If my dim memories about the plot of Light in August prior to the reread were feelings of vague enjoyment, my memories about Lord Jim are feelings of vague hostility. This book made me angry. I was angry that I had to read it. Angry that it was so boring. Angry that I didn’t finish it. I just remember anger. I thought Lord Jim seemed promising. This was by the guy who wrote Heart of Darkness (which I have never read)! And Apocalypse Now was based on that. And that was a weird, crazy movie that for some reason at seventeen I had seen. I blame my parents. The cover was pretty (a painting of a beach with a palm tree), and it was part of Penguin Books 20th century authors series—so it was modern compared to the other books we had been reading, so surely this book would be okay. Right? Nope.
The final straw with Lord Jim actually came last night. I rose from my couch to fetch it off the shelf, ready to start writing this pre-reading essay, and make peace with the damn thing at long last. And where was the book? Nowhere. Gone. The final insult this book has paid me is that today, rather than starting this book and getting it over with after eighteen years, is that I have to go out and find a new copy of it. I didn’t mind buying a new copy of Great Expectations in preparation for rereading it early next year. I liked that book, and the copy I’d had since freshman English at SI has long since disintegrated. But I know that my 1994 copy of Lord Jim is somewhere, whole and entire, with a bookmark placed by my seventeen year old hands in it, mocking me.
Other than not being able to find my old copy of Lord Jim, I honestly don’t know why this book makes me angry. I remember occasionally not minding reading it. The language was beautiful and the story was occasionally compelling. Maybe it’s not the book that makes me angry. Maybe it’s the following memory. I remember that I had borrowed the Cliff’s Notes the morning of the test from my friend Michelle, future valedictorian and two-time Stanford alumna (I never had so organized a system as Bethany for reading them and the book together, but I wish I had). Michelle was in the other period of AP English, and they had the test on Lord Jim before our class. I wanted to return the Cliff’s Notes to her so she would have a few minutes to look at them before the test started. But traffic in the halls of SI between classes being what it was at the time, I didn’t get from my classroom to hers until right when the bell (really more of a tone) was ringing…. And they had already started the test. I was waving the Cliff’s notes in the air and running into the room and she (along with everyone else in the class) was looking at me like I was crazy. So perhaps my anger stems from Fr. Murphy seeing me with Cliff’s Notes, and saw me giving them to Michelle. Now I’m sure he knew that we all used those dumb things, but we all thought it was a sign of weakness to actually have them out in class. And I was teased more than a little about that incident for the rest of the school year. I didn’t grow up with siblings. I wasn’t used to being teased for dumb actions at the time. I am now, fortunately. I have a husband who finds my lack of brothers and sisters unfortunate, so he has “helped” me learn to tolerate some mockery. Well, that was a fun true confessions moment on the blog. Back to books.
Now it’s later in the day and I have my new copy of Lord Jim, purchased at Beer’s Books in Sacramento. A new copy, but only $7. I supported the local economy and also got a deal! I read the first couple chapters and found the writing to be kind of beautiful, and the story of how Jim the first mate became Lord Jim of the jungle promises to be a compelling one. I’m hopeful that the anger I feel towards this book will subside. I guess we’ll just see what happens over the next couple of weeks.
I wonder if everyone who has read Lord Jim (or parts of it) in the last thirty years has the same feeling, because I think my hostility toward that book has only recently faded. I remember finishing it, but that was mostly because it was a summer reading assignment and it was the only book I’d brought along with me when we went camping at the beach for a week. (It’s possible that my hostile feelings are partly due to the camping experience and not just the book — I really am literally not a happy camper…)
Theresa, I’m sure it was a combination of anger at camping and anger at Lord Jim. Were you tent camping at the beach? That doesn’t sound like fun, but then camping makes me sort of angry, too….
Hey Jill… sorry to be a jerk, but… Purtagory?
This is what happens when you’re posting late at night.
thanks, by the way. Maybe we could start calling the blog “Postcards from Purtagory”?
We could save that as an option in case Paul Ryan gets too obnoxious as we approach November and we feel the need to distance ourselves from the Catholics. But let’s stick with Purgatory for now.
That’s fair. You hear that, Paul Ryan? Don’t make us too mad or else we’re going to have to change our blog name to some nonsense.
Hey, whatever it takes to keep him under control.