Categories
American literature conflict creativity English literature French literature friendship generosity retirement social media wisdom

how not to despair, or dialog with a tech guy

An exchange of letters between a CIO of a large agency and a lit professor, both recently retired, who are wondering what the world is becoming as their two worlds collide with consequences no one can predict.

1/23/2023

Dear Julia,

I am reaching out to see if you might be willing to continue our brief conversation since some of what we discussed touched on a problem I have been trying to work through.

While serving as the information officer for an agency with about 1,500 employees, it was necessary to struggle with the introduction and then overwhelming increase in digital information assets.

I am using some of the time available with retirement to question the general presumption that information technology specialists are the sole authority for solving the mysteries of how best to adjust our information ecology – which was developed during what might be characterized as the age of written memory.

I have looked for clues in the transitions from mimetic communication to spoken language, and also from spoken to written language. Given the critical role of literature in all of them, it strikes me that specialists in literature (is the proper term philology?) need to be included in the conversation.

Would you have any interest in chatting with me about this?

Dan

1/24/2023

Dear Dan,

Your email has stayed with me all night and generated the following thoughts which I am putting into writing so I can get on with my day!  It is a fascinating inquiry and a question for which I have no big answer, only an extremely modest proposal for local action.  Ideally, a local kind of action which would allow people like your former colleagues to interact with people like my former colleagues and students, and children everywhere, eventually!

Meetings—better yet, true communion enacted over time through lasting, deep friendships created during these meetings–between people engrossed in creating new technologies and people involved in sustaining the written word, or the spoken/written/taught universe of literature and language, seems increasingly crucial for the wellbeing of our planet.

The two books that have been swirling around in my mind are Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain and Victor Hugo, Notre-Dame de Paris (aka “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”), especially the chapter entitled “Ceci tuera cela” (This Will Kill That, in other words, the printed word—unleashed by the printing press which was newly invented in the fifteenth century, the world depicted in his novel[1]–would kill the stained glass windows of Catholic cathedrals and their  monopoly on public story-telling and provision of visible narratives that give meaning to human life).

Here are my morning thoughts:

Now that humankind has (or is in the process of) switched from reading paper to interacting with screens, what is lost?  How to retain our humanity in this new environment? Of course, the issue is not identical to the one raised by Hugo in his 1831 book.  Stained glass windows only represented the Christian perspective, one set of stories, and you could only see them in a church. The printing press unleashed all kinds of perspectives and a potentially infinite range of stories.

But the new printed world excluded the illiterate or made their lives worse, by magnifying the divide between written and oral information systems. At the same time, moveable print made possible the deep learning and idea generating that led to the enormous “progress” in technology, medicine, and the democratization of knowledge which describes the past few centuries since the Renaissance.

In one way, digital technologies return us to a preliterate age, via the growing use of images—emojis, symbols, cartoon faces—instead of words, and the appeal of photographs. Yet forgeries are harder to spot. Photos may be prettified or altered from the real sources. Computers can now generate texts that seem to born from a human imagination. Now it is not only one church whose influence is fading; we may be witnessing the rise of a new superpower that humans no longer control: computers. Especially since computer science is dominated (or seems to be) by a certain kind of people: the new priests of the 21st century, who dictate the inner workings of those vast circuits, and seem to ignore what the consequences may be. Well, we are all ignorant of that.

But so far, the signs are worrisome. Shorter attention spans. Increased forgetfulness. Indifference to other peoples’ feelings, or unawareness that they even exist. Atomization, loneliness, despair.   

And at the same time, vast potential. Instant data retrieval, communication in real time with people far, far away. Alas, much of that communication is “spied on” (or could be) by humans with algorithms, so that predators can maximize details of their interest by selling analytics to advertisers, or compiling data banks to exploit for selling or influencing people. Still no one is “in charge.”

And we can all feel the burned-out sensation of too much screen exposure. Is it analogous to similar concerns over too much reading, from earlier times? Think of The Female Quixote[2] or Don Quixote himself: those novels were meant to depict a danger arising from too much of one kind of reading (novels). Too much imagination can lead one to hold unreal views and harbor expectations ungrounded in reality: disappointment, social ridicule, ostracism may ensue. Love remains out of sight, sadness and loneliness may befall the uncritical novel reader.

Too much screen time, esp. with violent video games, may do a similar trick on the mind but with a difference: instead of seeking and not finding love, one may seek to annihilate people perceived as “enemies” to the self. Even without such violent exposure, one attuned to screens may reduce people to targets or transactions, so that the self continues to feel strong and powerful, as it does on screen.

Spatial relations fade when the experience of walking, doing sports, or navigating a new place with a map are no longer common. Our world becomes an image on a screen with a dot for “you are here” which may be magnetized 1,000% or minimized into insignificance, instantly, with a flick of the thumb.

Communion through idea sharing, mutual experiences, sharing reactions to powerful writing, music, or art—therein lies our humanity, our greatness and our joy. What is the point of thinking, if all your thoughts are private property to be shared inside your head alone? Or posted online and forgotten seconds later by you and never read by anybody during your life?

Writing is still the most profound way to communicate and focused reading remains the best mode of activating thought.

Events that are local, in real time, with small groups of highly literate people (or children/teens/adults who are open to becoming such): that is the kind of event that I have discovered as a college teacher and which I now seek to propagate around me in West Seattle. That kind of event works, is remembered, and is cherished by humans. It is in a way a medieval model, except with no Church to coerce us or for us to serve. It is not “scalable” except in multiplying the model in locales worldwide.

Then what?

Therein lies the mystery.

Does it matter?

But I will seek ways to help create communion as long as I am here. Give hope, encourage, commiserate.

Thanks for asking!

Julia

p.s. Below I’ve pasted a flyer for one of my latest efforts. Pass the word to any kids you know!

“Write YOUR Story” now enrolling for Spring 2023!

Free Writing Workshop for people ages 8-12

Meets on Thursdays, February 2 – May 4, 2023*

4:30pm to 5:30pm,

High Point Community Center: 6920 34th Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98126

Taught by two West Seattle writer/professors                               

TO ENROLL:  Contact the High Point Comm. Center (206) 684-7422

Website:  http://jdouthwa.wixsite.com/writeyourstory1                

*(no class on 4/13 and 4/20)


[1] In Germany, around 1440, goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press, which started the Printing Revolution.  Wikipedia.

[2] The Female Quixote; or, The Adventures of Arabella is a novel written by Charlotte Lennox, pub. 1752, imitating and parodying the ideas of Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote (1605-1615).

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conflict creativity death humor Russian literature

Trivia Quiz for “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov

Trivia Quiz for The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

(written 1928-1940; published posthumously in 1966)

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 1/22/23

A. The Literary Hybrid: Satire + Origin Tale + Cityscape + Supernatural Adventure

1. A Biting Satire. As a doctor, writer, and member of the intelligentsia, Mikhail Bulgakov witnessed first-hand the terrors of the Stalinist regime (1927-1953), and, assuming his work would never get published, he pokes fun at many aspects of the era’s impact on ordinary lives.  Which one of the following is not criticized in the novel?

a. the government-sanctioned housing shortage in Moscow

b. the “politically dangerous” issue of having foreign currencies in your possession

c. the total absence of censorship, which gave rise to a media free-for-all promoting anarchy, xenophobia, and mob rule

d. the graft, bribe-taking, and other unscrupulous behaviors practiced by official Soviet bureaucrats

2. An Ambiguous Easter Novel. Bulgakov’s biographer calls this book an “Easter novel” for all but one of the following reasons. Which one of the following does not occur in The Master and Margarita?

a. The novel describes the day when Procurator Pontius Pilate proceeded over the trial in which Jesus was condemned to death on the cross, and the following days.

b. The novel is an evangelical’s spiritual autobiography, in which he describes finding faith on a special Easter.

c. The story takes place in the springtime.

d. The novel has 33 chapters (or 32 plus an epilogue about an afterlife): the same age as Jesus when he died.

3. A Cityscape. Even those who have never ventured to Moscow will develop some familiarity with the city by the end of this novel, due to its precise locations and relatively small focus. Which one of the following sites is not a center of the action?

a. Patriarch’s Ponds

b. Griboyedov House

c. The Hermitage Museum (Winter Palace of the Imperial Family)

d. Sparrow Hills

4. Strange occurrences and supernatural travel run through the second part of the book, in which all but one of the following events transpire. Identify it.

a. Margarita becomes a witch and flies across the night sky.

b. A cat demands, “Passport !” and stretches out a chubby paw to receive it.

c. Margarita attends a ball where she meets a number of criminals, poisoners, and madmen from history.

d. The Master’s novel is published to great acclaim in a foreign country far from Moscow.

B. A Strange Worldview

5. Characters blurt out phrases that sound outlandish, but merely reflect political realities of the time. Which one of the following is not from The Master and Margarita ?

a. “Money … should be kept in the State Bank, in special, moisture-free safe-deposit boxes, and not in your aunty’s cellar where the rats can get at it!”

b. “Have you come to arrest me?”

c. “Take care how you cut yourself. It is more dangerous than you think in this country.”

d. “One really shouldn’t make big plans for oneself, dear neighbor.”

6. Laughter: the Ultimate Weapon? Bulgakov’s humor emerges slyly in this novel; which one of the following is not an example?

a. “And it was then, as the chairman insisted afterwards, that the miracle took place: the wad of bills crawled into his briefcase all on its own.”

b. “The foreigner leaned back on the bench and practically squealed with curiosity as he asked, ‘You mean you’re atheists?!’ … “Oh, how delightful!”

 c. “Neither the conductress nor the passengers were amazed by the most important thing of all, namely, that a cat was not merely getting on a streetcar, which wasn’t so bad, but that he intended to pay his fare!”

d. Woland’s show includes a “Ballet of the Bureaucrats” wherein clerks become angels and dance in unison.

7. Advice on living, or how not to disappear. Which maxim is not from Bulgakov’s book?

a. “Submission, self-denial, diligent work, are the preparations for a life.”

b. “Today I’m unofficial, but tomorrow I might be official! And vice versa, of course, or even something worse.”

c. “Insults are the usual reward for good work.”

d. “What are smart people for, if not to untangle tangled things?”

C. Miscellaneous Insights

8. Death is a central theme and end of this book. Which one of the following is not from The Master and Margarita?

a. “Chess became an incurable addiction that tormented him until the day of his death.”

b. “A round dark object was propelled under the railing … it began bouncing over the cobblestones of Bronnaya Street. It was Berlioz’s severed head.”

c. “’Crash! Bang! Over falls the baron!’” ‘I was practically hysterical,’ put in the cat, licking a spoonful of caviar.”

d. “Needless to say, truly mature and cultivated people did not tell these tales about an evil power’s visit to the capital.”

9. Mikhail Bulgakov was also a playwright and some dialogue is remarkable. Which one of the following is not from his novel?

a. “’I shouldn’t be blamed too severely—after all, it’s not everyday you meet up with an evil power!’ / ‘That’s for sure! How nice it would be if it were everyday!’”

b. “What more can a bear want?” [the mother asks]. / “Love, I think to myself, like the warmth in the cowshed of all those breathing cattle with a common goal—survival.”

c. “’The sturgeon’s not the issue.’ /  ‘How can it not be the issue if it’s spoiled?’ / ‘They sent us sturgeon that’s second-grade fresh’ said the bartender.”

d. “’When people have been stripped of everything, as you and I have been, they look to otherworldly powers for salvation! Well all right, I’m willing to do it.’ / ‘That’s it, now you’re your old self again’.”

10. The message? Which of the following is not a quote from this book?

a. “And so, almost everything was explained, and the investigation came to an end, just as, in general, all things do.”

b. “It’s worth everything isn’t it, to keep one’s intellectual liberty; not to enslave one’s powers of appreciation, one’s critical independence?”

Answers

1. c.

2. b.

3. c. The Hermitage Museum is in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

4. d.

5. c. That quote is from Bram Stoker, Dracula.

6. d.

7.a. That quote is from Charles Dickens, Bleak House.

8. a. That quote is from Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera.

9. b. That quote is from Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, The Discomfort of Evening.

10. b That quote is from Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence.

***

Come back in February for the quiz on Vanity Fair (1847-48) by English novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.

Categories
Irish literature

Trivia Quiz for “The Dead” by James Joyce, and “Dream Story” by Arthur Schnitzler

Trivia Quiz for “The Dead” by James Joyce (1924), and

Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler (1926)

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 12/11/22

With answers below

A. “The Dead”

1. Despite being called a “great affair,” the description of the Misses Morkan’s annual dance reveals hints of their modest status in Dublin society. Which of the following details is not mentioned, about their home and party?

a. The caretaker’s daughter (instead of a stately butler) answers the door and welcomes in the guests.

b. The guests include family, friends, and pupils of the hostesses, who earn money by giving music lessons.

c. Their feast is composed of leftovers, artfully concealed under thick sauces, accompanied by watered-down wine and stale bread.

d. The women live in a rental, the upper part of a “dark gaunt house”—and have done so for the past thirty years.

2. One of the main concerns of the hostesses, during this event, is to avoid a certain disgrace. Which one of the following explains their fear?

a. They fear Mary Jane’s former lover might show up and cause a scene.

b. They fear the men will start fighting about Irish politics, as often happens at their gatherings.

c. They fear an old friend might show up drunk and behave poorly, thus embarrassing them in front of the music students, many of whom belong to better-class families.

d. They fear the landlord might come upstairs to argue about the noise.

3.  The main character, Gabriel, is described as having all but one of the following traits. Which is not in “The Dead”?

a. He is their favorite nephew.                                         

b. They haven’t seen him for years since he’s often abroad, as a member of the merchant marine.

c. He is son of their dead elder sister who had married a man from the Dublin Port and Docks.

d. He is their favorite choice for presenting Christmas speeches, given his education and literary career.

4. Gabriel’s mood is darkened during the evening by a few minor incidents; which of the following is not mentioned?

a. The caretaker’s daughter turns sour after he mentions her future wedding and rebuffs his friendly gesture.

b. The sight of his dead mother’s photo reminds Gabriel that she once opposed his marriage to his wife, Gretta.

c. The sound of people’s feet dancing overhead makes him worry that his speech is too high-brow.

d. A drunk woman makes fun of his “Continental” accent.

5. In the end, Gabriel espies his wife listening to some music. This episode stirs up equivocal feelings. Which of the following is not a consequence of that moment?

a. He sees “grace and mystery in her attitude, as if she were a symbol of something.”

b. “A sudden tide of joy went leaping out of his heart.”

c. Gretta starts to sob, remembering a boy she once loved, and who sang that song for her.

d. He realizes that “her face was no longer beautiful” and it makes him sad.

e. All of the above are a consequence of the music.

B. Dream Story

6. Schnitzler’s story builds on a strange experience which inspires a sequence of events.  Which of the following describes the initial experience?

a. A husband and wife attend a concert where they hear an old song the wife once loved, and which reminds her of lost love.

b. A husband and wife attend a masquerade ball where people make passes at them, separately, thus inflaming their sexual desires.

c. A husband and wife attend a political meeting and the husband is inspired to get involved, much to his wife’s regret and anger.

d. A husband and wife attend a family gathering where people tell dirty stories that make them ashamed of their past.

7. The text contains hints of a message throughout, in sentences such as all but one of the following. Which one is not in Dream Story?

a. “Uneasy, and tormenting themselves, each sought … to draw out confessions from the other.”

b. “All at once those insignificant events were imbued, magically and painfully, with the deceptive glow of neglected opportunities.”

c. “There’s no dignity to be had in being a slave.”

d. “No dream is entirely a dream.”

8. Maxims from the underworld. During a weird evening, one hears some warnings/advice. Which of the following is not said by shadowy strangers in Dream Story?

a. “There’s nothing here to smile about.”

b. “It is not a question of satisfaction, but one of expiation.”

c. “When a promise has been made here there is no turning back.”

d. “Here it doesn’t matter whether you have forgotten the password or if you never knew it.”

9. Which one of the following words is seen to have a special power, lending logic and synchronicity to the action in Dream Story?

a. “Sweden”               

b. “Jimmy”                

c. “Rosebud”                          

d. “Denmark”

C. BOTH BOOKS TOGETHER!

10. Which quote from “The Dead” sounds like it applies to the characters in Dream Story?

a. “One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither with age.”

b. “It was the rule, that was all.”

c. “’When we are hungry we are all very quarrelsome.’ ‘And when we are thirsty we are also quarrelsome.’”

d. “To follow the voice … was to feel and share the excitement of swift and secure flight.”

ANSWERS

1. c.

2. c.

3. b.

4. d.

5. e.

6. b.

7. c.  (That quote is from The Remains of the Day.)

8. a. (That quote is from The Discomfort of Evening.)

9. d.

10. a., b. or d.

Come back next month when we’ll discuss a classic of Russian literature!

Date & time: Sunday January 22, 2023: 3:00-4:30pm. Trivia Quiz is posted on this blog afterwards, each month.

Place: C and P Coffee House on California Ave SW: outdoors, on back patio

Event: West Seattle Classic Novels (and Movies) book club meets to discuss The Master and Margarita, by Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov (published posthumously in 1966-67, written from 1928 to his death in 1940). 

contact person: juliawsea@gmail.com

Thank you for reading,

and happy holidays to you and yours!

Categories
children death loss memory

Trivia Quiz for “The Discomfort of Evening” by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Trivia Quiz for The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

(winner of the International Booker Prize, 2020)

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 11/20/22

(answers below)

A. Memoirs of a Child

1. Motivation. Multiple reasons lie behind the choice to write these (fictional) memoirs, yet none are explicitly stated by the narrator (who shares some features of the author’s own life). Which one of the following does not seem likely as a reason to write this book?

a. a great affection for family and desire to share funny and sweet stories

b. a victim’s effort to seek justice—divine or societal—for the suffering she’s endured

c. a novelist’s desire to shock city folk by exploiting brutal and grotesque aspects of rural life

d. a one-time believer’s want to expose harsh views promulgated by the Dutch Reformed Church.

2. Duration. How much time is covered in the narration?

a. Nine years: she is 12 years old at the beginning and 21 at the end.

b. One month: she is 10 at beginning and end, and the time goes only from December to January.

c. One night: it all happens on the terrible night her brother drowned, when she was 10.

d. Two years: she grows from age 10 to age 12.

B. A Strange Worldview

3. Maxims. The Discomfort of Evening includes numerous judgments and lessons on life by the young narrator. Which one of the following does she not say (or think)?

a. “Anger has hinges that need oiling.”

b. “There’s nothing here to smile about.”

c. “For our generation, professional prestige lay most significantly in the moral worth of one’s employer.”

d. “Everything that requires secrecy here is accepted in silence.”

4. Home sweet home? Which one of the following does not describe the narrator’s home?

a. They have only three TV channels: Nederlands 1, 2, and 3.

b. They live on a farm, with various animals including cows, rabbits, and chickens.

c. They consider stewed cow’s udder with mustard to be a special treat.

d. They are hiding Jews in their basement, the narrator thinks, because her mom stores food there.

e. Their home is beloved far and wide for the music, friendship, and joy one finds there.

C. People and Their Problems

5. Strained relations abound. Which one of the following is not in this book?

a. A brother sexually abuses his sister.

b. A boy sexually abuses a neighbor girl.

c. A girl masturbates with a stuffed animal.

d. A mother becomes grief-stricken, then numb, then suicidal, faced with her life’s challenges.

e. A father kills his son, to teach him a lesson.

f. A girl suffers from long-term constipation and her father tries to “cure” her.

g. A boy forces a girl to kill an animal as a sacrifice.

6. A difficult world surrounds them. Which of the following maxims is not cited?

a. “Crows in a farmyard are an omen of death.”

b. “You don’t take rotten mandarins back to the greengrocer’s.”

c. “Mum doesn’t like made-up things, because stories in your imagination often leave out suffering and Mum thinks it should be part of things.”

d. “I promise to make you feel wanted, loved and cherished every single day.”

e. “Sometimes it’s good to frighten them a bit.”

7. Death is the central theme and end of this book. Which of the following is not from The Discomfort of Evening?

a. “You die fast or slowly and both things have their advantages and disadvantages.”

b. “Since death is inevitable, it’s best to forget about it. Carpe diem!”

c. “Death never just happens to you, there is always something that causes it. This time it was you. You can kill too.”

d. “I asked God if He please couldn’t take my brother Matthies instead of my rabbit.”

8. Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is also a poet and some lines are poignant or remarkable. Which of the following is not from The Discomfort of Evening?

a. “I only saw her lips moving and my mother’s pursed shut, like mating slugs.”

b. “What more can a bear want?” [the mother asks]. “Love, I think to myself, like the warmth in the cowshed of all those breathing cattle with a common goal—survival.”

c. A maid screams: “There was no reflection of him in the mirror!”

d. “There’s a drowned butterfly inside me.”

e. “Their hands were always searching for something and if you were no longer able to hold an animal or a person tenderly, it was better to let go and turn your attention to other useful things instead.”

9. Striking symbols. Which of the following is not a symbolic presence in this book?

a. a pet hamster is drowned in a glass of water, while three children watch

b. a child is forced to break open her piggy bank (in the form of a cow), with a hammer

c. an IUD (or “coil” birth control device) is found in a baby book

d. a painting becomes uglier and uglier, while the person in the painting becomes mean and cruel

e. a sign says: “LOOK OUT! TOADS CROSSING,” beside a road littered with crushed bodies

10. The message? Which of the following is not a quote from this book, on family and religion?

a. “It must have been most irksome to find himself bound by a hard-wrung pledge to stand in the stead of a parent to a strange child he could not love. “

b. “I’m beginning to have more and more doubts about whether I find God nice enough to want to go and talk to Him.”

c.  “It might sound crazy, but I miss my parents even though I see them every day.”

d. “One day I’d like to go to myself.”

Open question: Some might ask whether such a brutal, depressing story should be considered as “art,” let alone win the prestigious International Booker prize. As Alice Walker wrote: “If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for?”

ANSWERS

1. a.

2. d.

3. c. (That quote is from The Remains of the Day.)

4. e

5. e.

6. d. (That quote is from a website of loving quotations [https://www.ftd.com/blog/celebrate/love-words], certainly not from this book.)

7. b. (That quote is a platitude of my own invention.)

8. c. (That quote is from Dracula.)

9. d. (That plot is from The Picture of Dorian Gray.)

10. a. (That quote is from Jane Eyre.)

P.S. The open question remains open; we questioned what it means to be “better,” among other things…

**********

Join us next month, on Sunday December 11 at 3pm, when we will discuss two classic stories that have been adapted into movies. You are invited to view the films and compare them to the stories (if time permits).

The books to read are:

1. Arthur Schnitzler, Dream Story. Also known as Rhapsody: A Dream Novel, it is a 1926 novella by the Austrian writer Schnitzler (128 pages). It was adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick called Eyes Wide Shut (1999), starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise.

2. James Joyce, “The Dead.” First published in 1924, this story is the last one in the Irish writer Joyce’s collection of short stories, Dubliners. It is about 50 pages.  A film version of The Dead exists as well: it is the 1987 drama directed by John Huston, written by his son Tony Huston, and starring his daughter Anjelica Huston. 

Happy reading and viewing; hope to see you in December!

Categories
English literature

Trivia Quiz for “Jane Eyre”

Trivia Quiz for Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)

For WSEA “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 7/31/22

(With answers below)

1. Five Homes, Prisons, or Way Stations toward an Unknown Fate?  Jane lives at five places with evocative names during her young life. Which is not one of them?

  1. Thornfield                               b. Ferndean                 c. Moor House            d. Cheesewring               e. Gateshead              f. Lowood

2. Portraits of Bullying and Vengeance.  Jane encounters numerous instances of people acting badly, especially in their anger over what she does or does not do or say. Which of the following is not guilty of physically attacking, berating, bullying, insulting, or trying to coerce Jane Eyre?

a. John Reed                                                   b. Mrs. Reed                           c. Mr. Brocklehurst d. Miss Temple                                               e. Mr. Rochester                     f. Blanche Ingram

3. Portraits of Resistance. Amid the chaos of adults acting rashly, there are vignettes of younger people who resist attack in wise forbearance, including which one of the following?

a. Helen Burns                                    b. Adèle Varens         

c. Georgiana Reed                                         

d. Miss Scratcherd                                          e. Blanche Ingram

4. Fury, Rage, and Passion! Jane Eyre shocked readers in the 1840s for the detailed descriptions of people in the throes of hatred, desire, and vengeance. Which of the following is not from Jane Eyre?

a. “My heart beat thick, my head grew hot; …. I uttered a wild, involuntary cry; I rushed to the door and shook the lock in desperate effort.”

b. “He crossed the floor and seized my arm and grasped my waist. He seemed to devour me with his flaming glance… powerless as stubble exposed to the draught and glow of a furnace.”

c. “She sucked the blood: she said she’d drain my heart.”

d.  “I wonder what other bridegroom ever looked as he did—so bent up to a purpose, so grimly resolute: or who, under such steadfast brows, ever revealed such flaming and flashing eyes.”

e. All of the above are found in Jane Eyre.

5. Autobiographical style. With its retrospective first-person narrative, Brontë’s book provides readers with a feeling of listening to the heroine’s most secret and changeable thoughts. Which one of the following thoughts does not occur to the heroine?

a. “I still possessed my soul, and with it the certainty of ultimate safety.”

b. “We can’t behave like people in novels, though, can we?”

c. “Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally, but women feel just as men feel.”

d. “My help had been needed and claimed; I had given it; I was pleased to have done something.”   

6. Self-talk. Alongside the occasional kind words from others, Jane tortures herself and tries to encourage herself, by her own internal monologue. Which of the following is not from Jane Eyre?

a. “You, a favorite of Mr. Rochester? Go! Your folly sickens me. … Poor stupid dupe!”

b. “The afternoon advanced, while I thus wandered about like a lost and starving dog.”

c. “In what darkness, what dense ignorance, was the mental battle fought! I could not answer the ceaseless inward question—why I thus suffered.”

d. “One Christmas was so much like another, in those years…”

7. Night fears. Which of the following scary moments is not from Jane Eyre?

a. “There was a demoniac laugh—low, suppressed, and deep—uttered, as it seemed, at the very keyhole of my chamber door.”

b. A maid screams: “There was no reflection of him in the mirror!”

c. “I started awake on hearing a vague murmur, peculiar and lugubrious, which sounded, I thought, just above me.”

d. “This door was open; a light shone out of the room within: I heard thence a snarling, snatching sound, almost like a dog quarreling.”

8. Money, Transactions, and Debt. Which of the following does not happen in Jane Eyre?

a. Mr. Rochester hires Jane as a governess, for 30 pounds a year.

b. Jane saves Mr. Rochester’s life during a fire, and tells him “There is no debt, benefit, burden, obligation, in the case.”

c. Jane inherits 20,000 pounds from a long-lost uncle.

d. Jane follows the advice of St John, and gives her fortune to Christian missionaries in India.

9.—10. Love and Forgiveness. Jane’s tolerance of Rochester’s foul temper, moodiness, and emotional outbursts is exemplary. What two (choose 2) reasons does she offer for it?

a.  “He made me feel what severe punishment a good yet stern, a conscientious yet implacable man can inflict on one who has offended him.”

b. “It must have been most irksome to find himself bound by a hard-wrung pledge to stand in the stead of a parent to a strange child he could not love. “

c. “Harsh caprice laid me under no obligation; on the contrary, a decent quiescence, under the freak of manner, gave me the advantage. … I felt interested to see how he would go on.”

d. “His changes of mood did not offend me, because I saw that I had nothing to do with their alternation; the ebb and flow depended on causes quite disconnected to me.”

ANSWERS

1. d. Cheesewring is a location in Cornwall, England (encountered in Daphne Dumaurier’s Jamaica Inn)

2. d. Miss Temple

3. a. Helen Burns

4. e. All of the above are in Jane Eyre.

5. b. (That quote is from The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton.)

6. d. (That quote is from Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales.)

7. b. (That quote is from Bram Stoker, Dracula.)

8. d. Jane does not follow the advice of St John; she keeps her own counsel.

9. c.

10. d.

Categories
American literature art children creativity French literature humor music nature quilts

Only a real idiot can have this much fun! (homage to Julio Cortázar)

Reading Julio Cortázar’s essay, “Only a Real Idiot” yesterday, I felt such a joyfully liberating surge of life energy, for he captured how I feel, on seeing a hummingbird scratch his neck with his tiny foot like a dog, or a cornflower in glorious blue abandon alongside gritty Rainier Avenue, or José González in concert. Or my classmates doing Aikido at sunset, a Chinese busker twanging strange melodies at Hing Hay Park, or Toots and the Maytalls when they were here, so long ago in the pre-pandemic past…

“I am entertained, deeply moved; the dialogues or the dancers’ motions seem like supernatural visions to me. I applaud wildly, and sometimes the tears well up in my eyes or I laugh until I have to pee; in any event, I am glad to be alive and to have had this opportunity to go to the theater or to the movies or to an exhibition, anywhere extraordinary people make or show things never before imagined, where they invent a place of revelation or communication, something that washes away the moments when nothing is happening, nothing but what always happens.” (“Only a Real Idiot” in Around the Day in Eighty Worlds, p. 62)

It’s all about enthusiasm.

My latest creation–to be unveiled next week at West Seattle’s Summerfest!–is the Luxury Troll Boudoir. (If ever there were a folly, this is it!)

Luxury Troll Boudoirs in progress, HGBG workshop, West Seattle (7/5/22)

— Set in a picturesque cigar box, each features a troll doll with its own quilt, snuggled into a little bed made of vintage satin
— Comes with a booklet, Beautiful Thoughts for the Boudoir, with quotes and portraits by five inspiring French and American women writers
— Suitable for children or nostalgia lovers of any age

Coming soon to the HGBG shop on etsy!

Author portrait courtesy of https://aldianews.com/en/culture/books-and-authors/cortazar-movies

Categories
French literature humor wisdom

Trivia Quiz for “Père Goriot” (1835) by Honoré de Balzac

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 6/26/22

With answers below

A. The Complicated Unfolding: Characters and Relationships.

1. Secrets revealed. People’s secrets come to light in many ways—gradual and abrupt—in the pages of Père Goriot. Which of the following is not a secret revealed?

a. Anastasie, Comtesse de Restaud, is actually Goriot’s eldest daughter.

b. Delphine, Baronne de Nucingen, is actually Goriot’s second daughter.

c. Monsieur Vautrin is actually a famous criminal nicknamed Trompe-la-mort or Death Dodger.

d. Mme Vauquer’s generosity actually does help the people of Borrioboola-Gha.

2. Mysteries remain. Despite the many dénouements in the second half, significant doubts nag at the reader. Which of the following enigmas is resolved?

a. Will Eugène de Rastignac remain loyal to his lady-love, Delphine de Nucingen?

b. Will Mme Vauquer find new boarders for her rooming house?

c. Will Vautrin escape from prison with the help of his confederates?

d. Will the Vicomtesse de Beauséant ever be seen in Paris again?

e. All of the above remain tinged by mystery, in one way or another.

B. Irony, heavy at times.  The Balzacian narrator, and the novel’s characters, do not hesitate to pass judgment on people, often with funny/cringe-inducing results. Match the comment to the person being described. The characters:  a. Père Goriot; b. Eugène de Rastignac ; c. Mme Vauquer ; d. Mlle Victorine Taillefer  

3. “As happens with great souls, he wanted nothing he had not deserved.”

4.  “Like all narrow-minded people, X habitually looked no farther than the sequence taken by events, without analyzing their causes. She liked to blame others for her own mistakes.”

5. “X blended in with the general atmosphere of wretchedness… She resembled a shrub whose leaves have yellowed from being freshly planted in the wrong sort of soil.”

6. “There was no more room for doubt. X was an old rake … the disgusting color of his hair was the result of his excesses and the drugs he took in order to continue them.”

C. 7. Education. Père Goriot, like David Copperfield, is considered a Bildungsroman or novel of education. Which one of the following precepts does the hero Eugène not learn in the course of his time in Paris?

a. “Believe me, young man, practice shooting. … It’s no good being honest.”

b. “Strike without pity and people will fear you.”

c. “Take care how you cut yourself. It is more dangerous than you think in this country.”

d. “If you want to succeed, start by not showing your feelings so plainly.”

e. “There are only two options open: dumb obedience or revolt.”

8. Which one of the following attributes is not mentioned to explain Eugène’s popularity among ladies?

a. his expressions of undying loyalty

b. his studiousness and work ethic

c. his southern impetuosity

d. his good looks

9. Marriage in Paris: a special kind of hell. Circle the quote that is not by Balzac.

a. “Poor old thing, I suppose she likes him, but, I must say, if he was one’s dog one would have him put down.”

b. “Young men from the provinces know nothing of the pleasures of a triangular relationship.”

c. “Our marriages have become a mere farce.”

d. “Chains of gold are the heaviest to bear.”

10. Money worries. There is one place in Père Goriot where several people go in secret, to solve worries about money. What place is called “that depressing and discreet friend of the young”?

a. a gambling den

b. a pawn shop

c. a brothel

11. Although Père Goriot seems to act in mysterious ways to his fellow boarders, Vautrin is the ultimate mystery in their midst. Which of the following does not designate his character?

a. “Let me tell you a secret: he doesn’t like women.”

b. “The very fact of his conviction brought him the most enormous honor among his own sort.”

c. “He has been fortunate enough to escape with his life from all the extremely risky exploits he has carried out.”

d. “that great lump of an Alsatian? / He is quite capable of absconding with all the capital and leaving us behind, the scoundrel!”

ANSWERS

  1. d.
  2. e.
  3. b.
  4. c.
  5. d.
  6. a.
  7. c. (That quote is from Bram Stoker, Dracula.)
  8. b.
  9. a. (That quote is from The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford.)
  10. b.
  11. d. (That quote describes the Baron de Nucingen, Delphine’s husband.)

Fantastic movie poster; love the symbols of greed and sorrow, rage and lust. That about sums up this cynical masterpiece… which can evoke tears or great merriment, depending on your mood when you read it.

P.S. For our next meeting, July 31, we’re going to read Jane Eyre!

Categories
American literature art creativity English literature French literature wisdom

Trivia quiz on Virginia Woolf, “To the Lighthouse” and “A Room of One’s Own”

Trivia Quiz for To the Lighthouse (1927) and A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf

with the answers below

For WSEA “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 5/22/22

I. To the Lighthouse

A. On Frustrated Yearning     

1. The book begins with a scene of a young boy’s yearning, which opens the reader’s horizon to a long-awaited sea voyage. In a few lines, however, the dream of travel is dashed. Who is the first person to announce the trip’s impossibility, and why?

a. the protagonist’s nurse, because the boy is sickly and too weak for travel at present.

b. the child’s mother, who reminds him that he has schoolwork to do.

c. the child’s father, who announces that the weather “won’t be fine.”

d. a houseguest, who feels a west wind blowing.

2. On Comfort.

Among other things, words provide comfort to the child and it is usually his mother who speaks comforting words. Which of the following refrains is not spoken by the mother, Mrs. Ramsey?

a. “But it may be fine—I expect it will be fine.”          

b. “Let’s find another picture to cut out.”                   

c. “Oh, how beautiful!”

d. “Well then, we will cover it up.”                 

e. “Think of a kitchen table, when you’re not there.”

3. Ordinary Misogyny. Quotes that we may find objectionable run through the narrative. Which is not from To the Lighthouse?

a. “They did nothing but talk, talk, talk, eat, eat, eat. It was the women’s fault. Women made civilisation impossible with all their ‘charm,’ all their silliness.”

b. “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.”

c. “She was not good enough to tie his shoe strings.”

d. “There was Mr. X whispering in her ear, ‘Women can’t paint, women can’t write…’”

e. “She guessed what he was thinking—he would have written better books if he had not married.”

4. Extraordinary Restraint. Women react to men’s comments in ways that feel uncomfortably familiar—with silence, resentment, and smoldering rage. Which is not in To the Lighthouse?

a. “She had done the usual trick—been nice.”  

b. “’Odious little man,’ thought Mrs. Ramsey, ‘why go on saying that?’”

c. “She would never for a single second regret her decision, evade difficulties or slur over duties.”

d. “She bent her head as if to let the pelt of jagged hail, the drench of dirty water, bespatter her unrebuked. There was nothing to be said.”

e. “If she had said half of what he said, she would have blown her brains out by now.”

f. All are in To the Lighthouse.

5. How long does it take before the Ramseys take the trip mentioned on page one?

a. two months             

b. ten years                 

c. twenty years            

d. one week

II. A Room of One’s Own and themes found in both books

6. Why does Woolf declare that “the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction” must remain unsolved in her work?  Which reason is not in the book?

a. because there are too many great women novelists to synthesize into one conclusion

b. because until the 17th century, most women were too poor and uneducated to write anything

c. because throughout history, women have lacked the time, money and solitude necessary to discover their genius

7. Acc. to Woolf, what emotion dominates the books (by men) explaining women and their works?

a. delight                     

b. anger                       

c. awe              

d. jealousy  

8. Creativity: How to explain it? Woolf attempts variously to describe what it feels like to conceive ideas and create things. Which quote is not by Virginia Woolf in these two books?

a. “It is fatal for anyone who writes to ignore their sex. The mind must be focused on one’s sexual identity, for its limitations and biological demands matter more than anything.”

b. “She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked: it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed. It was in that moment’s flight … that made this passage from conception to work as dreadful as down a dark passage for a child.”

c. “Thought … had let its line down into the stream. It swayed, minute by minute, hither and thither among the reflections and the weeds, letting the water lift it and sink it, until—you know the little tug—the sudden conglomeration of an idea at the end of one’s line: and then the cautious hauling of it in, and careful laying of it out? Alas, laid on the grass how small, how insignificant this thought of mine looked.”

d. “The androgynous mind is resonant and porous … it transmits emotion without impediment … it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided.”

9. Woolf’s reality. Which of the following is not in A Room?

a. “If she begins to tell the truth, the [man’s] figure in the looking-glass shrinks; his fitness for life is diminished.”

b. “It is remarkable … what a change of temper a fixed income will bring about. I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not flatter any man; he has nothing to give me.”

c. “The Suffrage campaign has done the unthinkable! Finally, it has roused in men an extraordinary desire to help women achieve their potential.”

d.  “Imaginatively, she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history.”

e. “Any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at.”

10. What’s wrong with women’s writing of the nineteenth century? Which reason is not cited?

a. Ignorance and emotion. “Anger was tampering with the integrity of Charlotte Brontë the novelist. … Her imagination swerved from indignation and we feel it swerve.”

b. Lack of natural ability. “No woman has ever written as well as Dickens or Proust.”

c.  Pressure of convention. “She was thinking of something other than the thing itself. … She had altered her values in deference to the opinion of others.”

d. Lack of female community and heritage. “They had no tradition behind them, or one so short and partial that it was of little help. For we think back through our mothers … it is useless to go to the great men writers for help.”

11. What advice does Woolf not proffer to young women? 

a. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

b. There must be a lock on that door, the door to your room.

c.  “Adopt the name of a man for your writing; anonymity runs in our blood.”

d. “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn.”

ANSWERS

1. c.

2. e. (Son Andrew makes that observation, describing his father’s philosophical writings.)

3. b.  That quote is from Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes.

4. f. All are in To the Lighthouse.

5. b.

6. a.

7. b.

8. a.

9. c.

10. b.

11. c.

To all women: please write! write simply, write sadly, write with your heart or your anger…

Write about your lives, about your thoughts, about your past, present, or future, but write, and let the world know you were here!

For what it is worth, I’ve pasted below a photo of the books I’ve created during my time on this earth, inspired partly at least by my reading of Woolf’s essay during my time as an undergraduate….

Woolf makes me proud to be a writer. To exist. To forgive us all, and to hope… for more great writers will come! Please write!

And, of course, thank you for reading.

Categories
art cats creativity design dogs friendship happiness quilts trees wisdom

small mercies

It’s been pretty damp out here lately. It’s easy to let your spirits fall flat and feel dreary. Even the computer sends out small, slightly ominous messages of warning, in the right-hand corner of the screen.

Yet I take heart in Emerson’s words this morning: “I am thankful for small mercies.” The beauty of green lush scenery and the ever-changing skies, the humorous way my computer seems to be speaking, commiserating about the weather… it’s all so endearing, so regular, so northwestern. It’s life happening right before our eyes. The passage which follows in Emerson rings strangely familiar too, to readers of Michael Singer and other contemporary writers on consciousness:

“The new molecular philosophy shows astronomical interspaces betwixt atom and atom, shows that the world is all outside; it has no inside.”

Emerson also reminds us, like Singer in Living Untethered (just got my copy and loving it!) that:

“Life’s chief good is for well-mixed people who can enjoy what they find, without question. .. To fill the hour–that is happiness; to fill the hour and leave no crevice for a repentance or an approval. We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.”

“Life is a tempest of fancies, and the only ballast I know is a respect to the present hour. … we should not postpone and refer and wish, but do broad justice where we are.”

— from Emerson, “Experience” in Selected Writings, pp. 350-352.

And then there’s “All Star Seattle Quilt” No. 1, finished yesterday! It was fun to stitch in some of my favorite natural scenes and landmarks from this city I love so much… and to blend them with fabrics from the many cultures which make this such a quirky, lively place to be: African block prints, Vietnamese tigers, Japanese cranes in flight, Mexican flowers in bloom–we have so much to be grateful for, in this outpost on the far western side of the country.

Hint: those T-shirts and the tiny pin represent local landmarks which will be featured in “All Star Seattle Quilts” Nos. 2 and 3, coming for summer!

And now, about that weather…

Categories
American literature happiness loss memory

Trivia quiz on Edith Wharton, “The Age of Innocence”

Trivia Quiz for The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920; winner 1921 Pulitzer Prize)

(with answers below)

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 4/24/22

1. Husband, Wife, Stranger?  May Archer (née Welland) and her husband Newland Archer seem to understand and love each other in their own way. But they also find fault and misunderstand each other. What one trait does May not have, according to her husband?

a. she takes care of herself     

b. she lets her imagination run wild  

c. she is loyal and gallant       

d. she prefers to ignore unpleasantness         

e. she is a true New Yorker and knows how to act

2-5. Social Portraits. Familial, societal, and marital obligations loom large over the characters in The Age of Innocence; those characters who are unmarried or estranged from their families are seen as lonely outcasts. Yet even the most privileged seem pitiable. Match quote to the character. Characters include:  a. M. Rivière; b. Newland Archer; c. Countess Ellen Olenska; d. May Welland

Quotes                                                                                                         

2. “’Sameness—sameness!’ he muttered, the word running through his head like a persecuting tune…”

3. “I want to cast off all my old life, to become just like everybody else here. …  If you knew how I hate to be different!”

4. “You musn’t think that a girl knows as little as her parents imagine.”       

5. “Ah, good conversation—there’s nothing like it, is there? The air of ideas is the only air worth breathing.”

6.  New York, circa 1870: A Uniquely Historic Urban Setting. There are many famous and familiar places named in The Age of Innocence, where the action mostly stays in New York city. Which one of the following places is not named?

a. Grace Church                     

b. Washington Square            

c. Metropolitan Museum of Art

d. a home on West 23rd Street            

e. the Academy of Music       

f. Central Park

g. the Empire State Building             

h. Wall Street 

7. Intimacy and nostalgia. Some of the most poignant passages endeavor to describe times past, longing, and how people who are otherwise intimate perceive life so differently. Which one of the following is not in the novel?

a. “You never did ask each other anything, did you? And you never told each other anything. You just sat and watched each other, and guessed at what was going on underneath.”

b. “Odd, he thought, how the thought of childhood keeps coming back to me—the result of seeing Clarissa, perhaps; for women live much more in the past than we do, he thought.”

c. “She was frank, poor darling, because she had nothing to conceal, assured because she knew of nothing to be on her guard against.”

d. “My good father abhorred hurry. But now we live in a constant rush.”

8. Style and technique. With her mixture of omniscience and interior monologue, Wharton’s narrative provides readers with a feeling of listening to the characters’ most secret and changeable thoughts. Which one of the following thoughts occurs to the hero, Newland Archer?

a. “Don’t let us be like all the others!”                      

b. “Women ought to be as free as we are—”

c. “We can’t behave like people in novels, though, can we?”          

d. “It’s worth everything isn’t it, to keep one’s intellectual liberty; not to enslave one’s powers of appreciation, one’s critical independence?”

9. Keywords and thoughts recur in Wharton’s description of upper-class New York society. Which one of the following quotes is not drawn from Wharton’s book?

a. “keep out the ‘new people’”          

b. “rather bad form”               

c. “morbidly sensitive”

d. “low-toned comments”      

e. “a naïve, generous country”           

f. “it’s confoundedly dull”

g. “ritual was precise and inflexible”            

h. “the occasion was a solemn one”

10-11. Maxims or life lessons. Similar to many of her contemporaries, Wharton peppers her novel with pithy bits of wisdom. Which two of the following are from The Age of Innocence?

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

b. “The worst of doing one’s duty was that it apparently unfitted one for doing anything else.”

c. “It seems stupid to have discovered America only to make it into a copy of another country.”

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

12. High tech and futurist scenarios. Which one of the following modern ideas and inventions is not in the Age of Innocence?

a. long-distance telephoning              

b. 5-day Atlantic ship crossings, from the US to Europe

c. women’s suffrage                                      

d. electric lighting      

e. Debussy’s music

13. Age = wisdom? At the beginning, Newland Archer seems to be in his early twenties. How old is he at the end of the book? 

a. 57 years old            

b. 42               

c. 78               

d. 85   

ANSWERS

1. b.

2. b.

3. c.

4. d.

5. a.                

6. g.

7. b.  (That quote is from Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway.)

8. b.

9. e. (That quote is from Willa Cather, My Ántonia.)

10.-11.  b. and c.

12. c.

13. a.

A special thanks to Carl and Daniel for the violets from their garden, featured in the nosegay seen above: a symbol of Wharton’s lost world and the nostalgia we all feel for long-lost times, places, and loves…