This entry is dedicated to K.T., who has the book-a-licious job of interning with a librarian doing educational outreach this summer. That means she gets to coerce kids into reading with promises of wealth and glory.
I read George Eliot’s Middlemarch during my first two weeks in Ohio. It was an interesting experience reading about provincial Victorian English life from suburban 21st century Ohio. In some bizarre ways the two settings are strangely analogous, but they are completely discordant. [For graduates of OES Humanities: I know, Sean and Debbie would whack me in the back of the head for that wishy-washy “similar yet different” thesis.] But back to the novel… Middlemarch is everything a Victorian novel should be (a snapshot of life in an era on the cusp of social change) plus a whole lot more. The massive size of the book give it freedom to cover a much greater scope: the lives of nearly a dozen “main” characters interweave in ingenious ways. The book seriously and meticulously addresses gender roles, political and economic debates, views on science and medicine, wealth and social status, the dynamics of a small society, the ever present dichotomy between physical and mental prowess, and much more, all in an community that is just stifling and restrictive enough to allow its satisfaction but not completely happiness. This book is not as comic or overtly progressive as a Jane Austen novel, but it takes you far beyond the happy ending where every loose piece is tucked into place. Eliot narrates with a subtler and more understated voice, but then catches you off-guard with a passage or sentence that knocks you down with its eloquence and beauty.
After that, I raced through Swann’s Way, the first volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I read the “new” translation by Lydia Davis, which is part of the Penguin Classics series. Many (if not most) of the books I’ve decided to tackle this summer are in translation, and translation is a topic that fascinates me. My favorite book on the subject is Hofstadter’s La Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language. But…I’m supposed to be writing about Proust!
The translation was clear and lucid, but I haven’t looked at the Moncrieff version, so I can’t offer any kind of accurate comparison. It’s hard to evaluate the quality of both the original prose and the translation at the same time, especially if you only have one translation. So, staying more on the thematic side…
I wanted to underline something (or several things) on every page. I wanted to remember so many passages that I went out and bought sticky tabs to stick on the pages. Proust’s portrayals of personal and social psychological phenomenon offer not only accurate and beautiful description, but also profound analysis and contemplation. He presents his observations in such a way that they are philosophical yet unobtrusive, which is a really hard thing to accomplish. I find reading Proust to be a lot like reading Dostoyevsky (except that Dostoyevsky’s subject matter tends to be much darker, but then again, I’ve only read the first of many volumes, and this one focused on childhood and young adulthood). The two authors have similar genius when it comes to describing human character while offering philosophical insight on human nature.
I need to acquire volume 2, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, because I definitely want to read more Proust.
The next book I read was The Golden Ass, by Apelius. I didn’t have the Robert Graves translation, which made me sad, because I really liked I, Claudius (though apparently not enough to have read the sequel yet…). I had to buy a different translation because I bought the book for a class which I then later dropped…such is life. Anyway, The Golden Ass is structured sort of like Don Quixote, where there’s a main storyline about a traveler, but he encounters many colorful characters who get to tell their own stories. There was magic, witchcraft, mischief, more cuckoldry than you can shake a stick at, a healthy dose of intervention by the gods, thievery, tomfoolery, kidnapping, comic violence, attacks by vicious beasts, and just about everything else under the sun. If I were to write a paper about this book, it would definitely be on the use of sex as a coercive tool (and how that relates to gender roles, of course).
I just stated reading Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford. It’s another brick (840 and some odd pages), so it might be awhile before I update again on my summer reading…