R20. Camille by Alexandre Dumas (the younger)

I picked this book basically because it was on my bookshelf, next time I'll try to choose something that you've heard of (or am I the only one who has never heard this story before?).  Also, the next round of romnovs will be along that pattern I was talking about in January. -M.R.

Camille: The Lady of the CamelliasPages: 186

Pairing: kept woman and, um, dude?
First Sentence: In my opinion, it is impossible to create characters until one has spent a long time in studying men, as it is impossible to speak a language until it has been seriously acquired.
Climax: No, but this is hilarious: "Well, then, it won't do for you to come and be pettish here because you have seen a man in my box."

My edition of Camille, inherited from my rich and grumpy great aunt, boldly calls itself the greatest French love story ever told. This seems a little bit hasty, given other famous French couples like Abélard and Héloïse or even, in some ways, Napoleon and Josephine. And to be honest, I really don't think Camille lives up to this claim.

So what is the love story? (Spoiler alert, obv.) It starts out with Armand Duval admiring Marguerite Gauthier, a Parisian courtesan, from afar. He "falls in love" with her, and eventually approaches her and makes her his mistress. She is indulgent toward him because he shows genuine concern for her when she's seized by her consumptive coughing fits. They end up falling for each other very quickly, although Marguerite continues entertaining other men so that she can keep up her expensive lifestyle. However, they eventually move out into the country, and Marguerite starts selling all of her things so that she and Armand can shack up together in a quiet corner of Paris.

Enter Armand's father, urging him to end this madness and not ruin himself for a prostitute. Armand basically tells his dad to fuck off, but, upon returning to Marguerite in the country, finds that she's left him. Armand reacts like any gentleman would, and takes another mistress for the express purpose of insulting Marguerite. When she goes to see him and beg him to stop being such a huge asshole, they share one final night of passion, which he then has the audacity to pay her for. And then he basically goes travelling for several months.

Marguerite dies while Armand is away, leaving him a letter that reveals his father went to plead with her to leave him. Armand's father did this for his daughter's sake, because the family of the man that she wanted to marry wouldn't let the marriage happen while Armand was openly living with a prostitute in Paris.

Presumably everyone lives happily ever after.

I found this book intriguing, but not very touching. It suffered from the same problems that the romnovs do, basically a lack of character development and a not terribly engaging story. Armand seemed like a decent enough guy, and his father, too, but Marguerite was hollow and I didn't really know anything about her except that she was a consumptive "kept woman." There was none of the sense of volition about her that you can get from the Scarlett O'Haras and Jane Eyres of the literary world. I'm curious how much of this is due to the fact that Camille was written by a man.

Which brings me to what intrigued me about this book. Mainly, how transgressive it felt to read it. There was nothing explicit at all, but it just seemed to incredibly scandalous. This became especially clear at the part when Armand briefly returns home to his father and sister after Marguerite leaves him. He's basically a wreck, and he mentions how his sister is confused by this, because "of course," she knows nothing about his exploits in Paris. When I was in my early teens and devouring L. M. Montgomery's novels like I've never done with any author before or since, I remember reading passages in her books (the words of uptight aunts, usually) deriding novels as trash not fit for female consumption. I never really understood that sentiment at the time, but if Camille and Les Liaisons Dangeureuses were the kind of books on offer to Anne and Emily, I can see why their aunts were concerned.

Huh. I guess the French are a pretty sexy bunch, aren't they?

You see, sir, we are obliged to love the dead, for we are kept so busy, we have hardly time to love anything else.

Then I began to believe, with the superstition which people have when they are waiting, that if I went out for a little while, I should find an answer when I got back.

"Sir, I know more of life than you do. There are no entirely pure sentiments except in perfectly chaste women. Every Manon can have her own Des Grieux, and times are changed. It would be useless for the world to grow older if it did not correct its ways. You will leave your mistress."

When one's existence has contracted a habit, such as that of this love, it seems impossible that the habit should be broken without at the same time breaking all the other springs of life.


I've been pondering the topic of accessibility lately, specifically web accessibility, in a bastardized sense of the term that I hope you'll allow me until I get a chance to figure out what the proper word is.  (According to Wikipedia, "accessibility" should be "a general term used to describe the degree to which a product, device, service, or environment is available to as many people as possible.")  What I actually mean is something closer to "level of service," with an accessibility aspect.

Accessibility in its actual sense is something that I for one don't think about anywhere near enough.  This is most likely because I'm a jerk who can't see problems until they're right in front of my face.  Hence why I'm thinking about it now.

But I'll quit being so vague.  The reason that I've been thinking about this is simple: the internet sucks in northern Saskatchewan.

I don't think I need to turn part of this post into an argument about why the internet is or isn't an essential service.  It's pretty clear to me that it's unquestionably an essential service.  I use the internet every single day at work, I used it when I was trying to find a job, I use it to keep in touch with people, for entertainment, information, blah blah blah.  Sure I don't need it to survive, but I don't need potable water or electricity from the city to survive, either (okay, well I probably do, but I could learn to live without them--and the internet, via boiled water, candlelight, and whatever I did with myself ten years ago before my family got a computer).  To do more than just survive, though, I need clean water from the tap, power from the wires, and a way to access the Borg collective internet hivemind.

So this is where the level of service thing comes in, if you agree that the internet is an essential one. And the fact is that almost nobody is designing with slower connections in mind. The vast majority of websites that I visit while I'm on site are so bogged down with Flash and various other graphics and tomfoolery that it pretty much incapacitates my browser (we use IE at work and route everything through a central system elsewhere, which is most of the problem, but still). This includes my own company's website, by the way. Swimming Canada froze up my entire connection for five minutes one day, and some recent updates mean that I can't even check my Google Reader during my lunch break anymore.

However, the website of the airline that we use to fly up to site has a prominently(ish) placed "Slow Internet?" option on its home page, because many of its customers are northern residents/located at minesites with terrible internet. But as the design potential of the web improves, it seems like everyone else is forgetting that there are still users out there without high speed internet. And while the infrastructure is maybe catching up, I don't think it's getting there fast enough that we can just tell people in remote locations to suck it up until the tower gets built. It can't be just northern Saskatchewan that has a problem with this, and even if it is, this is where the whole accessibility thing comes in. There are a few thousand potential users up there. Is that enough to warrant a Slow Internet design requirement?

The moral of the story is that, to my dismay, this basically looked like shit when I opened it on my work computer. So does basically every gif. And what does all of this have to do with books? Not a whole lot. Project Gutenberg loads up just fine.

PS - Is this blog accessible? Not quite. I could do a better job of captioning my pictures at the absolute least, and I have no idea how good Blogger may or may not be with accessibility in general. But now that I've ranted about it, maybe I should look into it a bit more carefully.

81. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

Zomg after the next romnov review goes up, it'll be time for a retrospective post! And new books! -M.R.

Uncomfortable Plot Summary: A young man angsts all over this fine continent.

Year Published: 1953
Pages: 586
First Sentence: I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, freestyle, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.
Rating: 2/3 (meh)

Webcam pics, ahoy!
I'm getting frustrated with The List. The Adventures of Augie March is yet another example of the "Dude Feeling Sorry for Himself" genre that seems to occur every other book or so. The narration is invariably in the first person, the story is a nonentity, and there's a very heavy sense of the author behind the words, stroking his ego. It's not quite accurate to say that half of The List so far has consisted of these books, of course, but I can think of at least two other examples: A Bend in the River (which defied convention somewhat by not being about a white dude), and Sophie's Choice (which defied convention somewhat by actually having a plot external to the narrator). And frankly, I'm not interested in these books. In fact, while I'm reading them, I'm less interested in what's happening than in whether anything at all is going to happen, and when the book will finally be over.

Yes, they do brush certain truths about people and life that I find interesting and thought-provoking. But mostly they're boring and hard to relate to. The List is supposed to contain the best books written in the last century. To me, this means that these books should have not just the best writing, but also the best characters, best stories, and all the rest. A book about some random dude wandering through his life, trying to figure out what his place is in the world, and boning lots of beautiful women while he's at it doesn't really constitute a great story and great writing, even if some of the philosophizing makes me nod my head. I can't relate to these books because as a young woman I just barely have the amount of agency that a young man does (debatable, I know). I have enough uncertainty about my own place in the world that I don't really have time or interest in reading about someone else if there isn't also a plot of some kind to keep me engaged (see The Magus for what I think is an excellent example of angsty existentialism that doesn't suck).

But as for Mr. March, his story proceeds like so: raised in a sort of hazily Jewish household by a single mother and an old woman whose children have failed her, Augie holds various jobs through his youth and meets a variety of intriguing individuals. At some point the 30s occur, and Augie gets older and gets into scrapes and just sort of drifts. Much later (the jacket talks about this, but it feels like a spoiler because it doesn't happen 'til pretty far in, so, um, be aware) he hooks up with a rich girl named Thea and they pursue a crazy falconry project together and also bone a lot.

Despite my rant and impatience, this book wasn't all bad. Saul Bellow is an excellent writer, although his style only half appeals to me. There was also a really good bit right around the middle where a friend of Augie's has to get an abortion, which I think is the final argument I'll ever need to see about providing safe access to that particular medical procedure for women. Thea was a very cool character, with probable mental illness and a hobby of catching poisonous snakes. There are actually an astonishing number and variety of characters in the book, including several with disabilities, which was a little unexpected. On the other hand, Bellow lost me for good within the first hundred pages, where he wrote about an old man who could just fondle whoever he wanted, because he could hone in on women's best attributes. That and it was just too meandering. The compelling bits were mired in a lot of, for lack of a better word, blah.

It's not that Augie is a bad dude. He cries when his surrogate grandmother dies, and his heart breaks, and he reads books. It's just that I didn't particularly like him that much, or care about any of that. And I guess that's one of the side effects of The List being compiled mainly by a bunch of old men (I keep talking about this and one of these days I should actually profile these board members or something...): the books that speak loudly to them aren't necessarily the books that speak loudly to me.

- - - - -
I don't know whether it was the refusal or the emotion of speaking and being spoken to that knocked me down, and I wasn't in any condition to touch around and feel for the trigger, where it was and why it was like a loose tooth.
- - - - -
Imagining how this would be, I melted, my chest got hot, soft, sore, and yearning. I saw it already happening. It's always been like that with me, that fantasy went ahead of me and prepared the way. Or else, as it seems, the big personal van, dark and cumbersome, can't start into strange terrain. But this imagination of mine, like the Roman army out in Spain or Gaul, makes streets and walls even if it's only camping, for the night.
- - - - -
"Let me come with you."
That was how it was. Nothing as I had foreseen it.
- - - - -
So works of art aren't eternal. So beauty is perishable. Didn't this saintly German wake up many mornings inspired, with joy in his heart? What more can you ask? He couldn't be both happy and sure of being right for eternity. You have to take your chance that being happy is also being right.