Monday, October 29, 2007

Tom Jones cont'd

Yesterday, I said I couldn't see what the misanthrope (the man on the Hill) did for the story, but maybe I would if I read further. So... I've read further, and I see that he's supposed to be a contrast to Tom, who likes people and enjoys keeping company with all sorts of people. But, for all that, the 5 chapters of the misanthrope's story don't really work for me.

Other than the fact that Tom disagrees with him, we don't really see him as wrong. He's not funny the way the other foils for Tom are. (Like Blifil, Thwackum, and Square). His story isn't particularly entertaining. So it still doesn't seem to me that the book would be the worse for his absence.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

More Girl Genius, Tom Jones

I finished books 1-4 of Girl Genius. Nothing much to say about, except that it's very funny. Also, on a rapid read-through like this, you start to see how much foreshadowing he's put into the book, which can be hard when the individual issues are months apart.

I'm in book 8 of Tom Jones, where Jones meets an old misanthrope (so the text calls him), who gives a long story about his past life of running away from home, becoming a criminal, and reforming. My edition suggests that this section is important, being placed almost at the center of the novel, but I don't really see how--it seems to me one of the weakest sections of the book, and I wish Fielding had left it out. Maybe it'll be clearer to me as I read more.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Sweeney Todd

Jenna and I went to see Sweeney Todd last night. It's not a book, but I'll call it a text, since I want to write about it.

When we got back from the show, we looked up some info about it on the 'net (and, in the process found some people write Sweeney Todd fan fiction, a scary thought). One article quotes Harold Prince (director of the original Broadway production), who said that at first he didn't want to direct a melodrama, but then he read the script and realized that it's not really a melodrama.

And yet it seems to me that, not only is S.T. a melodrama, but that it only works as a melodrama. Sweeney's motivation (he hates the judge, but the judge is unreachable, so he decides to kill the rest of the world) doesn't really make sense as a realistic psychological portrait. At the same time, he's not a pure symbol of, say, capitalistic villainy, or whatever--we're supposed to be somewhat drawn into feeling something for him. Mrs. Lovett is similar--she makes no sense as a realistic portrait, but she doesn't really work well as a symbol of pure capitalism. (After all, her motivation is that she loves Sweeney and wants to marry him; greed is only a small part of what she does).

So, S.T. exists in a space between serious psychological drama and allegory, and with all its ups and downs and grand guignol theatrics, I think it's fair to call it a melodrama.

On another note, Sondheim talks about how S.T. is not a Brechtian play (although the critics at the time called it one) -- he's trying to draw the audience in, not distance them. I don't know to what extent that's true of the original production, which I've never seen, but John Doyle definitely turns in a Brechtian direction. His trick of having the actors double as the orchestra (see photos here) serves very much as a distancing device, as does his minimalist set, where a coffin doubles as a table, a bed, etc. I wonder what Sondheim's reaction is to that...

I guess it'll be interesting to see the movie (which will almost certainly be more "realistic") and see how that affects the emotional kick of the show.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tom Jones, Girl Genius, Iliad

Today, I got through l. 180 of bk 13 of the Iliad, but I don't have much to say about it.

I also read part of Book 2 of Girl Genius, by Phil Foglio. He has this wonderful ability to capture expressions through very simple linework that I really enjoy. In that way, he's a lot like Jeff Smith, where you can have whole pages carried solely by the characters' changing expressions, no need for dialog.

I'm also plugging away at Fielding's Tom Jones -- into Book 7 now. It's a very funny book, which I wasn't particularly expecting (I started reading it because I've heard it's a big influence on Tristram Shandy, which I love; but I didn't know anything else about it). It's also making me a bit curious about the history of marrying for romantic love. Sophia Western, Tom's main love interest, is blocked from marrying her because her father and aunt consider him too far beneath their family. Normally, we can assume that every position they take is diametrically opposed to Fielding's own position.

But Tom's foster father (Squire Allworthy) also feels that the Westerns are too far above Tom, and just about every one of his opinions is correct (as his none-too-subtly points out). His one big fault is that he's too trusting of Blifil, his nephew, and that in general he's more inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. But this doesn't really fall into this category.

Of course, Fielding dodges the issue altogether, because it's pretty clear that Tom is actually of high birth, which is kind of a cheap way out.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Iliad, beginning of book 13, misc thoughts

Today, I spent most of my reading time on the beginning of book 13 of the Iliad. Things are heating up as Hektor continues his assault on the Greeks, leading up to his eventually reaching their ships. I've been using Janko's commentary, part of a 6-book commentary on the Iliad, and, sadly, I think it's the least interesting so far. Janko spends a lot of time on picayune morphological questions, whereas the other books were more focused on larger-scale poetic issues, like the use of caesuras to raise the tension of a line, and how groups of lines might work with each other.

On the other hand, I was struck by one interesting note. Homer refers to the two Ajaxes, Oilean Ajax and Telamonian Ajax, as the Aiantes, which is sometimes a bit of a mess, because they perform different functions in the army--Telamonian Ajax (big Ajax) is a huge spearman on the front lines, and Oilean Ajax (little Ajax) is more of a sling guy in the back lines--so normally there's no reason for them to be near each other. Anyways, Janko says that new research has shown that the Aiantes used to refer to big Ajax and his brother Teucrus, the same way that, say, the Castores refers to Castor and Pollux, but Homer misunderstood the formula, and brought little Ajax into a whole bunch of scenes that were originally just Teucrus and big Ajax. Not only that, but Teucrus is pretty much demoted to a hanger-on in those scenes, and little Ajax gets his part.

So, I think this sets an interesting question for a translator--if the original meaning, going far enough back has Teucrus in that role, should he be brought back or not? That's probably going a bit far, but we can see something like this in Athene's epithet "gray-eyed", which some people translate as owl-eyed, which goes closer to the original meaning. Homer himself, though, probably thought that it meant gray-eyed (or so I understand from the commentaries--I'm not sure how they figure this out!). In a syncretic piece like the Iliad, composed over a long period, I think it's an interesting question for translators whose understanding they should use--the people who invented the original formula or the people who heard it closer to the time when the poem assumed its final form.

Also been reading a bit of Fielding's Tom Jones. More on that some other time--this is long and boring enough already.


I'm starting this blog as a record for myself of my thoughts on whatever I'm reading at the moment. This is really more for me, to sort out my thoughts about what I like/dislike, than for public consumption--so, there will be spoilers galore, and posts will not necessarily make much sense if you haven't read the work in question.