My grandfather was born in Hreljin in 1923, when it was Yugoslavia and in what is now Croatia. When I heard about Yugoslavian Ivo Andric’s 1945 novel The Bridge on the Drina, I had hoped for a glimpse of what life was like in my ancestor’s homeland during a tumultuous time. Although my grandfather’s home town is far from the Bosnia-Serbia border on which this novel takes place, it was still an interesting look at the complex history of the Balkans. I did not really enjoy reading the book, but it was somewhat interesting.Continue Reading
Heart of Darkness (1902) by Joseph Conrad is considered by many to be one of the best novels written in the English language, a fact made all the more remarkable to me by the fact that Joseph Conrad wrote in not his first or second language but his third language, a language he learned after age 21. I would certainly agree that Conrad’s command of English is commendable. His writing is complex and his ability to create scene and convey emotion through mere words is truly remarkable.
The subject matter of his esteemed novella is more difficult for me to praise and relate to. A scathing critique of colonialism, Heart of Darkness can be read as both an exposé of the evils of imperialism and a rebuke of the hypocrisy of the Victorian morals. Further, it portrays an intensely negative view of human nature as purely self-interested and ignorant to the needs of others. It is a deeply uncomfortable book to read. Yet, I believe that as a historical work, it portrays a necessary perspective of turn-of-the-century internationalism.Continue Reading
Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 1 (written maybe 1588 or 1592, possibly revised 1594) dramatizes the beginning of the War of Roses (which lasted from 1455 to 1485). It portrays the animosity between the leaders of the House of York and the leaders of the House of Lancaster as they bickered amongst each other for power, even as England continued the quest to control France, whose army was led by the warrior Joan of Arc.
Does that sound like a lot going on? It felt like it was a lot as I read it. My main problem was remembering who was who, and I found myself frequently referencing the cast list as I read the play. Henry VI Part 1 is commonly named as one of Shakespeare’s poorer plays1, and I’m not surprised. I am fascinated by Joan of Arc and for personal reasons I was intrigued by the historical aspects of the play, but nothing truly remarkable made Henry VI Part 1 stick out for me. I do look forward to reading the next two parts, because I’m hoping my greater familiarity with the characters, plus the “better written” reputation, will make it a more satisfying read.Continue Reading
- Harold Bloom, in his volume Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, uses terms like “bad” “botched” and “crude,” but of course we know we must take Professor Bloom with a grain of salt ↩
I have not read many gothic novels. The only one I’ve read is Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, which I was not a fan of (thoughts here). Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo (first published 1831) seemed far above The Monk in terms of quality. In addition to the better writing, there was the symbolic centrality of the imposing image of Notre-Dame, the multi-faceted characters, and the balance of the horrific action of the story with the symbolic and romantic resolutions.
Notre-Dame de Paris is often translated with the title The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but I don’t like that title as much as the original. Quasimodo, the hunchback of the story, is not the only focal point: the architecture of Notre Dame and the relationship between the two societal outcasts, Esmeralda and Quasimodo, is what drives the novel.
Although much in the beginning of the novel bored me, the action in the last half brought me around again. By the end, I liked it. The novel is firmly in the gothic Romantic tradition: a medieval setting, a wicked monk, outsiders seeking their place in society, attempted rape, horror and murder, and convenient resolutions.
This post contains spoilers of Notre-Dame de Paris.Continue Reading