le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Tom Brown's Body lies a-mouldering in the grave...

FINALLY finished Tom Brown's Schooldays. ugh - what a waste of ink! My question now is: who actually READ that book? What was it's real appeal to child readers? I suppose the play and comraderie of school has its place in the child-reader's heart but the tone of the book is so preachy and nostalgic.

There's a strange moment more than halfway through, when Tom is "given" young Arthur to oversee and chum with. The narrator tells us how Tom feels maternal toward Arthur, and how he is teased by his friends, especially East (who sounds like a real asshole, if you ask me) for nursemaiding the delicate boy. It's a strange twist on a book that otherwise wants to concentrate on Real Boys (ones who crib and screw up lessons, ones who fight and excel at sports, especially that glorious game of cricket, ones who tease anyone who is different, ones who disobey their masters and only receive benevolent and mild reprimands for their sins). East and his chum dedicate a fair part of their lives to torturing the birds belonging to Martin, causing the death of at least one baby bird. This is all reported as good clean fun and innocent high spirits, but murdering vulnerable animals is pretty damn sick if you ask me.

I'm on to KIDNAPPED! now, and despite the bumps in the road with the Scottish "dialect" and expressions, it's not too shabby. I've got Treasure Island on deck as well - it's Boys' Books Week at my house, evidently. But that Robert Louis Stevenson does know how to tell a story, so I have high hopes for expeditious reading.

This is good because: I must finish The Subtle Knife for Thursday night's book group discussion, as well as read the first 100 pages or so of The Perks of Being a Wallflower for my class (as well as grade midterms).

and with that alarming reminder, back to the midterms!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Toby Tyler and the Boys' School Story

This weekend I read James Otis's Toby Tyler, or 10 Weeks with the Circus. I found it rather boring but it moved along reasonably quickly. My mother informs me that Disney made a live-action adaptation of this, which baffles me, since the original novel is pretty lame. I mean, the circus is a totally unglamourous place, Toby is an object of pity (an abject of pity!) as well as beaten every time he turns around. The most intriguing element of the novel to me is his friendship with the monkey, Mr Stubbs. There's a definite nod to evolution in the novel - something about recognizing Mr Stubbs as an ancestor. It's BAD evolution, or misunderstood at any rate, but it's still there, which I found interesting. Toby's relationship with Mr Stubbs is the most developed and intense relationship that he (Toby) has, despite the lame gesture at heterosexual coupling (with Ella/Mlle Jeannette, the little girl who performs as an equestrienne). The moralizing of the book was lame, naturally, and really sporadic. Toby's dialogue felt very unrealistic to me - it just felt stagey and fakey and weird. But the monkey was interesting, for sure.

I've finally gotten young Tom Brown to school, thank god, so that the Schooldays can commence. He's at Rugby, just finishing his first day, right now. I read - all right, skimmed - about six pages of small print, describing a foot-ball match in detail. UGH. I also feel like I'm reading another language - here's a sentence fragment I cannot comprehend:

they... "administer toco to the wretched fags nearest at hand; they may well be angry, for it is all Lombard Street to a china-orange that the School-house kick a goal with the ball touched in such a good place" (97).


there's more, too, of course. I'm snickering a little as I read, recalling the recently read (for the first time!) Diana Wynne Jones novel The Crown of Dalemark, and the scenes at Hildy's school which are laden with bafflingly incomprehensible school slang. The slang marks Mitt's distance from Hildy, but it also - now especially - seems like Jones's poke at the school culture.

anyway, the boys at Rugby are now drinking beer and singing good British songs ("British Grenadiers"!!) in the hall, so I had better go rejoin them.

I think this will be my new catchphrase: It's all Lombard Street to a china-orange!
(whatever that even means)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

what katy did

I finished Susan Coolidge's What Katy Did yesterday. It was readable - unlike a certain Tom Brown's Schooldays - but what a dreadful message! Girls: become crippled invalids and Angels of the House! Yay! what a thing to aspire to. Pain is a great teacher! wow! I wish *I* could hurt my spine and not be able to leave my room for four years, just so I can be the Heart of the House!


The most interesting thing to me about this book were Dorry - the effeminate little boy - and John, the butch little girl (Joanna). Coolidge actually write that it seems that Dorry was a girl put in boys' clothing, and Johnnie was a boy put in a dress. YAY for transkids! They grow out of it, alas. Also: Johnnie has a "doll" that is actually a small chair. It's named Pikery, and she nurses it and gives it medicine and dresses it.

I haven't a clue what to do with Pikery but I think it's awesome.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Project Revue!

As part of my PhD program, I have to do this Project. It is a big ole project, in place of comprehensive exams. I have set an impossible reading list for myself (301 titles altogether, fiction and critical).

This past week - my spring break - I made it through four novels. Brief review of the four:

King Solomon's Mines (H. Rider Haggard). Somehow, I'd never read this before, though I've read so much critical work on it and other empire texts that I might as well have. Definitely terrible! but interestingly homoerotic - so much time spent describing the massive mighty bodies of the Kukuanas and Sir Henry, not to mention the beautiful white legs of Captain Good. I had quite a hard time reading about the slaughter of animals - elephants and sable antelope. 10,000 "savages" get killed off, too, after the white folk stir up a coup. Glad I read it, glad it's done.

Swallows and Amazons (Arthur Ransome). I had high hopes for this one, not sure why. I enjoyed reading it, but didn't love it - the sailing talk just bored me. And I don't know a halyard from a belaying pin, so I was lost for a lot of the techincal passages (and golly, there were a lot of them. Moby-Dick for the early 20th century child reader!). I DID appreciate the lack of sentimentality and nostalgia in the book; the kids are presented on their own terms, no condescension, no nostalgia. Highly unlikely I'll read the whole series of Swallows and Amazons books anytime soon - I can wait - but I wouldn't mind checking them out during some summer vacation. Made me want to go to camping near a lake.

The House of Arden (E. Nesbit). One of the few Nesbit texts I HAVEN'T read, this one was pretty good and strange and wondrous. I didn't love it as much as I loved the Psammead books, but it was still quite good. The names of the children - Edred and Elfrida - were sort of off-putting, but this was still classic Nesbit, and therefore better than most books written for anyone.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Orczy). I don't know why I put this on my reading list, except it seemed important. I wish someone had stopped me. DREADFUL! book!! Pro-aristocracy in a hideously snobby way, wildly anachronistic and historically off (how much duelling went on in 1790s England? I don't know, but swords don't come up much in Austen novels!). It was treacly and sentimental and i figured out very soon who the Pimpernel was. The characters were implausible - that Marguerite was intolerable! - and the anti-republican slurs remarkable. It was also just kind of a boring book.

Now I'm on to Tom Brown's Schooldays, and I wish old Thomas Hughes would quit babbling and get to the damn STORY already. Gad! I KNOW everything has gone to the dogs since he was a boy - let's move ON, already! But it is nice to have proof that everyone always thinks the younger generation are a bunch of good-for-nothings who have lost the true ways.

I'm also re-re-re-reading Peter Pan, which happily is on my reading list as well as being the book I'm teaching right now. Every line of that book is just loaded; it's hard to choose out what to focus on in class. Each re-read of Peter Pan makes me feel even more desperately sad for James Barrie. I wish I could give him a transhistorical hug.