Stuff and Nonsense: classic fiction

Showing posts with label classic fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label classic fiction. Show all posts


The Mayor Casterbridge: Thoughts on the First Half

I’ve been reading (and listening) to Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. It began as a grudging I-said-I’d-read-this-in-2015 assignment, but quickly began to enjoy it ... which really should come as no surprise considering how much I’d enjoyed reading Far From the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

However, there is still Under the Greenwood Tree. There will always be Under the Greenwood Tree. It can happily join Dickens’ Bleak House as “literary works I know I’d really enjoy if I could just get into them, but can’t ever seem to get into.” (Which is strange, because I’ve enjoyed multiple film adaptations of the two and, usually, a decent film adaptation can help me slide into even the most obfusticating novel).

Anyway! The Mayor of Casterbridge is just all sorts of yumminess! It’s set in the southwest of England on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution so there’s lots of conflict between preindustrial methods/thinking and industrialized ones. Henchard, our “Man of Character,” having sold his wife and child, has pulled himself up by his bootstraps and turned himself a model of success in his country town – even rising so far as mayor. But Henchard can’t stay long in that sweet spot -- change is coming in the return of his family and the arrival of a stranger whom he will both love and despise.

I’m only up through Chapter XXIII -- Lucetta accidentally meets Farfrae ("fair, fresh, and slenderly handsome") while expecting Henchard -- but there’s no doubt I am one hundred percent emotionally invested in The Mayor of Casterbridge. It’s such a soap opera! And Henchard may be the protagonist, but I do not find him a very sympathetic one. He clings too much to old methods and refuses to change his mind, because ... I think he finds it all very threatening? He was a nobody who became a Somebody and now that’s all endangered because of new-fangled ideas put forth by a smooth-talking Scot and he doesn’t know how to go along with the new ideas?

And Henchard could have my sympathy for that -- we’re all dinosaurs in some way -- but his treatment of the women in his life is indefensible. Yes, the trouble all began years back when, in a fit of drunkenness, Henchard finally did what he’d (equally drunkenly) threatened to do before and sold his wife, Susan, and daughter, Elizabeth Jane, to another man. So he can blame demon rum for that first act. But everything that follows ... Henchard’s stone-sober for all that.

However. I have another twelve chapters to go. It’s possible the man might improve? I certainly would like Elizabeth Jane to find some lasting happiness and I’m not sure she’ll find that again with her father or even with Donald Farfrae. I’m not convinced Farfrae feels any particular tendre for Elizabeth Jane. Oh, there’s definitely a sympathy of spirit and he finds her "so pleasing, thrifty, and satisfactory in every way" BUT I still don’t know that would be enough if she weren’t the mayor’s (his ex-friend) daughter. Lucetta is a mature woman of property and Farfrae is a practical man. If Lucetta wants him, she’ll certainly get him.

I’m not blaming Lucetta for setting her cap at Farfrae and “stealing” him away from Elizabeth Jane, either. Her past intimacy with Henchard just about ruined her socially and now she has a chance to recreate herself. Henchard could be the man she settles for, but he’s doing a bad job of wooing so far ... probably because he doesn’t realize he needs to make woo.

Henchard! I’d be much further along with The Mayor of Casterbridge if I didn’t keep putting the novel down to facepalm over Henchard.

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (Harper & Brothers, 1895)

The Mayor of Casterbridge written by Thomas Hardy & read by Simon Vance (Tantor Media, 2010)


Silas Marner, Part Two: Chapters XVI - Conclusion

Sixteen years have passed since Silas Marner found a golden-haired child at his hearthside. He is very much a different man from the one who tore into the Rainbow, desperate for the return of his gold. And Eppie? All grown up now and quite beautiful in all the ways that matter most. Twice Eppie's biological father has suggested to his childless wife that they adopt a her, and twice his wife has refused his whim, ignorant there is a particular reason to want Eppie.

But then the squire's shiftless son, missing all these years, is found! Or, rather his body is found, and there can be no doubt it was he who had stolen Silas' money. Eppie's father, finally accepting that secrets will out, tells his wife about his prior marriage and unrecognized daughter. Together, they approach Silas and Eppie about adopting the girl and securing her a better future than Silas ever could. But Eppie, darling Eppie, refuses. She will not leave her dad or the life she has always known. The wealthy-and-socially-well-placed-but-childless couple try to sway her, but are rebuffed and withdraw. And then Eppie marries her own true love in a quiet country wedding and everyone that matters lives happily ever after! Amen.

I have to say that, having read Silas Marner alongside two Charlotte Bronte novels, I find Eliot's blend of Realism and Romanticism quite refreshing. Bronte's writing can become quite overwrought and impenetrable when she touches on religion and Eliot, while she seems to share many of the same opinions, manages to make her points more clearly and, perhaps, more kindly. (I say that having read all of one Eliot novel -- I understand I may be very very wrong about her).

Silas Marner is my second selection for the 2015 Back to the Classics and No Book Buying reading challenges. I claim it as "A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title" for Back to the Classics.

Silas Marner by George Eliot (Harper & Row, 1965)


Silas Marner, Part One: Chapters I - XV

Silas Marner is my second selection for the 2015 Back to the Classics and No Book Buying reading challenges. I claim it as "A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title" for Back to the Classics. I've never read an Eliot before and the challenge(s) seemed like a good incentive. My copy is actually my mom's, but I liberated it from the old homestead manymany years ago with intent to read it, but "so many books, so little time" &etc.

I'm dividing my "review" of the book into two parts, just as the book itself is divided in two simply because I've been reading a lot English literature from this time period and am trying to pace myself -- rather than overdose on it and go off it when there is still so much to read.

So, Silas Marner was an honest, if exceedingly naive, man of faith who has his life destroyed by the wretched machinations of his best friend, William, who persuades the rest of the congregation that Silas stole money from the church. Not only does the church turn against Silas, taking away his spiritual home, but his beloved takes up with traitorous William. Fickle, fickle love! Embittered and depressed, Silas takes himself off to the countryside where he ends up working as a linen weaver in a small village. His neighbors find him strange, if not downright suspicious, and his lack of sociability keeps him on the outskirts of society. Where Silas seems happy to be. Betrayed by kith and kirk as he has been, why should he trust or love anything else again? Better to put all his adoration and faith in the gold coins he keeps buried under some loose floor bricks.

Alas, the local squire has a shiftless and unscrupulous son who, seizing an opportunity, robs Silas of his gold. Silas is despondent and, for the first time, willfully throws himself into village society in an attempt to get his gold back. Certainly, his neighbors are interested in his disaster, but no-one seems capable of doing anything about it. Folk are torn -- was the money taken by a tramp, as some say, or was the gold taken away by whatever diabolical powers Silas consorts with?

So, no gold for Silas! But, you know, some sympathy from the neighbors is no small thing when you're a weird, myopic outlander in a small, completely self-centered English village. And then Heaven brings Silas a new source of gold in the form of a small motherless child.

You see, the local squire has another son who made a bad match by marrying an opium addict. He's kept the marriage secret and been bribing his wife to stay away, but now she's come for her reckoning. "Happily," she dies of hypothermia (and/or overdoses) practically on Silas' doorstep and the squire's son is now free to marry the Right Sort Of Girl and make totally legitimate babies with her. He's pretty sure he should do something for the child Silas has taken in, but not right now ...

Meanwhile, Silas is totally enamored with this small child who reminds him so much of his dead sister and, under the gentle tutelage of his new friend, Mrs Winthrop, he sets out to raise Eppie up as a proper village girl, rooting himself even more deeply in the village and slowly becoming One Of Us.

Have to say I am really impressed by Eliot's story-telling abilities. She creates a universe in a village, fills it with ordinary people, and makes all it seem both perfectly real and important. It's impossible not to wince as Dunsey so easily spots Silas' "carefully camouflaged" hidey-hole or mourn with lonely Silas over the loss of the one thing that gave his life not necessarily joy, but purpose. No character in this book is flawless or heroic and yet there is basic human goodness found in all of them. Well, except William, Dunsey, and Molly. It was a little disappointing that William and Dunsey, responsible for such wickedness, should pass so easily from the story without ever coming to account. And that Molly should be so one-dimensional when even the old parish clerk gets a full fleshing, well, that seemed unfair. All very moral, though.

In raising Eppie, Silas grows away from the lonely, untrusting man experience has rendered him. Slowly he opens his heart and becomes reconciled with his past. All the ways he could have become a sorrier or more wretched creature are neatly sidestepped by his love for this small child and, more wonderful to him, her complete unquestioning love of him. Don't usually see father-daughter relationships portrayed with this kind of sympathy or fineness in novels like this, so it's quite charming to see.

And, "Eppie in de toal hole!" What a scene! Mrs Winthrop has gently suggested Eppie needs some disciplining lest she grow too wild and Silas cannot bring himself to do the usual thing, like strike her, so tries Mrs Winthop's other suggestion, which is to lock her in the coal hole. Of course, he's made wretched over the whole thing and lets Eppie out at her first cry ... only to later find her popping in an out of the coal hole as if it is a new game. Poor Silas! To have gone from a young man of place and some prospects, to unloved outcast, to father of this little minx! And Eliot has written the scene so clearly that it is like watching a scene unwind in a film -- the small child craftily acquiring the forbidden scissors, the escape, the desperate search, the relief at finding the child, the grief at punishing her, her cheerful inability to be punished.

Reading historical fiction always makes me want to Know All The Things, so here's a few videos about how flax would have been turned into linen way back when:

Silas Marner by George Eliot (Harper & Row, 1965)


Shirley: The End

A double wedding! Isn't that what I wanted for Caroline and Shirley and yet ... frankly, their weddings leave me feeling dirty. Caroline and Robert have come to their marriage seemingly as equals, both having been tempered by time and experience, but since so much of that suffering could have been avoided altogether by just talking to each other (I know, Shirley isn't that kind of novel), it's a bit frustrating.

What follows is a bit disjointed as I am full of FEELS and insufficient amounts of literary criticism to support them:

Shirley and Louis have a real master-servant relationship going that squicks me out. It's what Shirley wants, she says. But she fell in love with him as a school girl and he her teacher and the whole "new" master-dog relationship smacks of a return to that juvenile state.

I just find it rather confusing, because Bronte has set Shirley up as a sort-of model for the equality of women. She is wealthy and independent, free to dispose of her property however she pleases, and marry or not marry as she desires. But then, of course she will chuck that equality straight out the window when she gets married, because she's a woman and everything she owns becomes her husband's under law. So, I can see why Shirley wants to marry a strong man (if marry she feels she must -- and she's no Carolyn, so necessarily bound for "natural state of marriage") who will challenge her, but I don't quite see why she wants a "master."
Tartar looked, slavered, and sighed, as his manner was, but yet disregarded the invitation, and coolly settled himself on his haunches at Louis Moore's side. That gentleman drew the dog's big, black-muzzled head on to his knee, patted him, and smiled one little smile to himself.

An acute observer might have remarked, in the course of the same evening, that after Tartar had resumed his allegiance to Shirley, and was once more couched near her footstool, the audacious tutor by one word and gesture fascinated him again. He pricked up his ears at the word; he started erect at the gesture, and came, with head lovingly depressed, to receive the expected caress. As it was given, the significant smile again rippled across Moore's quiet face.
Mind you, I'd been suspicious of the whole Shirley-Louis Thing since the above scene where Louis mastered Tartar -- his smiles so clearly smacked of foreboding. Shirley was proud beast to tame and Louis brought her to sit quietly at his side just as he did with Tartar. Maybe if Shirley hadn't delayed the wedding date for months or chafed at the bars of her matrimonial cage, but Bronte tells us that is exactly what she does and so it's hard to believe Shirley is truly happy with her choice. And I want everyone to be happy.


I am very dissatisfied with the romantic wrap-up.

(IDK, Charlotte Bronte, but a lot of your romantic heroes seem like dicks and I have a hard time buying into the relationships you're peddling. Even Rochester, obsessive crush of my youth, is not a dude I'd recommend to any of my friends).

Anyway ...Shirley was my first selection for the 2015 Victorian Bingo, Back to the Classics, and No Book Buying reading challenges. I claim it as a 19th Century classic for Back to the Classics and "name as a title" for Victorian Bingo.

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte (Penguin Classics, 2012)


Shirley: Two-Thirds Through

Set in Yorkshire toward the end of the Napoleonic Wars, when the Luddites rioted over the mechanization of mills and the mill owners suffered from the collapse of cloth exports. In spite of all this, the half-Belgian Robert Gerard Moore rents an empty mill and proceeds to introduce the latest "labor-saving machinery" -- much to the ire of the local poor who, after being stirred up by out-of-area agitators, attempt to destroy his work.

Certain inventions in machinery were introduced into the staple manufacturers of the north, which, greatly reducing the numbers of hands necessary to be employed, threw thousands out of work, and left them without legitimate means of sustaining life ... Misery generates hate; these sufferers hated the machines which they believed took their bread from them; they hated the buildings which contained those machines; they hated the manufacturers who owned those buildings.

Meanwhile, Moore's young cousin, Caroline Helstone, is in love with him ... but she senses that affection is not returned. And how could it be, she asks herself? She, the penniless niece of a country rector would be no great match for a mill owner desperately in need of capital. Better he should marry Shirley Keeldar, a wealthy and independent heiress very used to being the master of her own destiny. Better Caroline should quietly creep away and become a governess. (If only the governess she knows would stop telling her what a terrible idea that is!)

Take the matter as you find it: ask no questions, utter no remonstrances; it is your best wisdom. You expected bread, and you have got a stone: break your teeth on it, and don't shriek because the nerves are martyrized; do not doubt that your mental stomach—if you have such a thing—is strong as an ostrich's; the stone will digest. You held out your hand for an egg, and fate put into it a scorpion. Show no consternation: close your fingers firmly upon the gift; let it sting through your palm. Never mind; in time, after your hand and arm have swelled and quivered long with torture, the squeezed scorpion will die, and you will have learned the great lesson how to endure without a sob.

Add in dozens of secondary characters, subplots, and (possibly unnecessary) plot twists and you end up with a novel dense as a plum pudding (as Doris Lessing might say). And yet, dense as it is, I also found it wickedly compelling. This is probably not surprising as I love just about any novel that wants to discuss industrialization's impact on labor, the Napoleonic Wars, the social and economic plight of unmarried/unmarriageable women, and the institutionalization of poverty in 1800s England. And it has two unmarried women remaining good friends even though there's a totally marriageable man (kinda-sorta) standing between them.

I feel that I should warn prospective readers that Shirley is a decidedly different book from Jane Eyre and, if you approach it expecting to feel about it as you might feel about Jane Eyre, you are going to be disappointed. Even though I was forewarned and attempted to start Shirley with no Jane Eyre-influenced bias, I found the first few chapters hard going -- who cares about grasping, self-important curates and their dinner habits? But then I realized Caroline was a completely estimable heroine and quite fell in with the story.

Despite her seemingly gentle demeanor, Caroline's private thoughts are actually quite unconventional and satirical. As she grows into womanhood and realizes that marriage may not be in her future, she strives to embrace the mindlessly feminine tasks that are to make up her life ... while also clearly chaffing against them. Why, Caroline wonders, can't she be a useful spinster? Rather than some kind of genteel placeholder, sewing clothes for the Jew's basket and making visits until she dies? She's self aware enough to know her position is untenable, but she lacks the freedom or power to change it. (And I suspect her situation would have resonated with many a female reader of the day).

At heart, he could not abide sense in women: he liked to see them as silly, as light-headed, as vain, as open to ridicule as possible; because they were then in reality what he held them to be, and wished them to be,--inferior: toys to play with, to amuse a vacant hour and to be thrown away.

And then there's Shirley! A young woman of wealth, beauty, and breeding who cares little for traditional feminine tasks and enjoys referring to herself (and acting as) Captain Shirley Keeldar, Esquire! Is it any wonder she and Caroline should be great friends? Even though Caroline fully expects Shirley to marry Robert and lives daily with that heartache? But does she begrudge Shirley her beauty or wealth or love? No, because (and unlike the other unmarried ladies of her neighborhood) Caroline is not a husband-hunter who schemes, plots, and dresses to ensnare a husband. (Granted, I would really have liked Caroline and Shirley to talk about the elephant/man in the room and hashed everything out, but Shirley isn't that kind of novel).

If men could see us as we really are, they would be a little amazed; but the cleverest, the acutest men are often under an illusion about women: they do not read them in a true light: they misapprehend them, both for good and evil: their good woman is a queer thing, half doll, half angel; their bad woman almost always a fiend.

Anyway, I've still a third of the novel to get through and I have guarded hopes that Caroline and Shirley will somehow manage to make marriages of equals and turn Moore's impoverished mill into a worker's utopia.

Shirley is my first selection for the 2015 Victorian Bingo, Back to the Classics, and No Book Buying reading challenges. I claim it as a 19th Century classic for Back to the Classics and "name as a title" for Victorian Bingo.

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte (Penguin Classics, 2012)



Our gods are here below, with us, in the Bureau, in the kitchen, in the toilet. The gods have become like us -- ergo, we've become like gods. And we're headed your way, my unknown planetary readers, we're coming to make your life divinely rational and precise, like ours.

Imagine OneState, a city-state made of glass isolated from the disorderly and primitive natural world by the Green Wall. The happy (but never free) inhabitants of OneState, named by number, live and work in utter transparency according to the strict schedule laid out by The Table of Hours. Other than the masses of numbers, the citizenry consists of the Guardians who police and the Benefactor who rules. Unless the are sick, every member of OneState is a happy and productive -- "one body with a million hands."

Imagine D-503, builder of the spaceship the Integral, designed to spread the "mathematically infallible happiness" of OneState throughout the universe. He's no dreamer, no revolutionary. Just an utterly orthodox cog in OneState's machine ... until he meets his very own manic pixie dream girl revolutionary, I-330, and develops a soul.

I spent most of my time reading We feeling vaguely annoyed by D-503. The novel is told entirely from his point-of-view and his orthodoxy becomes frustrating as the story progresses -- he seems like a child clinging to a fairy story -- and his abrupt love/obsession with I-330 seems so out of character as to be unbelievable.

But, really, I wanted to know more about I-330 and O-90. What do the women do away from D-503? Outside of sexual encounters during Personal Hours, D-503 doesn't seem to interact with women so I, the reader, don't know where the female citizens of OneState fit. I-330 is a mystery and what she does when she isn't being mysterious or sexually manipulative isn't shown. Aside from (probably) being in love with D-503 and illegally conceiving his child, I know nothing of 0-90.

My feelings of annoyance toward D-503 weren't improved any when he said things like this:

All women are lips, nothing but lips. Some are pink, supple, round -- a ring, a tender shield against the whole world. And then these: A second ago they didn't exist, and now suddenly, made by a knife, the sweet blood still dripping ...

Listen, D-503, both your sex partners -- Pink Supple Lips and Lips Like A Knife -- are revolutionaries willing to die for their particular causes and writing this kind of stuff about them just makes you sound completely unworthy of them.

Also, why did D-503 have to constantly mention R-13's African lips? It feels grossly offensive, but the book was written in 1921 so, yay, for casual racism? I actually thought, in the beginning, that Zamyatin's intention was to keep referencing the bestial in D-503 and R-13 because the bestial people on the other side of the Green Wall represented the utopia the revolutionaries strove for. So, maybe, African lips were a good thing? But then R-13 doesn't survive the revolution. And there's this:

R-13 had suddenly jumped on the bench that was above me, to the left; he was red, spitting with rage. He was carrying I-330 in his arms. She was pale, her yuny ripped open from her shoulders to her breast, blood showing on the white part. She had her arms round his neck and he was jumping from bench to bench in huge leaps, repulsive and agile as a gorilla, and carrying her toward the top.

Product of its time, blah, blah, blah. Ugh.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin w/ trans. by Clarence Brown (Penguin Books, 1993)


Top 10 Tuesday: Classics I Want to Read

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, I'm talking about the ten queer classics I most mean to read, plus a few "more mainstream" classics for diversity's sake. I read a lot of queer lit in college, but as I aged I seemed to grow away from it and, aside from big names like Alison Bechdel and Sarah Waters, don't read nearly as much.

I guess I could see that as a "good" thing -- I took what I needed from queer lit and moved on, as I have moved on with other genres (genre is not the right word and, hopefully, you know what I mean) -- but sometimes I think I simply allowed myself to be carried along by the tide of "mainstream" lit because it still feels easier for me, even in 2014, to talk or write about mainstream lit.

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen
England between the world wars. A sixteen-year-old orphan moves to London to live with her half-brother and falls in love her sister-in-law's friend.

Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule
1960s Nevada. An English Professor arrives in Reno to establish a six-week residency necessary in order to obtain a divorce and falls in love with a change operator at a local casino.

Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins
1870s England. "Simple" girl falls for a fortune hunter and becomes a victim of terrible cruelty and neglect. Fictionalized account of a real murder.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
1930s England. Journal of teenager recounting her life as part of a genteel-but-impoverished English family living in a decaying castle. (Am I the only person who hasn't read this book?).

Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet
1940s France. A prisoner recounts the story of Divine, a drag queen with an interesting assortment of friends, including a murderer. The author was in prison when he wrote the story so there is speculation he is the narrator.

Patience and Sarah by Alma Routsong
1800s New England. Two Connecticut women, one wealthy and the other decidedly not, fall in love, muck things up, and then set up house together in a "Boston marriage."

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
1890s England. Man sells his soul so that the beautiful portrait of him will age and fade while he does not. Man then mucks up relationship with the woman who loves him and enters a downward spiral of vice.

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
1960s-1980s New York. A Jewish girl with gender identity issues finds her home life more and more stifling, ultimately running away to Buffalo … and then on to New York. I've owned a copy of this novel for a few years now and I've really wanted to read it, but it strikes me as the kind of book I would need to block a weekend out to read and then recover from.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith
1900s New York. Coming-of-age story of the daughter of poor immigrants. (Again, am I the only person who hasn't read this book? I've avoided reading it for fear it will be excessively sentimental).

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
1850s England. Murder, intrigue, madness, mistaken identity, white mice, and bonbons. Who could resist?


The Home-Maker

She was scrubbing furiously at a line of grease spots which led from the stove towards the door to the dining-room.

See the Knapp Family. See Mrs. Knapp, Evangeline, such a perfect home-maker with her well-scrubbed floors and punctual suppers. See her three (mostly) well-scrubbed and (mostly) obedient children. See Mr. Knapp, Lester, manfully supporting his family. See their unconscious resentment. See their misery. See their desperation.

But. Lester loses his job and is then terribly injured in a house fire. So much so that everyone thinks he will die. And won't that be so awful for poor Mrs. Knapp and all the little Knapps? A terrible thing, to be a widow with young children! Who will take care of them? Surely, they'll have to get by on charity?

But. Lester lives. May never walk again, but still alive. Evangeline, seeing that ends must be met, goes to work at his old establishment. She takes to it like, well, a house on fire and is quickly proven indispensable.

Meanwhile, Lester takes on the housework. From library books he learns to cook and darn and the children help with what housekeeping they can manage.

Everyone is happier than they've been in years. The children blossom, Evangeline's eczema clears up, and Lester's heart is full of poetry. But it can't last, you know. A man must work to support his family. A mother must tend her hearth. Children should be seen and not heard.

And why? Tradition. Social norms. Whatever you want to call the patriarchal heteronormative whangdoodle society still runs by.

The Home-Maker is simply fabulous, darlings. A brilliant consideration of how women and men may live, share responsibilities, and raise children in a way that opens up their hearts and frees their spirits. If, reading this novel in 2013, it can still inspire in me such a desire for revolution then I can only imagine what fire it would have lit in 1924. Certainly, we've come far since the publication of The Home-Maker, but we're still a long way from domestic utopia.

Please note that Canfield isn't saying a man should stay home and a woman should work. There are two more-traditionally arranged families featured in The Home-Maker and they function well because it so happens all parties are doing the work they enjoy in a manner that suits them. Tradition works for some, but it shouldn't be the yoke that burdens all.
Mattie turned, saw what he was doing, and pounced on him with shocked, peremptory benevolence. 'Oh, Lester, let me do that! The idea of your darning stockings! It's dreadful enough your having to do the housework!'

'Eva darned them a good many years,' he said, with some warmth, 'and did the housework. Why shouldn't I?' He looked at her hard and went on, 'Do you know what you are saying to me, Mattie Farnham? You are telling me that you really think that home-making is a poor, mean, cheap job beneath the dignity of anybody who can do anything else.'

Mattie Farnham was for a moment helpless with shock over his attack. When she slowly rose to comprehension of what he had said she shouted indignantly, 'Lester Knapp, how care you say such a thing! I never dreamed of having such an awful idea.' She brought out a formula again, but this time with heartfelt personal conviction. 'Home-making is the noblest work anybody can do!'

'Why pity me then?' asked Lester with a grin, drawing his needle in and out of the little stocking.

'Well, but ...' she said breathlessly, and was silent.

The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (Harcourt Brace, 1924)


Now, Voyager

"Oh, well, naturally I've read a few novels. I confess to have a slight book-knowledge about the facts of life. And then, too," she went on, her self-derision crescendoing, "there are broad plays and musical shows and moving pictures for giving information to inexperienced but curious spinsters like me."

Until a few weeks ago, I was completely unaware the film Now, Voyager was based on a novel of the same name. But, it is and, oh my, what a read! Admittedly, it took a little while for Prouty's Charlotte Vale to firmly overwrite Bette Davis' in my head, but once that happened I was completely sold on the novel.

Here we have Charlotte, "the child of her mother's old age," who has been raised to believe she is unattractive and undesirable. Ruthlessly dominated by her mother, mocked and teased by younger, prettier family members ... is it any wonder she has a breakdown? But the breakdown turns out to be a good thing as Charlotte gets the psychological help she so desperately needs. Add a makeover, a new wardrobe, a trip to Europe, and a brief love affair with a married man and, well, here's a woman transformed.

And, I know, the whole-ugly-nobody-gets-a-makeover-and-becomes-a-real-woman schtick has been done to death, but Now, Voyager is no fluffy bit of nonsense. Charlotte finds the strength to chart her own course, choosing independence and self-awareness over the traditional female roles expected of her. I mean, for the 1930s, this is quite a radical work! Marriage is not necessary for happiness, men are ultimately dispensable, and a mother is the one who loves you.

Now, Voyager is the third in a series of five novels Prouty wrote about the Vale family. My library system only owns one other book in the series, Fabia, which is about Charlotte's young niece -- a girl with a knack for loving the wrong men. I'd much rather read more about Tina, but Prouty doesn't seem to have carried her story any further than Now, Voyager.

Now, Voyager by Olive Higgins Prouty (Sun Dial Press, 1943)


Someone at a Distance

The sight of other people’s happiness irritated her. Happy people were so boring. It was unintelligent to be happy, Louise considered.

Happily married Ellen and Avery North lead a charmed in the English countryside. Handsome Avery is a partner in a London publishing house and commutes into the city daily while Ellen, a truly happy housewife, putters about the gardens in her gumboots and oversees the maids. Their fine son, Hugh, is away serving compulsory service in the Army while their daughter, the merry Anne, is at boarding school and very much in love with her horse, Roma. Altogether, they make the perfect portrait of a happy family. The only flaw in the picture is Avery's widowed mother, the querulous Old Mrs. North.

Feeling she's not getting enough attention from her family, Old Mrs. North advertises for a companion and is charmed by a young French woman, Louise Lanier. Beautiful Louise longs for position, loves elegant things, and is recovering (albeit badly) from a failed love affair with the youngest son of local gentry. Louise is furious with Paul for leaving her to marry an insipid little creature of better breeding and she longs to hurt them both. Meanwhile, she turns her desire to hurt on the Norths. Not, I think, deliberately at first but more like in the way a bored house cat will seek a little mischief. However, Louise doesn't seem to know when to stop or, perhaps, doesn't want to stop and things go too far. For a time, she utterly destroys the North's happiness and she certainly ruins any chance of ever being happy in her own right.

Louise was very much the kind of villain it's impossible not to sympathize with while hating. Many times I wanted to take her by her (imaginary) shoulders and say "Look, you can't go on this way. Forget the damage you're doing to everyone else -- this can do you no good." But I'm sure Louise would have dismissed me as yet another ridiculous happy middle-aged married woman and gone on her merry self-destructive way.

Really, I enjoyed Someone at a Distance a great deal and look forward to reading more of Whipple's works. Her characters, and there are many, are all well-crafted and it's hard not to see them as real people in real situations. Even though I finished the novel well over a week ago, I find I cannot stop thinking about it. While the story was at times a painful one, it was also full of hope and gentleness. The descriptions of country life and comfortable domesticity carefully woven through with the full unavoidable horror of the situation ... well, it all made for a bang-up read.

If you're going to read Someone at a Distance, I strongly recommend reading Nina Bawden's preface last as it gives away too much of the plot. But don't skip it outright as it's simply too good to skip!

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple (Persephone Books, 2011)


The Time Machine: An Invention by H.G. Wells

I think that at that time none of us quite believed in the Time Machine. The fact is, the Time Traveller was one of those men who are too clever to be believed: you never felt that you saw all round him; you always suspected some subtle reserve, some ingenuity in ambush, behind his lucid frankness. Had Filby shown the model and explained the matter in the Time Traveller's words, we should have shown him far less scepticism. For we should have perceived his motives; a pork butcher could understand Filby.

I don't really know what to say about The Time Machine. As with the other Wells novels, it's a work I'd never read before, but popular culture and an immersion in science fiction have rendered familiar. The pale, elfin, and utterly ignorant Eloi, the monstrous Morlocks, the dying earth, the cannibalism ... familiar tropes, all.

Does Wells do it ... well? Of course. Did I enjoy reading it? Yes. Why? Because, to me, it's as if Wells decided to take the Pre-Raphealites' pastoral fantasy and turn it on its head (or, perhaps, take it to its natural conclusion). The Eloi, with their pale consumptive beauty, sound like something out of a Pre-Raphealite painting and the superficially idyllic (almost Utopian) England they inhabit certainly seems like the pre-Raphealite return-to-nature romanticism taken to an extreme.

But then there are the Morlocks, our cannibalistic snakes in the garden. Cleverer and more monstrous than the Eloi, I can't see a place for them in any pre-Raphaelite fantasy! So there goes that interpretation!

How about: there may be something in the way Wells approaches evolution in The Time Machine? There's no romanticism to it -- Man does not become angelic, but more bestial. We may have wrought wondrous strange cities, but whose backs were they built upon? No matter, anyway, as they all lie in ruin now and the world has become nothing more than a lovely playground for tender prey. (And, further on, it's a dismal shore where furry hopping herbivores are devoured by centipede-things). It's is clear Man survives through continued evolution, but there is no "humanity" (as the narrator knew it) left in it. Evolution, Wells seems to be saying, is bound to terminate in something ghastly.

But was The Time Machine meant to be a jab at evolutionary theory? Or are we to see it as a societal wake-up call? After all, the Eloi are clearly the descendants of the upper classes -- sheltered gentility and frivolous idleness brought to its “natural” conclusion, just as the Morlocks are clearly descendants of the working classes who have, over the millennia, become dark, warped, brutish things. Cleverer than the Eloi, one wants to presume, but I must question how much they understand the machines they operate and the work they do. (Did Victorian factory hands understand the work of the factory beyond their small part? Did Victorian gentlefolk have much curiosity for unpleasantness beyond their immediate sphere?)

And the sphinx! And the time machine hidden inside a monument! And the museum! What was all that supposed to mean?

Tl;dr ... a zillion times better than any of the movie versions, anyway.

The Time Machine: An Invention by H.G. Wells (Penguin English Library, 2012)


The Hound of the Baskervilles

We've been watching the BBC Sherlock Holmes reboot, Sherlock, and are a divided household. I have mixed feelings regarding the reboot and found "The Hounds of Baskerville" episode to be especially frustrating, but The Husband really seemed to like the first series as a whole and did not spend any of the Hound episode with his hands over his eyes going "no, no, no" ... unlike me who would have been better served by watching it from behind the couch.

In a blatant attempt to alter The Husband's opinion, I gave him a beautiful Penguin Clothbound Classics Edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles, but he was not interested in the novel and the poor volume has sat, unloved, on our bookcase every since. Having fond memories of the novel, I picked it up while I was sick with the Terrible Ear Infection of 2013 and all the things I had brought home from the library failed to please ... it was nearly as much fun as I remembered.

It’s wall-to-wall Watson. Obviously, Sherlock's there, in the background, solving the shit out of the mystery of the Hound and the previous Sir Baskerville's murder, but it’s Watson telling the story and doing the "official" detecting. And, yes, Watson goes a little bit wrong in his deductions, but that’s no surprise because there's a lot going on in this little novel and it's frequently hard to see the essential mystery for all the extra window dressing – a woman sobbing in the night, creepy Neolithic ruins, a deadly bog, secretive servants, an escaped killer at-large on the moor, and the spectral hound. Truly, it's a wonder Watson doesn't get it more wrong. And, anyway, it's easy for Holmes to see the truth as he’s well outside the story in classic "disinterested observer" mode. Or maybe I just want to cut Watson some slack because he’s always been my favorite of the duo.

This Penguin Clothbound Classics Edition comes with an introduction and extensive endnotes by Editor Christopher Frayling. Those who don't read a lot of "old-timey" English literature, or are really interested in the differences between the films and movies, or simply want to know how much of the tale Doyle got wrong, will probably enjoy the endnotes. I started skipping endnotes when I realized they were actually distracting me from the story as I would flip to the end of the novel to read one endnote and then read an entire page of them!

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2009)


The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Theological Grotesque

I know I had never read The Island of Doctor Moreau before and yet so much of the story was familiar to me. The mysterious island. The mad scientist. The alcoholic assistant. The Beast Men. Familiar tropes, all. And yet, for all the familiar-feeling, the story remains surprisingly weird and unsettling. Is it a critique of late Victorian society? A critique of institutionalized religion? A cautionary tale of what happens when scientific development outpaces moral progress?

Yes, yes, and yes. It’s all those things and a ripping good yarn.

ON February the First 1887, the Lady Vain was lost by collision with a derelict when about the latitude 1° S. and longitude 107° W.

Edward Prendick, former biology student of Thomas Huxley ("Darwin's Bulldog," etc), is shipwrecked, rather whimsically saved, and then nearly made castaway again when Montgomery, his indifferent savior, initially refuses him landfall on a remote South Pacific island. Prendick is grateful Montgomery eventually takes pity on him -- until he realizes the horrors the island contains. Moreau, the notorious vivisectionist driven from England eleven years before after terrible scandal, seeks to surgically alter animals into humans by removing the pain of animality. And it’s not going terribly well.

These creatures of mine seemed strange and uncanny to you so soon as you began to observe them; but to me, just after I make them, they seem to be indisputably human beings. It's afterwards, as I observe them, that the persuasion fades. First one animal trait, then another, creeps to the surface and stares out at me. But I will conquer yet! Each time I dip a living creature into the bath of burning pain, I say, 'This time I will burn out all the animal; this time I will make a rational creature of my own!' After all, what is ten years? Men have been a hundred thousand in the making." He thought darkly. "But I am drawing near the fastness. This puma of mine—” After a silence, "And they revert. As soon as my hand is taken from them the beast begins to creep back, begins to assert itself again." Another long silence.

Moreau gives his animals the flawed form of men, is surprised when function doesn’t follow form, and abandons his imperfect creations to live as best they can on the island. He’s a remorseless monster that makes my flesh crawl … but it is Montgomery who makes me rage. He is the one who goes down amongst the Beast Men and treats them as people. They had been beasts and now they are not, but still less than men. Left to their own devices, they might attain some kind of stability and happiness over their short life-spans, but instead they must continuously struggle with the humanity pressed upon them by The Law.

"I am the Sayer of the Law," said the grey figure. "Here come all that be new to learn the Law. I sit in the darkness and say the Law."
"It is even so,” said one of the beasts in the doorway.
"Evil are the punishments of those who break the Law. None escape."
"None escape," said the Beast Folk, glancing furtively at one another.
"None, none," said the Ape-man,—“none escape. See! I did a little thing, a wrong thing, once. I jabbered, jabbered, stopped talking. None could understand. I am burnt, branded in the hand. He is great. He is good!"
"None escape," said the grey creature in the corner.
"None escape," said the Beast People, looking askance at one another.

Mind you, I’m unclear how much of The Law is the Beast People’s mutilation of missionary morality and how much has been deliberately encouraged by Moreau and Montgomery’s need to control the Beast People. Regardless, the Beast People certainly believe in it. And why shouldn’t they? The House of Pain, The Master, and The Other with the Whip are very present in their lives.

But, regardless of how Montgomery may actually feel toward the Beast People, he is also the man who destroys their “humanity.” It is he, greedy fool, who wants rabbits brought to the island so that he and Moreau might eat the meat forbidden to the Beast People and it is he who teaches "his man" how to skin and cook a rabbit. (Umm … what? Tentative hold on humanized beasts? Terrified the taste of meat will revert them back to pure beastliness? Don’t remind them about delicious meat. And if you must bring meat to the island and confuse everyone, don’t add alcohol to the mix).

The Island of Doctor Moreau: A Theological Grotesque by H.G. Wells (Penguin English Library, 2012)


The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance

I have to admit that The War of the Worlds is the only H.G. Wells novel I am familiar with and it's been so long since I read it that my brain's probably making up half of what I remember. I don't really go for old-time science fiction -- the "science" (and the sexism! classism! racism!) tends to make me irritable -- but I happen to seriously ❤ H.G. from Warehouse 13 and so thought I should try to read some more H.G. Wells. (I know this makes no sense at all, but my reasons for picking up a novel seldom do make any kind of sense).

Anyway, I picked up The Penguin English Library Editions of The Invisible Man, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The Time Machine from The Book Depository (along with a bunch of other books I didn't really "need," but who buys books based on need? Boringly sensible people, that's who and I'll have none of that here, thank you). The Invisible Man arrived first and so that's what I read first.

The stranger came early in February, one wintry day, through a biting wind and a driving snow, the last snowfall of the year, over the down, walking as it seemed from Bramblehurst railway station, and carrying a little black portmanteau in his thickly gloved hand.

As an albino junior scientist lacking a name or sufficient funds, academic and social standing has rendered Griffin metaphorically invisible. Griffin seems all right with that -- he seeks greatness in scientific mastery and thinks he finds it with the discovery of true, physical invisibility. First he makes a rag invisible, then a cat (all but the claws and backs of its eyes, poor puss), and then ... himself.

Initially, invisibly gives Griffin a great sense of power and superiority, but he quickly realizes just how hard it is to be invisible in London. It was fine to be metaphorically invisible when it was his choice (more-or-less), but the limitations of this unending physical invisibility are maddening.

"Before I made this mad experiment I had dreamt of a thousand advantages. That afternoon it seemed all disappointment. I went over the heads of the things a man reckons desirable. No doubt invisibility made it possible to get them, but it made it impossible to enjoy them when they are got. Ambition—what is the good of pride of place when you cannot appear there?"

Griffin flees to the countryside where he initially seeks to cure himself, but eventually determines to use his invisibility as a weapon of terror. He will bend rural society to his will and force it to serve him as he sees fit. He feels no remorse and revulsion at his choices and is, indeed, quite monstrous in his attitude toward others.

Reading The Invisible Man, I was initially in danger of sympathizing with Griffin -- the moody, bandaged man who just wanted to conduct experiments without his land lady and her friends nosing about. When he burgled the vicarage and tried to avoid arrest, I thought surely he would realize his folly… and then he fell into company with that pathetic tramp, Marvel. Griffin's cruel tyranny over the tramp is indefensible and firmly moves Griffin from possibly-sympathetic antihero to Total Asshole in a few short pages.

And so, when the crowd overwhelmed Griffin and finally took him down, while I was admittedly disquieted by the violence of their actions ("And there was no shouting after Kemp's cry—only a sound of blows and feet and a heavy breathing … Then suddenly a wild scream of 'Mercy! Mercy!' that died down swiftly to a sound like choking"), I was also relieved.

(I really want to re-read Frankenstein now, as it’s seems like such an antidote to The Invisible Man -- Frankenstein isolates himself from humanity in order to work terrible science, but when faced with the repercussions of his actions, reacts with contrition. Griffin also initially isolates himself, but is never contrite -- seeing only the end goal of his experiments and not their costs to others).

The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance by H.G. Wells (Penguin English Library, 2012)


Bleak House: Installment 1

In Installment I of Bleak House, we are introduced to Chancellery, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, the wards, the love child, and the Jellybys. Oh, the Jellbys!

I feel I should be offended by Dickens' rendering of Mrs Jellyby, a philanthropic lady so caught up in distant causes that she neglects the proper management of her household, rearing of her children, and respect due her husband. But, really, I found her simply ridiculous. Irritating and rather pathetic, but also unavoidably comic. Felt terribly for the little Jellybys -- especially Caddy, who lacks education or training in anything useful and who has no happy future to look forward to. Unless she runs away from home, I can't see how she'll better herself or attain any happiness. Maybe, Esther will take Caddy under her wing?

(Quite possibly, I found the Jellyby household more tolerable than it actually was because I kept amusing myself by referring to them as the "Jellybabies" and, considering the child that got its head stuck in the railing and the other who fell down the stairs, they would do better to have been actual jelly babies).

I've read enough orphaned girl romances, that I'm pretty sure Esther's mysterious man of the plum cake and goose liver pie will turn out to be none other than her great benefactor, Mr Jarndyce. And yay for someone taking a kindly interest in Esther! At the beginning, when Esther is a child, her godmother (her aunt in deed, but not law ... so her father's sister?) is ... well, it's a good thing she dies and were it not for Mr Jarndyce arranging to have Esther sent off to school, I do not know what would have befallen her. The maid, Mrs Rachael, was no better than the aunt and would never have taken Esther in. Indeed, I wonder why either of them every had anything to do with Esther. Funds? Christian duty? Perhaps "Love the sinner, hate the sin," but I never saw any evidence either of them loved Esther. Poor Esther. (Annoying Esther. Want her to grow a backbone and some self-esteem. "Oh, everyone is so much better than me, because they are so nice to me." No, Esther, they are nice to you because you are likable person).

While Dickens' descriptive language has, in other novels, occasionally driven me mad, I find it's really working for me in Bleak House. Mud, rain, fog, dinosaurs. Yes, dinosaurs!

LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill.

I take my hat off to you, sir, for that fine image.


A Late Victorian Road Boat Trip

Everything has its drawbacks, as the man said when his mother-in-law died, and they came down upon him for the funeral expenses.

Ridiculous! Utterly ridiculous! And so delightful! Three men (and a dog) escape their taxing London gentlemen’s life for a fortnight’s boating expedition on the Thames between Kingston and Oxford. Their adventure, like the Thames, meanders pleasantly along from one misadventure to another, with many funny twists and turns between, and a few unexpected sparkling tributaries of poetry.

Personally, I found it a wonder the men managed to get up (and down) the river, so absurd and maddeningly (but also amusingly) incompetent were they. (I never had any doubt the dog, Montmorency, would make a success of it, but then he’s the only one with the sense to vote against the trip). However, the narrator is clearly aware of his own failings and continuously pokes gentle fun at himself and his companions thereby redeeming the trio in mine eyes. I like wit and self-effacing humor and Three Men in a Boat has it in spades.

Mind you, I did not read Three Men in a Boat. I listened to an audio book edition read by Hugh Laurie and, frankly, he could make the phonebook seem droll. Oh, the man has a scrumptious voice. *fans self*

Sadly, this audio book edition was an abridgement and the Internets tell me I missed some good bits – the dead girl in the river, George and the swans, etc – so I may have to seek out an unabridged edition. But not right now, because Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is waiting for me. (Google Reader’s been full of people wittering away about The Reading Rambo's Harry Potter Readalong: All the Gifs and I find myself overwhelmed with nostalgia ... at least for the first few books).

And here I leave you with one of my favorite passages from Three Men in a Boat:

How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.

How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care twopence for them, and that they do not care three ha’pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with—oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all!—the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the criminal’s iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!

It is lumber, man—all lumber! Throw it overboard. It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars. It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment’s freedom from anxiety and care, never gain a moment’s rest for dreamy laziness—no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o’er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the sombre-waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchids, or the blue forget-me-nots.

Tl;dr? Then:

Throw the lumber over, man! Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need—a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

Three Men in a Boat written by Jerome K. Jerome & read by Hugh Laurie (CSA Word, 2008) [abridged]


Oliver Twist

For years, I avoided reading Dickens. As a man, he was an ass. As a writer, unforgivably smug and wordy. Aside from the very amusing A Christmas Carol, no good could come from Dickens.

Then The Husband gave me the beautifully slip-cased hardbound Major Works of Charles Dickens and I felt obligated to give Old Charlie a try. And, you know, his novels have turned out to be rather enjoyable. A Tale of Two Cities was excellent (I ♥ Mme. Defarge) and Hard Times, while exceedingly preachy, was well worth the weeks I spent on it.

In September, in a fit of optimism, I listed Oliver Twist as one of my top ten autumn TBR. Optimism, because if there was any work by Dickens I thought I'd never-ever-so-help-me-god read, it was Oliver Twist. In my eighth grade music class, we'd watched Oliver!, the 1968 musical drama film based on the stage musical of the same name and nominally based on the Dickens' Oliver Twist. We then learnt a medley of songs from the musical and performed them at a school concert. I hated every second of the film. The medley? Bah!

I fully expected to hate the novel.

But I was so WRONG. Oliver Twist was good fun. (And very, very little like the musical). Full of pathos and angrifying references to "The Jew," yes, but the Good 'Uns get their just rewards and the Bad 'Uns suffer and sometimes that's all I want from a story.

Well ... except in the cases of Nancy and Monks. Nancy DIES (oh, the angries I still feel) even though she does good, because she loves Sykes and that love kills her. Monks, rotter that his is, still avoids prison because he is a gentleman.

Even though I resent Nancy's death, I must admit Dickens wrote it quite beautifully (if such a word can be applied to murder) and it is, to me, one of the most moving scenes in the novel:

He had not moved; he had been afraid to stir. There had been a moan and motion of the hand; and, with terror added to rage, he had struck and struck again. Once he threw a rug over it; but it was worse to fancy the eyes, and imagine them moving towards him, than to see them glaring upward, as if watching the reflection of the pool of gore that quivered and danced in the sunlight on the ceiling. He had plucked it off again. And there was the body—mere flesh and blood, no more—but such flesh, and so much blood!

He struck a light, kindled a fire, and thrust the club into it. There was hair upon the end, which blazed and shrunk into a light cinder, and, caught by the air, whirled up the chimney. Even that frightened him, sturdy as he was; but he held the weapon till it broke, and then piled it on the coals to burn away, and smoulder into ashes. He washed himself, and rubbed his clothes; there were spots that would not be removed, but he cut the pieces out, and burnt them. How those stains were dispersed about the room! The very feet of the dog were bloody.

Gives me chills.

My other favorite scenes were when Sykes considers drowning his poor dumb faithful dog and all of "Chapter LII" concerning Fagin's trial and imprisonment. Oliver! has Fagin reform (temporarily) before running off into the sunset with Dodger and that always annoyed me a bit, but then the Fagin of Oliver! is more merry and less "wickedly wicked" than the Fagin of Oliver Twist. Dickens' Fagin ... I didn't like him, but I had a grudging respect for his ability to not just survive, but thrive in the London stews. Mind you, I do not know how much of my feelings regarding Fagin have been shaped by Will Eisner's Fagin the Jew.


The Moonstone & Sergeant Disraeli

I don't know what you do during a hurricane, but I watch period dramas. While howling winds and driving rain are more suited to something like Wuthering Heights, I decided to finally watch the 1996 BBC production of The Moonstone I interlibrary-loaned through my library *cough* months *cough* ago.

Before I start nit-picking about The Things That Were Different, I just want to stress how very much I enjoyed this production. The sets, the costumes, the selection of actors themselves are all very pleasing and I would say that, overall, the film is well done. I regret no second of the 120 minutes I spent watching this film and I would happily watch it again.

That said, as with any film adaptation, there were Things That Were Different:

The Moonstone is the size of a large chicken egg, is perfectly clear, and looks a bit like a fancy prism you'd hang in a window to make rainbows. Nothing like a plover's egg and nothing near as ... awfully seductive ... as Collins' diamond: "When you looked down into the stone, you looked into a yellow deep that drew your eyes into it so that they saw nothing else. It seemed unfathomable; this jewel, that you could hold between your finger and thumb, seemed unfathomable as the heavens themselves. We set it in the sun, and then shut the light out of the room, and it shone awfully out of the depths of its own brightness, with a moony gleam, in the dark."

Gone are The Bouncers and Mr. Murthwaite. I presume The Bouncers were chucked because they're not very important to the story (although I found them rather amusing characters in the novel). Mr. Murthwaite is rolled up into the character of Mr. Candy and that blew my mind a little as here was the slightly daffy doc talking very knowledgeably about Hindoo lore and mischief. I think, if you'd never read the novel, this worked fine. But I had read the novel, and was taken aback every time Mr. Candy said something especially prescient about the stone. He still gets a fever and loses his mind, so there's that.

Sadly, there is absolutely nothing of interest in Mr. Jennings appearance. Indeed, I was Extremely Disappointed by the film's treatment of Jennings -- there's no real explanation why he's disliked by everyone in the area except that he's dying and addicted to opium which should surely cause people to pity, rather than revile, him? The friendship that blossomed between Jennings and Franklin is not apparent in the film at all.  No Moonstone brohood, here.

It's clear, in the film, that everyone wears very different nightgowns. I bring this up, because we talked a lot (too much?) about nightgowns during the readalong.

Penelope is not Betteredge's daughter!

Betteredge, The Man Who Was No-One's Dad
The painted door is quite handsome. Much less busy and much more professional-looking than I had imagined. But still a blatantly transparent excuse for Franklin to spend "special time" with Rachel.

Oh, baby, let me help you load your paintbrush.
Clack is much younger-looking than I had imagined, but just as pious. The scene where she attempts to press "Satan Among the Sofa Cushion" upon Lady Verinder just had me in stitches. The actress who plays Clack, Kacey Ainsworth, plays her as rather sweetly earnest and essentially harmless and I found her more endearing than the Clack the novel.

I kept thinking the actor who plays Sergeant Cruf, Antony Sher, looked like Disraeli ... and then I realized that was probably because I'd seen him play Disraeli in Mrs Brown! It was very confusing -- every time he appeared I'd think "Look! There's Disraeli!" and wonder why he was investigating The Moonstone. Also, the actor had this unnerving habit of opening his eyes extra wide for emphasis, which made him look a bit like a madman and diluted the sheer awesomeness that ought to be Sergeant Cruf.

However, Limping Lucy was a delight! As spirited as I'd imagined! But the lesbian subtext was sadly lacking. Silly BBC.

Admit I only watched the first episode of The Moonstone: 1972 Masterpiece Theater Version, but that was quite enough. The first scene? Where the diamond is taken? I was ready to stop watching right then. The acting is TERRIBLE (so terrible I briefly hoped the terribleness was somehow intention but NO) and while the moonstone is a yellow diamond it's not decorating the head of a Hindoo deity. No. It's in the hilt of a dagger. The rest of the episode had absolutely no redeeming qualities.

tl;dr: Stick to the 1996 BBC production, my loves.


The Moonstone: The Game

Oh, my darlings, I broke down and bought the hidden object game Mystery Masterpiece: The Moonstone for Mac very late last Wednesday and I have been playing it ever since!

While I can't stop clicking all the things, I'm quite certain I hate the game. Cursor sensitivity is awful -- for many an hour I have rage-faced at my poor laptop, shouting at Sergeant Cuff for saying "I don't see anything special there" when I'm clearly clicking on the last mother frakking horseshoe I was sent to find. Dusting the bottle of laudanum for fingerprints took, I kid you not, 10 minutes as it was quite difficult to figure out where to place the brush to sweep the correct part of the bottle. The air in our living room was positively blue by the time I finished sweeping that bottle. (Let's not ponder the likelihood of Cuff fingerprinting anything in 1846).

So why do I keep playing this game? Because it is so terrible. It's a train wreck of bad controls and terrible story-telling. Link it with a drinking game and I would play it every weekend.

The game began quite promisingly with the Siege of Seringapatam ... except all the soldiers were classic Revolutionary War red coats with tricorne hats and that was not the garb I expected for 1799 India. I expected something more like this:

Get a load of those gams! Phwoar!
But, whatevs, it's a $2.99 download.

Anyway, it almost doesn't matter that the diamond has been stolen from India as the Indians are barely in the game. While a note I translated from Sanskrit says "you must recover the Moonstone or perish in the attempt," the token Indian doesn't get up to much. Presumably there are more than one, but they are all represented by Raj Gupta, a traveling juggler with an utterly execrable accent.

All the accents are HILARIOUSLY BAD, actually, which just adds to the fun! Ezra Jennings, for example, is Russian with a terrible, terrible faux Mr Chekhov accent. He has hidden a secret will in Dr Candy's office, leaving all his worldly goods to Candy. Also, he has a sick cousin who would like him to send money back to Mother Russia.

Godfrey's much more actively criminal than in the novel -- he's been embezzling from his charities and spikes Franklin's already spiked drink with a hefty dose of laudanum taken from dead Lady Verinder's stash (we never see her alive in the game). Godfrey then watches hallucinating/sleep walking Franklin take the diamond and tells Franklin he'll take the diamond and "keep it safe."

On a happy(?) note, there are no Shivering Sands. ROSANNA DOES NOT DIE. However, she does hang out by "The Muddy Docks" (where I had to find a ship's lever which took forever because WTF does a ship's lever look like?) and I did dig up a literal red herring while investigating her. Roseanna doesn't steal Franklin's nightgown (a bathrobe in the game), but cuts out the bit of dirtied cloth (because that isn't even a little suspicious).

And Sergeant Cuff has the most ridiculous mustache.

Our suspects, such as they are.


The Moonstone Readalong: The End

Forgive me, I stayed up too late last night playing Mystery Masterpiece: The Moonstone Game (they refer to Clack as Drusilla in the game and I got confused and thought she was a new character and Mrs Verinder is already dead and there is just soooo much wrong about it but I can't STOP clicking all the things!) instead of writing posts about how I Finished The Moonstone And Am Full of Feelings and so you're getting this rushed, irreverent post instead of the deep, thoughty one you all deserve.

Yes, so many feelings. I'm kind of "Yay! The Indians got their cultural artefact back home!" and "Boo! Godfrey turned out to be a desperate opportunist instead of a calculating criminal mastermind." Also, "Boo! Betteredge is mean to Ezra Jennings," but also "Yay! Betteredge is friends with Ezra Jennings!"

And I kinda-sorta wanted a bisexual love triangle to form between Rachel, Franklin, and Ezra BUT IT WAS NOT TO BE.

Also, Rosanna did not come back from the dead to comfort poor Limping Lucy. Goshdarnit.

Spinoffs I want to see:
  • Limping Lucy does go to London where she meets Nan and Flo from Tipping the Velvet, falls in love with a nice suffragette who returns her feelings, and lives as happily ever after as a lesbian in Victorian England can.
  • The discovery of Ezra Jennings' will (he must have had a will as he wanted to leave his own "little patrimony") eventually leads to his wife and daughter and we finally learn the Tragic History of Ezra Jennings.
  • Octavius Guy, Boy Detective, stars in a serious of thrilling adventures in the Victorian London Underworld, then grows up to become a famous alienist, and rubs shoulders with the elderly, bee-keeping Sherlock Holmes.
  • A version of The Moonstone told through Indian eyes. Murthwaite, in talking with Bruff after dinner, says "I will only say, it is clear that these present Indians, at their age, must be the successors of three other Indians (high caste Brahmins all of them, Mr. Bruff, when they left their native country!) who followed the Colonel to these shores." What must it have been like to be an Indian living in Britain called on to help or succeed these Brahmins? Did it cause a conflict of interest or loyalty? What was it like to be Other in Victorian England (not very pleasant, I would hazard)? And what was it like to return the sacred stone to its statue in India after seeing it last adorn the bosom of some English miss?