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 Dear Friends,

My good friend, Jill, posted a "meme" on facebook that interested me because I couldn't fulfill its terms.  She asked that everyone whom she had linked to her space as a friend cite 15 meaningful books that really influenced us in life.  She came up with 15 and explained her thinking to me: 

"The request is supposed to be for the 15 books that have been most influential on you, not necessarily your favorite.  As an example, I think of Austen's Persuasion again and again, when I see a person that is surrounded by weak-minded people that exercise control over them (thinking of my friend Dan's work situation here).  Of course when confronted with over-arching government interference I think of 1984.  1984 is not a favorite book of mine, but one I think of frequently.

My problem was it's hard for me to come up with 15 books that really influenced me.  I immediately had two:  Austen's Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park.   The whole outlook of Mansfield Park has helped reinforced my attitude of mind towards experience and Fanny Price has helped me feel better about myself, for I too have felt and still feel the way she does before closed doors; I too intensely dislike ridicule of others, live within and on myself, have been an outsider.  Just the other day in Davies's modernized depiction of Elinor Dashwood (played by Hattie Morahan) in the 2008 S&S, there is a scene where she tells her mother, Mrs Dashwood, not to write Edward, not to beg him to come to them or write to them: if he doesn't want to come for whatever reason, they are better off living with it. They cannot make him come nor do they know why he is not.

Then we see her enduring on as she shops, walks on the cobb, draws, reads. It gives me strength to watch her to do thia and accept.

But what else?  not Trollope. No book in Trollope has directly influenced the way I actually think or live, nor has any character made me want to emulate her and it's rare I recognize myself in any of the women (some exceptions where I do include Miss Emily Forester in "Journey to Panama," the alcoholic scholar in "The Spotted Dog", Alice Vavasour in Can You Forgive Her?). . Perhaps Johnson's Ramblers Adventurers Idlers once upon a time.  Yes. I used to read them nightly when I ws 28 and I have in recent times turned to them for thoughts to strengthen and help me through a crisis.  I remember in one he writes words which mean never want from others what you cannot have as a natural right or without clawing it; it is not safe and not good for your tranquillity, virtue, or sanity. He shows how you may be more than emotionally tortured by wishing or hoping and then acting intensely for what you cannot have (this connects back to Elinor Dashwood's comment above) One is influenced by what one's character is ready for: my temperament is that the hoped aroused which is crushed hurts more than not having it; I prefer to base myself on experience (Johnson calls this the stability of truth) rather than any romantic dream.

I'm not sure Richardson's Clarissa actually influenced me -- much as it has been a book that I have reread so many times and spent 5 years of my life explicating in 800 pages (1/3 on women's romance and 1/3 on reverie as the creative state for making novels and getting readers to live in them). The revealing thing about Clarissa and these older books is often I prefer the modern version of the character to the original.  I've disliked Richardson's Anna Howe strongly (for her density, coldness, obtuse betrayals of Clary), but Nokes and Barron's strong and kind one, how I love her.  Similarly I prefer Fay Weldon's minor characters in Austen's P&P (Weldon's Mary Bennet, Kitty, Anne De Bourgh). 

Bachelard's Poetics of Reverie taught me much and more about art and creativity than anything I've read but Trollopes Autography and Henry James's Notebooks and prefaces to his novels.

Jill says that as she thinks about "over-arching government interference" (which by the way doesn't exist; we don't have any help from government for real and it's only when we want the few things from government the state says we can have do we encounter individuals and then Johnson's statement is the relevant one), she thnks, she says, of 1984; well, the vision of humankind I found in Primo Levi's If this be man and La tregua (translation difficult, it means truce or afterwards) would be that for me.  

Then her friend, Herman, made a suggestion. He widened the meaning of influence:  

"It's funny; when I posed this to Herman, he said it would be a more useful question to ask him what his 15 most influential musical pieces were.  I agreed and he promised to think about it."

If I could widen the meaning to include the 15 most influential works of literary art on my sense of what art is and how I relate to it, and if useful means helping me in general to get through life by providing beauty, kindness, consoling and strengthening truths that don't skirt the cruelties and injustices that shape life, what I go for to get through my days, then I would have trouble limiting the list to 15.  Also I have to be able to state one of the items as a general category:

1) Sense and Sensibility
2) Mansfield Park
3) Johnson's Ramblers, Idlers, and Adventurers
4) Richardson's Clarissa (recently further explicated by Diderot's La Religieuse, and Judith Herman's Trauma and Recovery)
5) Many of Trollope's novels and his Autobiography, "The Pandragon," "A Walk in a Wood"
6) Many deep-feeling musing women's poems: they can be comic as well as overtly emotional; they must be beautiful; Anthony Hecht's Venetian Vespers, Empson's villanelles (the whole of "Missing Dates" and lines like "Much afraid went over the river singing, though none knew what she sang")and quite a number of 18th century & 19th century poems by men, Pope's Horatian poems, Cowper, romantic poetry (among which I list Austen's Persuasion)
7) Ann Radciffle's Mysteries of Udolpho and Romance of the Foresi; Charlotte Smith's Ethelinde and sonnets, and female gothic and ghost stories individually (by Edith Wharton; books like Coral Ann Howell's Love, Mystery and Misery, by Judith Wilt)
8) Primo Levi's If this be man and La Tregua
9) Elsa Morante's Storia
10) 18th and early 19th century women's letters and memoirs (from Julie de Lespinasse and Madame du Deffand to Elizabeth Grant Smith and Fanny Burney, Oliphant's autobiography to George Sand's memoirs); and Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Teheran
11)  Modern women's autobiographies (e.g, Bobbie Ann Mason's Clear Springs, Marge Piercy's Sleeping with Cats, Reviving Ophelia)
12)  20th century women's novels of sensibility (can be comic), which I read regularly at night when I can find them. So many I can't list them all.  And books on these by writers like Alison Light and Nicola Beauman.  A. S. Byatt's Possession; Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, most recently Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth
13) Deep feeling reverie 20th century novels by men, including poltical ones: J.L. Carr's A Month in the Country, Graham Swift's Last Orders, Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of time, Paul Scott's Raj Quartet and Staying On, Kazuo Ishiguro's When we Were Orphans, The Remains of the Day; E. M. Forster, Colm Toibin, plays too: Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, Tom Stoppard's Arcadia
14) Bachelard's books of and about poetics; Henry James's Notebooks and prefaces to his novels; movie criticism like the essays in Imitations of Life, ed. M. Landry and Home Is Where the Heart Is, C Gledhill, and of course Didier's L'Ecriture-Femme and Lois Tyson's Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide (the last the most influential of books for me)
15) Many scattered passages in Shakespeare's plays

I also love pictures, especially older picturesque meditative ones (Poussin), rococo genre art (Watteau), and maintain an active feeling for Ronald Colman as emboding a type of wonderful nobility.




( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 13th, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)
I forgot Radcliffe! I would have added her and perhaps left someone else out. Herman makes me thing of the Warden when he unconsciously plays the piano when anxious
Jun. 13th, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
Should have proofread! I meant "thinK".
Jun. 13th, 2009 03:01 pm (UTC)
I also love Mr Harding
Jill, maybe I underestimated my response to Trollope's characters. Mr Harding's choices and his reasons for them stand for me as an ideal and norm I want to live up to, one which validates my own.

I was today on Trollope-l just talking of Mr Harding's long day in London (one of my favorite chapters in all Trollope) and comparing it to the chapter in The Prime Minister the duke and duchess's arrive at Gatherum castle in _The Prime Minister_ after the Duke has agreed to open the place up and let the Duchess become a saloniere in chief. I watched the film adapattion of this chapter yesterday and loved it.

The chapter is brilliant in a similar way. We have Lady Glen's conversation with Mrs Pritchard (actually bettered in the TV scene as Raven could be more daring and show Mrs P irritated by the drunkenness of the artistic chef), the Duke's long walk through his grounds as an unknown, appalled by what he is seeing done to the natural world to make it a social stage, sellable; their clash where he calls her vulgar and then backtracks.

I like their bringing Lady Mary in early now. She is thus given more depth and we see the mother's close relationship with her, their lovingness, doubtless idealized but for sore hearts a comfort.

Jun. 13th, 2009 03:57 pm (UTC)
Lack of interest or replies
On Facebook Jill also wrote:

"I have to say that Ellen and Herman are the only ones to respond! Guess this exercise is viewed as a time-waster. But I meant these to be books that influenced us, not necessariy those that we like the best."

To which I reply here: the average person doesn't care about books or art. Probably most people couldn't even come up with three books. The better people we met on listservs did care. I remember one person on Austen-l protesting our reading of Cecilia one time with "it's only a book!" how could we spend such time on it. I wondered at the time how she spent her hours.

Jun. 14th, 2009 09:24 am (UTC)
Re: Lack of interest or replies
Not a time-waster exactly - but it would take a good half hour to think about, and to write intelligently about the books that have influenced me most. That would be a very pleasant, restful, enjoyable half hour indeed, and I wish I had it to spare. But I've got to finish a work book (Stevenson), prepare for my reading group coming tomorrow (to discuss Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets), write three talks and a book review before going to Edmonton and England next week and the week after, and figure out and order all my train tickets in advance, plus answer all the kind people who've offered to meet me and show me things on the trips. Plus stock the house with food for husband and son, and...and. I certainly care about books and art and can come up with more than three books that interest me. But if I had time for such pleasant activities, well, working on my papers or the book review would have to come first. I don't know how others handle all the myriad fascinations and temptations of online, but for me it's a constant ongoing battle to keep things strictly under control, or my life will fall apart and I'll fail in the things I've promised to do and mean to do. I'm accomplishing little enough as it is without participating in even the most interesting blog activities. There are too many demands and diversions out there now, many extremely worthwhile, but the irony is that the more wonderful things there are, the more I find it essential to resist becoming distracted by them.

Jun. 13th, 2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
Another interchange
Jill remarked: "Trollope has been more nourishing for me, rather than influential"

I like the word nourishing. Much up there from No 5 on was nourishing.

In Trollope's _oeuvre_ there is a strong counterweight to Mr Harding (and versions of him in Plantagenet Palliser or Lady Mason or Lily Dale): the person who seeks power, social prestige, money and what it can buy and revels and sometimes uses it kindly or well. Lady Glencora Palliser is such a person and she is counterpointed to her husband; Phineas Finn is another. Nick says that in Trollope theirs is the default position, not Mr Harding's.


Edited at 2009-06-14 06:52 pm (UTC)
Jun. 13th, 2009 08:43 pm (UTC)
The Warden
One of the things I've been fond of doing over the years, is identifying friends as characters in books. You must know that I think of Herman as the Warden; a gentle soul, sees the world passing him by, loving those close to him and dreading separation. I meet Mrs. Proudies all the time in the grocery store.

Jun. 14th, 2009 10:33 am (UTC)
Re: The Warden
I think my list would be:

1. "War and Peace" Leo Tolstoy
2. "Far the Madding Crowd" Thomas Hardy
3. "Pickwick Papers" Dickens
4. "Germinal" Emile Zola
5. "The Warden" Anthony Trollope
6. "Jude the Obscure"Thomas Hardy
7. "man without Qualities" Robert Musil
8. "The Pleasures of the Imagination" John Brewer
9. "The Life of Samuel Johnson" Boswell
10. "Hogarth" Jenny Uglow
11. "Clarissa" Richardson
12. The King James version of the Bible
13. Any of Michael Moorcock's non-fantasy novels
14. "Wheel of Fire" Professor Wilson Knight
15. "Outline of World History" H.G.Wells.

Some of these books have started me off in a new interest eg. Brewer & Wells. They date from my teenage years until recently. However, all , even the Wells, which I read at 13, are having an ongoing influence, even the Bible,the reading of which led to me quitting the Jehovah's Witnesses as a teenager.
Jun. 16th, 2009 10:21 am (UTC)
Re: The Warden
Clare, I meant to reply yesterday. We share a number of books. The Warden, Pleasures of the Imagination, Life Of Johnson, Clarissa were all important to me -- and yes, though so long ago Knight's Wheel of Fire. I read all Knight's books when I studied Shakespeare. I have read with great intense feeling (and pleasrue) Jude the Obscure. Whatever I've read by Uglow I've liked.

Jun. 16th, 2009 10:32 am (UTC)
Austen's worlds
I do this, Jill, for Austen's characters. I do identify some of the men I've known with Trollope, but only a couple. I used to think my older daughter was a Lydia Bennett, but now I see her as Queeney, Hester Thrale Piozzi's daughter. I have to go outside these two authors (Austen and Trollope) you see. To Alcott's Little Women. It's a mark of power for a novelist to create a living type here 4000 years ago and today still.

Jun. 14th, 2009 02:19 pm (UTC)
Fabulous! I think I have a new reading list!
I would like to add the list my friend Herman sent me. He is profoundly blind, and while he loves to read, music is the center of his life. He told me music has exercised a much larger influence on him than books. I encouraged him to send his 15 most influential pieces of music.

Since you said to substitute music for books, I will do so. You did not specifically ask for reasons why the influences are what they are so maybe one or two sentences about each composition might be necessary.

1. Sonate #14 (Moonlight) Beethoven I first learned to play its famous slow movement by ear as a five year old.

2. Piano Sonata #8, Beethoven Pathetique

Again as a youngster, it impressed me with its restlessness and violent upheaval.

3. The whole cycle of Beethoven string quartets. But principally #8 (opus #59 #2).

Being grabbed by this music as a youngster was both astonishing and profound. Revolutionary music announcing a protest against life as it is and reminding that there are no happily-ever-after endings in life.

4. Mozart piano sonata #15. Life can be fun-filled with simplicity.

5. Brahms piano quintet in F. minor opus 35. Romance, drama, and violence are at the core of this music. Wishing to be something different than what I really am.

6. Brahms piano concerto #2. Unlike the quintet, this is a big bold laugh-out-loud composition that says work hard, play hard and be happy even ihn minor key moments.

7. 7. Schubert string quintet. This dark-hued pice is touched with death. But it has a life-affirming and uplifting ending.

8. Mozart piano concerto #22. This piece has much of my romantic tendenc.

9. the Nutcracker. Dream and fantasy come to life.

10. scenes from childhood by Schumann. Life lived the way I want with no rules accept accepting myself as I really am.

11. Mozart Flute and harp concerto. The music Mindy and I chose for her entrance at our wedding.

12. Schubert piano trio #1. Democracy in action. People learning to get along.

13. Tristan. my first opera

14. Pique Dame. first Russian opera.

15. Beethoven and Mozart quintets for piano and winds. Two similar and yet different works. Reminders that every day is a new adventure and never quite the same.
Jun. 16th, 2009 10:25 am (UTC)
Herman's music
Dear Jilll,

I wish I could conjure up the sounds of some of these pieces. I know only the more famous ones. I think I most love (as deeply consoling) Strauss's four last songs. There is a song in the 72 Emma which may be a Schumann or Schubert which I love. Jim will play some later 19th century German music (symphonic) which I find so moving. I like Sibellius too.

And Leonard Cohen as a nourishing voice. Sondheim moves me very much, music and lyrics.

I like folk too: Nancy Griffith, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Jun. 14th, 2009 02:21 pm (UTC)
Postscript: I didn't invite all my "friends" (Facebook term), only the ones I knew to be readers.
Jun. 14th, 2009 09:01 pm (UTC)
Wow, I'm surprised I've read as many of these as I have. Austen, of course, Nafisi, Possession, Ishiguro, Bolt, and Shakespeare. Much more to work on, of course. And I'm not sure I could list all of these as either life-changing or significant for me. But Austen, Bolt, and Shakespeare at least, and possibly Ishiguro, definitely.

Sorry I haven't been keeping up with my friends list.
Jun. 16th, 2009 10:27 am (UTC)
It was hard to narrow the field to be accurate
Ian, once Herman said books that influence us indirectly or in our imaginative world as art, it was very hard to narrow down the list. Austen first, then Johnson. Teaching me about the world a serious lesson: Levi and Morante. Many of the others variously enforcing what I know to be so or consoling and strengthening me. Is not Bolt's Man for all Seasons so important. One of the great plays of our time; so too Stoppard's comedy, Arcadia.

Jun. 15th, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC)
Jane Eyre, which I read and reread, was a powerful influence. Jane's strong character reinforced my determination to cultivate strong political (anti-war) and personal (honesty, speaking out) ideals not always shared by others. And the shape of the novel and voice of Bronte fascinated me. It was the first work of art I read.

There are so many other books...I have a hard time making lists. Oblomov is another one. I adore the sleepy philosopher of leisure.

Jun. 16th, 2009 10:29 am (UTC)
Strong passion

I mentioned _Oblomov_ on WWTTA today. In Italian, I've not forgotten it. It's in Chekhov's vein. I used to be able to recite _Jane Eyre_; I love her attitude towards herself, how strong she is not to allow her inner self to be violated, how she will not allow her gifts to be abused and destroyed.

Yes, I should have put both these in my list.

Jun. 29th, 2009 10:33 am (UTC)
Hard to do unless "influence" redefined
From Nick:

"I liked the '15 books which have influenced me' discussion - although when I started thinking about it, like you I had considerable difficulty coming up with more than 2 or 3 - I think this is, as you pointed out, to do with what is meant by influence
and I should have to widen the net."
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )

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