Tartuffe or The Great Gatsby

Be cautious in bestowing admiration,
And cultivate a sober moderation.
Don't humor fraud, but also don't asperse
True piety; the latter fault is worse,
And it is best to err, if err one must,
As you have done, upon the side of trust.

If I have to choose, I choose Moliére. What can I say about The Great Gatsby? A novel that has thousands of times its pages in commentaries and theories, a novel that's treated as a sociological phenomenon and studied by Habermas, Foucault and other philosophers and literary critics. I read it frankly because it's considered an American icon of literature, even included among the books worth reading by Mortimer Adler.

But popularity and impact have nothing to do with the feelings a book arises, and despite of seeing the quality of the prose I dislike what the author tells us because his description of the world is quite depressing. The characters haunted me for a few nights, and I'm writing about it to see if this spell can be broken and I can go back to my optimism and enthusiasm. Out of everything, the way Daisy talks about and to her daughter it's the epitome of selfishness and it was one of the most hard to swallow pills to me. If Fitzgerald crafted the novel  in closeness to the life he really had, that of a drunk who tried to marry a rich woman who turned to be a dissipated and frivolous schizophrenic, that alone explains much. I'm not saying he had no talent for writing, even his wife, Zelda, is told to be a good writer herself, but it's like when we think about Van Gogh. Yes we like what they contributed to the arts, but their lives and how they transpire their works, leave us with a bitter taste and mixed up feelings. Maybe they exist so we can truly gain perspective.

I've been thinking about this and maybe it's altogether a better idea to stay in the safe realm of children and young people's books, and to read at least a comedy for each drama. I sometimes read more modern authors to simply end up with this feeling of wasting my time, which doesn't happen when we read lovely classics such as this comedy by Moliére, the Tartuffe, which left me with renewed hopes.

Of course, if you want something truly uplifting, PSALMS AND PROVERBS will never fail you. I have to run to keep going to prepare dinner and go to our mid week Bible study. We have started a new class about the Geography and History of the Bible that is revitalizing and very interesting, and I'm back to my optimism and enthusiasm for life.

4 opinion(s):

Jeanne said...


I enjoyed this post very much. Having never read either book I am unable to comment on content, but your experiences with modern books strike a similar chord in me.

The Tartuffe looks delightful. Thank you for telling me about it.

Silvia said...

I'm seriously thinking more and more about that of reading or not 'modern' books. Moliére, Cervantes (he has short stories with a style named picaresque that present you the society of the moment but in a different tone that I can't describe.
Dostoevsky is another one that though depressing I'm glad I read, I don't know if I can stomach Crime and Punishment or the Gambler (the only two books by him I've read again). Ana Karenina was a bit better, the end of the book is not that tragic, maybe he prepares you for it, and the suicide gets softened by his reconciliation, marriage and birth of his son (the main character that has much of Tolstoy they say). But again, we start with the miserable life-depressing good literature chain. I read the Russians, Kafka, Baudelaire, Byron and some Japanese modern authors whose names I can't remember, that I'm not looking forward to reading those authors again.
I'm retreating to Marco Aurelio (Meditaciones is the title in Spanish. Oh, that's a book), and I'm looking forward to some of the AO readings with the girls.
BTW, we got Pippi Longstockins and other titles from the list you had on audio.
I'd like to know, what are your comfort quality literature preferences. I'd like to know Ellen's too.

Maria said...

I'm with you, Silvia. I don't usually read modern authors because most of them are so depresive and you don't learn nothing, your spirit isn't fed.

Es un poco difícil para mí en inglés. Me refiero a que pienso que son gratuitamente deprimentes, con escenarios y personajes oscuros. Que te dan el problema y no la solución. Es como revolcarse en el estiércol y quedarse luego allí en vez de pensar en posibilidades para limpiarse (un riachuelo cercano, la ducha de tu casa...) y estrategias para no volver a caer en lo sucio.

I remember, for example, some Dickens' books. Oliver Twist seemed sad, but the boy could overcome his difficulties and had a reward. He matured as a person.

I prefer classics too. More o less, before 1900 books. But i like too some 'modern' authors, like Robert Graves, Henning Mankell, Pérez Reverte at his beginning, Agatha Christie, Isabel Allende...

At the end, classics are better, because they have resisted the pass of time. That's the best critics fo a book.

Very very interesting post.


Silvia said...

María, I think you explained yourself great in English. I like your metaphor. It's not the fact they show you the dark part of life, it's how they don't offer you solutions or any character improvement, any lesson learned, any 'good' in the whole picture.
I'm taking note of the authors you mention because I haven't read any of them.
Yesterday night I started on a classic I hadn't read, The Scarlett Letter, and THAT'S A BOOK. It's not easy, it touches a difficult and dark topic, but it's not the postmodern idea of there is no 'right or wrong' and desperation we find in the more contemporary authors that leave you their existential trauma and state of being 'lost'.


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