Little Women (1933)

Why do I feel like there was too much shouting? (Also, too much crying? Sheesh, Kathy, calm the heck down.)

The 1933 Katharine Hepburn film is an unsubtle adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic American novel Little Women. Then again, the book at times is less than subtle in its advocacy of Christian selflessness. Moreover, I get the sense that compared to the films of the day, Little Women represented a victory for realism: it was a departure from overblown, melodramatic, stereotyped adventures.

I decided to watch Little Women (1933) after the Hungry Hundred Book Club meetup, when I saw three classic film adaptations—Little Women 1933, Little Women 1949, and Little Women 1994—listed in a friend’s copy of the book. Many critics seem to consider the 1933 adaptation the best of the bunch.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/little-women-1933/id298739825

See below for more of what I thought of it, as well as a plot summary in the form of a list of incidents included in the movie.

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Increasing Feminism in the Works of Louisa May Alcott

Introduction

Loved by mothers and daughters for more than a century, Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women attained a higher level of popularity than any of her other books. Even though the book was clearly directed toward a female audience, it has been said of Little Women than even from a male point of view the book and its sequels are very good (Chesterton). Though Little Women is known mostly for its characters and amusing stories (Gale), it becomes clear to a careful reader that Alcott weaves into her stories her opinions on certain issues. Her reform-minded father and her mother both encouraged her to live independently and stand up for her opinions (Gale “Overview”; Magill, “Little Women” 1264). The issues Alcott supported included coeducation and abolition, but causes Alcott especially supported were women’s rights and women’s suffrage (Gale; Gale “Overview”). In fact, after she had become famous, the novelist used her popularity to aid her causes and became the first woman in Concord to register to vote (Magill, “Louisa May Alcott” 7). It should not be surprising, then, that it is Alcott’s feminism which most influences Little Women and which dominates her later works in particular. Sometimes Alcott speaks out quite strongly through her characters, but other times she must make sacrifices, toning down the opinions in order to insure that her books succeed. In her earlier works, such as Little Women, Alcott is most restrained, but in her novel Rose in Bloom, she is less so, and in Jo’s Boys, she hardly restrains her opinions at all.

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The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

The full title of the work is The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come. The work tells the story of a man named Christian who reads the Bible and thus comes to fear his doom and to feel that he is carrying a burden. He desires to be saved. Luckily, he subsequently encounters a man named Evangelist who advises him to travel to the Celestial City by a certain path. Christian tries to follow his instructions, with varying degrees of success, and (massive spoiler alert) ultimately reaches his goal.

Is it worth reading this venerable Christian text nowadays?

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When and Why I Read The Pilgrim's Progress

The characters of Little Women refer to the book and its setting, characters, and plot.

Genre: fiction (religious allegory)
Date started / date finished: 16-May-19 to 20-May-19
Length: 145 pages
ISBN: Project Gutenberg 131
Originally published in: 1678
Gutenberg link: The Pilgrim's Progress

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women, a popular and influential nineteenth-century American novel about the coming of age of four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, is familiar, charming, and—for those with a compatible upbringing—only a little bit too didactic.

It’s easy to admire Jo, the fiercely independent heroine of Little Women, a tomboy who cuts all her hair off, looks forward to spinsterhood, and aims to support herself by writing. I wonder if she’s a Mary Sue; others (doubtless more fruitfully) debate whether or not the book is feminist.

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Which English translation or edition of The Count of Monte Cristo should I read?

So you want to read Alexandre Dumas’ classic adventure, The Count of Monte Cristo. And you don’t read French.

No problem. This massive novel has been available in English since the 1840s. You’ll find a copy in any decent library or bookstore, and if you like reading ebooks, you can download the novel for free because it’s not under copyright. That’s sorted, then.

Not so fast!

As soon as you visit the library or bookshop or click over to Amazon, you realize there are a host of publishers offering a myriad of paperback and hardcover editions and dozens of digital versions. What’s the difference?

Unexpurgated, unabridged, abridged, children’s, illustrated, and film versions are available. Keep reading to learn how to choose an edition that’s right for you.

Continue reading Which English translation or edition of The Count of Monte Cristo should I read?

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

A more accurate title for this novel might be: The Adventures of the Strangely Wise and Poetical Free Spirit Huckleberry Finn, and the Hapless Runaway Slave Jim, Interrupted by the Heartless Cloudcuckoolander Tom Sawyer.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was required reading in my 10th-grade English class. I didn’t like it. Years later, now that I’ve re-read it, I still don’t like it, but I have more insight into what makes it a good book as well as what annoys me about it.

See below for the strengths of the book and what annoyed me about it, a plot summary (with SPOILERS), and what stood out as well as when and why I read it.

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Being neither a young male Irish Catholic nor an English major and at least one even slightly acclaimed novel short of an artist, I felt lost slogging through this “more approachable” work of Joyce’s.

In praise of what I find to be an impenetrable text, Shmoop says:

This novel, the first in Joyce’s whopping hat-trick of great novels, is both shorter and more approachable than either of Joyce’s later masterpieces (for which we humbly thank him). Portrait of the Artist really unleashed the massive power of Joyce’s innovation and unconventionality upon the literary world.

Why I found A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man hard to read

Fiction has character, setting, plot, and style. When any one of these four elements is developed at the expense of the other three, you get strange fiction. Sometimes it’s good strange and sometime it’s bad strange. Joyce’s fiction is primarily characterized by style—innovative and unconventional style. The literary world considers Joyce’s fiction good strange. For me, A Portrait of the Artist was bad strange.

I’m more of a nineteenth-century Realist than a twentieth-century Modernist or Post-modernist. I don’t like unreliable narrators, stream-of-consciousness narration, or magical realism. Joyce is known for free indirect speech, which is a kind of stream-of-consciousness narration.

The edition I read in high school had an introduction and notes built in, but many free and “thrift” editions, like the one I just finished reading, do not. It would have been better (though slower) to read the novel alongside some kind of notes (e.g., CliffsNotes or SparkNotes).

See below for what stuck out as well as when and why I read it.

Continue reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

When I bought The Good Earth from the Amazon Kindle store, I had to choose between buying it by itself for $7.50 or buying the whole trilogy for $15.39. I’m glad I only bought the first one. One was enough.

The style of writing is simple in a kind of old-fashioned, grand, Biblical way that grated on me long before I reached the end. Long compound sentences rolled along relentlessly, one after another, connecting each thought or action with the previous one. Never have I read a book that contained so many “and”s. Moreover, those “and”s didn’t seem to be building towards anything in a meaningful way. The novel had a straightforward timeline and virtually zero tension, zero plot.

See my Backlist books post on The Good Earth on Asian Books Blog for more thoughts on this Pulitzer Prize–winning historical novel set in 1920s China.

When and Why I Read The Good Earth

This book was chosen by Rachel of the Hungry Hundred Book Club for June 2018.

Genre: fiction (historical)
Date started / date finished: 23-May-2018 / 27-May-2018
Length: 225
ISBN: ASIN B008F4NRA8
Originally published in: 1931
Amazon link: The Good Earth

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

A Room with a View was the Hungry Hundred Book Club book for May. The group leader, Rachel, started off the discussion at the well-attended meetup with an interesting question:

Is A Room with a View primarily a love story, a coming-of-age story, or social commentary?

Since the book has elements of all three, the answer to the question says as much about the reader’s perspective as it does about the book itself. How much people enjoyed the book depended very much on what they thought it was trying to do and what they thought it did well, thus the question served not only to kick off the discussion but also to guide and shape it.

At the end of the discussion, we rated the book. It garnered perhaps only one rating of five stars, but many of three or three-and-a-half or four, as well as a couple of very low ratings (0.5 and 2). The reason for the less-than-spectacular average rating seemed to be that Forster was undeniably good, yet didn’t measure up to other writers.

During the discussion, someone mentioned a Guardian article based on a lecture by Zadie Smith on the fiction of E.M. Forster. The article compares Forster’s work to Austen’s.

Forster ushered in a new era for the English comic novel, one that includes the necessary recognition that the great majority of us are not like an Austen protagonist, would rather not understand ourselves, because it is easier and less dangerous.

Zadie Smith, in pointing out this message in Forster’s work, is saying in part that what Forster was doing was different from what others were doing, and that he was good at it. I agree.

See below for my opinion on whether A Room with a View is a love story, coming-of-age story, or social commentary and what I got out of it. (If you’ve never read the book or watched the movie, note that this post gives away the ending.)

Continue reading A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

The Remains of the Day (1993)

After Rachel of the Hungry Hundred Book Club chose The Remains of the Day for April 2018, I decided I was going to skip out on reading it. I read it half a lifetime ago, and remembered enough not to want to read it again. (It’s poignant, not my preferred mood for fiction.)

Among the DVDs I bought second-hand from a neighbor over a year ago was a copy of the 1993 Anthony Hopkins / Emma Thompson film version, so I figured I could just watch the movie instead of reading the book. (Normally that’s cheating, but like I said, I already did read the book. Also, it was a particularly well-made movie.)

I remembered that the book was about a butler who passed up his opportunity for love because he was too busy doing his job, and that there was something wrong with his master’s politics, such that the butler’s devotion was somehow even more thoroughly wrong-headed than it would have been otherwise.

The wistfulness of looking back on a wasted lifetime is nicely captured in a poem by Edgar Lee Masters called “George Gray”. Even more succinctly: A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-remains-of-the-day/id540710212

Although I did not re-read the book, and in some ways found the movie painful to watch, I very much enjoyed the book group meetup. See below for some of the themes and scenes we discussed.

Continue reading The Remains of the Day (1993)