Friday, February 16, 2018

The Annotated Northanger Abbey

Title: The Annotated Northanger Abbey
Author: Jane Austen
Published: 1817
Introduction and Annotations: David M. Shapard
Published: 2013
Publisher: Anchor Books
Number of Pages: 541

Personal Note:
I was very happy to be reading this annotated version of Northanger Abbey. Northanger Abbey was the last Austen novel I read, but has since become one that I hold dear. Why? Because of the hero: Henry Tilney. He is my idea of the ideal man. I believe Catherine was very lucky to have gained such a man as her husband and even luckier to have gained such a teacher of life.

Northanger Abbey was the third novel that Austen composed. It was completed in 1799 and its original title was Susan. It was submitted to and bought by a publisher, but never published. Years later Austen's brother, Henry, bought the novel back from the publisher. Austen then revised the name of the main character to Catherine, since she had written another novel with a main character whose name was Susan, and Catherine became the name of the novel as well. After Austen's death in 1817, Henry, the executor of her estate, arranged for the posthumous publication of Persuasion and Catherine by a publisher, who changed the name of the later novel to Northanger Abbey, for reasons unknown.

Everyone who reads Austen knows that Northanger Abbey is a parody of Gothic fiction. In the Introduction David M. Shapard claims that the novels' parody falls into two "phases:"
In the first, spanning the first half of the novel, Austen tells the story of the heroine to the frequent accompaniment of brief witty asides contrasting her character, behavior, or experiences with the far more extravagant versions found in other novels, particularly sentimental ones.
In the second half, set at Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen turns to a different form of parody. Now the heroine's inner convictions and emotions become the prime target of mockery, as she comes to believe in the reality of the far-fetched events of Gothic horror fiction, especially those created by the genre's most popular practitioner, Ann Radcliffe.
Since on every other reading of Northanger Abbey I concentrated on the developing relationship between Catherine and Mr. Tilney, I had never given sufficient attention to the elements of parody that Austen used. I caught them this time, and even enjoyed how much she poked fun at the outrageousness of Gothic fiction.

What I Liked:
As I stated before, I like this novel because of the hero: Henry Tilney. He is a flirt, yet not a flirt with bad intentions. He is not a Henry Crawford (from Mansfield Park). He is also smart, wise, and exacting at times. He constantly challenges Catherine to think. To think about the words she chooses to use, to help her examine her reasons for choosing those words, and helps her to choose a more appropriate word when the one she uses is found inadequate or used incorrectly. In the same way, he shows her how to examine her feelings, her thoughts, stating that these things should be thought about.
"You feel, as you always do, what is most to the credit of human nature. -Such feelings ought to be investigated, that they may know themselves."
In short, he is teaching her to be wise. Wise in her thoughts, wise in her actions, and wise in her communications with others. And he does it so tenderly, never making fun of her ignorance; just gently correcting and guiding her thoughts. That tenderness and wisdom is what I like about Henry Tilney. 

What I Didn't Like:
Characters are the main things I don't like about this novel: Mrs. Allen; Isabella and John Thorpe; General and Captain Tilney. Mrs. Allen is empty-headed and occasionally leads the heroine wrong. Isabella and John Thorpe are greedy, vain, yet attempt to convince everyone around them that they are good, honest, and not concerned about money (their actions belie their words). General and Captain Tilney... well, they are just vile: selfish, vain, rude, manipulative, deceitful. At least General Tilney eventually consents to his son, Henry, marrying Catherine. He turned out not to be as bad as the reader once thought he was.

From Volume I, Chapter VIII:
To be disgraced in the eye of the world, to wear the appearance of infamy while her heart is all purity, her actions all innocence, and the conduct of another the true source of her debasement, is one of those circumstances which peculiarly belong to the heroine's life, and her fortitude under it what particularly dignifies her character.

From Volume I, Chapter XIV:
Mr. Tilney: "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."

From Volume I, Chapter XIV:
Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind, is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing any thing, should conceal it as well as she can.

From Volume II, Chapter IV:
Mr. Tilney: "No man is offended by another man's admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment."

Concluding Note:
Now that I am done reading the annotated versions of Jane Austen's novels by David M. Shapard, I would recommend them to anyone who is wanting to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of Austen's work. They can be difficult at times, but the payoff is worth the work it takes to read them.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Annotated Persuasion

Title: The Annotated Persuasion
Author: Jane Austen
Published: 1817
Introduction and Annotations: David M. Shapard
Published: 2010
Publisher: Anchor Books
Number of Pages: 517

Personal Note:
I love Persuasion. It has been my favorite Austen since I first read it in 2005. But this reading didn't leave me with the same warm feelings I've had every other time I've read it. Perhaps it's because I am still sick. I'm now to the point where I'm irritated. This cold has been going on long enough and I don't seem to be able to get the better of it. Just when I think I'm getting better it rears up again in an ugly way, with different symptoms than before. These current symptoms leave me with zero desire to read, which is agony to me: reading is my main source of relaxation!

Jane Austen began working on Persuasion in 1815. It is thought by many that the version we read today was the first draft; that Austen had every intention of rewriting and expanding it, but illness kept her from doing so. Persuasion was published posthumously, by her brother, after her death in 1817.

From the Introduction:
She managed to finish Persuasion in 1816, though it is possible she was unable to revise and polish it as fully as she wished - the principle evidence for this is its short length, especially compared to the long novels that immediately preceded it, and its sketchily developed subplot involving Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay.

What I Liked:
I like Anne Elliot, the main character. Is there any reader of Jane Austen that doesn't like her? She is cautious, mature, self-reflective, and wise. She is someone I want to be. I want to be as cautious and wise as her. To be analyzing a situation properly before making a judgment; to be careful not to judge wrong or too harshly, to be forgiving.

A helpful Annotation came in Volume I, Chapter IV. The line is:
She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned more romance as she grew older - the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.
The Annotation is:
37. The normal sequence would be to start romantically, perhaps by trying to marry purely for love, and to become more attuned to the importance of prudence as one aged.
Again, who wouldn't want to be Anne Elliot? To learn prudence before falling in love and being with the one you love. Being prudent beforehand would certainly save a person much heartache.

My favorite Annotation came in Volume I, Chapter XII. Louisa Musgrove's accident at Lyme has just occurred and Captain Wentworth, Anne, and Henrietta Musgrove are returning to Uppercross. The line in the book is:
Anne wondered whether it ever occurred to him [Captain Wentworth] now, to question the justness of his own previous opinion as to the universal felicity and advantage of firmness of character; and whether it might not strike him that, like all other qualities of the mind, it should have its proportions and limits. She thought it could scarcely escape him to feel, that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favor of happiness, as a very resolute character.
The Annotation explains:
98. This offers a crucial lesson of the book. Its recommendation of a mean of behavior, in this case between being resolute and being persuadable, is typical of Jane Austen.

What I Didn't Like:
Perhaps it was because of the irritation from being sick, but I was quite annoyed by the Annotations, even when I found them helpful. Sometimes it distracted me from the movement of the plot and the beauty of Austen's language.

From Volume I, Chapter VIII:
Mrs. Croft: "The only time that I ever really suffered in body or mind, the only time that I ever fancied myself unwell, or had any ideas of danger, was the winter that I passed by myself at Deal, when the Admiral (Captain Croft then) was in the North Seas. I lived in perpetual fright at that time, and had all manner of imaginary complaints from not knowing what to do with myself, or when I should hear from him next; but as long as we could be together, nothing ever ailed me, and I never met with the smallest inconvenience."

(This quote has special significance for me: I read Persuasion for the second time just after my husband was shipped off to Afghanistan in February of 2010. When I came across this quote by Mrs. Croft I was struck with how closely it resembled my own feelings. My husband wouldn't be returning for six months, and I was left alone in a city we had recently moved to and I didn't know anyone or have any friends close by to support me.)

Concluding Note:
In spite of my cold, which has plagued me for so long, I still love Persuasion. I still hope, one day, to be as wise as Anne Elliot. Perhaps my goal of reading great books will help me on that journey. But, like Jane Austen, I believe there should be a mean in our behavior. Believing ourselves wise would be unwise. Our beliefs about ourselves should be tempered with humility. As the Bible says: "Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him." (Proverbs 26:12 NIV)

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Annotated Emma

Title: The Annotated Emma
Author: Jane Austen
Published: 1815
Introduction and Annotations: David M. Shapard
Published: 2012
Publisher: Anchor Books
Number of Pages: 897

Personal Note:
I'm afraid this won't be a very long post. I'm still sick and while I've been able to read a lot, because I can't do very much else, I don't yet have the mental energy to do justice to serious books. I will do my best, though.

In his Introduction, David M. Shapard refers to Emma as "... the culmination of Jane Austen's work as a novelist." And to Emma herself as "... the most flawed of all Austen heroines." I would have to agree with him on both of those points. It struck me on this reading, my fifth, how faithfully Austen has portrayed nineteenth century everyday country life in a small village. No concern is too small for her notice: from Mr. Woodhouse's fears of everyone catching cold, to Emma's anxieties about Mr. John Knightley's oddities. And Emma, to be frank, disgusts me at times with her selfish behavior: talking Harriet into refusing a marriage proposal that is in line with her social standing, and repeating her improper suspicions of Miss Fairfax's feelings towards Mrs. Dixon's husband, of which Emma has no proof. Austen writes about these everyday, seemingly unimportant details in a way that keeps the reader interested. No small feat for an author.

I felt that Shapard summed up the plot of Emma very well near the end of his Introduction:
It is a drama that has a clear overall arc, as she gradually moves toward greater wisdom and self-awareness and humility, but that at each stage involves a complex struggle whose immediate result is in doubt, as Emma vacillates between different perspectives and is often tempted to revert to mistaken attitudes or courses of action that she has earlier renounced.

What I Liked:
As with the other Annotated Jane Austen novels I liked the maps that were provided and the annotations. The most helpful annotation came early in the novel. Emma has referred to Robert Martin, the admirer of Harriet Smith, as "clownish." I've often wondered if that word was used in the same sense as we use it today. The annotation cleared that up for me.
45. clownish: rough, awkward, boorish. "Clown" originally meant a peasant or rustic person. The term was also applied to someone with the crude manners associated with such persons, and eventually to a comic actor or entertainer who exhibited such manners. Many of Shakespeare's plays have one or more lower-class characters identified as "clown," not all of whom are idiotic or buffoonish.
So Emma is referring to Robert Martin, rudely, as her social inferior, which he was, but she wasn't saying it in a nice way, and also as someone with ungenteel manners.

What I Didn't Like:
After reading Emma this time around I didn't find anything I didn't like about it. In fact, the book has raised my estimation of Jane Austen and her novels even further than it was.

From Volume III, Chapter XI:
Emma: "A few minutes were sufficient for making her acquainted with her own heart."
(This quote refers to the moment Emma realizes she loves Mr. Knightley.)

Concluding Note:
Emma has now become my second favorite Austen novel. It surpassed Mansfield Park. I never thought that would happen, since before now Emma had always been my least favorite. It's my opinion that Emma improves with every reading, which is why I will be rereading it for many, many years.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 Book Journal

"Books, cats, life is sweet."
- Edward Gorey 

A bad bout with the flu among my husband and I this holiday season kept me from reading almost this whole month, so I didn't reach my goal of reading thirty-six books this year. I usually read around forty-four or forty-five titles, but this year has been busier than others. Next year, because of a long-term goal (that has nothing to do with my reading life) I'm thinking I may only be reading around twenty-four or twenty-six titles. And, I want to engage in slow reading, absorbing books slowly. It took me all of November to read The Annotated Mansfield Park, and I enjoyed peeling back its layers; I want to repeat that on other books. I also hope to be better about reviewing the books I read. I didn't review every one I read this year.

Here are the books I read this year:

1) Judy Blume/In the Unlikely Event (2015)
    Very well researched novel about true events.

2) Fannie Flagg/The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion (2013)
    Good read from one of my favorite southern authors!

3) St. Augustine/Confessions (c. 400 AD)
    Was so glad when I finished this one!

4) Anna Quindlen/Every Last One (2010)
    Not sure I want to read any more of Quindlen's novels; they're too depressing.

5) Larry McMurtry/Books: A Memoir (2008)
    Probably the best book I read all year.

6) Bill Bryson/A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (1998)

7) Ernest Hemingway/A Moveable Feast (1964)
    Learned I didn't like Hemingway's style of writing.

8) Margery Kempe/The Book of Margery Kempe (written c. 1430/published 1936)
    I'm still trying to wrap my head around this autobiography.

9) Larry McMurtry/Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen: Reflections at Sixty and Beyond (1999)
    Short essays, but they pack a punch with information.

10) Herman Melville/Moby-Dick or, The Whale (1851)
      One of the two worst reads of my life!

11) Larry McMurtry/Roads: Driving America's Great Highways (2000)
      Took me places I've never been before.

12) Larry McMurtry/Paradise (2001)
      I could have skipped this book while reading McMurtry's memoirs.

13) Johanna Spyri/Heidi (1880/1881)
      In my top ten of the best children's books I've read.

14) Rachel Hale/The French Cat (2011) (book of photography)
      One of my favorite subjects: cats!

15) Mary Norton/The Borrowers (1952)
      Cute read. I never read it as a child.

16) Larry McMurtry/Sacagawea's Nickname: Essays on the American West (2001)
      Surprising read from a novelist.

17) Caroline Linscott and Julie Christian-Dull/Art of the American West (1999) (book of art)
      Very good! Wish more art books were formatted like this one.

18) Johann Wyss/The Swiss Family Robinson (1812)
      Boring. Just boring.

19) Larry McMurtry/Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846-1890 (2005)
      One of the better reads of the whole year.

20) Ransom Riggs/Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2011)
      A young adult novel I first saw in movie form.

21) Larry McMurtry/Literary Life: A Second Memoir (2009)
      Wasn't very good, but glad I read it.

22) Larry McMurtry/Hollywood: A Third Memoir (2010)
      Relief was my emotion at finishing this book and McMurtry's set of memoirs.

23) Ransom Riggs/Hollow City (2014)
      Was so unimpressed by this sequel that I decided to discontinue the series.

24) Walter Scott/Waverley (1814/Revised 1829)
      Was a better read than I thought at first. Every chapter was better than the one before.

25) Washington Irving/The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1824/Revised 1848)
      Quite dry, but love "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"

26) Stephen King/The Tommyknockers (1987)
      An easy read when I needed one.

27) Marie Proeller Hueston/House Beautiful: Decorating with Books (2006)
      I love decorating books and this one involved by favorite things: books.

28) Victor Hugo/Notre-Dame of Paris (1831)
       Learned more about Gothic architecture than I needed to know.

29) Jane Austen and David M. Shapard/The Annotated Sense and Sensibility (1811/2011)
      An enlightening read of my first Jane Austen novel.

30) Jane Austen and David M. Shapard/The Annotated Pride and Prejudice (1813/2004/Revised 2012)
      Not my favorite Austen, but one I enjoy reading again and again.

31) Jane Austen and David M. Shapard/The Annotated Mansfield Park (1814/Revised 1816/2017)
      There was more to this novel than I once thought.

32) Charles Dickens/A Christmas Carol (1843)
       My fifth reading of a Christmas classic!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Christmas Carol

Title: A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being a Ghost Story of Christmas
Author: Charles Dickens
Published: 1843
Introduction and Notes: Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, 2006
Illustrations: John Leech
Publisher: Oxford World's Classics
Number of Pages: 80

Personal Note:
My goal this December is to read all five of Dickens' Christmas Books. This is my third try: in 2015 I made it through A Christmas Carol and partway through The Chimes and got no further; last year, due to personal circumstances, I barely got started; this year, with my fingers crossed, I hope to finally achieve the reading of all five.

According to the Introduction, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in only six weeks. It was completed, printed, and sold just in time for the Christmas Holidays in 1843.
Priced at a relatively modest five shillings, it was handsomely (and seasonally) bound in red cloth, with gilt-edged pages, four hand-coloured etchings provided by John Leech, and four additional black and white wood engravings.
Those etchings and engravings, in black and white only, are included here in this edition.

Stave I: Marley's Ghost
Marley was dead, to begin with. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge's business partner, is dead; he died seven years before on Christmas Eve. On the Christmas Eve the story begins, Scrooge's nephew stops by his counting house to invite him to Christmas dinner. Scrooge, who is contemptuous of Christmas - and anything else that is good - declines by insulting his nephew and the way he lives.

That night, after dinner, as Scrooge is unlocking the front door to his house, he sees an image of Marley's head on the door in place of the doorknocker, but it disappears quickly. Later, in his suite of rooms, Scrooge is visited by Marley's Ghost, who describes his fate: to roam the Earth for eternity in chains as penance for his misdeeds in life. He warns Scrooge that the same fate awaits him if he doesn't alter his life. He informs Scrooge that to help him change he will be visited by three spirits, which will haunt him over the next three nights. Marley's Ghost then leaves and Scrooge goes to bed and to sleep instantly.

Stave II: The First of the Three Spirits
During the whole of this time, Scrooge had acted like a man out of his wits. His heart and soul were in the scene, and with his former self. He corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything, and underwent the strangest agitation.
Scrooge awoke and listened to the nearby church clock strike midnight. He wondered how this could be since he had gone to bed after two o'clock. When the clock struck one the first spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Past, appeared. It had a child's face, yet it was old; light shone from the top of its head.

The spirit shows Scrooge five scenes from the past: two from when he was a young boy at school; one when he was clerk to kind Mr. Fezziwig, who gave a high-energy Christmas dance; one of a scene between Scrooge, as a young man, and his ex-fiance, Belle; and the last scene was of Belle's Christmas with her husband and children.

At this last scene Scrooge begged to see no more. He tried to extinguish the spirit's light by shoving its cap over its head and body, but the light still shone. Seeing he was back in his bedchamber, Scrooge stumbled to bed and slept.

Stave III: The Second of the Three Spirits
Much they saw, and far they went, and many homes they visited, but always with a happy end.
Scrooge awoke just before the clock struck one. He waited for the second spirit. The Ghost of Christmas Present was a jolly giant wearing a green robe and a holly wreath crown. He and Scrooge traveled far and wide to see many Christmas celebrations. The most notable among these celebrations, though, were those of his clerk, Bob Cratchit and his family - which affected Scrooge deeply, especially Tiny Tim; and Scrooge's nephew, Fred - a Christmas celebration which Scrooge participated in, even though none could see him.

At the end of Scrooge's time with the spirit, it warned him about Ignorance and Want, represented by a boy and girl, respectively. The clock in the tower struck twelve and Scrooge remembered Marley's prediction that the last spirit would haunt him as "the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate." Scrooge saw before him a Phantom, "draped and hooded, coming... towards him."

Stave IV: The Last of the Three Spirits
'Ghost of the Future!' he exclaimed, 'I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart.'
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a hooded, hidden figure, except for one hand that stays outstretched, pointing the way the whole time. This spirit showed Scrooge the outcome of one man's life: his death produced no mourning in any person, and some pleasure in others. When Scrooge asked to see tenderness around a person's death, the spirit took him to Bob Cratchit's house, where all were mourning the passing of Tiny Tim. It was at this time that Scrooge asked the spirit to reveal to him the identity of the man whom no one mourned. The spirit took him to a graveyard and pointed to a grave. Upon the gravestone Scrooge saw his own name. Falling upon his knees, Scrooge proclaimed that from this day forward he would be a changed man, opposite from the one he was before. The spirit dissolved into a bedpost.

Stave V: The End of It
'I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!' Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. 'The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.'
Scrooge was excited when he understood that it was Christmas Day. He knew he could be different than he was. He told a passing boy to buy the prize turkey at the Poulterer's shop and had it sent anonymously to Bob Cratchit's house. Then he went to church and spent Christmas Day with his nephew, Fred, and his wife.

The next morning, when Bob Cratchit came to work, eighteen minutes late, Scrooge tried to play a joke on him by pretending to be mad at Bob's lateness, but he couldn't. He promised to raise Bob's pay and assist his family. From then on, Scrooge became a good man and kept Christmas better than anyone else.

What I Liked:
I liked the witty remarks that Dickens sometimes made in his narration: "There's more of gravy than of grave about you," and a remark about a house playing hide-and-seek and getting lost.

In the story, I liked that Scrooge would get excited and try to interact with the scenes going on before him, even though no one else could see or hear him. It was proof that what the spirits were showing him were having the desired effect.

What I Didn't Like:
I didn't like that I had to stop ten times on every page and look up a word in the dictionary. I thought my vocabulary was large enough, but I guess Dickens' vocabulary is larger.

From Stave I: Marley's Ghost:
"They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had so little business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and forgotten the way out again."

From Stave I: Marley's Ghost:
"Darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it."

From Stave I: Marley's Ghost:
"There's more of gravy than of grave about you..."

Concluding Note:
This is a story that should be read by everyone every Christmas. The reading of it would help everyone to keep Christmas in perspective. Instead of Christmas being about consumerism, the story would remind us that true Christmas spirit is being kind to others, giving freely of our love, being generous with ourselves and our time. And the best gift of this story is to remember this all through the year, not just at Christmastime.