Monday, April 16, 2012

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death


Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel

Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (1969) is a satirical novel by Kurt Vonnegut about World War II experiences and journeys through time of a soldier called Billy Pilgrim. Ranked the 18th greatest English novel of the 20th century by Modern Library, it is generally recognized as Vonnegut's most influential and popular work.

The work is also known under the lengthy title: Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death, by Kurt Vonnegut, a Fourth-Generation German-American Now Living in Easy Circumstances on Cape Cod [and Smoking Too Much], Who, as an American Infantry Scout Hors de Combat, as a Prisoner of War, Witnessed the Fire Bombing of Dresden, Germany, ‘The Florence of the Elbe,’ a Long Time Ago, and Survived to Tell the Tale. This Is a Novel Somewhat in the Telegraphic Schizophrenic Manner of Tales of the Planet Tralfamadore, Where the Flying Saucers Come From. Peace.

Narrator
Intrusive and anonymous, recurring as a minor character, and as Kurt Vonnegut, himself, when the narrator says: "That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book."
The narrator begins the story describing his connection to the fire-bombing of Dresden, and his reasons for writing Slaughterhouse-Five.

Billy Pilgrim
A fatalistic optometrist ensconced in a dull, safe marriage, in Ilium, New York, he randomly travels in time and is abducted by aliens from planet Tralfamadore, who see everything in the fourth dimension. In World War II he was a POW in Dresden, which has a lasting effect on his post-war life. His time travel occurs at desperate times in his life; he re-lives events past and future, and becomes fatalistic (though not a defeatist), because he has seen when, how, and why he will die.

Roland Weary
A weak man dreaming of grandeur and obsessed with gore and vengeance, saves Billy several times (despite Billy's protests) in hopes of military glory, but then gets them captured, leading to the loss of their winter uniforms and boots. In the event, Weary dies of gangrene in the train en route to the POW camp; he blames Billy in his dying words.

Paul Lazzaro
Another POW. A sickly, ill-tempered car thief from Cicero, Illinois, who takes Weary's dying words as a revenge commission to kill Billy. He keeps a mental list of his enemies, claiming he can have anyone "killed for a thousand dollars plus traveling expenses".

Kilgore Trout
A failed science fiction writer who makes money by managing newspaper delivery boys and has received only one fan letter (from Eliot Rosewater; see below). After Billy meets him in a back alley in Ilium, New York, he invites Trout to his wedding anniversary celebration. There, Kilgore follows Billy, thinking the latter has seen through a "time window" (when he inexplicably becomes saddened by the barbershop quartet, later revealed as due to them reminding him of the four German guards trying and failing to vocalise the news of Dresden's destruction). Kilgore Trout is also a main character in Vonnegut's novel Breakfast of Champions.

Edgar Derby
A middle-aged man who has pulled strings to be able to fight in the war. He was a high school teacher who felt that he couldn't just let his young students go off to war without himself also fighting. He is a fellow POW to Billy and Paul Lazzaro, and the only one who stands up to the traitor Howard W. Campbell, Jr. and defends American ideals. Though he appears to be unimportant throughout most of the book, he seems to be the only American before the bombing of Dresden to understand what war can do to people. German forces summarily execute him for looting a teapot after the Allied fire-bombing of Dresden. Though it seems not to be the most pivotal death in the book, Vonnegut declares that this death is the climax of the book as a whole.

Howard W. Campbell, Jr.
An American Nazi; before the War, he lived in Germany as a successful, famous, German-language playwright, and became a Nazi propagandist. In an essay, he connects the misery of American poverty to the disheveled appearance and behaviour of the American POWs. Edgar Derby confronts and challenges him when he tries to recruit American POWs into the American Free Corps to fight the Communist Russians on behalf of the Nazis. Campbell is the protagonist of an earlier Vonnegut novel, Mother Night, in which he is revealed to have been working for the OSS against the Germans, using his pro-Nazi persona as a cover. The Americans never reveal Campbell's true role after the end of the war, forcing him to lead a life of anonymity to avoid the disgrace. Eventually, Campbell surrenders himself to Israeli authorities, and hangs himself while in their custody.

Valencia Merble
Billy's obese wife and mother of their two children, Robert and Barbara; Billy is emotionally distant from her. She dies from carbon monoxide poisoning after an automobile accident en route to the hospital to see Billy after his airplane crash.

Robert Pilgrim
Son of Billy and Valencia; a troubled, middle-class boy, and disappointing son, who so absorbs the whitebread culture's anti-Communist world view, he metamorphoses from suburban adolescent rebel to Green Beret sergeant.

Barbara Pilgrim
Daughter of Billy and Valencia. She is a "bitchy flibbertigibbet", from having had to assume the family's leadership at the age of twenty. She has "legs like an Edwardian grand piano," marries an optometrist, and treats her widower father as a childish invalid.

Tralfamadorians
The extraterrestrial race who appear (to humans) like upright toilet plungers with a hand atop, in which is set a single, green eye. They abduct Billy and teach him about time's relation to the world, as a fourth dimension, fate, and death's indiscriminate nature. Tralfamadorians appear in several Vonnegut novels. In Slaughterhouse Five, they reveal that the universe will be accidentally destroyed by one of their testpilots.

Montana Wildhack
A model who stars in a film shown in a pornographic bookstore when Billy stops by to check out the Kilgore Trout novels sitting in the window. She is also abducted and placed in Billy's habitat on Tralfamadore, where they have sex and produce a child.

"Wild Bob"
A superannuated Army officer Billy met in the war; he is delirious and eventually dies of a fever. He tells the POWs to call him "Wild Bob"; he thinks them his command, the 451st Infantry Regiment; "if you're ever in Cody, Wyoming, ask for Wild Bob," is an inspirational phrase of his that Billy repeats to himself. He was based on William Joseph Cody Garlow (grandson of the famed Buffalo Bill Cody) who surrendered his unit to the German forces during the Battle of the Bulge.

Eliot Rosewater
A friend whom Billy meets in the veteran's hospital and who introduces him to the science fiction novels of Kilgore Trout (see above). Rosewater turns out to be the writer of the only fan letter Trout ever received. Rosewater, like Billy, has experienced a horrifying event in the war. The two feel that the Kilgore Trout novels they read help them to deal with the trauma of World War II. Eliot Rosewater also shows up in other books by Kurt Vonnegut, such as God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.

Bertram Copeland Rumfoord
A Harvard history professor, retired Air Force brigadier general and millionaire, who shares a hospital room with Billy and is interested in the Dresden bombing. He is almost surely a relative of Winston Niles Rumfoord, a character in a previous novel by Vonnegut, The Sirens of Titan.

The Scouts
Two American infantry scouts trapped behind German lines who found Roland and, later on, Billy. Although Roland considers himself and the scouts to be best friends and heroes (calling their group the "Three Musketeers"), the scouts are uncomfortable around him and later reveal that Roland is slowing them down as much as Billy, and abandon them both. Later on it is discovered that they were found and shot from behind by German troops while waiting in ambush.

Mary O'Hare
The character briefly talked about in the beginning who Vonnegut promised to name the book " The Children's Crusade."

Werner Gluck
Werner is a sixteen-year-old German charged with guarding Billy and Edgar Derby when they first arrive at Slaughterhouse-Five in Dresden. He does not know his way around, and as he tries to find the kitchen he accidentally leads them into a communal shower where some German refugee girls from the Eastern Front are bathing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter


The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (Oprah's Book Club)

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is the debut 1940 novel by American author Carson McCullers. Written in Charlotte, North Carolina, in houses on Central Avenue and East Boulevard it is about a deaf man named John Singer and the people he encounters in a 1930s mill town in the US state of Georgia. It created a literary sensation on publication, enjoying a meteoric rise to the top of the bestseller lists in 1940 and was the first in a string of works by McCullers to give voice to the rejected, forgotten, mistreated and oppressed. The novel was chosen as a selection for Oprah's Book Club in 2004.

In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter seventeenth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Time magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

The struggles of four of John Singer's acquaintances make up the majority of the narrative. They are: Mick Kelly, a tomboyish young girl who loves music and dreams of buying a piano; Jake Blount, an alcoholic labor agitator; Biff Brannon, the observant owner of a diner; and Dr. Benedict Copeland, an idealistic African American doctor.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

An American Tragedy


An American Tragedy (Signet Classics)

The ambitious but immature Clyde Griffiths, raised by poor and devoutly religious parents who force him to participate in their street missionary work, is anxious to achieve better things. His troubles begin when he takes a job as a bellboy at a local hotel. The boys he meets are much more sophisticated than he, and they introduce Clyde to the world of alcohol and prostitution. Clyde enjoys his new lifestyle and does everything in his power to win the affections of the flirtatious Hortense Briggs. But Clyde's life is forever changed when a stolen car in which he's traveling kills a young child. Clyde flees Kansas City, and after a brief stay in Chicago, he reestablishes himself as a foreman at the shirt-collar factory of his wealthy long-lost uncle in Lycurgus, New York, who meets Clyde through a stroke of fortune. While remaining aloof from him as a kinsman and doing nothing to embrace him personally or advance him socially, the uncle does give Clyde a job and ultimately advances him to a position of relative importance within the factory.

Although Clyde vows not to consort with women in the way that caused his Kansas City downfall, he is swiftly attracted to Roberta Alden, a poor and innocent farm girl working under his supervision at the factory. Roberta falls in love with him. Clyde initially enjoys the secretive relationship (forbidden by factory rules) and ultimately persuades Roberta to have sex with him rather than lose him, but Clyde's ambition precludes marriage to the penniless Roberta. He dreams instead of the elegant Sondra Finchley, the daughter of a wealthy Lycurgus man and a family friend of his uncle's.

Having unsuccessfully attempted to procure an abortion for Roberta, who expects him to marry her, Clyde procrastinates while his relationship with Sondra continues to mature. When he realizes that he has a genuine chance to marry Sondra, and after Roberta threatens to reveal their relationship unless he marries her, Clyde hatches a plan to murder Roberta in a fashion that will seem accidental.

Clyde takes Roberta on a row boat on Big Bittern Lake in upstate New York and rows to a remote area. As he speaks to her regarding the end of their relationship, Roberta moves towards him, and he strikes her in the face with his camera, stunning her and capsizing the boat. Unable to swim, Roberta drowns while Clyde, who is unwilling to save her, swims to shore. The narrative is deliberately unclear as to whether he acted with malice and intent to murder, or if he struck her merely instinctively. However, the trail of circumstantial evidence points to murder, and the local authorities are only too eager to convict Clyde, to the point of manufacturing additional evidence against him. Following a sensational trial before an unsympathetic audience, and despite a vigorous defense mounted by two lawyers hired by his uncle, Clyde is convicted, sentenced to death, and executed. The jailhouse scenes and the correspondence between Clyde and his mother stand out as exemplars of pathos in modern literature.

Dreiser based the book on a notorious criminal case. On July 11, 1906, resort owners found an overturned boat and the body of 20-year-old Grace Brown at Big Moose Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. Chester Gillette was put on trial and convicted of killing Brown, though he claimed that her death was an accident. Gillette was executed by electric chair on March 30, 1908. The murder trial drew international attention when Brown's love letters to Gillette were read in court. Dreiser saved newspaper clippings about the case for several years before writing his novel, during which he studied the case closely. He based Clyde Griffiths on Chester Gillette, deliberately giving him the same initials.

Friday, April 13, 2012

To the Lighthouse


To the Lighthouse (Oxford World's Classics)
To the Lighthouse (5 May 1927) is a novel by Virginia Woolf. A landmark novel of high modernism, the text, which centres on the Ramsays and their visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland between 1910 and 1920, skilfully manipulates temporal and psychological elements.

To the Lighthouse follows and extends the tradition of modernist novelists like Marcel Proust and James Joyce, where the plot is secondary to philosophical introspection, and the prose can be winding and hard to follow. The novel includes little dialogue and almost no action; most of it is written as thoughts and observations. The novel recalls childhood emotions and highlights adult relationships. Among the book's many tropes and themes are those of loss, subjectivity, and the problem of perception.

In 1998, the Modern Library named To the Lighthouse No. 15 on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In 2005, the novel was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the one hundred best English-language novels from 1923 to present.

The novel lacks an omniscient narrator (except in the second section: Time Passes); instead the plot unfolds through shifting perspectives of each character's stream of consciousness. Shifts can occur even mid-sentence, and in some sense they resemble the rotating beam of the lighthouse itself. Unlike James Joyce, however, Woolf does not tend to use abrupt fragments to represent characters' thought processes; her method is more one of lyrical paraphrase. The lack of an omniscient narrator means that, throughout the novel, no clear guide exists for the reader and that only through character development can we formulate our own opinions and views because much is morally ambiguous.

Whereas in Part I the novel is concerned with illustrating the relationship between the character experiencing and the actual experience and surroundings, the second part, 'Time Passes' having no characters to relate to, presents events differently. Instead, Woolf wrote the section from the perspective of a displaced narrator, unrelated to any people, intending that events be seen related to time. For that reason the narrating voice is unfocused and distorted, providing an example of what Woolf called 'life as it is when we have no part in it.

To The Lighthouse and its characters often display elements of the Modernist school of thought. Characters such as Mrs Ramsay disparage Victorian ideals of society and question both the existence of God and the goodness in man. Furthermore, the transience of man is emphasized as a central theme alongside nature as an eternal and sometimes menacing force with the omnipresent potential to consume humanity.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I, Claudius


I, Claudius From the Autobiography of Tiberius Claudius Born 10 B.C. Murdered and Deified A.D. 54 (Vintage International)

I, Claudius (1934) is a novel by English writer Robert Graves, written in the form of an autobiography of the Roman Emperor Claudius. As such, it includes history of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty and Roman Empire, from Julius Caesar's assassination in 44 BC to Caligula's assassination in AD 41. The 'autobiography' of Claudius continues (from Claudius's accession after Caligula's death, to his own death in 54) in Claudius the God (1935). The sequel also includes a section written as a biography of Herod Agrippa, contemporary of Claudius and future King of the Jews. The two books were adapted by the BBC into an award-winning television serial, I, Claudius.

In 1998 the Modern Library ranked I, Claudius fourteenth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In 2005, the novel was chosen by TIME magazine as one of the one hundred best English-language novels from 1923 to present.

Claudius was the fourth Emperor of Rome (r. 41-54 A.D.). Historically, Claudius' family kept him out of public life until his sudden coronation at the age of forty nine. This was due to his disabilities, which included a stammer, a limp, and various nervous tics which made him appear mentally deficient to his relatives. This is how he was defined by scholars for most of history, and Graves uses these peculiarities to develop a sympathetic character whose survival in a murderous dynasty depends upon his family's incorrect assumption that he is a harmless idiot.

Graves's interpretation of the story owes much to the histories of Gaius Cornelius Tacitus, Plutarch, and (especially) Suetonius (Lives of the Twelve Caesars). Graves translated Suetonius before writing the novels. Graves claimed that after he read Suetonius, Claudius came to him in a dream one night and demanded that his real story be told. The life of Claudius provided Graves with a way to write about the first four Emperors of Rome (Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius) from an intimate point of view. In addition, the real Claudius was a trained historian and is known to have written an autobiography (now lost) in eight books that covered the same time period. I, Claudius is a first-person narrative of Roman history from the reigns of Augustus to Caligula; Claudius the God is written as a later addition documenting Claudius' own reign.

Graves provides a theme for the story by having the fictionalized Claudius describe a visit to Cumae, where he receives a prophecy in verse from the Sibyl, and an additional prophecy contained in a book of "Sibylline Curiosities". The latter concerns the fates of the "hairy ones" (i.e. The Caesars - from the Latin word "caesar", meaning "a fine head of hair") who are to rule Rome. The penultimate verse concerns his own reign, and Claudius assumes that he can tell the identity of the last emperor described. From the outset, then, Graves establishes a fatalistic tone that plays out at the end of Claudius the God, as Nero prepares to succeed Claudius.

At Cumae, the Sibyl tells Claudius that he will "speak clear." Claudius believes this means that his secret memoirs will be one day found, and that he, having therein written the truth, will speak clearly, while his contemporaries, who had to distort their histories in order to appease the ruling family, will seem like stammerers. Since he wishes to record his life for posterity, Claudius chooses to write in Greek, since he believes that it will remain "the chief literary language of the world." This allows Graves to explore the etymology of Latin words (like the origins of the names "Livia" and "Caesar") that would otherwise be obvious to native Latin speakers, who Claudius (correctly) believes will not exist in the future.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Nineteen Eighty-Four


Nineteen Eighty-Four
Nineteen Eighty-Four (first published in 1949) by George Orwell is a dystopian novel about Oceania, a society ruled by the oligarchical dictatorship of the Party. Life in the Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control, accomplished with a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (Ingsoc), which is administered by a privileged Inner Party elite. Yet they too are subordinated to the totalitarian cult of personality of Big Brother, the deified Party leader who rules with a philosophy that decries individuality and reason as thoughtcrimes; thus the people of Oceania are subordinated to a supposed collective greater good. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is a member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. His job is to re-write past newspaper articles so that the historical record is congruent with the current party ideology. Because of the childhood trauma of the destruction of his family — the disappearances of his parents and sister — Winston Smith secretly hates the Party, and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.

As literary political fiction and as dystopian science-fiction, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a classic novel in content, plot, and style. Many of its terms and concepts, such as Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, and memory hole, have become contemporary vernacular since its publication in 1949. Moreover, Nineteen Eighty-Four popularised the adjective Orwellian, which refers to official deception, secret surveillance, and manipulation of the past in service to a totalitarian or manipulative political agenda.

George Orwell "encapsulate[d] the thesis at the heart of his unforgiving novel" in 1944, and three years later wrote most of it on the Scottish island of Jura, during the 1947–48 period, despite being critically tubercular. On December 4, 1948, he sent the final manuscript to the Secker and Warburg editorial house who published Nineteen Eighty-Four on June 8, 1949. By 1989, it had been translated in to some 65 languages, the greatest number for any English-language novel at the time. The title of the novel, its terms, its Newspeak language, and the author's surname are contemporary bywords for privacy lost to the State; while the adjective Orwellian connotes a totalitarian dystopia characterised by government control and subjugation of the people. As a language, Newspeak applies different meanings to things and actions by referring only to the end to be achieved, not the means of achieving it; hence, the Ministry of Peace (Minipax) deals with war, and the Ministry of Love (Miniluv) deals with brainwashing and torture. The Ministries do achieve their goals; peace through war, and love of Big Brother through mind control.

The Last Man in Europe was one of the original titles for the novel, but in a letter dated 22 October 1948 to his publisher Fredric Warburg, eight months before publication, Orwell wrote about hesitating between The Last Man in Europe and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Warburg suggested changing the Man title to one more commercial. Speculation about the choice of title includes perhaps an allusion to the title of the poem "End of the Century, 1984" (1934) by Orwell's first and then wife Eileen O'Shaughnessy (1905–1945), to G. K. Chesterton's novel also set in a future London of 1984, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904), and to the Jack London novel The Iron Heel (1908).

In the novel 1985 (1978), Anthony Burgess proposes that Orwell, disillusioned by the onset of the Cold War (1945–91), intended to title the book 1948. The introduction to the Penguin Books Modern Classics edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four reports that Orwell originally set 1980 as the story's time, but the extended writing led to renaming the novel, first to 1982, then to 1984. Alternatively, the name was chosen because it is an inversion of the 1948 composition year. Throughout its publication history, Nineteen Eighty-Four has been either banned or legally challenged as intellectually dangerous to the public, just like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932); We (1924), by Yevgeny Zamyatin; Kallocain (1940), by Karin Boye; and Fahrenheit 451 (1951), by Ray Bradbury. In 2005, Time magazine included Nineteen Eighty-Four in its list of 100 best English-language novels since 1923. Among literary scholars, the Russian dystopian novel We, by Zamyatin, is considered to have inspired Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Way of All Flesh


The Way of All Flesh
The Way of All Flesh (1903) is a semi-autobiographical novel by Samuel Butler which attacks Victorian-era hypocrisy. Written between 1873 and 1884, it traces four generations of the Pontifex family. Butler dared not publish it during his lifetime, but when it was published it was accepted as part of the general reaction against Victorianism.

In 1998, the Modern Library ranked The Way of All Flesh twelfth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century

Main characters

Pontifex family. First generation

* "Old" John Pontifex (16 August 1727-8 February 1812)
* Ruth Pontifex (13 October 1727-10 January 1811; wife of Old Pontifex; married 1750).

Second generation

* George Pontifex (c.1765-1838; son of Old John and Ruth Pontifex; married c.1792 to unnamed woman who died 1805).

Third generation

* Eliza (179?-18??; George Pontifex's eldest child; never marries)
* Maria (179?-18??; George Pontifex's second child; never marries)
* John (ca.1800-18??; George Pontifex's third child; marries & has unnamed son early 1837)
* Theobald (1802-1881; George Pontifex's fourth child; marries Christina Allaby July 1831; has 3 children)
* Alethea Pontifex (1805-1850; George Pontifex's fifth child; loves Overton but never marries him).
* Christina Pontifex (nee Allaby; wife of Theobald Pontifex; married July 1831; died ca.1863-65).

Fourth generation

* Ernest Pontifex, the central character (born 6 September 1835; eldest child of Theobald and Christina Pontifex).
* Ellen Pontifex (born ca.1831; housemaid of Theobald and Christina; pregnant by John the coachman & married him 15 August 1851; separated; married bigamously to Ernest late 1850s; annulled 1862).
* Joseph (born 1836; second child of Theobald & Christina; married between 1875 & 1876).
* Charlotte (born 1837; third child of Theobald & Christina; married between 1876 & 1882).

Fifth generation

* Alice (born September 1860; illegitimate daughter of Ellen and Ernest; married Jack Rowlings (born 1855))
* Georgie (born late 1861; illegitimate son of Ernest and Ellen)
* Ted (born 1870s; son of Ernest and an unnamed mistress. Mention of Ted in the final chapter of the manuscript was removed by the editor in the posthumous published edition).

Others

* Dr Skinner (Ernest's teacher).
* John (Theobald & Christina's family coachman. Gets Ellen pregnant; marries her 15 August 1851. Later separated due to her drunkenness).
* Mr Overton, the narrator (born 1802, friend of Alethea Pontifex but does not return her love; trustee of her estate; godfather to Ernest).