Hi There, Come In!

Everyone’s a bit voyeuristic and interested about the lives of the others. This is why I decided to grant you a little sneak peak at where and how I live. Enjoy the tour!

This is a table in my hallway where I like to put things that make me happy: Currently on there are a nice picture of one of my all-time favourite movies, Dirty Dancing, a postcard depicting Prince William and Harry to remind me of my times in London, an autography by writer Aveleen Avide, and some jewelry because diamonds are a girls best friend, aren’t they?

I really like whisky and don’t hide it. So because everyone knows it, my little whisky table is quite well equipped since my last birthday. My favourite is Oban, but I also appreciate Laphroiag and some others. (The little stone you can see is part of Machu Picchu and a friend stole it for me. Great story, isn’t it?)

This is only a very small section of my Shakespeare bookshelf. During my time in London I was taught by many professors who also worked as editors for Arden, which is why I always buy these editions. Plus: They look quite good, don’t they? (Fun Fact: Sometimes when I get bored I take them out of the shelf and try to sort them chronologically without looking up the order. I’m getting quite good at it! Whoa! Who put The Tempest next to Henry VI??)

I know… I know… the real football fans will probably scream in disbelief and tear their eyes out in agony. But it’s not my fault! No, really! I am not to blame for this strange mixture of memorabilia: These were all presents by different persons, I just put them right next to each other. I consider myself a Real Madrid supporter but I do like some other clubs, too. And to be honest: It’s quite an advantage to support more clubs because one of them always wins!

If you’re interested, I can keep some more pictures coming… until then, hit the comments!

A Royal Fairytale

When you were young, didn’t you guys out there dream about becoming a professional football player? About hearing thousands of fans scream your name, about little kids wearing your shirt, and about scoring the important goal in a world cup final? And now to the girls: Didn’t you dream about becoming a princess? Wearing nice dresses, meeting your prince in shiny armor, and being admired by little girls all over the world?

This is the exact reason why to us girls a royal wedding is just like a world cup final to you guys. And how much better is this romance narrative if the chosen bride is one of us, a commoner, a normal girl?

Today is the 29.04.2012 – the first anniversary of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

I was in London one year ago and while my mum didn’t call me at all for the previous 7 months (we are not very chatty and prefer e-mail-contact), she called me about 5 times on that day: “Are you already there?” “How many people are there?” “What is Kate wearing? Can you see her?” “Have you seen how amazing David Beckham looked??” The Royal Wedding was a spectacle all over the world, but nowhere as crazily celebrated as in London.

When I left my Tottenham apartment in the morning, I already stumbled over the first indication that this was not a usual day but that you were allowed to celebrate your nation and also your girlish childhood dreams:

Tottenham Window

But this was nothing compared to what expected me in the heart of London. I arrived about 3 hours in advance and the streets were already crowded with people poshly dressed and women wearing exquisite hats. It seemed as if all of London was a guest of William and Kate’s.

I felt extremely underdressed with my little sparkly Union Jack-Bow in my hair, but luckily there were a lot of opportunities for an instant dress-up which is why I simply had to buy this scarf (see… another parallel to the world of football!):

Because I came quite late, I decided to watch the ceremony on one of the big screens that were set up at Trafalgar Square (and in Hyde Park), where thousands of people were already waiting to witness their favourite fairytale come true.

I know that many people keep comparing this marriage to the story of Charles and Diana (an instance which actually seems to be promoted by the newlyweds themselves when they decided to use Diana’s old engagement ring). I personally belief that the marriage of William and Kate will last a bit longer (even if I am not sure whether they will actually get their happily ever after) because to me they seem to be under less public pressure than Charles was at the time of his marriage. When Prince Charles was a young man, he publicly claimed that 30 was the best age to marry but when he turned 33 and was still a bachelor, he suddenly seemed to hear his biological clock ticking and went strategically looking for a good wife:

“If I’m deciding on whom I want to live with for forty years – well, that’s the last decision I want my head to be ruled by my heart.” (Prince Charles)

Although I am not a very romantic person in real life, I’m still a big fan of romance narratives: I do want the heroine to get her prince, I do want them to get their happy ending, I did cry when Heathcliff was rejected by Cathy, I did cheer when Carrie got Big, Baby got Johnny, and Rachel got Ross. I feel as if these romance narratives are a part of my life and nurture my inner little girl who is profoundly romantic and still hopes a little bit for the prince in shiny armor, which is why I simply had to celebrate the royal couple’s first anniversary with a royal cuppa tea.*

Royal Cuppa Tea

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* A Facebook friend drew my attention to the money surrounding little paper-Kate. This subtle ironic and critical twist by the merchandise company might reveal some truth. In fact, Jane Austen already noticed that money is always an issue in romance narratives: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Pride and Prejudice)

Victorian Female Writers

In the movie “Becoming Jane”, starring Anne Hathaway as Victorian authoress Jane Austen, there are some scenes showing Jane Austen publicly reading to others from her novels. It is a nice image, but actually scenes like these would never have taken place. Jane Austen did not have a room of her own to write and had to write in the family living room. Luckily for her, the hallway door squeaked when someone entered which gave her enough time to hide her writing.

This is how most Victorian female writers behaved. In the 19th century, the literary market went through a lot of changes, such as a huge rise in the number of public libraries, the possibility to distribute books to the provinces by train, or the rising interest in the person of the author. Yet, women were still restricted to a private sphere of domesticity. The engagement in a literary life was often even brought in connection with the trope of the “fallen woman”: a woman who cheats on her husband, who walks the streets alone and freely without protection, or a prostitute.

In her biography of Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell (author of North and South and Mary Barton) writes:

“[…] henceforth Charlotte Brontë‘s existence became divided into two parallel currents – her life as Currer Bell, the author; her life as Charlotte Brontë, the woman. There were separate duties belonging to each character – not opposite each other; not impossible but difficult to be reconciled. When a man becomes an author, it is probably merely a change of employment to him […] a woman‘s principal work in life is hardly left to her own choice; nor can she drop the domestic charges devolving on her as an individual, for the exercise of the most splendid talents that were ever bestowed.”

Although the three Brontë sisters decided to write under gender-neutral pseudonyms, they couldn’t help being entangled in a public literary life, when they were called to London to identify themselves as the authors of their works.

In a letter to Robert Southey from 1837, Charlotte Brontë writes:

“I carefully avoid any appearance of pre-occupation and eccentricity which might lead those I live amongst to suspect the nature of my pursuits. Following my father’s advice – who from my childhood has counseled me, just in the wise and friendly tone of your letter – I have endeavored not only attentively to observe all the duties a woman ought to fulfill, but to feel deeply interested in them. I don’t always succeed, for sometimes when I’m teaching or sewing I would rather be reading or writing; but I try to deny myself, and my father’s approbation amply rewarded me for the privation.”

And here’s another example, which shows how dangerous a literary activity was to the reputation of a woman. This is from Mary Brunton’s preface to her novel Emmeline:

“I would rather, as  you well know, glide though the world unknown, than have (I will not call it enjoy) fame, however brilliant, to be pointed at, – to be noticed and commented upon – to be suspected of literary airs – to be shunned, as literary women are, by the more unpretending of my own sex; and abhorred as literary women are, by the pretending of the other! – my dear, I would sooner exhibit as a rope-dancer.”

These struggles between the woman and the writer, and between duty and art (luckily) appear very unfamiliar to us, who we are used to live in a world in which not only women have more liberty, but in which reading and writing are considered highly prestigious and esteemed activities.

These Victorian women, who had to obscure their literary engagements and their interest in books, are a stark contrast to one of the most sparkling literary personas of the 19th century: Charles Dickens. Dickens is frequently called one of the first “literary celebrities” or “international media stars”: he went on reading tours and the people waited for hours only to hear him read from Oliver Twist, he travelled to America to promote his books, he acted in the theatre, he visited charity balls to promote himself as figure of public interest, and he had his face painted on matchboxes or other objects of daily life. Dickens was seen everywhere, while the Victorian female writers were nowhere to be found. It is interesting to note that Dickens also worked as a publisher and collaborated with Elizabeth Gaskell on the publication of her novel North and South, which appeared in small installments in Dickens’s magazine Household Words. A letter by Charles Dickens shows how his frustration with her not keeping the deadlines links his authority as a publisher with her husband’s domestic authority over her:

“If I were Mr G oh! Heavens, how I would beat her!”

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

Warning: This article employs psychoanalytic and psychosemiotic theory! You are likely to shake your head violently in disbelief… I do not take blame for any neck problems that might be the consequence thereof.

If you think of psychoanalysis, you probably think of Sigmund Freund and things like dream analysis, the oedipal complex, or penis envy. But there’s more to it and I would like to introduce you to a very interesting (and controversial) theory, which might make you look at things a little differently.

May I introduce: the Mirror Stage!

In 1949 (well… actually already in 1936, but nobody paid attention then) French philosopher Jacques Lacan argued that a 6- to 18-month old baby goes through something, which he called the “mirror stage”. Here’s the idea in a nutshell: initially a baby thinks of itself as being the centre of the universe (yes… I know. Some people still do, but keep reading!) and feels united with all and everything around him. Then one day it recognizes itself in the mirror. The problem, however, is that the baby still lacks control over his/her bodily movement while the mirror image appears to be an improved version of the self. And here comes the trauma: The baby suddenly realizes that he/she is not the centre of the universe and, more crucially, not whole and perfect, but that there is a lack.

And to Lacan, this is the point where the baby leaves the perfect world of the imaginary and enters a world of signs in which it has the constant feeling of being imperfect.

Now, you might think this a whole lot of shenanigans, but think about it for a minute. Do you feel perfectly confident and whole?

Cultural theorists have taken this idea as the basis for a huge number of theories. One of my favourite theory is that this initial trauma of the experience of a lack keeps you in the constant strive for completeness and two ways we try to achieve completeness are shopping and the consumption of celebrities. They argue that we ascribe object the ability to make us complete: the perfect pair of shoes, the exact right shade of nail polish, or the pair of trousers that fits perfectly. And once we have those things, we feel jouissance (the short feeling of pure pleasure that the baby experiences at first when it sees himself/herself in the mirror), but we soon realize that we still lack something… and we keep buying stuff.

Even more interesting, the mirror stage can also be seen to explain why we like stars. We consume star images because we think they can make us “whole again” (to use the words of long gone girl group Atomic Kitten). But after having read the latest article, we find out that there is still a newer one. We need to read the latest article, watch the current movie, listen to the new album in order to feel this short moment of jouissance.

If you believe this theory or not, I think it rather interesting and it certainly serves as a nice excuse when your boyfriend accuses you of having spend to much money on the new necklace: Just blame it on the mirror!

My Third Nipple…

In The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes writes:

“This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn’t turn out to be like Literature.”

This is actually a thought that crosses my mind pretty often. I love reading and read a lot, which sometimes gets me wondering whether I spend too much time pondering on the literary quality of my own life. When there’s a thunderstorm going on outside, I wonder how amazing it would be living in Wuthering Heights and trying to hide my affection for Heathcliff. When I’m in London I immediately imagine myself buying flowers just like Mrs. Dalloway did. And when I wandered the streets of Dublin a few years ago, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I was taking the same route as Leopold Bloom once did in Joyce’s Ulysses.

Last week I rented a DVD entitled Lost in Austen, in which a contemporary London girl, who wonders why her boyfriend does not bear any resemblance to any of her favorite novel heroes, suddenly discovers that a secret door in her flat allows her to enter the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

And this BBC mini-series is by far not the only cultural product which tackles the problem of reality meeting fiction. I will stick with my initial example of Pride and Prejudice, as this is a cultural phenomenon which has shaped Britain’s sense of its own past and has made its way into the hearts of many (predominantly female) readers… or viewers, as in the case of my alter ego Bridget Jones. Bridget is addicted to the BBC-adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and she becomes somewhat annoyed when she finds out about the real-life love affair of Colin and female co-star Jennifer Ehle:

“When I stumbled upon a photograph in the Standard of Darcy and Elizabeth, hideous, dressed as modern-day luvvies, draped all over each other in a meadow: she with blonde Sloane hair, and linen trouser suit, he in striped polo neck and leather jacket with Shoestring-style moustache. Apparently they are already sleeping together. This is absolutely disgusting. Feel disoriented and worried…”

Bridget adores Darcy and Elizabeth but wants their love affair to remain strictly locked up in a fictional world (I would hate to see Darcy and Elizabeth in bed, smoking a cigarette afterwards). Welsh cult author Jasper Fforde, on the contrary, plays with the idea of connecting the fictional world and the real world. In his Thursday-Next-Series, he designs a fictional Britain obsessed with literature where there are actual gang fights going on regarding the true identity of Shakespeare. His protagonist special agent Thursday Next enters the world of Jane Eyre and is culpable for the novel’s happily ever after. A few weeks ago I attended a reading of Jasper Fforde in which he discussed this idea turned topsy-turvy and wondered how fictional characters would find their way in our world: “Imagine Hamlet in Starbucks… My God, he could never decide!”

Although I try keeping fiction and reality apart, I want my life to have a certain literariness and I love secretly comparing myself to Catherine Earnshaw or even Bridget Jones, and I also love to imagine entering their world… Do you, as well?

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Oh! Nearly forgot: You probably still wonder about the title of this post. You might even have expected some pornographic content… (Come on, admit it!) Or a very personal confession? Well, then I am sorry to disappoint you. The title only refers to a quote from Friends’ Chandler Bing (who does, or rather did, have a third nipple), who jokingly said: “If you press my third nipple, it opens up the magical world of Narnia.” Well, a blogger’s got to do what a blogger’s got to do to advertise her new blog. So go out there, spread the word, tell people about my blog, twitter about my blog, write poems about my blog etc.

And please: Hit the comments and tell me which fictional character you would like to meet, to have some drinks with, to change lives, or to fall in love with. Would you rather have a passionate Heathcliff waiting for you outside in the storm (as I would) or do you prefer going to Bermuda with a sparkling accessory such as Edward Cullen?