Monday, August 06, 2007

Thomas Hardy & John Irving

"Tess of D'Ubervilles" and Thomas Hardy's work in general, has been reference quite frequently in "A Prayer for Owen Meany." So much so, that I find myself deeply moved enough to warrant reading one of his novels in the near future. Irving cautions us, that Hardy is so difficult to comprehend and unravel that one would even be better off reading Dostoevsky's "The Brother's Karamazov." I was told, by my best friend's mother that this was a book that I needed to read, when I was ready for it. I still don't know if I am. I find it quite ironic though, that at a book club meeting I suggested two novels: "A Prayer for Owen Meany" and "The Brother's Karamazov" (both of which were turned down). However, "The Brother's Karamazov" was unanimously consented to in my book club... so I wager that we will get to it either this year, or early next.

Anyhow, I digress. I came onto the blog, to share you a quote from Thomas Hardy (which I excerpted directly from "A Prayer for Owen Meany." I hope you enjoy it... it encompasses a lot of my feelings towards literature.

"A story must be exceptional enough to justify its telling. We storytellers are all ancient mariners, and none of us is justifed in stopping wedding guests, unless he has something more unusual to relate than the ordinary experiences of every average man and woman."

And one more, from the point of view of Owen Meany, a chacter of Irving's:

"Think of Hardy as a man who was almost religious, as a man who came so close to believing in God that when he rejected God, his rejection made him ferociously bitter. The kind of fate Hardy believes in is almost like believing in God - at least in that terrible, judgemental God of the Old Testament. Hardy hates institutions: the church- more than faith or belief - and certainly marriage (the instituion of it), and the insitution of education. People are helpless to fate, victims of time - their own emotions undo them, and social institutions of all kinds fail them.

Don't you see how a belief in such a bitter universe is not unlike relious faith? Like faith, what Hardy believed was naked, plan, vulnerable. Belief in God, or a belief that - eventually - has tragic consequences... either way, you don't leave yourself any room for philosophical detachment. Either way, you're not being very clever. Never think of Hardy as clever; never confuse faith, or belief - of any kind - with something even remotely intellectual. That's why I say he was 'almost religious' - because he wasn't a great thinker, he was a great FEELER."


steve said...

I would like to disagree with the following: "A story must be exceptional enough to justify its telling."

Firstly, I find this statement pompous and contrived. What about those stories that relate closest to the human condition? There is nothing "exceptional" about them per say, except to the extent that the depths of human emotion and understanding continue to elude our us.

Furthermore, I find the term "exceptional" to be vague to such a degree that it prohibits intellectual discussion. What makes a story "exceptional" and who decides? Rather, I see it as the way in which the story is woven together that makes it engaging. Is this in and of itself a criterion of "exceptionalism"? This quotation leaves us wanting for an answer ...

Spudz said...

Personally, I think that most stories that can accurately and emotionally reflect "the depths of human emotion and understanding (that) continue to elude us" are 'exceptional' and therefore, 'justify (the story's) telling'.

One only has to read Dostoevsky's "Notes from Underground" or Bellow's "Henderson, the Rain King" to find this is the case. If you haven't read either of these novels, I would strongly suggest reading them.

As for who decides what is 'exceptional', I would think that both the author and individuals in society would be the judge of that.

As an author, you can only hope to put your best foot forward and hope that you work is not only viewed as exceptional by yourself, but by others as well.

There is no criteria that makes a story 'exceptional'. Like so many things, it is all a matter of perception.