Sunday, April 29, 2007

Emily Brontë's "Wuthering Heights"

First published in 1847, Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights is set on the bleak Yorkshire moors, where the drama of Catherine and Heathcliff, Heathcliff's cruel revenge against Edgar and Isabella Linton, and the promise of redemption through the next generation, is enacted.

Patsy Stoneman, a leading authority on the nineteenth-century novel, applied the "Page 99 Test" to Brontë's classic novel and reported the following:
I used the Oxford World’s Classics edition, in which p. 99 is in the middle of Vol. 1 Ch. 10. It begins in the middle of a speech by ‘Mrs Linton’, who is identified as ‘Catherine’ later on the page. She is telling Nelly, who is also the narrator of the story, that Heathcliff has returned to Wuthering Heights. I am sure that after reading just this page, I would want to read on. These are my reasons:
  • The situation is very intriguing. Mrs Linton/Catherine has quarrelled with her husband (whom she refers to as ‘that creature’) over the return of Heathcliff, to whom she is very much attached – so much so that his absence caused her ‘agony’ and his return means that she is ‘reconciled to God and humanity’. To complicate the situation, Heathcliff has come back to live at Wuthering Heights with Catherine’s brother, Hindley, who is described as ‘his ancient persecutor’. Heathcliff’s motive in returning is thus divided between a desire to be near Catherine and his desire for revenge on Hindley. Heathcliff, the beloved of Catherine, is thus an enemy of both Hindley and Mr Linton, and they are all to live in close proximity. The page ends with Catherine setting off to visit Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights, which promises a very exciting encounter.
  • Catherine’s words are very forthright: she speaks of her brother’s ‘covetousness’ and ‘greed’ and her own ‘angry rebellion against providence’. She exhibits extremes of reaction, from ‘Oh, I’ve endured very, very bitter misery’ to ‘Good night – I’m an angel!’. One oddity is that she blames her husband for his ‘petulance’ over Heathcliff and seems confident that she can make their peculiar relationship work, but her heightened language suggests that the drama will be an emotional firework display.
  • Nelly, the narrator, chooses a very different kind of language, cautious and foresightful, providing a great contrast to Catherine. When Nelly speaks of ‘fear of consequences’ from Heathcliff’s return, and describes Catherine’s angelic reformation as ‘self-complacent’, we sense a striking element of moral dissension to this drama which will raise difficult dilemmas while preventing us from easily taking sides with any of the characters.
Overall, the page suggests complex interactions between characters of very different motivations and moral attitudes, played out in dramatic and vivid language and promising unpredictable developments. If you read on, you are likely to get deeply involved; you will have to try to solve puzzles and to make judgements, in situations which raise fierce emotions.
Professor Stoneman is Emeritus Reader at The University of Hull. Her particular scholarly focus is on the works of Elizabeth Gaskell and the Brontë sisters, and her publications include Elizabeth Gaskell and Brontë Transformations: the Cultural Dissemination of ‘Jane Eyre' and ‘Wuthering Heights'.

She has also published extensively on Wuthering Heights, having written the Introduction to the Oxford World's Classics edition and edited both the Macmillan New Casebook and the Palgrave Reader's Guide to Essential Criticism of the novel, and contributed an essay to the MLA's Approaches to Teaching Emily Brontë's ‘Wuthering Heights'. She has also contributed essays to The Oxford Companion to the Brontës, The Cambridge Companion to the Brontës and The Cambridge Companion to Elizabeth Gaskell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ted McClelland's "Horseplayers"

Formerly a staff writer for the Chicago Reader, Ted McClelland's stories and essays have been published in Salon, Utne, Mother Jones, the Chicago Tribune, Slate, and Potomac Review.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his book, Horseplayers: Life at the Track, and reported the following:
There is not a lot of action on page 99, but there is a lot of attitude. It’s very revealing of the racetrack culture, which is made up of men who prefer gambling to money and sex.

It’s Derby Day, and I’m in the grandstand of Hawthorne Race Course, in Stickney, Ill., waiting to watch the televised race with my friends Bob and Soren. Neither are racing fans, but the Kentucky Derby is the one race a year that interests squares who would ordinarily never risk $2 on a horse.

Bob and Soren “had each been to the track with me once and never returned … I’d taken Soren to Arlington during my first spell of gambling fever seven years before. After we’d both lost sixty dollars, he suddenly began moaning as though he’d locked his only child in a hot car.

“Oh my God, I can’t believe I lost sixty dollars. I could have bought a new guitar case with that money!”

“People who think money is for buying stuff shouldn’t be gambling,” I told him.

I then bet fifty dollars on a turf race. After my horse finished eighth, Soren grabbed me by the shirt and dragged me out of the track.

It had taken me longer to get Bob to the track … the first time I invited him he was married, which meant the track was in the same no-fly zone and strip clubs and wet t-shirt contests. Eventually Bob graduated to bachelorhood, and I was able to talk him into a trip to Sportsman’s during its final spring … The races were called on account of snow, after a horse belly flopped in the mud to finish the sixth race, and Bob left without cashing a ticket.”

I won’t go so far as to say this passage is misogynistic, but it does show the gambler’s disdain for the stability that women and marriage represent. A common theme throughout the book is that horse racing is a bachelor’s game. As one observer put it, “I don’t know if the bachelors are the kind of guys who play the horses, or if playing the horses makes you unattractive to the opposite sex.” Most men devote their lives to pursuing riches and women. Not horseplayers. We thought we were devoted hobbyists who’d found a more exciting, more satisfying pursuit. Re-reading page 99 at a point in my life when I’m finally more interested in women, money and stability than in playing the ponies, makes me see that we weren’t. We were just junkies.
Visit Ted McClelland's website and read an excerpt from Horseplayers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 27, 2007

Winnifred Sullivan's "The Impossibility of Religious Freedom"

Winnifred Fallers Sullivan is Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Law and Religion Program at the University at Buffalo Law School, The State University of New York. She is currently the Lilly Endowment Fellow at the National Humanities Center.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her book, The Impossibility of Religious Freedom, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my book does give one a sense of the U.S. legal issues that are the frame for my book -- the way in which American courts, in enforcing laws protecting religious freedom, paradoxically have a preference for highly structured orthodox religion over the popular religious practices of most Americans. What is not included on that page are the actual voices of the plaintiffs in the case, practitioners of what I call in the book "outlaw religion," (and what the court called "cemetery anarchy"), and of the five academic experts in religion who attempted to explain the nature of religion to the court. The “impossibility” of the title lies in the impossibility of defining religion, legally or academically, in such a way as to capture the religious lives of Americans.
Learn more about The Impossibility of Religious Freedom at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"

Donald J. Gray is Culbertson Chair Emeritus of English at Indiana University, Bloomington.

He is the editor of the Norton Critical Edition of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the novel and reported the following:
On p. 99 of the 3rd edition of the Norton Pride and Prejudice a young woman named Elizabeth, apparently resident in the country, shakes her head in worry over a letter from her sister Jane, who is visiting their uncle and aunt in London. A possible suitor for Jane has not profited from her temporary residence in London to call on her. Four weeks pass (in a phrase no longer than that), and Elizabeth receives another letter from Jane in which she confesses that she has been “entirely deceived” by a previous show of friendship on the part of a sister, a Miss Bingley, of the as yet unnamed suitor. Miss Bingley has paid a formal visit whose coldness Jane attributes to her fear that her brother is attracted to Jane, and thus is placing his courtship of and possible marriage to another (presumably more desirable) young woman in jeopardy. Jane wonders at Miss Bingley’s anxiety, “because if he had at all cared about me, we must have met long, long ago.” “But I will endeavor to banish every painful thought,” she writes to conclude her letter, “and think only of what will make me happy, your affection, and the invariable kindness of my dear uncle and aunt.”

On p. 99 of the second edition (1813) of the novel, a young man (Mr. Bingley) is paying a morning visit to house of Elizabeth and her sisters. He is flattered by their foolish mother as she prepares him for his role as a possible suitor, and then impulsively importuned by two of Elizabeth’s younger sisters to provide a ball at the house he is renting for the season.

Either passage will prepare a reader for a novel about the tactics of courtship – the schemes and hopes of mother and sisters, the apparatus of social events (calls and balls) in which young people meet one another, or (in the Norton edition) fail to meet, the play of forwardness (in the 1813 edition) and socially enforced passivity (in the Norton passage) in the game of courtship. Things look more promising in 1813 – there will be a ball, at which the couple in the courtship will meet. In the passage of the Norton edition the dark and risky aspects of the game come forward: Jane (and Elizabeth) can do nothing but wait, the sister of one family schemes against the courtship while the sister of the other family is at this moment at least distant and helpless, and can offer only affection to solace the “painful thought” of disappointment. A novel, then, about romance and courtship, played out within the complications and comforts of family, and the provisions of social custom. In 1813 the reader wonders: what is going to happen at the ball? After reading the passage in the Norton edition, the reader thinks: This is a hard way to conduct romance; is it all going to be ok?
Donald J. Gray edited editions and collections of 19th-century British fiction and poetry, including the Norton Critical Edition of Alice in Wonderland and the anthology Victorian Poetry, and published essays on Victorian literature and culture, Victorian journalism and literary publishing, the teaching of English, the education of teachers, and the history of English studies.

Learn more about the Norton Critical Edition of Pride and Prejudice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Andrew Bacevich's "The New American Militarism"

Andrew J. Bacevich is Professor of History and International Relations at Boston University. His most recent book is The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to the book and reported the following:
I'm afraid that my book flunks the page 99 test -- although whether that's a reflection on the book or the test, I'm not prepared to say.

The New American Militarism argues that in the aftermath of the Cold War Americans had become infatuated with military power, an infatuation that has perversely affected US policy.

The book concerns itself less with the implications of this new American militarism than with its origins. In essence, it addresses the question: how was it that we came to have such inflated and misguided expectations of what American power could do? The short answer provided by the book is this: various groups in American society saw in the revival and celebration of US military power the antidote to all that in their eyes had gone wrong with the country in the 1960s. One of those "groups" was the Republican Party. Page 99 of the book just begins to introduce Ronald Reagan as the GOP's most effective advocate of a military revival -- although this particular chapter concludes by showing that Bill Clinton, a keen student of Reagan's political success, had come to embrace much of Reagan's posture in time for the presidential campaign of 1992.
Learn more about Bacevich's The New American Militarism at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ben Greenman's "A Circle Is a Balloon and Compass Both"

Ben Greenman is an editor at The New Yorker. His short fiction has appeared in the Paris Review, Zoetrope: All Story, McSweeney’s, Opium Magazine, the Mississippi Review, and elsewhere.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, A Circle Is a Balloon and Compass Both, and reported the following:
Well, my new book, A Circle Is a Balloon and Compass Both, is a book of stories, so opening to page 99 is like parachuting out of a plane and not knowing whether the locals are representative specimens of the national character or not. As a matter of fact, Page 99 is not very similar to the rest of the book. It's a section of a story called "How Little We Know About Cast Polymers, and About Life," which is about a man who assassinates another man in an airport during a time in history when America is preoccupied with the Terri Schiavo case. The story itself touches on the larger themes of the book — black humor, sex, sadness, imposture (the man is pretending to be a cast-polymer salesman) — but it's also a bit of an oddity, since it's one of the few pieces that's not a straightforward love story. Other stories deal with a man who is in love with a friend, a woman who is not in love with the man she is sleeping with, and a woman who can't admit her love for a man. This one is about a murder in an airport. There's love, but you have to get down on your knees to look for it.

Then there's the matter of Page 99 itself, which is a particularly talky moment in the story. The assassin is sitting at a gate at the airport, waiting for the man he will kill, and he's listening to two men nearby discuss Terri Schiavo (who is referred to as the Hospice Pathetic). It's basically just a transcript of a conversation I had with a conservative friend of mine who wasn't convinced that she was in a persistent vegetative state, or that she had made her wishes clear to her husband. "Well, you know," one man says, "even knowing about the bias ahead of time, I was quite disappointed with how they covered the case." He is referring to the liberal bias of the media. A back-and-forth follows. Again, this is a darker story than some of the others, and more yoked to the headlines. But we have friendship tested, the larger world keeping the contents of a relationship under pressure, an emotional (if not, in this case, romantic) thesis and antithesis, and the hope for a synthesis.
Visit Ben Greenman's website and hear him read "Black, Gray, Green, Red, Blue: A Letter From a Famous Painter on the Moon" from A Circle Is a Balloon and Compass Both.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Lindsey Davis's "Saturnalia"

Lindsey Davis is the author of 18 novels featuring Marcus Didius Falco (born AD41) as well as other works. The first Falco novel, The Silver Pigs, won the Authors' Club Best First Novel award in 1989; Davis has since won the Crimewriters' Association Dagger in the Library and Ellis Peters Historical Dagger, while Falco has won the Sherlock Award for Best Comic Detective.

Saturnalia, the eighteenth Falco novel, is already out in the U.K. and releases in the U.S. in May.

Does page 99 of Saturnalia "reveal the quality of the whole" to the reader, I asked the author, and would the browser who read that page be inclined to take up the book from the start?

Davis's answer:
Yes, I would read the book, but as we say here I would say that, wouldn't I? Does any author ever say no? (Shame on them if so; their self-editing must be terrible. Every page should grab you.) From which readers will gather my work freely raises speculation on all issues, and my professional standards are high.

In this page my hero, the Roman detective Falco, goes to see his mother when he is tired and has had a frustrating day. He finds his rival and bugbear Anacrites, the Chief Spy, tucking into food at his mother's table, almost certainly as a pretext for spying on Falco. They discuss the current case, in which they have been pitted against one another in a race against time. They are trying to find a missing foreigner whose presence in Rome poses such a great threat that the authorities don't want it known she is there. The conversation involves philosophical arguments about imperialism - who are the barbarians? and how far should a state abandon its principles for issues of security? Topical stuff, though I hope lightly done. There are nice clashes over bureaucracy. Falco shows us the eternally hopeless task of dealing with your mother. A curious aspect of Roman law features. There are hints of barely suppressed violence between the two men. And there is a final cliff-hanger as Falco demands that Anacrites hand over a prisoner:
'Better give him to me voluntarily.'

'Falco, I can't - '
Why not? What will Falco riposte? Will Falco ever get the man?.... You have to turn the page, don't you?

Yes, I'm proud of this.
Visit Lindsey Davis's comprehensive website and read an excerpt from Saturnalia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thomas Hardy's "The Woodlanders"

Thomas Hardy published The Woodlanders in 1887.

Penny Boumelha is Jury Professor of English Language and Literature at The University of Adelaide and a world-renowned expert on the works of Hardy.

She wrote the introduction to the Oxford World Classics edition of Hardy's The Woodlanders, and now has applied the "Page 99 Test" to the novel reported the following:
The Woodlanders is a novel that sets its stories of love and marriage within an investigation of the social and economic relationships that shape the lives of the various lovers. Page 99 of the current Oxford World’s Classics edition illustrates characteristically this interplay of personal feeling and social circumstance. It encapsulates in a single episode the long and wavering emotional commitment that forms the centre of the novel, between the timber waggoner Giles Winterborne and Grace Melbury, once promised to him by her father but then sent away to town for an education that has changed their relationship to each other. Grace’s father is keen not to ‘waste’ the expensive education he has given her by letting her marry a man socially beneath her. At the same time, Giles’s fortunes have taken a turn for the worse as he inadvertently allows the lease on his cottage to expire, and stands to lose both his home and his business. In The Woodlanders, the lives and feelings of the characters are often overshadowed by the life of the wood itself, the sounds of the trees and the birds that live in them, the light and shade of the forest. Here, Giles first thinks the ‘scraping on the wall outside his house’ that he hears is made by the boughs of a rose that grows there, ‘but as no wind was stirring he knew that it could not be the rose-tree.’ By the flickering light of a candle, he discovers instead the anonymous but pervasive human malice embodied in charcoal graffiti on his wall:
‘O Giles, you’ve lost your dwelling-place,

And therefore, Giles, you’ll lose your Grace.’
Several of Hardy’s novels contain such scenes, where characters encounter anonymous texts that seem to express a community judgement upon their own individual lives. But in this episode, it is not the last word. Set in a small woodland community in which everybody knows everybody else’s business, the novel is full of scenes of people watching one another, stumbling upon each other’s secrets or eavesdropping on their conversations. In this scene, Grace herself, out for a morning walk, sees the inscription, and, fired with a sense of injustice and a longstanding loyalty to Giles, decides to change it so that it now reads … but that‘s on page 100.
Professor Penny Boumelha's DPhil thesis at Oxford was on Thomas Hardy, and a significant proportion of her scholarship has been on the same author. Her first book, Thomas Hardy and Women (1982), was published in the UK and USA and was reprinted in 1984; sections from it have been widely reprinted in collections and anthologies. Charlotte Bronte (1990) and the edited Casebook on Jude the Obscure (2000) are two further books. Penny Boumelha has continued to publish on Hardy, on other nineteenth-century writers (including Meredith, Bronte, Eliot, and women writers of the fin-de-siecle ), on ideologies of gender and race, and on literary genres. She has provided critical introductions for new editions of three Hardy novels by Oxford University Press and Penguin, and is to provide a chapter on Hardy for the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to English Novelists.

Professor Boumelha was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Humanities in 1997. In 2003 she was awarded a Centenary Medal for services to Australian society and the humanities in English language and literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Julian Baggini's "Welcome to Everytown"

Julian Baggini is a philosopher and a writer about philosophy. He is a founding editor of The Philosophers’ Magazine and author of a number of books and papers.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Welcome to Everytown, and reported the following:
Turn to page 99 of Welcome to Everytown and I guess you will see a pretty representative selection. You join a discussion half-way through about the mundane issue of the parking situation outside my temporary home, and the removal of a front garden with a paved parking area. Taken in isolation, that might be very uninspiring. But mine is a book which starts from the commonplace and everyday and tries to understand what it reveals about our society and our mindset. Hence, the second, and first full paragraph, on the page, is an example of the kind of reflection my quotidian observations lead me to:

"But he had missed the point. When Pete and Johnny had lamented the decline in well-maintained front gardens they weren’t concerned that people weren't using them. Such gardens are a contribution to the collective well-being. If all the front gardens in your street look nice, you feel more content in your environment. No one garden brings significant pleasure, but if everyone does their bit, a street of them benefits everyone. The rise of individualism and the decline of community may have been exaggerated, but it has gone far enough for us to care less about what the neighbours think. While that's good in that it liberates us from the oppression of peer disapproval, caring is two-way business, and when we all worry less about how those around us feel, we stop doing things that contribute to the general welfare of the area."

That, I hope, gives you a feel for what the book is doing. But still, I’m not sure p99 alone gives you the full feel. This is a book where lots of small things gradually accumulate to form a bigger picture.

Ford Madox Ford's statement, however, was about quality. If by that you mean quality of the writing, p99 is as good or bad as any. If you mean quality of the argument, again, I’m afraid there’s a cumulative aspect to that one page can’t capture.
Visit Baggini's website, the publisher's page for Welcome to Everytown, and The Philosophers' Magazine online.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Megan Marshall's "The Peabody Sisters"

Megan Marshall worked for two decades on her award-winning biography The Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism, spending many years tracking down the sisters’ letters and journals.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her book and reported the following:
My first editor on The Peabody Sisters -- and there were five to see me through the twenty-year labor, all at Houghton Mifflin -- was Robie Macauley, novelist, acclaimed fiction editor at Playboy, and life-long friend of the poet Robert Lowell. Robie advised me that when writing a biography, I should never leave the consciousness of my subject for even so much as a page. That's a hard rule to follow when you're trying to establish context, flesh out the other characters in the story, detail the history of morphine use or of an upstart religion your subject happens to have joined. But p. 99 of The Peabody Sisters shows me rising to Robie's challenge, practicing the narrative technique that I think has caused the book's more enthusiastic readers to say "it reads just like a novel." Although much of the page describes the Peabody sisters' father's struggle to make a living as a doctor in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1820, digressing even farther to explain the tight economics in that region at the time, it begins with one of Elizabeth Peabody's characteristic pleas, in this case to a circle of teenaged friends, to pursue the life of the mind, to examine their beliefs, to persist in seeking spiritual enlightenment. "Every person who has talents time and opportunity should not rest contentedly with any creed however simple until they have discussed every article of it," she wrote to members of a writing group she'd organized called The Social Circle. "To sit still and pray for light is farcical when we have opportunity to search." And search she did, for the rest of her life, hectoring her two younger sisters Mary and Sophia (reformer and artist, wives respectively of Horace Mann and Nathaniel Hawthorne), along the way. The book concludes (p. 451) with a group of Cambridge intellectuals talking late into the night about the "perfecting of the character," and with the great American painter Washington Allston's benediction, uttered just days before his death: "God bless you," he said, placing his hands on her head and stooping to kiss her: "Go on to perfection, my child!" If there is one message I hope readers of my book will take in, it is that intellectual and spiritual seeking can be a way of life. If you are a like-minded person, you will find The Peabody Sisters a good companion in your search.
The Peabody Sisters was a Pulitzer finalist in biography and memoir in 2006, and has won the Mark Lynton History Prize, the Frances Parkman Prize from the Society of American Historians, and the Massachusetts Book Award in nonfiction.

Read the publisher's description of The Peabody Sisters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Cait Murphy's "Crazy '08"

Cait Murphy is an assistant managing editor at Fortune magazine and the author of the new book, Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to Crazy '08 and reported the following:
At the top of page 99 is a list of rules from baseball's winningest pitcher, Cy Young. There are six commandments of which the last is: "Until you can put the ball over the pan whenever you choose, you have not acquired the command necessary to make a first-class pitcher. Therefore, start to acquire command."

Those sentences were written in 1908; Crazy '08 is about that baseball season and the America in which it took place. What strikes me about Young's words is that though some of the language is antique (who uses the term "pan" anymore?) the insight is sound. And that points to something about baseball in 1908: It was very good and very sophisticated. If you could go back to a ballgame back then, you would have no problem both following (and appreciating) the game. The same could not be said of, say, football or basketball, which would look primitive and qualitatively different.

Moving down the page, I note that Young pitches a no-hitter on June 30, 1908. He was 41 at the time, and it would be almost 90 years before the record set that day -- oldest man to pitch a no-hitter -- was broken (by Nolan Ryan). I also note of the Red Sox that their nickname "has stuck." That's because it was in early 1908 that Boston's American League team, which had previously been known as the Pilgrims, Beaneaters, Somersets and Taylors decided to make a formal name change and became the Red Sox. A small thing, but a fun and interesting little nugget (I think), and the kind of thing you can find on almost any given page of Crazy '08. So buy a copy (or two or a dozen) and enjoy.
Visit Cait Murphy's website and read an excerpt from Crazy '08.

A former Little League infielder, Murphy played softball at Amherst College, where she received her degree in American Studies. Her baseball card is clear: She does not throw like a girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 16, 2007

Paul Toth's "Fishnet"

Paul A. Toth lives in Michigan. His first novel Fizz and its successor Fishnet are available now.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to Fishnet and reported the following:
Ah, Ford Madox Ford was clearly on to something. I must try this experiment with other novels I've read. On page 99 of Fishnet, the main character, Maurice Melnick, finally confronts the imagined (?) ghost of his father. Meanwhile, his wife reveals one of the first signs of the impending illness that, on this page, is not yet clear to the reader; it's a setup. Finally, the two fall asleep together and ponder whether they should abandon their doomed town of Mercy, California. They decide against doing so. In these elements can be found the exact turning point of the novel. Since the book is short, 166 pages in all, page 99 falls close to the middle of the story, and so it seems to me less than a coincidence that this major shift in plot occurs right on the page Ford suggested. Whether this is the only page my naysayers read, or the only page they did not read, I cannot say, nor can I predict whether those who love the book noticed anything I've mentioned. But it does raise a point: How conscious are writers when it comes to the placement of key events? For me, it's an instinctual process. I both envy and pity authors who plan every scene of a novel. I envy them because they gain a certain control, and I pity them because they remain under a certain control. I suppose I like to fly without autopilot engaged.
Visit Toth's website, blog, and MySpace page.

His short fiction credits include The Barcelona Review, Night Train and The Mississippi Review Online. His latest project, a multimedia exploration of the connection between Hitler's love life and the central catastrophe of the 20th Century, is available in a signed, limited edition.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Robin Wagner-Pacifici's "The Art of Surrender"

Robin E. Wagner-Pacifici is Gil and Frank Mustin Professor of Sociology at Swarthmore College.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her most recent book, The Art of Surrender: Decomposing Sovereignty at Conflict's End, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Art of Surrender comes right at the beginning of Chapter 4, "Sovereignty and Its Afterlife." The book is basically about the ceremonies, rituals, exchanges, and recognitions of military surrenders. It takes a close look at the materials that famous surrenders have left in their wakes, including history paintings of these scenes.

I begin Chapter 4 with an analysis of a 17th century painting by Charles Le Brun, "The Queens of Persia at the Feet of Alexander." In this painting, the family of the defeated and murdered Darius submit themselves before the victorious Alexander the Great, or at least they think they do. In the painting, two regal men stand before the surrendering family of Darius - only one of them is the real Alexander, the other is his general Hephaestion. Darius's family has made the awful error, compounding their own prostrate position, of surrendering to the wrong man. But Alexander forgives them for not having recognized him, and he spares their lives. The page quotes Louis XIV's official art "describer" Andre Felibien on this painting's ultimate meaning: "The painter could not have exposed to the eyes of the greatest king in the world [Louis XIV] an action more celebrated or [significant]. Because history records [this action] as one of the most glorious that Alexander had ever undertaken, owing to the clemency and moderation that the prince extended in this encounter. In overcoming himself, he overcame not the savage peoples, but the vanquisher of all nations."

For me, this painting and its royal interpretation (one ancient monarch instructing a 17th century monarch through the ministrations of a court official) raised important issues about how sovereigns should be recognized and for what. In this scene of ultimate surrender, the lesson seems to be that the greatest action a sovereign can take is to withhold action, to demonstrate clemency and moderation. Of course, this clemency comes after success in the deployment of violence in military battles. So it is very paradoxical. Felibien is trying to both compliment and instruct his own sovereign, Louis XIV, by claiming that Alexander's act of overcoming himself, is actually one of his most glorious.

Of course, sovereigns must be secure in their own legitimacy and authority in order to refrain from violent action, especially when they are not adequately recognized. So with all of the historical specificity and cross-referencing on page 99, looking back on it now I read it as fundamentally about how powerful and difficult it is for sovereigns to withhold violence.
Visit the publisher's website for more information on The Art of Surrender.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 13, 2007

Tamar Yellin's "The Genizah at the House of Shepher"

Tamar Yellin is a writer of novels and short stories whose fiction has appeared in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies including London Magazine, Stand, The Jewish Quarterly, Panurge, Writing Women, Metropolitan, Leviathan Quarterly, Iron, The Third Alternative, The Big Issue, Staple, Nemonymous, Best Short Stories, Leviathan (U.S.), The Slow Mirror and Mordecai's First Brush With Love: New Stories by Jewish Women in Britain.

Inspired by an extraordinary true story from her own family history, The Genizah at the House of Shepher is her first published novel. She applied the "Page 99 Test" to the novel and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Genizah at the House of Shepher is pretty characteristic. It tells the story of how the narrator's grandfather, Joseph Shepher, in a typical act of fear, pessimism and bad business sense, manages to lose the family home in Jerusalem. Unable to bear for one day longer the burden of debt he is under, he sells it for a song, pays off his loans, and "not long after, rampant inflation struck the Promised Land: the value of the loans went down, the value of the property shot up, and my grandfather, if he had only waited, would have found himself sitting on half a million." The telling is deliberately ironic, salty and tongue-in-cheek: this is a family who never made good in anything. Though of course, if he hadn't sold off the house it would never have been slated, later, for demolition, they'd never have found the Codex hidden in the attic and, in short, there would be no novel.

Is Ford's stricture a fair test? I'd say a really good novel is like a stick of rock: it has to be equally good all the way through. There can't be any lazy pages. Nor can you differentiate between style and content. Style is content so far as I'm concerned.

But that's the writer in me talking, and she's something of a perfectionist. Readers are much more forgiving. Actually lots of wonderful novels have their dull patches. Under Ford's test you'd risk missing out on them.
Visit Tamar Yellin's website and read the opening chapters of The Genizah at the House of Shepher.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe"

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe was first published in 1719, and is regarded by some as the first novel in English. The book is a fictional autobiography of an English castaway who spends twenty-eight years on a remote island before being rescued.

The Defoe scholar Michael Shinagel, editor of the Norton Critical Edition of Robinson Crusoe (1975, revised 1993), applied the "Page 99 Test" to this classic novel and reported the following:
Jose Ortega y Gasset in his "Ideas on the Novel" stressed the importance of the opening of a novel, likening it to the entry into a wonderful new house. When I teach the novel I invite the class to read the opening of a novel very closely to determine what kind of a fictive world we are entering and who is our guide as narrator. A close reading of the opening page will reveal a great deal about the novel at hand.

But Ford Madox Ford's random test of opening the book to page ninety-nine can also be revealing, as in the case of Daniel Defoe's classic novel Robinson Crusoe. If we turn to page ninety-nine in the Norton Critical Edition (second edition), we learn how Crusoe painstakingly makes an "Umbrella" for himself as protection against "the Rains" and "the Heats" on his island. His self-sufficiency prompts him to reflect:

Thus I liv'd mighty comfortably,
my Mind being resigning to the Will of God

and throwing my self wholly upon the Disposal of his Providence.

This made my life better than sociable....

Crusoe describes his "yearly Labour of planting" to insure having his "sufficient Stock of one Year's Provisions beforehand" and his difficulties in building and launching a "Canoe."

So we see how page ninety-nine shows Crusoe finding spirtual solace from God's Providence while at the same time devoting himself to the hard work of making his umbrella and canoe while also planting and curing his crops to secure his self-sufficiency. In the case of Robinson Crusoe the Ford Madox Ford rule applies, but I would also recommend the Ortega y Gasset rule of a careful and close reading of the opening page, which in the case of Robinson Crusoe introduces the reader to a revolutionary new voice in English fiction.
Michael Shinagel received his Ph.D. from Harvard University, where he is Senior Lecturer in English and Dean of Continuing Education and University Extension.

His specialization is English literature of the Restoration and eighteenth century, and his publications include Daniel Defoe and Middle Class Gentility (Harvard University Press, 1968), Concordance to the Poems of Jonathan Swift (Cornell University Press, 1972), and many articles and book reviews.

Learn more about the Norton Critical Edition of Robinson Crusoe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Alison McGhee's "Falling Boy"

Alison McGhee's latest book is Falling Boy.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to the new novel and reported the following:
A reader opening Falling Boy to page 99 would first read the following, spoken by a nine-year-old girl, Enzo, to a seventeen-year-old boy, Zap:

"My watch," she said. "Do you need to know the time? Because it's 11:03."

Dropping down into page 99, the reader would find herself in a bakery, in south Minneapolis, on a summer day. The girl Enzo stares down Zap, who remains silent, but whose fingers clench the tray he's holding. Zap disappears into the darkness of the backroom. Who is this child, who bears such enmity toward Zap, whom everyone else loves?

The reader would then observe a teenage boy in a wheelchair, Joseph, who rolls behind the bakery counter to take Zap's place. Enzo clicks her mechanical pencil out of nervous and angry habit while the adult customers look upon the scene in bland disdain. These teenagers. That annoying child. I'd like my cookie please, and I'd like it now.

Zap remains in the back room, and across the bakery itself, the child Enzo retreats into the brown velvet chair in the corner that she considers her own. Here she is:

". . . Enzo clutched her clickster. Her head was bent, so that the mess of tangled ribbon was visible across the bakery. She wrapped her arms around her knees. Now she was a ball of child, curved into a corner of her brown velvet chair."

What do these children, the child Enzo and the teenagers Zap and Joseph, hold within their hearts? What is breaking them, may already have broken them, and what do they long for? They are old souls, all three of them, and all three of them seek, in an instinctive and essential way, to heal each other and themselves.
Visit Alison McGhee's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre"

Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre was published in 1847 to immediate acclaim; Queen Victoria praised it as "really a wonderful book."

Richard Dunn is Professor of English at the University of Washington, with a particular interest in Victorian literature, particularly the Brontës and Dickens. He is the editor of the Norton Critical Edition of Jane Eyre (3rd edition, 2001).

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to Brontë's classic British novel and reported the following, beginning with a block of text from the page:
From p. 99 (Ch. 12)

I did not like re-entering Thornfield. To pass its threshold was to return to stagnation; to cross the silent hall, to ascend the darksome staircase, to seek my own lonely room ... was to quell wholly the faint excitement wakened by my walk, -- to slip again over my faculties the viewless fetters of an uniform and too stiff existence, of an existence whose very privileges of security and ease I was becoming incapable of appreciating ...

I lingered at the gates; I lingered on the lawn; I paced backwards and forwards on the pavement: the shutters of the glass door were closed; I could not see into the interior; and both my eyes and spirit seemed drawn from the gloomy house -- from the grey hollow filled with rayless cells, as it appeared to me -- to that sky expanded before me, -- a blue sea absolved from taint of cloud; the moon ascending it in solemn march; her orb seeming to look up as she left the hilltops, from behind which she had come, far and farther below her, and aspired to the zenith, midnight-dark in its fathomless depth and measureless distance: and for those trembling stars that followed her course; they made my heart tremble, my veins glow when I viewed them. Little things recall us to earth: the clock struck in the hall; that sufficed; I turned from moon and stars, opened a side door, and went in.
Here Jane recalls the start of the third principal stage of her story, the move from Lowood school to new life as governess at Mr. Rochester's Thornfield Hall. The walk she mentions was the occasion where she aided the stranger who had fallen from his horse and who she later found to be her new employer.

"Stagnation" is an apt description of Jane's life in many senses, of the repression she suffers from relatives as a poor orphan, from the severe evangelical schoolmaster, from the socially indeterminate role as governess. This passage well articulates Jane's sense that the stagnation threatens her most vital being, not just her station in life but her vitality and the imagination which sustained her both as character and ultimately as "autobiographer."

This passage's opposing images of dark and gloomy interior and expansive, moon and star-lit external world present one of the novel's many linkings of Jane's human nature with the larger natural world. Though here she is recalled to earth by the striking of a clock, her story will continue to present moments when heartfelt imaginative views inspire her very pictorial writing. For example, early in her life at Thornfield, Rochester critiques powerful and unconventional scenes Jane had drawn earlier as student and teacher. Ultimately, in her famous account of receiving a call from the far-distant Rochester, she describes it as a night-scene and characterizes it as "the work of nature. She was roused, and did -- no miracle -- but her best."

The plot of Jane Eyre centers on her relationships with those relatives, teachers, and potential mates who both attract and repel her, but in terms of the life she reconstructs as autobiographer what is at stake is satisfactory resolution of life-long efforts to accommodate and sustain her passionate nature. She does so largely by responding in word paintings of an external nature full of life and value.
View the Contents page of Jane Eyre, the Norton Critical Edition.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 6, 2007

Elise Blackwell's "The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish"

Elise Blackwell is the author of the highly acclaimed novel Hunger, chosen as a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the year in 2003, and the newly-published The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to the new novel and reported the following:
While page 99 is not the page I would send readers to first, the page-99 test works well for The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish. Several of the book’s central motifs suffuse page 99, including the various meanings of the word natural and its opposites (unnatural, artificial, manmade). Nature is present in a raw, threatening form (the unpleasant eel), and man’s manipulation of nature is also implied (Louis’s killing of the eel, the refining of sugar from cane, the production of meat in Grenada’s abattoirs). A central tension of the novel — the conflict between Louis Proby and his powerful father — is present, as is the idea of maturation.

The novel is, among other things, a coming-of-age story for both Louis and his place — a coming-of-age that is interrupted and accelerated by the horrific flood of 1927. Indeed, water is a malevolent force even on page 99. The page also reveals something crucial about Louis’s character and the mistakes he will later make. He’s a young man who fancies himself a natural historian, who likes to observe and understand how the world works, yet his understanding of human motivation is meager. This gets him into trouble later.

Of course, page 99 is also significant because of what is about to happen: a meeting with Olivier Menard that will, as the events of the novel play out, alter the course of Louis’s life in multiple ways.
Read an excerpt from The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Maile Meloy's "A Family Daughter"

Maile Meloy's short stories have been published in The New Yorker and The Paris Review. Her first story collection, Half in Love, received the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters , the John C. Zacharis Award from Ploughshares, and the PEN/Malamud Award. Her first novel, Liars and Saints, was shortlisted for England’s 2005 Orange Prize. Both books were New York Times Notable Books. She has also received The Paris Review’s Aga Khan Prize for Fiction and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her third book, A Family Daughter, and reported the following:
Page 99 of A Family Daughter is mostly taken up with the text of a letter. A character in her fifties named Josephine, who lives alone in Argentina, has begun to lose her memory and doesn’t know what to do with her adopted four-year-old boy. She calls her business manager in Paris, but his wife believes (rightly) that he’s been sleeping with Josephine and confronts him while Josephine is still on the line:

Except for the expletives, they spoke elegant French, and Josephine listened for a while with a curious detachment, and then she hung up the phone. It was an ivory-colored phone with a dial on its squat base, and she watched it, wondering if Fauchet would call her back when he finished his fight. The phone remained still and quiet, crouching there on the desk.

Her daughter was her next resource, but she couldn’t risk a phone call in which Saffron, too, refused to speak to her, so she took out a piece of writing paper. “My darling,” she wrote.

I know you don’t think I have been the perfect mother to you, but I am writing to tell you that I do love you very much and I believe something is wrong with my mind. I lose track of my thoughts.

This morning, for example, I thought you were still a child, and I was still married to your father. But darling I’m not crazy. I have moments like now, also, when I see perfectly clearly who and where I am, and I understand what happens to me in these small episodes when I am disoriented, or confused. I believe

The servants take good care of the boy, but he can’t live with the servants forever, and they watch me, and see my confusion. You know that in Argentina, only the children may inherit, but I don’t remember the details of the adoption and I fear the government may not recognize the boy. I am looking into my will, and I am inquiring with Fauchet, whose wife dislikes me. I believe the child speaks no English, a further problem. You will I realize you will say I should have thought of all this before, but that is the situation now.

If you come to Buenos Aires I will arrange a car to the house. Please consider it.

All my love,

Your mother

Josephine’s first language is French; she speaks English fluently but formally, and the letter is hesitant, anxious about her daughter’s response. Having the characters, especially those who speak English as a second or third language, talk and occasionally write letters breaks up the hold that my own narrative voice has on the novel, and makes the sound of the sentences more interesting to me. So while the content of the letter is important — the adopted child is central to the novel, and brings all the characters together — the shift in language is the important way in which the page is a test of the whole.

Many different women struggle, in the novel, with their family roles: the good daughter has an affair, the wild daughter tries to settle down, the spoiled daughter doesn’t get what she wants, and the secret-keeping daughter writes a novel that may or may not reveal things about the rest of the family. So it also seems appropriate that this is a page in which someone makes a last-ditch appeal to her daughter, knowing she’s the one person who can’t really say no.
Visit Maile Meloy's website and read an excerpt from A Family Daughter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Sharan Newman's "Heresy"

Sharan Newman applied the "Page 99 Test" to her book Heresy, the latest novel in her Catherine Levendeur mystery series, and reported the following:
Unfortunately, the page 99 test doesn't work for Heresy. It's the lead-in to chapter six and the page is a Latin quote about Heloise with the English translation and the date and place of the chapter. It sets the scene both in time and space and also in the attitudes of the 12th century, which were not what most people expect.

However, it won't give anyone an idea of the plot or the characters. I suggest just doing it the old fashioned way and starting with page one.
Forget page 99: read an excerpt from Heresy.

Visit Sharan Newman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Carl von Clausewitz's "On War"

On War is one of the most important books ever written on the subject of war. Clausewitz, a Prussian officer who fought against the French during the Napoleonic Wars, sought to understand and analyze the phenomenon of war so that future leaders could conduct and win conflicts more effectively. He studied the human and social factors that affect outcomes, as well as the tactical and technological ones. He understood that war was a weapon of government, and that political purpose, chance, and enmity combine to shape its dynamics. On War continues to be read by military strategists, politicians, and others for its timeless insights.

Beatrice Heuser, Professor at the University of the German Federal Armed Forces, Munich, and editor of the new abridged edition of On War in the Oxford World Classics series, applied the "Page 99 Test" to Clausewitz's classic and reported the following:
Opening Clausewitz's On War (Oxford University Press abridged edition, translation by Michael Howard and Peter Paret) on p. 99 we stumble upon the old and controversial debate whether the conduct of war is an art or a science.

The French and English word ‘art’ (German ‘Kunst’) of course hails from the Latin ‘ars’, meaning skill, ability to do something (as in the French and English word ‘artisan’ or skilled craftsman). Originally, the ‘Arts’ subjects required practical skills, like the ability to speak a foreign language, or to paint a picture (hence ‘fine art’). The French and English word ‘science’ (German ‘Wissenschaft’), by contrast, originally implied abstract knowledge and reflection upon a subject, the theory (as opposed to the practice). It is derived from the Latin scientia, wisdom. Abstract logic, mathematics, theoretical reflections upon the laws of nature (i.e. physics) were all sciences, standing in clear contrast to applied subjects such as engineering, or indeed, conducting war, the skill expected from a general.

Clausewitz, however, spoke out against this separation (p.99f): “No matter how obvious and palpable the difference between knowledge [science] and ability [art] may be …, it is still extremely difficult to separate them entirely in the individual. … [I]f it is impossible to imagine a human being capable of perception but not of judgement or vice versa, it is likewise impossible to separate art and knowledge altogether.’ He conceded, ‘creation and production lie in the realm of art; science will dominate where the object is inquiry and knowledge. It follows that the term ‘art of war’ is more suitable than ‘science of war’. … But we must go on to say that strictly speaking war is neither an art nor a science. … [W]ar … is part of man’s social existence. War is a clash between major interests, which is resolved by bloodshed – that is the only way in which it differs from other conflicts. Rather than comparing it to art we could more accurately compare it to commerce, which is also a conflict of human interests and activities, and it is still closer to politics, which in turn may be considered as a kind of commerce on a larger scale. Politics, moreover, is the womb in which war develops…”

And this is of course where we encounter the idea about the relationship between politics and war for which Clausewitz is most famous!
For further reading, see Beatrice Heuser (ed): Carl von Clausewitz, On War, in the Oxford World’s Classics series (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) , and Beatrice Heuser, Reading Clausewitz (London: Pimlico, 2002).

--Marshal Zeringue