Friday 23 August 2013

Toni Morrison's quotes

I know I haven't written much about Toni Morrison, but she's my favourite authoress of all time. I love her works and admire her, for the music in her language, for her compelling storytelling, for her vivid imagery and rich metaphors, for her shocking and thought-provoking and haunting stories, for her lively and convincing characters and her ability to see things from different points of view and to understand and help us understand her characters, and above all, for the inspiration she has given me.

"There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves; nothing that reminds us of the ones who made the journey and of those who did make it. There is no suitable memorial or plaque or wreath or wall or park or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower. There’s no small bench by the road. There is not even a tree scored, an initial that I can visit or you can visit in Charleston or Savannah or New York or Providence, or better still, on the banks of the Mississippi. And because such a place doesn’t exist (that I know of), the book had to."

"It’s true that when I first began to write, my work was much criticized—even despised I think—because I was not writing happy stories, about people who were able to put it all together in spite of difficulties, about people who had risen to a certain status. I realized that it was a problem, and I realized how important positive images could be, but I thought that nobody intelligent would take that seriously as criticism of a writer. If the critics felt that they could force me to “write positive images,” then clearly they assumed that I was writing for white people. It was a demand that I create an image for the “other” as opposed to my making an intimate and direct account to the people in the book and to black people. I thought the complaint was just headline stuff: things to say to reporters."

"I didn’t think about being a writer as a young person. I was content to be a reader, an editor, a teacher. I thought that everything that was worth reading had probably been written, and if it hadn’t somebody would write it eventually. I didn’t become interested in writing until I was about thirty years old. I didn’t really regard it as writing then, although I was putting words on paper. I thought of it as a very long, sustained reading process—except that I was the one producing the words. It doesn’t sound very ambitious or even sensible now. But I’m very happy with that attitude. The complicated way in which I try to bring the reader in as co-author or a complicitous person really stems from my desire to be engaged as a reader myself."

"It’s humiliating to be asked to write propaganda. That’s not literature."

"With regard to inspiration, I have to tell you that I was so self-conscious about developing a style of my own, about going to a place that I thought was virgin territory, that I was terrified of reading. Most writers don’t read anybody while they are writing, because they don’t want anything to rub off. I was very concerned about developing this sound that I thought would be my own. I was not convinced I had done it until Sula. That book seemed to suggest that I had hit on a voice that was mine, that I didn’t write like anybody else."

"Experience just for the sake of it is almost pointless. If you can’t make anything coherent out of it then it’s not information. It’s not knowledge. And it certainly may not be creatively handled. Some people sit on the edge of bank and fish all day. They don’t even talk and yet they’re complex and fascinating. You have to work within your own life.
My life now is as uneventful as you can imagine. And that’s just the way I like it. I’m interested in what I think. I’m interested in what I imagine. I am not fascinated with my autobiography however. I’m reminded of a number of biographies about the wives of great writers that I’ve just been reading. It’s amazing how the fecund imagination of certain powerful gentlemen has been in fact almost a theft of the fecund existence of the mate. So I don’t have an answer for you. If you find that your work is mediocre it may not be because you haven’t lived. It may be because you have not learned enough about the craft."

Some other quotes by Toni Morrison:

"You think because he doesn't love you that you are worthless. You think that because he doesn't want you anymore that he is right -- that his judgement and opinion of you are correct. If he throws you out, then you are garbage. You think he belongs to you because you want to belong to him. Don't. It's a bad word, 'belong.' Especially when you put it with somebody you love. Love shouldn't be like that. Did you ever see the way the clouds love a mountain? They circle all around it; sometimes you can't even see the mountain for the clouds. But you know what? You go up top and what do you see? His head. The clouds never cover the head. His head pokes through, because the clouds let him; they don't wrap him up. They let him keep his head up high, free, with nothing to hide him or bind him. You can't own a human being. You can't lose what you don't own. Suppose you did own him. Could you really love somebody who was absolutely nobody without you? You really want somebody like that? Somebody who falls apart when you walk out the door? You don't, do you? And neither does he. You're turning over your whole life to him. Your whole life, girl. And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean any more to him? He can't value you more than you value yourself."

"She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order."

"Don't ever think I fell for you, or fell over you. I didn't fall in love, I rose in it."

"What difference do it make if the thing you scared of is real or not?"

"I never asked Tolstoy to write for me, a little colored girl in Lorain, Ohio. I never asked Joyce not to mention Catholicism or the world of Dublin. Never. And I don't know why I should be asked to explain your life to you. We have splendid writers to do that, but I am not one of them. It is that business of being universal, a word hopelessly stripped of meaning for me. Faulkner wrote what I suppose could be called regional literature and had it published all over the world. That's what I wish to do. If I tried to write a universal novel, it would be water. Behind this question is the suggestion that to write for black people is somehow to diminish the writing. From my perspective there are only black people. When I say 'people,' that's what I mean."

"Lonely, ain't it?
Yes, but my lonely is mine. Now your lonely is somebody else's. Made by somebody else and handed to you. Ain't that something? A secondhand lonely."

"Anything dead coming back to life hurts."

"And talking about dark! You think dark is just one color, but it ain't. There're five or six kinds of black. Some silky, some woolly. Some just empty. Some like fingers. And it don't stay still, it moves and changes from one kind of black to another. Saying something is pitch black is like saying something is green. What kind of green? Green like my bottles? Green like a grasshopper? Green like a cucumber, lettuce, or green like the sky is just before it breaks loose to storm? Well, night black is the same way. May as well be a rainbow."

"The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek - it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language - all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas."

"Every now and then she looked around for tangible evidence of his having ever been there. Where were the butterflies? the blueberries? the whistling reed? She could find nothing, for he had left nothing but his stunning absence."

"If you surrender to the wind you can ride it."

"All of our waste which we dumped on her and which she absorbed. And all of our beauty, which was hers first and which she gave to us. All of us--all who knew her--felt so wholesome after we cleaned ourselves on her. We were so beautiful when we stood astride her ugliness. Her simplicity decorated us, her guilt sanctified us, her pain made us glow with health, her awkwardness made us think we had a sense of humor. Her inarticulateness made us believe we were eloquent. Her poverty kept us generous. Even her waking dreams we used--to silence our own nightmares. And she let us, and thereby deserved our contempt. We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength.
And fantasy it was, for we were not strong, only aggressive; we were not free, merely licensed; we were not compassionate, we were polite; not good, but well behaved. We courted death in order to call ourselves brave, and hid like thieves from life. We substituted good grammar for intellect; we switched habits to simulate maturity; we rearranged lies and called it truth, seeing in the new pattern of an old idea the Revelation and the Word."

"It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow."

"Something that is loved is never lost."

"It was not death or dying that frightened him, but the unexpectedness of both. In sorting it all out, he hit on the notion that if one day a year were devoted to it, everybody could get it out of the way and the rest of the year would be safe and free. In this manner he instituted National Suicide Day."

"When I was a little girl the heads of my paper dolls came off, and it was a long time before I discovered that my own head would not fall off if I bent my neck. I used to walk around holding it very stiff because I thought a strong wind or a heavy push would snap my neck. Nel was the one who told me the truth. But she was wrong. I did not hold my head stiff enough when I met him and so I lost it just like the dolls."

"People say to write about what you know. I'm here to tell you, no one wants to read that, 'cause you don't know anything. So write about something you don't know. And don't be scared, ever."

"I don't believe any real artists have ever been non-political. They may have been insensitive to this particular plight or insensitive to that, but they were political, because that's what an artist is--a politician."

"The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power."

"If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."

Thursday 22 August 2013

Charlotte Bronte (and I) on Jane Austen

This letter from Charlotte to George Lewes, I believe all Janeites have seen:

"Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say that you would rather have written 'Pride and Prejudice' or 'Tom Jone's, than any of the 'Waverley' novels?

I had not seen 'Pride and Prejudice' till I had read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate daguerrotyped [photographed] portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck [stream]. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses. These observations will probably irritate you. but I shall run the risk.

Now I can understand admiration of George Sand [Lucie Aurore Dupin]...she has a grasp of mind which, if I cannot fully comprehend, I can very deeply respect: she is sagacious and profound; Miss Austen is only shrewd and observant."

This letter understandably has enraged Janeites everywhere. I should add, the last paragraph has always been removed, which I think is pretty important and relevant as well.

What I did not know and perhaps many other people did not know either, is that it was not the only time Charlotte said anything about Jane Austen. In response to George Lewes's letter to the preceding, she wrote:

"You say I must familiarise my mind with the fact that 'Miss Austen is not a poetess, has no 'sentiment' (you scornfully enclose the word in inverted commas), has no eloquence, none of the ravishing enthusiasm of poetry'; and then you add, I must 'learn to acknowledge her as one of the greatest artists, of the greatest painters of human character, and one of the writers with the nicest sense of means to an end that ever lived'.

The last point only will I ever acknowledge. ... Miss Austen being, as you say, without 'sentiment', without poetry, maybe is sensible (more real than true), but she cannot be great."

Research reveals a lost following paragraph to this letter, in which Charlotte expressed her preference for Jane Austen over some Eliza Lynn Lynton:

"With infinitely more relish can I sympathise with Miss Austen's clear common sense and subtle shrewdness. If you find no inspiration in Miss Austen's page, neither do you find mere windy wordiness; to use your words over again, she exquisitely adapts her means to her end; both are very subdued, a little contracted, but never absurd.''

Then 2 years later, she wrote about Jane Austen again, this time in a letter to W. S. Williams:

"I have likewise read one of Miss Austen's works, 'Emma' -- read it with interest and with just the degree of admiration which Miss Austen herself would have thought sensible and suitable -- anything like warmth or enthusiasm, anything energetic, poignant, or heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works: all such demonstrations the authoress would have met with a well bred sneer, would have calmly scorned as outré and extravagant. She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well; there is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress."

Also, I'm uncertain of the time, but Charlotte, when warned against being too melodramatic, replied like this:

"Whenever I do write another book, I think I will have nothing of what you call 'melodrama'. I think so, but I am not sure. I think, too, I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines out of Miss Austen's 'mild eyes', to finish more, and be more subdued; but neither am I sure of that. When authors write best, or, at least, when they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them which becomes their master -- which will have its way -- putting out of view all behests but its own, dictating certain words, and insisting on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature, new moulding characters, giving unthought of turns to incidents, rejecting carefully elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and adopting new ones. Is it not so? And should we try to counteract this influence? Can we indeed counteract it?"


I began reading "Persuasion" this afternoon, after finishing "King Lear" (Shakespeare).

After about 5-6 chapters, I gave up. It may be the effects of the play and I might later return to that book by Jane Austen, but I rather think that, with all due respect, I have a personality that is in conflict with the world of Jane Austen- a hot temper and passionate personality, a preference for vibrant colours and aversion to what I'd call 'toned-down colours' (light blue, light pink, light purple...), a yearning for freedom and independence and a dislike of conventions as much as of conformists, a fascination with haunting and deeply moving and profound books, a lack of interest in gossips and in other people's personal lives (unless they're close), a lack of interest in dresses and parties... 

Like Charlotte, I find this woman shrewd and observant, and may add, very witty, but she's neither deep nor profound. Maybe I'm used to male authors, but I find many works by men to be overwhelming, and admirable in scale, knowledge and effort, whereas in Jane Austen's books I see nothing that can be called great, nothing that can convince me she rightly deserves her reputation and place in literature. Her concerns were strictly limited to everyday life, and the everyday life of the gentry class in the 19th century is particularly boring and dull. Nothing goes on in their minds but mundane matters. Her personal letters also reveal her to be not much different from the people she criticised- she liked to gossip and didn't understand people at a deeper level than the superficialities she was able to observe and note. 


"She never handles the (conventionally masculine) topic of politics.

She never uses servants, small tradesmen, cottagers, etc. as more than purely incidental characters. Conversely, she does not describe the high nobility (the highest ranking "on-stage" characters are baronets), and (unlike present-day writers of modern "Regency" novels, or some of her contemporaries) she does not describe London high society.

She confines herself to the general territory that she herself has visited and is familiar with (more or less the southern half of England). 

In her novels there is no violence (the closest approaches are the duel between Colonel Brandon and Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, in which neither is hurt, and the indefinite menacements of the Gypsies towards Harriet Smith and Miss Bickerton in Emma), and no crime (except for the poultry-thief at the end of Emma).

She never uses certain hackneyed plot devices then common, such as mistaken identities, doubtful and/or aristocratic parentage, and hidden-then-rediscovered wills. In Emma, Harriet Smith's parentage is actually not very mysterious (as Mr. Knightley had suspected all along). [...]

In Jane Austen's works there is hardly any male sexual predation or assaults on female virtue -- a favorite device of novelists of the period (even in a novel such as Burney's Evelina, which has no rapes or abductions to remote farmhouses, this is a constant theme). The only possible case is the affair between Willoughby and the younger Eliza Williams in Sense and Sensibility (about which little information is divulged in the novel) -- since Lydia Bennet of Pride and Prejudice and Maria Bertram of Mansfield Park more or less throw themselves at George Wickham and Henry Crawford respectively. Also, the elder Eliza Williams in Sense and Sensibility is more likely tempted astray because she is a weak personality trapped in a wretchedly unhappy marriage (remember that almost the only grounds for divorce was the wife's infidelity), rather than because of any extraordinary arts or persuasions used by her seducer. And finally, whatever the complex of motives involved in the Mrs. Clay-Mr. Elliot affair in Persuasion, it can hardly be regarded as the seduction of a female by a sexually predatory male. In Jane Austen's last incomplete fragment, Sanditon, it is true that Sir Edward Denham likes to think of himself as a predatory male, but he is described as such an ineffectual fool that it is difficult to believe that he would have accomplished any of his designs against the beauteous Clara Brereton, if Jane Austen had finished the work.

Note that all these affairs take place entirely "off-stage" (except for a few encounters of flirtation between Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford, long before she runs away with him), and are not described in any detail.

No one dies "on stage" in one of her novels, and almost no one dies at all during the main period of the events of each novel (except for Lord Ravenshaw's grandmother in Mansfield Park and Mrs. Churchill in Emma).

The illnesses that occur (Jane's in Pride and Prejudice and Louisa Musgrove's in Persuasion) are not milked for much pathos (Marianne's in Sense and Sensibility is a partial exception, but Marianne is condemned for bringing her illness on herself). And Mrs. Smith in Persuasion (who takes a decidedly non-pathetic view of her own illness) pours cold water on Anne Elliot's ideas of the "ardent, disinterested, self-denying attachment, [...] heroism, fortitude, patience, resignation" to be found in a sick-room. And in Sanditon, written while she was suffering from her own eventually-fatal illness, Jane Austen made fun of several hypochondriac characters. [...]

The only person who actually faints in one of Jane Austen's novels is the silly Harriet Smith of Emma (since one rather suspects the genuineness of the "fainting fit" that Lucy Steele is reported to have been driven into by the furious Mrs. John Dashwood, after the discovery of Lucy's engagement to Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility). On three occasions, Fanny Price of Mansfield Park imagines to herself that she is on the point of fainting, and once Elinor Dashwood thinks that her sister Marianne is about to faint, but neither Fanny or Marianne ever does. And Elinor Dashwood, at one critical moment in Sense and Sensibility, feels herself to be "in no danger of an hysterical fit or a swoon".

Jane Austen's parsimony in faintings in her novels does not apply to her Juvenilia, where she mocks the propensity to faint of the conventional novel-heroine of the day. So Elfrida in Frederic & Elfrida "fainted & was in such a hurry to have a succession of fainting fits, that she had scarcely patience enough to recover from one before she fell into another".

Notoriously, Jane Austen hardly ever quotes from a conversation between men with no women present (or overhearing). However, despite some assertions that she never includes such dialogue, there is at least one clear example -- a briefly-described encounter between Sir Thomas Bertram and Edmund in Mansfield Park. (A less clear possibility is Sir Thomas Bertram's chiding of his son Tom when he has to sell the Mansfield clerical "living", in Chapter 3 of Mansfield Park.)

She is also sparing of describing the internal thoughts and emotions of male characters (thus in Pride and Prejudice, much of Darcy's admiration for Elizabeth Bennet is expressed by means of convenient conversations with Caroline Bingley).

She is very sparing with physical descriptions of people and places (except to some degree in her last novel, Persuasion).

She tends to glide over the more passionately romantic moments of her characters, not describing closely lovers' embraces and endearments. So in the marriage proposal scene in Pride and Prejudice the quoted dialogue breaks off just before the critical point, giving way to the following report: "He [Darcy] expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do". Similarly in Emma: "She spoke then, on being so entreated [with a proposal]. What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does."

In fact Jane Austen had something of an aversion to sappy language; thus in Pride and Prejudice she has Mrs. Gardiner question conventional romantic language (in fact, the very same expression "violently in love" that Austen saw fit to fob us off with later in the novel in the proposal scene!). [...]

And Jane Austen never even mentions lovers kissing (an important moment in Emma is when Mr. Knightley fails to kiss Emma's hand), though Willoughby does kiss a lock of Marianne's hair in Sense and Sensibility. And Mr. Knightly touches Emma, causing a "flutter of pleasure" in this scene from Emma (though they are not yet acknowledged lovers at this point).

Her heroines also famously never leave the family circle." 

I do acknowledge, she was able to describe various types of people and her works may help one realise one's foibles and grow, but in my mind, that doesn't necessarily mean she's a great writer. To call her works masterpieces or perfections, or to call her a genius, is a horrendous overstatement. She doesn't dig deep into the mind/ the psyche, doesn't describe anything from scenes and nature to people, doesn't use a very beautiful language and doesn't play with language and doesn't coin new words (actually doesn't have a very large vocabulary either), doesn't create unique characters, doesn't use any symbol, doesn't cross boundaries, doesn't use imagination nor does research to write about what she doesn't know... She doesn't shock, doesn't move, doesn't haunt, doesn't change one's perspective and doesn't invite one to perceive and interpret her books in totally different ways... 

Jane Austen is good. She was good at what she did, within the boundaries she created for herself. She had a smooth writing style, she was shrewd and had sense and wit and a rational mind and a cool and detached tone. I acknowledge those things and like them. Yet I do not think she deserves her reputation and do not agree with people who talk of her as though she's the greatest female writer of all time, and 1 of the greatest writers of both genders. And it's because of my love for freedom and independence, as written above, that I keep my opinion and decide not to bother myself as to why I do not like "everybody's dear Jane". 

Why must I? 


For anyone who wonders, my favourite female writer of all time is Toni Morrison. Some of her books may be better than others, but none is bad, at least among those I have read- "A mercy", "Beloved", "The bluest eye", "Sula" and "Song of Solomon". "Beloved" was the last book I held in my hands in my last days in VN. I grew up with her novels, and I don't think anybody can replace her in my life. 


Update on 25/8/2013: 

Some others, apparently in the minority, who share the same opinion with me about the old witch: 

Mark Twain: "I haven't any right to criticize books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."

D. H. Lawrence: "This again, is the tragedy of social life today. In the old England, the curious blood-connection held the classes together. The squires might be arrogant, violent, bullying and unjust, yet in some ways, they were at one with the people, part of the same blood-stream. We feel it in Defoe or Fielding. And then, in the mean Jane Austen, it is gone. Already this old maid typifies 'personality' instead of character, the sharp knowing in apartness instead of togetherness, and she is, to my feeling, English in the bad, mean snobbish sense of the word, just as Fielding is English in the good generous sense."

The last quote is often attributed to George Eliot: "The high reputation which Miss Austen's novels gained, and still retain, is a proof of the ready appreciation which is always felt when an author dares to be natural. Without brilliancy of any kind—without imagination, depth of thought, or wide experience, Miss Austen, by simply describing what she knew and had seen, and making accurate portraits of very tiresome and uninteresting people, is recognized as a true artist, and will continue to be admired, when many authors more ambitious, and believing themselves filled with a much higher inspiration, will be neglected and forgotten.... But Miss Austen's accurate scenes from dull life, and Miss Burney's long histories of amiable and persecuted heroines, though belonging to the modern and reformed school of novels, must be classed in the lower division.... They show us too much of the littlenesses and trivialities of life, and limit themselves so scrupulously to the sayings and doings of dull, ignorant, and disagreeable people, that their very truthfulness makes us yawn. They fall short of fulfilling the objects, and satisfying the necessities of Fiction in its highest aspect—as the art whose office it is 'to interest, to please, and sportively to elevate—to take man from the low passions and miserable troubles of life into a higher region, to beguile weary and selfish pain, to excite a generous sorrow at vicissitudes not his own, to raise the passions into sympathy with heroic troubles, and to admit the soul into that serener atmosphere from which it rarely returns to ordinary existence without some memory or association which ought to enlarge the domain of thought, and exalt the motives of action'."

I don't know if I've ever detested a writer this much. Both because of her and because of her fans. And why do I abhor her fans? 

Well, 1st, Jane Austen's fans are divided into 2 groups. The 1st- critics, writers, teachers and serious readers. The 2nd- young people who hardly read any classic but the novels by Jane Austen and who like her mostly because of the romance, the female characters (especially Elizabeth Bennet) and the ideal Mr Darcy, and thus, feel proud of themselves and act as though reading Jane Austen alone elevates them to a higher level. I guess the 2nd group is bigger in number and thus the main reason for her enduring popularity, but whatever the case, I know some such people in real life and they're not difficult to detect. And they're the more annoying ones. 

2nd, Janeites praise Jane Austen in the same way and use the same reasons when claiming they like her and use more or less the same words/ phrases/ clauses: "satire", "wit", "irony", "very complex characters", "she wrote what she knew", "convincing characters", "people you've seen in real life", "realism", "depth", "her characters are complex because they are flawed", "her characters are not 1-dimensional, they grow and change", etc. I've heard the same things repeated over and over that I no longer know if they know what they're talking about, and whether they can give examples to illustrate and elaborate on their points. 

3rd, most Janeites find it utterly unthinkable that there are people on earth who don't like Jane Austen. They therefore say "you just don't get her works/ you're not mature enough to understand her" (which is also used for Charlotte Bronte, Mark Twain, etc), then they tell non-Janeites to read all of her works, each several times, and that they (non-Janeites) will some day realise her genius. The attitude gets on my nerves, and increases my hatred more than the poor witch herself ever did. 

I myself tried reading "Pride and prejudice" more than half a year ago. Annoyed with everything, especially the characterisation, I closed the book and moved onto another book. At some point I came back to "Pride and prejudice"- another effort it was. After some chapters, I stopped. A short while later I was assigned to read "Emma" for university. Each page was torture. I hated every single page in it and felt tortured forcing my way through it, thinking, "If I were not forced to read it, I wouldn't finish". In the end my feeling was better but I didn't start liking it- only hated it less. Then about last month I read "Sense and sensibility", also for university. It was enjoyable, I confess, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it. Everything changed when I came to the last chapters, and once having finished the whole book I changed my mind completely and turned my back on the book (the details were written and published on 30/7). It was pointless and Jane Austen couldn't handle her characters. 

A few days ago, something happened to my mind and I suddenly had the thought that perhaps I could be 1 of the few people who liked both Jane Austen and the Brontes. I can't say how it came about, the idea, but it did. Partly because I thought, perhaps I should like Jane Austen. So I started reading "Persuasion". What happened was, I stopped after some chapters, and moved onto other things. For lack of things to read, and at the same time, forcing myself, I came back to "Persuasion" about 3 or 4 times, but finally gave up at chapter 9. 

You know what I think now? I think, it's absurd to keep coming back to an author I loathe while there are so many books I prefer to read and must read, it's absurd to think that because she's called "everybody's dear Jane" I should like her too and expect myself to like her and wonder what's wrong with me, it's absurd to trouble myself thinking about other people while I have a mind of my own and should have an opinion of my own, it's absurd to be insecure and keep asking myself why I don't like Jane Austen as the others do.

And you know what, I read more than 10 letters by her the other day. What I thought of her was right- she's a petty, gossipy, shallow person with very trivial concerns. She was indifferent to politics and society and the soul and was only concerned about dresses and balls and people. 

[Some quotes from her letters which revolted me: 

"Another stupid party last night; perhaps if larger they might be less intolerable, but here there were only just enough to make one card-table, with six people to look on and talk nonsense to each other. Lady Fust, Mrs. Busby, and a Mrs. Owen sat down with my uncle to whist, within five minutes after the three old Toughs came in, and there they sat, with only the exchange of Adm. Stanhope for my uncle, till their chairs were announced.

I cannot anyhow continue to find people agreeable; I respect Mrs. Chamberlayne for doing her hair well, but cannot feel a more tender sentiment. Miss Langley is like any other short girl, with a broad nose and wide mouth, fashionable dress and exposed bosom. Adm. Stanhope is a gentleman-like man, but then his legs are too short and his tail too long. Mrs. Stanhope could not come; I fancy she had a private appointment with Mr. Chamberlayne, whom I wished to see more than all the rest.

My uncle has quite got the better of his lameness, or at least his walking with a stick is the only remains of it. He and I are soon to take the long-planned walk to the Cassoon, and on Friday we are all to accompany Mrs. Chamberlayne and Miss Langley to Weston."

"I expect a very stupid ball; there will be nobody worth dancing with, and nobody worth talking to but Catherine, for I believe Mrs. Lefroy will not be there. Lucy is to go with Mrs. Russell.

People get so horridly poor and economical in this part of the world that I have no patience with them. Kent is the only place for happiness; everybody is rich there."

"I sent my answer by them to Mrs. Knight, my double acceptance of her note and her invitation, which I wrote without much effort, for I was rich, and the rich are always respectable, whatever be their style of writing."

"How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!" ]

So yes, I keep my own opinion because I have my own brain and I use it. And even if the whole world adored her and acclaimed her and I were the only one who didn't, it'd be fine too. I stick to my view. 

Evening Solace (Charlotte Bronte)

The human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed;--
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,
Whose charms were broken if revealed.
And days may pass in gay confusion,
And nights in rosy riot fly,
While, lost in Fame's or Wealth's illusion,
The memory of the Past may die.

But there are hours of lonely musing,
Such as in evening silence come,
When, soft as birds their pinions closing,
The heart's best feelings gather home.
Then in our souls there seems to languish
A tender grief that is not woe;
And thoughts that once wrung groans of anguish
Now cause but some mild tears to flow.

And feelings, once as strong as passions,
Float softly back--a faded dream;
Our own sharp griefs and wild sensations,
The tale of others' sufferings seem.
Oh! when the heart is freshly bleeding,
How longs it for that time to be,
When, through the mist of years receding,
Its woes but live in reverie!

And it can dwell on moonlight glimmer,
On evening shade and loneliness;
And, while the sky grows dim and dimmer,
Feel no untold and strange distress--
Only a deeper impulse given
By lonely hour and darkened room,
To solemn thoughts that soar to heaven
Seeking a life and world to come.

Charlotte Bronte 

Often Rebuked, Yet Always Back Returning (Emily Bronte)

Often rebuked, yet always back returning
To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
For idle dreams of things which cannot be:

To-day, I will seek not the shadowy region;
Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
Bring the unreal world too strangely near.

I'll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half-distinguished faces,
The clouded forms of long-past history.

I'll walk where my own nature would be leading:
It vexes me to choose another guide:
Where the gray flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side

What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.

Emily Bronte

Sunday 18 August 2013

On "Resurrection"

Part 2 chapter 19. At this point I must admit, I've been wishing the book to end soon, and considering putting it down. I have about 2/5 left. 
When I started reading the book, it was wonderful. Especially the chapters on the court, on Katyusha's life, on Nekhlyudov's time with her and on his changes, etc. "Tolstoy is Tolstoy", I exclaimed. And I wondered why Tolstoy was linked with "War and peace" and "Anna Karenina" only and "Resurrection" was never mentioned. 
Now it's understandable. It is clear that at this point in life, Tolstoy was more concerned about political and social questions than creating a great fiction work, and therefore in "Resurrection", was focusing more on religious, political and social themes than aesthetic quality. He was being so didactic that, I'm afraid, he didn't realise so many parts in this potentially extraordinary novel were repetitive and redundant and tiresome, sometimes to the point of being unbearable. Nekhlyudov, the mouthpiece of Tolstoy, whom I would call the 'next stage' of Levin in "Anna Karenina", sounds like a communist, or at least a socialist, an idealist- I, personally, feel irritated by his thoughts and actions, due to my anti-communism, but am somehow able to understand his views by considering the inequality and injustice in Russia at the time (as well as other countries in the 19th century). But now I start to grow impatient with the way Tolstoy describes all people of the nobility and the church as being artificial and hypocritical and deceitful and deluded and pretentious and shallow etc. except Nekhlyudov, and all the peasants and prisoners to be nice and honest and reliable and oppressed and suffering. So while there were lots of things taking place at the beginning, over the last chapters there have been the same things going on- Nekhlyudov meets an upper-class person to ask about Katyusha's case or those of some other prisoners, this person pretends to be nice and good and behaves hypocritically and Nekhlyudov feels immensely disgusted but has to repress his contempt in order to finish his work, then, having done, quickly leaves this person and starts thinking about how artificial and nauseating this person is, then afterwards Nekhlyudov meets another upper-class person, who is also hypocritical and pretentious- in a different way, and the same things happen again, and after that Nekhlyudov meets another upper-class person, and so on and so forth. 
"Anna Karenina" is a masterpiece because it is no longer a work of fiction- it is life. All the people in it feel very real. Among the upper-class people described there are hypocrites but there are also good-natured and kind people. Though we can read Levin's thoughts, who also feels alienated from his own class, the narrative is flawless and we break from it from time to time by the parallel narrative about Anna, which is also perfect. In "Anna Karenina", Tolstoy tries to understand his characters and wants us to also understand his characters and why they do what they do, instead of condemning them, judging them, criticising them. 
And it is where "Anna Karenina" succeeds that "Resurrection" fails. 
[Surprisingly enough, as it turns out, Tolstoy noted in his diary
"Completed "Resurrection". Not good, uncorrected, hurried, but it is done with and I'm no longer interested."]

It must be added, however, part 1 of this novel is impeccable. What I may do now is to be considered, but I believe I will come back to part 1 many times in the future. It's flawless. 

Update at 11.45pm: 
As written in this 1 post, "Resurrection" may be seen as a kind of bible. Or, you know, a kind of moral book which you can carry around and reread several times in life. It just fails to be up to the standards of Tolstoy's previous book as a work of art.  

100 latest films I've watched

From January 2013 to August 2013 

1/ Troy (2004)
2/ Lincoln (2012)
3/ The master (2012)
4/ Carlito's way (1993)
5/ Raging bull (1980)
6/ Zero dark thirty (2012)
7/ Argo (2012)
8/ Django unchained (2012)
9/ The sessions (2012)
10/ Walk the line (2005)
11/ The resident (2011)
12/ The shining (1980)
13/ Bronson (2008)
14/ Anna Karenina (2012)
15/ Tinker tailor soldier spy (2011)
16/ Spider (2002)
17/ The believer (2001)
18/ The help (2011)
19/ De rouille et d'os (Rust and bone- France- 2012)
20/ Before the devil knows you're dead (2007)
21/ The host (2013)
22/ Temptress moon (China- 1996)
23/ Happy together (Hong Kong- 1997)
24/ As tears go by (Hong Kong- 1988)
25/ The place beyond the pines (2013)
26/ The aviator (2004)- again
27/ Eyes wide shut (1999)
28/ Wolf (1994)- again
29/ Delicatessen (France- 1991)
30/ The conversation (1974)
31/ War witch (2012)
32/ Network (1976)
33/ Dr Strangelove or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb (1964)
34/ Lolita (1962)
35/ Emma (1996 film with Gwyneth Paltrow)
36/ Shakespeare in love (1998)
37/ No country for old men (2007)
38/ Hitman (2007)- again
39/ Fargo (1996)- again
40/ La piel que habito (The skin I live in- Spain- 2011)
41/ The hole (2001)
42/ The great Gatsby (2013)
44/ To the wonder (2013)
45/ Cast away (2000)
46/ Love is the devil: Study for a portrait of Francis Bacon (1998)
47/ Magic Mike (2012)
48/ Not without my daughter (1991)
49/ Repulsion (1965)
50/ 마더 (Mother- South Korea- 2009)
51/ Man of steel (2013)
52/ The barefoot contessa (1954)
53/ Shark night (2011)
54/ Брат 2 (Brother 2- Russia- 2000)
55/ Monsoon wedding (India- 2001)
56/ The woodsman (2004)
57/ Al abwab al Moghlaka (Closed doors- Egypt- 1999)
58/ Anna Karenina (1997)
59/ Anna Karenina (1935)- again
60/ Anna Karenina (1948)- again
61/ Anna Karenina (1967)- again
62/ Anna Karenina (2012)- again
63/ The bling ring (2013)
64/ 7 minut (Poland- 2010)
65/ Cet obscur objet du désir (That obscure object of desire- France and Spain- 1977)
66/ Ultimo tango a Parigi (Last tango in Paris- Italy and France- 1972)
67/ Stoker (2013)
68/ Tristana (1970)
69/ Москва слезам не верит (Moscow does not believe in tears- USSR- 1980)
70/ Um amor de perdição (Doomed love- Portugal- 2009)
71/ The painted veil (2006)
72/ Mansfield park (1999)
73/ Fröken Julie (Miss Julie- Sweden- 1951)
74/ Play it again, Sam (1972)
75/ Northanger Abbey (2007)
76/ The red shoes (1948)
77/ Les misérables (1998)
78/ Casablanca (1942)- again
79/ The Bourne ultimatum (3- 2007)- again
80/ The Bourne identity (1- 2002)- again
81/ Drive (2011)
82/ The Bourne supremacy (2- 2004)- again
83/ Lawless (2012)
84/ Diamonds are forever (1971)
85/ The killing (1956)
86/ Now you see me (2013)
87/ 살인의 추억 (Memories of murder- South Korea- 2003)
88/ The sting (1973)
89/ Barry Lyndon (1975)
90/ L. A. Confidential (1997)
91/ Happiness (1998)
92/ A time to kill (1996)
93/ Fracture (2007)
94/ 활 (The bow- South Korea- 2005)
95/ In the name of the father (1993)- again
96/ The black dahlia (2006)
97/ Killer Joe (2011)
98/ Pornopung (Norway- 2013)
99/ Ich bin die Andere (I am the other woman- Germany- 2006)
100/ Inglourious basterds (2009)

In bold: films which I consider good and/ or which I like. 

Saturday 17 August 2013

People are like rivers

"It is 1 of the commonest and most widespread misconceptions that every person has a set of fixed qualities; he is said to be good, bad, bright, stupid, dynamic, apathetic, and so on. People are not like that. We can say of a man that he is more often good than bad, more often bright than stupid, more often dynamic than apathetic, and vice versa; but it would be wrong to say of 1 individual that he is good or bright, and of another that he is bad or stupid. But that is how we always do divide people up. And it is wrong. People are like rivers: the water in all of them is the same and everywhere identical, but each river has its narrows and rapids, its broad stretches and gentle currents, sections that are clear or cold, others that are muddy or warm. So it is with people. Each person carries within him the germ of all human qualities, showing some of them 1 moment, others the next, and sometimes acting right out of character, while always remaining the same. Nekhlyudov was that type of person..." 
(Lev Tolstoy, "Resurrection"- part 1 chapter 54, tl. Anthony Briggs) 


This is the reason I can't find words to describe myself. Sometimes I'm this, sometimes I'm that, which can be grouped into 2 separate personalities that coexist in my body and that take turns to dominate my words and actions. Yet, on 2nd thoughts, I may not be as complex as I think, or I indeed am, but human beings are all complex and self-contradictory. 


I doubt that I may change from now on, that is, the tendency to divide people up. Following the motto "thou shalt not judge" isn't easy, and on the other hand I'm not sure if I really want to. In my opinion, the point is not to stop saying or thinking that somebody is witty, impatient, short-tempered, dim-witted, insipid, garrulous, fascinating, artificial, selfish, practical, deceitful, cruel, cynical... but to be aware that these traits or qualities often appear but they are not fixed. As I've said before, each human being has all traits in varying degrees, eg. selfishness is in all of us but a person is said to be selfish if he's more selfish than usual and he's more often selfish than not, and to say that everybody can be/ is selfish is not an excuse for his selfishness. 

That's what I like to say- the point is the awareness that these traits or qualities often appear but they aren't fixed in a person's character (the selfish person can, under certain circumstances or in certain moods or due to certain reasons, acts selflessly, altruistically), and that one should try to understand and look upon life from that person's point of view instead of judging, criticising and condemning. I know how grotesque it is, such a statement coming from me, since I know full well I am very critical and that is a negative trait for a person and much worse for an aspiring writer. This needs to be changed, and the quote by Tolstoy is therefore published here to remind me of it. 

Friday 16 August 2013

A prostitute's view of life- from part 1 chapter 44 of "Resurrection"

As written in the entry on the 14th, the version I'm reading is Anthony Briggs's translation and the following passage is from Louise Maude's translation. 
The 2 names Nekhludoff and Katusha in Louise Maude's version are changed into Nekhlyudov and Katyusha respectively, as in Anthony Briggs's version. 

"RESURRECTION by Lev Tolstoy
Part 1
Chapter 44
Before the first interview, Nekhlyudov thought that when she saw him and knew of his intention to serve her, Katyusha would be pleased and touched, and would be Katyusha again; but, to his horror, he found that Katyusha existed no more, and there was Maslova in her place. This astonished and horrified him.
What astonished him most was that Katyusha was not ashamed of her position—not the position of a prisoner (she was ashamed of that), but her position as a prostitute. She seemed satisfied, even proud of it. And, yet, how could it be otherwise? Everybody, in order to be able to act, has to consider his occupation important and good. Therefore, in whatever position a person is, he is certain to form such a view of the life of men in general which will make his occupation seem important and good.
It is usually imagined that a thief, a murderer, a spy, a prostitute, acknowledging his or her profession as evil, is ashamed of it. But the contrary is true. People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. In order to keep up their view of life, these people instinctively keep to the circle of those people who share their views of life and their own place in it. This surprises us, where the persons concerned are thieves, bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murderers boasting of their cruelty. This surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere in which these people live, is limited, and we are outside it. But can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth, i.e., robbery; the commanders in the army pride themselves on victories, i.e., murder; and those in high places vaunt their power, i.e., violence? We do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, only because the circle formed by them is more extensive, and we ourselves are moving inside of it.
And in this manner Maslova had formed her views of life and of her own position. She was a prostitute condemned to Siberia, and yet she had a conception of life which made it possible for her to be satisfied with herself, and even to pride herself on her position before others.
According to this conception, the highest good for all men without exception—old, young, schoolboys, generals, educated and uneducated, was connected with the relation of the sexes; therefore, all men, even when they pretended to be occupied with other things, in reality took this view. She was an attractive woman, and therefore she was an important and necessary person. The whole of her former and present life was a confirmation of the correctness of this conception.
With such a view of life, she was by no means the lowest, but a very important person. And Maslova prized this view of life more than anything; she could not but prize it, for, if she lost the importance that such a view of life gave her among men, she would lose the meaning of her life. And, in order not to lose the meaning of her life, she instinctively clung to the set that looked at life in the same way as she did. Feeling that Nekhlyudov wanted to lead her out into another world, she resisted him, foreseeing that she would have to lose her place in life, with the self-possession and self-respect it gave her. For this reason she drove from her the recollections of her early youth and her first relations with Nekhlyudov. These recollections did not correspond with her present conception of the world, and were therefore quite rubbed out of her mind, or, rather, lay somewhere buried and untouched, closed up and plastered over so that they should not escape, as when bees, in order to protect the result of their labour, will sometimes plaster a nest of worms. Therefore, the present Nekhlyudov was not the man she had once loved with a pure love, but only a rich gentleman whom she could, and must, make use of, and with whom she could only have the same relations as with men in general.

3 wrong attitudes in reading novels

1/ Avoid depressing books (not in the sense that they have a pessimistic, misanthropic, depressing tone/vision, but in the sense that they deal with painful, tragic subjects): 
a) The majority of the greatest, most critically acclaimed, most valuable books, are depressing. One who has this attitude thus misses a great number of extraordinary works.
b) One who avoids depressing books often says that it's unnecessary to read about cruelty, misery, sadness, agony... when they have seen such things in real life. That is wrong. You may know pain and suffering but in life there are lots of other kinds of pain and suffering. Through reading one learns to empathise with people, to see things from other people's points of view, to widen one's perspective.
c) This attitude is equivalent to the choice to be kept ignorant, to be blind to suffering and all the negative aspects of life, all the negative things happening around the world. 
d) Avoiding depressing books also means a 'disapproval' of, denial of and fear for feelings labelled as negative and thus leads to a pointless pursuit of so-called happiness, which is more like a kind of happy-go-lucky, light-hearted attitude, instead of pursuit of wholeness. 

2/ Always want a happy ending (more extreme: avoid reading books that don't have happy endings).
Regarding the readers, they'll be like the people in no.1 above. 
Regarding the writers, some don't know that a forced happy ending may ruin the whole work. 
Eg: "Twilight" saga (Stephenie Meyer), etc. 

3/ Wish to like and identify with the characters, at least the protagonists (and thus dislike those in which one doesn't like any characters or doesn't like the protagonists). 
This is very common, and I myself don't understand why to some people novels can't be appreciated objectively for their merits, their values, their significance, but have to be perceived personally, and thus these people may attack a book and treat it as annoying or worthless simply because they don't like the people in it. 
There are times when I love a book even though I don't like anyone in it, such as "The great Gatsby" (F. Scott Fitzgerald), "Wuthering heights" (Emily Bronte), and even if I strongly dislike the main characters/ protagonists, such as "Lolita" (Vladimir Nabokov), "The piano teacher" (Elfriede Jelinek), "Madame Bovary" (Gustave Flaubert), "The stranger" (Albert Camus)... Or concerning the case of "Anna Karenina", I sympathise with Anna and don't want to blame her because I understand her position and emotions, but I don't always like her, Anna has her faults and shortcomings that somehow also increase her afflictions and contribute to her downfall. But that doesn't matter. The question of whether or not I like the characters, in my opinion, doesn't have much to do with the appreciation of the work itself. Elfriede Jelinek and Vladimir Nabokov may each create and depict a character nobody can like, Erika Kohut and Humbert Humbert respectively, but these 2 talented writers should nevertheless be praised for their understanding of psychology, for their exploration of the character's psyche and personality. 

But well, that's my rant. 
To each his own, I'm afraid. I can't change anybody. 

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Never Before Seen: Vivien Leigh's archive
"...The archive contains many never-before-seen items, including affectionate letters between the Gone With The Wind star and her husband, Laurence Olivier.
It also features diaries, photographs, annotated film and theatre scripts and her numerous awards.
[...] The actress meticulously catalogued more than 7,500 personal letters from friends and colleagues, addressed to both her and Olivier, including missives from TS Eliot, Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother.
[...] Also on display will be the visitors' book for Leigh and Olivier's Notley Abbey home in Buckinghamshire.
Among the signatories were Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Orson Welles, Judy Garland and Rex Harrison..." 

This is wonderful news. I never knew she wrote diaries, now it turns out she started at the age of 16 and continued till death. There's some uncertainty, of course, because usually I prefer to keep a certain distance from people I admire, especially in this case, when on 1 hand Vivien had bipolar disorder and later contracted TB, which caused her much suffering and which affected her relationships, on the other hand I've heard some stories about her darker side, which I've come to accept as possibilities or probabilities but not facts, and who knows, her diaries may reveal even more shocking things. 
Still, it's nice to know about this archive. I'd like to see the letters and the personal photos and backstage photos. 

Vivien and Laurence Olivier

Part 1 chapter 13 of "Resurrection" by Tolstoy

The one I'm reading is a translation by Anthony Briggs. The following excerpt is taken from the translation by Louise Maude, published on 
Note: The paragraphing is slightly changed in accordance with Anthony Briggs's version because it's better, in my opinion. The 2 names are also changed from Nekhludoff and Katusha, as in Louise Maude's version, to Nekhlyudov and Katyusha respectively, as in Anthony Briggs's version, for the sake of familiarity. 

"RESURRECTION by Lev Tolstoy
Part 1
Chapter 13

After that Nekhlyudov did not see Katyusha for more than three years. When he saw her again he had just been promoted to the rank of officer and was going to join his regiment. On the way he came to spend a few days with his aunts, being now a very different young man from the one who had spent the summer with them three years before. 

He then had been an honest, unselfish lad, ready to sacrifice himself for any good cause; now he was depraved and selfish, and thought only of his own enjoyment. Then God's world seemed a mystery which he tried enthusiastically and joyfully to solve; now everything in life seemed clear and simple, defined by the conditions of the life he was leading. Then he had felt the importance of, and had need of intercourse with, nature, and with those who had lived and thought and felt before him—philosophers and poets. What he now considered necessary and important were human institutions and intercourse with his comrades. Then women seemed mysterious and charming—charming by the very mystery that enveloped them; now the purpose of women, all women except those of his own family and the wives of his friends, was a very definite one: women were the best means towards an already experienced enjoyment. Then money was not needed, and he did not require even one-third of what his mother allowed him; but now this allowance of 1,500 roubles a month did not suffice, and he had already had some unpleasant talks about it with his mother. Then he had looked on his spirit as the I; now it was his healthy strong animal I that he looked upon as himself.

And all this terrible change had come about because he had ceased to believe himself and had taken to believing others. This he had done because it was too difficult to live believing one's self; believing one's self, one had to decide every question not in favour of one's own animal life, which is always seeking for easy gratifications, but almost in every case against it. Believing others there was nothing to decide; everything had been decided already, and decided always in favour of the animal I and against the spiritual. Nor was this all. Believing in his own self he was always exposing himself to the censure of those around him; believing others he had their approval. 

So, when Nekhlyudov had talked of the serious matters of life, of God, truth, riches, and poverty, all round him thought it out of place and even rather funny, and his mother and aunts called him, with kindly irony, notre cher philosophe. But when he read novels, told improper anecdotes, went to see funny vaudevilles in the French theatre and gaily repeated the jokes, everybody admired and encouraged him. When he considered it right to limit his needs, wore an old overcoat, took no wine, everybody thought it strange and looked upon it as a kind of showing off; but when he spent large sums on hunting, or on furnishing a peculiar and luxurious study for himself, everybody admired his taste and gave him expensive presents to encourage his hobby. While he kept pure and meant to remain so till he married his friends prayed for his health, and even his mother was not grieved but rather pleased when she found out that he had become a real man and had gained over some French woman from his friend. (As to the episode with Katyusha, the princess could not without horror think that he might possibly have married her.) In the same way, when Nekhlyudov came of age, and gave the small estate he had inherited from his father to the peasants because he considered the holding of private property in land wrong, this step filled his mother and relations with dismay and served as an excuse for making fun of him to all his relatives. He was continually told that these peasants, after they had received the land, got no richer, but, on the contrary, poorer, having opened three public-houses and left off doing any work. But when Nekhlyudov entered the Guards and spent and gambled away so much with his aristocratic companions that Elena Ivanovna, his mother, had to draw on her capital, she was hardly pained, considering it quite natural and even good that wild oats should be sown at an early age and in good company, as her son was doing. 

At first Nekhlyudov struggled, but all that he had considered good while he had faith in himself was considered bad by others, and what he had considered evil was looked upon as good by those among whom he lived, and the struggle grew too hard. And at last Nekhlyudov gave in, i.e., left off believing himself and began believing others. At first this giving up of faith in himself was unpleasant, but it did not long continue to be so. At that time he acquired the habit of smoking, and drinking wine, and soon got over this unpleasant feeling and even felt great relief.

Nekhlyudov, with his passionate nature, gave himself thoroughly to the new way of life so approved of by all those around, and he entirely stifled the inner voice which demanded something different. This began after he moved to St. Petersburg, and reached its highest point when he entered the army.

Military life in general depraves men. It places them in conditions of complete idleness, i.e., absence of all useful work; frees them of their common human duties, which it replaces by merely conventional ones to the honour of the regiment, the uniform, the flag; and, while giving them on the one hand absolute power over other men, also puts them into conditions of servile obedience to those of higher rank than themselves.

But when, to the usual depraving influence of military service with its honours, uniforms, flags, its permitted violence and murder, there is added the depraving influence of riches and nearness to and intercourse with members of the Imperial family, as is the case in the chosen regiment of the Guards in which all the officers are rich and of good family, then this depraving influence creates in the men who succumb to it a perfect mania of selfishness. And this mania of selfishness attacked Nekhlyudov from the moment he entered the army and began living in the way his companions lived. He had no occupation whatever except to dress in a uniform, splendidly made and well brushed by other people, and, with arms also made and cleaned and handed to him by others, ride to reviews on a fine horse which had been bred, broken in and fed by others. There, with other men like himself, he had to wave a sword, shoot off guns, and teach others to do the same. He had no other work, and the highly-placed persons, young and old, the Tsar and those near him, not only sanctioned his occupation but praised and thanked him for it.

After this was done, it was thought important to eat, and particularly to drink, in officers' clubs or the salons of the best restaurants, squandering large sums of money, which came from some invisible source; then theatres, ballets, women, then again riding on horseback, waving of swords and shooting, and again the squandering of money, the wine, cards, and women. This kind of life acts on military men even more depravingly than on others, because if any other than a military man lead such a life he cannot help being ashamed of it in the depth of his heart. A military man is, on the contrary, proud of a life of this kind especially at war time, and Nekhlyudov had entered the army just after war with the Turks had been declared. "We are prepared to sacrifice our lives at the wars, and therefore a gay, reckless life is not only pardonable, but absolutely necessary for us, and so we lead it."

Such were Nekhlyudov's confused thoughts at this period of his existence, and he felt all the time the delight of being free of the moral barriers he had formerly set himself. And the state he lived in was that of a chronic mania of selfishness. 

He was in this state when, after three years' absence, he came again to visit his aunts."

Monday 12 August 2013

"No longer flesh, but marble"

As with "Wuthering heights" I pay most attention to an almost insignificant character, Linton Heathcliff, in "Jane Eyre" I am most 'fascinated' by St. John Rivers. 
On 1 hand, it's because he's a foil for Mr Rochester. While Rochester is ugly, grave, grim, stern, moody, irritable, proud, harsh, grumpy, intimidating and can even be lustful and cruel, at least in the past..., St. John Rivers is remarkably handsome (the kind of classic beauty), polite, kind, calm, reserved, pious, duty-bound, restrained, composed... Rochester is fire, St. John is ice. But as time goes by, Rochester turns out to be a good man, fiery and passionate, a good man in spite of his faults and wrongdoings, St. John is unveiled as an austere, repressed, cold, hard-hearted man. 
On the other hand, such a character is fascinating himself, without the contrast. He reminds me of 2 persons. 
1st is a man by the name of H, an acquaintance of mine, dull and insipid, a man for whom concepts such as 'pleasure', 'rest', 'enjoyment' simply don't exist. These 2 men are slightly different, in their priorities- H's is work, St. John's is serving God or doing something useful for society and human beings, but they resemble in their inability to rest, to relax, to enjoy, to gain pleasure from anything other than work. St. John feels displeased with what he sees as Jane Eyre's idleness and purposeless existence. 
2nd is Karenin in "Anna Karenina" by Tolstoy. St. John expresses no sadness over Miss Rosamond Oliver's marriage, which I believe he would feel ashamed of expressing, and afterwards, all feelings in his eyes are selfish and insignificant and inferior to the love of God, therefore he conceals his emotions and wears a mask of calmness and indifference, and at the same time, disregards other people's feelings. And in doing so, he believes himself to be moral, pious, virtuous and dignified, like a Saint even, thus superior to others, and he's unable to find himself in the wrong and unable to see his own faults. He doesn't realise the ridiculousness of his proposal to Jane, nor of his attempt to force her to become his wife, while making very clear that he doesn't love her 1 bit. And even though Charlotte Bronte doesn't dig deep into St. John's mind as Tolstoy does with Karenin's, one can see that St. John never finds himself wrong, heartless and inconsiderate (and sexist). Sometimes such people can even be more cruel than those who are perfectly aware they're doing evil, as people like St. John and Karenin see themselves as some kind of saint, act according to some principle, some higher cause, some supreme being, and feel convinced what they do is undoubtedly good.