Why Moby Dick is a Classic – from someone more qualified and on a roller coaster

Back when I was reading Moby Dick, I attempted to answer why I thought this novel is considered a classic. I did this mostly in response to the question’s popularity; whilst reading the book, most interactions I had with onlookers went something like this:

Person: Oh, I see you’re reading Moby Dick.
Me: Sure am (*inside voice* and I’m totally understanding it too, not overwhelmed at all)
Person: That’s cool…cool, cool, cool…So. let me ask you something, why do you think it’s a classic?
Me: Well…
Me: You see…
Me: It’s a classic because…
Me:  Image result for bullshit bullshit bullshit sarah marshall

And now, Fine Readers, I am pleased to present you with a much more defensible response to the question, brought to you by Stephen Colbert and Andrew Delbanco, a Melville author and scholar, on a roller coaster:

Go forth and impress people at parties with your new found knowledge!

gif source: https://media.tenor.co/images/d5229344a3a5da8306ecbd42d26bf414/raw

Emma: I bite my thumb at you

threepanelbookreview:
“EMMA by Jane Austen.
”

Another intersection between List and MA, can it be? YES IT CAN! I’ve recently finished reading Emma for one of my classes this term. This is my second foray into Austen, and, if I’m being honest, Northanger Abbey was better.

Perhaps that’s only because it was shorter, though…there are a lot of parallels between the two novels — NA could almost be considered Emma junior. In both novels, a young woman is woefully unable to correctly read those around her, and hilarity ensues. Everyone gets married, the end.

In Emma, however, the main title character is awful. I spent a good deal of the first half of the book yelling obscenities at her, and throwing the book against the wall. Okay, I didn’t literally throw the book against the wall (what kind of a monster do you think I am?), but there was fair amount of eye-rolling happening on my part. As the kids say, I was throwing some serious shade.

Emma’s saving grace in the novel is that Austen saw fit to write in a character we would hate more than her heroine – Mr. Frank Freakin’ Churchill. What a useless piece of human flesh he is. Current theory: Frank’s function in the plot is to highlight the ridiculous impotence and lack of agency women have in their lives – by feminizing Frank and placing him in the predicament of many middle-class women of the period, Austen highlights the ridiculousness of the position. She is saying: “See – if this is a man, suddenly it’s not okay, but this is what you are doing to your daughters. Check your double-standards, people!”

Maybe – that’s one theory. The other theory is that she wanted to a have a foil for Mr. Knightley. This theory is just as credible.

Favourite Moment: That time when she was directly responsible for her BFF’s heartbreak TWICE and then when her friend FINALLY moves on, Emma goes “hmmm actually…Imma marry him…can you not come around here anymore? K, thanks, BYEEEEE”

Other observations:

  • Having a carriage was a big deal – but you had to have a carriage at the right time. A carriage too early was an invitation for public scrutiny. Check your carriage before you wreck your carriage.
  • Gypsies will rob you if you’re nice to them.
  • Doctor wars are intense. Pick your side and don’t back down!
  • Bath was the Las Vegas of 19c middle-class England.
  • Never trust your brand new friend if they tell you someone is in love with you – they are wrong and it will ruin your life.
  • If a lover sends you a surprise anonymous piano, he’s probably not good enough for you.
  • If a lover wants to keep your engagement secret, he’s definitely not good enough for you.
  • Always make sure you have enough apples.

QUESTION: In a contest between Mrs. Elton, Miss Bates, and Anne of Green Gables – who speaks for the longest without pause?

Austen comic source: http://once4511.tumblr.com/

It *Finally* Happened

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For the first time in my graduate career, my class reading and The List have aligned and I can cross another book off The List! *cheering* *the crowd goes wild*

Thank you, Professor Awesome, for including Anne of Green Gables on your syllabus this term. It was hilarious and has gotten me one step closer to my goal.

That’s 65 down, 80 to go!

6 years ago today…Oh, Facebook, it’s so sweet of you to remember…

It turns out that six years ago today I posted the Facebook chain-quiz (note? post? thingy? what do you even call those things) that started this all. Little did I know at the time that six years later, I would not only still be working on that list, but I would have a blog dedicated to the effort, and I would be upgrading my English minor to a Master’s in English.

Life is pretty awesome, I’m a pretty fortunate person.

reading-challenge

SIX YEARS! And I haven’t given up yet. I’m coming for you, List.

 

Rage, My Darling, Rage

Oh Sydney…you fool. I don’t know who broke you, but my heart hurts for you. Isn’t Sydney Carton just the most tragic character you have ever encountered? Move aside, Anna Karenina, you’ve been dethroned.

Reading Tale of Two Cities for the second time was like reading it for the first time, except it was so much better! I can’t account for the difference in the reading experience, I have no explanation, but I LOVED this book the second time around.

Set against the backdrop of revolutionary France and late-18th century England, the history alone in this book was enough to keep me entirely engrossed. It was interesting to see how Dickens contrasted the two cities, and very obvious from how he did so that he was an Englishman…his writing was not unbiased.

His portrayal of the French revolutionaries seemed to be that of a group of wild animals, reacting violently to being held in a life of captivity:

And yet there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a sprig, a peppercorn, which will grown to maturity under conditions more certain than those to have produced this horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious licence and oppression ever again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind. (p. 367)

Even though the above seems to absolve them from blame, the revolutionaries are characterised as murderous, blood-thirsty villains throughout the book, which leaders such as Defarge and The Vengeance.

The Reign of Terror was a horrifying time, and yes, France struggled to get their shit together, but the portrayal of the revolutionaries as the villains of the plot is in such contrast to other historical narratives that it sticks out in my mind.

More later – gotta go to school! *YAY*

*title of this post is inspired by Sarah Slean’s song Duncan which you can listen to here

Dorothea doesn’t care about your small talk: Middlemarch progress update and predictions

My progress on Middlemarch has been slow but enjoyable. I’m currently on Chapter 9 and finding George Eliot (née Mary Ann Evans) to be a hilarious writer. Turns out the Goodreads reviewer was right – it is B-A-N-A-N-A-S, and I’ve only just begun!

So far Middlemarch has a real The Awakening/Taming of the Shrew vibe to it. Granted, I haven’t read the latter, but I have seen it on stage and I’ve seen “10 Things I Hate About You,” which we can all agree is pretty much the same thing. Regarding The Awakening, though there hasn’t been any ring-throwing or adultery action yet, I can feel it all coming. It’s going to happen, just you wait.

HOLY CRAP. I just realized that the bathroom scene from 10 Things I Hate About You is from Middlemarch! You know the one I’m talking about. The one where Kate has her mom’s pearls and Bianca wants to wear them. Then Kate is all:

To which Bianca responds:

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Guys, Dorothea and Celia have the same exchange in Chapter 1 of Middlemarch. For real.

This just blew my mind. This whole time popular culture was gently nudging me towards Eliot, and I didn’t even realize it. I’ve been subliminally exposed to the classics, people! It’s a conspiracy, is what it is. This obsession I have with The List is simply the natural culmination of years of conditioning.

Maybe I should move on to a new thought now…

A brief overview of MM thus far: Dorothea has accepted the marriage proposal of Mr. Casaubon, much to the dismay of pretty much everyone. She doesn’t mind, though. Dorothea does not suffer fools; she has no time for morons and seeks only the company of those who can stimulate her intellectually. Which, apparently, is an exclusive group of people consisting only of herself and her fiancé. This makes for a narrative full of exceedingly enjoyable contempt.

This contempt is primarily directed from Dorothea towards pretty much everyone around her. Her general opinion of men seems to be that they are boring and unintelligent creatures, endlessly annoying her with trivial small talk. She spends a decent portion of the book so far waiting for James to kindly STFU (and hinting to it not-so-subtly).

Annoyed by stupidity. Bored by small talk. Unimpressed by social decorum regarding grooming and courtship. This girl is playing my jam!

Correction: playing what I wish was my jam. My actual jam is being polite, respectful, and passably assimilated to cultural norms.

Now for my favourite part of reading ridiculously massive classics: PREDICTION TIME!

Full disclosure: I *may* have come across some spoilers online. Predictions still count, though. Called it!

Okay, here we go.

Prediction #1: Celia and Sir James are going to get married. This is barely a prediction, though, it’s too obvious.

Prediction #2: Uncle Brooke dies. I’m guessing natural causes. There will be a long drawn-out illness in which either a) Celia cares for him out of fidelity, b) Dorothea cares for him out of Methodist piety, or c) a random caretaker takes care of him because Celia is too busy having babies and playing house, and Dorothea is too preoccupied with intellectual pursuits. He dies alone. Both his nieces are overcome with guilt and vow to spend more time together lest the same thing happen to them.

Prediction #3: one of the following will occur:

  • Dorothea gets bored of Casaubon and leaves him.
  • Casaubon wants Dorothea to bear children, she refuses, he has their marriage annulled.
  • Dorothea falls in love with the young, handsome carpenter hired to build her cottages, has an affair and leaves Casaubon for him.

Prediction #4: Casaubon is going to end up being awful and I’m not going to like him at all. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I don’t trust him…

Prediction #5: ring-throwing action.

Prediction #6: regardless of how Prediction #3 plays out, adultery is a near certainty as far as I’m concerned.

Place your bets in the comments below.

Until next time, Cat out!

credits:
Lin Manuel Miranda gif: http://38.media.tumblr.com/e9806cf4a8146a2cfbcacebb6eb6ba38/tumblr_nsq8qjj9mN1qgggqfo3_250.gif
10 Things I Hate About You – Kate image: https://67.media.tumblr.com/b4dce9b42e7df483771dc9846215bf5d/tumblr_mu780kxHj71rsyukao1_500.jpg
10 Thigns I Hate About You – Bianca gif: https://media.giphy.com/media/3rgXBz7QgBMAu90Xu0/giphy.gif
Big Bang meme: http://static.topnettools.com/10.jpg

Did I mention I’m reading Middlemarch?

dsc_0078.jpgMy next read from The List is none other than George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Admittedly, I did not know this book existed until The List brought it in to my life. According to the interwebs, I’m lucky as Middlemarch is bananas, according to this awesome review on Goodreads:

middlemarch bananas

 

Middlemarch has nearly 100,000 reviews on Goodreads, and they are overwhelmingly positive. 90% of people liked it. 90%!!

So, you know, no pressure.

Reading this book, I’m going to feel like Stella watching Star Wars for the first time, and the Internet is Marshall and Ted, listening through a door for my reactions. Judging me.

Off I go to broaden my understanding provincial life through 889 pages of classic British literature!

I am *totally* going to love it. I will totally understand the walking bear.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona: A Play Delivered in Memes, GIFs, and Images

The Two Gentlemen of Verona was all about love – annoyingly so. I am not new to Shakespeare’s love stories and sonnets, so don’t start in on me about “Well duh, you were reading Shakespeare – what did you expect? People fall in love and everyone dies. That’s his shtick.” This was different. This was a love sonnet in the form of a play that would never end. And no one died, though some characters really had it coming.

Maybe I’m just used to his tragedies, where everyone does die…

Anyways.

To save you from having to read the play yourself, I’ve benevolently provided a brief recap of the play below (as best as I could gather), delivered in a string of memes, gifs and images. You’re welcome.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona: A Play Delivered in Memes, GIFs and Images

First, we meet Valentine and Proteus, BFFs who love the poop out of each other.

 

Adorable, am I right?

They are separated because Valentine leaves to serve a duke, and Proteus hangs back to be with Julia, who he loves (d’awwwww). The boys are sad because this means they won’t be together anymore.

It’s okay, though. Valentine’s sadness from being separated from his one true bro is quickly forgotten as he meets Silvia and immediately falls in love with her. For reasons. Isn’t love grand?

MEANWHILE back at home, Proteus’ dad decides he’s going to send his son to meet up with Valentine. You’d think this was good news – WRONG – Proteus doesn’t want to leave because he wants to stay with Julia. They’re in love! If they’re not together, what’s the point of going on??!

how-am-i-supposed-to-live-leonardo-dicaprio-gif

He goes anyway, because that’s what a good son does. Turns out it was all for the best, because when he meets Silvia he falls in love with her and forgets all about Julia!

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Now Valentine and Proteus love the same woman. Can their friendship survive (she said in a movie announcer voice)??

Did I mention that Silvia’s been promised to some other guy, Thurio? What is it with this woman? Honestly! It must be her milkshake. There is no other explanation.

Silvia loves Valentine and spurns all of Proteus and Thurio’s advances, making them feel sad and rejected.

You can guess where this leads, as it is well established that men have historically handled rejection very well. They accept Silvia’s decision and return to their respective lives, leaving Valentine and Silvia in peace.

Just kidding! HA! You didn’t seriously believe me, did you? Of course you didn’t. My readership is made up of wise and clever individuals who wouldn’t be taken in by such a ruse.

No. What actually happens is that the boys convince themselves that increased efforts and persistence will ultimately result in their success. Proteus especially believes this is true. Silvia loves him, she just doesn’t know it yet! “No” doesn’t mean “no” – it means “try harder”!

Throughout all of this, Valentine fails to realize that his BFF, Proteus, has fallen in love for his girl and is pulling a complete Andrew Lincoln in Love Actually on his ass.

So, not knowing any better, Valentine tells his bro about his plans to run away with Silvia. Proteus tattles him out to Silvia’s father, who in turn banishes Valentine. That’s what you get for trusting someone. Sorry ’bout your luck, bro.

Having rid himself of his biggest competition, Proteus figures the time is right to make his move. He asks his boy servant, Sebastian, to give Silvia his ring as a token of his love.

The only thing is, Sebastian is actually Julia, who has disguised herself as a boy and run away to be with Proteus, and the ring is the SAME ONE that Julia gave him so that he would remember her when they were parted, as a symbol of their love and commitment to one another. Jerk.

So now Julia has to give HER OWN RING to Silvia.

 

Thankfully, Silvia recognizes the ring as Julia’s and turns it down. She also gives Proteus shit for trying to give her another girl’s ring. Atta girl.

Fed up, Silvia decides she’s going to run away and find Valentine.

Proteus & Co. form a search party for her. They find Silvia being attacked by a band of outlaws, from whom Proteus rescues her. He then demands a reward in the form of affection from Silvia for saving her life.

Of course he does.

She refuses, so he tries to rape her.

Yup. That happened.

But then, Valentine jumps out of the bushes and stops his bro from raping his one true love. Proteus apologizes: “Sorry, bro. I didn’t know.” Valentine accepts his apology and offers him Silvia as a token of their friendship.

Yup.

Sebastian a.k.a. Julia is just as stunned as we are by all of this, and faints (she was part of the search party looking for Silvia) thus revealing her true identify.

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Proteus decides that Julia isn’t so bad after all, so he goes back to her.

Silvia’s dad gives Valentine his blessing to marry his daughter.

They all get married. The end.

Continue reading

Et tu, Brutus?

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar was an amazing read. I found it engaging and I understood 99% of the things that were happening. Yes, those are the two measures I have for Shakespeare now: (1) how interesting is this? and (2) do I understand what’s going on? Julius Caesar scored big points on both scales.

First, the themes were clearly identified and reinforced throughout the play. It is obvious that Shakespeare is dealing with some interesting philosophical questions here (big shocker there, that’s so unlike him! — that’s sarcasm, in case you can’t tell). I mean, it’s not “to be or not to be” meaning of life meta crisis, but there are some poignant ideas presented here nonetheless.

For example, the relationship between folly and courage, which I briefly discussed earlier, is fascinating. Does one genuinely need to be a little bit crazy in order to be brave? I personally think that, yes, one does. In order to do something truly courageous, I think you need to be able to tell logic to STFU for a little while. Otherwise, logic will make good points and will talk you out of it.

Another element of Julius Caesar which I thoroughly enjoyed was the reoccurring juxtaposition of private vs. public selves. The separation which exists between the two, for most characters, appeared to be complete. This is not uncommon in today’s society: there’s work-me and private-me. The characters here seem to understand that there is a different between their public personas and their private selves, however that’s where their awareness seems to get blocked. They enter this mystical world where somehow their corporeal selves are imbued with superhuman strength and mythical protection. They believe that the celebrity of their public selves is ambrosia for their private selves: you can’t kill me, people like me too much! Caesar and Brutus both do this.

Lastly, the power of pathos in this play is awesome. Literally – it fills me with awe. Entire populations moved by speech! I can barely win an argument with my partner relying only on words. That’s one person. Meanwhile Brutus, Marc Antony, and Cassius can bend entire swarms of plebeians to their will. The outcome of this play, and the deaths of many characters, are determined by moving speeches and deliberate confessions.

In closing, I want to mention that Julius Caesar is a special play for me, which warranted some special attention. Making my way through this List has resulted in a lot of Shakespeare (a full quarter of my remaining reads are Shakespeare) and not all of it is good. I have to read all of it, and that means the flops too. There is some Shakespeare that is just a grind. As long as I’ve read more words I’ve made progress and that’s good enough for me!

I couldn’t do that with Julius Caesar. With this one, I promised myself to make the extra effort for a deeper reading. You see, my partner and I had our first date at a production of Julius Caesar and our first kiss along the river after that play. That particular production included roller blades, machine guns, and that we both fell asleep somewhere around Act III or IV. It was a magical night.

To honour my commitment, I am not ashamed to say I relied heavily on SparkNotes. I will not apologize for this. I am not a Shakespearean scholar, nor am I an expert in Olde English, or Roman history or mythology. In light of that, I adopted a three-step approach to Julius Caesar which I think worked really well for me:

Step 1) Read a scene, try to figure it out on my own.

Step 2) Read SparkNotes summary and analysis of the scene.

Step 3) Compare & contrast.

Doing it this was was actually a lot of fun, and a huge boost of confidence, as I saw how much I caught on my own. It also helped to correct any misunderstandings before I got too far in the play, and called my attention to things I would have otherwise missed.

Pensive Brutus in HBO’s Rome

Until next time, plebes!

Preach, Gretchen Weiners!

You have to admit, she makes a solid case for Brutus and stabbing Caesar.

Enjoy 🙂