Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thoughts On A Re-Read

40. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The idea behind Jekyll and Hyde, that every person actually has dual, or multiple selves, always interested me. Though Stevenson uses this premise to divide humans, or specifically men, as there are no female characters to speak of (though that itself adds to discussion), into moral opposites, I would like to take the theory in a more complicated direction.

I don't believe most people contain two innate selves, a good and a bad, but rather that people do have slightly differentiated personalities within them (and the degree of separation depends on the person), that have different motivations and temperaments, none of which are necessarily good or evil. I think Stevenson foresaw this way of thinking, and the story does tell us that most people are not quite so morally binary as Jekyll. The protagonist Mr. Utterson, in fact, from whose point of view proceeds the first part of the story, for those not familiar with it, is specifically described as without the violent passions or hidden shameful history of other men. This goes to show that Stevenson was not trying to make a blanket statement, but rather propose an idea that could be further refined.

Of course, I am reading this in terms of postmodernist? conceptions of the self, that are much more vague and open than those of Stevenson's day. My teacher suggests, as is apparently an accepted interpretation, that Stevenson was criticizing the constraints of society that pressured men into restraining themselves until they could no longer hold back and committed terrible crimes. He wasn't saying it about all men, just some. I don't know if I quite agree with that, but it's an interesting hypothesis. If criminals weren't so "constrained by society" would the worst deeds not happen? For example, would legal prostitution mean less rape? I don't know. Perhaps Stevenson would think so.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Character Bashing

39. The Lifted Veil and Brother Jacob by George Eliot

These are two separate novellas included in an Oxford World Classics edition. The first could be categorized as a nineteenth century prototype for a genre that would become science fiction. The main character Latimer reminded me strongly of Mary Shelley's Victor Frankenstein and there are similar themes. For those of you not familiar with her, George Eliot was also a woman.

Latimer, in rich prose, describes his tragic transformation into a clairvoyant, a reader of the future and other peoples' minds. He discovers the petty motivations, negativity, or emptiness of all those around him and internalizes it. He is a romantic poetic type, but notably without the ability to create art. The object of his affection and subsequent horror is Bertha Grant, at first the only one immune to his powers.

The Lifted Veil, and Brother Jacob as well, boast gorgeous language and keen, though pessimistic, insight into human society and behavior.

Brother Jacob is lighter and more comical, it is the tale of a duplicitous confectioner and his comeuppance. I would recommend these for quick entertainment and lasting ponder value.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Call Me Cliche

I dote on movies like Juno and Little Miss Sunshine. Juno especially spoke to me, as it reminded me of my own "quirky", "ironic" set of friends.

The Washington Post legitimately comments on the counterintuitive popular trend of "indie" movies, but I was surprised that there was not so much focus on the generational context.

"Indie" movies appeal to the current high school, college, and young adult crowds. Instead of criticizing Hollywood and filmmakers for being hypocritical or trying to capitalize on public opinion, why not call it out as a new trend that will inform the future of Hollywood? Maybe it's not really "indie," but it sure as hell is a lot better than "300."

I, for one, could deal with many more snarky comments on pop culture for years to come.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Scandalous No More

38. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

Probably the most shocking element of this eighteenth century pseudo-biography is the lack of chapter divisions.

The title page reads like that of a wanted poster or freak show advertisement of the era,

The Fortunes and Misfortunes
of the Famous
Moll Flanders
Who was Born in NEWGATE (famous London prison) blah blah blah Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother) twelve Year a Thief etc.

I'm sure the book was exciting and 'novel' at the time (there's still some debate as to whether it is a novel or not), but now it's fairly tame, there are no explicit sex scenes, no excessive drink or drugs, just a woman very determined never to work for a living, no matter how she manages it.

I can appreciate that Moll is a very complex character, with many motivations (though primarily monetary), and that Defoe represents many crucial themes of his time including capitalism and moral responsibility. It also might be funny to see it marketed to trophy wives. However, really, the sensationalist reading of the eighteenth century does not have appeal for me, neither does Moll's rambling dialect. Leave this one to the scholars.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Duchess

I just got back from seeing The Duchess with Kiera Knightley. It's apparently based on Amanda Foreman's biography of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire in the late eighteenth century. The movie has inspired me to read this biography whenever I find the time.

I was impressed with Knightley's transition from a high-spirited, but still anxious to please girl of seventeen to a more jaded and decisive, but still emotional and anxious to please woman. Her character reminded me strongly of Marie Antoinette, though more in control of herself. The Duchess makes her statement through the womanly arts of fashion and motherhood, as well as plays and politics. It is refreshing to see a historical woman portrayed strongly and still emotionally sympathetic. In my studies on Elizabeth I, I looked at many of the recent films, and she is either an amenable passionate damsel, a cold bitch, or some unbelievable schizophrenic mixture. Helen Mirren in the HBO version does the best job, in my opinion. I felt that the issues of gender inequality were very well explored, and I appreciated the tight focus on the Duchess' personal life rather than on politics and the more general issues of the day. As far as I have been able to tell, it was very historically accurate, which is not usually the case. The "Becoming Jane" travesty being a prime example.

I would advise anyone with a general interest in historical fiction to see The Duchess, but also people interested in celebrities today would probably enjoy the scandals of her life.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Still Alive

I scored 6 out of a possible 12, but I'm going to guess that's higher than the average American.

I am still alive, per the title, but currently more occupied with the school year than my personal reading. Never fear though, I am in the midst of Moll Flanders and Northanger Abbey (a third or fourth reread) for class, and Brisingr for pleasure, though from what I've read so far, more just to find out what happens. Hopefully it will drastically improve as it goes on, or maybe I've finally graduated from Paolini's style. I could have sworn Eldest was a lot better written though.