Ellen’s review of The Brothers Karamazov > Likes and Comments

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message 1: by Ben (new)

Ben My favorite book of all time.


message 2: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Ben wrote: "My favorite book of all time."

A good recommendation - thank you.


message 3: by Ben (new)

Ben Now you should reread Revolutionary Road. ; )


message 4: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Ben wrote: "Now you should reread Revolutionary Road. ; )"

Very funny! However, my estimation of that book is not going to change anytime soon.


message 5: by Newengland (new)

Newengland Interesting that you're leaping from Dosty to Tolstoy. Talk about Fire and Ice (with apologies to Robert Frost)!


message 6: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Newengland wrote: "Interesting that you're leaping from Dosty to Tolstoy. Talk about Fire and Ice (with apologies to Robert Frost)!"

While you can't read everything, I'm trying to fill some gaps in the classics-I-should-have-read-and-am-now-drowning-in-guilt category.

Who do you prefer - Dosty or Tolstoy? I know there was a whole heated thread on this topic. I remember reading it.


message 7: by Newengland (new)

Newengland Tolstoy's the man.


message 8: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Newengland wrote: "Tolstoy's the man."

Figures.

Ach.


message 9: by Bram (last edited Feb 15, 2010 05:50PM) (new)

Bram Yes to Lev.


message 10: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Bram wrote: "Yes to Lev. "

...Lev's going to have to wait. I started to dive right in War & Peace after just finishing The Brothers K (which I loved), and it was just too much. I need a break from the Russians. Started reading Austen's Persuasion instead, and it is the perfect choice.


message 11: by Newengland (new)

Newengland Quite persuasive, that Jane. Too bad she's not around for the royalties from all these films.

And Lev is running around in Anna K., not Warren Piece (for the record).


message 12: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Newengland wrote: "Quite persuasive, that Jane. Too bad she's not around for the royalties from all these films.

And Lev is running around in Anna K., not Warren Piece (for the record)."


Oh. I thought the reference was to Tolstoy (Count *Lev* Nikolayevich Tolstoy).

Either way, Jane's got my attention right now.


message 13: by Newengland (new)

Newengland Oh. I was thinking "Levin," lead man in Anna K.. Ha! I'm not sure if that would annoy or tickle Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy (my reputed "main man in Yasnaya Polyana").

Good luck with Jane. That's a train stop I'll never see again in my remaining days in this mortal coil.


message 14: by Bram (new)

Bram Yes, sorry for the confusion: I meant Lev Nikolayevich. Lev Tolstoy sounds so much better than Leo I think...who came up with that Anglicization?

It's been a while since I read any Austen, so maybe if you really love Persuasion then I'll give it a shot soon.


message 15: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Bram wrote: "Yes, sorry for the confusion: I meant Lev Nikolayevich. Lev Tolstoy sounds so much better than Leo I think...who came up with that Anglicization?

It's been a while since I read any Austen, so m..."


Newengland wrote: "Oh. I was thinking "Levin," lead man in Anna K.. Ha! I'm not sure if that would annoy or tickle Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy (my reputed "main man in Yasnaya Polyana").

Good luck with Jane. That's ..."


Well, that clears up some confusion - you see, I need a break from these confusing Russian names!

I'm enjoying Persuasion a great deal so far, and I believe it's Elizabeth's favorite "Austen."





message 16: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Bram wrote: "who came up with that Anglicization?"

I don't know, but it's be interesting to research how the spellings got standardized in English - I remember a lot of the 1920s Slavophiles (Woolf, Mansfield, &c) referring to 'Tchekov.' Lev does sound a lot better than Leo, for him.


message 17: by Jason (new)

Jason Ellen S., you're the only English professor I know, so here goes. What current writers do you think will have a dedicated 400-level English Lit. class in the near- to mid-term future? Updike, Roth, McCarthy? When I was in college the writers were Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway. Who's going to replace these writers in 2030?

This has nothing to do with Brothers K. I loved BK and gave it 5 stars as well.


message 18: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Jason wrote: "Ellen S., you're the only English professor I know, so here goes. What current writers do you think will have a dedicated 400-level English Lit. class in the near- to mid-term future? Updike, Rot..."

Ha! Your comment just encouraged me to delete "English professor" from my profile. My profile comment now makes no sense, but no matter.

I think you can study lit & theory until hell freezes over, and your opinion is still an opinion. I know I'm not objective. Updike and Roth have fallen in my estimation, and that may simply be due to the fact that I liked their work a couple of decades ago far better than I do now. Toni Morrison would be a contender certainly, but I'm less sure about luminaries such David Foster Wallace (did he have enough time to produce his best work?), Thomas Pychon, John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Italo Calvino, and so forth. Vladimir Nabokov, who fits somewhere between the moderns and pomo/contemporary literature gets overlooked, I think.

I do know that my opinion is no more valuable than many of the other GoodReaders here.

A good question, though, Jason...


message 19: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell I think you can study lit & theory until hell freezes over, and your opinion is still an opinion.

I knew I liked you!

Updike and Roth have fallen in my estimation, and that may simply be due to the fact that I liked their work a couple of decades ago far better than I do now.

....I knew I _really_ liked you!

NOBODY ASKED ME BUT....I think Pynchon, Barth and Barthelme's days are long past - they were more popular in the late seventies and early eighties, before minimalism took over. Raymond Carver's posthumous stock is still so high he'd be on my list - not necessarily that I think he's actually that fantastic (I do like him a lot), but we're talking about literary reputations here, no? Morrison not only won the Nobel but has a large body of current good work, unlike, say, Pearl S. Buck (Lewis Hemingway Sinclair and even O'Neill have fallen out of favour, Faulkner looks safe).

I don't know if Infinite Jest might get its own course - maybe - I could see a dedicated course on DFW's novels, altho I think it's much more likely if he got one, it'd be his nonfiction. He's a curious case because IJ is too huge to fit into even a limited 20th Century Amlit-type survey course, but his other novels aren't good (or plentiful) enough to fill out one of his own. Updike maybe, particularly the Rabbit novels (altho maybe I'm the only one who finds those painfully, deliberately dated) or a selection of the short stories.

Roth, no. Salinger, quite probably, especially if there's maybe posthumous publications or at least collections in the works. Bellow, no (he'd probably fit nicely into a survey course tho). I think DeLillo's stock is going to really rise, even tho I don't like him at all. It'll be interesting to see what happens to the non-Carver minimalists - there was kind of a collective 'meh' (and even some vitriol) over Ann Beattie's latest publication. Grace Paley maybe, especially if there's a posthumous Selected Stories (undergrad lit courses love those kinds of works).

(Philip K. Dick _might_ be one of the first genre writers to bust through the ghetto wall and get on an AmLit syllabus, but I doubt it. I was always surprised writers like Le Guin and Tiptree weren't included - but if they came up at all they'd probably be claimed by Women's Studies. Maybe Le Guin is at least in some courses now, I don't know.)

But of course as Ellen so wisely said this is all just guesswork and anyone else's guess would be just as good as if not in fact better than mine. One thing....if asked to name one of the best American short story writers a lot of people (myself included) would probably say Cheever, and yet I don't think he's even usually included in survey courses (could be wrong, I am dreadfully out of date now) let alone having a whole section devoted to his short stories.


message 20: by trivialchemy (last edited Jun 21, 2010 11:41AM) (new)

trivialchemy A really most excellent review. I loved your comments on irony and the modern Serious Novel. I am intensely frustrated by this tendency. The trick of using detachment or self-awareness to license frivolity while simultaneously claiming profundity is a peculiarly modern development, and I don't buy it. What it really indicates is an emotional disregard for the characters and for the portrayal of life itself that you never saw in the Russians.

Interestingly enough, since you brought him up, Ellen, Nabokov is really the popularizer, if not the originator of the unreliable narrator and the character's sense of ironic (or pathalogically antisocial) detachment from the events of the narrative itself. But Nabokov never used this as a crutch to ignore his own relationship with his work. Instead one has the sense that Nabokovian characters are intensely personal creations. Whole love affairs are grown, collapsed, and bloom anew in the course of a single novel.

It's almost as thought the "postmodernists" (ugh) appropriated Nabokovian narrative techniques, while failing to achieve the same breadth of human emotion that Nabokov brought to his task.

To answer the question that was not asked of me, Roth will most certainly be forgotten within two decades. He's if anything the front man of self-loathing and irony combined with complete emotional vacuity. There's nothing behind Roth. He's just a cardboard cut-out of a finely honed knife. The only contemporary authors who stand a chance are McCarthy (who treats irony more like the Russians) and Morrison, with whom I am not that familiar.


message 21: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Moira wrote: One thing....if asked to name one of the best American short story writers a lot of people (myself included) would probably say Cheever, and yet I don't think he's even usually included in survey courses (could be wrong, I am dreadfully out of date now) let alone having a whole section devoted to his short stories.

A wonderfully interesting answer, Moira, and since you brought up short stories, I must add FLANNERY O'CONNOR.


message 22: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Ellen wrote: "since you brought up short stories, I must add FLANNERY O'CONNOR"

FLANNERY RULES FOREVER

....has she ever had a course of her own? Isn't she usually squished into either Late 20th Century or Southern Lit? That's a shame. Hell, I think St John's used to end with one of her short stories (they also had Woolf, for a while, and the last seminar ever was on IIRC Meno/Phaedo/Tempest or something like that. Nowadays it's v different).


message 23: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Isaiah wrote: "A really most excellent review. I loved your comments on irony and the modern Serious Novel. I am intensely frustrated by this tendency. The trick of using detachment or self-awareness to license f..."

Another really interesting post. I absolutely agree with you regarding Nabokov, one of my favorite authors. While he does use irony, and as you point out, sets the stage for much of postmodernism, Nabokov is not a "cool" writer. The passion is all there - in his novels and his beautiful memoir Speak, Memory.

I used Roth in a course I taught a few years ago, and thought he had indeed lost his luster.


message 24: by Ellen (last edited Jun 21, 2010 12:06PM) (new)

Ellen Moira wrote: FLANNERY RULES FOREVER

....has she ever had a course of her own? Isn't she usually squished into either Late 20th Century or Southern Lit? That's a shame. Hell, I think St John's used to end with one of her short stories (they also had Woolf, for a while, and the last seminar ever was on IIRC Meno/Phaedo/Tempest or something like that. Nowadays it's v different).


Oh I'm sure she has. The minutiae some teachers use for course topics - especially at large colleges - is mind-boggling. Whole courses on one or two works of a major minor writer. Ach!


message 25: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited Jun 21, 2010 12:08PM) (new)

Jennifer (aka EM) hate to jump in here unannounced and unknown, but might I ask all you folks whether Canadian writers are ever included in Am.lit courses (as in, North American)? And if so, I would propose Atwood. She's got it all: multiple periods of distinct (and distinctive) works; multiple styles and multiple genres, including a solid body of poetry.


message 26: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Ellen wrote: "I absolutely agree with you regarding Nabokov, one of my favorite authors. While he does use irony, and as you point out, sets the stage for much of postmodernism, Nabokov is not a "cool" writer. The passion is all there - in his novels and his beautiful memoir Speak, Memory. "

At the risk of being unpleasant, I also think one reason by Nabokov might not make it onto courses is his works have really an amazing amount of literary references in them - stuff people just aren't taught anymore, _plus_ his own personal encyclopaedic knowledge - and a lot of people really seem to hate Lolita at this point. Personally, even tho he was a lot older and more cosmopolitan, I'd link him with the experimental school - Barth, Barthelme, other related seventies writers (Roth keeps on using some of these techniques with stuff like Counterpoint and maybe The Plot Against America). And they really seem to have fallen out of favour these days, altho then you had their quasi-disciples like DFW and Chabon and so on roaring back in the nineties.

It's v odd - someone Of A Certain Age will almost certainly know who Barthelme is and have read his stories, probably in college, and yet a number of younger students I know just don't seem aware of his existence at all. 'The canon' shifts and waves about like a mirage, I think.


message 27: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Eccentric Muse wrote: "hate to jump in here unannounced and unknown, but might I ask all you folks whether Canadian writers are ever included in Am.lit courses (as in, North American)? And if so, I would propose Atwood...."

At3wood is included all the time (and rightly so!) and others, such as William Gibson or Carol Shields, would be as well.

I think I've read about 10 of Atwood's novels, so I'm clearly a fan.


message 28: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Eccentric Muse wrote: "whether Canadian writers are ever included in Am.lit courses (as in, North American)?"

Not in the literature courses I saw/participated in, but I dropped out of grad school for good in about 1996, so I'm very dated.


message 29: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Ellen wrote: "At3wood is included all the time (and rightly so!) and others, such as William Gibson or Carol Shields, would be as well."

Yeah, see, in my time, including Atwood or Shields or Munro in an AmLit class would have been a big No. Unless it was an Am-CanLit or North American Lit class, but it was still dodgy....another big omission (altho I don't really like her either) is Joyce Carol Oates, who certainly had a big influence, and even a fair amount of mainstream success. I think I was assigned one short story by her in my entire grad school career, and that was at the teacher's discretion in a creative writing course.


Jennifer (aka EM) @ Ellen: ahh, yes - Carol Shields is another of my faves.
@ Moira: I did my undergrad in Engl lit even longer ago (mid-80s, gasp) - but even then, and in a Canadian university, I don't recall a 400-level course on Atwood solo. My U of T comrades likely had one. I imagine there are many now.

It's interesting that Ellen's experience is positive but yours is not as to whether Atwood is included in Am.lit. I'm not sure what that actually means (or how I feel about whether she or other Canadians are lumped into that category). But I'm taking the thread off topic here....


message 31: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Moira wrote: It's v odd - someone Of A Certain Age will almost certainly know who Barthelme is and have read his stories, probably in college, and yet a number of younger students I know just don't seem aware of his existence at all. 'The canon' shifts and waves about like a mirage, I think.

Although I'm no fan of the E. D. Hirsch school of superficial education, the huge drop in cultural literacy is depressing as hell. My students don't even recognize David Foster Wallace's name, for God's sake.

While I get your point about Nabokov, and getting his allusions is helpful, I think his writing holds up. Many classical novelists, poets, dramatists, etc., are also allusive and yet we continue to teach their stuff (and, by necessity, more and more of the allusions :).


message 32: by Ellen (new)

Ellen Eccentric Muse wrote: "@ Ellen: ahh, yes - Carol Shields is another of my faves.
@ Moira: I did my undergrad in Engl lit even longer ago (mid-80s, gasp) - but even then, and in a Canadian university, I don't recall a..."


I think taking the thread off topic is a requirement around here...


message 33: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Eccentric Muse wrote: "It's interesting that Ellen's experience is positive but yours is not as to whether Atwood is included in Am.lit. I'm not sure what that actually means (or how I feel about whether she or other Canadians are lumped into that category).

Probably at least part of that is I was at a biiiiig sub-par Southwest university?

But I'm taking the thread off topic here...."

GR threads are MEANT to be taken off-topic! That's part of the fun!


message 34: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Ellen wrote: "Although I'm no fan of the E. D. Hirsch school of superficial education, the huge drop in cultural literacy is depressing as hell

ISN'T IT

I think making students memorize a bunch of pointless data to 'prove' they're 'culturally literate' (whatever that is) is stupid, but there's a lot of evidence that the verbal ability and resources of students are just dropping like rocks. Of course then you get shit like 'visual literacy' which is supposedly improved by playing fucken Rock Band or whatever and HEY GET OFF MY LAWN

While I get your point about Nabokov, and getting his allusions is helpful, I think his writing holds up

Oh yes, I do too - I enjoy his most allusive writing! (Pale Fire &c) I'm just saying, one of the things about lit courses is you have to take into account what's popular, and in my (deeply limited) experience a lot of students found allusive stuff simply 'boring' because they just didn't have the background and all the references went right over their heads.


message 35: by Jason (new)

Jason Well, after returning from lunch, I seemed to have hit a nerve. I could certainly learn a lot about literature from Ellen and Moira. I'm just a 'Caveman Reader.' I wish I had the time to read all the authors you mention. I'm one of the knuckleheads that doesn't know who Barthelme is. AND, I've never read DFW. I'll put them on my to-read list, and consider myself schooled today.


message 36: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Jason wrote: "I'm one of the knuckleheads that doesn't know who Barthelme is. AND, I've never read DFW. I'll put them on my to-read list, and consider myself schooled today. "

Aww, I just meant, Barthelme _was_ so influential and popular, and now he's gone pouf! But don't read him. DO read DFW, he's awesome. Especially the essays.

(also I have no job and v dim future prospects, so I don't know how much good all that reading actually did me, ha.)


message 37: by trivialchemy (new)

trivialchemy Jason, I'm a Barthelme-ignorant knuckle-dragger like yourself. Culturally illiterate brutes unite!

I realized through the back-and-forth about allusions that we've totally left out James Joyce in this conversation. I mean, I guess the point was to identify contemporary authors, but then we brought up Nabokov and I certainly think Joyce falls within his era and is at least of his stature. Also like Nabokov, Joyce's works are certainly what you'd call intertextual, but that doesn't take away from the total novice's enjoyment of, say, "Portrait of the Artist."

Coincidentally, I actually did read Nabokov for a lit course. I hear what Moira is saying, though, and I think to sort of lubricate our enjoyment of the allusiveness of the text we used the A. Appel annotated edition of "Lolita" which I loved loved loved. Anyone thinking of teaching Nabokov should check out that edition, IMO.


message 38: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell I don't think people who haven't heard of Barthelme are ignorant or illiterate, honest. It's just interesting to me because about 30 years ago he was fairly influential and well-known, among readerly types anyway, and now a lot of that's gone. That's not a long time, in terms of literary reputation.

The reason I at least didn't bring up Joyce was because the original question seemed directed at specifically higher-level AmLit courses. Nabokov qualifies for that, sort of, Joyce doesn't.


message 39: by trivialchemy (new)

trivialchemy Anyway, to get (sort of) back on topic, I think it's probably safest to say that there are no contemporary American authors writing at the level of the pre-revolutionary Russians. The only authors that really stood a chance were Nabokov and Joyce and they're not American. You've got Hemingway and Faulkner, who both formulated new fiction styles, but really contemporary writers are in style at least mostly just reasonable facsimiles of those two. Carver, for example, just takes Hemingway spareness of prose to its logical conclusion. McCarthy on the other hand is very much Faulkner's heir.

Frankly, the culture of American letters really just isn't evolved enough to produce a Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. To ask for one is sort of like asking a 1400s-England to produce a Shakespeare. No, we got Chaucer from that place and age. 1400s England wasn't old enough, nor culturally seated enough, to give us Shakespeare then. Same for America today. Maybe in another century we'll either destroy ourselves, or produce the American Shakespeare.


message 40: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Isaiah wrote: "The only authors that really stood a chance were Nabokov and Joyce and they're not American"

Nabokov wasn't American by birth, but I've seen him included in a number of AmLit courses - not just Lolita, either.

McCarthy on the other hand is very much Faulkner's heir.

I don't like Faulkner, but it seems fairly insulting to say that his heir is Cormac McCarthy! (whom I LOATHE.)


message 41: by Jason (new)

Jason Okay, good points all. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't missing (and therefore not reading) that nascent American writer that Ellen will be teaching her grad students in a few years.


message 42: by Greg (new)

Greg I have nothing objective to go on, but I've been getting quite a few college aged people asking for Barthelme at work lately. Maybe it is just a current vogue with an NYU professor or something though.


message 43: by Bram (last edited Jun 21, 2010 01:57PM) (new)

Bram You've got Hemingway and Faulkner, who both formulated new fiction styles, but really contemporary writers are in style at least mostly just reasonable facsimiles of those two.

This is my main, and maybe my only, issue with the two authors you brought up earlier, Isaiah (Morrison and McCarthy). I don't have a lot of experience with either of them, but from what I have read, both seem to be working in prose that displays only sleight variations from certain modernist styles--particularly that of Faulkner, as you point out. Probably the only thing that rubbed me the wrong way about Beloved, which is otherwise extraordinary, is that it feels stylistically a little like Faulkner-lite. It seems to me that the more experimental one's prose, the more important it is to be original (not in terms of enjoyment, but in terms of determining canon).


message 44: by Jason (new)

Jason You LOATHE Cormac McCarthy!! That's it--you're off my 'Friends' list. Oh wait, you've got to be on my 'Friends' list in order to be struck from it...


message 45: by Moira (last edited Jun 21, 2010 01:55PM) (new)

Moira Russell Jason wrote: "You LOATHE Cormac McCarthy!! That's it--you're off my 'Friends' list. Oh wait, you've got to be on my 'Friends' list in order to be struck from it..."

LOATHE L-O-A-T-H-E LOATHE. If you like, I could join your 'Friends' list specifically for you to strike me from it for that offense....


message 46: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Greg wrote: "I have nothing objective to go on, but I've been getting quite a few college aged people asking for Barthelme at work lately"

Not to sound super-cynical, but I'd bet real money it's at least partly because Dave Eggers wrote an intro for an edition of his stories. http://www.amazon.com/Stories-Penguin...


message 47: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Bram wrote: "Probably the only thing that rubbed me the wrong way about Beloved, which is otherwise extraordinary, is that it feels stylistically a little like Faulkner-lite. "

Hunh, I really didn't think that at all. Do you mean in Beloved's italicized sections? Because the rest of the novel really wasn't like that, and her POV was essentially supernatural, so I thought there was a stylistic justification for it. Other than that I found the style quite clipped - a lot of the sentences are very short.


message 48: by Greg (new)

Greg Moira wrote: "Greg wrote: "I have nothing objective to go on, but I've been getting quite a few college aged people asking for Barthelme at work lately"

Not to sound super-cynical, but I'd bet real money it's a..."


That could be. Barthelme never did much for me when I read him, and now old copies of his books live with me as a reminder of what must a failure on my part not to like them. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I haven't paid much attention to the details of new versions of his books. Or generally what book of the month Dave Eggers is ejaculating all over.


message 49: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Yeah, it just strikes me the top search results on Amazon.com (I know, I know) are the sixty-forty collections and Snow White, which was what he got famous for in the New Yorker and apparently got sick of being famous for.

Heh, the only Barthelme I have is I think 'Views of My Father Weeping' in a literature anthology which I was forced to read in, you guessed it, school. I thought it was BS then and I think he's still BS now, altho I don't LOATHE him the way I do McCarthy. I think he's just largely pointless. Most of the 70s 'metafictional' writers remind me of that passage in Woolf:

I am almost sure, I said to myself, that Mary Carmichael is playing a trick on us. For I feel as one feels on a switchback railway when the car, instead of sinking, as one has been led to expect, swerves up again. Mary is tampering with the expected sequence. First she broke the sentence; now she has broken the sequence. Very well, she has every right to do both these things if she does them not for the sake of breaking, but for the sake of creating.


message 50: by Bram (last edited Jun 21, 2010 02:13PM) (new)

Bram Moira wrote: "Other than that I found the style quite clipped - a lot of the sentences are very short."

Well, much of Faulkner's writing could easily be described this way, As I Lay Dying in particular.

The italicized sections are certainly reminiscent of Faulkner, but where it really becomes obvious (as compared to The Sound and the Fury) is in the way Morrison makes abrupt and unannounced changes in time and place. She's much 'nicer' to the reader in that it's less difficult to follow along when she does this, but the technique is lifted almost directly from Faulkner.


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