Waverly still sets the standard in historical novels. It's a ripping good read as well as illuminating an important period in history, the Jacobite upWaverly still sets the standard in historical novels. It's a ripping good read as well as illuminating an important period in history, the Jacobite uprising of 1745. A good annotated edition helps, I found the Penguin Classics paperback well indexed, with explanatory notes that are unobtrusive and clear, and a helpful historical notes section at the end of the text. ...more
What a splendid tale! Wild, windswept Scottish coastline, a ruined castle, and an equally wild Scotsman, the last of his old noble equally ruined famiWhat a splendid tale! Wild, windswept Scottish coastline, a ruined castle, and an equally wild Scotsman, the last of his old noble equally ruined family. A tale told most elegantly, with style and with skill. ...more
Set in a surrealist dream landscape, Kafka's fragmentary novel suffers from being overly Freudian. I say this as a person who likes Surrealism and finSet in a surrealist dream landscape, Kafka's fragmentary novel suffers from being overly Freudian. I say this as a person who likes Surrealism and finds Freud fascinating. Josef K.'s trial of the mind (because surely his "trial" is purely internal), with its labyrinthine attics and confusion of time and space, is just too heavy handed and deliberately constructed to have much resonance for me. ...more
This is my third reading of The Iliad. I get more out of it every time, and it always seems fresh and new. This time, it occurred to me that the godsThis is my third reading of The Iliad. I get more out of it every time, and it always seems fresh and new. This time, it occurred to me that the gods are LESS noble than the men who figure so large in this epic; they are almost petty by comparison. And in fact it is the nobility of man that strikes me with awe in this timeless, grand epic. For all their raw savagery, the heroic spearmen of this eternal poem encompass the gamut of all that is fine about our species.
If aliens should stumble across the husk of our planet ten millennia or a hundred from now, I hope there is at least one copy of Homer's Iliad still extant. It will explain us at our finest, and at our worst....more
Gaskell is I think a too-long ignored writer who is due a spot in the Canon. I'd rate her as a better writer than Dickens, and I think she gives JaneGaskell is I think a too-long ignored writer who is due a spot in the Canon. I'd rate her as a better writer than Dickens, and I think she gives Jane Austen a run for her money. Gaskell has a much wider scope than Austen, who confined her writing pretty much to the drawing room set. And Dickens indulged too much in the grotesque in search of humor.
"North" in North and South is the industrial north of England, its "dark Satanic mills" contrasting with the agrarian nearly Eden-like south. The protagonist of the novel learns to sympathize with the inhabitants of this un-beautiful place, both mill owner and factory hand. One of the oddities of this novel is the amount of sympathy extended to the plight of the cotton mill owners as a class-- the "Masters". This was after all the era of child labor, when the 40-hour work week was unknown, or safety regulations, or workman's comp... it's a little like reading a novel set on a sugar plantation written from the perspective of the slave owner. Oh well.
The other oddity is that this is at heart a weirdly Calvinist love story. It is grim Duty that pervades the novel, providing both character motivation and moral center. Margaret has no time for herself fulfilling her duty to her father, a weak and "womanish" man to be sure but her father nonetheless. He in turn is a slave to his duty to his conscience: the whole family must follow him to the sooty hell-hole of Milton because he has a never-specified doctrinal objection with the Church, and he feels duty-bound to give up his position and his living. That Gaskell never specifies the objection is significant. Reasons don't matter. What we want or don't want doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is duty. And self-sacrifice. As Margaret puts it, "I must not think so much of how circumstances affect me myself, but how they affect others, if I wish to have a right judgment." Or as it is phrased somewhat later by the narrator, "she herself must one day answer for her own life, and what she had done with it." Literally, her life is not her own. And life certainly isn't about pleasure, enjoyment, or getting what one would like. Nobody's life is, man or women. Not in this novel, not if they're exercising "right judgment". Life is a burden to be shouldered, and one best bear it with a smile and weep only behind closed doors, if one wants to avoid ending up in Hell.
Yes, I've got a problem with that. I disagree wholeheartedly with Gaskell's moral perspective, which I find pinched and wholly ludicrous. Still it's very interesting to read a novel about people who think that way. It's a very well written novel....more
Literally a must-read! The Oresteia is a foundation stone of Western culture and the very genesis of tragedy. It also happens to be a ripping good stoLiterally a must-read! The Oresteia is a foundation stone of Western culture and the very genesis of tragedy. It also happens to be a ripping good story! This trio of brief plays plumbs the depths of the human psyche. It boldly stares into the abyss. And yet it is thoroughly humanistic-- and oddly optimistic. A magnificent work of art.
I can't believe it has taken me all these years to finally get around to reading it....more
Although not without its merits, I didn't find this one up to Conrad's usually exceptional standard. His "The Secret Agent", a novel treating a similaAlthough not without its merits, I didn't find this one up to Conrad's usually exceptional standard. His "The Secret Agent", a novel treating a similar subject, is far superior.
Conrad adopts an uncharacteristically heavy-handed moralizing tone in "Under Western Eyes". While it may be morally gratifying to characterize a gaggle of revolutionaries as doctrinaire, self-deluding, cynical and ultimately bloodthirsty fools, it does not make for fine literature. The characters in this novel are mostly types more than they are people, and that includes the real heroine of the piece-- Miss Haldin-- whose purity of heart makes her something of a saint. The contrast of her endless capacity for love with Razumov's bitterness and heedlessness is about as subtle as an anvil.
Still, Joseph Conrad is an elegant writer and there are many quotable lines in this book. Such as "A man's real life is that accorded to him in the thoughts of other men by reason of respect or natural love." Debatable, certainly, but a conviction of Conrad's that runs throughout the body of his work. The reason why so many of his stories are told in the form of a narrative, told by an outsider looking in.
Captain MacWhirr is a man utterly without imagination. He is impossibly, infuriatingly literal-minded. He understands that typhoons and suchlike catacCaptain MacWhirr is a man utterly without imagination. He is impossibly, infuriatingly literal-minded. He understands that typhoons and suchlike cataclysms are possible, but has had no personal experience of one; his defect of imagination renders him incapable of comprehending anything so violent, so elemental, so... unreasonable. He understands that such extremities of nature are possible, of course, having read about them, but "belief is not comprehension".
This seems a set-up for disaster, a story of incompetent seamanship well punished. But that is not the direction Conrad takes in this marvelous novella....more
This novel is a great example of the high Romantic. Very dramatic, very much laden with heady visual imagery. The landscapes, even the weather match tThis novel is a great example of the high Romantic. Very dramatic, very much laden with heady visual imagery. The landscapes, even the weather match the characters' moods and passions. And there are lots and lots of passions... mostly repressed.
It's a curious work on account of the repression, which I think of as the book's chief fault as well as its chief attraction. Jane is a character who is afraid to allow herself to be happy. This goes beyond her (as a woman, in that time period) being repressed by outside forces; though there is certainly a fair share of that in the plot. It even goes beyond a psychological portrait of a necessarily flawed heroine. I believe it reflects Bronte's view of the world, her ethical stance.
Jane is, in a word, a prig. This goes beyond her obsession with neatness, cleanliness, and order. Her class-consciousness is blatant, and it's a prejudice shared and endorsed by Bronte herself. Jane's "physiognomy" is remarked on at length by the virtuous St.John; even when unconscious it is supposedly evident that the wanderer Jane is a "lady", and the subject is gone into at such length that I am left with the impression that someone more "vulgar"-looking (i.e., a commoner) could be rightly left out there in the rain! I found this snobbery objectionable; the racial typing is palpable and repeated. According to Bronte, there are superior and inferior types, readily identifiable I guess by their bone structure.
It is Jane's priggishness which leads to the central action of the novel, her flight from Mr.Rochester. They are soul-mates, their love is perfect; but joining her life to his would be morally wrong in Jane's view. This is a moral stance I believe Bronte endorses wholeheartedly. To me it makes no sense whatever. Jane casts herself out and makes herself miserable for no very convincing reason.
Jane's plight is manufactured entirely by herself, and yet she has the audacity to blame her fellow man. Quote: "Nature seemed to me benign and good; I thought she loved me, outcast as I was; and I, who from man could anticipate only mistrust, rejection, insult, clung to her with filial fondness." This after her fellow man, in the shape of Rochester, has declared his love for her, offered to share his fortune with her, offered her the opportunity to spend the rest of her days quite pleasantly on one of his estates-- the one, say, in the south of France. Mistrust? Rejection? Insult?
When it comes to ingratitude and priggishness, though, Jane can't hold a candle to the insufferable St.John. Described as "a good and a great man" he is, I thought, quite obviously neither. He is petty, selfish, and dishonest, as well as inhumane. That his notions of "virtue" and "duty" go unchallenged is what leads me to believe that Charlotte Bronte herself endorsed this narrow-minded, unpleasant, and foundationless moral code. Many another novelist of the time would have made a target of this appalling blighter, but Bronte even gave the frightful St.John the final word in this novel.
It's easy to see the seeds of the marvelous Moby Dick in this novel and its predecessor, Typee. More of a straightforward sea story and far less metapIt's easy to see the seeds of the marvelous Moby Dick in this novel and its predecessor, Typee. More of a straightforward sea story and far less metaphysical, these two share with Melville's most famous work an elegant philosophically-tinged writing style and a Melville's curious blend of fiction, natural history, and anthropological reportage. It's an odd, and admittedly a sometimes irritating mix. But my god, the man can write!
"So far as courage, seamanship, and a natural aptitude for keeping riotous spirits in subjection were concerned, no man was better qualified for his vocation [as first mate] than John Jermin. He was the very beau-ideal of the efficient race of short, thick-set men."...more