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We all read it in eleventh grade. The language was dense, but we ached for Hester, hated Chillingworth and rooted for Dimmesdale. It all felt so dramaWe all read it in eleventh grade. The language was dense, but we ached for Hester, hated Chillingworth and rooted for Dimmesdale. It all felt so dramatic and deep and dark, like moss on an old oak tree covering up secret messages carved long ago by two star-crossed lovers.
And then you read it as an adult.
Umm...sorry Ms. Vehar, but how did you fail to mention that this books is hilarious? I could practically hear Nathaniel Hawthorne's eyelashes swishing as he winked sarcastically from from behind every page. The faux Puritan prose is just that: faux. While Hawthorne makes grandiose statements about the severity and coldness of those old Puritan days, he is practically bruising the reader with elbow jabs to the ribs saying, "Nudge, nudge, get it? WE ARE JUST AS JUDGMENTAL AND SEVERE TODAY! HA!!"
Despite the mild bruising, I couldn't help but adorn the margins with smiley faces every time I felt my buddy Nathaniel winking at me. But for all the smiley faces, it was a surprise to realize how distant the narrator really stays from the characters. While adaptations of the story focus on the passion of the silenced lovers and imagine a rich thought life for Hester, the book rarely visits the interior worlds of the characters beyond what is symbolically represented by their, well, symbols- her daughter Pearl, the rose bushes, the gallows, meteors, and the eponymous scarlet letter, etc. The narrator spends far more time alluding to foreboding symbolic omens of psychological disruption, than inviting the reader to feel what the characters feel, or even know what they are feeling. This book is anything but romantic.
Further, Dimmesdale is in no way a hero to root for. From my reading, Hawthone thinks him the worst kind of cowardly narcissist there is. For all of Dimmesdale's self-imposed chastisement and loathing, he goes about his life feeling rather proud of his status as secret horrible sinner, whereas Hester bears the public shame and maintains her integrity. Dimmesdale's death (oops, spoiler) is his final pathetic act of grandiosity- he begs for Hester to give him her strength, but still chooses the easy way out as a martyr for his own sinfulness. He avoids the real risk, following Hester into a life beyond Salem's black & white punitive moral justice. He disintegrates into the non-person he is, rather than choosing to live honestly as an imperfect man.
I enjoyed my revisit to The Scarlet Letter, especially considering it had been twelve years since I'd read it. It's a short read, and if you can read it as satire, not morose allegory, it really shines with brilliant psychological insights. And no matter how unlikable I found her to be, Hester really is an amazing female character. Hawthorne supposedly based her largely on Margaret Fuller, a woman whom nearly all those transcendentalist fellows were head over heals for. She marched to her own drum, choosing lovers often over marriage, and career over domestic security. It must have been pretty shocking in 1850 to read about the choices Hester Prynne makes, and I bet a lot of Hawthorne's ironical winks and nudges would not have been as humorous if you were the party being implicated. But for 2009, it's an enlightening and entertaining read. ...more
100% engaging. This is one of those books that you feel more human for having read.
What the plot may lack in scope, the writing makes up for tenfold w100% engaging. This is one of those books that you feel more human for having read.
What the plot may lack in scope, the writing makes up for tenfold with tender and true insights into pain, hope, vanity and prosaic life. It's a true, true, true book, that beats with an honest heart. You get to love the narrator in the very fact that the narrator is open about her love for the characters. this book is a treasure, in all its homely ruggedness and sometimes shocking, but inevitable events. It's not so much the story, but how it is told. full of hearty truths and simple thinking. Smart and substantive. Dang, I just liked it so much!!!!...more
I had high hopes for this new biography of the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Consort Albert. While I learned a fair bit and enjoyed wI had high hopes for this new biography of the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Consort Albert. While I learned a fair bit and enjoyed walking through their history, the biography suffers from some of my most frustrating history-writing pet peeves. Information taken from letters and diaries often gets written narratively, such as "Seated on a little blue sofa, Victoria nestled in Albert's bosom," instead of indicating the voice of the journal's author. The result is that personal details and moments end up reading like campy historical fiction instead of actual words from the profiled people.
Also, the book often takes on a patronizing tone towards its subjects, too often critiquing Victoria and Albert from a 21st century posture rather than fleshing out their actions and relationship in light of their context. Not that proper context isn't ever given, it just felt like Gill often took cheap shots, writing dismissively of Victoria's emotional expressions and flippantly of Albert's professorial demeanor.
If you're expecting to read the book version of "The Young Victoria," you won't get it here, nor did I expect to. But I did hope to see a fuller portrait of this rare royal marriage, beyond an attitude of "oh those dull and repressed Victorians." ...more
In re-reading Harry Potter for the first time in over six years, it's fascinating to come into the world of the books now having watched most of the fIn re-reading Harry Potter for the first time in over six years, it's fascinating to come into the world of the books now having watched most of the films at least twice a year. I was struck throughout my read of this first book with the fact that I knew so much more than Harry did-about everything. It was difficult to imagine what I would have thought of the story if I wasn't already embedded in the mythos of Hogwarts, Diagon Alley and Dumbledore. My impression from this revisit is that I would have found it hard to enjoy any of the characters.
It's initially difficult to understand how Harry is even a functioning human being after the hyperbolic amount of child abuse that is his upbringing. Perhaps we're supposed to treat Harry's childhood like a fairy tale: that because he is our hero, his inner virtue somehow carries him through the terrors of being forced to live in a cupboard, treated like a servant, insulted and hit regularly, and given "gifts" such as old socks and coat-hangers. But Harry didn't just move in with his evil relations after a happy childhood with his caring family. No, these people have raised him from age one. If the Dursley's treated 3-year-old Harry the way the treat 11-year- old Harry, then I don't know how Harry would be able to form attachments of any kind or feel anything but contempt for himself. Perhaps Rowling trusts our suspension of disbelief for the sake of a magical story, but Harry's orphanhood in the books is to such an extent that from the get-go, I'm suspicious of the author.
Another major challenge was the caustic and insulting way everyone speaks to one another. Half way through the book, nearly every main character has been told to "Shut Up" or has lobbed the phrase at someone else. I quickly began noting the places were Hermione is treated as or explicitly called a nag (marked as "Hag" -"Hermione Nagging"). Rowling even has the narrator imply that Hermione is somehow wrong for refusing to let Ron and Harry copy her homework. Apparently a good friend would let you cheat? And while Neville finds ways to stand up for himself and is rewarded by Dumbledore for his bravery, the trio (and the narrator) generally talk about him like a pathetic pain in the ass. Overall, there is little kindness, compassion, or genuine connection between the characters. Even noble-hearts like Hagrid and Dumbledore often read as comically sentimental or stupid. In reading, I felt was being invited to despise people rather than identify with them.
DId I like anything? Yes. Once we finally left the Muggle world, I still found myself relishing every magical and mysterious detail of Hogwarts, as I do with the films. I also appreciated how swiftly the story moved along, compared to the film (and most of the books to come). But I REALLY enjoyed reading the UK version. First of all, it's always bugged the heck out of me that the term "Sorcerer's Stone" was used in the US, seeing as there is no such thing as a sorcerer's stone. The idea of the Philosopher's Stone goes back hundreds of years in the lore of alchemy. How sad that publisher's trusted 10 yr olds in the UK to know what the philosopher's stone was, but feared American kids wouldn't be willing to find out. I felt proud to be carrying a book with the true title.
Also, in choosing the read the UK edition, I immediately found myself noting certain phrases and spellings so I could cross-reference them with the American version. I LOVED this. It was surprising to see what was kept, what was replaced, and what was simply clarified. UK "Hamburger Bars" became "Hamburger Restaurants," "revision timetables" became "study schedules," "football" became "soccer" of course, and "Hallowe'en" became "Halloween." But I still don't know what a "knickerbocker glory" is, and surprisingly the US edition didn't help me.
Ultimately I'll never know if I would have fallen in love with this world if I'd met it first through this book. My gut says no. But then again, I remember relishing the first three books when I read them back in the fall of 2004 before I had the chance to memorize the films. I'm hoping that some character depth and truthful interactions begin to emerge as the books go on. Frankly, I think if these books had been written by a man, the portrayal of Hermione alone would have sparked public book burnings.
Here's hoping the wonder, bravery and tenderness of the films' world begins soon to prove revelatory of its roots in the original texts....more