30 September 2013

Review of Jane Eyre

I finished!!!!!  Actually, I finished a couple of weeks ago, but because I was doing the Septemb-EYRE readalong, I didn't want to post my review while everyone else was halfway through.

I feel like I accomplished something that had been nagging at me for a while, so that is a great feeling.

Now--The book and my thoughts.  There are spoilers, so be warned.

I loved Jane Eyre.  Loved it.  Up until about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way through.

So Rochester and Jane were engaged and were going to get married in a big huge rush and Jane wouldn't allow herself to be excited about it, which was kind of a sign.  Then they're at the church and someone comes up and says that they can't get married because Rochester is already married...to the "thing" in the attic, which I totally knew was going to happen.  Jane basically shuts him down when he says that in his mind he was no longer married, etc.  And that was great.  I was so proud of her for doing that, for standing her ground and doing what she believed was right and for wanting Rochester on even terms, not just on his terms.  Jane's strength and willfulness were great things that I did not expect.

Then she decides to leave the house.  Understandable.  She decides to go while everyone else is asleep.  Still understandable.  She doesn't bring a whole lot of stuff because that's a lot to carry and she doesn't feel like much of this is hers.  Also understandable.

But then she gets on a carriage that will use all of her money.

Then she leaves all of her things on the carriage.  And literally has nothing.  She proceeds to wander around, sleeping outside, as she figures out what to do next.  Logically, I know that she didn't really have any other resources.  But to myself, I was saying:

Honestly, this bit reminded me of the last ten chapters of Huck Finn.  Uh...spoilers...Twain got Huck and Jim off of the raft, but then he didn't know what to do to wrap up the novel.  So he walked away for a while and then came up with reintroducing Tom to the narrative and shenanigans ensue.  Damn near ruins the whole beginning of the story.  I am not accusing Bronte of such heinous things, but it felt like Bronte herself lost the narrative a bit.  She got Jane away from Rochester, but how could she finish up the story?  I can't think of another way entirely.  But maybe make it less dramatic.

I really like how Jane became independent in this part of the novel.  She learned for the sake of learning.  I found myself wishing I could be in the living room with them studying away.  Jane got set up at the school and accomplished great things there as well.  I love Jane as a teacher.  All of this was great for her growth as a character.  Absolutely great.  I really like how strong-willed she was throughout the novel.  It was not what I was expecting for all of the years that I put off reading.

But then I was bludgeoned over the head with the coincidences.  Maybe I'll steal away in the middle of the night and meet my own Rivers family.  And then a relative I've never met will leave me money that conveniently splits quite nicely between the four of us.  To top it off, maybe I'll get the most awkward proposal in the history of proposals by my very own St. John.  No thank you.  I like subtlety.  Maybe it's the Hemingway devotee in me, but I don't like stories that are too obvious and coincidental.  I mean, really.  She wanders far from home, penniless, almost dies of exposure, and the family that takes her in just happens, we find out later, to be her relatives that she never knew existed.  And their recently deceased uncle just happens to be Jane's uncle, who leaves her all of his money.  Which happens to be able to satisfy the wants and needs of Jane and her three cousins.  I just can't.  I want a plot twist that taps me on the left shoulder, while standing on my right so that I have to look before I find it.

Back to the awkward proposal...Good for Jane again for not being scared into submission when St. John basically threatened her with hell and damnation for not marrying him, though he didn't love her one bit, nor she him.  Good for her.  I appreciate how she was willing to go off and do God's work as St. John's aid, but not as his wife.  And that really sucked how he treated her, but whatever.  Some guys (and chicks too) are douches and holier than thou and that sucks, so we need to avoid them.

Then Jane goes off in search of Rochester again and the story gets back on track to the level of what I knew it truly was.  They ultimately unite as equals.  They are together for the right reasons.  It's the right time.  Good for them.

I know that there is apparently this whole big Rochester versus Darcy debate going on regarding who is sexier.  I see both sides.  Rochester has this really sexy verbal thing that in many ways reminds me of Rhett Butler.  But Darcy doesn't play games nor does he pretend to not be married.  If I had to choose and couldn't pick Rhett Butler, I think I would have to go with Darcy.  He's still brooding and intelligent, but he doesn't lie and he seems to have a bit more honor.  Important traits when seeking a mate, if you ask me.

Did I like the overall story?  Yes.  Did I wish I could edit out a few chapters because they drove me crazy?  Absolutely.  Will I read it again?  Probably.  Will I encourage my children to read this novel at an earlier age?  You bet!  Can I see why other people totally love this book?  Naturally--I loved most of it.

I really hate how those few chapters got in the way of me totally, unconditionally loving this book.

And, don't hate me, but right now I'm thinking that maybe I like Emily's book better...then again I haven't read that one since high school.  I am wanting to say something about liking Jane Austen more, but I am just not entirely 100% sure of that statement.

Anyway, there.  My thoughts on Jane Eyre.  I would give this one 4 stars out of 5 (I need a different rating system because stars are boring), losing a star for the in the woods chapters and the coincidences, which lovers of the book have admitted are kind of rough for them as well.

One parting thought...

31 August 2013

Review of Pride and Prejudice

I really went down to the wire on this one.  I finished reading Pride and Prejudice about two weeks ago and just kept putting off writing the review.  I think that really enjoying the book, but not being quite sure how to articulate it without sounding too gushy had something to do with it.

Anyway, here is my review for Pride and Prejudice...on the last day of Austen in August...

One of the things that I really like about this novel and one of the reasons I think it is so widely read today is that it is still quite applicable.  Yes, women don't have to marry in order to have secure futures.  But I think that the process is still very similar.  In chapter VI, Charlotte says that being so guarded can really backfire on you.  It still can.  You have to put yourself out there a bit.  Frequently, the dating world is something of a cat and mouse game, with a fair amount of will-they-won't-they thrown in for excitement or frustration, whatever.  Austen established that tense cat and mouse game between Elizabeth and Darcy very early in the plot and I loved watching that tension build over the next three hundred pages.  By about page 200, further than I had ever read in the unabridged version of the novel, I totally understood what Kathleen Kelly meant about being in agony over whether they would ever be together.  One step forward, two steps back.

Throughout the novel, I felt myself strongly identifying with Elizabeth.  I truly wonder how many other people do too.  I am sure that as I read more Austen, I will develop some sort of mental litmus test related to which Austen character did someone most closely identify with.  Moving on...I really identified with the wanting to do and be good, but getting frustrated and kind of judgmental really easily.  The line "The more I see of the world, the more dissatisfied I am with it; and everyday confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters."  Ugh.  So dismally true.  Another unflattering mirror image bit?  When Elizabeth assumed that because she found Mr. Collins to be pompous and annoying that Charlotte would as well and was truly unhappy.  Sigh.  Just because I find someone's company so distasteful doesn't mean everyone will.  One of these days I will realize that.

Something that I couldn't quite determine myself was how Darcy changed.  Did Austen change the way he was written to mirror Elizabeth's changing feelings toward him (as in, he was always that nice, we just couldn't tell because Elizabeth disliked him) or did he himself change as he got to know Elizabeth more?

I really appreciated how Austen portrayed a wide variety of female characters in the novel.  There were the evil ones, the very good ones, the regular ones, and the idiotic ones, among others.  I haven't read many novels that convincingly portrayed the idiotic ones.  They always seem too over the top.  Elizabeth's younger sisters are idiots and they are ridiculous, but they reminded me of people I know in real life, as opposed to being a caricature.  It was also nice(?) to see that stupid girls are not a new phenomenon.  It's just now they get their own TV shows instead of being shamed, like they ought to be.

The dialogue at the end of the novel identifies Elizabeth as "prejudice" and Darcy as "pride."  I think they each had a bit of both going on.  What do you think?

So, ultimately, I can't believe it took me so long to read the entirety of this novel.  I liked it a lot more than I thought I was going to.  I was totally swoony after finishing because...ahhhh...love.

11 March 2013

Review of The Great Gatsby

Finally!  After a year of talking about it, I finally write a review for one of my Classics Club books.  Given my historical interests--early 20th century US--it was only fitting that this be my first Classics Club review.  A tale of love, of drinking, and of flappers.  Three of my favorite things!

Title:  The Great Gatsby
Author:  F. Scott Fitzgerald

Very Brief Synopsis:  The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.

I'm just not even sure where to begin with sharing the love of this book!  This was a reread for me.  I first read it for fun back in the 8th(ish) grade and really enjoyed the story.  I read it again in the 10th grade.  And in college a couple of times, when I didn't enjoy it so much, but that was probably because of the professor...With it being Modernist March and all, I decided that the time was right for a pleasurable reread of this Jazz Age classic.

I can understand why and how Fitzgerald became the voice of the 1920s.  He was able to fantastically and richly capture the tone and climate of the 1920s.

I can see why Hemingway got so pissed at Fitzgerald for drinking away his talent.  He could write a very deep and symbolic novel in less than 200 pages.  You can read the story.  And you can read the story and think about the deeper meaning of what he writes about--the colors, the eyes, the names.  So rich!

As much as I disliked the professor from college (in retrospect; I was a disciple at the time), I think his focus on identity, and self-knowledge, was a really good angle for this novel.  Personal choices and personal representations make up such a large part of this story.  Like Nick, we all want to believe we're able to stay pretty even keel and give people a fair shake, but that's not true.  Inevitably we learn too much and we can't stay objective.  Like Gatsby, we all have a version of ourselves that we want to portray to the world.  Thinking about self-perception gave me a lot to ponder as I read this novel.

Much like Huck makes a fabulous narrator for Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Nick Carraway makes a fantastic novel here.  He starts by painting a picture of himself as a person to whom people always wind up confessing their deepest secrets.  He wishes they wouldn't, but they do.  He's well-off, but not wealthy like Gatsby, the Buchanans, or the other characters.  This means that he can be part of their world, but he will always remain an outsider.  His outsider status and general demeanor make him an honest, objective, and compelling narrator.  And then he gets involved.  And the whole thing is just a whirlwind.

I also love the critique on society that goes on.  These people were so rich and focused only on surface things that they never took the time to get to know a person.  They all cared about the parties.  They cared about their money.  They hid behind their alcohol and their wealth and never had to deal with the real life.  (Sounds an awful lot like college today...)  F. Scott saw these things, appears to call society out for it, and yet that was the life he took a part in.  Maybe his point was that, to a certain extent, we're all hypocrites.  Maybe?

I spent my whole time rereading this underlining the symbols the stuck out to me.  The important passages.  The foreshadowing.  I had a fabulous time interacting with this book.  As I work on figuring out the future, I think that this was a good point for me to revisit this old favorite.  It was a very quick read.  It was a fantastic start to Modernist March because it got me into the 1920s.  Oh, to have been a flapper!

Five stars for an old favorite.  (I say stars; I don't know if this whole ratings thing will be a thing, but in case it does, at least I started with it)