‘Bring Out Your Dead!’

For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a blog post about some of literature’s most memorable deaths and death scenes. But there was a “spoiler” problem: I would be revealing very important plot developments, and those who hadn’t read the fictional works in question might avenge my indiscretion by creating a real-life death — mine. 🙂

Yet I’m going to risk The Grim Reaper today and tackle this mortal topic. As one does with cremated remains, I’ll liberally scatter spoiler alerts throughout this post. Also, I’ll bury the names of the characters I discuss — as in mostly not giving those names. And I’ll camouflage things in other ways, as one might cover a coffin with dirt. Finally, I’ll consider hiring 24-hour security in case I angered anyone with this paragraph’s tasteless wordplay about death. (Of course, 24-hour security leaves a person unprotected during the other 144 hours in a week…)

First some general thoughts: Death is a tragic/dramatic subject almost like catnip to authors — a subject that can make plots highly interesting, both in terms of the deceased and the way survivors react to the character being gone. In short, a death is a way to potentially grab the attention of readers, who may also relate what they’re seeing fictionally to the real-life deaths of people they knew and to their own inevitable demise.

More general thoughts: Literature of course usually reflects the time in which it’s written. So in pre-20th-century fiction, many characters died of diseases that would become curable in our modern age. Then, from roughly World War I on, weaponry became VERY lethal — meaning more characters died on the battlefield or as civilian “collateral damage” (I hate that dehumanizing term). But one can’t totally generalize. After all, America’s Civil War was a carnage nightmare, and many people today still die of curable diseases in the poorer parts of the U.S. and world.

In Jane Eyre (skip this paragraph if you haven’t read Charlotte Bronte’s novel!), there are several deaths crucial to the story. Among them is the passing of an almost saintly student, whose masterfully depicted demise is not only heartbreaking but helps lead the Lowood institution to be run in a healthier way — and perhaps saves Jane from eventually dying there, too. Another death, of an adult woman near the end of the novel, is very dramatic (think fire and roof) and makes all the difference for Jane and her former fiance Rochester.

Louisa May Alcott’s also-19th-century Little Women (those who haven’t read it drop your laptop or mobile device NOW!) features the poignant passing of one of the four young March sisters. The event is especially wrenching because the dying sister is so darn nice — even knitting stuff in her sickroom to give to children passing by the window. And her death, not surprisingly, makes her surviving sisters more resolved to do good and appreciate life to the fullest.

In Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (your watching eyes need an immediate screen break if you haven’t read that novel!), Janie Crawford’s third husband is a mixed bag but much better than her first two spouses. Then, while heroically saving Janie from danger, something happens to this charismatic guy that soon kills him. Hard to see a silver lining in that, but Janie sort of personifies the struggles and resilience of African-American women.

The main character in Emile Zola’s Nana is not admirable, though her difficult childhood certainly helps explain that. (Zola was French, so non-Nana readers should now take a spoiler-avoiding trip to Paris!) Anyway, after the protagonist’s death in that novel, a queasy and striking scene ensues — a scene designed to say a lot about not only the deceased individual but about France as a whole.

Tragic, watery suicides depicted in riveting fashion? Your go-to novels include (get a snack this second if you haven’t read Kate Chopin or Jack London!) The Awakening and Martin Eden.

(If need be, stay in the kitchen for another snack instead of reading the next two paragraphs!)

Other fictional passings that will stay with you include the deaths of two siblings in George Eliot’s magnificent The Mill on the Floss; the deaths of a saintly slave and an angelic girl in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s gripping Uncle Tom’s Cabin; the lingering demise of the wilderness-loving loner in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Prairie (the fifth and final novel of that author’s compelling “Leatherstocking” series); and the killing of a girl in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. (There are of course countless fictional murders in general fiction and especially in genre fiction such as mysteries.)

Also, there are the killings of Mexican priests (including a particular one) in Graham Greene’s desolate/absorbing The Power and the Glory; various deaths in Alexandre Dumas’ stirring The Count of Monte Cristo (shedding their mortal coil are Edmond Dantes’ mentor/fellow prisoner and the evil guys who framed the innocent Dantes); and the death of a soldier in Erich Maria Remarque’s heartbreaking A Time to Love and a Time to Die. (Hmm…that last title certainly telegraphs a character’s fate, as do the titles of novels such as Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop and Colette’s The Last of Cheri.)

Obviously, I’ve barely scratched the surface in this post. Let’s take this six feet under with your examples of memorable deaths and death scenes in literature. It’s up to you how much of a spoiler alert you want to include with your comments. 🙂

My headline of course references this famous Monty Python scene.

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

115 thoughts on “‘Bring Out Your Dead!’

  1. The freshest deaths for me (that sounds a bit odd; does that mean they haven’t started to smell in my memory?) are Tolstoy’s ‘Death of Ivan Ilyich’, which I just finished reading about an hour ago (I’m reading the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of it as well as many of his other stories/novellas) and, of course, the ‘DEATH’ is the big subject as it is in so many of Ingmar Bergman’s films. Partly because Tolstoy can never be brief about anything (otherwise ‘War and Peace’ would have been about 400 pages), the death is long and lingering, as so many deaths are. This gives Ivan a LOT of time to review his life and go through all those stages of dying that are discusssed so much. He wonders if his life has been in vain, if everything he thought was good and admirable was somehow suspect, if he’ll be snuffed out completely after death. I’m not sure if this was written during one of Tolstoy’s atheistic ‘there’s nothing but a void after death’ time periods but it has that undercurrent to it. Ivan does reach an inner peace even though his body is thrashing and writhing in pain. Does this suggest that he’s already partially left his body even though the reflex mechanisms of the physiological apparatus keep going like a chicken without a head? I don’t know. That’s one of the questions that Tolstoy does not answer.

    Before that was the deaths in ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’, the second more traumatic than the first.

    Of course, Death is a presence in Faulkner’s ‘As I Lay Dying’, obviously. Addie Bundren dies before the action begins so the course of the novel is just the family trying to honor her wishes. Meanwhile, we hear the point of view from inside the coffin as Addie herself reflects on her life and she fills in a few gaps of information/insight not known by her surviviing family members. Death becomes almost personified in the novel as the corpse stinks and the coffin goes through fire and flood before it can finally be buried.

    Although I read the novel about 20 something years ago, I just watched the TV movie of ‘Lonesome Dove’ about a week ago. Many surprising deaths along the way in that novel culminating in the death of one of the main protagonists, Gus McRae. His partner, much like the Bundren family, feels compelled to honor his wish of where to be buried (requiring him to transport the body from Montana almost to the Mexican border!).

    In ‘Brothers Karamazov’, the holiness of Father Zossima is contrasted with the fact that, no matter how much of a saint someone was in life, his body will decay and smell just as much as a vile person.

    Of course, in recent years, the most prevalent deaths have occurred, both on the page as well as the screen, in George R.R. Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones’. From the shocking beheading of a primary protagonist in the first volume, massacres, death by crown of molten goal, dismemberings and various other atrocities are committed in a world where life is ‘nasty, brutish and, mercifully, short’. In such a world, one could view death as a deliverance from suffering. Also, as the shocking deaths accumulate throughout the series, one would be almost disappointed if one went for 100 pages without a death.

    Enough of that. I’ll shut up for now.

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    • Your “freshest deaths” riff — nicely done, bobess48!

      Thanks for that very interesting paragraph about “Death of Ivan Ilyich,” which I haven’t read. Long, lingering deaths certainly do open up all kinds of possibilities for authors (drama-wise, pathos-wise, philosophy-wise, etc.). Memorable not-quick passings that occur to me include Eva in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Natty Bumppo in James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Prairie,” and characters in Zola’s “Nana” and “The Drinking Den.”

      Great mention of “The Brothers Karamazov,” too. In a way, there is no nobility in a corpse even when a noble person dies.

      Sounds like George R.R. Martin offers more deaths per square page than Cormac McCarthy does in “Blood Meridian”!

      Next time I read Faulkner, I want to FINALLY get to “As I Lay Dying.”

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  2. “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee Dave.

    “N” “N..er” words are all throughout the book makes me cringe each and every time I run into it. The book will never be published if not for the existence of TKAM but now it is a testimony to how appealing a writer Harper Lee can be , if the author only had gone back to make GSAW a final copy who really knew how the story would have turned out.

    Dave…Scout in here is more like TKAM`s Atticus for that she credited her upbringing entirely to her widowed father . Adult Scout now Jean Louise ..is totally color blind. while Atticus turns into a racist bigot , I have no other word or excuse to make up or justify Atticus in GSAW.

    You other readers may not agree with me for that matter.

    Atticus was basically present in the last chapter, Here Dill ( Truman Capote) was mentioned one time only. There is an aunt, uncle Dr. Jack Finch, Henry on again off again boyfriend all throughout the book.
    As I mentioned before the book was definitely re-visited by the author but far from being the final copy.

    So the way I am looking at it GSAW…was the death of a character we all loved and adored ATTICUS FINCH’ turned out to be a complex human soul.
    Atticus was always been a bigot in his mind which never reflected upon his children.

    The ending is dramatic for you to read.. spare you of that.

    In my opinion the GSAW fits well in this blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, bebe, for the very interesting description and analysis of “Go Set a Watchman”! Much appreciated. After reading this comment, your previous comments, and Brian’s and Susan’s comments about the novel, I really should read that book someday.

      Not a lot more I can say since I haven’t read “GSAW,” but perhaps Susan and Brian can weigh in if they see your comment.

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          • Jem’s death is mentioned within the first 20 or so pages and not mentioned until later when it is revealed that he inherited the heart ailment that killed his mother. Because he is not actively in ‘GSAW’ I wasn’t affected by that news as I would be if he were ‘on stage’ and then died. It’s an abstract loss to me personally because he really only exists within the pages of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. The use of the n-word IS very offensive to us these days but one really can’t escape it if we care to consider classic works by any author dealing with the racial component before the last 40-50 years which includes ALL of Faulkner’s works and ALL of Mark Twain’s works and all of the works from the earlier time periods even by authors such as Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin and many others. As I’ve said before, Atticus is entirely believable for the time in which he lived. He felt that everyone deserved equal treatment under the law and was going to defend a black person, as he did, in ‘TKAM’ to the best of his ability and if he was clearly innocent, as Tom Robinson was, he would defend that truth. I also feel that, for all of his paternalistic ‘The Negro as a race is still in its childhood’ talk in ‘GSAW’, he would still defend Tom Robinson if the circumstances arose and if he were not infirm and retired, just as he did in ‘TKAM’. There were many men in the South in that time period who acted and felt as Atticus did and Harper Lee is, as a Southerner, depicting the reality of her region as truthfully as she can in both books.

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            • Great comment, Brian, about Atticus and more.

              And, yes, a back-story death in literature is usually not as affecting as an in-story death.

              I cringe when I see the “n-word” used in “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and other works, even while acknowledging the “of its time” thing.

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              • Exactly…knowing it was then…again Atticus`s thinking process was being faithful to the high set of ideals of his fit for the time..but I simply do not believe men in south had only one way of thinking…that N ( blacks) were no capable then taking over.

                IMO the last part of the book where Atticus explained the situation to Scout could be better written if Lee had a chance to rewrite.
                The reason for Scout`s confusion she was in her 20`s and was in shock going back to South discovering Atticus in another light for the first time and then the ending became too simplistic.

                If you ever read Dave I would love to read what you would take away from it…I wonder if Ana had a chance as well..she must be too busy.

                Helloooooooooooo Ana…;)

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                • Regarding Atticus and men of his time. There may have been men who knew in their hearts that African Americans deserved equality but I suspect they kept it to themselves, especially if they were high profile figures who’d already served in the state legislature as Atticus had. That simply was not done at that time. It’s similar to liberals in later years being sympathetic to interracial or same sex marriages. There were several years before people of different races could feel bold enough to have a relationship, much less be married and, even more recently, same sex relationships. It would have been career suicide for someone like Atticus to speak out as boldly as he might have been willing to do if the circumstances lent themselves to more tolerance or open-mindedness. If white people felt that ‘the Negro’ deserved equal treatment they kept their views in the closet.

                  Regarding Scout’s naivette, yes, I think that’s an issue. My question was if she had been going down to Maycomb on ‘annual visits’ wouldn’t she have had some inkling that things were not as she had idealized them in her youth? How could she conduct a relationship with Hank and not know that he harbored these feelings as well? I might be able to understand if it was the first time she’d been down south in 10 years or more but she kept in regular contact with Atticus. Emotionally, she is still very much a child, despite her enlightened views intellectually. That just seemed to extreme, like all this drama was bottled up just waiting to explode or one pivotal weekend. It had that concentrated hyperdramatic tone to it like many early TV and stage dramas. Everything is compressed into one brief time period, kind of like the night/morning of all the emotional explosions of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”. Sometimes things that are never said reach a boiling point on one brief occasion but I think in life realizations and discoveries occur a bit more gradually.

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                  • bobess48, I didn’t see your response to bebe until I posted mine.

                    Great point — non-racist people often didn’t feel comfortable letting that be known. Very dangerous for not only one’s career but for one’s safety. 😦

                    And, yes, authors often feel the need to “compress” pivotal events, conversations, etc., into one small time period. Not necessarily realistic for things to be so concentrated, but it can make for good drama.

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                  • Well said..BB and if you handn`t insisted us to read the book I perhaps would have passed it, so thank you for that. I enjoyed the book thoroughly like Scout`s going back to reminisce the past .

                    The book was written in 1950`s and Harper Lee was writing through Scout`s fictional mindset and I certainly commend the independent thinking process of Ms. Lee.

                    Scout called herself color blind but yes..Scout`s naivete is understandable though. These days a 20 year olds are different and have a maturity at a different level due to the circumstances they are thrown against .

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                    • Fantastic was it Maria`s ? Good you hosted to make it so much fun for your little girl. Was her`s on 16th or today ? We did the same thing last night ( no Labor on my part) our son and d-i -l paid a surprise visit to celebrate his. October is a good month for special important people 🙂

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                    • Thanks for the kind words, bebe!

                      Yes, an eighth birthday party for Maria. She was born Sept. 30, but the pool wasn’t available until today. (My 26-year-old daughter’s birthday is actually Sept. 30, too!)

                      A very Happy Birthday to your son!!!

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                • bebe, there were indeed some non-racist white people in the South (and North) even in the worst of times. A relatively small “minority” of whites, anyway.

                  And your second paragraph makes one think of how much better “Go Set a Watchman” would have been if Harper Lee had rewritten and polished it enough. A great point, also, that the thinking of people in their 20s is often not as clear and mature as it will be later. We’ve all been there. 🙂 Plus the culture shock, as you also note, of returning to the South after being in the North (a racist place, too, but perhaps not as overtly racist).

                  Ana is indeed busy these days, but I’m sure she’ll return with her great comments at some point!

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                  • Yes Dave..Harper Lee is the perfect example of being a “non racist white” living in Alabama in the 50`s. I really want to know how non whites and blacks think of this book.

                    It was mid 80`s I was working in KS med in Biochemistry. I notice a summer student had a book on his desk passed along by the head of the department. The book, do not remember the author or the name. The topic was how ” White” brains are superior to ” Black ” brains. I remember I was besides myself and the student was so embarrassed although it was not his fault , his boss was trying to corrupt his mind.

                    I think I have said too much in here Dave, thank you for allowing us for an open discussion.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Great point, bebe! Harper Lee definitely did not think like the majority back then, and millions of readers are thankful for that. 🙂 And it WOULD be interesting to know how all kinds of people feel about “Go Set a Watchman.”

                      Wow — that’s some memory you have from the 1980s! What a lowlife that department head must have been. 😦

                      I’ve greatly enjoyed the discussion — even though I haven’t read “GSAW.” 🙂

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            • I was so shocked when Jem was killed off. I couldn’t believe that Lee didn’t have a place for him as a grown up, and again it made me wonder how “TKAM” became what it is if it was based on “GSAW”. There are some nice flashback scenes with Jem, but as Brian says, he wasn’t really a “Watchman” character. I also agree with Brian’s take on Atticus. Considering where and when this is, he doesn’t really do anything outrageous. He also offers Scout explanations, or excuses, for some of the racist things that happen. I was actually more bothered by Scout’s simplistic black and white view of the world. I understand the complete idolisation of Atticus, but there are a few chapters toward the end where she’s just completely unable to think for herself.

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      • Bonnie Blue Butler in GWTW…was so much like Scarlet looked a lot like Scarlett as well . Bonnie was born in 1869 and died in 1874 falling off her horse. But Rhett`s devotion to Bonnie..made Scarlet increasing unhappy. Then after Bonnie died Scarlett and Rhett grew further apart and Scarlett`s cruelty toward Rhett and Scarlett`s infatuation with Ashley…was too much for Rhett to bear and he left her. .

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          • One of my favorite book Dave ” Of Mice and Men”..story of two drifters George and Lennie , both needed each other for survival and in the end George could not protect Lennie any more and shot him out of love to protect his beloved partner from himself.

            Btw..”.Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins, I started reading this afternoon..after 3 pages realize it is not for me no gonna waste my time any more., so I shall return it promptly 😆
            The book is a best seller and is chosen for several book club

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  3. Hey Dave , ” Bring out your Dead” I’ll refrain from the temptation to do a Monty Python thing or post concert footage from a certain San Francisco cultural institution and way of life 🙂 My favorite example from your excellent essay would be Mill on the Floss for which I thank you again for turning me onto. Personally I would suggest the two most moving , profound, examples both come from from works that are undoubtedly Literature with a capital L the “fictional” category is perhaps more complicated , to wit Socrates and Jesus . Whatever one believes of the latter the scene where he forgives his killers , tormentors and unfortunate neighbors is well down right Christlike and the ” why hast thou forsaken me ” line is jaw dropping. As for Socrates if you haven’t read Plato’s three dialogues that give his trail and death by drinking hemlock it is one of the most moving portraits of one of the more noble thinkers who ever lived. An aside: the most annoying death in fiction is probably Tolstoy’s Ivan Illich after twenty pages of petty regrets and self centered melodrama I was ready to suffocate him with a pillow myself . Which reminds me now of one of the cooler death’s in lit, Big Chief suffocating a lobotomized Mc Murphy .

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    • Thanks, Donny, for your interesting (and “lively” 🙂 ) comment!

      Ha — I wonder if anyone ever said “Bring out your Dead” when The Grateful Dead were introduced at a concert…

      Yes, the conclusion of the terrific “The Mill on the Floss” is devastating (and in a way inevitable).

      As exemplified by this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, nonfiction can indeed be literature in the right hands. So your discussion of Jesus Christ and Socrates is very relevant, and I loved it.

      And great mentions of Tolstoy and the death in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

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  4. Hi Dave … I hope you’re having a good week so far. I’m working late hours this week, thus my 3 am post.

    First of all, I watched the Robin’s Nest video, and it was so nice to see you “in person”, so to speak … and you definitely DO look professorial, as has been pointed out several times. You also seem very nice and very approachable, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised at that 🙂

    Thank you for another wonderful column, Dave. The first thing I thought of was Stephen King’s books — take your pick — but I reference those way too often in these discussions. Then I thought of Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. Flannery O’Connor always struck me as a little warped, which is probably why I like her so much. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is a bizarre little story, to be sure — and there is definitely death involved. I’ll just leave it at that 🙂

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    • Sorry about your late hours, Pat (though working late — as exhausting as that is 😦 — does enable one to toil when things are sort of quiet).

      Thank you for the very kind words about that “Robin’s Nest” appearance! Much appreciated. Being on TV (the rare times I am) is not one of my strengths. Looking at/listening to myself I can think of several things I could have done/said better, but at least I didn’t seem like a politician. 🙂

      Glad you liked the column! Yes, lots of death and destruction in Stephen King’s novels. His readers (myself included) wouldn’t want it any other way. 🙂 And DEFINITELY that Flannery O’Connor short story — so powerful and shocking and, as you say, bizarre. In the short-story area, death also permeates Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Ambrose Bierce, and tales from many other writers.

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      • Thank Heavens, you don’t seem like a politician! I wouldn’t be a follower of your column if that were the case 🙂 (I dread all the mud-slinging that’s already starting and can only get worse as we go into another election year. Ugh.)

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        • Thanks, Pat. 🙂 And I hear you. The election campaign is so depressing, especially on the Republican side. I think Bernie Sanders is one of the few politicians who doesn’t seem like a politician (he’s been very consistent in his progressive views over the years, and doesn’t attack his opponents). I have mixed feelings about Hillary Clinton’s more centrist views and corporate ties, but it would be so great to have a woman president. (I feel that way for many reasons, including how Clinton breaking through the White House glass ceiling would be inspirational for my two daughters — and girls and young women everywhere.)

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          • I know what you mean, Dave. I’ve got two little granddaughters, ages 6 and 5. I want them to come of age in a world where the United States has had at least one female president. But, as much as I wanted her to run in the past, I don’t trust Hillary Clinton anymore. Too many secrets, and, as you said, corporate ties. Why do I have this sinking feeling we’re going to end up with Jeb! (!!!)? 😉

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            • Yes, Pat, a woman president would be such a role model for young girls! Too bad it couldn’t be someone like Elizabeth Warren. 😦

              I think Hillary Clinton might still be somewhat progressive deep inside (and she’s sort of “talking the talk” at the moment as she fights off Bernie Sanders). But she has compromised herself so much over the years as she tries to show that she’s “tough” and not against a U.S. government basically controlled by rich people and corporations.

              It seems unimaginable that we’d end up with the vile and hapless Jeb Bush, but it’s possible because he’s probably the Republican “establishment” choice and has big money backing him, because of voter suppression, because of the corporate media being so skewed in its coverage, etc. 😦

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              • I agree with your comment about Elizabeth Warren. I feel sad that I’ve changed by mind about Hillary. I’ve been a staunch supporter for years, but it feels wrong now — and there are concrete reasons why it feels wrong. Sigh.

                Love your description of Jeb! (that exclamation point is the dumbest thing. When he successfully ran for governor in Florida, his campaign stickers were just JEB! You’d see those things on bumpers for years to come). “…vile and hapless”. Nailed it!

                It’s going to be another interesting election year, Dave. 🙂

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                • Thanks, Pat — and well said! A shame how Hillary Clinton has morphed over the years, but she of course is still much better than any GOP candidate. I’ll vote for her, albeit somewhat unenthusiastically, if she wins the nomination.

                  Yes, that exclamation point after “Jeb” is indeed deeply dumb. But I guess when it comes to punctuation, “stuff happens”… 🙂 (As Bush disgustingly said after the Oregon shootings.)

                  Depressing to think of Jeb as one’s governor. Of course, I have the also-vile Chris Christie in New Jersey. 😦

                  It will indeed be another interesting election year coming up!

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          • Hi Dave..I have a feeling the nominee will be Trump and not Jeb. There is talk about water gulping Rubio…all are terrible. I was all for Hillary in 2008, not much these days. But as you said she is far better than any other republican candidates. Bernie Sanders is great but he hardly talks about foreign affairs which is also crucial these days. Unlike any politician Bernie Sanders have won respect from so many including mine.

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            • Thanks for the excellent political thoughts, bebe! I’m not sure if Trump or Jeb is worse. Bush is less of a loose cannon, but he’s just as reactionary as Trump in many ways.

              Hillary Clinton shifts too much for me. She’s talking more liberal now to try to stave off Bernie Sanders, but if/when she does do that she’ll revert back to being center-right in a lot of her stances.

              Sanders is indeed one of the few politicians who has consistently told it like it is, and I respect him, too.

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  5. Dave, aside from several deaths you mentioned and the usual ones, like Huck Finn’s dad, death is often a common theme in fantasy novels. Usually used to spur a hero to action or make the ending more climactic, like Gollum in Lord of the Rings.

    I am currently reading “A Year of Soup” by Howard R. Reiss about a woman who after a string of bad breakups starts a restaurant that only serves soup. One year later a regular customer and friend commits suicide. The story using this as the pivot point follows her year with him and the aftermath of his death. It is a use of death I’ve seen a few times, but it is done very well. I’m about a quarter of the way through and I do recommend it at this point.

    I would say the most dramatic death I’ve read is actually Chingachgook’s in “The Pioneers” his stoicness held to the last and it was very dramatic for any story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent comment, GL! Fantasy lit DOES often have significant deaths, and “The Lord of the Rings” is certainly an example.

      Very glad you mentioned Chingachgook, because his death is every bit as memorable in its way as the demise of his pal Natty Bumppo. Those five James Fenimore Cooper novels starring Natty also have a number of other dramatic deaths of secondary characters.

      And thanks for your nicely descriptive paragraph about “A Year of Soup,” which does sound very interesting.

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  6. Hi Dave, hope you don’t mind this being completely off this particular topic, but the conversation under your September blog was getting kind of lengthy and difficult to read.

    I completely agree with Brian Bess about “GSAW”. Although I was able to put “Mockingbird” out of my head, and enjoy “Watchman” for what it was (and it WAS very enjoyable in a lot of ways), something about it just didn’t sit right with me. Somehow, it does read like both a first and second novel. And it has such a reminiscent feel to it. Which is just not possible as a first novel. And though it’s my personal opinion, there were some scenes with Scout’s childhood that were just so much fun to read, I don’t see how they didn’t end up in “Mockingbird”. As everyone knows, Atticus was portrayed differently in “Watchman” than he was in “Mockingbird” but I urge you not to take those comments at face value, as it’s a little more complex than that. Firstly, a lot of the ‘bad’ Atticus is Scout’s perception, which isn’t necessarily accurate. Again, something there just didn’t sit right with me. It seemed as if Lee could see the relationship going several different ways, and she had a crack at all of them. Of course, if this really is a rough draft, it’s complexly understandable that there may be tangents that don’t make sense, but so much of it seems to be written (or at least edited) with the hindsight of “Mockingbird” and so I had trouble getting past those things that didn’t feel right.

    Overall though, I did enjoy “Watchman”. Not as polished as “Mockingbird” but beautiful writing is beautiful writing, no matter how polished it may or may not be.

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    • Susan, I amended my comment in that past post to note that you have also read “Go Set a Watchman.” Sorry for the initial omission. And, yes, that thread IS getting a bit narrow in width and hard to read. Thanks for bringing the conversation here!

      Anyway, a really excellent comment by you — and it does seem like Harper Lee worked on “GSAW” both before and after she wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Such a strange hybrid, timeline, or whatever one may call it.

      From what you, Brian, and bebe are saying, I suppose I should read “GSAW” at some point!

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        • Thanks, bebe! Not 100% sure I’ll read “Go Set a Watchman,” but if/when my library has it in stock I will grab it! It WOULD be really interesting to discuss the book with you, Susan, Brian, and anyone else here who gets to “GSAW.”

          Liked by 1 person

          • One thing I could say as BB pointed out the book is far from being a first draft . Ms. Lee being a sharp minded person and her sister being a lawyer have gone back and edited GSAW to make reading the book highly enjoyable.

            Also proved that Truman Capote had no part in writing TKAM as he claimed to have written “Mockingbird” , the book was a masterpiece entirely created by Harper Lee.

            I was sidetracked with the debate so yet to finish the book.

            Liked by 1 person

            • From what you and others are saying, bebe, it does seem like Harper Lee rewrote/edited “Go Set a Watchman” quite a bit after “To Kill a Mockingbird” came out. I wonder how much that has been noted in all the media coverage of “GSAW”?

              On the subject of this column, there are a couple of very memorable deaths in “TKAM” — as you of course know.

              Like you, I don’t buy the theory that Truman Capote wrote some or much of “TKAM.” I’ve read some of his work, and it just seems very different than Harper Lee’s.

              Liked by 1 person

      • Dave, there is absolutely no need to apologise for not keeping up with what I have and haven’t read. Heck, I can’t keep up with it, so why should you?

        I completely understand and respect you not rushing out to buy / read “Watchman”. The only reason that I rushed out when it was released was because it was being reviewed on one of my favourite TV programs. But because of all the controversy, I did feel guilty about it. But I’m glad I did read it. It was mostly enjoyable, and I’m glad that I got to it before hearing what everyone else thought of it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Susan, I do know what I’m reading now — “Of Human Bondage.” 🙂 I’m still very early in the novel, but already hooked. So sad about young Philip Carey’s mother.

          Very logical reasons for you to read “Go Set a Watchman,” and there IS something to be said for getting to a book before lots of other people have weighed in on it.

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  7. At end of Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” the father, Adam Trask is on his deathbed after having a stroke. His son, Cal,had always hoped during his fathers waking life, for his acceptance,his love till his last dying breath. In the book he whispers a Hebrew word tishmel or forgiveness,his last word before he dies. In the film his last words are telling his son to take care of himself, he shows him the love he was unable to give him, he makes peace and helps everyone go on, forgive,start anew.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eloquent description of a very moving scene, Michele. If I’m remembering right, the housekeeper Lee urged Adam to say the words he said. The brainy/likable Lee (who basically kept the Trask family functioning, especially after Adam’s disastrous marriage to Cathy) is my favorite “East of Eden” character and one of my favorite Steinbeck characters.

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  8. Howdy, Dave!

    “Death, friends, is boring. We must not say so,” as John Berryman almost wrote in “The Dream Songs” (No. 14, in case you have a copy handy), but — despite this characteristic common to the current states of all the clearly departed, whether dead poets or dead parrots — many of us, not only the DAOLiterati but also the hardly literati, do share a certain curiosity about the lost lives and times of characters who have bit the big one, bought the farm, crossed the great divide, gave up the ghost, kicked the bucket, with memorable passings in my case including Elizabeth Willard in Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio,” Gustav von Aschenbach in Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice,” the anonymous grandmother in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Lennie Small in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and almost everybody around the world who isn’t ready for a brand-new beat in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s “Cat’s Cradle” (http://bit.ly/1R7FF4q).

    Sic transit gloria mundi. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. …

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.J., a brilliant/funny comment — written like a dream (or perhaps written like “The Dream Songs”). And I loved all those synonyms for death.

      Also, thanks for naming those famous literary works with hard-to-forget passings.

      Death IS sort of boring and mundane when one thinks about it — it happens to everybody. Yet it’s also fascinating, because a reader doesn’t know what death feels like until it happens, and then can’t report back about it. The zombie crowd may disagree…

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  9. Hi Dave, another great post! Two of the saddest deaths for me have already been mentioned by Clairdelune and Eve. I can’t read “Little Women” or watch the movie (which I’ve done many times) without crying. It reminds me somewhat of the death of one of the four daughter in “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver, and how it affected the family, especially the mother.

    I know I have mentioned many times how I cried through the last chapters of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars,” when one of the teenagers who meet in a cancer support group finally succumbs to this terrible disease. Another YA novel that I found very affecting was “If I Stay” by Gayle Forman. A teenage girl is in a car accident that kills her brother and parents. She survives, but she spends one day in the hospital between life and death, trying to decide if she wants to die along with her family and happy past or to live to face the unknown future with her adoring boyfriend. Both of these books were made into movies, neither of which I’ve seen.

    I’ll probably be back later, but I still have a brace on my left wrist and hand. It’s taken me well over an hour to type this comment one-handed! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Kat Lib!

      More than an hour to type your great comment? So sorry. But I and other commenters here appreciate your dedication. Perfectly typed!!! 🙂

      So glad you mentioned “The Poisonwood Bible.” There is a bit of a parallel with “Little Women,” if for no other reason the same number of daughters.

      One of these days, sometime before the next millennium, I’m hoping my library has “The Fault in Our Stars” not checked out. “If I Stay” sounds really compelling as well. Excellent description by you. As I might have mentioned before, another absorbing novel with a teen who dies is Nicholas Sparks’ “A Walk to Remember” (also a good movie).

      Thanks again for making the effort to comment! Much appreciated.

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      • Dave, I wanted to mention Jodi Picoult’s novel “My Sister’s Keeper,” which I enjoyed until the final chapter. I’m sure I mentioned this before, but I hated the ending so much that I threw it in the trash. I think she changed the ending when it became a movie to make it more palatable to other readers or movie goers. Another book I really enjoyed was “Crossing to Safety,” by Wallace Stegner, which was about two young married couples who become friends, and the dynamic between the two couples, as well as the marriages themselves. There is a death of one of the couples that definitely changes the whole relationship.

        Btw, I had a great get together with friends from both grade schoolhouse and some from junior high school or beyond

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, the death near the end of “My Sister’s Keeper” didn’t work and seemed almost like a betrayal. I hated it, too.

          And thanks for your excellent description of “Crossing to Safety.”

          Wonderful that your get-together went well! 🙂

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    • Great mention, Jack! Animal deaths in literature can really pack an emotional wallop. The horse in Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony,” the horse in Zola’s “Germinal,” the dog in Lampedusa’s “The Last Leopard,” Harry’s owl in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter,” etc.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Almost Iowa! I haven’t read Terry Pratchett yet (I want to — and he’s also been highly recommended by glmeisner, another commenter here), but there is indeed occasionally some humor to be found in death. One literary example is Gogol’s “Dead Souls.” Pratchett’s “Mort ” sounds really interesting!

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  10. Hi Dave, just finished another work marathon, sleeping three hours a night… I’m definitely getting too old for this!! 😦 I just read your column about death in books, by coincidence (or is it synchronicity?) I was just thinking about Lily’s sad death in “House of Mirth”, maybe I was just feeling tired and beat like her. Her death while Selden cries at her bedside is reminiscent of Mimi’s death scene in the opera “La Boheme”. For some reason that death scene is one of the few that really stuck in my mind, maybe because of the tragc descent of beautiful Lily from a comfortable life and a position in society to a broken woman, alone, ill and addicted to laudanum, but still proud enough to pay her debts before dying.
    BTW, I enjoyed the video of your interview attached to your last column – had no time to leave a comment, but had to watch it — did anyone tell you that the picture of your younger self on the book cover looks A LOT like Kotter of TV series fame? 😀 And your current prematurely gray hair and beard give you the look of a very wise philosophy professor. 😀 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi, Clairdelune! Glad you finished your latest work marathon. Sorry you have to work so hard. Getting just three hours of sleep a night is no picnic at any age. 😦

      Lily Bart’s descent and death are indeed sad, made more so by the basic integrity she possesses under her (supposed) shallowness. “The House of Mirth” is a depressing but terrific novel, and your comment described Lily’s tragic situation so well. Another memorable death in Edith Wharton’s canon is that of the beleaguered Ralph, the nice former husband of the scheming Undine Spragg.

      Thanks so much for watching that interview! A couple of other people have mentioned the Gabe Kaplan resemblance, but I’ve never been on the same sitcom with John Travolta. 🙂 And I appreciate the kind words about my allegedly professorial appearance — though, given my age, my grayness is not so premature. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Dave – about “House of Mirth”, you are right, Ralph’s death is memorable for different reasons. Undine Spragg is one of those characters a reader loves to hate, IMHO. And as for your grayness, well, it is premature as far as I’m concerned: I have very few visible grays so far, but age-wise, you’re a youngster compared to me. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, Undine Spragg is definitely a love-to-hate character. One sort of admires her burning, social-climbing ambition even as one realizes she’s rather toxic. And one of my favorite literary “factoids” is that Edith Wharton deliberately gave Ms. Spragg the same initials as the United States.

          Great that you weren’t an “early gray” person! I started going gray in my 30s, which was not appreciated. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! That is indeed an ideal “death,” Bill!

      It has been many years since I read “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer,” but didn’t Tom also attend his own “funeral” after being lost in the cave with Becky? (Not sure I’m remembering that correctly…)

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh, my goodness! So many memorable deaths!

    Ruth’s death in “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” was certainly heartbreaking! Ruth was an absolutely amazing woman who approached “sainthood”, in my estimation.

    Changing gears drastically, one of Poe’s deaths is the stuff of nightmares! “The Cask of Amontillado” has haunted me for YEARS! I have no desire to ever read it again. In a much different way, “The Little Match Girl” has also haunted me. And what about O Henry’s “The Last Leaf”.

    James Michener could also kill people off in the most graphic ways – horrifying ways!!! Michener did lots of research, so I’m sure that these are based on historical data. I won’t get into details here, not because of spoiling his novels for anybody who hasn’t read them, but because I don’t want to think about those deaths long enough to write them down.

    Liked by 2 people

    • lulabelle, you’re so right about Ruth’s death in Fannie Flagg’s amazing novel. So painful. More welcome was the demise of her awful abusive husband.

      You named three VERY memorable fictional deaths in your third paragraph. Some short stories can really pack a wallop. The death in “The Cask of Amontillado” is more haunting than most deaths in Poe’s eerie tales, and that’s saying something.

      One of these days I’ll read James Michener. Your last paragraph certainly catches a person’s interest. I have been warned… 🙂

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        • I don’t believe you have read “The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough who died early this year. There are several deaths that occur during this amazing novel! It spans about 50 years of the Cleary family’s lives after they relocate to Australia.

          Even the title of the book has something to do with death: “There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to outcarol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain… Or so says the legend.”

          Liked by 2 people

          • Lulabelle, as I was reading about the bird, I was reminded of not a book, but of the legend about swans, beautiful birds with an unpleasant voice who sing beautifully only once in their lives, just before they die. Camille Saint Saens was inspired to compose the memorable piece of music “The Swan” (part of the “Carnival of the Animals”) A Russian choreographer (of course!) wrote the choreography for it, and it became the ballet “Death of the Swan”. When I saw it performed for the first time by Tatiana Pavlova several decades ago, I admit to crying rather loudly. It still affects me – when well done, the poignant sight of the dying swan singing for the first time while struggling to stay alive a minute longer, gives me what the Hawaiians call “chicken skin”.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I’m not sure if you’ll see this comment, lulabele, but I just finished reading “The Thorn Birds” (hence my reply to an older post, hope that’s ok, Dave?)

            What a strange book. I thought it started out so beautifully, and the deaths that occurred in the first half were so sad and tragic. However there was a much more important death towards the end of the book, that I kind of saw coming (it was either going to be him or his sister) that I just didn’t care about. It was almost as if the last quarter of the book was written by someone other than Colleen McCullough.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you liked the post, Eve! Thanks! And I greatly enjoyed the way you wrote your spoiler alert. 🙂 People who haven’t read “Little Women” are missing out on an excellent, beloved novel.

      Like

  12. Morning, Dave. What a wonderful and very clever blog. Except that I read it on my PC (not a laptop or mobile device) so now I know that Laurie is going to die! Oh, wait, Laurie wasn’t a girl was he?

    This might make me sound a bit serial killer, but I love death in books. If it’s in the right hands (such as Louisa May Alcott or Charlotte Bronte) it can be so tragic and beautiful and an absolute pleasure to experience. Some of my favourite deaths have come from “The Dark Tower” series, “Gone with the Wind” and “Of Human Bondage”
    I could talk “Song of Ice and Fire” but that might take a while…

    Writing this comment has given me the strangest sense of déjà vu. Did you write a similar column in the old Haughty People says?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Susan, for the kind words and your “seriocomically” great comment!

      I know what you mean about death in literature being appealing (from the standpoint of being compelling) in the right hands.

      I’ll be starting “Of Human Bondage” within a week. Can’t wait! The W. Somerset Maugham novels I’ve read have been excellent, and “OHB” is supposed to be his best.

      I’ve definitely mentioned death in a number of blog posts, but I checked my old Harass Posters author page and couldn’t find a piece specifically about death. Of course, HP could have killed it off that page… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Is it silly that I’ve become a bit nervous about you reading OHB? After being so insistent that it’s so good (not just to you, but friends, family, strangers at the supermarket) I would feel so bad if you didn’t like it. And I feel like I’ve put too much pressure on Maugham to perform!

        I may have mentioned to you before that I can still see my comments on the Highly Pedantic site, even though I can’t see the original blog. I found the following comment under “Why We Tolerate Many Deaths in Literature” back in May 2013:

        “Thanks for another great post Dave. Favourite death scenes include those in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, Harry Potter, and Of Human Bondage. Least favourite would be those in War and Peace. Somehow, I just didn’t care as much when they kicked the bucket”

        I wish I could see the original article 😦

        Liked by 1 person

        • No need to worry, Susan. 🙂 I trust your literary judgment — and several other people have also recommended that Maugham novel. Plus (drum roll…) THE CRITICAL CONSENSUS is very positive on “Of Human Bondage.” Given that Maugham has been dead for 50 years, any performing he does will be impressive!

          Yikes — I did do a previous post about death in literature! I had forgotten all about it. (Seems like my memory died. 🙂 ) The piece even mentions some of the novels I mentioned today, but luckily I took a somewhat different angle and also mentioned some different books today.

          Funny, I can see the original HP article but not the comments. Just the opposite of you. I’ll cut-and-paste the piece and send it to you privately.

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          • MAUGHAM is dead?! Where was the spoiler alert for THAT?! 🙂

            Thanks for sending through the original HP article. Much as I used to like your blogs on that site, they are definitely better now. Your spoiler alerts this week make this a different essay, however I also mentioned the same books twice. OHB must be really memorable.

            Liked by 1 person

            • HaHaHaHa! 🙂 It’s always possible that Maugham came back as a bit player in “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” but I’ve never read it…

              You’re very welcome about the sending of that HP blog, and thanks for your kind words about my columns here vs. my columns there. I certainly think the conversations are better here — with one of the many reasons being that things post instantly, there are no length limits, and we don’t have to self-edit in the same way as we tried to avoid our words getting killed by HP’s moderating system.

              I’m looking forward to seeing just how memorable “Of Human Bondage” is!

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      • Dave, I think you will like “Of Human Bondage” – I have read it twice so far, at a distance of a couple of decades. It is not my favorite Maugham novel, however, that place is reserved for “The Razor’s Edge” – I have read four times over the years – which reminds me of another memorable death, that of Sophie who at the start of the novel is traumatized by the accidental death of her husband and child. She tries to find love again with Larry, a returning soldier traumatized by war who is looking for meaning and peace, but it does not work out because they are both dealing with too much emotional pain. Sophie eventually dies as a lost soul, an alcoholic living a sordid life. It is a tragic death because she is really a good person who could not cope with the wounds that life had inflicted on her.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Clairdelune, I thought “The Razor’s Edge” was terrific, and it did contain a very tragic/memorable death. Thanks for describing all that in your VERY eloquent comment.

          I’ve liked every Maugham novel I’ve read — his characters seem real as they deal with life, and his prose and dialogue are so smoothly written. “The Painted Veil,” “The Moon and Sixpence,” “Cakes and Ale”…

          I’m eagerly eyeing my copy of “Of Human Bondage,” but I first have about 50 more pages to go with Graham Greene’s “The Power and the Glory,” which is at times riveting and at times just plain depressing. Death, poverty, police violence, religious hypocrisy, and more — with some redeeming moments of human kindness.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Dave, I read Graham Greene’s “The Power and the Glory” several years ago (when I had time to read!) and concur with your feelings about it – both riveting and depressing. I read a couple more of his novels, can’t recall titles right now (yes, the old mental computer is getting slow at retrieving information), but I do recall being somewhat mystified by the strong role, often agonizingly so, played by religion in his characters, even in those who were not ordained priests. Maybe I read too much Voltaire as a teenager…

            Liked by 1 person

            • This is the first Graham Greene novel I’ve read, Clairdelune, after enjoying a collection of his short stories a few months ago. As you know, “The Power and the Glory” is one of the Greene books with a strong religious element — and, yes, religion does have a not-always-explicable hold on a lot of the characters. (As an atheist, I don’t quite get that, but to each their own… 🙂 )

              All I’ve read of Voltaire is “Candide” and “Zadig” — and “Candide” is absolutely fantastic!

              Liked by 1 person

              • Dave, I read both “Candide” and “Zadig” when I was about 16 and again in my thirties, and loved them both times. Would love to read them again now, but I doubt I will get to them – the re-read stack is already way too tall. 😦

                Liked by 1 person

                • I hear you, Clairdelune. With “so many books and so little time,” my preference is also to read novels rather than reread novels.

                  I liked “Zadig” a lot, but preferred “Candide” by a wide margin. I have an old paperback edition from college that combines both.

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              • Dave, Voltaire and Graham Greene made me remember a 1950 French movie “Dieu a besoin des hommes” (if I recall correctly), “God Needs Man” in English – I also remember that the screenwriter was a friend of Jean Cocteau. Like “The Power and the Glory”, it was a riveting and often depressing movie, and I loved it, it left a long-lasting impression. It may still be available somewhere with English subtitles, I think you would like it very much.

                Liked by 1 person

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