2020 Reading Thread - Jill reads slowly and pontificates
This is a continuation of the topic 2019 Reading Thread - Book by Book, Jill Natters On.
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So the one movie I saw during the holidays was Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. (The new Star Wars movie was consistently sold out, which given the reviews surprised me.) At any rate, this got me thinking about Beth and Amy in the real Little Women and comparing the two of them with Lizzie Eustace in Trollope’s The Eustace Diamonds and Jane Austen’s Lady Susan. The thing about Beth and Amy is that Beth is just too good to live (she’s the only March girl with minimal or no behavioral flaws) and Amy goes back and forth between being a decent human being and a horrible one.
Beth is always the perfect, the most womanly, the most ideally virtuous of all four of the March sisters. She loves her sisters, her music and her kittens. She’s just too excruciatingly and implausibly good. When the worst you can say about someone is that she is overly shy in speaking with other people, when she’s the one who is always the peacemaker (never the agitator), and always the one who most unselfishly minimizes her own needs in caring for or shielding others -- well, at that point, you just have to roll your eyes and keep reading until she fades into the background of the book’s action. Amy is a positive relief from that kind of thing. She is a brat in school and a brat when she destroys Jo’s artistic efforts. She struggles badly in trying to find her own feet in society and comes close to marrying for money in a way that none of the others do. It’s her upbringing that saves her.
Compare that with Lizzie Eustace who is brought up through neglect by a relative (a Navy admiral) whose main interests are “wine, whist, and wickedness”. She is imbued with no virtues, marries one man purely on mercenary grounds and then attempts to ensnare two other suitors, with an eye to ensuring her economic rise in society. Despite inconvenient legalities, she denies that the family diamonds (worth ten thousand pounds) aren’t her own property. She attempts to bribe others into spying on those who do not support her ownership. There’s not much reason to like Lady Eustace, and the reader delights in Trollope’s novel purely because one wants to see such a blatantly wicked person get their much-deserved come-uppance. (Of course, Lucy is the contrasting figure in The Eustace Diamonds and she is sadly too much like Beth for the reader to expend much time or effort in rooting for her. I for one frequently wanted to tell her to stop looking up at her suitor so adoringly. The man has very real feet of clay.) Trollope in no way tries to empathize with Lizzie Eustace’s problems. He’s much more interested in how two men deal with their dubious attraction to her. (Much of the “hero’s” attraction is due to the economics associated with her appearance of wealth.) Lizzie Eustace is cut from exactly the same cloth as Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, the unsorrowful and unrepentant widow, who maneuvers and dissembles in order to catch a second husband.
Understanding nineteenth century economics and social class environment means that one has to come out in favor of women’s efforts over seventy some odd years to gain the vote. Louisa May Alcott was a believer in women’s suffrage. She absolutely understood the economics of her time and the temptations faced when one’s position so much depended on one’s connections and marital status. (Trollope understood it as well, but in all truth, he was never as much at risk. He was male.)
I bring in this connection to women getting the vote because Louisa referenced the movement in at least two of her books, and because I have been involved with on-going research regarding the suffrage movement in America. My son gave me a wonderful book, The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win The Vote, for Christmas and it’s really rather fun!
So this is how I’m opening up 2020. Happy New Year!
My pet peeve about Little Women is that no adaptation I've seen understands that the book is a satire for the first three quarters—until her overbearing editor made her write a moral pap ending that she didn't like.
re: Alcott understanding the economics of her time, I think the famous scene with Meg and the jelly that won't jell encapsulates that. It's funny, but we're not meant to laugh at Meg. We're meant to laugh at the absurdity of Meg being upset, and then we're meant to rage that she lives in a society that pigeonholes women as homemakers but doesn't respect the emotional legitimacy or economic value of that labor.
Happy new year! I look forward to following your rumination on books and life.
>1 jillmwo: I always learn things when I read your threads, thank you for sharing so freely with us, and I look forward to reading more with you this year.
>1 jillmwo: Happy reading, my friend. Make excellent choices so the rest of us don't have to work so hard to find our next reads.
The Eustace Diamonds doesn’t have a real heroine. Lizzie Eustace might best be described as a successful fortune hunter who, being left a widow, attempts to take advantage of the privilege she holds as a wealthy, unattached woman while looking about for a second husband. She’s only twenty-two, she’s beautiful and she’s desirable as a marriage partner on the basis of both youth as well as her income. In modern novels, Lizzie might well be presented as a strong fighter/ survivor in a society that did not accord women control over their lives. The problem is that Lizzie is personally incapable of behaving well, behaving honorably or honestly. Given her skill at presentation, she might actually have been a brilliant actress, but of course, that’s not possible. She’s Lady Eustace and must abide by the rules of British society in 1871.
If she wants to marry a peer of the land and further solidify her social position, she should marry the weak and uninspiring Lord Fawn. If she wants to marry a wicked, Byronic “Corsair” who will bring poetry into her life, she should marry Lord George de Bruce Carruthers. If she wants to marry a decent man, she should marry her relatively poor cousin, Frank Greystoke. But Lizzie in the end will lose all of the three. All three of them want the ease that her income will provide to them as they pursue various ambitions, but none truly want her. Frank knows himself to be in love with the implausibly angelic governess, Lucy Morris, but she’s not got an income and he needs money if he’s to move in circles of power. Lord Fawn simply wants to maintain the status quo of his birthright and social standing but, if Lizzie is going to be shown as having behaved badly in a public setting, he’d just as soon do without. Lord George thinks marriage with Lizzie might have real benefits until Lizzie leaves him open to accusations of criminal behavior.
The titular diamonds serve as a symbolic metric of self-valuation. That’s the muddled rationale that Lizzie has for holding on to them. But as Trollope makes clear, authentic valuation of self does not reside in owning property. This is a 800-page sensation novel and any modern version would be able to tell the same story in half the length, but Trollope kept me reading throughout a two-week holiday. Lizzie isn’t an honorable woman, but with the exception of Lord Fawn’s mother and the aforementioned Lucy Morris, neither is anyone else in the novel. My next Trollope will likely be Phineas Finn but for my next TBR selection, I will probably switch to something lighter and more modern.
I am taken aback by the word, "facticity" which appeared in an academic journal article I came across today. It is a real word. It means the quality or condition of being fact. I am not sure I understand why we need this word. I am befuddled.
>11 jillmwo: In the interests of keeping the GD post count ticking, let's consider this important question.
First, it must be a real word: my Shorter Oxford includes it, with the definition "the quality or condition of being a fact" (which is not quite what you said). That may or may not mean it's a necessary word.
Second, "the quality or condition of being a fact": what does that mean? Being a fact as opposed to being something that is not a fact (such as a wineglass)? Being a fact as opposed to being an assertion that is not a fact (that is, is untrue)? Being a fact as opposed to being an utterance that has no truth-value? The first sense is a category mistake; the second has some sort of meaning but is probably doing the work historically done by true; the third seems pointless because who would want to talk about the "facticity" of "Go and clean up your room!"?
In other words, it looks to me like one of those abstract nouns that the bullsh*t industry loves to torment us with.
one of those abstract nouns that the bullsh*t industry loves to torment us with. I kind of agree with you. I honestly thought that it was a misprint in the text initially.
However, I will do a small "humble brag" and refer those who visit this page to my published piece on tech trends: https://niso.org/niso-io/2020/01/looking-trends-ten-years-back-five-years-forwar...
Academic snobbery can take more than one form. Too much of it in this thread for me. Oh well.
Sorry you feel that way >14 libraryperilous:. But I think if you were to revisit periodically you might get a more well-rounded view of me as a person.
>13 jillmwo: Interesting article, Jill. I'm not surprised that concerns have been expressed about the privacy of cloud processing. My views on cloud processing are based on the idea that you shouldn't outsource a "bet the company" function. I'm not even sure where I first saw this, but it was in the context of how it might be OK for say a factory to outsource its cleaning but that a hospital shouldn't. I work on the fringes of the finance industry and I think that a bank that outsources its processing to the cloud has lost its collective mind.
Incidentally, just in case, I wasn't including what you do as part of the "bullsh*t industry". There's a certain kind of writing that's full of abstract nouns and has too few verbs—I see a lot of it. If it weren't so painful to do, I would dig out some samples, but the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (part of the Bank for International Settlements) is sometimes a good source.
>12 haydninvienna: Your analysis is, I think, flawed. Apart from the category mistake, there is an alternative to something being true or untrue -not proven.
If I assert "all pigs have wings", that is not a fact, because it is demonsrably untrue.
If I assert, "pigs may have wings", you cannot know whether this is true or not. There may be a pig, somewhere with wings (although it seems incredibly unlikely). A mutation that has survived, perhaps (like the pig with two heads).
I could, at some point, prove the truth of my statement, by finding and producing a pig with wings, but until the unlikely event that I do, them that assertion is not a fact.
Whether we need the word facticity is another matter. The Oxford English Dictionary is descriptive, not prescriptive. It records every word that has been published somewhere. It makes no comment on whether it should have been.
>17 -pilgrim-: Right, as usual, although I would prefer to say "undecided" rather than "not proven". I'm not a Scottish lawyer. Come to think of it though, shouldn't your second example have been "no pigs have wings"? I would prefer to say that "pigs may have wings" has no truth value. I'm well aware that the SOED is descriptive, but I think that if the SOED recognises a string of characters as requiring a definition, the string is a word.
I wrote but deleted a rant on certain things that are going on in my workplace, to justify an assertion that half my life at the moment seemed to be devoted to flying kites and waiting for them to be shot down. Putting in the rant wouldn't have been fair because I couldn't have been sufficiently specific about exactly what the problem is. Also, it would have been far too long.
jillmwo —sorry about hijacking your thread for a little debate on logic ...
>10 jillmwo: I have enjoyed Trollope the two times I've attempted the reads, but I'm afraid to try him at the moment. I don't seem to have the wherewithal to get through action-packed books in a timely manner, let alone a book that should be savored.
Thank you for your comments here. They help me sort whether or not I should make the attempt at this time. Also, you have a way of getting to the heart of the matter of your liking or disliking a book, and explaining why. Often I am only able to assert whether or not I liked a story, without understanding why, let alone explaining it.
>1 jillmwo: Oh, there you are, Jill. Following, and wishing you the best of all possible reading years.
Thank you everyone for the birthday wishes! I proceeded to splurge with my gift cards on some lovely editions of the works of Daphne Du Maurier. Hopefully they'll arrive soon.
Let me just add in a review of something I finished reading recently:
Dorothy B. Hughes
I had always thought that Murder on the Oriental Express was the quintessential mystery situated on a train. However, I’ve changed my mind -- I think now that Dread Journey should hold that title. There is a very limited number of passengers in the best carriage on the very best long-distance train called the Chief. The porter is a proud man, James Corbett; he can size up at a glance the passengers that he’s due to care for over a time-span of 3 days, but he knows the movie people on this trip. There is the producer -- Viv Spender -- and his private secretary -- Mike Dana. He recognizes the All-American-Girl actress, Kitten Agnew, but not the unknown hopeful who shares her compartment on the train. Gratia Shawn quietly reads Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, a book that has a role in it for which she’s perfect. Her innocence is striking and her untouched appeal captures the attention of two men --- Hank Cavanaugh, burnt-out war correspondent, and Les Augustin, somewhat cynical musician. Sydney Pringle is the failed screenwriter who is being shipped back to the East Coast on the Chief.
The thing is that you’re fairly confident who deserves to be murdered in all this and ultimately the individual receives the just end. However, there’s going to be another body first -- oops, wait a minute, that would be two bodies ahead of the deserving traveler. It’s who actually does it that catches you off guard. Lots of suspense.
This was truly a compelling read (by which I mean, page-turning and impatient-to-return-to) and one that was sufficient to make me go out and get two other works by the same author to see if she’s really that good. (She also writes short books which makes it easy to finish them in a timely manner.)
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.