Saturday, January 29, 2011

In Which Trai Mini-Reviews 'A Doll's House' and 'The Secret Garden'

Mini-Reviewing The Classics!

With the advent of my Modern Drama and Young Adult Literature classes this semester, I'm getting to read some classic works that I've never read before. Hopefully, this post will kick off a semi-regular feature, as I get further into my semester.

Sometimes I don't review the classics I read, because it's difficult for me to think of things that haven't been said before. Likewise, I don't always review required reading, because my opinion might be unfairly biased. However, I liked both of these books more than I thought I would, and thought it would be interesting to do quick capsule reviews of each.

A Doll's House, by Henrik Ibsen: This is a classic drama, and, as my professor tells me, the start of drama as we know it. Ibsen actually had characters interacting with each other onstage in a natural fashion. It's funny to think that someone actually had to realize that might be a good idea!

Nora is married to Torvald Helmer, a banker who has a habit of infantilizing her and not allowing her to spend money. We learn that Nora is keeping a secret from her husband--to protect his health, she secretly took out a loan that financed a getaway to Italy. The law forbids women from handling money in any capacity, and the unscrupulous banker Nora borrowed from attempts to blackmail her into making Torvald give him a better position. The lies running rampant in the Helmer household eventually threaten to break their marriage apart.

My response on finishing this one was along the lines of, "Geez, what is everyone complaining about?!" I really loved this play, and its message was really radical for the time. Ibsen didn't like being labeled as a feminist, preferring to think of it in terms of human rights, but with that in mind, Nora is still a very, very strong female character who takes matters into her own hands in some really powerful ways. I really enjoyed seeing her self-discovery, as she realizes that the men in her life have always treated her like property and that she wants to have a life of her own.

The translation I read (the above-pictured Dover Thrift edition) was a really readable and flowing translation of the Norwegian, or at least it seemed like it. The dialogue didn't sound stilted and seemed like it could have conceivably been English originally. In other words, it didn't read like it was translated! (Occasionally, with, say, Stieg Larsson's books, translated prose can get clunky.) All in all, I really enjoyed this play, and naysayers be darned--I thought Nora was awesome!


The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett: Author Julie Buxbaum writes, "It seems to me that some kids’ books begin with 'Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom' and some begin instead with a spoiled little girl orphaned by a cholera epidemic." And yeah, that seems to be the case, doesn't it? Having never read this as a child, not even knowing much about it, I was surprised by how charming I found this story.

Mary is living in India when she wakes up to learn that her parents and most of her household has died during the night of a cholera epidemic. (Yikes!) Sent to live with her always-absent uncle, Mary must finally learn to do things for herself, as she begins to look into the mysteries of the Manor and its gardens, one of which has not been entered for ten years.

I was surprised by how different this book was from standard children's literature. First off, waking up to dead parents is every kid's worst nightmare, and that's how this book starts! Second off, Mary is frequently called "spoiled" and "ugly" by the narrator, and it's no secret that we're not supposed to find her likable at all. It's really nice to see her mature and become someone more grounded and less spoiled, and I liked reading about her transformation.

My professor laughingly said that this is the type of book Michelle Obama would champion--it pretty much hits you over the head with the message, go outside! Exercise! But in that way, it's a nice book to give to kids, boy or girl alike (there's characters of each gender; either can enjoy!). I'd definitely recommend this one to kids who love nature, animals, and magic. It's not overly difficult to read and it's got a sweet message about how nature can be a healing force.


Hopefully, my journey with undiscovered classics will continue, and if you guys haven't picked up these before, either, why not? You can get them for free on Project Gutenberg!

A Doll's House:
The Secret Garden

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