Sunday, February 10, 2013


Virginia Woolf's Orlando is at once an extended love letter to former flame Vita Sackville West and an autobiography of Woolf's creative process. Before publishing the book in 1928, Woolf wrote to West: "Suppose theres the kind of shimmer of reality which somtimes attaches to my people as the lustre of an oyster shell. Suppose you say, that next October, there's V gone and written a book about Vita, shall you mind? Say yes or no."
One of the scenes that lingers after reading is Woolf's conjuring of London's Great Frost. It's right before Orlando meets her soon-to-be lover Sasha on the Thames--I can't help but wonder if Woolf was intentionally asking us to make the parallel between literature's other great skating meet-cute, Kitty and Levin at the Zoological gardens. It's a melancholy parallel if so, given Sasha and Orlando's split, which the novel treats as the hero/heroine's great despair over the next 300 pages and (400 years). Below, is a PBS animation of the GF scene, aired in the late 70's.

"The Great Frost was, historians tell us, the most severe that has ever visited these islands. Birds froze in mid-air and fell like stones to the ground. At Norwich a young countrywoman started to cross the road in her usual robust health and was seen by the onlookers to turn visibly to powder and be blown in a puff of dust over the rood as the icy blast struck her at the street corner.... It was no uncommon sight to come upon a whole herd of swine frozen immovable on the road. The fields were full of shepherds, ploughmen, teams of horses, and little bird scaring boys all struck stark in the act of the moment, one with his hand to his nose, another with the bottle to his lips, a third with a stone raised to throw at the raven who sat, as if stuffed, upon a hedge within a yard of him. The severity of the frost was so extraordinary that a kind of petrification sometime ensued. " P. 34 Orlando

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Emily Bronte Poetry

Emily Bronte's poetry is perhaps the most well regarded of all the Brontes. In her stanzas (below), early signs of the writer's prose style shines through. It's fun to pick out bits of the Ellis Bell of Wuthering Heights within the text. "I'll walk where my own nature would be leading-
It vexes me to choose another guide-". How very pre-Linton Catherine of her, no?

"Often rebuked, yet always back returning
To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
For idle dreams of things which cannot be:

Today, I will seek not the shadowy region:
Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
Bring the unreal world too strangely near.

I'll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half distinguished faces,
The clouded forms of long past history.

I'll walk where my own nature would be leading-
It vexes me to choose another guide-
Where the grey flocks in ferny glens are feeding
Where the wild wind blows on the mountainside.

What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
Can centre both worlds of heaven and hell
-Emily Bronte, 1850

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Excerpt: House Of Mirth by Edith Wharton

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"Then she found herself in a small library, dark but cheerful, with its wall  of books, a pleasantly faded Turkey rug, a littered desk, and, as he had foretold, a tea-tray on a low table near the window. A breeze had sprung up, swaying inward the muslin curtains, and bringing a fresh scent of mignonette and petunias from the flower-box on the balcony." -p6

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Yale Open Culture Course On Literary Theory

Happy New Year! Hope you all have made some good reading & writing related resolutions! Over at Livre Life we've been brushing up on our literary theory with this Open Culture course from Yale University. Fascinating perspective on a course given by someone still around when the "hermeneutic mafia" (Derrida, De Man and Brooks) ran wild through New Haven's High Street. Here's a link to a few more online literature courses from OC in case you're interested. 

Also on the horizon, we're going to be sharing some 2011 highlights and a reading list for 2012 so stay tuned. 

xo E&A

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Marriage Plot by way of that Gatsby Review

I've recently picked up the Marriage Plot, the much-talked about latest from Jeffrey Eugenides. And while not too far in as of yet, I'm going to say something controversial here: I'm enjoying it.

Madeline Hanna, Leonard, Mitchel- they read as screwed up versions of people we've all known at one point or another. The action, in particular the drunken late night hook ups, the well meaning roommates, the angst of waiting for that phonecall, torn out of the diary of a college everyman. And the vignettes! (the central things to Jeffrey Eugenides work) they're as beautiful and luminous as ever.

But I'm on an island. Comparing notes with my little sister, with my (new) husband, with my husband's sister, and with my sliding doors literary me (don't ask), I was dismayed to find how everyone seems determined to find the plot simplistic, the material frothy, the concept too basic, the characters too shallow. Are people afraid to like a marriage plot? Are these the same peeps who refuse to acknowledge the rom-com as an entertainment genre?

Here's Thessaly La Force on the Marriage Plot for The Daily
"But here’s the thing. “The Marriage Plot” comes 18 years after Eugenides’ debut with the eerie “Virgin Suicides”; it comes nine years after the ambitious and epic “Middlesex.” One can’t help but feel — in the midst of all this meta-ness — that Eugenides has settled down. He’s metaphorically moved to the ’burbs, had the baby, gained the 10 pounds, and gotten comfortable.After covering teenage suicide and a hermaphrodite, he’s reached … a love story. Which gets back to something we’ve already established. The problem isn’t that you can’t tell a story of love and marriage in the 20th century. You can. We still do. The problem is, I think, that —...— no matter how you do it, it’ll be conventional. Girl meets boy. Girl meets another boy. Girl has to choose. Something happens. That’s it."

I can't help but notice how similar the critical reception to Jeffrey Eugenides bares to Fitzgerald's  Great Gatsby. Here's Mencken on the unimportant plot and the shallow character depiction in Gatsby:

"This story is obviously unimportant, and though, as I shall show, it has its place in the Fitzgerald canon, it is certainly not to be put on the same shelf, with, say, This Side of Paradise. What ails it, fundamentally, is the plain fact that it is simply a story—that Fitzgerald seems to be far more interested in maintaining its suspense than in getting under the skins of its people. It is not that they are false; it is that they are taken too much for granted. Only Gatsby himself genuinely lives and breathes. The rest are mere marionettes—oftenastonishingly lifelike, but nevertheless not quite alive.

What gives the story distinction is something quite different from the management of the action or the handling of the characters; it is the charm and beauty of the writing....

The rewards of literary success in this country are so vast that, when they come early, they are not unnaturally somewhat demoralizing. The average author yields to them readily. Having struck the bull‘s-eye once, he is too proud to learn new tricks. Above all, he is too proud to tackle hard work. The result is a gradual degeneration of whatever talent he had at the beginning. He begins to imitate himself. He peters out.

There is certainly no sign of petering out in Fitzgerald. After his first experimenting he plainly sat himself down calmly to consider his deficiencies. They were many and serious. He was, first of all, too facile. He could write entertainingly without giving thought to form and organization. He was, secondly, somewhat amateurish. The materials and methods of his craft, I venture, rather puzzled him. He used them ineptly. His books showed brilliancy in conception, but they were crude and even ignorant in detail. They suggested, only too often, the improvisations of a pianist playing furiously by ear but unable to read notes. These are the defects that he has now got rid of."

It seems like the obvious choice to dismiss The Marriage Plot as trivial, but I think, after winning our hearts with Virgin Suicides and further deepening the bond with Middlesex, Eugenides, like any good Marriage Plot protagonist, deserves the benefit of the doubt, here.