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Re-titling

My new title for Heart of DarknessHeart of Darkness.1

What’s the moral, Marlow?  Marlow, the storyteller, is simultaneously appalled and understanding of Kurtz’s brutality against the people of the Congo.

I confess; I may have been a little grouchy at the time.  Heart of Darkness wasn’t my favorite book, and based on your responses at our last hebdomadal check-in, it wasn’t your favorite either.

Why?  Was it too short?  Was it too hard to keep track of things?   All that inner, outer, central station stuff and the nameless characters.

Christina speculated that Conrad had more to the story in his head that he just forgot to write down on paper.

I kept reading, hoping something to happen.  It was a lot of build up for nothing much.  Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of Criminal Minds.  I waited and waited for the gory, disturbing scene that would show how Kurtz was getting all that ivory: proof of his Heart of Darkness.  All I got was a brief threat of natives and a dying, crazy man.

It was definitely not my favorite novel.

Why wasn’t Heart of Darkness your favorite WEM classic?

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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Heart of Darkness

 

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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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Renaming The Scarlet Letter

By now you know that the WEM First Level of Inquiry Questions require me to retitle the novel.  I’ve talked about the task here and here.  These are the two questions that will help me with that assignment.

1. Who is the central character in this book?
2. What is the book’s most important event?

Let’s tackle the second question.  Can we agree that the adultery was the most important event in the book?  Or at least Chillingworth witnessing Hester’s ignominy on the pillory?  The entire book centers on the adultery, so that’s the answer I’m using.

Now for first question.  Instinctively I want to say that Hester Prynne is the central character, but part of me wants to say that Rev. Dimmesdale comes in a close second.  I don’t want to leave anyone out, so can I include Roger Chillingworth as well?  Let’s face it.  Other than a few governors and the occasional townsperson (Mistress Hibbons), who was on your character list?  These three.  Oh, and Pearl.  We can’t forget the living representation of the scarlet letter.

Back to the retitling…
The WEM says, “Now give your book a title that mentions the main character, and a subtitle that tells how that character is affected by the book’s main event.”

So readers, here’s your assignment.  Give The Scarlet Letter a new title using one of the three main characters’ names and a subtitle explaining how that character was affected by the main event of the novel.

Here’s my attempt at using Chillingworth.

Roger Chillingworth: a husband returns to find his wife publicly shunned for having another man’s child, so he dedicates his life to seeking revenge upon his wife’s lover by concealing his identity and befriending the man in order to torture him psychologically at the cost of the husband’s own spiritual and physical destruction.

Your turn.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in The Scarlet Letter, Well-Educated Mind

 

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Renaming Oliver Twist

You’ve finished Oliver Twist?  Great!

But for those of us following the WEM guidelines, we still have an assignment.  Remember when I said that I was required to take notes?  Keep a character list?  Fold down corners?  Look up definitions of words?  All of those things are suggestions by Susan Wise Bauer in her section titled “How to Read a Novel”.  Upon completion of the latest classic, I grab three things: my copy of the novel, my journal, and my copy of WEM.  I then do my best to answer the thoughtful questions Bauer has crafted.  One of the things she asks me to do is to give the novel a new title and subtitle.

“Now give your book a title that mentions the main character, and a subtitle that tells how that character is affected by the book’s main events.” WEM pg. 70

Here’s my attempt at titling Dickens’ sad story:

Oliver Twist: an innocent orphan is abused and manipulated by evil characters and, finally, rescued from his sad life by kind, wealthy people who are related to him.

It’s rather wordy and not very catchy.  But check this out.  According to the WEM synopsis for Oliver Twist, the book “was originally subittled The Parish Boy’s Progress in a satirical play on Bunyan’s title.  Christian is a grown man who can pursue his own destiny, but Oliver Twist is entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers.”

Whoa!  The classic novels are so intertwined!  Remember the Don Quixote references?  And way back when we started Oliver, I felt Dickens was making allusions to  Pilgrim’s Progress .  It makes me wonder what we’ll find in Jane Eyre.

Blog friends, here’s an assignment for you.  I’d love to read your attempts at renaming Oliver Twist in the comments section.

 

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