Monday, March 25, 2013

Monday morsel: "turning points"

Lately many of my favourite blogs have been posting a weekly quote.  Just in the last few days I've read quotes from Shakespeare at Tim's blog, from Jane Austen at Classical Quest, and from George Eliot at Scribblepreach.  So, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all that, I thought I would join this tradition and post a quote every Monday from something I've been reading.  (And unless I can come up with a better "m" word, I'll call it "Monday morsel."  Suggestions welcome!!  Hmm ... message ... missive ... malpractice ... meringue...)



Perhaps it's the Downton Abbey craze that has made me want to look more into the relationship between servants and masters in literature.  Whatever the reason, I recently took Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day off my bookshelf to re-read it.  This is one of my favourite novels.  Yes, it was made into an excellent movie with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.  But the book is more than excellent -- I think it's perfect.  Ishiguro slowly and deliberately reveals the inner life of Stevens the butler so that we see beneath his image of himself as a small but dignified participant in important world affairs.  It's almost painfully ironic to watch Stevens looking back in bewilderment at the events of his life:


"But what is the sense in forever speculating what might have happened had such and such a moment turned out differently?  One could presumably drive oneself to distraction in this way.  In any case, while it is all very well to talk of 'turning points,' one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect.  Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one's life; but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had.  Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one's relationship with Miss Kenton; an infinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding.  There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable."



8 comments:

  1. That is a great reflection on how many opportunities we are given each day, and how we can mistake them for mere events in our hum-drum lives.

    On the book itself, I have to confess hating it. I read the whole thing hoping at some point I'd come to care what about Stevens. Never happened. I finished the last page and found I cared not one whit more about him than I did before being introduced to him on the first page.

    Perhaps I'm defective. ;-)
    Tim

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    1. No, I can totally understand that reaction. Stevens is not likeable. Yet I loved the book in spite of that. My writers' group was talking not long ago about whether you can love a book whose main character you don't warm to; in this case I think it's possible. I did feel very sorry for Stevens -- it seems impossible that he can't see in himself (and his employer) what is so obvious to everyone else. And that's very sad. Hmm, maybe I'm the defective one: liking a sad book about a pitiful character who can't/won't change. But I do think the writing is masterful.

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    2. At least you cared about him. For me, Stevens's character is like what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, California: "There's no there, there." I don't feel sorry for him, I don't dislike him, nothing. Then again, I felt the same way about all the other characters in the book too.

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    3. Maybe we should get Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes to read the book and see what they think of Mr. Stevens!

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    4. My take on their reading RotD: Carson would think Stevens a fine specimen of Downstairs Citizenry, while Mrs. Hughes would think him a rather silly fellow. Thomas, on the other hand, would be intriguing how to get his job!

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  2. "Monday Morsel" -- LOVE IT! All this quote swapping is just bliss to me! I've got to run now, but I'm going to ponder this quote and let you know my thoughts later! Have a wonderful day! :)

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    1. "But what is the sense in forever speculating what might have happened had such and such a moment turned out differently?"

      I've come to think of those "turning point" as "inciting incidences." All stories have them for better or worse. It's true they don't always feel very significant at the time. I have the most regret over the moments when I made a decision out of fear. The moments when I managed to do something a little bit brave are the moments that have yielded me the most satisfaction over time.

      As for The Remains of the Day: I have a vague memory of watching the film with my aunt when it first came out. I was maybe 18. I think I liked it. I just now watched the trailer and noticed there are some great actors in it! I think I'll stick it on my Netflix queue. :)

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    2. That makes a lot of sense about the "fear factor." If, as the Bible says, there is no fear in love, then maybe decisions made in fear are lacking in love (for God, others, or self) even if we don't recognize that to be the case.

      I'm going to re-watch "Remains of the Day" too -- put it on hold at the library!

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