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Zoe McCormack

MA in Modernities Research Blog

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Literature

Blog Portfolio or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog

When I first started the MA in Modernities back in September, we were told that we would be required to maintain a blog as part of our EN6009 module. We had to to contribute about 800 words a month, and use this blog to develop our own research interests and academic voice. I. Was. Petrified. I didn’t know the first thing about blogging. At first, it was a real challenge for me to establish the right tone for my blog – I wanted a voice that was both casual and intellectual. Once I started the blog, however, I found it to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of my MA. Over the course of the six months, I have published ten blogs, ranging from postmodernism in film to aspects of adaptation.

The very first words I put on my blog consisted of an About section. This was basic and just a way of introducing myself and my interests as well as familiarising myself with WordPress:

My name is Zoe McCormack and I’m a 22 year old from Waterford. I received my BA Double Honours in English and History from Maynooth University in 2015. I am currently continuing my studies with the MA in Modernities: American and British Literature and Film in UCC. I would describe myself as a film fanatic and literature lover. My own academic interests are extremely eclectic and include Gothic literature, twentieth century theatre, and postmodernism in American cinema. With this blog, I hope to explore my own intellectual interests and showcase my research journey as the academic year progresses.

While I’m still crazy about film and literature, I feel that, as my blog developed, so too did my interest in film. When I initially started the MA, I was sure that I would be dividing my time between literature and film. However, as the year progressed, it became clear that my true interest lies in film, and the research blog definitely helped me explore that interest.


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[Credit: Dimension Films]
Aside from the ‘About’ post, my blog on Postmodernism in the Scream Franchise was my first ‘real’ post. I think that my blog has definitely improved since then, but it actually remains my favourite post to date, perhaps because I love the Scream Franchise so much. Postmodernism is my favourite theoretical area, and I’m very interested in postmodernism in film. I had also been watching Scream in the run up to Halloween, so thought it would be perfect to combine the two areas for my post. I began the blog post by contextualising the Scream movies and then moved into discussing the self-reflexivity of the franchise, alongside Scream‘s subversion of genre tropes:

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It is important to point out that these films not only mimic the slasher genre, they also subvert it. This is most evident in the concept of the ‘final girl’, a stereotypically virginal tomboy who, it appears, uses her chastity to outwit a killer – think Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. We are presented with something entirely different in Scream. Instead of the formulaic virgin, we get two complex, relatable ‘final girls’ in the form of Sidney and Gale. Indeed, Sidney is actually allowed to survive ‘post-coital death’ at the end of the first film, defeating her psychotic boyfriend (Wee 55). Gale, the amoral news broadcaster, is a far cry from the bright young ingénue that typically evades death in the slasher movie. Both of these characters possess an actual voice in these movies, as opposed to the objectified female victim that is so prevalent in other movies of the genre.

In retrospect, my first blog is maybe too basic in terms of presentation. While I do have some pictures and video clips, I did not use any hyperlinks, and my pictures are not as clear as they could have been. I was also still trying to find a suitable tone for blogging. My Scream post is too verbose, and has something of an academic vibe. However, this post did set the precedent for my blog as a whole, with the majority of my posts revolving around film, TV, and postmodernism.


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[Credit: Wikipedia]
As part of our EN6009 assessment, we were required to blog about at least two research seminars. On the 13th of November, I posted my second post on M. W. Booth’s seminar Inuit Women in Early Modern London: Caubvik Sees Cymbeline at Covent Garden. This seminar focused on the viewing of Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline in Covent Garden in 1772 by a group of Native Canadians. As this is one of Shakespeare’s lesser known works, you can look at the trailer for Cymbeline below:

This was the first research seminar I had written about, and I was mindful about getting the tone right. I wanted to make the content of Booth’s talk clear for anyone reading my blog who had not attended the seminar. In order to do that, I divided my post into the three sections that were covered at the seminar: the play Cymbeline itself, the concept of cognitive theory, and the viewing of Cymbeline by Caubvik, a Native Canadian woman:

As she possessed little to no English, Caubvick would have to visually interpret events on stage in order to understand the plot. Booth gives an example of this – at the beginning of the play, there is an instance of gift exchange between Imogen and Posthumus. Booth argues that this would resonate with Inuit audience members, who were often painted or photographed wearing jewellery. Indeed, Booth goes a step further by arguing that an Inuit woman such as Caubvick had a better understanding of the play than the famous critic Samuel Johnson. This is because an indigenous person would have looked past the historical inaccuracies that Johnson loathed in the play, thereby aiding a better understanding of Cymbeline. While I do not fully endorse this view, I do find Booth’s argument of the importance of visual understanding to be a compelling one.

Although I did not know much about Cymbeline or cognitive theory before the seminar, this post did showcase a more critical voice in my blog as I attempted to both summarise and engage with the content of the seminar.


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[Credit: Netflix]
My third blog post, posted exactly a month later on December 13th, saw a return to my personal research interests of film and TV. I decided to do a post on Stranger Things and Nostalgia. We had been looking at Frederic Jameson’s theories of postmodernism as part of our Theories of Modernity class. I was particularly intrigued by Jameson’s notion of the nostalgia film as using the past to evade the present. As I had watched Stranger Things twice over the summer, I couldn’t help but apply Jameson’s theory to The Duffer Brothers’ hit show, by focusing specifically on how Stranger Things plays tribute to Steven Spielberg’s ET (1982):

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Both plots centre on aliens and developing friendships in the face of adversity. In Spielberg’s film, this friendship develops between ET the alien and Elliott. In Stranger Things, it is between Eleven, a young girl with special powers, and Mike. The character of Holly, Mike’s younger sister, complete with blonde pigtails and dungarees, is also aesthetically similar to Elliott’s little sister Gertie, famously played by Drew Barrymore. These subtle similarities go a long way in inviting comparisons between Stranger Things and ET, which helps create the air of nostalgia that permeates the show.

I credit this post with helping me find my blogging voice. While I did include academic citations, my overall tone was much more relaxed. In terms of presentation, I began using collages in this post, which helped provide a visual aid when directly comparing aspects of Stranger Things to ET.


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[Credit: Abbey Theatre]
My first (and only) blog post that deals directly with literature was my January post – The Play’s the Thing: Marina Carr’s Adaptation of Anna Karenina at the Abbey Theatre. I had the opportunity to see Marina Carr’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s famous novel at the Abbey over the Christmas break and I was obsessed! I wanted to use my blog in order to both review the play, and to examine its strength as an adaptation by looking at what was altered for the stage:

The most notable alteration to the novel is the injection of Irish humour into a story set in Tsarist Russia. Although the bizarre mix of Irish colloquialisms and Russian society may seem absurd, the combination is effective in uplifting a tragic morality tale, and did go down very well with the audience. For example, Stiva greets Levin’s housekeeper with the phrase “how are you, me old petal”, a phrase not often heard in a Tolstoy novel, but one that works very well in an Irish context (Carr 67). Carr’s adaptation can also be seen as possessing more feminist undertones than the source material. This is clear as the play includes satirical dinner conversations regarding the “woman question”, an inclusion that definitely resonates with a post-US Election audience, as Prince Sherbatsky asks his wife “Are you fit for power?” (Carr 95).

This post was really enjoyable for me to write: I had not only loved the play, but have been interested in adaptation since my undergraduate studies. Although I had predominantly looked at novel to screen or stage to screen adaptations, it was fascinating to see a stage adaptation of a novel as famous as Anna Karenina. Unfortunately, there were no clips or trailers from the play for me to include in my blog post, but I did include as many pictures as I possibly could. Because most of my posts dealt with visual mediums such as film and theatre, it was very important for me to include visuals in my blog.


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[Credit: Wikipedia]
February was one of my most prolific months as a blogger, with three posts across the month. The first of these was a reflection on our Wikipedia Editathon, which took place on the 8th of February. I titled the post Something Wiki This Way Comes: Wikipedia Editathon 2017. The Wikipedia Editathon was part of our in-class assessment for EN6009. Our task was simple: pick a Wikipedia page of your choice, somehow related to your thesis, and edit it to improve it for other users over the course of our two hour class. We also had to live tweet during the assignment, which I found hugely enjoyable. Initially, the very concept of the assignment confused me: I did not think an MA student was even allowed THINK the word Wikipedia, let alone contribute to it! I decided to update the Wiki page of the 1961 film The Innocents. I am doing my thesis on women in gothic film, and am going to use The Innocents in my research. It is an often overlooked film, so I thought it would be the perfect option to use on the day; I decided to focus on the ‘Reception’ section of the Wikipedia page:

When approaching this section, I wanted to include some film reviews from the time of release, along with more modern reviews in order to indicate the critical reception of the movie both in 1961 and in the 21st century. This approach actually proved quite interesting, as it showed how the movie grew in esteem over the years. Current film critics, such as Peter Bradshaw and Tim Robey, praised the film, with both critics awarding it five out of five stars. Critics contemporaneous with the film’s release, however, were not as enthusiastically kind. Bosley Crowther, writing for the New York Times in 1961, more or less referred to the film as boring. In order to expand the ‘Reception’ section of the Wikipedia page, I included more detailed accounts of these reviews, as well as providing citation, in order to give the curious reader an indication of how the reception of The Innocents changed over fifty years.

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An example of some of the live tweets that I included in my blog post about the Wikipedia Editathon

The blog about our Wikipedia Editathon was unusual as it was my first reflective blog. For this reason, I consider this blog more descriptive than my previous entries. This style of blogging would become essential for future blogs on our Textualities conference.


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[Credit: Wikipedia]
I posted my sixth blog post on the 23rd of February after attending a research seminar given by Meadhbh O’Halloran, a PhD candidate in UCC’s School of English. This seminar was entitled ‘Disrupting translatio imperii: Virgil, Marlowe and the Medieval Dido’. Although I had attended more than two research seminars over the course of the academic year, I decided to do my blog post on this one as it was my favourite. Much like the Cymbeline seminar, this too was well outside my intellectual jurisdiction, as I had no real expertise on Virgil, Marlowe, or Dido. I think my lack of knowledge actually contributed to my interest in the topic, as it was an area I had never dealt with academically. The seminar looked at the way Dido, the Queen of Carthage, was depicted in literature, from Virgil to medieval writers to Marlowe. O’Halloran also looked at performance history and audience expectation, an aspect of the seminar I found the most fascinating:

Rather interestingly, the first production of the play was performed by a troupe of boy actors under the age of twelve. The expectations of the audience are therefore thwarted: expecting to see an Aeneas that is strong and masculine, they are instead treated to a young child. This casting solidifies Marlowe’s representation of Aeneas as weak and cowardly, and works against the notion of the noble father of Britain.

Because I had never actually seen a theatrical production of Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage, I also included a trailer to a 2013 production by the Marlowe Society in my blog post, in order to lend a bit of context to the play. You can check out the trailer HERE.


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[Credit: Wikipedia]
My last post of February examined the notion of Hollywood on Film. The reason for this post was because La La Land, a movie about Hollywood, had received a record-tying number of nominations for the 89th Academy Awards. I decided to look at films that dealt with Hollywood, and how they either fall into satire or homage. I considered five films in total: La La Land, Singin’ in the Rain, Maps to the Stars, Mulholland Drive, and Sunset Boulevard. I decided that for the sake of clarity, I would look at each film separately, as opposed to taking a comparative approach:

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Billy Wilder’s caustic story of the delusions of a washed up movie star has practically ingrained itself into popular culture with its sharp dialogue and the sureness of Wilder’s direction. Gloria Swanson, herself an actress whose heyday was well behind her, plays Norma Desmond, a deliciously disturbed Miss Havisham figure, with camp aplomb. Sunset Boulevard is essentially a film noir, opening with the dead body of a writer who then proceeds to provide the voiceover for this dramatic tale (American Beauty, eat your heart out!). The film also includes cameos from Buster Keaton, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, and Cecil B. DeMille. In short, it’s a classic.

While I like the look of this blog, I do feel, in hindsight, that I could have been much more forthright in my own opinion. The post does usefully summarise and give some level of detail regarding each film, but my own rating is completely missing from it. Perhaps an injection of my own view of each film would have contributed to making the blog post a little bit more interesting and personal.


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[Credit: Textualities]
My next two blog posts revolved around our Textualities Conference, aka, the thing that haunted my dreams for six months! Because I had signed up to live blog for Panel 2, my first Textualities post was just that, a live blog. This was quite the challenge for me as I had to keep up with what each speaker was presenting on and blog about it as it happened. The live blogging was one of the highlights of the conference even though I’m still not completely sure what tense I was writing in:

Haley kicked off panel 2 by introducing each speaker by their name and presentation title. Up first is Annie Curran. Annie’s presentation is entitled ‘The Star Director: How John Huston’s Image is Challenged in Fiction’. Annie’s presentation begins strong by giving a short introduction to John Huston and his work.

My next Textualities blog post was our Mini-Conference Reflection. I was so nervous about the conference in the weeks leading up to it. I did enjoy looking back at the conference when doing the post as it was definitely the highlight of my MA. I decided to do my presentation on the double in Black Swan (2010), as I felt that I would not have enough time to discuss all of the ideas that I will cover in my thesis:

I can’t lie, I was initially petrified about the notion of presenting in public – especially using PechaKucha. The format of PechaKucha is 20 slides at 20 seconds each. However, on the day, it was actually fine and the PechaKucha layout actually helped me be more concise when getting my points across.

Much like my Wikipedia Editathon post, my two Textualities posts were perhaps overly descriptive and narrative driven. However, I did include my very first Gif, which was a win for me!


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[Credit: Twitter]
My last blog post was the one that I enjoyed writing the most as it focused on the Top 5 Stephen King Adaptations (in my opinion, at least!). I have been a constant reader of King’s novels since childhood, and have genuinely loved some of the adaptations of his work. The idea for the post came from a Twitter conversation I had with Dr Donna Alexander about the general awesomeness of King as a writer. I am also including Carrie (1976) in my thesis, so I was anxious to write about that particular film at some point:

Number 1 goes to one of my favourite novels AND films of all time. Carrie tells the story of a telekinetic teenage girl who is bullied by her classmates and emotionally suffocated by her religious and overbearing mother. The story is poignantly horrific and relatable. While there are obvious supernatural elements in both the novel and the movie, Carrie is, at its core, a story about the cruel bullying of an unusual girl. The reason it is number 1 on my list is due to its  strength as an adaptation. The novel tells Carrie’s story through the use of newspaper clippings, psychology papers, letters, and extracts from books. Despite these complications, Brian De Palma’s film transforms the novel into a linear narrative.

I feel like this blog was my most fully realised in terms of the use of media. I used a lot of high definition pictures, videos, and hyperlinks, and included them at relevant intervals to better the post. By using a ‘Top 5’ format, it also conformed more to a generic blog than my other, more academic, endeavours. After my ‘Hollywood on Film’ post, I was conscious of making the blog more personal and sharing some of my own views and opinions on each film, which I feel I did achieve in this post.

Despite my initial nervousness and cluelessness, the research blog was something I really enjoyed contributing to each month. It was my way of writing about topics that I was interested in, but would not be able to do a viable thesis on. It also helped to point me in the direction of my thesis: it became apparent quite early on that my predominant area of interest lay in the realm of film studies and not literature. This  blog also provided me with a new skills set and way of expressing myself, and I think blogging is something that I will continue to do!

Works Cited:

Booth, M. W. “Inuit Women in Early Modern London: Caubvick Sees Cymbeline at Covent Garden”. Research Seminar. University College Cork, Cork. 2 Nov. 2016. Lecture.

Carr, Marina. Anna Karenina: Adapted for the stage from the novel by Leo Tolstoy. London: Faber and Faber, 2016. Print.

Carrie. Dir. Brian De Palma. Perf. Sissy Spacek. United Artists, 1976. DVD.

King, Stephen. Carrie. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2013. Print.

McCormack, Zoe. ”About”. Web log post. Zoe McCormack: MA in Modernities Research Blog. WordPress, 10 Oct. 2016. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017. Web.

—. ”Homage and Satire: Hollywood on Film”. Web log post. Zoe McCormack: MA in Modernities Research Blog. WordPress, 26 Feb. 2017. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017. Web.

—. ””How Meta Can You Get?” Postmodernism and the Scream Franchise”. Web log post. Zoe McCormack: MA in Modernities Research Blog. WordPress, 11 Oct. 2016. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017. Web.

—. ”Research Seminar: ‘Disrupting translatio imperii: Virgil, Marlowe and the Medieval Dido”’. Zoe McCormack: MA in Modernities Research Blog. WordPress, 23 Feb. 2017. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017. Web.

—. ”Research Seminar: ‘Inuit women in Early Modern London: Caubvik sees Cymbeline at Covent Garden”’. Zoe McCormack: MA in Modernities Research Blog. WordPress, 13 Nov. 2016. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017. Web.

—. ”Something Wiki This Way Comes: Wikipedia Editathon 2017”. Zoe McCormack: MA in Modernities Research Blog. WordPress, 12 Feb. 2017. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017. Web.

—. ”Stranger Things and Nostalgia”. Zoe McCormack: MA in Modernities Research Blog. WordPress, 13 Dec. 2016. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017. Web.

—. ”#Textualities2017: Panel 2”. Zoe McCormack: MA in Modernities Research Blog. WordPress, 10 Mar. 2017. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017. Web.

—. ”Textualities 2017: A Reflection”. Zoe McCormack: MA in Modernities Research Blog. WordPress, 14 Mar. 2017. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017. Web.

—. ”The Play’s the Thing: Marina Carr’s Adaptation of Anna Karenina at the Abbey Theatre”. Zoe McCormack: MA in Modernities Research Blog. 12 Jan. 2017. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017. Web.

—. ”Top 5 Stephen King Adaptations”. Zoe McCormack: MA in Modernities Research Blog. 16 Mar. 2017. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017. Web.

O’Halloran, Meadhbh. ”Disrupting translatio imperii: Virgil, Marlowe and the Medieval Dido”. Research Seminar. University College Cork, Cork. 22 Feb. 2017. Lecture.

Scream. Dir. Wes Craven. Perf. Neve Campbell. Woods Entertainment, 1996. DVD.

Stranger Things. Created by the Duffer Brothers. Perf. Winona Ryder. Netflix, 2016.

Sunset Boulevard. Dir. Billy Wilder. Perf. Gloria Swanson. Paramount Pictures, 1950. DVD.

The Innocents. Dir. Jack Clayton. Perf. Deborah Kerr. 20th Century Fox, 1961. DVD.

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The Play’s the Thing: Marina Carr’s Adaptation of Anna Karenina at the Abbey Theatre

Throughout my undergraduate degree in English, I was extremely interested in adaptation studies. The concept of the updating and altering that is an inherent aspect of adaption has always fascinated me. I have usually focused on novel to screen or stage to screen adaptations, as these are obviously the most common form of adaption. However, on Tuesday the 10th of January, I went to Dublin to see the Abbey Theatre’s production of Anna Karenina, Marina Carr’s new version of the famous Tolstoy novel for the stage, with Lisa Dwan as the titular character. Admittedly, I didn’t really know what to expect: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is my favourite novel, and I was slightly apprehensive regarding the abbreviation of the 800 page epic to a three and a half hour stage play. I need not have wasted my time on such trepidation. Not only did the three and a half hours fly by, but the play also managed to include some of the novel’s subplots to create a panorama of Russian society. This post will act as both a review of the play, as well as an examination of the changes made to the novel in order to stage the story of Anna Karenina for an Irish audience.

Sarah Bacon is the set and costume designer of the play, and opts for the juxtaposition of sparse set design with lavish costumes. Although the play is set in the opulence of 19th century Russia, the set design is bare but innovative. A piano, chandelier and red velvet curtains are a constant, and are utilised to great dramatic effect. As Sara Keating, writing for the Irish Times, points out, the piano is used to pierce moments of “emotional intensity” with music, and the curtains are moved and used to emphasise transition. The costumes are suitably sumptuous and evocative of upper class Russia, with plenty of costume changes.

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Lavish costumes on a minimalist stage in Anna Karenina [Credit: Abbey Theatre]
Carr’s play is an ensemble piece, and the entire cast is fantastic, from Rory Fleck-Byrne’s forceful Count Vronsky to Nick Dunning’s obnoxious Prince Sherbatsky. The play is, however, anchored by Lisa Dwan’s intense central performance as the woman ostracised from society because of her extra-marital affair with Count Vronsky. Dwan is perhaps best known for her visceral one-woman interpretations of the work of Samuel Beckett, including Not I, Footfalls, and No’s Knife, and it was interesting to see her play something different. Her Anna is complexly paradoxical: at once headstrong, fragile, independent, dependent, confident, insecure, and, when threatening her lover with vengeance, just plain terrifying. The character of Anna is sympathetic in the novel as well, but through Dwan’s performance, the audience is drawn into the difficult decisions the protagonist has to face, and the consequences she must live with. In fact, the most heartbreaking scene in the play is the mortifying moment when Dwan’s Anna is faced with her new status as a social pariah at the opera. Ruth McGill is also worth a mention as she brings some comic relief to the piece as Anna’s sister-in-law Dolly, eternally pregnant and frazzled, destined to forever put up with her husband Stiva’s philandering ways.

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Lisa Dwan as the vilified heroine Anna [Credit: Abbey Theatre]
Omissions and additions are a necessary aspect of adaptation. Carr keeps the main threads of the novel, such as the love affair between Anna and Vronsky, Levin’s pursuit of Kitty, and even includes the subplot of Levin’s brother Nikolai. Carr’s level of faithfulness to the novel is indicated in the first scene. As is well-known, Tolstoy’s novel opens with the line ” all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Tolstoy 1). This line is one of the most famous openers in literature and is also unexpectedly included in Carr’s play, as a chorus of Dolly and Stiva’s children sing: “all happy families are the same. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Carr 13).

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Dolly and Stiva’s posse of offspring perform Tolstoy’s famous       opening line [Credit: Abbey Theatre]
There are, however, some welcome changes. The most notable alteration to the novel is the injection of Irish humour into a story set in Tsarist Russia. Although the bizarre mix of Irish colloquialisms and Russian society may seem absurd, the combination is effective in uplifting a tragic morality tale, and did go down very well with the audience. For example, Stiva greets Levin’s housekeeper with the phrase “how are you, me old petal”, a phrase not often heard in a Tolstoy novel, but one that works very well in an Irish context (Carr 67). Carr’s adaptation can also be seen as possessing more feminist undertones than the source material. This is clear as the play includes satirical dinner conversations regarding the “woman question”, an inclusion that definitely resonates with a post-US Election audience, as Prince Sherbatsky asks his wife “Are you fit for power?” (Carr 95). Indeed, Carr’s play works best when it depicts the vast differences between the rights of men and that of women in 19th century Russia. This is at its most obvious in the depiction of the affair between Anna and Vronsky. If Vronsky has an affair with Anna, it is considered a “feather in a young man’s cap” (Carr 71). Anna’s hopelessly unfaithful brother Stiva is pretty much left to his own devices as far as society is concerned, whereas Anna’s affair leads to unhappiness, condemnation, and, ultimately, death.

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Anna sacrifices everything for her affair with Vronsky [Credit: Abbey Theatre]
Marina Carr’s adaption of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is in the Abbey until the 28th of January and is well worth a look to see for yourself how Carr’s words and Dwan’s performance together form a new force to be reckoned with in Irish theatre.

Works Cited:

Title Image: Abbey Theatre

Carr, Marina. Anna Karenina: Adapted for the stage from the novel by Leo Tolstoy. London: Faber and Faber, 2016. Print.

Keating, Sara. “Anna Karenina review: A riveting 3½ hours of Tolstoy”. The Irish Times, 14 December 2016, http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/stage/anna-karenina-review-a-riveting-3-hours-of-tolstoy-1.2906200.

Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina. Trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. London: Penguin Classics, 2006. Print.

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