Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Classics Salon: Which character do you relate to?


The Classics Salon: Which character do you relate to

(from a classic you are reading, or just finished reading)?


Of the classics I am currently reading - The Fortune, by Émile Zola, and The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper - there is not one single character I relate to.  Most of the characters in The Fortune are financially greedy, politically ambitious, and just plain vile individuals. And, as of yet, I do not know the native warriors and British (or Scottish, I think) colonists in The Mohicans all that well

Of the classics I have recently finished - Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, and Virginia Woolf's The Voyage OutWoolf's character Rachel Vinrace is the closest I may get to push the issue.

Rachel Vinrace is a 24-year old woman who was raised and sheltered by two unmarried aunts after her mother died.  Her overwhelming father is often away, and she never received a formal education. While out on a voyage to South America, a different aunt takes her under her care to quietly expose her niece to the world, with new eyes and unhindered by the opinions of others.

Unlike Rachel, I have witnessed relationships between men and women, I received a formal education, and I have not lived a sheltered life.  However, what I may be able to relate to is Rachel's social eye-opener, as she experiences for the first time the discrepancies between men and women.  I guess our mothers can tell us as much, but when we personally experience it ourselves, it can be quite shocking: there is a double standard!

For example, when Mr. Dalloway, a married politician, steals a passionate kiss from the unsuspecting Rachel, intimate pleasure is awakened in her, but her own guilt suppresses her immediate feelings, which is quite right and natural.  However, the double standard is that Mr. Dalloway walks away without any concern for his inappropriate behavior, while Rachel carries his share of the guilt on top of her own.

When a fellow female traveler, in regards to a similar situation, says,
"I've never met a man that was fit to compare with a woman!  [she cried];
they've nothing but their beastly passions and their brute strength!  
We've too much self-respect; we're infinitely finer than they are,"
I laughed.  (I survived high school; I know what she means.)  Poor Rachel gets her first taste of the differences.  Yes, there are contradictions between men and women, but there should never be double standards when it comes to self-control.

Welcome to the world, Rachel.

12 comments:

  1. From my recent rereading of Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood, I relate to Hazel Motes; that is both a good and bad identification since I -- like Motes -- am a Christian malgre lui who cannot stop running both away from and toward inescapable realities. And so it goes.

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    1. And what is a malgre lui? I've tried to find a definition online. : D

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    2. It is a French expression that I first came across in Flannery O'Connor's preface to the 2nd edition of Wise Blood; she refers to Hazel Motes as a "Christian malgre lui" (i.e., a Christian in spite of himself). The phrase is more complex than it would first seem to be. I think often about its complicated meanings.

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  2. I think these differences still rankle and that's why many women want to be able to imitate men...just so they don't have to carry the guilt. It's a pity really. I agree with you - self-control ought to be key not just for women but for men as well!!

    I should like to read this some day. I was pleasantly surprised when I found I quite liked "Mrs. Dalloway".

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    1. Saari, I feel that way, too. Instead of holding men to the fire, and challenging them to raise their standards (making them responsible for their behavior), we have lowered our own social standards to be equal with them. And in a way, we have eliminated shame and responsibility for immoral behavior for everyone.

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    2. "And in a way, we have eliminated shame and responsibility for immoral behavior for everyone."

      Therein lies our greatest tragedy today, me thinks. :-/

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  3. I have tried Virginia Woolf in the past but couldn't get into Mrs. Dalloway. However, based on your comments I think I could probably like The Voyage Out. Of the books I have read recently - hmmm - In a strange way I do relate to Leo Tolstoy (reading his autobiographical works) and in The Torrents of Spring, I can possibly relate to the mother, Senora Leonora - the way she is genuinely anxious for her children and they family's financial future.

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    1. The good thing about The Voyage Out, compared with Mrs. Dalloway, is that TVO is a traditional novel, whereas MD was written in that stream of consciousness style. TVO is much easier to follow.

      Oh, yes - a mother's anxiety. I know that, too.

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  4. Now you've made me want to pull my copy of The Voyage Out from it's TBR pile!

    My character (from Germinal) was also one that was experiencing female issues and double standards...it seems that we have created a theme this week :-)

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    1. Yes, I remember that (in Germinal). The double standard was definitely prevalent.

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  5. Dear Ruth,

    am just popping in to say that I have deleted my blog (Mangoes and Cherry Blossoms). It was a spur-of-the-moment action, but it was something I needed to do. I apologise for leaving you all just when I had begun the Classics Salon. I had been greatly looking forward to it, but personal reasons decided me on the course of action I took.

    Wishing you all the best with your reading project. ^_^

    best regards,
    Saari

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    1. I was sorry to see that this morning when I visited your blog. But I totally understand. Moms have larger responsibilities to tend to. Those are most important.



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