Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Christmas Carol, The Movie, or Mr Dickens Meets Gonzo

Mr Dickens: Mr Gonzo, I must object…

Gonzo: Sorry to interrupt, but it’s just Gonzo, you can drop the Mister, Mister.

Mr Dickens: As you like. Gonzo, I must object…

Gonzo: How did you like my portrayal of you? I thought it was a clever device to fill in the gaps in the action with narration. Great book, by the way.

Mr Dickens: Thank you, that is very kind. However…

Gonzo: I think the addition of Rizzo was brill, don’t you? You wouldn’t believe how many people emailed me saying it’s the first time they ever laughed at a rat!

Mr Dickens: Actually, that’s one of the things I wish to address. In the time period in which the novel is set, rats were…

Gonzo: I’m not sayin’ rats are ever welcome visitors, just that Rizzo was pretty funny, all things considered.

Mr. Dickens: I bid you good day, sir.
*puts on hat and storms off*

Gonzo: I got the last word with Mr Charles Dickens? Boy, I am good! Now, where’s that chicken? Come here, my little Dickens Chicken!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Thirty-Four - Rebecca - Part Four

Daphne du Maurier
Daphne, you ingenious sneaky little thing! This story has as many twists and turns as the drive to Manderlay. When I finished it I had to go back to the beginning again.

Rebecca is a story of love, trust, friendship, betrayal, lust, loneliness, kindness, impulsiveness, and offers quite the example against putting all your eggs in one man, er, basket. It is also one of those books in which I kept looking down at the page numbers toward the end and thinking, there's no way she can wrap this up before the end of the book! There isn't time! I knew there wasn't a sequel so the novel had to end but I didn't see how it could. And du Maurier, master of description, gives us only two lines of description at the end. Brilliant.

The movie is next up in my Netflix queue. Directed by Hitchcock, it stars Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine. Netflix anticipates it is a 3.8 (out of 4) for me. Can't wait!

Guess how we're meant to feel about this character

Random question: in the US we call a party at which everyone comes dressed as someone else a costume party. In the UK this is called a fancy dress party. Why is that? If you come dressed as a pirate you're probably not fancy, now are you?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Book Thirty-Four - Rebecca - Part Three

No spoilers, but a certain someone reminds me of the Cloris Leachman character in High Anxiety.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Thirty-Four - Rebecca - Part Two

Daphne DuMarier's writing is intoxicating and inviting. I feel as if I am present in the exotic locations. And she's got something else right, too -
They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word. To-day, wrapped in the complacent armour of approaching middle age, the infinitesimal pricks of day by day brush one but lightly and are soon forgotten...
I'm not sure how often these days that the age is twenty-one; the book was first published in 1938. These days we're, like, allowed outside without a chaperone and stuff and so we mature faster.

I especially appreciate the notion of a young person as a delicate fruit or flower "easily bruised," with words which are "barbed," like a medieval weapon hurled by an enemy. Spot on, that's what Daphne is.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Thirty-Four - Rebecca

Though I haven't read this book before, I am somewhat familiar with it. I saw a sketch on the Carol Burnett Show about it and I just found that sketch on You Tube.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Great Expectations The Movie

I saw the 1946 version and it was a nice adaptation. They got pretty close to the heart of the matter. I liked the Miss Havisham. She was so... Miss Havishamish (it's difficult to write much  since I don't want to spoil).

Unfortunately I get distracted when I watch old movies because I'm always looking at the "landscape" to see if anything moves. It's mostly painted - nice painting, but painting nonetheless. I also look at everyone's hair and figure out whose hair is real. (You'd be surprised how many aren't.) Any weird things you do? Come on, I can't be the only one.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Thirty-Three - Great Expectations - Part Five

Charles Dickens
From The Classic Literature Library

This one, like David Copperfield, is told in first person. Pip looks back through the years and tells his story. He tries to recapture the intensity of the feelings of youth, but there is bound to be something lost when an adult tells a child’s story. How many of us remember the passion of a great Kick the Can game and the utter desolation when our moms called us in to dinner? We bolted down our food, even though we were specifically told not to, and rushed back outside to play until dark. Even as I remember those moments I know that I am not recapturing their sweetness. Playing outside with our friends was the only thing that mattered. Spending long summer days with friends or sledding down the long hill in winter felt like our entire lives, not simply the way we filled our days.

The problem with relating the past is that the narrator already knows what happens. It’s sorta like reading the last page of a book first (I know someone who does this) or, halfway through a suspenseful novel, sneaking a peek at the last few pages to make sure the hero comes out okay (I would never and have never done this! Almost never. Once or twice in a weaker moment, perhaps, but not for a really long time. Depending upon your definition of “really long.”) In any case, I suppose if a child told his story we’d miss the perspective. Any story told in first person loses the voice of every other character, but the trade off is that we are privy to the narrator’s most intimate thoughts. 

As always, Dickens writes about timeless issues. Pip is fortunate enough to see more than one side of life.* His struggles reminded me of a theory I’ve heard more than once: people become dissatisfied with their lives when they see what others have. How can you know what you don’t know? The country of Bhutan, which my friend Leanne has visited, measures the happiness of its residents. Once these people finally got the internet and television, their happiness indicator went down. Why? Because they began to see what they didn’t have? Why is it that we are so quick to envy what others have and ignore what it cost them to obtain it? Oh Pip, you are every man.

As I passed the church, I felt (as I had felt during service in the morning) a sublime compassion for the poor creatures who were destined to go there, Sunday after Sunday, all their lives through, and to lie obscurely at last among the low green mounds. I promised myself that I would do something for them one of these days, and formed a plan in outline for bestowing a dinner of roast-beef and plum-pudding, a pint of ale, and a gallon of condescension, upon everybody in the village.
In our arrogance (and perhaps in our blindness) we believe others want what we have. How many of the people in that village wanted nothing more than to live there and die there? What in this is inherently wrong or inferior? Why do some of us insist that the place to be is either where we are or the next place we plan to inhabit? And when that next place does not hold the key to our happiness and satisfaction, we must rapidly go to the next new place, believing that this place will be the one, etc. (Some people do this with spouses, too, but that’s another matter.)

… throughout life, our worst weaknesses and meannesses are usually committed for the sake of the people whom we most despise.
Ah, pride, why can we not let you go? Are you why we especially want the people who don’t like us (and whom we dislike) to think well of us? Why? Why do we think these things are so important when we know that with a change in circumstances we shall never see these people again? Why does the temporary feel so permanent? Why can we not carpe the diem while also retaining a feeling of perspective?

... but ever did his duty in his way of life, with a strong hand, a quiet tongue, and a gentle heart.
This describes the novel’s too good to be true figure. Dickens does like these characters. He also likes one of his characters to be redeemed, and we have that in Great Expectations, too.

… two glasses of rum and milk prepared, and two biscuits…. going out for the walk with that training preparation on us.
If I were ever inclined to endure long distance treks, this would decide it for me. The only “training” required is to eat two biscuits and drink rum and milk? You’ve got it, buddy. Of course I might have to drink the rum and milk separately as I’m not certain they would taste good together.

Stuff I noticed -

The street lamps were manually lit each night. I looked it up, and they were oil lamps rather than candles. They burned coal in the fireplaces - is this because coal was more abundant than wood?

Referring to someone’s home, Pip calls it a “fashionable crib!" What would a pimped-out Victorian crib look like? I see a suit of armor as a retro touch…

Tricked out wallpaper for my crib


Anyone up for decorating a Victorian crib?

Indeed, it demanded from him a constant attention, and a quickness of eye and hand, very like that exacted by wicket-keeping.
This seems like a reference to cricket, which I do not understand. How can you bat and bowl in the same game? And what’s an over? And a six?

In this book as in the others I've read there is much discussion of servants. Two lessons I’ve learned: when one has servants it is imperative to know how to manage "the staff," and it’s always been difficult to get good help. (I'm not real sure when these tidbits will come in handy, but one never knows.)

In a duh moment for me, I didn’t know Little Britain is a place! I suppose that’s where the show got its name.

Great unexpected quotes -

Mrs. Joe was a very clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art of making her cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself.
Her contempt for me was so strong, that it became infectious, and I caught it.
Why I hoarded up this last wretched little rag of the robe of hope that was rent and given to the winds, how do I know? Why did you who read this, commit that not dissimilar inconsistency of your own last year, last month, last week?
The last quote illustrates something I’ve noticed in my British friends. Rather than say “similar” they say “not dissimilar.” Why? Is there a difference? If not, why use two words when one would suffice? I realize here that I’m the pot calling the kettle black, for I have never been accused of being concise. But these are things I notice and wonder about.

Sublime prose -

But the village was very peaceful and quiet, and the light mists were solemnly rising, as if to show me the world, and I had been so innocent and little there, and all beyond was so unknown and great, that in a moment with a strong heave and sob I broke into tears.
But he never justified himself by a hint tending that way, or tried to bend the past out of its eternal shape.
There was the red sun, on the low level of the shore, in a purple haze, fast deepening into black…
Is this where Jimi Hendrix got it from?!

Oh Mr. Dickens you’re so humorous -
"And a cool four thousand, Pip!"
I never discovered from whom Joe derived the conventional temperature of the four thousand pounds; but it appeared to make the sum of money more to him, and he had a manifest relish in insisting on its being cool.

*Remember the movie “Overboard” with Goldie Hawn? Annie is sorta like a modern day Pip. At one point Roddy McDowell says to her, “Most of us go through life with blinders on, knowing only that little station to which we were born.”

Friday, October 28, 2011

Book Thirty-Three - Great Expectations - Part Four

It's going to take time to write a proper post about this one - which I loved, thank you very much - but I have to say one thing right now -

I've always heard about Miss Havisham. I've heard tons of references to Miss Havisham and I inferred that she was a mean old lady who (for some reason this next part sticks in my memory) stands at the top of a grand staircase and shouts instructions for all to obey. Well sir, there's more to Miss Havisham than that and honesty compels me to report that there are no stairs involved. I don't want to spoil her for you, but if I were to address Miss Havisham I think I would say, "Dude, you are not the first person to be disappointed, that's all I'm sayin'."

Me: Mr. Dickens, you write so poignantly. I will not deny that there may have been a tear or two in my eyes, nor even that I cried so much I went though a whole packet of kleenex, you know the cute little ones that fit in your purse?

Mr. Dickens: I see. I hope I will not appear churlish, Madam, if I note that it took you some time to complete this particular novel?

Me: Yeah, I was really hoping you wouldn't notice that.

Mr Dickens: Yet you read The Great Gatsby quite quickly and that Fitzgerald is a hack. What does he know from metaphor?! And did he spend years watching children in the workhouse, knowing their fate and feeling powerless to change it?

Me: But it did change! And part of that was because of your writing! There were lots of people who didn't understand the plight of children and you brought it to the forefront.  Well done, you. Oh and for the record, Gatsby wasn't published until you had been... how shall we say it... deceased? for more than fifty years.

Mr. Dickens: Yet you're having a conversation with me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Thirty-Three - Great Expectations - Part Three

Dickens loves to portray emotional martyrs, those self-sacrificing people who work tirelessly for others and tirelessly remind them of this fact. Pip is our protagonist in this book and when he is young he lives with the martyr. On Christmas day, after Pip said he’d been to hear the carols, our martyr proclaims, "I'm rather partial to Carols, myself, and that's the best of reasons for my never hearing any."

Remind you of Lady Catherine de Bourgh? “There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”

I’m right there with you, Cathy. For me it's the guitar– if I had ever learnt I should have rocked it. Same with drawing, the violin, gardening, etc. Ooh, piloting a hot air balloon! Synchronized swimming! No, scratch the swimming. I’d have to shave my legs every single day. Besides, the chlorine would positively wreck my hair. But fencing, now I could truly excel at that. My swordplay would rival that of both Inigo Montoya and The Man In Black!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Thirty-Three - Great Expectations - Part Two

We Britons had at that time particularly settled that it was treasonable to doubt our having and our being the best of everything: otherwise, while I was scared by the immensity of London, I think I might have had some faint doubts whether it was not rather ugly, crooked, narrow, and dirty.
Oh Chuck, you're so wonderful.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Thirty-Three - Great Expectations - Part One

Me: Oh Mr Dickens, it is so lovely to read you again.

Dickens: Thank you, madam. I take it we have previously met?

Me: Yes, sir, several times. And listening to you tell a new story is like sitting down with an old friend - we haven't seen each other in a while yet it is like no time has passed.

Dickens: I am glad to hear it. Pray, madam, remind me when first we met.

Me: Um, let's not really count the first time, okay? It was A Tale of Two Cities and, well, um, I wasn't exactly interested in getting to know you better after that one.

Dickens: I see.

Me: Actually, that was the second of your works I read. The first was A Christmas Carol, but since nearly everyone in the free world has read it or seen one of the many adaptations or at the very least heard of it, I don't count that one.

Dickens: I never count that one, either.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book Thirty-Two - Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch - Part Two

Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

This book, ostensibly a humorous look at Armageddon, asks profound questions. For example, how many nipples do you have? (This question is provided merely to illustrate a point. I neither expect nor desire an answer.) The cast of characters is massive and I had a bit of trouble keeping up with everyone, but the authors do a good job of providing their characters with enough personality that I usually recognized them from previous chapters. There are so many cute little jokes woven into the prophecies of Agnes. She’s not a part of the action yet much of it centers on her.

Essentially, this is a book about people – human beings and the things we do, the effects we have on other people and on everything with which we come into contact. Yet it’s not depressing but incisive. This is thanks to the strength of the storytelling, and my admiration for Mr. Pratchett and Mr. Gaiman (which was already great) has grown.
It has been said that civilization is twenty-four hours and two meals away from barbarism.
I am afraid this is true, seriously afraid. I heard again today about the financial troubles of the EU. I know that my state – and every state – is broke and that our government – and every country’s government, pretty much – is broke. The whole thing could fall apart. Would we become barbarians after missing only two meals? I am afraid this is a real possibility. I hope this is all media and political hype but I fear that it is not.

The perceptiveness of a particular speech toward the end of the story regarding the powers of heaven and hell is sublime. It asks questions but not at all in an heretical way; the speaker is simply trying to make sense of things. When we take things apart to their essential elements they look much different, don’t they?

At one point in my reading I was reminded of an incident regarding a raccoon. I used to work at a place surrounded by woods, and one morning a raccoon wandered out of the woods and made a beeline for a building with at least 40 people standing outside of it. One person, immediately knowing that this is hardly typical behavior for a raccoon, simply shooed the raccoon back into the woods. Later he told us he suspected the raccoon had distemper and I asked why he sent it back into the woods to infect the other animals. He looked at me and said, “You don’t mess with nature.” I immediately knew he was right. How many stories are there of mankind trying to solve one problem and creating others in the process? We do not know nor do we understand all of the workings of nature and when we think we are solving a problem we inadvertently create an imbalance. Even people who spend their entire lives studying ecosystems admit they do not understand their inner workings. Yet we rush around pretending we are in control of the planet – how well does that work for us?

There are also humorous little notes* throughout the book. Most of them are cute but after a bit they become distracting.*

*like this one
*even though they are funny

One word used repeatedly is “ineffable.” Definition:
1. too great or extreme to be expressed in words.
2. too sacred to be uttered.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the word of the day.

Suggestions as to my next book? I still have 38 books (listed on the Progress page) and all I know is that Winnie The Pooh will be last.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Good Omens: The Nice And Accurate Prophecies Of Agnes Nutter, Witch

"... nice also means 'scrupulously exact.'"

I've never thought about that before, yet the second definition at M-W online is "2a : showing fastidious or finicky tastes : particular b : exacting in requirements or standards : punctilious. " The third is similar, "3: possessing, marked by, or demanding great or excessive precision and delicacy " I've used it in this way but it's definitely not the most common usage.

So Agnes's prophecies are accurate - not "nice" in terms of politeness or kindness. And we got ourselves a war here, people! I always enjoy a classic struggle of good versus evil and this is literally that.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Austen Break

While on a business trip last week I listened to Sense and Sensibility. Well, I started listening on the plane because I was too sleepy to read and I sorta fell asleep listening. Before I dozed, I had some thoughts:

You Know You’re An Austen Addict When

… you’re listening to an unabridged recording and you realize the reader has skipped a word.

People Don’t Really Change, Do They?

Mrs. Jennings, while relating the story of Willoughby and Miss Grey’s fifty thousand pounds, “But that won't do now-a-days; nothing in the way of pleasure can ever be given up by the young men of this age." So, basically, some people want what they want when they want it.

Once Marianne Knows The Truth

“She felt the loss of Willoughby's character yet more heavily than she had felt the loss of his heart…”

Because she felt the loss of her own instincts and trust; in short, her sensibilities. They began to shrivel when she realized how wrong she had been. She believed in him implicitly and he deceived her mightily. She loved unreservedly and it was a mistake. Yet how could she know? She could not, at the time of their going into Devon, have behaved like Elinor any more than Elinor could have behaved like Marianne. I suppose that is why we have two Dashwood girls, isn’t it? I do hope that married Elinor was able to love Edward with some of Marianne’s abandon.

As always, I hear Jane Austen telling us to make wise choices in matters of the heart.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Book Thirty-One - The Great Gatsby - Part II

Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald
Obituary from the NY Times
Critically speaking, this is an “important” novel. I stumbled upon a source along this vein if you’re interested. The thing is, I wasn’t terribly interested in reading critically when I had to do it in grad school and am less interested now. I read for enjoyment. I want a story to grab me, incite my imagination and contain characters I love. This one – eh. It was okay. I couldn’t really relate to the narrator and wasn’t terribly interested in Gatsby or any of the other main characters. Of course, the academics would say that is the point, but I still think I should have cared about the narrator, for goodness sake.

The thing this book does contain are some great quotes and interesting references. It’s set in the “jazz age”; Fitzgerald supposedly created that name for the era. The jazz age started after The War To End All Wars Except It Didn’t So Much Turn Out That Way was over, and from what I’ve heard the jazz age was the precursor of the sixties. The US even had a cocaine problem during the jazz age. (Why does every generation think it invented sex, drugs and rock and roll?)

Quotes –
… as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over.
Trimalchio is a character in a Roman novel of the middle ages, Satyricon. He started with nothing and wound up with money and power and threw sumptuous dinner parties. Mini-tangent: see, this is the sign of a classically educated writer. Apparently, Fitzgerald just pulled Trimalchio out of the back of his brain and threw him in the story where he fit perfectly. I can't do that with writings from the middle ages but I can do it with pop music. Give me a situation, I’ll give you a song. I kinda wish I had been classically educated but when I was in school I wasn't terribly interested in the classics. I knew people taking Latin in high school and wondered why they would do that. In fact, I think I was supposed to read The Great Gatsby in high school. Oops.

… her artificial world was redolent of orchids and pleasant, cheerful snobbery and orchestras which set the rhythm of the year, summing up the sadness and suggestiveness of life in new tunes.
Fitzgerald wrote a narrator who disliked this sort of person yet this is the type of life Fitzgerald lived. That’s a bit sad.
… sparkling odor of jonquils and the frothy odor of hawthorn and plum blossoms and the pale gold odor of kiss-me-at-the-gate.
Had to see what a bouquet of these flowers would look like. 
There is also mention of the tea hour. So in the twenties Americans still took tea? When did that stop? When did we switch to coffee? I know coffee has more caffeine but it doesn’t taste nearly as good. I see so many people walk around now with a cup of coffee the way they used to walk around with a bottle of water and before that, a Coke. By the way, I used to think “tea” was simply tea, or what the Brits call a "cuppa." But in Britain, “tea” can also mean the evening meal.

The moral of The Great Gatsby seems to be that as hard as you try to escape your past, your past goes with you because it is a part of you.

The Great Gatsby has a great last line which also serves as the Fitzgeralds' epitaph.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Thirty-One - The Great Gatsby - Part One

So far, The Great Gatsby isn't. I suppose this is one of those books I must devote several hours in a row to before I become terribly interested. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

David Copperfield - The Movie

I went with the 1999 adaptation - it's wonderful. The casting is amazing. Maggie Smith is Aunt Betsey! One of the Davids is a very young Daniel Radcliffe. Bob Hoskins is Mr. Micawber and Imelda Staunton is his wife. The young man who plays adult David even manages to look like Dickens as an older man… perhaps because of the facial hair. Also, Ian McKellen is an incredibly nasty Creakle! Dawn French is hilarious as Mrs. Crupp. I wasn’t previously familiar with Pauline Quirke, who plays Peggotty, but she is marvelous in the role. The sweet relationship she has with David is quite evident in the film. Joanna Page plays Dora - I loved her in Gavin and Stacey!

It’s a BBC production and they always seem to get these things right. Raise your hand if you’ve watched the five hour Pride and Prejudice more than a dozen times. (Dude, Colin Firth coming out of the lake? I'm with Bridget Jones on that scene.)

They use the older David as narrator just like in the book. It's beautiful and haunting at the same time. And they kept/adapted the wonderful first line – “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, this story must show.” How great is that on the scale of great first lines?

It’s a very long book so of course much had to be cut even though it’s a three hour production. I could have done with more time in Switzerland but then I am in love with mountains. I would love to see the Alps! They did a seamless job of blending when they needed to blend and cutting out the minor characters. And in case you were wondering, Uriah Heep is marvelous!

There’s also a 20 minute feature – half of which is academics talking about the novel and Dickens and half about the filming of the movie. I enjoyed it, as well. 

Now, how does the book compare with the movie? Well, duh, I like the book better. Even though it’s a fine and faithful adaptation, it isn’t as good as the scenes I imagined as I read. How could anything ever been as good as imagination?

I really like the Books to Movies challenge so I plan to do more of these. (Plus I’m going for the steak knives.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Thirty - David Copperfield - Part Four

Nanny nanny boo boo, Dickens doesn’t like you -

A display of indifference to all the actions and passions of mankind was not supposed to be such a distinguished quality at that time, I think, as I have observed it to be considered since. I have known it very fashionable indeed. I have seen it displayed with such success, that I have encountered some fine ladies and gentlemen who might as well have been born caterpillars.
 Ooh, snap.

'… that what such people miscall their religion, is a vent for their bad humours and arrogance. In the meantime, sir,' said Mr. Chillip, 'they are much disliked; and as they are very free in consigning everybody who dislikes them to perdition, we really have a good deal of perdition going on in our neighbourhood! However, as Mrs. Chillip says, sir, they undergo a continual punishment; for they are turned inward, to feed upon their own hearts, and their own hearts are very bad feeding.'
Dickens is all about kindness.

Word pictures - 
I do not recall it, but see it done; for it happens again before me.
 Do you have some of those memories? Little snapshots or videos in your mind?

… I had considered how the things that never happen, are often as much realities to us, in their effects, as those that are accomplished.

In another, the ground was cumbered with rusty iron monsters of steam-boilers, wheels, cranks, pipes, furnaces, paddles, anchors, diving-bells, windmill-sails, and I know not what strange objects, accumulated by some speculator, and grovelling in the dust, underneath which—having sunk into the soil of their own weight in wet weather—they had the appearance of vainly trying to hide themselves.
 Can’t you picture these half-buried abandoned metal objects?
...a man must take the fat with the lean; that's what he must make up his mind to, in this life.
This has as much to do with Dickens’ message as anything. Sometimes life must be endured. Sometimes it will be joyous. Mostly it will just move along. What are you going to make of it? What are you going to do with the good times and the bad times and the in-between times? 
'And since I've took to general reading, you've took to general writing, eh, sir?' ...  'What a lovely work that was of yours! What expressions in it! I read it every word—every word. And as to feeling sleepy! Not at all!'

I laughingly expressed my satisfaction, but I must confess that I thought this association of ideas significant.
Charles, I totally love your sense of humor.
 ...when a man is drawing on to a time of life, where the two ends of life meet…
Lovely metaphor.

Mr. Dickens has a way with words -  
We talk about the tyranny of words, but we like to tyrannize over them too; we are fond of having a large superfluous establishment of words to wait upon us on great occasions; we think it looks important, and sounds well.
… if I may so Shakespearianly express myself...
…I had (and have all my life) observed that conventional phrases are a sort of fireworks, easily let off, and liable to take a great variety of shapes and colours not at all suggested by their original form.
Things that felt trite

First person narrative is tricky, I know. Dickens had to figure out a way for us to “see” all of the pertinent scenes. And at least once, this felt artificial. He needed a way for a character to tell her story but the scene doesn't ring true to me.

The poorest family is tremendously kind-hearted and the wealthiest is terribly selfish. Is Dickens trying to say that kind-hearted people surround themselves with other kind-hearted people; that kind-hearted parents rear kind-hearted children? Or is his meaning the “You reap what you sow” principle (these days perhaps more commonly known as “What goes around comes around”)? Because it isn’t true. Bad things happen to good people – have you ever known a child with cancer? Evil people frequently reap rewards.  Of course, money can’t buy peace of mind or kindness or happiness, and those are the real treasures. Dickens doesn’t come out and say this, but David comes to a sort of realization of this.

There was also a part at the end that felt gratuitous – as if it was thrown in only to make a social statement. But then, that’s what Dickens did. He had a voice in his time, and people listened.

Random thing that caught my attention -
It was such a strange scene to me, and so confined and dark, that, at first, I could make out hardly anything; but, by degrees, it cleared, as my eyes became more accustomed to the gloom, and I seemed to stand in a picture by Ostade.
 What are Ostade's paintings like? Here's an example -

Popular fiction

Currently, some people read Dickens because he’s a classic. When he was alive, some people did not read him because he was contemporary. What makes a classic? I don’t mean works that become part of the academic canon since politics plays such a large part in those decisions, but what is a classic? Is it merely a book we read years after the author died, or is there more to it? Is it a book that we read because it is popular? There are contemporary books that many people have read – I’m thinking Eat, Pray, Love, The Book Thief, or anything by Dan Brown. Will these books be classics in one hundred years? Is a classic a book that is popular? Is a classic a book that speaks to us on a level below the surface? A book with characters we care about? Is that why a classic survives the years?

I understand the appeal of Dickens during his lifetime – he wrote about the world as it was - and in this book, he describes the Swiss Alps to his readers!

Question: why did/do people from England move to Australia so frequently? Why not emigrate to Spain or Italy or France, which would be so much closer? Is it the language barrier? During Victorian times, Australia was still colonial, so I guess they got land allotments and things like that, maybe. And what’s the deal with the Commonwealth? I do not understand it. They’re independent but the Queen is their head of state even though they all have their own leaders… very confusing.

Charles I - 1649, right?!

Me: Mr. Dickens, if I may be so bold, I should like to say that this book rocked my world.

Dickens: If that is a compliment, Madam, I thank you.

Me: You got it, bro.  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Thirty - David Copperfield - Part Three

I finished the book last night and was completely drained. I laughed, I cried - toward the end, I mostly cried - and I loved it. Absolutely loved it. I have pages and pages of notes, most of which I won't be able to use because they're spoilerific - but I'll edit as I go and do a proper post soon.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Book Thirty - David Copperfield - Part Two (Officially)

In this novel as well as in Bleak House, a big deal is made of who will keep the household keys. What is the deal with keeping the keys? What is locked? The china? The silver? The pantry? Did they expect everyone in the household to steal?

Dickens has a way with description -

… said the Master, looking at another old woman in a large chair by the fire, who was such a bundle of clothes that I feel grateful to this hour for not having sat upon her by mistake.

All this, I say, is yesterday's event. Events of later date have floated from me to the shore where all forgotten things will reappear, but this stands like a high rock in the ocean.

A few of David’s brilliant observations – 

At a dinner party he meets a man he says is like Hamlet. The man’s aunt he names Hamlet’s aunt and says, “… Hamlet’s aunt had the family failing of indulging in soliloquy, and held forth in a desultory manner, by herself, on every topic that was introduced.”

This dinner party is made up of people who seem to me to be not quite aristocracy but desire to be; there is much talk of Blood with a capital B.  The only frame of reference I have for this is the Harry Potter books, and I suspect that JKR had these people in mind when she wrote of those who talk of the superiority of Purebloods. I don’t know if this sort of thing is exclusive to England; I suspect other countries with a tradition of divided social classes have this prejudice as well. I am not saying that in the U.S. we don’t have social classes, for we do, much as no one wants to discuss the matter. But due to our relative youth as a nation we don’t have the history of being born into a class, knowing your place and knowing you will never be anything other than what you were born. I’ve often wondered about the servants in Jane Austen’s books… if the Dashwood girls’ lives were so difficult after they moved into a cottage and they could only escape their relative poverty by marriage, what were the servants’ lives like? Could they “marry up?” The servant class is never addressed in Jane Austen and I understand that. Her goal was to write a novel that would sell, not a history book. Still, I always wonder about that.

Another example from David Copperfield –

It completely conveyed the idea of a man who had been born, not to say with a silver spoon, but with a scaling-ladder, and had gone on mounting all the heights of life one after another, until now he looked, from the top of the fortifications, with the eye of a philosopher and a patron, on the people down in the trenches.

General thoughts - 

… how kind and considerate [name removed to avoid spoiler] had always been to her, and how he had borne with her, and told her, when she doubted herself, that a loving heart was better and stronger than wisdom, and that he was a happy man in hers.

Something I have noticed from past experience: trying to be something you are not is unwise. It doesn’t work.

I don’t know how good a movie of this book could ever be – I’d miss all of the feelings we get from the first person narrative. You can see him cry in a movie perhaps, but the way he expresses the depth of his childhood emotions is magnificent.

'For stubbornness won't do here,' said his sister 'What it wants is, to be crushed. And crushed it must be.'

That’s the way – crush his spirit. Quell any hint of creativity or imagination or ambition. This is something I think we do too much of. We make children conform when they go to school – I know when you’re dealing with a room of 25 children there must be conformity to rules in terms of lining up to go to the bathroom and things like that but do we reward imagination? Do we really encourage children to think for themselves? Are we surprised that so many people are sheep when they’ve experienced nothing but being shepherded their entire lives?

Dickens was such a great observer of human nature… people think they are right, and do not change that opinion just because someone tells them they are wrong. Dickens is clear about who he thinks is right and wrong, but don’t most people do the best they can do with the tools they have at hand?

One family in the novel would fit right in today. They’d have bought an expensive home and filled it with big screen TVs and the latest iPhones – even though they couldn’t afford any of it. They live beyond their means because they don’t like their means. So they spend money and are happy for a moment - until the next time they are forced to think of their debts. The husband and wife in this case are perfect for each other; they hold out for something to turn up some day like Richard in Bleak House. They are always waiting for something good to appear out of thin air and actually convincing themselves that it will.Raise your hand if you knew the Mrs. of this pair was going to make her usual speech at David’s dinner party! That’s one reason I love her – she’s consistent. I cannot abide artificial people. You never know who they’re going to be from one day to the next. But with these people – you know. You always know.

The courts – 

The languid stillness of the place was only broken by the chirping of this fire and by the voice of one of the Doctors, who was wandering slowly through a perfect library of evidence, and stopping to put up, from time to time, at little roadside inns of argument on the journey.
Roadside inns of argument! Ah, I love this, Mr. Dickens.

The court scenes are similar to Bleak House in their description of the courts, particularly their absurdity and power (a dangerous combination).

Lawyer/proctor quotes –

We had an adjourned cause in the Consistory that day… and as the evidence was just twice the length of Robinson Crusoe, according to a calculation I made, it was rather late in the day before we finished.
I’m still trying to figure out the Victorian court system – it was a mess.

David’s desire to be loved – 

His dealings with boys/men older than him speak to his greatest longing. One person who shall remain nameless [spoiler avoidance] appropriately represents a universal experience. Haven't you had a friend you had doubts about? Maybe you weren’t sure this friend was truly sincere, but he (I prefer the generic “he” in most cases) was just so amiable and fun! Have you ever known anyone who seems to be at home no matter where he is? He can converse with kings and with the poorest fisherman equally and seems to appreciate both equally.

But later, when the two of you are alone, this friend begins to show that he is not all he seems. Maybe he secretly laughs at others, telling his true feelings only to you. Maybe he has a mean streak. And maybe someone else warns you of this person’s underlying insincerity but you keep hoping it isn't so - even though when you examine your heart, you know the truth. Certain people seem to have a power, a gravitation pull, which draws others toward them. Obviously, not everyone with a powerful personality is secretly selfish and careless with the affections of others, but the ones who are tend to be very dangerous indeed. Dickens does a wonderful job with the first person narration on this account. David writes about his youth from the perspective of age yet he does not make excuses for his behavior. 

There are examples of bullying in the book. Lots of attention is paid these days to bullying, but haven’t we all been bullied? Aren’t there people we’ve known at work or school or church – in some setting in which we cannot easily get away from them - who are bullies? These are the people who rarely have a nice thing to say, who won’t abide an opinion other than their own – in short, people who think only of themselves. Like David, we are frequently torn between acting properly (we would call it being “nice”) and not allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of. As David ages he does a better job of balancing the two, and I think we can all relate to this. There are times when I have difficulty with the balance between being “nice” and not being bulldozed. Selfish people are ruthless in their quest to do only what they please. They are difficult to deal with under the best of circumstances.

Nankeen, it turns out, is a fabric. (This will make sense if you've read the book. Seriously.)
Miscellany -

A game called skittles is mentioned. According to Wikipedia, “Skittles is an old European lawn game, a variety of bowling, from which ten-pin bowling... [is] descended.”

Dumbledore likes ten pin bowling! (It turns out that "ten pin bowling" is what we simply call bowling in the U.S.)

“In Steve Kluger's Last Days of Summer, Charlie Banks, the star third baseman for the pre-war New York Giants baseball team, gives Joseph Margolis, the then-twelve-year-old narrator, sage counsel on life and literature, since, as he tells him, "me being your hero and all, it's only fair if I give you one piece of advice." That advice involves the "writer Chas. Dickens," whom the baseball player admires for two reasons — first of all, he says what he means and second, he creates a protagonist with bravery and self-control.”

Last Days of Summer is excellent! My book club read it a couple of years ago and I found Steve Kluger’s website and emailed him. He replied and gave me a couple of morsels about characters in the book that I shared with my book club! You can find the book at Amazon  if you’re interested.

Needless to say, I am LOVING David Copperfield. It provides such good thinking material! I'm currently a little more than halfway through. Dickens is amazing in this one, that's for sure. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Book Thirty - David Copperfield - Part 9 3/4

Can you imagine Dickens getting drunk!? He certainly wrote a realistic "dissipation" scene! (That word reminds me of Darcy's letter to Elizabeth - when describing Wickham he says Wickham's life was one of "idleness and dissipation.")

We should totally bring back the word dissipation.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Book Thirty - David Copperfield - Part 1.5

Just taking time to say how much I LOVE Aunt Betsey and Mr. Dick and I do not trust Uriah Heep!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Thirty - David Copperfield - Part One

I am loving this book! I was hooked from the start and am enjoying it immensely. Perhaps the first person point of view lends intimacy and perhaps David is simply an amazing character, or perhaps both are true. A couple of wonderfully witty quotes -
...and he had a white neck-kerchief on, that was not over-clean
It was Miss Murdstone who was arrived, and a gloomy-looking lady she was; dark, like her brother, whom she greatly resembled in face and voice; and with very heavy eyebrows, nearly meeting over her large nose, as if, being disabled by the wrongs of her sex from wearing whiskers, she had carried them to that account.
When someone dies and when [a character who shall remain nameless to avoid spoilers] is given the news, it is told in a most indirect way. It reminds me of that joke about the cat being on the roof -- 

A man goes out of town and asks his friend to check on his cat while he's away. When he calls his friend after a couple of days the friend says, “Your cat died.”

“How could you be so cruel?” he asks. “Did you have to say it so bluntly?”

“How else would I have said it?” his friend asks.

“Well, you could have told me that the cat is on the roof. Next time I called, you could have said that the fire department came out but even they weren’t able to get the cat down from the roof. After another call you could have said that my cat died. It would have been less of a shock that way.”

The last day of his vacation, the man calls his friend to ask how everything is going. His friend says, “Your mother is on the roof.”

The indirect way was the acceptable manner in Victorian times - though Dickens obviously disapproves of unwavering stoicism. But does the rejection of stoicism lead to wimpiness? Just how much emotion is acceptable? The person described in the next quote is a monster –

I do not doubt that she had a choice pleasure in exhibiting what she called her self-command, and her firmness, and her strength of mind, and her common sense, and the whole diabolical catalogue of her unamiable qualities, on such an occasion.
Dickens illustrates that etiquette for its own sake is folly. This woman’s strict adherence to etiquette leads to rigidity, which leads to suppression of emotion, which leads to unkindness. How can unkindness be considered proper? Isn’t the purpose of manners to enable others to feel comfortable?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Book Twenty-Nine - Love In The Time Of Cholera

Gabriel García Márquez
Love In The Time Of Cholera is about pride - and about prejudice. I underestimated this book, I think because I didn't trust where Marquez was taking me. The last hundred pages flew by. Before that it was simply a discussion of life and love. I see now that Marquez presented clues in all those pages... he told me that one character is desperate without saying he was so. Marquez said it through narrative rather than dialogue, but I got the message. The title is so poignant!

One thing I am continually grateful for is that I was born in an era when women have choices. We no longer live in a time in which we must marry before twenty-two or face the rest of our lives as old maids destined to live with a sibling and his/her family. We can marry yet not lose our identities like the widows of this book who wanted to die when their husbands died because they never had an identity of their own and suddenly were left without the only selves they had known for most of their lives - half of a couple. 
For women there were only two ages: the age for marrying, which did not go past twenty-two, and the age for being eternal spinsters: the ones left behind. The others, the married women, the mothers, the widows, the grandmothers, were a race apart who tallied their age not in relation to the number of years they had lived but in relation to the time left to them before they died.
And woe be unto the widow or widower who wants to remarry! I'm not sure how old you have to be to realize that love has no age limit. It seems that when we're young we cannot imagine anyone over the age of ____ (fill in the blank with whatever age seems old to you right now; that age tends to increase in proportion to your own age) being in love, wanting companionship and/or possibly enjoying a physical relationship.

How do you make love last? How do you get over a lost love? This book discusses so many things - the history of Columbia, deforestation, double standards, business relations, making a "good" match, religion, ceremony, and mostly, life and love.

The calendar provided inspiration for me to finish this one - I want to start David Copperfield for the Two Bibliomaniacs books to movies challenge. Good old Dickens - at least I know what to expect with him. I know that I shall meet a character who is saintly against all odds, bless him.

P.S. In between reading sessions of this book I listened to the audio book of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. It was brilliant!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cholera Schmolera

Reading this book is such a chore! I’m determined to finish it because I don’t hate it  - but I'm definitely not a fan. It’s all narrative - sentences, paragraphs, pages of narrative with a little bit of oh-by-the-way you know that doll you put on your bed? It’s, like, growing and stuff. Seriously, dude, the dress is getting shorter and it’s not because it shrank in the wash.

There are some gems hidden amongst the thorns. A mother cares for her sick son and discovers that he is lovesick – “The symptoms of love were the same as those of cholera.” Um, all righty then.

So – is this book supposed to be one big metaphor? I don’t know. It feels like work reading it, but when I do get into reading I can continue for some time. But the lack of desire to pick the book back up means I’ve still only read 131 pages!

I've been doing... other stuff. I watched the BBC's Cranford and smiled when a rather stodgy character distastefully remarked that Dickens is "popular fiction." Isn't it odd that some people assume anything widely appreciated has no intrinsic merit?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Book Twenty-Nine - Love In The Time Of Cholera - Part One

Thus far, this book is frustrating. It’s 95% back-story and there are so many characters that I can’t keep up. I just spent 42 pages reading about someone who then exits stage left. Seriously? I’m guessing the characters are introduced and then Marquez goes back in time and we learn about what they did after we learn what became of them.

Cholera is transmitted in two ways: unhygienic conditions or contaminated shellfish (particularly raw oysters). Marquez is Columbian and the book’s setting is somewhere in the Caribbean, so it may have been the Columbian coast. I suppose we shall learn how this early character helped stop a cholera epidemic there.

Of course, a new character has just been introduced – I had to look back to see if I’d heard of him before and I had not. So I’m not sure what that’s about.

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