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Classic Friday #7: Louisa May Alcott

21 Jun

Classic Friday

Welcome to Classic Friday with Nisha Moodley, your monthly journey into Classic authors and their Literature!

Nisha MoodleyNisha is a South African writer, blogger, amateur historian, mystery-chaser and former ghost-hunter who, with a completed collection of short-stories under her belt, is currently working on her first full-length novel.

I hope you enjoy this ‘Classic Friday’ entry and I’ll be back next month for some more.


Louisa May Alcott




She is most famous for her iconic novel Little Women but Louisa May Alcott was a prolific writer and the author of many other childrens’ novels, poems and short story collections. She was an amazing, strongheaded woman whose beliefs and values seem to have been far ahead of her time.

Early Life

Louisa May Alcott was born on 29 November 1832 in Germantown, Pennsylvania, USA. Her father Bronson was a Transcendalist philosopher and teacher while her mother Abigail was a social worker and women’s activist. In 1838 the Alcotts moved to Boston and then on to Concord,  Massachusetts two years later. Louisa May received most of her education from her father, although she was also given lessons from famous
family friends such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. She apparently had a fiery temper and was famous for her mood swings. She also preferred to climb trees, ‘leap fences and be a tomboy’ rather than be the model child her father tried to mould.

The Alcotts were often plagued by periods of financial difficulty which forced Louisa, at a young age, to seek employment. She took on any job she could find to help support her family. In the meanwhile however, she discovered her passion for writing and her literary endeavours would later release her family from their poverty-stricken state.


Writing Career

As a young girl, Alcott wrote plays in which she and her sisters would act out. She also wrote poetry and at the age of 20 she had her first poem Sunlight published in Peterson’s magazine. Three years later her first book, Flower Fables – a collection of fairytales, was published. In 1860, Alcott started writing for the Atlantic Monthly for a small remuneration. Her stories were published under the pseudonym A.M Barnard. The following notable works were also credited under the same name: A Long fatal Love Chase (1866)(only published in 1995), Behind the Mask (1866) and The Abbot’s Ghost (1867).

In the midst of the American Civil War, Alcott volunteered as a nurse in Washington D.C. As a result of this experience she wrote Hospital Sketches which was published in 1863. Afterwards she wrote a few novellas, namely Moods(1864) and The Mysterious Key and What it Opened (1867).

These works got Alcott some public recognition but her biggest breakthrough came in 1868 when Little Women was released. Part Two of the novel titled Good Wives was published the following year. This was followed by An Old-Fashioned Girl in 1870, Little Men (1871), Work: A Story of Experience (1873), Eight Cousins (1875), Under The Lilacs (1878), Jack and Jill: A Village Story (1880), Candy Country (1885) and A Garland For Girls (1888).


Background to Little Women

LittleWomen_RobertsBros_tpAfter reading Hospital Sketches and being impressed by her writing, Thomas Niles from the Roberts Brothers publishing company approached Alcott and suggested she write ‘a book about girls’. This was initially a daunting task for Alcott for she barely knew or kept company with any girls or young women. So for inspiration Alcott turned to her own sisters who would end up serving as the prototypes for the now famous Little Women characters Meg, Beth and Amy. The main character Jo was based on Louisa May herself. She also based the setting of the novel on her family home in Concord, Mass., Orchard House, which still stands today and is now a National landmark and museum.

The book was written in less than 3 months and was separated into two volumes. The first part was published in 1868 and the second volume, Good Wives, came out the year after. The novel became an instant success. It was so popular Alcott was requisitioned to write a sequel, which she subsequently did. The sequel, titled Little Men, was published in 1871.


Alcott the activist

Like both of her parents, Louisa May Alcott was an abolitionist who hit out against slavery and was active in propagating women’s’ rights. She belonged to the suffragette’s movement and on 29 March 1879, Alcott became the first woman in Concord, Massachusetts to register to vote in the school committee elections. Her beliefs on the slave issue and gender equality are clearly expressed in some of her writing as well. Behind The Mask and Work: The Story of Experience, for example, both deal with womens’ issues of equality and treatment in the workplace.


Later Life


While volunteering as a nurse during the Civil War, Alcott contracted typhoid fever. The mercury treatment that cured her would ironically lead to chronic side-effects that would plague her for the rest of her life. She continued to write however and was still active in political and women’s movements. Two days after her father’s death, on 6 March 1888, she suffered a stroke and passed away in Boston, Massachusetts.



Even though as a child she claimed to hate playing with girls and preferred the company of boys, Louisa May Alcott as an adult and writer became an inspiration to a generation of women and a symbol of progression and anti-establishment. However despite all her other literary and humanitarian endeavours, Alcott will always be known for her novel, Little Women. The book has since been translated into over 50 languages and countless movie adaptations have been filmed. It’s safe to say her impact on English Literature was far from little.




Classic Friday #6: Frankenstein

24 May

Classic Friday

Welcome to Classic Friday with Nisha Moodley, your monthly journey into Classic authors and their Literature!

Nisha MoodleyNisha is a South African writer, blogger, amateur historian, mystery-chaser and former ghost-hunter who, with a completed collection of short-stories under her belt, is currently working on her first full-length novel.

I hope you enjoy this ‘Classic Friday’ entry and I’ll be back next month for some more.


NB. Because Nisha is busy with exams this month she would like her readers to please note that the following piece is an old post from her own site, so it may well feel familiar to some of you. She will be back in June with a completely new piece. 



Frankenstein 1In the summer of 1816, a couple holidayed with their friends at Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The man, Percy, despite being married to another woman, fell in love with a girl named Mary and the two lovers eloped to the Europe subcontinent together. They were joined at Lake Geneva by their friend Gordon and his personal physician John.

The Swiss summer that year was a wet one and one night, all four companions found themselves in front of a cosy fire in Gordon’s private villa. Outside, an angry tempest provided the perfect backdrop for the reading of ghost stories. Their reading list for the night consisted of various German stories from a book called Tales Of The Dead.

 As the night progressed Gordon came up with an idea.

 We will each write a ghost story,” he imperatively began.

 Thus began a competition to see who could come up with the scariest tale. The rest of their holiday seemed dedicated to this endeavour.

Percy started a story based on his childhood experiences but with his forte being poetry, he struggled with straightforward prose and failed to complete his tale. Gordon also failed to complete his story about a vampire and John’s efforts, constituting a “skull-like” ghost bride who takes revenge on her faithless groom, failed to impress and he was forced to abandon his creation as well (the good doctor was, however, very impressed with Gordon’s blood-sucking character and intended to write a novel based on this vampire, which he subsequently did).

18-year-old Mary struggled to produce anything at first.

 But having recently suffered the loss of her first child and having to listen to discussions about galvanism between the 3 men, the Muses soon took over and Mary wrote a reanimation tale about a monster so chilling and macabre, that when she eventually submitted it to a publisher in 1817, they could not believe that a woman had written it.

Mary named her novella ‘The Modern Prometheus’ but later changed it.

 Frankenstein’, as it’s now known, is considered a classic masterpiece and according to some, gave birth to a new genre – science fiction.

MaryShelleyAs some of you have probably guessed, the characters in my little story above were none other than Mary Wolstoncraft Godwin, her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Dr. John Polidori and Gordon was none other than Mr. Controversial himself- Lord Byron.

When I first read about this true-life incident I was completely fascinated. I love reading about how authors got inspiration for their famous novels. But what made this event at Lord Byron’s Villa Diodati even more remarkable was that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was not the only horror classic that owes its existence to that historic night.

 As I mentioned, John Polidori was very impressed with the vampire character that Byron had created. And even though the doctor’s story proved a flop, he later wrote a novel called The Vampyre (1819) based on Byron’s creation.

The novel’s main character Lord Ruthven is considered by some websites* and literary scholars to be the first aristocratic vampire in English fiction. More than 70 years later, an Irish author named Abraham Stoker would write a ground-breaking novel whose main character is now deeply embedded in the psyche of popular culture. Stoker listed Lord Ruthven as inspiration for this very character. Few people I think would dare disagree with me if I said Dracula, even after a century, is still the most famous vampire novel ever written.

How is it that one night, one prompt from a competitive literary genius like Byron, one night spent by the fireplace could give birth to a horror classic and also indirectly inspire another?

This question intrigued me, so much so that I went on a studious quest to recreate that memorable evening (in my head of course). Unfortunately, there are so many different versions of what happened that night in Lake Geneva and in the subsequent days and months that followed, that I almost became frustrated with the lack of consistency.

Luckily my copy of Frankenstein (OneWorldClassics) contained an Introduction written by Mary herself, chronicling (albeit vaguely) her experiences of that night (my little retelling at the beginning of this post is based on her account).

So what does it take to inspire a great horror novel? Or any great novel for that matter?

Is nature important? Atmospheric mood and the natural elements seem to have played a key part in Frankenstein. And the influence of Switzerland’s natural beauty is clearly evident in Mary Shelley’s writing.

Maybe pedigree plays a part? Both Mary’s parents happened to be distinguished writers in their own right. Or just maybe that age-old advice about surrounding yourself with the right type of people rings true?

frankenstein-mary-shelleyPercy Shelley and Lord Byron were both considered poetic geniuses. Byron had already played his part in the creation of Frankenstein by prompting the creativity in his friends, and Percy, not only proofread and edited the first draft of Frankenstein but also supported and encouraged his wife with her writing career up until his death(like any good literary husband should!).

Maybe it’s a combination of all these factors that results in the writing of a great ‘ghost’ story. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking anything away from Mary herself. There was no doubt that she had talent and was hailed in even higher esteem than her colleagues but inspiration has to come from somewhere. Something magical happened that night in Lake Geneva which cannot be explained.

If not, then is it just one big coincidence that two of the greatest horror novels ever written find themselves linked by a situation as innocuous as four friends sitting around a fire telling ghost stories? I leave you to decide for yourselves.

Whatever the case may be however, if you are a writer or in a creative profession, I hope inspiration comes to you, situations favour you and luck finds you in all your endeavours.

Happy writing!



References to check out:

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Author’s Introduction to the Standard Novels Edition. OneWorld Classics. 1818 (last ed. 2008).  John Polidori and the Vampyre Byron Folkroots: Vampires in Folklore and Literature by Theodora Goss


Classic Friday #5: The Woman in White

26 Apr

Classic Friday

Welcome to Classic Friday with Nisha Moodley, your monthly journey into Classic authors and their Literature!

Nisha MoodleyNisha is a South African writer, blogger, amateur historian, mystery-chaser and former ghost-hunter who, with a completed collection of short-stories under her belt, is currently working on her first full-length novel.

I hope you enjoy this ‘Classic Friday’ entry and I’ll be back next month for some more.




GENRE: 19th century Detective/Mystery Fiction


NO. OF PAGES: 728 (My copy: Collins Classic)

the-woman-in-whiteDescribed as one of the very first sensation novels, first –time readers were captivated by Wilkie Collins’ story, The Woman In White when it was first released in serial form in 1859. Apparently, a true-life case of the wrongful abduction and incarceration of a woman in a mental institute in the 18th century was the inspiration for this classic piece of fiction, in which the complex plot leaves little to be desired for the action-seeking reader.


 Drawing-teacher Walter Hartright has secured himself a new job that takes him away from his mother and sister, to the village of Limmeridge. En route to his new employment, he meets a strange woman on the road late at night. Dressed all in white, the young lady’s anxious and erratic behaviour tells of distressing circumstances which she doesn’t reveal to Walter. Instead she asks his help in accompanying her to London. On the journey a strange coincidence is revealed as Walter finds that the lady is well acquainted with the area of Limmeridge and the very people he will be working for.

 After the two part ways, the teacher learns that the eccentric woman was in fact escaping from a mental asylum when she bumped into Walter, and he inadvertently had a hand in her escape. Once at Limmeridge, Walter meets his new students: Marian Halcombe and the beautiful Laura Fairlie -half-sisters who are totally devoted to each other. As the weeks pass by, he finds himself falling more and more in love with Laura. When he finds out that Laura has been promised to another man, one Sir Percival Glyde, Walter is heartbroken.

 Considering the situation, he decides to leave Limmeridge after only 3 months of employment. Before he does however, curious incidents present themselves that leave both Walter and Marian anxious for Laura’s future. An anonymous letter to the bride-to-be, warning of Sir Glyde’s character, sets Walter and Marian off on an investigation to search for the sender. The search proves fruitless until one night

Walter bumps into none other than Anne Catherick – his white-clad acquaintance who had escaped from the asylum. It was Anne who had sent Laura the letter but was at the same time evasive about details concerning Percival Glyde. Anne leaves Limmeridge prematurely before Walter can find out any more. With doubts cast on Anne’s sanity, Laura’s marriage to Percival goes ahead as planned as heartbroken Walter leaves England for South America. He will return a year later however but not before Percival begins to show his true colours when it is too late. Laura’s future seems doomed. Under the influence of his best friend, the sinister Count Fosco, Percival has ensnared Laura in a wicked trap and it’s now up to stalwart Marian to save her sister from the two conniving men in Walter’s absence.


Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins

Well-thought out, Wilkie Collins has woven an intricate plot, with plenty of secrets waiting to be revealed. His narrative style warrants an examination in itself. Written in the first person, the whole story is told in the form of letters and journal entries from the various characters involved- the typical epistolary novel.

Each character tells his or her version of events, slowly unravelling the mystery to the reader. It’s the same epistolary style Collins employed in his other famous novel, The Moonstone. It’s a technique that works for the purpose of the story, creating suspense and uncertainty in the reader. The conflicting reports (which often occur when multiple witnesses are asked to give testimony) are ingeniously crafted by Collins; and it all comes together as our protagonist Walter Hartright tries to piece the puzzle of Glyde and Fosco’s sinister modus operandi together.

Is This Book For You? I recommend this to ANYONE who likes one heck of a good story. And if you happen to be a fan of mystery or the Classics in general, I suggest you buy/order this book immediately. In my book reviews, I tend to point out any faults in a novel for a more comprehensive perspective but with The Woman In White, I was hard-pressed to find any. I could perhaps point out the sentimentality that is inherent in the dialogue but then again I’ve yet to read a first-person 19th century novel in which the narratives are not emotional, sentimental and often dramatic. So this is me being nit-picky 😉

Plus if you like novels that are character-driven you will not be disappointed. Amongst the others, Marian Halcombe is a worthy literary heroine, a wonderful contrast to some of the helpless, delicate female characters you often find in classic novels. Who steals the show, however, is the ominous Count Fosco. Wilkie Collins really outdid himself in creating this antagonist. I’m surprised that the name ‘Fosco’ is not a literary household name or an established eponym for ‘cunning’. That juicy mix of irresistible charm, boldness and lack of moral conscience should serve as the template for the classic Machiavellian villain, for his character is certainly hard to forget.

 With suspense and action on almost every page, and with some memorable characters thrown in, The Woman In White is certainly a difficult book to put down once you start reading…

Author Bio

For a full biography on Wilkie Collins, click here



Classic Friday #4: J.D Salinger

22 Mar


Classic Friday

Welcome to Classic Friday with Nisha Moodley, your monthly journey into Classic authors and their Literature!

Nisha MoodleyNisha is a South African writer, blogger, amateur historian, mystery-chaser and former ghost-hunter who, with a completed collection of short-stories under her belt, is currently working on her first full-length novel.

I hope you enjoy this ‘Classic Friday’ entry and I’ll be back next month for some more.






NO. OF PAGES: 192 (My copy: Penguin Books)

Catcher in the RyeLove it or hate it, it’s the coming-of-age novel that has its place in American literature as one of the greatest. The name Holden Caulfield has become synonymous with the image of the rebellious teenager- pioneering a new kind of hero for non-conformists. The book caused a sensation when it was first released to the public, and even today it is still banned in a few schools in the USA.

 So what makes Catcher In The Rye the controversial classic that it is?

 Brief Synopsis

17-year-old Holden has just been expelled from school. For the third time.

 It’s just before the Christmas Holidays and instead of waiting for what’s left of the semester he leaves his boarding school prematurely. Holden’s too afraid to go back home to face the wrath of his parents however, so he heads off to New York City. The entire novel chronicles the adventures and the people he encounters over the next three days whilst at the same time giving us a glimpse of Holden’s life and his thoughts on school, sex, people and death. His disillusionment with the world and the people in it leaves him depressed and isolated. Despite the help and advice he gets from the people he loves and admires (including his wonderful 10- year-old sister Phoebe), Holden struggles with his sense of identity and his place in the world which eventually leads him in a downward spiral.


Catcher in The Rye is written in the 1st person perspective told from Holden’s own point of view. The controversy surrounding the book has to be viewed from the time in which the book was written.

 Salinger started writing the novel in the early 1940’s. The Second World War and its aftermath brought about certain attitudes in American society with regards to family, career and life in general. These attitudes fashioned certain societal ideals that were not entirely different to how it is today. Our protagonist blatantly challenges these ideals by pointing out the ‘phoniness’ in people and in society in general:

 “Pencey Prep is this school that’s in Agerstown, Pennsylvania. You’ve probably seen the ads…they advertise in about a thousand magazines, always showing some hot-shot guy on a horsejumping over a fence. Like as if all you ever did at Pencey was play polo all the time. I never even once saw a horse anywhere near the place. And underneath…it always says ‘Since 1888 we have been molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men.’ They don’t do any damn more molding at Pencey than they do at any other school. I didn’t know anybody there that was splendid and clear-thinking. Maybe two guys…and they probably came to Pencey that way.”

Salinger also uses Holden Caulfield to voice his own anti-war feelings which, given the Allies’ victory in the Second World War, must have come as a shock to the American readers who revelled in their pride and patriotism.

 The subtle vulgarity (well, subtle to us modern readers anyway) also seemed to ruffle a few feathers which made Catcher In The Rye quite a notorious little novel, notorious enough to be considered a negative influence, even resulting in a few English teachers losing their jobs for teaching it in their classrooms.

 From a literary perspective, the novel has its merits.

 The distinctive stream-of-consciousness narrative beautifully betrays the stages of Holden’s psychology throughout the book- from self-righteous defiance to feelings of despair and complete hopelessness; we see our hero’s faults and his deeper sorrows without him having to mention them explicitly. First-person perspectives are considered bias in nature because we see things from one person’s point of view only. But this is where I feel the beauty of this novel lies. Naturally we trust our narrator and Salinger, in the beginning, makes us trust Holden but as we progress through the story, on our own we slowly begin to see the cracks in Holden’s thinking and begin to see the bigger picture of what is really happening.

 Is this book for you? If thoughts and memories of your former schooldays bring you nothing but dread, then this book is a must-read. Despite being written over 60 years ago, it is still very relatable and relevant but a word of warning: this is not your typical ‘classic’ book. Firstly it lacks a plot, and secondly the narrative is very informal and colloquialism is employed freely. So those bibliophiles who are sticklers for good English might cringe at repetitive phrases like “and all” at the end of sentences as well as inane similes like “pretty as hell.”

 However, saying this, this colloquialism is probably what gives Catcher In The Rye its unique trademark, the true voice of a rebellious teenager which many will relate to.

 Author Bio



Jerome David Salinger was born in New York City in 1919. His writing career began in high school when he served as a reporter for the local school paper. In 1934, he enrolled at a Military Academy in Pennsylvania, graduating two years later. After enrolling for a writing course at Columbia University, Salinger had his first short story, The Young Folks, published in 1940. Another short story, Slight Rebellion Off Madison, which introduces the character Holden Caulfield for the first time and is said to be the prequel to Catcher In The Rye, was published in the New Yorker in 1941.

 In 1942, in the midst of WW2, Salinger was drafted into the Army as an interrogator. He continued to write however, whilst in the Army, and had many short stories published in the prestigious New Yorker.

 Apart from Catcher In The Rye, his other notable works include Franny and Zooey(1961) and Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1961).

 Salinger passed away in 2010 in Cornish, New Hampshire at the age of 91.


Classic Friday #3: Wilkie Collins

22 Feb


Classic Friday

Welcome to Classic Friday with Nisha Moodley, your monthly journey into Classic authors and their Literature!

Nisha MoodleyNisha is a South African writer, blogger, amateur historian, mystery-chaser and former ghost-hunter who, with a completed collection of short-stories under her belt, is currently working on her first full-length novel.

I hope you enjoy this ‘Classic Friday’ entry and I’ll be back on  Friday 22nd March for some more…


Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins



Fans of Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle might be surprised to hear that as celebrated as these authors are, a lesser known writer has the distinction of being called the Father of English detective fiction. That man’s name was Wilkie Collins who, at one stage, was one of the highest paid writers in England. He is also well-known for having been a close friend of Charles Dickens and for leading an unconventional life, which some even deemed scandalous.


William Wilkie Collins was born on January 8th 1824 in Marylebone, London. At the age of 12 his family moved to Italy and then onto France.

 In 1838, Wilkie returned to England and attended a private boarding school. It was here that he would discover his true talent but not in the most pleasant of circumstances. Given his odd appearance and somewhat diminutive stature, Collins was always an easy target for bullies for most of his early/schooling life. At his new boarding school, Wilkie became the target of a new tormentor: an 18-year-old who was in charge of his dormitory. The senior boy would bully Collins every night into telling him a story, promising the fearful little Wilkie ‘a good thrashing’ if he didn’t. In his own words:

 “It was this brute who first awakened in me, his poor little victim, a power of which but for him I might never have been aware…When I left school I continued story telling for my own pleasure”

 Due to his misery at school, Collins dropped out prematurely and began an apprenticeship at Antrobus & Co., a tea merchant based in London. He hated his job and took up writing short stories in his spare time.

 In 1846, he enrolled for a Law Degree at Lincoln’s Inn; he graduated and was admitted to the bar in 1851.

Writing Career

The Women In White Cover 1890

The Women In White Cover 1890

Wilkie Collins never practised as a lawyer however. He took up writing full-time and managed to get a few short stories published. When his father passed away in 1847, Collins published his first book, a biography of Collins Snr., The Memoirs of the Life of William Collins, Esq. R.A.

 His first fictional novel was Antonina, an historical novel set in Ancient Rome, and was published in 1850. Subsequent books following Antonina included Basil (1852), Hide and Seek (1854) and The Dead Secret (1857).

 In 1851, Wilkie met Charles Dickens and the two immediately struck up a close friendship. Dickens invited Collins to write for his famous serial publication Household Words. “A Terribly Strange Bed” would be Wilkie’s first contribution to the magazine and the story was published in 1852. He would go on to contribute over 50 stories to Household Words in the course of his writing career. He also collaborated theatrically with Dickens, producing many plays together. The two authors would remain lifelong friends, often accompanying each other on trips and European holidays.

 Real success came for Wilkie however, when the The Woman In White (1859) was first published in serial form in Dickens’ new venture All The Year Round. The Woman In White received such excellent reviews that it was released as a novel the very next year.

 Some notable novels followed The Woman In White: No Name (1862), Armadale(1866), and the Moonstone (1868).

 The Moonstone is considered a landmark in English Literature, viewed by many as the first English detective novel, and by some others (T.S Eliot and Dorothy Sayers to name but a few) to be the best detective novel ever written. It has been credited with setting the standards and conventions that is common in detective-mystery novels today, such as the proverbial ‘red herring’ and the common motif of the incompetent police force. Sergeant Cuff, the eccentric sleuth in the story, with his brilliance and peculiar idiosyncrasies, bears a striking resemblance to Sherlock Holmes and was probable inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle.

 Wilkie Collins would go on to write many more novels, his last being Blind Love which was left unfinished following his death in 1889.

Women and Drugs

Caroline Graves (1830-1895)

Caroline Graves (1830-1895)

Popular Theory suggests that the inspiration for Anne Catherick, the character in The Woman In White to which the title refers to, was Caroline Graves. Details are sketchy as to when they actually met but according to some biographers of Wilkie Collins, the author met Graves (and her young daughter) in 1856 and by 1859 they were living together. A couple of years later Wilkie started suffering from rheumatic gout. As a result, he travelled to health spas in Germany and Italy with Caroline seeking relief for his ailments.

 Whilst still maintaining his relationship with Caroline, he began an affair with 19-year-old Martha Rudd in 1864. In 1868, Caroline Graves left Wilkie and married another man (some say she grew tired of Wilkie’s reluctance to get married). Soon after Martha Rudd became pregnant with his first child. Wilkie suffered a serious attack of gout at around this time and began using opium in an attempt to alleviate the pain. He would develop a life-long addiction to the drug that would mark the decline in his writing career. He still wrote prolifically but many of his contemporaries remarked that his later works were no match for his earlier successes, citing his excessive opium use as the cause of this.

 In 1870, Caroline Graves left her husband and returned to Wilkie but the author devoted his time equally between both Graves and Rudd. Martha would bear him two more children and after his death, the women were granted equal share of his inheritance.

 As is evident Wilkie Collins lived the quintessential Bohemian lifestyle. Even though society at the time viewed with shock his behaviour and habits, these were considered characteristic of ‘creative types’ back in the 19th century. His lifestyle was therefore tolerated if not accepted.

 Collins left behind a literary legacy that has influenced many high-profile authors. Having written over 25 novels, without this contribution the mystery genre would never be what it is today. Fans of the classic detective story, therefore, owe much to the talent of Wilkie Collins.



Classic Friday #2 Turn of The Screw

18 Jan

Welcome to Classic Friday with Nisha Moodley, your monthly journey into  Classic authors  and their Literature!

Nisha MoodleyNisha is a South African writer, blogger, amateur historian, mystery-chaser and former ghost-hunter who, with a completed collection of short-stories under her belt, is currently working on her first full-length novel.

I hope you enjoy this ‘Classic Friday’ entry and I’ll be back on  Friday 22nd February for some more…


The Turn Of the Screw - PenguinTITLE: TURN OF THE SCREW




NO. OF PAGES: 133 (my copy : Vintage Classics/Random House)

It’s been mentioned in numerous popular TV shows including CSI and LOST; it has been the inspiration for many Hollywood movies like Deborah Kerr’s The Innocents (1961) and Nicole Kidman’s The Others (2001). Oscar Wilde described it as “a most wonderful, lurid and poisonous little tale.”

So what is it about Henry James’ Turn Of The Screw that makes it the quintessential classic ghost story?

Brief Synopsis :

A bachelor offers a young woman the position of governess to his orphaned niece and nephew whom he takes no interest in and considers to be a burden. She accepts the job offer, which gives her complete authority and sole responsibility of the children. When she moves to their home in the Essex countryside, she finds herself immediately enchanted by her new charges: a boy, Miles (10) and his sister, Flora (8).

The children at first seem perfect in every respect. Both beautiful, charming,intelligent and obedient, they win over the young woman’s heart completely. In her eyes they can do no wrong. But when a letter arrives from Miles’ school stating that he has been expelled (with no reason given) and when two ghostly apparitions start making their appearance in and around the country home, her sanity and loyalty are put to the test. With the help of her new confidante, Mrs. Grose the housekeeper, she learns that the apparitions resemble those of her predecessor and lover, both of whom died mysteriously. Convinced that something diabolical is at work, she strives to take action andprotect the children at all costs.

The-Turn-of-the-Screw-blueThe diminutive story hardly possesses a complicated plot so what makes Turn Of The Screw stand out from other books in its category? Perhaps it is not only the supernatural apparitions and the eerie country house in an atmospheric locale that play the starring roles in this ‘poisonous tale.’ As James clearly suggests in the opening narration, the fact that young innocent children are involved adds to the dark and disturbing quality of this tale. The corruption of innocence is an apparent motif in the story. This corruption seems to present itself as something to be feared the most, more so than the ghostly appearances themselves. Although, what form this danger or corruption takes is not made clear to us. The beauty of this novella, I feel, lies in its noted ambiguity; the intended loose threads keeping the reader wondering long after they’ve put the book down.

Written in the first person perspective, The Turn Of The Screw possesses all the sentimentality that characterizes many Classic novels. At first I didn’t think anything of it. Usually sentimental dialogue is there to create emotional depth and feeling for the characters but in this case it also serves another function, which I’m not sure if James had intended or not. For the main character at least, her emotional dialogue adds uncertainty, creating that aforementioned ambiguity. The inconclusive nature of the story has been both criticized and praised in equal measure by literary critics and other book reviews I’ve come across. Nevertheless James created a psychological narrative here, the main plot and ending of which, relies on the reader’s interpretation.

The equivocal storyline has one positive quality, if nothing else. It enhances the mystery of the plot, adding a sense of uneasiness, helping us to identify with the main character but at the same time, making us question her as well. James gets us thinking, which has to be lauded even if the narrative does confuse us at times.

Portrait of Henry James

Portrait of Henry James

Is this book for you? This is definitely a must-read for any fan of 19th century horror fiction. Readers of general Classic fiction might also enjoy it but be warned it is not the easiest of reads. I have not read any of his other works so I don’t have a general view of his writing style but judging from Turn Of The Screw, Henry James seems to have an affinity for long complex sentences with far too many comma breaks. I found myself re-reading sentences over and over in order to comprehend them which did hinder my enjoyment of the book to a certain extent. If you can overlook this one writing characteristic or if you are well-accustomed to it, then Turn Of The Screw is well worth a read.

About the author :

Henry James was born in New York in 1843 but moved to Sussex, England in 1915 and became a British citizen. A former Harvard student, he gave up his Law degree and took up writing full-time. He published his first novel, Watch and Ward in 1871. His other notable novels include The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Ambassadors (1903) and What Maisie Knew(1897). Turn Of The Screw, however, is his most famous work.


Classic Friday #1

30 Nov

Welcome to our first Classic Friday with Nisha Moodley, your monthly journey into  Classic authors  and their Literature!


Nisha MoodleyNisha is a South African writer, blogger, amateur historian, mystery-chaser and former ghost-hunter who, with a completed collection of short-stories under her belt, is currently working on her first full-length novel.

I hope you enjoy this ‘Classic Friday entry and I’ll be back on  Friday 28thDecember for some more…




 While writing this, I struggled with how to introduce Elizabeth Gaskell. In my eyes the woman needs no introduction yet many bibliophiles have never heard Gaskell’s name, more still, are unfamiliar with her work.

Referring to her as the ‘lesser known Jane Austen’ would have not only been predictable, but somewhat unfair to Mrs. Gaskell who, considering her unique writing style and compassionate themes, deserves no comparisons.

Indeed, few have questioned her talent for storytelling. Charles Dickens himself, in his letters to her, addressed her often as ‘My dear Scheherazade,’ in reference to the heroine of Arabian Nights.

Having won fans amongst literature’s 19th century elite, her life I feel, is worth taking a look at…


Elizabeth Stevenson was born on 29 September 1810 in London, England but was raised by her aunt in Cheshire. In 1832 she married Reverend William Gaskell, of the Unitarian faith and in 1832 the couple moved to Manchester. They had 4 daughters and one son who died of Scarlet Fever in infancy.

The Gaskells were known for their humanitarian ways. Elizabeth helped her husband with his Church duties, distributing food and clothing to the poor. In between her domestic duties, Mrs. Gaskell dabbled in poetry writing but when she had a breakdown following her son’s death, her husband suggested she channel her grief by writing a novel. She took his advice and the result was Mary Barton (published in 1848). Mary Barton brought Mrs. Gaskell some recognition and caught the attention of the famous Dickens.

When the two met in 1849, Dickens invited her to write for his serial publication, Household Words. Gaskell soon became Dickens’ protégée although the two often locked horns when Gaskell refused on many occasions to take the advice the great man had to give. Her independent nature was legendary and was often a source of frustration for Dickens.

He was not the only famous author whose admiration Gaskell had won. In 1850, she met Charlotte Brontë and the two became firm friends. After Brontë’s death, Gaskell wrote her autobiography, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, which was published in 1857.

Apart from her literary career, she travelled extensively and dedicated much of her life to helping the poor. She passed away suddenly from heart failure on 12 November 1865 at the age of 55.

In 2010, Elizabeth Gaskell was honoured at Westminster Abbey’s prestigious Poets’ Corner where a memorial window was put up bearing her name.

Her Works

What is easily noted about Gaskell, gathered from the themes of her novels alone, was the fact that she was a woman who had a conscience and a mind of her own. In a period of social unrest (the early 1800’s) she did the unthinkable and sided with the disadvantaged and so-called lower classes. Indeed after Mary Barton (in which she highlighted the plight of the poor and the injustices of the class systems) was published, a few of her husband’s middle-class parishioners burnt the book in protest.

The criticism did not stop her though. She started writing a similar themed story in 1854, the brilliantly poignant North and South, where conditions of the factory and mill workers were put under the spotlight as well as the differences in lifestyle and attitude between England’s Industrial North and the more genteel South.

Unlike Jane Austen, whose stories focused on the lives of the middle class, Gaskell’s novels lacked a social bias. They contained characters that were diverse in their social standings but her messages were also very clear. An advocate for the disadvantaged, she was quick to hit out at the wealthy and privileged where need be.

Illegitimacy might have been a common motif in Victorian literature but few authors have handled the theme with as much compassion as Gaskell did with Ruth (1853), about the sufferings of a young girl, pregnant by rape, and the injustice inflicted upon her by society.

Her fiction writing did not always have a sombre-serious element to it however. Cranford (1851) seems to be one of Gaskell’s most popular novels, a satirical look at the lives of a group of women in a small village. Her talent as a writer can really be seen in the characterization and humour is put to good effect in her portrayal of each of the characters, their prejudices and their idiosyncrasies.

Wives and Daughters was her last novel. It was left incomplete following her death in 1865. Frederick Greenwood, editor of Cornhill magazine which published many of her works, finished the book and had it published as a serial in 1867.

In a writing career spanning 20 years, Gaskell wrote six novels, over 25 short stories, four works of non-fiction (including Brontë’s autobiography) as well as a few novellas.

In the addendum that was included in Wives and Daughters, Greenwood added a final note that I feel best sums up the woman that was Elizabeth Gaskell:

It is unnecessary to demonstrate to those who know what is and what is not true literature that Mrs Gaskell was gifted with some of the choicest faculties bestowed upon mankind; that she has gifted us with some, the truest, purest works of fiction in the language. And she was herself what her works show her to have been- a wise good woman.

The Gaskell Society –

The Gaskell Web –

Wikipedia –

Yellow Wallpaper

22 Oct

I was going to write a blog this week about creativity and losing it. I’m not going to do this now. I’ve changed my mind  because two things happened last week: 1. a particular book dropped by accident out of my bookcase and landed, slap, in my lap; slap in my lap The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman dropped (the most important book in the world to me, as you’ll come to understand);  and secondly,  the WordPress daily post challenge to write about a colour came my way.  The two came together: the yellowed, sleeveless stained book and the challenge of colour:  a curious coming together  that pointed me to a story I could tell. A story to be told to you now, right here about a woman called Edwina:


Yellow is the colour of the intellect

In 1994, I was a mature undergraduate student in Cambridge. I loved my studies. My mind, having lain dormant for a long while (even though I’d always written, created) had, as yet, not found its true medium. A teacher pointed me towards plays and POW, I found my medium. Having found what I was good at my mind went wild. Every book  I could find I consumed, every play I could write, I wrote. I created, created created!  It was an amazing fizzy, fizzying experience. Amidst all of this came Edwina. She was a part-time lecturer. She was a willow-the-wisp: stick thin, with psychedelic orange hair-straggly, covering her face, slightly inappropriate for her age, and skewed glasses, always wonky. She taught me Modernism, and I loved it. Right up my street. 100%.

Every break time we would debate. She would unwrap her wholemeal sandwiches from a mound of tin foil and we would talk. It was amazing. She would inspire me, point me in all sorts of extraordinary directions intellectually and creatively,  and off I would whoosh and create, create, create. A bond grew. Intellectual and personal. A friendship blossomed. Something I trusted. This went on for a number of  years.

At the time I had started my own little theatre company and we were about to put on our first performance. We were all set to come on, and Edwina and her husband had said they would be there (‘they wouldn’t miss it for the world’). I’d peeked out from  behind the staging and they weren’t there. No Edwina. Then Chris burst through the door and said, -Edwina’s dead. Edwina died yesterday-, and all our hearts dropped.

No Edwina. Really? Really. No Edwina any more.  And we hugged and cried, and moved on. The show (surely, mustn’t it, must it not go on? ).

The performance was a great success (great big slaps on the back all round), but our hearts were heavy.

It turned out that Edwina had had raging, terminal cancer for a long while. She had taught right the way through it all- her myriad of treatments-the lot. This explained- the thinness, the paling  of her skin sometimes, the slight jade behind her sparkle-dash eyes.

It was about a week later, just before her funeral that we found out about the real circumstances surrounding her death. It was in the tabloids. Cancer had not actually killed her. Edwina and her husband had set fire to their house, a fire in every hearth, and let the flames take them. The bailiff’s were set to come to reclaim their house (they were in debt up to the hilt). The couple were proud, and had not told anyone the financial strife they were under. What was the point of going on: Edwina was dying and the debt was pressing?

Splayed, tick-tack tackily to the world.

Down. No way out, except to light the match. No way out.

She was found lying on her bed, and he was found beside her on the floor. The smoke got to them first.

And death can make us selfish. Death and dealing with death can flame the ego. What was I going to do without her now? Who was I going to go to when I had a fabulous idea, or found a great article? Who would be my springboard? And more importantly what would I do without my friend: just remember that beautiful Summer’s day when she came to visit and we sat under the arch of sweet-peas and ate cucumber sandwiches? Is that all I’d have: hazing memories? It didn’t seem enough. I needed something more. Some sort of closure, ritual, emotional connection so I could say goodbye (funeral’s, strangely, are sometimes not the right places for closure). So my mother and I decided to go on a pilgrimage. A walk to their burnt house.

Edwina and her husband lived in a pretty little village just outside of Cambridge,UK. Off the beaten track, with a long winding road to follow to get to it. After a bit of toil we found it, and the car’s wheels scritch-scrunched on the gravel as we drew up to the house. Half the thatch was burned and all the windows blown. And to the left was what appeared to be a burned mound of their books. The firemen must have just chucked them out. I don’t know. Just a mound of ash. That’s what it look liked. We got out of the car and just stood for awhile. You could feel the weight of the matter. It was in the dead air around us. The air was pressing, weighty. Them.

I walked to where the mound was. Just to see what had been destroyed, and about half a metre from the charred remains I found a book that was relatively unscathed: a yellowed, sleeveless stained book, with her handwriting on it. Left.  Out. For.  Me. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  The only thing left unscathed and I had found it. The book was a gift for her husband from 1981. A love token. You can see her writing on the page in the photo above.

I took this book home with me. I kept it out for a long while because it kept me connected, and it made me think how amazing and coincidental life is. What were the chances, really, in life, that I should stumble upon this right now when I needed it?  It was curious. What were the chances of me having had such a woman in my life?

This was over 15 years ago, and as the years have gone by and I’ve moved from house-to-house I have periodically stumbled upon the book , and remembered. Edwina is actually somebody I think about most days. She’s always with me because she rests in my creativity. She’s never far away. So it was curious this week when the book literally fell into my lap again. Not only was the title yellow, the pages were yellow, musty, stained. The WordPress Colour and the Book. Too much of a coincidence….

I suppose more importantly (?), other than just charting this rather unusual and dramatic story, what I’m trying to say, is that these sorts of occurrences, these comings together, actually happen a lot, if we pay attention to them and look out for them, and we can use them to take our creativity in different directions. If we dare. These combinations can be stimulating, and make us change tack, direct our creativity in a different way, and that always is a good thing. Isn’t it? But we have to be awake to them. We have to be AWAKE.

Maybe there was somebody like that for you in your life? If there was it would be great to know who and what they meant to you……..

Edwina meant the world to me, and here’s the poem I wrote 15 years ago to mark her death:


N.B. (The Yellow Wallpaper is a 19th century book about female repression and illness charting the decline of  one particular woman as indicated by her increasingly disturbing relationship with the wallpaper in her room)


  • New Page: FineFocus which focuses on specific techniques, genres, forms and processes in art/writing/creativity. At the moment we have two videos by a young artist CeleneArtiste up which show a new technique of hers. Do get in touch if you’d like to contribute to this.
  • Our First Guest Blogger , James MacKenzie was a great success, and I think brought a  new dynamic to ArtiPeeps. James is now our official ‘ArtiPeep’ English Art ‘Correspondent’ so you’ll be seeing more of his blogs on ArtiPeeps as the months go by. We’ll be having another guest blogger in November, Alastair Cook,  A Film Maker…
  • Also from  Wednesday 7th November we’re adding  a regular Wednesday fortnightly flash fiction element to the blog…..
  • And from today for a month you’ll find our  first ‘Visitor Peep’ in residence on the Visitor Peep Page. Another new poet, Susan O’Reilly, having written for only a year, who will be sharing her work with us. She’s keen to have any constructive criticism…

There’s lots going on!

Inspiration Point:Copy-Catting: Closed Space by Samuel Beckett

24 Sep

(I always seem to be doing these videos in my bank robber’s hat…apologies…)

In my last blog I mentioned that when the writer Donald Ray Pollock was learning his trade he had a practice of copying out texts by hand so he could get to grips with, and understand, the nuts and bolts of a story. This inspired me to give it a go, to see what happens and what I could learn from the process. This blog is the outcome of that exploration.  Samuel Beckett is a bit of a passion of mine and this is why I chose Closed Space, one of Beckett’s Fizzles.

Overall,  I really got a lot out of doing this copying exercise. As I copied out Mr B’s text I discovered there’s something very immediate and pure about the process of replication and how it increases your intimacy with the words; so different from the understanding and sense you get when you ‘just ‘ read. You in fact become part of the ‘making’ process- it becomes much more of a dynamic relation.

In my video, I asked the following question: what  IS the difference between needing to say and just saying? So, what  IS the difference? I looked up what ‘to need’ actually meant (we so take the words we use often for granted, don’t we?) and this is what it said:

NEED= necessary duty

Embedded in this we have ideas of obligation, requirement, lack of freedom- no looseness, no chitty-chat- ease or softness only something constraining and conditional like a page or a canvas or a shape.

Where as ‘Just saying’. ….Well:

Just=by a small margin, immediately, directly, perhaps, possibly

It’s about the particular, and about clarity; it’s without weight and without thought (almost), it’s there and then it moves on, not needing to be constrained by form BUT nonetheless the form was there albeit fleetingly. It doesn’t linger and therefore has a particular potency as a  consequence.

I think Beckett, and indeed Closed Space,  is all about that- it’s not about the baggage behind words. It’s about choosing your words carefully so you don’t get caught up in what is unnecessary- what is duty and what is required. And this is what the act of copying out this piece revealed to me. When you read your mind is immediately engaged in a process of deciphering-you’re looking behind the words and focusing on the meaning underneath them and not on the words themselves as objects.  Whereas, when you copy out you become very conscious of both and how they interact with each other. The whole object-subject dynamic becomes apparent.

You see this relationship more easily because there’s distance between your head and your hand; there’s space to analyse and to see, to vision.  I don’t think I would have quite understood this relation  had I just read Closed Space. When you copy it out you become much more in contact with the mechanics of the writing and the care with which it was constructed because you are constructing it too. When you write it out you too are going through a process of construction, and you can see the patterning of each contributory brick  because you’re writing and patterning too. The meaning of the words becomes more important and more alive. The patterns leap off the page and  textures rise to the surface like bubbles on the surface of water:

Dark & Bright           Sum the  Bright Lots          Brilliance of Bright Lots       So Many Bright Lots

By the addition and subtraction of certain words movement and meaning is subtly altered. It’s, I suppose, like the addition or subtraction of a layer of paint, or a pencil line or the smoothing of  slither of clay….

Through this process of replication the meaning  is somehow easier to get to.  Beckett’s patterning draws you down deeper and deeper:  down on to the path where there is  ‘Just room for one. On it no two ever met.’ And it’s a path that is almost beyond words, and where you are alone, where ultimately all we have is ourselves. Just ourselves and our path. Not contained but moving forward, ‘Just’.

Now that’s pretty heavy stuff, and good old Mr B was not the happiest of chaps but he does have a point. However much we are loved or have family and friends etc our ultimate responsibility is to ourselves, and the fact that this sparse language can articulate and address this fundamental issue in such a poignant way is amazing. David Ray Pollock was right; this copy-catting is not only a great way to see  nuances within a text but also a great way to feel the  delicate mechanics behind it.

I think it would be really fascinating to do this with a more verbose text, say Dickens or the like.  Anybody care to try?

Some rare footage of, the usually private, Samuel Beckett:

One of my favourite Beckett poems:

my way is in the sand flowing

between the shingle and the dune,

the summer rains rains on my life harrying fleeing 

to its beginning to its end

my peace is there in the receding mist

when I may cease from treading these

long shifting thresholds 

and live the space of a door

that opens and shuts.


There’s going to be a veritable flurry of ArtiPeeps and CreoKardia blogging this week, so be prepared… We’re introducing a little mini series called ‘Object Stories’ shortly.

Thanks so much  for your interest.

All the very best,

Inspiration Point: Closer To Fiction

9 Sep

I heard a really interesting conversation with Donald Ray Pollock on NPR Programs: Fresh Air :


The interview primarily focused on the author’s take on  ‘finding fiction in later life’ which was really interesting to listen to,  but what I found  most inspiring was something that he mentioned in passing about what he  did at the beginning of his writing career to improve his writing skills and get to the nuts and bolts of writing.  He said that what he did was  to copy out his favourite short story on his typewriter so he could become minutely intimate with the text, and in so doing he mastered his trade; in so doing, he learned what worked and what didn’t writing-wise.

Now this struck me as a really brilliant thing to do. Just to see what happens. Just to see if becoming so intimate with a story that you love can spark-up your writing; or even if you’re not into writing, what the process of selection and transcription might do for you in other ways- how does it change you? I’m certainly going to give it a go and see what happens. If you’re a budding writer it might be worth a go. I shall let you know what I chose and what I got out of it. If you try it let me know how you got on.  Watch this space!

And here’s a little video about it too……………….

<p><a href=”″>Landscape & Donald Ray Pollock (ArtiPeep Creation Point)) 09 09 2012</a> from <a href=””>ArtiPeep</a&gt; on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

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