January 2018 and My Reading Challenges

Christmas at the Town Hall
© Cleo @ Classical Carousel

I’ve decided to include my reading challenges in this post because I’ve been doing so little reading lately that I’d have little to say otherwise.  Isn’t that pathetic?  Oh well, a new year is here and with it new resolutions, so here goes ……..

December went by so quickly.  My grandmother ended up passing away 4 days before Christmas.  It wasn’t unexpected but still it was sad to see her go.  We’ll certainly miss her but it was fun to remember her stories and the spunk she showed until the end. She had a long life, well lived.

Otherwise, I spent lots of time on the food blog and was so pleased with our 4 months of success.  You can read our 2017 Year in Review, if you want some stats, highlights, bloopers, funny tasting stories and if you want to see what I’ve been up to.  It was actually alot of fun to write.  I also was able to make it cross-country skiing once.  It was lots of fun, although I can tell I need some practice and my healing-once-broken-thumb does not have the power it used to yet, so I was feeling somewhat lopsided.  In any case, I plan to do much more skiing as the year progresses.  I also went bowling between Christmas and New Years and really enjoyed it so I think I might try to do it more regularly as well.  Too exciting, I know …… , lol!

A View from Nordic Skiing
© Cleo @ Classical Carousel

As for reading, I did finish off The Pickwick Papers from O’s long read-along and almost in time too!!  I also managed to read The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm and I was SOOOO impressed by it. Fromm examines the very rare art of loving and explains that our society does NOT practice any disciplines that will help us love better.  He also gives examples of various views we hold about love that impede our ability to love.  While reading these views, I kept recognizing people I knew ….. it was rather unsettling but very insightful.  I highly recommend Fromm’s book!

An Unexpected Local Ice Storm
very beautiful but the poor trees!
© Cleo @ Classical Carousel

January is usually the time to start our yearly challenges and while I originally was so disappointed with my 2017 reading that I was going to do NO challenges this year, O managed to change my mind (although perhaps she doesn’t know this! 😉 )  So I am joining the following challenges with little hope of completing them but knowing they will at least focus me and I will read SOMETHING by having them.  Okay, here goes:

Back to the Classics Challenge:

Karen at Books and Chocolate hosts this great challenge again and here are my choices:

A 19th century classicMoby Dick by Herman Melville
A 20th century classic: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
A classic by a woman author: Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
A classic in translation: Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor’s Son by Sholem Aleichem
A children’s classic: Teddy’s Button by Amy Lefeuvre
A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction: Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, or Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes by Robert Louis Stevenson
A classic with a single-word title: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius or, Shirley by Charlotte Brontë or, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin or, Pensées by Blaise Pascal
A classic with a colour in the title: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
A classic by an author that’s new to you: A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and a Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell or, Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
A classic that scares you: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe or, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Re-read a favourite classic: The Iliad by Homer
 

 

TBR Pile Challenge:

Adam at Roof Beam Reader is hosting this challenge to get those books on our shelves read!  My list is here:
  1. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
  2. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  3. A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and a Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell
  4. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  5. Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor’s Son by Sholem Aleichem
  6. Lives by Plutarch
  7. City of God by Saint Augustine
  8. Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
  9. The Waves by Virginia Woolf
  10. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  11. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
  12. Le Rêve by Émile Zola
Alternates:
Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes by Robert Louis Stevenson
Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Victorian Challenge:

This is my first year doing this challenge.  Becky at Becky’s Books and Reviews has a number of options.  I have no idea which I’m going to choose at the moment.  I’d love to do the A-Z challenge but I would be delusional to take on that one.  So I will probably just read and fill in some categories.  You can click on the link to look at the categories.

Deal Me In Challenge:

Jay at Bibliophilopolis hosts this challenge and has been very patient with my stumbling attempts to get through it.  I have no illusions that I’ll finish it this year but what I love about this challenge is that it gets me reading wonderful stories, poems and essays which I would normally never pick up.  So I can be happy with my incompletedness each year ….. kind of …..
I took what I didn’t finish from last year and simply chose new books to fill in the spots where I did read the stories/poem/essay.  Rather boring, but easy.  I need easy this year.
Clubs – Short Stories
A –  Cabbages and Kings – O’Henry
3 –  The Queen of Spades – Alexander Pushkin
4 –  The Story of A Farm Girl – Guy Maupassant
5 –  The Hammer of God (Father Brown) – G.K. Chesterton
6 –  Doubtful Happiness – Guy Maupassant
7 –  The Honest Thief – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
8 –  The Unpresentable Appearance of Colonel Crane – G.K. Chesterton
9 –  The Diary of a Madman – Guy Maupassant
10 – The Birds – Anton Chekhov
J –  The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Gilman
Q –  Love – Leo Tolstoy 
K –  Signs and Symbols – Vladimir Nabakov
Spades – Essays
A – Milton – Charles Williams
3 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – G.K. Chesterton
4 – On A Faithful Friend – Virginia Woolf
5 – A Note on Jane Austen – C.S. Lewis
6 –  In Defence of Literacy – Wendell Berry
7 –  The Tyranny of Bad Journalism – G.K. Chesterton
8 –  The Hotel of the Total Stranger – E.B. White
9 –  An Apology for Idlers – Robert Louis Stevenson
10 – Sense – C.S. Lewis
J – Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community – Wendell Berry
K – Death of a Pig – E.B. White
Diamonds – Poetry
A – A Sea Dirge – Lewis Carroll
2 –  Gesang Der Geister Über Den Wassern – Johann Wolfgang
               von Goethe
3 – Nothing But Death – Pablo Neruda (from Poetry Soup)
4 – Sonnett XXIII – Garcilaso de la Vega
5 – Love Sonnet XIII – Pablo Neruda
6 – Resolution and Independence – William Wordsworth
7 – Ode III – Fray Luis de León
8 – Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night – Dylan Thomas
9 – To A Mouse – Robert Burns
10 – From Milton [Jerusalem] – William Blake
J –  Easter Wings – George Hebert
Q – On His Blindness – John Milton
K – Phoenix and the Turtle – William Shakespeare
Hearts – Children’s Classic
A – A Triumph for Flavius – Caroline Dale Snedeker
2 – Three Greek Children – Alfred Church
3 –  The Story of the Treasure Seekers – E. Nesbit
4 – Detectives in Togas – Henry Winterfeld
5 – The Spartan – Caroline Dale Snedeker
6 – Shadow Hawk  Andre Norton
7 – City of the Golden House – Madeleine Polland
8 – Red Sails to Capri – Ann Weil
9 – Sprig of Broom – Barbara Willard
10 – Teddy’s Button – Amy LeFeuvre
J –  Call It Courage – Armstrong Sperry
Q – Just David – Eleanor H. Porter
K – Beyond the Desert Gate – Mary Ray 

What is that saying about a wing and a prayer, lol?!

© Cleo @ Classical Carousel

 

As for other less bookish things planned for January, I am going to, of course, keep working on and building our food blog, Journey to the Garden.  It’s something I enjoy (although not quite as much as book blogging) and if I could make some income from it I would be very pleased.  Skiing, of course, is planned and I’m starting a few lessons that I was able to join inexpensively with some homeschoolers, so that will be fun.  I also REALLY need to get back into some sort of exercise regime.  I’ve been doing some brief aerobics regularly, but I want to incorporate walking, and of course, I’d love to get back into yoga.  On the distasteful side, tax prep should be started now, so I’m not scrambling last minute to do it, and with the added blog for (hopefully someday) profit, I have many more expenses to track.  I wish it could be magically done, but I’m the only magician around here so it’s up to me.  Sad but true.  But honestly, my main wish for January is to get back to being organized.  Prayers and wishes for this miracle are gratefully accepted, lol!

In any case, hoping for a wonderful start to the year for everyone!

© Cleo @ Classical Carousel

 

 

Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“I am resolved on an undertaking that has no model and will have no imitator.”

Have you every felt so completely sorry for someone that that emotion eclipses any others that he might stir up inside you?  Have you ever encountered someone who simply is a unique soul, a person who, no matter what they do, does not fit in easily with society?  Have you ever been charmed by someone and then repelled at the same time?  All these thoughts and emotions were boiling up, mixing together, as I read Rousseau’s Confessions, the autobiography of his life.


Rousseau was born in 1712 in Geneva in the Republic of Geneva, a city-state in the Protestant Swiss Confederacy.  He was born to a watchmaker named Isaac Rousseau and his wife, Suzanne Bernard, his mother dying tragically mere days following Rousseau’s birth.  He described her death as, “the first of my misfortunes.”  


Reading his mother’s romance books at such a young age, with his father, appeared to shape Rousseau’s character in an unusual way:

“By this dangerous method I acquired in a short time not only a marked facility for reading and comprehension, but also an understanding, unique in one of my years, of the passions.  I had as yet no ideas about things, but already I knew every feeling.  I had conceived nothing; I had felt everything.  This rapid succession of confused emotions did not damage my reason, since as yet I had none; but it provided me with one of a different temper; and left me with some bizarre and romantic notions about human life, of which experience and reflection have never quite managed to cure me.”

Curiously, Rousseau’s experience with books and their  affect on human character are echoed by themes in other classics including, Madame Bovary, Eugene Onegin, and Anna Karenina.
Les Charmettes where Rousseau lived
with Mme Warens
source Wikipedia

From the age of 10 on, Rousseau saw little of his father, who had moved away to avoid prosecution by a wealthy land owner. The boy was eventually apprenticed to an engraver, but at 15 ran away and began a rather nomadic lifestyle.  In Savoy, he would be introduced to Madame Francoise-Louise de Warens, a woman 13 years his senior, whom he would forever call “Maman.”  She would be his Muse and surrogate mother for the greater part of Rousseau’s life, as well his lover for a short period of time.  Later, his obsessive interest in music would be used to earn money as a teacher, as well as gain him subsequent notoriety as a writer of opera and various other articles and works on the subject.  

In 1742, Rousseau moved to Paris and became close friends with Denis Diderot, another enlightenment thinker, and his renown as a philosopher was born.  His first major-philosophical work, Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts was presented to the Academy of Dijon in response to the question, “…whether the Restoration of the arts and sciences has had the effect of purifying or corrupting morals.”  In it, Rousseau offered a thorough critique of civilization, seeing it not as a chronicle of progress, but instead as a history of decay.  For Rousseau, no one is innately good, but instead must cultivate a rational knowledge to gain control of nature and therefore, self.  
Denis Diderot (1767)
par Louis-Michel van Loo

Upon returning to Paris, after a posting in Venice as a secretary to the Comte de Montaigue, Rousseau took Thérèse Levasseur as a lover, eventually having 5 children with her, all of whom he placed in a foundling hospital, being unwilling to bring them up due to the lack of education and undesirable social class of his in-laws whom he was supporting.  With his later books on education and child-rearing, these callous actions made him the target of vicious ad hominem attacks from some contemporaries, in particular Voltaire and Edmund Burke.  

Through most of his life, Rousseau dealt with various health issues including being unable to urinate without the use of a probe, odd romantic attachments, including a passionate unconsummated obsession with Sophie d’Houdetot, who inspired his novel, Julie, breaks with various friends and acquaintances upon his retirement to the country, and various and numerous attacks of persecution and threats.  When Rousseau wrote that all religions had value, in that they all encouraged men to virtue, an intense uproar exploded against him, and he was finally forced to flee to England with the help of the Scottish philosopher, David Hume.  In 1767, he returned to France under an assumed name and finally in 1770, he was officially allowed to return.  
While the tone of Confessions often oozed of lament and discontent, especially during the latter half, Rousseau also showed a rather mischievous sense of humour:

“As we became better acquainted, we were, of course, obliged to talk about ourselves, to say where we came from and who we were.  This threw me into confusion; for I was very well aware that in polite society and among ladies of fashion I had only to describe myself as a new convert and that would be the end of me.  I decided to pass myself off as English:  I presented myself as a Jacobite, which seemed to satisfy them, called myself Dudding and was known to the company as M. Dudding.  One of their number, the Marquis de Taulignan, a confounded fellow, ill like me, old into the bargain, and rather bad-tempered, took it into his head to engage M. Dudding in conversation.  He spoke of King James, of the Pretender, and of the court of Saint Germain in the old days.  I was on tenderhooks.  I knew about all of this  only of what little I had read in Count Hamilton and in the gazettes; however I made such good use of this little knowledge that I managed to get away with it, relieved that no one had thought to question me about the English language, of which I did not know one single word.” 

One cannot talk about Rousseau’s life without mentioning his passion for nature.  Once removed to the country, he was in his element, his retirement not only giving him an escape from the petty intriguing of Parisian society, but also gratifying his love of long rambles in the woods, his eventual interest in botany and his joy of solitutde.

“Two or three times a week when the weather was fine we would take coffee in a cool and leafy little summer-house behind the house, over which I had trained hops, and which was a great pleasure to us when it was hot; there we would spend an hour or so inspecting our vegetable plot and our flowers, and discussing our life together in ways that led us to savour more fully its sweetness.  At the end of the garden I had another little family:  these were my bees.  I rarely missed going to visit them, often accompanied by Maman; I was very interest in the arrangements, and found it endlessly entertaining to watch them come home from their marauding with their little thighs sometimes so laden that they could hardly walk.”


Rousseau méditant dans un parc (1769)
par Alexandre Hyacinthe Dunouy
source Wikipedia

Rousseau was a man of numerous contradictions.  On one hand, he was self-absorbed, petty-minded, overly sensitive, idealistic, peculiar, selfish, out of touch with reality, yet on the other, he was also rather lonely, at times generous, unique, creative, self-aware, and inquisitive.  He is a puzzling conundrum bottled up in one person.  Yes, he would have been hard to bear at times.  He is one of those people with whom one could never be comfortable, as you would always be wondering if you were living up to his standards.  He had a short fuse, yet also a generous heart. 

How did I come to these conclusions?  Well, you certainly get a sense of Rousseau’s perceived persecution that appeared expanded to gigantic proportions in his mind.  Many reviewers call this obsession his “paranoia,” an imagined grand plot with machinations designed by numerous former friends, ready to invest years of their lives to bring about his downfall.  Yet perhaps this behaviour is not so surprising in a man who had been raised mostly without family, obviously needing the intimacy of human companionship, yet who had never really learned or accepted the proper manners to fit easily in society; French society, in particular, follows certain constructs that do not allow for individuality.  

In spite of Rousseau’s various eccentricities, I couldn’t help feel profound sympathy for him.  With no one to shape his character and with his unwillingness to temper his idiosyncrasies and become homogeneous with his surroundings, Rousseau became a victim of himself, a plight for me that only excites pity.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

“Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch-hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hours, and consolation in a distressed one ……”

Persuasion was the only major Austen novel that I had not read, so I was thrilled when Heidi at Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine announced her read-along.  I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the novel quite as much as Pride and Prejudice, one of my favourites, but I’d heard enough positive reviews to whet my curiousity. And so I plunged in.

Anne Elliot is one of three daughters of Sir Walter Elliot, a vain baronet who is obsessed with the peerage.  While her sister, Elizabeth, is somewhat bossy, and Mary proves a proud, yet questionable, invalid, Anne shows a quiet reserve with more than average good sense and judgement.  Eight years ago, her engagement to Captain Frederick Wentworth was almost certain, but without a mother for guidance, and influenced by a respected friend of the family, Lady Russell, she broke off the engagement with a deep regret.

Manor House, Somersetshire (Halsway Manor)
source Wikipedia

Now, eight years later, Anne is confronted with a number of upheavals in her life. Not only does she and her family have to leave their ancestral home, Kellynch-hall, because of reduced finances, but Captain Wentworth has returned, and to further complicate matters, his sister and her husband are the new tenants of Kellynch-hall.  The blows would have reduced a weaker woman to despondency, but Anne is not only resourceful, she has learned to suffer life’s troughs with resilience, and her positive attitude brings her through the stormy seas.

Initially, Captain Wentworth is all resentment and cool responses, but gradually, as he sees Anne’s quiet sacrifices, calm demeanour, and strength of character, his acrimony softens towards her.  Yet, at the same time, he appears to be playing the eligible bachelor, and it is uncertain as to which woman he will chose to be Mrs. Wenworth.  Both of Anne’s sisters-in-law, Henrietta and Louisa, vie for the title and Anne must watch the perceived courtships with an uneasy mind.  A near-tragedy causes introspection in more hearts than one, Mr. Eliot, Anne’s cousin and heir to Kellynch, enters the picture to further obscure the matters of courtship, but the final culmination exemplifies that a steadfast love is strengthened by misfortune and time, and the past lovers reunite in a now more matured and seasoned alliance.

Lyme Regis

Persuasion is a tale of new beginnings and second chances, not only for Anne and Wentworth, but for the characters surrounding them. Anne’s family, because of their financial straits, must begin a new life in Bath; both the Musgrove girls will be looking forward to the start of their married lives; and even Mrs. Smith, who has found herself in poverty after her husband’s death, is given a second chance at the end of the book as, with help from Wentworth, she recovers money from her husband’s estate that will help her to live more comfortably.

While Austen, as per her usual method, allows the reader to examine certain segments of society, in this book especially, she seems to be highlighting the movements between the social classes, either by marriage or by economic necessity.  Within Anne’s family, we not only have the family as a whole dropping in perceived standing by the lack of money to maintain their position at Kellynch, we also have the numerous characters dealing with the descent with different outlooks.  Sir Walter is obsessed with his Baronetage book and the importance of his place within the realm of society.  At first, he employs denial as to their new position, but thanks to a rather blind self-importance, is able to be persuaded to accept their new situation as if nothing has practically changed.  Anne’s sister, Elizabeth, too, acts as if nothing has altered, yet you can see at certain points in the novel that she is aware of the disadvantage of their new situation and that they must have a heightened awareness of appearance to maintain the respect and dignity that they view as a societal necessity.  Anne does not seem to be bothered by the family’s reduced circumstances, as position to her comes secondary to character and honesty and integrity.  In the old governess, Mrs. Smith we can examine what has come from her rise in stature upon her marriage, and then her subsequent fall upon her husband’s death when she finds herself in financial troubles.  Finally, cousin William Elliot falls from his seat of grace with his scandalous behaviour at the end of the novel.

Pulteny Bridge, Bath
18th century
source Wikipedia

We are given the title of Persuasion for the book, yet Austen did not choose this title; instead her beloved brother, Henry, gave the book its name, as it was published posthumously, and there is no indication of what Austen’s preferred title would have been.  Cassandra Austen, Jane’s older sister, reportedly said that a name for this novel had been discussed, and the most likely title was “The Elliots,” but as Austen passed away before selecting a definitive title, no one will know for certain her final choice. Nevertheless the word “persuasion”, or a derivative of it, occurs approximately 30 times in the novel, a good indication that it is one of the main themes.  Yet as I finished the novel, what metamorphosed out the “persuasion” was the stronger theme of duty.  While Wentworth still appears to be disgruntled by Anne’s choice to follow her family’s wishes in breaking off their engagement eight years before, she however appears to have a different sentiment.  At the end of the novel, Anne concludes:

“I have been thinking over the past, and trying impartially to judge of the right and wrong, I mean with regard to myself; and I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided by the friend whom you will love better than you do now.  To me, she was in the place of a parent.  Do not mistake me, however.  I am not sayng that she did not err in her advice.  It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides; and for myself, I certainly never should, in any circumstance of tolerable similarity, give such advice.  But I mean, that I was right in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise, I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience.   I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with; and if I mistake not, a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman’s portion.”

In the book Anne is consistently dutiful, to her friend, Mrs. Smith, to her family and, more importantly, to her own conscience; and so we learn that a strong sense of duty and obedience to it is more crucial than any personal inclinations or aspirations.

Sandhill Park, Somerset (1829)
J.P. Neale/W. Taylor
source Wikipedia

Persuasion deviates from Austen’s usual style and content.  By having a hero without ties to nobility, Austen explores in depth an area of society that had to date been given only a cursory treatment by her. Anne, as an older heroine, is presented in a new way; the reader learns of her character not necessarily through how she actually behaves, but more through her silence and by seeing her in contrast to the intensely flawed people around her. Contrary to other Austen novels, the romance develops almost in isolation, as the characters hold little conversation with each other until the end of the novel.  While the novel was interesting for these new features, I felt it to be weaker than Austen’s previous novels, lacking a certain plausibility at times and a solid cohesiveness.  As she was writing Persuasion, Austen was ill with the disease that would eventually kill her, and because of this fact, her usual detailed pattern of revision was not completed; in this light, the diminished quality of the novel can certainly be understood.  However, while not shining with her usual brilliance, Austen still produced a jewel in its own right, and perhaps more intriguing because of its flaws, as these flaws contribute to its uniqueness.  As the character of Anne experiences a new beginning in Persuasion, so does the novel indeed appear to symbolize a new beginning by Austen, this beginning sadly cut short due to her untimely death.

Further reading:

Meditations by René Descartes

“My reason  for offering you this book is very persuasive, and I am confident that you will have an equally strong reason for defending it once you understand why I wrote it; thus the best way of commending it to you is to say a few words about my objective in writing it”

Descartes set out to examine how “everything that can be known about God can be shown by reasons that derive from no other source but our own mind, …. and how God can be known more easily and more certainly than worldly things.”  However even as he claims his investigations as “certain and evident,” he is concerned that not everyone has the ability to grasp them.  Right then, I knew I was in for a philosophically dense read.  Yet while I trembled, I soon began to realize that Descartes splits his meditations into manageable chunks and, if you employ your brain for short periods, his explanations and arguments can penetrate.  I also realized that the title of the book could be of assistance.  These thoughts of Descartes were ideas that were probably products of hours and days and years of pondering and questioning and seeking.  If it took him that long to produce the ideas, I’d have to be willing to meditate on them if I wanted to develop a basic understanding.  And so I went on ….

First Meditation:  Things which can be called into Doubt

Descartes explores false knowledge, which he distinguishes from the unknowable: “there is nothing among my former beliefs that cannot be doubted and that this is so not as a result of levity or lack of reflection but for sound and considered reasons.”  It is necessary to discard all beliefs that aren’t absolute to determine what is known for certain.  There are many comparisons to thought while asleep and thought while dreaming.  He concludes with:

“I am like a prisoner who happens to enjoy an imaginary freedom in his dreams and who subsequently begins to suspect that he is asleep and, afraid of being awakened, conspires silently with his agreeable illusions.  Likewise, I spontaneously lapse into my earlier beliefs and am afraid of being awakened from them, in case my peaceful sleep is followed by a laborious awakening and I live in future, not in the light, but amid the inextricable darkness of the problems just discussed.”

Second Meditation:  The Nature of the Human Mind, and that it is better known than the Body

Descartes thoughts continue from his supposition from his first meditation and he decides that everything is false.  Yet if all he believes is false, he does conclude that one thing is true:  he exists.  His reasoning is something like this:

  1. He exists if he is not being deceived.
  2. He exists if he is being deceived.
  3. Therefore, if he is being deceived or not being deceived, he exists
  4. He is either being deceived or not being deceived.

Interestingly, St. Augustine also argued “fallor ergo sum”, or “I am being deceived, therefore I exist”.

I think here Descartes arguments are of a personal and not necessarily a general nature:  his mind exists because his thoughts exist.  However, he still hasn’t proven that he exists.

Rene Descartes with Queen
Christina of Sweden
source Wikipedia


Third Meditation:  The Existence of God

Descartes starts to lose me here.  He examines the dream state and questions how we can know it from reality and then he discusses the all-powerful God which we know and how we could be deceived in our perception of him (I think).  Very logically he states that if he is being deceived, that very fact proves his existence.  He comes to the conclusion that God is not a deceiver but leaves the door open to accept that there is something that is.

I was fascinated by Descartes exploration into ideas.  There are ideas which come to us that do not originate with us and, in fact, sometimes impose themselves on us.  If they are not products of our will, does that not point to there being something other than us?

“But if I derived my existence from myself, there would be nothing that I would either doubt or wish for, nor would I lack absolutely anything.  For I would have given myself every perfection of which I have some idea and thus I would be God himself.”

Whew, that’s certainly something to think about!

Fourth Meditation:  Truth and Falsehood

Yikes, and even deeper we go ……..  Descartes concludes that God exists and his existence depends on Him.  God cannot deceive because deception involves some sort of imperfection and God is perfect.  When Descartes focuses on God he finds no error in himself, but when he focuses on himself, he is full of errors.  He calls himself an intermediate being between God and nothingness.

With regard to errors, he proposes that two faculties come into play:  the faculty of knowledge and the faculty of choosing from his own free will, in other word, intellect and will.  Through his intellect he perceived ideas but through his will he can make judgements.  There is a problem though:  his intellect is limited —- it cannot perceive all ideas and it does not always perceive clearly and distinctly —– whereas his will is unlimited —- it can make, deny or suspend judgements on anything.  Yet as long as he does not make wrong judgements in his will, he is safe …… if he simply suspends judgement on ideas he’s not certain of, he cannot be wrong.

Descartes at Work
source Wikipedia


Fifth Meditation:  The Essence of Material Things, Another Discussion of God’s Existence

Descartes provides a new argument for the existence of God, in that if he thinks that he exists, existence in inseparable from God and therefore He exists …… or at least, I think that’s what he’s saying.  Such as:

1.  God is a being that has all perfections
2.  Existence is a perfection
——>   God exists

There are three famous arguments about Descartes’ position (one of them being Kant’s argument that existence isn’t a perfection) but none hold up to logical examination, so I guess Descartes is still the winner.

Sixth Meditation:  The Essence of Material Things, and the Real Distinction Between Mind and Body

Wow, this is getting challenging!  To argue for a material world, Descartes examines what is contained in his own soul.   There is a delineation between imagining and pure understanding.  He concludes he could exist without imagining, therefore imagining must be outside his mind and connected to the body.  Next he examines the senses, which he feels come involuntarily and therefore connect ideas to the mind.  The next puzzle is why the mind is connected to the body ………  With all these quite impressive logical acrobatics, he begins to believe material objects exist but perhaps not in the way he has always believed.  There are a number of other investigations into our senses and their role, why we make unwise decisions, and that the body is divisible, yet the mind is not.  He ends by stating:

” For from the fact that God is not a deceiver it follows that, in such cases, I am completely free from error.  But the urgency of things to be done does not always allow us time for such a careful examination; it must be granted, therefore, that human life is often subject to mistakes about particular things, and the weakness of our nature must be acknowledged.”

As much as it completely strained my brain, the Sixth Mediation really resonated with me.  I remember as a small child wondering why I was me. How was it that I felt contained in this particular body and not another?  Why was I chosen to be me?  How?  Why was I a soul living in Canada and not somewhere else?  I think this was the start of realizing that I had a soul and was something more than just a mechanical shell or a biological entity.  And if that was true, then where did I come from and who made me?  Perhaps not original questions, but ones that I think we should think about more in life.  Yes, we should all be philosophers!

Philosopher in Meditation
Rembrandt (1631)
source Wikipedia

Getting back to the book, it continues with “objections” or responses from Johan de Kater, a Catholic theologian from Holland; Fr. Marin Mersenne; Antoine Arnauld, a Jansenism theologian; Thomas Hobbes; and Pierre Gassendi, a priest, scientist, astronomer and mathematician.  I really had to laugh reading some of these objections.  In fact, the Catholics were the ones who questioned the logic Descartes used to prove the existence of God.  So curious from a modern prospective but it appears that the church was willing to ask tough questions during these times and wasn’t afraid of searching for the truth.  So interesting!

Descartes’ Replies to the Objections are also very enlightening but so very deep.  A course in logic would have been very useful before reading this book, however, I think I’ve covered enough for now.  Descartes obviously liked to think and had alot of time to do it.  It was mental gymnastics to try to follow him but good for the brain.  To really understand it though, you need to have read Aristotlean philosophy along with a number of other more recent philosophies, as Descartes thoughts sprung from that already anchored base.  At least my understanding, while minuscule, is more than when I started.  Thanks, Descartes!

TBR Pile Challenge Wrap-up 2014

Okay, this was quite possibly my worst challenge of the year.  But expected it to be my worst challenge, so that’s alright ………  I think …………

Of the twelve books, I managed to finish ten.

 1.  Defense Speeches by Cicero  August 20, 2014

  2.  Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Mallory  December 6, 2014

  3.  Frankenstein by Mary Shelley   April 4, 2014

  4.  The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis   June 15, 2014

  5.  The Epic of Gilgamesh  August 14, 2014

  6.  Stories from the East from Herodotus by Alfred J. Church


  7.  The Sayings of the Desert Fathers  August 25, 2014

  8.  Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes


  9.  Socrates by Paul Johnson


10.  Daniel Deronda by George Eliot  February 24, 2014

11.  Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by Jerome K. Jerome  December 29, 2014

12.  The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton  August 20, 2014

And my alternates:

1.  Allegory of Love by C.S. Lewis

2.  Oedipus Rex/Oepidus at Colonus/Antigone by Sophocles  December 28, 2014


If I really wanted to, I could try to power through Socrates and Stories from the East in the next few days, but I don’t.  I’m done.

My 2015 TBR Pile list is much more focused so I’m hoping for more success then.  Wish me luck!

2015 TBR Pile Challenge

It is once again time for the TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader and once again, I’ll be a participant!

This is by far my hardest challenge for the simple reason that I have such a difficult, insurmountable, arduous, overwhelming problem with following lists. When it comes to reading, I’m more of a free spirit who would like to flit here and there as the mood or read-along takes me.  Being trapped in a schedule is not my thing.  HOWEVER, I do realize that it’s beneficial to work on the areas that are challenging for me, so this challenge reflects my effort at balance.

I still have a couple of books to finish for last year’s challenge.  If I can get to them, I’ll be more than a little pleased!

Here are Adam’s rules:

The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).
Specifics:
1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2014 or later (any book published in the year 2013 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile – I WILL be checking publication dates). Caveat:Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.
2. To be eligible, you must sign-up with Mr. Linky below – link to your list (so create it ahead of time!) and add updated links to each book’s review. Books must be read and must be reviewed (doesn’t have to be too fancy) in order to count as completed.
3. The link you post in the Mr. Linky below must be to your “master list” (see mine below). This is where you will keep track of your books completed, crossing them out and/or dating them as you go along, and updating the list with the links to each review (so there’s one easy, convenient way to find your list and all your reviews for the challenge). See THIS LINK for an idea of what I mean. Your complete and final list must be posted by January 15th, 2015.
4. Leave comments on this post as you go along, to update us on your status. Come back here if/when you complete this challenge and leave a comment indicating that you CONQUERED YOUR 2015 TBR LIST! Every person who successfully reads his/her 12 books and/or alternates (and who provides a working link to their list, which has links to the review locations) will be entered to win a $50 gift card from Amazon.comor The Book Depository!
5. Crossovers from other challenges are totally acceptable, as long as you have never read the book before and it was published before 2014!

And so, of course, now I have to come up with a list.  Since I’m being even more unfettered with my planning this year, a list is certainly going to be a challenge.  Let’s see what I can come up with:

  1. Meditations –  René Descartes
  2. Orlando –  Virginia Woolf
  3. The Plague – Albert Camus
  4. Confessions  –  Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  5. Hamlet  –  William Shakespeare
  6. Ivanhoe  –  Sir Walter Scott
  7. Walden  –  Henry David Thoreau
  8. Framley Parsonage  –  Anthony Trollope
  9. If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler  –  Italo Calvino
  10. Persuasion  –  Jane Austen
  11. Notes from the Underground – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  12. The World’s Last Night and Other Essays – C.S. Lewis

Alternates:
  1. The Cantebury Tales  –  Geoffrey Chaucer
  2. Ulysses  –  James Joyce

Whew!  I think I have a list I can stick to.  Ivanhoe and Ulysses are monster reads but I should be able to accomplish at least one.  I hope!

Best of luck to everyone on their TBR Pile Challenge!

The Man Who Was Thursday, A Nightmare by G.K. Chesterton

“The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset.”

Why, oh why, does Chesterton confuse me so?  At first this book appeared to start as a mystery.  Two poets meet in Saffron Park, one, Lucian Gregory, a creative anarchist, the other, Gabriel Syme, a conservative poet and undercover police detective.  By his wit and resources, Syme infiltrates the anarchist’s group called the Central Anarchist Council, getting himself named one of its seven members, christened “Thursday”.  Yet can he stop the assassination attempt the group is planning and expose this dastardly anarchical organization?

The book is much more than a mystery, which readily becomes apparent as the reader makes his way through the entertaining yet confusing prose. There was an initial discussion about anarchy and art, yet I soon realized that the two poets were comparing anarchy and law.  As I read my way through, various questions arose.  Why were the council members named after the days of the week?  Does this point towards some sort of creation story?  Why do all the members who appear evil are not as they seem? What are they really fighting against?  Why is the subtitle “A Nightmare”?  And what was the point of Syme’s promise to Gregory? It is mentioned numerous times so it should have some importance.

Yet the big question that hangs over the characters and the reader alike is: Who is the leader of the group, Sunday?  The Professor, named Friday, reveals:

“I confess that I should feel a bit afraid of asking Sunday who he really is.” 

“Why,” asked the Secretary, “for fear of bombs?” 

“No,” said the Professor, “for fear that he might tell me.”

In one review, the reviewer claimed that Sunday represents Nature.  Well, perhaps.  He is both benign and frightening, as this description shows:

“You would not know [his name] ……  That is his greatness.  Caesar and Napoleon put all their genius into being heard of, and they were heard of.  He puts all his genius into not being heard of, and his is not heard of.  But you cannot be for five minutes in the room with him without feeling that Caesar and Napoleon would have been children in his hands.”

Sunday’s words about himself are even more chilling:

“Since the beginning of the world all men have hunted me like a wolf —- kings and sages, and poets and law-givers, all the churches, and all the philosophers.  But I have never been caught yet, and the skies will fall in the time I turn to bay.  I have given them a good run for their money ……….  There’s one thing I’ll tell you though about who I am.  I am the man in the dark room, who made you all policemen.”

After its publication in 1908, The Man Who Was Thursday came under a storm of critical approval.  Frighteningly complex, it has been  hailed as “amazingly clever”,  “shamelessly beautiful prose”, “a remarkable acrobatic performance” and “a scurrying, door-slamming farce that ends like a chapter in the Apocalypse.”  One reader declared himself “dazed” at the end of it, which perfectly described my puzzled demeanor as I closed the last page.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1909)
source Wikipedia

As you see, reading the book brought about more questions than answers, so instead I will leave you with a taste of what others have said about this novel:

“Roughly speaking, it’s about anarchists …… And roughly speaking, it’s a mystery story.  It can be guaranteed that you will never, never guess the solution until you get to the end —- it is even feared that you may not guess it then.  You may never guess what The Man Who Was Thursday is about.  But definitely, if you don’t, you’ll ask. “ 

                                                                     ~  Orson Welles  ~

“…… mystery and allegory take their turn in the scene.  Life, huge, shapeless, cruel and loving, killing and saving, full of antitheses, appearing to each one under a different aspect, measuring each man according to the strength of his soul, turns its strange face upon us.  Life, whose soul is law, nature, whose expression is law, confront the frantic lawlessness of struggling man —- and behold, those very struggles prove to be based on law again.  And when at the last you sit on the thrones with the Council of Days, you see the mad, miraculous world dance by, moving to a harmony none the less invincible because only half heard.”
                                                ~  Hildegarde Hawthorne  ~

I highly recommend this book to ……….. well, to anyone!  Read it as a mystery, read it as a commentary, read it as philosophy,  read it as a fantasy, read it as theology —- it has something for everyone. Perhaps it should be described as a mystery without end, a true symphony of brilliance by Chesterton, in which nothing is ever how it seems!

If you’ve read The Man Who Was Thursday, what do you think the story was about?

Further Reading:

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

“This book is an account of the virtuous asceticism and admirable way of life and also of the words of the holy and blessed fathers.”

The Desert Fathers were a group of faithful monks and nuns who chose to settle mainly in Lower Egypt, mostly around the desert of Scetes. While some of them lived in groups and had at least some contact with the outside world, some were hermits who preferred to live in seclusion.  Asceticism was also practiced by many to purify their souls.  While Paul of Thebes was the first monk to retire to the desert, Saint Anthony the Great was the one to begin the exodus.  These Desert Fathers served as the early model for Christian monasticism.

As expected, there are many sayings that deal with religion:

Abba Epiphanius:

  • He also said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is a precipice and a deep abyss.” 
  • Someone else asked him, “Is one righteous man enough to appease God?”  He replied, “Yes, for he himself has written: ‘Find a man who lives according to righteousness, and I will pardon the whole people.’ (Jer. 5:11)

We also find sayings from fathers instructing their disciples:

Abba Agathon:

  • The same Abba Agathon was walking with his disciples.  One of them, finding a small green pea on the road, said to the old man, “Father, may I take it?”  The old man, looking at him with astonishment, said, “Was it you who put it there?” “No,” replied the brother.  “How then,” continued the old man, “can you take up something which you did not put down?”

And fathers who seek harmony:

Abba Paul the Barber:

  • Abba Paul the Barber and his brother Timothy lived in Scetis. They often used to argue.  So Abba Paul said, “How long shall we go on like this?”  Abba Timothy said to him, “I suggest you take my side of the argument and in my turn I will take your side when you oppose me.”  They spent the rest of their days in this practice.

Coptic icon of
St. Anthony the Great
source Wikipedia

Philosophical fathers:

Abba Anthony the Great:

  • He also said, “God does not allow the same warfare and temptations to this generation as he did formerly, for men are weaker now and cannot bear so much.”

Abba Poeman:

  • He also said, “Men speak to perfection but they do precious little about it.”

And somewhat grumpy fathers:

Abba Arsenius:

  • Blessed Archbishop Theophilus, accompanied by a magistrate, came one day to find Abba Arsenius.  He questioned the old man to hear a word from him.  After a short silence the old man answered him, “Will you put into practice what I say to you?”  They promised him this.  “If you hear Arsenius is anywhere, do not go there.”
  • Another time the archbishop, intending to come to see him, sent someone to see if the old man would receive him.  Arsenius told him, “If you come, I shall receive you; but if I receive you, I receive everyone and therefore I shall no longer live here.”  Hearing that, the archbishop said, “If I drive him away by going to him, I shall not go anymore.”
    Saint Arsenius
    fresco at Mt. Athos, 14th century
    source Wikipedia

And lastly, not only sayings from the Desert Fathers, but saying from the “Desert Sisters,” as well:

Amma Syncletica:

  • She also said, “It is good not to get angry, but if this should happen, the Apostle does not allow you a whole day for this passion, for he says: “Let no the sun go down.” (Eph. 4:25)  Will you wait till all your time is ended?  Why hate the man who has grieved you?  It is not he who has done the wrong, but the devil.  Hate sickness but not the sick person.”
  • She also said, “Just as it is impossible to be at the same moment both a plant and a seed, so it is impossible for us to be surrounded by worldly honour and at the same time to bear heavenly fruit.”

I was expecting to have to slog through this book, but what a delightful surprise.  While these Fathers obviously knew their Scriptures and spent time with God, their focus was on themselves: refining their souls and being a good example to those around them. The personalities of each of them shone through in their sayings and, in spite of many of the sayings being quite short and compact, they brought a window into their lives of asceticism, their values and struggles that was very compelling.  An enlightening read that gives not only a fascinating window into this era of history, but also imparts values that are as relevant today as they were in the 3rd and 4th century.

Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles

“I am blind and old, Antigone, my child.”

Now blind and aged, Oedipus, with his daughter, Antigone, arrive at a place just outside of Athens called Colonus.  Though warned by a villager that this place in which they wish to reside is sacred, possessed by the all-seeing Eumenides (Furies), a land of Poseidon and Prometheus, and the founding stone of Athens, Oedipus refuses to leave.  A past prophecy has determined that the sacred grove of the Eumenides at Colonus, will be the site of his death, and here he is determined to stay.

Oedipus at Colonus
Jean-Antoine-Théodore (1788)
source Wikipedia

When a chorus of men of the city arrive and, upon learning the identity of Oedipus, they attempt to persuade him to depart from their city, fearing his curse will bring trouble to them.  Oedipus defends his position by agruing that because he had no knowledge of his crimes, he is therefore not responsible for the consequences, in particular, claiming self-defence in the murder of his father, Laius.

But lo, into the fray rides his daughter, Ismene, bringing news that Oedipus’ youngest son, Eteocles, has seized the throne of Thebes from the elder, Polynices, and both sons have heard from the oracle that the outcome of their conflict will depend entirely on the location of their father’s burial.  Yet there is more treachery!  Creon (brother-in-law to Oedipus) is, as she speaks, on his way to ensure that Oedipus will be buried at the border of Thebes, without the ceremony, in an attempt to negate the oracle’s proclamation.  
Oedipus at Colonus
Fulchran-Jean Harriet (1798)
source Wikipedia

Denouncing them all as villains, Oedipus meets with Theseus, King of Athens who shows sympathy for his predicament, offering unconditional protection and making him a citizen of his country.  How Oedipus praises his saviour, and declares that his beneficent actions will ensure Athens victory in any altercation with Thebes!

When Theseus exits, Antigone announces the advent of Creon.  At first, he attempts to manipulate Oedipus using pity, but when he sees this tact will not bring him success, he admits to kidnapping Ismene, and grabs Antigone to forcibly take her away.  Theseus returns in kingly grandeur to scold Creon, then the Athenians overpower the Thebians, returning both girls to their father.

Oedipus Cursing Polynices (1786)
Henri Fuseli
source Wikipedia

One thinks that at last Oedipus might get some peace in his last hours, but it is not to be.  Informed by Theseus that a suppliant has arrived to speak with him, he learns it is his son, Polynices, who begs his father to release the curse he had placed on his sons for their part in his banishment from Thebes, knowing that their conflict is a result of the curse.  Oedipus, in complete disgust of his offspring, refuses and Polynices exits to meet his near-certain fate.

A thunderstorm ensues, which portends Oedipus’ passing.  Oedipus gifts Theseus with the promised gift of protection for Athens and then passes into Hades.  When Antigone wishes to see his tomb, Theseus refuses in response to a promise to Oedipus, never to reveal the location of his tomb.  Antigone departs to attempt to stop her brothers’ conflict.

There is a curious dichotomy in this play with regard to the character of Oedipus.  In spite of the fact he is an exiled, blind old man, with a terrible curse upon him, rarely do you find him subject to the other characters.  In fact, Antigone listens closely to his counsel, he has a command and influence over Theseus, he manages to overcome Creon, and also best his son by refusing to assist him.  On the outside, he is aged, infirm and at the mercy of his hosts, but in actuality, Oedipus is the master of each situation.

Yet Oedipus also places emphasis on his innocence with regard to his crimes.  Again and again, he proclaims to the chorus of Athenian men that he had no pre-knowledge of his transgressions and was, therefore, blameless.  This was a different reaction from Oedipus Rex, where he seemed to take the crimes on to himself, and punish himself for them.

The Death of Oedipus (1784)
Henry Fuseli
source Wikipedia

While on one level, the trials and sufferings born by Oedipus seemed somewhat random in Oedipus Rex, in Oedipus at Colonus we see a culmination of prophecy.  By his exile, Oedipus is brought to the sacred grove of the Eumenides (Furies), fulfilling prophecy, and although this exile was brought about by a curse, Oedipus is actually turned into a hero-type figure by bringing blessing and protection upon the important city of Athens.

Of the 123 plays that Sophocles wrote, only seven complete plays have survived.  That makes me want to cry.  However, parts of plays are still being discovered.  In 2005, additional fragments of a play about the second siege of Thebes, Epigoni, were discovered by employing infrared technology by classicists at Oxford University.  So there is hope that the ancients can still speak to us through time (and new technology) and, as Gandalf said, that is a very comforting thought, indeed!

The book was completed for my Classics Club Spin #6.

Translated by David Grene
Edited by David Grene & Richard Lattimore

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

“You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”

Gaining a passionate, yet unguided knowledge for science, young Victor Frankenstein arrives at university with an unquenchable thirst for learning and advancement.  When he involves himself in an isolated solitary experiment to create life, the resulting creature so appalls and revolts him, that he cannot contain his revulsion.  The consequent rejection of his creation culminates in a series of tragedies that could not even have entered Frankenstein’s imagination.

Theodor von Holst
from 1831 edition
source Wikipedia

Initially, the book begins with an introductory sub-plot of Robert Walton, a scientific adventurer who is on a naval quest to find a northern passage or discover the secret of the magnetic poles.  Walton is portrayed as a man intoxicated with the desire for knowledge, a clear indication that his character mirrors that of Victor Frankenstein, and his idealistic dreams parallel those of the friend he rescues (Frankenstein).  At the beginning of Frankenstein’s story, we see how he immerses himself in science and, by doing so, isolates himself from the friends and acquaintances around him, and remains housebound, separated from the outdoors. Without companionship and nature, the very things that feed our souls, he is blind to the spiritual aspects of humanity, seeing only the physiological perspective of a scientific creation.  In effect, he rejects his own Creator to put himself in His place.

In fact, the first sentence of the book, the beginning of a letter from Robert Walton to his sister, gives the reader a clue as to the lack of awareness the scientist can develop to the world around him:  “You will rejoice to hear that that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”  In a frenzied quest for new discovery, the scientist can often lose any objectivity and will marginalize the prudent advice given by others, who have perhaps more objective insight.

In Frankenstein’s story, we get a cautionary tale of the consequences of unexamined and incautious actions based on a deification of science, yet therein also lies a theme of abandoned responsibility.  If Frankenstein had attempted to communicate with the creature and valiantly hid his disgust of it, would the outcome have been different?  Could he have humanized his creation with sympathy and nurturing?  I have my doubts. Upon the creature’s flight and escape to the woods, he discovers a family living there and, by observing them, he learns to read and write and is exposed to profound literature, which reveals both goodness and evil to him. The creature learns what it means to be human and, in fact, admires the goodness of the family.  However he ultimately chooses evil, using his rejection by humans as an excuse for his deviant actions.  Victor Frankenstein was another unsympathetic character.  Numerous times he had a chance to attempt to stop the evil he had created, yet each time he did nothing, often at the expense of a human life.  I was actually quite disgusted with him.  His inaction was almost on a level with the creature’s atrocities.

Boris Karloff
as Frankenstein’s monster
source Wikipedia

While I found the plot of this novel in some senses exaggerated, in a general sense it brought up a number of important issues for reflection.  Are we responsible for what we create and, if so, to what degree?  Is knowledge something to be pursued with unlimited passion, or should we approach it with a healthy respect, and should restrictions be put on our pursuit of it?  Does the development of character, values and morality depend on genetics or environment? Shelley brought attention to these universal and timeless issues which segued into more specific questions related to the story.  Should the creature be pitied?  Does his abandonment, rejection and isolation justify his actions of revenge?  Was Frankenstein’s rejection directly responsible for the tragic circumstances, and therefore, was he completely to blame for his own fate?  Is the creature evil, or simply a misunderstood creation, who, if loved and nurtured, would have developed love and empathy and a conscience, like most other human beings?

The story of Frankenstein was birthed during a trip to Geneva in 1816. Together with her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley spent the summer there with their companion, Lord Byron.  After Byron proposed that they each write a ghost story, Shelley found herself at a loss for inspiration.  It was only after a conversation about the “re-animation of a corpse,” that Shelley had a waking dream:

I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together.  I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion.  Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.

And so Frankenstein was born.

Portrait of Mary Shelley (1840)
Richard Rothwell
source Wikipedia

Mary Shelley was the daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstoncraft Godwin, the former a philosopher, novelist and journalist, the latter also a philosopher as well as a writer.  With such notable antecedents, Shelley’s exposure to books was unusually vast for a female of her era.  Here is a chronological list of the works of literature which she read during the years of 1814 to 1821.

Here, also, are two other excellent reviews of Frankenstein by M. Landers and Majoring in Literature for your reading pleasure!  Enjoy!