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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Eyre’

The Indescribable Frankenstein: A Short History of the Spectacular Failure of Words

March 5, 2013 | by

frankenstein-jj-001Mrs. Chesser taught me that there is never any reason to use the word indescribable. Invoking the indescribability of something does no work except to tell everyone, quite explicitly, that you are incapable of describing. Indescribable is not a quality something can possess, only a failure that can overwhelm a writer. Even now, years later, I can practically hear Mrs. Chesser, her voice languid with existential weariness, pleading with all of us in third-period English: “For the love of God, ask ourselves why a thing is indescribable and then write that down. Never be so lazy as to just dash off, ‘It was indescribable.’ It’s a waste of everyone’s time.” I remember her making profound eye contact with me just as the words “waste of everyone’s time” escaped her lips. Chastened, and most likely the prime offender, I made a note to myself, much of it capitalized, and have since made all-out war on the indescribable in my life.

But the indescribable has a history, and a distinguished one at that. In her novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley uses the word “describe,” or some version of it, twenty-one times. Of those twenty-one, fourteen are coupled with a negation. Which means that approximately 66 percent of the time Mary Shelley uses the word “describe,” it is to describe how she, in fact, cannot describe something. “I cannot describe to you my sensations,” or, “How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe,” or, “I cannot pretend to describe what I then felt,” or, “a hell of intense tortures such as no language can describe.” But these romantic, brain-feverish testimonies to descriptive incompetence are often immediately paired with very precise descriptions, as in, “Over him hung a form which I cannot find words to describe—gigantic stature, yet uncouth and distorted in its proportions,” or when the explorer Robert Walton writes his sister, “I cannot describe to you my sensations on the near prospect of my undertaking. It is impossible to communicate to you a conception of the trembling sensation, half pleasurable and half fearful, with which I am preparing to depart.” What is that indescribable sensation? Well, trembling, half-pleasurable, half-fearful, which is actually quite descriptive. Read More »

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Reader, I married him.

January 30, 2013 | by

2janeeyrefinal

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Erotic Classics, Christian Colleges, Dealbreakers

July 19, 2012 | by

  • Yup: e-books outsold hard copies in 2011.
  • Out of the mouths of babes: a six-year-old judges classics by their covers.
  • Speaking of classics: a British publisher adds sex scenes to them. Erotic rewrites include Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.
  • Written a great opener? Call the first graf hotline.
  • The C. S. Lewis Foundation plans to open a college based on his Christian teachings.
  • Dealbreaker books .









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    Reading Children, Posthumous Novels

    July 10, 2012 | by

  • William Faulkner’s first published work, from the 1919 New Republic.
  • Woody Guthrie’s unpublished novel will be published next year, with a little help from Johnny Depp.
  • If you’ve never seen Émile Zola’s legendary “J’Accuse!” editorial, the Los Angeles Review of Books has helpfully shared it.
  • If Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester texted.
  • The Dorothy Parker Facebook page FAQ is the ne plus ultra of dead author Fabecbook page FAQs.
  • Vintage photos of children reading.

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    Alan Bennett on ‘Smut’

    January 10, 2012 | by

    If Alan Bennett needs any introduction at all, I would need more than a paragraph in which to write it. I would start by explaining how, in the early 1960s, he formed the comic revue Beyond the Fringe, along with Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, and Jonathan Miller. I would go on to describe his subsequent half-century of writing for television and the stage, which has included such hugely successful plays as Forty Years On, The Madness of George III, and The History Boys. Perhaps I would round things off by suggesting that he has provided the most authoritative introduction to his own writing life through his wry, tender, autobiographical writings, collected in Writing Home and Untold Stories. His latest book, Smut, includes two long stories, the first of which, “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson,” concerns a formerly staid widower whose life is changed by some adventurous student lodgers. Meanwhile, The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes describes an intergenerational family romp that is set in motion by the marriage of attractive, vain, and gay Graham Forbes to the outwardly plain Betty, who nonetheless harbors secrets of her own. To find out whether this book represents the sort of “holiday from respectability” that his protagonists take, I talked to him over the phone last Friday morning.

    Were these two stories conceived as a pair?

    No. Most of the short stories I’ve written have started off because they wouldn’t turn into plays, and certainly the first one in this book, “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson,” has quite a theatrical beginning. The other one probably dates back further. I wrote a play called Habeas Corpus and it’s a bit in that style. It’s a farce and not a realistic story. I think the notion, particularly in the first story, of somebody breaking out, like Mrs. Donaldson, who is breaking out after a fairly humdrum life, keeps recurring. Read More »

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    Unread Books; Changing Character Names

    November 4, 2011 | by

    I’ve never read Moby-Dick or War and Peace, but people think I have, because I told them so. What is the great book you have never—but should have—read?

    Just this morning—at five o’clock, to be exact—I was staring at the ceiling, thinking about Krapp’s Last Tape and how shocked my favorite college professor would be if he knew I still haven’t seen or read it. At least I hope he’d be shocked. I have never got through any of Beckett’s novels (and have seen almost none of his plays, or anybody else’s). I have never got through Henry Green’s Living or Concluding, though neither one is a long book, and I have sometimes heard myself call Green my “favorite” postwar English novelist, as if I had read enough to have one. I have never got through Jane Eyre or Giovannis Room or Journey to the End of the Night or Zenos Conscience or Pierre—I have never got through chapter one of Pierre. I have never read The Life of Henry Brulard and am not sure its even a novel. I have never read Memoirs of an Anti-Semite (but have said I have). I will never reread Dostoevsky as an adult, which in my case is more or less the same as not having read him. I couldn’t finish The Recognitions: I stopped 150 pages from the end, when the words just stopped tracking, and have never managed five pages of JR. I can’t remember which Barbara Pym novels I read, it was so long ago, and there are so many I haven’t. I have never made it to the cash register with a novel by Ronald Firbank. Thomas Hardy defeats me. So does D. H. Lawrence: you can love a writer and never actually feel like reading any more of his novels. I have never read Lady Chatterleys Lover. I never got to the end of Invisible Man. I have never read Stoner or Gormenghast or Blood Meridian or Wide Sargasso Sea (see Jane Eyre, above). Or any Faulkner novel all the way through besides The Sound and the Fury. I have never enjoyed a novel by Eudora Welty enough to keep going. I think I got to the end of V., which may be even worse than having put it down, and know for a certainty I never got far in Gravitys Rainbow. I have never read U.S.A. or Tom Jones or Tristram Shandy or Pamela or any novels by Irwin Shaw, James Jones, Mavis Gallant, or Dashiell Hammet. Or Raymond Chandler. I have never read Tender Is the Night, but just the other night someone used it as an example of something, and I nodded. Read More »

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