Notice to all my followers: The Morris Chair is Moving

This site will no longer be available after May 12, 2013.

If you would like to continue reading my reviews, I encourage you to visit me at the Morris Chair community blog site at the Springfield,Illinois State Journal-Register. Hope you will stop by!

Here is the link.

Thank you for your interest in my reviews. I thoroughly appreciate your input and your interest!

Best always,

Isaac “Marty” Morris

To my readers

Effective May 1, I will no longer be posting on The Morris Chair.

You will, however, be able to read future reviews on The State Journal-Register community blog site.

I have thoroughly enjoyed maintaining this site for more than one year, and I have become acquainted with some  very nice people int he process. I thank you all for your kindnesses and your feedback.

God bless!

Isaac Morris

What’s coming?

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn (Crown Publishing Group, 2012, 432 pages)

What do you do if you discover your spouse is a sociopath?

Marriage can be a real killer.

One of the most critically acclaimed suspense writers of our time, New York Times bestseller Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this unputdownable masterpiece about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong. The Chicago Tribune proclaimed that her work “draws you in and keeps you reading with the force of a pure but nasty addiction.” Gone Girl’s toxic mix of sharp-edged wit and deliciously chilling prose creates a nerve-fraying thriller that confounds you at every turn.

Look for my review of Gone Girl on Wednesday, February 6.


Devil or Angel: Charles Dickens in Love

Charles Dickens in Love, by Robert Garnett (Pegasus, 2012, 256 pages)

Garnett_CharlesDickensLoveThe year 2012 marked the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens. Celebrations occurred in the UK and in France; and in places like Galveston, Texas where, during the 39th “Dickens on the Strand,” citizens held a world record birthday card signing. And in Washington, D.C., a walking tour celebrated the author’s visit to our nation’s capital. Few writers are as celebrated, widely read, and held in such esteem.

Dickens continues to evoke Victorian settings of Christmas, stemming from the impact of his most famous work, “A Christmas Carol,” images that belie the apparent lack of warmth and comfort in his personal life–assuming Robert Garnett’s recent foray into the darker side of Mr. Dickens is to be believed.

Garnett is an English professor at Gettysburg College, and has published widely on the subject of Dickens. His dissection of the writer’s love life lapses into Freudian analysis at times (why is it English professors wax Freudian more than they do Jungian? And isn’t waxing painful?), but his book makes for an interesting read.

One of the most touching parts of A Christmas Carol occurs when the Ghost of Christmas Past returns Scrooge to his youth, and we see there a woman he might have married. His own driving ambition outweighed his feelings of love, and he lost her–something he was now made to regret. Dickens was thirty-one years old when he wrote this, perhaps his most famous work, and Garnett suggest that “one might have supposed that he had never been in love, had never known any feelings of desire, passion, or urgency.”

In truth, Dickens had experienced love and disappointment, but he had a peculiar attitude towards women, viewing them as either angels or sluts. Victorian society as a whole had this problem, since for all of its pretensions about the sanctity of womanhood London in the 19th century had what has been variously estimated at 80,000 prostitutes working the alleyways. Dickens was no doubt well aware of these denizens of the dark alleys, since at some point just prior to his marriage he picked up an STD. Sex in polite society was to be avoided, but men will be men.

Dickens’ marriage was doomed from the start, yet his wife Catherine (nee Hogarth) bore him a half-dozen children. Although divorce was not an option, he separated from Catherine for an actress named Ellen Ternan, who was more than 25 years his junior. Although he loved Ellen first from afar, holding her in high esteem on that pedestal reserved for the flower of womanhood, he eventually succumbed to her more earthly qualities and she became pregnant.  Garnett believes that she gave birth to a child who lived only a few days. (Garnett isn’t out on a limb here, as Dickens’ son, Henry Fielding Dickens, is on record as saying that his father’s mistress “had a boy but it died,” and his sister, Kate, had also mentioned this.) Oddly enough, the scandal did not ruin his reputation, so highly regarded was he by his readers around the world; an attitude that strangely presaged our own tendency to allow celebrities a pass when it comes to conventional notions of morality.

I enjoyed Garnett’s analysis of the many female characters in Dickens’ novels, and how they tie to his various loves. Take, for example, the ethereal Mary Hogarth, his  wife Catherine’s young sister who lived with the newlyweds and became Dickens guiding spirit until she died in his arms quite suddenly of an aneurism. It seems he married the wrong Hogarth. Garnett sees her in Rose Maylie, the heroine of Oliver Twist (“the earth seemed not her element nor its rough creatures her fit companions”). Ellen Ternan may not have directly influenced the character of Estella in Great Expectations, but the story is infused with “his passion for Ellen and the frustrating impasse of his love for her.” The contrast between the ethereal angel, Mary Hogarth, and Ellen Ternan, the actress with feet of clay, greatly affected Dickens the man and Dickens the writer: “…while Mary drew his thoughts upward, Ellen drew them down to earth….”

The Dickens “scandal” is not news. It was well known during his lifetime. So Garnett is giving us nothing really new here. What he has done is to fill in some of the knowledge gaps by taking us into diaries, correspondence, and Dickens personal letters (the few that Dickens and his doting sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth, didn’t destroy to protect his privacy). Oh, incidentally, Dickens was rumored to be sleeping with Georgina as well: seems his wife, Catherine, was the only Hogarth woman he didn’t get on with! My, my. Yes, Charles Dickens in Love  makes for an interesting read, so long as you don’t mind learning that your idols have feet of clay. In this century, we should be accustomed to that.

Copyright 2013 Isaac Morris

New Years Irresolutions: Read. Read. Read.

I am not a big fan of the New Year’s holiday. Nor am I one to fall into the “resolution” trap. But I have been thinking about ways in which we all might make the coming year and whatever years we may be on this earth better for ourselves and for everyone else. So, here are some completely gratuitous thoughts in the issue.

  • I plan to stop watching people like Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews. They cleave. We should find ways to put together not to tear apart.
  • For that matter, the less TV we watch the better. Even situation comedies have an agenda any more, so there is nothing to laugh at just for the sake of laughing. Everything else makes me want to cry. We are subtly influenced by television in ways we don’t even realize.
  • Take crime, for instance. Remember that television news channels live on ratings. Because of our peculiar nature, we tune in when crimes are talked about. So, we have come to think that the world is a much more dangerous place than it is. We are scaring the joy out of our lives. Oh, yes, we must take care because humans are capable of anything. But when we avoid the sunshine for fear of the shadows, we may as well just die.
  • I hope that we can find the means to understand that school budgets and learning aren’t necessarily connected. When our kids don’t learn, we immediately start throwing money at the problem. How about throwing parental responsibility into the mix? Parents are as integral to the learning process as the teachers. Abraham Lincoln learned on a slate with the help of a mother (a step-mother, at that) who loved him and encouraged him. And good teachers can inspire just as effectively with a whiteboard as with PowerPoint (probably more so, because they rely more on their knowledge than on technology). Our children aren’t hampered because they don’t all have iPads. But without parents to encourage them, no degree of technology would matter.
  • I am sick of the argument about how God has been taken out of the schools. In public schools, this is appropriate. The real problem is that God has been removed from several generations of families. Whatever else you can say about religion, when kids went to church regularly they at least were exposed to the idea that the world is better when we respect one another. “Society” is a fiction. A society is a collection of individuals. And individuals are made–or broken–by the family into which they are born.
  • Although I am not one to become mired in politics I am horrified that many of our elected representatives seem to have forgotten that they were “hired” to act in our best interests–not in the interests of their party, of their lobbyists, or of their perpetuation in office. Entrenchment, not compromise, is the rule of the day; and the arrogance of many of these people–whom WE chose to serve US–is disgusting. The attitude seems to run through the halls of congress that these people know what’s best for us, and we should just accept that they are smarter than we are and let it go. If I were going to make a resolution, it might be to work hard to remove any elected official–regardless of his or her party–who is more concerned with anything besides working for the best result for the people who elected them.
  • I am sick of the focus on guns in society–on both sides of the divide. I don’t for one minute think that doing everything we can to take military style rifles weapons out of the equation is going to lead to the disarmament of the entire society. If history has taught us anything, it is that you can’t violate the American character–at least for very long–without suffering serious pushback, politically or otherwise. But who, in God’s name, needs an AR-15? I have yet to hear of a herd of deer counter-attacking. Let’s bring some common sense to this discussion–and not forget that it may have been the closing of the mental health facilities thirty years ago that–combined with improved weapons technology–has precipitated the recent horrors. Even if we ban the worst guns, people will get them. Doing nothing about mental illness is far more dangerous. Of course, this will all revert to the discussion in my previous bullet point about representatives looking out for our best interests as opposed to, say, their prospects for reelection.
  • Oh…and if you really want to make your life better, read, read, read. Encourage your children to read. Read to your chlldren. Have your children read to you.
  • And hug each other a lot.

So there. Happy New Year!