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Starchild’s Play: John Wyndham’s Chocky

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads a classic story of alien possession by the master of British science fiction

What if your son had an imaginary friend with whom he often conversed, answering questions that nobody had apparently asked, and behaving as though this invisible and seemingly immaterial Other were the most natural thing in the world? Many parents will probably have observed such a thing with their own children. But what, then, if the idea started to take root, a small but nevertheless nagging doubt, that this imaginary friend was not imaginary at all, but something objectively real, which had inhabited your child’s brain and was capable of speaking directly to him through some form of thought-transference?

John Wyndham’s late novel Chocky, published in 1968, just one year before his death (although it was based on a novelette published five years earlier), ponders this latter question. Read the rest of this entry

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A Summary and Analysis of James Joyce’s ‘The Boarding House’

‘The Boarding House’ is one of the 15 stories that make up James Joyce’s 1914 collection of short stories, Dubliners. As we’ve remarked before, Dubliners is now regarded as one of the landmark texts of modernist literature, but initially sales were poor, with just 379 copies being sold in the first year (famously, 120 of these were bought by Joyce himself). You can read ‘The Boarding House’ here before proceeding to our summary and analysis of the story.

In summary, ‘The Boarding House’ focuses on Mrs Mooney, a married woman who has separated from her violent husband, a butcher, and set up a boarding house on Hardwicke Street in Dublin. She has a steady stream of lodgers staying with her, especially men from Liverpool and the Isle of Man, and is known by many of her guests as The Madam on account of her imposing figure (and manner). Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of Sylvia Plath’s ‘Lady Lazarus’

‘Dying is an art, like everything else’: ‘Lady Lazarus’, as the poem’s title implies, is a poem about resurrection – but implicit within its title, and Sylvia Plath’s reference to the man whom Jesus brought back from the dead, is the idea of annihilation or extinction, a theme that is never far away from us with a Plath poem. You can read ‘Lady Lazarus’ here before proceeding to our analysis below.

Sylvia Plath wrote ‘Lady Lazarus’ in October 1962, only a few months before her suicide, and the poem is shot through with references to her previous suicide attempts. (Plath would kill herself in February 1963, in a London apartment she had decided to rent because W. B. Yeats had once lived there. As she suggests in ‘Lady Lazarus’, she had attempted suicide previously at roughly ten-year intervals.) Sigmund Freud, in his 1920 book Beyond the Pleasure Principle, had described Thanatos or the death-drive – what Philip Larkin called ‘desire of oblivion’ – as a compulsion to repeat, and this is how ‘Lady Lazarus’ begins: Read the rest of this entry