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Les Miserables

I might as well get this written too.

I finished the books last night at three. Very sad story it was.

My favourite thing about these books was the character of Jean Valjean, and the author’s thesis that people are not always to blame when they end up with lives the entire society condemns. This, in my experience, is not common even in our highly ‘progressive’ society, and people are, as ever, inclined to cast stones, instead of trying to understand and think of the causes that might have pushed a person into a life like that.

I found it somehow comforting to read about people who had a bad time of it in life too, and those people were indeed my favourite characters: in addition to Jean Valjean, also Eponine and Gavroche. I thought – perhaps I’m biased – these people had much more character than Marius or Cosette, who seemed like cardboard figures of the highly typical 19th century (and prior) hero and heroine. I did not like Marius much and I did not enjoy the middle parts of the book where he was prominent. It was mostly a bit boring. By that time, Hugo had also managed to kill my suspension of disbelief when he introduced even more unlikely coincidences. It began to feel a bit like the sequels of Pirates of the Caribbean or some movie like that where the first part works, but then it just gets stale and tiresome.

When Jean Valjean re-appeared and was on centre stage, I started liking the book again, was not bored and read eagerly. He is such a magnificent character, even an impossible plot can be believed (L).

But Marius, Marius. He struck me as another Angel Clare figure and that was even before he kicked Jean Valjean out and caused his death. His loyalty to Thernardier made no sense. That kind of ice cold morality is completely perplexing to me, and ultimately unlikeable, I suppose.  Thernardier was a horrible bandit, surely seeing that would make it doubtful whether he deserved the loyalty. I would call this the King Arthur style morality, which is without much compassion. It killed Tess, it killed Jean Valjean, both good gentle souls, and in no way at fault for what happened to them.

Similarly to Hardy’s novel, and perhaps also those of George Eliot, the author ultimately, in spite of challenging contemporary attitudes, fails to go all the way. Hardy killed off his highly likeable “fallen woman”, because the morality of the time would not permit a novel ending with Tess living happily ever after. Hugo did the same to Jean Valjean, but also to Eponine, Fantine and Gavroche. George Eliot denied his her women the chance to find an outlet for their independence of mind and spirit. I suppose these things would have been too revolutionary and impossible in the context of these books, but it is still very sad, and I wish the authors had been more scandalous. And Eponine and Gavroche, surely, had done nothing that would scandalize society if they were granted a bit of good times too.

 

If I wasn’t so tired, I’d say I want to be Jean Valjean and he is my role model, but I’m tired.

 

Some quotes

I read some of John Clare’s letters and opinions.

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He too, then, obviously, would express such sentiments. Somehow it hadn’t solidified in my mind. Also, butter flye struck me as a very charming way of spelling. But what truly made me chuckle is this little narrative:

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I think that’s terribly sweet! I think everyone should be entitled to a silly way of seeing the world if it harms no one. Yes, there is no play called “Shakespeare”, but if you’ve only seen one, it might as well be called Shakespeare. And yes, turncoats, no one should change their opinion if it’s such an endearing one, and especially not if its explained by such a deliciously silly principle that defies all everyday logic. It reminds me of my favourite scene in cinematic history – Kaspar Hauser rolling apples and arguing with the priest about whether the apple has a soul and will of its own or whether the apple goes where Kaspar wants it to go, thus having no will or soul. Of course I was cheering for Kaspar’s interpretation and booing the priest’s lack of imagination.

It is some strange kind of whimsicality of mine, which I remember being possessed of even at the age of 7 when I cheered my little sister on in silly behaviour, but that kind of alternative takes – that strike at the roots of common sense and acceptable thinking – I truly adore them. No exaggeration. They make my eyes glow with pleasure every time.

Books read II

It’s that time of the year. I read 12 books or thereabouts in 2017. This year, it’s been a little more and if some books hadn’t been such slogs or so thick, it might have been even more, like 20 or so.

 

Slog of the year

J. Verne The Mystical Island – I did like its ending and it wasn’t a bad book, but it just wasn’t interesting at all for someone with my type of brain, so I spent about two months chewing my way through it.

 

Not my cup of tea

C. McCullers The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

R. Rolland Colas Breugnon

 

Okay

L. M. Montgomery A Tangled Web

G. Meredith Diana of the Crossways – that style of his!

 

What I liked

A. Lindgren Kalle Blomkvist och Rasmus

F. Dostoyevski Brothers Karamazov – with all the hype, I expected this to make it among my most favourite books, but it didn’t. I wanted more in-depth portraits of Ivan and Alyosha, I think.

L. Tolstoy War and Peace, parts II-IV

J. R. R. Tolkien Lord of the Rings

I. Turgenev Fathers and Sons

I. Turgenev Torrents of Spring

I. Turgenev First Love

 

What I loved

V. Hugo Les Misérables, part I

R. Rolland Jean-Christophe, part II, until the chapter that begins with an ode to friendship

Moomin comics – wonderful stuff, even funnier than the stories (I’m going to read them as slowly as I read the Jean-Christophe book above, but maybe not only in spring, like it has become a tradition with JC, but whenever I feel like I need cheering up)

 

Disappointing

A. Gailit Muinasmaa – see lihtsalt ei olnud võrreldav tema hilisemate, samalaadsete teostega, mille eelkäijaks “Muinasmaa” oli. Mõlemad mehed tundusid äravahetamiseni sarnased,  nende mõttekäigud ebaloogilised, unistaja ja romantiku kuju ei olnud usutavalt kujutatud  / oli ebameeldiv.

 

Unable to categorize

J. Milton Paradise Lost – I think I’d do Paradise Lost wrong if I categorized it based on how much I liked it, but I’d also do myself and the other books here wrong if I categorized it fully objectively, so a pass it is. It shall remind me of the uncommonly hot summer and how I read it on the balcony in the evening, when indoors became hell’s antechamber in terms of room temperature.

 

Overall, it’s a good year in reading when you find a new favourite. I don’t expect to find high numbers of literature I could be a fan of, particularly at my slow rate of reading, so one or two books each year is a good outcome. This year then, Hugo’s Les Miserables wins my book of the year award. I enjoyed the experience of reading it a lot. I also think that with my impressionability and empathy, I’m a suspense story writers’ dream reader.

200 degrees

As a rule, I’m a slow reader. If the book is not gripping or I need anaesthesia to read it, I’m very slow. So this is an event worth recording that the other day I achieved 560 pages in 3 days.

 

I want to get to the point where I can write with the same intensity that I can read.

Favourite lines

Who wants to be consistent? The dullard and the doctrinaire, the tedious people who carry out their principles to the bitter end of action, to the reductio ad absurdum of practice. Not I. Like Emerson, I write over the door of my library the word “Whim.”

 

 

Lord of the Rings

I don’t think I’ve read Lord of the Rings as an adult. Nineteen does not count. So it was interesting to re-read it and see what I’d spot for myself this time around.

Aragorn

I was a little bit disappointed in Aragorn, who used to be my great favourite as a teenager. Teenagers think more simplistically, but to my current self, Aragorn was just too full of himself to make him entirely likeable. He is clearly modelled on the great epic heroes of the past, but to a modern reader, these great epic heroes seem implausible, self-important, narcissistic, sometimes morally dubious (not the case with Aragorn, but look at the heroes of some myths and legends). Aragorn had self-doubt, determination, strength and he was a good person, but he was also self-important. That scene at Theoden’s palace where he refused to put down his sword was very unflattering. As a guest, you obey the rules of the host, not go into a tantrum and talk about what a special sword you got and how you are not leaving it behind the door like people with inferior swords have to. There were other instances where he used his status unflatteringly in the “Do you know who I am?!” style. Yes, that is the epic hero style, but I couldn’t fully admire him because of this.

Faramir

Instead, I ended up admiring Faramir. If I had to choose an ideal king, I’d choose him. He had the strength and wisdom of Aragorn, but also he was humble and gentler. Many might mistake this gentleness for weakness, as had done his father Denethor, but I’m not that sort of a person. Gentle + strong is like my absolute ideal of (male) humanity.

Denethor

Denethor I either disliked or did not think much of upon first reading, but now I found myself feeling a lot of sympathy for his tragedy.

Gandalf

I felt rather ambivalent about him and sometimes found myself agreeing with Denethor or Saruman in their assessment of Gandalf’s activities. He seemed to be able to know or quite strongly guess how things would turn out.  So then, why would he send Frodo to Mordor, knowing full well it would destroy him so he could never live in the Shire again? There just was something disturbing in how he used others as his pawns. Yes, it was done with good intentions to save Middle Earth for future generations, but he also orchestrated who and what gets destroyed in the process….If he had not guessed the outcomes and the bad stuff just happened, while he tried his best, it would be different. But to knowingly sacrifice? If Tolkien had described Gandalf’s self-doubt and disinclination to do it, he’d be fully redeemed in my eyes. Because sometimes all you got is rotten choices and then you just choose the greater good and try to cause minimal harm to your pawns, but there was none or little of that in the books. He did end up destroying his own power in the process as well, but I think Gandalf was not really of Middle Earth anyway, so him leaving it felt a lot more natural than Frodo leaving it.

Ents

I really liked ents. I liked them just as much as the first time around and those chapters were among my favourites.

Hobbits

Frodo I came to understand in a more nuanced way. He’s an INFP like me.

Monsters

I also very much enjoyed orcs and uruks bickering with each other. They function like comic relief in Shakespeare’s tragedies. Loved those chapters.

Lying

After a year (or years?) of living in my post-disillusionment world, I think I’m one of life’s liars after all and feel a growing desire to return to my kin and its ways of seeing.

Oscar Wilde has written of that type of liars in his The Decay of Lying.

Some random excerpts:

One of the chief causes that can be assigned for the curiously commonplace character of most of the literature of our age is undoubtedly the decay of Lying as an art, a science, and a social pleasure. The ancient historians gave us delightful fiction in the form of fact; the modern novelist presents us with dull facts under the guise of fiction /————-/

*

Many a young man starts in life with a natural gift for exaggeration which, if nurtured in congenial and sympathetic surroundings, or by the imitation of the best models, might grow into something really great and wonderful. But, as a rule, he comes to nothing. He either falls into careless habits of accuracy /—–/ or takes to frequenting the society of the aged and the well-informed. Both things are equally fatal to his imagination, as indeed they would be fatal to the imagination of anybody, and in a short time he develops a morbid and unhealthy faculty of truth-telling, begins to verify all statements made in his presence, has no hesitation in contradicting people who are much younger than himself, and often ends by writing novels which are so lifelike that no one can possibly believe in their probability.

(Happy Oscar, little did he know what was to follow and how much more mundane literature’s subjects could get!)

I think understanding the truth about the way society works has completed me, made me more well-rounded, which is likely to benefit me in all sorts of ways, but I do not enjoy living in that kind of world.  Now, it has also run its course and I want to shift focus.

As Oscar said somewhere else, lying and poetry are essentially connected. Yes, I mean that sort of liars, not the types who lie on their CVs and other similar self-serving behaviour: I mean the fantasists, the dreamers and believers in things that are not strictly true or rarely true but can become true when you believe hard enough. That sounds so unicorns and glitter. But well, I feel a longing for the unicorns and glitter people as well. They make my heart happy.

 

 

 

Some readings

This is good:

He fell to thinking … slowly, listlessly, wrathfully. He thought of the vanity, the uselessness, the vulgar falsity of all things human. All the stages of man’s life passed in order before his mental gaze (he had himself lately reached his fifty-second year), and not one found grace in his eyes. /…/

He did not picture life’s sea, as the poets depict it, covered with tempestuous waves; no, he thought of that sea as a smooth, untroubled surface, stagnant and transparent to its darkest depths. He himself sits in a little tottering boat, and down below in those dark oozy depths, like prodigious fishes, he can just make out the shapes of hideous monsters: all the ills of life, diseases, sorrows, madness, poverty, blindness…. He gazes, and behold, one of these monsters separates itself off from the darkness, rises higher and higher, stands out more and more distinct, more and more loathsomely distinct…. An instant yet, and the boat that bears him will be overturned! But behold, it grows dim again, it withdraws, sinks down to the bottom, and there it lies, faintly stirring in the slime…. But the fated day will come, and it will overturn the boat.

From Turgenev’s Torrents of Spring

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Turgenev is pleasant, but I don’t find myself  having a lot to say about him at this point. Some books and writers are like that. I COULD make an effort and think of something, but since this isn’t school, where I must write an essay about everything I read, I’m not going to force it.

I liked Bazarov at the end. I think this is important to record for my future self. I don’t normally think of people in letters, but he’s such a clear case of INTJ.

I also felt that Maria Nikolayevna is the worst female literary character I’ve ever encountered. She is Satanic and I despise her. I think almost equally as I despise pedophiles. To conciouscly, with deliberate intent and forethought, to destroy beauty and innocence instead of protecting it, is one of the worst crimes. It is so bad in my book I forgot how to spell “consciously” while typing it. I might see myself as an amoral person, but this is my one iron-bar-fixed principle. The people who violate it are the lowest in the hierarchy of humans and nothing can redeem it. Not having meant to – that could, but to do it with deliberate intent just for fun? I could duel with one like that.  If I was in a book like Turgenev’s and women were allowed to duel. That’s how much I despise. Silly hero complex kicking in again.

One other person spoke of a similar behavioural thing as my hero complex but referred to it as her pathological bravery. This doing things requiring more than it is really in you, whilst not looking like a hero and nearly breaking under the weight, but doing it, because you have the willpower and I don’t know what. High standards?

 

Shameful

Like the two springs before, I’m reading Jean-Christophe. This time it’s the second book. The first 50 to 100 pages I was a bit tired of the story. There seemed no development whatsoever, just the same type of things repeated over and over again: criticism of the local (French) music and art scene, Christophe alienating everyone, gathering enemies and falling into troubled relationships with women, and other people. The way this narrative repeats itself in just slightly different forms IS tiresome. It’s very predictable that after the artistic commentary and struggle chapters comes an infatuation chapter.  And not only that but there is no change in either either. This is not a typo. But anyhow.

I somehow got over this. The other day I felt a pleasant kind of cosiness to pick this book up again and be in the company of Christophe. This will sound sentimental – I’m trying to think of a way of phrasing it so it will sound less so – because it isn’t so – it’s a very down-to-earth sort of feeling, but he is like a friend to me. Reading this novel is like interacting with a friend, keeping an eye on his life and doings. A gentle, earthy sort of pleasure. Like touching moss or tree bark.

That was my first emotion and mood. But it got worse. I noticed I was slightly falling in love with me him – (if ever there was a Freudian slip, this has got to be the master slip…). When his appearance was described, I noticed it particularly (no, he isn’t beautiful). I’m also becoming to understand his strength. In the first book, the narrator kept referring to Christophe’s strength, but I failed to see a neurotic like that being particularly strong. Now I can see it more, though his type of strength is hardly my prototype, which probably made the suggestion laughable at first. One lives and learns.

Admiration and adoration of fictional characters is something I do sometimes, being of such a temperament that adores, but I don’t recall ever falling in love with them. I can’t say I have done so now either, but I noticed the gentle buds. So yes, I obviously have a screw or two loose.

Oh. And I think trees and moss are my favourite things in nature.

Things read

I’ve read a whopping twelve books last year plus some poetry! That makes one book a month. I feel so ashamed of myself compared to the bloggers posting their reading summaries of 90 or 150 books.

 

What I loved

O. Wilde “Decay of Lying” (a re-read)

R. Rolland “Jean-Christophe”, I

F. Hodgson Burnett “Secret Garden”

W. B. Yeats “Adam’s Curse”

 

What I liked

F. Molnár “The Pál Street Boys”

E.T.A. Hoffmann “Golden Pot and Other Stories”

Other poems of W. B. Yeats

 

Funniest

Poetry of Catullus

 

Okay

L. Tolstoy “War and Peace”, I

E. Nesbit “The Railway Children”

S. Lagerlöf “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson”

 

Disappointing

T. Hardy “Under the Greenwood Tree”

M. Shelley “Mathilda”

J. Fowles “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”

 

Boring

S. Lewis “Arrowsmith”

 

The good thing is that I didn’t read a single truly bad book, because boring, disappointing and bad are not the same things.