Woyzeck, by Georg Büchner

Posted: Wednesday, 14 August 2013 by UEL pen in Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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This translation, by Nick Hern Books and within a series of Drama Classics, happens to be the unfinished play that Büchner was working on at the time of his death, at the tender age of 24, from typhus. I happen to be lucky enough to work behind the bar of the theatre that has loosely reproduced it, Punchdrunk, under the name; The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable.

This piece had me hooked from the start – more for its introduction by Kenneth McLeish, which delves with great detail into Büchner’s life, aspirations, education, and political activity. He lived in a time, from 1813-1837, where Germany was under a dictatorial autocratic rule and all people considered dissidents, whether writing or protesting, or even simply reading the writings of dissidents, were murdered, stalked by secret police, placed under house arrest, or thrown into jail – including Büchner himself, on many occasions. He led societies and published pamphlets instructing and advising citizens on how to regain control of their lives and social conditions, and renounce the dictatorship they were under to create a unified, Christian Germany. Particularly apt for our society, and interesting to see how, whilst methods of incarceration and prosecution have changed for writers and readers – now, it seems, it is more insidious – the reasons for these arrests and clamp-downs are the same – speaking out against your government. History, it appears, does repeat itself, as illustrated by PEN’s continuous campaigns against these arrests and incarcerations.

The Play Itself;

…is based on a real-life murder case, which had a very controversial trial, in which a man called Johann Christian Woyzeck murdered his lover in Leipzig, 1821. When Büchner passed away, the manuscript was found, but not published until 1879, and not performed for the first time until 1913. The scenes themselves are self-contained, in that they differ from each other and don’t lead or thread into the next. Interestingly, this is replicated in the show that I work at – the sets are built across a huge, disused post office depot and each one is different, encouraging the theatre-goers to explore the entire building.

The fact that Woyzeck is a poor soldier, with no social standing or respect whatsoever, is an interesting one. In the time this this play was written and also performed, protagonists – or, hero/main characters – were usually always someone of some social standing, to reflect the fact that the only people who could afford to attend theatre at this time were upper class or ruling class.

The story-line is really quite a heart-breaking one. It follows Woyzeck through his ill-paid job as a lowly soldier, to his home with Marie – his lover and the mother of his son (who he pays no attention to whatsoever), and his friend in the barracks, Andres. The captain he works for is constantly making an example of Woyzeck, ordering him to do such things as eat a peas-only diet for three months so he can monitor what this does to a person, making him shave him whilst he demeans him and puts him down in front of other soldiers and orderlies, and instructing him to wiggle his ears, whilst laughing at him, as if some sort of freak-show attraction. His lover, Marie, is cheating on him with the Drum Major and when he finds out, he goes mad and buys a knife to stab her with. He hears voices telling him to do it, and in a frantic but eerily calm moment, he lures her to the edge of a pond and murders her. The language used throughout is clearly that of the era, which at first I thought I’d find difficult to understand, but almost immediately – because of the emotional quality of the piece – I understood and felt every line in every scene – even the occasional humour and moments of madness or sadness.

The ending of the play is chilling – he returns to the pond to locate the knife he used, in order to hide it – and chooses to throw it in the water. Deciding it hasn't gone in far enough; he wades in, finds it, and throws it further. He just keeps wading, in the dark, further out into the pond, and it ends there. I gulped a little bit, and had a definite tear in my eye as well as clammy skin, too! Great, great piece - Büchner was a genius.

We are now 7.5 hours away from the end of our readathon! At midnight tonight, we will have read and reviewed 60 books between us in 8 weeks – and we’re SO grateful for the support we've received from our pledgers and also English PEN and other student PEN societies, we couldn't have done it without you. Look out for more details on our launch party - we'll keep you all updated.

Peace and love, Sam

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This is one of those novels which treads the fine line between readability and content perfectly, it managed to get me hooked without talking down to me, and I felt all the better at the end for having read it. It is an elaborate sweeping drama set over a number of decades in and around the first world war. Faulks writes in his introduction that he wanted to try and tell a story which hadn't really been told before, and in writing about the tunnellers trying to take out the enemy from underneath in hideous, staggeringly dangerous conditions, I feel like that is what he has done.

If I were being picky, then I would say that the sections of the novel set in the 1970s are a little unnecessary, and that the rest of the plot and characters work well enough in their own rights to not need the link to a more present day. However, this aside, I found myself seriously affected by the novel as a whole, and think it has rightly earned its place on the shelf as a modern classic about the brutality of war and all that goes alongside it.

Rachael Spencer, guest blogger

Note from the society; Rachael very kindly offered to help us out with some reviews when lost a member from the team at the last minute of the readathon, so thank you SO MUCH, Rachael, for being a friend of UEL PEN. Rachael also happens to be taking over Unbound, our creative writing anthology publication here at UEL, this coming semester. Look out for some amazing work from her and her team here; UEL Unbound

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Michael Chabon never fails to keep me turning a page. I admit to having a particular soft spot for this novel due to the fact its main protagonist is a writer who is battling with his work much as I am.

Grady Tripp is a professor at a university in Pittsburgh who once had a roaringly successful novel and has, ever since, been working on a book called Wonder Boys. It has been seven years, and still he writes, seemingly without end. This book takes place on the weekend he is supposed to be allowing his editor to see the finished product, but somewhat predictably, it isn't done yet. At the same time, Tripp is also tying to deal with a home life on the brink of collapse as yet another wife leaves him and the woman he has been having an affair with declares she is pregnant.

If ever I need to remember why I love writing, I come back to this book. In it very little actually happens, but the characters become people you'd really quite like to drive around Pittsburgh with for a couple of days. When they say something funny (which is fairly often), I laugh, and when they are on the brink of an important decision, I hold my breath. Sometimes I wonder what they would be doing now, outside the confines of the pages.

My old paperback is a battered mess with a broken spine and pages folded over in the top corner. Somehow I feel that's the highest praise that can be given to a book, right?

Rachael Spencer, guest blogger

Note from the society; Rachael very kindly offered to help us out with some reviews when lost a member from the team at the last minute of the readathon, so thank you SO MUCH, Rachael, for being a friend of UEL PEN. Rachael also happens to be taking over Unbound, our creative writing anthology publication here at UEL, this coming semester. Look out for some amazing work from her and her team here; UEL Unbound

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Written in 1968, this novel is set in 1992 during the aftermath of 'World War Terminus'. Earth has been left in a post apocalyptic mess where animals are all but extinct, and the planet is being engulfed in a nuclear dust. Amongst the abandoned buildings, Rick Deckard works as a bounty hunter on a mission to 'retire' rogue androids who have killed their human owners in order to try and live within society as humans themselves. The 1982 film Blade Runner is loosely set on this book, and though the plots differ quite radically, it is easy to see how Blade Runner found its dystopian, almost hopeless, sense of futility amidst the pages of this novel.

I enjoyed Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? more so than the film, and really liked the overall atmosphere created within just the first couple of pages of the novel. Characters are incredibly well drawn out, and I felt like I understood the world in which it is set perfectly given that it is not only a short book, but also set during just one 24 hour period of time.

Though incredibly genre orientated as a piece, I loved this book in its own right, and would happily recommend it until I'm blue in the face.

Rachael Spencer, guest blogger

Note from the society; Rachael very kindly offered to help us out with some reviews when lost a member from the team at the last minute of the readathon, so thank you SO MUCH, Rachael, for being a friend of UEL PEN. Rachael also happens to be taking over Unbound, our creative writing anthology publication here at UEL, this coming semester. Look out for some amazing work from her and her team here; UEL Unbound

The Famous Five Books - Enid Blyton

Posted: Tuesday, 13 August 2013 by Mandy in Labels: , , , , ,
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In my 'reading out my closet' collection I have to include The Famous Five books by Enid Blyton, which were extremely popular in my country and I've read every single one of them as a child.
The books follow the adventures of Julian, Dick, Anne and Georgina or George as she likes to be called, who face different kinds of detective situations - think of them as a Scooby Doo gang (they even have a dog).
The reason why I wanted to include these series is because APPARENTLY they caused a massive controversy according to some of my Early Childhood Studies classes. There have been uproars about the books in regards to racism and gender stereotyping - presenting females as weak and males as strongest.
A couple of years back there was also a very controversial post where one Slovenian mom addressed the issue of her daughter reading the books and copying everything the characters are doing - like eating unhealthy, wanting to be a boy etc.

"She never meant to offend anyone with her work and would probably have been horrified if she knew she had, but she was a product of her time." Seven Stories Chief Executive Kate Edwards .

The Famous Five books have to be my favorite book series I've read as a child (pre Harry Potter stage). They're an extremely light read, but you'll want to read them over and over again. The writing style is simple and easily readable, good for anyone in the mood for something nostalgic.

Oh, and apparently there were series out there as well.



Little Women - Louisa May Alcott

Posted: by Mandy in Labels: , , , ,
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My interest in Little Women came from a Friends episode, when Rachel spoiled events of the book to Joey. I shared the same feelings as him when I was reading it as well, so well done Friends for spoiling a book to everyone.

Little women is based in  New England's nineteenth century and it features four women - Beth, Amy, Jo and Meg. Their father is off to face the war and the book talks about the girls coming off age.
I had mixed emotions reading this book as it involves religion, which is something I'm not a fan of, but I still decided to give it a go.
 The writing style is quite similar to books such as Pride and Prejudice and even The Sugar Girls, so if you're looking for a book to take you on a journey through the old days, give this one a go. 
I absolutely love the relationship between Amy and Laurie, which was, in my opinion, a lot better than Laurie and Jo. It was interesting to see different conflicts that the characters face and also the different personalities of the characters - Jo is an extreme tomboy, Meg is being classified as beautiful, Amy is the romantic dreamer and Beth faces an illness.
Don't watch the below clip if you have anger issues when someone spoils you something (well, I guess you could see it from the video title, sorry:P), but if not, enjoy one of the few Friends scenes where Joey actually reads and is passionate over a book.

xoxo Mandy

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Please Stop Laughing at me was one of the most painful reads I've ever encountered, probably because it's extremely close to my heart. The keyword of this story is BULLYING.
It follows the life of the almost naive Jodee, who just wanted to learn and be smart and have friends - this doesn't work out. Because of her ability to learn she encounters a variety of bullying from her peers, which forces her to switch schools several times until her parents got fed up with it.

It's amazing to see how backstabbing teenagers get and how they have no clue about their powers to hurt someone and to scar their mind. It clearly presents how school can go from heaven to hell in one day and it's interesting to see how Jodee has dealt with it. Words have consequences and I'd just like to say to the parents to try and see the bigger picture and to see what the kids are doing to each other.

She is now touring around the schools and talks about bullying. I'll let her story speak for itself - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eByfR2jeFtk

Of course, Jodee Blanco isn't the only person that's ever encountered bullying, but she's one of the few that openly speaks about it and tries to help people. Don't be an ass to somebody else and let them live.

xoxo Mandy