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By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept
Group Reads Archive > November 2012- By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart

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message 1: by Jennifer W (new)

Jennifer W | 1001 comments Mod
Hello and welcome to November's fiction group read- By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart.


message 2: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 833 comments I did!
I don't think I should say too much about it as this stage, but for me the enjoyment is in the writing not the story.

Susan | 774 comments I have to admit that I didn't enjoy this. Yes, the prose poetry was beautiful, but it didn't speak to me I'm afraid.

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Thanks for setting up the threads Jennifer! I don't know where my mind is at the minute, I don't know what I'd do without you!

I have this book ready to read and I'm so looking forward to it...

message 5: by Ally (last edited Nov 07, 2012 12:26PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
What does this book have to say about the nature of love?

What do the Christian methaphors add to the novel?

This novel is written in prose poetry. Does it work for you? Does it effect the way you read and respond to the story or characters?

message 6: by Shelley (new)

Shelley | 30 comments I've written a verse story too, but I didn't realize that this book is written in prose poetry. Whether that works or not can vary from book to book. I will say, though, that the title of Smart's book stopped me in my tracks. It's a good one.

Shelley, Rain: A Dust Bowl Story

message 7: by Val (last edited Nov 08, 2012 12:32PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 833 comments The author says that love is the only thing worth living for, so marriage, family, society and the law are not worth considering. They are all wrong, they don't understand that she is in love, etc. etc.
I don't agree with her. She seems deranged and is certainly obsessed but it works as an impassioned piece of prose.
She uses bits of biblical love poetry (which must have really annoyed the police if she quoted it at the time). I'm not sure that other religious imagery was as significant or as appropriate.
The thing that surprised me is that when I looked Elizabeth Smart up on Wikipedia it seems as if this affair went on for many years, it seems quite short in the book.

Susan | 774 comments Yes, apparently she had four children by this man (who had 11 in all by various women...). I also think the character lacked sympathy. I am not being priggish here - I have read books about marital affairs which were sympathetic and moving (that of Elizabeth Bowen comes to mind), but somehow I found the author over obsessive and profoundly selfish.

Elizabeth Moffat | 27 comments I agree that the writing was beautiful but I also agree with Susan that the author seemed a little bit obsessed and selfish. I think she was perhaps more in love with the idea of being in love? I think she does describe quite masterfully the emotions and the heart-rending feelings of love or lust in the early stages of a relationship - they came across quite well. What did everybody think about her attitude towards the wife?

Susan | 774 comments I thought it was pretty selfish - especially considering he had children. You have to look at the writing for what it is and it was beautifully written, but a glance beyond that was not very pleasant. It wasn't as though she didn't know he was married and fell in love with him without being able to stop her feelings - she went into the relationship knowing, in fact inviting him and his wife together. Pretty odd. I think she lacked empathy with anyone outside of herself.

message 11: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 833 comments I think it is more than selfishness, she is obsessed with him. She does not seem to think that his wife and children are anything more than a minor inconvenience. She does express a bit of remorse or guilt for the unhappiness she is causing, but then decides that she is being brave to carry on with her love affair in the face of those feelings.

message 12: by Ally (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Is this a comment on the power of love to obliterate normal codes of decency?

message 13: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 833 comments It depends what she thought of normal codes of decency before falling in love. She mentions being a prodigal daughter returning for the fatted calf yet again, so I would infer that she was not all that bothered by them.

message 14: by Ally (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I'm two parts in and wondered...did the author have a 'point' in writing? - was it cathartic? was it to gain approval? was it to highlight the plight of the wife, the other woman or just women in general? is there any feminist thinking here? or it is just introspective?...just wondering what others think.

message 15: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 833 comments It may well have been cathartic, she does get her emotions out in the open.

Is it feminist to instigate an affair?
I suppose it is in the sense of it being no worse for a woman to do it than a man. She dismisses his marriage as being of no consequence, but I didn't see it as being about marriage as an institution, just that for her that particular marriage was an inconvenience to her pursuit of love. She doesn't exactly embrace the sisterhood in the way that some more overtly feminist writers were doing.

Susan | 774 comments Do we think the love was mostly on her part? Was her obsession partly hurt that it wasn't as important to him as it was to her? After all, she did instigate the affair as Val points out, so she possibly felt all was going her way, until things spiralled out of control.

I would not call the book feminist. Cathartic certainly. I can think of other writers (Simone de Beauvoir for example) who were equally as obsessed with a man, but presented a better case for their actions.

message 17: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 833 comments She doesn't try to justify her actions, apart from saying she is in love and that is all that matters (which shows the emotional maturity of a toddler throwing a tantrum at the supermarket sweetie counter).
It does seem as if the love is mostly on her side: she says that her love is enough to carry them both. He did accept her invitation and apparently her money to make the trip. (He was teaching in Japan in 1940 and couldn't afford to leave.) Was he flattered by her attention and didn't see why he shouldn't take advantage of it, or was he in love with her as well, just not to the same extent? It is not very clear, because we only get to hear about her feelings.

Susan | 774 comments Possibly he just used her. She had already decided she was in love with him when she invited him, on the basis of his poetry. Her head was certainly in the clouds. The toddler at the supermarket reminded me of my youngest at that age - manipulative was the word I would use about such behaviour!

message 19: by Ally (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
Val wrote: "She doesn't try to justify her actions, apart from saying she is in love and that is all that matters (which shows the emotional maturity of a toddler throwing a tantrum at the supermarket sweetie counter..."

I love that description!

I'm almost finished and I'm trying to fight my primary reaction as I think there are depths here that are worth exploring in more detail.

My first reaction is to dismiss this totally as middle class posturing. Susan mentions manipulation and that is to some extent what I see here. A lady I know, wealthy and educated, is emotionally very similar to Elizabeth Smart in this novel. I'd describe that emotional state as 'highly strung' with a sense of 'entitlement' and an accompanying (endearing?) neediness that men sometimes find irrisistable. I imagine the lady I know as the narrator and it makes me laugh (...which rather detracts from the seriousness with which I think I'm meant to take this novel).

Susan | 774 comments I think you can enjoy it for what it is - the prose is beautiful and she certainly does evoke an emotional response.

message 21: by Val (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 833 comments Ally: That lady you are thinking of does sound rather similar to Elizabeth Smart as she portrays herself. Can you imagine her quoting the Bible at policemen?

Susan: Yes I did enjoy reading it. As a beautifully written piece of pure fiction I would have no reservations about praising it and the author's creation of a selfish, obsessed woman.
The criticism is of the author's behaviour which is behind the story, but once I looked her up it became difficult to separate the two.

Susan | 774 comments Yes, I agree Val. I also looked her up and she does lack sympathy, both in her life and in her writing. I was trying to be positive!

Elizabeth Moffat | 27 comments I definitely thought the love bordered on obsession and it was much more one-sided (from her). I'm wondering about how she sees the wife, at some points she feels guilty for what she is doing, at others she seems to regard her as quite a pathetic creature.

message 24: by Ally (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ally (goodreadscomuser_allhug) | 1653 comments Mod
I came across an article from the Independent a few years ago written by Raffaella Barker:

In it she says:

"By Grand Central Station... enforced my belief that romantic love was the prime motivating force in life, and made me both long for and dread an experience as piercing as Smart's. I was inspired, I began to write some purple prose about my own love affairs. And then I discovered that the book was about my father. Ah. My sense of betrayal was every bit as fully blown as Elizabeth Smart's was in the book. It took a while to absorb my own overblown feelings. How could they? Oh God. But I got over it, I re-read it and I learned first hand that literature transcends and transforms experience, and that is what it is for. What more can anyone ask of a book?"

Is that what literature is for? to transcend and transform experience? What do you think?

Elizabeth Moffat | 27 comments I think a decently written piece of literature can do that, it changes the way you look at the world, it comforts and teaches us all a little something.

message 26: by Val (last edited Nov 20, 2012 12:18PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Val | 833 comments I agree that it can and that this is very well written, but that looking up the factual basis in this case did mean that it descended into the sordid, banal, selfish realms of literature which are reality denying and cause more hurt than comfort.

message 27: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy | 38 comments While I agree that the author/character is obsessive and selfish, I think its great that a woman was able to write such an agonizing portrayl of unrequited love in the 1940's. And really, some of the statements and irrational thoughts could mirror some of the crazed things people still do when they are in love or breaking up/divorcing. I could definitely see thin parallels to behaviour I myself have witnessed.

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