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What I Don’t Get….Literary Crushes

Anecdotes from 2Blowhards “I Don’t Get It” discussion (about literary works a person respects while not enjoying).

There was once a professor who, at the end of a standard “great books” course, asked his students the following question: Which one of these books did you not like, and what does your reaction tell you about your own shortcomings?

An old English prof of mine once told a group of us that he never read fiction any more, only history. “After a certain age, fiction is just silly.”

Steve Sailor writes:

Henry James suffered from a seemingly minor but, to me, maddening technical problem of letting the relationship between his pronouns and their antecedents get almost indecipherably tangled. I have constantly to stop and try to figure out who is the “he” who is being quoted. It’s like trying to debug badly written computer code. I could get paid to do that, but nobody is paying me to read Henry James novels, so I don’t. Somebody should put out a new edition of his novels with just one change: fewer pronouns and more antecedents.

Writers I don’t get: Toni Morrison, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Brontes, Dante, Ezra Pound.

Dan Green, the party pooper, in answer to a question about what literary character he’s had a crush on, replies, “Never. I’m a firm believer that life is life and literature is literature.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Crushes imply a certain amount of sexual/romantic infatuation, as well as a sense of sympathy or camaraderie. In other words, a person you wouldn’t mind meeting in real life.

It’s much easier to think of female characters in cinema I have crushes on, harder for literature. I’m leaving out Molly Bloom (because I hadn’t finished the book) and Anna Karenina (IBID). Mahfouz, had some intellectually interesting characters in Cairo Trilogy. Now I’m listening to Diana Abu-Jaber’s Crescent, and I find the main character Serene interesting. I’d love to meet Zola’s Nana, if only because such a simple girl cuts a tragic figure. I enjoyed the “mature woman” in Musset’s Children of Our Century (modelled after George Sand). I’ve always been taken with Antonia in Willa Cather’s Masterpiece. In that novel you see the girl from her humblest beginnings, full of joy and sorrows, growing up and retaining that magic all the time (and her dead father’s musicality).

I always enjoyed when Antonia lived in the town and got fired for scandalously going to a town dance. Now perhaps I am speaking too soon, but I can’t think of many hilarious female characters, except perhaps for Ms. Malaprop. (I’m sure Jane Austen has her share of them). Shakespeare has a lot of great characters (Taming of the Shrew, etc).

Female characters are a problem. Either they are idealized romantic figures (Bovary), boring maternal types, cheerleaders for our hero, captives of social conventions (Age of Innocence), or just unadulterated villians (Lady MacBeth) . I’m aware that Iris Murdoch, Ayn Rand, Margaret Atwood and Doris Lessing have protagonists who are independent and intellectually interesting, but none of the ones I have encountered so far really appeals to me. But one thing for sure: we need more comic female characters!

(Other female characters: Iris in Because it is Bitter, Because It is my Heart (Oates), the quirky Sylvie in Marylynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona !!).

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