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Library-Lubber, Yes I Am!

 As I’ve grown up, many of my interests have fallen by the wayside. No, I’m not on a self-actualized quest to become a jack-of-all-trades. I’ve just outgrown certain things, or they decided to outgrow me first.

Tennis turned into keeping my kids from bouncing off the walls. Horseback riding was a tad to risky to me– since I virtually spent three years having babies and recovering from having babies.

Any kind of crafty project is just way too inviting for my kids; paints, hot-glue guns, thread and needle– try keeping all that away from a brood of toddlers.

I did manage to hang on to one of my most favorite past-times– reading. I can do that during my twenty minutes of solitude in a bubble-bath. I can do that leaning over the kitchen counter in between burger flips. I can do that with one child sitting in my lap and the other clinging to my leg out of jealousy. I can read anytime, anywhere.

I vividly recall my mom fussing one lazy summer afternoon about my irritating devotion to the printed word.

The heat was unbearable. You know, those dry, molten days when you just wish the Chesapeake Bay would rise up and flood your back yard. A day so hot, drowning wouldn’t be so bad…as long as you got to be in cool water for the process.

Mom was going to The Pool. On those days, everyone went to The Pool. Everyone, that is, except me– and my mom just didn’t understand. Why in the world I would rather sit cooped up in the house, when I could be frolicking with half the Shore at The Pool?

That was just they way I was, and that’s the way I still am.

My husband complains sometimes, too.

Can’t you just put that book down for five minutes?” He’ll say, leering over our dinner plates, while my daughter pitches macaroni across the room.

Yes, I read through dinner sometimes. I read on the treadmill at the YMCA. I’ll read pretty much whenever a few minutes of free time presents itself. I guess one could argue that I’m addicted to books, and I wouldn’t deny it. But then, there are worse addictions one could have, I would point out.

Sometimes, I was able to coerce my mom into dropping me at the library on her way to The Pool. Those were my favorite summer days. While the Shore sweated it out in the elements, I sat cross-legged amid a pile of books. I meandered down the aisles in search of that perfect book, much like Dorothy on her quest down the yellow brick road.

While the dragonfly’s and bumble-bee’s hummed outside, I sat in the library as the hum of the air conditioner carried me through historical battles, futuristic planets, and steamy mysteries (that I will admit, I probably shouldn’t have read back then).

Go ahead, call me a “Library Lover”. I can take it. After all, it’s true.

I shudder to think who I would be if the library hadn’t been there to foster my love of the printed word.

Fortunately, there are many people out there that agree with me. We could make up a club. At the least, someone thought to designate the month of February for us– as Library Lovers Month.

So while I could sit here all day and expound on my debt to the Eastern Shore Public Library, I have better things to do. What, you ask?

Well, of course, I’m going to the library.

The Romanticism of Nathaniel Hawthorne

I’ve recently read several stories written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and I was so surprised that I loved them, that I just had to share my thoughts with you.
A little refresher— Romanticism is described as the movement in literature that focused on the imaginative, the emotional, the irrational, the visionary and the transcendental. 

In stark contrast to classical literature , Romanticism was like a breath of fresh air.  The French poet, Charles Pierre Baudelaire, said, “Romanticism is precisely situated neither in choice of subject nor exact truth, but in a way of feeling.”

I’ll start with Hawthorne’s best known novel, and perhaps the reason why it took me so long to read anything of his, The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850. On some levels, this is a love story, filled with good intentions, and lovers kept apart by circumstance, morals or what have you. But buried inside this tale of sin and repentance are little sparkling gems of Romanticism. From the beginning when the narrator introduces the paper evidence of Hester’s sin, Hawthorne give a little bit of irrationality when the papers are described as giving off a “burning heat…as if the letter were not of red rose, but red hot iron.”
The Scarlet Letter emphasizes the individual and how we are solely responsible for our own actions, and thus must make remuneration for our sins. Hester remains loyal to the father of Pearl by not divulging his name, showing that she believes that she responsible for herself and that Pearl’s father must find his own way to make amends.  Also, Hester did not take the easy way out. She could have run away before she had the baby and found a home where she would not be know for her sins, but she did not do this.  Hester stayed and took her public taunting, her years of ostracism; because she knew that it was the only way to regain the faith of others and her own faith in her self.  This emphasis of self is another hallmark of Romanticism.
Another great example of Romanticism from Hawthorne comes in the form of Young Goodman Brown. In this tale, a man leaves his wife one evening though he would really rather stay home. His journey leads him deep within the woods where he witnesses his bride being indoctrinated into the clan of Satan, while upstanding members of the town watch on. Young Goodman Brown wakes in the morning, unsure if all of it really happened, so he lives the rest of his life keeping distance from everybody and living a pretty much miserable life.  Satan in the bushes, half the town devoted to evil, well, this is certainly irrational, and very original.
Over the course of reading Young Goodman Brown, one begins to realize that this quaint town of Salem with it’s god-fearing citizens isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. A catechism teacher, a minister, his innocent wife— all at the secret gathering in the woods.
The last story I wish to make an example of is Rappaccini’s Daughter , which I personally found to be one of Hawthorne’s best tales.  Everything about this story exudes Romanticism, from the idea that a scientist could willingly make his very own daughter the subject of a deadly experiment, to the fantastical way that the effects of the experiment have changed Beatrice’s corporeal body. At one, point, she merely breathes on an insect and it drops dead instantly, showcasing that even the poor girl’s breath has become tainted by the science of Rappaccini.
Also in Rappaccini’s Daughter, one can find many examples of the irrational and imaginative writings of Hawthorne.  Such passages as, “it was observable that she handled and inhaled the odor of several plants which her father had most sedulously avoided”  and  “came a beautiful insect over the garden wall… (it) seemed to be attracted to Beatrice, and lingered in the air and fluttered about her head…while Beatrice was gazing at the insect with childish delight, it grew faint and fell at her feet; it’s bright wings shivered; it was dead—from no cause that he could discern unless it were the atmosphere from her breath” tend to highlight the Romanticism of the work.

Does Hawthorne deserve the distinction of Romanticism? You bet! His tales speak of nature and individuality, of irrational and imaginative, and of the emotional and the personal—which are all attributes of Romanticism. And he deals with all of it so very well. Even for someone like me, that avoided anything “prescribed by a teacher” Hawthorne was ahead of his time, somewhat like Edgar Allen Poe.

To Read Hawthorne’s Work, check out these classics!

Young Goodman Brown

Rappaccini’s Daughter

The Scarlett Letter

Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin – Book Review

In the time of stock market woes, prohibition and changing social climates, writers ran amuck, traipsing through the eastern United States and Europe. Living beyond their means was commonplace, and back then, going to your editor for an advance (which would now be considered a hand-out) was normal, even expected.

The majority of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin focuses on prominent and up-and-coming women writers in the Twenties. Edna Ferber, Dorothy Parker, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Zelda Fitzgerald occupy much space in the text. It is interesting to see how they lived, went about crafting their works (or more to the point, procrastinated) and suffered the same tortures that many modern day writers fall victim too. But, like the roaring Twenties, these notable writers carried much of their angst to extremes.

Surprisingly, author Marion Meade has given us a glimpse of what most people would call modern morals, put into practice by the women over eighty years ago. Promiscuity, drunkenness, extramarital affairs, mental illness, and even suicide, are displayed by the choices the women made throughout this enlightening book. One of the above-mentioned women tried, and failed to commit suicide several times. Another was institutionalized, and yet a third woman suffered for years from unexplained abdominal complications and fierce headaches.

Fitzgerald, had no choice but to become part of this eclectic ensemble. What was interesting about his role in Zelda’s life is that he belittled her every chance he got, plagiarized excerpts from her journal verbatim (and placed them in his own novels), and routinely added his byline to anything Zelda had published. (Whether this was a marketing ploy for himself, or to further reinforce the fact that Zelda would never be a “real writer” I’m not sure).

Ernest Hemingway makes several appearances in Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin as well, and it would seem that he didn’t make much of an impression on the ladies at the time. Other men grace the pages of this book, as collaborators, producers, editors, lovers and members of the Algonquin Round Table.

It would seem that writers, authors, and poets of the Twenties did, in fact, suffer from common dilemmas – writer’s block, low income (or, as was the case with the Fitzgeralds’, gross mismanagement of their funds), and very slow productivity. Writers in the 1920s often took years to complete one body of work, whereas present day authors are expected to churn out several best sellers per year in order to remain “serious novelists.”

Historically speaking, this book contains a wealth of interesting information told in a gossip-like way – the not-so-impressive beginnings of The New Yorker, who was sleeping with whom, business deals gone bad, books that flopped only to become “classics” decades later.

Anyone interested in seeing the low-down, sometimes dirty lives of now-famous writers, anyone who would like to read the inside story of the making of legendary writers and revel in their struggles, misfortunes and fortunes, should read this book. Even a non-writer will find enough tantilizing details to sustain one’s interest page after page.

Margaret Fuller – A Woman Before Her Time

 Born in 1810,  Margaret Fuller  was one of the most influential personalities in early American literature. As a writer, lecturer, and editor of  The Dial, transcendentalism’s premier publication during it’s first two years, Margaret influenced the transcendentalist movement and is noted as being one of the earliest founders of women’s liberation.

Forced through her education by her father, Margaret’s health floundered, but did, in fact, give her a broad knowledge of literature and languages. Margaret held conversation classes in Boston, for society women on social and literary topics. As an ardent feminist, Margaret published her book  Woman in the Nineteenth Century in 1845, which dealt with feminism and its relation to economic, intellectual, political, and sexual ideals. As a forerunner of transcendentalism, Margaret edited the Dial, for its first two premier years, during 1840 to 1842.

Other writers, who were her compatriots and contemporaries, used Fuller as characters in their own novels, so thought-provoking was she. Fuller has been identified as Zenobia in the Blithedale Romance, by Hawthorne and she is easily recognizable as Miranda in James Russell Lowell’s the Fable for Critics. 

In response to her favored Summer on the Lakes in 1843, Horace Greeley called Margaret to New York City, and she became the first literary critic of the New York Tribune. Her Papers on Literature and Art (1846) were later reprinted from her work there.

In 1847, Fuller went to Rome, fell in love, and married the Marchese Ossoli, who was a devoted follower of Mazzini. Fuller joined her new husband in the Revolution and corresponded to New York, describing the situation for Tribune readers. Sadly, while traveling home from abroad in 1850, the ship that her and her family (for by then she had given birth to a baby boy) was on sank off of Fire Island, N.Y.

The entire family drowned. Her incomplete works were later republished by her brother. How sad it is that the world lost a great progressive thinker so early in her prime!

Some of my favorite quotes of Fuller’s are:

-What woman needs is not as a woman to act or rule, but as a nature to grow, as an intellect to discern, as a soul to live freely, and unimpeded to unfold such powers as were given her when we left our common home.

-Humanity is not made for society, but society is made for humanity. No institution can be good which does not tend to improve the individual.

-Men for the sake of getting a living forget to live.

-Nature provides exceptions to every rule.

And while Fuller had such notable published works, such as At Home And Abroad Or, Things And Thoughts In America and Europe, and Woman in the Nineteenth Century,one of my favorite passages can be found in Summer on the Lakes, in 1843, as Margaret so poetically describes visiting Niagara Falls in the moonlight:

It was grand, and it was also gorgeous; the yellow rays of the moon made the broken waves appear like auburn tresses twining around the black rocks. But they did not inspire me as before. I felt a foreboding of a mightier emotion to rise up and swallow all others, and I passed on to the terrapin bridge. Everything was changed, the misty apparition had taken off its many-colored crown which it had worn by day, and a bow of silvery White spanned its summit. The moonlight gave a poetical indefiniteness to the distant parts of the waters, and while the rapids were glancing in her beams, the river below the falls was black as night, save where the reflection of the sky gave it the appearance of a shield of blued steel. No gaping tourists loitered, eyeing with their glasses, or sketching on cards the hoary locks of the ancient river god. All tended to harmonize with the natural grandeur of the scene. I gazed long. I saw how here mutability and unchangeableness were united. I surveyed the conspiring waters rushing against the rocky ledge to overthrow it at one mad plunge, till, like toppling ambition, o’erleaping themselves, they fall on t’other side, expanding into foam ere they reach the deep channel where they creep submissively away.”

Fuller had a certain poetical love of nature, and found the most intriguing ways to paint a literary picture. It is this vivid love and observation of nature, that I am sure help to make her one of the influential Transcendentalist of her time.


Woman in the Nineteenth Century








Summer on the Lakes, in 1843