Thursday, December 29, 2011

463. The Island of Dr. Moreau – H.G. Wells

History: When the novel was written in 1896, there was much discussion in Europe about degeneration and animal vivisection. Interest groups were formed to address the issue: theBritish Union for the Abolition of Vivisection was formed two years after the publication of the novel.
Plot: The Island of Doctor Moreau is the account of one Edward Prendick, an Englishman with a scientific education, who is shipwrecked. A passing ship takes him aboard, and a man named Montgomery revives him. The ship is bound for an unnamed island. Prendick also meets a grotesque, bestial native named M'ling, who appears to be Montgomery's manservant.
Prendick is supposed to stay the ship, but when the captain, whom Prendick has insulted, forces him off the ship, he is forced to go ashore with Doctor Moreau and Montgomery. Prendick is housed in an outer room of an enclosed compound. Curious about what Moreau is up to on the island, Prendick remembers that he has heard of Moreau, formerly an eminent physiologist in London whose gruesome experiments in vivisection had been publicly exposed.
The next day, Moreau begins working on a puma, and its anguished cries drive Prendick out into the jungle. As he wanders, he comes upon a group of people who seem human but have an unmistakable resemblance to hogs. As he walks back to the enclosure, he suddenly realizes he is being followed. He panics and flees, and, in a desperate attempt at defense, he manages to stun his attacker, a monstrous hybrid of animal and man. When he returns to the enclosure and questions Montgomery, Montgomery refuses to be open with him. After failing to get an explanation, Prendick finally gives in and takes a sleeping draught.
Prendick awakes the next morning with the previous night's activities fresh in his mind. Seeing that the inner door has been left unlocked, he walks in to find a humanoid form lying in bandages on the table before he is ejected by a shocked and angry Moreau. He believes that Moreau has been vivisecting humans and that he is the next test subject. He flees into the jungle, where he meets an Ape Man who takes him to a colony of similarly half-human/half-animal creatures. The leader, a large gray thing named the Sayer of the Law, has him recite a strange litany called the Law that involves prohibitions against bestial behavior and praise for Moreau.
Suddenly, Moreau bursts into the colony, and Prendick escapes to the jungle. He makes for the ocean, where he plans to drown himself rather than allow Moreau to experiment on him. But Moreau explains that the creatures, the Beast Folk, were not formerly men, but rather animals. Prendick returns to the enclosure, where Moreau explains to him that he has been on the island for eleven years and has been striving to make a complete transformation from animal to human. Moreau regards the pain he inflicts as insignificant.
One day Prendick and Montgomery encounter a half-eaten rabbit. Since eating flesh and tasting blood are strong prohibitions, Moreau calls an assembly of the Beast Men and identifies the Leopard Man (the same one that chased Prendick the first time he wandered into the jungle) as the transgressor. The Leopard Man flees, but when the group corners him in some undergrowth, Prendick takes pity and shoots him.
Prendick also believes that although the Leopard Man was seen breaking several laws such as drinking water bent down like an animal, chasing men (Prendick) and running on all fours, the Leopard Man was not solely responsible for the deaths of the rabbits, but it was also the Hyena-Swine, the other most dangerous beast man on the island. Moreau is furious that Prendick killed the Leopard Man but can do nothing about the situation.
As time passes, Prendick is inured to the grotesqueness of the Beast Folk. But one day the puma rips free of its restraints and escapes from the lab. Moreau pursues it, but the two end up killing each other. Montgomery breaks down and decides to share his alcohol with the Beast Men. Prendick resolves to leave the island, but later hears a commotion outside to see Montgomery die after a scuffle with the Beast Folk.
At the same time, the compound burns down because Prendick has knocked over a lamp. With no chance of saving any of the provisions stored in the enclosure, Prendick realizes that during the night Montgomery has also destroyed the only boats on the island.
Prendick lives with the Beast Folk on the island for months after the deaths of Moreau and Montgomery. As the time goes by, the Beast Folk increasingly revert to their original animal instincts, beginning to hunt the island's rabbits, returning to walking on all fours, and leaving their shared living areas for the wild.
They cease to follow Prendick's instructions and eventually kill his faithful companion, a Beast Man created from a dog. Luckily for him, since his efforts to build a raft have been unsuccessful, a boat that carries two corpses drifts onto the beach (perhaps the captain of the ship that picked Prendick up and a sailor). Prendick uses the boat to leave the island and is picked up three days later. But when he tells his story he is thought to be mad, so he feigns amnesia. Back to England, Prendick is no longer comfortable in the presence of humans, who seem to him to be about to revert to the animal state. He leaves London and lives in near-solitude in the countryside, devoting himself to chemistry as well as astronomy, in the study of which he finds some peace.
Review: Like Frankenstein almost 80 years before, The Island of Dr Moreau features a man of science playing God and finding that his creations do not act as he would prefer. The themes of human nature, law, religion and society are expertly mixed against the backdrop of a mysterious Pacific island.
Of course, in recent years, many of the issues faced by Moreau have come to the fore in the media, as the advancement of genetics and cloning have begged the question of whether it is ever right for Man to play God, and just how far is too far? There is also the question of forcing a belief system on another set of “people” – deifying ones-self in order to be protected from one’s own creations – and the degradation of said creations when they are left to their own devices.
Wells has chosen a heady blend of science and nature to portray just how easily mankind can go astray – and one has to wonder if his ideas are not already becoming a reality – which makes for tense and exciting reading. It’s not a particularly long story and it runs at breakneck speed from beginning to end, hurtling the reader into the action and offering no respite until the tale is told.
Opening Line: “I do not propose to add anything to what has already been written concerning the loss of the Lady Vain.”
Closing Line: “And so, in hope and solitude, my story ends.”
Quotes: “I never yet heard of a useless thing that was not ground out of existence by evolution sooner or later.”
Rating: Very Good

462. Pamela – Samuel Richardson

History: This book, also called Virtue Rewarded, was first published in 1740. Epistolary novels – that is, novels written as series of letters – were extremely popular during the eighteenth century and it was Richardson's Pamela that made them so. Richardson and other novelists of his time argued that the letter allowed the reader greater access to a character's thoughts - Richardson claimed that he was writing "to the moment", that is, that Pamela's thoughts were recorded nearly simultaneously with her actions.
In the novel, Pamela writes two kinds of letters. At the beginning of the novel, while she is deciding how long to stay on at Mr. B's after the death of his mother, she writes letters to her parents relating her various moral dilemmas and asking for their advice. After Mr. B abducts her and imprisons her in his country house, she continues to write letters to her parents, but because she is unsure whether or not her parents will ever receive them, they are to be considered both letters and a diary.
In Pamela, the letters are almost exclusively written by the heroine, restricting the reader's access to the other characters; we see only Pamela's perception of them.
The popularity of Richardson’s novel led to much public debate over its message and style. Richardson responded to some of the criticisms by revising the novel for each new edition; he even created a “reading group” of women to advise him. Some of the most significant changes that he made were his alterations to Pamela’s vocabulary. In the first edition her diction is that of a lower-class maid, but in later editions Richardson made her more linguistically middle-class by removing the lower-class idioms from her speech. In this way, he made her marriage to Mr. B less scandalous as she appeared to be more his equal in education.
Plot: Pamela Andrews is a young servant of 15, very pious and innocent, serving Lady B. as a waiting-maid, in Bedfordshire. When the lady dies, her son, the squire Mr. B, shows more and more his attraction towards Pamela, first by being kind to her (he gives her his mother's clothes), then by trying to take advantage of her in the Summer House. But she resists, and as he wants to pay her to keep the secret, she refuses and tells Mrs Jervis, the housekeeper (her best friend in the house, a motherly figure although faithful to Mr. B). He pops out of her closet and tries to kiss her, after watching her undress for bed. Pamela thinks of going back to her poverty-ridden parents to preserve her innocence, but can't make up her mind. Mr. B plans to marry her to Mr. Williams, his chaplain in Lincolnshire, and gives money to her parents in case she then lets him take advantage of her. She refuses and decides to go back to her parents.
But Mr. B intercepts her letters to her parents and tells them she is having an affair with a poor clergyman and that he will send her to a safe place to preserve her honour. Pamela is then driven to Lincolnshire Estate and begins a journal (because she is a prisoner and can't write letters anymore) hoping it will be sent to her parents one day. The housekeeper there, Mrs. Jewkes, is very different from Mrs. Jervis: she is an "odious," rude, "unwomanly" woman (Pamela speculates that she is perhaps even "an atheist!") and is devoted to Mr. B. She imposes Pamela to be her bedfellow. Mr. B promises her that he won't approach her without her leave (indeed he's away from Lincolnshire for a long time).
Pamela meets Mr. Williams and they agree to communicate by putting letters under a sunflower of the garden. Mrs. Jewkes beats her because she calls her a Jezebel. Mr. Williams asks the gentry of the village for help and, even though they pity Pamela, no one agrees to help her because of Mr. B's social position. Mr. Williams proposes marriage to her in order to escape Mr. B's wickedness.
Mr. Williams is attacked and beaten by robbers. Pamela wants to escape when Mrs. Jewkes is away, but is very frightened by two bulls watching her (they are actually cows). By mistake, Mr. Williams reveals the correspondence to Mrs. Jewkes and, as a result, Mr. B is jealous and says he hates Pamela. He wants to marry her to one of his servants. Mr. Williams is arrested. Pamela is desperate; she thinks of running away and making them believe she has been drowned in the pond. She tries to climb a wall, but can't do it: she is injured and renounces escape.
Mr. B comes back. He sends her a list of articles which would rule their partnership: she refuses each point because it would mean to be his mistress. Mr. B tries to go to bed with her disguised as Nan (the housemaid) with the complicity of Mrs. Jewkes, but Pamela faints and thwarts his designs. He seems to repent then, he is kinder in his attempts to seduce her. She implores him to cease. When he talks to her in the garden, he implicitly says he loves her but can't marry her because of the social gap.
A gypsy fortune-teller wants to predict Pamela's future, but only in order to give her a bit of paper warning her against a sham-marriage. Pamela has hidden a parcel of letters under a rose bush, and, when she comes to take them back, Mrs. Jewkes seizes them and gives them to Mr. B. After having read the letters, Mr. B feels pity for what she has undergone because of him and decides to marry her.
But she still doubts him and begs him to let her return to her parents. He is vexed but lets her go. She bids him goodbye and feels strangely sad. On her way home, he sends her a letter wishing her a good life. Pamela is moved and realizes she is in love. Then he sends her a second paper asking her to come back because he's very ill: she accepts.
Pamela and Mr. B talk of their future life as husband and wife and she agrees with everything he says. She explains why she doubted him. This is the end of her trials: she is more submissive to him and owes him everything now as a wife. Mr. Williams is released. Some neighbours come to the estate and all admire Pamela. Pamela's father comes to take her away but he is reassured when he sees Pamela happy.
Finally, she marries Mr. B in the chapel. But when Mr. B has gone to see a sick man, his sister, Lady Davers comes to threaten Pamela and considers her not really married. Pamela escapes by the window and goes in Colbrand's chariot to be taken away to Mr. B. The following day, Lady Davers enters their room without permission and insults Pamela. Mr. B is furious; he wants to renounce his sister, but Pamela wants to reconcile the two of them. But Lady Davers is still contemptuous towards Pamela. Vexed, she mentions Sally Godfrey, a girl Mr. B seduced in his youth, with whom he had a child. He is cross with Pamela because she dared approach him when he was in a temper.
Lady Davers accepts Pamela. Mr. B explains to Pamela what he expects of his wife. They go back to Bedfordshire. Pamela rewards the good servants with money and forgives John, who betrayed her. They make a little "Airing" to a farmhouse and encounter Miss Goodwin, Mr. B's child. Pamela would like to take her with them. They learn that Sally Godfrey is now happily married in Jamaica. Pamela is praised by the gentry of the neighbourhood who once despised her.
Review:  Released in 1740, it created a tidal wave of what we would now characterize as "media attention" and "popularity." Pamela was the right book at the right time and this confluence of time/place/text adds importance to the book itself.  The author, Samuel Richardson, was a commoner, without the aristocratic background of his rival, Henry Fielding or contemporary Tobias Smolett.  
Unlike his great contemporary and rival, Henry Fielding, Samuel Richardson could boast of no connection, however remote, with an aristocratichouse. He himself has informed us that he came of a family " of middling note," in the county of Surrey, from which we may conjecture that his ancestors were small landed gentry or respectable yeomen.
Thomson's biography mentions that in the 1740's, people were still a tad fuzzy on the concept of a fictional story, "Richardson was at once overwhelmed with letters from eager readers who longed to know
whether the story was true." (Thomson, Samuel Richardson) It is against this back drop that you need to consider the development of the english novel as a real step forward in terms of the cultural sophistication of the readers. You can literally see the human mind moving away from the simplicity of the middle ages (and its literary forms.)
I think it's fair to say that the contribution of Pamela, in a nut shell, is the depth of psychological complexity of the characters. That is what the novel is all about: adding psychological depth to the depiction of character.
And so it is that the reader finds himself/herself relating to these characters, written three hundred plus years ago. Pamela tells the story of Pamela Edwards, a serving girl of 16. Her mistress dies and his son takes over the estate. The son has a thing for Pamela, so after she rejects a couple clumsy advances, he does what any 18th century nobleman would do: Has her kidnapped and imprisoned at his remote estate.
Now, anyone reading the above will understand that the activities depicted aren't in any way contemporary, but the depiction of character is. What we are witnessing in Pamela is the birth of literary consciousness of self and identity. It's interesting to read about but at the same time at 500 pages Pamela turns into a slog at time. You can see where it is an early version of the novel as literary form- sine there is a resolution/climax half way through the book, followed by 200 pages of material that would no doubt not reach print these days. 
Opening Line: “Dear Father and Mother, I have great trouble, and some comfort, to acquaint you with.”
Closing Line: And the Editor of these sheets will have his end, if it inspires a laudable emulation in the minds of any worthy persons, who may thereby entitle themselves to the rewards, the praises, and the blessings, by which PAMELA was so deservedly distinguished.
Quotes: “...for my master, bad as I have thought him, is not half so bad as this woman.--To be sure she must be an atheist!”
Rating: Very Good

Thursday, December 15, 2011

461. The Heart of Redness – Zakes Mda

History: The Heart of Redness, Mda's third novel, is inspired by the history of Nongqawuse, a Xhosa prophetess whose prophecies catalyzed the Cattle Killing of 1856-1857. Xhosa culture split between Believers and Unbelievers, adding to existing social strain, famine and social breakdown. It is believed that 20,000 people died of starvation during that time. In the novel, Mda continually shifts back and forth between the present day and the time of Nongqawuse to show the complex interplay between history and myth. He dramatizes the uncertain future of a culture whose troubled relationship with the colonizing force of Empire, as well as their own civil factions, threatens to extinguish their home of Qolorha-by-Sea. Mda's account of the Cattle Killing draws heavily on that of historian Jeff Peires in his book The Dead Will Arise (Mda acknowledges this at the outset of his novel). Like Peires, Mda identifies Mhlkaza, Nongqawuse's uncle and one of the key players in the event, with William Goliath, the first Xhosa person baptised in the Anglican church.
Plot: Camugu, recently returned to Johannesburg and disillusioned by the new democracy, moves to the remote Eastern Cape. There in the nineteenth century a teenage prophetess commanded the Xhosa people to kill their cattle and burn their crops, promising that the spirits of their ancestors would rise and drive the English into the ocean. The failed prophecy split the people in two, with devastating consequences. One hundred and fifty years later, the two groups’ decendants are at odds over plans to build a vast casino and tourist resort, and Camugu is soon drawn into their heritage and their future—and into a bizarre love triangle as well.
Review: Camagu, becomes embroiled in a village dispute that has its roots in the 19th century. The war between the amaXhosa and the British in South Africa (known to Westerners as the Zulu Wars) was interrupted by a strange, messianic interlude in which the amaXhosa followed the self-destructive commands of the prophet Nongqawuse and were split between followers of Nongqawuse (Believers) and their opponents (Unbelievers). In the village of Qolorha-by-Sea in the late 20th century, the Believers still flourish. They put the onus for the distressing failure of Nongqawuse's visions on the Unbelievers' unbelief. The chief Believer is Zim; his rival, the chief Unbeliever, is Bhonco. The white store owner, Dalton, whose ancestor killed Zim and Bhonco's forefather, Xikixa, is on the Believers' side in the village's current controversy over whether or not to allow a casino in the village. The Believers oppose the changes they foresee coming to the village's traditions. The Unbelievers want economic development. Camagu originally comes to Qolorha looking for a woman whose memory haunts him. He ends up being associated with the cold, beautiful Xoliswa Ximiya, Bhonco's daughter, whose scorn for tradition eventually drives her from the village. Secretly, however, Camagu lusts for Qukezwa, the squat but sexy daughter of Zim. Mda's sympathies are with the Believers, but his eminent fairness forbids mere didacticism, and his joy in the back and forth of village politics beautifully communicates itself to the reader through poetic language enlivened by humor and irony.
Opening Line: “Tears are very close to my eyes.” Says Bhonco, son of Ximiya.”
Closing Line: “This boy belongs in the man village!”
Quotes: “How he longs to lose his breath in hers. But then, after that had been done, what would they talk about?”
Rating: Couldn’t read.

460: The Fox – D.H. Lawrence

History:  This novella was published in 1923.
Plot: The Fox is set during the First World War. Banford and March live on a farm together because it does not look like they will marry. Although they are only in their late twenties, during this time to be single at that age was considered old. Banford is thin and frail, contrasting with her companion who is physically masculine, yet particular detail is paid to March's face that is feminine and expressive. The women are depicted as fearful of femininity and fertility, selling a heifer before it calves.
The fox becomes a hindrance to Banford and March, but March finds she cannot hunt it, and rather, she becomes entranced by it. Shortly after this, Henry, a young man, comes to stay with the girls, and a link is established between the fox and Henry.
Henry and March begin a flirtation, and Henry eventually asks her to marry him. But she refuses states she needs to stay with Banford, she cannot leave her. Henry eaves drops on a conversation between the two women when they are talking about him, and he cannot sleep. He leaves the home and hunts down the fox as it is sneaking in the henhouse. He kills it for March, planning to give her the fur. However, she is not pleased as he would wish, she and Banford continue to have a strong bond.
One day as Henry was working to cut down a tree, Banford was accidentally killed by the falling tree. March and Henry then married. But still a sense of desperation exists.
Review: A text can represent something by way of a setting. Objects, creatures or even people, can be used to intimate or directly refer to something other than their face value. Also, the interactions between people themselves can suggest even where it does not directly display something. Lawrence appears to use all of these means of representation in the story of The Fox(1), and gives the impression of doing so very consciously.
In introducing the reader to the farm, Lawrence carefully puts details into this setting. He tells us that March and Banford, in connection with the chickens kept “were disgusted at the chickens tendency to strange illnesses, at their exacting way of life, and at their refusal, obstinate refusal to lay eggs.” And regarding two cows, Lawrence says, “Then, just before the other beast was expecting her first calf, the old man died, and the girls, afraid of the coming event, sold her in a panic.”
Because the women had already been described as unmarried, childless, and living without male company, the female animals, and the comments about them, suggest particular qualities in the two women themselves. They represent or suggest a rather seedy, neurotic and non-productive aspect of womanhood behind the capable exterior. The dispatch of the cow prior to delivering its calf adds the idea of anxiety in dealing with birth and responsibility for offspring. Lawrence gives us a clue this may refer to March in particular by saying, “Her mouth, too, was almost pinched as if in pain and irony. There was something odd and unexplained about her.” This idea of her strangeness is deepened later by descriptions of her “lapsing into this odd, rapt state, her mouth rather screwed up. It was a question whether she was there, actually conscious present, or not.”
So altogether the farm and its animals seem to represent a distinctly female situation, along with anxieties about difficulties that may attend the function of childbirth. This added to the relationship of the women living alone, may even point to something Lawrence doesn’t say directly, but portrays in events, that there may be a difficulty in relating to men as sexual partners. This I will deal with more fully later.
Into this portrayal of a very female environment, and into the lives of the two women themselves comes the fox. Apart from two old and fatherly men – Banford’s father and the grandfather who died – this is the first potent male figure in the story. We are assured of its gender in the first mention of it – “Since the war the fox was a demon. He carried off the hens under the very noses of March and Banford.”
The fox signifies something that touches March deeply. Through its “sly” “impudent” and exasperating manner, it becomes a focus for March of urges and feelings which arise in her, placing her on a borderline at once exciting and dangerously unknown. The dangerous unknown is maleness outside of her own self. The fox depicts a male-related sexual relationship. This gradually becomes apparent as Lawrence describes the appearance of Henry, and shows how March sees, even smells him as the fox – “She became almost peaceful at last. He was identified with the fox-and he was here in full presence. … She could at last lapse into the odour of the fox.” This says clearly that through the fox the male was present but not clearly so. At Henry’s arrival however, what had been unclear was now real.
The fox as a symbol of maleness – or at least March’s feelings about a male – has the same beauty many symbols have. They awaken us, they frighten us, they suggest strange and wonderful things, but they are never themselves the things they represent. They are wonderfully ambiguous. We can therefore remain slightly distant from the reality.
So in hunting the fox, March is hunting the male. Or at least she is hunting her own feelings, “her consciousness held back” as Lawrence puts it. This act is depicting once more something other than itself – March’s sexuality and her manner of dealing with it. Does she want to kill it? Or does she wish it to live? She is herself uncertain. When she confronts it in the fox she doesn’t even raise her gun till it has casually run away. It is Henry who kills the fox, and if Lawrence is using the creature to represent March’s barely allowed sexual desires, her fantasy of a relationship with a male, then Henry kills this, confronting her with the reality of his desire for her.
Coming more directly to March and Banford, they too may be representations. As characters in dramas so often do, they can be seen to depict different character types. Banford is a more traditional female, frail and needing someone else to care for her, to sympathise with her weakness and needs. She at first has a sisterly relationship with the male – Henry – who appears. March is described as the one who “would be the man about the place.” Gradually she emerges as a woman who has developed greater self sufficiency than Banford, someone who has female warmth and longings, but can also make her own decisions without depending on a male in what had been the traditional female role. So these two women can be seen as representatives of two aspects of character that many a woman found perhaps competing in herself, during and after the first world war. Through earning her own wage, making her own decisions while the husband was away, not simply in the home, but in the environment of work and business, a woman might find herself in conflict. The attitudes and responses she had unconsciously learnt in childhood about being a woman, could be at variance with the new person she was becoming. Therefore the two women are not only of a particular gender, but they also represent different conditions of gender at the time of the story.
If we accept this, the relationship between Henry Grenfel and the two women can be seen as the working out, the portrayal, of a traditional male female relationship within a new social and economic setting. To emphasise what this might do in ones personality Lawrence makes much use of the process of sleep and fighting to stay awake as an image of the competing drives. The following sentences capture this – “March looked back from the door. ‘Jill!’ she cried in a frantic tone, like someone just coming awake. And she seemed to start towards her darling. But the boy had March’s arm in his grip, and she could not move. She did not know why she could not move. It was as in a dream ….”
The struggle between staying awake and falling asleep is depicted as the swing between Banford and Henry, between being a traditional or a new woman. But Lawrence uses this imagery to refer to Henry also. For instance in a passage where Henry first kisses March, Lawrence writes, “When the curious passion began to die down, he seemed to come awake to the world.” Then in the same paragraph the description turns to March and says, “It made her feel so young, too, and frightened, and wondering: and tired, tired, as if she were going to sleep.” At the end of the text the image of sleep is played strongly, with emphasis on what it depicts – “He wanted her to commit herself to him, and to put her independent spirit to sleep.”
In attempting to fit these various parts together, the three way relationship stands out as representative of the difficulties and conflicts faced when a woman of that time developed a new independence. This new self is symbolised by being awake or waking up. March only feels sleep claiming her when she starts to be drawn into a traditional male/female relationship with Henry, or symbolically with the fox. Henry kills both the fox and Banford because they are escape routes for March. The fox was an escape into fantasy, and Banford was an escape into a traditional male/female role – March playing the psychological male. As the drama focuses fully on March and Henry, the imagery of sleep is used to depict March attempting to stay awake – to keep hold of her newly found ability to think for herself and remain independent of the sort of emotional, physical and social ties marriage at that time involved many women in. To remain awake becomes imperative. That Grenfel chose March suggests he too wants something more than a woman like Banford.
Lawrence therefore appears to be dramatising the situation many women and men faced at that period, or were about to face. The message is that a woman would need to remain alert against falling ‘asleep’ – dropping back into the attitudes and responses so ready-made for her. The man would need to remain aware of his own unconscious drive to have the woman ‘yield’ and ‘sleep’ in him – for Henry too fell asleep into his passion for March.
If this alertness were not attended to, conflict would result. I therefore conclude that Lawrence was well aware of this emerging problem, and that he used not only the images of the farm, the farm animals and the fox to depict it, but also the characters of the people involved, and the powerful influence of sleep to take away resolve and awareness when it is most needed.
Opening Line: “The two girls were usually known by their surnames, Banford and March.”
Closing Line: “If we could only go soon!” He said, with pain in his voice.”
Quotes: “Always beyond her, vaguely, unrealizably beyond her, and she was left with nothingness at last. The life she reached for, the happiness she reached for, the well-being she reached for all slipped back, became unreal, the farther she stretched her hand. She wanted some goal, some finality — and there was none. Always this ghastly reaching, reaching, striving for something that might be just beyond.”
Rating: Very Good

459. The New York Trilogy – Paul Auster

History: Originally published sequentially as City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986) and The Locked Room (1986), since been collected into a single volume. 
 City of Glass was adapted in 1994 into a critically acclaimed experimental graphic novel.
Plot: The first story, City of Glass, features a detective-fiction writer become private investigator who descends into madness as he becomes embroiled in a case. It explores layers of identity and reality, from Paul Auster the writer of the novel to the unnamed "author" who reports the events as reality to "Paul Auster the writer", a character in the story, to "Paul Auster the detective", who may or may not exist in the novel, to Peter Stillman the younger to Peter Stillman the elder and, finally, to Daniel Quinn, protagonist.
Quinn, a lonely writer who writes detective stories under the pseudonym of William Wilson, and whose life is turned around after he is mistaken for a detective named Paul Auster. Quinn, out of curiosity and boredom, decides to pass himself for Auster, and accepts to help his client, a man named Peter Stillman. Stillman was locked in a room for years as a child, and now, an adult with many behavioral and linguistic problems, fears that his father (who locked him because he believed that in isolation, his son would forget English and remember the prelapsarian language of God) will come back to kill him. Quinn follows Stillman Sr., and in the process progressively loses everything: his apartment, his sanity, and of course, his sense of identity, which was not very strong to begin with…
The second story, Ghosts, is about a private eye called Blue, trained by Brown, who is investigating a man named Black on Orange Street for a client named White. Blue writes written reports to White who in turn pays him for his work. Blue becomes frustrated and loses himself as he becomes immersed in the life of Black.
He works from an apartment facing Black’s, and spends his time spying on him. Unfortunately, Black does nothing except write, eat, sleep and take the occasional stroll. Blue becomes bored and starts to ask himself many disquieting questions: What if Black is spying on somebody else? What if he is spying on him? Who is really White and is he Black’s accomplice? Blue progressively becomes paranoid until the ultimate plunge into madness, and his watch of Black also becomes a look into his own self: "For in spying out at Black across the street, it is as though Blue were looking into a mirror, and instead of merely watching another, he finds that he is also watching himself."
The Locked Room is the story of a writer who lacks the creativity to produce fiction. Fanshawe, his childhood friend, has produced creative work, and when he disappears the writer publishes his work and replaces him in his family. The title is a reference to a "locked room mystery", a popular form of early detective fiction.
The narrator talks about Fanshawe, a man who used to be his best friend, and who one day disappeared, leaving Sophie, his pregnant wife, behind. Fanshawe, who was a writer, is presumed dead, and had previously instructed his wife to trust all his writings (which he had chosen not to publish before) to the narrator, who will make the final decision about their fate. The narrator has Fanshawe’s works published, falls in love with Sophie, and after some weeks, receives a letter from Fanshawe, who is not dead after all. He wants his friend to consider him dead and marry Sophie, and forbids him to try to find him. The narrator quickly complies and adopts Ben, Sophie’s son, in the process, not mentioning Fanshawe’s letter to her. But he is unable to put him out of his mind, and becomes haunted by him. Once he accepts to write his biography, his obsession with Fanshawe turns to hatred, threatening his family, his sanity, and even his life. The Locked Room ties the three stories together, not surprisingly raising more questions than it provides definite answers. As the narrator says when he reads Fanshawe’s red notebook: "He had answered the question by asking another question, and therefore everything remained open, unfinished, to be started again."
Review: The New York Trilogy presents a triptych: three stories which can be read independently but are connected to each other in several ways, such as recurring characters (or at least recurring characters’ names), the claim of authorship for all three by the narrator of the last story, or again the fact that they imitate and then depart from the structure of the detective novel.
Ostensibly presented as detective fiction, the stories of The New York Trilogy have been described as "meta-detective-fiction", "anti-detective fiction", "mysteries about mysteries", a "strangely humorous working of the detective novel", "very soft-boiled", a "metamystery" and a "mixture between the detective story and the nouveau roman".
The characters in The New York Trilogy always seem to be writing. They are writing stories or letters or poems or reports of their investigations. But despite their best attempts to circumscribe and explain the world with these texts, they only seem to cut themselves off more and more from life by devoting themselves to the written word. To add to the complexity, another writer -- Paul Auster himself -- plays a bit part from time to time in these stories. Or perhaps this is another Paul Auster, unrelated to the author of the book.
Opening Line: “It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.”
Closing Line: “I came to the last page just as the train was pulling out.”
Quotes: “Each time he took a walk, he felt as though he were leaving himself behind, and by giving himself up to the movement of the streets, by reducing himself to a seeing eye, he was able to escape the obligation to think, and this, more than anything else, brought him a measure of peace, a salutary emptiness within...By wandering aimlessly, all places became equal and it no longer mattered where he was. On his best walks he was able to feel that he was nowhere. And this, finally was all he ever asked of things: to be nowhere.”
Rating: Very Good.

458. Buddenbrooks – Thomas Mann

History:  Thomas Mann started writing the book in October 1897, when he was twenty-two years old. The novel was completed three years later, in July 1900, and published in October 1901. This was his first novel and a huge literary success.
The 25-year-old high school dropout maintains an ironic detachment from a narrative that so closely paralleled characters and circumstances in his hometown that residents of Lubeck were scandalized.
Plot: Buddenbrooks is set in Lübeckin N. Germany. Old Johann and his French wife Antoinette invite their family and friends to celebrate their move (Oct. 1835) into their new home & business offices on Meng Strasse. He is the son of the founder, who established the wheat and grain wholesale firm of Johann Buddenbrooks in 1768. Consul Johann B. tells his father of the letter from his stepbrother Gotthold (Old Johann’s son from his marriage, to Josephine) demanding his part of the inheritance. Gotthold has married beneath the family's standards to a shop owner and is snubbed by JB2, who blames Gotthold for the death during his childbirth of Josephine. Antonie (Tony, 8 y/o), Thomas (10) , and Christian (7) are the children ofJohann Jr.
The guests discuss Napoleon and the French monarchy currently under Louis Philipp. The poet Hoffstede celebrates with a romantic verse. Christian takes sick. They debate the proposed Customs Union with Mecklenburg and Schleswig-Holstein. Johann advises his father against any further loss of capital to Gotthold.
Johann Jr. and Elisabeth Kröger have daughter Clara in 1838. Tony visits her wealthy grandparents and repulses the crude advances of Hermann Hagenström, thereby losing her friendship with Julie H. In 1841, Old Johann and later his wife Antoinette die and Gotthold receives a cash settlement.
Consul Johann takes over the business and constantly worries about the cash flow. Christian courts a theater woman regarded as a courtesan. Tony is sent to Therese Weichbrodt's boarding school, where she befriends Armgard von Schilling (an aristocrat from Mecklenburg), Gerda Arnoldsen (who plays the violin and is from Amsterdam), and Eva Ewers (now from Munich).
The commercial agent Bendix Grünlich courts Tony with her father's strong encouragement despite Tony's intuitive repulsion and objections. He claims to be doing well in his business. Tony is sent to summer in Travemünde (a resort town at the seashore), where she meets and falls in love with the pro-democracy, anti-aristocracy medical student, Morton Schwarzkopf. But her father favors Bendix, who has threatened suicide, and in 1845 she reluctantly consents to marry Bendix and live with him on the outskirts of Hamburg. Tom says goodbye to his secret lover, a salesgirl.
The ill-conceived revolution by the "rabble" of October 1848 in Lübeck is suppressed by the paternalistic words of consul JB3 and the stress causes the death of Lebrecht Kröger.
Tony has money problems with Grünlich, there is no love in the marriage, the banker Kesselmeyer demands repayment of his loans, and Grünlich is unmasked as a fraud. Her father consul JB3 takes Tony and her daughter Erika back into their home and refuses to help Grünlich, who announces that he only married her for the money. They divorce in 1850. Tom also moves back into the home. Lebrecht Kröger's wife dies leaving an inheritance. Justus Kröger, brother of Elisabeth, disowns his younger son Jakob and favors only his other son, Justus. Christian goes to Chile. Elisabeth becomes increasingly religious and has various religious meetings and hangers-on in her house.
In 1855, consul Johann dies. Finances are in good shape and Thomas vows to do great things with the firm. Christian returns and is acting strangely and inappropriately and complains of various symptoms. He is made head clerk at the firm but loses interest and spends excess time drinking, smoking, visiting the Club, telling stories, and womanizing.
Uncle Gotthold dies and his children are spiteful. Pastor Sievert Tiburtius of Riga proposes (1856) and marries Clara. Tom becomes engaged to Gerda Arnoldsen (1856) and marry. They have a lavish dinner party.
Tony visits Eva Ewers in Munich and meets Alois Permaneder, a hops merchant. Christian is becoming a buffoon, the laughing-stock of his friends, and is despised by Tom. Christian heads for Hamburg (1857). Permaneder visits and proposes to Tony, which she accepts despite his coarseness. After receiving the dowry, he immediately decides to retire and displays no ambition. He increases his drinking. She has a miscarriage. One night he arrives home drunk and attempts to molest the maid Babette (1859). Tony flees with her daughter back to her mother's home. Tom unsuccessfully tries to persuade her to return to Permaneder. Tony describes how out-of-place and unappreciated she felt in Munich. Permaneder surprisingly consents to divorce Tony and return the dowry.
Tom and Gerda's son Johann (the 4rth, "Hanno") is born 1861. Christian has an illegitimate daughter Gisela through the courtesan Aline in Hamburg. Tom defeats Hermann H. in the race for senator (1862). He and Gerda build an elegant new home 1863. Hanno is developing slowly. Clara dies of brain TB, Christian has rheumatic fever, and Tom becomes depressed. Tiburtius receives Clara's inheritance from her mother. Business is bad. In 1864, war breaks out between Denmark and Prussia and in 1866 with Austria.
Erika marries Hugo Weinschenk, a crude manager of an insurance company. Christian shares the mistress of his friend Andreas Giesenke. Tony's friend Armgard's husband Ralf von Maiboom has financial problems and Tom foolishly agrees to prebuy their crop (which is later destroyed by hail). Hanno has nightmares and seems overly sensitive. Tom is exhausted at 42 and is smoking too much, has a case of nerves. He reluctantly agrees to a celebration of the firm's centennial (1878). There he berates his wimpy son and receives the bad news about Armgard's crop damage from hail.
His wife Gerda makes music and with organist Edmund Pfühl. Hanno shows an interest in music and Gerda enlists Pfühl for lessons, about which Tom disapproves. Tom resents Gerda's cruel exclusion of him from her passion for music and sees it as a force separating him from his son. Hanno has poor health and dental problems. Hanno's friend Count Kai Mölln is a dirty but kind remnant of the aristocracy.
Hugo Weinschenk goes to jail for insurance fraud, prosecuted by Mortiz Hagenström, brother of Hermann-- the H.'s are having great success in town as the B.'s decline. Christian acts increasingly inappropriate. Hugo and Erika's belongings are sold off and she moves in with her mother & grandmother Elisabeth's in the Meng Strasse home.
Elisabeth dies a painful death of pneumonia (1871). The servants plunder her clothing. Christian announces he wants to marry Aline and adopt her children-- Tom forbids it and has control over his inheritance. Tom decides to sell the family home at Meng Strasse and Hermann H. buys it, turning part of it into profitable shops. The family's Christmas customs decline.
Tom becomes increasingly depressed and withdrawn, obsessed with his clothing and appearance. Raif von Maiboom, Armgard's husband, kills himself after his business failure. Hanno is bullied by the Hagenström kids and remains a sickly, anemic weakling. A summer vacation (1872) at the Travemünde seashore does not improve his health. Hugo gets out of prison early but is rejected by the family.
Gerda frequently receives a visitor, musically-inclined Lt. René von Throta, and Tom and the townsfolk wonder if she is having an affair. Tom's health is declining. He has a flash of inspiration and insight reading a metaphysical tome but lapses quickly back into conventional Christianity in all its incomprehensibility. He and Christian travel to Travemünde in fall 1874 for a rest. In 1875, he has an abscessed molar extracted and afterwards collapses, dying soon thereafter.
Christian moves to Hamburg and marries Aline but eventually ends up in a sanatarium (asylum). Gerda sells their elegant home and the firm disadvantageously and dismisses the long-faithful attendant Ida Jungmann. Hanno is 15 and is doing poorly in school. His friendship with Kai is thought to be "foul and hostile", perhaps with homosexual undertones. Hanno laments that Pastor Pringsheim says that he comes from a degenerate family and that he has lost all hope, will never amount to anything, and wants to die.
Hanno dies of typhoid or typhus (Feb. 1877 or 78) and Gerda resolves to sell all her possessions and abandon her Lübeck life and move back with her father in Amsterdam. Christian remains institutionalized. Sesame rejects Tony's skepticism about Christian beliefs and insists she will see Hanno in heaven.
Review:  Like Goethe, to whom he devoted a novel ("The Beloved Returns") and several thoughtful essays, Thomas Mann published his first and most enduringly popular novel at the age of 25. Unlike "The Sorrows of Young Werther" (1774), Goethe's brief epistolary account of the frustrations of life and love leading to the troubled hero's suicide, Mann's "Buddenbrooks" (1901) chronicles four generations in the history of a prosperous North German bourgeois family.
"Buddenbrooks" was conceived as a novella not unlike "Werther," or Mann's own "Tonio Kroger." Initially fascinated by the figure of the sensitive young Hanno Buddenbrook, the music-loving scion with appalling teeth and miserable digestion whose death from typhoid marks the end of the family line, Mann planned to recount Hanno's story in a 250-page recit . Gradually the need for explanatory background drove Mann two generations back beyond Hanno's father, the fastidious Senator Thomas Buddenbrook. He appealed to his family for material: North German recipes, family gossip, the social history of Lubeck, medical details. As Mann composed the novel over the next two and a half years -- first in Rome and then in Munich, where he was working as an editor for the satirical weekly Simplicissimus -- it grew until, in the summer of 1900, he mailed off a huge manuscript written on both sides of lined foolscap.
The saga as first published in two volumes picks up the tale of the Buddenbrooks in 1835 at the peak of their financial prosperity and family stability. Old Johann Buddenbrook, son of the founder of the family firm, has just moved the family and the business into one of the most handsome houses in town. As the novel begins, he is holding his 8-year-old granddaughter Tony on his knee and testing her playfully on her Lutheran catechism. In the course of the short first chapter we meet his wife as well as his son and daughter-in-law, and we hear about his two grandsons, Thomas and Christian.
By the time the novel ends 42 years later, the aging yet still spirited Tony is almost the only surviving member of the family. Her parents and grandparents, as well as Thomas and a younger sister, have died. Christian is confined to an asylum, and the only male heir is dead. The house has been sold and the firm liquidated. In the course of hundreds of pages we have witnessed a succession of marriages, births, divorces and deaths punctuating the decline of the initially robust family -- a decline brought about (in Mann's Weltanschauung ) by the weakening of business acumen and ethics as the family succumbs to the enticements of wealth, with its inevitable concomitants of sickly religiosity, artistic inclinations and disease.
Opening Line: “And – and – what comes next?”
Closing Line: “She stood there, a victor in the good fight which all her life she had waged against the assaults of Reason: hump-backed, tiny, quivering with the strength of her convictions, a little prophetess, admonishing and inspired.”
Quotes: “Beauty can pierce one like pain.”
Rating: Okay.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

457. Sister Carrie – Henry Dreiser

History: This book was published in 1900. Theodore Dreiser is considered one of America’s greatest naturalists, notable because he was part of the early stages of the naturalist movement. Sister Carrie was a movement away from the emphasis on morals of the Victorian era and focused more on realism and the base instincts of humans. 
Plot: 18-year-old Caroline "Sister Carrie" Meeber takes the train to Chicago, where her older sister Minnie, and her husband Sven Hanson, have agreed to take her in. Carrie is from the country and wants to find work in Chicago. On the train, Carrie meets Charles Drouet, a traveling salesman, who is attracted to her because of her simple beauty and unspoiled manner. They exchange contact information, but upon discovering the "steady round of toil" and somber atmosphere at her sister's flat, she writes to Drouet and discourages him from calling on her there.
Carrie soon embarks on a quest for work to pay rent to her sister and her husband, and takes a job running a machine in a shoe factory. Before long, however, she is shocked by the coarse manners of both the male and female factory workers, and the physical demands of the job, as well as the squalid factory conditions, begin to take their toll. She also senses Minnie and Sven's disapproval of her interest in Chicago's recreational opportunities, particularly the theatre. One day, after an illness that costs her job, she encounters Drouet on a downtown street. Once again taken by her beauty, and moved by her poverty, he encourages her to dine with him, where, over sirloin and asparagus, he persuades her to leave her sister and move in with him. To press his case, he slips Carrie two ten dollar bills, opening a vista of material possibilities to her. The next day, he rebuffs her feeble attempts to return the money, taking her shopping at a Chicago department store and securing a jacket she covets and some shoes. That night, she writes a good-bye note to Minnie and moves in with Drouet.
Drouet installs her in a much larger apartment, and their relationship intensifies as Minnie dreams about her sister's fall from innocence. She acquires a sophisticated wardrobe and, through his offhand comments about attractive women, sheds her provincial mannerisms, even as she struggles with the moral implications of being a kept woman. By the time Drouet introduces Carrie to George Hurstwood, the manager of Fitzgerald and Moy's – a respectable bar that Drouet describes as a "way-up, swell place" – her material appearance has improved considerably. Hurstwood, unhappy with and distant from his social-climbing wife and children, instantly becomes infatuated with Carrie’s youth and beauty, and before long they start an affair, communicating and meeting secretly in the expanding, anonymous city.
One night, Drouet casually agrees to find an actress to play a key role in an amateur theatrical presentation of Augustin Daly’s melodrama, “Under the Gaslight,” for his local chapter of the Elks. Upon returning home to Carrie, he encourages her to take the part of the heroine, Laura. Unknown to Drouet, Carrie long has harbored theatrical ambitions and has a natural aptitude for imitation and expressing pathos. The night of the production – which Hurstwood attends at Drouet’s invitation – both men are moved to even greater displays of affection by Carrie’s stunning performance.
The next day, the affair is uncovered: Drouet discovers he has been cuckolded, Carrie learns that Hurstwood is married, and Hurstwood’s wife, Julia, learns from an acquaintance that Hurstwood has been out driving with another woman and deliberately excluded her from the Elks theatre night. After a night of drinking, and despairing at his wife’s financial demands and Carrie’s rejection, Hurstwood stumbles upon a large amount of cash in the unlocked safe in Fitzgerald and Moy's offices. In a moment of poor judgment, he succumbs to the temptation to embezzle a large sum of money. Under the pretext of Drouet’s sudden illness, he lures Carrie onto a train and escapes with her to Canada. Once they arrive in Montreal, Hurstwood’s guilty conscience – and a private eye – induce him to return most of the stolen funds, but he realizes that he cannot return to Chicago. Hurstwood mollifies Carrie by agreeing to marry her, and the couple move to New York City.
In New York, Hurstwood and Carrie rent a flat where they live as George and Carrie Wheeler. Hurstwood buys a minority interest in a saloon and, at first, is able to provide Carrie with a satisfactory – if not lavish – standard of living. The couple grow distant, however, as Hurstwood abandons any pretense of fine manners toward Carrie, and she realizes that Hurstwood no longer is the suave, powerful manager of his Chicago days. Carrie’s dissatisfaction only increases when she meets Robert Ames, a bright young scholar from Indiana and her neighbor’s cousin, who introduces her to the idea that great art, rather than showy materialism, is worthy of admiration.
After only a few years, the saloon’s landlord sells the property and Hurstwood’s business partner expresses his intent to terminate the partnership. Too arrogant to accept most of the job opportunities available to him, Hurstwood soon discovers that his savings are running out and urges Carrie to economize, which she finds humiliating and distasteful. As Hurstwood lounges about, overwhelmed by apathy and foolishly gambling away most of his savings, Carrie turns to New York’s theatres for employment and becomes a chorus girl. Once again, her aptitude for theatre serves her well, and, as the rapidly aging Hurstwood declines into obscurity, Carrie begins to rise from chorus girl to small speaking roles, and establishes a friendship with another chorus girl, Lola Osborne, who begins to urge Carrie to move in with her. In a final attempt to prove himself useful, Hurstwood becomes a scab driving a Brooklyn streetcar during a streetcar operator’s strike. His ill-fated venture, which lasts only two days, prompts Carrie to leave him; in her farewell note, she encloses twenty dollars.
Hurstwood ultimately joins the homeless of New York, taking odd jobs, falling ill with pneumonia, and finally becoming a beggar. Reduced to standing in line for bread and charity, he commits suicide in a flophouse. Druet attempts to contact Carrie, but after one dinner date she discourages him. Carrie achieves stardom, but finds that money and fame do not satisfy her longings or bring her happiness.
Review: Sister Carrie went against social norms of the time with its supposed immorality, as Dreiser presented his characters without judging them. Dreiser fought against censorship of Sister Carrie, a main issue being that the titular character engaged in affairs and other “illicit sexual relationships” without suffering any consequences. This flouted the norm of the time that should a character practice such sinful behavior, they must be punished in some way throughout the course of the plot in order to teach a lesson.
Opening Line: “When Caroline Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago, her total outfit consisted of a small trunk, a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, a small lunch in a paper box, and yellow leather snap purse, containing her ticket, a scrap of paper with her sister's address in Van Buren Street, and four dollars in money.”
Closing Line: “In your rocking- chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel. “
Quotes: “Men and women hurried by in long, shifting lines. She felt the flow of the tide of effort and interest—felt her own helplessness without quite realizing the wisp on the tide she was”
Rating: Very Good.

456. New Grub Street – George Gissing

History: This book was published in 1891, which is set in the literary and journalistic circles of 1880s London. revised and shortened the novel for a French edition of 1901.
Plot: The story deals with the literary world that Gissing himself had experienced. Its title refers to the London street, Grub Street, which in the 18th century became synonymous with hack literature; by Gissing's time, Grub Street itself no longer existed, though hack-writing certainly did. Its two central characters are a sharply contrasted pair of writers: Edwin Reardon, a novelist of some talent but limited commercial prospects, and a shy, cerebral man; and Jasper Milvain, a young journalist, hard-working and capable of generosity, but cynical and only semi-scrupulous about writing and its purpose in the modern (i.e. late Victorian) world.
New Grub Street opens with Milvain, an “alarmingly modern young man” driven by pure financial ambition in navigating his literary career. He accepts that he will “always despise the people [he] write[s] for,” networks within the appropriate social circle to create opportunity, and authors articles for popular periodicals. Reardon, on the other hand, prefers to write novels of a more literary bent and refuses to pander to contemporary tastes until, as a last-gasp measure against financial ruin, he attempts a popular novel. At this venture, he is of course too good to succeed, and he's driven to separate from his wife, Amy Reardon, née Yule, who cannot accept her husband’s inflexibly high standards--and consequent poverty.
The Yule family includes Amy’s two uncles—John, a wealthy invalid, and Alfred, a species of critic—and Alfred’s daughter, and research assistant, Marian. The friendship that develops between Marian and Milvain’s sisters, who move to London following their mother’s death, provides opportunity for the former to meet and fall in love with Milvain. However much Milvain respects Marian’s intellectual capabilities and strength of personality, the crucial element (according to him) for marriage is missing: money. Marrying a rich woman, after all, is the most convenient way to speed his career.
 Life (and death) eventually end the possibility of this union. Milvain’s initial career advancement is a position on The Current, a paper edited by Clement Fadge. Twenty years earlier, Alfred Yule (Marian’s father) was slighted by Fadge in a newspaper article, and the resulting acerbic resentment extends even to Milvain. Alfred refuses to countenance Marian’s marriage; but his objection proves to be an obstacle to Milvain only after Yule’s eyesight fails and Marian’s legacy is reduced to a mere £1500. As a result, Marian must work to provide for her parent, and her inheritance is no longer available to Milvain.
By this time, Milvain already has detected a more desirable target for marriage: Amy Reardon. Reardon’s poverty and natural disposition toward ill-health culminate in his death following a brief reconciliation with his wife. She, besides the receipt of £10,000 upon John Yule’s death, has the natural beauty and grace to benefit a man in the social events beneficial to his career. Eventually Amy and Milvain marry; however, as the narrator reveals, this marriage motivated by circumstances is not lacking in more profound areas. Milvain, it is said, has married the woman he loves, although it should be noted that the narrator never states this as a fact, merely reporting it as something others have said about Milvain. In fact, in a conversation that ends the book, the reader is left to question whether Milvain is in fact haunted by his love for Marian, and his ungentlemanly actions in that regard.
Review: The situations, truths, and lives Gissing portrays are still all too relevant. "New Grub Street" itself points to the timelessness of Gissing's portrayals - as Grub Street was synonymous, even in the eighteenth century with the disrepute of hack writing, and the ignominy of having to make a living by authorship. One of Gissing's primary laments throughout the novel is that the life of the mind is of necessity one which is socially isolating and potentially devastating to any kind of relationships, familial or otherwise. "New Grub Street" gives us a world where friendship is never far from enmity, where love is never far from the most bitter kinds of hatred.
The anti-heroes of "New Grub Street" are presented to us as the novel begins - Jasper Milvain is a young, if somewhat impoverished, but highly ambitious man, eager to be a figure of influence in literary society at whatever cost. His friend, Edwin Reardon, on the other hand, was brought up on the classics, and toils away in obscurity, determined to gain fame and reputation through meaningful, psychological, and strictly literary fiction. Family matters beset the two - Jasper has two younger sisters to look out for, and Edwin has a beautiful and intelligent wife, who has become expectant of Edwin's potential fame. Throw into the mix Miss Marian Yule, daughter of a declining author of criticism, whose own reputation was never fully realized, and who has indentured his daughter to literary servitude, and we have a pretty list of discontented and anxious people struggling in the cut-throat literary marketplace of London.
Money is of supreme importance in "New Grub Street," and it would be pointless to write a review without making note of it. As always, the literary life is one which is not remunerative for the mass of people who engage upon it, and this causes no end of strife in the novel. As Milvain points out, the paradox of making money in the literary world is that one must have a well-known reputation in order to make money from one's labours. At the same time, one must have money in order to move in circles where one's reputation may be made. This is the center of the novel's difficulties - should one or must one sacrifice principles of strictly literary fame and pander to a vulgar audience in order to simply survive? The question is one in which Reardon finds the greatest challenges to his marriage, his self-esteem, and even his very existence. For Jasper Milvain and his sisters, as well as for Alfred and Marian Yule, there is no question that the needs of subsistence outweigh most other considerations.
"New Grub Street" profoundly questions the relevance of classic literature and high culture to the great mass of people, and by proxy, to the nation itself. For England, which propagated its sense of international importance throughout the nineteenth century by encouraging the study of English literature in its colonial holdings, the matter becomes one of great significance. The careers of Miss Dora Milvain and Mr. Whelpdale, easily the novel's two most charming, endearing, and sympathetic characters, attempt to illustrate the ways in which modern literature may be profitable to both the individual who writes it and the audiences towards which they aim. They may be considered the moral centers of the novel, and redeem Gissing's work from being entirely fatalistic.
Opening Line: “As the Milvains sat down to breakfast the clock of Wattleborough parish church struck eight; it was two miles away, but the strokes were borne very distinctly on the west wind this autumn morning.”
Closing Line: “So Amy played and then sang, and Jasper lay back in dreamy bliss.”
Quotes: “People have got that ancient prejudice so firmly rooted in their heads — that one mustn't write save at I the dictation of the Holy Spirit. I tell you, writing is a business.”
Rating: Good.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

455. Fugitive Pieces – Anne Michaels

History:  First published in 1996, the novel is written in a poetic style with persistent layers of metaphor, often called forth via Athos Roussos. Roussos' paleobotanical research involves peeling back physical layers of archaeological strata as well as temporal layers of change and decay. The novel explores themes of trauma, grief, loss, and memory, as well as discovery both personal and scientific.
Anne Michaels, an accomplished poet, has already published two collections of poetry in her native Canada.
Plot: In the first part of the book, Jacob Beaer is a 13 year old child of a Jewish family living in Poland. His house is stormed by Nazis; he escapes the fate of his parents and his sister, Bella, by hiding behind the wallpaper in a cabinet. He hides in the forest, burying himself up to the neck in soil. After some time, he runs into an archaeologist, Athos, working on Biskupin. Athos secretly takes him to Zakynthos in Greece. Athos is also a geologist, and is fascinated with ancient wood and stones. Jakob learns Greek and English, but finds that learning new languages erases his memory of the past. After the war, Athos and Jakob move to Toronto, where after several years Jakob meets Alexandra in a music library. Alex is a fast-paced, outspokenly philosophical master of wordplay. Jakob and Alex fall in love and marry, but the relationship fails because Alex expects Jakob to change too fast and abandon his past. Jakob dwells constantly on his memories of Bella, especially her piano-playing, and they end up divorcing. Jakob meets and marries Michaela, a much younger woman but one who seems to understand him, and with Michaela's help he is able to let go of Bella. Together they move to Greece into the former home of several generations of the Roussos family.
The second part of the book is told from the perspective of Ben, a Canadian professor of Jewish descent who was born in Canada to survivors of the Holocaust. In 1954 the family home in Weston, Ontario is destroyed by Hurricane Hazel. Ben becomes an expert on the history of weather, and marries a girl named Naomi. He is a big admirer of Jakob's poetry and respects the way he deals with the Holocaust, when Ben himself has trouble coping with the horrors his parents must have endured. At the end of the novel, Ben is sent to retrieve Jakob's journals from his home in Greece, where Ben spends hours swimming in Jakob's past.
Review: In order to appreciate this book you have to surrender to it and let its poetry wash over you. It takes some time to build up, but if you let it, it will move you with its very unique images. The structure is rather unusual: for instance, you might be given a description of the banks of a river in Canada, strange in that artifacts of daily living such as knifes and spoons and dishes are imbedded in its banks. Only later does the reader understand the significance of this description when he or she reads about the flood that almost killed one of the main characters.
The story that Fugitive Pieces sets out to tell is easy to turn into a summary. A prefatory note tells us that, just before his death, a poet called Jakob Beer had begun writing his memoirs. The reader supposes that what follows is what he has written. Here is his first-person account of how, as a seven-year-old Jewish child in Poland, he is concealed behind a wall when the Germans come for his family. His parents are killed, his sister, Bella, taken away. He hides in nearby forests and bogs, where he is found by a Greek archaeologist, Athos, who is excavating the ancient Polish city of Biskupin. Athos manages to smuggle him back to Greece, where he keeps him hidden until the end of the war.
This is what has happened, but it has to be inferred, pieced together, from Jakob's fragmented, imagistic recollection. Jakob is not remembering things for the reader's benefit, but for his own. So the novel's opening section, "The Drowned City", is the most indirect.
His narrative eventually takes us to the present tense, "where I now sit and write this, these many years later"; he is recalling events from childhood, half a century earlier. But it is not just the incomplete comprehension of a child that the narration mimics. It is also an appalled flinching from what happened.
Later, shards of knowledge about the history that has destroyed his family enter his narration. "The facts of the war began to reach us." Michaels cannily invents a narrator who has not seen the horrors that obsess him. He is a survivor who only retrospectively begins to understand what he has survived. Hidden in Athos's remote home, he has not even directly witnessed the Nazi occupation of Greece.
Athos tells him how the Jews of Crete have been murdered by the Germans, and for the child it is like an enactment. "As he spoke, the room filled with shouts. The water rose around us, bullets tearing the surface for those who took too long to drown. Then the peaceful blue sheen of the Aegean slipped shut again."
Narration supplies what the narrator has not experienced. The fate of his sister is unknown. Over the years Athos tries and fails to find some clue. Bella's end can only be imagined, and indeed he cannot stop imagining it, feeding his visions with the terrible data of history.
The story is clear enough, but the telling of the story - the narration - is not. The process of narration mimics the influence of the past, which returns in flashback or imagined episodes. Jakob's memoir spans his whole life, yet omits most of what we would expect in an autobiography. Everything seems to happen inside his head: as a child, he hears others speak, but hardly speaks himself. Later, his five-year marriage to Alex passes in a few pages, and only a few reported words pass between them. Drawn back to a past that he cannot look at directly, the events of his own life seem to be happening to another person.
Then, two thirds of the way through the novel, Jakob is replaced by a different narrator. Ben is a young academic, living in Toronto, whose parents are Holocaust survivors. He meets Jakob, now an admired poet, and becomes obsessed with his story. Ben's narrative is addressed to Jakob, whose memoirs he is trying to find.
When his account begins, Jakob is already dead, yet exerting his magnetic influence on his narration. Structurally, Ben's account finds itself rhyming with Jakob's: the titles of its sections have already been used in the earlier narrative. But then events in the new world are narratively bound to the old. Ben recalls how, during a flood in Toronto, the authorities hammer on the front door to warn his family to leave, but his parents hide, unable to escape their memories of such a summons years earlier.
Both the novel's narrators rummage in the past. After Athos's death, Jakob finds the carbons of all the letters that Athos has written in his efforts to find out about Bella. The documentary evidence of his persistence seems "painfully innocent".
Going through his parents' belongings after his father's death, Ben finds a photograph of them as a young couple. Taken in 1941, before they were forced into the ghetto, it reveals a secret they kept from him. Finally, by chance, Ben discovers the notebooks that Jakob has left. Without him, these particular "fugitive pieces" would have remained unread. He begins reading, and the very first sentence - "Time is a blind guide" - is also the first sentence of this novel. The second narrative has uncovered the first narrative. Michaels's carefully uncertain ending of her novel leaves you to wonder whether it can also escape from it.
Opening Line: “Time is a blind guide.”
Closing Line: “I see that I must give what I most need.”
Quotes: “...when we say we're looking for a spiritual adviser, we're really looking for someone to tell us what to do with our bodies. Decisions of the flesh. We forget to learn from pleasure as well as pain.”
“I'm naive enough to think that love is always good no matter how long ago, no matter the circumstances.”
  Rating:   Poetic , Not good reading.

454. Melmoth the Wanderer – Charles Robert Maturin

History: This book was published in 1820. Charles Robert Maturin was Oscar Wilde’s Great uncle. Oscar Wilde, during his travels after release from prison, called himself Sebastian Melmoth, deriving this pseudonym from the title character in his great-uncle's novel and from Saint Sebastian.
The novel was cited by Karl Edward Wagner as one of the 13 best supernatural horror novels, and by H. P. Lovecraft as "an enormous stride in the evolution of the horror-tale". The novel also offers social commentary on early 19th century England and, throughout the novel, denounces Roman Catholicism while expounding the virtues of Protestantism.
Plot: The central character, Melmoth, is a scholar who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for 150 extra years of life; he spends that time searching for someone who will take over the pact for him. The novel actually takes place in the present, but this backstory is revealed through several nested stories-within-a-story that work backwards through time.
The story opens in 1816: John Melmoth, a student in Dublin, visits his dying uncle. He sees a portrait of his namesake dated '1646' and catches glimpse of 'the Traveller'. His uncle eventually dies, and at the funeral, Biddy Brannigan tells John the family story. A stranger called Stanton arrived looking for the Traveller, and left behind a manuscript. His uncle leave John a letter in which he directs John to read Stanton's manuscript, which narrates as follows:
Stanton's story opens in Spain in the 1670's. Stanton encounters the Traveller laughing at the sight of two lovers who have been blasted by lightning. An old Spanish woman tells him the story of the Cardoza wedding at which the Traveller was an uninvited guest. The bride died on her wedding night and the bridegroom went mad. Stanton pursues and finds the Traveller in a theatre in London. The Traveller tells him they will meet again. Stanton's obsession with the Traveller is judged madness and he is tricked into a madhouse. There, the Traveller appears and offers to free him if he .... but Stanton refuses. Somehow, Stanton does eventually escape and goes to look for him in Ireland, but never meets the Traveller again. Following his uncle's wish, John burns the portrait, but later that night dreams he is visited by his ancestor.
The following stormy night, John witnesses a shipwreck and sees the Traveller looking on laughing and saying 'Let them all perish!' John tries to approach him, but slips and falls into the sea. John recovers from near drowning, saved by a Spaniard, the sole survivor of the wreck. Alonzo Monçada begins to tell him his story, set in Spain.
He is confined unwillingly to a monastery by his family.His appeal to leave the monastery is rejected, his brother Juan sends messages saying he will help him escape.He attempts to escape with the help of a fellow monk, a parricide. The parricide monk tells his story. They escape, but it is a trap and Monçada's brother is killed. Monçada is held and examined in the prison of the Inquisition. He is visited in his cell by the Traveller, who says he will help him escape. A fire breaks out, the prison is evacuated and in the confusion Monçada escapes.
He finds his way to the house of a Jew, but officers of the Inquisition arrive searching for him. The Jew helps Monçada escape through a secret trapdoor into an underground passage. He finds himself in a secret chamber with a venerable Jewish scholar, Adonijah. The chamber is decorated with the skeletons of members of Adonijah's family.
Monçada is almost out of his mind with terror, but Adonijah gives him food and drink, and says he must transcribe a certain manuscript for him. This contains The Tale of the Indians: an island in the Indies which has been devastated and depopulated by a storm is said to be haunted by a white goddess. A pair of Indian lovers discover the white goddess on the island and worship her. (The story is announced as 'The Tale of the Indians', but at its conclusion this is altered to 'The Tale of the Indian'.)
The Tale of the Indians. Immalee, the name the natives have given to the 'white goddess', encounters the Traveller. He tells her he comes from 'the world that suffers', but she is immediately fascinated by him. Immalee is again visited by the Traveller who starts to try to destroy her innocence, showing her the shortcomings of various religions. Immalee decides she will be a Christian. The Traveller returns and shows Immalee the failings of human societies and human relationships. Immalee despairs of her love for him. She reiterates her love for him and begs him to stay with her and not to go back to his world of 'evil and sorrow', but he will not. During a great storm, the Traveller and Immalee reach a crisis in their relationship. She falls senseless to the ground and the Traveller departs. Three years later in Spain: a young woman faints at the sight of a stranger (Immalee and the Traveller). The long-lost Immalee, now Isidora, has been restored to her family in Madrid. Melmoth appears beneath her window and once more attempts to seduce her. Melmoth continues to appear beneath Isidora's window, but loses patience and renounces her. Isidora is sanguine, knowing Melmoth will not abandon her for long. Isidora's father writes to her mother revealing he has found a husband for his daughter: Isidora and Melmoth plan to elope. Isidora's father is visited by his daughter in a dream, asking him to save her. Isidora and Melmoth elope by night, and he leads her to a remote chapel where they are married by a mysterious hermit, whose hand was 'as cold as that of death' (in a later chapter it is revealed that the hermit was already dead).
Isidora's father, traveling home, catches a glimpse of the Traveller, and encounters a stranger at an inn who tells him 'The Tale of Guzman's Family'.
'The Tale of Guzman's Family'. Guzman. a wealthy Spanish merchant, has a younger sister who marries a poor German musician, Walberg. Guzman decides to make them his heirs and brings them and their children, and Walberg's parents back to Spain. The Walberg family have got used to living in style and comfort when Guzman dies. His Will leaves everything to the church. A friendly priest tries to help them but the case is thrown out of court. The family sinks into desperate poverty, the grandmother dies, the son sells his blood, the daughter almost becomes a prostitute. At last, almost insane, Walberg decides to end it by killing them all, and thinks he has, when news arrives that the true Will has been found and the family is saved. Isidora's father falls asleep and wakes to find the teller of the Tale replaced by the Traveller. The Traveller shows him the corpse of the story-teller.
Isidora's father continues his journey, but again encounters the Traveller who tells him 'The Lovers' Tale', about the three grandchildren of Sir Roger Mortimer: Margaret (Sir Roger's heir), Elinor and John. 'The Lovers' Tale' continued. Elinor and John fall in love, but John jilts her at the altar, and Elinor flees to Yorkshire. Elinor returns to live near Margaret and John, hoping to regain his affections, but he remains strangely aloof. Elinor sees the hopelessness of her situation and returns to Yorkshire. Margaret marries John. Margaret dies in childbirth and John's mother confesses she invented a story that Elinor and John are brother and sister. John becomes insane with grief, and Elinor takes care of him. Elinor is tempted by Melmoth the Traveller, but turns to a local clergyman for help. John dies, and soon after Elinor also.
Isidora's father complains about the length of the Tale. The Traveller then tells him the tale of Isidora and her father, urging him to save his daughter. But Isidora's father, strangely distracted, is called away on business to another part of Spain.
Isidora is discovered returned to her family, but she is secretly pregnant with Melmoth's child. She has a presentiment that she will not live, and gets Melmoth to promise the child will be brought up a Christian. Isidora's father returns home with the bridegroom. In the middle of the wedding celebrations Melmoth appears and tries to abduct Isidora. Her brother tries to intervene and is killed. Isidora falls senseless and Melmoth the Wanderer escapes. Isidora reveals she is married. She gives birth to a daughter. Isidora and her baby are taken away by the Inquisition.
Isidora is examined by the Inquisition. They cannot break her so threaten to take away her child. When they come for the child they find it is dead. Isidora, herself dying of grief, remembers her island paradise. She asks if 'he' will be in the heavenly paradise.
Monçada tells John that he will relate the story of Adonijah's family, but they are interrupted by the appearance of the Wanderer. He confesses to them his purpose on Earth, and that he has never been successful in tempting another into damnation. 'I have traversed the world in the search, and no one to gain that world, would lose his own soul!' The Wanderer sleeps and has a vision of his own damnation, and of the salvation of Stanton, Walberg, Elinor, Isidora and Monçada.
John and Monçada approach the Wanderer the next morning, but he asks them to leave him alone for his last few hours of mortal existence. They hear terrible noises coming from the room, but when they again enter, it is empty. They follow the Wanderer's tracks to the top of a cliff. They see his handkerchief on a crag below them, and, 'exchanging looks of silent and unutterable horror', return slowly home.
Review: One hundred years after Jonathan Swift, Maturin takes up his Irish predecessor's gift for harsh, even malevolent satire against any and all offenders - organized religion, government, lovers, warriors - even making broad, devastating comments on humanity in general. Maturin and his characters are quick to point out that this is not 'Radcliffe-romance' gothic, in the direct style of works like "The Mysteries of Udolpho". They are right. Rather than the seemingly landscape-obsessed, rationalistic Radcliffe, Maturin takes his direct gothic influences from the claustrophobic psychological terrors of Godwin's "Caleb Williams," Lewis' "The Monk," and M.W. Shelley's "Frankenstein."
Unlike "The Monk," however, Maturin's novel does not rely heavily on Lewis' supernatural machinery (ghosts, demons, bleeding nuns, etc.). Instead, he offers several apparently unconnected stories that concentrate on families in desperate straits and individuals in extreme crises, pushing the limits of man's inhumanity to man. The connecting element, the wild card with the wild eyes, that pops up just when the characters most/least need him, is Melmoth the Wanderer.
"Melmoth" also draws heavily from Cervantes' "Don Quixote," which provides a great point of comparison for the main character. Where Don Quixote was a wandering knight, pledged to help the helpless, Melmoth is a wandering agent of evil, whose mission is to prey on the helpless. Melmoth has 150 years to tempt the indigent and desperate into selling their souls for wealth, power, or simple relief, and trading places with him.
Again looking backward to "Quixote" and forward to Stoker's "Dracula," "Melmoth" is also heavily concerned with it's own construction as a text. The various stories are pieced together by eyewitnesses, interviewers, and ancient manuscripts, often at several removes from their originals. There is even one gentleman in the novel who is collecting material to write a book about Melmoth the Wanderer.
Opening Line: “In the autumn of 1816, John Melmoth, a student in Trinity College, Dublin, quitted it to attend a dying uncle on whom his hopes for independence chiefly rested.”
Closing Line: “Melmoth and Monçada exchanged looks of silent and unutterable horror, and returned slowly home. “
Quotes: “There is no error more absurd, and yet more rooted in the heart of man, than the belief that his sufferings will promote his spiritual safety.”
Rating: Okay

Sunday, November 27, 2011

453. The Interesting Narrative – Olaudah Equiano

History: Written in 1789, by Gustavus Vassa, a prominent African involved in the British movement towards the abolition of the slave trade. His autobiography depicted the horrors of slavery and helped influence British lawmakers to abolish the slave trade through the Slave Trade Act of 1807. Despite his enslavement as a young man, he purchased his freedom and worked as an author, merchant and explorer in South America, the Caribbean, the Arctic, the American colonies, and the United Kingdom.
Plot: Volume I opens with a description of Equiano's native African culture, including customs associated with clothing, food, and religious practices. He likens the inhabitants of Eboe to the early Jews, and offers a theory that dark African skin is a result of exposure to the hot, tropical climates. In so doing, Equiano hints that Africans may be the indirect relatives of Christian Europeans through their Jewish ancestry and argues against slavery as an affront to all humans: "Let the polished and haughty European recollect that his ancestors were once, like the Africans, uncivilized, and even barbarous. Did Nature make them inferior to their sons? and should they too have been made slaves? Every rational mind answers, No".
Equiano's journey begins when he is kidnapped from his village with his sister, from whom he is eventually separated. He describes a long voyage through various African regions. Equiano is sold to the owner of a slave ship bound for the West Indies, and he goes on to describe the "Middle Passage"—"the journey across the Atlantic Ocean that brought enslaved Africans to North America. His descriptions of extreme hardships and desperate conditions are punctuated by his astonishment at new sights and experiences. The narration occasionally reflects the childish wonder of the young Equiano at the time of his journey, but it also highlights his culture shock at his introduction to European culture and European treatment of slaves.
Though he witnesses the sale of slaves in the West Indies, Equiano himself is not purchased, and he stays with the Dutch ship, traveling from the West Indies to North America. There he is purchased and put to work on a Virginia plantation, doing light field work and household chores. He is not in Virginia long before Michael Henry Pascal, a lieutenant in the British royal navy and captain of a merchant ship, purchases him as "a present to some of his friends in England". During their spring 1757 voyage to England, Pascal renames the eleven-year-old Equiano Gustavus Vassa, and Equiano forges a friendship with a white American boy named Robert Baker, which lasts until Baker's death two years later.
After the ship's arrival in England, Equiano is exposed to Christianity. When he asks questions about his first encounter with snow, he is told it is made by "a great man in the heavens, called God." He attends church, and receives instruction from his new friend, Robert . Equiano describes the various battles and ship transfers that take place after his return to sea with Pascal.
As his time with Pascal progresses, Equiano professes a growing attachment to his master and a desire to "imbibe" and "imitate" the English culture in which he is immersed. He can "now speak English tolerably well" and "embrace[s] every occasion of improvement . . . [having] long wished to be able to read and write". During stopovers in England, Captain Pascal sends Equiano to wait upon two sisters known as the Miss Guerins. They become, in a sense, patrons to Equiano, not only treating him kindly but also supporting his education and his interest in Christianity by sending him to school. The Guerins are also instrumental in persuading Pascal to allow Equiano to be baptized into the church.
Equiano continues his studies and his religious development independently whenever possible, but his visits to England are always temporary, as he returns to sea with his captain whenever Pascal and the ship are ready for a new voyage. The journeys are always fraught with danger, and he describes numerous skirmishes and sieges throughout the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and West Indian Oceans. Equiano faithfully serves Pascal for several years and, believing that Pascal's kindness implies a promise to free him, he is shocked at an abrupt betrayal during a layover in England, when Pascal has him roughly seized and forced into a barge. Pascal sells Equiano to Captain James Doran, the captain of a ship bound for the West Indies. Dazed by his sudden change in fortunes, Equiano argues with Captain Doran that Pascal "could not sell me to him, nor to any one else . . . I have served him . . . many years, and he has taken all my wages and prize-money . . . I have been baptized; and by the laws of the land no man has a right to sell me". After Doran tells Equiano he talks "too much English" and threatens to subdue him, Equiano begins service under a new master, for he is "too well convinced of his power over me to doubt what he said".
Dejected at the situation in which he now finds himself, Equiano begins to believe his new situation is a result of God's punishment for his sins and soon resigns himself to his new life. Doran takes him back to the West Indies, and Equiano is horrified at the sight of Montserrat, because he is fearful of being sold into this "land of bondage . . . misery, stripes, and chains". Instead, he is purchased by Mr. Robert King, a "charitable and humane" Quaker merchant who employs him in a variety of positions, from loading boats to clerking and serving as a personal groom, in addition to occasionally hiring out Equiano"s services to other merchants. One of King's boat captains, an Englishman named Thomas Farmer, relies heavily on Equiano and frequently hires him for voyages from the West Indies to North America.
At this time, Equiano begins buying and selling goods and fruit and starts his own side trading enterprise during each voyage. Although he faces setbacks and insults from white buyers who refuse to pay for goods, use "bad coin," or demand fraudulent refunds, Equiano acquires a small amount of savings and is "determined to . . . obtain my freedom, and to return to Old England". King encourages him in his entrepreneurial pursuits, proposing that when Equiano has saved enough money "to purchase my freedom . . . he would let me have it for forty pounds sterling money, which was only the same price he gave for me".
After briefly recounting a violent assault while trading in Savannah, Georgia, and his subsequent recovery and return to Montserrat, Equiano closes the first volume of the Interesting Narrative somewhat abruptly, noting that "This ended my adventures in 1764; for I did not leave Montserrat again till the beginning of the following year".
Review: Of all the firsthand accounts known to us as "slave narratives," Vassa's description is unique in many ways. To begin with, he takes his readers all the way back to his African roots, shedding historically-confirmed light on almost lost ancient traditions. His discussion of the harrowing and epically sad capture and separation of he and his sister are among the most moving in this genre.
 He then describes the despicable, inhumane conditions in the holds of the slave ships with a "you-are-there" writing style. Again, confirmed by other sources, these are some of the most often quoted accounts in historical texts. In this same chronological phase, Vassa also depicts the shared empathy among the enslave Africans, helping us to see how they collaborated to survive.
 His ongoing narrative offers one of the more balanced looks at slavery. Vassa clearly tells the horrors of this evil system and the people responsible for it. At the same time, he often shares accounts of Europeans and White Americans who befriended him. In fact, his positive statements about non-Africans lend further credence to his critique of the many evils of slavery.
 His narrative also contains unique elements in his descriptions of his path toward freedom and his life as a freeman. We learn that in his era, for a man of his race, it was barely more tolerable to be free, given the hatred that he still endured.
 Though some reviewers tend to minimize or criticize it, his conversion narrative is classic. In fact, it may well have been the standard from which later testimonies were crafted about how "God struck me dead." Perhaps the evangelical nature of his conversion turns off some. However, if we are to engage Vassa in his other accounts, we must engage him here. Further, coming as it did later in his life, it is easy to see how his account of his entire life is entirely shaped by his conversion experience. Clearly, Vassa sees even the evils that he has suffered as part of a larger plan. In doing so he never suggests that God condones the evils of slavery. Rather, he indicates that God created beauty from ashes.
Opening Line: “I believe it is difficult for those who publish their own memoirs to escape the imputation of vanity; no is this the only disadvantage under which they labour; it is also their misfortune, that whatever is uncommon is rarely, if ever, believed; and what is obvious we are apt to turn from with disgust, and to charge the writer with impertinence. “
Closing Line: “to those who are possessed of this spirit, there is scarcely any book or incident so trifling that does not afford some profit, while to others the experience of ages seems of no use; and even to pour out to them the treasures of wisdom is throwing the jewels of instruction away.”
Quotes: "The stench of the hold while we were on the coast was so intolerably loathsome that it was dangerous to remain there for any time, and some of us had been permitted to stay on the deck for the fresh air; but now that the whole ship's cargo were confined together it became absolutely pestilential. The closeness of the place and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us. This produced copious perspirations, so that the air soon became unfit for respiration from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died, thus falling victims to the improvident avarice, as I may call it, of their purchasers."
Rating: Excellent

452. Lost Illusions – Honore de Balzac

History: Illusions perdues was written by the French writer Honore de Balzac between 1837 and 1843. It consists of three parts, starting in the provinces, thereafter moving to Paris, and finally returning to provincial France. Thus it resembles another of Balzac’s greatest novels, La Rabouilleuse (The Black Sheep), in that it is set partly in Paris and partly in the provinces. It is, however, unique among the novels and short stories of the Comedie Humaine by virtue of the even-handedness with which it treats both geographical dimensions of French social life.
Plot: Lucien Chardon, the son of a lower middle-class father and an impoverished mother of remote aristocratic descent, is the pivotal figure of the entire work. Living at Angouleme, he is impoverished, impatient, handsome and ambitious. His widowed mother, his sister Ève and his best friend, David Séchard, do nothing to lessen his high opinion of his own talents, for it is an opinion they share.
Even as Part I of Illusions perdues, Les Deux poètes (The Two Poets), begins, Lucien has already written a historical novel and a sonnet sequence, whereas David is a scientist. But both, according to Balzac, are "poets" in that they creatively seek truth. Theirs is a fraternity of poetic aspiration, whether as scientist or writer: thus, even before David marries Ève, the two young men are spiritual brothers.
Lucien is introduced into the drawing-room of the leading figure of Angoulême high society, Mme de Bargeton, who rapidly becomes infatuated with him. It is not long before the pair flee to Paris where Lucien adopts his maternal patronymic of de Rubempré and hopes to make his mark as a poet. Mme de Bargeton, on the other hand, recognises her misalliance and, though remaining in Paris, severs all ties with Lucien, abandoning him to a life of destitution.
In Part II, Un Grand homme de province à Paris, Lucien is contrasted both with the journalist Lousteau and the high-minded writer Daniel d’Arthez. Jilted by Mme de Bargeton for the adventurer Sixte du Châtelet, he moves in a social circle of high-class actress-prostitutes and their journalist lovers: soon he becomes the lover of Coralie. As a literary journalist he prostitutes his talent. But he still harbours the ambition of belonging to high society and longs to assume by royal warrant the surname and coat of arms of the de Rubemprés. He therefore switches his allegiance from the liberal opposition press to the one or two royalist newspapers that support the government. This act of betrayal earns him the implacable hatred of his erstwhile journalist colleagues, who destroy Coralie’s theatrical reputation. In the depths of his despair he forges his brother-in-law’s name on three promissory notes. This is his ultimate betrayal of his integrity as a person. After Coralie’s death he returns in disgrace to Angoulême, stowed away behind the Châtelets’ carriage: Mme de Bargeton has just married du Châtelet, who has been appointed prefect of that region.
Meanwhile, at Angoulême David Séchard is betrayed on all sides but is supported by his loving wife. He invents a new and cheaper method of paper production: thus, at a thematic level, the commercialization of paper-manufacturing processes is very closely interwoven with the commercialization of literature. Lucien’s forgery of his brother-in-law’s signature almost bankrupts David, who has to sell the secret of his invention to business rivals. Lucien is about to commit suicide when he is approached by a sham Jesuit priest, the Abbe Carlos Herrera: this, in another guise, is the escaped convict Vautrin whom Balzac had already presented in Le Père Goriot. Herrera takes Lucien under his protection and they drive off to Paris, there to begin a fresh assault on the capital.
Review: The novel has four main themes.
(1) The lifestyle of the provinces is juxtaposed with that of the metropolis, as Balzac contrasts the varying tempos of life at Angoulême and in Paris, the different standards obtaining in those cities, and their different perceptions.
(2) Balzac explores the artistic life of Paris in 1821-22, and furthermore the nature of the artistic life generally. Lucien, who was already a not quite published author when the novel begins, fails to get that early literary work published whilst he is in Paris and during his time in the capital writes nothing of any consequence. Daniel d’Arthez, on the other hand, does not actively seek literary fame: it comes to him because of his solid literary merit.
(3) Balzac denounces journalism, presenting it as the most pernicious form of intellectual prostitution.
(4) Balzac affirms the duplicity – and two-facedness – of all things, both in Paris and at Angoulême: e.g., the character of Lucien de Rubempré, who even has two surnames; David Séchard’s ostensible friend, the notary Petit-Claud, who operates against his client, not for him; the legal comptes (accounts) which are contes fantastiques (fantastic tales); the theatre which lives by make-believe; high society likewise; the Abbé Carlos Herrera who is a sham priest, and in fact a criminal; the Sin against the Holy Ghost, whereby Lucien abandons his true integrity as a person, forging his brother-in-law’s signature and even contemplating suicide.
Opening Line: “At the time when this story opens, the Stanhope press and the ink-distributing roller had not yet come into use in small provincial printing-houses; and, notwithstanding its paper industry, that linked Angouleme so closely with Paris printing, wooden presses – of the kind to which the figure of speech “to make the press groan” was literally applicable – were still in use in that town.”
Closing Line: “As for Lucien, his return to Paris belongs to the Scenes de la vie Parisienne.”
Quotes: “This fine thing reputation that is so much desired, is nearly always crowned prostitution.”
Rating: Awful, couldn’t read.