Saturday, 16 January 2016

Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm

Hansel and Gretel was first published in the two volume set of Fairy Tales Kinder- und Hausmarchen, composed by Jacob and Wilheim Grimm, in 1812. The Grimm brothers heard of the tale of Hansel and Gretel from a family friend but it's certainly not an original tale. It possibly could have originated during the Great Famine in 1315 as there were reports of parents abandoning their children because they couldn't afford to feed them and people resorting to cannibalism. Since then the familiar tale of Hansel and Gretel has appeared across different cultures and times. Tales by Charles Perrault and Madame d' Aulnoy bear striking resemblances to Hansel and Gretel. The Grimm brothers themselves identified these two stories as being parallel stories to Hansel and Gretel. Hansel and Gretel was revised multiple times over the course of 40 years and the original story that appeared in 1812 is quite different from the final version published in the 1850s. Hansel and Gretel is one of the most recognisable tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm and has been adapted countless times for film, opera, plays, etc.

Hansel and Gretel opens with a description of a poor woodcutter who lived with his wife and children. They have always had little to eat and when a Great Famine strikes the land the woodcutter is unable to even supply their bread. The woodcutter's wife, a selfish and horrible woman, comes up with the idea of giving Hansel and Gretel a small piece of bread each and leaving them in the woods to be devoured by animals. The father is extremely weak and agrees, although he's not very happy about it. Unbeknownst to them Hansel and Gretel overheard the plan and Hansel quickly went outside and gathered pebbles so they could find their way home once they were left in the woods. When daybreak hits the family go out into the woods and the parents leave Hansel and Gretel next to a fire. They ate the bread quickly and fell asleep. When they awoke it was dark but the moon shone brightly in the night sky and they were able to follow the pebble track Hansel had left behind them. They eventually returned home safely much to the mothers chagrin.

A few days or weeks later (its not specified) they run out of food again and the mother decides they have to try and leave Hansel and Gretel in the woods once more. Hansel and Gretel overhear this plan again and Hansel decides to grab some more petals but the door is locked and he can't get out. Hansel then decides to use the bread to leave crumbs behind. The next day the mother and father leave them in the woods again but when Hansel and Gretel woke up from their nap they discovered the bread crumbs were eaten by birds. They wander around the woods for three days until they come to a house made of sweets. Hansel decides that he will eat the roof made of cake and Gretel will eat the sugar windows. Suddenly they hear a voice from inside:

"Nibble, nibble, little mouse,
Who is nibbling at my house?"


Hansel and Gretel answer:

"The wind, the wind,
The heavenly child" 


A while afterwards an old woman appears, who is described to be as old as the hills themselves. Hansel and Gretel are frightened but the woman invites them inside and gives them a good meal and a place to sleep. Hansel and Gretel are immediately content and their worries disappear. However, the next morning the old woman (who is actually an evil witch) locks Hansel in a cage and makes Gretel become her slave. The witch had designed her sweet house to lure children so she could eat them. She feeds Hansel every day to fatten him up and only gives Gretel claw fish. Hansel realises what the witch is doing and sticks out a chicken bone every morning so the witch will think he hasn't gained any weight. Eventually the witch grows impatient and decides she will eat Hansel anyway. She makes Gretel boil water so she can cook him the next day. When the day arrives the witch asks Gretel to test the oven out and see if it's hot enough. Seeing what the witch has planned Gretel pushes the witch in the oven, lets Hansel out and they escape from the house just as the witch is being burned to death. But not before they take jewels so they'll never be hungry again. Eventually they find their way home, with the aid of a swan, are reunited with their father and discover their mother had died. All's well that ends well, right?

Hansel and Gretel was much darker than I remember. Cannibal witches, selfish parents who leave their children to be eaten by wild animals, etc. I absolutely love Hansel and Gretel and being older than when I read it the first and second times I can appreciate it for what it is. A story about two incredibly brave and smart children who outwit those who would wish them harm. They deserve the world and they eventually got it. A truly wonderful story that is quite inspiring.

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Hansel and Gretel was my week one Deal Me In Pick. The review is a little late but I really enjoyed it. Weeks two and three are White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Bartholomew Fair by Ben Jonson which I am in the middle of reading. I will try and finish them both and write reviews before this week is up so I'm on track again. 


Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Devil by Leo Tolstoy

Writing negative reviews is one of my least favourite things and it has been ever since I started writing small book reviews in various notebooks. I'm a positive person, or at least I try to be, and I often find positive things to focus on whenever I read anything. I read the Devil by Leo Tolstoy just over a week ago and when I finished I was struggling to find anything good to say about it. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy is my favourite novel and I was really looking forward to reading Tolstoy's short stories. The Devil was such a disappointing read and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it for a week. One of the pitfalls of reading multiple works by a writer you love is that there is a risk you'll find something that will turn you off or make you feel uncomfortable. Because Anna Karenina means so much to me I had high expectations for Tolstoy's other work and my one main emotion after reading the Devil was that of disappointment. I know some people won't be as disappointed as I was with this work as people have different reactions to things due to different life experiences but this work is something I honestly wish I had never picked up. I will eventually read more of Tolstoy but for now I think it's best to focus on other Russian writers. With all that said I will try and review this as objectively as I possibly can.

The Devil was written in 1889 but wasn't published until after Tolstoy's death in 1911. In 1909 Tolstoy wrote an alternative ending which is included in most modern editions. If you decide to read this novella/short story you should make sure your edition has both endings as both give an insight into the story as a whole. The Devil is about Eugene Irtenev and the consequences of his giving into sexual temptation. There are obvious parallels between Eugene and the Devil which I won't get into now because they don't need an explanation.  The Devil is supposedly Tolstoy's most autobiographical work of fiction and that knowledge makes me extremely uncomfortable. Irtenev is not a good man. He blames his mistakes on other people and he blames his sexual urges on some need for sex because he "needs" to have sex for his physical health. The Devil is well written but the content it what really matters and the content is very unsettling and startling especially when you keep in mind that it's based on Tolstoy's life. I can't go further into the plot as I don't want to give too much away but Irtenev is one of my least favourite characters I've ever come across.

I'm not sure what else I can write without being too negative or giving too much away. I'm sensitive to women in literature and how they are portrayed and that's a major reason why I didn't like this story. It left the impression that Irtenev, and by extension Tolstoy, blamed the women in his life for his affairs and sexual temptations. I haven't given up on Tolstoy completely but I think it's best if I wait awhile before I read another one of his works.

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I found out a week ago that I'll be moving to a different state in a fortnight (due to getting into an amazing program/internship) so that's why I've been quiet. I haven't even had time to read. I've read one of my Deal Me In texts and I'm currently reading another so hopefully I'll have those reviews up soon. And I plan on starting Mrs Dalloway after I've finished a play by Ben Johnson.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

January;

It's currently the 3rd of January and I'm a bit late with this post but better late than never! I've been away for a few weeks and it's so nice to be back home. It's quite cold today which is nice because we've had shocking heat for the past week or so. It's great weather to stay in with a book or two. I finished the Devil by Leo Tolstoy this morning which was a disappointing and uncomfortable novella for me but I'm planning to read Mrs Dalloway by Virgina Woolf next so hopefully I have more success with that one.

I have a few reading plans for January but I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself to read set books. I always read more when I just let myself read what I want. In the past I've noticed that I've felt like I need to persevere through books even though I'm not enjoying them and that's something I'm trying to change. There's no use not enjoying your reading experience and I think that's why I've been in reading ruts through the years; I just stop enjoying the experience. Along with writing more reviews/writing original content that's the other bookish resolution I'm determined to stick to.

As for my reading plans this month I have a few books I want to read. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is the first one. I was determined that it would be my first book of 2016 but I didn't finish The Devil in time so it'll be my second. Still, I'm very excited about reading this one. I've wanted to read it for years but something has scared me about it. I'm not sure why because I loved To the Lighthouse and that didn't intimidate me at all. There's just something about Mrs Dalloway that scares me. I'm looking forward to the challenge though. I also bought Mill on the Floss by George Eliot which I'm desperate to read as soon as possible. I've heard nothing but great things about it and it seems like a book I'll absolutely love. I'm making a deliberate choice to read more literature written by women this year and I hope to read at least three or four texts by women this month. For my first Deal Me In text I drew White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky which is really more of a novella than a short story so I hope I have more luck with that one than the Devils. I want to read a Euripides play or two this month as well. I also need to continue reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as I've been unable to read it in recent weeks due to my leaving it at home when I went away. Other than that I'm just going to see where the wind takes me.

Happy reading!