At such times I felt something was drawing me away, and I kept thinking that if I walked straight on, far, far away and reached that line where sky and earth meet, there I should find the key to the mystery, there I should see a new life a thousand times richer and more turbulent than ours … But afterwards I thought one might find a wealth of life even in prison.
Dostoyevsky has been on the brain lately, which means his unhappy character Prince Myshkin is always in the background, too, somewhere. I can understand his wish for “walking straight on” without stopping, trying to escape reality, his illness and eccentricity which separate him from the world. It’s the last line that makes it, though – finding life and liberty “even in prison.” And I think there is something even stronger than Stoicisim in those words, because he doesn’t just say life, but a wealth of life.
Does Myshkin find this wealth in the prison of his life? I don’t know, but his dream is beautiful.
“The law – ’tis bad to have it, but, I sometimes think, it is worse to be entirely without it.”
– James Fenimore Cooper, The Prairie
J. F. Cooper’s The Prairie (1827) is the last book in the Leatherstocking series, of which his more famous The Last of the Mohicans is also part. The beauty of this quote is that it succinctly sums up a classic theme of the Western genre – that is, lawman vs. outlaw, and the injustices done by both sides, in a time and place where towns were small and law officers were few. This comes up pretty frequently in my favorite TV series, The Virginian, which portrays both noble and corrupt lawmen, and the moral dilemmas that result.
I am only about 1/3 into The Prairie (and taking a break to focus on other homework), but so far it’s been pretty good. Cooper has a delightful sense of humor – you gotta love Dr. Battius’s Facebook-style friending/unfriending: “I rejoice greatly at this meeting; we are lovers of the same pursuits, and should be friends.” On the negative side, there are some stereotypical portrayals of women and Native Americans, but apparently this is less the case in other Leatherstocking books. The plot of The Prairie has so far followed the surly character Ishmael Bush and his wagon train, and I really can’t predict what will happen next.
Have you read Cooper before? If so, what did you think of him?
“It is all very well, in these changing times, to adapt one’s work to take in duties not traditionally within one’s realm; but bantering is of another dimension altogether. For one thing, how would one know for sure that at any given moment a response of the bantering sort is truly what is expected? One need hardly dwell on the catastrophic possibility of uttering a bantering remark only to discover it wholly inappropriate.”
– Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
This is from my second reading for British history class. I had tried Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go recently and didn’t finish it, but this (more renowned) novel of his is really good so far. It’s in the form of a 1956 travelogue by Mr. Stevens, the butler of Darlington Hall, during his road trip in the English countryside.
Overall, the characterization of Mr. Stevens is well-done, and it cracked me up to read of his attempts to reply with “witticisms” to his American employer’s jokes (but as for his characterization…why are Americans always portrayed as informal and jokey?). Some may see Mr. Stevens as paranoid, but I feel the same way sometimes, truly terrified of having possibly said the wrong thing!
The book makes me even more depressed about the class system, though. It seems like Mr. Stevens feels like he has to constantly prove himself worthy and constantly maintain “dignity.” And I can see how somebody in his position could come to feel undignified or ridiculous, which is sadder still.
“And if he finally burst through the outermost door—but that can never, never happen—the royal capital city, the centre of the world, is still there in front of him, piled high and full of sediment.”
– Kafka, ‘An Imperial Message’
This is part of a much longer paragraph about futility. What I love about this quote is how, despite the overwhelming impossibilities, Kafka still fervently describes what could be–and what could be is still full of impossibility, and so on and so on. In this way, he portrays the mixed feelings of a sort of defeat very effectively.
I’m going to read “In the Penal Colony” this week, and also impatiently waiting for a book of Kafka’s complete short works from the library…
“Work is the best antidote to sorrow.”
– Sherlock Holmes, ‘The Empty House’
This succinct quote has been in my head for some time. In real life I heard someone say a variation of this, about this time last year, and then I experienced it myself. One of the truest, most useful quotes from any book I’ve read.