Sunday, November 22, 2015

My Brilliant Career

My Brilliant Career, by Miles Franklin

It's AusNovember, and I read one of the really obvious classics, this novel by Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, who wrote it for friends when she was only a teenager, It was published in 1901, when she was about 22.  It was a hit, but Franklin was upset by some reactions--I think an awful lot of people assumed it was more biographical than it was, or than she wished them to think it was--and she withdrew it for decades.  It discouraged her from writing more novels for a long time.

Sybylla is an imaginative, intelligent, discontented girl living in near-poverty on her family's station.  Once her father owned beautiful farmland, but his bad business decisions landed them all on a desolate station, and he has become a useless, tragic drunk.  Mother and children work hard and earn little, and it is with relief that her mother sends Sybylla to live with her grandmother at Caddagat.  There Sybylla blossoms, but not without bumps in the road, and then she is sent to work for an awful family.

This is a very unusual coming-of-age novel.  Sybylla is restless and discontented--a fascinating and realistic character--and often so contrary that she doesn't even know what she wants, or if she does know, she can't communicate it.  She's terrified of marriage and the life of inescapable drudgery that she feels it must lead to, since she's never seen anything different, yet at the same time she longs for the companionship and love that only marriage could give her.  There is a romance, but it has anything but a traditional conclusion.  At the end, she is in practically the same circumstances as when she started; there is no happy ending or resolution.  

It's as if you had Anne Shirley without the optimism and moral lessons.  Jane Eyre without the patience.  It's a novel from 1900, featuring a teenage girl, that does not show her brightening sad lives, learning morality, or otherwise doing the things that girls in novels from 1900 do.  This makes it a very odd reading experience!

PS I also had a copy of another Australian novel, The Man Who Loved Children.  It's supposed to be an amazing and brilliant portrait of a family where the parents hate each other.  I got about 4 pages in before I figured out that I cannot read a 600-page book about a miserable marriage and family right now.  Nope.  I see enough trouble in real life, thank you.  Sorry, Brona.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Buried Giant

The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro

I've had a spotty track record with Ishiguro.  I didn't really like Never Let Me Go at all.  But I thought I'd give The Buried Giant a try since it's about Anglo-Saxon Britain.  And it's a pretty odd book, but I really liked it.

Axl and Beatrice are an elderly married couple on the social edge of their British village.  The Romans are gone, and Arthur lived a generation ago; the Saxons have come and live in separate villages of their own.  A strange forgetfulness lies across the land, and no one is able to recall much of the past or even stay focused on one idea for long, but Axl and Beatrice finally remember that they have a grown son, and they decide to go on a journey to find him.

They meet a Saxon warrior and a young orphan boy (in a scene reminiscent of Beowulf), who then join them on their travels.   We meet Sir Gawain and start to get an idea of what troubles the land, and the whole thing is a sort of fairy tale (magical realism?) that asks questions about the nature of love, hatred, and forgiveness.

I can see why a lot of the reviews I read are either negative or just puzzled.  It's an odd duck of a book.  I really liked it though.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I've been working on this novel for a couple of months.  Now I'm not sure what to say about it.  What is there for me to say about one of the great masterworks of the 19th century and of Russian literature?  It is beautiful, and I loved most of it.  I wasn't too hot on the trial and the long lawyers' speeches. 

I thought the translation was pretty great.  Not that I know a lot about translating Russian literature, but I liked the feel and I could tell it was Dostoevsky and not Gogol or Tolstoy.  I read the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, and it came with a good tip: Karamazov is pronounced with a regular old Z, not a ZT sort of sound like Mozart.  Who knew?

This is a pretty hopeless post really but hey everybody, read The Brothers Karamazov if you can!  It's a great work of literature and a great experience too.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Radical Son

Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey, by David Horowitz

Why, you might ask, would I read a memoir by David Horowitz?  (Who the heck is David Horowitz? ask the younger readers.)  Excellent question, and my own husband wondered that as well.  But it's his fault really.  Warning: this got super-long. 

Here is what I knew about Horowitz 3 weeks ago: he's a conservative speaker dude, he's probably retired by now, and when I was at Berkeley in the mid-90s he came to speak, but was screamed down by people who didn't like him on account of the conservatism.  I didn't hear about it until afterwards--partly, I seem to recall, because the newspapers mentioning it were stolen--but I and most other students I knew thought that it was pretty shameful to scream down a speaker and not allow him to speak.  Free Speech Movement birthplace, remember?  We're always bragging about it, maybe we ought to try to live up to it once in a while?

(Also at that time, I wasn't any too clear on whether he was the same guy on TV who had a show called Fight Back! With David Horowitz in the 80s, so just to get that straight--they're two different guys.)

So my husband mentioned that he'd heard that Horowitz had started off as a Left activist, and his parents had been Communists.  Well, that I had to read about. 

Yep, Horowitz's parents were straight-up Communists, belonging to secret organizations that took orders from Moscow and everything.  This was at the height of the Cold War, so young David learned to keep a kind of double life--the public life of an ordinary American family, and the private life where his parents constantly talked politics and revolution but rarely uttered the C-word aloud.  Later, he attended vigils for the Rosenbergs and marched in May Day parades.  He was the classic red-diaper baby, brought up to fight for the Marxist revolution, which he did, at Colombia and especially at Berkeley.

Berkeley??  Aha, this explained a lot.  Horowitz spent the late 50s doing grad work at Cal and helping to build the New Left movement.  Disillusioned by revelations that the beloved Stalin was basically a monster, the American Left had stalled a bit.  Horowitz and others rebuilt it, disavowing the USSR and coining the argument that true communism had not yet been tried and was bound to work.*  After a few years abroad, he returned to Berkeley in time for the late 1960s, and was a central player for quite a long time.  (It was about this time I figured out that he was particularly hated at Berkeley because he was viewed as a traitor for changing his beliefs.)

(There is a whole lot of family stuff in here too, but I am skipping those bits, despite their centrality to the book.  I want to talk politics.)

Burned by his parents' mistaken devotion to Stalin, Horowitz was trying to stay clear of any one group.  He mostly wrote for journals and did theory.  But he managed to get involved with, if you can believe it, the Black Panthers.  He was hanging out with Huey Newton and helping to start a school in Oakland.

A lot of the time, he comes off as blindly and in fact willfully naive about the people he was working with, and about politics.  It seems to boil down to two main things, but even so it's pretty weird.  One thing was the fact that he was a theorist and writer anyway, living mostly in his head and involved with his children instead of, say, living in a commune and protesting a lot or doing drugs.  The other is that the people around him were doing the same--ignoring crimes committed by 'their own'  because the ideals were the important thing.   The Panthers were beloved by the Left....though not, curiously enough, by, say, the people of East Oakland (Horowitz actually wondered about this, apparently cluelessly).  This is because they were scary, violent criminals.  And eventually Horowitz's friend, Betty van Patter, who he had recommended as a bookkeeper, went missing and then was found murdered.

It actually took quite some time for Horowitz to figure out the obvious fact that van Patter had been killed by the Panthers.  (It took years for her own daughter and a lot of others to come to this realization.)  And it shattered his world.  All his rationalizations for the revolution and communism and the righteousness of his cause fell apart under the plain fact that everyone was willing to ignore his friend's murder, because she'd been brutally killed by people they approved of and were unwilling to discredit.  And this was standard operating procedure, as long as the killers had the right politics.  Cuban revolutionaries, Sandanistas, Kim Il Sung, Mao....all were violent, murderous dictators idolized for their politics.  For Horowitz, it had to hit home before he realized.
 As New Leftists, we felt ourselves immunized from crimes that the Left had committed in the past, both by acknowledging that they had occurred and by resolving to change the attitudes that had caused them.  But we had changed the attitudes, and now the crimes were being repeated.  I began to ask myself whether there was something in Marxism, or in the socialist idea itself, that was the root of the problem.
He spent a few years in a depression, trying to work through his ideas.  Here he'd thought of himself as a good, even superior, person, working for the good of all mankind, and he'd found himself in league with criminals and killers.  It was an actual surprise to him to realize that human beings are fundamentally flawed, and no amount of perfect social engineering will make us 100% virtuous and happy.  He still needed to make a living, so he was writing with a partner, Peter Collier, and doing family saga biographies, and they started doing other articles together as well.  After some years, they started publicly questioning Leftist movements, such as the Sandanistas...or the gay liberation movement, right as AIDS was hitting hard.

This was actually the hardest part of the book for me to read.  I knew about some of this history already, but reading the full list was awful.   Horowitz and Collier happened to be in the Bay Area in the early 80s, and they (along with lots of others) realized that the gay liberation political stance--with its insistence on absolute freedom and open bathhouses--was literally killing actual gay people, and intimidating a lot of people into silence, so they wrote an article describing the situation that was (of course) denounced and ignored.  Here's part of what was happening:  Doctors who tried to warn about the dangers were vilified as homophobes (even if they were themselves gay).  Officials refused to take any actions that weren't approved by the most vocal and radical gay leaders.  Public health officials were printing pamphlets that did not talk about known methods of transmission because they might stigmatize gay people, and instead insisting on general campaigns that claimed that everyone was at fairly equal risk.  They even protested proposals to screen blood donors--and this was after some hemophiliacs had become sick.  They seemed to believe that simply demanding a cure, or a vaccine, would result in one appearing in the near future.  Bill Kraus, a gay leader who knew he couldn't get the bathhouses closed but hoped to put up warning signs, was called a fascist and a traitor.  (A quoted activist: "You have a situation where institutions [like bathhouses] that have fought against sexual repression are being attacked under the guise of medical strategy.") The result of all this was that the HIV virus spread far and wide in the US, and killed thousands.  That was not inevitable.  So think about that next time you see a photo of the AIDS Memorial Quilt--those 'leaders' have a lot of deaths on their hands.

Once they started writing anti-Left articles, Horowitz and Collier were publicly categorized as conservatives, though at that point they didn't know a thing about conservative ideas.  But Horowitz started looking into it for the first time in his life.  Most of the rest of the book is about family stuff, but he did also start doing conservative events and so on; he just doesn't quite get to that part very much.  So I still don't know much about that end of things.

I was also surprised to learn that Patty Hearst was kidnapped from Berkeley.  I learned a lot of amazing Berkeley history, on the whole.  Please enjoy now, possibly the most Berkeley-in-1970 paragraph ever written (after the actual events):
...Scheer had formed an urban guerrilla commune with Hayden and his ex-wife, Anne, which they called the Red Family.  It was run on Maoist principles, and the walls of their headquarters on Bateman Street were draped with large portraits of the North Korean dictator and Ho Chi Minh, alongside Huey Newton and the Apache Geronimo....Political education for the communards consisted of readings from the Black Panther and Lin Piao's On People's War.  Commune discussions focused on such questions as whether underwear should be shared, and if it was a bourgeois hang-up to close the bathroom door when using the toilet.  [Scheer then gets Hayden thrown out for "bourgeois privatism" in his romantic relationship.]
This is from where his faith falls apart:
There was plenty of injustice in the system we opposed. But it had created procedures and institutions designed to redress of grievances, correct injustices, and put checks on the power of government. In rejecting our radical agendas, our opponents had always stressed the importance of "process" and following rules, even when the issues seemed obvious. As radicals, we were impatient with order and had contempt for process. We wanted "direct rule" and "people's justice," unconstrained by such legalism and the hierarchies they required. We had no use for law that pretended to be neutral between persons and classes, that failed to recognize historical grievances or the way rules were shaped by social forces. We did not believe in bourgeois legality and objective standards. The revolutionary will embodied justice and truth. We were going to eliminate "checks and balances" and let the people decide.
As a result, we had no justice. There were no means to redress the crimes committed by the Panthers or other tribunes of the people - in America or anywhere else. There was no institutional recourse, and no moral standard, to which we were committed. And there was no rationale to create them. This contempt for order, for objective values, for moralities that transcended particular interests, separated us from our enemies, and made their justice superior to ours - even when they were wrong... The truth - whatever it was - eventually had a chance to breathe. 
Socialist justice provided no such opportunity, and no such reprieve. It had been 40 years since Stalin's purges. The victims were dead, their memories erased. They were unpersons without public defenders, expunged even from the consciousness of the living. Those who knew the truth had to keep their silence, even as I had to keep mine. If we actually succeeded in making a revolution in America, and if the Panthers or similar radical vanguards prevailed, how would our fate be different from theirs? Our injustice, albeit mercifully smaller in scale was as brutal and final as Stalin's. As progressives we had no law to govern us, other than that of the gang.

You might be able to tell that I was very into this book.  I couldn't put it down, because I kept running into jaw-dropping things like "oh yes, I was hanging out with Black Panthers."  It was a pretty bizarre read.  And I loved learning more Berkeley history--I should get a book just about that.

*This is a rationale still used today, that communism would work great if it was just practiced correctly.  How many countries have tried communism and become murderous dictatorships?  All of them.  I would suggest that a system that must be implemented perfectly in order to work at all--and not kill millions--will never work if it has to be instituted by human beings.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Back to the Classics Challenge Wrap-up

I finished this challenge on October 27!

Karen at Books and Chocolate has been running the Back to the Classics Challenge for the last couple of years.    This year, she gave us 12 categories, but they are not all required: you can choose six, nine, or twelve and still count as complete.  I chose to do 12 books and here they are:

2.  A 20th Century Classic -- The Makioka Sisters, by Junichiro Tanizaki (1957, English trans.)
3.  A Classic by a Woman Author. Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell
7.  A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title-- Agnes Grey, by Anne Bronte
8.  A Humorous or Satirical Classic. -- Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome
9.  A Forgotten Classic. Street of the Crocodiles, by Bruno Schulz

10.  A Nonfiction Classic.  The White Goddess, by Robert Graves
11.  A Classic Children's Book. The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling
12.  A Classic Play. -- King Lear, by William Shakespeare

Challenge complete!  

Monday, November 9, 2015

Witch Week Readalong: The Bloody Chamber

The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter

  Well, I'm at least a week late with this blog post. Lory had a read along for Witch Week that featured this now-classic book of feminist retellings of fairy tales.  (I have my own ideas about the feminism of fairytales, and in fact just started reading a book...)  Anyway, this collection is from the late 1970s, and you can really tell.  There is a lot about sex, and blood.  More than I would prefer.  It's an OK book, I guess, but it's not really my kind of thing.

I quite enjoyed some of the stories, though, or a good deal of them.  There is one about the last of the lady vampires that I enjoyed, and "Wolf-Alice."  "The Bloody Chamber" was mostly quite good, but I got hung up on a detail that about drove me mad; the narrator describes herself going to the opera in "a sinuous shift of white muslin tied with a silk string..."  Well, the sewist in me promptly objects, muslin is an evenweave cotton and it may be fine, fresh, delicate, or even crisp, but it isn’t sinuous.  Unless perhaps it was silk muslin, but if you’ve got silk muslin you always say so, because it's unusual.  A silk muslin shift might possibly be sinuous and eye-catching (and also pretty transparent), but charmeuse would really be more the thing.  I mentioned this to Lory and she sensibly opined that Carter was probably going for language over textilic correctness. 

I thought "Puss-in-Boots" was mostly annoying.  But it was, at the very least, good for me to read this famous collection.

One thing I do have to say is that there have been a lot of pretty great covers for this book, and more art on the Internet than you can look at.  Here is the latest incarnation on a new Penguin anniversary copy, though it's not the copy I got (through ILL, but I did also order a copy for work).  Which reminds me--have you noticed all the oddball "anniversary editions" out lately?  This one is for Carter's 75th birthday.   I recently saw one for Orwell, though I can't remember what the rationale was.

ANYWAY, thanks to Lory for putting on an awesome Witch Week, which I mostly failed to participate in!  It really was great though and I will look forward to next year.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Ancrene Riwle

The Ancrene Riwle: A Rule for Religious Women, trans. by M. B. Salu

 I'm still making an effort not to type, so here we go with another dictated post.  (Note after finishing: voice software mostly does not get the word "anchoresses," but it sure does make some creative stabs at interpretation!)    

While I was reading The Fellowship, it mentioned that Tolkien had taken on a project of translating a rule for anchoresses written in Anglo-Saxon. It took him ages to finish, of course. I don't think he managed to publish until the 1960s, or even later. But I instantly needed to read the book. It turns out that Miss Salu got in ahead of him, and this translation from the 1950's is the most readily available. Tolkien put in a nice introduction, which I must say was gracious of him.  

This rulebook of instruction was written in a Western dialect of Anglo-Saxon in the 14th century, by an unknown author who was addressing three women - they seem to be sisters - who were going to be anchoresses. What is interesting about this rule is that the author says many times that the women should not overdo their asceticism. They should not fast too much, and their prayers should be moderated so as to fit their health and strength. 

The first chapter contains instructions on how to pray the offices every day, which takes up a large part of the day.  Then he goes on to  self control - it turns out that anchoresses are not supposed to peek out of their windows all the time. Nor should they listen to gossip, and they should never look at a man. An anchoress should be calm, and when she is not praying she can read uplifting books or work at sewing clothing for her household or for the poor. Surprisingly, she should not give a lot in charity; this rule presumes that she will be living in poverty, and will not have a lot extra unless she begs it from others. Begging alms from other people in order to look generous oneself is not okay, and "between an anchoress and the lady of a house there should be a clear distinction."

I had always thought of anchoresses as people living in tiny cells next to the church, with just one room and a little window to get food through. But these anchoresses are obviously not going to live that way. They have a house, and they have some maids as well. when I read The Quest for the Holy Grail last year, I was surprised by the description of the hermit lady who had an entire household, but this actually sounds very similar. Now I am curious as to how anchoresses lived in England, and whether there was a variety of anchoress lifestyles.

The rest of the rule talks about how to find a good priest (not too good-looking or young), and how to make confession and do penance. Most particularly, the author wants these anchoresses to remember that the point of their existence is to love God and others. External rules are completely secondary to this, and are flexible, able to be customized to the anchoresses' situation and strength.

The author spends much of his time on the temptations chapter, and it is filled with the kind of scriptural interpretations that medieval people loved to make. At that time, every scriptural story was considered to have at least two meanings: the historical event that had actually happened, and the symbolic meaning that could be drawn from it. God had placed these meanings into the stories for people to find.  Almost certainly, a good scriptorian could find more than one hidden meaning in any story and suit it to the situation at hand.   These get to be quite detailed and draw upon even the smallest Biblical incident: the Book of Judges, after Josue's (Joshua's) death, when the people asked who should be their leader and lead them in battle...Our Lord answered then: Juda shall go before you and I shall delier your enemy's land into his hands."...'Josue' means 'health' and 'Juda,' like 'Judith,' 'Confession.'  Josue is dead when the health of the soul has been lost through any mortal sin.  The sinful self is the land of the enemy, our deadly foe, but Our Lord promises to deliver this land into the hands of Juda, and for that reason he goes before you.  Thus Confession is the standard-bearer and carries the banner before the whole of God's army, that is, the virtues.  Confession despoils the devil of his land, that is, of the man who has been sinful, and puts to rout Canaan, the army of the devil of hell.  Juda did this physically, and Confession, which is thereby symbolized, does the same thing spiritually....
There is a whole lot of this sort of thing, plus some fabulous stuff where he categorizes the seven sins into monsters with children, so that the Sow of Gluttony has five young, or different kinds of gluttony.  Covetousness is a fox, lechery a scorpion, and so on. 

On the whole, it's a pretty interesting medieval text, but it sure does drag in the middle over the temptations (once you get past the fun monsters).

Friday, October 30, 2015

We Believe the Children

We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s, by Richard Beck

Readers who were around in the mid-80s may remember that a lot of people were worried about Satanic ritual abuse of children, particularly preschool-aged children in daycare.  Some daycares were accused of being centers of ritual abuse; the children were interrogated, evidence searched for, and a lot of people went to jail.    This was big stuff, people.

And it was almost entirely made up.  These huge, publicized cases were sparked by one person worried about a child--in at least one case, by a person with severe mental problems--and blew up into hysteria.  Almost certainly, some children who had actually been subjected to abuse were lost under the mountain of false conjecture and panic that mounted up.

Richard Beck has written up a history of the most publicized cases in which he also tries to explain--not really very satisfactorily--why this all happened.  I think that's the question we'd all like an answer for, but I'm not sure there is one.

Therapists and police questioned children--well, what they really seem to have done is badgered the kids until they gave in and made stuff up.  The rallying cry was "we believe the children," but the children were only believed if they produced elaborate stories that confirmed what the authorities thought.  The short excerpts of transcripts included in the book are awful to read, because it's so obvious that there is bullying and leading going on.  The scarier and more elaborate the stories, the more approval the children received, and so they came up with lots of amazing stuff (that would, incidentally, never fit into the few hours they spent at preschool; one kid said he'd been taken out of state in a plane).

Everybody went and searched for evidence--remains of sacrificed animals or babies, underground tunnels, elaborate costumes, weapons, and collections--and there was nothing.

The court cases dragged on for years and ruined quite a few lives; not only for the accused, but for many others too.  Imagine being a jury member!  Eventually much of it collapsed and some people were acquitted.  Others went to jail but were eventually cleared, or perhaps went free but remained registered as offenders.  Still others remain in jail today.

Still, it became an article of faith for many people that ritual abuse was a real thing that happened to children; I can recall that some adults I knew considered it to be a reasonable thing to fear.  The daycare panic led straight into the recovered-memory phenomenon of the 90s, in which adults went under hypnosis to recall their own ritual abuse as small children, this time usually perpetrated by their families.  Recovered-memory therapists considered almost anything to be evidence of repressed memories of abuse (thinking you had not been abused was one indicator) and this abuse was almost always supposed to be elaborately Satanic.  There was also a slightly less major panic about teens getting into Satanism and murdering people, often in obedience to death-metal bands.

Beck gives some fascinating description of all this.  He also delves into some history of psychotherapy, which I at least found helpful and relevant, especially in regards to multiple personality disorder.  He does also have an obvious bias, though, blaming all this hysteria on an anti-feminism backlash to the chaos of the 60s and 70s, and on the toxic nuclear family.  It becomes really obvious that he doesn't like the nuclear family one bit, though I'm unclear about what he'd like to replace it with...or really, several other things about his theories.  That's by far the weakest part of the book.

So here is the personal part.  I was very interested in this book, and in the whole issue of the ritual abuse panics, because I knew some people who believed it.  Reading this book was a very strange experience in some ways, really--it turns out that the first case started in Bakersfield, where we lived when I was a kid; we moved away just as it broke in the media.  (My mom says she read the accusations, but thought that nobody must know much about how preschools work--it all sounded so impractical.)

Much more to the point, when I was a teen, a family I knew fairly well believed that their youngest child had been subjected to Satanic abuse.  I never heard anything about a court case or publicity.  But I heard the story from the mother herself, and I believed her.  (I'll always tell you that my hometown contains a remarkably high percentage of really crazy things, and I can think of other moms who I would not have believed, but I considered her to be a sensible person.)  They moved and did not tell anyone where they went, but for at least the next 15 years, they continued to move periodically, believing that a network of Satanists were persecuting them.  I have no idea what to make of this now.  I've been wondering about it for a good ten years.  What was the real story there?

I, um, also managed to be a bit acquainted with a kid who actually was involved in a Satanic murder.  Reading this book made me realize that probably not everybody has these weirdo experiences in their background; I'd never really thought about it before.

So: read up on a strange chapter of recent American history, mentally argue (or agree if you want) with Beck's reasoning, and please comment below if you remember this happening.  Tell me I'm not the only one!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Classics Club Event: Women's Lit in 2016

...or now, really.  The Classics Club is running a long-term event/celebration on great literature by women.  And there's a questionnaire and all!  So I don't know that I'll point it out every single time I read a classic work by a female-type person, but at the very least I'll answer these questions and talk about it every so often.  My first post for this event was Wives and Daughters the other day!  It took me a while to get all this stuff written out.

  1. Introduce yourself. Tell us what you are most looking forward to in this event.  I'm Jean, I'm a librarian and sewist and homeschooling mom, and I will most enjoy reading others' posts about women in literature.
  2. Have you read many classics by women? Why or why not?  Yes.  The fact is that I gravitate towards women writers anyway; this is not exactly an event that will push me out of my comfort zone.  Maybe I will search out lesser-known works or something.
  3. Pick a classic female writer you can’t wait to read for the event, & list her date of birth, her place of birth, and the title of one of her most famous works.  Let's go with Elizabeth Gaskell, because I read Wives and Daughters this week!  Mrs. Gaskell was born in Chelsea near London, and lived from 1810-1865.  I think she is most famous for North and South, a lovely novel about a refined rural Kentish girl who goes to live in an industrial Northern city.  Wives and Daughters is her crowning achievement, but is also unfinished, as she died before it could be completed.  It's almost done though.
  4. Think of a female character who was represented in classic literature by a male writer. Does she seem to be a whole or complete woman? Why or why not? Tell us about her. (Without spoilers, please!) I guess that depends on which heroine you choose, hm?  Let's go with Isabel Archer, the subject of Henry James' Portrait of a Lady.  I think Isabel counts as a whole person, as in, she is a fully-rounded out and complex character who is as realistic as any of James' -- or literature's -- characters.  (Is a whole woman different than a whole person?  What is a whole woman?)  Isabel is an American lady who travels to England, charms every man she meets, and eventually chooses to marry an awful fellow who lives in Rome and collects beautiful objects (such as Isabel).
  5. Favorite classic heroine? (Why? Who wrote her?)  I'm such a cliche; I love Jane Eyre best, by Charlotte Bronte.  She is just so principled and independent and stubborn about it.  
  6. We’d love to help clubbers find great titles by classic female authors. Can you recommend any sources for building a list? (Just skip this question if you don’t have any at this point.)  I can only recommend looking at blogs, usually but not always by other Clubbers.  In fact I suppose if you looked over my "Index of Reviewed Books" (which is months behind reality) in the literature section, you could find some.
  7. Recommend three books by classic female writers to get people started in this event. (Again, skip over this if you prefer not to answer.)  Agnes Grey, by Anne Bronte (lesser known, but a great book, and then move on to the utterly fabulous Tenant of Wildfell Hall); The Book of the City of Ladies, by Christine de Pisan, one of my all-time favorite medieval works; and 
  8. Will you be joining us for this event immediately, or will you wait until the new year starts?  I was already starting Mrs. Gaskell's Wives and Daughters, so I guess I have joined.
  9. Do you plan to read as inspiration pulls, or will you make out a preset list?  Inspiration!  At least until I've finished my current CC list, which has a lot left on it and I'm nervous about getting done in time (for me, March 2017).
  10. Are you pulling to any particular genres? (Letters, journals, biographies, short stories, novels, poems, essays, etc?)  Hm, letters sounds fun!  Probably mostly novels and essays.
  11. Are you pulling to a particular era or location in literature by women?  Era, not really.  I'll take whatever comes along.  I do prefer to seek out literature from other places and languages.
  12. Do you hope to host an event or readalong for the group? No worries if you don’t have details. We’re just curious!  If I can think of a good one, I would be quite happy to.
  13. Is there an author or title you’d love to read with a group or a buddy for this event? Sharing may inspire someone to offer.  Gosh, I don't know, but I'd be happy to participate in a group read for anything long or intimidating.
  14. Share a quote you love by a classic female author — even if you haven’t read the book yet. I finally actually did read the source for a general favorite.  In Louisa May Alcott's Work, the heroine falls asleep in her servant garret while reading and leaves her candle alight, against house rules.  It sets fire to her clothing hanging nearby.  Her employers arrive home and run into her room just in time to prevent the fire from really getting going.  Christie, meanwhile, awoken by yelling to see all her clothing aflame, gets a little hysterical and laughs.  Her mistress cries:  "She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain!"
  15. Finally, ask the question you wish this survey had asked, & then answer it.  This was pretty thorough!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Monkalong V: The Deadening

Mission accomplished!  We've finished The Monk!  At least, I hope you have; I know I did.  Here's
the final installment:

We last left Ambrosio in the now-familiar crypt, where he has interred Antonia.  Everybody thinks she's dead, and he plans to keep her imprisoned in a dungeon where she can be his slave.  He thinks she will probably enjoy it!  Antonia wakes up, and surprise, she is not very happy with her situation.  Ambrosio, monster that he is, therefore goes ahead and rapes her.  Of course then he looks at her with revulsion and blames her for the whole thing--yes, according to him, it is Antonia's fault that Ambrosio is a depraved criminal.  He's trying to figure out how to get rid of her when Matilda bursts in with the news about the burning nunnery and everyone running around like mad.

Matilda offers to kill Antonia to get her out of the way, but Antonia manages to run away into the rest of the crypt, where she screams to attract attention.  Unfortunately Ambrosio gets to her first and stabs her, so that Lorenzo only finds his true love near death.  She does get to explain, so he knows all--and discovers both the monk and Matilda, who is a girl!  Off to the Inquisition with them!

Now Virginia and Agnes are spending a lot of time together, and Agnes tells the story of her imprisonment, which is pretty grim.  She and Raymond get married; Virginia and Lorenzo get to be very good friends and will marry sometime; and the other two are being put to the question in prison. 

Well, Ambrosio is.  Matilda appears to him in a vision, looking ravishingly beautiful, and announces that she has escaped by selling her soul to Satan.  If he does too, they can be together!  Ambrosio hesitates, but in the end he is too much of a coward to face his punishment.  Just before he's taken to execution, he makes a pact with Satan, who whisks him off to a cliff...and then reveals, in a speech in the best Evil Villain tradition, that a) Matilda was a demon sent to tempt him (and "scarcely could I propose crimes so quick as you performed them"), b) Elvira was his mother and Antonia his sister, and c) now he's going to die and go to Hell, since he forgot to stipulate anything about living once he'd escaped from prison.  The joke's on you, Ambrosio!  The end.

Well, that was a story that, taken all together, was pretty dang crazy.  Unhinged, in fact.  Thanks a bunch to Alice at Reading Rambo for hosting, because that was quite fun in a deranged sort of way.  Ambrosio is THE WORST.