American Lit, Fiction, immigrant literature, Indian Literature, Rishi Reddi, Short Story, women's literature

Justice Shiva Ram Murthy by Rishi Reddi

Rishi Reddi’s “Justice Shiva Ram Murthy” is an interesting and insightful short story about the struggles displaced immigrants may face in big-city America. The author successfully applies techniques such as setting, characterization, and point of view to explain the main character’s motivation and to resolve one small conflict while presenting a larger, possibly unsolvable conflict.

The story’s setting serves to create a sense of displacement and confusion in the main character, Shiva Ram Murthy. Making the character a retired Indian judge who has been moved from India to a large American city where his judicial powers and knowledge are of no consequence add to Murthy’s wounded pride and inflate his apparently innate self-centeredness. Also, being in a new country where everyone speaks a different kind of English, leads to misunderstandings and arguments between Murthy and others throughout the story. Had this story taken place in India, Murthy would not have felt the need to prove himself to everyone he met. He would not have been walking around consumed with paranoia, thinking Americans were always purposely trying to misunderstand him. The setting is crucial to this story, in that any change to it would have meant the creation of an entirely different, or at least acting, character.

Characterization in “Justice Shiva Ram Murthy” is also very consciously thought out and articulated. Shiva Ram Murthy is a static character, his attitudes and ideas are generally the same at the end of the story as they were in the beginning. He is consistently self-centered and selfish. Murthy is always contradicting what his only friend says or thinks, as when he says “Manu told me later that as I pronounced these words, a little bit of saliva came from my mouth and landed on the girl’s sleeve.  I do not agree” (362). There are many instances throughout the story where his friend, Manu, will say one thing and Shiva will tell the reader about it, only to disagree with Manu’s statement.

Also, Shiva is completely selfish. He talks about Manu having no values, but when Shiva leaves his cane at the restaurant, it is Manu who goes back and gets it for him. It is also Manu who finds a lawyer for Shiva, and goes with him to the appointment. Shiva cannot seem to do much on his own, but at the end of the story he says that it is “Manu without any friends, without anyone to understand him and keep him company,” as if it was Shiva who is always there for Manu. These characteristics, and his personal pride, are the cause of both small conflicts in the story (the argument with the restaurant manager and the misunderstanding with the lawyer) as well as the larger conflict, Shiva’s inability to recognize his own faults and put any blame on himself, rather than heaping it all on his loyal friend and the rude “westerners” (Americans).

Being told in the first-person allows the reader to get inside the head of the main character. Hearing the story from this point of view is beneficial because it allows one to understand why Shiva acts the way he does, why he seems so stubborn and unyielding. The reader can, for example, get a sense of why Shiva gets so upset with the lawyer’s inability to help him. We get an idea of his thought process, what makes him tick, what he worries about even in his home. However, being told from the first person point of view limits this story, in that the reader does not get any sense of how anyone else truly feels about Shiva and his actions. The only example of this that is given is when Manu finally confronts him, yet, even after this confrontation, there is nothing more of Manu’s point of view, only all Shiva. The benefit of this, though, is that it further emphasizes Shiva’s self-centeredness. Reddi purposely harmonizes the way the story as whole is told with the way Shiva tells his story, inflating Shiva’s general self-centeredness.

There are two small conflicts within the story: the confrontation with the restaurant manager at the Mexican fast food joint, and the argument with the American lawyer. The first conflict is resolved by Shiva’s taking the lawyer’s advice to write a letter of complaint to the restaurant owner and getting a satisfying reply. The conflict with the American lawyer (who stands for American law in general) is never resolved, because Shiva is never content with American law or living. Both conflicts are reflective of the larger conflict in the story, which is Shiva’s inability to assimilate and adapt to the new culture he has been thrust into. He cannot accept that it is he who may have a problem understanding the Americans, rather than all Americans having a problem with him.

Reddi creatively applies various writing techniques within her story to create an entertaining story that is also consistent and purposeful. She uses symbolism to discuss larger issues on a smaller scale. For example, the lawyer who represents American law as a whole, and the cane he was given but insists he does not need that represents Shiva’s refusal to set aside his pride and ask for help. Also, it is not lost that both misunderstandings within the story take place between Shiva and American women. This represents a larger problem, as Reddi sees it, in either Indian male ideology or male ideology in general. Further, Reddi creates a setting and point of view which serve to accentuate the character’s personality and faults. For these reasons, Reddi’s story is well-written, and her point is made successfully.

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Book Review, Edgar Allan Poe, Short Story

Reading Poe, Part 2: Gold-Bug, Ligeia, Maelstrom

Today, I continue my short discussions of/reactions to Poe’s works. I’m still engaged with his complete short stories, and will be for a while. After finishing these, I’ll move on to his poetry. Each of these stories, like those in Poe 1, are categorized under Tales of Mystery and Horror

“The Gold-Bug” (1843)

William Legrand is bitten by a gold-colored bug. It seems that this bite might be poisoning him in some way, causing him to go insane. His servant, Jupiter, notices the changes in Legrand and becomes fearful; so, he recruits Legrand’s good friend (the narrator, who remains unnamed) to come to his aid. What follows is a mysterious adventure of secret messages and buried treasures that ultimately leads to the unearthing of a dark and disturbing secret. The Gold-Bug is interesting because it combines Poe’s thrilling storytelling with his style from the “tales of ratiocination”, creating a plot that is both intellectually stimulating and a bit creepy. I thought it was fitting that story is set in South Carolina (and that the main character is originally from New Orleans). It adds an element of southern Gothic before the southern Gothic was actually a genre. It’s no surprise to me that The Gold-Bug was a grand prize-winning story, one that Poe was actually paid quite well for (unlike much of his other writing, which earned him disturbingly little!). This was my first time reading it and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a reminder that I’ve still got much to learn from Poe, as do we all. Rating: 4.25 out of 5

“Ligeia” (Sep 1838)

Ligeia is one of my all-time favorite Poe stories. I think this must be my 5th or 6th time reading it, and I’m not bored of it yet! In this story, the narrator’s wife, a poet who composes a poem, “The Conqueror Worm,” within the narrative itself, dies of illness. He remarries but soon the second wife falls ill as well. As the narrator watches over Lady Rowena’s body, he notices that she begins to transform physically into the form and countenance of the original wife, Ligeia. This is also one of the stories that Poe revised regularly throughout his lifetime. It was originally published in 1838, and many believed that first production was fueled by opioid hallucinations and meant to be a kind of satire. It would be interesting to get my hands on copies of each of the revised versions, if still extant, to see how, where, and why Poe made changes. I think it’s particularly interesting to think about why Poe includes “The Conqueror Worm” in Ligeia. The poem actually appears in part or in whole in a number of other Poe works, and was only included in a revised version of Ligeia. Poe seemed perturbed by the idea (a 19th-century convention) that death was something beautiful and sacred, as opposed to simply a natural and ugly ending to life. By including it in the story Ligeia, it might serve to suggest that Ligeia’s first death is in fact final, and that her phantom reappearance after Rowena’s death is just a trick of the narrator’s mind (influenced by drugs). It would also reinforce his philosophy more prominently in a popular work, thus reaching a wider audience. Rating: 5 out of 5

“A Descent into the Maelström” (Apr 1841)

It’s funny; for the longest time, I thought I had read this story years ago. But upon reading “this time,” I realized that I was completely unfamiliar with it, which means I probably never did read it in the first place! This one falls into the “ratiocination” stories and tells of a man recounting his experience surviving a shipwreck and massive whirlpool (what they call a “vortex” in the story). Descent reminds me quite a bit of Poe’s novel, Narrative of A. Gordon Pym, in its use of nature as antagonist. The awe of natural forces, especially the unknown and uncontrollable forces, acts as a kind of foil for both scientific inquiry but also the psychology of fear (evoked with pathos: “You suppose me a very old man, but I am not. It took less than a single day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my nerves”). Poe also uses the story-within-a-story device here, a strategy that is somewhat of a staple in his works (it adds some intellectual and creative intrigue, which was right up Poe’s alley). Ultimately, Poe uses the terror of the story to also explain scientific realities of physics in, ironically, an attempt to perhaps encourage a more rational reaction to our natural world as opposed to a fearful, emotion-based response. As an exploration of Poe’s style and psyche, this story is quite interesting, but as a story itself, it’s not quite one of my favorites. Rating: 4.25 out of 5.  

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Book Review, Edgar Allan Poe, Short Story

Reading Poe, Part 1: Rue Morgue, Marie Rogêt, and Black Cat

I’m currently reading my way through the complete Edgar Allan Poe (stories and poetry), and thought I would share my reactions to a few pieces at a time. I’m going in the order presented in my anthology, which is not chronological but thematic. The first stories come from Tales of Mystery and Horror

“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (Apr 1841)

I first read “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” when I was in the 7th grade. We watched the movie afterward, and the whole experience is what turned me onto Poe originally (it’s been a 20+ year obsession ever since). I’ve turned away from Poe’s detective stories in recent years, much preferring his thrillers and his poetry (and criticism). I also much prefer Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories as detective fiction, so when I return to Poe, I’m less excited than I was originally.  Upon this re-read, I recalled what I first appreciated about it, though. Dupin is a funny little detective. He takes himself so seriously, in contrast with Sherlock Holmes (usually – he is quite serious in some of the stories, as is Watson, but in many of them he’s mostly playing) and in contrast with some of Agatha Christie’s famous detectives, too. This is no surprise, though, since Poe, too, was a serious fellow. This one is also considered the first modern detective story, and I’m always pleased to be reminded of how innovative and forward-thinking Poe really was, across all genres. He has many, many fans, and he’s often taught in school, but I think few really appreciate his genius and give him the credit he truly deserves, partly because his personal life was so, well, awkward and disappointing, and a bit creepy. In any case, “Murders in the Rue Morgue” finds Dupin on the search to solve a most serious and difficult case. Two women have been brutally murdered. Witnesses heard the suspect but couldn’t understand him (a foreigner? gasp!) and no one seems to have seen him. The tale is told through a narrator close to Dupin, the first Watson, as it were, who always hyperbolically describes Dupin’s most extraordinary skill for ratiocination. Doesn’t this remind you of what Doyle would do with the Watson/Holmes dynamic: “‘Dupin,’ said I, gravely, ‘this is beyond my comprehension. I do not hesitate to say that I am amazed, and can scarcely credit my senses. How was it possible you should know I was thinking of — — ?’ Here I paused, to ascertain beyond a doubt whether he really knew of whom I thought.” The story includes elements of the bizarre and mysterious, as well as moments of heightened pathos bordering on terror. It’s one of Poe’s best for this combination of methods. Rating: 4 out of 5.

“The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” (Feb 1843)

This is another of Poe’s Dupin stories, and one which I have read multiple times. I first read it about a decade ago, then again after seeing the John Cusack film, The Raven, which incorporates a number of “copy cat” murders based on Poe stories. Some people have called this a “sequel” to “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which is why I think it is indexed second in my anthology even though the stories were published two years apart. This story is actually based on a real life murder, predating Capote’s “genre-creating” In Cold Blood by a century. It was also likely the first time a real life crime had been fictionalized in the detective genre, considering Poe invented the genre. So, once again, he inaugurates a soon-to-be imitated practice. Certainly, Poe adds more sensationalist fiction to his tale than Capote, who tried to make his emphasize the “non-fiction” in “creative non-fiction.” I always enjoy this story more than I think I will. Something about the measured violence, the pace and tempo, and that same balance of mystery and malice, all works together to drive this exciting plot forward. This one also hints at Poe’s intellect and deductive reasoning skills, a masterful critical capacity which also let him write such brilliant literary criticism. As he writes in a letter in 1842, less than a year before publishing the story: “Under the pretense of showing how Dupin … unravelled the mystery of Marie’s assassination, I, in fact, enter into a very rigorous analysis of the real tragedy in New York.” In other words, he evaluated the original crime and acted the part of detective in order to write about it accurately (and then with his own added flair for the dramatic). Rating: 2.75 out of 5.

“The Black Cat” (Aug 1843)

“I had walled the monster up within the tomb!” This story, like “The Tell-Tale Heart” is an exploration of guilt. The main character commits a disturbing crime, certain that he’s been so clever as to avoid any possible detection, but is then stalked by feelings of regret over having done the deed. Ultimately, the character likely would have gotten away with the crime, but he brings about his own downfall because he feels so badly about what he is done. Like many Poe stories, this one begins in the present and finds the narrator (criminal) retelling the actions and events from his own rather unreliable point of view. This adds intrigue and uncertainty, but also heightened sense of emotion and terror as it brings the reader psychologically closer to the criminal/madman. The pace and timing of this particularly story is very strong, and the fact that the narrator actually commits two crimes (both in fits of rage), increases the complexity and tension of the overall plot. The atmosphere created by the narrator’s madness and subsequent guilt, as well as the rising and falling action when the narrator assumes he will get away (remembering that the reader sits most closely to this perspective), is extraordinary. The denouement, which surprises the narrator and the police officer who is about ready to end the investigator and clear the man of any wrong-doing, is particularly ironic because it was brought about by the narrator’s own hubris. This was my first time reading “The Black Cat” and I’m surprised that it’s not discussed more often. It might be too similar to “The Tell-Tale Heart,” which does the same work a bit more compellingly. Still, I loved this one. Rating: 4.25 out of 5. 

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American Lit, Book Review, Fiction, Mark Twain, Religion, Satire, Short Story

Thoughts: Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven by Mark Twain

CaptainStormfield

 

Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven by Mark Twain
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0
YTD: 37

Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven is a satire of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward’s The Gates Ajar, which was published in 1868 and became widely popular at the time.  In that religious novel, the protagonist-narrator, Mary Cabot, discusses her ideas of the afterlife with her widowed aunt, shortly after the main character’s brother has been killed.  The author had lost her mother, stepmother, and fiancé in short order, during the American Civil War, and wrote the book as a sort of coping mechanism, and also as a way to reach out to women readers in similar situations.  She claimed that the book was divinely inspired (“The angel said unto me, ‘Write!’ and I wrote”), and its positive views of heaven, one wherein families and friends would be reunited (a newish concept, not based in the true vision of heaven, as explained in the Bible) would later inspire other writers, such as Emily Dickinson.

Although Twain began writing the book sometime around 1868, it was not published for the first time until 1907, just a few years before he died.  It was the last of Twain’s works that would be published in his lifetime and it clearly reflects Twain’s disillusionment with the promise of heaven and a “happily ever after.”  Twain, like Ward, suffered great losses in his life.  His wife and his daughters all died in relatively quick succession, and Twain struggled in his later years with depression and anger.  Although always a satirist, the themes in his stories became much darker, more biting and anti-religious, as his own sadness and heartache grew.

Captain Stormfield, though comic and seemingly light in tone, clearly demonstrates Twain’s darker outlook on life and the afterlife (or lack thereof).  The main character is Captain Elias Stormfield, who is traveling on a ship through space, chasing comets and other vessels from distant planets.  He becomes lost along the way and ends up at the gates of heaven.  But, as it turns out, he’s at the wrong entrance (which is realized only after much discussion with the gatekeepers, who must evaluate maps for days on end before they can locate our tiny, miniscule, germ of a planet, Earth) and must be transported to the correct gates before he can be admitted to the afterlife.

storm

Captain Stormfield was inspired by Captain Edgar Wakeman, a sea captain whom Clemens met in 1866. Wakeman’s eccentric personality made a tremendous impact on Twain, and he is the inspiration for many other Twain characters. Wakeman’s retelling of a dream he had about his own visit to heaven was the inspiration for the story.

The bottom line is this:  Twain uses humor to poke fun at how very silly are our beliefs in heaven.  The evolution of this “new heaven” came about during and after the American Civil War, when so many people were in need of comfort; they found this comfort in the belief that loved ones would be seen again in heaven.  This new heaven is the one we, most of us, think about today – so that evolution clearly held true, though Twain mocked it from the start.  Twain seems to be calling out these fantasies as exactly that: fantasies.  He had no illusions of being able to meet his wife and daughter in heaven again, and that stark view of life and the afterlife certainly affected his writing and his temperament.

But it is not just the vision of heaven he mocks, but also the way we perceive greatness in the here and now.  Nearly everyone is present in heaven, from Napoleon to Socrates, King Henry VIII to Shakespeare.  But, as Stormfield’s guide,  Sandy McWilliams, explains – those great and influential figures from history, be it the epic poet, Homer, or the prophet Mohammed, if lined up end-to-end, might still come up at the rear, behind average, everyday folks who were capable of so much but were never afforded the opportunity to be great.  Earth’s heaven is also geographically similar to the physical earth, but when a new arrival goes looking for someone to talk to in his home region, say England, he might soon discover that the majority of souls wandering that region do not speak English at all, because the history of that land is so ancient, and our perceptions of it always so “now” – so self-centered.

Captain Stormfield learns soon enough that heaven is not what he expected it to be.  Although he does don a halo and wings, and sits on a cloud playing a harp, he soon realizes that to do this forever would be madness.  How boring would it be to sit in one place for all eternity, strutting strings and smiling at people?

In this short story, Twain asks us to re-evaluate our conceptions of celebrity, fame, and power, to keep our tiny little planet and our tiny little lives in perspective – to, in effect, check our egos at the door.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level:  High School+
Interest:  Humor, Satire, Atheism, American Literature, History.

Notable Quotes:

“Well, when I had been dead about thirty years I begun to get a little anxious.”

“Inside of fifteen minutes I was a mile on my way towards the cloud- banks and about a million people along with me. Most of us tried to fly, but some got crippled and nobody made a success of it. So we concluded to walk, for the present, till we had had some wing practice.”

“It’s the sensiblest heaven I’ve heard of yet, Sam, though it’s about as different from the one I was brought up on as a live princess is different from her own wax figger.”

“You have got the same mixed-up idea about these things that everybody has down there. I had it once, but I got over it. Down there they talk of the heavenly King–and that is right–but then they go right on speaking as if this was a republic and everybody was on a dead level with everybody else, and privileged to fling his arms around anybody he comes across, and be hail-fellow-well-met with all the elect, from the highest down. How tangled up and absurd that is! How are you going to have a republic under a king?”

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Contemporary American, E.J. Runyon, Ethnic American, Gender Identity, Gender Studies, Giveaway, Giveaway Hop, Giveaways, Latin American, Lesbian Lit, LGBT, Monthly Review, Regionalism, Sexuality, Short Story

Review: Claiming One by E.J. Runyon

14576593Claiming One by R.J. Runyon
Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0
YTD: 23

Full Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Inspired Quill, with whom I have a working relationship; however, I was not in any way involved in the editing, publishing, marketing, proofing, or submission review process for this book.  In fact, I only received a copy because the editor-in-chief mentioned that this writer comes recommended by Catherine Ryan Hyde, who is a favorite writer of mine, so she thought I might like to take a look.

The collection is made up of seventeen short stories of varying length, some of which deal with the same characters and all of which deal with the same general region (southwestern United States / southern California) and the same type of people (struggling poor/working-class ethnic and sexual minorities).  Most of the stories are incredibly interesting and well-written.  There were a few stories in the bunch which did sometimes feel stressed or project-like, reminding me a bit of a bad hair day (not that the stories were bad, but that one starts with a good head of hair and, no matter how you tease it, yank it, or play with it, it just will not do what you want it to do).  That being said, these few stressed stories were definitely the exception, not the rule.  In fact, I wrote a ranking next to each story in the index (Poor, Good, Very Good, Great) and of the seventeen stories, only two were anything other than Good.

What struck me first about the writing is the narrative voice.  It is distinct, commanding, and engaging.  The first story, “The Giant Rubber Gorilla,” opens the collection with a perfect sense of what is to come. The reader quickly recognizes these people who will be explored, the situations that might be examined, and the tone which can be expected throughout.  Similarly, the collection closes with “Dandruff as Tall as Donald Duck,” which, in conjunction with the lengthier story which immediately preceded it, was a great way of wrapping-up the collection, reminding the reader of its major themes and the general determination of these people to survive, despite the perpetual road blocks placed in their way.

Some of the stories went even beyond good story telling.  “Mother’s Tongue” and “Secrets of the Days and Nights,” for example, were stand-outs in their creative approach and in the slight inkling toward hopefulness they emulated, which is not an overarching theme in this collection.  The stories work together the way a great fashion show should:  The collection has a primary theme, it starts with bang, and then has its lulls and explosions throughout, and finally ends with a reminder of what the collection was all about, leaving the memory of it strong in the mind.  Each story, like each piece in a fashion collection, simultaneously stands on its own and fits into the larger theme of the work.  In this case, the theme is a restless disappointment among a class of people on the margins.  There is a small, flickering light of hope that blinks throughout, meek but ever-present.

My personal favorites were the stories about Duffy and her family.  They were the most powerful and seemed to work almost like the back-bone of the collection. It would be very interesting to see Duffy and the others in her life appearing again in future collections.

With this first collection, Runyon is following in the tradition of the great regional American writers.   Flannery O’Connor, John Fante, Bret Harte, and Sinclair Lewis all wrote stories about a particular group of people in a particular region of the United States, and their stories stayed true to the people and their particular plights and successes.  The triumph of their stories was due in part to the writers’ craftsmanship and vision, but also to the honesty of the narrative which grounded the fictive worlds deeply in reality.

If Runyon continues to write about this world and these people, we might be witnessing the start of a very special body of work.  E.J. Runyon is a new writer to watch, and I applaud Inspired Quill for recognizing this talent and taking a chance on sharing it with the world.

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Adelaide Anne Procter, Book Review, Charles Dickens, Compilation Fiction, Elizabeth Gaskell, Fiction, George Augustus Sala, Hesba Stretton, Literature, London Literati, Short Story, Victorian, Victorian Celebration, Wilkie Collins

Review: The Haunted House by Charles Dickens

The Haunted House by Charles Dickens

Final Verdict: 2.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 24

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

The Haunted House by Charles Dickens is actually a compilation work, with contributions from Hesba Stretton, George Augustus Sala, Adelaide Anne Procter, Wilkie Collins, and Elizabeth Gaskell.  Each writer, including Dickens (who wrote the opening and closing segments, as well as a middle segment) writes one “chapter” of the tale.  The premise is that a group of people have come to a well-known haunted house to stay for a period of time, experience whatever supernatural elements might be there to experience, then regroup at the end of their stay to share their stories.  Each author represents a specific person within the tale and, while the genre is supposed to be that of the ghost story, most of the individual pieces fall flat of that.  The conclusion, too, is saccharine and unnecessary – it reminds the reader that, though we came for ghost stories, what we leave with is a mirthful Christmas story.


Characterization:
2 – Characters slightly developed.

Because this is a compilation of separate short stories, one would not expect much character growth and development (short stories are, after all, more about the theme/event/plot than they are about the characters).  Still, because they were interconnected via the primary story (a group of folks coming together to the same house), there could have been at least a bit of time spent developing those guests, so as to better understand the stories they ultimately told.  Gaskell’s story, being the longest, did allow for some characterization and what was done, was done well.  The characters remain generally flat throughout, but they are recognizable characters – a mother who would act like a mother, a father who acts like a father, etc.  Still, when coming to this collection, it cannot be for its interesting characters because they just are not very interesting (and this could be even more acceptable if the stories themselves were thrilling ghost stories, because then there is something else to entertain and occupy the reader, but….). 


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

Dickens, Gaskell, and Collins are clearly the masters here, but in my opinion Dickens was in fact out-shone by the other two in this one.  Dickens’s portions read too much like someone trying to write a thriller but not quite knowing how (it felt like someone mimicking Poe – getting the general mechanics right, but not quite being Poe).  Gaskell’s piece is the longest, and her narrative brilliance – use of dialect in particular- are clear.  Collins has the best paced and most appropriately toned prose which, from the author of The Woman in White, probably should have been expected.  Salas’s writing seemed pompous, arrogant, and long-winded; it was funny, at times, but a bit too self-serving.  The inclusion of Procter’s verse added a nice element to the overall scheme, and a nice break from the various competing proses.  The verse itself was haunting and reminded me quite a bit of the pace and scheme of Poe’s “The Raven.”  Stretton’s short piece was perhaps the most enjoyable, because it was so well-written and more intricately layered than the rest. 


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.

Dickens himself was reportedly underwhelmed and disappointed by his peers’ contributing portions of this serial Christmas tale.  I believe his hope was that each of the authors would put into print a certain fear or terror particular to each of them, as Dickens’s story did.  The “haunting,” then, would be something personal and, while not necessarily supernatural, could still be understandably frightening.  Like Dickens, I was left disappointed by the end-result of this ambition. For Dickens, the fear was in revisiting his impoverished youth, the death of his father and the fear of never escaping the “ghost of [his] own childhood.”  Gaskell’s story revolved around betrayal by blood – the loss of a child and lover to the darker elements of humanity.  Again, understandably frightening in its way.  Sala’s story was a dream within a dream within a dream, but while the dream could have been unnerving, there seemed little that was truly frightening about it, supernatural or otherwise.  Wilkie Collins’s story is the one in this compilation which could actually be considered a “suspense” or “thriller” story.  Hesba Stretton’s story, too, while not necessarily scary, is romantic, somewhat suspenseful, and well-accomplished overall.  When considering the group of tales in this compilation, it is Stretton’s which leaves me wanting to read more of her work.  Ultimately, though it is called “The Haunted House,” this compilation of ghost stories is not really a ‘Halloween’-type read.  If one reads this collection as a study of these individual writers, their thoughts, and what they considered haunting, then it is quite interesting.  But as a ghost story, it is no extraordinary achievement, possibly because Dickens (and presumably the other writers) was a skeptic and found the popular interest in the supernatural rather silly.


Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School +
Interest: Victorian Literature, London Literati, Creative/Fictional Autobiography, Short Story, Compilation Fiction.

Notable Quotes:

“The women (their noses in a chronic state of excoriation from smelling-salts), were always primed and loaded for a swoon, and ready to go off with hair-triggers.” – Dickens

“On some subjects it is better to have a silent understanding than an expressed opinion.” – Stretton

“No star is ever lost we once have seen, / We always may be what we might have been.” – Procter

“The hopes that, lost, in some far distance seem, / May be the truer life, and this the dream.” – Procter

“No other ghost has haunted the boy’s room, my friends, since I have occupied it, than the ghost of my own childhood, the ghost of my own innocence, the ghost of my own airy belief.” – Dickens

“What ardently we wish we long believe.” – Gaskell

“But the broken-hearted go home, to be comforted of God.” – Gaskell


–The Haunted House is Book #5 completed for the Victorian Celebration.

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Essay, Fiction, Humor, Mark Twain, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Politics, Religion, Satire, Short Story, Sociology

Review: Who is Mark Twain? by Mark Twain

Who is Mark Twain? By Mark Twain
Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 14

Plot/Story:
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impacful

Who is Mark Twain? is a collection of short stories, essays and letters, published posthumously by Twain’s editors.  It encompasses a wide range of political, social, and educational ideals, as well as some insight into Twain’s personal and family life, as well as funny anecdotes about his journey from San Francisco nobody to over-night sensation.  As usual, I connected strongly with Twain’s pieces – I tend to be aligned well with his philosophical points of view (when he praises the U.S. Journalists for being irreverent, except where actual reverence is due, as opposed to foreign presses which pay reverence to pretty much everything, I about shouted with joy), but I did disagree with him in one respect: he completely bashes Jane Austen, in the short essay “Jane Austen.”  Now, I had heard that Twain wasn’t a fan, and it’s not hard to imagine why – when you compare Twain’s world and work to Austen’s, it’s almost polar-opposite – almost.  Twain touches on Austen’s satire and parody, but only briefly – and in a way which indicates that Twain didn’t think Austen really knew what she was doing, and her later critics made it appear as if she was being satirical when, in fact, she really believed what she was writing.  Now, I don’t know how far Twain went to familiarize himself with Austen’s works or personal writings – he mentions two books, which he tried to read repeatedly, but couldn’t get into. That’s fine and dandy, but I do think Twain was off on this one, because Jane Austen was a brilliant comedienne who, I believe, truly knew what she was doing and saying.

Characterization:
3 – Characters well developed.

This section really only applies to those works of short fiction in this collection – the essays and letters due have characters, because Twain tends to respond to everything with a story.  Still, his characters really shine in stories like “A Group of Servants,” “The Undertaker’s Tale,” and “The Snow-Shovelers” (which was also a brilliant statement on politics and ethics hypocrisy).   Some of the strongest characterization, in my opinion, is found in two stories whose main characters are animals: “The Jungle Discusses Man” and “Telegraph Dog.”  Here, Twain uses animals in human situations to discuss human nature – which was fascinating (and the first, “Jungle” reminded me of a twisted retelling or foreshadowing of The Lion King, actually). 

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

Twain’s prose is fluid and easy to follow.  Whether he is writing a fictional story, a letter to an editor, or a biographical letter to a friend, his language is effortless and his ability with puns and world-play is uncontested (the only class of writers I can compare him to are Shakespeare, Swift, and Vonnegut).  I adore the satirists, but they have to be brilliant if they are going to get it right, and Twain definitely gets it right (most of the time).  Reading his pieces is like conversing with a charming old friend, who just wants to catch up after the years, chat about how things have been going, and tell you how completely wrong you are about everything, but all the while offering you candy and cigarettes, fluffing your pillow and refilling your drink.  He cares deeply about people, and he cares about giving the proper kind of respect to the people who have earned it.  All of this, the sentiment of his convictions and virtues, comes across in the tone of the language, and through the undercurrent of the words – the actual words often saying the opposite of what Twain really means. 

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

What I enjoy so much about Twain is the way he tackles difficult issues, be they politics, religion, education, or social ideals, boldly and confidently, but with a reassuring and refreshing sense of whimsy and fun, as if to say “there’s no reason to be bothered about any of this, really.”  He is serious, but calm – he can put the “smack down” on anybody he finds in the wrong, and he does in quite a few instances in this collection, but one gets the feeling that Twain finds all arguing in general, rather silly – he just wants to live a good life, and to encourage that in others, and he gets most dangerous and powerful when he is writing against any attack on people’s rights to happiness and well-being.  He pokes-fun at people in a brilliantly endearing way, but he does the same to himself, which makes the reader comfortable in knowing that, at the very least, Twain is a man who can take an honest look at himself and criticize where critique is due. 

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: High School and above

Interest: Satire, Non-Fiction, Memoir, Auto-biography, Short Story, Politics, History

Notable Quotes:

“I asked the British Government to tell me what head I came under.  . . . Now you will never believe it, but I give you my honor that this – this, which you see before you- was actually taxed as a Gas Works.”  – Twain discussing taxes imposed upon his published fiction in England, before copyright laws.

“It seemed to sort of recognize me as one of the Friendly Powers – not on a large scale, of course – not like Russia and China and those, but on a – well, on a secondary scale – New Jersey.”

 

 

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