My birthday has come and gone, yet again. Last Tuesday November 11th, I became another year older, and it is amazing to me how incredibly different my life has become in just 365 days! Last year on my birthday, I sat at home alone (my parents were at work, my brother at school) and spent my entire day with a short novel by Nella Larsen. I was in the midst of completing my Master’s, and although I had the Monday of my birthday off school because of the winter break that the university afforded to us pathetic and stressed-out students, I had to finish Larsen’s book before my American literature seminar on Thursday. I was a wee little bit stressed about finishing just over 100 pages of reading in one day, but I had no choice as too many essays and assignments were occupying the rest of my time, so I set aside my entire birthday to finish the task and begin and end Larsen’s tiny novel.
I do not love American literature – I never have. I realize that I just wrote an emphatic post about my love for John Irving who is, technically, an American author, but I still feel that his style is more akin to the sweeping Victorian epic, and so he is hardly your stereotypical American novelist. I took the American literature seminar during my Master’s because I loved the professor (who I had the pleasure of working with during my undergraduate degree) and because I felt that I needed a bit more breadth and complexity in my degree. I didn’t passionately adore any of the readings, however, and I wasn’t thrilled about spending the most special day of my year with an American cast of characters. I think I actually broke down and cried at one point during the day, most likely when I still had more than half of the novel left to read – I was getting to the point in my MA when I just wanted to be free…the Christmas holidays were, of course, around the corner so everyone was beginning to experience a bit of academic cabin fever! Needless to say, my birthday wasn’t as amazing as I had hoped it would be – but I must admit that the novel surprised and intrigued me, and I even penned a quick review of it on my birthday last year. You will find that review at the end of this post.
I thought it would be appropriate to finally post this particular review because a whole year has passed since I finished the novel – and my year has been a year of growth, change and development, much like that of the protagonist Helga Crane. I have a full-time job now, I’m content romantically, I have incredible relationships with my family members and friends…I’m much less lonely and feel significantly less isolated and burdened than I did last year, when I was knee deep in readings and expectations. But, much has not changed: I still adore reading, I still have a knack for spotting a Victorian novel across the length of a bookstore, I still love talking about literature and often embarrass myself by speaking about characters as if they are real people whom I cherish and confide in. I have to admit, now that a year has gone by and I am capable of more calm introspection, that I valued the time I spent studying novels critically – and at this very moment when I am feeling especially introspective, as most people do when they get a year older, I must say that I miss school…I enjoy writing this blog, but I miss the immediacy of in-class discussion…and I feel as though I’m missing out on novels that I’ve never heard of or encountered just because I don’t have any reading lists or syllabi to refer to!
Does this mean I see myself returning to school in the future, perhaps to pursue that elusive PhD? I don’t know…but I like to think that some things never change, including a passion for the written word and a desire to know everything about and adamantly defend (not least with an impressive diploma) the stories one loves most!
Who ever really knows what the future will bring anyway?!
Girl with a Green Heart
by Nella Larsen
This short novel was unexpectedly profound and moving. I had not thought that I would be able to identify so quickly and so poignantly with the main character, Helga Crane, because I stereotypically assumed that her story was too unlike my own – I was gratified to find that her personality and her concerns about life and interpersonal relationships and social hierarchies were very similar to my preoccupations. Although she is a very flawed character in many ways, her ideas about race and love and marriage are interesting and useful…and surprisingly applicable to a contemporary (female) reader. I was more than a little upset at what I believed to be a tragic ending, and I felt pained and saddened for Helga. Her portrayal is so complicated – it is so easy to simultaneously like and criticize her – but, upon finishing the book, I felt slightly haunted and disconcerted. That feeling is, for me, a clear indication that this text is effectively and flawlessly written.