With a deep sigh of relief, the traveler turned back to France. There he felt safe. (Education, Ch. XXXI)
The Education of Henry Adams (1907) would be, I thought as I was reading it, the perfect last book to write about at Wuthering Expectations. It is more or less exactly about the disintegration of the 19th century in the 20th, a memoir of change, of obsolescence.
So I am using it this week as a source of context-free quotations that I find hilarious. There are many more that I am not going to use. What a great book!
Today, finishing Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905), I have completed my non-neurotic chronological reading of Western literature through 1909; Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge awaits in 1910, based on a list I made twenty years ago and have fussed with and expanded ever since. Any such list is capricious and arbitrary, but everything I have read has been displayed in public for the past ten years, so it should be clear enough that I have not been all that capricious. It has been a little more substantial than a push through some “100 Greatest” list. In the sense of dragging my eyes a single time across the pages of well-known books, I have covered a lot. I make no claim beyond that. Real experts do not read like this.
I keep the list in a spreadsheet. No, you cannot have it. It is essential, for your education, that you make your own. I mean, if you are tempted by this kind of thing.
My 19th century Humiliations, the most famous 19th century books I have not read, are now, I don’t know, The Last of the Mohicans, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, The House of the Dead, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I should read a Maupassant novel some time, right? We could extend this list.
As happy as I am to extend the long 19th century to November 11, 1918, if I were not going to France I would still face this problem a year from now – I am moving away from the 19th century. My chronological drift has taken me far from the 1830s, where I happened to be back in 2007. I am, aside from the usual re-reading, more curious about what is going on in the 1910s and 1920s. My real Humiliations are The Magic Mountain, The Age of Innocence, Sons and Lovers, and The Master and Margarita. I want to revisit some writers I have not read for a long time, maybe decades – Kafka, Faulkner, Woolf. Heck, I am more interested in finally trying The Tale of Genji or The Dream of the Red Chamber than reading my fifteenth Trollope novel, as much as I would enjoy it.
None of this will happen now, or for a long time. Instead, I will go to France. I do not want to guess how much reading I will do, much less what reading, or what I will do with it, or what I will want to read, or write, once I return.
What an adventure!
As a final note, I want to thank everyone who had the energy to leave a comment or correction, here or elsewhere. I have learned so much from other readers. This is my selfish, but selflessly selfish, reason for writing Wuthering Expectation. On paper, all of my factual errors, bad arguments, and conceptual mistakes sit there uncorrected; they are repeated, magnified, and ideas shrivel. Not on the blog. The conversation with all of you has been so helpful. I am a better writer than I was ten years ago, and a better reader, and a lot of the credit goes to everyone who took the time, and fought Blogspot, and said something. Thank you so much.