Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Zoladdiction 2015 - Here We Go .......!!


Thanks to Fanda and her wonderful hosting of this yearly event, I have a chance to read from one of my favourite authors, Émile Zola.  I've been reading through his Rougon-Macquart series, admittedly more slowly than I would like, and I am now set to read book #4, L'Argent or Money.



I'm rather awash in books at present, so my reading may take longer than one month, but I'm going to attempt it. Yet however much I'd like to, sadly I'm not going to take part in the Germinal read-along that is paired with this event, but I encourage everyone else to!   Please join, one and all!  It's an event not to be missed!

Classics Club Spin #9

It seems like it's been a long time between Spins.  My last one was a gem .........  Gulliver's Travels.  I can only hope to get a book this time that will live up to Gulliver.  He's going to be a hard act to follow.



As per usual, the rules for the spin are:
  1. Go to your blog.
  2. Pick twenty books that you've got left to read from your Classics Club list.
  3. Post that list, numbered 1 - 20, on your blog by next Monday.
  4. Monday morning, we'll announce a number from 1 - 20.  Go to the list of twenty books you posted and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
  5. The challenge is to read that book by October 6th.


I used the random list organizer here to choose the 20 books from my master list.  So my list ended up looking like this:

  1. She Stoops to Conquer (1773) - Oliver Goldsmith
  2. Erewhon (1872) - Samuel Butler
  3. Bleak House (1852/53) - Charles Dickens 
  4. The Histories (450 - 420 B.C.) - Herodotus 
  5. Henry V (1599) - William Shakespeare
  6. We (1921) - Yevgeny Zamyatin
  7. The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) - Ann Radcliffe
  8. Wives and Daughters (1864/66) - Elizabeth Gaskell 
  9. The Prince (1513) - Niccolo Machiavelli 
  10. The History of Napoleon Buonoparte (1829) - John Gibson Lockhart
  11. Invisible Cities (1972) - Italo Calvino
  12. Twenty Years After (1845) - Alexandre Dumas
  13. Lives (75) - Plutarch
  14. Sense and Sensibility (1811) - Jane Austen 
  15. Dead Souls (1842) - Nikolai Gogol 
  16. That Hideous Strength (1945) - C.S. Lewis
  17. O Pioneers! (1913) - Willa Cather 
  18. The Moonstone (1868) - Wilkie Collins 
  19. The Waves (or other) 1931) - Virginia Woolf 
  20. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch (1962) - Alexander Solzhenitsyn

I must say that this is a pretty good list.  

Five books that I'm dreading to read:

1.  The Mysteries of Udolpho (for length and mindlessness)
2.  Invisible Cities (so far Calvino and I have yet to be properly introduced)
3.   
4.
5.


Five book that I can't wait to read:

1.  Bleak House
2.  The Histories by Herodotus
3.  Wives and Daughters 
4.  The Moonstone
5.  O Pioneers!

So we shall see what the spin will bring us in a week.  I have a good feeling about it.





Sunday, 29 March 2015

Ode To A Nightingale by John Keats


If my memory serves me well, I believe this poem is a favourite of Jason at Literature Frenzy and it was his love of it that inspired me to include it in my Deal Me In Challenge.  Without this inspiration, it would probably still be unread, as Keats, for some reason, intimidates my uneducated poetic sensibilities.

Common Nightingale
Source Wikipedia


Ode to a Nightingale

The Dryad (1884-85)
Evelyn De Morgan
 Wikimedia Commons
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
         But being too happy in thine happiness,—
                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
                        In some melodious plot
         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
                Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
         Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
         Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
         Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
                With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
                        And purple-stained mouth;
         That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
                And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
         What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
                        And leaden-eyed despairs,
         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
         Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
         Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
         And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
                Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;
                        But here there is no light,
         Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
                Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
         Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
         Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
         White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
                Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
                        And mid-May's eldest child,
         The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
                The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
         I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
         To take into the air my quiet breath;
                Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
         To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
                While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
                        In such an ecstasy!
         Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
                   To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
         No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
         In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
         Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
                She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
                        The same that oft-times hath
         Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
                Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
         To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
         As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
         Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
                Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
                        In the next valley-glades:
         Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
                Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?


Illustration of Poem
W.J. Neatby
source Wikipedia
Keats initially uses extreme contrasts of his dulled, poisoned senses to the happy nightingale, its song urging him out of his despair; one wonders if it will completely succeed.  In the second stanza the poet relates his desire for wine. Why?  Because wine is made from grapes, will it allow him to meld more with nature, or does he simply want to get intoxicated to forget his troubles?  He admits then that he wishes to escape the suffering of life and expresses regret at the transience of youth and life.  Ah, now he claims that he won't reach the nightingale through wine but poetry, and expresses almost a dualism in that his brain is dull perhaps still with care, yet he is already with the joyous nightingale.  The fifth stanza is even more curious. Though he is in the forest with the nightingale, he cannot see the beauty there, as if he can only get glimpes as he is unable to liberate himself from life's hardship.  The poet admits to being "half in love with .... Death," ---- I had thought the poet was equating the nightingale's song with joy, but now he appears to be marrying it with death.  Is this part of his confusion or something deeper that I'm missing?  Yet if he dies, he will cease to hear the song, so perhaps he realizes the dilemma.  The poet then equates the nightingale with immortality and, as we've read, the bird almost transcends earthly constraints; its song has been a continuous joy in a temporal world. But alas, the poet is recalled to his sad state, the nightingale's song abandons him and he is left to wonder if his whole experience was real or a dream.

Portrait of Keats listening to a nightingale (1845)
Joseph Severn
source Wikipedia
This was certainly a difficult poem for a rank amateur.  The themes I could pick up were isolation, death, a transcendent joy that perhaps may be unreachable at least for the poet, abandonment, disconnection, transience of life, and a longing for something beyond this life.

As I was reading, I wondered if the poet was trying to match his creative expression with the nightingale's song.  It would seem impossible to create at the level of God, but I felt such inspiration in the poem, almost as if Keats was trying to create the poem as intensely as the poet of the poem was wishing to escape earthly adversity.

I'm no expert, but this poem seems to pair well with Percy Bysshe Shelley's To A Skylark, which O reviewed recently on her blog Behold the Stars.  Both poets put nature front and centre, but Shelley has a much more positive outlook, while Keats' poem is filled with more nuanced emotions and contradictions.  The similarities and contrasts between the two are intriguing.




Deal Me In Challenge #9 - Ace of Diamonds

Friday, 27 March 2015

Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

"I am resolved on an undertaking that has no model and will have no imitator."

Have you every felt so completely sorry for someone that that emotion eclipses any others that he might stir up inside you?  Have you ever encountered someone who simply is a unique soul, a person who, no matter what they do, does not fit in easily with society?  Have you ever been charmed by someone and then repelled at the same time?  All these thoughts and emotions were boiling up, mixing together, as I read Rousseau’s Confessions, the autobiography of his life.


Rousseau was born in 1712 in Geneva in the Republic of Geneva, a city-state in the Protestant Swiss Confederacy.  He was born to a watchmaker named Isaac Rousseau and his wife, Suzanne Bernard, his mother dying tragically mere days following Rousseau's birth.  He described her death as, "the first of my misfortunes."  

Reading his mother's romance books at such a young age, with his father, appeared to shape Rousseau's character in an unusual way:

"By this dangerous method I acquired in a short time not only a marked facility for reading and comprehension, but also an understanding, unique in one of my years, of the passions.  I had as yet no ideas about things, but already I knew every feeling.  I had conceived nothing; I had felt everything.  This rapid succession of confused emotions did not damage my reason, since as yet I had none; but it provided me with one of a different temper; and left me with some bizarre and romantic notions about human life, of which experience and reflection have never quite managed to cure me."
Curiously, Rousseau's experience with books and their  affect on human character are echoed by themes in other classics including, Madame Bovary, Eugene Onegin, and Anna Karenina.

Les Charmettes where Rousseau lived
with Mme Warens
source Wikipedia
From the age of 10 on, Rousseau saw little of his father, who had moved away to avoid prosecution by a wealthy land owner. The boy was eventually apprenticed to an engraver, but at 15 ran away and began a rather nomadic lifestyle.  In Savoy, he would be introduced to Madame Francoise-Louise de Warens, a woman 13 years his senior, whom he would forever call "Maman."  She would be his Muse and surrogate mother for the greater part of Rousseau's life, as well his lover for a short period of time.  Later, his obsessive interest in music would be used to earn money as a teacher, as well as gain him subsequent notoriety as a writer of opera and various other articles and works on the subject.  

In 1742, Rousseau moved to Paris and became close friends with Denis Diderot, another enlightenment thinker, and his renown as a philosopher was born.  His first major-philosophical work, Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts was presented to the Academy of Dijon in response to the question, "...whether the Restoration of the arts and sciences has had the effect of purifying or corrupting morals."  In it, Rousseau offered a thorough critique of civilization, seeing it not as a chronicle of progress, but instead as a history of decay.  For Rousseau, no one is innately good, but instead must cultivate a rational knowledge to gain control of nature and therefore, self.  

Denis Diderot (1767)
par Louis-Michel van Loo
Upon returning to Paris, after a posting in Venice as a secretary to the Comte de Montaigue, Rousseau took Thérèse Levasseur as a lover, eventually having 5 children with her, all of whom he placed in a foundling hospital, being unwilling to bring them up due to the lack of education and undesirable social class of his in-laws whom he was supporting.  With his later books on education and child-rearing, these callous actions made him the target of vicious ad hominem attacks from some contemporaries, in particular Voltaire and Edmund Burke.  

Through most of his life, Rousseau dealt with various health issues including being unable to urinate without the use of a probe, odd romantic attachments, including a passionate unconsummated obsession with Sophie d'Houdetot, who inspired his novel, Julie, breaks with various friends and acquaintances upon his retirement to the country, and various and numerous attacks of persecution and threats.  When Rousseau wrote that all religions had value, in that they all encouraged men to virtue, an intense uproar exploded against him, and he was finally forced to flee to England with the help of the Scottish philosopher, David Hume.  In 1767, he returned to France under an assumed name and finally in 1770, he was officially allowed to return.  

While the tone of Confessions often oozed of lament and discontent, especially during the latter half, Rousseau also showed a rather mischievous sense of humour:
“As we became better acquainted, we were, of course, obliged to talk about ourselves, to say where we came from and who we were.  This threw me into confusion; for I was very well aware that in polite society and among ladies of fashion I had only to describe myself as a new convert and that would be the end of me.  I decided to pass myself off as English:  I presented myself as a Jacobite, which seemed to satisfy them, called myself Dudding and was known to the company as M. Dudding.  One of their number, the Marquis de Taulignan, a confounded fellow, ill like me, old into the bargain, and rather bad-tempered, took it into his head to engage M. Dudding in conversation.  He spoke of King James, of the Pretender, and of the court of Saint Germain in the old days.  I was on tenderhooks.  I knew about all of this  only of what little I had read in Count Hamilton and in the gazettes; however I made such good use of this little knowledge that I managed to get away with it, relieved that no one had thought to question me about the English language, of which I did not know one single word.” 
One cannot talk about Rousseau's life without mentioning his passion for nature.  Once removed to the country, he was in his element, his retirement not only giving him an escape from the petty intriguing of Parisian society, but also gratifying his love of long rambles in the woods, his eventual interest in botany and his joy of solitutde.
"Two or three times a week when the weather was fine we would take coffee in a cool and leafy little summer-house behind the house, over which I had trained hops, and which was a great pleasure to us when it was hot; there we would spend an hour or so inspecting our vegetable plot and our flowers, and discussing our life together in ways that led us to savour more fully its sweetness.  At the end of the garden I had another little family:  these were my bees.  I rarely missed going to visit them, often accompanied by Maman; I was very interest in the arrangements, and found it endlessly entertaining to watch them come home from their marauding with their little thighs sometimes so laden that they could hardly walk."


Rousseau méditant dans un parc (1769)
par Alexandre Hyacinthe Dunouy
source Wikipedia

Rousseau was a man of numerous contradictions.  On one hand, he was self-absorbed, petty-minded, overly sensitive, idealistic, peculiar, selfish, out of touch with reality, yet on the other, he was also rather lonely, at times generous, unique, creative, self-aware, and inquisitive.  He is a puzzling conundrum bottled up in one person.  Yes, he would have been hard to bear at times.  He is one of those people with whom one could never be comfortable, as you would always be wondering if you were living up to his standards.  He had a short fuse, yet also a generous heart. 

How did I come to these conclusions?  Well, you certainly get a sense of Rousseau’s perceived persecution that appeared expanded to gigantic proportions in his mind.  Many reviewers call this obsession his “paranoia,” an imagined grand plot with machinations designed by numerous former friends, ready to invest years of their lives to bring about his downfall.  Yet perhaps this behaviour is not so surprising in a man who had been raised mostly without family, obviously needing the intimacy of human companionship, yet who had never really learned or accepted the proper manners to fit easily in society; French society, in particular, follows certain constructs that do not allow for individuality.  

In spite of Rousseau's various eccentricities, I couldn't help feel profound sympathy for him.  With no one to shape his character and with his unwillingness to temper his idiosyncrasies and become homogeneous with his surroundings, Rousseau became a victim of himself, a plight for me that only excites pity.



Thursday, 26 March 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books from My Childhood That I'd Like to Revisit

Another fun topic from The Broke and the Bookish, and another late posting. But I just couldn't miss posting on children's books, one of my favourite genres.  I just wonder if I'll be able to keep the list at ten only.

1.

Flip The Story of An Otter is an obscure book but an old one which I loved when I went to elementary school.  In fact, it's the first book I actually read as a child, and the library card was full of my name and no one else's.  That in itself shows how much I loved reading it.

2.

Swallows and Amazons absolutely mesmerized me.  From the holiday in the Lake District, to camping on an island, to a war with savages, not to mention a scary pirate, this book is certainly at the top of my list.  If I could time travel I think I'd choose this time period and this particular area in England.  Pure fun!

3.

What is a Moomin?  A white, snuggly, Hippo-like creature who completely captivates your imagination.  There is nothing more exciting than following Moomintroll and his family on their adventures, and meeting their group of rather eclectic friends, from the Hemulen the botanist, to the Muskrat the philosopher.  This book is a brilliant imaginative creation and certainly a childhood favourite.


4.

Milo and Tock go together like bread and butter, and what could make up a better story than one made from letters and numbers in a creative soup of adventure.  The mission?  To rescue Rhyme and Reason, yet what can a rather apathetic boy and a ticking dog do?  Read and you will discover!


5.

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was the only one of the Narnia books that I read as a child but I remember being captivated by it.  Sadly, when I read it as an adult, I couldn't revive the same feeling, but in compensation, I was able to draw out some of the more adult themes.  I did finally read the complete series last year and my reviews can be found in my reviews master list on this blog.


6.  


Elmer from My Father's Dragon is a kid after my own heart.  His inventiveness and persistence made me want to be more like him.  Imagine using bubblegum to escape when faced with terrifying tigers!  He's just awesome.  There are two other books in this series: Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland but I think this first one is the best.


7.  

My grandmother owned this book and I can remember searching for it on her bookshelves each time I visited and curling up with it in the big easy chair. I remember absolutely loving it, but curiously I can't recall any details, which is why I have plans to re-read it in the next little while.  I hope I still have the same nostalgic and fond feelings for it.


8.  

Who could not adore this bear-with-little-brain?  I loved Pooh, I loved his friends and I especially loved the adventures that they had.  


9.  

And the moral of the story?  Care.  And at the very least, never, never, never say, "I don't care," unless you are prepared for the fatal consequences. Sendak at his finest.


10.  


What would you do if you discovered a rather grumpy fairy who granted wishes?  Surely your life would exceed your expectations, as you could now have anything you wanted.  Yet these four brothers and sisters find that fondest desires don't always turn out as expected, and with the power to create reality comes an even greater responsibility.  This book is hilarious and kept me laughing from beginning to end.  It's the first of a trilogy, followed by The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Persuasion by Jane Austen

"Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch-hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hours, and consolation in a distressed one ......"

Persuasion was the only major Austen novel that I had not read, so I was thrilled when Heidi at Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine announced her read-along.  I wasn't expecting to enjoy the novel quite as much as Pride and Prejudice, one of my favourites, but I'd heard enough positive reviews to whet my curiousity. And so I plunged in.

Anne Elliot is one of three daughters of Sir Walter Elliot, a vain baronet who is obsessed with the peerage.  While her sister, Elizabeth, is somewhat bossy, and Mary proves a proud, yet questionable, invalid, Anne shows a quiet reserve with more than average good sense and judgement.  Eight years ago, her engagement to Captain Frederick Wentworth was almost certain, but without a mother for guidance, and influenced by a respected friend of the family, Lady Russell, she broke off the engagement with a deep regret.

Manor House, Somersetshire (Halsway Manor)
source Wikipedia
Now, eight years later, Anne is confronted with a number of upheavals in her life. Not only does she and her family have to leave their ancestral home, Kellynch-hall, because of reduced finances, but Captain Wentworth has returned, and to further complicate matters, his sister and her husband are the new tenants of Kellynch-hall.  The blows would have reduced a weaker woman to despondency, but Anne is not only resourceful, she has learned to suffer life's troughs with resilience, and her positive attitude brings her through the stormy seas.

Initially, Captain Wentworth is all resentment and cool responses, but gradually, as he sees Anne's quiet sacrifices, calm demeanour, and strength of character, his acrimony softens towards her.  Yet, at the same time, he appears to be playing the eligible bachelor, and it is uncertain as to which woman he will chose to be Mrs. Wenworth.  Both of Anne's sisters-in-law, Henrietta and Louisa, vie for the title and Anne must watch the perceived courtships with an uneasy mind.  A near-tragedy causes introspection in more hearts than one, Mr. Eliot, Anne's cousin and heir to Kellynch, enters the picture to further obscure the matters of courtship, but the final culmination exemplifies that a steadfast love is strengthened by misfortune and time, and the past lovers reunite in a now more matured and seasoned alliance.

Lyme Regis
Persuasion is a tale of new beginnings and second chances, not only for Anne and Wentworth, but for the characters surrounding them. Anne's family, because of their financial straits, must begin a new life in Bath; both the Musgrove girls will be looking forward to the start of their married lives; and even Mrs. Smith, who has found herself in poverty after her husband's death, is given a second chance at the end of the book as, with help from Wentworth, she recovers money from her husband's estate that will help her to live more comfortably.

While Austen, as per her usual method, allows the reader to examine certain segments of society, in this book especially, she seems to be highlighting the movements between the social classes, either by marriage or by economic necessity.  Within Anne's family, we not only have the family as a whole dropping in perceived standing by the lack of money to maintain their position at Kellynch, we also have the numerous characters dealing with the descent with different outlooks.  Sir Walter is obsessed with his Baronetage book and the importance of his place within the realm of society.  At first, he employs denial as to their new position, but thanks to a rather blind self-importance, is able to be persuaded to accept their new situation as if nothing has practically changed.  Anne's sister, Elizabeth, too, acts as if nothing has altered, yet you can see at certain points in the novel that she is aware of the disadvantage of their new situation and that they must have a heightened awareness of appearance to maintain the respect and dignity that they view as a societal necessity.  Anne does not seem to be bothered by the family's reduced circumstances, as position to her comes secondary to character and honesty and integrity.  In the old governess, Mrs. Smith we can examine what has come from her rise in stature upon her marriage, and then her subsequent fall upon her husband's death when she finds herself in financial troubles.  Finally, cousin William Elliot falls from his seat of grace with his scandalous behaviour at the end of the novel.

Pulteny Bridge, Bath
18th century
source Wikipedia
We are given the title of Persuasion for the book, yet Austen did not choose this title; instead her beloved brother, Henry, gave the book its name, as it was published posthumously, and there is no indication of what Austen's preferred title would have been.  Cassandra Austen, Jane's older sister, reportedly said that a name for this novel had been discussed, and the most likely title was "The Elliots," but as Austen passed away before selecting a definitive title, no one will know for certain her final choice. Nevertheless the word "persuasion", or a derivative of it, occurs approximately 30 times in the novel, a good indication that it is one of the main themes.  Yet as I finished the novel, what metamorphosed out the "persuasion" was the stronger theme of duty.  While Wentworth still appears to be disgruntled by Anne's choice to follow her family's wishes in breaking off their engagement eight years before, she however appears to have a different sentiment.  At the end of the novel, Anne concludes:

"I have been thinking over the past, and trying impartially to judge of the right and wrong, I mean with regard to myself; and I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided by the friend whom you will love better than you do now.  To me, she was in the place of a parent.  Do not mistake me, however.  I am not sayng that she did not err in her advice.  It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides; and for myself, I certainly never should, in any circumstance of tolerable similarity, give such advice.  But I mean, that I was right in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise, I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience.   I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with; and if I mistake not, a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman's portion."

In the book Anne is consistently dutiful, to her friend, Mrs. Smith, to her family and, more importantly, to her own conscience; and so we learn that a strong sense of duty and obedience to it is more crucial than any personal inclinations or aspirations.

Sandhill Park, Somerset (1829)
J.P. Neale/W. Taylor
source Wikipedia
Persuasion deviates from Austen's usual style and content.  By having a hero without ties to nobility, Austen explores in depth an area of society that had to date been given only a cursory treatment by her. Anne, as an older heroine, is presented in a new way; the reader learns of her character not necessarily through how she actually behaves, but more through her silence and by seeing her in contrast to the intensely flawed people around her. Contrary to other Austen novels, the romance develops almost in isolation, as the characters hold little conversation with each other until the end of the novel.  While the novel was interesting for these new features, I felt it to be weaker than Austen's previous novels, lacking a certain plausibility at times and a solid cohesiveness.  As she was writing Persuasion, Austen was ill with the disease that would eventually kill her, and because of this fact, her usual detailed pattern of revision was not completed; in this light, the diminished quality of the novel can certainly be understood.  However, while not shining with her usual brilliance, Austen still produced a jewel in its own right, and perhaps more intriguing because of its flaws, as these flaws contribute to its uniqueness.  As the character of Anne experiences a new beginning in Persuasion, so does the novel indeed appear to symbolize a new beginning by Austen, this beginning sadly cut short due to her untimely death.


Further reading:




Monday, 23 March 2015

On The Road by Jack Kerouac

"I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up."

Having read Kerouac's travelogue, The Dharma Bums a couple of years ago, I was really looking forward to this read, as On The Road is considered Kerouac's finest work.  With great anticipation I picked up the book, began to read, and what did I find ........???

A Roman a clef, with the characters acting as stand-ins for Kerouac and his buddies and their real life adventures, the novel traces their journeys as they travel back and forth across America between 1947 and 1950.  This Beat Generation, or post-World War II writers, Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Neal Cassady are mostly drunk, high, stoned or looking for sex, throughout most of the novel.  The rambling, sparse, uninteresting prose had me nearly catatonic about one-quarter of the way into the book and it was only with a supreme effort of will that I managed to finish.  Brutal.

So what was the difference between The Dharma Bums and On The Road? Why did I love one and hate the other?  Well, with The Dharma Bums, while there was drug use it somehow seemed more innocent and less destructive. The characters sincerely appeared to be grappling with the purpose of life. There was thought and philosophy and even some solid descriptions of the places visited.  On The Road related the meaningless conduct of a bunch of miscreants who had no concern for anyone but themselves, were too stoned to think most of the time, and when they did, it was often complete nonsense. In real life, most of the characters died before their 40th or 50th birthdays from either a drug or alcohol-related death.  Such a sad waste of life, with nothing romantically counter-cultural, or excitingly anti-establishment about it.

One interesting anecdote is that the manuscript for this book was typed on a continuous scroll of one hundred and twenty feet of tracing paper taped together, single-spaced without margins or paragraph breaks.  A quirky writing method from a very experimental author.

The "On The Road" Scroll
Boott Cotton Mills Museum 2007
source Wikipedia