Sunday, April 28, 2013

The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton

I fell in love with this book from the first couple of sentences. That's all it took for me to know I was really going to enjoy it: "Selden paused in surprise. In the afternoon rush of the Grand Central Station, his eyes had been refreshed by the sight of Miss Lily Bart."

It was a great opening for a great story. I like its detailed study of everyday life and the deep reflection of a particular society, especially one as deceiving and tricky as the upper classes of the turn of the century. I guess I have to read more works belonging to the American literary naturalism movement. Edith Wharton is an amazing representative; she was so meticulous and thorough it made me feel very much involved with the story and its main character. 

Lily Bart is a beautiful woman of the upper-class turn-of-the-century society of New York. She doesn’t have money of her own but has an important social standing because of her family’s former wealth. She is obsessed with money and luxury and the only way for her to survive in this society is to marry “well.” She cannot conceive a life outside of what she is used to, even though this means sacrificing her true feelings. In order to achieve her goal she uses her two most powerful tools: her astonishing beauty and the impact it has on the people around her, and her ability to keep appearances and always do and say the right thing at the right time. She is great at reading people’s expressions, reactions, even their eyes. That is the only way to obtain the truth of people so obsessed with been “civil” and doing what is “convenient” and it allows her to manipulate others.

This is a ruthless society. It is obsessed with money even though the rule is to pretend it doesn’t matter. It is an artificial society because nothing on the surface is true: they lie, cheat, manipulate, back-stab and step on everybody behind a cover of polite manners and the false pretense of enjoying each other’s company. Navigating this sea of manners, customs, traditions and prejudices is an art and the women successful in it could have easily been successful diplomats: knowing to whom to be loyal depending on what is convenient, helping pave the way into society of a newcomer who could be of use once in it, turning your back on the “wrong people” in order to save yourself from scandal, etc.  I wonder if there was any truth in anything they said to each other in their efforts to be successful. 

Hypocrisy is at the order of the day in many ways. They disapprove of women who openly want to marry for money but they will turn their backs on the ones who don’t marry into money. Men are allowed to behave “suspiciously” but women aren't,  they won’t even receive the benefit of the doubt, the worst is always assumed and gossiped about. The saddest part of this is that a woman’s worst enemy is another woman. They will destroy each other if they have to, they will even do it out of spite.

Everyone plays a role, everyone acts. Keeping appearances was the goal, a way of life, an ideal, even though it involved so much misery most of the times. 

Lily is the victim of this society but she almost sabotages herself as well. She eventually comes to realize that money will never bring her true happiness, but she also knows she will never be happy without it either. She is destined to always be dissatisfied. One could easily condemn Lily for wanting to marry for money, for wanting a “nice” life. But that wouldn't be entirely fair. At the time, women could not support themselves at that level unless they were heiresses. The only way to obtain a safe, secure, “nice” life was by marrying well. It was a matter of survival. One could also say: “What’s the need to be rich and fabulous? She was a fool”. And yes, she was a fool several times but consider her context, her upbringing, what she thought she was made for:

“Since she had been brought up to be ornamental, she could hardly blame herself for failing to serve any practical purpose”.

The consequences of Lily's actions and decisions caused her a great deal of pain and I found myself being angry at her for her foolishness but at the same time angry at a society that created an unsustainable situation for women like Lily. A society that created an impossible standard of righteousness that they didn't follow themselves but tried so hard to enforce. 

What should have surprised me but unfortunately didn’t is that even though times have changed and women don’t have the same limited position, the upper class societies are basically still the same prejudiced, false and elitist group of people. Lima is so far away from the elite New York society of the late 1890’s but one can indeed perceive the same obsession with money and appearances. I guess some things never change, it doesn’t matter how much “evolved” we are or in what part of the world we live. Money is power, always, everywhere. Looking the right way, going to the right places and relating to the right people is as important as it was then. 

I really enjoyed this book and admire Edith Wharton more than ever for being so insightful. I read The Age of Innocence last year and thought it was a wonderful book but I like The House of Mirth even better. It is a complete story and every part of it has its purpose. The construction and development of the characters is so well round-up. I wanted to hate Lily Bart sometimes but she was so complex, so human, I couldn’t help liking her and admiring her even; I was really rooting for her.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Hello there! This is a quick post, I just signed into Bloglovin! This way I won't miss any of the posts of my favorite blogs and if you'd like to follow my blog there, please click the link below :).

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Thank you!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Happy Birthday Charlotte!

Today is Charlotte Brontë's birthday anniversary. I don't think there are enough words to describe how much I admire her and her two sisters. Their books have left a mark in me. We always take something from what we read, especially when we enjoy what we read, but there is something about these sisters that feels that I'm taking even more than usual. Such strength, passion and intelligence. I can't get enough of them.

Today a fellow blogger retwitted the link to a website devoted to the details of a supposed photograph of the Brontës. Nobody knows if it is really them but I stared at the picture for about an hour. I wish it was them, it feels as if I can discover something new about them, it makes me so excited! 

There is something bewitching about this photograph
Anyway, I think the time is coming for another all Brontë-all the time reading experience. I'll probably finish the books I'm currently reading in the coming week and then I'll start with Shirley and Villette and then will continue with Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey because I haven't read them in quite a while, and after reading those I will finish with Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which are my favorites.

Happy Birthday Charlotte! 

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

I wish I had read this when I was a kid. What a beautiful book! I’m pretty sure I would have become obsessed with having my own garden, my own “bit of earth”. Maybe it would have been a little frustrating because I lived in an apartment (still do), in the middle of this gray, chaotic city, but I can see myself running to the park and watching things grow and feeling the magic.

Actually, I want my own bit of earth now. I think this book has made me realize how much I forget to enjoy life  sometimes. I spend so much time indoors, working and being tired that maybe I’m a little bit like Colin who just needed some fresh air and to discover the magic of things. Strangely enough, I do understand what Colin is talking about: that magic in life that makes us stronger and happier and that moves us in such a way (when we let it) that we also want to shout that we are going to live forever and ever and ever.

Mary Lennox is a little girl who lost her parents and is sent to live with his uncle in a big house in the middle of the moors. She is described as unlikable, rude and very self-involved. She does not like anyone and is not interested in anything. One day she discovers a secret garden that has been closed for ten years and it has such an impact on her, she starts changing that very same day. She later discovers she has a cousin, Colin, living secluded in the house, who thinks he is terminally ill and lives completely obsessed with his death. 

The transformation of Mary and Colin is the central plot of the book. They change drastically but it is not forced; it was completely natural, just like a couple of flowers in the springtime. And they are just that: give them enough sun, air, space to grow and a little rain and you have two gorgeous flowers blooming happily. 

The awakening of the garden leads to the awakening of Colin and Mary. They are both very similar: they both have been utterly neglected by their parents, have never really been loved by anyone and they have never loved anyone either. When Mary discovered the garden, she discovers a part of herself she didn't know she had: the ability to be happy and seek happiness. She opened both a physical and emotional door to a different place that seemed to be dead but was just “sleeping” and starting blooming as soon as Mary let it breathe. It is basically the same for Colin but with greater physical improvement. It shows the power the mind has over our health. Colin was not really sick, not physically; his mind was. 

I like the idea that nature heals us, in every way possible, and that healing the mind from all those bad, dark thoughts and feelings ends up healing our bodies as well. 

I could say I’m an expert in worrying too much, in focusing on the bad things. I am a pessimist sometimes, I have to admit that, but I have also experienced the difference when trying to think positively. I have been trying to make that effort and I have seen the results: it does seem that focusing on the misery only brings more misery but focusing on the positive side of things brings peace of mind and a sort of soothing feeling I wish I could experience more often. I know is up to me, but it can be very hard sometimes. I have to discover the magic.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It had a positive effect on me: I read it before going to sleep and I would finally fall asleep dreaming about the garden instead of thinking obsessively about work. It is an incredible thing the impact books have on our daily lives, isn't it?

I still wish I had a garden to go into right now. I feel that maybe I need to be healed too. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Estoy súper emocionada por este fin de semana: ¡No tengo que trabajar! Quizás todavía no debería estar celebrando, sólo es jueves y quién sabe si de repente llega una traducción urgente para el lunes, pero tengo un buen presentimiento. He estado trabajando sin parar los últimos dos meses (incluso los fines de semana) y me siento rara por poder pasar mi tiempo haciendo lo que me de la gana (lo que significa leer, pasar el tiempo con mi enamorado y ver Arrested Development). 

Ayer terminé de leer el primer volumen de Las Obras de Edgar Allan Poe. Tiene ocho cuentos, de los cuales dos disfruté bastante: Asesinatos en la Rue Morgue y el Misterio de Marie Roget. Son historias detectivescas y siempre disfruto de un rompecabezas bien armado. El resto de las historias, bueno... El Insecto de Oro fue divertido y corto pero no puedo decir que el resto me gustara mucho. Admito que me perdí algunas veces y me alegré al terminar de leerlos (al menos terminé, eso es bueno).

Este fin de semana me voy a dedicar a leer Historia del Rey Transparente de Rosa Montero. Hasta ahorita sí me gusta, pero todavía no me engancha. Normalmente Montero me encanta, por lo que tengo expectativas altas para este libro. Veremos qué pasa. También estoy emocionada porque hasta ahora estuve descuidando un poco la literatura en español y ya era hora de leer algo en mi propio idioma. Esto en verdad es una meta y planeo leer más literatura española o latinoamericana en los próximos meses. Creo que me puse tan contenta cuando recibí mi Kindle y comencé a leer todos estos libros a los que antes no tenía acceso (en su idioma original) que me olvidé que mi primer y más grande amor es la literatura en mi propio idioma.

Es un muy buen momento para leer, el clima está lindo, soleado pero no caliente y las noches son frescas y mucho mejores para mis planes de lectura. Ya lo he mencionado varias veces, no me concentro bien cuando hace mucho calor.

¡Espero que tengan un genial fin de semana!

I'm really excited for this weekend: I'm not working! Maybe I shouldn't celebrate just yet, it is only Thursday and who knows if an urgent translation comes along for Monday, but I have a good feeling. I have been working non-stop for the past two months (even the weekends) and I feel weird for actually being able to spend my time doing whatever I want (which means reading, hanging out with the boyfriend and watching Arrested Development). 

Yesterday I finished reading the first volume of The Works of Edgar Allan Poe. It has eight short stories, two of which I really enjoyed: Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Mystery of Marie Roget. They are detective stories and I always enjoy a good  puzzle put together. The rest of the stories, well... The Gold Bug was fun and short but I cannot say I liked the rest very much. I admit I got lost at times and was glad when I finished reading them (at least I finished them, that's a good thing).

This weekend I will read Historia del Rey Transparente by Rosa Montero. So far I like it, but I'm not hooked yet. I usually love Montero so I have high expectations for this book. We'll see what happens. It is also exciting because I have been neglecting literature in Spanish and it was about time to read something in my own language. This is actually a goal and I plan to read more of Spanish or Latin American literature in the next few months. I think that I got so excited when I got my Kindle and started reading all these books to which I had no access before (in their original language) that I forgot that my first and greatest passion is the literature in my own language.

It is a very good time to read right now, the weather is beautiful, sunny but not hot and the nights are cool and much more suitable for my reading preferences. As I have already mentioned quite a few times before, I don't focus well when it is too hot.

I hope you have an amazing weekend!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Reading Hamlet

I started this project right before work got crazy but I have still managed to dedicate a few hours each week to The Bard. Now, please remember this is NOT a review, simply a few notes I've taken during my reading experience. I have basically transcribed the notes in my journal to this post. And this is also just a first update of how my project has begun and a few impressions I have of Hamlet so far. 

I have read the play about three times and I have seen two adaptations: The Royal Shakespeare Company's version with David Tennant (loved him) and Kenneth Branagh's EPIC movie adaptation and I feel I have only peeled the very first few layers of the play and understanding of the characters.

Hamlet is such an enigmatic character. Is he really mad or not? Why does it take him so long to act if he is most definitely looking for revenge? And if he is so obsessed with looking for proof and certainty in order to act, why does he acts so rashly and kills Polonius, for example? He is a walking contradiction and that is what fascinates us, the readers and the audience, so much.

Throughout the play we see him angry, sad, almost hopeless sometimes, mad, even cruel, but despite of all this, what left a deeper mark concerning my perspective of the character, is his absolute dissatisfaction. He conveys that dissatisfaction with his actions and his constant questions to himself. I think that dissatisfaction is important, in my humble opinion, because it makes me understand a little bit more about what drives him.

David Tennant in Hamlet (2009 - Recorded for the BBC)
He is neither a hero or a villain, although he could be perceived as both, depending on our understanding of the plot and of the performance as well. I fell utterly in love with the movie adaptation by Kenneth Branagh but his Hamlet is so aggressive, so unlikable at some points, that I do see the villain in him. On the other hand, David Tennant's performance felt much more insane, if you will, not as manic but truly afflicted and confused, and it made me look at him under a different light.

Another character that is enigmatic, to me, is Gertrude. I keep asking myself if Gertrude was involved in the plot to murder her husband. It is not clear whether she is completely ignorant or as manipulative as Claudius himself. The fact that she marries him so fast suggests that she did know.

You know what part I love? The play within a play. All of it, how Hamlet uses it to get a reaction from the King, how he instructs the actors and talks about the craft of being an actor, the do's and don'ts, the meaning behind it all. "Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with the special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature. For anything so overdone is from purpose of playing..." (Act III, Sc. II).

I have so many more layers to peel, plot-wise and language-wise and I love that. I'm finally getting some free time and I will continue working on my project. I will update you more frequently I hope, and please feel free to give me any suggestions, pointers or simply discuss with me your impressions, opinions, etc.