19th century novelist Zola shows us more of the machinations, betrayals of French politics in his sixth published story in the Rougon-Marquart cycle, Zola depicts the greed, manipulation and ugliness of French politicsthrough His Excellency: Eugene Rougon. When the story begins title character Eugene Rougon has fallen from his lofty government job. He’s resigned to take some heat off the emperor and hopes this action will be rewarded. Soon Rougon meets Clorinde, a beautiful, flirtatious troublemaker. She’s much younger and spends her days tantalizing the rich, powerful men who’re happy to waste their days gazing at her in her boudoir as she poses for a portrait and rambles on. She’s not the brightest light, but we all know how little that matters when it comes to powerful men.
It’s uncertain who Clorinde’s father is. Both she and her mother are gadabouts from Italy. It’s whispered that she’s the illegitimate daughter of an aristocrat, who’s introduced as her godfather. Right. Clorinde is all appetite, appetite for power, like Rougon, whom she sets her cap for. She could have any rich, powerful man, but she goes for this old bachelor. Despite being attracted to Clorinde, Rougon knows they’re no good for each other so he marries another more sensible wife and convinces Clorinde to marry a rich, malleable man who’s gotten a government ministry. Clorinde goes along, but vows to get even. And after many years she does.
It was interesting to see this greedy crowd of relatives and old friends who hang on to Rougon to get political favors that make them rich. The minute Rougon closes down the favor-trough they’re out to get him led by Clorinde. Rougon’s fortunes go up and down as the story progresses. I enjoyed the realism and even enjoyed disliking the corrupt hangers on and, of course, Clorinde, who had no good qualities or no uncorrupted qualities. This book would make a good movie.
My public library had a great talk about getting published. They got a good crowd of aspiring writers who want to write fiction, non-fiction, children’s books and poetry. The talk was led by an editor and a writer, who does both self-publishing and publishing through an established publisher.
I don’t think I should share all the secrets as their handout was copyrighted, but I’ll share some facts and tips:
- Know why you want to get published. Have a clear vision of what you consider success to be. (Getting published, wining an award, getting good reviews or what?)
- More non-fiction books are written by first time writers.
- Most self-published books sell less than 100 copies, and most of those copies are bought by the author. Ugh. ;-(
- Learn to “eat rejection for breakfast.” So develop a thick skin and remember that major writers often got dozens or hundreds of rejection letters.
- Adequately test your idea by seeing how people, not just loved ones, think about your idea.
- If you do self-publish get your books into different sorts of shops. In a book shop your books is one of many, but in a florist or hospital shop there’s only a handful of other books.
- The average new writer spends $3000-$5000 of their own money on preparing their books. Both speakers stressed that you should hire a professional editor. Someone who’s an English teacher or reads and edits professionally is required not just a pal.The cheapskate in me balks at spending so much money, but I’m mulling this over. I do have people whom I trust as good writers and grammarians read my work as a favor, but should I be paying someone? What do you think, readers?
By Upton Sinclair, who always takes the side of the underdog and shows people how hard and unfair life was for the lower classes in his time (i.e. early 20th century), King Coal is about a well-to-do college student, who leans to the left politically. His older brother and friends tell him that all the news and complaints of poor treatment of coal minors is hog wash. He decides to spend his summer as a miner.
He takes on the clothing of a working man and goes to North Valley where he gets work in a mine. He has no idea how much worse things were than he imagined. He makes friends with the workers, lives amongst them and sympathizes with them. He gets the same bad treatment. He faces the same problems – high rents in the mining housing, bad food at the canteen, exorbitant prices at the general store. When he helps the men organize and request, not a union, but someone to check that the coal loads are weighed right, he lands in jail. The judge is in bed with the mine owners. Upon release he’s followed and when a reporter prints his story . . . well, on and on it goes, injustice upon injustice.
The story is compelling and Sinclair creates likable characters a few that middle class and progressive wealthy folk would take to. It’s still a relevant story and should be read in history classes. If I taught history, I’d have some students read this, others read The Jungle and others read Oil! and then compare notes.
A friend suggested I read Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie as I’m working on a historical fiction project. I finally found the time and I really enjoyed it, though it’s not because it’s filled with characters I was drawn to — at all. I wanted to find out what would happen and I found Dreiser’s style pleasant if not outstanding.
The title character, Carrie comes to Chicago from a small town hoping to find her fortune. She moves in with the sister and brother-in-law, who live in a tenement and grind their way through each day. They encourage Carrie to get a job and she pounds the pavement and finds a job in a factory. She hates the course language and rough behaviour of her coworkers. The work itself is dull. She soon loses her job and begins her rise. What’s unusual about Carrie is she does so little and is swept up by luck higher and higher up the social and financial with extremely little effort. She’s not witty or smart or hard working. She’s lucky. She met Drouet, a snappy salesman on the train to Chicago and is impressed with his suave style. She meets him again and he persuades her to move in with him. She’s just lost her job and her brother-in-law’s getting on her nerves so what the heck, she leaves her sister’s home.
She lives with Drouet and is rather isolated. She’s a kept woman and when she does make friends pretends to be married. She has no consequences to leading this wild life (for 1900). She never gets pregnant, never is judged or pinned with a scarlet A.
While with Drouet, she meets his even more prosperous and suave friend Hardwood, a manager of a high-ish class bar. Hardwood falls for her and winds ups leaving his wife and stealing $10,000 from his employer and running away with Carrie.
Carrie doesn’t even make any big decisions. She is tricked into going with Hardwood and lacks the chutzpah or direction to leave him. They move to New York and Hardwood tries to live off what remains of his post-divorce money. He slowly slides down to the gutter as Carrie ascends by dabbling in musical comedy.
I normally like books with characters I either identify with or admire. No one in Sister Carrie is anyone I’d want to spend time with, but they’re sympathetic enough and I didn’t know where the story would go.
Ernest Poole’s His Second Wife follows Ethel as she leaves small town Ohio after her father’s death. She goes to New York to live with her sister, Amy, a socialite and shopper, and Amy’s husband Joe and daughter. Ethel tries to fit in to the shallow scene Amy relishes, but just can’t. The superficial and materialism don’t appeal at all.
She’s after the new and exciting ideals, art and politics New York is supposed to offer. After Amy’s sudden death, Ethel stays to help Joe, but struggles to avoid getting trapped living her sister’s life.
Poole creates an original dilemma that rings true. Ethel isn’t the polar opposite of Amy as a lesser writer would have made her. She doesn’t hate shopping or all of bourgeois life, she just wants more. The novel recounts her struggle to find friends and to find her own identity, while evading Amy’s more manipulative friends who want to control Joe after he’s married Ethel. An original, compelling story, worth getting from Amazon, which offers it for free on Kindle.
I’d heard of rags to riches stories a.k.a. Horatio Alger stories, but I’d never actually read a book by Horation Alger — till now. I raced through Ragged Dick in two days, not just because it’s short, but because it’s funny. Alger reminds me of Dickens or Twain as he has jokes on every page.
Ragged Dick is a 14 year old orphan, a shoe shine boy who must sleep on the streets in a box of straw or old wagon if he can find one. He’s got wit and pluck and amuses and impresses his well-to-do customers. Time and again he shows his hilariously funny, honest, kind and brave. Yes, it’s a morality tale and the ending is happy, but it wasn’t as pat as I’d expected.
Spoiler Alert: Dick doesn’t wind up as a millionaire by the stories end. He does start out in actual rags which he explains he would get rid of but since George Washington and Louis Napolean (sic) gave him those close he felt he couldn’t.
While Dick’s a good lad, he’s not an angel with a dirty face (though he does have a dirty face). The narrator and Dick tell us that he smokes cigars, goes to the Bowery Theater a lot, doesn’t save money and gambles. Yet he corrals his vices in due time.
Much of the story consists of Dick showing Frank, a country boy who’s uncle is busy with business all day around the streets of New York, where there’s a con artist around every corner. Frank and the uncle get Dick a new suit for the day and suddenly Dick’s treated with great respect wherever he goes (well, almost) and a lot of folks don’t recognize him. Through Frank we learn that Dick’s in a jam. Because he’s so good and diligent about getting business, he makes $3 a day. If he worked at a counting house or store he’d just get $3 a week. He doesn’t pursue other work because that would mean a short term loss. Also, these clerk jobs tend to go to boys from in tact families. The book then is more than just a series of funny adventures, it does show aspects of 19th century urban America.
Like Dickens Ragged Dick will appeal to readers of all ages.
Kafu Nagai’s Rivalry: A Geisha’s Tale presents a world that seems more realistic that Memoirs of a Geisha, which was the rage 10+ years ago. In Rivalry, Komayo is a former geisha. She left the profession when she married. Unfortunately, her husband dies. There’s no reason to stay in the countryside up north with rude in-laws for the rest of her life, so she returns to Tokyo and her geisha house.
One of her first “patrons” sees her and takes up with her. He’s just a little bit older than she is and spending time with him is far better than with the fat, bald, ill-mannered middle-aged customers. Life’s not so bad.
Then Komayo meets an attractive actor and they have a dalliance. Then they have another and another. Her first patron was going to buy Komayo’s contract. He proposes marriage and Komayo isn’t sure. The patron hears some gossip about Komayo and the actor so he buys the contract of a fleshy, jovial but uncouth geisha. So there! (Talk about biting off your nose to spite your face.)
Komayo’s life spirals and shame haunts her. At times the story meanders, but generally the realistic tone which describes geisha life (without getting as flowery as Arthur Golden sometimes did) makes for a pleasant read.
The ending seemed to pat and undeserved, but forgiveable.