Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (novel #113)

(translation by Eva Martin)

I made up my mind to be honest, and steadfast in accomplishing my task. Perhaps I shall meet with troubles and many disappointments, but I have made up my mind to be polite and sincere to everyone; more cannot be asked of me. People may consider me a child if they like. I am often called an idiot, and at one time I was certainly so ill that I was nearly as bad as an idiot; but I am not an idiot now. How can I possibly be so when I know myself that I am considered one? ~ Prince Muishkin

This is the first time I’ve read The Idiot and the third novel I’ve read by Dostoevsky. Due to my previous experiences and a peek at a synopsis, I was anticipating a very enjoyable read.

But no! I was quite disappointed. I really wanted to love this for both my admiration of the author and my interest in the premise: the story of a man so sincere, so kind, so artless, that he was thought an idiot by his acquaintances. The title character is Dostoevsky’s
…positively good and beautiful man

Characters in the novel said of him:
You are more honest than all, and better, nobler, kinder, wiser than all. There are some here who are unworthy to bend and pick up the handkerchief you have just dropped. ~ Aglaya Ivanovna


I ought to tell you that I never in my life met a man anything like him for noble simplicity of mind and for boundless trustfulness. I guessed that anyone who lied could deceive him, and that he would immediately forgive anyone who did deceive him… ~ Nastasia Philipovna

To be astonished by nothing is a sign, they say, of a great intellect. ~ Hippolyte commenting on the Prince’s unflappable character

Besides wanting to love the novel, I also wanted to love the protagonist, Prince Muishkin, and I did – at first. But as the novel wears on, I confess I began to think him rather absurd myself, though not quite an idiot.

But most of the characters were absurd. Aglaya Ivanovna – the fickle and flighty love interest of the Prince; Nastasia Philipovna – her beautiful and bitter rival; Rogojin the vicious and vain antithesis to the Prince; Hippolyte the tedious and tubercular nihilist; Elizabetha Prokofievna the proper and passionate mother of Aglaya; and on and on.

Perhaps it suffered in translation, translation not of words, but translation of 19thcentury Russian society vs 21stcentury Western society – perhaps, but that can’t really explain it fully. I loved The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment after all.

Perhaps I’m the idiot, but this just didn’t work for me. I’m sorry brother D, but I feel I’m being generous to even give this…

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dostoevsky said himself:
I do not stand behind the novel, but I do stand behind the idea.

I agree with that.

Other excerpts:

In a word, the world spoke well of the girls; [Aglaya and her sisters] but they were not without their enemies, and occasionally, people talked with horror of the number of books they had read.

A fool with a heart and no brains is just as unhappy as a fool with brains and no heart. ~ Elizabetha Prokofievna

Exactly as is a mother’s joy when her baby smiles for the first time into her eyes, so is God’s joy when one of his children turns and prays to Him for the first time, with all his heart. ~ Prince Muishkin

Things are hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes. ~ Lebedeff

References to Classic Literature

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells (novel #112)

All men, however highly educated retain some superstitious inklings. The feeling that is called “eerie” came upon him. ~ narrative of Dr. Kemp’s feelings as he enters a room, not knowing the invisible man is present.

This was a reread, so I knew what to expect. Wells does a good job of describing the terror and panic the invisible man creates, added with just a bit of comic relief. But like my previous read, Dr. Jekyll, I think there was some profound commentary on the nature of man that is bigger than the scary story.

The reader does not encounter Griffin before he makes himself irreversibly invisible; however, with a few reminisces, the reader can only assume he was a fairly decent chap.

But then – endued with this tremendous power, he is quickly transformed into a pretty awful human being. He steals without scruple, and eventually murders. He reasons that he will have to murder again and is quite comfortable with the notion. He eventually threatens
…a reign of terror.

I think Wells was demonstrating that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I don’t think invisibility is exactly absolute power, but nonetheless is certainly corrupts Griffin.

Less profound, but very interesting was another nuance to invisibility that Wells was clever to point out – that while invisibility has some advantages, it certainly has severe inconveniences as well:  such as the need to be completely naked, and the inability to hold or carry objects without detection.

It was a fun read, entertaining, good – not great.

My rating: 3 ½ of 5 stars

This is the second Horror/Thriller I read for Halloween and The Classics Club – Get Your Goth on Dare. (the other being The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)

Reference to other classic literature. The invisible man’s footprint is described as
…isolated and incomprehensible to them as Crusoe’s solitary discovery

Interesting fact: if a person were completely invisible, they would be blind. Something to do with the way the eye reflects light, and the brain interprets the sensory input. Invisibility would mean light would pass through the invisible eye without reflecting, and the person would be blind. Of course, in fantasy anything is possible.

Note: The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells is not to be confused with Invisible Man [without “The”] by Ralph Ellison.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (novel #111)

…all human beings, as we meet them, are comingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil. ~ Dr. Jekyll

This is one of those novels (novella actually), that even though I’d never read it, or even watched a movie version, I was quite familiar with the plot. 

However, it was not what I expected: a classic thriller, pursuit of a maniacal villain, grotesque horrors, and satisfying justice. Nope.

Which in one sense was disappointing. I decided to read a few macabre tales for Halloween, and even though this is typically classified as horror, it isn’t very scary. It wasn’t quite what I hoped for. There is little portrayal of Hyde’s villainy – the reader is simply asked to believe he is despicable at the assertion of Dr. Jekyll.

In one sense, disappointing; in another more profound than I anticipated. I think more was intended than just a fantastic tale. Stevenson quite clearly believes in a dichotomy within man – the divine creation and the depraved sinner struggling within a single human vessel. Something akin to the familiar portrayal of the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other, arguing with our conscience. By experimentation, and unlucky chance, Dr. Jekyll concocts an elixir that is able to isolate his two natures. Under its influence, he is transformed into the villain Mr. Hyde. 

I am of a similar mind as Stevenson. I think every human has the ability to do good and evil. More than just ability, competing proclivities: a divine spark endowed by the creator and a bent to sin inherited from Adam. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an interesting drama of the contest between the two, though I am unnerved by the apparent conclusion – that man cannot subdue his depraved nature.

Well actually, I agree with that but would add: apart from divine grace.

My rating: 3 ½ of 5 stars

I read this for The Classics Club - Get Your Goth on Dare.

And now, for my next Halloween-themed Horror, another tale that explores the two natures of man: The Invisible Man.


Most of the story is told from the point of view of London attorney Gabriel Utterson. Both excerpts are descriptions of Utterson.

In this character, it was frequently his fortune to be the last reputable acquaintance and the last good influence in the lives of downgoing men. 
Hosts loved to detain the dry lawyer, when the light-hearted and loose-tongued had already their foot on the threshold; they liked to sit a while in his unobtrusive company, practicing for solitude, sobering their minds in the man’s rich silence after the expense and strain of gaiety.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Recap of novels 101 - 110

Recap of Novels 101-110

Average rating of novels 101-110 – 4.1 stars (out of 5) 

101.  ★★★★       Gadsby by Ernest Vincent Wright
102.  ★★★ ½      The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
103.  ★★★★★     The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
104.  ★★★★       The Man Who was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton
105.  ★★★★       Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
106.  ★★★ ½      Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
★★★★★     A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
★★★★       Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
109.  ★★★★       The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
110.  ★★★★       Middlemarch by George Elliot

Favorite: A Tale of Two Cities (now my all-time favorite novel)
Honorable Mention: The Little Prince

Least Favorite: The Pickwick Papers

Best Hero: Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities
Best Heroine: Dorothea from Middlemarch

Best Villain: Quilp from The Old Curiosity Shop

Most interesting/Complex character: Sunday from The Man Who was Thursday

Best Quotation: It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known. Sydney Carton from A Tale of Two Cities

Best Subtitle: Gadsby: 50,000 Word Novel Without the Letter “E”

Best film adaptation: Of Mice and Men

Worst film adaptation: I’m sorry to say I did not like the 2015 animated rendition of The Little Prince.

Film adaptation that is neither better nor worse than the novel – but different:  1961 Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Audrey Hepburn in perhaps her most iconic role. It’s a very good movie – if you aren’t expecting a faithful adaptation. And even though Audrey Hepburn does not match the physical description of Holly – she is so iconic to the role, I pictured her the entire time I was reading.


Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Man with the Twisted Lip - a Sherlock Holmes short story

The Man with the Twisted Lip by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle                                      a Sherlock Holmes short story

The Man with the Twisted Lip is part of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes collection and Holmes’ 10thcase.

This is my least favored Sherlock Holmes case yet. It is pretty forgettable. 

SPOILER ALERT – The following contains a spoiler.

It is simply the case of a respectable newspaper man, who leads a double life, begging the streets of London in disguise because he makes more money begging than he does as a reporter. The beggar is arrested on suspicion of murdering the reporter – who is necessarily missing, since the beggar is locked up. Holmes eventually just figures out the double identity is the only possible explanation. Case solved. Yawn.

Probably the reason I’d never heard of this case. Of course, the begging, under false pretense, has some contemporary significance, but still – yawn.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Middlemarch by George Eliot (novel #110)

…those determining acts of her life were not ideally beautiful. ~ narrative regarding the heroine of Middlemarch

Middlemarch: a Study of Provincial Life, is as the subtitle states, a study in provincial life – in the fictitious town of Middlemarch, somewhere outside but not very distant from London, early 1830s. You may read it described as several interconnected stories regarding the principals of Middlemarch – which I suppose is accurate; However, for me the main character is Miss Brooke and it is her coming-of-age tale, with several related subplots. Dorothea Brooke is a young woman, orphaned, living with her uncle, and younger sister Celia. The uncle is a wealthy and established person of Middlemarch. He is kindly, but somewhat simple. Dorothea and Celia will receive a comfortable income, but no great fortune on coming of age. And as you might expect – there are suitors. 

Dorothea is kind and compassionate and hopes for little more in life than to be useful to her fellow humans, and perhaps to marry a worthy man and assist in his life’s noble cause. She is an idealist and admirable, but also painfully naïve. But as I stated, it is a coming-of-age tale; life gives Dorothea some hard lessons, but she learns them well and they have significant import to those other subplots in the doings of Middlemarch. 

The novel starts very slowly. The first 500 pages or so developing the characters with nothing very compelling happening. It is only the last several hundred pages where things get interesting. I was a little disappointed in the ending, not because I wasn’t relieved at the outcome, but because I thought the resolution to the conflicts was too easy, not very clever. It didn’t stun me. I didn’t want to stand and cheer. It just felt like – “Oh good; that’s nice.”

But in the end, the very end, I have to concede that I think the un-momentousness, was very likely Eliot’s intention. She writes (yes She, more on that in a moment) – she writes of Dorothea in the book’s final paragraph:
Her finely touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive:  for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on un-historic acts; and the things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

And for that, I bow to Mary Anne Evans, author of Middlemarch who wrote under the pen name George Eliot.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel satisfies – Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 – Category: a classic with a single word title.

Epilogue to my thoughts on Middlemarch. Author Henry James described Ladislaw [a lead male character] as the hero of the novel. Really!? Not Dorothea, but Ladislaw? Really? I understand the historical context of mid-19th century attitudes towards women, but Really!?

Other excerpts:

Mr. Brooke wondered, and felt that women were an inexhaustible subject of study, since even he at his age was not in a perfect state of scientific prediction about them.

One must be poor to know the luxury of giving!

The troublesome ones in a family are usually either the wits or the idiots.

If youth is the season of hope, it is often so only in the sense that our elders are hopeful about us.

SPOILER ALERT: The following quotation contains a spoiler. It is a poignant epitaph of Dorothea, and her reputation in Middlemarch:
…she was spoke of to a younger generation as a fine girl who married a sickly clergyman, old enough to be her father, and in little more than a year after his death gave up her estate to marry his cousin – young enough to have been his son, with no property, and not well-born. Those who had not seen anything of Dorothea usually observed that she could not have been “a nice woman,” else she would not have married either the one or the other.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Outsiders to The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Six Degree of Separation is a monthly meme hosted by Kate @ Books Are My Favorite and Best.

This month’s chain begins with The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton – which I have not read, but I believe it is categorized as Young Adult (YA). I read very little of the genre, but one I did read is…

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. I liked it very much, and another distinction it holds for me, besides being one of the few YA books I’ve read, it is also one of VERY few I picked up simply for the title. I was in the bookstore, the title intrigued me, so I bought it. The only other book that I can think of, that caught me simply by its title is…

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. This is a marvelous, charming tale, but very difficult to describe or synopsize. It is a unique work of experimental fiction. Another classic that employs experimental fiction is…

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. This is also difficult to describe. It has an unreliable narrator (possibly even insane). The unreliable narrator made me think of…

Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. I often see Catcher contrasted with…

Lord of the Flies by William Golding, as if the two express opposite world views. I don’t really buy that completely, but I do see them often contrasted. One way I would describe Lord of the Flies is tragically beautiful. The MOST tragically beautiful novel I’ve read is possibly...

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.

And that – is how you get from The Outsiders to The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Longest Books I've Ever Read - A Top Ten Tuesday list

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

First, to the former hosts of TTT at The Broke and the Bookish thanks for all the wonderful lists and time dedicated to this meme. Second, thanks to the new host Jana, for keeping it going.

Topic for October 9, 2018:  Longest Books I’ve ever read

Oh, I’ve so got this.

10. Don Quixote (my version 940 pages)
9. An American Tragedy (972 pages)
8. Gone With the Wind (1037 pages)
7. The Stand (1153 pages)
6. Atlas Shrugged (1168 pages)
5. Les Miserables (1466 pages)
4. The Count of Monte Cristo (1472 pages)
3. War and Peace (1615 pages)
1. Remembrance of Things Past aka In Search of Lost Time (3365 pages)

Which Guiness recognizes as the World's Longest Novel (by character count with over 9.6 million characters)

The combined pages of my TTT is over 16,000 pages. Do I win? I think I won.


Saturday, October 6, 2018

Classic Lit in Song, Part II - NOVA this Week

Observations from my weekly wanderingsusually in Northern Virginia (NOVA).

Last week I asked input on Literature that has been adapted into song, and I started it off with three:

Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush (Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë)
Don Quixote by Gordon Lightfoot (Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes)
White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll)

Since there was no additional input, I broke my own rule and googled it. There were a few, forehead slap – d’oh! shoulda thought of that one moments, and many more that I’d never heard of. Before I get to the other songs though, I will make a few more distinctions. 

I’m not talking about songs that make one or two passing references, without  really being about the book/lit – ruling out songs like Elton John’s So Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, or America’s Tin Man. I’m also not talking about really out there, fringe stuff like Leonard Nimoy’s The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins (which is sort of awful). And finally, I’m not talking about songs that were INSPIRED by literature, without really being about the piece of literature, like Guns N Roses’ Catcher in the Rye.

In other words – main stream songs, that are at least minimally retelling of the literature (though with liberal allowance for creative license)

Other songs I found – Well, there are A LOT. I’m pulling out a few. Most pulled from the Wikipedia list

I tip my hat to well-read bands Iron Maiden and Blind Guardian, each with many more literary songs than I listed here.

First, for Brona…
Golden Slumbers by the Beatles (based on Thomas Dekkar poem Cradle Song)
I am the Walrus by the Beatles (forehead slap, right?) (referencing a character from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll)

1984 by David Bowie (1984 by George Orwell)
2112 by Rush (Anthem by Ayn Rand)
40 by U2 (Psalm 40)
Barefoot Children in the Rain by Jimmy Buffett (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain)
Brave New World by Iron Maiden (Brave New World by Aldous Huxley)
The Cask of Amontillado by The Alan Parsons Project (The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe)
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Metallica (For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway)
The Ghost of Tom Joad by Bruce Springsteen (The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck)
Home at Last by Steely Dan (The Odyssey)
Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen (II Samuel 11-12 and Judges 16)
House at Pooh Corner and Return to Pooh Corner by Kenny Loggins (The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne)
Into the West by Annie Lennox (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Killing an Arab by The Cure (The Stranger by Albert Camus)
Lord of the Flies by Iron Maiden (Lord of the Flies by William Golding)
Lord of the Rings by Blind Guardian (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Lost Boy by Ruth B (Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie)
My Antonia by Emmylou Harris with Dave Matthews (My Antonia by Willa Cather)
Nightfall in Middle-Earth album by Blind Guardian (The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Pigs (Three Different Ones) by Pink Floyd (Animal Farm by George Orwell)
Ramble On by Led Zeppelin (The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Richard Cory by Simon and Garfunkel (Richard Cory by Edwin Arlington Robinson)
Shadows and Tall Trees by U2 (Lord of the Flies by William Golding)
Sympathy for the Devil by The Rolling Stones (The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov)
Tea in the Sahara by The Police (The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles)
The Thing That Should Not Be by Metallica (The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft)
Thieves in the Night by Black Star (The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison)
To Tame a Land by Iron Maiden (Dune by Frank Herbert)
Tom Sawyer by Rush (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain)
Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds (Ecclesiastes 3)