Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Henry James - Julia Bride

She had walked with her friend to the top of the wide steps of the Museum, those that descended from the galleries of painting, and then, after the young man had left her, smiling, looking back, waving all gayly and expressively his hat and stick, had watched him, smiling too, but with a different intensity--had kept him in sight till he passed out of the great door. She might have been waiting to see if he would turn there for a last demonstration; which was exactly what he did, renewing his cordial gesture and with his look of glad devotion, the radiance of his young face, reaching her across the great space, as she felt, in undiminished truth. Yes, so she could feel, and she remained a minute even after he was gone; she gazed at the empty air as if he had filled it still, asking herself what more she wanted and what, if it didn't signify glad devotion, his whole air could have represented.
She was at present so anxious that she could wonder if he stepped and smiled like that for mere relief at separation; yet if he desired in that degree to break the spell and escape the danger why did he keep coming back to her, and why, for that matter, had she felt safe a moment before in letting him go? She felt safe, felt almost reckless--that was the proof--so long as he was with her; but the chill came as soon as he had gone, when she took the measure, instantly, of all she yet missed. She might now have been taking it afresh, by the testimony of her charming clouded eyes and of the rigor that had already replaced her beautiful play of expression. Her radiance, for the minute, had "carried" as far as his, travelling on the light wings of her brilliant prettiness--he, on his side, not being facially handsome, but only sensitive, clean and eager. Then, with its extinction, the sustaining wings dropped and hung.

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Book Choice: The Portrait of a Lady (Penguin Classics)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Willa Cather - A Wagner Matinee

I received one morning a letter, written in pale ink on glassy, blue-lined notepaper, and bearing the postmark of a little Nebraska village. This communication, worn and rubbed, looking as though it had been carried for some days in a coat pocket that was none too clean, was from my Uncle Howard and informed me that his wife had been left a small legacy by a bachelor relative who had recently died, and that it would be necessary for her to go to Boston to attend to the settling of the estate. He requested me to meet her at the station and render her whatever services might be necessary. On examining the date indicated as that of her arrival I found it no later than tomorrow. He had characteristically delayed writing until, had I been away from home for a day, I must have missed the good woman altogether.

The name of my Aunt Georgiana called up not alone her own figure, at once pathetic and grotesque, but opened before my feet a gulf of recollection so wide and deep that, as the letter dropped from my hand, I felt suddenly a stranger to all the present conditions of my existence, wholly ill at ease and out of place amid the familiar surroundings of my study. I became, in short, the gangling farm boy my aunt had known, scourged with chilblains and bashfulness, my hands cracked and sore from the corn husking. I felt the knuckles of my thumb tentatively, as though they were raw again. I sat again before her parlor organ, fumbling the scales with my stiff, red hands, while she, beside me, made canvas mittens for the huskers.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Ambrose Flack - The Strangers That Came to Town

The first of April came dark and stormy, with silver whips of lightning cracking open the lowering clouds that seemed to skim the treetops. My brother Tom and I, recovering from chest colds, tired of reading and listening to the radio, turned to the big living-room window of our house on Syringa Street.

“Here they come, Mother,” cried Tom when a big truck drove up in the teeming rain and stopped in front of the empty cottage across the street. Mother hurried in from the kitchen and we three looked out. That truck, we knew, contained the Duvitch family and all their earthly possessions. Mr. Duvitch and the biggest boy carefully helped Mrs. Duvitch from the seat and walked her into the house, supporting her all the way. Another big boy, carrying a well-bundled baby, followed. A stream of young Duvitches, accompanied by a big brown houndlike dog, poured out of the back of the truck and stood in a huddle in the rain.

The barnyard sounds we heard escaped from two crates of hens the Duvitches had fetched along and from a burlap bag in which a small flock of ducks had been stowed. While the livestock made noises according to its kind, the Duvitches were quiet—almost solemn. They showed no elation at finding themselves in a new neighborhood and a very pretty neighborhood at that.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Kate Chopin - Lilacs

Mme. Adrienne Farival never announced her coming; but the good nuns knew very well when to look for her. When the scent of the lilac blossoms began to permeate the air, Sister Agathe would turn many times during the day to the window; upon her face the happy, beatific expression with which pure and simple souls watch for the coming of those they love.
But it was not Sister Agathe; it was Sister Marceline who first espied her crossing the beautiful lawn that sloped up to the convent. Her arms were filled with great bunches of lilacs which she had gathered along her path. She was clad all in brown; like one of the birds that come with the spring, the nuns used to say. Her figure was rounded and graceful, and she walked with a happy, buoyant step. The cabriolet which had conveyed her to the convent moved slowly up the gravel drive that led to the imposing entrance. Beside the driver was her modest little, black trunk, with her name and address printed in white letters upon it: "Mme. A. Farival, Paris." It was the crunching of the gravel which had attracted Sister Marceline's attention. And then the commotion began.

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Book Choice: Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories: At Fault / Bayou Folk / A Night in Acadie / The Awakening / Uncollected Stories (Library of America)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Frank Stockton - The Lady, or the Tiger

IN THE very olden time, there lived a semi-barbaric king, whose ideas, though somewhat polished and sharpened by the progressiveness of distant Latin neighbors, were still large, florid, and untrammelled, as became the half of him which was barbaric. He was a man of exuberant fancy, and, withal, of an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts. He was greatly given to self-communing; and, when he and himself agreed upon any thing, the thing was done. When every member of his domestic and political systems moved smoothly in its appointed course, his nature was bland and genial; but whenever there was a little hitch, and some of his orbs got out of their orbits, he was blander and more genial still, for nothing pleased him so much as to make the crooked straight, and crush down uneven places.

Among the borrowed notions by which his barbarism had become semified was that of the public arena, in which, by exhibitions of manly and beastly valor, the minds of his subjects were refined and cultured.

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Book Choice: The Lady, or the Tiger?; And Other Stories

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton - The Isle of Skulls

The good priests of Santa Barbara sat in grave conference on the long corridor of their mission. It was a winter's day, and they basked in the sun. The hoods of their brown habits peaked above faces lean and ascetic, fat and good-tempered, stern, intelligent, weak, commanding. One face alone was young.
But for the subject under discussion they would have been at peace with themselves and with Nature. In the great square of the mission the Indians they had Christianized worked at many trades. The great aqueduct along the brow of one of the lower hills, the wheat and corn fields on the slopes, the trim orchards and vegetable gardens in the canons of the great bare mountains curving about the valley, were eloquent evidence of their cleverness and industry. From the open door of the church came the sound of lively and solemn tunes: the choir was practising for mass. The day was as peaceful as only those long drowsy shimmering days before the Americans came could be. And yet there was dissent among the padres.
Several had been speaking together, when one of the older men raised his hand with cold impatience.
"There is only one argument," he said. "We came here, came to the wilderness out of civilization, for one object only--to lead the heathen to God. We have met with a fair success. Shall we leave these miserable islanders to perish, when we have it in our power to save?"
"But no one knows exactly where this island is, Father Jimeno," replied the young priest. "And we know little of navigation, and may perish before we find it. Our lives are more precious than those of savages."
"In the sight of God one soul is of precisely the same value as another, Father Carillo."
The young priest scowled. "We can save. They cannot."
"If we refuse to save when the power is ours, then the savage in his extremest beastiality has more hope of heaven than we have."

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Book Choice: The Californians

Monday, April 13, 2009

Emily Dickinson - If I Should Die

IF I should die,
And you should live,
And time should gurgle on,
And morn should beam,
And noon should burn,
As it has usual done;
If birds should build as early,
And bees as bustling go,--
One might depart at option
From enterprise below!
'Tis sweet to know that stocks will stand
When we with daisies lie,
That commerce will continue,
And trades as briskly fly.
It make the parting tranquil
And keeps the soul serene,
That gentlemen so sprightly
Conduct the pleasing scene!

Book Choice: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lord Byron - She Walks in Beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,—
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.

Book Choice: Lord Byron: The Major Works (Oxford World's Classics)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Christina Rosseti - Echo

Come to me in the silence of the night;
Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright
As sunlight on a stream;
Come back in tears,
O memory, hope and love of finished years.

O dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter-sweet,
Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
Where souls brim-full of love abide and meet;
Where thirsting longing eyes
Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in, lets out no more.

Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
My very life again though cold in death;
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low,
As long ago, my love, how long ago.

Book Choice: The Complete Poems (Penguin Classics)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Langston Hughes - The Gun

Picture yourself a lone bird in a cage with monkeys, or the sole cat in a kennel full of dogs. Even if the dogs became accustomed to you, they wouldn’t make the best of playmates; nor could you, being a cat, mate with them, being dogs. Although, in the little town of Fall Rock, Montana, the barriers were less natural than artificial (entirely man-made barriers, in fact), nevertheless, to be the only Negro child in this small white city made you a stranger in a strange world; an outcast in the house where you lived; a part of it all by necessity, and yet no part at all.

Flora Belle Yates, as a child, used to shield herself from the frequent hurts and insults of white children with tears, blows, and sometimes curses. Even with only one Negro family, the Yatcses, in Tall Rock, race relations were not too good. Her father and mother had come up from Texas years ago. Flora BelIe had heard them tell about the night they left Texarkana, looking back to see their hut in flames and a mob shouting in the darkness. The mob wanted to lynch Flora Belle’s father. It seemed that, in an argument about wages, he had beaten up a white man. Through some miracle, her mother said, they had gotten away in the face of the mob, escaping in a rickety ford, crossing the state line and driving for three days, somehow making it to the Northwest. Her father had an idea of getting to Canada, fleeing like the slaves in slave days clean out of the United States, but gas and money ran out. He and his wife stopped to work along the way, and finally ended up by staying in Tall Rock. Nora’s father had gotten a job there, tending to the horses and equipment of a big contractor. Her mother worked in the contractor’s house as cook, maid, and washwoman. Shortly after their arrival, Flora Belle was born in a large room over the contractor’s stable.

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Book Choice: The Ways of White Folks: Stories