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Old 12-20-2017, 12:07 AM   #1
WT Sharpe
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Book Club December 2017 Discussion: Sylvie and Bruno by Lewis Carroll (spoilers)

The time has come to discuss the December 2017 MobileRead Book Club selection, Sylvie and Bruno by Lewis Carroll. What did you think?
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Old 12-20-2017, 05:22 AM   #2
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I'm still reading this. I'm not all that into it.
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Old 12-20-2017, 05:54 AM   #3
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The chapters are short but the style is so bizarre that it's hard (for me at least) to read much in one sitting. I like the humor, though.
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Old 12-20-2017, 06:25 AM   #4
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I have to confess I struggled with this. I only read Sylvie and Bruno not Sylvie and Bruno Concluded despite initially planning to read both.

I would have given up if not for this book club. I actually preferred the second half of the book, not sure if this is because the style settled down or because I got used to it. You are sort of dropped straight into it with little explanation - which in some ways I like, but it was a bit confusing. It took me a while to realise who and what Sylvie and Bruno were, I just thought they were ordinary children.

I really really disliked the "baby" language Bruno had.

I liked some of the humour but I didn't ever laugh out loud.

I guess I preferred the "real world" sequences* more, but not because I was biased against Fairyland per se but because the former had more connected story (the on-going Arthur-Lady Muriel-Captain Lindon triangle) whereas the Fairyland sequences tended to be little vignettes.

I liked some of the poems. Although the one where the guy has to "pay back" money that they other guy never actually gets around to giving him, it just annoyed me. I "got" that it was a joke but I just felt bad for the other guy.

I liked it more than I'm making it sound. I gave it 6/10 in the spreadsheet that I keep.
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Old 12-20-2017, 06:33 AM   #5
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Interesting tidbit about the publication of the books - Walter Crane, who illustrated the Alice books, refused to illustrate these for Carroll. He said of the books were:

Quote:
...of a very different character from Alice -- a story with religious and moral purpose, with only an occasional touch of the ingenuity and humor of Alice, so that it was not nearly so inspiring or amusing.
As to my thoughts - I at first assumed that the text was one by a deeply religious man who also recreationally used opium. It was legal at the time, and many of Carrolls' contemporaries were users. The Narrator slips in and out of the dream-state/faerie world so easily, I was sure drugs had to be involved. After a little research at the library, I was surprised to learn that this was not the case.

I also found myself somewhat discomfited by the apparent obsession with the child Sylvie. I did recall from studying Alice in college that many people in Carroll's social circle had to be convinced that his obsession with young girls was not nefarious. Interestingly enough, Marah Gubar argued in her article "Lewis in Wonderland: The Looking-Glass World of Sylvie and Bruno" that the book "ponder[s] the painful consequences of pursuing children."

All in all, I found the text dense and dry. I think Jon noted in another thread that the preface was really off-putting, and I agree. It seemed an odd place for a sermon. But everything about the book seemed out of place.
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Old 12-20-2017, 09:26 AM   #6
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What a mess. A glorious mess, in parts, but ultimately a failure, much as I loved some of it.

I liked the "kitchen sink" aspect of it, where Carroll would briefly touch on a topic and move on without exploring it - time travel paradoxes, for just one example. I loved the political satire although it's sadly a little too apropos; I was entranced by the opening in medias res, "Less bread, more taxes!" I liked the shifts in state and the questions that posed about realities and whether or not others are experiencing the same thing. I loved the antic humor and the absurdist dialogue. In short, I think the more experimental aspects of the book were the ones he pulled off.

But, oh my! The awfulness of Bruno, and to a somewhat lesser extent, Sylvie. The turgid religious tracts, phrased as an inquiry (and not a particularly honest or rigorous one). The tedious love triangle and who didn't know where that was going?

The first volume was good enough that I hoped Carroll would return to what I perceived as his strengths there and end on a high note. The exact opposite happened; he lost the humor, the shifts between realities, the playful language, for a much higher proportion of ickle fairies and a romance steeped in sacrifice and renunciation. I couldn't wait to get back to Outland, but even there Carroll disappointed; a king-of-fairies ex machina, so to speak, and everything was righted. I think Uggug was treated rather unfairly at that, when everyone else got off scot-free.
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Old 12-20-2017, 10:23 AM   #7
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I'm about 1/2 done and I'm deciding if I should just stop of keep going. It's a rather confusing book. It has no cohesion. It's all over the place. Sylvie and Bruno are not all that likable and Uggug and his parents are awful. I'm not all that find of the two professors. Father just seems to abandon the kids. I don't see one redeemable characteristic of any of the lot.


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I think Jon noted in another thread that the preface was really off-putting, and I agree. It seemed an odd place for a sermon. But everything about the book seemed out of place.
Yes, I did mention that the preface was off-putting. I tried to read it and I could not get through it. it was preachy and dry and boring and brings nothing to the book. Granted, the book doesn't bring much to the reader.

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Old 12-20-2017, 10:45 AM   #8
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Yes, I did mention that the preface was off-putting. I tried to read it and I could not get through it. it was preachy and dry and boring and brings nothing to the book. Granted, the book doesn't bring much to the reader.
This is probably a good time to mention that Carroll studied to enter the priesthood, but backed out at the last minute. Many think it was because he had a stammer. I suppose he couldn't resist the urge for the written sermon since he had what he thought was a captive audience.
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Old 12-20-2017, 10:52 AM   #9
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This is probably a good time to mention that Carroll studied to enter the priesthood, but backed out at the last minute. Many think it was because he had a stammer. I suppose he couldn't resist the urge for the written sermon since he had what he thought was a captive audience.
If Lewis did have a stammer is that why can't is ca'n't in the book?
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Old 12-20-2017, 10:56 AM   #10
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If Lewis did have a stammer is that why can't is ca'n't in the book?
No. He addresses that in the preface to the second book.

Personally I didn't mind the preface (first book) but then that's probably because a) it made more sense to me that the first part of the book and b) I used to be religious.
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Old 12-20-2017, 02:16 PM   #11
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I enjoyed his disquisition on religion in the preface in its way, as an insight into Victorian attitudes. The part about learning bible verses tied into a lot of children's lit from or based in the 19th century, from Tom Sawyer to Laura Ingalls Wilder.

There seemed a paradox to me, though; he spoke of teaching children a religion of love, but that seemed somewhat at odds with his doomsday scenarios death coming unexpectedly.
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Old 12-20-2017, 02:27 PM   #12
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I am about 2/3 through it, so far...well, if it wasn't for this discussion I wouldn't bother finishing.

There are some funny scenes but overall it is very disjointed.

After his challenge in the intro asking if we could figure out which sentences he added here and there after the fact to join things together I was hoping for more. As-is, I can't join things together with them, let alone without them.
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Old 12-20-2017, 03:38 PM   #13
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I found this very difficult to read. I admit, I had no problem with the preface/sermon -- I just blew it off and jumped to the first chapter.

There were times when it was funny, and I did like the "Less bread, more taxes!" But my ultimate rating of it, after finally abandoning it at about the 2/3rds mark, was 2 stars. Interesting historically, but I understand why it's a 'lesser known work'. It should remain so.
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Old 12-20-2017, 05:56 PM   #14
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In one way the Preface illustrates the mixed quality of the book. The opening section had interesting passages about the nature of inspiration and the way the story grew from a series of fragments. It reminds me of a similar idea in Pullman’s Lyra’s Oxford.

But then we get a turgid series of what is necessary for a “proper” book for children—especially young girls. It would seem that he wants to “Bowldlerise” Bowldler.

I remember reading an introductory essay to Carroll’s work that took the view that Lewis Carroll and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson were two warring personalities in the same person. Carroll was dominant in the “Alice” books while Dodgeson was relegated to the insipid poetry that introduced them. The writer said that Dodgeson became more intrusive in later life and finally dominated the Sylvie and Bruno works.

It has been a long time since I first read these books and I’ve not finished this session, but I suspect that there may be some truth in that essay.
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Old 12-21-2017, 04:25 AM   #15
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Now that is a very interesting explanation, fantasyfan. Like everyone else, I struggled through it all, managing to read both books, but with difficulty. There were flashes of Carroll through the two books, but for me they were few and far between.

The religious discussions were of no real interest to me, and the fairies, especially the truly nauseating Bruno, were pretty hard to take. The best parts were those set in Outland, and I was hoping (foolishly!) for a good dust-up to sort things out. It was not to be.

One aspect of the books I did enjoy was the illustrations, which I thought were lovely.

I wonder whether it was Carroll or Dodgson who was the photographer?

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