Posted in 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, Books, Historical fiction

General thoughts on the Betsy-Tacy series, Part II

Books and Beyond: Literary Dream Tour, Part 6: Betsy-Tacy in Minneapolis

A collection of observations, questions, and thoughts I didn’t mention or go into detail about in my book review posts (in no particular order):

22. The spelling Anastacia for a non-Latina born in 1892 seems very anachronistic.

23. It’s really weird how Betsy, Tacy, and Tib still believe in Santa at age twelve, and still believe in him well into their teen years.

24. I roll my eyes when a book or film paints a clearly comfortably bourgeois family as struggling financially because they can only afford one servant and live in a house under 3,000 square feet!

Quotes from Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy Novels | LiteraryLadiesGuide

25. It makes no sense for shy Tacy to go from total disinterest in boys to charmed by a much-older groomer as soon as she turns eighteen. I wouldn’t be so disturbed by the nine-year age difference or even the ages she and Mr. Kerr get together if they hadn’t met while Tacy was still in high school and she weren’t so naïve and completely inexperienced with men!

26. Why the hell does Mr. Kerr even want to attend a party for high school kids when he’s 27?!

27. Betsy also does a quick about-face regarding older men. She goes from calling Mr. Kerr a grey-beard to wanting to hook up with a dude in his thirties en route to her Grand Tour a few years later!

28. How exactly did Mr. Ray’s business improve to such an extent he could afford a huge house in another part of town?

29. He can afford fancy new digs, but can’t even buy Betsy a real desk?!

30. That piece of chamois used by all the girls in the high school locker room for rubbing their faces sounds like germ city!

Betsy-Tacy (Betsy-Tacy Books): Maud Hart Lovelace, Lois Lenski: 9780064400961: AmazonSmile: Books | Favorite childhood books, Childhood books, Easy chapter books

31. Betsy’s parents really think she can do no wrong! In Betsy Was a Junior, they can’t believe her Latin teacher was so cruel as to actually punish her for trying to pass a note to Tacy during class.

32. Speaking of junior year, it was good to see Betsy facing consequences for her élitist attitudes. Teachers point-blank tell her a lot of students resent how Betsy and her Crowd have everything, and exclude her from several events she took for granted she’d be a shoe-in for.

33. Betsy’s parents aren’t really preparing her for a career in writing when they carry on about how the essay judging committee is out of its mind for daring to not hand her the prize on a silver platter. They should’ve told her you can’t win every contest, and that maybe she needs to work on her research and writing skills.

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown - Wikipedia

34. Not being from a close-knit, lovey-dovey, touchy-feely family, it was weird to read about Betsy kissing her mother multiple times a day! I don’t remember kissing my mother once my entire life, and can’t see myself ever doing so.

35. Domestic Science is a really pretentious name for home ec.

36. For a series about a budding writer, we see almost nothing of what Betsy’s actually been writing all these years! We’re not even given descriptions of her work.

Betsy and Joe - Wikipedia

37. Why couldn’t Mrs. Lovelace write a few books about Betsy’s college years and sabbatical in California? Hearing a summary of those events in other books doesn’t carry the same impact.

38. I obviously know this wasn’t done at all in mainstream books until the 1960s, but I would’ve liked reading about Betsy’s first period and how menstruation was handled in the Edwardian era.

39. Likewise with reading about Betsy’s first time wearing a corset. Particularly since Edwardian corsets, in contrast to Victorian ones, came all the way down over the thighs, changing the position of the hips, and made walking very difficult and restrictive.

40. And Betsy’s first time having sex! Nothing graphic or even an actual sex scene, but just her feelings about the experience.

41. Are she and Joe using any birth control?

42. I know most people used a “generic he” in this era, but it felt wrong and jarring to see that grammatical convention used even when referring to an all-female group!

Posted in 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, Books

General thoughts on the Betsy-Tacy series, Part I

A collection of observations, questions, and thoughts I didn’t mention or go into detail about in my book review posts (in no particular order):

1. What kind of high school only makes students take 4-5 classes a year?! Even in the Edwardian era, when high schools were rather uncommon in the U.S., that seems odd! And to only have to take two years of math and science?

2. How did Betsy choose which classes to take? Did her parents decide for her, did they confer together, or was she given free rein to study whatever she wanted? I’m particularly interested in why she chose Latin as her foreign language for the first three years.

3. I know the Establishment Clause was treated like a joke in many public schools of the era, but it always jolts me to see the school day starting with Protestant prayer, hymns, and Bible-reading!

Heaven to Betsy / Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace

4. Also jolting, but in a good way, to see a depiction of school before it became common to do a creepy daily loyalty oath to the flag. Seriously, almost no other countries in the world make kids do that! And a lot of people believe it’s against the law to refuse to take part in that ritual, instead of protected free speech since 1943.

5. What’s the point of the first day of school just being a morning assembly and scheduling classes? Why didn’t they register for classes during the summer?

6. My jaw dropped when Betsy gave a speech, in her debate team, supporting the restriction of immigration. I don’t associate that kind of attitude with her at all! Well, she got her wish when racist, xenophobic, nativist, eugenics-inspired, severely restrictive quotas were passed in 1921 and 1924.

Heaven to Betsy - Wikipedia

7. Speaking of immigrants, I loved the respectful depiction of the Lebanese in Little Syria (so called because Lebanon was part of Syria at the time). I just wish they’d been featured more often.

8. I know this was a common attitude many immigrants felt compelled into in that era, but it made me sad to see Naifi, in the third book, declaring that she has to ditch her lovely native culture so she can become a whitewashed “real American.”

9. I’m far from the only reader who doesn’t like all the over the top, jingoistic flag-waving at the end of the third book. Though it was published in 1943, when that attitude was considered important for the war effort.

Betsy Was a Junior/Betsy and Joe: Lovelace, Maud Hart: 9780061794728: Books -

10. What a different world when students were expected to memorize everything, even their graduation speeches and research for essay contests! Now kids whine about having to memorize and recite very short poems.

11. I wish we’d gotten more insight into Betsy’s conversion to Episcopalianism. It seems she only liked superficial things like music and social life. I know that’s what initially motivates a lot of conversions, but it should gradually lead to more substantial theological convictions.

12. Many times, old-fashioned words are used without any context to picture what’s being referred to. E.g., I had to search around for awhile before I finally figured out what exactly a dressing sacque, foolscap, and hair rat are.

Betsy in Spite of Herself (Betsy-Tacy): 9780064401111: Lovelace, Maud Hart, Neville, Vera: Books -

13. Such a big deal is made out of Betsy’s first visit to her town’s new Carnegie library, but we never find out just what she thought of the books she checked out, nor do we see her making many non-school-related future visits.

14. No-longer-famous writers’ names are casually dropped with the expectation that readers will automatically know who they are, like Mrs. Muhlbach (who?).

15. People back in the day were so trusting of strangers inviting their teen daughters to spend a summer or school break on their farm in another town!

Buy Betsy-Tacy: 1 Book Online at Low Prices in India | Betsy-Tacy: 1 Reviews & Ratings -

16. I hate how Betsy is made to feel she should only read literature that improves her mind, and that anything mass-market, popular, and/or sensationalistic is trash she should shun.

17. Judging from the types of magazines she submits to and the few glimpses we get of what exactly Betsy’s been writing all these years, she doesn’t exactly aspire to follow in the footsteps of writers like Dickens and Longfellow!

18. The old-fashioned, then-common spelling Mamma is used. I always mentally pronounced Mamma and Papa the normal English way, not the pretentious Ma-MAAAAAAAAA and Pa-PAAAAAAAAA.

Betsy-Tacy and Tib: Lovelace, Maud Hart, Lenski, Lois: 0201564400972: Books -

19. It’s not fair that Tib’s name is only in the second book’s title. She takes equal part in Betsy and Tacy’s adventures in most of the other books!

20. What are the names of all of Tacy’s other siblings? I didn’t expect all ten of them would be major characters, but why not at least provide their names? We only get to know older sister Katie. A few brothers are briefly mentioned in the earliest books, and Tacy’s baby sister Bee passes away in infancy.

21. I was afraid to Google the type of winter hood Betsy struggles to put on in the first book, since I knew it would yield lots of porn. Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown (Betsy-Tacy Books Book 4) (English Edition) 電子書籍: Lovelace, Maud Hart, Lenski, Lois: 洋書

Posted in 1920s, Books, Hermann Hesse, Religion

Happy 100th birthday, Siddhartha!

Like so many of Hermann Hesse’s other novels, Siddhartha too is quite short, but it’s anything but rushed, underdeveloped, and simplistic. Hesse was an absolute master at honing in on major, big-picture events and transforming them into profound episodes that feel much longer, and pulling the reader right into the story as though s/he’s personally experiencing it right alongside the protagonist. His novels wouldn’t feel the same if he fleshed out all the events between the episodes he chose to focus on. The books would be far longer, but they wouldn’t have the same impact.

Siddhartha was written over two major periods from December 1919–May 1922, and various newspapers published some of the chapters from August 1920–July 1922. The complete novel was published in October 1922.

In Ancient Nepal’s Kingdom of Kapilavastu, a much-belovèd, spiritually-inclined young man named Siddhartha longs to leave home to forge his own path to enlightenment, try to figure out the mysteries of the Universe, and learn as much as he can about all things spiritual and religious. Towards this end, he begs his father to let him join the samanas (ascetic sages) in the woods.

Siddhartha’s father, a Brahmin, feels it beneath himself to speak angry and violent words, but he’s nevertheless extremely indignant to hear this request. However, Siddhartha won’t be deterred that easily, and remains standing in the same place through the entire rest of the day and all of the night.

Finally, Siddhartha’s father realizes his mind is made up and that he’s already mentally gone. He gives his blessing for Siddhartha to leave with his best friend Govinda.

Siddhartha is like a sponge, soaking up all the wisdom from the samanas, and learning how to live with barely any possessions and no money. But as much as he’s spiritually grown, Siddhartha still feels he’s missing out on other important lessons, and wonders if perhaps no one will reach Nirvana, since they’re just going around in a circle instead of ascending upwards.

One day, the illustrious Buddha comes through town, and Siddhartha and Govinda eagerly, reverently go to meet him. Govinda is so inspired by Buddha’s teachings, he decides to become one of Buddha’s monks.

Govinda doesn’t want to lose his oldest and dearest friend, and begs Siddhartha to join him in becoming a Buddhist. Nothing he says or does convinces Siddhartha to change his mind, but right after Govinda leaves to become a novice monk, Siddhartha encounters Buddha in the garden.

Siddhartha showers Buddha with loving, respectful words, highly praising his Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, Middle Way, and other key philosophical teachings. With the utmost respect, Siddhartha says he’s afraid if he becomes a monk, Buddha’s teachings and his love for Buddha will become his ego and a new idol to worship. He’s also determined to find his own unique path to enlightenment.

Siddhartha wanders alone through the forest for awhile, and begins a new chapter of his life when he takes a ferry across the river into a town which very much appeals to him. In this town, he meets a beautiful courtesan named Kamala, who promises to teach him the art of pleasure once he smells sweet, shaves, cuts his hair, wears nice clothes and shoes, and has money.

Siddhartha eagerly obeys these commands, and soon reinvents himself as a very successful merchant under the tutelage of Kamaswami. For many years, Siddhartha lives in Kamaswami’s mansion and becomes his second-in-command in the business. Though Siddhartha isn’t a naturally-inclined businessman, and he cares less about things like rice, wool, or even money, he has a lucky touch, is eager to learn all he can, and cares about his customers and clients on a personal level.

Siddhartha also becomes Kamala’s lover, and learns all about sensuality, love, and pleasure from her.

After twenty years, Siddhartha tires of this superficial city life and hectic rat race, and decides to return to the forest. He contemplates suicide by the river, but is pulled back to the desire to live by the holy sound of Om. Siddhartha then falls into deep sleep which powerfully reinvigorates him.

When he awakens, he finds Govinda, who doesn’t recognize him after so many years, and with such a changed appearance. Govinda is overjoyed when his old friend reveals himself, even if they can’t be together for very long.

Siddhartha decides to spend the rest of his life by the river, which he loves and adopts as a teacher. His prayers come true when he meets the same old ferryman, Vasudeva, who joyously welcomes his friend.

Through constant communion with the all-knowing, soul-penetrating river, and all the experiences he’s had throughout his life and continues to have after coming to the river, Siddhartha finally reaches his own personal enlightenment.

Posted in 1920s, Books, Hermann Hesse

The wolf that lurks within (Steppenwolf, Part III: Behind the scenes, reception, legacy)

Hermann Hesse began writing Steppenwolf in Basel in 1925, during a period of deep despair and personal crisis. He had separated from his second wife, Ruth Wegner, almost as soon as they married in 1924. Not only did they spend very little time living together, the marriage reportedly was also unconsummated. Hesse struggled with depression and feelings of isolation throughout his life, and this episode plunged him into deeper and deeper despair which culminated in suicidal thoughts.

Hesse wrote in his journal, “I’m giving up everything, my life […] I’m an aging man. To react to your world in any other way than by dying or by the Steppenwolf would be a betrayal of all that is sacred.”

Reportedly, the wolf signet on the house façade painted by Burckhard Mangold at Spalenberg 22 in Basel inspired Hesse’s title. Most of the novel was written in Basel’s Hotel Krafft, though it was completed in Zürich.

Copyright EinDao

To try to overcome his personal demons, Hesse resumed psychotherapy with Josef Lang, a disciple of Carl Jung, as he was writing Steppenwolf. Anyone who knows anything about Jungian philosophy will easily see its strong influence in the book, particularly the Magic Theatre in the final section.

Jung’s theories and practices heavily drew from dream analysis, the collective unconsciousness, metaphysics, the paranormal, mythology, astrology, gnosticism, anima and animus (i.e., the unconscious feminine side of a man and the unconscious masculine side of a woman), archetypes, repressed aspects of our personalities, spirituality, art and dance therapy, and the persona (i.e., a consciously-created identity or personality influenced by the collective psyche via life experience, socialization, and acculturation). After Steppenwolf was published, Jung also got into alchemy.

Another big influence on Hesse’s story was jazz music, which he became a fan of in 1926. The character of Pablo was based on Sidney Bechet, a saxophonist and clarinetist then touring Switzerland.

Steppenwolf first appeared in the esteemed German literary journal Neue Rundschau in November 1926, and “Treatise on the Steppenwolf” was published as a preprint teaser in May 1927. Hesse’s publisher, Samuel Fischer Verlag, published the entire thing in book format in June 1927.

The first English translation appeared in 1929, and the first paperback edition came out in 1963.

Hesse wrote a spin-off short story in 1928, “Harry, the Steppenwolf,” about a wolf named Harry who’s kept in captivity in a zoo and entertains visitors by destroying images of German cultural icons like Mozart and Goethe.

Steppenwolf became the dozenth book in the German-language Manesse Library of World Literature series in 1946, which started in 1944. Most of the volumes in this series get the royal treatment as gold-leafed hardcovers with luxurious paper, binding threads, gilded covers, and attached ribbon bookmarks. Each book has an afterword by a contemporary writer, literary scholar, or literary critic.

Steppenwolf was added to the Suhrkamp Library series in 1969, a series created by German publisher Peter Suhrkamp as “a lovers’ library for an elite readership,” with a focus on 20th century literature. The first six volumes selected were edited by Hr. Suhrkamp himself, and the very first book of the series was Hesse’s Journey to the East. Over the years, many of Hesse’s other works have been added to this series.

A second edition of Steppenwolf in the Suhrkamp Library came out in 1985, illustrated with fifteen watercolours by Gunter Böhmer.

In 1978, Steppenwolf was included in the ZEIT Library of 100 Books, a collection of important, classic world literature chosen by a six-member jury and meant to interest people in reading. Only one book by each author on the list was allowed. A book edition of the essays about these books, originally published in the weekly German newspaper Die Zeit, came out in 1980.

This list and the accompanying essays were so successful, a list of 100 great nonfiction books was created in 1984. In 2002 and 2003, a list of 50 German-language works for children came out.

In the preface to the 1961 edition, Hesse wrote that this book was “more often and more violently misunderstood” than anything else he’d ever written. Most readers seemed to focus on the depression, despair, and suffering instead of Harry’s spiritual and psychological healing and determination to improve his life and start doing things differently.

Many of Hesse’s friends and longtime readers thought Steppenwolf celebrated so-called immorality because of its depiction of drug use and non-marital sex, a criticism which continued for many decades. By modern standards, those things are so tame! It’s not like there are any graphic sex scenes or detailed descriptions of using drugs and getting high.

Guess what, neo-Puritans: Real life ain’t a G-rated Disney movie where everything is glitter, daisies, kittens, rainbows, and puppies.

In 1974, the book was adapted to the silver screen, starring Max von Sydow as Harry, Dominique Sanda as Hermine, Pierre Clémenti as Pablo, and Carla Romanelli as Maria. It was in pre-production for seven years due to negotiations with the Hesse family over film rights and the complicated planning that went into making “the first Jungian film.”

Before von Sydow was cast, Timothy Leary, Jack Lemmon, and Walter Matthau were proposed.

Over the decades, many songs have referenced or been inspired by Steppenwolf, and there have been many literary references as well. The American–Canadian rock band Steppenwolf and the Danish rock band Steppeulvene, both formed in 1967, also took their names from the novel.

In 1967, the Magic Theatre Company of San Francisco was founded, and the Steppenwolf Theatre Company was founded in Chicago in 1974.

And of course, the title of this blog and my old Angelfire website, Welcome to My Magick Theatre, also comes from the book.

Posted in 1920s, Books, Hermann Hesse

The wolf that lurks within (Steppenwolf, Part II: My personal relationship with the novel)

Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, published in 1927, is one of the books that most changed my life. It was among my father’s old books stored in my room, and I took it into my own collection (with permission) when I fell in love with Hesse when I was fourteen. However, I didn’t get around to reading it until December of 1999, shortly before I turned twenty.

I obviously didn’t have a huge amount of life experience at that age, and my cognitive development was still about six years away from full maturity. Thus, there were aspects of the book that flew over my head or which I misinterpreted or didn’t think were that important.

However, I still connected to Harry’s basic struggles and character arc, and saw myself in him. I had enough self-awareness to recognise how overly serious I could be, preferring my intellectual, interior life of the mind over social life with peers and taking part in current pop culture. I also never learnt how to two-person dance, and even before I knew who Buster Keaton was, I was channeling his spirit by deliberately rarely smiling or laughing.

I also absolutely loved the Magic Theatre and all the trippy, surrealistic, mystical, esoteric, paranormal things happening there.

Rereading Steppenwolf at age 42 was an even deeper and more personal experience. I’m now much closer to Harry’s age, and I’ve gone through a lot more of life and more finely honed my views. E.g., at nineteen, I also agreed with Harry’s disgust for bourgeois conformity and society, but it was more of an abstract, political idea, not something I really got on a personal level.

I’ve always felt much more comfortable in the proletarian and lower-middle-class world. Those people are humbler and more authentic, and don’t live their lives by cookie-cutter checklists of mindless conformity, doing things only because they’re expected, and keeping up with the Joneses in their little suburban housing developments with freaking open concept houses promoted by HGTV.

Although I do, like Harry, also like certain surface aspects of bourgeois society, like their comfortable homes, ability to afford nice things to decorate the house, and tendency towards high culture thanks to widespread university education. I just don’t like all the classism, snobbery, and pretensions that go along with it.

Harry’s depression over being almost fifty and still feeling like he hasn’t accomplished nearly as much as he hoped to with his life also hit home much more strongly at 42. At nineteen, you’re so full of idealistic expectations and assumptions for your happy future, and then you find yourself not being in the same position as most of your peers, like finding a partner, marrying, and having kids by a certain age, locking in a long-term career, buying a great house, achieving success in your field.

I also suffer from cyclical depression, though unlike Harry and his creator, at least I haven’t had any suicidal thoughts or plans since I was fourteen.

Harry loves classical music and has no familiarity with modern jazz until Hermine forcibly introduces him to it. I love classic rock and pop, and also enjoy classical music, while not having any interest in anything modern. Harry isn’t the type of person who goes to clubs, and he has no idea how to dance. Likewise, I’ve always preferred to stay in reading, writing, doing homework, studying, and watching serious films instead of going to places like clubs and bars, and I only know how to do solo dancing and line dances. Social life with my peers never held any appeal for me.

When I first read the novel at nineteen, I was 100% virgin and had never even gone on a date (by choice). Thus, the scenes of Harry in bed with Maria, his feelings about his failed marriage with Erika, and the other sexual and romantic content didn’t really speak to me with any personal connection.

At 42, after having had a physical relationship with my now-ex Sergey, I could relate to Harry’s romantic disappointments and understand what some of the phrasing in the sex scenes referred to. (None of them are graphic or detailed. They’re more of the left to the imagination type, but the language is very evocative both emotionally and sexually.)

Then as now, I adored the Magic Theatre section at the end, though again, it was more of an abstract “This is awesome!” feeling at nineteen, and a general love of esoterica, mysticism, and the paranormal. At 42, I’d done so much more reading on those subjects, and also understood the deeper intentions of the specific rooms Hesse chose for Harry to enter and the experiences he has inside.

E.g., the room where cars and humans hunt one another and kill for sport is a statement on the increasingly impersonal, violent, machine-centric nature of society, not just a shockingly violent image of a future world. The room where Harry plays chess with pieces of glass representing the 100,000 aspects of his personality is about trying to put oneself back together after being so broken, and making sense of our numerous selves. The room where he revisits his past with all the girls and women he ever loved is a poignant longing for long-lost loves and imagining how we should’ve done things instead.

And even though Harry fails the Magic Theatre, he’s nevertheless determined to continue healing and doing things differently going forward. There’s always a next time, and when he goes into the theatre again, “Pablo would be waiting for me, and Mozart too.”