Sunday, April 26, 2015

Project Gutenberg Rocks, and Other Stories

Character is one of England's noblest and most deliberate products, but some Englishmen have it to excess.

My lunchtime reading of late has been H. G. Wells. We all know ABOUT his work – we all know about The Time Machine and Moreau and The Invisible Man, anyway – or we all know the movies – or know there *are* movies, but can’t remember whether we’ve seen them or not …

But how many of you have read H. G. Wells? Until this past couple of weeks or so, I can say, I had not.

I started with an anthology on Project Gutenberg – The Hidden Door and Other stories, and have come upon an unexpected gem in The Marriage. Hidden Door shows a wonderful range, and, unfortunately, not a tiny little tidbit of deeply hideous racism**, intentionally or not embedded in the most gruesome story of the bunch. Some of these pieces are on the pedestrian side, and some – from the vantage point of the twenty-first century – may feel been-there/done-that for some readers looking for adventure. The final one misses a truly intriguing opportunity, but is still interestingly conceived. The Star, I would say, is in many ways the star of the show – an asteroid-coming-at-Earth prototype, the journalistic remove of which ends up delivering rather a remarkable blow in the end.

The Marriage – which I haven’t finished reading yet, but is a GOOD enough read I feel the need to babble about it – is another example of the literature we now view as antique, which has a wonderful nimbleness of language and irresistible wit. It’s even funnier than the dog in Lady Audley’s Secret - and at greater length. Written in 1912, when the man and his career were seasoned and confident, the characterization of a twenty-year-old female character is remarkably good (less remarkable, perhaps, is how assured it is – but I’ve read male authors’ feminine voices before which, though clearly written with all the *assurance* in the world, were more difficult to believe), and the family dynamic is recognizeable and alive, not entirely the relic of a forgotten and dusty old fusty English age.

Wells at this point in his life was philosophical and experienced, and he brings that to bear in support of the humor and plot at work in Marriage. I am absorbed and cannot wait to see where Wells goes.

(S)he had over her large front teeth lips that closed quietly and with a slight effort after her speeches, as if the words she spoke tasted well and left a peaceful, secure sensation in the mouth.

**I also don’t want to give short shrift to the point above, about racism. It’s a trick of our culture, 100 or more years later, that a white woman with tons of privilege and a different point to make, can breeze by a point like that and get away with it – but even if I meant to make a different point, the world is still not one in which it’s reasonable to gloss over bigotry as if it were not there.

“The Cone” is the story in which That Word we all know too well is prominent. The description of a particular character of color, as well as the omniscient voice’s judgement of quite a number of races, detailed with highly squeamish results, is difficult to reconcile to the biographical facts of Wells’ stated outlook on prejudice and racial tyranny. Yet I can’t write this prose off, as a reader, with the old “It was the mindset” dismissal that lets me concentrate on something else in the face of virulent details. When people like me fail to observe things like this, we give ourselves the excuse not to see them in life, and … we don’t live in a world where that is a tenable position. There is no defense for dismissing the past, in a present in which the same problems exist; to answer #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter as if that puts paid to the devaluation of an entire class within the “all” of our society.

The more I face the privilege I possess, even as the rarefied and perhaps irrelevant exercise in personal creativity that is writing a novel in which not everybody is white and well-fed and well-off and unthinkingly, unblinkingly secure … the more I understand that one facet of this blog – particularly if I gain any success – is to deal with the subtext and the offstage workings that I DON’T, perhaps, write about.

It is unfortunate that, in my recent attempts to deal with this issue, I’ve couched it entirely in the ME ME ME ME ME ME ME context of MY novel not selling, and hoping to do better with one that contains more diversity. I see the problems there. I see problems in myself I may never have the courage to write about publicly. But I also know that this blog is only one voice, and my voice in the world, the one I want to have heard, is that of an author. And so, knowingly – even if incorrectly – the content here is filtered that way. This may be detrimental. Maybe some day, I’ll have the courage to put down the mirror and stop making everything about my own reflection. In the meantime, I am learning.


Lilac said...

Diane, what an interesting, fascinating post. You make me feel like reading H. G. Wells' work now. :-)

DLM said...

THAT makes my day - how exciting to be the one to make someone want to crack an old book! Yay and thank you!

Still have not finished reading Marriage yet - it's been BUSY and I was also out of the office for a couple of days, but I want to get back into it. The language is so deft, I honestly am intrigued to find out what comes next for our heroine.

Donnaeve said...

I write on my blog much the same way. And what I mean by that is, if I've read into the meaning behind your last two paragraphs, I focus on what is palatable and not cause for a big debate. It's highly unlikely I'd ever disclose my innermost thoughts, b/c I don't care much for going into some sort of war of words with others on my views or opinions, and I also guess I feel the intent isn't really about that anyway.

I don't see anything wrong with you writing from a Me Me Me Me standpoint about your writing/querying, b/c IMO, it's okay to discuss the disappointments when years of work seems lost to you at the moment. When you write about those things, it resonates.

LynnRodz said...

I've read H.G. Wells years ago when I was still a teenager and I've gone back and reread some old favorites like W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage and William Falkner's Light in August. Even Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer read now as opposed to when I was young is like reading a different book than what I had remembered. It was shocking to read the bigotry that as an adolescent was mostly passed over for the story being told.

That's why I love to travel (over 60 countries and counting). It becomes less about me and more about us who share a home on this tiny blue planet.

DLM said...

Hi, Lynn and Donna!

I don't really apologize for the *blog* being a bit ME ME ME ME, but the widening of my view as I get older has me "checking my privilege" more as I go on, so I wanted to include that final bit in italics because, though that was not "my point" per se, it's still important and necessary too. It's shaping my writing, and it's shaping the world itself, and even in my enthusiasm for antique literature, the focus still has to be clear on those aspects which may be disappointing, offensive, or even triggering for some readers.

Lynn, SIXTY COUNTRIES!!! I am wildly impressed - indeed, almost dizzy even contemplating it. I've looked in on your own blog, but had not guessed the variety of your trekking. How wonderful. I actually love hearing people talking about their travels; a couple of years ago, a guy from my work was a young adventurer. It was always fun to hear about his ventures to Dubai, several countries in Asia, and bits of Europe. My brother and I talked MANY years ago about how it would be neat to go back and see the Greek Isles, but these days my own fantasy destinations tend to include those cities I'm writing about (Ravenna and Martana, Albania, Istanbul) and the most ancient sites of human habitation (Uruk, Jericho). Even if I had money, obviously some of these would be easier than others ...

Thanks to both of you and Lilac for commenting. Comments are always fun, but Reider comments really make me happy. The community there is so great, even though I've had less time to participate recently.