Wednesday, September 30, 2009

261. Metamorphoses - Ovid

History: A narrative poem in fifteen books that describes the creation and history of the world. Completed in 8 AD, it has remained one of the most popular works of mythology, being the Classical work best known to medieval writers and thus having a great deal of influence on medieval poetry.
Plot: Ovid works his way through his subject matter, often in an apparently arbitrary fashion, by jumping from one transformation tale to another, sometimes retelling what had come to be seen as central events in the world of Greek myth and sometimes straying in odd directions. The poem is often called a mock-epic. It is written in dactylic hexameter, the form of the great heroic and nationalistic epic poems, both those of the ancient tradition (the Iliad and Odyssey) and of Ovid's own day (the Aeneid). It begins with the ritual "invocation of the muse," and makes use of traditional epithets and circumlocutions. But instead of following and extolling the deeds of a human hero, it leaps from story to story with little connection.
The recurring theme, as with nearly all of Ovid's work, is that of love — be it personal love or love personified in the figure of Amor (Cupid). Indeed, the other Roman gods are repeatedly perplexed, humiliated, and made ridiculous by Amor, an otherwise relatively minor god of the pantheon who is the closest thing this mock-epic has to a hero. Apollo comes in for particular ridicule as Ovid shows how irrational love can confound the god of pure reason. The work as a whole inverts the accepted order, elevating humans and human passions while making the gods and their desires and conquests objects of low humor.
Review: A number of things discouraged me about this - There’s some really gory stuff in this, absolutely grotesque violence. There's too much multilayering, a story within a story, and you get lost. Then there’s the incredible number of characters, many of whom Ovid presumes you already know about. Fair enough, he was writing for his contemporaries but now, you need a degree in Classical History to follow the thread.
But I listened to the entire thing, mainly because of the history. And the fact that I was learning the real stories behind the myths I thought I knew. This is a 400 page poem, and it's over 2000 years old.
I found this a bit of a trial from beginning to end.
Occasionally, it was worth reading. Take Cupid for instance. He was a nasty piece of work, a far cry from the cuddly Valentinian cherub. He had two arrows, one to cause love and one to cause repulsion. Using both his arrows on a couple resulted in their torment. I liked the ending commentary, and the metaphysical and spiritual feel to it, timelessness.
Opening Line: "My intention is to tell of bodies changed
To different forms; the gods, who made the changes,
Will help me – or I hope so – with a poem
That runs from the world’s beginnings to our own days."
Closing Line: "Still, part of me,
The better part, immortal, will be borne
Above the stars; my name will be remembered
Wherever Roman power rules conquered lands,
I shall be read, and through all centuries,
If prophecies of bards are ever truthful,
I shall be living, always."
Quotes: "Many women long for what eludes them, not like not what is offered them."
"At night there is no such thing as an ugly woman."
Rating: Good, historical important VERY GORY

260. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

History: This book was published in 1813. Though the book's setting is uniquely turn of the 19th century, it remains a fascination of modern readership, continuing to remain at the top of lists titled "most loved books of all time", and receiving considerable attention from literary critics. This modern interest has resulted in a number of dramatic adaptations and a plethora of books developing Austen's memorable characters further.
Plot: As the novel opens, Mr Bingley, a wealthy young gentleman, rents a country estate near the Bennets called Netherfield. He arrives in town accompanied by his two fashionable sisters and his good friend, Mr Darcy. While Bingley is well-liked in the community, Darcy begins his acquaintance with the town with smug condescension and proud distaste for all of the country people. Bingley and Jane begin to grow close despite Mrs Bennet's embarrassing interference and the opposition of Bingley's sisters, who believe Jane to be socially inferior. Elizabeth is stung by Darcy's haughty rejection of her at a local dance and decides to match his coldness with her own wit.
At the same time, Elizabeth begins a friendship with Mr Wickham, a militia officer who relates a prior acquaintance with Darcy. Wickham tells her that he has seriously been mistreated by Darcy. Elizabeth immediately seizes upon this information as another, more concrete reason to hate Darcy. Unbeknown to her, Darcy finds himself gradually drawn to Elizabeth.
Just as Bingley appears to be on the point of proposing marriage, he leaves Netherfield, which leaves Jane confused and upset. Elizabeth is convinced that Bingley's sisters have conspired with Darcy to separate Jane and Bingley.
Before Bingley leaves, Mr Collins, the male relative who is to inherit Longbourn, makes a sudden appearance and stays with the Bennets. He is a recently ordained clergyman employed by the wealthy and patronizing Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Though he was partially entreated to visit by his patroness, Collins has another reason for visiting: he wishes to find a wife from among the Bennet sisters. He immediately enters pursuit of Jane, however when Mrs Bennet mentions her preoccupation with Mr Bingley, he turns to Elizabeth. He soon proposes marriage to Elizabeth, who refuses him, much to her mother's distress. Collins immediately makes another proposal and marries Elizabeth's close friend, Charlotte Lucas, who invites Elizabeth to stay with them.
In the spring, Elizabeth joins Charlotte and her cousin at his parish in Kent. The parish is adjacent to Rosings Park, the grand manor of Mr Darcy's aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, where Elizabeth is frequently invited. While calling on Lady Catherine, Mr Darcy encounters Elizabeth and after several further meetings, he admits his love of Elizabeth and proposes to her. Insulted by his high-handed and insulting manner of proposing, Elizabeth refuses him. When he asks why she should refuse him, she confronts him with his sabotage of Bingley's relationship with Jane and Wickham's account of their dealings.
Deeply shaken by Elizabeth's vehemence and accusations, Darcy writes her a letter justifying his actions. The letter reveals that Wickham cheated him and in order to exact revenge and acquire part of Darcy's fortune, he attempted to seduce Darcy's young sister Georgiana, almost persuading her to elope with him. Darcy also justifies his actions towards Bingley and Jane by explaining that as Jane did not visibly show any reciprocal interest in his friend, his aim in separating them was mainly to protect Bingley from heartache. Darcy also admits he was concerned about the potential disadvantageous association with Elizabeth's embarrassing mother and wild younger sisters. As a result of the letter, Elizabeth is prompted to question both her family's behaviour and Wickham's credibility, and comes to the conclusion that Wickham is not as trustworthy as his easy manners would indicate and her early impressions of Darcy may not have been accurate. Soon after receiving the letter Elizabeth returns home.
Elizabeth tells her father that Darcy was responsible for uniting Lydia and Wickham. Some months later, during a tour of Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth visits Pemberley, Darcy's estate. Darcy's housekeepers, an old lady that has known Darcy since childhood, presents Elizabeth and her relatives with a flattering and benevolent impression of his character. Unexpectedly, Darcy arrives at Pemberly as they tour its grounds. He makes an effort to be gracious and welcoming to them, thus strengthening Elizabeth's newly favourable impression of him. Darcy then introduces Elizabeth to his sister Georgiana. He treats her uncle and aunt very well, and finds them of a more sound character then her other relatives which he previously dismissed as socially inferior.
Elizabeth and Darcy's renewed acquaintance is cut short when news arrives that Elizabeth's younger sister Lydia has run away with Wickham. Initially, the Bennets believes that Wickham and Lydia have eloped, but soon it is surmised that Wickham has no plans to marry Lydia. Lydia's antics threaten the family's reputation and the Bennet sisters with social ruin. Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle hurriedly leave Derbyshire, and Elizabeth is convinced that Darcy will avoid her from now on.
Soon, thanks to the intervention of Elizabeth's uncle, Lydia and Wickham are found and married. After the marriage, Wickham and Lydia make a visit to Longbourne. While bragging to Elizabeth, Lydia comments that Darcy was present at the wedding. Surprised, Elizabeth sends an inquiry to her aunt, from whom she discovers that Darcy was responsible for both finding the couple and arranging their marriage at great expense to himself.
Soon after, Bingley and Darcy return to the area. Bingley proposes marriage to Jane, and this news starts rumors that Darcy will propose to Elizabeth. Lady Catherine travels to Longbourn with the sole aim of confronting Elizabeth and demanding that she never accept such a proposal. Elizabeth refuses to bow to Lady Catherine's demands. When news of this obstinance reaches Darcy, it convinces him that her opinion of him has changed. When he visits, he once again proposes marriage. Elizabeth accepts, and the two become engaged.
Elizabeth and Darcy settle at Pemberley where Mr Bennet visits often. Mrs Bennet remains frivolous and silly, and often visits the new Mrs Bingley and talking of the new Mrs Darcy. Later, Jane and Bingley move from Netherfield to avoid Jane's mother and Meryton relations and to locate near the Darcys in Derbyshire. Elizabeth and Jane manage to teach Kitty greater social grace, and Mary learns to accept the difference between herself and her sisters' beauty and mixes more with the outside world. Lydia and Wickham continue move often, leaving their debts for Jane and Elizabeth to pay off. At Pemberley, Elizabeth and Georgiana grow close, though Georgiana is surprised by Elizabeth's playful treatment of Darcy. Lady Catherine stays very angry with her nephew's marriage but over time the relationship between the two is repaired and she eventually decides to visit them. Elizabeth and Darcy also remain close with her uncle and aunt.
Review: this is the most tolerable of all Austen's books for me. The plot is the same, but the language is readable, and characters not so boring. A major theme in much of Austen's work is the importance of environment and upbringing on the development of young people's character and morality. Social standing and wealth are not necessarily advantages in her world, and a further theme common to Jane Austen's work is ineffectual parents.
Opening Line: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
Closing Line: "With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them."
Quotes: "I have no pretensions whatever to that kind of elegance which consists in tormenting a respectable man."
Rating: Mediocre.

259. White Noise - Don DeLillo

History: Published in 1985, it is considered Don DeLillo's most famous work.
Plot: Set at a midwestern college known only as The-College-on-the-Hill, White Noise follows a year in the life of Jack Gladney, a professor who has made his name by pioneering the field of Hitler Studies (though he doesn't speak German). He has been married five times to four women and has a brood of children and stepchildren (Heinrich, Bee, Denise, Steffie, Wilder). Babette, a low-key and adaptable faculty wife who reads tabloids to the blind and teaches senior citizens' classes in posture, is distinguished by her forgetfulness and her preoccupation with death. She is strong and motherly, the two confront issues honestly and with a sense of humor. Their son Heinrich is 14, moody and introspective. His hairline is already receding. Their daughter Denise is 11, a ''hard-nosed kid'' who leads ''a more or less daily protest against parental habits that she considers wasteful or dangerous.'' She points out the warning on her mother's packages of sugarless gum and is the first to notice Babette's surreptitious consumption of a drug called Dylar, which Denise finds is unlisted in her much perused copy of the Physician's Desk Reference. Steffie is slightly younger than Denise, a sensitive child who, while watching television with her family, ''becomes upset when something shameful or humiliating seems about to happen to someone on the screen'' and stands outside the room while Denise gives a running commentary on the action. And there is
Wilder, the 3-year-old son who seldom speaks but, asleep or awake, is a constant reassurance to his parents, simply because he is there.
The first part of White Noise, called "Waves and Radiation," is a chronicle of absurdist family life combined with academic satire. There is little plot in this section, and it mainly sets the scene for the rest of the book. Another important character introduced here is Murray, who frequently discusses his theories, which relate to the rest of the book.
In the book's second part, "The Airborne Toxic Event," a chemical spill from a rail car releases an "airborne toxic event" over Jack's home region, prompting an evacuation. During the evacuation when he stops for gas, he is exposed to the toxin. Frightened, Gladney is forced to confront his mortality. An organization called SIMUVAC (short for "simulated evacuation") is also introduced in Part Two, an indication of simulations replacing reality.
In part three of the book, "Dylarama," Gladney realizes that Babette has been cheating on him in order to gain access to a fictional drug called Dylar, an experimental treatment for the fear of death. However, Dylar does not work for Babette, and it has many possible side effects, including losing the ability to "distinguish words from things. Soon the novel becomes a meditation on modern society's fear of death and its obsession with chemical cures as Gladney seeks to obtain his own black market supply of Dylar.
Gladney's mind bends a little at this point. His father in law, Vern, comes to visit, and Jack mistakes him for Death (he is sitting in a chair outside in the middle of the night). Vern gives him a small hand gun, and Gladney begins to carry it around with him. He becomes obsessed with "Mr. Gray", the corporate leader of that Babette slept with. After a long conversation with Murray, who prophetized that people kill (Hitler), in order to escape death - he makes the insane decision to kill "Mr Gray". He goes to the corporate office, the Foundry, and confronts Willie Mink (Mr Gray), who is in the midst of a Dylar "stupor".
Instead of confronting him and stealing the Dylar as planned, he realizes it is useless and shoots him anyway. The wounds aren't fatal, and he begins to feel compassion for the man. He takes him to the emergency room, seemingly staged to appear as if someone else did the shooting. All is well, the nurses repair the bullet wounds without question. Wilder rides his tricycle across the interstate but isn't killed. Life goes on.
Review: I love this book. Don DeLillo has a knack for capturing the essence of American popular culture through intelligence and ironic humor. White Noise essentially is about American's fear of death, but it touches upon so many silly things in our society that it certainly goes far beyond this subject. On the other hand, you can say that it is simply about everyday life and everyday relationships. I find it interesting that this book was first published in 1984, since it seems to point out things that seem even more true today, (like a drug similar to Prozac) Mr. DeLillo has dealt not so much with character as with culture, survival and the subtle, ever-increasing interdependence between the self and the national and world community. The he-man against the elements, the outlaw, the superhero exist only as myths in the modern world; we are nature's elements, a technologically oriented people nonetheless caught in the sieve of history.
Opening Line: "The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed
through the west campus."
Closing Line: "The cults of the famous and the dead."
Quotes: "Why do these possessions carry such a sorrowful weight?" There is a darkness attached to them, a foreboding. They make me wary not of personal failure and defeat but of something more general, something large in scope and content."
"But when I say I believe in complete disclosure I don't mean it cheaply, as anecdotal sport or shallow revelation. It is a form of self-renewal and gesture of custodial trust."
"Love helps us develop an identity secure enough to allow itself to be placed in another's care and protection."
"There are no amateurs in the world of children."
"I believe, Jack, there are two kinds of people in this world, Killers and diers. Most of us are diers."
Rating: Superb.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

258. Summer - Edith Wharton

History: The book was published in 1917.
Plot: Eighteen-year-old Charity Royall is bored in the small town of North Dormer. She is a librarian and ward of North Dormer’s premier citizen Lawyer Royall. While working at the library she meets visiting architect Lucius Harney.
When Harney’s cousin Miss Hatchard left the village, Harney became Mr. Royall’s boarder, and Charity his companion while he explores old houses. Mr. Royall notices their growing closeness and tries to put a stop to it by telling Harney he can no longer accommodate him in his house. Harney makes it seem as though he left town but in reality he only moves in a nearby village and continues to communicate with Charity.
In a trip to Nettleton Harney kisses Charity for the first time, and buys her a present, a brooch. Afterwards they run into a drunken Mr. Royall, accompanied by prostitutes. Mr. Royall verbally abuses Charity, and Charity becomes overwhelmed with shame.
Sexual relations between Charity and Harney begin after the trip to Nettleton.
During North Dormer’s Old Home Week, Charity sees Harney with Annabel Balch, a society girl she envies.
After the dance Charity as usual goes to the small house where she meets up with Harney. Mr. Royall suddenly shows up and, when Harney arrives, Mr. Royall asks him if that is where he intends to live after he marries Charity.
After an angry Mr. Royall leaves, Harney promises Charity that he is going to marry her, but that he has to go away for a while first.
After Harney has left, Charity’s friend Ally lets slip that she saw Harney leave town with Annabel Balch. Ally says that Harney and Annabel are engaged to be married. Charity writes a letter to Harney telling him to do the right thing and marry Annabel.
Charity has been feeling sick so she goes to Dr. Merkle, who confirms her suspicion that she is pregnant. After the examination Dr. Merkle charges five dollars and Charity, not having enough money to cover it, has to leave the brooch Harney gave her. When she gets home she reads a letter from Harney, stating that he will do his best for them to be together.
Charity makes her way to the mountain, intending to look for her mother. On the way she sees the minister Mr. Miles, and her friend Liff Hyatt. They are on their way up the mountains because Charity’s mother is dying. When they arrive Charity’s mother has already died, and they bury her.
Charity stays in the mountain overnight, where she sees the abject poverty and resolves not to raise her child there. She decides that she is going to be a prostitute, and with the money she earns she will hire someone to take care of her child. Amidst her journey she sees Mr. Royall, who has come to pick her up. Mr. Royall offers to marry her.
After Charity marries Mr. Royall in Nettleton, she realizes that he knows she is pregnant and that is why he married her. He gives her forty dollars to buy clothes, and she goes to Dr. Merkle to get her brooch. Dr. Merkle has heard of her marriage to Mr. Royall, and refuses to give the brooch for less than forty dollars. Rather than paying the forty dollars, Charity quickly grabs the brooch and rushes from the office. She returns to Lawyer Royall's and writes to Harney, telling him that she has married Mr. Royall and has returned to North Dormer.
Review: Summer, Wharton's only country novel besides Ethan Frome is not as well known as some of her longer novels. At first, the plot reminded me a great deal of Kate Chopin's The Awakening, but the story is actually quite different. It reminds me more of Ethan Frome (well, at least the New England setting does). Summer is considered to be "the most erotic fiction Edith Wharton ever wrote." The erotic undertones in this story shocked early twentieth century readers, but are quite mild for today's standards.
Opening Line: "A girl came out of lawyer Royall's house, at the end of the one street of North Dormer, and stood on the doorstep.
Closing Line: "Late that evening, in the cold autumn moonlight, they drove up to the door of the red house."
Quotes: "How I hate everything!" she murmured."
"A mile or two farther on they came out on a clearing where two or three low houses lay in stony fields, crouching among the rocks as if to brace themselves against the wind. They were hardly more than sheds, built of logs and rough boards, with tin stove-pipes sticking out of their roofs. The sun was setting, and dusk had already fallen on the lower world, but a yellow glare still lay on the lonely hillside and the crouching houses. The next moment it faded and left the landscape in dark autumn twilight."
Rating: Okay

257. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood

History: Published in 2000.
Plot: The novel centres around the protagonist, Iris Chase, and her sister Laura, who committed suicide immediately after the Second World War. Iris, now an old woman, recalls the events and relationships of her childhood, youth and middle age, as well as her unhappy marriage to Richard Griffen, a rival of her industrialist father. Interwoven into the novel is a story within a story, a roman à clef attributed to Laura and published by Iris about Alex Thomas, a politically radical author of pulp science fiction who has an ambiguous relationship with the sisters. That novel itself contains a story within a story, the eponymous Blind Assassin, a science fiction story told by Alex's fictional counterpart to that novel's protagonist, believed to be Laura's fictional counterpart.
The novel takes the form of a gradual revelation, illuminating both Iris' youth and her old age before coming to the pivotal events of her and Laura's lives around the time of the Second World War. As the novel unfolds, and the novel-within-a-novel becomes ever more obviously inspired by real events, it is revealed that Iris, not Laura, is the novel-within-a-novel's true author and protagonist. Though the novel-within-a-novel had long been believed to be inspired by Laura's romance with Alex, it is revealed that the The Blind Assassin was written by Iris based on her extramarital affair with Alex. She later published the work in Laura's name after Laura commits suicide upon learning of their affair. The novel ends with Iris posthumously leaving the truth to be discovered in the form of an unpublished autobiography left to her sole surviving granddaughter.
The book is set in the fictional Ontario town of Port Ticonderoga and in the Toronto of the 1930s and 1940s. It is a work of historical fiction with the major events of Canadian history forming an important backdrop to the novel. Greater verisimilitude is given through a series of newspaper articles that comment on events and on the novel's characters from a distance.
Review: There is a story in The Blind Assassin. It is the story of the young lovers, who desperately need each other even as they are often hostile to each other, and whose destinies are shaped by forces beyond their control. Atwood is not willing to write a book just about them - that kind of a story would be passé. She turns them into a sideshow to her main focus, an extended character study of Iris. The reader sees the young lovers at a distance, through the filter of octogenarian Iris, and it become impossible to be fully drawn into their story. As far as I can tell, Atwood does not want us to be drawn into their story. She seems intentionally to make the writing of Chase's Blind Assassin a bit amateurish and overly sentimental, contrasting it with Iris's subtler, more mature prose. Yet if Chase's Blind Assassin were published separately, it would be a better novel than Atwood's Blind Assassin. If only Margaret Atwood had unleashed all of her considerable talents on the Chase version, without the framework of octogenarian Iris, that could have been a great novel.
Opening Line: "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge."
Closing Line: "By the time you read this last page, that - if anywhere - is the only place I will be."
Quotes: “What fabrications they are, mothers. Scarecrows, wax dolls for us to stick pins into, crude diagrams. We deny them an existence of their own, we make them up to suit ourselves — our own hungers, our own wishes, our own deficiencies. Now tha I’ve been one myself, I know”
Rating: Okay

Saturday, September 19, 2009

256. Kim - Rudyard Kipling

History: It was first published serially in McClure's Magazine from December 1900 to October 1901. The novel is notable for its detailed portrait of Indian people, culture, and its varied religions. It is generally considered by critics to be Kipling's best serious long novel.
Plot: Kim (Kimball O'Hara) is the orphaned son of an Irish soldier. He earns his living by begging and running small errands on the streets of Lahore. He occasionally works for his friend, Mahbub Ali, a horse trader who is one of the native operatives of the British secret service.
One day, he befriends an aged Tibetan Lama who is on a quest to free himself from the Wheel of Things by finding the legendary 'River of the Arrow'. Kim becomes his chela, or disciple, and accompanies him on his journey. On the way, Kim incidentally learns about parts of the Great Game and is recruited by the British to carry a message to the British commander in Umballa. Kim's trip with the Lama along the Grand Trunk Road is the first great adventure in the novel.
By chance, Kim's father's regimental chaplain identifies him by his Masonic certificate, which he wears around his neck and Kim is forcibly separated from the Lama, although the Lama insists to Kim that he should comply with the chaplain's plan because he believes it is in Kim's best interest, and sent to a top English school in Lucknow. The Lama insists on funding Kim's education and Kim remains in contact with him through his years at school. Kim also stays in contact with his secret service connections and is trained in espionage while on vacation from school, by Lurgan Sahib at his jewellery shop in Simla. For example, he looks at a tray full of mixed objects and notes which have been added or taken away, a pastime still called Kim's Game.
After three years of schooling, Kim is given a government appointment so that he can begin his role in the Great Game. Before this appointment begins, however, he is granted time to take a much-deserved break. Kim rejoins the Lama and, at the behest of Kim's superior Hurree Chunder Mookherjee, they make a trip to the Himalayas. Here the espionage and spiritual threads of the story collide, with the Lama unwittingly falling into conflict with Russian intelligence agents. Kim obtains maps, papers, and other important items from the Russians -- who were working to undermine British control of the region. Mookherjee befriends the Russians under cover, acting as a guide and ensures that they do not recover the lost items. Kim, aided by some porters and villagers, help to rescue the Lama.
The Lama realizes that he has gone astray. His search for the River of the Arrow should be taking place in the plains, not the mountains, and he orders the porters to take them back. Here Kim and the Lama are nursed back to health, Kim delivers the Russian documents to Babu, a concerned Mahbub Ali comes to check on Kim, and the Lama finds his river and achieves Enlightenment. The reader is left to decide whether Kim will henceforth follow the materialistic road of the Great Game, the spiritual way of Tibetan Buddhism, or a combination of the two.
Review: The friendship between this unlikely pair is one of the main attractions of 'Kim', which is a novel about male friendships, primarily between Kim and Teshoo lama, but also between Kim and Colonel Creighton and his colleagues. It is also a coming of age story, and a story about India. According to many accounts Kipling himself was happy growing up in India until the age of 6, then, when his family moved to England, he was sent to live with foster parents who were cruel and made his life a five-year-long trauma, (which Kipling recorded in his short story 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' and alluded to in the opening of 'The Light That Failed'). Perhaps the young Kipling was furious with his parents for abandoning him and his sister without warning in this lodging house for five years, and perhaps the novel 'Kim' is the adult Kipling's wish-fulfilment fantasy of how good life might have been if instead of being uprooted he could have stayed on in India, on his own, without his parents.
Opening Line: "He sat, in defiance of municipal orders, astride the gun Zam-Zammah on her brick platform opposite the old Ajaib-Gher - the Wonder House, as the natives call the Lahore Museum."
Closing Line: "He crossed his hands on his lap and smiled, as a man may who has won salvation for himself, and his beloved."
Quotes: "I have seen something of this world," she said over the crowded trays, "and there are but two sorts of women in it - those who take the strength out of a man and those who put it back. Once I was that one, and now I am this."
Rating: Mediocre

Thursday, September 17, 2009

255. The Once and Future King – T.H. White

History: This book It was first published in 1958 and is mostly a composite of earlier works. The title comes from the supposed inscription of the marker over King Arthur's grave: HIC IACET ARTHURUS REX QUONDAM REXQUE FUTURUS — "Here lies Arthur, the once and future king."
Though it has been in print for less than half a century, it has already been declared a classic by many, and is often referred to as the "bible" of Arthurian legend. White recreates the epic saga of King Arthur, from his childhood education and experiences until his very death, in a truly insightful and new way. This is not, however, the first complete novel of Arthur's life. In the fifteenth century, Sir Thomas Malory wrote Morte d'Arthur, the first complete tale of Arthur's life. Since then, a countless number of books have been written on the subject, yet none can compare to The Once and Future King.
Plot: The Sword in the Stone chronicles Arthur's raising by his foster father Sir Ector, his rivalry and friendship with his foster brother Kay, and his initial training by Merlin, a wizard who lives through time backwards. Merlin, knowing the boy's destiny, teaches Arthur (known as "Wart") what it means to be a good king by turning him into various kinds of animals: fish, hawk, ant, owl, goose, and badger. Each of the transformations is meant to teach Wart a lesson, which will prepare him for his future life.
In fact, Merlin instills in Arthur the concept that the only justifiable reason for war is to prevent another from going to war then, and that contemporary human governments and powerful people exemplify the worst aspects of the rule of Might. Merlin magically turns Wart into various animals at times. He also has more human adventures, at one point meeting the outlaw Robin Hood, (who is referred to in the novel as Robin Wood). The setting is loosely based on medieval England, and in places it incorporates White's considerable knowledge of medieval culture (as in relation to hunting, falconry and jousting). However it makes no attempt at consistent historical accuracy, and incorporates some obvious anachronisms (aided by the concept that Merlin lives backwards in time rather than forwards, unlike everyone else).
The Queen of Air and Darkness is the second book in the four-part work. Although it is the shortest book in the series, it is a vital point in the story for several reasons:
• Arthur invents the idea of the Round Table, which was central to the plot of the third and fourth books.
• Arthur also defeats barons those rebelling against him, thereby securing his role as king.
• Arthur's understanding of "might vs. right" is explored more deeply in this book.
• The Orkney faction is introduced. These four children (Gawain, Agravaine, Gaheris, and Gareth) become major characters for the rest of White's work.
• King Pellinore gets married and has several children who will become important in The Ill-Made Knight.
The novel begins with the four Orkney children, Gawaine, Agravaine, Gaheris, and Gareth, telling each other stories late at night. As they speak, it becomes clear that they have great respect and love for their mother, the beautiful Queen Morgause, although she does not devote herself entirely to motherhood, but has a desire to understand and unlock her magical powers whilst her husband, King Lot, is off to war against King Arthur. We also learn that Arthur's father, Uther Pendragon, had raped Morgause's mother, Igraine, making Morgause Arthur's half-sister (although no one is yet aware of this fact except for Merlyn, who had forgotten to tell it to Arthur).
Arthur is still being tutored by Merlyn, although the relationship between the two has changed. Instead of seeing Merlyn as an almighty sage, Arthur treats him as more of a friend throughout the novel. Despite this, Merlyn still attempts to teach Arthur how he can create a perfect society out of his newly-formed kingdom. Arthur is unimpressed, and would rather be off fighting wars than taking care of peasants.
Meanwhile, back in the Orkney Isles, the four Orkney children are bored and seek a story from their own tutor, St. Toirdelbach, a very different teacher from Merlyn. He tells them a story, but quickly becomes annoyed with the boys, and threatens to hit them with his shelleleigh if they refuse to leave him alone. This is one of White's best examples of how different the loveless childhoods of the Orkney children were from the happy childhood of Arthur. As the children are walking on the beach after visiting St. Toirdelbach, Sir Grummor Grummursum and King Pellinore arrive on the shore in a magic barge. Along with them is a Saracen knight named Sir Palomides who has apparently befriended them between the previous book and their arrival on the Orkney islands. The trio had previously been in Flanders where Pellinore fell in love with the Queen of Flander's daughter. The knights entered the boat and had been unable to turn it around, causing Pellinore to become so lovesick, he no longer wishes to hunt the Questing Beast, his lifelong passion.
Arthur, meanwhile, is preparing for the battle against Lot's Gaelic warriors which lies ahead. He has begun to buy into the idea of chivalry, and of "might vs. right." He announces to Merlyn that he plans to first put down Lot's rebellion and then use that power to enforce justice throughout his kingdom.
Morgause is pleased that the three bumbling knights have landed because they have no idea that England is at war with Orkney. She takes advantage of their ignorance and attempts to make them fall in love with her. She attempts an unsuccessful unicorn hunt with the knights. The boys consult St. Toirdelbach and then attempt to catch a live unicorn to present to their mother. They almost succeed but Agravaine kills the unicorn in a fit of rage (the boys were pretending the virgin who lured the unicorn was their mother and Agravaine hated the unicorn for touching their "mother"). The other three brothers are angry, as they believe Agravaine has ruined their chances of getting a reward from their mother. Only Gareth feels sorry for the unicorn. Morgause is not pleased at all that they succeeded where she failed; on the contrary, she has them whipped.
Meanwhile, on the plains of Bedegraine, Arthur is making final preparations for his battle. Arthur announces his idea of the round table, and Merlyn informs Arthur that another king has such a table. Ironically, this king is the father of Arthur's future wife, Guenever (sic). Sir Kay, Arthur's foster-brother, says that he believes that if war will help the conquered race to live a better life, they should be conquered. Merlyn angrily informs him that there is a certain Austrian who shared Kay's views, and "plunged the world into bloody chaos." This is an allusion to Adolf Hitler.
Sir Palomides and Sir Grummore, concerned about King Pellinore's lovesickness, plan to impersonate the Questing Beast and lure him back to chasing it. Their plan backfires when the real Questing Beast appears and chases them; they spend the night caught half-way up a cliff.
Morgause, frustrated that the knights have not fallen for her, decides that her children matter more to her. Gareth rushes to the stables to tell his brothers that she loves them, and he arrives to find that Gawaine and Agravaine are in a heated argument. Agravaine wants to send a letter to Lot, informing him of the three knights and telling Lot that Morgause is cheating on him. Gawaine is infuriated by the idea, and he considers it betrayal to their mother. The argument ends when Agravaine threatens Gawaine with a hidden knife, and Gawaine nearly kills him. White explains that Gawaine was never able to get over these kind of sudden passions he underwent, and that they would plague him for life.
Merlyn knows that his time with Arthur is nearly up, as he will soon be locked up for a thousand years. Arthur is distressed, and asks why Merlyn can't avoid the imprisonment that awaits him. Merlyn tells Arthur a parable which explains that no-one can escape fate (the famous story of a man who learns of his death, then rides to escape death, but ends up running into Death while escaping.) He also warns Arthur about Guinvere and Lancelot, but Arthur is too saddened by Merlyn's departure to take the warning to heart.
Early the next morning, King Pellinore is walking alone on the beach when he spots Palomides and Grummore stuck on the cliff, with the Questing Beast waiting for them below. He explains that the beast has fallen in love with them (as she thinks that they are her mate when they were in disguise), and refuses to slay the creature. He simply holds it down while Grummore and Palomides escape to Morgause's castle. Pellinore is reunited with Piggy, the daughter of the Queen of Flanders. He returns to the castle to find that the Questing Beast is waiting outside the castle. Around this same time, Merlyn has begun his journey to find Nimue and passes by them. He advises the pair of knights to psychoanalyse the Questing Beast. They do so, but it backfires and the Questing Beast falls in love with Sir Palomides instead. Pellinore gives up chasing the beast then and Sir Palomides takes up the job.
Arthur has engaged Lot in a fateful battle which would determine who would rule Britain. Arthur overcomes Lot with a sneaky ambush in the night, despite Lot's larger number of soldiers. Contrary to the code of "chivalric" battle (or White's version, at any rate) he also attacks the enemy knights first rather than the foot soldiers. Arthur seemingly finally realizes the wrong behind slaughtering the peasants for the fun of the rich knights, as Merlyn had insisted in his lessons. Assisted by the French noblemen, Ban and Bors, Arthur wins the battle.
The defeated Lot returns home, and the three English knights are shocked to learn that Orkney has been at war with England. Morgause heads south to England in order to reconcile with the English, and brings with her children and the three knights. Arthur holds Pellinore's wedding to Piggy, as he remembers Pellinore fondly as being the first knight he ever met. At the same time, St. Toirdelbach also has a marriage. After the ceremony, Morgause seduces Arthur and becomes pregnant. It is then that Merlyn, far away in North Humberland, remembers that he had forgotten to tell Arthur that Morgause was Arthur's half-sister. Therefore, Arthur's adultery is also incest, a very grave sin. Morgause becomes pregnant with Mordred, who will one day come to ruin his father's kingdom.
The third book, The Ill-Made Knight, is based around the adventures, perils and mistakes of Sir Lancelot. Lancelot, despite being the bravest of the knights, is ugly, and ape-like, so that he calls himself the "Ill-Made Knight". Lancelot is more appealing as a truly tragic figure: ugly, moody, deeply religious, supposedly cruel but fanatically legalistic in compensation, prone to madness, superb as a knight, and full of love for both Arthur and Guenever. As a child, Lancelot adored King Arthur and spent his entire childhood training to be a knight of the round table. When he arrives and becomes one of Arthur's knights, he also becomes the king's close friend. This causes some tension, as he dislikes Arthur's new wife Guinevere. In order to please her husband, Guinevere tries to befriend Lancelot and the two eventually fall in love. T.H. White's version of the tale elaborates greatly on the passionate love of Lancelot and Guinevere. Suspense is provided by the tension between Lancelot's friendship for King Arthur and his love for and affair with the queen. This affair leads inevitably to the breaking of the Round Table and sets up the tragedy that is to follow in the concluding book of the tetralogy - "The Candle in the Wind".
Lancelot leaves Camelot to aid people in need. Along the way, he meets a woman who begs him to climb a tree and rescue her husband's escaped falcon. After he removes his armor and does so, the husband appears and reveals that he only wanted Lancelot to remove his armor so that he can kill the knight. Despite being at a disadvantage, Lancelot manages to kill the man and tells the wife "Stop crying. Your husband was a fool and you are a bore. I'm not sorry" (though he reflects that he is). Later, he comes across a man attempting to murder his wife for adultery. Lancelot attempts to protect the woman (who denies the charges) by riding in between the two; however the man manages to cut off his wife's head. The man then throws himself at Lancelot's feet and asks for mercy to avoid being killed. It was revealed later that the man was punished by being charged to take his wife's head to the Pope and ask for forgiveness. Finally, Lancelot comes to a town where the inhabitants beg him to rescue a young woman named Elaine, who is trapped in a tower. The tower is full of steam and she is forced to sit in a tub of boiling water. He manages to save her and her father has him spend the night. That night, the servants and Elaine devise a plan in which the servants get Lancelot drunk and trick him into thinking Guinevere is in the house. When he awakens in the morning, he discovers that he actually slept with Elaine. Furious at the loss of his virginity (which he believes also cost him the ability to work miracles) and frightened at the thought that Elaine might have a baby, he leaves. He later confesses the affair to Guinevere, who forgives him. They later discover that Elaine did have a baby, which she named Galahad (Lancelot's real name). She brings the baby to Camelot to show to Lancelot and again tricks him into sleeping with her. Guinevere is furious at this (as she asked Lancelot not to do that) and Lancelot goes mad and runs from the castle. He is later found by Elaine's father (who does not recognize him) and is kept as a fool until Elaine recognizes him and cares for him. He lives with Elaine for some time, but then returns to Camelot. When Galahad grows older, he is brought to Camelot as well, to be knighted.
The Ill-Made Knight also deals with the quest for the Holy Grail. Arthur notices that the drop in crime has caused the Knights of the Round Table to fall back into their old habits (especially Gawaine, Agravaine, and Mordred, who found their mother in bed with one of Sir Pellinore's sons and Agravaine murdered both in a fit of rage). In order to give the Knights a new goal, he sends them to find the Holy Grail. The quest ends when Sir Galahad, Sir Percival, Sir Bors, and Sir Pellinore's daughter find the grail. Sir Lancelot apparently saw the four in a room, with the Grail, an old man, and several other knights; however he was unable to enter the room himself (when he tried he was knocked out). One of the knights returned with the news that the Grail could not be brought to England and as a result Sir Galahad and the other knight brought it to Babylon (and neither of them could return to England as well). Sir Pellinore's daughter died when she allowed her blood to be taken to cure a dying princess.
Later on, Elaine commits suicide after Lancelot tells her that he will not return to stay her permanently. The book ends with Lancelot performing a miracle, which is a miracle in and of itself due to the fact that he is not a virgin (which had been the requirement for being able to do so).
The fourth book, The Candle in the Wind begins with Mordred and Agravaine, both discontent. Mordred hates his father, King Arthur, and Agravaine hates Sir Lancelot. Their views are not shared by Gawaine, Gareth, or Gaheris. The relationship of Lancelot and Guinevere has gone on for some time and everyone in the court knows of it. No one, however, publicly speaks of it as law would require Lancelot to be killed and Guinevere to be burned at stake. In order to wreak their revenge, Mordred and Agravaine decide to go to the king and officially charge the Queen with adultery. Troubled by this, King Arthur agrees to leave on a hunting trip to give the knights a chance to catch the Queen with Lancelot, although he does say that if they are caught, he hopes that Lancelot will be able to kill all witnesses and adds that if the two fail in backing their claims, he will see to it that they are pursued by the law themselves. At the same time, he confesses to Guinevere and Lancelot a terrible secret: When Mordred was born, Arthur had been told by many people that the child would be evil, as a result of the incest. Pressured, the king commanded all babies born on the day Mordred was born to be placed on a boat which was then sunk. Mordred managed to survive this however, and Arthur lived with the guilt of causing the death of the other babies.
When the king leaves for his hunting party, Lancelot prepares to sneak over to Guinevere's room. Before he can leave, Gareth visits him and warns him of Mordred and Agravaine's plot. Lancelot receives him warmly, but does not take the threat seriously as he does not believe that Arthur would entertain such an idea. He leaves for the Queen's room without weapons or armor, assuring Gareth that they would all laugh together about this when the king returned. In Guinevere's room, Lancelot laughingly tells her of Gareth's warning. Unlike him however, the queen takes the threat seriously and tries to convince the knight to leave before they are caught. Too late however, they find a group of knights attempting to break into Guinevere's room. Lancelot manages to kill one of them (later revealed to be Agravaine) and takes his weapon and armor to defeat the rest. Mordred, however, escapes to tell Arthur of the Queen's faithlessness. Lancelot is forced to flee Camelot, however promises to return to rescue Guinevere.
Though unwilling to kill his wife, Arthur is forced to obey his own laws and prepares for her execution. Mordred faces scorn and anger from his brothers, who are furious with him for turning in the queen and accuse him of being a coward for running away from his fight with Lancelot. Arthur later explains to them that Mordred survived because Lancelot was unwilling to kill Arthur's son. When Mordred learns that Lancelot will return to prevent Guinevere's execution, he demands that Arthur put more guards in the town. While Gawaine refuses to take part in the events, Gareth and Gaheris are stationed as additional guards. Just as Guinevere is about to be burned, Lancelot rides in and rescues her. Much to Gawaine's horror however, it is discovered that in his haste to reach the queen, Lancelot murdered Gareth and Gaheris before he could recognize them. Guinevere and Lancelot flee to France, however they request forgiveness from the Pope. It is granted and Guinevere is permitted to return to Camelot. Lancelot remains in France, where Arthur is forced to fight him for honor. During the siege, Gawaine receives a blow to the head that gravely injures him. In Camelot, Mordred is left to rule in Arthur's stead. He corners Guinevere and tells her that he intends to overthrow Arthur's rule and take her as his wife (as revenge for Arthur sleeping with Mordred's mother). Guinevere manages to send a message to Arthur and upon hearing the news, Gawaine dies. The book ends with Arthur, on the eve of his final battle with Mordred, sending a young page named Thomas back to his homeland to keep the ideals of Camelot alive. This becomes the analogy with the title of the book. Thomas is to keep the Candle lit, as Arthur did in the Wind (analogizing life's turns).
Review: Perhaps most striking about White's work is how he reinterprets the traditional Arthurian characters, often giving them motivations or traits more complex or even contradictory to those in earlier versions of the legend. For example:
• Lancelot is no longer the handsome knight typical in the romantic legends but is instead portrayed as the ugliest of that lot. He is also a sadist, a trait he represses, but which leads to bouts of self-loathing. He seeks to overcome his flaws through full devotion towards becoming Arthur's greatest knight.
• Merlyn lives through time backwards, making him a bumbling yet wise old man who is getting younger
It is also interesting to note that White allows Thomas Malory to have a cameo appearance towards the end of the final book. Also of note is White's treatment of historical characters and kings as mythological within this world that he creates. In addition, due to his living backwards, Merlyn makes many anachronistic allusions to events in more recent times; of note are references to the Second World War, telegraphs, tanks, and "an Austrian who … plunged the civilized world into misery and chaos". Arthurs youth was not dealt with in Mallory. Another important addition by White to the legend of Arthur is that of humor. The Arthurian legend has been told with so much reverence and importance for many centuries. White, however, adds humor to the story, giving his novel versatility. When T. H. White decided to write The Once and Future King, he realized that his task would be an ambitious one. He faced the challenge of telling a tale which has been present for centuries, in a new way which would make it of interest to readers. His recreation of the Arthurian legend more than lives up to that challenge. The addition of new themes, anachronism, characters such as King Pellinore, and new adventures gives the novel a unique flair without straying too far from the traditional legend.
There is no question that White feels an academic education is far superior to an athletic education. Time and again he makes the point that "education is experience and the essence of education is self-reliance." Wart's experience with the animals/birds/fish teach him that knowledge is power. I [agree with] the comment that schools have been forced to lower their standards in order to accomodate athletics. White also commented that schools promote the lazy and idle along with the industrious. He definitely feels education is extremely important. Education is one of the themes of the book.
Being the pacifist that he was and writing during WWII, White makes the point repeatedly that violence/agression is not the answer to life's trials. Wart's whole education by Merlyn (White) is directed towards a sensitivity to life and a respect for it. White illustrates this through the various governments Wart experiences — totalitarianism/Fascism (the ants), feudalism (Sir Ector), and total freedom/almost anarchy (the geese). Again, White states that it doesn't matter what government is in place, what truly matters is the kind of leader. As long as those in control are good and moral then the people will prosper. In The Queen of Air and Darkness he makes the point again that agression is not the answer when he compares Hitler (the Austrian who imposed his will on the world) to Jesus Christ (the philosopher who made his ideas available).
Opening Line: “On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was the Organon, Repetition and Astrology.”
Closing Line: “The cannons of his adversary were thundering in the tattered morning when the Majesty of England drew himself up to meet the future with a peaceful heart.”
Quotes: “The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then – to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
“There is no excuse for war, none whatever, and whatever the wrong which your nation might be doing to mine – short of a war – my nation would be in the wrong if it started a war so as to redress it.”
Rating: Very Good.

254. The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

History: Written by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Alice was written in 1865, exactly three years after the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and the Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed in a boat up the River Thames with three little girls: Lorina Charlotte Liddell, Alice Pleasance Liddell , Edith Mary Liddell . The three girls were the daughters of Henry George Liddell, the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and Dean of Christ Church as well as headmaster of Westminster School. Most of the book's adventures were based on and influenced by people, situations and buildings in Oxford, England and at Christ Church, e.g., the "Rabbit Hole" which symbolized the actual stairs in the back of the main hall in Christ Church.
The journey had started at Folly Bridge near Oxford and ended five miles away in the village of Godstow. To while away time the Reverend Dodgson told the girls a story that, not so coincidentally, featured a bored little girl named Alice who goes looking for an adventure.
The girls loved it, and Alice Liddell asked Dodgson to write it down for her. After a lengthy delay — over two years — he eventually did so and on 26 November 1864 gave Alice the handwritten manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground, with illustrations by Dodgson himself. The entire print run sold out quickly. Alice was a publishing sensation, beloved by children and adults alike.
Plot: Alice is bored with sitting on the riverbank with her sister, who is reading a book. Suddenly she sees a white rabbit, wearing a coat and carrying a watch, run past, lamenting running late. She follows it down a rabbit hole and falls very slowly down a tunnel lined with curious objects. She lands in a long hallway lined with locked doors. She finds a little key sitting on a glass table. Behind a curtain on the wall she finds a tiny door that opens with the key and leads into a beautiful garden. The door however is too small for Alice to fit through. Looking back at the table she sees a bottle labelled "DRINK ME" that was not there before. She drinks and it causes her to shrink to a size small enough to fit through the door. Unfortunately Alice has left the key high above on the table. She finds a box under the table in which there is a cake with the words "EAT ME" on it. She eats it, thinking that if it makes her smaller she can creep under the door and if it makes her larger she can get the key.
The cake makes Alice grow so tall that her head hits the ceiling. Getting frustrated and not to mention confused, she cries. Her tears flood the hallway. The White Rabbit runs by and is so frightened by Alice that he drops the gloves and fan he is holding. She fans herself with the fan and starts to wonder if she is still the same person that she was before. The fan causes her to shrink again. Alice swims through her own tears and meets a mouse, who is swimming as well. She tries to make small talk with him but all she can think of talking about is her cat, which offends the mouse. The pool becomes crowded with other animals and birds that have been swept away. They all swim to shore.
The first question is how to get dry again. The mouse gives them a very dry lecture on William the Conqueror. A dodo decides that the best thing to dry them off would be a Caucus-Race. The Dodo marks out a race course in a sort of circle and the racers begin running whenever they feel like it, and everyone wins. Alice reaches into her pocket and finds a box of comfits which she distributes among the winners. The animals then beg the mouse to tell them something more and he recites a tale about a mouse and a dog. Alice mistakes his tale for his tail. This insults him and he leaves. She starts talking about her cat again, which frightens the rest of the animals away.
The White Rabbit appears again and orders Alice to go back to his house and fetch him his gloves and fan. Inside, she finds another bottle and drinks from it. Alice grows so large that she has to stick one arm out the window and her foot up the chimney. The horrified Rabbit orders his gardener, a lizard named Bill, to climb on the roof and go down the chimney. As Bill slides down the chimney Alice kicks him out with her foot, shooting him up into the sky. Outside, Alice hears the voices of animals that have gathered to gawk at her giant arm. The crowd hurls pebbles at her, which turn into little cakes that shrink Alice down again. She runs into the woods, where she decides that she must get back to her right size and she must find the lovely garden. Suddenly Alice is confronted by a giant puppy. She picks up a stick and teases him with it until he is tired and she can run away. She comes upon a mushroom and sitting on it is a caterpillar smoking a hookah.
The Caterpillar questions Alice and she admits to her current identity crisis. He asks her to recite "You Are Old, Father William." She does so, but it comes out with many errors. She insults him by saying that three inches is a wretched height to be (he himself is three inches tall). The Caterpillar crawls away into the grass, telling Alice that one side of the mushroom will make her taller and the other side will make her shorter. She breaks off two pieces from the mushroom. One side makes her shrink smaller than ever, while another causes her neck to grow high into the trees, where a pigeon mistakes her for a serpent. With some effort, Alice brings herself back to her usual height. She stumbles upon a small estate and uses the mushroom to reach a more appropriate height.
A Fish-Footman has an invitation for the Duchess of the house, which he delivers to a Frog-Footman. Alice observes this transaction and, after a perplexing conversation with the frog, welcomes herself into the house. The Duchess' Cook is throwing dishes and making a soup which has too much pepper, which causes Alice, the Duchess and her baby (but not the cook or her grinning Cheshire Cat) to sneeze violently. The Duchess tosses her baby up and down while reciting the poem "Speak roughly to your little boy." The Duchess gives Alice the baby while she leaves to go play croquet with the Queen. To Alice's surprise, the baby later turns into a pig, so she sets it free in the woods. The Cheshire Cat appears in a tree, directing her to the March Hare's house. He disappears but his grin remains behind to float on its own in the air prompting Alice to remark that she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat.
Alice becomes a guest at a mad tea party, along with the Hatter (now more commonly known as the Mad Hatter), the March Hare, and the Dormouse. In the course of the party, Alice reveals that the date is May 4 (which happens to be the birthday of her presumed real-life counterpart, Alice Pleasance Liddell). The other characters give Alice many riddles and stories, until she becomes so insulted that she leaves, claiming that it was the stupidest tea party that she had ever been to. Alice comes upon a door in a tree, and enters it, and finds herself back in the long hallway from the first chapter. She opens the door, eats part of her mushroom, and shrinks so she can get into the beautiful garden.
Now in the beautiful garden, she comes upon three living playing cards painting the white roses on a rose tree red because the Queen of Hearts hates white roses. A procession of more cards, kings and queens and even the White Rabbit enters the garden. Alice meets the violent Queen and pacifying King of Hearts. The Queen orders "Off with their heads!" when she sees the work of the gardeners. A game of croquet begins, with flamingos as the mallets and hedgehogs as the balls. The Queen condemns more people to death, and Alice once again meets the Cheshire Cat. The Queen of Hearts then debates chopping off the Cat's head, even though that is all there is of him. Alice suggests talking to the Duchess, so the Queen orders the Duchess out of prison.
The Duchess is brought to the croquet ground. She is now less angry and is always trying to find morals in things. The Queen of Hearts dismisses her on the threat of execution and introduces Alice to the Gryphon, who takes her to the Mock Turtle. The Mock Turtle is very sad, even though he has no sorrow. He tries to tell his story about how he used to be a real turtle in school, which The Gryphon interrupts so they can play a game.
The Mock Turtle and the Gryphon dance to the Lobster Quadrille, while Alice recites (rather incorrectly) "Tis the Voice of the Lobster." The Mock Turtle sings them "Beautiful Soup" during which the Gryphon drags Alice away for an impending trial.
At the trial, the Knave of Hearts is accused of stealing the tarts. The jury box is made up of twelve animals, including Bill the Lizard. The judge is the King of Hearts. The first witness is the Mad Hatter, who doesn't help the case at all, followed by the Duchess' Cook. During the proceedings, Alice finds that she is steadily growing larger when she is suddenly called as a witness herself.
Alice accidentally knocks over the jury box as she stands in alarm. She argues with the King and Queen of Hearts over the ridiculous proceedings, eventually refusing to hold her tongue. The Queen shouts her familiar "Off with her head!" but Alice is unafraid, calling them out as just a pack of cards. Alice's sister wakes her up for tea, brushing what turns out to be some leaves and not a shower of playing cards from Alice's face. Alice leaves her sister on the bank to imagine all the curious happenings for herself.
Review: It doesn't matter what age you are; you will like the book. It's because when you are reading the book, you just don't know what comes next. The whole book is full of unexpected things. Alice really is in a "Wonderland".
The book is very easy to read, because the book is originally meant for little children. It has nice pictures of what is going on in the book. The pictures illustrate the text in a positive way. It gives you more fun in reading it. The best part of the Alice books is Alice herself, as a fearless and inquisitive child, observant and forthright, scared at times but more often levelheaded in the face of a world which has, along with all the adults in it, been turned upside down. She remains polite while inundated with the greatest pile of nonsense and illogic ever conceived, and she wins through in the end by keeping her head (and not just in the sense of the Queen of Hearts' threat).
Opening Line: “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures of conversations?”
Closing Line: “Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in aftertime, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.”
Quotes: “Curiouser and curiouser!”
“Take care of the sense, and the sounds will take care of themselves.”
“It was much pleasanter at home, when one wasn't always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits.”
Rating: Okay.

Friday, September 4, 2009

253. The Mill on the Floss – George Elliot

September 2009
History: This book was first published in three volumes in 1860. The book is fictional autobiography in part, reflecting the disgrace that George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) herself had while in a lengthy relationship with a married man, George Henry Lewes. The flood is considered by some to be a deus ex machina. It is kind of a way of getting out of the corner the author wrote herself into. Those who do not support this view cite the frequent references to flood as a foreshadowing which makes this natural occurrence less contrived.
Plot: The novel details the lives of Tom and Maggie Tulliver, a brother and sister growing up on the River Floss near the village of St. Oggs in the United Kingdom, evidently in the 1820s. Both the river and the village are fictional.
The novel spans a period of 10-15 years, from Tom and Maggie’s childhood up until their deaths in a flood on the Floss..
Maggie Tulliver holds the central role in the book, as both her relationship with her older brother Tom, and her romantic relationships with Philip Wakem, a hunchbacked, but sensitive and intellectual, friend, and with Stephen Guest, a vivacious young socialite in St. Oggs and assumed fiancé of Maggie’s cousin Lucy Deane, constitute the most significant narrative threads.
Tom and Maggie have a close yet complex bond, which continues throughout the novel. Their relationship is colored by Maggie's desire to recapture the unconditional love her father provides prior to his death. Tom’s pragmatic and reserved nature clashes with Maggie’s idealism and fervor for intellectual gains and experience. Various family crises, including bankruptcy, Mr. Tulliver’s rancorous relationship with Philip Wakem’s father, which results in the loss of the mill, and Mr. Tulliver’s untimely death, serve both to intensify Tom and Maggie’s differences and to highlight their love for each other. To help his father repay his debts, Tom leaves his desultory schooling to enter a life of business. He eventually finds a measure of success, restoring the family’s prior estate. Meanwhile Maggie languishes in the impoverished Tulliver home, her intellectual aptitude wasted in her socially isolated state. She passes through a period of intense spirituality, during which she renounces the world, spurred by Thomas à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ.
This renunciation is tested by a renewed friendship with Philip Wakem, with whom she had developed an affinity while he was a fellow pupil with Tom. Against the wishes of Tom and her father, who both despise the Wakems, Maggie secretly meets with Philip, and together they go for long walks through the woods. The relationship they forge is founded partially in Maggie’s heartfelt pity for broken and neglected human beings, as well as an outlet for her intellectual romantic desires. Philip and Maggie’s attraction is, in any case, inconsequential due to the family antipathy. Philip manages to coax a pledge of love from Maggie. When Tom discovers the relationship between the two, however, he forces his sister to renounce Philip, and with him her hopes of experiencing the broader, more cultured world he represents.
Several more years pass, during which Mr. Tulliver dies. Lucy Deane invites Maggie to come and stay with her and experience the life of cultured leisure that Lucy enjoys. This includes long hours conversing and playing music with Lucy's suitor, Stephen Guest, a prominent St. Ogg’s resident. Stephen and Maggie, against their rational judgments, become attracted to each other. The complication is further compounded by Philip Wakem’s friendship with Lucy and Stephen; he and Maggie are reintroduced, and Philip’s love for her is rekindled, while Maggie, no longer isolated, enjoys the clandestine attentions of Stephen Guest, putting her past professions for Philip in question. In the event, Stephen and Maggie, though they try to forswear each other, allow themselves to elope, almost by accident – Lucy conspires to throw Philip and Maggie together on a short rowing trip down the Floss, but when Stephen unwittingly takes a sick Philip’s place, and Maggie and Stephen find themselves floating down the river, negligent of the distance they’ve covered, he proposes they board a passing steamer to the next substantial city, Mudport, and get married. Maggie struggles between her love for Stephen and her duties to Philip and Lucy, contracted as it were in her past, when she was poor and isolated, and dependent on either of them for what good her life contained. Upon arrival in Mudport she rejects Stephen and makes her way back to St. Oggs, where she lives for a brief period as an outcast, Stephen having fled to Europe. Although she immediately goes to Tom for forgiveness and shelter, he roughly sends her away, telling her that she will never again be welcome under his roof. Both Lucy and Philip forgive her, she in a moving reunion, he in an eloquent letter.
Maggie’s brief exile ends when the river floods. Having struggled through the waters in a boat to find Tom at the old mill, she sets out with him to rescue Lucy Deane and her family. In a brief tender moment, the brother and sister are reconciled from all past differences. When their boat capsizes, the two drown in an embrace, thus giving the book its Biblical epigraph, “In death they were not divided.”
Review: The Mill on the Floss is funny and moving and philosophical. Eliot does so many different things well; she's witty and detached, and then she writes a love scene that makes your knees go wobbly. She was something of an independent thinker for her time, and caused a scandal by eloping with a married man, something she spent a long time considering. It's sort of a novel about adultery without actually being about adultery. It feels very modern and unflinching, the more so because George Eliot actually spent much of her adult life in a happy but socially-isolating relationship out of wedlock. In the mill on the floss, the characters do not produce humor through witty or amusing remarks, but all the same cause laughter in others. George Eliot's comic characters talk with utmost seriousness about household linen, furniture etc. George Eliot was interested in moral choices and in how to live a 'good' life. She often shows how one mistake can influence the whole course of a life. This book is ultimately about how Maggie Tulliver craves the acceptance of her brother, Tom, but never receives it.
Opening Line: “A wide plain with a broadening floss hurries on between its green banks to the sea and the loving tide rushing to meet it checks it’s passage with an impetuous embrace.”
Closing Line: “The tomb bore the names of Tom and Maggie Tulliver, and below the names, it was written, ‘In their death they were not divided’.”
Quotes: "I should like to know what is the proper function of women, if it is not to make reasons for husbands to stay at home, and still stronger reasons for bachelors to go out."
“If boys and men are to be welded together in the glow of transient feeling, they must be made of metal that will mix, else they inevitably fall asunder when the heat dies out.”
Rating: Very Good.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

252. Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Jules Verne

History: The book was written in 1864. The book was inspired by Charles Lyell's Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man of 1863. By that time geologists had abandoned a literal biblical account of Earth's development and it was generally thought that the end of the last glacial period marked the first appearance of humanity, but Lyell drew on new findings to put the origin of human beings much further back in the deep geological past.
Plot: The story begins on Sunday 24 May 1863, in the Liedenbrock house in Hamburg, with Professor Lidenbrock rushing home to peruse his latest purchase, an original runic manuscript of an Icelandic saga written by Snorri Sturluson. While looking through the book, Liedenbrock and his nephew Axel find a coded note written in runic script. Professor Liedenbrock decides to lock everyone in the house and force himself and the others (Axel, and the maid, Martha) to go without food until he cracks the code. Axel discovers the answer when fanning himself with the deciphered text: Lidenbrock's decipherment was correct, and only needs to be read backwards to reveal sentences written in rough Latin. Axel decides to keep the secret hidden from Professor Liedenbrock, but after two days without food, he cannot stand the hunger and reveals the secret to his uncle. Liedenbrock translates the note, which is revealed to be a medieval note written by the (fictional) Icelandic alchemist Arne Saknussemm, who claims to have discovered a passage to the centre of the Earth via Snæfellsjökull in Iceland. The deciphered message reads: Descend, bold traveler, into the crater of Snæfellsjökull, which the shadow of Scartaris touches (lit: tastes) before the Kalends of July, and you will attain the centre of the earth; which I have done. Arne Saknussemm
Professor Lidenbrock is a man of astonishing impatience, and departs for Iceland immediately, taking his reluctant nephew with him. Axel repeatedly tries to reason with him, explaining his fears of descending into a volcano and putting forward various scientific theories as to why the journey is impossible, but fails to make Professor Lidenbrock see his point of view. After a rapid journey via Lübeck and Copenhagen, they arrive in Reykjavík, where the two procure the services of Hans Bjelke (a Danish-speaking Icelander eiderdown hunter) as their guide, and travel overland to the base of the volcano. In late June they reach the volcano, which has three craters. According to Saknussemm's message, the passage to the centre of the Earth is through the one crater that is touched by the shadow of a nearby mountain peak at noon. However, the text also states that this is only true during the last days of June. During the next few days, with July rapidly approaching, the weather is too cloudy for any shadows. Axel silently rejoices, hoping this will force his uncle to give up the project and return home. On the last day, though, the sun comes out and the mountain peak shows the correct crater to take.
After descending into this crater, the three travelers set off into the bowels of the Earth, encountering many strange phenomena and great dangers, including a chamber filled with combustible gas, and steep-sided wells around the "path". After taking a wrong turn, they run out of water and Axel almost dies, but Hans taps into a neighboring subterranean river. Lidenbrock and Axel name the resulting stream the "Hansbach" in his honor and the three are saved. At another point, Axel becomes separated from the others and is lost several miles from them. Luckily, a strange acoustic phenomenon allows him to communicate with them from some miles away, and they are soon reunited. After descending many miles, following the course of the Hansbach, they reach an unimaginably vast cavern. This underground world is lit by electrically charged gas at the ceiling, and is filled with a very deep subterranean ocean, surrounded by a rocky coastline covered in petrified trees and giant mushrooms. The travelers build a raft out of trees and set sail. The Professor names this sea as the Lidenbrock Sea. Whilst on the water, they see several prehistoric creatures such as an Ichthyosaurus, which fights with a Plesiosaurus. After the battle between the monsters, the party comes across an island with a huge geyser, which Lidenbrock names "Axel Island". A lightning storm again threatens to destroy the raft and its passengers, but instead throws them onto the coastline. This part of the coast, Axel discovers, is alive with prehistoric plant and animal life forms, including giant insects and a herd of mastodons. On a beach covered with bones, Axel discovers an oversized human skull. Axel and Lidenbrock venture some way into the prehistoric forest, where Professor Lidenbrock points out, in a shaky voice, a prehistoric human, more than twelve feet in height, leaning against a tree and watching a herd of mastodons. Axel cannot be sure if he has really seen the man or not, and he and Professor Lidenbrock debate whether or not a proto-human civilization actually exists so far underground. The three wonder if the creature is a man-like ape, or an ape-like man. The sighting of the creature is considered the scariest part of the story, and the explorers decide that it is better not to alert it to their presence as they fear it may be hostile.
The travelers continue to explore the coastline, and find a passageway marked by Saknussemm as the way ahead. However, it is blocked by what appears to be a recent cave-in and the three despair at being unable to hack their way through the granite wall. The adventurers proceed to blast the rock with gun cotton and paddle out to sea to escape the blast, but the explosion is larger than they expected and they are swept away as the sea rushes into the large open gap in the ground. After spending hours being swept along at lightning speeds by the water, the raft ends up inside a large chimney filling with water and magma. Terrified, the three are rushed upwards, through stifling heat, and are ejected onto the surface from a side-vent of a volcano. When they regain consciousness, they discover that they have been thrown out of Stromboli, at the southern tip of Italy. They return to Hamburg to great acclaim - Professor Lidenbrock is hailed as one of the great scientists of history, Axel marries his sweetheart Gräuben, and Hans eventually returns to his peaceful life in Iceland. The Professor has some regret that their journey was cut short.
At the very end of the book, Axel and Lidenbrock realize why their compass was behaving strangely after their journey on the raft. They realize that the needle was pointing the wrong way after being struck by an electric fireball which nearly destroyed the wooden raft.
Review: I like this book better than Around the World in 80 days. I am amazed at the amount of knowledge about ancient history, geography, prehistoric science Verne must have absorbed to write this book. I liked the humor contrasting Axel’s timidity with his uncle, the mad scientist. The feeling of alienation and perhaps fear for the eccentricities of a genius, the admiration for the overflowing talent, a touch of the feeling of inferiority, and moments of submission. It is narrated in first person, and the narrator is also an unwilling participant of the adventure into the unknown at first but gradually becomes engrossed in it, however terrified. What is special to this book is the strong accent on the passion for discovery of the unknown. The joy of scientists is reflected here where the characters temporarily cast aside the normal world, including a large amount of human contact, to set out on a (somewhat crazy) quest to further their knowledge.
Opening Line: “On the 24th of May, 1863, my uncle, Professor Liedenbrock, rushed into his little house, No. 19 Königstrasse, one of the oldest streetsin the oldest portion of the city of Hamburg.”
Closing Line: “What is the need of adding that the illustrious Otto Liedenbrock, corresponding member of all the scientific, geographical, and mineralogical societies of all the civilised world, was now her uncle and mine?”
Quotes: "Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth."
Rating: Good

251. After the Quake – Haruki Murakami

History: First published in 2000, it was released in English as after the quake in 2002 (translator Jay Rubin notes that Murakami "insisted" the title "should be all lower-case"). The stories were written in response to Japan's 1995 Kobe earthquake, and each story is affected peripherally by the disaster. The stories in after the quake repeat motifs, themes, and elements common in much of Murakami's earlier short stories and novels, but also present some notable stylistic changes. All six stories are told in the third person, as opposed to Murakami's much more familiar first person narrative established in his previous work. Additionally, only one of the stories contains clear supernatural elements, which are present in the majority of Murakami's stories. All of the stories are set in February 1995, the month between the Kobe earthquake and the Tokyo gas attacks. Translator Jay Rubin says of the collection, "The central characters in after the quake live far from the physical devastation, which they witness only on TV or in the papers, but for each of them the massive destruction unleashed by the earth itself becomes a turning point in their lives. They are forced to confront an emptiness they have borne inside them for years."
ufo in kushiro – Komura’s wife is traumatized by the earthquake, and leaves him, eventually writing him asking for a divorce, no reason given. After a few months of shock, he asks for some time off work, and goes up north to deliver a package to a coworker’s sister. His sister and a friend, Shimao, meet him at the airport, and go out to eat together. Afterwards, he and Shimao end up in the hotel together. And while they are in bed, Shimao tells him that what was in the box was a part of him that he will never get back. Komura begins to feel violent towards her, but forced himself to calm down.
landscape with flatiron – Junko is a runaway that is living with a man next to the beach, and friends with Miyake, a mysterious middle-aged painter whose obsession seems to be collecting driftwood from the beach and worrying over a dream that he will die suffocated in a refrigerator. Miyake is also from Kobe, his family is there however he says they live away from the destruction. The bonfire this night is especially wonderful and significant. Miyake is from Kobe, and his family is still there. They have a meaningful conversation in front of the bonfire on a very cold night.
all gods children can dance - Yoshiya rises from bed with a hangover, his mother has gone to Kobe to help the earthquake victims. Yoshiya was raised by his mother, a religious fanatic that is in a pseudo-cult. Yoshiya had no father, his mother said the lord is your father. He grew up believing this, which prevented him from marrying his girlfriend. His mother told him eventually that his father was a doctor who performed abortions, and she met him when she was 15 after having an abortion. He had a missing earlobe. One morning, Yoshiya was on his way home from work, with a horrible hangover, and he sees a middle aged man with a missing earlobe. He follows him closely, but loses him in a deserted baseball field, where Yoshiya begins to dance.
thailand – Satsuki goes to Thailand for a conference, and stays on afterwards at a resort for rest and relaxation. Her chauffeur, Nimit, a pseuo zen type and jazz lover like her, is also her guide, and takes her across the mountains to swim in an indoor swimming pool. Satsuki refers to “he”, a lover from three decades earlier, who lives in Kobe, but she doesn’t know if he survived the earthquake. On her last day there, Nimit takes her to a fortune teller. She tells her that there is a stone inside her body, there is something written on it but she can’t read it because it is in Japanese. She tells Satsuki that she must get rid of the stone, or otherwise when she dies and is cremated the stone will still remain. She tells her of a dream about a snake that she will have, and that she has to hold onto it until she wakes from the dream. She also says that “he” survived the quake without a scratch. The next day, Satsuki feels great, and wants to tell Nimit a big secret, but he stops her, saying words turn into stone. At the end of the story we find that she still has not had the dream.
Super-frog saves Tokyo – Katagiri finds a giant frog in his apartment one day when he comes home from work. He is very alarmed, the frog seems to know everything about him. The frog is predicting that a large earthquake will strike Tokyo in three days, bigger than the one in Kobe a month ago. Disaster and great destruction is expected. To prevent the earthquake, frog and Katagiri must go beneath the bank where Katagiri works and fight Worm. The plan was to go underground the night before the earthquake. However, that evening Katagiri gets shot walking to the bank by a thug. He wakes up in a hospital room the next day, shocked to find that there was no earthquake, and apparently was not shot, but was found passed out in the street. Frog came to the hospital that night, telling him that they did defeat Worm in a dream. As Frog described the battle, he slipped into unconsciousness in exhaustion. Suddenly huge boils appeared all over his body and burst, slimy worms came out and climbed up the walls. Katagiri called for the nurse, and when she appeared, everything disappeared and she said he had a nightmare.
honey pie – Junpei is a writer of short stories who is in love with Sayoko, who has a daughter. Sayoko and Junpei are old college friends. He has always been in love with her, but she married Takatsuki, who was Junpei’s best friend. The three of them were always friends, but Takatsuki and Sayoko got a divorce. Sala, the daughter keeps having nightmares about earthquakes, after the one in Kobe last month, and Junpei's storys are all that calms her. Takatsuki gave Junpei permission to ask Sayoko to marry him, and at the end of the story he decides to do so.
Review: Murakami makes the characters believable by including touches lesser writers ignore - the little tidbits that make lives real and individuated. Murakami’s tales are realist and fantasist, but they work far more than not because he has an understanding of the little compromises and rationales that people make up to cope with life’s ills- be they great losses like an earthquake, or the little resentments that gnaw through the years. All the main characters are lonely or loners by choice, yet all have moments that take them away from the self. Because Murakami characters feel so little sense of historical continuity, they often make abrupt, irrevocable breaks from their pasts. Sometimes the effects are good, other times not, and other times there is no effect. Yet, each tale, even the weakest, is far better than the dreck being spewed out by the PC Elitists who control American publishing, for they all contain insight, and not in the usual Zen-like koans that Westerners always associate with Oriental thought. It is this ability, most of all, that perdures translation, and proves Murakami an excellent writer in any language.
Opening Line: “Five straight days she spent in front of the television, staring at crumpled banks and hospitals, whole blocks of stores in flames, severed rail lines and expressways.”
Closing Line: “I will never let anyone – not anyone – try to put them into that crazy box- not even if the sky should fall or the earth crack open with a roar.”
Quotes: “The huge bed stretched out around him like a nocturnal sea. He heard the freezing wind. The fierce pounding of his heart shook his bones.”
“We take it for granted that the earth beneath our feet is solid and stationary. We even talk about people being ‘down to earth’ or having their feet firmly planted on the ground. But suddenly one day we see that it isn’t so true.”
Rating: Good

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

250. The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells

History: This book was published in 1897.
Plot: The book starts when a mysterious stranger arrives to stay at the local inn, The Coach and Horses in English village of Iping. The stranger wears a long, thick coat, gloves, his face is hidden entirely by bandages, large goggles, and a wide-brimmed hat. The stranger is extremely reclusive and demands to be left alone, spending most of his time in his room working with a set of chemicals and laboratory apparatus, only venturing out at night. He quickly becomes the talk of the village as he unnerves the locals.
Meanwhile, a series of mysterious burglaries occur in the village in which the victims catch no sight of the thief. One morning when the innkeepers pass the stranger's room, they enter in curiosity when they notice the stranger's clothes are scattered all over the floor but the stranger is nowhere to be seen. The furniture seems to spring alive and the bedclothes and a chair leap into mid-air and push them out of the room. Later in the day Mrs. Hall confronts the stranger about this, and he reveals that he is invisible, removing his bandages and goggles to reveal nothing beneath. As Mrs. Hall flees in horror, the police attempt to catch the stranger, but he throws off all his clothes and escapes.
The Invisible Man flees to the downs, where he frightens a tramp, Thomas Marvel, with his invisibility and forces him to become his lab assistant. Together with Marvel, he returns to the village where Marvel steals the Invisible Man's books and apparatus from the inn while the Invisible Man himself steals the doctor's and vicar's clothes. But after the theft, Marvel attempts to betray the Invisible Man to the police, and the Invisible Man chases after him, threatening to kill him.
Marvel flees to the seaside town of Burdock where he takes refuge in an inn. The Invisible Man attempts to break in through the back door but he is overheard and shot by a black-bearded American, and flees the scene badly injured. He enters a nearby house to take refuge and dress his wound. The house turns out to belong to Dr. Kemp, whom the Invisible Man recognises, and he reveals to Kemp his true identity — Griffin, a brilliant medical student whom Kemp studied with at a university.
Mr. Griffin explains to Kemp that after leaving the university he was desperately poor, and determined to achieve something of scientific significance, he began work on an experiment to make people and objects invisible, using money stolen from his own father, who committed suicide after being robbed by his son. Griffin experimented with a formula that altered the refractive index of objects, thus ensuring that the light would not bend when passing through, thereby making them invisible. He performed the experiment using a cat, but when the cat's owner, Griffin's neighbour, realised the cat was missing she made a complaint to their landlord, and Griffin wound up performing the invisibility procedure on himself to hide from them. Griffin theorizes part of the reason he can be invisible stems from the fact he is albino, mentioning that food becomes visible in his stomach and remains so until digested, with the bizarre image passing through air in the meantime.
After burning the whole house down to cover his tracks, he felt a sense of invincibility from being invisible. However, reality soon proved that sense misguided. After struggling to survive out in the open, he stole some clothing from a dingy backstreet shop and took residence at the Coach & Horses inn to reverse the experiment. He then explains to Kemp that he now plans to begin a Reign of Terror (The First Year of the Invisible Man), using his invisibility to terrorise the nation with Kemp as his secret confederate.
Realising that Griffin is clearly insane, Kemp has no plans to help him and instead alerts the police. When the police arrive, Griffin violently assaults Kemp and a policeman before escaping, and the next day he leaves a note on Kemp's doorstep announcing that Kemp will be the first man killed in the Reign of Terror. Kemp remains cool and writes a note to the Colonel, detailing a plan to use himself as bait to trap the Invisible Man, but as a maidservant attempts to deliver the note she is attacked by Griffin and the note is stolen.
Just as the police accompany the attacked maid back to the house, the Invisible Man breaks in through the back door and makes for Kemp. Keeping his head cool, Kemp bolts from the house and runs down the hill to the town below, where he alerts a navvy that the Invisible Man is approaching. The crowd in the town, witnessing the pursuit, rally around Kemp. When Kemp is pinned down by Griffin, the navvy strikes him with a spade and knocks him to the ground, where he is violently assaulted by the workers. Kemp calls for the mob to stop, but it is too late. The Invisible Man dies of the injuries he has received, and his naked and battered body slowly becomes visible on the ground after he dies. Later it is revealed that Marvel has Griffin's notes, with the invisibility formula written in a mix of Russian and Greek which he cannot read, with pages washed out.
Review: I didn’t enjoy this book as much as War of the Worlds. It’s a work of two halves, and the first isn’t particularly great. It follows the arrival of a mysterious stranger in the small English village of Iping, the reaction of growing suspicion towards him, and finally his unveiling as - you guessed it - an invisible man. His story is revealed in the second half, and it does become more interesting. Wells writes better in first person, as he did in War of the Worlds. I could never get hooked into it. I did like Griffin though, some what of the tragic monster superhero. I suppose he had a glorious idea of what it would be like to be invisible. But Griffin learns that being invisible comes with a very heavy price. This character is both Victor Frankenstein and monster. He is both scientist and creation/experiment. Both criminal and victim. He is insane. He is selfish. He is out to destroy. The novel is based on one of the eternal themes of mankind and one of the perennial themes of Science Fiction. First, it explores the nature of man by asking whether an invisible man would still be bound by normal morality. Second, it develops the theme of science as a two edged sword; after initially conveying great power, scientific innovation turns on its wielder, driving him mad.
Opening Line: “The stranger came early in February one wintry day, through a biting
wind and a driving snow, the last snowfall of the year, over the down,
walking as it seemed from Bramblehurst railway station and carrying a
little black portmanteau in his thickly gloved hand.”
Closing Line: “And none other will know of them until he dies.”
Quotes: "So last January, with the beginnings of a snowstorm in the air about me -- and if it settled on me it would betray me! -- weary, cold, painful, inexpressibly wretched, and still but half convinced of my invisible quality, I began this new life to which I am committed. I had no refuge, no appliances, no human being in the world in whom I could confide.”
Rating: Poor.

249. The Wings of a Dove – Henry James

History: The book was published in 1902. The character of Milly is based on Minny Temple (1845-1870), James' beloved cousin who died from tuberculosis. In his autobiography James said that The Wings of the Dove was his attempt to wrap her memory in the "beauty and dignity of art."
Plot: Kate Croy and Merton Densher are two engaged Londoners who desperately want to marry but have very little money. Kate is constantly put upon by family troubles, and is now living with her domineering aunt, Maud Lowder. Into their world comes Milly Theale, an enormously rich young American woman who had previously met and fallen in love with Densher, though she didn't reveal her feelings. Her travelling companion and confidante, Mrs. Stringham, is an old friend of Maud's. Kate and Aunt Maud welcome Milly to London, and the American heiress enjoys great social success.
With Kate as a companion, Milly goes to see an eminent physician, Sir Luke Strett, because she's afraid that she is suffering from an incurable disease. The doctor is noncommittal but Milly fears the worst. Kate suspects that Milly is deathly ill. After the trip to America where he had met Milly, Densher returns to find the heiress in London. Kate wants Densher to pay as much attention as possible to Milly, though at first he doesn't quite know why. Kate has been careful to conceal from Milly (and everybody else) that she and Densher are engaged.
With the threat of serious illness hanging over her, Milly decides to travel to Venice with Mrs. Stringham. Aunt Maud, Kate and Densher follow her. At a party Milly gives in her Venice palazzo (the older Palazzo Barbaro, called "Palazzo Leporelli" in the novel), Kate finally reveals her complete plan to Densher: he is to marry Milly so that, after her presumably soon-to-occur death, Densher will inherit the money they can marry on. Densher had suspected this was Kate's idea, and he demands that she consummate their affair before he'll go along with her plan.
Which Kate does, memorably. Aunt Maud and Kate return to London while Densher remains with Milly. Unfortunately, the dying girl learns from a former suitor of Kate's about the plot to get her money. She "turns her face to the wall" and grows very ill. Densher sees her one last time before he leaves for London, where he eventually receives news of Milly's death. Milly does leave him a large amount of money despite everything. But Densher won't touch the money, and he won't marry Kate unless she also refuses the bequest. Conversely, if Kate chooses the money instead of him, Densher offers to make the bequest over to her in full. The lovers part on the novel's final page with a cryptic exclamation from Kate: "We shall never be again as we were!"
Review: The writing is so verbose and altogether unmanagable that it is very slow and unforgiving reading. Henry James complained that people don't pay close enough attention when reading his books. He may not have realized what he was asking. Not only does one have to read this book closely; one has to read between the lines, as well. "The Wings of the Dove" is made up of characters so subtle and so intelligent that even a careful reader will be challenged to keep up. The sentences are incredibly long, with complicated syntax. This author rates for me along the same line as Jane Austen which is torture. I could not finish this book; I could not make myself. James getting a little bit full of himself, I think, especially with that long preface. I'm still not entirely sure what's going on or at least what the characters think is going on. The conversations are so cryptic as to each characters' motives and what in fact they are leaning towards that it begins to seem impossible that James could have been so incomprehensibly mysterious not on purpose. Perhaps there's meaning, a purpose behind all of the difficulty, both in the prose and in the thoughts and consciousness of the characters. It is all hidden behind subterfuge and cryptic reasonings and unanswered questions because the characters would be horrified to speak it or even think it explicitly.
Opening Line: “She waited, Kate Croy, for her father to come in, but he kept her unconscionably, and there were moments at which she showed herself, in the glass over the mantel, a face positively pale with the irritation that had brought her to the point of going away without sight of him.”
Closing Line: “But she turned to the door, and her head shake was now the end. “We shall never be again as we were.”
Quotes: “He had talked to her of her "appetite," her account of which, she felt, must have been vague. But for devotion, she could now see, this appetite would be of the best. Gross, greedy, ravenous--these were doubtless the proper names for her: she was at all events resigned in advance to the machinations of sympathy.”
Rating: Awful.