Normally, the birthday of CS Lewis would not be on my radar. Thanks to a fellow blogger who has created a Lewis reading event that I can’t wait to participate in, I have a reason to simultaneously acknowledge his date of birth, mention the reading event and share a poem of his I love.
Chris of Calmgrove has generously agreed to host a reading of CS Lewis’s, The Chronicles of Narnia, one book a month beginning this December. On the last Friday of the month (for December it will be the last Thursday) he will put up a post on his blog with some questions to prompt a discussion in the comment section. For the reading schedule and more information you can go here. I hope you’ll consider participating, even if you only want to join in once or twice. I am so looking forward to hearing all the different approaches to these books!
Interestingly, and it may just be me, but I don’t think of CS Lewis as a poet though I have not researched this. As a night-sky lover his poem, The Meteorite, popped up one day and became a favorite. It’s not the best poem ever written and I think it is a bit crudely shaped, but the imagery is vivid and the words a literary mix of science and nature, which I very much like. So happy birthday Mr. Lewis, I hope you know that all your various works are still being read and loved by a multitude across generations and continents.
The Meteorite, by CS Lewis
Among the hills a meteorite Lies huge; and moss has overgrown, And wind and rain with touches light Made soft, the contours of the stone.
Thus easily can Earth digest A cinder of sidereal fire, And make her translunary guest The native of an English shire.
Nor is it strange these wanderers Find in her lap their fitting place, For every particle that’s hers Came at the first from outer space.
All that is Earth has once been sky; Down from the sun of old she came, Or from some star that travelled by Too close to his entangling flame.
Hence, if belated drops yet fall From heaven, on these her plastic power Still works as once it worked on all The glad rush of the golden shower.
October turned out to be a very good writing month. I also took a trip to Arizona during the last week. It was the first trip in ages, a driving trip, which I always enjoy. The landscape of the desert is so different from that of the beach, but the dryer air and clearer skies were a very nice change. I heard coyotes and saw a javalina, I toured Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West, found “my” bagel place and had a wonderful visit with my sister. Now, I am waiting for the colder temperatures to come to make the rest of the year complete.
Having my mom here has been a lot of fun. She is also a big reader and has already plucked from my shelves Venetia, The Egg and I, a biography of the California poet Robinson Jeffers and several contemporary novels. She belongs to a book club so there is lots of quiet reading time in this house.
Although I posted more this month, I did not finish a lot of books and I am way behind on my Goodreads challenge. But goals are only directional signals, not actions written in stone. Right? Oh well…
What I Read and Posted
A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett A Stitch in Time, Penelope Lively Classic Club Spin #28 The Spin gods chose number 12, which means I will be reading The Matriarch (1924), by G.B. Stern. This book has been on my shelf for a very long time, but I know nothing about it or the author!
Two on a Tower, Thomas Hardy Martha by the Day, Julie Mathilde Lippmann
As November begins I’ve decided to join in on Nonfiction November and in keeping with trying to read as much from my shelves as possible this year, instead of buying more books, I created this short list to choose from:
1. A Summer of Hummingbirds. The intersecting lives of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Martin Johnson Heade. I love reading about authors who knew each other.
2. Something From the Oven. About food and dinner culture in the 1950s and how gadgets changed the way we eat. And the 50s were so interesting for kitchen gadgets.
3. To College Girls. A guide from a dad as his daughter went off to college, published in 1911. Historical etiquette and morality books are fun to read. What were the expectations of behavior for young women at that time?
4. The Natural History of Selborne. Published in the late 1700s, I can’t wait to see what people thought of the natural world and do we have anything in common in our time?
5. The Grape Cure, first published in 1928, this is the food fad book of the time that would “cure” any disease with grapes. Lots of grapes. Hmmm.
I am hoping to read Hermnan Hesse’s, Siddhartha for Novellas in November and that’s the only title I have, so far.
My Thomas Hardy year has gone very well with two more to go. This month we’re reading The Well-Beloved. And I hope for some spontaneous reads, including one from my Classics Club list.
More from Taliesin West
This year has passed very quickly for me and I can hardly believe 2022 is fast approaching. I hope this has been a good year for you and that travels, day trips and better times are ahead for us all.
Somehow, something always happens just before things get to the very worst. It is as if the Magic did it. If I could only just remember that always….What next, now? Something will come if I think and wait a little…the Magic will tell me.
I was deeply touched by this book. The coping mechanism that helped Sara Crewe survive the cruelty thrown at her, tugged at my heart strings. She reminded me of countless children who find themselves in situations beyond their control, and figure out a way to rise above the physical pain and heartache. The ability to develop an imagination that becomes so visceral that you can feel warmth when you are cold or feel full when you are hungry helped Sara survive.
Her life is happy for her first seven years and though her mother died at her birth, she is very close with her father who gives her the best in material and emotional comfort. Sara was born in India, so it is with great sadness that she leaves her father and the surroundings she feels safe in, to come to London to finish her education. Her father believes Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies is the best place for Sara and is not disappointed when the two arrive at the school and he is promised Sara will be given everything he wants for her. Sara has her own room, a pony, dolls and toys and beautiful custom made clothes of the richest materials. He leaves Sara believing she is in good hands.
Sara is a kind and friendly girl and wants nothing more than the friendship of other girls that she lacked as a solitary child in India. Even at such a young age, though, she is intellectually more advanced than most of the older girls and this, coupled with the discovery of Mr. Crewe’s business in diamond mines makes Sara fodder for mockery as a princess who is too good for the other girls. Miss Minchin does nothing stop the growing distance between the various factions at the school and in fact encourages it with her obviously mean-spirited elevation of Sara’s position at the school. For four years, Sara lives in a liminal state of sometimes acceptance and sometimes suspicion among the school girls, but handles it with poise and the knowledge of her father’s love.
Sara’s fortunes literally change overnight when her father dies. She is immediately stripped of all her possessions and moved to an attic room that is dirty, bare of comfort and comes with a resident rat. Sara’s position is now that of drudge, errand girl and the object of abuse from the staff. Miss Minchin takes particular delight in Sara’s downfall believing herself magnanimous for not turning her out into the street. Sara’s misery is extensive as she is worked to exhaustion in all kinds of weather in clothes that are too small and with shoes with holes. The older girls also delight in Sara’s situation never missing the opportunity to humiliate or mock “the heiress” of the diamond mines as they taunt her.
…From day to day the duties given to her were added to. It was found she could be made use of in numberless directions. She could be sent on errands at any time and in all weathers. She could be told to do things other people neglected. The cook and housemaids took their tone from Miss Minchin, and rather enjoyed ordering about the “young one” who had been made so much fuss over for so long….it was frequently convenient to have at hand someone on whom blame could be laid.
But Sara has managed to hold her tongue throughout all this verbal and physical abuse by imagining herself as a secret princess of lost fortune, who will somehow be vindicated. As such she must maintain an even, if not happy, countenance, because that’s how a princess would behave. It is important to note that Sara doesn’t pretend to be a princess in order to pretend she has no troubles; she imagines herself a princess to get through her troubles. She is very well aware of her ill treatment and willful abuse at the hands of the adults around her who should know better; this mistreatment by the staff, who see her as a scapegoat for their own feelings of frustration and inequality. Instead, she has chosen her behavior, which is key. In seeing herself as a princess it is her coping mechanism, but also her morality. A princess might be mad inside and want to lash out, but she overcomes that negative emotion to be kind. She’s not stuffing down her feelings, but making a choice to act differently. This is what both amazes as well as infuriates the older school girls as well as Miss Minchin.
There comes a cold, rainy day when Sara’s hunger is burning more than usual in her belly and her holey shoes and thin dress have chilled her to the bone. The weather has made her late returning to the school and she is sent upstairs without dinner. This is truly a turning point for Sara as she climbs the stairs cold and hungry, her dinner being withheld when she is never given enough to begin with–she is unable to mount anything positive to get her through.
To tell anymore would give away the story, that in a separate story line an Indian gentleman moves in next door, with an assistant Sara gets to know after capturing his escaped monkey. And because they have India and various customs in common he takes special note of her….
This is my first reading of A Little Princess, though I knew of it (and ok, I’ve seen the Shirley Temple film several times!), but I was surprised by the details of overwork and cruelty Sara and her partner in abuse, the scullery maid, Becky were subjected to. Children like this are worked as if they are not human. And sadly, if one can’t take it or is worked to death, there are always others to take their place.
Burnett does a fine job with the contrast between rich and poor with Sara’s rise and fall and with the “Large” wealthy family that lives in the neighborhood. Peering through the windows at the well-dressed, well-fed children Sara knows there is still love in the world, even in her dark days. It is this and her imagination that allows her to live through all the humiliation and cruelty.
This is a children’s story, but I think there is something here for adults. At least there is for me.
During the first month or two, Sara thought that her willingness to do things as well as she could, and her silence under reproof might soften those who drove her so hard. In her proud little heart she wanted them to see that she was trying to earn her living and not accepting charity. But the time came when she saw that no one was softened at all; and the more willing she was to do as she was told, the more domineering and exacting careless housemaids became, and the more ready a scolding cook was to blame her.
I must say I’ve often thought it would have been better if you had been less severe on Sara Crewe, and had seen that she was decently dressed and more comfortable. I know she was worked too hard for a child of her age, and I know she was only half-fed…The child was a clever child and a good child–and she would have paid you for any kindness you had shown her. But you didn’t show her any. The fact was, she was too clever for you, and you always disliked her for that reason.
Perhaps there is a soul hidden in everything and it can always speak, without even making a sound, to another soul. But whatsoever was the reason, the rat knew from that moment that he was safe–even though he was a rat. He knew that this young human being sitting on the red footstool would not jump up and terrify him with wild, sharp noises or throw heavy objects at him…When he stood on his hind legs and sniffed the air, with his bright eyes fixed on Sara, he had hoped that she would understand this, and would not begin by hating him as an enemy. When the mysterious thing which speaks without saying any words told him that she would not, he went softly toward the crumbs and began to eat them.
Title: A Little Princess Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett Publisher: HarperFestival Date: 1905 Device: Trade Paperback Pages: 324
For anyone unfamiliar with the Classics Club, you can check them out here. The Spin is a list of 20 books you choose from your list and number 1-20. On October 17th, the Spin Gods will announce a number from 1-20 and that corresponding number on your list is the book you read to be completed by December 12th.
My…that is a chunk of time this time around. Perfect for a, uh, chunkster 🙂
Good luck to all participating. Hopefully, I will see you with my Spin before that date!
Frances Hodgson Burnett 1. The Little Princess (1905)
Fanny Burney 2. Evelina (1778)
Willa Cather 3.My Antonia (1918)
George Eliot 4. The Mill on the Floss (1860)
Elizabeth Gaskell 5. Mary Barton (1848)
George Gissing 6. The Odd Women (1893)
Thomas Hardy 7. Tess of the D’Urbervilles (1891)
William Dean Howells 8. The Rise of Silas Lapham (1884)
Aldus Huxley 9. Brave New World (1932)
George Meredith 10. The Egoist (1879)
Sir Walter Scott 11. Ivanhoe (1819)
G.B. Stern 12. The Matriarch (1924)
William Thackeray 13. Vanity Fair (1847)
Virginia Woolf 14. The the Lighthouse (1927)
Emile Zola 15. Ladies Paradise (1883)
Johanna Brandt 16. The Grape Cure (1928)
Le Baron Russell Briggs 17. To College Girls (1911)
Cornelia Otis Skinner & Emily Kimbrough 18. Our Hearts were Young and Gay (1942)
Glibert White 19. The Natural History of Selborne (1789)
Oscar Wilde 20. The Importance of Being Ernest (first performed, February 14, 1895)
Eleven year-old Maria Foster talks to inanimate objects. She has conversations with cats and trees, too. It is clear she is curious and smart and the conversations she begins with her parents, based on what she has observed in the world or something she read leave them bewildered, as if they just don’t know what to do with a girl so serious and deep. So only-child Maria has created a world where objects listen and engage, give her advice and solace in ways her family cannot.
We meet the Foster family on their summer holiday to Lyme Regis. They are staying in an old Victorian house for a month. It has a resident cat, furniture that has seen decades of wear and an old tree in the backyard perfect for Maria to sit in and ponder. Next door is a small hotel where families of holiday makers are spending the summer and from her perch she notices one particular family with one particular boy. Once they meet Maria and Martin, after some initial hesitation, find in each other kindred spirits interested in the larger questions of life. They roam the hills and beaches picking up fossils, observing the varied geology of the land, which leads to a discussion of evolution when they visit a nearby museum.
In a complementary story line, Maria has become obsessed with a girl her age named Harriet who lived in the house Maria’s family is renting a hundred years ago. A photograph of a piece of Harriet’s embroidery with an ominous signature has captured Maria’s imagination. She is convinced Harriet died young and is determined to find out her story. She keeps most of her thoughts to herself until she makes a small attempt to share them with Martin. Mostly, though, she is content to have found an exploring buddy who shares her new found interests in the fossils and geology of the hills and cliffs they wander.
There are wonderful supernatural elements in the story that affect only Maria besides the cat, the petrol pump and the tree that she has conversations with: there is an insistent sound of a barking dog and the creaking noise of a swing in motion. Maria scours the neighborhood for physical evidence of these to no avail and as this part of the story unfolds they play an important part in the mystery of Harriet.
As Maria explores both her inner and outer worlds she grows in confidence and acceptance of herself and can acknowledge that what she thinks about and what interests her are genuine and noble. She has become communicative and expressive with her mother who is finally able to see and understand this daughter who had always seemed so shut up within herself.
A really wonderful book about a smart, serious, curious kind of girl that should be celebrated!
And thanks to Simon and Karen for creating these various clubs that have helped me find books and authors I may not have discovered otherwise.
The cat sat down beside her, disposed, it seemed, for a chat. “No,” said Maria, “I don’t think I’m going to let you talk any more. Sometimes you say uncomfortable things. Though actually I think I am getting a bit better at not being made uncomfortable.”
“P’raps” said Maria, “they turn into the kind of people they are because the things that happen to them make them like that.” Like I’m shy and I talk to myself because of the sort of family I live with and Martin’s like he is because he’s got a different kind of family. “You are a bit peculiar sometimes,” [Martin] added, “You were talking to that tree yesterday. I heard. You were sitting in it and you suddenly said, ‘Oh, Quercus ilex…'”
Title: A Stitch in Time Author: Penelope Lively Publisher: HarperCollins Children’s Books Date: 1976 Device: Trade Paperback Pages: 221
Here in Southern California Fall has arrived. Seasonal changes are usually more subtle here than other regions of the country, but not so this year. We’ve already had a rain storm, an odd and eerie thunder (no lightening) event and the temps in the early morning are in the 50s. It is wonderful to walk now, bundled up as the sun peaks up over the horizon. I hope everyone is safe, healthy and enjoying the year as it changes to warmer or cooler temps, depending on where you live.
September was one of the best reading and blogging months I’ve had in a long time. I had my second cataract surgery at the beginning of the month and it healed speedily with the result I was hoping for: the new lens matches my other eye and I still don’t have to wear glasses to read. And, of course, everything is so much cleaner and clearer and has made a difference in the ease and pleasure of reading again. Thank God for modern medicine.
Books Read Two on a Tower, Thomas Hardy The Burning Girls, CJ Tudor Period Piece, Gwen Raverat The Wild Silence, Raynor Winn The Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently, Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Brettler The Night Lake, Liz Tichenor Martha by the Day, Julie Mathilde Lippmann
RIP Well, I should know by now that what I say I am going to read for RIP and what I actually read are two different things. While I did start and will continue with HP Lovecraft’s, “The Call ofCthulhu” I got waylaid by other works. When The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton arrived, I had to dig in. And after I read Sarah Orne Jewett’s “A White Heron” I continued with the short story collection and found some spooky stories there. I’ll write up some next month.
October For RIP, I’ll finish The Call of Cthulhu and I really do think I will reread The War of the Worlds, which I am really looking forward to…but who knows…!
The “Club” is this month and Simon at Stuck in a Book has designated the year 1976 for October. My choice is Penelope Lively’s, A Stitch in Time.
I’ll be reading Shakespeare’s, The Tempest for Witch Week.
The Thomas Hardyyear continues with the short story collection, Life’s Little Ironies
Hmm, that’s a pretty full dance card, but I’m sure there will be room for spontaneous reads.
Other Reading News I have discovered a new podcast thanks to Juliana at The [Blank] Garden, who put up a post on The Lost Ladies of Lit. It is a wonderful podcast that showcases little known and forgotten women writers. I am learning so much and have already ordered a book from an episode and more are definitely to follow.
Lizzie Ross is doing daily posts for Banned Books Week that I have found fascinating. Check them out for some enlightening content.
That’s it for me. If you’ve done a September wrap-up let me know in the comments below. I wish you….
Eight-year old Sylvia came to her grandmother’s house in the woods a year ago to help the old woman with farm chores. She has taken to this new life very easily and now, as her grandmother says, “There ain’t a foot o’ ground she don’t know her way over, and the wild creatures counts her one o’ themselves. Squer’ls she’ll tame to come and feed right out o’ her hands, and all sorts o’ birds….
In the evenings her job is to bring home Mistress Mooly, the family cow, from the neighboring woods. The cow’s love of her freedom is often a game of hide and seek and when Sylvia finally finds her she leads the girl on a begrudging walk home. On a particularly difficult night with Mooly, it is late when they start for home. A young hunter intercepts the pair asking Sylvia for food and a place to sleep for the night. Sylvia is wary, but her grandmother welcomes him as a guest. At dinner Sylvia is an enthusiastic listener as the guest speaks of his life as an ornithologist who hunts birds for study and display. He is in this area in search of the elusive white heron he believes is in the vicinity and has promised ten dollars to whomever can lead him to it.
Sylvia is a little unnerved at this but because she knows the woods so well accompanies him the next day. Ten dollars is a fortune to her impoverished grandmother. She has seen the great bird flying above the tree tops and may know where its nest is located, though if she leads him to it, he will kill the bird.
But she is excited to see if she is right and steals away in the early morning and climbs the great pine in hopes of finding the nest. At the top she is stunned into silence as the bird lands on a branch close to her and calls to its mate in the nest Sylvia can see is nearby. In companionable silence “with murmur of the pine’s green branches in her ears,…they watched the sea and morning together.” As she climbs down the tree, she wonders how the day will go when she tells the stranger how to find his bird and the ten dollar reward given to her grandmother.
As Sylvia comes to the farmhouse the guest is ready for the day and both he and her grandmother, who discovered she was not in her bed, are waiting for her to tell them where and what she found.
Here she comes now, paler than ever, and her worn old frock is torn and tattered, and smeared with pine pitch. The grandmother and the sportsman stand in the door and question her, and the splendid moment has come to speak….He can make them rich with money; he has promised it, and they are poor now. He is so well worth making happy, and he waits to hear the story she can tell.
This is a moral dilemma no 8-year old should have to face. Sylvia loves her grandmother and knows what this money would do for her. Yet, she came here from a city life full of fear and loneliness where she was bullied and neglected and now finds safety and peace and a life with purpose. And most importantly, an easy friendship with the animals and birds of the neighborhood, beings she has come to love, who acknowledge her as friend, who wait for her each day outside her front door. And now she must answer which is more of value, the worth of the magnificent bird’s life or money in her grandmother’s pocket. What will she do?
When the editor at the Atlantic Monthly turned down “A White Heron” Jewett writes that “her friend, Mr. [William Dean] Howells, explained to me that this age frowns upon the romantic, that it is no use to write romance any more [sic], but dear me, how much of it there is left in every-day life after all….but what shall I do with my ‘White Heron’ now she is written? She isn’t a very good magazine story, but I love her, and I mean to keep her for the beginning of my next book.”
And she did-right at the beginning-to great acclaim by both readers and critics alike. A critic for the Overland Monthly singled out “A White Heron” as a “tiny classic. One little episode of child-life, among birds and woods makes it up; and the secret soul of a child, the appeal of the bird to its instinctive honor and tenderness, never were interpreted with more beauty and insight.”
What to make of editors and critics, eh? Writers take note….trust your guts, stand by your work and don’t give up!
Title: A White Heron Author: Sarah Orne Jewett Publisher: Solis Press Date: 1886 Device: Trade Paperback Pages: 11
“Human life is sacred,” he said sententiously. “Ah, that must have been decreed by someone who had never suffered!” Justine exclaimed.
The Fruit of the Tree is a departure from most Edith Wharton novels that deal with the superficiality and hypocrisy of the lives of the upper class. While that plays a role here, the novel concentrates on the life of factory assistant manager, John Amherst, whose interest in bettering the conditions of the workers put him at odds with the wealthy owners. He is in a constant battle of explaining the evils of exploitation and the benefits of humane working conditions to the Westmore family who are not supportive
Now, young Richard Westmore, the owner of the mills, has died and his wife is named heir and overseer. When John Amherst and Bessy Westmore meet for the first time, he takes her on a tour of the factory and she meets some of the laborers. As they explain their jobs she sees through Amherst’s explanations that the dangers they are confronted with could be mediated by more updated equipment and a different philosophy of production. She is shocked by a recent accident on the factory line that left a young family man hospitalized, whose livelihood is now in jeopardy. John continues to speak of the morality of a working environment that is clean and safe, where the workers don’t have to come in sick because they have medical care or worry about their babies due to onsite child care and where adult education gives them opportunity for advancement.
As John and Bessy fall in love it is more than an opportunist’s dream for John who is convinced he has turned Bessy from a disinterested carefree young woman to his partner in humanizing the lives of the people she has become responsible for. But the first blush of altruism for Bessy begins to fade when she realizes the time that must be spent “working” though she is still supportive of John’s aims and goals.
When Bessy’s childhood friend, the idealistic nurse Justine Brent, meets John at the bedside of an injured worker conflict arises between the three.
The marriage between John and Bessy is never peaceful. Bessy’s business advisors, friends of her deceased first husband, are always at odds with John’s plans for the factory and are constantly challenging her to stop him. They tell her that she should be concerned with the financial outlay and that John’s ideas do not guarantee a return on the money. When a horse riding accident puts her life in jeopardy any support for John and the factory wanes. John never loses his motivation for reform, though, and tries to press on. He has also lost the encouragement of Justine whose own life takes a turn when she makes a devastating decision prompting her to leave.
Thoughts Wharton tackles many social and personal issues in this novel. One in particular reminds me of The House of Mirth. Without giving away an important plot twist, she has a character deal with the problem of chronic pain and the medical use of drugs. When Wharton was writing The House of Mirth she went to a chemist to understand sleeping draughts and their potency. She asked how a person would know to increase the dosage without killing themself. While the question in that novel considers a death by suicide or natural causes, the question in this novel is the morality euthanasia.
Wharton always draws her characters with such depth. It is easy to understand, though not always easy to agree on their motivations and here it is no different. John Amherst is committed to factory reform against all the odds thrown at him. Bessy grew up a typical materialistic girl, but has a big heart that has been opened to the inequities of real life. She struggles to do the right thing, but it is not easy for her, especially after she understands that John’s commitment to his beliefs infringe upon the luxuries she is accustomed to. Justine just wants everyone to be treated fairly, but comes up against the harsh lessons that being a woman of the working class entails. Suffice it to say, there is no happy ending for anyone in this novel, but perhaps with the passage time all the roughness with will smooth out….
But life is not a matter of abstract principles, but a succession of pitiful compromises with fate, of concessions to old traditions, old beliefs, old charities and frailties….And she had humbled herself to accept the lesson, seeing human relations at last as a tangled and deep-rooted growth, a dark forest through which the idealist cannot cut his straight path without hearing at each stroke the cry of the severed branch, “Why wounded thou me?”
Her world, in short, had been chiefly peopled by the dull or the crude, and, hemmed in between the two, she had created for herself an inner kingdom where the fastidiousness she had to set aside in her outward relations recovered its full sway. There must be actual beings worthy of admission to the secret precinct, but hither to they had not come her way; and the sense that they were somewhere just out of reach still gave an edge of youthful curiosity to each encounter with a new group of people.
“I’ve no head for business—but I will try to.” “It’s not business that I mean; it’s the personal relationship—just the thing the business point of view leaves out. Financially, I don’t suppose your mills could be better run; but there are over seven hundred women working in them, and there’s so much to be done, just for them and their children.” “I have always understood that Mr. Truscomb did everything—“ “Do you leave it to your little girl’s nurses to do everything for her?”
Title: The Fruit of the Tree Author: Edith Wharton Publisher: Northeastern University Press Date: 1907 Device: Trade Paperback Pages: 633
Nature is so grim. The city, which represents it so effectively, is also so grim. It does not care at all. It is not conscious. The passing of so small an organism as that of a man or woman is nothing to it.
Carrie Meeber, or Sister Carrie as her family calls her, is a common type of her day—the small town girl, usually from the Midwest, who sets out to the big city to try her hand at independence before marriage, to send money home or to escape the strictures of domestic life altogether. Once in the city these young women are often rudely awakened and unprepared for the ruthlessness by which people exist, often falling into the temptation of making money at any cost.
New industries springing up lure young and inexperienced women with promises of a steady paycheck, the thing they came to the city for in the first place. But once on the payroll they are exploited by long hours and tedious work with no real prospects of change. The thought of going back home is humiliating after being sent off by enthusiastic hopeful families. The only recourse besides marriage, if she can find a good man, is to harden herself to the exploitation and accept the challenges to her sexual and moral values.
Published in 1900 and one of the best books I’ve read this year, Sister Carrie tells the story of Carrie Meeber, who is fresh off the train from a small town in Wisconsin. She has come to Chicago to live with her sister’s family and to find work and a better life.
She finds, however, that her enthusiasm and naivete for this new life has prevented her from realizing she has no skills, so she is only suited for the repetitive tedium and physical stress of factory work. A prolonged illness forces her to quit and her sister and brother-in-law threaten to send her home if she can’t financially contribute.
Life never really stabilizes for Carrie, even though she is rescued by a kindhearted salesman she meets on the train from Wisconsin, who sets her up in an apartment of her own. Though he is kind, it is assumed they will marry. But Carrie is swept off her feet by a wealthy sophisticated older, but married man, who promises her a secure loving future, although he keeps putting her off. In a moment of unpremeditated greed, he commits a crime and they escape from their obligations in Chicago.
Through several years on the run and with a deteriorating relationship and finances Carrie is fed up with being taken care of by others. Now in New York City, she tries her hand on the stage and in no time is the darling of the theater world with an income that gives her the material security she’s never known. Will she be happy and finally content?
Dreiser writes a gripping and realistic narrative, peopled by those affected by the drudgery and monotony of factory life as well as those whose wealth is second nature.
The cities, too, of Chicago and New York are like secondary characters with mood swings of temperature and climate, of a humanity of impersonality and uncaring hearts. Both direct the course of daily life when thread bare clothes and holey shoes are no match for winter and a trek to a job is impossible; they kill, literally, when flop houses are booked for the night, bodies packed tightly in dirty beds or when a man is just pennies short of the fee and forced to spend the night in the elements. To survive seems like a combination of determined grittiness and just plain luck. A memorable, sad and poignant story.
The inspiration for this novel comes from Dreiser’s own experience of coming to the city to make his fortune. Moving to New York to live with his sister, he experienced great difficulty in finding work. After a day of futility and disappointment—this was during the depression of 1893-94—he sat down on a park bench and found himself observing other men, the down and out, also looking for work. He had been introduced to the concept of social Darwinism and he began to imagine a society in which corporations and the control they had over workers, led to a City version of survival of the fittest. And Carrie Meeber was born.
“All men should be good, all women virtuous. Wherefore, villain, hast thou failed?”
“The long drizzle had begun. Pedestrians had turned up collars and trousers at the bottom. Hands were hidden in the pockets of the umbrella-less – umbrellas were up. The street looked like a sea of round, black-cloth roofs, twisting, bobbing, moving. Trucks and vans were rattling in a noisy line, and everywhere men were shielding themselves as best they could.”
“The nature of these vast retail combinations, should they ever permanently disappear, will form an interesting chapter in the commercial history of our nation.”
“She looked into her glass and saw a prettier Carrie than she had seen before; she looked into her mind, a mirror prepared of her own and the world’s opinions, and saw a worse. Between these two images she wavered, hesitating which to believe.”
Title: Sister Carrie Author: Theodore Dreiser Publisher: New American Library, Signet Classics Date: 1900 Device: Paperback Pages: 487
I have a book review scheduled for this week, which could mean the start of something!
I caught a blog post by Karen at Booker Talk recently that spoke about what to do when you don’t feel like writing book reviews. It was rather comforting and the comments were very helpful. I try to remember I am doing this blog because I want to, so what does it mean when I don’t?
I was a bit worried that I was just going to stop altogether, but now that my mom has settled in I realize I had lost my rhythm of reading and writing, because other priorities had come to the fore. But a rhythm to our days is emerging and as a creature of habit and routine the flow was missing and I had to wait until a new routine emerged.
At any rate, it’s Fall and this season brings many events that always get me excited.
RIP (September and October): My plan for this year is to concentrate on collections by two authors, HP Lovecraft’s short stories in September and HG Wells in October, particularly his collection called, The Stolen Bacillus and other Incidents. I really want to reread The War of the Worlds sometime and maybe this will be the time, but I am not sure. I have had these compendiums by both authors on my Kindle for years, so it’s time to get to them!
Witch Week in October (31-Nov 6), is always an intriguing experience. Hosted by Chris and Lizzie this year’s theme is ‘Treason and Plot’ and I can’t wait to see what they come up with!
Narniathon-Not until November, but Chris at Calmgrove has graciously offered to create a Narnia Chronicles reading event: Read one book a month and discuss in the comment section of the blog post. What a joy to read these books as a readalong!
I am well behind my Goodreads Yearly Challenge, but I *have* been reading. The highlights of the last three months, include The Fruit of the Tree by Edith Wharton, Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, China Court by Rumer Godden and The Order by Daniel Silva.
Wishing you all well in health and safety as we go into Fall and Winter. Rest when you need to.
“The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of room, not try to be or do anything whatever.” ― May Sarton