On Charlotte Lucas’s Choice

Like many long-time readers of “Pride and Prejudice,” I’ve returned, again and again, to the problem of Charlotte Lucas. Pretty much everyone in “Pride and Prejudice” gets the spouse they deserve, except for Charlotte. Elizabeth’s best friend is a sensible, intelligent person, but because she isn’t young, pretty, or rich, she ends up married to the maddening and empty-headed Mr. Collins. (Lizzy calls him, in a letter to her sister, a “conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man.”) “Pride and Prejudice” is a joyous novel, but Charlotte’s marriage is like the tomb in that Poussin painting “Et in Arcadia ego.” Even at Pemberley, I am here, it seems to say.

I first read “Pride and Prejudice” in high school, and back then I didn’t devote a lot of thought to Charlotte’s marriage. As time has gone on, though, it’s seemed more and more important to me. Growing older involves making compromises, and I suppose that has something to do with it. But I’ve also become more familiar with the importance, in life, of choice. In a lot of ways, that’s what “Pride and Prejudice” is about: how we make choices. And no story in the novel says more about choices, about their difficulty and meaning, than Charlotte’s. Continue reading “On Charlotte Lucas’s Choice”

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Five things from Jon Krakauer’s Narrative Genius that You Should Steal and Use Immediately

Show, don’t tell.
Learn from Jon Krakauer in Into the Wild.

ONE: Dialogue

I was working then as an itinerant carpenter, framing condominiums in Boulder for $3.50 and hour. One afternoon, after nine hours of humping two-by-tens and driving sixteen-penny nails, I told my boss I was quitting: “No, not in a couple of weeks, Steve; right now was more like what I had in mind.” It took me a few hours to clear my tools and other belongings… (135-136)

What Krakauer does here: There’s dialogue, but only one line. Rather than giving us the entire conversation, he gives us only what we most need to understand the substance of the conversation.

The lesson to learn: Let the people in your narrative speak, but use just what you need with dialogue. The reader may not need the entire conversation. Continue reading “Five things from Jon Krakauer’s Narrative Genius that You Should Steal and Use Immediately”

You fling a book on the floor… (novel excerpt)

from Italo Calvino, If on a winter’s night a traveler, translated by William Weaver

You fling the book on the floor, you would hurl it out of the window, even out of the closed window, through the slats of the Venetian blinds; let them shred its incongruous quires, let sentences, words, morphemes, phonemes gush forth, beyond recomposition into discourse; through the panes, and if they are of unbreakable glass so much the better, hurl the book and reduce it to photons, undulatory vibrations, polarized spectra; through the wall, let the book crumble into molecules and atoms passing between atom and atom of the reinforced concrete, breaking up into electrons, neutrons, neutrinos, elementary particles more and more minute, through the telephone wires, let it be reduced to electronic impulses, into the flow of information, shaken by redundancies and noises, and let it be degraded into a swirling entropy. You would like to throw it out of the house, out of the block, beyond the neighborhood, beyond the city limits, beyond the state confines, beyond the regional administration, beyond the national community, beyond the Common Market, beyond Western culture, beyond the continental shelf, beyond the atmosphere, the biosphere, the stratosphere, the field of gravity, the solar system, the galaxy, the cumulus of galaxies, to succeed in hurling it beyond the point the galaxies have reached in their expansion, where space-time has not yet arrived, where it would be received by nonbeing, or, rather, the not-being which has never been and will never be to be lost in the most absolutely guaranteed undeniable negativity. Merely what it deserves, neither more, nor less.

‘Go Set A Watchman’ Is A Revelation On Race, Not A Disappointment

By Errin Whack, published by NPR, 16 July 2015

I don’t remember how old I was when I read To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time. But I do know that I loved it — which is why I was thrilled in February at the news that another manuscript penned by Harper Lee, previously unknown to the larger public, existed and would be published this summer.

For lovers of the original story, the next few months could not pass quickly enough. But that anticipation turned to anxiety last week as reports trickled out that Go Set a Watchman reunites them with an Atticus Finch who is not the idealistic Southern gentleman of their youth, but rather a segregationist once involved with the Ku Klux Klan.

For many, this revelation has been nothing short of a betrayal (as seen in these recent tweets):

Continue reading “‘Go Set A Watchman’ Is A Revelation On Race, Not A Disappointment”

Poem of the week: To a Snail by Marianne Moore

Precise observations of this humble creature provide a droll allegorical critique of style.

By Carol Rumens, published in The Guardian, 10 July 2017

To a Snail

If “compression is the first grace of style,”
you have it. Contractility is a virtue
as modesty is a virtue.
It is not the acquisition of any one thing
that is able to adorn,
or the incidental quality that occurs
as a concomitant of something well said,
that we value in style,
but the principle that is hid:
in the absence of feet, “a method of conclusions”;
“a knowledge of principles,”
in the curious phenomenon of your occipital horn.

Marianne Moore was a tireless and unforgiving editor of her own work. In the new edition of the collected poetry, Heather Cass White revises the author’s revisions, omissions, and re-orderings, to retrieve the texts as they were first printed, and in order of composition.

There are two poles in editorial thought on poets’ revisions. One holds that authors’ final revisions are sacrosanct, the other favours restoration. Dispute seems redundant: let’s have both! Originals are crucial, integral to understanding a writer’s place in history and her emergence. But revisions provide another valuable, evolutionary, narrative. First words, last words, interim words: if the poet is good enough, let’s have the variorum edition in all its glory. Continue reading “Poem of the week: To a Snail by Marianne Moore”

Writing Is the Process of Abandoning the Familiar

The novelist and editor Anna North discusses the Odyssey’s timeless lesson about leaving the comforts of home. Published in The Atlantic, 19 May 2015

My grandfather first recommended the Odyssey to me. When he died a few years ago, I went looking for my original copy because I wanted to read from it at the funeral. I found it in my parents’ house, with the original receipt still inside. So I could date exactly when I first got the book: I was eleven years old.

I have strong memories of reading it for the first time. The Odyssey’s a great book for kids. A lot happens. There’s strangeness, magic, excitement. Of course, the names are very weird to a modern person, and I remember getting tripped up over that. But still, I loved it.

It’s an obsession that’s stayed with me into adult life. I’ve always been interested in Greek and Latin literature. I’m excited by the ways those traditions show how old our concerns are. If you read Livy, for instance, you find that almost everything that’s said in American politics had probably said by the Romans, too: everything from concerns about men not being manly enough anymore to debates about the kinds of things the founding fathers cared about. With the Odyssey, it’s possible to see how many of the stories we still tell exist in ancient texts—they’re archetypal. There are things that human beings like to talk about, and always have, and a quest is one of them. Continue reading “Writing Is the Process of Abandoning the Familiar”

AP Lit Question 3 (open): a NINE

In our world today, the fear of people who do not look, act, or talk like us is crippling. We, as a whole, do not easily accept or assimilate those who have been otherized into our communities. Throughout various works of literature, though, it is evident that characters whose origins are unusual or mysterious are able to fully participate in the societies in which they appear. Toni Morrison’s Beloved presents one such situation. When the spirit of Sethe’s late baby materializes at her doorstep, the lives of Sethe, Denver, Paul D, and Beloved are changed forever. Because of Beloved’s unusual origins, she has trouble formulating a meaningful self-identity, the family is polarized because of her unexpected arrival, and the novel as a whole is able to better communicate the message that humans have a distinct and deep ability to adapt to new environments. Continue reading “AP Lit Question 3 (open): a NINE”