Wednesday, 18 May 2016

May '16

hey everyone,

I'm really glad that this blog is still helping people out, 3 years after I wrote it. I've just been accepted onto UEA's Creative Writing: Poetry MA, which means I'm becoming less and less au fait with Henry VII's domestic reforms, or what some dude thought about the weaknesses of natural moral law.  So I'm sorry I'm a bit crap at answering those comments. If you have any questions about writing poetry, I'll happily answer those ones. But they probably won't get you that A*/A/B/C (I'm trying to cover all bases here).

Props to the guy who invited me for a pint because he liked these posts so much. It's nice to know there's at least one total stranger several years younger than me that would buy me a beer.

Good luck in all your exams! I hope you all do really well. But if you don't, oh well. It's really not the end of the world. Schools like mine tried to tell us it was the be-all and end-all. Don't listen to anyone telling you that. It's a load of crap.


Thursday, 19 March 2015


Wow. Isn't all this a bit ridiculous. I'm in my second year of uni now, and these were written when I was in years 12/13. My thanks to everyone for their kind comments; I'm really glad these things are useful to at least some people.

For those of you who have commented with corrections, particularly on the RS side, you're probably right. All I did was take my notes and try and make them readable. A couple of times I probably wrote down information incorrectly or misread something, and if that's resurfaced here then that's my bad! If you check in the comments there may be a wiser person than me correcting me. If so, I'd probably listen to them instead.

Thanks again. It's so nice to see the odd comment coming up in my email inbox. A worrying number of people have said something along the lines of 'thank you so much! my teacher is SHIT!' which is pretty rubbish. Sorry if you're those guys.

All the best!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

New Blog

66,000 views! Wow. Thanks, everyone.

My new blog has been up and running for a couple of months now. Feel free to check it out here - hopefully it's a bit of a break from the slog of revision.


Thursday, 30 January 2014

Thank you!

This blog has now had over 45,000 page views. That's mental. Thank you.

Someone actually told me on Twitter that my blogs are helping their RS class, which really is sort of baffling. It sort of implies that at least one teacher out there has truly hit rock-bottom in terms of looking for class resources. That's okay - I'm cool with being that rock-bottom resource.

So yeah - whether you study RS or English Lit, I hope these are helpful, and thanks for the kind words. I don't do A Levels any more - I'm at uni now, studying English Lit w/ Creative Writing.

Obviously that means there won't be any more posts on this page. I do like all this learning business but I don't think I'm going to teach myself more A Level courses to expand the content on here... I should get back into blog-writing, though, just because it's a good thing to do.

Anyway, thanks again. I hope you don't fail your A Levels because of me. Wouldn't that be awkward?

Sunday, 2 June 2013

A2 English Literature: Narrators in Wuthering Heights

I think it's possible (but what do I know) that a section a question on Wuthering Heights could ask about the importance of narrators in the novel. Considering we've got two narrators, whose styles differ dramatically, there's a decent amount of stuff to talk about. Are the narrators reliable? Are they observers or participators? Do they tell us about the context of the time the novel was written? Do they omit/speculate/judge?

In a way, the narrative structure of Wuthering Heights is somewhat similar to the narrative structure of Frankenstein. The whole story is told by Lockwood, whose narrative includes Nelly's embedded narrative. In turn, Nelly's narrative itself contains smaller embedded narratives, some of which take epistolary form (such as Isabella's letter).

Lockwood is, universally, seen to be a bit of a wally. He's your typical city gentleman, and the fact that he is totally out of place in the uncivilised and untempered world of Wuthering Heights says something about civility and how it doesn't necessarily apply to Wuthering Heights. Lockwood is very set in his ways (it's all in the name. 'Lock' implies that he is something of a closed system. A 'wood' is usually well maintained and basic - compare the latter to 'heath' in Heathcliff's name) and appears to be quite self-centred.

Lockwood's narration is presented as something of a diary, and starts at the very end of the story, which is not only confusing for the reader but confusing for him too. So we learn about the story through Lockwood; if we feel confused, at least we're not as confused as him. He misjudges things so often that it becomes embarrassing for him and for us to read.

Lockwood refers to himself as a misanthropist, but it appears as though he openly desires attention and companionship, similarly to how Walton desires companionship in Frankenstein. It is also interesting to note that Lockwood has fled his previous residence because his own love story is a failed one. He was interested in a girl he used to know until she returned his affections with a slightly flirtatious look, to which he "shrunk icily into myself, like a snail", leading to the sudden departure of the girl and her mother.

So Lockwood, who modestly calls himself "tolerably attractive", is single and appears to be interested in Cathy. The fact that his romantic interests are coupled alongside his incidents with the "heap of dead rabbits", "possessed swine" and "villainous old guns" is interesting to say the least. Is Lockwood focusing on what's really important?

Lockwood's judgement is also quite flawed. He calls Heathcliff a "capital fellow" in chapter one, yet a chapter later he says, "I no longer felt inclined to call Heathcliff a capital fellow." Perhaps Lockwood is too easy to judge and make decisions. This is coupled with his cripplingly awkward social skills and awareness. Considering Lockwood is a typical gentleman of the city, his presentation is somewhat farcical and juxtaposes what we would expect. Perhaps Brontë is praising the natural countryside and what goes along with it - is she subtly damning city life? He notes feeling "out of place", which he really didn't need to spell out for us.

Not only does Lockwood appear intrusive in entering Wuthering Heights and discussing personal affairs, he even picks up the late Catherine's diary and starts reading it. This suggests that he is not simply an observational narrator, because if he hadn't taken such an action we wouldn't start to understand the story until much later. By relating the embedded narrative of Catherine's diary to us, the readers, we are given an insight into a character's life that Lockwood couldn't possibly be a part of.

Then we get an incredibly gothic image while Lockwood is having a dream (or is he? It's never revealed) and he sees Catherine's "spectre" arrive at the window. Here we have Lockwood, the city gentleman, on the inside while the ghastly spectre is on the outside. Perhaps Lockwood represents rationality here. Either way, it's quite shocking when he tells us how he "pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bed-clothes". What the hell, Lockwood? What's that all about? It may be interesting to argue that Wuthering Heights is inherently a violent place - Lockwood has been there long enough and is starting to adapt to the ways of the house?

Lockwood's style as a narrator can be a little hard to unravel at times. Because he is oh-so-well-educated, he is quite verbose in his narration. His sentences are long-winded, often comprising of several clauses and featuring hyphens and semicolons all over the place. Yet although Lockwood's writing style is sophisticated, it doesn't mean that he's as well-suited to the 'real world' that he has been immersed into.

In contrast, Ellen Dean is a housekeeper, and describes herself as a "steady, reasonable kind of body". We go from hearing from a high-flying city guy to a lowly servant at Thrushcross Grange, and it is through Nelly that we learn of most of the novel's events. Nelly is both an observer and an active participator in the novel's events, and is closely linked to many characters. She is Isabella's correspondent, Heathcliff's carer and, at one point, a maternal figure to Cathy. She is far more involved with the people than Lockwood, since she remembers it all and relives the story to him - and us - as though it had happened just the other day. Lockwood actually refers to her as a "very fair narrator".

However, because Nelly is so deeply involved in so many of the characters, her judgement (while usually fair) changes, which could be used to support the argument that she is an unreliable narrator. She sways between supporting Heathcliff and Edgar in their major conflict, and both approves and disapproves of Cathy's actions when she enters a 'relationship' with Linton. Sometimes her disapproval leads to various plot changes - she is the one who burns Cathy's letters from Linton, for example. She is the one who makes the important decisions for Cathy when Edgar falls ill. She is like a firm but fair mother figure, whose moral stance is, like anyone's, never quite in one place. She is biased in some respects, but that's what we're given so we just have to take it at face value.

Nelly's style of narration employs more dialogue than Lockwood's, and we get the feeling that she's truly bringing the characters to life as best she can - props to her for nailing Joseph's accent. Conversely, Lockwood appears to include pivotal dialogue but it always seems a little stale, mainly because it all relates back to him and his long-winded sentences.

The use of narrators in the novel allows for two perspectives - one from an outsider, the other from an insider. The dramatic difference in the two narrative styles suggests just how 'alien' the world of Wuthering Heights must be when one is not originally part of it.

Furthermore, the fact that there is no third-person omniscient narrator means that there are certain things that we never learn. We never learn how Heathcliff got all of his money, for example, or what it was he did in his mysterious three-year absence. But perhaps it's better that way.

A2 English Literature: Frankenstein Example Essay (Monstrosity)

Below is an example essay I did a while ago on Frankenstein (not under timed conditions). My teacher didn't give me a mark for this one, and just wrote 'Top A/A*'. Hope it helps!

To what extent do you agree with the view that the humans in Frankenstein are more monstrous than the 'monster'?

Mary Shelley's 'monster', presented through the eyes of Victor Frankenstein as a "miserable wretch", is arguably not as monstrous as the presentation of humans in the novel. The word 'monster' itself has Latin roots, referring to the verb to 'demonstrate' or 'warn'. In this respect, the creature may stand as a warning to society following Victor's 'monstrous' act of assembling the creature from human corpses. The journey the creature embarks upon sees influences through art, culture and literature, and while the creature may initially appear monstrous, it is fair to deduce that the cruelty and barbarity of humans within the novel present them as more monstrous than the 'monster' first appears to be.
          From his conception, the creature comes across many humans who act barbarously towards him, but none more so than Victor, his creator. Victor's initial idea for such an experiment can be viewed as monstrous in itself; the act of taking body parts from the dead in order to assemble a brand new creature is from the outset a horrific and very Gothic image, as well as an example of a Gothic protagonist going to extreme lengths to achieve a certain goal or aim. However, it is Victor's rejection of his own creation that presents him as such a monstrous character. Upon seeing the creature, animated for the first time, Victor notes that "a breathless horror and disgust filled my heart". It is interesting to note that Victor's disgust comes purely from the physical appearance of the creature. Shelley juxtaposes a sense of ugliness and beauty in the form of the creature; while it possesses a "shrivelled complexion", Victor still notes "lustrous black" hair and "teeth of a pearly whiteness." Victor's conflicted use of language may suggest that the creature is physically repellent as a liminal stage not only between life and death, but between beauty and monstrosity. It is possible to view Victor's rejection of his creature as being a comment made upon society by Mary Shelley; the creature is beaten, fled from and rejected simply for what it looks like. In life, this is often the case for those who are presented as physical outsiders, something which Shelley may be criticising.
          Developing the potential critique on society, it is interesting to view the 'humanity' of the creature in the novel. Despite being initially violent and clumsy, the creature picks up certain aspects of culture and the arts in order to fashion himself into a character who is far more human than first suspected. As the creature recounts his tale in the embedded narrative, the story of his discovery of fire is told. He ponders the contrasts of the warmth and pain that the fire offers: "how strange, I though, that the same cause should produce such opposite effects!" This may be interpreted as a 'rediscovery' of fire and it is arguable that the creature is similarly presented as a new version of humanity, presenting him as more uniquely human as opposed to the barbarity of humans in the novel. The fire may also represent the myth of Prometheus, especially considering the novel was originally referred to as 'The Modern Prometheus'. The myth tells the story of Prometheus, a Titan who steals fire from the Gods in order to create life. Despite this sounding as if humanity is presented as God-like, the character of Prometheus had been famed for his cunning intelligence and is punished cruelly by the Gods, just as the creature is punished and preyed upon by humanity in the novel. It is also interesting to note that in Western classical tradition, Prometheus is often viewed as representative of a desperate quest for knowledge. Although this could be applied to the efforts of Victor Frankenstein to further his scientific knowledge beyond the realms of apparent possibility, the character of Prometheus may also be relevant to the creature, considering the thirst for knowledge he has throughout his journeys in the novel.
          The knowledge the creature strives for and acquires throughout the novel may also suggest that he is more virtuous and humane than any of the humans in the story. Upon observing the lives of the de Lacey family, the creature begins to acquire a thirst for literature, which leads to his interesting in texts such as Milton's 'Paradise Lost', to which he notes "I often referred the situations ... to my own..." This adds further weight to the interpretation that the creature is viewed as a new and innocent being who is subject to the evils and torment of the world around him. Similarly, after reading Volney's 'Ruins of Empires', the creature ponders how humanity is "at once so powerful, so virtuous and magnificent, yet so vicious and base?" The creature's interest in literature suggests there is a cultured element to his character, and the questions that arise from what he reads presents the humans around him as "vicious", which reinforces the notion that the humans in the novel are more monstrous than the creature appears to be. The matter of the creature being 'virtuous' ties in with the philosophical ideas that William Godwin spoke of. As Shelley's father, it is possible that Godwin's work had some influence on her own; Godwin referred to "universal benevolence", and suggested that humanity was inherently benevolent, yet corrupted by government and its effects upon society. This suggests that the creature is presented as a virtuous and innocent creature, new into the corrupted world in which the monstrous humans are living in. Before the initial creation, Victor even refers to to his creation as pouring "a torrent of light into this dark world". The Gothic oppositions of light and dark often refer to rationality and irrationality respectively, which may suggest that the creature is representative of rationality and knowledge in an otherwise corrupt and clouded world. Furthermore, the creature says of knowledge "of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it had once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock." Shelley's use of simile here shows the strength of which knowledge imprints itself on the creature's character; his inspired reaction to literature suggests he is more cultured than any of the humans in the novel.
          However, it is fair to argue conversely that Victor is also greatly affected by texts, and refers to Agrippa, Magnus and Paracelsus as "the lords of my imagination". Victor's passion for the issues surrounding the works he reads is what leads to his creation of the 'monster'. It is arguable to deduce that Victor's treatment of his own creation is what leads to the creature being branded as a 'monster' to some extent; the creature is born alone and confused into an alien world, and shunned by his own creator. To an extent, the reader may be able to forgive some of the creature's monstrous acts (such as killing William) due to the fact that the creature has both little understanding of the world and a desire to be treated fairly by the man who created him. The fact that both Victor and the creature show such devotion to texts and literature may suggest an element of Gothic doubling between the two, as if they are two sides of one 'being'. When looking for the creature, Victor states that he sees his creation as "nearly in the light of my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave". The supernatural language alone suggests that there is an irrational element to Victor, and it is arguable that the creature represents the more rational and perhaps even more human side to Frankenstein's persona, whereas Victor is portrayed as the monstrous character; the nature of the quotation could also suggest that Victor is referring to himself when he speaks of a "depraved wretch", which further the interpretation that he and the creature are more alike than first thought. The language used by both Victor and the creature also suggests a sense of duality between them; in chapter ten, Victor's language appears extreme and melodramatic, whereas the creature's language seems composed and controlled. Victor states "the tortures of hell are too mind a vengeance for thy crimes. Wretched devil!" and threatens the creature with "the fierce vengeance of my arm wreaked on your miserable head". Victor's extreme and inflammatory language, speaking of 'hell' and 'vengeance', may present him as something of a vengeful God, who appears enraged at his own creation. This links to the notion of the creature being an 'updated' version of humanity akin to Adam and Eve's story in 'Paradise Lost', victim to an angry God who has brought the creature into a corrupt and monstrous world. The creature's language, in contrast, is eloquently phrased and constructed: "Everywhere I see bliss from which I alone am irrevocably excluded". Shelley's use of contrasting language between the creature and Victor strongly suggests that Victor is far more vengeful and 'monstrous' than the creature.
          In conclusion, the humans in Frankenstein definitely appears more monstrous than the creature. Despite the creature's initial monstrous acts, and his connections to animalism and the wilderness due to his association with sublime settings, it must be noted that he is a brand new creature in the world, and shunned by the only man who can answer his questions. As the creature grows from an incoherent beast into a cultured being who respects literature and the arts, he appears to rise above the humans in the novel. Victor's language and the act of his creation present him as a monstrous being in the novel, and as one interpretation suggests as a vengeful God who has unfairly bestowed the innocent creature upon a world populated by unforgiving and in many cases barbaric creatures, who monstrously exclude the creature from society for what he looks like, as opposed to who he is.

A2 English Literature: Narrative Structure of Frankenstein

Frankenstein is comprised of three narrators - Walton, Victor and the creature. The story itself is told through what is referred to as a 'pyramid' or 'Russian doll' structure:

Walton > Victor > Creature > Victor > Walton

This focused structure is arguably one of the most organised aspects of the novel. In a story with vastly ambitious ideas, a huge geographical range and important moral questions and dilemmas, the structure seems to keep all of these ideas and themes well-knit.

The novel opens with an epistolary form (told through the use of letters). And, in a sense, this continues for the entire novel. It is easy to forget that everything in the novel is told through Walton's letters to his sister. Victor tells him of his own misery and also relates the creature's tale to Walton. This shows how Shelley makes use of embedded narratives in the novel - both Victor's story and the creature's story are embedded within Walton's letters.

So this sets Walton up as our main narrator and source of information throughout the novel. He's an interesting character, and arguably very similar to Victor. I mention this in more detail in my post about gothic doubling in Frankenstein.

Furthermore, as we get deeper and deeper into the embedded narratives, we distance ourselves from the original word of Walton, even though he is still guiding the entire novel. By the time we are at the heart of the novel, and the creature is giving us its tale, we are right in the middle of all the embedded narratives. This narrative distancing may be reflective of other 'distances' in the novel; it may reflect the geographical distance and how all three characters are isolated in their own ways, it may reflect the moral distance between Victor and his fellow men or it may reflect Shelley's desire to be distanced from  any sort of female voice in the novel - perhaps in fear that a female voice would be seen to reflect her own views and beliefs, which would arguably be frowned upon at the time of writing. By escaping into the multi-layered narratives of three male characters, Shelley is able to tell her tale without fear of discrimination, perhaps?

It is also interesting to note that, as I said before, the creature's narrative is at the heart of the novel. It is at the very centre. This could be suggestive of many things. Perhaps by having the creature's tale at the heart of the story, Shelley is suggesting that the creature is an integral 'part' of all of us - that everyone is made up of different layers but eventually we come down to a collection of base desires (or, as Godwin would say, "universal benevolence"). Perhaps Shelley is suggesting that the creature reflects the other two characters, and serves as a 'mirror' being slotted in between Victor and Walton's narratives.

The three narratives are also very similar - they all warn of certain dangers such as over-reaching ambition, and they all appear to highlight male dominance and quests whereas women are pushed to the side. Walton uses the woman in his story - his sister - as his audience. Similarly, Victor relegates Elizabeth to be a correspondent rather than a companion. And the creature yearns for a female companion that he is never given. Considering that Shelley's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was an advocate of feminist philosophy, it seems odd that Shelley has mistreated women in such a way in her novel, a theme that is echoed throughout all three narratives. But you could interpret the absence of women as one of the reasons why the males have tragic stories - perhaps men are too hung up on their own ambitions and desires for power. Furthermore, Victor's tale is strangely feminist; it subverts the female role and presents Victor as a warped mother figure.

The narrative structure of Frankenstein also arguably suspends the reader's disbelief at the seriously unlikely events of the novel. By using embedded narratives and employing these narratives so carefully and delicately, Shelley is able to bridge a significant gap between what is believable and what is not. If this story was told from one long narrative perspective, it wouldn't be long before we start to think 'this is just ridiculous'. But by putting the unbelievable character of the creature against Victor and putting Victor's unbelievable situation against the believable character of Walton, each narrative seems to ease the reader into appreciating what is essentially a hard to believe story.

And so once we reach the end of the novel, we have Walton reflecting on what he has been told:

"You have read this strange and terrific story, Margaret; and do you feel your blood congealed with horror, like that which even now curdles mines. Sometimes, seized with sudden agony, he could not continue his tale, at others his voice broken, yet piercing, uttered with difficulty the words so replete with agony."

The narrative structure strengthens themes, reflects situations and suspends our disbelief.