Books and Baked Goods 9

Your baked good for this week is this  Smitten Kitchen’s plum cake, for maximum convenience suggested well after all the plums have vanished from the greengrocer’s. I tried to make this cake in a toaster over, which, I was promised, worked as well as or better than what I was used to. In point of fact the oven burned the top and failed to cook the rest, so I ended up scraping the burnt crust off and cooking it for ten more minutes before serving it with ice cream as plum pudding. It was surprisingly scrumptious.

Moral of the story: when everything goes wrong, serve it as a pudding.

Chapters 60 to 69! Previous installments here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Explanation of this ghastly drawn out Bataan death march of a book club, here.

Will is finding a little more about his family, and the plot thickens.

“[Bulstrode] was simply a man whose desires had been stronger than his theoretic beliefs, and who had gradually explained the gratifaction of his desires into satisfactory arrangement with those beliefs.”

Ouch.

Bulstrode’s sanctification of profit scheme does not hold up very well to the light. He and his constant terror of exposure are so pitable.

Arghh. Will and Dorothea talking past each other is driving me insane. Lesson learned, folks: if you think it’s one hundred percent certain that the object of your affections must grok the hints and allusions you are dropping….they probably don’t.

Why won’t Lydgate let Farebrother help him? But his pride can’t hold long with the vise of debt squeezing him. The thread of debt runs all through the novel–Fred’s debts, his reliance on the death of a patron to absolve him; Lydgate’s debts, and the degradation in which they immerse him; Caleb’s disinclination to be in Bulstrode’s “debt” by accepting his patronage; even Dorothea’s relation to Will is colored by what she feels she owes him and cannot render him.

“The poor thing saw only that the world was not to her liking, and that Lydgate was the world.”

Rosamund sees herself, and the world, not herself among selves. Her narcissism seems to totally lack a theory of mind.

The idea of letting her house to the man she rejected must be terribly painful for her, coinciding with the loss of Will Ladislaw’s attentions.

Lydgate can only go lower than his original picture of a passive adoring spouse, not higher. Still, his continued love for Rosamund, and more than that, his fervent desire that he might continue to love her, is deeply touching

“In marriage, the certainty, “She will never love me more,” is easier to bear than the fear “I shall love her no more.”

This is true, and not just for marriage, I think. What terrifies me about my sin is not that God will stop loving me, but that I will lose my ability to love God.

This is also why Rosamund is more pitiable than Lydgate.

The alienation of their marriage  is so painful to watch–and Lydgate, with his many real excellencies, could have had a marriage of so much tenderness, respect, and mutual support had he treated the character of a wife more seriously. And instead he ends up sobbing with her while their furniture is sold, a togetherness without unity or intimacy.

Re Fred stopping Lydgate’s gambling, it strikes me how much important action of the novel takes place in public space.

And, as usual, Farebrother is being a hero to Fred. What else is new?

Speaking of news, Raffles has returned, sick and delirious. Uh oh. Is it all over for Bulstrode? Will Bulstrode murder Raffles? Tune in for chapters 70-79 to find out!

I’ll end with this quote.

He had never liked the makeshifts of poverty and they had never before entered into his prospects for himself, but he was beginning now to imagine how two creatures who loved each other and had a stock of thoughts in common might laugh over their shabby furniture and their calculations how far they could afford butter and eggs.

Unrelated: IT’S MY BIRTHDAY. Consider this my birthday present to you, after the manner of hobbits.

Books and Baked Goods 8

Right now, my feelings about this project resemble Frodo’s towards the ring on one of the steeper trails up Mt. Doom.

I will finish this. I must.

And be you Gollums or Sams, you are welcome to plod up the summit with me. In place of Lembas, I offer you Smitten Kitchen’s cream scones. I made these once with yogurt, once with cream. The yogurt ones were more second breakfast, the cream version a decadent afternoon tea treat. I also added approximately an extra half to full tablespoon of butter, because why not? Substitute tiny pieces of chopped up apples, add a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg to the batter, and swap some of the sugar for maple syrup if you, like me, insist that all your baked goods from September to Christmas scream autumn in the most predictable of ways.

Chapters 50 to 59!

It seemed that where there was a baby, things were right enough, and that error, in general, was a mere lack of that central poising force.

I love the impersonal universality of this axiom.

Dorothea’s terrible shock at realizing someone she trusted had “hidden thoughts” from and about her is probably familiar to a lot of people; I think this discovery is one of the most agonizing blows to a friendship possible.

Dorothea also just seems to have awakened to Will’s erotic potential. Well, this should be interesting.

But Will is an Italian with white mice, and he might as well be in Rome. Dorothea is an uncomfortable and misplaced product of Victorian Protestant England, and Will is a disruptive, sensual, and suspect foreigner. But Will’s  rootless disruptiveness can be channeled politically into a useful engine of reform–what happens to Dorothea?

“But if you are to wait till we get a logical Bill, you must put yourself forward as a revolutionist, and then Middlemarch would not elect you, I fancy.”

Indeed.

Also

“But as to one family, there’s creditor and debtor, I hope; they’re not going to reform that away; else I should vote for things staying as they are.”

Farebrother is finally getting his due! I’m so glad. He is so very lovable in these chapters. The scene wherein he pleads Fred Vincy’s case to the woman he himself loves, particularly.

The English evangelicalism of this period is fascinating, especially since we’re mostly used to think of revivals et al. as American phenomena.

I think the most realistic touch Eliot gives Bulstrode is his sincerity; he really does think he is a humble servant endowed by the Lord with a mission to prosper. But now he has Raffles jamming up the works! Secrets and scandal! Bulstrode’s apparent relation to Ladislaw reminds me of a Dickens story, where each character is intricately tangled up in another, sometimes by roots that remain subterranean for most of the novel.

“to sit like a model for Saint Catherine looking rapturously at Celia’s baby would not do for many hours in the day, and to remain in that momentous babe’s presence with persistent disregard was a course that could not have been tolerated in a childless sister.”

This sounds…familiar.

James and Celia’s worries over Dorothea being lonely are loving and innocuous, but we see the general determination to keep her docile in Mrs. Cadwallader’s warnings against “seeing visions.”

“But I see clearly a husband is the right thing to keep her in order.”

But it’s not as though Dorothea’s non-conformity is unambiguously valorized, either. Rather, much of it seems her poor-woman’s negative substitute for greatness of action and leadership.  Although now, it seems, she’s planning to build some kind of commune.

Will and Dorothea’s awkward fumbling around each other feels surprisingly possible and relatable, despite the ostensibly Victorian obstacles separating them.

The railroad is cutting its way through Lowick, the the disapproval of the workmen, who see only rich owners turning a profit from the disruption of their lives.

And Rosamund has suffered a miscarriage. It’s only mentioned in passing dialogue, given much less time and attention than any other events of these chapters. What does this mean to her? We get no peek into an interior world where loss and grief exist.

“…Mary always desired to be clear that she loved Fred best.”

This seems like the root of fidelity.

Lydgate’s belief in Rosamund’s innate submissiveness and adoring deference crumbling, he has no way of being married beyond alienation and sterility. He never saw her as one with real agendas and desires of her own, so he can’t ask her to give them up in loving mutual sacrifice. She can’t help and suffer with him in his struggles, because she was never to take an “unwomanly” interest in his work, never to be his partner in any real sense.

And she wouldn’t recognize the call to that kind of heroism; nor can she ask him to enter into her own projects. She has only learned how to gently thwart others’ plans for her. It’s a damning look at a dynamic that’s sometimes romanticized.

And then he compares her to Laure, with his “It is the way with all women.” I had almost forgotten about Laure; poor foolish Lydgate.

He also remembers Dorothea, and I’m still not sure the poor chump’s wrapped his around the fact that Dorothea’s absolute loyalty to her husband is not some natural feminine clinging but active, struggling virtue.

But now Will knows about the codicil! What will happen next? Tune in next time for the surprising adventures of me, Sir Digby Chicken Ceasar, I mean, uh….Middlemarch.

Books and Baked Goods 7

I know, it’s embarrassing. I don’t even want to know how many months its been since I dropped the ball. It was an accident! I took a a little break from blogging, and then when I came back I had psyched myself out of the book club posts. But I am determined to finish this, especially because the book starts getting really good from here.

As a sin offering, brandied cherry pie. This is really easy. Buy a bottle of brandy–it doesn’t have to be the good stuff–and pour it into a bowl of pitted cherries (enough for pie making.) The cherries should be submerged in the brandy. Cover and leave in the fridge over night. The next day, pre-bake your pie crust. I like this one, with the addition that I’ve found it doesn’t really help to skimp on the ice water. I’ve always needed more than recipes call for to make my crusts come together. But that’s me, in my kitchen, and your mileage will probably vary. The only really hard and fast rule of crust making is to keep everything cold, chilling and re-chilling at every step. Too rigorous an insistence on other instructions (for instance, my crusts never transfer into the pan in one whole foldable circle) will generally leave you with a crust that looks prettier than it tastes. The brandied cherries mean that this crust doesn’t need a lot of sugar. When the pie comes out of the oven, spoon in your now deliciously brandy-infused cherries (and you can even save the now cherry infused brandy!) Top with something delicious–a drizzle of dark chocolate, a dollop of whipped cream, maybe–and eat!

Since it’s been so long, here’s where we’ve been: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

I did chapters 40-50 here, to get back up to speed. On Friday I’ll try doing ten chapters again, from 50-60.

***************************************************

Why I love Mary Garth:

“If you made her angry, she would not raise her voice, but she would probably say one of the bitterest things you have ever tasted the flavor of; if you did her a kindness, she would never forget it.”

The intensity behind her flippancy is strange, and, I think, invites equally intense sympathy.

Speaking of which, the Vicar and Mary are so much better suited for each other than Mary and Fred! He comes so much closer to being her equal in sense, and is like her in complexity of character. But she loves Fred.  (For now at least.) Alas, such is life.

“It was certainly not her plainness that attracted [men] (and let all plain young ladies be warned against the dangerous encouragement given them by society to confide in their want of beauty).”

I can see why Mary’s wonderful capacity for bitterness is so believable.

Who is this Raffles character? Bulstrode seems to be the center of great intrigue.

52 is an amazing chapter. Let’s look at some passages.

“It would be quite unjust to him to suppose that he could have entered into any coarse misinterpretation of Dorothea; his own habits of mind and conduct, quite as much as the open elevation of her nature, saved him from any such mistake. What he was jealous of was her opinion…”

and

“He thinks of making an easy conquest and of entering into my nest.”

This is the charged language of a very sexual jealousy, and yet earlier we learn that Causabon is referring mostly to an intellectual rivalry. So we have this more of this weird reversal going on, where Dorothea tries to satisfy her longing for intellectual/spiritual fulfillment by entering into a sexual contract, and Causabon can only couch his cuckold anxieties in intellectual terms

Plenty of mystics and artists have described union with or devotion to Christ in in ardent, sexually connotative language. Dorothea recreates this pattern in a degraded way, stooping according to restrictions placed even on the shape of her goodness (we see the greatness of her soul is signalled by dress, and particularly how she is perceived by men), and submitting herself instead to a human idol.

The utter futility and unfittingness of this attempt at escape becomes apparent in Causabon’s engagement with her: there is nothing elevated about their relationship–he can only transpose sexual possessiveness onto the life of the mind.

(Unrelated: I love how Eliot presents the misunderstandings, rejections, and fears that come between people imperceptibly and insuperably in excruciating detail; how a momentary submission to resentment and harshness builds unlooked for wall of alienation.)

In the agonizing mockery of her marriage, her pain and anger and impotence, her eventual self-forgetfulness (dearly bought, not theoretical), Dorothea is growing up rapidly.

Her anger and indignation after her husband’s rejection seems a climactic or transformative struggle. It’s a violent and terrible storm of passion that leaves her sitting still in the dark for hours on end, and the the final resignation and submission she finally wrestles herself into are almost brutal.

I can’t think of any more vivid portrait of a marriage, miserable ill-judged, unhappy, probably doomed to unhappiness as long as it lasts, and yet sanctifying.

I was reading Flannery O’Connor the other day, and thinking about how the different ways the two authors approach grace, especially as they are both interested in Grace and Bad Stuff. Eliot’s grace is the animating fire behind many tiny movements that in no way mitigate, but ennoble and sustain people through lifetimes of grinding disappointment, failure, and misery.

Contrast this “And just as clearly in the miserable light she saw her own and her husband’s solitude–how they walked apart so she was obliged to survey him”

with this

“She put her hand into her husband’s; and they went along the broad corridor together.”

It’s a beautiful and horrifying picture of conjugal unity and conjugal grace.

Right, on to more mundane things!

Note that every time Rosamond encounters Dorothea, we are reminded of the differences in their castes.

“When one sees a perfect woman, one never thinks of her attributes–one is conscious of her presence.”

You know, this is probably a perfectly sensible observation about people in general, but somehow young Will Ladislaw annoys me indeed .

Because this! Again! “Mrs. Causabon is too unlike other women for them to be compared with her.”

On the other hand, this is probably true, and both Dorothea’s and Rosamond’s tragedy.

There’s a lot else going on these here–Reform! Ladislaw! His Polish, Italian, French connections are emphasized a lot in these chapters. All Catholic countries ( “Mrs. Bulstrode felt that his mode of talking about Catholic countries, as if there were any truce with Antichrist, illustrated the usual tendency to unsoundness in intellectual men.”), all very Not English (“mixed blood” and “general laxity”).

“Rosamond was expecting to have a baby, and Lydgate wished to save her from any perturbation.” Rosamond’s maternity only further infantilizes her.

Aaaand to wrap it all up, we have Causabon’s horrible, horrible, creepy, manipulative little request that Dorothea basically offer herself up as a sacrifice on his funeral pyre. And the best part is his horrible, creepy, manipulative way of asking, which is to NOT ASK directly until she has promised to do it. Because, Dorothea, can’t you “confide in the nature of my wishes?”

No, Causabon, no we can’t, because you are horrible and creepy.

But never mind, he’s dead.

OH wait, he’s still doing horrible things from beyond the grave. To wit, his codicil.

Books and Baked Goods 6

So, this time, (no really!) I have a valid excuse for failure. The excuse being, my entire family got hit with a world-historical stomach bug, and I spent the whole week feverishly making ginger tea, stroking fevered brows,  and trying to talk like Florence Nightengale.

Or at least, how I imagine she would talk, for I have not yet had the privilege of making that honored lady’s acquaintance.

See? You know it’s time when you’re talking like Casaubon.

But first, banana bread. This is the best banana bread I have ever made, and I have made a lot.  I dialed back the sugar (I used closer to half a cup), upped the spices, and added a dollop of molasses, because I like my fall quickbreads autumnally spicy, and duh, molasses makes everything better.

I also discovered an interesting variation on this recipe during one of my adventures in failure. Recently, for some reason that was probably not my fault, I forgot to add flour before putting the batter in the oven. Ten minutes later, as I was going about my business, I realized why I could not shake the nagging feeling that something was not right. I mixed in the the flour and put the bread back in the oven in a lame attempt at salvage, and when I took it out it was…a pudding. Or a bread, but an uber moist, rich, pudding-y bread that looked ugly but tasted quite delicious, especially served over ice cream. I don’t really recommend you try to replicate this freakish success, especially not by forgetting the flour or other vital ingredients, but if you’re bored it might be fun to fiddle around with baking times.

Ok, on to Middlemarch.

1. Fred! Penniless, spendthrift Fred! What will he do with himself? On the other hand, could the dashing of all his lazy hazy hopes finally spur him to steadiness and self-improvement? It remains to be seen, but I watch his career with growing interest.

On a related note, who is Joshua Rigg? Thoughts? I like the description of his frog-face. His impassability seems vaguely sinister, at least to the people of Middlemarch. This is one of the things I love about sprawling Victorian novels–new, intricately interconnected yet tangential characters are liable to pop up wherever, whenever. It’s kind of like The Silmarillion that way.

I love how important death and marriage both are to this society, specifically, in negotiating the transfer of property; we’ve seen marriage a couple of times, in Mrs. Cadwallader’s remarks and Ladislaw’s story about his parentage, but this is the first time we see death. And death is the more important of the two, I think–it  allows property to be named, allotted, shrouded in the mantle of sacred and impersonal law. Marriage creates the families that function as receptacles for property, but death itself effects its dynamic transfer. Property and death belong to each other, and both define the boundaries and obligations of human relationships, as we see with Will’s story. Is it worth noting that Dorothea and will are both orphans?

If anyone’s read The Mill on the Floss, the relationship between law, death, and property seems to be steady thread that runs through Eliot.

Ok, Lydgate and Rosamond: I thought it particularly interesting that, while Lydgate falls into a genuine if shallow passion for Rosamand, she does not do the same for him. She doesn’t seem to have any idea what that would look like–I think Eliot says that she sincerely believed that no one could be capable of loving more than she loves Lydgate. Poor stunted creature, she has no idea how to love, how to move beyond herself even in Lydgate’s flimsy fashion; she has no idea how to be anything but acted upon, and how to arrange and re-arrange the small circle of her self and accessory objects.

If she cannot be anything but acted upon, though, she is very determined to dictate how she is acted upon, and so poor stupid Lydgate .

“Lydgate relied much on the psychological difference between what for the sake of variety I will call goose and gander: especially on the innate submissiveness of the goose as beautifully corresponding to the strength of the gander.”

It is painful to watch his delusion–but after all, he never asks anything better of her. He is getting exactly what he wants, God help him.

And, last for best, Will and Dorothea. Casaubon is getting meaner and smaller by the minute, Will is very obviously falling very much in love with Dorothea, Dorothea is oblivious and unhappy and good.

There is one line about how she dresses as though she had taken a vow to always look different from other women. This is part of her problem, I think, that she has to set herself apart from other women. There is no place for Dorothea, and so the best she can do is attach herself to a man.

“I used to feel about that, even when I was a little girl; and it always seemed to me that the use I should like to make of my life would be to help some one who did great works, so that his burthen might be lighter.”

She can only envision herself as a helper or page. There is the hint of a great work of her own–Sir James speaks of her cottage plans as displaying real talent, and she seems to have a genius for sympathy and the itch for justice that hint at a vocation to reform–but neither she nor anyone else can recognize her own gifts, and so she puts her energies at the service of a parsing, precise intellectualism totally unrelated to her character, even before Casaubon’s vices enter the equation. Will Ladislaw doesn’t seem to help much here–his concern is all for her happiness, and how much that happiness depends on him. Very sweet, but not touching on the real problem.

But what do we think of the whole Will, Dorothea, Casuabon situation. Does anyone else think it makes it somehow much worse that Casaubon’s distrust of Ladislaw isn’t even motivated by sexual jealousy, but pure pride?

And all these local politics. They are making my head spin. This is a big age of reform, which is perhaps why the political dustups create such a poignant contrast to Dorothea’s seclusion at Lowick.

And I’ll leave you with this.

“I know the sort,” said Mr. Hawley; “some emissary. He’ll begin with flourishing about the Rights of Man and end with murdering a wench. That’s the style.”

Books and Baked Goods 5

In which I am the worst. Also in which we discuss Middlemarch, chapters 23-30.

Three quick recipes:

1. Key lime custard cups are simpler, smaller, quicker, and as almost as magically delicious as key lime pie in an inexplicably different way. I discovered this a few weeks ago during a disagreement with my oven. To make them, just whip up key lime filling and pour it into a glass baking dish. Bake on a high heat, around 450, for 10-20 minutes. Note that this arrangement is the product of my temperamental oven: you might have to fool around with yours a little until you find a combination that works. The filling should thicken to the consistence of custard, which you can dole into cute little cups, top with crumbled graham crackers, lime zest, and a dollop of whipped cream, chill, and serve.

2. Stuck in an non-air-conditioned apartment? Grinding end-of-summer heat making you want die or giving you global warming nightmares? Well, fear not, because I have discovered the most refreshing thing ever. Take a big tall glass of seltzer water, squeeze a lemon slice or two into it, and then get out your grater and grate in a few tablespoons of ginger root (or less, if you are not a ginger fanatic). Garnish with mint leaves or a healthy dose of gin.

3. This seems ideal for birthday parties.

Ok, on to the book. I know I said I would have the post up by yesterday, it’s just that, as I said, I am the worst, and this adjusting-to-new-job thing is really slowing me down. Who knew whether to do our Latin word of the day before or after our daily protest song would be such a fraught scheduling decision? And to top it all off, I am too brain dead to come up with anything of real interest to say.

I have nothing to say for myself. I can only offer this is atonement.

 

 

So anyway, here are my super lame and short thoughts on chapters 1-30.

1. Poor, poor, wretched selfish Casaubon.

2. Awful, awful, wretched selfish Casaubon.

I think Eliot is acutely aware of both the corrosiveness and pervasiveness of selfishness, and so you get this damning moral portrait side by side with incredibly tender pity for everyone–often in the same sentence.

3. Dorothy and Ladislaw:  can this possibly be going anywhere good? On the other hand, how long will Casaubon be with us? Speculation, anyone?

4. Oh Dorothea. It’s so painful watching her wake up.  I love her because the things that make her angry and the things she doesn’t get (like her discomfort with art when she knows so many people are shut out from it) are things that make me really angry, and things that I don’t get. I viscerally feel her emotions as I’m reading them , which is odd because in point of character I’m nothing really like her. Does this say anything about the type of character she is, or just Eliot’s skill as an author?

5. Fred! Fred Fred Fred. Why?? You and Mary seemed the one budding romance that might grow, that wasn’t doomed to tragedy, that just needed light and air and hard work to build a strong melodrama-free happiness. And now look what you’ve done.

Also, way to take the life savings of your poor, overworked love interest and the funds meant to secure the future of her little brother to pay your stupid debts, and be most worried about whether she’ll stay mad at you. How do you have the nerve to voice this concern to her? This is where Mary Garth becomes somewhat alien to me as a character. She feels a motherly pang of concern for Fred; I’d probably try to inflict maximum physical damage.  Still, I love Mary, and Caleb. Fred I suspend judgement on for now.

6. Speaking of relationships that seemed doomed to tragedy, Rosamond and Lydgate? There’s a reason they can’t meet each other’s eyes.  Rosamond wants lovely objects that marriage and an establishment provides, and the freedom to carefully curate her lifestyle it will afford. Lydgate wants the lovely object Rosamond and the carefully curated lifestyle of which a flirtation with her is part of. Their wants are the same; the only difference is that Rosamond has to marry him to achieve her goals. Also, this:

“For Rosamond never showed any unbecoming knowledge, and was always that combination of correct sentiments, music, dancing, drawing, elegant note-writing, private album for extracted verse, and perfect blond loveliness, which made the irresistible woman for the doomed man of that date.”

It always strikes me how Rosamond is such an impenetrable wall of perfection, so irreproachable and lovely, and also so deliberately vapid and suppressed. Every single physical and intellectual feature seems to have been pressed into the service of this facade.

What’s the equivalent of that today? What would that woman look like–superficially perfect, free of all substance but (and I think this is the key point) in a way that inspires admiration in those with genteel tastes?

Ok folks, that’s all I’ve got. Supply my deficiencies with what you noticed.

And here’s this.

“…his soul was sensitive without being enthusiastic:  it was too languid to thrill out of self-consciousness into passionate delight; it went on fluttering in the swampy ground where it was hatched, thinking of its wings and never flying.”

Books in Babylon 4

Ok everyone, here’s the surprise! Our friend from William Writes has graciously offered to do this week’s Middlemarch write-up, ostensibly because I am busy with work, but really because I am lazy and he does a much more thorough and interesting write-up than I ever could. Without further ado….

Good afternoon, everybody. I’m William Brafford. Since Clare’s busy this week with a new job, I’ve offered to do this week’s book club notes, on chapters 17-22.

But first, my dad’s apple pie recipe:

    1. Place oven rack in center position. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
    2. Remove Mrs. Smith’s Classic Apple Pie frozen pie from box. Open center hole of pie and cut 4-6 slits in top crust.
  • Leave pie in original pan and place in center of cookie sheet lined with heavy foil.
  • Bake Classic Apple Pie at 350° F for 55 to 65 minutes until crust is golden brown.
    1. Removed baked pie carefully from oven on cookie sheet with oven mitts. Never handle by edge of pie pan.
  • Serve warm in 30 minutes or cooled after 2 hours. Pies are best when just baked. Store loosely covered at room temperature for up to 3 days.

We are not really bakers in the Brafford family…

~~~~~

All right, on to Middlemarch. Keep in my mind that this is my first time through the book, so I’m sure I’m missing all kinds of awesome foreshadowing and introduction of themes that will be virtuosically elaborated on later in the book.

Lydgate and Farebrother

 

In the last few chapters, we’ve gotten Lydgate’s backstory. He’s the outsider in Middlemarch: an ambitious, reform-minded doctor who trained abroad and is looking to get his career started in Middlemarch. Camden Farebrother is the Vicar of St. Botolph’s church, and what we’ve seen of him so far is that he tends to win at gambling.

Here we see Farebrother’s home life. He’s got an amusingly strong-minded mother who’s a one-woman industrial revolution of the production of cranky declarations (e.g., “When you get me a good man made out of arguments, I will get you a good dinner with reading you the cookery-book”), and an aunt and a sister. So Farebrother is embedded in Middlemarch society in a way that Lydgate can’t be.

But after Farebrother and Lydgate retire to Farebrother’s study to bargain over an “anencephalous monster” in a glass jar (has anyone figured out what this is?), you see quickly he doesn’t much like being a rural vicar. Farebrother is an amateur natural scientist, a collector of insects and other bugs. His version of “spiritual tobacco” is research reports on entomology.

This makes me wonder about the intellectual in the provinces: would he be a Wikipedia editor today? (Also, would he be a “he” today?) One of Farebrother’s pieces of advice to Lydage is “you must learn to be bored.” This is before the university system sucked all the life of the mind into itself, so perhaps it’s possible for these characters to achieve something worthwhile. On the other hand, neither Farebrother nor Casaubon seem successful in their endeavors. I suppose Farebrother’s life is being set up as a possibility for Lydgate, should he fail in his projects and lose his ambition.

Two points of interest: Farebrother tries to set Lydgate up with Mary Garth, and Farebrother’s parish is named for St. Botolph, whose name gave us “Boston.”

Local politics

 

Lydgate and Farebrother become friends, but unfortunately small-town petty politics threatens the friendship. Local power-player Bulstrode is building a new hospital, and though Farebrother would normally get the chaplain’s job and the money that goes with it, Bulstrode wants the chaplain to be Tyke, whose doctrine he agrees with more. I’m not clear on the medical and religious issues here, but fortunately Eliot makes it clear that the real issue is Bulstrode’s power in the town. Lydgate understands intuitively “that Bulstrode was prime minister, and that the Tyke affair was a question of office or no office”: in other words, Lydgate has to vote Bulstrode’s way if he wants influence in the hospital.

That Lydgate chooses Tyke tells us a lot about his flavor of pride – “What he really cared for was a medium for his work, a vehicle for his ideas.” Lydgate’s motivated by intellectual passion and desire for glory, not “humanitarian” concerns. On the other hand, he’s reluctant. He feels compromised by “the hampering threadlike presence of small social conditions.” It looks like there’s no immediate harm in Lydgate’s friendship with Farebrother, though. Farebrother is an amiable guy and makes it clear to all that he’s only interested in the job because it would bring in some money.

Still, one can’t help thinking there’s a failure of friendship on both sides between Farebrother and Lydgate. I feel that Farebrother should have been madder, and Lydgate more apologetic. It’s not that you can’t go against friendship; it’s that you shouldn’t do it so lightly and pridefully.

Ladislaw and the Casaubons in Rome

 

Now we get back to Dorothea. I have to admit, I was a little taken aback when she and Casaubon strolled and shuffled (respectively) offstage. The first nine chapters had me thinking this was a domestic drama in the Austen mode, but the rush of new characters and relationships showed me it’s, as Clare said before, “a novel about a town and its growing pains.”

We see Dorothea again through the eyes of Will Ladislaw and his hilarious Hegelian friend Naumann, a painter. Naumann has spotted Dorothea brooding (beautifully) beside a sculpture, and waxes eloquent: Dorothea appears as “antique form animated by Christian sentiment–a sort of Christian Antigone–sensuous force controlled by spiritual passion.” This hearkens back to the beginning of the first chapter, and it’s something the other characters don’t really express. To what degree is Naumann accurate?

Ladislaw, meanwhile, develops a massive crush on Dorothea, but it seems that he moves from one reduction to another: “She was not coldly clever and indirectly satirical, but adorably simple and full of feeling.” He does his best to charm Dorothea, and in the process probably charms most readers, but she doesn’t return his affections. And I have to admit: I like this guy, but he still seems pretty frivolous to me. Also, in case the ladies are wondering I can verify that this line is still generally true: “The remote worship of a woman throned out of their reach plays a great part in men’s lives, but in most cases the worshiper longs for some queenly recognition, some approving sign by which his soul’s sovereign may cheer him without descending from her high place.”

Instead of falling in love with Ladislaw, Dorothea’s been watching her dreams collapse into the tedious reality of being married to Casaubon. They’ve had their first fight, when Casuabon loses his temper after Dorothea asks when he’s going to move on from research and start writing his text. It turns out that this is just the site of Casaubon’s doubts and anxieties, and he calmly delivers an emotionally lacerating little speech. So far, this seems human. But what comes later is more disturbing. Dorothea, full of remorse about the fight, apologizes to her husband. And instead of apologizing in return, or even being honest about his own emotional difficulties, he accepts her apology in the most passive construction imaginable, by saying, in my translation, “Shakespeare said it’s demonic to reject an apology. You don’t think I’m like that, do you?” Does this even count as accepting an apology? Anyway, it’s cold and cruel.

There’s a degree to which Casaubon reminds me of the main character of The Browning Version, which is one of my favorite movies. It’s a portrait of another cold-hearted intellectual, Andrew Crocker-Harris. Here’s a clip from the movie:

Does anyone think this is how Casaubon talks? Of course, Crocker-Harris becomes relatable only because he has to face his own failures, and it seems that Casaubon is going to be too proud to face his own, even if it means being heartless to Dorothea.

As for Dorothea herself, she seems to be cocooning for a metamorphosis as she realizes that her previous path is a dead end.

I’m lucky that my used copy of Middlemarch was previously read by a pretty smart reader. This reader starred the following passage from chapter 20, which stands as a nice meditation on the novelist’s task: “If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.”

And Now For Children’s Books, OR, An Exercise in Procrastinonsense

Ok, so remember that big life change that I lamely pretended excused my failure to hold up my end of the book club bargain? Well, it involved me getting a job teaching preschool, which means, among other things, that I get to foist my favorite picture books on the unsuspecting little tykes.

I doubt I’m the only one who still feels a bit territorial about a certain corner window seat at her local library, haunted by her curled up eight year old self.

To this day, nothing makes a co-conspirator out of me faster than a discovery of  shared fondness for Princess Cimorene.

So, of course, I made a Pinterest board.

Yeah yeah, I know, I make fun of Pinterest all the time. Or at least I do in my head. Whoops. But it actually is a useful way of organizing all the fun marginalia of life, especially for someone who once had to ask for a ten minute extension because she’d forgotten in what folder she’d saved her presentation.

If Hazel’s Amazing Mother must needs be shared with the toddling horde, why not with everyone? And what about everyone else’s favorites, the ones I missed but my T.H. need not? And why stop at picture books? What about Madeleine L’Engle?

Basically, this is a community bulletin board of favorite children’s books, loosely defined–a lot of them would probably be classified by the more discerning as Young Adult. So far it’s a smattering of everything I read from preschool till that moment, around age 13, when Jane Austen finally accomplished what she’d been threatening for years, and crowded Tamora Pierce right off my bookshelf. (I’m serious. I didn’t get suddenly snobby, there was just no more room.)

These are not officially approved, laboratory tested, ritually pure children’s classics. Some of them are quite problematic. They’re just books I loved when I was kind of tiny and wore overalls and was fairly sure I was queen of the world–books I wouldn’t mind reading again, or sharing.

I think it would be fun to collect people’s tastes on this, because these were the books we read when we had no taste, or at were least were forming it from a rudimentary nugget into the guiding structure, that, if more worthwhile, is less fun to talk about. After all, everyone knows roughly the same classics. That’s why we have the idea of the classic. Beloved and bizarre and often gossamer-thin children’s stories? Not so much.

If you want to contribute to this collective dust-cover library, (especially books for very young children) email us with your Pinterest handle and I’ll add you as a pinner for the board.

Also, speaking of nostalgia, does anyone remember how awesome this show was?

 

 

We almost never had a television growing up, so we would go to our friends’ houses and make them watch cartoons with us for hours on end, ignoring the wretchedly wholesome whelps’ pleas to go outside. We were rotten. Also, Ducktales?

Books and Baked Goods 3

In which we discuss Middlemarch chapters 10-17.

Ughh. I know. Almost two full days after I was supposed to. The only excuse I can give is that it was a Life Changes weekend, in which I was offered a much need job requiring rapid and somewhat disorienting logistical reconfiguration. So, this is not only going to be a late one, but a short one– I am not only braindead, I only got up to the end of chapter 17. Feel free to take it away in the comments over the rest of the week.

Here is your recipe. Unfortunately, as I have not tried it out I have no helpful emendations for you, but it looks nomtacular. Just remember to keep your butter cold! I don’t care how many times you have to re-chill, just keep it cold. Also, dicing it into tiny pieces, chilling in freezer for twenty minutes, then combining with flour etc. helps a lot. As does eschewing a food processor in favor of a handheld pastry blender, or two forks and a knife. And don’t worry about how much ice water they say you can use. Use as much as you need to make your dough come together. Just dribble it slowly and keep it cold.

Ok, to the books.

1. These chapters put Dorothea in the background and Lydgate, Rosamond, Mary and Fred very much at the forefront. Thoughts on this? What do we think of Lydgate? He’s sympathetic and in many ways admirable, but doesn’t do much to garner our immediate affection, I think. This also seems to be the effect he has on Middlemarch..

2. Mary Garth. We like her, no? To be fair, I love everyone, but she definitely is winsomely…real. I love that scene where she is caught between Rosamond and Rosamond’s reflection. It’s an arresting image–and then Rosamond’s response: “Oh silvery laugbeauty doesn’t matter!” Women are defined by their physical appearance in this novel: what they look like indicates some sort of moral quality. So Dorothea has this austere and soulful look, and Rosamond’s femininity is fragile and ornamental and heavily, heavily cultivated–and Mary Garth is ordinary and plain, and seems to be the only one who can really step outside these the small circle marked by these poles of femininity. Does her plainness somehow enable that? I like how angry she is, which makes me think she is some kind of authorial self-interjection.

“Every nerve and muscle in Rosamond was adjusted to the consciousness that she was being looked at.  She was by nature an actress of parts that entered into her physique: she even acted her own character, and so well, that she did not know it to be precisely her own.”

Wow.

3. What do we think of Fred?

4.So many character introduced: Bulstrode, Featherstone, Farbrother. Bracketing their English-awesome-ridiculous. They expand the novel’s boundaries–it becomes clear that the title no accident, that this really is a novel about a town and its growing pains as much as it is about the interior travails of a few residents. Interesting scrutiny on the way the church interacts with money. It also reminded me of the way marriage and family arrangements seem to exist to consolidate property and negotiate its transfer–not even remotely the other way around. You see it with Mrs. Cadwallader’s talk of the responsibility to marry well. I think something similar is going on with Bulstrode’s evangelicalism.

5. Speaking of which, was is it with that scene of Lydgate and Farebrother’s, the one with all the scientfically classified insects? Something about it is gnawing at me–it seems significant, but I don’t know why. Of course, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

6. Interesting that Rosamond’s cultivation of herself as the “perfect lady” includes no venal interest in money. As a sort of commodity fetish herself, she can by definition have herself no knowledge or interest in the exchange of money. So does it work both ways? Marriage facilitating the transfer and accumulation of property, and women becoming commodities to facilitate marriage? What then with Rosamond’s obsession with birth? What is the place of aristocracy in this manufacturing town?

“There was nothing financial, still less sordid, in her previsions: she cared about what were considered refinements, and not about the money that was to pay for them.”

7. I’m just really excited to see Middlemarch the town grow–and to see what happens to Mary and Fred. This seems like the only relationship with any real possibility or human warmth thus far.

Ok, there’s lots more to say, so don’t be shy. I’ll probably add more thoughts in the comments as the week goes on. I’ll leave you with this quote.

“One can begin so many things with a new person!–even begin to be a better man.”

Books and Baked Goods 2

I know, I know, late again. And I don’t even have a good excuse. I just forgot.  I also didn’t mention how far I’d be going–to the end of chapter ten. Mea culpa. As usual, just consider it a weekend-long book club.

To make amends, here is an easy recipe that I cobbled together out of necessity a week or so back. It’s kind of a weird pie/crumble/pudding hybrid of apple tart tatin in a graham cracker crust, and I, at least, thought it was delicious.

Make a graham cracker crust, and let it chill for an hour or so. I have no idea why, but my graham cracker crusts always hold together best when I chill them. For this recipe, I would dial back the sugar you put in the crust, and throw in some cinnamon and nutmeg. Peel, core, and quarter (I am from the Edmund Campion school of baking) 6-8 apples, more or less depending on the size of the pie pan you’re filling. Combine a stick of butter and cup of sugar in a saucepan or skillet over low heat. Arrange the apple quarters in the sugar-butter mixture, convex side up, and turn the heat on high. Let everything boil away for 15-20 minutes or so, flipping midway through, or as long as you want. If you just want the apples cooked tender and sweet, simmer them for less time. If you want them really caramelized, though (and this is my strong preference), wait until the apples turn brown on each side and the butter and sugar starts thickening into dark delicious caramel. Remove from heat, and while they cool, whip yourself up a big vat of whipped cream (ok, maybe vat is a little much); while you’re whipping, why don’t you throw a little bourbon in? I mean really, why not? Also, my fanaticism for whipping the cream yourself and preference for not adding too much sugar are both completely justified for this recipe.

Put the apples in the graham cracker crust, and if the mixture has caramelized, pour over. Top with tons and tons of fresh whipped cream. Be careful to wait till the apples are completely cooled, though, or they’ll melt the cream. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as I discovered. Do whatever else you need to do to make things pretty, and serve!

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Ok, Middlemarch, chapters 5 to 10.

Here are some links I thought might be useful. Ok, random thoughts, here goes:

1. What is with the constant religious allusions, particularly the juxtaposition of religious traditions opposed to each other? Like when Dorothy treats Casaubon as a “Protestant pope.” I think it might have something to do with Dorothea and the sort of jumbled and conflicted state of her religiosity. She has this intense religious impulse, but no actual outside creed by which she can give it structure and direction. She can only be more religious than the people around her–sort of endlessly aspirational rather than personally rooted and growing. Which is maybe why she makes herself this little idol of out the awful awful (but seriously did you notice how every time he opened his mouth you wanted to crawl in a hole or punch him?) Casaubon. It’s kind of neat to me that Casaubon and Dorothea’s story follows in many ways the pattern of a doomed or adulterous affair, with religion replacing love and marriage replacing adultery. Powerful, transcendent human impulse loses/lacks proper object, cannot grow and give life, turns inward on itself, throws itself under train. Or, in Dorothea’s case, under creepy clergyman.  I think that’s why we constantly get references to English religious strife, and I think this mutual mirroring of personal and political is going to be a pattern.

2. Like, for instance, with these intense growing pains and bewilderment of Dorothea, and the English political energy and post-industrialized roiling Eliot keeps drawing our attention to. We’ve already seen tensions stemming from new societal arrangements: Mrs. Cadwallader’s disgust for the vulgar rich, and Brooke’s reluctance to let his nieces meet “the daughter of a manufacturer” (helloooo industry!). I think Dorothea and England are both painfully trying to form some kind of identity in the absence/irrelevance/failure of old norms, and Dorothea’s fate seems somehow caught up in Engand’s.

3. Will Ladislaw. He sketches. He pouts. Anyone else think he is just begging to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio circa 1999?

4. Speaking of sketching, if Dorothea has an actual creed it’s lower-case puritanism–which is in itself kind of endlessly aspirational. She can’t understand or relate to the pictures in Casaubon’s house–certain kinds of beauty, particularly that relating to the body, she has no access to. This is interesting , because we saw on the first page how defining bodily beauty is for women, not only in Victorian England, but in the text itself. It also sheds further light on CasauBrooke (yup, that’s now a thing.) Mrs C. reviles Dorothea for “entering a nunnery,”–but in fact she’s entering into the opposite: marriage, which is both exactly what she’s supposed to be doing as a good little woman and the only way for her to escape that role. The nunnery, hated by good puritan protestants, channels and sublimates female sexuality in a way that Dorothea’s loveless, sexless marriage cannot. Mrs. C and Dorothea are both puritans, both trapped in this cycle of restriction, futile rebellion, and punishment. The irony is so gorgeous I need to get a beer.

Also–Will Sketches, Renaissance art freaks Dorothea out. Interesting.

5. Mrs. Cadwallader–I really love her–the way she has no problem telling Brooke and Chettam what’s what on politics and their love lives, and pays zero attention to the macho Brooke falls back on to disguise how much sharper and more capable she is. I think she has a little of the “I’m the only girl cool enough to be in the boys’ club” thing going on, which may be part of the reason she likes Celia and not Dorothea? Another thing I love: in Mrs. Cadwallader’s critiques of Dorothea you see both Dorothea’s absurdities and Mrs. C’s narrowness revealed–and yet the author’s fondness and I think admiration for both characters remains undimmed, as does mine. Eliot’s genius is sympathy.

5. Nevertheless, Eliot is very, very angry. You see it in her measured, quiet, absolutely withering depiction of Dorothea’s limitations and their social enforcement–in half the words that come out of Brooke’s mouth. She never slips into spite or completely rejects any of her characters, though, and I think this is what makes her anger so powerful, so righteous.

Ok folks, that’s all from me. I’ll leave you with this quote, then feel free to take it away.

“After all, people may really have in them some vocation which is not quite plain to themselves, may they not? They may seem idle and weak because they are growing.  We should be very patient with each other, I think.”

PS- Ok if we go up to chapter 20 next week?

Books and Baked Goods 1

In which we discuss Middlemarch, Ch. 1-4.

But first, the important stuff. As in, food. Since summer is rapidly slipping away, it seemed best to capitalize on seasonal desserts while we still can. So, here is an easy key lime pie recipe.

Two things that will make it much, much better: buy key limes and juice them yourself (I find it’s easiest to cut them in half and press down on each half with a fork), and make your own whipped cream. Just beat heavy cream with sugar added to taste until it forms stiff peaks. Easy peasy, even if you do it by hand (this is what I owe any and all definition in my arms to). Also, if you make your own whipped cream, you can add all kinds of fun stuff to it, like, I don’t know, tequila?

To make the graham cracker crust, just crush a packet and a half or so of graham crackers into little crumbs (this is so. much. fun), zest a lime into half a cup of sugar and rub together with fingers, melt half a stick of butter (or however much it takes to hold your crust together) and mix it all up. Press into a pie pan. Ok, now you know what to do. The great thing about key lime pie is that the lime juice really controls the taste. If you like a tart pie, as I do, go crazy with the lime juice–I definitely used more than half a cup. Of course, if you are afraid of raw eggs, like normal people, and therefore unwilling to taste the concoction through various stages of limeyness, you should probably just stick with the recipe. Also, after the pie is cooked and chilled and topped with mounds of fresh whipped cream, zest another lime all over the top. It makes it look so purty.

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Ok, on to Middlemarch. Here are my basically unconnected thoughts.

1. This book is going to be all about Dorothea, at least on some level. All the book’s energy and our emotional responses so far center on her and this intimate, loving portrait Eliot is drawing of her soul’s travails–yet Eliot also goes out of her way to draw our attention to a specific moment in a specific cultural context. In the first four chapters, she name-drops Pascal, Jeremy Taylor, William Wilberforce, and John Locke (am I missing anyone?) and alludes more than once to an uncomfortable triangulation of Puritanism, Catholicism, and comfortable middle-class Anglicanism. What gives? Notable that Dorothea herself is compared first to St. Teresa of Avila, and then to a Puritan–these are two wildly different religious traditions.

2. Dorothea. She already drives one of my friends crazy. Full disclosure, I loved her from the first page of my first reading all the way to the end, and probably will again. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t drive me crazy too.

Eliot seems very aware of her flaws–her tone alternates between fond mockery and respectful compassion, I think. In  Dorothea’s first appearance of the novel, Eliot connects her asceticism with her notions of gentry and ladyhood—Dorothea’s religious impulses are tied to class boundaries, and for all her eccentricity, her religion is part of a larger conception of self that depends on the lines her fervor transgresses. It seems to me that D’s inability to extricate herself from these boundaries is a gentle jab at her, but even more so, a pointed and serious indictment of how far the limits imposed on her bind her ardent mind.

Also, we first learn about her piquant character, her devotion and austerity through her distaste for adornment. We are introduced to the quality of her mind through the contours of her clothes–there seems no way to escape the primacy of female decorativeness–not even in the narration of it’s rejection. Something to keep an eye on.

On a side note, can I just say how much I love Celia? That willingness to forgive and be forgiven combined  with the discomfiting acuity that sees through Dorothea’s playacting–this seems very characteristic of sisters, to me, especially sisters so different.

And Dorothea does a lot of playacting; I think this dishonesty will come up more as the novel progresses. In the scene where she rejects Sir James’s gift of a lapdog, she echoes what Eliot says of her own narrow female existence two paragraphs above. She can only accurately assess her own situation and voice her own discontents when she applies them to a creature of a much lower order. Which may be somehow why she sees in Causaubon a creature of a much higher order, when everyone else can already tell he’s a complete wet fish? It is telling that she sees in him a “mirror.”

Dorothea seems to want to play the part of eromenos. She is completely cut off from any intellectual or public life–we see it with the constant dismissal of her intellect, the inanity of her expected pursuits, the fact that she can only put  her plan for the cottages into action through Sir James’ courtship–and so for her, marriage is initiation and access to the world of men. She casts herself into a stereotypically wifely and feminine submission and self-abnegation in order play a much more ambiguously gendered and typically male role. Remember that Eliot describes her as a “beautiful boy,” in the dinner party scene where she snubs Sir James (who is happy to let her dominate intellectually and practically because the terms of any erotic relationship between them cannot threaten his fundamental male privilege.)

Ok, I will stop rambling and leave you with this quote.

“Sir James had no idea that he should ever like to put down the predominance of this handsome girl, in whose cleverness he delighted.  Why not?  A man’s mind–what there is of it–has always the advantage of being masculine,–as the smallest birch-tree is of a higher kind than the most soaring palm,–and even his ignorance is of a sounder quality.  Sir James might not have originated this estimate; but a kind Providence furnishes the limpest personality with a little gunk or starch in the form of tradition.”

 Now, get to it!

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Logistics:

Sorry I didn’t put this up sooner! Will try to get it up earlier in future. For now, just think of this as a weekend-long book club thread.

How did everyone find the length? Too long, too short, just right? I hope you now feel like literary Goldilockses. Let me know, and I will update this post with how far we’ll go next time, determined by consensus, or by me if no one chimes in.

Books in Babylon, For Real This Time

So, a while back I semi-seriously threw out the idea of an online book club, and it now seems that someone besides me is interested in the notion.

So, here’s how I think it will work.

1. Send your suggestions for books/discussion topics to clareaddiechristine[at]gmail[dot]com. Yes, we do have an email address, and as much fun as reading our spam folder is:

“Greetings,

 I understand that through Internet is not the best way to link up with you because of the confidentiality which my proposal demands.

However, I have already sent you this same letter one month ago,but I am not sure if it did get to you since I have not heard from you, hence i am constrain to reach you through the Internet which has been abused over the years.

 I wish to notify you again that You were listed as a Heir to the total sum of (One Million Six Hundred Thousand British Pounds) in the codicil and last testament of the deceased.(Name now withheld since this is our second letter to you). We contacted you because you bear the surname identity and therefore can present you as the Heir to the inheritance funds.

 Please indicate your interest immediately for us to proceed. I shall feed you with full details of this transaction upon receipt of your reply towards this proposal.

 All the legal papers will be processed in your acceptance. In your acceptance of this deal, we request that you kindly forward to us your letter of acceptance; your current telephone and fax numbers and a forwarding address to enable us file necessary documents at our high court probate division for the release of this sum of money.

 I look forward to hearing from you.”

we also love hearing from hear from normalish people as well. (Thanks, M!)

I’m just going to executively decree that the first book we read will be Middlemarch to save us from getting bogged down in book choice initially, but from here on in, if you send me suggestions we will read those. Middlemarch is available for free online if your library doesn’t have a copy.

2.  This coming Friday, I will post a few discussion questions concerning things I thought interesting about the first four chapters (we’ll start slow). Throughout the day, it will be an open thread and anyone who wants to can join the conversation–the initial questions/post will just be a starting point, and you can take it wherever you want it to go.  I’ll keep posting a discussion kickstarter every Friday (I’m happy to write them myself, but will also use anything you email me) until we’ve finished the book.

3. I’ll let you know each Friday how far we’ll be going next time–I know you all have lives and jobs, so we’ll do it in small bites. You can be as consistent and involved or not consistent and involved as you want to be. This book club is low stress, low maintenance.

I know this format has some serious flaws (there is simply no way to incorporate key lime pie or other baked goods into a virtual book club, and I’ve been wracking my brain for at least a half hour). But everyone here loves books, and part of the reason we started this blog was so we could talk to awesome people (awesome people means you) about things that matter to us, so please do chime in nonetheless.

Allons-y!

Finally, A Co-Apologist

THIS.

I have been trying to convince people of this for years. Ever since my sophomore year of highschool, to be exact.

Now, I love Jane Eyre. Love love can quote whole passages from memory and my copy is falling to pieces love Jane Eyre. But Villette is something else. If you haven’t yet, read it! (I’m assuming you’ve read Jane E, but read that too!)

And, to make things even better, my rather profane comrade in Villettemania references Strictly Ballroom, which is possibly the only good thing Baz Luhrmann has ever made (correct me if I’m wrong, of course), and a fantastic confection of camp, kook, heart, and sparkle. If you haven’t yet, see it!

Victorian novels. Dance flicks. So many good things.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVIRK_ejlQI