Karen at Books and Chocolate is hosting a Back to the Classics reading challenge for 2016. Participants pledge to read 12 classic books throughout the year, following these guidelines:
1. A 19th Century Classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899.
2. A 20th Century Classic – any book published between 1900 and 1966.Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later.
3. A classic by a woman author.
4. A classic in translation. Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language.
5. A classic by a non-white author. Can be African-American, Asian, Latino, Native American, etc.
6. An adventure classic – can be fiction or non-fiction.
7. A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic. Dystopian could include classics like 1984.
8. A classic detective novel. It must include a detective, amateur or professional. This list of books from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction is a great starting point if you’re looking for ideas.
9. A classic which includes the name of a place in the title. It can be the name of a house, a town, a street, etc. Examples include Bleak House, Main Street, The Belly of Paris, or The Vicar of Wakefield.
10. A classic which has been banned or censored. If possible, please mention why this book was banned or censored in your review.
11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college). If it’s a book you loved, does it stand the test of time? If it’s a book you disliked, is it any better a second time around?
12. A volume of classic short stories. This must be one complete volume, at least 8 short stories. It can be an anthology of stories by different authors, or all the stories can be by a single author. Children’s stories are acceptable in this category only.
I hereby pledge to join this challenge. I do not have a list of which books I will read, but I think I will read in the order of the list. (I do not remember if that is part of the rules.)
In the past few weeks, I wrote a few blog posts on Dante’s Inferno, the great medieval Italian depiction of hell. As it happened, I was in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts the other day, and I stumbled upon this wonderful sculpture of Dante and Virgil. I had not been previously aware of this 1862 sculpture by Baron Henri de Triqueti. (For more information on this work, click here.).
I was, though, aware of the serious “man-crush” Dante Alighieri had on Publius Vergilius Maro, more commonly known as Virgil. Virgil was a Roman poet who lived from 70 – 19 B.C., while Dante was a Florentine who lived from 1265-1321 A.D, Obviously, then, they never met. This sculpture is a product of Triqueti’s imagination.
Virgil was most famous for epic poem The Aeneid, which was in many ways a rewriting of Homer’s The Odyssey and The Iliad, but from the point of view of the Trojans who eventually became the Romans who, at the time of Aeneid’s writing, were a powerful empire controlling a good chunk of the world.
Dante thought Virgil was awesome, the bees knees, the greatest thing since sliced bread, the top of the charts, quite simply the best. Dante thought Virgil was so cool, in fact, that he put him in his poem. Virgil in The Inferno symbolizes the epitome of human reason, the best that humans are capable of without the light of God. (Virgil was a pagan.) Unfortunately, Virgil lives in hell because he was pre-Christian. However, he lives in the best section of it, along with the other virtuous pagans. Nothing really bad happens to the virtuous pagans. They are simply without hope of heaven.
Having quite a bit of spare time on his hands, Virgil agrees to guide Dante through hell. He explains who is who, what is what, and why they sinners are punished the way they are. Without Virgil, Dante would not have been able to make it through hell and come out on the other end. Without Virgil as his poetic guide, he would not have been able to write the masterpiece of The Divine Comedy, either.
What about you? If you were writing an epic poem in which you were featured as the hero or heroine, who would you choose as your guide? Do you have a man-crush or woman-crush on an author, dead or alive?
Medieval Italian poet Dante Alighieri wrote probably the most famous depiction of hell of all times. In his Inferno, he wrote very detailed descriptions of the nine levels of hell. For him, sins are not all created equal. The first circle of hell is reserved for those who were not bad in life, just unbaptized. The second circle is for those who succumb to lust. The third is for gluttony, and so forth. Each sin has its own punishment designed specifically for it. For example, the lustful are forced to be blown about in a violent storm because they succumbed to the violent storm of lust in real life.
At the center of hell lies Satan. Although we tend to think of hell as a fiery place, Dante’s Satan is encased in ice, denoting his soul that is frozen to the love of God.
Dante lived in the 14th century, so his conception of various sins was colored by the times in which he lived. I think we need to update his map of hell for the present times.
I need your help for this. If you were to create a map of hell as you see it, what/who would you put in the various levels?
For example, I teach at the college level. If I were to make a map of academic sins, I might include the following:
–1st circle: students who continually ask questions like, “When is this paper due?” or “What are we doing tomorrow” when all of this information is found on my carefully planned and copiously distributed syllabus.
–2nd circle: students who missed class and ask the next day, “Did I miss anything in class yesterday?”
–3rd circle: students who spend the entire class period looking down at their crotches, texting on their phones.
–8th circle: Plagiarizers.
–9th circle: Administrators who think people do not need to study literature.
This photo is in honor of Io, the woman from Ovid’s Metamorphoses who was turned into a cow. The Metamorphoses is the ancient Roman poet Ovid’s compendium of Greek and Roman myths. All of these myths are linked together so that the poem tells the story of the world, from the creation to the then-present time of Roman Empire. Linking each story is the process of transformation: people get transformed into animals; animals get transformed into stars, and so forth.
While Ovid was a brilliant writer, I find this poem rather painful to read at times because there is so much abuse of the humans by the gods. In particular, the male gods (especially Jove/Jupiter) have a habit of lusting after female humans and raping them. These women are then transformed (usually against their will) into another creature.
The myth of Io and Juno provides one example. Io was a lovely young woman. Jove had a “thing” for lovely young women and started pursuing her, literally. Io most certainly was not interested in having sex with Jove, but he chased her “until she entered the shady groves of Lyrcea / And there, cloaked by a sudden thundercloud / Jove overcame her scruples and her flight.” (Book I, p 48).
As if being overtaken by a thunderbolt-wielding lust-crazed god wasn’t enough, there was more. Jove’s wife Juno guessed what was going on between her husband and Io, and tried to stop them. However, Jove realized Juno was coming, so he turned Io into a cow. It’s as if he said, “Who me? Raping a virgin? I would never do that. I’m just hanging out with this pretty little cow.”
So Io, who was just going about her business, not only get raped, but she also gets transformed into a cow in order to appease the angry wife. How fair is that? Unfortunately, Greek and Roman mythology is full of similar stories of male gods being entranced by human females, with the women usually having to pay a heavy price for being attractive.
We talk today about living in a rape culture. I would remind readers that this culture is nothing new. We only have to glance at classic literature to see it displayed full force.
Romantic love beckons to young girls, luring them in with promises of beautiful sunsets, rhapsodic violin melodies, and long romantic dinners. Love, they believe, will solve all their problems, heal all their wounds, and make their thighs look thinner.
For romantic girls such as these, the goddess of love resembles a fairy godmother, Disney style. American Girl Love Goddess is warm and benevolent, full of goodwill towards us mere humans. She just wants to see everyone happily coupled with their soul mates. She WILL eventually make all of us happy in love.
The Fairy Godmother from Disney’s “Cinderella”
The ancient Greeks and Romans knew better. The goddess of love they worshipped (called Aphrodite by the Greek and Venus by the Romans) was no warm and cuddly grandmother type. She was a FORCE to be reckoned with. She was someone to respect, someone to fear.
“Watch out, or I will smite you!”
Hippolytus and Phaedra learned this the hard way. Their stories, passed down by myth, were portrayed in Euripides’s tragedy Hippolytus, first performed in 428 B.C. in Athens. Hippolytus was an upright young man, full of virtue. He was so virtuous, in fact, that he did not pay the proper respect to Aphrodite. He preferred to remain a virgin and devote most of his reverence to Artemis, the virgin goddess of the hunt. People warned Hippolytus that he was asking for trouble by ignoring Aphrodite and the force of eros she represented. Hippolytus ignored their wise counsel.
He should have paid more heed. Aphrodite did not take kindly to being ignored, and she decided to teach Hippolytus a lesson. Unfortunately, Aphrodite took out her desire for vengeance on an innocent bystander: Phaedra. Phaedra was married to Hippolytus’s father, Theseus. She was living happily with Theseus until Aphrodite decided to smite her with overwhelming passion for her stepson. Obviously, this put Phaedra in an untenable position.
Phaedra was in agony. She could not bear to live without the object of her desire, and yet she could never reveal her secret to anyone. So she decided to waste away silently. She stayed locked in her room, refusing to see anyone or eat anything. Struck as she was with the force of eros, she wanted to die.
The chorus of Hippolytus understood her pain, her predicament. They chanted the following lines:
Erôs, Erôs, who blindest, tear by tear,
Men’s eyes with hunger; thou swift Foe that pliest
Deep in our hearts joy like an edgèd spear;
Come not to me with Evil haunting near,
Wrath on the wind, nor jarring of the clear
Wing’s music as thou fliest!
There is no shaft that burneth, not in fire,
Not in wild stars, far off and flinging fear,
As in thine hands the shaft of All Desire,
Erôs, Child of the Highest!
I won’t reveal what happened next, in case you wish to read the tragedy yourselves. (It’s well worth a read and does not take a long time.) Since it is considered a tragedy, however, you probably figured out that the story does not turn out well for either Phaedra or Hippolytus. Readers and viewers of Euripides’s Hippolytus understand that Eros is not a warm and benevolent gift. Rather it is an overwhelming, ruthless force that not only has a strong potential for serious damage, but can also kill.
Dido of Virgil’s The Aeneid (19 B.C.) shares a similar fate with Phaedra. Dido, like Phaedra, is the victim of the scheming love goddess. (Since Virgil was Roman, the goddess of love is now called Venus, but she is just as destructive as Aphrodite. )
When we first meet Dido, she is a strong, single, successful woman. She is the founder and ruler of Carthage, an up-and-coming city that has the potential to ruin Rome (in the future). Because Dido and her city are so successful, however, they pose a threat to Rome. Therefore they must be destroyed. Venus, who happens to be the mother of Aeneas (our hero), smites Dido with overpowering erotic love for her son. Once Dido is struck with Venus’s arrow, she is doomed:
The queen, for her part, all that evening ached
With longing that her heart’s blood fed, a wound
Or inward fire eating her away.
The manhood of the man, his pride of birth,
Came home to her tie and again; his looks,
His words remained with her to haunt her mind, And desire for him gave her no rest.
Poor Dido! This love for Aeneas is not a gift, but a “wound,” and will be the cause of her undoing. Yes, she and Aeneas do have a mutually passionate relationship for a few months. But soon, Aeneas is called away by the gods. Yes, they actually visit him and tell him it’s time to leave Carthage to go found Rome. He feels bad, but he tells Dido he needs to move on.
Dido is devastated. For her, life is no longer worth living. She can never go back to her content days as Queen of Carthage. Instead, she builds a funeral pyre, climbs upon it, and stabs herself to death.
Keep in mind, all this ruin was caused by Venus, who deliberately started the flames of passion in Dido, knowing full well what the results would be. In other words, Venus is one cold bitch.
What should you take away from these ancient myths? The ancients knew something about the power of eros. They would tell you this:
Be careful. Pay Aphrodite/Venus the respect she is due. And then get out of her way before she smites you.
The rock band Nazareth knew this, too, as their hit song from 1976 demonstrates:
Love hurts, love scars, love wounds And mars, any heart Not tough or strong enough To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain
Love is like a cloud
Holds a lot of rain
Love hurts……ooh, ooh love hurts
It’s tough being a woman in classical Greek mythology and literature. Most female characters fall into two categories. They can be scary-strong, like Clytemnestra. This charming woman, along with her lover Aegisthus, murders her husband Agamemnon as soon as he returns home from the Trojan War. She not only kills him, but is positively gleeful about it. Here she is bragging about killing her husband in Aeschylus’s tragedy Agamemnon:
I struck him twice. In two great cries of agony / he buckled at the knees and fell. When he was down / I struck hi the third blow, in thanks and reverence / to Zeus the lord of dead men underneath the ground. / Thus he went down, and the lie struggled out of him; / and as he died he spattered me with the dark red / and violent driven rain of bitter savored blood / to make me glad, as gardens stand among the showers / of God in glory at the birthtime of the buds.” (1385-1391)
Not all women are this bad of course. Some of them, like Helen of Troy, merely run away from their husband and country with another man and, in so doing, start a ten-year war.
Some female characters are good, of course—impossibly good. Odysseus’s wife Penelope waits faithfully for twenty years for her husband to come home from war, not knowing if he is even alive. The war had ended after ten years, after all, and all the other surviving warriors had returned home.
Human females have the worst of it, but even the female goddesses have it rough. Hera, who is married to Zeus, has to put up with his constant philandering. And poor Calypso, who lives alone on an island, is gorgeous but lonely. She finally finds some satisfaction with her sex hostage Odysseus. But then she is ordered to send her boy toy back home to Penelope by the council of gods. Now, what’s a goddess to do for fun?
This is why it is especially refreshing to come across a badass chick like Antigone, the heroine of Sophocles’s tragedy of 442 B.C. Antigone is far from being a long-suffering goody-goody like Penelope, but she is no murderous she-monster, either. Rather, she is a young woman who follows her conscience and does what she thinks is right, even though she knows doing so will bring her the death penalty.
Antigone is part of a dysfunctional family, to put it mildly. It turns out that Antigone’s mother, Jocasta, is also her grandmother because Jocasta had unknowingly married her own son Oedipus, who is Antigone’s brother and father. As the play Antigone begins Antigone is now an orphan. Jocasta killed herself when she learned that she’d been doing it with her son, and Oedipus, after poking out his own eyes, sent himself into exile. Got it?
That left Antigone’s brothers Eteocles and Polyneices to co-rule their kingdom, Thebes. The brothers did not like to share their toys, however, and they fought over who would be ruler. Polyneices came back one day from exile and tried to start the whole city on fire. That led to a fight between the warring armies of Polyneices and Eteocles, brother against brother. Eventually, the Thebans won, but at the cost of both brothers’ lives.
All of this is back-story to the actual play. When Antigone opens, her uncle Creon is now in charge. Creon wants to show everybody who is boss. One of the ways he does this is to declare that nobody may bury the corpse of Polyneices, the brother who attacked Thebes. He argues that it would be unjust for Polyneices to be given proper burial rites after trying to destroy all of them. He tells Thebans, “you shall leave him without burial; you shall watch him chewed up by birds and dogs and violated” (188). Creon makes it very clear that anyone who buries this traitor shall be sentenced to death.
So Creon is feeling all smug and enjoying his newfound power. But then Antigone comes along and buries her brother anyway. She believes she has to do this because a) Polyneices is family and b) it is what the gods decree. She knows that she is going against the will of Creon and she knows what the punishment is, but she buries her brother anyway and does not try to hide it. She claims,
“I shall be / a criminal—but a religious one. / The time in which I must please those that are dead/is longer than I must please those of this world. / For there I shall lie forever.” (lines 85-88).
Good point, Antigone. We’re all going to be dead for much longer than we’ll be alive, so we should make the people with whom we are going to spend eternity happy.
At its most basic level this is a conflict between the laws of the state and the dictates of one’s conscience or religion. Creon states that there is nothing worse than disobedience to authority. Antigone believes there is nothing worse than disobeying one’s conscience. For this reason, she practices what Thoreau called Civil Disobedience and what great leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King practiced hundreds of years later. Because people still have consciences and governments still make laws we consider unjust, Antigone still resonates with readers today.
There is another layer to the conflict between Antigone and Creon, though: that of gender. Creon is already foaming at the mouth to find out that somebody defied his law. But when he found out it was a woman, and a young one at that, he went ballistic. The reader can almost see his face turn red as he spits out these words: “I swear I am no man and she the man if she can win this and not pay for it” (527-528). He is not going to let a mere woman usurp his authority and get away with it. She. Must. Die.
Antigone accepts her death penalty without trying to weasel out of it. However, she does tell Creon what she thinks of him and his laws in her brash and brazen way that is so rare for ancient Greek maidens. I think my favorite of her retorts to Creon is this one:
“Now, if you think me a fool to act like this,
perhaps it is a fool that judges.” (513-514)
What a great, badass, retort from my favorite Greek heroine.
This post contributes to the Banned Books Blog Party hosted by hannah at her blog Things Matter. Click here for more about her blog and the banned books blog party.
Pear trees in bloom should be banned. They are just too sexy, too alluring. They are, in fact, positively obscene.
This is the message I took away from learning recently that Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is on the list for Banned and Challenged Books. You may be aware that September 21-27 is Banned Books Week. Sponsored by the American Library Association, Banned Books Week
“is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community –- librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types –- in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.” http://www.ala.org/bbooks/bannedbooksweek
One of the Banned and Challenged Books listed by the ALA is their Their Eyes Were Watching God, a gorgeous novel written in 1937 by African-American anthropologist and novelist Zora Neale Hurston. Their Eyes chronicles the story of a girl named Janie Crawford who, throughout the course of the novel, matures from a restless girl of 16 into a mature woman in her early forties. Hurston focuses in particular on Janie’s search to find love, community, and a voice of her own.
This quest is made difficult, however, by the fact that, as a poor, black, southern girl in the early years of the 20th century, with no family except her grandmother, Janie is at the bottom of the totem pole. As she learns from her grandmother, “De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see” (14). Poor black women are used by others—including black men—to gratify their own desires. Expecting, as Janie does, to forge her own destiny and find love on her own terms, is unrealistic and even dangerous.
That is why Janie’s grandmother marries her off at age 16 to an older man whom Janie finds repulsive. Granny knows through experience what it is like to be treated as a “spit cup” by men and she does not want Janie to go through the same pain. Janie’s marriage with Logan Killicks is not a successful one. It serves as the springboard to her restless search for a better marriage, a better life, which she does find eventually.
So why is Their Eyes Were Watching God on list of banned and challenged books? According to the ALA, in 1997 “a parent objected to the novel’s language and sexual explicitness.”
Sexual explicitness? I have read this book many times (it is one of my favorites) and I cannot remember any sexually explicit scene. Hurston’s language is poetic, full of metaphors and images, rather than any starkly realistic descriptions of sexuality.
I can only surmise, but I am guessing what bothered Concerned Parent is the central symbol of the novel: the pear tree in bloom. In the beginning of the story, Janie is a sixteen year old girl who is first beginning to feel the stirrings of her sexuality. One lovely spring day, she is lying under a pear tree when she has a revelation:
“She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation. Then Janie felt a pain remorseless sweet that left her limp and languid. . . .
Oh to be a pear tree—any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her?” (11)
This vision of the pear tree helps her to really “get” what the “birds and the bees” are all about. This glorious vision of “marriage” in nature fuels her quest for the rest of the novel. She, too, wants to find a “bee for her blossom.” She wants the natural ecstasy she observed in nature.
Apparently, for Concerned Parent, the pear tree is too explicit; it is like a saucy siren minx who lures on innocent youth to their demise. Good point, Concerned Parent. But why stop at banning Their Eyes Were Watching God? We should ban all pear trees everywhere. Pear trees have undoubtedly been the cause of many a ruined life.
But let’s not stop at just pear trees. Let’s ban all trees. Their spring-time hanky-panky sets a bad example for the Youth of America. For that matter, let’s get rid of spring time altogether. You know how adolescents get when they feel those soft May breezes stroking them into a frenzy of desire. But, as long as we’re at it, let’s ban nature. All those plants and animals reproducing constantly. It’s obscene and I won’t put up with it any longer—nor should you. Let’s act now to end nature and its obscene allure.
Please join me in signing the attached Petition to Abolish Nature in All Its Forms So That Our Children Will No Longer Be Sullied.
In my World Literature class, we are finishing up Homer’s The Odyssey. Odysseus has finally made it home to Ithaca after being away for 20 years—ten in the Trojan War, and ten lost at sea on the way home. He is greeted not by the warm embrace of his people, but by a band of snarling suitors who want to kill him, as well as a wife who isn’t sure who he is.
In the end, though, Odysseus prevails. He gets his kingdom, his wife, and his son back. He is home. He and his family will live happily ever after, right?
Well, not according to Lord Alfred Tennyson. He wrote a poem called “Ulysses” in 1833 and published it in 1842. This poem is based on the myth of Odysseus/Ulysses as it appears not just in Homer’s Odysseus, but also in Dante’s rendition of Ulysses in his Inferno.)
In Tennyson’s poem, reproduced below, Ulysses is far from living happily-ever-after with his family. On the contrary, he laments being stuck at home. He is bored with his job (being king!) and with the yahoos he rules. Worse yet, his wife is aged. After hanging out with all the sex-starved nymphs he met on his travels, Ulysses probably finds Penelope rather unappealing. So he decides to light out for the territory again.
I have mixed feelings when I read this poem. On the one hand, this is a blog devoted to travel and other forms of exploration. How could I not love lines such as these:
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
This is a gorgeous poem, no doubt about it. But although I understand the travel bug infecting Ulysses, I can’t help but think about his family, especially Penelope. She waited faithfully for twenty freaking years, and now he wants to leave again? It’s enough to drive a woman to drink with the swineherds. Did it not even occur to him to ask her if she wanted to accompany him? Aaarrrgh!
Tennyson’s poem reminds me of my own pendulum swing between home-travel-home-travel home. Personally, I like having a solid home base. It’s wonderful to travel, but it’s always great to come home as well.
But Maybe that’s a woman thing. Classic literature is bereft of male heroes who are content with their domestic fires. They are much more inclined to be “strong in will / To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
What about you? Would you spend all your time travelling and exploring if you had the option? Or would you come home to Penelope and stay put?
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
Which fictional characters would you invite to sit with you at the lunch table? The bloggers at “Broke and Bookish” asked this question in their Top Ten Tuesday meme for this week. Click here for their blog.
This post is my answer to their question. However, rather than inviting these fictional characters to my lunch table, I want to invite them to my next happy hour. (I don’t eat lunch with other people, generally. I usually scarf something down in my office in between classes.)
1. Penelope from The Odyssey. She waited faithfully for 20 years for her husband Odysseus to return from the Trojan war. She knew the war was over after 10 years and she still waited patiently, even though she did not know whether he was alive or dead. It was most likely that he was dead. She hadn’t received so much as a Christmas card from him in all those 20 years. She was considered a model of Good Womanhood because of her faithfulness.
I am inviting her to happy hour because I want to know the truth. After a few drinks, I am going to ask her for the real scoop. Was she really faithful the whole time? Really? We wouldn’t blame her if she slipped up now and again. Perhaps there was some cute swineherd who cleaned up well and looked pretty hot after a rub-down with olive oil. You’re among friends, Penelope, you can talk frankly after all these years…
(I thought about inviting Odysseus, too, but he would just dominate the conversation and brag about his adventures. We already know the story, dude. Let someone else talk.)
The Wife of Bath from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. This lusty, gap-toothed wench had five husbands and lots of stories to tell about them. In her day (before she turned the ancient age of 40), she was a hottie who knew how to charm a man into marrying her. She was a serious talker and had some sharp insights into gender relations. I would like to hear stories about her domestic adventures.
Othello of Shakespeare’s Othello was also known to be a great story-teller. He had travelled widely and charmed Desdemona with his adventurous tales. I think he would be a charismatic addition to the happy hour conversation. I’d like to catch him before he is possessed by the green-eye monster, though. I want to warn him against Iago and talk some sense into him about Desdemona—before it is too late!
Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice. She is witty and fun and would be full of snarky comments about everyone else at the table. Of course, she is invited. The only problem is that everybody else wants her at their table, too, so I don’t know if she is available.
Mr. Bennett of Pride and Prejudice. I have a soft spot for him, even though he’s not a very good father. I can identify with his desire to retreat from life to the library. He is well-read, and I suspect he’d be a good conversationalist. He would also, like his daughter, be full of snark, a definite plus at the dinner table.
6. Hester Prynne of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Beneath her proper Puritan demeanor lies a passionate, artistic woman. I’m sure she’d open up after a few glasses of wine and be the life of the party.
7. Ellen Olenska of Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence. Ellen was considered a disgrace to her upper-class New York society because she left her husband and thought about getting a divorce. (The husband had cheated on her blatantly and clearly didn’t care about her, but that is irrelevant.) The fact that she is disgraceful is already a good reason to invite her to happy hour. She is also, however, sophisticated, and open-minded, with a deep appreciate for art and culture. I would welcome her company.
Jay Gatsby of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald would be charming as well. More important, he would almost certainly buy all the drinks.
9 and 10. What would happy hour be without some Russians? I’ll invite Anna Karenina and Vronksy as well. They should add some passion (however wrong-headed) and intensity to the gathering.
I’ll let you know how the happy hour turns out? Who would you invite to lunch or happy hour?
In vain I have struggled to hold back my thoughts, but it will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love Jane Austen.
Because of my sincere appreciation of Austen’s superior mind and character, I was intrigued a number of years ago when I noticed the rapidly growing number of Jane Austen’s spawn infiltrating the marketplace Her growing brood of knock-offs included not only faithful movie and play adaptations, but also re-imaginings of her works with an endless variety of twists and turns.
Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary was one of the first Austen re-writes I read. I found this re-writing of Pride and Prejudice from a 30-something English Everywoman’s perspective refreshing and hilarious. As an added bonus, I learned the term “fuckwit” from this novel, a term I have found to be quite useful for describing a number of people I have since come across.
Even more diverting than the book version of Bridget Jones’s Diary was the movie version of it, starring competing dream boats Colin Firth and Hugh Grant (who are apparently the only two male actors in England). How could anyone resist Renee Zellweger lounging alone at home in her jammies, singing “All By Myself” before falling into a drunken stupor? How could anyone not find it satisfying that the snobbish female stick-insects of the movie ended up without either Colin Firth or Hugh Grant?
Colin Firth played the Darcy character in Bridget Jones’s Diary. Not coincidentally, he also starred as Darcy in the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, and I believe he plays a not inconsiderable role in Jane Austen’s recent popularity. (Not that I would know anything about that.)
So at first, I was proud of Jane Austen for her continuing popularity, and I wanted to learn more. I thought it would be fun to research all of the Austen knock-offs from the past few decades. But alas, my pride in Austen quickly turned to prejudice against the Austen industry. I realized it was futile to try to compile a comprehensive list; her spawn was multiplying far too rapidly for a mere mortal like me to get control over it.
As I noted above, at first I found the knock-offs charming. But then my attitude changed. As the little Austens began to reproduce more rapidly, I started to become frightened. For example, the Bollywood version of “Pride and Prejudice,” called Bride and Prejudice, was initially intriguing. But when the entire cast came out in matching outfits and started singing and dancing together, I cried in horror. I wanted to do a Mr. Bennett and go hide in my library until they were done.
But the real trauma began with a novel and author whose names I fortunately do not remember. This novel described Elizabeth and Darcy’s early married life in intimate detail. And I mean intimate. I’m not a prude, but when I read the description of Elizabeth and Darcy banging away on the dining room table, I blanched. Not long after that enlightening scene came another scene of ardent embraces that took place under a tree in the yard. Unfortunately, Elizabeth had just recently given birth and was not ready for such “activities,” so she started bleeding and, if I recall correctly, some of her placenta came out as well (?). (I’m not making this stuff up. I am not capable of making this stuff up.) That was the end of that novel for me.
Years later, after the traumatic memory of the previous book had been safely buried, I started perusing a few more knock-offs, with titles such as The Jane Austen Book Club, Lost in Austen, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, and, God help us all, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Every time I walk into a book store, I see at least one, usually more, re-interpretations of an Austen novel.To be honest, they all blur together in my head; I can no longer distinguish one baby Austen from the other. There are so many of them at this point, it is almost like trying to distinguish one brand of cereal from another.
You’d think a zombie knock-off would be memorable, but it’s not. For the most part, Seth Grahame-Smith copied Pride and Prejudice word for word. My people call this plagiarism. I guess Grahame-Smith gets away with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies because in every chapter or so he adds a paragraph or two in which zombies enter the scene and Elizabeth Bennett skillfully fights them off with her advanced zombie-killing skills. Yawn. Where’s the “value-added” as my friends in the business world like to ask?
I don’t know about you, dear readers, but I have had enough. Twenty or thirty Austen knock-offs are enough. We do not need several hundred of them. LET’S STOP THE MADNESS! Let’s put an end to the endless Austen wannabes. Let us regain some sanity and JUST SAY NO.***
Let’s let Austen rest peacefully in her grave.
If authors feel they must write a knock-off of an amazing classic woman author, how about George Eliot or the Bronte sisters? Maybe some Emily Dickinson? Virginia Woolf? Let’s spread the love around, shall we?
***Unless Colin Firth or Hugh Grant is involved. We can never get enough of those two, especially together in the same film. ***