July 19, 2015

Book Review || Possession by AS Byatt

Possession is an extraordinary novel, twisted and melded around an invented poet and poetess’ love affair. The history in the novel is finely detailed, making the pair utterly believable and protagonists Roland and Maud’s journey to finding the truth of these literary figures and the truth about themselves is captivating.

Bearing in mind that this is a very academic novel, it is filled with poetry, epistolic writing, and even fairy tales. And thus it is also filled with the themes that English Studies is all about, such as identity, gender, and criticism. I enjoyed the novel immensely because of these aspects, as an English student, but this novel is not for everyone, especially if they have no interest in such questions and themes.

The novel is also about possession: who holds possession, who has the right to hold possession, what constitutes possession, what and who can be possessed.

It is this question of possession that gets Roland into trouble in the first place. He comes across undiscovered drafts of letters written by his idol, RH Ash, to some unknown woman. Here the question of possession of artefacts comes in: it is his discovery - does it make the letters his? Do they belong to Ash’s family? Should they belong to England? Should they belong to Mortimer Cropper, a man known as having the most complete Ash collection in the world. If not, to whom should they belong? Roland takes the letters, determined to solve his discovered mystery.

After some research, he decides the only woman to whom the letters could be addressed was Christabel Lamotte, a poetess in her own right but who is believed to have partnered with another woman. Roland decides to investigate Lamotte and meets Maud, who happens to be a relative of Christabel’s sister.

Together they uncover the truth of the letters but the mystery only deepens and it becomes something that possesses them as much as they attempt to possess it.

Filled with discussions about postmodernism, femininity, gender, liminality, and other academic interests, one of the novel’s themes is boundaries and the crossing of invisible thresholds. The women in the novel all have this boundary. Christabel Lamotte’s choosing to live with a woman was a way of living a life away from men. Maud, along with Leonora Stern and Beatrice Nest, also have their own boundaries. For Nest, it is her figure, which she has determinedly disfigured to gain the least attention from men. Heartbroken Maud uses her disguised and tightly wound hair to remind herself to be at all times in control. And it is men who attempt to cross these thresholds - albeit amiably - and it is seen as an assault by these women. They are all like Ellen Ash, who was unable to allow her husband entry to her body, and so fear the real entry of men into their lives and personal spaces. Even Roland has his own threshold to cross: that of his own self-deprecation. It is only once he crosses this boundary that he sees himself and allows himself to cross it.

The book also questions how our identities are so shaped by our ideologies that we sometimes do not see what is right in front of us: Beatrice, Roland, and Maud are so wrapped up in analysing the world and making everything fit into their theories and beliefs that they forget to consider to live. Roland and Maud eventually fall in love because they come to see through their own constructed boundaries into each other's realities.

While this highly-acclaimed novel won two book prizes and was made into a film, I believe that it will be very difficult for the average reader to remain interested. I highly-recommend this book for readers who habitually close-read and for readers who are looking for  unanswerable questions and philosophising about the answers. It is indeed a romance, but a higher grade romance that needs a bit of academic history to get through without losing the plot.

I watched the film after reading the book, and it left out much of the academics of the matter, instead becoming a romantic adventure centred around the mystery of lost letters and overlooking the aspects of identity and possession that the novel is inspired by. In essence, the academics of the story were erased, turning it into a run-of-the-mill love story.

Even more disappointingly, the bookishness that made Maud and Roland find a kindred spirit in each other was removed entirely. Roland was altered from a distracted and academic Briton to a stereotypical American, making vulgar jokes at every opportunity and being a typical 'man'. The writer of the film, and of the book, too, believed this was necessary to make Roland work on screen, but it is telling that he had to be turned into Maud's opposite for them to fall in love, that he had to become the everyman to appeal to moviegoers. Besides, there was no way that Hollywood would allow a lost man to be Maud's love interest.

This is not to say the film was bad, of course, just not the same. But how often are books and films the same in their readers’ eyes?
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July 4, 2015

DIY || Quick Princess Leia 'A New Hope' costume for GeekFest 2015

While I didn't really have a plan for a costume for our cosplay at the GeekFest 2015, after hubby decided he'd go as a Jedi, Princess Leia seemed the appropriate choice, seeing as she's the only woman worth any mention in the original trilogy and seeing as we could dress Emma up as an Ewok. I wanted to wear the outfit Leia wears on Hoth, it would have been more time-consuming than the two hours I used up to make the outfit she wore in 'A New Hope'.

I was inspired by this post on StarWars.com for a very quick outfit to be done at short notice, since I spent most of the time on the Jedi cloak and tunic. Emma's Ewok outfit, however, took an even shorter time to complete. Let me know in the comments if you'd like a tutorial for her Ewok costume (cuteness guaranteed!).

I obviously altered the StarWars.com pattern a little as I went, since I didn't actually have it open at the time I was sewing it. As a result, it doesn't have the hood, but it has wider sleeves and the polo neck seen in the film. Here are all three of us on the day:
All I used for the outfit was two men's shirts. If you plan to do a similar outfit, use a t-shirt that is wide enough between the seams of the armholes (A) to fit around your hips and waist to use as the skirt. This t-shirt should also have short sleeves.
The second t-shirt, which must have long sleeves and a v-neck, should be wide enough for you to gather it a bit at the bottom to allow it to billow over the belt. I made mine a little too narrow but I don't like huge puffs of fabric around my waist, so it really is a matter of personal preference.

The skirt is also a little too short in comparison to the one in the film, so if you have a third shirt that is much bigger than the one you used for the skirt, you can add an additional section to make it longer. My belt was also too wide but I had given my narrow one away, thinking, of course, that I was never going to use it, haha.

So, steps. I apologise for the lack of images; I worked on this late at night and you know what happens with hastiness... If my instructions aren't clear, please feel free to contact me!

For the skirt:

1. Lay out the shirt to be used for the skirt. Cut off the sleeves as close to the seam as possible and then cut across as close to the bottom of the neckline as possible.

2. Fold in half and mark the side of what will be your skirt with a fabric pencil. You will be drawing a straight line from the shoulder seam parallel to the armhole seam and then you will taper your line down to the side seam of the shirt. Cut once you're certain (Unless the t-shirt is very big, mistakes will be costly), leaving the bottom hem intact, as this will be the bottom hem of your skirt.

This is in essence what you will be aiming for:
3.Sew the side seams up.

Notes: Feel free to cut off the bottom hem of the t-shirt if you are adding another section. All you'll need to do is cut the bottom section off the third much larger t-shirt depending on how much longer you want the skirt, taper the seams to match with the skirt, seam, and attach to the bottom of the skirt.

For the bodice:

1. Put on the skirt and the second shirt, measuring where you would like the waistline for the dress. Mark the shirt at your waistline with enough give for a hem.

2. Cut straight along the shirt at the point you marked off.

3. Set your sewing machine to it's widest stitch and sew a line or two of gathering stitches along the bottom of the shirt.

4. Mark the centres of the t-shirt and your skirt; pin the side seams of the shirt and skirt together; and begin to pull the gathering stitches until the centres of the skirt and shirt match. Pin and sew over the basting stitches. Remember to remove these stitches when you've sewn your waistline seam.

Notes: When I tried the shirt on at this point, I didn't like how low the armhole and shoulder seams hung on my arms. I actually cut off the sleeves, made the shoulder seam narrower, and reattached the sleeves. This also really depends on your personal preference and time constraints.

For the polo neck:

1. Cut off the ribbing around the neck of the bodice t-shirt as close to the seam as possible.

2. Mark the centre of the back and front necklines with pins. Now take one of the sleeves you cut off from the short sleeve t-shirt.

3. Pin the sleeve seam to the centre of the back neckline and the point of the upper sleeve to the centre of the front v-neck. It works better if you work from the centre back down to the v-neck for each side of the neckline. Sew it up.

For the wider sleeves:

1. Decide how much wider you want your sleeves to be. This also depends on how much fabric you have left over from your bodice t-shirt.

2. Mark an isosceles triangle into the leftover fabric, with the uppermost point being the length of the point in the sleeve where you want it to be wider.
3. Cut the seams of the sleeves to a little less than the height of the triangle.

4. Pin and sew first one side of the triangle to the sleeve opening, and then the other.
5. Neaten the seam by matching the two seams of the triangle and sewing straight along the original sleeve seam.

6. Repeat with the other sleeve.

7. Put on the dress and mark the point where you want the sleeves to reach on your wrist. You can simply cut across the bottom of the sleeve at this point, securing the seams, or you can seam it. I left it with no seam.


And that's about it! I just added an old brown belt and knee-high black boots. However, if you want the look to be more authentic, you'll need white boots, something I'm not brave enough to purchase! :) I do have a pair of white pumps, which I was going to wear with white trousers under the dress, but the boots looked better. I doubled up on layers as well because the white shirts were pretty see-through. If you have thin hair like me, you may also like to purchase a wig with Leia's iconic buns already on, but this all depends on how much time you have on your hands. If you have more time, you will most likely purchase the correct amount of fabric, all the correct notions, and have everything you need to replicate the official look.

I am actually really chuffed at how well the outfit turned out; how well everyone's outfits turned out, especially since this is the first time I've ever done cosplay. What do you think?

{Image credit: By The Conmunity - Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA (WonderCon 2012 - R2-D2 and Princess Leia) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons}
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