#121 & 122.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012 10:12
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Two books I read on the plane. Expect me to read basically nothing else until December rolls around... still, it's been a good run! I definitely didn't expect to read over a hundred books this year.

A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.

SO GREAT. This should basically be required reading for everyone, and I am glad to see that in some places it is.

that's all I have to say without quoting

I'm pretty sure I read the original 1980 edition so I'd love to read the extended new one?!

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte.

God, the Brontes are so religious, and I am... really not into Christianity or Judeo-Christian tradition. The thing about reading Charlotte & Anne as part of this essential Western first wave of feminism is that they're so concerned with how to behave in a way that is right & good, which I like, but inevitably they end up connecting that to God & religion, which I don't care about? I haven't read any George Eliot, and that's a huge blind spot in my experience of '19th century British women novelists', actually, so I'm not sure how religious she is, but a good counterpoint is Jane Austen, who almost never talks about God.

I mostly liked this, partly because I'm convinced the point of Markham's narration in the first part is really a slow, careful, and damning dissection of male privilege (Markham demanding Helen Huntingdon's affections, thinking but why doesn't she like meeee, hoping to gain the affections of her son to get closer to her, and demanding explanations), and that the second narration, the Helen-perspective, is actually all about how male privilege enables brutality and abuse. By reading of Helen's experiences Markham is led to unlearn his male privilege. (I bet Markham was shuffling all throughout the bit where Helen writes about being pursued unsavorily by Hargrave.) That's actually where the first person point of view lets us down: I read the foreword and the writer quoted some dude who was like, "Instead of it being a diary, she should have had Helen tell the story to her ~benighted lover~, all the better for her narrative to be punctuated by her lover's ~shocked gasps~ and ~tender apologies~!" Which... ahahaha, oh Victorians. But also:true! I find that the novel as it stands actually leaves out the most interesting bits of the story: Helen's recovery, Markham's internalisation of Helen's experiences, how their marriage plays out (because it is essentially a Second Chance that is meant to succeed, being based on moderate affection and mutual respect, but we never see how the dynamics of that happening), etc.

Another example of how things are fleshed out so unsatisfactorily in the novel: the Hattersleys! Because, shit, one of the most gutting portrayals of abuse in the book - "I sometimes think she has no feeling at all; and then I go on until she cries - and that satisfies me" - and then a speedy reform is effected when Helen shows Ralph Hattersley the ~true depth~ of his wife's feelings, or whatever, and he's a model husband from the day on. Unsatisfactory, simplistic, boring and fucking offensive.

I will say this though: I always find Victorian accounts of degeneracy very quaint, mostly because there's no instinctive shockhorror at the revelation that the dude drinks. Anne Bronte did succeed in shocking, which is... an achievement. (SUCH A DOUCHE OH GOD) (A BRILLIANTLY WRITTEN DOUCHE) (HIS MISTRESS AS GOVERNESS IN THE HOUSE WHAT THE HELL)

Also in the foreword: random accounts of how Charlotte Bronte attempted to suppress the novel after it was published. Fascinating stuff, actually, and I can't say I think very much of Charlotte. For that reason (amongst others) Emily is my favourite Bronte, which I know is a pretty unpopular opinion. I just. Oh Charlotte! What are you doing?
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