Monday, August 28, 2017

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (88 down, 12 to go)

This is the saddest story I have ever heard. ~ opening line


And that about sums it up.

To be blunt I didn’t like this story. Ford Maddox Ford can certainly write, and sometimes good writing can compensate for a less than compelling story – but for me – in this case – it didn’t.

It is the story of American expatriates John and Florence Dowell and their nine-year friendship with the English couple Edward and Leonora Ashburnham.

John is a fool; Edward is a letch, Florence is a manipulative adulteress, and Leonora is almost likeable, or nearly pitiable, but not quite either. They’re all a mess and I didn’t care for any of them. I think maybe I was supposed to feel sorry for the narrator – John – but I didn’t. John at least felt sorry for everybody including himself.

Ya know what? Yuck! I’m done. Some excerpts below will give you a few more insights. The last one, the one about the cow, is not critical to the story, but it might have been the best part of this story.

This novel is very short. That was good. The title refers to Edward Ashburnham who was a British officer and by all accounts a credit to the Army.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

 

This is the first time I’ve read Ford Madox Ford or The Good Soldier.


Excerpts – all the words or thoughts of the unreliable narrator, John Dowell:

But just think of that poor wretch….I, who have surely the right, beg you to think of that poor wretch. Is it possible that such a luckless devil should be so tormented by blind and inscrutable destiny? For there is no other way to think of it. None. I have the right to say it, since for years he was my wife’s lover, since he killed her, since he broke up all the pleasantnesses that there were in my life. There is no priest that has the right to tell me that I must not ask pity for him, from you, silent listener beyond the hearthstone, from the world, or from the God who created in him those desires, those madnesses…

Perhaps one day when I am unconscious or walking in my sleep I may go and spit upon poor Edward’s grave.

…you may consider me even to have been an imbecile.

And yet I am so near to all of these people that I cannot think any of them wicked. It is impossible for me to think of Edward Ashburnham as anything but straight, upright and honourable.

I have come to be very much of a cynic in these matters…

Leonora loved Edward with a passion that was yet like an agony of hatred.

You see, he was really a very simple soul – very simple.

So here I am very much where I started thirteen years ago. I am the attendant, not the husband of a beautiful girl, who pays no attention to me. I am estranged from Leonora, who married Rodney Bayham in my absence and went to live at Bayham. Leonora rather dislikes me, because she has got it into her head that I disapprove of her marriage with Rodney Bayham. Well, I disapprove of her marriage. Possibly I am jealous. Yes, no doubt I am jealous.

Not one of us has got what he really wanted. Leonora wanted Edward, and she has got Rodney Bayham, a pleasant enough sort of sheep. Florence wanted Branshaw, and it is I who have bought it from Leonora. I didn’t really want it; what I wanted mostly was to cease being a nurse attendant. Edward wanted Nancy Rufford, and I have got her. Only she is mad. It is a queer fantastic world.

Is there any terrestrial paradise where, amidst the whispering of the olive-leaves, people can be with whom they like and have what they like and take their ease in shadows and in coolness? Or are all men’s lives like the lives of us good people – like the lives of the Ashburnhams, of the Dowells, of the Ruffords – broken, tumultuous, agonized, and unromantic, lives, periods punctuated by screams, by imbecilities, by deaths, by agonies? Who the devil knows?

Let me come to the 4th of August, 1913, the last day of my absolute ignorance – and, I assure you, of my perfect happiness.

I chuckled over it from time to time for the whole rest of the day. Because it does look very funny, you know, to see a black and white cow land on its back in the middle of a stream. It is so just exactly what one doesn’t expect of a cow.


Film Rendition: 1981 British rendition is very true to the book...consequently just as awful.
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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury


Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

If someone tells you what a story is about, they are probably right. If they tell you that is ALL the story is about, they are very definitely wrong. ~ introduction to Fahrenheit 451 by Neil Gaiman

This book was powerful and touching.

“Touching” might seem like an odd descriptor for a dystopian tale and I probably won’t convince you. There are a ton of opinions about this book, and before I share mine, let me quote Neil Gaiman once more, but this time specifically in reference to Fahrenheit 451:

He [Ray Bradbury] cared, completely and utterly, about things. He cared about toys and childhood and films. He cared about books. He cared about stories. This is a book about caring for things. It’s a love letter for books.

A love letter for books – Bravo Mr. Gaiman!

It’s really hard to beat that.

Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian tale of a time when possession of books is a crime against happiness. If people read, they tend to think – and thinking never leads to happiness. The hero of the tale is fireman Guy Montag, but in this setting firemen do not put out fires, they burn homes, and sometimes the residents, where books are discovered. It’s a bleak world where taking an evening walk is considered suspicious, where front porches and conversations between neighbors have vanished, and humanity is kept stupefied by inane television programing broadcast 24/7.

I called Guy the hero, so you might guess that somewhere along the way he has a moral dilemma that causes him to question his worldview.

I've read perhaps the three great dystopian novelsNineteen Eighty-FourBrave New Worldand A Clockwork Orange. Fahrenheit 451 might be considered a distant fourth, but for me it was the best.

This was the first time I’ve read Fahrenheit 451. I used to read a lot of Bradbury, when I was 10-12 years old. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed his writing. It is difficult to say precisely why. It may be, that for a Sci-Fi, fantasy, horror, and dystopian writer, he maintains a refreshing hopefulness. I don’t feel he has quite despaired of humanity. Fahrenheit 451, though grim and heartbreaking, leaves room for hope.

A few words that Ray Bradbury had to say about his art of writing and/or about Fahrenheit 451:

I once strongly suspected that fun was the handmaiden, if not the progenitor, of the arts; now I know this for certain.
I’m a preventer of futures.
I have written a book about a man falling in love with books.

Ray Bradbury wrote this book almost in entirety in the typing room in the basement of the UCLA library, and noted:  What a place, don’t you agree, to write a novel about burning books in the future!

Regarding the name of his hero, and lesser hero:
I realized that Montag is named after a paper manufacturing company. And Faber, of course is a maker of pencils! What a sly thing my subconscious was to name them thus. And not tell me.
Bradbury was often asked which was the greater inspiration for Fahrenheit 451, Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four or Huxley’s Brave New World. Bradbury however stated quite clearly that Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon was…true father, mother, and lunatic brother to my F. 451.

The title – is reportedly the combustion point of book paper.

Only once, and briefly, was a translation, a Danish translation, entitled Celsius 233.

I’m changing my format a bit. I’m trying to avoid synopsizing or reviewing. My comments are simply the journal of my thoughts and feelings. This book was intellectually powerful and emotionally poignant. And again – a love story – gotta love a good love story. Bravo Mr. Bradbury!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



This book satisfies 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge category #8 – A classic with a number in the title. With it, I’ve completed the challenge, so ya know – BOOM!

Excerpts:

We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out ~ a character quoting Hugh Latimer who was burned at the stake in England for heresy in 1555

…books say nothing! Nothing you can teach or believe. They’re about nonexistent people, figments of imagination, if they’re fiction. And if they’re nonfiction, it’s worse, one professor calling another an idiot, one philosopher screaming down another’s gullet. All of them running about, putting out the stars and extinguishing the sun. You come away lost.

It was not burning, it was warming. ~ Montag’s thoughts on approaching the campfire of outcasts and outlaws

I want you to meet Jonathan Swift, the author of that evil political book, Gulliver’s Travels! And this other fellow is Charles Darwin, and this one is Schopenhauer, and this one is Einstein, and this one here at my elbow is Mr. Albert Schweitzer, a very kind philosopher indeed. Here we all are, Montag. Aristophanes and Mahatma Gandhi and Gautama Buddha and Confucius and Thomas Love Peacock and Thomas Jefferson and Mr. Lincoln, if you please. We are also Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. ~ the leader of a band of outcasts, introducing other outcasts who had committed whole books to memory

I hate a Roman named Status Quo! He said to me. Stuff your eyes with wonder… ~ an outlaw quoting his grandfather

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (87 down 13 to go)

He had uttered a mad wish that he himself might remain young, and the portrait grow old; that his own beauty might be untarnished. ~ narrative regarding Dorian’s thoughts

This is the second time I’ve read The Picture of Dorian Gray and it remains the only work I’ve read by Oscar Wilde; it is his only novel. The book is a gothic novel set in Victorian era England. It is the third-person narrative of Dorian Gray, and as you might guess involves a picture, painting to be precise, of the title character. The picture is mysteriously endowed with magical qualities that creates a strange and fantastic relationship between picture and subject.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
 


This novel satisfies 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge category #7 – A gothic or horror classic.

I was looking forward to this read, as I remembered liking this novel very much the first time I read it at least 10 years ago. I liked it even more this time as I realized a much more profound meaning.

Dorian Gray, an exceptionally beautiful (never described as handsome) young man, has his likeness painted by Basil Hallward: a friend of Dorian’s and an artist of moderate distinction. Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of the artists, is introduced to Dorian and the painting. Hallward and Lord Henry agree it is Hallward’s masterpiece, and they heap praise on the impressionable Dorian. During a philosophical discussion on the qualities of youth and beauty, Dorian uttered a mad wish that he himself might remain young, and the portrait grow old; that his own beauty might be untarnished

I don’t suppose it is too much of a spoiler to tell you – Dorian’s wish comes true.

But it is a bit more profound than that. For it seems that not only time, but any sin, any vice, any unkindness that Dorian commits, has a defiling effect on the picture.

But neither the reader or Dorian realizes this until Dorian falls madly in love with a beautiful young actress Sybil Vane. After an uncharacteristically poor stage performance, Dorian is repulsed and rejects Sybil permanently, leaving her distraught and despairing.

Shortly thereafter, Dorian notices the first defect in the painting. He tries to convince himself it is his imagination, but eventually he cannot deny that it has changed and now displays a touch of cruelty in the mouth.

This physical revelation of the ugliness of his sin drives Dorian to repent.

One thing, however, he felt that it had done for him. It had made him conscious how unjust he had been to Sibyl Vane.

He is genuinely contrite and truly realizes the vanity and cruelty of his actions. He writes a long letter to Sybil begging forgiveness and professing pure and undying love.

But sadly, some things cannot be undone. The painting becomes an ever-present accuser in Dorian’s life.
For every sin that he committed a stain would fleck and wreck its fairness. But here was a visible symbol of the degradation of sin. Here was an ever-present sign of the ruin men brought upon their souls. The portrait was to bear the burden of his shame: that was all. While Dorian…had always the look of one who had kept himself unspotted from the world.

Though it did cause him to reflect…wondering sometimes which were the more horrible, the signs of sin or the signs of age.

The story fast forwards nearly 30 years, and the reader realizes that, perhaps in despair at learning of his inability to atone for his sin, Dorian has led a hedonistic and libertine existence. He still looks young and innocent, but secretly takes perverse pleasure in watching the increasing corruption of the painting, which is by now vile and hideous.

Dorian keeps the painting locked away in the attic where no one but himself can ever view it.

And then, he reveals the painting, and its incredible secret to one soul.

Dorian then commits his greatest sin. So great that his guilt drives him to once again avow repentance and atonement, only once more to learn his actions cannot be undone.

As I mentioned, I was more impressed with this second read. There are profound themes of sin, guilt, repentance, atonement, free will, and fatalism. I quite concur with Wilde’s apparent premise that our vices take their toll even in our physical frame, and I certainly agree that the consequences of some actions cannot be stopped.

Some readers might find Wilde’s story fatalistic and without hope. Dorian seemed unable to escape his fate, but personally, I think Dorian was a grim lesson of the fine line that can separate despair from glory. Dorian came oh so close on several occasions to righting his course. I don’t take his failure to mean that Wilde was suggesting it is impossible to do so, but merely pointing out how fine the line and how horrible the consequence.

Dorian’s two friends: Basil Hallward and Lord Henry Wotton are stark contrasts. Both adored Dorian, perhaps even obsessed over him. Lord Henry delighted in Dorian’s debauchery, once stating:
Dorian is far too wise not to do foolish things now and then, my dear Basil.

But Basil tried to disbelieve the evil rumors. When he is forced to face Dorian’s corruption he tries desperately, and almost successfully, to warn Dorian away. He implores Dorian that
Though your sins be as scarlet, yet I [God] will make them as white as snow. Sadly, Dorian considers himself beyond redemption.

And finally, Sybil Vane: I found her name interesting and tend to think Wilde chose it intentionally. Sybil denoting a prophetess, and vane perhaps a play on vain. Dorian’s love was certainly quite vain, and Sybil turned out to be the harbinger of his doom.

Side note about cover art: One of the problems with any cover art for this novel is that the cover can never live up to Wilde’s description of Dorian. He is repeatedly described as extraordinarily beautiful – almost supernaturally so – no cover art seems adequate. They often fail to coincide with his physical description of gold hair, curls, blue eyes, and red-rose lips.

Other excerpts:

Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world’s original sin. If the caveman had known how to laugh, history would have been different. ~ Lord Henry

There are only two kinds of people who are really fascinating – people who know absolutely everything, and people who know absolutely nothing. ~ Lord Henry

"Each of us has heaven and hell in him, Basil", cried Dorian with a wild gesture of despair.


Film Rendition:  1945 with 20-year-old Angela Lansbury as Sybil is very good, and quite faithful to the novel.
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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Sextus Textuscriptus Anniversarius (6th Blog Anniversary)


You may know it as a blogoversary, but – and I’m reluctant to be so dogmatic, but – blogoversary is wrong.


Literally blogoversary means turning of the blog, but it does not indicate an annual event. You could have a blogoversary daily, monthly, hourly, every second Tuesday of months with no R, etc.


To indicate the annual reoccurrence of the date a blog was started, and to do it in Latin, cuz ya know – Latin is cool, we need…


Sextus = sixth, textum = web, scriptus = script (record, log), annus = year, verus = turning.


Sextus Textuscriptus Annversarius = Sixth web log annual turning, or Sixth blog anniversary.


Trust me; everyone’ll be saying it soon. Jump on the bandwagon now and be one of the cool kids before all the hipster bloggers join in.


Cuz ya know, COOL is what book bloggers are all about.


Six years ago this blog started out as my quest to read The 100 Greatest Novels of all Time. More about the quest HERE. I’m not quite finished with the quest – currently on book 87. I expect to be done with the original quest sometime next year, but probably not by this date.


The blog’s grown into much more than just the 100 Greatest Novels quest. I’ve been sticking mostly to novels in order to complete the quest, but once it is complete I’ve got a little over 1200 other novels to read, and then over there on the right 
a bunch of other TBR lists for: Tolkien, Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, Short Stories, Plays, Poetry, Epic Poems, Mythology & Folklore, Graphic Novels, and Presidential Biographies.


No, I will not complete these in this lifetime. Next lifetime? Maybe. I don’t know what the celestial library is like.


Now, a little riddle for you. It’s pretty easy.


This blog was originally called The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time. I changed it to The Once Lost Wanderer when I decided I wanted something more creative. The new name is derived from two poems: Amazing Grace by John Newton and All that is Gold Does not Glitter by J.R.R. Tolkien. Like Newton, I once was lost, but now that I am found I still like to wander, and as Prof Tolkien asserts “not all those who wander are lost”. I like to wander – through secret places of Middle Earth, imperial courts of Russia, plantations of the antebellum South, the inner sanctum of a mad scientist’s laboratory, deepest seas, farthest planets, and the occasional insane asylum.

The Riddle – can you name novels to which these wandering locations refer? (more than one possible answer for most)


Cheers



The Wanderer