Monday, February 24, 2014

The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Stories

This collection of horror stories by H. P. Lovecraft has been on my shelf for a year or so, and I've been in a mood for cozy creepiness this winter, so last month I pulled this one down and read it.  That it's taken me so long to post about it, or indeed about anything, is due to an increase in both new activities and in migraines.  Am now attempting to get both under control, with some success.

These stories were mostly a pleasure, which is not surprising since I've never met a ghost story I didn't like.  And the straightforward ghost stories were the most successful for me, probably because they gave me what I love:  not-too-disturbing creepiness and graceful prose.  The fantasies interested me less--why do I often find fantasy disappointing?  "Beyond the Wall of Sleep," for instance, just seems overblown. "Into the Mountains of Madness," starts off with a great premise:  that Antarctica, the last uncharted continent, contains a dreadful mystery.  But when the mystery is revealed, it's disappointingly, clunkily, silly.  "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," on the other hand, if a bit too long, scared me nicely with its undead ancestors and raised demons.  The classic "The Dunwich Horror" didn't disappoint either.  Atmospherically set in 1920s New England, and building up layers of mystery, its first half was everything I love.  And the final part was well-handled, the "horror" itself not shown except through the reactions of the few who saw it and lived. 

What I didn't know but probably should have, is how much Stephen King owes to H. P. Lovecraft.  It's obvious that King was heavily influenced by Lovecraft, he borrows so much--isolated New England towns with secretive inhabitants, Indian burial grounds as tainted places, foolish humans calling up ancient evils.  Some imagery and the name of a demon from "The Dunwich Horror,"  I'm pretty sure, appear in King's novels The Tommyknockers and Needful Things

After reading these stories, I googled Lovecraft and found a terrific website for fans of Victorian horror called Gaslight.  The site has archived hundreds of gothic/horror/mystery stories as well as essays and criticism written by both famous and unknown authors between 1800 and 1919. 

Classics Club

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Eugene Onegin, Chapters 5-8

I've been awol the last few weeks, for a lot of little non-serious reasons, and I'm here to catch up.  So glad I haven't missed the entire second half of the readalong. 

This final half of the poem begins with a shocking event:  Eugene, in a fit of irritation with Lensky, dances and flirts with Olga (Lensky's fiancee).  Neither Eugene nor Olga sees this as anything serious, but Lensky does.  Quite uncharacteristically, it seems to me, he challenges Onegin to a duel.  Eugene haughtily agrees, and Lensky is killed.  Stricken with remorse, Eugene leaves his estate and spends several years traveling.  Shallow Olga recovers quickly from her loss and marries a soldier. Lensky is forgotten and his grave neglected. Tatiana, feeling that life no longer holds any joy for her, agrees to marry an elderly general, and enters St. Petersburg's social elite.  On his return to society, Eugene sees her at a ball, is struck by her grave beauty, and (at last) falls in love with her.  He writes her a letter that is a wonderful counterpart to the one she originally wrote him, in which he recognizes that he turned her away in the past only because of "my tedious taste for feeling free."  Though she still loves Eugene, Tatiana refuses to betray her husband, and Eugene is left standing thunderstruck.

Question from Marion, our readalong host:  Chapter 6 finds us in the middle of sudden disputes and high drama.  What might be the characters' motivations for such extreme actions?  Is it substance, or superficiality?  Is anybody right or wrong - and if so, who?

I want to respond to this because it's what struck me also--what on earth got into Lensky and Onegin?  I just cannot see sweet-natured, easygoing Lensky even noticing Onegin's flirtation with Olga, much less assuming on no evidence at all that a seduction was attempted, much less demanding a duel!  Likewise with Onegin--he's just too bored and can't-be-bothered-about-it-all to agree to anything as real and dangerous as a duel.  Not to mention his genuine love for his friend, the only sincere emotion he appeared to have up until that point.  I would expect him to laugh at Lensky's challenge, and tell him not to be ridiculous.  Honestly, I can't account for this part of the plot.