Anonymous asked:

If you ever have the time and are willing, could you tell me more about your wrath for Thomas Hardy? Aspiring English major, will probably have to read him at some point, would love to know what I should expect.

Hah. Hahahahahah. Haaaah.

I should disclaim, first and foremost, that I have read ONE ENTIRE BOOK by Thomas Hardy, so my opinions on this subject are FAR FROM DEFINITIVE. That said, my understanding is that my impression from that book was pretty representative of his work in general, since I remember discussing this with my tutor at Oxford and she was like, …yep that is what he does every time. (She was, uh, not a huge fan. “I always wonder,” she said at the beginning of the tutorial, “if we have George Eliot, then what’s… the point… of Thomas Hardy?” And then she proceeded to look really guilty and tried to find interesting things to say about him for an hour.)

[[MORE]]My main beef with Hardy can be boiled down to a couple of things. I distinctly remember thinking, when reading him, that he was doing ALL OF THE THINGS that you are told not to do when writing, and that it was driving me insane. Now, obviously any kind of proscriptive rules for writing are a waste of time — don’t use adverbs! etc etc — because there’s always somebody who can break them to great effect. But I am talking, like, “show don’t tell” — which again, can be reversed, but NOT ALL THE TIME. There are just some basic instinctual things that you learn that are, you know, valuable, and a LOT of that was not evident in what he was doing — it just felt like bad writing to me. A lot has changed stylistically since the Victorian period but this is sort of more basic than that — you do not get this sense reading, ahem, George Eliot. I would be more specific but it’s been so long that I just don’t remember more detailed observations. But this was very frustrating to me.

The major thing, though, was the way he constructed plot in the book that I read for this tutorial, which was The Mayor of Casterbridge. Plot, IN MY VIEW, should always, always stem from character. (There’s a writing rule somebody has surely broken, skillfully and to great effect! In fact, the main example to me of something that is insanely compelling, and has great characters, but often has major plots that are driven by outside forces, is The Wire, which is all about… how the system destroys everything.) Unless you are writing a satire, in which case the whole point of the work is political, the characters have to be the driving force of what you are doing. End of story. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have other ideas, or that you can’t have a political point — but good, compelling stories almost always come from plots based around characters, which ideally have stemmed from the characters (or that at least feel that way). The plot in The Mayor of Casterbridge is schematic: he clearly had an idea, about a social issue, and then shoved characters into this formula, and it doesn’t work. It feels cheap, and manipulative, and frustrating. And my understanding is that this was pretty much how he always wrote. (He also devised plots that were nominally sympathetic to the plight of women, but the main female character in The Mayor of Casterbridge, at least, is a total feminist nightmare.)

Again, I AM NOT AN AUTHORITY ON THIS SUBJECT; I am sure scholars of Thomas Hardy would disagree with my reduction of his technique. But I did. Not. Like. It. If you compare that to Jane Eyre, for instance: obviously, the governess falling in love with her employer plot is a total trope, right? I mean, that book is the epitome of the trope, but it was still a trope. And it’s not a very plotty book, exactly. But: based on Jane and Rochester’s personalities, it COMPLETELY MAKES SENSE that they would fall for each other. Similarly, it COMPLETELY MAKES SENSE that Rochester would have coped with his wife’s… problems by doing what he’s done, AND that he would have then reacted to locking her up in the attic by going into a self-loathing shame spiral. When Jane finds out, her leaving causes a huge dramatic event in the book — and it feels completely natural, because OF COURSE Jane has to leave. It would be completely inauthentic to the character for her not to. The same with her choosing not to go to India with St John later. Obviously the book ends on a deus ex machina, but I just wanted to pick a simple and familiar counter-example from that (approximate) period.

So basically, I RECOMMEND AVOIDING THOMAS HARDY. Of course there are people who enjoy him, and godspeed to all of you, love what you love, but when you have alternatives like the Brontës, George Eliot, and Henry James, to name but a few, I don’t… really… see… the point.

bearpolarh asked:

Gosh, I'm at my 3rd re-read of Catcher, I agree wholeheartedly that it improves each time. I've had a good run this year, the gap I'm taking before grad school allowed me to read a lot more than I ever could (read as I don't want to be an adult, leave me be with my books & movies). Delved more into classics and Asian lit instead of sticking to the few authors I'm partial to. Victorian lit though, I have a hard time getting into. What would you suggest for someone who prefers stuff like Wilde?

Would that we could all just avoid being adults forever and read and watch movies instead. WHAT A WORLD THAT WOULD BE.

Hmm, Wilde. I am not really an expert in the fin de siècle despite loving Wilde & having used Dorian Gray in my senior thesis; I know more about the fat old Marriage Plot Novels though I have a long list of stuff I ought to read on the docket. (I WILL READ THE WOMAN IN WHITE THIS YEAR, BY GOD. I WILL DO IT.)

A few things come to mind, if you haven’t encountered them: there’s Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, which is an Irish Gothic lesbian vampire novella which is aweeeeesome and which predates Dracula by like 25 years or something. Not too long and super fun and campy.

You might also enjoy The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, which is less — pulpy, I suppose, although that isn’t really the right word for Wilde — but which is a really amazing ghost story and is really chilling and not very long. I LOVE this book.

Otherwise — you might want to look into Guy de Maupassant, though his output varies a lot. He wrote a lot of short stories (in French) a number of which have supernatural elements, iirc. The thing of his that I love is a novel called Bel Ami which is… not like that, haha. (A great social novel of the belle époque though! Good stuff!)

Charlotte recommends The Lost Stradivarius, by John Meade Falkner, about which I know nothing, but the plot summary looks great.

bearpolarh asked:

I recently re-read Catcher in The Rye and it took me by surprise because I hated it the first time I read it (that was about 2-3 years ago?). I love it so much now and I don't even know exactly why. It's the only book I re-read when I have a million and one books and fics waiting. You have any other books you come back to?

I’M TELLING YOU, that book improves SO MUCH upon rereadings. And I mean, I say that as someone who loved it the first time around. It is just a book that needs to be read multiple times. I really want to read it again but my copy is at my mom’s house so at some point I will have to find it there and bring it home with me.

I don’t reread stuff as much as I would like — I mean I need to read more period; I’ve had a bad year or so for a variety of reasons, reading-wise. So THIS IS ONE OF MY GOALS: reading more books. Last year I did reread The Portrait of a Lady, as I mentioned earlier, which was a Project — it took around a month — in a very positive sense, since that’s a book that deserves a lot of time and thought, and is one of my very, very, very favorite novels. I read it in college — at Oxford, in the tutorial for which I also did Middlemarch and a bunch of other stuff — Jane Eyre & Wuthering Heights & Daniel Deronda & The Turn of the Screw & Dorian Gray — which was what made me a Victorian Literature Person. (I also did The Mayor of Casterbridge but I try not to think about that, ever.) Anyway that was a very formative time and those were very formative books and I love all of them, but The Portrait of a Lady and Middlemarch and Jane Eyre most of all. (I had read Jane Eyre in middle school but that book is also MUCH different as an adult.)

The only other thing I’ve reread recently is Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín, who is one of my favorite authors — I’ve mentioned this before but he was the best professor I had in college; I just love him. And I fucking love that book. I read it in… 2009? 2010? In like, a day. And it REALLY affected me. And I read it again a year or so ago, maybe a little more, also in, like, a day, and it was just as good. I have read a loooot of his books (I am reading his new one, which comes out this fall, right now) and so many of them are so good, but that one is still my favorite.

I really want to read Middlemarch again and planned to do that this year but I think I have to wait a while because I am too steeped in it now, even though I have not actually been… reading it. My brain has been in it, regardless. OH, I also read Train Dreams twice in the span, of, like, three months, but that’s like 100 pages long. That is also one of the best books I have ever read, and everybody should read it. I mean, it’s 100 pages long. You can do it in one sitting.

At the moment I have a lot of new books I want to read. I might do some Shakespeare at some point soon, too. It has been a while. And I have been meaning to reread Atonement. But who knows when I will get around to that.

on books etc

I JUST THOUGHT I WOULD POST SOMETHING UP TO SAY that I have gotten quite a few comments and messages etc w/r/t That Fic (which I still have trouble referring to by its title, since in my brain it is still just what I was calling it while writing it, i.e. The Teens — tbh I always have trouble referring to stuff by titles, but in this case in particular the weirdness is magnified) from people saying they have or are planning to go and rent/buy/seek out the books referenced or discussed therein (i.e. Middlemarch, A Separate Peace, Death of a Salesman, and of course Catcher in the Rye).

Anyway I just wanted to say that if anybody does this that YOU ARE ALL VERY WELCOME TO COME TALK TO ME ABOUT THEM. That is, by far, the craziest and most amazing reaction I have gotten to that fic, because it is definitely not something I anticipated, and also because I love all of those books (well, books + 1 play) dearly and they all have a great deal of personal significance to me. So basically I feel like, you know, in particular getting anyone to read Middlemarch (which is not a very common text anymore, particularly in the US) is pretty much my greatest life achievement to date. IT JUST MAKES ME REALLY HAPPY.

So in any case I am obviously not… expecting this… lol, but IF YOU WERE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE, like, my inbox is definitely always open. I LOVE TALKING ABOUT BOOKS. Also, I would like to additionally recommend The Portrait of a Lady, which I possibly love even more than Middlemarch, although I would have to reread Middlemarch to confirm this, having reread The Portrait of a Lady last year and not read Middlemarch since the winter of 2010. IT’S A CLOSE RACE, ANYWAY. Henry James & George Eliot 4 lyfe.


Anonymous asked:

Hello. I know that you're a fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (as am I) and also generally savvy about sussing out problematic stuff in the works you love so I was wondering if you had any thoughts on some of the criticism I've seen; of there being only one POC and the women being saved by men & the fact that not all POC of that that place & time were nameless slaves like Stephen? I did love the characterization in the bk & thought everyone had agency. I dunno. Is this a valid criticism?

hellotailor answered:

i don’t think JS&MN is a racist or sexist book in itself, although there’s no simple answer to the question of whether it “should” include more women or POC characters.

obviously both Norrell and Strange are immensely privileged, but that privilege doesn’t go unexamined. norrell’s intellectual snobbery and classism are constantly mocked within the narrative, and Strange lives the kind of life that is only possible if you’re born into wealth and social freedom. meanwhile people like stephen black and lady pole are repeatedly screwed over by their place in society, regardless of their own skill, intelligence or ambition. 

the book acknowledges the stratified nature of class in 19th century england. in fact, that’s one of the main themes throughout, with Strange and Norrell only reaching their positions of power because they’re rich, white, upper-class men. and then, of course, they abuse those privileges (or at least, misuse them). the book is all about divides: north/south, rich/poor, race, gender, etc. i can’t really get behind the criticism that it’s being racist or sexist purely by focusing on JS & MN’s stories, although I WOULD use that exact same criticism for a book or movie that blithely heroizes a bunch of white male characters for no reason. (needless to say, neither Norrell nor Strange are “heroes,” with Norrell being actively unlikable throughout.)

for me, the main issue would be the fact that while it’s a very smart and well-informed novel, it does join the already-enormous canon of historical and fantasy literature that focuses on white men. but once again… this doesn’t go unexamined. you could actually argue that it’s a takedown of this trend, since strange and norrell both unfairly benefit from being part of the expected ruling class of “english magic.”

re: stephen and lady pole, it doesn’t really make sense to use a criticism like “oh, a male character has to save a woman,” as if we were talking about the latest transformers movie or whatever. stephen and lady pole’s circumstances are an essential part of their story arcs, and it’s made clear that they’ve been held back by 19th century english society their entire lives. i’d compare it to how it’s super easy to find out about the political/historical/scientific impact of upper-class white englishman IRL, whereas learning about the equivalent of Stephen Black or Lady Pole is wayyy harder. And since JS&MN is written partly as a kind of history book, i think that subtext was intentional. WE get to hear about stephen black and lady pole, but the people who “History” will remember are Strange and Norrell themselves, because they have such a foothold in britain’s ruling classes and cultural zeitgeist.

the Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair literally silences Lady Pole and Stephen Black: a direct commentary on the way women & POC were silenced in real life. Strange & Norrell get to be at the centre of attention in british society, while the (equally important) storylines for lady pole and stephen are hidden away in the background — known only to us, the readers.

the entire story is structured to highlight the way strange and norrell can basically do whatever they want (which is eventually their downfall, and fucks shit up for a lot of other people), while everyone who isn’t a rich white man has to put in way more effort — often to no avail. for example, it’s implied that childermass could be more powerful/knowledgeable as a magician than norrell is, but his social status prevents that from happening. and norrell actively combats anyone “below” him from learning about magic, because he has this gross patriarchal belief that He Knows Best. 

there’s also the way the gentleman with the thistledown hair treats stephen throughout their relationship. i think it’s implied that the reason why stephen is so good at dealing with the Gentleman is because he’s used to putting up with people in positions of power trying to control him, or treating him like he’s some kind of curiosity. 

IMO, what we have here is a book where:

  • most of the lead characters are white men
  • BUT it’s set during a historical period where white men held the overwhelming majority of power and privilege
  • AND the book criticizes this constantly, in almost every aspect of the story. 
  • there is only one POC character, and he is a former slave
  • BUT his character arc deals intelligently with issues of race and class in the context of his life and surroundings, AND he’s not portrayed as a stereotype. plus, [SPOILER] stephen black’s storyline ends with an explicit critique of people’s concept of “englishness,” because he turns into the successor of the Raven King — another “nameless slave” (which, btw, is not how Stephen is actually characterized within the narrative) who was kidnapped as a child and learned to speak english later on. 

this all brings us back to the more general question of whether it’s racist/sexist to continue to write books about rich white men when there are so many stories about them already. Stephen Black is the only major character who isn’t white, and his backstory (former slave; now a butler) is probably what most people think of as an “expected” scenario for a black man in 19th century england. (although you could say the same of pretty much every other character, all of whom exist within the specific parameters of their social class.) 

i don’t think JS&MN was a case of susanna clarke thoughtlessly ignoring the existence and life stories of women and POC in 19th century england. it was a case of her purposefully setting out to write a book about two immensely privileged people and how this kind of undeserved, unexamined power generally leads to disaster. if the book had been JUST about norrell and strange then it would have come across as a blinkered view, but because they’re both portrayed as being products of their social status, and because the book gives us a nuanced view of the way this differs from the lives of characters like stephen, childermass and lady pole, i didn’t have a problem with it.

(p.s. i read this book in 2012, so this answer probably isn’t as well-informed as it could’ve been. apologies if i got something glaringly wrong.)

I agree with all of this, and would also add that a substantial portion of what Clarke is doing in this novel is very carefully recreating and simultaneously breaking down the exact progression of literary discourse and production in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century England. Norrell and Strange’s disagreements over the proper use of magic could be applied almost word-for-word to the literary establishment of the time contra the Romantic poets, of whom Strange is an explicit representative. (He literally meets Byron.) The publishers she cites in the book are actual people who were publishing key authors at the time, many of whom were not selling many books at all, and many of whom were getting into pretty heated debates about the purpose of poetry/art, among other matters. Magic in the text functions largely as a surrogate for writing, and the connection between magic within the text and the literature of the period from which Clarke is drawing her sources can’t be overstated.

Strange really is a Byronic hero — which is precisely what makes him both compelling and winning, and also easy to mock, and ultimately dooms him. Even if you strip down what she’s doing to a purely aesthetic level — say, the nightmarish quality of the scenes in Italy later on — everything comes back to the literary context of the period. And for the Romantics, the key figure was the brilliant, heroic man out on his own against nature — but in Strange’s case that doesn’t work (as it generally tended not to; even in real life they all died early), and we see all of the other people around him who a) are affected negatively by his actions and b) who have to work to get shit done in his stead. What Clarke is essentially doing in this book is contextualizing the Romantic ideal in the realities of the period — but through fantasy, instead of simply just saying, “And in fact everyone was poor and dirty and miserable while somewhere Percy Shelley was saying wanky things about poetry.” Which, I mean, IS VALID, but like, we all know that; it’s not very interesting or revelatory. Her way is a lot more ingenious, and has a lot more to say about the literature upon which she is commenting (she’s critical of the trope while still writing an entire book in homage to it), and ultimately leads to the creation of a what is itself truly remarkable work of literature. (So, a point: we see how much of a mess Strange’s whole Romantic hero thing gets everyone into, but he still does get to be a Romantic hero, and there still is something kind of… romantic about it. I mean, she doesn’t leave him dead in a ditch, you know? And the book is better for it.)

It’s been a while since I’ve read the book too, but I really fundamentally reject the notion that these aren’t important or legitimate subjects to engage with or write about. Of course we can and should all pick whichever books we want to read based on our own personal preferences! This book is not going to appeal to everyone. And, similarly, the work of poets like Byron and Shelley and Keats has a stature above work that might have been produced by other writers of less privilege (though, perpetual caveat: Keats had no money!). We all know the problems with the canon, basically, but that doesn’t mean that a) that work isn’t enormously culturally important, or b) engaging with it in critical and creative ways isn’t a worthy and valid endeavor. The canon may have issues, and the idea of the canon in the first place may have issues, but there is a (variable) canon, and it has had an impact. There are definitely people who disagree with me on this point, but I don’t think there’s any point in rejecting it wholesale. (We can reject bits. Only really niche scholars, for instance, should ever have to think about Pope again.)

In any case, though, you absolutely don’t have to have this kind of academic background to appreciate the book — it’s enjoyable purely on the level of historical critique, as Gav explicated so well above, and also simply as a very, very good fantasy novel — but as someone who does have that background it’s a really important text to me for the ways in which it engages with that literary history, among other things.

I just realized that one of the questions from the meme yesterday asked about favorite characters by other people and I forgot to answer that part of the question, and I was thinking about it just now in the shower and thought it was interesting because, re. what I was saying about likeability, it’s kind of difficult to answer? I was thinking about my favorite books and how I wouldn’t necessarily think about the characters in them in this way — I love Never Let Me Go, for instance, and I love Kathy H., but I’m not sure I would say that she’s one of my favorite characters ever or anything; that’s not really the reason I like the book; same with something like Train Dreams which truly has nothing to do with that character at all. And then even something like Middlemarch is full of characters I love but none of them stand out too particularly — I love Dorothea but she also makes me roll my eyes a lot, which is obviously intentional. You could, of course, say that favorite ≠ likeable, and I don’t even mean to draw a direct parallel. But I don’t know — it’s a different metric.

Anyway in my ruminating I found myself thinking about Lily Briscoe, and Lyra Belaqua, and Jonathan Strange, and Jane Eyre, and Hamlet, and Polly Whittacker and Thomas Lynn, and Vautrin, and Patrick Melrose (who is decidedly NOT likeable), and, last but not least, Ralph Touchett, who was my answer to a question once when asked if I could be friends with one character from literature, who would I choose. Because as he proves in that novel, Ralph is a pretty excellent friend indeed. And pretty amusing at dinner, I’d imagine.

Also if anybody else wants to ask questions from that meme you should, I liked it a lot, and I can answer them when I get back home later.


Anonymous asked:

eric/charles - our heros are forced to co-judge an important literary competition. can they agree on a winner? can they keep their hands of each other?

alwaysalreadyangry answered:

a girl is a half-formed thing is obviously better,” charles says, infuriated. he’s sweaty with anger, and his glasses (non-prescription) have slipped down to the tip of his nose. “it’s the best bloody book i’ve read all year. all decade, possibly.”

erik rubs at his chin.

"the work of all present company excluded," charles says. "of course."

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