Tag Archives: classic

The Beautiful and Damned

F. Scott Fitzgerald has always been one of my favorite authors. His way of making a glitzy and glamorous reality show it’s true colors and his disillusionment with society have always intrigued me, especially with his flowery, ethereal way of describing it all. The Beautiful and the Damned is almost a sort of autobiography of Fitzgerald’s, telling of the rise, slow plateau, and steep into alcoholism of Anthony Patch, along with his wife Gloria. Much of the story mirrors what happened to Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda: after The Great Gatsby gained Scott a massive amount of wealth, they spent it like all flappers would- frivolously and without hesitation. Their partying was short-lived, for Zelda soon developed schizophrenia and Scott developed an alcohol problem. Most of the story focuses on the good times of Anthony and Gloria, even if Anthony was reluctant on meeting her in the first place. They have a strange, modern relationship and live life very spontaneously. Sometimes they don’t seem in love but “knowing they had the best of love, they clung to what remained. Love lingered- by way of long conversations at night into those stark hours when the mind things and sharpens and the borrowings from dreams become the stuff of life, by way of deep intimate kindness they developed toward each other, by way of their laughing at the same absurdities and thinking the same things noble and the same things sad.” Fitzgerald has a way of making the mundane actions of married life a little more describable, and even more desirable. However, their shining happiness is cut short- Gloria tries to run away from home, Anthony is drafted into the war, and you start to wonder if they even like each other at all anymore. Their once infamous, irresistible romance now seems disillusioned- much like the whole universe Fitzgerald creates within his novels. The couple soon runs into financial troubles and Anthony starts drinking at work, getting him into some trouble. During the time of Prohibition, this was especially problematic, even though people seemed to flaunt it all the time. The reader at this point is almost as depressed as the two supposed lovers. But things turn around for them as they win a lawsuit and become millionaires.

The story shows the obsession with materialism, the absence of a deep, romantic love, and a disillusionment with society. The couple is always out spending money and having fun, never worrying about going broke or missing out on the latest party. However, this enjoyment is only on the surface, just like their love seems to be. The reader always seems to be wondering if they really love each other or if it’s all just a passing fancy. Like the book says, “there was nothing, it seemed, that grew stale so soon as pleasure.” And as always, in practically every Fitzgerald novel, their is a disillusionment with society: nothing is really ever all it’s cracked up to be and all things once bright and beautiful will soon dull and fade. While this can be sad to some people, it can also be comforting- beauty and glory will always pass but sometimes lackluster things can be the strongest and last the longest. Maybe Fitzgerald was going somewhere with disillusionment thing and there could be deeper meaning behind it.

The novel’s dialogue structure was easier to follow than previous novels. It was almost like a play, a back-and-forth sort of format where you had to follow who was saying what. This sounds complicated but it made the novel flow much more quickly and changed the pace of certain parts. Overall, it was a beautiful piece of literary work, as should be expected of Fitzgerald, and one I will definitely read again soon.

Cousin Bette

It’s been a while since my last post but I thought I’d pick up where I left off and continue my reviews on books. Over the summer I read Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac (considering the amount of time it has been since, this review may be a little sparse). This book was published in 1864 and is a part of a larger work that Balzac wrote called The Human Comedy. This particular story has to do with Cousin Bette, an old maid that spins a lie for her family. She tells them that after many years, a man has finally shown interest in her and is now her lover, his name being Wenceslas. Her family is astonished and are unaware of the fact that he is actually just a young artist that Bette supports. He has suicidal tendencies and comes across as very depressed and morose. He eventually meets Hortense, Bette’s cousin, and falls in love with her. Hortense is the daugther of Baron Hulot who is married to Adeline but is in love with Josepha, a singer, but when she rejects him, he sets his sights on Valerie Marneffe, who wants to seduce Crevel but is in love with Henri. When Hortense and Wenceslas wed, Valerie and Bette team up to try and get money from Baron Hulot but things happen and Valerie becomes pregnant, not knowing who the father is. Valerie and Crevel are mysteriously poisoned by a Brazilian toxin and die. Baron Hulot finishes out the story by having affairs with multiple women. His wife Adeline dies and he marries another woman shortly after.

This story reminded me of Twelfth Night or The Importance of Being Earnest in that there are multiple people with complicated love lives. The characters in this story are complex and at times extreme, making them seem real and all the more unreliable in nature. Balzac’s ultimate goal was to portray the human comedy, or more specifically the human condition, or really what it means to be a person. Balzac makes you familiar with Paris and famous figures at the time, as well as ones throughout history, making the reader have to educate themselves every now and then on who exactly he is talking about. Cousin Bette reflects on romance and relationships and explores the side of the human condition that effects all of us so deeply- love.

Agatha Christie

Everyone loves a good mystery and Agatha Christie knows that. Agatha Christie was a British author who penned numerous books, one of the most well-known being The Murder on the Orient Express. She had a pretty interesting life and she actually disappeared shortly after her first husband asked for a divorce. To this day, no one knows what happened in the ten days that she was missing. She remarried later and was very happy. Her intuitive mind really heped when it came to constructing her novels. Her favorite character that she uses in a number of books is Hercule Poirot, a Belgian detective who parallels Nancy Drew in the way he is used over and over again. The people in her books are also very elegant and refined. The way her characters interact with each other is with subdued formality. I say subdued because they are still conversational. She talks in a high-class sort of fashion and even implements some French often throughout the text. Her mysteries are often very twisted and leave the reader guessing through the entire novel, you really don’t know who the killer is until the end of the book, and it is always a shocking revelation. Most readers enjoy her books and they are obviously still read today; on my copy of The Patriotic Murders, it says over 500 million copies of her books have been sold. This shows that she is still relevant and important in society today. In popular culture, Christie has been depicted on television, showing that her legacy lives on. For example, on a Doctor Who episode called ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp,’ Christie’s disappearance is a result of an encounter with an alien called a vespiform. In the end of the episode, the Doctor shows Donna an Agatha Christie book that had been published in the year 5,000,000,000. Even though the show is fictional, it goes to show that Christie is relevant in all genres and society in general. Agatha Christie’s books are cherished and adored by fans and it undoubtedly will be the same for years to come.

The Jungle

If it weren’t for this book, maybe none of us would be alive today, but that could be an over exaggeration. The Jungle brings to light the horrors of meat  packing plants in the 1920s and actually brought about reforms in the way our food is handled and processed. Upton Sinclair’s novel takes place in the fiction city called Packingtown, a city that closely resembles Chicago in the same time era. It follows a newly immigrated Lithuanian family and their trials in America, a strange and foreign land. Jurgis is the head of the family and he is engaged to Ona. Her cousin, Marija and stepmother Elzbieta live with them along with a few other family members. They live in a tenement in the beginning of the novel and purchase their own house later, however realizing that they were scammed when it came to making payments on it. The family struggles more but Jurgis gets a job in a meat packing plant and the family is a little better off as the older ones get jobs as well. However, Ona admits to being sexually harassed at her workplace and Jurgis confronts the boss who was making the advances, knocking him out cold and landing him in prison. The family is unaware of Jurgis being locked up and have to find ways to make more money without him, Marija resulting to prostitution to make ends meet. Jurgis gets out of prison and realizes Ona is about to have a second child, but dies while in labor because the family couldn’t scrounge up enough money to find a sufficient doctor to save her, and their first child, Antanas, drowns in the street. Jurgis is defeated and leaves the family and beings to wander the country looking for work, falling deeper into alcoholism. In the end, he comes back to his family and becomes a socialist after seeing a rally (this is ironic because in my version of the book, there is an introduction by the author that praises socialism and you can tell he’s pretty biased). The Jungle was an interesting read, probably because it’s a historical novel, but also because it was based on fact. Sinclair was a muckraker and he saw firsthand how terrible the conditions were in factories that were processing food. It shows how our country fixed a problem in society and how to not revert back to that again.

Preview: The Jungle

Recently in AP United States History, we were discussing the era of the 1890s when middle-class reformers called Progressives were trying to change society and make it better for those in need. One of these reforms was the regulation of food, specifically meat. Upton Sinclair, a socialist author of the time, saw firsthand how terrible the conditions were and wanted to do something to change them, so he wrote The Jungle. This novel brought to light the horrors of the meat industry and how unhealthy it was for the workers and the consumers. I’m actually a little leary about reading this book because I have heard it is stomach-churning and vomit-inducing, something we should not be proud of as Americans. During the time before this book was published, the general public had no idea that their meat that they consumed was handled in grotesque, horrifying ways. They were oblivious to the fact that rats occupied the same space as their Sunday dinner. Upton Sinclair brought all this to light after the meat-packers union in Chicago went on strike and his editor said he should write about it. Nobody probably had the notion that this would lead to social and ethical reform. The things he witnessed were appalling and downright disgusting. You can read about some of the conditions of these meat-packing plants here, it’s too gross and time-consuming to type out. Sinclair published his book and the public was outraged; this was the food that they trusted workers with, stuff they were putting into their bodies with the illusion that it was good for them and safe as well. This led to major reform with President Teddy Roosevelt. the trustbusting man who reformed the corporate business world. He passed the Pure Food and Drug Act as well as the Meat Inspection Act that led to inspections of work places and the foundation of the FDA, with laws and regulations on the quality of food. Sinclair’s novel changed the way we eat, resulting in a change in the way we live, literally. Stay tuned for my next post of my review of The Jungle.