Tag Archives: 19th century

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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“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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The Triumph of Sisterly Love in Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”

I wrote this summary and analysis of Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” to help myself understand the poem better. Poetry isn’t my strong suit, I admit, but hopefully this will be helpful to someone. I was going to teach it at one point, but ultimately decided against it; maybe someday I will change my mind yet again.

Synopsis

Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti Illustrated by Dion Clayton CalthropChristina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” (written in April 1859, published in 1862) opens with lush images of fruit being peddled by anxious goblin salesmen. Two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, appear by the river and Lizzie, afraid of what the the fruits may have been ripened on, covers her eyes, but Laura stares at the goblin men. Laura becomes entranced by the goblins, and Lizzie runs away before the goblins approach Laura.

Even though she wants to buy the goblin fruit, Laura has no money, but they tell her she has “much gold” on her head, and so she exchanges a lock of hair for fruit, which she eats ravenously. In a trance Laura returns home where Lizzie scolds her with the cautionary tale of Jeanie who became addicted to goblin fruit and died when she could not get more. Laura reassures Lizzie that she can always get more goblin fruit and will bring her some tomorrow.

The next morning they do their chores while Laura secretly pines for nightfall so she can return to the market. The sisters go to the river to fetch water and Laura delays them until past sunset; however, Laura can no longer see or hear the goblins, now only Lizzie is able to see them. Laura returns home heart-sick and, while Lizzie sleeps, Laura gnashes her teeth and weeps uncontrollably.

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Herland and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

File this post under blasts from the past(s). As my 10 years blogiversary approaches, I was feeling nostalgic about my old, hand-coded website, so of course I looked it up on the Wayback Machine. I was braced for something really amazing, and instead I found a website with roughly ten book reviews and three recipes on it. Despite its failure to live up to my memory of it, there were some good things there, and below are reviews of Herland and “The Yellow Wallpaper,” both by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, that I wrote way back in 2003.

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

I first heard about Herland in my Introduction to Women’s Studies class in Fall 2000, but I didn’t get around to reading it for almost three years. I bought a collected works of Gilman, and I’m incredibly happy with it, though it’s important to say right off the bat that this book is not for everyone. People with absolutely no interest in women’s studies, philosophy, anthropology or even cultural studies aren’t going to get much out of it, though I would still strongly recommend her short stories (particularly “The Yellow Wallpaper”).

Herland is the story of three men, all of whom are explorers, during their stay in the eponymous Herland. They stumble upon this all-female society quite by accident and attempt to learn about their culture while shielding the women of Herland from the truths about their own. They fail miserably, but are accepted into the society, and all three eventually marry. The men in the book are very much stereotypes; there is the southern gentleman who worships the women of Herland, the womanizer who goes near-insane and leaves loathing the women, and the balanced down-to-earth guy who takes his better half back to his (our) society so that she may be able to send a report back home. The women are less stereotypes, but more homogenized, they are all extremely similar and all of the women of Herland embody all of the basic values of our society, both male and female. For example: independence, intelligence, athleticism, temperance, kindness, and self-awareness to name a few.

The real strength of this book is as a work of philosophy, using fiction as an illustrative tool that serves to show how bizarre sex and gender divides really are in society and how their maintenance is out of habit more than practicality. I don’t want to judge this as a work of fiction alone because I really think it’s an amazing piece of fictional philosophy. In short: I liked this book but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone not interested in the fields it directly pertains to.

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