Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mrs Underhilll Book Club meeting # 2

Alrighty then, let’s get this show on the road.

As mentioned on the 18th of Jan, we had delays in getting the book club up and running. Now let’s try and get the ball rolling with some discussion of the book, taking a ‘suck it and see’ approach to how and if this online dialogue will work or not. I’m going to kick off with a few points here and maybe that will prompt other members to comment on these topics too and then add their own:

I suppose the first thing to comment on is if we liked this book in a general sense?

Liked it or not, what were the things that swayed us one way or the other?

Across the board, what special themes or incidents would one like to discuss.

I am going to run an experiment by posting my feedback to these three points in the COMMENTS section of this blog in the hope that fellow members will ‘comment’ back. If you have any trouble accessing it, let me know or just email the answers to me direct if you have my details.

* A few notes on language and terminology:

I loved reading for bookclub because I was more scholarly in my approach. Hence, in Chapter one of book one I saw a reference to “men walked and spoke as they had done in Newman’s Day” (page 23 of my Penguin version). Newman, I discovered, was a vicar in Oxford who headed up a movement to bring the Church of England back to its Catholic roots.

In that same section is a reference to Oxford’s “Eight Weeks”. This, apparently, is a major annual rowing event.

I have to draw our attention to an observation on this book from TIME magazine that I found amusing: "Some of the writing matches Waugh's best (and there is little better); some of it is equal to his worst (sample: ". . . at sunset I took formal possession of her as her lover. ... On the rough water ... I was made free of her narrow loins.").

I did not discover what “Hogarthian page boy” refers to … does anyone know?

* * Before I sign off, on the 18th I ran some ‘biding time’ questions which I stole from elsewhere and Miss L P answered them thusly:

Q. A plot structure question: why is Lord Marchmain's death the novel's finale? Isn't he a minor character? Who cares if he dies?
A. Even he comes back to the Church on his deathbed. Julia can't deny her faith any longer - leaves CharlesQ. What shifts do you see - in theme, tone, style, plot structure, or anything else - between Book One and Book Two of Brideshead Revisited?
A. B1 – carefree, partic. Oxford days. B2 - sense of foreboding, era coming to an end.
Q. Besides Charles, whose side are you on as a reader, and which characters just aren't likeable? What do you think of Lady Marchmain, for example? Julia? Brideshead? Lord Marchmain?
A. Bridey, Charles father is a hoot and Anthony Blanche - he reminds me of a friend of mine!

Finally ... Ms L P suggested this for next Mrs U Bookclub read. "Can I vote for a book called Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides? Sounds amazing."
Votes please!

Additional Waugh reading might be enjoyed by some. He has an autobiography, A Little Learning.


Mrs Underhill said...
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Mrs Underhill said...

Mrs U comments are as follows:

I really took to this book. I confess to a soft spot for dipping back into times that, on the surface, seemed more refined but, as always, these times would only ever have been appealing if I was rich. Not sure I would have liked to be Nanny sitting up in the attic for what seems years on end.

It’s a boring old argument but, as life gets a little more manic, rude and bloodthirsty around us, the days where people dressed for dinner and you could get on a ship and travel for 30 days without the sound of a phone or TV really do take on some appeal for me. In reality could I have stood it though? Me, a woman who loves to get home and throw her bra off and listens to books on her MP3 player when not listening to them in her car?

There really is a lot of discussion when it comes to this book about the Catholic themes. Is it because I was raised a Catholic and have, I should confess, an automatic reaction to discount its importance, that this did not hit me so hard?

There was a lot of language and wit, especially in book one that greatly appealed to me.

For instance, Sebastian’s comment about his fellow student Hardcastle: “ He (Hardcastle) leads a double life. At least I assume he does. He couldn’t go on being Hardcastle, day and night, always, could he? – or he’d die of it?”

There is also the way that Charles express the idea that summer term with Charles is replacing all the doom and gloom of his early childhood and, while he does not have toys, he does have “silk shirts, liquers and cigars” … he also refers to the “nursery freshness” of it all.

I was particularly entranced by Charles’ father. Arsehole? Please comment.

What about when Charles first begins discussing the battle he and the father will rage? On page 69 of my book he says “My father’s counter attack was delivered a few days later.” The father goes on to organise a terminably hideous dinner party that Charles must endure simply as retribution for Charles inviting a friend to dinner. Charles says the dinner guests were chosen “in a spirit of careful mockery”. Oh, love it!

I would love to hear from Mrs J in particular about her thoughts on the Jesuit’s view of education (cited on page 186 of my edition): “"The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are ... these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into the depths of confusion you didn't know existed."

Finally, because I could go on and on, I continue to mull over Charles’ observation that his “theme is memory”. He says something so striking: “for we possess nothing certainly except the past”. That seems such a profound thing to utter. It is true is it not but it somehow seems a depressing viewpoint, tinged I suppose by the regret filled man I feel Charles grew up to be. Surely we also “certainly” possess our future and all the bright promise that can hold????