Don Quixote, Catherine, Lord Peter,& Madame Bovary

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I found a blog in Spanish that reviews only books, Solo de libros. From their book reviews, I have found we share our love for Galdós, I read their recommendation, The Zelmenyanders, and I bought two books reviewed by them, one by Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio, Jarama, and one called Los Pazos de Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán.

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I also decided to buy a Spanish Poetry Anthology, and the book you see in this pictures, How to Be Alone, by Jonathan Franzen, is in the lot because I found these 5 books for only $13 dollars at Better World Books with their beginning of the year 40% on 5 books on more, from their bargain bin.

I cannot believe these 4 books in Spanish arrived in pristine condition to my home in Houston. Three of them seem not to have been opened before.

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This last picture is not mine, it’s an image of a book I have read for the second time, Meditaciones on Quixote, by Ortega y Gasset (also in English).

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Las meditaciones del Quijote is not exactly about the contents of the novel. It was Ortega’s first essay, about 70 pages, and a very interesting one. It’s a combination of philosophy and poetry (Gasset’s style is classy, he paints some beautiful analogies, and describes concepts sharply).

 

These are the short sections titles:

Reader…………..

Preliminar Meditation:
1. The Woods…………
2. Deep and Shallow…..
3. Streams and Orioles……
4. Trans-worlds ………..
5. Restoration and Erudition…..
6. Mediterranean Culture…….
7. What Goethe told a captain……
8. The panther, or about the senses………
9. Things and their meaning……
10. The Concept……….
11. Culture. Safety……..
12. The light as imperative……
13. Integration…………
14. Parabola…………
15. Criticism as patriotism…..
Meditation I: Brief treaty on the novel:
1. Literary genra……..
2. Exemplar Novels……..
3. The Epic………..
4. Poetry of the past……..
5. The Rhapsodic………..
6. Helen and Madame Bovary…..
7. The myth, History’s Yeast…….
8. Knights Stories……..
9. Maese Pedro’s Altarpiece…..
10. Poetry and Reality……..
11.Reality, Myth’s Yeast……
12. The Windmills……
13. Realistic Poetry………
14. Mime………….
15. The Hero…………
16. Lyricism’s Intervention……
17. Tragedy…………
18. Comedy………..
19. Tragicomedy………
20. Flaubert, Cervantes, Darwin….

As you can see, Don Quijote’s novel doesn’t show up until later in this essay, because it is mainly about Mediterranean culture, Germanic culture, what is reality, epic poetry, what are novels, modern novels, and the role of Don Quijote in all this.

Ortega mentions Flaubert, and he describes Madame Bovary as a femenine Don Quijote. This took me to start reading Madame Bovary. I am also almost finished reading Wuthering Heights and my second time with Whose Body?, by Dorothy Sayers.

Catherine, in Wuthering Heights, is like the other characters in the book, a different type of person than other Victorian characters such as those in Jane Austen books. The same as Ortega differentiates between the Mediterranean and the Teutonic spirit in that they see and write about reality in different terms, I believe Scottish and British Victorian also differ. According to Ortega, Mediterranean people are what he calls sensualists -understood as those who move in the senses domain, and Germanic people see with the eyes of the mind or thought, focused on the ideal, the forms, the abstractions. The same Dauphne du Maurier, in her book The King’s General, alludes to the climate and terrain we live as an agent that shapes our temperament. It’s also said that in her other book, Jamaica Inn, as Wuthering Heights itself, the landscape is a character itself. I attest that. In both books, also considered Gothic, the atmosphere and some characters are sinister. The characters remind us of Long John Silver, or Mr. Hyde.

In Wuthering Heights, my friend Kim says that the characters speak without restrains, and give way to their fights like a XIX century Twitter. My American friends who have read Fortunata and Jacinta, both tell me how Galdós differs from Dickens in that the first is more sensual, earthy, and that confirms Ortega’s idea in his Meditations that this perception and apprehension of reality by its presence, through the senses, it’s a sign of the Mediterranean culture. Both were surprised by the topics discussed in Galdós, inconceivable in Dickens (whose irony operates within the Victorian thematic limits). In Galdós’ novels, there’s not only those intellectual debates, and philosophical developments by the author, but also all the diatribes of what to serve for lunch, domestic talk, details about textiles, clothing, and even questions about health limitations in the intimate life of one afflicted with heart problems. All that which you would not conceive in a Victorian writer of British heritage.

At the documentary, Fannie Farmer Last Supper, America’s Test Kitchen’s director, Christopher Kimball, undertook the project of researching, cooking, and serving, a 12 course meal from Fannie Farmer’s cookbook. All cooked at his Victorian kitchen in Boston, with a stove and oven from the times. At the end of the documentary, he shared with us some of the Victorian etiquette at the table. The guests could not leave teeth marks in food, that’s why even fruit had to be eaten with fork and knife, because teeth marks remind us of our bodily functions that place us closer to the animals. One shouldn’t eat all the food on the plate, for that’d show we eat to satisfy our hunger, and civilized people eat together in harmony, as a culmination of our civilized and ideal behavior and life. If someone drops a glass, or food, things continue as if nothing had happened while a servant cleans the mess. Victorians shunned away from that which Mediterraneans embraced, that sensorial direct presence of reality.

We come to Lord Peter, the amateur detective of Dorothy Sayers novels. In the most delicious British heritage, Sayers paints for us the London of Lord Peter, who, less known than Sherlock, is not by far any less enchanting than him. Sayers novels are between the purely British and the somehow Gothic or tempestuous, maybe because they deal with crime, and with subjects and events that cannot be sanitized as the Victorian taste will require. And since Sayers is early XX century, her writing is leaving Victorian grounds. It is gratifying to read her novels, as Cindy Rollins says, since they have a closure, crimes are solved, order prevails. Irony and humor in her books help us too to alleviate sailing through the turbulent waters of our darkest reality.

And you’ve arrived to Madame Bovary. Thanks for reading this long. It’s early to say what I think of the book as a whole since I haven’t finished it yet, but I will venture some thoughts on it. I wasn’t very interested on reading this book, to be honest. I have watched some movies, I know the story, and it is depressing. But Ortega calls Madame Bovary a feminine Quixote, and that caught my attention. It is possible that this is more than just the story of an adulterous woman. In the few pages I have read, I can see how Emma’s head is full of stories, dreams, romantic ideals, all because she and her fellow students at the nuns, read all these romantic twaddle full of glittery pages, exotic places, and exuberant romances. Don Quixote’s reading of knightly romances got him also to that crazy point where he wanted to live off that ideal life.

I understand also why Pascal, in one of his first pensées (thoughts), criticizes the influence of theater, (same argument why Plato doubted of the good of the arts in educating the youth). Pascal argues that the way love is presented in the theater, is distorted, false, and dangerous. We face that same problem too. Some of our movies, songs, and culture, idealize everything to the point that young people (and all of us), cannot see that glamour, actors, singers, their popularity, all the enticing world that surrounds them, has consequences (sometimes negative consequences). It’s easy to sing about going from hotel room to hotel room destroying everything, or about eating cake by the ocean (when in reality they are singing about having sex by the ocean). The singers seem healthy, handsome, and they look like they are having a great time. Young people forget that, after that momentary success, there come the ghosts of living, for example, in isolation, with a caricature of yourself (such as was the case of the late years of Michael Jackson). They forget that after that Purple Rain, come health problems, mental instability, which take those actors, or singers, to extremes such as drug abuse, risky life styles, join radical groups, or even sects.

In Madame Bovary, Flaubert describes a simple love, the love of Charles for Emma. Emma’s world is not void of beauty, much on the contrary, if Emma could look at her present, if she had practiced an ounce of generosity, if she had a pinch of interest for someone else, she would have felt the passion and intensity of her life. But Emma (like Don Quixote, or The Gambler in Dostoevsky’s novel), has no tolerance for anything mundane, she has not learned to live from inside out, she goes from corner to corner, from high to high, craving adrenaline. She has not understood that happiness is not self-centered, but it is felt when we try to make others happy, and not consuming ourselves and drowning in our narrow sight and small miseries. That causes even death.

Listen to Jim Carrey, who tells us that there’s nothing of profit in being rich and famous. Sure!, easy for him to say, since he is rich and famous himself. But think about this, who but him could tell us then? We should believe him when he says there’s no particular gain or happiness in being rich and famous more than in any other type of life. That will place our ability to be happy in things, right, and I believe much of it resides on our attitudes instead.

Charlotte Mason herself understood the value of literature to forge character. Thanks to our reading, we are able to imagine how our life will be if, like Emma, we held certain romantic aspirations or social pretensions. We don’t have to die trying it, we can read about it. Thanks to Don Quixote, we can live many adventures without the beatings some of them ensue, and we can have a companion with us to share our dreams with. (And that not counting the innumerable legends and stories we are treated to in the book, through which we learn and which we enjoy). With Lord Peter we can travel to a bygone London, and delight ourselves  with the British logic and humor, and interview and meet a variety of peculiar people, get to know their secrets, and experience the satisfaction of a crime neatly solved. In Wuthering Heights we can witness how a family transitions from the beginnings, when they adopt Heathcliff, and continue for some generations making a small problem a big avalanche. Parents, we have a great example of how not to raise our children, or how to warranty ever lasting hatred among them.

And you, what do you read?, how do you relate your readings to your life? I hope this has inspired you to open a classic (or not a classic), and to read more in 2017.

 

8 thoughts on “Don Quixote, Catherine, Lord Peter,& Madame Bovary

  1. I do wonder the same…if he had been forthright with her about his past and about WH if there would have been a different outcome. But it seems though that the younger Catherine had a lot of her mother in her with that desire to explore and experience many things in life especially of the natural scenery and land. So, she would’ve found her way there anyways because of Heathcliff’s devious desires and behavior in tempting her (kind of like the curious Alice in Alice in Wonderland…) Maybe though the younger Catherine would’ve been more on guard earlier? It’s just a very good story for showing the outcome of unrestrained passions and that’s seen in the Bible in many places too. I found myself on a roller coaster of emotions toward Heathcliff…from pitying him for how others treated him to adoring him for his love for Catherine or nearly despising him for his wickedness. Lots to consider!

  2. Yes, sadly I’m sure there are people with very tumultuous relationships and it did seem that money was a huge factor in this story. So much time allowed to these characters as money was not an issue – they were not part of the working class. It’s an interesting thought on how how people in humble financial circumstances could go either way – as hard-working individuals or as greedy, thieving criminals. But by the grace of God, anyone can be changed by Him 🙂

  3. Do you think the latest Catherine’s father, Edward Linton, could have done differently. (If he had told her earlier about Wuthering Heights?, even visited with her?, something than what he tried once the damage was done? What about Ellen?)

  4. WH will also stay with me after I close the last page… I am eager to know (I am in the last stretch), but I don’t want to finish it. I also think the story is unrealistic, but then, there’s some people who live in those stormy and troubled relationships but we don’t necessarily know about them (or some we do in the ‘news’, -actors, singers, common people who make it to the newspapers after something tragic happens…) I believe all types of personalities or temperaments can be express within godly restraints and limits, but yes, it surely is a challenge at times to find that balance in all aspects of life.

  5. Reading is definitely a relaxation outlet for me but also educational, especially learning from these stories how to live and how not to live. But also to see how a character’s decisions play out from beginning to end in some scenarios and in books that do have closure. We don’t always see the effect our decisions have in the long run (although we can often speculate) so it’s interesting to see in our books how characters have prospered or suffered due to their decisions or decisions others have made toward them. Thinking back to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to see when Francie met her first love interest and how that turned out only to lead to another man who was more interested in her.

    With Wuthering Heights, it sometimes seems far to unrealistic that people actually would have said or would have done many of those things but human nature can be wildly unpredictable. It’s helping me see that there can be a good balance between our passions and restrictions, between our desires and our boundaries. Veering off to either extreme (too little or too much) in areas that do not involve sin (like with what we eat or what we wear or how we spend our free time) can be burdensome. Is there a way to express your true personality and interests (as the elder Catherine had wild and free passions as a child that her family attempted to reign in for society’s sake) while at the same time moderately restraining yourself in a way that is honorable to God and others (not forsaking the care of others and God in pursuit of your own interests)? If any of that makes sense 🙂 ha!

    Also, I love an intriguing story and exquisite writing so I read great books to become a better writer myself 🙂 And I have LOVED many many quotes from Wuthering Heights and how Emily Bronte captured emotions and thoughts in her elegant and expressive text. I feel as if I won’t be able to leave Wuthering Heights after I finish. 🙂

  6. Linda, I read your review. I knew you dislike Madame Bovary. I had no intention to read it. But when Ortega called Emma Bovary a feminine Don Quijote (though it is not as if the story is narrated in any similar way), I decided to give it a try. Reading MB knowing what is coming, (adultery), it is making me realize what a sweet man Charles Bovary was, and how willing to find happiness in a simple life. I commend you for finishing the book, when I dislike a book that much, I usually give up reading it. MB is not as long, I read it in Spanish, and I appreciate the style, and the different temperament of the book.
    As for DQ, it is not for everyone because it truly is long and it can easily saturate all our reading time. But, if one truly wants to read it, I believe a 2 years plan could work. Divide chapters among months, don’t fail to meet those chapters, and it will probably envelop you and become sort of a friend with whom you have a frequent visit. For the Back to the Classics, I don’t think it cheating if Vol I is considered a book on its own. Apart from being 600 pages, it was written first, and a few years after, Vol II was penned. Another 600 pages. So I’d consider it two books. What breaks my heart is that many know Don Quijote just by reading the first adventures chapters, and they miss on the beauty of DQ and the full book, since the book matures by the time we come to Part II and the end. Both parts have a different tone. Book I is more DQ, book II his squire, Sancho Panza. Book II is more philosophical (nothing obscure, just about life, justice, etc, through DQ’s monologues, or Sancho’s happenings and his famous sayings, idioms, and popular culture mixed up with his way of interpreting things that is so funny and that drives DQ nuts).

  7. So many interesting thoughts you shared!

    I read Madame Bovary and can say I didn’t like it at all. When it ended I closed the book and felt like I’d wasted my time! There haven’t been many books that provoked such a strong negative opinion, thankfully.

    I really do need to add Don Quixote to my to be read list! It comes up so often in your posts that I’m beginning to think I am really missing out!

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. I will come back and read about Madame Bovary after I finish it. Quiote is still on my list–I bought a nice copy, but I’m enjoying Les Miz so I’ll worry about Q when I’m done. VERY interesting books today!

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