Welcome to the first of my monthly book reviews. I am doing this as part of my Classics Club Reading Programme ( see the designated page on this site ) where I will be reading one book a month for the next 5 years but also because I think it's a great way to give my take on the story, summarize my thoughts and explain what I have learnt reading each book.
I chose this story because it was reccommended by a friend and I thought a futuristic tale could be a great way to start the year and so it has been! This book is just the sort I like - it's very original and has some meaty ideas to get your teeth into.
So, what's it all about? I'm sorry if they are any mistakes in my account but feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. Brave New World is set in a futuristic world state where humans are farmed in laboratories and conditioned throughout their lives to fulfill set roles in society and maximise consumption. This human 'production line' world unsurprisingly sees Henry Ford, captain of American industry, as God. People belong to different castes or levels of society and busy themselves with their work, organized sports and parties. They are kept 'happy' by taking large amounts of the drug 'soma' which has no immediate negative side effects and that is provided by the state. Basically everything is different from our society - there are no families or long term relationships and promiscuity is encouraged. Anyone who differs from the standard is considered defective, for example Bernard Marx who comes from the highest caste but who is unusually short, causing him to feel inadequate and therefore doubt the system and his friend Helmholtz Watson, also an 'Alpha' who feels he would like to do something more useful with his life. However, it seems that not all the world is under the world state as there are 'Savage Reservations' where some people live in families, have children and basically live our less perfect life. Perhaps naturally in a world where Ford is God, travel is quick and efficient and so people can easily go on holiday, even to visit a reservation. Bernard goes there with Lenina, a girl who is beautiful but unlike Bernard, shallow and strongly attached to conforming. Lenina is shocked by the way people live in the reservation. It is very rough, dirty and violent, in stark contrast to the world state. The couple meet Linda, a woman who once lived in the world state but was stranded in the reservation there after an accident while she was on holiday. Linda had to stay in the reservation because she was pregnant and it would have been shameful for her to be pregnant in the world state where there are only test tube babies. She raised her son John there with stories about the better world on the other side but they both remained outsiders, she because of her prosmiscuous ways and he because he didn't completely belong to either world. John sought refuge in his only reading material , The Complete Works of Shakespeare, and was inspired by the beautiful language and sentiment. When Bertrand discovers that John's father is in fact the Director administrates the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre he wants to take John and Linda back to the world state to reveal the scandal and discredit the Director who had previously threatened to exile him for his controversial ideas. Once back in the world state, the Director resigns in shame and Linda is put on a 'soma' holiday and eventually dies. This is really sad because it shows how strong her conditioning had been that after tasting freedom she preferred to go back to her 'cage'. John 'The Savage' instead becomes like a celebrity. There is a love interest between John and Lenina but it doesn't go anywhere because she is too superficial. John's grief at his mother's death causes uproar and Bertrand and Helmholtz are exiled by the "Resident World Controller for Western Europe" for antisocial activity. John decides to isolate and punish himself but soon attracts prying eyes. He finds this extremely irritating and lashes out, hitting a women (probably Lenina although this is not clear). In his remorse he commits suicide and is found hanging.
I have found the book very inspiring, particularly some of the words of John 'The Savage', who wants to live life, in all its shades, to the full. The quote
"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
sums up what I want to do with my book club. I want to feel strong emotions and 'live a thousand lives' through reading'. I believe that emotional connection makes memorization easier and longer lasting so put simply, reading can help you to improve your English by doing something you love. This quote is my motto for this year as it really motivates me.
As regards the language of the book some of the most interesting examples can be found contrasting the language of two of the main characters John and Lenina. Lenina spouts drilled, bland set phrases that she has learnt through hypnopedia (sleep learning) while John quotes Shakespeare. Okay so the words aren't his own but he adapts them to his own personal circumstances adding meaning.
I have already written an article on idiomatic expressions. Idiomatic expressions are key when learning a language as copying phrases that natives use quickly allows you to sound more natural in a particular context and create empathy and the idea of shared experience and belonging to a community. It allows helps you avoid translating from your own language into English. However, paradoxically, now that English has become an international language, overuse of idioms may be exclusive. Remember that many of the expressions we use today were first coined in literature, most importantly Shakespeare. Why not shape things up a little and create your own or resussistate expressions you read in literature?
This novel raises some interesting questions. How close to our world is Huxley's? Is our decision-making being controlled with social media, pornography, the commercialisation of sex, advertising and reality TV? Mond the Resident World Controller for Western Europe says "The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get." Is that so bad? Do we really want to be happy all the time? I think Huxley contrasts the world state and the reservation to underline the fact that yes, life may be messy and hard but it is real, and in the midst of it we can find beauty as John found Shakespeare.
I spent this afternoon finishing reading Brave New World. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon! A time for myself, sitting in the sun on the terrace, at the same time catapulted into a strange future world and just like a visitor in another country, reflecting on the advantages or disadvantages of my own reality.
On Friday I found out that there were many quotes from Shakespeare in the book and that intrigued me to continue with my reading. I really identify with John's attitude. He is uplifted by the beautiful expression of human emotions and experience, be they positive or negative. In contrast we have Lenina who despite being exposed to beauty and art, is so conditioned that she cannot understand or appreciate it, preferring to stay in her comfort zone. Lost in Classics is for the Johns in life. My daughter is in the last year of middle school so we are visiting some high schools in order to choose one for her for next year. At the moment she seems oriented towards language high school, but I was impressed by the Head Teacher of the Classics high school who said 'What is the point of studying Latin and Greek? The truth it is not useful, we study for the pure pleasure of learning.'
All this has inspired me to write my manifesto today, to explain where I am coming from and why Lost in Classics is so important to me.
I want to experience life to the full, be open to opportunities and possibilities. I am nosey but with good intentions. The best moments of my life are when other people open up to me, let me see their truth and allow me to share with them without judgement or prejudice. Everyone has a story to share, every experience has something to learn from. Difficult experiences bring out the best in people. Reading is another way of relating to others through the ages. Society encourages us to stay in certain boxes, but in the end our life is our own and we have only one. My own life is specific to me but there are countless experiences and possibilities that I can access through reading. Imagination is more vivid and more wonderful than any film. Life today is so busy we are encouraged to live up to certain standards, to be the perfect wife, mother and friend, be respectable and achieve a good status, get on the property ladder, have a car, buy, buy, buy. For me being is more important than appearing. I want to make the most of every day, not just survive now to live better in a future that may never come. I appreciate beauty and art for art's sake, but like to see beauty everywhere, even in the most unexpected places. The best way to learn is through something you are passionate about, this makes things easier to remember, more personal and less like work. The best way to sound more natural when learning a language is to identify and copy phrases that mother tongue people use. Classics writers' work has lasted in time because they are people that are most able in using language. They present beautifully expressed ideas on timeless themes. The internet should be used for making virtual and real connections and indulging our passions with people that we could not normally meet. Doing something that you love is never a waste on time. In our busy world, it is important to dedicate some space to ourselves, for reflection and even for pure relaxation. Be lost in classics whenever you have the opportunity: you will not only gain in terms of vocabulary but it will also lift your spirits and allow you to feel part of the history of mankind.
Have you started reading Brave New World yet? I have been listening to the audiobook and I have also started reading the book online. I have got to chapter 4. If you haven't started yet I really recommend it, it really gives you loads of food for thought. It's set in a topsy-turvy future world state with the motto COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY. In this world babies are selectively grown in great quantities in laboratories and conditioned to have certain charactersitics, preferences and abilities and perform specific roles in adult life. 'Suggestions' aimed at instilling traits and increasing consumption like 'I do love flying', 'I love having new clothes', 'Ending is better than mending', 'The more stitches, the less riches' are repeated to the people by hypnopaedia or learning through sleep. (Have you ever tried that as a way of learning a language? What were the results?)
"Till at last the child's mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child's mind. And not the child's mind only. The adult's mind too–all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides–made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions!" The Director almost shouted in his triumph. "Suggestions from the State."
This might sound scandalous at first, but if you think about it also in our world we are constantly bombarded not only by messages, slogans and propaganda (Just Do It - Nike, Because you're Worth it - L'Oreal) but even by idioms and other fixed sayings in our everyday conversations which can be considered as a shorter way of expressing more complicated ideas in a catchy, memorable way (Don't judge a book by it's cover).
When I read I try to notice some interesting language that I can share with you and as I read the first four chapters I noticed that there were idiomatic phrases, some repeated more than once, and I had the impression that this was done to underline the fact that the people in the story do not have their own individual ideas, their words are not their own but rather repeat phrases they have heard.
Here are some of the idiomatic expressions from the book that we commonly use today, if you learn them you will sound like a member of the English speaking community!
1. Straight from the horse's mouth
Many idiomatic expressions come from sports as it is a subject that many people have in common and can relate to. This one obviously comes from horse riding, which also involves betting on the winner of the race. Before placing a bet, the gambler can try to get some insider information on the best horses from those in closest touch with the horse, that is, stable lads, trainers etc. The only thing closer to the horse is the horse himself.
Here is a quote from the Syracuse Herald, May 1913:
"I got a tip yesterday, and if it wasn't straight from the horse's mouth it was jolly well the next thing to it."
If you hear something (straight) from the horse's mouth, you hear it from the person who has direct personal knowledge of it or is an authority on the subject.
In Brave New World the students use this expression when they write down the Director's words exactly as he says them as he gives them a tour of the laboratories.
2. below par
"Nothing like oxygen-shortage for keeping an embryo below par." Chapter 1
Something below par is below average, or below the acceptable standard.
This could also be associated with sport, this time golf. Par is the number of strokes an expert player should normally require for a particular hole or course. In golf, below or under par is positive because it means that the golfer uses fewer strokes than expected or standard. In other situations if a number is below par, it is not up to standard. But par can also be a financial term that refers to the face value of a share or other security, so below par could also mean under this value.
Par comes from Latin, ‘equal’, also ‘equality of value or standing'. Associated phrases are above par - better than is usual or expected, on a par with - equal in importance or quality to and par for the course - what is normal or expected in any given circumstances.
3. be only too happy to do something
'Mr. Foster was only too happy to give them a few figures.' Chapter 1
This phrase means to be very willing to do something. You can use only too to emphasize to that something is true or exists to a much greater extent than you would expect or like.
'Know only too well that plans can easily go wrong.'
'When the new baby comes along, it is only too easy to shut out the others.'
Her family knows only too tragically that running from the cameras does not end well. Times, Sunday Times (2016)
It's only too easy to get stuck in routine. The Sun (2016)
He knows only too well what this means for farmers. Times, Sunday Times (2008)
The emperors were only too eager to help clarify that issue. Christianity Today (2000)
He knows only too well that his foot and mouth connect all too easily. Times, Sunday Times (2015)
4. a very great deal
"But in the interval," Mr. Foster concluded, "we've managed to do a lot to them. Oh, a very great deal." His laugh was knowing and triumphant. Chapter 1
A great deal means a large quantity, to a considerable degree or extent, by a considerable amount, often, frequently or highly. We can compare deal to lot, as lot means a portion. Deal as a verb comes from Old English daelan meaning divide or participate (in fact before starting a game of cards you have to deal the cards) which in turn comes from Ol Dutch 'deel' or German 'Teil' meaning part.
5. make a point of doing something
"I shall make a point of going," said Henry Foster. Chapter 3
When you make a point of doing something you consciously and deliberately make an effort to do it, consider or treat (an action or activity) as indispensable. The point meaning "the matter being discussed" dates from the late 14c but the meaning "sense, purpose, advantage" is first recorded in 1903. "The point" of something is the reason for doing it.
6. it / that won't do
'It's such horribly bad form to go on and on like this with one man. At forty, or thirty-five, it wouldn't be so bad. But at your age, Lenina! No, it really won't do.' Chapter 3
This is used for saying that a particular situation or way of behaving is not sensible or suitable. The verb do can also mean be suitable, acceptable, enough or sufficient.
"if you can't get espresso, regular coffee will do"
Everything in Brave New World is opposite to how it is in our world. Here promiscuity is encouraged and monogamy frowned upon.
7. be a a stickler for something
Trust Henry Foster to be the perfect gentleman–always correct. And then there's the Director to think of. You know what a stickler …" Chapter 3
A stickler is a person who insists on a certain quality or type of behaviour. The noun originates from Old English stihtian to set in order and English stightle control.
"This last week or two," he went on, "I've been cutting all my committees and all my girls. You can't imagine what a hullabaloo they've been making about it at the College. Chapter 4
Everyone agrees that a hullabaloo is a a commotion, a fuss but the origins are not so clear.
Perhaps it comes from hunting, a rhyming cry halloo-baloo! (halloo meaning hello). The old Scots term baloo, means a lullaby, a soothing song to calm a baby to sleep, but the connection with our hullabaloo seems contradictory. Other suggestions are that it comes from French, hurluberlu meaning scatter-brained, or from the English
hurly-burly, a contracted form of hurling and burling, where a hurling is an even older term for a commotion, disturbance or tumult. Burling may be just a rhyme of the the first word, as has happened also in namby-pamby, itsy-bitsy and others. I prefer the theory that it comes from India. When I read The Great Gatsby I discovered that the phrase 'The Big Cheese' meaning the most important person originated in India from chiz meaning thing or the real genuine thing. The term 'Hullabol' is still used in Indian English to describe a type of public demonstration, involving making a great noise. 'Hulla' is either derived from 'Hamla' meaning 'attack' or from 'halhala' meaning 'ululation' (both words from Persian and then Urdu). 'Bol' is from the Hindi verb 'bolna', 'to utter or say'.
I found all these expressions in the first four chapters of Brave New World. Even a little reading can offer many opportunities to learn, so don't get discouraged, let's move on through this Brave New World together in 2019! Which other idiomatic phrases can you find? Tell me in the comments.
Happy New Year! I hope you had a good rest and that the new year has started well for you. Do you make new year's resolutions? Many people say, for example, 'I'm going to lose weight', or 'I'm going to save money'. These are great ideas, but as we know, things may start off well but more often than not they are short-lived. What are your intentions or projects for this year? If you plan to improve your English this year, and you love reading classic novels, then you can use my Lost in Classics Reading Diary to keep you focused and stick to your resolution throughout 2019.
I have been working on this diary over the holidays and I must say I am proud of it because it not only looks gorgeous but it can also be very useful in helping you follow the novels that we will read each month in my Facebook Group and will discuss in our monthly book club meetings.
If you already follow me on Facebook you will have noticed that in November I posted many questions asking about your favourite novels and authors. Well, I used your answers to choose the twelve books that we will read together this year and here they are. Twelve months, twelve books, twelve genres.
1. January - Futuristic - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
2. February - Romantic - Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
3. March - Women - Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
4. April - Jane Austen - Persuasion by Jane Austen
5. May - Bildungsroman - Martin Eden by Jack London
6. June - Children - The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
7. July - American - The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
8. August - Travel - A Room with a View by E. M. Forster
9. September - Crime - The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
10. October - Horror - Dracula by Bram Stoker
11. November - Short Story - Desirées Baby by Kate Chopin
12. December - Festive - Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Yes, I know Jane Austen is not a genre but her books are so popular and she has such a following that it could be argued it is!
Last year, my choice of books was influenced by word count, I wanted to start low and gradually work up, in fact we started with The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe, a short story of only three thousand words and we finished with The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde with seventy-eight thousand! That's quite an achievement so well done if you read all or even some of the books! This year I decided to choose books in twelve different genres, regardless of their length because the feedback I have received so far has taught me that time is a problem for many people so it doesn't matter how long the book is. If you want to and can read all the book that is great, if not you can read a short version or even an extract or one chapter. I just want to inspire you to read so if you read as much as you can, that's great! Another possibility is that if you know in advance that we will read your favourite book in say March, you can start reading now and give yourself more time to prepare. This month I will be uploading all books to the BOOKS! page of this site so you can plan ahead if that works for you.
The diary includes a message from me and the confirmation of your membership of our book club followed by a page where you can note your favourite books. Then there is one page for each month complete with questions and space to record interesting language or quotes from the novel as well as your book review. If you submit your review, I will give you a free gift each month! Each page also includes important births, deaths and other events. If you look on my Facebook Page for that day, you will find more information about that author or book with links to read the book, or a video, picture or quote or any other interesting things I find. Finally on each page of the diary you will find a motivational quote from an important author which I hope will inspire you to keep going!
So how can you follow Lost in Classics this year? There are many ways to get involved. First check out my Facebook Page every day for inspiration to learn and read and this blog every Monday for lessons to be learnt from the language and themes in the novel we are reading that month. I also have a Facebook group where we discuss the novel of the month in more detail looking at the history of the author, the language, themes, characters, setting etc. Ask me if you would like to join. Members will receive the Lost in Classics Reading Diary, and bi-monthly newsletters with monthly infograhics focusing on language points covered that month. At the end of each month there is the option to take part in an online or live book club meeting. For more details of how the book club meeting works look at the dedicated page on this site.
If you would like to dig deeper or work on a particular area of your English with more personalized help from me, you might like to consider taking part in a group or individual programme (see the PROGRAMMES page of this site).
My resolution for this year is to get as many people as possible involved with Lost in Classics so please tell your friends and let me know if there is anything else I can do to inspire you to read and help you to learn and improve your English.
Happy Reading in 2019!
"When falsehood can look so like the truth, who can assure themselves of certain happiness?” Frankenstein
‘Though so profound a double-dealer, I was in no sense a hypocrite; both sides of me were in dead earnest; I was no more myself when I had laid aside restraint and plunged in shame, than when I laboured, in the eye of day, at the furtherance of knowledge or the relief of sorrow and suffering.’ Stange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
“I love acting. It is so much more real than life.” The Potrait of Dorian Gray
Read the following article on how we wear masks today in our everyday lives and ask yourself the highlighted questions.
‘Imagine, for just a moment, a world where no one cared what car you drove, what designer handbag you carried, or what job you worked at.
Can you sense the freedom?
But this isn’t reality, because we do care. And because we care we’ve developed habitual masks to please and impress others.
We all wear masks.
There’s a good chance, too, you change your masks so habitually you don’t even notice doing it. Maybe you’ve done it your entire life.
What mask do you wear?
How do you feel about the face you’re portraying for the world to see? Are you truly yourself? Do you feel that you can be you, no matter what social situation you’re in?
In your mind, gather up everyone you know and put them in a room, friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances. Everyone is surely cautiously mingling with their masks perfectly placed. But then, imagine a strong wind gust sweeps through the party, blowing all masks off. It’s mayhem, faces are exposed, for maybe the first time, wrinkles and all.
Now imagine that instead of using this vulnerability against one another you patted each other on the back, encouraged uniqueness and supported one another.
Why are we so afraid to be authentic?
Even when our masks irritate our skin, and we can’t relax or be ourselves, we still resist change.
This epic performance is a huge drain on our minds, bodies and souls. It’s a hard act to constantly pretend to be, or feel like you need to be, someone else. Similarly, it’s very draining to regularly act like you feel one way when you really feel another.
Becoming authentic is a process to begin knowing ourselves. To understand our own personality traits, behaviors, values, beliefs, needs, goals and motives. It’s having the courage to acknowledge our limitations, and embrace our own vulnerability.
Make a list of words that describe the person you want to be. Look deep inside and concentrate on who you are, not what you do. Are you passionate, nerdy, curious, loving?
You’ll know when you’ve discovered authenticity because your thoughts, beliefs and actions will originate deep from within and they’ll be resistant to external pressures. The result of this authenticity is a genuine, quiet, vitalizing fulfilment and confidence that resists anxiety, self-doubt and stress.
Wearing a mask protects us from vulnerability. I fear that if I stand tall and exposed, I’ll be “weak” in some way. But when you wear a mask you stand in resistance to your true life and end up attracting realities that conflict with who you really are.'
Adapted from huffingtonpost.com THE BLOG
5 Masks We Wear and Why We Should Take Them Off By Tina Williamson
We all wear masks, disguising parts of ourselves from other people. How we act depends on our clothes, envirnonment and the people around us.
Why do you believe it’s easier for people to people to wear masks than to be themselves?
Let me know in the comments.
We wear the mas
Italo Calvino said that a classic is a book that has never finished what it has to say and this well defines Frankenstein which over the years has really caught the public imagination inspiring countless film and television versions and even video games thanks to strong themes that are still relevant to us today.
At Lost in Classics we can meet and reflect on these themes. This makes us feel part of a wider society and teaches us lessons about life and people. In fact this week in the Facebook Group I will be posting on some of these and it it would be great to have your comments. Sharing our opinions is vital because our interpretation of themes is very personal. It is not stated in plain words. The theme is a message that you take away from the book. We may not agree, we may open each others' eyes with our own unique viewpoint and experience. Reading and listening, the skills we use when reading a novel are mainly passive activities, to complete the experience it is effective to then produce in some way through speaking or writing, or writing and then speaking and put your thoughts out there, to contribute to the universal debate. What will your contribution be?
Let me get the ball rolling by putting in my own tuppence worth on three themes of Frankenstein: bio-ethics, prejudice and revenge.
Perhaps the most important theme of Frankenstein is in the science around it. At the time when the novel was written Luigi Galvani and his nephew Aldini had stimulated muscle contraction using electric currents and attempted to revive the dead through electricity and Jacques de Vaucanson had dabbled in replicating life through machines. This obviously raised ethical questions related to the desire to 'play God'. In our times of genetic engineering these questions are just as important today.
Can you think of any scientific discoveries that have very serious ethical implications? How is Frankenstein a cautionary tale for modern day scientific study? How should we, as a society, weigh ethical concerns with scientific advancement? And on a larger scale the ethics of it who is ultimately responsible for the monster's violent actions – Dr. Frankenstein or the monster? Does Dr. Frankenstein bear any responsibility for the violent actions of his creation? Do parents bear any ethical responsibility for the actions of their children?
Today our version of playing God is in the subject of genetic engineering and cloning. In terms of animals and plants there may be benefits for more effective production but my concern is that any possible side effects or negative consequences may take a long time to uncover themselves and by the time any problems come up it may be too late. What is really concerning for me is the manipulation of human genes and this raises ethical questions. Who can say that some genetic traits are wrong? How can we decide that someone's life is worth less than that of others? What makes a good life? Frankenstein is partly responsible for his monster's actions because he immeditaely abandoned him without helping or guiding him in any way as a parent should, but we can't indefinitely continue blaming our parents for our problems in life.
What do you think?
“Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust?”
Mary Shelley chose to comment on the theme of prejudice not only towards the monster, but also towards foreigners, the lower classes, and women and coming from adults and children alike. By making the question so widespread we can question the destructive and isolating nature of prejudice and how we treat those who appear monstrous when we may be monsters ourselves. The monster seen as an object undeserving of a name and is judged through his appearance, Justine represents the lower classes and how they were suppressed by the upper classes, and she also represents women who suffered prejudice during that time period as they were voiceless and couldn’t defend themselves.
Thanks to the advances in our society we are now in many ways more tolerant of different physical and mental abilities, races, sexes and sexual orientations. But things are far from perfect. In general, which forms of prejudice seem to be declining over time, and which forms seem to be persisting or increasing? Which forms of prejudice most socially acceptable, and which are least acceptable? Why are some forms more acceptable than others? At a psychological level, what are the common denominators that link all forms of prejudice? Does the categorization of people always result in prejudice? What about categorizing people in a positive way -- does that result in prejudice? Does the very categorization of people -- for example, as female, a college student, African-American, or Texan -- necessarily rob them of individuality?
Today prejudice against people of different sexual orientations seems to be decreasing in many countries. Also, in terms of law and legislation prejudice against women and older people is decreasing, at least on paper. Women still encounter prejudice when applying for work and unfortunately cases of violence against women are increasing. Prejudice towards immigrants from other countries has been increasing in the last few years due to terrorism, mass immigration to Europe from Africa and the consequent rise in popularity of right wing political parties. Perhaps this prejudice is based on religion today rather than colour. Prejudice is aways about fear of the unknown. Positive discrimnation aims to gaurantee equal opportunities and is good in principal but does not always work in practice. When I watch TV I notice that today many people have mixed backgrounds and there are all types of families so it is important to speak and meet each other to break down barriers. Unfortunately, technology is encouraging us to isolate ourselves rather than share with others.
Revenge is a key theme in Frankenstein because it motivates both the creator and his monster. The monster seeks Revenge as he feels abandoned by his maker and this is further fuelled by Frankenstein's refusal to give him a mate. Frankenstein himself seeks Revenge on the monster for the deaths of William, Justine, Clerval and Elizabeth and this is all the more distressing for him because as the creator of the monster, he is shares the responsibility. Mary Shelley uses this theme because the desire for revenge is both timeless and powerful. It’s also a response to being hurt or slighted. It’s a reaction to feeling intimidated or victimized. It’s a way to gain power—real or imagined—over others. It’s rooted in primal emotions like passion and anger. And it’s a fundamental human feeling, one we’ve all felt perhaps more often than we’d like to admit. Mary Shelley experienced a lot of grief and loss in her life and it is probable she felt somehow responsible and certainly deeply hurt.
Why are we drawn to stories of vengeance? Why do you like them? Have you experienced holding a grudge against someone for a long time? What was the situation? How did you feel? Relate a time when you were younger that you gave or received payback/revenge for a wrong done. If you are not able to forgive others, you carry the burden on you and hurt yourself. Do you agree? Which is more pleasant, forgiving or taking revenge?
I think we like stories of vengeance because it gives us the possibility to do something with our imagination that we cannot do in our real lives. I don't like to hold grudges because I think when you do, It's you that feels bad whereas the other person involved is walking around without a care, so the bad feeling goes on you and not the other person that it is directed to. I usually keep calm up to a certain point and then I explode. Once when I was at secondary school I had lent something to a classmate that had been bullying myself and other girls for months and after several requests she still refused to give it back. In my rage I actually threw a chair at her! I don't want to advocate violent behaviout but it worked and I also gained the respect of the other girls beacuse I stood up to her but others wouldn't. It's always better to try to forgive but it's not easy whe you feel hurt.
I would love to hear your thoughts, let me know in the comments and please ask if you would like to join the Group and explore other themes this week. No hard feelings if you don't!
English is a mixture of different languages and as much as 70% of its vocabulary has Latin origins. Latin prefixes and sufixes were used to create new terms to describe new words and concepts, particularly so around the time Frankenstein was written when new scientific theories were being born and in Industrial Revolution was in full swing. Latin remained the language of the educated as was Mary Shelley, in fact her book is shrewn with references to literature and Roman and Greek myths and legends, typical of the Romantic Age. Like today, in that atmosphere, it might have been 'chic' to pop in some foreign words but I don't think she would have included them if she thought her readers might not understand. It is also true that Mary was well travelled and maybe picked up some foreign words. Don't forget that Mary Shelley was only twenty years old when she wrote the story.
The situation today is quite different. I am no expert but it seems to me that over time English has won the supremacy over Latin and in fact the most commonly used and familiar words in everyday conversation today are from Old English because they are generally shorter, while Latin based words remain in the realm of more formal writing.
I noticed when reading Frankenstein that I met many words of Latin or French origin that we no longer use today or that are extremely formal today but that I was able to understand thanks to the fact that I speak Italian and French. Other native speakers may not be able to make these associations and have to rely on the notes at the back of the book! So, if you are a speaker of a Latin based language you may understand better than the average native!
Let's look at some examples
'They possessed a delightful house (for such it was in my eyes) and every luxury; they had a fire to warm them when chill and delicious viands when hungry;'
A viand is in English 'an item of food' but French speakers will recognise the word as coming from 'viande' ( meat ). 'Viande' itself comes from the Latin 'vivenda', a form of the verb 'vivere' - to live. So meat is life! (But I am vegetarian!)
'Shall I meet you again, after having traversed immense seas, and returned by the most southern cape of Africa or America?'
Traverse means 'cross, travel across or through'. As you can see, today it is more common to use a short verb or phrasal verb. Again from French to Latin, from Old French 'traverser', from late Latin 'traversare' which Italian speakers will recognise also in the form 'attraversare'.
'Yet he might not have been so perfectly humane, so thoughtful in his generosity, so full of kindness and tenderness amidst his passion for adventurous exploit, had she not unfolded to him the real loveliness of beneficence and made the doing good the end and aim of his soaring ambition.'
Although you may find this word in a newspaper like the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, it is certainly more formal today and more common synonyms are 'benevolence, good-heartedness, kindheartedness, kindliness, kindness or charity'.
Originally from Latin 'beneficus' 'generous, kind, benevolent' from 'bene' (good) and 'ficus' from 'ficere', a form of 'facere' (to do, make)
'I felt the greatest eagerness to hear the promised narrative, partly from curiosity and partly from a strong desire to ameliorate his fate if it were in my power.'
Definitely formal, meaning 'to improve or make better', this verb comes from the French 'améliorer', from 'meilleur' (better).
'We felt that they were not the tyrants to rule our lot according to their caprice, but the agents and creators of all the many delights which we enjoyed.'
This word meaning 'whim, fancy, notion, fad, impulse, quirk, foible, urge', may be slightly more familiar but not as much as its original Italian 'capriccio' and French 'caprice'. There is also the Italian expression 'fare i capricci' which is the equivalent to 'play up', 'fuss' or 'throw a tantrum' in English.
'For some time I was lost in conjecture as to the cause of this, but yesterday an idea struck me, and if it is well founded, I conjure you to avow it.'
Today conjure means 'cause to appear', 'make (something) appear unexpectedly or seemingly from nowhere', 'recall' but its archaic meaning is 'to appeal vehemently to' like in Italian 'scongiurare' (beg, implore) orginally from Latin 'conjurare' ( con - together, jurare - swear ). The begging meaning derives from 'swear' in the sense make a solemn appeal to deity.
So don't feel discouraged, you understand more than you think!
I hope you have enjoyed this taster. On Tuesday I will also have an infographic available with other words from Frankenstein so if you would like to receive it, just leave me your email address in the comments or via the contact page and I will be pleased to add you on my newsletter list and you will also receive future infographics that I make every month!
whim, whimsy, vagary, fancy, notion, fad, freak, humour, impulse, quirk, eccentricity, foible, crotchet, urge
This month I am thinking about novels for next year and also creating a free diary that will motivate you to follow along in 2019 and keep track of your reading. Next year will be very exciting for lostinclassics!
So now is a good time to remind ourselves why we are here and what the benefits of reading classic novels are, based on what we have learned together already this year.
1. It's a challenge!
In my private lessons, it is always more motivating to work with students who have a clear goal or objective (an interview, a meeting, an exam, being able to talk to visiting English speaking friends) simply because they are more focused. In life challenges are important to stimulate us to improve. At first glance we can feel overwhelmed by the size of a task, but if we know where we are headed, we can break the journey up into smaller, more reachable stages. Reading a classic novel can seem daunting but every day in the Lost in Classics Group I post on a different aspect of the novel so that, breaking the job down, step by step, each month you can become more familiar with at least one author, some useful language issues and some thought-provoking themes, one novel at a time. If you have followed me this year, you may have noticed that we started in January with a short story of four thousand words and have worked up slowly to seventy-four thousand words with Frankenstein this month. That's a great achievement! Is there a book that you have always wanted to read? Tell me and we can do it together next year!
2. The Book Club!
The book club is the perfect way to bring everything together and also share the reading, as each person in the meeting takes on a different role. Read as much as you can, enough to find something to share for your chosen role; practise speaking in a relaxed way in the company of fellow book lovers.
3. Reality is stranger than fiction!
I must say that the authors we have seen this year have been a fascinating bunch! Their personal lives have seemed like novels themselves, not the least the wonderful Agatha Christie who, as we saw last month, once disappeared for 11 days provoking a huge man hunt! We have seen the scandalous existence of George Eliot (who had a relationship with a married man), Lewis Caroll (accused of pedophilia), Edgar Allan Poe (thought to have been an alcholic and drug addict) and George Orwell (whose writing is still banned in some countries). We have also met the well-connected Edith Wharton (from a rich, old New York family), Mary Shelley
( from a literary family, married to Percy Shelley, friend of Byron) and Scott Fitzgerald (part of the Lost Generation along with Ernest Hemingway). Is there an author that you would like to get to know better next year?
4. Novels are full of language you can use yourself!
Each writer has his own writing style, influenced by the social and historical context he is living in. Since March I have looked for lessons to be learned from each novel we have read in terms of vocabulary and grammar. In this way we have learnt about informal versus formal language, semantic changes, idiomatic expressions, etymology, slang, inversion, archaic and obsolete language, phrasal verbs and much more. Following my Group you could now be more confident in these language and vocabulary questions. Not bad for nine months, huh? That means a lot of acquired vocabulary to use in your own speech or writing, or grammar structures that you will recognize in other contexts. If you sign up for my newsletter, I can also send you my infographics that can serve as quick, visual reminders.
5. You can reflect on life's themes
People who read classic novels have better empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence. It's true, there is actually a study on that! (read here). Reading allows us to experience the lives of others or see our own from another point of view. The sad fate of Ethan Frome taught me the importance of doing what you want without worrying about the opinion of others. In Silas Marner and the Black Cat we saw what a devastating effect drugs and alcohol can have on people's lives. Both Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby) and Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany's) sought to improve their situation in life, but could not escape their past. This month in Frankenstein, we will face such themes as the ethics of recreating life! Plenty of interesting reflections and discussions can be had here. Do you ever comment on an online news article? It's a great way to practise expressing your opinion. Why not share your ideas in the comments to my blog articles here or in the Group.
6. Emotional connection aids long term memorization!
If you have been trying to improve your English for years without success the reason could be lack of emotional connection. When you read constructed dialogues in a text book you may understand the vocabulary and grammar immediately but you won't remember it long term because you don't care about the speakers. But if you read...
'And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.'
...ok it's the third conditional and that is difficult to get your head around in any case, but this is Jane Eyre, speaking to Rochester. She has no money and no connectionsbut she can imagine a different situation for herself and because it's Jane Eyre it's personal, you have seen her grow and you feel for her situation and that makes it all the easier to understand.
This is basically a summary of what I am trying to do with Lost in Classics. I would love to have your feedback so please look out for my questions on Facebook and in my newsletter this month or let me know directly if there are any books you would like to read together this year.
I studied French at university, in fact I lived in Paris for five years so I reached an advanced level. I understood everything and I had near-native pronunciation. But that was twenty years ago now (!). I still understand everything I hear and read but I can’t speak because I have lost the habit. I have lived in Italy for 14 years now and I am used to speaking Italian. To speak French you need to make different shapes with your mouth and particularly with your lips and to do it well you need to train yourself. A big problem that language learners often have is the opportunity to speak. Maybe you don’t have anyone to talk to, or you speak only very little. When you then do have the chance you speak, you are not used to speaking out loud and the words feel unfamiliar in your mouth.
What if you could improve your listening, speaking confidence and pronunciation by talking to yourself? No I am not going mad, the technique really exists and it’s called shadowing. There is a lot of material on Youtube related to watching films or Tv series or using podcasts. Thanks to audiobooks you can also shadow (follow and observe closely) the words of your favourite authors! Shadowing is a real workout for your mouth, it’s not just listening and repeating, it’s copying the rhythm, intonation, speech patterns and pauses of a native speaker in real time.
What is the best way to do shadowing?
With practice you can develop your own method but to get started I recommend you try the following
1. Choose a book you really like.
2. Find an audiobook version of the book with a reader whose voice you like or would like to emulate.
3. Listen to an extract from the audio book for general understanding.
4. Listen again and follow with the text a couple of times.
5. Try to work out the meaning of any new words by the context and intonation of the speaker before looking them up.
6. Mark the text to remind yourself of the correct pronunciation, especially word stress, linking and intonation (see picture for an example from the Preface of Frankenstein)
7. Pause the recording after each sentence or phrase and repeat.
8. If there is a word you have difficulty with, say it on its own a few times. You can even try dividing the word into syllables and then putting it back together.
9. Read along with the speaker at the same time as he / she speaks.
10. Get up, walk around, act out the text, it will help add emotion and meaning. Speak loudly.
11. Continue until you can repeat at the same pace as the speaker.
12. Record yourself and listen back to it to evaluate your progress.
I like this Libravox audiobook because it is read by a young girl, and Mary Shelley was only 18 when she created the story!
Please if you do try, let me know how you get on. One of my students who has tried it has said it has really benefitted his confidence!
Next Friday October 26 there will be the first Lost in Classics book club meetings both online and in person. I am very pleased to say that the live meeting at my house is already fully booked! There are still places available for the group video call so if you have been thinking about joining in but are still hesitating I hope to convince you with these five benefits of joining a book club.
1. It's motivating!
Every Saturday morning I have a group video call with my two colleagues I met on a course about online teaching. We tell each other what we have done to improve our work in the past week and set ourselves goals for the next. We encourage and support each other even if we don't do everything we would like. We just keep each other in check and remind each other of the importance of keeping focused. It is really useful to talk over any problems and get advice. Just the thought that I have to 'report back' to them pushes me into action. A fixed appointment with fellow readers can be just as stimulating. You share a common passion and desire but also problems and difficulties. Every month in a book club each member takes on a specific role for example looking at language, characters or plot and shares their findings with the others in the group. The sense of responsibility for the quality of another person's experience can be highly motivating.
2. You can share the load!
In a book club each member takes on a specific role, changing every month. For example, one person looks at the main themes, another at the setting, another at words and grammar etc. By sharing roles you don't have to read or understand the whole novel if you don't have the time. You can just concentrate on one aspect. So, if you have a lot of time that month you can research more, if you have little time you can focus on an extract or chapter and report what you find there. Your contribution can also be in the form of a picture, a poem or a short video that represents your ideas best. It's up to you. The other members in their turn will decide their contribution so that at the end of the meeting you will have an overall vision of the novel.
3. You could read as many as 12 English books a year!
Would you like to read more but have difficulty getting started? By joining a book club you could read a book a month, that's 12 in a year! Imagine that the 12 books cover 12 different genres, historical periods or contexts. Imagine that each novel gives you the opportunity to go into different vocabulary and grammar issues. Imagine how many characters or themes you can meet! If I had a tattoo it would read 'I have lived a thousand lives'. Wouldn't that be wonderful!
The members of a book club can decide on the books they would like to read together. Of course you don't have to read every month. The quality of your experience is worth more than quantity here. We are 'lost in classics'. Think of your favourite novel. How wonderful is it to be caught up in another world? When reality gets tough you can always take refuge in another world and learn from another person's experience.
4. Practice speaking in a comfortable, non-threatening environment!
Speaking spontaneously in front of strangers can be intimidating, even for a native speaker! In a book club you can make friends from all over the world, from the familiar setting of your sofa, wearing your pyjamas if you want! You can build relationships with people who share the same passions and interests so that you can feel comfortable expressing yourself. For each role I will provide you with a worksheet that will give you some ideas and things to focus on. You can prepare your contribution in advance, even writing down exactly what you want to say or just making some notes. The most important thing is to be clear and communicate your message, don't worry about small mistakes. If you prefer you can look online for something that expresssses your ideas in the way you would like to and share that at first: a picture, a poem or a video. You choose exactly how much you feel comfortable sharing in that moment.
5. Make friends!
As I said before a book club is above all a way to connect with others that have your same interests and perhaps goals. You can never have too many friends. It is thanks to online friendships and collaborations that I am speaking to you today. We can build a community of like-minded people exchanging ideas and opinions. Let's share our love of reading in English!
I hope I have convinced you to give it a try. Contact me for details of how to join the next meeting!
Every month, I publish a review of the book I ahve read that month.