Helen Dawson

Wordsworth 254 Reputation points Help-d956b624e3a70f299ff60fb4f6e79359
  • Robinson Crusoe (Penguin Popular Classics)

    'All my apprehensions were buried in the thoughts of such a pitch of inhuman, hellish brutality, and the horror of the degeneracy of human nature'

    Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Empty_star-e60c0e83933eadeb47c8849bb808f2e6

    Argued as being one of the first English novels, Robinson Crusoe's influence on the genre of travel writing is one that is apparent in many consequent novels. Defoe's manner of addressing important issues of the time, as well as investigating the state of man removed from conventional society is one that impels the reader to continue turning the page despite the minimal movement of the plot. Although the majority of the novel consists of descriptive passages depicting Crusoe's day to day survival, Defoe manages to evoke the reader's interest through his exploration of humanity and the detail of his descriptions. Through adding this element of realism, Defoe enables the reader to experience almost first hand man in a state of nature as Crusoe presents the individual restrictions he must overcome to first master his external environment and then his internal self. Crusoe's spiritual transformation is one of the key moments in the novel as it is at this point that Crusoe appears ab...Argued as being one of the first English novels, Robinson Crusoe's influence on the genre of travel writing is one that is apparent in many consequent novels. Defoe's manner of addressing important issues of the time, as well as investigating the state of man removed from conventional society is one that impels the reader to continue turning the page despite the minimal movement of the plot. Although the majority of the novel consists of descriptive passages depicting Crusoe's day to day survival, Defoe manages to evoke the reader's interest through his exploration of humanity and the detail of his descriptions. Through adding this element of realism, Defoe enables the reader to experience almost first hand man in a state of nature as Crusoe presents the individual restrictions he must overcome to first master his external environment and then his internal self. Crusoe's spiritual transformation is one of the key moments in the novel as it is at this point that Crusoe appears able to free himself of the bitter torment that he has suffered under the belief that he has been placed on the island unfairly, as a form of punishment. In doing so Defoe presents his religious position as a Dissenter as Crusoe is only able to attain true faith by isolating himself from society. This illustrates Defoe's attack on traditional religious structures and institutions that insist that religion can only be practiced within church. Despite this religious enlightenment Crusoe continues to have a very western view of the world as his actions closely reflect those of the colonialists', due to their belief in the power that the English have to claim the right to any land which they inhabit and to convert any 'savages' to their own image of civilisation. This is apparent in the most shocking image of the novel, in which Crusoe's fear that any natives he encounters will be cannibals, is realised. This assumption that natives are likely to be at the level of animals indicates Defoe's commentary on England's ethnocentrism and this is furthered through Crusoe's later contemplations on whether it is, in fact, his place to judge their behaviour as he would only be able to do so in comparison with his western values, of which they are unaware. However, his attitude towards the natives continues to be one of superiority as he places himself in the position of a king with natives, such as Friday, who he manages to convert acting as his subjects. Although these issues, and the plot of the novel, appear at first not to be anything particularly different or unique this is only due to the way that they have been replicated in various forms since the novel's first publication. Although there are times when the static nature of the plot does become a bit tedious, the impact that the novel has had upon the literary world, in itself, illustrates it's power to continually fascinate readers. (more)

  • Candide (Penguin popular classics)

    'In this best of all possible worlds, everything is for the best'

    Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Empty_star-e60c0e83933eadeb47c8849bb808f2e6 Empty_star-e60c0e83933eadeb47c8849bb808f2e6

    Often compared to Johnson's The History of Rasselas, Candide presents many of the same issues but, in my opinion, in a much easier to read style. Voltaire's satire of philosophy, especially of the ideas of theodocy (the belief that the existence of evil in the world can be justified) and the philosopher Leibniz, is depicted using reductio ad absurdum to create a humorous element to the text which I feel Rasselas lacks. The plot is full of ridiculously repetitive recognition scenes, in which characters that are several times believed to be dead recount the stories of how they managed to survive. At the same time the intelligence of Voltaire's satire and the significance of the comedy is apparent to the end as Pangloss still insists, after all their suffering, that everything has worked out for the best even though all they have to enjoy is toiling in their garden and their fruits and pistachio nuts. The nature of happiness and how to achieve it is also discussed in both Rasselas ...Often compared to Johnson's The History of Rasselas, Candide presents many of the same issues but, in my opinion, in a much easier to read style. Voltaire's satire of philosophy, especially of the ideas of theodocy (the belief that the existence of evil in the world can be justified) and the philosopher Leibniz, is depicted using reductio ad absurdum to create a humorous element to the text which I feel Rasselas lacks. The plot is full of ridiculously repetitive recognition scenes, in which characters that are several times believed to be dead recount the stories of how they managed to survive. At the same time the intelligence of Voltaire's satire and the significance of the comedy is apparent to the end as Pangloss still insists, after all their suffering, that everything has worked out for the best even though all they have to enjoy is toiling in their garden and their fruits and pistachio nuts. The nature of happiness and how to achieve it is also discussed in both Rasselas and Candide with the two texts suggesting that the search for perfect happiness is inevitably futile. On the surface, this pessimistic view of life does threaten to leave you wondering 'what is the point?' when you consider that any good in Candide's world is destined to be short lived, such as the death of the anabaptist James (or Jacques depending on your translation) who was ironically left to drown by the sailor whose life he had just saved. Despite this, Voltaire's use of comic distancing prevents the reader from ever becoming too emotionally attached to the characters. This prevents the reader from truly empathising with their individual sufferings, allowing them to instead act as a technique to emphasise Voltaire's satire of abstract philosophy. Through the descriptions of Candide's travels Voltaire also portrays his satirical views of other issues such as religious institutions, the monarchy, greed and the idea of utopic societies. In doing so he creates added degrees of complexity as well as humour to the plot. Overall, for those that are interested in travel writing and want some light entertainment this is a very interesting satire. However, I believe that it really needs to be read with it's context in mind as on first read the farcicality of the plot doesn't create the best impression. (more)

  • Woman on the Edge of Time (A Women's Press Classic)

    'I'm a dead woman now too, I know it. But I did fight them. I'm not ashamed. I tried.'

    Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Yellow_star-c09e82bff6cf53398cc23ca904d3855a Empty_star-e60c0e83933eadeb47c8849bb808f2e6

    Marge Piercy's own experiences of female oppression at the hands of both society and her first husband is reflected in her vivid portrayal of Connie Ramos' entrapment within a 1970s mental institution. Connie's evident sanity allows Piercy to illustrate the torment that those who do not fit into society's ideals are forced to suffer, such as the use of electroconvulsive therapy to 'treat' homosexuality. The asylum symbolises Connie's male-dominated world in which she is beaten by her husband and deemed as insane simply due to her attempts to physically protect herself. Her desire to mentally escape this leads her mind to travel to the future community of Mattapoisett. In this utopic society she is introduced to a world in which all forms of prejudice have been eradicated due to the elimination of distinctions between races, genders and classes. However, it is initially difficult for Connie to come to terms with certain aspects that enable this such as the replacement of natural birt...Marge Piercy's own experiences of female oppression at the hands of both society and her first husband is reflected in her vivid portrayal of Connie Ramos' entrapment within a 1970s mental institution. Connie's evident sanity allows Piercy to illustrate the torment that those who do not fit into society's ideals are forced to suffer, such as the use of electroconvulsive therapy to 'treat' homosexuality. The asylum symbolises Connie's male-dominated world in which she is beaten by her husband and deemed as insane simply due to her attempts to physically protect herself. Her desire to mentally escape this leads her mind to travel to the future community of Mattapoisett. In this utopic society she is introduced to a world in which all forms of prejudice have been eradicated due to the elimination of distinctions between races, genders and classes. However, it is initially difficult for Connie to come to terms with certain aspects that enable this such as the replacement of natural birthing methods with a mechanical process allowing members of both sex to become mothers. Despite this, Mattapoisett is depicted as the ideal of peace and freedom, which is even further emphasised when Connie accidentally finds herself in an alternative future New York. This world illustrates the opposite possibility that society could evolve into in which people are entirely isolated and restricted. It appears to present a future in which Connie's experiences of repression are the norm, as the submission of women has become such that they are literally only objects, the possessions of men enhanced in order to be as aesthetically pleasing to them as possible, resulting in a 'cartoon of femininity'. Although, throughout the novel, we are constantly hoping that Connie will finally find happiness and an escape in Mattapoisett the novel's ending instead reflects the experiences of many of those in the women's movement, including Piercy herself, in that it symbolises the sacrifice required and the apparently fatal acts of resistance which were deemed necessary in order for changes to be made. Connie realises that only through committing herself to a life within the insane asylum is she able to act against the oppression she has been forced to suffer. The novel is a definite necessity for any reader interested in feminism as well as having an added sci-fi element to it giving it a 1984 feel. Although seeming a bit far fetched at times it really does make you think about what an ideal world would be and to what extent we're moving towards or away from it. (more)