Between the Lines Book Club: Age of Innocence Discussion Questions

between the lines book club logoOur book this month is The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton. We will be discussing the book in person on July 27, 2019 at Arden Dimick Library, at 10:30AM.

Here is a selection of the discussion questions we’ll be looking  at:

  1. What do you make of Newland Archer? Is he a hero, a victim, or something in between?

2. Did Newland really love either May or Ellen? Could he have been happy with Ellen? Is he the main character?

3. How might the story be different if told form the point of view of Ellen or May?

4. What does Newland see in May at the beginning of the novel? What does he see in Ellen? What does each woman represent for him? What does each woman see in Newland?

5. Some critics have described May as one of the greatest villains of American literature. Is she?

6. Some have called this a story of identity. Would you agree? What does it say about identity? How might this be a story about belonging?

7. Wharton’s title was an allusion to a painting of a five year old girl. What light does this cast on Wharton’s view of the world she was chronicling? Do you think the title is ironic? In what sense is “innocence” used, and is it always a desirable state?

8. Upon its publication, The Age of Innocence became an immediate sensation. Why do you think that is? Is it still relevant?

"Age of Innocence" by Sir Joshua Reynolds (painting of little girl)

“Age of Innocence” by Sir Joshua Reynolds

 

 

 

 

Between the Lines Book Club: Age of Innocence Movie

between the lines book club logoOur book this month is The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton. We will be discussing the book in person on July 27, 2019 at Arden Dimick Library, at 10:30AM.

Martin Scorsese directed an adaptation of The Age of Innocence in 1993. Here’s a short interview in which he discusses making the movie. He was previously known as the creator of The Godfather, so many were surprised to see him taking on a historical novel with no overt violence. Scorsese pointed out that, like The Godfather, The Age of Innocence is about family. He also stated that this is his “most violent film”:

“What has always stuck in my head is the brutality under the manners. People hide what they mean under the surface of language. In the subculture I was around when I grew up in Little Italy, when somebody was killed, there was a finality to it. It was usually done by the hands of a friend. And in a funny way, it was almost like ritualistic slaughter, a sacrifice. But New York society in the 1870s didn’t have that. It was so cold-blooded. I don’t know which is preferable.”

 

 

Here is a trailer for the movie, which I highly recommend:

 

and here’s a clip:

Stranger Things and My Dream Tarot Deck

Stranger Things LogoAs I write this, I am about to have a houseful of teenagers arrive as we all wait for Stranger Things Season 3 to begin. I’m positive that if I try reading cards, they will all tell me to go to bed, preferably in a nice quiet hotel room. In lieu of a card reading, here’s my vision of a Stranger Things Major Arcana, as of the end of Season 2.

The Fool: Will Byers

It’s his journey into the Upside Down that sets everything in motion.

The Magician: Bob Newby

Wise, benevolent, and powerful when he has access to tools. Oh, Bob. We miss you.

The High Priestess: Barb Holland

Gone, but not forgotten, Barb was a speaker of truth who could tell when things were just not right.

The Empress: Max Mayfield

Max is, after all, the boss, refusing to be sidelined and proving a powerful force to be reckoned with.

The Emperor: Dr. Owens

Dr. Owens isn’t actually in control (a must for The Emperor), but he THINKS he’s in control, and is able to control events up to a point. After the carnage of Season 2 he’s able to exert a little more power to free Eleven from a life in hiding. He’s knowledgeable and powerful, if eventually out of his depth.

The Hierophant: Dr. Brenner

He thinks he knows it all and he can’t wait to tell it to you, and if you aren’t listening he’ll MAKE you listen. The Hierophant isn’t really a bad card, but Dr. Brenner exhibits this card’s most irritating qualities. Bleeping Know-It-All.

The Lovers: Nancy Wheeler and Jonathon Byers

Please. In the words of Murray Bauman: ““You’re young, attractive, you have chemistry, history, plus, the real shit: shared trauma.”

The Chariot: Steve Harrington

He DRIVES, y’all. Also, Steve has developed a tendency not only to physically drive the kids from place to place, but also to mentor them. In the process, he’s becoming less of a pretend persona and closer to his authentic self, in control of his own fate.

Strength: Dustin Henderson and D’Artagnan

I mean, really.

The Hermit: Murray Bauman

I loved this conspiracy theorist journalist who dispensed wisdom in Season 2. He lived in hiding, but was still willing to help two crazy kids with both conspiracy and relationship issues.

The Wheel of Fortune: The Demigorgon

If you kill it, or you chase it away, things look up. You get to go to the dance and everything is great. The Demigorgon (or some other representative of The Upside Down) reappears, and all bets are off. This creature isn’t an obvious Wheel of Fortune choice, but I chose it as a representative of the Upside Down who’s presence constantly upsets the status quo.

Justice: Chief Jim Hopper

I mean, obviously. Note the song choice:

The Hanged Man: Terry Ives

Trapped in a permanent stasis, she still manages to communicate to her daughter information that she can only have as a result of her traumatic experience.

Temperance: Mike Wheeler

Mike is essentially the leader of his group of friends. He’s the Dungeon Master, the one whose ideas drive their actions in and out of D&D. He’s also the peace maker, trying to keep the group cohesive and worried about maintaining the group’s balance at all times.

Death: The Mind Flayer

A Demigorgon will kill you but the Mind Flyer transforms you. Possession by the Mind Flayer utterly consumes and destroys.

The Tower:  Hawkins Lab

Surround it with all the soldiers you like, this place is going down, over and over again.

The Devil: Billy Mayfield

The devil represents temptation, and being trapped in self-destructive patterns. Billy himself is trapped in a web of toxic masculinity he learned from his parents. As far as temptation goes, I see you, Mrs. Wheeler. Oh yes, I do.

The Star: Kali

Kali lives in Eleven’s world of intuition and special powers, and represents hope to the lonely Eleven.

The Moon: Joyce Byers

I considered making Joyce the Empress, because of her Mama Bear energy, but I think she works better as The Moon. She’s anxious but highly intuitive, capable of accessing Will through the Upside Down.

The Sun: Erika Sinclair

She just sparks joy, man!

Judgement: Lucas Sinclair

Lucas is cautious, suspicious, and clear-headed. But he’s also loyal and resourceful and fierce. He’s honest and capable of admitting when he’s wrong. Friends don’t lie.

 

The World: Eleven

She’s the one who shows the cast what’s possible and what’s out there. In returns the cast shows the world (our world) to her.

Eleven steals waffles

 

What do you think? Leave your comments below!

Between the Lines Book Club: Age of Innocence

between the lines book club logoOur book this month is The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton. We’ll be discussing the book on July 27, at 10:30AM at Arden Dimick Library. I’ll be re-posting some posts I wrote for Folsom Library when we read this book last year.

The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton, is a tricky book for modern audiences. To start with, the main character, Newland Archer, is neither likeable nor relatable. He’s not a villain, simply a weak man. Meanwhile, the story lacks action. As my husband would say, “It needs more explosions.” In this book, even the most dramatic moments are delivered politely and quietly. The stakes are small, nothing more nor less than the personal happiness of three people.

 

Wharton’s writing has quite a bit in common with Jane Austen’s. Like Austen, the events of The Age of Innocenceinvolve small matters – clothes, dinner parties, marriages. When we read Jane Austen, we talked about how everyone in Austen speaks in a kind of code. In Wharton’s book, the author calls out the code and demonstrates explicitly to the viewer what the role of the code is, and what people are really saying:

 

 “The change will do you good,” she said simply, when he had finished; “and you must be sure to go and see Ellen,” she added, looking him straight in the eyes with her cloudless smile, and speaking in the tone she might have employed in urging him not to neglect some irksome family duty.

 

It was the only word that passed between them on the subject; but in the code in which they had both been trained it meant: “Of course you understand that I know all that people have been saying about Ellen, and heartily sympathize with my family in their effort to get her to return to her husband. I also know that, for some reason you have not chosen to tell me, you have advised her against this course, which all the older men of the family, as well as our grandmother, agree in approving; and that it is owing to your encouragement that Ellen defies us all, and exposes herself to the kind of criticism of which Mr. Sillerton Jackson probably gave you this evening, the hint that has made you so irritable… Hints have indeed not been wanting; but since you appear unwilling to take them from others, I offer you this one myself, in the only form in which well-bred people of our kind can communicate unpleasant things to each other: by letting you understand that I know you mean to see Ellen when you are in Washington, and are perhaps going there expressly for that purpose; and that, since you are sure to see her, I wish you to do so with my full and explicit approval—and to take the opportunity of letting her know what the course of conduct you have encouraged her in is likely to lead to.”

 

Her hand was still on the key of the lamp when the last word of this mute message reached him. She turned the wick down, lifted off the globe, and breathed on the sulky flame.

 

The central question of The Age of Innocence is whether one should, and whether one can, live what Archer calls “a sham life.” Archer believes that his sham life serves his family well, and protects him from want, and preserves an ideal of a beautiful society. But we (the reader, and the author, who wrote this novel after WWI) know the flaws of this society. We know, as Newland does not, that the Gilded Age will end and that the families of upscale New York are essentially the last passengers on the Titanic.

 

I found the following quote from Schmoop.com to be helpful in understanding the tone of the book:

 

The Age of Innocence is a love story, and a love story of the best kind: two star-crossed lovers who clearly belong together but are kept apart by mean people. It’s the same formula you see in all the great love stories — Romeo and JulietWuthering Heights— and practically every soap opera. There’s just something so dang romantic about impossible love. Yearning is cranked up to eleven, no one is getting sick of each other’s weird habits or nose hair, and there is so much sighing.

 

But this novel is also a romance of a different kind —a romance with a period in history. You know the cliché of good girls falling for bad boys, a la Grease? This is essentially the kind of romance between Edith Wharton and New York of the 1870s. Edith Wharton knows that New York in the 1870s is no good and will break her heart, but she can’t stop talking about how good it looks. New York in the 1870s is a heartbreaker, but an irresponsibly handsome heartbreaker.

 

Some things to think about:

 

  • When we ponder whether a story is about anything important, how do we decide whether it is or not? Is a story about the happiness of three people a story worth telling?
  • Who are the strongest characters in the novel?
  • What does the title mean? Is anyone in the book actually innocent? Is it an innocent age?

The Bill of Rights

Bill_of_Rights_Pg1of1_AC.jpgCelebrate this Fourth of July with a refresher. What does the Bill of rights actually say? Here’s a copy to peruse while you wait for the fireworks to start! Copied from The Bill of Rights Institute.

THE BILL OF RIGHTS – FULL TEXT

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

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Galadriel’s Song of Eldamar

drawing of river winding through canyon by J.R.R. Tolkien
Every month (more or less) I post a poem. Since one of my projects this month is an essay about J.R.R. Tolkien, my June selection is Galadriel’s Song of Eldamar.

I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew:
Of wind I sang, a wind there came, and in the branches blew.
Beyond the Sun, beyond the Moon, the foam was on the Sea,
And by the strand of Ilmarin there grew a golden Tree.
Beneath the stars of Ever-eve in Eldamar it shone,
In Eldamar beside the walls of Elven Tirion.
There long the golden leaves have grown upon the branching years,
And here beyond the Sundering Seas now fall the Elven-tears.
O Lórien! The Winter comes, the bare and leafless Day;
The leaves are falling in the stream, the river flows away.
O Lórien! Too long I have dwelt upon this Hither Shore
And in a fading crown have twined the golden elanor.
But if of ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?

Ah! like gold fall the leaves in the wind,
long years numberless as the wings of trees!
The long years have passed like swift draughts
of the sweet mead in lofty halls beyond the West,
beneath the blue vaults of Varda wherein the stars
tremble in the song of her voice, holy and queenly.
Who now shall refill the cup for me?

For now the Kindler, Varda, the Queen of the Stars,
from Mount Everwhite has uplifted her hands like clouds,
and all paths are drowned deep in shadow;
and out of a grey country darkness lies
on the foaming waves between us, and mist
covers the jewels of Calacirya for ever.
Now lost, lost to those from the East is Valimar!
Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar.
Maybe even thou shalt find it. Farewell!

The Tolkien Ensemble performed this song in Elvish: