Books: The Bloody Chamber & The Fault in Our Stars

One of the amazing things about being an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) is that according to my contract I’m supposed to work a maximum of 26 hours a week. Because I’m not as busy as I might otherwise be, I’ve decided to try and use my year in Norway to develop good habits that will (hopefully) carry over next year when I start working full time.

As of right now, project gym has had a rough time getting started, but I’ve had a lot more success when it comes to reading for fun. Right now my goal is to either read for an hour every day or to read a chapter a day. I’ve always had a long book list, and it’s great to finally have time to dedicate to it.

Getting the books themselves has also been pretty easy. Thanks to technology, I can easily borrow and read books on my Kindle. The Overdrive system also allows me to borrow e-books from my home library in the US. If I want a physical book, the Norwegian library system is easy to use and has a very good selection of books in English. Trondheim’s central library is an easy thirty minute walk away and if I want something more convenient, there is a public library right inside the entrance of Byåsen. If neither of these libraries has the book I’m looking for, they can request the book from any of Norway’s other public libraries.

As of right now, I’ve finished Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber

The first I’d heard of Angela Carter was when I took an undergraduate class on children’s literature. One of the questions that the class had been asked to explore was whether or not fairy tales could be rewritten. We’d read through several iterations of some of the more classic fairy tales, “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Hansel and Gretel,” “Sleeping Beauty,” etc., and seen how they had changed over time. Although these fairy tales had plainly been adapted, it had always seemed to me that many of these changes were more superficial. Morals were added or taken away, stories had slightly different details, different themes were emphasized, but at the end of the day the crux of the story remained the same. In other words, I believed that these class tales were not really being rewritten.

Towards the middle of the course, we were assigned chapters from the Bloody Chamber in order to see a more modern take on the fairy tale. Although I’d only been assigned “The Tiger’s Bride” and “The Lady of the House of Love,” these two chapters were enough to make me believe that fairy tales could be rewritten and to make me a Carter fan. While I didn’t have enough time to read the rest of The Bloody Chamber at school, I made sure to keep it towards the top of my book list. So, when I discovered that Byåsen actually had a copy of The Bloody Chamber I rushed to check it out.

Each of the book’s chapters is a separate short story, so The Bloody Chamber a very quick and easy read. Carter retells: “Bluebeard,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Puss in Boots,” as well as a few other classic tales. While I was nervous that the other chapters in the book might not live up to “The Tiger’s Bride” or “The Lady of the House of Love,” I enjoyed almost every chapter. Overall I would wholeheartedly recommend the book. Carter has absolutely gorgeous prose that is well worth reading, even if fairy tales aren’t your typical cup of tea.

John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars

I wouldn’t necessarily say that I was badgered into reading The Fault in Our Stars, but it’s not too far off the mark. Before I actually read the novel, all I knew was pretty much everything you can gather from the movie trailer. I knew that it was some sort of love story centered around two teens that have cancer. That and watching the movie or reading the book was apparently supposed to make me dissolve into a puddle of tears.

So, having been enthusiastically encouraged to read this book for months, I finally bit the bullet and checked it out of the library. Yes, I went into the book skeptical. This was not helped by the fact that it’s told from a teenager’s perspective, something that John Green conveys by excessively using the words “like” and “whatever.” Things were looking grim and I did not think that I would be able to make it past the first few chapters. But the book picks up, as does the writing. While the two teens, Hazel and Augustus, bond over a variety of things, the one thing that they bond over most is the book An Imperial Affliction. I have to hand it to Green, he does have some really nice writing when his characters quote from An Imperial Affliction and analyze it. The characters eventually come across as witty and sincere, especially when they attempt to grapple with some of life’s harder questions, such as “What happens when you die?” “Is it worth loving someone when you know that you have an incredibly limited life span?” “Why does cancer affect the people it does in the ways that it does?” At the end of the day, it was a quick read and a good one. Green strikes a good balance between trying to talk about a serious subject while also giving both the characters and the reader funny and uplifting moments.


I love the above video for a number of reasons, but right now it’s because I think it highlights something that I didn’t talk about in my last post. What is the role of men when it comes to gender equality? You may not have noticed this, but I only mentioned one man in Britain’s feminist movement, John Stuart Mill. One. That is not to say that there weren’t other men who promoted women’s rights, but it is important to note that there was only one man who prominently featured in it. I think it’s time that that changed, and I wanted to take a moment to talk about Emma Watson’s #HeForShe campaign.

I was pleasantly surprised when I woke up to news that Emma Watson had launched a campaign at the UN called #HeForShe. Now I admit, I wasn’t crazy about the hashtag grammar, but I decided that it was probably something worth looking into. I’m so glad I did. If you haven’t seen the speech, I’ve included it below and you can find the full transcript at the end of this article.

Watson’s speech resonated with me in a lot of ways. Similar to Watson, I have always identified as a feminist, and this has never seemed like a complicated decision for me. Why shouldn’t I want to be treated as an equal to my male friends and counterparts? And while a desire for equal rights has always seemed like a no-brainer to me, I can’t emphasize enough how isolating both the idea of equal rights and the term feminist can be. Watson is absolutely right, many of the men I have met consider gender equality as “synonymous with man-hating.” I don’t think that feminism, or a push for equal rights, has to be viewed in that light. For me, asking for equal rights does not mean that I hate men. It means that I support women. It means that I want to level the playing field. It means that I think that women should be paid the same as men. It means that not only do I want a seat at the table, but I also want my voice to be encouraged and heard with the same weight as any man’s voice. In short, when Judi Dench ends the above video, I want a world in which those statistics are a thing of the past and Daniel Craig can honestly answer “Yes, we are equal.”

I think Emma Watson has started a great campaign. I also think that the most important thing she has done is aim the messaging at men. I hope that it encourages men to speak up for their female friends, mothers, sisters, and wives. I hope that when people make sexist comments that it encourages them to take a stand. That it encourages them to support the women in their lives. To be active and to refuse to silently let things continue the way they are.

Although Watson does focus the campaign on women’s rights, I also think it’s significant that she looks at male inequality. To quote Watson directly:

Men, I would like to give this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue, too. Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society. I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness, unable to ask for help for fear it would make them less of a man. In fact, in the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and heart disease. I’ve seen men fragile and insecure by what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.

Watson is right. Gender inequality works both ways.

I know that having conversations on gender equality is often a hard thing to do. The conversations can be awkward, difficult, and complex. More often than not, it’s easier to let a comment slide than it is to pause and having a meaningful discussion on equality. But I think it’s more important that we take the time to struggle through these hard conversations. That we take the time to acknowledge that gender inequality is a global and a pervasive problem, rather than pretending that gender inequality does not exist. Ultimately I hope that #HeForShe helps promote a stronger dialogue on this issue, and that it helps both men and women stand up and support each other.

James Bond

Holly Goodhead: “Good afternoon. Can I help you?”
James Bond: “My names is Bond. James Bond. I’m looking for Dr Goodhead.”
Holly Goodhead: “You just found her.”
James Bond: “…A woman.”
Holly Goodhead: “Your powers of observation do you credit Mr Bond.”

This is a quote taken from Ian Fleming’s 1979 film Moonraker, and if you’d like to see the actual scene you can watch it here (I promise it’s pretty sassy).

As far back as I can remember, I have always been a James Bond fan. I loved watching the Bond movies as a kid, and was drawn to how exciting and formulaic the movies were. Bond was always attractive, always manage to survive seemingly impossible scenarios, and would always have the best cars, gadgets, and yes, women. Growing up I didn’t really mind how women were portrayed in the Bond movies. Their lack of depth and speaking parts never bothered me, but then again it was never too far off the Disney movies I’d graduated from in the 90s. While I loved watching movies like The Little MermaidCinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, similar to the Bond girls, most of these standard Disney princesses lacked complex personalities and were almost always rescued by their prince charmings. This is not to say that all Disney princesses or Bond girls are two dimensional, you only need to watch Frozen or Casino Royale to know that is not the case, but it did mean that seeing a fiesty and strong Bond girl, such as Holly Goodhead above, was a wonderful thing for me as a teen. This also means that when I had the chance to teach a British history lesson at Byåsen, I leapt at the opportunity to teach my students about James Bond and its relationship to the feminist movement in Britain.

First things first, I was actually shocked by by how difficult it was to prepare for this lesson. Very early on in my lesson planning I realized that there are pretty much no good resources available on the feminist movement in Britain. While some websites do a great overview of women’s suffrage, I have yet to see a well written article that covers feminism’s historical presence in Britain. It was saddening to realize that the history of the women’s movement in Britain is so poorly documented. Trust me, even the YouTube videos on it were soporific.

So dear reader, in an effort to change this, you now get to read through a brief history of feminism in Britain:

18th Century

Around the start of the Industrial Revolution (1760s) working class women began to work full time. This gave women their first opportunities to regularly meet and discuss political and social issues.

Early 1900s

While women had been meeting informally since the 18th century, it isn’t until 1866 that organized women’s suffrage starts to appear. At this point in time women’s suffrage had not gained much traction with the public, so when MP John Stuart Mill proposed an amendment to give women the same voting rights as men in 1867, it was voted down 194 to 73 in Parliament.

The first major suffragist organization, the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS),was organized in 1897 under Milicent Fawcett. The NUWSS was committed to using peaceful tactics, such as non-violent demonstrations. Originally it only wanted the vote for middle class property-owning women, but it quickly realized that it needed to expand to include the vote for working class women.

The suffragettes (notice the spelling change) emerged in 1903 with the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). It was led by Emmeline Pankhurst and was an active organization whose members mostly consisted of young working class women. In contrast to the NUWSS, they were not a law abiding organization. Their slogan was “Deeds Not Words” and they were known to use violent tactics such as arson. When many suffragettes were arrested, they would often go on hunger strikes to keep up the attention on women’s suffrage. One of the WSPU’s most famous members is Emily Davison. Davison famously wore the WSPU colors before running in front of the King’s horse when it was racing at Epsom. It was previously believed that it was a deliberate act of suicide, although now it is believed that she was trying to attach a WSPU scarf to the horse’s bridle. She died from injuries suffered in the collision, and when she was buried the words on her tombstone were “Deeds Not Words.”

World War I

When Britain decided to enter World War I, women’s groups decided to suspend their suffrage activities (which also helped make them seem more reasonable). Although women did not actively campaign for suffrage, that does not mean that they were not a driving force in Britain’s domestic landscape. Because so many men were sent to the front, women were called upon to take up jobs that were previously dominated by men. While this may seem like a big step for women, it was mostly a change for middle and upper class women (working class women had been working since the 19th century). If you watch Downton Abbey, this is why Sybil’s decision to become a nurse was considered a big deal.

The Interwar Years

After World War I, women’s contributions to the war could not be ignored and in 1918 the Representation of the People Act was passed. This gave women over the age of 30 the right to vote. In contrast to this, men could vote at the age of 21. You might be wondering why there was a nine year difference in voting ages, and the answer is that it would ensure that men were still the majority vote. Because so many men had been killed during World War I, the voting difference was made to guarantee that men would not be overrun by the women’s vote.

Things do improve, and in 1928 women are finally given the same voting rights as men in the Equal Franchise Act of 1928. This concludes what is called first wave feminism, or women’s campaign for equal voting rights.

World War II & the Postwar

After women won equal voting rights, women’s membership in feminist groups declined. Overall not too much happens, but in 1944 the Education Act is passed and establishes free education for all primary and secondary students, male and female. However, there is a catch. Once students reached age 11 many schools installed quotas on the number of female students that they would accept. During this time period studies showed that female students frequently outperformed their male counterparts and schools did not want to be overrun with girls. These quotas remained legal until the 1980s. 


The Swinging Sixties helped welcome in the sexual revolution. The Pill arrived in Britain in 1961, but it wasn’t widely available to all women until 1974. The 60s also see the passage of the 1967 Abortion Act.

One of the most important events in the 1960s was the 1968 Ford plant strike. Women who worked at Ford’s Dagenham factory asked their managers to raise their wages to that of some of their male counterparts. The managers turned them down and the women went on strike until their wages were raised. The strike helped highlight workplace inequality and The Observer noted that “at least four million women [were] used virtually as slave labour.” Documents also show us that half of Britain’s working women were earning less than five shillings an hour (which pretty much meant they were working for pennies/pence).


The Ford strike helped galvanize efforts to grant women equal pay, and in 1970 the Equal Pay Act was passed. In reality, the law didn’t do much to actually help women, and their wages were still 54.8% of men’s. Women struggled to get paid the same as men and also struggled to get equal treatment from banks. If a woman wanted to get higher credit from a bank she would often need a signature from her father or husband.

In 1970 the Miss World was famously protested against, mostly by the Women’s Liberation Movement. At the time, Miss World was an event that was widely watched in Britain and protesters interrupted proceedings with whistles, flour bombs, and stink bombs. They famously shouted “We’re not beautiful, we’re not ugly, we’re angry.” Most of the protesters were not angry at the contestants, rather they were angry at the ways in which these women were objectified and portrayed. They also had issues with statements made by the host, Bob Hope. Hope frequently made derogatory remarks towards women and referred to the competition as a cattle market.

The 1970s also saw a resurgence in feminist groups. In 1975, The Times reported that there were more than 1,500 groups of women around the country meeting fairly regularly.

Lastly, in 1979 Margaret Thatcher became the Prime Minister of Britain. Although Thatcher was not an active participant in the feminist movement, her appointment was considered a huge step for women.

Overall it is important to note that women’s movements in Britain were grassroots movements. Because there weren’t many women in positions of power (even in the 1970s only 4.6% of the members of Parliament were female) any sort of push for change needed to come from below.

 So how does James Bond fit into all of this? Well, Ian Fleming started to write the Bond books in the 1950s, and by looking at how Fleming changes his portrayal of women we can see how much of an impact feminism had. When Fleming first started to write in the 1950s, he was constantly critiqued for his portrayal of women. One news article in The Times was so outraged with Fleming that it bitingly said “The woman is not really a woman at all. She is just a rather pleasantly scented plaything to be used for an hour or two in a context of violence that borders on sadism. And that is accepted. There, in my judgment, is the measure of our contemporary standard of morality.”

To be frank the critique of Fleming’s books is largely spot on, especially for his early work. Women do not play a central role in the Bond books, in fact Bond famously says “These blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to the men.” The Times was also accurate when it said that Bond often uses the women who waltz through the pages as though they were “pleasantly scented plaything[s].”

But things are forced to change. As Fleming began to reach a broader audience, and his books began to spawn a multi-million dollar movie franchise, Fleming’s portrayal of women had to adapt. In the books, Bond eventually marries. His wife is a relatively strong woman, whose death provides a devastating blow to Bond. In fact, you could argue that it is one that he never fully recovers from.

The movies also start to change. You can see this with characters like Moonraker‘s Holly Goodhead. Holly Goodhead is more than just a pretty face, as Bond himself points out. She’s a fully qualified NASA scientist, astronaut, and a CIA agent. I wouldn’t say that representations of women in the Bond films is perfect, it is still far from so, but I hoped that by showing my students Moonraker they would be able to remember at least a small portion of my lecture, as well as have a greater understanding of how much women had to fight to even get a character like Dr Goodhead on the silver screen.

Jeg går på norskkurs

(I go to a Norwegian course)

In case you were wondering, yes I am trying to learn Norwegian. I’ve been going to classes for about four weeks and have managed to master some fairly simple phrases. As of right now I can:

  1. Conjugate in the present tense
  2. Conjugate in the future tense
  3. Know how to make nouns singular and plural
  4. Know how to use definite and indefinite forms
  5. Construct basic subject-verb-object (SVO) sentences
  6. Tell time

Now you’re probably wondering why I decided to stick time on my list. It’s because telling time in Norwegian is bit of a headache. Norwegian is the third language that I’ve tried to pick up and it’s the ONLY language where you can’t just say it’s hour x and minute y.

So, how do you tell time in Norwegian? Well, first of all you need to divide the clock into quarters (see the picture below). Next, you need to know that when telling time everything changes depending on which quarter you are in.

For the first quarter, you essentially you pronounce time the way you would in English. So in the first quarter everything would be pronounced like this:

12:01 = 1 over 12
12:05 = 5 over 12
12:10 = 10 over 12
12:14 = 14 over 12

Once you pass the 15 minute mark everything changes. You add an hour to the actual time and subtract the minutes from the 30 minute mark. So:

12:20 = 10 på halv 1
12:25 = 5 på halv 1

Once you pass the half hour mark you still add an hour to the actual time but now you add the minutes from the 30 minute mark. So:

12:35 = 5 over halv 1
12:40 = 10 over halv 1

And once you get into the last quarter hour you subtract minutes from the 60 minute mark. So:

12:50 = 10  1
12:55 = 5  1

Each of the quarter marks also has their own special phrase. So for example, 12:30 wouldn’t be 0 på halv 1. It would just be halv 1. If you now have a headache, don’t worry I did too.

While telling time has taken me a few days to get used to, I would say that Norwegian hasn’t proved too difficult to pick up. The grammar itself is pretty easy to understand so all I really need to do is just buckle down and memorize more of the vocabulary.

As for practicing Norwegian outside of the classroom, it’s taken a while to learn some more practical vocabulary and phrases. While knowing how to say “My name is,” “I come from,” “I study,” etc., many shopkeepers aren’t particularly interested in knowing those details. Most of what I’ve been able to say on a day-to-day level is limited to “Thank you” and “Where is (insert random grocery store item here)?” But it’s only been a month, and I’m sure I’ll be able to communicate a bit more with people before the year is over. I did have one great moment last week when a student asked me a question on my way to my office at Byåsen. The conversation itself was a bit clunky and went something like this:

Student: Er du lærer? (Are you a teacher?)
Me: ……YES! I mean ja! I mean how can I help you?

She quickly realized that she’d have to ask her actual request in English, but hey I was just happy that I understood her question (and that she actually thought I was a teacher, not another high school student).

Alien Life

No, not the UFO kind, the immigration kind.

It’s been a while since I talked about the immigration process and it’s time for an update! I have FINALLY gotten my Norwegian personal number (the equivalent of a Social Security number). This means that I can FINALLY open a Norwegian bank account. Here is the rough timeline of the steps that I had to go through to get to this point:

August 19: registered for a residence card at the police station
August 22: received my residence card in the mail
September 2: Registered at the Tax Office (note when getting a ticket stub to wait in line hit Public Registration, NOT the option that says something about taxes)
September 19: Received my personal number in the mail and registered for a bank account

As you can see, it’s taken about a month to get to this point. This also means that when I was emailing the wiring instructions to the Fulbright Office it was hard not to end every sentence with ten exclamation points (don’t worry in the end there were no exclamation points to be found). But this is really exciting! I can finally get my stipend from the last few months, as well as the travel money that I’m owed for my flight to Norway.

Furthermore, because I had so much time to kill before I could open a bank account, I had plenty of time to consider my bank options. In the end, I decided to go with DNB since it has a great reputation and, perhaps even more importantly, pretty much every page of their website has an English version. Using Google Translate for my online banking was something I wanted to avoid at all costs.

Opening the bank account itself was pretty easy and I was walked through everything I needed to know at the bank. DNB also has some really easy ways to start investing, so hopefully I’ll be able to do that in my year here. The last thing to know about the banking process is that the bank told me it could take up to a week for me to actually receive my debit card and online banking information in the mail. While it’s still a bit of a bummer to wait another week for everything to arrive, it’s great to finally be done cutting through most of the red tape.

Referendum Continued

Today is the day that Scotland votes on independence! In a wonderful twist of fate, I was able to pay a second visit to the Byåsen class studying the British Empire (and will hopefully continue to do so for the rest of the semester). Most of the class was pretty split on whether or not Scotland should be independent, but when put to a vote 60% voted no to independence. When I talked to the students who voted no, most of them voted that way because they were worried about Scotland’s oil reserves running out and the Scottish economy tanking. Many of them also felt as though the “Yes Scotland” campaign had simply seized onto the idea of becoming rich through Scottish oil reserves and done a poor job of focusing on nationalistic reasons for becoming independent. As for those who voted yes, those students sympathized with the Scottish desire to be independent and compared it to Norway’s independence from Sweden in 1905. The class seemed to have a really good time discussing the issue, although they strongly objected to the teacher, Maria, putting on bagpipe music in the background. They seemed to mind the bagpipes a bit less when we watch John Oliver’s take on Scotland’s independence:

My students also seemed to enjoy looking at Alan Bissett’s scathing poem “Vote Britain.” Many of the students felt that Bissett’s critique was effective; however, when I asked if it would have swayed their vote, many of them said no. I was personally struck by the line “Vote for Glasgow having the highest knife-crime rate and lowest life expectancy in Europe” and his use of Rupert Brooke’s World War I poem, quoting “There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.” While I’m personally on the side of the “Better Together” campaign (even though as John Oliver points out it’s a terrible name), I do think that Bissett points out some very valid grievances in his poem. Well, I suppose we’ll see what happens tomorrow morning!

Mischief Managed

Since I’ve started helping Nancy with her two classes, I’ve noticed that while many of our students are required to write regularly, few of them have a solid foundation on the basics of academic writing. Many of Nancy’s classes are divided into covering topics like: how to determine the relevance of an article, how to create an annotated bibliography, and even how to find sources. I was pretty stunned when some of my masters students approached me asking what resources they could use to find articles relevant to their theses. As an undergraduate, I felt like I was forced to review how to find sources at least once a year, so it came as a bit of a surprise to see how lost at sea these masters students were when it came to doing research.

Because many of our students do lack writing fundamentals, I wasn’t surprised to see that Nancy had planned to spend one of our classes reviewing references. What did surprise me was the fact that I would be teaching the class. Nancy wasn’t able to come to class today since she was out of town for a conference, so today was my first day teaching on own! Nancy gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted with the class as long as I taught things related to references, sources, and how to avoid plagiarism. While I was excited to plan my first lesson, I initially wasn’t too excited about my topic. As my friend Irene put it, references tend to be “less than inspiring.”

While references may not be the most exciting thing, they are a crucial component of academic writing and something that needed to be reviewed. In order to make the topic a bit more interesting, I decided make my lesson Harry Potter themed. I won’t go too in depth into what I taught, but I broadly focused on:

  1. Different types of sources (primary, secondary, tertiary)
  2. How to access the relevance and credibility of an article
  3. Where to find sources
  4. Why referencing is important and easy (especially if you use tools like, EndNote, and Zotero)
  5. What plagiarism is and how to avoid it

Because this particular class is quite small (on average nine people turn up for class), they seem to really excel when it comes to doing group work. Their favorite part of today’s lesson was when I had them divide up into groups and read three of the six articles below:

  1. An excerpt from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  2. An excerpt from Wikipedia’s Harry Potter page
  3. The Atlantic’s How the ‘Harry Potter’ Movies Succeeded Where the Books Failed
  4. The Leaky Cauldron’s “Harry Potter Book to Movie Differences: Prisoner of Azkaban
  5. An interview with Daniel Radcliffe about pretty much anything other than Harry Potter
  6. Philip Nel’s “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bored: Harry Potter, the Movie”

After they were done reading, they had to talk to their groups and try to answer these questions:

  1. What kind of source is it? (primary, secondary, tertiary)
  2. How credible is the source? On a scale of 1-10
  3. How relevant is the source? On a scale of 1-10

Overall, they seemed to have a fun time realizing that credible sources are not always relevant, and that relevant sources are not always credible.

Later on I had them practice paraphrasing by having them summarize their different articles and their arguments.

By the time class ended, people seemed to have a pretty good understanding of references and looked like they had enjoyed themselves. In short, mischief managed!