Monday, February 4, 2013

#NaNoReMo Update #1

So February has started and we all had our first weekend reading our classics. There's still time to hop on if you have a classic you've been putting off too long.

My pick last year was Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice, which didn't go as well as I'd hoped. This year it's Middlemarch by Mary Anne Evans (as "George Eliot"). It was was originally a serial, a novel in eight released Books. I finished Book One this weekend and am a healthy way into Book Two, wherein we're still meeting the cast. It's so enormous that I'm keeping a list to keep them straight. Recent health problems have demanded I spend more time than usual sitting still, which has afforded me extra time to attack my classic.

Upon the first chapters, I feared this would be another Austen adventure. The scenes are primarily domestic or at someone else's house, and the dialogue is overwhelmingly gossip about someone's life or direction. Early chapters especially have the clash of men and women as prospects for each other, though there are always sparks of more going on. Further, Evans was every bit the whit that Austen was, with cutting lines and turn-arounds in conversation, though many more applied to the wry and detached narrator. I struggle to pick a favorite line or passage, but this is the most recent nest of thoughts to tickle my brain:

 "Our passions do not live apart in locked chambers, 
but, dressed in their small wardrobe of notions,
bring their provisions to a common table and mess together,
feeding out of the common store according to their appetite."

It's perhaps double the cast of Pride & Prejudice, but tenfold the content of personality, including women who are interested not just in marriage, but education, politics, religion, literature, foreign language and a deal more. A few characters are driven into romance, and to my eye, at least as keenly as Austen, but only a minority are defined by it. There is also at least one made a fool by the preoccupation, which lends necessary variety to the execution. The best effect is that I'm actually rooting for a few of these people to find happy endings, though that's dangerous in a satire.

It's also splendid to read a little reference-comedy about John Milton. It felt like someone was letting a little air of class into my room.

The most striking element thus far is the range of themes Evans/Eliot tackles. Scenes and chapters seem to almost deliberately disagree in their approaches, or someone’s opinions will fly against the narrator. Dorothea is introduced to us with almost too much “telling,” about her life, opinions, looks and behaviors, heaped upon in narration and then dialogue. A Book later, an artist deems her too complex to capture in art. It’s partially my bias to seeing the novel as an artform, but this artist is condemning the ability of the arts to capture life, which the narrator seems to think he/she is doing constantly.

How is everyone else doing with their books?


  1. Dickens is one verbose motherfucker, often using words I haven't encountered outside of his (and Austen’s) works and forcing me to keep my dictionary app open on my phone along with a highlighter and pen to write down definitions. But the characters are still as endearing/infuriating as his characters tend to be and the overall tone is far more lighthearted than I’m used to with him which makes for a nice change. We’ll see how it goes…

    1. That's interesting, Bev. I thought typically you found Dickens to not be too verbose, but that maybe this was the first book where it felt to you like he was getting paid by the word. Has your opinion changed?

    2. This is definitely the first book where it really feels like he is getting paid by the word, yes. Not that David Copperfield wasn't long in its own right, but it seemed to flow a hell of a lot more than this does. And Great Expectations is a freakin' novella in comparison.

  2. Well, I'm still slogging through my book club book and haven't started The Great Gatsby yet, but book club is this Friday and Gatsby is short, so I'm sure I'll finish in time. :)

    1. Yeah, I think you'll blitz through it without problems. I endorse his pink tuxedo.

  3. I may pick up Catch-22, as I have not read it yet. Don't know how I got out of high school without having to read it, all my sibs had to.

    Once you've chewed through Middlemarch maybe you'll be primed to write Middlemarch with Zombies. :o

    1. Oh no, is Middlemarch with Zombies out there, too?

      And Catch-22 is a quality piece of military satire. I don't know if I accept it as a holistic criticism of the institution, but it does a great job with circular motivational systems and bureaucracy.

  4. I'm still reading another book, so I started listening via the Libravox phone app to Book one of Les Miserables. I'm on chapter 7, & so far its one long character sketch of "A Just Man." I'm familiar enough with the general story from the film to know where its heading, but (at least as far as the film plot compares), everything so far is about a character that barely shows in the larger plot, small but important role. It'll be interesting to see how they compare to each other.

    I actually had no idea how huge the novel is, five books totaling something like 1500 pages, but the audio is a nice way to consume it. The reading is very clear with pleasant voices.

    I've never read Hugo before (other than an excerpt), so I find his style a bit verbose. However, that said, some parts have been quite lovely.

  5. I'm loving Bram Stoker's Dracula. I'm not very far in yet (got side tracked reading a book I said I'd review) but I'm back now. I really enjoy the way he has written Jonathan Harker's Journal and his descriptions of Dracula. Although not out and out scary they do have a wonderful creep quality to them ^_^

    Loved this:
    'I saw the whole man slowly emerge from the window and begin to crawl down the castle wall over the dreadful abyss, face down with his cloak spreading out around him like great wings.'

  6. I started late, too, so I could finish another book. I settled on The Wizard of Oz for my first read and am enjoying it thus far. I have been a bit surprised at how simplistic the phrasing is, but given that it is a children's book I guess I should have expected that.

    I think picking a children's book was a good choice for me, BTW. :)

  7. Glad Middlemarch is treating you well. I'm about 200 pages in to Invisible Man. Been a long time since I've read a first-person novel, and it's flying by pretty quickly.


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