For the final book of this challenge I read the 1818 edition of Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. I would think everyone knows the plot by now, but here's the short version; Dr. Victor Von Frankenstein creates a simple creature from various body parts. The creature turns into a monster when Dr. Frankenstein rejects him. Let me say this before I continue. I have no interest in modern-day horror stories and somehow thought this book similar. I stand completely corrected and admit my error in judgement. Not only was it much better than expected, but it has become my favorite read thus far in 2020!
Having never read Shelley before, I thought perhaps her prose would reflect that of her late Mother and her best known work (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman 1792). I was wrong again. Frankenstein was simply gorgeous to me. I was so surprised by how exceptional and pleasing to the ear her prose remained throughout the novel. The eloquent descriptions of the human condition really captured my interest.
I noticed immediately the many references to the Bible, and it's worth noting that many of those are references to the early chapters of Genesis and particular the events of creation as told in this Old Testament Book. The Old Testament story is relevant to Frankenstein on several levels:
The novel was structured in an epistolary framework...which I dearly love! Shelley's writing really resonated with me. I enjoyed her ability to weave emotion, I enjoyed the plot momentum, and my heart shattered often for the 'monster'. The monster was so well described and portrayed that he became for me the emotional strand for the entire novel. This is just my opinion, but the 'Wretch' is among the finest literary creations ever penned. Victor Frankenstein was of course the villain of the work. His treatment of the monster was detestable, and despite this, I still found myself irresolute and vacillating over Frankenstein. Shelley masterfully helped me see past my disgust and disdain for him. In fact, I came to understand and appreciate Frankenstein’s very human position - though not enough for me to disregard his lack of compassion, but I did find him a very tragic though egotistical figure.
You should most certainly take the time to read this classic novel. It will forever be on my all time favorite list. The excellent prose, the imagery, the emotion and the characters are all supremely extraordinary. I'll leave you with a few of my favorite quotes:
“Solitude was my only consolation — deep, dark, deathlike solitude.”
“My heart was fashioned to be susceptible of love and sympathy, and when wrenched by misery to vice and hatred, it did not endure the violence of the change without torture such as you cannot even imagine.”
“Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.”
“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851
Somers Town, London
As stated in the previous blog post, I took up the R.I.P. challenge (R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril) - The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle was first. A legendary curse has claimed one more victim. Sherlock Holmes is called in to examine.
Sir Henry Baskerville is the heir of his late Uncle Charles' Estate in Dartmoor. Sir Charles Baskerville is dead with no signs of violence; notwithstanding the terrified face displayed on his lifeless body. Dr. James Mortimer, the uncle's personal physician comes to Holmes to ask for assistance. Local legend is that Sir Charles was killed by a ghostly hound that haunts the moor to avenge the sins of one of the Baskerville ancestors. That ancestor was Hugo Baskerville, and the rumor is that a hideous and devilish hound-like beast had torn out the throat of Hugo many years before. Mortimer confides to Holmes that he found a hound’s footprint at the scene of Charles death. Has the ghostly demon attacked again? More importantly, is Sir Henry Baskerville now in imminent danger?
Intrigued, Holmes takes the case, and it becomes more interesting when Holmes spots a man following them in London and someone steals one of Sir Henry’s boots. Surprisingly, Holmes doesn’t go to Dartmoor, instead he sends Watson to investigate and report his findings. Watson indeed finds strange occurrences: suspicious-acting servants, a dangerous convict loose on the moor, and of course, the legend of the hound.
Doyle marvelously manages all of the intricate relationships in this story. I especially enjoyed the dynamics of the partnership between Holmes and Watson. I was ceaselessly amused by the two detective's dialogue and their quirky interactions. The characters of Holmes and Watson are truly iconic in this tale. The creepy plot was also brilliant and the atmosphere was quite suspenseful. It may be my favorite of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I'll leave you with a few memorable quotes.
"The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes." (p. 31)
"The devil’s agents may be of flesh and blood, may they not?" (p. 32)
"The setting is a worthy one, if the devil did desire to have a hand in the affairs of men." (p. 32)
"There's a light in a woman's eyes that speaks louder than words." (p. 94)
"Evil indeed is the man who has not one woman to mourn him." (p. 143)
Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle
22 May 1859 - 7 July 1930
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
I don't often participate in the reading challenges I come across on the internet. I'm an eclectic reader, and as such, I have to be in the mood for a certain genre/type of book, and usually, I'm not in the mood for whatever book challenge is making the rounds. Also, I'm diligently attempting to finish all of the books I own without ascertaining any new material. This year however, I am of the inclination to participate in a spooky, scary, super-natural event. I happened upon this affair while visiting my friend's blog yesterday, so I owe her a big 'Thank You' and the credit for my attendance in the R.I.P. challenge. You can visit her site here: Dolce Bellezza - It also conveniently happens that I own both of the books I'll be reading for this perilous and precarious challenge. They will be in this order; The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Happy Reading!
Still chugging along with my resolution not to buy, borrow, or bum anymore books until I've read those I currently own. I've recently begun a book I've been meaning to read for three decades. The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor. I selected this next book to read as I'm trying to read more writers of faith, and O'Connor certainly qualifies. Thus far I've enjoyed everything I've read. Her stories are oozing with peculiar seeming and haloed saints. There is also danger and awkwardness galore. In fact, the word grotesque has been used quite often in my research to describe some of O'Connor's stories and characterizations. O'Connor herself describes the use of the grotesque as "the good under construction," a description that I rather like - even as a metaphor for my own life! Her stories thus far dramatize moments of crisis that can catch people off-guard, leaving them in perilous and clumsy positions...moments when grace can intervene.
Being a man born and raised in the tobacco belt of the Deep South during the civil rights movement; her characterizations, syntax, and vocabulary were all very familiar to me and my southern senses. The subjects of racism, religion, and violent reality leak through her works like water through a sieve. She once said of her stories that, "I've found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moments of grace." O'Connor may not be for those who are hyper-sensitive in this day and age of absurd political correctness and identity politics. Her writing, word choices, and subject matter are startling and disturbing in their movements toward grace and conversion, but I also found them strangely comforting as they inject absolute love into a sinful, fallen, and distorted world.
Mary Flannery O'Connor.
March 25, 1925 - August 3, 1964.
In my ongoing effort not to buy, borrow, or bum any more books until I read all of those I currently own, I finished this little gem Saturday. Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot is a play in verse about the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170 at Canterbury Cathedral. Caught up in one of the perennial conflicts between priest and king, this narrative opens in the Archbishop's Hall on December 2nd, 1170. A chorus, consisting of the women of Canterbury gather at the cathedral with some premonition of a dreadful event to come. They reminisce on their suffering as they reflect upon their Archbishop, Thomas Becket. He has been in exile from England for seven years after a disastrous clash with King Henry II. The women worry that Becket's return from France could make their lives more difficult by angering the King further. Upon his return to England, four persuasive tempters try to prevent Thomas Becket from re-assuming his role as Archbishop. They remind him of the power and influence he held as Lord Chancellor to Henry II prior to his religious ordination.
Archbishop Thomas Becket was honored and venerated as saint and martyr by both the Catholic and Anglican church for defending the church against the encroachments and infringements of the State. Eliot explores Becket's murder from this perspective. In this short play Eliot shows his mastery of the British form of Church and State. In so doing, he sends a message that those who do not practice justice shall some day receive vengeance. This book was totally different than those I normally read. At first with all of the chanting, I was out of my comfort zone, but in the end, I really enjoyed this short work. It provoked me to think deeply and honestly about my faith. Eliot is indeed a master wordsmith, and I enjoyed the style, the language, and the imagery. I know that most will not enjoy a dramatization in verse, but I found it teeming with. . . well... drama. A few of my favorite quotes from the play:
"Destiny waits in the hand of God, not in the hands of statesmen."
"The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right thing for the wrong reason."
"The servant of God has chance of greater sin
And sorrow, than the man who serves a king.
For those who serve the greater cause
May make the cause serve them,
Still doing right: and striving with political men
May make that cause political, not by what they do
But by what the are."
Although I found the demeanor of Thomas Becket's martyrdom in this narration to be courageous- regretfully, I found it to also be self serving and prideful. The Apostles of Christ; Paul, John, Peter, etc... were put to death (martyred) because of their refusal to deny Jesus as Savior and King. In my opinion, this is a completely different animal that we see in Murder in the Cathedral - but you be the judge and read it for free here at INTERNET ARCHIVE
Publisher: Mariner Books, March 1964.
Page Count: 96
Thomas Stearns Eliot
26 September 1888 - 4 January 1965
St. Louis, Missouri, US
Although I've read Lolita and Anna Karenina, my desultory efforts continue with regard to reading a big swath of the great Russian novels. When I do manage to pull something out of the cobwebs, it's by Anton Chekhov. The Duel is one such title. I'm not quite sure if it was while I was attending Saint Leo University or shortly thereafter that I came to adore the works of Chekhov. His Russian prose is astonishingly simple for a novice to read, but his writing is far from simplistic. The Duel reminded me once again why I enjoy his work.
Chekhov is not your stereotypical Russian classic author. It's for this very reason I'd recommend him to you. Especially those of you who love classic literature, but like me, are a bit subdued when it comes to the Russian novels affectionately referred to as doorstops. Chekhov is really a superb master of shorter forms, (The Duel is 128 pages in my edition) - He's much more focused on the everyday life of his characters. He leaves the philosophical and the interpretations in the background for the reader to mull over and devise. He describes his characters with such precise detail that it's easy to forget they're fictitious - for instance, there's this line:
"the young zoologist Von Koren, who came to the Black Sea in the summers to study the embryology of jellyfish."
How can you not resist getting to know Von Koren? What I savored most about The Duel is the way the main characters were all too intellectual for their own good. Laevsky continually sees his life and every emotion through the lens of literature, and not at all as it really is. He's recently become disenchanted with Natasha, his mistress (who left her husband by the way to live with him), and thus references Tolstoy and Anna Karenina when he's with her or talking about her. The story opens with him deciding whether he even has a moral obligation to stay with her, or if he can leave her like he wishes too, and one chapter ends with:
"In my indecision I am reminiscent of Hamlet," Laevsky thought on the way. "How rightly Shakespeare observed it! Ah, how rightly!"
Von Koren, meanwhile, has been seduced by evolution theory and its darker counterpoint, social Darwinism. He sees the world in black and white with an uncompromising and unflinching perspective. His ideas include the notion that those who are morally weak should be eliminated before they have the chance to reproduce.
Chekhov also manages to weave wonderful humor throughout the story. There's a lot of Pushkin tributes too, and the subtle respect to Chekhov's predecessors are admirable. Chekhov's willingness to suppress expectations are astonishing as well, and I challenge any reader to guess how things will inevitably conclude.
With the Governor's stay-at-home orders in place and my home filled to capacity for hours on end, it often feels and sounds like Camp Hiawatha meets Fight Club. The tensions are sometimes palpable, and as an essential worker, I humbly confess that on occasion, I'm all too happy when Monday's roll around and I have to go back to work. On the weekends there is very little peace and quiet except when everyone's asleep, so The Duel was a captivating and ironic (in title only) way to spend two hours of quiet time before anyone was awake. As usual, I plan to read more Russian literature in the coming year, but truth is, I'll probably only read more Chekhov.
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
January 29 1860 - July 15 1904
Taganrog, Ekaterinoslav Governorate, Russian Empire
Have you ever read a passage from a book and suddenly catapulted to thoughts unrelated to the story? In Chapter 40 of Moby Dick I read these lines:
OLD MANX SAILOR: I wonder whether those jolly lads bethink them of what they are dancing over. I'll dance over your grave, I will- that's the bitterest threat of your night-women, that beat head-winds round corners. O Christ! to think of the green navies and the green-skulled crews! Well, well; belike the whole world's a ball, as you scholars have it; and so 'tis right to make one ballroom of it. Dance on, lads, you're young; I was once
• The Old Manx sailor wonders if these young men ever think about the fact that they’re dancing over other sailors’ ocean graves, but he figures they might as well dance anyway.
With my mind enraptured with tall masts, billowing sails, titanic creatures and the salty deep, I began to ponder the line "Dance on, lads, you're young; I was once." Without warning I was contemplating the state of our world. I wondered at the dysfunction, the insanity of the current culture: Drag queen story hour, transgender bathrooms, human trafficking, and mass shootings. I wondered why a troubled person could legally walk up to any number of dispensing stations, remove a new hypodermic needle and inject themselves with heroine while it is prohibited and/or frowned upon to use a plastic straw or buy a sugar-laden Slurpee over the prescribed volume of 16oz. I wondered why we are more concerned with saving baby sea turtles than the untold thousands of precious baby children aborted every day.
Moby-Dick is not a new novel, it was written some 168 years ago. New isn't always better though, there's much to be said for those books in classic literature whose phraseology, inflection, and syntax stir and disquiet the soul in a way that gives us pause. They utter revelations with extraordinary nuance and subtlety. They remain forever true while all else seems to be expeditiously changing and unsure.
Blessed be the Lord, I can see that my acceptance, and perseverance, do not depend upon my frames or feelings, but upon the power, compassion, care and faithfulness of Him, who in the midst of all the changes to which we are exposed in this wilderness state, is unchangeably the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
O what a horrid wretch was I when on board the Harwich, on the coast of Africa, and too long afterwards. Surely no one who did not finally perish was ever more apparently given up to a reprobate mind!
I am a singular and striking proof, that the atoning blood of Jesus can cleanse from the most enormous sins, that His grace can soften the hardest heart, subdue the most obstinate habits of evil, and that He is indeed able to save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25).
Lord I believe, O help me against my unbelief (Mark 9:24). I have been, yea to this day, I am a chief sinner, and yet I am permitted to preach the truth I once laboured to destroy.”
–John Newton, Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., Ed. Grant Gordon (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), 396-397.
I've read several novels from the year 1965, but decided recently to read another. I'm not entirely sure what prompted this crazy notion since I was overbooked reading Moby Dick, Napoleon Bonaparte, The Old Testament Book of Ezekiel, and Captain Blood simultaneously, not to mention the ("thick, boring and yucky") books my home-schoolers are currently bellyaching about. Still, I looked up a list of novels published in 65, and chose the academic novel Stoner by John Williams. I had never heard of the book nor the author. It's the story of an unassuming English/Literature professor at the University of Missouri. Apparently it went practically unnoticed when first published (there were fewer than 2,000 copies sold). Only after getting attention from readers in Europe did some here in the U.S. reconsider and affirm its value, publishing a 50th Anniversary edition. Now, I expect its sales are in the gazzilions, go figure. For me, Stoner was a near perfect novel. The prose was simply beautiful. It had structure, character development, symbolism, imagery, and mood – this book had me feeling wistful, contemplative and nostalgic. I also found myself regretting the fact that I hadn't read more serious literature when I was in school.
SYNOPSIS OF STONER - The title character, William Stoner is an introvert. Having grown up on a farm, he has no plans and no expectations for the future until he his put on the spot one day in his English class. He is asked what a specific Shakespearean sonnet means and... as if for the first time – he understands there is meaning beyond what is apparent. And, that it is possible to die feeling like a life devoted to something of value will make the inevitability of death less tragic. It's in this moment that Stoner finds license and nerve to leave agriculture and pursue literature.
"He went out of Jesse Hall into the morning, and the grayness no longer seemed to oppress the campus; it led his eyes outward and upward into the sky, where he looked as if toward a possibility for which he had no name."
In the course of his life, he loves three women: his wife Edith, his daughter Grace, and a lover, Katherine. But the greatest love in his life is that of literature. This life-long pursuit culminates in the most poignant death scene I’ve ever read in modern literature. (That’s not a spoiler; it’s revealed in the first paragraph.)
In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others had learned before him: that the person one loves at the first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.
There are two antagonists – Edith, whose evil nature can be compared to Cathy Ames (Kate Trask) in Steinbeck's East of Eden - and Lomax, the department chair who frequents revenge on Stoner for Stoner’s actions against Lomax’s protégé. These two forces create an interesting parallel between his “loves” and more importantly, how he is motivated (or not motivated) to stand up for himself against them.
I don’t know how to write a review that is worthy of Stoner and that can convince you to give it a shot. I can simply say that you should. Now back to Captain Ahab, the Grand Armee', and one-eyed pirates of the Caribbean.
“It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”
–C.S. Lewis, “Introduction” in St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1944/1993),