Here’s what I read in March.
It’s the beginning of another month, at which point I always recap what I read in the previous 30 days. These are not the most popular posts here on Mr. Brame’s Blog, and today’s recap is going to be pretty esoteric (and short), but these recaps help me focus on what I have been reading and what I think about it. So, here goes.
The list is short this week partially because we’ve been a very busy family this month, but also because I have devoted much of my time to Jane Eyre, which I am reading and teaching for the first time. Jane will appear in April’s version of Here’s What I Read This Month. I’m sure I’ll have lots to say about that. All that is left for this month are some shorter works.
1. A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift
I read A Tale of a Tub. Written for the Universal Improvement of Mankind
for grad school, and it is one of the most unusual texts I have ever read. Swift published it anonymously in 1704–it was his first major work–and it is a rambling, disjointed, unintelligible book that challenges even the most careful reader. My professor said it was the most difficult work of the 18th century, and I believe him.
(Hey, look, it made Publisher Weekly’s list of the Top 10 Most Difficult Books!)
What’s difficult about it? Well, the first indication that you’re in for a rough few nights of reading is the Latin epigraph at the beginning of the work, which is attributed to Irenaeus:
Basima eacabasa irraurista, diarba da caeotaba fobor camelanthi.
What does that mean in English? Nothing. It’s complete faux-Latin nonsense.
After the epigraph, Tub proceeds with an introductory letter from the bookseller, then a letter to the reader, then a dedication, then a preface, and finally an introduction. By the time the reader gets to the section entitled “A Tale of a Tub, &C.”, he is utterly graspingfor what this book is about.
But there’s more. Soon, the narrator of A Tale of a Tub makes his first of four digressions. First he has a digression about the purpose of critics, then, after a brief return to his “tale” (which is not a tale at all), he digresses again. This digression is called “A Digression in the Modern Kind.” His third digression is entitled, what else?, “A Digression in Praise of Digressions,” and his final digression is on the subject of madness.
There are also sections of the text that are entirely missing, and are replaced with asterisks.
|From my text. The Latin phrase amongst the many
astricks translates to “Here much is lacking.”
What is the point of The Tale of a Tub? What is it satirizing? Well, it’s in part a comment on the freedom of the press in 18th century London (which Swift opposed), the proliferation of disposable writing by hack writers, and the flooding of the market with pamphlets and newspapers that were little more than propaganda for the politicians of the day. It’s also an argument against the “moderns” who felt that the “Augustans” 18th century England had a better understanding of the world than the ancient Greeks and Romans. Finally, it’s also an elaborate distraction that stymies every reader who tries to interpret it.
In the last pages of the book, Swift’s narrator states “I am now trying an Experiment very frequent among Modern Authors; which is to write upon Nothing.” This is a fitting ending to a frustrating and confusing book..
2. “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather
I assigned my AP lit students “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather, then sadly realized that that meant I had to read it, too. But I did it!
I teach my kids that short stories generally shouldn’t end with the suicide of the main character, because in a great story, the main character must undergo an epiphany
or light-bulb moment
in which he or she realizes something about his life. “Paul’s Case” is the exception that proves the rule. Paul does kill himself (spoiler!) but that doesn’t keep him from having a moment of clarity. His comes the mome
|Paul’s Case, starring Eric Roberts. We
watched this in my AP lit class in 1995.
nt after he jumps off of the platform, but the moment before the train knocks him into oblivion.
As he fell, the folly of his haste occurred to him with merciless clearness, the vastness of what he had left undone. There flashed through his brain, clearer than ever before, the blue of Adriatic water, the yellow of Algerian sand.
And another thing. Paul’s gay, right? Am I the only one who thinks this, or is something that people think about him?
Anyway. That’s all I got.