January 28, 2011

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Vol 2)

January 28, 2011 8
A lot happens in Volume 2 of War and Peace, which spans about six years (from 1806-1812). *SPOILER ALERT* Count Pierre Bezukhov survives a duel with Dolokhov (who was rumored to be having an affair with Pierre’s wife), consequently becomes estranged from Helene, joins the Masons, eventually decides to live with Helene again (who by this time has gained quite a standing in Petersburg society), and basically continues to bumble through life until finally appearing to fall in love with Natasha Rostov. Prince Andrei Bolkonsky suffers an injury while serving in the military, returns from the dead, loses his wife during the birth of their son (thank God there will be no more references from Tolstoy to her “little moustache”!), and eventually also falls in love with and proposes to Natasha Rostov. His father does not approve of this engagement. His sister, Princess Marya, refuses the proposal of Prince Anatole Kuragin, as she apparently realizes that he is only interested in her money and is actually keen on her companion Mlle. Bourienne. Count Nikolai Rostov finds a home in military service. However, he is called home to deal with the family’s increasingly dire financial state. He is horribly inept at this task, so his mother tries to convince him to take a rich bride to help the situation, but he insists that he will only marry Sonya. Andrei runs off abroad and Natasha spends almost a year waiting for the return of her beloved. Unfortunately, she meets Anatole Kuragin in Moscow and suddenly falls madly in love with him. She hastily refuses Prince Andrei and agrees to elope with Kuragin, who is actually already married. The elopement is thwarted and Natasha tries to commit suicide. And, of course, the French and Russians reached a truce that now seems to be on rocky grounds. Drama, Drama, Drama...I love it!
I continue to be struck by the absurdity of the courtships and relationships in this novel. All these individuals keep speaking of love, yet I do not find love in any of these associations. Attraction, sure…lust, sometimes, but how can they really love someone they barely even know? It all seems so childish to me in many ways, but I suppose that is a reflection of living in our current times where ideas about relationships and marriage have changed. Although my opinions may change as I read on, I find that Natasha is the only character that I am really fond of. In my mind, there lingers this faint resemblance between her and Scarlett from Gone with the Wind. I also kind of like Dolokhov, but everyone else sort of bores me at this point. Marya’s piousness and insistence on playing the role of martyr really annoys me. I expected so much more from Nikolai’s character and remain disappointed in that regard so far. The man pays absolutely no attention to Sonya when he is around, but still plans to marry her?? And Pierre, for all his attempts at finding himself, still remains lost and a bumbling fool. Andrei reminds me too much of Pierre in some ways, although he plays the role with much more class. Everyone just seems so needlessly restless and lost all the time. Is this a reflection of the times, the social class, their youth, or what? Despite these feelings, I still find myself wanting to know how the story ends for all of these characters...

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (21- )

I think that Wilkie Collins is an admirable mystery writer. I am glad that I read Collins’ The Woman in White. I really liked The Woman in White! And yet, at the end I was a little disappointed. I was swept up by the first ¾ of the book, but then found that the last ¼ dragged on for me. I feel like Collins went to great pains to tie up every lose end possible in the story which I felt was somehow detrimental to the novel as a whole. Nothing was left to the reader’s imagination. There was no lurking shadow of suspense like I still felt at the end of Rebecca. Collins purposely uses the various narrators to bring the reader very close to the mystery and yet doesn't seem to give the reader enough credit for being able to use that technique to solve some things on their own. I was also not fond of the story line at the end that revealed Count Fosco, as I understand it, to be some sort of a mole inside a secret European society. Perhaps this is because I was unpleasantly reminded of certain contemporary authors’ more recent obsessions with these sorts of societies in their writing.
Another observation about English novels from the 1800s: I am bothered by the gentlemen of a certain title or class in this society, like Sir Percival - who appeared to rely on the earnings of his family estate to survive financially, as they frolic aimlessly through life. Why did society not require these men to have a real occupation, especially when they were sometimes facing financial ruin? How could these people occupy themselves day in and day out, year after year? No wonder they designed intricate plots of conspiracy and matchmaking and such…they were no doubt bored out of their minds half of the time.
Favorite Character: Marian!! Her section of narration was also my favorite. She was certainly a woman before her time. I can understand why Count Fosco was so attracted to her. And, I have to say that Mr. Fairlie also entertained me despite his nervous condition having gotten on my nerves.

Wilkie Collins 1824-1889

Favorite Quote: “I left yesterday to decide … and yesterday has decided. It is too late to go back.” Miss Laura Fairlie

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (15-27)

*Warning: this post contains material that warrants a “spoiler alert” for those that have never read the novel Rebecca. J
To say that Rebecca picks up speed in the second half of the novel is an understatement. The suspense was finally killing me, especially after the “OMG” revelation at the end of chapter 19. But, before we get to that: a brief summary of prior events. Since leaving off at the end of chapter 14, we know that the mysterious Mr. Favell is Rebecca’s cousin. The narrator has appeared at her first Manderley costume ball dressed exactly as Rebecca had been dressed at her last…due to the meddling of our eerie Mrs. Danvers. (I knew this was going to happen the moment she suggested a costume to the current Mrs. de Winters.) Then, the following morning the narrator has another fascinating run in with Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca’s bedroom where we learn that Mrs. Danvers had provided care for Rebecca as a child (hence her unusual attachment to the late Mrs. de Winters) and that she was also aware of Rebecca’s infidelity in her relationship with Maxim. The news of Rebecca’s unfaithfulness was interesting, but I did not find the news surprising. During this encounter, Mrs. Danvers also tries to talk the narrator into killing herself since it is “obvious” that Maxim does not love her and she does not belong at Manderley. At this same time, a ship wrecks off the shores of Manderley and eventually a diver is sent down to assess the damage. We learn that Rebecca’s boat has inadvertently been found by the diver and that there is a decomposed body aboard. Could it be one of her lovers?
It is then that Maxim drops a bombshell on his second wife and the reader: “The woman buried in the crypt is not Rebecca … it’s the body of some unknown woman, unclaimed, belonging nowhere. There never was an accident. Rebecca was not drowned at all. I killed her. I shot Rebecca in the cottage on the cove. I carried her body to the cabin, and took the boat out that night and sunk it there, where they found it today.” I have to say, it is not often that something in a novel genuinely surprises me, but this did. Although I suspected foul play in Rebecca’s death, I never for a moment suspected Maxim. I think I may have been suspecting Mrs. Danvers. Immediately, I began to wonder who else may have known. Was Mrs. Danvers aware? Was that why she had expressed such cold, bitter feelings for Maxim to the narrator earlier that day? Did Frank know? Was that why he had been so insistent that he must explain things to the narrator after her breakdown with him on the telephone that morning? It is hard to tell what good ole “Danny” actually knew and when she may have known it as she was so generally unhinged. It seems though, that Frank may have certainly been aware of the true nature of Rebecca’s demise even though Maxim had no idea that he knew.
I found the narrator’s handling of her husband’s admission remarkable. I am not sure that I would have remained quite so calm and supportive. Although I guess one can understand this reaction as Maxim’s confession also brought with it the revelation that he had never loved Rebecca, but had in fact loathed her and their sham of a marriage. The second Mrs. de Winter was, astonishingly, the one and only true Mrs. de Winter. Rebecca had been sleeping around with anyone and everyone including her cousin, Mr. Favell, and appears to have been an all together vile person. But, isn’t it so ironic that Maxim could have saved himself all this misery? He could have saved his Manderley. After all, Rebecca was dying anyway. Now that I think about it, perhaps Manderley was Maxim’s only true love - the only thing he was ever really married to. In any event, I can’t help but feel sorry for the life that the narrator is left with. And, by the way, what was her name??

The author...Daphne du Maurier

An older Daphne du Maurier

January 18, 2011

Checkin In...Jane Eyre Read-Along...

January 18, 2011 3
Well, I have to say that I am definitely enjoying my first experience with read-alongs...thanks to Allie at A Literary Odyssey! I love examining the similarities and differences that various readers find in the same novel. I have also enjoyed discovering a variety of new blogs through this process. I finished Rebecca January 4th and The Woman in White January 7th. I am looking forward to when our final posts go up for these two novels around January 28th. Now, I am busy working my way through War and Peace. I am currently hovering around page 400. Only about 800 more pages to go!

As stated in a comments post attached to my original pondering, I have officially added Jane Eyre to my reading list! And, I have decided to participate in a Jane Eyre read-along over at She is Too Fond of Books. Here is the schedule:

March  4 - 18: Chapters 1 - 9
March 18 - April 1: Chapters 10 -17
April 1 - 15: Chapters 18 - 23
April 15 - 29: Chapters 24 - 29
April 29 - May 13 Chapters 30 - 36
May 13 - 27: Chapters 37 - 38 (Conclusion)

Please, join us! I am also happy to report that I have decided to purchase the lovely Penguin cloth bound edition of Jane Eyre since with store coupons and member discounts I can purchase it for under $13! Yippee! Hope you all are having a great start to the New Year!

January 17, 2011

In Celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.

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A few of my favorite quotes from MLK:

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation were they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character ."

"We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers. "

"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

"Only in the darkness can you see the stars."

January 14, 2011

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Vol 1)

January 14, 2011 3
Leo Tolstoy
I had read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina some time ago and having loved it, decided to purchase his War and Peace. For over a year, this 1,215 page monstrosity has stared at me menacingly from my shelves, too intimidating to actually be read. Thankfully, Allie’s read-along has finally ended the stand-off between War and Peace and I. Despite all the confusing Russian names, the intermittent French, and the extensive footnotes, I have begun to feel at home in this novel. I am reading from the 2007 Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, which I would highly recommend. Before beginning, I tabbed the list of principal characters and the notes section at the back for easy reference. After finishing Volume 1, I feel as though I am more comfortable with the period of the Napoleonic Wars and, perhaps more importantly, can easily identify each character regardless of which name is being used for them at any given time. Tolstoy’s prose is decidedly easy to read and understand once you find your rhythm. In particular, I was dreading the “war” sections, but I even found some enjoyment here – though not as much as in the other story lines.
While reading the military scenes in Volume 1, I was struck by how Tolstoy had invoked in me a much different perception of the ideas of military and war than that which I usually hold when thinking of these ideas in the context of our modern society. As Shinshin asks, “… what the deuce makes us go to war with Bonaparte?” I refer back to the idea of a certain boredom lingering within a certain societal class that I introduced in my second post for The Woman in White. Although I know it is a little more complicated, it seems to me that in days gone by, war was sometimes waged simply because royalty had become bored and needed a distraction and that many men joined the military for exactly the same reason. You know that old adage: “What should we do today?” “Well, I suppose we could take over the world, Sire.” Tolstoy’s depiction gave me the nagging impression that battles and military service were merely a sport of sorts, while a position in today’s American military is more a true position - a job, a career. The injured, young Rostov seems to echo this sentiment at one point: “He looked at the snowflakes dancing above the fire and remembered the Russian winter with a warm, bright house, a fluffy fur coat, swift sleighs, a healthy body, and all the love and care of a family. ‘And why did I come here?’ he wondered.”
I have to say, I really admired Tolstoy’s description of how Pierre found himself suddenly and inexplicably married to Princess Helene, after becoming Count Bezukov. I almost feel the need to quote the narrative from Volume 1, part three, I and II in its entirety because I am so in love with these parts of Tolstoy’s writing. I found that he has somehow managed to perfectly articulate this feeling that I have often felt when reading of courtships and marriages of this time, a feeling that I had not previously been able to put into my own words, a feeling that the idea of a relationship had somehow taken on a life of its own with those around it and had unfortunately swept a dumbfounded couple off to a destination that they could not remember traveling to. Even now, I find it hard to really pinpoint that feeling I am alluding to. I just know that Tolstoy has captured it.
After something as simple as reading a party invitation that mentions Helene, we find Pierre thinking the following: “[he] felt for the first time that between him and Helene some sort of connection had been formed, recognized by other people, and this thought at the same time frightened him, as if an obligation had been laid upon him which he could not fulfill, and also pleased him in an amusing supposition.” And at the party, “She turned, looked straight at him with her shining, dark eyes, and smiled. ‘So you never noticed before how beautiful I am?’ Helene seemed to say … and at that moment Pierre felt that Helene not only could, but must be his wife, that it could not be otherwise … how it would be and when, he did not know; he did not even know whether it would be good (he even felt that it was not good for some reason), but he knew that it would be. That night while going to sleep, Pierre felt a “terror come over him at the thought that he might already have bound himself in some way to go through with something which was obviously not good and which he ought not to do. But while he expressed this realization to himself, on the other side of his soul her image floated up in all its feminine beauty.” Then a month and a half later at another party, Pierre knows he is expected to propose: “And how did it all happen? So quickly! Now I know that, not for her alone, not for me alone, but for all of them, this inevitability had to come about. They all expect this so much, they’re so certain it will be, that I cannot disappoint them.” And then, in the end Pierre never proposes at all, but simply allows Prince Vassily to just announce it for him and another month and a half later is married. I guess this just really spoke to what I sometimes find to be the absurdity of marriages in novels from the 1800s.

I am excited to continue on...not because of mystery and suspense that is reeling me in like with the other two read-along novels, but because I long to know more about the characters we have met.

January 12, 2011

Online Book Loot!

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Jackie as Editor: The Literary Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis...Greg Lawrence, Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books...William Kuhn, The Collected Poems...Sylvia Plath, Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath...Paul Alexander, Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy...Jeffrey Meyers, 18 Best Stories by Edgar Allan Poe. Also:

January 9, 2011

Should I Read Jane Eyre?

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I have a confession. I have never read Jane Eyre and I have never had any desire to. In fact, I purposely left this book off my classics project reading list. I have absolutely no idea why I have always felt this way. This afternoon, Jayson, Alexa and I went to see the movie Country Strong. One of the previews was for the new Jane Eyre movie coming out and it actually looked really good. Now, I am thinking that I should read the novel. What if I am missing out on something great for reasons that I can't even explain? So, I ask you...should I read Jane Eyre?

January 6, 2011

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1-20)

January 6, 2011 21
*I am reading from the Bantam Classic paperback edition of The Woman in White. My edition has around 783 pages, so my half way mark for the sake of the read-along is around 390 pages. As I have stated before, I am posting my reactions to the first half of our read-along assignments as I finish that portion, but I will not be posting my final thoughts until the indicated dates. With that in mind, other readers may want to refrain from reading my post until they have also finished the first half.*
Some thoughts while reading Part 1 of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, first published in 1860:
1.      I often find books written by English authors in the 1800s to have more intricate and rambling prose than I prefer. At times, The Woman in White fits this mold and at other times I find the prose delightfully simple. Oddly enough, I sometimes find myself thinking in the language of the day. Either way, Collins has certainly stirred my curiosity with the mystery and suspense that is developing in the novel. What is the story behind Anne Catherick?

2.      I have read that Charles Dickens was a friend and mentor of Wilkie Collins. I have not yet read any Dickens, but am wondering how their writing compares and who I will prefer. Somehow my money is on Collins, although he is the lesser known.

3.      Mr. Fairlie and his nervous condition have succeeded in getting on my nerves. I can certainly understand the trials of suffering from anxiety, but come on. He is a horribly ineffectual guardian for Miss Laura Fairlie. Also, it bothers me that Miss Fairlie does not have any conversations with this man on her own behalf regarding her money, marriage, or feelings. Does anyone else wish they could just run around this man’s rooms talking loudly and slamming doors for fun…much like Marian does in the following passage: “I dashed into Mr. Fairlie’s room-called to him as harshly as possible, 'Laura consents to the twenty-second'-and dashed out again … I banged the door after me; and I hope I shattered Mr. Fairlie’s nervous system for the rest of the day.”

4.      I find myself feeling so outraged as to the state of women’s rights during this time. Who should we blame for Laura having been compelled to still marry Sir Percival? After all, he did give her the option of ending the engagement. Is it her own fault, her dead father’s, that of Marian’s for sending Walter, her true love, away, or society’s at large? Marian certainly blames herself; an idea I also find disconcerting: “Between those two young hearts I had stood, to sunder them forever, the one from the other-and his life and her life lay wasted before me, alike, in witness of the deed.” I, obviously, lay the blame with society.

5.      What is the deal with Count Fosco? Is it possible that he is the one who actually enticed Sir Percival to marry Laura as a means to recover his wife’s Fairlie inheritance?
Enough writing for now, I must get back to reading the novel. This nineteenth century soap opera has certainly reeled me in. But first, I have to share this: When I went looking for pictures of Collins, I was immediately struck by his resemblance to my own estranged father...weird...very weird indeed. J

January 5, 2011

Checkin In...Random Thoughts Related to Writing and Reading...

January 5, 2011 4
Hello there!

1. I am finished with Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and am currently about 200 pages in with Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, both of which I am reading for Allie's January read-alongs.

2. I have been busy receiving some interesting book loot from online purchases. I will be sharing the details soon. I am happy to report that I have purchased seven selections and have saved around $60 with the use of store coupons, member discounts, and store bucks! Yes, I am really excited about my savings...lol!

3. Something that bothers me about my writing: I cannot seem to ever fully master the proper use of punctuation, especially things like the comma and the semicolon. I took a grammar course in college, but am too lazy to refer to my notes while I am writing. I know that convention is important in the writing of academic papers, but is it really that important in creative writing or blogging? About the only thing I ever remember for sure is that a comma is required before the use of "but" in a sentence.

4. Something that bothers me about my reading: I have a horrible time with the proper or intended pronunciation of the names of people and places in books. This really aggravates me. It occurs to me that this is one situation where audio books really come in handy!

HELP! :)

Revisiting the Reading List...

Other “classics” projects that I have discovered, via the world of blogging, all seem to have set a finite number for their project. For example, some plan to read a set list of 100 or even 250 books. I purposely did not set my project reading list at a specific number. Instead, I chose for the project to remain fluid thereby allowing the project room to develop and transform as time went on. Since it is the New Year, I decided it was time to take a look at the list and make some updates.
In one of my initial posts, I indicated that certain books had not been added to the list because I had read them rather recently for various college courses: Robinson Crusoe…Daniel Defoe, The Scarlett Letter…Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emma…Jane Austen, The Red Badge of Courage…Stephen Crane, Uncle Tom’s Cabin…Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Awakening…Kate Chopin, East of Eden…John Steinbeck, and A Prayer for Owen Meany…John Irving. After further consideration, I have decided that A Wrinkle in Time…L’Engle, Gone with the Wind…Margaret Mitchell, and Revolutionary Road…Richard Yates should also have been omitted from my list. I did not read these three for any college class, but had read them before the project started in October of 2010. I had planned to post my thoughts on the three before the end of 2010, but it turns out that they would have really required a re-read for me to do them any proper justice. I will say this: both A Wrinkle in Time and Gone with the Wind are new personal favorites of mine earning **** stars, with Revolutionary Road truly not trailing far behind with *** stars. If you have the chance, read them all!
Now the question becomes…what would I like to add to my list? First, I have to say that I have become rather interested in the authors behind all of these “classic” selections. So, as a compliment to my reading I may continue to add a few selections regarding the actual authors to my list. For now, I have chosen: Sylvia Plath Method and Madness…Edward Butscher, Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath…Paul Alexander and Edgar Allan Poe – His Life and Legacy…Jeffrey Meyers.
By Sylvia Plath, I am also adding The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath and Collected Poems. I intend to spend a month or more of 2011 focused on Ms. Plath. I am also adding the following: Othello…Shakespeare, The Painted Veil…W. Somerset Maugham, Mrs. Dalloway…Virginia Woolf, and 18 Best Stories by Edgar Allan Poe. If my math is correct, this brings my new list to 52 selections. I will be updating the actual Reading List accordingly sometime this evening.

January 3, 2011

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1-14)

January 3, 2011 14
* Ok, I know we are not supposed to be making our first read-along post for Rebecca until the middle of January, but in order to stay organized (in my weird OCD mind) while I participate in three simultaneous read-alongs, I feel as though I need to make the first post for each novel as I finish the first allotted section for that novel. I plan to finish Rebecca tonight, but I won't post the final post for any of the novels until the indicated time. So...let this serve as a spoiler alert if you have not yet finished part one of the novel.*
Fourteen chapters in with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, published in 1938, and we still do not know the name of our narrator, the second Mrs. de Winter. I find this very irksome. Perhaps this is so the reader has to focus on Rebecca while the second Mrs. de Winter fades into the background. Here is what we do know about the narrator:
1.      Her parents are deceased.
2.      She is apparently around the age of 21 when she marries Maxim de Winter who is 42.
3.      At the time of her marriage, she does not appear to have much self confidence or social refinery.
4.      She does not resemble the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca (which is apparently what attracted Maxim to her).
5.      She and Maxim never really discussed Rebecca and the mystery surrounding this woman is becoming a little bit of an obsession for the second Mrs. de Winter.
6.      She appears to like dogs.

This is really not a lot of information. What do we know about the elusive Rebecca? Well, not a whole lot more as it turns out. She was apparently beautiful, tall, and blessed with dark hair and fair skin. She was a marvelous hostess and lady of the house. She died in some tragic sailing accident in the bay near Manderley. It also appears that she could be rather odd…rambling around the boathouse at night, sailing alone at night, and threatening the mentally handicapped Ben. He reveals the following interesting information:  “She gave you the feeling of a snake. I seen her here with mine own eyes. By night she’d come … I looked in on her once … and she turned on me, she did … she said you’ve never seen me here … if I catch you looking at me through the window here I’ll have you put in the asylum.” Hmm...
And, how creepy is the house manager, Mrs. Danvers? I was completely freaked out by her performance with the narrator in Rebecca's old bedroom in chapter 14. I am wondering what role she is really playing here and in the past with Rebecca. If I was the new Mrs. de Winter, I would have had her replaced despite her efficiency. I also would have asked to decorate my own morning room and not live in the wake of Rebecca’s preferences. Oh, and who the hell is this Mr. Favell?? I did find it rather amusing that he calls Mrs. Danvers “Danny.”
I certainly am interested in getting to the bottom of all this mystery and yet I find that the book is moving along a bit slower than I expected it to. Is anyone else experiencing this feeling?

Daphne du Maurier
 Favorite Quote from the first half of the novel: “A large parcel arrived one morning, almost too large for Robert to carry. I was sitting in the morning-room, having just read the menu for the day. I have always had a childish love of parcels. I snipped the string excitedly, and tore off the dark brown paper. It looked like books. I was right. It was books.” – Mrs. de Winter
I liked this scene so much because I too love to receive parcels, especially those that contain books!
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