The movie turns out to have been peculiarly faithful to the book, except for the part where the movie has a vague plot whereas the book has completelyThe movie turns out to have been peculiarly faithful to the book, except for the part where the movie has a vague plot whereas the book has completely none. Honestly, Julie Andrews lends a warmth and a sparkle that the book version rather lacks. Book Mary is a rather vain thing, among other things. But it's still entertaining....more
I loved this book desperately as a little girl. The sumptuousness, the total angst, the noble sacrifice, the miracle ending. LOVE. Is it kinda racist?I loved this book desperately as a little girl. The sumptuousness, the total angst, the noble sacrifice, the miracle ending. LOVE. Is it kinda racist? Yes. (In an unavoidably Victorian, generally benign-ish way, but still racist.) Is it classist? Oh hells yes. (Poor Becky. For all that Sara muses that they could be the same, it's always very clear that they could never be. From Becky wanting to wait on her after her fall to Becky coming along as her new maid, Becky is always terribly grateful to get the short end of the stick, just as a good servant who knows her place should be. It's not a tragedy that Becky is a servant, just that rich little Sara Crewe is.) But despite that, I still kind of love this book....more
I read these as a child and adored them. I read them as an adult to see if the were salvageable to let my own kid read them. Umm...maybe some of them.I read these as a child and adored them. I read them as an adult to see if the were salvageable to let my own kid read them. Umm...maybe some of them. If I read them out loud and strategically skip a couple of sentences. They're incredibly charming--the voice is adorable. The racism/sexism/imperialism rather less so. Which is a shame, because about half of them really are very cute....more
This is a book about terrible people doing terrible things.
But they're so very clever and witty, and the innocent people they're doing awful things toThis is a book about terrible people doing terrible things.
But they're so very clever and witty, and the innocent people they're doing awful things to are so foolish and naive, that you find yourself rooting for them. Valmont and Merteuil are deliciously wicked, until one of them says something that pulls you up sharply.
The really distressing thing is that almost nothing Valmont writes would be that different than any of the garbage spouted by a lot of Men's Rights activists and Pick-Up Artists today. He wants a woman who doesn't want him, therefore she is a game. She tries to gently demur, so he steps up his game. She frantically tries to get him to leave her alone, therefore she must totally want him. She tricks him into allowing her to escape, therefore she is a bitch who humiliated him, and now he's justified in doing anything at all to ruin her as thoroughly as possible. It's awful...and horribly familiar.
Merteuil, on the other hand, is far more interesting. She very carefully maintains a reputation of piety and respectableness so that she can do what she want. She's a brilliant auto-didact whose learning is entirely disrespected by those around her. But she's got her own streak of viciousness about her, and gleefully sets up both the unjust and the just for ruin.
It's not entirely clear how much the author sympathizes with, and wants us to sympathize with, his characters. A quick glance at reviews over the centuries reveals that no one's ever been quite certain of this.
The letters between Valmont and Merteuil are a guilty delight. Unfortunately, the ones between Valmont and his quarry are tediously repetitive. The pacing...takes some getting used to. Written entirely in epistolary format, the action scenes are entirely skipped while the musing tends to linger. It makes some of the key pivots of the story remarkably understated, which can be its own reward. But it takes some patience to untangle it all. ...more
For such a simple story, this book gives me some pretty complex reactions.
On one level, this is an adventure story, and a rousing good one. It's the kFor such a simple story, this book gives me some pretty complex reactions.
On one level, this is an adventure story, and a rousing good one. It's the kind of thing that ten-year-olds adore, with an animal hero whose fierceness (and eventually, whose noble spirit) saves the day. It's lively and uncomplicated, with a wealth of detail but relatively straightforward language. It's just plain fun.
On another level, this a blatant bit of imperialism as jingoistic as anything Kipling ever wrote. (Another one for rousing adventure and dubious world views, Kipling.) London clearly sets up a continuum of being. There are prey animals, which are vital but somewhat silly. There are predator animals, which, while simple compared to people, still have their own motivations and internal life. There are non-white people, who are more powerful and cunning than predators, but lack some of their simple, savage nobility. There are trashy whites, who are more powerful and cunning than non-white people, but lack their simple, savage nobility. At the top are the Good White Men, who are gods. Brilliant, benevolent, merciless when necessary but otherwise magnanimously compassionate, and above all, Right. It's...shall we say, problematic.
But it's possibly even more complex than that, and that's where I start losing track of what the author intended and what is inadvertent. Spoiler alert, although the climax pretty much comes up out of nowhere and is resolved in a chapter.
White Fang had the potential to be noble, but was mistreated through most of his life and is only redeemed through the trust and love of the Good White Man. At the climax of the story, a convict escapes who was mistreated through his life. The description of his sorry story uses language almost identical to that of White Fang. He tries to kill White Fang's master, White Fang kills him. Here's my dilemma. The way the two are described begs for the reader to draw a comparison. White Fang is redeemed and enobled by loving, fair, trusting treatment. Is London calling into question all of society's institutions, from how we treat the poor to how we educate people to the entire criminal justice system? Because if love could redeem White Fang, surely it would be able to redeem with even greater results a White Man? But there's absolutely no move towards redeeming the convict in the text. He shows up, he's murderous, he's dead, without even really getting to say something. Everything about his background is superfluous--he exists in the plot only to allow White Fang to prove himself. So...what does that represent? Should we not bother to reclaim criminals? Is it a waste of time to try? Is this a tragedy that he was unable to be reclaimed? Or am I reading far too much in this, and the ending exists only to give White Fang a suitable final opponent?...more
I'd heard of the Victorian adventure protagonist Allan Quartermain, and been vaguely curious. I borrowed this from a library, unaware that it isn't acI'd heard of the Victorian adventure protagonist Allan Quartermain, and been vaguely curious. I borrowed this from a library, unaware that it isn't actually the first in the series (that would be King Solomon's Mines). Fortunately, it's not actually particularly necessary to have read the others to read this one (despite it being the last in the series).
Unfortunately, it hasn't aged well.
There are three major problems, all of which are relatively predictable. There's the racism and the sexism. Although, it's really more anti-anyone-not-Englishism--the Zulu arguably fares better than the Frenchman. At least the Zulu has a certain amount of nobility, even if it is noble savageness. The Frenchman is just an idiot and a coward, with only his ability to cook to redeem him. Servants and enemies, though, might as well be monkeys. In some cases, vicious evil monkeys, but monkeys nonetheless.
And the twin queens of the fabled white race, well. Beautiful fair women are naturally pure goodness, even if they are easily overcome with their own emotions. And beautiful dark women are evil temptresses, who are easily overcome with their own emotions.
The other problem is really just that our demands for how plots work have changed substantially over a hundred years. There are a lot of unconnected incidents, mostly implausible. (How the underground river winds up on a plateau, I'm still trying to figure out.)
On the plus side, it actually wasn't as terribly racist as I'd originally feared. At least some of the African characters are actually well-rounded and competent. Haggard actually lived in Africa for some time--he seems to be aware that Africans are actually people, and at times almost seems to be fighting the conventions he knows he's supposed to be thinking in. And while the events are ridiculous, there's a certain fun in over-the-top Victoriana action--evil kidnappers, underground rivers, cannibalistic giant crabs, melodramatic love triangles.
It's worth reading, perhaps, for historical context. Just be aware that a lot is not particular acceptable by today's standards....more
I understand that this book is considered to be deeply influential to a number of respected 20th century writers. And I realize that a number of the pI understand that this book is considered to be deeply influential to a number of respected 20th century writers. And I realize that a number of the passages are experimental and ground-breaking.
That said, my god, this is the one of the most over-written, purple, maudlin, and pretentious things I've read in some time.
There's essentially no plot. As far as I can tell, none of the characters have an arc to speak of. I think the fact that all of the family members are contradictory is supposed to make them nuanced, but they're just caricatures. He's a fluent drunkard, she's cruelly mothering, and so on. Every single person is bitter. Our protagonist claims to have been manipulative and desperate to escape from infancy onward. The idea that this is somewhat autobiographical is horrifying from the perspective that a child grew up in an environment like this, but also that the author seems to think that his conduct makes him admirable in any way. Eccentricity is not automatically a mark of genius--a tendency to bray in people's faces just makes you an ass.
And if I had to read the phrases "o lost!" or "a stone, a leaf, a door" one more time, I think I would have hurled the book at the wall.
The author mistakes wordiness for wisdom and misanthropy for profundity. Really, a waste of time. ...more
Classic Wodehouse--Bertie is flippantly idiotic, his friends are various degrees of eccentric, and Jeeves quietly masterminds everything from behind tClassic Wodehouse--Bertie is flippantly idiotic, his friends are various degrees of eccentric, and Jeeves quietly masterminds everything from behind the scenes. Some newts may have been harmed in the making of this book....more
With her customary elegant, understated prose, Wharton demonstrates that, as much as relationships between the sexes have changed in a century, peopleWith her customary elegant, understated prose, Wharton demonstrates that, as much as relationships between the sexes have changed in a century, people continue to be the same.
Sophy is not quite the same level of tragedy as Wharton's better-known Lily Bart, but there's some similarities here. Wharton was acutely aware of the lack of options available to a gently-reared woman without a family to protect her. Anna, on the other hand, shows the ignorance that protection fosters. It’s a Wharton book, so it’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that these societal constraints end up serving no one.
I understand that the nature of Anna lends itself to equivocation. However, I couldn’t help but feel like the end involves two or three more changes of heart than were really necessary. I could have easily done without, say, the penultimate chapter and just skipped right on to the ending. Yes, she’s upset, but make up your mind already.
Meanwhile, it’s up to the reader to decide if Darrow is a cad or just unfortunate. I’m leaning more towards cad, myself, but he’s painted sympathetically enough not to be too black-and-white. Wharton prefers her shades in gray, thank you....more
The afterword makes a fine case that this novel is a rebellious, ground-breaking, proto-feminist tract in which the heroine rises above prejudices agaThe afterword makes a fine case that this novel is a rebellious, ground-breaking, proto-feminist tract in which the heroine rises above prejudices against her gender, religion, physical appearance, class, and country of origin. Virginia Woolf loved it and thought it was Bronte's best novel. And the case can certainly be made. If nothing else, I have to respect the integrity of the ending, which eschews the fairy tale of Jane Eyre for a more realistic end for a girl with no prospects but a lot of self-respect.
That said, there's a reason everyone loves Jane Eyre and nobody reads Villette. Lucy is kind of insufferable. And just about every other character is totally insufferable. Not that there are a lot of characters. The level of coincidence here challenges Dickens--there is not a single character, I swear, that's introduced that doesn't come back. Random people from her childhood all end up in Villette. The flighty girl from her passage to England, the guy she runs into fresh off the boat, the hooligans who chase her down the street, the old harridan she's sent to on an errand; everyone turns up two and three and four times. Everyone knows everyone, even when there's no reason for a connection. It's ridiculous.
The climax occurs because she's accidentally drugged and wanders around in the middle of the night in a dreamlike state, accidentally stumbles on everyone ever mentioned in the plot, and somehow miraculously puts together the various plot threads.
And the love interest. Oy. I hate him. He starts out kind of cute, in an awful way--he torments her the way you'd expect from a six-year-old with a crush. Oh honey, he's only picking on you because he likes you. I guess she eventually tames his rampant misogyny and anti-Protestantism--he ends up supporting her dreams and not asking her to convert. But only after spending three quarters of the book ridiculing her. He's a control freak. Apparently with a heart of gold, but a control freak nonetheless. I know Bronte got married near the end of her life--I kind of wonder what her husband was like, given her paragons of romantic impulses. At least Rochester was sexy in his totally-assholic way. M. Paul is just a short, ugly, dorky jerkface. Sorry, towering achievement of Gothic literature--I just can't root for this romance....more
I never quite figured out what the lesson Thackeray was trying to teach was.
Oh, on the surface, it's incredibly bluntly obvious. The numerous asides tI never quite figured out what the lesson Thackeray was trying to teach was.
Oh, on the surface, it's incredibly bluntly obvious. The numerous asides to the conceit of the "Vanity Fair", which expresses all the downfalls of the human race, makes it pretty clear this is intended as a morality tale. He repeatedly reminds us how bad it is to be venal and materialistic. Becky Sharp, the social climbing little vixen, is endlessly portrayed as a scheming viper. Amelia, on the other hand, simpers sweetly along to be rewarded with a love ostensibly worth her in the end.
The thing is, on closer examination, nothing is quite so clear-cut. Oh, Becky is frequently awful to people. It's implied at the end that she might even have killed someone. But even the narrator cannot help but sympathize with her from time to time. She's in a social situation where she's expected to just be genteelly poor and accept that she's a social pariah, because of her parents. She doesn't particularly want to be starving and dependent and looked down on by respectable folk for being "no better than she should be". Yes, she does some awful things--but plenty of other people do awful things without being punished because they have "better" blood. And the things she gets castigated for are usually stupid, as opposed to the actual awful things she's done. By the end, Thackeray can't seem to quite give her the terrible fate she seems destined for. Meanwhile, her selfishness leaves plenty of people wrecked behind her--but so does the attempts at goodness by many of the other characters. Almost no one makes off well.
Amelia, on the other hand, starts off as the image of perfect goodness and humility. Dobbin, too, begins as all that is noble and righteous. By the end, they're both fools. I suppose they deserve each other, from beginning to end--my sympathy for them dwindled at roughly the same rate.
So while this starts off as a morality play with the implication that the just will get their desserts in the end, and the unjust will finally be punished for their transgressions, basically everyone ends up tattered and dirty, without any particular rhyme or reason to who gets a happy ending and who does not.
There is skill and wit to be found here, but it can't really hold a candle to some of the novels in whose company Vanity Fair is often kept. It lacks the passion of the Brontes, the deep psychological insight of Eliot, and the warmth and wit of Austen. Becky Sharp is clearly the most interesting character, and she's a spiky one true to her name--she's entertaining, but hardly endearing. It's not a bad book, but it's really not up to the level of others in the same category....more
Clearly written as something akin to a fable, this slim-for-Eliot novel has a much more narrow scope than, say, Middlemarch. I think the brevity suitsClearly written as something akin to a fable, this slim-for-Eliot novel has a much more narrow scope than, say, Middlemarch. I think the brevity suits her well, preventing a lot of the unevenness that has bothered me about Eliot's other works.
The characters are much simplified, almost cariacatures, but in a fairy tale kind of way that I think works. There's still plenty of room for Eliot's trademark barbs about the nature of humanity. The village people do come across as rather simple, which I have no way of verifying the accuracy of. Is Eliot being condescending, or did the class system really keep people that ignorant? I'm not a good enough historian to know. But classism aside, all the characters are really more archetypes than anything else--it's clearly the goal.
It's a simple story with simple people and entirely un-simple obeservations. I found it charming....more
Banned from multiple countries for sex scenes that are pretty much standard in most romance books today and language you can hear in any R-rated movieBanned from multiple countries for sex scenes that are pretty much standard in most romance books today and language you can hear in any R-rated movie, this book is one of the great legends of erotica. I was interested to see how it held up.
It rather reminds me of Brideshead Revisited, in that melancholy-people-ruining-their-lives kind of way. It's so very much an artifact of its time. There's a vague longing for good-old-days-that-never-were, a disillusionment with life, a distrust of glamour, and a despair at the destruction of the old order by the forces of modernization that permeates literature from the period between the World Wars. After awhile, you start feeling it in the oddest of places--not only Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but in Waugh and Wharton and even Tolkein. The loss of countryside to industry and the nobility before the masses (nevermind that nobility's enclosure laws starved most of the villages and gave them no choice but to embrace industrialization) is seen as a loss of innocence and purity.
Lady Chatterley's Lover is not about smut at all, but about how dehumanizing the modern world has become. Constance's affair with Mellors has less to do with either of their feelings for each other and more to do with a blind groping for someone possessing both the strength and tenderness that mechanization and the anesthetizing effect of capitalism has driven out of the people around them.
It's surprisingly lyrical, both in descriptions of fields of wildflowers and in descriptions of sex scenes. Lawrence manages descriptions that somehow manage to be profound and hot without ever resorting to ridiculous euphemisms. Some fairly objectionable language is used in incredibly tender ways (leaving me to wonder if some of the words have shifted over the following century).
There are a couple of speeches that Mellors makes that portray female sexuality in a way that I found revolting. (Basically, if you can't come simultaneously with the guy, after being almost completely passive in bed, you're an emasculating, unnatural harpy. Thanks for that.) I will admit, it is not clear to me whether this is the author's own belief, or if it's just the character's. Similar speeches about how chasing money has led to a cold and unfeeling society and how the war dehumanized everyone are clearly the author's own beliefs. But Mellors is not an entirely sympathetic character, and this could have been an indication of the groundkeeper's own flaws and bad assumptions.
I'm rather annoyed at the edition I read. The book ends abruptly and sadly (as could probably be guessed from the way all the books I compared it to ended). But my edition had some essays and the documents from the obscenity ruling in the back, which I did not realize. So when I turned the last page, fully expecting another 30 pages of book, to find an appendix, I was rather shocked and had to go back and re-read the last two pages now realizing that this was the ending....more
I wanted to like this book, I really did. The conceit is incredibly modern (or perhaps post-modern--I feelThis is the Seinfeld of classic literature.
I wanted to like this book, I really did. The conceit is incredibly modern (or perhaps post-modern--I feel like if someone did this today, the critics would fawn all over him/her, which is kind of ridiculous given that this book's over 250 years old). Many of the lines are genuinely funny. Sterne is exceedingly clever (and knows it).
However, the fact that I was literally unable to read this book unless I was standing without falling asleep I think indicates that it fundamentally failed to hold my interest. (Thank goodness for a subway commute, or I never would have finished it at all.) Perhaps that is my own flaw, but I think my brain was trying to tell me something here.
Going back to the Seinfeld analogy, this is essentially a book about some fairly useless people, many of whom are rather stupid or dislikable, who fail to accomplish anything of note because they endlessly bicker about everything. No one can hold a single thought in their head straight to its conclusion, least of all the author. They're very entertaining in their ridiculousness. Unfortunately, I didn't like Seinfeld, either.
I think much of the problem for me is that the joke fundamentally wore thin. (Somewhat legendarily, this is a book that opens with the conception and birth of the narrator, who does not succeed in finishing being born until over halfway through the novel because of the number of digressions.) The conceit of the narrator who can never actually finish a story and so ends up over and over with a series of nested incomplete stories is entertaining to start, as are the lists, lengthy quotations, blank chapters, etc. But I feel like that worked for the first quarter of the book and then just felt like endless repetition of the same basic gags. It starts out hilarious, then moves into ridiculous, then tedium. I think the intention is to move through back into ridiculous/hilarious, but I just never quite got there....more