Monday, March 7, 2011

Age and blood-ties: Do readers impose their taboos on the industry?

Oscar Wilde did not believe in "dangerous" books

The publishing industry claims there are no forbidden themes in fiction, agreeing with Oscar Wilde´s quip that there is no such thing as bad books, only badly-written ones. But we, readers, know very well what topics disturb us. What happens when the public refuses to read novels dealing with controversial topics? Won´t the industry budge to its clientele´s tastes? What are the once safe subjects that now upset modern sensibilities?

I begin by saying that my comments are on the American scene, since the United States is still the leader in book-publishing in the world. Other publishing industries have their own idiosyncrasies and prohibited subjects, but to all of us who write in English, it´s the American industry that matters.

I am fifty-one years old, and like most people my age, I am painfully aware of the distinction between Twentieth Century’s and contemporary cultures. Our way of thinking has evolved tremendously and that applies to literary tastes as well. A Third Millennium reader might be shocked and offended by the way classical works of literature dealt with love in times when spousal rape, underage sex, and sibling marriage used to be the norm.

As modern critics applaud the erasure of racist epithets in Huckleberry Finn, so they show antipathy towards certain subject matters in current fiction. Exploring user´s comments on Amazon and other sites, I have come to recognize what issues are considered “icky” and elicit the most “how gross!" and ”eeews!” from readers. Among those controversial scenarios are cousin-marriage and May-December affairs, even when they take place in historical settings.

From Jane Austen to Louisa May Alcott, “kissing cousins” were frequent romantic elements in Victorian novels. Over a hundred years, and several medical and social misconceptions later, marriage among cousins disgusts American audiences. Unless it is shown as illegal, incestuous and negative, such a relationship in modern literature is unthinkable. Not surprising since the only Western country that bans those unions is the United States (and it´s unlawful just in thirty states).

Cousin-marriage a la Austen

The British YA novel How I Live Now, has been widely criticized on the Internet for depicting a love affair between a fourteen-year old and her first cousin. Users and critics agree that books should carry warnings signs to alert readers about unsavory content. Not even children’s literature is safe from such displeasure. I heard that copies of the well-loved Babar series now have been censored so there is no mention that Celeste, the elephant’s wife, is also his first cousin. Are they doing the same with Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit? Because if I don’t ill recall, Peter married his first cousin, Topsy.

The same distaste applies nowadays to that old romantic staple: May-December love affairs. Even if it happened in days of yore, the idea of an underage wife makes readers flinch. It’s no use telling people that until World War I, men married old and women married in their teens. Just remember Scarlett’s fear of becoming a spinster like 20-year old India Wilkes. But perhaps, Gone with the Wind is, by present standards, a dangerous novel.

May-December romance in GWTW

I was nine-years old when I came across my first copy of Gone with the Wind. It took me two days to finish it and less than fifty pages to turn it into my favorite novel of all time. It might come as a surprise that Melanie marrying her first cousin or Scarlett marrying the much older Rhett Butler did not shock me. I am embarrassed to say, I was not even offended by Rhett raping the heroine. I guess, many felt that way because in 1987, conducting a poll among my high-schools students, I found that GWTW was still a YA bestseller. I wonder if that would hold true today. Do teen readers, and adults, still fall in love with GWTW, or are they uncomfortable with it´s racism and sexism, not to mention the odd matrimonial customs of the Old South?

Gigi and her much older paramour

With that in mind, I can understand why modern sensibility cringes at films like Gigi, based on Colette´s novel, which has a fourteen-year old reforming and marrying a bored womanizer. How do people feel about Jo March marrying old, but loving, Professor Baher? And how many complaints have I read about Twilight because 100-year old Edward is a tiny bit older than teenaged Bella? The fact that Bella is an “Old Soul”, who would much rather cook and read Jane Austen than do drugs at the nearest disco, should be taken into consideration.

Bella messing around with an "older man"

As I wrote once, Fantasy and Science Fiction offer great refuges for taboo-breaking. George R.R. Martin became a bestselling author after creating a world, in his saga Song of Ice and Fire, where incest is not a crime, thirteen-year-old brides are acceptable. The hottest craze for vampire romances lets May-December thrive as long as, quoting a reader, “the hundred-year old vampire looks good!”

Must add, so this doesn´t sound like an attack on people´s preferences, that certain novels do disturb me , even if set in fabled worlds or historical settings. Today, many of us are uncomfortable with early bodice-rippers that dealt with “rape fantasy” romances (i.e. heroine raped by hero). Visiting a romance forum, I sympathized with comments repudiating Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodwise’s works for including that scenario, but then I was appalled when the same readers embraced Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander that has the villain raping the hero. Talk about a double standard!

To anyone that asks, I wholeheartedly recommend Jacqueline Carey´s Kushiel series. It offers elegant prose, plenty of intrigue and adventure stories, and Carey has created a wonderful parallel world that mirrors the European Middle-Ages. Having said that, I confess that after reading the first book in the series, I gave up on it. I found it excessive , not to mention sickening, to read about a society that made sex the number-one priority, where girls were trained to become sacred prostitutes , and where the heroine’s greatest gift was to experience pleasure through pain.

I realized that only the “Historical Fantasy” label permitted the Kushiel series to become part of mainstream literature. I don’t believe it would have worked if masochist Phedre had been the protagonist of a contemporary romance or a historical novel, because reader tolerance does not encompass historical settings. And one of the best examples is The Kindly Ones, Jonathan Littel’s award-winning novel.

American- born Littell chose to write this novel in French, he had it published by the prestigious Gallimard publishing house, and eventually went on to get Le Prix Goncourt, the French equivalent to the Pulitzer Prize. The Kindly Ones is an exploration of the Holocaust written from the point of view of an SS officer, a highly educated, but deeply-disturbed human being.

Although vastly praised, The Kindly Ones has come under fire by several critics that begrudge its historical inaccuracies, the handling of the Holocaust, and last but not the least, the almost pornographic juxtaposition of sex and violence. Add to the fact that the protagonist is homosexual and has this obsession with somodizing his sister, and you´ve said it all.

There´s even a story that Littell, having been rejected initially by many American publishing houses, eventually rewrote his novel in French. What fuels the possibilities of this rumor being true is that The Kindly Ones’ translation, bought by HarperCollins, did very poorly in the American market. Which shows the industry knows its readers and their likes and dislikes.

Now it´s your turn to tell us what subjects you find repellent? What novels have made you cringe? And should the industry stay away from controversial themes?


  1. I don't think the publishing industry steers away from controversial themes. We live in a sensationalist society that seems to thrive on controversy. Charlie Shean and Lindsey Lohan are perfect examples of this. Rather,the publishing industry is interested in generating books that sell.

    I have to agree that GWTW would not be popular among today's young adults, but not because of the reasons you stated above. I don't think it's lack of popularity has anything to do with Scarlett or Rhett's age, or even the rape. Rather, I believe it has to do with the changing racial norms in our society. People find racism offensive. I think many white Americans are embarrassed by the history of racism in our country, and would rather forget about it. This seems odd, since today's American's had nothing to do with the actions of their predecessors. Yet, it is still a dark part of our history that we as Americans want to keep in the past.

    Great post. It generated lots of thoughts provoking questions.

  2. Thank you Andrea for being the first to comment on, what I know to be, a prickly entry. Interesting, that racism is stll the major moral flaw in GWTW. And I realize that is not as simple as placing it in a historical context.

  3. Reading this post, I immediately thought of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, a rather controversial novel involving an under-age girl and a much older man. I remember when the second version of the movie came out with Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert (a name for a character that no author today could get away with ☺) and the brouhaha over the young girl playing opposite him. And for good reason, I believe. Some of the more controversial books can be really hard to stomach, as you mentioned above, and it makes me really wonder about the audience they're trying to reach. Personally, I would not want my literature to be a starting point for someone to get involved in illegal situations.

    Having said that, in a country where any type of speech is free, you can't sequester the words of others. But, as a writer, you have to know where the proper forum is for the work you produce.

    I take issue with those who try to blame the sins of a country's past on the residents of today. As an American, it has always astounded me that it took a war to get rid of something so evil as slavery, when so many European countries simply did away with it. And there in lies the interesting part of it all. I believe to better understand the past we can never brush it under the carpet and learn to talk about it more openly. The past exists for a reason, and that is to learn from it, so as not to make the same mistake twice.

  4. Dear Sister Mary, Mary,
    Lolita is still a controversial book, but it was written as such, with the purpose to show a sick relationship. However, Gigi describes as perfectly normal for a very young girl to fall in love and marry an older man. Colette wrote Gigi in 1945, yet she had the good sense to set it in La Belle Époque, where girls did and could marry before fifteen. My great-grandmother married at thirteen in “the Old Country” and had a perfectly happy marriage that lasted until her death of cancer at age forty-three.

    Now, I wouldn't be caught dead writing about such affairs in modern times. I do realize girls in older days, matured earlier, and they lived in a much different society. But, my question remains, why can't we write about it in a setting where such behavior was the norm?

    On the racist subject, as a Jew I am aware of anti-Semitism in Dickens and other famous writers of the XIX and even early XX century, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying their literature, because I am able to place it in a historical setting and a historical frame of mind. Ad yet, because of modern sensitivities, we shy away from describing historical facts within period pieces.

  5. What a great topic! Like Mary Mary, I thought immediately of Lolita, a novel I read only recently and which I loved. Violante brings up something we've talked about before, which is the moral premise: Nabokov was certainly not endorsing pedophilia or making it glamorous. I love the Outlander books, at least the first few, and the above-mentioned rape scene (recalled by the character after he survives it) is brutal and not at all titillating.

    This is what marks the distinction for me: if violence is meant to be titillating, then I want to drop the book into a vat of bleach. But if it's meant to build story or character then, to me, it's as acceptable as any other element.

    The Hunger Games trilogy has taken some heat for being too dark, or too violent, for its young readers (it's YA), and even many of my adult friends have put it aside before finishing because it's so bleak. Of course, it's up to the reader to decide what is too dark for him or her. What makes me a little nervous is when we try to decide for others what is acceptable. When it comes to kids, I suppose we have to on the one hand, but at what point do they get to decide for themselves? Should the Hunger Games be taken out of school libraries? What an awful thought. Not that anyone has suggested that, just thinking out loud...

  6. "And yet, because of modern sensitivities, we shy away from describing historical facts within period pieces."

    Just to follow up on this thought -- I think what happens is that anti-Semitism and other forms of racism become unacceptable not as elements of the book, but as ideas promoted by the author. "The Queen's Fool" by Philippa Gregory is about a Jewish family in 16h-Century England, so it certainly doesn't shy away from anti-Semitism. But what Gregory does is show that racism as it was experienced by the protagonist. The novel Slammerkin also explores some elements of racism (as well as the institution of prostitution) from a modern-morality viewpoint. Neither author shies away from the social realities of the time period their story is set in.

    Older books, on the other hand, would simply *be* racist, rather than examining the effects of racism. When older books display the casual racism of that author or society, all the more reason to talk about that aspect rather than (as has been done with Huck Finn) trying to hide from it.

  7. Ohh, Sister Stephanie, as a former librarian I am well acquainted with that dilemma. We vow not to exercise censorship, however, we also know, there are materials that are not suitable for every age. I was reading the Marquis de Sade at age 11, but then I was a precocious reader. Moreover, I knew very well, even then, that what he preached was wrong and that he was a psycho. The problem lies not in the book, but the reader.

    About your second post. But if it is a novel like The Kindly Ones, where the protagonist and narrator is an unrepentant SS, there´s no way to introduce an anti-Nazi element. What Littell wanted to do was to help us understand the disturbed Nazi mind. Alas, but not every Nazi was a mad man.

  8. I haven't read The Kindly Ones but Lolita is also written from the POV of an unrepentant villain. I wouldn't want to tackle this job, personally, but a certain kind of author can get in the head of depraved people and help the rest of us get a grip on what makes people do terrible things. Not the most fun thing to read, but an essential function of literature.

    I'd like to think most adult readers can sort out whether the author is actively promoting something wicked, or whether she is embodying a highly-flawed narrator for the span of a book. Perhaps this is overly optimistic of me: Lolita has been branded as promoting pedophilia by people who completely missed the point.

    When we send our writings off into the world, we don't know how they will be used. At least for me, this is way too far off to worry about, but even if I become wildly famous, I don't think I'll burden myself with the thought that a flawed character of mine might inspire some reader to think or do bad things. I think it's more important to tell the truth (the ironic goal of a fiction writer), and to try and lead readers into other people's heads. Even when (especially when?) those other heads are full of shadowed corners and crawling things.

  9. I hate to say this, but I always felt so sorry for Humphrey Humphrey. I mean with that name he was condemned to be a loser. I think the novel was about sexual manipulation, but the one that ran the show was the apparent victim. Lolita could have been 22-years old and HH 24 and she would still use him and use his desire for her.

  10. I went off on a Humbert Humbert hunt (not literally! Eeek) and found this interesting discussion, which I think hits on what we're talking about here:

    "One of my frustrations as a teacher of literature is with students who are unable to separate the author's values from those of a narrator. The classic example is Swift's A Modest Proposal. There's always a handful of students who don't understand the distinction between Swift the author and the unnamed narrator. They think Swift is advocating cannibalism when in fact he is more repelled by the prospect than some of the students.

    "If Lolita is a satire as the previous commentor claimed, then we would have to make a distinction between the values of the author and the values of the narrator. It is possible Nabakov is as repelled by pedophilia as you are but is simply painting a psychological portrait of the interior workings of such a person. Of course, that begs the question of why he should do so and whether such a portrait is useful or good. But at least it sets up a different line of inquiry."

  11. I hear that. I read "A Modest Proposal" in an English class in College, and several of my classmates actually thought Swift wanted to eat Irish babies!

    But I fear we are drifting away from my point. Lolita is a story set in modern America where a screwed-up man falls in love with his well-developed 12-year old stepdaughter. By the time, he actually has sex with her, she has been sexually active. Everything in that scenario is morally reprehensive. But what if a novel is set in days when 12 year old girls were old (and mature) enough to be wives ad mothers?
    I was reading a book about the Virgin Mary, that says she could´t be older than thirteen when she bore Jesus, because girls in her day and culture married at ages 12-13 (pretty much like girls in the Old South married between 14-17). Does that turn St. Joseph into Humphrey Humphrey? G-d forbid, no.
    So, what does a writer who wants to set his tale in First Century Judea do?
    a) Have a 22-year old unmarried heroine?
    b) Write a novel denouncing the practice of child-brides in a culture where girls developed and died much earlier than in our century?
    c) Stick to historical facts and have a thirteen year old heroine who doesn't act like a typical 21c 13-year old?

  12. You're right, I was wandering off-topic. Let me see if I can follow you back to your point: When I look to Margaret George ("Mary Called Magdalene") I see someone who does a beautiful job examining an ancient story with modern eyes. In "The Red Tent," Anita Diamant doesn't shy away from the topics of polygamy and rape. These authors are coming from a modern viewpoint, but they aren't trying to pretend things were the same back then as they are now; they're not giving their protagonists modern sensibilities.

    So in the choices you provide above, choice C is really the only option that I see. And I think it's what regular readers of historical fiction expect.

    Another thought: There are parts of the world now that resemble the world we think of as the past. There are girls in cultures now who are married off at ages 12 and 13. Khaled Housseini (The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns) takes a look at this. His teenage protagonist in the latter book doesn't act or think like a modern American teenager; she appears to be a pretty accurate product of that culture, though perhaps (she is a protagonist, after all) she's a bit spunkier than someone in that situation might normally be. The book includes depictions of forced marriage, polygamy, grinding poverty, abuse, war, and it doesn't try to make any of it pretty. There may be readers who shy away from that sort of story, but certainly plenty of readers will also (as we can see) snap it up.

    Am I back on track? ;-) I'm still not entirely sure I'm addressing the questions you're asking.

  13. Yes, you have done beautifully! I love Diamant's The Red Tent because although it has a feminist point of view, it still adheres to historical sensibilities.

  14. Thank goodness there are readers for every book. My aunt insisted I (an advanced reader) needed to read GWTW (this was in the mid-80s). I started it and despised it. She asked me to watch the movie, sure she could convince me. I said no. I got horribly ill, had to spend some time at her house, and she put the movie in over and over while I lay incapacitated on her couch, convinced that would make me see the whole thing, bits and pieces at a time, until I loved it.

    It wasn't my thing and still isn't. Nothing to do with one thing (controversial as those "things" might be), but the work as a whole. Just, well, "not my thing."

  15. What an interesting discourse, sisters. One last thought about Lolita. I agree with Stephanie that Nabakov was probably not promoting or glorifying pedophilia based on the simple fact that at the end of the book, both Humbert and Quilty have disastrous outcomes. Despite how sympathetic or complex the character of Humbert may have been, his tragic end tells us that his actions had bad consequences, therefore his moral choices were wrong. I recently read a book called "The Moral Premise" by Stanley D. Williams which states that "when characters choose to reject natural moral order (revealing a vice), they should reap some level of unhappiness and find little or no satisfaction." If Nabakov had agreed with Humbert's decisions, he would have given him a happy ending with Lolita.

    But like Violante says, "Lolita" is meant to be a controversial novel in which Lolita herself was so unhappy with the relationship that she eventually fled, which is not the case of the other young protagonists that Violante cites. Personally, I don't have a problem with the May-December relationships you mentioned, except for Jo's choice, and not because of Prof Baher's age, but because I couldn't get over the fact that Laurie and Jo didn't end up together, ha ha. But aside from that, the age difference in historical novels doesn't bother me (if the characters are in love.) BTW, wasn't Jane Eyre also much younger than her Mr. Rochester? I think authors should stick to the historical and cultural facts (this includes cousins relationships) when writing historical fiction. And if a reader doesn't like it, it's probably not a historical fiction reader or else he/she would understand the setting and context of the story.

  16. Erica and Christy, it´s very refreshing to hear people say "it´s not my thing". That is the best reason not to read a book. I have gone a lifetime with people saying to me "but you are Lit Major and you can¡t appreciate...?" (You name it Proust, Dostoievski, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, etc)

  17. Sister Lorena,
    I was about to growl “but that is the whole issue with telenovelas. The obligatory blessed happy ending!” But now I read you. A good moral ending has nothing to do with happiness. In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Julia, the heroine, resolves not to divorce her husband and marry her married lover because it goes against her Catholic faith. At the end of the novel, Charles has become a Catholic and comes to understand her choice.

    I cannot think of a novel (aside from De Sade works) that has an immoral ending.

    I was thinking yesterday, that one of the reasons why May-December romances are rejected in fiction and real life, is the fear that the “older” partner will manipulate the younger lover. Usually, is the other way around, but in Jane Eyre we have that manipulation until Jane stands up on her own, chooses to leave Thornfield Hall and return of her own accord.

    About Baher and Jo, even Smone de Beauvoir was shocked by that marriage. But if you think about it, it is clear that Jo and Laurie would have never been happy together since he does eventually take over his grandfather´s business and requires a society wife. Baher is Alcott´s ideal man (she based him in her platonic love, Ralph Waldo Emerson) a much more patient man who will put up with her quirks, a man that admires her brain over her body, a man she can look up to, etc.

    One of the reasons why I favor May-December romance in my novels is because the hero is always more understanding and patient and gives the heroine ample leeway to grow up. Now, of course, that is an idealized situation, since my romances with older men in real life have been exactly the opposite!

  18. I read in some feminist take on Jane Eyre that Mr. Rochester's eventual (**spoiler alert**) disability levels the playing field substantially between him and Jane. But I think you're right, Violante -- her choice to stand on her own earlier, after the whole Bertha fiasco, shows that she's an independent person, not under his control. For me, as long as both characters are adults and acting of their free will, I don't care what their age difference is. I will mind if one character seems under the thumb of the other (for any reason), and the author presents this as sweet or appropriate. Bella and Edward come to mind again. She's a limp noodle of a character and that does bug the heck out of me. I don't care about their age difference, but their power difference makes their romance icky to me (among many other problems I have with that book).

    One of my favorite movies ever is Harold & Maude -- talk about May-December! Not only that, but the woman is the December in this case, and she's like New Year's Eve December, where Harold is like early February. :) That story violates all sorts of storytelling conventions, but so many people list it as one of their top movies of all time.

  19. Violante,

    My point is not necessarily whether a novel has a moral or immoral ending. It is about the *consequences* of the moral choices a character makes. According to Williams, happy endings are usually the result of the character choosing the virtue over the vice. The character is *rewarded* (for lack of a better term) with happiness. But when the character chooses the vice, the consequences are usually bad (and the end result depends on what the author wanted to portray with his theme/moral of the story.) The choice (over the vice or the virtue) usually happens halfway through the novel, perhaps in Lolita's case, it is when Humbert chooses to pick up Lolita from summer camp and not tell her that her mother is dead. From then on, everything goes downhill.

    This is not an unbroken rule, many novels fail to do this and according to Williams that is when there is a "disconnect" between the audience and the movie message.

    About Jo and Prof Baher. Yes, you are probably right in a practical/realistic sense. It was the romantic teenager in me that wanted to see Laurie and Jo together :-)

  20. Wow, ladies! Who would have thought one little mention of Lolita would get the wheels a turnin'! I'm going to switch the tables back to the historical element for a moment. I've noticed in many "historical" novels today that writers will make a moral statement that isn't even relevant to the time period (like not making anyone smoke cigarettes and even mention that they are bad for you, even though the novel takes place in the 1930s!) In order to create an authentic historical experience, the writer needs to not only do proper research, but use elements that were in place during the time they are writing about. It bugs the heck out of me to see a historical novel that completely misses the mark and feels more contemporary than it ever should. If marrying cousins was common practice during the time one's story takes place, then use it! It could be a great tool to use. Now, you do have to be careful with your setting and make sure marrying a cousin was all right in the country you choose to use, otherwise, again, you'll being making a stupid mistake.

  21. I was just going to add that the smoking element brings to mind The Help by Kathryn Stockett. One of her hoity-toity southern girls smokes during her pregnancy. So great! It was so common during the sixties and I think Stockett does a great job with this element.

  22. Sister Lorena,
    It just dawned on me that Jacqueline Susann novels did not have happy moral endings. Valley of the dolls ends with Anne taking pills to forget her husband´s infidelity; January kills herself at the end of Once is not enough, so that would be an example of the triumph of vice over virtue (just like Sade predicted)

  23. Sister Stephanie,
    That´s a good point, I love nurturing heroines that tame Alpha males. Charlotte Bronte had to blind and burn Rochester to turn him into a vulnerable being that Jane could tame and rule.

  24. Anonymous ReaderMarch 8, 2011 at 5:20 PM

    Hey. I enjoyed this blog post and thought I'd mention Dream of the Red Chamber. This is often called the greatest Chinese story ever published, but the full hardcover version (translated by Hawkes) has been out of print for decades. While I was lucky enough to locate the first book in hardcover, I wonder if this state of affairs is in part due to the protagonist's romantic love for his two female cousins. In that time and culture this was seen as nothing alarming but to US readers it must be quite difficult to digest.

  25. Thanks Sister Mary, Mary. That´s what irks me, that moral statement that´scan feel so anachronistic.
    Yes, I was also shocked to see pregnant women smoking in Mad Men, but my Mom said women in the 60's smoke while pregnant.

  26. I love that novel! In fact I was lucky to see a miniseries (Chinese-made) based on that classic novel. Chinese married their cousins, as everyone else did until fairly recent. What might surprise American readers, is that marrying uncles was not unheard off in Colonial times. In fact it was so common that only in 1850, the State of Ohio passed a law against it.

  27. How about John Irving's too long novels? Every one has at least one unsavory scene, a near rape by a brutal truck driver, Garp's conception by his mother 'raping' a mindless patient, a full day's incest between the hero and his sister in Hotel New Hampshire, and life in an abortion mill in Cider House Rules. His newest, Twisted River is so dull I never got beyond the second chapter.

  28. Too-long, too-boring and too over-praised. I never understood why they were so successfull. My distate went beyond the sensationalist elements, I just didn't like John Irving and I still don´t.

  29. Great topic and discussion!

    I avoided Lolita like the plague for the longest time. The subject matter just put me off. But when I finally read it, it was so beautifully written and, while Humbert, is not sympathetic he is somewhat redeemed in the end, or regretful anyway. The complexity -- not simply the subject--is what makes it such a wonderful book.

    When I think of other books with distasteful subject matter, I remember my teenage fascination with "Clan of the Cave Bear". Which seems terribly tawdry now, bu seemed revelatory back then.

    Also, although I loved "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell, I hesitate to recommend it because of the brutal rape scenes.

  30. Thank you Perri,
    This brings us back to Oscar Wilde. If it´s well written and entertaining you might overlook its controversial content.

    I wasn’t crazy about The Clan, but I had to admit that Auel did a great job, considering there was so much research she could do about the period, and that prehistoric days are not the most PC environment in the world.

    I am curious about The Sparrow. I wanted to read it because I heard that Brad Pitt had bought the rights and he was to play the Jesuit priest, but after I read the summary, I put it away for good. I have read another novel by the same author, A Thread of Grace, a historical novel set in Italy during WWII. It is very good, and I didn´t find disturbing scenes, although everyone but the heroine are dead before the “end” word. But I did resent that although the author toys with controversial subjects, at the end she goes for moral PC endings.

  31. Hey Violante! Thanks so much for sharing this post. It was really interesting! And you know what? I remember reading Twilight and thinking the same--Bella hooks up with a 100+-year-old dude! LOL
    Thanks again for sharing! <3 <3 <3

  32. Yeah, but a great looking old dude! That´s the advantage of Fantasy,but I go back to the fact that Bella is an "Old Soul". Those are always bound to go for older romantic partners.
    Warmest welcome Monica, it´s great to have you here. Please, make this your home.

  33. Perri: I felt exactly the same way about Lolita. I, too, was afraid of the subject matter; but when I read it I was blown away by the writing, and thought Nabokov handled the story well. We have to remember that HH is the classic unreliable narrator.

    On Twilight: We are *told* Bella is an old soul but what we are *shown* is a truly annoying and hopelessly inept teenage girl. I wasn't put off by the "age" difference because Edward is basically trapped in a teenage boy's body so although we're told he's a century old we don't really feel it or see it. It's the power difference, not the age difference, that I find problematic.

    In the movies (at least) it's Jacob who is way more appealing. I didn't see the films but I saw the posters and was like rawr, and then I was like eek, I'm a cougar! But it's interesting that the actor who plays Edward looks older and sort of, I dunno, shellacked or taxidermied or something. The guy who plays Jacob is all youth and vibrance. Much more appropriate match for her, imho.

    I read Hard Times recently (several times -- highly recommend it) and was struck by Louisa's marriage to her daddy's best friend, Mr. Bounderby. It's clear she's horrified by the idea of having marital relations with this much older lecherous git. And it ruins her. She never really does find happiness, even after she leaves the marriage. I remember the scene where Bounderby first asks for a kiss from the young Louisa, and how she scrubbed and scrubbed at her cheek after he left until her face nearly bled. Dickens was ahead of his time there; he made several references to the essentially inequality of the May-December marriage. (Marriage -- not romance.)

  34. I did buy the “Old Soul” tale at least in Twilight. By New Moon, Bella had undergone a metamorphosis and turned into an idiotic brat. I was done with her.

    I feel that Dickens was more against unsuitable marriages (loveless matches like that of Louisa are obviously unsuited) than age differences. He mentions it in David Copperfield, that the unsuitability of mind and purpose (in the case of David and Dora´s match) was not conducive to marital bliss. But he has a poignant and extremely romantic May-December romance in Little Dorrit.

  35. I must admit, oddly I enjoy writing about things I hate to hear from others. Murder, ethnic cleansing, abuse, rape, all sorts.

    That said, fiction often has a value of representing the prejudices and taboos of it's era, which is historically and intellectually useful. So what's the point in saying that there shouldn't be X Y or Z, they are products of society, thus society should acknowledge them.

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