Posts Tagged ‘Classic’

My Latin professor recommended that I read Treasure Island. He said that Stevenson always ended a chapter on a cliffhanger and he also mentioned that the writing exhibited Stevenson’s knowledge of Latin. I’ve chosen to learn Latin because I believe it will be immensely helpful in my writing endeavors, and so I had to check out Treasure Island. And Bert was right. This book was difficult to put down because the conclusion of each chapter was a tease for the next. It turns out that this is because Treasure IslandĀ  was originally published as a serialized novel between 1881 and 1882 in the magazine, Young Folks, under the title The Sea Cook. Unfortunately I was in entering the last two weeks of the quarter when I picked this up, so I read it much slower than I would have at any other time. Even so, I would catch myself thinking about the last bit I’d read, wondering what would happen next even if I had set the book down for two or three days. This book really is a treasure.

Many people think of Treasure Island as being a children’s book, but this is simply not true. Jim, Flint, Silver, and the Doctor will intrigue a reader of any age. Their relationships shift and show the depth and importance of empathy, forgiveness, and salvation. And this novel has created many of the pirating caricatures that we still think of today. A one-legged pirate captain and his parrot, buried treasure (a rags to riches motif), and sayings like “shiver me timbers” or “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.”

There were a couple of bits that I found mildly bothersome. Racism. I really abhor reading comments, even with understanding that Treasure Island was written in a time when the thoughts about race were very different than they are now. Although initially turned off when young Jim assumes that the reason one of the sailors (I believe it was the Cook, AKA Silver) liked to always be sailing was because he was married to a black woman. But I was surprised at the end of a the novel when they were anchored and found the black natives coming to sell food to be a pleasant surprise and a soothing boon to their spirits that were beleaguered with blood and treachery. I also found the fact that Jim told the pirates that he’d moved the ship to be a bad maneuver; the pirates knew the island better than young Jim, and they could have easily deciphered where the ship was and left on it. And the final cowering three pirates left ashore, clearly knew where the ship was, and if they were smart they would have tried to obtain control over it during the days that the treasure was being transported. And further, how does one person located in a single outpost protect them against three desperate pirates with loaded guns, while the haul the treasure several miles. But despite these inconsistencies, the novel was still an absolute pleasure to read. I will most certainly give this to my sister when my nephew gets old enough that she can read it to him.

I was struck by Phaedra’s docile nature, and her desire to die from her “sickness of desire” rather than act on it until her nurse conspired with her to concoct a love potion. Phaedra unwarily and heartily fought Aphrodite’s petty games until her nurses coquettish notions overtook her sensibilities. Despite her repressive behavior, Phaedra still fit the stereotype of the Greek portrayal of women in that she was weak, easily influenced, lacking proper moral judgment, and acted as a facile foil to the Nurse’s malevolent planning.

The double standards for men an women are impossible to overlook. First off, men were legally able to sleep around with whomever they chose — and a slave could never accuse a man of rape (thus they were used often for sexual release). But women, women who would be better off if they could never express themselves through speech, were not allowed to have extramarital relations. Additionally, according to this drama, feminine sexuality and desire was reprehensible to men. Men were allowed to have sexual relations so long as it did not make them appear effeminate, but women should stay in their house and not feel any desire except for their husband who really only looked at them as an inconvenient tool to bear children.

Finally, take into account that Phaedra was very likely a young woman, much much younger than Theseus. The text notes that she would likely have been near the age of Hippolytus. There is no doubt in my mind that this play enacted the tangible fear of the husband, that his attractive young wife would fall for his son. Especially as fathers would be faced with the Oedipus complex, feeling threatened already by their son’s transition from the world of boys to the world of men.

I was initially struck with the horror that Aphrodite was callous towards the fate of Phaedra in her plan for vengance against Hippolytus, but then I realized that as a goddess she might have foreseen Phaedra’s initial refusal to act on her new found sexual desire for her stepson.
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