Thursday, October 8, 2015

I Finished My Classics Club Challenge

In March 2012, I joined The Classics Club and pledged to read 50 books in five years.  At the time, I had just started blogging (in January) and was following The Well-Educated Mind reading list.  All of the books on the novel list were considered classics, and that was all I was reading.  Later I joined other challenges, too, and started reading three or four books at a time.  It was obvious that I would reach my goal in plenty of time; so I added twenty-five more books to my challenge.  Now I'm done!

Basically, I finished about 18 months sooner, and I could have kept going if I wanted to add another twenty-five books; but I think I am done.  Yay!

I'm glad I participated, and I had a lot of fun when I was more involved.  The best part was connecting with other book bloggers who were also reading the classics.  The Classics Club is a great challenge for people who usually do not read the classics, but would like to be encouraged to read more.

Here is a review of my list:

Titles with * are rereads.

1.   Don Quixote - Miguel De Cervantes   Completed 3/24/12
2.  The Pilgrim's Progress * John Bunyan  Completed 4/11/12
3.  Gulliver's Travels Jonathan Swift  Completed 4/28/12
4.  Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen  Completed 5/11/12
5.  Oliver Twist Charles Dickens  Completed 5/31/12
6.  Jane Eyre - Charlotte Brontë  Completed 6/12/12
7.  The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne  Completed 6/29/12
8.  Moby-Dick - Herman Melville  Completed 7/18/12
9.  Uncle Tom's Cabin * Harriet Beecher Stowe  Completed 7/31/12
10Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert  Completed 8/10/12
11Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky  Completed 9/9/12
12Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy  Completed 11/9/12
13The Return of the Native - Thomas Hardy  Completed 12/18/12
14The Portrait of a Lady - Henry James  Completed 1/27/13
15The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain  Completed 2/10/13
16The Red Badge of Courage Stephen Crane  Completed 3/25/13
17Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad  Completed 4/13/13
18The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton  Completed 5/11/13
19The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald  Completed 5/30/13
20. Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf  Completed 6/27/13
21The Trial - Franz Kafka Completed 7/18/13
22Native Son - Richard Wright Completed 8/19/13
23The Stranger - Albert Camus  Completed 9/6/13
241984 * - George Orwell  Completed 9/26/13
25Invisible Man Ralph Ellison  Completed 11/10/13
26Seize the Day - Saul Bellow  Completed 11/20/13
27One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez Completed 1/20/14
28If on a winter's night a traveler - Italo Calvino  Completed 2/15/14
29White Noise - Don DeLillo  Completed 3/26/14
30Possession - A.S. Byatt  Completed 5/31/14

1.  The Confessions - Augustine  Completed 6/30/14
2.  The Book of Margery Kempe - Margery Kempe  Completed 7/20/14
3.  Essays - Michel De Montaigne  Completed 9/30/14
4.  The Life of Saint Teresa of Ávila by Herself - Teresa of Ávila  Completed 11/25/14
5.  Meditations - René Descartes  Completed 12/20/14
6.  Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners - John Bunyan  Completed 2/6/15
7.  The Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration Mary Rowlandson  Completed 2/18/15
8.  Confessions - Jean-Jacques Rousseau  Completed 3/23/15
9.  The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin - Benjamin Franklin  Completed 4/10/15
10. Walden * - Henry David Thoreau  Completed 5/18/15

SUPLEMENTAL LIST: These are classics that are not on the Well Educated Mind list, but I have read them in between WEM titles.  They are from my TBR list.

1.  The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain Completed 3/1/13
2.  The Crucible Arthur Miller  Completed 3/7/13
3.  The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien  Completed 4/2/13
4.  O Pioneers! - Willa Cather Completed 8/1/2013
5.  The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde Completed 8/25/13
6.  Persuasion*Jane Austen Completed 2/20/15
7.  Frankenstein - Mary Shelley  Completed 10/28/13
8.  A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens  Completed 12/15/13
9.  Gone With the Wind Margaret Mitchell Completed 1/28/14
10A Christmas Carol *- Charles Dickens Completed 12/20/13
11Great Expectations  - Charles Dickens (2014)  Completed 2/16/14
12Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll  Completed 2/24/14
13Candide - Voltaire  Completed 3/29/14
14. Germinal - Émile Zola  Completed 4/13/14
15. Arthurian Romances - Chrétien de Troyes  Completed 3/28/14
16. Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton  Completed 5/15/14
17The Story of Sir Lancelot and His Champions - Howard Pyle  Completed 5/18/14
18The Old Man and the Sea *Ernest Hemingway  Completed 7/22/14
19. The Catcher in the Rye - J. D. Salinger Completed 8/3/14
20. Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  Completed 9/23/14
21The Story of the Grail and the Passing of Arthur - Howard Pyle  Completed 10/28/14
22. The History of the Kings of Britain - Geoffrey of Monmouth Completed 9/29/14
23. Little Woman - Louisa May Alcott  Completed 10/31/14
24. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck  Completed 8/5/15
25. My Ántonia - Willa Cather  Completed 12/12/14
26. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy  Completed 12/28/14
27. The Fortune of the Rougons - Émile Zola  Completed 4/23/15
28. Lord of the Flies - William Golding  Completed 7/21/15
29. Beowulf - unknown/translated by J.R.R. Tolkien  Completed 1/4/15
30. Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe  Completed 1/18/15
31. Dracula Bram Stoker  Completed 10/1/15
32. East of Eden - John Steinbeck  Completed 2/23/15
33. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson Completed 6/7/15
34. The Voyage Out - Virginia Woolf  Completed 4/10/15
35. The Kill Émile Zola  Completed 8/19/15

Monday, October 5, 2015

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Title: Dracula
Author:  Bram Stoker
Published:  1897
Challenges:  The Classics Club; Reading England; Back to the Classics (19th Century)

If you are looking for an eerie book to read during October, Dracula is a good classic.  I am not much into dark novels, but this one is not like today's standard of diabolical or fiendish. There was only one early passage that made me think that maybe I should not continue reading, but I have forgotten where it is and I did not mark it.  Nonetheless, I did not stop, and actually looked forward to reading the following night.  

The story is told through a series of written works, like journals, diaries, and letters, from numerous characters; hence, the reader gets several different perspectives, which makes for an interesting presentation.  If you know anything about this story of Dracula, by Bram Stoker, it is more than just a few characters hunting down a monstrous vampire creature. The characterization of the vampire and his victims makes the story eerie and engaging, but the ideas that accompany the plot keep the reader thinking deeper.  This is more than about vampires.  

Dracula book cover design via Anne Lambelet Illustration

I wonder if this novel has a lot to do with changes: changes in time periods and places, changes in how the world functions, changes in how women live and think, and changes in how men perceive and treat women.  Without getting into specific details about the plot, there are unique characters who see things differently because they represent changes in opinions, philosophies, religion, and technology.  Ideas are advancing and the world is changing. Going forward with these changes seem to be the only way to defeat this monster.

Also, the men in the story maintain their typical roles as noble protectors while keeping the women, Mina and Lucy, ignorant of truth and information; but it proves to be disastrous.  It is only later when they utilize the knowledge of Mina that it becomes beneficial to their cause.  

Mina and Lucy were representative of contradicting ideas of women.  Lucy completely fell prey to Dracula's efforts.  She was young, desired, tempting, and even a little daring for the times.  Being conquered by Dracula only meant that her traits were exaggerated, and it is the duty of the men who loved her to put an end to her, and save her from herself.  (This kind of women could not be condoned.)

Meanwhile, Mina, a good woman, was loyal, intelligent, and helpful.  The men worked diligently to preserve her and protect her, but they realized that they could not complete their difficult task without her. In the end, it was what saved her, unlike how they saved Lucy.

And there were more concepts and themes to explore, but I will have to reread Dracula again someday.  It took me a month to read it, and most of the time it was late at night and I was falling asleep.
Dracula illustration via Philippe Druillet

Before I end this, I wanted to share this one passage that I remember well, which coincided with a current article I had read.  In Dracula, Mina appealed to her husband (and the others) to sacrifice her if she fully became a vampire.  She pleaded with him,
Think, dear, that there have been times when brave men have killed their wives and their womenkind, to keep them from falling into the hand of the enemy.  Their hands did not falter any the more because those that they loved implored them to slay them.  It is men's duty towards those whom they love, in such times of sore trial!  
That reminded me of the story I had just read about an Indian woman, Anita Rani, who learned the fate of a grandmother and how she had died during the time of Partition in India.  Women and girls were murdered by their husbands/fathers rather than be given to the invading Muslims. Many of the women sacrificed themselves, too.  Rani said,
It's so cruel; I am horrified.  It is the most shocking account of what humans are capable of.  I hate that the world was in such a way that that was the only choice women had - that men would decide their fate.
Obviously, sacrificing wives and daughters was already known to history at the time of Dracula, as Indian Partition did not take place until 1947, long after this publication.  It is a little difficult to wrap a 21st century brain around the idea of asking one's husband to sacrifice you in the event of a vampire transition, or worse yet, being taken by the enemy.  I know one is fictional, but nonetheless, the wretched proposition is shocking.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler

Title:  Mein Kampf
Author:  Adolf Hitler
Published:  1925
Challenges:  Well-Educated Mind (Biographies)

Q.  What do these three images have in common?

A.  Me, reading Hitler.

Yes, while reading Mein Kampf there was a "face-plant" moment in the middle of the book; often times I put aside (avoided) reading to tend to urgent matters, like my nails; and sometimes I resorted to shorthand during my deliberate note taking, using key symbolic phrases such as, "Blah, blah, blah," to fill in redundant ideas. 

Oh, it was not that terrible, but Mein Kampf was interminable and tedious, at times.  Hitler is like one of those coworkers who talks relentlessly about nothing else except one issue.  I know someone like that, and I thought I was reading about him.  One issue only consumes and defines and energizes him.  It is all he is.  Well, that's Adolf Hitler.

Mein Kampf is on my Well- Educated Mind reading challenge, but I almost skipped it. Why would I want to read the biographical work of one of the most hated dictators?  Why is Mein Kampf even available to read?  Well, I did read it, and I think it should be read by some, especially those concerned with history and political science.  At least for the first half of the book, I actually looked forward to reading it.   

Hitler as a courier, WWI
Because I did not have my own copy of Mein Kampf, but borrowed one from the library, I was unable to deface the pages, as I usually do when I read.  Instead I took 18 pages of notes, front and back.  Unfortunately, I do not really know why I took so many notes because I am unable to review them coherently.  The thought is daunting, as they are all out of order.  However, I got Hitler.  I think I figured out all I need to write up some kind of review about him and his work.  So here we go:

*  Hitler was a model racist.  He believed pure German roots were the prime foundation for the human race.  Germans were a physically strong people, and never should they mix with other groups of people, like the Jews, who would only make them weaker.  The Aryan race, he claimed, was "self-sacrificing" and "the bearer of cultural development."

*  Hitler became racist against the Jews because he believed the Jews hated the German (Aryan) people and wanted to eliminate them from history.  He despised their liberal and immoral ideology and thought they were contaminating the culture with their control of the press and the arts.  He believed they encouraged conflicts between groups of people in order to divert attention away from themselves and their schemes.  He claimed the Jews blamed the German military for its defeat in the War (WWI) and sought to incriminate Germany.

Austrian postcard (1919) of Jew stabbing German soldier in the back

* Hitler did not like democracy because it allowed men to be puppets or cowardly.  He believed in one-man dictatorship.  He said there was nothing noble about hiding behind majorities: "The majority can never replace the man."  He said Western democracy is a forerunner to Marxism.

*  He hated Marxism because he said the Jews were behind this ideology.  Marxism, according to Hitler, was the Jews' attempt to exclude individual humanity and replace it with one giant mass of people.

*  He was one of the founders of the National Socialist German Workers' party, which would later become the NAZI party, where he laid out the principles to bring nationalism back to the German people, make the German (Aryan) race strong and powerful,  and eliminate the Jewish and Marxist stronghold in Germany and Austria.   The main goal of the National Socialists was to "secure for the German people the land and soil to which they are entitled on this earth."

*  Hitler laid out the concept for re-education, too.  He argued that the current bourgeois education for "peace and order" would only continue to weaken the German people.  Instead, the youth should be trained in physical education as much as knowledge.  

Some of his other ideas:
1. Fight against prostitution
2. Encourage early marriage for healthy, resistant off-spring
3. Education must include mental and physical training
4. Cleanse theater, art, literature, cinema, press, and posters (propaganda) of our rotting world

Rare color photo of Adolf Hitler

Some other mentions: 
*  He said, "The great heroic struggle became my greatest inner experience."  Is this the hero-complex syndrome?  
*  He believed freedom of the press was equal to poisoning and lying to the people.  
*  And this: "If the struggle for a philosophy is not lead by heroes prepared to make sacrifices, there will, in a short time, cease to be any warriors willing to die."
*  And finally: "I wanted to enjoy the happiness of living and working in the place which some day would inevitably bring about the fulfillment of my most ardent and heartfelt wish: the union of my beloved homeland with the common fatherland, the German Reich."

Who should read Mein Kampf.  Again, if you are a political science or history major, this is an important work in the grand scheme of the world.  For anyone else, if you actually like listening to that frenzied coworker go on and on about the same topic, then knock yourself out.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Top Ten on my Fall TBR

Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR

All Quiet on the Western Front - 
Erich Maria Remarque
I feel like I read this in elementary school.  Can it be possible?  We shall find out.

Dracula - Bram Stoker
Probably most anticipated this fall.

Howard's End - E. M. Foster

The Story of My Experiments with Truth - Gandhi

In Cold Blood - Capote

The Song of the Lark - Willa Cather
Cannot. Get. To. This. Fast. Enough!

Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
It's about time I read another Austen.  Poor woman has been totally neglected.  For shame!

A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
Every year, by December, my children beg me to read this to them; and you know I love it. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Title:  The Metamorphosis
Author:  Franz Kafka
Published:  1915
Challenges:  Literary Movement Reading Challenge (Existentialism), The Manly Reading List

The quick synopsis of this short story (or novella) looks like this:

And the longer version:

Gregor, the main character, awoke to discover that his body had been transformed into an insect (though we do not know what kind, nor do we know how or why this has occurred). Gregor behaved like an insect and did not speak a human language, but his mind was all his own. He did not seem overly concerned about his new condition; he just tried to survive in his new body - which amounted to being confined to his room, climbing the walls, or hiding under the couch in the living room.

Since Gregor lived with his parents and younger sister, they were somewhat inconvenienced by his new condition, particularly because he financially supported the household.  His sister was especially compassionate toward him after the transformation, though it did not last long.   Meanwhile, without Gregor's income, both of his parents were forced to return to work, and it actually proved beneficial because their health and well-being improved.  

When the family took in three boarders to supplement their finances and the boarders saw Gregor, they immediately left disgusted.  Hence, the family wanted to move into a smaller affordable apartment, but because of Gregor, they felt trapped.   Gregor was a burden and nuisance.

Hearing all of this condemnation about himself from his family, Gregor remained in his room (unable to communicate with them and injured by a piece of fruit his father threw at him) where he starved to death shortly after.  

And if you need to know, his family was totally relieved by his death; they got on with their lives, and even noticed the wonderful transformation of their daughter into a talented, beautiful young woman.

James Legros

As a reader, you may be curious to figure out what the purpose of this story was, but I found it entertaining enough.  It was or is a wacky, crazy, bizarre experience.  That's Kafka. I have read only one other Kafka, The Trial, and it was a similar feeling.  

If you enjoy disappearing into strange, unnatural worlds - like dreams - then you will appreciate the storytelling ideas of Kafka.  I know he was deeply political, and his stories have philosophical meanings; but this one I am going to remember for its weirdness from the mind of Kafka.  

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Little House series, and the race to adulthood

Title:  The Little House series
Author:  Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published:  1932 - 1971
Challenges:  Summer reread

"Every Christmas is better than the Christmas before," Laura thought.  I guess it must be because I'm growing up."
This summer I reread The Little House series, and I discovered a great lesson: that maturity and adulthood are regarded as urgent and crucial - worn like a crown of righteousness.  

The Bible conveys a similar message that we should desire to grow up, mature, and become adults.  Adulthood brings wisdom and understanding, favor with God, and growth in salvation.  Babies require only the milk of the Word, but adults can handle the solid food of Scripture.  The Bible encourages man to put away childish things - the sooner the better. 

Maturity encourages obedience (or obedience encourages maturity), and you cannot have one without the other.  Self-control is a sign of maturity, and it is one of the more difficult commandments to obey - controlling our true inner emotions and often-selfish desires, while displaying immediate obedience, when we would rather do as we please.  

Following are just a few passages from The Little House books that represent these attributes in the race to adulthood. 

Little House in the Big Woods

The first book of the Little House series demonstrates how obedience should be executed - instantly and without question - because obedience can be the difference between life and death.

One evening, five-year old Laura went out with Ma to milk Sukey, the cow, while Pa was away for the night.  In the darkness, they saw the large shape of Sukey standing within the barnyard gate; and Ma reached in to slap Sukey's shoulder, in order to move her into the barn. Ma realized it was not Sukey she slapped, but a bear, and she immediately commanded Laura to walk back to the house.  Without question, Laura turned around and began to walk back, until Ma caught her up and ran with her to the house.

When they were safely inside, Laura asked Ma if it was a bear, and if it could hurt them? Ma assured her that they were safe in the house and praised Laura because she was a good girl, to do exactly as Ma told her and to do it quickly, without asking why.  

Farmer Boy

Almanzo and his father were out collecting ice on the river when a curious Almanzo fell into the icy water. Check out this nine-year old's conscience:
Father stood over him, big and terrible.  
"You ought to have the worst whipping of your life," Father said.
"Yes, Father," Almanzo whispered.  He knew it.  He knew he should have been more than careful.  A boy of nine-years old is too big to do foolish things because he doesn't stop to think.  Almanzo knew that, and felt ashamed.  He shrank up small inside his clothes and his legs shivered, afraid of the whipping. Father's whippings hurt.  But he knew he deserved to be whipped.  The whip was on the bobsled.
"I won't thrash you this time," Father decided.  "But see to it you stay away from that edge."
Towards the end of Farmer Boy, Almanzo had pride in his heart, as he recognized his abilities to help with the farm work.
He helped to feed the patient cows, and the horses eagerly whinnying over the bars of their stalls, and the hungrily bleating sheep, and the grunting pigs.   
And he felt like saying to them all, "You can depend on me.  I'm big enough to take care of you all."
Little House on the Prairie

Pa is gone when two Indians entered the little log cabin, and Laura and Mary argued about freeing Jack, their bulldog, from his chain.  Laura wanted to let him loose, to protect Ma, but Mary reminded her of Pa's stern orders never to let him go. 

When Pa returned, they told him the truth, and Pa rebuked them with words of wisdom.
"Did you girls even think of turning Jack loose?"  he asked in a dreadful voice.
Laura's head bowed down and she whispered, "Yes, Pa."
"After I told you not to?" Pa said, in a more dreadful tone.
Laura couldn't speak, but Mary chocked, "Yes, Pa."
"After this," he said, in a terrible voice, "you girls remember always to do as you're told.  Don't even think of disobeying me."
"Do as you're told," said Pa, "and no harm will come to you." 
On the Banks of Plum Creek

Here was another example of Laura obeying her conscience to confess her disobedience, which is extremely difficult for anyone to do, especially a child.
Everything was beautiful and good, except Laura. She had broken her promise to Pa.  Breaking a promise was as bad as telling a lie.  Laura wished she had not done it.  But she had done it, and if Pa knew, he would punish her.  
Pa went on playing softly in the starlight.  His fiddle sang to her sweetly and happily.  He thought she was a good little girl. At last Laura could bear it no longer. 
And this is where she tells him how she went to the swimming hole when she was commanded never to go without him.

I could not resist sharing a story about Nellie Oleson.  After school began on Plum Creek, Mary and Laura met Nellie for the first time.  Out of earshot, Mary said,
"My goodness!  I couldn't be as mean as that Nellie Oleson."
Laura thought: "I could.  I could be meaner to her than she is to us, if Ma and Pa would let me."  (And she recognized her accountability for bad behavior, although later she did seek revenge on Nellie.) 
By the Shores of Silver Lake

Times have changed by the opening of this next book, By the Shores of Silver Lake.  Mary lost her sight after a bout with scarlet fever, Pa has gone west to begin a new job and stake out a new place for them to live, and Jack, Laura's trusted dog, who "took care of her," has died.  
Laura knew then that she was not a little girl any more.  Now she was alone; she must take care of herself.  When you must do that, then you do it and you are grown up.    
Caroline wanted one of her girls to be a teacher, and that dream fell to Mary.  However, after Mary's illness, it was apparent that Laura would have to be the teacher. Laura never wanted to be a teacher.  Notice her private, internal negotiations as she struggled to put down her disdain for teaching in order to do what she knew was necessary and right.  
Laura's heart jerked, and then she seemed to feel it falling, far, far down.  She did not say anything.  She knew that Pa and Ma, and Mary too, had thought that Mary would be a teacher.  Now Mary couldn't teach, and - "Oh, I won't! I won't!" Laura thought.  "I don't want to!  I can't!"  Then she said to herself, "You must."
I love all of Laura's little bits of honest curiosity, like when Pa warned Laura and Carrie never to go near the grade where the men were working, using rough language.
"Yes, Pa." Laura promised, and Carrie almost whispered, "Yes, Pa."  Carrie's eyes were large and frightened.  She did not want to hear rough language, whatever rough language might be.  Laura would have liked to hear some, just once, but of course she must obey Pa.
The Long Winter

Older sister Mary often challenged Laura's conscience for the better.  During The Long Winter, they sat in the dim light doing needlework.  
"I do believe I have nearly enough done," [Mary] said.  "I'll be ready for you to sew the rug tomorrow, Laura."
 "I wanted to finish this lace first," Laura objected.  "And these storms keep making it so dark I can hardly see to count the stitches."  
"The dark doesn't bother me," Mary answered cheerfully.  "I can see with my fingers."
Laura was ashamed of being impatient.  "I'll sew your rug whenever you're ready," she said willingly.
Later, during their dismal Christmas, Ma suggested they save a special publication to read aloud on that day.
After a moment Mary said, "I think it is a good idea.  It will help us to learn self-denial."
"I don't want to," Laura said.
"Nobody does," said Mary.  "But it's good for us."
Sometimes Laura did not even want to be good.  But after another silent moment she said, "Well, if you and Mary want to, I will.  It will give us something to look forward to for Christmas." 
After some time of being buried in the house under blizzards, Laura became anxious and complained aloud about eating plain brown bread for every meal.  Ma scolded her,
"Don't complain, Laura!"  Ma told her quickly.  "Never complain of what you have. Always remember you are fortunate to have it."
Laura had not meant to complain but she did not know how to explain what she had meant.  She answered meekly, "Yes, Ma."  Then, startled, she looked at the wheat sack in the corner.  There was so little wheat left in it that it lay folded like an empty sack.
"Ma!" she exclaimed, "Did you mean..."  Pa had always said that she must never be afraid.  She must never be afraid of anything.
Charles and Caroline were always wonderful examples of restraint and trust and obedience, all characteristics of maturity.

Little Town on the Prairie

How often I have complained about doing something I do not like or believe I cannot do well, and how quietly Caroline kept this to herself, until Laura noticed it later in her life. This is a testament to Caroline's character.
Laura had never before known that Ma hated sewing. Her gentle face did not show it now, and her voice was near exasperated.  But her patience was so tight around her mouth that Laura knew she hated sewing as much as Laura did.
I hate sewing, too; I suppose I am not any good at keeping it private. (Something to work on, maybe.)

These Happy Golden Years

This is one of my favorite (well, they are all my favorite) experiences of The Little House books because we truly see Laura blossom into the beautiful, brave, honest, and honorable young woman that her parents have been training her up to be. 

Maybe it is me, but I found Laura's time at the Brewster school to be the most horrific experience. Laura had to spend three weeks teaching a small school too far from DeSmet for her to stay at home.  She had to board at the Brewster's claim during the week.  Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Brewster's home was a miserable and dangerous environment.  After the knife incident (Mrs. Brewster threatened Mr. Brewster in the middle of the night), sleep was a definite complication.  And yet, Laura never complained to her parents about the miserable horrors of staying there.  She only shared her concerns later about her teaching abilities.  Not only would my parents have heard all about it, but also I would have been out of there by the end of week one.  And that would be because there were no cell phones and I'd have to wait for the weekend, when Manny picked me up.

The First Four Years

And finally, this last story tells of Laura's and Manny's first four years together.  For three years she consented to trying farming with Manny, and if it failed they would try something new.  Well, as with farming, they had success and trials, all the same.  At the end of four years, she thought rather maturely,

It would be a fight to win out in this business of farming, but strangely she felt her spirit rising for the struggle.

Together, she and Manny proved to be a courageous, honorable, responsible, and hard working couple.  These are the things that mature adults are made of.  

This post has been difficult to conquer because there is so much I want to draw from this series, but I had to be selective.  And then I didn't take notes on maturity, but the topic only came to me after I completed the series.  I remember numerous other examples of maturity, but I could not spend any more time trying to search for them. 

Then, while I was putting this post together, I wondered if anyone had written anything on The Little House series pertaining to the topic of maturity and adulthood, and I found something from this site: The Imaginative Conservative: The Unfairness of Fair Hair: Duty and Maturity in Little House in the Big Woods.  It's super short, if you are interested in a little different perspective.  

Maybe someday I'll do a different post on these books and focus on a different topic.  There are so many areas to explore: nature, liberty, independence, women's issues, farming, and humor.  Believe me!  These books were not only written for young people.  

If you've read the series, even long ago, what is one theme or topic you take away from these stories?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Kill by Émile Zola

Title:  The Kill
Author:  Émile Zola
Published:  1872
Challenges:  The Classics Club; Literary Movement Reading Challenge (Naturalism)

Émile Zola is an artist: the pen is his paintbrush, and the pages are his canvas.  He paints in precise detail his setting, and decorates his characters in the fashions and styles of the day. Because of these ideals, I assumed that a book like The Kill would be considered written in the style of the realism movement; however, I have since learned that naturalists believed that realists failed to portray life as ugly or difficult - or we could add that they left out some truth about life.  If you have ever read Zola, you would agree that he knows how to present all of life: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Kill is the second volume in the Les Rougon-Macquart series.  The setting is the yet-to-be-born new city of Paris, as it is being thought out.  One of the main characters, Saccard (Aristide) Rougon, makes his mark and becomes a successful speculator, in more than just real estate.  He loves wealth; money is all he cares about.  And he is not alone.  It permeates the very culture of people he surrounds himself with.  

Sweet Doing Nothing - Auguste Toulmouche
French artist praised by Zola

When Saccard's first wife died, he made a business deal with a wealthy family to marry a young woman, Renée (in order to save her reputation because she was pregnant with another man's child). Saccard greedily inherited her money.  Meanwhile, Renée became personally and emotionally close with Maxime, Saccard's son from his first marriage, and they recklessly developed a semi-incestuous affair.  

I will stop there.  The Kill started off somewhat slow for me, but half way through, Zola made up for it.  As I said, Zola knows how to present all of life, including those behaviors that are difficult and uncomfortable.  There was an abundance of wicked greed and selfish gain, immoral vanity, debauchery and deception, gluttony and drunkenness, and uncontrollable appetites for pleasure and sin.  What a mess it all was!  

Vanity - Auguste Toulmouche

On a personal level, I felt hints of Madame Bovary peeking through.  Bovary was published in 1856, almost 20 years before The Kill.  Renée was this young woman in an uncompromising predicament. She was somewhat indifferent and bored with life, and she became attached to Maxime - not for any good reason that he provided because he was an irresponsible, thoughtless, egocentric young man. However, the reader can see how Renée's lifestyle and obsession with Maxime were spinning out of control, and she was the one who was going to be ruined in the end.  Meanwhile Maxime and his father, Saccard, walked away uninjured.  Maxime was a chip off the old block.

I pitied Renée, especially because it was obviously commonplace that she was being swindled and misused by Saccard.  For example, he devised a plan to sleep with his wife again, and he considerd, 
to capture Renée by the same trick that he would have played on a prostitute.  She was beset by an increasing need of money, and was too proud to ask her husband for help except as a last resort.  Saccard resolved to take advantage of her first request for money to win her favors, and to resume their long-served relations in the delight brought about by the payment of a large debt.
Auguste Toulmouche

Like Madame Bovary, Renée created her own mess and must take responsibility.  Too bad she did not receive sooner the advice of her only friend, Céleste, 
I would never have behaved as you did, Madame.  I often said to myself, when I found you with Monsieur Maxime: 'How is it possible to be so foolish about men!' It always ends badly.  I've always mistrusted them.
But it was too late for Renée.