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The Marlowe Papers (Barber) – book review

In amongst all of the PhD redrafting and the #NaNoWriMo project that now feels like it was months ago (although I need to get back to it soon…), I have tried to find time to read. In particular, I was really excited to read Ros Barber‘s The Marlowe Papers, a novel in verse that is, in part, about the Shakespeare authorship question.



Wylder’s Hand (Le Fanu) — book review

Putting together my new page of reviews reminded me that I used to put up book reviews a lot more frequently than I have been doing recently, so I thought I would put up a review of this classic mid-Victorian sensation novel, which I read alongside The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.

Review below the fold.


Neo-Vic-Lit: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

I’m not quite sure how or when Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street ended up on my Kindle app, but when searching for something to read on my long commutes, it seemed the perfect thing. Despite being a Victorianist, I don’t read a huge amount of neo-Victorian fiction, as much of it feels flimsy to me. However, this is the best example of the genre that I’ve read since Jane Harris’ The Observations (which is excellent, and definitely worth a read!).


Hannibal — TV review (S3E12, And the number of the beast was 666)

In this penultimate episode, the series cleaves quite closely to the Red Dragon novel, except this time it is Chilton going up in flames, rather than Freddie. I was wondering how the series would get around the fact that they have already used some of the best images and sequences from the novels, repurposed for previous storylines, and this is the solution. The episode is in two minds about whether it is Frederick or knowledge of Will’s stunt faking Lounds’ death that prompts the Dragon to set fire to Chilton after biting off his lips; when he awakes, Chilton feels pain in his back and on his skin, and asks whether he is burned. The idea seems to take hold with the Dragon, who repeats the word several times, but Jack reads Chilton being set aflame as a ‘copy-cat’ act. Nevertheless, setting Chilton as bait, rather than using Will himself, is an interesting twist. When they discuss it Jack, Will and Alana pretend that they are still trying to set Will up to tempt the Dragon, and that they are using Chilton only for legitimation, so that the Dragon is less able to see the trap, it is clear that this is only a shared delusion of control over the situation. Hannibal confronts Alana about her “professional discourtesy” towards Chilton, knowingly putting him at risk by inviting him to undertake a task that she herself would not. 

Will confesses to Bedelia — his new psychiatrist, as they both use the other as a Hannibal-proxy — that he puts his hand on Chilton’s shoulder for the publicity photograph deliberately, consciously establishing Chilton as a possible target. Will is beginning to develop something of a split personality. On the one hand, he is the empathetic, tormented Will Graham who can barely stand to hear Chilton’s screams on the Dragon’s videotape of his torture, and who hallucinates about all of the women about whom he cares suffering the same fate as Mrs Leeds and Mrs Jacobi. On the other hand, he is Hannibal’s agent in the world, as Bedelia calls him; he is curious about what violence he can provoke from the Dragon, and Bedelia calls him to account with the same words that Hannibal used to her: “that’s participation”. Will is the lamb, but he is also — as Hannibal warns Jack — becoming a lion, and his righteous wrath has the potential to be devastating. That is, if he can hold himself together. 

The Dragon’s confrontation of Chilton is the most verbal scene that Richard Armitage has been able to play this far. His speech is precise but not laboured; the Dragon proves articulate, except when he is speaking about himself, when guttural growls creep in and begin to conceal the words themselves. When Reba arrives, he lets her in, and despite her frequent glances around the room, as though she senses Chilton’s presence, the scene is wryly funny in bringing together the most terrifying kidnap with a very domestic circumstance: a woman bringing soup to a prospective lover who claims to be sick. The scene strikes the same tone as some of the flashbacks with Hannibal and Abel Gideon, and it tempts us into thinking that Reba might go free, but at the end of the episode she has been kidnapped by the Dragon, and we seem to be in for a finale that follows the books quite closely. 

More generally, this episode was full of some wonderful dialogue, especially between Chilton and Hannibal.  “I have seen a lot of hostility, but this was quantifiably bitchy” is a great line from Chilton, and I would like to see the quantifying scale for bitchiness! “A man becomes famous because he has the proper stuff in him. You don’t have the proper stuff, Frederick” is also an excellent retort from Hannibal. Chilton also taunts Hannibal about what life will be like in the mental institution after Alana stops protecting him, including threats of sexual assault. With his books gone, and the number of threats about degrading treatment escalating, it certainly feels like Hannibal is gearing up to free himself from his prison.

In terms of how the next episode will play out, Will now seems to be convinced that his family life is over, now that Hannibal has chosen to destroy his happy family by putting them in danger. Bedelia, however, feels herself relatively safe because Hannibal is not in a position to eat her, and he would not have her harmed until he could achieve that end. Being able to trust Hannibal’s promises offers a certain security. Will calls her Bluebeard’s wife, riffing on the their previous encounter when they accused each other of being ‘brides’ of the monstrous Hannibal. She notes that she would rather be the last wife of Bluebeard, who survived finding her strangled predecessors in Bluebeard’s ‘forbidden’ room by the skin of her teeth. Bedelia, we know, is always planning how to survive, just like Hannibal. Will, on the other hand, seems only to be planning how to destroy the evil that surrounds him. I would really rather like it if this series ended in the same way as series two did, with Bedelia and Hannibal preparing for round two together, although that might be too much to hope for. Definitely too much to hope for would be Will and Hannibal escaping together, I think because Will is less self-actualised than either Hannibal or Bedelia; he seems to take on whatever form those around him allow. It will be interesting to see what opportunities the final episode offers him.

Image (c) NBC

Hannibal — TV review (S3E11, …And the Beast from the Sea)

We are coming now near to the end of our journey with NBC’s reimagining of Hannibal, and this episode is all about positioning the characters for the final showdown. Spoilers ahead!

This episode is a combination of under- and over-estimating Hannibal, who has — through the approach of the Red Dragon — become “relevant” again to the FBI, several episodes after he become relevant again to Will.

Will, apparently learning from past mistakes, such as Randall Tier (S2E9, Shiizakana), hypothesises that Hannibal knows and previously treated Dolarhyde. Here, he both underestimates and overestimates Hannibal’s malevolent omniscience, something which Hannibal gently chastises him for when Will accuses him of knowing everything: “A sophisticated intelligence can forecast many things. I suppose mine is sophisticated enough.” Hannibal’s knowledge is not demonic, but a matter of careful calculation. Hannibal does not know precisely who the Red Dragon is, and he did not formerly treat him; but he is treating him now, through their illicit calls, and he knows what Dolarhyde is becoming. The show intimates momentarily that Hannibal did have a prior therapeutic relationship with Dolarhyde by taking us immediately into Dolarhyde’s hallucinated therapy session with Hannibal, but his reference to Reba situates us temporally, and accordingly frees Hannibal to act magically — appearing in several places at once — in Dolarhyde’s hallucination. Overestimating and underestimating Hannibal simultaneously is a trait that many characters share. Dolarhyde evinces respect for Hannibal, but also wishes to consume him once he has completed his Becoming. He takes Hannibal’s suggestions in good faith, and perhaps if he had been successful, his attack on Molly and Walter would have been enough. 

The attack at Will’s home follows the plot of the novels to an extent, but in Harris’ original, Will has hidden away Molly and Walter and is at home alone when the Dragon comes. Instead, the episode puts Molly and Walter directly in peril. There is, to me, something unlikely about their survival. Perhaps the Red Dragon is degenerating, and is therefore less careful than he had been previously. Perhaps Molly is simply a very light sleeper, or particularly anxious with Will away and the dogs poisoned. But this is a killer who has successfully annihilated two families and barely left a trace. The whole scene felt to me like an inelegant answer to having the Dragon’s attack without gratuitous tragedy for Will (although that’s hardly stopped the show from cutting into his flesh multiple times) or a repetition of the gutting attack by Hannibal at the end of the last season. It is nothing less than the show tip-toeing all over the floor it has just painted, after it figures out it’s stuck in the corner. For a show that has been so clever with its source material in the past, such as faking Freddie’s death, watching the scene made me feel like their energy was elsewhere, and so they had imported some horror story tropes to give the episode some jumps. Wouldn’t a foiling of the Dragon’s attack, e.g. by Will hiding Molly and Walter away after learning of the dog’s poisoning, and the Dragon feeling fury and disappointment because he can no longer find them to film, track and murder them, have been just as powerful? The show wouldn’t have lost Molly and Will’s “clammy sick feeling” knowing that Hannibal has incited someone to annihilate their family, and the claustrophobia of a middle-of-nowhere motel room would have been better than the swish, clinical hospital. But done is done, and the show has given some very personal justification to Will’s determination to defeat Dolarhyde, so perhaps for that reason the ends justify the means. 

After his failure to kill Molly and Walter, Dolarhyde’s fate is sealed. He knows that the Dragon will demand Reba as a sacrifice, after taking a beating from his alter ego, and so he breaks off their relationship. I think Reba is actually one of my favourite characters, and it is a shame that the creative licence that the show takes didn’t allow them to make more of her. Reba asks for and offers no pity when Dolarhyde makes clear that he wishes to break their relationship off because he’s afraid that he will hurt her; she is wounded, but too dignified to beg or argue back. She simply tells him to get his hat and go; the decision made, it should be followed through with dignity. I suspect that, in the final show down, Reba will still end up imperilled in the way that she was in the novel, as it is clear that Dolarhyde feels the Dragon still wishes to kill her and that he fears that she will come to the house. The stage is set.

The intercepted telephone call between Hannibal and Dolarhyde sees Hannibal make a difficult decision to subject himself to Alana’s threatened indignity, including the removal of his toilet, in order to protect his patient. Hannibal is never anything but scrupulous. He will distort the truth and other’s perceptions in order to get his own way, but as he tells Alana, “in his own way” he is always honest and true. He “can’t refuse him a sympathetic ear”, and so he keeps him on the line not only for them but for the sake of their therapeutic relationship. Hannibal’s “they’re listening” functions similarly to Will’s “they know” to Hannibal at the end of season 2. There is a sense of compassion, of a debt owed, even to the murderous and the criminal. “Don’t let fear leach your strength” is a wonderful piece of advice from Hannibal, and one that no doubt forms part of his own strategy as he is subjected to the indignities that Alana has promised him for failing to cooperate with the FBI. 

Hannibal is fighting to keep Will a part of his family, and his alone, by destroying the family that Will has constructed for himself. Before Dolarhyde’s attack, he indicates to Will that the next victims (Molly and Walter) are not his family, so he has no obligation to save them. He suggests to Will that he is letting them die; a clue that Will fails to pick up because he is too confident in his own reading of the situation and is no longer listening. The attack itself has changed Will’s perception of his family; as he intimates to Hannibal, he nows sees the dragon’s victims when he looks at his wife. “Two souls are dwelling in my breath, / And one is striving to forsake its brother”, Hannibal warns. The lines from Goethe’s Faust suggests that Hannibal continues to see Will and himself as ‘soulmates’, bound together like a family not of blood but of choices. “Don’t you crave change, Will?” Hannibal asks, ending the episode. Change is coming, as it comes to all things; good things are slippery and difficult to keep hold of, as Molly has said, and what they had is already gone.

Perhaps one sign of this is one thing that really surprised me in this episode: Will seems to have a failure of empathy in interacting with Walter. He asks whether finding out about Will’s past bothers Walter “because I married your mom”. Given that Walter calls Will dad, it seems to me that his issue is less that his mother has married Will than that he has learnt something painful and difficult about a man he loves and admires. “I had to justify myself to an eleven-year-old,” Will tells Jack angrily. Well, Will, you were always going to have to be honest with him eventually, and as his father figure, it is surely his responsibility to contextualise what he has done to give the boy — who rightly feels murderous after the attack on him and his mother — some moral guidance. Perhaps Will’s new family is not really as closely bound as his old family was

Image (c) NBC

Hannibal — TV review (S3E10, And the Woman Clothed in the Sun…)

This episode offers a ‘second take’ on episode 9, just as William Blake’s two ‘Great Red Dragon and the Woman…’ images view the same scene from different perspectives. Spoilers below!

This episode certainly builds on the previous one. In the opening scene, it offers us the second half of Hannibal and Dolarhyde’s illicit phone conversation. We learn that Dolarhyde has broken into Hannibal’s old office in order to make his spoof telephone call, and Will is not the only one who hallucinates patient-psychiatrist exchanges in that space. As the scene gradually comes into focus for Dolarhyde as an out-of-body experience (first in his own flesh, then as the Great Red Dragon), we find out that Dolarhyde finds a kindred spirit in Hannibal, both of them wounded by the “bad reviews” of their crimes by the media. Dolarhyde’s wish to meet Hannibal, but also to subsume him as a lesser creature, gives Hannibal’s level voice an edge of self-control with a view to self-preservation. Mikkelsen is able to give a very particular tone to Hannibal’s exploratory utterances that is revealing in its simplicity. As part of this calm but cautious exploration, Hannibal employs his knowledge of anything and everything to tune in to Dolarhyde’s chosen mythology, and he quotes a line from another Blake poem, ‘The Tyger’, in wondering, “Did he who made the lamb make thee?” Hannibal has always been interested in the self-constructed, and his theism is, like Blake’s, idiosyncratic (Bedelia notes explicitly that Hannibal keeps the “Christian holidays”). He empathises with Dolarhyde’s sense of his own ‘becoming’, but of course this does not mean he isn’t willing to try to push Dolarhyde in certain directions. Already, we are in anticipation of how Hannibal might bring Will and Dolarhyde into collision, and to what end.

By way of other characters’ explorations, in this episode, Will seeks out Bedelia in her new (old) life as a lecturer and psychiatrist, just as in the previous episode he sought out Hannibal. It is not clear quite what purpose the meetings with Bedelia serve for Will except, perhaps seeking a second opinion, or satisfying sheer curiosity, now that he has opened the door to Hannibal once again. Throughout their conversation, Bedelia makes it perfectly clear that she knows Hannibal far more clearly than Will does, despite the fact that Will and Hannibal’s relationship was one of “passion”, as she has “been with him behind the veil”. Bedelia also warns Will that his nurturing urges are no more or less natural than her and Hannibal’s destructive ones—while he might want to rescue a vulnerable bird, her instinct would be to crush it; although she might not yield to the instinct, it is there, and she suggests that Will bear his own destructive instincts in mind in future, in order to “save himself a great deal of trouble”. Their discussion of wounded birds, which has come up previously in this series, has echoes of the scene in Harris’ Hannibal where Barney finds a dead bird and tries to encourage its mate to save itself and fly away; in the process, he shares with Clarice a discussion that he and Hannibal once had about ‘deep-rolling pigeons’, and Hannibal’s hope that Clarice has enough of a self-preservation instinct to prevent herself from entering a self-destructive spiral. Throughout the novel, despite his compassion and intellect, Barney is always on the edge of danger, and seems to escape only because he is not a ‘deep-roller’. The question the episode poses, then, brings us back to the very first episodes of series 1: whether Will’s empathic responses, in particular to the suffering of others, will eventually destroy him. Bedelia opens a door for Will to understand himself in shades of grey, not as a killer or a mentally ill killer-sympathiser, but as a good man capable of destructive violence when it is right; the ends justify the means.

Although it is not clear how much of an important plot point it will be in the final few episodes, there is also a question here about whether, in killing her patient, played by Zachary Quinto (you don’t see much of him anymore), Bedelia was giving full reign to the impulse to crush the weak for its own sake, and in doing so fell victim to Hannibal’s machinations, as has always been the show’s suggestion), or whether it formed a calculated part of her “covert therapy” of Hannibal. Or whether the latter is simply a delusion that Bedelia has about being self-constructed. Her relationship with Hannibal only becomes more entangled the more we learn about it. As Will says, she “dared to care”, and her veneer of professional compassion towards Hannibal masks some deeper sense of connection. In her efforts to help her choking patient — why he chokes remains a mystery, at least for now — we can see a shift between Bedelia’s doctorly instincts to try to free his airways and her instinct, when she is fingers-deep in his mouth, to hasten his choking instead, and perhaps this is the point at which her relationship with Hannibal deepens, turning from a shared intellectual psychopathy to a shared physical one. Her distaste for blood and gore never leaves her,as we saw in episode 3, when she removed the screwdriver from Professor Sogliato’s temple, but perhaps this is the moment at which Bedelia steps behind the veil. The steps she takes to protect others from herself, withdrawing from seeing patients, demonstrate that she is telling the truth when she tells Will that she would not crush the wounded bird, despite thinking of it. 

Notwithstanding Gillian Anderson’s stellar performance, the ‘woman’ of the episode’s title must remain Reba, Dolarhyde’s colleague and love interest, just as it was last week. Taken by the idea of being able to act freely in the light, because she cannot see him, Dolarhyde’s attachment to her seems to be growing. The pain and anguish on his face when he retreats into the shadows at the mere mention of other people’s accounts of his appearance demonstrates the importance of light and dark to these two. He moves into the dark in order to move unseen and unfelt around the room. She relocates him by use of her other senses, and he is in the light again when she does so. 

When Dolarhyde takes Reba to the zoo in order for her to encounter a tiger tactilely (while he is under anaesthetic), her worshipful response to the animal, touching its teeth and curling herself around its body, is a watershed moment for Dolarhyde, who clamps his hands around his own month and can only watch in wonder. That she treats Dolarhyde’s body in the same way in the next scene, bending at the waist to lay herself over his lap, continues the alignment between the Red Dragon and the tiger that Hannibal has set up for us, and the audience gets the ‘jump’ of the beast roaring to life not with the tiger, but with Dolarhyde, who scoops her up and takes her to bed, able to reveal his tattoos to her without fear because of her blindness, but also because of her fearless embrace. When they sleep together, Dolarhyde begins to weave Reba into his personal mythography, visualising her literally as clothed in sun. The scene is wonderfully shot, picking out beautiful highlights on Rutina Wesley’s face (see image above). Her emergence as a key figure for Dolarhyde provokes him, the show suggests, to advance his relationship with Blake’s watercolour of the Red Dragon; or perhaps it is his conversation with Hannibal, where he suggests he wishes to subsume this notorious monster as he develops. Either way, the show finally tackles what was always going to be a difficult scene to film: Dolarhyde eating the watercolour. As a matter of sheer convenience, Will is also attending the museum as a researcher to see the painting, and the two encounter one another briefly but violently. That addition to the otherwise powerful scene of consumption, in my opinion, added little except a reminder of Dolarhyde’s strength that was hardly needed after seeing Armitage’s performance of barely-restrained strength and emotion during the prior scenes with Reba.

He acquires Will’s home address by duping Chilton’s secretary, and the tables are now ready to turn from series 2, when Will plotted Hannibal’s murder from inside a cell at Baltimore. This would be ‘turn-about as fair play’, as the series 2 plot was an inversion of Harris’ Red Dragon, but of course Hannibal has already had his revenge on Will, and Will has already suffered the near-gutting that he receives from Dolarhyde in the book. Like with Freddie Lounds’ death, the show has used up a fair few of the plot points from Red Dragon, so it will be interesting to see where this leads. 

(C) Image copyright NBC 

Hannibal — TV review (S3E9, And the Woman Clothed with the Sun…)

This is a quick run-through of what I like to think of as episode 2 of season 4 of Hannibal, following the Red Dragon/Tooth Fairy plot from Red Dragon.

Having become increasingly unimpressed with the A.V. Club reviews for Hannibal, I’ve stumbled across the ‘Eat the Rudecast’ instead. They’re worth listening to, although they’re a little long. As Hannibal is now screening on Saturdays in the US, the podcasts are also way ahead of the UK schedule, so beware spoilers!

As the episode title suggests, Hannibal is now following closely the crimes not of Hannibal himself, but those of the Red Dragon/Tooth Fairy. While we wait for the next full moon, and the next crime to be committed, this episode focuses particularly on family, and it gives us the opportunity to explore further Hannibal’s motivation for surrendering and allowing himself to be imprisoned. Having lost his sister, Hannibal’s urge to create a family with Will and Abigail is an interesting turn from the plot of the novels, but makes sense in the context of trying to fill in the gaps that Clarice Starling leaves in the narrative. In flashback, we get to see Hannibal and Abigail working together to fake her death and frame Will, and she is almost genuinely childlike in a way that she never seemed to be with Will, either in reality or in his hallucinations of her. 
As part of inducting her into his own family, we get to see Hannibal’s unconventional therapy in helping Abigail address her understandable daddy issues. Although a lot of people were pleased to see Garret Jacob Hobbs back, if only briefly, I thought this scene went too far in its constant fascination with slitting throats. The scene in the novel between Hannibal and Clarice uses symbolic tokens of her father and the power of her imagination, and she has successfully ‘passed’ the test when she emerges empty-handed, needing nothing more of him than what she chooses to keep in her head. By contrast, Abigail is encouraged to murder her father symbolically by slitting his throat. There is a good deal of difference between leaving something behind and destroying something, and I think this scene was less powerful because of the change.
Aside from the flashbacks to previous seasons, there is a lot that the show has skimmed over in the jump between the first and second halves of this season, so this episode allows us to fill in some of the gaps. Margot and Alana are still together and have their Verger baby, we learn. Jack — if Hannibal’s deductions are correct — has a new partner and a new lease of life. And Freddie Lounds has graduated from blogger to fully fledged tabloid journalist.

It was great to see Freddie back in action, sniping with Will in some of the best dialogue of the episode (#murderhusbands). If the season stays true to the novel then we’ll have more to come from her. Given that they used up some of the plot points in earlier seasons (Ko No Mono), however, such as using Freddie as bait and faking her fiery death, it will be interesting to see what sort of twist they manage to give to the order of events. The show has proven that it can be endlessly imaginative with its intertexts, so I hope they manage to put Freddie to good use.

Richard Armitage continues to shine as Francis Dolarhyde, and in this episode we see his first encounter with Reba, the blind woman who offers him companionship and a model for living with disability that might have helped him had he not been so far gone. We also get to see a flash of his back-story and his own family issues with his grandmother. For a moment, I wondered whether it was Hannibal’s family that we were seeing (the empty plate beside the young boy suggestive of a missing sibling), but it can only be Dolarhyde’s scene, in context.

I am also liking Alana a lot more now that she has finally stepped out of the role of Will’s caretaker. Her interactions with Hannibal, and her motivation for holding the keys to the five doors that contain him, show her in a far more balanced life. As a character, she finally feels like she can hold her own. It’s only taken two and a half seasons…!