After being stuck two-thirds of the way through Her Fearful Symmetry for almost four days, I have finally admitted that I'm not going to finish it. SoAfter being stuck two-thirds of the way through Her Fearful Symmetry for almost four days, I have finally admitted that I'm not going to finish it. So why two stars? There are some books that, while I have to admit they are well written and could very well appeal to someone else, simply aren't for me. Her Fearful Symmetry is just such a book. By the time I stalled out, even the good writing and the atmosphere couldn't overcome my personal dislike of most of the characters. We all have our so-called "buttons" and by the last third most of the main characters in Symmetry were pushing mine pretty relentlessly. So, I give it two stars in recognition of the good writing and my recognition that my dislike was very subjective....more
Ann Veronica is the youngest of five children and the only one left at home. Finding a life of "calls, tennis, selected novels, walks and dusting" toAnn Veronica is the youngest of five children and the only one left at home. Finding a life of "calls, tennis, selected novels, walks and dusting" to be stifling, she has persuaded her father to let her attend college, although only the Tredgold Women's College, not the more prestigious "mixed" college that she wants to attend. In time the limited intellectual stimulation provided by Tredgold's "store of faded learning" isn't enough for her and she begins to want more out of her life. Having had no luck persuading her father to let her transfer to the Imperial College, she turns her attention to attending a fancy dress party at a local art school. Her father disapproves completely and his absolute refusal to let her go to the party pushes her into open rebellion. Against all sensible advice, she moves to London to live on her own and make her own way in the world.
Although it wears the fashionable dress of 1909, Ann Veronica is essentially a coming of age story that can speak on a basic level to young people of any generation. Longing for a different life and chafing against her father's rules, Ann Veronica shocks her father with the accusation that "you won't let me live...you won't let me exist!" And, like any perplexed parent, Mr. Stanley replies that she does live, she does exist, in fact she has all the important things a respectable person could want: "friends, acquaintances, social standing,...every advantage." These things are important to him and, as he feels is his duty as a good parent, he has provided them for Ann Veronica. What more is it that she wants? He cannot understand that what is important to him is less so to his daughter,at least in part because she has been kept in ignorance of how much effort these things were to attain and to keep. Later in the novel, at one of her lowest moments, Ann Veronica thinks back over what she had taken for granted and comes to the conclusion that "the real texture of life" has been forgotten by "refined secure people" who "think if we just defy the friends we have and go out into the world everything will become easy and splendid. One doesn't realize that even the sort of civilization one has at [her suburban home:] is held together with difficulty."
I had some concern that Wells would feel the need to end the book on a "moral" note by showing the reader the error of Ann Veronica's rebellion, but that is not his goal and his ultimate message seems to be that "rules are for established things, like the pieces and positions of a game. Men and women are not established things; they're experiements, all the them. Every human being is a new thing..."
Although Wells is amazingly modern in his thinking about women's rights, he is enough a product of his time that his heroine's idea of freedom is "to be legally and economically free, so as not to be subject to the wrong man" while still believing that "only God, who made the world, can alter things to prevent her being slave to the right one." In the end, Ann Veronica finds love and Wells demonstrates that it is a true love by telling us that "one of the things that most surprised [him:] was her capacity for blind obedience. She loved to be told to do things." This statement is completely out of character for Ann Veronica, but is given to the reader as proof that her love is real and that she has found the "right" man.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable book and reminded me at times of Dreiser's Sister Carrie. I read it online at Google Books, but I liked it enough that I want to own a copy myself and have added it to my wishlist....more
At close to ninety years of age, Hagar Shipley is struggling to maintain some control over her own existence. Always a stubborn, proud, and driven womAt close to ninety years of age, Hagar Shipley is struggling to maintain some control over her own existence. Always a stubborn, proud, and driven woman, Hagar has not changed or mellowed with age. In fact, she believes that the idea that extreme old age changes who we are was created by younger people who are "somehow comforted by the picture of old ladies feeding like docile rabbits on the lettuce leaves of other times". Instead of peacefully existing in her memories, Hagar struggles to maintain herself as the same stubborn, proud person she has always been and not allow herself to be "lessened" by age. Increasingly, however, she finds herself on the outside of life, in both a physical sense and also in the perceptions of others.
The Stone Angel is prefaced by a Dylan Thomas quote: "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Hagar certainly does rage against her circumstances, and for a time we rage with her. She lives with her son and her daughter-in-law and, seen strictly from Hagar's perspective, they could easily have become stock characters eager to unburden themselves of an elderly relative. Margaret Laurence is a skilled writer however, and gradually she begins to show us the burden that Hagar is becoming to her family: not because they do not love her or wish to care for her, but because they simply cannot do it any longer. She shows us that helplessness is not solely the province of the elderly, and that we are all, regardless of age, less in control of ourselves and our lives than we would like to believe.
In the end, The Stone Angel does not offer any comforting answers to the questions it raises about aging and the nature of the self, but that is not a fault in the book itself. As someone once said (and I wish I could remember who), of all the billions of human lives that make up history, not one has had a happy ending.
This is a very odd little novel. After finishing it I went online to read what other people have thought about it in an effort to clarify my own thoughThis is a very odd little novel. After finishing it I went online to read what other people have thought about it in an effort to clarify my own thoughts. It is generally considered to be loosely autobiographical in its depiction of Ruth's parents and her childhood in general. In fact, the author described her own parents as "just as bizarre but not quite so fetching" as the parents she created for Ruth in the novel.
The protagonist, Ruth Weiss, is a very passive person who never seems to question that other people will ultimately decide the direction of her life. The few small efforts she does make to choose her own path are set aside quickly when they conflict with what other people want from her. In the end, looking back on her life at the age of forty, she decides that the "ruin" her life has become is because she expected real life to be like 19th century literature, in which virtue and self-sacrifice are always rewarded and all a woman needs to do to find love is wait patiently.
Actually, most of the characters in the book, not just Ruth, are very passive people. The home Ruth grows up in after the death of her grandmother is an untidy place full of people who are waiting for someone else to come along, take charge and make them happy. If Ruth is the only one to bend her life to accommodate others, it is because she is the only one capable of it, not because those around her are made of stronger stuff.
Although the copy on the back of the book states that in the end Ruth discovers that "once again she must make a new start in life", I didn't see any evidence of a new start. Instead I saw a woman who, while possessing some insight into how her life had become what it is, is in the end too tired or too passive to make any real change....more