Posts Tagged ‘1800s’

That poor old steeplechase horse.

That sound you can hear is the rusty gate of this blog creaking open. Is that a mixed metaphor? I don’t even know anymore. Where am I? Who are you? Who am I?

Just kidding, you guys. My brain is totally intact and I can construct sentences (well, we’ll see). I have also been reading books, contrary to what my silence here might indicate. I have been pretty busy, what with everything – and let’s be honest, no one’s life has been in danger due to my non-updates – but there’s been a development in my life that made me keen to come back here and get to documentin’.

Late last year I got an iPad 2. Since then, I’d estimate that I’ve had a conversation about it with 70% of the people I know. That’s a big percentage. And despite the fact that this is the first post in a series about said device, I’m not really an Extoller of the Pleasures of the Tablet or anything; people are just very interested in them and the future of the book and what have you. Usually other people ask me whether I have an e-reader yet and whether I like it, and why I chose the iPad over other e-readers, etc.

Briefly, I decided on the iPad because I wanted to be able to test all the major reading platforms. I wanted to be able to read on the Kindle, Kobo, and Google Books platforms, to see what they were like. I also wanted the best opportunity to get any book I wanted as an e-book, so I wanted to be able to access e-books in just about any format.

Also, it was an aesthetic thing. I don’t like the look of a lot of the ink readers, even though my initial wish was to get an ink technology reader. They’re just too plasticky and the screens are too small. And finally, I’ve been burnt by non-Apple computer products before. Samsung, I hate you. Sony, I do not like you (mostly, actually, due to this ad). Asus, I really just do not like you very much. My MacBook has lasted six years, which is longer than any other computer I have ever had. I love it, and I trust it. I did not buy the Steve Jobs biography, but I would buy his products.

I have the wi-fi model, not the 3G. I am almost superstitiously weird about not wanting to have internet access at all times. I don’t have a smartphone, either. I bought this tablet pretty much for reading only, so I won’t be commenting on the iPad qua secondary computer or life-organiser or anything like that. (Yes, I realise this is somewhat akin to, I don’t know, buying a ladder so I can sit on the third rung when I’m out of chairs, but I don’t mind.) It’ll pretty much be just about whether I liked reading the book in the X app or on the Y platform. Sorry if this bores you.

Since I acquired my new friend, about 50% of the books I’ve read have been e-books, which has surprised me. I suspect the figure would be higher still if I hadn’t been reading so many review copies that are print books. It’s been an interesting and net positive experience so far. I’m interested to see if my print/electronic book ratio rises much or steadies around the 50% mark.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Since I’ve had it for a few months now, I’ll just do a quick rundown of the beginning of our beautiful relationship.


Zero hour: WOW! I love this box. I love Apple. Even with the gorillas and the … everything. I’m not proud of this. But it’s so shiny. I love it. I just want to get, like, ten iPads and rub them all together. They’re so nice. Look at it all pretty when I turn it on. Ooooooh.

Hour one: What do you mean I need to create a new account for every reading platform I want to use? What do you mean I need to come up with new passwords for all of them? What do you mean the passwords need to include upper case letters, lower case letters, numerals and punctuation marks. Are you kidding me? I can’t even remember my own name sometimes. This sucks. I hate this. Okay, my password is going to be Ih8uiPad:(.

Hour two: Okay, I have passwords. I have apps. I have fingers. I have a credit card. I want to buy a book. Kindle app, you get to go first. What do I want to read…oh, you can get so many free books! Pride and Prejudice! Who cares if I already own three copies? I guess I know how that happened because I’m going to download it onto my iPad right now, I’m going to have four copies, I’m so excited!!! Yayayayayayayayayayay!! Jane Austen is the best!!! I love her so much! Northanger Abbey! That’s the only one I haven’t read. Yayayayayayayayayayay!!! I’m going to read it tonight! I’m going to read it now! Yayayay! Downloading… this is so great. I’m going to get it straight away. What an ugly cover. Oh well, it’s not going on my shelf, who cares.

Hour three: Okay, all downloaded, I’m so excited, I’m going to read this book so bad. Wait…where is it? I just bought it at Amazon and it said it had been sent to my iPad, so where is it? Go back to Amazon and check what it says to do. Yep, I downloaded it. Should be available on my iPad. Back to the Kindle app. Not there. Where is it? This is so annoying. Where is it? Can you refresh this thing? What the hell. What the hell?? I hate this. This doesn’t happen with REAL books. WTF. Where is it. Go back to Amazon. Check what it says to do. Yes, I definitely downloaded it. I hate this iPad. Maybe if I turn it off. That always works. Okay, turn it off. Turn it on. Is it there? … I HATE IPADS.

What? You think I should reinstall the Kindle app? Maybe. Okay.

Hour four: Yayayayayayayay!!! I am going to read Northanger Abbey so bad. Oooooo, changing the fonts is fun. Ooooooo, look at all the ways you can change the page-turning visualisation. Oooooo. Oooo. I love this. I am going to read it in white text on black.

Hour three point five: Ow, my eyes. Change it back to the normal way.

Two days later: I love Jane Austen! I love romantic comedies! I hate Isabella Thorpe! You could just tell she was bad from the beginning! And her brother! I love my iPad! I love Henry Tilney! I love farms! I love my iPad!! I really love my iPad!!!!!


So, hope you’re going okay. The end of 2011 was just a haze of activity, so excuse the absence. As a prize for sticking around/being good at Google/being a spambot, here’s a post to illustrate my mental declivities during the final months of 2011.

Running commentary on my reading of Madame Bovary:

Page 5: God, I can’t wait until Vronsky shows up.

Page 19: Where’s Vronsky?

Page 45: Where’s Vronsky?

Page 116: Okay, there’s a big party. I bet this is where Vronsky comes in.

Page 125: Where’s Vronsky?

Page 140: I just don’t know how someone with a name like Vronsky is going to show up in this tiny French town. It doesn’t make any sense.

Page 210: This book is practically over, and no Vronsky.


End: Pretty good book though.

Some day I shall regret being so open with all of you.

Hope you’ve all had a great year of reading. Looking forward to another.

It really took me a long time to get into the Russians. I’m 24 now, and I’ve only read Crime and Punishment so far. Does Nabokov count? Well, I’ve read Lolita. But those are kind of the bare minimum, aren’t they? So I decided to get serious with Anton Chekhov’s Ward No. 6 and Other Stories, 1892-1895. You know something is serious when it has a date range in the title. It means: whoa, this guy did good stuff in other years, too. I’ve already posted a review of Murder, one of the stories in the collection. The other stories offer plenty of insight into Chekhov’s life and interests. Chekhov was a doctor, and the story Ward No. 6 is set in a mental hospital; Chekhov loved gardening, hence The Black Monk’s protagonist Kovrin considers ‘A few Observations on Mr Z’s Remarks on Double-Trenching in New Gardens’ light reading.

What I really love about Chekhov’s stories arises from its genre, which I guess you could call Russian realism. Selecting a diverse range of characters to portray, Chekhov throws in observations spanning class and gender. From parsimony to prodigality, details and decisions are invoked to present a straightforward yet dramatic picture of 1800s Russia. The lightness of Chekhov’s touch belies the intrepidity with which he surveys the ingredients of the personal present, such as tricks of personality and situation entrapment.

Even more specifically than Russian realism, Chekhov is a master of the aesthetics of consequences. Stories like A Woman’s Kingdom, which details the life of Anna Akimovna, the heiress of a bustling industrial business, investigate the doubled-edged blessing and curse of belonging to the middle class. Anna’s business is heavily reliant on the poor treatment and management of its workers, a fact which both plagues and bores her. The institution of marriage is assiduously mined, too–The Two Volodyas has as its focus Sophia Lvovna who, married to one man, lusts after another. Sophia’s lack of self-restraint or understanding is her flaw, and though it is not fatal within the confines of the story, her leisurely floundering evokes pity and exhaustion.

Though Hemingway criticised Chekhov as an ‘amateur writer’, his stories are remarkable despite their deceptive simplicity. His slice-of-life style, which allows him to resist relying on resolution for meaning, sees him invest his characters with enough shovel, as it were, to dig their holes. And to immobilise without even taking out the rope, well that’s definitely something.

Anne Elliot has an arrogant father and two sisters who treat her like a scullery maid. More interestingly, she has an old flame, Captain Wentworth, who is now wealthy and will barely speak three words to her. Anne is probably in my top two favourite Austen heroines. She is sensible but her sensibilities are not cloying, and her suffering is intimately shared. Captain Wentworth is as dashing, cruel and agitated a lover as Darcy. Another ‘seemingly unrequited love’ story–I could drink this stuff up with a straw.

sunday nights have lately been a source of guilty pleasure. abc1 (or is it bbc1?) were running a jane austen made-for-tv bumper extravaganza. man, those were a good 3 weeks. the first one i saw was persuasion. i hadn’t read that, so i ordered a copy (but that’s a story for another day). i didn’t think i had read mansfield park, so i pulled it out to ‘prepare’ for the tv version. first, i found this copy. but i knew i had an older one somewhere, a mauve 99p type publication with a typeface so stout it makes courier new look like mary-kate olsen. that one had the 14-year old me’s signature inside, and various declarations as to the identity of my future husbands (i’m still waiting, darren hayes.) this made me pretty perplexed as to whether i had read it or not, and whether it would count for the year’s 50. a peruse of the first pages is usually a pretty good clue, but no moment of realization twinkled out at me. i’m going to count it, though, i make the rules. by the way, the editor should slap himself/herself on the wrist. there are whole lines left out of this version. i had to pick up the mauve disaster to fill in the gaps. shame shame!

i get high on jane austen. there was an article in the age about how the telemovies showed how trashy austen’s stories were, minus the dialogue of those 19th century broads and the men who dug them. well, duh. there wain’t no mills and boon around in the 1800s. mansfield park is ok in this respect, poor girl falls in love with her handsome and kind cousin, cousin falls in love with dainty rich little miss who moves down the road, many walks are had in groves, etc.

but this is probably my least favourite jane austen book. fanny price is so goddamn perky and perfect. it’s not a rare criticism, but her absolute capacity for forbearance, while clearly influenced by her contemporaries’ social mores, can get pretty painful. fanny’s love rival, mary crawford, is pretty and scintillating and fun. austen just has to do too much work to convince you that you shouldn’t be rooting for her. characters keep saying how pretty and necessary fanny is getting; still, it’s a bit hard to find her interesting. she kind of just sits there and goes ‘my cousin will never fall in love with me’.

even the eventually romantic ending shows how aware austen is of how dull and passive her main character is. she doesn’t deign to go into any detail about how the happy couple finally fall in love. it’s all put away quite neatly in a paragraph or two. which is probably quite sensible really, because as all us casanovas know, it’s all about the chase. but mansfield park is really more a case of the cat sitting in the middle of the circle, watching the mouse while it runs around showing its juicy tail. and then the mouse comes and sits on the cat’s lap and they watch doctor who.

the verdict: still bloody fun though.

Yes, it’s about hunger. It is about the nameless protagonist’s addiction to a state so all-encompassing that it allows and eventually requires the sufferer to forego usual/rational thought and deed, but is so unsustainable that desperate measures are necessary to maintain his existence. It is also about denial, physical and psychological. Knut Hamsun’s direct, modernist style stuffs the reader into the narrow crevice between the narrator’s brain and his skull, evoking painful awareness. His compulsion towards the state of hunger is a way to escape from the ideas which are too large for his head: short, frequent, violent bursts of inspiration are frittered away by the mind now too skittish from lack of nourishment to contrive an activity for the next half an hour, let alone put together a piece denouncing the despised Immanuel Kant, or a one-act drama set in the Middle Ages. These attempts at greatness (and money-making) are made, but endangered by his weakness, his faintness, and an absence of funds sustained by continuous freudian acts.

Hunger, or escape, is the only resolution, the only goal. Hamsun challenges the mind with the hunger artist’s (a Paul Auster term) peripatetic days, featuring street names so unfamiliar to this reader that they might as well have been imaginary. His vagrant meanderings take as signposts multiple mesmerising short-term plans, more often than not the recollection of an acquaintance, or an office, where he might go and beg money or earn a living. Forays to his editor’s officer, or Kierulf the baker, or a shop assistant who owes him change, have various outcomes which are invariably negative. He is downtrodden, but the downward steps are his own. The novel ends with what seems a peripeteia, but is really a continuation; it is a radical way of sustaining the pain, the escape to facilitate further escapes, a solution which is not a resolution.

This edition includes a pedantic translator’s appendix and note, which is reassuring and (by reason of its distaste of the two earlier translations) amusing. It also includes an introduction by way of an essay by Paul Auster, which is passionate and involving.

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