Part of why I love The Age of Innocence so much is for the very reason my students hate it--the subtlety of action in a society constrained by its own...morePart of why I love The Age of Innocence so much is for the very reason my students hate it--the subtlety of action in a society constrained by its own ridiculous rules and mores. In Old New York, conformity is key and the upper-crust go about a life of ritual that has no substance or meaning. Both men and women are victims in this world as both are denied economic, intellectual, and creative outlets. All the world's a stage in Wharton's New York and everyone wears a mask of society's creation. Such is the norm until Newland Archer.
Symbolically, Newland represents an America on the cusp of modernization, the awkward period of transition between the Victorian era and World War I. At first a devout member of New York aristocracy, Newland is awakened as one from a trance with the arrival of Countess Ellen Olenska. Ellen decides to separate from her abusive husband, Count Olenski, and is rumored to have escaped the Count by having an affair with his secretary--a scandalous circumstance that brings her back home to her native New York. Vibrant, intellectual, and free-spirited when compared with the dowdy and restrained women he's known, Ellen's predicament is a revelation to Newland. As he himself has just ended an affair with a married woman and knows the ease with which society forgave his indiscretion when contrasted with Ellen, Newland begins to acknowledge the inequality amongst the sexes. However, there's a serious roadblock to Newland ever being with the captivating Ellen: Ellen is the cousin of May Welland, Newland's fiancee.
Wharton writes with cutting wit about the hypocritical and ludicrous customs of blue blood society and cunningly plots events to work against Newland, the archer whose target is a "new land" in which he and Ellen can be together. The pity is that, ultimately, May proves to be the more cunning huntress who cleverly stalks and traps her quarry in the labyrinth of society.
This may be my favorite book of all time. At any rate, it's definitely on the top ten list and by far my favorite Hemingway (and I do love some Heming...moreThis may be my favorite book of all time. At any rate, it's definitely on the top ten list and by far my favorite Hemingway (and I do love some Hemingway). The first time I read this, I loved Lady Brett Ashley. Is she a bitch? Sure, but I don't think she ever intentionally sets out to hurt anyone. And it might be argued that she has reason to be one: her first true love dies in the war from dysentery (not exactly the most noble of deaths) and she's physically threatened by Lord Ashley, forced to sleep on the floor beside him and his loaded gun (and let's clarify that,no, that's not a euphemism, just in case you're a perv). Then we have the one man who might make her happy, Jake Barnes. Poor, poor Jake, who doesn't have a gun, let alone a loaded one (yup, that's a euphemism--snicker away). I think Brett is one of the most tragic figures in American literature. Disillusioned by the war and how it irrevocably changed her life, she tries to fill the void with alcohol and sex--and destroys herself in the process.
However, upon rereading the novel, I realized how eclipsed Jake had been by Brett during my first reading. I also realized how I had misinterpreted him during my first reading. I thought Jake was as lost as the rest of the "Lost Generation," but I now believe that he is the only one who is not lost (with the exception of Bill Gorton, whose line "The road to hell paved with unbought stuffed dogs" may be my favorite in the book). If there's anyone with reason to give up on life, it's Jake. Does he pine for Brett? Yes. Does he come to hate Cohn for his affair with Brett? Affirmative. Does he get over Brett and realize that, even if properly equipped for a sexual relationship, a relationship with her would end as tragically as all of her other conquests? Abso-damn-lutely. After all, Brett is Circe, according to Cohn, and anyone lured into her bed will lose their manhood. The success of the relationship between Brett and Jake hinges on the fact that Jake literally has nothing to lose in this respect.
I've put off writing a review for 1984 because it's simply too daunting to do so. I liked 1984 even better after a second reading (bumping it up from...moreI've put off writing a review for 1984 because it's simply too daunting to do so. I liked 1984 even better after a second reading (bumping it up from a 4 star to a 5 star) because I think that, given the complexity of the future created by Orwell, multiple readings may be needed to take it all in. I thought it was genius the first time and appreciated that genius even more the second time.
Orwell had a daunting task: creating a future nearly half a century away from the time period in which he was writing. This future had to be its own complex, independent society, but it also had to be the natural end result of the totalitarianism Orwell witnessed in the communist and socialist regimes of World War II. That's part of the horror of 1984: this future is a recognizable one, even in the 21st century. It's easy to see how those in control can, through manipulation and propaganda, maintain that control simply for the sake of sating their own power hunger. It's easy to say "no one could ever tell me what to think or what to do," but the Party's use of Big Brother, the Thought Police, the Two-Minute Hate, and Doublethink make it easy to see how a person's ability to think independently and discern fiction from reality can be eroded when there is no touchstone to fact. Revising and rewriting the past to make certain that Big Brother and the Party are always correct has effectively eliminated historical accuracy. How can one think and reason in a society where everything is a fabrication?
Another facet of 1984 that I find fascinating is the relationship between Winston and Julia. Winston claims Julia is a "rebel from the waist down," engaging in promiscuity and hedonistic indulgences forbidden by the Party. She doesn't care about social injustice or defining "reality"; she only longs for what will make her feel good in the moment and only rebels far enough to get what she wants. By comparison, Winston is an intellectual rebel, constantly worrying over the issues of truth and freedom and the real, unvarnished past, but limited in how far he's willing to push the boundaries (until he meets Julia). Together, they make a complete rebellion--physical and mental, but apart they find themselves impotent to stand up to the Party.
A cautionary tale, social commentary, and exemplary example of dystopian fiction, 1984 is one of those perfect novels that not only entertains, but forces one to think about the danger associated with giving any one person or entity too much power or control over our lives--issues well worth consideration in post-9/11 America.
This is one of those books that I use to size up other people. If you've read Dirty Work and you didn't love it, I wish you well but I doubt I want to...moreThis is one of those books that I use to size up other people. If you've read Dirty Work and you didn't love it, I wish you well but I doubt I want to know you. This was the first Larry Brown book that I ever read and, after re-reading it, it is still as powerful and haunting the second time around.
The novel focuses on two Vietnam veterans in the VA hospital two decades after the war has ended. Braiden, a black quadraplegic, has spent this entire time in the hospital and his imagination is his only means of escape. When Walter arrives under mysterious circumstances, Braiden thinks he's found his salvation. Walter's face was horribly mutilated and shell fragments lodged in his brain cause him to have uncontrollable "blackouts" from which he awakens with no memory. As these two men talk about their lives as they were and as they are, they revisit the painful landscape of Vietnam and Brown reveals how the war took much more from them than their bodies. The damage is emotional, spiritual, and mental (as Braiden says at one point, "It do something to you to kill another person. It ain't no dog lying there. Somebody. A person, talk like you, eat like you, got a mind like you. Got a soul like you . . . You look in somebody's eyes, then kill him, you remember them eyes. You remember that you was the last thing he seen.") The novel also reflects how it was the poor and, in particular, the black soldiers who were asked to give the most and expect nothing in return--not even valid reasons for fighting.
Brown's writing is simple, direct, and often bitingly funny when you least expect it. He knew how to capture the cadences and culture of working class Americans always one paycheck away from the brink of poverty and he always did so with the utmost respect, never denigrating or lessening their value to American society. When Brown died, we lost one of the finest writers of the American South and this novel is a testament to his gifts.