I waver between two or three stars for this book. The writing is serviceable, but often terminally pedestrian, and occasionally clumsy (“Stephen lifteI waver between two or three stars for this book. The writing is serviceable, but often terminally pedestrian, and occasionally clumsy (“Stephen lifted searching eyes above the soup spoon as he sucked the liquid over his teeth”). The plotting is similarly ham-fisted, with its tepid “romances”, and unaffecting, though undoubtedly well-researched war scenes (“Stephen watched the men go on madly, stepping over the bodies of their friends, clearing one firebay at a time, jostling one another to be first to traverse. They had dead brothers and friends on their minds; they were galvanized beyond fear. They were killing with pleasure. They were not normal”). It’s as though Faulks had decided that, after dutifully wading through volumes of war correspondences and field reports, he would create certain characters representative of the era and then assign random period characteristics to them. They remain as shallow as a soldier’s hasty grave, and thus their historically accurate gory deaths are devoid of pathos. But the turning point for me was the totally extraneous subplot involving Elizabeth, Stephen’s granddaughter, and the eye-rollingly unbelievable climax of her story. In her late thirties, involved in an unpromising affair with an older married man, Elizabeth develops a sudden interest in her grandfather’s war diaries and discovers facts about her family’s past --- in a particularly slow-witted way:
“Elizabeth did some calculations on a piece of paper, Grand-mere born 1878. Mum born…she was not sure exactly how old her mother was. Between sixty-five and seventy. Me born 1940. Something did not quite add up in her calculations, though it was possibly her arithmetic that was to blame.”
Umm --- my nine-year old knows how old I am. Elizabeth was raised by her mother, Francoise, and is the managing director of her company. There is no indication whatsoever that her mother wants to keep any family history secret. The implication is that they are curiously dull, or so bovinely indifferent, that such basic facts simply never came up in their family life.
Or perhaps, her abject ignorance is a clunky plot device.
Whatever. By this point, I’m plodding through the story like a WW I soldier through waist-high muck. But wait, Elizabeth is also historically challenged:
Francoise: “I was sent to Jeanne from Germany, where I had been living, because my real mother had died. She died of flu.”
Elizabeth: “Of flu? That’s impossible.”
Francoise: “No. There was an epidemic. It killed millions of people in Europe just after the end of the war.”
Er, Elizabeth --- how did you get past high school?
Elizabeth and her married lover proceed to “create an autonomous human life from nothing”, and this is unequivocally portrayed as something gloriously life-affirming. Somehow, Stephen’s wartime heroism inspired her to conquer her impending mid-life/ biological clock crisis by procreating. Screw the wife and kids. They’re obliviously happy. Francoise is non-judgmentally supportive. Stephen’s legacy lives on. The end.
There was once a noble house called Brideshead Of sacred and profane memories Seat of the last of the Marchmains An ancient pile withBRIDESHEAD REVISITED
There was once a noble house called Brideshead Of sacred and profane memories Seat of the last of the Marchmains An ancient pile with a false dome Where painted classical deities cavorted Reflected in gilt mirrors Echoed in carved marbles The chapel was Art Nouveau The drawing room Chinoiserie And the whole thing flanked by colonnades and pavilions Lady Marchmain was a lady of religion Perpetually at her Matins, Lauds and Vespers Lord Marchmain had long fled the magnificent coop To live large across the continent with a paramour The heir Lord Brideshead an ineffectual matchbox collector The spare Sebastian doomed to waste in foreign lands Sebastian who brushed his teddy bear Aloysius with an ivory comb And who took his lover Charles home To meet his sisters: Pretty and flighty Lady Julia With her flawless quattrocento beauty And plain jane Lady Cordelia Who went to Spain to minister to the rebels Charles was a strange cold fish A painter of crumbling manors Who forsook his wife and children To gallivant across the Americas To search for inspiration Among llamas and lianas Beguiled, ensnared By both Sebastian and Julia Both loves doomed by divine retribution The tale told in exquisitely wrought prose With penetrating intelligence And deftness for conjuring vivid characters But what about the scarcely believable denouement? Abrupt and curiously unexamined And must we mourn the passing of the Marchmains so Dissolute aristocrats with nothing to do? ET IN ARCADIA EGO ...more
"How come his parents are killed by that rhino? Why did the zoo let him escape?"
"The4 stars from my little girl, Jess (age 7).
Comments while reading:
"How come his parents are killed by that rhino? Why did the zoo let him escape?"
"The aunts are soo UGLY!"
"I think the centipede doesn't really have 100 legs, but we only think that he does. He's a pest anyway."
"So, all the soil in this world is made of worm poop? Yuck, that's gross!"
"Okay. So Miss Spider is useful because she catches bad insects like mosquitos and flies, but I don't want her to make webs all over my bedroom. It's gross. How about if she has finished catching all those insects, we get rid of her?"
"Are you telling me that we use the Silkworm's thread to make clothes? You mean like the one that I'm having on right now? Yuck!"
"What is hail? Do we have them here? That must be quite painful if they fall on you."
I have a confession to make: I am allergic to sci-fi. The kind that has as its hero a humanoid who lives iThis review is for the first two books only.
I have a confession to make: I am allergic to sci-fi. The kind that has as its hero a humanoid who lives in 23345 AD on a dystopian red planet, where he must fight slimy insectoid aliens whose sole purpose in life is to lay and hatch their filthy eggs on human bodies. The guy is barely human anyway, with half his face swathed in shiny robotic gear with glowing red eyes that look like the battery-powered tip of my 10 year old’s toy laser gun. Or instead of being half-android, he is half Vulcan or Neptune or whatever and thus has the emotional life of a plant. He would speak in pseudo-scientific jargon, something like, “ I must get the quark-photon-intercellular battery on my jet-propulsion pack to work so that I can get back to my Hyper Drive Interstellar Pod and shoot off to Alpha Centauri XYZ2345 in 10,000 times the warp speed along the space-time continuum”. I could feel my brain slowly turn to mush after barely ONE page of dialogue like that. He would have a robotic sidekick that looks like my Brabantia Dome Lid Waste Container with a string of blinking Christmas light around it, except that it can also speak in a metallic voice that somehow sounds like my mother-in-law in one of her bad days. Oh, and there will be other more sympathetic alien life forms that look like the misbegotten offspring of a camel and an orangutan, or some rubbery stuffed toy that the dog had chewed to bits. In short, I just can’t see why I should care about the fate of these monstrous, barely human creatures. Why waste precious time reading about some trash can android or an alien that looks like the Elephant Man on a bad hair day while there are perfectly normal, realistic HUMAN characters out there?
My favorite genre is historical fiction; you know, those books about human beings who either have been dead for centuries, or never existed at all, written by people who cannot possibly have any first-hand knowledge of the period that they’re writing about? Nothing could be more different than science fiction, something that I have not touched in 20 years or so.
So, what am I doing with The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Omnibus, 832 pages of sci-fi drenched in techno babble and redolent of the smell of a million alien armpits?
Well, for one thing, it’s included in the BBC’s 100 Big Reads, which for some reason has become my guide to a worthwhile reading list that is not solely composed of the classics. The other thing is that it’s supposed to be one of the funniest books ever written ---I can always overlook the sci-fi for the funnies. And the characters are recognizably human, or at least sort of human, although one of them is called Zaphod Beeblebrox, (which, incidentally would make a good brand name for a laxative) and has two heads and three arms. The other two are genuine human beings from Earth --- or carbon-based ape-descended life forms --- take your pick, and the other one is a human looking alien with ginger hair (a hideous genetic mutation that should be bred out in real humans). And he is conveniently named Ford Prefect. No need to memorize ridiculous alien names when a simple English one will do.
And now that we are superficially acquainted with the protagonists, it’s time to summarize the plot of this sprawling intergalactic tome --- except that there is no real plot to speak of. Well, actually there is something about looking for the Ultimate Question --- ‘What is the meaning of life?’ --- which is of interest to all life forms in the universe, at least to those that have the brain capacity to ponder such things. But mostly they just bounce around from one bizarre planet to another, having weird adventures in which they meet, among others, a paranoid android, rebellious appliances, a comatose intergalactic rock star and a megalomaniac book publisher. Ultimately, the barely there plot is nothing but an excuse for an absurdist farce through which Adams pokes fun at organized religion, meat-eaters, politicians, big businesses, environmentalists, the publishing industry and other pet peeves. Some parts are brilliantly funny, especially in the first book, while others had me scratching my head and wondering whether he was high on something when he wrote them. Certain sections are mind-numbingly boring and confusing in that special sci-fi way. Oh, and the constant smugness and non-stop zaniness are grating after the second book or so, and I just lost interest completely after finishing it.
At least I know now that ‘babel fish’ is not just a strangely named online translation program. And that it is possible to write a book about what is essentially nonsense and have it become a major pop culture icon. But I’m also mightily relieved that I can stop hitchhiking through THIS universe, which is probably too cool and too clever for me to completely understand.
And this shall be my last sci-fi book for the next 20 years. ...more
I suppose that a story that is so ubiquitous during Christmas time as this one needs no introduction. I can see why it has been constantly popular forI suppose that a story that is so ubiquitous during Christmas time as this one needs no introduction. I can see why it has been constantly popular for more than one hundred years. I appreciate the writing and craft that goes into the story, the social commentary, the worthy morals, and the affection that generations of readers have for it. But I hated it. Yes, it's official, I'm the Grinch and (pre-reformed) Scrooge rolled into one. I have a heart made of stone, or at least something equally hard, immune to the plight of tiny, poor, crippled tots and destitute Victorian families who couldn't afford a stuffed goose for their Christmas tables.
I found the story to be simplistic, with sketchy, largely one dimensional characters, and so drenched in sugary sentimentality that it made my teeth hurt. I can deal with sentimentality, but such a massive, industrial-strength dose of it renders me comatose, instead of being genuinely moved.
*slinking away to hide under a rock until Christmas is over* ...more
What I learned from this book (in no particular order) :
1. Italians are excitable, dedicated to the opera, and most likely to be in Beware of spoilers!
What I learned from this book (in no particular order) :
1. Italians are excitable, dedicated to the opera, and most likely to be involved with organized crime.
2. Beware of fat, jolly Italian counts with submissive wives and fondness of white mice and canaries.
3. Watch out if your newly wed husband lives in a stately pile with an abandoned wing full of creepy Elizabethan furniture. If the said ancestral house is surrounded by dark ponds and eerie woods, expect the worst.
4. A Baronet is not always noble, and his impressive manor and estate might be mortgaged to the hilt. Instead of being the lady of the house, you might be forced to pay HIS debts. Make sure that the marriage settlement is settled in your favor before marrying.
5. Never marry for convenience or enter into any legal agreement when you are: a. under age; b. sentimental and easily persuadable; c. prone to swooning and fainting.
6. Intelligent, resourceful women are likely to be mannish, and even actually HAVE a mustache, but are strong and have good figures. They can also be relied on to provide intelligent conversation when your beautiful but fragile wives are too busy swooning.
7. Shutting yourself up in a medieval vestry full of combustible materials with a candle for lighting is NOT advisable. Always have your minions do the dirty work.
8. Being ‘feeble in mind’ is enough reason to get you committed into an asylum for the mentally ill. So is knowing some secret that you might accidentally blurt out to strangers.
9. You CAN marry someone who is legally dead. Nobody bothered to check the civil registry records in those good old days.
10. A ménage a trois is fun, but you have to marry at least ONE of them first to preserve Victorian propriety.
Lately, I have received several personal messages that accused me, based on point#1 in my review above, of being prejudiced toward Italians --- something which couldn't be further from the truth. For those who hold such view, I would like to point out that my review is a parody which involves humorous, satiric or ironic imitations of the plot, characters or point of views set forth in the novel.The "This is what I learned" heading is a part of the whole exercise, and does not mean that I personally subscribe to the points enumerated therein. Obviously, I don't believe that "intelligent, resourceful women are likely to be mannish, and even actually HAVE a mustache" (point 6) or that "being ‘feeble in mind’ is enough reason to get you committed into an asylum for the mentally ill" (point 8) --- just as I don't believe that "Italians are excitable, dedicated to the opera, and most likely to be involved with organized crime".
I'm aware that my sense of humor is not to everyone's taste, but it has never been my intention to denigrate Italians or any other ethnic groups in this review (or any other review of mine).
“How many lies did it require to make The portly truth you here present us with?”
Randolph Henry Ash, the fictional Victorian poet whose life and secret“How many lies did it require to make The portly truth you here present us with?”
Randolph Henry Ash, the fictional Victorian poet whose life and secrets form the heart of Possession, is called ‘The Great Ventriloquist’, a sobriquet that could very well be applied to A.S. Byatt herself, for her astonishing rendition of all the different voices of the novel’s various characters. From her pair of Victorian poets, for whom she crafted numerous period poems and letters, to excerpts of Professor Cropper’s self-aggrandizing biography, and Leonora Stern’s feminist diatribe, each voice is distinct and fully articulates its owner’s peculiar character and idiosyncrasies.
The characters (some of which are more caricatural than others) also serve as mouthpieces for various issues that are dear to the author, such as infighting in the academia and faddish literary theories (check out the hilarious send-up of ‘feminist’ literary critique in the Stern essay), but these are never allowed to obscure the main theme of the novel, which is our propensity for obsessions and possessions.
Cropper, an American scholar whose zeal in collecting everything Ash compels him to dig up the poet’s grave, is a poster boy for unhealthy obsession that has no regard for any kind of privacy. But when everyone else --- including our protagonists Maud and Roland --- agree to read the letters that he exhumed from the grave, aren’t they all (and we readers by extension) complicit in his vice?
There are as many kinds of possessions as there are voices in this novel; possession of a lover, of a child, of knowledge, and of reputation. The various doomed romances illustrate how fraught with difficulties are our feeble efforts to possess another human being. Likewise, the scholar-detectives’ possession of knowledge is ultimately shown to be incomplete, for no private life can be completely known to others. Academic reputation, built up over a lifetime, is also fleeting, as it could be very easily overturned by new discoveries.
Byatt’s story is rich and multi-layered, and perhaps could be best appreciated by those who have some knowledge of Victorian poetry and contemporary literary theories, but it still can be enjoyed as a compellingly told, ultimately moving tale. Her staggering erudition about subjects such as Norse mythology, Breton folk tales, Victorian science, theology, and other aspects of 19th century life is prominently displayed on every page --- which could be either off-putting, or be an inspiration for further studies. I personally find it fascinating, although they need time to be properly digested. Likewise her faux Victorian poetry, some of them quite long epic poems, which contain clues about the mystery of Ash’s relationship with Christabel. Skim through them if you must for, in Ash’s own words, “we are driven by endings as by hunger”, but return to them later for they really are worth reading. Possession is a book to read quickly for the first time and lingeringly the second and perhaps third time.
It is surely an understatement to call Les Miserables a sprawling epic. In fact, it is perhaps the loosest, baggie"Conscience is the highest justice”.
It is surely an understatement to call Les Miserables a sprawling epic. In fact, it is perhaps the loosest, baggiest monster of all those great 19th century novels. This monster contains everything: morality play, melodrama, political tracts, religious polemic and urban history. Hugo’s great bag of a novel is big enough to contain all those and more. He has a healthy ego, and is perpetually eager to pontificate on subjects as diverse as the battle of Waterloo, monastic history, the jet jewelry industry, the development of the argot and the sewer system of Paris. The effect is like having a retired professor camping out in your living room, always ready with an impromptu lecture or two. These mini-lectures, which are almost encyclopedic in their details, give a fascinating picture of the different aspects of French life at that time. But every time Hugo gets up on the soapbox to talk politics, he bores me to tears. These political lectures are delivered in a polemical, disjointed style which nuances are hard to grasps unless you are intimately familiar with French history of the period. And these digressions tend to occur in the middle of the exciting parts of the main story. What happens at the barricade? Is he killed? Wait; let’s wax poetic about flowers for a few pages first. Jean Valjean escapes through the sewer! Wait --- you’ve got to read this dissertation on the sewer system of Paris first. You get the idea. Yet, somehow, it doesn’t matter, as these digressions (except for the abovementioned political op-eds) are often as absorbing as the main narrative.
And what is the main narrative? At its heart, Les Miserables is a moving parable of mercy and redemption, a meditation on justice and conscience that makes us reflect on our own lives. Hugo’s France, with its crumbling tenements, abandoned street children and revolutions may be history to the Western world, but it is still alive and well in parts of the developing world. The barricades still have resonance today. Yes, Hugo could be sentimental and verbose, didactic and pedantic. He is not averse to use improbable coincidences (or divine providence, as another fellow reader had kindly pointed out) to tie up his storylines. He could have used a good editor with a big red pen. But again, it doesn’t matter in the big picture, as we are swept away in the stories of Jean Valjean, Bishop Myriel, Gavroche, Marius, Cosette and Eponine. Their stories, despite the melodrama and Romantic trappings, are the eternal story of man’s struggle against himself and society to live a good life, to be kind and forgiving to his fellows, to sacrifice one’s life selflessly for the good of others. Conscience is the highest justice, indeed.
Now I know why Charlotte Bronte said this of Jane Austen: "The passions are perfectly unknown to her: she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with thNow I know why Charlotte Bronte said this of Jane Austen: "The passions are perfectly unknown to her: she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy sisterhood". I love Jane, but Charlotte REALLY knows how to write about passion, romantic or otherwise. If Jane’s books are stately minuets in which the smallest gesture has its meaning, Charlotte’s is a spirited, sweeping tango of duty and desire. A perfect blend of passionate romance, gothic mystery, romantic description of nature, social commentary and humor, all rendered in vivid, gorgeous prose. One cannot help to admire Jane Eyre, the little governess who could. She rises above her harsh upbringing to become a governess, poor but ever fiercely independent. Even the promise of love and comfort with the man that she worships is not enough to sway her from the path of integrity. One cannot help to admire Charlotte, who makes her intensely human; a woman of virtue, yet one who is not above jealousy and doubts, and who constantly struggles with the personal cost of her decisions. A deeply felt, and ultimately moving story of love and redemption that will linger long after the last page is turned.
**spoiler alert** To Mr. Philip Pirrip, Esq. ______________, London
Dear Mr. Pirrip,
I have just finished reading your remarkable memoir, titled ‘Great Ex**spoiler alert** To Mr. Philip Pirrip, Esq. ______________, London
Dear Mr. Pirrip,
I have just finished reading your remarkable memoir, titled ‘Great Expectations’, and I am compelled to lift my humble pen to write to you about it. Oh, before I proceed, may I ask your permission to call you ‘Mister Pip’? After all, that is how you refer to yourself in your history, not to mention that it is a name that you are legally bound to use under your benefactor’s terms. So, Mr. Pip, I must say that I have been enthralled by your story, beginning with your account of your childhood in the marsh country. A most hardscrabble childhood that you had, sir, with you being an orphan and raised ‘by hand’ by your sister, Mrs. Joe. Fortunately, you had Mr. Joe Gargery, a constant friend and protector. I was surprised that you could tell of your harsh childhood with such a sense of humor. You made me chuckle, sir, as when you said that you were a ‘connubial missile’ being passed from wife to husband. As a child you helped an escaped convict, an act which consequences later changed your whole life.
Then one day you came into the attention of Miss Havisham, a rich, eccentric recluse, who wanted you to come to her house to play. How odd that was, and how odd was Miss Havisham, with her yellowing bridal dress and strange habits! Your description of her and her gloomy house, where the wax candles burned in broad daylight and beetles “groped about the hearth in a ponderous elderly way, as if they were short–sighted and hard of hearing, and not on terms with one another”, was unforgettable. There you met Estella, a girl-child not much older than yourself, who was destined to become your life-long love. There you also became aware of a loftier world than your own and honest Joe’s; a world of gentlemen and ladies, of wealth and privilege. You wanted to partake of that world and win Estella for yourself, but alas, you were a common laboring boy and seemed destined for nothing better than to become Joe’s apprentice at his forge. That is, until a certain Mr. Jaggers, lawyer, came to apprise you of your good fortune. A mysterious benefactor desired to turn you into a gentleman!
So off you went to London to lay claim on your new position in life. I must admit that I did not find you entirely sympathetic during this period in your life, Mr. Pip. You were profligate and snobbish. You were embarrassed of your own kin and wanted nothing to do with them. But you evidently still retained a few positive traits, for you soon gained steady friends in Mr. Herbert Pocket and Mr. Wemmick. Meanwhile, your whole being was consumed with the pursuit of the lovely Miss Estella. Somehow you believed that old Miss Havisham intended her to marry you, despite numerous evidence to the contrary. You were not aware, sir, that Miss Estella had been bred to break men’s hearts, hearts that were far more hardened than yours.
The day came when you were to meet your mysterious benefactor, and he was not the person you had always thought he was! I must confess that I was just as surprised as you were. Despite your initial disgust at his uncouthness and criminal past, you grew to like and respect him. You aided him, at great personal cost to yourself, to escape the law’s justice. Alas, his attempt at freedom failed and he expired, under your tender care, in prison. As a criminal, his possessions reverted to the Crown, and thus you lost your expectation. You fell gravely ill, and who else but the faithful Joe who nursed you back to health.
After losing your expectation, you seemed to have learned a valuable lesson, Mr. Pip, and you spent the next decade working hard for your living in the East. Upon your return to England you accidentally met Miss Estella, now a widow after years of being ill used by her brutish husband. You were reconciled to her, despite her coldness to you over the years. And thus your narrative ended. I wonder if she will stay true to you, or whether she is yet another expectation in your life that shall remain unfulfilled? I, of course, fervently hope for the earlier.
I must warmly thank you for the enjoyable and instructive hours that I have spent in perusing your remarkable memoir and I remain,
1. If a young lady is not born into either rank or fortune, she will be looked down upon bySpoilers!
Miss Rebecca Sharp's Guide to the Regency Society
1. If a young lady is not born into either rank or fortune, she will be looked down upon by good society and forced to exist in a humiliating dependency on others for life, unless the said young lady is willing, nay, not merely willing, but most strenuously strive to improve her situation.
2. If the said young lady, despite being a poor orphan, happens to have the good fortune of being admitted into an exclusive academy for young ladies as an articled pupil, she has to ensure that she makes the utmost effort to learn everything that she could in that fine establishment. The modern languages, Greek, Latin and the rudiments of Hebrew, as well as music and dancing are important subjects that need to be mastered by an accomplished young lady, but most important of all is the ability to speak good French with the purest Parisian accent, for it enables the speaker to pass herself off as a daughter of the French aristocracy, even though in reality her mother is a mere stage actress.
3. “A woman with fair opportunities, and without an absolute hump, may marry whom she likes”. A wealthy husband should be prospected immediately after the young lady completes her education. The brother of a school friend is most suitable, even if the said young man is a fat dandy and not very sensible, as long as he is of ample inheritance. Beware of the gluttonous young buck though, for an overindulgence in a bowl of punch might thwart a young lady’s designs on him!
4. “Schoolmistresses' letters are to be trusted no more nor less than churchyard epitaphs”. There are notable exceptions, it must be admitted, but they are exceedingly rare. Nevertheless, the young lady, should she fail in her initial effort to land a wealthy husband, should endeavour to gain a letter of introduction that would recommend her as a governess to the most respectable of households. Such households, though populated by dissolute aristocrats, might house a number of potential spouses. A younger son of a baronet, even though he is a scoundrel, gambler, swindler and murderer, is a most suitable prospect, provided that he is to inherit an elderly relative’s fortune.
5. “Let them show ever so little inclination, and men go down on their knees at once: old or ugly, it is all the same”. A little sweet talk and a wink, and they all fall on your feet bearing trinkets of pearls and gold. It doesn’t matter a whit if he happens to be your best friend’s husband, nor if you yourself is somebody’s else’s wife. It is best, however, if the gentleman admirer is a wealthy, powerful nobleman, for the advantages that a clever lady could get from him, financially or otherwise, is great indeed. Why, not only is he able to provide the lady’s household with a thousand-pound cheque at a whim, he is also able to bestow a profitable colonial governorship on the lady’s husband. Beware of the jealous husband, though, who through an imaginary affront to his honor might destroy all of the lady’s clever schemes!
6. How To Live Well On Nothing A Year. Appearances must be kept: a residence in Mayfair, a smart carriage, the best game and wines for one’s entertainments, and the latest Parisian fashions. How to afford all these when one has no regular income? Not to despair, the ingenious lady always has means to do so. Prevail upon the generosity of friends and relatives. Impose upon your landlord and your greengrocers, washerwomen and other domestics. Unlike banks or Hebrew money-lenders, these little people are very unlikely to set loose a bailiff upon your respectable self, especially if they are in awe of your noble family.
7. If all these schemes fail, and both your husband and gentleman admirer abandon you in a cloud of scandal, despair not! A lady of some talent can always flee abroad and sing for her supper, if necessary. Better still, if you could rekindle a relationship with a former beau, now older and ailing, who though his own fortune is much encumbered, would take a life insurance naming your pitiful self as a beneficiary. The small fortune that ensues from such a settlement is surely enough to tide you over until your estranged son succeeds into his baronetcy and is finally able to provide you with a generous allowance. Then you can spend your declining years as an admirably pious and charitable society lady. Thus a penniless orphan girl need not condemn herself to a life of servitude and penury, but instead rise into the pinnacle of society through her industry and ingeniousness!
Persuasion, Austen's last completed novel, has little in common with her earlier, more celebrated works. There is comparatively little in the way of sPersuasion, Austen's last completed novel, has little in common with her earlier, more celebrated works. There is comparatively little in the way of surprising plot twists, clever witticisms, or amusing comic moments. It even lacks a heroine that we could look up to, or even identify with. It is as if Austen had dispensed with nearly all conventional means that novelists use to hold the reader's interest. Shorn of literary ornamentations, Persuasion is instead a moving story of lost love and regrets, second chances and reconciliation, told with remarkable economy and precision. What is lost by the exclusion of the qualities that are usually present in her works, is amply compensated by a greater clarity of focus and depth of feeling. The mature Austen was no longer interested in amusing us with her cleverness, or with being a moralist, but instead chose to delve into the secret depths of men and women's inner lives, resulting in a deeply affecting contemplation of the limits of romantic love and devotion.
My Wordsworth edition contains an earlier draft of Chapter Eleven of Volume II, which omits Captain Wentworth's letter (surely the mother of all love letters!) and the fascinating discussion on the constancy of love among men and women between Anne and Captain Harville. Fortunately, Austen changed her mind and rewrote that part. The ending would have lost much of its impact without them.
The other surprising element in the novel for me is the 'feminist' (or perhaps proto-feminist?) depiction of Mrs. Croft and her marriage to her husband the Admiral. While criticism of society's treatment of women, particularly women who are either poor or low in rank, has always been implied in her previous novels, it has never been as explicit as in this one.
It is a tragedy that Austen passed away soon after completing Persuasion, and thus we are left with a mere glimpse of her mature style. It would have been fascinating to know what her subsequent novels would be like....more
Critics might accuse Miss Austen's works of being too narrow in scope, and perhaps in Emma --- surely the smallest bit of ivory that she had ever workCritics might accuse Miss Austen's works of being too narrow in scope, and perhaps in Emma --- surely the smallest bit of ivory that she had ever worked on --- that criticism might be justified. But one cannot accuse her of recycyling her heroines, each of them distinct individuals in her own right, with her own peculiarities, strengths and weaknesses. Probably none of them is as flawed as Emma, though, the rich, rather spoiled girl whose bossy meddling wreaks havoc on an otherwise bucolic (but oh so claustrophobic) English village. We watch her blundering as a hapless matchmaker, insulting Miss Bates (an admittedly annoying character!), being jealous of 'Miss Perfect' Jane Fairfax, falling prey into Frank Churchill's machinations, and finally almost stumbling in the pursuit of her own romantic destiny. Throughout it all, we are alternately astonished, appalled, and occasionally tickled pink with laughter, but we somehow never lose our sympathy for her. For Emma, with all her glorious imperfections, is perhaps the most relatable of all of Austen's heroines. We all might wish that we are the witty Elizabeth Bennet, or the sensible Elinor Dashwood, but who among us is totally immune of Emma's blunders and mistakes? At the end, she learns her lesson and tries to make amends for her previous errors and misjudgments. Something that should not be taken for granted, especially for the rich, spoiled girl that we first encountered at the beginning of the novel.
Apparently Emma was written in reaction to criticisms of Mansfield Park, and is no less a moralistic tale as the latter, but instead of being preachy, its message is delivered with subtlety and entertaining wit. Instead of the sanctimonious Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram, we get the blundering Emma who has to reform herself to be worthy of our respect. If Miss Austen intend her amusing tale to educate, she succeeds much more abundantly in this novel than in the previous one. And in such wonderful prose, too.
" We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time..."
Delusions, self-induced or otherwise, form the central" We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time..."
Delusions, self-induced or otherwise, form the central theme that runs through Middlemarch. Dorothea Brooke, thirsting for knowledge and a meaningful occupation, deludes herself that she would gain those things by marrying Casaubon, a cold, obsessive scholar more than twice her age. Casaubon himself is mired in self-delusion about his life-long research, which Dorothea soon finds out to be obsolete. The idealistic Lydgate deludes himself that by marrying the pretty but high-maintenance Rosamond Vincy he would gain both beauty and love, without having to give up the ideals that he lives for. Rosamond's delusion is that by marrying Lydgate, whose fledgling medical profession she despises, but whose aristocratic connections she covets, she would gain status while being maintained at the high standards that she has gotten used to. Bulstrode, MIddlemarch's banker and pious benefactor, has successfully deluded the whole town of his decidedly unpious past before it came back with a vengeance in the form of a certain Mr. Raffles. Mr. Brooke, who champions the liberal spirit of the Reform Act, is under the delusion that by merely being idealistic, he has changed the world, while neglecting to reform his own estate. The main interest of the novel consists of seeing how these very human characters cope with the consequences of their delusions.
Dorothea soon realizes that Casaubon and his work are not what she thought they were, but she holds up her end of the bargain by being a loyal spouse to him, though her heart sinks when she imagines the loveless and futile years that stretch out before her. Casaubon's sudden death mercifully terminates the disastrous marriage, and Dorothea's integrity, after further trials and tribulations, is ultimately rewarded by her finding love with Will Ladislaw. Lydgate discovers how his love of a pretty face slowly compromises his ideals and ends up in mediocrity, very far from what he aims for as a young medical reformer. Rosamond selfishly persists in her delusions without any regard for what it costs her husband. She finally gets what she wants, but at what price? Bulstrode's past misdeeds eventually catch up with him and destroy the life that he has so painstakingly constructed in Middlemarch. Mr. Brooke's political dilletantism never change the world, but it successfully opens up a path to meaningful occupation for an otherwise aimless young man.
Meanwhile, all of these characters' struggles are contrasted with the Garths' earthy integrity. Mr. Garth is an estate manager who does his job capably and honorably, without any pretensions to status or unearned wealth. Fred Vincy and Mary Garth are the only couple that is not under any delusions of each other's characters and goes on to a long and happy union.
Eliot's writing is infused with penetrating insights into human nature without ever losing compassion and understanding for their frailties and errors, a quality that she shares with Tolstoy. She never sentimentalizes her characters, except perhaps for the idealized Garths. They are all believably human, and they drive the narrative instead of the other way around. Eliot also has a great eye for the ludicruous and her wicked sense of humor constantly enlivens what could have been a ponderous account of provincial English life. One may read Middlemarch for the portrait of a Midlands town on the cusp of industrial revolution in 19th century England, which Eliot admirably delivers, but ultimately it is Eliot's insight into the universal human condition that makes it eternally relevant.
Finally, this book is a profoundly wise, if rather melancholic, reflection on the loss of youthful hopes and ambitions, and their replacement by the more realistic (and inevitable) compromises of maturity. Which, Eliot says, is not a bad thing in itself, as " the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs".