Day 29: The universal power of literature

Today we’re going back in time, to my Brit Lit I Survey Class at Capital University, fall of 2001.

Yes, that was a Big Fall for a lot of us. (9/11, me-almost-dying-and-spending-two-plus-weeks-in-the-ICU-scaring-everyone-to-death)

But before–and during, and after–that, there were classes.

My Brit Lit survey class was taught by my favorite English professor, Dr. Summers, and had one of my best friends in it. It was a full class–we had about 25, 30 kids–and we were reading literature from Beowulf to Shakespeare/the Restoration. (Brit Lit Survey II started with the Romantic poets and went to the end of the 20th century.) Not only was the reading great, but the discussions were awesome. There were a lot of smart, engaged kids in that class. We met every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11 a.m., so when class was over, Richelle and I would walk to the Main Dining Room and have lunch. It was pretty perfect.

The “quad” at Capital University, my alma mater

One of the things we talked about was the idea of universal experiences. Do universal experiences exist? Some students argued no; our lives are too different. What does my life and the life of someone in, say, Bangladesh have in common?

I argued that we do have a lot in common with each other: for starters, birth, death, and love. Each of us will be born. Each of us will die. Each of us will experience love–either receiving it, giving it, sharing it, falling in it, knowing the lack of it…in some way, love will touch everyone’s lives. It’s inescapable. Everything else may be negotiable, but not these three things.

Literature brings everyone closer. C.S. Lewis said, “we read to know we’re not alone.” Great books leave time behind and immerse us in the world of the novel, the poem, the play. We feel Cordelia’s despair when she cannot “heave [her] heart into her mouth.” We cringe with Elizabeth Bennet when her mother makes a fool of herself at the Netherfield Ball. We love Tiny Tim and rejoice in Scrooge’s change of heart. Voldermort’s death is celebrated, Dorothy gets to go home, and Scarlett reminds us that tomorrow is another day. We climb the turrets of Notre Dame with Quasimodo, and are swept into Russia by Dostoevksy’s incomparable epics. I’ve never been to Greece, but when I read The Odyssey, I can imagine dawn’s rosy fingers rising over the wine-dark sea. I’ve never been in jail, but I can understand and know the despair and the pain from reading Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Books grow and change with us. I own a lot of books, and sometimes, when people come to my house and see all the books everywhere, they ask why. Why read a book more than once? You know the ending.

The book doesn’t change. change. Although a good book is always good (C.S. Lewis again–a children’s book is only good if it speaks to adults and children alike), what I get out of it can change wildly. I hated Wuthering Heights the first time I read it. I thought the characters were awful. No one acts like that! But when I read it just a few years later, having been in that kind of passionate love, I liked it much better. I’ll never go out onto the moors and night and yell “Cathy!” while banging my head against a tree, but I can understand what drives Heathcliff to do it.

Words and stories can unite us and show what we have in common, which is so much more than what divides us. All cultures share stories, whether by mouth or by papers passed down through generations. Fairy tales are a great example of that–there’s a Cinderella, a Red Riding Hood, a Snow White almost everywhere in the world. The defeat of evil and the triumph of good are universally desired.

When we think of all the things that make us different–let’s look at the things that are the same. Literature is a great place to start.

Once upon a time…

Day 8: Female Gothic: Wuthering Heights

Confession, before we start: I like Emily a lot better than Charlotte. And no, it’s not because of the name. I think Wuthering Heights is better than Jane Eyre, and definitely better than Villette. But we’ll talk about both of those shortly.

Wuthering Heights is an excellent example of female gothic, or of Gothic lit in general. Wuthering Heights (the titular house) is gloomy, for sure. Ghosts appear there (at least, to Lockwood, in the beginning), and by the end of the novel it’s certainly in disrepair. Heathcliff’s behavior is definitely scary, throughout much of the novel, as is the behavior of some of the other characters. The romance quotient is off the charts, even if it’s extremely dysfunctional. Cathy and Heathcliff’s love could have been something grand and good, except the personalities of the two prevented it from becoming that.

The story, like Frankenstein is a frame story.

I’m not sure if it’s really “female gothic”, even though it gets included in some of those lists. It’s more regular gothic, because Catherine isn’t trying to cast off male conventions/primacy–she’s just being Catherine, which, I think, means being difficult. She doesn’t marry Heathcliff almost out of spite, not because she really loves Linton. Thoughts on this?

Day 7: Gothic sub-genre: female gothic

So, we’ve talked about what gothic lit it, and we’ve examined it.

Now it’s time to dive into the sub-genres!

The first one: female gothic. For brevity, think the Brontes. For those of you who would like a more complete definition:

Female Gothic: Explores women’s entrapment in the domestic sphere and subjection to patriarchal authority and the trangressive      and dangerous attempts to subvert and escape these restrictions. The woman moves from innocence/childhood to maturity through the course of the novel.

Examples are, like I said, the Brontes. Wuthering Heights, Villette and Jane Eyre are prime examples of this, which we will explore over the next few days!

There is also a sense of the supernatural in these stories, which is different from “Regular” or “pure” gothic. All of the novels above, for example, have a ghost, or a supposed ghost, make an appearance (or many) in the novels.

BalletMet’s Global Dance Stars gala–coming up!

If you live anywhere near Columbus and love ballet like I do, you really want to be at this performance. 

BalletMet is kicking off their season with a “Global Gala of Dance Stars” from all over the world, and parts of the program have just been announced. Take a look at this: 


August 18, 2012 | Ohio Theatre

One Night Only! A dazzling array of internationally-acclaimed dance stars will take to the stage of the magnificent Ohio Theatre for this one night only event in a program of grand solos, pas de deux, pas de trios and more joined by the outstanding dancers of BalletMet.

Global Dancers – Global Dances

The dance works featured on BalletMet’s Global Dance Stars Galaare show stoppers of the classical and contemporary repertory. Among them are:

George Gershwin’s 3 Preludes

Choreographed by former New York City Ballet principal dancer Tom Gold, Gershwin’s 3 Preludeswill be performed by New York City Ballet/Tom Gold Dance soloists Abi Stafford and Jared Angle. The pair will also dance a pas de deuxfrom Balanchine’s Agon.


Former BalletMet Artistic Director David Nixon – the current Artistic Director of Northern Ballet of Leeds, England – will gift Columbus audiences with a glimpse of his Cleopatra, a very recent collaboration with Miss Saigonand Les Miserablescomposer Claude-Michel Schönberg. Dancing the work will be two of the company’s established stars – Martha Leeboltand Tobias Batley. A section from Nixon’s Wuthering Heightswill also be performed by the pair.

Madame Butterfly

Choreographed by Stanton Welch, the former BalletMet Artistic Associate and current Artistic Director of Houston Ballet, the pas de deuxfrom Madame Butterflywill be performed by Houston Ballet principal dancers Amy Foteand Simon Ball.

Bringing Noise

Broadway hoofer Marshall Davis, Jr., who appeared in Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk, and at BalletMet in the much-admired Simply Sammy, will bring his fiery footwork to the proceedings, performing two numbers.

Pulses, Chords, Passion

Also appearing on the Global Dance Stars Galais BalletMet’s own corps of extraordinary dancers performing Darrell Grand Moultrie’s sizzling Pulses, Chords, Passion, a work that received its world premiere during BalletMet’s 2011-2012 season as part of Jazz MovesColumbus, the company’s acclaimed collaboration with the Columbus Jazz Orchestra and WOSU Public Media.

National Ballet of Canada principal dancers Greta Hodgkinsonand Guillauame Cotewill dance the famous Black Swan pas de deuxfrom SwanLakeas well as Summerfrom James Kudelka’s The Four Seasons.

I’ve dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they’ve gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind.