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Classic Connections

We’ve had a few series that have popped up during the lifetime of this blog: Stupid Questions, Classic Word of the Day, What’s on My Nightstand?.
Maybe it’s time to add another series: Classic Connections?  Literary Links? Book Bridges?

I’m not sure what to call it, but as we get closer to the end of the novel list, things keep popping up that remind me of previous titles.  Sometimes is a quote from the text.  Sometimes it’s a different literary device like a theme, motif or symbol.  Sometimes it’s an actual literary device.

In chapter viii of Book 1 Winston takes a trip through the prole neighborhood.  It’s risky behavior.  The dark-haired girl spots him.  Whether she “spies” him we don’t know.  For a moment Winston ponders bludgeoning her with his newly purchased paperweight.

He might have silenced the dark-haired girl if only he had acted quickly enough; but precisely because of the extremity of his danger he had lost the power to act.  It struck him that in moments of crisis one is never fighting against an external enemy but always against one’s own body.

After reading this passage I thought of Crime and Punishment’s Raskolnikov”, another character whose body worked against him when he was trying desperately to keep a secret.

Have you made any connections between Winston Smith and other WEM characters?

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Posted by on November 2, 2013 in 1984

 

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One big happy family

Almost as interesting as the literary connections we’re making on this classical journey are the ties between authors.  It’s almost as if they are one big happy family.  Well, more of a dysfunctional family, but you get the idea.

There was the friendship of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne that resulted in Moby-Dick being dedicated to The Scarlet Letter‘s author.

Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain were neighbors.

Now thanks to the intro of Invisible Man, I learned that Ralph Ellison tried his hand at writing all thanks to Richard Wright of Native Son fame.

Imagine all of our WEM authors sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner together.  I can hear the table talk now.

 

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Invisible Man

 

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A Random Thought

The Writing Machine at the Academy of Lagado

The Writing Machine at the Academy of Lagado

If the books on our reading list had been assembled by the Grand Academy of Lagado’s writing machine or the novel-writing machines of the Ministry of Truth’s Fiction Department do you know what they would not have included?

Literary connections like that one.

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2013 in 1984, Gulliver's Travels

 

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Heavy Laden

Are these daily literary connection posts feeling burdensome?  That’s what I was going for, all in order to lead up to this last one.

Burdens.

You remember them from Pilgrim’s Progress, right? Now I realize not every single use of the word burden is a direct reference to Bunyan’s work.  But it wasn’t just the word.  It was the picture of Bigger lugging the trunk containing Mary’s body and the freedom he experienced when discovering a way to unload it.  He later uses the word in his description.

. . . now that he had killed Mary he felt a lessening of tension in his muscles; he had shed an invisible burden he had long carried.

His mother also has a burden, a “heavy and delicately balanced” one that she “did not want to assume by disturbing it one whit.”

Maybe I’ve just felt too great of a burden in finding literary connections to assume that Richard Wright was harkening back to Paul, er I mean John Bunyan (although, do you think there are any connections between Bigger, and the north’s massive lumberjack?)  I think they’re legit, though.  Were there others?

I don’t want you to feel burdened to answer, but . . .

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Native Son, Pilgrim's Progress

 

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Role Models

I’ve got more literary connections for you.  There’s no stopping me now.

Do you remember over a year ago back in Crime and Punishment when Raskolnikov had that weird little power trip and bonded with the idea of Napoleon?  Here’s a refresher quote:

“Yes, that’s what it was! I wanted to become a Napoleon, that is why I killed her…. Do you understand now?”

Like Sonia, I don’t really understand, but that’s not the point right now.  The point is that Bigger had similar thoughts.

Of late he had liked to hear tell of men who could rule others, for in actions such as these he felt that there was a way to escape from this tight morass of fear and shame that sapped at the base of his life.  He liked to hear of how Japan was conquering China; of how Hitler was running the Jews to the ground; of how Mussolini was invading Spain.  He was not concerned with whether these acts were right or wrong’ they simply appealed to him as possible avenues of escape.

Wait a minute.  Maybe Sonia should get herself a copy of Native Son.  Maybe that would help.

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2013 in Crime and Punishment, Native Son

 

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You Can Count on It

Now that we’ve read twenty-four of the most important works of fiction in chronological order something keeps happening, and a while back Christine suggested the need for a series to document this phenomenon.

Connecting the Literary Dots

That’s right, it seems that at every page turn we run into some association with the fictional past, and it’s time to connect those points and see if any patterns appear.  Beware though, some posts could end up looking like the dot-to-dots my three-year-olds “complete.”

For our first official installment (if you’re really hungry for unofficial ones, you can find a good batch here) I bring you this quote only a page or two away from the end of Book One.  Winston just saw the dark haired girl on the street in prole territory and regrets his inability to conk her on the head with a brick then and there.

It struck him that in moments of crisis one is never fighting against an external enemy but always against one’s own body.  Even now, in spite of the gin, the dull ache in his belly made consecutive thought impossible.  And it is the same, he perceived, in all seemingly heroic or tragic situations.  On the battlefield, in the torture chamber, on a sinking ship, the issues that you are fighting for are always forgotten, because the body swells up until it fills the universe, and even when you are not paralyzed by fright or screaming with pain, life is a moment-to-moment struggle against hunger or cold or sleeplessness, against a sour stomach or an aching tooth.

Red Badge of Courage, anyone?

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2013 in 1984, The Red Badge of Courage

 

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Flighty

I had so much fun finding yesterday’s literary connection that I found one, or two, or maybe three more.

Today’s is brought to you by Charlotte Brontë.  I know, not your first guess of authors to be buddying up to Richard Wright, but here it is:

Then their eyes were riveted; a slate-colored pigeon swooped down to the middle of the steel car tracks and began strutting to and fro with ruffled feathers, its fat neck bobbing with regal pride.  A street car rumbled forward and the pigeon rose swiftly through the air on wings stretched so taut and sheer that Bigger could see the gold of the sun through their translucent tips.  He tilted his head and watched the slate-colored bird flap and wheel out of sight over the edge of a high roof.
“Now, if I could only do that,” Bigger said . . .

Doesn’t that sound like our good friend Jane Eyre?  Okay, fine, Jane was adamant that she was not a bird.

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.

But I’m pretty sure both of them were going for that whole “free flying” thing, so I’m still counting it on my list of connections.  Oh, and here’s an interesting essay about the bird imagery in Jane Eyre if your own wings want to carry you back to the good old days of pleasant reads.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2013 in Jane Eyre, Native Son

 

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This wrap-up will need a big bow.

I hope you’re not still stuck in Pride and Prejudice?  If so, I’m sorry, it’s my fault.  I never wrote wrap-up posts for PP, or Oliver Twist, or Jane Eyre.  What?  You didn’t know we were finished with JE?  We are.  See, the little pictures of the books changed in our sidebar.  Don’t worry, that just happened yesterday, you haven’t missed tons.  But, I am so, so sorry.

Please accept this meager post as closure on all three novels and permission to carry on.

Pride and Prejudice

We actually wrapped up Austen’s romance twice – once with the officially sanctioned WEM questions, hereafter called “The Questions,” and once on a delightfully snowy evening with hot tea, lots of books, and some Accomplished Young Women.

In our first session Jeannette wowed us with her discovery that the opening sentence “It is a truth, universally acknowledged . . .” echoed a rhetorical question by Edmund Burke in Reflections on the Revolution in France, which was a play on Thomas Jefferson’s line, “we hold these truths to be self-evident.” By which all three authors are sounding societal revolutions by calling to attention something their audiences actually do not acknowledge as truths.  Who knew?  Jeannette.  Well, Jeannette and the book Why Jane Austen?

In our second, more casual, get-together the married among us quizzed the unmarried among us about their views on possible future Mr. Darcy’s in their own lives.  Okay, fine, it was just me pushing the awkward conversation.  Sorry about that, girls.

Oliver Twist

After talk of gruel potlucks and a pickpocket training session we finally decided to once again gather around excessive amounts of cheese and chocolate to tackle The Questions.

Dickens’ use of setting to delineate between good and bad, his richly descriptive writing, and neat and tidy connections between all of the characters were all topics of discussion.  We also focused a lot of our attention on Oliver’s passive deliverance from evil, a theme that appealed to our Christian souls.  And you know those great foils that Jeannette mentioned in her latest posts about JE?  Well, I didn’t know the proper literary term for it, but I tried to draw a few.  Try these on for size:
Fagin as a foil for Mr. Brownlow
Monks for Rose Maylie
The Artful Dodger for Oliver

We agreed that we loved Dicken’s descriptive writing, and found it odd that this richly narrative work had made it’s way to the stage, before it was even completely published.  Even Dickens himself did a one man show of Nancy’s murder that overtook him to the point that some of his friends felt it drew him nearer to death.  I think Christine summed it up well when she said, “Let’s not go see Dickens when he comes to town.”

Jane Eyre

Jane is our most recently completed novel, and I’ll admit it was such a page turner that we’ve actually been done for a while.  But there were also so many things to write about, that the blog kept rolling out JE posts, even though Jane and Rochester have been happily married for some time now.

We did fear that our enjoyment of Jane might have kept us from giving it the full scholarly dissection required by our DIY Master’s Degree, but The Questions kept us in line and forced us to put on our thinking caps.  We identified motifs (weather, fire and cold), analyzed the need for Brontë’s neatly constructed conclusion, and contrasted Jane’s individual determination in contrast to Oliver’s reliance on others.

Christine raised some wonderful additional questions, that she has posed to you here as well.  Please weigh in, we value your opinion.

In Conclusion

I hope you can forgive me for not wrapping up these novels earlier.  My recent encounters with Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale have me thinking a lot about penance, so I wanted to get this written before I was made to wear a giant “P” on my chest for “Procrastinator.”  In the future I’ll try to do better, but if you see those sidebar links change and haven’t yet read a wrap-up post, feel free to come after me with paper, scissors, and tape in hand.

 

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