Emma

Emma and Harriet

Emma and Harriet

Emma, Jane Austen, 1815

I have three more Jane Austen books to review and I’m running out of deep thoughts to share about this author.  This post is going to be brief.  As far as Austen’s oeuvre Emma is solidly middle of the road.  The characters are better developed than in Sense and Sensibility, but not as vivid as in Pride and Prejudice.  The dialogue and plot are both more engaging than Mansfield Park, but not nearly so tight and exciting as P+P.

Austen spends a lot of time enumerating and illuminating her characters’ flaws.  Fortunately for her leading ladies they inevitably realize the error of their ways in time to win back the hearts of their beloveds.  Emma has more personality defects than her compatriots, including a massive ego that slows down her self-reflection and self-improvement.  Hence, Emma is one of Austen’s longest novels.

Emma "fixing" Harriet

Emma “fixing” Harriet

My favorite thing about Emma is “Clueless.”  Still holds up after all these years.  Reimagining frivolous, useless Regency aristocrats as 90s Beverly Hills teens works so well.  The changes to the central love story make it more adorable and less. . .creepy.  By turning the male lead into Cher’s step-brother the writers retained the somewhat familial relationship between the lovers, but decreased the age difference.  The love between Emma and Mr. Knightley is bizarre.  Mr. Knightly is something of an uncle to Emma.  He is sixteen years older, has known her since she was very young and openly admits to trying to mold her character.  He constantly criticizes and lectures her.  Essentially, he has been raising her in lieu of her dead mother and over-indulgent father.  Then she grows up to be a hottie and he decides to marry her.  Gross.  The union doesn’t make sense for either partner.  Knightley shouldn’t want to marry her, because she has a crappy personality.  In his own words “she will never submit to anything requiring industry and patience.”  Who wouldn’t want a lazy, impatient wife?  Emma shouldn’t want to marry him, because he will clearly make a terrible father given that he raised her and she did not turn out well.

You might like Emma if:

  • what you enjoy about Austen is her sharp-witted critiquing of her characters.

You might not like Emma if:

  • what you like about Austen is romance.

 

Final thoughts: Emma, the character, is an annoying, self-righteous, lazy, useless busybody, which is what Austen intended.  She didn’t necessarily want her readers to like Emma or to root for her romance with Mr. Knightley.  That’s a perfectly valid choice for an author to make.  For me, that choice makes Emma, the book, less lovable than certain other works by Austen.  Emma is tedious and Emma is tedious.  It’s not bad, it’s just not very fun.

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Waverley

Waverley, Sir Walter Scott, 1814

Waverley Sir Walter Scott

Waverley is an odd novel that kind of captured my heart.  Sir Walter Scott was a prominent Scottish poet before he published his first novel anonymously.   It was immediately crazy popular.  Waverley is often called the first historical novel, which I guess it might be, if you choose to ignore Gothic novels.  I suppose you could argue that Gothic novels are their own genre and Waverley launched the historic novel genre.  It certainly is not the first novel with a historical setting.

Scott set his first novel during the Jacobite Revolution.  Briefly, in 1688 England deposed King James II in favor of the much less Catholic King William of Orange.  As you can imagine, not everyone in Great Britain was on board with this decision.  The Scots mostly remained loyal to King James as he was part of the Scottish Stuart dynasty.  In 1745, James II’s grandson, who went by the adorable name Bonnie Prince Charlie, landed in Scotland and made an ill-fated attempt to take back the throne.  Waverley is set during this exciting time.

The main character is Edward Waverley and he is the silliest main character I have encountered so far.  I have so many problems with his personality, but I am smiling while I think about them.  His silliness doesn’t ruin the novel for me; it just makes me laugh.  Edward is a naïve, young English nobleman who joins the King’s army and sets off to Scotland to fight the Jacobites.  The Jacobites were loyal to the House of Stuart.  Apparently, if you were a nobleman in the army at this time, you could just take off whenever you wanted and go visit your noble friends.  Who knew?  Edward goes to visit his uncle’s dear friend the Baron Bradwardine, a Jacobite.  Baron Bradwardine.  Such a great name.

While visiting the honorable Baron, Edward learns about his arrangement with a certain Highland chief.  Get ready for the best name of any literary character ever.  Are you ready?  Fergus Mac Ivor Vich Ian Vohr.  Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay!  Oh, I love him.  I love Fergus Mac Ivor Vich Ian Vohr so much.  He is the chief of Clan Ivor.  As Edward learns, Scottish chieftains were basically mafia bosses.  Baron Bradwardine paid Fergus Mac Ivor a fee for protection from other chieftains.  Basically, if Bradwardine pays up, Mac Ivor wont steal his cows.  If another chieftain steals Bradwardine’s cows, Mac Ivor will fight them and get the cows back or he will go steal cows from one of his enemies and give them to Bradwardine.  When Edward hears about this he thinks exactly what you are thinking right now: “That’s awesome!  I want to go visit this awesome guy.”  So, he sets out into the rugged highlands to pay a visit to the local chiefs.  That is the best idea that Edward has in the course of the book, and the only decision he makes for himself.  Everything else that happens is someone else’s idea.

Edward is quite passive, like a female character from this era of literature.  Also like a female, he constantly needs assistance from men.  Every time he tries something manly, he gets injured or sick and has to be rescued and nursed.  At one point he gets a nasty letter which “filled him with such bitter emotions, that after various attempts to conceal them, he at length threw himself into Mac-Ivor’s arms, and gave vent to tears of shame and indignation.”  Adorable, right?  I would like to fling myself into Mac Ivor’s arms, cuz that guy is manly and effective.  The only emotions he gives vent to are pride and loyalty.  Like a man.  (Ok, I know, reinforcing the gender binary.  Sorry.  Whatever.)

The bromance between Fergus and Edward can only be attributed to opposites attracting.  Fergus is a man of conviction.  He believes in the restoration of the Stuart monarchs SO HARD.  I started to believe in his cause too, that’s how powerful Fergus Mac Ivor Vich Ian Vohr’s convictions are.  Edward, on the other hand, is a freaking turncoat.  Really!  No foolin.  He joins the English army, cuz, whatever, he didn’t have anything better to do.  Then he changes sides, but not because he believes in Mac Ivor’s cause.  He joins the opposing army, because his original army is mean to him.  I am not kidding.  Also, they kind of kick him out.  Then when he is fighting with the highlanders he gets all upset when they try to kill British noblemen (you know, because it doesn’t matter if you kill a commoner, but it’s just a terrible shame to spill blue blood) and tries to save them.  Make up your mind, Edward Waverley!  This may be a result of indoctrination during American history classes, but there is something in me that hates a turncoat.

Anyway, Sir Walter Scott’s style is dense and often dull.  He includes many obscure references that only a highly educated British reader from the early 1800s would get.  Also, he makes the fatal flaw of writing a boring character.  Baron Bradwardine is notorious for telling long, boring stories.  Walter Scott includes many examples of those long, boring stories in Waverley.  I don’t think I need to explain to you why that’s not a good thing to do as a novelist.  Honestly, the book is pretty boring overall and the characters have incomprehensible motivations.  Waverley is basically unmotivated.  I can’t relate to Mac Ivor’s royalism.  It’s completely out of my realm of understanding to want to give up your life to make another man king of somewhere.  Just don’t get it. I do admire Mac Ivor though.   I did enjoy the book, mostly because of the incredibly romantic setting.  I got super excited about the highland Scots.  They have a loyalty to each other that I do understand.

Despite its faults, I actually enjoyed reading Waverley quite a bit.  Scott hides a unique sense of humor within all those extra words he uses.  I got swept away by his romanticized vision of 18th century Scotland.  His descriptions of Clan Mac Ivor in their cave hideout are so vivid that I could smell the damp wool of their kilts.  I never liked the main character even a little, but I fell head over heels for Fergus Mac Ivor Vich Ian Vohr.  Heeheehee.  Fergus Mac Ivor Vich Ian Vohr.  Delightful.

You might like Waverley if:

  • you went to St. John’s College or some other Great Books school and are trying to get your money’s worth out of your education by reading literature that references all those great books.
  • you yearn for tales of old Scotland so fervently that you don’t mind slogging through some incredibly dense prose.

You might not like Waverley if:

  • you have a low tolerance for pretentious literary references. 

 

Final Thoughts: Fergus Mac Ivor Vich Ian Vohr!  That is all.

Tom Jones

sydneyreadseverything

I had high expectations for Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749), because Samuel Taylor Coleridge said “To take [Fielding] up after Richardson, is like emerging from a sick room heated by stoves, into an open lawn, on a breezy day in May.”  Sounds like exactly what I needed after my 850 page excursion into the bowels of Clarissa.  I was inclined to trust Coleridge, because someone who writes awesome poems probably has good taste in literature, right?  Wrong!  I found picking up Tom Jones after Clarissa to be like walking from a sick room heated by five stoves, into a sickroom heated by four stoves.  It is slightly more enjoyable than Clarissa, because Fielding makes use of his sense of humor occasionally.  He is not as relentlessly earnest as Richardson.  However, the farcical scenes are embedded in so much filler that the overall experience of reading the book was not great for me.

Tom Jones is the story of a foundling bastard, who is taken in and raised by a kind, old aristocrat.  He grows up to be, like, the hottest guy in England.  He falls in love with the neighbor’s daughter and develops a rivalry with the nephew of the old aristocrat.  Despite his pure, devoted love for Sophia, Tom sleeps with nearly every female character in the book.  The love scenes are actually quite funny.  Fielding’s ornate, exalted style clashes with the crassness of the rural rendezvous.  There’s a bizarre amount of cat fights.  I don’t think Fielding ever witnessed a cat fight, because he seems to believe that women’s clothing just falls apart if you claw at it a bit.  In this time period women wore linen, wool or silk, none of which can be easily ripped.  Nevertheless, the first blows in these fights invariably render the women bare breasted.

Moving on, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone complain that Thackeray’s habit of “inserting himself into the text” ruined Vanity Fair for them.  You just can’t have a conversation about Thackeray without someone using that exact phrase.  When I read Vanity Fair it didn’t bother me too much.  It’s kinda funny to me that Thackeray takes so much heat for mentioning himself, when post-modern authors get praised for the same device.  It’s brilliant when Vonnegut does it, right?  That being said, Henry Fielding’s pervasive presence in Tom Jones ruined the book for me.   He frequently pauses to explain his authorial decisions to the reader.  For example:

“We would bestow some pains here in minutely describing all the mad pranks which Jones played on this occasion, could we be well assured that the reader would take the same pains in perusing them; but as we are apprehensive that, after all the labour we should employ in painting this said scene, the reader would be very apt to skip it entirely over, we have saved ourselves the trouble.  To say the truth, we have, from this reason alone, often done great violence to the luxuriousness of our genius, and let many excellent descriptions out of our work, which would otherwise have been in it.”
 

That quote also serves to illustrate another problem I have with Fielding: always using 100 words where 12 words would do.  He often explains why he ends chapters where he does.  This drove me crazy.  I want to go back in time and tell him “Listen, end the chapters where you want to.  Your readers aren’t so delicate that they need to be warned when a chapter is ending.  If you want to leave out descriptions and conversations to prevent boring your reader, just do it.  Don’t bore them by explaining that you are doing it.”

The most aggravating element of Fielding’s style is his need to stop and ruminate on human nature in abstract terms.  ALL THE TIME.  If a character tells a lie, Fielding inserts a mini-essay on honesty.  If a character is ambitious, we get a lecture on ambition.  So tedious.  Personally, when I read a novel I like to do my ruminating on human nature myself.  I don’t want the author to do it for me.  The novel is divided into 18 books.  The first chapter of every book consists of a little essay on blah blah blah (not gonna lie, I skipped all of them after the first three) and zero references to the narrative. In Book 5, Chapter 1 Fielding states that he is sure the reader won’t enjoy reading “these initial essays” and he didn’t enjoy writing them.  So why on earth are they in there?  Did they not have editors in 1749?  I get that the book is intended to be a farce.  So, perhaps he is mocking writers like Richardson.  He did like to mock Richardson.  He even wrote a parody of Richardson’s Pamela called Shamela.  But what does he gain by writing a boring book to make fun of other boring books?  Ultimately, you end up with yet another boring, excessively long 18th century novel.

You might like this book if:

  • you are reading a brutally edited version

You might not like this book if:

  • you try to read it.

The Book List

c 8-1100 Beowulf
c 13– Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
1485 Morte D’Arthur Sir Thomas Mallory
1588 Tamburlaine Christopher Marlowe
1590 The Faerie Queen Edmund Spenser
1599 Much Ado About Nothing William Shakespeare
1606 Volpone Ben Johnson
1606 King Lear William Shakespeare
1607 Macbeth William Shakespeare
1611 The Tempest William Shakespeare
1623 As You Like It William Shakespeare
1637 New English Canaan Thomas Morton
1647 Of Plymouth Plantation William Bradford
1662 The Day of Doom Michael Wigglesworth
1667 Pardise Lost John Milton
1679 Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan
1682 Narrative of Captivity Mary Rolandson
1693 The Old Bachelor William Congreve
1694 The Double Dealer William Congreve
1695 Love For Love William Congreve
1700 The Way of the World William Congreve
1719 Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe
1722 A Journal of the Plague Year Daniel Defoe
1729 A Modest Proposal Jonathon Swift
1748 Clarissa Samuel Richardson
1749 Tom Jones Henry Fielding
1764 The Castle of Otranto Horace Walpole
1766 The Vicar of Wakefield Oliver Goldsmith
1770 Tristram Shandy Laurence Sterne
1773 She Stoops to Conquer Oliver Goldsmith
1778 Eveline Fanny Burney
1784 Elegiac Sonnets Charlotte Turner
1786 Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect Robert Burns
1786 Poems William Freneau
1788 Emmeline Charlotte Turner
1790 Poems Sarah Wentworth Morton
1791 Charlotte Temple Susanna Rowlandson
1794 Book of Urizen William Blake
1798 Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth and Coleridge
1813 Poems William Cullen Bryant
1818 The Heart of Midlothian Sir Walter Scott
1818 Childe Harolde Lord Byron
1818 The Fall of Hyperion John Keats
1819 Rip Van Winkle Washington Irving
1819 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Washington Irving
1820 Prometheus Unbound Percy Bysse Shelley
1824 Don Juan Lord Byron
1826 Last of the Mohicans James Fenimoore Cooper
1827 Hope Leslie Catharine Maria Sedgwick
1830 Poems John Greenleaf Whittier
1836 Nature Ralph Waldo Emerson
1841 The Big Bear of Arkansas TB Thorpe
1847 Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte
1847 Evangeline Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
1849 Stories Edgar Allan Poe
1850 David Copperfield Charles Dickens
1851 House of Seven Gables Nathaniel Hawthorne
1851 Moby Dick Herman Melville
1852 Uncle Tom’s Cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe
1854 Ruth Hall Fanny Fern
1855 Fra Lippo Lippi Robert Browning
1855 A Gramarian’s Funeral Robert Browning
1855 Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman
1859 A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens
1860 Poems Emily Dickenson
1860 Circumstance Harriet Prescott Spofford
1861 Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Harriet Anne Jacobs
1865 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
1866 Wives and Daughters Elizabeth Gaskell
1866 A Long Fatal Love Chase Louisa May Alcott
1870 Daniel Deronda George Eliot
1871 Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll
1871 Desperate Remedies Thomas Hardy
1872 Under the Greenwood Tree Thomas Hardy
1876 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Mark Twain
1878 The Return of the Native Thomas Hardy
1883 For the Major Constance Fennimore Cooper
1883 Life Among the Paiutes Sarah Winnemucca
1884 A Country Doctor Sarah Orne Jewett
1885 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain
1885 The Squater and the Don Maria Ruiz de Burton
1855 Song of Hiawatha Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
1885 The Rise of Silas Lapham William Dean Howells
1886 The Mayor of Casterbridge Thomas Hardy
1887 The Woodlanders Thomas Hardy
1889 The Awakening Kate Chopin
1889 The Conjure Woman Charles W. Chesnutt
1889 The Marrow of Tradition Charles W. Chesnutt
1890 Stories Charlotte Perkins Gilman
1891 Stories Ambrose Pierce
1893 Maggie: A Girl of the Streets Stephen Crane
1896 George’s Mother Stephen Crane
1896 Ode to Ethiopia Paul Laurence Dunbar
1896 Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy
1897 Poems Edwin Arlington Robinson
1900 Sister Carrie Theodore Dreiser
1901 Lord Jim Joseph Conrad
1901 Kim Rudyard Kipling
1903 The Land of the Little Rain Mary Austin
1903 The Souls of Black Folk W.E.B. DuBois
1906 The Jungle Upton Sinclair
1906 Peter Pan J. M. Barrie
1910 Howards End E.M. Forster
1910 The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock T.S. Eliot
1912 The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man James Weldon Johnson
1913 Sons and Lovers D.H. Lawrence
1913 O’Pioneers Willa Cather
1914 Dubliners James Joyce
1916 Poems Amy Lowell
1916 A Jury of Her Peers Susan Glaspell
1916 A Trifle Susan Glaspell
1920 A Few Figs From Thistles Edna St. Vincent Millay
1920 Kora in Hell William Carlos Williams
1920 Beyond the Horizon Eugene O’Neil
1920 This Side of Paradise F. Scott Fitzgerald
1922 Ulysses James Joyce
192- Poems ee cummings
1922 Rootabago Stories Carl Sandburg
1923 Spring and All William Carlos Williams
1923 The Great American Novel William Carlos Williams
1923 Poems Wallace Stevens
1923 Cane Jane Toomer
1925 The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
1926 The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway
1928 Orlando Virginia Woolf
1928 Lady Chatterly’s Lover D.H. Lawrence
1928 Quicksand Nella Larsen
1929 The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
1929 A Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway
193- Poems Langston Hughes
1930 Memories of an Infantry Officer Seigfried Sassoon
1930 Alison’s House Susan Glaspell
1931 Good Earth Pearl S. Buck
1931 Mourning Becomes Electra Eugene O’Neil
1932 Black Elk Speaks Black Elk
1933 Southern Road Sterling Brown
1934 Tender Is the Night F. Scott Fitzgerald
1936 Absalom, Absalom! William Faulkner
1939 The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck
194- Poems Carlos Bolosan
194- Poems HD
194- Poems Marriane Moore
1940 For Whom the Bell Tolls Ernest Hemingway
1940 You Can’t Go Home Again Thomas Wolfe
1941 A Curtain of Greene Eudora Welty
1942 Dust Tracks on a Road Zora Neal Hurston
1944 Collected Stories Katherine Anne Porter
1945 Black Boy Richard Wright
1946 The Iceman Cometh Eugene O’Neil
1946 All the King’s Men Robert Penn Warren
1946 Poems Robert Penn Warren
195- Poems Charles Olson
1951 The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingway
1952 Wise Blood Flannery O’Connor
1952 East of Eden John Steinbeck
1953 The Waking Theodore Roethke
1953 The Long Goodbye Raymond Chandler
1954 Poems Randall Jarell
1955 A Good Man Is Hard to Find Flannery O’Connor
1955 A Journey to Love William Carlos Williams
1955 The Quiet American Graham Greene
1955 Howl Allen Ginsberg
1955 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Tennessee Williams
1956 Poems Elizabeth Bishop
1957 Poems Richard Wilbur
1960 The Country Girls Edna O’Brien
1960 Poems Robert Lowell
1962 The Golden Notebook Doris Lessing
1962 One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest Ken Kesey
1962 Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems William Carlos Williams
1963 Paterson William Carlos Williams
1963 Poems Robert Creeley
1963 Poems Sylvia Plath
1964 Sometimes a Great Notion Ken Kesey
1964 Herzog Saul Bellow
1964 Dream Songs John Berryman
1965 Everything that Rises Must Converge Flannery O’Connor
1966 Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys
1967 Poems Anne Sexton
1968 King, Queen, Knave Vladimir Nabokov
1968 The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Tom Wolfe
1968 Stories Donald Barthelme
1968 Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone James Baldwin
197- Poems Denise Levertov
1970 Poems Robert Hayden
1970 Poems Michael S. Harper
1971 Old Times Harold Pinter
1971 Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Annie Dillard
1971 The Lives of Women and Girls Alice Munroe
1972 Gorilla My Love Toni Cade Bambera
1972 Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 Hunter S. Thompson
1972 The Optimist’s Daughter Eudora Welty
1973 Gravity’s Rainbow Thomas Pynchon
1973 Poems A. R. Ammons
1973 Poems Gallway Kinnel
1973 Collected Works Grace Paley
1973 Breakfast of Champions Kurt Vonnegut
1974 High Windows Philip Larkin
1974 Poems Adrienne Rich
1974 The Woman Warrior Maxine
1975 Turtle Island Gary Snyder
1975 The Changing Light at Sandover James Merrill
1976 Poems John Ashberry
1976 Love Story Erich Segal
1977 Song of Solomon Toni Morrison
1977 Ceremony Leslie Mormon Silko
1979 The Stories of John Cheever
1980 Waiting for the Barbarians J. M. Coetzee
1981 What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Raymond Carver
1981 Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie
1981 Poems Simon J Ortiz
1982 The Color Purple Alice Walker
1982 The Real Thing Tom Stoppard
1982 Poems Cathy Song
1984 Love Medicine Louise Erdich
1984 Cathedral Raymond Carver
1987 Beloved Toni Morrison
1987 Where I’m Calling From Raymond Carver
1988 Speed-the-Plow David Mamet
1988 Bad Behavior Mary Gaitskill
1990 The Things They Carried Tim O’Brien
1991 Woman Hollering Creek Sandra Cisneros
1993 Poems Louise Gluck
1993 Arcadia Tom Stoppard
1994 The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Sherman Alexie
1995 Billy Collins Poems
1995 Poems Li-Young
1996 Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace
1997 Underworld Don DeLillo
1999 Interpreter of Maladies Jhumpa Lahi
2000 City of God E. L. Doctorow
2000 Fasting, Feasting Anita Desai
2002 Coast of Ethiopia Tom Stoppard
2006 The Beet Queen Louise Erdich
2008 Lavinia Ursula K Le Guin
2008 A Mercy Toni Morrison
2009 A Gate at the Stairs Lorrie Moore
2009 The Plague of Doves Louise Erdich