Tag: drinking


80. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

November 10th, 2010 — 8:21pm

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh was published in 1945. It is narrated by Charles Ryder, who tells the story in a series of flashbacks — the novel begins in 1943 when Ryder, who is now an army officer, and his men are quartered at Brideshead. His observance of the damage the house has sustained in the years since he had last seen it sparks his remembrance of his time at the house and with the family who lived there.

Waugh wrote that the novel “deals with what is theologically termed ‘the operation of Grace’, that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to Himself”. This is achieved by an examination of the Catholic aristocratic Marchmain family, as seen by the narrator, Charles Ryder.

Ryder’s first experience with the Marchmain family is when he goes away to school at Oxford in 1923 — a man walking by on a drinking bender vomits through a window of Charles’s ground-floor rooms. The next day, Charles receives flowers and a note of apology which contains an invitation to lunch. This is the first official meeting of Charles and Sebastian Flyte, the youngest son of the Marquess of Marchmain. Charles and Sebastian (and Sebastian’s stuffed bear, Aloysius) become fast friends and live a life of hedonism with the rest of Sebastian’s friends.

Sebastian is very reluctant to talk about his family and even more reluctant to introduce Charles to them — he takes Charles to Brideshead only when he is sure that his family will be away and is upset when they return earlier than expected. Sebastian has an older brother, the Earl of Brideshead whom they call Bridey, and two sisters, Lady Julia, who is older, and Lady Cordelia, who is the youngest. Lady Marchmain, Sebastian’s mother, is a devout Catholic and her faith is her life. She is a strong and at sometimes cold character. Lord Marchmain, Sebastian’s father, converted to Catholicism in order to marry her, but abandoned both the religion and his wife and moved to Italy.

Charles and Sebastian’s relationship has been strongly debated through the years. They have a sort of “romantic friendship”, which some people believe developed into a sexual relationship. After all, Charles states that he was “in search of love in those days.” Nothing is explicitly stated, but Sebastian is characterized as a flirtatious lush with effeminate airs about him. (It is rumored that Sebastian’s character is based off of Hugh Patrick Lygon, a schoolfriend and suspected lover of Waugh.)

Sebastian (Ben Whishaw) and Charles (Matthew Goode) in the 2008 movie

Sebastian begins to become more and more enveloped in his alcoholism trying to numb his oppressive mother and her religion, and he eventually flees both his family and Charles to go on a bender in Morocco. His drinking ruins his health, and the next time Charles encounters him, he’s in a Tunisian monastary as a recovering alcoholic. Monastical rehab, if you will.

After Sebastian leaves, Charles does not see much of the Marchmain family; he marries and becomes a father, although he and his wife are in a loveless, “cold” marriage. By some twist of fate, Charles runs into Julia, Sebastian’s sister, and enters into an affair with her.

She seemed to say “Look at me. I have done my share. I am beautiful. It is something quite out of the ordinary, this beauty of mine. I am made for delight. But what do I get out of it? Where is my reward?”
That was the change in her from ten years ago; that, indeed, was her reward, this haunting, this magical sadness which spoke straight to the heart and struck silence; it was the completion of her beauty.”

Charles and Julia divorce their spouses and are making plans to marry each other when Julia gets notice that her father, Lord Marchmain, has returned to Brideshead and is languishing on his deathbed, as the ridiculously rich tend to do. Julia and Charles visit him and Lord Marchmain has not only changed his will to bequeath the estate to Julia rather than Bridey, but he has returned to the Catholic faith and is receiving the sacraments. Julia is touched and inspired by her father’s rediscovered faith and decides that she can’t enter into a sinful relationship with Charles.

Thus the novel comes back to the “present” with Charles in the army in World War II. Charles discovers that the Brideshead chapel has been reopened, having been closed upon the death of the pious Lady Marchmain. The soldiers are able to worship at the house, even though it’s been damaged by the war. It occurs to Charles that the efforts of the builders — and, by extension, God’s efforts — were not in vain, though their purposes may have appeared, for a time, to have been frustrated.

Waugh was a convert to Catholicism and wrote this novel as a secular expression of the Catholic faith. Rather than using sentimentality to get his point across, he uses the characters of the agnostic Charles and the flawed but intensely Catholic Marchmains. The novel also examines and judges Charles’s agnosticism and portrays it as being empty when compared to the humanity and spirituality of Catholicism. Each of the Catholic characters is redeemed through their faith — Lord Marchmain, who lived as an adulterer, is reconciled with the Church on his deathbed; Julia is involved in an extramarital affair with Charles, and she comes to feel this relationship is immoral and decides to separate from Charles in spite of her great attachment to him; Sebastian, the charming and flamboyant alcoholic, ends up in service to a monastery while struggling against his alcoholism; Cordelia has some sort of conversion: from being the “worst” behaved schoolgirl her headmistress has ever seen to serving in the hospital bunks of the Spanish Civil War.

The only thing that could be considered a separation from the Catholic faith would be the relationship between Charles and Sebastian. I am one of the proponents of the belief in the romantic relationship between Sebastian and Charles. One of my major problems with the book is the build-up of the relationship between the two young men, only to have Sebastian disappear in an alcoholic haze, never to be seen again. And then, what’s up, affair with Sebastian’s sister. Hello, my annoyance.

Readers who interpret the relationship as overtly homosexual quote such lines as the fact that Charles had been “in search of love in those days” when he first met Sebastian, and his finding “that low door in the wall … which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden” — an image that can be a metaphor for gay sex. The line “our naughtiness [was] high on the catalogue of grave sins” is also a quite strong suggestion of gay sex, which is a sin in most religious beliefs, particularly Catholicism. Reference is made at one point to Charles impatiently anticipating Sebastian’s letters in the manner of one who is love-smitten. It is also suggested in the book that one of the reasons why Charles is later in love with Julia is because of the similarity between her and Sebastian. Indeed, when asked by Julia if he loved Sebastian, Charles replies, “Oh yes! He was the forerunner”.

Thank you for backing me up, Wikipedia.

Overall, Brideshead Revisited is a great book, once you get past the disappointment of the lack of a fulfilled Sebastian and Charles relationship. There are a lot of wonderful moments and great quotes about friendship and love. While I’m not a huge fan of organized religion, I respect people who have a sense of spirituality and live for something larger than themselves. The spiritual and humane side of Catholicism is highlighted in this book, which is a wonderful change from the lurid headlines of today.

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55. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

August 19th, 2010 — 10:04pm

This is my first week back to work after my two and a half month long summer vacation. I spent a majority of those months in the car, visiting friends and having local adventures, which is probably why I gravitated to this book for my next voyage into the book list.

On the Road is a pivotal book from the Beat Generation. There is an apocryphal story of Jack Kerouac’s coffee-and-amphetamine fueled conception of the book, in which he taped together several typewriter scrolls in order to write without the pesky interruption of having to stop to reload. The original scroll manuscript has gone on a tour of college libraries throughout the United States and Europe and was published as On the Road: The Original Scroll in 2007. The stream of consciousness style as employed by Kerouac was used to showcase his semi-autobiographical novel about the adventures that he and his friend, Neal Cassady, had on the road from 1947-1950.

The names of Kerouac’s characters have been analyzed by literary scholars since the book’s publication in 1957. Kerouac based the novel on actual events and subsequently had to change the names of his friends who appeared as characters.

Neal Cassady (left) and Jack Kerouac (right).

The novel begins with Sal Paradise (Kerouac) introducing the concept of Dean Moriarty (Cassady). Sal was obsessed with the idea of the human condition, which included his friends, the jazz scene, the United States outside of New York, and most importantly, women.

They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Dean arrives in New York and changes everything for Sal. When Dean first arrived, he met Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsberg), and they bond together and feed Sal’s fascination with eclectic and unique personalities.

In July of 1947, Sal decides that it is time for him to venture to the West Coast, and he hits the road with fifty dollars in his pocket. He travels to Chicago, San Fransisco, and Los Angeles, meeting women and different eccentric personalities along the way. Dean spends some time in prison for stealing cars, which cements his transition into an epic hero in Sal’s eyes.

“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there.”
“Where we going, man?”
“I don’t know but we gotta go.”

As their sojourn around the country continues, Sal becomes more and more disillusioned with what he finds on the road. The people that he encounters are from the more poverty-stricken end of the spectrum, including elderly African-American men and Mexican prostitutes. The sense of Sal and Dean’s heroism begins to falter as their lives and experiences turns into a series of failures.

Sal’s final attempt at finding a solution from the road leads him to Mexico City with Dean; they embark on a marijuana-fueled adventure through bordellos with mambo music and prostitutes. But while in Mexico, Sal develops dysentery and becomes feverish and hallucinates. Dean leaves Sal while he’s ill, which gives Sal the realization that Dean is more pathetic than he let on, and that the attributes that Sal originally admired in him were actually symptoms of his insecurity and existential crises:

When I got better I realized what a rat he was, but then I had to understand the impossible complexity of his life, how he had to leave me there, sick, to get on with his wives and woes.

Sal returns home and ends the novel sitting on a pier facing west, reflecting on his friendship and adventures.

So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.

I love this book. I first read it when I was fresh out of high school and had a lot of grand notions of what my life was going to be and I was convinced that my best friend and I would be Kerouac and Cassady but with less drugs. The stream-of-consciousness style helps to convey the frenetic energy and the passion with which the characters, both fictional and their live counterparts, lived their lives. Reading On the Road or poetry from Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti makes me feel cooler than I actually am, which is what the Beat Generation authors were all about — experiencing their lives through means that allows them to become more than they are. The movement got its name from the religious theory of beatification as well as the slang term of being beaten down. The Beat Generation was beaten down, but they were looking up.

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2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

June 22nd, 2010 — 7:53pm

As one of my students told me, “This book goes hard.” Whatever that means.

The Great Gatsby was first published in 1925 and has been read in basically every high school and university English class ever. I personally have read it for five different classes. However, it wasn’t until a reprinting of the book in the 1940s and 1950s that it gained the monsterous popularity that it has today. It’s taught as a parable of the “American dream” and what happens when it’s acheived.


Nick Carraway is the passive narrator to the story of Jay Gatsby, Nick’s neighbor, and Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom. Nick has moved to New York from the Midwest to “learn the bond business” (spoiler alert: stay home from work in October 1929) and moves to West Egg, a community on Long Island Sound. Daisy, who is Nick’s second cousin, invites Nick to dinner with her and Tom and their friend, Jordan Baker. Tom and Daisy live a pampered lifestyle. Daisy is said to have been partially inspired by Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda; the statement Daisy makes about hoping that her daughter is a “beautiful fool” because that is all a girl can hope to be is an anecdote that is attributed to Zelda on the birth of her daughter. During the dinner, Jordan reveals to Nick that Tom has a mistress in New York City. Tom has been making frequent trips to New York where he meets up with Myrtle Wilson, who’s husband, George, is an oblivious garage mechanic.

Gatsby is a mystery to Nick for the first few chapters, until he receives an invitation to one of Gatsby’s notorious parties. While at the party, Nick hears all sorts of rumors about Gatsby (that he is the nephew to Kaiser Wilhelm, that he’s killed a man just to watch him die, etc) and is underwhelmed when he finds out that a stranger he has been talking to is actually Gatsby. Nick and Gatsby form a friendship of sorts, and Gatsby tells Nick about his life as a war hero who is from a wealthy family, all the while calling Nick “old sport” more times than he uses his name.

Jordan informs Nick of Gatsby’s real story — in 1917, Gatsby was an Army lieutenant stationed in Louisville where he met and fell in love with Daisy. When Gatsby left Louisville to make enough money to support and marry Daisy, Daisy married Tom in Gatsby’s absence. Gatsby then made his fortune and bought a mansion close to Tom and Daisy, hoping that Daisy would somehow make it to one of his lavish parties.

Pause.

This is where the characters begin to infuriate me. Daisy is shallow. If she wasn’t willing to wait for Gatsby, why on earth would he think that stalking her and hanging around her neighborhood like a creeper would help win her over? And if it DOES win her over, now that he has his huge house and fancy clothes, why would any self respecting guy want to be with her knowing that the only reason she is with him is because of his money? To quote the immortal Kanye West, now I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger, but she ain’t messin’ with no broke, broke. Get down girl, go ‘head, get down.

Anyway.

Gatsby wants Nick to arrange a meeting between him and Daisy, so Nick invites Daisy over for lunch. At first, the meeting is awkward, but once Gatsby takes Daisy and Nick to his house and Daisy has a Scrooge McDuck moment with some of his shirts:

He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel, which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher — shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, and monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.

“They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such — such beautiful shirts before.”

Now that Daisy is aware of Gatsby’s wealth and prestige, they become involved in an affair. Everything goes along fine until Daisy has the wonderful idea to invite Nick and Gatsby out with Tom. Tom becomes aware that Gatsby loves Daisy. Tom insists that he and Gatsby switch cars before they drive up to New York for the day, and when he stops for gas, he flaunts Gatsby’s car to George Wilson.

When they get to New York, Tom suddenly becomes a loving attentive husband to Daisy and confronts Gatsby about the affair. Gatsby acknowledges it and informs Tom that Daisy never loved him, as she had always been in love with Gatsby. The scene turns into a bit of a soap opera.

Gatsby walked over and stood beside her.

“Daisy, that’s all over now,” he said earnestly. “It doesn’t matter any more. Just tell him the truth — that you never loved him — and it’s all wiped out forever.”

She looked at him blindly. “Why — how could I love him — possibly?”

“You never loved him.”

She hesitated. Her eyes fell on Jordan and me with a sort of appeal, as though she realized at last what she was doing — and as though she had never, all along, intended doing anything at all. But it was done now. It was too late.

“I never loved him,” she said, with perceptible reluctance.

“Not at Kapiolani?” demanded Tom suddenly.

“No.”

From the ballroom beneath, muffled and suffocating chords were drifting up on hot waves of air.

“Not that day I carried you down from the Punch Bowl to keep your shoes dry?” There was a husky tenderness in his tone. . . . “Daisy?”

“Please don’t.” Her voice was cold, but the rancor was gone from it. She looked at Gatsby. “There, Jay,” she said — but her hand as she tried to light a cigarette was trembling. Suddenly she threw the cigarette and the burning match on the carpet.

“Oh, you want too much!” she cried to Gatsby. “I love you now — isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.” She began to sob helplessly. “I did love him once — but I loved you too.”

Gatsby’s eyes opened and closed.

“You loved me TOO?” he repeated.

Ohhh dear.

When they leave the hotel, Daisy insists on driving Gatsby’s car, to calm her nerves. Tom, Nick, and Jordan follow a bit later and as they’re driving, they notice a commotion at George Wilson’s garage. It appears that Myrtle has been struck and killed by a car — when she saw Gatsby’s car, she assumed that it was Tom’s, as he’d been driving it earlier that day, and ran out to meet it. Daisy, who was driving, accidentally hit her.

When Gatsby tells Nick this the next day, Nick urges Gatsby to leave. Gatsby is depressed and is waiting for a phone call from Daisy. Nick tells him that “they’re a rotten crowd” and that Gatsby is “worth the whole damn bunch put together!”

Later that day, however, George Wilson has found out who owned the car that killed Myrtle, and shoots and kills Gatsby before committing suicide. Only Nick, Gatsby’s father, and one other person attend Gatsby’s funeral.

At the end of the book, Nick has decided to return to the Midwest and reflects on the cyclical nature of past:

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning ——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The Great Gatsby is often taught in school as a parable of the American dream, that someone can rise from nothing to achieve greatness. But it’s also a bit of a warning and a critique of the decadence of the time; what you want may not necessarily be what you need. Fitzgerald himself is a testament to that: after living a life of excessive through the Jazz Age, the remainder of his life was spent in financial strife until his premature death of a heart attack at age 44. His wife Zelda, was in and out of psychiatric clinics until her death in 1948. Perhaps Fitzgerald should have written a better ending.

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45. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

May 27th, 2010 — 1:12pm

The first novel from Ernest Hemingway was The Sun Also Rises, published in 1926. The title comes from Ecclesiastes 1:5: “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.”

Hemingway is an interesting character. He is the epitome of masculinity, fighting in wars, hunting big game, womanizing, the works. He popularized the “Lost Generation” with this novel; Gertrude Stein is famously credited with coining the phrase to describe a group of young literary modernists who were all expatriates living and writing in Paris.

The Sun Also Rises itself is mildly autobiographical. Several occurances in Hemingway’s life inspired the plot and the characters:

In July 1925 Hemingway went to the San Fermin fiesta in Pamplona. That year he and his wife Hadley were joined by a group of ex-patriates that included his friend Harold Loeb and Lady Duff Twysden who was estranged from her husband. A level of tension developed during the fiesta that permeated the group: Hemingway was interested in Lady Duff; he was jealous when he learned she spent a week with Loeb in France; Loeb argued about money with another member of the group; and Hemingway and Loeb almost had a fist fight. Against this background was the influence of the young matador from Ronda, Cayetano Ordóñez, whose brilliance in the bullring affected the spectators.

Thanks, Wikipedia!

The plot of the novel is fueled by alcohol, sex, and violence. The characters fight with each other, get incredibly drunk, and Lady Ashley has sex with pretty much every man she meets. The narrator, Jake Barnes, has been made impotent from a WWI injury, so he seems to just be a reporter, observing his friends and writing down their exploits. It makes sense that hemingway was a war reporter, as the book is fact drivien and doesn’t leave a lot of room for emotion or description.

I originally read this book in college, but one of my juniors was complaining about how much he hated having to read The Great Gatsby, so he’s reading The Sun Also Rises so I don’t have to hear him whine so much. Of course, he loves it. Fitzgerald and Hemingway are like the yin and yang of the Lost Generation era literature. Where Fitzgerald wrote of lavish parties and beautiful dresses, Hemingway wrote of bullfights and bloodied capes. Fitzgerald makes sure you know what everyone is feeling and thinking, while Hemingway will barely let you know the character’s name.

There are a lot of timestamps on this book. Racial and religious slurs, for example. Robert Cohn, the token Jewish character, is told to keep his “Jew nose out of it.” Lady Ashley is also supposed to be a modern “new woman” of the time, but she goes from man to man — she is unable to sustain herself outside of a sexual relationship. If she doesn’t have a man, she calls Jake and muses about “what could have been” if he only didn’t have that darn war wound. That’s the reason why they can’t be together; never mind the fact that, you know, feelings or emotions could be involved. Feelings are for sissies.

However, the lack of description does give birth to this gem of dialogue:

“You weren’t bored, were you?” asked Bill.

Cohn laughed.

“No. I wasn’t bored. I wish you’d forgive me that.”

“It’s all right,” Bill said, “so long as you weren’t bored.”

“He didn’t look bored,” Mike said. “I thought he was going
to be sick.”

“I never felt that bad. It was just for a minute.”

“I thought he was going to be sick. You weren’t bored, were
you, Robert?”

And that is not the only time that occurs. Oh no. It happens quite frequently throughout the novel. If someone says something once, they say it at least three more times for good measure.

“They come from Biarritz,” Mike said. “They come to see the
last day of the quaint little Spanish fiesta.”

“I’ll festa them,” Bill said.

“You’re an extraordinarily beautiful girl.” Mike turned to Bill’s
friend. “When did you come here?”

“Come off it, Michael.”

“I say, she is a lovely girl. Where have I been? Where have I
been looking all this while? You’re a lovely thing. Have we met?
Come along with me and Bill. We’re going to festa the English.”

“I’ll festa them,” Bill said. “What the hell are they doing at
this fiesta?”

“Come on,” Mike said. “Just us three. We’re going to festa the
bloody English. I hope you’re not English? I’m Scotch. I hate the
English. I’m going to festa them. Come on, Bill.”

Oh. My. God.

However, some good has come out of my study of the book. When my American Novel from 1870 to Present professor taught us this book, he informed us that the reason the characters drink so much champagne is that champagne is what gets you drunk the quickest — the bubbles effervesce in your bloodstream. My classmates and I were the classiest college students at parties, with our bottles of champagne. And Ernest Hemingway’s legacy lives on.

3 comments » | classic books

The Dirty Ginger Man

April 26th, 2010 — 4:33pm

What to say about The Ginger Man.

Sebastian Dangerfield is the ginger man in question. He is an American living with his British wife, Marion, and their baby, Felicity, in Ireland. But that doesn’t keep Sebastian from drinking his way through their finances and sleeping with any woman who will have him.

The writing, by J.P. Donleavy in the 1950s, is very stream-of-consciousness, to the point where there are places where the narration changes from third to first person without any warning.

Sebastian rolled near, pressing the long, blond body to his, thinking of a world outside beating drums below the window in the rain. All slipping on the cobble stones. And standing aside as a tram full of Bishops rumbles past, who hold up sacred hands in blessing. Marion’s hand tightening and touching in my groin. Ginny Cupper took me in her car out to the spread fields of Indiana.

There is no designation to warn you that the point of view is changing. It makes skimming very difficult, I’ll tell you that much.

Once you get past the shock of Sebastian drinking until his liver gives out and having sex with anything that moves, the book is really rather boring. Because nothing else really happens. And Sebastian is kind of a jerk. As in, he pawns Marion’s things and then spends the money to buy alcohol. Donleavy tries to alleviate Sebastian’s jerkiness by having him realize that he is a jerk, that he’s self-aware and feels bad about the things he does. But that doesn’t make him a lovable rogue. He’s almost amoral in his quest to flee from his responsibilities. There are comedic sections, and Sebastian is indeed charming at times……but he still basically manipulates everyone he knows. It’s frustrating because Sebastian doesn’t change and doesn’t seem to learn any lessons. It really honestly is mainly about a man who likes to drink.

However, I can see how the book came to inspire a chain of pubs. And I look forward to going to the one in Houston.

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