Recommend a Diverse Classic (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

Recommend a diverse classic.

One of my favorite books is Chaim Potok’s modern classic My Name Is Asher Lev, which tells the story of a boy whose passion for art threatens his relationship with his father and his community.  Asher cannot help but paint, but his father, an Orthodox Jew, is convinced that Asher’s talent is demonic.  Asher wants to believe that he can reconcile his art with his faith and that what he does is worth something, even if he is not serving his people the way generations of his family have served.  But learning to be an artist means painting nudes and, even worse, considering the power of a crucifixion painting.  Asher feels compelled to follow his vision wherever it leads him, making choice after choice that threatens to destroy his family even as each allows him to feel that he is remaining true to himself.  Asher and his father both see the world in different ways and, though they repeatedly try to bridge the distance between them, they ultimately are too similar ever to understand each other.

The book ends with no easy answers or moralistic messages.  Rather, it suggests that even though art may be necessary, it may also be selfish and destructive.  Its uneasy confrontation with the  nature of art and the cost of success become even more provocative when considered in light of what Potok might have been trying to work within himself as he wrote.  Where do art and faith mix and where do they diverge?  How much meaning can we find in art and in which kinds of art?  Does a compulsion to do something justify doing it?  And what happens when the path you see laid out before you is a path no one  else thinks you should take?

Is the Ending of The Call of the Wild Positive? (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!


Is the Ending of The Call of the Wild Positive?

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Spoiler warning for the end of the novel! (Though that’s probably obvious….)

This is a tough question for me because I think the answer is entirely dependent on what one most values, and valid arguments could be made for both positions.

Buck faces a tough life and a large number of challenges throughout the novel, but by the end, he has found a truly good master, a friend.  Various men had tried to beat the wildness and passion out of Buck, but Thornton is kind to him, and the two have a great relationship.  Ultimately, however, Thornton still ties Busk to civilization, and one of the primary questions the book asks is “Is that tie to civilization good?”

The ending is at least a little sad because Thornton dies and Buck is left on his own.  The narrator writes: “…He knew John Thornton was dead.  It left a great void in him, somewhat akin to hunger, but a void which ached and ached, and which food could not fill.” Yet because of Thornton’s death, Buck is able to join a pack of wild wolves, and he appears to thrive.  He becomes a prince among wolves, the head of a pack that the humans tell legends about: “They are afraid of this Ghost Dog, for it has cunning greater than they.”

So the question is really about whether you believe the “returning to the wild” is a positive or a negative.  For Buck, it seems to work out.  He seems to regain his “true nature,” to be able to develop a prowess his human masters often stunted in him.  In that way, the ending seems decently positive to me.  However, if the question is whether “returning to the wild” is good for all animals, or for humans (a question the book definitely raises in spite of the fact that the protagonist is a dog), the answer is probably more complex.

You can read my review of The Call of the Wild here.

What do think? Link us to your post or tell us your answer in the comments!

Briana

Do you Identify with Holden Caulfield? (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!


Do you identify at all with Holden Caulfield?

catcher in the rye

It’s been a while since I’ve read J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.  I’ve read it twice, however: once in high school and once a few years later.  The difference in enjoyment was stark for me.  I don’t think I was an angsty teen at all, even in retrospect, and no one I knew as a teen ever characterized me as such; nonetheless, I did relate to the book and Holden’ frustrations far more as a teen than I did even a few years later.  I think this is a book most people would most appreciate while they are in high school.

So what was so appealing? Holden may have been a bit angrier than I was as a teen, but I identified with his general frustration that a lot of people are “phoney.”  Maybe that sounds cynical.  But high school is filled with people trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be.  There are people who do things they’re uncomfortable with just to be cool.  There are people who pretend to join clubs they don’t care about just to put it on their college applications.  And then there are adults–people who keep telling you things like “Your teachers next year won’t stand for this” and “Next time I’m not accepting any late work,” and none of it ever actually comes to pass.  There are your parents who say one thing to you and another to other adults.  Basically, there are a lot of reasons to think the world might be “phoney.”

I don’t know how I would feel about the book today, and perhaps a second re-read is in order.  Maybe I’ve just accepted what seems to be the ever-present adult mantra that “life isn’t fair,” but I would hope I could continue to sympathize a bit with a character who’s frustrated that it seems so unfair and sometimes fake.  That doesn’t mean that all of Holden’s gripes are necessarily valid, but I think critics who dismiss him as a whiny crybaby and nothing more might be missing something.

What do you think? Comment with a link to your post if you participated this week or just comment with your opinion of Holden!

Briana

 

Favorite John Steinbeck Novel (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks
Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!


What is your favorite John Steinbeck novel?

To date, I have only read three Steinbeck novels: The Grapes of Write, Of Mice and Men, and Tortilla Flats.  I enjoyed the first two, but Tortilla Flats is supposed to be humorous, and I just didn’t get it; it’s not my brand of humor.  If I have to pick a very favorite, it’s The Grapes of Wrath.

I was not always a Grapes of Wrath fan. I read it once in high school and thought it slow and generally odd.  It has “interchapters,” which are chapters about the general state of the country, which separate the chapters that are actually about the novel’s characters or the “main action.”  Teenage me thought this was stupid, including the infamous “turtle chapter” where readers simply read about a turtle crossing the road.  Good times, right?

However, I reread the book last year, and I think I “get” it more now.  The interchapters are important.  They’re interesting.  They offer great commentary on the main action and the message of the novel, and I don’t think it would be complete without them.  And I find the main characters and their story interesting, as well.

Steinbeck occasionally gets on a soapbox about his pet causes and the messages of his own novels, but this is not a huge deterrent for me.  It’s the style of some books, and I’ve learned to roll with it (I’m looking at you, 1984.)  Altogether, I think this is an engaging and fascinating read.  It looks long, but it’s worth it.

Are you participating this week? Leave us the link to your post in the comments! Or just comment with your favorite Steinbeck novel.

Briana

Classic Remarks: L.M. Montgomery Recommendations Beyond Anne of Green Gables

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. We look forward to seeing your responses!


Tell us about your favorite L. M. Montgomery work, aside from any of the Anne of Green Gables books.

Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat

I love just about every book L. M. Montgomery has written, but I have always had a special place in my heart for Pat of Silver Bush and its sequel Mistress Pat.

Anne Shirley is famously imaginative and garrulous. Emily Star (from the Emily of New Moon series) has a reputation for being a bit odd; she has “flashes” and borders on interacting with the supernatural.  Pat Gardiner, in comparison, is one of Montgomery’s more “average” heroines–and I love it.   She’s quiet and fond of her home and her cats and somewhat adverse to change.  In short, she sounds like someone I might actually know.  And someone whom I would like if I did.

Montgomery can’t help but add some of her romantic touches, however.  Housekeeper Judy is Irish and firmly believes in fairies and the wee folk, and she’ll probably make you believe a little bit, too.  And then there’s the romance. I talked about why Jingle is one of my favorite Montgomery heroes in a previous Classic Remarks, so I won’t rehash it at length.  However, he’s friendly and earnest and kind and all the great things a strong love interest should be.  And he has an adorable dog.

Pat is sometimes overlooked because she’s quieter than Anne, but she is definitely worth knowing.

If you are participating this week, please leave us your link in the comments!

Briana

Classic Remarks: Is Dante’s Divine Comedy Still Relevant Today?

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

What relevance does a medieval text like The Divine Comedy have for readers today?

Dante’s Divine Comedy can seem intimidating and antiquated to contemporary readers.  A lengthy poem in three books narrating Dante’s physical journey through hell, purgatory, heaven, as well as his spiritual journey from sympathy with sin to a recognition of the wisdom and love of God, the Divine Comedy does not immediately strike many as interesting.  Indeed, its concern with the spiritual state of its protagonist and Dante’s belief that individuals have free will and can commit wrong are troubling to many who believe that truth is relative and that they cannot sin.  Distaste for the Catholicism that Dante embraces also causes some readers to want to give Dante as wide a berth as possible.

However, embracing or agreeing with Catholicism is not a perquisite to reading and appreciating Dante’s work.  At its heart, the Divine Comedy is about free will and the choices individuals, societies, and institutions make.  It is concerned with questions such as what the role of an artist is, how love and lust are distinguished, and how far an individual should pursue knowledge.  And it fearlessly engages troubling questions such as whether upright individuals who were not baptized should go to hell, how individuals who are kind and serve their city might still damn themselves, and the confusing nature of God’s mercy, which allows an excommunicated murderer like Manfred to be in purgatory on his way to heaven and the pagan Ripheus to be in paradise, but keeps Virgil in Limbo.  Dante’s struggles with the nature of choice, the seeming unfairness of life, and the attraction to behaviors that he understands to be wrong, are struggles contemporary readers still face.

Plus, the Divine Comedy is just great entertainment.  It is highly political, leveling criticism at the corruption of Florence and boldly chastising the Church for its greed.  Dante places familiar figures in his world, cheekily assigning his personal enemy Pope Boniface VIII to hell for simony, but also allowing readers to see and interact with other famous names from history and literature.  His imagination is stunning and though most readers focus on his inventive punishments in hell and the contrapassos (the punishments fitting the crimes), the terraces of purgatory are also richly drawn.  And the journey through paradise is a rather trippy adventure that has Dante travelling through the spheres, meeting the just rulers in Jupiter (who arrange themselves in aerial patterns much like marching bands today during sports events), being questioned by St. Peter about the faith, and approaching God Himself.

Dante’s ideas are far from outdated.  Rather, Dante engages with the puzzles and the problems that continue to engage readers today.  From concern about political corruption to musings on the nature of love, Dante restlessly probes the underpinnings of his world, seeking to understand them.  His restless mind and his devotion to seeking truth can continue to speak to and inspire us.

Did you write a post this week?  Leave your link in the comments!

Classic Remarks: Recommend an Obscure Classic

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating!  This week’s prompt is:

What’s a somewhat obscure classic you wish more people would read?

I always love a good swashbuckler full of intrigue, action, and romance–all of it a little melodramatic and sometimes predictable, but always ultimately satisfying.   The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) by Anthony delivers on just these swashbuckling promises and, better yet, it has a sequel, Rupert of Hentzau, to continue the fun.  The plot of the first book follows Englishman Rudolf Rassendyll as he vacations in the fictional country of Ruritania, only to find once there that the future king Rudolf, Rassendyll’s distant cousin, has been kidnapped by his evil brother Michael.  Rassendyll must impersonate the king at the coronation, woo his future bride Princess Flavia, and find a way to free King Rudolf all without anyone catching onto the switch.  Let the drama ensue!

The Prisoner of Zenda is not entirely obscure.  There are many movie versions and Rupert of Hentzau has also been adapted to film and ran as a TV series in the 1960s in Britain.  There is even a subgenre known as Ruritanian romance.  However, I have not ever seen a blogger mention the book.  But fans of The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter, or The Three Musketeers or The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas may also find these books entertaining.