret that, I'm sure a hundred percent! Let me introduce myself: my name is Annalisa, but all my friends call me Anna. I'm 17 years old and I decided to create this log for you because I would like to make my knowledge useful to your purposes! Hope you will enjoy my work, I will try to make it very simple for you and amusing, so that you won't get bored. For every work I will deal with, I will also summarise some key-aspects of the plots, so that I make sure you follow me better. Are you ready to start this journey into the world of literature?

Get ready... Set... GO !!

MARY SHELLEY

Mary Shelley is one of the most important poets of English literature of all times. She was the daughter of a feminist and a philosopher, so I let you imagine the kind of influences she has been given from her parents, since she was a child. She won a competition to write the most frightening story, then she wrote her masterpiece, "FRANKENSTEIN". The second title of the story is "PROMETHIOUS UNBOUND". As you already know, in the Greek mythology he was punished because he went against nature, he gave fire to human beings, who used it in the wrong way. But what has this character in common with the story? Let me summarise briefly the plot, then you will understand everything.

The core of the story is the life of doctor Victor Frankenstein, who is obsessed with the ambition of becoming the best scientist ever. One day, to make his twisted-minded ambition come true, he gave birth to a being made of pieces took from different corpses, both human and animal. He was sure it would be a success, but... The creature looked horrible, and the creator abandoned him. The being decided to make some friends, but nobody accepted him, because of his horrible looks. Sad and alone, he decided to take revenge on his creator, by killing all his closest friends and his family. He wanted to make doctor Frankenstein suffering, as he did with who should have been his son.

This is not a story full of bliss, is it? Let's analyse it together. Mary Shelley wanted to underline that science is trying to replace a thing that only women can do (give birth to a child). Life is something that only women can give. Doctor Frankenstein goes against nature, he overcomes all the limits of science. I want you to reflect upon something: in this story, who do you think is the monster? It is very common hearing a person talking about this novel and referring to the creature as "the monster". But it is not true. The real monster here is Doctor Frankenstein, who went against nature, and he abandoned his "son", not taking responsibility for what he had done. The creature at first was a good being, but the inhumanity of other people made him become an evil being. Moreover, every human being can't live without love, but even this need is denied to the creature. Mary Shelley throws in our faces the contradictions we have: we are the real monsters. The novel teaches us an important lesson: we need to take responsibility for our actions.

Mary Shelley anticipates modernism, she introduces multiple points of view, the story is narrated both from Doctor Frankenstein, and from the creature. The novel was based on Luigi Galvani's discoveries, he studied how electricity can bring back living creatures to life, the limbs are thwitching and moving, if a body is applied an electroshock. This is exactly what happens, when the creature was brought to life. Mary Shelley is the founder of science fiction. Her mum's loss obsessed her with death. She went to her tomb to speak to her of everything. She felt cursed because at 17 she gave birth to a child, Clara. She had five more pregnancies, and three children out of five died. Moreover her love, Percy Bhyssey Shelley died drowned. At the time, scientists studied anatomy with dead bodies. They paid someone to dig out the recently dead people in cemetery, or they took the corpses of animals from the slaughter houses or charnel houses, and Doctor Frankenstein did the same. It is not a morbid novel, but a prophetic novel, the onset of science fiction and modern science. She dedicated the novel to her father.

Let's talk about the creature, now. He is attracted by the gentleness of the De Lacey family, composed of Felix, Agatha and their blind father. He calls them "my friends", and he spied them from the outside of their cottage, because he were afraid his horrible looks would have scared them. One day, hearing the cottagers talking about history, the creature convinced himself of the evilness of human beings, at once they are so magnificent, but then they turn into vicious and base beings. He heard about the contradiction of human beings: immense wealth and squalid poverty, rank, descent, noble blood and division of property. He came up with the conclusion that if you are not rich, you are nobody, a slave or a vagabond. Life is mysterious to him, he didn't know about his creation and creator, and he possessed no money, no friends, no kind of property. He had an horrible aspect, and was not born out of a woman. Then he posed himself a philosophical question: "who am I?". At that point the creature felt pain, and he thought there was only a mean to overcome it: death. Then he realized that the smiles and the sweet words of the cottagers were not for him. This was the sour truth, that signed the turning point of the plot: with the seed of agony planted in his head, the creature starts changing, and becomes an evil being. Mary Shelley speaks to us, and anticipates lots of contemporary issues, like the obsession for money and having a good look. Nowadays, if we don't have money or good looks, we are considered nobody. Now, dear reader, check out this video:

This is a spot made by Apple that I watched during Christmas holidays. It caught a lot my attention, it's fantastic. I would have rathered that the poor creature in the novel received the same treatment of the video.

JOHN MILTON

John Milton was the author of the greatest epic poem in English, Paradise Lost. He is known as a politically engaged writer, and a struggler in defense of liberty and freedom of speech and press. Let's ask ourselves a question: why did Milton write his masterpiece? To answer this question, we have to go back in time. When the monarchy was abolished in 1649, he served the republican government, but after the return of the king, his republican writings (he despised every form of tyranny) were condemned to be burnt and he was sent to prison. Then he was pardoned and released, but this experience of political and personal loss inspired him to write his great poem, PARADISE LOST. Let's make this lesson more interesting. I will tell you the guide lines of the story, answering some questions.

The illusTrated book

•Why did Milton choose the epic genre for his masterpiece? Because of the greatness of his subject, religion and the Bible. •Who are the characters of this story? They are characters taken from the Bible: Adam, Eve, God, Satan, Christ, many fallen angels and, of course, man. •Where does the story take place? It is set in the Universe, we have the reign of Hell and Heaven and Eden. •What is the structure of the reign of Heaven? God sits on his throne, surrounded by nine orders of angels and archangels. Satan belonged to the tenth one, but he rebelled against God, and he deserved a punishment: he was casted out of Heaven, and sent to Hell, the antithesis of the perfect reign of God.

Let's go deeper in the analysis: you may have understood that the two main characters of this masterpiece are God and Satan. Satan has all the features of an epic hero. He is a true leader, he is good at persuading who is insecure about its choices. He is a rebel, he doesn't want to be the slave of anyone. In his speech, he is trying to calm all the fallen angels who agreed with his thoughts, but became to doubt if the choice of rebel against God was a good one. There's a famous statement that explains what I have just said about Satan's personality: "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven". Here, he is renouncing to a happy and beautiful place to live in, preferring a dark and gloomy reign. But the important thing is that he won't be the slave of God any longer, he is finally free.

Satan, the rebel

Honestly, if I were Satan in that situation I would have rebelled, because freedom is so much important to me, and I think that nobody should be the slave of nobody. God is always been described as a good and forgiving being, who loves us all. But this could not be the truth. In this case, Satan had all the right reasons to rebel against the will of God. Then, I appreciate all his features, they make him a real leader, who makes great effort to encourage his followers. For the sake of freedom, he is willing to lose everything. Personally, I don't think I would be willing to lose everything I have got, for the sake of something. It's not cowardness, not at all! I would rebel against something that limitates my freedom, but I'm not sure I would renounce to my friends, my house, my family, etc... Maybe I should just try! ....Just kidding 😜

Let's talk about Adam and Eve, the other two important characters of this epic poem. You already know that Adam and Eve have been created by God. The just-created Adam starts to wonder about his past, his creator, the reason why he was created. He starts to examine his body, every single limb, he tries to move himself. In the passage, we see that he can't verbalize what he feels. The language is limited to the feelings. He is so happy and glad to be created.

Adam and evE

Adam taught me a fundamental lesson: we should only be glad to who created us. This is something that we don't often understand the meaning of. People of my age are not happy with their life, they complain about their parents, and they can't understand how much their parents love them. Personally, I love my mother, I am glad to be her daughter. She is the best and the most loving person I've ever met. I love my father, too, even if he has not always been present in my life. But my love for him is unconditioned.

Reading this passage, I also posed myself two questions: have I ever thought about why am I here? Does the creation deal with already organised stuff? Well, my opinion is particular, I'll try to explain it to you without being blasphemous. On the one hand, I think that I am not the result of God's love, who made me like him and so on so forth. On the other hand, I am firmly convinced that I am not the result of the mere sexual relationship between my parents. I AM THE RESULT OF THE INCONDITIONED LOVE OF MY PARENTS. This is why John Milton is my favourite author: he made me wondering about many aspects that we take for granted everyday. It's simple to turn a blind eye on these issues, and not reflecting upon them. We have to investigate, to scratch the surface of them, and find their deep meaning, that can be applied to everyday life.

DANIEL DEFOE

Daniel Defoe is revolutionary in many aspects. He is collocated in the period of the rise of the novel. This means that the authors of the time (including Defoe) started to write for a public of middle- and upper-class people, who wanted to read stories about them and their individual experiences.

Robinson Crusoe

We notice this change, simply looking at Robinson Crusoe, the main character of Defoe's masterpiece, Robinson Crusoe. He is the new hero of this type of novel (the realistic one). He belongs to the middle-class, he is practical and guided by his common sense. He is a self-made man, and is different from the classic heroes because he is rational, and not blinded by passion or rage. The novel is full of details, with many adjectives, to make the story vivid. We have descriptions for every scene of the novel, to render it more realistic. For this sake, every scene is set in a precise time. In every page of Robinson's log we find date and year. The story follows a rational, chronological order.

The New miDdle-class hero

Let's talk about the plot! Robinson Crusoe leaves his family and goes to sea, in order to make his fortune. Everything goes well, but one day he is shipwrecked on a desert island, where he will spend 28 years, 2 months and 19 days (the precise time makes everything believable and realistic). He is the only survivor, and on the island he will start recreating his homeland: England. He rescue the life of a young savage from cannibals, and makes him his servant, with the name of Friday. In the end, Robinson returns to his country.

I adored this novel! First of all, the fact that the story is told in the first person made me identifying myself with the protagonist and living his adventures, using my imagination. Fantastic! Then, I appreciated the fact that in the story, we see the savage world through the eyes of a white man. We can also see some kind of exaltation of 18 th-century England. We can consider the recreation of this country on the island as a hymn to colonialism.

I did not really like Defoe's choice of using the figure of the savage to declare the superiority of the British to other races. Robinson saves the savage, and uses this as an opportunity to make him obeying all his orders. Not by chance, Robinson teaches him only the English language of submission and commend, just to make sure he obeys everything the master wants. The savage will kneil in front of him, and Robinson will place his foot on his head. This is the emblem of unconditioned submission. Here, the other races are considered so insignificant, that the savage does not even have an identity. He is called Friday (the day Robinson met him). Let's ask ourselves a question: Why did Robinson save Friday? The answer is obvious as much as the question: he saved him because he wanted to show that he is a good Christian. But... A good Christian would ever consider some people inferior? A good Christian would ever make people slaves? A good Christian would ever make a person lose his identity, suffocating his customes, his uses, his traditions? Obviously not. That's why I think that here in the story, the pretext of "being a good Christian" is used by Robinson just when he wants, in an incorrect way.

The meeTing with The savage
A funny picture about the meeting wIth the savage

What caught my attention the most, is the way Robinson coped with the hardships: he did not panic, he appealed to his reason, made a list of pros, cons, solutions to the problems, and faced and solved them. Personally, I would never, ever be able to behave like that. I know myself, and I would start to panic after five minutes of solitary life on the island. I would cry, in a state of desperation! What if I met the cannibals? I would definitely freak out! Solitary life on a desert island is not my cup of tea. And you? What do you think? I hope you are braver than me.

Moll Flanders

Here's another novel by Daniel Defoe! Here, the story is narrated by the protagonist in her old age. You got it! You read "her". The main character of this story is a woman, a real heroine, Moll.

I love her personality! She has a dream: getting rich. She has the guts to make this dream come true. She was very poor, and after five marriages, children, being a prostitute and a thief in order to survive, the imprisonings and the deportation to the USA, she finally starts to work very hard and becomes a rich plantation owner. After all these adventures, in her advanced age, she recollects all these moments and experiences as examples of mistakes to be avoided. She teaches us, women of the world, important lessons, because she casts light on a woman's point of view.

This character is definitely my favourite. She is rational, clever, cunning, a trades woman, just like Robinson Crusoe. We have been showed the world, through the eyes of her. She has this dream, she knows she wants to achieve it, she desires some kind of personal fulfillment. And with her mentality, she will fulfil her goals. She is not particularly interested in love, marriage, family, children. She wants to live a worthwhile life, and for this sake, she is willing to do things against the law (steal things). As Niccolò Machiavelli said, "il fine giustifica i mezzi". I adore her, she has courage and the guts, she is a strong woman, very different from the typical stereotype of the weak one and subjected to men. She is independent, and I like this feature.

Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift is a controversial writer, at once considered as a monster or a lover of mankind. He was really concerned with politics and society. He wanted people to take a common-sense view of life, encouraged people in the use of reason (but not too much, because not everything could be seen through the eyes of reason) and used satire in his works, to show the problems of society at the time, but also to throw at our faces the contradictions of humanity.

Gulliver's Travels

This novel seems to be a book for children, but it's not so. Behind the particular and colored characters there's something more: a political message. The biting satire used in this work shows us that Swift wanted to reform society, because of its striking contradictions. Lemuel Gulliver, the protagonist of the story, is well-educated, sensible and a caring person. He has a family, a job (he is a doctor) and supports the culture which has produced him. One day he decided to make a journey around the world. The voyage will lead him to different places, inhabited by different types of beings, not human, who live in highly organised societies, governed by institutions. These societies don't exist, but are more organized than ours. This shows the author's disdain for the society of the 18 th century. The more Gulliver travels, the more experiences he lives. There is an inner-growing of the character, that will lead him not to stand any longer the "human smell" (synonym of loss of civilisation and corruption) of his family and humanity, once he will go back home.

I read three excerpts taken from Gulliver's Travels: Gulliver and the Lilliputians, The Academy of Lagado and The smell of Yahoos. I did not really like the first one. Gulliver is shipwrecked in a region, called Lilliput. He falls asleep, and when he wakes up, he finds he has been tied up by the Lilliputians, the tiny inhabitants of this region. They call him "Great Man-Mountain" (because he is way taller than them) and they inspect his clothes and his items, which they did not know the existence of. I found this excerpt a bit boring, it deals only with descriptions of the object, through the point of view of a tiny man.

The Academy of Lagado is way more interesting than the previous excerpt, because Swift's satire emerges more clearly. Gulliver is on the island of Laputa, and visits this Academy, where meets the Projectors, scientist who do not fit in the stereotype (people with white aprons). They are dressed with filthy clothes that show how much they are involved in what they do. They are not groomed at all, they even forget about eating. These men are carrying out absurd experiments: they try to extract sunbeams out of cucumbers (because they are the result of light), they want to reduce human excrement to its original food (excrements are just the food that has been processed in the stomach). Then, they try to turn ice into gunpowder, inspired by the idea that fire is malliable. Another project was to shorten the discourse by cutting polysillables into one, using the language of children, because it's simpler. Even if these experiments are totally absurd, there is a thinking process behind them, did you notice that?

The most striking experiment is in the linguistic field: the scientists wanted to abolish all words, using objects to speak. They thought that if a word describes a thing, you can use a thing to describe a word. As Shakespeare did, Swift shows us this philosophical view of language. Language is not a matter of fact, but is made of words. He does it by imagining what would be like if we expressed ourselves with objects. There is a downside to this plan: if you are an intellectual and you have to explain a complex theory, you have to carry with you more objects. It is impossible, it would be time consuming.

The smell of Yahoos is another excerpt in which the satire is glaring. Gulliver has been to the region of the Houyhnhnms, super-intelligent horses, with great reason and features, organized in a society with great values. Gulliver learnt the values by them. But the horses (compared to the human beings) are not the only inhabitants of this region. There are the Yahoos, monkeys that live on the trees and throw their excrements at the others. Swift compares them to the Europeans, evoluted animals. Back in England, Gulliver realizes that his wife, his children, the Europeans smell like the Yahoos, they are not civilized. Gulliver tries to stand the stench, but don't manage to, and goes to live with the horses, that are considered more intelligent and organized than humans. Swift wants us to learn something important: in our aspect, we seem to have real values, virtues, but the author throws in our faces our presumptuousness. Human beings don't have the great qualities they think they have. Gulliver does not want his wife close to him, because she's a Yahoo. She and his family are described as animals, with teeth and claws. Gulliver can't stand the fact that he looks like a Yahoo, with its traits, even if psichologically he is a Houyhnhnm.

But, what is the vice of human beings? That is pride. If you are too proud, you do not progress as a person. That is different from self-estimating yourself, because if you do that, you are able to spot your flaws and correct them, too. We are the Yahoos. For Swift, we are a lump of deformity. The Rational Houyhnhnms don't know the existence of the term "pride", because they are dominated by reason. They are totally different from us, the Yahoos, that are filthy and too proud of themselves.

Finally, reading the excerpts of Gulliver Travels I have wondered about something: what if Jonathan Swift lived nowadays? I think he would not appreciate the corruption of nowadays society, much more corrupted than the one of the 18 th century. Then, he would hate all the contradictions of our soul, our incivilisation, the fact that we are no more in tune with nature but we only spoil it.

A modest proposal

Let's deal with a pamphlet written by Swift. It's about the social issue of poverty, that at the time was considered a crime. If you were poor, it was your fault and of your laziness. At the time, England exploited Ireland and its poverty. During the 18 th century there was famine there, because of a parasite which attacked plantations of potatoes, the only food of farmers, who, in a state of poverty and hunger, went to England to work. The full title of the pamphlet is "a modest proposal for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland from being a burden to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public". The social problem at the time was the poverty. In Ireland there were lots and lots of poor families, in which parents did not have the possibility to feed or dress their children. There was overpopulation and unemployment. Swift uses satire, and in this pamphlet he talks about a possible solution to this issue. To cope with poverty, famine, unemployment and overpopulation, he proposed to feed the children in order to make them gain weight, and then to sell them to the public, which would then eat them. This delicious food is ment only to rich people who can afford it, and is available at the butcher's.

Obviously, this is only satire. Swift was not a cannibal, but he used this biting satire just to awake us and throw in our faces the contradictions of human soul. We gave value only to who is the most important in our society. We tend to turn a blind eye on the conditions of people who are less important. Think about this example: what if the baby of the English Royal Family died? It would be a scandal, the fact would be written in every newspaper. Everyday in Africa or in poor countries, hundreds and hundreds of babies die out of starvation or poverty. But nobody cares about them. Swift wanted to underline the gap between the rich and the poor, telling us this "modest proposal".

William Blake

Critics don't know whether William Blake is romantic or not. He was about freedom of people in their bodies and minds, he was against marriage, because it was an institution, and slavery. He was about women rights and equality. He believed the first prison we have is our body, because we have limitations. The only thing we have in order to be free is imagination. He composed poetry and drawings, which he attached to his works. The poems are collected in two collections: Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. The first one contains the poems written through the perspective of a child (characterized by innocence). The second one contains the poems written through the perspective of aN adult (characterized by his experience of the world). William Blake was Christian, but not religious. He was spiritual, he believed in values but he did not attach them a God. He had a dualistic view of man's life, which he called "complementary opposites": good and evil, male or female, cruelty and kindness. Even God has good and negative aspects. We need all these ingredients to be human. If I have multiple choices and streets, there is progress. A contrary state does not prevail on the other one.

Also Blake was much concerned with political and social problems of his time. He focused on the victims of industrialization: all the poor people and families who lived in work houses (institutions set up by the government for poor people. Poor families resorted to it for accommodation and food, but they had to work for free. The parishes exploited the poor, they were paid to look after them, to buy them food. But the priests held a half for themselves. Without enough food, children did not grow up well).

London

This poem belongs to the Songs of Experience. We read the description of the city, seen through the eyes of an adult. We see the black aspects of it, also seen through the perspective of poor people: there are chimney sweepers, torn down buildings and a land crammed with people, especially in the slums, in the outskirts of London. It's a overcrowded, disease-ridden and inhuman place, symbolic of the materialism of the age. Here, Blake walks through the streets of the city. He marks the harshness of lies, using a gloomy and dreary tone. The pace of the poem is slow. This is rendered by repetitions, that make the suffering seem to last forever. We have rhymes with words with long sounds. The description is realistic because the poet becomes the eyewitness, and the spokesperson for the poor, downtrodden, invisible people. The author criticizes the Church, because the parsons did not take care of the paupers. He criticizes also the Royals, talking about the poor soldier, who spilt his blood to protect the Royal Family. The royals lived in luxury and did not work to earn their own living, and all citizens paid taxes to support the royal families. The perfect walls of the Palace hide the blood of people who sacrificed their lives for the Kingdom. Blake attacks the Nation, because it should take care of its citizens. At the end of the poem, Blake talks about a curse: he tells us that at the time if you were born in those conditions of poverty, from the very beginning of your life as a child you were doomed to death. I think that this poem could be linked to nowadays, because even in 2017 we have people in appalling conditions, but Italy does not do anything to help them.

The Chimney Sweeper (taken from Songs of Experience)

This poem deals with the appalling conditions the little Chimney Sweepers live in. We have a slow pace, and low-pitched rhymes. The poet is walking on a street covered by snow, and he sees a little black thing among it. He is the Chimney Sweeper, all covered in soot. They start a conversation, and we have two voices: the one of the poet and the one of the child. He told Blake that in the past the snow was happiness for him, but now it's not. His parents obliged him to work, and have gone to the Church to praise God and the King.

Here, Blake criticizes some parents. We are made to think that parents love us, but it is not so. Some parents cause misery to their children, as it happens here in the poem. The parents abandoned their child in the snow. They should have made the child wear the clothes of happiness, instead they dressed him of sadness and sorrow, they taught him only the language of pain. And they pray God and King, ignoring the duties a parent has. This means bigotry. You live for God only, but you don't follow God's teachings. There would not be a Heaven without a Hell. Unfortunately the children are in Hell, but they should stay in Heaven.

The Chimney Sweeper (taken from Songs of Innocence)

This is the parallel poem of the previous one. We have high-pitched rhymes and a child like language. The eyewitness is the Chimney sweeper, who's trying to comfort a friend, Tom. His curly head has been shaved, and his friend is playing the role of the father, comforting him. That night, the Chimney Sweeper's friend dreamt of all his "colleagues" sweepers who were locked up in coffins made of soot. Then an angel came and set them all free. The children get rid of the soot, and were now free to play and be happy in Heaven. When Tom woke up, he was happy and full of bliss, and all the Chimney sweepers began to work, early in the morning.

In this poem, the poet emphasizes the enormous number of children used as Chimney Sweepers. He also mentions some names, to render things more realistic.

Both the first and the second poem deal with an issue that is common nowadays: child labour. In many poor countries, people are obliged to work in striking conditions of poverty and famine. Their parents oblige them to work either for free, or for very little money.

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