Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Annotated Table of Contents: Essays 02

Tales and Sketches. Part One. Nathaniel Hawthorne.  I have tried to reduce these tales and sketches to their essence. Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of my favorite authors. His novels depict the darker side of the human spirit: the unpardonable sin (The Scarlet Letter), the family curse (The House of the Seven Gables), the importance of sin to humanizing humanity (The Marble Faun), the inhumanity of reformers and the rejection of women as intellectuals (The Blithedale Romance), but his tales and sketches reveal the creativity and variety of human character. He has thought deeply about the human experience. 

Best American Essays of the [20th] Century. Editors: Oates and Atwan Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company
The essays are in chronological order, from Mark Twain's "Corn-Pone Opinions," 1901, to Saul Bellow's "Graven Images" in 1997. If you expect these essays to be pleasant, comforting and fun to read, you are mistaken. Joyce Carol Oates, one of the editors of the book, says, "My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment, and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish." Most of these essays provoke. Many of them I had never read, but they paint a vivid portrait of the twentieth century

Letters of Jonathan Oldstyle. Washington Irving. The years are 1802 and 1803 in America. The commentator is Jonathan Oldstyle, an older man, a conservative, someone who does not like innovations on old habits. He sends letters to the editor, commenting on the fashions of the young, on the foppishness of young men, on the habits of playgoers, most of which modern readers will recognize in the movie-plexes of today—except, for cell phones—and on the contemporary methods  of dueling when pistols replaced swords. It’s all in good fun.

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