Friday, October 30, 2015

Ms. Hen celebrates Halloween with Edgar Allan Poe

Ms. Hen enjoys a glass of Amontillado whilst reading Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

Ms. Hen received this book many years ago from her parents as a gift because they thought she was a talented writer because her teacher in high school said a story she had written was too good for a student that young to have written. Ms. Hen has read many of the well-known stories in this book, but during this Halloween season, she decided to take a look at some of the stories that aren’t as famous as ones such as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Ms. Hen read a few stories with women’s names as the title, “Ligeia,” “Eleonora,” and “Berenice.” She decided she would think about how Poe treated his women in his stories.

The language in the stories is thick, like a shag rug on the floor, or blood coming from a wound. Ms. Hen found in hard to sink her mind into these stories; she found she had to think on a different level than she usually does when she reads.

The story “Ligeia,” is about a man who loves a woman, whom he marries, but she dies, and the woman haunts him. He marries another woman, Rowena, but Ligeia follows him across Europe. Ms. Hen thought that the narrator might have been afraid of his first wife, and he thought she was haunting him because he was so afraid that she would be upset that he married another woman.

“Eleonora” is a story that does not fit in with the rest of Poe’s scary stories. In it, the narrator lives in a place called the Valley of Many Coloured Grass. He falls in love with  his cousin, as many characters in Poe’s stories do, but of course, she dies. He moves to the city, remembering his promise to her that he will never love or marry another. At the end of the story, he keeps to his promise. This story has a happy ending, even though his sweetheart died. The narrator is faithful to Eleonora, after her death.

In the story, “Berenice,” the narrator’s wife dies and it is a typical horror story. He doesn’t know what happened to her until the end, when he discovered that he has unearthed her body and taken her teeth out of her grave. Ms. Hen thought this was disgusting, because she has a fear of losing her teeth. If someone dug up her grave and stole her teeth from her dead body, or if she found teeth that were from a corpse, she would be terrified.

Edgar Allan Poe had a tangled relationship with women. He never knew his birth mother, and he became estranged from his adopted family, the Allans. He was happily married, but his wife Virginia died at a young age, and he was devastated over her death. He became successful as a writer, and tried to get married after his wife died, but he died in a public house at the age of forty.

Ms. Hen enjoyed reading Edgar Allan Poe, but she thinks she can only read him in small doses, either early in the morning or late at night. She doesn’t think she could give any feathers up at all to Poe, but instead raises a glass to him. His work embodies darkness, which is perfect for October and the Halloween season.

Ms. Hen with Edgar Allan Poe

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews AUGUSTINE

Directed by Alice Winocour

Ms. Hen came to watch this film by accident, because she thought an author she liked was involved with it. She’s still not sure that he was. But she was glad she watched this film because it is exactly what she likes, since it's about a young woman who is mad.

Augustine is a kitchen maid until she has a seizure in the middle of serving dinner to a group of people and she dramatically knocks the dinner on the floor by pulling off the tablecloth when she starts to shake and twitch. She becomes paralyzed in her right side. The next day, she is taken to the hospital by a fellow maid, and she is locked away. The first scene in the hospital is the most dramatic: she is sitting in the dining room surrounded by people screaming and throwing food every which way.

The hospital where Augustine stays specializes in women’s hysteria, or sexual obsession and repression. Dr. Jean Martin Charcot is the leading specialist in hysteria in France at that time, in 1885. This film was based on a true story. Augustine becomes Dr. Charcot’s star patient and receives hypnotism and performs for audiences of doctors who want to learn about the illness.

Ms. Hen enjoyed this film, but the lighting was very dark. It reminded her of paintings by Rembrandt that are painted with a black background. She realized that in the nineteenth century there was no electricity, and the lighting in this film is probably realistic to the time. It was hard for Ms. Hen to get her eyes adjusted to the lighting, but once she did, it was fine.

Another aspect of this film that confused Ms. Hen was that the hospital did not seem like a typical psychiatric hospital in the nineteenth century. Ms, Hen thought the doctors were too kind to the patients for the film to be realistic. There was some poking and prodding of Augustine when she was naked, but for the most part, the patients didn’t seem like they were suffering that much and were not being degraded enough for Ms. Hen to believe that this was an authentic portrayal of a psychiatric hospital in nineteenth century France. Ms. Hen would expect the conditions to be much more unpleasant that what the film showed.

A scene in the middle of the film in which Augustine was told to behead a hen was a pivotal point in the story. The hen is shown running around the yard without its head, and Augustine faints. When she arises, her left side is paralyzed and her left hand is in a claw next to her body. Ms. Hen especially liked that it was killing the hen that paralyzed Augustine on the other side of her body because it proves that hens have the power to change humans. Ms. Hen has always known this is true, but this scene reinforces that idea.

There were several things that Ms. Hen didn’t like about this film, but those didn’t detract her from enjoying it. She didn’t like the way the doctor treated Augustine, but since it was based on a true story, she knew that it was most likely true. Augustine is a woman that will go after what she wants, and Ms. Hen is sure that she ended up surviving.

If you’re afraid of dark films, meaning lighting and subject matter, Ms. Hen does not recommend this to you. But if you have a penchant for stories of madness and despair, Ms. Hen thinks you will enjoy this. Ms. Hen gives this film four feathers up.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews MEMOIRS OF A MADMAN and NOVEMBER by Gustave Flaubert

Gustave Flaubert
Translation Andrew Brown 2002, 2005

Ms. Hen bought this book on a whim. She decided to buy it because the title reminded her of the Gogol story “Diary of a Madman,” and she thought she needed to read more Flaubert. Besides, the book was cheap. Ms. Hen is a hen who is always looking for a bargain, so she picked it up.

When she read the introduction, she was disappointed to discover that “Memoirs of a Madman” was written when he was fifteen, and “November,” shortly after. She thought this book might be a waste of time, since she wasn’t sure if it would be good. But she was wrong about that.

“Memoirs of a Madman,” is not exactly the memoirs of a madman, but it is about a young man who dreams of love. He falls in love with a young, married woman whom he cannot have. He meets her on vacation with his family where she is staying with her husband and her infant child. He pines for her. When his family leaves the place where they are staying, he dreams of her often.

In between the two stories of love is “Bibliomania,” a short story about a man’s mania for books, which drives him to his downfall. Ms. Hen thought it was charming, and it fit between the two stories of obsessive love.

“November,” is supposedly about Flaubert’s first sexually experience with a prostitute. In the story, the character falls in love with a prostitute that he only sees for one day. She ruins him, and he would never forget her. She tells him the lurid story of how she became a prostitute, and it shocks him. She tells him that all men make love the same way, nobles and peasants, old men and young, and even hunchbacks.

The character in "November" yearns for the days before industrialization, when everything was quieter and more serene, when people lived their lives more fully. Ms. Hen wondered what Flaubert and his characters would think of today’s world, with its interconnectedness online, but nobody actually connecting in real life. Ms. Hen wonders about people who walk around with their faces in their phones that don’t even notice the world, and the hen on the table in the coffee shop doesn’t even matter to them. Ms. Hen wonders what it would be like to live in Flaubert’s time, when there was no electricity and television and people actually had to read ALL the time to entertain themselves. She wouldn’t want to be a hen in those days because she wouldn’t have had a good life, but she would like to go just for a day to see how simple everything was, and to see if people actually paid attention to the world around them.

Ms. Hen realizes that she is ranting. This has to stop! On to the chickens.

There is one place in this book where hens are mentioned, The character was on vacation and observed his place, “Day was dawning; the great white moon was rising up into the sky; between the steep-rounded hills, the pink wisps of vapour rose in a gentle haze and melded into the air; the hens in the yard were clucking.” He is describing how beautiful his world appears to him, and of course, the hens are there.

MEMOIRS OF A MADMAN and NOVEMBER is a book about 19th century French male adolescent yearnings, which are not unlike the same kinds of yearnings that  young men have, but society was different then, so Ms. Hen will let you read the book if you want to learn the difference.

Ms. Hen enjoyed this book, even though it was a touch misogynistic and offensive, but she realizes that she can’t change the past, and she is a forgiving hen. She gives this book four feathers up.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Ms. Hen celebrates the Halloween season by reviewing THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY

By Oscar Wilde

During October, Ms. Hen likes to read scary books. She’s read almost everything in this category, so during October she has started to reread books that she loves. Last year, she read DRACULA, and every few years she reads FRANKENSTEIN, but this year she decided to revisit the iconic THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.

Ms. Hen has read this novel at different times during her life. She read it when she was young, and she read it again when she was an undergrad hen for college. She remembers that she read it because she wanted to write an extra credit paper for one of her classes. Right after she read it that time, she watched the 1945 film by the same name with Angela Lansbury. She didn’t realize when she read the novel that the character of Lord Henry was based on Oscar Wilde himself, but she figured it out when she saw the film.

She also was not as knowledgeable about Oscar Wilde’s history when she had read the novel the previous times. She thought there was an undercurrent of homosexuality throughout the whole novel, which she believes is not an original idea, but it is a new idea to her. The doting of Lord Henry to Dorian is overblown, because no straight man would rave that much about another man’s beauty.

The character of Lord Henry is full of witticisms and insight into human nature from his point of view. There are many great one-liners that he (Wilde) comes out with. Some of them are, “The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties,” and “It is only the intellectually lost who ever argue,” and “Beauty is a form of Genius, is higher, indeed than Genius, as it needs no explanation.”

What ensues is thus, the modern day fable: the painting that Basil Hallward does of Dorian Gray grows old and Dorian does not. He does evil things that are not shown of his face or his body, but are displayed on the portrait. It drives Dorian mad in the end.

Ms. Hen is interested in how this modern day fable was conceived. In the edition she read this time, the introduction was an explanation that Oscar Wilde went to visit his friend who was an artist that had painted a beautiful work of a young man, and both the artist and Wilde exclaimed how unfair it was that the painting would never grow old, but the subject would.

DORIAN GRAY portrays the deepest and darkest places that are within all of us. Everyone has the capability for evil and mischief, but not everyone takes part in those things. Nobody has a painting that would hide the evil doings from the world, but if anyone did, would their mean seeds flourish? If the opportunity to hide our dastardly deeds from the world existed, would we take advantage of it? Nobody knows what we would do if faced with this conundrum, and this is why THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY has had such lasting power. There is the possibility that evil could be anywhere, inside each of us, but hidden from the world.

Ms. Hen thinks this novel is perfect for Halloween season. So drink your pumpkin spice iced coffee while the leaves are crunching underneath your feet, and take in the world of Dorian Gray, and be prepared for darkness.

Ms. Hen at Oscar Wilde's grave, Pere Lachaise Cemetery, April 2014

Friday, October 9, 2015

Ms. Hen reviews 03 by Jean-Christophe Valtat

Jean-Christophe Valtat
Translated from the French by Mitzi Angel
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Translation 2010

Ms. Hen found this book on her bookshelf recently, and she had no idea how she had acquired it. She has read many books through the years, and bought many, and some have found their way to her. She discovered that she had bought it five years ago, but she has no memory of it, so she decided to read this mysterious short novel.

Ms. Hen read this book in one sitting, taking one huge breath and diving underneath, not coming up for air until she was finished. She almost never does this. There is something about this book that lends itself to be read this way: there are no chapters, and there aren’t even any paragraphs, it’s one continual idea flowing through.

The story is about a teenage boy looking at a mentally challenged girl, wondering about her life, and if the possibility exists of her ever loving him, or him loving her. The novel is beautifully written. It takes place in the 1980s, when there was no Internet and teenagers had to entertain themselves at home with their records and books.

It seemed to Ms. Hen that the only time this novel could have taken place was the 80s, a time of disenfranchisement for the youth, when they had no real connection and not much knowledge of the outside world. Ms. Hen remembers what this world was like. And she remembers being like this boy, thinking strange thoughts, not the exact same strange thoughts, but her own.

Young people, in the age before the Internet, had to think their odd thoughts in their personal vacuums. And they held the possibility that anything could happen. Ms. Hen thinks that the youth of today do not know what it’s like to be alone with disturbing thoughts constantly because there are so many ways of being stimulated externally.

This novel brought so many questions to Ms. Hen’s mind. Why does this guy want this mentally challenged girl to love him? Is this the only way he thinks he can be in love? Will he ever do anything about it? Ms. Hen was sure the boy would never do anything about it, because he did not seem unstable to her.

This novel takes place in suburban France, and it seems similar to the suburban U.S. in the 1980s, but with more machismo. The boy is delicate, and that is not seen as strong enough in his culture. The boy seems to want to dominate the girl he is watching, but he knows he never can bring himself to do such a thing.

Ms. Hen was excited to find one place where chickens were mentioned in this lovely novel. The boy was describing the mentally challenged children, and how they reacted to playing a soccer game again the local police club, “…where we face opponents not only incapable of grasping the simple rules of the game, but what’s more, who were seized by panic and ran all over the place like decapitated chickens.”

Ms. Hen loved this book so much, and she found herself in it, twisted as that may seem. Ms. Hen thinks that this book would be a huge cult book that all the hipsters would like if they got their hands on it. But maybe they have. Ms. Hen is not a hipster, she is a purse with good taste. Ms. Hen waves her five feathers high in the air for this gem.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


October 1 – 10, 2015
2 Arrow Street
Cambridge, MA

Ms. Hen didn’t want to see KANSAS CITY CHOIR BOY, but her hen sister is a huge fan of Courtney Love, so she was convinced to go, and was glad she did.

Ms. Hen goes to the theater often enough, more than ordinary people, but this was a different kind of theater experience. It’s performed in Oberon, the second stage of the A.R.T. in Cambridge in Harvard Square. Ms. Hen had never been there, and even though she had the obstructed view seats, she could see well.

The play is a concept album and a love story. A man, sitting in his room, listening to music on his computer, sees on TV that his ex-girlfriend who had gone to New York to pursue acting has died. He writhes in his memories and pain, thus the premise.

Courtney Love, as the girlfriend, gives a sultry and sensual performance. Ms. Love doesn’t act any differently than you’ve seen her before, but this time, she’s so close you get to see exactly how dirty her hair is that particular day. Ms. Hen loved it. Even though she may not be a dedicated Courtney fan, she reveled in witnessing this spectacle.

The character’s name is Athena and they burn with love for each other, but she dreams of a life that is far from Kansas City, similar to many people who strive for fame and success.

Todd Almond, the writer and star of the play, sizzles with talent. His voice and his stage presence shine. He and Ms. Love have sparkling chemistry, and Ms. Hen was immersed in their performances. She was entranced with the love story.

She was also dazzled with the lighting of the show.  Light bulbs moved across the stage area, and they danced with the music. Strobe lights shone and the lights perfectly contributed to the performance.

There was also a type of Greek Chorus called the Sirens, women who sang and danced and added to the tapestry of the show. They all looked different, and were all one, but separate at the same time.

The play reminded Ms. Hen of stories of people who have loved someone who has died prematurely, such as Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. When Ms. Hen watched this play, she felt the urgency of an ill-fated love affair, and the fact that the actors sing the entire time propels the show along.

KANSAS CITY CHOIR BOY is a rock opera, musical concept album and a good party. It’s only an hour long, which Ms. Hen thought worked well for the format. Fans of Courtney Love should go to see her in her element. She could be this character. She is this character. Reaching for the stars, leaving the past behind. Striving towards fame, the ill-fated siren. Ms. Hen gives this play five enthusiastic feathers up.

Friday, October 2, 2015


THE STORY OF A NEW NAME, Neapolitan novels, book two
By Elena Ferrante
Europa Editions 2013

Ms. Hen read the first book of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels in the spring of this year, but at first she didn’t realize there were more in the series.  She was shocked at the end of the first book, and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next. She bought the second book and waited to read it because she wanted to enjoy and savor every minute of it.

This novel takes place when Elena and Lila are young adults. Elena continues with high school and Lila is newly married. Lila’s husband, Stefano, is a brute to her on their wedding night and somehow Lila manages not to get pregnant by him. That is, pregnant by him.

Elena, or Lenucia, as her family calls her, struggles with school and her relationship with Lila. Everything is difficult for Elena and she is jealous that Lila can learn things more easily. Elena is fascinated that Lila learned how to swim at the beach when they were away for the summer, and she realizes that Lila could learn how to do anything that she put her mind to doing. But not everyone has that talent.

Elena thinks that Lila is better than her in every way, even though Elena is the one who goes to school and eventually college. Lila falls in love with Nino, the man Elena desires, and he falls for her, and Elena seethes with envy. Even though Elena bursts with jealousy for Lila, she realizes she could never have what she has.

Elena has a difficult time with being an educated person from a world where nobody is educated. She also struggles to relate to children of the elite who are her classmates. She meets the parents of her boyfriend, and she doesn’t understand how they communicate with each other so easily about intellectual matters.

Elena’s problems are common for many people who become educated and try to relate to their families and communities that cannot understand them and why they care about things that seem to have no consequence in the ordinary world. Elena realizes that there is a different sphere that exists, and she thinks she could never be a part of the universe of the upper echelon.

But she is wrong. She does become a part of it. She flourishes, and she needs to share her success with Lila. But Lila is the one who always brings her back to earth.

Ms. Hen found some chickens in this novel and they brought her back to earth. When Elena goes to Ischia with Lila and her mother and her sister-in-law, the young brides fight over which room they want and Elena is stuck in the back, “…while the room that fell to Nunzia had a sort of porthole, high up, so that we never discovered what was outside it and mine, which was very small, and barely had space for the bed, look out on a chicken coop sheltered by a forest of reeds.” Elena found Lila and Nino together while the group though Lila was calling Stefano, “I went out hesitantly, an odor of tires mingles with the smell of the chicken coop.” Ms. Hen thinks that these two instances of chickens mentioned in the novel are at the darkest part of Elena’s youth, when she was at the beach with Lila and Lila breaks Elena’s heart in more ways than one. Unspeakable things happen to Elena at the beach, and they are all because of Lila.

Even though Lila proves to Elena that she is smarter and better than her again and again, Elena still loves her and still goes back to her because she thinks she needs her, like the waves need the moon.

Ms. Hen loved this book. She is not going to wait as long as she did since the first book to find out what happens next. She gives THE STORY OF A NEW NAME five feathers up. She recommends it to anyone who wants to read a novel about a person with a tortured but ordinary life.