The Books of My Numberless Dreams

One or two unexpected things

Posted on: July 9, 2007

I’ve started The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, progressing steadily. The book doesn’t appear to be as popular or well-known as I expected — is filled with out-of-print listings, and only a recent Wordsworth classics edition. (Wordsworth classics are all right, I suppose, but isn’t it with Penguin and (especially) Oxford too?) Only a little under 400 people list it at LibraryThing — low for a classic. I rather thought it was the Lady Chatterly’s Lover of lesbian fiction but I guess not (as far as popularity goes).

Another surprise is how masculine the book is. It’s clear that Hall does not think much of the female mind, its tastes, its usual societal pursuits. She explains her heroine Stephen’s physical and mental alacrity by categorising her as a “third sex”, neither wholly male nor female, but clearly modelled on a masculine ideals ie excels at hunting, fencing, lifts weights, reads Greek etc. It could get annoying but Stephen is such a poignant, unique character — she reminds me of Anne Shirley — that I can’t help but turn the page to find out what happens next. And Hall’s writing improves as Stephen ages — she drops that mildly precious tone so many authors can’t resist when dealing with young protagonists.

I finished Craig Thompson’s Blankets in a day, my first graphic novel. I read about it at Ted‘s. He recommended I read Bechdel’s Fun Home first because it would suit my “literary” tastes better, but I chose to end on a high note and started with the reported lesser of the two. I had a swell time reading, intoxicating even, laughing, sighing, more or less having a grand ol’ time, even when reading it at the bus stop. But it did not leave a deep mark. It will linger in memories but I was not suffused with it, I don’t even know if I’ll ever re-read it, even though the form practically begs it. I would push Blankets on anyone who though the graphic format was only suited to super-hero antics; it was loads of fun.

11 Responses to "One or two unexpected things"

I love Blankets! It stuck with me more, but that might be because it was set where I used to live, and even my own house was pictured in one of the panels.

And I just know you’ll like Fun Home. It’s a very different sort of story from Blankets, and your friend is right; there are a lot of literary allusions.

What you’ve described is what it’s often like reading graphic novels, namely that they don’t make as deep an impact on you as other, greater works of literature. Making up for this is the fact that many of the images will remain in your mind, even if a deeper meaning does not.

I think you’ll find that Fun Home is in a different class.

When I was planning to do a PhD I had an idea for a dissertation that might involve Blankets. Alas, I haven’t read it yet, but I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed your first foray into the form. It can be quite rewarding when it’s done right. Others of note: Maus I and II (Art Spiegelman), Persepolis I and II (Marjane Satrapi), and a zillion others with a more literary bent. I guest lectured in a class on multi-ethnic graphic narrative in the Spring, and it was a great class full of wonderfully charged graphic novels.

Dew that would certainly help. And now I’m really looking forward to the Bechdel, which I’ll start after a little break.

Ted yes, it will probably be certain panels that will stay with me more than anything else, and the general tone of piercing honesty, which did a great deal for making the story compelling when it could be mere saccharine sap.

Hey now don’t raise my expectations about the Bechdel any higher.

Andi it does seem to be one of the more popular graphic novels (of its kind anyway — heck I don’t know a thing about the genre, never mind). All of the bookish sites I’m a member reveal it has something of a fan base. I’ve heard a lot about Persepolis — maybe I’ll actually give it a try now. Thanks for the suggestions.

I agree that Persepolis and Maus would be great places to go next, if you get the hankering.

Haven’t read Blankets but really enjoyed Persepolis as Myrtias suggested.

I’ve not read Well of Loneliness, have always meant to. I might be one of those on Library Thing folks who have it. Except I can’t remember if I ever replaced my water damaged in an earthquake copy or not. Hmm. Must go check on that.

Your water-damaged in an earthquake copy? Earthquake-proof or earthquake damaged? 😀

You know, until about a year ago, I thought graphic novel was a polite way of saying it was rated x. lol

I still haven’t read any, but if I do, I’ll run to Gaiman’s Sandman series.

I’ve decided to start The Virgin the Garden, with very high hopes. I just realised that I haven’t read any Byatt this year (!), and that’s simply unacceptable.

I have “Well of Loneliness” on my bookshelves for years unread. Better read it soon, before an earthquake water-damage my copy ;p

Glad to hear you enjoyed “Blankets” – but “Fun Home” is also a great read. I enjoyed the way she manages to weave Joyce, Fitzgerald, Proust and other literary works into her family narrative. And she never loses her sense of humour, which makes her poignant reflections all the more touching.

As I’ve mentioned before elsewhere – I particularly enjoyed the Proustian allusions in “Fun Home”.

The bookcase the book was on fell over in the Northridge earthquake. It was right next to an aquarium that split a seam and poured water onto the books on the floor. I didn’t care about all the broken dishes in the kitchen, the water soaked books were a different matter.

Eva hahaha, that’s cute what you thought about graphic novels. Wouldn’t that have sent parents into an uproar.

Glad you decided to read the Byatt — I think you’ll like it!

Dark O I’m glad I wasn’t the only person who misinterpreted what Stef typed. After her clear explanation I felt a bit slow. Although our take on it was funnier, yes?

I love allusive lit! Looking more forward to the book now.

Stefanie now it all makes perfect sense. I would have been more upset about the books too — how awful. Was it a lot of them that were damaged?

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