Sunday, October 7, 2012

JC’s suggested reading list of important feminist literature.

For my friends in studies...

Jonnie Comet

Distributed to fellow undergraduate literature students; 9 May 1996

1. Richardson, Samuel; Pamela; or: Virtue Rewarded, 1740.

  Remarkable first-person epistolary novel intended to exemplify a young woman’s correct behaviour in the face of lewd harassment and attempted seduction.  Faith conquers all: Ben Franklin issued it as the first novel published in America for a reason.  Every Christian girl should read this book before age 16.

2. Fielding, Henry; Joseph Andrews, 1744.

  Comic mock-epic about a role-reversal of the Pamela situation, intended as a spoof on Pamela (actually depicts Richardson’s heroine herself, though sadly far out of character, towards the end).  Fielding’s tongue-in-cheek digressions on writing and morality guarantee belly-aching laughter, yet convey his points beautifully.

3. Wollstonecraft, Mary; A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; 1792.

  Important sociological treatise, a basis for modern feminism, influenced by the humanistic sensibility of the French Revolution prior to the sobering ‘Reign of Terror’ slaughters.  It will open your eyes about modern feminism.  Find it in the Brit.Lit. anthologies, read as much of it as is available– you owe this woman.

4. Austen, Jane; Pride and Prejudice, 1813.

  Intensely detailed, culturally authentic novel of two country sisters’ attempts to meet eligible husbands in spite of their family’s social faux pas.  This is Austen’s best, but by far not her only worthy effort.  The A&E video from Jan. 1996 is a scholar’s dream.

5. Shelley, Mary; Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, 1818.

  Typically gravely misunderstood; actually a cry-in-the-wilderness from the overeducated, underappreciated daughter of Wollstonecraft and radical social reformer William Godwin, stuck in a misogynist society.  Avoid Branagh’s film (and all the others), if you care.

6. Brontë, Charlotte, Jane Eyre, 1847.

  Magical, sentimental novel about every woman’s plain-Jane heroine using faith, common sense, and ‘slow and steady wins the race’ tactics to resist and reform a reprobate rogue, the embodiment of the Romantic anti-hero.  The BBC/CBS video with Dalton and Clarke is most faithful to the text.

7. Hardy, Thomas, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, 1891.

  Sensual, naturalistic novel about a young girl’s victimisation by selfish, manipulative, judgemental men; frighteningly godless (keep Rosary at hand!).  Polanski’s film Tess distorts the seduction scene (remember, it is Polanski!) but seems otherwise respectful.

8. Chopin, Kate, The Awakening, 1899.

  Moving existentialist novel about a married woman’s sensual and emotional awakening despite grave societal censure; though Chopin remained an earnest Catholic it was banned for years after its writing due to suggestively ‘immoral’ content.

9. Colette, Claudine at School, 1900

  Sweetly modest ‘coming-of-age’ tale of a French country schoolgirl, peppered with sexual innuendo, enormously funny, undeniably realistic– and mostly autobiographical.  Consider the Penguin edition which includes its three sequels, though the first is by far the most delectable.

10. Lawrence, David Herbert, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, 1928 (unexpurgated!).

  Lush, beautiful, naturalist novel about the inalienable relationship between sex and love.  No mere film has ever done it justice.  Be sure to read the attendant ‘Apropos’ essay, in which DHL explains why every teenager should read this book.

11. Duras, Marguerite, The North China Lover, 1984.

  Tender, mostly biographical reminiscence of a girl’s sexual and emotional coming-of-age in 1930s Indochina, ‘so exquisitely beautiful that you’d as soon weep at the ending as at the irretrievable loss of a Ming vase’ –JC.  The film The Lover with Jane March, while stunningly graphic, is an eminently commendable rendition.

* * *

This was almost a joke.  Towards the end of the spring semester there was great discussion round the lunch tables and snack counters about what constituted ‘valuable’ literature.   I was the only one who actually contributed a list in hard copy (typically).  The fact that the majority of the students in these informal discussions were women only partially affected the selections –JC

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