Some Thought’s on ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte

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‘The thrilling story of mystery, betrayal and love. Orphaned Jane Eyre endures an unhappy childhood, hated by her aunt and cousins and then sent to comfortless Lowood School. But life there improves, and Jane stays on as a teacher, though she still longs for love and friendship. At Mr Rochester’s house, where she goes to work as a governess, she hopes she might have found them – until she learns the terrible secret of the attic.’

I read this book recently as part of my quest to read the classic books you ‘must read’. I have to say I find a lot of these books hit and miss, some of them like Dracula are hard to put down whereas others, like ‘Little Women’ are long winded and quite frankly boring. When it came to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte I had mixed feelings. I was surprised at the beginning of the book, the tale was building up to be a Gothic supernatural mystery but alas that element of the story fell away to be replaced by the romantic relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester.

Jane Eyre was a fascinating character in my opinion, she rejected social norms entirely, refusing to be the quite lady in the corner. I enjoyed her refreshing honesty and her sense of justice. No character in the book was ever going to get an advantage over her and she continuously took the harder option when presented with an easier life. Mr.Rochester was an equally fascinating man. He was an emotional character, who spoke his feelings openly. He was neither masculine or classically handsome. I enjoyed how he and Jane loved to try and rile each other up with various tales which aimed to displease their lover just for the fun of it. Their relationship was an unconventional one, it was a real relationship, void of the Hollywood portrayals of romance, they were simply two people who adored the passion that existed in each others hearts.

Although I did enjoy the characters in the story I felt let down in a way by the story itself. Jane was frequently awoken by strange sounds in the dead of night in Thornfield and the story took a supernatural element. I did not know anything about the book before reading it so I took pleasure in the anticipation of reading another Gothic novel. I was sadly disappointed to learn that the strange sounds at night had a perfectly rational explanation and there was no huge mystery to be solved.

Bronte’s writing is eloquent and descriptive, she was brilliant at describing the raw human emotions one might feel when they are in the trials and tribulations of love. I enjoyed the story to a point, I always knew Jane and Mr.Rochester would finally get together in the end in some form. I also felt let down in a way that Jane became rich by inheritance and not by her own hand. She was such an independent innovative woman, I felt her character would have been justified if she became self sufficient in another way besides coming into money by chance.

I liked reading Jane Eyre to a point, the romance is an interesting tale but I felt it could have been a fantastic novel if the author explored the mystery in the manor in another fashion and developed it more. That said, I can see why many people hold this book up as the greatest romantic novel of all time and why Jane Eyre is such a feminist icon. It is original and challenges the perceptions of women in society.

Racism and Stereotyping in ‘Gone With The Wind’

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Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell is an immensely popular love story which has sold over 30 million copies since it’s publication in 1936. However, I found this book to be an infuriating experience on numerous levels. The trials and tribulations of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in and around Atlanta during the American Civil War have captured the heart’s of many readers but not for me.

Being honest, I found this book to be racist and full of lazy stereotyping. I also failed to empathize in anyway with the characters in the book and their ‘heroic’ fight to maintain power and wealth at the expense of the poor masses. In relation to racism, I accept entirely that this book is set in a specific time and context where slaves were used and abused at their masters will but I found some of the descriptions repulsive. Scarlett at one stage in here home of Tara gags at the ‘n****ry’ smell around the slaves living quarters. She at another time compares the physical features of a man to that of a gorilla. I felt there was no need for comments like this, the reader had got an elaborate sense of the deep seeded hatred that existed between races then at this point already in the book. Each page was filled with a degrading slang word for African Americans. I paused at many times to consider could I read further on with the story as I was so annoyed with the over the top portrayals of the slaves of the rich aristocracy in the story.

In terms of stereotyping I felt the author failed to recognize or develop certain characters in the story. All the slaves were simple, obedient pet like creatures to their masters, with the exception being the character ‘Mammy’ in the story who was developed brilliantly by the author. The slaves were completely subservient to their owners, incapable of living independent lives away from white people. They were depicted as craving praise for their work and punished when not completing their tasks I also found on a personal level the Irish stereotyping irritating and tiresome. Gerald O’Hara, Scarlett’s father was the hard drinking, singing, stubborn rebellious Irishman. Negative traits such as defiance or impulsiveness were frequently referred to as the ‘Irish’ in them. Gerald and Scarlett were seen as outsiders in society due to their Irish character. Both liked alcohol too much and were warned about their drinking by other characters. There was frequent references to Geralds rebellious past and that there was a general feeling that all Irishmen hated England and Orangemen. Simply untrue.

I cannot deny that this book brilliantly portrays the horrors of war or the beauty of love, Mitchell’s obvious disdain of war and violence were expertly facilitated through Scarlett and Melanie’s nursing of soldiers. It painted a vivid picture of the reality of war instead of the bullets and heroes accounts we are used to. That said, I found the plight of the protagonists cause infuriating. In my opinion, they were fighting to get free slave labour and to go back to the lifestyle of being useless socialites who profited from their huge estates. On the other hand, I enjoyed seeing the fall of the aristocracy which controlled society and how the courtesy and ridiculous etiquette were quickly quashed once the walls of shelter came tumbling down around the families as the Yankees advanced upon Atlanta.

I did not enjoy this book whatsoever. The racism really disgusted me, despite acknowledging it was in the historical context. The stereotyping of the Irish and slaves stuck out as a laziness in an otherwise fantastic tale full of twists and turns, I found the dialogue of the slaves hard to comprehend, there was too much of it, I had to re-read paragraph’s quite often. I found the book to be too long as well, surely Mitchell might have cut out some of the less descriptions or incidents?

I realize that people hold Gone With The Wind with huge affection and is many people’s favourite book but I have to say I didn’t care for the novel, some of the above issues did not sit well for me. I know I’m in a minority here in expressing this opinion but Gone With The Wind will not be a book I will re-read at some time in my life. I know there is huge qualities in the book I’m not referencing and people far smarter than me can point them out easily. Did anyone feel the same way with the book? Am I the only person? Could I be doing the author a disservice? If you love the book please tell me why, I definitely missed something.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

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Upon finishing this book I didn’t know how I felt about it, and still I can’t decide whether it is a great novel or just a peculiar one. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess is a powerful yet disturbing read. It tells the tale off Alex, a teenager who goes on a rampage of violence in a dystopian London. The book poses the question- if free will is such a cornerstone of society, is evil not an acceptable expression of free will? The book has no moral high ground, extreme violence and sexual deviancy are neither condoned or condemned.

The book is broken into three parts. In the first, Alex and his friends rob, kill and rape individuals and take great pleasure in doing so. In the second part, Alex is imprisoned and re-programmed to integrate into society. In the concluding part Alex must assimilate back into normal society. The book is quite like 1984 in a way as the government is very controlling in the book, trying to reprogramme people  into acting in a uniform way. I found this aspect fascinating because in this dytopian world, anarchy and violence are a widespread problem. The government comes up with a pioneering solution to ‘cure’ criminals of their violence. They brainwash individuals to conform to social norms and reject their violent ways. Once this proves successful and society seems to improve and be safer, people act against the government saying that their free will is denied. Alex reverts slowly back to his ‘ultraviolence.’

I found this book a curious read. Firstly the main protagonist uses a completely new language called ‘Nadsat’; a Russian based language that teenagers use in the story. It makes the story quite difficult to read at the start, there is a glossary in the book you must constantly go to in order to understand the book, this made the flow of the book difficult at times. I must say I enjoyed this edge to the book, it made it a very unique read and guessing the sentence meanings proved enjoyable. When reading the book I kept asking myself how a book like this got published because if you read the first thirty pages without and explanation, the pages would seem to be full of nonsense. The book is short so the reader doesn’t have to endure with the language too long if they find it tedious.

Violence and unbridled evil are to the fore in this book. It made it a difficult read at times as the descriptions are very graphic and there is no denouncing of the evil. The delight the protagonist takes in the raping of two little girls is horrific. The author is constantly challenging the reader to query whether free will and individualism are paramount when some individuals are determined to express their  malevolent ways. Burgess is also making a point on humans instinct in my opinion-are some people born evil?

This book is a must read, although I can’t decide whether it is an enjoyable read. There is a voyeurism about the book which make it uncomfortable. The narrator is pure evil with no redeeming human qualities. The scenes are descriptive and unpleasant. Then language is difficult and clunky. However I sat in contemplation after reading the novel questioning how important it was to live in a society of free expression. Free will is the pride of western democracies-but to what extent should free will be allowed?

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov- The most disturbing book I have ever read

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I read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov without reading any reviews or conversing with anyone who had read it before. I read the blurb at the back of the book and it had a general plot outline of a romantic novel across America. I don’t usually read romances but decided to read on anyway. It is right to never judge a book by it’s cover because I was utterly appalled. After a few chapters I stopped to ask myself how a book like this ever got published. Lolita tells the story of a man called Humbert Humbert who is obsessed with a twelve year old girl called Lolita. He rapes, drugs,kidnaps and imprisons this girl throughout the book at various points. Now this book sounds like a serious and harsh read but it is not. It is a harrowing and uncomfortable read at times but most of the time I found myself admiring the prose in the book and chuckling at Humberts sheer madness as we view the world through the eyes of a maniac.

The author skillfully deals with this taboo topic. There are points in the book where he at length describes how the physical form of children and Lolita in particular appeal to him. These descriptions are disturbing but they are done in a way which does not horrify the author into closing the book. In the edition I read, there is an explanation of the novel from the author Nabokov and it is a compelling read. In it he acknowledges the sinister nature of the book but he underlines the power and strength of the book in overcoming such a massive issue. Language and wordplay are at their finest in this novel and without it I doubt a book like this would have ever gone to print. Nabokov says there is a real skill in describing lewd scenes without being lewd. There is an unusual aspect in the book where the narrator constantly addresses the reader, acknowledging that he is a maniac and a pedophile. This put me at ease reading the book as I knew that the story was not just the wild imagination and lust of pervert. He constantly reminds the reader that it is against the law to do what he is doing but he is too obsessed to stop. It also is entertaining as Humbert frequently references the dismay we must feel as a reader before continuing describe another very inappropriate scene.

Nabokov makes a valid point in his reasoning behind his masterpiece Lolita. He asks the question ‘Why would anyone  want to read the allusions to the physiological urges of a pervert?’ His answer is simple, he doesn’t write didactic novels. He loathes writers who set out to teach a morale or have hidden meaning in a book. He writes simply for the love of aesthetics, that a book can be enjoyed without the reader trying to gain information about a country or social class. I agree with him entirely. Lolita is a beautiful read, it is one of the finest books I have ever read in terms of language and wordplay. It is a crazy book, maddening book where the reader asks themselves why or how  they are reading the content because it is insane.

After reading a book I always feel there is something trying to be told within the book, a lesson I could learn. After reading Lolita I didn’t feel this way. I felt delighted that I had read a thing of beauty and also felt horrified that maybe people like Humber Humbert could be on the loose in the world right now. This novel is a story to be read slowly and enjoyed. One has to constantly remind themselves that the narrator is a pedaphile with no conscious but you can’t help yourself from guessing what might happen next, the story is unpredictable and follows no rhyme or reason. Everyone should read Lolita.

Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: A Tale of Starvation and Despair

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The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck is considered by many as his finest novel. Upon finishing the book I was left with a sense of hopelessness and unease. A great book is something which evokes emotions and reactions. A great book provides escapism and transports the reader to another time and another place. This was certainly the case for me, I was transported from my living room couch onto the back of the Joad’s truck as they travelled through the poverty stricken Dustbowl of 1930’s America.

The story surrounds the Joad family, a desperately poor family who leave their home in Oklahoma for a more prosperous life in California. The story is set during the the Great Depression in America, an overwhelming sense of poverty and desperation overhangs the whole book. Families live day to day, they do not eat regularly, there are no jobs and people resort to desperate measures to ensure their family survive starvation.

The Joad family are a close knit family who are the stereotypical poor American farmers, the only exception is Tom Joad, who is the main protagonist and is the most intriguing character from the outset. He has killed a man and has served four years in prison, he is freed to find the landscape he left has utterly changed. He is the leader of the family and negotiates the family through many trials and tribulations

The characters in the book are problematic, the Joad family and the people they meet along the way are one-dimensional stereotypes of the typical simple farmer; they are god-fearing, ill educated hard workers who are full of neighbourly love for their fellow man. The Californian people who have jobs and are in positions of power are portrayed as evil despots whose soul mission in life is to pile hardship on the starving masses.

The prose in the book is fantastic, never have I felt more involved in a story as Steinbeck expertly describes places, reactions and speech. I felt the heat of the day, the sweat drenched dust on my skin and weariness of not knowing where the next meal was coming from. The author describes at length the finest of details, there was one chapter at the start of the book dedicated entirely to a turtle meandering slowly across a road, it set the the scene perfectly in describing a vast land of failing crops and vacant houses.

The book was an obvious statement against collectivism. Millions of smallholding has to make way for huge collective farms. The country became more mechanized, tractors and machinery of various sorts replace the seasonal work enjoyed by labourers. Steinbeck was opposed to such changes and reportedly did a lot of research into the living conditions at the time. I felt that the book had very little balance in it, the conditions described are beyond horrific, it reminded me of stories one would hear of starvation and disease in a Holocaust setting. The final scene in the book is one which will haunt me for quite a while.

After finishing The Grapes of Wrath, I cannot wait to start East of Eden, I can’t believe I have let these classics pass me by for so long. This book was moving and upsetting at times, it captured my attention like no other book has done in a long time. I would love to hear an American perspective on The Grapes of Wrath, I know it is popular in the school systems and a modern day reaction would prove interesting.

The Catcher in the Rye-Will we ever see the movie adaptation of Salinger’s Masterpiece?

‘I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible.’-Holden Caulfield

This is the quote I would pick out of the hundreds of excerpts you could chose to give a glimpse into the enigma that is Holden Caulfield. There has been so much written about The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger that a review of the book would be rendered redundant. Instead, I want to comment on the possible reasons why Salinger refused to make his book into a full length movie, despite the offer of tens of millions of dollars.The Catcher in the Rye is J.D. Salinger’s only published full-length novel. Around 250,000 copies are sold each year, with 65 million copies sold total. According to Modern Language Review Journal, the novel was the most censored book in high schools and libraries between 1961 and 1982. The novel has influenced notorious criminals like Mark David Chapman and John Hinckley Jr. as well as former presidents. George H.W. Bush said it was one of the books that inspired him. If it is so influential surely it would be possible to make a film out of it? A plethora of Hollywood stars including Rober Di Nero, Leonardo Di Caprio, Marlon Brando and Tobey Maguire have tried to buy the rights to the film, most recently Steven Spielberg and Harvey Weinstein made last ditch attempts to buy the rights before Salinger’s death.

It is my favourite book of all time and I don’t think it will be ever replaced. The main reason it appeals to me is based on the main protagonist,Holden Caulfield. He is the most intriguing character ever depicted in my opinion. I read the book recently and began to think how would a film on this book ever do Caulfield justice? Salinger refused to sell the rights to any film right up until his death despite a huge desire to see the manic novel depicted on the silver screen. Upon further contemplation I agreed with Salinger, he maintained that unless he could play Caulfield himself, he would never allow a film. No one could do it justice besides the author himself. He loved his character too much to let him be portrayed in another form and in a letter in 1957 maintained that ‘Holden Caulfield, in my super biased opinion, is essentially unactable. A sensitive, intelligent, talented actor in a reversible coat wouldn’t be nearly enough.

Salinger wrote Caulfield in such a way that making the transition to film would be exceedingly difficult. A lot of the beauty in the book lies in Caulfields non stop dialogue which ebbs and flows and is erratic and off the point ,randomly going from one thought to the next without reason. This aspect of the book is another reason why it is hard to see how that beauty would transcend onto a film. His peculiarities and his quick wit to point out the flaws in every other character in the book whilst not recognizing any of his own make Holden one of the most infuriating characters of all time. He changes his opinion and judgement on characters he meets in the story flippantly depending on their actions and conversation .Some people after reading the book complain about his constant moaning and cursing, others embrace his peculiarities and revel in his open rebellion and impulsiveness to do anything he wants in New York according to how he feels at that very moment. It is one of those books which create a love/hate reaction among readers.

I don’t think I will ever see a Catcher in the Rye film in my lifetime. The only possibility of a film is if Salinger’s estate come into financial trouble and are forced to sell the rights for a film. The only likely outcome is a film will be shot once the copyright runs out on the novel in many years time. I would prefer not to see a film being made as I have such an estimation of  what Holden Caulfield would do and say and how he would react in some of those legendary confrontations he has with characters that any film could ruin this book for me. I think, like Salinger, that no actor could do Caulfields complexity and peculiarity any justice. That said I also felt the same about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby but I have to admit Baz Luhrmann certainly did a fine job of remastering that particular literary classic.

Would you like a film to be made of The Catcher in the Rye? Is there any other literary classics you would like to see made into a film? Please comment, I would love your thoughts.

Dubliners by James Joyce: a book simply for Dubliners

I recently read Dubliners by James Joyce and was left feeling somewhat underwhelmed by it all. I was eager to see how I’d receive the book as I am an outsider living in Dublin for the last few years. I know people dedicate their lives to the works of James Joyce and these Joycean scholars would disagree with me but I simply could not see what made Dubliners one of the ‘must read’ books. I found it tedious and slow at times, dedicating long descriptions to people and details which seemed trivial. That said, it was easy to see the skill of Joyce’s writing and the book comprising of fifteen short stories had a common theme and had clever links to tie some of the stories together.

Theses short stories were written at a time of great change in Ireland. It is clear that Joyce had nationalist tendencies and there was a great shift in Ireland towards the Irish language and culture. Each character in the book has an epiphany in their respective stories and Joyce has some wonderful descriptions of these, my favourite being Mr. James Duffy whose moment of illumination was described as ‘No one wanted him; he was outcast from life’s feast.’ I thought this was a wonderful way to describe a man realizing that life had passed him by.

I enjoyed the historical context of the book, it was published over one hundred years ago and it was interesting comparing the Dublin of old with the modern city. Faraway suburbs mentioned in the book have now been engulfed by the city, the streets where many of the characters live and more importantly socialize are still the hive of drunks and beggars. I could not help myself from laughing at the consistent and well linked tram service which existed in Dublin then, which serviced the whole city. Modern day Dubliners lament the ill advised destruction of these tram lines as they complain about the lack of transport in the city. Men worked and drank in pubs, women looked after the house and children. It was a very unequal society. There is no focus whatsoever on the lower classes which existed in Dublin, Joyce focused solely on the middle classes in the midst of the Cultural Revolution which existed in Ireland.

Joyce makes a nauseating effort to mention streets, shops and place names in the book, I can see why it is so popular with the people of Dublin and emigrants alike, it describes places and people at length and Joyce captures the colloquial Irish dialogue expertly. It would certainly paint a vivid picture to anyone abroad of a vibrant romantic city bustling with ideas and characters but I suppose this is why it remains so popular with the Irish diasporas. I for one, didn’t care too much for this aspect of the book and felt it overshadowed the stories. 

Dubliners is a fine book, but it is not one of the all time great novels in my opinion, I wish Joyce finished off some of the short stories in the book because they just seem to stop but making you wonder what the characters decide next was Joyces intention I suppose. I intend to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in the coming weeks and hopefully I’ll revise my verdict of Dubliners