Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fairmount Park and The Old Wives' Tale

Today was a lovely Saturday.  

First, Nick surprised me yesterday evening by coming home a week early from his final business trip!  About 15 minutes after I got home from work, there was a knock on our apartment door.  Coco froze in place, anxious from the noise.  Unfortunately, our door does not have a peep hole, so I had to open it blindly.  I was so excited by what I saw!  There was Nick, standing with his luggage.  The first thing I asked as I leaned in to kiss him was "Are you here to stay?"  He said yes.  He is finally done flying back and forth, spending 2 weeks in Seattle and 1 week in Philly.  I guess my patience has been rewarded!  I am so happy to finally have my fiance here to stay.

Fairmount Park

This morning, Nick and I decided to go for a 4 mile walk in the woods.  Philadelphia boasts the the largest urban park in the United States: Fairmount Park.  Fairmount consists of 63 parks and covers 9200 acres.  It was pretty chilly in the morning (40 degrees when we left at 9am), but there was ample sunshine, and overall it was a gorgeous day.  I used my Charity Miles app to log our walk and contribute to "10 breaths of fresh air" for The Nature Conservancy.  Nick thought that it was only right for us to choose an environmental charity, considering we were spending our time enjoying the beauty of nature; I agreed that it was a great idea.

It was nice to spend some time outside (and even better to be able to share it with my love).  Sometimes, I feel stifled living in the city; this was a great way to relax and enjoy the present moment.

The Old Wives' Tale, Arnold Bennett

I have this life goal of reading all 100 books on the Modern Library's List of 100 Best Novels.  It's a slow process (since I'm not a very quick reader, nor do I commit to reading every day), but I'm enjoying exploring these books (many of which I've never heard of before).  I've also gotten pretty good at finding my books in the library by following the book call number.  Prior to this endeavor, I rarely went to the library; however, I decided I could save $5+ per book, and so far, the Penn library has had everything I wanted.  

I started at the bottom of the list (#100) and am working my way up.  Today, I finished #87, The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett.  

This book took me way too long to read.  It's a pretty long book (640 pages), and the plot was not very exciting.  It is the story of two very different sisters (kind of like my sister and I), and it chronicles their lives from teenage years through their deaths.  Sophia, the younger sister, is more of the "rebel" and leads a much more cultured, worldly life.  In the end, she realizes she is no longer young, and she has no desire to lead a life where she is not viewed as a seductive beauty.  Constance, the older sister, always does things "proper."  She detests change and is a stubborn woman, set in her ways.  While I did not particularly enjoy this book, I do respect its message: a person is molded by a series of experiences, and in the end, nobody can fully understand the life of the person but the person him/herself.  

The author of this book was inspired to write it upon seeing an older, ugly woman dining in a restaurant.  The author realized that the woman was not always this way, and used this to create his two characters, Constance and Sophia.  In the preface to the novel, Bennett writes:
     "I reflected, concerning the grotesque diner: 'This woman was once young, slim, perhaps beautiful; certainly free from these ridiculous mannerisms.  Very probably she is unconscious of her singularities.  Her case is a tragedy.  One ought to be able to make a heartrending novel out of the history of a woman such as she.'  Every stout, ageing woman is not grotesque-- far from it!-- but there is an extreme pathos in the mere fact that every stout ageing woman was once a young girl with the unique charm of youth in her form and movements and in her mind.  And the fact that the change from the young girl to the stout ageing woman is made up from an infinite number of infinitesimal changes, each unperceived by her, only intensifies the pathos.
     It was at this instant that I was visited by the idea of writing the book which ultimately became The Old Wives' Tale.  Of course I felt that the woman who caused the ignoble mirth in the restaurant would not serve me as a type of heroine.  For she was much too old and obviously unsympathetic.  It is an absolute rule that the principal character of a novel must not be unsympathetic, and the whole modern tendency of realistic fiction is against oddness in a prominent figure.  I knew that I must choose the sort of woman who would pass unnoticed in a crowd." 
Overall, I give this book a 2 out of 5 stars.  I wish the story were more exciting, but the purpose was to focus on character development and in particular, the development of "ordinary" characters.  

My take-away from this novel: God willing, we will die in our old age, and our whole life story will be known only to us; therefore, for each present moment, you must do what makes yourself proud and do it with purpose.

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