Thursday, May 30, 2019

194. Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy
Around 450 pages

This was the very first Thomas Hardy I read, which made me quite sure I didn't like him. My blind loyalty to the List made me read more of his work and I discovered I actually adore that man. Still, I would disagree that this is his masterpiece.

The story follows Tess, who is born to poor, uneducated parents. She becomes attracted to Angel (a favorite hot guy name) at the May Dance, but on the way she falls asleep at the reins on her way home, which results in the death of the horse. Tess is persuaded by her family to go "claim kin" with Mrs. d'Urberville, a wealthy widow who shares their name, to cope with the financial loss of the horse. Through this unsuccessful endeavor, she meets Alec, Mrs. d'Urberville's son, who is a "libertine" which is 19th century talk for sociopathic rapist.

I am not entirely sure I can pinpoint why I did not respond to his prose in this novel in my usual way. Hardy is clever enough to critique Victorian views on sexuality, but he wasn't quite progressive enough to know what to do about them, which I think comes out in this work. He has a strange relationship with modernism, as he is still eager to include themes that Industrialization is poisonous, as demonstrated by Alec's behavior. I also felt like the pacing was a bit off. I am not usually bored by Hardy, but some passages felt tedious.

But he is still Thomas Hardy, which means there are plenty of good nuggets in here, as he is a master of description. Still, the best Hardy is yet to come on The List: Jude the Obscure!

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

When he was 16, Thomas Hardy witnessed the hanging of Elizabeth Martha Brown, a woman who murdered her violent husband. The experience compelled him to write Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

Lake scenes from two different adaptations:

UP NEXT: Gosta Berling's Saga by Selma Lagerlof. A female writer? I'm flummoxed!

Monday, May 13, 2019

193. The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde
Around 250 pages

I have always thought that Oscar Wilde was hilarious and I often curse the gods that he was not alive during the Twitter era. But I wasn't entirely sure his quipping could support an entire novel, so I didn't pick this up until last October for a Halloween-themed read. Of course, it was brilliant, much better than my other "scary" reads (Wasp Factory and House of Leaves).

Dorian Gray is an empirical hottie so Basil Hallward insists on painting his oil portrait. Through Basil, Dorian meets Lord Henry, who is basically an Oscar Wilde stand in. My goodness, our authors are autobiographical lately. Keep your ego in your pants, gents. Anyway, the portrait is gorgeous, but it makes Dorian sad. Why should the portrait get to be beautiful forever while Dorian is going to age and die? Dorian wishes it was the other way around and some divine power grants his wish. I guess the gods only listen to tens.

Wilde is a phenomenal writer. He has a thousand witty truths to share about society and he weaves them smoothly into his Faustian tale, with the help of Lord Henry. The metaphors he uses are brilliant as well. Wilde, of course, had experience hiding his true self from the public so he writes Dorian in a way that is both chilling and relatable. I won't go into specifics so as not to give away any spoilers, but I feel like the murder scene is one of the most memorable passages in literature. That moment where you share your rawest self with someone ought to be a relief, but more often than not, the knowledge that somebody has seen you so vulnerable is unbearable. I imagine many of us would share Dorian's impulses...hopefully, we would resist.

I wish Wilde had been born in the current era, where he could be accepted and exalted as the shade king he was. But then we wouldn't have The Picture of Dorian Gray, and that would be a heavy loss indeed.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

According to Oscar Wilde, "Basil Hallward is what I think I am, Lord Henry is what the world thinks of me, Dorian is what I would like to be, in other ages perhaps."

In honor of his sassmouth, I will now present my top five favorite Oscar Wilde quotes:

1. "A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally."
2. "It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either tedious or charming."
3. "You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you have never had the courage to commit."
4. "She is a peacock in everything but beauty."
5. "A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face is her work of fiction."

UP NEXT: Tess of D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I devoured all the Hardy novels a while ago, but I'll probably hold off on posting the new review for awhile, for pacing purposes.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

192. The Kreutzer Sonata

The Kreutzer Sonata
Leo Tolstoy
Around 100 pages

Previously on The 1001 Book Blog (if you know who Jeff Probst is, please read this in his voice), we said goodbye to Emile Zola and let me assure you, that man went out with a bang. Now we are bidding farewell to Leo Tolstoy, but unfortunately, he is not going out quite as strongly as the Big EZ (a nickname I am trying to get started for Emile Zola. Tell your friends).

Pozdnyshev is that guy on the train who seems slightly off and you really hope won't talk to you. You try to avoid his eye but he still directs his rantings in your direction. Our unnamed narrator recounts Pozdnyshev's ramblings as they ride the trains together, which center on his failed marriage and his views on sexual expression (spoiler: it's bad).

Tolstoy became increasingly puritanical as he got older, due to his late in life conversion. Fun Tolstoy is dead and in his place is a crazed preacher. Continuing with our theme of women-hating leading men, Pozdnyshev argues that women still have unholy power over men, despite being men's slaves (huh?), that society is geared towards female pleasure (say what now?), and that everybody should be abstinent even in marriage (did your thirteen children agree?).

I remember reading that the night before his marriage, Leo showed his diaries to his wife, which discussed his sexual past in great detail, including the illegitimate child he had by one of his serfs. Pozdnyshev did the same thing, which one of the many reasons it is obvious that Pozdnyshev is Tolstoy and that Tolstoy is pouring his own self-loathing and hatred of his wife into every page. I  imagine this novella would or did cause everybody he cared about a great deal of pain.

And what other purpose does it serve? I didn't even feel my usual sensation of feisty resentment reading his misogynistic views. It just made me sad. At this point in his life, Tolstoy hates himself and hates humanity. I only felt pity for him and slight annoyance at the Listmakers for allowing him to go out like this. His presence on the List should have died with Ivan Ilyich.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Teddy Roosevelt called Leo Tolstoy a "sexual moral pervert." Lolz.

Initially banned in the US.  Wow, this wasn't even as graphic as Zola's works.

My official ranking of Leo Tolstoy's work on the List, from best to worst:

1. War and Peace
2. The Death of Ivan Ilyich
3. Anna Karenina
4. The Kreutzer Sonata

UP NEXT: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Get ready for a rave.