Saturday, 21 July 2012

How to become a millionaire novelist, Part 10: Screw history!

When writing best-selling historical novels, it is not advised you conform to the mores of that era, because who wants to hear of old-fashioned manners no one understands or likes? If it's the Regency era you couldn't say dirty things in public either, and neither could a young man and young lady be alone in the same room and survive with their reputations intact.  So, screw history! The heroine will be outspoken for that era and she is admired for it by the hero. The hero on the other hand will support women's rights and try to grope around as much as possible. Who wants to read about a long, complex, intricate courtship? Not the common market.

Sex and sensation always sells. Find some historical figure (say Anne Boleyn), point out a conspiracy theory e.g. hey Anne was a villain! Her sister was a good girl, and then describe what steamy goings-on went on in the court of Henry VIII. My history of the Tudors is non-existent so I can't elaborate. Just check out Philippa Gregory.  But whatever conspiracy theory you do make sure it's full of sex and murder and incest if possible. Homosexual tendencies are encouraged as well. Oh, and the possibility that one monarch was illegitimate. Madness and disease is also an option. The King's Speech requires too much research and is struck off our list. Besides, that market has been explored. No, what we want is people in elaborate gowns and crowns.

Well, some conspiracy theorists say that Queen Victoria was illegitimate, and another group says she married, a second time, to her Scottish servant! You can try to depict the steamy scenes between Queen Vicky and the Scotsman, preferably with kilts and bagpipes, though I doubt kilts were popular in the Victorian era. A tear-wrecking scene involving the late lamented Prince Albert is required, as John Brown comforts the widowed Queen.

But this may be considered a trifle too prudish for the excited romance reader, because after all, it was the Victorian era, and Queen Victoria was a strict mother. Let us focus on a much-favoured era, the Regency. The Regent was known for his extravagances and his mistresses. He even attempted to divorce his wife, Princess Caroline of Brunswick. You could depict their stormy, raging passion (though he found her ugly, still it is a novelist's job to make things up) and their irreconcilable differences. Oh, there is a true anecdote. The Regent wrote to a friend saying he doubted Princess Caroline was a virgin on her wedding night because she told him his phallus was large. *Ahem ahem* You might then make up some imaginary lover she had before she married the Regent. Apparently after separating, it is said Princess Caroline had some lovers and an illegitimate child (she said it was the son of an old lady whom she was fond of, but who knows whether she paid off the old lady to come and say it was her child?) The Regent was by all accounts a tyrant. If you depict him as a Heathcliff, better still. Anyway Heathcliff is from the late 18th to the early 19th century, which is not very long before the Prince Regent's time.

But you get the idea. Make Princess Caroline appear a tragic battered woman. If you want to emphasise a tragic innocence, eliminate all the scandal surrounding her. Forget the historical records. They don't exist to a mass consumer public.  If needed, just put in an orgy involving the Prince (and knowing his reputation, it shouldn't be too hard to find a real-life event) to the eyes of a horrified Princess.

Or something involving the actress the Prince Regent married illegally (it wasn't valid.) Romanticise it till the readers cry and want to kill Princess Caroline, who will of course become villified.

The Prince Regent's story is synonymous with his father George III the mad king. Now that's a blockbuster. He is a conflicted soul, troubled by marriage to someone he doesn't love and a mad father. I can envision a scenario where George III goes round with a stuffed chicken on his neck, swinging an antique sword trying to decapitate the entire palace.

But why write historical fiction? you ask, with all the research into the events. Well, the modern romance fiction market is overstocked, because sadly low IQ isn't as rare as we'd like to think. Marketing your novel as historical fiction shows you are more cerebral, because you have a history degree, and those snobs will be tempted to come down to read your novel. And those without a brain will have the pleasure of reading something "historical" and yet without any difficulty.

For something more speculative, try guessing the identity of the Dark Lady in Shakespeare's Sonnets.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

How to become a millionaire novelist, Part 9: Fanfiction

A good measure of how popular a series is is the amount of fanfiction it generates. Just look at the Harry Potter and Twilight fandom. Heck, even Fifty Shades, which started out as fanfiction, has fanfiction written on it! It means people are interested in the novel and feel close to the characters, which is just what you want.

Since most fanfiction writers are teenage schoolgirls, you must know how to pave the path to ensure countless fanfics are written of your characters. One of the most popular sort of fanfics is to ship off people in relationships which may be hinted at or not even mentioned in the book. For example, those who belong to the Jacob-Bella ship. As well as Edward-Bella (because some of the books were written at a time Bella was fancying Jacob and Edward had left her).  I suggest you ensure one of your male characters fancy the heroine. Make him attractive so fans will go for him, but don't make the heroine too attracted to him. That will make all the shippers go nuts and resolve this problem namely by writing it out themselves. Don't make him too minor a role, or else everyone will forget about him. If there is uncertainty as to whether the heroine fancies him or the hero, even better. I myself have long harboured a wish that Neville Longbottom married Luna Lovegood, but they were ill-paired. According to the rules of fiction they ought to have been paired off.  Also, some people have wished to pair of Leah from Twilight with Jacob I think.

Fanfic writers are also very fond of writing slash, whereby two characters do gay stuff with each other. Two close guy friends (or girl friends), especially with one of the friends harbouring an unrequited love for the other, will ensure this sort of fanfic gets written. If the gay character is likeable the shippers will want him to get his love, even though the other guy is straight. This is why both admirers of the heroine must be major roles - so the shippers will make them do gay things. For more interesting results, the Mother Figure must be unusually attached to the Heroine, which will result in lesbian fics.

Since steamy sex scenes are popular in fanfics, you must take the opportunity to get more fanfics by censoring all the sex scenes in the novel. Better still, put in none at all. This will understandably frustrate the more lurid-minded readers, who will then write an even more lurid fanfic. Unsatisfied passion sells, as ascertained by Twilight and its fanfics.

Fanfics are notorious for altering a character beyond recognition. See Draco in Leather Pants or Ron the Death Eater. Make one character deliberately boring, so he'll be re-written as insanely evil. For the unbelievably evil character, make him hot so people will be rooting for him.

But not all fanfics are about relationships. Some fanfics are used to propagate the author's ideologies or emphasise modern social issues. To get an idea, read My Immortal, Twila: the Girl who was in love with a Vampire, and Forbidden Fruit: The Temptation of Edward Cullen. Harry Potter arguably has too many perfect Mary Sue characters who achieve so much (and they are the heroes) and the Slytherin characters are often morons. Outraged readers will re-write Gryffindor as evil and Slytherin as good, causing even more controversy. I've often thought what self-centred jerks the Gryffindors were, and those who are quite nice people are written to be too perfect. Basically nerds like Neville Longbottom ought to be in Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff but get put in the elite class, Gryffindor. There seems to be no outstanding intellectual from Ravenclaw, which are famed for their intellect.  All the interesting clever people are from Gryffindor.  Yes, Gryffindor is for the perfect, popular way to success. It's for outgoing go-getters with brains and charm. And some turn out to be jerks. Slytherin is supposed to be Nazi Hitler, but I could argue the case for Gryffindor as well. What about Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff? All ignored, despised nerds and geeks. If your novel is riddled with silly Mary Sues, you will get many haters. This is actually a good thing because it means publicity. Your supporters will defend you even more strongly. 

As I was saying, Twila and Forbidden Fruit deal with rape and perversion and depressed teenagers, unlike the original Twilight. Doubtlessly the authors decided the original wasn't good enough at tackling these issues, and wished to get their revenge on Stephanie Meyer. Mind you, the paedophilic bestiality touch was pretty good, involving Jacob and Renesmee. Outraged moralists exclaim, and then you must congratulate SMeyer for putting in these social issues. Also lots of people who hate Renesmee are now shipping Jacob with Leah.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

How to become a millionaire novelist, Part 8: The Gothic Treatment

Not part of canon technique, yet seems to be in fashion. My Immortal makes use of this (the heroes are all Goths and bisexual vampires), Twilight has vampires and werewolves (not Gothic but with elements that claim to be Gothic), and Harry Potter (which is too good for this post) has supernatural elements. Fifty Shades is not Gothic, but a sullen silent antihero in the Byronic mould and a crazed ex-girlfriend with a gun is arguably a realistic form of Gothic horror.  With too much romance the reader longs for action and suspense, because you know very well the guy is going to get the girl, or rather the other way round.

There is something mysterious in the supernatural, as vampire fans can testify. Since the vampire market is overflooded it may be worthwhile to try something new. Werewolves have been taken. I suggest a zombie hero - as an antihero to Mr Darcy the zombie slayer from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. His dark secret is eating brains, and he longs to eat the heroine's brain because she is so intelligent and he longs for eternal inspiration - an interesting twist on longing for eternal youth. Or try a time-traveller. I believe that theme was explored in that famous silly "literary fiction", The Time-Traveller's Wife, where the hero can't always be with the heroine as he inadvertently time-travels due to a mutation. We could always wait till Audrey Niffenegger has snuffed it before seizing the chance, (or else face plagiarism charges). This is why I refuse to read modern fiction: so I can't be charged for plagiarism because I have no idea what occurs in the publishing world in the last 50 years.
The Time-Traveller's Wife. Doesn't look remotely Gothic does it?

Let's omit the mutation bit. The hero is a time-traveller because it is his job to fix errors in history (like Shakespeare being murdered or something). However his duties cause him to change history, resulting in the non-existence of the heroine in his time (she does exist in another time-dimension, and by now I'm sure your head is spinning in circles). This is good marketing because you can then classify it as sci-fi or fantasy, which is more highbrow than romance (mainly because it has fewer readers put together than romance alone.) It is a truth universally acknowledged that the number of readers of a genre increases with decreasing intelligence of the said genre. More intelligent readers or (what is more likely) readers trying to look intelligent will buy the book because it looks highbrow, in addition to the idiots who fell into your trap. Here's something amusing from Wikipedia:
The novel, which has been classified as both science fiction and romance, examines issues of love, loss, and free will. In particular, it uses time travel to explore miscommunication and distance in relationships, while also investigating deeper existential questions. (On Time Traveller's Wife).

What, you say, is Gothic in this? Didn't you know, dear readers, that any romance with supernatural elements now is called Gothic by its author?

One must praise Miss Niffenegger's striking ability to extend the pages of a book without much plot.  It takes  talent to do that and yet make the work readable. Jeremy Bentham was long-winded and unreadable.  I googled Time-traveller's wife and it turned up as Fantasy as well as romance.  It didn't take me long to read more than half the book, an accurate indicator of how cerebral a work is. George Eliot on the other hand takes months.

Ancient time frame romances are less likely to be copyrighted as the authors of that era are all dead and gone. On the other hand readers love the present. Let us compromise by having the hero and heroine have a romance that crosses time and space. They write letters to each other which develop into friendship which develop into love ... still, there's no physical contact, and contemporary readers like having the rough and tumble in the haystack. In that case you might have to introduce spirit travelling. There is nothing more ghastly than ghostly sex, still you can't deny it's attention-grabbing.

Worse come to worse, steal from Shakespeare. Everyone has done it, including SMeyer. Shakespeare is the god of literature and no one can challenge him. There's some fantastic elements: see Winter's Tale and The Tempest, which are arguably two of the most boring plays I have known.  Stealing from a historical source is yet another way to say you're intellectual.

I believe I read this somewhere, that the hero was magically enslaved by some evil witch and the heroine had to save him. I think it's from Tam Lin. Reverse the gender roles because we love damsels in distress. As a matter of fact, you can see the Tam Lin strain in Fifty Shades, because Christian was the bondage partner of Mrs Robinson and Ana fears losing him to her.

For a more modern equivalent, try situating the scene by an Egyptian tomb. Those places I hear are riddled with ancient curses.

Monday, 16 July 2012

How to become a millionaire novelist, Part 7: The Other Characters

Twilight is notable in that the side characters are not particularly outstanding, the focus being on Bella and Edward. Perhaps it is about the Romantic individual. Still the side characters serve a useful function, namely the show how perfect Bella and Edward are. The silly girls in school all fancy the pants off Edward, which shows you how very desirable he is, and therefore how lucky Bella is to get him - every woman's dream.  Because the hero should be every woman's dream.

"Mwahahaha! I, the clumsy schoolgirl, snagged the most eligible bachelor in town!"

Bella is also liable to be perceived as snobbish and dismissive of anyone who isn't Edward, as well as being anti-social. We will come to the question of antisociability later. The fact she is pliable in the hands of Alice Cullen shows you that Bella is soft-hearted, and the fact Alice loves her (rather than be dazzled by her, like the rest of the schoolgirls) shows Bella's hidden depths, otherwise quite invisible to the luckless readers. To follow Mrs Meyer's example, always have a nurturing mother figure take a shine to the awkward heroine. Who can trust the impressions of other schoolgirls? Who are likely to see the heroine as a pretty freak or something to idolise. The clumsy heroine is also unlikely to get things done, having no leadership skills, so the mother figure is there to aid the plot. Another extension of the idea is the hero's parents love the heroine thinking she is good for him. This is to shut up the doubts of any cynical reader. Furthermore those critics who claim the heroine is a Mary Sue will instantly be deterred, because the Mother Figure is even more perfect than the heroine. She is elegant, she never makes a social error, she has many sophisticated friends who instantly take to the heroine.

But why not simply make her more accessible to her peers? you ask. Yes, but we're supposed to convey the impression she's unimpressive, shy and awkward, so the reader will sympathise with the heroine. We can't make her too unlikeable, so in comes the Mother Figure.  The idea is she is Too Good, Too Deep, and Too Profound for her peers to understand her. Only those equal to her level can be her friends, namely the Mother Figure and the Hero's Parents. Making her mix only with the high-class elite also satisfies the fantasies of readers who wish to be accepted by sophisticated intelligent people. You are who you mix with, so if the heroine's friends are rich, cool and sophisticated, therefore the heroine is cool and sophisticated. We can't make her rich, because that would not make her sympathetic but all her bosom friends are. It marks the triumph of social ascent. Don't we all love that, my dearies? (this should be uttered with a leer).

No love story is entirely addictive without the Conflict, which I have discussed (in the hero), but here the conflict is that the heroine's parents are against the gloomy heroine whom they think is a Bad Influence. Despite him being rich, popular and educated and never having committed a crime in his life. This is useful so you can introduce a Balcony Scene, a variation of "Oh where art thou Romeo?" "I have come for thee Juliet!" (these lines I made up) of Forbidden Love. Instead of the rich despising the poor, it is the poor despising the rich, yet another wishful fantasy I am sure you love to indulge in. 

In My Immortal, Ebony has a group of fellow Goths who are her bosom pals and who centre around her. This dispels the myth that the Goth heroine is a self-centred brat, because everyone else who matters loves her. A bevy of girls may surround her, and they all want to be like her. There must also be a popular kid who picks on the heroine, to show how unlucky she is.The popular kid will be upstaged by the heroine, because Good Triumphs in the End.

Not forgetting the String of Suitors. They are all madly in love with the heroine (Ebony screws Draco, Harry, and Voldemort, some in public, and unfulfilled lustbags include Snap, Loopin, Hargrid, Snaketail and Tom Rid). This shows you how humble the heroine is to say she's plain but so many people fancy her. You should not omit the Male Friend of the Opposite Sex (in Allo Allo, Herr Flick disguises as a "Female Secretary of the Opposite Sex"). This male friend is platonic. His purpose is to be a backup assuming you choose not the include the bevy of female friends in the heroine's circle. To show how shallow and jealous other women are of the heroine, she may be disliked by them, but to provide her with a social circle, put in a few guys. Having many friends of the opposite gender also makes you look cool and unique. For some reason outgoing male characters are supposed to be cool and make the heroine look cool as well. Especially if they do things like gourmet cookery or fencing or something.

I have forgotten to add to the why shouldn't the heroine be friendly with the others apart from the Elite. Apart from them being supposedly stupid and shallow, it is a way to tell the readers the heroine can afford to be picky about who she mixes with - yet another fantasy of many many women who hope to be snobbish but haven't the charm to do so - and get away with it. 

How to become a millionaire novelist, Part 6: The Voice

First-person narration seems to be the fashion. See Fifty Shades, Twilight, and My Immortal to get the picture. Harry Potter has been extensively planned in detail and therefore doesn't count as a counter-argument. My Immortal isn't strictly a bestselling novel but it is still the most notorious fanfiction and has been translated into several languages.

Writing in first-person enables the reader to sympathise with the heroine, far more than 3rd person, because you can include the heroine's thoughts exactly. Could the intense difficulty of Bella Swan's clumsiness, her uneasiness with anyone apart from Sparkles and Fido be expressed convincingly in third person? I doubt it. Since bestselling novels often deals with Mary Sues a third-person Mary Sue would be detested by most readers jealous of the heroine's perfections. But if they saw her thoughts clearly they could surely be caught up in her world of fantasies. The heroine would take care to emphasise her flaws, whereas the author writing in third person would take care to emphasise the heroine's strengths, so 1st person is a good way to avoid MarySuetification.

On the other hand, writing that way makes the author become the heroine, so to speak, as it's so often a case of suppressed desires published in novel form. This is, however, not a great hindrance. An author writing out a perfect heroine in 3rd person would be dismissed as stupid, incompetent and a lustful middle-aged Mormon female.  (Or anyone of any other faith). If you were to write a perfect heroine in first person, however, the discerning reader will explain it away as a case of a Narcissistic heroine with Schizoid Personality Disorder. This will make your novel look cool, profound and intellectual.

"But wait!" cries the fan of comedy. "What about different perspectives that make a novel funny?" This is quite easy. Simply make the heroine's perceptions of the people around her as ridiculous as possible. Writing everyone else as ridiculous is simply stupid in 3rd person narrative. With a silly heroine we can depict her thoughts as warped.

Love triangles and the heroine harbouring intense lusts for 2 different men at the same time are quite popular. In 3rd person she looks like an adulteress. In first person the intense longing, the unhappiness are clearly expressed in her voice. Never ever ever go for detachment, dear would-be novelists.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

How to become a millionaire novelist, Part 5: The Trilogy

I am sure you have noticed that many bestsellers come as trilogies. Why? you ask. Well, the whole point is 3 books is 3 times the money of 1 book, besides making your reader wait for the next book creates suspense creating even more sales. Readers love to wait for something, as Potter fans will testify. This is not a new phenomenon. The Victorians had the 3-volume novel, we have the 3-book trilogy. The Victorian publishers reasoned that the 1st volume would pay for the cost of printing the 2nd, so it was more astute business sense than anything else. Since books were expensive then, each volume would be cheaper, but multiply that by three and you get even more money.  Assuming we had the 3-volume novel and kept the trilogy format that makes 9 times the money.

We are talking of the present, however. The key is to squeeze as little plot into as many pages as possible, preferably in between extensive kissing scenes. Stephanie Meyer did this even more successfully, the original 3 books became 4, sacrificing a great number of trees every year. Fifty Shades however has crowned over SMeyer, because there is even less plot in her books, and each is 500 pages. This is easily achieved by large  fonts, smallish pages and excessive description. 

I suggest if you wish to write this sort of trilogy you must divide the plot fairly evenly, so fans won't complain the second is worse than the first.

Book 1: The hero and heroine meet for the first time. The hero has a dark deep secret, the heroine is insecure and longs to have him all for herself. In between kissing scenes, we see the menus of all the exclusive restaurants they dine at.  In the end, he reveals his dirty secret (let's say, plushophilia) and confides to her his ambitions. They are possibly thwarted by his or her parents. They become a couple. you should emphasise the naïveté of the heroine so people feel the thrill as the relationship progresses, from uncertainty to bliss. 

Book 2: The heroine meets the hero's parents who love her. They think she will reform him and make him a happy man. The hero's ambitions grow, he becomes human and proposes to the heroine. The heroine also possibly has a career or some goals to perform. They get to know each other's background better. The heroine's parents meet the hero and are unsure at first, but at last want her to be happy. There may be many misunderstandings involving stuffed animals. Tension between hero and heroine, as heroine thinks he prefers stuffed animals to her (and not in an innocent way). He also wants her to dress kinkily, in black leather boots, black leather corset, red fishnet stockings etc. which she is not comfortable with. This is resolved.  They marry. 

Book 3: The hero and heroine have started classes at the Sadomasochism Academy to spice up their marriage. Remember Jane Austen fans love steamy sequels, if they're not purists. Extensive descriptions of the Wet Celery and the Flying Helmet (check Allo Allo to see what I mean), and the Egg Whisk. Gruesome details of people hammering nails into other people and orgies involving a giant bowl of hot minestrone soup, while the participants strangle each other with unusually long strands of spaghetti. (Yes, I do have a vivid imagination, though detractors say I'm prudish and old-fashioned). A dominatrix called Madame Flagella trains these wannabe sadomasochists.

The hero and heroine in my example are called Christopher Blue and Aphrodisia Steele, to get the sort of idea I mean. 

Saturday, 14 July 2012

How to become a millionaire novelist, Part 4: Conflict

There would be no literature with no conflict. In My Immortal, Ebony must choose between killing Harry "Vampire" Potter or having her boyfriend Draco killed or raped by Voldemort and his lackeys, Snap and Loopin. In Twilight, Edward struggles between his desire to drink Bella's blood and his virtue. Bella must choose between him and Jacob.

The best conflict would be a hero with a deep dark secret that disturbs his ability to have a good relationship eg being a vampire, a sadomasochist, etc etc. You might wish to extend the repertoire - supernatural beings seem to be popular at the moment. Try a zombie, werewolf, or, if you prefer realism, a Scientologist. I do not approve of Scientology however. If he was a member of a cult orgy that have flings in a tub filled with ice-cream it might be unusual, but kinky and disturbed I doubt. There's something in black leather corsets and sharp fangs that appeal to our Gothic sensibilities. If you are still attempting a Regency romance I suggest a Highwayman hero. It did work for Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Paul Clifford, a bestseller in the 1830's. Whatever your hero is, he is distant, aloof and morose - unattainable by most people, and only the heroine can reform him. No one can ever understand him.

I suggest a hero who enjoys cross-dressing and wandering round the streets in women's clothing. He keeps female lingerie in scarlet shades and a great deal of corsets. He fears it will affect his ability to have a relationship as he secretly enjoys being dominated. Dominating men being in fashion however must put an end to this.  We could have a crazed Nazi wannabe who likes women dressed up as Gestapo officers, though this might be too controversial. N.B. Check out Allo Allo for a comedy treatment!

My example would go along these lines:
Christopher Blue was a plushophile, that is to say, a person with an unusual fondness for having intercourse with teddy bears. It had all started when a school bully had shoved a teddy bear down his trousers, and he had been excited by soft toys since. He would go to toy stores ostensibly to buy something for his nieces and nephews but in reality to indulge in his most perverse desires. He had had several partners over the years - an elephant, a giraffe, a hippo, a rhino and several pandas. But his constant partner was a teddy bear called Antonio. Women had failed to excite him as much as his animal friends, and he consequently avoided their overtures unless they had the grace to dress up in a teddy bear costume ... "Aphrodisia," he said, with longing passion in his eyes, "will you agree to have an ice-cream orgy with me and Antonio? It will be so much fun. We will roll around in gallons of raspberry ripple, licking the tub with our passion." Holy crackers! What could I do? The idea of having it off with a stuffed toy held no attractions for me, and I shuddered to think he preferred the bear's favours to mine. I began to shiver as he described enthusiastically the various positions he had indulged, and how I might please Antonio, who it seemed was a pretty kinky bear. He had bought a bear costume for me, but he would do nothing till I had signed the contract to be his Bear. Oh, holy lasagne! Could I but bring myself to Common Bestiality? I had loved my own bear to bits but the thought of letting Christopher sink his unbridled lust into my Cuddles was beyond imagination.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

How to become a millionaire novelist, Part 3: The Setting

The setting in any bestselling novel ought to evoke the best of its era. For example, if you wish to set it in the Regency era it is of the essence that the environment is full of ladies and gentlemen of leisure, handsome carriages and extensive estates. Not to mention the beautiful white dresses you see in Jane Austen films. Balls are full of agreeable dashing young gentlemen, and the gardens lush and exquisitely landscaped. If you happen to have read about the French Revolution, or the lower-middle class struggles of the well-known Romantic journalists, Charles Lamb and William Hazlitt, you would do well to discard them all away. War and poverty are never pleasant subjects to the reader. Do by all means describe the elegant satin gowns of the ladies, the pretty fans and Grecian plaits, the exquisite cravats of the beaux and Macaronis. If the drawing-room has a Wedgwood china and Chippendale chairs, all the better. To Victorian aficionadoes, omit the mention of your favoured era, because the Victorian era was full of industrial unease, the wealthy were more prudent and less leisured, and many of the wealthy actually had jobs. They were also very disapproving of adultery and flirting.  As for the young ladies, they were more reserved, which means seduction and elopement with poets or genteel highwaymen would not suit the Victorian era as the Regency. This necessarily means less thrilling passionate romances.


It is more feasible, however, to set it in our times, because few readers have more than a vague understanding of the Regency times and its customs and hence will not be able to identify with the heroine. You could of course place modern customs and language in a Regency setting but the more intelligent readers would only attack your book and recommend Jane Austen to their fellow readers. No, place it in the 21st century, preferably in a high school or college. Twilight is in high school, Fifty Shades in college, and My Immortal in school (Hogwarts to be exact). Since leisure living isn't what it was, instead of aristocratic friends have wealthy millionaire friends lounging away in tropical resorts. The scene of action is not a ball at Pemberley, but a five-star hotel.


A useful tip to tantalise the reader is to write a restaurant scene. Your restaurant is preferably gourmet with the sort of food only the well-heeled can afford. It is in a swanky area in town, with excellent wine and truffles and Kobe beef and fresh oysters with lemon slices. If you must mention that vulgar item, pizza, take care to endow more exotic ingredients such as sundried tomatoes, mascarpone cheese and chorizo. In what must surely be the most memorable passage from Fifty Shades, Christian Grey and Ana dine at a hotel on cod hollandaise with asparagus and crushed potatoes.  
Keeping my eyes locked on his, I take the spear in my mouth, and suck, gently … delicately … on the end. The hollandaise sauce is mouthwatering. I bite down, moaning quietly in appreciation.
This is a most efficient use of Phallic Symbols without resorting to vulgarity - but most importantly it impresses upon your minds the exquisite process of eating. You need not, of course, write about Hollandaise sauce, as it might precipitate a lawsuit from EL James. Other alternatives include Bearnaise sauce, Mornay, or anything with a French name. Suitable meats are seafood (oysters and lobsters especially), salmon, cod, and steak. Vintage wine is an added bonus. Desserts should be syllabub or something with cream in it. Omit the apple pie and chocolate pudding. However, something like Ice-Cream flavoured with Crystallised Ginger and Madagascan Vanilla Pods should be sufficient. 
ginger ice-cream with orange zest and black pepper

It is all about Luxury Living. Have a modern villa-ish hotel in muted colours, far away from the general crowds but still near enough the designer shops and the beach. Fifty Shades provides a most excellent example of this. The rooms should be softly carpeted, the beds linen white, and the walls lined with expensive minimalist paintings.

The wealthy suitor's luxurious apartment should have a similar minimalist theme, with a Steinway grand piano. Piano lovers may prefer a Bechstein or a Bösendorfer, but the names fail to register with most amateurs.

It is worthy to note that Alice Cullen indulges in designer shoes and clothing. Do the same for your heroine since her lover is loaded. She will automatically adopt an elegant style no matter how gawky she was formerly. Designer undergarments are recommended for the hero.

From my hypothetical novel:
I gaped at the dishes brought to us, all cut into miniscule bits on plates of gargantuan proportions. Holy cow!  My grilled sea-bass was a symphony of spinach Mornay with delicately sautéed garlic, asparagus boiled in apple butter and a sprinkling of shredded truffles. Supporting this fragile concoction was a tower of potatoes, crushed and packed together and pan-fried to a golden tinge.  Holy guacamole! Seared scallops with leeks in a cream sauce, flecked with roe of crab ... for dessert we had a sumptuous crumble, consisting of pears soaked in champagne and a great deal of almond, apricot jam and brandy-flavoured cream. Christopher Blue had a Black Sesame Ice-Cream with Chestnut Sauce. I observed as he devoured the dessert and wondered how it would be if he ate me.  He wore an exquisite blue silk tie with little swastikas on them. The band started to play some Elgar. It was a haunting sad melody that thundered with passion. It was Salut d'Amour.
black sesame ice-cream

On music: stick the simple well-known classical music. Don't mention Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor or Rachmaninov's Preludes. Clair de Lune, The Sea, and jazz pieces will do. Oh, and Elgar's Salut d'Amour is good - because the title itself is easily likeable. Rachmaninov's 2nd Piano Concerto has gained popularity but it is still too long for the average reader. Light simple pieces is the key.  Bach and Mozart sound clever but the polyphonic structure is too complex to digest (not to mention too structured and ruled). Mention it in passing if you must if only to show how clever the hero is, but don't go all ecstatic and descriptive. For more modern repertoire, Frank Sinatra and Antonio Jobim. They are good at croony love-songs.

About the bigger picture: As Katherine says, Washington State seems to be a popular setting. You might do well to emulate the authors. This effectively rules out the Regency Era.

Take Forks for example. It is supposed to be a secluded backwater which is romantic, as the couple have no other distractions. It is almost Rousseauan - torn apart from civilisation, two dreamers sit together on a rock and ponder. But I will come to that later.

How to become a millionaire novelist, Part 2: The New Heroine

The most important aspect, excluding the plot, is the heroine. The purpose of the heroine is to enable the reader to step into the shoes of the author's voice, so they can identify themselves with her.

"Oh I understand how it feels to be an awkward high school teenager again!" I can hear one exclaim.

Did I mention the heroine (for it must be a female protagonist) must be young? Do not write about a popular, outgoing blonde girl, because they are out of fashion at the moment. Brunettes are in - preferably awkward, boring, insufferable little prigs with their hymens still intact, e.g. Bella Swan and Anastasia Steele. It's all about being Politically Correct, you see, only instead of a minority ethnic group it's brunettes. (Though strictly speaking brunettes are a majority, not blondes).  I fancy this change in sentiments is really a reaction against political correctness. (because popularising blondes is championing a minority hair colour, you see).

Blonde, worldly and outgoing is too much for most of us to aspire to, and will only inspire a sense of inferiority in the reader. Never tell the reader he is stupid (though I break this rule in writing this post). "Of course she got the man!" a disgruntled reader will say. "She's blonde, worldly and outgoing. Therefore this is a tragedy of the plain little brunette like me."  Always induce the illusion that a good-looking successful man will fall in love with any ordinary brown-haired girl so every girl can dream about snagging him for her own amusement.

Yet don't make the heroine too repulsive. She must be young, innocent, naïve and fond of  classics like Pride and Prejudice, and anything by Thomas Hardy etc. The new heroine is a bluestocking but surprisingly well-informed on the love-stories in literature  by which I mean a complete memorisation of all the kissing scenes in Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, North and South, etc. Surprisingly, Anthony Trollope and George Eliot do not appear in her reading list. She will moan that she is a nerd and claim to pore endless hours on the ravishing scenes in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, but she will discuss nothing about these books except the thrilling romantic scenes. We must have awkward nerds but we can't bore the reader with all the Darwinian detail in Hardy. Why a nerd, you ask? Firstly, nerds are socially looked down upon. This will make the reader realise that she has a chance if this nerdy girl does, and accordingly feels confident. Secondly, this will satisfy the so-called feminists who hate bimboes, and it's a fantasy on the author's part to feel clever. "My book is not trash! Look, I quoted the sex scene from Samuel Richardson's Pamela! That's an 18th century classic!" Note: There is no actual sex scene in Pamela. However, there is an unmentionable scene where the heroine is lying nude in bed, and the would-be Ravisher, disguised as a woman, is getting his filthy hands on her ... The comparison with a classic will also make readers think they are reading something clever, and therefore they will openly praise the book.

What is most important, however, is that you, the writer, should always say your heroine is plain. She is thinner than what she wants, and pale (whereas she wants a tan). Alternately she hates her plumpness but is voluptuous. However her figure suits every dress she wears, her paleness looks classy and interesting and vulnerable to every straight man in the book. She also has an hourglass figure. No matter how plain she is she will attract no fewer than 4 admirers, and the wealthy suitor will say how beautiful she is.  She is tongue-tied and may have only one or a few close friends before meeting the hero. However as the novel progresses many people are interested in her especially the opposite gender. Despite being unpopular and introverted she will be invited to posh parties and sought in friendship by a rich, popular, successful female, as Mia Grey did to Ana Steele and Alice Cullen to Bella Swann.

Let us have a virgin heroine. She will only lose her virginity to the wealthy hero, and have intercourse with no one else. Seemingly an anti-feminist stance, but readers secretly like the idea of everlasting love with the same person. It is such a disheartening bother to break up and look for someone else.  Though inexperienced in the ways of courtship and never having flirted with another man in her life, she will instantly feel physical desire for the hero, wanting to have it off with him immediately. Never mind the fact she is supposed to be goody-two-shoes and virtuous, the very moment they have it she enjoys it so much she demands more and even initiates it. After (even during) their first kiss she handles it like a master-kisser.  We have had our geeky heroes get the girl, now it is time the nerdy girl gets the man of her dreams.

Remember that at all times we are supposed to write a romantic novel. Long striking names should be the norm (Isabella Marie Swan, Anastasia Rose Steele, Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way) to show how special she is. Give her striking features (pale skin and dark hair are advised). Extravagant prose is of the essence.


And, because we want to look sufficiently intellectual, make countless references to Jane Austen and Shakespeare. That's not all. Squeeze from every book ALL the romantic bits of Austen, Shakespeare, the Brontë sisters, Mrs Gaskell, Thomas Hardy & Co.  and dish it in. The best part is, the copyright is expired, you need not worry about plagiarism lawsuits. Allusions also show how well-read the author is and better still, how well-read the READER is, if she has read all the books mentioned. You have the advantage of not having to think of complicated plots, as those classics authors have done it for you. 

Now, let us try a hand at our hypothetical heroine.

Aphrodisia Iron was not the sort of young lady who was prepossessing at first sight, being sadly plain and severe in appearance. Her hair, which was of a deep chestnut brown, was often dishevelled, though friends had remarked on its unusual shade, so unlike the common brown tresses of many young women. Her complexion was pale rather than golden, to her disappointment, and gave an unearthly air to her general deportment. She often lamented on her thin, undergrown stature, and despaired that she would never develop a womanly profile. But if she was plain, she had at least the advantage of striking blue eyes, more remarked for depth than liveliness. They seemed not of this world, profound at times, and yet not without a certain innocence. As for her general appearance, she seemed youthful, too young, perhaps, to be interviewing the well-known billionaire recluse, Christopher Blue. But enough of that. We have not mentioned the clumsy gait, the still untrained movements of her arms, as she stooped to retrieve a book fallen to the ground. It was a copy of Jude the Obscure, Aphrodisia being fond of the English classics. How she wished she was as lively and that conversation would come to her as easily as it did to others! Her intellect, she felt, restrained her from the company of others who no doubt found the appeal of classics redoubtable, to say the least. By the age of nineteen she had an intimate acquaintance with all the great stories of passion from Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. When, she wondered, would she find in her pitiable life, the swarthy violence of a Heathcliff, the domineering Rochester or the great and immense coffers of Fitzwilliam Darcy? She brooded long and hard over the absence of a Hero in her life. Though, to be sure, it was her greatest desire to be seduced by the likes of one Alec d'Urberville. She had a secret contempt for those corsetted Victorians who condemned the luckless d'Urberville, who at least had the merit for knowing what he wanted, and not hesitating to obtain it by any means.  That series called Twilight, she felt, subconsciously called within her the inner Goddess, not to say the more fleshly Appetites of the Soul, and, moreover, alluded many times to the great Classics of Miss Austen, Miss Emily Brontë etc., which meant you had at least 6 of 7 great novels in one book. Bright Star by Keats and Byron's She Walks in Beauty had an especial hold on her Heart-Strings.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Lasting Impressions: Sue Bridehead

Jude the Obscure is arguably Hardy's greatest novel, rivalling Tess even in complexity and character. But it is not so much the downtrodden Jude (reminiscent of Clym Yeobright) who steals the show as Sue Bridehead, his cousin and later common-law wife. We do not know Sue's thoughts and yet how vivid she is! A German reviewer wrote of her as
the first delineation in fiction of the woman... of the feminist movement - the slight pale 'bachelor' girl - the intellectualised, emancipated bundle of nerves
that you will see in late Victorian or Edwardian fiction. Unlike her fellow New Women, Sue is working class - the rest tend to be Bohemian middle-class or at least middle class. Hardy knew what he was doing when he had her train as a teacher. For this part is based on his cousin Tryphena Sparks, who become a schoolteacher - a social ascent for her. Sue does not talk about classical music or modern painters or the right to vote, but she has a passion for figurines and J.S Mill. She causes scandal because she collect nude statues, which are deemed improper. But Sue thinks she is perfectly decent because the figures are religious, and she is fond of art. How often do you find women in classic fiction who openly state their intellectual stances? Even intelligent heroines tend to be socially intelligent rather than intellectual.

But Sue is full of inconsistencies. She once lived with an undergraduate who cultivated her intellect, not realising he expected her to become his mistress. Only when he informed her of his intentions she refused and so they remained platonic friends in cohabitation. He died of heartbreak and left her a little money. Jude finds this curious in Sue, because how often then did a woman live with a man on such sexless terms? The key is Sue's sexlessness: she is frigid and asexual, and feels no physical attraction to men. She liked the undergraduate because he was intellectual but she could not enjoy the baser side of him. Still it would have been against the norms of the Victorian era. I admire the fact she places intellectual attraction above physical attraction, and her relationships seem to be based on the former rather than the latter. Even after she marries Phillotson she resists marital relations and runs away with Jude. But it is not on account on sexual attraction. She likes Jude for emotional reasons and because they are somewhat similar - two intelligent working class people trying to make their way in the world. But by doing so she loses her respectable job as teacher, a job she is good at. Interestingly she argues against her living with her husband by using J.S. Mill, a Victorian philosopher and social reformer who argued for the rights of women. His On Liberty is considered a classic, and Hardy was fascinated by it. As Phillotson says, her intellect sparkles like diamonds whereas he is old and dusty.

Sue refuses to consummate her relationship with Jude even after her divorce. Only until after his estranged wife has a brief rough and tumble in an inn is her wrath raised, and she agrees to fulfill marital relations if only to keep him. If we did not know she was sexless, we would expect her to be passionately in love with Jude because she is jealous of his wife and is clearly attached to him. And so her sexlessness comes as a surprise. Hardy was showing a truth, however - it is possible for a sexless person to love deeply without desiring physical relations. This was a sort of Victorian ideal, but many people would uncover the more sexual side of things (like the fact women do enjoy physical relations). By Hardy's time that was more known. But Sue's asexuality isn't a Victorian idealism, because she does bear children without enjoying physical relations. In that way she is more pure than Tess, who does have physical desires. Hardy himself confirmed in a letter that Sue hardly consummates her relationship with Jude and doesn't enjoy it. It's possible she was inspired by his friend, Mrs Henniker whom he was in love with, but who never allowed him to become more than a good friend. Mrs Henniker was a fellow intellectual and a lady, clever and refined and understanding. The fact she was unattainable could have increased his passion. So while Sue is no longer a maiden her mind is pure. Note her name, Bridehead could be a play on the word maidenhead. Her emotional, platonic attraction also reflect a mind elevated from sordid desires, and in this way she is superior to both Jude and Phillotson who desire her body. I don't know if Hardy intended this, but Plato did mention that intellect rather than base sexual desires raised the plane of one's existence.

Sue's naïvete causes some misunderstandings as to men's intentions. She would rather see the higher side of things, they would rather see her as a woman. Since Jude the Obscure is a Darwinian story about natural selection, Sue's hatred of sex and the death of all her children, not to mention her social descent, reflect her unfitness for her environment.  Thomas Hardy was a Darwinian and a sceptic. A worldly person with sex instinct would survive, because they would not only rise but will leave descendents. Arabella is promiscuous and survives Jude and Sue's sanity. Because Sue becomes insane after returning to Phillotson (a gruesome scene as well).  Despite her good intentions Sue never fully becomes any man's because she dislikes sex. This may be seen as high and good, but it is a double-edged sword to Hardy as well, who emphasised people's dirty lives. Disliking sex renders you unfit to live on. Perhaps he was reflecting on his own life as well, because his wife could not bear him any children - something he regretted - and we have so far not heard of any mistresses he might have had. Mrs Henniker was beyond him. All his siblings died unmarried and childless so there are no close descendants of Thomas Hardy or his family. He did not survive the Victorian rat-race.

The New Woman is neurotic and intelligent, and may not be so successful at relationships as their peers. Sue is certainly all this. But we must look at On Liberty and see what inspired Hardy. Apparently he enjoyed Chapter 3: on the individual. It's been some time since I read that book so I can't connect it with Jude the Obscure. But it's worth checking it out.

How to become a millionaire novelist, Part 1: The Love Triangle

I'm writing a series of posts on my blog on how to make millions by writing novels. Note with minimal effort and intelligence, because this satire shows you need not work your mind so hard to become obscenely rich. Hence I will not quote extensively from George Eliot, Anthony Trollope and other more cerebral authors. In this hypothesis we will assume most readers are of negligible intelligence and taste. Our target audience will be female, because they make up a substantial number of readers, and the whole point of this article is how to suck as much money from gullible people as possible, not how to please masculine readers.  Enjoy! :)

Rule number one: always put in a love story. It is easy to write and if you're inexperienced why there are so many examples in the market.   Most readers do not care for political satire or industrial riots. Avoid writing the relationships of already married people for best results. There is nothing less romantic than an unhappy quarrelling old married couple. The whole point of a love story in today's fiction is the uncertainty of it all, the thrill of youth, the raging hormones of a teenage protagonist ...

An example would be Twilight and Fifty Shades. By the way never forget to put in a love triangle. Readers love complicated plots, so long as it doesn't involve politics and existential crises. The love triangle must always consist of 2 men and one woman, not vice versa, because readers of romance are usually female. It's important you pander to their fantasies of being loved by 2 different men at the same time. Traditionally the girl would be all out for the popular jock/alpha male and the nerd/less attractive male worships her from afar. Only for her to realise the man she loved was a jerk and she gets together with the nerd. This formula is now out of fashion. The new love triangle features not one, but TWO sexually desirable men. One of them is intelligent, rich, white and successful (Edward Cullen, Christian Grey) and the other is Native-American or Hispanic (Jacob Black, Jose Whatshisname) - I suppose because they're supposed to be "exotic" - working- or lower-middle class, but charming and masculine. The former is of course the one the heroine ends up with. All the main characters are young and still at high school or college, because they are supposed to be physically desirable and ardent as well as simple to understand. The guy the heroine is in love with is supposed to be aloof and sought by all straight females, unlike the other guy who is talkative and charming and more normal.

Why not, you may ask, two intelligent aloof men, both above the heroine? Well, women readers want it both ways. Everyone wants to marry a wealthy, educated man because it raises your social status and everyone will be so jealous of you. On the other hand some of these men can be rather aloof and have a troubled past, and they would be over-courteous to the raging-hormone female. What women do fantasise about is a swarthy muscular youth who can force his rude, untamed passions upon them ... whereas the gentlemanly suitor would refrain out of respect.

The two men will be fighting constantly for the heroine and be willing to die for her. She may have a hard time choosing but will see the advantage of a heavy purse and choose the wealthy suitor.

Regarding the dynamics of the relationship: the whole point is to tease and tantalise the reader into fancying the pants off the wealthy suitor. He will only be obsessed with her and her only, and the relationship will either be chaste or monogamous. Other men will be immediately struck off the equation because it is clear they are truly destined for each other, despite the fact he is an over-stalking domineering boyfriend with no heed for her wishes.  Readers like to know who to champion for. It's the certainty of the relationship's success that is compelling. So no inconveniently starving Marxist artists in the garret, no struggling scholar.

For a funnier version, see Draco and Vampire in Tara Gilesbie's My Immortal. Draco is a sensitive soul, Vampire less so (but being handsome, with red eyes and black spiky hair) and being even more promiscuous. But it is Draco who is Enoby's real boyfriend, since he was her first. Yes, the first boyfriend will win in the end. Even though Bella does fancy Jacob afterwards she gets back with Edward, her first.

Do not by any means spare any description, especially in superlative phrases, of the hero.

In my hypothetical story example, let us consider 25-year-old Christopher Blue, vampire, Harvard graduate, art collector and billionaire. He obtained first-class honours at university, listens to Bach, and speaks Latin and ancient Greek. He has exciting bronze-coloured  hair and cold blue eyes. His build reminds one of Thor and Zeus and all the Greek Gods worth mentioning. He runs a chiselled hand through his marbled hair, showing highlights of  gold, auburn, copper and various other striking metals to the audience. Until he met Aphrodisia Iron, he had no notion of love, his idea of affection consisting of tempering the bottoms of wide-eyed brunettes with a mop of twigs. He has a troubled childhood, since DNA tests have proven he is the illegitimate son of Hitler (never mind the fact Hitler died in 1945, novelists are never accurate). He was adopted by a kindly doctor and his wife, who gave him a cushioned life that never cured him of his deep depression and misery. Unfortunately he was bitten by a vampire, making him even more emo than he was. His hobby is devouring the blood of young pale-skinned brunettes and leaving them to die.  Though he longs to drink the blood of innocent Aphrodisia he cannot bring himself to do it without her consent, instead making her sign a contract to enable him to do so. He never brings himself to the sucking really and contents himself with reading the poetry of Byron. Until Aphrodisia came into his life, he never indulged in ordinary intercourse, preferring more kinky alternatives too steamy to be mentioned. He probably resembles Lord Byron as well. After he was betrayed by a woman (his incestuous half-sister) he could never fall in love again till Aphrodisia entered his life. He is distant, aloof and incapable of forming meaningful friendships with any woman except Aphy. In the end he acquires an academy catered for wannabe sadomasochists, which is a booming industry thanks to a certain series of novels by E.L. James.

On the other hand we have Juan Tenorio, an athletic smooth-talking, impetuous werewolf oozing with charm. He woos women by grappling them, unlike the more restrained Christopher Blue. He has little notion for High Art, but he is more open, friendly and likeable than CB. Women don't go all out for him the same way as he isn't rich or educated. Still, he's very popular and has many female buddies.  He is in love with Aphrodisia, thinking she is wonderful, refined and above him.  He kickboxes, wrestles, goes scuba diving, etc. Still he remains loyal to Aphrodisia, hoping she'll change her mind due to physical attraction.  Has an unfortunate propensity for wandering around everywhere without his shirt and trousers. For some strange reason he doesn't fancy the women who want him.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Lasting Impressions: Hamlet's inadequacies

I studied Hamlet two years ago, and what stood out most was Hamlet himself. Never mind the jokes and the satire, take them all away and still it would be good. William Hazlitt was one of the earliest discerning critics when he said :
The character of Hamlet stands quite by itself. It is not a character marked by strength of will or even of passion, but by refinement of thought and sentiment. Hamlet is as little of the hero as a man can well be : but he is a young and princely novice, full of high enthusiasm and quick sensibility - the sport of circumstances, questioning with fortune and refining on his own feelings, and forced from the natural bias of his disposition by the strangeness of his situation...Still he does nothing; and this very speculation on his own infirmity only affords him another occasion for indulging it. It is not from any want of attachment to his father or of abhorrence of his murder that Hamlet is thus dilatory; but it is more to his taste to indulge his imagination in reflecting upon the enormity of the crime and refining on his schemes of vengeance, than to put them into immediate practice. His ruling passion is to think, not to act: and any vague pretext that flatters this propensity instantly diverts him from his previous purposes.
The question is not so much, Why did Hamlet delay killing Claudius? The question is, Why did Hamlet feel obliged to do as his father's ghost commanded him? Honour, revenge, retribution - all these apply, but I feel it is not enough to compel a man of refined and exalted sensibilities to murder his incestuous uncle. He himself thinks murder is barbaric, the way he thinks the celebrations of the royal succession barbaric, full of drink and song. These ancient customs were present in his father's reign, and we know Hamlet senior was a conqueror of lands, brave and mighty, most unlike his more intellectual and quiet son. I fancy him as a hearty,  masculine, less refined and more brash man. This was at odds with Gertrude, who preferred Claudius' way with words. Claudius' skills are more modern: he is smooth of tongue, whereas his brother is warlike, which attracted Gertrude. Like Claudius, Hamlet is a modernist - a thinker rather than a conqueror. Claudius is a diplomat, not a fighter (though arguably he is a corporate killer when he murdered his brother). King Hamlet's character is not portrayed in the script, but it is important that we infer it from the stereotypes implied by Shakespeare - universal stereotypes that are often true.

And yet Hamlet doesn't seem to resent his father: he practically hero-worships the man. He compares King Hamlet to a Hyperion, Claudius to a satyr (even before he knew Claudius murdered his father), which shows you his distaste for Claudius is not wholly due to the murder or incest, but because Claudius is nothing compared to King Hamlet. Hamlet is more refined and disliked the Vikinglike customs his father would have upheld (conquering and drinking and noise-making) so why all this reverence? King Hamlet was a strong-minded conqueror, a true man so to speak - something Hamlet could never be. Hamlet admires the strong brashness of Fortinbras, who can be unwise (less thoughtful than our Danish prince), an admiration whose validity we should question. Fortinbras sacrifices his soldiers to fight for a useless plot of land for sheer honour. Hamlet is more thoughtful and educated, and he ought to be proud of this. Yet he is not. He knows he is not what his ideal of a king ought to be - he is not feudal and majestic, he is a gentle democrat. His best friend is not a lord but an ordinary student, Horatio.

Then remember Claudius may have married Gertrude for strong government reasons - it is more convenient for him to marry the widow of the dead ruler, so he gets the power instead of the young immature Hamlet. Hamlet would have been expected to marry a royal - perhaps Fortinbras' sister (assuming he had a sister). But he loves Ophelia. This is why Polonius tells Ophelia not to be too close to Hamlet, because Hamlet will not be able to marry a commoner (though the daughter of an important Councillor). If King Hamlet were alive he might have prevented Hamlet from marrying Ophelia. Hamlet ought to resent his father. But he does not. The King would have been justified in getting his son married to a powerful lady to strengthen Denmark's power. Hamlet knows this, and King Hamlet's expectations of his son would have been against young Hamlet's nature. Young Hamlet feels insignificant because he is not naturally inclined to those qualities which made his father a ruthless ruler. Thus his love for Ophelia is a weakness. As Hazlitt says, he neglects her at first not because he stops loving her, but he is distracted by moral thoughts he could not confide in the immature less intelligent girl. Ophelia would have been in her teens and sheltered - not his intellectual equal. The late king may well have pressured his son to be more like him.

Hamlet's resolve to kill his uncle, therefore, is to prove he can be as good as his father. The murder, he feels, will prove his manhood and ability to be ruthless and decisive. But it is against his morals and inclination, much as he hates Claudius. No one, he says, could be his father, and that applies to himself. With a weak king on the throne, Hamlet must prove to himself that he is better than Claudius, the new king. As Hamlet is a young man, this eagerness to prove he can be good is only to be expected. The script says he is thirty but his thoughts imply a young man of twenty. The actor playing Hamlet, Richard Burbage, was in his thirties, so probably that was why Shakespeare said thirty. But a thirty-year-old man could not be Hamlet.  Hamlet's feelings of inadequacy stem from the stern rule of his father, not so much the fact Claudius stole his rightful position as king. He would rather think than govern. He grieves unduly for his father not because he loved the old man, but because he knows he could never rule the place as well as the late king, and so feels inadequate.  He is not ready to rule and feels lost. Instead of studying as he wishes, he must learn the ropes of ruling from Claudius. And with Claudius usurping the throne he has no chance to prove himself as king.  Also, the old king must have allowed him to study, giving him a chance to prove himself intellectually (if not majestically). Claudius did not, cutting Hamlet from his source of pride and pleasure - his intellect. At the same time Hamlet knows an intellectual cannot do as much as a conquering king can (this was before the Renaissance after all) and wouldn't be acknowledged as great or powerful. Think of the struggling scholar as opposed to the industrialist. 

The final ruthlessness in Hamlet is to prove his ability to be a conqueror but he fails as Shakespeare intended. Forget the Oedipal complex theory. As Hazlitt said, Hamlet cannot be acted on stage by an actor: he is a gentleman and a scholar, and wears and air of pensive melancholy.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Lasting Impressions: Eustacia Vye

I never was quite satisfied with Hardy's character in the Return of the Native. Perhaps he had not fully realised his female creations then (it was 1878, still early in his writing career). But certainly Eustacia is more vivid than Bathsheba Everdene, if not so realistic to the cynic.  But I would dispute that for a start.

Eustacia in her younger days lived in a seaside town called Budmouth, and due to straitened circumstances, lives with her grandfather in desolate Egdon Heath, which she hates. She is bored and lonely, and is still in love with her former lover, Damon Wildeve, who is engaged to another girl. But when Clym Yeobright, diamond manager returns from Paris, she transfers her affections to Clym and dumps Wildeve. It is curious, almost sad, that love is her intention, rather than a lover.
To be loved to madness--such was her great desire. Love was to her the one cordial which could drive away the eating loneliness of her days. And she seemed to long for the abstraction called passionate love more than for any particular lover.
 For a young woman of nineteen this seems pretty intense, but Hardy's more outstanding heroines are never conventional. It is an ideal rather than a specific object than holds her in thrall, and I can't help being fascinated by this. There is something almost detached in this passion.
And so we see our Eustacia--for at times she was not altogether unlovable--arriving at that stage of enlightenment which feels that nothing is worth while, and filling up the spare hours of her existence by idealizing Wildeve for want of a better object. This was the sole reason of his ascendency: she knew it herself. At moments her pride rebelled against her passion for him, and she even had longed to be free. But there was only one circumstance which could dislodge him, and that was the advent of a greater man.
 You might scorn her lack of affection, but you must admire her need to idealise, a way to cope in her boredom. It also makes her more complicated: we know she knows her passion is fatal, and wants to be free, so she is not entirely stupid. And this need to idealise points to a higher mind that seeks greater feelings. She is not content with mere flirtation: she must have more, or be unhappy. This makes her more deep than the fickler heroines, though Eustacia is far from ideal or holy. The last sentence is quite a shaker to the passion, and plays on Hardy's Darwinian beliefs in Sexual Selection. It is quite rare for a major Victorian novelist to be so open about Darwinism, but here we have it.
Darwin on sexual selection

Another thing I never quite understood was the circumstances of her death. Was it an accident or suicide? She falls into a pool, just as Ophelia fell into a river, while trying to run away with Wildeve to France. Some say it was suicide, because she is upset that having run away from her husband to commit adultery, she knows she will never be accepted by society, and so kills herself in despair. I doubt it. She had thought of shooting herself before, so why didn't she? Besides, she is excited about going away to France, so why put an end to her escape? She is filled with remorse at leaving Clym, and she is worried because she does not want to commit adultery either. So the adultery explanation doesn't quite work. The most probable answer is  that she stood at the edge of the pool, contemplating her fate, not caring what happened to her, and she slipped and fell into the pool. The parallel to Ophelia is quite clever, and Hardy could be making the reader ask the same question. Only this novel is more definite than Hamlet. We see a woman in confusion and despair, at crossroads, until fate killed her. It is her environment she cannot adapt to, more so when it ends up killing her - a useful metaphor for natural selection.  She was too weak to resist the forces of nature, and that is why she died. If we see it symbolically it makes sense. Hamlet is about a young man who is too weak to resist his circumstances, just like Ophelia, and her descendant, Eustacia. If Hardy saw this in the play he might have expanded on it in his novel.  But this is speculation. Let's give Hardy his due.
Ophelia by Millais

If Eustacia deliberately committed suicide, he could have said so. Her last known thoughts were not fully anguished. It was at the point of her future ascent (possibly getting money from Wildeve, though she didn't want to and intended not to, and going to a big city) that she dies. It is as if Fate is all out to prevent her from ever succeeding. Hardy does use this motif in Tess and Jude, so it is likely he did it earlier on in Return of the Native and only improved on it later. If Eustacia did commit suicide it would mean she didn't strive enough to get out of Egdon Heath, and therefore she has her lack of efforts rather than fate to blame. Hardy was into Natural selection, and he preferred to blame circumstances rather than the individual's lackadaisical behaviour for their misfortunes. His protagonists are not lackadaisical; they are unfortunate. If Eustacia had been so weak as to kill herself, the power of fate, circumstance and natural selection would not be so impressed upon the reader in the form of a cruel, unfeeling environment: Egdon Heath. The reader would blame Eustacia, not her surroundings.

So what do you think? Did or did she not commit suicide?

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Lasting Impression: Why Lucy Snowe is blind

Years ago, I read this quote in Villette by Charlotte Brontë. Paulina is waxing ecstacies about her lover, John Bretton, to Lucy, who replies:
"I'll tell you what I do, Paulina,' was once my answer to her many questions. 'I never see him. I looked at him twice or thrice about a year ago, before he recognised me, and then I shut my eyes; and if he were to cross their balls twelve times between each day's sunset and sunrise, except from memory, I should hardly know what shape had gone by.'
'Lucy, what do you mean?' said she, under her breath.
'I mean that I value vision, and dread being struck stone blind.' 
 I didn't know what it meant then, but age and analysis has made me understand precisely what Charlotte Brontë meant. To know this you must understand that John Bretton was based on Charlotte's publisher, George Smith. While this novel was being written (and before that) he wrote to her frequently, and would from time to time invite her to stay with his family in London. She enjoyed his company and correspondence very much, but was not comfortable with his family, Charlotte being an awkward personage. There may have been some feeling on her part towards him, but she knew very well it could not be. But she suffered when he did not write to her at certain times, because she was lonely in remote Yorkshire. And she tried to suppress her need for his letters. Smith's world of commerce and a London social life was something the shy, intense spinster could not belong to. He was good-looking and charming,  mildly flirtatious to the ladies, and a successful publisher - most unlike the unworldly Charlotte Brontë. And so she immortalised all these doubts in Villette. Lucy says she doesn't see Dr John because she does not fully understand his mind and the sort of life he leads - she is not akin to it, just as Charlotte was not akin to George Smith's urban sophistication. She sees him as a caring, interesting person who is genial to his author one moment, the other a self-assured man of town confident with luminaries like Thackeray.  Dr John is kind and sympathetic to Lucy but his true self seems to lie with the society of prominent scientists and people like the de Bassompierres. So what is he? Someone of his sunny temperament seems incongruous with Charlotte/Lucy, and yet they are friends. (Note in Jane Eyre, Jane says she feels no sympathy with sunny, handsome, gallant men. If this reflects Charlotte's opinions, it would explain why she felt confused that she could get along so well with someone of that description in George Smith). He is difficult to define. He is good and yet not without some shallowness (but most of us would be shallow regarding Charlotte and Anne, as I have discovered even among excellent scholars who fail to see the full Brontë temperament. I myself am shallow about Emily).

The next remark from Lucy is more ambiguous. It seems every time she sees John she is deceived as to what he is, and what she can understand of him is from her memory. Her reflections will tell her that they are not suited to each other, either as good friends or lovers, (though she likes and appreciates him), but being in his company makes her like him all the more. Which blinds her as to her resolve not to be over-attached to Dr John. For after her first visit to the Brettons, Lucy is in tears, hoping she will not be over-attached to them.  Villette discusses a great deal on the dangers of over-attachment, to which Lucy is susceptible despite her attempts not to be so.

Is this quite right? I think it is, but Brontë enthusiasts are free to dispute the matter with me. It is the only plausible theory which fits not only the story, but Charlotte Brontë's life. To see into her novels, do not simply imagine a clever prodigy, but see the awkward lonely spinster who was not fond of society. Which brings me to another point: her juvenilia is over-rated, not because her language was bad (it was good), but because she had no idea how people talked and thought and lived. Only with emotional maturity could she write masterpieces.