Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The House of Mirth: Final Review

I think I have just found a favorite female author, who can be juxtaposed with Zola’s genius, intense, and beautiful naturalist style: Edith Wharton. The House of Mirth was my first book by her, and I loved it so much!

Lily Bart is 29 years old, and in the turn of the century, a girl of her age should have married. Lily is very charming, but she is a poor orphan girl who depends on her conservative aunt’s generosity. Nevertheless, she can make her way in the socialite world. Since it is her only world; she has grown up and was brought for one aim: to get a rich husband and live comfortably. The problem was not that no one attracted to Lily; on the contrary, she was charming and intelligent, and had many admirers. Lily’s difficulties started because she could not make her mind of what she really wanted. On one hand she needed to marry a rich man to support her luxury taste, while on the other, she yearned for the freedom of choosing her own life. Through the book she constantly had this doubts; and as she was too lazy to make decision, she kept putting the problem behind, until it exploded, and drown her down.

It might not become too bad if Lily has lived in our modern era. However—and this is what Wharton wanted to emphasize—in the late 19th century, American high society only cared for money and fame. Whoever had one or both would be welcomed to the circle; they didn’t care about morality. Friendship and love were often depended on status; one would praise immoral men and women if they had influences, which one could benefit to step higher on the ladder of so called society. In this circle did Lily accidentally hurt a rich and influenced woman, and in order to take revenge—and to divert attention from her scandalous affairs—she spread negative issues about Lily to ruin her reputation.

In the midst of hypocrite society, a girl would certainly ruinous just because of one vague scandal, no matter whether she really guilty or not. And since Lily was poor and did not know other life apart from what she was brought up for, she could not runaway from the ruin. Her friends knew that she was innocent, but they could not help her lest their ‘patron’ abandoned them too.

Like Zola, Wharton was a naturalist too; their style has a strong similarity, although Zola’s is stronger while Wharton’s a bit softer. Like in Zola’s, I loved Wharton’s metaphors and her beautiful prose, like in this passage. In terms of naturalism theory, The House of Mirth tells us how human being is produced and shaped according to their natural habitat. Wharton also pointed out the moral corruption on the early 20th century, while stock market was being introduced and many people became suddenly rich by it. They were worshipping money and status, but neglecting humanity (you can read more of my analysis of the theme in my WEM posts). And Wharton crafted them in a beautifully-flowing prose.

Five stars for The House of Mirth! And I would certainly read Mrs. Wharton’s other novels.


I read Penguin English Library paperback edition

This book is counted as:

5th book for Back To The Classics 2014 (Woman Author)

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Classics Club’s September Meme: When Edith Wharton and Jane Austen Switch Places

This is probably the most interesting topic The Classics Club has ever picked for its monthly meme:

“Select two classics from your list (by different authors) that you have finished reading. Now switch the authors, and contemplate how each might have written the other’s book.”

My last two classics are The House of Mirth and Sense and Sensibility. Actually, both Edith Wharton and Jane Austen are new authors for me, and I have just read one book of each. So, maybe I would not be very objective, but I’ll try to catch their style from their only books I have read. Now, let’s switch the authors, and voila…..we have two new books! *this is going to be fun!*

The House of Mirth by Jane Austen

Lily Bart is an orphan, and now she is looking for a husband! She is introduced to the young and handsome Mr. Lawrence Selden, when she is staying in her best friend Gerty Farish’ country house. Mr. Selden lives in a cottage near Gerty’s house, so he visits her every morning; they would take a walk for an hour; then he will sit with her while she is doing her sewing, having a quiet conversation. They actually love each other, but never speak of their feeling.

One day they get a visitor from town, Mr. Percy Gryce, the rich and successful gentleman, Gerty’s brother. Mr. Gryce is a self-confident and charming man, and Lily is often blushing by his flattery, while Mr. Selden is silently—and bitterly—watching them. While everyone is sure that Mr. Gryce will marry Lily, he suddenly disappears. Apparently he has mismanaged his business, and was in a huge debt. To save himself, he must marry a rich girl, and Lily is not in his list. The broken-hearted Lily cries everyday, her face becomes paler, and she loses her appetite. But then Mr. Selden starts to visit the house, only to do small helps for the ladies. By his patience and gentleness, Lily gets her confidence back, and she begins to realize how kind Mr. Selden is. She agrees to marry him, and they live quietly but happily in the country.


Sense and Sensibility by Edith Wharton

Elinor and Marianne Dashwood are the daughters of a rich and reputable family in the New York’s high society. Edward Ferrars, who is attracted to Elinor, comes from a rich family too, but he dislikes his people’s hypocrisy and vanity. Elinor loves him, and everybody regards them as perfect couple, until Edward rejects his mother’s inheritance, and chooses to start working as a clerk, and be independent. Elinor, who is always calculated and reserved, slowly releases Edward, fearing that she will be banished from her small world of rich and nice people. What will they think of her if she becomes a wife of a clerk, be that for a reputable company? Elinor ends up marrying a rich man who made his way to fame and fortune through crafty business, although she never loves him.

John Wiloughby is an ambitious young man. As he comes from a middle class family, although highly respectable, he is determined to marry a rich girl (and her dowry!), and be welcomed to the respectable society he has dreamt to be invited. He starts courting Marianne. The amiable and expressive Marianne finds him very agreeable; she loves to talk about books with him, and she enjoys his company. Her association with Wiloughby disgusts her circle of people, and she is abandoned by her friends after a false scandal. Wiloughby, finds that Marianne is already banished from the society, switch his courting to a rich girl, who likes him. He marries her, and now he is welcomed by the high society because of his wife, leaving Marianne crushed by broken heart as well as abandonment from the society.


I am awful at writing, right? :)

I think, beyond the plot, the writing style is what makes them distinguished one from another. But anyway, it’s interesting to see how different a book will be in the hand of other author(s).

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The House of Mirth: Rhetoric Stage Reading

Do you sympathize with the characters? Which ones and why?

My sympathy goes to Lily. She is the innocent victim of the society determination which dictates how women should live, and beyond that, they would be crushed. Lily becomes what she is now, because she was born in that society, and was brought up by her mother with one determination: not to be poor, because poorness is disgusted; to love luxury; and to achieve it she must attract a rich man to marry her. Lily Bart’s small world contains of politics and business, money and power. You have it, you win; you lack of it, you lost. How can an orphan, inexperienced girl like Lily could have survived in the world like that?

Does the writer technique give you a clue as to her “argument”—her take on the human condition?

If using nature objects can be called ‘technique’, I think Wharton, as a Naturalist, argues that human is shaped by how he is brought up: environment, education, society, culture. It would be difficult to adapt with another different ‘habitat’; just as animals could not survive, and might even extinct, when they are plugged onto different habitat. There might be few who can survive, but cubs would need their mother to guide and protect them. In this story, sadly, Lily does not have anyone to guide her.

What exactly is the writer telling you?

Wharton wants to criticize the injustice practiced by the society upon women; they restricted women’s movement by prejudices. She also pointed out their hypocrisy. Married women (and men) could do anything immoral as long as they were protected by money and marriage institution; whereas single women would be banished forever if they ever had scandal, no matter whether they were really guilty or not. They were guided by the power of money and fame, but ignored morality.

In what sense is the book true?

Some of the problems in this book exist today in our modern world; the hypocrisy, the power of money and fame which become magnet for many people; that true friendship begins to be mere concept. However, nowadays women have more influence than before, and their place is almost equal—almost!—with men’s.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

10 Most Influential Books Along My Reading Life

I got a tag on Facebook to share my ten most influential books in my life, and I think it would be better to post it here (and publish it latter on Facebook). By “most influential books” I mean books which have become milestones in my reading life; they don’t have to be my most favorite (but some are), but they are tokens of my evolution in reading life. From the list you will also see that I have been brought up by books….

#1. Stories and Pictures by V. Suteyev

My mom bought this second-hand book when I was only nine months (from the inscription on the title page). It was my first gift of book, which I received long before I can read! :) I still keep this book (fortunately it’s hardcover). For me it is not only a book, but most of all, it’s a token of love and dedication from my parents. They bought this when they were poor because they knew what values a good book had for their daughter. How grateful I am!

#2. The Adventures of Tintin (comic series) by Hergé
I have read all the series many times. I remember how I got excited every time my parents took me to a bookstore when I was 7 or 8, and let me sit among the shelves to read Tintin. They are not only funny, but from them I have learned so many knowledge I haven’t (or even never) got in school (I was in elementary school at that time). That explained why I used to know things that my friends didn’t. I wondered at that time, but now I know that Tintin had taught me much more than I thought, while causing me to laugh at the same time. Thank you Hergé!

#3. Mahabharata (graphic novel)
My dad bought me a set of Mahabharata, illustrated by a local illustrator (R.A. Kosasih), and it became one of my favorite readings when I was at elementary school. I didn’t realize at that time, but Mahabharata taught me a lot about love, truth, honor, loyalty, family, and friendship. It is really a treasure you can give to your children!

#4. Curtain by Agatha Christie (and all her books)
I think I have mentioned this many times before… Christie’s murder stories were my favorite when I was 13, until now. Christie taught me that the world is not always black and white; murderers are not always bad guys, more often in Christie’s novel, they are normal and kind people like us. From Christie’s novels I took a conclusion that to murder is always a choice; everyone can do it if he chooses to do it. Particularly from Curtain, I learned that love is stronger than anything, including murder temptation. I think Christie’s novels have become an essential milestone for me into adulthood.

#5. Winnetou by Karl May
Winnetou is one of my dad’s favorites, so for years he has forced persuaded me to read it. At first I thought west world, horses, cowboy, and Indian was too masculine for me, but once I tried, I couldn’t put it down, haha.. From Winnetou I learned about true friendship between two different races, and of course, the injustice done by the stronger race against the weaker one. It can be said, that through Winnetou I was welcomed to the real world with all the complexity of human race.

#6. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I first read To Kill A Mockingbird at 2009; and it was my first proper introduction to the classics literary world, because after reading this book I began to be attracted to classics novels. It can be said that To Kill A Mockingbird was the first novel which I read as a classic; I pondered a lot over the conflicts, not just reading it through as I used to before.

#7. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Christmas 2011 was another milestone of my reading experience. It was the time when I braced myself to read classics in English (I’m an Indonesian). Naturally, I picked a novella as a start; and Dickens got the honor—I picked A Christmas Carol. I spent days to finish it, with occasional consultations to my dictionary, and a lot of struggles. How could I pick a Victorian novel with Dickens’ flowery writing style as a start? But maybe, it sharpened my skill in a short time, and in a year I think I can read classics in English quite fluently. Oh, and if you happen to stumble upon my review of A Christmas Carol, don’t be surprised, it’s embarrassing! X_X

#8. L’Assommoir by Émile Zola
It’s no surprise that Zola should appear here.. :D Actually L’Assommoir was my second Zola, but this particular book really shocked me. Shocked me sweetly, rather, as apparently, L’Assommoir became my further reading milestone. It brought me to my most favorite author: Émile Zola :) Now I have one author whose novels I plan to read entirely, and I know won’t disappoint me.

#9. A Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
After delving in classics literary for a year, I have decided to take a personal project: The Well-Educated Mind. A Scarlet Letter happened to be my first book for the project. With this short but complicated book I started my journey to the deeper digging of classics reading. I spent much longer time than it should be for this short book, but I enjoyed every step. I began to get excited with this project!

#10. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Hmm….why Gatsby? When I decided to do this meme, I knew that Gatsby would be one of the ten. But why is it influential? I can’t find any definite answer…:D  I love Gatsby, I enjoyed working with WEM for it, I loved the latest movie too. I don’t know, maybe because Gatsby is such a memorable book. There are a lot of layers waiting to be unveiled on every reread; and the whole experience of reading it is always exciting!

Now, tell me, what are your 10 most influential books? I challenge everyone, please tag yourself… ;)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sense and Sensibility

Confession: I have been dreading reading Jane Austen since I took The Classics Club project. Why? Because I regarded her books as chicklit—or chicklit in 18th century style if you like. Basically, romance is never my favorite genre, unless it’s only an added touch to a much serious topic. So, when I joined Jenna’s Austen in August, I was really gambling; I didn’t know what I was about to read, and even was not sure whether I would finish it. But at least, I said to myself, I would be able to say in the end of the event, that I have tried. So, I picked Sense and Sensibility, more because it was the lightest of all. I have tried once to read Pride and Prejudice, but could not get through more than one chapter.

Sense and Sensibility is more or less a character analysis of the society around 17th century, where Austen lived. In particular, it’s about Elinor and Marianne Dashwood—the sense and the sensibility. The sisters are from middle class family, and in age to find a husband—like any girls of their age in that century. Austen brought us to see the different approach of both sisters in trying to secure their love lives. Elinor—strong and reserved—used more of her logic than emotion; while Marianne—expressive and emotional—used her emotion more than logic. They were both so different, but they loved and took care of each other so well. Elinor fell in love with the simple and shy Edward Ferrars, while Marianne was attracted to the handsome and flamboyant Willoughby. Everyone but Elinor was deceived by both men’s manners. I think you would guess the end of both men, although—as usual—there will be twists before all ended up, quite predictably.

Of the two, I think I prefer Elinor; maybe because I am more like her than Marianne. Elinor could see things deeper, and could separate the essential from the trivial. While Marianne, who only saw the outer appearance or things on the surface, were often deceived. I think Elinor’s qualities made her tougher, the qualities I like from a woman and a friend. Expressive person like Marianne is used to bore and tire me; and they are often more vulnerable too.

Beyond the sisters, I also learned about different types of people in the society, which Austen satirized cleverly in this book. Her idea to portrait how people treated marriage as merely business, was very witty, but I think her style was rather flat and boring. The first half was almost nonsense that I seriously thought to dump it. But, fortunately, I refused to give up, as someone said that it will pick up if I keep staying with it. And it was.

In the end, what did I get? Not much. I can say now that I have read Jane Austen at least one book, but beyond that, I am at the same stage as before. I do not like her book. Period. And I think it would be the end of it. I don’t despise her; it’s just that her style does not fit my taste.

Three stars for Sense and Sensibility.


I read e-book from feedbooks dot com

This book is counted as:

Friday, August 22, 2014

The House of Mirth: Logic Stage Reading

What does the central character want? What is standing in her way? And what strategy does she pursue in order to overcome this block?

Lily Bart wants a happy, independent, and luxurious life. Unfortunately she is orphan and poor, and the society she lives in does not provide any means of independent income for women. On the contrary, it crushes poor women to make way for the rich ones. Her only option is to marry a rich husband, no matter she loves him or not. (who said women didn’t do business and politics at that era? It’s just more delicate than what men did!).

Who is telling you this story?

Wharton told it from third-person objective. I don’t know why, but she sometimes called the heroine as Lily, but at other times, Miss Bart. Was it just for variation, or did she mean something with it?

Images and metaphors

I found many imagery of water in this novel; the words like: wave, flood, sink, drowned, ocean, floating, etc. They usually represent Lily Bart’s unfortunate events, as if to highlight her helplessness against the powerful society movements, just like a tiny object in the ocean—it is swayed and crushed without the power to fight back. This object could not survive because the ocean is not its habitat. The same applied to Lily Bart; she does not belong to the society she was brought up for. One of the water metaphors:

Over and over her the sea of humiliation broke – wave crashing on wave so close that the moral shame was one with the physical dread. […] His touch was a shock to her drowning consciousness.”

Beginnings and endings

This book is opened with passivity and stagnation. Lily talks with Selden about how a girl with her ambition must force herself into the society, and marriage with a rich husband is a must. There is also a sense of imprisonment; I can feel from the opening that Lily is a free character; she knows what she must do (marrying a rich husband), but she is reluctant to make the commitment.

The ending is a resolution. Whether Lily has intentionally ended her life or not, even Selden knows that she won’t be happy if she had lived. Her dream is not correspond with the law of society at that time. Selden and Lily distinguish from the others because they have uncorrupted moral; but Selden survives because he is financially independent, whereas a girl does not provided with that privilege.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The House of Mirth: Grammar Stage Reading


Lily Barts’ Battle to Freedom: How a poor but sophisticated girl struggles to make money without submitting herself to men’s dominion, keeps suffering under social determination, does not fit in working class, excluded from any social place, and finally gives up in solitary tragic death.

Book 1

Lily Bart is trying to catch a husband at her 29 years of age; the richer the better. Lawrence Selden proposed to her, but she rejects him for not being rich. Her pick is Percy Gryce—very rich but boring—but instead of sealing the case immediately, she let herself wavering from him. Gryce married another girl after Bertha Dorset spreads bad things about Lily. Then Gus Trenor introduced the innocent Lily to the stock market; invested money in the girl; insisting to get sex for exchange, which she disgustingly rejects. Her conservative aunt hears about her bad conduct, and she only left her small money, only enough to pay her debt to Trenor.

Book 2

Simon Rosdale and George Dorset also want to marry Lily and promise financial safety, but she rejects them all. Instead, she departs to Mediterranean with the Dorsets, only to be humiliated by Bertha Dorset, and banished from her social circle and most her former friends. She tries to climb the social ladder by attaching herself to new riches, only to be associated by another scandal. Finally Lily enters the worker life, but fails too. Selden tries to help her in marriage proposal, but she relinquishes her past, and ‘accidentally’ takes overdose sleeping pills.