Monday, June 29, 2020

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (novel #152)

"No man can deliver his brother, nor make agreement unto God for him,…it cost more to redeem their souls – it cost the blood of an incarnate God, perfect and sinless in Himself, to redeem us from the bondage of the evil one: – let Him plead for you." ~ Helen

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a Victorian era novel written by the youngest of the Brontë sisters. It is the story of Helen Graham – the tenant. She is widowed, young, beautiful, talented, and exceedingly private – nearly to the point of being rude. She draws the attention of local gossips, and at least one eligible bachelor, Gilbert Markham. It is evident the two would make a fine match, and their esteem seems to be mutual, but Helen holds herself steadfastly and mysteriously aloof.

Rumors fly, but they are only vaguely near the truth. Helen indeed has a secret precluding any attachment and seemingly any peace or happiness. 

She is a worthy Victorian heroine, virtuous and brave, and the reader aches for her happiness – but it seems hopeless.

Near hopeless to Helen, but after a moment of despair…
Then, while I lifted up my soul in speechless, earnest supplication, some heavenly influence seemed to strengthen me within: I breathed more freely; my vision cleared; I saw distinctly the pure moon shining on, and the light clouds skimming the clear dark sky; and then I saw the eternal stars twinkling down upon me; I knew their God was mine, and He was strong to save and swift to hear. “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” seemed whispered from above their myriad orbs. No, no; I felt He would not leave me comfortless: in spite of earth and hell I should have strength for all my trials, and win a glorious rest at last!

I’ve now read all three Brontë sisters: Jane Eyre by Charlotte (loved it); Wuthering Heights by Emily (not so much); and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall which is my favorite of the three. Anne’s lack of acclaim compared to Charlotte and Emily, begs the question: why so? The answer I think, has more to do with publication history than the talent of the author. Today she is afforded greater merit by academics, but still she is not so well known as her sisters. Too bad. I will definitely read more by Anne Brontë

My rating: 4 1/2 of 5 stars

Have you read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, or Anne Brontë? What did you think? Who is your favorite of the Brontë sisters?

This novel satisfies square N1 in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge, and Classic with a Place in the Title category in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020.

Other excerpts:

To my thinking, a woman’s religion ought not to lessen her devotion to her earthly lord. ~ Helen

“There is another life both for you and for me,” said I. “If it be the will of God that we should sow in tears no, it is only that we may reap in joy hereafter.” ~ Helen


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (novel #151)

The successful and happy sometimes arouse envy, and sometimes they let pride and vanity have their way and bring unhappiness to others. It was not so with Murasaki…

I’m going to admit up front, I did not enjoy this novel – NOT AT ALL!, but I’m glad to have read it. I read mostly works of the Western World, so I am glad to get some exposure to Eastern literature. If there were an Eastern Canon, this would certainly be included. It is one of the most important Japanese works of literature, and by some standards, the oldest novel in existence, written early 11thCentury by Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu. It is possibly semi-autobiographical.

It is the story of boy meets girl
-- and girl
----and girl
------and girl
--------and girl
----------and girl

Most synopses say something about depicting the lifestyle of imperial courtiers in 11thCentury Japan, but it’s really mostly just about Genji, son of the emperor. Although Genji's mother was a favorite wife of the emperor, she was not politically significant, and Genji is not destined for the throne.

It’s a complaint of mine when people judge a book outside its historical and cultural context, so I tried to be fair to Genji. I understand that women were little more than ornaments in Genji’s day, and that Oriental customs are very different from Western mores, particularly in imperial courts, but still…this guy

Numerous dalliances as a bachelor – rank, privilege, and youth; OK. First marriage, a political match, not very interesting, but then…

He falls in love with the empress, his step-mother and fathers a child by her, whom everyone assumes is the emperor’s son. Next Genji meets a 10-year-old girl, whom he thinks is what the empress must have been like as a child…so he kidnaps her – yes kidnaps! He first “asks” if he can have her, but when the mother refuses, he scolds her for her cruelty and then takes the child anyway. He raises her, and eventually marries her. This is Murasaki, who may be based partially on the author. She becomes Genji’s favored wife, and that does seem to be genuine. It doesn’t deter him from numerous affairs. He scolds Murasaki when she is sometimes suspicious, even though her suspicions are completely warranted. 
You seem so touchy these days. I cannot think why. I have not wanted to be taken for granted, like a familiar and rumpled old robe, and so I have been staying away a little more than I used to. What suspicions are you cherishing this time?

But Murasaki knows how to handle him. On a different occasion…
It was not hard for Murasaki to guess what had happened, but she gave no hint of her suspicions. Her silence was more effective than the most violent tantrum, and made Genji feel a little sorry for himself.

Later in life, he intends to groom a young girl as an acceptable wife for his son, but Genji eventually decides he should have her as his own. Some of his conquests would be rape by today’s standards, but they were not even shocking in the day. Genji, feels a right to any woman he desires and scolds these women, girls really, as unkind if they rebuff him. He then pressures or forces them. Sometimes he marries them, sometimes he “keeps” them if they are not politically worthy, sometimes he discards them, albeit now in delicate condition. 

So, pardon my intolerance if I say “yuck”. I couldn’t stand Genji and what made matters worse – he considered himself quite gracious and steadfast, a girl should consider herself lucky. He is portrayed as the admirable hero of this tale. 
He addressed each of them most gently and courteously, and indeed he was fond of them all, after their several stations. They could not have complained whatever he chose to do with them, but he was moderation itself, allowing no suggestion of the haughty or arbitrary. His attentions were for them the chief comfort of life.

Again, yuck. 

It’s also very long, no true plot, just a character driven narrative, and it’s unfinished. I probably wouldn’t have stuck with this book, if it were not for one bright shining person: Murasaki. She is a model of grace and charity. Her step-son had these thoughts of her…
Not many women, thought Yugiri, were perfect. Only Murasaki had over the years seemed beyond criticism. She had quietly lived her own life and no scandal had touched her. She had treated no one maliciously or arrogantly and had herself always been a model of graceful and courtly demeanor.

And the narrative offers this eulogy…
The successful and happy sometimes arouse envy, and sometimes they let pride and vanity have their way and bring unhappiness to others. It was not so with Murasaki, whom the meanest of her servants had loved and the smallest of whose acts had seemed admirable. There was something uniquely appealing about her, having to do, perhaps, with the fact that she always seemed to be thinking of others. The wind in the trees and the insect songs in the grasses brought tears this autumn to the eyes of many who had not known her, and her intimates wondered when they might find consolation. The women who had long been with her saw the life they must live without her as utter bleakness. Some of them, wishing to be as far as possible from the world, went off into remote mountain nunneries.

And one bit of redemption for Genji after Murasaki's death…
He would sometimes look in on the Akashi lady [#2 wife] when the loneliness was too much for him, but he never stayed the night.

I made a pun earlier when I described Murasaki as the bright “shining” character of this novel:  Genji is Hikaru Genji (shining Genji) and is described as having a visible evanescence. I say no; Murasaki is the bright spot.

As I said I’m glad to have read it, because it is historically and culturally important. It gives an inside look at a mysterious time and place. But I’d have put it down long ago if I were reading only for pleasure. Glad to have read it, even more glad to be done.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This novel satisfies square B1, Classic of Asia, in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge, and Classic by a Person of Color in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020.

Other excerpts:

Murasaki was the perfect companion, a toy for him [Genji] to play with

I should imagine that women with no merits are as rare as women with no faults. ~ To no Chujo (friend of Genji’s)


Sunday, June 14, 2020

Recap of Novels 141-150

Recap of Novels 141-150

Average rating of novels 141-150 – 3.7 stars (out of 5)

141.  ★ ★ ★ ½     Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
142.  ★ ★ ★     If on a Winters’s Night a Traveler
143.  ★       Riders of the Purple Sage
144.  ★ ★ ★ ½     Jude the Obscure
145.  ★ ★ ★ ★    The Sea, the Sea
146.  ★ ★ ★ ½     At Swim Two-Birds
★ ★ ★     Fahrenheit 451
★ ★½      The Sign of the Four
149.  ★ ★½          Phantastes
150.  ★ ★ ★     The Castle of Otranto

Favorite: Fahrenheit 451

Least Favorite: Phantastes

Best Subtitle: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

Best Hero: Dr. Watson, The Sign of the Four

Most Villainous: Manfred, The Castle of Otranto

Most interesting/Complex character: Charles Arrowby from The Sea, the Sea

Best Quotation: “The novels I prefer,” she says, “are those that make you feel uneasy from the very first page…” ~ Ludmilla, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
Runner Up: My correct name is Good Fairy, said the Good Fairy. I am a good fairy. ~ The Good Fairy, At Swim Two-Birds
Honorable Mention: What is more delicious than fresh hot buttered toast… ~ Charles Arrowby from The Sea, the Sea (see my About Me page to see why this quotation is so poignant.)


Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (novel #150)

“I fear no man’s displeasure,” said Theodore, “when a woman in distress puts herself under my protection.”

The Castle of Otranto is a 18thCentury gothic story; indeed, it is considered the first novel of the genre. I don’t remember exactly how or when I first heard of this novel, but I’ve been excited about reading it for some time now. Those high expectations are often cause for a letdown, but not this time.

It was a thrilling fast-paced tale, that I finished in three sittings. As an unnamed commentator put it in the preface to the first edition:
Terror, the author’s principal engine, prevents the story from ever languishing; and it is so often contrasted by pity, that the mind is kept up in a constant vicissitude of interesting passions.

Though it is rightly called a gothic story, I would say it is written in the romantic style. The women are pure and virtuous, the men decisive and commanding, both heroes and villains. And although Walpole portrays all three women as submissive, they are neither simple nor weak. There’s actually one more female character, a maid, a comic character, who added one more level of enjoyment to this tale.

It opens on the happy occasion of the marriage between Conrad, heir to the Castle Otranto, and Isabella – but poor Conrad survives only the first page. From that moment, it is a dizzying spectacle of intrigue, chivalry, and a hint of the supernatural. There are numerous twists, and turns, secret passages, family secrets revealed, lost heirs found, curses, threats, and promises, quickly shifting passions and loyalties, terrifying specters and more than one forbidden love story. There is justice in the end, but no fairy tale ending. 

I enjoyed it immensely. Have you read the Castle of Otranto, or Walpole? What did you think?

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel satisfies square B3, book published at least 200 years ago, in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge, and Classic about a family in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020.


If heaven has selected me for thy deliverer, it will accomplish its work, and strengthen my arm in thy cause. ~ Theodore

It is not ours to make election for ourselves: heaven, our fathers, and our husbands must decide for us. ~ Hippolita

To heap shame on my own head is all the satisfaction I have left to offer to offended heaven. ~ Manfred