For Love or Money

I’m reading Pride and Prejudice for the upteenth time. I found my copy from college, which means there are plenty of comments from my 21-year-old self, and damn are they stupid comments! I keep my books from college because I want to observe how my understanding changes over the years. When I was 21, I didn’t understand much about satire or humor or the stubborn short-sightedness of people. I didn’t understand the brilliance of Jane Austen. I hope this means I have developed a sense of humor.

pride_and_prejudice_ch_19I was inspired to write this post because #feminism. Mr. Collins refuses to understand Elizabeth when she declines his marriage proposal.

“You must give me leave to flatter myself, my dear cousin, that your refusal of my addresses is merely words of course. My reasons for believing it are briefly these:– It does not appear to me that my hand is unworthy of your acceptance, or that the establishment I can offer would be any other than highly desirable. My situation in life, my connections with the family of De Bourgh, and my relationship to your own, are circumstances highly in my favour; and you should take it into farther consideration that in spite of your manifold attractions, it is by no means certain that another offer of marriage may ever be made you. Your portion is unhappily so small that it will in all likelihood undo the effects of your loveliness and amiable qualifications. As I must therefore conclude that you are not serious in your rejection of me, I shall chuse to attribute it to your wish of increasing my love by suspense, according to the usual practice of elegant females.”

Volume I, Chapter 19.

I identify with Elizabeth’s typically feminine frustration of not being heard by a man when she is expressing herself very clearly!

Collins assumes that Elizabeth will accept him because he is a good match according to external standards: he will inherit her father’s property, already has a good home, and was born into the proper social class. Because the Bennets aren’t wealthy, Elizabeth must marry a man who can support her (or end up like Fanny Price’s mother in Mansfield Park). Elizabeth, having witnessed her parents’ unhappy marriage, is determined to marry a man she can love and respect.

Of course, Darcy made the same mistake as Collins during his first proposal to Elizabeth. He assumes that she will accept him because he is an excellent match according to external standards. Elizabeth refuses him because, at that point, he hadn’t shown her that he honored her as a person. I wonder if this novel is part of a shift in thought about whether marriage should be for property or for love.

Elizabeth replies to Collins, “I would rather be paid the compliment of being believed sincere.” And then, she references Mary Wollestonecraft, “Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart.” Elizabeth wants her future husband to see her as an individual/capable/lovable woman, not a cog in the machine of a gentleman’s life. (Collins easily switches his affections to Charlotte after minimal encouragement– he was merely looking for a puzzle piece to complete the image of his life. Of course, his constant listing of the price of items belonging to Catherine De Bourgh show that he has no concept of true value.)

I was flipping through my copy of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and most of my notes reference Pride and Prejudice. I must have been older and smarter when I read that book. Vindication was published in 1792, when Austen was 17-years-old. Her first draft of First Impressions, which would become Pride and Prejudice, was written in 1796.

Wollestonecraft argues that educating women and allowing them to take an equal place in society will make families healthier:

Make women rational creatures and free citizens, and they will quickly become good wives and mothers – that is, if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.

— from the chapter “On Natural Education”

Wollestonecraft’s argument is that free women will make better wives and mothers because they will act from internal motivation instead of external requirements.

When Elizabeth realizes that she loves Darcy, she recognizes that his character complements her own and that their differences would encourage growth in each other. A marriage based on love instead of property, requires two fully-formed individuals.

His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both; by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved, and from his judgment, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.

Volume III, Chapter 8

And then, my favorite line:

But no such happy marriage could now teach the admiring multitude what connubial felicity really was.

I love that line because it shows that Elizabeth is still prideful and egotistical and it’s just delicious. I’m noticing this time how often the characters misrepresent themselves. It’s obvious with Mrs. Bennet, saying she’s ill when she’s really frustrated. But, for example, after Wickham and Lydia elope, the whole town of Meryton claims they never trusted Wickham, when a few months before they loved him and believed all the lies he told about Darcy. As a younger reader, I looked for the moral of the story, and the moral of this story is to be like Elizabeth, don’t be like Mrs. Bennet. But it’s not that simple. Even in carefully-crafted fiction, it’s not so easy to understand what traits lead to a happy ending.

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The Writer’s Process

raising-steam

I think Moist von Lipwig might be my favorite character in Discworld. At least for right now. He’s an entrepreneur, and that’s the world I’m in at this point of my life.

So I was thrilled to find Moist von Lipwig was a prominent character in Raising Steam. But reading this book makes me very sad because it’s not up to the standard of Pratchett’s usual writing style. It was published in 2013, so I’m assuming Pratchett wrote it while he was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and maybe he didn’t have the time to do one more editorial pass-through. It reads like a draft. The story structure is not as tight as his earlier books- especially Going Postal. In his earlier books, there’s foreshadowing and a fleshing out of the villains, and that’s lacking in this book.

On the other hand, I think this story reveals more about the relationship between Moist and Adora Belle because of the incomplete structure. I get the sense that we are able to peek into their private conversations and if Pratchett had done another editing round, he would have determined those moments too intimate for us voyeurs. The flirtation between Moist and Adora Belle is what made Going Postal seem like a very new story in a very established world. I can’t think of another moment where Pratchett actually allows the reader into the head of a character at that point in the relationship. The couplings of Magrat and Verence and Vimes and Sybil are presented from a distance, a mechanical series of events. Pratchett doesn’t give us a lot of their emotional progress.

In Raising Steam, we get a very intimate view of the dynamic between Adora Bell and Moist:

“Adora Belle still had her faint smile. “Well now, my dear, didn’t you once say that a life without danger is a life not worth living?”

Moist patted her hand and said, “Well, Spike, I married you, didn’t I?”

“You couldn’t resist it, could you? It’s like a drug. You’re not happy unless someone is trying to kill you, or you’re in the center of some other kind of drama, out of which, of course, the famous Moist von Lipwig will jump to safety at the very last moment. Is it a disease? Some kind of syndrome?”

Moist put on his meek face as only husbands and puppies can do and said, “Would you like me to stop? I will if you say so.”

There was silence until Adora Belle said, “You bastard, you know I can’t do that. If you stopped all of that you wouldn’t be Moist von Lipwig!”

The Moist that Adora Belle describes is the one that is hidden in this book. In Going Postal and Making Money, we were able to tag along with Moist’s adrenaline rushes, and we don’t get that experience here. Still, I am enjoying the peek into Pratchett’s writing process. I love observing a master at work.

Madness

wide-sargasso-sea

Warning: SPOILERS

If you have not read Wide Sargasso Sea or Jane Eyre, go read them both right now (maybe read Jane Eyre first) and then come back.

Wide Sargasso Sea is a strange book. I’m having a hard time understanding the bare bones of the story line. And then this:

‘If my father, my real father, was alive you wouldn’t come back here in a hurry after he’d finished with you. If he was alive. Do you know what you’ve done to me? It’s not the girl, not the girl. But I loved this place and you have made it into a place I hate. I used to think that if everything else went out of my life I would still have this, and now you have spoilt it. It’s just somewhere else where I have been unhappy, and all the other things are nothing to what has happened here. I hate it now like I hate you and before I die I will show you how much I hate you.’

Something about this speech from Antoinette was very, very familiar. I know this feeling, that you have let someone into your precious, sacred space and then he breaks it and breaks you, and what used to comfort you just reminds you of pain and your own stupidity and you feel like you can never trust that sense of security again.

I didn’t want to read this book because I didn’t want my opinion of Mr. Rochester to change. When I read Jane Eyre in high school, and many times after that, I saw a hero. That’s what the man is in the story, right? He’s a hero, which means he can’t be cruel or thoughtless or selfish. Of course, in the story, Rochester calls himself cruel and selfish, but I was too young to understand that Charlotte Bronte was writing an antihero. I didn’t know enough stories for the true definition of hero, so I assumed Rochester was one.

Wide Sargasso Sea does not paint him as a villain– not completely. When Rochester was the narrator, it seemed he was just as crazy as his wife. How could a person stay sane when forced to marry a stranger to preserve the dignity of one’s distant relatives?

The right to be wrong

hogfather-3 So Austin has had some unseasonably gorgeous weather. It actually feels like autumn! So I’ve been adding cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to my coffee and reading Hogfather by Terry Pratchett.

The book is about belief.

Terry Pratchett always talks about the common people and how they are an immovable sludge that keep doing what they do despite the best efforts of the educated and the heroic. He always does it with a sort of awe and love for those people, because even as he points out their intractableness, he criticizes the main characters for thinking they can make a difference.

Here’s a footnote on Ponder Stibbons, the character who represents comp-sci nerdom:

Credulous: having views about the world, the universe and humanity’s place in it that are shared only by very unsophisticated people and the most intelligent and advanced mathematicians and physicists.

Ponder Stibbons is smart enough to hold himself above the “credulous” masses, but not quite smart enough to recognize the mystery in the physics that he studies.

Here’s another statement reflecting the perspective of the credulous:

The universe clearly operates for the benefit of humanity. This can be readily seen from the convenient way the sun comes up in the morning, when people are ready to start the day.

This attitude has definitely shaped the way I approach my work as a political activist. I’ve been reading Discworld novels since middle school, so, of course, Pratchett has shaped my understanding of the world. So while there are amazing characters who cannot be constrained by mediocrity (like Granny Weatherwax and Susan Death) those characters must protect the people who reject them (and whom they reject). Because you have to allow people to be stubborn or wrong-headed or just plain stupid. Because if you don’t, you become the villain. You become the person who controls others to get what you want. And that’s evil.

Immersion

Christmas of 2014, my mom gave me Reamde by Neal Stephenson.  I started reading it last wReamde covereek.  You have to fully commit to a Stephenson novel, it’s not the sort of thing you just pick up.  It takes commitment.

As much as I love the action-paced dystopic young adult novels (The Hunger Games, Divergent, even Harry Potter) there’s nothing like taking the time to immerse myself in a fictional world.  I lost the ability to read long novels for a couple years, but I’m reclaiming it now.  Part of the impetus for starting this blog was to reconnect with my high school and college self who could spend 10 hours a day just reading… although I had plenty habits back then that I don’t need to dig up!

You know those articles about our attention-deficient, social-media addicted age?  This is my retreat from that world.  We need balance in our intellectual lives.  The energy of observing modern phenomena, reacting to it, starting a heated discussion– well and good.  But we can’t contribute to those passionate, present conversations if we don’t have the foundation created by quietly probing our own minds.  Stephenson always stretches my imagination.  That phrase is overused, because I really feel like my brain is expanding when I read his books.  It’s fantastic.  But I need quiet time.  No Facebook notifications, no spoilers.  (I mean it! NO SPOILERS!!)

So, see you when I come up for air.  Or when I’m unwillingly dragged back to reality by pedestrian needs like eating and paying rent.

City Dweller

In The Hobbit Party, the authors discuss Tolkien’s nostalgia for his childhood, country home, and his aversion to the Industrial Revolution.  I am definitely a product of that Industrial Revolution.

 I just read the section in The Fellowship of the Ring where the hobbits meet Old Man Willow and Tom Bombadil.  First the hobbits find themselves blocked from going their desired pathway, instead the bramble only clears for them when they head in the opposite direction.  Then the hobbits become very sleepy.  Merry and Pippin fall asleep at the base of Old Man Willow and it swallows them with its roots. Frodo falls asleep while sitting on a root over the river, and the tree knocks him into the water and then holds him under. 

As someone who grew up in the desert (El Paso, TX), the oppressive, suffocating feeling of deep forest described by Tolkien is completely foreign to me.  Furthermore, as a life-long city girl, the power of the natural world to consume the products of human civilization is equally foreign.  As I read this section I tried to imagine what it would be like to live at the edge of wilderness.  Even the hobbits who live in an agrarian society, which is governed by mother nature, are uncomfortable in the Old Forest. Goldberry invites the Hobbits into Tom Bombadil’s home, saying:

‘Come dear folk!’ she said, taking Frodo by the hand. ‘Laugh and be merry! I am Goldberry, daughter of the River.’  Then lightly she passed them and closing the door she turned her back to it, with her white arms spread out across it.  ‘Let us shut out the night!’ she said.  ‘For you are still afraid, perhaps, of mist and tree-shadows and deep water, and untame things…’

My best understanding of “untame things” comes from when I worked as a dog trainer.    Dogs are domesticated because they look to humans for guidance.  No other animal does that.  So when I first heard Patricia McConnell’s story about her encounter with a wolf-dog hybrid, it just clarified, for me, the difference between a domestic dog and a wild animal:

Instead of taking back the chew toy he stopped and looked straight up into my eyes with a cold, hard stare. I remember every pixel of his face as he, like lightening, bit down hard on my right hand. It was the second most painful bite I’ve ever had, but it was more the calculated message behind the bite that shook me most. “Don’t you EVER touch my stuff again.”

I used to have a dog who would sometimes growl and threaten to bite if I approached her while she was eating, but I could trade her for something better and she would snap out of it and become my sweet dog again.  That growling was abnormal for her, but it would be totally normal from a wolf, or a wolf-dog hybrid.  I could communicate with my dog when she was in that state– it took a lot of work, but eventually she learned to trust me, because she essentially needed me.  She needed a human to care for her.   There’s no communicating with a wild animal, you’re either a threat, food, or something to ignore.  That communication barrier is frightening because there’s no way to compromise, and that’s the same barrier that the Hobbits had with Old Man Willow.  The tree decided they were a threat and attacked, only Tom Bombadil could stop it, because he’s the “master.”  We never learn what Tolkien meant by that.

Reading Slowly

I want to re-read The Lord of the Rings before continuing with The Hobbit Party. I’ve been slowly reading The Fellowship of the Ring.  As I started to dig in, I thought, “So this is what it’s like to read a book that wasn’t written for the sake of being made into a movie.”  It’s a book written to be a book.  I have been reading YA fiction (Divergent, The Maze Runner), fast-paced, plot-driven, dystopic novels.  I love the genre, but those books are not very good.  They needed one more editorial pass through, more plot-structure… the stories are good and the futuristic worlds are vivid, but the publishing seemed rushed so that the author and publisher could collect on the movie rights.

The Lord of the Rings, however, was written for readers who will spend many afternoons, basking in the sunshine, and absorbing the multi-layered narrative.

Neal Stephenson writes book-books.  Whenever I read Stephenson, I’m always surprised and delighted.  I feel like my brain gets a workout. That’s the point of reading: to be introduced to new ideas/worlds/concepts.  The fast-paced, plot-driven books are exciting, but they tend to feed me what I already know I like.  Reading The Fellowship of the Ring, for the first time in over 10 years, I’m having a hard time getting motivated to sit still for several hours to enjoy it– because several hours is what it will take.  I need to be willing to shut out my world: my Facebook arguments, the political news and commentary, my bills, my job search, my volunteer work… all of that has to be blocked out, so that I can focus on the journey with Frodo.

I get the sense that this kind of book isn’t what I need right now.  As an adolescent, I loved escaping into my books.  As an adult, I love my independent life– I don’t need to escape.  So why bother slogging through the trilogy?  Well, I want to find what the book offers besides escapism, maybe a better understanding of the English language, or Western culture.  Maybe I will enjoy the discipline of shutting out the world, taking in every sentence, reading slowly.