A Review of The Favorite

 

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One of the films that I was looking forward to the most during the 2018 holiday season was The Favorite, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. It looked like a promising film about a period of history that is not often tackled with juicy roles for its lead actresses. As someone with a love of period dramas and unique production design, I was intrigued by its slightly surreal take on early eighteenth-century court life.

The year is 1708 and the sickly and weak-willed Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), last of the Stuart dynasty, is sitting on the English throne. Racked by gout and traumatized by the loss of seventeen children, Anne is dominated by her close friend and secret lover, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), who is running the country through Anne. Into the picture steps Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), a poor relation of Sarah’s who arrives at court looking for work. Abigail ingratiates herself into Queen Anne’s favor and challenges Sarah’s supremacy.  

What draws one into The Favorite is the interplay between the three women, the complicated love/hate relationships they have with each other. Each of the main characters is deeply flawed, complex, and pretty unlikeable, but you enjoy watching them bitch at each other. One of the most enjoyable parts of the film is its wicked sense of humor in the face of a dark, twisted story.  I saw a little of myself in each of the three leads: self-pitying and self-indulgent Anne, who drains the life out of the people around her; cold, blunt Sarah, whose brutal honesty pushes away the people she genuinely cares about; selfish and single-minded Abigail, who is willing to step on anyone to get what she wants. Each of the lead actresses turns in a stellar performance, which earned all three of them well deserved Oscar nominations.

The Favorite is visually stunning with its black and white costume design and Wonderland esque world of checkerboard marble floors and hedge mazes. The fish-eye cinematography and discordant score used in scenes of duck racing and people throwing tomatoes at a nude dwarf, characterize Queen Anne’s court as a grotesque and unhinged place. Robbie Ryan’s cinematography, Sandy Powell’s costumes, Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton’s production design, and Yorgos Mavropsaridis’s film editing are among the impressive ten Oscar nominations that The Favorite has received.

Altogether, The Favorite is an exquisitely crafted film though it might not be to everyone’s taste. The theatrical acting style in which the characters are portrayed and the heavily symbolic and obscure ending might be off-putting to some people.

My Favorite Places in Salem MA

 

Flying Saucer Pizza Company-118 Washington Street 

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Sci-Fy themed pizza place in downtown Salem, across from Salem’s famous Bewitched statue. Enjoy a build-your-own pizza or a dessert named after Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. Your inner nerd will love the atmosphere as your pizza cravings are satisfied. Takes Salem State Clipper Cards.

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Cinema Salem- 1E India Square Mall 

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Voted the “Best Movie Theater in Massachusetts” by Tripping.com and I happen to agree with them. Shows both blockbusters and independent films and takes Clipper Cards, perfect for a movie addict like me.

Essex’s N.Y. Pizza & Deli – 2E India Square Mall 

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Some of the best pizza in Salem. On our traditional movie nights at Cinema Salem, Jasmine and I usually dine here before our film screening because like Cinema Salem, they take Clipper Cards.

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Wicked Good Books- 215 Essex St. 

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Sells both new and used books (the used books are very cheap) as well as toys. Voted Bons 2017 best of North Shore.

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Flatbread Company/ Derby Lanes- 311 Derby Lane. 

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Organic pizza and bowl- A new favorite of mine since my roommate Jasmine and I went there for her birthday. Takes Clipper Cards.

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Kakawa Chocolate House- 173 Essex St. 

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A new addition to my list of favorite places in Salem. It sells traditional drinking chocolate inspired by pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican, Mayan, Aztec, Colonial American and Colonial Mexican recipes.  

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Peabody Essex Museum- 161 Essex St. 

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Exhibits items from Salem’s maritime history and its contacts with the outside world- features one of North America’s largest collections of Chinese porcelain. Salem State students get in free with a Clipper Card.

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Hex Old World Witchery- 246 Essex St. 

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My roommate Jasmine is a Wiccan and she and I like to look around in Salem’s many Wiccan shops. They’re full of interesting curiosities and offer psychic readings.

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Literary Essay #2: Landscape in Wuthering Heights

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Emily Brontë and her sisters Charlotte and Anne grew up on the West-Yorkshire moors, a landscape which went on to influence their novels and provide a suitable backdrop for their dark, turbulent tales of wild, uncontrollable passion. The Yorkshire moors are a barren and difficult habitat, where it is hard to survive due to the harsh terrain and bad weather, that possess a stark, dramatic beauty. Emily Brontë was an heir to the Romantic and Gothic traditions which favored ruined old buildings and untamed and uncultivated landscapes as a reflection of the tempestuous emotions of the characters. Her only novel, Wuthering Heights, is a prime example of this.

Wuthering Heights takes place in a remote part of the Yorkshire moors. The titular Wuthering Heights is an isolated farmhouse overlooking the wild and windy moors where the novel’s action takes place. We are introduced to Wuthering Heights when bad weather obliges Lockwood, the novel’s narrator, to stay the night there. Lockwood gives a definition of the word “wuthering” and an explanation as to why the house was given that name:

“Wuthering being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.”

(Brontë 4)

The Yorkshire moors are a barren, inhospitable place where only the toughest plants and people can survive. Like with trees which grow near Wuthering Heights, the people who live there are warped and twisted by the harsh climate. The house itself is described as an old and appropriately foreboding building: “Happily, the architect had foresight enough to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall and the corners defended with large jutting stones” (Brontë 4) and the people who live there as no more welcoming than the building they live in. Lockwood’s first impressions of Wuthering Heights and its inmates characterize it as an unpleasant, troubled place which hides dark secrets.

When he stays the night at Wuthering Heights, Lockwood is given a bedroom which once belonged to a woman named Catherine Earnshaw Linton, who was the foster sister and childhood sweetheart of Heathcliff, the house’s current owner. The room is filled with reminders of her life: her name is carved into the wall and notes she wrote are inscribed in the books. Lockwood falls asleep and has a dream where he is haunted by a ghost calling herself Catherine:

“The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, ‘Let me in- let me in!’ ‘Who are you?’ I asked, struggling, meanwhile to disengage myself. ‘Catherine Linton,’ it replied, shivering… ‘I’m come home: I’d lost my way on the moor!’… ‘Twenty years. I’ve been a waif for twenty years.’”

(Brontë  22)

It is ambiguous whether or not Wuthering Heights is literally haunted by Catherine’s ghost but it is certainly haunted by her in a figurative sense.

The first few chapters of Wuthering Heights put together the ingredients necessary for a classic gothic novel: stormy weather, an old building in a dramatic and remote location, a brooding antihero, a heroine who died tragically young, ghosts, and dark secrets. Writers of Emily Brontë’s generation were influenced by the earlier romantic and gothic movements. Both genres favored the highly emotional and dark aspects of human existence and the natural world. A gothic novel is typically set in a dramatic and isolated location and involves an ancient ruin, such as a castle or abbey, which is haunted, both literally and figuratively, by the ghosts of the past. Storms and their human equivalent fits of madness, as well as supernatural elements,  are common motifs. The ghosts and turbulent weather are reflections of the turbulent emotions and tragic pasts of the characters.

A lost child wandering the moors and wishing to come home is an appropriate form for Catherine’s ghosts to take. The moors surrounding Wuthering Heights was Catherine and Heathcliff’s childhood playground and is a symbol for their love. This landscape is wild and untamed, like Catherine and Heathcliff as children, and difficult to navigate, like their relationship and emotions. When describing her feeling for Heathcliff in contrast to her feelings for Edgar Linton, her eventual husband, Catherine says: “My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight but necessary.” (Brontë 70). Wuthering Heights is a harsh place to live and hard to love but somehow Catherine and Heathcliff find it impossible to exist anywhere else.  

Like the moors, Heathcliff is dark, mysterious, and dangerous. His name, Heathcliff, suggests the Yorkshire landscape: a heath is an open area of uncultivated land on which grows heather and coarse grasses and a cliff is a steep rock face; both geographic features make up the moors. When he is first introduced, Heathcliff is a figure of fear and suspicion because of the fact that he was born a gypsy and his origins are unknown. Distrust of the unknown causes people to despise  Heathcliff and be wary of the moors. Part of what makes the moors so dangerous is the unpredictable weather. Storms occur in Wuthering Heights when passions and tensions between the characters are at their highest. The night on which Heathcliff runs away after hearing that Catherine is considering marriage with Edgar is dark and stormy:

“It was a very dark evening for summer: the clouds appeared inclined to thunder…There was a violent wind, as well as thunder, and either one or the other split a tree off at the corner of the building: a huge bough fell across the roof and knocked down a portion of the east chimney-stack, sending a clatter of stones and soot into the kitchen-fire.”

(Brontë 72)

Later on in the novel, a heavily pregnant Catherine runs out into a storm, causing her to become ill and die in childbirth. The attraction between Catherine and Heathcliff is a lot like a storm: an intense, destructive, and unstoppable force of nature which consumes all around it.

The antithesis of Wuthering Heights is Thurshcross Grange. While Wuthering Heights is rough and coarse, Thrushcross Grange is elegant and refined; while Wuthering Heights represents the wild and passionate, Thrushcross Grange represents the tame and placid. Thrushcross Grange is separated from Wuthering Heights and the moors by a large hill. This distance makes Thrushcross Grange both a safe haven and a gilded cage. Cathy, the daughter of Catherine and Edgar, has a happy childhood at Thrushcross Grange, sheltered away from the malevolent influence of Wuthering Heights.  But like her mother, Cathy feels an irresistible attraction to the moors and badgers her nursemaid, Ellen, to be able to explore them:

“Sometimes, indeed, while surveying the country from her nursery window, she would observe-

‘Ellen, how long will it be before I can walk to the top of those hills? I wonder what lies on the other side-is it the sea?’

‘No, Miss Cathy,’ I would answer; ‘it is hills again, just like these.’
‘And what are those golden rocks like when you stand under them?’ she once asked.
The abrupt descent of Penistone Crags particularly attracted her notice; especially when the setting sun shone on it and the topmost heights, and the whole extent of landscape besides lay in shadow. I explained that they were bare masses of stone, with hardly enough earth in their clefts to nourish a stunted tree.
‘And why are they bright so long after it is evening here?’ she pursued.
‘Because they are a great deal higher up than we are,’ replied I; ‘you could not climb them, they are too high and steep. In winter the frost is always there before it comes to us; and deep into summer I have found snow under that black hollow on the north-east side!’
‘Oh, you have been on them!’ she cried gleefully. ‘Then I can go, too, when I am a woman. Has papa been, Ellen?’
‘Papa would tell you, Miss,’ I answered, hastily, ‘that they are not worth the trouble of visiting. The moors, where you ramble with him, are much nicer; and Thrushcross Park is the finest place in the world.’

‘But I know the park, and I don’t know those,’ she murmured to herself.”

(Brontë 159-160)

Cathy, with her willful, free-spirited nature, is very much her mother’s daughter. She becomes bored with the restrictions of Thrushcross Grange and longs to escape. Despite its security and tranquil beauty, Thrushcross Grange is a stifling place for people like Catherine and Cathy.  

Catherine agrees to marry Edger because she likes the idea of being mistress of Thrushcross Grange and improving her social station but marrying Edgar takes her away from her beloved moors. At her new home, Catherine pines away, changing from a hearty, willful tomboy to a bored, sickly invalid, like an animal taken away from its natural habitat. As she is dying, Catherine reminisces about her childhood and expresses her desire to return to those simpler times:

“Oh, I’m burning! I wish I were out of doors! I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free; and laughing at injuries, not maddening under them! Why am I so changed? why does my blood rush into a hell of tumult at a few words? I’m sure I should be myself were I once among the heather on those hills. Open the window again wide: fasten it open!”

(Brontë 105)

Catherine left Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights because she thought she could do better. But leaving them made her realize that she could not live without them. Her ghost haunts the moors she loved in life as the wild child she was in her happier days.

If Wuthering Heights is a cursed building, the only thing that can break the curse is Catherine’s return. In a way, a Catherine returns to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff tries to get a hold of Thrushcross Grange by using Cathy’s curiosity about Wuthering Heights to lure her there and force her to marry his dying son Linton. After Linton’s death, Cathy falls in love with and marries Hareton, the son of Hindley Earnshaw, Heathcliff’s former enemy, and the rightful owner of Wuthering Heights. The book ends with Heathcliff dying and his soul being reunited with Catherine.

“But the country folks, if you ask them, would swear on the Bible that he walks: there are those who speak to having met him near the church, and on the moor, and even within this house. Idle tales, you’ll say, and so say I. Yet that old man by the kitchen fire affirms he has seen two on ’em looking out of his chamber window on every rainy night since his death: and an odd thing happened to me about a month ago. I was going to the Grange one evening—a dark evening, threatening thunder—and, just at the turn of the Heights, I encountered a little boy with a sheep and two lambs before him; he was crying terribly; and I supposed the lambs were skittish, and would not be guided.
‘What is the matter, my little man?’ I asked.
‘There’s Heathcliff and a woman yonder, under t’ nab,’ he blubbered, ‘un’ I darnut pass ’em.’”

(Brontë 283)

The two are buried on the moors they loved so much and everything appears to have been set right.

“I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth”

(Brontë 284)

This rare instance of nice weather shows that storm which has been raging over Wuthering Heights has passed.

Works Cited.

Almeida, Amy E. “Wuthering Heights: ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’.” The Trinity Papers (2011). Web.

Botz, H. (2013). Wuthering Heights: The Role of Landscape. [Prezi Slides]. Retrieved from

https://prezi.com/ojoifqxbq6wp/wuthering-heights-the-role-of-landscape/

Brignell, J. (2012). Place and Setting in Wuthering Heights. [SlideShare Slides]. Retrieved from

https://www.slideshare.net/jcbrignell/place-and-setting-in-wuthering-heights?next_slideshow=2

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Height. Lexington: SoHo Books, 2015. Print.

Robinson, Tony. “Walking Through History: Bronte Country.” Youtube, documentary by Tony Robinson, 2  Jan. 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYA9TKOWSd8&list=WL&t=0s&index=7

Literary Essay #1: “Pride and Prejudice,” “Vanity Fair,” and “Great Expectations.”

Early nineteenth-century England was a country rigidly divided by social class. Whether or not you were “common” (from a low social status or with poor breeding) or genteel (from a high social class or with good breeding) defined how society at large saw you. Those born without wealth or a title envied those who were and did whatever they could to improve their lives through business, education, marriage, or by good luck. No matter how hard a person strived to make a fortune and get ahead, they would never be quite accepted by the upper-crust, who dismissed the socially mobile nouveau-riche as common and immoral. Often the snobbery of the aristocracy was a front to hide their own shortcomings. The themes of social advancement, morality, and the hollowness of wealth and status are themes which come into play in the novels of Austen, Dickens, and Thackeray.

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Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice famously begins with the sentence “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife” (Austen 1), which sets up the novel’s theme of wealthy and eligible gentlemen being fair game for husband-hungry young ladies. Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, comes from a genteel but not wealthy family which contains only daughters. Their estate is entailed, meaning that it will go to the nearest male relative which Mr. Bennet (Elizabeth’s father) dies, since an entailed property cannot be inherited by a woman. To avoid poverty, the Bennet sisters must marry well and introducing them to eligible suitors is the obsession of their mother. Mrs. Bennet is painted as flighty and ridiculous but her efforts to throw her daughters in the path of wealthy men are well-intentioned. For all her faults, Mrs. Bennet wants what’s best for her daughters: to marry well and have a comfortable life.

Mr. Darcy is introduced into the novel as a man with a large fortune and a vast estate, two qualifications which make him ideal husband material. Elizabeth begins to realize her love for Darcy and his suitability as a marriage partner during a visit to Pemberley, his estate. Pemberley, like Darcy himself, is large, grand, and handsome and becoming the mistress of such an estate would have been a triumph for Elizabeth. It is during this visit that Elizabeth learns of Darcy’s good qualities (loyalty towards his friends  Mr. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam; affection for his sister, Georgiana; and fairness and generosity in how he treats his servant and tenants), which she had previously overlooked, and that she returns his affections. Darcy’s wealth and his upright character, Elizabeth’s love for him, and her desire for an advantageous marriage are all tied up with one another.

Elizabeth Bennet is presented as being better than her supposed social superiors. She is beautiful, intelligent, witty, vivacious, and sensible and outshines her rivals for Darcy’s hand: Caroline Bingley (who is snobbish and mean-spirited) and Anne de Bourgh (who is sickly and insipid) who both come from more socially prominent families than the Bennets. There is an implication that becoming Mrs. Darcy and mistress of Pemberley is Elizabeth’s reward for her good qualities.

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William Makepeace Thackeray debunks the idea wealth and status are the rewards for someone’s virtues and that they are worth obtaining in the first place. Becky Sharpe, the anti heroine of Vanity Fair, comes from a much lower and much less respectable background than Elizabeth Bennet. As the daughter of a dissolute artist and an opera dancer (which to polite society would have been seen as little better than a prostitute) and grew up with little financial security. Her early experiences with poverty and ignominy have formed Becky into a selfish and single-minded person who thinks of nothing but improving her social position and avoiding poverty. Unlike the virtuous Elizabeth, who receives a rich husband and a luxurious home because she deserves it, Becky is amoral and though she tries to charm, lie, cheat, and possibly sleep and kill her way to the top, she never quite makes it. The glittering life that she and her husband Rawdon lead as the toast of whatever society they are apart of is only a front which hides the fact they are perpetually broke. Their lifestyle is funded by cheating their friends at cards, not paying their servants, landlords, and creditors, and getting whatever they can from Becky’s sugar daddy, Lord Steyne. After Rawdon leaves her, Becky finds herself right back where she started: a dissolute and down on her luck bohemian, a life that that free-spirited and flamboyant Becky is perhaps better suited for and which is perhaps the happiest part of her life.  Becky uses her underprivileged upbringing to try to justify the immoral things she does to survive and the ways she backstabs the people around her to get ahead:

 “I think I could be a good woman if I had five thousand a year.” […] And who knows but Rebecca was right in her speculations–and that it was only a question of money and fortune which made the difference between her and an honest woman?”

(Thackeray 38)

Thackeray appears to disagree with Becky’s assumption that a bad character is a result of unfortunate circumstances. Vanity Fair is filled with characters who are wealthy and privileged but morally bankrupt, such as the miserly and misanthropic Mr. Osborn, who turns against his friend Mr. Sedley after Mr. Sedley loses all his money and later ignores his widowed daughter-in-law Amelia (who is Mr. Sedley’s daughter), forcing her and her son to live in poverty; Sir Pit Crawley, Becky’s crude and lecherous father-in-law, and the Marquis of Steyne, a fabulously wealthy but immoral and dissolute nobleman who gets between Becky and her husband Rawdon. The high society Becky longs to join is rotten to the core, despite its gilded exterior. Aristocratic titles such as “Steyne” and “Bareacres” are meant to show the decay of the English nobility.  Thackeray’s implication is that the ranks of the upper classes are not worth the lengths that Becky takes to join them and joining them will not make Becky happy.

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Like with Elizabeth Bennet, the social aspirations of Pip, the protagonist of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, are tied up with their feelings for a haughty and seemingly out of their league love interest. Pip’s first glimpse of a life beyond the humdrum, working-class existence he was born into is when he is summoned to Satis House, the dilapidated but glamorous home of Miss Havisham, a wealthy, eccentric, and bitter old woman, and Estella, her beautiful and cold-hearted ward. Though she treats Pip cruelly and dismisses him as a “common, laboring boy,” Pip falls deeply in love with Estella and longs to become a gentleman in order to win her approval. He becomes dissatisfied with his surroundings and with the life mapped out for him as a blacksmith’s apprentice. As a man, Pip has more opportunities for self-advancement than just marrying well or receiving an inheritance. Though Pip does not get the life he wants, he does manage to rise above the life he was born into. Instead of an independently wealthy gentleman of leisure, he ends the novel as a partner in a prosperous company, an opportunity which would not have been available to Elizabeth Bennet or Becky Sharp.

Pip is presented as a sympathetic and good-hearted character. His desire to improve himself and get beyond the poverty and ignorance he was born into is understandable and even noble. Pip’s main character flaws are that he is naive and misguided. When his fortunes are changed and his whisked away to London to live the life of a gentleman, he gets swept up in the trapping of his new wealth and neglects the few good people in his life (Joe, his coarse but good-hearted brother-in-law, and Biddy, his friend-zoned childhood companion) in order to win the approval of people who will never appreciate him (like Estella.)

Estella represents everything that Pip wants out of life. It is to win her approval and be worthy of her love that Pip wants to become a gentleman. She also represents how elusive and hollow his hopes are. The people around Pip, even Estella herself, tell Pip that she is unworthy of his devotion. Estella was raised by Miss Havisham to be cold, haughty, and irresistible to men, so she can break their hearts. She warns Pip that he is wasting his time being in love with her because she lacks the ability to return his feelings: “Oh! I have a heart to be stabbed at stabbed in or shot in, I have no doubt,” said Estella, “and of course, if it ceased to beat I should cease to be. But you know what I mean. I have no softness there- no- sympathy- sentiment- nonsense” (Dickens 237).  The name Estella means star, something that is brilliant and beautiful but distant and unobtainable.

Another of Pip’s biggest faults is his tendency to over-idealize things. At his core, Pip is an idealist and a romantic. He wants beauty and glory in his life and wishes the people and circumstances in it were better than they are which causes him to take the few decent people in his life (like Joe and Biddy), be too eager for validation from people who look down on him (like Miss Havisham and Estella), and long for things which are impossible (like becoming a gentleman and winning Estella’s love.) Throughout the novel, he sees Miss Havisham as his fairy godmother and Estella as a princess; a view of them he holds throughout most of the novel. His unexpected elevation to the rank of a gentleman is apparent confirmation of this assumption: believes that Miss Havisham is the one who had given him a fortune and an opportunity to be educated as a gentleman in order to make him a potential husband for Estella. Pip is disillusioned when he finds out that he owes to good fortune to the lowly convict Abel Magwitch, who so happens to be the father of the haughty and class-conscious Estella, meaning she comes from even commoner stock than himself. Throughout the novel, Pip is told that he has “great expectations,” meaning that he will someday come into a large inheritance. The term “great expectations” could also refer to the unrealistic hopes that Pip has for his life and the people around him, which they cannot live up to.

Austen, Dickens, and Thackeray criticize the class-conscious society they lived in by showing that one’s social position does not correlate to their worth and that achieving wealth and status does not make one happy. Vanity Fair and Great Expectations, in particular, show that “all that “all that glitters is not gold” and that what you think you want and what you really need can be two different things.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: W.W Norton & Company, 2016. Print.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. London: Penguin Group, 2003. Print.

Thackeray, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair. London: Penguin Group, 2004. Print.

Reading Journal: Vanity Fair

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William Makepeace Thackeray took the title “Vanity Fair” from a scene in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Vanity Fair is a never-ending fair in a fair in a town called Vanity, which represents mankind’s foolish attachment to worldly things. Bunyan uses the word “vanity” in its biblical/theological sense, meaning things of the world which are trivial and worthless compared to things of the soul. The connotation of the word “vanity” which most people would be familiar with today is an obsession with appearance. Thackeray uses this reference to Bunyan to make the implication that England is a “Vanity Fair,” a place that is preoccupied with worldly gain and superficial appearances.

Early nineteenth-century England, as portrayed by Thackeray, is a hollow, morally bankrupt place, which forms someone like Becky Sharp and allows them to thrive. Becky was born into poverty as the daughter of a dissolute artist and an opera dancer (which to polite society would have been seen as little better than a prostitute) and grew up with little financial security. Her early experiences with deprivation give her a selfish, ruthless, and single-minded determination to, as her literary descendant Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind put it, “never go hungry again.”  Vanity Fair follows Becky as she tries to charm, lie, cheat, and possibly sleep and kill her way to the top.  She uses her underprivileged upbringing to try to justify the immoral things she does to survive and the ways she backstabs the people around her to get ahead:

“I think I could be a good woman if I had five thousand a year.” […] And who knows but Rebecca was right in her speculations–and that it was only a question of money and fortune which made the difference between her and an honest woman?

(Chapter 41, Page 38)

Thackeray appears to disagree with Becky’s assumption that a bad character is a result of unfortunate circumstances. Vanity Fair is filled with characters who are wealthy and privileged but morally bankrupt, such as the miserly and misanthropic Mr. Osborn, who turns against his friend Mr. Sedley after Mr. Sedley loses all his money and later ignores his widowed daughter-in-law Amelia (who is Mr. Sedley’s daughter), forcing her and her son to live in poverty; Sir Pit Crawley, Becky’s crude and lecherous father-in-law, and the Marquis of Steyne, a fabulously wealthy but immoral and dissolute nobleman who gets between Becky and her husband Rawdon. The high society Becky longs to join is rotten to the core, despite its gilded exterior. Aristocratic titles such as “Steyne” and “Bareacres” are meant to show the decay of the English nobility.

Becky Sharp herself exemplifies the theme of appearances being hollow and misleading. She is beautiful, charming, and a talented performer able to perform whatever role is needed to get her what she wants: the humble sycophant to get into Miss Crawley’s good graces or the helpless abandoned wife when she needs to get brother-in-law’s sympathy after Rawdon leaves her. The glittering life that she and Rawdon lead as the toast of whatever society they are apart of is only a front which hides the fact they are perpetually broke. Their lifestyle is funded by cheating their friends at cards, not paying their servants, landlords, and creditors, and getting whatever they can from Becky’s sugar daddy, Lord Steyne. Becky Sharp, in herself, is a fraud.

There are very few people in Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” who are not fake. Nobility like the Crawleys, who are long past their prime, lord it over those who are wealthier but have a less illustrious pedigree. The Nouveau Riche, like the Osborns, are willing to buy their way into the aristocracy: Mr. Osborn wants his son George to jilt his fiancee Amelia and marry a wealthy heiress from the West Indies so he can buy a title. People suck up to rich relatives they despise in hopes of being left money in their wills, like with the Bute Crawleys, who covet Miss Crawley’s money though they hate her for her godlessness and effete lifestyle. The only two completely virtuous people in the story, Amelia and Major Dobbin, are likable and sympathetic characters but are presented as naive and pathetic. Their genuineness puts them at a disadvantage in this fake and cut-throat world.

In Vanity Fair, Thackeray satirizes a world he sees as shallow and corrupt, where people are more preoccupied with appearances and where everyone ranks in a frivolous class system than with their individual merit. It is a world that a morally bankrupt schemer like Becky Sharp can easily exploit. Becky Sharp is the quintessential parasite but British society provides the ideal climate for creatures like her who, maggot-like, are a sign of a decaying system.

Reading Journal: Pride and Prejudice

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Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is one of the most famous and influential romance novels ever written and established a number of the tropes found in later books and films. The formula we recognize from a number of romantic comedies (a spirited and outspoken heroine who is “not like the other girls,” an aloof hero who eventually warms up to her, and a misunderstanding which leads to dislike and then to love) find their origins in Austen’s work.

Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, is often referred to as a modern heroine. We have a tendency to characterize the heroines of novels written during the Regency and Victorian periods as weak and passive paragons of an outdated idea of feminine virtue and to some extent, this is true. Elizabeth Bennet stands out as the exact opposite. She is witty and outspoken, flawed and at times arrogant. Elizabeth is often presented in contrast to her four sisters. She is cynical, wisecracking, and a bit tomboyish compared to the sweet-natured, ladylike, and demure Jane, has an actual intelligence unlike the bookish and pretentious sister Mary, and is sensible and unpretentious while Kitty and Lydia are shallow and frivolous. In the 2005 film adaptation, Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) is contrasted with her sisters (who are dressed in pretty pastel muslin gowns and bonnets) by wearing plain and somewhat shabby clothes in drab colors and having loose, messy hair; the costume designer appears to have taken Elizabeth’s costume cues from the scene where she shows up at Netherfield after a long walk with a petticoat “six inches deep in mud.” Elizabeth is the ancestor of the “not like other girls” heroine: a heroine who is distinguished by being the opposite of her female peers and is presented as more intelligent, capable, down-to-earth, and all around superior to them. She is considered to be the best of her sisters and is the one that their father, who has little tolerance for feminine silliness, is the most affectionate towards. Elizabeth’s main flaw is stubbornness. When she is snubbed by Mr. Darcy at a dance, she vows to “loathe him for all eternity” and her initial dislike of him (prejudice) prevents her from seeing what a good person he is and the romantic chemistry between them.

Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth’s love interest, is the epitome of the brooding, dashing romantic hero. He is handsome, mysterious, aloof, and fabulously wealthy, complete with a large and luxurious mansion. The aristocratic sang-froid which makes Darcy so attractive to readers is, in the text, the character flaw which he must overcome.  Pride and Prejudice is a textbook example of a character dynamic common to nineteenth-century proto-feminist literature: a spirited heroine and the equally headstrong male love interest she is pitted against. The obstinate hero slowly learns to respect and appreciate the heroine and becomes her ideal husband. Darcy is originally dismissive of Elizabeth but is eventually won over by her beauty, intelligence, and spirit and learns to overcome his hauteur (pride) in order to express his love for her. Elizabeth learns of his good qualities (loyalty towards his friends  Mr. Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam; affection for his sister, Georgiana; and fairness and generosity in how he treats his servant and tenants) and realizes that she returns his affections. His standoffishness even becomes endearing when we learn that it is due to what we now call social anxiety.

The most memorable quote from Pride and Prejudice is its opening line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife,” which serves as the novel’s thesis or mission statement. For a young woman like Elizabeth Bennet, her best chance in life is to marry a rich man and catching one would be her carrier. Elizabeth begins to realize her love for Darcy and his suitability as a husband during a visit to Pemberley, his estate. Pemberley, like Darcy himself, is large, grand, and handsome and becoming the mistress of such an estate would have been a triumph for Elizabeth. Being wealthy and the owner of a fine house puts Darcy a step closer towards being the ideal husband that the rest of his character arc will turn him into.

Pride and Prejudice is the quintessential novel of courtship and marriage during the Regency period but also a timeless look at how relationships work. To form a successful relationship, two very different partners with their own character flaws must find a way to compromise and must learn to respect and appreciate one another.

Mini Review: Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon

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My journey to Quebec involved a number of long car rides and a long car ride requires a big book.  So I brought along the copy of Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon that I received for Christmas. Each of the books in Gabaldon’s Outlander series is a door stopper so I only get around to reading one once a year, during my summer travels.  

Drums of Autumn finds the newly reunited Claire and Jamie Fraser, fresh from their hair-raising adventures in Jamaica, trying to build a home for themselves on the frontier of  South Carolina as the beginnings of the Revolutionary War rumble in the distance. Two hundred years in the future, their daughter, Brianna, follows her mother through the stones of Craigh Na Dun and back in time to meet the father she’s never known. Brianna is followed by her suitor, historian and folk singer Roger MacKenzie-Wakefield, who brings a dire warning about Claire and Jamie’s Future. 

One of the things I love about the Outlander series is that each of the books, so far, takes in a different, exciting location. Outlander: the highlands of Scotland; Dragonfly in Amber: Paris and the Court of Versailles; Voyager: Jamaica. At their new home in South Carolina, Jamie and Claire interact with the nearby Native American tribes which I found fascinating. Drums of Autumn is a page turner with a number of shocking twists that will keep you hooked during a long journey of your own.

Quebec: Week Five

My final week in Quebec began with a minor crisis. I ran out of money and since my mom could not get to the bank until Monday to put funds on my debit card, she had to send me some cash through Western Union. After picking up my money at the nearby Metro-Plus and buying some groceries, I looked around in the mall which the supermarket is a part of and had lunch in its food court before heading back to Laval.

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On Monday was my sixth and final excursion: to the Huron-Wendat historic site. The Huron-Wendat are one of the Iroquois nations. A village like the one recreated at their historic site would have supported 900 to 1600 people, organized into 30 or 40 longhouses made from longs and tree bark. Our guide explained that a longhouse can hold an average of six families.

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The villagers supported themselves by growing the three sisters: corn, beans, and squash, as well as sunflowers and tobacco and by hunting deer and other wild animals. For transportation, the built canoes and racquet snowshoes out of wood and animal hides, waterproofed with resin and bear fat.

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I bought one of those kitschy dream catchers the places like this sell in their gift shops along with leather wristbands and postcards for my friends back home. On our way back to Laval, we stopped to look at a waterfall on Huron-Wendat property.  

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Tuesday was fairly low key. I was part of a small group going to a place called Crackpot Cafe, a paint your own pottery studio which also sells coffee, hot, chocolate, tea, and snacks. I ordered a brownie and a can of Pepsi and decided to paint a soup bowl.

My inspiration for how I planned to decorate the bowl was the owl iconography of the Greek goddess Athena: my patron goddess. On Friday, the bowl was finished being fired and I picked it up from de Koninck.

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I had planned on going to the Aquarium of Quebec but I had a hard time getting there. Google Maps said to take the number thirteen bus and get off at de la Promenade but the first number thirteen bus I took did not stop at de la Promenade and left me stranded out in the boondocks, waiting for another bus. This bus did not stop at de la Promenade, so, frustrated, I stayed on as it went back towards Laval.

After we checked out of Laval, we went to the Plains of Abraham. I was able to get a better look at the things I missed the last time I was there because it had been so crowded.

We were shown around the displays my a guide named Louis.

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My parents made me pose in the stocks.

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After looking in the first exhibit, we watched a film about the battle of the Plains of Abraham which had narrators telling the story of the battle from the perspectives of the British, the French, the Canadians, and the First Nations (what they call native Americans in Canada). The second exhibit was the one with the uniforms and diorama. When we were looking at reproductions of the uniforms worn by the Marquis de Montcalm (the French general) and James Wolfe (the English general), my dad pointed out that Wolfe was wearing a mourning band for one of his relatives.

It was supper time when we were finished at the Plains of Abraham, so we went to the Grand-Allée to find a place to eat. We eventually settled on the Restaurant Parmesan. The restaurant’s walls are covered in old bottles and knickknacks which are entertaining to look at. One of the bottles looks like Adolf Hitler and is turned around so it’s back is facing you. I went out on a bit of a limb and order the veal tortellini in chicken broth, which it the spot, and the black forest cake, which was delicious.

On our way back to the car, we looked in a couple of souvenir shops and I bought a Quebec patch for my backpack. We are staying at the same Travel Lodge where I spent the night on my way to Laval. I took a quick swim in the pool before getting ready for bed.   

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Sunday was my final day in Quebec. First thing in the morning, we returned to the Plains of Abraham to take a bus tour of the battlefield. Our guide was an interpreter portraying Marguerite Martin, one of Quebec’s earliest settlers and wife of Abraham Martin, who the Plains of Abraham are named after because he was known to drive his cattle through these fields. Abraham and Marguerite’s son, Eustace, was the first native-born Canadian. The Plains of Abraham were turned into a national park in the early twentieth century. Aside from being a historic site, it hosts events such as the Quebec Winter Carnival and the Quebec Summer Festival. Not having a window seat, I was not able to get decent shots of what our tour guide pointed out, such as the monument to General Wolfe.

Towards the end of the tour, we were given the opportunity to either stay on the bus and continue on back to the museum or get off an explore the Martello towers. Dad and I went to see the towers while Mom went back to the museum.

A Martello tower is a type of military fortification that was popular in the nineteenth century, around the time of the Napoleonic Wars, because it’s squat, sturdy design makes it impenetrable to canons fire. But advances in artillery meant that Martello towers were obsolete by the mid-nineteenth century. The four towers put up here in Quebec were intended to keep out the Americans during the War of 1812.

For lunch., we went to Le Petit Château, a crepe and fondue place next to the Chateau Frontenac. I had the pepperoni pizza crepe which was fantastic: the sweet crepe with the tangy tomato sauce and cheese and the salty pepperoni, which is more like salami here in Canada. After lunch, we went across the street to the Musée du Fort, which I wanted to show my parents since I first went there a few weeks ago. I bought a French language copy of the poem Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow the last time I was there, so this time, I bought an English language copy along with a piece of amethyst topped with a silver owl and a plaster bust of Empress Josephine.

The three places my mom wanted to visit were the Musée des Ursulines, Notre Dame de Quebec, and Notre Dame des Victoires. As I showed her around the exhibits of the museums, Mom told me about one of my great aunts who became a nun, though a sister of mercy. We were not able to stay long at Notre Dame de Quebec, but Mom was able to buy a large number of prayer cards and I bought a lovely set of pink marble rosary beads. Descending down to Le Petit-Champlain, Mom and I looked inside Notre Dame des Victoires and then the three of us stopped at Le Pub des Borgias for a drink before taking the funicular back up to Chateau Frontenac.

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It was bittersweet to leave Quebec.  I had a wonderful time here and I will miss the place but I couldn’t wait to move on to the next adventure.

Quebec: Week Four

My third week in Quebec ended with me running low on funds, so I had planned on not doing anything until Monday when my mom would be able to put some more money on my debit card. When I called her, she told me that I had a hundred dollar more than I thought I did. So on Sunday, I went to the Musée des Ursulines.

I got off the bus at the Station d’Youville and stopped at a Tim Horton’s for lunch on the way to the museum. Tim Horton’s is a fast food chain here in Canada.

The Musée des Ursulines is part of a Ursuline convent which once ran a boarding school for girls. The Ursulines have been a fixture of  Quebec’s educational system since the colony’s early days in the 1600s but the current convent/school dates to the nineteenth century. The first exhibit was about the embroidery which the Ursulines were famous for.

There was a piece of burlap put out so that guests could try their hands at embroidery. I embroidered my name.

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The rest of the exhibits were dedicated to life at the Ursuline convent, specifically the boarding school it ran. One focused on the artistic accomplishments such as music, drawing, and painting which contained art supplies and musical instruments.

Another was about the sciences such as biology, geography, and chemistry. It had a fascinating cabinet filled with specimens such as stuffed birds and seashells.

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The last two exhibits were about life for the convent’s students.

I finished my visit by taking a look at the convent’s chapel.

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Tuesday night was my fourth excursion: a dinner at Aux Anciens Canadiens. At 3:30, I met with the group heading into Vieux-Québec. We arrived a little bit early so we went into the lobby of the nearby Chateau Frontenac. The lobby has an exhibit on the famous people who have visited Chateau Frontenac such as Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II.

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I would definitely recommend Aux Anciens Canadiens; the food is wonderful.

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Our first course was some kind of terrine, which was delicious. I asked the waitress what kind of terrine it was and she said: pheasant and elk. For my main course, I had ragoût de boulettes grand-mère which is meatballs and potatoes in gravy that were fantastic. Dessert was an excellent maple syrup tart. During the meal, I made small talk with the three other girls who sat at my table: Molly, who is from Calgary, Sonya, who is from Vermont, and Laura, who is from Spain. It was a wonderful evening.

I had planned to go on the trip to Cape-Rouge and Plague Jacques-Cartier on Thursday but I was not feeling well, so I skipped it. One of the places on my “to see” list was the Monastère des Augustines and fortunately,  Laval was running a trip there on Friday.

The Monastère des Augustines was founded in the seventeenth century by three young Augustinian nuns. The Augustines are a nursing order like the Ursulines are a teaching order, and their monastery once contained a hospital.

Today it is a wellness center, which offers services such as yoga classes and massages, and a museum which displays artifacts from the monastery’s history.

As someone who enjoys needlework, one item I found interesting was a pall, a piece of cloth which covers the top of a communion chalice during mass, embroidered by a nun that lived in the monastery.

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An interesting fact that I learned was that when a young woman took the vows to become a nun, she wore a wedding dress and was given away by her father since becoming a nun was seen as marrying Christ.

After our tour of the museum, we walked out through the monastery’s garden, where we said hello to two of the nuns who live on the premises. The Monastère des Augustines is a place I would like to bring my mom when my parents come to visit.

Saturday was my fifth excursion: to Montmorency Falls and Île d’Orléans.  We left Laval around ten o’clock and our first stop was Montmorency Falls.

There’s a bridge which crosses over the Falls and has a spectacular view. Those who are braver than I am can zip line across. That’s what my mom’s friend Dawn did when they visited a few weeks ago.

After walking over the bridge, we descended down to the bottom of the falls. Stairs are my mortal enemy, so I’m thankful that I didn’t have to climb back up again. The breeze coming off of the falls felt wonderful on such a hot and humid day.

In Île d’Orléans, we stopped for ice cream at the Chocolaterie de l’Île d’Orléans. This part of the island reminded me of the town in Maryland where my grandparents used to have a vacation home: lush, humid setting; quirky small-town feel. At the Chocolaterie de l’Île d’Orléans, I tried the maple syrup ice cream which was delicious but very rich.

When we were finished with our ice cream, we drove to a cinder farm called the Cidrerie/ Verger Bilodeau.

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The drive through this part of Île d’Orléans reminds me of the one through the New Jersey countryside to my Aunt Suzie’s house or through rural eastern Massachusetts to my mom’s antique shop in Rowley: fields and farms and folksy mom and pop shops.

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At the cider farm, we tried several examples of its produce. My favorite types of cider were “Nectar Glacé” and “Le Petit Bonheur,” which is flavored with maple. I would have bought a bottle of each but I didn’t have enough money. Behind the shop are pens for animals: sheep, goats, a pony, and an alpaca. Using one of those coin-operated feed dispensers, I was able to give them treats.

Next week is my final week here in Quebec and I cannot wait to see what other adventures are in store for me.

Quebec: Week Three

My second Sunday here in Quebec was spent at the Musée de l’Amérique-Francophone. I took the bus into Vieux-Québec and got off at Station D’Youville. On my way to the museum, I stopped at the McDonalds I’ve been trying to find for lunch.

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At 12:45, I took the French language tour of the Séminaire de Québec, which was the germ of what is now Laval University. The first stop was the Chapelle du Musée de l’Amérique-Francophone. Our guide pointed out details of the chapel such as that the delicate wood and pillars are covered in a metal shell convincingly painted to look like marble and gilt and the reliquary contains a piece of the True Cross. The seminary was destroyed in a fire during the nineteenth century and was restored between 1888 and 1900. It is now used by Laval’s school of architecture. We were shown the courtyard of the seminary and some of its private chapels.

When the tour was finished, I went into the Musée de l’Amérique. I explored an exhibit called “Une Colonie Retrouvée/ A Colony Found Again,” which is a multimedia presentation on a short-lived French colony in Quebec at what is now Cap-Rouge.

Jacques Cartier, the explorer who claimed Canada for the French, and the soldier and courtier Jean-François de la Rocque de Roberval were sent by Francis I to form a colony in North America during the 1540s. The colony fell apart in 1543 due to disease, bad weather, hostile Indians, and lack of supplies. Part of the reason why Francis I wanted a colony was to gain mineral wealth. Cartier and Roberval found what they thought was diamonds and gold but was later revealed to quartz and fool’s gold leading to a saying “faux comme les diamants du Canada/ fake as Canadian diamonds.”  An interesting story I learned about was that of Marguerite de la Rocque, Roberval’s unmarried niece who had an affair with a young man during the voyage over to Canada. She and her lover were punished for their immorality by being marooned on a remote island, where they had a child. Her lover and their child died of disease and she was eventually rescued by fishermen.

It had been a beautiful day when I left Laval, so I put on a cute summer outfit only to get caught in the rain on my back.

Tuesday night was the third of the excursions I had booked: a ghost tour in Vieux-Québec. We left Laval at eight o’clock at night and we met the tour guide at Le Marrin which was a jail back in colonial times.

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Our guide was Jean Rattier, a servant who was convicted of killing a young woman in the Seventeenth Century and sentenced to hang. Luckily for him, Rattier was sentenced to hang around the time that the executioner of Quebec died and he escaped execution by taking the job for himself.

He lead us through Vieux-Québec and we ran into a number of Quebec’s other ghostly residents including Docteur l’Indienne, who is believed to have been Canada’s first serial killers; Jean Hautecoeur, a man who was hung for murder by none other than Jean Rattier; Marie Maréchal, a haunted and hysterical woman out for revenge for the slaughter of her family; La Carriveau, who was put to death for killing her second husband and her dead body was displayed in an iron cage; and Marie Rivière, a fille du roi (a young woman who was sent to the colonies to marry a settler) and the wife of Jean Rattier, who put her in the stocks for theft.

Along the way, we were told facts about colonial Quebec’s judicial system such as that you got your lower lip branded for being caught blaspheming six times and that you could be banished (if you were a man) or sent to a convent (if you were a woman) for adultery. We made it back to Laval around midnight.  

After class on Wednesday, I joined a group heading Chateau St. Louis and we took the bus into Vieux-Québec. I started talking to these two girls named Ann and Anastasia during the trip after they noticed the Hamilton pins on my backpack.

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Chateau St. Louis was the home of the colonial governors of Quebec. Its ruins are in a museum underneath Chateau Frontenac. We walked through rooms filled with old stone walls and cases filled with cracked dishes and rusted flatware.

In what was once the kitchen, there was a wide oven with a spit roast. The guide explained that in the early nineteenth century, there would have been a wheel powered by a small dog which turned the spit for roasting meat.

One of the items we were shown was a glass bottle for smelling salts and the guide gave us the old story about how women used to wear such tight corsets that they fainted all the time. I’ve worn corsets before; I was out of breath but it was because I am out of shape.

On the way back to catch the bus, Ann, Anastasia, and I stopped at a Chocolat Favoris to get ice cream. Ann and I chatted on the bus about the Hamilton and Percy Jackson and the Olympians/ Heroes of Olympus fandoms. We got back to Laval and exchanged Facebook pages.

I had wanted to return to the Musée des Beaux-Arts on Thursday but the trip was full before I could I could sign up for it. So I decided to sign up for the trip to the Plains of Abraham, which I had planned to do on Friday.

The Plains of Abraham were the sight of the battle a battle during the Seven Years War which handed over control of Canada from the French to the British. On the first floor of the museum are a series of displays teaching about life in Quebec during the battles such as camp tent with information on the women who did the cooking and laundry in the army camps, as well as providing other services.

The second floor has reproductions of uniforms from the different regiments who fought in the battle and dioramas which I took pictures of to share with my dad.

He is a military history buff and my childhood family vacations were spent at places like this. I plan on taking my parents to the Plains of Abraham when they come to visit. There were copies of some of the uniform coats which people could put on and pose for pictures in. For some reason, the coats were weighed down with 30kg worth of weights. The only reason I could think of why they did this is so people wouldn’t steal them.

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After the Plains of Abraham, we went to see a Martello tower, one of the British Army fortifications built in Quebec during the 19th Century.

Inside, we were told about what life was like for a soldier living in the fort, learned to drill, and played a word jumble game involving items found around the fort such as fusil “musket” and biscuit. The Martello tower is a place that I am considering taking my parents.