Saturday, March 27, 2010
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Fuck you, Charles Dickens! Yeah, you heard me. I am so through with you...you've made me cry more than any man since the second grade, when Tommy Bottomsworth (note: name changed to prevent a libel suit) pushed me down on the sidewalk. Yes, I bawled my eyes out at the end of Silas Marner, but that was written by George Eliot, A GIRL, and as we all know girls are supposed to make the boys cry. But you're a MAN, and clearly you didn't read the part of the Man Code where it says that real men don't make other men cry. NO, first you came close to making me cry in "Bleak House" when little Jo the orphan dies. But then you had to push the limits in "Hard Times", first when Stephen Blackpool dies after falling down an abandoned mine shaft, and then at the end when you omnisciently predict the future of all the characters in the novel. First you suck me in, and then you manipulate me into crying my eyes out over the plight of the poor as symbolized by a martyr. Damn you!
Whew, OK, that's out of the way. This was a good book. Just like in "Bleak House", Dickens has a number of characters whose stories intertwine, and all the stories get tied up nicely in the end. A bit too nicely, perhaps...even the old circus dog "Merrylegs" makes a reappearance. I don't think a modern novelist would tie up everything as neatly as Dickens does, assuming they had his skill. Why is that? Maybe the modern writer thinks that life is too complex and random, and that they just can't depict life as neat as that seen in a Dickens novel...? Yet people like myself still read and enjoy Dickens just the same...perhaps just because "real life" is not as neat as this and so it's satisfying to see everything wrapped up for once, even if it's just a novel.
This novel was way shorter than "Bleak House". It wasn't as sprawling as that book, and didn't have as many characters. "Hard Times" is quite good, and certainly enjoyable, but "Bleak House" is a masterpiece, and I'm not sure I'd call "Hard Times" that.
Like "Bleak House" this novel has a relationship between an old man and a very young woman, in this case Bounderby and Gradgrind's daughter Louisa. But unlike "Bleak House", where the marriage never occurs and the whole thing seems half hearted, in this case Bounderby marries Louisa. It doesn't go well to say the least. Louisa is miserable, and after a failed attempt at seduction by a young cad, she runs back home to her father. This is a pivotal moment in the book, because it's then she tells her father that the way she was raised and educated by him, which was to only go with the facts and ignore emotion and sentiment, has failed her miserably and that she is terribly unhappy. Mr. Gradgrind, who had seemed an ominous and unsympathetic character early in the book, has a total change of heart due to his love for his daughter, and realizes he's made a terrible mistake. He works to right his wrongs, as best he can, and comes to realize the importance of love and caring. In fact, this seems to be one of the big, if not THE big, take-home lessons of the book: that we need to love people more and care about them more and help one another rather than treat each other, especially the poor, like dirt. Love is all you need. Love reign o'er me. Ah, the classic rock references are everywhere...Dickens was very prescient! Somehow this all seems like a bit of a cop out, though. Dickens describes the plight of the working poor, "The Hands" as they're called in the novel, quite well, and the two Hands that we get to know best, Rachel and Stephen Blackpool, are virtuous almost to the point of sainthood. But then at the end the lesson seems to be "Love the poor" or "Love your fellow man" or "Listen to your heart and not just your head". Well, OK, but isn't that what Jesus said 2000 years ago? I mean, what's new here? I dunno, maybe as a scientist I was hoping to see a little more practical advice on how to deal with England's social woes in the industrial revolution. And speaking of which, Dickens definitely doesn't see unions as the answer. The workers are trying to form a union, but they ostracize Stephen Blackpool, and the union leader who spearheads their movement is not at all sympathetic.
Finally, let's get back to the ending that I talked about earlier. At the conclusion of the novel, not only do all the ends get wrapped up neatly, but Dickens pulls an "American Graffiti" on the last two pages and tells what happens to all the main characters after the novel ends. And basically everyone gets their just desserts. The bad guys get screwed over and/or die, the really good people get rewarded, and the people on the fence get some good and bad. The only exception is Rachel, the poor saintly factory worker, who gets to keep on working in the factory. Dickens just can't give the poor factory workers a break. But then, maybe that's the whole point.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
I'm back in the reading and blogging groove and it feels great! Immediately after finishing "The Decameron" I picked up "Hard Times" and I'm about half way through the book already. Granted it's not so long a book (280 pages) but after reading and blogging for the past year at the rate of one book per year, I'll brag about it anyway. Too bad the book isn't as upbeat as my blogging mood. But with a title like "Hard Times" what do you expect? In "Good Times" we got Jimmie JJ Walker, and in "Hard Times' we get Mr. Bounderby and Mr. Gradgrind. Mr. Bounderby (a play on the derogatory term "bounder"?) owns the local bank, is very well-to-do, and is a self-made man, having worked himself up from poverty. This last fact he never fails to remind everyone of, every chance he gets. He is not a good or kind person. Mr. Gradgrind is the local schoolmaster, who believes children should only learn facts, and that imagination and fancy can only lead to no good, and should thus be rigorously discouraged in every possible instance. Needless to say, Mr. Gradgrind's (again with the suggestive names!) students are not very happy, and his own children even less so. His daughter has the imagination browbeaten out of her, and she is betrothed to Mr. Bounderby at a young age. Her father asks her if she wants to marry Mr. Bounderby after his proposal, and she says it makes no difference. "Like, whatever" would be her words if she were alive today. And Gradgrind's son grows up to be a n'er do well. Of course. Kids today, I swear...you try to help them by berating the imagination out of them and look what happens. Goddamn punks...