Authors: Katherine Mansfield, Kate Chopin, Elizabeth Gaskell, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Parker, Willa Cather and Charlotte Mew. Read by Eve Karpf and Liza Ross
Publisher: Pickwick Group Limited (ABM) (2000)
Length of Audiobook: 2 hours, 35 minutes
How long it took me to listen to: 4 days
Where I downloaded it: Several months ago I was in a second-hand music store, flipping through the bargain bin of CDs when I stumbled upon this audio book.
Like a Moth to a Flame
Looking at the audio book, it’s surprising that it caught my attention. Its jewel case was cracked and falling apart, and its cover and back artwork plain and somewhat generic. Perhaps it was because of the authors, most of whom I’d heard of or read. I was unfamiliar with the stories listed, but when you have authors like Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Parker and Kate Chopin, and the 2-cd set of 7 stories costs you less than a cup of coffee, how can you go wrong?
My favorite 5 quotes from this book are:
5. “And she seemed at that moment to be sitting on the grass beside the mysteriously Black Sea, black as velvet, and rippling against the banks in silent, velvet waves. She saw the carriage drawn up to one side of the road, and the little group on the grass, their faces and hands white in the moonlight. She saw the pale dress of the woman outspread and her folded parasol, lying on the grass like a huge pearl crochet hook. Apart from them, with his supper in a cloth on his knees, sat the coachman. “Have a dill pickle,” said he, and although she was not certain what a dill pickle was, she saw the greenish glass jar with a red chili like a parrot’s beak glimmering through.” (From A Dill Pickle)
4. “He pushed her hair back from her face that was warm and steaming. Her lips were as red and moist as pomegranate seed. Her white neck and a glimpse of her full, firm bosom disturbed him powerfully. As she glanced up at him the fear in her liquid blue eyes had given place to a drowsy gleam that unconsciously betrayed a sensuous desire. He looked down into her eyes and there was nothing for him to do but to gather her lips in a kiss.” (From The Storm)
3. “I pulled out my knife to spur on the old mare, that it might end one way or the other, for the water was stealing sullenly up to the very axle-tree, let alone the white waves that knew no mercy in their steady advance. That one quarter of an hour, sir, seemed as long as all my life since. Thoughts, and fancies, and dreams, and memory ran into each other. The mist, the heavy mist, that was like a ghastly curtain, shutting us in for death, seemed to bring with it the scents of the flowers that grew around our own threshold; it might be, for it was falling on them like blessed dew, though to us it was a shroud. Letty told me at after, she heard her baby crying for her, above the gurgling of the rising waters, as plain as ever she heard anything; but the sea-birds were skirling, and the pig shrieking; I never caught it; it was miles away, at any rate.” (From Sexton’s Hero)
2. “The first number was the Tannhauser overture. When the horns drew out the first strain of the Pilgrim’s Chorus, my Aunt Georgiana clutched my coat sleeve. Then it was that I first realized that for her this broke a silence of thirty years; the inconceivable silence of the plains. With the battle between the two motives, with the frenzy of the Venusberg theme and its ripping of strings, there came to me an overwhelming sense of the waste and wear we are so powerless to combat; and I saw again the tall, naked house on the prairie, black and grim as a wooden fortress; the black pond where I had learned to swim, its margin pitted with sun-dried cattle tracks; the rain-gullied clay banks about the naked house, the four dwarf ash seedlings where the dishcloths were always hung to dry before the kitchen door. The world there was the flat world of the ancients; to the east, a cornfield that stretched to daybreak; to the west, a corral that reached to sunset; between, the conquests of peace, dearer bought than those of war.” (From A Wagner Matinee)
…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…
1. “But how had the piece of china been broken into this remarkable shape? A careful examination put it beyond doubt that the star shape was accidental, which made it all the more strange, and it seemed unlikely that there should be another such in existence. Set at the opposite end of the mantelpiece from the lump of glass that had been dug from the sand, it looked like a creature from another world—freakish and fantastic as a harlequin. It seemed to be pirouetting through space, winking light like a fitful star. The contrast between the china so vivid and alert, and the glass so mute and contemplative, fascinated him, and wondering and amazed he asked himself how the two came to exist in the same world, let alone to stand upon the same narrow strip of marble in the same room. The question remained unanswered.” (From Solid Objects)
Conversation with the Reader
While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:
“I’m learning Adobe InDesign and the project I’m working on is a CD package, which involves either creating a CD and album artwork or taking an existing CD and re-envisioning its album artwork. In either scenario, the album artwork—including all text and graphics—must be my own original material. I’ve decided to do the latter with this audio book. With numerous ideas percolating in my head, I stay up all night figuring out the narrative structure, design layout and graphics to put into the two CD booklets I plan to create. I want to include a bio on each author, and perhaps include some of their quotes on writing. It is, as with most of my creative projects, a bit of an ambitious plan.
“Eager to share my ideas with my teacher, I am suddenly at a loss for words when he asks me a simple question, ‘Have you listened to the CDs?’ I answer with a surprised and sheepish shake of my head. He suggests that when I do, to listen for elements in the story I can include as images in the CD artwork. It seems so obvious to me now, and his suggestion reminds me of an exercise in grad school I once had to do, which was to read a story and take note of all the images that stood out.”
“A Dill Pickle involves two ex-lovers who unexpectedly meet again at a café. The images that stand out for me are his orange, her gloves and, of course, a pickle. The story explores the element of power, in the form of mental control within sexual relationships. As with her other fiction, Mansfield imbues her story with interesting psychological nuances. I had to read a dozen of Mansfield’s stories in about a week for a class. I remember getting a kind of reader’s fatigue with her language. A couple of my classmates told me they couldn’t stand her writing, and I have to admit some of her stories were a challenge to get through, even to understand fully. The work of her contemporaries like Virginia Woolf resonated more with me. However, now, after listening to Mansfield’s story, I have a greater appreciation for her subtle touch and her complex yet economically-rendered characters.”
“The Storm involves, you guessed it, a storm. But this isn’t your average storm. The storm, being a metaphor for repressed sexual desires, illustrates what can happen when women are faced with what society expects from them and what they really desire. Ah, the Victorian Age. How did we ever keep a lid on women’s sexual nature for so long? Warning, don’t play certain parts of this story in your car while you have the windows down. It took me several long seconds fumbling for the volume control while the person in the next car over got an earful of Victorian erotica.”
“The Sexton’s Hero is a story within a story. Gaskell uses a kind of parable structure, which makes sense considering her Christian message. But what makes her message interesting is the story, which centers around the question of what is heroism. What defines a man as a true hero? For Gaskell and the character telling the story, a hero embodies the very ideals of Christianity: resolution and self-sacrifice. Gaskell’s story works much more beautifully than a contemporary novel I recently read, because the focus is on the story, with the Christian message coming through the characters’ actions and reflections.”
“I’m listening to Solid Objects by Virginia Woolf while I wade through my photo collection, which spans over five years, to find the ones to go into the CD booklets. The new jewel case I ordered finally arrived in the mail. It will hold two CDs and two booklets as planned.
“Solid Objects is a story about a politician who becomes obsessed with collecting discarded, broken objects. It’s easy to see the story as an illustration of a man’s journey into madness, but when I think about it, I wonder if he was all that crazy. After this past year, it strikes me that being in politics requires quite a bit of the crazy.
“When the story ends, I find a picture that is perfect for my Virginia Woolf section. It is of a rock in a river in Sedona. Half of it sits outside the water. Since it was in the middle of August, the river wasn’t as high as it was in the winter. We found some shade from the hundred-degree heat under the tree near where this rock sat. It was hard to imagine that just the day before, we’d sat on the balcony of our hotel room watching the most spectacular thunder and lightning storm.”
“I am listening to the second CD while I’m putting the finishing touches on my re-envisioned CD package. The graphics are coming together. The layout is challenging because of all the information I have. I’ve turned on my editing eye and mercilessly chopped off half of my researched material. I’d rather the listener experience this audio book on a multi-dimensional level, as I am. While listening to these stories, I’m looking at pictures which take me back in time: an overlook in Pt. Reyes, a Norwegian café in Spain, a train ride to Barcelona, a sunset over the Grand Canyon, and screeching seagulls over Caribbean waters. Then it dawns on me; almost every component in this CD package has had a prior life in some way. There’s a kind of beauty in this transformation from one form or purpose to another to create something completely fresh and different.
“This makes me think of Virginia Woolf’s story again. One could argue the central character went from being a politician to an artist. Today there are artists who create art simply out of found items. So how is it a discarded object, with no apparent value, can be elevated to a piece of art? Is it because once it has found its new place, its new use, it becomes something greater than it once was? Is it because its reincarnation is appreciated, even loved, by the artist and in turn, by the outside world?
“I haven’t any answers. All I know is that when I look at the new CD package, with the album artwork I’ve just created, I feel a sense of completion, perhaps a little pride, and also a kind of love, I suppose. A love for what I have been able to create, which I imagine is what the authors, the readers, the album producer, and everyone else who had a part in creating these items I’ve reused, must have felt. And in that, it is as if we are all connected, strung together on a thin wire of time and an enormous love for art.”