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Rachel-K
Posts: 1,495
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
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Are the characters stable?

We see Anne, Angelica, Constance, and Joseph through so many lenses--moments of action or inaction, from differing, conflicting perspectives, do you think you can recognize the "true" character in each of them?

Who is most difficult for you to get an accurate reading of? Who is easiest to read?

There is a passage on 253 that I thought was really wonderfully done--Joseph has been writing in a journal and the notebook is sitting on the cafe table, turned outward, and he has a powerfully angry/defensive reaction to seeing people pass by his journal and read his name on the cover of it--and he muses on how easily a person can be "stripped" of his own character, changed, and even compares it, relatively, to how a man "discovers himself" by finding out how he will act in war--and how that is also a lie about what makes up a "self."

That small passage really took on the whole novel for me, because I felt I had to keep shifting my perspective on each of them.
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x-tempo
Posts: 102
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Re: Are the characters stable?

[ Edited ]

rkubie wrote:
We see Anne, Angelica, Constance, and Joseph through so many lenses--moments of action or inaction, from differing, conflicting perspectives, do you think you can recognize the "true" character in each of them?

Who is most difficult for you to get an accurate reading of? Who is easiest to read?

There is a passage on 253 that I thought was really wonderfully done--Joseph has been writing in a journal and the notebook is sitting on the cafe table, turned outward, and he has a powerfully angry/defensive reaction to seeing people pass by his journal and read his name on the cover of it--and he muses on how easily a person can be "stripped" of his own character, changed, and even compares it, relatively, to how a man "discovers himself" by finding out how he will act in war--and how that is also a lie about what makes up a "self."

That small passage really took on the whole novel for me, because I felt I had to keep shifting my perspective on each of them.




Rachel,

We don't find out about the narrator until the end of the novel but early in the second section when we realize that the same events are being told from a different perspective, it dawns on us how unreliable the previous narration has been. The narrator, who seems omniscient because she/he describes events that no one person could know, turns out to have a 20th century psychoanalytical perspective on events that happened in the Victorian Age. Do you agree with that?

I think Joseph's self-consciousness and defensiveness about how he imagines he's being perceived by others in the cafe is actually the narrator inhabiting the character's consciousness and relating how he might have felt about an incident so trivial that the narrator could not have known about it.

I don't think the narrator is describing Joseph as unstable in this scene. He's a scientist who values rationality and order. The Victorians might have thought of "character" as a supression of the lower instincts. In this incident he's momentarily overtaken by his emotions, but he recovers and is able to analyze what just happened to him. More importantly, he (or the narrator who attributes these thought to him) exptrapolates from his momentary lapse of civility a theory about the behavior of men in combat (something he's experienced) and sociopaths. He doesn't seem unstable to me.

His Italian father anglicized the family surname and advised his son to serve in the military to prove his loyalty to England. Joseph isn't a doctor but he has a good job in a medical laboratory and could have married the daughter of one of his colleagues instead of Constance the orphaned stationer's clerk. He believes that religion is superstition and he wants his daughter to have a good education.

So from his perspective, he's a family man, a modern man of science who's fulfilled his obligation to serve in the military.

steve

Message Edited by x-tempo on 07-25-2007 04:13 PM
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Fozzie
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Re: Are the characters stable?-Whole Book --- SPOILER



rkubie wrote:
We see Anne, Angelica, Constance, and Joseph through so many lenses--moments of action or inaction, from differing, conflicting perspectives, do you think you can recognize the "true" character in each of them?





SPOILER

I think this is a central question of the novel --- how well do we know ourselves and each other? Clearly, Constance and Joseph do not communicate effectively with one another. Both misinterpret the others' words and actions. I couldn't help but wonder if Joseph knew of Constance's sexual abuse by her father. Additionally, I couldn't help but wonder if Constance knew of Joseph's disappointment in himself, when he was forced to withdraw "from the medical faculty and converted his limited medical knowledge into an enlistment in the hospital corps" (p. 230).

I don't think we will ever know the true character of either Constance or Joseph. We can piece together what we believe to be their true characters, based on what is in the book, coupled with our own thoughts.
Laura

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