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Désirée’s Baby: An Alternate Ending?

Kate Chopin

I’ve noticed this question coming up a lot lately in my site statistics, and it strikes me in the same way as an alternate ending for Edna’s story; I’m going to address it.

In sum, it would be difficult to say that there could be an alternative ending without losing what Chopin is saying. If Désirée’s Baby ended positively, there wouldn’t be much of a story, just a small study about race; it wouldn’t have much of a place in literary studies today.

But, if we do muse on the idea that there could be an alternative ending, what do we suggest? First and foremost would be that Désirée and her baby would not die. For that to happen, Désirée must not be heartbroken and in despair.

For that to happen, Armand would need to have a different personality. He would have to not be against the idea of a mixed-race wife, or he would have to be aware of his heritage early on. (There is an article by Margaret D Bauer that suggests Armand knew about his heritage all along but it is not available online. The article’s called ‘Armand Aubigny, Still Passing after All These Years: The Narrative Voice and Historical Context Of “Désirée’s Baby”‘; it’s included in Critical Essays On Kate Chopin, edited by Alice Hall Petry. It also appears to be in Race And Culture In New Orleans Stories, edited by James Nagal.)

The thing is, if Armand was not against the idea of a mixed-race wife and subsequent child, he might not have been in a position to marry Désirée. If his relations with La Blanche are anything to go by, he might, in such a situation, have married another. This would completely change his character: it’s likely that in the story as it is, he’s sleeping with La Blanche because he can as her ‘owner’. The quadroon mentioned in the story, La Blanche’s child, is quite possibly his.

And if Armand knew about his heritage, again, his character might well be different.

There is another possibility for an alternate ending: Désirée could have left Armand and gone home. Perhaps others in her situation would have. Certainly Valmondé wanted her to return. If she did, Chopin’s point would still remain but it wouldn’t be nearly as strong as it is in the actual tale – Armand would still be ‘able’ to burn the affects and find the letter, but the story would be about racial issues leading solely to heartbreak instead of heartbreak with no way to return. In Chopin’s ending, Désirée’s choice is symbolic; she shows how awful racism is.

If you’ve read the story, what do you think about a different ending?

 
On Books About Books, Characters Who Read, And The Pros And Cons

Book cover of D H Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover

In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, every major character, and some minor characters, read, and a number actively write. But so often in books characters don’t read or aren’t readers, which is interesting: authors are readers, and whilst many books include bookish characters, it’s perhaps surprising that there aren’t even more of them. Lawrence’s use of reading, particularly his extending it to characters of different backgrounds and classes, is compelling.

A point before I continue: I don’t mean to infer that it’s bad when books aren’t about books in any way – all topics make for good reading. Everyone has different hobbies and the variety of characters in the world of literature reflect that. Characters in films don’t often watch films – in fact if they did, given the relative shortness of films, viewers might have something to say about it, particularly as watching a film means quiet whereas people can group together to read books out loud. (TV characters can easily watch TV, though the ‘quiet’ is likely the reason why sports is often used in this respect – it’s acceptable to talk over it, if just to shout at the players on the field. A group of people watching sport is also a very easy way to show friendship in an instant.) A related point: some stories are just not the place for books to be included. Katniss did not have time to read flash fiction, never mind War And Peace, and incidentally her world likely would not have had any copies to offer her.

Book cover of Jo Walton's Among Others

The idea of reading being a solitary pursuit has been widely debunked in recent years, which perhaps explains why more books about books are being published. Shaffers and Barrows’ The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society showed that the solitary is easy to get around; Jo Walton’s Among Others showed that the solitary could be an active part of it. Other books such as Adelle Waldman’s The Love Affairs Of Nathaniel P which use literary culture rather than specific books, offer a different means as well. It’s perhaps easy to look on the surface and think that reading about someone else reading – which is exactly what Among Others is all about – would be dull, however such books continue to be successful.

I cite Walton’s book in particular because it showed how interesting reading about reading can be1. It showed that discussion – even if in the form of one person’s reflections on what they are reading – is what makes it work. The author explains the reading in her book thus:

“This isn’t a book about reading one book, it’s a book about the reading [sic] the way teenagers do, indiscriminately, developing taste as they go along. She reads a lot, and some of it is tosh.” (Walton, n.d.)

This process of development requires a lot of thought – Walton’s character, Mori, reflects on what she reads constantly (the book is written in the form of a diary) – and whilst a lot of the book is autobiographical, particularly in regards to reading (the books are those Walton read in the years in which the book is set), in situations that are not so related to an author’s life, discussion might take a while to complete.

Walton also says the following:

“However, reading reviews and especially what I call ‘naive reviews’ – people on Goodreads and so on who are just burbling adorably about what they like – it seems clear that people who’ve read very little of what Mori has read can still enjoy it because they identify with a love of reading. I do think, though, that the more overlap you have the more you’ll get out of it: in so far as it’s a coming of age story, it’s about coming of age through reading science fiction.” (Walton, 2012)

Book cover of Adelle Waldman's The Love Affairs Of Nathaniel P

People may – do? – expect to have some discussion of the books referred to in the book they’re actively reading. If there are a lot of books referred to that they haven’t read, it might put them off – knowing about a book referred to most often leads to a deeper understanding of the book you’re actively reading, and knowing that you might be missing something, even if it’s more nuance than big point, could have an impact. (And of course encountering a referred book you’ve not read can also lead you wanting to read it.) The love of reading itself is of general understanding, but that’s not always enough.

When I made a list of the most bookish books I’d read, I noted how many ‘types’ were involved; most often multiple categories applied. There are books that discuss in detail, books that simply note titles, books that are somewhere between the two. There are books that use literary culture, or that use book groups or similar. There are academic professions and professors and students, and bookshops. And there are characters who write, and characters who write about other writers. (In the spirit of this post, I’ve added my list to the end.)

One more category deserves question: bookish books that are classics. On my list this category is served by Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote. Whilst Lennox discusses the books her heroine reads, both her book and Austen’s (which in itself was partly inspired by Lennox’s novel) largely look at the books included as a place for comedy. Notably, they use books not of their own era, which we could consider down to the idea that poking fun at contemporary novels might not have been acceptable. Certainly it’s interesting that the books made fun of are also in the main by women or naturally of semi-comedic value, and that the heroes of both work to tamp down their lover’s thoughts on their fiction. Austen’s Henry Tilney calms Catherine Morley’s scares (that have been created by her avid reading of Gothic fiction), and Lennox’s Glanville works to teach Arabella that everything she has learned (through epic romances that were, by Lennox’s day, considered ridiculous) is wrong. (Lennox also includes an extra male teacher, the person who actually teaches Arabella about reality when Glanville and company fail2.)

Book cover of Charlotte Lennox's The Female Quixote

Modern books might laugh at other books sometimes – certainly Hanif Kureishi’s The Last Word parodies another writer, and a contemporary at that – but we don’t dismiss them so readily.

Looking at my list, and considering Walton’s book and her words, one thing stands out – the majority of these books about books/book culture are excellent, often lauded by their readers. The books include a lot of detail and thought. They help broaden your knowledge whether by adding new knowledge or adding to what you already knew. They bring that literary thrill. They leave you with a whole new list of books to read, that might lead to another list when you pick up the first one referenced, and so forth.

As such, they’re not likely to be good candidates for readers who are looking to escape to another world and to relax. They depend upon references to books that have been around for centuries or are very likely to be in future, or else risk accessibility. And knowledge requires your time.

To end, going back to Lawrence, the writer seeps his book in literature yet never goes beyond the surface of the culture. But the class-no-barrier-to-entry is something in itself. Even now reading is seen as somewhat of an activity for those with time and money; books are expensive and can be viewed as unproductive to spend time with, and right now libraries are closing. Looking at the sorts of books that include bookish characters, a great number involve people with time and money, often status. On my list, only a few do not conform. It is an unfortunate reflection of reality.

My List Of Books

Charlotte Lennox: The Female Quixote (1752)
Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey (1818)
D H Lawrence: Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928)
Dodie Smith: I Capture The Castle (1949)
Bernhard Schlink: The Reader (1995)
Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: The Rabbit Back Literature Society (2006)
Mikhail Elizarov: The Librarian (2007)
Mary Ann Shaffers and Annie Barrows: The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society (2008)
Jo Walton: Among Others (2011)
Valeria Luiselli: Faces In The Crowd (2011)
Adelle Waldman: The Love Affairs Of Nathaniel P (2013)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah (2013)
Hanif Kureishi: The Last Word (2013)
Max Porter: Grief Is The Thing With Feathers (2015)
Sarah Ladipo Manyika: Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun (2016)
Claire Fuller: Swimming Lessons (2017)
Phillip Lewis: The Barrowfields (2017)
Laura Pearson: Missing Pieces (2018)

Footnotes

1 I have somewhat changed my views on Walton’s book recently. At the time of reading I found it veered towards name-dropping but having read about it further I see how different interpretations and prior knowledge alter that. I intend to update my thoughts in depth soon.
2 It has been noted that Samuel Johnson most likely wrote the penultimate chapters of Lennox’s book wherein a doctor – a thinly-veiled Johnson himself – goes through Arabella’s bookish problems with her. I wrote about this in my post about the book in regards to the value of reading.

References

Walton, Jo (n.d.) Among Others, Jo Walton.com, accessed 12th March 2019
Walton, Jo (2012) Jo Walton’s Among Others: ‘It’s a mythologisation of part of my life’, The Guardian, accessed 12th March 2019

 
Reading Life: 8th March 2019 (This Is Long, And Long-Winded)

All the posts I haven’t made on this blog the past few months have here been somewhat accounted for by the length of this one. I’ve separated it into sections and fully expect you to only read some of it.

Book cover of L M Montgomery's The Blue Castle

For Starters

In my February round up, I said that for March I plan to read at least one more classic, having spent time with three in those short 28 days. Eight days in to March and I’ve completed one classic and am quarter of the way through another.

It took only the first day of March and my craving to return to Montgomery’s The Blue Castle – to both fulfill my want of a re-read and to carry on reading Montgomery without necessarily carrying on with Anne’s story – to realise that I need to read classics.

I’ve a number of contemporary books I’d like to read right now/soon, and will be reading Sofie Laguna’s The Choke as planned (published next month) but otherwise in terms of active attempts I’m opening contemporary books and getting nowhere with them. Perhaps it’s the way I’m having to juggle my mental energy at the moment, but classics, even lengthy ones, are appealing where newer books aren’t. There’s a peace to be found in older books that have continually ‘made it’ through the years – even if they’re dark or full of filler content, you know you’re going to find something in them that’s worthy of your time.

Right now I’m definitely conscious of that value.

So re-reading The Blue Castle and gaining more from it, which I’ll discuss in a moment, was fantastic, but the book in mind when I speak of value is my current read: Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

A photograph of D H Lawrence

Lawrence

I attempted a brief description on Twitter but character limit made it difficult: I’ve been wanting to read D H Lawrence since I was pretty young. My dad had a mundane-looking hardback of his stories that sat on the bookshelf beside a collection of Graham Greene’s. (When I was younger, adult books with mundane covers drew me more than any colourful, pictorial ones; I think it was some sort of thought as to the way in which reading them would mean you were very grown up.) I once asked someone else about the books and was told of the Lawrence that it was just smut. Of course this made me want to read it more – forget about the sex (or only possible sex, given the person who told me), this was definitely a grown up book.

Unfortunately the negative word still stuck in my mind, and my dad eventually sold his copy on to a secondhand bookshop (I actually went looking for it but he’d been to a number of shops and couldn’t remember which book had gone where). I have the Graham Greene.

I’ve since read up about Lawrence, prepared myself to do battle with that voice in my head and the fact that Lawrence’s work was banned – so at least in this case that opinion of ‘smut’ was correct – found a copy of the book that flustered the world’s feathers, and started reading it.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is full of sex, and swearing. It was published 90 years ago and it’s still a bit shocking. But the thing that actually grates on me, is Lawrence’s deliberate use of repetition – he uses it when something about society annoys him, wanting to rant, and it’s a literary method that works, but ‘by jove!’ as his upper-class 1920s characters might say, he really didn’t need to keep on with it as much as he does.

Otherwise, there is value in Lawrence’s work. He writes from the female perspective which is often weird and unrealistic… and often relatable. He hits you over the head with his desires for England to stay traditional, not industrialised… and often achieves something that, whilst I don’t like the book myself, is rather as well-done as North And South.

I’m officially enjoying it, likely more than Lady Chatterley, though in a very different way. Lawrence lacks a certain closeness to his characters, and I don’t think I’ll necessarily want to read many, if any, of his other novels, but there’s plenty to appreciate. Of course this could well all change; there’s still the other 75% of the book to go.

A photograph of L M Montgomery

Montgomery

It was after having finished Anne Of Green Gables, and then Anne Of Avonlea, then I decided to re-read The Blue Castle; it had been 6 or so years in the making. It was a surprising experience: while I loved it as much, if not more, than I did the first time around, I hadn’t quite remembered the story correctly, nor had I remembered the amount of humour in it (I had thought there was a lot more humour to it than there was). This may have something to do with the particular experience I had, reading it a few years later, several years of life having happened in the meantime.

But most interesting was the way reading order affected what I took away from it. When I first read the book, it was my first experience of Montgomery’s work. Now, not only was I reading it with added context of her other work, I was reading it straight after those other works, back-to-back, with all the extra memory recall that provided.

And I found that Montgomery kept a number of themes going between the two stories (lumping the two Anne books together for a moment) which, if the difference in years has anything to do with it (Anne Of Green Gables and Anne Of Avonlea 1908 and 1909, The Blue Castle 1926) suggests a likely use of the themes in her work over all.

What I took away with me most was the use of daydreaming – Anne Shirley’s day dreaming that may well have been partly ADHD but is certainly both a young girl’s hopes and a way to get away from trauma, and Valancy’s day dreams as a way to get away from abuse and trauma. The characters both dream, and they dream for the same reasons. Perhaps the writer used dreaming herself – she is known to have suffered from depression in large part due to her unhappy marriage. (Wikipedia, link at the bottom, notes the long-thought – and recorded – death from coronary thrombosis that’s since been brought into question by the revelation from her granddaughter that she may have taken her own life.)

Perhaps this is partly why Anne, once in Anne Of Avonlea, dreams less – she now has stability. (‘Partly’ because I do think it has a lot to do with the idea of maturing.)

As well as this, through day dreams, Montgomery seems to suggest that so long as it doesn’t have a bad impact on reality, dreams should be had. She shows it’s a good thing and not just for children. She prefers fantastical dreams – princesses, castles. Valancy dreams a lot of this type – whilst an adult, she’s treated like a child by her family, and her Marble Halls-esque dreams echo both this child-like past and the desire to escape via the proverbial knight in shining armour.

Speaking Of Anne…

As I’ve said previously, I hadn’t planned on reading the Anne books; they were effectively on the very edges of my reading list, being books I might-maybe-possibly get to one day if there wasn’t another book to read. Recently, however, I’d seen publicity shots for the latest adaptation – Netflix’s – and it got my attention. I’m not planning to watch the adaptation, in fact if reports are anything to go by the 1985 Canadian production is the gold standard and the Netflix version, Anne With An E, whilst good, is informed by our present culture rather than the things that occur or are included in the book – menstruation, for example, would never have made the book.

Anyway, I read Anne Of Green Gables, moved straight on to Anne Of Avonlea, and loved it. I didn’t continue onto book three simply because I didn’t fancy having to write notes on the same characters, and no others, for the next few months. I’ll go back to it, likely some time in the near future.

Online References

Wikipedia (n.d.) Lucy Maud Montgomery, accessed 8th March 2019

 
February 2019 Reading Round Up

Linen trousers and a t-shirt outside in British late February when the earliest opportunity had previously been mid-March… it has been lovely but also very worrying. I digress.

My literary February was all about classics. Looking at my shelves after each finished final page I attempted a contemporary novel, but nothing worked. Polly Clark’s Larchfield had to go back to its space, only a few pages read, and even the last Sherry Thomas book I have waiting for me, in all its easy-reading goodness, didn’t get my attention. Instead I found comfort in the mid-1800s; I thought it might be time to explore the world of the youngest Brontë writer and that proved correct, and later L M Montgomery’s famous series – written in the early 1900s but set in the 1860s and onward – drew me. I’ve often thought I might like to read the Anne novels, yet reckoned it might stay an idea unfulfilled – I think that would’ve been fine in regards to the first book, but the second is not to be missed.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

Book cover

Anne Brontë: Agnes Grey – In order to help her family, a young woman becomes a governess, but finds a lot of problems in the world of the wealthy that she did not expect. The plot isn’t particularly thrilling but it’s well-written, an easy read, full of memorable paragraphs, and sports a nice romantic thread.

Book cover

L M Montgomery: Anne Of Green Gables – The Cuthbert siblings arrange for an orphan boy to be sent to them to help on the land, but when they receive a girl instead, they decide to keep her despite her inability to stop talking and her penchant for daydreaming. It doesn’t really go anywhere, prefers to work in cycles of events, but it’s an easy, fair, read.

Book cover

L M Montgomery: Anne Of Avonlea – Details the years following Anne’s childhood as she steps into her role as a teacher. A much better book: it’s got the same atmosphere of the first, but the plot here is more thought-out and interesting.

Book cover

Monica Ali: Brick Lane – When Nazneen was married to Chanu, he took her from Bangladesh to Britain with the promise of a better life, but they continue to reside in the flat the council gave them and Nazneen wants a little more from life. There needed to be a lot more to this book – everything in it has been done before and it’s quite frustrating when it starts to look like it’s going somewhere only for Ali to drop the subject soon after she’s begun (this happens a number of times).

The second Anne book pipped Brontë to the post at the eleventh hour; I loved the grown-up Anne and Montgomery seems to have got into her stride in regards to creating fun characters.

Quotation Report

In Anne Of Avonlea a woman, so fastidious about her house, lays newspaper down not only on her floors but all the way down the garden path, and requests her visitors to wipe their feet before treading on it. And, unrelated to this, a little boy wonders why male angels can’t wear trousers; he’s the very same boy who later pulls up his plants by the roots to see how they are getting on at the other end. Unsurprisingly, his twin sister’s garden is more successful.

The plan for March is to read at least one more classic and get to a review copy that I was sent in January that is published in April – Sofie Laguna’s The Choke. I also have an Elizabeth Chadwick on the go which I’d like to make more of a priority, and I will most likely keep reading Montgomery: I’d like to read the next Anne book, and having started the series I’m very tempted to return to The Blue Castle.

I have been away – update me on your reading!

 
January 2019 Reading Round Up

For the most part, January was a very busy month – Christmas clean up, improvements; I kept going with the books I was already reading and, knowing I’d likely not finish those by February, added easy novels for a sense of achievement. I’m reading quite a bit for discussion posts – it’s a lot of pages in total, just no entire books to speak of.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

Book cover

Eloisa James: When Beauty Tamed The Beast – Having unintentionally caused high society to think she’s pregnant, unmarried Linnet is sent to the home of a notoriously difficult doctor who cannot give his father a grandchild. Strictly okay – works best if viewed wholly in the context of its inspiration, both the original story and the use of Hugh Laurie’s Doctor House.

Book cover

Eloisa James: The Duke Is Mine – Betrothed to her father’s friend’s son since birth, Olivia accompanies her twin sister to the house of the Duke of Sconce in order to aid their pairing, but finds herself drawn to the Duke herself. This is loosely based on The Princess And The Pea; it’s alright, but has a similar problem as the previous book in terms of hero.

Book cover

Gail Honeyman: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Lacking social skills, Eleanor lives on the fringes of life, getting through the week by going to work, watching television, and drinking a lot; over the course of the book we see how her life has been shaped by a traumatic childhood and a lack of support going forward. An utterly fantastic book.

In Honeyman’s novel, I believe I’ve found one of my ‘best of 2019’ books already. I wasn’t personally keen on the way the weekly phone calls were resolved, but everything other than that I loved, and objectively the resolution does work well.

For February, other than a vague plan to read the Kelby I listed previously, I’m staying away from lists. I’ve found I’m doing that ‘all the books’ thing where getting excited about what you can read means you don’t actually start; the less books I have in mind, the more I might read.

What has been your favourite book so far this year?

 

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