This month, the books I read were deep and thought provoking and even sometimes morally upsetting. Truth be told, those are the types of books I like to read (for the most part). But this month, the subject material in these books was quite heavy.
The Awakening By Kate Chopin
For my online class this semester, I was required to read this book, then write a literary analysis on it. As I’ve said before, I’m always a tad wary of reading feminist literature, especially turn of the century and after. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. The Awakening is about a young married woman’s sense of “awakening” to her desire for authenticity, self-identity, and passionate love and romance (not to be confused with a sexual awakening). When this book was first published, many critics compared it to Madame Bovary and Lolita. I was hesitant when I first started reading, because with comparisons to sexual books, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going to happen. Anyway, I actually quite like this book. I like the sense of “awakening” Edna (the main character) experiences, and how she fights against the things she feels are oppressing her. Now, I don’t agree with all her methods or decisions, but I definitely like the way Chopin explains her thought process and internal, emotional awareness. This book was really morally upsetting to me, because the end is rather ambiguous. Without giving too much away, nothing feels really resolved or decided, and the reader is left trying to figure out what it all meant. Besides the philosophical aspects of the story (such as obligation and duty vs. passion; self-identity; authenticity; “awakening”, etc.), I really liked Chopin’s writing. This story is set in New Orleans during the turn of the century, in an aristocratic Creole environment, and Chopin writes in such an interesting eye for detail. Though Edna occasionally got on my nerves, I liked many of the other characters. Robert Lebrun, Edna’s “lover”, reminded me quite a lot of Angel Clare from Tess of the d’Ubervilles. I also really liked Madame Ratignolle, who acted as the sensible voice of domestic and maternal goodness. She encouraged Edna to live happily and love her children and her husband. On the flip-side, I also quite liked Mademoiselle Reisz. She was half-nutty, and didn’t care about what anybody thought. She, in a sense, acted as the clear voice for Edna’s desires and awakenings, a perfect foil to Madame Ratignolle. There was one line, in particular from this story that rather struck me: “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.”. All in all, I really quite liked this book, and I like the moral conflict it caused.
Les Misérables By Victor Hugo
Where do I even begin? I love this book. I finished this book about two weeks ago, and am still processing it. It’s the kind of book that leaves your mind and heart feeling all kinds of mushy and foggy for days. I’m a little annoyed that it took me so long to finish it. I wish I had read it passionately and hungrily. Before I begin really explaining this book, I want to make this distinction: You are not reading Les Mis if you are not reading Hugo. Victor Hugo’s writing in and of itself is what makes Les Mis so beautiful. It is poignant and powerful, philosophical and detailed, gentle and profound. Hugo examines the world through what I am calling a two-way looking-glass; at times, he writes in a worldly and grand perspective, and at other times, he writes in an intimate and individual perspective. He knows the world, but he also understands the man. There is a quote from Hugo that I hold very near to my heart: “A writer is a world trapped in a person”. As a writer myself, I feel this statement on an intimate level, but as a reader of Hugo, I understand this in terms of his mind. Hugo writes in the spectrum of the world, at times talking about France, and others talking about the forgotten, poor child. In reading Les Mis, one is exposed to the depth of Hugo’s thoughts and feelings and love for his fellow-men. Even when talking about Thérnardier, it is obvious Hugo feels deeply, and has compassion. And the complexity of the this story is of epic proportions. Hugo presents each character’s background, so that each present decision makes sense. He opens the book with the Bishop of Dine, so that his actions make sense in regards to Valjean. Valjean’s past is written out, so that it makes sense why he is angry when he is freed, and then why he changes. Javert’s history is presented so his persistence and cold-hearted approach to justice is understood. Fantine’s life is even presented, and the reader is introduced to otherwise unknown character of Cosette’s father. For every character, Hugo paints a picture of their personality and history, so by the end, each character feels like a friend (or enemy of sorts). And like most books, Les Mis presents facts about the characters that are otherwise brushed over or forgotten. For example, Eponine has a sister and three younger brothers, one of which is a much beloved character. Eponine dies angry and jealous, instead of happy. (Actually, she purposely lulls Marius to the barricade in hopes he will die, and not be with Cosette …… I think I like her better in the movie …..). Valjean takes the name Fauchlevent because he takes refuge in Paris with the man he saved from the cart (Mounsier Fauchlevent). Cosette spent her tween years on a convent. Marius and Cosette actually had(unchaperoned) “dates” in the garden in the Rue Plumet two months before the barriacades. Valjean dies several weeks, if not months, after the wedding. The thing is, this book is better than the musical and movie. I love every extension of this story, and Hugo’s incredible epic, but I could just rave endlessly about the book. My favorite chapter was probably the collection of thoughts Marius wrote for Cosette (A Heart Beneath a Stone) and the one(s) that made my heart the most happy were the final two (A Night Behind Which There is Day and The Grass Covers and the Rain Effaces). This book simply just made my heart happy.
What were you reading this month?
Ciao for now,