Obsession in Lit and From Many a Political Twit

After right-wing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died this month, Republicans proved once again that they’re obsessed with obstructing Barack Obama at every turn. Refusing to consider ANY Scalia replacement nominee from the Democratic, biracial president with almost a year left in the White House? How partisan — and, yes, racist — of the GOP. Sure, Obama’s pick would change the ideological bent of the Supreme Court, but them’s the breaks.

Since I’m a literature blogger, I also started thinking of obsessed fictional characters — both negative (like the Republicans in their vicious hatred of the more-centrist-than-liberal Obama) and positive. Whether the single-mindedness is political, romantic, or otherwise, it can be riveting in a protagonist.

For instance, there are the rulers obsessed with control of the populace in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the hyper-ambitious, Huey Long-like Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men.

Or how about the fanatical police inspector Javert, who focuses to the nth degree on trying to capture Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables? And the escaped prisoner Edmond Dantes, who devotes his life to revenge against the men who framed him in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. And the guilt-ridden lovers Therese and Laurent, who are hyper-focused on the memory of the man they killed in Emile Zola’s Therese Raquin. Heck, those three examples are just from 19th-century French literature alone.

Also obsessed is the man (Nathanael) who becomes infatuated with a (robot?) woman in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 story “The Sandman,” the woman (Katerina) who stays intensely/criminally attached to the no-good Sergei in Nikolai Leskov’s “The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk,” and various Edgar Allan Poe protagonists — including the murderers in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat,” and the love-struck young man in the partly comedic “The Spectacles.”

Then there’s the title character in Toni Morrison’s Sula who’s obsessed with being independent, unconventional, and not bound by gender norms.

A torrid affair begets homicide in Therese Raquin, but romantic obsession has different results in other novels such as W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. In the first book, would-be doctor Philip Carey becomes totally fixated on a waitress (Mildred Rogers) who holds him in contempt until… In Garcia Marquez’s novel, Florentino Ariza carries a torch for Fermina Daza over many decades until…

Theo Decker carries something else — a painting — out of a museum after a terrorist attack in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, and remains obsessed for years with Carel Fabritius’ famous bird portrait — partly because of its association with Theo’s beloved mother, who died in the attack.

Another creature filling the mind of a protagonist is the huge marlin relentlessly reeled in by Santiago the fisherman as he tries to defy bad luck and aging in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and Sea.

Still another creature is the fixation of Captain Ahab, who, in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, angrily pursues the huge white whale that bit off part of his leg. (Some latte-drinking readers might also be obsessed with the novel’s Starbuck character and how his name was appropriated by a certain coffee chain. 🙂 )

Speaking of 20th-century/19th-century connections, Octavia Butler’s Kindred novel sends Dana Franklin back in time to America’s slave-holding South. As the black character navigates that horrid world, her obsession is making sure her ancestor is born so that she (Dana) can exist 150 years later.

Many Americans are also known for single-mindedly climbing the corporate or social ladder, and an example of someone who ascends the latter ladder is Undine Spragg of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country. It’s not a coincidence that her initials are U.S.

The title character’s initials in Martin Eden represent Jack London’s semi-autobiographical “me” — a self-educated, working-class protagonist hell-bent on becoming a successful writer.

Also obsessed with having a writing career is Jo March, the Little Women character partly based on the author herself — Louisa May Alcott.

Last but not least, we have Lord Voldemort’s obsession with killing Harry Potter. I’d compare the GOP’s many obstructionist politicians to Voldemort, but that would be an insult to J.K. Rowling’s gruesomely evil creation. 🙂

Who are your favorite fixated fictional fellows and women? (Also welcome are any thoughts on the late Harper Lee, who died Feb. 19 following decades of being obsessed with maintaining her privacy after the great To Kill a Mockingbird rocketed her to fame.)

(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.

106 thoughts on “Obsession in Lit and From Many a Political Twit

  1. Hi Dave!

    Lord Voldemort as comparison, not that you did 😉 to “GOP’s obstructionist politicians” is pure gold.

    I’m going to go for the long shot and name Hubert “Happy” Hopper as the obsessed antagonist in Lewis R. Foster’s “The Gentleman from Montana” don’t recognize the literary work? Neither did I when came upon it a few weeks back when I went looking for the book, Mr.Smith goes to Washington” .

    For some reason I thought it was based on a book but it’s a screen play, hence the long shot. I figure SP are hard to peg as literally works with their specific lingo,”enter center stage” do they still used that jargon? Any way, Mr. Smith is an epic example of corrupt politics and for some of us very relevant to our times. Hopper and co obsession in destroy Mr.Smith goes beyond politics–best example of how people are willing to become monsters in order to have power over other’s lives.

    Sorry I haven’t been around lately but my own OBSESSION with politics has taken over, I feel like a need a “THING” to make it seem more real–maybe a cat like a Bond villain or a rare coin to flip, how about waxing a handle bar mustache?

    Jack, enters center stage —Flips coin.

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    • Hello, Jack! Your comment was worth the wait!

      I guess there’s still a chance Voldemort can be Trump’s running mate. Lord V is fictional and not American-born, but those are minor stumbling blocks… 🙂

      It’s very understandable to be obsessive about politics during an election season like this. So weird and awful and (in the case of Bernie Sanders) inspiring.

      Thanks for the interesting mention of “The Gentleman from Montana”/”Mr. Smith goes to Washington.” Makes one think about whether screenplays can be considered literature. Some of the better ones are, I believe — including some screenplays based on stories or novels…

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      • HA! Loerd V can be the Donald’s PROGRESSIVE VP—anyone can be more progressive than DT, even old scratch. Interesting flip The Wizard of OZ book to, screen play, back to book as alternate story Wicked back to play format–soon to be screen play?

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        • Ha ha! Yes! Lord Voldemort would be more liberal. 🙂

          And you’re right that “The Wizard of Oz” has went through various permutations. Hmm…maybe one of those flying monkeys can be Trump’s veep?

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  2. “Thanks to jhNY for recommending “The Sandman,”– you’re welcome.

    I noticed, my second time around, a coincidence between that story and The Charterhouse of Parma– a barometer salesman! Early in the latter work, Fabricio borrows a friend’s passport so as to join up with Napoleon; the friend Vasi purveys barometers). Giuseppe Coppola, of course, sells barometers in the Hoffmann novella.

    Wonder what Stendahl would say….

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      • Maybe more like a weather clock–
        a beautiful automaton with tutor-age children leaves the house when nice weather is expected, and the Sandman with a guillotine and an eye on Sorel leaves the house when rain is on the horizon

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          • Another parallel, come to think if it, that makes the coincidence likely to be conscious– on Stendahl’s part, though if so, it’s employed ironically– but then, it’s Stendahl:

            in each story, the professed profession of barometer seller was an imposture.

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            • Love those literary allusions — whether done ironically, in homage, etc.

              I’m currently reading Terry Pratchett’s “Unseen Academicals,” and there are a number of things in the book that seem to be referring to the “Harry Potter” series and, to a lesser extent, “The Lord of the Rings.” Yet still an original novel in its own right.

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                • Some people do feel “The Lord of the Rings” was an allegory for World War II (and perhaps World War I as well), with Tolkien denying that. But the big question is: Did Winston Churchill look like a cross between Bilbo Baggins and Gimli the dwarf? 🙂

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  3. ” Sure, Obama’s pick will change the ideological bent of the Supreme Court, but them’s the breaks.”

    Would be if our democracy was still functioning. It’s not. There is no practical limit on the audacity of the radical right.

    Via tax breaks for the rich, Reagan ran up the national debt so that it was larger than the debt run up by all previous governments in our history. For which his successors called for and got: more tax breaks for the rich. With the extra money, plutocrats bought our politics. Their party stole a presidential election, the administration following fomented by studious ignorance the 9-11 disaster, started a war based on lies, allowed New Orleans to be cleared of a sizable swath of its black population after Katrina. Recently, in Michigan, local representatives of that party poisoned the water of the poor while charging the highest rates for its use in the nation.

    Meanwhile, Democrats are really worried something might be wrong– but not so wrong we can’t elect another friend to banking. After all, it was during the current presidency that financial institutions relieved the middle class of 30% of its wealth in a massive transfer of capital to themselves, while the administration almost bailed out a few homeowners, and jailed no one among the swindlers who nearly destroyed the economy.

    For these transgressions, as is only proper, the American people have been punished.

    I believe the GOP senators will have no trouble among themselves in thwarting Obama’s attempt to abide by the Constitution, to which they give lip, but no other service. I also believe most will be re-elected.

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    • In my column, I just changed “will” to “would” in that line you cited in your first paragraph, jhNY. It looks like Obama won’t be able to get a Supreme Court pick approved — unless the GOP comes to believe its Supreme Court obstruction will lose it the 2016 election in a big enough way where they can’t cheat enough to win in November.

      “There is no practical limit on the audacity of the radical right” — so true. They are indeed audacious, destructive, mean-spirited, traitorous, and more. Your fantastic comment astutely summed up what the radical right is doing now and what it has done since the Reagan administration. I’ve never seen it summarized better.

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      • On the subject of the Supreme Court, and Scalia’s replacement: though Republicans declare that it is only proper that Scalia be replaced by a like-minded successor, when Thurgood Marshall died, that party brought forward Clarence Thomas, antithesis of his predecessor. Audacious. Yet par for their course.

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        • Oh, yes, the Republicans are always telling the Dems to do things they don’t do themselves. Among their disgusting modi operandi…

          I think Harpo Marx talked more on the movie screen than the far-right-wing Clarence Thomas has spoken from the bench.

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                • Loved those Marx Brothers movie interludes with Harpo on the harp!

                  Chico on the piano was kind of fun, too, and there was one film (can’t remember which) that had Groucho playing the guitar in a little boat with a “date,” after which he tossed the guitar overboard… 🙂

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                  • Chico on the piano was the greatest– loved that index finger. And I do remember that Groucho scene in a boat with a soon-to-be floating guitar: Horsefeathers is the flick. What I noticed watching him: unlike so many before and since, Groucho was actually playing the guitar. Given the musical talents of his brothers (and no doubt the ambitions of Mama Marx), it shouldn’t surprise, I guess, that he could actually play– at least a little.

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                    • Yes, that roving index finger on the keyboard! I can picture it now. 🙂 And you’re right that Groucho was actually playing the guitar. (Thanks for naming the film — “Horsefeathers” was hilarious, including its football scenes.) Such a talented family indeed — I’ve read that Zeppo, despite usually playing the straight man, had a lot of comedy talent, too. And I think Gummo was a successful businessman.

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      • Democracy is , to my way of seeing things, a sort of secular religion. The well-off, needing no mercy, lose faith first, especially those who consider themselves self-made, but continue to show up out of respect for form, particularly those foremost in the congregation, who above all wish to be seen as upright. But the collection plate’s the tell– the faithless foremost can’t bring themselves to part with what it takes to keep the doors open. That’s when they opt for closing off parts of the church that they don’t use themselves, and restricting the rolls of the faithful, lest they demand a seat at the table, and bread, and wine.

        Jesus was invented to explain the patience of the poor.

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  4. Of course, Ahab’s the boy for obsessive novels about obsession, but there is, near novel’s end, a moment in which it almost seems he might be moved to remember the joys of home, and for its sake, even to break off his pursuit of Moby Dick, encouraged by fatally faithful Starbuck:

    “On board, on board!- lower not when I do; when branded Ahab gives chase to Moby Dick. That hazard shall not be thine. No, no! not with the far away home I see in that eye!”

    “Oh, my Captain! my Captain! noble soul! grand old heart, after all! why should any one give chase to that hated fish! Away with me! let us fly these deadly waters! let us home! Wife and child, too, are Starbuck’s- wife and child of his brotherly, sisterly, play-fellow youth; even as thine, sir, are the wife and child of thy loving, longing, paternal old age! Away! let us away!- this instant let me alter the course! How cheerily, how hilariously, O my Captain, would we bowl on our way to see old Nantucket again! I think, sir, they have some such mild blue days, even as this, in Nantucket.”

    “They have, they have. I have seen them- some summer days in the morning. About this time- yes, it is his noon nap now- the boy vivaciously wakes; sits up in bed; and his mother tells him of me, of cannibal old me; how I am abroad upon the deep, but will yet come back to dance him again.”

    “‘Tis my Mary, my Mary herself! She promised that my boy, every morning, should be carried to the hill to catch the first glimpse of his father’s sail! Yes, yes! no more! it is done! we head for Nantucket! Come, my Captain, study out the course, and let us away! See, see! the boy’s face from the window! the boy’s hand on the hill!”

    But Ahab’s glance was averted; like a blighted fruit tree he shook, and cast his last, cindered apple to the soil.

    And then, he turns his maddened eye back to the sea, and his purpose to the pursuit of the whale and death.
    Which makes that moment exquisite, and tender and likewise doomed.

    Sublime.

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    • Thank you for posting that amazing excerpt, jhNY! One of the most powerful and haunting scenes in a powerful and haunting novel. Ahab’s obsession to avenge himself against what was essentially a dumb fish really was so pointless compared to a safe return to family life, but I guess obsession often isn’t logical.

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      • Poignant– that Ahab could see for a moment, his way home, but could not, after all, for the life of him, cease his twin pursuits. The way an alcoholic, one morning after, might see, for a moment, the ravages of drink in himself, before pouring an eye-opener.

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        • A great analogy, jhNY.

          And, for what it’s worth in a thread that mentioned the Starbuck character, I’m currently sitting in a Starbucks in Nutley, NJ — near where my younger daughter takes a gymnastics class. (The lobby of the gym building is crowded as hell and has rotten wifi!)

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  5. As always Dave well chosen topic with a great essay, love the political tie in to the current example of the Republican obsession that is mostly rooted in a racism that dare not speak it’s name. Very happy you enjoyed the Leskov story and it does certainly fit the bill. A young feckless wife of a merchant allows herself to be seduced by a low life known as a womanizer ( they nickname the ‘deceiver’) and in short order a warm flirtation is a five alarm blaze . Discovered by Katrina’s father in law she doesn’t hesitate to poison him. Indiscretion causes the husband to get wind of the affair and he to , after taunts and insults ,is quickly dispatched this time with Sergei’s assistance. The honeymoon days of the couple are short lived though when a young Nephew is in the way of their receiving a full inheritance . Manipulation by Sergei leads to the poor lad being suffocated with a pillow, this leads the pair onto a chain gang headed to Siberia. With little left for him to take ( and he does take that little) Sergei cruelly tosses aside his cruel mistress for a worthless but younger fellow prisoner. After everything she’s done for her sick love this proves too much for Katrina , tricked into giving up her warm stockings to her rival she is than mocked over it, snapping in front of a horrified Sergei she throws herself and Sergei’s new squeeze Sonetka into the raging Volga. Bloody awful to be sure with no characters having any redeeming feature save the innocent Nephew yet on reflection I’d venture it’s still a better love story than Twilight 🙂

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  6. Has anyone mentioned Heathcliff and Cathy in Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’? I don’t think there exist two more obsessed characters in literature than those two. Their all-consuming passion for each other, heedless of the feelings of those around them, even continues beyond death.

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    • You’re the first to mention them, Brian, and I’m glad you did!!! That couple is indeed very, very, VERY obsessed. Even posthumously, as you say. It was brilliant of Emily Bronte to have the sensible Nelly Dean sort of narrate things, because there wasn’t a whole lot of common sense in Heathcliff and Cathy’s passionate playbook. 🙂

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      • And each of them, years later, had a comic strip! A quick glance at the draftsmanship apparent in each would show any fair-minded observer that their pairing was doomed from giddy-up.

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  7. ” Florentina Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty – three years , seven months , and eleven days and nights . ‘Forever’ he said ” … Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez was the first novel that the topic of this week’s essay brought to mind. A boy/ girl crush with the girl being of a slightly higher social strata broken up after a mostly innocent clandestine romance conducted with the help of a sympathetic Aunt ( Aunts always seem cool and often sexy in Latin American Lit, think Julia) is broken up by the girls father. Swearing undying love with promises of fidelity to each other in short order Fermina gives in and marrying a national hero, Doctor and basically decent man who loves her very much after much prompting and pressure from her father. Florentino meanwhile becomes a romantic , adventurer , Casanova who by middle age is so accomplished he could give lessons to the original . Yet through all his amorous conquests he’s never lost sight of his first love, after 50 years of marriage Dr. Urbino is retrieving a parrot from a mango tree when slips from the ladder and falls to his death. The scene is brilliantly bittersweet if slightly comic , Fermina trying to run to the screams surrounding him ” despite the invincible weight of age” and the good Doctor hanging on just long enough to give his wife an unbearable look of grief and utter ” only God knows how much I have loved you”. Naturally after that Florentino hits on his ex at the husband’s funeral and this being Marquez his impertinence and unwavering dedication to love are eventually rewarded and amidst a Cholera epidemic the two literally sail of into the sunset together. Truly an epic novel of obsession rewarded.

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  8. I offer up two great American classics that have not yet been mentioned.

    First – “The Great Gatsby”, where Jay’s sole motivation throughout the novel is to achieve the previously spurned love of his Daisy through extraordinary means.
    Second – Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint”, where Portnoy’s obsession with – um – self- gratification is the result of his inability to relate to society.

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    • Two outstanding examples of obsessed characters, drb, nicely summarized! Thank you!

      I might add that Portnoy’s mother Sophie is a rather smothering parent, albeit well-intentioned. Not sure whether she does that consciously or just can’t help it, but she’s a bit over-obsessed with her son.

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  9. Another Stephen King novel that addresses obsession vividly is “Misery”. The movie was hard to watch, although I enjoyed Kathy Bates’ performance tremendously! In fact, I have actually read very few of Stephen King’s books because they are the stuff of nightmares 🙂 The movies are frightening enough!

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  10. Hi Dave, I thought of “Silas Marner” by George Eliot, and Silas’s obsession with his gold. After it is stolen, he adopts Eppie and is probably somewhat obsessive about her, but that comes from a love for a human being, and not possessions, even as precious as gold. However, when Eppie’s biological father finally appears, Silas is willing to give her up if that is what she wants. Fortunately, she realizes that her true father and home is with Silas. I love this novel!

    Of course I almost always have to mention Jane Austen. Let’s see, there is Sir Walter Eliot in “Persuasion” who is obsessed with his social standing, not to mention his looks (he never met a mirror that he didn’t fall in love with!). In “Northanger Abbey,” poor Catherine Morland is obsessed with gothic novels, such as the “Mysteries of Udolpho.” There is Marianne Dashwood in “Sense and Sensibility,” who is so obsessed with her passionate romance with Willoughby that she becomes ill and nearly dies after he rejects her for a woman of ofrtune. “Emma” is so obsessed with matchmaking that she makes many mistakes and nearly misses out on her true love, Mr. Knightley. There are so many characters in “Mansfield Park” obsessing about so many things that I hardly know where to begin — Mrs. Norris with her obvious disdain for Fanny; Henry and Mary Crawford for their pursuits of Fanny and Edmund; and Sir Thomas Bertram for his property in Antigua being more important than Mansfield Park. In “Pride and Prejudice,” Mrs. Bennet is so obsessed with having all her daughters married that she would want Elizabeth married to the odious Mr. Collins, and she even finds Willoughby a catch for the irrepressible and reckless Lydia.

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    • Kat Lib, Silas Marner is a GREAT example of someone who is obsessive (about money; probably a psychological reaction to his being shockingly betrayed by a friend). And, as you say, he’s an interesting case of someone who got past that negative obsession to focus on something much more positive — being the best adoptive father he could be. I agree — such a terrific novel by George Eliot.

      Always happy when you mention Jane Austen! Until reading your comment, I didn’t think of her wonderful characters as being super-obsessive (I’ve read all six of her novels). But you convinced me otherwise with those excellent examples of those characters who were indeed obsessive in certain ways. A tour de force second paragraph! Thanks!

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      • Dave, when I started out with my response to this column, I didn’t actually expect to name all six of Austen’s novels. I guess there are many different levels of obsession. I could think of so many other examples, such as Mr. Collins, with his obsequious behavior to Lady Catherine, which was so revolting.

        I have been obsessed with selling my home, so that it’s consumed my life. A friend and I have moved out a lot of stuff, including about 8-12 boxes of books, even though you’d never know it by looking at the number of books still on my shelves. I rented a storage bin to hold things until my condo sells (hopefully soon)Photos were taken Friday, and my condo should go on the market Friday.
        One of the reasons I wanted a single attached home so I could get a dog. I’d thought I’d want a small dog, but after reading Albert Payson Terhunes’ “HIs Dog” and “Bruce” over the weekend I may want a collie.

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        • Well, naming all six Austen novels was a double-trifecta on your part. 🙂 And I agree, Kat Lib, that there is a very wide spectrum of obsessiveness.

          From my fairly recent memories of preparing/selling my house in 2013-14, obsessiveness has to go with the territory. So much to do, think about, make decisions on, etc. — it really does require a person to be hyper-focused. Great that one benefit of moving from a condo to a house will be the possibility of your getting a dog. (My garden-apartment complex doesn’t allow dogs. 😦 ) And, yes, after reading “His Dog,” the lure of a wonderful collie is almost overwhelming despite the size of that breed!

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        • A storage facility is the perfect solution. After weeks of going back and forth on which books to keep and which ones to donate, I finally agreed with my husband to rent storage space for the rest of the year to hold our multiple boxes of books.

          For every 10 books I placed in what was supposed to be the donation box, I took out 9 and put them back on the shelf. There are so many memories attached to each one, and I’m just not ready to give them up.

          It’s a little comforting to know that my books are still in my possession and not sitting on some stranger’s shelf. I’m glad we decided on a storage facility rather than give our boxes away.

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  11. Margaret White from the Stephen King novel “Carrie” is one who deserves the obsessive label. Her extreme religious views and mistreatment of Carrie were simply horrific. Everything in her world, from Carrie’s biological changes to their interactions with neighbours, had bizarre religious principles attached to it.

    Margaret White created her own theocracy. Even the way she died had a religious angle (her body mimicked Jesus on the cross). Her warped views about the world, science, secular society, and no social skills all had a negative impact on Carrie.

    It is ok to have strong *personal* religious views, but to allow them to completely dominate your life is too much. I don’t see how Carrie survived growing up in that environment.

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    • Margaret White was indeed obsessive, Ana! You described her to a T. Sometimes there is no one more obsessive than a religious fundamentalist. I haven’t read “Carrie” in years, but I remember how horrifying Margaret was.

      Another example of her type (sort of) is Mr. Brocklehurst, of “Jane Eyre,” who was obsessed with treating the downtrodden girls at Lowood as harshly and as cheaply as possible — which led to many of them dying from disease, cold, and lack of nutrition — even as he lived the lavish life of a one-percenter.

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  12. Vera Caspary wrote “Laura”. It was made into an acclaimed film starring Gene Tierney and Vincent Price. Laura dies mysterious as the novel/film begins. She was a rare beauty,a trait that can lead to intrigue and obsessive behaviors demonstrated by Price,a paramour who claimed to be financially well to do but wasn’t. A newspaper reporter called Lydecker as well as a policeman McPherson were indeed obsessed as Laura was elusive in life,admired from a distance. The longing,unrequited continued in finding how and why she was murdered,her ghost haunting several people who wanted to get close to her in life wanting to get closure in her death.

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      • The theme song for the movie is memorable and haunting– Erroll Garner does a fine job with it, as have others.

        And that Lydecker character is played by Clifton Webb– who, I think, is more of a star of the picture than V. Price– though he is not so-well loved as Price is today.

        My wife’s mother played the title role in a college dramatization, while her father, fresh back from the war, saw the movie shortly after he was de-mobbed and was very much moved by it, to the point he took to drawing pictures of Laura and mooning about her– when the two them met, it must have seemed a lot like fate!

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  13. “Then there’s the title character in Toni Morrison’s Sula who’s obsessed with being independent, unconventional, and not bound by gender norms”

    My opinion of Sula is a little different. I don’t think she purposely sought out a non-traditional lifestyle for herself. There was an internal quality she possessed that quietly drove her ambition to be more than the women in her small town.

    Sula didn’t have to work too hard to get what she wanted. I don’t really see her as someone who was obsessed with freedom and a higher class of living because those things came easy for her.

    Sula was cold-hearted and very calculating, even as a child. Whatever she wanted, she got it. Most people who want better for themselves usually give their all. Ambition drives them to the point of obsession. I don’t get that vibe from Sula, She strikes me as someone who knows what she wants, but her unique qualities and characteristics don’t require her to work too hard to reach her goals.

    I’m not saying she was lazy; quite the opposite. Sula had an almost hypnotic effect on people. They went out of their way to please her, and she knew the power that she had. Rather than obsess over her future, Sula just went with the flow and accomplished everything that she wanted using her very unique qualities.

    As for Kindred, was Dana really obsessed, or was it 50% obsession, 50% mission that she needed to complete for her survival? I think if given a choice, Dana would’ve preferred to remain in present-day Los Angeles rather than transport back and forth to the antebellum South. This wasn’t a task that she wanted to do. It was a task that she had to do.

    So what was her motivation? Did saving Rufus become an obsession, something that she felt passionate about? Or was saving him a duty that had to be done in order to secure her own future? Maybe her motivation was a hybrid of the two factors (forced obsession)?

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    • Thanks, Ana! VERY well said, and I hear you. I guess, in some of my column’s examples, I was defining obsession a bit loosely. A strong interest in something (involving hard work or just part of a person or a chance thing) can be sorta/kinda obsession, and then there’s OBSESSION. Sula and Dana are closer to the former than the latter. And great point about Dana — she was involuntarily thrust back in time. If she had gone back on her own volition, that would have been much more obsessive — especially considering how dangerous things were for her in the early-19th-century South.

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      • Gotcha.

        And you are correct. If Dana transported on her own for the sole purpose of altering history (like preventing the marriage between Rufus and Alice), that would be a good example of her obsession. What would’ve been gained by going back and forth between the time periods, leaving the safety and security of her home, to engage in a risky game of “what-if” in the antebellum South? That would seem more like a personal quest than a fight for survival.

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        • Thanks for the excellent reply, Ana!

          Interesting to think of risk and its connection to obsession. Being obsessed can be a risky thing, but not always.

          Maybe a better example of obsession in “Kindred” would be the white/mostly racist Rufus’ fixation on having relationships with African-American women such as Alice. Part of it, I guess, was that he liked the power differential — with him having all the power as a slave owner. 😦

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          • I think there is room for both examples. Let’s say Dana discovered she could change her family’s history via time travel. She succeeds in her task by preventing the marriage between Rufus and Alice. That should be the end of the story since Dana was related to one of the children that came from the marriage. No Rufus and Alice = no Dana. If Dana had been born, it would have been through some other connection (and maybe her name would be different too).

            But what if she wasn’t *satisfied* after altering history? Suppose she focuses her attention on Rufus and is infuriated over his disgusting behavior. If Dana continued to travel to the South and interact with Rufus, her sole purpose would be payback for the way he treated her ancestors. And that is the point when her personal admirable quest becomes a quest fueled by obsessive revenge.

            Your example is perfect. Rufus WAS obsessed with Alice and revealed a very warped/distorted view of love and family. The only reason he didn’t turn to Dana in that way was because he understood the symbiotic relationship and connection they shared.

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            • Ana, your thought-provoking comment got into the contradictions, conundrums, and illogic of time travel and its potential effects. The often-vile Rufus would have totally deserved being “offed” by Dana before becoming the father of Dana’s ancestor, but I suppose more than her arm would have disappeared if that had happened.

              Rufus did seem to have some rare self-control when it came to resisting making advances to Dana, until…

              Whatever way it’s depicted, time travel in literature is almost always irresistibly compelling.

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              • I could sense there were times when Dana wanted to go off-script and right the wrongs that she saw. But…she had to pick her battles and take the emotions out of it.

                And I didn’t expect Rufus to approach Dana in that manner. She was “off-limits” up until the very end because of their familial relationship.

                I’m probably overthinking this, but I wonder if the grip on her arm had any significance. Maybe Rufus knew he was going to die, and as a way of getting revenge on Dana for stabbing him, he wanted to place some type of physical mark on her before the transport. Something that she would bear for the rest of her life, like a life-long reminder of him. The part of her arm that he gripped was the part that was amputated, so many there was something to it.

                Anyway, thanks for discussing Kindred so intelligently. Some people I know “didn’t get it”, but it seems like you did.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Very true, Ana. Dana had to pick her spots. Messing with a timeline can be very tricky, as any “Star Trek” viewer would say. Heck, Dana could have packed a 1970s machine gun to bring back to Rufus’ time, and mowed down dozens of slave-holders who would have richly deserved a gruesome death. But time-travel books don’t seem to work that way…

                  I was also a bit surprised Rufus that would “go there” in the end. But he did seem to lack the common-sense gene. Your third paragraph is certainly plausible in the context of the book. Maybe on some level Rufus was feeling a bit of guilt for the horrid way he treated Alice (and others), and wanted to die — while hurting someone at the same time.

                  Great discussing “Kindred” with you, too, and hearing all your interesting points about it. Thanks again for urging me to read it — a book like that (riveting and devastating) is as memorable can be.

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                  • There was a very short lived sci-fi series from the late 80s that I loved called Quantum Leap. Very interesting. Scott Bakula played a quantum physicist named Dr. Sam Beckett who got caught up in one of his time travel experiments. He lost all concept of time and forgot many things from his past and present.

                    What I loved about this show was how science and history intermingled. Dr. Beckett never knew when and where he would leap. He was involved in some of the most turbulent events in American history. I remember one episode where Dr. Beckett was involved with the Watergate scandal. Another one where he appeared in the Vietnam war. And the ’65 Watts riots. Jim Crow south. The first wave of working moms in corporate America after the feminist movement. My favourite episode was his appearance as Lee Harvey Oswald.

                    But what made this different from other sci-fi shows was the fact that Dr. Beckett was required to alter history. His goal was to keep leaping through time and space until he finally reached home. The only way he could “leap” was if he changed history and prevented some type of disaster from happening. Not all of the episodes had a historical reference, but the premise was still the same: change history if you want to leap and go on to the next event.

                    Such a great series. I bought the entire box set. You’re probably not a TV-watcher, but you might enjoy an occasional episode on Youtube.

                    Liked by 1 person

  14. I don’t know if she compares with Ahab or The Old Man and the Sea, but Emma Bovary surely qualifies. Her intensifying taste for the upper classes turned what she thought was a satisfactory social advancement (marriage to a doctor) into a boring labor of distaste, but it did get her invited to a big time ball, at which she met the dashing man who became her lover, and then dumped her for another woman. Poor lass simply couldn’t get over it and ultimately knocked herself off. That’ll show him! Another literary lady with a similar passion was Anna Karenina, whose obsession with Count Vronsky cost her not only her existing social position, but her young son as well, when she was exiled by her husband as punishment for her affair. When Vronsky was finished with her, she threw herself in front of an oncoming train, rather than live without him. Not to mention Howard Roark, Ayn Rand’s hero of “The Fountainhead,” who was obsessed with architectural perfection, so much so that he blew up his masterpiece of stark lines and design, when the establishment added balconies and a classical facade to it.

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    • Thank you, thepatterer! SO well said!

      You named two VERY memorable obsessed 19th-century characters, and a 20th-century one as well — with some nice geographic diversity. I’ve read “Madame Bovary” and “Anna Karenina”; I haven’t read Ayn Rand, but have heard a lot about Howard Roark.

      Gustave Flaubert is of course mostly known these days for “Madame Bovary.” A few weeks ago, a couple of commenters here mentioned some of his other novels, so I thought I’d give one a try. My local library had something called “November,” which apparently is one of Flaubert’s early efforts. Curious to see what that will be like.

      Loved your deadpan “that’ll show him” line!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Hi Dave, the second novel that I thought of was Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” but as that’s already been covered, I’ll also mention the first book that I thought of which was JRR Tolkein’s “The Hobbit”. Smeagol is beyond obsessed with The Ring, and while I’m not a huge fan of Tolkein’s work, I actually found a lot of empathy for poor Gollum.
    On a bit of a side note, the more I hear about the upcoming U.S. election, the happier I am that I live in Australia. Not that we don’t have our fair share of obsessed, almost comical, politicians, but we don’t have Trump, so there’s that to be grateful for.
    I hope you had a terrific weekend 🙂

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    • Gollum! One of the most memorable obsessed characters in 20th-century literature! And, yes, sympathetic in addition to being kind of disturbing. Thanks for mentioning him, Susan! Given that I’ve read “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy four or five times, not sure how I forgot to mention Gollum and his single-minded devotion to “his” precioussss ring. 🙂

      I imagine almost ever democracy or alleged democracy in the world has less-strange elections and fewer buffoonish politicians than the U.S. does. The clownish, racist, dangerous Donald Trump hardly has majority support among Americans, but he seems to have enough of a plurality among right-wing U.S. voters to possibly get the Republican nomination. So depressing. 😦

      Hope you had a great weekend, too!

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      • Oh, Australian politics has its characters. And because we don’t vote for party leaders, there’s lots of in house backstabbing between the party that’s in charge. But we don’t have a Trump, which can only be a good thing. I think dangerous is a really good word to describe him. I cannot believe how much support he seems to have. Just the other day, I read a comment from someone who said that Trump wants to “Make America Great Again” which is proof that he’s not a racist. SMH 😦
        On a lighter topic, I’ve thought about literature obsession over the last day or two (character obsession anyway, not my own, ‘coz that’s a whole different issue!) and I think depending on how loosely you define obsession, most novels come with characters who are obsessed to some degree. From Scarlett O’Hara’s obsession with never going hungry again, to the Joad family’s similar obsession with finding a better life in California. Raskolnikov’s obsession with his crime, and whether he should confess; and Lord Arthur Saville’s obsession with whether he should commit a murder in Oscar Wilde’s short story. Dorian Gray has been mentioned, however the other two characters in that story were kind of obsessed with Dorian. And according to Tolstoy, everyone was obsessed with Anna Karenina, though I personally don’t know why.
        I’m about to start reading “Romeo and Juliet” which I’ve never read before, so that might be light and fun with no obsession at all…though somehow I doubt it 🙂

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        • Very true, Susan — almost every country has its political characters, and I imagine some are pretty buffoonish and/or evil. Heck, some are near-fascists. But U.S. politicos like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have to be in the running for among the worse. 🙂 Wanting to “make America great again” is such a mindless slogan, and seems to be a code phrase for making America white- and male- and conservative-dominated again — all three of which are basically already the case.

          As for novels, you’re absolutely right that many of the most memorable characters are obsessed to some degree. It’s one thing that helps make them memorable. You offered several great, iconic examples!

          Good luck with “Romeo and Juliet”! Somehow I’ve never read it or seen it performed, but I have an idea of what it’s about — a play about star-crossed 2016 political running mates? 🙂

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  16. The first literary obsessives that come to mind at the moment are Macbeth and Humbert Humbert in ‘Lolita’. Macbeth is obsessed with the destiny he feels was foretold and which justifies removing any obstacles to fulfilling that destiny which, in Macbeth’s case, is an acquisition of power. Humbert is obsessed with recreating the romantic object of his affection from stunted youth which he sees in the alluring, precocious Dolores Haze.

    Side issue: Humbert’s obsession reminds me of James Stewart n Hitchcock’s film ‘Verdigo’ in his obsession with recreating the mesmerizing figure of the ‘suicidal’ Kim Novak who disappeared and has returned to him in the form of a redheaded lookalike. For literary relevance, the screenplay by Alec Coppel and Samuel Taylor was based the French novel ‘D’entes les morts (‘From Among the Dead’) by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac.

    Back to Shakespeare–several obsessive tragic characters in his plays. Hamlet and King Lear are obsessed, in Hamlet’s case, for avenging his father’s death but deliberating in order to obtain empirical proof of what a ghost has told him. With Lear, he wants to ensure his legacy and his kingdom but is blind to the manipulations of his duplicitous daughters as well as the devotion of a third daughter. The villainous Iago is obsessed with revenging himself on the favored Othello, whom he feels has wronged him. He is dedicated to a campaign of ruining Othello and destroying his life by preying on his own obsessive, possessive feelings for his wife Desdemona.

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    • Humbert Humbert in “Lolita” — of course, Brian! Thanks for mentioning that novel! Come to think of it, Charles Kinbote is also pretty darn obsessive in Nabokov’s “Pale Fire.” What is it about that author? 🙂

      And, yes, so many of Shakespeare’s characters. Wish I had read more of his plays — only four or five, and all long ago. Sounds like you’re very well versed in The Bard’s work.

      Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” is a terrific example of a film with a single-minded character, and it’s interesting to learn that the screenplay has a literary connection. Didn’t know that. Coincidentally, my wife is watching Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” on DVD as I write this. Obsession in that movie, too…

      I appreciate the excellent comment!

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  17. Hi Dave … I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend. Here in Iowa we have sunshine and the snow is almost gone in many places.

    I loved your opening lines. I do believe this is going to be a fascinating, and bizarre, year in politics.

    My contribution to this week’s discussion would be Oscar Wilde’s “The Portrait of Dorian Gray”. Obsessed with his own beauty and pursuit of pleasure, Dorian Gray lived an utterly worthless life.

    I look forward to reading this week’s comments 🙂

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    • Hi, Pat! Hope you’re having a nice weekend, too, and glad the Iowa weather is so good! Pretty warm in NJ as well — a BIG contrast from last weekend’s bitter cold.

      Thanks for your kind words about the opening lines! Yes, when one feels politics can’t get any weirder and vicious in 2016, things get weirder and more vicious. 😦

      That Oscar Wilde novel is a GREAT example of obsession in literature. I appreciate you mentioning it!

      I’m looking forward to reading the comments, too. Thanks for starting them off so terrifically. 🙂

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    • Spot on correlation. The greed for power or control, as it were, on display for the world to witness. What is even more interesting is the ability, the spiral out of control rationalizations we hear coming out of their mouths. Any desire they have is fine and dandy, with these kinds of excuses. And the changes in platform from one month to the next — thank god some of us recognize when we’re being lied.. Two years ago she/he was against Wall Street being broken up. Now she/he is all for it…. Okay. Sure you are.

      Anyway, I was about to say that Oscar Wilde’s P of D G was a perfect comparison to personalities in our presidential bid. I hope we end up with the only one of them who leans more towards logic than the greed for Control.

      God bless America!

      Great article, Dave. As always.

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      • Thank you, hopewfaith! Great comment filled with wisdom, sarcasm, and indignation. The obsession with power and control (and for money) is just so sick — as are the excuses/rationalizations for all that, as you note. Some people seem to think things like fairness, kindness, and sharing are for wimps. 😦 And, as you also note, it’s disturbing how the same people can be on different sides of the same issue depending on the situation and their self-interest, with an example being Mitch McConnell in favor of a quick naming of a Supreme Court nominee when a Republican is president but against it now that Barack Obama is president.

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