Sunday, August 26, 2012

We Are All Outlanders

photo by Anna Reavis

“Trust me, we are comrades in ruin.”  --The Reverend
The problem with reading a book like The Outlander by Gil Adamson is that I have to finish it, and then there is no direction  for my reading pleasure to go but down.  There is no way the next book will be as entertaining or as emotionally fulfilling as a book I’ve loved almost every word of.  At the same time, I feel lucky to have discovered such books in my life.  It isn’t a matter of literary worth, although I do think this book has literary worth.  It’s a matter of its worth to me at this certain time and in this certain place of my life.

There is poetry on almost every page.   And how I love a strong, triumphant woman, especially one who is in the process of sewing  her own widows weeds when her disastrous, ruinous, neglectful, cold-hearted  husband comes home.  She  sets down her needle to pick up his rifle and shoot him with it.  She then embarks on a journey that would kill most of us and discovers that for her  there is no such thing as unbearable.
The journey is both a journey of the soul and a journey of the body and is mythological in the proportions of its occurrences.  As she runs for her life, the widow discovers truths about and strengths in herself that were previously unknown to her.   She wants to punish herself for not anticipating what she could not have known, for  life raging out of control around her, as if she somehow could  have checked that.  She fears more than anything the darkness in herself.  Her dreams  scare her because she senses in them unforeseen dangerous truths, things she feels she should see coming but can’t.  She wants to lie down and quit, wants to be too broken to be fixed, but she keeps getting back up.  The widow is only 19 years old, and she already knows what so many of us never understand:    that we give  value to our own lives and that it is up to us to take from life what we can.

This book, for me, is fiction at its best.  It helped me discover and understand truths about myself.  The novels that speak to us do so because they teach us to name the unnamed in ourselves.  We are all outlanders.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is Tess a Masochistic Neurotic? Am I?

Photo by Anna Reavis

I've been stressing myself out for a month about writing a post on my beach reading of  Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.  I know it's one of the backbones of British Literature, and I know I'm supposed to love it, but honestly, Tess gets on my nerves. 

When I read the novel in high school, I wrote a paper on "Fatalism in Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles."  And when I was in high school, I probably saw the entire plot as fatalistic.   As an adult, however, I am more able to recognize how much a part we play in our own happiness.  Tess says early on in the novel that we live on a blighted star, but in truth, is it not more correct to believe along the lines of this Tess quote:   "A strong woman who recklessly throws away her strength, she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away."  (Gender doesn't matter here; this quote just happens to refer to a woman.)

We bear responsibility for our own choices, regardless of the curves life throws at us.  Hardy never seems to decide which matters more:  our fate or our choices.  I think our choices are what matter more.   A person always contributes to his (or in this case, her) own downfall.   The more you expect of yourself,  the more you can expect to be hurt because you will always assume others see things as you do, which is not true at all.    Tess acts out of her sense of personal responsibility and concern for the people she loves, and her over-developed sense of duty costs her dearly.   She expects better of Alec, of her parents, and of Angel, because she would have behaved better toward them.   What destroys her in the end is her naive expectation of love, coupled with her sense of moral duty.  The lesson here is not an uplifting one.

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