The Books of My Numberless Dreams

The second ugh

Posted on: June 17, 2007

Despite the fact that I have four books going and, because of certain projects, will have at least two more added to the plate, I will have to pick up another, probably by A.S. Byatt or Patricia McKillip. I am fucking tired of stupid, swooning females. Up to here. I came off The Good Soldier, which leaves an impression, the one the narrator wishes to leave with you of women isn’t fair or complimentary. Then there’s good ol’ Cervantes with his fragile women capable of only transitory cleverness with a sense of honour about as thick as a thistle and the “nice”, bright ones stupidly clinging to assholes, swooning and bawling all over the place. (The Marcela story can only take one so far.) Finish this up with the majestic Paradise Lost and its references to heartening Bible stories where daughters are offered up as sexual morsels for who cares what reason.

It’s just a bit much, you know? One after the other and all.

“You wanted me to be yours, and you wanted it in such a manner that even though you no longer do, it will not be possible for you to stop being mine. Consider, Senor, that the incomparable love I have for you may be recompense for the beauty and nobility for whose sake you have abandoned me. You cannot belong to the beautiful Luscinda because you are mine, and she cannot be yours because she belongs to Cardenio; if you consider it for a moment, it would be easier for you to turn your will to losing one who adores you, rather than trying to force love from one who despises you. You solicited my shame; you pleaded for my integrity; you were not ignorant of my status; you know very well how I surrendered completely to your desire; you have no justification or reason to claim you were deceived. If this is true, and it is, and if you are as much a Christian as you are a gentleman, then why do you go to so much trouble to avoid making me as contented at the end as you did at the beginning? And if you do not love me for what I am, your true and legitimate wife, then at least want me and take me as your slave; if I am possessed by you, I shall think of myself as happy and fortunate. Do not, by leaving and abandoning me, permit my dishonour to become the subject of gossip and rumours…And if it seems to you that you will debase your blood by mixing it with mine, consider that there are few, if any, noble lines in the world that have not taken this path, and that the bloodline on the woman’s side is not relevant to your illustrious lineage; furthermore, true nobility consists of virtue, and if you lose yours by denying me what you rightly owe me, then I shall have more noble characteristics than you.”

I know it’s all parody, right? He’s taking the tropes of chivalric romances, pushing them to ridiculous extremes, and so on. Maybe I wouldn’t be so annoyed if, when the men are idiots, it’s presented as a terrible thing, and when the women are it’s terrible but, lord, what can you do eh? Women.

Thank god for Roger Mais, a male author who, though born and raised in the early 20th century, managed to write books published in the 1950’s that featured strong, complex female characters. If you will, imagine me running from Sarah Hall’s batter based enthusiasm towards Mais’ quiet, contemplative style. Oh, sweet relief. (It’s still not quite enough so I need the Byatt and McKillip.)

I’m half-ashamed to admit that if I found Don Quixote more pleasing I wouldn’t mind so much. Suffice it to say that I don’t expect much better from Milton once we get to the Eve and the apple scenes. I do not know what approach he took — don’t spoil it for me — so I am hopeful but not optimistic. Fact is I won’t really care because on a basic level I’m in love with the story, the characters, how he presents, simply enamoured with the way he dramatised and expanded the Biblical narrative in ways I never thought to. It’s almost like learning a whole new story.

On a basic level, after a good start, DQ is dangerously teetering towards mediocrity for me. I know, I know, first novel, has everything in it. I see the commentaries on reading and writing, the riffs on chivalric romances, the frank observations on human nature and the societal norms, the way the stories work within the stories helped by Don Quixote’s mad capers as he creates his own blah blah and I look at all of these things bobbing in front of me, waiting to be properly unpacked and examined, blink my eyes and go, “Mmmm…yeah.”

Another problem that came to me is that, stylistically speaking, the prose is plain, as plain can be. Entirely utilitarian, there to serve the story it seems to me in this translation, so all I have to live on is the story. And the story…it just keeps on going. The same thing, taking turns, world without end, so help me.

I’m still..curious about the whole thing so I’ll keep going, and will probably finish it. I’m only a bit down because it’s one of those texts that necessitates a second reading and at this point I’d need a serious offer of a lot of free books and a harem of oiled handsome men to consider it.

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11 Responses to "The second ugh"

Wow, that’s a lot of swooning characters. But I came to tell you that you won first place in the blogroll game contest! Come see your prize!

Which translation of DQ are you reading? I think it’s one of those books I’ll have to work myself up for, and I’ll probably have to read lots of fun, small books in between!

Thanks for the non-fic suggestion: I actually own that book, but I don’t remember a thing about it, so I’ve decided to pick it up again while waiting for my new non-fic book mooches ot come in!

Dew thanks dewey! Yay me.

Eva I have the Edith Grossman translation, probably the most recent one released on the continent. I definitely had to work myself up to it — it’s why I joined a reading group, it’s part of what keeps me motivated.

You’re welcome about the non-fic rec.

A brief and slightly off the topic note.

According to reputable sources, Shakespeare wrote a play called Cardenio which has been lost. It was based on the Don Quixote character and was written after Shakespeare had read an English translation of Cervantes’ novel.

I don’t know why but I was upset when I read this (just as I was when I learned how many ancient Greek and Roman works were lost). I suppose it has nothing to do with not having read something (like Don Quixote) but not being able to read it.

Roger (The Lovecraft Cosmos – http://lovecrafter.blogspot.com)

I’m enjoying DQ, but I think I have a lot of patience for overly-long narratives, having studied the 18C so much, with its Clarissa-like novels — I’m willing to forgive a lot of repetition I suppose, but I certainly understand why not everybody else is!

oh Dorothy I just posted something about that characteristic in reference to 18th C lit over at the DQ group blog. For some reason I still hadn’t put the two together — none of the few 18th C novels I’ve tried so far have been too long.

I guess I am kind of impatient. 😐

Roger I feel a similar sense of loss when I think of all that was lost in the Library of Alexandria. Knowing Shakespeare’s comparable brevity I’d have elected to read his play in a jiffy. Thanks for the comment.

I didn’t meant to imply that you’re impatient, just that I can be freakishly patient, to a fault 🙂

It’s a useful virtue (so my mother would tell me)!

I know what you mean about needing to remedy stereotyped female characters with strong, interesting ones. I have to do that regularly too. I got bogged down in DQ too when I read it. Many times I thought, dear lord, why am I reading this? Why is this book supposed to be so amazing? But don’t give up. The book does eventually stop feeling so repetitive and pointless.

On your comment about women in The Good Soldier: You’re right in saying that Ford doesn’t portray women favorably. . .but he doesn’t portray PEOPLE favorably, in general. I wouldn’t limit it to women. John Dowell is just as pathetic as any of the women of the novel.

Stefanie oh it’s so nice to read of people who have such a similar reading experience. It doesn’t make me feel as disappointed in myself, especially when it’s a classic.

idiotsage my post was limited to literary portrayals of weak women which is why I limited my response to the portrayal of women in The Good Soldier; a particular kind of negative female portrayal that is repeated over several texts. I’ve already made more expansive commentary on the Ford novel in previous posts.

Thanks for commenting!

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