Persuasion by Jane Austen, a Re-Read

Persuasion by Jane AustenAfter spending a great deal of my recent free time reading non-fiction, I found myself in the mood for something more immersive. I re-read both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice in 2017 thanks to a local hurricane, but I never connected as much with Austen’s other novels. I decided, however, to give Persuasion another chance, and I’m very glad I did. Looking back at my old review, I read the book at the exact same time of year, which is an interesting coincidence.

I don’t remember liking the book much, but reading it again, I definitely enjoyed it more the second time through. I sympathize a lot more with Anne Elliot’s plight than I did the first time. I had forgotten, really, that she has such an unlikable family; Sir Walter is vain, Elizabeth is a snob, and Mary won’t stop pretending to be sick. Anne’s mother dies before the text begins, and it’s implied that she would have kept her daughters from growing up to be so foolish (sort of a reverse Mrs. Bennet). Anne is almost the Pride & Prejudice Mary of the text, except she gets to fall in love, which I really appreciate, because I feel a bit bad for P&P Mary. (Also, what did Austen have against people named Mary?) Anne is underrated by her family, but has her late mother’s friend, Lady Russell, looking out for her. Unfortunately, Lady Russell looks out for her a touch too much, and persuades (get it?) her to back out of an engagement, which Anne regrets. Anne is trying to ‘do the right thing’ in the time before the novel, and when the novel starts, she is very much the worse for wear thanks to it. Lesson: Always look out for number one, ladies!

Anne’s family is pushed into financial troubles by Sir Walter’s incompetence; he is forced to rent his estate, and Anne get casually pushed out of the household in the process. This ends up being great for her because, as it turns out, two walks on the beach and spending time with anyone nice is all is takes to restore her beauty. It also lands her in much better company in general, and her ex-fiance, Wentworth, shows up, too. He tries to fall in love with Louisa Musgrove, but she throws herself down a flight of stairs like a dingus, and falls on her head. Since Wentworth was too charming near her, he is obliged to marry her, even though she’s the type of person who will just leap into the air expecting to be caught. Immodest! Facing a real predicament, Wentworth is saved by Louisa herself, who falls in love with a brooding young man whose wife had just died like six months ago. Move on faster, why don’t you? Everyone agrees that the poor, deceased young woman deserved better, but also that the bump on the head made Louisa a much better person, so that’s good enough.

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Miscellaneous Theatre and Dance Reviews of 2017

I just realized, looking through my very small selection of local theatre and dance production reviews, that I missed quite a few that I’ve been to in the past couple of years. In fact, I didn’t write up any of the performances that I saw in 2017. The only reason that I write the reviews here, incidentally, is because I usually spend quite a lot to attend them, but if I don’t write my thoughts on them, I barely remember going. Here are a few capsule reviews for local dance, music, and theatre productions that I didn’t review in 2017, but meant to. They are presented in reverse chronological order.

Cirque Dreams Holidaze at the Van Wezel, December 2017

The performance of Cirque Dreams Holidaze that we attended in December 2017 was a holiday present from us to us for my partner and myself. It was their 10th anniversary tour, and they made their way around Florida during December, stopping here the week before Christmas. They were not in town long, and we were very excited to go to the performance, since my partner and I are both Cirque du Soleil fans. The tickets, which all Cirque fans will know, were extremely expensive, so I got us seats in the nosebleed section. I’ve never been to the Van Wezel before, but it was massive, and the seats went up to the ceiling in the back (not exaggerating). The audience we were with (like the Momix audience below) was horrid. Committing such audience crimes as taking flash photos, recording long videos, leaving in the middle of acts, and coming in late.

We missed the first scene because the people in our row, and the row in front of us, were late, but they were allowed them in anyway (about ten people in total). The show itself was amazing, and I would absolutely see it again. It wasn’t the typical holiday show at all, with very few religious overtones, which I really appreciated. Some of the performances left me wondering how a human being was able to perform them at all, which is a really cool feeling.

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“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin

Kate Chopin“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin was published in 1894 as “The Dream of an Hour” in Vogue magazine. The story is incredibly short and takes places only in the Mallard home over the course of, presumably, an hour. Louise Mallard, who has a heart condition, learns about the untimely death of her husband, Brently. She cries, of course, but then realizes that she will actually be much happier on her own. Armed with this new realization, she descends the stairs, only to see Brently himself walk in the door, just fine, and very much alive. Realizing that he was reported dead on accident, Louise promptly dies, the doctors concluding that happiness was her undoing. Except they were wrong.

Reading about the story online, I was surprised and delighted to find out that Chopin was a fan of Guy de Maupassant. I pair “The Story of an Hour” with Maupassant’s “The Jewelry,” and have found that they go together quite well. They both show the way in which ‘good’ marriages can still be bad; Chopin’s from the wife’s perspective, Maupassant from the husband’s. I know the gentlemen in my classroom appreciated being included; I will write up Maupassant’s story at my earliest convenience (hopefully soon). I also teach this story directly after Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which has worked out well.

A lot of the depth of the story is driven by the way that the elements of literature are used. For the length of the story, the amount of characterization present is a testament to Chopin’s skill as a writer.

Characters

Louise Mallard: Louise is characterized as “young” and is “afflicted with heart trouble,” which will be of no small importance in the story. Upon hearing of Brently’s death she cries uncontrollably, in a “storm of grief,” and retires to her room. As she contemplates life alone, she slowly comes to the realization that she is much happier now that she will not have a husband. The specific reason she gives is that, without Brently around, there will be “no powerful will bending hers in that blind persistence” that characterizes marriage. The issue, then, is not with Brently as a person, but with marriage. Some students get bogged down in this subtlety because they assume, incorrectly, that Louise must ‘hate’ Brently to be happy he’s gone. However, she’s not happy that he’s gone, she’s relieved, though it’s complicated, as she admits that she will cry again over his death. Her reasons for relief at the idea of being alone are never made completely clear, nor should they have to be, but are given a darker dimension when it is explained that “She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long. It was only yesterday she had thought with a shudder that life might be long.” Louise, before the story has started, is unhappy at the thought of living a long life. That should be reason enough to sympathize with her feelings about her newfound “freedom.”

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