Thursday, November 6, 2008

In Which the Enjoyment of a Book Comes About

I "finished" Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell today. I couldn't actually finish the book, because Gaskell had the misfortune to up and die before she finished writing the book. The audacity!(Footnote one) It's almost to the end - far enough to know what the end will be, but not where everything has worked out yet, so I'm left emotionally hanging, not narratively hanging. Although since this book is character driven, and not plot driven, I've always known how it was going to end. I've enjoyed it so much because of its gentle, unhurried, and so all the more rich and detailed descriptions of day to day life, interactions, and the growth (or not) of characters in the book. And that there is no cure for.(Footnote Two.)

I am going to watch the miniseries next week with Carrie, who also gave me the book for my birthday, and they ended it, so I'll have some resolution at least.

Anytime after I read a book from yore, I always go through life mentally describing my life, surroundings and speech in a Victorian flavor. Yesterday Avram spoke to me on a subject, and I shortly answered back, and then in my head narrated out in proper 19th century Literary style how I kept part of my answer back, and this lack would grow between us, a foreshadowing of...and then I mentally laughed, and said what I hadn't said before. The entire day I mentally thought Victorianese. I love it. I wish I could reproduce it at will on my blog.

My favorite time period for literature is the Victorian age (and the regency period). I love Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte and (some) Dickens. A couple of years ago my friend RoseE mentioned an author, Elizabeth Gaskell and a book she wrote called North and South, about industrialization in England. RoseE raved about the book, but I never got around to reading it until I lived in England myself and focused on British books for the year. Until I began actually reading the book I thought that Gaskell lived in the modern day and wrote historical fiction, but no, it turns out she was a contemporary of Dickens, and wrote six novels (I think) and was quite famous in her time. I loved North and South, and I've loved Wives and Daughters even more.

All of you my readers, I command you now to put down whatever drivel you might be contemplating (or Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire) and immediately pick up some Gaskell.

I don't know how I managed to go 24 years of my life without ever hearing about Gaskell, and 25 without reading her. She's great. She's like Jane Austen, but more real somehow. She includes details like how "fresh" a dress is (how many times its been worn; how "fragrant" it is), and a million and one other more concrete details of life. I hope that literature is undergoing a Gaskell revival, because I'll be right at the front of it.

I should take this literary moment to say that I still am using my list of recent books that I've read that I recommend, but that I hadn't read any books for three months, in between the Wheel of Time series that I finished at the end of June until Elantris, that I read mid October (I wanted to read Wives and Daughters first, but Elantris is shorter. Which is saying something; Elantris was enough of a dog-killer itself). As my mother likes to call me, I'm a book-a-holic, and once I start a book, come hell or high water I'll sit in my rescue boat with my couple worldly possessions and my two daughters - and my book, which I'll still be reading. In fact today while finishing Wives and Daughters Lydia rolled in a multicolored inkpad while naked and then tore off the paper wrappings from a pile of wool yarn. My sister Tali and I (sort of, on her side at least) had a game growing up where she would see how much she could do to me/how outrageous she had to be before I would notice her or break off reading to look at her. I've stayed up all night on numerous occasions to finish books all in one sitting, and I've read entire series that most decent people spend months on in a matter of a week or two.

However, I am also a wife, a mother and a homemaker, not to mention now a babysitter (I'll be working Monday through Wednesday for the rest of the month), and alas, the foregoing exploits in the land of fiction are not conducive to a well kept, or even a badly kept, home. Children must be dressed, diapers must be changed, food must be made, and the living room and kitchen must at least be pretended to clean.

So currently in my life I tend to feast or famine on books, because as long as I'm not reading, I'm okay. I can go a long time without beginning any books; it's just once I've begun that I can't stop. I thing that blogging also takes up some previous reading time, because since I can only read up to what people have written thus far, I also can't stay up all night to finish it. Unless I go back and read a blog from its induction. Which I may have done a couple of times. Ahem. Someday I have a goal of being able to pick up a novel, read for a couple of chapters, and then put it down again and be productive. Until that time, expect my recommended reads to grow in fits and starts.

Footnote One: Robert Jordan, author of the Wheel of Time series, also up and died on me, without finishing the final book of his twelve book series. The nerve. Luckily it's being finished by Brandon Sanderson, who wrote Elantris, which said book I read and thoroughly enjoyed, so all is well.

Footnote Two: If I were my friend RoseE I would finish the book anyway by writing it myself as fanfiction. RoseE, I commission you to finish Wives and Daughters. So let it be written, so let it be done.


  1. I've been meaning to watch North and South and Wives and Daughters (lots of ands) since they were recommended to me a couple months ago. I HAD NO IDEA THERE WERE BOOKS.

    I'm so ashamed!

    I'm going to obey you and go read those books now.

  2. The mini-series is incredible! Neil and I watched it a few weeks ago and were completely swept up. It has a fairly slow pace, of course, but there's such intensity to it, and the casting is supreme. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

    And I'm also relieved that it was Brandon Sanderson who was chosen. I thoroughly enjoyed Elantris and

  3. I just bought _North & South_ last night to read when I finish _Oliver Twist_ in the next day or two. It will be my first Elizabeth Gaskell novel, and I am very much looking forward to it. I had a friend back in Cleveland that raved about her and all the miniseries adaptations of her books. I love the adaptation of _North & South_ and _Cranford_ (which they showed on Masterpiece Theater earlier this year). If you can find both of those -- watch them!

    Oh, I shouldn't get started on 19th century literature and movie adaptations. I could go on for ever! Email me if you want some good suggestions.

  4. Aaaaahhhh!!! I'm reading Wives and Daughters as we speak (I mean not this second, because I'm commenting on your blog...)It's my second (third?) read through.

    I love love love it. It's one of my favorite books. I love Victorian novels so much that I find it difficult to read more modern literature. That may partly be because it's hard to get ahold of in Poland and the classics are here in abundance.

    Anyway I LOVE it. For all the same reasons you point out. I also love Bronte (have you read Villette? That's another favorite) and (most of) Dickens.

    We're like twins, Thora. Or maybe a lot of people like these books? :)

    But I have a question. Does your edition have that "Introdiction and notes by Pam Morris?" Because she says, "No nineteenth-century novel contains a more devastating rejection than this of the Victorian male assumption of moral authority." And goes on and on about how women are painted as weak and the men terrorize over them or something.

    I just COULD NOT FEEL ANY DIFFERENT than she does. She gives loads of examples of what a character says and what it implies etc. It DRIVES ME BANANAS! I really need to get into a book group about it because I have so much to vent and wonder if people agree with this Pam Morris.

    Sort of like how I can't stand all the intellectual discussion about all how sexually charged so much of victorian literature is. I don't think it's because I'm a prude, either. I think that of course there is some of that, but mostly it was a more innocent time, and people believed a little more what we Mormon's still believe about what is appropriate and what lines you don't cross before marriage, etc.

    Oh, look at me go on and on!! I wish you lived around the corner and I could run over and we could discuss Wives and Daughters. Are you guys planning on moving to Poland anytime soon?

    Oh, and I NEED to see that miniseries, although nothing could stand up to the Pride and Prejudice one.

  5. When I was reading "Wives and Daughters" I didn't know she died before ending up, so I was trying to figure how she was going to resolve the story in 50 pages that took 600 pages to get to that point. I was both sad and relieved to find out that it was unfinished.

  6. yeah, maybe I should have mentioned that it was unfinished when I gave it to you. I think I forgot to. oops. Anyway, I'm so glad you liked it. It's my favorite of Gaskell so far. (I've read three.) I'll try to locate the North and South miniseries, so we can watch that sometime too. Maybe one of the libraries has it...

  7. I have North and South on DVD if you want me to bring it at Thanksgiving.

  8. Since I haven't read any Gaskell (although I did see the ending of the Wives and Daughters miniseries on TV my first year of college and thought to myself that it would be something very good to look into seeing/reading in the future, and somehow this makes me feel superior because no one recommended it to me, I just discovered it on my own although I haven't actually done anything about that thought 8 years ago, so I am probably actually much inferior) I can't comment on her writing or stories.

    However, if you are serious about finding a way to be able to read and break it up (I thoroughly suffer from the same affliction as you--feast or famine on books), this is something that I have found to help me quit reading a book I would otherwise be thoroughly sucked into and also to help me actually read and finish a book (usually some kind of non fiction/informational/instructive kind of thing that I somehow own and so feel obliged to read at some point but never acutally get around to picking up) that I am not very excited about:

    I put it in the bathroom by the toilet and the rule is that I am not allowed to take it out of the bathroom. Granted, I spend more time in the bathroom than I probably need to anymore, but this is the thing--when you are a mom of a toddler, you have to come out eventually! And there is nowhere really comfortable in the bathroom to read, so it makes it easier to put it down. Anyway, that's my helpful tip of the day. And also I love you.