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

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Hester Prynne, whose husband was thought to have been lost at sea, has an affair with the town minister Arthur Dimmesdale, and gives birth to the daughter Pearl. Though publicly vilified and forced to wear the letter “A,” she refuses to reveal her lover’s identity. The reappearance of Hester’s vengeful husband Roger Chillingworth causes Dimmesdale emotional strife that eventually kills him after his public admittance. Chillingworth dies a year later, Pearl marries an European aristocrat, and Hester is buried next to Dimmesdale.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (E. Orczy, 1903)

    • Marguerite Blakeney, married to the foolish and wealthy Sir Percy Blakeney, unintentionally denounces a French aristocrat family, and the couple is to be sent to the guillotine. She passes information, meaningless to her, of the Scarlet Pimpernel—an anonymous hero who, through courage and wit, has rescued many French aristocrats from the guillotine and brought them safely to England—to the ambassador Citizen Chauvelin to save her beloved brother Armand, linked to the Pimpernel’s organization, from execution. When Sir Percy leaves for France and she realizes he is the Pimpernel, she follows him to warn him. He outwits Chauvelin, and rescues Armand, as well as the father of her friend. Touched by his wife’s remorse, devotion, and courage, he forgives her, and they happily return to England.

The School for Scandal (R. Sheridan, 1777)

    • The brothers Joseph and Charles Surface and their cousin Maria are taken under their uncle Sir Peter Teazle. While both wish to marry Maria, Lady Sneerwell, the founder of a group of malicious gossips, The School for Scandal, in an attempt to marry Charles spreads false rumors about his affair with Lady Teazle, whom Charles tries to seduce, to make Maria reject him. The brothers’ rich uncle Sir Oliver returns incognito from the East Indies to test their characters before bestowing his fortune on one of them. He finds that Charles is a generous libertine, and Joseph, a sanctimonious hypocrite. After Sir Peter learns of the plot between Joseph and Lady Sneerwell, the false rumors about Charles and Lady Teazle, and Lady Teazle’s innocent involvement with Joseph, he, his wife, and Sir Oliver condemn Joseph and forgive Charles. Charles and Maria are reconciled.

The School for Wives (Molière, 1662)

    • Arnolphe, an egotistic, rich old man who wants an ignorant wife for assured fidelity, wants to marry his ward Agnès, who falls in love with Horace, the son of his old friend Oronte. His every attempt to break their union fails by her.

The Seagull (A. Chekhov, 1896)

    • Konstantín Gavrílovich Tréplev’s ardent efforts to write plays that will shatter the clumsy, artificial constraints of theater, though encouraged by the doctor Yevgény Sergéevich Dorn, are dismissed by people including his egotistic mother and famous actress Irina Nikoláevna Arkádina. The schoolteacher Semyón Sergéevich Medvedénko loves María Ilyínichna Másha, the steward of Arkádina’s brother Pyotr Nikoláevich Sórin’s estate, who has unrequited love for Konstantín. Arkádina’s lover and successful novelist Borís Alexéevich Trigórin patronizes Konstantín and steals away his beloved Nína Mikháilovna Zaréchnaya. Two years later, Másha has married Medvedénko but still cares for Konstantín, Trigórin has abandoned Nína, who never became a successful actress, and went back to Arkádina, and Konstantín has published some short stories but is increasingly depressed. After Nína compares her life to the seagull Konstantín had shot and rejects his plead for her to stay, he shoots himself.

Seascape (E. Albee, 1974, Ptz.)

  • Nancy and Charlie, an American couple near retirement with a problematic relationship, meet two human-sized lizards named Leslie and Sarah who speak and act like people. Compelled to seek life on land rather than in sea, the lizards decide to stay above after experiences with the couple.

Sense and Sensibility (J. Austen, 1811)

  • After the death of their father, Elinor (sense) and Marianne Dashwood (sensibility) are left impoverished along with their mother and younger sister, and are forced to move to a country cottage. Elinor forms an attachment to the gentle and courteous Edward Ferrars, unaware that he is already secretly engaged to Lucy Steele, whereas Marianne meets John Willoughby, a dashing young man who leads her into undisciplined behavior, that she ignores the attentions of the faithful Christopher Brandon. The contrast between the sisters’ characteristics is eventually resolved when both find love and happiness.

Silas Marner (G. Eliot, 1861)

    • Set in the 19th century, the weaver Silas Marner, who wrongly accused of theft is exiled from the religious community of Lantern Yard, settles in the fictional village of Raveloe, where he lives as a recluse who only exists for work and his money until the greedy Dunstan Cass steals it, breaking his heart. The golden-haired, orphaned child of the good-natured Godfrey Cass named Eppie finds her way to Silas, who, with the help from Dolly Winthrop, raises the child as his own. When Godfrey confesses the truth of Eppie’s lineage to his forgiving wife Nancy Lammeter, they try to claim her as their daughter, but Eppie decides to stay with Silas. That summer she marries Dolly’s son Aaron Winthrop, and together they live in Silas’ cottage, expanded and refurbished at Godfrey’s expense.

Sister Carrie (T. Dreiser, 1900)

    • The 18-year old Caroline Meeber (Carrie) leaves her rural WI home for Chicago, where she deserts the traveling salesman Charlie Drouet, whom she promises to marry for housing, and runs away with the bar manager George Hurstwood to Canada after his embezzlement. They later rent a flat in NYC where they live as couple under assumed name. While he has difficulty finding a job, Carrie quickly rises to stardom and leaves the rapidly ageing Hurstwood. Without money or job, he puts an end to his life in a cheap hotel.

The Skin of our Teeth (T. Wilder, 1942, Ptz.)

    • Ignoring the conventions of time, the play follows one family from the dawn of the Ice Age to the post-apocalyptic, modern world. The flirtatious maid Sabina views the family consisted of the bossy father George Antrobus, who had invented the lever, wheel, alphabet, multiplication tables, and beer brewing, the domestic and subservient wife Maggie, who had invented the hem, apron, and “frying in oil,” the aggressive and dangerous son Henry (Cain), and the innocent daughter Gladys.

Slaughterhouse-Five (K. Vonnegut, 1969)

    • The disoriented and ill-trained American soldier Billy Pilgrim, who captured by the Germans is forced to live in a makeshift prison in Dresden, Germany, copes with his traumatic experiences of war by mentally removing himself to the planet Tralfamadore through time traveling and advocates his fatalistic notions of life with his refrain “So it goes.”

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (E. Hemingway, 1932)

    • The writer Harry Street reminisces his meaningless life as he slowly dies of a gangrenous wound in Africa.

Sons and Lovers (D. H. Lawrence, 1913)

    • Deserted by her coal-mining husband Walter Morel, Gertrude Coppard’s love for her first son William shifts after his death to the second son Paul. Both repulsed by and drawn to his mother, Paul is unsure of his love to the farm girl Miriam and later Clara Dawes, who has separated from her husband Baxter. When his mother dies, Paul is alone.

The Sound and the Fury (W. Faulkner, 1929)

    • Chronicling the downfall of once prosperous Compsons of the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, MS as the results of racism, greed, egotism, and psychological impotence, the four parts are told from various viewpoints, each unreliable in their own way, of the sister Candace Compson (Caddy)’s death: the mentally retarded Benjamin Compson (Maury); the depressed, suicidal Harvard student Quentin Compson; the sardonic Jason Compson IV; and a third-person limited omniscient narrative, focusing on the family’s black servant Dilsey and expounding on religious faith.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (R. L. Stevenson, 1886)

    • The rational and restrained Dr. Henry Jekyll discovers a drug that transforms him into the uninhibited and bestial monster known as Mr. Edward Hyde. In the end, Jekyll kills himself before transforming into Hyde again.

A Streetcar Named Desire (T. Williams, 1947, Ptz.)

    • Blanche DuBois, a teacher and fading Southern belle from Laurel, MS whose pretensions to virtue and culture thinly mask her nymphomania and alcoholism, rides the streetcar (tram) named Desire to reach her sister Stella Kowalski’s house in Elysian Fields, LA, where the seamy, multicultural ambience shocks her. Contrasting both the self-effacing Stella and the charming refinement of Blanche, Stella’s husband Stanley Kowalski is a force of primal, rough-hewn, brutish, and sensual nature. Stanley exposes Stella and dominates her in every way, and she tolerates her offensive crudeness and lack of gentility due to her self-deceptive love for him. While the interjection of Blanches tramples Stella and Blanche’s suitor Harold Mitchell (Mitch), her final, inevitable sexual confrontation of Stanley results in a psychological breakdown and removal to an asylum.

The Sun Also Rises (E. Hemingway, 1926)

    • The novel tells of the lives and values of a group of weary and aimless Americans and Britons of the lost generation of the post-WWI living in France and Spain. Jake Barnes suffers an injury from the war that renders him sexually impotent from a relationship with Brett Ashley.

A Tale of Two Cities (C. Dickens, 1859)

    • Set in London and Paris from the French Revolution to Jacobin Reign of Terror, the former romantic French aristocrat Charles Darnay and the similar-looking, cynical English barrister Sydney Carton fall in love with Lucie Manette, but she chooses Darnay. When Darnay is sentenced to death upon the cruel revolutionary Madame Defarge’s charge, Carton and he switch places. As Darnay, Lucie, their child, and her father Dr. Manette escape from Paris, Defarge dies by her own gun in a scuffle with the loyal servant Miss Pross, and Carton meets his noble death at the guillotine.

Tender is the Night (F. S. K. Fitzgerald, 1934)

    • The love of the beautiful 18-year old Rosemary Hoyt for the American psychologist Dick Diver, who is married to his former patient Nicole Warren, dies after her discovery of his comforting Nicole from a mental breakdown. The flashbacks reveal the 16-year old Nicole, who has been abused by her father Devereux Warren and developed an acute fear of men. While Dick slowly deteriorates in alcoholism and disillusionment, Nicole recovers completely.

Tess of the d’Urbervilles (T. Hardy, 1891)

    • Teresa Durbeyfield (Tess) learns of the Durbeyfields’ descent from the medieval noble d’Urbervilles and meets the manipulative Alec Stoke-d’Urberville, who seduces her. After her child Sorrow dies, Tess starts anew as a milkmaid and encounters Angel Clare, the moral and intellectual son of a minister, who, upon the discovery of her past after their marriage, leaves her for Brazil. When Angel finally decides to forgive her, he discovers she, after years of hardship, has married Alec. In grief, Tess murders Alec and runs away with Angel, but is later apprehended at the stonehenge. Alec and Tess’ sister Eliza Louisa Durbeyfield (Liza-Lu) watch her as she is about to be hanged.

The Three Sisters (A. Chekhov, 1901)

    • The play describes the decay of the privileged class in Russia and the search for meaning in the modern world: Andréi Sergéevich Prózorov is a social outcast and a violinist who marries the superficial Natálya Ivánovna (Natásha); Ólga (Ólya) is a teacher past prime; Másha is irritated by the dying intellect of her husband Fyódor Ilyích Kulýgin, a schoolmaster, and has an affair with the lieutenant colonel Alexánder Ignátyevich Vershínin; and Irína dreams of returning to Moscow and finding her true love there. When the captain Vasíly Vasílyevich Solyóny kills the baron Nikolái Lvóvich Tusenbach, whom Irína decides to marry as “duty,” the characters are uncertain of how to react.

To Kill a Mockingbird (H. Lee, 1960)

    • Jean Louise Finch (Scout) and her brother Jem befriend the gentle Boo Radley as they watch their father Atticus defend the black Tom Robinson, falsely accused by Robert E. Lee Ewell (Bob) of raping his daughter Mayella.

The Turn of the Screw (H. James, 1898)

    • The unnamed narrator listens to Douglas’ story of his sister’s 20-year old governess and the two deceitful children Flora and Miles. Though she tells her fellow servant Mrs. Grose of her seeing ghosts of her predecessor Miss Jessel and her lover Peter Quint, who have died under curious circumstances, her sanity condition is never revealed.

Ulysses (J. Joyce, 1922)

    • The massive 18-chapter novel chronicles the fused lives of the 38-year old Leopold Bloom (Ulysses), married to a 33-year old, unfaithful wife Marion Bloom (Molly; Penelope), and the aspiring poet Stephen Dedalus (Telemachus) on an ordinary day of June 16th, 1904 (Bloomsday) in Dublin.

Uncle Vanya (A. Chekhov, 1899-1900)

    • The pompous, vain Alexánder Vladmírovich Serebryakóv, a retired professor, returns with his beautiful, young wife Yeléna Andréevna (Hélène) to the estate that originally belonged to his first wife, now deceased; her worshipping mother María Vasílyevna Voinítskaya, disdainful brother Iván Petróvich Voinítsky (Ványa), and daughter Sófya Alexándrovna (Sónya) still live there and manage the farm. The professor calls the conscientious doctor Mikhaíl Lvóvich Ástrov, who has lost his idealism and resorted to alcoholism, to treat his gout, only to send him away without seeing him. While Ványa and Ástrov fall in love with Helene, who rejects them both, Sónya secretly admires Ástrov, who fails to notice her. When the professor announces his intent to sell the estate, Ványa, in contempt for Serebryakóv’s undeserving success and presence, shoots him but fails. As the professor and Hélène leave the estate, everything returns to normal.

The Unvanquished (W. Faulkner, 1936)

    • The reticent but perceptive son Bayard Sartoris accounts his family’s struggle to survive during the Reconstruction Era in Jefferson County, MS. The plantation burnt down, his legendary father Colonel John Sartoris travels across the nation to fight for the Confederacy in such battles as Vicksburg and Antitetum. Though the South was defeated, the Sartoris family is “unvanquished” in spirit.

Volpone (B. Jonson, 1606)

    • Set in 17th-century Venice, the greedy nobleman Volpone (Fox) fakes his impending death with the help of his servant Mosca (Fly) to collect gifts from all who aspire to his fortune as his heir. The lawyer Voltore (Vulture) offers a worthless (and probably poisoned) vial of medicine but later makes Volpone his heir; the avaricious miser Corbaccio (Carrion Crow) disinherits his own son; and the merchant Corvino (Raven) offers his wife Celia. When he names Mosca as his heir, who announces his death and withholds his property, Volpone reveals the truth in public and the characters are punished according to their crime and station.

Waiting for Godot (S. Beckett, 1952)

  • Vladmir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo) arrive at a pre-specified roadside to await the arrival of Godot. Making vague allusions to the nature of their circumstances and to the reasons for meeting Godot, the audience never learns who Godot is or why he is important. In each act, they are interrupted by the arrival of Pozzo, a cruel but lyrically gifted man, and his servant Lucky, of whom Pozzo controls by means of a lengthy rope and a whip. Likewise, a boy arrives with a message from Godot that states he will not come today, but will come tomorrow evening.

War and Peace (L. Tolstoy, 1865-69)

    • The novel tells of the entanglement of five aristocratic families, most notably the Bezukhovs, Bolkonskis, and Rostovs, during Napoleonic invasion of Russia from 1805 to 1813, and specifically of the everyday lives of the four main characters and their search for meaning in life: Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a dying wealthy count suddenly burdened with responsibilities and conflicts of a Russian nobleman, and his future vivacious wife Natalya Rostova (Natasha) find fulfillment in the family; her impetuous brother Nikolai Rostov also finds it in family and in running his estate; and the intelligent and ironic Prince Andrei Bolkonski, who, finding little comfort in marriage, leaves his charming, pregnant wife to his eccentric father and devout sister Maria Bolkonskaya for war as the aide-de-camp of Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov, only achieves it on his deathbed.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (E. Albee, 1961-62)

  • George is a failed history professor, and his wife Martha acidly compares him to her father, a university luminary. The couple alternately battle and enjoy each other’s company and invent an imaginary son to talk about. One evening, the couple invites the math professor Nick and his wife Honey to their house after party and begins to drink and engage in relentless, scathing verbal and sometimes physical abuses in front of them. Martha hits on Nick as George stands by, and Honey gets sick from alcohol. Though fascinated and embarrassed, Nick and Honey continue to stay.

The World According to Garp (J. Irving, 1978)

  • Garp, the son of the ball-turret gunner Technical Sergeant Garp effectively reduced to a mental vegetable by a piece of shrapnel piercing to his head, becomes interested in wrestling, sex, and writing, the three topics his mother and feminist speaker Jenny Fields is disinterested.

Wuthering Heights (E. Brontë, 1847)

  • Lockwood listens to the housekeeper Nelly Dean’s story of the orphan Heathcliff’s extreme measures to win the love of Catherine Earnshaw, who instead marries Edgar Linton, as he gains control of the Wuthering Heights and the Thrushcross Grange. Only when he realizes the love between Hareton Earnshaw and Catherine Linton parallels that of his with Catherine does he find eternal peace and die.

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