I lied to you again. It turns out that Gravity’s Rainbow has been delayed by a week. I started looking up influences and references in it, and it turns out I have a lot of reading to do before starting the novel. Second, the book club I joined meets this Sat, and I haven’t even started the book. The book is Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth.
OK. Since I’m interested in post-modernism, I would never dream of reading Wharton on my own. She writes social realism, which seems to be a wasted genre. Realism definitely has its pluses, since it points out faults with society, but to be considered literary enough for a book club is beyond me. When your main concern is to get things right, how can you include the millions of other aspects of a work of literature that actually requires interpretation and hence would make good discussion.
I started it, and it is quite enjoyable. At the same time it is highly frustrating. Wharton’s intent is to point out many dreadful aspects of society (of her time), but unintentionally she is pointing out something much bigger in my mind. The clearest theme (and I’m quite sure it is unintentional) that comes across is how unreflective western society is. These people are going through their entire lives and not once asking themselves any of what I consider the “big questions.” They don’t even realize that there could be something to think and talk about outside of their shallow thoughts.
I could be wrong about whether Wharton wanted this to come across or not, but I don’t think so. Her themes (as realism dictates) are quite obvious. Since she is portraying realistically, though, the theme I just discussed inevitably comes across as well to someone concerned with that aspect of society.
This just reminds me how far art has come in such a short period of time. This was only about 20 years before Faulkner, but Faulkner is at such a higher level. Other than theme, I can’t really think of good things to talk about in Wharton. If we were to discuss Faulkner, we would have to start at such a more fundamental level. What is the plot of the novel? There would be disagreement. What are all these crazy devices being used? Why? Look at all these different levels and patterns emerging, etc.
When we move even further along the literary timeline we get even crazier things like: Character A is thinking about Character B. Suddenly the narrative shifts to B, and travels via analepsis back in time to her life with Character C. Character C takes up the narrative and analeptically shifts the focus back in time farther to an event that shaped his life; then the focus returns to C’s “present.” The prose is then recycled back to its starting point with Character A, who is currently inhabiting the reader’s “real-time” present.
I just don’t understand why a book club would pick a novel that is so one-dimensional with so many other novels out there that have extreme interpretations worth discussing.