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Category Archives: The Return of the Native

Not to Bum You Out

I’m so tired of all these women dying.  I’ve nearly lost track of them, first it was Helen, then Emma, Alyona and Lizaveta, Anna, Eustacia, and now Lily. Why?  Why must we read so much tragedy?  Why the death?  What’s wrong with a happy ending once in a while?

Then I stumbled across this article in my facebook newsfeed.  Friends, it’s worth the read (it even mentions three of our authors.)  The subject is tragedy.  The context is Christian worship.  The backdrop is our life.

If you only click on one external link today, I encourage you to choose the one above.  You can even leave the arguments about worship behind, but I’d love to know what you think about the tragedy vs. entertainment question.

Is our WEM reading list reminding you that we live in the valley of the shadow of death?  Is it drawing you face to face with the world of iniquity from which we would rather shield our minds?  Are the authors and their sin-filled worlds making you cling firmly to the Author of creation?  Is the despair of the characters wakening a vision of the evil that surrounds us outside the pages of fiction?  Or, are the novels a source of pacification and escapism?  Are the classics entertaining?  Should the classics be entertaining?

 

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The Fastest 300 Years EVER!

Sancho and the donkey.  Christian.  Yahoos and Houyhnhnms.  Elizabeth and Darcy.  Oliver.   Bertha-in-the-attic.  Hester and Pearl.   Moby Dick.   Uncles and Madams.  Rascal.   Anna-Kitty-Levin-Vronsky-oviches.   The Heath.   Isabel.   Huckleberry.   The Journeys of Henry and Marlowe.   And now Lily, whose outcome, at least for me, is still uncertain.

While paging through the Well-Educated Mind list of fiction books, I realized that Don Quixote was published in 1605 and House of Mirth in 1905.   300 years!  I congratulate myself and you, fellow readers, on plowing through 300 years of literature.   May the crop be plentiful!  I suggest a glass of red wine and some good chocolate to celebrate.

 

 

I Thee Read

Another blogiversary, another year of reading bliss.

Blogiversary Two

For better, . . .

Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Crime and Punishment
Anna Karenina
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Red Badge of Courage

for worse, . . .

Madame Bovary
The Return of the Native
The Portrait of a Lady

for richer, . . .

Rodolphe Boulanger
Augustine St. Clare
Stepen Arkadyevitch Oblonsky
Lord Warburton

for poorer, . . .

Berthe Bovary
Sofya Marvelodov
Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikov
Jim

in sickness, . . .

Nikolai Demitrich Levin
Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya
Ralph Touchett
Clym Yeobright

and in heath, . . .

Pansy Osmond
Huckleberry Finn

till death us do part . . .

Evangeline St Clare
Uncle Tom
Emma Bovary
Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladov
Alyona Ivanovna
Lizaveta Ivanovna
Anna Karenina
Mrs. Yeobright
Eustacia Yeobright
Damon Wildeve
Daniel Touchett
Ralph Touchett
Grangerfords
Pap Finn
Miss Watson

So who did you love and cherish most this past year?

 

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WEMever the Twain Shall Meet

Despite what Samuel Clemens implies about the usefulness of a well-read education, I’m inclined to believe he followed a curriculum very similar to ours.  Just look at all of the places that there are parallels between The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the rest of our reading list:

Don Quixote

  • Tom mentions reading the first of all novels, and even suggests acting it out.
  • The self-appointed Duke and King reminded me of our self-appointed knight errant.
  • Huck and Jim are on quite a quest, with a fairly foggy future outcome.  I found myself often asking, “Where are they going with this,” just as I did inDQ.
  • Tom sets out in the most complicated fashion to help someone who didn’t need his help.  Let’s just face it, Tom is Don Quixote.

Pilgrim’s Progress

  • Slough.  Not of Despond, but I know I read about one, although I’ve lost the page number.
  • The Grandersons, for all their good Christian living, have a copy of this moral tale on the coffee table.  I don’t remember Bunyan having characters named Family Feud and Kill Thy Neighbor, but maybe I just missed a page.

Gulliver’s Travels

  • Can you say “satire?”

Oliver Twist

  • We haven’t encountered a story about a young boy since Oliver.  As a mother with four of her own, it was nice to get back into familiar territory.
  • Did anyone else think the plot tied up a little too miraculously at the end.? Huck just happens to stumble on the Phelps farm when they are expecting his best friend’s arrival?  Miss Watson just happens to die and free Jim?

Moby Dick

  • Water plays anhe important role of water in the lives of the characters.  The river is practically a character itself.
  • Superstitions abound in both situations.
  • Both authors tackled slavery in an indirect manner.
  • At the very end their is a character named Brother Mapple, which seemed just too close to Father Marple for me.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

  • Slavery
  • Okay, I can be more specific.  Both use male slaves as the moral centers of their works.

Crime and Punishment

  • Huck’s internal struggles between right and wrong, action and inaction, and societal norms and the pull of his heart reminded me of the time we spent inside Raskolnikov’s brain.

The Return of the Native

  • The Mississippi River seems to be the kinder, gentler, yet still important younger cousin of Egdon Heath.

Did I miss any?  Are there any references to P&P, JE, SL, MB, AK, or POAL?

 

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The Heath is Alive with a Movie Soundtrack

Friday night I was wild and crazy.  I set up the portable DVD player in the kitchen and watched this movie while I prepped and cleaned up dinner.

ROTN movie

It was revolutionary.  Not the movie.  The watching while washing dishes–that was revolutionary.  Since I was multi-tasking, I grabbed an index card on which to scratch down some notes to share with you.  These are by no means exhaustive.  Fellow Blogger Christina and her husband also watched the movie.  I hope they’ll add in the comments anything vital that I forgot.

  • Clym sees Eustacia magically on the heath the 1st day he comes home.  I say magically because she appears out of the mist with a white horse.  Eustacia is played by Catherine Zeta-Jones
  • Charlie does indeed hold E’s hand in exchange for her playing his part of the Turkish knight.
  • Clym recognizes Eustacia in the costume and the whole bucket in the well thing is skipped.
  • All attend Thomasin and Wildeve’s wedding.  At the wedding Susan Nunsuch stabs Eustacia with a pin during the service.  The wax figure of E is skipped, instead Susan burns a ribbon (we assume it’s E’s).
  • There is no gambling scene between Christian Cantle and Wildeve.  Or between Wildeve and Diggory Venn.
  • There is no snake.  Mrs. Yeobright keels over on the walk back to her home.
  • Eustacia immediately confesses to Clym that she did not open the door for her MIL because she thought he had.
  • The movie gave me the impression that Eustacia jumped into the water.  Thomasin, Clym. Wildeve, and the Reddleman were all there watching.  First she’s on the bridge, then she’s not.
  • The Reddleman’s love for Thomasin is downplayed.  The movie does end with their marriage.  Thomasin does not have a child.
  • The heath is not out to get everyone.

It was not my favorite rendition of the story.  I missed the force of the heath.  Sure the book was dark and depressing with the heath killing off folks left and right, but if you are going to make a movie version of a classic–do it right!  Stay true to the story!

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2013 in The Return of the Native

 

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New Year, Same Old Story – Part 2

Okay, yesterday we covered the easy stuff – grammar and logic stage questions.  Today, we dive into the rhetoric.

WEM Ornament 4

Oh, look at that pretty glittery ornament.  It’s so sparkly!  Did you remember to identify the novels in yesterday’s ornaments?  You can do the same with today’s pictures – they’re different.

Oops, sorry, I’m easily distracted by shiny things.  Plus, answering the rhetoric questions can be just plain difficult, but we did it, and I’m hear to report the facts.

We started by going through the list of characters.  Did we sympathize with Eustacia?  Nope.  How about Clym?  Not so much at the end.  What about Mrs. Yeobright?  She was kind of that annoying mother-in-law and not so quick to forgive.  Well, Thomasin then?  She did choose to get herself into that mess.  Wildeve?  Absolutely not.

It’s true.  We didn’t really sympathize with anybody.  There were some glimmers of characters that we could relate to, but mostly we found them all sort of unlikable.  But don’t worry, we had a theory about what caused our detachment:  we’re pretty sure that we couldn’t sympathize with the characters because we can’t sympathize with Hardy’s argument.  Or maybe it’s visa versa.

As we approached the second rhetoric question about Hardy’s technique this section from Susan Wise Bauers’s description leaped off the page, as if it were written for this very novel.

What does the setting of the book tell you about the way human beings are shaped?  If the novelist believes that we are produced by our environment – that the place and time in which we live determine who we are – she will pay close attention to the physical landscapes.

Hello?  Paging Mr. Hardy.  Wow, does he ever think people are formed by their environments.  He goes to great lengths to describe the background of each character, and then watches as they are remolded and shaped by their present situation on the heath.  As Christine so succinctly put it, “It’s Nature vs. Nurture, and Nature always wins.”

As we dealt with that tricky question about the novel’s self-reflectiveness Jeannette pointed out that Clym is the only one on the heath with an education, and that he is the character mostly closely associated with Hardy himself.  Clym tries to expand his education and bring learning to the heath-folk.  That is a no-go with Egdon.

Changing the heath, or even trying to leave it, is not that easy.  You can’t learn your way out, you can’t spiritualize your out, and you can’t love your way out.  Resistance is futile.

WEM Ornament 2While Hardy’s story seems to take place in a very tight sphere (did you notice that we never left the heath, not even once?) there were some signs that he was influenced by the changing world around him.  The play between characters and their class and background was certainly still a topic on the minds of the English.  In addition Hardy’s work takes place on the cusp of modernism and its move away from faith.

That’s right, folks, welcome to modernism.  Here’s how Susan Wise Bauer sums Hardy’s argument (and who are we to argue with SWB, well, except for where she made a mistake or two in her summary of the ROTN plot.)

Thomas Hardy’s hapless characters struggle against the implacable natural forces that continually push them down into the much from whcih they strive to rise.  They always lose.  And so, Hardy wants you to know, will the rest of us.”

Cheerful, right?  But we’re afraid she’s on to something.  The best you could hope for if you were one of his characters is the outcome that befell Thomasin and Venn.  And even their end was not so bright and chipper until Book Sixth was forced out of Hardy’s pen.  The heath giveth, and the heath taketh away, but blessed is not the name of the heath.

In addition to the heath exacting its desires, there is a healthy dose of human pride, vanity, passion, self-love, lack of forgiveness, lust, and scheming to go around as well.

And while we may agree with SWB about what the argument is, we don’t agree with Hardy about it’s greater truth.  For what the novel lacks is hope.  Sure, the world is full of rugged, ugly, dark terrain.  Absolutely, sin abounds.  But outside of a scheming Venn Diggory, where does one find the good on Egdon heath?  Where is Raskolnikov’s Sonia?  Where is Rochester’s Jane?  Where is Levin?

They’re not here.  Instead we find we’re left on a hill of dead bones listening to the guilt-ridden sermons of one lost in despair.  Yes, Hardy, I’m talking about you.

 

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New Year, Same Old Story – Part 1

My reading companions and I made a New Year’s Resolution:  No more waiting around to do the WEM questions once a novel is finished.

The three of us lost Eustacia in the weir and married off Thomasin to the Reddleman before Christmas, but the questions somehow got put on the back-burner next to the wassail.  So when 2013 rang in, our journals were showing more than a proverbial clean slate.  Despite that, we mustered enough intellectual juice to work our way through them one snowy evening over Roasted Pear and Chocolate Scones in Jeannette’s immaculate living room.

WEM Ornament 1After catching up, and exchanging some small tokens of our WEM progress and friendship we hit the books. We shared our retitling of the novel, something we all dread at every wrap-up session.  Part of our problem this time around was in deciding who possessed the role of main character.  In Hardy’s title the distinction goes to Clym, but none of us felt that was accurate.  In fact, all three of us named the major player in this work Egdon Heath.

When my friends flew by the chronicle/fable question with a quick answer to the former, I threw up a red flag, and they kindly listened to my crazy theory about the Reddleman being a fantastic element to this novel just as the call across the moors was to Jane Eyre, and the nocturnally burning A was to The Scarlet Letter.

The wants and obstacles in ROTN seem some of the most clear cut we’ve encountered.  Hardy uses sentences like “What Eustacia always wanted was . . .” and “Clym wanted three things, at best he could only have two.”  Never mind the fact that in the end he loses all three.  And do you know what stands in his way?  The heath.  After a while in our wrap-up session we sounded a lot like those Sunday School kids who pipe up with “Jesus” as the response to every inquiry.  So in order to branch out we added that miscommunication and a lack of forgiveness also mess up situations and cause undue angst.

Of all the novels we’ve read on our WEM journey our stop at the heath rivals only our trip across Melville’s seven seas in terms of importance of setting.  The heath is everything.  Egdon acts on people.  It suffocates Eustacia, makes Cymn its servant, bites Mrs. Yeobright, and pulls Wildeve under it’s tumultuous darkness.  Only Venn and Thomasin, those who are content and respectful of their home, find peace within it’s scrubby terrain.

Despite my lack of Classic Word of the Day posts no novel has given me a more papercuts than Hardy’s work.  I madly flipped from text to dictionary, from text to glossary, from text to footnotes, all the time astounded at his complex and yet simple style.  His narratives described the people and places with rich complicated metaphors and details, while the stretches of dialogue were so colloquial that pressing your finger on the kindle nearly always gave the same result, “no entry found.”

WEM Ornament 3Our classy friend, Norma, told Christine that as she worked through the novel she imagined it as a black and white film with flashes of red.  We think she’s on to something.  The red of fire, Venn, blood, and even Eustacia’s ribbon blaze against the stark dark vs. light relief.  It’s quite an image.

Jeannette opened our eyes to see the theme of vision and lack there of.  Sure, Clym goes physically blind, but others also are impaired and unable to see the truth.  Mrs. Yeobright fails to see the desires of her son and the intentions of his bride.  Eustacia cannot see the danger that awaits by ignoring the knock of her mother-in-law.  And finally the lack of sight causes her to fall (or jump if you like) into her death.

The question that monopolized our discussion of the book’s beginning and ending (although Jeannette pulled through with another astute observation that the book began with singing for a wedding that didn’t happen, and ended with singing for a wedding that did) was this:  Should Hardy have written a Book Sixth?  We all know he didn’t want to, and that his Victorian audience pressured its composition after Book Fifth appeared in its serial installment.

About this we all resolutely agree:  No Book Sixth.  It’s as bad as an epilogue, and we all know how Christine feels about epilogues. (In case you don’t:  she doesn’t like them.  Not a bit.)  We think that the end of Book Fifth is more in keeping argument of the novel.

So what is the argument of the novel?  Well, provided my internet keeps working correctly you can tune in tomorrow for the Rhetoric portion of The Return of the Native wrap-up session.

P.S.  Bonus points if you can correctly identify the novels depicted in the beautiful WEM ornaments made by Christine.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2013 in The Return of the Native

 

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