Sunday, June 29, 2008

Another World (or two)

I've lived for the past few weeks (it seems) in another realm. Just before we moved to Jackson, I picked up Pride and Prejudice (the movie with Kierra Knightly) at a yard sale. I have tried (and tried) to read that book, but get frustrated (ah, bored) with the beginning (the conversation is TEDIOUS) and so I put it down. However, there are so many people that I know that love it, so I thought I'd give the movie a try and see if it had a good story and then maybe try again. I know that that is cheating and it's not my usual protocol (I usually read the book and scoff and condemn the movie to shreds), but I really wanted to see what the stupid thing was about. The movie is really good (in my usual OCD manner, I've seen the movie half a dozen times since we've moved here) and now I'm ready to try the book again. Love, LOVE me some Mr. Darcy. I do not know why my fascination is piqued about such books. Perhaps it is the style of dress, or maybe the lack of modernity that is so prevalent in our society. Perhaps it is the foreign protocol of men and women that we no longer live by. The heroic nature of the men and even the strength and quiet way of the women. It's not weakness, understand, but a mysterious quiet that evokes you to understand what they are about. I'm very interested in the protocol that we no longer live with. What women were "allowed" to do or say, and what a burden they were on their families if they didn't marry well. I would really not call myself a feminist by today's standards (or one of those crazy women you see who are radically obnoxious-I do not think all men stupid and irrelevant), but I cannot imagine living in a time where I was invisible. It is really almost confusing to me, that my ancestors lived by such rules.

Anyhoo, because I've seen this movie and had just finished some Anne of Green Gables books too (different era completely than Pride and Prejudice, but still another realm that I've never lived in), I was curious about some different kind of books. The other day, I went to the library and checked out Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The House of Seven Gables". Wow. He IS a little wordy (look who's talking), but incredibly perceptive of the reader and tells a great story. This book sets you in a completely different mindset. It is almost as if a mist has enveloped my person and I'm smelling the mildew of the house (of seven gables). I hear the footsteps on the stairs and I smell the ancient roses in the garden. I hear the whispers of ancestral grumblings and woes and experience the scowl of the mistress of the house. The book is about a family who's ancestors two hundred years prior (in the Puritan age) had participated, even condemned a wizard named Maul to death. Just before he died, he put a curse on the family who condemned him. Then, out of pride and arrogance, the great judge assumed the wizard's property has his own, knocked down his residence, and built his own great mansion atop of the dead man's family property. Thus follows pride, regret, remorse, audacity and, of course, the general feeling that the house is haunted. I love it.

Let me share with you something I found particularly relevant to me. The author is speaking about a man of primary importance in the book, Jaffrey Pyncheon, and his role as a judge. He is arrogant, but is regarded as an important personage in in the town where they live, treated with respect and dignity because of his title and reputation. Hawthorne states about his tendencies as an important figure:

... With these materials (speaking of wealth, real estate, and offices of trust), and with deeds of goodly aspect, done in the public eye, an individual of this class builds up, as it were, a tall and stately edifice, which, in the view of other people, and ultimately in his own view, is no other than the man's character, or the man himself. Behold, therefore, a palace! Its splendid halls and suites of spacious apartments, are floored with a mosaicwork of costly marble; its windows, the whole height of each room, admit the sunshine through the most transparent of plate glass; its high cornices are gilded, and its ceilings gorgeously painted; and a lofty dome...


So, yes, this man has built his reputation as a beautiful building, but alas:

...Ah, but in some low and obscure nook- some narrow closet on the ground floor, shut, locked , and bolted, and the key flung away; or beneath the marble pavement, in a stagnant water puddle, with the richest pattern of mosaicwork above- may lie a corpse, half decayed, and still decaying, and diffusing its death scent all through the palace! The inhabitant will not be conscious of it, for it has long been his daily breath! Neither will the visitors, for they smell only the rich odors which the master sedulously scatters through the palace...


Chills ran down my spine as I read it, not only because of the author's ability to explain his character, but because it hit so close to my own humble palace that hides so deep a corpse. We are all in need of redemption. We are kidding ourselves if we think we are good enough to not require it or to be able to acquire it by our own good merit. I love that Hawthorne hinted (screamed is more like it actually) at his own humanity. Good book. I will finish it in the morrow.

6 comments:

Cheryl said...

Funny, I just read that book earlier this year - I agree with your insights. If you haven't read "The Scarlet Letter" as an adult be sure to read it, too. Same goes for "Tom Sawyer" - which the boys may like to hear aloud. One more good book is "The Scarlet Pimpernel" - no, not the Daffy Duck version. It is about a person who disguises as different characters in order to sneak upper-class individuals out of France to escape the guillotine during the French Revolution.

Rachel said...

very poigniant. good perspective. i approve.

also, 7 days and counting...

laytonfamily said...

was I supposed to feel stupid after this post?!

heather said...

Me and Nathan (that's what I like to call him) go way back. I think watching the movie and learning the background of the writer helps you to understand the books more.

Amber said...

oh, bum. I wish you'd seen the mini-series of P&P first by BBC--no one can beat Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy! Talk to Crissy about that one...

On another note, you should also try Jane Eyre. Just the tiniest bit better than P&P believe it or not. JE is much like Elizabeth Bennet in character, except she has to really pull herself up by her bootstraps--it is such an engaging story! (And the mini-series on that one ain't bad either!) JE also has a haunted house. I shall have to try Hawthorne...sounds pretty good...

Crissy said...

I want to read it now.