Russian Formalism arose around 1914 in St. Petersburg with the founding of Opayaz (Society for the Study of Poetic Language) and was suppressed by Trotsky and the Soviet Commissar for Education by 1930 for ignoring “the dynamics of development” (this will make sense later). These critics aimed to devise a general ‘science of literature’ by looking at structures and systematics of literary forms.
Reviewing a short story collection is always tricky; in most cases, the quality of the material vastly differs every couple of pages, ranging from absolute genius to “why did you even bother including this.” Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges excepted, of course. Borges is forever and always the exception to every rule ever.
(I hope you can all follow the argument in that last post, because my Shakespeare class and I geeked out about this so hard for over an hour and we still couldn’t come at a unanimous conclusion.)
Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare (Act 3, Scene 2).
So let me tell you something fascinating about this scene.
Juliet has married Romeo in secret, but they have not yet consummated their marriage. She’s waiting at her house for nightfall, which is when Romeo will come to her and they will finally have sex. Juliet is very giddy about the prospect, comparing herself to “an impatient child that hath new robes / And may not wear them.”
You might be familiar with the lines I have italicised (this is a very famous speech, after all), but there is something curious about these words: if you look up this bit in other editions of Romeo and Juliet, you will see that some of them have replaced the word “he” with “I” (making it “when I shall die”).
You may think: “wait, but that doesn’t make any sense. Why would he be cut into pieces when she dies?” Well, in early modern times, sex was associated with death; some believed that each orgasm shortened a man’s life by a day. So you could argue that, in a speech that is all about how badly Juliet wants to have sex with Romeo, she is actually talking about her own “death” at his hand (insert suggestive eyebrow wiggle here).
We don’t actually know whether Shakespeare wrote “I” or “he” in his original document, because not a single manuscript has survived. The earliest publications all say something different: some say “I”, some say “he.” It definitely doesn’t help that early modern publication was notoriously inconsistent (no first folio is the same!) and editors felt free to make changes wherever they thought a few tweaks were necessary.
So take out your own copy of Romeo and Juliet and look up these lines. What does your edition say? And which option would you choose?
Here are your lesbian literary teens, in chronological order.
Every once in a while, I like to read a book I know is going to be terrible as a kind of palate cleanser, a way to recallibrate and regroup before diving back into Proper Literature. Mentally copy-editing a bad book is a great exercise and can help you figure out what good writing is (by realising that it is the opposite of whatever this is). My go-to guilty pleasure genre is the Jane Austen spin-off book. You know the ones. What if there were zombies at Longbourne, what if Austen was a vampire, what if a contemporary American girl who is nothing like the author at all what are you talking about suddenly found herself in Regency England… The list goes on.
Austen spin-offs are usually absolutely awful, but in a way, they are much like peanut M&M’s: you know they have no nutritional value and will only leave you feeling slightly depressed and guilty, but you keep buying them anyway because you just can’t quit the sugary goodness.
Poetry and I have had a rocky journey. For the longest time I didn’t read or like poetry at all, with the exception of the occasional Robert Frost. I was convinced that it was all unnecessarily vague, overly abstract, artsy fartsy nonsense, and that the whole form just wasn’t for me. Why struggle to make sense of these scraps of pretentiousness when you can spend that time reading a novel instead?
Then in my first year of university I decided to volunteer for a poetry festival (one of my better life decisions). Watching all these poets perform their work made me realise the wide variety that is out there and the effect a good reading can have on an audience. I bought a collection of poems at the festival and began reading it on the bus ride home. Then I asked my mother if I could borrow her poetry anthology. Then I bought the collected works of W.H. Auden. And the following year, I volunteered for the poetry festival again.
You too may think that poetry is not for you or maybe you want to try but you find the whole thing a bit intimidating. I have put together a list of tips to help you across the first couple of hurdles, and you can take it from there. You can do it. Trust me.
This is one of those texts that are absolutely inescapable for literature students. Wherever you live, whichever classes you choose, at one point in your academic career you will encounter Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author.” Whether you agree with him or not, Barthes introduced a concept that was truly revolutionary and is still a game-changing read for many first- and second-year literature students to this day.
So let’s blow some minds.
I am a demanding creature. I am selfish and cruel and extremely unreasonable. But I am your servant. When you starve I will feed you; when you are sick I will tend you. I crawl at your feet; for before your love, your kisses, I am debased. For you alone I will be weak.