Tag Archive | classic literature

Book Review: The House of the Seven Gables

I never read this book when I was younger.  I didn’t even know it was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, probably due to some mental mix-up with the Anne of Green Gables book, which seems so much more cheerful than anything Hawthorne would write.  I mean he did write The Scarlet Letter, with all those uptight Puritans.

But then I went to visit the House of the Seven Gables, in Salem, Massachusetts, where Hawthorne lived for a period of time with his relatives.  It was built in the 1600s and was the inspiration for the home in his book.  The gift shop was selling copies of the book, with a little stamp that indicated you bought it at the actual House of the Seven Gables.  And it was only $11, so I bought myself a copy.  Now I wish I would have read the book before visiting the house, but there’s nothing I can do about that.

First things first.  19th century literature is a challenging read.  Oh boy…  We think we are so smart these days with our constant connectness, but writers back then really poured in all the vocabulary words they had ever learned.  And the descriptions!  So much of the book is based on description, rather than action.

The novel centers around a cast of characters from the Pyncheon family, of whom three, an elderly sister and brother, and their barely adult niece, live in a 200-year-old home.  It was built by an ancestor of theirs and is rumored to be cursed.  The book alludes to, but never states outright, that the ancestor accused the original owner of the land of witchcraft in order to buy his property on the cheap after he was executed.  So that man did what any good witch would do and issued a gallows curse on his accuser.  I mean, even if you weren’t a witch, you are about to be executed, wouldn’t you be tempted to pop off and see if karma might have your back?

Fast forward to the mid-1800s, and the elderly residents of the home are poor and anti-social, hiding out like hermits until their young, fresh niece comes along to breathe some life into the place.  As the plot goes on, there is the constant theme of where is the money hidden, in the form of 200-year-old property deeds on long-contested land that would make the rich relatives richer and the poor ones, well, they probably wouldn’t see a dime.

So there you go.  Murder, mayhem, Puritans, witchcraft and a pretty, young maiden to save the day.  There’s a love story in there too of course, and a few twists to keep you guessing.  A good story if you can keep your eyes focused through all that prose.

Note: The photo above is not the edition I read, but this book has approximately hundreds of editions and versions and I’m lazy and just picked one of the photos instead of trying to find the version I read.  So there.  

 

Book Review: Gone With the Wind

“After all, tomorrow is another day.”

I began reading Gone With the Wind in early February, after a late January trip to Atlanta put me at the Margaret Mitchell House, a house museum dedicated to the author and located in her old apartment.  My discussion with the guide at the museum piqued my interest about the book again, and so I wanted to read it with my new perspective in mind.

Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

Margaret Mitchell was the granddaughter of two Confederate officers, so the nostalgia of the Old South ran deep in the stories she heard in her childhood.  In addition, she was a strong woman, a young adult during the roaring twenties, when women were testing the boundaries of freedom and women’s roles.  You have to consider that Margaret Mitchell was writing her novel shortly after the women’s suffrage movement, the Flapper era, and during Prohibition.  She had a unique perspective on the role of women in society, at a time when women were pushing the boundaries of traditional female roles.

Mitchell made her main character an incredibly strong female role model; you can love Scarlett or hate her, but you have to recognize that she was a woman who never bowed down to men, nor to society’s expectations of her.  You have to respect a woman who goes through the kind of trials that Scarlett goes through and still manages to continue to get up and fight another day.  And that is essentially the theme of the book – never give up, fight another day…

There is no doubt that Gone With the Wind depicts African Americans as simple-minded, inferior souls who need the protection of their white masters.  It is simplistic at best, and completely ignores the brutal reality of slavery.  It is challenging to read Mitchell’s linguistic portrayal of the way the black characters in her novel speak.  However, it does make sense given Mitchell’s upbringing, in an upper class white society, with a family who undoubtedly glorified the way the South was before the war.  She most likely didn’t believe that there was anything but truth in her grandfather’s patriarchal, fatherly depiction of the treatment of the slaves during the antebellum period.  Mitchell was very sophisticated in some ways (divorcing her abusive, alcoholic husband and working in the newspaper business at a time when few women worked outside the home), and very naive in others.

I’m not a fan of banning books, or shunning a book simply because it no longer fits within the societal norms of today.  I do believe that we should read books and try to understand the context from the era in which they were written, and the belief system of the author.  Sometimes understanding is the best way to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.

When looked at within the context of the time when it is written, Gone With the Wind is a very interesting portrayal of the South.  History is often seen through the eyes of the victors, and this novel obviously portrays Georgia from the perspective of the vanquished.  Although it does oversimplify parts, it also provides information that is often glossed over in the literature of the Civil War and Reconstruction.  There was a whole group of citizens who were mourning their way of life, and who had to fight to survive a brutal taxation and political system after the war.  There were hardships – even if the modern era doesn’t have a lot of respect for that way of life.

It took me a long time to read this book.  It is rare for me to be reading the same book for 10 months.  During this time, I have gone through over a dozen audio books.  This one took a while for a variety of reasons; it is long (719 pages), it has super tiny print, and I was traveling the country for part of the time I was reading it.  I didn’t have a lot of time for reading books on my trip; once I got settled for the night at a campground, it was time to make dinner, get my car ready for sleeping, keep up on my travels in my journal, etc.  Not to mention, as soon as the sun went down, my brain said it was bedtime!  Hopefully I will be able to get through my next book a bit more quickly.

Relaxing with a book on the patio

This novel is a classic for a reason, and it is still worth the read.