The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Weekly Geek Answers – Round One

Posted on: July 20, 2008

The Weekly Geek activity

What was your favorite (or least favorite) part of Persuasion? Did you think Captain Wentworth wrote the best, most romantic love letter of all time??? Have you seen any movie versions of Persuasion? Which one is your favorite if you have?Becky

As I look back now I can’t say that I have a particular favourite section. The novel as a whole stands out to me very brightly in being the opposite of what I expected — the boring Austen novel. It’s the last major one I read after contemplating a reread of Pride & Prejudice because I thought it would be slow — everyone mentions it’s about “patience” which is an upstanding theme but doesn’t sound exciting unless you’re going to make it allegorical and over-the-top like Pilgrim’s Progress (as I remember it anyway). Instead it was filled with near unbearable tension and I found myself entirely taken with Anne and her troubles.

I’ve never seen any of the film adaptations and tend to avoid them as a rule. Parts of the film industry appear to see Austen as a dependable money cranker, fans ever ready to take in another run-of-the-mill boots and petticoats in the country romance rather than making much of anything. Three exceptions to his is Ang Lee & Emma Thompson’s “Sense & Sensibility” (which I like more than the book (!)), the BBC’s faithful P&P 1995 tv series and (somewhat controversially) the latest P&P adaptation starring Keira Knightley. It wasn’t the most faithful and there are some corny lines (help us) but it’s the most cinematic one I’ve ever seen over all others (including the BBC).

How would you describe Andre Dubus’ literary style?Bybee

In the school of Hemingway, perhaps? That seems to be a catch-all phrase for male writers who write plain, efficient sentences. He’s very much a realist as it’s generally understood and focused on character. They’re usually working class — the men are often military and the women are their mothers, wives, girlfriends or widows — and troubled. He writes with a singular sympathy — I’m not exaggerating here. I write this about other authors but if I were to name a prototype Dubus’ stories would be it — and a measured perspective to all whether it’s a New England waitress with an abusive boyfriend or a misogynistic Marine for whom women are simply things to stick his willy in. He gives them all some grace.

His stories’ success is wholly based on how compelling they are regardless of how mundane and typical the situations may be. Without that there isn’t really anything else for you to rest your eye on and get much nourishment from. But at his best — watch out! He’s the only writer who has ever made me soak my pillow with tears. (I’m an easy crier and tears can trickle down but at the end of “Rose” which I think is at the end of his The Last Worthless Evening I was sobbing, hiccuping, the works.) For anyone who thinks short stories are lesser than novels, Dubus is the man to read.

The Wide Sargasso Sea questions

Tell me more about Wide Sargasso Sea! Most of the reviews I’ve seen of it have been on the fence. Personally, I didn’t like the way either Rochester and Annette were protrayed. Also, Rhys changed a lot about her main character (including her name), which disturbed me. What do you think of Rhys’s writing style? Do you think she did Jane Eyre a service or disservice by writing a “sequel?”Katherine

I’ve been wanting to read Wide Sargasso Sea for ages. How did you like it in comparison to Jane Eyre?Alessandra

I started Wide Sargasso Sea once… it seemed to weird so I never finished it. Did you like it? Find it weird? Did it mess up the Jane Eyre story for you or add to it?Suey

I wrote a bit on this novel before with a promise to write more, which I fully intended to do, until I lost all my damn notes. *ahem*

I turned the last page, my centre of mass shifted, something that always happens when a work has more than justified its existence — in one sense, it justified and confirmed mine as well. That should have been an euphoric feeling but I was also sorrowful. The best thing happened — I’d read another great, great work that confirms why I read fiction, specifically novels. And the worst thing happened — my perspective on Jane Eyre had changed forever. Each book by a different author inhabits its own world of course. It’s only that I’ll never be able to read about Brontë’s poor, monstrous Bertha Mason without wondering what, to Brontë’s mind, brought her there to that Thornfield attic. Rhys showed one possibility and it moved me, almost unbearably.

No fence sitting here, I’m a full on fan. I’m not the person to go to when assessing a novel’s “weirdness” because I love nothing so much as crazy, over-the-top French authors, heated imagery, spaced out sentences etc. So Rhys’ hot house, Eden-after-the-fall with the off-kilter, slightly menacing characters were a plus for me rather than a minus. It didn’t mess up Jane Eyre for me although it did open me a little wider to Brontë’s stereotypical treatment of Bertha. Funnily enough it’s Vilette that gives my Jane Eyre enthusiasm a more tarnished quality. I suppose it’s because it’s one thing for an author to lay a j’accuse at another but a whole different thing when the original turns the gun on herself, as it were.

I love both Wide Sargasso Sea and Jane Eyre in completely different ways. The authors are so different: hailing from different times, countries, class…just such different worlds and produced such different books that, despite the obvious links, I can’t put them side by side and say which one I prefer.

Katherine, your question is trickier. I’m not sure what big changes Rhys made to the Antoinette character besides the name change since Brontë didn’t give much beyond vague details on Bertha’s background as best as I can remember. (But I don’t have the best memory so please expound in comments if you care to!) For a novel to be based on Bertha I’d think a novelist would have to go beyond what Brontë mentioned to get much of a story. Neither did I take issue with how Antoinette and Rochester were portrayed. Especially in Rochester’s case his behaviour was very plausible. In Jane Eyre he was never a saint or even a very good character for much of the story and in light of how English male gentry were raised and Europe’s scientific view of Creoles — where everything from the tropical climate to miscegenation made them suspect — and add that to his young age…I may not have approved of but story-wise it worked.

The name change disturbed me but only in the way I figure Rhys meant it to. Rochester is denying Antoinette her personhood and that plays pretty well as one explanation as to how things played out in Jane Eyre.

I am not one for classic prequels or sequels. It’s why it took me so long to get to Wide Sargasso Sea even though I’d heard of it since I was 12/13; and heard it described as a sort of post-colonial, West Indian answer to the imperial British classic, something which its proponents no doubt expected to appeal to young Jamaican students. Not to me since even then I instinctively disliked that kind of overtly political, messagey stuff when it came to literature. Also it was contradictory since until that point I had learned implicitly that British classics were THE books of the English-speaking world and then all of a sudden I was expected to do a 180 and want to knock it down. (I was a reader before high school and so it may have been easier for those who only read school assigned texts which included West Indian lit. Most bookstores on the island, though, gave a different message.)

I only came to it when I made the decision to read more West Indian literature. I think it’s an excellent novel in which the author didn’t write it as a kind of cheap Jane Eyre vs. Wide Sargasso Sea smack down so I don’t think it besmirches Brontë’s literary legacy.

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7 Responses to "Weekly Geek Answers – Round One"

You didn’t answer the question about Captain Wentworth… 😉

Ha! I forgot about that one and had to go reread it anyway. Well, I don’t know if it’s the most romantic letter of all times 😉 but it surely cracks the top ten. Robert & Elizabeth Barret Browning wrote some doozies too.

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You just may be a #catnut if: You get your latest roll of film developed and there’s not a single hooman being in the pictures.

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