This morning when I went running I had to dodge large puddles of water. The air carried the scent of thawing ground and for all the world I could have believed spring was arriving exceptionally early to Michigan and probably this meant we are all really, really screwed. But now, several hours later, the clouds have dispersed and every twenty minutes or so the temperature drops a few degrees and it smells like it could snow. I hope the El Nino winds have finally ceased and the weather gods will smile on us and bring piles of snow and this time next week I’m sitting down to blog after a long afternoon cross-country skiing.
In the mean time, I performed a remarkable feat and returned from the library without checking out any books (I did snag three c.d.s – The Best of Emmy Lou Harris, The Raconteurs and Les Miserables). I originally thought I could complete the From the Stacks challenge but I was distracted by Gilead and The Fallen and having only read two books for the challenge so far I’ve decided to cut myself some slack and allow January to be a new start – I’m going to focus on reading 13 classics in 2007 instead. Tomorrow I’ll take my gift card from my sister-in-law to the bookstore and choose my first classic…I’m thinking of Anna Karenina, Lolita or East of Eden. Unless something else calls to me, of course. I’ll let you know. Today, though, I have three books I want to discuss.
The first book I finished in 2007 – Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. I have to confess, some books, as I read them, call out and demand a blog post from me – I felt like that with both Lisey’s Story and The Kite Runner, as well as with the two other books I’ve reserved to discuss in this post. I didn’t particularly feel this way about Gilead but I’ve also made a decision to blog, however briefly, about everything I read this year, and so here I am. I ended up enjoying Robinson’s novel much more by the end than I did in the beginnning. At first I found the lack of chapters off-putting but certainly, this decision serves the narrative structure. I found Reverend John Ame’s voice engaging and strangely calming, and I think maybe the reason I don’t feel called to write about this book is because of its very nature – much of the text centers around the ideas of grace and forgiveness and I almost feel like Ames’s voice carried me along in a similar state of grace – I felt calm and compassionate while reading this book, almost as though by reading this story of redemption and understanding I was momentarily blessed with similar qualities. But I didn’t come away with anything really to say about it other than the experience of reading the book equals, in some measure, the messages from the text. I look forward to Housekeeping.
The other two books I want to write about, in conjunction with one another, are A Room with a View and The Awakening. I read Forster’s book first, and completed Chopin’s in early December. Upon completing The Awakening I kept thinking how much it reminded me of A Room with a View, even though Forster’s is British Literature and Chopin’s is American Lit. After
extensive research a couple of searches on google, I couldn’t find any mention of these texts being taught together but it seems to me certainly they must be? In comparative literature, if nothing else? Or have I just had too much vanilla almond tea lately to make sense out of this? Both novels have women as central characters – Lucy in ARWAV and Edna in TA. Both novels begin with the heroines vacationing, Lucy in Florence and Edna at a summer colony of the coast of Louisiana, and both characters meet men who transform their experiences while away from home. Lucy meets George Emerson and Edna meets Robert Lebrun. Both women fall in love with the men they meet, although Edna’s emotions are considerably more dangerous since she is already a wife and mother…
Ugh. Do you ever start writing and have this GREAT idea in your head and realize as you type it’s impossible to execute? I honestly don’t think I have the vocabulary to say what I want to say about these novels. Let me try another way: When I was in college I had a British Literature teacher who once lectured on how thoroughly disappointing American Literature is – she said after the American Revolution British artists kept waiting and waiting for great American artists to finally reveal themselves and here we all were, in 1997, still waiting for some flicker of American greatness to reveal itself. She also claimed it impossible for British and American Literature to truly converse with one another because the experiences forming each are so disparate intellectual engagement isn’t possible. For some reason, this lecture always stuck with me, but it was upon finishing The Awakening that I realized how truly off-base this professor was, that day. The Awakening was published in 1899, Forster’s novel in 1908. A mere nine years apart, both novels feature heroines who fall “in love” while vacationing, and in both instances their love interests are inappropriate, Lucy’s because of George’s unsuitablility and Edna’s because, well, for God’s sake, she’s married! While one novel is light in nature and even humorous (ARWAV), Chopin foreshadow’s her tragic ending in every chapter. Despite different approaches (one satirical, one earnest), both novels feature women transformed by music – Lucy’s potential greatness transcends her when she plays the piano, as relayed to us by Reverend Beebe, while Edna taps into the greatness she believes in herself when she listens to Madamoiselle REisz play. In both instances, the lead characters at first follow convention but end up shirking it in favor of following their hearts. Lucy’s decision to break off her engagement with Cecil Vyse and elope with George Emerson costs her her family (which I never have fully understood) while Edna’s decision to move out of her home and take up residence around the block, shipping off her children to their grandparents allows her the freedom to at least pursue Robert. Of course, Edna’s “awakening” is more fraught with complications than is Lucy’s…Edna’s is more obviously a sexual awakening and rejection of the roles society is forcing her to play while Lucy simply follows her heart and stays with the complicated Emerson.
Well, I’ve been trying to write this post for an hour and I fear I’m no closer than I was when I started. I guess what I am trying to say is that the experience of reading Chopin’s book echoed the experience I had reading Forster’s, and made me think that these books could certainly be a considered a cross-Atlantic discussion on the roles women assumed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. For all of that, I found Chopin’s novel much more opulent and much more sensory than Forster’s, although the perfect word to describe Forster’s novel is “delightful.” And now I’ll conclude with Kate Chopin’s response the all the negative reaction that emerged upon The Awakening’s release, so upset were people with the ending – it’s fantatstic:
Having a group of people at my disposal, I thought it might be entertaining to myself to throw them together and see what would happen. I never dreamed of Mrs. Pontellier making such a mess of things and wroking her own damnation as she did. If I had had teh slightest intimation of such things I would have excluded her from the company. But when I found out what she was upt to, the play was half over and it was then too late.