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.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

History Reading Challenge 2014 – 2nd Check-In

Time flies so really quickly, and here we are already on the eighth month of 2014, two third of our sail to the past with History Reading Challenge 2014. This is our second check in, to check how we have been progressing since our start. Let’s share in the comment below (or if you want to write it in a post, you could link up your post here),

  • How many books have you read so far?
  • Are you on schedule or left behind?
  • What is your most favorite so far?
  • Which history are you looking forward to read?

(You don’t have to answer all the questions; basically tell us what you think about this challenge so far).

And I would like to remind you, that in the end of this challenge there will be two giveaways, one of them for the Analysis posts. If you haven’t submitted your posts, there is still enough time to do so.

As for my own challenge….

How many books have you read so far?
So far I have finished 4 books of the 6 I intended to read:

Are you on schedule or left behind?
I am exactly in the two third of the challenge, so…. I am perfectly on schedule! Yay…

Which history is your most favorite so far?
Cicero's was my favorite; it flowed like a novel, and it gave me a familiar feeling during reading.

Which history are you looking forward to read?
Now I am so looking forward to my last book on the list: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. I am curious of the story, and I always have a soft heart for the unjustly-treated Indians.

What about you?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Scene on Three (9): The House of Mirth

I can’t explain why this long passage from Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth has caught my attention, without spoiling the whole plot (for those who have not read it). It’s lovely, so vivid, and memorable, and Wharton captured the moment in a beautiful narration, I almost recognized some Zola-ish style here… I have not finished the book yet, but I believe I will remember this scene forever, whatever the end would be.

“Selden had given her his arm without speaking. She took it in silence, and they moved away, not toward the supper room, but against the tide which was setting thither. The faces about her flowed by like the streaming images of sleep: she hardly noticed where Selden has leading her, till they passed through a glass doorway at the end of the long suite of rooms and stood suddenly in the fragrant hush of a garden. Gravel grated beneath their feet, and about them was the transparent dimness of a mid-summer night. Hanging lights made emerald caverns in the depth of foliage, and whitened the spray of a fountain falling among lilies. The magic place was deserted: there was no sound but the splash of the water on the lily-pads, and a distant drift of music that might have been blown across a sleeping lake.

Selden and Lily stood still, accepting the unreality of the scene as a part of their own dream-like sensations. It would not have surprised them to feel a summer breeze on their faces, or to see the lights among the boughs reduplicated in the arch of a starry sky. The strange solitude about them was no stranger than the sweetness of being alone in it together. At length Lily withdrew her hand, and moved away a step, so that her white-robed slimness was outlined against the dusk of the branches. Selden followed her, and still without speaking they seated themselves on a bench beside the fountain.

Suddenly she raised her eyes with the beseeching earnestness of a child. "You never speak to me — you think hard things of me," she murmured. "I think of you at any rate, God knows!" he said.

"Then why do we never see each other? Why can't we be friends? You promised once to help me," she continued in the same tone, as though the words were drawn from her unwillingly.

"The only way I can help you is by loving you," Selden said in a low voice.

She made no reply, but her face turned to him with the soft motion of a flower. His own met it slowly, and their lips touched.”

*Scene on Three is Bzee’s meme of posting your captured scenes or passages, and explaining why they are interesting. The ‘three’ means that we should post them on the dates with ‘3’ in it: the 3rd, 13th, 23rd, 30th, or 31st.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Debacle by Émile Zola

All these times I have been thinking that Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities would be my most favorite historical-war-novel ever. It’s just so memorable; with its famous opening “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times […]” and the pure love showed by Sidney Carton. In term of war, War and Peace was thicker in ‘war nature’ then A Tale, but Tolstoy emphasized too much on war idealism that it became partly too serious. But now I think I have found my new favorite historical-war-novel that exceeded those two: The Debacle.

The Debacle is the only historical novel by Émile Zola; it depicted the Franco-Prussian war (1870-1871), and became the penultimate novel of Rougon-Macquart series. The story began in the middle of the war; the main character is Jean Macquart—a farmer who had been in another war before—but now the Corporal of the 7th army corps. Another important character is Maurice Levasseur—a young man brought up well and educated—now a soldier under Jean’s command. At first they were indifferent of each other because of their different backgrounds; but in wars, status, education, wealth, everything that distinguishes someone dissolves and replaced by humanity. And so, having struggled together, Jean and Maurice became intimate friends, even closer than blood brother. They were willing to risk their own lives for the sake of the other.

In terms of the war, Zola has painstakingly written a very vivid picture of war as human-killing machine. It was compounded by French army’s bad coordination, incapability of the generals, and the indecision of the Emperor. France has been deluded itself by thinking of repeating the past grandeur of Napoleon. Many people could not realize that the Second Empire was corrupted, and that the Prussians was now much stronger than they have thought. Ironically, it was a civilian gentleman named Weiss (Maurice’s brother-in-law) who first predicted the great defeat of France, but at that time no one listened to him and even thought him a traitor. Moreover, Weiss—with no military background but his local knowledge of the land—could see what the Prussians would do; while none of the military general could read their strategy. It’s more than irony, it’s a stupidity. And what made the tragedy even tragic, was the stupidity of several people that finally destroyed many lives—the soldiers as well as civilians.

Zola explained to us his analysis of the root of the problems in chapter one – part one:

“The Empire grown old, still acclaimed in a plebiscite but basically rotten because it had weakened the idea of patriotism by destroying liberty, and then turning back to liberalism too late and thereby hastening its own undoing because it was ready to collapse as soon as it stopped satisfying the lust for pleasure it had let loose; the army certainly admirable as a brave lot of men, and still wearing the laurels of the Crimea and Italy, but adulterated by the system of paid substitutes, still in the old routine of the Africa school, too cocksure of victory to face the great effort of modern technique; and then the generals, most of them nonentities and eaten up with rivalries and some of them quite-stupefyingly ignorant, and at their head the Emperor, a sick man and vacillating, deceived and self-deceiving, and all facing this terrible adventure into which they were blindly hurling themselves, with no serious preparation, like a stampede of scared sheep being led to the slaughter.”

It was painful to read how the soldiers being maneuvered now here, then there, back and forth, and in poor conditions: fatigue, hungry, and distressed. And this was how I loved Zola’s The Debacle. Because it is not just a historical novel, it’s a living portrayal of a corrupted nation. Not only honest, but it was also painful; the ending especially. Actually it reminded me of Germinal, in the sense of a faint hope in future beneath the ruinous present. Like Etiènne Lantier, Jean Macquart was a simple man, and because of that, he never had the upper/middle class sentiment about French past grandeur. He was perhaps the least afflicted by the idea of beaten by the barbarians of Germany, and that was how he did not end like Maurice.

Zola proved himself as a great writer. The Debacle won’t be as it is if he had not done very thorough researches on the war and on how people reacted over it. And he (as usual) crafted the history and his naturalism theory on Rougon-Macquart in his beautiful, powerful, and intense narration. It instantly became my next favorite, along with Germinal, L’Assommoir, and La Bète Humaine.

Bravo Zola! Five stars for you!


I read Penguin Classics edition

This book is counted as: