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American literature

Trivia quiz on Willa Cather, “The Song of the Lark” & “My Ántonia”

Trivia Quiz for Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark (1915) and My Ántonia (1918)

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 3/27/22

1. Women’s work. Cather’s novels provide a glimpse of the paths available for girls growing up in the rural heartland of the USA in the early 1900s. Which one of the following careers is not portrayed as a possibility for women, in the two works we read?

a. Opera singer                       

b. Wife and mother                

c. Teacher

d. Attorney                             

e. Seamstress                         

f. Real estate investor

g. Maid                                   

h. Church pianist                   

i. Boarding house owner

j. Laundress                            

k. Cook/Housekeeper

2. Overcoming adversity. The two heroines—Thea Kronberg and Ántonia Shimerda (later Cuzak)—undergo many hardships before finding success. Which one of the following obstacles does not adversely affect them, over the long run?

a. unplanned pregnancy         

b. poverty                   

c. familial hostility    

d. foreign languages

e. lassitude / lack of will power                     

f. growing up in rural isolation

3. Social satire. Although her tone is kinder than some writers we’ve read, Willa Cather does ridicule social convention. Of the following passages, which one is written by Cather?

a. “No matter in what straits the Pennsylvanian or Virginian found himself, he would not let his daughters go out in service. Unless his girls could teach a country school, they sat at home in poverty.”

b. “Left-wing people are always sad because they mind dreadfully about their causes, and the causes are always going so badly.”

c. “To a feather-brained school girl, nothing is sacred.”

d. “There were two classes of charitable people; one, the people who did a little and made a great deal of noise; the other, the people who did a great deal and made no noise at all.”

4. On Love with or without Marriage (and vice versa). It may surprise modern readers to discover multiple critiques of marriage in Cather’s work, given its early time period. Which one of the following is not by Cather?

a. “’I don’t see why anybody wants to marry an artist anyhow. … You might have kept me in misery for a while, perhaps. … I have to think well of myself, to work. You could have made it hard.”

b. “Loverless and inexpectant of love, I was as safe from spies in my heart-poverty, as the beggar from thieves.”

c. “She is handsome, energetic, executive, but to me she seems … temperamentally incapable of enthusiasm. … She has her own fortune and lives her own life. For some reason, she wishes to remain Mrs. X.”

d. “Men are all right for friends, but as soon as you marry them they turn into cranky old fathers, even the wild ones. They begin to tell you what’s sensible and what’s foolish, and want you to stick at home all the time.”

5. Maxims. Life lessons run through both books. Which one of the following is not by Cather?

a. “Living’s too much trouble unless one can get something big out of it.”

b. “The children you don’t especially need, you have always with you, like the poor. But the bright ones get away from you.”

c. “Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face. It cannot be concealed.”

d. “Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.”

6. Humorous Asides. Cather’s portraits of unlikable characters provide some comic relief. Which one of the following lines is not by Cather?

a. “Her face had a kind of heavy, thoughtless beauty, like a pink peony just at the point of beginning to fade. … She gave the impression of wearing a cargo of splendid merchandise.”

b. “X was an intensely dreary girl … who had failed so far to marry, and seemed to have no biological reason for existing.”

c. “X [had a] very fat wife, who had a farm of her own, and who bossed her husband, I was delighted to hear.”

d. “It was excruciating to sit there day after day and hear her; there was something shameless and indecent about not singing true.”

7. On Nature. Which of the following lines is not from Cather’s works?

a. “This earth seemed to her young and fresh and kindly, a place where refugees from old, sad countries were given another chance. … a naïve, generous country.”

b. [About apple trees in an orchard]: “’I love them as if they were people,’ she said, rubbing her hand over the bark. ‘There wasn’t a tree here when we first came. We planted every one.’”

c. X was “drinking her coffee and forcing open the petals of the roses with an ardent and rather rude hand.”

d. “Through the screaming wind they heard things crashing and things hurtling and dashing with unbelievable velocity. A baby rabbit, terror ridden, squirmed through a hole in the floor.”

8-10. Finding beauty in an imperfect world. Match the quote to the character. Characters include: a. Thea Kronberg; b. Ántonia Cuzak; c. Lena Lingard

8. “She laughed her mellow, easy laugh, that was either very artless or very comprehending, one never knew quite which. … I caught a faint odor of violet sachet.”

9. “She could lie there hour after hour in the sun and listen to the strident whir of the big locusts, and to the light, ironical laughter of the quaking asps. … her power to think seemed converted into a power of sustained sensation.”

10. “A stalwart, brown woman, flat-chested, her curly, brown hair a little grizzled … She was there, in the full vigor of her personality, battered but not diminished.”

11. An origin tale. Although it details the lives of many immigrants, My Ántonia claims to be narrated by a person who was born in the USA. What state is their birthplace?

a. Oklahoma  

b. Indiana       

c. Iowa           

d. Nebraska                 .

ANSWERS

1. d.

2. e.

3. a.

4. b. (That quote is from Villette by Charlotte Brontë.)

5. c. (That quote is from The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde.)

6. b. (That quote is from The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford.)

7. d. (That quote is from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston.)

8. c.

9. a.

10. b

11. d.

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Trivia Quiz for “Dracula” by Bram Stoker

Trivia Quiz for Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 10/17/21

1. The authority as author. Published during the heyday of positivism, Dracula is composed of textual material taken from numerous sources that appear authoritative. The preface describes it as “simple fact”. Which is not a source?

a. personal diaries of eye-witnesses

b. business correspondence between shipping agents and lawyers

c. an omniscient narrator, uninvolved in the action

d. telegrams and newspaper articles

e. a ship captain’s log of a journey

2. Maxims. Like many nineteenth-century authors, Bram Stoker tucks numerous precepts or words of wisdom into the narration. Which of the following is not in the novel?

a. “A stranger in a strange land, he is no one.”

b. “As blood-suckers go, you can trust leeches and bats more than wimmin.”

c. “The old centuries had, and have, powers of their own which mere ‘modernity’ cannot kill.”

d. “For life be, after all, only a waitin’ for somethin’ else than what we’re doin, and death be all that we can rightly depend on.”

3. The weird place. Stoker underlines the strangeness of Transylvania in many ways. Which of the following is not in the novel?

a. The local people make a gesture by raising both arms in a cross, and put a lot of cumin in their food, to ward off what they call “the evil eye”.

b. This is where “the whirlpool of European races” fought for dominance.

c. The national dish, a chicken done up with paprika, is said to be “very good but thirsty”.

d. The land is inhabited by people described as “Czseks and Slovaks, all in picturesque attire, but … goitre was painfully prevalent.”

4. The strange host. Count Dracula is also described as possessing odd attributes, including all but one of the following. Which is not in the book?

a. He is seen to “crawl down the castle wall over the dreadful abyss, face down with his cloak spreading out around him like great wings… just as a lizard moves along a wall.”

b. One witness declares: “There was no reflection of him in the mirror!”

c. In telling the history of his family, Count Dracula speaks as if he had been present at all the battles, using the pronoun “we,” like a king.

d. Although old-fashioned in many respects, he promotes the idea, shared with the “New Women” writers, that “men and women should be allowed to see each other asleep before proposing or accepting marriage.”

5. Psychological tools. Inspired by the rise of psychology and psychopharmacology, Stoker makes use of numerous phenomena prized by Freud and his colleagues, to eke out meaning from the strange occurrences. Which of the following are not mentioned?

a. dreams        

b. hypnosis     

c. drugs such as morphia, given through hypodermic injection 

d. electroshock therapy          

e. the study of idées fixes or obsessions

6. High-Tech Potentials. Stoker’s characters marvel over the improved technology which makes their work possible. Which of the following inventions is not mentioned in the book?

a. the X-ray    

b. the typewriter         

c. the steam engine    

d. the blood transfusion       

7. Dracula and his quotable quotes. For the modern reader, Dracula seems to be full of clichés, but that may simply be because so many later authors, film-makers, and artists have borrowed from Stoker’s work. Which of the following quotes is not spoken by the Vampire?

a. [Upon hearing the howling of wolves]: “Listen to them, the children of the night!”

b. [After warning someone against opening locked doors]: “Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face. It cannot be concealed.”

c. [On seeing a man shaving]: “Take care how you cut yourself. It is more dangerous than you think in this country.”

d. [After a brutal episode in his nation’s history]: “What good are peasants without a leader?”   

8. Local color. Which of the following products are not discovered and discussed by the English characters in their exploration of Transylvanian culture?

a. licorice       

b. garlic          

c. “slivovitz” (plum brandy)  

d. “impletata” (stuffed eggplant)

9. Female power: a warning?  Women are a force to be reckoned with in this novel and a motivating element in the final climax. Which of the following is not in the book?

a. At one time, a white-clad woman known as the “bloofer lady” was abducting children from Hampstead Heath at night; they were found with wounds on their throats.

b. Upon opening a door in Dracula Castle, a visitor finds “three terrible women licking their lips.”

c. “Alas! I am unclean,” notes one character with bite marks on her throat. But she lives on…

d. The women characters, as demure as they appear, all have the “extraordinary habit” of playing with knives.

10. Dracula’s strength and weakness. Count Dracula has superhuman powers, but certain limitations contain him too.  Which one of the following statements is untrue?

a. Despite his Satanic leanings, Dracula can be repulsed by people bearing Judeo-Christian ornaments, such as a crucifix or Star of David.

b. He can summon fog and storm and snow and wolves, but only at night.

c. He can travel abroad, but only in a box of earth and with the help of accomplices.

d. Despite his ability to crawl up the side of buildings and transform into a bat, Dracula can only do so after sunset and before dawn.

Answers

1. c.

2. b. (This one’s my own invention!–jdv)

3. a.

4. d.

5. d.

6. a.

7. b. (This is from Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray)

8. a.

9. d.

10. a.

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Trivia quiz for “Not Without Laughter” by Langston Hughes

Trivia Quiz for Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes (1930)

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 9/19/21

1. The Growing Child’s Perspective.  On women, love and marriage. Which of the following quips about women is not in the novel?

a. “X was an intensely dreary girl … who had failed so far to marry, and seemed to have no biological reason for existing.”

b. “I ain’t never seen a yaller dude yet that meant a dark woman no good.”

c. “She knew how it was, of course, that her husband hadn’t written before. That was all right now.”

d. “Treat ‘em like chickens, son. Throw ‘em a little corn and they’ll run after you, but don’t give ‘em too much. If you do, they’ll stop layin’ and expect you to wait on ‘em.”

2. On work, money and justice. Which of the following is not in Hughes’s novel?

a. “She was a good nurse… Sometimes they paid her and sometimes they didn’t.”

b. “On Thursdays she did the Reinarts’ washing, on Fridays she ironed it, and on Saturdays she sent it home, clean and beautifully white, and received as pay the sum of seventy-five cents.”

c. “’I was not thinking of the slave-trade,’ replied X; ‘governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different certainly as to the guilt of those who carry it on.’”

d. “I reckon white folks does think right smart of me … They always likes you when you tries to do right.”

3. On secrets and misunderstandings. Which of the following is not in the novel?

a. “X had lived too long with three women not to have learned to hold his tongue about the private doings of each of them.  … he “saw it with his eyes, but not with his mouth.”

b. “Her longing for love had become an obsession.”

c. “X had discovered long ago that you could hear and see many things by not going to sleep when the family expected you to.”

d. “He had discovered already, though, that so-called jokes are often not really jokes at all, but rather unpleasant realities that hurt.”

4. The Savvy Youth’s Perspective.  As time passes, the narration begins questioning certain statements and truths. Which of the following lines is not in the book?

a. “It was all great fun, and innocent fun except when one stopped to think, as white folks did, that some of the blues lines had, not only double, but triple meanings.”

b. “X wondered how people got to be great, as, one by one, he made the spittoons bright.”

c. “’It’s too bad you aren’t white.’ … X had taken this to heart, not as an insult, but as a compliment.”

d. “How incredible that anyone should insist on living in that squalid building that would be demolished any day now.”

5. The Emerging Adult Perspective.  On religion, fighting, and doing good. Which of the following is not from Hughes’s book?

a. “I’m very ready to believe his character will improve, and acquire from hers the steadiness and delicacy of principle that it wants.”

b. “But I don’t want heaven! I want to live first! … I want to live!”

c. “To those who lived on the other side of the railroad and never realized the utter stupidity of the word ‘sin’, the Bottoms was vile and wicked.”

d. “‘To the uninitiated it would seem that a fight was imminent. But underneath, all was good-natured and friendly—and through and above everything went laughter. No matter how belligerent or lewd their talk was … these black men laughed.”

6.  Not Without Laughter as Migration Novel. A classic in the genre, it depicts an African-American family moving North from a small town to a big city, in hopes of a better life.  Circle the correct sequence of the child hero’s movement in the novel.

a. Stanton, KS to Chicago, IL            

b. New Orleans, LA to Stanton, KS, to Chicago, IL

c. Stanton, KS to Chicago, IL, to Stanton, KS          

d. Stanton, KS to Detroit, MI to Chicago, IL

7. The area where the hero lives in Chicago is nicknamed “The Black Belt”.      True / False

8. Poetry and music! Which of the following poetic descriptions is not from the novel?

a. “Earth and sky were fresh and clean after the heavy night-rain, and the young corn-shoots stood straight in the garden… There was the mingled scent of wet soil and golden pollen on the breeze that blew carelessly through the clear air.”

b. “The rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep.”

c. “Funny how old folks like to sing that way, ain’t it?’ ‘It’s beautiful!’ X cried—for, vibrant and steady like a stream of living faith, their song filled the whole night: An’ we’ll understand it better by an’ by!’

d. “While the cynical banjo covered unplumbable depths with a plinking surface of staccato gaiety, like the sparkling bubbles that rise on deep water over a man who has just drowned himself.”

9. What kind of music does the author not describe or evoke in this book?

a. Gospel        

b. Jazz            

c. Country-Western               

d. Blues

10. Ambivalence Rules? The narration leaves the ending open, and judgment remains up to the reader. Which of the following uncomfortable statements is not from Hughes’s novel?

a. “He didn’t know that grown-up people cried, except at funerals … He didn’t know they ever cried alone, by themselves in their own houses.”

b. “White folks will see that the Negro can be trusted in war as well as peace. Times will be better after this for all of us.”

c. “I only had to break it, and I was rid of it forever. So simple! I’d never thought of it before.”

d. “They’re right, though, looking out for themselves… and yet I hate ‘em for it.”

ANSWERS

1. a. (That quote is from Nancy Mitford, The Pursuit of Love.)

2. c. (That quote is from Jane Austen, Emma.)

3. b. (A quote from Mitford, The Pursuit of Love.)

4. d. (That quote is from Clarice Lispector, Family Ties.)

5. a. (A quote from Emma, by Jane Austen.)

6. a.

7. True

8. b. (That quote is from Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God.)

9. c.

10. c. (That quote is from Nella Larsen, Passing.)

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the joy of imagination, shared

Hello!

This morning, my mind and hands take up a new task that feels very familiar: researching and writing a quiz. A literary quiz, to be precise. As I remain wrapped in the warm glow of Gabriel García Márquez’s words, from the last pages of Love in the Time of Cholera, I am suddenly pulled to the computer. Because I suddenly realized these quizzes are a joy–simple and cheap to procure–and you may like them too.

I hereby vow to share the monthly quizzes I’ve been creating for the “West Seattle Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club with you, here on this blog. (I’ll even post the answers too!)

In a little while after it’s written, I’ll start with today’s, and then work my way backwards, on a daily basis, through all the books listed below, which we read during the months of covid-19 plague fears and lockdowns, back to March 2020 when we first met.

Because if there is one thing the reader realizes in finishing Love in the Time of Cholera, it is that lockdowns, however tedious and frightening, may give rise to new pleasures …

and all pleasures, like love, are meant to be shared.

(Like the dandelion-blowing woman from the Larousse publishing company, above, je sème à tout vent – I’ll sow [or throw] wisdom to the wind.)

The sooner, the better. You never know who might be waiting. And it’s never too late to start anew!

West Seattle Classic Novels (and Movies) book club reading list, March 2020-July 2021, titles read:

Jane Austen, Emma [March 2020]

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Daphne Dumaurier, Jamaica Inn.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Washington Irving, “Rip van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Charlotte Brontë, Villette

Iris Murdoch, The Green Knight

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Nella Larsen, Passing

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, film, dir. George C. Wolfe, adapted from play by August Wilson

Clarice Lispector, Family Ties

and Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez, for July 25, 2021.

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creativity dogs health travel

Three weeks to go: advice on moving and a word from our sponsor

With three weeks to go, here’s some useful advice on moving and a word from our sponsor, “Honey Girl Books and Gifts”

  1. Plan at least two months ahead. Follow this advice on moving

Jen A. Miller, “How to Avoid Stress When You’re Moving,” New York Times (March 31, 2017).

Ayn-Monique Klahre, “How to Hire Inter-State Movers Without Getting Scammed,” New York Times (May 8, 2018).

2. Go analog for long-distance planning

If you’re driving a long way, buy a large-scale Rand McNally Road Atlas and chart out your route and motel stops. Do not rely on Mapquest, which may lead you astray (as it did to us. All we need to do is head due West on I-90 which ends at a spot on I-5 about ten minutes from our new house in West Seattle. Why mess around with I-94 etc.?). Plus it shows where the pretty stuff is–it’s green!

  1. If you’re traveling with a dog, find lodgings easily via Bring Fido:  https://www.bringfido.com/

However, I recommend making the reservation in person on the phone, just to make sure that the motel really will welcome you and your big dog when you arrive after driving all day.

And now, some news from Honey Girl Books and Gifts  https://www.honeygirlbooks.com/

  1. Good news!

a) revenue just passed $1,000 since the “soft launch” in December 2017 (L.L.C. registration coming in one month in WA state, if you are from govt.org), and

b) I recently fulfilled orders for people unknown to me personally. That is a milestone according to Guy Kawasaki, The Art of the Start.

2. That has led to adding new components as follows for “Tranquility Pillows” (the most popular item):

a) Since every Tranquility Pillow is designed to make meaning, I’ve added this component to the Shopping page:

It helps to know something about you or the person for whom you’re ordering. Please submit a few lines on things such as a favorite book, a long-held dream, or a major life event that you, or your loved one, are encountering right now. This makes each pillow’s mood distinct. For example, the serene-looking “Magnificent Glide” (no. 8) was created to soothe a high school classroom, while “Stormy Waters” (no. 16), with its two waterfalls, honors the ongoing struggles and conflicts of its new owner.

b) New feature! Beginning summer 2018, every Tranquility Pillow will be accompanied by a few lines of verse chosen especially for the pillow’s “story of you.” Poets featured to date include Robert Louis Stevenson, Maya Angelou, and Emily Brontë.

c) Supplies limited. Alas, the light green organic cotton featured in the Spring pillow is no longer available. So when my stock is exhausted this pillow line will end.

3. Coming soon: “Hometown Heroes” a new design of Original Honey Girl Pillows. Features a back made of denim with a jeans pocket and an outdoorsy scene in flannel, and our adorable logo on the front.

4. Coming in July: Second series in the “Limited Edition Literary Pillows” line! Just like the first series inspired by Zola’s department store novel, these pillows will be made of vintage satin and flannel. They will feature a satin woman’s torso, lying down odalisque-style, inspired by Charles Baudelaire’s poem (in Richard Howard’s translation), “The Giantess” / “La géante.”

(I particularly love the last stanza:

… when the fetid summers made her stretch

herself across the countryside, to sleep
untroubled in the shadow of her breasts
like a peaceful village at the mountain’s base.

Et parfois en été, quand les soleils malsains,

Lasse, la font s’étendre à travers la campagne,
Dormir nonchalamment à l’ombre de ses seins,
Comme un hameau paisible au pied d’une montagne.

 

And a personal note of joy: today Rich and I celebrate our 32nd anniversary! (It rained that day in New Jersey, but as they say, “mariage pluvieux, mariage heureux”).

Thanks for reading,

jdv

p.s. Moving sale this Saturday!  11:00am — 4:00pm, 1207 Riverside Drive, South Bend, IN.

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English literature French literature happiness health humor meditation memory wisdom

in medias res doesn’t mean suffering

Hi everybody,

Today’s meditation took me back to my graduate school days again!  As I have let go of my institutional identity more and more, in preparation for leaving Notre Dame and South Bend, I have come to cherish that student self more and more. That girl from Seattle who loves France, has a whole tapestry of friends and memories in France, and who only became a professor as a means to continue that love affair. (And because I could not get a job with the state department or an airline!)

One thing I learned in grad school is a bunch of literary terms, most of which are not that useful in daily life. But sometimes they are. Sometimes they mask profound philosophical truths. One such term is in medias res. In medias res means “in the middle of the thing.” It is a literary device that you’ll see everywhere–in TV shows, films, as well as classic literature. Its power comes from making us feel off-center and a little anxious, the way life really feels sometimes. Consider these three famous opening scenes:

  1. from a famous play*

Barnardo:  Who’s there?

Francisco: Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.

Barbardo:  Long live the King!

Francisco: Barnardo?

2. from a famous work of non-fiction**

“But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction–what has that got to do with a room of one’s own?”

3. from a famous work of fiction***

“The litigation had seemed interminable and had in fact been complicated; but by the decision on the appeal the judgment of the divorce court was confirmed as to the assignment of the child.”

You are probably thinking, “What?!  What’s going on? Who are those guards and why do they know each other? Who asked her to give a speech about women and fiction, and why does she seem so defensive about changing the subject?  Who got custody of the child? why was the divorce so complicated and what might that mean for the child?”

As you can see now, each one of these books pulls in the reader by making you feel like you are entering a real world. A world where important things are already happening. And as reader, it is your job to figure out what is going on. We assume that the things going on make sense, even if they are immoral, unjust, foolish or doomed. That’s the writer’s trick.

But life is like that too!  Every day, we step into situations that began long before our arrival, and that we don’t understand, except we usually don’t realize it. We think everything we see around us is normal and that our feelings in response to it all are normal too. But we are highly susceptible to influences good and bad! Beware!

Remember that, although you may feel stuck in a situation, you can choose your response to it. You can choose to limit suffering and focus on love, think about a long-term approach to life. If no one else is kind to you, be kind to yourself. Make plans to get out, if necessary, or limit negative influences around you. Make this day worth remembering, because as you will realize tomorrow, those feelings–good or bad–that you wake up with tomorrow were nurtured today. As mortal, earthbound creatures, we are always living in medias res.

***

* William Shakespeare, Hamlet

** Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

***Henry James, What Maisie Knew