Showing 861 - 870 of 877 annotations tagged with the keyword "Society"

Cousin Pons

Balzac, Honore de

Last Updated: Oct-25-1996

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Sylvain Pons earns a meager living conducting at the ballet and giving private music lessons. He is very fond of fine food and fine art. Over the years, he has satisfied the latter craving by slowly accumulating pieces that now clutter the small apartment he shares with his friend Schmucke. Sylvain doesn’t know it, but the collection is worth a surprising amount of money. He satisfies his taste for fine food by frequently going to dinner at his cousin Marville’s house.

Marville’s wife dislikes having Sylvain at her table, for he is rustic and abrupt. He is finally kicked out completely when he tries to find a suitor for the Marville’s daughter, Cecile, and bungles the job. Shortly afterwards, Sylvain falls ill. His portress, Cibot, enters the rooms to nurse him, recognizes the value of his art collection and schemes to get it. She gets Remonencq, who runs a nearby pawn shop, and Elie Magus, a Jew with an eye for art, to help her.

The attack begins when Cibot convinces Schmucke to sell some of Sylvain’s paintings in order to pay for the doctor bills. The plot thickens as Sylvain’s doctor and an attorney get involved. The attorney goes to Madame de Marville and convinces her to fleece Sylvain or risk a smaller inheritance from Sylvain. Her husband regretfully agrees also.

Meanwhile, Sylvain has become suspicious of Cibot. He struggles out of his sick bed to find Magus studying the collectibles in his bedroom. The other rooms are empty. Sylvain realizes his friend Schmucke has been duped, and he plans a counter-attack. He writes a false will, leaving all his money to Cibot for her service at his final illness. He leaves it where she will see it. He then writes a second, true will that leaves his money to the crown on the condition that they grant Schmucke a lifetime annuity.

Sylvain then dies. Schmucke becomes the new target of the others’ greed. They nearly convince him to sign a paper forfeiting most of his inheritance, but when he realizes that the Marvilles are accusing him of having duped their cousin he falls ill and dies. The money passes on to the Marvilles. The attorney gets an important new job; the doctor gets a sinecure, and Magus gets the pictures. Even Cibot is rewarded; she gets an annuity and marries Remonencq after he kills her husband.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Letters)

Summary:

This collection arranges Chekhov's letters into three periods, each introduced by a short biographical essay: 1885-1890, the years during which Chekhov established himself as a writer; 1890-1897, which begins with his trip to Sakhalin Island and includes the years he spent living at Melikhovo; and 1897-1904, the final years during which his health declined, he rose to prominence as a playwright, and he married Olga Knipper.

In her general introduction, Lillian Hellman writes, "Chekhov was a pleasant man, witty and wise and tolerant and kind, with nothing wishywashy in his kindness, nor self-righteous in his tolerance, and his wit was not ill-humored. He would have seen right through you, of course, as he did through everybody, but being seen through doesn't hurt too much if it's done with affection." This image of Chekhov radiates from the letters collected in this volume.

Most of the letters are written to family members and a few close friends and associates, especially Alexei Suvorin, the editor of "New Times," a leading St. Petersburg newspaper; Maxim Gorki, the famous writer; and, later, the actress, Olga Knipper. The topics include family matters and business affairs; comments on his own writing and that of others; and his travels, especially the adventurous trip across Siberia to the penal colonies on Sakhalin Island in 1890.

View full annotation

White-Jacket

Melville, Herman

Last Updated: Oct-17-1996

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

White-jacket is a sailor on the U.S. frigate Neversink. His nickname derives from a jacket stitched together from leftover scraps of rags. This jacket makes the other sailors superstitious and as the ship heads towards Antarctica his mess group kicks him out and he joins another group, serving under the much-liked petty officer, Jack Chase.

The journey is a dangerous one. A man falls overboard. There are constant floggings for the merest inkling of insurrection. All the crew members are forced to watch each flogging. A doctor stands by to stop the flogging if the victim's life is endangered, but he is so callous he doesn't stop a single one. The doctor also prescribes medications, but never attempts to change the conditions that cause the sailors' illnesses, like malnutrition and exposure.

When the ship lands in Rio de Janeiro, Dr. Cadwaller Cuticle boards. In order to show off to the ship's doctors, he amputates the healthy leg of a sailor, who is terribly frightened as the doctors discuss his impending fate in front of him. The man dies of shock. When the boat continues on its journey, White-jacket accidentally falls from the riggings. He barely escapes being speared when a ship-mate mistakes his jacket for a whale. He is fished out and sent up again to complete his task.

View full annotation

The Scarlet Plague

London, Jack

Last Updated: Oct-17-1996

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

It is the year 2073. A boy and his grandfather, clad in animal skins, are walking through deep woods. Having fought off a bear, they come to a fire on the beach, where several other boys sit watching their sheep. Their grandfather asks for a crab and they tease him with empty shells until he cries. Finally, they relent and ask him to tell his story about the past and the scarlet plague.

The grandfather had been a literature professor at The University of California-San Francisco. In the summer of 2013, rumors began that a new plague was killing people in New York. Those infected developed a scarlet rash, had a few convulsions, then settled into a sleep-like state in which they became numb and died, their bodies decomposing almost immediately. The entire process took at most an hour, but sometimes as little as ten minutes. Bacteriologists died even as they tried to find a vaccine. People began dying by the millions. The plague finally reached San Francisco and mayhem broke out. The wealthy tried to flee the city and the poor murdered them and looted in revenge for their long oppression.

The professor survived. He lived alone in the Grand Canyon for three years, then set out to see if anyone else was alive, finding a workingman and his woman slave. He met others and began a family which included the boys to whom he is telling his story. There is no means of communicating across the country or to other nations, since the fires set by looters consumed nearly every structure. Society has been set back to a nomad existence. The boys do not believe most of their grandfather’s story. They fight amongst one another and with him in a language that is only partly English. Finally, they rise, leaving the grandfather to straggle along behind into the wilderness.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

An old, man--a Chinese immigrant to America--is dying in Chinatown, "a sick dog" who yearns for his homeland and for the wife "who died waiting / in the home of my province . . . . " He can't relate to the young political activists who want him to join in protest against "this gray life"--a life which has never really engaged him. He imagines his ashes being carried by the waterways to join the ashes of his wife; she is the helmsman who will lead him back to comfort and joy.

View full annotation

The River Styx Runs Upstream

Simmons, Dan

Last Updated: Nov-08-1995
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A young boy's mother has just died, and out of grief and love, the father has her "resurrected." The family is told to think of the returned mother as having had a mild stroke, but, in fact, she wanders about the house like an inexpressive automaton. Her return from the dead leads to the destruction of the family: the eventual suicides of the boy's older brother and father. The boy, now a young man, becomes a Resurrectionist himself. He narrates the story with a direct, simple tone, which belies the eerie conclusion: he returns to the home of his youth, where his "family" awaits him.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

An old man speaks his anger, bitterness, and rage: "The tiger in the tiger pit / Is not more irritable than I." His "hissing over the arched tongue" is an experience "inaccessible by the young."

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

For those considering a comprehensive overview of plague in Medieval Europe, Hirsch’s long poem is extremely useful. Comprised of thirty-five stanzas, it provides an historical account of devastation associated with the onset of plague in Venice in 1347. An inventory of behavioral responses to catastrophic disease illustrates that responses to AIDS frequently mimic irrational behaviors associated with earlier epidemics. There are references to hysteria, scapegoating, flagellants, illness symptoms, escape, desperate cures, and religious fervor.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This is the story of a woodman who hates the sound of the nightingale. The song unites all the other creatures of the forest. The bird’s music "shook forth the dull oblivion / Out of their dreams; harmony became love / In every soul but one." Every soul except the woodman’s is united by the emotion evoked by the nightingale. The woodman spends his days chopping down trees, each of which contains the soul of a wood nymph and provides beauty and shelter to the world. The world is full, says Shelley, of people like the Woodman who "expel / Love’s gentle Dryads from the haunts of life, / And vex the nightingales in every dell."

View full annotation

To Mary Shelley

Shelley, Percy Bysshe

Last Updated: Aug-08-1994
Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

There are two short poems by this name. Both are about Mary Shelley's reaction to the death of her son, William (see also To William Shelley in this database). Mary Shelley's depression is so intense that her husband feels as if she too has died. Her body is still there, but her real self has "gone down the dreary road / That leads to Sorrow's most obscure abode." Shelley knows he cannot follow her into depression for her own sake; he must be strong to pull her back.

View full annotation