Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove (1919)

Okay, marathon not sprint, etc.

So, Within a Budding Grove. Or, if we prefer, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. We will, I suppose, have more to say about C.K. Scott Moncrieff's title in the future, but from my perspective, they range from Pointless But Harmless to Actively Bad. I'm sure I'm only the thirty thousandth person to point out that Remembrance of Things Past has considerably different connotations than In Search of Lost Time, being a passive rather than an active endeavor. Within a Budding Grove is okay in and of itself, but Proust's title has the advantage of actually giving you some idea of what the book is about. Okay, so you could say that Moncrieff's does as well, but it's at a higher level of abstraction, no question. I figure if you're going to deal with Proust at all, you might as well assume that he knew what he wanted to do.
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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Marcel Proust, Swann's Way (1913)

Oh, yes. We are doing this, motherfucker.

You really have to make a conscious effort to decide to read Proust. It is unlikely that you will just wake up one fine day and casually think, you know what I want to do? Read thirty-five hundred pages of navel-gazing by a neurotic Frenchman. But you've gotta do it! What are you, some kind of jerk?
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Walter Scott, Waverley (1814)

People say this was the first "historical novel."  I can only imagine what people must have thought encountering this concept for the first time: Huh?  A novel that also has HISTORY?!  Who is this man who can do such devilment?!?  I'm surprised they didn't burn him at the stake for witchcraft.
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Friday, October 03, 2014

Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771)

A wealthy family travels around England and Scotland, and various members thereof write letters to different off-screen non-characters.  These are: Matthew Bramble, the irritable but kind-hearted family patriarch; his grating, unhappily-single sister Tabitha; his quietly amused nephew Jery; his niece Liddy; and Tabitha's maid, Win[ifred] (and the fact that I add no descriptors to those last two may not be by random chance)--although the great majority of the novel, along with whatever narrative momentum it has, is found in the men's letters.
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Saturday, September 27, 2014

A question from ChickCo


I think I can help here.

First: You'd have to explain the concept of "The Bible" to him, as it was rather after his time.  I suspect he'd think it--or at least the way you treat it--was a little weird.

Second:  The fact that you'd think he'd quote from it really demonstrates the extent to which you've fetishized the text.  He would probably talk to you, if you met him, and tell you some parables, but it seems unlikely that he'd go around quoting himself--let alone quoting Paul, or the Old-Testament anti-gay stuff that means so much to you.  It's interesting the way you've made the Bible into a dead, calcified thing--how you assume that he would just mindlessly quote (your preferred interpretive version of) it rather than, like, saying new things.

Third: I know this will come as a shock to you, but Jesus didn't speak English.  I daresay if he were carrying a Bible around, it'd be in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  I know that's disappointing in that it doesn't give you the chance to exercise your King James hobby-horse, but...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-1767) and A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy (1768)

So Tristram Shandy is going to tell his life story, but he's unable, because he keeps getting bogged down in context and digressions that he feels are necessary before he can get to the real thing, meaning that the real main characters in the story are his father--a prickly man with several strongly-held convictions about what is necessary for a child to grow up successfully (notably, that he has a substantial nose, and a "good" name) and his uncle Toby--a gentle, childlike man who is obsessed with sieges and fortifications and spends all his time building models of and reenacting same--and if it's necessary to plunk in a sermon or two (with commentary from the characters) or a Cervantes-esque story about noses or a very, very long and comprehensive litany of insults--well, that's just the way it's gotta be, though he will frequently make metafictional note of what he's doing and how dubious the chances appear of the book ever actually getting through the life that the title promises.  Maybe he'll include, with no explanation, two blank chapter titles in a row, only to go back later and say, okay, now it's time to fill those in.  Maybe he'll draw crazy little line graphs showing the progress and digressions of various of the books.  YOU JUST DON'T KNOW WHAT HE'LL DO.  He does manage to make one book (out of nine) more or less about him, and a tour he made of France, but other than that, he does not turn out to be the hero of his own life, except in the sense that the narrative itself is pretty darned heroic.
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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Annë Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)

Doomed to be forever known as The Other Brontë, I think we should give her her due nonetheless, don't you?  

The idea is that A mysterious young widow, Helen Graham, comes to live a secluded life in a small farming community with her young son, where a gentleman farmer, Gilbert Markham--our narrator (for inexplicable reasons, it's an epistolary novel--Markham is writing all of this to an apparently quite indulgent friend)--comes to fall in love with her.  Does she love him back?  Maybe, but troubles and misunderstandings are a-brewin.'  Eventually, she lets him read her journal so he can understand her history and her strange behavior; said journal takes up the better part of the novel.

Spoilers to follow…
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