Wiki on Pudd’nhead Wilson

Mark Twain Removing a Mask.

Check out my new wiki page on Pudd’nhead Wilson.  You will find analysis of how and why Twain chose to use the detective theme in the novel.

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Published in: on April 19, 2010 at 9:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Married Vs. Available

Victorian Man and Woman

The code of Lily’s world decreed that a woman’s husband should be the only judge of her conduct:  she was technically above suspicion while she had the shelter of his approval, or even of his indifference.

In her novel, The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton allows her characters to make some interesting assertions about the proper behavior of women.  Foremost among these is an idea that we saw earlier in Daisy Miller: that married women are allowed much more freedom than single women, particularly when it comes to flirtation.

Despite no actual wrongdoing, Lily Bart is ousted from polite society for the perception afforded her behaviors only because she was a single woman.  Her initial shaky social footing results from unintentionally borrowing money from Gus Trenor.  The implied result of this transaction to the social elite is that Lily becomes a kind of kept mistress for Mr. Ternor.  This little social impropriety erodes her perceived sexual purity enough that Bertha Dorset is later able to seal her social fate by implying an affair between Lily and George Dorset.

For the characters of Wharton’s novel, there are certain social privileges associated with being married.  These include basically ignoring flirtatious behavior, or even extramarital affairs.  At one point a character comments about Lily, “When a girl’s as good-looking as that she’d better marry; then no questions are asked” (195).  This implies that Lily could flirt or be seen with as many men as she liked if she were married.  This seems like such fuzzy logic.  Just because a woman is married does not mean she is free from improprieties (think of Bertha Dorset).  So I guess I have a hard time understanding exactly why society no longer cares.  I suppose this inexplicable social constraint is exactly why Edith Wharton routinely emphasizes it throughout the novel.  Perhaps she wanted to draw attention to the ridiculousness of it, and how the pointless rule leads Lily down the path to ruin.

Published in: on April 5, 2010 at 4:02 pm  Comments (5)  
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…had a flying squirrel an’ let him go.

Buster Keaton riding on a minauture horse in front of a log cabin.

The wild west.

In his essay on McTeague (by Frank Norris), James L. Caron addresses the humor that pervades Norris’ naturalistic novel.  Caron refers to the content of the novel as a, “general discourse of the laughable that is based on incongruity.”  One of the most striking ways we see this incongruity is when the characters are portrayed as robotic machines trapped in routines they cannot escape.  Caron uses Maria as an example, “Maria exhibits mechanistic behavior whenever she is asked to identify herself: ‘Name is Maria-Miranda-Macapa. . . . Had a flying squirrel an’ let him go.”  But really, almost all the characters exhibit this mechanical love for the routine.  Think of how difficult it is for McTeague to stop his dental practice or how greed makes Trina a slave to polishing and loving her coins.  Caron argues that these behaviors are a source of satiric laughter on the part of the reader, because it is humans acting as machines.

Caron indicates that this regular laughter provides the readers with a sort of nervous release.  Where they laugh at not only the characters, but at themselves who are also trapped in the comedic tragedy of life.  So he argues that naturalism and humor inherently belong together:

McTeague in effect jokingly presents the implied reader with ideas derived from evolution about fundamental aspects of existence which he or she would otherwise repress and provides a momentary relief from critical reason.  In other words, the comic dimension of the narrative allows the reader an opportunity to indulge the liberating effect of laughter in a response to the deterministic tendency of naturalism.

Caron helps to drive this idea home by reminding us of the nervous laughter of Selina at the fight scene between McTeague and Marcus in the park.  Sometimes laughter is the only way to deal with the horrors that life throws our way.

Norris’ naturalism certainly benefits from the touches of humor throughout, in my opinion.  The novel would be much drier, and would not have as much staying power if we lost the horrified humor that pervades it to the very end where we leave McTeague handcuffed to a corpse in the desert.

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 4:26 pm  Comments (4)  
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Mighty McTeague

Wooden Fist

Fists of Fury

A new game from Visceral Studios: McTeague’s Madness! Play as the mighty McTeague and explore 19th century San Francisco with all of its seedy underworld.  Vanquish your foes with fists made of wooden mallets affixed to the sinewy muscles of your bear-like arms.  Unleash deadly attack combos after filling up your rage meter by adding infuriating members to your social group.  Alternatively,  contain your rage and unleash it in Berserker mode, where your vision is destroyed, but you also destroy everything within a 100 yard radius with an explosion of suppressed rage.

Almost half a dozen professions available!  Knock teeth from their sockets as a dentist, use fishing to capture tasty fish, delve into the depths of the earth with mining, move heavy furniture with a flick of your mighty wrist, or down epic amounts of whiskey as a drunk.

Use your Find Gold ability to discover the minutest traces of the coveted treasure hidden in your home.  Once you have collected all the gold in your home, escape from San Francisco to explore another amazing ability: stealth detection.  Use your newly unlocked ability to evade the scheming Marcus when your Mac sense tingles.

Smash your way to riches with Mighty McTeague!  Available only for Nintendo Wii.

Published in: on March 21, 2010 at 11:28 am  Comments (2)  
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Degradation

Frances Harper posing.

One aspect of Iola Leroy, by Frances E.W. Harper, that caught my attention was the assertion that violence, unfair treatment, and domination by the whites against the blacks degrades both.  She has Iola speak to this effect: “A people cannot habitually trample on law and justice without retrograding towards barbarism” (406).  Later, Harper’s minister, Reverend Carmicle says, “You cannot willfully deprive the negro of a single right as a citizen without sending demoralization through your own [white] ranks” (412).  This theme is persistent throughout the novel, and illustrated by the failure or rebuttal of all those characters who fail to treat every individual as worthy of respect. Even the kindDr. Gresham’s request that Iola forget her “drop” of colored blood results in the failure of his courtship.  To deny Iola the identity that she assumed, was an infringement of her rights and lowered his standing.  In contrast, Dr. Latimer embraces both his and Iola’s racial histories and succeeds admirably in his pursuit of Iola, with her regarding him as admirable above all other men.  Perhaps the most obvious of the results of mutual degradation, are the slave owners like Mr. Gundover.  Most of them are subject to death, and the remaining fall into poor health and shadow existences.

Reading this novel really does make me wish that Harper’s contemporaries had heeded her words of warning and realized that maltreatment of other is also maltreatment of self.

Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 10:29 pm  Comments (3)  
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Femme Fatale

Smoking woman

I'm pretty sure a modern version of Jean would look just like this.

“I’ll not fail again if there is power in a woman’s wit and will!”

The fateful proclamation of the deceitful governess of Louisa May Alcott’s Behind a Mask foreshadows the determination with which Jean Muir pursues her goals of wealth, rank, and marriage. If one were to seek an example of a femme fatale, it would be hard to find a better.  Jean seems to possess an undefinable sway over men, and she leaves a trail of broken hearts in her wake.  The enchantress even confesses to one of her thralls, “I am a witch, and one day my disguise will drop away and you will see me as I am, old, ugly, bad and lost.  Beware of me in time.  I’ve warned you.  Now love me at your peril.”

Alcott portrays Jean as a paradox.  On one hand she is the perfect woman: demure, caring, selfless.  On the other hand, she coldly calculates the use of her womanly attributes to pursue power and men.  I can’t help but wonder if Alcott was insinuating that all women are behind a mask, that there is both beauty and ambition within all women and it should not be entirely condemned.   Despite her decidedly unwomanly pursuit of a titled gentleman to marry, Alcott is very careful not destroy our affection for Jean at the conclusion of the novel.  Even though Jean has seduced the younger Coventry gentlemen, deceived the entire family, and blinded the elderly John Coventry, we are left with the feeling that she genuinely cares for the older gentleman.  While her behavior was certainly beyond beastly for the 19th century woman, I cannot help but think that a modern woman might be accepted and possibly respected for the same maneuverings.

Ruth Nelson

Published in: on January 30, 2010 at 10:48 pm  Comments (2)  
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Wild Women

Mexican Senorita

"... for the love of a woman is beautiful at all times, whether she smiles under gilded canopies in her satin garments or weeps over a world-hated criminal alone and naked in the desert."

The women in John Rollin Ridge’s folkloric novel, Joaquin Murieta, do not sit idly by as the male banditos partake of all the adventure.  Ridge includes women in the novel as motivational, tempering, and even deadly forces.

Joaquin Murieta’s murderous spree across 1850’s California was initiated by the “ravishing” of his mistress, Rosita, at the hands of Americans.  This act is an ultimate affront to Joaquin as he not only loves his mistress, but also sees the respect of women as a mark of nobility and humanity.  Joaquin’s views on the treatment of women are further reinforced when one of Joaquin’s henchmen abducts a beautiful woman.  Joaquin’s rage over the barbarous abduction of the woman is abated when he learns that the man has gone to great lengths to preserve the woman’s chastity.   Joaquin’s response to the abduction of the woman is used by Ridge to make the bandit seem more noble, civilized, and respectable.

Women in the novel attain most of their goals through subtlety and feminine charms.  Most notably, one woman, Margarita, gains freedom from her abusive drunkard of a husband by murdering him.  But even this murder is done in a feminine manner; she drops hot lead in his ear while he sleeps and the death is attributed to too much liquor.  There is none of the gore and violence that tends to accompany murders committed by the males in the novel.  Margarita then provides such a display of grief that she is not even suspected in the mysterious death.  This short aside from Joaquin’s story seems in place only to enhance Ridge’s point that women are powerful and should not be treated poorly.

Other than the murderous Margarita, most of the women are sources of aid and support for the men of the novel.  They ride with their men, dress in men’s clothing, and nurse the wounded.  They are as hardy as the men themselves.  There are exceptions to this rule though.  The “American” female, Rosalie, stands in stark contrast to the capable Mexican women.  She is the woman, I mentioned earlier, who is abducted by one of Joaquin’s henchmen.  It seems that she cannot even stay conscious when faced with the slightest shock or adversity.

Why do you think that Ridge singled out Rosalie to be such a shrinking violet amid the thorned roses of Mexico?

~Ruth Nelson

Published in: on January 24, 2010 at 12:19 am  Comments (2)  
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Three Little Words

Je Vous Aime

Zenobia and Miles in my version.

Today, a friend asked me what I was engrossed in reading.  “The Blithedale Romance,” I replied.

“Oooh, sounds sexy!”

“Yeah, not so much.”

Despite it’s rampant sexual innuendo, The Blithedale Romance, by Nathaniel Hawthorne,  is remarkably devoid of consummation.  But this is true for almost every action of the characters in the novel, and not just in their relationships.  Not only are the characters incapable of fulfilling the oft-hinted at sexual relationships, they are also impotent in producing a communal life.  Even though all of the characters are brought together with a vague idea of creating a Utopian society, none of them seem to display any true passion towards that goal.  Miles, the lethargic idealist, seems to see the communal society as a source of hope.  But he lacks the drive to make this hope a reality, and simply dreams of what may be rather than make it happen.  Priscilla is little more than a lost puppy to be dragged around and dressed up.  While Zenobia is more passionate about women’s rights than socialist utopia.  Hollingsworth, the most driven of the group, is more bent on capturing the property and work of the community to use for his own philanthropic purposes than realizing a perfect communal society.  In this sense, the novel is much more about relationships between the characters than a critique of communal life (in contrast to Louisa May Alcott’s Transcendental Wild Oats).

The two characters that show the most passion in the novel, Hollingsworth and Zenobia, both meet with tragic ends.  Her shattered heart leads Zenobia to a watery grave and Hollingsworth’s to a life crushed by remorse.  All of this takes place while our narrator, Miles Coverdale, watches with the passive air of a National Geographic journalist.  He carefully catalogs Zenobia’s many physical allures and yet, inexplicably, remains immune to their power.  Ever a Disney-ending lover, I can’t help but wish that Coverdale might have lured Zenobia from Hollingsworth and prevented the tragic ending for all.

What do you think?  Could/should Coverdale have saved Zenobia?

~Ruth Nelson

Published in: on January 13, 2010 at 3:36 am  Comments (3)  
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