Thursday, July 28, 2011

Stuff I mostly haven't read yet

... but am sharing anyway. Partly so I can clear out my bookmarks, and partly because a quick skim makes me reasonably confident that there's something to worth reading in all of these.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chapter 11: I feel you, Anne -- I want pretty dresses too!

No, clothes aren't the exclusive focus of this chapter. But just as much as Sunday School (which actually appears in the chapter title), this chapter deals with the difference between how Anne and Marilla deal with appearance.

Marilla has made Anne some new dresses to replace her asylum clothes:
"One was of snuffy colored gingham which Marilla had been tempted to buy from a peddler the preceding summer because it looked so serviceable; one was of black-and-white checkered sateen which she had picked up at a bargain counter in the winter; and one was a stiff print of an ugly blue shade which she had purchased that week at a Carmody store.... She had made them up herself, and they were all made alike—plain skirts fulled tightly to plain waists, with sleeves as plain as waist and skirt and tight as sleeves could be."
Anne, though intent on being grateful, can't help but long for puffed sleeves. Which Marilla thinks are both wasteful and ridiculous.
"But I'd rather look ridiculous when everybody else does than plain and sensible all by myself," persisted Anne mournfully.
But just a little further along in the chapter, we get to see that Anne doesn't care all that much about general standards of fashion, as long as her own standards are met -- and a wreath of flowers, picked on the way to church, certainly satisfies the second condition.
"Whatever other people might have thought of the result it satisfied Anne, and she tripped gaily down the road, holding her ruddy head with its decoration of pink and yellow very proudly."
Anne gets through her first experience in the Avonlea church without mishap, though she has plenty to criticize when she gets home to Marilla. And once again Marilla's facing a conflict between the sense that she should be instilling absolute respect for authority in her new charge, and the fact that Anne's critique is pretty on-target.
"Marilla felt helplessly that all this should be sternly reproved, but she was hampered by the undeniable fact that some of the things Anne had said, especially about the minister's sermons and Mr. Bell's prayers, were what she herself had really thought deep down in her heart for years, but had never given expression to. It almost seemed to her that those secret, unuttered, critical thoughts had suddenly taken visible and accusing shape and form in the person of this outspoken morsel of neglected humanity."

Chapter 10: What's an imagination for if not to make things up?

First, another look at the pre-Anne atmosphere at Green Gables:
"As a general thing Matthew gravitated between the kitchen and the little bedroom off the hall where he slept; once in a while he ventured uncomfortably into the parlor or sitting room when the minister came to tea. But he had never been upstairs in his own house since the spring he helped Marilla paper the spare bedroom, and that was four years ago."
Matthew, having promised to stay out of Anne's upbringing, now finds himself interfering for the first time. Because, after all, he does know better.

What's more, he knows how to persuade, so that Anne, who had been steadfastly refusing to apologize to Mrs. Rachel, sees that maybe she's wrong.
"It would be true enough to say I am sorry, because I AM sorry now. I wasn't a bit sorry last night."
And then Anne agrees to tell Marilla nothing of his "interference":
"Wild horses won't drag the secret from me," promised Anne solemnly. "How would wild horses drag a secret from a person anyhow?"
I suppose that's a reference to the quartering portion of drawing and quartering -- but those are generally domesticated horses used for that purpose. So how did "wild horses" become part of the cliche? The idea of being trampled by them? Somehow dragged behind one?

You can see this is Miss Shirley's affect on everyone, not just her adoptive family.

So Anne tells Marilla that she's agreed to apologize, and they head over to the Lynde house. But Marilla's a smart lady, and she notices things:
"But the former under-stood in dismay that Anne was actually enjoying her valley of humiliation—was reveling in the thoroughness of her abasement. Where was the wholesome punishment upon which she, Marilla, had plumed herself? Anne had turned it into a species of positive pleasure."
Complete with begging forgiveness on her knees.
"Good Mrs. Lynde, not being overburdened with perception, did not see this."
Narrative snark FTW.

And then we get another look at how Marilla is the one changing here, learning what it means to have a child in her life and to unbend occasionally.
"Something warm and pleasant welled up in Marilla's heart at touch of that thin little hand in her own—a throb of the maternity she had missed, perhaps. Its very unaccustomedness and sweetness disturbed her. She hastened to restore her sensations to their normal calm by inculcating a moral."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chapter 9: The famous temper

Anne's settling in at Green Gables, but it's a while before she meets her neighbor. (As opposed to the rest of us, who met Rachel Lynde in the first chapter.) But as Montgomery points out:
"Mrs. Rachel, to do her justice, was not to blame for this."
Mrs. Rachel, to do her justice, doesn't waste any time telling Anne what her faults are -- with special emphasis on Anne's appearance. Miss Shirley does not restrain herself.
"I hate you," she cried in a choked voice, stamping her foot on the floor. "I hate you—I hate you—I hate you—" a louder stamp with each assertion of hatred. "How dare you call me skinny and ugly? How dare you say I'm freckled and redheaded? You are a rude, impolite, unfeeling woman!"
Which, while perhaps not entirely true, is certainly justified.
"Oh, but there's such a difference between saying a thing yourself and hearing other people say it," wailed Anne.
Marilla, of course, is rather put out at this scene -- and by the fact that she gets where Anne's coming from, so it's difficult for her to balance ideals of Calvinist upbringing with human feelings.
"An old remembrance suddenly rose up before Marilla. She had been a very small child when she had heard one aunt say of her to another, 'What a pity she is such a dark, homely little thing.' Marilla was every day of fifty before the sting had gone out of that memory."

Anne prepares herself for some horrible punishment, showing off that imagination we've already become acquainted with, and giving Marilla the opportunity to deliver an excellent deadpan:
"We're not in the habit of shutting people up in dark damp dungeons," said Marilla drily, "especially as they're rather scarce in Avonlea."
The upshot is this: Anne is under orders to apologize to Mrs. Rachel. Anne is understandably reluctant to do so. Which sets us up for Chapter 10, but not without a closing line that makes Marilla that much more lovable:
"She was as angry with herself as with Anne, because, whenever she recalled Mrs. Rachel's dumbfounded countenance her lips twitched with amusement and she felt a most reprehensible desire to laugh."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Chapter 8: Our heroine assumes her title

The first night of Anne's permanent residence at Green Gables has passed, and now she and Marilla set about the business of getting to know one another for real.
"By noon she had concluded that Anne was smart and obedient, willing to work and quick to learn; her most serious shortcoming seemed to be a tendency to fall into daydreams in the middle of a task and forget all about it until such time as she was sharply recalled to earth by a reprimand or a catastrophe."
Remember how I mentioned the "Miss Cuthbert" thing a couple chapters back? Here Marilla explains why she wants Anne to call her by her first name:
"I'm not used to being called Miss Cuthbert and it would make me nervous.... Everybody, young and old, in Avonlea calls me Marilla except the minister. He says Miss Cuthbert—when he thinks of it."
And we get a delightful, possibly snarky insight into Marilla's thought process. She may not have any experience with raising girls, but she certainly has her ideas about how it ought to be done:
"Marilla was as fond of morals as the Duchess in Wonderland, and was firmly convinced that one should be tacked on to every remark made to a child who was being brought up."
And then finally, Anne begins to identify with her new home.
"But it's a million times nicer to be Anne of Green Gables than Anne of nowhere in particular, isn't it?"
Yes, Anne, it is.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Men of L'Engle #9: Adam Eddington

Let's just let Ms. L. introduce Adam, shall we?
"Adam Eddington, sixteen, going on seventeen, out of high school and set for Berkeley in the winter.... He had always, with a degree of arrogance, considered himself sophisticated because he had grown up in New York, because his friendships cut across racial and economic barriers, because he could cope with the subway and shuttle at rush hours, because the island of Manhattan (he thought) held no surprises for him."
This is the Adam we first meet in The Arm of the Starfish, heading off to get himself involved in far more international intrigue than usually accompanies a summer internship.

Which is actually the first of two times he ends up in the midst of completely unrelated international intrigues. By accident. The kid has a talent for it, even if he doesn't seem to have learned much from the first go-round.

But we're willing to overlook that, generally, because he's pretty awesome otherwise. Also he loves Vicky, and who reads the Austin books without identifying at least a little with her?

As far as I'm concerned, though, the single most endearing thing about Adam is one very subtle line in A Ring of Endless Light: "his trunks were zebra-striped." L'Engle just lets it fall, in the midst of Vicky's thoughts about the rest of his appearance (conclusion: not bad), and she expects the reader to know that the only reason zebra-striped swimming trunks matter is because they are the ones Joshua used.

Leading characteristics:
  • Chauvinist. Despite the fact that he's the awesome love interest (and he speaks Spanish), I'm not going to give him a pass on this one. It's particularly egregious in The Arm of the Starfish, where he lets himself get into all sorts of trouble with Kali because "what she was saying was only a soprano twittering in his ears. Most girls' conversation was, in his opinion."
  • Scientific. A point he makes over and over. See pull quotes.
  • Trustworthy. The first adjective Vicky applies to him, and we're never given any reason to doubt it.
  • Easygoing. Maybe that's not the word I'm looking for -- how would you describe someone who's totally comfortable joining in family singalongs with people he's only just met?
Pull quotes:
  • "I'm a scientist, not a poet. Even when I was a kid I read Scientific American, not fairy tales."
  • "You can't hindsight that way. When something happens, it happens, and you have to accept it and go on from there."
  • "I think that places hold atmospheres, too."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Men of L'Engle #8: Zachary Gray

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that you have to have a much stronger belief than I do in the possibility of Zachary's reform to find him a likable character. Maybe I'm too black-and-white, but I don't see him as a complex character, just a slimy one.

But I do have a lot to say about him. So that's something.1

I'm almost surprised that L'Engle never made an explicit Holden Caulfield reference in her descriptions of Zachary, because there's a clear resemblance. "Phony" and "crumby" make frequent appearances in Zachary's conversation; he's a rich kid largely ignored by his parents; none of what happens is his fault.

Zachary makes his first appearance in The Moon by Night, just after one of his prep school expulsions. Choate once, Hotchkiss another time -- at least the guy gets thrown out of classy places.2 He pursues Vicky as the Austin family travels across the country, then turns up two years later to pursue her again.

After he (not much of a spoiler) makes a complete ass of himself, repeatedly puts Vicky in danger, and abandons her. Then he appears in A House Like a Lotus, where he pursues Polly, makes a complete ass of himself, puts Polly in danger, and abandons her. Anyone want to guess what happens in An Acceptable Time?

And then at the end, he's allegedly hit bottom, seen the error of his ways, and redeemed himself. Which I do not find one bit convincing. Because after abandoning Vicky, he appeared to have seen the error of his ways.

So I don't see Zachary as a flawed but ultimately decent character. He's a bundle of abuser warning signs. Perhaps he'll give someone else a chance to learn the lesson Polly didn't: If a boy thinks that "non-virgin status" = "reason to let him have his way" -- that's when you get up and walk out.

Leading characteristics:
  • Spoiled. And knows it. He's well aware of his ability to get anything he wants out of his parents. Or as he puts it: "When I don't get what I want I have hysterics. They're very effective."
  • Gorgeous. This is one point Vicky and Polly are both very clear on. The "Hamlet look," as Vicky calls it, works for him.
  • Manipulative. And utterly sleazy. (Sorry. Personal sentiment intruding there.) But just look at how he plays with Vicky and Polly's emotions. There is just no reason for a line like "If I had somebody like you around maybe I wouldn't go getting kicked out of schools all the time."
Pull quote(s):
  • "money and connections can do wonders"
  • "I've been in a filthy mood. Get me out of my mood."
  • "I'm a self-protective bastard."
  • "Polly, don't you understand? I needed you. I needed you terribly."
  • "I don't want to be a lawyer, as you so naively put it, but I intend to be one."

Where's Zachary now? Somewhere expensive, probably. Not a lawyer. And still not worth it.

1 Also, he's the excuse for Suzy to taunt Vicky with "Love is a little thing shaped like a lizard; it runs up and down and tickles your gizzard." Which is just lovely.2
2 Basically, he flunks out by choice. Or as Polly puts it, "He didn't do well in school because if he's not interested, he doesn't bother."
3 I mean that in a totally non-sarcastic way. (I know; it's not always easy to tell.)

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Men of L'Engle #7: Alex Murry

We don't find out Alex Murry's name when he first appears -- to Meg, he's just "Father." The first name becomes necessary by the time An Acceptable Time rolls around, though, since we're now talking multiple generations.

Alex is a brilliant scientist who manages to get himself trapped on Camazotz the first time he tessers. (Yeah, spoiler. On the off-chance you need a refresher, watch.) Before and after that, he's off doing high-powered research at various government facilities -- and, when he's so inclined, in the lab he and his wife share in their Connecticut farmhouse.

Leading characteristics:
  • Absent-minded professor. When Meg is first explaining Alex to Calvin, she explains why his hair is long in the picture they're looking at: "he keeps forgetting to have it cut. Mother usually ends up doing it for him -- she bought clippers and stuff -- because he won't take the time to go to the barber"
  • Family man. Even though he's off-screen for most of A Wrinkle in Time, having allegedly abandoned his family (though of course we know better), all evidence still points to his loyalty to hearth and home. We hear how he taught Meg to do math with "far too many shortcuts." And then we see him step in to take care of Polly (oh, look, another tesser).
Pull quotes:
  • "So Murray Gell-Mann, who named [quarks], obviously read Joyce. I find that rather comforting."
  • "Tessering is even more complicated than we had suspected."
  • "Mr. President, hello!"
What's Alex up to these days? I can't imagine him actually retired, can you? I think he's still hanging out in the farmhouse, working on experiments and absolutely trying not to open another tesser if he can &#$*% help it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Men of L'Engle #6: Calvin O'Keefe

Ah, Calvin. No doubt part of your popularity is the number of Meg-like girls who wanted to imagine they could end up happily married to the first boy they ever talked to.

We first meet Calvin when he's a gawky 14-year-old, two years ahead in school and far more than two inches too tall for his clothes. He's an outsider in his own (huge) family, but the minute he walks into the Murry house, he knows he's found a home.

And while I'd normally be all up in arms about controlling tendencies at a passage like this:
"Well, you know what, you've got dreamboat eyes," Calvin said. "Listen, you go right on wearing your glasses. I don't think I want anybody else to see what gorgeous eyes you have."
-- the fact that it's Calvin (okay, and the fact that I totally understand how Meg felt, having done the glasses-and-braces thing myself) makes it acceptable.

Leading characteristics:
  • Family man. He cares about his family when they don't care about him, and once he and Meg marry, they end up with a family big enough for a baseball team. And when we see him from Polly's perspective, in A House Like a Lotus and An Acceptable Time, he appears to be a pretty awesome father.
  • Brilliant. To put it mildly. A Wrinkle in Time suggests that there's some sort of biological difference, although this never comes up again. But we do get to see him as a researcher widely acknowledged as top in his field, getting special government assent to his work. And this despite the fact that his future wife had to help him with his math homework.
  • Fond of islands. As an adult, Calvin chooses to make his home on various marginally populated coastal islands where he can work out of a home laboratory. (Don't you wish you had one?)
  • Rather normal. I mean, despite the fact that he's been inside his brother-in-law's mitochondria, not to mention several other planets.
Pull quotes:
  • "There hasn't been anybody, anybody in the world I could talk to. Sure, I can function on the same level as everybody else, I can hold myself down, but it isn't me."
  • "We came to the island... because it was, at the time, one of the few places left in the world where I could bring up my family and work undisturbed."
  • "I've stumbled onto something. Something that is unusual, desirable to many people, and important."
And where's Calvin now? Based on my acquaintance with Georgia's coastal islands, I'm pretty sure Benne Seed has gotten far too built up for the Murry-O'Keefe comfort level. And the senior Murrys are getting on in years, so I wouldn't be surprised to find Meg and Calvin heading back to New England. But beyond that? He's researching, as ever.

Chapter 7: Religious instruction

In this chapter:
"Marilla decided that Anne's religious training must be begun at once. Plainly there was no time to be lost."
Which turns out to be an interesting experience for these traditionalist, Calvinist, upright Scotch Presbyterians. Anne's memorized the catechism, but no one's ever answered her religious questions. And, since she's Anne, you know there are questions.

Also, no one's ever taught her about praying, which is Marilla's immediate concern.
"Poor Marilla was only preserved from complete collapse by remembering that it was not irreverence, but simply spiritual ignorance on the part of Anne that was responsible for this extraordinary petition."
Marilla doesn't say anything, but Anne realizes, once she's wrapped up, that there was something not quite right about her extemporaneous prayer.
"I should have said, 'Amen' in place of 'yours respectfully,' shouldn't I?—the way the ministers do. I'd forgotten it, but I felt a prayer should be finished off in some way, so I put in the other. Do you suppose it will make any difference?"
And in this very short chapter -- both in word count and temporally; it really is just Anne saying her prayers before bed -- we get another glimpse at Marilla's character, phrased in a particularly lovely way.
"But she had, as I have told you, the glimmerings of a sense of humor—which is simply another name for a sense of fitness of things"

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Men of L'Engle #5: Josiah Davidson

Better known, of course, as Dave. He shows up in The Young Unicorns, L'Engle's departure from the usual structure of her Austin family books. (Which is directly related to the fact that I'm not a big fan of it, and therefore don't have much to say about Dave.)

Dave, now that he's no longer in a gang, spends his days in and around the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and also becomes a part of the Austins' extended New York family, because he has the responsibility of reading homework assignments aloud to their blind neighbor. (Okay, my dislike of The Young Unicorns also has something to do with its sheer preposterousness. Moving on.)

He also turns up in A Severed Wasp, one of L'Engle's adult novels, married to Suzy Austin.

Leading characteristics:
  • Taciturn. Dave always makes me think of Dan Mangan from the Trixie Belden books. He's got the same slightly hostile, trust-no-one thing going on.
  • Decent. At the same time, he's made the choice to step away from gang life, and he's got a real sense of responsibility toward Emily -- and, after a fashion, toward everyone else.
Pull quote(s):
  • "I'm an ex-hood."
Where is he now? Dave's always been associated with St. John the Divine, so he's one of those people who become as much a part of the building as the stones that make it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Men of L'Engle #4: Sandy and Dennys

Sandy and Dennys Murry (side note: am I the only one who grew up wanting to pronounce that like Denny's?) are twins, and that's one of their defining traits. They didn't grow up dressing alike or making up their own language or anything like that, but they've got a bond. And besides that, they're the normal ones in the family. No outcast status, no special powers, no Nobel Prizes -- well, there was the one time they ended up helping Noah build the ark, but that was an accident. Most of the time the twins are secondary characters, but in Many Waters they get the stage to themselves.

Leading characteristics:
  • Sensible. Sandy and Dennys are the more-or-less normal members of the Murry family. They put a premium on conforming, and it's what makes them happy.
  • Green-thumbed. Someone should count the mentions of the twins' vegetable garden in the L'Engle oeuvre.
  • Socially conscious: Particularly in A House Like a Lotus. They may not be tessering in their adult lives, but they're still totally going to change the world. In a good way.
Pull quote(s):
  • Sandy: "If Dad were a plumber or an electrician, and if Mother were somebody's secretary, it would be a lot easier for us."
  • Dennys: "We've never had willing suspensions of disbelief. We're the pragmatists of the family."
  • Sandy: "We were stupid, mucking around with an experiment-in-progress."
We get to see the twins grow up in L'Engle's books, so we know that Sandy becomes a lawyer and Dennys is a doctor. And where are they now? I could imagine either one as an Obama appointee, or affiliated with a university. No doubt they're on their Android phones at all hours, since we know that saving the world is not a 9-to-5 job.

Chapter 6: Turning point!

In the last chapter, Anne talked about her parents' small yellow house. Now we've arrived at Mrs. Spencer's big yellow house. Wanna bet we're being set up for a deliberate contrast?

That's not the only contrast here. You may notice that Mrs. Spencer calls Marilla "Miss Cuthbert." And yet in Chapter 7, Marilla's going to say that everyone except the minister calls her by her first name. We're not in Avonlea anymore.

They've gone to Mrs. Spencer's so Marilla can deposit Anne and let the people who can't seem to give each other messages correctly sort it out. Except that Mrs. Spencer's solution is to send Anne off with Mrs. Peter Blewett, which Marilla knows would be a Very Bad Idea.
She knew Mrs. Peter Blewett only by sight as a small, shrewish-faced woman without an ounce of superfluous flesh on her bones. But she had heard of her. "A terrible worker and driver," Mrs. Peter was said to be; and discharged servant girls told fearsome tales of her temper and stinginess, and her family of pert, quarrelsome children. Marilla felt a qualm of conscience at the thought of handing Anne over to her tender mercies.
(That last line, by the way? A reference to Proverbs. Thank you, Annotated Anne.)

So in the end, it's the prospect of another "good woman" being responsible for Anne that drives Marilla to claim her. You can't accuse her of taking up the responsibility with false ideals:
"I've never brought up a child, especially a girl, and I dare say I'll make a terrible mess of it. But I'll do my best."
Matthew, unsurprisingly, is delighted. Marilla has just one rule for him:
"Perhaps an old maid doesn't know much about bringing up a child, but I guess she knows more than an old bachelor. So you just leave me to manage her."
He has one too:
"Only be as good and kind to her as you can without spoiling her. I kind of think she's one of the sort you can do anything with if you only get her to love you."
(Post pic: A house, though it's not yellow. Look closely -- or click for the full-size version -- and you'll see that the front yard features a birdhouse that is a miniature version of the house itself. This is what happens when builders have time on their hands.)