If I have to compare between the Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment, I would have to say that, while the Enlightenment gave us many great ideas,...moreIf I have to compare between the Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment, I would have to say that, while the Enlightenment gave us many great ideas, Counter-Enlightenment produced better literature.
Werther is definitely Counter-Enlightenment. He's so counter that he practically dissolves in his own romanticism, in the quintessential image of the pallid, unemployed, meandering, emotional artistic type, all heart, all moodiness, who kills himself for love.
The first half of this book is actually a lot of fun: it's paced nicely, doesn't burden too much, and, in general, flows well. The second half becomes just so over-the-top, that it's difficult to read, between all the emotional ejaculations and the "Oh!"s and the "Ah!"s. I grew tired of the paeans to Charlotte and to Werther's grief pretty quickly, but then, I am a repressed modern person, and I did find that Goethe did a decent job describing a man who is taken over by profound, undiagnosed, clinical depression.(less)
I think that this book goes into the small but not-insignificant department of what I call "cute" books.
"Cute" books are books that don't necessarily...moreI think that this book goes into the small but not-insignificant department of what I call "cute" books.
"Cute" books are books that don't necessarily carry a world-shattering message, are not always elevated to the point of rocking the reader's world, or revealing some life-changing messages. Cute books are books that are a pleasure to read, whose characters are genuinely personable, the descriptions are poetic, and the atmosphere as a whole is one of hidden pleasure, rather than of angst and woe.
Cather's book falls almost exactly into this realm of "cute" together with works such as Cranford. It spends a good long while rhapsodizing about nature, but not too long. it creates antagonists, but not too despicable. it presents the protagonists with dilemmas and pitfalls, but not too strenuous. It shows them as human, but not too human. All is in good measure, and all in extremely good form.
It's a book with a lot of decorum where nothing too risky happens, but, while all this is true, it is also a genuinely refreshing sort of book, in which the authors doesn't feel the necessity to portray religion as a monster, other races as intractable savages, industrialisation and technology as the devil, and the relations between them as utterly hopeless. It's a pleasant change of pace, and I enjoyed it.(less)
This book is difficult for me to rate. On the one hand, I really felt that, even as serials go, it was long, and quite rambly. It had more diversions...moreThis book is difficult for me to rate. On the one hand, I really felt that, even as serials go, it was long, and quite rambly. It had more diversions than plot, and it was way too "you the reader" this that and the other thing.
On the other hand, I have to give Thackeray credit for a couple of points which were quite original compared to pretty much all other serial Victorian novels I've read, one being the examination of the, shall we say, less savoury traits of human nature (which I know Hardy did as well, and in more grim and less humorous fashion, but humour is important, plus I haven't gotten to Hardy yet) and, most importantly, a heroine which is not a complete Purity Sue. Okay, so maybe Becki Sharpe is nto the protagonist, but I don't feel Amelia is very much of a protagonist herself, mostly due to being rather, how shall we say, slow on the uptake, and Becki is everyone's favourite, justly.
It's nice to see a woman who isn't pure, devoted, good, soulful, emotional, and other feminine traits. Even Hardy does that one (Tess, I am looking at you) so Thackeray definitely did something here that is appealing to me as a modern reader. (less)
This is a pretty cute sort of book, so long as one is prepared to the fact that it's not a novel, as such, but a series of vignettes. I wasn't prepare...moreThis is a pretty cute sort of book, so long as one is prepared to the fact that it's not a novel, as such, but a series of vignettes. I wasn't prepared for it, and thus had to readjust my brain after the first couple of chapters, but there is nothing wrong with vignettes.
I do feel that compliments to Gaskell's humour are somewhat exaggerated, but not completely baseless. That the book is a gentle, low-key, but incessant mockery of the social milieu Gaskell describes, is obvious, though sometimes the humour is more successful than others.(less)
I have come to conclude that some of Austen's works age better than others.
Here's why: I did not like Mansfield Park. This, in stark contrast to its p...moreI have come to conclude that some of Austen's works age better than others.
Here's why: I did not like Mansfield Park. This, in stark contrast to its predecessor in my reading schedule, Pride and Prejudice, which I liked a great deal. The difference is not that one's quality of writing is so far inferior - though it might chance to be so - but rather that two factors contributed to the one aging palatably for a woman born in the late 20th century, and the other had not.
Primarily, I should note first of all, my problem was not with the heroine, Fanny Price, and her temperament. One can expect little else in a person who was her entire life neglected and derided. To have her grow into a spunky, peppy teenager without complexes would be far beyond anything the rational mind proposes. Further, her tendency to be self-sacrificing doesn't bother me either. It is a good quality (thus I indicate t the readers that my own morality is somewhat old-fashioned) and should not be shoved into the closet in favour of selfishness disguised as the pursuit of happiness.
The problem is that Fanny's virtues, unlike those of, for example, Elizabeth Bennet, are largely social, moral, societal virtues. Fanny is a virtuous and good woman because she embodies morality; and the morality of the time simply isn't the morality of our days.
When we look at Elizabeth, we see qualities that are largely internal. Elizabeth, so to speak, makes her own morals. Fanny does not. And that is okay, for Fanny. But for us as readers this is less okay. Since the entire book then revolves on the contrast between virtue and vice, we begin to feel serious discrepancies the further into the book we go. We fail to evoke the feelings of horror and disgust one ought at the notion that someone is putting on a play. Fanny's refusal to participate in the enterprise seems less an embodiment of truly ingrained good qualities than a case of nerves. We fail to see what, precisely, is so dreadful about Mary Crawford's (relative) outspokenness and cynicism. Mary, in turn, becomes a much more palatable heroine for us than she could ever be for people to whom Austen had originally intended the novel.
In fact, our morality gets a kick in the teeth after Maria's affair with Crawford, not because an affair is not still a fairly sordid thing (old-fashioned, again), but because we can't see how it is justified that Mary should shun and condemn her own brother; how Sir Thomas feels obliged never to have his own daughter at home; how Mary's insinuation that, had Fanny at least been inclined to give Henry the opportunity he so desired, the thing might actually have been,a s she said, prevented. We are more shocked than Austen's readers would have been at Fanny's treatment in the hose where she grew up, and far less so at the disorder and noise in her parents' house. We, today, know that reformation like Crawford was trying to undergo, with whatever measure of sincerity, requires social and external support, where Austen may have thought it to be entirely an internal matter.
We see Fanny and Edmund as dreadfully moralistic and priggish. Not because they are moralistic and priggish, but because we can't help it. The fault, dear reader, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.
Nevertheless, I, too, admit that I had much rather see the bright, cynical Mary Crawford, or even Fanny's younger, sensible sister, Susan, in the center of the novel. Fanny's tendency to quiver, shrink, and "be guided by" the men in her life is irksome.
This is not, however, the main reason the book does not age well. For me, at least, the main reason for this was not the moral picture drawn by the author, but it's moralistic, moralizing tenor. It's as though this book and Pride and Prejudice were written by two different Austens - the Austen who observed people's follies and foibles, and managed to judge them without falling into lengthy, tiresome self-righteous sermons, and this writer, who did exactly that.
The thing that grated most to me about this book was that the author herself, not the characters, could not refrain from passing constant, moral judgment, and the fact that that judgement had neither balance nor subtlety, nor room for nuances. Every little thing was bad. no room was given to the fact that many of the "excuses" people used have much to recommend them. The example with Edmund acting comes to mind. The author tells us this is a poor thing, an excuse, an indiscretion, and yet, if he had not joined in, the situation likely would have really been worse. We are given no room to maneuver.
Perhaps Austen while writing the book was angry, or lonely, or tired. One can never tell the mental state of the author, but one can determine that it is very different than the Pride and Prejudice state, and that while the latter has borne well under the challenges of a new age - perhaps because pride, and prejudice, both remained unchanged - Mansfield Park succumbed much more to becoming something of a sour wine; if, admittedly, in a very fine oaken barrel.(less)
I have to put this out there straight off; objectively this is a quite good book, a classic, and I have seen many other people like it.
I cannot tell a...moreI have to put this out there straight off; objectively this is a quite good book, a classic, and I have seen many other people like it.
I cannot tell anyone not to read it, and, in fact, the writing style (though very much of its time) is clear and easy and well-crafted. Chopin knows her job as a writer, and does it decently, though perhaps, in my opinion only, she is not as fabulous as others make her out to be.
On the other hand, my personal prejudice plays a great part in the rating of this book. I have never been able to understand that brand of Feminism (though I consider myself a Feminist, with full honours, I hope) that said women should, as a reaction to their oppression, become petty, thoughtless egotists, abandon everything, and do what they want, or else there is no point to their lives.
Edna is exactly that sort of character, and though I can't say for sure whether the author condemns or approves of her (though I think the latter) I know that the text is considered a classic cornerstone of feminism, and that genuinely bothers me.
Edna is not a wholly reprehensible person, of course, nonetheless, her basic attitude, which is made legitimate in the book, is "screw everyone, I'll do what I want". Her husband is certainly not a supportive, nice man, whom she could love, but he is not abusive or dreadfully oppressive, even for the times, and he deserves a modicum of respect, which she fails to give him. Her children, too, are to be pitied. Her life at the last, and her suicide, are all done with that complete throwing-off of responsibility that, I think, has no place in feminism, just as it has no place in any other movement or set of human relations.
I can't approve it, condone it, or rate it higher than I did.(less)