Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Jane Austen


Sense & Sensibility
by Jane Austen
p. 1811
T. Egerton


Sense & Sensibility
d. Ang Lee
p. 1995
screen play by Emma Thompson
135 million gross world-wide.

 You can watch the 1995 movie on Netflix Streaming, FYI.  I tempted to recommend the movie over the book, since the movie is directed by Ang Lee AND written by Emma Thompson AND stars a young Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood, the younger sister.  Emma Thompson also stars in her own script as Elinor Dashwood, the older sister.  You've also got your Hugh Grant playing Edward Farrars AND- AND! Alan Rickman as Colonel Christopher Brandon.  BOOM-SHAKA LAKA.


  OK, OK.  One of the stylistic changes in the form of the Novel that Austen more or less "invented" was the quick open- wherein the initial status-altering scenario happens to the main characters at the beginning of the novel.  This is an aspect of the Novel that Dickens fully manipulated, and in Austen's contemporary Walter Scott you can see a prior approach- the use of real "documents" and the shifting of authorial identity to create a much more elaborate opening scenario.

  In the early 19th century, Austen knew that there was an Audience for novels about the "adventures" of young women.  She had read Samuel Richardson's Pamela, and all the subsequent books that referenced it, she had read Frances Burney, she had read Maria Edgeworth.  Significantly, Sense and Sensibility was originally written in epistolary format, and Austen abandoned it- a seminal moment- the moment she abandoned the epistolary format- the equivalent of the fusing of blues and country that created rock n roll.

  If you've read every major novel of the 1700s like I have, it's easy to see the different ways that Sense and Sensibility represents a colossal step forward in the development of the art form.  Specifically, Austen seems aware of the use of language in a way that would be quite foreign to writers just before her, and writers working at the same time.

Style aside, the genius of the plotting of Sense and Sensibility is that it is focused, that it covers both the relationship between the sisters and the relationships between the two sisters and their would-be (and wouldn't-be) swains.   Austen is relatively short on the depiction of social space, but long on depiction of inter personal relationships and the complexity of human emotion.

 Austen's characters are what you call "relate-able" and they always have been, because of their sophistication and depth.   1700s heroine's are like cardboard cut outs next to Marianne (younger sister/Kate Winselt in 1995) and Elinor (older sister/Emma Thompson in 1995.)


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fanny Hill by John Cleland

Fanny Hill
by John Cleland
p. 1749
this edition Fitzhenry & Whiteside - A Godwit Paperback
introduction by George Woodcock
p. 1989.

  Along with 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis De Sade, Fanny Hill is the only bawdy 1700s book included in that portion of the 2006 edition of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list.  The two books are both pornography in the same way that a Vivid movie showing in an airport and a bukkake video are both pornography:  One is more or less socially acceptable, the other is truly transgressive.

  Fanny Hill tells the story of the eponymous heroine/anti-heroine, who is, as the subtitle proclaims "A WOMAN OF PLEASURE."  With the exception of the explicit, graphic sex scenes, the subject matter of Fanny Hill isn't that far away from early 1700s novels like Moll Flanders or Roxana (both by Daniel Defoe.)

 Make no mistake though, herein lies pornography.  NOT FOR THE CHILDREN!

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Monastery by Sir Walter Scott


Book Review
The Monastery
by Sir Walter Scott
p. 1820
Kindle Edition

  After the "Rise" of the Novel during the 18th century, the popularity of the novel and size of the audience grew precipitously between 1811, the publication date for Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, and continued apace for two decades, culminating in the reign of Charles Dickens.  Austen and Scott wrote prior to Dickens.  At the time, Scott was big deal, and Austen not so much.  Austen wouldn't reach her "Modern" popularity until the end of the 19th century.

  Discounting Austen, Sir Walter Scott was THE man- probably reaching his professional peak in Rob Roy, published in 1818, and then experiencing a slight decline in critical esteem (while maintaining and increasing the size of his Audience) through the 1820s.  In 1820 he published both The Monastery AND Ivanhoe BOTH of which made the cut in the 2006 edition of 1001 Things To Read Before You Die.

  I think it's been so long since Sir Walter Scott has been read by anyone outside of the specialist academic field of 19th century Literature that incumbent for a reviewer to argue that someone, anyone should read one or more of Scott's book.

 In that regard, his status as an originator of historical fiction, and the resemblance between aspects of Scott's inestimable style and the history fun house of an Umberto Eco is probably the best bet.  Um... he brought back Robin Hood(in Ivanhoe.)

  But maybe the argument for Sir Walter Scott as his status as the originator of the first nostalgic artistic "scene" not based on Greece/Rome/The Classics.  He evoked mid 18th century Scotland in the early 19th century and he was the first Novelist to make a specific place "cool."  There are direct links between the worlds of Sir Walter Scott and the earliest available popular songs in America.

  Is The Monastery the one book to read if you are only going to read one book by Sir Walter Scott?  Probably not.  I would stick with Ivanhoe- they were both published in the same  year and Ivanhoe is clearly the bigger "hit."  The Monastery also has a sequel, The Abbot, and I kind of feel compelled to read that book as well, even though I have no desire to do so.

  Unlike Ivanhoe, The Monastery lays on the 1820's "GOTH WAVE" lather pretty thick.  Starting with Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, published in 1818.  Then there is Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin published in 1820., The Albigenses by the same author, in 1824, and then the Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg- also published in 1824.  All of these books have what you would call "GOTH REVIVAL" themes.

 Despite Scott maintaining the historic fiction subject matter, in The Monastery he moves even further away from his wheel-house, the Scottish scene of the 18th century, and into areas where he had less of a feel for the material.  The characters in The Monastery- set in the 16th century- are, to put it charitably, leaden. Still writing Anonymously, though acknowledging his status as "the author of Waverley"(his first hit.)

 It is inexplicable how The Monastery could make the list while Waverley, his first novel, and the novel that "invented" historical fiction, could be left off the list.  I hope they  made a change in the 2010 edition of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Reveries of The Solitary Walker by Jean-Jacques Rousseau


Reveries of The Solitary Walker
by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
p. 1780
Penguin Classics Edition
Translated and with an Introduction by Peter France
p. 1979

  Both The Confessions and Reveries of The Solitary Walker were published posthumously.   I can't imagine writing something like The Confessions and not getting to see it in print.  Rousseau was plagued by health problems, in particular he had to use a catheter on a daily basis- makes me squeamish just writing the words.

  Reveries of The Solitary Walker is like a coda for The Confessions, handling events- in an indirect fashion- that occurred after The Confessions concludes.  Seems like kind of a dubious title to include on the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list- and I frankly wonder whether it made the cut in the 2010 edition. CANT WAIT TO FIND OUT.

  But basically Reveries is more "philosophical" in tone, whereas The Confessions is more biographical, so in Reveries you get a purer statement of Rousseau's philosophical believes, rather then his thoughts about what happened to him when he was a lad.

  ONLY TWO BOOKS FROM THE 1700s LEFT AFTER THIS ONE:  Julie or the New Heloise by Jean-Jacques Rousseau AND Dangerous Liasons. 

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau


The Confessions
by Jean-Jacques Rousseay
p. 1781 (completed in 1765)
Penguin Classics edition published 1953
Translation and Notes by J.M. Cohen

  I've actually owned this particular edition of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Confessions since my fresh man year of high school.  I know that because it's the most elaborately underlined book I own and bears notes in the margins that correspond to my high school hand writing.  Of course, I have no memory of talking about this book, although I do, very much, remember other discussions, particularly talking about Homer's The Odyssey in Freshman English.

  The Confessions is the second of five books on my "BOTTOM FIVE" books from the 1700s in the 2006 edition of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die.  That's funny, because I've actually owned this book the entire time- and read half of it in high school.  Shows my lack of enthusiasm for Rousseau, but after gritting my teeth and wading through all 500 plus pages, he's gained my grudging respect for his originality and over-all contribution to the Romantic movement in arts & literature, which he is justly credited with helping to invent.

  Part of what makes The Confessions so very immortal is Rousseau's status as a "persecuted celebrity"- The Confessions often feels closer in spirit to a celebrity tell-all then a serious "auto-biography."  Part of what distinguished Rousseau's body of work was his celebration of extreme emotions and his desire to cultivate, rather then repress, those emotions.  Also, Rousseau brought a level of personal introspection to literature that had only been found in Confessional religious literature prior to the publication of The Confessions.

   Despite his deep, deep desire to portray himself as a "lone wolf" in The Confessions- history tells up otherwise.  He was very much buddy/buddy with Denis Diderot and the Encyclopedists of Paris before he entered his Greta Garbo phase.  He rose to prominence by winning a national essay contest, and actually wrote The Confessions while he is in England, the guest of English philosopher David Hume.

  The Confessions has such a protean quality that it is difficult to do the book justice in a Blog format.   Suffice it to say that as an object of contemplation, The Confessions provides the reader hours of interest.

Modes of Production of Victorian Novels by N.N. Feltes

Three Volume Set of Jane Austen's Emma

Modes of Production of Victorian Novels
by N.N. Feltes
University of Chicago Press
p. 1989

  Format is important in Art.   An Art Work doesn't actually exist until it takes some shape outside the mind of the creator(s).  The format in which a specific Art Work exists directly impacts the potential size of the Audience for that Art Work.

  An excellent example of this aspect of Art is in the earth sculpture/"environmental art" field- you might recall  the Gates project in New York City, the Running Fence in Sonoma and Marin counties in Northern California, or the time he wrapped the Reichstag in Berlin.  Christo is an extreme example of an Artist using the format of his/her work (large scale, interacting with the location itself) being decisive in creating the relationship between Artist and Audience.

  Of course, most Art Works are not so bold in their choice of format.  Many Artists utilize existing formats because those formats have established Audiences.  You can consider the 3:00 45 single OR the use of the three volume Novel format in the late 18th and 19th century in England.

  The three volume production format of the novel is the starting point for Feltes analysis in his book, Modes of Production of Victorian Novels.  Modes of Production purports to offer a "dialectical analysis [which] leads to a comprehensive explanation of the development of novel production into the twentieth century."  I would call shenanigans on that conclusion, i.e. Feltes FAILS to provide a comprehensive explanation of the development of novel production into the twentieth century.

    However, Feltes does provide a well researched back ground of the novel formats themselves, of which he identifies five:

1.  part-issue
2. three-volume
3. bimonthly
4. magazine-serial
5. single-volume

    Each of these formats created a different relationship between the Artist, his Audience and the intermediaries between the Artist and Audience. The two stand-outs are the three-volume format and the temporally later magazine-serial format.  Feltes places his analysis of the three-volume format in the 1850s, but of course the three-volume format was in use when Jane Austen was publishing a half century before.

 Feltes' formats are temporally organized- chapter one, the part-issue examines the cultural "moment" of the publication of Charles Dickens Pickwick Papers in 1836.  Then after the three-volume format he proceeds in order, arriving at the modern tradition of the single-volume novel.

  It's somewhat endearing that even as Feltes provides materialist explanations for Artistic products, he adheres to the mid 1980s conventions of Marxist literary criticism, providing little exegesis' of novels like Middlemarch in the middle of a discussion of the economic negotiations between Eliot and her publisher.

  The weakness of the Marxist analysis in this book is his placement of the formats in historical sequence.  First of all, this is simply inaccurate.  Jane Austen and her contemporaries were published in three-volume format in the early 19th century, well before the 1852 production of Thackeray's Henry Esmond.

 Both the magazine-serial format and single-volume format continue to exist side by side in the modern world.  The emergence of the Ereader in the last year suggests the potential emergence or re-emergence of prior formats.

 The Marxist idea of there being successive periods in history culminating in a final phenomenon is the part of their theory that has been shown false by recent historical events, so the part of Modes of Production that adopts that analysis is bogus, but the rest of it is really useful in that it contains in depth discussion of the importance of format for Art Works.

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