Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Fugitive, by Marcel Proust.

The Fugitive (Albertine disparue or La Fugitive): first published in 1925, the sixth part of In Search of Lost Time and the second part of le Roman d'Albertine (the first part being The Captive, or La Prisonnière, 1923). There are a number of editions that combine the two.

This is by far the hardest of In Search of Lost Time to write about. I've read somewhere that if you wish to 'take on' Proust and save a little time, The Captive and The Fugitive are the safest to skip. Now, I wouldn't go that far. They are integral parts of the novel, and we do learn more of the dark side of Marcel's character. It has, however, been somewhat of a trial reading The Fugitive

There are many 'anti-heroes' in literature: Becky Sharp (Thackeray's Vanity Fair), for example, Pinkie Brown (Greene's Brighton Rock), and Holden Caulfiend (Salinger's Catcher in the Rye). They are not our virtuous, kind, moral, or even likeable hero, rather the opposite as, indeed, the name suggests. Marcel, certainly in The Captive and The Fugitive, is an anti-hero. Is he supposed to be? I don't know, and for some reason I suspect not, not particularly anyway. But he is deeply unlikeable, but I have to ask myself if this is a fair assessment?

I can't write an awful lot about the key parts about the plot as it will entirely give it away. I said in the last post that Albertine was The Captive (although it may be interpreted that it is Marcel himself who is the captive), and it's obvious by the title of this volume that she escapes. She, or Marcel depending on your interpretation, is The Fugitive. So, this volume (and this is a very basic summary) deals essentially with loss, grief, and desperation (though, more so at the end, there are other things happening). Marcel's character is, as I say, far darker than in the previous novels.

They say grief is a selfish thing, when good things (and let's assume for this purpose Marcel and Albertine's relationship was a good thing: forget for a moment it categorically wasn't) come to an end, we mourn for our loss. That has become a cliché, many accept it as the truth of grief. But I disagree, it's simply not true that when we lose someone we are only sorry for the end of the relationship however it had manifested. We're capable of empathy, and so we're deeply sorry for everything, all of it. There is a selfish element, I don't deny it, but that's not the sum total.

Caroline Tillette as Albertine and Micha Lescot as Marcel
in the 2011 adaptation of À la recherche du temps perdu
(directed by Nina Companeez).
With Marcel, however, it feels that that is the sum total. It's true to his character, though, and to the concept of the novel, and I wouldn't go far as to say his character is therefore ugly. It's a confusing situation: as I said in The Captive, their relationship was very troubled, they were incompatible, and the "love" felt by Marcel amounted to (as well he knew) obsession, and perhaps even entitlement. The "relationship" was his own construct suspended entirely from reality, so in that sense his loss, truly, is entirely his own. Furthermore, the whole concept of In Search of Lost Time is a stream of consciousness meandering through the life and thoughts of Marcel. If one does accept that grief is a selfish thing then it's true to form. Besides, I feel as though Marcel essentially lost a kind of shadow, a projection of an idealised image that could never and had never truly belonged to him.

Even so, however much this 'works' as an interpretation, it did not make for a wildly interesting read. It is as thoughtful and meandering as one would expect from Proust, and it does contain some beautiful truths. On being asked to go to the opera, Marcel replies sadly,
"No, I cannot go to the theatre, I have lost a friend. She was very dear to me." The tears nearly came to my eyes as I said it and yet for the first time I felt something akin to pleasure in talking about it. It was from that moment that I started to write to everyone to tell them of my great sorrow and to cease to feel it.
That is such a moment, it captures the transitions of loss and grief so eloquently. It's one of the greatest lines I've ever read in literature. Ultimately, partly because of this line, I do pity Marcel.

And if you look hard enough, In Search of Lost Time is full of them, these perfect little quotes that sum up something so complex you'd spend your life trying to put into words without. This is another reason why I wouldn't want to skip The Captive and The Fugitive.

So, then: tonight I will start the final volume, Time Regained. It's obvious from my posts that with Proust I'm very ambivalent. I'm in love with the concept and the idea of it, but it remains a greatly difficult and demanding work. I don't know how I'll end up concluding these past six or seven weeks of reading it. I'm looking forward to starting Time Regained, another comparatively short volume (400 pages). I'll write about it, after which there'll be one final post attempting to summarise my thoughts on the whole of the novel. I'm sad to say my main feeling right now is one of disappointment (which, appropriately, is a major theme of In Search of Lost Time!). At the same time, though, it is a great work of literature.

← Pʀᴇᴠɪᴏᴜsʟʏ: The Captive
Nᴇxᴛ: Time Regained 

Friday, 30 May 2014

A to Z Bookish Survey.

Recently my blog has turned into my 'Proustian Progress' and as I have yet another Proust post planned (The Fugitive) I thought I'd break it up a little with a meme! It's the A to Z Bookish Survey by Jamie, found via My Commonplace Journal.

Author you’ve read the most books from:

Émile Zola. I've read all twenty of the Rougon Macquart novels, plus one or two others.

Best Sequel Ever:

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope.

Currently Reading:

The Fugitive by Marcel Proust (also known as The Sweet Cheat Gone). Expect to finish it tonight, and then read the final volume, Time Regained, next week.

Drink of Choice While Reading:


E-reader or Physical Book?

Physical book. I don't feel I fully own a book unless I can physically touch it!

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School:

Hamlet, because I had truly dreadful taste in men in my younger years.

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I hated it when I first read it, but read it again and ended up loving it!

Hidden Gem Book:

Dictionary of Received Ideas by Gustav Flaubert. When I once blogged about it many people hadn't heard of it. It's hilarious, and a must-read!

Important Moment in your Reading Life:

Reading Émile Zola's Germinal. It was my introduction to Zola and marked the beginning of my Zola obsession.

Just Finished:

'The Angevins' - Chapter II of The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England edited by Antonia Fraser. And a few days ago I finished Proust's The Captive.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:

I don't think there's any kind of book I refuse to read, though it's quite rare for me to read anything published after 1950!

Longest Book You’ve Read:

Proust's In Search of Lost Time: I may have mentioned I have read this before, but I read it at a blinding speed - so fast it was an absolute waste of time. After that, The Bible and Samuel Richardson's Clarissa, which I loved.

Major book hangover because of:

Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. I didn't read for a very very long time after that, nothing else would do.

Number of Bookcases You Own:

Six. I need more.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It gets better and better the more you read it!

Preferred Place To Read:

In bed or in the bath. The vast majority of Proust has been read in the bath.

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read:

Reading Regret:

All the books I was going to buy but didn't.

Series You Started And Need To Finish (all books are out in series):

The Chronicles of Barsetshire by Anthony Trollope.

Three of your All-Time Favorite Books:

The Dream by Émile Zola.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.

Unapologetic Fangirl For:

Émile Zola, of course!

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others:

The Conquest of Plassans by Émile Zola, translated by Helen Constantine.

Worst bookish habit:

Breaking the spines of books.

X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book: 

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.

Your latest book purchase:

The Blair Years: Extracts from the Alastair Campbell Diaries.

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):

I seem to recall reading Of Human Bondage very very late at night.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Captive, by Marcel Proust.

Swann's Way | Within a Budding Grove | The Guermantes Way | Cities of the Plain 
The Captive | The Fugitive | Time Regained

The Captive (La Prisonnière) is the fifth part of In Search of Lost Time, first published in 1923. And, just to make this confusing, it is the first of two parts within In Search of Lost Time known as Le Roman d'Albertine, the second part being The Fugitive (Albertine disparue, also known a The Sweet Cheat Gone or Albertine Gone). It is also the first part published after Marcel Proust's death in November 1922.

It is, so far, the darkest volume of In Search of Lost Time. The narrator Marcel, who, in this volume suggests that it is possible to refer to him as Marcel ("As soon as she was able to speak she said: "My ——" or "My dearest——" followed by my Christian name, which, if we give the narrator the same name as the author of this book, would be 'My Marcel,' or 'My dearest Marcel.") is still obsessed with Albertine. He does not love her, and nor does he try to excuse or apologise for this obsession and his subsequent attempt to possess her. In this respect, one can see how he's been influenced by Swann and others in his circle: Marcel is morbidly jealous and will go to great lengths to control her. Why? Because, it seems, he wants to and because he can. He has seen it done before him, perhaps not to these great lengths, but to be jealous and to stalk is not a new thing for him: we've seen, as he has seen, in Swann's Way that this is normal behaviour and an average response to jealousy.

In one respect, yes, the question has been answered: why is he like this? Because others before him were. But one thing we know about Marcel is his ability to think: In Search of Lost Time is three thousand pages of stream of consciousness. Critically thinking, though - apparently not so much here. This is not good enough. His behaviour makes me dislike him intensely, but I suspect that I'm supposed to feel the opposite, and I should admire his one and only virtue in this: his honesty. But I don't.

Nevertheless, it's one of the more enjoyable volumes of In Search of Lost Time. With The Fugitive and Time Regained still to go, I still feel that Swann's Way is the best, and Within a Budding Grove the most challenging (I'm stopping short of calling it "boring"), but The Captive has a dark beauty and 'Proustian ponderings', so to speak, of the more enlightening kind that I enjoyed in Swann's Way. On one hand, it is reality amplified, on the other hand reality seems to have been suspended. It's incomplete; it's as though it is censored. For example, Albertine and Marcel are living together, unmarried, in his mother's appartment (while his parents are away) and there's little concern about how inappropriate that would have been deemed in the early part of the 20th Century. Given his circle of friends, I would have expected more of a scandal, or at least more of a reaction. We didn't see this, which is why I feel as though it's incomplete. But no, that isn't a criticism. Marcel's obsession wouldn't allow for much thought beyond possessing Albertine, and the criticism would have been behind his back anyway. He wouldn't have been aware of it, I dare say, and if he was it wouldn't have been his priority.

And, at times, this is a chilling volume. Marcel's fears of losing the woman he does not love spill over into unquestioned paranoia:
Allow Albertine to go by herself into a big shop crowded with people perpetually rubbing against one, furnished with so many doors that a woman can always say that when she came out she could not find the carriage which was waiting farther along the street; I was quite determined never to consent to such a thing, but the thought of it made me extremely unhappy.
It is true that Albertine lies, and she is not a suitable match for Marcel, but his hypersensitivity and anxiety over letting her go out alone begs the question - just who is the captive? Naturally, we assume it is Albertine, but then Proust writes,
To make her chains seem lighter, I thought the best idea was to convince her that I meant to break them. But I could not begin to feed her this lie now, when she had just been so good in coming back from the Trocadéro; what I could do, rather than upsetting her with threats of a separation, was to keep silent about the dreams of a permanent life together which were even then forming in my grateful heart.
It seems both are, but that is not said to lessen the blame: Marcel is a captive of his mind, and his actions - to say he is Albertine's captive is to blame her. Albertine, then, is physically a captive, Marcel is the captivated, but Albertine, however unpleasant, however much of a liar she is (or how Marcel believes she is), she remains his victim. This volume shows Marcel at his worst.

The Captive is one of the strongest and most memorable volumes of In Search of Lost Time, and I've already started The Fugitive (the shortest volume) such was my enjoyment. Everything is starting to fall into place! I can't say I love Proust, but I do admire him very much.

← Pʀᴇᴠɪᴏᴜsʟʏ: Cities of the Plain
Nᴇxᴛ: The Fugitive

Monday, 26 May 2014

Doctor Thorne, by Anthony Trollope.

The Chonicles of Barsetshire ~
The Warden Barchester Towers Doctor Thorne Framley Parsonage 
"...instead of heart beating to heart in sympathetic unison, 
purse chinks to purse."

Doctor Thorne is the third of the Chronicles of Barsetshire series by Anthony Trollope, which I'm reading as part of Amanda and Melissa's read-along. It was published in 1858, and follows The Warden (1855) and Barchester Towers (1857).

I loved this one, and it was such a welcome break from Proust. I began it about a week ago, reading the first fifty pages or so, but I put it down, partly to focus on Proust, and partly, I have to admit, because of it's painfully slow start. For the past week I wondered if it was possible I could actually manage to fit this in before the end of the month, but yesterday I picked up where I left off and read it all day - not to finish it, but because I was enjoying it so much.

It's a strange one, though, and I wondered how exactly it fit into the Chronicles of Barsetshire. There was little mention of the characters I loved from The Warden and Barchester Towers and at first I found myself waiting for them to appear. But this is not about the social lives of the clergy, and Doctor Thorne is set in a village outside of Barchester, though still within the county of Barsetshire. I think this novel could, in fact, stand alone and be read without reading the previous books (not that I would ever recommend skipping them - both are brilliant). The idea for the novel came not from Anthony Trollope but his brother Thomas Adolphus Trollope when both were in Florence, and, at the time, it was his most successful novel. In his autobiography (An Autobiography, 1883) Anthony Trollope writes,
I may say also that I have never printed as my own a word that has been written by others. It might probably have been better for my readers had I done so, as I am informed that Doctor Thorne, the novel of which I am now speaking, has a larger sale than any other book of mine.
Yes, I did say I loved Doctor Thorne, however this little fact surprised me. Doctor Thorne is not his best novel (I'm tempted to say He Knew He Was Right is), but the storyline is very compelling, and so deeply satisfying a read.

Doctor Thorne, in short, is about social prejudice, class, illegitimacy, and inheritance. Mary Thorne (from here I will describe the very early part of Doctor Thorne: there will be no spoilers), the heroine, lives with her uncle, Thomas Thorne (perhaps named after Trollope's brother). Her mother, also named Mary, was seduced by Thomas Thorne's brother, Henry. She falls pregnant, and her brother Roger vows to kill Henry, which he does, and so he is imprisoned. A former love of Mary's offers to marry her still and take her (but not her child) to America, so Thomas Thorne agrees to bring the young Mary up. On leaving prison, Roger, though an alcoholic, finds great financial success in the railway business, and, should he die, he will leave a fortune, either to Mary, or his son Louis (also an alcoholic). All the while, Mary is in love with Frank Gresham, and he with her, but he is encouraged by his mother Lady Arabella, to marry money despite Mary being an old friend of the family -
"If you wish to see me ever happy again, if you do not wish to see me sink broken-hearted to my grave, you must give up this mad idea, Frank,"—and now all Lady Arabella's energy came out. "Frank there is but one course left open to you. You MUST marry money." And then Lady Arabella stood up before her son as Lady Macbeth might have stood, had Lady Macbeth lived to have a son of Frank's years.
If only she knew! And, whether Frank does or not marry money, and whether Mary comes to inheriting any, I shall not tell for fear of spoiling the story!

Doctor Thorne is like a Victorian Jane Austen. Mary is a great character with strength, integrity, and modesty as well, though not one to allow herself to be made to feel inferior. She's beautiful and intelligent: a perfect Victorian heroine. And Doctor Thorne himself is not unlike Septimus Harding from The Warden, one of my favourite all time characters. Moral and kind, but not insipid and passive. As I've said, it's not Trollope's finest novel in my mind, and not the finest of the Chronicles of Barsetshire, but this does not stop it from being very enjoyable.

I do wonder if I would have enjoyed it so much had I not been, at the same time, suffering a little with Proust. Possibly not, this easy, self-contained, fun novel might not have struck me quite so much had I not have needed it so very badly. But it is a good novel. I do recommend it, and I'm happy to say I am still loving reading through The Chronicles of Barsetshire. Looking forward to starting Framley Parsonage!

← Pʀᴇᴠɪᴏᴜsʟʏ: Barchester Towers
Nᴇxᴛ: Framley Parsonage

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Cities of the Plain, by Marcel Proust.

This is the fourth part of In Search of Lost Time, more commonly known as Sodom and Gomorrah (Sodome et Gomorrhe). It's divided into two parts, the first part originally appearing at the end of The Guermantes Way, and the second part, subdivided into four chapters, appeared in two volumes: Sodome et Gomorrhe I (1921) and Sodome et Gomorrhe II (1922). It was the last volume Proust saw published, as he died six months later on the 18th November 1922.

As I wrote in the last post, I did enjoy The Guermantes Way, which gave me hope as I couldn't settle with Within a Budding Grove. Unfortunately, despite best efforts, I couldn't settle into The Cities of the Plain / Sodom and Gomorrah. It really boils down to this: it's not to my taste. I respect Marcel Proust's achievements, and I admire his novel, but at present it still feels like too much. But I stick with it because of the hidden gems, and because I think it will be an 'up and down' experience. Swann's Way is a joy to read, Within a Budding Grove is not, The Guermantes Way is fascinating, and, well, Cities of the Plain was more of an effort. I began The Captive this morning, read about twenty pages or so, and I did enjoy it. I may well read it over the weekend. It's not possible to judge the entire novel by the parts. So, my judgement is reserved until I've finished! I'm still hopeful.

That said, Cities of the Plain is interesting. Of course, the Dreyfus Affair runs through, as it has the previous parts, and characters continue to be defined by their stance, but in this part the dominant theme is sexuality: as I said, this part is more commonly known as Sodom and Gomorrah, and 'Sodom' refers to male homosexuality, and 'Gomorrah' refers to lesbianism as the volume's opening quote from Alfred de Vigny suggests -
La femme aura Gomorrhe et l’homme aura Sodome [Woman will have Gomorrah and man will have Sodom].
In Search of Lost Time was, in fact, one of the first European novels to contain references to homosexuality. Marcel Proust was gay, and although, on the whole, France was more tolerant of homosexuality than its European neighbours, Proust would have known all to well what it was like to live as a gay man in la belle époque, and in Cities of the Plain he explores this "underground" world of Baron Charlus, having witnessed an encounter with him and the lower class Jupien (Marcel, our narrator, had previously been told Baron Charlus was somewhat of a womaniser: perception and reality is an ongoing theme in In Search of Lost Time). In France, the police would still harass homosexuals, using laws on public decency to punish what the say was morally wrong. It was necessary to live this double life, hiding relationships as much as possible. And so Proust writes on it, this double life, and the unspoken knowledge of other characters "invert" tendencies (as Proust refers to them). Marcel's eyes are opened, and he learns of other gay men in his circle, and, importantly, their treatment. It appears to him that some of the characters sexuality is a badly kept secret: everyone knows, but will not often directly address the subject (unless, unsurprisingly, in mockery).

Albertine's sexuality is also a subject for Cities of the Plain. Her character is based on Alfred Agostinelli, Proust's secretary with whom he had a relationship. Marcel and Albertine's relationship is difficult to define, and full of contradictions. Like Swann and Odette, Marcel is jealous of her, obsessed, and yet repeats often that he is not in love with her, but nevertheless he tortured by his obsession, and seeks to control her (which, I believe, will climax in The Captive). He suspects her of having affairs - every woman she encounters, he fears, she is sleeping with. Jealousy, sadness, and indeed loneliness continue to dominate In Search of Lost Time. The narrator's anxiety is displayed at it's peak (so far) in this part.

As ever, Proust writes so beautifully: In Search of Lost Time is fragile and melancholic, his thoughts on love and relationships are nothing if not bitter-sweet. Perception, memory, and reality are, as ever, all at odds with each other. But it remains a struggle, however stunning the concept. I'm still looking forward to The Captive, though: I can't ever gauge what it is I'm going to get with a new volume of Proust.

← Pʀᴇᴠɪᴏᴜsʟʏ: The Guermantes Way
Nᴇxᴛ: The Captive

Thursday, 22 May 2014

New stash.

On Tuesday I went to Barter Books again: I'm most fortunate to live not terribly far from it, so every so often I manage a trip, and this week I went with my boyfriend and best friend. And books were bought! Awesome books! Here's what I got:
  • Jonathan Wild by Henry Fielding. I've not read a great deal by Fielding, just Tom Jones, Shamela, and Joseph Andrews, and so he's still a bit of a mystery to me. I did love Tom Jones, so I'm always interested in reading Fielding.
  • The Adolescent by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This I needed for my Dostoyevsky challenge! And I do like a long Dostoyevsky (this is nearly 600 pages). 
  • My Brother's Keeper by Stanislaus Joyce. I'm always intrigued by James Joyce (I have a love / hate relationship with him) so I'll be interested to read this one.
  • The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. This one looks fascinating - it's (very basically) like Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. Written in the 14th Century, it's a collection of stories told by wealthy patricians who are amusing themselves whilst avoiding the plague in Italy by staying in a villa outside Florence. 
  • The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford by William Hale White. It's described on the back as a "minor Victorian classic" about Mark Rutherford, a clergyman who loses his faith and moves to London. 
  • The Moon and Sixpence by W Somerset Maugham. After I wrote about Of Human Bondage so many people recommended this. So I shall be reading it very soon! 
  • The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg. This is another one from a list, this time my Penguin English Library. I'm not a fan of Gothic Literature on the whole, but this one looks to intriguing to pass up. Another one I want to read very soon!
  • Jean Santeuil by Marcel Proust. This is Proust's first novel, and is described as exploring "the interweaving of art and memory which he was to crystallize so dazzlingly in Á la recherche du temps perdu". As I read through In Search of Lost Time I find myself turning away from it more and more, though I do believe the premise is wonderful. I can't help but wonder if Jean Santeuil will be far greater than Lost Time
  • The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. I feel, as a lover of Victorian classics, I must read this. I don't especially relish it.
  • Essays by Plutarch, including 'On Listening', 'How to distinguish a flatterer from a friend', 'On being aware of moral progress', 'On contentment', and 'On the avoidance of anger' - all very intriguing.
So there is my new stash! I'm wondering where on earth to put them - critically short of book space, now. Very soon I'll resort to making piles next to bookcases!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Village of Stepanchikovo, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

A few days ago I finished Dostoyevsky's novel The Village of Stepanchikovo, and it was so unlike Dostoyevsky I wanted to say a few words. What a strange book it is!

It was first published in 1859 (original title Село Степанчиково и его обитатели) and was intended to be a play. It's the tenth Dostoyevsky I've read: when I embarked on my Dostoyevsky challenge, this was one of the few I hadn't heard of. I'd read the most famous ones, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Devils, and The Brothers Karamazov, as well as a few novellas and short stories and I felt I knew Dostoyevsky fairly well (his fiction, I mean, I know little about the great man himself). This one threw me on many levels. In essence, I'd say it was a farce, a comedy that has managed to survive over 150 years (I'm not a lover of farce at the best of times, and often, for example in Dickens' Pickwick Papers, the farcical elements leave me cold). It's very sinister, too. A very dark, sometimes cruel humour, and, as we would expect from Dostoyevsky, an outstanding study of human character.

The story begins with Sergey Aleksandrovich receiving a letter from his uncle, Colonel Yegor Ilich Rostanev, asking him to marry his children's governess. Before leaving, he learns from a mutual acquaintance that all is not what it may seem in Stepanchikovo - his uncle's house is effectively under the control of Foma Fomich, who has somehow managed to convince those around him that he is a good, kind, moral, and essential part of the household despite being nothing short of a malicious, domineering bully. Sergey leaves with all the arrogance of youth, determined to sort things out once and for all and bring happiness of Stepanchikovo. What follows is a dark, claustrophobic comedy of manners and of character where the tyranny of Foma Fomich is slowly and surely revealed.

It's an outstanding work. On one hand, as I say, it is not typical at all of Dostoyevsky (at least what I've read so far), but then his study of Foma Fomich (who doesn't properly enter the drama personally until over half way through the book) is Dostoyevsky through and through. There are elements of Nikolai Gogol,  but, in comedic terms, the strongest resemblance has to be with Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov, particularly the fraught relationships between the servants and their masters. The dialogue between Bakhcheyev and his servant Grishka, for example, could easily have been between Oblomov and Zakhar. It's an absolutely brilliant story, but oh, so very peculiar. It didn't meet with great success (one reviewer wrote, "Dostoevsky is finished. He will no longer write anything important.") and, as I've said, I'd never even heard of it until December, but it is very much worth reading, not just for Dostoyevsky fans but for anyone. His genius truly shines through in this odd tale. Had it have been more well known, I may not have written about this one, but as it's considered to be a "minor" work I had to share it and recommend it! If you have read it, do let me know what you think.

Further reading

Monday, 19 May 2014

Moby-Dick: A Whale of a Read-Along! (and other reading projects)

In June through to July Adam is hosting a Moby-Dick read-along, and I'm jumping at the chance: for one reason, Melville's Moby-Dick is one of my 25 re-reads, and another, more importantly, when I first read it (autumn '11) I did enjoy it, but I felt like there was a lot I missed. I've actually been wanting to re-read it for quite a while now, and this is my chance!

Moby-Dick was first published in 1851, nearly 163 years ago. It's on, more or less, every '100 Greatest Novels' I've ever seen, and it boasts one of the most famous opening lines: "Call me Ishmael". I'm looking forward to starting it, and I'll be reading my Vintage edition published in 2007 (648 pages). Adam's suggesting reading around 15 pages a day, which is absolutely perfect - 15 pages is not a massive commitment, and it will allow some time each day to properly dwell on the matter as it were. So thank you Adam for hosting this!

As for other reading projects - well, it seems as if the late spring weather has revived me somewhat! I want to read everything! I'm still reading through In Search of Lost Time, which, and this is the best way to put it, I'm 'nervously committed to'. My edition (Penguin) is divided into three separate volumes, and as I've finished The Guermantes Way I am half-way through the second volume, so (give or take a hundred pages, which is nothing when it comes to Proust) about half way through the novel. But I am aware that there remains a good 1 500 pages, and gives plenty of opportunity to leave off starting Cities of the Plain and ultimately abandoning it. Much to be read. But I'll start the fourth part today and keep up the pace (it's the most demanding book I've ever come across. Read Proust and Moby-Dick's 600 pages suddenly seems like a novella).

So that's In Search of Lost Time. I'm also having a little Zola revival at present. I got a new translation of Money last week (the original translation was so dire) and I'm hoping to start that this week. It's rather exciting! And I keep thinking about L'Assommoir and Nana, and also Zola's first novel Claude's Confession (which I've not yet read).

Finally, I'm reading the Barsetshire Chronicles with Amanda and Melissa, and this month is Doctor Thorne (I can't say I'm enjoying it as much as The Warden or Barchester Towers). And I do not want to fall behind or give it up, I think this read-along is wonderful!

So, at present I'm fully occupied with reading, but this isn't stopping me from wanting to pick up other books. This weekend I read The Village of Stepanchikovo by Dostoyevsky (I'll be posting about that later), and it's making me want to read more Dostoyevsky, and then Proust mentioned The Song of Roland, which makes me want to read that, and then because I enjoyed Adam Bede so much I want to read another George Eliot, and finally I keep wanting to read Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse. All of this, and I want to make some progress with my Classic Club List! I'm so close to finishing it and I'm itching to make a new list! I'm aiming for finishing by autumn, but there's still 16 books left... 

It's funny how there are times when one happily reads away, and other times one wants to read everything one owns... 

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Guermantes Way, by Marcel Proust.

The Guermantes Way (Le Côté de Guermantes) is the third in Proust's In Search of Lost Time following Swann's Way (1913) and Within a Budding Grove (1919). It was published in two parts: Le Côté de Guermantes I (1920) and Le Côté de Guermantes II (1921). 

So far, I've been intimidated by Swann's Way then a little weary of Within a Budding Grove, and now, with The Guermantes Way, I'm marginally more settled. It is an uphill struggle, exactly as one would expect from Marcel Proust, but this one was an interesting read and I get the sense Marcel, our narrator, is growing up: current events are creeping into his consciousness more than ever, and the dialogue, which may tire some readers, is a vast part of the structure of The Guermantes Way. In short, he is more aware of that which does not directly concern him. It is the Dreyfus Affair that takes up a great deal of the plot, something that fortunately I'm interested in (it's potentially catastrophic if the reader has no interest) because of the links with Émile Zola.

Dreyfus, by Guth
(For Vanity Fair, 1899).
Zola's "J'Accuse" letter.
In brief: in November 1894 Albert Dreyfus was convicted of treason having been accused of sharing the French military's secrets with the German embassy in Paris. He was sent to Devil's Island where he spent five years. Dreyfus was Jewish, and anti-Semitism in France was at a fever pitch; the scandal divided France for the twelve years the the scandal raged. One of the most famous of the "dreyfusards" was Émile Zola (by then a world famous author), who wrote the L'Aurore on 13th January 1898. He accused Félix Faure, the then president of France, of anti-Semitism and unlawfully imprisoning Dreyfus, and was in turn convicted of libel the following February (it is possible that Zola was murdered by anti-dreyfusards in 1902, and though this was never proved, there was a deathbed confession in 1927 from a man who claimed to have deliberately blocked Zola's chimney causing him to die of carbon monoxide poisoning. When Zola's ashes were taken to the Panthéon in 1908, Albert Dreyfus was shot during the ceremony). Later in 1898, Hubert-Joseph Henry confessed to forging the evidence, and in August 1898 he was found dead in his cell having committed suicide (Charles Maurras, an anti-dreyfussard, claimed this forgery was Henry's "finest feats of war"). A re-trial of Dreyfus was ordered, and he was exonerated on the 12th July 1906.
famous "J'accuse!" open letter which was published in

This 'Affair', as I've said, divided France and Proust writes at length of the drawing room conversations between his various characters, some who defend Dreyfus, others (sometimes remarkably callously) are convinced of his guilt despite evidence to the contrary. In some respects, Proust paints a sometimes caustic comedy of manners through which these divisions between the characters highlight the divisions in France at the time as well as capturing the spirit of the middle and upper classes. It's fascinating, though exceptionally lengthy and at times repetitive, and I must confess I was spurred on by looking for mentions of Zola. I was rewarded - here's my favourite quote: "His is the epic dungheap. He is the Homer of the sewers!"

Portrait of the Comtesse Greffulhe
by Jacques Emile Blanche.
But it's not all about Dreyfus. Marcel (still struggling to write), once again, finds himself in love, this time with Mme de Guermantes (based on Élisabeth, Comtesse Greffulhe). He is, as he was with the Swanns, fascinated with the Guermantes family and he loiters around the street hoping to meet Mme de Guermantes (although he is in his mid-twenties by now, Marcel is somewhat immature). Again, there are themes of disenchantment and disillusionment, and ultimately Mme de Guermantes will reveal her true colours.

And there's another parallel with the Swanns: Marcel's friend Saint-Loup (the nephew of Mme de Guermantes) is in love with Rachel, his mistress and, as Swann was for Odette, made unhappy by his jealousy and possessiveness. Marcel's own experience of love is unstable, and often unrequited, which is emphasised by the experience of those close to him.

As ever, there is much more to this novel than I'm sharing, but writing about each part of In Search of Lost Time is becoming more difficult without giving away key parts of the plot! The Guermantes Way comes close to showing a return to the beauty and genius of Swann's Way without being overwhelming, and is much broader in scope. Proust, naturally, writes again about the nature of memory, his problems with sleeping, and the melancholy side of love. It is also an excellent examination of the society in the Belle Époche. I approached this part with trepidation, but I did enjoy it (however difficult I found it), and I'm looking forward to starting Cities of the Plain (more commonly known as Sodom and Gomorrah) tomorrow.

← Pʀᴇᴠɪᴏᴜsʟʏ: Within a Budding Grove
Nᴇxᴛ: Cities of the Plain

Friday, 16 May 2014

Adam Bede, by George Eliot.

Perusing some of the many 'Top 100 Greatest Novels' I discovered that if George Eliot is mentioned on them (and she isn't always) then it is nearly always for Middlemarch. Strange, because I firmly believe that George Eliot is one of the best, if not the best English novelist and Adam Bede is one of the best novels I've ever read.

Adam Bede was the first novel written by George Eliot. She began writing it on 22nd October 1857, and it was published in 1859. It tells the story of Adam Bede, Hetty Sorrel, Dinah Morris, and Captain Arthur Donnithorne, and their lives in the idyllic setting of 18th Century Staffordshire (in a village called Ellastone, on the River Dove). It's a pastoral novel; bucolic almost, but finely interwoven with tragedy and struggle, and is, as we expect from Eliot, Realist literature. The plot, were I to describe it in it's entirety (which I won't otherwise I'll spoil it for those who haven't read it), perhaps does seem to include an element of melodrama: Hetty, a young, beautiful but unintelligent country girl is in love with Captain Donnithorne, son of the local squire and heir to Chase, who, though knowing it is wrong to encourage her persists in doing so. He is as weak, as selfish, and as shallow as Hetty is, but the love between them, however doomed, is genuine, though on Donnithorne's part not as strong. Adam, meanwhile, a carpenter who is intelligent and well-educated (his closest friend, Bartle Massey, is a schoolteacher), is also in love with Hetty despite his mother's warnings. Hetty is not a good match for Adam, but despite his intelligence he is seduced by her beauty. All of this is based on a true story told to Eliot by her Methodist Aunt Samuel one afternoon in 1839 or 1840, though I can't quote or link any sources without giving the end (even the URL would give it away). If you have read it, look up "Mary Voce Nottingham" and that will provide the inspiration for Hetty and Donnithorne. As for Adam, he was loosely based on Eliot's father Robert Evans, and Dinah on Eliot's aunt who told her the tale.

It would be so easy to draw one-sided characters. Donnithorne could be like Samuel Richardson's Lovelace and Hetty Clarissa herself with Adam nothing other than seduced and helpless. But this is George Eliot, and as infuriating as these circumstances may be, we see the humanity in all of them. Hetty is foolish, but not docile, not simpering, nor, conversely, is she a 'belle dame sans merci' with Adam or even with Donnithorne. And Donnithorne isn't a villain. I didn't like either of them, yet it is entirely possible to sympathise with them: it is difficult to condemn Eliot's characters.

There are many themes; it's a dense book. Fate, or lack of ("What destroys us most effectively is not a malign fate but our own capacity for self-deception and for degrading our own best self"), Methodism in the late 18th Century and early 19th Century, beauty, character, and redemption, but above all else love: redemption through love - the possibility of redemption, at least, and hope that it brings. Deception, selfishness, desire, rejection, and disillusionment, then the opposites, then all that comes between. Ultimately, as Eliot writes,
What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life--to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?
Eliot is a Realist, but she's a romantic as well. There is the despair and depression, but there is joy too. It's a whole novel, there are no caricatures, and although I said there could be a hint of melodrama, this was based on a true story. Besides, it is ridiculous to assume that nothing happened in the small villages in 18th Century England: Adam Bede is not about quiet little lives in the parishes of the Shires. It is a shocking story, I cannot emphasise that enough, and it would have be something I would have liked to gone into. All I would say is that whilst the setting may be idyllic, the lives of those in this village or any other may not have been. It is, in short, about life in all its aspects, which is something George Eliot excels at. I'm in love with it.

Further reading:

Monday, 12 May 2014

Classic Club Spin - your choice!

The number is 1, which, according to my list, is YOUR choice! So I'm in your hands!

The choices are as follows:
  1. Faulkner, William - The Sound and the Fury
  2. Rushdie, Salman - The Satanic Verses
  3. Meridith, George - The Egoist
  4. Fowles, John - The French Lieutenant's Woman
  5. Hemingway, Ernest - A Farewell to Arms
  6. James, Henry - What Maise Knew
  7. Flaubert, Gustav - Bouvard and Pecuichet
  8. Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom's Cabin
  9. Fowles, John - The Magus
  10. Cooper, James Fenimore - The Last of the Mohicans
  11. Lawrence, D. H. - The Rainbow
  12. Blackmore , R. D. - Lorna Doone
  13. James, Henry - The Wings of the Dove
  14. Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr - August 1914
  15. Bradbury, Ray - Fahrenheit 451
I will read the book the first commenter picks. So pick me a good one :) I'm looking forward to seeing what I'm going to be reading.... 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Within a Budding Grove, by Marcel Proust.

Last week I finished Within a Budding Grove (À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, also known as In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower ), the second volume of Proust's In Search of Lost Time. It follows Swann's Way, published six years later in 1919 (it was delayed by World War I) when, controversially, it won Le Priz Goncourt.

I have to say, this is getting tough. I struggled with it because of its length and because I felt like there was too much beauty in it (if there can be such a thing). It was overwhelmingly beautiful, like being on a beach surrounded by wild flowers; verbenas, daylilies, yarrow, and sea pinks, a warm, salty breeze, and the sea in front of me but wanting to go home because I'd been there all day. Am I devoid of soul? I loved Swann's Way, but now I feel like I've stayed too long. And I hate to give Proust a bad review because it just isn't done: it is, as Edmund White wrote, "the most respected novel of the 20th Century". So I'll blame myself for it somehow. Whatever the case may be, I haven't quite 'got there' with it yet. I wanted to write about the beauty in it, and how wonderful I found it, but that would be a dishonest review. So yes, I'm struggling. I think my problem is that it is unlike anything else, so I'm seeking the familiar and missing out what exactly is there. I like Émile Zola, George Eliot, Anthony Trollope; Proust is not them, so why look for a linear narrative? I favour the 19th Century Realists, and this is a 20th Century Modernist; a meditation on the psyche, the memories lost, found, and altered. Perhaps it is Psychological Realism, a  sort of literary neuroscience? I know I'm seeking to impose a definition.

I think the key is to allow oneself to get lost in it, they say one should let Proust wash over you. It should be a pleasant experience, and I do mean to try relaxing with it when I pick up The Guermantes Way later today. It's appropriate, perhaps, that the chapters are so long (Within a Budding Grove has two chapters, 'Madame Swann at Home', 225 pages, and 'Place Names; the Place, 327 pages) because I'm not sure it's so easy to read it in little bits here and there. But that may be my own preference - for some readers it might be better. But I did like it, don't mistake me. Just not enough, not as much as I hoped.

Anyway, there are my thoughts. Now for a synopsis. If you haven't read Within a Budding Grove or Swann's Way it might be best to skip the rest of this post.

[From France Culture]

Sarah Bernhardt in Phèdre, 1910.
There's a heavy tone of disillusionment in Within a Budding Grove. Marcel falls out of love with Gilberte, who we meet in Swann's Way, and consequently his infatuation with the Swanns wanes. Furthermore, he sees Berma, an actress he'd been desperate to see following Bergotte's influence (Berma is based on Sarah Bernhardt). He writes, "By day and night my mind was haunted by the knowledge of the divine Beauty which her acting would be bound to reveal." He hopes, too, that this will distract him from his misery at being unable to write. And so, despite his doctor's fears, he goes to see her in Phèdre and is disappointed:
I let the cheap wine of this popular enthusiasm go to my head. Even so, once the curtain had fallen, I was aware of being disappointed that the enjoyment I had longed for had not been greater, but also of wishing that, such as it was, it would continue, and that I was not obliged to leave behind me forever, as I walked out of the auditorium, this life of the theater in which I had just shared for a few hours.
Anatole France, possibly the model
for Bergotte.
And if that wasn't enough disappointment, he finally meets Bergotte, the writer he idolises, who he has "slowly and delicately elaborated". On meeting him,
I saw a stocky, coarse, thickset, shortsighted man, quite young, with a red bottle-nose and a black goatee. I was heartbroken: it was not only that my gentle old man had just crumbled to dust and disappeared, it was also that for those things of beauty, his wonderful works, which I had once contrived to fit into that infirm and sacred frame, that dwelling I had lovingly constructed like a temple expressly designed to hold them, there was no room in this thick-bodied little man standing in front of me, with all his blood vessels, his bones, his glands, his snub nose, and his little beard.
In the second part of this novel, two years or so later, Marcel goes on holiday with his grandmother. At first he's too ill to enjoy it (if I haven't mentioned this already, Marcel is quite a sickly chap), and he has yet more disappointment in the Balbec church: it does seem that anticipation of a pleasure is far greater than the pleasure itself. He falls for Albertine, and then all of her friends, though it is Albertine who he remains most attached to. As ever, the themes of knowing and understanding against memory and perception are a continuous source of conflict for him, and any individual, as are the themes of friendship and love.

In Within a Budding Grove, the narrator was an adolescent, his feels are confused, and often contradictory, and this is compounded by the fact that the narrator is reminiscing, and his memory (as is the point, I think, of In Search of Lost Time) isn't wholly reliable. But Proust conveys this so well, the excitements and thrills of discovering life, as well as the disappointments and broken dreams.

I am enjoying reading In Search of Lost Time, but as I say, it is very difficult and I don't feel that it's clicked with me yet. I've already started The Guermantes Way, the third novel, and I do seem to be enjoying it a lot more. It's all very difficult to get a grip on, but I think now is the time to stop trying.

Further reading

← Pʀᴇᴠɪᴏᴜsʟʏ: Swann's Way
Nᴇxᴛ: The Guermantes Way

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