Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Completed: The Turn of the Screw and Daisy Miller

Dear Jenny,

Yeah -- I'm doing it! Here's a book I previewed back in October. This book is actually two "famous short novels" (according to the cover) that... could not be more different. I have no idea why these two would be packaged together.

Not only are they completely disparate in topic (one is a spooky, melodramatic ghost story. The other is a bit of fluff about a girl with a "bad reputation" traveling in Europe) they are also so VERY different in writing styles: I had to resort to slogging through a very well-narrated aBook to get through TotS but I burned through DM in less than an hour (granted, it is half the length, but it was also super readable). 

I guess because these two books were "popular" James books? But The Portrait of a Lady (which I have not read) is generally considered to be his most well-known work (and matches far more closely in topic to Daisy Miller -- maybe too much?) I don't know. This book has a split personality. So lemme talk about these two totally random stories!

As I planned in that original post, I got through the difficulty of The Turn of the Screw by listening to the aBook:

(That image from a previous post just made me LOL so I am including it -- that is the exact opposite experience of listening to Turn of the Screw but it's killing me right now.)

The narrator was excellent, and I still found myself rewinding frequently when I missed key points. (See my powering through up there? Hahahaha.)

Also, it's only been a couple of months and I just had to look to remind myself how it ended. So you know, not much lasting impact (although, re-reading the conclusion, I now remember saying "No way!" out loud while listening -- it ends abruptly and dramatically.)  At my book group last month, I spoke to someone who read it in college and said that his whole class really struggled to get through it, which makes me feel better.

Basic story: Governess in a remote location taking care of two orphaned children: a sister and a brother. They start seeing ghosts -- one is the previous nanny and the other is a former groundskeeper. Those two apparently had a relationship and the governess now thinks they are trying to reach out to the children to enact some sort of nefarious plan (which we never really understand).  The governess sends the girl away which makes the lady ghost kind of fade away.

Then the governess battles the dude ghost. As she banishes him (or whatever), the little boy dies in her arms in the final paragraph of the book. What the... ?

There are also some rather dark and vague sexual references throughout that may relate to the children and I feel like it's better not to dig too deep into that business. Aaaand... there's a weird framing device that goes on way too long in the beginning that gets abandoned once we get into the governess's story. So... not terrific.

And to give you an example of what I meant when I called this writing "impenetrable" -- I just opened to a random page and here is the first paragraph I spotted:
"Laws!" said my friend under her breath. The exclamation was homely, but it revealed a real acceptance of my further proof of what, in the bad time -- for there had been a worse even than this! -- must have occurred. There could have been no such justification for me as the plain assent of her experience to whatever depth of depravity I found credible in our brace of scoundrels. It was in obvious submission of memory that she brought out after a moment: "They were rascals! But what can they do now?" she pursued. [72]

By contrast, we have Daisy Miller. Here's a random paragraph from that book:
"Gracious!" exclaimed Daisy. She looked again at Mr. Giovanelli, then she turned to Winterbourne. There was a little pink flush in her cheek; she was tremendously pretty. "Does Mr. Winterbourne think," she asked slowly, smiling, throwing back her head and glancing at him from head to foot, "that, to save my reputation, I ought to get into the carriage?" [169]
I mean, it's a little flowery, but you got the gist, right? Yes, DM was written almost 20 years before TotS, so that explains the difference in writing style, but... how the heck did these two books end up getting packaged together?!

Anywho... let's check out Daisy Miller. Daisy is a flirtatious girl who's been banished to travel in Europe with her mother and brother (no details given about what trouble she'd stirred up in the US before getting shipped off, but you get the idea it was racy). Her mother is sick, so Daisy is given free reign to hang out with any men she feels like hanging out with, which she does... thereby ruining her reputation abroad, as well.

As soon as I started this book, I said, "This won't end well for Daisy." Yup. While spending time in the moonlight at the ruins in Rome with a handsome Italian man (Givanelli, mentioned in the quote above),  she catches "Roman Fever" and a few days later? She's dead. Like a good little flirt should be. </sarcasm>

So that book was basically crap. Slut-shaming at its finest.

There have probably been many studies done about the morality/judgment themes presented in both of these books that I could look into and cite here, but I'm not too interested in spending any more time with them. They were... fine. But that sweet cover is probably the thing I liked best about this whole experience.

And with that... moving on! (To a book I liked even less than these two. Come on, 2015!)


1 comment:

  1. "I feel like it's better not to dig too deep into that business"---> Thank God for this. I mean, talk about "kah-reepy" I actually flinched when I got read that. Nope. No need for that at all.

    Oh my. This whole experience does sound awful, but I did laugh out loud at your review. This thing *needed* a dancing cartoon cat to get us through!

    The best thing about you taking the hit on these classics is that I can feel smug about having made some previous decision to skip them. I definitely haven't read either of these, although I feel sure I bounced into Portrait of a Lady at some point in college.

    I wish I could go back in time and tell past-Jenny to keep better lists.