A Tree in a Snowy Field

(the third picture is of a snowy field and a lone, bare tree. I've always loved winter, despite not loving Christmas, especially the bleakness of a snowy field - it's fields like this that I always imagine when I read about the moors in a Bronte novel. But, that's not why I chose the picture - I chose it for the 'about me' section.

I have certain dreams that recur for me, and one of the scenes that frequently returns to me is a broad, snowy field, like this one. My relationship with the field is positive, but complex. After trying unsuccessfully to write some of those dreams, I decided to write about the field. Hopefully you get a glimpse of what I mean to be in the world - though I'm not sure which character in the story is me.)

Field was a broad, flat, fertile example of her kind, rich with drift and tawny trophies of long-lost springs. It was April-time, when the little green daughters of the old growth peek out from where Field has swaddled them in her broad, brown breast.

Now, she lay basking in the chilly pale spring-beams of the winter-young sun. She could feel the wild rye stretching out from her toes, the motley vines of creeping charlie rolling over the shade-ward lee of her swelling belly, and there, atop her bedpost, just beside sullen Road was Oak. Oak was lovely always, just now in early April. The tips of his twigs radiated upward in an aura of cautious green, still pale with the shade of sepals, still reaching narrow toes outwards into the sea-grey sky.

That was always springtime for Field, the first spring flowers, pale white or blue, embroidering themselves across her hem, the green shoots of bird-grains leaping up straight and true toward the sky, and most of all Oak, broad and ancient as Field herself, but ever so much taller, always reaching, reaching. This year, he seemed beyond himself, a bare torch of livid early green thrust up narrow and swaying even over the highest of the gone year's canopy. Field loved to lay like this, just staring, watching that topmost wand sweep in the wind.


"Good morning, Field!"

"Why, Vole, Good Morning! I didn't feel you wake!"

"Distracted, darling?"

"Oh, it's spring! Spring always makes me look up instead of in, you know. Oak is stretching out his new leaves, today! A new branch, too, grown broad upwards on the windward side, do you see it?"

"Pretty enough, pretty enough. Squirrel should be thrilled, more room for his newest brood. Did you smell the missus birthing them last night?"

"Oh just a little - the bloodsmell doesn't carry so well with Road so full these days, but it is a pretty smell, it always smells like just-new-waking, doesn't it?"

"Pretty enough, pretty enough. I imagine someone will drop in to fill me my first season's brood soon enough. The charlie is lovely this year, and the rye is already starting to perk with seed. You've done a fine winter, darling."

"Oh you think so? Funny girl. All I do is sleep, you know that, November straight through April. I've nothing to do with it."

"Well, to each their own opinion. I'm no Squirrel, I won't chatter you into agreeing. But it is a lovely morning by any account, dearest."


The morning was, and the next as well. The rain came after that, in its strange demanding way, for several weeks. It was a warm, soil-smelling rain, and all the last souls in Field's broad brown breast swelled up and burst into life. This was when summer came, and the oak leaves grew rich and thick, and displayed the swells of their bundled green acorns, each one bubbling slowly out of it's cap. The birds flew in and out and nattered at each other over the unripe fruits of the wild rye, leaving with their bellies full and sore. A fox would come and woo the field, though he kept house elsewhere, and occasionally even Stag would press his cloven prints into her thighs. Vole was heavy eyed and tired now, with an ever changing brood of pups under her teats, sometimes bigger as more were born, other times smaller as Owl would scoop them up in the runs, or they would wander off to make their own burrows.

"Vole, I've missed you! I was half-tempted to keep the other mice away so you would stop brooding and I could have you back!"

"Oh, darling, I'm sorry."

"No, no, nothing of it. I'm only playing - how can I be lonely, with the blue-sea sky and the birds, and Oak so grand and green now?"

"You two are speaking, now?"

"Oak and I? Oh... of course not, you know. Just once, to say good morning, and he never speaks back, of course. Oak can only look up, it's his way. When Oak looks down, that will be the start of the finish, it always is, you know."

"Ah. Well, I still don't hold with snobbery, nature or not. I honestly can't see why you think so much of him, darling."

"Oh, Vole! Just look at him! I'm not the only one, either. I see things all the time, stopping to look at him. He is singular, and alone, and brave, standing so high up, all the year! Even in winter, they come and look at him. There's a reason - he is a something, a thing of himself, without anything else. If I should die, and Road dissolve, and Sun stop dropping down, even if he dies, Oak is still an Oak. He is a thing. Me? You? We are a piece of a thing, that's all."

"Do you think so?"

"I know it. I dream about it sometimes, in the winter, I dream of him, still black and clear against me, like a shadow, only a shadow that casts itself. I dream about him that way, with the snow crawling along his branches, and the icicles drawing how down so heavy, and still standing up black beneath and above the white, and under the white and over the white. Someday, I want to see him that way, awake."

"Do you?"

"Oh, yes."

"I've seen him in the winter, every winter, before the snow and after. Would you like me to show him to you, this year?"

"How would you do that?"

"You know how it is. We voles, we are up even then. I can wake you, just for a day, just for a moment even, and clear the snow from your eyes, and you can look at him."

Field paused.



"No. No, I can't. I mean I say it, and... I don't know. It's silly."

"Dearest...", Vole stroked Field gently on the cheek, "We're the oldest friends. I wouldn't think it's silly, if it bothers you as much as that."

Field paused again, and murmured back, the lowest murmur, so soft it didn't even whisk through the rye-heads, "I would be ashamed. To see myself like that. To see me as a great nothing. With him there... I... I don't know why."

Now Vole paused, and looked at her, and smiled, her little, tired, vole-mother smile.

"I see dearest. I think you... hrm. I cannot say it, I can only show you. Will you trust me, and let me show you?"

"In the winter?"

"On the snowiest day. Please?"


Field frowned softly to herself, the rest of the day, and did not look at the oak. The next day she looked at the oak. The next she smiled, a bit. But, even then, when the sun would shine just so through Oak, or Field would watch Squirrel run onto a bare, dead branch, she would frown, for a moment, and the rye seed would shudder, and somewhere underneath, where Vole burrowed just behind her neck, Vole would stroke her neck just so, and ever so gently shush her.


The rye grass grew heavy and the birds got their haggard and hurried look as they picked the seeds gently from it, in such a hurry now that they dropped as many as they gobbled, and Field drew them into her damp and hurried, broad, brown breast, to keep them close until the sun could grow old, die, and let a new sun come. The birds left, then, and new birds came, and left, the fox came, and left, the deer came, then left. Then nothing else came. The last of the fruits were dry and shivering in her breast, and the green of her summer dress was now tawny and ragged. The air had the feel, the feel of sleep. The field shivered and wept, for now the fear was on her every day, and she was not sure if she even would sleep. She spent long nights staring haggard and wild-haired at the oak, the last of it's blasted leaves thrust out in defiant tufts against the dry and hissing winds. Vole was desperate too, with the desperate eyes of late fall, eyes that watch for the last hungry owl flights, and the last whisking falls of seed to gather up, eyes that look up at the coffee-white skies, and shiver. Her coat had the fat of late autumn, glossy and smooth, and as Vole scuttered in and out, Field felt the warm fur like a gentle reminder against the jutting dry clumps of herself. The two had so much to think of, that they spoke only in short jerks - and Vole knew, at any rate not to say much, not to interrupt the lullaby of the late autumn sky.

"Don't worry, beloved. I'll wake you, only once, and only a little."

"I know. I promised."

And then, in the very sharpest of her sorrows, Field fell asleep. Her dreams were cold and crystalline, the Oak tree sharp and heroic inside her, an upward thrust against the white, and her, an emptiness, a hollow whiteness, a universe of nothing. Sometimes her dreams would leak out of her, and Field would moan, the whisking, keening moan of a winter wind. Vole, grown leaner and leaner, shivering and weak each day, would stroke the back of her neck with her sinewy old hand, a gentle, faint warmth in the dream of Field, shushing her gently back into the dream.

She did not wake when first she felt the snow, and only half-woke when she felt Vole up and skittering across her face, the tickle of her tail crisp and sinuous against Field's sleep-sensitive skin. She felt her eyes, and Vole sweeping her crabbed hand gently over them, drawing the snow into a still heap - a still cold heap of snow, a feverish shivering heap of Vole, that was her dream then. And the intensity of that contrast, somehow, made her calm. So, when Vole whispered into her sleeping ear, she woke with only the tiniest shiver of fear.

"Look now, my beloved. Look. Do you see the tree?"

Field opened up her lids, and breathed out slow through the wrecked shards of rye, through a few fallen branches of oak, but mostly just through an endless, spaceless universe of white. The sky was white and sharp against her, and the horizon lost into a gradient of empty. And there, stark and black and cragged, and very much a thing, stood Oak. He stood up defiantly against the sky. He looked... just as Field had thought. She didn't speak to him, she knew he wouldn't answer. And all around, the white, the ever growing, never beginning or ending field of nothing. The last sleepy whispers of her half dream, of the mound of white and the mound of feverish Vole crept over the landscape, and she saw the emptiness, pregnant with itself, born of itself, and dead unto itself, and she smiled, somewhere underneath her nothingness.

Vole murmured very low, hoarse now with the cold:

"Now do you see? I love you like this, because like this you are everything."

Field gently turned and kissed the Vole and murmured soft, "Good night, my dearest."

Field closed her eyes, and breathed low and soft, a tiny breath of warm in the midst of the great cold. Vole looked up with black, quiet eyes, and watched the dream fall down, the breath now lifting up the great broad wings of a winter's owl, swooping down quietly, the curve of it's beak forming an instant snip of sharp pain, then a crack in Vole's spine, then nothing. Owl dipped lightly over the last warm breath and landed on a naked branch of Oak, and looked out across the snowy field.

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Emma Goldman

(After two days off at Thanksgiving. Sorry for lying about my posting schedule!)

Emma Goldman is a famous political activist from the turn of the century in the United States. An Anarchist, feminist, advocate for labor, and champion of immigrants, Ms Goldman was a markedly unpopular woman. At times, I don't necessarily agree with her - she and Alexander Berkman, for instance, conspired together to assassinate a man who ran a factory after it violently suppressed a strike. She famously stated "Ask for work. If they do not give you work, ask for bread. If they do not give you work or bread, take bread." I will even admit I don't know that much about her. A nice introduction to her life can be found here, and I'm planning to read her autobiography sometime, hopefully next year. Overall, I don't always agree with Emma, but from what I know of her, she was fighting the good fight, as best she could.

But, what she thought is almost beside the point - her image isn't up because I'm an anarchist, or anything. It's that when I was young and first saw this picture - it's a very famous one of her, and, being a mugshot, apparently a fairly typical one - it had a feeling of beautiful hominess - I do not know enoguh to judge her actions, but her feelings, in this image, are the feelings that I wish we all had when we looked at social issues: a feeling of deep, compassionate love for all humanity. When I believed in the Church, this is the sort of face I would have imagined Christ making: complex, filled with love and fury, passion and gentle affection, force and kindness. It's the sort of face I wish that I could face the world with. And as a metaphor, the bones of her beginnings always felt powerful to me: while working in a corset factory, she learned about the ways the world crushed people. As an American - a nation that is in many ways ever weaving the world's corset - this means something to me, something that says that we should do, even if we make mistakes, we should do, and try, and make the effort anyway.

Ms Goldman, then, serves as my link to 'Things That are Wrong' - my little round of posts on things that ought to change. Amanda will occaisionally mention how she hates politics, and it always sends me for a moment's loop - because I don't think of Things That are Wrong as politics. The 'politics' is just the forum that we've all made to do what we should do about things that are wrong - or things that could be right. Or even things that could be more right than they already are.

I have a number of topics that are particularly resonant with me: gender and sexuality issues, Haiti, the Romany people, technology ethics, and anti-plutocracy are probably the things you would hear me harp on the most often. I try always to look at these issues with the eyes in that picture, eyes that plead instead of mock, that try to understand instead of try to convince. I know I fail miserably at times, and that I frankly don't think often enough about things that matter more than my petty-day-to-days. But, again, I think I should do, even if I make mistakes, I should do, and try, and make the effort anyway.

Emily Dickinson once said:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
I've broken hearts but do not know how to mend. I've burned but do not know how to cool. I've knocked the robin's from their nests, but don't have the stature to reach up and gently put them back. But maybe, in my little way, I can speak so that some taller, cooler, better mender can know these things still wait to be done.

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The Two of Swords

I love my tarot deck - let me tell you why.

There is something beautiful about randomness. When one considers it, this seems silly of course. At some level, a card game like War is entirely pointless. I could write a computer program that could analyze the cards you drew at the beginning of the game, and immediately tell you whether you've won or lost. The playing of the actual game is an exercise in futility, by any mathematical measure, like playing a game with dice where whoever roles the bigger number wins.

But when I was little, it was fun, because it told a story - we played that Deuces were the lowest, but that they could beat face cards, for instance, so whenever I drew a Deuce over a King, it gave the momentary thrill of an underdog victorious. Shuffling a deck of cards infuses an otherness into our actions. At some level, of course, this otherness is still just the shuffler. Those who do card tricks can manipulate this seeming randomness in fact (in fact the inexistence of true randomness in the universe is, if you think about it, as mind boggling as the idea of infinity).But, nonetheless, I as a shuffler have no control over my shuffling. Randomness is a way of simulating an incomprehensible god, of accessing the sublime.

The particular power of randomness is particularly lovely, then, when you combine with the Tarot, because the Tarot is, in itself, a sort of hodgepodge of symbolism. Like the best of frauds, the Tarot has the ability to tell you whatever you are looking for it to say. Sufficeth to say, I don't generally hold to the theory that the Tarot is god's sneaky way of talking to me. But that's the wonderful thing about the tarot - it's kind of a formalized, subtle way of talking to oneself. It's the randomness that makes it magical. It's something like writing in your journal, only your journal has an unpredictable, vague way of prompting you: 'You've drawn the 10 of Cups upside down - now you have to think about how what you've been thinking about affects your family, instead of just yourself.' or 'You've drawn the Hanged Man. Consider whether what you've been trying to do would be better left undone, to work itself out.'

Because of the complex abstractness of the symbology in the tarot, I'm actually a really awful Tarot reader, from a classical perspective. I know, abstractly, that there are certain meaning I imply from cards that are 'wrong'. I know that certain configurations of cards are meant to imply things - meeting a stranger, or a dark man in your life, or whatever. I can even remember what some of these are supposed to be, if I think really hard. But these things don't mean much to me (I've never had my tarot read by anyone but myself, so it's difficult to say how I'd react to a real reading). Rather, I think of the Tarot like reading poetry, and I read it accordingly, without a sense of right or wrong interpretation, but rather as a little whisper in my ear that points me to MY interpretation. So, when I tell you now what the two of swords means, keep in mind that that meaning is not necessarily 'correct'.

Of all the suits of the Tarot, the swords tell the clearest story to me. The Two of swords is the beginning of that story (the Ace is more like the title page), and it's the sort of story that begins with a precarious balance, or as Arthur Edward Waite calls it, an equipoise. There are two kinds of peace in the world. There is the classical kind of peace, the sort that lasts and is deeply felt, the peace of doves and cherubs. I can conceive that such a peace exists, but have absolutely no personal experience of it. I have no thoughts that I'll ever attain it, in fact, because such a peace would involve being at peace and contentment with myself, and I do not have the capacity to be a good enough person to not be a bad person in the net gain, and I cannot feel at peace with myself if I'm not doing more good than ill in the world. It's that simple, cards that talk about this kind of peace are beautiful, but utterly distant, like Dante looking into Paradise. The other kind of peace is the sort we actually see - moments of rest, moments of stasis, when all the forces inside have been, for just a second, precariously balanced against each other. This is the two of swords. The lady holds two painful,destructive forces in her hand, and sits on the edge of the precipice, but for just a moment, for just one transcendent second, she has put those uglinesses (a sword, like any instrument of war, is intrinsically ugly)up as counter weights, and for a moment, she can feel what it is to be still.

Those are my dearest moments, the moments when all the demons are balanced against each other, the moment just before another demon comes and the balance is lost - and it's the moment where I can choose, my little moment where I can decide to be good or ill. The precipice is always there, and I always fall, but I can regress, or I can journey on to the next card in teh swords: the Three of Swords, another of my favorite cards, the circumcision of the heart.

EDIT: BTW, since I know a number of folks have talked about wanting to learn about the tarot, I can recommend this page, which is a good introduction to how to read tarot cards. Additionally, if you just want to play with the idea without actually buying a deck, this page will draw you a spread, and links back to the descriptions of the cards and positions from Arthur Edward Waite.

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The Pictures on my Blog

I've just changed my blog design - this is the fifth design in the last year. The first was a default blogger design. IT was fine, but boring, and somewhat ugly. The second was a moth centric one, that was fine, but which I accidentally destroyed while helping Ms Nymeth fix something on her blog (my stupid, not Ms Nymeth's, who never would have done something so terribly idiotic, I'm quite sure). The third was one I was very fond of, it might even be my favorite of the four, but it was only up for a few hours (I think Ms Nymeth saw it, the one with a Portuguese word on it, and Amanda, but that might be all...). Amanda gently had to point out to me, that the design probably implicitly suggested that I was a female. While I honestly have no particular attachment to my gender, I thought this was probably somewhat deceptive. The fourth was the 'screw it I give up' design - plain brown background, plain one column layout. I am laying this one out because I'll be putting all of my reviews here, from now on, since 5-squared seems to be petering out more or less, and I didn't want my 7 or 8 readers to have to stare at my ugly 'I give up' layout all the time.

Really, the layout is pretty spare, the only thing that is complicated are the images on top. Since I chose the images very carefully, and since this my primary blog now and sort of going through a rebirth, I thought discussing the images would be a nice way to introduce my blog and it's intentions. So, over the next few weeks, I'll be putting up little posts (well, I'll intend them to be little, but I imagine I will fail) about each of the images. For now, it will suffice simply to tell you what they are, in case you don't recognize them:

  1. The Two of Swords (tarot card)
  2. Emma Goldman (early 19th century American radical anarchist)
  3. A Tree in the Snow (a tree. you know. in the snow.)
  4. Princess Ozma (from the Oz books by L. Frank Baum)
  5. Emily Dickinson (19th century American poet)
  6. The Skin of my Inner Wrist (the soft underbelly of my arm)
  7. Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus, a giant silk moth)
  8. A Keshalyi (traditional fairy folk from the Rroma)

Between the eight of them, these pictures sort of paint out the way that I write my blogs - or at least the way that I try to write them. I don't imagine they are the pictures someone who knows me would pick for me, and in many ways they certainly don't typify me. But to some extent, that's to the point of the blog. The world is where I exist as I am - a blog is a grand, silent opportunity to try on selves, to find out who I am underneath who I profess to be. As such, this blog will be pretty useless stuff, much as it has been in the past. I go through periods where I post things that have nothing to do with books - I will work to create a reviews-only feed for those of you who aren't interested in hearing me pontificate about politics, gender issues, or Emily Dickinson in Photoshop. In the meantime, feel free not to subscribe, I promise I don't mind - if my blog got popular I'd be deeply terrified anyway. But, if you do want to hang around, feel free to let me know.

PS - I know my profile page is useless. I'd like to put together an FAQ, like I've seen on other blogs to introduce me to people who are interested. But, I'm not really popular enough that people ask questions, much less frequently. So, are there any questions you think you'd like to see in an FAQ?

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Mathilda, by Mary Shelley

Mathilda begins as the most typical of nineteenth century sad women - she is born to a mother and father, deeply in love, and her mother dies in childbirth. Of course, this means the father runs away in grief, and Mathilda is raised by an emotionally frigid aunt. But, from there, the typical stops. When Mathilda is grown to young womanhood, her father returns for her, and she joyfully leaves with him - in all the intervening years she's dreamed of his return. Only there is one hitch: her father begins to act odd, climaxing in his admitting to her that he is in love with her. Yes, this is a book about incest (I read it, ironically, shortly before Amanda started Ada). It's an ugly, disturbing subject. This is also one of the most surprisingly beautiful books I've read all year, and one of the gentlest - in many ways it reminded me of the epically beautiful Tender Morsels. The story is told in the first person by Mathilda herself, and we feel all the ache and sorrow of Mathilda's journey from loneliness, to temptation, and back to loneliness again. And expressing loneliness is one of the great strengths of this book. Ms Shelley wrote it, apparently, after the death of her child, and the feeling of aching, painful loss is eminent and sincere throughout the book:

My favourite vision was that when I grew up I would leave my aunt, whose coldness lulled my conscience, and disguised like a boy I would seek my father through the world. My imagination hung upon the scene of recognition; his miniature, which I should continually wear exposed on my breast, would be the means and I imaged the moment to my mind a thousand and a thousand times, perpetually varying the circumstances. Sometimes it would be in a desart; in a populous city; at a ball; we should perhaps meet in a vessel; and his first words constantly were, "My daughter, I love thee"! What extactic moments have I passed in these dreams! How many tears I have shed; how often have I laughed aloud.
And then later:
I dared not die, but I might feign death, and thus escape from my comforters: they will believe me united to my father, and so indeed I shall be. For alone, when no voice can disturb my dream, and no cold eye meet mine to check its fire, then I may commune with his spirit; on a lone heath, at noon or at midnight, still I should be near him. His last injunction to me was that I should be happy; perhaps he did not mean the shadowy happiness that I promised myself, yet it was that alone which I could taste.
The beautiful thing in this book is that it ISN'T about people who commit incest - the father is not even in the second half, in fact. It's about what it feels like to love the person that you ought to hate, what it feels like to be taught to be something that you don't want, or deserve, to be. Mathilda never stops loving her father, but this isn't the author's way of making excuses for the abuser. It's a portrait of what it feels like to have nothing to love but the devil. In a way, because Shelley never damns the abuser, I learned what the horror of abuse and incest really is.

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No Name by Wilkie Collins

I want to preface this review by saying it was very difficult to write. Ms Eva of Striped Armchair mentioned earlier in the week that this is her all time favorite Wilkie Collins novel. And while I was pretty blaise about the only other Collins book I'd read, it was a long time ago, and I had heard wodnerful things about the recent revived interest in The Woman in White. And the subject of this book (it has to do with the laws of illegitimacy in Britain in the Victorian period) was one that really interests me.

Sadly, I really didn't enjoy this book.

I know this must be me, in part. Again, I've heard people really enjoy it. But it bothered me, and the things in it that DID bother me were too omnipresent for me to overcome.

*** SPOILERS (but I'll try to keep them minor) ***

No Name is the story of two sisters who, through a uniquely Victorian literary twist of fate, find out after their parents die that they are illegitimate children, and that as a result, their entire estate will go to the their uncle, a man with a deep and abiding hatred for their father. The elder daughter submits to this painful fate, but the younger daughter proceeds, for the majority of the remainder of the novel, to scheme against the cruel uncle and his eventual inheritors to reclaim the family fortune, and return her sister and herself to the respectability that comes with it.

My first problem is with the entire part after the parents die, and before the girl accomplishes her first big scheme (sorry, trying to avoid spoilers, but for those of us who have read the book, this section ended for me, pretty much, with the will of Mr Noel Vanstone). The story is pretty straightforward through this entire section, and much like the Moonstone reads in the same way as a modern mystery, this reads like a con-job movie - think, The Sting, or Confidence, or Matchstick Men, or Sneakers for instance. Well, that's fine. This is a genre that doesn't deeply move me, generally, but which is a fun ride while it lasts.

Well, here's the thing about a con-job plot - the thing that makes the movie interesting is the feeling that you are watching the work of a master. The Sting is fun, because you can see them laying down all the brushstrokes throughout the film, you can see the vague outlines taking shape, but when the entirety of it is displayed in the final scenes, you realize that you were in the presence of masters, that the con is so carefully constructed, so intricately planned, that even the imperfections you thought you detected were just part of the master plan. At a moral level, it's difficult to admire people who are, quite frankly, trying to cheat other people out of money. But there is a piece of us all that can appreciate genius, even when that genius is not taken to ends we appreciate.

Well, the con in No Name isn't like that. It's honestly, in some ways, probably more like real life - con men in real life, I'm sure, are kind of flying by the seat of their pants, just trying to scrape by. If they were geniuses, they'd probably find a more rewarding line of work, after all. But, watching the two conmen bumble along, making error after error, being saved by a combination of luck, their own ability to come up with outlandish lies, and, frankly, the thickheadedness of their marks, is kind of depressing, if not downright irritating. I can IMAGINE a book that was about unskilled conmen that was good - but this wasn't it. Honestly, what it ended up feeling like was that Collins simply hadn't planned out the entirety of the con, so he COULDN'T prestage the careful falling into places of the pieces. RAther, he just plopped his characters in, and every week threw up another obstacle and another razor's edge escape, and dashed it off to the publisher three hours before deadline. In a suspense novel, this is okay - in a move like North by Northwest, we can sympathize with incompetence, because we feel like the guy is stuck in the situation through no fault of his own, and we can see him learning, getting more talented, and defeating the odds in the end. In No Name it just feels kind of sickening - lurching back and forth between seeing that Collins seems to genuinely like his conmen, watching him carefully preach about the fact that what they are doing is utterly wicked, and, as a reader, suppresing the urge to shake the book, and shout at the conmen that they need to try thinking ahead more than one move at a time, and think through their decisions.

Luckily, this ended. The second attempt to con the money was equally incompetent, but DID manage to be engrossing, because A) it seemed fairly obvious that she would, eventually, fail and B) it's feels like the purpose of the con is less to impress us with her skill and more to show that she is slowly falling apart (and even so, the second con still had moments where it felt a little frustrating).

These problems are probably partly me. I'm not a huge suspense novel fan, though I can appreciate a good one - I like Rebecca a lot, for instance. And, I imagine part of it was my disappointment at realizing that what I thought was going to be a social novel about illegitimacy was turning into a crime novel. The second issue, however, it's difficult to let go of for me, and honestly perplexes me a bit: the book felt, to me, terrifically chauvinist.

Let me qualify that. I do not feel, and did not feel in the novel, that Collins had the aggressive anti-woman sort of chauvinism that some authors display. I think Collins was an honest product of his times, and that he probably FELT that he was very pro-woman. And I mean this as no personal affront to Collins, or to anyone who likes him. As a historical document, I can appreciate that Collins did not intend to write a book that was chauvinist.

But the underlying message of the book, to me was pretty simple. There are two basic types of women: women like Norah (the older sister) and women like Magdalen (the younger sister). Women like Norah are women who have learned to submit, to accept sadness, to sacrifice themselves. Women like Magdalen are talented, self-motivated, and tremendously sensitive to injustice and attacks on their rights. Well, women like Magdalen are driven by these urges to do terrible, awful things. Women like Norah quietly submit to the trials of life, and in the end, are miraculously victorious. They get what they want simply as a result of their being so 'good', of towing the line and accepting that they should let society do what it wants. Women like Magdalen? Their assertiveness and resourcefulness will, of course, bring them lower, and lower, and lower - even, in the book, make them uglier and uglier and uglier. If they are to be redeemed, they must be ground into the dust, and have all their pride and dignity driven out of them, they must learn to submit to society. In the end, when they are driven low, then, a nice man can come along like a knight in armor and save them, and grant them the forgiveness that they so desperately need. Then, they can lead quiet little contented lives, having learned to subvert their talents and ambitions into nice, quiet, feminine pursuits.

I just don't see what else to read from the book. Collins obviously loves Magdalen to death, much as the governess of the girls loves her more than Norah. But, like the Governess, he quietly submits to us that the very things that we love in Magdalen are what must be ground out of her before she can be a proper woman. The woman in the end, after her great sickness and after she is nursed back to health by the captain, is not the woman I loved earlier. Her great intelligence has been devolved into nothing but a tool to trick the captain into bragging about himself - no seriously, think about that for a minute. In the end, when Magdalen is good, the best purpose she can put her intelligence to is to get a man to speak highly of himself to her. And in the end? She is hardly discernible from her sister, quivering and looking up to her strong-armed protection, as the music swells and the fuzzy filter goes over the camera lens.

I don't mean this as a dig against Norah - I like Norah too. I like Norah because she is who she is. She lives the life she intends, and lives it well, and I feel happy for her when she gets what she wants. And I don't mean to say that the things Magdalen did in the book are right - on the contrary, it was their very wrongness that made the pursuit such an irksome one to read about - it's not much fun to read a book where you are sorry to hope that the protagonist wins, but where you hate the people she needs to lose to, just the same.

Honestly, I guess, the main reason I wrote this post (because I considered writing a tepidly subtle post saying a few strengths and quietly admitting to some weaknesses) is because I feel like I must of missed something. People love this book. Ms Eva recommended it as a good book for the Feminism challenge, recently, even. I must be off base, something has flown over my head. There were things I liked - the scene where Wragge tells about his pill company nearly had me laughing out loud, for instance, and the scene where Magdalen considers suicide was heart-wrenching and suspenseful even though you know it will end up for the best from the beginning. I just didn't get it. Hopefully you, my dear commenters, can help enlighten me

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