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Thoughts: Persuasion by Jane Austen

11758566Persuasion by Jane Austen
Final Verdict: 3.75 of 4.0
YTD: 47

Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful (socially, academically, etc.)

Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, the middle-daughter of Sir Walter and Lady Elliot, the latter of whom died fourteen years prior to the start of the book.  Elizabeth and Anne are both single, but Mary, the youngest, is married to a wealthy man called Charles Musgrove.  Sir Elliot is on the brink of ruin, having spent lavishly and recklessly for some time, but particularly following the death of his wife.  He is a vain man who must be “convinced” by a trusted family friend, Lady Russell, to limit his spending, relocate, and rent out their expansive manor (Kellynch Hall) to raise income.  Lady Russell is also responsible for Anne’s somewhat melancholy state, having persuaded Anne to reject the proposal of one Captain Wentworth who, at the time, was without name or income.  As the story unfolds, secrets are exposed, friends and family are reunited and divided, and the questions of enduring love and what it takes to create a meaningful and functional marriage are raised.


Characterization:
3 – Characters well-developed.

lge_Persuasion_080606024745140_wideweb__300x300Many, if not all, of the characters in this book are important and necessary to the plot.  In Sense and Sensibility, it can be argued that perhaps not all of the Dashwood sisters were necessary to the story; here, however, each character who is introduced seems to serve a purpose – the prose, plot, and character development, then, are all concisely and purposefully crafted.  That being said, however, and while much can be found laudable in the Crofts and Anne Elliot, and even Mrs. Smith, most of the characters, even the primary ones, do not seem deeply developed in such a way as to be truly engaging – to connect the reader with their stories and lives more personally.  This could be because the larger theme of the novel is social change, rather than personal growth, but I still would have liked to have been more personally vested in Anne and Captain Wentworth’s interests.  Anne certainly is an Austen heroine – so much so that Austen herself said that Anne was “a heroine who is almost too good for me.”  She has her flaws, including being “advanced” in age and lacking somewhat in beauty, and also her openness to persuasion (hence the title of the book).  Yet, she stands above her female contemporaries by being calm, collected, and rational, not to mention constant in her friendships and affections.  She earns the admiration of not only Captain Wentworth, but also of Charles Musgrove and Mr. Elliot.

Captain Wentworth, too, is interesting as the representative of a “new gentleman.”  He has excellent manners, he is considerate of those around him, and he is hard-working, brave, and independent.  Also, instead of being born of land and title, he represents a shift in or softening of the potential for social, upward mobility in Britain at this time.  As a naval officer, he worked hard to advance through the ranks and create wealth for himself, rather than “earn” it through inheritance.  We can contrast him with Sir Walter Elliot who is largely a caricature of the very same titled, upper class nobility mentioned above.  Austen’s wit and satire play heaviest on Sir Walter – she shows no mercy, really, when describing him as a vain, imbecile spendthrift whose dressing rooms are lined with mirrors and who refuses to be seen in public with any but those who are incredibly attractive.  He is in many ways a sort of “dandy” to Captain Wentworth’s more masculine presence.

Still, although the characters do what they are supposed to, thematically, they do not reach me, personally, in the way that those of Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice have.  Of course, there are many fans of Anne and Captain Wentworth out there, and of their romance, and I certainly see them as a good match – still, a small “something” – some kind of spark, could have given the more clinical craftsmanship of these characters the personable touch I was hoping for (with the exception of the Crofts – I really enjoyed them!).


Prose/Style:
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

50336_184189786197_7310_nThe story is told in the third-person omniscient, like most of Austen’s works.  And, also like most of Austen’s narrators, this one is very closely allied with the main character, in this case, Anne Elliott.  Although the narrator is not Anne, and not directly involved in the story, she does make judgments that are similar to Anne’s, while maintaining a point of view that is separated from the story by means of free indirect discourse. Keeping the narrator separate from but close to the character of Anne allows for slightly more honesty in describing the motives and personalities of the various characters, and also some distance between Anne and the others, which is necessary in creating tension and mystery (which we found out near the end of the story is rather important, as certain schemes have been developing behind the scenes).  The narrative voice is softly satirical and at times subtly subversive, making it very interesting to compare with Austen’s first novel, Northanger Abbey, which was ultimately published at the same time (and which is much more obvious and raw in its humor and parodist tone).  Some of Austen’s most tried and true devices, such as the “big reveal” being delivered via letter (in this case, Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne; in a previous instance, Mr. Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth), as well as the motif of walking to advance a character’s conscience or growth, or to provide opportunity for necessary meetings between key players, are included here again and, again, work quite nicely.


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

353px-Northanger_Abbey_and_PersuasionJane Austen wrote Persuasion in 1816, while she was extremely ill and just before her death.  The book would not be published (with Northanger Abbey) until 1818, after she had already passed away.  Like many of her stories, this one is a novel of manners.  Its focus is not so much on any one character’s growth, as would be the case in a coming-of-age story, but, instead, it is concerned with a group of primary characters who interact with one another and who are learning to navigate their lives within new rules and structures of a changing world.  Although Austen is widely, and rightly, considered to be a writer of marriage plots which lead to happy endings, what some miss in their readings is Austen’s deep concern for the complexities of gender relations and class structures, both of which were rapidly changing in the early 19th century. Persuasion, while certainly constructed as a marriage plot, is absolutely concerned with the latter interests as well.   It is clear that Persuasion is Austen’s later work, as it demonstrates great maturity and mastery of purpose and of craft.  This is evidenced in her subtle but biting satire of the upper middle classes, represented primarily by the character of Sir Walter Elliot.

Persuasion questions the idea of “Separate Spheres,” which has been a traditional way of viewing male and female roles in Britain and much of Europe.  Men would live in the public sphere, taking care of finances and legalities, while women were in charge of the private sphere, including tasks such as running the home and managing the servants.  With the introduction of the Crofts, however, Austen challenges this dichotomy and offers the option of a true marriage partnership, where husband and wife share equal responsibility in both spheres.  That the Crofts are the ideal married couple, and the one which it is presumed Anne and Captain Wentworth will evolve into, it is safe to assume that Austen, who never married, had rather progressive opinions about what a happy and functional marriage could be.

Austen is also often criticized for creating “bubble” worlds, stories which are narrowly confined to their own small towns, without concern for larger world issues.  Yet, it cannot be denied that Austen is aware of the fact that Britain is at war with America and France during this time, and her representation of the British Navy and Naval Officers both pay dues to the “real” Navy and also introduce, in literature, a mirror of what, in real life, was becoming an ideal of manliness – a new gentleman who can rise, through the military, to fame and wealth, if not necessarily to title. Austen does indeed understand the world around her and, just as with Mansfield Park, she incorporates elements of that world into her stories in ways that are so natural, they hardly stand out.  That these issues flow so neatly into the plot is a sign that Austen is an extraordinarily adept, socially aware novelist, not, as some would argue, of a writer oblivious to the world around her.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School +
Interest: Novel of Manners; Marriage; Separate Spheres; Persuasion; “The Gentleman”; Class; Social Mobility; Family.


Notable Quotes:

“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older: the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.”

“Let us never underestimate the power of a well-written letter.”

“How quick come the reasons for approving what we like.”

“Facts or opinions which are to pass through the hands of so many, to be misconceived by folly in one, and ignorance in another, can hardly have much truth left.”

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures.”

“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

“One man’s ways may be as good as another’s, but we all like our own best.”

“She hoped to be wise and reasonable in time; but alas! Alas! She must confess to herself that she was not wise yet.”

“Time will explain.”

“Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.”


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Thoughts: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

2657To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0
YTD: 46

Harper Lee’s noted –and only- work, To Kill a Mockingbird, has become a classic piece of literature and a staple of American culture and southern history.  The narrator and protagonist, Scout Finch, along with her brother, Jem, and their friend, Dill, begin the story as lighthearted, inquisitive and playful children who are fascinated by a mysterious neighbor named Arthur “Boo” Radley.  As the story progresses, they have a series of encounters with Boo, but they do not know it (until all comes to a head in the tragic and life-altering conclusion).  Jem and Scout’s father, Atticus, is the town (and county’s) best lawyer, and also a representative to the state legislature.  He is tasked with defending a black man against the charge of rape, and the task will change his children forever.

Although the book directly wrestles with issues of racism, violence, bigotry, caste, and education, its primary concern is coming of age and loss of innocence.  Scout’s innocence, in particular, but also Jem and Dill’s, is threatened by successive incidents that reveal to these generally kind, somewhat simple kids the presence and nature of human evils.  This is especially made clear with the conviction of Tom Robinson, a black man who, from the start, was bound to be found guilty, despite Atticus Finch’s brilliant defense and the clear evidence support Robinson’s innocence.  This conviction shatters Jem’s world and forces him into manhood, meanwhile causing Dill, a gentle and artistic soul, to face the harsh realities of a world he tries so hard to avoid.

The trial is only the first of two major incidents which will change the kids’ worlds.  The second happens at the end of the book, when the man whom accused Robinson of rape (and whom Atticus clearly implicates instead), attempts to make good on his promise to ruin Atticus Finch.  Although neither he nor anyone in his family was punished for their perjury and false accusations, and although Robinson was ultimately convicted and suffered the harshest fate, Bob Ewell still feels it necessary to seek his own justice for the “damage of character” done to him at the trial.  This particularly subplot is particularly telling of how class, within white society, is just as important and just as divided as the world of blacks and whites.

Ultimately, To Kill a Mockingbird is an exploration of human nature and each individual’s capacity for both good and evil.  It is a commentary on the importance of moral education – much more so than academic education, and a discussion on social class and the true meaning of justice (and who is entitled to it).  Harper Lee utilizes interesting Gothic techniques, reminiscent of the great southern Gothics such as Flannery O’Connor, to build tension and anticipation, and to foreshadow the story’s more important events.

Allowing the story to be told from Scout’s point of view, in retrospect, adds both honesty and evidence to the story, but also some room for doubt.  She narrates the entire story in the first person, as through her childhood self’s eyes, but then adds analysis and supplementary thoughts to the narration, as an experienced adult revisiting these events after many years.  The inclusion of these comments makes the narrator more trustworthy, as it reveals to us that she is aware (and admitting) that she is somewhat distanced from the time and place of the story and, therefore, could possibly be over or under-exaggerating certain things.  The tone of her narration, like the tone of the story, begins in childhood innocence but becomes increasingly foreboding and self-conscious as the tale unwinds.

To be sure, To Kill a Mockingbird holds a beloved place in the hearts of many readers and also a coveted spot in the canon as a “classic” of American literature.  When I first read this book, many years ago, I was not as much of a fan as I thought I would be, but this re-read has proved me wrong.  The book is well-written and masterfully constructed (where and how Lee begins the story, for instance, really struck me as perfection, this time around).  The characters, good, bad, and indifferent, are believable, interesting, and important to the plot and scenery.  This is a book I will be revisiting again and again.

I read this book as part of a read-along, with additional thoughts posted Here.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: 16+
Interest: Social Justice, Racism, American South, Courtroom Drama, Coming of Age, Southern Gothic.

Notable Quotes:

“Thus we came to know Dill as a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fancies” (9).

“There were other ways of making people into ghosts” (12).

“It’s best to begin reading with a fresh mind” (19).

“When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness’ sake. But don’t make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults” (99).

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (103).

“Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that just doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience” (120).

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what” 128).

“Dill was off again. Beautiful things floated around in his dreamy head. He could read two books to my one, but he preferred the magic of his own inventions” (163).

“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks” (259).

“Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret court of men’s hearts Atticus had no case” (276).

“I came to the conclusion that people were just peculiar. I withdrew from them, and never thought about them until I was forced to” (279).

“As I made my way home, I thought Jem and I would get grown but there wasn’t much else left for us to learn, except possibly algebra” (321).


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Thoughts: Don Quixote, Part Two by Miguel Cervantes

don-quixote

 

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, Part Two

by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 40


The Second Part of Don Quixote was published in 1615, exactly ten years after the first. According to Cervantes’s dedication, it was written, “in order to purge the disgust and nausea caused by another Don Quixote who has been running about the world masquerading as the second part.” Indeed, ironically, after his first part in some ways posed the question of “honesty in fiction,” another writer (pseudonym Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda), without consent or collaboration, took it upon himself to write the sequel which was foreshadowed at the end of the original Part One.

Part Two begins again in La Mancha, where Don Quixote has been for some time. His friends and niece have tried to cure him of his obsession for knight errantry, but to no avail. Once again, he and Sancho Panza (who seems much wiser in this second part) leave La Mancha to wander Spain and seek adventures. Unlike the first part, though, which was primarily concerned either with the misadventures which Don Quixote brought upon himself or with the adventures of minor characters, relayed to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza at various times throughout (to bring in historical context and to add depth to the overall narrative), this second part adds two new antagonists, the Duke and Duchess, who are hell-bent on causing Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as much grief as possible, for their own amusement. Also, Don Quixote’s motivation changes somewhat, after Sancho Panza convinces him that his great love, Dulcinea del Toboso, has been transformed from the most beautiful flower of Spain into a poor, peasant girl, by an evil enchanter. Instead of scouring the globe trying to prove his love to the lady Dulcinea, Don Quixote is instead on a mission to disenchant her (which, thanks to the Duke and Duchess, will result in great grief and pain for poor Sancho). Sancho will eventually earn his governorship, though it turns out to be more trouble than it is worth, the great knight Don Quixote will be challenged, twice, and ultimately vanquished by the Knight of the White Moon, and Cervantes, in all his wisdom, will ensure that Don Quixote’s story will end on his terms (via the historian Cide Hamete Benengeli) this time.

As it turns out, the continuing adventures of Don Quixote (or Part Two) is a bit of meta-fiction, constantly interrupting itself to talk about its own story, mostly about Part One and the imposter who wrote the false sequel. Many of the characters in Part Two have read Part One and the unauthorized Part Two, so they have preconceived notions (some accurate, others not) about Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho. In addition to writing about his own writing and acknowledging the story as a story within this story, Cervantes also mentions a variety of other literary works, including plays and poetry, which help to place this particular text into a literary timeline (especially important, here, as Spain and Europe are in the midst of great intellectual changes, as mentioned in my discussion of Part One). While this allows for a conversation about literature itself, Part Two is also, in general, a deeper, more fully realized work. Unlike Part One, wherein the characters were primarily flat, Part Two sees a variety of characters with varied motivations – they engage one another in more realistic ways, although their motives are still generally suspect.

KhaydarovRuslan_DonQuixote_4

Cervantes further builds on some of the concerns he laid out in Part One, including religious and social commentary. He is critical of Spain’s caste system and makes clear that is not one’s property or title that speaks to one’s worth, but one’s actions and beliefs. This point is elaborated on through the foul deeds of the Duke and Duchess, who, though members of the nobility, are downright nasty people. Furthermore, Cervantes makes a concerted effort to raise the wisdom of Sancho Panza (and also of his wife, Teresa) – education, goodness, and common sense are, for Cervantes, the markers of true character, wisdom and self-worth; obsessions over money, land, and practicality lead to pettiness and cruelty.

Although Don Quixote is generally published as one large work, it is clear that Part One and Part Two are indeed separate books, and not just because they were published a decade apart. Cervantes’s motivations and styles are strikingly different in the two books. Part One is largely parody, with plenty of social and historical commentary as well, but with much to be desired in terms of construction and complexity. Part Two adds, in my opinion, what Part One was missing. Although there is still a great deal of humor, it is not as slapstick or farcical as Part One (at least, not the majority of it). The work is more serious, more intentional, and well-realized. It certainly works as meta-fiction (though Cervantes’s anger at Avellaneda can sometimes overshadow the story) but also as a pioneering piece of literature caught in a time of great change and transition. It aptly pays tribute to the bygone era of romantic chivalry (the Renaissance) and meaningfully presages, perhaps unknowingly, the Enlightenment to come. The depth and complexity, and especially the character development, make Part Two quite superior to Part One. For more, see my thoughts on Part One.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School+
Interest: Spanish Literature, Classics, Parody, Comedy, Romance, Morality Novel, Meta-fiction, Sequels.


Notable Quotes:

Don_Quixote_6“I know very well what the temptations of the Devil are, and that one of his greatest is to put it into a man’s head that he can write and print a book, and gain both money and fame by it” (Prologue to Part Two, p. 468).

“It is not pleasant to go about with scruples on your conscience” (478).

“To have companions in your troubles generally helps to relieve them” (547).

“If the blind lead the blind, both will be in danger of falling into the ditch” (548).

“So, let’s consider now which is the madder, the man who’s mad because he can’t help it, or the man who’s mad by choice” (561).

“He who reads much and travels much, sees much and learns much” (635).

“The Devil must certainly be an honest fellow and a good Christian. For if he weren’t he wouldn’t swear by God and his conscience. So I suppose that there must be some good people even in Hell” (697).

“For the maddest thing a man can do in this life is to let himself die just like that, without anybody killing him, but just finished off by his own melancholy” (937).


Don Quixote is Book #12 completed for my Classics Club Challenge
Don Quixote is Book #3 completed for my Back to the Classics Challenge 2013 
Don Quixote is Book #124 completed for my 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die Challenge


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Thoughts: Don Quixote, Part One by Miguel Cervantes

don-quixote 

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, Part One

by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0

YTD: 40


Don Quixote is considered by many to be the first example of the contemporary novel-as-we-know-it, though I believe this is much more applicable to “Part Two” than it is to “Part One.”  The story is set in the year 1614, shortly after publication of Part One (1605) and just before the publication of Part Two (1615).  In this hilarious adventure tale, Don Quixote, a self-proclaimed Knight Errant, with his faithful squire Sancho Panza, set out on a journey to restore chivalry to the world, with a goal of defending the helpless and destroying the wicked. The two foolish men wander throughout Spain and encounter all sorts of bizarre adventures, from giants mistaken as windmills to village taverns mistaken for castles.

Sancho Panza joins Don Quixote in these adventures because he believes that his squireship will bring him riches, or at least the governorship of an isle, as that is what Don Quixote tells him has happened in all the books of chivalry (which must mean it is true!).  As for Don Quixote, he claims to be on a quest to make himself worthy of the love of his lady, Dulcinea del Toboso, and he demands that all who would challenge him must proclaim to the world that Dulcinea del Toboso is the most beautiful, most wonderful woman in all of Spain.  Of course, Dulcinea del Toboso, like Sancho’s riches and Don Quixote’s texts, is just a fiction.

After numerous adventures, wherein Don Quixote repeatedly proves just how foolish (and dangerous) he is, he and Sancho eventually meet a woman who quickly comes to understand Don Quixote’s “affliction” and uses it to her advantage, pretending to be a royal woman in distress who needs the assistance of a noble knight. What is fascinating is how very sane and, indeed, brilliant Don Quixote can be when speaking about anything other than knighthood and romances.  It is only when he is invested in his chivalric adventures (which is most of the time) that he becomes, essentially, a madman. In the end, a priest and barber from La Mancha, who had disguised themselves in order to get in with Don Quixote’s company without raising suspicion, capture Don Quixote and convince him that he has been enchanted; in this way, they manage to bring him home, where they hope to cure his insanity and obsession with fictional tales of knight errantry.

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Don Quixote is a parody of the romances of the time.  The Renaissance (15th-16th centuries) which, in Spain, had immediately preceded Cervantes’ life and the creation of this novel, gave rise to new discussions about and interpretations of art, morality, identity, and humanism; however, the popular literature of Cervantes’s era continued to be rife with books of chivalry – melodramatic fantasies about the adventures of wandering knights who slay giants, rescue damsels in distress, and battle evil wizards and enchanters.  These were highly stylized tales with shallow characters who were playing out the rules of tired, dusty old dramas.  In those dramas, the main theme was chivalry: protecting the weak, lauding women, and celebrating brave knights who traveled the world in search of good deeds to be done.

The character Don Quixote is obsessed with these romances and these knights.  He truly believes himself to be one of the greatest of knights errant, who must live and die by the code set down in these fictional texts.  Through him, Cervantes is commenting on the ridiculousness (and tiredness) of these old ideas.  He desperately wanted to bring Spanish Literature into the new age (which, though Cervantes wouldn’t know it, yet, was anticipating the Enlightenment).  All is not a joke, however.  Cervantes was a soldier and he was deeply devoted to Spain.  The country was making great advances in technology and social enterprises, and it was earning a great deal of wealth from its American colonies.  Amidst all this change, Cervantes did believe that a code of values (like the ancient codes of chivalry) could be useful for a nation confused by war with England, militarily, and also with the Muslim religion.

One of the most ground-breaking elements of Don Quixote is its narration.  The book is narrated by the author, who is commenting on a “true history” as written by a fictive historian called Cide Hamete Benengeli, a Moor who originally chronicled the adventures of Don Quixote.  Cervantes as narrator charges himself with translating the original text; thus, he narrates most of the book in the third-person, but does sometimes enter into the thoughts of the characters or into first person, such as when he is commenting on the novel itself or the original manuscript (written by Benengeli).  There are three sections to Don Quixote, the first two being in “Part One” and the third being all of “Part Two.”  The first section is largely a parody of the contemporary romance tales and is likely what most people think of when they think about Don Quixote.  The second part, however, takes a narrative shift toward historical fiction.  It proceeds episodically, is not as comedic, and is pulled much more from Cervantes’s life experiences, via third-party tales (not just the narrator telling us what is happening with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, but other characters talking to our main heroes about their own histories and adventures).  In these first two sections (or “Part One”) it is Cervantes as narrator who is reporting the entire story, in direct narrative style, but this is something which will change for “Part Two.”

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In addition to the interesting narrative choices (which become much more interesting and complex in “Part Two”) there are other major themes and motifs, such as: Morality (old ideas versus new ones); a comparison between Class and Worth (Cervantes’s claim being that one’s class does not necessarily speak to their personal worth – an extremely radical idea for the time); Romance (romantic love being of highest value); Honor (the idea of being personally honorable is lauded, whereas the idea of living up to a lofty, ancient code of honor seems to be mocked and leads to sometimes disastrous consequences); and Literature (there is a raging debate about the need for truthfulness and historical accuracy in fiction, and about how much of literature can/should be expected to be honest and how much of it pure imagination).

Some of the most interesting elements of Don Quixote, are those which are drawn from Cervantes’s own life.  His fears, his biases, and his own experiences very much contributed to the themes in the book, even giving him inspiration for the creation of it.  Mistrust for foreigners, for example, is a prevalent theme, as is the tension between the Moors and the Catholics.  Cervantes and his brother were captured by pirates and sold to the Moors (Muslims), after which they ended up in Algiers.  Cervantes tried to escape –three times- but could not get away until he was ransomed in 1580, after which he was able to return to Spain.  This experience, in addition to the defeat of the impenetrable Spanish Armada in 1588, by the English, are the backbone of the tale, and make up some of its intermediary tales, such as the tale of the captive (Chapter 34).  Many of the battles Cervantes engaged in when he was in the Spanish Army are recounted somewhat in this book, through other characters’ tales, which adds depth and autobiographical history to this fantasy tale.

Ultimately, Part One of Don Quixote is historical fiction disguised as literary parody.  It is great fun, for a while, but is, in my opinion, longer than necessary; one could get the point in half the time, though what Cervantes starts to work on in the second section of Part One is definitely a shift away from the pure farce and fantasy of the first section. Cervantes does explore some interesting notions, such as cross-dressing, self-worth, female independence, and the nature of love, all of which are looked at it relatively new ways. For its autobiographical exploration, its historical significance, and its narrative uniqueness, Don Quixote (Part One) is a valuable read, but it is Part Two, in my opinion, which really stands out and, perhaps, keeps Don Quixote in the canon of important classics.  Continue to my thoughts on Part Two.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School+
Interest:  Spanish Literature, Classics, Parody, Comedy, Romance, Morality Novel, Historical Novel.


Notable Quotes:

DonQuijoteDeLaMancha-767176“I am too spiritless and lazy by nature to go about looking for authors to say for me what I can say myself without them” (17).

“And so from little sleep and much reading, his brain dried up and he lost his wits.  He filled his mind with all that he read in them, with enchantments, quarrels, battles, challenges, wounds, wooing, loves, torments and other impossible nonsense; and so deeply did he steep his imagination in the belief that all the fanciful stuff he read was true, that to his mind no history in the world was more authentic” (32).

“I do not understand why, merely because she inspires love, a woman who is loved for her beauty is obliged to love the man who loves her” (108).

“I do swear, I tell you, that I will keep silent to the very last days of your honour’s life. And please God I may be free to speak to-morrow” (125).

“A knight errant who turns mad for a reason deserves neither merit nor thanks. The thing is to do it without cause” (203).

“They say we ought to love our Lord for Himself alone, without being moved to it by hope of glory or fear of punishment. Though, as for me, I’m inclined to love and serve Him for what He can do for me” (273).

“Love, I have heard it said, sometimes flies and sometimes walks. With one person it runs, with another creeps; some it cools and some it burns; some it wounds and others it kills; in a single instant it starts on the race of passion, and in the same instant concludes and ends it; in the morning it will besiege a fortress, and by evening it has subdued it, for there is no force that can resist it” (304).

“Women have naturally a readier wit for good or for evil than men, although it fails them when they set about deliberate reasoning” (308).


Don Quixote is Book #12 completed for my Classics Club Challenge

Don Quixote is Book #3 completed for my Back to the Classics Challenge 2013 

Don Quixote is Book #124 completed for my 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die Challenge


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1001 Books, Harper Lee, Re-Reads, Read-Alongs

Read-along: To Kill a Mockingbird (July 15 – Aug 1)

pp-mockingbird3So, dear readers, I have this a nasty habit of obsessing over “best of” lists, when it comes to books. Best of a certain genre; best of a certain country; best of a certain time period; best for a certain type of reader. Whatever. If it’s on a “Best Of” reading list, odds are I’m going to download that list, save it somewhere, and become determined to read off of it (though I never really do).

That being said, I’ve also been thinking about the many books of classic literature which I did not like when I first read it, but which I really enjoyed/loved upon re-reading. This includes Old Man and the Sea, Pride and Prejudice, and The Great Gatsby, among others.

One book that appears on almost every “Best of” or “Must read” list, but which I did not particularly enjoy when I first read it, is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Now, because it is such an important work, and because I’ve recognized this pattern in myself, I have decided to give it a second chance. But I’m hoping I’ll have some company!

This will be a simple read-along. If you want to join me in reading (or re-reading) this very important piece of American literature, I’ll be glad to have you! I’m planning to read it from July 15th – August 1st. Nothing insanely special planned (it’s jammed between my Beats of Summer and Austen in August events); I think conversing with others about the book will be eventful and interesting enough, but if anyone does want to provide a guest post, giveaway, or what not, please feel free to get in touch!

The master post will go up on July 15th, which will have the scheduled posting dates (approximately 10 chapters per check-in).  You’re free to post your thoughts at each check-in, or just plan to do a final review/thoughts post on August 1st, which is when I plan to have mine up.

If you’re in, simply fill out the Mister Linky below, and I’ll see you on July 15th!

About the Book:

“The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.”

                             -indiebound.org

To discuss this read-along on Twitter/Facebook, let’s use #MockingbirdReads



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1001 Books, 2013 Challenges, American Lit, Book Review, Classics, Classics Club, Fiction, Modern March, Modernism, Nathanael West

Thoughts: Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West

294459Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0
YTD: 21

Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful (socially, academically, etc.)

Miss Lonelyhearts is the journalistic pseudonym for a male newspaper man who aspires to have his own gossip column.  The reader is never told his true name, but it is his journey we follow.  Miss Lonelyhearts has a deep and profound faith in Christ and Christianity.  He becomes depressed by the letters he receives on a daily basis, from sad, sick, abused, and lonely men and women who are seeking his advice.  He believes that Christ is the answer but is continuously mocked by his editor, Shrike, who derides his religion and who believes that art is the true answer. Miss Lonelyhearts has a stone where his soul should be – coldness where he should have passion.  He relieves the ache of this by attempting to make love to women, his own girlfriend as well as others (even having affairs with his boss’s wife & some of his faithful readers).  These affairs, coupled with his inability to connect with other people, will lead to his disillusionment and demise.

Characterization:
3 – Characters well-developed.

In addition to Miss Lonelyhearts, who is the novella’s main character and Christ-figure, there are a few others who complete the cast.  First is Shrike, Miss Lonelyhearts’s editor – Shrike is a womanizer, a hedonist who lives for pleasure, though he cannot get any from his wife, and, essentially, the novella’s anti-Christ (though he survives and thrives, interestingly enough).  Shrike is married to a virginal woman named Marry, which is kind of hilarious, if a bit heavy-handed.  Betty is Miss Lonelyhearts’s fiancée and she represents the good, the naïve – the sheep, if you will.  She praises the country and hates the city, believing it to be the cause of Miss Lonelyhearts’s anxiety and unhappiness (or illness, as she calls it).  In addition to these are Mrs. Doyle, the story’s Mary Magdalene, and her husband Mr. Doyle, a cripple who Miss Lonelyhearts attempts, and fails, to heal.  The rest of the cast are made up of minor characters, such an elderly homosexual man (whose presence exposes a bit of the early psychoanalytical obsession with homosexual “perversion”), the letter-writers who turn to Miss Lonelyhearts for help, and some co-workers at the newspaper.  West knows what he is doing with his characters and, aside from the letter-writers who all tend to write the same way, despite having different backgrounds and problems, most of the characters serve a distinct purpose and come across with believable, individual personalities.

Prose/Style:
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

West’s prose is raw, graphic, and emotionally American.  His narration is swift and to the point, with moments of high and romantic description employed at appropriate intervals.  The dialogue is believable even when certain of the situations are not, but the scenes where Miss Lonelyhearts is alone in his room and coming to terms with his fanaticism (he admits to needing to hold himself in check or risk losing himself completely to an obsessive, extreme  zealotry) are the most poignant of all.  The incorporation of letters from the newspaper audience allows for a broader view of the American disillusionment, without necessitating the inclusion of too many characters which, in a novella of approximately 65 pages, is both necessary and effective.

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

Nathanael West’s works are deeply concerned with Depression-era America.  He, like John Steinbeck, wrote stories about the American Dream and how truly unachievable that dream was.  Unlike Steinbeck, however, West’s characters are not compassionate – there is no one to root for and, in fact, many are masterful grotesques.  He follows in the footsteps of Sherwood Anderson, creating characters who are less individuals than they are the embodiment of a seedy, disappointing element of humanity.  West was a Hollywood screenwriter and novelist and, coincidentally, died the same weekend as his good friend F. Scott Fitzgerald, another Hollywood novelist who explored the darker, disappointing side of the American dream.  Miss Lonelyhearts, though short, packs a punch.  West ironically employs the literary Christ figure, as he does in Day of the Locust and, in both books, it is a failed Christ and a failure of Christian faith in general being presented.  SPOILERS FOLLOW: Miss Lonelyhearts himself goes through Christ’s journey (three days of “death”, a “Last Supper”, and a “Resurrection”) only to be killed (crucified) by one who lacks faith in him.  Unlike Christ, who sacrificed himself for others, Miss Lonelyhearts is killed for betraying another man. Other themes include castration (one which would become increasingly important with the Beat generation), the Great Depression, and the frustrated American Dream.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School+
Interest: Great Depression, Loss of American Dream, Castration, Christian Allegory, Social Anxiety, Hollywood novel.

Notable Quotes:

“At college, and perhaps for a year afterwards, they had believed in literature, had believed in Beauty and in personal expression as an absolute end. When they lost this belief, they lost everything.”

“He read it for the same reason an animal tears at a wounded foot: to hurt the pain.”

“He felt as though his heart were a bomb, a complicated bomb that would result in a simple explosion, wrecking the world without rocking it.”

“Art Is a Way Out. Do not let life overwhelm you. When the old paths are choked with the debris of failure, look for newer and fresher paths. Art is just such a path. Art is distilled from suffering.”

Miss Lonelyhearts is Book 1 completed for the Modern March event.

Miss Lonelyhearts is Book 11 completed for the Classics Club Challenge.

Miss Lonelyhearts is Book 134 completed for the 1,001 Books TBR Before You Die Challenge.

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1001 Books, 2013 Challenges, 2013 TBR Pile Challenge, Adultery, Book Review, British Literature, Classics Club, Fiction, Graham Greene, Jealousy, Masculinity, Modernism, PhD, post-World War II, Power, Religion, Sin/Redemption, War, World War II

Thoughts: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

394731The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0
YTD: 12

Graham Greene is considered by many to be one of the most important 20th Century English writers. His novels are always highly masculine and usually carry a complicated but unambiguous Catholicism. For me, either of these “types” of literature could be highly repellant, but there is something about Greene’s ability that draws me in, something about his works that speak to me – even though I’m appalled by the misogyny and unreceptive to the religious overtones. The End of the Affair is, as its protagonist states at the outside, a story about hate. This, of course, means it is really about love – but a love which causes pain and heartache. The story takes place in England during the bombings of World War II, so there is always a sense of the uncontrollable – the powerlessness of man and the fleeting nature of life. The main character and narrator, Maurice, is a writer who falls in love (which, for him, means possession – sex!) with a woman named Sarah, who just happens to be another man’s wife. The two have a torrid affair which ends (not a surprise, considering the title of the book), but in a rather unconventional way. When it is over, Maurice and his lover’s husband become strangely close, almost coupling in a transitive way through Sarah.

The story is narrated in the first-person, from Maurice Bendrix’s point of view. Maurice’s anger and biases, as well as his own admission that he will choose what to include and what to leave out of the story, make his narration somewhat unreliable. That being said, he does come to an ultimate truth at the end and, despite his anger, admits to himself, to Sarah, and to the reader the very thing he had hoped to avoid throughout the story. Sarah, the love interest, as well as her husband, Henry, and a private investigator (Parkis), plus an atheist leader (Smythe) are all very well imagined and executed. They each have distinct personalities and their own parts to play in the story (as do other of the minor characters, such as the Catholic Priest and Sarah’s mother). For those interested in masculinity studies, for instance, one can clearly find representatives for the four principal categories of Hegemony, Complicity, Subordination, and Marginalization.

Like much of Greene’s work, The End of the Affair is a story about power and its prose matches that theme. Greene’s style and language are strong, direct, and highly “male.” He struggles a bit, I think, with the first-person narration. This was his first novel written in first-person P.O.V. and the story is also based on his own affair – the book was dedicated “To C”, which refers to his mistress, Lady Catherine Walston; so, given the first attempt coupled with the very personal nature of the story, it is not surprising that Greene may have been a bit uncomfortable. Still, the story would have been very different in the third-person – the anger may not have come across as genuine, the jealousy filtered through a narrator might not have been as raw, and certainly the condescension Maurice hold for all other males would not have been as pronounced.

What I enjoyed most about the book was its purity of sentiment. What I mean by that is, in this book, anger is anger. Jealousy is jealousy. Kindness is kindness. The book is like one raw, exposed nerved, pricked in different ways by different characters. It is also a good example of modernism, particularly in its structure (starting the story not at the beginning, but after everything has happened, the narrator trying to make sense of it all after the fact – reminding me of The Great Gatsby and The Good Soldier). Ultimately, I responded well to this book, as I did to The Power and the Glory. And, I must say, this troubles me greatly.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Adult
Interest: Adultery, Catholicism, Religion, Jealousy, Sin/Redemption, Power, Masculinity.

Notable Quotes:

“What happens if you drop all the things that make you I?”

“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”

“I hate you, God. I hate you as though you actually exist.”

“I refused to believe that love could take any other form than mine: I measured love by the extent of my jealousy, and by that standard of course she could not love me at all.”

“It was as though our love were a small creature caught in a trap and bleeding to death: I had to shut my eyes and wring its neck.”

“The sense of unhappiness is so much easier to convey than that of happiness. In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. But happiness annihilates us: we lose our identity.”

“Pain is easy to write. In pain we’re all happily individual. But what can one write about happiness?”

“Insecurity is the worst sense that lovers feel; sometimes the most humdrum desireless marriage seems better. Insecurity twists meanings and poisons trust.”

“I measured love by the extent of my jealousy.”

The End of the Affair is Book #10 for my Classics Club Challenge & Book #5 for my 2013 TBR Pile Challenge

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