Anyone for Forewords?

The Classic Club’s monthly meme for August poses an interesting question:  Do you read forewords/notes that precede many classics?  Does it help you or hurt you in your enjoyment/understanding of the work?

Right off the bat, I will have to say that I usually do not read forewords or notes.  I’d rather get right to the story and read it for myself.  In the case of many books, I tell myself that I will read the foreword or the notes after I’m finished; however, I typically am ready to move on to the next book by then.

I’m more likely to read a foreword if I recognize the author.  In a rare instance, I’ve actually read a foreword by Vladamir Nabakov for Charles Dicken’s Bleak House but still have not read Bleak House.  Here’s the beginning paragraph:

We are now ready to tackle Dickens.  We are now ready to embrace Dickens.  We are now ready to bask in Dickens.  In our dealings with Jane Austen we had to make a certain effort in order to join the ladies in the drawing room.  In the case of Dickens we remain at table with our tawny port.

After reading this, I couldn’t help but read the rest of it.  Maybe someday I will actually read Bleak House.

This year, I’ve read two books in which I have read the forewords/notes in small pieces as I was reading the book.  The first one was for Gone With The Wind (it was actually a preface – I’m sure there’s a difference).  It was written by South Carolina novelist, Pat Conroy.  I’ve enjoyed Conroy’s novels and his insights into Gone With The Wind were worth reading. The afterword to my editon of Moby-Dick by Denham Sutcliffe of Kenyon College helped immensely as I read what is shaping up to be my favorite book of 2013.

What is your opinion on notes and forewords for classic novels?  Have you read any that are especially memorable?

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“…tomorrow is another day.”

When Will Benteen gives Gerald O’Hara’s eulogy, he suggests that Gerald would never have been “licked” (or defeated) from the outside; however, he was defeated from the inside.  This scene confirmed for me what others have already said about Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind.  The novel is quintessentially American.  I have to consider the manner in which she presents the world in her novel “as is” to be nothing short of brave and American.  The story Mitchell weaves includes the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.  She doesn’t mince words or whitewash anything.

I’ve read several thoughts about Mitchell’s use of her two heroines, Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Wilkes.  On the surface, they seem to be polar opposites and some have attempted to determine that Mitchell wanted one of them to be the true heroine.  I am not an expert on Margaret Mitchell; however, I’m not convinced I need to pick one of these women as the true heroine of the story.  It’s a given that Scarlett is on almost every page and the majority of the narrative comes from her perspective.  While Scarlett is the strong one, the survivor, she comes to this conclusion about Melanie, the seemingly weaker of the two:

Suddenly she (Scarlett) was standing at Tara again with the world about her ears, desolate with the knowledge that she could not face life without the terrible strength of the weak, the gentle, the tender hearted.

I think Mitchell paints a picture of personalities and relationships much more complex than a simple either/or.

I simply flat-out loved this story.  While as much as the characters of Scarlett and Melanie intrigued me, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the men – especially Rhett Butler.  I found myself respecting the self-proclaimed scoundrel more than I realized.  The way he was able to see through the politics as usual and could play both sides to his advantage never ceased to amaze me and make me laugh out loud.  He seemed to always be a step ahead of everyone in knowing who would be in power.  This is my favorite of his lines and quips (of which there are many) and of course he says it to Scarlett:

“My pet, I’ve been to the devil and he’s a very dull fellow.  I won’t go there again, even for you.”

If Mitchell shows weakness in a poor light, it would probably be through the character of Ashley Wilkes.  His inability to adjust to changing times stood in stark contrast to Rhett.  I don’t think it takes much to figure out who Mitchell considered to have “gumption” among the men.  I don’t think it was Ashley.

It seemed tragic for so many of the characters to not realize who they loved or didn’t love until it was too late – but perhaps it wasn’t too late- perhaps tomorrow really is another day.

Here are the other posts I have about Gone With The Wind:

A Classic Surprise

“gumption” in Gone With The Wind

“gumption” in Gone With The Wind

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, I’ve been making frequent posts about short stories.  That’s because I’m still reading Gone With The Wind.  I’m on page 852 to be exact – about 600 more to go.  As I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t seen the movie, either, so I don’t know how everything will end, yet.

The “about the author” section of my book reveals that Margaret Mitchell’s motivation in writing this novel was to portray people who survive as opposed to people who don’t.  Her word for this ability to keep going was “gumption”.  Unless the novel takes a strange turn in the last 600 pages, Scarlett O’Hara will rank up there as one of my favorite literary heroines – and there’s no doubt that she is a survivor:  one with gumption.  I’m still uncertain about Melanie Wilkes, Scarlett’s sister-in-law.  Her almost altruistic character raises some questions in my mind about what Mitchell thought it takes to survive.  What makes up gumption?  Is selfishness or selflessness a part of it or does it take a little of both?  It was a pleasant surprise when Melanie grabbed the feet of the Yankee that Scarlett killed and dragged his body out of Tara with his head clunking on the porch steps.  Scarlett was impressed, too.   She recognized a “steel” in Melanie that until then had been unrecognizable.  Right now, I’m rooting for both of them.

A Classic Surprise

I have a confession to make:  I’ve never known exactly what Rhett Butler didn’t give a damn about.  While I still don’t know because I’m only 400 pages into Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, my guess is that I will find out.  In spite of the movie (which I haven’t seen) leaving an indelible impression on pop culture for the better part of the last century, the novel itself only popped up on my radar in the last few years.

The February Meme from The Classics Club asks:

“What classic has most surprised you so far, and why?”

I have been surprised how quickly Mitchell pulls me into her novel’s world.  With unabashed pride, she paints a picture of 1860’s Georgia that I won’t be forgetting any time soon – and I still have over 1,000 pages to go.  I’ve been surprised at how well her novel incorporates the political complexities facing the United States during that time.  I’m surprised at how enthralled I am with the vivid characterizations of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara but am equally intrigued by Melanie and Ashley Wilkes.  I’ve been surprised to learn that at the onset of the Civil War, Atlanta was only about twenty-five years old while her sister coastal cities of Charleston and Savannah were moving into their third century.

The cover of my edition (see below) looks like a book one might find next to the magazine rack at the grocery store.  While romance is a big part of this novel, I’ve been surprised to find that Gone With The Wind is much more.

Look for another post when I finish reading it!