Joyeux 110e anniversaire, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry!


Flickr CC | The Little Prince | Photo by: digipam

June 29, 2010 is the 110 anniversary of author, illustrator, aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. One of his works is the incredible The Little Prince; a personal favorite as well as a 1001 Books Book.

La Fayette’s The Princess of Clèves


* 1001 Books Book

La Fayette, Segrais, J. R. d., & La Rochefoucauld, F. (1951). The Princess of Clèves. New York: New Directions.

So, I’ve been trying to climb onto the 1001 Books wagon again. A Pre-1700s title stood out to me – The Princess of Clèves. After requesting it through interlibrary loan (ILL), I found myself reading La Fayette’s The Princess of Clèves.

Before I mention the plot, let me explain some of the context. The book was published anonymously in March 1678 and the events took place in 1558.  Some say this is the first work of historical fiction in that someone such as La Fayette researched another day and time and then wrote the novel. Most remarkably, this novel of Henry II’s French Court faithfully adheres to French historical record.

La Fayette brings us to the court of French Henry II. We meet the “who’s who” and become acquainted with the intrigues and the precarious nature of royal favor. Madame de Chartres brings her beautiful ingenue daughter to this very court as a wide-eyed fifteen year old. Her mother seeks out a husband for lovely, virtuous daughter.  The de Chartres don’t do so well thanks to seemingly petty jealousies. Nonetheless, the Prince de Clèves has come into his own inheritance and can do as he pleases. . . He wants the lovely Mademoiselle de Chartres for his wife. Although he’s second-rate, the de Chartres accept his offer. Soon, the Prince of Clèves finds himself disappointed. While she’s nice about his affection, Madame of Clèves does not return them.

Matters aren’t helped when the handsome Duc of Nemours comes onto the scene. The Duc of Nemours and the Princess of Clèves fall in love. The titular character has a dilemma between remaining true to the Prince of Clèves or running off with her perfect match, the Duc of Nemours.

I was happy that the version of book I read had a list of characters in the back. Not knowing much about this part of French history was a bit of a loss for me. Yet, I admired how closely observed the history was in the book. I did research as I read and could appreciate all La Fayette said in this regard. Let me say that her main character was fictitious.

Also outstanding is the psychology of a book from the 1600s! There’s drama and such internal conflict. The emotions and the dilemmas of these characters are very modern.

One thing which bothered me was a lack of names. Okay, she’s Mademoiselle de Chartres and then she’s the Princess of Clèves. Could we at least give her one constant – a name? How about Marie?

Four out of Five Pearls

Word Bank:

Cyphers

Dauphin/Dauphine

Places: France

For more on La Fayette’s The Princess of Clèves, please check out the following links:

Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea


Borrowing from Arukiyomi . . . I read this by my PC mostly.

* 1001 Books Book

Rhys, J., Raiskin, J. L., & Brontë, C. (1999). Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: W.W. Norton. 9780393960129

I reviewed Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre after reading it in 2008. Spotting Wide Sargasso Sea on the infamous 1001 Books list, I skimmed the info in my book and mentally added it to my TBR list. Recently, I watched the Masterpiece Theatre version and thought of Rhys’ prequel. After some debate with my coworkers about what sort of monster the first Mrs. Rochester should be, I picked up the Norton Critical Edition of Wide Sargasso Sea.

Rhys takes up the cause of the madwoman in the attic – (Bertha) Antoinette Cosway Mason. Part I is told by the young  Antoinette, a beautiful white Creole heiress in Jamaica (circa 1834).  She’s troubled from the start – burdened with a derainged widowed mother, no father in early years, and the issue of a line of slaveholders.  In free Jamaica, Antoinette is neither Jamaican nor British. It doesn’t help that other kids call her a “white cockroach.” Things don’t improve much for Antoinette until her mother remarries Mr. Mason. While not fond of her stepfather, Mr. Mason offers order in a crazy world.

Part II is told by the unnamed husband (Mr. Rochester) of Antoinette. He wonders what he has done, marrying a stranger.  Apparently, he came down with a fever after arriving in Jamaica. Nonetheless, the husband has gained much in this union. He and Antoinette arrive at their honeymoon house. Eventually, the ice breaks (so to speak) between the two and things go well. Then, the husband receives a letter which changes everything.

Part III is voiced by Bertha as she’s now called. She talks from the attic of Thornfield Hall.

Rhys is no Charlotte Brontë. Part of me wants to cry “blasphemy!” Then again, these are two fictional works. I did find Antoinette sympathetic but I felt manipulated. I can feel sorry for a girl in an unstable house. In fact, I felt bad for Bertha in Jane Eyre.

I didn’t care for the reworking of the time setting, either. Here, Rhys tried to make the events coincide with the Jamaican abolition. I think she could’ve had some sort of Jamaican antebellum cries within her work. She didn’t need to have it set later.

Nor was I fond of the “male oppression” themes. Yes, things were that bad for women then. However, where was Antoinette’s mother when she needed her? She was taken care of by her stepfather. I felt like I was being hit over the head with this. Of course, this is likened to Britain’s treatment of Jamaica.

Perhaps another turnoff was that the book was rife with footnotes and explanations of what I was to read and then explanations of what I had just read. In this case, the notes hindered rather than helped.

I say Two Out of Five Pearls

Places: Jamaica, Dominica, Martinique, England

Word Bank: (definitions thanks to book cited above)

  1. calabash: a large dried gourd of the local calabash tree; they were used as bowls.
  2. Creole: in this context, those of English or European descent born in the Caribbean.
  3. frangipani tree: also called plumieria, a small tree native to the West indies with flowers that smell very sweet, especially at night.
  4. Maroon: in Jamaica, this term referred to the runaway slaves and their descendants who escaped to the mountains  and lived free in small communities.
  5. Patois: A French word also used in English to refer to any dialect that develops out of contact between the language of a colonizing people (i.e., English) and that of a colonized people (i.e., Native Americans).
  6. salt fish:  salted, dried cod imported from Canada as standard food for slaves and wages for apprentices. The colloquial connotations of the term “salt fish” include low-class stutus and low quality of character, as well as a poor diet.
  7. sargassum: a free-floating mass of seaweed. It is found in the Sargasso Sea, an oval-shaped area of the North Atlantic Sea, bordered by the Gulf Stream and encompassing the Bermuda Islands.

For more on Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, check out these links:


Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie


This was one of my Summer Reading Program books in 2009! Please note the Starry Night mousepad.

* 1001 Books Book

Spark, M. (1999). The prime of Miss Jean Brodie. New York: Perennial Classics.

When reading another book recently, I saw a reference to Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. My interest piqued, I looked up some information on it and found that this read was less than 200 pages. That and the teacher narrative caught my attention.

Miss Jean Brodie teaches at a girls’ private school, Marcia Blaine,  in 1930s Edinburgh, Scotland. She works at the Junior School where she handpicks six girls to be what will become known as “The Brodie Set” or “The Brodie Girls.” They are Monica, Rose, Eunice, Sandy, Jenny, and Mary. With these girls in particular, Miss Brodie discusses her travels and politics as well as her amorous relationships with Mr. Lloyd, the school’s Art Master, and Mr. Lowther, the Singing Master of Marcia Blaine. She fawns over Il Duce and constantly reminds her students that she is in “her prime” and they shall benefit.  Most of her coworkers and the headmistress, Miss Mackay, detest her.  Using the prolepsis (flashfoward) technique, Spark definitely shows the reader that Miss Brodie leaves her mark on her students. Yet has she scarred them for life?

After finishing the book, I watched the movie with Dame Maggie Smith. While I found the performances amazing, I felt the film didn’t pack the wallup which I found in the book. The prolepsis was not in the film (this was pre-Lost days) and this left me disappointed. The flash forwards offered much into the psyche of Miss Brodie and her students. Seeing how these six girls landed as women was huge in the book.

In addition, the book was scarier. Themes from The Wave must have come from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  Much of the Brodie technique falls under mind control and manipulation. The dangers of letting others do all of the thinking are huge here.

I also think Spark borrowed a little from Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. For fear of spoiling the story, even one chock full of flash forwards, I will leave that for readers to decide.

All in all, on level of prolepsis and precautionary tale, I give this 3 out of 5 pearls.

See also:

Original Time review

Arukiyomi | The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark

John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman


The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles* 1001 Books Book

Fowles, J. (1969). The French lieutenant’s woman. Boston: Little, Brown.

A coworker recommended this book to me. Then, another coworker suggested I read it. At long last, I embarked on reading the nearly 500 page book. Before I realized, I had actually read the whole book.

Twentieth century writer John Fowles looks upon his Victorian characters and times in The French lieutenant’s woman. Fowles and the reader see these late Nineteenth century events from a Twentieth century point of view. The novel is interspersed with poetry of the day and discussions of politics, Darwinism, and Existentialism.

In the small Southwestern English village of Lyme Regis in 1867, the pretty young heiress Ernestina Freeman resides with her widowed aunt until her planned march down the aisle. She is engaged to a gentleman and amateur paleontologist Charles Smithson. Charles stays at a local inn, awaiting his marriage. One day, Charles and Ernestina walk along the coast. Inadvertently, they stumble upon the town’s own Hester Prynne, Sarah Woodruff (a.k.a. Tragedy, the French Lieutenant’s Whore/Woman, etc). Ernestina manages not to rubberneck but Charles is intrigued by the enigmatic, sad woman who was jilted by a French soldier not so long before the novel begins.

Later, Charles learns Sarah’s real name and that she now works as a companion to the legalistic and cruel Mrs. Poulteney, the richest woman in town. With each page, Charles becomes more and more fascinated by Sarah and her story. She makes him second guess and question not only his engagement but everything in his life. The biggest question of all is this; will Charles give up everything else to pursue something good and true or will he continue his life of pretense.

I can say that I had never read a novel like this. While I may have read poor imitations of Fowles’ interjectory style, this book is one of a kind. I easily saw that Charles supported Darwin’s arguments but I also saw him as a dying breed – a gentleman who did not have to work. His kind found itself dependent on wealthy heiresses seeking titles. Yet, his gentleman’s gentleman, Sam, has the survival instinct of a cockroach.

One big question the book raises is Sarah’s motives. Surely, she represents truth and honor while Ernestina stands for the gilt beloved by Victorians. Yet, Charles’ feelings for either one of these women is debatable. When all is said and done, I think it was less about which corner of the love triangle prevailed and more about Charles doing what is right.

I hope I’m not breaking my own rule about spoilers but Fowles offers us three different endings. The first one is debunked by Fowles himself. This reminded me of “Choose your own adventure” books but I did find it authentic and worth pondering which way it would have truly gone. Nonetheless, thank you, Mr. Fowles, for giving your characters, and readers, some free will. Perhaps it’s enough rope to hang ourselves, characters and all, but it makes for a worthy read.

The only complaint I have will make me sound like a complete plebeian; all the foreign language. I did not take French and I had not the foggiest notion what the characters were saying at times and this frustrated me.

I must say, however, this is a Five out of Five Pearls book.

Places: Lyme Regis, UK; London, UK; Exeter, UK; Europe; US

For more on The French Lieutenant’s Woman:

All Time 100 Novels

Imminent Victorians

Jonathon Franzen’s The Corrections


A nuclear family seemingly enjoys Christmas Dinner.

A nuclear family seemingly enjoys Christmas Dinner.

*1001 Books Book

Franzen, J. (2001). The corrections. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

 

When I saw this book in the 1001 Books tome and Arukiyomi’s review, I found myself drawn to the cover. The jacket offers the viewer a glimpse of a traditional late 1950s to early 1960s family gathered for a holiday meal. Looking closer, I saw part of a happy boy’s face and the full shot of another boy’s face; this one not so perky. In fact, he looked burdened with displeasure. Although the book is quite thick (about 600 pages), I read The Corrections pretty rapidly.

The Lamberts appears as the typical dysfunctional, American family in which each member seeks out some sort of fix for whatever ails him or her.  Published just before 9/11, the Lamberts of the Midwestern St. Jude want correction. Alfred Lambert, the father, now suffers from the isolating dimensia that is Parkinson’s Disease. His wife, Enid, is riddled with shame and anxiety.

They have three grown children; Gary, Chip, and Denise. All three kids live in the Northeast. Gary, the oldest, looks to be a successful Philadelphia banker with a wife and three sons. Yet, Gary may unravel due to possible clinical depression and paranoia egged on by his wife, Caroline.

Chip is Alfred and Enid’s second son. While Chip was on his way to tenure at a Northeast college, he was forced to resign after his affair with a student. Now, he writes and looks for correction in working for a Lithuanian mob boss. He feels his parents are the source of all of his problems.

The youngest is Denise, a beautiful and competitive chef in Philadelphia. She’s also a divorcee and under the constant pressure from Enid to marry a nice, young man. Enid believes Denise to be having an affair.

Enid wants desperately for all of the Lamberts to gather at their home in St. Jude for one last Christmas. Alfred is getting on in years and surely they will be moving to be closer to their children. Well, whether or not any of this happens is anyone’s guess . . .

One major theme in this socially critical novel is reflected by the title – correction. It argues that the next generation is to learn from the preceding one what not to do. As that old saying goes, “Learn from your parents mistakes.” I can buy this to a certain extent. Yet, as reviewer Arukiyomi said of this very book, I also find that Jesus’ death is the ultimate correction. Yes, there’s still need for atonement and redemption but this takes a more Divine Intervention if you ask me. However, I saw many of the characters turning to narcotics, alcohol, sex, etc, etc in order to treat the challenges they faced. Ultimately, I still debate whether or not the Lamberts really were “cured” in the end. Some appeared to doggedly accept their plights while others became satisfied without admitting they had problems.

I liked parts of this book. Even as much distance Gary, Chip, and Denise try to put between themselves and their parents (physically, mentally, emotionally) they are still tethered to Alfred and Enid. This is just life. Another thing which amused me was how Franzen referred to Chip’s former employer as D—- College.

I found much of it reminiscent of Anne Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. Both books have dysfunctional families with three children – the two eldest being boys, the youngest – a girl. While Tyler seems to keep a respectful distance when it comes to certain aspects in her characters’ lives, Franzen is much closer and much much more personal.

I found that Franzen firmly grasped the characters of Gary, Enid, and Chip. I didn’t know what to make of Denise. Not for the obvious reasons, but she seemed quite male. Alfred truly put the hysterical into hysterical realism.

Places: St. Jude, American Midwest, Philadelphia, New York, American Northeast, Lithuania, Eastern Europe

Three Out of Five Pearls

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre


Jane Eyre (Collector’s Library) by Charlotte Bronte | LibraryThing

* 1001 Books Book

Brontë, C. (1993). Jane Eyre. New York: Modern Library.

I remember having listened to the audio book when I was in junior high. Yet, I did not feel as though I could say I had actually read Brontë’s Jane Eyre. So, I picked up the book a second time.

Jane is an orphaned girl stuck with her mean, widowed, and wealthy aunt, Mrs. Reed, and her wretched cousins. Jane suffers at their hands to the point of being thrilled to go to boarding school just to escape their heavy-handed cruelty.

At the Lowood School, however, Jane finds more of the same abuses and deprivations. Under the direction of the antagonistic and puritanical Mr. Brocklehurst, Jane and her peers go more days without what they need. When Mr. Brocklehurst loses his position, though, and a new committee takes over Lowood, life for the students dramatically improves.

As an adult, Jane becomes a governess. She takes on employment at Thornfield manor under Byronic hero Mr. Rochester. Jane develops romantic feelings for Mr. Rochester, an enigmatic man with a past of his own.

I found Jane Eyre quite powerful in the creation and phrasing of the eponymous character. Simultaneously compassionate and willful, Jane can stand on her own. Mr. Rochester seems to love this quality, too. Jane is unsinkable and can look out for herself. In the ways that counts for Brontë, her orphaned heroine and Byronic hero are a perfect match.

It’s difficult for me to see if this is where the clichés of gothic romance originate or if it was already old hat. A similar question I had was whether all of the orphan misery was original to Brontë or if it was borrowed with Dickens. It definitely met my melodrama quota for the year.

Three out of Five Pearls

For more on Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, please check out the following links: