Annamarie Jagose, Book Review, Feminism, GLBT, LGBT, Literary History, Literary Theory, Literature, Margaret Walters, Non-Fiction, PhD, Queer Theory, Theory, Thomas C. Foster

Brief Thoughts: 3 Texts on Literary Theory

39933How to Read Literature like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster
YTD: 07

Goodreads Summary:
What does it mean when a fictional hero takes a journey? Shares a meal? Gets drenched in a sudden rain shower? Often, there is much more going on in a novel or poem than is readily visible on the surface — a symbol, maybe, that remains elusive, or an unexpected twist on a character — and there’s that sneaking suspicion that the deeper meaning of a literary text keeps escaping you.
In this practical and amusing guide to literature, Thomas C. Foster shows how easy and gratifying it is to unlock those hidden truths, and to discover a world where a road leads to a quest; a shared meal may signify a communion; and rain, whether cleansing or destructive, is never just rain. Ranging from major themes to literary models, narrative devices, and form, How to Read Literature Like a Professor is the perfect companion for making your reading experience more enriching, satisfying, and fun.

My Thoughts:
Lots of helpful tips, useful references, and practical advice. It’s certainly not critical theory, but that shouldn’t be what one expects going into this text. It’s a “literature made easy” type of guide, but it’s good for what it is. Easy to read & added plenty of texts to my “to read” list. For English majors early in their programs or for casual/recreational readers who would like to get more from their reading experience, this book could offer some valuable tips. It also added quite a few titles to my wish list!

74661Feminism: A Very Short Introduction by Margaret Walters
YTD: 08

Goodreads Summary:
“This is a historical account of feminism that looks at the roots of feminism, voting rights, and the liberation of the sixties, and analyzes the current situation of women across Europe, in the United States, and elsewhere in the world, particularly the Third World countries. Walters examines the difficulties and inequities that women still face, more than forty years after the “new wave” of 1960s feminism–difficulties, particularly, in combining domesticity, motherhood and work outside the home. How much have women’s lives really changed? In the West, women still come up against the “glass ceiling” at work, with most earning considerably less than their male counterparts. What are we to make of the now commonplace insistence that feminism deprives men of their rights and dignities? And how does one tackle the issue of female emancipation in different cultural and economic environments–in, for example, Islam, Hinduism, the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian sub-continent?”

My Thoughts:
“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is. I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.” This quote by Rebecca West seems to sum up the history and mentality of Feminism; that is, by virtue of defining it, one practically undermines it. Labels are almost exclusively heteronormative and patriarchal, so to use them is to counter the work of feminist thought. All-in-all, I find the Oxford “Very Short Introductions” extremely helpful, useful, and accessible. Feminism was no exception. Walters outlines the history of feminist thought from the 11th Century and up to modern-day. The major theorists, such as Judith Butler and Mary Wollstonecraft, are given ample attention, as are more obscure writers and historical figures. Walters also includes many of the opposing forces as well as the “in-fighting” between different branches of feminism, all of which helps one to understand the larger theory and its place in time, history, and relation to other schools of thought. Highly recommended for those interested in literary and or feminist theory.

239907Queer Theory: An Introduction by Annamarie Jagose
YTD: 09

Goodreads Summary:
In Queer Theory: An Introduction, Annamarie Jagose provides a clear and concise explanation of queer theory, tracing it as part of an intriguing history of same-sex love over the last century, from mid-century homophile movements to gay liberation, the women’s movement and lesbian feminism, to the re-appropriation of the term “queer.” Carefully interrogating the arguments of supporters and opponents of queer theory, Jagose suggests that its strength lies in its questioning of the very idea of sexual identities. Blending insights from prominent queer theorists such as Judith Butler and David Halperin, Jagose argues that queer theory’s challenge is to create new ways of thinking, not only about fixed sexual identities such as heterosexual and homosexual, but also about other supposedly essential notions such as “sexuality” and “gender” and even “man” and “woman.”

My Thoughts:
Plenty of useful information and great discussion of various arguments surrounding gay/lesbian studies, feminism, gender, and identity – but the text seemed to be much more about those elements than about Queer Theory, specifically. Granted, there’s a history leading up to Queer Theory & the fact that Queer Theory is ever-changing (by virtue of its being “queer” and therefore resistant to definition, a characteristic it shares with feminism) would make it hard to write an “About Me” book on Queer Theory. Still, I was slightly troubled by the overwhelming amount of time spent on discussing lesbian(ism) and their perpetual outsider status (outside feminism, outside queer theory, outside heteronormativity, etc.), especially the arguments which made homosexual (or gay, or queer, depending on whom is identifying as what) men the greatest “enemy” to the lesbian woman. Those arguments were not the author’s (Jagose) but there was much attention paid to them by her. And I realize I’ve littered this response with pronouns and descriptors galore, which means I’m an enemy of the queer and the feminist schools, for sure.

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1001 Books, 2013 B2tC Challenge, 2013 Challenges, 2013 TBR Pile Challenge, Art, Book Review, British Literature, Classics, Classics Club, Feminism, Fiction, Fictional Biography, Gay Lit, Gender Identity, Giveaway, Giveaway Hop, Giveaways, GLBT, LGBT, Literary History, Literature, Monthly Review, Sexuality, Time, Virginia Woolf

Thoughts: Orlando by Virginia Woolf

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Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf
Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0
YTD: 5

Orlando is Virginia Woolf’s sixth major work and was written in a year, between To the Lighthouse and The Waves. It is an epic novel and historical biography which follows the journey of one character, Orlando, over the course of about 350 years (1588-1928). It is a biography not of any one character, but of the nature and history of gender, identity, and sexuality through time. At the start of the novel, readers will encounter Orlando as a young boy of noble birth. His family entertains Queen Elizabeth I, who is the first to notice Orlando’s beauty and potential. As he ages (slowly), Orlando will spend much of his time with “low” people – those well-outside the realm of nobility, though he himself is a member of the court. He explores and enjoys sexual relations with women of varying types, though each of his three serious ventures into love soon goes sour. Orlando will twice mistake the loves of his life for the wrong gender, which is particularly complex after Orlando himself has become a woman, remembering himself as a man, loving a man who is actually a woman. Ultimately, after trips abroad and back home again, Orlando’s story is one of exploration and being open to the many possibilities of life. He is a writer, first, who spends hundreds of years working on one short poem called “The Oak Tree,” a strong symbol of nature’s presence and dominance throughout the passage of time. Orlando witnesses the world-changing, from the sexual freedom and marriageless years of the Elizabethan period, to the stringent, stuffy, prudish world of the Victorian age. At a certain point, he (now she) wakes up to “the present” and is terrified, realizing that she suddenly exists in the now, and it is a now that she no longer recognizes, where women are property, where love is regulated, and where art and literature exist only in the past.

There are two main characters in the novel; the first is Orlando, who changes from male to female throughout the long passage of time. The second is actually the narrator – a third-person, mostly omniscient but nevertheless unreliable “biographer,” whose tone and style change throughout the book, as Orlando and his life are changing. One could argue, though, that the true characters are actually gender (identity), sexuality, and time: these are the ideas explored most intricately and most often throughout the course of the book and they are certainly front-facing; the narrator/biographer views time and Orlando in opposition to how opinions and practices of sex and gender are viewed differently at various points in history. Other characters (of the usual sense) include Sasha, Orlando’s true first love, a Russian princess; Shel, Orlando’s husband who is actually a woman (or who, at least, has the qualities of one); the Archduchess Henrietta who is actually Archduke Harry (perhaps the only truly homosexual character, as the others whose genders bend throughout could truly be said to be of the opposite gender, psychologically and even physically, after their changes, while Harry is simply a man who cross-dresses as a woman and who loves Orlando as a man); and certain historical figures, like Nick Greene (poet/critic), Queen Elizabeth I, and Alexander Pope.

Orlando, though massive in scale, brilliant in conception, and beautiful in prose, was actually considered by Woolf to be a “writer’s holiday,” so to speak. She refused to allow gender nor time to constrain her writing, which is evidenced by the fact that Orlando, who begins the story as a man and ends it as a woman, 4 centuries later, only ages 36 years in the process. Woolf’s secondary aim, aside from bending time and gender, is satirizing Victorian biographies and novels which traditionally emphasize truthfulness and fact (though they are obviously fiction). What is most fascinating for me is the fact that the book was, for Woolf, a game of sorts – a lighter satire and departure from her more rigid works; yet, this one is incredibly important and speaks seriously, though fantastically, to issues of self-discovery, truth, art, and gender. The exploration of the many time periods, from Elizabethan to the early 20th Century, particularly in terms of the literary arts in any given movement, will be fascinating for serious readers, but the beautiful and sensuous prose (less explorative than other works, making it more accessible) as well as the unusual topic and uninhibited re-imagining of reality and time make this a unique, awe-inspiring read for anyone willing to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Adult
Interest: Gender, Sexuality, Time, Art, Literary History, Nature, Truth, Poetry.

Notable Quotes:
“Nothing thicker than a knife’s blade separates happiness from melancholy” (45).

“Once the disease of reading has laid hold upon the system it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill” (75).

“Bad, good, or indifferent, I’ll write, from this day forward, to please myself” (103).

“No passion is stronger in the breast of man than the desire to make others believe as he believes. Nothing so cuts at the root of his happiness and fills him with rage as the sense that another rates low what he prizes high” (149).

“Nothing can be more arrogant, though nothing is commoner than to assume that of Gods there is only one, and of religions none but the speaker’s” (173).

“Illusions are the most valuable and necessary of all things, and she who can create one is among the world’s greatest benefactors” (199).

“We write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person” (243).

“For it has come about, by the wise economy of nature, that our modern spirit can almost dispense with language; the commonest expressions do, since no expressions do; hence the most ordinary conversation is often the most poetic, and the most poetic is precisely that which cannot be written down” (253).

“Our most violent passions . . . are the reflections we see in the dark hollow at the back of the head when the visible world is obscured for the time” (323).

Orlando is Book 1 for my B2tC Challenge; Book 9 for my Classics Club List; & Book 3 for my 2013 TBR Pile.

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Book Review, Creative Non-Fiction, Dance, Expatriate, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Family, Fiction, Fictional Memoir, Flappers, Jazz Age, Literary History, Literature, Psychology, Zelda Fitzgerald

Review: Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald

Save  Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald

Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0

YTD: 16


Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald was the troubled wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the most famous American writers of all-time.  Save Me the Waltz is her first and only novel, one which is largely autobiographical and which covers  approximately the same time period as her husband’s masterpiece, Tender is the Night.  Both books fictionalize the couple’s life in Paris together, but each from their own perspective.  While Tender is the Night deals with F. Scott’s attempt at handling his wife’s eccentric nature (and ultimate mental breakdown), Save Me the Waltz is much more about Zelda’s hopes and dreams and her sense of being overshadowed in most regards by her husband’s great success.  Zelda Fitzgerald was considered to be one of the first American “Flappers” – a glamorous and materialistic woman whose greatest hope was to become a superior ballerina, though she only pursued dance late in life. The story itself is interesting in that it reveals Zelda’s perspective on F. Scott as well as her interpretation of that great American time period known as “The Roaring ‘20s.”


Characterization:
3 – Characters well developed.

The majority of the characters aside from Alabama (Zelda), David (F. Scott) and Bonnie (their daughter) are relatively flat and, at times, even incongruous (characters’ names spelled in different fashions, eye colors changing, etc.).  What Fitzgerald does well, though, is creating characters in relation to Alabama.  The dance instructors and love interests, for example, all come to life quite unexpected because of the way they interact with Alabama.  The relationship between David and Alabama is drawn extraordinarily well and, in fact, reminds me of a lovers’ relationship written by Hemingway in The Garden of Eden.  It is tortuously romantic – hopeless and beautiful at the same time.  It makes sense that this would be the most aptly developed relationship, considering it is at the core of the story (and the primary impetus for Zelda’s writing the story in the first place).  Little Bonnie’s character is also quite charming and her relationship with her Dad is lovely, particularly near the end. 


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

This book has been both praised and derided for its prose and style.  The structure is sound and relatively traditional; however, the prose and language itself is quite odd.  At times, it reminds me of a less sexual, female version of William S. Burroughs, as there are oftentimes breaks into vivid streams of consciousness, where one has to wonder if passages were written in a fury of (drunken? drugged?) rage; while these moments are sometimes over-the-top and even inexplicable or largely irrelevant, they are also quite beautiful.  There’s a bizarre honesty to the breaks in tempo and the seemingly random items which Fitzgerald chooses to romanticize through language.  As a lover of creative storytelling and free prose, I was quite enamored by it.  Still, for some readers the prose could be distracting or even exasperating as it is, in many ways, self-indulgent and can come across as a novice creative writing student’s first, best work. 


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

When Zelda Fitzgerald originally wrote this book, it was much more accusatory and obviously biographical than the version which was ultimately published.  Her husband believed that she had created the book in a fit of self-destruction, hoping to destroy her (and his) reputations. F. Scott Fitzgerald and their editor, Max Perkins, “assisted” Zelda with revisions.  Although historical evidence (letters, manuscripts, etc.) seem to prove that their part in the revision process was limited and mostly geared toward making elements and characters who were modeled after real-life events and individuals more obscure, Zelda would later accuse her husband of forcing her to change the book entirely and also allege that he stole her original manuscript to write his own (Tender is the Night).  Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this book, then, is in its history and historical significance.  Much can be learned about the Fitzgeralds’ relationship and personalities not only by reading the story (as the two main characters are modeled directly after F. Scott and Zelda), but also in researching the creation of the book itself, as well as F. Scott’s similarly themed novel (which is ultimately much more despondent).


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Adult
Interest: Literary History, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dance, Paris, Italy, Expatriate American, Jazz Age, Roaring ‘20s, Family, Schizophrenia, Creative Non-Fiction.


Notable Quotes:

“Alabama had learned from the past that something unpleasant was bound to happen whenever the Saviour made his appearance in the dialogue.”

“The heat pressed down about the earth inflating the shadows, expanding the door and window ledges till the summer split in a terrific clap of thunder.  You could see the trees by the lightning flashes gyrating maniacally and waving their arms about like furies.”

“People are always running all over the place to escape each other, having been sure to make a date for cocktails in the first bar outside the limits of convenience.” 

“The troubles with emergencies is that I always put on my finest underwear and then nothing happens.”

“A shooting star, ectoplasmic arrow, sped through the nebular hypothesis like a wanton hummingbird.  From Venus to Mars to Neptune it trailed the ghost of comprehension, illuminating far horizons over the pale battlefields of reality.”

“People are like Almanacs, Bonnie – you never can find the information you’re looking for, but the casual reading is well worth the trouble.”

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