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Gals and Gossip

July 3rd, 2017

Only Three Inches of Paper Between me and Freedom

I feel I should update the world on my progress with the Columbia College Literature Humanities reading list. I am tunneling my way out of it like Abbe Faria in the Chateau d’If. Unlike him, I expect to emerge soon.

Paradise Lost is behind me, so I feel sort of the opposite of the way Adam felt when he got kicked out of Eden. Freedom, at least from that stage of my torment, is sweet. Reading books that (sort of) make sense, and then running into Milton, is like digging through soft sand and then hitting rocks. Milton was a terrible writer who punished the reader with his pedantry. Enough said about that.

Now I’m bogged down in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It’s the Nineteenth Century equivalent of a chick flick, and it’s nearly as painful to sit through. It’s about a bunch of upper (but not too upper) class British people who have nothing to do but gossip. There are lots of female characters in the book, and Austen shows her gender no mercy, putting all of its characteristic flaws in a blazing spotlight. Her women are petty, shallow, conceited, vain, spiteful, envious, conniving, manipulative, deceitful, vengeful, cruel, and a bit stupid. That list gets longer every time I review it.

I don’t know why the book was included. They could have chosen Dickens. Well, I’m wrong. I know why it was included. Jane Austen was a great literary titan because she managed to write passable books in spite of the monumental handicap of being female. That, surely, is the reason she was included. Affirmative action. She’s the Gal Gadot of her age.

Tangent time. What’s with all the fuss about Gal Gadot? If you don’t know who she is, let me burden you with some useless knowledge: she is the star of a recent Wonder Woman movie. People are acting like they’ve never seen a woman in a movie before. They gush over her. It’s silly. There are tons of women with female protagonists, and some of these protagonists are based on actual human beings, not the absurd fantasies of the least talented men in the fiction industry. Some of the movies have discernible depth, which is not something you have to fear encountering when you watch Ms. Gadot.

Even comic book movies have had strong female characters. There was a whole Cat Woman movie. You’re lucky if you didn’t see it, but it exists. The X-Men movies are jam-packed with scary women, including one who is so strong she’s a sort of manic-depressive god. The fuss over Wonder Woman is bizarre and probably due to some supernatural cause.

When you work too hard to promote what you perceive to be a disadvantaged group, often you end up exposing your sincere, hidden belief that people in that group are inferior. If women are as talented as men, professors shouldn’t have to force people to read their books.

I don’t know what Austen’s book is about. I’m something like 70 pages in, and nothing has happened. A single girl named Elizabeth has met a man named Darcy, and he is too rich to marry her. She has the hots for a young army officer named Wickham. Darcy’s dad left Wickham an income, and Darcy took it away from him. Elizabeth thinks Darcy is a filthy beast. Darcy is trying not to fall in love with her, but it’s not working. That’s all I know. Aren’t you glad you didn’t have to read 70 pages to learn that?

Maybe she will turn out to be wrong about Darcy, and Wickham will have some awful secret. Maybe they caught him prancing round in Darcy’s mom’s underthings. Maybe Wickham is a great guy, and Darcy will use his wealth and power to get him sent to Crimea or wherever and blown to bits. Then Elizabeth will marry Darcy, not knowing what happened, and then Wickham will turn out to be alive after all, and he will come back and expose the whole mess. Like Edmond Dantes. Then Wonder Woman will jump out of her invisible plane, land at Darcy’s house, and punch him in the mouth.

Don’t give me any spoilers. Don’t make this book any more boring than it already is.

I assume Pride and Prejudice will turn out to be a condemnation of the British caste system, along with capitalism, the church, God, apple pie, heterosexuality, fossil fuels, and accurate gender pronouns. Lit. Hum. has helped me understand how long academia’s hostility to everything good or traditional has existed.

My experiences with the Lit. Hum. reading list make me feel like I hate literature. I’m always saying the books are boring. Herodotus was okay, though, and Shakespeare was great. I haven’t been a lover of literature since I was about 25, but I don’t hate it. I just hate most of the books on the list!

I’m looking at the list. I didn’t mind Thucydides. Euripides was not that painful. Boccaccio started out okay and then got repetitious and dull. Dante could have been worse. These, along with Shakespeare and Genesis, were my positive experiences.

I don’t have any insecurity about saying I don’t like most of these books, or about questioning their merit. My record proves I’m smart (considerably smarter than the vast majority of literature professors). I’m educated. I have reasonably good taste. I don’t read trash like Dan Brown and John Grisham, for the same reason I don’t have coloring books.

You don’t have to think Cervantes is a good writer in order to be intelligent or informed.

Blech. Cervantes. I wish Trump would put a copy of Don Quixote over Vince McMahon’s face in the now-famous video and release it again.

I want to put Jane Austen behind me, but beyond that frying pan lies the fire of Dostoevsky. I have never been able to finish one of his books. I only tried once, I admit, but I failed. I was too busy going to tractor pulls and not believing in global warming.

Austen is not hard to read, thank God. It’s just unpleasant to visit her world. It’s like spending time with your wife’s friends, whom you can’t stand. “Oh, come on. It’s just one night. So what if Rain won’t let us go to restaurants that serve meat, and she makes us all do yoga breathing before we touch our salt-free Quorn patties?”

I can get through Austen as long as I have no distractions. This weekend I took her to the car wash, and I tried to read her book for maybe 45 minutes. It was very hard to do. People around me were talking, I could hear the radio, and there were windows to look out of. Everything around me was more interesting than the book. To read Jane Austen efficiently, you need to lie in a sensory deprivation tank and have the words projected on the ceiling.

Audio books! Why didn’t I think of that! I’m going to look into it. It’s legit! If I were blind, Columbia wouldn’t expect me to read real books. I am so doing this.

So far, there has not been one laugh in Austen’s book. Now that I think about it, there have been no laughs in any of the Lit. Hum. books. King Lear has some jests, but they’re not funny. They’re cruel. Herodotus was lighthearted but not really funny. Cervantes is supposed to be funny, but he’s not.

Academics are sour people who enjoy bringing other people’s spirits down. They are humorless and sanctimonious; always hoping for a revolution so they can put the “right” people up against the wall. I wonder if the lack of humor in these books is a reflection of their grey and mildewed inner workings.

It probably is. When I didn’t know God, my inner workings were greyer than grey. They were moldy, damp, tenebrous, and cold.

“Great” literature is generally gloomy and pessimistic. It’s whiny. The world of fiction is an unrealistic world where God is absent and hopelessness is realism. To God-hating academics, it must be a comforting affirmation of all their self-destructive notions.

The reading list calls for Virginia Woolf, but I canned her and inserted William Golding. I malewashed the reading list. Good thing, I guess. Woolf was a miserable person, and she drowned herself. She didn’t do it quickly, either. She prolonged and savored her suffering. She filled her pockets with rocks and walked into a river. Her book must be a knee-slapper. I’ll bet Golding’s black tale of murderous children is cheerier.

Imagine walking into a river with rocks in your pockets, thinking you were ending your misery, and waking immediately in hell, with an eternity of worse suffering before you and no one to praise you for your toxic talent. This is probably what happened to Virginia Woolf. I wonder what she would say if she could come back and be a guest lecturer at Columbia College. It must be strange to be in hell and know that people back on earth are buying your books and heaping compliments on you.

Wherever you go, heaven or hell, the people you influence will follow you, and knowing that will make the experience even better or much worse.

When Woolf learned that the poet T.S. Eliot had accepted salvation, she wrote this: “I mean, there’s something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God.”

That’s chilling. Woolf is not living, she is always near fire, and she believes in God more than you and I do.

Dead to the flesh, alive to God. And vice-versa.

I don’t recommend Jane Austen, except for the purpose of broadening yourself or propping up a short table leg. If you like soap operas, you will probably enjoy it. It’s not for me.


Check this out! The whole miserable book is on Youtube! I am saved!

3 Responses to “Gals and Gossip”

  1. JPatterson Says:

    I’m still trying to understand why you’re doing this. Aren’t you just enabling your Lit. Hum. professors to continue hurting you, decades after you escaped them? I mean, it appears to me that your younger self did the right thing in blowing these books off…

    Not that my understanding really matters, I guess. At least you’re bringing the wit and humor regarding the experience…

    But hey, if you’re determined to keep at this, check out Thug Notes on YouTube.

  2. Monty James Says:

    I would sit through way too much of that just to hear the reader’s accent. I can’t help it, I’m one of those English accent fools.

  3. Stephen McAteer Says:

    TV and Radio 4 over here are full of Austen and similar costume dramas. There’s no escape. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out by not reading them or anything else in “The canon” and this blog post confirms that. (I haven’t read fiction of any sort in 5 years because I just can’t get into it any more.) Good post by the way.