Friday, March 27, 2009

Oxford Book of Essays (6)

Ed. John Gross. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. 1991. (6)

Why read it? This book contains many of the classical essays, well known essays that have become part of the literary canon. Essentially, there are two types of essays. The first, based on the model of Montaigne’s essays, is organized around the writer’s thoughts, moving from one thought to another as the mind moves. The second type of essay is found in Bacon’s and Addison’s essays, writing that is planned with a beginning, middle and end. As for topics: they can be about anything on which the writer chooses to write.

Enjoy the sample quotes from essays written over the years.

Marriage. “That the candidates for this blissful condition [marriage] have never seen an example of it [a blissful marriage], nor ever knew anyone who had, makes no difference; that is the ideal and they will achieve it.” p. 436. Katherine Anne Porter. 1948. ………. “If the couple discharged their religious and social obligations, furnished forth a copious progeny, kept their troubles to themselves, maintained public civility and died under the same roof, even if not always on speaking terms, it was rightly regarded as a successful marriage.” p. 437. Katherine Anne Porter. 1948. ………. “But Romantic Love crept into the marriage bed, very stealthily by centuries, bringing its absurd notions about love as eternal springtime and marriage as a personal adventure meant to provide personal happiness.” p. 437. Katherine Anne Porter. 1948.

Marriage. “When a husband is reading aloud, a wife should sit quietly in her chair, relaxed but attentive…should not keep swinging one foot, start to wind her wrist watch, file her fingernails, or clap her hands in an effort to catch a mosquito. A good wife allows the mosquito to bite her when her husband is reading aloud…should not break in to correct her husband’s pronunciation, or to tell him one of his socks is wrong side out.” p. 465. James Thurber. “My Own Ten Rules for a Happy Marriage.” 1953. ……… “A husband should try to remember where things are around the house so that he does not have to wait for his wife to get home from the hairdresser’s before he can put his hands on what he wants. Perhaps every wife should draw for her husband a detailed map of the house, showing clearly the location of everything he might need [but he would probably] lay the map down somewhere and not be able to find it until his wife got home.” p. 465. James Thurber. “My Own Ten Rules for a Happy Marriage.” 1953.

Rural Life. “…the country that has always existed in our imagination, so clean, trim, lavishly colored vs. …agriculture as a pursuit for real farms, with their actual lumbering beasts, their mud and manure…their mortgages and loans and market prices, their long days of wet fields and dirty straw.” p. 470. J.B. Priestley. “The Toy Farm.” 1927. ………. “…that idealized countryside where there are no ugly downpours, no sodden fields and lanes choked with mud, where only the gentlest shower of rain breaks through the sunshine, where everything is as clean as a new pin and fresh from the paint-box, where men and women are innocent and gay and the very beasts are old friends, where sin and suffering and death are not even a distant rumor.” p. 470. J.B. Priestley. “The Toy Farm.” 1927. ………. “…vision of townsmen, longing for the fields in their wilderness of bricks and mortar, a revolt against the ugly mechanical things of today, but a dream that would appear to be as old as civilized man himself, touching men’s imagination when towns were little more than specks in the green countryside. This other country where there was nothing ugly nor any pain or sorrow…haunts the mind of man everywhere and in every age.” p. 471. J.B. Priestley. “The Toy Farm.” 1927.

Dandelions. “The astronomer can tell where the North Star will be ten thousand years hence; the botanist cannot tell where the dandelion will bloom tomorrow.” p. 448. Joseph Wood Krutch. 1950. ………. “Nature, it is true, always holds up the same mirror, but prejudice, habit and education are continually changing the appearance of the objects seen in it.” p. 483. Edmund Wilson. 1927. ………. Life. “The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection…and that one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken by life….” p. 505. George Orwell. 1949.

Journalists. “…usual to evoke as authority some anonymous source…have heard something from the postman, they attribute it to a ‘semi-official statement’; if they have fallen into conversation with a stranger at a bar, they can conscientiously describe him as ‘a source that has hitherto proved unimpeachable’…only when the journalist is reporting a whim of his own…that he defines it as the opinion of ‘well-informed circles.’ ” p. 510. Evelyn Waugh. 1930. ………. Books. “Perhaps it is only in childhood that books have any deep influence on our lives.” p. 515. Graham Greene. 1947. ………. “In later life we admire, we are entertained, we may modify some views we already hold, but we are more likely to find in books merely a confirmation of what is in our minds already.” p. 515. Graham Greene. 1947.

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