Artist: Jon Gray
Sampling of his work:
Artist: Jon Gray
Sampling of his work:
January 28, 2013 marked the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Janeites the world over marked the occasion with whisper quiet clapping of lambskin-clad hands, gentlemen in beaver hats standing by to offer fine, imported linen handkerchiefs to wipe away the tears of the dear angels.
Oh, happy day! And how it would have shocked her had she foreseen her future fame.
I love Austen’s novels but am not technically a Janeite. I admire her snarky, pointedly feminist prose, and have read and admired all six of her novels, but I’m no obsessive, by any means. On the other side, critics who dismiss her as a writer of fluffy “women’s novels” miss the point by a hundred miles. Say she’s not your thing but don’t brush her off. The woman had some serious balls.
Austen bashed pretense and the institution of marriage. Predatory women – and profit-driven suitors – were flayed mercilessly. You could say the endings were conventional but I argue such was necessary, in order to satisfy a reading public eagerly anticipating orange blossoms, blushing brides and the promise of giddy happiness between hero and heroine. Perhaps many readers missed the snide undercurrents but deeper readers could chuckle behind their ostrich feather fans at how precisely Miss Austen hit the mark. Rather sophisticated writing on the part of a parson’s daughter.
Austen lead flawed characters through dramatic changes, challenging them to face personal demons. In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Lizzie clash violently at first. Only through admitting to their faults, making difficult and humbling changes, do they ultimately come to admit their love. Fluffy writing? Don’t think so. Sharp insight into the workings of the psyche, more like.
She was no stranger to the workings of the ego, narcissism and avarice, what largely drove the marital dance in her era. She also believed human beings have the potential for change, which requires some deeply committed and painful work. If she were alive today, Jane Austen may find employment as a therapist. A marital therapist, perhaps.
Time to read, or re-read, Pride and Prejudice? Did you re-read it in anticipation of last year’s anniversary?
Regardless, happy anniversary +1 to a canonical novel. And good for me in finding I can still use a post I started erroneously, confusing 2013 with 2014, in the same vein as the certain knowledge I will continue to write 2013 on my checks and documents through early February, 2014.
Writers contemporary with Jane Austen – a partial list:
Frances Burney (13 June 1752 – 6 January 1840)
Elizabeth Helme (1772-c.1810/1813)
Charlotte Turner Smith (4 May 1749 – 28 October 1806)
Susan Ferrier (7 September 1782 – 5 November 1854)
There’s plenty more out there to keep you busy for a lifetime.
After months and months of good intentions, Bluestalking is still split between Typepad and WordPress, the bulk of it at Typepad. That certainly doesn’t help when it comes to assembling my yearly reading summary. Aggravating the situation, the power cord on my laptop – which I insist on using, since I can sit on the sofa with it – is broken, requiring that I stop typing every few minutes to wiggle the thing until the little “charging” indicator appears. All this so you know behind the scenes things are rough, despite how seamless and graceful it appears from your perspective. As far as I’ll admit, this is said without even the barest trace of irony.
The year being what it was, largely dispiriting with a touch of crushed dreams, the best I can do is list my top ten reads, in no particular order, adding only a few analytical observations:
The Traveling Sprinkler by Nicholson Baker (2013)
Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield (2013)
The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay (1956)
Harvest by Jim Crace (2013)
Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (2011)
The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (2009)
Life after Life by Kate Atkinson (2013)
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine (2014)
Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura (1996)
The One-Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (2013)
Four books by women, all Brits. Two by the same author: Nicholson Baker, who also happens to be the only American on my list. One author is Japanese, one Swedish, the last Lebanese- American.
All have dark themes, a couple relieved by moments of equally dark humor. Two are set in the U.S. Half were review copies. None could be technically classified as classics, unheard of for me a decade or so ago.
The oldest is Towers of Trebizond (1956), the latest An Unnecessary Woman (2014).
If I had to pick just one as the jewel in the crown… I guess that would be the book I just finished, likely the last I’ll complete in 2013, An Unnecessary Woman.
Pre-pub reviews are spot on:
“Acclaimed author Alameddine (The Hakawati) here relates the internal struggles of a solitary, elderly woman with a passion for books…Aaliya’s life may seem like a burden or even “unnecessary” to others since she is divorced and childless, but her humor and passion for literature bring tremendous richness to her day-to-day life—and to the reader’s… Though set in the Middle East, this book is refreshingly free of today’s geopolitical hot-button issues. A delightful story for true bibliophiles, full of humanity and compassion.”—Library Journal
“An Unnecessary Woman dramatizes a wonderful mind at play. The mind belongs to the protagonist, and it is filled with intelligence, sharpness and strange memories and regrets. But, as in the work of Calvino and Borges, the mind is also that of the writer, the arch-creator. His tone is ironic and knowing; he is fascinated by the relationship between life and books. He is a great phrase-maker and a brilliant writer of sentences. And over all this fiercely original act of creation is the sky of Beirut throwing down a light which is both comic and tragic, alert to its own history and to its mythology, guarding over human frailty and the idea of the written word with love and wit and understanding and a rare sort of wisdom.”—Colm Toibin
“The extraordinary if “unnecessary” woman at the center of this magnificent novel built into my heart a sediment of life lived in reverse, through wisdom, epiphany, and regret. This woman—Aaliya is her name—for all her sly and unassuming modesty, is a stupendous center of consciousness. She understands time, and folly, and is wonderfully comic. She has read everything under the sun (as has her creator, Alameddine), and as a polyglot mind of an old world Beirut, she reminds us that storehouses of culture, of literature, of memory, are very fragile things indeed. They exist, shimmering, as chimeras, in the mind of Aaliya, who I am so happy to feel I now know. Her particularity, both tragic and lightly clever, might just stay with me forever.”—Rachel Kushner
2013 was a difficult year, the latest in a series of soul-crushers. On the personal front it was abysmal.
In reading I have little to complain about, aside from wishing I’d done more and gotten my blog settled. Quantity-wise it wasn’t great but the quality of each book was.
In 2014, I need to tighten up and streamline my life. I know better than to declare anything in sweeping statements but things must change: bit by bit, goal by goal.
Four days and a handful of hours to go in 2013.
Are you ready…?
Are you sure?
Okay, the total number of books used in my book tree is:
Lauren, I’ve already sent your card. Enjoy!
Chris, I need an email! Do send at your earliest convenience. You can send it to my email, if you wish: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks so much to all who entered and have a wonderful holiday!
Who was Miss Havisham before she became Estella’s guardian – and Pip’s foil – in Great Expectations? Ronald Frame creates a thoroughly imagined past for Dickens’s iconic character best known as the mentally unbalanced, reclusive and vindictive elderly woman jilted at the altar as a young woman, wearing an ancient, tattered wedding dress gone to rags, her untouched bridal feast left rotting on the dining room table for decades. It’s through her that Pip must pass, if he is to have the heart and hand of the coldly beautiful Estella but never has one woman so thoroughly reviled men as Catherine Havisham. Frame had his work more than cut out for him.
Heir to a beer brewery fortune, the young Miss Catherine Havisham is a wealthy heiress of unexceptional attractiveness, lower in social rank due to her lack of hereditary title and her father’s working class background. Though monied, Catherine is not the most desirable of matches for a promising, up and coming man of good family. Her father, realizing the obstacles she faces, sends her to live with the Chadwycks, a titled family who, though less wealthy, has the connections and knowledge of social graces to help boost his daughter’s reputation, thus her desirability as the potential wife of a high-profile husband. They can introduce Catherine to the right people and teach her the skills every young woman of good breeding must have in order to make a good match.
For a while, Catherine is happy enough living with the family and the children who are near her own age, though it isn’t long before she senses the family doesn’t hold her in high esteem. Rather, they look down upon her status as the daughter of a tradesman, someone unsuited to traveling in their same circles, despite having the fore-knowledge she needs them if she’s to be transformed. Overhearing them speaking ill of her, just before they begin pulling away and shutting her out, she still desperately wants to belong, so much so she’s willing to overlook their rudeness.
While living with the Chadwycks, she meets and falls in love with a man disdained by the family, exactly the sort her father had hoped to avoid. They are concerned enough, or anxious to point out her lack of taste, that they try to warn her against the man. Yet, Catherine is obdurate, stubbornly defending him in the face of their criticisms. Ignoring them, she falls more deeply in love, despite the fact the man in question is obviously hiding something the reader sees, though she apparently doesn’t. Worse, something the Chadwycks know, that he is no desirable match, a man capable of ruining reputations.
Ultimately, Catherine decides to return to Satis House, the home she shares with her father. Still nursing hope the Chadwycks had cared for her, she continues writing them until their negligence in keeping up their end of correspondence proves their apathy beyond a doubt. But no matter, her lover still visits – though infrequently – keeping her dreams of romance and happiness alive.
Catherine’s father, getting older and sickly, begins to decline from consumption. He’s reached the point in his life he must look to the future of Havisham’s Brewery. His final decision on the running of the business shocks Catherine, injecting a major plot twist, one I had a little difficulty swallowing but which would fit in a Victorian tale. Improbability never stopped a Victorian writer. Her whole life is thrown into upheaval. From here on out it’s too dangerous I’ll spoil the plot, and there’s a lot I’ve already left out, so it’s up to you if you’d like to read the book and find out what secrets lie therein…
That was dramatic.
I’ll admit I was dubious Ronald Frame, or any author, could pull off a worthy prequel to Dickens’s masterpiece. As a great fan of the Victorian writer, who has also read ‘Great Expectations’ multiple times, I presumed disappointment. I had yet to read a prequel or sequel which has come anywhere near the quality of the original, of this or any other classic work. Indeed, I despise the notion iconic books must be expanded upon, beyond the point the author left them. Presuming to have an inkling what the original author had in mind is a great leap, an act of hubris. In short, I do not like these books. They cross the line into the same territory as those ghastly books about Austen characters and vampires or zombies or whatever. Not quite as bad, but close. You don’t mess with perfection.
In the case of this novel, I would never confuse the writing with Dickens’s but Frame did a good job imagining the sort of traumatic past capable of pushing Catherine Havisham over the edge. Unfortunately, not all his suppositions are created equal and I found the writing somewhat uneven in spots. I wouldn’t consider this as serious a lapse had he not been aiming at Dickens, truth be told, but as such he’s opened himself up for the inevitable comparison. He had very big shoes to fill but this is no excuse, it was his job to hit the mark. Making it partway is admirable, though it convinces me all over again it’s nearly impossible for a modern writer to seamlessly insert his own work into that of an iconic writer.
Those less in love with the original, and Victorian literature as a whole, will have better luck with the book. The quality of the writing is very high and the story has enough gripping, gothic characteristics to keep the reader going. For me, Frame did an above average job but didn’t quite manage to change my opinion toward the prequel. Much as I expected, I’m left not quite comfortable with the writer’s attempt but impressed with his prose stylings. A fine effort in pursuit of an impossible task.
Well played, Mr. Frame. Well played.
Thanks to NetGalley for my free review ebook of this novel.
I was planning to discuss my most recent Moby-Dick progress (Chapter 9: The Sermon, featuring Father Mapple’s stirring Jonah sermon) over this weekend – or some of my new books, or something unrelated to either – but right now I’m having a bit of trouble concentrating, what with nervously awaiting word on a job interview and all. Plus, SNOW is threatened for the upcoming week so this is the ideal time to post last week’s photos of frost-kissed plants in my garden, before they’re covered in sparkly, white evil. Which they probably won’t, since weather forecasts are notoriously wrong and I’ve put a hex on Mother Nature, just enough to stun her into weakness. No way that can backfire.
I’ll get back to Moby – or some of my new books, or something totally unrelated – early next week. Pinky swear. But for right now, a natural interlude.
Have a wonderful rest of your weekend, unless it’s already over where you are. In that case, I’m sorry, because Mondays are awful.
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
“October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.”
– J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
“But frost, like the crystallized dreams of autumn, began to coat the clearing with its sugar glaze.”
– Victoria Logue, Redemption
“Winter then in its early and clear stages, was a purifying engine that ran unhindered over city and country, alerting the stars to sparkle violently and shower their silver light into the arms of bare upreaching trees. It was a mad and beautiful thing that scoured raw the souls of animals and man, driving them before it until they loved to run. And what it did to Northern forests can hardly be described, considering that it iced the branches of the sycamores on Chrystie Street and swept them back and forth until they rang like ranks of bells.”
– Mark Helprin, Winter’s Tale
Near Spring Green, Wisconsin
In 1844, Richard and Mallie (Mary) Lloyd-Jones and their seven children left rural Wales to seek religious freedom and opportunity in America. Unitarians by belief, farmers by occupation, they endured the hardships of immigration, the loss of one child, and the American births of four more before they settled here, in rural Wyoming Valley, in the mid-1860s.
In time, a subscription was taken to build this small house of worship. Named “Unity Chapel” by the Lloyd-Jones family, this three-room, shingle-style “cottage church” was completed in 1886. It combined the talents of famed Chicago architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee and “a boy architect belonging to the family (who) looked after (its) interior.” That “boy architect” was Frank Lloyd Wright.
The chapel became a worship center, community meeting house, school and magnet for family and neighbors. Around it stretches the family graveyard.
Many of the sons and daughters of Richard and Mallie became farmers in the surrounding valley. Son Jenkin Lloyd-Jones became a famous Unitarian minister in Chicago. He funded the nearby Tower Hill summer retreat, and brought many diverse pastors, rabbis and monks to preach in this remote, rural chapel.
In 1887, sisters sisters Jenny (Jane) and Nell (Ellen) Lloyd-Jones created the Hillside Home School on the site of Richard and Mallie’s homestead. Their “boy architect” nephew designed its Home Building, and his “Romeo and Juliet” windmill and Stone Schoolhouse still stand today, retaining the “Hillside” name.
In 1974, Unity Chapel was placed on the National Register for Historic Places. It is a magnet for new generations of Lloyed-Joneses, neighbors and friends, whose weddings, funerals, musicales, and summer services continue to bring life to this tiny, historic “cottage church.”
Wright’s third, and final, wife, Olgivanna Lloyd Wright (1898 – 1985), willed that her husband’s remains should be mixed with hers and cremated, their ashes scattered on the land surrounding their other home (Taliesin West) in Arizona. The Lloyd Wright family told her family absolutely not. So, naturally, Olgivanna’s family snuck into the cemetery in the middle of the night, dug up Wright’s remains and carried out their plans.
So saith the tour guide at Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, Taliesin (the other one – photos to come), in Spring Green, WI. Blame him if you find evidence to the contrary. I have yet to fully fact check but so far I’ve found nothing to corroborate his statement.