Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday (September 22, 2015)

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish


Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR:
Well that’s easy enough, though I doubt I’ll get through them all before winter.

Light in August by William Faulkner
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Money by Martin Amis
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul
The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (59 down 41 to go)

As a cloud crosses the sun, silence falls on London; and falls on the mind. Effort ceases. Time flaps on the mast. There we stop; there we stand.

This is the first time I’ve read Mrs. Dalloway and the second novel I’ve read by Virginia Woolf. The story is written predominantly in stream of consciousness. I think it would be called a modernist work, along with Woolf’s other novels.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've made no secret of my dislike for stream of consciousness, but I seem to dislike each occurrence a little less. I strongly disliked Ulysses, disliked The Sound and the Fury and To the Lighthouse, but liked A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, As I Lay Dying, and Absolam, Absolam! a bit more, and now I liked Mrs. Dalloway more than my previous experience with Woolf.

Obviously, I still didn’t love it, but I am getting used to stream of consciousness. A good thing, as my next novel by Faulkner, likely uses it.

The story covers a single day in the life of Mrs. Dalloway as she plans an elaborate party that evening. A single day, but there are many flashbacks in the consciousness of characters. It takes place in London, shortly after the First World War. There are two main characters, Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith. They do not know each other, but their lives become oddly intertwined.

Mrs. Dalloway is 50 something, a socialite, the wife of a minor government official. She loves London and high-society. She is a little vain, materialistic, or even superficial, but she is not completely unlikable. Septimus Smith is a pitiable veteran of the war, who is losing his mind, probably due to post-traumatic stress.

There is a stark contrast between the two. Mrs. Dalloway has known little but comfort and privilege, whereas Septimus, once with a promising career, is ruined by the war and no one except his foreign wife seems to notice or care.

There are numerous secondary characters: Rezia Smith, Septimus’ Italian born and worrisome wife; Peter Walsh, a one-time suitor of Mrs. Dalloway; and Sally Seton, a childhood friend of both Mrs. Dalloway and Peter.

These and other characters attend Mrs. Dalloway’s party and the narrative shares bits of their consciousness.

SPOILER ALERT: the following contains a spoiler.

At the party, Mrs. Dalloway learns through a guest, a doctor, of one of his patients, Septimus, who has committed suicide. Even though she did not know Septimus, his death affects Mrs. Dalloway in a unique and powerful way. At first, she is almost insulted that the topic of his death should invade her party, but as she contemplates it, she identifies with Septimus, and seems to take some sort of satisfaction from his suicide.
She felt somehow very like him – the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away.
Ah well…very existential. Woolf’s prose has some moments of beauty, but overall – I’m not a fan.

One element that was similar to my previous exposure to Woolf is the duplicitous nature of all the characters contrasted between their spoken words and private thoughts. Mrs. Dalloway has an ironic thought:
Cleverness was silly. One must say simply what one felt.
Ironic because Mrs. Dalloway, like all the other characters almost NEVER says what she feels.

Woolf uses the chiming of Big Ben as a motif throughout the novel. As various characters are about their business, they hear Big Ben, each occurrence a bit later in the day – symbolizing I suppose the unstoppable progress of time.

Other Excerpts:

In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.

The world has raised its whip; where will it descend?

Peter Walsh convincing himself he was not still in love with Mrs. Dalloway…
unable to get away from the thought of her; she kept coming back and back like a sleeper jolting against him in a railway carriage; which was not being in love of course; it was thinking of her criticizing her, starting again, after thirty years, trying to explain her.

Septimus was one of the first to volunteer. He went to France to save an England which consisted almost entirely of Shakespeare’s plays and Miss Isabel Pole in a green dress walking in a square.

This was now revealed to Septimus; the message hidden in the beauty of words. The secret signal which one generation passes, under disguise to the next is loathing, hatred, despair.

So there was no excuse; nothing whatever the matter, except the sin for which human nature had condemned him to death; that he did not feel.

They thought, or Peter at any rate thought, that she enjoyed imposing herself; liked to have famous people about her; great names; was simply a snob in short. Well, Peter might think so. Richard merely thought it foolish of her to like excitement when she knew it was bad for her heart. It was childish, he thought. And both were quite wrong. What she liked was simply life.

Rezia Smith describing words that Septimus had her record in a journal: 
She wrote it down just as he spoke it. Some things were very beautiful; others sheer nonsense.

…there was the terror; the overwhelming incapacity, one’s parents giving it into one’s hands, this life, to be lived to the end, to be walked with serenity; there was in the depths of heart an awful fear.

Film Rendition:  1997 starring Vanessa Redgrave as Mrs. Dalloway and Natascha McElhone as young Clarissa Dalloway. A very worthy portrayal - and just about as exciting as the book. I thought Redgrave and McElhone were superb choices as was all the casting. To convert stream of consciousness writing to film requires taking some liberty with the written work, but this was still quite true to the book.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

NOVA this week (September 19, 2105)

NOVA this week was prompted by last week's prompt. When describing some of the statues in Washington D.C. I remembered the first statue that I recall ever seeing in person.

I grew up in Kalamazoo Michigan. Kalamazoo is a funny name; it is from a native word from the Potawatomi tribe but the precise meaning is lost. It used to be, 60s, maybe 70s 80s, that if you traveled to other parts of the country and announced you were from Kalamazoo, people would often say with some surprise "there really IS a Kalamazoo?" They'd heard the name in a #1 hit song by Glen Miller and His Orchestra, "I've got a Gal in Kalamazoo" but most apparently didn't believe it was a real place.

It is. In fact, we used to have T-shirts that read "Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo". But, the world is shrinking. People are seldom surprised by the name, so we don't wear those T-shirts anymore.

Hoyt Axton had a fun song, Della and the Dealer that mentions a Cat named Kalamazoo. It's worth a listen.

The cat was cool and he never said a mumblin word.

A few other facts about Kalamazoo - it's oozamalak backwards - what're the odds? It's half-way between Chicago and Detroit, all three connected by I-94. Kalamazoo is the home of the original Gibson Guitar factory and the one-time fourth largest car company in the U.S. the Checker Cab company. All those Checker Cabs you see in old movies came from Kalamazoo. 

The city was nicknamed Mall City as it had the nation's first pedestrian shopping mall, but that nickname has gone the way of the T-shirts. Kalamazoo's most famous son is future Hall-of-Famer, Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees. I'm a bit bitter about that. He should have been a Detroit Tiger.

Kalamazoo was originally called Bronson after the founder Titus Bronson. Titus was not particularly well liked and was eventually run out of town. The name was changed to Kalamazoo in 1836. Bronson's legacy is not entirely lost though as a park in the heart of the downtown district is still known as Bronson Park.

The Hiker

I now live near the city of great white monuments, but the first monument ever I remember was from my childhood home of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

In the North-east corner of Bronson Park stands The Hiker, about nine feet tall on a four foot base. He was a giant; in my simple childish mind these were his actual proportions. He was a hero to me. No one could tell me anything about him, but I knew he was a defender of something precious of which I was the beneficiary. I saw him often because my father owned and operated a barber shop just across the street from his post. Every time my brothers and I went downtown for our haircuts, I'd visit him. I was a little sad that no one knew his name. I thought he deserved better. He looked invincible and aloof, vigilantly watching for threats, but I also thought he was kind, though not exactly friendly. I thought he probably didn't have time for a family and might not know how to play with a child. No matter. He was there to defend.

I go "home" every now and then and like to visit the old warrior. He's suffered the years and elements extremely well. In 1980 an F3 tornado went through Bronson Park, uprooting most of the 30, 40, 50 year old trees, drastically changing the appearance of the park. But not the Hiker. He keeps his silent vigil just the same.

Well, the world is smaller and information has exploded. I was able to learn a little about The Hiker.

According to Wikipedia, The Hiker is a statue created by Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson to commemorate American soldiers of the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, and the Philippine-American War. The first version was made for the University of Minnesota in 1906 and at least 50 copies were made and erected across the United States. The statue in Bronson Park was erected in 1924.

I have mixed emotions about this information. I’m glad to finally learn his provenance, but I was mostly sad. Sad that he was not Kalamazoo’s special hero, not some Boone-like, Crocket-like legend. Sad that he was a composite, not a specific named pioneer. Sad that we shared him with other cities. Sad of course that ours was not the original.

But I suppose my sadness…

Well, it is of no consequence. There were specific, named adventurers who were lost to the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Philippine-American war. There was sadness enough in specific, named, families who lost a husband, father, son, brother.

He is a hero still without a name. I am the beneficiary still of something precious.

© 2015 Joseph E. Fountain