The House of the Seven Gables

1.26.2013

House of the Seven Gables (1915)

New England, early 1800s.  Hepzibah Pyncheon, a hermit-like woman with a severe face and a soft heart, lives quietly in the seven-gabled Pyncheon House.  She is rescued from poverty only when her young relative, Phoebe, comes to live with her and help her run a small shop.  Phoebe is interested to meet the other lodger at Pyncheon House, a daguerreotypist by the name of Holgrave, but more mysterious is Hepzibah's desperation to protect her brother Clifford from the influence of Judge Jaffrey, a cousin and seemingly benevolent man.  As Phoebe and Holgrave discover, the key to the Pyncheon siblings' troubles is deeply connected to the house's history, and that of its sinisterly respectable founder, Colonel Pyncheon.

I must say I found Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables to be overall disappointing, in comparison with The Blithedale Romance or The Marble Faun.  If this were a movie, I'd sum it up by saying that the concept was great and the execution was poor.  There is enough action to make it a page-turner - the problem is, the action comes at the very end of the book, and everything before it is mostly descriptions, atmosphere, and setting, with relatively little dialogue.  Knowing none of Clifford's backstory for most of the book, I failed to connect with the conflict early enough.  Character-wise, Phoebe turned out to be exceedingly bland, and Hepzibah was actually most interesting, which didn't do much for the plot.

That said, the themes really are great, and the house is a bit of a character in itself.  Initially, Phoebe is quite a modern character, leaving her unhappy home life (due to her mother's second marriage) and seeking to live independently, much like Hilda from Marble Faun.  Ironically, this leads her to Hepzibah's ancient house, just as Hilda goes to Rome.  This sort of old vs. new contrast is one of the highlights of the book and shows up in a number of elements.  Another effective part is the Pyncheon death/"curse" - pretty grisly and borderline Edgar Allan Poe.  Some of the scenes with Clifford were also interesting, since he is rather eccentric.  Historical references include the Salem witch trials, greed related to territorial expansion, and certain modern strengths/weaknesses (e.g. the railway vs. mental institutions).

I give this 4 out of 5 stars, because I'm glad I read it, even if it wasn't my favorite Hawthorne. 

Weekend Quote: The Law

"The law - 'tis bad to have it, but, I sometimes think, it is worse to be entirely without it."
- James Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie
J. F. Cooper's The Prairie (1827) is the last book in the Leatherstocking series, of which his more famous The Last of the Mohicans is also part.  The beauty of this quote is that it succinctly sums up a classic theme of the Western genre - that is, lawman vs. outlaw, and the injustices done by both sides, in a time and place where towns were small and law officers were few. This comes up pretty frequently in my favorite TV series, The Virginian, which portrays both noble and corrupt lawmen, and the moral dilemmas that result.

I am only about 1/3 into The Prairie (and taking a break to focus on other homework), but so far it's been pretty good.  Cooper has a delightful sense of humor - you gotta love Dr. Battius's Facebook-style friending/unfriending: "I rejoice greatly at this meeting; we are lovers of the same pursuits, and should be friends."  On the negative side, there are some stereotypical portrayals of women and Native Americans, but apparently this is less the case in other Leatherstocking books.  The plot of The Prairie has so far followed the surly character Ishmael Bush and his wagon train, and I really can't predict what will happen next.

Have you read Cooper before?  If so, what did you think of him?

Turn of the Century Salon - a literary event

1.05.2013


Hosted by Katherine at November's Autumn.  My participation may be sporadic, but I'm going to try to fit this challenge into my schedule.  :)

Here's my answers to the questionnaire/prompts for January (Introduction):
  • What draws you to read the Classics?
Classics are works of art, unlike most contemporary fiction.  I love reading, and though I also love the era I live in, I cannot relate to it in the same way that I relate to classic lit and classic authors.  On the other hand, classics have taught me a lot about the modern world (some things never change).  I hope for there to be great authors in the 21st century, but it is looking doubtful - the books of today tend to display "quantity over quality" characteristics.
  • What era have you mainly read? Georgian? Victorian? Which authors?
19th century British lit.  It's great, but right now I'm eager to read more world literature (and non-fic)!
  • What Classics have you read from the 1880s-1930s? What did you think of them?
Sherlock Holmes, H. G. Wells, some later Jules Verne works - all fabulous stuff!  Recently I read Shackleton's South, which was extremely interesting, and within the last few years Conrad and Kafka have become two of my favorite authors.  Forster's A Passage to India was not my cup of tea; on the other hand, I loved Rebecca (1938) and Agatha Christie.  So far, I prefer Victorian works from this era, but that may very well change.
  • Name some books you're looking forward to read for the salon.
It's not set in stone, but these are on my list:
  • Verne: Paris in the Twentieth Century (not sure if it counts, but it is futuristic and Verne is very much associated with the turn of the century)
  • Dostoyevsky: The Brothers Karamazov (1880)
  • Abbott: Flatland (1884)
  • Melville: Billy Budd (1888–1891)
  • Kafka (18831924): Complete Short Stories, The Castle, Diaries (maybe)
  • Hesse: Beneath the Wheel (1906)
  • Conrad: The Inheritors (1901, co-authored by Ford Madox Ford), Lord Jim (1899–1900), etc.
  • Hemingway: A Farewell to Arms (1929) 
  • Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
  • Which literary characters are you most akin to?
Marian Halcombe (The Woman in White), Tatyana Larina (Eugene Onegin), and Charlotte Bronte heroines.  Also, Sherlock Holmes and (to a certain degree) Razumov (Under Western Eyes).
  • Is your preference prose? poetry? both?
Thanks to Tolkien, I now love both.  Good poetry, however, is harder to find than good prose.

2013 Reads

1.02.2013

I have never been good at sticking to book challenges - not to mention, my reading list grows at an outrageous pace!  However, there are a few (very simple) reading goals I'd like to accomplish this year.

For sure, I will be reading James Fenimore Cooper's The Prairie, required for my upcoming Early American Art/Music/Lit course.  I love Hawthorne and Melville, and I've heard good things about Cooper.  His style intimidates me, but so did that of those other two authors . . . there seems to be a trend of 19th c. American lit being hard to read (though well worth it!).  If I like Prairie, I might read the whole Leatherstocking series.

From my reading list, I would like to read at least one biography (most likely Eva Perón or Bonhoeffer), one political science book, and one philosophy book.  The sheer length of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and Karl Marx's Das Kapital, vol. 1 gave me a hilarious idea - what if I were to read them side-by-side?  A nice thought, if unlikely to be fulfilled . . . certainly, it would have to be scheduled. 

Basically, if I read anything currently on my reading list, that will be an accomplishment.  Especially taking into consideration school and other plans/responsibilities.  I'm excited to read others' book reviews and posts for this year! 

2012 End of Year Book Survey

1.01.2013

I saw this on Délaissé, and thought it looked fun!  Though I haven't read a ton of books this year, I'm going to give it a try:

1. Best Book You Read In 2012?
Hard to say - probably Dracula for a new book, and definitely Heart of Darkness and Eugene Onegin for re-reads.
2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
The Remains of the Day, The Great Enigma, and The House of the Seven Gables.
3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012? 
Dracula, definitely!  It was way better than I expected.
4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?
Probably Heart of Darkness.
5. Best series you discovered in 2012?
I didn't read any series.

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?
Chesterton was awesome, and I'd read more Turgenev and Zola!
7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you? 
Chesterton's Orthodoxy, somewhat of a new genre and not a typical choice for me.
8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012? 
Dracula and The Ladies' Paradise.
9. Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year: 
Eugene Onegin - I cannot get enough of this one (besides, there are many translations to try!).  Probably Heart of Darkness as well.
10. Favourite cover of a book you read in 2012? 
Most of the books I read were e-books without covers.  :)

11. Most memorable character in 2012? 
Shackleton and his expedition team in South; Van Helsing in Dracula; Mr. Stevens in The Remains of the Day.
12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012? 
Not a book, but Edgar Allan Poe's "The City in the Sea."  I have a new respect for Poe's poetry.
13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012? 
Shackleton's South, Dracula, and Chesterton's Orthodoxy.
14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read? 
Dracula, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Beowulf, and The Communist Manifesto.  I should have read all of those at least five years ago!

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012? 
I highlight passages (in my Nook) like you wouldn't believe.  Here's a few:
“No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream--alone.”  (Conrad, Marlow, Heart of Darkness)

“A man must shape himself to a new mark directly the old one goes to ground.” (Shackleton, South)

“A man cannot think himself out of mental evil; for it is actually the organ of thought that has become diseased, ungovernable, and, as it were, independent. He can only be saved by will or faith. The moment his mere reason moves, it moves in the old circular rut; he will go round and round his logical circle.”  (Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

"Productive power, in short, is a far more important element of reality in relation to modern civilization than is accumulated wealth." (Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality)

"For in this enlightened age, when men believe not even what they see, the doubting of wise men would be his [Dracula's] greatest strength." (Stoker, Van Helsing, Dracula)

"The modern world is insane, not so much because it admits the abnormal as because it cannot recover the normal." (Chesterton, Eugenics and Other Evils)

"With the quality of our desires, thoughts, and wonder proportioned to our infinite littleness, we measure even time itself by our own stature." (Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea)
16. Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012? 
Longest: Probably South
Shortest: Probably The Queen of Spades

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It?  Be careful of spoilers! 
Probably South

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc). 
I love the friendship/mentorship between Van Helsing and Jonathan & Mina, in Dracula.  In Heart of Darkness, Marlow's fear/hatred/admiration of Kurtz was fascinating as well.
19. Favorite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously 
Conrad's The Mirror of the Sea and A Personal Record.
20. Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:
Turgenev's Fathers and Sons was recommended to me by Julia on Goodreads - it was a great read!