Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book Eleven - Brideshead Revisted - Part One

Picture it: a lovely evening, gentle breeze blowing, your window open. You hear drunken strangers on the path outside when suddenly one of the strangers approaches your window, leans in, vomits on your floor and walks away. And you don’t clean it up.

Seriously? This happens to Ryder and he leaves it there until his “scout” (which I’m thinking is code for manservant) arrives the next day. And then the scout says that Sebastian (the former stranger) is, “A most amusing gentleman, I’m sure it’s quite a pleasure to clean up after him.”

Seriously? Is cleaning up vomit ever a pleasure? Wouldn't delay make it more unpleasant? How could Ryder go to sleep with puke on the floor? And not even his own puke, but someone else’s? I don’t believe I could leave the vomit until the next day, servant or no servant. (But I suppose this is why I could never be an aristocrat.)

The day after vomiting on the floor, Sebastian fills Ryder’s room with flowers. Apology, air freshener, or come-on?

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Mini-Break

I'm rereading We The Living by Ayn Rand for my book club. More Russian angst, 'tis true, but I selected this book. A couple of years ago I nominated Great Expectations as a monthly selection, but Mr. Dickens was declined. A majority of our members believed it would resemble a school assignment. I wanted to read Great Expectations because I kept hearing references to Miss Havisham and wanted to understand who she is, though obviously not badly enough to read it by myself. Now, thanks to this list, I shall finally learn about Miss Havisham. I believe her to be scary.

The other day a friend took issue with something I wrote about Bleak House. He disagreed that all people want the same things, citing those in Third World countries and their lack of clean drinking water. In my mind as I wrote that entry was the thought, "Taking into account Maslow's hierarchy of needs, when people have met the basic requirements of existence my opinion is that we have similar desires. Our journeys, though they include different languages, geography, culture, and creature comforts, are quite similar." It didn’t occur to me that it was necessary to actually write that part since one of my basic assumptions is that anyone reading this blog has clean drinking water and would naturally credit me with knowing that there are people in this world who do not. I didn’t see the need to add a disclaimer of that sort.

I turn now to Jung and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Disclaimer: psycho-babble ensues, but just as generalizations are generally based upon a kernel of general truth, I believe the Myers-Briggs to have some merit. My disagreeing (though not disagreeable) friend perceives the world based upon data and concrete evidence. He is detached and logical – me, not so much. It’s not that I don’t appreciate logic but that I tend to perceive the world through a different filter. This basic difference requires a set of communication skills to bridge the gap. Many of the people in my life are these logical and "detached" people. We tend to complement each other and get along well. They teach me about things like science and math and I get to learn only the interesting parts. I’m not terribly interested in the composition of a star, for instance, but prefer to focus upon the fact that when we see a star we are actually seeing the past. It’s like, all poetic and stuff to me and like, all hydrogen and helium to them.

In the case of the clean drinking water, my logically minded friends would argue that one should always add a disclaimer simply to be precise. So you see the issue here. I believe I am prolix enough without adding stuff that doesn’t further my argument, and I don’t want to insult fellow book lovers by insinuating that they don’t know that there are people in this world without the basic necessities of life. I know, they know, we all know, and hopefully we are all doing our small part to change that.

I could promise to modify future remarks so as not to make blanket statements without adding a disclaimer, but that will never happen. Oops, I mean that is unlikely to happen.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Book Ten - Bleak House - Part Five

Charles Dickens
From The Classic Literature Library
When presented with both a pleasant and an unpleasant task, I prefer to complete the unpleasant task first so that I might completely enjoy the pleasant one. Since I made the somewhat rash declaration that I wouldn’t read another word of Guernsey until I’d finished Bleak House, I spent much of Saturday doing just that. In the end, I enjoyed the book. It was one of those books that I had to sit and read for a while before I became truly absorbed, but once I was in full Victorian mode I flew through it. I had to find out what happened and how all of the loose ends were resolved.

Since Dickens wrote most of his novels as periodicals, at times I thought chapters seemed like they could stand alone and were written primarily for the periodical rather than as part of a larger story. The next thing I knew, he connected those very stories in an unexpected way! That was lovely.

Dickens appears to like the too-good-to-be-true character; Tiny Tim is a good example. He has a handicap yet is good and kind and always happy. Esther is that person in Bleak House. Esther has the handicap of her birth yet she is good and kind and industrious. She sorta makes me sick, not because she’s good but because she’s a bit of a doormat. She is so happy to be rescued from the prospect of poverty that she has few thoughts of her own and is willing to submit her entire being to the person who saved her from that fate. I realize poverty was a very real possibility for her and how terrible that poverty would have been, but I believe it is possible to be grateful yet aware of your own mind at the same time. Most of the book is written in third person while Esther’s narrative is written in first, highlighting the fact that Esther sees life only from her perspective while a reader of Bleak House has the advantage of witnessing the unraveling of her mystery from all points of view. Still, I wanted her to show a little gumption.

To Dickens, industrious = good, indolent = bad. Perhaps he saw people who were one or the other, but aren’t most of us both at different times? I suppose Dickens’ moral is that it’s okay to be indolent in the evenings after being industrious all day. Well, for men anyway. They can retire to the growlery while the women must continue their needlework until it is time for bed. A woman may never relax her industry. And the thing is, there are only so many things to needlepoint. I’ve done needlepoint, cross stitch and all that stuff and there are only so many pillows to make or samplers to stitch. Being busy for the sake of being busy seemed the order of the day in Victorian times, but then that was before they had radio or television. (Though I try to leave my 21st century mindset behind when I read a novel set in the past, clearly I don’t always manage it.)

The “Growlery,” by the way, is a place in Bleak House reserved for Esther’s guardian, the master of the house. When an “ill wind” blows, Esther’s guardian retires to his growlery and everyone knows to leave him alone so he can get his mood right. I love this idea!

Dickens is brilliant in the use of names. You can probably tell whether the following characters are sensible or foolish -- Mr. Skimpole, Mr. Turveydrop, Mr. Guppy, Mrs. Jellyby, and Mrs. Pardiggle (whose name reminds me of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle). Yeah, it’s pretty easy to tell. And Mr. Vholes, unsurprisingly, is a rodent. Dickens also manages to interweave description and humor seamlessly. One of my favorites, from Chapter 20, “In the matter of gravy he is adamant.” How many things can you tell about this man from that one simple statement? Eight words and you pretty much have the measure of him, don’t you?

In the Some Things Never Change Department, from Chapter 46 in which “Tom” is a collective name for the poor --

Much mighty speech-making there has been, both in and out of Parliament, concerning Tom, and much wrathful disputation how Tom shall be got right… In the midst of which dust and noise there is but one thing perfectly clear, to wit, that Tom only may and can, or shall and will, be reclaimed according to somebody's theory but nobody's practice.
A sweet and somewhat surprising part of the novel has to do with something I daresay affects us all – the desire to be loved for who we are and not for any external factor. Dickens led me on for several hundred pages wondering what would happen. As I inwardly cheered for true love, I realized this is a Victorian novel and the Victorians were all about duty, were they not? He masterfully resolved this and other questions in a completely unexpected manner. He pretty much knew what he was doing, did Dickens. I don't recall being as impressed with him when I read A Tale Of Two Cities, but that may have more to do with me than with Dickens' writing.

A very sweet passage from the last chapter-
We are not rich in the bank, but we have always prospered, and we have quite enough. I never walk out with my husband but I hear the people bless him. I never go into a house of any degree but I hear his praises or see them in grateful eyes. I never lie down at night but I know that in the course of that day he has alleviated pain and soothed some fellow-creature in the time of need. I know that from the beds of those who were past recovery, thanks have often, often gone up, in the last hour, for his patient ministration. Is not this to be rich?
Yes, I believe it is, Mr. Dickens.

Thank you for reminding me that people don’t change, not really, not in any considerable way. No matter who we are or where we are or when we live, we want basically the same things and each generation has basically the same problems as each preceding generation.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Book Ten - Bleak House - Part Four + The Infidelity

I am a serial reader. When I read a book I am faithful to that book until it is over. Others like to read two or three books simultaneously, but I find that I can't fully appreciate any book unless I give it my full attention. Imagine my chagrin as I confess that I cheated on Bleak House. My copy of The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society arrived and I wanted to read it more than I wanted to read Dickens.

Before judging me too harshly, imagine this scenario: you've already read a book, loved it, and this book has returned to you. It's a great book. There were many things you loved about this book when it first entered your life. This book has wit, compassion, history, and the setting is just the right age for you. When you meet a book like that you just naturally want to reread it to learn everything you can about it. It says so right on page 11 --

Lamb also taught Hunt's youngest daughter to say the Lord's Prayer backward. You naturally want to learn everything you can about a man like that.

I couldn't help it. It just happened. I didn't plan it. Any of those believable? I thought not. Fine then, I cheated because I wanted to! However, I have repented of my betrayal and vow that I will not read another word of Guernsey until I finish Bleak House. I would apologize to Mr. Dickens but as a famous author, he's probably accustomed to this sort of thing. Plus he's like, dead and stuff.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Book Ten - Bleak House - Part Three

I haven’t finished Bleak House yet. It's not terribly bleak, but I lack the impetus to read it when I get a chance. At the same time, whenever I finish a few chapters I’m pleased with what I’ve read.

Charles Dickens: I believe you are experiencing ambivalence. A good Victorian woman is never ambivalent.

Me: Mr. Dickens, sir, I doubt that every person of one gender who lived in a certain place during a certain era shared anything other than gender.

Charles Dickens: Ah, but you did not listen carefully. I said ‘A good Victorian woman.’

Me: I caught that, actually, but chose not to respond as it’s what people in my era consider subjective. Good to you may not be good to me, Mr. D. In any case, I have no desire to fit in with the mores of your Victorian world. I will admit that the women wore some really pretty dresses and stuff, and I have oft yearned to carry a parasol. But the big picture is that I rather like making my own decisions.

Charles Dickens: You must abide by your conscience, of course.

Me: Dude, I know. And I am enjoying the book... I just don't have an overwhelming desire to dive into it every chance I get. But I will finish it.

Charlie D: I have read your list, Miss Tryton, and I believe we shall meet again.

Me: Don't I know it. Er, indeed, sir. I shall also read David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

Charliekins: Until we meet again, Miss.

Me: Before you go, could you tip your hat to me again? That's one thing your era had over mine... these days there are few hats other than baseball caps (it's sort of like cricket, don't ask) and those are rarely tipped.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Book Ten - Bleak House - Part Two

More wonderful quotes from Mr. Comedy, Charles Dickens--
Mrs. Rouncewell holds this opinion because she considers that a family of such antiquity and importance has a right to a ghost.  She regards a ghost as one of the privileges of the upper classes, a genteel distinction to which the common people have no claim.
I believe the Lib Dems are trying to reverse that policy.
"Pray take some refreshment, sir," said I.
I so want to use that line at least once in my lifetime. 

More great descriptions--
Sir Leicester is generally in a complacent state, and rarely bored. When he has nothing else to do, he can always contemplate his own greatness. It is a considerable advantage to a man to have so inexhaustible a subject.
There is something indefinably keen and wan about her anatomy, and she has a watchful way of looking out of the corners of her eyes without turning her head which could be pleasantly dispensed with, especially when she is in an ill humour and near knives.
Finally, we’re getting to the mystery! I do love a mystery. 
But whether each evermore watches and suspects the other, evermore mistrustful of some great reservation; whether each is evermore prepared at all points for the other, and never to be taken unawares; what each would give to know how much the other knows—all this is hidden, for the time, in their own hearts.
*cue suspenseful music*

Friday, October 1, 2010

Book Ten - Bleak House - Part One

I certainly didn't expect to laugh while reading this book! I never knew the Dickensian origin of lawyer jokes. (I find it infrequent that one can legitimately use "Dickensian" in casual conversation.)

A few quick character descriptions --

Sir Leicester Dedlock is only a baronet, but there is no mightier baronet than he. His family is as old as the hills, and infinitely more respectable.
How Alexander wept when he had no more worlds to conquer, everybody knows—or has some reason to know by this time, the matter having been rather frequently mentioned.
He is of what is called the old school—a phrase generally meaning any school that seems never to have been young—

Bleak House is funny!

I knew nothing about the Court of Chancery, so here's a picture--

Court of Chancery
Absolute Astronomy