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Thursday, January 25, 2018

My Favorite Books


My list of all time favorite books is below. I shared some of my thoughts on what went into this list here. This is a relatively short list. For every book on this list there are also many near misses. I have listed the below books in alphabetical order as I do not necessarily rank any one above any other one. I should note that I am using the term “book” loosely as I am going to include plays, novellas, etc. in my list. 

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope – I love Trollope. Several of his books are “near misses” and come close to being included in the list. For me, this particular novel represents a perfect combination of the author’s keen observations on people and his subtle but very effective humor. 

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker - I make reference to this book all the time. This is the author’s argument that over the course of history, violence has been declining and that the world is getting better in a lot of ways. This book want a long way to helping me organize my understanding of history, psychology, human rights, etc. It helped me to understand the world. 

The Plague by Albert Camus – I tend to like existentialist novels. This one is my favorite. The narrative is essentially a search for life’s meaning in a world of suffering. Helping others and alleviating suffering is presented as the answer. The book contains lots of interesting philosophy as well as meditations upon Christianity. These are all things that I love in a book. 

The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan – This is a philosophy book that argues that reason and science are vital to humanity’s well being. It also examines rational thinking in detail. The work is full of valuable insight and wisdom. Sagan is clear about his views and what he agrees with and what he disagrees with. However, unlike more recent works by more  controversial and outspoken atheists  such as Richard Dawkins, Sagan takes a much less antagonistic attitude towards religion and towards those who disagree with him. This is another book that helped me to understand the world. 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick - The film Blade Runner is based on this book. However, though I think that the movie brilliant in its own right, it is a very different work and not something to compare to the novel. The theme of good verses evil is explored here a unique, profound and moving way. The novel is also full of other important and interesting observations about humanity and technology. The characters and the plot are also fascinating. 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë - I think that this work touches upon the duality between the masculine and the feminine in an aesthetically marvelous way. The story and the characters are sublime. The book packs an enormous emotional impact for me. 

Midsummer’s Night Dream by William Shakespeare - This may be the most pleasant great work of literature ever written. It includes a wonderful story, wonderful characters, and imparts a wonderful atmosphere both when reading and or watching a performance. It includes all this while saying something important about the human condition. 

A Passage To India by E.M. Foster – Folks talk about how this book examines colonialism and the interaction of cultures in brilliant way. I agree that it does these things. I also think that the metaphysical and existentialist meditations in this novel are magnificent. All this combined with a great story and great characters make this one of my favorites. 

The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence – I think that this is a brilliant story. I find that the portrayal of the book’s protagonist, Ursula Brangwen, to be one of the greatest character descriptions in literature. Her rebellion against convention and the constraints of society is portrayed in a very unique way. She is a magnificent literary creation whose inner transformation is a wonder to read about. The way in which Lawrence unifies Ursula’s journey of self - discovery with his philosophy is near perfect. 

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse – This novel is many things, but one aspect of this book that attracts me a lot is the theme of an individual’s search for balance. This book passage that involves an attempted suicide that brings tears to my eyes every time that I read it. This is a marvelous story. 

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury – I first read this book when I was in my early teens. At the time I found a lot to relate to in the book’s young protagonists. Now I am only a few years younger then Charles Halloway, the adult protagonist in the book. This all ties together in a special way for me, as book’s themes are closely intertwined with aging. The combination of these elements, and others, make this book very special for me.

60 comments:

Kathy's Corner said...

Great list Brian, I'm thinking about my own favorite books and I wish I had more that I could say were life changing for me. My favorites though did cause me to develop wider interests Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment an interest in Russian literature Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights I have developed an interest in Victorian novels and particularly life as lived in the Nortn of England. I think that's great that books like Siddartha, the Plague and Carl Sagan continue to speak to you. I'm going to put them on my list because I value your judgement.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Kathy. I would love to know what you thought if you read those books. They mean a lot to me, some of that is for reasons that others may or may not share.

RT said...

I think I’ve just found my must read list for 2018. Thanks, Brian. I trust your judgment and discernment, and I look forward to 2018.

Mudpuddle said...

i've read 8 of these and tend to agree with your estimate, especially as regards P.K. Dick and Carl Sagan... Lawrence has put me off because of his extended wordiness, but maybe i'll give this a try... anything by Bradbury is worth reading imo, and Siddhartha started me on a road that has enriched my life immeasurably... tx for the selection and the effort involved...

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Tim. If you read any of these books I would love to know what you thought of them.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Muddpuddle - It sounds as if we really have similar tastes. With that, I like Lawrence's prose style.

Laurie Welch said...

I didn't know Carl Sagan wrote anything else besides Cosmos, so this one really interests me. He is SO in the category of those-who-died-too-soon :(

Also, the DH Lawrence looks really good.

A wonderful, thoughtful list, Brian.

Suko said...

Brian Joseph,
I've read a few of these, and I consider these classics favorites of mine as well. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick is new to me. I've recently heard of the author in relation to United States of Japan, but not the book you mention. Anyway, I enjoyed reading your list and the reasons why you chose these particular books. Terrific post!

Sharon Wilfong said...

What a great list, Brian! I have read some of the books on your list and I'd like to read the others. I think I may start with the Phillip K. Dick one. I'm kind of on a SciFi kick right now.

I have never read anything by Herman Hesse; I'm not sure if I want to, but I would be interested in reading your reviews on this author.

Take care!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Sharon.

Philip K. Dick wrote strange but fun books. Science fiction is really a wonderful genre.

Hesse's books tend to be short and easy to read so they are acceptable. He explored a lot of themes relating to both Christianity as well as Buddhism so I think that you might find him interesting.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Laurie.

Sagan wrote a lot of books. I have read most of them over the years. I think that they are all worth it. He wrote one novel, Contact, which I think is fantastic too. I so wish that he were alive today.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Suko, Philip K. Dick is one of my favorite science fiction authors. His books are so unique that they are hard to describe.

Unruly Reader said...

Something Wicked -- wow, what a book! I read it for the first time nearly a decade ago, and it still haunts my thoughts (in a good and thought-provoking way).

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Unruly. It was decades between my reads of the book and yet vivid images of passages stayed with me.

Stefanie said...

I love hearing about anyone's favorite books! It is also definitely a revolving sort of thing, as in 10 years or even 5 I am cure you list will look different. Midsummer Night's Dream is a delightful play, that's for sure! I have seen a number of productions and enjoyed every one of them. I've been meaning to read the Philip K. Dick book for ages but have yet to manage it. I am glad it is not really like Blade Runner.

CyberKitten said...

A great list: You've definitely turned me on to Trollope and I hope to pick up at least one of his books in Feb (planned book day on Valentine's!).

The Pinker book keeps showing up on my radar and although I'm highly sceptical of his conclusions maybe I should just read the thing to find out if I actually agree with him or not!

So far I much prefer Camus the philosopher to Camus the author. Although I do have more of his novels to work through.

I like Sagan very much and read The Dragons of Eden back in 2009. I should really read this soon.....

I read Androids years ago - way back in my youth. I've read almost everything PKD wrote and enjoyed immensely having my brain and my imagination stretched.

I enjoyed Jane Eyre much more than I expected. It is indeed a great book.

I am a huge fan of Shakespeare having seen many of his movie adaptations and even one of his stage plays [grin]. A true genius.

Again I've enjoyed many of Foster's movie adaptations but have yet to read any of his books. I need to address that shortfall. Thanks for the prompt.

I have some Lawrence & Hesse coming up soon but neither of those listed.

I read some Bradbury in my youth and always enjoyed his well crafted novels and short stories some of which have stayed with me for decades hidden away in the corners of my mind. I have several more in my various TBR piles.

Stephen said...

Your list is a lot more varied than "best of" lists tend to be!

James said...

Great list! I've read more than half of those books and would probably include Jane Eyre and The Plague on my own all-time list. Your choices are eclectic and demonstrate the wide range of your reading.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stefanie - I also love to read the book lists of others. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is so very different from Blade Runner. I have heard fans of the film have express bewilderment when reading the book.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Cyber Kitten - Of course I love them all. I found A Passage to India so different from other Foster books that I could imagine like it and not liking the others or visa versa.


Brian Joseph said...

Hi Stephen - I think that my tastes tend to hit an an odd nix of categories, classics, science fiction and "big picture books" bout the state of the Universe or at least of humanity.

Whispering Gums said...

Great list Brian. I love that you love The plague. I've read all of Camus, but I love this one - it gets at the heart of humanity. I remember loving A passage to India when I read it, and went on to read a few more of his books. It's been in my mind to re-read it again one day to see what I would think now.

DH Lawrence though, I'm not so sure about. I really enjoyed reading him at school and university, but I don't feel the urge to read him again - except perhaps Kangaroo, which I haven't read.

And Shakespeare. I think I'd have to say Macbeth.

As for my favourite books, I'd find that really hard but it would have Austen in there, and Rohinton Mistry's A fine balance. It would probably also have Wharton's House of mirth - though if I were limited to 10, hmmm ...

Emma (Book Around the Corner) said...

Great list, Brian.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks James - I do tend to read an somewhat odd mix of books :)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Whispering Gums.

Macbeth and a few works like House of Mirth came close to making this list. I have Macbeth on my "best list". However, works with predominantly dark themes just did not make the all time "favorites". When i think about it now, that is one of the things that differentiated the two lists.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Emma.

thecuecard said...

I have read 4 on your list: Jane Eyre, The Rainbow, Passage to India and Siddhartha so I am pleased they made your list! And I agree they are great books. I wouldn't mind rereading them as it's been a long while since I read them in my student days. Great post Brian. Food for thought.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Susan. Great books really do lend themselves to rereading.

HKatz said...

I don't think I've even heard of The Rainbow, but your description has made me add it to my to-read list. I also really want to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep... I recently read a shorter work by the author called The Golden Man which was both disturbing and funny.

Whispering Gums said...

That's interesting Brian --- dark themes are probably the ones that would make my best list!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Hila - I have read a few Lawrence books, The Rainbow is my favorite.

Funny and disturbing is s good way to describe a lot of Philp K. Dick's works.

Brian Joseph said...

Oddly enough I love to read dark works. Yet many fall just short of all
time favorites.

The Bookworm said...

Great post, I enjoyed reading your list and the reasons why you love these books. I've added Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? to my to read list.
I have had Jane Eyre on my shelves for too long waiting to be read. I won't watch any film adaptations because I want to read it first.
Enjoy your Sunday!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - If you read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I would love to knoe what you think.

I also try not to watch a film until I have read the book.

JaneGS said...

I always have a hard time with favorites because my favorites are fairly fluid, but it comes down to what I reread--those have to be the favorites, by definition.

I should probably reread The Rainbow--I remember liking but not loving it, but that was a long, long time ago. Jane Eyre is definitely a favorite.

I love the premise of Better Angels of Our Nature - I like the optimism of it.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Jane - Any favorite list that I had before was not really coherently formed. I would guess that my list may be fluid going forward.

One thing about Pinker's optimism, it is based upon data and reason. He makes a convincing case.

baili said...

Magnificent list Brain!
thank you for this treasure as i consider you as good guide to show what to try next

i found "plague" most appealing!
passage to india is wonderful book and i am glad that i have read it though worth to be repeated

i am honestly glad you shared your favs with us

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Baili - Those were indeed great books. They are worth rereading.

Maria Behar said...

This is a nice list, indeed, Brian! I have read only three of these books: "Jane Eyre", which, as you know, is my favorite all-time classic, "Siddhartha", and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (I read this last one in high school, but want to re-read it).

I've been curious about "Barchester Towers" ever since I read your excellent commentary on it. The other books on your list I want to read are "The Better Angels of Our Nature", "The Demon Haunted World" (both sound fascinating), and "A Passage to India". I'm especially interested in the Sagan book precisely because you have pointed out that he's not as belligerently antagonistic toward theism as Dawkins is. (However, I might be willing to read a Dawkins work, but only borrowed from -- and speedily returned to -- the library.)

As for "The Plague"....maybe. Since you've stated that it contains philosophical musings, as well as commentary on Christianity, I might be willing to read it. Another library candidate!

In regards to "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", I might never read it. As you know, I've seen the movie "Blade Runner", and didn't like it at all. It's much too pessimistic. Ironically, this movie is a cult classic. But well, who knows? Maybe I could borrow this one from the library, as well.....

Another one I doubt I'll ever read is "Something Wicked This Way Comes". Although Bradbury is one of my favorite authors, I am uncomfortable with the undercurrent of horror in his works. I do admire him, though, because of the inventiveness of his imagination, as well as his beautifully flowing prose. But just the title of this book scares, to be honest!

I LOVE what you have to say about "Jane Eyre". You know, I had never thought of this before, but you're so right that this novel contrasts the masculine and the feminine in a brilliant manner! Of course, there are many other aspects to this novel, as we both know, but this point you're making is definitely right on target! Carl Jung would refer

Thanks for sharing your interesting list!! Have a good one! <3 :)


Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Maria.

Though I thought that Barchester Towers was better, as a completest I think you would really like the first book in the series, The Warden. I think that you would like that book's protagonist.

Sagan was so positive. He seemed to like communicating with people with different viewpoints. His temperament seemed the opposite of Dawkins in a lot of ways.

The commentary on Christianity in the Plague is interesting. Camus was an atheist. He also believed that helping others was what gave life meaning. He saw Christians as fellow travelers who shared his values in this regard.

Blade Runner was dark. Though bad things happen in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, its message was ultimately very positive.

It is hard to describe the horror on Something Wicked this Way Comes. It is in no way graphic. But there are some really bad people and creatures about and there is a sense of dread about. In the end However, the book had a very positive message.

Have a great week!

Maria Behar said...

I just came back to read your reply to my comment, as well as to re-read my own comment first. (I always do this when I comment on other blogs. I guess I'm a little obsessive....lol.) Anyway....I noticed that I never finished my previous comment. I was in a hurry to get to work. So the full last sentence should read thus: "Carl Jung would refer to these opposites as male and female archetypes, which he called the 'anima' (the inner feminine in a man) and the animus (the inner masculine in a woman)." And I would like to add that he (Jung) really should have read this novel. I do remember seeing a comment about Heathcliff being Emily Bronte's animus in a book edited by Jung. The comment was from one of Jung's followers, and the book is titled "Man and His Symbols".

Hope you have a great week, too!! :) :) :)

Caroline said...

If been looking forward to finally reading your list. I like it very much. E.M Foster is one of my favourite authors but I haven’t read A Passage to India because I wanted to keep for later. I also love D.H.Lawrence. The Plague is my favourite Camus. I like that you included nonfiction. I’ve read Something Wicked ages ago and should really reread it. Thanks for sharing your list. I always find it is such a treat to see what others love.

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Caroline. I think that you will like A Passage to India if you like other Foster books. In many ways it is similar to the other books that I have read by him but different in other ways.

I also love to read other people's book lists.

Carol said...

I really enjoy reading other people’s ‘favourites’ as it gives a glimpse into their personality. You gave some diverse books there!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Carol - I also like reading other people's favorite lists.

Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks said...

I really did love Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep :) and Jane Eyre has got to be one of my all time favorites. You have wonderful tastes, Brian!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Elvina. Jane Eyre is so beloved by so many people.

So many books, so little time said...

I think the only one I have read is Jane Eyre, but it was years ago, maybe time for a re read Brian. I will look up one or two others you mentioned :D xxx

Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Lainy - I think that a book Jane Eyre really leads itself to rereading.

Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins said...

Ooooh, what an interesting list!! There's quite a few here that I've never read, so I'll take your recommendations on board ;) I was really happy to see Jane Eyre on here (I've read it recently for my blog, review coming soon), it's now one of my all-time favourites. I really do need to get around to reading A Midsummer Night's Dream at some point, thanks for the reminder!!

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Sharee - I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on Jane Eyre. A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream is fairly short. Hopefully you will get the chance to squeeze it in.

Jillian said...

Absolutely wonderful to see your list of personal favorites. I have added a few to my own TBR. We share Jane Eyre. :-)

Here is my own list, wholly biased by my own appreciation & experience. I'm sure in ten years it will look different:

❀ {Little Women by Louisa May Alcott} - I've read this four times. Every time I read it I love it more. It's quite didactic so not for everyone, but it also takes women seriously, and for that I find it invaluable, readable, wonderful, and absorbing. It purports to be a domestic novel but is full of this rebellious undercurrent which makes the read far more complex than it appears at the surface. Also, it is cozy. :)
❀ {Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell} - Challenges the Southern patriarchal structure & illustrates the human capacity to lie to itself and make excuses to maintain comfort. It also accurately depicts how blind we can be to others' confinement & oppression while becoming acutely aware of our own.
❀ {Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain} - Incredible human courage in memoir. Full of emotion and fear and the danger of blind patriotism. Vera Brittain is probably my favorite writer. She is coldly elegant & yet somehow full of compassion. Totally imperfect and yet willing to look at the world's follies and her own, and utterly unwilling to conform. It's a love story, a tragedy, and a true story of a woman's intellectual and international awakening.
❀ {The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder} - I just adore these. Totally because they're sweet and cozy & I like Pa. :-)
❀ {Walden by Henry David Thoreau} - He insists we LOOK.
❀ {Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë} - My first classic. A page-turner! It made me fall for books. Jane Eyre goes against the grain while maintaining her integrity throughout. She faces common pitfalls in the female story and does not lose herself. She reminds me of a more interesting Fanny Price.
❀ {To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee} - A look at racism through the eyes of a white child in the 1930s. Similarly to Gone with the Wind, I like it because it features a girl in Southern world who faces oppression due to her sex but has trouble seeing the racial oppression all around her. Which I find valuable because it so strongly encourages us to look beyond our own agenda.
❀ {The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan} - I didn't expect to so enjoy this one. I read it because it was a favorite of Bronson Alcott and central in the life of Louisa May Alcott. For some reason it has stuck with me. The human mind facing obstacles at every turn and having to battle through them.
❀ {John Adams by David McCullough} - I COULD NOT PUT THIS DOWN. It brought the Revolution to life for me. And I love the focus on Adams's actual words. I felt that I actually got to meet him and walk around with him and ear him rant and complain and storm and laugh. 'Tis the realest depiction of a prior human I've ever read. I took to him. Most flawed, human, courageous, selfless, selfish, irritable & jolly. a complex man trying to lean toward something right and fighting his natural inclination to shake his fists and stomp about. :-)

There are more! Self-Reliance, the Harry Potter books, Lord of the Rings, Sense & Sensibility, The Christmas Carol, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, The Taming of the Shrew, Meditations by Aurelius, A Room of One's Own by Woolf, A Writer's Diary by Woolf, Anne of Green Gables...

But that list would take miles. :)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks Jillian. Books can be so wonderful. For bookish folks they can touch us in such such profound ways.

Your list is so interesting. I must get the the books that I have not read.

I have been meaning to read Pilgrims Progress for some time.

Comparing Jane Eyrie and Fanny Price is interesting. Their are similarities. But I do think that Jane Austen’s characters are brilliant and deep depictions of everyday people. These people are sometimes extraordinary. I think that Bronte’s creations were giants. Her characters were profound. I think that this is true of Fanny Price snd Jane Eyrie.

I just spoke to some folks on Twitter who were disparaging Gone With the Wind. The film is the latest target of the hard left censors snd some of that is spilling over to the book. All this makes me want to read it.

I really liked McCullough book on Adams. He is my favorite founder despite his grumpiness :)

Jillian said...

Hey Brian! I deleted my latest remarks so they don't distract from your post. Sorry! I tend to become a little long-winded when it comes to Margaret Mitchell. :P I think it would be awesome to read your response to Gone with the Wind if you ever decide to read it -- whether or not it agrees with my own. I always "see" when I read your posts. Cheers!

Brian Joseph said...

Hey Jillian, you did not have to delete your posts. I love book discussions even when folks have a lot to say. I have been kind of busy the last few days and I was going to respond when I had more time. If you still have the text, feel free to put your comments up again.

Jillian said...

Thanks, Brian! I feared I'd made a speech. :P I did save the text so I'll restore it.

Please take your time. I just didn't want to intrude on your platform.

...

Ha ha! John Adams is my favorite founder too -- and he is terribly grumpy. :D I'd have absolutely LOVED to hang out with him in his later years. I bet he was thrilling to talk to.

I meant no disrespect to Fanny. I adore Austen, and though my person favorite by her is Sense & Sensibility (it touches the right emotional chord in me), I actually consider Mansfield Park her most brilliant novel. I feel that Austen was doing ALL SORTS of revolutionary work in the undercurrents of the novel. Example, Sir Thomas Bertram actually stands on the children's stage while demanding that his children shall not act. Meanwhile, he is ACTING as the all-knowing moral compass while spending most of the novel off-site dealing with the people he claims as property and we can be assured mistreats. My feeling is that Fanny is in fact the moral compass. She says I CANNOT ACT and does not do it throughout the entirety of the novel, though everyone else does. I consider her the most courageous of all Austen's heroines. I read the play (Lovers' Vows) that they put on throughout the novel. I'd recommend anyone who wants an interesting angle on Mansfield Park to read it. The theme is definitely patriarchal morality and whether or not it actually holds up. :-)

Gone with the Wind has been my favorite novel for as far back as I can remember. It is therefore the one I find it the most difficult to stand back and see objectively. I'm trying to do that now (with my mother, who's reading it aloud with me nightly, and who originally recommended I read it when I was eight years old.)

The book is MUCH better and more nuanced than the film. The film romanticizes (Mitchell strongly disliked the opening scroll, which she did not write) & doesn't seem to actually understand what Mitchell was doing. Her point is not "What a world, I miss it so." Her point is "What nonsense to bury your head in the sand and weep for the old days when they are gone. Buck up, you fools, and start rebuilding. We think that world was glorious, but if you really look at it, it held women back. AND HOW."

As I revisit the book, I'm trying to decide how far Mitchell wanted to take that argument. She DEFINITELY wanted to critique the idea that life in the Old South was ANYTHING like the old Southern myth. She DEFINITELY wanted to show a white woman of that world beginning to see how it destroyed her and left her totally ill-equipped to survive. It DEFINITELY used a romance to mock the dangers of romantic thinking. It shows romantic thinking as foolish, and highlights hypocrisy in the Southern cause, remarking on bigotry among Southerners, corruption among the Confederates, foolish nostalgia, and the stupidity of romantic thinking. Yet there's an undercurrent of real affection for the South as well. For me so far, the point isn't either "this is all stupid" OR "oh please allow me to fade away with a mint julep back in those old days." Rather, the novel (which starts as a blatant romance novel) urges readers (Mitchell expected a white Southern readership) to see REALISTICALLY, lose the romance, honor the humanity of the Southern people and see their depth while having the sense to admit their faults, lies, cheating, head in the sand tactics, and herd mentality. She was writing this when the original Confederates still lived all over Atlanta (male and female) and where their nostalgia for the old days (& its rules) was stomping all over her right to be an independent woman. She basically seems to be saying "Knock it off with the stupidity."

Jillian said...

Where I feel less confident about her message at this point is in the last third or so of the novel. I haven't read it in a while, and I remember some extremely uncomfortable passages. In the last third we're in Reconstruction. My knowledge of that part of history is iffy, so I'm slowly reading Du Bois's Black Reconstruction in America as well. My hazy memory is that Mitchell's Scarlett (and the book's narrative persona) aim a negative light on the freeing of the enslaved in Atlanta, making negative commentary on the Freedman's Bureau, the handling of the newly enslaved, the Republicans. And I'm not sure anything in the text counters that message. Mitchell was writing not long after the film release of The Birth of a Nation. I watched the film a few weeks ago to see how it compares, and many of the "terrors" of Reconstruction depicted in that film make their way into the Reconstruction portion of the novel.

My focus as I read this time is to try to see how Mitchell dealt with these objections to Reconstruction. Was she potentially saying something new in her book, or merely parroting Thomas Dixon? Having read a great deal about her, I cannot imagine she'd parrot Dixon -- so I have to wonder if she was attempting something a little more ironic. For example, there's a scene within this section where the KKK is depicted as white knights "rescuing" Scarlett. This repeats a big theme from The Birth of the Nation. However, the KKK of Mitchell's era was going after Catholics and Irish alongside the Southern blacks. Mitchell's family was solidly Irish and Catholic. The KKK of her era claimed to be "cleaning up the trash" for a more true America. (Sound familiar?) I've seen nothing in her letters referencing these atrocities but I believe it's fair to say she'd have viewed the KKK with skepticism. Ashley is described as a white knight throughout the novel, & without wanting to spoil it for you, in the final moments of the book this image is overturned. Ashley is a leader within the KKK. The whole novel cries out for realistic thinking rather than romance, smoke and mirrors, masks, or nostalgia.

My feeling is that Mitchell wants you uncomfortable in the final third of the novel. She wants you to witness the breaking down of social structures into violence and white-washing. She wants you to crave the old days. She wants you to want the romance resolved so that when it's all over, if you have any sense about you, you'll check yourself and see how easily she dragged you along through a romance laced with violence and darkness and blindness and how totally it warped an otherwise potentially vibrant woman.

I haven't confronted the final third of the novel in my revisit yet, so no idea if I'm correct. Possibly she saw some of the oppression but not all of it. I know that she seems to have been fairly Libertarian in her thinking.* I base my assessment of her political philosophy on the fact that she despised government overreach. She believed strongly in self-reliance, and where she differs from Dixon is that (from what I recall) her narrative persona (while using extremely appalling epithets in places) appears to argue, not that Reconstruction shouldn't have happened, but that as it happened it was corrupt, and that rather than educating newly freed blacks, it taught them to rely on the government, and this was a recipe for disaster. This philosophy is actually depicted through Scarlett's tale: she was given everything and when disaster hit, she had no tools to survive. She became stronger, not because she was protected by the patriarchy (as they claimed throughout romantic narratives of the South) but because she was forced to survive without them. The moral being? Human strength and integrity is not held up by enforced protection: it is made by the very act of going out there, facing the odds, and figuring out who you are and what you believe in.

Jillian said...

Throughout the tale, Scarlett is contrasted with Prissy (Scarlett's enslaved maid). When they initially meet, each seems to see past the false layer of insipid grinning the other is using to survive -- to recognize mutual intelligence. This is mentioned only once, and from that point forward Prissy is shown as a survivor: she acts stupid, acts silly, lies, forgets -- in order to do whatever she pleases. Scarlett is exactly the same.

Anyway, I consider the novel absolutely brilliant. Breath-takingly skeptical of the Southern world. Utterly human. Magnificent in its scope. And whether or not the novel goes as far as we want (I'm not sure it goes as far as I'd hope, which is itself pretty ironic as to fail to see the novel for its crimes actually goes against the novel's whole message), it was a STEP taken before the Civil Rights movement. It shows just how complex our interaction with history and politics is. We are willing to lie and erase and hide in order to make peace with our world, and I think that's Mitchell's point. Life is messy. Get up and look at it, and make an individual choice. It's very much a book about self-reliance. But you do have to read it in order to make any determination about its worth. If all you see is a romance, I personally feel Mitchell would grin. "Well, that's what most would see" she'd likely say. That's the whole point of the book.

* Mitchell adamantly claimed to not be a conservative. Her brother said after her death that she was a conservative, but I am hesitant to accept his version of her political philosophy at face value since 1) it conflicts with hers 2) he is a little close to the topic & may have wanted to present an image of her that he'd have considered more in line with the family thinking.

For sources, going off the top of my head, I'd cite Southern Daughter by Darden Asbury Pyron, The Gone with the Wind Letters by Margaret Mitchell, & The Atlanta Historical Bulletin: Margaret Mitchell Memorial Issue (1950.)

Cheers, Brian. :-)

Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for the insightful comments.

Imagine if John Adams had been on Twitter!

Fascinating insights into Mansfield Park. I must give Lover’s Vows a try.

It is really nice that your mom is reading Gone With the Wind out loud.

Your thoughts on the book are fascinating. I really want to read it now. Sometimes the masses, and even critics, miss irony and deeper meaning.

Also, just based on what you wrote, I am thinking that someone can love a place it still be critical of it. Maybe that was going on the Mitchell and the south.

Take care!

Jillian said...

Thanks Brian! No expectation for a response on this: I realize you're busy. I'm just answering you. :)

HA! John Adams would last five minutes on Twitter before they cancelled him!!! :D
Mom is actually reading GWTW with me. We're taking turns reading aloud. We've done this with a few books because it feels 19th century: some Dickens, some Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Secret Garden. I've been trying to do justice to Gerald's Irish accent and Rhett's Charleston accent this time in GWTW. When they have lines in the same scene, it gets messy! :P

I'm excited you may eventually read GWTW. I'd love to read your response. I think you're spot on with your comment that Mitchell loved the South while also critiquing it. That's my feeling exactly. I'm nervous to reach the final third of the novel this time & discover that I have passed over some blatant racism in prior reads. Like many readers, I want the novel to be fun and dislike confronting the idea that I may have bought into racism without acknowledging it -- and even defended the novel without truly seeing what's in it. My personal feeling is that, even if Mitchell doesn't get as far as I want her to get in GWTW, she'd disapprove strongly of defending what deserves no defense. If the racism is there, she'd say point it out. However, every moment in the novel so far points to THINK, THINK, THINK -- & I just find it difficult to believe she'd drop the ball in the last third of the novel and go conservative racist. My strong hunch is that she's doing more there than has been noticed or acknowledged. It comes off racist because she's writing about racists, and she WANTS you to finish it and think about what you bought into -- in order to consider WHY white southerners were so quick to defend their racist ideals. Again, the theme being -- we're awful, we're terrible, & we're human -- it could have been you.
Watching The Birth of a Nation was eye-opening for me, as is reading Black Reconstruction in America (which I strongly recommend.) Each shows a totally divergent view of the Reconstruction era in the South -- an era I know basically nothing about beyond what Mitchell shares in GWTW. The Birth of a Nation is extremely disturbing to watch. I also intend to read Thomas Dixon's Reconstruction trilogy. I want to see the climate Mitchell was writing against.

My favorite line in Gone with the Wind is "Why be an ostrich?" That's basically the novel's theme, and I strongly feel Mitchell would support criticism of her novel. She'd probably be puzzled by the calls for cancellation & wonder why anyone would look at a 20th century novel through a 21st century perspective.

Cheers, Brian. :-)