Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
Filed under: Book Reviews,Infinite TBR,Reader of the Stack Goes Canonical — Ibis at 8:14 pm on Thursday, June 16, 2011

From the back cover:
“Written in a time when criminal biographies enjoyed great success, Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders details the life of the irresistible Moll and her struggles through poverty and sin in search of property and power. Born in Newgate Prison to a picaresque mother, Moll propels herself through marriages, periods of success and destitution, and a trip to the New World and back, only to return to the place of her birth as a popular prostitute and brilliant thief. The story of Moll Flanders vividly illustrates Defoe’s themes of social mobility and predestination, sin, redemption and reward. ”

My thoughts:
Moll Flanders is one of the great characters of English literature. In one way, she illustrates how dependent women were upon men before the feminist movements of the past couple of centuries, in another, she herself is a proto-feminist doing her best to survive in a patriarchal culture. Born to a criminal in prison, she must work for her keep from the start. She has ambition, but it is not the ambition of, say, a Becky Sharpe. She just wants to live comfortably and work for herself rather than as a servant. She is blessed with intelligence, a likeable personality, a bit of beauty, and some fortunate occurrences that happen when she needs them the most (bad fortune comes her way too, so it doesn’t seem too contrived). Though she calls herself a whore, in fact, looking on her with liberated, twenty-first century eyes, the closest she gets is living for a few years as a kept mistress (without many other options I might add). She marries a few times, but one gets the impression that this is out of practical necessity rather than desire. Marriage (as long as it’s good) grants stability and respectability. Once poverty drives her to take up thievery though, she’s perfectly content to apply herself and her talents to it as a career that provides both her and her friend with a living. One could imagine Moll dropped into modern times taking up a far less ethically dubious profession. Though at the end she protests her true repentance, there is really little change to her character. She doesn’t allow herself to feel the shame and remorse that religion and men would demand of her. And it would seem that Providence doesn’t require it since she finishes up happy and well off.
My Rating: 9/10

CanLit Challenge Book #48: That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan
Filed under: 20th Century,Book Reviews,CanLit Challenge — Ibis at 11:20 am on Friday, May 20, 2011

Book 48, That Summer in Paris (1963) – Morley Callaghan
“It was the fabulous summer of 1929 when the literary capital of North America moved to La Rive Gauche-the Left Bank of the Seine River-in Paris. Ernest Hemingway was reading proofs of A Farewell to Arms, and a few blocks away F. Scott Fitzgerald was struggling with Tender Is the Night. As his first published book rose to fame in New York, Morley Callaghan arrived in Paris to share the felicities of literary life, not just with his two friends, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but also with fellow writers James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, and Robert McAlmon. Amidst these tangled relations, some friendships flourished while others failed. This tragic and unforgettable story comes to vivid life in Callaghan’s lucid, compassionate prose.”

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia entry for Morley Callaghan

My thoughts:
I enjoyed this immensely, my favourite of Callaghan’s so far. Callaghan is a great guide to the literary world of the twenties. He was obviously well-regarded by his slightly older contemporaries, including Hemingway and Sinclair Lewis and Ezra Pound and James Joyce. I love his enthusiasm as he meets up with his idols one by one. In between stories of these encounters, he talks about his day to day (or night to night) routine of walking around Paris and discussing literary and other things in the cafés over wine, punctuated by weekend boxing matches with Ernest.

From a coming-of-age, portrait of the artist as a young man in the first part of the book, we move to an older man’s reflection upon the sincere friendship of three men gone awry in the last act. The breakup of the friendship of the three men over something so small and inconsequential was sad and unnecessarily unfortunate. Or, perhaps, according to Morley’s analysis of their natures, unavoidable.

Great, inspirational passages about writing as an art, an interesting description of a renowned time and place with famous people entering and exiting the stage, and a meditation on the vicissitudes of friendship.

CanLit Challenge Book #47: Woodsmen of the West by Martin Allerdale Grainger
Filed under: Book Reviews,CanLit Challenge — Ibis at 4:53 pm on Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book 47, Woodsmen of the West (1908) – Martin Allerdale Grainger
“When Woodsmen of the West first appeared in 1908, most readers could not relate to its rendering of the rough edges of logging-camp life. M. Allerdale Grainger refused to sentimentalize the West – he drew from life. While his dramatic and loosely structured tale is at heart a love story, it also tells of what happens when the novel’s British narrator encounters a small-time logging operator whose obsession with lumber is matched by his lust for power over other men.

Today the novel is recognized as marking a significant shift in fiction written in and about the Canadian West. The accuracy of its detail makes it one of the finest examples of local realism in Canadian writing. It is also a fascinating chronicle of conflicting personalities, and of the genius of British Columbia hand-loggers, the culture of camp life, and the intrigues and corruption of the lumber business at the turn of the century.”

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia entry for Woodsmen of the West

My thoughts:
So from Ontario, we travel west to the rough frontiers of British Columbia on the other side of the young country. It took me quite a long time to read this one, even though it’s not that long a book (plus it’s episodic, so one might think it would go quickly).

It reminded me quite a lot of Moby-Dick without all of the biblical overtones–the western loggers were rather a secular bunch–and without the extensive descriptions of the process (in this case, of logging rather than whaling). We don’t get the minutiae of the procedure we get from Melville, as the focus is rather on the character of the men who work on the frontiers of civilisation and the culture which they have constructed. I loved to read the descriptions of frontier life. I think the illustration of the Western ideal, the Western character, is still today the mythos in which Western Canadians see themselves: tough, uncomplaining, independent, active, educated by doing rather than reading books.

I liked Marty and his self-deprecation–he seemed to embody the amateur outsider, just there to observe the culture into which he’d been dropped. Carter, the obsessive, cruel taskmaster seemed a close cousin of Ahab.

It is quite modern in tone–a precursor to the unembellished prose of later decades–and very episodic. It has the feel of a memoir rather than a novel.

CanLit Challenge Book #46: Leaven of Malice by Robertson Davies
Filed under: Book Reviews,CanLit Challenge — Ibis at 3:41 pm on Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book 46, Leaven of Malice (1954) – Leaven of Malice
“The following announcement appeared in the Salterton Evening Bellman: ‘Professor and Mrs Walter Vambrace are pleased to announce the engagement of their daughter, Pearl Veronica, to Solomon Bridgetower Esq, son of…’. Although the malice that prompted this false engagement notice was aimed at three people only – Solly Bridgetower, Pearl Vambrace, and Gloster Ridley, the anxiety-ridden local newspaper editor – before the leaven of malice had ceased to work it had changed permanently, for good or ill, the lives of many citizens of Salterton. This is the second novel in The Salterton Trilogy (which also includes Tempest-Tost and A Mixture of Frailties)”

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia entry for Leaven of Malice

My thoughts:
Brilliant. Funny. Poignant even at times. Robertson takes us back to Salterton some four years after Tempest-Tost, where someone has placed a false engagement notice about Pearl Vambrace and Solomon Bridgetower in the paper. Professor Vambrace is outraged, thinking that the mysterious ‘X’ did it as an insult to him. When he doesn’t get the apology he wants from Gloster Ridley, the Bellman’s editor, he decides to sue for libel. Everyone in town seems to be affected by the hubbub created and we get to eavesdrop upon conversation after conversation (accompanied by Davies’ delightful and witty commentary) as the overlapping ripples spread out and reflect back on each other. All of the characters are human and flawed, but Davies loves them anyway and we do too. With the dean’s speech on malice at the climax, Davies takes another step toward the mythical and philosophical atmosphere of his later trilogies.

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