Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Link between literature and the environment; Wilkie Collins and Mystery

Click on the title to find your way to video of famous writers speaking on the color green and the health of our planet- a link that I found via the literary blog MetaxuCafe.

Also, see (or perhaps read) why Willie Nelson might be right, but most of the politicians you know are wrong. This discussion is, of course, regarding biofuels, including biodiesel: the things that are raising your food prices and helping to destroy our rain forests (a process that really didn't need any more help, thank you very much).

What has happened to fiction here? Hard to say. I've been writing on science for the general public in the past few days. I haven't actually read any fiction for perhaps three days, but I have been reading about fiction.

This started out because I had been thinking about Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone and The Woman in White, mainly with regard to some discussions of mystery stories and genre fiction over on Crimespace. In fact, I've actually been reading some literary criticism on the subject. It may reveal some of the nature of my relationship with books to admit that I only had to go to my own bookshelf to find the appropriate volume, unread, lying in wait. I know, I know, it is a slippery slope. The next thing you know, I'll be reading musicology if I'm not careful.

Anyway, The Moonstone is a heck of a mystery story. It is so well-known that all I'll say about it is the following: you should read it if you like a great mystery. The Woman in White wasn't quite as memorable for me, but it still was an excellent story (perhaps defining the Gothic novel). The thing is, when I read them, I had no idea about the subtexts on Victorian society that can be found in these books. Presumably, these discoveries would not be as surprising to the author.

I read these books many decades ago and carried their memory along with me, if with decreasing clarity over the years. However, there is a collection of essays on Collins that turns out to make fascinating reading, and has brought the books to life with much new perspective. The essays address his novels, his friendship and ventures with Dickens, his subtle (i.e. it went over my head) association of the Indian Subcontinent with the pure and good in The Moonstone, and the less subtle (i.e. I got this one the first time around) association of (some) Victorian Christians with evil. The book is The Cambridge Companion to Wilkie Collins (TCCTWC), edited by Jenny Bourne Taylor (no relation to Jason, I gather). Since you know that I hardly ever write about a book I don't like, it will be no surprise that I recommend TCCTWC. However, I have taken a hyper-postmodern approach to reading the book: my reading has been nonlinear and markedly non-sequential. I've just been opening to random pages and enjoying whatever I find, so I've read perhaps 25% of the text. But I'm getting there. You might want to get there, too.

I leave you with the following question(s): is it plausible that Wilkie Collins fit so much intricate social commentary into his books, or did the critics put it there for him? And, if so, how many mystery writers of today are taking on an entire society, or a significant bite of one, as a subtle subtext for their thriller's?

A little subtlety would be nice in a literary genre where it sometimes seems that every corporation is evil, every politician is a crook, every mild-mannered accountant, housewife or lawyer can become a killing machine at will, and every crook is a renaissance man (or woman). I'm referring, of course, to some of the books I didn't like and have therefore not reviewed (though I did slip up and mention one or two by name, here and there over the past month- see if you can find them).

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. Thanks for your kind support. I've slowed down writing entries lately, even with my environmental blog, Chemistry for a sustainable world, but I'm still reading a lot and have a backlog to write about. Best wishes, Jim