Yes, this is a war novel. The Red Badge of Courage describes Henry Fleming, a teenage soldier, as he first encounters the red monster god that is war....moreYes, this is a war novel. The Red Badge of Courage describes Henry Fleming, a teenage soldier, as he first encounters the red monster god that is war. He is first tested and found wanting, then proves himself. The depiction of the battles is brilliantly done; Crane's bold use of metaphor and imagery, electric. Yet, while the larger setting is The Civil War, more particularly the battle fought at Chancellorsville, Va, the battle of greater importance is Henry's internal one as he develops from a callow, at times craven youth beset with self doubt to a man cognizant of his range of strengths and weaknesses.
Having taught the novel to high school sophomores, it has been my experience that young students become bogged down with Henry's persistent self-analysis. This amazes me since Henry's struggles so perfectly mirror their own, minus the actual battle. Here I am just musing...how might the book be taught in a way that makes the most of this aspect?
Crane's descriptive powers are famously powerful as is his sophisticated presentation of the young man's psyche. In Henry he creates a character who is at once despicable and noble, one we ultimately see as ourselves.
Question: Is the novel "anti-war." My father, a high ranking military officer and Civil War historian, has never read it as such. He sees it as a accurate description of war and the typical emotional struggles soldiers face. However, many people think it is so. I am not sure. Is Shakepeare's Henry V anti-war? The depictions of the carnage are horrifically graphic. The thoughts and actions of the characters at times deplorable. But, war is hell. Does depicting it as such make a novel anti-war? Or is it how Henry is described as succumbing to a mob mentality becoming part of the killing machine that makes people think so. This is certainly something to think about. My inclination is to say it is not. (less)
Oscar Wilde famously proclaimed that there was no such thing as a moral or immoral book, only one that was badly or well written. I would never say th...moreOscar Wilde famously proclaimed that there was no such thing as a moral or immoral book, only one that was badly or well written. I would never say that Dorian Gray is badly written. It is full of pretty words, lush descriptions and witty repartee. However, it lacks a compelling central character. It, in fact, lacks any compelling characters. It works as a morality play, but not as a fully wrought novel. We never understand Gray beyond his shiny exterior. As I read, I kept thinking, "what a book this would have been if Conrad had written it!" Then I would think what if Poe or Hawthorne had.
When Marlowe sees the horror that had become Kurtz, the reader is deeply affected. Though absent for nearly all of the book, Kurtz becomes for the reader a man of substance, depth, at one time, of integrity. When Othello, Hamlet, Oedipus fall we mourn. While deeply flawed these men represented some level of worthiness. One does not mourn the destruction of a piece of frippery. From the start Dorian is nothing more than that. A pretty boy. He is vapid, callow beyond belief. His descent into turpitude is not affecting because he was really nothing to begin with.
As for the plotting, there are large chunks that could have been axed. The catalogue of collectors and collections gave Wilde a chance at heaping on gorgeous details, but bogs down the story. Gray's rumored depravity is too vague to be believed in. Granted a great bit of the novel was axed by the publisher and Wilde himself donor is hard to fault the author here. Yet, Stevenson is able to impress us with the abject hideousness of Hyde's corruption without being especially graphic. The plot only really becomes interesting with the murder of ---.
The two foils to Gray, Lord Henry and Basil, are really no more interesting than Gray. Basil the hand wringing moralist could have been the most interesting character. Lord Henry who plays Mephistopheles to Gray's Faust is a witty bore. How Gray could have fallen under his spell is mystery.
I wound not call Dorian Gray a bad book, just marginally silly one. It earns three stars on the merit of the last 1/3. Perhaps it should have been a short story. (less)
Alice is (exactly) six months older then when she fell down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. This perhaps is the reason for what I found to be the gre...moreAlice is (exactly) six months older then when she fell down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. This perhaps is the reason for what I found to be the greatest difference in Alice's adventures in Wonderland and those she had in the Looking-Glass world. Wonderland borders on the nightmarish. Alice is often quite frightened and totally flummoxed by her situations. So distraught is she at one point she ends up swimming in a pool of her own tears. Of course, those tears had been shed when she was much bigger, and, woe, she has shrunk again. In Looking Glass, Alice sometimes becomes irritated with the seeming lack of rationality possessed by the citizens of this backwards world, but rarely to the point of tears or anger. Through her greater maturity at times she is able to remember she is in a mirror land, and her knowledge of the game of chess allows some glimmer of understanding as well. Still some of the word play is a source of perplexity, especially in the case of the words "jam" (iam),the Latin word for a now meaning at that previous time, not meaning at this time, and the rowing terms "feather" and "crab." Besides in Looking-Glass world Alice as a more definite and positive goal - becoming Queen. The "adults" while sometimes vexing or demanding are never as threatening as those of Wonderland. No one is threatening "off with her head." Poor little hedgehogs are not being knocked about by poor flamingos at the Queen's Croquet game. In fact of the inhabitants such as the White Queen and White Knight are endearing in their eccentricity drawing from Alice a bemused sympathy and affection. Yes, Alice faces frustration but as a now older child she takes it in stride. Frequently she thinks about how it would be best not to get into an argument. She has become more disciplined, diplomatic and acquiescent since Wonderland.
There are the obvious differences, one story features characters which are cards, the other chess pieces which explains the oddness of their movements, or in the case of the sleeping king, non-movement. Through the Looking Glass begins the night before Guy Fawkes with Alice indoors watching snow fall on the fields of Oxford. The summer garden where Alice followed the rabbit is covered with snow. Not surprisingly in her new dream she goes into a lush, garden world.
While there are more songs and poems, though Alice rather wishes there weren't, there is less political satire. There have been attempts to interpret the Walrus and the Carpenter as combination portrayal as Buddha/Ganesha and the Carpenter as Christ, the interpretation falls apart when one finds it was John Tenniel who chose the Carpenter from three choices offered by author.
Through the Looking Glass is an amusing book though for me, it lacked Wonderland's psychological and satirical punch. I also miss the fiery, contentious Alice of Wonderland. Alice has grown up quite nicely-perhaps too nicely to be as much fun. However, it is easy to get caught up in Looking-Glass's whimsy. One can't help loving the White Knight who for all of his inventiveness never manages to stay on his horse. What's to be done; that is just the nature of a knight in chess, always confined to their hurky-gurky movement. Never a straight path for them. So it seems with most of us.
My cat, Lucia, would like to point out that Kitty is an offensive name for a cat. She says one should no more name a cat Kitty, than name a baby Baby. Though pleasant enough has a term of endearment, it is no name at all for a cat. She would happily lend her own name in any future revisions of the book. She also says the name Snowdrop is beneath comment.(less)
One of the few thorns in my college literature classes! Tom Brown was part of the syllabus of our Victorian literature class not because of its litera...moreOne of the few thorns in my college literature classes! Tom Brown was part of the syllabus of our Victorian literature class not because of its literary value but as a portrait of the Victorian psychology. After all, it was schools like Rugby which shaped the great writers, thinkers, empire builders and political figures of 19th century England, not the least among the literary figures being Matthew Arnold, the son of Rugby's headmaster Thomas Arnold. Thomas Arnold in Tom Brown figures as a guiding, benevolent godhead of the school.
As the granddaddy of the school boy novel genre which has ranged from the various works of Delderfield to Hilton's Goodbye, Mr. Chips to Knowles's A Separate Peace, it must be given its due. One can also note to its credit that it is the source of Fraser's character Flashman who was a bully and Tom's nemesis in Hughes's novel. As a mirror of the educated upper middle class Victorian mindset it is quite effective. Which is to say it isn't much fun. (less)
Mayor of Casterbridge is the wickedly funny and deeply affecting account of the train wreck that is Michael Henchard's life. Much of the humor comes f...moreMayor of Casterbridge is the wickedly funny and deeply affecting account of the train wreck that is Michael Henchard's life. Much of the humor comes from the Greek chorus like interludes in which some the the local lower class give their take on the doings if their "betters." Yet, this a tragedy of character. Henchard just can't seem not to hoist himself on every possible one of his petards, sometimes taking a somewhat innocent victim such as Lucetta with him. His combative sense of inferiority constantly eggs him into rivalry with both those seem such as Farfrae and unseen such as the sailor Newsome, Elizabeth Jane's father. His need to control and own people and things ultimately leaves him alone. All if the major characters are sympathetically drawn, finely shaded and colorful. The setting is splendidly golden. The honey hues of the stone, the grains, the sunlight wash over the story at times affecting a healing balm. The ancient ruins of Casterbridge underpin themes of wrongheaded malignant rivalry over vaunting pride, and plain old spitefulness as old as Hector and Achilles, Oedipus...you get the idea. Indeed, Henchard is a deeply flawed hero in the classical mode. There is never a dull moment in the Hardy's masterful treatment of his subject. This is just plain old good stuff. Fun, dramatic. cringe worthy, fascinating storytelling at its best. (less)
For readers who know Twain only through his often quoted witticisms and works such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer many of the stories in this book wi...moreFor readers who know Twain only through his often quoted witticisms and works such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer many of the stories in this book will come as a bit of a shock. The volume begins with the folksy "Famous Jumping Frog" and ends with the surreal novella The Mysterious Stranger. Between the writing of the two, Twain would suffer failure and losses which twisted his already cynical view of mankind into a nearly warped vision. Along the way he seemed to lose much of his good-humored empathy for man and his weaknesses. I do not much share the author's view on people or life, but I have over the years found his work to be thought-provoking. In the case of the very, very dark Stranger, as weird as it is, as twisted as I find his assessment of humankind, it is one of my favorite of his works. One I have re-read several times over the years. As for the other stories in this collection, they were, for me, a mixed bag. Too often they veer too closely to the didactic for artistic effectiveness, a complaint that might be made of Stranger, but it's utter oddness and darkness is haunting. "The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg though leant too much towards a preachiness to really catch my imagination. However, I found the premise intriguing. "The Carnival of Crime..." again preachy, but amusing. The story of the wishes; Lord save me from becoming that jaded about life as I get older. (less)