I will not put Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (published 1851) on my favorite books list because it’s simply not a favorite novel (I shudder at each descI will not put Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (published 1851) on my favorite books list because it’s simply not a favorite novel (I shudder at each description of whale blubber). And yet, I must give Moby-Dick a solid five stars out of five for the rich reading experience it provides. I simply loved reading it. Much as other great works in world literature, such as War and Peace and Hamlet or (maybe) even East of Eden, Moby Dick gives innovative depth and breadth to a majestic subject, creating a universal epic of good and evil in the guise of a novel about something that may otherwise seem insignificant.
Moby-Dick is about much more than a whaling ship’s voyage, the biology of a whale, or even an insane whale-ship captain’s revenge on a whale. Reading Moby-Dick is a cultural experience, and the novel itself is a marvel in the detail Melville provides to create a composite picture of the mid-nineteenth century America. In addition, despite the clear setting (it could not be the same story without the whale hunting and whale fact digressions), the story is a universal one: fate versus choice, good versus evil, sanity versus insanity, God versus man.
**spoiler alert** In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (published 1814), Fanny Price was the oldest daughter of a poor family, sent at age 10 to live with**spoiler alert** In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (published 1814), Fanny Price was the oldest daughter of a poor family, sent at age 10 to live with her generous and wealthy Bertram cousins. Yet, in the lovely Mansfield Park, Fanny was constantly reminded of her lesser status and spent her days for the most part assisting the lazy women of the home in their daily monotony.
As the years pass, Fanny found a friend in her cousin Edmund, to whom she was able to express her frustrations and opinions, although her other three cousins have little patience with “simple minded” Fanny. Edmund knew Fanny, though, and this friendship kept her going. But when her cousins, including Edmund, began courting some of the visitors to Mansfield area, Fanny found herself face to face with impropriety in a society that demanded moral uprightness. She had to decide when she would take a stand and when she would remain silent, all the while considering her own future happiness and her “lesser” status among the wealthy Bertrams and their associates.
I loved how everything came full circle for Fanny: good was rewarded, and impropriety sufficiently publicized as evil. Was it too moral and too well cleaned up? Apparently, that’s why some do not like this novel. I enjoyed it, however. Fanny’s story reminds me so much of a Cinderella story. She had the step sisters (her cousins); she had the wicked step mother (Mrs. Norris who was simply horrid); she was the drudge of the home, expected to miss parties and balls to meet the needs of the other boring women. Yet, in the end, she had two princes courting her. One “prince” was a false prince, and Fanny, in her moral judgment was able to see through him. The other was a true “prince,” sincere and content with Fanny just the way she was.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for romance: I love a happy ending. Mansfield Park provided that just when I need it.
Edna Pontellier is a 29-year-old mother of two in late nineteenth century Louisiana. As befits a woman in her station, she has maids to clean, cooks tEdna Pontellier is a 29-year-old mother of two in late nineteenth century Louisiana. As befits a woman in her station, she has maids to clean, cooks to prepare her food, and a nanny to care for her young ones. As Kate Chopin’s novella The Awakening (published 1889) begins, she is spending her summer vacation at a lake, where she begins to see her husband’s treatment of her, her pointless “proper” behavior, and especially her own sexual identity in a new light. For the first time, she recognizes herself as more than the superficial image her era dictates her to be. As she develops a friendship with a young man, Robert, Edna becomes awakened to her own limitless possibilities for self-determination.
At once both a feminist tale and a sexual awakening story, The Awakening delves into the complex emotions of a woman searching for herself. Edna searches for ever-elusive happiness, and when society fails to meet her in her newly discovered self, she abandons the social mores and traditions for her self. Although The Awakening is short, I found it to be an intriguing look into society of the late nineteenth century American middle class, as well as a story that may unfortunately be all too resonant to women today.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s prose style in The Scarlet Letter (first published 1850) is not for everyone. I admit, I don’t recall being impressed with the nNathaniel Hawthorne’s prose style in The Scarlet Letter (first published 1850) is not for everyone. I admit, I don’t recall being impressed with the novel when I was 15 or 16 and I read it for the first time. Further, this summer I began a reread (via audio) only to stall a few chapters from the end1.
But for the careful reader, Hawthorne’s prose is richly rewarding. On this read, I could not stop marveling at the gorgeous construction of Hawthorne’s sentences and the ways in which his plot were furthered through the complicated writing style.
Beyond the prose, Hawthorne’s story is complicated, deep, and intense. In just a few hundred pages and in a seemingly basic storyline, The Scarlet Letter deals with issues of love and relationships of different types; guilt and religious zeal; self and community; and shame and pride.
In Frankenstein (originally published January 1818), Mary Shelley questions what makes one human, ultimately questioning the meaning of life. When Dr.In Frankenstein (originally published January 1818), Mary Shelley questions what makes one human, ultimately questioning the meaning of life. When Dr. Victor Frankenstein imbues his cadaverous monster with life, he has become a God-like creator, and his monster, a gigantic being with the ability to feel all emotions and use all of his senses, is his Adam.
Like Adam, Frankenstein’s creation must learn right and wrong. He also desires a mate so he will not be lonely. Unlike Adam, the creation has no creator guiding him: Frankenstein, and all other humans who see the creation, consider him a monster, simply because he is ugly. I don’t blame them: he was eight-feet tall and was created from cadavers, butcher’s meat, and scavenged body parts. The monster wasn’t exactly someone you’d want to sit across from at dinner.
Frankenstein was nothing like I imagined. Both Frankenstein and his monster were complex characters with multiple facets to them. I believed it would be a superficial horror story, with a monster tormenting the world. Rather, Frankenstein is a complex novel that introduces questions of humanity, acceptance, and scientific inquiry. Nearly two hundred years after it’s original publication, it is still highly relevant.