Probably the only reason I gave this book two stars is because of the David Duchovny song. Without this book, Bree Sharp could have never written that...moreProbably the only reason I gave this book two stars is because of the David Duchovny song. Without this book, Bree Sharp could have never written that immortal lyric: "David Duchovny, hovering above me, American Heathcliff, brooding and comely."
Welp. That was different. And very unlike the Wilde I have previously known and loved. I enjoyed the story of this book, but I think what I loved most...moreWelp. That was different. And very unlike the Wilde I have previously known and loved. I enjoyed the story of this book, but I think what I loved most about it were all the underhanded (and not so underhanded) things Wilde had to say about art and artists.
I’m pretty sure all of you already know the basic premise, even if you haven’t read the thing. The beautiful and amoral Dorian Gray, who doesn’t age, has a secret portrait that bears all signs of corruption for him. It’s a recipe for disaster, and very obviously a morality tale, but not in the least a tame one, and neither is it boring (Oscar Wilde couldn’t have been boring even if he’d tried — he was too irreverently clever). But like all good pieces of literature, it’s not just what the story is about, but how it’s told. And Wilde writes very, very well. He lingers on certain moments of contemplation, zooms through the boring stuff we don’t want to hear about anyway, and has his characters speak to each other in humorous but layered quips, laced with layers of meaning and subtext.
Before finally diving into The Picture of Dorian Gray, my previous exposure to Wilde had been limited to multiple re-reads of The Importance of Being Earnest, as well as viewings of the Colin Firth/Rupert Everett version of the film. Earnest is biting in its critique of Victorian society, but it hides that critique in what is probably the funniest fucking play ever written. It’s just so damn delightful. I feel sorry for anyone who hasn’t read it. But Dorian Gray, while still witty and very clever in its verbiage and construction, takes almost no pains to hide its teeth. They’re right there out in the open. It’s also genuinely frightening in parts, and horrifying in a way that only stories about the decrepitude of the human soul can be.
I still prefer the version of Wilde we get in Earnest, but it felt nice to have a book poke me in my subconscious and to have my once again brain engaged in a dialogue of metaphors. What I really need is that fancy Complete Works of Oscar Wilde I now have my eye on. Maybe next year . . .(less)
This book is very hard to describe, so you should probably just read it to find out why I gave it five stars. However, I can say that the joy of this...moreThis book is very hard to describe, so you should probably just read it to find out why I gave it five stars. However, I can say that the joy of this book isn't in the plot or the characters, but in the deliciously saucy narrator, who is a kind of meta-character himself. Didn't expect to enjoy this book very much, so it was a nice surprise.(less)
I've read this book three times now: once in undergrad, once for a seminar in grad school, and now for my exams. That's a lot of ol' Haggard, that Vic...moreI've read this book three times now: once in undergrad, once for a seminar in grad school, and now for my exams. That's a lot of ol' Haggard, that Victorian adventure beast. At the time it was published, this book was advertised as "The Most Amazing Book Ever Written," which is pretty hilarious, but the fact that it was a publishing phenomenon unlike anything else at the time kind of lends it some credence. It was like the Harry Potter of 1885. If you read at all (meaning, if you had money and an education), you would have read this book. And none of Haggard's other (many, many) books even came close to matching its popularity.
I had the good fortune to read this book with the #1 Haggard scholar in the world (a weird honor to have, I think), who just happens to work at my university. He freaking loves this book. He loves to talk about how this is the most influential novel that nobody has read.
And what is the legacy of King's Solomon's Mines? I can think of four things right off the bat: 1) J.R.R. Tolkien was a huge fan and almost certainly took inspiration for the creation of Gollum from Haggard's ancient and evil Gagool, 2) Allan Quatermain lives on in several places, most notably Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, 3) Quatermain is also understood to be the template for the character of Indiana Jones, and 4) Haggard has provided Noah Wyle with something to do in his post-ER days, with the lovely and cheeserific second film in the Librarian series: Return to King Solomon's Mines. For this last thing, I am particularly thankful. Noah Wyle is adorable.(less)
The only thing stopping me from giving this book five stars is that it didn't really have a plot. It's more of a portrait than a story, really, but it...moreThe only thing stopping me from giving this book five stars is that it didn't really have a plot. It's more of a portrait than a story, really, but it's a beautiful portrait, full of word treasure. Schreiner writes about feminism before it existed, and what it means to be human, and what it means to spend your life looking for something that doesn't exist. (less)
I noticed before I started reading it that a lot of people in their reviews noted that Middlemarch was "a writer's book." This seemed sort of silly to...moreI noticed before I started reading it that a lot of people in their reviews noted that Middlemarch was "a writer's book." This seemed sort of silly to me, but now I understand it. George Eliot is the master of creating fully realized, inner lives for all of her characters, even the most blamable ones. In fact, she's so good at it that it becomes the focus of the book itself. Middlemarch isn't so much a traditional novel as it is a study of a community and all its spidery, weaving interpersonal connections.
The length of the book is somewhat to its detriment. I know that if I hadn't been reading this for my exams I probably would have put it down after the first 150 pages or so and never thought twice about it, but because I pushed through, I ended up getting to know these characters better than I know most people. I kind of fell in love with them, and with the quiet, assured way that Eliot writes about them. I've got to be honest with you about that one: did not see it coming.
Like Vanity Fair, another famously long 19th century novel, Middlemarch was serialized, and it's original audience would have read it in increments over a period of years, and like the stretched out serialization of a great TV show, this would have made it both less overwhelming, and easier for readers to feel like these characters were part of their everyday lives as well, and not just characters in a book that you read once for a couple of weeks. So, all in all, it was worth it.(less)
I like to imagine that if I would have read this back in the 1840s as it was being published, and there had been such a thing as the internet, I would...moreI like to imagine that if I would have read this back in the 1840s as it was being published, and there had been such a thing as the internet, I would have given it five stars. Thackeray's writing is witty and fun and biting, there was just way too much of it to be going on with in one book. I mean, that thing weighs more than my friend Andrew did at birth (this is not hyperbole -- he was 1.4 pounds).
But I think I can imagine that if I would have received ten to twenty serialized pages a month, or biweekly or however long it was in between installments, I would have absolutely loved the shit out of this book. (The parts where Narrator Thackeray literally corresponds with complaining, bitchy readers in the middle of the novel made me laugh out loud.)
Worth it, if you want to invest the time. I'm glad I read it, and I can definitely understand why it used to be touted as the greatest British novel of all time.(less)
On this my third reading of this book, I thought I’d try something a little bit different for the review. It was either this or wax poetic like the ex...moreOn this my third reading of this book, I thought I’d try something a little bit different for the review. It was either this or wax poetic like the ex-graduate student that I am, and nobody here wants to read that. (Not to mention, they don’t let you curse in graduate level writing, which is one of the many reasons I decided not to do that sort of thing anymore.)
- – -
Dear Mrs. Reed,
You are a dick. In the parlance of your time, I’m not sure there’s anything I can say to you that will equal being called a dick. Perhaps ‘bad egg’? But no, not strong enough. ‘Hedge-born’ has a nice class-based ring to it, but I’m also partial to ‘fawning foot-licker,’ ‘bat-fouled canker-blossom,’ and ‘fat-kidneyed fustilarian’. What does that even mean? Anyway one or all of those surely apply to you, even though I’m not entirely confident of their context.
For fucks’s sake, she was just a little girl. She wanted you to love her — it’s really not that complicated. Get over yourself.
- – -
Dear Mr. Brocklehurst,
You are the worst. You don’t even deserve a real letter.
- – -
Sometimes I feel like you are too good to be true, but that’s mostly because the things you see as flaws in your personality don’t really feel like flaws to me, although it’s clear those around you agreed you could do with some improving. As far as I’m concerned, though, you are kind and loving and open-hearted, and you made friends with Jane Eyre, which forever endears you to me. You were her first friend in the entire world, and your life touched hers at just the right time, so that she took your example to heart probably more than she would have otherwise.
P.S. I’m sorry you died. That really sucks.
- – -
I’m sorry your probably-father Mr. Rochester refuses to treat you like an actual person. As if being of “inferior stock” (i.e. the illegitmate daughter of a French dancer) means you deserve to be treated like cattle. I guess Mr. Rochester is one of those people who thinks everyone should have the exact same intelligence level and interests in order to be worthy. At least you have Jane Eyre to love you the way you are, and according to her, you turned out pretty sensible after all.
- – -
Dear Mr. Rochester,
Look . . . I know it sucks you married, first of all, someone who turned out to be shallow and temperamental at the best of times (although she was beautiful, and probably a hellion in the sack), and second, utterly mad and spiteful at the worst of times, but dude. Come on. Get your shit together. Enough with the mindfuckery.
I know you learned most of this by the end of the novel, which was why Jane was finally able to marry you as her equal, but here are some things that I feel I need to tell you anyway:
•It is perfectly understandable that you fell in love with Jane. She was intelligent, kind, and she loved you back for some unfathomable reason. I am choosing to ignore the possibility that you sensed her extreme need for love and companionship and took advantage of it. I am giving you the benefit of the doubt here. So yes, falling love (even with your governess) I suppose is okay. It is Romantic and tragic. •It is NOT okay to lead your governess to fall in love with you when you are already married. •It is NOT okay to parade a beautiful woman around, pretending you are going to marry her, just to get a reaction out of your beloved. And I suppose I have to explain to you why that is wrong, although Jane did a pretty good job of it herself (not that you listened to her). Firstly, it is cruel to the woman you supposedly love to make her think you are engaged to someone else. You willingly caused her pain as a test of her love, which did not increase in the slightest due to your mindfuckery. And second, it is cruel to Blanche Ingram, and even though she isn’t a very nice person, she is still a person with feelings, and I’m sure she was hurt and confused after your flattery and blatant hints of matrimony when it turned out you weren’t interested at all. You self-obsessed ass.
•It is NOT okay to dress up like a gypsy woman to fuck around with women’s heads and get secret stuff out of them. What the hell were you thinking. •It is NOT okay to propose to another woman, no matter how much you love her, whilst you are still married to another motherfucking woman. •It is NOT okay to accept your beloved’s betrothal without first telling her that YOU ARE ALREADY MARRIED. •And while we’re at it, it is NOT okay to keep your wife locked away in an attic, when she is obviously mentally ill. I’m sure you would (and have) argued that she was evil to begin with, but I think you’re full of shit. It was a loveless marriage to begin with, and if your willingless to just lock away the problem and dehumanize a woman who once shared your bed is any indication, you probably started to treat her like shit even before the first sign of trouble, because like Adele, she wasn’t ‘worthy’ of your respectful regard. Is it any wonder she didn’t act like a perfect angel, madness aside? If I was fucking married to someone who thought I was worthless and kept me locked away in an attic like an animal, I’d probably try to burn him in his bed, too.
And it only took you having your whole house burnt down, your betrothal disappearing into the mist, and the loss of a hand and an eye for you to learn all of this. If you even learned it all. I’m still skeptical.
At any rate, you lucked out with Jane Eyre. You don’t deserve her.
- – -
You read as the villain of the piece to someone who passes through the book without turning their brain on, but I really think you’re the most tragic part about it. Screw Rochester and his brooding and sadness and his handless arm and loneliness. You married a dude who didn’t love you, thought you were “slatternly” (whatever that means), and at the first sign of illness, dude fucking locked you away in an attic and tried to pretend you didn’t exist.
Perhaps it helps that I’ve read this magnificent piece of literary criticism (one of the few lit-crit books I actively enjoyed), but to me you seem to be the voiceless center of the novel, the secret around which all events rotate. Only when your story is closed is Jane’s story free to end as well, and perhaps that’s because your plight makes tangible what Jane has been feeling all her life, and until abandoning Rochester on the day of their wedding, never acted upon.
But even if a person hasn’t read that book like I have, I find it hard to believe that any right-thinking person can come out of this book not feeling that you’ve been wronged, and that Mr. Rochester is an ass-backwards toerag. And if they do, they probably also think Edward Cullen is the shiz. I suppose being a teenage girl isn’t a sin, but hopefully they’ll grow out of it. And in the spirit of full confession, I suppose I, too have loved my very own brooding, obsessive, and self-destructive man. “American Heathcliff, brooding and comely,” indeed.
- – -
Dear St. John,
I super despised you on my first two readings of this book, but now I just feel sorry for you. You’ve managed to confuse deprivation with sanctity, and you think that it makes you a better person, despite your inability to feel compassion for others. What’s worse, you don’t only let this belief affect your own life, but you actively shame others for not behaving in the same manner. When Jane refuses your proposal of marriage, rightly believing your lifestyle would smother and kill her (although she blames the Indian climate), instead of respecting her opinion, you refuse to accept it. On separate occasions, you continue refusing to respect or accept her decision that she DOESN’T FUCKING WANT TO MARRY YOUR ASS, and on your final confrontation, you escalate to outright righteous hostility, shaming, and fear-mongering. You say this:
“No,” said he; “it is a long-cherished scheme, and the only one which can secure my great end: but I shall urge you no further at present. To-morrow, I leave home for Cambridge: I have many friends there to whom I should wish to say farewell. I shall be absent a fortnight—take that space of time to consider my offer: and do not forget that if you reject it, it is not me you deny, but God. Through my means, He opens to you a noble career; as my wife only can you enter upon it. Refuse to be my wife, and you limit yourself for ever to a track of selfish ease and barren obscurity. Tremble lest in that case you should be numbered with those who have denied the faith, and are worse than infidels!”
Just, fuck you, dude.
Lucky for you, Jane is a lot more forgiving than I am, and she cherishes you as her cousin. I also see from this reading that Bronte was using you as Mr. Rochester’s opposite. Whereas Mr. Rochester cared nothing for Jane’s agency in terms of showing her the full situation and allowing her to make a choice, going so far as to ignore her principles and becoming angry when she refuses to become his mistress (also: treating her like a wifely object and objectifying her as the pure and holy opposite to his demon wife, Bertha), you also care nothing for her agency, but instead of wishing her to abandon her principles, you wish to force on her your own. You wish to put her in a little box and make her conform to your ridiculous ideas about Christianity, which do not involve the compassion and forgiveness of Christ, and are extreme in their nature.
In short, you got problems, dude. And unlike Mr. Rochester, you never have a chance to learn your lesson.
- – -
I will confess to you I do not understand your attraction to Mr. Rochester. In my previous two readings of your life story, I just accepted that you loved him because you told me so. This time, I couldn’t fathom the attraction. Was it his manliness? Was it his gruffness? Was it that you could be rude around him with no consequence? Was it that he so clearly loved you? Or was it that you just wanted to be loved so very badly that you accepted it from the first person willing to give it to you? What does he give you that makes you love him so? I would appreciate answers on this matter.
Other than your choice of life partner, I do want to tell you that I quite admire the fuck out of you. You steadfastly endured a rather horrible childhood, made something of yourself, went after the things you wanted, and when your principles and your sense of self were due to be compromised, you removed yourself from the harmful situations causing them to be so. And even though I don’t get the Mr. Rochester thing, I respect that you didn’t let him pull his shit with you, and you only married him when he was in a position to be your equal.