For any good cinephile the standard line is that on its way to the screen Vertigo (1958) radically transformed its original source material, the (relaFor any good cinephile the standard line is that on its way to the screen Vertigo (1958) radically transformed its original source material, the (relatively) obscure French mystery novel written by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, most commonly known by the portmanteau moniker “Boileau-Narcejac.” This transformation directly resulted in what many feel is not only Alfred Hitchcock’s most deeply and intensely personal film, but one of the greatest films of all time. This is more or less what I expected, but it is not at all what I got.
What I discovered instead was an extremely interesting psychological mystery, and nearly all of major plot points and narrative events included in Hitchcock’s film originated within its pages. As some research demonstrated, I’m not the only one to feel like Boileau-Narcejac’s has received a critical short shrift. As Peter Lev writes in a thoughtful consideration of the connection between novel and film: “D’entre les morts is a thoughtful and innovative work of mystery fiction that deserves study both in its own right and as the precursor to the film Vertigo.”* I highly recommend Lev’s essay and some other scholarship that has emerged on this topic for deeply considered analyses, but for the sake of a review I offer several cursory thoughts and observations.
[Technically some of what will follow could be considered spoilers, though this shouldn’t be an issue for anybody who is even cursorily aware of the film’s plot.]
To begin, the commonalities: the aforementioned similarity in the basic narrative and plot, the central character of a former police detective (named Flavières in the novel, Scottie in the film) who becomes obsessed with his client’s wife, as well as the name of “Madeleine,” who becomes the object of Flavières/Scottie’s desire and obsession. It is this last attribute that most immediately interests me, as it nicely evokes what Carol Mavor (who is herself invoking the ideas of the late, great Chris Marker) describes as “the Proustian inflection of Scottie’s pursuit of Madeleine in Vertigo.”** For reading the novel after seeing the film–which is, I presume, the case with the vast majority of the novel’s reader’s today–is to experience involuntary recall, with memories of the movie’s lush imagery constantly materialize with a potency attributed to the madeleine by the narrator of À la recherche du temps perdu. But for me this is far from a bad thing, but instead creates an ideal site where a film and a literary text can and should be read as being in dialogue with each other, and a consideration of this type in turn reveals a number of insights, gaps, and resonances that can deepen and complicate understanding of both texts.
Because more than the similarities, what fascinated me most were the elements that appear in one text but not the other, as these often were the things that would often open up unexpected vistas of possible meaning. A particularly good example: D’entre les morts is overtly intertextual in a manner the film never is. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice figures prominently in the narrative–so much so that Flavières’s affectionate pet name for Madeleine becomes “little Eurydice” (I had never considered Vertigo as an explicit retelling of the Eurydice myth. It seems so obvious now). It also references the cinema at a key point as well, as Flavières “rediscovers” his Eurydice when he glimpses her on a larger-than-life movie screen after he aimlessly wanders into a Parisian theater one afternoon. Considering that Vertigo is often characterized as an implicit meditation on cinema itself, it is interesting to note that these seeds seem to have (at the very least) been planted in the original novel. On a completely different level, while Vertigo is a depiction of one man’s obstinate descent into obsessive desire, the novel uses these personal experiences to explore the larger social trauma experienced by the French during WWII, which is perhaps why it leads to a darker conclusion than Hitchcock dares (though on a dramatic and emotional level, the film’s conclusion is far superior).
This review has amplified the novel’s strengths; I could further explicate the many areas where the film exceeds Boileau-Narcejac’s vision (the dream-logic of the narrative, the general oneiric quality it evokes, the representation of space, the creation of the supporting character of Midge to form a heartbreaking love triangle, etc.). Vertigo was crowned “the greatest film ever made” in the most recent Sight & Sound poll, and there’s a reason for that–it a legitimately great film, yes, even one of the great films. And this is a level of distinction that Boileau-Narcejac’s novel never comes close to achieving itself. But just because it’s not one of the all-time great mystery novels doesn’t at all detract from the fact that it’s very, very good. And this is something Hitchcock scholarship has tended to downplay–often to the point of deliberate obscuration–but much like the story of “the sad Carlotta Valdes” or her textual equivalent Pauline Lagerlac, in any consideration of Vertigo Boileau-Narcejac’s novel lingers like a mysterious specter, implying backstories and whole alternative histories that might well be repressed, but never fully erased.
“There is no intellectual exercise which is not ultimately useless.” -from “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote”
The reader of Ficciones must have a “There is no intellectual exercise which is not ultimately useless.” -from “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote”
The reader of Ficciones must have a love for literary and historical esoterica and minutiae to get some type of pleasure out of most of these stories–if they can even be called "stories," that is. And how one feels on this issue makes all the difference in how the quote cited above is regarded: not interested in reading a fairly lengthy description about say, a typological error in the footnotes in a second edition of a book by an obscure 13th century Dutch alchemist and it comes off as a truism; delight in such archaic trivia and it is instead a tongue-in-cheek quip perfectly at home in the funhouse of reflexive literary mirrors Borges cheerfully constructs throughout Ficciones.
I definitely fall in the latter camp–intellectually, few things gets me going more than an enigmatic reference, a stray footnote, or something of the like–and so I found a great deal to enjoy in the seventeen stories collected here. Not that every word is enthralling; indeed, long stretches can be quite dull. But what kept me intrigued from the first page to the last is the question Borges implies with his title: what exactly does constitute fiction? The term “fiction,” of course, is opposed to the facticity of “non-fiction,” and conjures up associations of narrative, of plots, of stories. And there definitely stories in Ficciones that adhere to such expectations, but they are definitely in the minority. Borges, however, employs the term “fiction” literally, and seems most interested in exploring what “fiction” can actually entail, particularly in regards to form. Because Borges uses a variety of forms traditionally associated with non-narrative modes of writing: history, testimony, the literary or scholarly review, etc. And as he proceeds to demonstrate, why can’t these forms be used to create stories just like any other? And really, isn’t everything we do here on this site–this very review, in fact–create little fictions?
The amazing “The Garden of Forking Paths,” undoubtedly and justifiably the most famous story in Ficciones, incorporates both of these dynamics, combining a quick-moving plot with his more literary obsessions, but a story like "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” which details Borges’s "research" (how many words with what seemed stable meanings be called into question here?) into a mysterious entry in an old encyclopedia is a wonderful example of how a “fictional story” can take on unexpected forms, and be quite exciting in their own right. In this inaugural story, as in the aforementioned “Pierre Menard,” as well as “Three Versions of Judas,” “An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain,” and several other stories, literary analysis is revealed to be stories in and of themselves. As I alluded to earlier, it’s not that every single sentence of Ficciones makes for enthralling reading, but I found the literary terrain and textual frontiers Borges constantly forces himself into and start exploring to be endlessly fascinating, if not actually astonishing in a very tangible, active sense....more
It is really stunning to encounter such a high-spirited and defiantly independent female character in a novel written over 150 years ago, and, more imIt is really stunning to encounter such a high-spirited and defiantly independent female character in a novel written over 150 years ago, and, more importantly, is allowed to remain so from the first moment we meet her (disguised as a boy on the mean streets of New York City) to when her remarkable story neatly concludes on the last novel's last page. After encountering so many blonde, wan "angels in the house" in contemporaneous literature, adventurous, dark-haired Capitola Black is nothing less than a revelation. And she's funny too, with a relentlessly sharp tongue, can ride her horse in a way that most men envy, and is even willing to fight a duel when her honor is called into question and no male relative is willing to step in on her behalf.
The story itself occasionally gets bogged down when it meanders onto the plight of other characters--most particularly the dull male ones off fighting valiantly in the war-- and it can come off as stilted and antiquated as melodramatic potboilers of that era almost inevitably do, but that can hardly dim Southworth's impressive proto-feminist achievement in the character and story of Capitola Black....more
I found this both repelling and compulsive, and the more repulsed I became the less capable I seemed of putting it down. I was hooked just several pagI found this both repelling and compulsive, and the more repulsed I became the less capable I seemed of putting it down. I was hooked just several pages in, enamored with the elegant, elegiac tone of Charles Arrowby's attempts at composing a memoir/diary after exiling himself to a remote seaside home to live in monastic isolation. Via Arrowby, Murdoch's prose takes on a sea-like quality, the ebb-and-flow of memories and musings churning together present and past to the point where the edges of reality and unreality begin to blur imperceptibly. I settled in for what I fully expected to be more or less an intelligent and eerie psychological thriller.
But just as it was not meant for Arrowby to enjoy his solitude, so I was quickly jumbled out of any conceptions that I was in for a graceful memory piece. Suddenly figures from Arrowby's past begin showing up uninvited at his doorstep, culminating with the unexpected reappearance of a lost first love, setting off a string of increasingly erratic behavior that quickly threaten to become dangerous.
It took a while for me to adjust to such a drastic change of narrative trajectory, but as it went along I began to appreciate the grand guignol absurdity of it all. And it wasn't, I admit, until just about the very end that I realized how the incongruent-seeming opening does indeed set up nicely the rest of the novel: reported to be the premiere interpreter of Shakespeare of his day, isn't it natural, maybe even inevitable that Arrowby's life takes on an expansive Shakespearian theatricality?
"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages."
And that kind of sums up my final response to The Sea, The Sea—creaky, isolated Shruff End is not the place of escape and seclusion Arrowby intends it to be, but is merely an empty stage upon which the figures of his past, present and possibly his future appear with a theatrical punctuality, reciting their lines, performing their small roles and disappearing again into the wings again until called upon again to reappear on cue around Arrowby as he plays his "many parts," from a wizened Prospero to a tragic Lear to a pathetically misguided attempt at Romeo and Juliet that quickly deteriorates into a truly horrific parody of Taming of the Shrew.
Did I enjoy The Sea, The Sea? I can't honestly say that I did. I'm not even sure that I liked it per se. But it did compel me to descend into a unique type of claustrophobic madness, creating a literary experience of a type that I've never quite experienced before, which is saying something indeed. My true reaction is suspended somewhere between three and four stars, but considering that the only other Murdoch novel I've read has continued to grow in stature in my memory, I gladly give the novel the benefit of the doubt and round my rating up.
The past and the present are so close, so almost one, as if time were an artificial teasing out of material which longs to join, to interpenetrate, and to become heavy and very small like some of those heavenly bodies scientists tell us of."...more
My deepest apologies, Patrick, but I lack the time and the right mindset to continue on this leisurely journey with you at present... I'll catch up wiMy deepest apologies, Patrick, but I lack the time and the right mindset to continue on this leisurely journey with you at present... I'll catch up with you again sometime in the future, I swear, as I enjoyed immensely the time we were able to spend together up until this point!...more
I haven't read any of the other selections in the 33 1/3 series, but have picked them up occasionally while browsing at bookstores. And from what I haI haven't read any of the other selections in the 33 1/3 series, but have picked them up occasionally while browsing at bookstores. And from what I have glanced through generally seem like close readings of various canonical (or at least critic-approved) albums, some taking a more serious and scholarly approach, others with a bit more whimsy, but they always seem brimming with much enthusiasm, passion and love. Which is why Carl Wilson's entry on Let's Talk About Love, Céline Dion's massive, "My Heart Will Go On" adorned album that was practically ubiquitous in the late 1990's, stand out. Because as Wilson bluntly states about starting the process of writing this study: "as far as I knew, I had never even met anybody who liked Céline Dion" (emphasis his).
This could have quite easily turned into an exercise in attempting to out-hipster the hipster, a "well, I see the value in this even though it has been practically branded as the definition of uncool" apologia, particularly as such a stance has become pretty common since the internet has supposedly democratized criticism and generally made hash of traditional lowbrow/highbrow distinctions (these are all topics Wilson analyzes at length). What I appreciated is that Wilson started out feeling utter "disdain" (his word, not mine) for the French-Canadian superstar, and in the last chapter he still can't really stand the album he has selected to write on, but his overwhelming reservations have taken on much more precision and nuance. What Wilson proves is that sometimes understanding what one doesn't like can be just as enlightening as knowing the things that makes one passionate.
By embarking on this "journey to the end of taste," Wilson makes a number of really wonderful and unexpected observations along the way, particularly in his brief meditation on the history of sentimental and/or "schmaltzy" music, and about the adoration Céline elicits on an international scale, and how Céline's music has been re-appropriated in a wide variety of surprising contexts (ie: the female music critic in Jamaica tells Wilson that she always heard Dion "blasting at high volume whenever I passed through volatile and dangerous neighborhoods, so much so that it became a cue to me to walk, run or drive faster").
He also reveals how, of all things, Dion seems to inspire some really fascinating conversations about race and ethnicity. He discusses at length how a widely-reported verbal gaffe by the Magnetic Fields's Stephen Merritt when making a (incredibly problematic) distinction between the "'authentic'" sound expected from a white "'indie'" singer such as himself and the more studio-manipulated sound expected from "black music, like Céline Dion" (!!!) actually can be read as much more than an unfortunate slip of the tongue. In fact, the most memorable section of the entire study for me was actually Wilson's reading of Dion's infamous, unbelievable Hurricane Katrina breakdown on Larry King, and that it might not in fact be merely the jaw-dropping display of white privilege it at first appears to be, but actually something infinitely more complex in regards to identity, race, identification, sympathy and empathy.
Wilson includes a lot of heavy-hitters in his analysis (Adorno, Kant, a number of sociologists and historians), and a chapter that provides the most accessible crash-course on Bourdieu I could ever hope to encounter. And it's just a lot of fun to read. For a deceptively small book (holding it in one's hands it's hard to believe it's actually over 150 pages long), it brings out infinite implications, many of which I'm now interested in ferreting out myself. ...more
Considering how long it took me to finish such a relatively slim book it should be readily apparent that I found something lacking in this. It was oneConsidering how long it took me to finish such a relatively slim book it should be readily apparent that I found something lacking in this. It was one of those books that I enjoyed to a certain extent while actually in the process of reading, but for some reason I never was able to figure out I never felt compelled to pick it back up once I put it down (which is always an unfortunate situation). And to be honest, I could tell almost immediately this just wasn't my thing, so I feel kind of bad for assigning a rating as I was well aware I wasn't going to like it, but decided to troop on until the end regardless.
I've read many descriptions of this books as a kind of an American Existentialist novel par excellence, and that's probably a big part of the problem. I've just never been able to muster up much enthusiasm Existentialist/Absurdist/whatever-minded literature in general, be it Camus or Kafka or Beckett or the Russians, etc (de Beauvoir's fiction might be a possible exception—I enjoyed a great deal both novels of hers that I've read).
Walker certainly broaches up a number of provocative and interesting ideas throughout the books, though I was more drawn to the passages critiquing social structures than those more questioning existence itself, and it does rally right at the end—I was very affected by (and I could painfully, oddly relate to) the closing showdown between Binx and imperious Aunt Em.
And frankly, while I understand that the title refers to the central character's habit of dispassionately observing life as if it was being projected in front of him, I was a bit let down that a film called The Moviegoer had so precious little to do with actual moviegoing. I'll admit that I was expecting arcane in-jokes for classic film lovers a la Myra Breckinridge/Myron, but aside from an early, tour-de-force cameo appearance by William Holden and a few clever and revealing comparisons between characters and semi-obscure film stars, it was definitely a bust on that account.
So yeah, when it comes down to it it seems that the odds were stacked against this one from the start, and unfortunately things just never panned out. So it goes. ...more
This is the kind of intimate and evocative book that one imagines oneself reading during a long, languorous afternoon in a cafe or while curled up inThis is the kind of intimate and evocative book that one imagines oneself reading during a long, languorous afternoon in a cafe or while curled up in big comfortable chair besides a sunny window, allowing oneself to be caught up in the delicate strands of thought, memory and whimsy Guibert uses to pattern this brief collection of essays, vignettes and assorted musings.
Unfortunately, I didn't read any of Ghost Image in such conditions. Rather, I read almost all of it while being jostled during my daily work commute on San Francisco public transportation, vying for all-too scarce seating, trying to maintain balance through unnecessarily abrupt braking, sandwiched between fellow commuters just as desperate for a cup of morning coffee or anxious to just get home as I was, etc. As such, I wish to apologize to this book—I don't feel like my reading experience did it justice.
But perhaps that pays Guibert a great compliment—because I did want to keep reading in such unideal reading situations, to see where Guibert was going to lead me next. The best sections, for me, were the anecdotes, often serving as a portrait of a person, that often functioned as short stories—the opening memory of "discovering" his mother while taking her portrait, an encounter with a curmudgeonly neighboring pharmacist, the lessons learned from a professional photographic retoucher. There are also a particularly wonderful meditations on the nature of old home movies and polaroid photographs.
From moment to moment this was enthralling reading, but in the end I couldn't help but feel I bit underwhelmed, as if it ultimately hadn't added up to a whole lot. But upon further consideration, I realize that my less-than-optimal reading experience might have caused me to miss the subtle rhythms and wispy, cobweb-like connections and associations I suspect Guibert used to string all of these disparate fragments together. As such, I will simply say that I fully look forward to reading this collection again, and next time around hopefully catch what I might very well have missed. ...more
"The living and the dead. Braided together. Woven together. An immense tapestry taking in centuries."
A little over 100 pages into this novel I stumble"The living and the dead. Braided together. Woven together. An immense tapestry taking in centuries."
A little over 100 pages into this novel I stumbled across the above lines, and even though I had another 500+ pages to go, I instinctively sensed that I had discovered the key to this immense, sprawling narrative, a description of what Oates was attempting to accomplish with Bellefleur. Literally spanning centuries, seven different generations and involving dozens of distinct characters, this is the story of the Bellefleurs, a privileged and moneyed family of the type usually characterized as American aristocracy. But Oates intentionally shatters her story into countless little shards of narrative so that with each chapter—all which function as their own stand-alone vignettes or even short stories—the reader is pulled between vastly different times and characters, with no obvious correlation from one to the next. At first it's disorienting, but Oates does eventually create the vague impression that the entire thing is indeed operating by its own internal logic and intricately designed rhythms. Frankly, this is a novel to get lost in, and one must be willing to make that decision intentionally.
Because it's literally impossible to keep things straight from one page to the next, sometimes even one paragraph to the next—there are many examples of two characters sharing the same name, and this family's history often seems to have a habit of operating on an endless loop. In this way I was reminded of Oates's own description of another novel that often came to mind while reading Bellefleur:
"Wuthering Heights... ambitiously diffuses its consciousness among several contrasting perspectives; its structure is not so complicated as it initially appears, but chronology is fractured, not linear, and certain of its most powerful images... require a second reading to be fully comprehended. What is mystery becomes irony what is opaque becomes translucent poetry. There are numerous flash-forwards, as well; and a mirroring of characters across generations."*
Reading back over that description of Brontë's novel, it seems clear to me that this was exactly the modus operandi behind Oates's own work. And while Oates doesn't quite reach the same heights of feverish ecstasies of her model, she did manage to create countless characters and images and actions in Bellefleur that I won't soon forget.
Which is not to say that I loved this novel unconditionally—several hundred pages in I knew which characters I didn't find very interesting and began to skim the chapters they appeared in, and I really did have to force myself to finish the last 100 pages or so (which is a shame, because it really does all lead up to an unexpected and incendiary conclusion).
Basically I wanted a leisurely summer read—"a voluptuous novel crammed with people and events," as Oates herself called it**—and that's exactly what I got. And for the most part, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Much like Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, Orwell's heavily autobiographical journalistic novel makes me vaguely uncomfortable—I just can never quite briMuch like Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, Orwell's heavily autobiographical journalistic novel makes me vaguely uncomfortable—I just can never quite bring myself to fully embrace depictions of "playing poverty" by young white men from bourgeois (or better) backgrounds. Granted, the comparison is a bit unfair, as Hemingway was clearly indulging in a project of retroactive self-mythification and intentionally fudging details while Orwell was attempting something akin to a social exposé, using his experiences to expose the European middle class readership of the realities of menial labor and begging. It's not that I intrinsically have a problem with these men's social privilege, it's the fact that it's never explicitly accounted for, which quickly leads to an untruthful romanticization of the disempowerment and disenfranchisement that is legitimately experienced by many people (who I'm quite sure don't find it a bit glamorous or romantic).
The narrative (if it can be accurately described as such) is an often awkward blend of colorful picaresque storytelling and stern Marxist-influenced polemics, but Orwell is at his best when relishing in the detailed minutia of the social microcosms he often finds himself enmeshed in, ranging from a posh French hotel to the British vagrant community. Because I have worked in the hospitality industry I was fascinated by the rigid workplace hierarchies of Parisian hotels and restaurants, and I thoroughly enjoyed the depictions of the countless creative ways that the sparking facades presented to paying tourists are undermined behind every kitchen and closet door ("roughly speaking, the more one pays for food, the more sweat and spittle one is obliged to eat with it"). Things might be much more sanitary now, but the behind-the-scene subversions and resentments were on occasion remarkably familiar.
Once Orwell transfers from Paris to London, however, things get progressively more dull—the witty, stylistic flourishes and the vibrant characterizations and anecdotes Orwell employs in his presentation of Paris gives way to a serious, plodding social-realist depiction of British street people, and the diatribes also become more frequent. At which point I had to force myself to finish the last few chapters, which unfortunately means I ended on a more sour note, which isn't very indicative of my experience with the majority of the text. C'est la vie.
[Read for ENG630:02 - Expatriate Writers in Paris: 1930's, 1940's and Beyond]
"Poverty is what I am writing about, and I had my first contact with poverty in this slum. The slum, with its dirt and queer lives, was first an object-lesson in poverty, and then the background for my own experiences. It is for that reason that I try to give some idea of what life was like there."
As I said in my initial status update on this book, "I had intended to skim, but that quickly proved to be an impossibility," as almost instantly I waAs I said in my initial status update on this book, "I had intended to skim, but that quickly proved to be an impossibility," as almost instantly I was engrossed by this group of utterly fascinating women—fiercely intelligent, unapologetically complex, sometimes contradictory, but each in their own diverse ways dedicated to the artistic life, in the process often turning in very real ways life itself into an artistic statement. Utilizing both biography and literary analysis—and demonstrating how often these factors intimately intertwine—Benstock attempts to sketch the ambiguous boundaries of the vibrant Parisian Left Bank community as it functioned during the first four decades of the twentieth century.
Benstock's task is an admittedly daunting one: the first comprehensive study of its kind, it is not particularly surprising that as the chapters progress one begins to get the impression that Benstock is struggling to retain control of her material in light of its obvious potential to branch out infinitely, and the first few chapters function as marvelous portraits of a number of women and/or pairings (romantic, professional and often both at once), most particularly those dedicated to Edith Wharton, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Janet Flanner, Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier, Djuna Barnes, Natalie Barney and the coterie of women circling her. Once she gets to the substantial chapter on H.D., however (included in this study rather tenuously as she intensely disliked Paris and actively avoided spending time there), Benstock is attempting to weave into this histiocultural narrative the stories and accomplishments of a number of individuals, and often these attempts fail to do their subjects justice. Aside from H.D.'s odd inclusion in this study and much space devoted to Colette (undoubtedly a crucial player in this world, but not an expatriate), exactly who and what is excluded is also rather curious: Radclyffe Hall and The Well of Loneliness barely warrant a few passing mentions, and a number of names listed on the cover (Kay Boyle, Caresse Crosby, Maria Jolas and Solita Solano and several others) collectively receive less analysis than, say, the paintings of Romaine Brooks, a topic supposedly outside the scope of study.
But such problems are minor compared to what Benstock does accomplish, which on the one hand is bringing these various women's life stories to vivid life, and on the other providing a much-needed countering voice to the heterosexual masculine (and extremely romanticized) depiction of the expatriate life as depicted in Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, the text which has almost singlehandedly defined this period in the popular imagination. Benstock also does important work in being part of the movement to reexamine and completely reinterpret the literary work of Stein, Barnes, Barney, H.D., Nancy Cunard and others, proclaiming their central importance in any analysis of the Modernist literary movement, defying the condescending marginalization this work has traditionally received by creating spaces of "alternative Modernisms." What I most appreciated, however, was how Benstock directly confronts the ways in which the writing of these women resists easy canonical assimilation, and attempts to take into account the ways in which very little of the collective artistic output that was created present a clear, unproblematic case studies for feminist study and discourse. Benstock recognizes this, and it makes her analysis and the portrait of a place and time all the more richly observed.
The documentary Paris Was a Woman (Greta Schiller, UK, 1995) provides a nice cliffnote-type accompaniment to this (admittedly hefty) volume, with archival footage, photographs and films which provide a brief but tantalizing taste of the period (with Benstock and several other scholars she prominently quotes throughout Women of the Left Bank providing context and analysis). Not an adequate substitute by any stretch of the imagination, but a nicely realized introduction and/or supplement.
The entire film can be found on YouTube. See here.
Even just a few pages in, and it's immediately apparent that this is a "helpless woman destroyed by the mechanisms of society" ride à la The House ofEven just a few pages in, and it's immediately apparent that this is a "helpless woman destroyed by the mechanisms of society" ride à la The House of Mirth. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as incisively observed or rendered as Wharton's masterpiece, and it's distinctly lacking that novel's poignance and haunting evocation of devastation and loss. Based on Rhys's own tangled ménage à trois relationship with Ford Maddox Ford and his wife, such deeply personal material is oddly rendered by Rhys, and one of the most irritating elements of the book is how distant Rhys keeps the reader from her stand-in, Marya, a character so passive that she's little more than a cipher.
But if the content disappointed me, I was rather taken with the style, which I found to be extremely cinematic in nature, as the first chapters in particular are broken into smaller sections and are rendered as little self-contained vignettes, then double spaced from each other which seem to evoke the "cut" of cinematic montage. It was a lovely effect, and very effective in its own way, even if it was one of the main sources of the chilly, distanced exteriority that kind of characterizes the entire novel.
Overall, one of those early novels that seem to allude to later displays of greatness than contain much of it itself. ...more
From one page to the next I can't say I liked it all that much; at the same time I can't dismiss it out of hand. Ultimately it all comes down to the fFrom one page to the next I can't say I liked it all that much; at the same time I can't dismiss it out of hand. Ultimately it all comes down to the fact that while I appreciate what Márquez is going for, in the end it just failed to move me. That is, with the exception of those final, breathless paragraphs, where the whole preceding 400 pages kind of implode in on themselves in a furious mingling of prophecy, dream, memory, tragedy... and the stillness of ultimate solitude.
It seems every edition currently in print liberally quotes that New York Times Book Review review that invokes Genesis, that 100 Years is "the first piece of literature since the book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race." Umm no, not quite, but it seems to me Genesis is the appropriate starting point: I've recently found myself returning to stories of the Old Testament and the similarities are striking—here again we are in a world, a state of being where it's perfectly feasible that a baby could be found floating among the reeds, an entire people group could wander aimlessly in a desert for forty years, that two daughters could get their father drunk and get themselves both impregnated by him. Really, is Márquez's magic carpets all that much different from the Torah writer's instant transformation of a woman into a pillar of salt?
But enough with the Old Testament parallels, though I could go on and on and on (i.e., the obsession with genealogy, the icky tendencies for family members to end up in the sack together, the marginalization of women, the endless focus on obscurely rationalized wars, the responsibility of the reader to ferret out some kind of deeper meaning from the most cursory of narrative fragments, etc, etc, etc). What really impresses me is the sheer density Márquez somehow manages to achieve—all of these endlessly repeating names, these familiar actions and tendencies seemingly bequeathed from one generation to the next, the "impression that time [is:] going in a circle," endlessly remixing and repeating the same little tragedies with far-reaching ripple effects. It's almost… Biblical. Oh wait.
Through my entire reading, which I can't claim was an easy one (in fact, there's a good chance I wouldn't have even finished it if I hadn't had my book club discussion as a motivator), I kept returning to a line I had scrawled on the blank page facing that essential genealogy chart: "…the hardship of solitude is measured out equally." It's a line from a poem called "The Gift of Meditation" by Julia Hartwig which I happened to come across halfway through my reading of Solitude. And it kind of got to the heart of the matter for me—all of these endless characters filling out every single page... each together but alone in the hardship of solitude.
"...and in that flash of lucidity he became aware that he was unable to bear in his soul the crushing weight of so much past."...more
It's my impression that D.H. Lawrence is rather out of fashion these days, and it's not particularly hard to see why: the "priest of love" shtick comeIt's my impression that D.H. Lawrence is rather out of fashion these days, and it's not particularly hard to see why: the "priest of love" shtick comes off now as dated in the extreme, the almost mystical pantheism is heavy-handed, and of course there's the blatant essentializing of gender and the bizarre views of human sexuality (and female sexuality in particular) that are problematic in the extreme. On a more personal level, I can't say I cared for the prose style much—a bit overblown and a little wordy, even if the occasional beautiful phrase manages to surface throughout.
And yet, all considered, I still ended up kind of liking Lady Chatterley's Lover.
I think it's maybe because I kind of admire the attempt even though the final results often fall far short of what I would consider successful. Robin Wood kind of gets at this when he writes, regarding The Rainbow, that "the very ambitiousness of the undertaking—the intensive exploration of areas of experience previously untouched in literature—entails problems of articulacy and organization that Lawrence doesn't always solve." Exactly. The main characters are often emotionally incoherent, acting and reacting in often illogical ways—but that seems to me to be exactly the point: it's the inevitable fallout of characters lacking a means of expression, searching for means to articulate the previously unarticulated (be it socially, sexually, literarily). It was striking to me how the three main characters are all stranded in "half" states: Connie is half modern liberated woman and half devoted helpmate, Clifford is considered "half a man" due to the paralysis of the lower half of his body, Mellors stranded between classes (his constant shifting between "proper English" and the local vernacular was fascinating, if sometimes made for difficult reading). That all three end up essentially destroying each other trying to crawl out of these emotionally deadened half states was often poignant, even when intellectually I was revolted by their (expressed) rationalizations for doing so.
"The world is supposed to be full of possibilities, but they narrow down to pretty few in most personal circumstances."