Classic Remarks: Who Is Your Favorite L. M. Montgomery Hero?

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:

Who is your favorite L. M. Montgomery hero?

Pat of Silver Bush

While I have a soft spot in my heart for Gilbert Blythe from Anne of Green Gables (Who doesn’t, really?), my favorite L. M. Montgomery is actually Hilary (Jingle) Gordon from Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat.  While Gilbert obviously matures over the course of the Anne series, he starts out fiery and as an admittedly annoying school boy.  Jingle is level-headed and kind from the start.  He’s always looking out for Pat’s best interests and is willing to wait for her to see if their friendship should be something more.  He respects her love for her home and her discomfort with change but is willing to have dreams and work to share them with her.  So while Jingle isn’t the flashiest or most passionate of Montgomery’s heros, he’s reliable, responsible, intelligent, and big-hearted. He also has an adorable dog.

Honorable mentions (after Gilbert) may go to Barney Snaith from The Blue Castle.  He’s wild and a bit snarky, so maybe not personally my type, but I love reading about him.  He’s interesting and also kind-hearted; he just hides it a lot better than many of Montgomery’s other heroes, but he doesn’t care what the gossipy people around town think. He just does what he thinks is right and pursues the kind of live he wants to live, which I think I can respect.

Dishonorable mentions to Teddy from the Emily of New Moon series, though I won’t get into spoilers.

Are you participating in Classic Remarks this week? Link us to your posts in the comments!  You can also take our quiz to find out which L. M. Montgomery hero should be yours.

Briana

Classic Remarks: What Shakespeare Play Would You Teach in High School?

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:

If you were to teach a Shakespeare text in a high school classroom and could not choose Romeo and Juliet, which play would you choose and why?

Logic says that I ought to choose a play like Hamlet, Macbeth, or Othello–a Shakespeare play that has become culturally embedded and that students should be exposed to if they intend to continue studying English literature in college.  However, plenty of colleges still require a Shakespeare course for an English major to graduate and such a course will probably include most of the more famous plays.  Therefore, I would have to choose between Henry V and Cymbeline.

Henry V is, of course, the one history play that most people who read or study Shakespeare will eventually be exposed to, which tempts me to choose Cymbeline–a totally underrated because absolutely bizarre romance that includes a jealous lover, missing princes, a disguised princess, and the descent of an actual god.  I find it great fun, but I have to admit that it would probably make high school students think Shakespeare was more than a little crazy.  Best then to go with Henry V.

Henry V, of course, poses its own challenges, such as the fact that it is considered the last part of a tetralogy and students would get the most out of it if they could follow the ideas of kingship presented in the earlier works, and if they could have met Falstaff in Henry IV Parts I and II.  Still, it works well enough on its own and one can fill in some of the gaps with a brief lecture before reading.

I think students would appreciate a history play in which the protagonist appears (to many) to be a hero.  His youth and his desire to find his place in the world and solidify it might appeal to many.  Furthermore, film versions such as the ones starring Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hiddleston could provide another avenue for students to access the works.  And, of course, the play raises rich questions about kingship, leadership, the way we retell history, etc. for students to discuss.  It might be a nice change from another year of Romeo and Juliet.

Participating this week?  Leave your link in the comments!

Krysta 64

Classic Remarks: The Funniest Moment in Pride and Prejudice

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 do you think the funniest moment in Pride and Prejudice is?

Not everyone seems to realize just how funny Jane Austen can be.  Yes, she writes about people from the past who engage in courtship rituals that readers find either incredibly romantic or amusingly old-fashioned.  However, her books aren’t entirely wish fulfillment, the gratification of seeing the right pair fall in love, often against all odds (read: financial odds).  Beneath the surface runs Jane Austen’s keen wit, which pokes fun at the social conventions of her day as well as the foibles of her characters.  Some consider Austen to write comedies of manners.

My favorite comedic moment occurs when Mr. Collins arrives at Longbourne to determine which of the Bennet sisters he shall marry.  After Mr. Collins delivers a compliment, Mr. Bennet innocently says, “It is happy for you that you possess the talent of flattering with delicacy. May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?”  The question is, of course, meant to poke fun at Mr. Collins’ lack of imagination and general superficiality.

Mr. Collins, however, is so convinced of his own good taste that he does catch the implied judgement.  He answers Mr. Bennet very seriousy: “They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.”  Without any self-consciousness, Mr. Collins admits he does not possess the wit and intelligence to come up with a compliment on the spot. Rather, he prepares them ahead of time in the hopes of presenting himself as socially smooth.  But he’s not smooth enough to keep up the charade when questioned.  Indeed, he is so socially inept that he readily admits that his compliments are canned without realizing that this is rather an insult to the ladies who receive them from him!

It’s easy to laugh at Mr. Collins, of course, but Pride and Prejudice is full of such subtle moments.  Austen’s trick is that the readers have to feel that they are on the intellectual level of Lizzie Bennet to get the joke.  Because you have realized what Mr. Collins has not, that compliments ought to be spontaneous and for the individual, you the reader can feel assured of your social grace and chuckle a little.  Jane Austen just made you laugh by making you feel clever.

Krysta 64

Classic Remarks: Recommend a Poet

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:

Tell us about your favorite poem or poet.

Stephen Crane (1871-1900) is perhaps best known as a novelist and short story writer, as well for his involvement in realism and American naturalism.  He wrote, among other works, The Red Badge of Courage and Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.  Crane, however, also wrote poetry, publishing two volumes–The Black Riders and Other Lines and War Is Kind.

Crane’s poems address war, loss, the struggle of writing and, most of all, belief.  Sometimes Crane’s poems despair over the unkindness of merciless gods and sometimes they hold out more hope.  The conflicting notes they strike reveal Crane as a man of complexity who seems to have embraced his contradictory nature.  It’s that contradiction that draws me to his poetry.  It says that it’s okay if you don’t have all the answers.  It’s okay if you sometimes struggle.  It’s okay if you sometimes doubt.

Crane’s works are now in the public domain, so if you’re interested in his poetry, it’s not hard to find.  I recommend “Many red devils ran from my heart,” “Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind,” and “Fast rode the knight.”

Many red devils ran from my heart
And out upon the page,
They were so tiny
The pen could mash them.
And many struggled in the ink.
It was strange
To write in this red muck
Of things from my heart.

Krysta 64

Classic Remarks: Severus Snape

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:

Do you think Severus Snape is a good person?

Potential spoilers for Books 1-7 of Harry Potter!

With the revelation that Severus Snape had been working as a double agent for years, passing nonessential information to Voldemort in order to spy on him for Dumbledore, the pressing question of his real loyalties was finally resolved.  And fans across the globe began praising Snape as not only a hero but also a good man.  However, while Snape’s bravery and dedication seem undeniable, his motives for serving Dumbledore reveal a complicated and deeply conflicted man.  Even though he risked his life to stop Voldemort and to protect Harry, throughout his life he seems to have done it all for the wrong reasons.  And his unlikable personality, his love of bullying schoolchildren, his love of sarcasm, never changed.  Though I hesitate to make a judgement on whether or not Snape is “a good person,” I do argue that Snape is far from a shiny knight in armor.  His motivations throughout his life seem largely selfish.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows provides much pertinent background information about Snape and his political and moral convictions.  In the chapter “The Prince’s Tale,” we learn that Snape believed in blood superiority from his childhood, dismissing Muggles and Muggle-borns and even calling Lily a “Mudblood” when he was upset.  Once Snape and Lily enter Hogwarts, Lily tells him she is concerned about his friends, who use Dark Magic to hurt other students.  She eventually tells him they have to part ways because she knows his goal is to become a Death Eater.  Severus Snape may be interested romantically in Lily, but it never inspires him to be a better person.  He is willing to harm other people, just not her.  And even when Snape talks to Lily, he shows himself to be jealous and possessive, trying to dictate whom she can be friends with.  The fact that Snape says he loves Lily does not excuse his other actions.

Even when Snape seems to convert and asks Dumbledore to protect Lily from Voldemort, Dumbledore sees through him.  Dumbledore accuses Snape of being willing to sacrifice James and Harry if it means Lily will be alive and free for him.  Snape then asks that the entire family receive protection, apparently because this is the only way Dumbledore will agree to save Lily.  Tellingly, when Dumbledore later informs him that Lily is dead but her son survived, Snape’s reaction is to move his head as if “flick[ing] off an irksome fly” (678).  Whether an innocent baby lives or dies is of no concern to him.

Snape’s “conversion” to the Order of the Phoenix is more of a bargain–he’ll do what Dumbledore says if it will save Lily.  But there is no indication early on that Snape believes in Dumbledore’s cause.  If the Dark Lord had agreed to spare Lily, Snape would not have become a double agent.  If Dumbledore were a second Dark Lord and agreed to save Lily, Snape would have served him.   Once Lily dies, Dumbledore gains his loyalty by saying, “If you loved Lily Evans, if you truly loved her, then your way forward is clear” (678).  Readers tend to applaud the power of love in this moment for making Snape turn on Voldemort, but his motivations indicate that he is not concerned with morality at all.  If Lily Evans had been a Death Eater, his love for her would have convinced him to continue murdering people in order to place a tyrant in power.

And later?  Does Snape start to agree in Dumbledore’s cause?  It seems like he might.  And yet Snape continues to hate Harry because Harry is James Potter’s son.  He makes Harry’s life miserable and protects Harry only because Dumbledore says they have to do it for Lily.  Snape also favors students in his own House and bullies the other students so badly that Neville Longbottom’s boggart reveals Snape as his worst fear.  Snape is, by no stretch of the imagination, a particularly charming or noble person.

So how do I read Snape?  I think that Snape is a brave, intelligent, and heroic man.  But I don’t think his service to the Order of the Phoenix should blind us to his many flaws, or encourage us to create a narrative in which all actions are acceptable or praise-worthy if done for “love.”  Love should inspired a person to act for the good of the other, not just for himself, and it should inspire one to become a better person.  But just imagine if Lily  had been a Death Eater.  Where would Snape’s feelings for her have taken him then?

Krysta 64

Classic Remarks: Is “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” Feminist?

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!


Do you think “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” by Geoffrey Chaucer is feminist?

Canterbury Tales

Anyone who has ever taught a class about the Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale will know that students love the Wife of Bath, and the number one thing they love about her is how feminist she seems.  She speaks her mind! She’s been married multiple times! She shows her husbands she has a say in the relationship, too! And her tale is about punishing a knight who raped a maiden!  However, all the essays in the world encounter a major problem: Can you call someone feminist who existed before feminism was even a concept?

It’s a tough question, one which people sometimes try to skirt by calling the Wife of Bath “proto-feminist” and moving on.  I think it’s more complicated than that, but for the sake of this post I’ll say that the Wife of Bath (particularly her Tale) does seem interested in increased equality between men and women, though she doesn’t have a 100% percent modern view of what that looks like and seems primarily interested in women being able to gain power in their marriages (basically the only place women had any power or social standing in the Middle Ages).  That is to say, the Wife of Bath doesn’t seem particularly interested in single women being respected or women being able to support themselves or anything like that.  Those would have been incredibly foreign ideas in medieval England, so much so that they simply don’t  occur to her–or really anyone.

However, yes, the Wife of Bath wants women to have sovereignty within their marriages, which is  the entire theme of her tale.  The story opens with a knight raping a maiden, and everyone is outraged and demands King Arthur dispense justice (already pro-woman).  Normally, “justice” is death, but Queen Guinevere proposes an alternative: If the knight can come back to court in a year and a day and tell her what women most desire, his life will be spared.  This is a very tidy plot, with related crime and punishment. The knight harmed a woman, and now he must learn to understand women to atone for his crime.  (Again, pretty pro-woman.)

The real puzzle comes at the end of the tale, however. If you’re reading this post, you probably know the plot of the tale: the knight finds a woman who gives him an answer to the riddle (Women most desire sovereignty) in exchange for his agreeing to marry her. He agrees because he wants to live, but the problem is that she’s an ugly old hag, and he’s not really into that. But, plot twist: On the night of the wedding, the hag (his wife) offers the knight another deal.   He can choose for her to be ugly and faithful to him or for her to be beautiful and potentially unfaithful.  The knight really wants her to not be ugly, but he also doesn’t want her sleeping with other men, so this is a dilemma. Unsure what to pick, he tells her to choose what she wants.  (He gives her sovereignty.)  Giving her sovereignty is the correct answer, so his wife tells him he can have everything, that she will be both beautiful and faithful:

‘Kiss me, and we won’t quarrel any more,
For I’ll be both to you, upon my honour!
That’s to say, beautiful as well as good.
May death and madness be my lot,’ she said,
‘If I am not a wife as good and true
As ever wife was since the world was new,
And if I’m not as pretty as a queen,
As ay empress that was ever seen
From east to west, before tomorrow’s dawn,
Then you can deal just as you like with me.
And now, lift up the curtain and see.’ (250)

Is this feminist? I’d say yes, since the wife seems to be making the decision to be both beautiful and faithful of her own free will.  A couple lines later, the narrator notes that “she obeyed him in all things,” but that also seems to be her decision.  There’s no implication that the knight is forcing her to do anything.  Everything–from getting married in the first place, to offering him the decision of how she will look and act, to choosing to obey him always–appears to have been her idea.  It sounds limiting from a modern perspective, yet she appears happy, and I suppose that’s what feminism aims for.

At any rate, the Wife of Bath has her own commentary on the story she just told:

And may Christ send up husbands who
Are meek and young, and spirited in bed;
And send us grace to outlive those we wed;
And I pray Jesus to cut short the lives
Of those who won’t be governed by their wives;
And as for all old and ill-tempered skinflints,
May heaven rain upon them pestilence! (250)

These final lines actually seem contradictory to her tale in some ways.  Is the knight really meek?  Or governed by his wife? We may not have enough details about their married life to know definitively.  We do know that the Wife of Bath wants women to have power in the marriages, but “sovereignty” doesn’t always have to be flashy or forceful.  The Wife might boss her own husband[s] around, but if the lady in her story finds happiness in doing what most pleases her husband, that seems fine too.

*Translation by David Wright (The Canterbury Tales, Oxford University Press)

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

Briana

Classic Remarks: Does The Hobbit Need More Female Characters?

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:

Should Tolkien have included more female characters in The Hobbit?

I have never been a huge proponent of every book needing to have equal gender representation because I believe every book should have the types of characters that suit the story.  I never read Little Women or Anne of Green Gables and think that more boys ought to be involved, because these are stories about girls growing up, and many girls (though not all–and other books represent that) naturally find themselves hanging out with other girls when they are young.  Certainly at the time these books were published, girls and boys were naturally separated because they were expected to have different roles.  Girls usually gathered together at recess while the boys played.  The boys climbed trees and threw the fruit down to the girls.  The girls and the boys would even sit on different sides of the classroom.  We might not want these roles today, but they do paint an accurate picture of the time, so I can’t complain about how the books represent them.

The same might be said of other books that have mostly male characters–and these are the books that usually come under fire for not having more equal gender representation.  They very often feature mostly male characters because it is appropriate to the setting or the time period, or to the type of story being told.   Moby-Dick features male characters because you’d expected to find all men on a whaling ship.  The Red Badge of Courage features male characters because Civil War regiments were comprised mostly of males (excepting the women who had to disguise themselves as males to be accepted into the army).  A Separate Peace features all male characters because it’s set at a prep school for boys.  The Chosen focuses on male characters because it’s about a friendship between two boys.  None of these books can be classified as sexist solely based on the fact that they feature mostly male characters because that’s the point of the novels–they’re set in male spaces.

And The Hobbit?  Does this one count as a book that should feature mostly males in order to be true to the time period it represents?  After all, it’s a fantasy, not historical fiction, so anything can happen.  An author don’t need to remain true to the Middle Ages when assigning genders.

First, we should consider that J. R. R. Tolkien  was a university professor who taught medieval texts and was inspired by medieval works.  When you read works like Beowulf or the Kalavela or King Arthur and decide to set your story in a medieval-ish world populated by heroes who go on an adventure to fight a dragon–well it does seem likely that you would make all those heroes male in order to be true to the works you are drawing upon.  In fact, a person who grew up reading texts like this, where there were not likely many heroines donning armor to fight as knights, would probably need to make a conscious effort to not just copy the only gender roles he was familiar with.

However, we should keep in mind that The Hobbit was published in 1937 and that it’s perhaps unfair to hold a book from this time period to the same standards of gender representation we would hold a fantasy adventure to today.  If few people back then were calling for equal gender representation in books or asking for more ladies to don armor or fight dragons, it’s very likely that such a thing just didn’t occur to many authors.

Tolkien’s failure to think outside the box and add a few female Dwarves to The Hobbit, however, does not seem to indicate a dismissive view towards women in general.  He populated Middle-earth with quite a few impressive women, including Eowyn, Galadriel, Luthien, Melian, and Elwing, to name a few.  These women do don armor, do fight alongside the men they love, and do very often succeed where the men have failed.  Indeed, the women are often more powerful and skilled than the men they associate with or marry.  Clearly, women in Middle-earth can fight and heal and perform magic and do any number of things.  They run the spectrum and do not hold to any particular type in order to be considered strong or worthy.

So why aren’t there any women in The Hobbit?  I’m not quite sure, but I don’t think it’s a detriment to the story, which I have always found enthralling, humorous, and poignant by turns.  I don’t need a character to be female in order for me to identify with them, just as a male reader should not need male characters in order to identify with them.  Bilbo, with his reluctance for adventure and his love of the simple pleasures in life speaks to me.  His growth from an unsure Hobbit to a daring one who risks everything to do what he thinks is right, speaks to me.  He and his companions could be any gender and his adventures would be equally delightful.  I love a good female character and enjoy reading stories that talk about the types of problems that are often specific to female characters.  But not every story needs a female character, just as every story does not necessarily need a male character.  Some types of stories work just fine without.

Krysta 64