Clarissa Book 3: Good Girl Gone Bad

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There is a misconception that good people make for uninteresting characters. To an extent this is true. No one likes the goodie two shoes who is always doing the right thing and it does not make for a good character arch. There is also a twin misconception that deeply flawed and immoral characters are more relatable and I also see how this could be true. We like to see ourselves, even our flaws, in fictional characters and for a character to be fully rounded, they need to grow and change. 

In theory, Clarissa Harlow, the heroine of Clarissa: or The History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson, would be a flat and uninteresting character. She is presented as a model of virtue who tries her hardest to stick to a moral code, even if one that’s based on ideas that seem outdated by modern standards: that women are supposed to be pure and virtuous and if they are not, then they have no value. I prefer to think of it as Clarissa having too much self-respect to let Lovelace take advantage of her. Clarissa is an example of a character whose good qualities are what get them into trouble. The virtues she is admired for (integrity and dutifulness) are what send her on her downward spiral.

Clarissa writes to her best friend Anna Howe why she believes she is in the mess she is in “Oh my dear! An obliging temper is a very dangerous temper!-by endeavouring to gratify others, it is evermore disobliging itself!”  She has spent most of her life as a dutiful and obedient daughter and sister which has convinced her unscrupulous family that she is a doormat who they can make do whatever they want. Her integrity keeps her from bowing to their wishes that she marry the odious Mr. Sommes, even though they make her life hell to try to get to break. She stubbornly refuses to bend where a weaker spirit would have broken. 

During book three of the novel, Clarissa goes from the ideal child to a warning for potentially disobedient daughters. Anna’s mother, who previously saw Clarissa as a good influence on her daughter, forbids their correspondence. Due to her refusal to marry Mr. Solmes and her elopement with Mr. Lovelace, who they hate, Clarissa’s family disowns her, leaving her completely in Lovelace’s power.

Book three of Clarissa ends with the heroine falling deeper into Lovelace’s trap. She and Lovelace decide to go to London, where he provides her with seemingly respectable lodgings which are revealed to a brothel frequented by his rakish cronies. Clarissa’s desire to keep her independence and integrity and to escape the persecution of her cruel family ironically leads to her being an unwitting prisoner in a brothel, where she will be powerless against Lovelace’s unwanted sexual advances.

 

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A Review of The Mark of Athena and The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

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*** Warning: Spoilers *** 

The beginning of The Mark of Athena picks up right where The Son of Neptune ends. We are treated to the long-awaited Percabeth reunion when the Argo II lands in New Rome carrying Annabeth, Jason, Piper, Leo, and their satyr chaperone, Coach Hedge. But their happiness is not long lasting. When an accident reignites the conflict between Greeks and Romans, the seven (Percy, Annabeth, Jason, Piper, Frank, Hazel, and Leo) go off in search of the source of said conflict: the Athena Parthenos statue, which was stolen by the Romans thousands of years ago. They must also rescue Hazel’s half-brother Nico, who is being held captive by two showbiz obsessed giants. 

My alternate title for The Mark of Athena is “Percy Jackson: Civil War,” since one of its themes is the ongoing animosity between the Greeks and Romans. The actual American Civil War was part of the conflict between the Greek and Roman sides of the demigod worlds and the first battle between Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter happens at Fort Sumner, the site of the first battle of the Civil War.

Another one of the book’s themes is romantic conflict since it sets up two love triangles. Jason and Piper and Frank and Hazel are all now dating. Reyna has always had feelings for Jason, who never reciprocated them, which makes Piper feel insecure about their relationship. Hazel meets Leo, who reminds her of Sammy, her boyfriend from her previous life in 1941 who happens to be Leo’s great-grandfather which makes Frank jealous and a bit hostile towards Leo. I read a spoiler for The Burning Maze, the latest in the “Trials of Apollo” series which is a spin-off of “Heroes of Olympus” which says that Piper and Jason eventually break up but they still might have feelings for each other though Jason dies saving her. Reading The Mark of Athena, I can definitely see their relationship not working out. Prior to the battle at Fort Sumner, Annabeth, Piper, and Hazel have tea with Aphrodite in Charleston, South Carolina. Piper notes that Aphrodite does not seem terribly interested in her, specifically her relationship with Jason. Aphrodite only pays attention to someone when she wants to manipulate their love life, Percabeth being her latest pet project, and her not being interested in a couple is a sign that they are not going to last. On a tangential note, I imagine Aphrodite being Mrs. George from Mean Girls.

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Aphrodite having tea with Annabeth, Piper, and Hazel

Jason and Piper encounter Hercules at the Straights of Gibraltar and learn the story of how he was murdered by his spurned wife Deianira. Like his father before him, Hercules cheated on his wives countless times and Piper is warned that sons of Zeus/Jupiter are not the best boyfriends/husbands. Piper is insecure in their relationship with Jason, who is not the most emotionally accessible person. 

On board the Argo II,  Annabeth and Percy meet up in the Pegasi stable, where they kiss and fall asleep together. In the morning, they are scolded by Coach Hedge who is very strict about boys and girls not being alone together.

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Coach Hedge on board the Argo II

This being a novel intended for middle schoolers, details that anything beyond kissing and cuddling happened between Percy and Annabeth are not given but I imagine that the hunters of Artemis are not going to be seeking out Annabeth anymore.

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How I imagine Aphrodite when Percabeth is in the Pegasi stables

The quest of the seven brings them to Rome. Percy and Annabeth encounter Tiberinus, the god of the Tiber River, and his consort Rhea Silvia, the mother of Romulus and Remus, in the forms of Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn from Roman Holiday. Annabeth finds the Athena Parthenos statue in the lair of Arachne, Athena’s mortal enemy.  Arachne was a talented weaver who claimed that her skills were greater than that of Athena herself and was punished for her hubris by being turned into the first spider, hence why Athena’s children suffer from arachnophobia.

A reason why I enjoy Rick Riordan’s storytelling is that the books are pretty much road trip stories with the characters traveling to a specific location and having mini adventures along the way. He takes the time to describe the places where the characters stop (ex. Los Vegas, The Hoover Dam, Quebec) and make the reader long to visit there. It is because of this that The Mark of Athena is one of my favorite of his books. The Mark of Athena has stops in Atlanta Georgia, Charleston South Carolina, the Straights of Gibraltar, and Rome which were the parts of the book that I enjoyed the most. I’ve always enjoyed traveling and it’s fun to journey vicariously with the seven.

The book ends on a literal cliffhanger with Arachne’s lair collapsing in on itself and Percy and Annabeth falling into Tartarus. Among the Heroes of Olympus fandom, this is considered the ultimate example of Rick Riordan having no chill whatsoever.

The beginning of “The House of Hades” finds Percy and Annabeth traveling through Tartarus guided by a titan janitor named Bob. Meanwhile, their friends on the Argo II search out House of Hades in Epirus, Greece, in order to close the Doors of Death and keep monsters from escaping Tartarus.

One of the most interesting developments in the series occurs during a detour at the seaside town of Split in Croatia. Jason and Nico visit Diocletian’s Palace and face off against Cupid, the god of love. Nico has long supposed to be jealous of Percy because of his relationship with Annabeth but Cupid reveals that it was the other way around. Cupid forces Nico to confess his feelings for Percy.  Being born some point in the 1930s, Nico grew up in fascist controlled and strictly Catholic Italy and being openly gay would have been unthinkable for him. On top of that, Nico’s feelings for Percy are complicated. He blames Percy for his sister Bianca’s death and yet has always had a hero crush on him. The episode with Cupid also gives some dark foreshadowing for Jason and Percy’s relationship. Cupids worlds about them finding true love with each other are said somewhat sarcastically.  

Another romance blooms later on in the book. Leo is sent to the island of Ogygia by the snow goddess Khione, who he had a crush on in The Lost Hero. Ogygia is the home of the nymph Calypso, who is imprisoned on the island and cursed to fall in unrequited love with whatever hero washes up on her shores. Calypso is bitter because she had hoped to be released from Ogygia after the gods promised amnesty following the Titan war and on top of that, they send a scrawny runt like Leo to her island. Leo is different from the strapping, dashing heroes who usually end up on Ogygia and leave Calypso broken hearted when they return to the women they really love (like Odysseus to Penelope, like Sir Francis Drake to Elizabeth I, and Percy Jackson to Annabeth Chase). Leo fears that he is stuck on Ogygia because Calypso will never love him. As the days pass, Leo and Calypso grow to care for each other and share a kiss before Leo departs. The flirtatious Leo admits that he was never kissed before and swears on the River Styx that he will return for Calypso.  

The book ends with the crew of the Argo II back together again with a two-week deadline to the Feast of Hope, the date chosen for Gaia’s return. Will our heroes be able to stop her and save the world?

 

Alex, Eliza, and Historical Inacquracy

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For starters, I very much enjoyed Alex and Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz. It’s very well written and the story is a page-turner. In the wake of the smash-hit musical Hamilton, a number of novels have come out telling the love story of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler. Alex and Eliza is known as the fanfic/ romance novel version of this story, as opposed to more straightforward historical  fiction works like The Hamilton Affair (which I did not care for) and I, Eliza Hamilton (which I haven’t read but probably won’t, lest it give me The Hamilton Affair PTSD), and is the least historically accurate of the three.

Historical fiction is by nature, speculative. History itself often gives us only the bare bones of what happened and its the job of the author to provide the details. The courtship of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler is an example of this. We know when they met, when they started courting, when they got engaged, and when they got married but we don’t everything that went into getting from one of these steps to another.

Alex and Eliza is heavily influenced by Pride and Prejudice, mainly in how the dynamic between its two protagonists is set up. Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler first met in 1777, when he was sent to relieve her father, General Philip Schuyler, of command after the Continental Army’s loss at Saratoga. In Alex and Eliza, this makes Eliza dislike the young colonel, though he becomes smitten with her. Alex is pranked by some of Eliza’s friends, who send him a note, supposedly from Eliza, saying that she will meet him in the barn at midnight. He is upset when she is a no-show.  A misunderstanding causes our hero and heroine to initially dislike each other.

Hamilton and Schuyler met again three years later in February of 1780 when she came to visit the Continental Army headquarters in Morristown New Jersey, which I visited a year ago. The official reason for her visit was to aid her aunt and uncle (her uncle was surgeon-general to the Continental Army) but there was an unspoken assumption that she was there to find a husband among the Continental Army’s eligible officers. Hamilton’s letters show that he was smitten with Eliza, who he described as “unmercifully handsome,” and they were engaged within three weeks. The couple are reintroduced in Alex and Eliza when her carriage breaks down and he comes to her rescue. They become reacquainted when she inoculates him against smallpox. I do not think that these events happened since if they had, it probably would have come up in the letters that Hamilton wrote to Eliza during their engagement and marriage (her letters to him, unfortunately, have not survived) but are not out of the realm of possibility.  Doctor Cochran, Eliza’s uncle, is best known for inoculating the troops stationed in Morristown against smallpox. Having Alex rescue Eliza is conforming to the tropes of romance novels. These are examples of the author fleshing out the bare bones of history but Alex and Eliza does contain some glaring historical inaccuracies.

John Andre- Did they or didn’t they?

British war hero John Andre spent some time with the Schuyler family as a guests/prisoner of General Philip Schuyler. From all accounts, Andre was a dashing a noble figure and Eliza Schuyler is believed to have had something of a crush on him. Andre was a talented artist and sketched a portrait of Eliza. Her later fiance, Alexander Hamilton said that he was jealous of Andre’s “talents.” Hamilton and Andre would later cross paths again because of Andre’s involvement in the Benedict Arnold Affair.

In Alex and Eliza, Eliza dances with Andre at a ball and is so taken with him that she says she would run away with him if he were to ask. Andre and Alex compete for Eliza’s attention during the ball. Later on, Eliza explains that Andre proposed to her but she refused because a relationship between the two of them would be impossible due to their being on opposite sides of the revolutionary war.

Henry Livington- Who?

The subplot with Henry Livingston, the man that Eliza’s family tries to marry her off to, is where Alex and Eliza feels the most fanfic like. It comes out of nowhere, just when Alex and Eliza are starting to become close. As the main obstacle to Alex and Eliza’s relationship, of course, he is a douche and an attempted rapist: he attempts to force himself on Eliza the night before their wedding and Alex comes to her rescue. Henry feels like a character in a fandom that Melissa de la Cruz did not like, so she paints him the worst possible light in her fanfic.

Henry Livingston in Alex and Eliza is the brother of socialite Kitty Livingston, a friend of Eliza’s and one of Hamilton’s early crushes. There appears to have been a Henry Livingston living in the correct place and around the right age to be this character but I could not find out if he was Kitty Livingston’s brother and he appears to have had no connection to the Schuylers.

Clothing- Frock Flicks would have a field day with this book. 

Eliza is described as wearing a pair of pantaloons under her dress which she describes as “risqué” and “French”. Pantaloons were indeed considered a risqué garment, associated with dancers and courtesans, not something a practical and respectable young lady living in the somewhat puritanical American colonies would wear.

It wouldn’t be for another forty or so years until we see pant-like garments commonly worn on females: pantalets, which worn under the shorter dresses of little girls.

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H. A Friedrich-portrait of a noble girl, 1820s

 

Underdrawers would not be worn on all women until the mid 19th Century.

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Underdrawers- 1840-60s

Aunt Gertrude, Eliza’s chaperone in Morristown is frequently described as wearing a blouse decorated with a cameo brooch. Women in the 18th Century would have worn a fitted bodice and skirt and what we would think of as a blouse would only be worn as part of a riding habit, rather than the domestic setting that de la Cruz puts Aunt Gertrude in.

Eliza’s boorish fiancé, Henry Livingston, insults the “jumper” that she wears in the first chapter he is introduced in. I had a hard time imagining what type of garment Eliza would be wearing in this scene. Jumper style gowns would not be worn until the 1790s, another ten or so years after Alex and Eliza takes place.

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September 1796 Journal des Luxus und der Moden

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Vigee Le Brun- Countess du Barry (1789)

I also thought that “jumper” could be a mistranslation of “jumps”, an unboned bodice worn in an informal setting.

Or it could refer to a bibbed apron

What universe is de la Cruz living in if she thinks that Eliza Schuyler in 1780 would dress like this?

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Alex imagines Eliza wearing an “ivory wedding bonnet.” Wedding bonnets are more of a 19th rather than an 18th-century thing.

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Wedding bonnet-1845

 

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Wedding Bonnet- 1845

Bonnet could refer to the frilly caps which 18th Century women often wore.

This is an example of an outfit that Eliza might have worn to her wedding to Alex. The bergère hat could be the “wedding bonnet” Alex is referring to.

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Wedding Dress of Jane Bailey (1780)

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Wedding dress of Jane Bailey (1780)

At her actual wedding, Eliza is described as wearing a veil. Wedding veils are not usually an 18th Century thing. Typically a cap or hat or a fancy pouf hairstyle with all the trimmings would be worn. The bridal outfit we would recognize wouldn’t come into place until the 19th Century. Queen Victoria is credited with popularizing the white wedding dress.

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Wedding Dress of Queen Victoria (1840)

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Queen Victoria on her Wedding Day (1840)

The color white is associated with purity and virginity so it was an appropriate color for a bride but it would not become the traditional color for wedding dresses until the 19th century. A bride in the 18th Century would have worn her best dress or had a particularly fancy dress made. It would not necessarily be white.  The wartime wedding of Eliza Schuyler, a scion of one of New York’s most prominent families, would not be the high society extravaganza that it would have been during peacetime but Eliza would have wanted to look her best.

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Some of the dresses worn in this story are described as being worn without a corset, especially those worn by the trim figured Peggy or the practical and unpretentious Eliza. An example of this is Eliza’s wedding dress. We have an image of corsets as a rib-crushing, patriarchy induced torture device worn only by the vain and frivolous or the old, overweight, and straight-laced but this is projecting our modern ideas of comfort onto the past. 18th Century women would have worn corsets from childhood and would have been used to it. Instead of warping the torso into an hour-glass shape with an impossibly tiny waist, corsets provide support for the bust and form a shelf from which the skirts hang. A dress worn without a corset would look sloppy and ill-fitting, not how even the tomboyish Eliza would wish to present herself on her wedding day.

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Henry Livingston is described as having muttonchops, which are typically considered an 18th Century style.

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General Ambrose Burnside (19th Century)- the namesake of the “sideburn”

Though we usually think of mutton chops or sideburns as a 19th-century style, it is possible that Henry Livingston would have worn something similar but less elaborate. 18th-century men were typically clean-shaven whereas elaborate facial hair is more of a 19th-century fashion trend.

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The clothing described in the story seems to be a ye olde melange of 18th century, regency, and Victorian.

Despite all of the annoying inaccuracies, Alex and Eliza is enjoyable fluff and I would recommend it for your summer reading.

A Review of The Black Moon and The Four Swans and Poldark Season Three

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I’m awaiting season four of Poldark but it doesn’t look like we’re not going to get it for a while. In between seasons, I like to read the novels in Winston Graham’s Poldark series that the previous season was based on. Season three was based on the books The Black Moon and The Four Swans.

Following Ross Poldark’s one night stand with his former sweetheart, Elizabeth, he tries to patch things up with his wife, Demelza, but stubborn refusal to admit to his failings and the torch he still inexplicably carries for Elizabeth, now remarried to his sworn enemy George Warleggan, prevent them from fulling reconciling. Ross would much rather go on a foolhardy expedition to rescue his friend Dwight Enys, who is imprisoned in Revolutionary France, and bring his cockfight with George Warleggan to the halls of Cornish power. The arrival of Demelza’s two brothers, Sam and Drake,  brings more trouble to the neighborhood. Free-spirited Drake falls for Elizabeth’s bashful cousin Morwenna, who is promised to a sleazy clergyman. Sam, a Methodist preacher, falls for the less than godly Emma Tregirls.

The titled The Black Moon refers to the natural phenomenon under which Valentine, the child that Elizabeth gives birth to eight months after marrying George and nine months after having sex with Ross, is born. Elizabeth’s baby daddy drama permeates these two books. It also is a bad omen for both Valentine and those around him.

Among those rescued from the French revolutionary prison is a handsome young naval lieutenant named Hugh Armitage, who proceeds to romance the long-suffering and long-neglected Demelza, which makes Ross jealous. When Demelza overhears that Ross and Elizabeth shared a kiss, she starts an affair with Hugh. Ross, being a hypocritical eighteenth-century man and an unselfaware blockhead, wonders who she could do this to him. This was the most controversial moment of season three. Some fans argued that Demelza should have been the “better person” and “two wrongs don’t make a right.” but I was glad that Demelza gave her husband a taste of his own medicine.

The Four Swans refers to the four main women in the series: Demelza (Ross’s long-suffering wife), Elizabeth (his lost love), Caroline (Dwight Enys’s wife), and Morwenna ( Drake’s lost love). Demelza struggles with her love for Ross but is seduced by the more romantic and emotionally attentive Hugh. Elizabeth tries to hide the true paternity of her son Valentine. Caroline stumbles in her marriage to the Dwight, who is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Morwenna is who is married off to the repulsive Reverend Osborne Whitworth but continues to pine for Drake.

I enjoyed the books and can’t wait until Poldark season four.

Eliza Schuyler and Female Powerlessness

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The theme of female powerlessness which is woven throughout Clarissa also come into play in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit hip-hop musical Hamilton, which is based on the life and loves of founding father Alexander Hamilton. Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, Hamilton’s demure and virtuous wife, and Angelica Schuyler Church, her feisty and self-confident sister, best-friend, and confident, bare a number of similarities with Clarissa Harlowe and Anna Howe. They start off as young women whose beauty, wealth, and social position attract a lot of suitors. The musical number A Winter’s Ball shows how the ambitious young officers of the Continental Army are all smitten with the Schuyler sisters and wish to marry into the influential Schuyler clan. Angelica, Eliza, and their younger sister Peggy have their pick of eligible gentlemen and who they choose defines them as characters.

Eliza’s first solo number, Helpless, initially paints her as a passive figure. Whereas Angelica’s first solo number, Satisfied, is an emotionally, lyrically, and musically complex look into her psyche and moral dilemma (Angelica helps bring Hamilton and Eliza together, despite having feelings for him, herself, and doubts that she made the right decision), Helpless is an upbeat R&B love ballad which follows the progression of an apparently straightforward boy-meets-girl romance. Eliza waits on the sidelines for Hamilton to notice her and relies on Angelica to introduce her to him. Her own timidity and the confines of eighteenth-century etiquette prevent her from making the first move; for Eliza to approach Hamilton or for Hamilton to approach Eliza without someone to make the necessary introductions would have been a breach of propriety. The historical Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler were engaged within less than a month of meeting, so Helpless feels like a countdown to the inevitable wedding. The main hurdle to their union is gaining the approval of Eliza’s father. As an eighteenth-century woman without a legal identity of her own, marriage for Eliza would have been essentially being passed from her father to her husband.

A closer look at Helpless shows that Eliza is more than simply a bashful wallflower. Upon first seeing Hamilton, she tells Angelica “this one’s mine” and frequent sings “that boy is mine” and in a sense singles out Hamilton as her future life mate rather than the other way around. Her choice of Hamilton (an attractive and dashing but penniless upstart with a questionable background) is based on love rather than ambition or social obligation. Despite spouting a number of proto-feminist catchphrases, Angelica follows the more conventional path by marrying the wealthy but dull John Barker Church, the Mr. Hickman to Hamilton’s Lovelace.

The word “helpless” defines Eliza as a character throughout most of the story and takes on several different connotations. It first describes her overwhelming love for Hamilton and then her unhappiness at being constantly neglected by him. “Helpless” is later appropriated by Maria Reynolds, Hamilton’s mistress, who uses it to lead him astray. Taking Eliza’s signature word highlights this betrayal.  The Reynolds Affair causes Eliza to re-examine her relationship with Hamilton and her decision to marry him. An eighteenth-century wife was expected to grin-and-bare and turn a blind eye to any affairs their husband might have, which were not considered insufficient grounds for a divorce. Obtaining a divorce would have been winning the battle but losing the war, since as a divorcée, Eliza would have forfeited custody of her children and been ostracized from polite society. Stuck with a selfish and reckless man who never really loved her who then dies in a duel, leaving her with substantial debts and a large family to support, Eliza truly is helpless. But she shakes off this passive attitude and forges an identity, independent from her husband, as a philanthropist and proto social worker. She outlives Hamilton by half a century and dies a well loved and respected figure.

It is unclear whether it was Eliza or Angelica who made the better choice. Eliza marries for love but is stuck with a man who betrays and humiliates her. Angelica marries a rich man due to social obligations and is whisked away to live a glamorous life in London. But in the cut song Congratulations, Angelica describes her marriage as “loveless” and we are given a sense that she is unsatisfied despite her glittering lifestyle. The experiences of both women show how women in the eighteenth century were vulnerable to the whims of whatever man they were attached to. It is only after she is widowed that Eliza is able to live a fulfilling life, free from the man mistreated her.

 

Bag Girl Reviews: The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordon

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***WARNING: SPOILERS***

A common theme in my reviews is my ability to be unfashionably late when it comes to culture and media. Today’s case in point: Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. My history with these books goes back a decade to when I was twelve. The middle school I went to would give each of the students a book at the end of each school year to read during summer vacation; the summer between sixth and seventh grade the book was The Lightning Thief, the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I started reading it but never finished for some reason probably because my twelve-year-old self was uninterested because the protagonist was a boy and there was no romance or pretty dresses. Flash forward ten years: In recent months, one of the people I follow on Pinterest has been pinning a lot of Percy Jackson related content which grabbed my attention and piqued my interest in the series. I then found an audiobook of The Lightning Thief on Youtube and had it on while I was doing work. 

Strange things have been happening to troubled, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson, culminating in him killing his literal harpy of math teacher during a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. After a run-in with some more monsters during a family vacation to Montauk New York, Percy finds himself at Camp Half-Blood, a training camp for the demigod children of Greek gods and claimed as the son of Poseidon, one of the three most powerful Olympians. When Zeus’s lightning bolt is stolen and Percy is framed for the theft, he must travel cross-country to find the stolen lightning bolt and return it back to Olympus with the help of Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena and the requisite haughty, know-it-all token girl/future love interest, and Grover, the satyr assigned to look after Percy and be the book’s comic relief.

The prime suspect in the case of the missing lightning bolt is Hades and our three heroes travel to Los Angeles where the entrance to the underworld is fronted by what looks like a record company (cue record companies steal souls jokes). But Hades turns out to be a red herring since the culprit is revealed to be Ares, god of war, acting under the instigation of Kronos the titan, which was a relief since I think that Hades gets a bad rap enough as it is. I enjoyed the adventures that Percy and co. have during their quest such as an encounter with Medusa and a reference to the Lotus Eaters segment of the Odyssey (it takes place in a luxurious  Los Vegas resort because of course, it world; Waking Up In Vegas by Katy Perry was playing in my head). The character of Percy Jackson is entertaining and likable; Rick Riordan’s first-person narrative perfectly captures the voice of a smart-ass twelve-year-old boy.

The Sea of Monsters picks up a year after the beginning of The Lightning Thief. After a run in with some dodgeball playing, cannibal giants, Percy Jackson and his new friend Tyson return to Camp Half-Blood which is in trouble because the magical pine tree (known as Thalia’s Tree because it marks the spot where a girl named Thalia died trying to protect the camp) that creates a protective field around its borders has been poisoned and is dying. The only thing that can heal Thalia’s Tree is the mythical golden fleece which can be found on an island in the sea of monsters (the Bermuda Triangle), guarded by the cyclops Polyphemus of The Odyssey fame. Percy has been having dreams telling him that his friend Grover is being held captive by Polyphemus and finds out that he has a half-brother, Tyson, who is revealed to have been a cyclops, therefore another son of Poseidon, all along. Despite the fact that the quest to go to the Sea Monsters has been assigned to their rival Clarisse, the daughter of Ares, Percy, Annabeth, and Tyson set out to find the golden fleece and rescue Grover.

One of my favorite stops on this quest is when Percy and Co. join forces with Clarisse, who has commandeered a resurrected Civil War ironclad manned by undead Confederate soldiers, who are hostile towards Percy because he’s a northerner, which I got a kick out of because my father is a Civil War buff. Percy and Annabeth later on wind up on the island of the sorceress Circe, where Percy is turned into a guinea pig (Odysseus’s men are turned into pigs by Circe in the Odyssey and Circe says that she switched to guinea pigs because they are cleaner and easier to manage) and Circe tries to recruit Annabeth as her apprentice. The two escape from the island by stealing the Queen Anne’s Revenge (Blackbeard and his crew are among Circe’s captives), which is pretty awesome if you ask me.  The Sea of Monsters is another enjoyable adventure.

Reading the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series made me wonder which Greek God would be my parent if I turned out to be a demigod. I took five “Which Greek God are You” quizzes and “Camp Half-Blood Parentage” tests online and four out of five came up as Athena which fits because blondness, bookishness, and stubbornness are notable traits of mine and those I share with Annabeth, the series’s heroine (one mark in its favor is that it is one of the few stories where the blonde girl is smart). But with my luck, it could also be Hestia, who is the goddess of the hearth and home who spends her days at home tending the sacred fire of Mount Olympus which sounds like a typical day in my life when I’m not away at school except my sacred fire is my house telephone.

What often surprises me about the tween fiction genre is the harshness of the worlds its authors create, especially when you look at how negligent the adult characters looking after the very young protagonists are.  The administration of Camp Half-Blood is a prime example of this. A directorship position at the camp is used as a punishment (Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry, was sentenced to be head of the camp as punishment for chasing after one of his father Zeus’s old girlfriends; this leads to another question: how could the gods possibly think that leaving Dionysus in charge of a group of children would be a good idea?), so those in charge have little interest in the well being of their charges. Only Chiron, the centaur who acts as a mentor and trainer for the main characters, seems to have the best interest of the campers in mind. The most morally questionable occurrence at Camp Half-Blood is the sending of teenagers and pre-teens on life-risking quests. My suspension of disbelief is taxed the most by the fact that Percy and his companions are saving the world at an age when I was lucky if my parents let me go to Friendly’s by myself. It makes me wonder if my twelve or thirteen-year-old self could have handled a task such as retrieving and returning a stolen lightning bolt or gold fleece if the need ever arose.

Bag Girl Halloween Special: A Review of The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe and An Evening in Salem

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During November and December of 2010, I spent a good amount of time in Boston for follow up doctor’s appointments after being released from Children’s Hospital following my second and third heart surgeries. Near Children’s Hospital is a Barnes and Noble, where my mom poked around while waiting for the next doctor’s appointment. Barnes and Noble sells composite volumes of the works of a number of authors with elaborate leather bound covers ( I received one which contains the novels of Jane Austen that Christmas) one of which is called The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, which I purchased during one of the many Barnes and Noble gift cards I received as get-well-soon presents. In honor of Halloween, I decided to pull out this book and read through its highlights.

The Raven and Annabel Lee are Poe’s best-known poems and both deal with lost love and untimely death. Deceased loved ones show up a lot in Poe’s work and are a case of art imitating life since Poe’s beloved wife Virginia died young. He is quoted as saying “the death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetic topic in the world.” The narrator of The Raven is sunk in grief and depression following the death of his sweetheart/wife Lenore. The name Lenore is frequently used to rhyme with “Nevermore” the raven’s reply to each of the narrator’s questions about God and life after death, and the repetitious use of these two words is used to show how the narrator is constantly reminded that Lenore is “Nevermore” or dead. The poem’s frequent use of onomonopias such as “knock” and “croak” make it a poem meant to be read aloud and perfect for a dramatic reading.  Premature death to illness (most frequently tuberculosis) was all too familiar to Poe and his nineteenth-century contemporaries who were passionate mourners. Annabel Lee epitomizes the almost necrophilic reverence with which deceased women are treated in Poe’s writing. Its narrator sees their dead sweetheart as an angelic and heavenly figure and treats her seaside tomb as a shrine. Lenore in The Raven is characterized as a seraphimal presence in a similar way that Annabel Lee is. Women appear in the Poe oeuvre as distant, celestial, forever young and beautiful objects to be pined for and worshipped almost as a saint. Death does not separate a lover from the object of their affection but rather increases his ardor for her.

The Tell-Tale Heart is another of Poe’s works that desire an aloud reading for the reader to get its full effect. It is similar in structure to The Raven: the narrator of both pieces is haunted by an event in the past (the death of Lenore; the murder of the old man) and both rely heavily on sound (the knocking and croaking of the raven; the beating of the old man’s heart). The ending of The Tell-Tale Heart masterfully builds up to its climax at a tempo which resembles an accelerating pulse as the narrator is driven to confess their crime. Like the raven symbolizes grief and lost love, the beating heart represents the narrator’s insanity (is the sound there or is it all in their head?) and guilt (the narrator cannot bear this guilt any longer and releases this burden by confessing to their crime).

Untimely death from disease was an unfortunate and inescapable reality of nineteenth-century life. In The Masque of the Red Death, a prince and his courtiers try to escape from a plague by secluding themselves inside the prince’s lavish mountain castle, where they try to forget about the horrors going on in the outside world by partying. The castle contains a loud, booming clock which startles and dumbfounds the guests whenever it marks the hours. When the clock strikes midnight, a red shrouded figure wearing with a skull face appears, representing the disease which the partygoers seek to avoid and are later killed by. Death appears in Poe’s writing as an unavoidable and inevitable part of life. It will get you in the end, no matter how rich and privileged you are, and it’s only a matter of time.

The themes found throughout Poe’s work such as madness, the inevitability of death and decay come into place in The Fall of the House of Usher. It’s narrator is called to visit his childhood friend Roderick Usher at his dilapidated ancestral mansion. Roderick and his sister Madeline are the last of their family line and Roderick is deeply depressed because Madeline is wasting away from a chronic illness and becomes more and more paranoid and insane until he has a mental breakdown and believes that the recently deceased Madeline was buried alive. The title The Fall of the House of Usher has a double meaning: the Usher family ancestral mansion collapses in on itself at the end of the story and with the deaths of Roderick and Madeline, the Usher family bloodline is extinct. We are given the impression that it is the corruption of Usher family (Madeline is sickly and Roderick is insane) has eaten away at the family legacy and its collapse is inevitable.

Jasmine and I took the three o’clock shuttle into downtown Salem and walked to Salem Cinema. Downtown was crowded and alive with people dressed up in a variety of costumes. At four o’clock, Jasmine and I attended a screening of a documentary called The History of Halloween. The documentary was interesting but I found it a bit silly and pandering. Jasmine was upset by the fact that people in the middle ages used to cull black cats because they thought they were bad luck. This is one of the factors which led to the outbreak of the bubonic plague. After the movie, we watched to look in these Wiccan shops that Jasmine likes but Coven’s Cottage was closed and there was a line to get into Hex. Walking through the downtown area, we saw someone dressed up as Pennywise from It, a man playing Tom Petty songs on his guitar, and what Jasmine refers to as “religious freaks” who were berating people for their sinful ways. Jasmine and I wanted to end our evening by getting drinks at Rockefeller’s but the wait there was forty-five minute to an hour long wait, so we ended up being home by six when most people were starting to go out for the evening.

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I finished up the evening by watching the 1964 film version of The Masque of the Red Death starring Vincent Price.