The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Title:  The 19th Wife

Author:  David Ebershoff

Hardcover:  507 pages

Date Published:  2008

Publisher:  Random House

ISBN:  9781400063970

Twenty minutes later we were outside the Chevron, eating a sack of microwaved burritos.  ‘Now I know who you are,” said Johnny.  “But remind me:  why’d you get kicked out?”

“I was caught alone with one of my stepsisters.  What about you?”

“I was listening to the Killers.  It wasn’t even my disc, it was my brother’s.  But they caught me.  I don’t even like the Killers.”

That wasn’t the real reason.  They get rid of the boys to take away the competition.  With no boys around, the old men have the girls to themselves.

The 19th Wifeby David Ebershoff, page 96

In The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff switches back and forth from the story of Ann Eliza Young, 19th wife of Brigham Young and his only EX, and the mystery behind the murder of Jordan’s father.   Jordan’s mother, wife number 19,  sits in jail, accused of shooting her polygamist husband, insists she is innocent.  Jordan believes her and sets about to discover the truth, which ends up being a lot more convoluted than he thought possible.

One of the interesting things about this book is how the two seemingly unrelated stories of the two 19th wives were used to not only display how such a lifestyle can be possible in the 21st century but how such a belief system came to be.  It gives the history behind the “Revelation” of plural marriage through the eyes a Sister Wife, and how the practice affected the whole family.

How this book affected me:

I couldn’t help but get angry again and again while reading it.  For one, it boggles my brain how any woman with half the sense God gave a house plant would tolerate such a practice.  I don’t mean that I don’t understand it on an intellectual level, the book does an excellent job of showing how it was a progressive thing, but at a heart level I can’t believe (it scares me to think it possible) that a woman would say, “Why yes, you have my permission to objectify me and treat me like livestock.  Then, when my daughters are older, you can passel them out to their uncles and other men three times their age to be chattel.  It sounds like a lovely set up!” 

No, I learned the history of it, that a man decided to use his position as a leader to cover up his own leachery by saying, “God said” then made his followers eternal salvation contigent upon their following along because if everyone’s doing it then it’s not as bad.  Then the powers that were discovered that if they kept the women breeding their numbers and voting power would be formidable.  Also, the idea of the man being king of his castle and serviced and waited upon by as many women as he wants, doing whatever he wants, would bring in flocks of them in a time when men were the only ones with legislative powers.

To be honest, I haven’t finished this book yet, I’m not even halfway through.  But I will continue to read it because it’s very compelling and well-written.  I want to know how 5 will fare… Why did she lie about not being there the night her step father was killed?  Will Queenie get caught? or will she escape the Firsts?  Did Jordan’s mom do it? Will she be found guilty?  What’s the lawyer’s, Mr. Heber’s, real angle and why does he seem to want her to be guilty?  Is there really unrest within the Firsts? And how did Ann Eliza become the 19th wife of Brigham Young?  I can’t put it down… I wish life would leave me be to read it, though.

Well written, intriguing and, best of all, inspires conversations and further study, The 19th Wifeby David Ebershoff is an excellent book.  I give it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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Emma by Jane Austen

Title:  Emma

Author:  Jane Austen

Paperback:  416 pages

Date Published: 1997

Publisher:  Wordsworth Editions Ltd

ISBN:  1853260282

The very first subject, after being seated, was Maple Grove, ‘My brother, Mr Suckling’s seat’; a comparison of Hartfield to Maple Grove… ‘Very like Maple Grove indeed! She was quite struck by the likeness! That room was the very shape and size of the morning-room at Maple Grove; her sister’s favourite room.’ Mr Elton was appealed to. ‘Was not it astonishingly like? She could really almost fancy herself at Maple Grove.

‘And the staircase. You know, as I came in, I observed how very like the staircase was; placed exactly in the same part of the house. I really could not help exclaiming! I assure you, Miss Woodhouse, it is very delightful to me to be reminded of a place I am so extremely partial to as Maple Grove. I have so many happy months there!’ (with a little sigh of sentiment.) ‘A charming place, undoubtedly. Everybody who sees it is struck by its beauty; but to me it has been quite a home. Whenever you are transplanted, like me, Miss Woodhouse, you will understand how very delightful it is to meet with anything at all like what one has left behind. I always say this is quite one of the evils of matrimony.’

Emma made as slight a reply as she could; but it was fully sufficient for Mrs Elton, who only wanted to be talking herself.

Emma by Jane Austen, pages 217-218

I finished this book almost a week ago after being stuck in it for about six months.  I’ve wanted to give it time to sit and think about it before making an official judgment by way of a review.  And, while I still say it was the hardest Austen book so far and my least favorite, I have to admit a serious amount of respect for the women of the era.  I’m definitely grateful times have changed since then!

Long and short of things, Emma Woodhouse more or less grew up the Miss Woodhouse of her father’s home, meaning she was the society keeper.  The golden daughter, beautiful and clever, she has never been denied anything by her father, who’s a bit of a hypochondriac, nor by her governess Miss Taylor, who has just married Mr. Weston in the beginning of the novel.  Emma believes she is responsible for making this match and decides to aim her powers at the single vicar, Mr. Elton.  Her brother-in-law’s brother, Mr. Knightly, however, admonishes her to leave match-making be, to let love take its course, but she doesn’t listen (OF COURSE!) and this sets a series of events into motion that forces Emma to grow up and re-evaluate her own position and judgments and that of those around her. 

What Austen does in Emma is to recreate the sense of isolation and near-claustrophobic sensations of the life and choices living as an early 19thcentury English woman.  She equates the life of a governess as a polite form of slavery.  She also conveys the sense of captivity and inertial force of the class stratification of the era.  Everyone had a place, and everyone had acceptable and unacceptable pools of “friends” within the system to choose from:  Either their equal or many levels beneaththem so as to help improve them, but no one only a little below them.. lest they degrade themselves.  Those who tried to improve their social standing by latching onto those above them and trying the seem their equal were treated with civil incivility:  Invitations “forgotten,” stories told to remind them where they belong, arguments about things immaterial that vented hostilities and prejudices.

Emma by Jane Austen presents the parlor life of  emotional constipation and gilded-cage existence without choices beyond who to invite for dinner that ran on and on until death was begged for.  In this day and age, when I can tell my neighbor flat-out, he’s an ass, and go on.  He and I live a life of pretending the other doesn’t exist, which works well.

The book also conveys the sense of the inescapable lot assigned to a person because of who one’s family is and what they’ve done.  Harriet is a persona somewhat non grata because her parentage is unknown.  She could never expect to marry a gentleman, because no respectable man would take in the chance of social disaster if her father ever turned out to be a criminal or worse.  You are who your grandparents were, and if you screw up your life, you ruin your grandchildren’s chances for a future, destroy your siblings’ reputation and shame your parents. 

It amounted to a suffocating life where the most seemingly trivial choices could destroy one’s life and reputation.  While Emma by Jane Austen is not one of my favorites, it’s a worthwhile book to read.  I’m glad to have read it, as much as I am glad I’m DONE reading it.  4 out of 5 stars.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Title: Wuthering Heights

Author: Emily Brontë

Hardback: 356 pages

Publisher: Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc.

Publish Date: 1942

Miscellaneous: This was a book from the library.

“…I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in Heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as deifferent as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.”he remained, Ishould still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I amHeathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being…”

Ere this speech ended, I became sensible of Heathcliff’s presence… He had listened till he heard Catherine say it would degrade her to mayrry him, and then he stayed to hear no further.

“…My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger; I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being…”

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, pages 99-101

I was shocked recently when, while reading Eclipse the third book in The Twilight Series, I had never read Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. As often as the book has been discussed, referred to, and mentioned, I had a generally understanding and memory of the book and thought I had read it. But when I read the quotes from it in Eclipse, I became embarrassingly aware I hadn’t ever experienced it first hand. Even worse, I went to grab it out of my home library only to find I had never even bought the book! *shock!*

So I trundled off to our public library and borrowed a nice, well-worn and slightly tattered book from their shelf and started, “I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.” on Sunday evening, and finished with “I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” earlier today, and loved it!

The story is told by Ellen Dean, who has been a servant all her life between the two houses, beginning at Wuthering Heights with the Earnshaws then at Thrushcross Grange with the Lintons where Mr. Lockwood, reader by proxy, meets Dean and receives her tale. It is a cautionary tale displaying the effects of holding onto wrongs suffered and loves lost and how the bitterness and desire for revenge that can come from them takes over one’s life, leaving no room for love and healthy attachments, and can destroy the lives of people who are innocent of the original offenses.

In Wuthering Heights, the two loves of Catherine Linton nee Earnshaw are juxtaposed and exemplified by the two properties. While Catherine and Heathcliff’s love is passionate, wild and like a force of nature, Catherine’s marriage to Edgar Linton represents all the social respectability and gentility she desires for her life. The uniting of these two loves is foreshadowed when Mrs. Dean finds the lock of Linton’s hair on the floor and a lock of Heathcliff’s in Catherine’s locket and twines the two together before putting the flaxen-and-black twist back into the locket.

While Heathcliff has every right to feel wronged by what is done to him by both Hindley Earnshaw (his foster brother) and by Edgar Linton (the chosen husband of the woman he loves), he could have let go of the past and moved on, experiencing the joys of many neuvo riche have done. However, he refuses to forgive and comes back to Wuthering Heights to set about exacting his revenge on those directly responsible, Hindley and Linton, and on those they love and even on their children, exacting payment from even his own son. In the end, though, he is left with nothing but emptiness, having all the power to finish his plan by destroying the properties, but no longer having the passion to do so.

He tells Ellen Dean:

“With my hard constitution and tempermate mode of living, and unperilous occupations, I ought to, and probably shall, remain above ground till there is scarecely a black hair on my head. And yet I cannot continue in this condition! I have to remind myself to breath – almost to remind my heart to beat! And it is like bending back a stiff spring: it is by compulsion that I do the slightest act not prompted by one thought; and by compulsion that I notice anything alive or dead, which is not associated with one universal idea. I have a single wish, and my whole being and faculties are so unwaveringly, that I’m convinced it will be reached – and soon – because it has devoured my existence: I am swallowed up in the anticipation of its fulfilment… O God! It is a long fight, I wish it were over.”

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, pages 342-343

There is an image painted in my mind by Brontë with this book. It is of a sweet, cool brook that babbles through a spring-flower covered countryside. Somewhere along the waterway, the brook’s path has been stopped up by garbage, and the water has spread out and flooded the surround area. The greenery downstream has begun to brown and show wont of regular watering. But as I walk further along the dry brook, I come to a spot where the water has meandered around the ground and come back to its original bed to continue once more as if it had never been seperated. Time, and gravity, often brings sides back together.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is definitely one of my favorite classic books, and would have to be on my top 50 books list. It is fascinating and compelling, and has a universal message that will be applicable as long as people are humans. 5 out of 5 stars 😀

hated it!didn't like itit was okayliked itLoved it!

trailer for the 1992 movie of Wuthering Heights:

Silas Marner by George Eliot

Title:  Silas Marner

Author:  George Eliot

Paperback:  218 pages

Publisher:  Watermill Press

Publish Date:  1983

ISBN:  0893759961

Miscellaneous:  Mary Ann Evans was born in Warwickshire, England on November 22, 1819.  Under the name of George Eliot, she wrote several novels including Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and  Middlemarch.  George Eliot died in London on December 22, 1880.

Unlike the gold which needed nothing and must be worshiped in close-locked solitude – which was hidden away from the daylight, was deaf to the song of birds, and started to no human tones – Eppie was a creature of endless claims and ever-growing desires, seeking and loving sunshine, and living sounds, and living movements; making trial of everything, with trust in new joy, and stirring the human kindness in all eyes that looked on her.  The gold had kept his thoughts in an ever-repeated circle, leading to nothing beyond itself, but Eppie was an object compacted of changes and hopes that forced his thoughts onward, and carried them far away from their old eager pacing towards the same blank limit…  The gold had asked that he should sit weaving longer and longer, deafened and blinded more and more to all things except the monotony of his loom and the repetition of his web; but Eppie called him away from his weaving, and made him think all its pauses a holiday, reawakening his senses with her fresh life, even to the old winterflies that came crawling forth in the early spring sunshine, and warming him into joy because she had joy.

And when the sunshine grew strong and lasting, so that the buttercups were thick in the meadows, Silas might be seen in the sunny mid-day, or in the later afternoon when the shadows were lengthening under the hedgerows, strolling out with uncovered head to carry Eppie beyond the Stone Pits to where the flowers grew, till they reached some favorite  bank where he could sit down, while Eppie toddled to pluck the flowers, and make remarks to the winged things that murmured happily above the bright petals, calling “Dad-dad’s” attention continually by bringing him the flowers.  Then she would turn her ear to some sudden bird-note, and Silas learned to please her by making signs of hushed stillness, that they might listen for the note to come again:  so that when it came, she set up her small back and laughed with gurgling triumph.  Sitting on the banks in this way, Silas began to look for the once familiar herbs again; and as the leaves, with their unchanged outline and markings, lay on his palm, there was a sense of crowding remembrances from which he turned away timidly, taking refuge in Eppie’s little world that lay lightly on his enfeebled spirit.

As the child’s mind was growing into knowledge, his mind was growing into memory:  as her life unfolded, his soul, long stupefied in a cold narrow prison, was unfolding too, and trembling gradually into full consciousness.

Silas Marner by George Eliot, pages 149-151

Silas Marner by George Eliot tells the story of the socially withdrawn weaver.  Once in love and a vibrantmember of society, Silas was betrayed by his best friend, who framed him as a thief who stole church money in order to steal Marner’s fiance.  Silas leaves the land where he has always lived and moves to the southern English country communtity of Raveloe, a town that is far out of the way of the main roads and therefore has retained its simpler, pastoral beliefs and ways.

For fifteen years Silas works at his loom, usually sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, in pursuit of his only companion,  the gold guineas he receives as pay for his work, and shuns all society.  However, when he falls victim to a robbery that separates him from his 270 pounds that he had hoarded over the years, he begins a journey of reclamation and healing.  The arrival of Eppie, the gold-haired girl he, at first, mistakes as his returned gold, slowly reawakens feelings of faith, trust and love within him.

 But… can it be meant to last?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I vaguely remember reading Silas Marner in high school as part of the advanced English Honors program.  As I read through this a second time, I remembered why.  Eliot’s language is slow and thick, at times mind-numbingly so, and some of the descriptions of the society of a bygone era drug on and on with the inane details of gowns and cows and ghosts and blah blah blah.  I found myself wishing for a good Austen novel.  And now I’m not nearly as convinced I want to crack open Middlemarch, a book at least three times the length also by Eliot.

I did, however, love the story itself.  I felt such sympathy and excitement for Silas as I followed him through all his heartaches and then as rejoiced with him as Eppie, the orphaned child who came into his life by chance, becomes the salvation of his humanity and restores all that he once lost.

A few years ago, Hollywood modernized this story in a movie starring Steve Martin as Silas.  The movie is “A Simple Twist of Fate,” and I recommend it to anyone interested in the story (don’t post hate comments for this, but I’d rather watch the movie than read the book any day!).  Of course, the movie is not a substitute for the book as an assignment for school, but could be watched AFTER you’ve read it. 😉

Obviously, Silas Marner by George Eliot is a literary classic and therefore has merit, but it’s definitely not my favorite classic.  I give Silas Marner 3 out of 5 stars.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice

Title: Pride and Prejudice
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Barnes & Noble Classics
Publish date: 2003
ISBN: 1593082010

“How despicably have I acted!” she cried. “I who have prided myself on my discernment! I, who have valued myself on my abilities! who have often disdained the generous candour of my sister, and gratified my vanity in useless or blameable distrust. How humiliating is this discovery! Yet, how just a humiliation! Had I been in love, I could not have been more wretchedly blind. But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself.”

Pride and Prejudice, or First Impressions, was first published in 1813 simply “by a lady”.  It is the story of two sisters, the one prefers to view the world through optimism, while the second with sarcasm and pleasure with her own wit and views.  While the first sister, Jane, learns by the end of the book that evil can and does exist in people, and that people can be vicious and cruel all the while wearing a pleasant face and friendly voice.  The second sister, Elizabeth, learns that all is not as it seems on the first impressions, and judgement should be reserved until more facts have come to light.

In Pride and Prejudicewe see Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s family of five girls and no sons,  whose estate must fall to a male heir,  deal with concerns for their future.  Mr. Bennet prefers retreat to his study and occasionally regret not having saved for his family’s future after his death.  He is permissive of his youngest daughters’ wild and flirtatious behaviour chasing after soldiers.  He continually berates his younger three daughters in deference to the older two “sensible” daughters.  Mrs. Bennet chooses to contrive opportunities for her daughters to be alone with a potential suitor, such as sending her daughter out in the rain so she can catch a cold and be forced to stay at the suitor’s home.  She shows wanton favoritism of her silly, ill-behaved youngest daughters, making a fateful choice to send her to Brighton where the daughter makes a socially reprehensible choice that threatens to ruin the family all together.

The lesson learned in Pride and Prejudice is that appearances are not often what they seem.  Mr. Bingley’s sisters seem friendly and doting to Jane, but it is all an act, as their true feelings are that of superiority and disdain.  Mr. Wickham is attractive, affable, and pleasant, but in truth is a wicked womanizer who runs out on his debts and responsibilities.  Mr. Darcy seems cold, snobbish, proud and ill-mannered, but this is really how his shyness and fear of meeting new people, as well as his choice not to reveal the truth of his past with Wickham in order to defend Wickham’s maligning him.

I have read Pride and Prejudice before, and rereading it reminded me how much fun and funny it was.  Many of the tete a tetes between different characters are delightful: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s interactions, Elizabeth and Darcy’s verbal volleys, and best of all, Lady Catherine’s demand the Elizabeth NOT to accept a proposal from Darcy is met with the latter’s socially inexcusable refusal which leaves the Lady sputtering and hissing disdain for the entire Bennet family.

I have found that the first time I read this book, I was definately Elizabeth.  Now, about 15 years later, I am still Elizabeth Bennet.  I tend to jump to judgements, though not as quickly as before.  I am a fierce defender of my family, more now than before.  I have a sarcastic wit that I enjoy in myself, which is richer with the experiences of life and a better understanding of people.  I love and respect those who champion integrity and help the loved ones of the one one loves.  I am, however tempered with a little Jane: I do choose to believe people good until they prove themselves otherwise.

Like Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice could be modernized and be just as true and socially relative as in 1813.  Parents still desire for their grown children to be successful and  happily married to a good person.  Children still die of embarrassment when out in public with their parents.  And the fiercest enemies of happiness is our own friends and family.