“For never was a story of more woe…”

So, last night I was able to cross another cultural experience off my “I Want To See More of the World and I Want to Do More Chic and Sophisticated Things” Bucket List. I attended the National Ballet of Canada’s production of Romeo and Juliet at the Four Seasons Centre. I had been to The Nutcracker as a child, with my grandfather, but I was definitely too young to fully appreciate it, and I remember finding it boring, long and dull. I developed this idea in recent years, however, that my assessment was wrong and that ballets were, in fact, beautiful.

Obviously I was right! When I learned that the National Ballet of Canada was performing Romeo and Juliet for three days only, I rushed to buy tickets. I love Shakespeare, as any hopeless romantic would, and although he isn’t my favourite playwright (that title goes to Tony Kushner because of his masterpiece Angels in America, which I will post a review of very soon) and although Romeo and Juliet isn’t my favourite of his plays (I prefer Twelfth Night for its wit and disturbance of gender norms, as well as Hamlet and Othello), it was the first Shakespearean play I read in grade 9 English class, and so I’m sure it’s in some way responsible for my love of literature and refined speech. I wondered though, when I purchased the ballet tickets, if Shakespeare’s story would remain as poignant and touching if rendered without words, without those powerful soliloquies (think Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech) or those oft-quoted, now cliché lines. Is Shakespeare’s narrative and plot interesting in and of itself, or is it the manner in which he wrote the story that makes it so special?

I can now say with confidence that ballet dancers can express with their bodies exactly what Shakespeare portrayed with his pen. The ballet was gorgeous (even more gorgeous, in my opinion, than the pages of Watchmen that I spoke about in my last post – go figure!) – the sets were simple and minimalistic but full of perspective and designed with muted, neutral tones to showcase the dancers; the costumes were elegant and sumptuous, bright and vibrant. It was the dancers, however, and their flawless, twinkling toes that left me amazed! Every single scene was captivating (so much for ballets being boring!) and exquisitely articulated! The male dancers were strong and fierce (the athleticism of every performer was intimidating and motivating – I actually refrained from eating a cookie during the show, which is proof enough of this fact!), and I particularly loved the moment when Mercutio, Benvolio and Romeo (Keiichi Hirano, Christopher Stalzer and Guillaume Côté) sneak into the Capulet party. The men made use of their strength and catapulted each other into the air, and there was some much needed humour in this scene (the audience actually laughed during Romeo and Juliet!).

The true star of the show was Juliet, though. Greta Hodgkinson performed the role to perfection, and I think they could’ve gotten away with calling the show just Juliet. (Sidenote: the novel Juliet by Anne Fortier is incredible, and it outlines the historical relevance of the story of the star-crossed lovers really well.) While watching the ballet, I started to realize that Romeo and Juliet is in fact, at its core, the tale of a young girl growing up (Care for a bildungsroman anyone?!). When we first see Juliet, during the ballet, she is bubbly, a little immature and so cute! She flits around her nurse, dances in excited circles, and cannot contain her juvenile cheer. When she meets her Romeo, there is a moment when everything freezes, their eyes lock, there is un coup de foudre. Then she gets scared and skitters away, trying to avoid the man, the fire, that threatens her innocence. But love gives her strength; she’s more rigid and stiff with Paris than she was with Romeo, and maybe she feels the difference too because she listens to Romeo from her window and she dances with him in the orchard. Now, she is really floating.

She’s almost a completely different woman after love touches her, and the third and final act (after the wedding) is so much about her and her interiority. The morning after her wedding night, she is jubilant with her Romeo – she glows as her white dress shimmers, her raven hair is finally down and it flows around them both. This is in fact the parting that is both sweet and sorrowful. Only this Romeo, this husband, can hold her so high in the air, and I have never seen human toes move so rapidly. She skims but does not touch the ground. Until her Romeo, her lover who is banished into exile, leaves and she literally folds up and crumples to the floor. She is a swan sinking, an angel who has touched heaven but is then dragged down to earth. When Friar Lawrence gives her the sleeping draught, we sense her uncertainty and anxiety in her stilted, short movements. We do not see Romeo visit the true apothecary – instead we follow his wife into the tomb.

And then, tragedy truly strikes. Romeo drinks his sweet poison, and in his last moments of life and vitality, Juliet awakens. In a twist on Shakespeare’s ending, Juliet sees her Romeo again and she is back to being bubbly and uncontainable. She is full of hope, and only we know, with Romeo, in the most heart wrenching case of dramatic irony, that happiness is not to be (See what I did there with that reference to Hamlet?!). Romeo begins to wilt and fade, and then all of a sudden (another coup de foudre, perhaps?) he is gone and it is almost as though Juliet cannot move any longer. Her spark has died, the force and bravery she used to defy her parents and choose her own love story has run out, and she clings to him, resting her whole body on top of him. Such is the end of their story.

Everything was so powerful and moving about this adaptation of a story that has been endlessly remade. The narrative felt new, and I appreciated new aspects of the story that I had never noticed before, like Juliet’s development in particular. There was also a figure lurking in the background of this adaptation: a man or woman shrouded in a grey cloak. This character’s identity was never explained, but my best guess (or actually that of my ballet-going companion) is that he represents death coming for the characters we’d grown so attached to. Either that or he is a reference to Shakespeare, the man who would write the story and allow the National Ballet of Canada to touch our hearts.

Romeo and Juliet

May your love never be star-crossed,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

The Victorian Soul Wants the Victorian Epic

I apologize for the serious delay in posts over the last little while. I would make up a few excuses about my hectic schedule and busy lifestyle if the reason for my absence wasn’t so perfect and valid – I have been reading a literary text that I just can’t think of very much to say or write about. I don’t want that statement to reflect poorly on the text that I’m reading, but I will reveal to you what novel it is that I’m talking about…but is it a novel really?!?! I’m not even sure, and that’s part of the problem!

I’m reading Watchmen and it’s the first graphic novel I’ve ever even opened the cover of, to be honest. I have a copy of the graphic novel because it was recommended and loaned to me by someone I was initially just trying to impress, but who I also respect immensely and who actually knows quite a lot about my taste and assured me that I would like it. And I do…sort of. It’s not that I don’t find the story fascinating or engaging – it’s dynamic and fast-paced and the world is vast and detailed and so well thought-out and portrayed. The characters are pretty cool; I’ve always loved the X-Men and Batman and Spiderman, so I do enjoy a good superhero narrative every now and then. I was totally sucked in during the chapter depicting Dr. Manhattan’s life and history (I was actually back to my normal reading speed during that section of the text), and I’ve always been a fan of stories that incorporate several narrative styles and points-of-view. I think the work very effectively bounces from one strand of the plot to another and from one genre to another. It’s a powerful, groundbreaking literary work and I won’t deny that!

It’s also absolutely gorgeous! Some of the drawings are just breathtaking, and I’m wondering if anyone has manufactured Watchmen wallpaper yet because I think a lot of the scenes would look pretty fantastic on the wall of my room – like when Dr. Manhattan disintegrates…there’s nothing like a full body explosion to brighten up someone’s living space! Basically, I like the illustrations a lot…but I also hate them with a passion. They confuse me, I’m not used to them and I have absolutely no idea what to even do with them as I’m reading! Do I look at them first? Do I read the text first? Do I scrutinize every detail or do I skim them? The colours are so vivid and vibrant that I can’t not look at the pictures, but then I become distracted from the actual dialogue or narration that’s happening and I sometimes have to start all over again. It’s frustrating and strange, but probably not altogether bad. Yes, I have my Master’s in English, but nobody likes a literary snob so I would never suggest that a novel with pictures isn’t a novel…it’s just not the sort of novel I’m used to.

I’m a Victorianist (my diploma doesn’t actually say that, but I’m giving myself the title anyway) and so I’m more comfortable with books that have barely any white space on their pages, let alone elaborate, coloured illustrations. I’m used to words, words, words on every blank surface – even the copies of Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop that I own that feature illustrations don’t include them in the page count. I’m used to using my imagination to determine what a particular setting looks like – when I was a child and I entered the wardrobe with Lucy for example, I had to figure out what Narnia looked like for myself. In the case of Watchmen, I feel like there isn’t much room for interpretation; you can’t debate how a character looks or how elaborate their costume is because everything is given to you, in fluorescent yellows and blues, in deep reds and purples. It’s gorgeous, like I said, but it’s also unlike any reading experience I’ve ever had.

The graphic novel isn’t telling me what exact shade of blue Dr. Manhattan’s skin is. It isn’t telling me what Rorschach’s “face” looks like. It’s showing me instead. And, I’ve learned in creative writing classes enough times that showing is always better than telling, and even great novels full of words and words and words will do that. I guess I just wonder where the room is for my imagination. I wonder how to throw myself into a text that doesn’t leave any space for me on its pages.

I will persevere though, because there’s too much that’s revolutionary for me in this experience not to. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with two reviews from the archives of some Victorian novels I am particularly fond of, not least because they’re heavy and dense and entirely black and white on every page!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart


 The Story of an African Farm

by Olive Schreiner

This was a surprisingly moving and interesting read! I was almost immediately intrigued by the unique storyline and the very distinct setting, and all of the characters are so well described and articulated. Many of the scenes are disturbing, strange and unsettling (I am thinking of the chapter when Gregory acts as Lyndall’s nurse), but these moments add to the intricacies and complexities of a plot that is unlike any that I have encountered in my extensive reading of Victorian literature. Lyndall is an absolutely fascinating character, and many of her longer quotations and ideas about gender equality and social hierarchies are poignant and thought-provoking, but I was also very intrigued by several of the minor characters, most particularly Em and the description of her relationship with Gregory. There is something deeply emotional about the interactions between the characters and about the struggles they each encounter in their lives (especially Waldo whose childhood is very difficult and whose moments of religious contemplation are very well-articulated and profound) and I thought the ending of the novel, specifically the last image of Em and Waldo, was extremely affective and a beautiful conclusion to an unexpectedly touching text.

 Our Mutual Friend

by Charles Dickens

Our Mutual Friend may actually be my favourite novel. Speaking as an aspiring writer and after finishing the novel for a second time, I can truthfully say that I have never read a more brilliantly, carefully and impressively articulated literary text. Dickens is a remarkable author (this fact is generally accepted), but it is amazing that he was able to create such a vast, intricate, complex story at the end of his career. There is not a single sentence that is out of place in this massive work. Every single description of London, the Thames River and the surrounding areas is conveyed expertly. Every single dialogue is articulated to perfection, and every single character (from shallow Veneering to troubled and doubled John Harmon/Rokesmith) has a voice of his/her own and speaks distinctly and vividly. The story is absolutely immense and it would take a lifetime to analyse every detail, but I am convinced that an astute reader, that the proper reader, could enter the pages of Our Mutual Friend endlessly and still appreciate and enjoy every word and lengthy description. I feel as though I have made so many friends within this novel’s pages (although I’d rather be a Lizzie Hexam than a Bella Wilfer, I even respect Bella for her innocence and eventual honesty) and I look forward to getting to know them better when I (probably sooner rather than later and inevitably) read the novel again.

Green Eyes = Happy Hearts

I wasn’t going to write a review of the book I just finished reading, Sundays at Tiffany’s by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet, but the subject matter of the novel was strangely similar to a certain short story I wrote after first year university. If you’ve read the other pages on this site (specifically The Story of the Green Heart), you know that the character I created for this story has emerald green eyes – and okay, you should be able to tell by now that green eyes are my favourite.

So, long story not so short, I picked up Sundays at Tiffany’s hoping for a cute, sweet, chick-flicky read while I was filling this blog with reviews from my previously and dramatically mentioned “personal archive”. I wasn’t expecting too much – I’m a fan of Audrey Hepburn and the classic “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (which ironically isn’t explicitly or repeatedly mentioned in the novel at all), and I had a hunch that this lovely little book would fulfill my desire for something light and fun. Then, I read this sentence on one of the first pages:

“That day his bright green eyes watched me gaze at the sundae…”

Let’s be honest, I was pretty excited about the ice cream reference, but I was also stunned by the mention of my favourite eyes on earth! And, needless to say, from that moment I was hooked…mainly on the male character Michael.

The premise of the story (which I’ve rightfully said is in the same vein as, although not identical to, my own story) is absolutely adorable and probably one of the things I’ve always wished would happen in my life. A girl’s childhood imaginary friend, who happens to be an incredibly handsome, rugged, dark-haired, green-eyed man, becomes real, like actual flesh and blood. Spoiler alert (but not really, because come on, it is a romance after all!), they fall madly in love after she grows up. Maybe this sounds a tad cheesy, maybe it is and I’m just a sucker for true, undying love, but I thought the novel was sweet (seriously, it’s the literary equivalent of a melty chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream on top – it’s literary comfort food!) and very touching! It’s a teeny little book (only just under 300 pages) but there are some surprisingly heartwarming moments – Jane and Michael, when she is both young and old, have some endearing conversations and interactions, and you can sense the love between them, and the unshakeable connection, and the unconquerable loyalty that transcends space, matter and time. This novel is a testament to the power and satisfaction of falling in love with your best friend!

I’ve been known to become obsessed with a romance here and there. I loved every single one of the Sophie Kinsella novels I’ve read (Sidenote: I’ve Got Your Number is my absolute favourite and stay tuned for my review of Wedding Night, which will come once I start reading it, hopefully by the end of this summer.), and I have dreamt about dashing male leads like Henry DeTamble (The Time Traveler’s Wife), Julian Laurence Ashford (Overseas) and Dexter Mayhew (One Day). Although Michael of Sundays at Tiffany’s may not quite be up there with these favourite men that I’ve loved for years (the novel is just too short to get to know Michael well enough), I liked him a lot.

I would recommend this novel for scorching days at the beach or cold winter nights by a fireplace with a steaming hot chocolate and jingle bells. It’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face and make you believe in magic!

I’ll leave you also with a brief review from the archive, of another more contemporary novel, with a narrator I grew very attached to and haven’t been able to forget.

Yours in Mutual Fondness for True Love,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

 

the novel and some related pretty things
the novel and some related pretty things

 The Gargoyle

by Andrew Davidson

This book was absolutely fabulous and so moving! I had been wanting to read it for such a long time, but I admit that I was slightly nervous about the storyline. I was not afraid of being upset or emotionally affected by the subject matter which features both a devastating car crash and detailed descriptions of treatment for severe burn wounds, as I was so interested in learning more about these sorts of ailments and the physical and mental battles of their victims. I was a bit wary that the explanations would be too violent, detailed and graphic for my tastes, though. I am so glad that I decided to finally pick up the novel, however, because I have never encountered a more interesting and compelling narrator! I was so drawn to the narrator’s voice and style; this is undoubtedly one of the most memorable novels that I’ve ever read simply because the narrator’s experiences (and his manner of expressing and detailing these experiences) are so unique! I was also lucky enough to purchase a copy of the novel that included an article by Andrew Davidson that I found fascinating. He describes the fact that Marianne Engel (one of the main characters in the text) appeared to him and spoke to him directly, telling him her story and urging him to document it. I thought that was just the most amazing story (especially because I am an aspiring writer and I often visualize and speak to my own characters) and it proves what a one of a kind, passionate writer Andrew Davidson is. This novel had a profound effect on me and I won’t soon forget it!

A Little Fun is Always JNG Approved!

Hello again Everyone!

I’m going to keep this post extra short and snappy because…okay, I’ll be honest, I’ve got a bit of a new obsession that I’m having difficulty dragging myself away from! I mentioned that I’m a fan of all sorts of adaptations of my favourite novels, and I really mean that – I’m pretty open-minded and I think that if a contemporary author wants to write a modern, young adult adaptation of a well-known classic novel, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, it is not a corruption of the story, and it’s actually a really useful approach to promoting literary masterpieces (and interest in literature, in general) among younger generations! (Sidenote: I read this really adorable teen fiction take on Jane Eyre, way back in my first year of university, called Jane by April Lindner and I liked it a lot! The author compared Mr. Rochester to Bruce Springsteen and let me tell you, I can’t think of two darker, more brooding and mysterious men! Nicely done, Ms. Lindner, I approve of this comparison!) I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with using new forms of social media to reinterpret and reconceptualize classic stories! So, when one of my friends mentioned a YouTube series called “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” to me and explained that it was a modern spin on Jane Austen’s much-lauded, much-loved, much-fantasized-about novel Pride and Prejudice, I was more than a little intrigued! (Who hasn’t daydreamed about Mr. Darcy, especially as portrayed by Colin Firth or Matthew Macfadyen? I mean, I’ve been pretty vocal about my preference for Charlotte Brontë, but even I admit that Darcy has his dashing moments!) I watched the whole series in a month, and it only took me that long because I wanted to drag it out and enjoy it and because I figured I had to do some work towards my MA, since I had gone to all the trouble to enroll in it! Anyway, the series was fantastic, hilarious and lovely, and when I found out the same production company was working on an adaptation of Austen’s novel Emma (which, scandalous admission, I kind of prefer to Pride and Prejudice because Mr. Knightley is swoon-worthy – see my Favourite Quotes page for one of his ridiculously sweet admissions to Emma from the novel – and Emma is feisty and full of personality!), I couldn’t wait to delve into it as well!

But, truth be told, I waited…a long time actually! I got so distracted with my MA (okay, so I technically decided to give it the proper attention it deserved) that I delayed watching the episodes of “Emma Approved” until just now! And there you have it, the new obsession! I have a relatively free weekend, which is unusual for me at the moment, so I’ve decided to watch every single episode…and fall in love with every single actor in it because all of the portrayals of the characters are spot on and so fun and fresh and exciting! I also love that Emma has become an entrepreneur, running her own matchmaking company – for someone who is a confirmed hopeless romantic and who believes that nothing can conquer life’s troubles more easily than true love, this seems like the most perfect premise for a YouTube series!

Point of this blog post: I think “Emma Approved” is an interesting, creative adaptation of Jane Austen’s work and I think it is definitely worth watching for any fan of Austen’s novel but also for people who aren’t so familiar with Austen’s catalogue and are looking for a witty, fun story to engross themselves in over the summer! And fun, even when it relates to and messes around with classic literature, now that’s something I always approve of!

(And yes, I realize that this post was neither short nor very snappy…you’ve caught me, I’m a compulsive liar about the length of anything I write! Thanks for reading anyway!)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Because I’m obsessed with this blog…

…I’ve decided to add a new page to this site!

Check out Janille N G’s Favourite Quotes, a compilation of short selections from novels, short stories, poems and works of theatre that I love!  This page is a work-in-progress — rest assured that I will continually add new quotes to it as I read!

Hopefully these little snippets will inspire you to turn to and read some of the literary masterpieces I’ve quoted from!

Bon appétit! 😉

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

 

Salutations!

And thanks for joining me on this literary journey!

I’m beyond excited to finally be starting this blog and to have a chance to write about all the aspects of literature that I adore, from particular chapters to large chunks of classic novels, to specific characters, to film and other artistic adaptations and interpretations. My vision is to document my feelings as they develop – I’m planning to write regular posts, as I am in the process of reading a single work. I have a huge To-Read list (which you can see on my Goodreads profile – Sidenote: Information on how to find me on Instagram, Twitter and Goodreads can be found at the bottom of this page!), including novels, theatre, poetry, short story collections and graphic novels, in the two languages I speak, English and French. I’m also looking forward to writing some more creative posts, such as letters to literary characters I’m especially fond of and my own creative adaptations of literary works.

To begin, and before I start reading or writing about anything new, I want to share with you some reviews that are part of what I’ll rather pretentiously call my “personal archive”. Honestly, I’ve written a lot about my favourite books, in my private journals (okay, so not really a pretentious archive after all!), and I want to share some of these (often random and unpolished) thoughts with you.

As you can probably tell from reading the other two pages on this site (About the Girl with a Green Heart and The Story of the Green Heart), I’m moderately obsessed with Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, but I’m also pretty obsessed (and I’m quite passionate in this obsession!) with her second novel, Shirley. So, I will leave you with a review of that awesome book, written after I read it last summer.

Until next time!

Janille N G

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart


Shirley

by Charlotte Brontë

I find myself wondering why people believe (or rather agree with Charlotte Brontë’s own assertion on the first page) that this novel is not a romance. I think that it is one of the most romantic stories that I have ever encountered, full of feeling and replete with characters who express themselves passionately and vividly. The narrative is exquisitely rendered, but this is to be expected when reading a novel by any writer as accomplished and acclaimed as Charlotte Brontë. I have now read all of Charlotte Brontë’s novels, and I have to admit that I prefer Shirley to Villette and The Professor which strike me as slightly less sentimental and expressive. Of course, Jane Eyre will always be my favourite, if only because it had such a profound effect on me during a time when I was coming of age, much like the heroine, and because it was the first Charlotte Brontë novel I read. However, there are aspects of and sketches in Shirley that rival my favourite parts of Jane Eyre and I would argue that the depictions of some of the characters in Shirley are stronger than those of many personages in Jane Eyre. I think this is due in large part to Brontë’s use of third person narration; although many readers seem to feel a disconnect from the narrative because of this stylistic choice, I feel that the third person point-of-view allows for more successful and poignant descriptions of the main characters. It would be difficult for the reader of Shirley to be confused about any of the main characters’ intentions: the sentiments of both female leads (Shirley Keeldar and Caroline Helstone) are explicitly described with much detail, but it is the description of the passions and interests of the two male protagonists (Robert and Louis Gérard Moore) that fascinated me most. Whereas in Jane Eyre, the reader is often called to question the accuracy of Jane’s (probably often biased) descriptions of Mr. Rochester’s actions, and moreover to scrutinize Rochester’s own narration of his past (after his unsuccessful second marriage), the reader cannot doubt the affections and preoccupations of Robert and Louis because they are so clearly articulated, as a result of the third person narrative style, and as a result of the inclusion of descriptions in Louis’ own hand in many places. There is too much about Shirley that touched and inspired me to document here, but I will say that I am now more than ever convinced that Charlotte Brontë was a master at creating strong, independent and assertive female characters. I have to disagree with readers that admonish Caroline for being weak and easily manipulated; her intense and forceful conversation with Mrs. Yorke (in the chapter entitled “An Evening Out”) contradicts this assessment. Furthermore, the titular character, Shirley, is nothing short of a feisty, strong-willed heroine; her statements to her uncle Sympson are proof of her self-respect and formidable confidence:

“‘Are you a young lady?’

‘I am a thousand times better: I am an honest woman, and as such I will be treated.'”

For all of these reasons, and many more, Shirley is absolutely one of my favourite Victorian novels and I think that Charlotte Brontë’s second literary attempt was an unequivocal success!

my beautiful Penguin edition of Shirley
my beautiful Penguin edition of Shirley