Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

“Dear, dear Norland,” said Elinor, “probably looks much as it always does at this time of year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves.”

“Oh,” cried Marianne, “with what transporting sensation have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight.”

“It is not everyone,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for dead leaves.”

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My favorite scene in Jane Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility comes when Marianne Dashwood bemoans her problems with a specific man to all those within hearing distance. In an effort to calm Marianne’s nerves, the gossipy (and hilarious) Mrs. Jennings prepares a glass of wine for her; however, Marianne’s sister Elinor Dashwood, who is having very similar problems with another man but who characteristically keeps it a secret, interrupts Mrs. Jennings and offers to take the glass of wine to her sister. But instead of taking the wine to its intended recipient, she goes off in secret and drinks it herself.

I envision Elinor perhaps quickly chugging a large goblet of wine or maybe throwing back a small glass like a shot, but maybe she just sits by herself and sips it – slowly. In any case, I found the whole scene very funny and a microcosm of the Dashwood sisters’ larger story.  Their inwardness and outwardness project the confinements placed on them by their society. Given that Jane Austen has achieved rock star status some 200 years after her death, it’s not surprising that those same confinements (gender, lack of money) can still be recognized in society, today.

While Sense and Sensibility’s focus is on the Dashwood sisters with Elinor being the main contributor to the narration, it’s actually the story of these two women in addition to three men. The dashing Willoughby is the man who is the most “passionate” and outwardly seems to be the most rebellious – the man one might think would be the most likely to brush off those societal chains. But that’s not the case. His counterparts, Edward Ferrars and Colonel Brandon, both very straight-laced and what one could consider shy, become the rule breakers.

The more I think about this novel, the more I like it.

Jane Austen Read All

Sense and Sensibility is the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be published and the first in the Jane Austen Read-All-Along sponsored by James at James Reads Books, the goal of which is to read all of Jane Austen’s novels in the order of publication by the end of the year – one each month starting in July. In August, I’ll be re-reading Pride and Prejudice.

Dorothy Parker: Arrangement in Black and White (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 29)

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The woman with the pink velvet poppies wreathed round the assisted gold of her hair traversed the crowded room at an interesting gait combining a skip with a sidle, and clutched the lean arm of her host.

Wonderful Town

In “Arrangement in Black and White”, Dorothy Parker once again effectively uses the one-sided conversation for comedic effect. As a well-to-do party goer grabs the arm of her host, she talks his ear off about the party’s guest of honor, a well-known African American musician. As the “talker” rambles, she conveys to the host and the musician how open-minded she thinks she is when it comes to race relations.

The story intends to show just how much the woman is not open-minded and it succeeds in doing this with a humorous tone and situation maybe proving the woman to be ridiculous and idiotic. The problem with the story is that it suffers from what I call the All In The Family syndrome. If the reader already considers bigotry to be ridiculous and idiotic then they will read this story and say “See!” and perhaps laugh at the stupidity just as many did with the ground-breaking sitcom of the 1970’s. But its just as possible that a reader could go right along with the happy rambler approving of everything she says allowing the story to inadvertently glorify bigotry.

Bottom line: I doubt this story changed any minds when it was published in 1927 and I’m not sure it would change any minds ninety years later.

This story is included in my copy of Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker edited by David Remnick. I read it when I selected the Eight of Hearts for Week 29 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

Susan Sontag: The Way We Live Now (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 28)

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I was thinking, Ursula said to Quentin, that the difference between a story and a painting or photograph is that in a story you can write, He’s still alive, But in a painting or a photo you can’t show “still”. You can just show him being alive. He’s still alive, Stephen said.

Wonderful Town

Susan Sontag tells her story “The Way We Live Now” from a curious point of view or I should probably say points of view because almost each sentence comes from the thoughts of one of numerous friends of a dying man.

So many friends on the one hand can be a little distracting while reading the story; however, on the other hand, it amazingly illustrates the interconnectedness and community of all of these people. Sontag published the story in 1986, and while never mentioned, it becomes clear that the man is dying of AIDS. The large cast of characters not only gives many different ways in which these individuals deal with the disease but it also seems to represent the way the world had to deal with it then and has to deal with it now. And that dealing with it isn’t a choice.

This story is included in my copy of Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker edited by David Remnick. I read it when I selected the Nine of Hearts for Week 28 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis. And speaking of Jay, here is his post about this story from a few years ago.

 

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Absolution (Deal Me In 2017 – Week 27)

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There once was a priest with cold, watery eyes, who, in the still of the night, wept cold tears.

The above quotation, one of the best first lines I’ve read in a while, begins F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Absolution”. Of the Fitzgerald short stories I’ve read, this one ranks as my favorite and I’m pretty sure it will make it into my Top 10 at the end of this year.

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The priest’s perspective frames the story at the beginning and the end. In between, we get the perspective of eleven year-old Rudolph Miller and his father. Rudolph’s father, a devout Catholic, often loses his temper much to the detriment of Rudolph’s physical safety and his fragile psyche.

Much of the story involves Rudolph’s guilt as he lies to his father and to the priest at confession and then takes communion without confessing his “sins”. Fitzgerald’s elegant narration brilliantly captures the snowball effect of Rudolph’s inability to cover up each misdeed with another one culminating in the fear of being poisoned as the priest places the bread on his tongue.

As Rudolph heads for what seems like a breakdown, he finally tells the priest everything – not necessarily in the traditional confessional situation but in simply a one-on-one meeting. While the reader gets a hint at what the priest might be thinking at the beginning of the story, it comes as a surprise, albeit a very legitimate one, that the priest now has a breakdown and instead of giving Rudolph penance or punishment, he tells him to go to an amusement park:

“Well, go to an amusement park.” The priest waved his hand vaguely. “It’s a thing like a fair, only much more glittering. Go to one at night and stand a little way off from it in a dark place – under dark trees. You’ll see a big wheel made of lights turning in the air, and a long slide shooting boats down into the water. A band playing somewhere, and a smell of peanuts – and everything will twinkle. But it won’t remind you of anything, you see. It will all just hang out there in the night like a colored balloon – like a big, yellow lantern on a pole.”

According to Maureen Corrigan in her book So We Read On, this story has been considered a precursor to The Great Gatsby. Some minor details might point to this such as a brief mention that Rudolph is not from a wealthy family and Rudolph’s imagining himself as another person with another name – perhaps the way James Gatz became Jay Gatsby; however, if I had not been aware of this prior to reading the story, I don’t think I would have found much of a connection. The story stands on its own.

But then maybe the priest became the Gatsby character?

I read this story when I selected the Two of Spades (my second wild card in a row) for Week 27 of my Deal Me In 2017 short story project. It’s included in my copy of The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

 

 

 

Mark Twain’s “The Stolen White Elephant”

Mark Twain’s “The Stolen White Elephant” is another story with a very concise plot. In fact, I would say most of Twain’s stories have plots that don’t ramble and are very focused – usually focused toward what I would call a punchline or the culmination of a comical event.

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This story actually has a title that reflects the main point of the story (something I’ve found many of Twain’s stories do not do). A white elephant being delivered from the King of Siam to the Queen of England is stolen in New York. The gentlemen in charge of the elephant fears for his job as he reports the crime to New York detective Inspector Blunt.

The comedy comes from the bumbling actions of the Inspector and his team while the Inspector gives the impression that he is one of the sharpest detectives on the planet:

I am a ruined man and a wanderer on the earth – but my admiration for that man, whom I believe to be the greatest detective the world has ever produced, remains undimmed to this day, and will so remain unto the end.

It’s a fun story as most of Mark Twain’s stories are but I found it went on a little too long.

Mark Twain’s “The McWilliamses and the Burglar Alarm”

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“The McWilliamses and the Burglar Alarm” is the third of Mark Twain’s McWilliamses stories that I’ve read and it’s also the funniest. Perhaps its because Mrs. McWilliams isn’t really in this story although she does have a role to play. She can be annoying not only to her husband but to readers as well.

In this story, the comedy comes from Mr. McWilliams taking the advice of his wife (there’s her role) to buy a burglar alarm for their new house:

I will explain that whenever I want a thing, and Mrs. McWilliams wants another thing, and we decide upon the thing that Mrs. McWilliams wants – as we always do – she calls that a compromise.

Given that this is 1882, the alarm itself is a giant gong hanging over the couples’ bed. Even by today’s standards, that has comedy written all over it.

In addition, the burglars seem to be attracted to the alarm. So much so, that a whole slew of them end up as guests in the house. The intelligent conversations Mr. McWilliams has with many of the burglars only adds to the fun!

Here are my posts for the other McWilliamses stories:

Experience of the McWilliamses with Membranous Croup

Mrs. McWilliams and the Lightning

William Faulkner: That Evening Sun Go Down (Deal Me In 2017-Week 26)

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Nancy whispered something. It was oh or no, I don’t know which. Like nobody had made it, like it came from nowhere and went nowhere, until it was like Nancy was not there at all; that I had looked so hard at her eyes on the stair that they had got printed on my eyelids, like the sun does when you have closed your eyes and there is no sun.

There’s a lot to William Faulkner’s short story “That Evening Sun Go Down” – this story probably warrants more than one reading but here are some of the things I picked up.

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When Nancy, the servant woman of the Compson family repeatedly says “I ain’t nothing but a [racial slur]”, she is not only saying what she herself feels at that point in the story but she puts this into universal terms for anyone who has been oppressed because of their race. I think the fact that Faulkner has her repeat it gives it more power and emphasis than it might otherwise.

Then the repeated echo from five year-old Jason Compson “I ain’t a [racial slur]” contrasts Nancy’s oppression with an uncertain knowing on the part of a child. Jason has the understanding that comes with observation even at a young age but does not completely “get” Nancy’s circumstances or the deeper meaning behind her exclamation.

Uncertainty seems to play a role here. Mr. Jason (young Jason’s father) willingly takes the scared Nancy home each night. I admit to thinking that Mr. Jason has less than noble reasons for doing that; however, everything I read brings me to conclude that the father of the Compson children tries to do the right thing within his situation. Nancy and the children are both afraid. I’m not sure they are afraid for the same reasons.

I am familiar with the Compson children only from my numerous attempts to read Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. One day (will it be this year? I can’t promise), I will read that novel in its entirety and maybe more of Faulkner’s work.  I am more than willing to hear anyone else’s take on this story. Or their take on reading Faulkner in general.

It’s hard to believe that it is already the halfway point for Deal Me In 2017. I selected my first Wild Card, the Two of Diamonds, for Week 26. “That Evening Sun Go Down” is included in my copy of The Best American Short Stories of the Century edited by John Updike. My Deal Me In list can be found here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.