Thursday, March 8, 2012

Freshman English Lit, Half Way There

I frequently find amusement in my class schedules.

The first thing I want to mention is that, if you're going to transfer to a new school-- do it before your junior year-- because no matter where you go, you're going to be taking those 2 years of classes anyway....even if you transfer in with over 200 hours to begin with.  Which leads me to my -second- point:  If you're going to transfer, I only recommend doing it once...instead of twice (;

Now, if you're like me and you're going to skip all that sage advice I've just shared from my personal experience, then 1. You're going to get to meet a lot of wonderful people, 2. You're going to learn from a vast diversity of teachers, and 3. You will find yourself in a similar position to this:  I have taken so many classes, that sometimes, what I have and what I have left are vastly different.  So, here I am, taking the second half of a Freshman English Literature course, having not taken Troy's version of the first and very well classified as a Senior.

We started out amiably enough.

Tartuffe, a play I've read before and even had the privilege of seeing performed.  I like comedies.

Then it was onto Gulliver's Travels.

I always thought I'd -read- Gulliver's Travels.  But apparently, it's in four parts--and the wise publishers of children's books traditional stick to the first 2 stories.  We read the fourth section.  With weird, hypocritical horses that are supposed to be the unachievable epitomy of reason.  Okay-- I don't mind branching out and learning more about a story I thought I knew.

Than it was Rousseau's Confessions.

I enjoyed learning the history and seeing how Romanticism was a response to the Enlightenment of the previous era-- but really, I found him overtly self-indulgent.  I can accept I'm not going to like all the characters that I'm going to read about.

Then, we moved on to Faust, Part 1.

How could I not like a book where God and the Devil make a Jobian wager-- and the mortal will be the one who outwits the Devil?  Besides, he loses not just that soul, but another he hoped to net, at the last minute.  Though I have to admit, it's hard to justify liking a book where the poor female character and object of desire and manipulation is going to accidentally murder her mother, discover her lover has killed her brother, get knocked up out of wedlock and decide to drown the baby, then find redemption as she commits suicide.

Still, I wasn't worried.

Then we read The Queen of Spades.

It's an excellent psychological short story.  It's hard to claim to like a story that has NO really likable characters, but I could appreciate the writing style and visual descriptions.  The madness and accidental murder were tempered with a touch of the supernatural.

Are you starting to notice a trend?

From there, we moved on to Madame Bovary.

Now, I'm a self professed lover of books.  And I understand that this is a classic and a perfect example of Realism.  And I can appreciate that it's written very well-- that Flaubert would make boring scenes drag out and when the action quickened, so too would the reading of the story.  But I did NOT like this book.  First, because I could empathize and identify with Hippolyte-- I've frequently had issues with my Achilles to picture an incompetent doctor just -cutting- it....shudder!  And we're not going to end the book with the title character killing herself by painful poisoning after she's caused all sorts of scandal and financial ruin-- nope-- we're not going to end it until her husband is dead and her poor daughter has to go off and work in the mills because she's actually poor with no education thanks to mommy dearest's debaucheries.

These stories are starting to have a very depressing theme....

So what's the -perfect- follow up for the book?

Why, it's The Death of Ivan Illyich!

Because Russian writers are just as good at this, thank you kindly.

But let me say I absolutely HATED this story.  What a terrible, terrible story.  Perhaps I hated it so much because I'm alive, and like the characters contained within, none of us wants to face our own mortality and eventual death. Perhaps I hated it so much because it reminded me of relatives who have passed in suffering that I could do nothing to help. And perhaps I hated it because it is such a bitter outlook on what happens to us all. In any event, upon finishing this story, I actually said aloud to my husband, "What a terrible, terrible story."

And I finally couldn't take it-- I actually asked my professor if there was going to be any spot of sunshine in the rest of this semester, or if death, suicide and madness were par for the course...  She laughed, then looked through the course list and said, "Oh!  Yes, there's one!" and we laughed as we discussed what the university could be thinking when setting up this particular group of stories.

I mean, yes, they're all good examples of their times... but it's hard to keep reading books filled largely with despicable characters who are going to meet terrible ends.

And so we end this first half of the semester with Hedda Gabler.

Which, in case you were wondering, is NOT the one ray of light to look forward to (;

Forwarned, I found that I could enjoy this play (though I may be biased, I like Ibsen).  It's hard to think of a way to say that I enjoyed a play about such a terrible character. And Hedda is pretty vile: Bored bourgeois rich girl marrying below her station and entertaining herself by tormenting everyone. She has an astonishing knack at destroying everything she touches...and an even more disturbing one for enjoying it. Though I have to admit, my favorite part was George Tesman and Mrs. Elvsted finding each other at the end-- they're two peas in a pod...and both of them research nerds, which I can certainly identify with (;

So half way in, I'm not going to say I'm exactly looking forward to reading the rest of the books-- but even though I find them...well, quite frankly, disturbing, I once heard that it's necessary to be disturbed in order to grow...or something like that.

(Riffling through the internet like it's a filing cabinet where I've misplaced my quotes) Ah ha!  There it is:

"The most intense conflicts, if overcome, leave behind a sense of security and calm that is not easily disturbed. It is just these intense conflicts and their conflagration which are needed to produce valuable and lasting results."  --Carl Jung

...Now I'm wondering if Jung liked to read the classics...

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