Tag: movie


Module 3: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

September 24th, 2012 — 8:36pm

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick is a 527 page book that is told with both text and illustration. It tells the story of Hugo, a boy who lives in a Paris train station. It won the Caldecott medal in 2008; the movie version, “Hugo”, was directed by Martin Scorsese and was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 2012.

SUMMARY

Hugo Cabret lives in a Paris train station in the 1930s. He is an orphan; he had been living with a drunken uncle, who kept the clocks at the train station, but he disappeared and Hugo presumes he is dead. In order to keep from being evicted from the train station, Hugo keeps the clocks going in his uncle’s absence. Hugo’s father was a watchmaker and passed on his love of machinery and invention to Hugo. Before his death in a fire, Hugo’s father had found an automaton (a mechanical man) and was working on fixing it up when he died. Hugo has taken over his father’s fixation on the man and is trying to get the machine to work by using his father’s old notebook.

There is a toy shop in the train station that Hugo is fascinated by — it’s run by an older man and occasionally a girl about his age. Hugo occasionally steals parts for his automaton from the toy shop, until one day he’s caught by the man. The man takes Hugo’s notebook, with the drawings of the automaton, and refuses to give it back, much to Hugo’s horror. Hugo hesitantly befriends the girl, the man’s goddaughter, Isabelle. Isabelle loves movies and sneaks in with the help of a worker there, Etienne — she has to sneak in because her godfather won’t pay for her movie tickets. Etienne is a film student and loves films.

Hugo gets the automaton built but it is missing a heart shape in the back. Hugo recognizes the heart shape in a key that Isabelle wears around her neck, so he surreptitiously steals it. She confronts him about stealing it and follows him to the clocks, where he stays and together they turn the key in the back of the automaton and it draws an image of an object hitting the moon, surrounded by stars and clouds. It’s a scene that Hugo’s father had described to him as part of his favorite movie, “A Trip to the Moon.” The automaton then signs a name on the image — Georges Melies.

Georges Melies was an illusionist turned filmmaker at the turn of the 20th century. Georges Melies is also the name of Isabelle’s godfather. They are the same person!!!!! Crazy.

Etienne tells them that he’s learned all about Georges Melies, that his teacher, Rene Tabard, is a huge fan, and Isabelle invites them to their apartment to see some of Georges’s movies, as they are rumored to all have been destroyed. Unfortunately, she didn’t get permission from Papa Georges or Mama Jeanne. Jeanne is hesitant to allow them to stay, as Georges is sensitive to any discussion of his former glory, but Rene tells her thathe has discovered an old movie of his and they sit down to watch it. When the film is over, Georges has emerged from his room and has been watching with them, with tears in his eyes. He takes the projector they had brought and locks himself in his room — when Isabelle and Hugo pick the lock, they discover Georges going through trunks of his old movie paraphernalia.

Hugo reveals to Georges that he has the automaton working and Georges tells him to go to the train station to fetch it. Unfortunately, when he gets there, the Station Inspector is after him — Hugo’s uncles body has been found and Hugo has been discovered living there, as well as the petty theft of food he’s been committing; the Station Inspector chases him through the station, finally catching him when Hugo is almost hit by an oncoming train.

He is saved from being taken to an orphanage by Georges and Isabelle, who have grown suspicious when it took Hugo so long to return. Georges accepts responsibility for Hugo, enveloping him in his cape as he leads Hugo and Isabelle out of the station.

Six months later, Hugo, Isabelle, and the Melieses are attending a French Film Academy celebration of the films of Georges Melies. When the showing of his films are over, Georges tells Hugo that he fully expects Hugo to take over as Professor Alcofrisbas, a character from Georges’ films who could turn anything into gold. It is then revealed that Hugo has indeed done just that — through the words and pictures of the book.

IMPRESSIONS

This book is incredible. It’s not a novel, but not a picture book; not a graphic novel either, but a completely original creation and interpretation of storytelling. The pictures told as much of the story as the words did. Though, as a reader, I found it mildly frustrating to be engrossed in the story and suddenly have the narration turn into a series of pictures, the addition of the stills of Georges Melies’ movies were incredible. The illustrations added an element to the story that pure description and imagery would not have been able to accomplish.

PROFESSIONAL REVIEWS

Selznick’s “novel in words and pictures,” an intriguing mystery set in 1930s Paris about an orphan, a salvaged clockwork invention, and a celebrated filmmaker, resuscitates an anemic genre-the illustrated novel-and takes it to a whole new level. The result is somewhat similar to a graphic novel, but experiencing its mix of silvery pencil drawings and narrative interludes is ultimately more akin to watching a silent film. Indeed, movies and the wonder they inspire, “like seeing dreams in the middle of the day,” are central to the story, and Selznick expresses an obvious passion for cinema in ways both visual (successive pictures, set against black frames as if projected on a darkened screen, mimic slow zooms and dramatic cuts) and thematic (the convoluted plot involves director Georges M’eli’es, particularly his fanciful 1902 masterpiece, A Trip to the Moon .) This hybrid creation, which also includes movie stills and archival photographs, is surprising and often lovely, but the orphan’s story is overshadowed by the book’s artistic and historical concerns (the heady extent of which are revealed in concluding notes about Selznick’s inspirations, from the Lumi’ere brothers to Fran’eois Truffaut). Nonetheless, bookmaking this ambitious demands and deserves attention-which it will surely receive from children attracted by a novel in which a complex narrative is equally advanced by things both read and seen.
Booklist

Here is a true masterpiece—an artful blending of narrative, illustration and cinematic technique, for a story as tantalizing as it is touching.Twelve-year-old orphan Hugo lives in the walls of a Paris train station at the turn of the 20th century, where he tends to the clocks and filches what he needs to survive. Hugo’s recently deceased father, a clockmaker, worked in a museum where he discovered an automaton: a human-like figure seated at a desk, pen in hand, as if ready to deliver a message. After his father showed Hugo the robot, the boy became just as obsessed with getting the automaton to function as his father had been, and the man gave his son one of the notebooks he used to record the automaton’s inner workings. The plot grows as intricate as the robot’s gears and mechanisms […] To Selznick’s credit, the coincidences all feel carefully orchestrated; epiphany after epiphany occurs before the book comes to its sumptuous, glorious end. Selznick hints at the toymaker’s hidden identity […] through impressive use of meticulous charcoal drawings that grow or shrink against black backdrops, in pages-long sequences. They display the same item in increasingly tight focus or pan across scenes the way a camera might. The plot ultimately has much to do with the history of the movies, and Selznick’s genius lies in his expert use of such a visual style to spotlight the role of this highly visual media. A standout achievement.
Publisher’s Weekly

LIBRARY USES

This book lends itself easily to be a book used in a book club for young teens — it would be easy to have kids read this book and come to see the movie for a teen movie night.

REFERENCES

Mattson, J. (2007). The invention of hugo cabret. School Library Journal, 103(9/10), 97. Retrieved from http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/23776855/invention-hugo-cabret

Publisher’s Weekly. (2007). Children’s review: The invention of hugo cabret. Publisher’s Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-439-81378-5

Selznick, B. (2007). The invention of hugo cabret. New York: Scholastic.

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The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

February 13th, 2012 — 8:47am

The Hunger Games Trilogy is a series of three books by Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. The first of the books, The Hunger Games, was published in 2008 and the series has skyrocketed in popularity, culminating in a movie that will be released this March. It was originally marketed as a young adult novel, but has been embraced by readers of all ages, including almost all of my adult friends.

The books are set in a dystopian future in a country called Panem, which was once North America. The people of Panem attempted a coup that was defeated by the Capitol, the corrupt leaders of the country. The country was divided into districts and are strictly controlled by the Capitol. In order to remind the people of their mistake of the uprising and to demonstrate their control, the Capitol puts on the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 from each of the 12 districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle in which only one person can survive.

THE HUNGER GAMES

The first book introduces the narrator, Katniss Everdeen, who lives in District 12 with her mother and younger sister, Prim. District 12 was once the Appalachian mountain region, which is revealed by small clues, such as the coal mining jobs the people hold. Katniss is 16 and is the sole provider for her family; her father died in a coal mining accident five years before and Katniss and her best friend, Gale, have been illegally going out of the confines of District 12 and hunting animals and foraging different mushrooms and berries to feed the family (both by feeding their families and selling the excess meat to the people in the black market, the Hob).

The book opens on the morning of the lottery for the Hunger Games, when all of the people of the district are required to put their children’s names into the lottery. The children’s names that are pulled from the lottery are referred to as Tributes, which is one more way to keep the people of Panem in their place. When the Capitol representatives pull two names for the Hunger Games, the boy is Peeta Mellark, a boy who Katniss knew from school and had once given her bread from his family’s bakery when her family was starving, even though he was punished for it later. The name of the girl that is drawn is Primrose Everdeen, Katniss’s eleven year old younger sister. As Prim walks to the stage, Katniss runs forward and volunteers to be the female tribute for District 12.

Katniss and Peeta are taken to the Capitol, where they are to be trained by the former victors of the Hunger Games from their district. In the case of District 12, there has only been one former victor: Haymitch Abernathy, who is infamous for living in a perpetual state of drunkenness. Katniss takes an instant dislike for him, as he is too drunk to properly train them, which is crucial, given that the wealthier and healthier districts have been training their tributes for years.

In the initial interviews with Caesar Flickerman that are broadcast to everyone in Panem, Peeta reveals that he’s had a lifleong love for Katniss, which she interprets as a way to manipulate the audience and get support and fans, which is important, as the audience can send gifts of food and medicine to the players in the Games. Katniss and Peeta are assigned a team that serves them while they’re staying in the Capitol, which include an aesthetic team to help clean them up for the formal on-air parade and presentation. Their stylist, Cinna, designs their outfits that instantly gets the audience talking about them — he bases the designs for their outfits on their coal-mining district, but rather than sticking to coal, he comes up with designs that incorporate fire and flames; Katniss becomes “the girl on fire” when Cinna’s designs for the first audience presentation includes actual fire.

The Hunger Games begins with all of the tributes (two from each district, 24 in all) starting in a circle around a cornucopia filled with items that could be helpful during games, including weapons, food, and medicines. Haymitch has advised Katniss and Peeta to avoid the cornucopia, as that is where most of the triubtes are killed. Sure enough, 11 of the 24 tributes are killed the first day. Katniss spends most of the first few days of the Games alone, using her hunting and foraging skills to survive. Some of the more experienced tributes make a gang and are attempting to hunt and get rid of the other tributes. Katniss briefly unites with a tribute from the agricultural district who is one of the younger of the tributes. Rue reminds Katniss of her younger sister, and the two of them torment the gang by setting some of the Capitol’s mutant creations, tracker jackers, on them (the Capitol had created different creatures and set them on the people of Panem in order to shorten the rebellion; these include tracker jackers, a genetically-altered wasp that hunt you down and sting you with a hallucinogenic venom that gives you visions before killing you, and jabberjays, birds that spied on and then repeated the things the rebels said to the Capitol. The jabberjays then mated with mockingbirds to create mockingjays, birds that memorize and repeat songs instead of words. The mockingjays serve as a symbol of the rebellion and a slap in the Capitol’s face, as the jabberjays were supposed to die off but created new life and thrived instead). When Rue is killed by one of the other tributes, Katniss sings to her to comfort her as she dies and then covers her with flowers, giving her a makeshift funeral and showing her anger and defiance to the Capitol.

Unbeknownst to Katniss, the audience has become enamored with the unrequited love story of Peeta and Katniss, and the Capitol has announced that there are new rules for the Hunger Games: two tributes from the same district can win the Games as a pair. Katniss hears the announcement and tracks down Peeta; she finds him wounded and takes him into a cave to nurse him back to help. Peeta has blood poisoning from a leg wound given to him from one of the gang, and Katniss has to go to the cornucopia to get medicine that has been donated by viewers. While there, she is almost killed by the remaining members of the gang, but she is saved and her life is spared by Thresh, the other tribute from Rue’s district. He spares her life in order to thank her for helping and caring for Rue when she was dying. Katniss makes it back to Peeta and injects him with medicine, saving his life. They stay in the cave for days while Peeta recovers. Katniss and Peeta explore their budding romance; Katniss initially engages in the romance in order to keep up the star-crossed lovers act, but feels that the feelings she’s pretending to have are slowly becoming real.

On the final days of the Hunger Games, the river close to their cave becomes dry, and Katniss and Peeta realize that this is the Capitol’s way to get the remaining tributes together at the center of the arena. They make their way there and, once there, see the final tribute, Cato, being chased by giant muttations, a Capitol creature that are human-like wolves. Katniss realizes that the muttations resemble the dead tributes, including one that has Rue’s eyes and face. Cato is attacked by the muttations but doesn’t die because of the armor he’s wearing, so Katniss kills him by shooting him with an arrow. Peeta and Katniss wait to be announced as the winners when an announcement is made that there can only be one winner after all. OH HELL NO.

In order to keep one from having to kill the other, and because Katniss is pissed as hell, Katniss and Peeta threaten suicide with poisonous berries in hopes that the Capitol would rather have two victors than none. It works, and they are declared the winners and taken out of the arena. In the aftermath and celebration from the Hunger Games, the Capitol becomes angry with Katniss and claims she was sparking rebellion by “outsmarting” the Gamemakers and defying the Capitol. When Haymitch tells Katniss this, she takes it as her job to reverse it to save her family and friends from retaliation from the Capitol. During an aired interview with Caesar Flickerman, Katniss claims that she wasn’t trying to rebel, she was trying to insure a future with Peeta because she loves him, insuring that the audience likes her more and will hate the Capitol if they kill her. Peeta and Katniss seem to be safe for now.

On their way home, Katniss and Peeta discuss their feelings and Katniss reveals that she knew when Haymitch would send her sponsorship gifts and played most of the games by manipulating the feelings of the audience by acting like they were in love. She has assumed that Peeta was playing the games as well, and quickly finds out that Peeta’s feelings were true — he tells her that he’s loved her since that day years earlier when he gave her the bread for her family, even though he knew that he would be punished by his parents. Katniss tells him that she doesn’t know exactly how she feels about him. Peeta’s feelings are hurt by knowing that Katniss was playing him, but he agrees that now they have to portray themselves to be in love in order to keep the Capitol from discovering this and killing them and their families for their rebellion.

CATCHING FIRE

The second novel opens with Katniss and Peeta embarking on their Victory Tour, where they tour each of the districts and are presented as the victors of the Hunger Games. When the tour has finished, they return to their homes in District 12. Their relationship is tenuous, as Peeta is in love with Katniss and, because this is a young adult novel, Katniss is unsure of her feelings for him. She knows that she cares for Peeta and wants to keep him safe, but she thinks she just might be in love with her best friend from home, Gale. Of course she is. OF COURSE.

While on the Victory Tour, Katniss and Peeta keep up their love act, with Peeta proposing to her during one of the televised interviews. Katniss figures that this is the only way to stay alive. Turns out, she’s right.

When she gets to her family’s new house in the area reserved specifically for victors of the Hunger Games, her mother tells her that there is a visitor waiting in her room. Waiting for her is President Snow, the president of Panem, who is none too pleased with her shenanigans in the arena, specifically that her actions could be interpreted as trying to spark a rebellion against the Capitol. The unhappy citizens of the country have embraced the mockingjay pin Katniss wore during the games as the symbol of the rebellion. President Snow tells Katniss that she has to convince the citizens of the country that she was simply trying to save Peeta’s life and not a way to stick it to the man. Before he leaves, he whispers in her ear that he knows that Katniss kissed Gale upon her return home and Katniss realizes that President Snow’s breath smells like blood.

Katniss discovers that there have been uprisings in other districts — she encounters two runaways from District 8 and they explain a theory that District 13 was not wiped out by the Capitol, due to its residents going underground, and that stock footage of 13 is played instead of new film on television. There are suddenly a new group of Peacekeepers (the Capitol’s police enforcers) that arrive in District 12; their first act upon arriving in the district is brutally whipping Gale for hunting illegally. Katniss tries to stop his beating and is struck in the face by the new Head Peacekeeper, Thread, before the beating stops and Katniss and Haymitch carry Gale to Katniss’s mother for healing. That night Katniss realizes that she loves Gale, but she doesn’t know if it is a romantic love.

(That is one of my least favorite parts of young adult novels and honestly, one of the reasons why I tend to shy away from reading them. It seems like every young adult novel that’s been written in the past ten years incorporate some sort of love triangle between a girl and two guys. IT IS SO ANNOYING. I blame Twilight. There is some sort of romantic dissonance that has to occur in young adult novels. It’s not enough that Katniss is a strong female character, she has to be incapacitated by some sort of romance. Okay, moving on.)

This year is the 75th anniversary of the Capitol’s defeat of the rebellion, so it is the 75th Hunger Games and is what they call a Quarter Quell. There is always some sort of special craziness added into the mix. The last Quarter Quell, during the 50th Hunger Games, there were double the amount of tributes. This time, the twist is that the tributes will be chosen from previous victors, which means that Katniss and either Peeta or Haymitch will be back in the games.

On the day of the reaping, Katniss and Haymitch’s names are drawn, but Peeta volunteers to take Haymitch’s spot. Katniss decides that she is going to make it her mission to save Peeta’s life and make sure he stays alive during the games and makes Haymitch agree.

These games are different because all of the victors know each other and are friends and more importantly, all of the citizens of the Capitol love the victors — they’re celebrities in Panem and the Capitol loves them like we love our reality stars. A lot of the victors are old and many of them have turned to drugs or alcohol to try to rid themselves of the memories of the games. Haymitch tries to get Katniss and Peeta to forge an alliance with some of the tributes, but they decide to try to keep each other alive on their own.

The games start and Katniss and Peeta find out that Haymitch has been forging alliances without them — Finnick, the extremely handsome and muscular tribute from District 4 and his 80 year old fellow tribute, Mags, instantly fight with Katniss to survive; Finnick even has a bracelet Haymitch had been wearing to show that he can be trusted.

There are some gruesome tortures in the arena, including a chemical fog that paralyzes and kills and orange muttation monkeys. Johanna Mason, a tribute from District 7, meets up with Finnick, Katniss, and Peeta, bringing Beetee and Wiress, tributes from District 3, the technology district. Wiress soon proves her genius by revealing to Katniss that the arena is arranged like a clock, with all of the arena’s disasters occurring on a timed chart. After Wiress is killed, Katniss learns of Beetee’s plan to harness lightning in order to electrocute two other contenders.

While Johanna and Katniss are attempting to set the wire, they’re attacked by the remaining contenders, Brutus and Enobaria. Johanna jumps Katniss, which makes Katniss think that Johanna was working against them the whole time. Johanna has knocked her out and cut her arm, and when Katniss comes to, she finds Beetee laying on the ground with the wire wrapped around a knife and Finnick and Peeta are nowhere to be found. She remembers Haymitch’s advise before going into the arena: “You just remember who the enemy is.” She finally realizes that the enemy he was talking about is the Capitol. Good job.

Realizing that Beetee was trying to blow up the forcefield, she wraps the wire around her bow and shoots it straight into the forcefield at the exact moment when the lightning strikes the tree, blowing up the arena. She is thrown to the ground and, before she passes out, thinks that the Capitol will never let her or Peeta live after this.

When she wakes up, she is being transported on a hovercraft to District 13. Katniss wanders around until she finds a room with Haymitch, Finnick, and Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamemaker who has been secretly working with the rebels. Haymitch tells her that there was a plan to break them out the minute the Quell was announced. The victors from 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 11 had varying degrees of knowledge about it. Plutarch had been for several years part of a group planning to overthrow the Capitol. He made sure that the wire was among the weapons, as it was to be used by Beetee to blow up the forcefield. The hovercraft is from District 13, which is where they are headed. Upset, Katniss asks why she and Peeta were not in on the plans, and Haymitch explains that once the forcefield exploded, she and Peeta would be the prime targets and the less they knew the better, in case of capture. She tells them that Johanna tried to kill her, but Finnick explains that Johanna was removing Katniss’ tracker, and that all of victor tributes in those districts have pledged their lives to her and the rebellion; that she is the mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion.

She realizes that Haymitch never had any plans to keep Peeta alive. He tells her that everyone kept Peeta alive because they knew that if he died she would never keep an alliance with the others. She asks where Peeta is, and Haymitch tells her he was picked up, along with Johanna and Enobaria (the tribute from District 2), by the Capitol. In horror and anger, she attacks Haymitch, scratching his face. Finnick and others strap her down and drug her to keep her calm. Finnick tells her that the Capitol will at least keep Peeta alive to use as bait against Katniss. So you know, there’s that.

Gale visits her in her room on the hovercraft. He tells her that after the Games, the Capitol sent bombers to the districts. He explains that he was able to get her family out in time, but District 12 has been destroyed.

MOCKINGJAY

The third and final novel in the trilogy begins with Katniss visiting the ruins of District 12 and is thinking about the happenings of the previous few days. There has been an underground rebellion working for a while and District 13, which the Capitol said had been destroyed in the initial uprising, has been thriving in underground bunkers. District 13 had been in charge of nuclear technology and has escaped the clutches of the Capitol by threatening them with a nuclear attack.

The rebels, headed by President Coin, the leader of District 13, are eager for Katniss to join them. She has become the mockingjay, the symbol of the rebellion. She is more of a figurehead of the rebellion, but they’re desperate to be able to produce pictures and propaganda of her as a part of the rebel alliance. Katniss agrees that she will take part in the rebellion but she has some conditions: she demands that President Coin grant immunity to all of the captured tributes of the Quarter Quell, she demands the right to kill President Snow herself, and asks for her family to keep their cat, Buttercup.

The rebels are thrilled that Katniss has decided to be the face of the uprising and put plans in motion to make different TV spots featuring the Mockingjay in action. They send Katniss, Gale, and a team of other soldiers and cameramen to film her visiting a hospital in District 8, which has been targeted and badly attacked by the Capitol. In fact, while they’re leaving District 8, the Capitol bombs the hospital, killing almost all of the helpless men, women, and children inside. Katniss becomes enraged and realizes that she wants to help the rebellion now. Luckily, it’s all caught on tape.

Beetee, the technological genius from the Quarter Quell, has come up with a way to hack into the Capitol’s live broadcasts. The broadcast they interrupt is an interview with Ceasar Flickerman and Peeta. Katniss is relieved to see Peeta is alive but is concerned that they’re torturing him, especially since his message is for that of a ceasefire. Beetee manages to stick several seconds of the propaganda shots into the broadcast, which excites the rebels and makes them plan different videos they can shoot.

The next time they hack into the broadcast system is during another interview with Ceasar and Peeta, only this time Peeta is looking a little worse for wear. He looks like he’s lost a substantial amount of weight and there are bruises on his face that even the Capitol makeup can’t cover. Peeta manages to get a message to Katniss and the rebels watching that District 13 will be bombed that night — the screen goes black but there are suspicious torture noises. They manage to get further underground into their bunkers before the bombs hit, but Katniss saw blood on the screen before it goes to black and knows that somewhere Peeta is being tortured.

While bunkered down during the bombing that lasts a few days, she talks to Finnick, the tribute from District 4, who tells Katniss that he knows how she feels — his girlfriend, Annie, has been taken prisoner by the Capitol as well and he is being driven mad by the knowledge that she is being tortured by the Capitol in order to destroy him mentally. Katniss realizes that this is what is happening to Peeta and she has a panic attack and passes out.

When she comes to, Haymitch is there. He tells her that the decision has been made to attempt a rescue mission into the Capitol to save Peeta, Annie, and Johanna. It is a very dangerous mission, made even more dangerous by the fact that Gale was the first person to volunteer, so now she’s even more distraught about it because both of her men might die.

In order to distract the Capitol from the rescue mission happening under their noses, Katniss and Finnick shoot a new propaganda video. Katniss tells the camera that she has been set free by the knowledge that the Capitol is torturing Peeta because that means that she can fight them without punishment. Finnick reveals that President Snow had been selling Finnick’s body to anyone from the Capitol who was willing to pay; Finnick and the other victors were forced into this prostitution because if they didn’t, someone they loved would be killed. In exchange for his sexual services, Finnick has learned a lot of secrets about prominent Capitol members, including President Snow. According to Finnick, Snow has been poisoning his political adversaries to rise to power. He would drink out of the poisoned cups to avoid suspicion but sometimes the antidotes wouldn’t work, which is why he always smells of roses and why Katniss smelled blood on his breath — he has sores in his mouth that will never heal. After the cameras have cut, Haymitch tells Katniss that after his games, when he technically cheated by using the forcefield around the arena as a weapon to kill the remaining tribute, the Capitol killed his mother, younger brother, and girlfriend in order to “make an example” out of him to the other tributes.

The spot airs on the Capitol television, and Katniss and Finnick wait for the rescue team with Annie and Peeta to arrive. They finally get word that the team has returned with everyone alive. They bring Finnick and Katniss to the hospital wing, where Finnick and Annie are joyfully reunited. Peeta is still unconscious, so they bring Katniss to his room so she can be there when he wakes up.

When she gets to his room, Peeta is awake already. He sees her and immediately runs to her, for what she thinks is an embrace. He grabs her by the neck and tries to choke and kill her.

It turns out that the final way of torturing Peeta and Katniss has been to “hijack” Peeta’s mind — they injected him with the hallucinogenic tracker jacker venom and gave him false memories of Katniss being the enemy. It’s very “Zoolander killing the prime minister of Malyasia,” except this time it could actually work.

The doctors at 13 attempt to un-hijack Peeta’s mind while Katniss, Finnick, Gale, and the other soldiers prepare for an assault on the Capitol. Katniss still has her mind made up that she is going to assassinate President Snow. Gale shows her a bomb that he and Beetee have been working on; a bomb goes off, waits for about a minute for rescue workers to go in, and then another bomb goes off, killing the innocent people attempting to help. Katniss realizes that they are becoming just as sociopathic as President Snow, especially when Gale defends his bomb by saying that the people of the Capitol didn’t care about the people of the districts, so all is fair in war and war.

Katniss, Finnick, Gale, and about five other rebel soldiers go on a mission into the Capitol after taking control of some of the other districts (they’ve managed to take over District 2, which is especially important as they produce the Peacekeepers for the Capitol). One of the soldiers is killed toward the beginning of the mission and President Coin sends a replacement: Peeta. This is when Katniss realizes that President Coin sees her as a threat due to her influence on the people of Panem and has sent Peeta in so that he can kill her, even though his mind is mostly back to normal. After a call from Haymitch, Katniss resolves to start trying to help Peeta remember his former memories. The Squad creates a game, “Real or Not Real”, to help him separate the hijacked memories from the real ones. During this, Peeta reveals that when he was held in the Capitol, they forced him to watch the execution of two Avoxes (prisoners who have had their tongues cut out and are then forced into slavery in the Capitol), Darius and Lavinia, under the guise of trying to get information about the rebellion — he reveals that he is beginning to understand the difference between the fake memories and the real ones because the fake memories have a “shiny” quality to them. He still has some homicidal moments, though, which awkwardly show up in the middle of a Capitol street that has been booby-trapped with several traps and pods of danger, and it results in the death of two men.

The group continues through the Capitol to get Katniss close enough to kill President Snow, encountering traps and monsters and losing men along the way. When they finally reach the Capitol, Peeta separates from the rest of them, saying that he can’t trust himself to not try to kill Katniss at the last minute. Katniss reaches Snow’s mansion, which she is horrified to see has a human shield comprised solely of children. Silver parachutes that look like supply packages similar to those that came down in the Hunger Games arena come down and the children reach for them; unfortunately, the packages contain bombs. When the children have been bombed, a group of rebel rescue workers rush in to help. Katniss recognizes her sister, Prim, among the group and starts running to her to warn her of possible danger, but it’s too late — a second bomb goes off, killing Prim and burning Katniss.

Katniss is taken back to District 13 with the rest of the survivors — Finnick was attacked and killed by muttations in the Capitol, Gale was captured but rescued in the Capitol, and Peeta is nowhere to be found. Katniss’s body is reconstructed using skingrafts, but there is nothing to do for her mind; Prim’s death has driven her to a point of mental instability reminiscent to that of when she won the first Hunger Games. Slowly she regains her sanity, but the slightest remembrance of her sister can put her back over the edge.

President Snow was taken captive that day and has been held in a District 13 cell ever since. She goes down to see him and he tells her that it was President Coin, not Snow, who ordered the attack on the children. This means that the bombs could have been the one designed by Gale. Uh oh. When she talks to Gale, he tells her that he has no idea if it was his bomb but he feels guilty nonetheless. She realizes that she will never be able to look at Gale the same way again; he represents the destruction and anger that she has always had toward the Capitol and two fiery people will never last long together (and my ex-boyfriend and I can attest to that truth).

The day of President Snow’s public execution arrives and Katniss is outfitted with a bow and arrow to take the “final shot” of the war. As she stares at Snow, she realizes that he had promised that they would never lie to each other, which meant he was telling the truth about Coin ordering the attack on the children. Coin has also told the former victors that they will hold one final Hunger Games in which the tributes will come from the children of the Capitol, so Katniss thinks that she is just as untrustworthy and horrible as Snow. When she takes the shot to kill Snow, she aims and shoots and kills President Coin instead. The people on the square instantly riot and Katniss is taken away by guards.

While being held in a cell, she is told that after the riot, President Snow was found dead; he was either trampled to death or choked on his own blood from the sores in his mouth that were no longer able to be medicated once he was taken from the Capitol. District 13 holds a trial for her while she’s held in solitary confinement and finds her not guilty due to her apparent insanity — her punishment is that she is sent to live in District 12.

She and other former 12 citizens return to what is left of their homes. Her mother doesn’t return, however, as the deaths of Katniss’s father and Prim are too much for her to handle; she remains in the other districts as a healer so she can keep busy. The District 12 citizens attempt to rebuild and Katniss lives alone in her house in the Victor’s Village (Haymitch is a less than stellar neighbor) until one day Peeta shows up. It has been months since anyone has seen him and he has apparently worked off his brainwashing.

Katniss realizes that falling in love with Peeta was inevitable — he represented the peace and hope for the future that was a perfect contrast to her fire and anger. They reunite and together, with Haymitch, create a book memorializing the victims of the Hunger Games and the Capitol’s bloody reign.

The end of the book jumps ahead to fifteen years later, where Peeta and Katniss are still together. They have had two children together, because Peeta desperately wanted them. The Hunger Games are over, but Katniss dreads the day her children learn the details of their parents’ involvement in both the Games and the war. Peeta and Katniss sometimes experience flashbacks of the Games; when she feels distressed, Katniss plays a comforting game reminding herself of every good thing that she has ever seen someone do. She finds the memory game repetitive sometimes, but as she concludes the novel she concedes that “there are much worse games to play.”

The novels are really entertaining and have a really good story. I enjoyed them because they don’t seem like the typical young adult novels, minus that annoying love triangle. The characters don’t act like teenagers and there are a lot of mature themes. The characters live in extreme poverty and experience extreme loss at very young ages, and also have to deal with loyalty, betrayal, challenging authority, and war. Katniss has essentially raised herself after the death of her father when her mother had an emotional breakdown which makes her much more self-efficient and not a whiny teenager.

I tend to shy away from young adult novels because I spend my days with teenagers. The last thing I want to do is read about a teenager’s life and problems, especially because they usually involve crushes and clothes and bullshit. This novel circumvents the trapping of a typical YA novel by using teenagers in an un-teenage format.

Plus, the movie looks like it’s going to be AWESOME.

3 comments » | modern

79. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

April 27th, 2011 — 8:37am

A Room with a View was published in 1908 by E.M. Forster. It tells the story of Lucy Honeychurch, a young English woman who is navigating through the delicate social circles of the early 20th century, both on vacation in Italy and back home in England. It is a critique of the social hierarchy, prejudice between the classes, and the sexual repression and hypocrisy of English society. The novel is split into Part I, which takes place in Italy, and Part II, which takes place in England.

Lucy Honeychurch and her cousin/chaperone Charlotte Bartlett are vacationing in Florence, Italy. They have arrived at their hotel, the Bertolini, and the opening scene has them complaining about the hotel. They were promised a “room with a view” of the river Arno, but instead have been assigned rooms that have a view of the hotel courtyard. This is the first introduction of the repressive Edwardian English society: Lucy has Charlotte, who is older and unmarried, accompanying her on the vacation and chaperoning her propriety. Everything that Charlotte complains about has a thinly veiled contemptuous undertone and implies that as the unmarried woman she doesn’t deserve such grandeur. For example, in complaining about the room without a view: “Any nook does for me,” Miss Bartlett continued, “but it does seem hard that you shouldn’t have a view.” You know, because unmarried women are dead inside and don’t deserve a view. Or something.

The women are talking in the common eating room and one of the other guests at the hotel, a man, interrupts their conversation to tell the ladies that his room has a view and he and his son, George, will gladly exchange their rooms with Lucy and Miss Bartlett. Miss Bartlett is startled and recognizes the man, a Mr. Emerson, as “ill-bred.” She declines the offer and he insists, loudly and attracting the attention of the other well-bred tourists, to Miss Bartlett’s extreme embarrassment. Mr. Emerson refuses to take no for an answer and here is the first class clash of the novel:

“But why?” he persisted. “Women like looking at a view; men don’t.” And he thumped with his fists like a naughty child, and turned to his son, saying, “George, persuade them!”

“It’s so obvious they should have the rooms,” said the son. “There’s nothing else to say.”

He did not look at the ladies as he spoke, but his voice was perplexed and sorrowful. Lucy, too, was perplexed; but she saw that they were in for what is known as “quite a scene,” and she had an odd feeling that whenever these ill-bred tourists spoke the contest widened and deepened till it dealt, not with rooms and views, but with—well, with something quite different, whose existence she had not realized before. Now the old man attacked Miss Bartlett almost violently: Why should she not change? What possible objection had she? They would clear out in half an hour.

Miss Bartlett, though skilled in the delicacies of conversation, was powerless in the presence of brutality. It was impossible to snub any one so gross. Her face reddened with displeasure. She looked around as much as to say, “Are you all like this?” And two little old ladies, who were sitting further up the table, with shawls hanging over the backs of the chairs, looked back, clearly indicating “We are not; we are genteel.”

George Emerson, it must be said, is putting off a Mr. Darcy vibe and I love it. I see you pretending you’re not interested and don’t care, George. I see you.

Lucy recognizes one of the other tourists, a clergyman named Mr. Beebe who was the preacher at an Anglican church that Lucy and her family had attended. Mr. Beebe convinces Miss Bartlett that Mr. Emerson’s intentions are innocent and explains why he may seem strange:

“He is rather a peculiar man.” Again he hesitated, and then said gently: “I think he would not take advantage of your acceptance, nor expect you to show gratitude. He has the merit—if it is one—of saying exactly what he means. He has rooms he does not value, and he thinks you would value them. He no more thought of putting you under an obligation than he thought of being polite. It is so difficult—at least, I find it difficult—to understand people who speak the truth.”

Lucy was pleased, and said: “I was hoping that he was nice; I do so always hope that people will be nice.”

“I think he is; nice and tiresome. I differ from him on almost every point of any importance, and so, I expect—I may say I hope—you will differ. But his is a type one disagrees with rather than deplores. When he first came here he not unnaturally put people’s backs up. He has no tact and no manners—I don’t mean by that that he has bad manners—and he will not keep his opinions to himself. We nearly complained about him to our depressing Signora, but I am glad to say we thought better of it.”

The next day, when it comes time to go exploring Florence, Miss Bartlett is tired but hates to inconvenience poor Lucy. Miss Lavish, a novelist who is also vacationing at the Bertolini, offers to take Lucy and her trusty Baedeker guidebook on a tour of Florence. Miss Lavish takes her through the back streets to Santa Croce and Miss Lavish forbids Lucy to look at her Baedeker and takes it from her; rather than keep her nose in the guidebook, they will simply “drift” through town. Because wandering through an unfamiliar town in a foreign country always ends well.

Sure enough, Miss Lavish runs off to talk to someone (her “local colour-box”, whatever that means) and she and Lucy are separated in the crowd. Luckily she runs into the Emersons when she decides to continue exploring by herself. She decides that, although they are deemed socially awkward by the other guests, she likes the Emersons and their eccentric manners. Mr. Emerson speaks his mind and he and George are very intelligent, and they take her with them on a tour of Santa Croce. While in the church, George complains that his father means well, but always offends everyone. Mr. Emerson tells Lucy that his son needs her in order to overcome his youthful melancholy. But no pressure.

The next day consists of a rainy afternoon and Lucy passes the time buy playing the piano. Lucy is a passionate piano player and seems to transform through her playing:

It so happened that Lucy, who found daily life rather chaotic, entered a more solid world when she opened the piano. She was then no longer either deferential or patronizing; no longer either a rebel or a slave. The kingdom of music is not the kingdom of this world; it will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected. The commonplace person begins to play, and shoots into the empyrean without effort, whilst we look up, marvelling how he has escaped us, and thinking how we could worship him and love him, would he but translate his visions into human words, and his experiences into human actions. Perhaps he cannot; certainly he does not, or does so very seldom. Lucy had done so never.

She was no dazzling executante; her runs were not at all like strings of pearls, and she struck no more right notes than was suitable for one of her age and situation. Nor was she the passionate young lady, who performs so tragically on a summer’s evening with the window open. Passion was there, but it could not be easily labelled; it slipped between love and hatred and jealousy, and all the furniture of the pictorial style. And she was tragical only in the sense that she was great, for she loved to play on the side of Victory. Victory of what and over what—that is more than the words of daily life can tell us. But that some sonatas of Beethoven are written tragic no one can gainsay; yet they can triumph or despair as the player decides, and Lucy had decided that they should triumph.

A very wet afternoon at the Bertolini permitted her to do the thing she really liked, and after lunch she opened the little draped piano. A few people lingered round and praised her playing, but finding that she made no reply, dispersed to their rooms to write up their diaries or to sleep. She took no notice of Mr. Emerson looking for his son, nor of Miss Bartlett looking for Miss Lavish, nor of Miss Lavish looking for her cigarette-case. Like every true performer, she was intoxicated by the mere feel of the notes: they were fingers caressing her own; and by touch, not by sound alone, did she come to her desire.

Mr. Beebe sits and listens and remembers a time when he heard her playing at a performance at church. He remarked at the time, and tells her now, “If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.”

After playing, Lucy is in the mood for something big and exciting to do, a sensation that conversation just doesn’t satisfy. She decides that she wants to go to the electric tram, but she has some trepidation:

Conversation was tedious; she wanted something big, and she believed that it would have come to her on the wind-swept platform of an electric tram. This she might not attempt. It was unladylike. Why? Why were most big things unladylike? Charlotte had once explained to her why. It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much. But if she rushed into the fray herself she would be first censured, then despised, and finally ignored. Poems had been written to illustrate this point.

So many things to say. So many.

Lucy decides that though she wants to do something rebellious, she doesn’t want to get in trouble for rebelling, so rather than go to the electric tram she goes to Alinari’s shop in town to look at and buy postcards of paintings. She still feels restless and that nothing exciting happens to her. But then someone gets stabbed by a fountain in the square and suddenly life gets a lot more interesting. She sees George Emerson through the crowd of people as she faints.

When she comes to, George is holding her — he had carried her away from the crowd. He goes back to the fountain to retrieve her photographs and when he returns they begin walking back to the hotel. As they’re walking, George throws something in the river; when Lucy inquires, he admits that he threw her photographs in the river because they were covered in blood and he didn’t want her to see them. His admission of his protective instinct towards her warms her heart. Nothing like murder to bring people together.

The next day is business as usual. Mr. Beebe invites Miss Bartlett and Lucy to go out with him and the Emersons, but Lucy insteads opts to go shopping with Miss Bartlett. She is afraid of her blossoming feelings for George, so what better thing to do than to avoid him, am I right, ladies? Their shopping excursion takes them by the fountain where the previous day’s excitement took place, where they run into Miss Lavish, who has come to investigate the murder site for her new book. Everyone is very interested in Lucy’s abridged version of the event (she left out the fainting and coming to in George’s arms, that dirty slut). They also run into Mr. Eager, a chaplain who is also staying at the hotel and who is sort of a jerk. He invites the ladies on an outing later in the week. Lucy quickly becomes jaded with her company:

This successful morning left no pleasant impressions on Lucy. She had been a little frightened, both by Miss Lavish and by Mr. Eager, she knew not why. And as they frightened her, she had, strangely enough, ceased to respect them. She doubted that Miss Lavish was a great artist. She doubted that Mr. Eager was as full of spirituality and culture as she had been led to suppose. They were tried by some new test, and they were found wanting. As for Charlotte—as for Charlotte she was exactly the same. It might be possible to be nice to her; it was impossible to love her.

This is one of the first occasions where the social hierarchy is challenged; just because you are a civilized and intelligent person doesn’t make you enjoyable to be around. Of course, this observation of her companions is juxtaposed with a conversation about the Emersons. Miss Bartlett talks about their working class background and how Mr. Emerson must have had an “advantageous marriage” but Mr. Eager confides that the marriage wasn’t all that advantageous because Mr. Emerson murdered his wife. What.

Lucy doesn’t believe Mr. Eager and the gossip doesn’t keep them from all going for a drive out in the country. The title of the chapter about the drive is Chapter VI: The Reverend Arthur Beebe, the Reverend Cuthbert Eager, Mr. Emerson, Mr. George Emerson, Miss Eleanor Lavish, Miss Charlotte Bartlett, and Miss Lucy Honeychurch Drive Out in Carriages to See a View; Italians Drive Them. Forster doesn’t leave much to the imagination.

There is a lot of talking on the carriages, mostly pretentious babble from Mr. Eager and Miss Lavish; Lucy has made sure that she is in a separate carriage from George, as she is still confused about her feelings for him. The driver of their carriage has a girl with him, whom he tries to kiss while he’s driving, which I’m sure Oprah would have thing or two to say about. This outrages Mr. Eager, who demands that the girl switch to the other carriage, and his outrage outrages Mr. Emerson, who sees harm in denying people of their happiness.

When they arrive and are exploring the wood, Lucy wanders off by herself, chaperone-less. And you know what happens when girls don’t have their chaperones:

From her feet the ground sloped sharply into view, and violets ran down in rivulets and streams and cataracts, irrigating the hillside with blue, eddying round the tree stems collecting into pools in the hollows, covering the grass with spots of azure foam. But never again were they in such profusion; this terrace was the well-head, the primal source whence beauty gushed out to water the earth.

Standing at its brink, like a swimmer who prepares, was the good man. But he was not the good man that she had expected, and he was alone.

George had turned at the sound of her arrival. For a moment he contemplated her, as one who had fallen out of heaven. He saw radiant joy in her face, he saw the flowers beat against her dress in blue waves. The bushes above them closed. He stepped quickly forward and kissed her.

Before she could speak, almost before she could feel, a voice called, “Lucy! Lucy! Lucy!” The silence of life had been broken by Miss Bartlett who stood brown against the view.

Oh. Snap.

George and Lucy in the meadow in the 1985 movie.

On the carriage ride back, Lucy and Miss Bartlett discuss the meadow; Lucy says that she was overwhelmed by the beauty of the moment and had mistaken George in the field of violets for a hero in a book. Ooookay.

When they get back to their room (the one with the view, if you remember), Miss Bartlett asks Lucy “what is to be done” about the George situation. Miss Bartlett is convinced that George is unrefined and will talk about what happened; based on a conversation George had with another of the hotel patrons, one can assume that he is one of those young men who has kissed more than one girl. That cad! Miss Bartlett speaks of the kiss as an “insult” that Lucy needs to be defended against. Because she fears that George will talk and ruin Lucy’s reputation, Miss Bartlett decides that they will leave the next morning for Rome, to meet up with the Vyses, acquaintances of the Honeychurch family. Lucy promises Miss Bartlett that she won’t tell her mother about what happened, because Miss Bartlett is afraid that she will be blamed. They left for Rome the following morning; Lucy was unable to say goodbye to George.

Part II opens with Mrs. Honeychurch, Lucy’s mother, and Freddy, Lucy’s brother, in their home in England, awaiting the arrival of the Vyse family. While in Rome, Cecil Vyse, the son, proposed to Lucy twice and she rejected him both times. However, Cecil travels to Windy Corner and proposes a third time, which Lucy accepts.

Cecil is described as “medieval.” It is meant to describe his physical appearance, which is also like a “gothic statue,” but it describes his personality, as well. If George is portrayed as being passionate then Cecil is pretentious. He is from London and looks down upon people in the country. He doesn’t even seem to be overly fond of Lucy, but more like an idea of her:

He had known Lucy for several years, but only as a commonplace girl who happened to be musical. He could still remember his depression that afternoon at Rome, when she and her terrible cousin fell on him out of the blue, and demanded to be taken to St. Peter’s. That day she had seemed a typical tourist—shrill, crude, and gaunt with travel. But Italy worked some marvel in her. It gave her light, and—which he held more precious—it gave her shadow. Soon he detected in her a wonderful reticence. She was like a woman of Leonardo da Vinci’s, whom we love not so much for herself as for the things that she will not tell us, The things are assuredly not of this life; no woman of Leonardo’s could have anything so vulgar as a “story.” She did develop most wonderfully day by day.

So it happened that from patronizing civility he had slowly passed if not to passion, at least to a profound uneasiness. Already at Rome he had hinted to her that they might be suitable for each other. It had touched him greatly that she had not broken away at the suggestion.

Be still my beating heart.

Mr. Beebe stops by the house in time to hear the good news of the engagement of Lucy and Cecil, which he takes as a joke at first. Freddy refers to Cecil as her “fiasco” instead of “fiancé,” and I don’t know how anyone missed that portentous bit of foreshadowing. Mr. Beebe mentions that he has heard that a nearby cottage has been bought and will be rented by a Sir Harry Ottway — it’s supposed to be torn down, but he will rent it instead.

If you didn’t guess that the Emersons would be renting the cottage, you need to forget about books and watch a Real Housewives marathon. The plotlines there may be more your style.

It turns out Cecil ran into Mr. Emerson and George at a museum and he figured that they would annoy Sir Ottway, as Cecil considers him to be a snob, so he recommended they rent to cottage. Ah, how droll! When Lucy protests and yells at him for inviting “his friends,” he assumes that she objects because they are of a lower class socially. As he tells her:

No, Lucy, the classes ought to mix, and before long you’ll agree with me. There ought to be intermarriage—all sorts of things.

Be careful what you wish for, Cecil.

Lucy and Cecil go to London to visit Mrs. Vyse, Cecil’s mother, while the Emersons move in. Freddy, Lucy’s brother, meets George through Mr. Beebe and becomes friends, playing tennis and going for swims in ponds and other generally frowned upon activities. When Lucy returns to Windy Corners (their house), she discovers that her mother has invited Miss Bartlett to stay with them while the plumbing in her house is repaired.

Freddy invites the Emersons over for lunch and tennis on a Sunday when Cecil is in a particularly vile mood. While Freddy and George play tennis and the others are watching, Cecil goes on and on about the novel he’s reading. The novel is set in Florence and there’s a murder, and Lucy quickly realizes that it’s written by Miss Lavish, who was at the Bertolini with them. Cecil decides to read a passage aloud:

“‘Leonora,'” he read, “‘sat pensive and alone. Before her lay the rich champaign of Tuscany, dotted over with many a smiling village. The season was spring.'”

Miss Lavish knew, somehow, and had printed the past in draggled prose, for Cecil to read and for George to hear.

“‘A golden haze,'” he read. He read: “‘Afar off the towers of Florence, while the bank on which she sat was carpeted with violets. All unobserved Antonio stole up behind her—'”

Lest Cecil should see her face she turned to George and saw his face.

He read: “‘There came from his lips no wordy protestation such as formal lovers use. No eloquence was his, nor did he suffer from the lack of it. He simply enfolded her in his manly arms.'”

“This isn’t the passage I wanted,” he informed them, “there is another much funnier, further on.” He turned over the leaves.

“Should we go in to tea?” said Lucy, whose voice remained steady.

She led the way up the garden, Cecil following her, George last. She thought a disaster was averted. But when they entered the shrubbery it came. The book, as if it had not worked mischief enough, had been forgotten, and Cecil must go back for it; and George, who loved passionately, must blunder against her in the narrow path.

“No—” she gasped, and, for the second time, was kissed by him.

As if no more was possible, he slipped back; Cecil rejoined her; they reached the upper lawn alone.

OH. SNAP.

Later that afternoon, when they’re all preparing for supper, Lucy confronts George in the dining-room. She tells him to leave or she will have to call Cecil and George is incredulous to realize that she is engaged to marry Cecil. (Now it’s getting good. Get your popcorn. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.)

Then his words rose gravely over hers: “You cannot live with Vyse. He’s only for an acquaintance. He is for society and cultivated talk. He should know no one intimately, least of all a woman.”

It was a new light on Cecil’s character.

“Have you ever talked to Vyse without feeling tired?”

“I can scarcely discuss—”

“No, but have you ever? He is the sort who are all right so long as they keep to things—books, pictures—but kill when they come to people. That’s why I’ll speak out through all this muddle even now. It’s shocking enough to lose you in any case, but generally a man must deny himself joy, and I would have held back if your Cecil had been a different person. I would never have let myself go. But I saw him first in the National Gallery, when he winced because my father mispronounced the names of great painters. Then he brings us here, and we find it is to play some silly trick on a kind neighbour. That is the man all over—playing tricks on people, on the most sacred form of life that he can find. Next, I meet you together, and find him protecting and teaching you and your mother to be shocked, when it was for YOU to settle whether you were shocked or no. Cecil all over again. He daren’t let a woman decide. He’s the type who’s kept Europe back for a thousand years. Every moment of his life he’s forming you, telling you what’s charming or amusing or ladylike, telling you what a man thinks womanly; and you, you of all women, listen to his voice instead of to your own. So it was at the Rectory, when I met you both again; so it has been the whole of this afternoon. Therefore—not ‘therefore I kissed you,’ because the book made me do that, and I wish to goodness I had more self-control. I’m not ashamed. I don’t apologize. But it has frightened you, and you may not have noticed that I love you. Or would you have told me to go, and dealt with a tremendous thing so lightly? But therefore—therefore I settled to fight him.”

Oh, swoon.

George storms off, passing Miss Bartlett, who of course has been lurking in the doorway, snooping her heart out. The two women join the rest of the group. When Freddy hears that George has left, he asks Cecil to join him for a game of tennis. When Cecil declines, Lucy realizes that he is intolerable and breaks her engagement that night. It is only when she is breaking up with him does Cecil finally see her as a “living woman” rather than a trophy wife and has a difficult time letting go.

“You don’t love me, evidently. I dare say you are right not to. But it would hurt a little less if I knew why.”

“Because”—a phrase came to her, and she accepted it—”you’re the sort who can’t know any one intimately.”

A horrified look came into his eyes.

“I don’t mean exactly that. But you will question me, though I beg you not to, and I must say something. It is that, more or less. When we were only acquaintances, you let me be myself, but now you’re always protecting me.” Her voice swelled. “I won’t be protected. I will choose for myself what is ladylike and right. To shield me is an insult. Can’t I be trusted to face the truth but I must get it second-hand through you? A woman’s place! You despise my mother—I know you do—because she’s conventional and bothers over puddings; but, oh goodness!”—she rose to her feet—”conventional, Cecil, you’re that, for you may understand beautiful things, but you don’t know how to use them; and you wrap yourself up in art and books and music, and would try to wrap up me. I won’t be stifled, not by the most glorious music, for people are more glorious, and you hide them from me. That’s why I break off my engagement. You were all right as long as you kept to things, but when you came to people—” She stopped.

The clash between Cecil and Lucy is the clash between the old and new ways of thinking. The Victorian/Edwardian age had rigid social classes, but even more so was the rigid gender structures. Lucy is seeing herself no longer as a woman but as a person who is capable of making her own decisions and choices. Welcome to the new millenium, Lucy.

Unfortunately, she feels that this new realization means that she will never marry and will join her cousin in a life of spinsterhood and cat lady-hood, especially as she tries to convince herself that she doesn’t love George.

Lucy receives a letter from the Miss Alans, the spinster sisters from the Bertolini, who write to tell her about their upcoming trip to Greece. Lucy decides that she simply must go along with them and her mother reluctantly agrees. She also convinces everyone not to announce her broken engagement to Cecil, but to let divulge it once she is safely out of England — the secret reason behind this being that she doesn’t want George to be able to do the “told you so” dance.

She goes to visit Mr. Beebe before she leaves and Mr. Emerson is in the sitting room. George has told him that he loves Lucy and tells her that George has “gone under” — George is so full of passion that he can become overwhelmed by them, and he has become overwhelmed by his love of Lucy and is resembling Romeo in love with Rosaline. He tells Lucy that George can no longer bear to be there and that they are going back to London. When Lucy reveals that she is headed to Greece — without Cecil — Mr. Emerson forces her to admit that she loves George.

Then he burst out excitedly; “That’s it; that’s what I mean. You love George!” And after his long preamble, the three words burst against Lucy like waves from the open sea.

“But you do,” he went on, not waiting for contradiction. “You love the boy body and soul, plainly, directly, as he loves you, and no other word expresses it. You won’t marry the other man for his sake.”

“How dare you!” gasped Lucy, with the roaring of waters in her ears. “Oh, how like a man!—I mean, to suppose that a woman is always thinking about a man.”

“But you are.”

She summoned physical disgust.

“You’re shocked, but I mean to shock you. It’s the only hope at times. I can reach you no other way. You must marry, or your life will be wasted. You have gone too far to retreat. I have no time for the tenderness, and the comradeship, and the poetry, and the things that really matter, and for which you marry. I know that, with George, you will find them, and that you love him. Then be his wife. He is already part of you. Though you fly to Greece, and never see him again, or forget his very name, George will work in your thoughts till you die. It isn’t possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal.”

The next chapter opens with the Miss Alans in Greece by themselves. George and Lucy are back at the Bertolini; they have eloped to Italy, and, even though they may have alienated Mrs. Honeychurch in the process, they are living happily with each other and committed to their life of love.

Happily -- and sexily -- ever after.

In the end, Lucy is able to choose her own life and decide who she wants to marry, though her mother disapproves. The thought of marrying for position and social status is challenged in this novel — though there is a man of sufficient birth available, he is boring and stuck-up and utterly unappealing, yet the person who is exciting and interesting is of middle class (and works as a porter for a railway, how plebian!) .

There is an appendix that was added to some of the later publications of the book, where Forster elaborated on what happened to Lucy and George in the later years, but I choose not to read that part. I prefer my romances to end happily and without children and World War II, thank you very much. In my view of A Room with a View, George and Lucy remain at the Bertolini forever. Or at least they only emerge for food and sustenance, and possibly the occasional citrus fruit to prevent scurvy.

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10. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

March 30th, 2011 — 1:45pm

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck was published in 1939. Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the Nobel Prize for Literature 1962. The title comes from a lyric from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which in turn refers to Revelation 14:19-20 that describes the justice doled out through the Apocalypse.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.


The novel takes place in the 1930s during the height of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl in the Midwest. It followed the Joad family on their attempt to survive both as individuals and as a family. The Grapes of Wrath was initially not very well-received due to the social and political views that Steinbeck espoused through the novel, mainly by detailing the plight of poor people and the hardships of the migrant workers in California — people labeled it was lies and Communist leaning. However, it has become one of the most widely read books in classrooms and colleges across America.

The novel begins with Tom Joad, the Joad’s second oldest son, getting out of prison after serving four years for manslaughter. He makes his way to his family’s Oklahoma farm and on the way he meets Jim Casy, who is a former preacher who has given up his day job in order to be with the people — he believes that sacredness consists simply in endeavoring to be an equal among the people (Jim Casy is based on/inspired by Steinbeck’s friend Ed Ricketts). Tom and Jim get to the farm to find it completely deserted. A neighbor tells them that the people on the land have all been “tractored” off and that most people, including the Joads, are heading to California to find work. Tom and Jim head to Tom’s Uncle John’s house to find his family finishing packing up all of their belongings into a single car that is affectionately referred to as a “jalopy.” They travel down Route 66 from Oklahoma to California.

The Joads head down Route 66.

Grandpa Joad, who complains the loudest that he doesn’t want to leave his land, dies before they can cross the Oklahoma border. Grandma Joad dies before they reach the California state line and Noah, the oldest brother, and Connie, the husband of the Joad’s pregnant daughter, Rose of Sharon, abandon the family.

Once the family reaches California, they are met with resistance — the work pool is oversaturated by people trying to find work and newcomers, whom are isnultingly referred to as “Okies”, are not appreciated. The family sets up in a Hooverwille (affectionately named for Herbert Hoover, who was the unfortunate president during the onset of the Great Depression and has become a scapegoat for blame for the economic downtown). The Hoovervilles are overcrowded and no one gets enough food; work is difficult to come by and no one can afford a sufficient amount of food for their families.

How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him - he has known a fear beyond every other.

The corporate farm landowners fear a worker uprising, so they try to guarantee that the workers remain poor and dependent on them for survival. Tom and several men get into a heated argument with a deputy sheriff over whether workers should organize into a union. When the argument turns violent, Jim Casy knocks the sheriff unconscious and is arrested. Police officers arrive and announce their intention to burn the Hooverville to the ground.

Henry Fonda as Tom Joad in the 1940 movie.

The Joads eventually find work picking peaches at an orchard, until they find out that they’ve been hired as strikebreakers. Tom meets up again with Jim, who has been released from jail and is now hard at work organizing the workers and getting them to understand their power. Police deputies, hired by the landowners who don’t appreciate Jim’s new calling, raid the strike and in the action, Jim is killed; Tom retaliates by killing the police officer who killed Jim and fleeing.

Given Tom’s new fugitive status, the Joads move from the peach orchard to a cotton farm under the hopes that no one will identify Tom. When Ruthie, the youngest Joad daughter, is overheard telling another girl on the farm about her brother the murderer, Ma Joad sends Tom away to hide; Tom takes the opportunity to pick up where Jim left off in organizing the workers. Tom assures his mother that wherever he goes, he will work to help people:

Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’—I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry n’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build—why, I’ll be there. See? God, I’m talkin’ like Casy. Comes of thinkin’ about him so much. Seems like I can see him sometimes.

The end of the summer comes, which means the end of the growing season and the end of work. The family realizes that there will be no jobs for three months when the rainy season arrives and there are torrential downpours that turn into floods. Rose of Sharon goes into labor with her baby, and Ma Joad finds a dry barn for them to stay; unfortunately Rose of Sharon’s baby is stillborn. In the barn are another family, a boy and his father. The father is weak and dying from malnourishment because he’s been giving all of the food they find to his son — the irony is that he’s now too sick to eat solid food. The novel ends with Rose of Sharon taking the the dying man in her arms and breast feeding him.

The Grapes of Wrath, while not overtly Christian, has a lot of Christian themes and symbols. Jim Casy is a Christ-like figure all the way down to his “J.C.” initials. He is a man who lives his life for others and sacrifices himself for the cause of the unrepresented workers. The floods at the end of the novel, while damaging, bring forth a sense of renewal and hope with the beginning of spring. Rose of Sharon transforms from a rather self-centered girl to a Pieta figure — she is overcome by maternal instincts and is able to provide comfort and protection for others.

The story of the family is offset by chapters told from the point of view of inanimate objects and creatrues that symbolize different parts of the journey of the people during the Dust Bowl. There is a chapter that is about a turtle crossing the road and the dangers it encounters (an ant gets in its shell, a driver swerves to hit it and then swerves to misses it), several excerpts about the machinery that is taking over agriculture and making farmers obsolete and details about what happens to the land when the farmers leave, and there’s a chapter in the point of view of a used car salesman talking about how he cheats the customers that are obviously poor and desperate. It makes the novel more universal; rather than just following the Joads, the narration is ubiquitous, showcasing the suffering of what seems to be everyone in America.

One of the major themes of the novel is man’s inhumanity towards man and the dangers of forgetting the importance of altruism. Most of the hardships that the migrant workers, and the Joads specifically, face aren’t caused by the weather and the Dust Bowl but by people. Whether it’s from a social, economic, or racial hierarchy, the people in the novel keep themselves up by shoving others down. That’s what makes people consider this one of Steinbeck’s more socially conscious stories, the fact that he focuses so much on the plight of the migrant worker and the injustices suffered to them.

I first read The Grapes of Wrath in my AP English class my junior year of high school. And to be honest, all I remembered was Rose of Sharon breast feeding the dying man and that at one point someone pees in the dirt and makes a poultice for a cut out of the urine soaked mud. I also remember my teacher yelling at us about the machines being personified as monsters and being alive. It’s nice that the integrity of literature lives on in teenagers.

Steinbeck is one of the great American authors, and with good reason. The Grapes of Wrath manages to be a social commentary without seeming too preachy, in my opinion — however, it was banned and people held public burnings of the book because of what were seen as communist and socialist views. It’s nice to know that some things never change.

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4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

January 31st, 2011 — 12:31am

Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov was published in New York in 1958. It has been controversial and debated ever since.

The book is about a man, Humbert Humbert (a pseudonym he has chosen for himself), who is obsessed with nymphets, or sexually precocious girls. He blames this obsession on the death of his childhood sweetheart, Annabel Leigh. Because he was in love with her and she died at a young age, he subconciously searches for her to love again, and instead finds young girls who remind him of her. Humbert rents a house from Charlotte Haze, who just happens to have a 12 year old daughter named Dolores. Humbert immediately becomes infatuated with Dolores (who is also called also known as Dolly, Lolita, Lola, Lo, and L throughout the novel, try to keep up), and remains in the house to be near her.

Meanwhile, Charlotte, Lolita’s mother, begins to fall in love with Humbert. While Lolita is away at summer camp, she tells him that he has to either marry her or move out of the house. He agrees to marry Charlotte, even though he does not care for her and actually sort of pities her, so that he can remain close to Lolita. Charlotte remains unaware of Humbert’s creeper tendencies until she discovers his diary, in which he waxes poetic about his feelings for Lolita. Needless to say, she is horrified and makes plans to get her and her daughter as far away from Humbert as possible. Unfortunately, before she can do that or tell anyone what she’s discovered about Humbert, she’s hit by a car and killed.

Humbert picks up Lolita at camp; he tells the counselors that Charlotte is ill and is in the hospital. Once he has Lolita, he takes her to a hotel and attempts to give her sleeping pills in order to molest her more easily. The pills fail to work on her, but it’s okay! Because Lolita actually initiates sex with Humbert. It turns out that Lolita is already sexually active, as she had sex with a boy at her summer camp. And she’s still 12, by the way. Just saying.

Ignore the sunglasses and the lollipop. She is still 12.

Humbert finally tells Lolita that her mother is dead, and she realizes that there’s not really much else to do other than to accept her new life with her “stepfather” (EW). While at the hotel, they meet a strange man who seems to know them. Humbert is nervous about this, and decides that they need to take their show on the road.

Humbert and Lolita create a new life as nomads; they travel around from motel to motel with Humbert keeping Lolita disciplined by equally threatening to send her away to reform school and bribing her with sexual favors, even though he knows that she doesn’t love him like she does. Gee, I wonder why. They finally settle down in New England and Lolita is enrolled in school with Humbert assuming the role of the overbearing strict parent; Lolita is not allowed to participate in extracurriculars at school or associate with boys. The neighbors see his rules as the sign of a strict and loving parent. If only they knew how loving.

Lolita convinces Humbert to allow her to be in a school play by granting him more sexual favors. The play is by a man named Clare Quilty, who says that he saw Lolita’s acting and was inspired to write the play. However, on opening night, Humbert and Lolita have a fight and Lolita says that she wants to leave town again. When they leave, Humbert feels like someone is following them; he’s suspicious that Lolita is conspiring against him to leave him. She claims that she’s ill and is taken to a hospital while Humbert stays in a nearby hotel. When he goes to visit her, the hospital staff tells him that Lolita’s uncle has checked her out.

Uh oh.

Years pass, and one day Humbert receives a letter from the now 17 year old Lolita. She writes that she’s married, pregnant, and in desperate need of money. He meets with her, and she tells him that Clare Quilty was an acquaintance of Charlotte’s, and he checked her out of the hospital and attempted to make her star in one of his pornographic films; when she refused, he threw her out. She worked odd jobs before meeting and marrying her husband. She claims that her new husband knows nothing about her past and she intends to keep it that way.

Humbert, always the lecher, asks Lolita to leave her husband and return to him. He promises that it’ll be different this time! We’ll have a good life together! She refuses, because she has at least half a brain. Humbert leaves Lolita and finds and kills Quilty at his mansion. He then is arrested for driving on the wrong side of the road and swerving.

The narrative closes with Humbert’s final words to Lolita in which he wishes her well, and reveals the novel has been the memoirs of his life, only to be published after he and Lolita have both died.

Lolita gets a bad rap. If you can look past the pedophilia (which most people can’t), it is a very good book, at least in a literary sense. Nabokov was fond of wordplay and intricate details, and he uses many double entendres, puns, anagrams, and invents words throughout this book (nymphet is one example). He uses allusions to other authors, specifically Edgar Allan Poe (the name of Humbert’s childhood love, the use of doppleganger that occurs with Humbert and Clare Quilty). Many literary critics and scholars have found deeper meanings in the work, including interpretations that the book represents totalitarianism from Nabokov’s native Russia or the idea that the novel is about discovering your own identity when it has been taken over by someone else.

Nabokov was also a synesthete. That has nothing to do with the book, but it’s interesting anyway.

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76. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

January 6th, 2011 — 3:04pm

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark was first published in The New Yorker magazine before being published as a novel in 1961. It takes place at a school in 1930s Scotland and is told through the eyes of the female students under the tutelage of Miss Jean Brodie.

The novel takes place at the Marcia Blaine School and focuses on a group of six girls who are assigned to Miss Brodie’s class. The “prime” of the title refers to Miss Brodie declaring that she is in the “prime of her life.” The narration switches between the chronological story of their schoolhood and a series of flashforwards. The girls are influenced by Miss Brodie, who believes that she is obligated to teach them more than the curriculum. Lessons range anywhere from history to politics (specifically the goings-on of Europe and Spain) to her love life. The flashforwards reveal that one of the girls betrayed Miss Brodie and was a catalyst to the termination of her job, but she never finds out which of the girls it was.

The girls are Sandy Stranger, who is famous for her vowel sounds and “insight but no instinct”, Rose Stanley, who is famous for sex (and in contrast to Sandy is told that she has “instinct but no insight”), Monica Douglas, who is famous for mathematics and her anger, Jenny Gray, who is famous for her beauty, Eunice Gardiner, who is famous for her gymnastics and glorious swimming, and Mary MacGregor, who acts as Miss Brodie’s scapegoat and meekly accepts the blame for whatever is going on.

Throughout the novel, Miss Brodie carries on affairs with two of the male teachers at the school, the singing teacher, Mr. Lowther, and the art master, the handsome, one armed war veteran Mr. Lloyd. Mr. Lloyd is a married Roman Catholic man with six children. Oops. Both of the men profess that they love Miss Brodie, while she reveals that she only loves Mr Lloyd. Miss Brodie never acts on her love for Mr. Lloyd except once to exchange a kiss with him, which is witnessed by Monica, one of the students. She decides that a bachelor makes a more suitable mate, as a wife and six kids tends to get in the way, so she carries on a sexual relationship with Mr. Lowther. Sandy, one of the main points of view in the story, begins to become disillusioned with Miss Brodie.

The girls move on to the Senior school, though they still stick together and identify themselves as “the Brodie set.” Miss Brodie keeps in touch with them after school hours by inviting them over as she used to do when they were her pupils. Meanwhile, the headmistress, Miss Mackay, tries to break them up and compile information gleaned from them into sufficient cause to fire Miss Brodie. Miss Mackay had more than once suggested to Miss Brodie that the latter seek employment at a “progressive” school; Miss Brodie declined to move.

Before the Brodie set turns sixteen, Miss Brodie tests her girls to discover which of them she can really trust, ultimately settling upon Sandy as her confidante. Miss Brodie, obsessed with the notion that Rose should have an affair with Mr. Lloyd in her place, begins to neglect Mr. Lowther, who ends up marrying Miss Lockhart, the science teacher. Mr. Lloyd has taken to inviting the Brodie girls to sit for him to paint their portraits, but each of their faces looks like Miss Brodie. I don’t think there’s a single teacher in this book who maintains a proper student/teacher relationship. Urging your student to have an affair with a man that you love is just creepy.

Another student, Joyce Emily, tries to join the Brodie set but the girls aren’t really having it. Miss Brodie takes Joyce Emily under her wing separately, however, encouraging her to run away to fight in the Spanish Civil War on the Nationalist (pro-Franco) side. She does, only to be killed in an accident when the train she is traveling in is attacked.

The Brodie set, now seventeen and in their final year of school, go their separate ways. Mary and Jenny quit school before graduating, Mary became a typist and Jenny pursued a career in acting. Eunice became a nurse and Monica a scientist. Rose lands a handsome husband. Sandy has an affair with Mr. Lloyd the summer after she graduates, while his wife and children are away on vacation.

After the summer, Sandy ends the affair with Mr. Lloyd, but she adopts his Roman Catholic religion and becomes a nun. Before she becomes a nun, she meets with Miss Mackay and blatantly confesses to wanting to put an end to Miss Brodie. She suggests Miss Mackay try accusing Miss Brodie of fascism based ont he conversations she had with the girls, and this tactic succeeds. Not until her dying moment will Miss Brodie be able to imagine that it was her confidante, Sandy, who betrayed her.

Sandy, who is now known as Sister Helena of the Transfiguration and the author of “The Transfiguration of the Commonplace”, maintains that “it’s only possible to betray where loyalty is due.” One day when an enquiring young man visits Sandy at the convent because of her strange book on psychology to ask what were the main influences of her school years, “Were they literary or political or personal? Was it Calvinism?”

Miss Jean Brodie (Maggie Smith) in the 1967 movie

Sandy said: “There was a Miss Jean Brodie in her prime.”

The way the narration is set up is rather unique — you know from the beginning of the story that Miss Brodie is betrayed, even though sequentially it happens at the end of the girls’ school years. The novel also doesn’t attempt to hide the flaws of any of the characters, making them appear more human. There isn’t a definite hero to the book.

The affect that teachers have on students is at the centerpoint of the novel. Miss Brodie claims that she is a teacher who states that if she is given a girl at an “impressionable age then she is mine for life.” In fact, she does go on to influence the girls beyond the realm of the classroom, both when they are in school and when they are living their lives. Sandy particularly feels the reach of Miss Brodie beyond the walls of the schoolhouse. She becomes a nun and shuts herself down to anything Brodie-esque, which shows that she is still affected by Miss Brodie. Miss Brodie draws the girls close to herself as Calvinists believe God elects few to salvation, as Sandy observes. This leads Sandy to publicly reject Calvinism in place of Catholicism. A few of the girls die as a casual result of Miss Brodie’s influence on their lives.

I can’t think of any teachers who have had that sort of an effect on me, and I certainly can’t think of any students whom I’ve affected. Influence is a funny thing. Things that you wouldn’t assume to be influential can sometimes emerge later as a large reason as to a significant life choice. However, the major moral of the story : if a teacher tells you to have an affair with someone, just say no. And ew.

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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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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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100. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

February 22nd, 2010 — 10:26pm

After a weekend full of bragging about my project and the wonderful things I had planned for myself, I finally got to the library to get the first book. Technically, it’s the 100th book. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington.

The What by Who?

Yeah. That’s what I said. Imagine my surprise that not only have I never heard of a book on this list, but there’s an author I’ve never heard of. “Booth Tarkington” sounds like an Internet quiz on how to get your porn star name.

After a quick Google search, I learned that not only was Booth Tarkington a state representative in the Indiana government, but The Magnificent Ambersons was made into a movie directed by Orson Welles in 1942. The novel won a Pulitzer Prize in 1919. It is also the second part of a trilogy that spans the years between the American Civil War and World War I. The Amberson family “serves as a metaphor for the old society that crumbled after the Industrial Revolution,” according to the review on Amazon.com.

Great. Social commentary for my first venture out into the world of Modern Library’s list. At least the book cover is pretty.

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