Posted by: zhiv | February 25, 2010

Reading Notes: Lucky Jim and Washington Square

Sunday: February 21

Feeling rather calm and collected at the moment. Started up a new amusing fiction this morning, which should occupy a fair amount of time, but I thought I might take a glance at the progress of my reading, if only to recall what I’ve been neglecting lately.

I’ve read Lucky Jim poorly and in my worst haphazard and inattentive manner. It seems like the kind of book that should be read and dispensed with quickly, enjoyed or not, and laboring over it in any way is lame and reading a few pages at the end of a long day is all wrong. But I’m almost done and should be finishing it up right now. The forgotten part that I remember now is that Lucky Jim was meant to be not only a follow up to Straight Man and Stoner, but also a gateway to two or three other Academic Novels, but I haven’t had a chance to get to those yet.

The latest distraction was watching William Wyler’s The Heiress on Friday evening, his adaptation of Washington Square starring Olivia de Haviland and Montgomery Clift. The movie was excellent, a warm slice of old school Hollywood literary adaptation with small classic touches here and there, slightly stiff and absurd as well, laid out neatly in a successful play, but it made me go to the shelves and read the first couple of chapters of the book yesterday. Then this afternoon, instead of finishing Lucky Jim, the James book seems much more charming and inviting and fun, and more interesting as well, as it touches several subjects and themes I’ve been working at lately. But I really do have to get through Lucky Jim, and it has been quite funny in the last couple of chapters, and making the switch back to it (and believing in it) is part of the reason I’m taking this writing break.

I found an Elaine Showalter book by chance yesterday, and it seems to be a rather crucial one: A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing (1977). I’ve become aware of Showalter as an important feminist critic, and I’m assuming that this book forms the bedrock of her reputation. I read her essay on The Awakening, which was excellent, and she also wrote a much more recent book on Academic Novels… you see how it all weaves together. Or not. Literature of Their Own is the type of book I might have seen many times over the past 30 years and never paid attention to, though it’s hard to say exactly why. It’s a strong companion to Madwoman in the Attic, with related subjects but probably quite different in focus. And it’s an even stronger companion to Nina Baym’s book on Women Writers in America, from exactly the same period. Part of the problem with looking at these books is that they’re obviously valuable, seminal formations, but I have no idea what has been going on over the last 30 years, how the general view of the field has been advanced. Oh well. At any rate, reading these books and their subjects now I’ll really be well-prepared for the getting in the time machine and starting graduate school in 1981 all over again. Which brings me back to finishing Lucky Jim.

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