an unapologetic critique of the Haitian Invasion and boycotting Pride and Prejudice

dearest and most loyal readers, I apologize for my long and unexpected absence. i’m sure that you were most pained by it and can only hope that my future posts will make amends for this grievous blow.

in regards to Carpetnier’s Kingdom of This World, it is no secret that my enjoyment of this book was largely non-existent. on an individual level I found the book aimless and dull, with perhaps a few interesting passages only to be found in the very last pages. in a broader context my reading of this book occurred in the middle of “the great Haitian Onslaught.” it was the second of not two, not three, but FOUR books on the Haitian revolution, the latter two which were plays about the same thing. my ire for this book might have been lessened had it not been for the bombardment of three other varyingly dull texts on the exact same topic.

I appreciate that one of the aims of Arts One is to provide students with instruction on “great” texts and at the same time expose us to material and subjects which are perhaps more obscure and less ubiquitous. this is a legitimate goal but I think that it was taken to an EXTREME MEASURE in regards to the Haitian onslaught. IT MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE to me why there is such a disproportionately large focus on this particular topic in the syllabus. the fact that this is a revolution that is less known and studied, for largely ethnocentric and racist reasons, is true and valid but this was understood and appreciated with the reading of the first text. the second was unnecessary to make this point, and the third and fourth were just beating a dead horse. by the time that I read Kingdom I was ready to throw Carpentier and Trouillot out the window. by the time I finished Walcott and Cesaire I was ready to throw myself out the window. rather than instilling an interest to read more on my own about the Haitian Revolution, as perhaps reading just one of the texts might have, I am now confident that I will never voluntarily read another text on the subject EVER AGAIN. in this case I don’t think that the balance between studying great texts and being exposed to new material was evenly or logically struck, grossly in favour of the latter.

my feelings for Northanger Abbey are directly related to the fact that I read it (as well as Lyrical Ballads) almost immediately after I fled the Haitian Invasion. therefore I hold it on a particular level of esteem, mixed with my own relief and gratitude.

let me say however that while Jane Austen is god, and because she is god, her worst book is vastly superior to most peoples’ best (including all of the books that we read about Haiti), Northanger Abbey is definitely my least favourite of her books. the heroine, Catherine Morland, is probably the most simplistic and least admirable of Austen’s heroines. She is naïve, sheltered, gullible, easily manipulated, and very ignorant about most things in general. Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse would eat her for breakfast. she is very susceptible to the manipulative and self-serving Isabella Thorpe, and her bumbling idiot brother, John. These two DRIVE ME INSANE!! I cannot emphasize how much I loathe them. every scene that they are in enrages me. they are incredibly annoying and its SO DAMN OBVIOUS from the beginning what kind of people they are. the fact that Isabella is a gold-digger is the least surprising plot twist ever. only a character As naïve and honest-to-god-dumb and oblivious as Catherine would have believed her and failed to recognize what she was. Elizabeth and Emma would have stripped the Thorpes a new one in the first chapter and sent them off packing.

now, the hero Henry Tirney, isn’t such a ridiculous character but his romance with Catherine is. Austen repeatedly states that the reason that he is essentially interested in Catherine in the first place, and why he falls in love with her, is because SHE is so obviously in love with him. she hangs on to every word he says, worships him, compliments him, and makes it goddamn obvious that she’s into him. that is why he likes her. she flatters his ego. that is the most pathetic and absurd basis for a love story that I have ever read.

the only saving grace for this book is Austen’s witty and humorous narration. I would hate this book if it were written by anyone else. but the fact is that Austen knows how ridiculous these characters are, she makes fun of them, especially Catherine, all the time. she’s mocking not only gothic texts that were popular at the time, but archetypical characters in literature and society.

having said that, I fail to understand the purpose behind reading this particular Austen book, or its connection to Lyrical Ballads. unfortunately I was unable to attend the lecture so hopefully my classmates can shed some light on this in seminar. my suspicion is that there was a desire to do an Austen text, as she is a “great” writer, but not one of her more well known texts which infuriates me.

it’s the Haitian Invasion all over again. THE CLASSICS ARE CLASSICS FOR A REASON. If we are reading Austen we should be reading Pride and Prejudice, Emma or Sense and Sensibility. you don’t study Shakespeare and skip over Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet and Othello and only read Timon of Athens. no one thinks, hmmm we’re going to learn about the greatest playwrite in the English language, we better skip all of his most beloved and famous works, pick the most obscure unknown and legitimately worst play just for the heck of it. THIS IS LUDACROUS.

they are beloved and admired for A REASON. boycotting texts just because they are widely regarded is just as stupid as boycotting them because they aren’t. in summation it we should not be reading texts simply to be exposed to new material, just like we should not be reading texts solely because a bunch of dead rich white guys decided that they were “great” works. the texts should have value, quality and insight to offer us on their own. it infuriates me that we are reading some texts that I feel have very little merit or purpose in this course and in literature in general, while we are ignoring amazing texts simply because they are considered to be “great”.

it’s like people who don’t like The Beatles just because they are so popular.

i think that i can speak for all of us when i say that they have lost the privilege to have ears and should have them forcibly removed. maybe their entire auditory cortex, temporal lobe and their sorry excuse for a brain.

and people who say that we shouldn’t read Pride and Prejudice just because it is too popular share the same circle of hell.

3 thoughts on “an unapologetic critique of the Haitian Invasion and boycotting Pride and Prejudice

  1. You go glen coco!

    I pretty much agree with all your points except a couple.

    1) Isabella’s plot twist can be seen from miles ahead but she is still freaking hilarious and the strongest female character in the book.
    2) Timon of Athens, although obscure, is a great shakespearean tragedy showing the corruption of people (opposed to the state) and has a great fall from grace that the audience can witness.

    I never did and never will care about the Haitian revolution.

    • thank you very much for your insightful comments mr. fera, I do appreciate them.
      I would agree with you that Isabella is a far more interesting, complex and strong character than Catherine, I’ve made my discontent with Catherine’s character very clear in my blog, but honestly that isn’t saying much.
      After a glorious tradition of Austen books where the female heroine exceeds in all of these areas, in intelligence, depth and strength, it is greatly unsatisfying to me, and a comment on what I think to be the most lacking of Austen’s works, that such a negative character has greater depth than the heroine. I would however, still maintain that these qualities do not diminish Isabella’s obviously negative ones, i.e.; her manipulative personality, her duplicity, her false and artificial behavior towards the Morlands (and really everyone) and her questionable morals. perhaps my annoyance with her character stems more from the fact that Catherine is so dense about her true motives than about her motives themselves.
      My point with the Shakespeare analogy was certainly not that Timon of Athens is not worth reading, but rather that it would be an incomplete and illogical study of Shakespeare to study such an obscure play and not read some of his greatest texts, some of the greatest contributions to the English language i.e.; Hamlet, R & J, Macbeth, Othello etc., which is something I’m sure that you better than anyone would appreciate and agree with. The fact that the “worst” and “most obscure” of Shakespeare’s plays that came to mind is still a play of note, illustrates the great talent of the writer. You could, of course, appreciate my predicament in illustrating this point and I hope that you did not take it too personally.
      thank you again for your excellent comments!

  2. I think that if you had been able to attend the lecture some of the questions about why we’re reading this might have been mitigated (though maybe not), and I’m so sorry our lecture was at a time when a bunch of people couldn’t make it. It was certainly non ideal.

    But I don’t think the reason why this text is on the syllabus rather than some other Austen text is because the others are too well known. I’m not sure what is giving that impression, but I don’t see it as the case. I can see its connection to Lyrical Ballads and to the theme, but possibly that’s mostly because I was able to attend the lecture. I’ll try to explain that connection, as I see it, in class tomorrow! All that said, Prof. Burgess also said that this is certainly not one of Austen’s best, and I pretty much agree with your complaints about Catherine as a heroine. She seems quite dull and uninteresting, really. I want to dig further into her character, though, to see if I can come up with some interpretation that suggests why she should be this way, given some of the larger themes of the text. Not sure I’ll be able to, but that’s one of my goals this week.

    As for the “Haitian invasion,” well, I can’t take credit for it, but remember also that the theme is about remaking, so of course it does makes sense to have at least one repetition of the same story told in a different way. The Trouillot book was assigned in large part for its discussion of history generally, and note that a fair bit of it was not about Haiti at all. Then the Carpentier book told the story from the slave’s perspective, and the plays from Christophe’s perspective. So one can at least see the thinking here: a brief introduction to the revolution from Trouillot, then the story told from two different perspectives. But okay, I also see that it was a lot!

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