Literature Notes by I. J. L. Aaron’s Rod (D. H. Lawrence, 1922) The flautist Aaron Sissons

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Daniel Deronda, believed to be the illegitimate son of an English nobleman, is in fact of Jewish descent. Gwendolen Harleth, to whom he is attracted, marries the wealthy but depraved Hanleigh Grandcourt. Only after her marriage does she realize her mistake, and turns to Deronda for sympathy. He, meanwhile, has met a poor singer named Mirah, and through her he is introduced to the Jewish community. When Grandcourt is drowned during a trip, Gwendolen hopes for a future with Deronda, but he has already decided to marry Mirah, and together they leave for Palestine.

David Copperfield (C. Dickens, 1849-50)

  • The book traces the youth and early manhood of David Copperfield, who, betrayed by his stepfather Mr. Murdstone, constantly struggles to find happiness. The two most familiar characters are David’s mentor, the constantly-in-debt Mr. Wilkins Micawber, and David’s enemy, the devious and fraudulent clerk Uriah Heep, whose misdeeds are exploited with Micawber’s help. After soul-searching since the death of his beautiful but moronic wife Dora Spenlow, David finally marries and finds true happiness with Agnes Wickfield, who has always secretly loved him.

Dead Souls (N. Gogol, 1842)

  • Chichikov’s macabre mission to collect legal ownership rights to the “dead souls” to inflate his apparent wealth and power proves to be difficult due to the persistent greed, suspicion, and general neuroses of the townspeople.

Death of a Salesman (A. Miller, 1949, Ptz.)

  • Willy Loman is an aging traveling salesman whose misguided philosophy of pursuit of “success” has ruined the lives of his wife Linda and two sons Biff and Happy. After his lost of job, his faltering mind leads to his suicide.

The Death of Ivan Ilych (L. Tolstoy, 1886)

  • Ivan Ilych Golovin, a high court judge in St. Petersburg with a family, suffers a mysterious pain in the left abdomen after falling from hanging curtains. When his condition is revealed terminal, he re-examines his worthless life, as well as the hypocrisy of himself in the past and the people around him, taking comfort in the simplicity of his servant Gerasim. Just before his death, he sees light and realizes the past life was death itself and the real life only begins.

The Decameron (G. Boccaccio, 1349-52)

  • Seven young woman and three young men flee from Bubonic plague-ridden Florence to a villa near Fiesole for two weeks. To pass time, each member tells one story on a given topic for each night (five days per week).

Decline and Fall (E. Waugh, 1928)

  • Paul Pennyfather, an Oxford student expelled for indecent behavior, finds a job at a small public school and begins a series of improbable adventures that eventually land him in prison and later the exact place he started off.

A Delicate Balance (E. Albee, 1966, Ptz.)

  • The uneasy peace between an old couple and their cohabiting sister-in-law is shattered by the unexpected arrivals of two old friends with free-floating anxiety and the family’s daughter after the collapse of her fourth marriage.

The Devil and Daniel Webster (S. V. Benét, 1937)

  • After prosperity under bargain with Mr. Scratch, Jabez Stone convinces Daniel Webster to represent his case.

Doctor Faustus (T. Mann, 1947)

  • Infected with sexually transmitted disease by a prostitute, Adrian Leverkühn, an early 20th-century German musical prodigy, suffers throughout his adult life from ever-worsening illness until succumbed to madness and death.

A Doll’s House (H. Ibsen, 1879)

  • Nora, whose role in marriage is that of a doll in its “doll’s house,” is blackmailed by the desperate Nils Krogstad for forging her father’s name to save the life of her husband, Torvald Helmer. Only concerned with reputation, Torvald shows disgust and horror at her actions. Disillusioned, she decides to leave him to discover what is truly real.

Dubliners (J. Joyce, 1914)

  • The prose consists of 15 short stories and sketches revolving around the sad spirit of the ancient city of Dublin and the crucial episodes in the lives of its inhabitants. The last and most famous story, “The Dead,” centers on the lost hopes and dreams of the professor Gabriel Conroy and his wife Gretta.

Either/Or (S. Kierkegaard, 1843)

  • Two spheres, or stages of existence, are provided for the individual to choose: the aesthetic and the ethical. The aesthete constantly seeks variety and novelty as a refined hedonism to stave off boredom but eventually must confront boredom and “despair,” a psychological state resulting from recognition of the limits of such approach to life. The ethical way involves an intense, passionate commitment to duty, to unconditional social and religious obligations.

Elmer Gantry (S. Lewis, 1927)

  • After the huckster Elmer Gantry convinces Sharon Falconer to let him join her traveling tent ministry, he makes the ministry rich through his powerful preaching. While Falconer falls in love with the lecherous Gantry, one of his old girlfriends, a prostitute, hurts his reputation by getting reporters to take pictures of him in a compromising situation.

Emma (J. Austen, 1815)

  • The novel follows the evolution of the lovely Emma Woodhouse from a domineering, self-infatuated meddler into a chastened young woman ready to marry George Knightly, who guides her away from a disastrous future. Though she fancies Frank Churchill after his arrival in the neighborhood, Emma decides he would suit Harriet Smith better.

Ethan Frome (E. Wharton, 1911)

    • Ethan Frome lives in the fictional Starkfield, MA with the hypochondriac wife Zenobia (Zeena) who believes she is going to die. From the urge to feel vibrant and young, Ethan embarks on a chivalrous affair with her cousin Mattie Silver, who has come to help her. When Zeena banishes her, they decide to sled into a tree to die instantly rather than live the rest of their lives separated. The accident fails but paralyzes Mattie and leaves Ethan devastated.

Eugene Onegin (A. Pushkin, 1825-32)

    • When Eugene Onegin, who inherits a country mansion and befriends a minor poet named Vladmir Lensky, is invited to meet Lensky’s fiancée Olga Larina, her sister Tatyana falls in love with him and professes her love in a letter. Onegin, however, does not reply and rejects her advances in a speech. When Onegin flirts with Olga at Tatyana’s nameday celebration, Lensky challenges him to a duel in which he is killed. Realizing Onegin is merely a collage of different literary heroes, Tanya leaves to Moscow. Onegin later tries to win her affection despite her recent marriage through a letter but is ultimately denied in her speech similar to his.

Exodus (L. Uris, 1958)

    • Ari Ben Canaan covertly transports Jewish refugees from a British detention camp in Cyprus to Palestine under the auspices of the Mossad. The story traces the histories of characters and their ties to the birth of the new Jewish state.

Fahrenheit 451 (R. Bradbury, 1953)

    • Guy Montag, a fireman who had burnt books and the knowledge therein, questions his existence after meeting an old man named Faber and a 17-year old Clarisse McClellan who suddenly disappears. After he escapes into the river as a fugitive, he joins the “book people” outside the city and heads north, while jet bombers scream overhead.

A Farewell to Arms (E. Hemingway, 1929)

    • Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver serving in the Italian army, is wounded and tended by the English nurse Catherine Barkley. Escaping the fanatical Italian soldiers who are executing those separated from their troops, he and the pregnant Catherine flees to Switzerland. She dies during childbirth, and the couple’s child is stillborn.

Fathers and Sons (I. Turgenev, 1862)

    • The novel is a portrait of the turbulent Russian political landscape in the late-19th century, as well as a story of the perennial conflict between older and younger generations. Yevgeny Bazarov is a medical student who advocates nihilism, renouncing Christianity and seeking radical changes in the Russian society.

Faust (J. W. von Goethe, 1808, 1832)

    • A new rendition of the legend of the medieval scholar-magician Johann Faust and an allegory of human life in all its ramifications, the novel emphasizes the right and power of the individual to inquire freely into affairs both human and divine and to work out his own destiny, an early example of modern individualism.

Finnegans Wake (J. Joyce, 1939)

    • In the form of an interrupted series of dreams during one night, the lives of Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (HCE), along with his wife Anna Livia Plurabelle (ALP), daughter Issy, and sons Shem and Shaun, blend with one another, alluding to various historical, mythical, theological, philosophical, etc. incidents.

Flowers for Algernon (D. Keyes, 1959)

    • The progress of a 32-year old, mentally retarded janitor Charlie Gordon, who volunteers in an intelligence-enhancing experiment, parallels that of Algernon, a laboratory mouse “enhanced” prior to him. Through his ever-increasing comprehension and intelligence, he discovers both the advantages—forming a relationship with his former teacher Alice—and disadvantages—treatment as an “entertainment” by others—of intelligence and awareness. As he proves the neural enhancement cannot be sustained and he is doomed to revert to his original state and later end up dead, his futility against stopping the deterioration is only marked by his last request that “please if you get a chanse put some flowrs on Algernons grave in the bak yard…”.

For Whom the Bell Tolls (E. Hemingway, 1940)

    • During the Spanish Civil War, Robert Jordan, a dynamite expert who is given the assignment to blow up a bridge to accompany a simultaneous attack on Segovia, joins his guide Anselmo and the guerilla band of Pablo and Pilar and the adopted Maria, whom he loves. Wounded after successfully blowing up the bridge, Robert decides not to commit suicide so that he can stall the soldiers to let the group escape. When the soldiers appear, he prepares to fire his gun.

The Glass Menagerie (T. Williams, 1944)

    • Set in St. Louis in 1937, the play deals with a dysfunctional family of an aging and relentless mother Amanda, an introverted and socially handicapped Laura, and a repressed writer named Tom Wingfield whose affection for adventurous films reflect his aspirations. It ends tragically as Laura’s love interest and Tom’s friend Jim O’Connor reveals he is already engaged to another woman. Tom, no longer able to bear Amanda’s complaints and demands, follows his father’s footsteps by leaving home and Laura to be a sailor and fulfill his dreams.

Gone With the Wind (M. Mitchell, 1936)

    • Scarlett O’Hara, a Georgian woman and the beautiful and difficult daughter of a large plantation owner, becomes distraught when Ashley Wilkes becomes engaged to Melanie Hamilton. After meeting the rakish Rhett Butler, the two form a fiery romance and endure hardship and loss of the Civil War.

The Grapes of Wrath (J. Steinbeck, 1939, Ptz.)

    • Released from prison for manslaughter, Tom Joad returns to find his parents’ farm deserted and their plan to leave for California. Joined by a former preacher named Jim Casy, Ma and Pa Joad, Grampa and Granma Joad, Uncle John, Rose of Sharon and her husband Connie Rivers, Tom’s brothers Noah and Al Joad, the children Ruthie and Winfield Joad struggle through the disintegration of the family during the Great Depression.

The Great Gatsby (F. S. K. Fitzgerald, 1925)

    • Nick Carraway narrates the life and death of Jay Gatsby (James Gatz), a wealthy young man living in the West Egg with a mysterious and somewhat notorious past. His love Daisy Fay has married Tom Buchanan, who has an affair with Myrtle Wilson. When Daisy, inebriated, hits Myrtle with Gatsby’s car, George Wilson shoots him. Despite the lavish parties with populous guests, only Nick and Gatsby’s father Henry Gatz attends his funeral.

The Gulag Archipelago (A. Solzhenitsyn, 1973-78)

    • A massively documented exposé of the Soviet prison system, terrorism, and secret police, the book is a compilation of Solzhenitsyn’s personal experiences in the Glavnoe Upravlenie Ispravitelno-trudovykh Lagerei (“Chief Directorate of Corrective Labor Camps”) as well as those of 227 fellow prisoners, and includes a chapter written by Georgi Tenno.

Heart of Darkness (J. Conrad, 1902)

    • A frame narrative, the novella chronicles Charlie Marlow’s revelation of the corruption of humanity as the result of prolonged detachment from civilization through the life and death of Kurtz.

The House of the Dead (F. Dostoevsky, 1862)

    • Aleksandr Petrovich Goryanchikov has been sentenced to deportation and ten year’s labor in a Siberian prison camp for the murder of his wife. He overcomes his revulsion at his nobleman status and fellow convicts, undergoing a spiritual reawakening that culminates with his release from the camp.

Howards End (E. M. Forster, 1910)

    • In England in early 20th century, three families represent three different social classes: the Wilcoxes, rich Victorian capitalists who consider themselves as aristocrats; the Schlegel sisters, who represent the enlightened bourgeois class; and the Basts who are the working class, fighting to survive. The young sister, Helen Schlegel, is rejected by the younger Wilcox. The older Margaret befriends the mother Ruth Wilcox, who upon death bequeaths her most prized possession, the cottage at Howards End, to her. Though the Wilcox children burn the will, Margaret eventually marries the widower Henry Wilcox and fulfills Ruth’s wishes. After Leonard Bast leaves Helen with his child, she travels through Germany but eventually returns to her sister at Howards End.

The Iceman Cometh (E. O’Neill, 1939)

    • Set in 1912, the dead-end alcoholics at a Greenwich Village saloon ran by Harry Hope awaits for the arrival of the salesman Theodore Hickman (Hickey) for his surprise party. When Hickey finally arrives, his behavior throws them into turmoil. Recently converted and now sober, he hectors them that they are meaningless clinging to “pipe dreams” of some kind of positive change in their lives, while continuing to drown their sorrows exactly as before. He wants them to cast away their delusions and embrace the hopelessness of their fates.

The Idiot (F. Dostoevsky, 1869)

  • Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin returns to Russia after a long absence from mental illness. On the train to St. Petersburg, he befriends the dark and impassioned Parfyon Semyonovich Rogozhin, who loves the ill-reputed Anastassya Filippovna Barashkov. When he arrives at the house of General Ivan Fyodorovitch Yepanchin and learns that the general’s secretary Gavril Ardalyonovich Ivolgin (Ganya) wants to marry Anastassya for her dowry, the prince irresistibly desires to meet her. At her party, he sees Rogozhin arrive drunk and offer her a large sum to follow him. When he proposes to save her from despair, she, believing his offer to be pity, flees with Rogozhin, now his rival. Myshkin later becomes attached to the general’s daughter Aglaya, but eventually gives her up to save Nastassya. On the day of marriage, she again flees with Rogozhin, who then kills her. The novel ends with Myshkin and Rogozhin lying together by the body of Anastassya: Myshkin sinks into total insanity and returns to a sanatorium in Switzerland; Rogozhin is sentenced to labor in Siberia; and Aglaya rushes into an unhappy marriage.

The Importance of Being Earnest (O. Wilde, 1895)

    • Algernon Moncrieff, a wealthy young Londoner, pretends to care for an imaginary sick friend named Bunbury and practices “bunburying” whenever he wants to avoid an unwelcome social obligation. His friend “Ernest” similarly creates a sick brother with his real name John Worthing (Jack) whenever in the city. John’s proposal to Gwendolen Fairfax seems improbable, for she seems to only love him for his name Ernest, which to her is the most beautiful name in the world, and her mother Lady Bracknell is horrified of his orphanage. While Algernon decides to visit him in the country under the name of Ernest and falls in love with his ward Cecily Cardew, who thinks he is the brother John has repeatedly mentioned, John gives up his bunburying by announcing the tragic death of Ernest. After a series of comical misunderstandings between Gwendolen and Cecily, the identities of both men are revealed, John discovers his real surname is Ernest, and both couples are happily in engagement.

In Cold Blood (T. Capote, 1966)

    • The story details the 1959 murders of Herbert Cutter, a wealthy farmer from Holcomb, KA, and his family and the aftermath on the rural community. The two ex-cons Richard Hickock (Dick) and Perry Smith commit the murders and robbery under the false information of a safe at the ranch with an abundant amount of money.

The Inspector General (N. Gogol, 1836)

    • The top officials of a small provincial town, headed by the Mayor, react with terror to the rumors of an incognito inspector (Revizor) staying at the inn. That person, however, is rather a young, light-hearted, but ambitious minor bureaucrat from St. Petersburg traveling to his parents’ estate. Not realizing his mistaken identity, he enjoys the officials’ servility, dines with them, extracts bribes from them, and engages with the Mayor’s daughter. Upon advice from his servant, he flees the town just before its discovery of his true low rank. When the Mayor announces they are only laughing at themselves, the real Inspector General arrives and the characters “freeze” on stage.

Intruder in the Dust (W. Faulkner, 1948)

    • In the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, MS in 1948, the 16-year old Charles Mallison (Chick) convinces his cynical uncle Gavin Stevens to defend Lucas Beauchamp, a black man wrongfully arrested for shooting Vinson Cowrie in the back. With the help of his black friend Aleck Sander and the 70-year old spinster Eunice Habersham, Chick digs up Vinson’s grave, where they find the body of Jake Montgomery. After the arrest of the murderer Crawford Gowrie, who later shoots himself in jail, Lucas pays Gavin and demands a receipt.

Invisible Man (R. W. Ellison, 1952)

    • The novel accounts the journey of an unnamed, young, and socially invisible Southern black man from innocence to experience as he searches for his place in the world. In the end, his epiphany drives the “Invisible Man” to live underground, tapping an electric wire running into the building to power his collection of 1,369 bulbs.

Jane Eyre (C. Brontë, 1847)

    • Jane Eyre arises from the cruel treatments of Mrs. Reed and the harsh conditions of Lowood ran by the hypocritical Mr. Brocklehurst with the help of Miss Temple and Helen Burns as a governess to Adèle at Thornfield Hall. Despite the housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax’s warning, she engages to her employer Edward Fairfax Rochester. Upon discovering he is already married to and has locked up his insane wife Bertha Mason in the mansion’s attic, Jane flees and seeks shelter from John Rivers, whose proposal is denied. After she returns to Thornfield and discovers Rochester blind, she promises to take care of him and later marries him.

Jude the Obscure (T. Hardy, 1895)

    • Jude Fawley, a stonemason yearning to be a scholar at the fictional Christminister, is manipulated into marriage with Arabella, who soon deserts him. After an illicit relationship with his cousin Sue Bridehead, who returns to her first husband Phillotson, he is tricked into remarrying Arabella. He falls ill and makes one last trip to Sue, but she leaves him forever despite her intense love for him. Jude returns home and dies alone as Arabella is out courting his doctor.

Kim (R. Kipling, 1901)

    • Kimball O’Hara (Kim), an orphan son of the British soldier Sahib, earns his living with begging and running errands on the streets of Lahore till he incidentally makes contact with the British secret service through the horse trader Mahbub Ali. Befriending a Tibetan Lama seeking to be freed from the Wheel of Life, Kim is trained in espionage and performs “Kim’s Game,” the game of looking at a tray full of mixed objects and noting which have been added or taken away. At the end, he is undecided between the spiritual life of the Lama and the life of action at which he excels.

King Solomon’s Mines (H. R. Haggard, 1885)

    • Allan Quatermain, an English adventurer and hunter in Durban, South Africa, is approached by the English aristocrat Sir Henry and his friend Captain Good, who seek Henry’s brother who had gone for the fabled King Solomon’s Mines. With the help of Quatermain’s map and the regal native Umbopa, they eventually meet the Kukuanas, who are militarily well organized and speak the ancient dialect Zulu. After it is revealed Umbopa is the exiled son of the king murdered by King Twala, Henry kills Twala and they capture his advisor Gagool, who promises to lead them to the mines. Though she seals them inside, they escape with diamonds and find Henry’s brother stranded in an oasis with a broken leg. They all return to Durban and eventually England, wealthy enough to live out comfortable lives.

Krapp’s Last Tape (S. Beckett, 1958)
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