First, planting some flags:
The long Spanish novel La Regenta (1886) by Leopoldo Alas aka Clarín in July. I remember that there was some interest in a readalong. Please see seraillon for more on this tempting novel – “belongs with the greatest of psychological novels,” “something memorable on nearly every page,” etc.
Goethe’s travel memoir Italian Journey (1816) in November. A subtly strange book, with a Goethe quite unlike the one known by readers who for some reason think The Sorrows of Young Werther is “autobiographical.” For one thing, the author of Italian Journey is alive. This book may also belong with the greatest of psychological novels, even if it is not a novel.
Maybe I will follow along with The Little Professor’s Nineteenth-century Gothic literature course, at least the texts I have not read.
Second, the American literature non-Challenge:
For several years, I have picked some easily and narrowly defined literary tradition to read around in and attached to it a phoney baloney, parodic “challenge,” which mostly involved me reading books I wanted to read anyways. But as I approach the end of the 19th century – the chronological creep of my reading is obvious, right? – I see that many of the books that I want to read soon are American – the United States kind of American – and from the 1880s and 1890s or a bit later. Books I have never read, or last read in college, or even, like A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, since my childhood.
I have never had any particular interest in American literature, which in a way is a shame. It is my tradition, the one in which I live, the one in which I do not need to learn everything from scratch as I have done with Russian and French literature and even English literature. Pounds and shillings, dukedoms and baronetcies, Suffolk and Norfolk, rotten boroughs, that sort of thing, rather than the deeper understanding I could have of American literature (rereading this sentence - who am I kidding?).
My college American Lit II class and its assigned Norton anthology served me well, too. There are good arguments against worrying too much about “coverage” in literature survey courses, but boy did coverage ever work for me, in the sense that I crammed in a little bit by a lot of American writers which later allowed me to read magazine articles with a reasonable level of understanding. Go ahead and refer to Vachel Lindsay or Hamlin Garland, I’ve read them. A poem, a story, something.
Well, I am ready to do better.
In practice this means a lot of Mark Twain and Henry James. I will test my appetite for both writers. Say The Bostonians (1886), What Maisie Knew (1897), another short 19th century novel, and one of the three long late novels. A good sampling of the tales. That sounds like a lot of Henry James. We’ll see.
A commenter suggested I save James’s ghost stories for an October readalong. What a good idea. Yes, let’s do that.
Twain is easier. Huckleberry Finn (1885), Connecticut Yankee (1889), Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894), the Joan of Arc novel (1895), some of the later, darker works, lots of his shorter stuff, stories and speeches and throwaway jokes. Maybe another travel book besides Life on the Mississippi (1883), which I am reading now.
A William Dean Howells novel. The Awakening. Lots of Stephen Crane. More Edith Wharton – I’ve read nothing but Ethan Frome. The Damnation of Theron Ware. Finish Parkman’s history of Quebec. More so-called Naturalists – Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, Jack London.
Poetry is a problem. The 1880s and 1890s saw the Great Winnowing of the American Poets, with the deaths of Bryant in 1878 and then Lanier (1881), Emerson and Longfellow (1882), Dickinson (1886), Melville (1891), and Whittier and Whitman (1892). Some were retired; others, like Melville, were still writing good poetry. Much of the next generation of talent died young, like Crane. The casualty rate of poets born in the 1870s is horrifying.
I want to get to know Edwin Arlington Robinson and Paul Laurence Dunbar better. Any opinions about George Santayana’s poetry? Things get really interesting in the 1910s, but I doubt I will get that far. I’ll mostly look elsewhere for poetry.
I am looking forward to reading some high proportion of these books, but I cannot suppress the suspicion that the result will be the most boring year of Wuthering Expectations. Or most boring nine months, or six months, or however long before I can’t stand it anymore and want to gorge myself on French weirdos.
If anything here looks interesting, let me know and we can coordinate. A lot of these books are mercifully short. Suggestions for more books are perpetually welcome.
Monday, January 4, 2016
2016 plans - some readalongs, some American literature
First, planting some flags: