Author Archives: Nathan

Ruining the effect

Much in the same way that reputation proceeds the characters in Victorian literature such as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the novel’s twist proceeds its unveiling. The story by now is all too famous for collegiate readers to experience the shock. This is a very interesting example of how the reputation of a story can affect the way it is experienced.

When first published the novella was a smash hit, at least according to this Glencoe Library study guide. This begs the question, for how long was the mystery of this novel still a mystery. While classic murder mystery novels such as those written my Agatha Christie (some of my favorites guys, you must read at least And Then There Were None), retain some degree of infamy, they rarely achieve pop cultural status that lasts over a century. Jekyll and Hyde has become synonymous with split personality disordered individuals. As such the fact that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same does not surprise readers, a fact which may have surprised Stevenson.

As I was reading I could not help but wonder what the effect would be if I had not known they were the same. H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds suffered a similar but opposite effect when it was read on the radio and people did not think it was fictional. In this case the story’s reputation, in this case, the reputation that it was a story, failed to proceed its delivery, causing mass pandemonium and uproar. Ironically, a great mystery novel author, should never write a mystery novel too great.

Diamonds are Forever

The Moonstone is a richly detailed mystery novel that features a massive diamond as the centerpiece for the heist. I was surprised given this the time period this novel was written in, that a gemstone took such a prominent place in the plot line. A fantastic article circulated just a little over a year ago exposing the scandal that is the psychology surrounding Diamond fanaticism. Published on the Pricenomics blog and then on Business Insider the article can be found here.

Given the way that we can be compelled to believe the hype created by a marketing campaign, driven to pay outrages sums for a lump of pressurized charcoal, valueless carbon, we seem to posses a wholesale lack of criticality. Yet, Collins understands the stickiness of certain artifacts, and creates a backstory for the diamond that was being stolen. He preempts the sentimental values that diamonds attained in the 20th century.

The motif of a valuable diamond with a storied and bloody past crops up often for it to bear further analysis. The Pink Panther for thematic example, along with the Heart of the Ocean in Titanic. One realization is that despite the renewed marketability of diamonds, they have long been valuable and have captured our imaginations. H.G. Wells’ short story The Diamond Maker experiments with the possibility of creating artificial diamonds in order to enjoy new avenues to wealth.

But what is it that makes gems, and diamonds so particularly fascinating. What makes them perfect subjects for mysteries time and time again? Feel free to hit me with your thoughts. What makes certain artifacts so interesting, and diamonds in particular. Please avoid the connotations it has with weddings and longevity as those seem to be newer connotations.

Some more on Diamonds in poetry. and in literature

Playing the Reader

As early as last week I was struck by how the first few chapters of Jane Eyre are so heart wrenching, playing on the emotions of those who are compassionate towards children and orphans in particular. The trope of unfortunate orphans is common enough in British literature and includes some of my favorite works. I can’t help but thinking however, that Bronte is attempting to really manipulate me into falling for her character and sympathizing with her unequivocally. Maybe it isn’t Bronte, maybe it is Jane as she narrates.

The thought however of manipulating readers isn’t foreign to us. Already we discussed how authors and narrators may use certain techniques to achieve specific ends. We ended up concluding that considering an audience can only go so far as each reader is different and we appreciate things in different ways. For this reason, Emma was not the favorite of every reader in the class.

The differences between readers and their response are integral for the relative stature that certain works and novels attain. Good writers may intuit the way that different readers will respond. I remember exploring the concept of reader individuality in a course taught on the topic of Literature and Psychology. I was exposed to an entire area of study which includes questions such as why we read, how do we experience phenomena in reading differently (such as immersion and absorption, suspension of disbelief etc.) Victor Nell explores this area in Lost in a Book which I highly recommend, and develops the differences between Ludic reading and reading for pleasure.  What I love about his perspective is that it approaches a high level of scientific rigor as seen in this study. With regards to Bronte the reading for me has shifted from once being pleasurable to now being more academic.

The progress the novel is taking very much relates to a continued manipulation of the readers. It is not a tale of happiness, but rather is overshadowed by constant hardship and sorrow. Jane makes only one friend who then dies. She then goes to Thornfield only to be sucked into a scary mystery. She is insecure at times when comparing herself to Blanche, and as such we can relate.

In Why We Read Fiction Lisa Zunshine develops the hypothesis that through reading we come to better understand others’ perspectives and this is something that we are programmed with a hunger for. She develops seminal groundwork on the concept of Theory of Mind which is the way we understand the way others think. Excersizing Theory of Mind stimulates us in a way which we enjoy and this is why we continue to read. For some more info on different types of theory of mind you can explore this paper.

The relevance to how and why we read, on the author’s ability to manipulate readers should not be understated. Initially when I read Jane Eyre I enjoyed it more and the class was more a discussion of the story, however in this class when focusing less on the pleasure and more on the narrative techniques, I enjoy it less but am able to spot the manipulation a lot earlier on in the game. I wonder if authors take into account the experience of their readers and whether or not they are reading it for the literary value. What do you guys think?