Monday, September 22, 2014

Tender is the Night

Once or twice a year you would have stumbled upon a book that leaves your soul troubled. This year Tender is the Night was it for me. This book is the last completed novel from F. Scott Fitzgerald; he was in the writing process of The Last Tycoon when he died in 1940. I am not quite sure whether Fitzgerald has intended this book to be his semi-autobiographical story, but the characters and the conflicts have a lot of similarities with the writer’s private life. Doctor Richard “Dick” and Nicole Diver was a lovely couple among the upper-middle class of Americans, who, in the 1920s had great interest in travelling to Europe to learn the culture and expand their businesses.

Although it seems, at first, that the story would be narrated by an adolescent Hollywood actress, Rosemary Hoyt; it would turn out on the second and third book, that it was all actually about the Divers. Dick Diver was a psychiatric, while Nicole was his wife as well as his patient. She was a patient in a psychiatry clinic when Dick first met her; a very pretty young girl with schizophrenia. She was very in love with Dick, and though he first declined, Dick finally agreed to marry her after she was released from the clinic. It was easy to assume that Nicole represented Zelda, Fitzgerald’s schizophrenic wife; while Dick’s faith in this story was how Fitzgerald saw Zelda’s mental disorder which has ruined their marriage and, at certain point, the writer’s personal life and career.

Apart from her beauty, Dick married Nicole also for her money. Witnessing his father’s life in poverty apparently encouraged young Dick to pursue his ambition as a famous medical doctor. He might have been successful, and his marriage might have been a happy one, if their course did not accidentally cross with that of Rosemary Hoyt. Young, innocent, beautiful; she had just the perfect combination to corrupt a reserved man (son of a Reverend) who was struggling with his schizophrenic wife. After the short affair, Dick seemed to lose balance of his life. He fell to alcoholism and neglected his career; he became bitter and cynical to others, that his friends excluded him. On the contrary, as he was weaker, Nicole became stronger. She found that she could slowly detach herself from her husband’s influence, and found another love from her longtime suitor.

Nicole is like a parasite to her husband, although she did not do it on purpose, as it was because of her mental illness and instability. But I think the struggles to protect and to balance his wife for more than ten years of marriage have absorbed Dick’s vitality and morality. Nicole’s mental illness was triggered by the incest committed by her father. Maybe this had something to do in Dick’s fall, like a poison that never completely vanishes from the air once it is polluted. In the end what Dick has done to Nicole is a sacrifice; no matter whether he has done it purely for love, or innocently for his ambitions. Whichever it was, I think Dick, or (if this story truly represents the writer’s feeling) Fitzgerald, has done a goodness in bringing a schizophrenic person to reach her fullness of life at last. Sometimes, great deeds demand greater sacrifice….

It was really heart-wrenching to follow Dick’s struggle after Nicole left him. I kept asking myself, how Nicole could be so selfish towards her husband after what he has given her. But to expect an unbalanced woman to guide her husband back to the right path is impossible. So I guess, in the end, I could not blame any of the two. Their faith is inevitable. I think Fitzgerald himself only wanted to express his feeling to the world by this story.

Just like in The Great Gatsby, I think Fitzgerald used a lot of metaphors in this book. Things which I thought were irrelevant to the plot, might have been these metaphors. I felt there were a lot more than what I could grab now. Compared to Gatsby, Tender is the Night is slower and sometimes rather flat, but maybe it’s me who still cannot find the deeper meanings; I don’t think Fitzgerald has ever wasted sentences to no purpose. I think it’s a good excuse to read the book again in the future; then, perhaps, I might find it more beautiful than what I think now.

Nevertheless, I give four stars for Tender is the Night in this first reading.


I read Penguin Classics hardback edition

This book is counted as:

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… ;)