“Twenty NaNo Novels”: Clarissa Review

“Twenty NaNo Novels”: Clarissa Review

There are certain classics I am intimidated to review, both because they are beyond my full comprehension and because I don’t think I can do the parts I understand full justice. Samuel Richardson was not only a pioneer of the novel form, but is also considered the first author to write a “bestseller”. His novel Pamela took the same form as Clarissa would later, in the latter’s 1748 publication: epistolary. This style, comprised entirely of letters written among characters, allows for deep characterization. While the narrator(s) can be less dependable than third person or omniscient view, it’s quite a poignant and engaging form–especially when the reader knows something the characters don’t.

Richardson’s Clarissa centers around his title character—a nineteen-year-old, well-to-do maiden in the 1700s. Pressured unendingly by her family to marry a man she despises, and increasingly robbed of personal agency, Clarissa is faced with the desperate decision of whether to marry the man, or escape with another admirer of hers: a gentleman by the name of Robert Lovelace. Her decision will irrevocably alter not only her future, but her reputation and connection to her family. While the novel was written during the sentimental fever of the 18th century (critics then and now complain of the drawn out, emotional languishing of characters) there are positive elements in the amazing work—the longest novel written in the English language, at over one million words—that capture one’s attention and imagination.

To clarify, our university class read the Broadview Editions abridged version, which is about seven hundred pages, or 45% of the full novel. The editors endeavor to keep the meat of the plot, so the result is a fairly thorough representation of Richardson’s story.

Here are the positive things I admired about Clarissa:

First, in the introduction, Richardson gives this ultimate reason for its creation:

“…above all, To investigate the highest and most important Doctrines not only of Morality, but of Christianity, by shewing them thrown into action in the conduct of the worthy characters; while the unworthy, who set those Doctrines at defiance, are condignly, and, as may be said, consequentially, punished.”

Today, artists are often encouraged to cloak their true meaning and message somewhat in order to avoid affronting others. In a society that pushes the relevancy of everyone’s personal truth, it’s encouraging to see such an enduringly classic author be explicit about his beliefs. It proves that firm conviction and good reception are not mutually exclusive, then or now.

While the sentences are long and the prose denser than today’s audience is used to, Richardson’s characterization is superb. He takes his time fleshing out figures who are not only well-rounded, but contradictory at times: layered. Even minor characters are given due attention. Nuances and mysterious actions and thoughts are intriguing throughout the plot. In my opinion, the effort and thought given to characters here is much beyond the modern norm.

The plot is complex, with thrilling contrivances by more than one character, and intellectual and psychological battles. It’s not just a story about a trapped, withering 1700s woman. There’s drama. There are captures. There is bloodshed. It’s intense. And, as Richardson promises, moral issues are examined in surprising complexity: What is honor? Does it matter? If so, what is false honor? What is true friendship? Or actual love? What is forgiveness? Can it be not okay to forgive?

With an epistolary, character-driven story, it’s nearly impossible not to get attached. If you have enough time to gradually trek through Clarissa, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re a growing classics scholar, or a writer, it’s definitely beneficial to read at least an abridged version. The amount of insights into writing, and the skill, Richardson presents will stick with me for a long time. 

Lastly, here are some of my favorite quotes:

“The person who will bear much shall have much to bear, all the world thro’.”

“And now I found my presumption punished—Punished, as other sins frequently are, by itself!”

“I am half-sorry to say, that I find a pleasure in playing the Tyrant over what I love. Call it an ungenerous pleasure, if thou wilt: Softer hearts than mine know it. The women to a woman know it, and shew it too, whenever they are trusted with power…”

“Yet, God knows my heart, I had no culpable intentions!—I honoured Virtue!—I hated Vice!—But I knew not, that you were Vice itself!”

As you can see, the style is different from what modern readers are used to; but the view into 1700s life, and the values that attend it, is so immersive—and at times similar to our own—that I often forgot about that. Once I got about three hundred pages in, reading through the style began to feel more natural.

So definitely pick up Clarissa. It is an amazing, iconic work of skill and art and morality. You will not be disappointed. Five stars.

What are you reading right now?

“Can I Get a Witness?”: Jesus: A Very Short Introduction Review

“Can I Get a Witness?”: Jesus: A Very Short Introduction Review

“In fact, no other figure has so extensively crossed the cultural divisions of humanity and found a place in so many diverse cultural contexts.”

Countless molds of Jesus Christ have been formed in film, art, writing, oral tradition, and other communication. In the 2000 years since he walked the earth, social versions of Jesus have multiplied with great variety. While some of these representations are merely cultural self-identifications with the person of Jesus, many others are doctrinally errant. Where, if it exists, is the firm foundation for examining the actual human being and his real message? How can we know the Bible is historically accurate? And, if we do accept the Gospel accounts, what are they actually telling us?

Christian scholar, author, and theologian Richard Bauckham contributes a volume answering these questions to the Oxford University Press series, Very Short Introductions. For curious potential believers—or even those pressed for research time—Jesus: A Very Short Introduction provides a concise overview of the validity of the four traditional Gospels, and also the meat of their testimony about the person of Jesus Christ.

Without giving everything away, it can be said that Bauckham presents several sides to arguments surrounding Jesus, both in the Jewish world of his time and the scholarly debates present in ours. For instance, there exist additional gospels that some claim hold equal validity. Others believe the traditional Gospels less trustworthy in light of the oral fashion they continued in before publication: it is claimed by form critics that this was a constantly morphing, folkloric vehicle. Others see Jesus and his message as separate and superior to the God of the Old Testament—the introductory book includes multiple views in order to discount ones without logical or evidential standing and point to the most reliable sources.

Other features this book contains are interesting facts about Jesus’ Jewish world—religious parties, etymology about key words of Jesus’ and translation, and social background that ties into parables. Bauckham paints a portrait of Christ’s teaching style, and how his messages both align with Jewish prophecy and varied from Jewish expectations based on those prophecies.

The inherent message in all these proofs, Jesus’, speaks for itself in the Gospels: there is no middle road, if we take Christ at his word. Either someone will accept his identity as God and their own position in his kingdom, or separately attempt to define their own spiritual identity.

Bauckham ends with this quote about the incarnation, which summarizes Christ’s offer of grace and the crux of Christianity quite well:

“ Incarnation means that God has shared in the human plight even at its most extreme in order that he might deliver people from that plight. The Gospels read as narratives of incarnation are at the heart of historic Christian faith.”

Rather than being primarily an evangelical read, Jesus: A Very Short Introduction is more aptly defined as a historical crash course in Jesus and the Christian faith. It outlines the attitudes and nature of the kingdom of God based on its ruler’s own teachings found in reliable, eyewitness accounts. That being said, I think it absolutely can be used in this light as an evangelical or explanatory tool. It’s simple, concise, and presents several ideas people may be contemplating as they approach the Bible.

It’s also quite short: I was able to finish it in a day. So why not brush up on your Gospel knowledge?

What’s the latest thing you’ve read? Let me know in the comments! 🙂 

“Poor Baby Patrick”: Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot Review (Audiobook)

“Poor Baby Patrick”: Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot Review (Audiobook)

My drive-to-school audiobook saga continues! My second audiobook was Bill O’Reilly’s (and Martin Dugard’s) Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot. The few historical and biographical works I’d read previously to this one tended to be dry—often assigned—and usually dealt with people long dead. This story proved fundamentally different stylistically in several ways.

O’Reilly begins with JFK’s inauguration and works his way through his administration: up to the moment of his death, and also concerning the aftermath. Along the way, the author provides intimate, humorous, touching, and tragic stories that enhance and complement JFK’s narrative. For instance, individual deaths of those intertwined in the religious and political struggles overseas; friends of the president’s who played significant roles in his administration; and even the heartbreaking story of the death of Kennedy’s second son, Patrick, less than 48 hours after his birth. O’Reilly’s imagery and the interesting facts sprinkled throughout the story keep it from being a dry historical account of JFK’s years in office. It doesn’t simply move in a straight or predictable line.

In addition, O’Reilly balances this emotion well: accounts of Buddhist suicides are countered with heartwarming accounts of the president’s trip to interact with adoring Irish citizens—the land where JFK’s ancestors hailed from. In the midst of Patrick’s struggle for life, little details, such as the fact that the infant was assigned a single secret service agent, bring depth and humanity to the scene (this was one of the comments that stuck with me most notably throughout the rest of the book for some reason).

O’Reilly doesn’t paint JFK in the angelic light that perhaps some other historians have (not being well read on him, I’m not positive this is the case; though, I know he is considered one of the most popular leaders in American history). The author renders him sympathetic, yet flagrantly flawed in more than one respect. Perhaps it is this imperfect nature, and the relatable shortcomings recounted amidst his triumphs, that render O’Reilly’s JFK sympathetic to a degree.

Again, not being a buff on the subject, I’d only heard some details—and probably forgotten most of them before I reached this point in the book—about JFK’s assassination. The drama of about the last fifth—the gradual building to a few crucial minutes of narration—was absolutely effective. I literally had my mouth open at some points (yes, while I was driving to school) at the graphic and wrenching nature of the facts Bill O’Reilly communicated. Even if you’ve been educated on this event, the author makes the valid point that conspiracy theories and intricate speculation has perhaps detracted from the humanity of the occasion, and the real people whose lives it irrevocably altered (the entire nation, of course, included). That humanity certainly came through in this rendition.

If you’ve never heard a full accounts of JFK’s presidency—or, if you’re like me, and historical biographies aren’t your subject of expertise—you should try Bill O’Reilly’s book as a kind of entry point. It reads like a novel, which makes it preferable for those less versed in the genre. All in all, I’d give it 5 stars, both for Bill O’Reilly’s writing voice and narration, and for the focus—breadth—that the work encompasses. It has great appeal. 🙂

What are you reading right now? Who was the last figure, historical or contemporary, that you explored? Leave me a comment, and have a great day!

“Subplots for Days”: Joseph Andrews Review

“Subplots for Days”: Joseph Andrews Review

This semester, I’m taking a “History of the English Novel” course. Contrasting with previous literature courses of mine, this doesn’t resemble a book club (I was miffed when my parents spent money on a class that felt more like a discussion group). This course examines individual, influential novels and studies the morphing of the genre throughout the last few hundred years. I’m really enjoying it so far.

Our first assigned work was Joseph Andrews, a 1700s satirical novel by an author (previously playwright) named Henry Fielding. When the English government started censoring plays, most theaters shut down; Fielding having been a satirical writer, he could no longer use plays to examine powerful people. So, shortly after, he turned to book writing. Joseph Andrews is a kind of mockery of Samuel Richardson’s work, Pamela. Fielding’s other work satirizing Pamela is called Shamela— so that gives you an idea of how fun this guy is.

Joseph Andrews is the tale of Pamela’s brother, Joseph; his curate, Parson Adams; and his impoverished sweetheart, Fanny. The three embark on a journey full of interesting characters– much like Huckleberry Finn on land– to arrive at their destination (one reason for which is to get Joseph and Fanny hitched). In class, we went over qualities that make this possibly the first true English novel (that’s under debate): it examines its variety of characters intricately, which provides for a fairly rich plot. One thing I liked increasingly is the abundance of minor characters, and subplots, that fill the work. The main action will repeatedly halt as Adams and Joseph listen to someone’s life story. Everyone serves to provide foreshadowing or a moral lesson of some sort. These vignettes of a sort are charming. 

The narrator ties all these plots together and extracts themes– in class, we discussed the presence of an implied author behind these: the space between Fielding and the narrator: put another way, Fielding’s selected “eye behind the camera” for this specific novel. Learning more about form is fascinating to me. It shows you can play with the rules and still abide by them when creating literary art. 

If you haven’t read Joseph Andrews, and you need a laugh, I’d definitely recommend it. The book is middle length– a little over 250 pages– but the prose is relatively easy to swim through, and the comic scenes paint vivid mental pictures. I’d give this novel a solid 4 out of 5 stars, both for its content and its prominence as one of the forerunners of English novels. 

What are you reading right now? Leave me a comment below!