The Birds by Daphne du Maurier (contains spoilers)

I’ll start by admitting that before getting round to reading the ‘The Birds’ I was already in love with Daphne. Our relationship first began in 2016 when I read Jamaica Inn. It spurred me on to start university after 6 years of working in retail, and my essay on the Cornish landscapes and torrs she describes so beautifully gained me a place on my course.

Here I am in my three years later only just getting round to this amazing short story, dispite it having been sat on my shelf for a few years. The Gothic module I’m just starting is providing the chance to read quite a few novels I have pushed aside for years because they’re too long or I’ve been required to read something else.

It wasn’t hard to find an image in my mind from ‘The Birds’; the part where Nat sees the gannet about to dive upon him really stuck with me. They’ve got such menacing faces! In art college we had a skull of one to paint for still life at one point and it had a huge sharp bill that could definitely crack a skull at speed.

I was wondering how a story about birds could be considered a gothic work as I’ve never found birds scary. I ued to work in a pet shop for years and the birds where my favourite. They’re so soft and delicate, they made me feel like Lenny from Of Mice ad Men whenever I handled them. But actually, after reading, yeah! I can definitely imagine that happening. Like a bird zombie apocalypse. Just what my anxious mind needed!

This is what I love most about the gothic: it makes my own imagination make it scary. And everybody imagines things differently so the stories affect everybody in different ways. Du Maurier writes very ambiguously and I really hate coming to the end of each journey she takes me on.

While I’ve been doing these illustrations so far I’ve been waiting until I finished the book to then begin drawing, then trying to only use my imagination of what the scene looked like. I was quite surprised just how much stuck with me such as the hoe and the position Nat is running in. I did forget his hat though and tried to out some blood in his hair which kind of just looks like dandruff. The only thing that is additional is the Robin and swallows who feature in different parts of the story. It’s these smaller birds who go full Kamikaze on him and his house and lie on the floor of his bedroom after breaking in. Here is a photo of the paragraph which inspired me.

I’d like to have addedmore birds to the picture but it would have taken too long and arranging them would have been very difficult. I could have done a lot more to the painting as far as details are concerned, but I’ve been working on it for too long and am keen to start my next project. I’m not sure yet but the next one could quite possibly be another Daphne classic, My Cousin Rachel!

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The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (contains spoilers).

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The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole. Finally forced myself to get this finished! It's a scene from the final chapter in which Frederic sees the ghost of the hermit, who gives him a good telling off for getting distracted by a bit of poontang. I went for an onlooker's perspective, so right now you're Frederic getting lectured by a skelly ghost in a private oratory. Outside you can see through the window the plume of a giant knight's helmet which landed splat on one of the characters at the beginning, and remains in the courtyard for the rest of the novel. Accompanying blog in bio 🤙🏻 #horacewalpole #thecastleofotranto #art #creative #book #bookstagram #paint #sakuramicron #fineliner #gothic #18thcentury #skeleton

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I won’t lie to you, I am pretty disappointed by The Castle of Otranto. Sorry Horace, but it’s just a bit boring. It’s also mostly speech and would read so much better if it were set out as a play. I think I read in the notes somewhere that Walpole originally intended it as a drama, which would make much more sense. As it is, it’s just paragraphs packed with speech with no speech marks and sometimes no punctuation between different characters, so there was a lot of going back and rereading to figure out who said what. Yes, I know it is a classic and basically began the Gothic/horror genre in 1764, but I recently read The Mysteries of Udolpho and Ann Radcliffe does a miles better job 30 years later to be honest. Although, it is an extra 4-500 pages longer and she clearly had a lot more time on her hands.

For me the most interesting element to early Gothic fiction is that the strong religious beliefs of the period often required a psychological explanation for the apparently supernatural events which occur in their narratives. While Radcliffe applies reason throughout her novel, Walpole partially puts the visions and spectres down to unstable and guilty minds such as Manfred’s and Frederic’s, but it still leaves parts unexplained, such as the massive knight’s helmet that falls from the sky, crushing Manfred’s son…? Maybe I missed something but this part remains unexplained to me.

From an illustrative point of view, the story has no specific time period, making it super difficult to decide how to make the buildings and clothing look. In the preface to the first edition, Walpole states the story was

found in the library of an ancient catholic family in the north of England. It was printed at Naples, in the black letter, in the year 1529. How much sooner it was written does not appear. The principal incidents are such as were believed in the darkest ages of Christianity; but the language and conduct have nothing that favours of barbarism (Walpole, 1998:5).

According to the story being set around the time of the crusades, he dates it between 1095 and 1243. He does make a few anachronisms (for example, the description of the room in which Manfred proposes to Isabella) and so gives himself away fairly soon into the story, as does Radcliffe. Although it must be said, they would have had a lot of research to do, and I for sure wouldn’t be getting stuck into what Italian castle interiors of the medieval period looked like without having the internet at hand! Anyway, that was what tore down a few of my illustration ideas, the fact that I had no idea what period it was in order to find references for clothing or interior design. I can usually muster something up until around 1740, but anything before that I need a guide.

The image which came first to mind after reading was of course the massive helmet landing on the Prince; however, the most chilling part for me was Frederic seeing the spectre of the hermit in the oratory. I saw it so clearly in the candle light in the woodcut style, like the medieval etchings of the Danse Macabre and the like, and had to put my shiny new Micron liners to use! (as I don’t have the resources to create prints at this time, much to my dismay).

Back to the book!

I don’t want to sound too dismissive of the novel as I think there are positive elements to all the classics, especially ones which emerged from this period. For me, there are no favourable characters, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I quite like to dislike characters for some reason. Each have their own flaws and none of them utilise any opportunity to redeem themselves. The women are all frustratingly pathetic and the men all as tediously domineering and stupid as they are usually portrayed in drama of this period. Yes, even the more sentimental characters like Theodore, the young hero, are quite annoying. My favourite character is the ghost of the hermit, for sure, when he is ticking off Frederic.

Wast thou delivered from bondage […] to pursue carnal delights? (Walpole, 1998:107)

Although the giant pieces of armor and the visions of Alfonso and St Nicholas at the end can be seen by everybody, there are a couple of instances of ghostly spectres which are seemingly inspired by guilt, suggesting they are only beheld by the minds of the characters who witness them. Manfred sees the portrait of his grandfather appearing to disapprove of his intentions of divorcing Hippolita and marrying Isabella with a melancholy sigh, which then traps him in a room to allow Isabella’s escape. The hermit of course is only see by Frederic who needs an intervention, be it from an apparition or from his own guilty conscience. Again, the ambiguity in literature of whether a vision is caused by supernatural phenomena or the mental instability of a character is my absolute favourite. Radcliffe takes it further, and Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw places the genre on another level by using these inspirational texts to create psychological horror, should you wish to explore some late Victorian genius.

My edition:

Walpole, H. (1998) The castle of Otranto. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Off to a slow start! Dracula by Bram Stoker (contains spoilers).

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This being my first one, I’m not entirely sure how to lay out my review so here we go. I’ll start with my illustration, a photo of which I shall attach. This scene is inspired by the final scene of the book told through Mina Harker’s journal. She has just witnessed her husband John and Quincey Morris behead and stab Dracula in his travel coffin on the road back to his castle in Transylvania. His body turns to dust and the entire scene is illuminated by the blood red sunset (find a quote), and at this moment Mina loses the scar on her forehead and any other spiritual ties she had to the Count.

This scene was the most outstanding part of the whole book to me because of the red sunset. It was easy to vividly picture the red glare reflecting off the snow, and the anticipation Stoker builds as the sun disappears behind the mountains makes the killing of Dracula so much more of a relief, I could feel it crack like an egg in my chest! Being aware of other Dracula novels and not knowing what they are about, I am unsure whether or not he is actually dead or whether he returns. Maybe one day I will read further, but for now I’m happy to leave it a mystery while I plow through the millions of other books I need read first!

As a whole, I expected much more from Dracula due to it being such a classic and inspirational to the Gothic genre. It was… alright. And there was a fair bit of casual sexism throughout; more than one of the central male characters discuss Mina and Lucy in a patronising manner. Yeah I get that it was different then, and often I appreciate a bit of sexism, but there are plenty of other novels written prior to the 20th century which don’t contain it, and it really didn’t work in this one. It was just unnecessary to the plot. Mina Harker is definitely the biggest badass in the book too, and I was pretty impressed with her character.

There werent many really chilling parts, but there were a couple of points which stuck in my memory. Dracula climbing down the side of the castle on all fours gave me a bit of a tingle down my spine. It was a bit spidery for my liking and reminds me of The Exorcist a bit. Also the part where he makes Mina suckle blood from him. Stoker compares the scene to a child pushing a kittens face in a bowl of milk, and it’s a really stomach churning image. Other than that I was prepared for everything that happened. For me I think horrors work with slightly more romance in them. There is the union of the Harkers, but they are already betrothed before the start of the narrative so it’s not very exciting when they eventually reunite. I am a bit of a degenerate though and enjoy more gore and sexual tension when it comes to reading, and right before Dracula I read Fanny Hill, so that probably didn’t help.

I’ll stop here. I know it’s pretty short, basic, and not quite a review, but it’s been a couple of weeks now since I finished it and I’m eager to get started on the next two! It’s also the first blog so I’ll let myself off for not quite turning it into what I wanted.

Next I’ll be working on Walpole’s The Castle of Ortranto, then du Maurier’s The Birds, the latter I am very excited about!

A fresh start.

It’s been a long time since I’ve found any pleasure in drawing, but lately it’s really helped to drag me out of a shitty time. It might be to do with my incredibly supportive and easily impressed boyfriend who loves it when I show him something I’ve done.

So my new blog is going to be based on book reviews, or rather just about the books I read in general. With each one there will be a drawing/painting/illustration of what I take from it. For example, I’ve just finished my piece for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and next I’ll be writing a blog post about the book, my feelings about it, and how it inspired the drawing. I’ll be doing this for every book I read (mostly for uni, as an English student going into my third year).

What I need now is some more tools and mediums other than pencil crayons, as I very much dislike them and I feel like a baby when I use them. Been thinking about getting some Royal Talens Amsterdam acrylic inks, but ink and watercolours can be quite intimidating to me. My favourite medium is oil paint but I haven’t quite got the room in my house, and I wouldn’t be able to fill a sketchbook without making a huge mess. I do enjoy making a mess when it comes to art, but not having the most time on my hands with all the reading and writing I’ll be doing… best not!

Oh, I’ll also explain the page title too. I’ve named it The Deer Shelter after the art installation of the same name by James Turrell in Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It’s my favourite place. It’s so tranquil and makes me feel really safe when I’m there. Although I’ve only been twice I would visit every day if I could because it provides me with so much inspiration to create stuff. Would recommend going when the weather is crispy but still blue, around September-November time if you can catch the right day.

That’s it for now then, Dracula post will be coming very soon. Probably tomorrow as I have a 11 hours of travelling to Margate!