Friday, December 28, 2007

Of Human Bondage - The Movie

Last night I saw Of Human Bondage. I was really glad that I read the book before watching the movie, because I would have had no idea what was going on otherwise. It was so fragmented. Understandably, it is a very long book, portraying the first 30+ years of Phillip's life, and the filmmaker obviously wanted to include as much of that as possible, focusing on Phillip's life in London after his art career in Paris fails miserably. But the business with Phillip's money situation, due entirely to Mildred, wasn't very clear, nor the length to which it went. It wasn't even clear whether Phillip ever passed his medical exam or not. Overall, I didn't like the movie too much, and again would not have been able to understnad what was happening without having read the book.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Could this be the saddest thing I’ve ever read?:

“Evening had worn into night. The busy city slept. Down by the wharves, now deserted, a poor boy sat on the bulwark, hungry, footsore, and shivering with cold. He sat thinking of friends and home, thousands of miles away over the sea, whom he had left six months before to go among strangers. He had been alone ever since, but never more so than that night. His money gone, no work to be found, he had slept in the streets for nights. That day he had eaten nothing; he would rather die than beg, and one of the two he must do soon.

“There was the dark river, rushing at his feet; the swirl of the unseen waters whispered to him of rest and peace he had not known since——it was so cold—and who was there to care, he thought bitterly. No one who would ever know. He moved a little nearer the edge, and listened more intently.

“A low whine fell on his ear, and a cold, wet face was pressed against his. A little, crippled dog that had been crouching silently beside him nestled in his lap. He had picked it up in the street, as forlorn and friendless as himself, and it had stayed by him. Its touch recalled him to himself. He got up hastily, and, taking the dog in his arms, went to the police station near by and asked for shelter. It was the first time he had accepted even such charity, and as he lay down on his rough plank he hugged a little gold locket he wore around his neck, the last link with better days, and thought, with a hard, dry sob, of home.

“In the middle of the night he awoke with a start. The locket was gone. One of the tramps who slept with him had stolen it. With bitter tears he went up and complained to the Sergeant at the desk, and the Sergeant ordered him to be kicked out in the street as a liar, if not a thief. How should a tramp boy have come honestly by a gold locket? The doorman put him out as he was bidden, and when the little dog showed its teeth, a policeman seized it and clubbed it to death on the step.”

By Jacob Riis, from his book, Children of the Tenements, “What the Christmas Sun Saw in the Tenements”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Vanity Fair Part 2

Some things I jotted down while reading:

Is Becky Sharp innocent or not? (Which became, Why Becky Sharp is a big fat liar)

1. (Ch 55) Steyne gets Rawdon Crawly an appointment
2. (Ch 54?) Macmundo tells/suggests to Crawley that people (soldiers) have talked for years about Becky being "not so innocent"
3. (Ch 55) Were Wenham and wife really invited to Becky's with Lord Steyne? (No)

Ch 64 "A short time after Lord Steyne's accident, Wenham had been with the Baronet and given him such a biography of Mrs. Becky as had astonished the member of Queen's Crawley. He knew everything regarding her:...and what her conduct during her married life - I have no doubt that the greater part of the setory was false and dictated by interested malevolence."

"And Becky saw a number of old faces which she remembered in happier days, when she was not innocent, but not found out."

From an article: "In response to his critics, Thackeray explained that he saw people for the most part as "abomindably foolish and selfish." I have to agree.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Vanity Fair

Finished Vanity Fair last night. I LOVED this book. These people were very life like:
Amelia: Devoted to George, who never really cared; unable to see Dobbin's devotion, only taking advantage of it.
Dobbin: Devoted to Amelia, but she doesn't really care. He's much too good for her, and yet he comes back.

And above all, Becky Sharp. The world, I believe, is almost wholly populated by Becky Sharps.

Every time I read a novel from this period of history, I'm struck by how much better it is than novels of any other time period. How many of the books on the Modern Library's Top 100 would still be on the list if it were to include 19th Century works? Thackeray, Hugo, Dostoevsky, Dickens, Eliot, Hawthorne, Melville, the Brontes, Dumas, etc.. Nothing against the particular merits of the works of the 20th Century, but could Naipaul, Henry Miller, Carson McCullers, etc., really stand up to the giants of the 19th century? With each work from the 1800s that I read, compared to the 1900s, and particularly more modern literature, the more convinced I am that they certainly could not.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Well of Loneliness Part II

I think that this might be one of the saddest deaths from all the books that I have ever read:

"When she had gone Jamie veered round abruptly and walked back into the empty studio. Then all in a moment the floodgates gave way and she wept and she wept like a creature demented. Bewailing the life of hardship and exile that had sapped Barbara's strenght and weakened her spirit; bewailing the cruel dispensaiton of fate that had forced them to leave their home in the Higlands; bewailing the terrible thign that is death to those who, still loving, must look upon it. Yet all the exquisite pain of this parting seemed as nothign to an anguish that was far more subtle: 'I can't mourn her without bringing shame on her name - I can't go back home now and mourn her...' "
And so Jamie who dared not go home to Beedles for fear of shaming the woman she loved, Jamie who dared not openly mourn lest Barbara's name be defiled through her mourning, Jamie had dared to go home to God - to trust herself to His more perfect mercy, even as Barbara had gone home before her.
Stephen would again and again go over those last heartrending days with Barbara and Jamie, railing against the outrageous injustice that had led to their tragic and miserable ending. She would clench her hands in a kind of fury. How long was this persecution to continue? How long would God sit still and endure this insult offered to his creation? How long tolerate the preposeterous statement that inversion was not a part of nature? For since it existed what else could it be? All things that existed were a part of nature!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Well of Loneliness - Half way point

I'm reading Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall. Basically, the story of a lesbian. It was published in 1928, and the first half has been Stephen's (yes a female) experience not knowing "what" she is, but sensing that she is something very different from other girls. The scene after her mother discovers what is going on with Stephen and Angela is so very sad, but ultimately a "scene" that continues to play out in the households of many LGBT youth 90 years after the book's publication.

I have also gotten the impression, at least from the beginning of the novel, that Stephen might not just be a lesbian, but perhaps transgendered. It's not that she simply is different, and likes boyish things, but it is mentioned again and again that she wants to be a boy. Is that a common experience, not necessarily indicitive of being transgendered? I don't know...

The book is slow going, but I'm enjoying so far, and looking forward to the rest.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Kristin's Rules of Literature - 8 Types of Books

  1. Books that are good from beginning to end
  2. Books that start out good but then get really stupid (Angle of Repose)
  3. Books that you don't like and then get really good at the end, and you're glad stuck to it because it turned out to be a damn good book (Things Fall Apart)
  4. Books that are mediocre, or that you are ambivalent about
  5. Books that you enjoyed while reading, but afterwards realize weren't that good
  6. Books that you dislike while reading them, but afterwards the ideas in them stick in your brain and you like the book more and more (1984, Under the Volcano)
  7. Books that you didn't like but revisit because you might have missed something, the outcome of which is (a) You like them more the second time around (Kafka's The Metamorphosis); or (b) You realize the really weren't that good in the first place, and you just wasted my time reading it again.
  8. Books that are just bad (The Ambassadors)

Friday, January 26, 2007

What I Hate About Books

What I hate about good books is that they end. It's like saying goodbye to a good friend - someone with whom you have shared something improtant, and you never know if you will see them again. We are guests in these people's lives - we are witnesses to their triumphs and failures, their most private moments. A good book leaves you with the feeling that these people are your friends (or your enemies) - you identify with them, so not only do you sympantize with them, but they, inevitably, sympathize with you. You've offered each other comfort. But then you get to the last page, and suddenly you are saying goodbye. Though you anticipate it, count down to it in some cases, it always comes as a shock - suddenly you turn the page and realize you've reached the end. A really good book will make you turn back, avoiding the last sentence, the point at which you must inevitably close the book, and put them back on the shelf.

Sometimes, it's not goodbye forever. How many times have I attended Gatsby's parties and sat with Gatsby, Daisy, Nick, Tom and Jordan at the Plaza when there wasn't any ice? How many times have I hitchhiked with Sal Paradise, and watched Dean receed into the horizon on our way to the opera? How many times have I sat with Hannah and Almsay in the Italian villa? How many times have their pain and suffering helped me through my own? How many times have they comforted me? So, sometimes you do get to meet again.

But inevitably, something changes. WE change, but they are static, stuck perpetually within the same set of circumstances. Along the way, we change perspectives - so the way that we feel about the characters, and how they react to their circumstances changes as well. But does there always come a point when you outgrow them? When they become childhood friends, with whom your common experiences are no longer relevant? The type of friends with whom you say hello in passing but move on quickly - sentimental but essentially unmoved. So maybe part of the sadness in the ending is that recognition - that there will come a day when you won't feel the same about the people that have allowed you into their lives. It's not the sadness of never seeing them again, but the sadness of realizing that your relationship will change, and that things will never be the same.