Friday, August 30, 2013

Reviewing Jane Austen's "Persuasion"

It’s the same old story.  Boy meets girl, they fall in love, boy proposes, and girl turns him down on the advice of a surrogate mother because the boy is a lowly naval officer* with few prospects and logically their marriage would end in disaster.  Then ten years later the boy comes into the girl’s life again and is rich, prestigious, and bent on not being in love with her again.

Such is the gist of Persuasion, Austen’s last complete novel before her death and often called her most mature and polished work. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reviewing Jane Austen's "Emma"

Jane Austen called the character of Emma Wodehouse “a heroine whom no one but myself will much  like.” And I agree with her.  Emma is arrogant, catty, a gossip and a busybody.  But then, she is only twenty-one. 

Perhaps it is because the heroine is so very flawed that Emma is the most humorous of Austen’s works. It’s about a young, beautiful, rich socialite who has it all…and so amuses herself by trying to make it so everyone else has it all in the way of matrimony. A self-styled matchmaker, Emma starts her novel out on a high note, having successfully engineered the marriage between her governess and a neighboring country gentleman. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Reviewing Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey"

More than any other Jane Austen novel, Northanger Abbey chases the reader around with a morality hammer until it finally hits you over the head with “DO NOT LET YOUR IMAGINATION GET THE BETTER OF YOU!”

This is the first full novel Austen completed, so we have to be forgiving that her usual nuance is a bit clumsy and uneven. The gist of the storyline is simple: naïve clergyman’s daughter Catherine Morland is plucked from her idyllic country life and taken to The Big City of Bath to be introduced to society by a family friend. She makes several friends, but in her naïveté she tends to make them indiscriminately: some are quality and good-hearted, others have ulterior motives. But like Austen’s inexperienced writing, we forgive Catherine for being ignorant, because she’s too ignorant to know any better. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Reviewing Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility"

I’ve already discussed a lot about Sense and Sensibility at length, so I’ll try not to retread familiar ground. Instead of the overall plot or characters, then, I’d like to talk about why this novel is relevant now.

When I suggest Jane Austen to teens (mostly girls, but I think the books could be profitable reads for guys too), I usually have S&S in mind. While Pride and Prejudice is Austen’s best, most famous, and most influential work, Sense and Sensibility has the most relevance for adolescents. Why?  Because it’s about walking the minefield of romantic relationships, a perilous journey that all too many teens embark upon unprepared.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"Pride and Prejudice:" A Review

I’m going to start with the Jane Austen novel that is the most famous and the most loved.  It’s so commonly known (and its plot is so often copied in today’s romcom movies) that I will forego the story synopsis and get right down to talking about the characters.

Pride and Prejudice was the reason I bought the complete Jane Austen novel collection; I had seen the Wishbone episode on “P&P” (as we Austenites affectionately call it) and wanted to read it myself.  Some of my fondest reading memories are of lying on the carpet behind our couch, head propped up on my wrists over the tiny lettering. 

It was from P&P I learned what “amiable” meant.  (Jane Austen loves the word “amiable.”  Just read all her stuff and you’ll see I’m right.)  It is also from P&P that my mom and sister and I gleaned the phrase “her lace slipped” as a euphemism for a low-cut blouse.

Unlike most Austenites, I don’t really care for Mr. Darcy, at least in comparison with other literary gentlemen.  And I don’t even see what’s so particularly spectacular about our heroine, Elizabeth.  But put them in a room together, and sparks fly.  The fact is, this novel has two flawed, normal characters who share the same shortcomings (pride and prejudice) as well as the same virtues (discretion, honor, common sense).  Austen wrote with a wit that makes this book easily read as a romantic comedy, but make no mistake: there is real heart underneath the humor. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Time to Cave In and Talk About Jane Austen

First a note to the gentlemen: Jane Austen is an author. Jane Eyre is a book. Your significant other may pretend it’s charming the first few times you mix up the two, but after a while it becomes tedious. Austenian novels are the ladies’ version of football, and just as it irks when a lady asks “When will they hit a home run?” it also annoys when you go off on your tirade about how these movies are just for girls. Sure, these novels are centered on female characters and have a distinct lack of explosions and sword fighting, but I always recommend gentlemen read at least Pride and Prejudice, if only because they’re going to be compared to Mr. Darcy by all their girlfriends whether they know who Mr. Darcy is or not, and they might as well know what preconceptions they’re up against.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Phantom Narrator: Ishmael of "Moby Dick"

Before I start this entry I feel it only fair to point out that Melville was an amateur novelist,* so perhaps it is the inexpert hand of the writer that causes me to question his narrator along the following lines: Is this Ishmael guy even reliable?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Phantom Narrator: The Gentleman of "The Old Curiosity Shop"

I am a fan of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. Both are authors whose works I have collected in hardcover at used book-sales at libraries and flea markets or asked for as Christmas or birthday gifts. Not that I see much similarity with their writing styles, I just find it an odd coincidence that both of my favorite authors are victims of the Phantom Narrator Syndrome.

Like Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Charles Dickens disappointed me with The Old Curiosity Shop. Granted, there is a vast difference between these books, but both deal with saintly* young women who are destroyed due to the evil around them, and both are narrated by Phantoms. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Phantom Narrator: Louis from "The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc"


The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc is my least favorite of the works I’ve read of Mark Twain thus far (and I’ve read more than a few!). My reasons are as follows:

-          It lacked the characteristic humor (or at least dark satire) that makes a Mark Twain book a Mark Twain book.

-          Although it recorded a lot of events from Joan of Arc’s life, I felt Twain didn’t really add anything of his own to the story.  It was more like reading a biography or history book than a historical fiction novel.

-          The narrator, Louis, was a Phantom Narrator

In fact, most of the characters in this novel are phantoms. I never got attached or related to any of them. Even the title heroine Joan of Arc was a phantom: Louis goes on and on about how perfect she is, and yet her perfection cost her any depth of personality or psychological complexity. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Phantom Narrator: Introduction

This character analysis series is not, unfortunately, about the comic book character The Phantom.  Instead it is about the poor habit that many authors have fallen into: writing passive narrators. These narrators do only what their title requires: they narrate. They look on as the other characters in the book leap into action. They describe as tumult and change swirl around them, but don’t seem all that affected by it. 

Is this true to life?  In a way, yes. There have been many times when I have watched from afar as things occurred, or listened to a conversation without contributing much to it. If I were in the midst of a battle—well, to be honest I’d run helter-skelter out of there! But I certainly wouldn’t be very good in a classic action scene.