* theme

Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 27, 2012

Old Man by William Faulkner

  • “nobody told them for what or for why”
  • this convict does not control his life in any meaningful way; the tragedy is that he clearly could, he has enormous capabilities, but he has no concept that this is possible for him;
  • he is stuck within an almost feudal sense of his place in the world, unchangeable.
  • “things had moved too fast for him”
  • but he will respond to whatever happens (and much does happen), stolidly plowing on, showing great creativity but only to accomplish the task he has been set, not to improve his own lot in life;
  • “he thought quietly, with a sort of bemused amazement, Yes, I reckon I had done forgot how good making money was. Being let to make it” … and later … “Then he would retire himself, he would take a last look at the rolled bundle behind the rafter and blow out the lantern and lie down as he was beside his snoring partner, to lie sweating (on his stomach, he could not bear the touch of anything to his back) in the whining ovenlike darkness filled with the forlorn bellowing of alligators, thinking not, They never gave me time to learn but I had forgot how good it is to work”
  • among the few times in the story where Faulkner leads the reader to think what might have been for this convict, with all his talents and determination, but for one stupid mistake when he was 19 years old.
  • and at the end … “Yonder’s your boat, and here’s the woman. But I never did find that bastard on the cottonhouse.”
  • “All right,” the convict said. “If that’s the rule.” So they gave him ten years more and the Warden gave him the cigar and now he sat, jacknifed backwards into the space between the upper and lower bunks, the unlighted cigar in his hand while the plump convict and the four others listened to him.”

Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

  • Andre-Louis begins as a supporter of Privilege, since this is how he was raised.
  • His initial support for Equality and Freedom is borrowed from his murdered friend, but not believed, and initially, his real-life impassioned political oratory is all an act.
  • Later, as an actor, he surprisingly becomes more real, interjecting purposely provocative lines, which he apparently believes, into the play.
  • As a politician, he comes to believe that a new constitution will indeed save France from the tyranny of Privilege, but then comes to see that the tyranny of the resulting anarchy is even worse.
  • Sabatini, a historian before he became a novelist, has thus woven an evolving historical point of view (his own?) into his adventure story, giving it a higher premise than it would otherwise have.

Silence in Hanover Close by Anne Perry

  • in her 9th novel in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series, Anne Perry achieved her breakout novel. She did this by raising the stakes, so that the action in the story mattered in a larger sense.
  • From this point on in the series, Inspector Pitt is removed from routine homicide cases and assigned instead to cases of special sensitivity and political import (issues such as Irish independence, anti-Semitism, the Church of England’s crisis over Darwin’s theory of evolution) … taken from Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass 
  • the old case involves “the delicate question of a woman’s reputation, a distinguished victim from a powerful family, and treason” …
    • so we know that this case involves a broader scope than just a detective story
    • although, as the story develops, the aspect of treason is never presented in a way that I could feel the future of the Empire was at stake, and in the end, there was no treason at all. It seems to me if you’re going to use treason as a hook, it should turn out to be as important as first implied.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

  • Does God have a plan?
  • Brother Juniper’s efforts to prove this were burned (and we later learn, so was he). Perhaps Br. Juniper’s massive effort to “prove” God’s plan was in itself evidence of his own doubt that such a plan really existed. Why else burn the proof?
  • Dona Maria reflects the doubt of the theme in her own fears. “God is indifferent.” Then she expresses the hope and reinforces the tension of the plot. “But soon a belief in the great Perhaps …”
  • Dona Maria … “I can do no more. What will be, will be … She had a strange sense of having antagonized God by too much prayer.”  This sets up the conclusion, where others (Dona Clara and the one “who had formerly been an actress”) fill Pepita’s intended role.
  • Manuel “tore open the flesh on his knee,” leading to an infection from which he soon dies. An event, a twist in the plot, which ultimately leads Esteban to the bridge.
  • the Perichole gets small-pox, her “beauty had passed,” and she had “never realized any love save love as passion.”



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