Monday, October 4, 2010

I have reached chapter 20 in both Moby-Dick and Great Expectations. It's Christmas Day, and Ishmael is about to set sail on a frightening voyage with the as-yet-unseen and mysterious Captain Ahab. Meanwhile, Pip is about to take the stagecoach to wonderful, terrifying, as-yet-unseen London and embark on his career as a gentleman, thanks to a mysterious or possibly not mysterious benefactor.

Perhaps this plot synchronicity is a structural by-product of the nineteenth-century psychological novel. Although, as far as I know, MD was not first published in magazine installments (as so much of Dickens's work was), that plot-twist pacing must surely have been nearly automatic for novelists of the era. In any case, as a reader, I know when I encounter these books that I am wading into a familiar river, though I have never read Moby-Dick before, though I have read Great Expectations dozens of times before.

I recently received a rude rejection letter, presumably written by some callow graduate underling, accusing my poems of "melodrama" and of "saying nothing new," which in light of our reading project is pretty hilarious. For neither one of these great novels says anything new. Both deal with ancient issues of love and honor. Both are jam-packed with melodrama. Both follow predictable narrative patterns. Nonetheless. And that's a big word, that nonetheless.

So my question to you is: why doesn't it matter that these novels follow a well-traveled path? Or does it matter? And for you personally, what does it feel like to wade into the great narrative river?


Scott said...

Similar paths, but a different view.

Dawn Potter said...

I think you're right: point of view is an extremely important variable.

Ruth said...

Even, or especially, well-travel paths render up delightful, interesting or eerie new information if we are paying attention.

Mr. Hill said...

Okay, I'm at Chapter 20 of GE now. As Pip heads off to live with the swells in London, I feel like I should get ready for an I Love Lucy version of Austen. That comparison doesn't quite fit, but I'm too tired to think of a better one, and you get the general idea.

I think I've come to the realization in the last couple of years that point of view is pretty much the make-or-break element when I'm reading. If I like the voice, I don't care if nothing happens at all, and when the teller is dull or cloying or whatever, it doesn't matter how exciting the narrative action is. And when you have someone like Pip telling a tale full of drama, it's just rare fun.