Everything I Have to Say About Oscar Wilde

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Everything I Have Left to Say About Oscar Wilde

Ok, this won’t be everything I have yet to say about Oscar Wilde. His writing, his approach to life, his own tragic personal dramas, pierce the center of my being in a way that I cannot package into words and ship to the cold void of the internet. The Marianas Trench of my feelings for Wilde will not be plumbed, but we will break the surface. Piece by piece.

Poe and Hemmingway have their adherents, but Oscar Wilde has always been the literary icon for me. He is a tragic, flawed hero in the Greek style. Far from perfect, but exquisitely inspiring. I have been fascinated by him ever since I read The Importance of Being Earnest as a teenager. His wit, humor, defiance, and fashion choices move me.

Fairy Stories

His tales for children, including “The Happy Prince” and “The Selfish Giant” are so beautiful, poignant, and sad. Give them a read.

Lady Windermere’s Fan

How could he have become so good at play writing so quickly? This is only his third play. Lady Windermere’s Fan is a saucy takedown of the Angel in the House idea of Victorian femininity. Through a series of misunderstandings, a vociferously upright young wife must be rescued from ruin by a woman she scorned as immoral. Wilde skewers late Victorian prudishness by presenting a fallen woman who, while not entirely selfless, is capable of great sacrifice. She had good reasons for leaving her husband and becoming ruined in the first place, too.

The plot is a bit contrived. I am absolutely not a fan of testing a character’s morals by placing them in artificially complex situations that no one could be expected to navigate. However, I can overlook it in this case, because the ideas and style of the play are just lovely. I love that Mrs. Erlynne is a brazen courtesan who represents everything that good society cannot tolerate, yet she insinuates herself into good society with grace, cleverness and a healthy dose of self-interest.

Enjoy some quotes:

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

I can resist anything except temptation.

Life is far too important a thing to ever talk seriously about.

There are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely-or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands.

“How long could you love a woman who didn’t love you, Cecil?
A woman who didn’t love me? Oh, all my life!”

On now to the next play.

 

A Woman of No Importance

Yikes, this one is kind of bad. Sorry, Oscar. I’m shocked that he actually got it published and performed, considering the very obvious subtext of the plot. Lord Illingworth wants to give a handsome young man, Gerald, a position that he’s under-qualified for. Gerald’s mother is adamant that Gerald not go with Illingworth, because *dramatic music* Gerald is Illingworth’s son. So, you might be thinking that she wants to keep her son away from the immoral man who seduced her and abandoned her. That would be true. But. Also. She doesn’t want Illingworth to seduce his own son. Gross, Oscar. Why even write that?

I appreciate that Wilde stands up for the moral character of unwed mothers, but he doesn’t do it particularly well. His wit does not sparkle. The play is a continuous string of epigrams and paradoxes that become quite tedious.

Here’s a quote:

When good Americans die they go to Paris. And when bad Americans die they go to America.

 

An Ideal Husband

This play and The Importance of Being Earnest are Oscar Wilde’s best work. So clever and funny. An Ideal Husband centers on two couples and the scheming intriguer who would ruin them. Sir Robert Chiltern is a politician whose wife Gertrude, unaware of a sordid trick he pulled to launch his career, adores him as an ideal of honesty and rectitude. This pair takes themselves very seriously. Meanwhile, Chiltern’s sister, Mabel, and her beau, Lord Goring, are models of frivolity and facetiousness. Of course, dear Oscar shows that the seemingly foolish and superficial pair are much more forthright and realistic in their behavior and expectations than the couple that would like to be models of correct Victorian behavior.

I love this play. You should read it or watch one of the versions on youtube or maybe even pay to watch the 1999 film with Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, Rupert Everett and some guy I don’t remember.

A quote:

Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people we personally dislike. 

oscar

The Importance of Being Earnest

Absolutely the most delightful, whimsical play ever written. The wittiest banter of all time. It is silly, satirical and somewhat romantic. I love this play so much. I don’t think I have read anything funnier. The interview between Lady Bracknell and Jack/Ernest Worthing is a particular highlight. I won’t say anything about the plot, because you should just read it. Or at the very least watch the charming 2002 film with Rupert Everett again, Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon and Dame Judy Dench at her absolute finest. I adore this movie. It really plays up the silliness and faux romanticism of the source material.

If you read only one thing by Oscar Wilde in your life, it should be Earnest. It is a sparkling, unique masterpiece. He was a genius.

Quotes:

I never travel without my diary, one should always have something sensational to read on the train.

Oh! I don’t think I would like to catch a sensible man. I shouldn’t know what to talk to him about.

The Canterville Ghost

I highly recommend this funny story about a brazen, new-money, American family who move into a musty old British manor house and fail to be impressed by the resident ghost. They trample on tradition in a delightful way. You should definitely, definitely, definitely read it.

The Fall of the House of Wilde

I wanted to know more about Oscar Wilde’s life story, but I never can find the time to read non-fiction. The Fall of the House of Wilde by Emer O’Sullivan was the only biography of Wilde available on Audible, so I listened to it. I learned a lot. I think this would be a very engaging read or listen for anyone interested in Irish History, LGBT history or any fan of biographies.

I came for Oscar Wilde’s life story, but O’Sullivan set out to place Oscar in the context of his revolutionary, intellectual, fiercely individualistic, self-destructive, Irish family. It is true that Oscar was not a green carnation blooming in a desert. His father, William, was a noted doctor and archeologist. His mother was a poet. Both were known for their wit as well as their interest in Irish history, folklore and politics. O’Sullivan’s thesis seems to be first that Oscar is a logical outgrowth of his sparkling family and upbringing, not an natural wonder, and secondly he laments that the Wilde family was wiped out of Irish history when Oscar’s trial for homosexuality made the Wilde name unmentionable. Yes, they deserve restoration in their place in Irish history, but must we be so hard on Oscar?

I do think he is a wonder. A green carnation that bloomed from fertile soil, true. But a unique flower, nonetheless.

Final Thoughts: I love Oscar Wilde with my whole heart, but with some reservation. The biographical details of his life would not stand up to modern scrutiny. I have both condemnation and forgiveness in my heart. Read or listen to The Fall of the House of Wilde if you want to know what I am referring to. I think it’s best to hear the entire story than my one paragraph summary.

When I contemplate Oscar Wilde’s life, I am filled with profound sadness for the moral failure of the culture that I inherited. This brilliant man was condemned for loving who he loved and imprisoned in inhumane conditions. He died of illness he contracted in prison. It horrifies me to think of everyone who has suffered like Oscar suffered, for not being straight, for having the audacity to be themselves. It makes me sick and sad. The only consolation is that his art remains to lift us up, to remind us of the beauty and silliness in this life.

Betrayed by my Favorite Author: Women Who Hate Women

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Adam Bede, George Eliot, 1859

Before I started this project, I considered George Eliot my favorite Victorian author on the strength of Middlemarch alone. She dethroned herself with the rest of her body of work. Yes, she. If you’re not familiar, George Eliot is the nom-de-plume of Mary Ann Evans. When I was assigned to read Middlemarch for a college course, I loved it. I will discuss that special novel when we come to it in this endeavor. Just know that there’s one metaphor that compares women’s native passions and energies to a river whose force diminishes as it breaks upon the rocks of all the other crap people expect from us.

Having read only Middlemarch, I saw Eliot as a feminist author who fought back against the stereotype of female characters whose only concerns are hair ribbons and marrying rich. A Mill on the Floss mostly confirmed this opinion. Then I came to Adam Bede.

Let me tell you how Eliot betrayed me and all women in Adam Bede. There is a character, Bartle Massey, who exists only to spew misogynist nonsense. Every line of his dialogue cut me. Not because a male character hates women, but because my beloved George Eliot wrote and published those lines. She put those horrible thoughts into the world for others to chuckle at. I will not comb through the text to find his most egregiously hateful statements, because reading even one makes my shoulders tense up. So, here’s the first one I could find:

“I must give [my dog] her supper too, confound her! Though she’ll do nothing with it but nourish those unnecessary babbies. That’s the way with these women—they’ve got no head-pieces to nourish, and so their food all runs either to fat or to brats.”

Do you not feel betrayed? How could George Eliot write that? I mean, fuck. I like to think I’m a pretty savvy reader, and I found no evidence that his dialogue was meant to be satirical. What’s worse, he serves no purpose in the novel other than as a mouthpiece for hate. Really. His only other role is moral support for the title character, a function which could easily have been served by at least two other characters. Seriously, if I were to draw you a diagram of the plot, and I’d be happy to do so, this joker’s name would appear nowhere, because he’s inconsequential.

Her portrayal of female characters is problematic as well. First we have Hetty Sorrel, a pretty young girl who is so astoundingly vain and empty headed that she manages to ruin or nearly ruin the lives of everyone near her. Then there’s Lizbeth Bede who destroys the happiness of the men around her by constantly whinging about trifles. And there’s Mrs. Poyser who also cannot stop complaining. Lastly, we have Dinah Morris, a Methodist preacher. Now, that’s pretty cool. A lady doing manstuff. Well, until she gets married and the Methodist church decides women shouldn’t preach because they’re dumb dumbs who do more harm than good. So, George Eliot provided us with stereotypes of female vanity and shrewishness elevated to the point of ruinous destruction.

Why? Why would she do this to me? I loved her so much and she stabbed me right in the feminism. I can’t help but think that Eliot was trying to throw her audience off the scent of her true identity or assert her membership in some male club by bashing women. Which sucks. That just sucks. Just don’t do that “I am a woman, but I’m not like other women. They’re the worst,” crap. Hey, George Eliot, are you a woman? Yes. Are you awesome? Yes. Therefore women are awesome. You’re not a special miracle; you’re evidence that all women have the ability to be insightful, eloquent artists, given the chance.

Listen, I am going to forgive George Eliot. What she did to me as a female reader of female authors really stings. But, every feminist takes a tumble at some point. We all screw up. Standing up to existing powers is exhausting and tricky. She redeemed herself with Middlemarch and I will apply its soothing balm to my psyche.

I don’t forgive Adam Bede, though. I have more problems with it. I find the characters flat, either wholly good or wholly sinful.

Victorians loved descriptions of quaint rustic scenes. Eliot provided them. Her tone in doing so comes off as extremely condescending to me. I slogged through her descriptions of country dinners with a grimace on my face. Then there’s this thing that happened that I just can’t stomach. Spoilers coming in the next paragraph.

Ok. Adam Bede is this strong, sexy carpenter. He’s tall, handsome, hardworking, good at everything, and wise in a quaint rustic way. Everybody in his whole town loves him. His younger brother, Seth, is a less awesome version of Adam. He’s a great guy, but no one really cares about him, because they’re too busy being impressed by Adam. Seth is in love with Dinah Morris. She looks like an angel. She’s so good and pure. She’s just so much better than other women that he could never love anyone but her. But Dinah only loves Jesus. She tells Seth that he’s just the kind of guy she would marry if she was going to marry anyone, but God wants her to blah blah blah not get married and help people yadda yadda.  (When people talk about Christianity, it sounds like the adults in Charlie Brown to me.) The plot proceeds. It’s a doozy. Hardships are endured. Christiany whomp-whomp sounds are made. Dinah falls in love with Adam. Adam finds that he loves her too.

Now, that all seems believable to me. I’m sure brothers have both fallen in love with the same woman. No doubt, a man has married a woman who rejected the proposal of his brother. What I don’t believe is Seth’s attitude about it. Seth, the poor dear, tells Adam that he loves being around Dinah so much that if he can’t marry her, he’s happy to be a bachelor forever and have her near him as a sister. Nope! Zero. That has never happened. If Seth had moved on and married someone else and regarded his feelings for Dinah as misguided puppy love, I would believe that he would condone the marriage. But, I cannot believe that any person would ever be ok with their brother marrying the one person they feel they could ever love. Just no. The last person to be ok with their brother marrying their one true love would be a younger brother who has spent his whole life in his brother’s shadow.

Let’s look at a parallel fictional example. Lady Edith and Lady Mary. Edith lives in Mary’s shadow. Edith was in love with cousin Whatshisface, the one who died on the Titanic. Mary was supposed to marry him to save the family fortune. Was Edith ok with this? No. She was resentful and so desperate for this dude’s affection that she thought a burnt-faced conman was said dead cousin and kind of fell in love with that weirdo. That was a stupid plot element, but it illustrates my point. Also, Edith fell for other people, because it is unnatural to just never seek out human affection again when the first person you’re into doesn’t feel the same way about you. Unnatural.

I do not generally need faithful realism in a work of fiction. However, I just could not buy into the ending of Adam Bede. George Eliot wants me to believe that Adam marrying Dinah and Seth living as their sad bachelor brother is a happy ending. Nope. My gut churned when Dinah and Adam fell in love. Everybody in that situation needed to find someone else to love. I get that these characters don’t often get out of their small town, but…. Just don’t marry the one person your little brother has ever loved. Just don’t. Please. Don’t.

I should mention that something very controversial happens in this book. Not just Victorian controversial, every time period controversial. Well, I can’t speak to what offended cavepeople, but if anything did, probably this thing would. So, it’s not exactly boring. Also, Eliot is a great writer. Every unlikable element of Adam Bede is beautifully written.

You might like Adam Bede if:

  • you are not a feminist
  • you’re a feminist who’s pretty good at shaking off misogynist statements
  • you like George Eliot’s other novels
  • I mean, it’s a well-written book. If the stuff I mentioned wouldn’t bother you and you generally like Victorian fiction, it’s a pretty darn good book. I hope you do read it and like it. It’s not for me, but I’d be perfectly happy to hear that someone else enjoyed it.

You might not like Adam Bede if:

  • the Bartle Massey quote above made your gorge rise.

Final Thoughts: My final thought is a message for Bartle Massey:

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An Open Letter to Maggie Tulliver

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The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot, 1860

Oh, Maggie Tulliver. Mag, Mags, Magsy. Oh, Magpie. If only…. You shouldn’a…. It’s not your fault. Not like this!

In the long history of misunderstood literary youths, you are the least understood.

You just couldn’t do your gender roles, you poor, stubborn, affectionate thing.

If only your brother had your brains. If only women were allowed to exercise their mental capacities . If only your parents weren’t donkey-brained fools. They should have appreciated you, Magster. Everyone should have appreciated you.

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I’m sorry Phillip pulled that friend-zone nonsense on you. I’m sorry about what went down with your cousin’s fiancé. I’m sorry your brother was such a bully. You still loved him. More than he deserved. I’m sorry Victorian society had such strange and unreasonable expectations about female sexual purity. I’m sorry everybody always assumed the worst of you.

I wish you hadn’t done the honorable thing. It caused a lot of pain for a lot of people. I know you were sticking to your principles. Couldn’t you have compromised a little? Sometimes you just have to get by in society. It doesn’t feel good, but you do what’s required sometimes. Just to avoid causing a big painful kerfuffle. You got everybody all kerfuffled. I respect you though. So much. You always did your best.

I’m especially sorry about how things ended for you. I guess you’re probably ok with…that thing that happened, but I’m not. I’m not satisfied with your ending at all.

You were worth the whole damn lot of them. That’s a reference to a book published eighty years after your book.

Nothing ever went your way.

Just know you found the perfect love you craved in the hearts of your readers even if your author wrote you a crappy ending.

Love,

Sydney

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The Play Lincoln Was Watching When He Was Killed

our american cousin

Our American Cousin, Tom Taylor, 1858

Our American Cousin has the dubious distinction of being the play that Abraham Lincoln was attending when he was assassinated. Ironically, given its dark history, the play is a delightful, farcical comedy. The plot centers around the visit of an American to his aristocratic English family. I believe a description of the characters will serve to illustrate Tom Taylor’s humor.

  • Asa Trenchard—the titular American cousin. “I’m Asa Trenchard, born in Vermont, suckled on the banks of Muddy Creek, about the tallest gunner, the slickest dancer, and generally the loudest critter in the state.” He’s rustic, a good shot with a bow and arrow, worldly-wise and savvier than his British relatives. Asa speaks in a stream of folksy colloquialisms. He is unrefined, but kind and practical. Taylor’s depiction of Asa’s culture shock cracked me up. Asa finds the valet assigned to him astoundingly useless, quipping “Hold on, say, I may want to yawn presently and I shall want someone to close my mouth.” After a few days in England, Asa figures out the foibles and hidden agendas of every member of his uncle’s household.
  • Lord Dundreary—a silly British nobleman visiting the family. “I never can forget—when I can recollect.” A lisping buffoon with odd facial hair, and a habit of mixing up words. Dundreary became an iconic comic character. Actor Edward Askew Sothern’s physical comedy and ad libs became so famous that bushy sideburns were known as Dundrearies and mixed metaphors as Dundrearyisms for a while. Dundreary is in love with Georgina.
  • Sir Edward Trenchard—a proud but terribly indebted lord. “A pretty time for such levity when ruin stares me in the face.” He considers suicide or marrying his daughter to a scoundrel as means to ending his financial difficulties.
  • Coyle—an old servant of the household who is now attempting to defraud them of all their property and marry Florence. “And now to show this pompous baronet the precipice on which he stands.”
  • Florence Trenchard—Sir Edward’s daughter. “Why will papa not trust me? Oh, Harry! I wish he would. I wish he would find out what a lot of pluck and common sense there is in this feather head of mine.” Florence truly is plucky. She realizes Asa’s value and helps him resolve the family conundrum.
  • Mary Trenchard—a cousin dispossessed by the will that gives Asa the family property. “Well, I must look to my dairy or all my last week’s milk will be spoiled.” Disinherited Mary must make her own living in her dairy. She’s sweet and domestic. Asa falls in love at first sight, because she’s the only productive person he’s met in England.
  • Georgina—a girl who’s trying to marry Lord Dundreary. “I’m too delicate.” Georgina pretends to be a delicate invalid, because that’s what turns on Dundreary.

While Asa seems to be the comedic figure, the play actually satirizes foolish, affected, avaricious British nobility. It is pretty funny to read a Victorian Brit’s take on Americans. I mean, I know I can’t speak for more than 30 seconds without including a metaphor involving possums, eels, or pigs in hollers. So, a pretty accurate portrayal of Americans.

You might like Our American Cousin if:

  • you’re a curious history buff.
  • you have a sense of humor.
  • you like puns.
  • you enjoy a little satire in your farce and a bit of farce in your satire.

You might not like Our American Cousin if:

  • you’re more serious than a badger in a bunny hole.

Final thoughts: This was well worth reading. I reread it before writing this post and I enjoyed it the second time too. It’s funny, entertaining and quite short. A good read.

Jane Eyre’s Crazy Life

I am no bird; and no net ensares me. Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, 1847          

Oh, Jane Eyre, how I love you. Let me count the ways.

1)      I love your rigid, adamantine character. Miss Eyre has her own ideas of proper self-conduct and the four horsemen of the apocalypse couldn’t drag her off the straight and narrow path. She will crawl away from temptation over the freezing moors and starve to death under a shrub rather than violate her own code of ethics. It’s a bit hypocritical that I love this quality in Jane, because I often get frustrated with characters who do the honorable thing even when it’s the thing that causes the most pain for everybody (think Mr. Bates season 1 and 2). However, it’s nice to see a female character who is not tossed around by the inclinations of others. Jane refuses to let male desires rule her life and when she’s refusing she says wonderful things like “I am no bird; and no net ensares me!”

2)      I love your British school girl days. My family lived in England for a year when I was nine. I remember huddling close to my only friend, trying to survive the bleak, cold, foggy weather during “recess.” I can relate to Jane’s school days and I like that they are included in the story. Most earlier literature considers the time right before she gets married to be the only noteworthy part of a woman’s life.

3)      I love your plot twist. We all know what happens in Jane Eyre, right? Stop reading now if you don’t already know the twist. Secret crazy monster wife! Secret crazy monster wife is such a surprise. I have probably read Jane Eyre four times and Mr. Rochester’s insane secret wife still blows my mind.

Jane Eyre, Bertha, crazy wife

4)      I love your moral ambiguity. Gone is the Arthurian proto-type of the noble knight and the valiant maiden struggling against outside forces. The love between Jane and Mr. Rochester has plenty of conflict without the interference of the outside world. The power dynamics between them are unsettling.  She refers to him as her master. He is always trying to trick her into accidentally revealing her true feelings for him. His eventual blindness makes him dependent on her and obligates her to be his nurse. It’s all very strange, which makes Jane Eyre an interesting book to pick up and read again.

5)      I love your mysticism. Jane is constantly having dreams and presentiments. When she and Mr. Rochester first meet they both think they are having an encounter with a creature of the Fae. In my opinion, Charlotte Bronte pulls off these Gothic elements better than any author I have encountered on this list so far, because her language is ornate, precise and original. Jane’s visions are so well described that they are hard not to enjoy and they don’t come off as trite, as Gothic elements sometimes do in the hands of lesser authors.

6)      I love to hate your horrible cousin. St. John makes my top ten list of the most despicable characters in literature. He attempts to use religion to coerce a woman into marrying him. And because marriage inevitably leads to sex, he is also using religion to manipulate his own cousin into having sex with him. So gross. He actually says this “take that space of time to consider my offer: and do not forget that if you reject it, it is not me you deny, but God.” Let me translate that into modern English for you: “Jane, let me mansplain something to you real quick. I personally know the will of God way better than you, because, you know, he made me a man, so he must like me more. So, whatever I want is essentially the will of God, including your everlasting devotion and body. Duh. Now, just do what I want, because God and I say so.” This guy makes me want to vomit. However, adamant Jane does not give in! This line of logic does not work on her. She feels that her interpretation of God’s will is just as valid as St. John’s and God wouldn’t want her to marry this tool. Did I mention that he wants her to go be a missionary with him? Which is the worst thing a person can do.  I honestly don’t understand why anyone was ever gullible enough to be a missionary. Missions were and are never about saving souls, they are about establishing an economic foothold for the benefit of corporations and/or the government. The side effect is the spread of disease and destruction of culture. Kids, don’t be missionaries. It’s an incredibly misguided thing to do. There’s a difference between acting “for God” and acting “for The Church.”

7)       I love that I know you so well. Jane Eyre is long, because it provides a detailed portrait of Jane’s inner life. You really get to know and understand the workings of her mind. It’s not the type of novel that you rush through. Instead you spend time getting intimate with the protagonist. That’s not really how novels are written today. Now, authors like mysterious, inscrutable protagonists. There’s something to be said for the Bronte’s Victorian level of detail. By the end of the book, I felt like Jane was an old friend.

You might like Jane Eyre if:

  • you like Wuthering Heights.
  • you like a bit of magic.
  • you like Victorian fiction.
  • you’re an Anglo-phile.

You might not like Jane Eyre if:

  • you can’t handle the length of it. It’s lengthy.

 

Final thoughts: I really enjoyed rereading Jane Eyre. The strange romance is more intriguing from an adult perspective. This is one of my favorite novels of all time. Most stories about a young person’s religious coming of age put me straight to sleep. To me, the answer to question “How do I reconcile my faith with the realities of my life?” is very simple: Stop torturing yourself and do what you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody. So, when a character feels tormented, because they want something that their religion tells them they can’t have, I get real bored. There are only a few pages, late in Jane Eyre that made me feel this way. Overall, Bronte managed to sell religious dilemmas to this atheist, which is a miracle.

 

Everybody Needs to Read A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Frederick Douglass, 1845

If you haven’t read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass or you haven’t read it in a long time, you should read it. It will make you feel terrible, but you should read it. It has a happy ending.

I read this book when I was a child and while I really wasn’t able to process or understand the cruelty that Douglass witnessed and endured as a slave, I was inspired by the strength of his character. As an adult, the facts of Douglass’ early life are much more gut-wrenchingly horrific, and his ability to retain a sense of personal worth and dignity are even more admirable.

No rags-to-riches story in the canon of English fiction is more dramatic than the true story of Frederick Douglass’ life. As a child he was separated from his mother. He suspected that his white owner was his father, but this was never acknowledged. He was barely fed and given one shirt per year as clothing. During winter, on “the coldest nights, I used to steal a bag which was used for carrying corn to the mill. I would crawl into this bag, and there sleep on the cold, damp, clay floor, with my head in and feet out. My feet have been so cracked with the frost, that the pen with which I am writing might be laid in the gashes.”

Douglass was sent to Baltimore, where the wife of his owner began to teach him to read, until her husband made her stop, because it was illegal to teach slaves to read. With dogged determination and resourcefulness, Douglass secretly continued to teach himself how to read. He read abolitionist tracts. He became more enraged at the cruel injustice of slavery and more determined to be free.

Look, I was going to keep writing, but I don’t actually want to say much about this book. You don’t need to hear it from me, you should hear it from Frederick Douglass himself. The entire purpose of a “slave narrative” is to learn about oppression from the oppressed, instead of getting your information second hand. Besides, Douglass is way more eloquent than I am. Every line in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass agitates my emotions.

I have admired Frederick Douglass for a long time. I think he possibly lived the most admirable life of any American ever.

I didn’t dress up as Frederick Douglass, because that didn’t seem respectful and racial politics are complicated. What I did do was visit the house where he lived in Washington, D.C. which is a historical site now. If you live in or are visiting the D.C. area, you should go to the site and learn about this man. Ironically, his house is very close to a school where I taught. A school in which 98% of students are African American and 14% of students are proficient in reading. Frederick Douglass’ work is not done.

One other thing I must mention, Douglass spoke out vehemently about the false Christianity of the slaveholders. In his experience, religious slaveholders were the most cruel. I probably don’t need to warn any of my readers about the way religion is still used in this country as a justification for hatred, oppression and cruelty towards minorities. But, here’s an excellent quote for good measure:

“Men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen, all for the glory of God and the good of souls. The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave trade go hand in hand.”

Beware of religious revivalism. It saves no souls.

Here are some  more quotes:

Be faithful, be vigilant, be untiring in your efforts to break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free.

It’s easier to build strong children then repair broken men.

If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will… Men may not get all they pay for in this world, but they must certainly pay for all they get.”

Final thoughts:

Just read it. It’s not very long. It’s in the public domain, so you can get it for free. No excuses, just read it.

Wuthering Heights, a Second and Third Opinion

Catherine Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte, 1847

Welcome to a brand new type of post.  When I review classic literature for this blog, I often feel the need to write “but, that’s just my opinion.” I know that while I think Robert Burns descended from heaven and Herman Melville is duller than an anvil, other people have different and equally valid opinions. My friends Sahra and Simone talk about Wuthering Heights a lot. They’re Wuthering Heights fangirls. I wanted to include their thoughts on the book, so we sat down and chatted about it. I recorded and transcribed the conversation. Let me know if you like this type of post. We three ladies have a lot to say about literature. We could just keep on talking.

This post is very long. Click the link below to read the entire post and see all the pictures. The pictures are a collaborative effort too. Simone and her husband Ike visited the Bronte home on their honeymoon and took some amazing pictures on the romantic moors. Moors!

Sydney’s comments are bold.

Sahra’s comments are in italics.

Simone’s comments are in the regular font.

Let’s Begin

What was first about this book? Why was it so popular immediately?

It actually had a mixed critical reception. It’s much more loved now than it was during its time, because people were shocked by. . .

It was sexual.

It made a big splash. It was controversial and controversial kind of equals popular, because everyone was talking about it. I remember when we went to the house, they had displays of the reviews from that time, saying that it would corrupt young women’s minds.

Did she write under a male penname?

The Bronte’s all did. The question of whether they would all be as popular today if they hadn’t written under male pseudonyms, we can never know.

There are a lot of books by Victorians authors that were embraced by Victorians as being examples of who they wanted to be as a society. Dickens, for example, had evil characters, but overall his work is a reflection of the morality of his times. But, I think that Emily Bronte certainly was not embraced in that way. People did not want to hear about the cruel behavior and twisted psychology of her characters. That was very forbidden.

Can you think of books written before this that have anti-heroes?

(pause)

Byron. Not novels, so much.

Certainly not many, and probably not any female authors.

(Although, now I am thinking that Charlotte Temple certainly qualifies as an anti-hero.)

Byron sort of started that dark, twisted hero deal. And I can see Byronic influence in Wuthering Heights.

heathcliff grief

 

Would you consider Heathcliff to be a Byronic hero?

I think he qualifies as Byronic, because he has a dark past. I don’t know though, because the Byronic hero tries to do the right thing, but is overcome by his dark mysterious past and his psychological issues and Heathcliff is trying really hard to do the wrong thing and mess up people’s lives.

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