When I picked up a novel with a stunning title like Noli Me Tangere (Touch me Not), I expected to encounter a work dredged in corporeal, visceral experience and language. I wanted a novel centered on the function of touch: human interaction, physicality, phenomenology, flesh. I didn't get this in Jose Rizal's incredible text, but I didn't really feel disappointed in not getting what I wanted -- because in some ways I received a more meaningful gift.
Sanshiro by Natsume Soseki is a novel about Japanese masculinity in which Sanshiro, our hero, comes to terms with his role as a college-educated man from the country. Sanshiro is a Modern(ist) hero who develops a heightened sense of self-consciousness as a result of the industrialized and urbane environment of higher education in the city, a confusing confrontation with "unintelligible" Western literary artifacts that seem important in Japanese education, and from his indomitable fear of women.
Woman is almost wholly missing from the Romantic confrontation with the arctic. Where she tries to enter, she is silenced, ineffective. But in this Victorian landscape we witness some permeability in which saving the tainted man is possible through, of course, the sweet truth of a pure, angelic woman. But here, the artic, Dante-esque devil meets his foil and one soul has been saved. The heroic act occurs within the domestic sphere in the safety of the English shrubbery.
In Ballard's The Drought, Ransom is faced with two options: submit to femininity or become a shadow. He apparently makes the right decision for the future of humanity. There are, evidently, worse fates than becoming nothing. A man might become womanly. What Ballard has done is found a way to avert what we gender theorists would call the real apocalypse.
What struck me about Mary Shelley's The Last Man was that unlike other apocalyptic protagonists, these heroes seem to learn nothing through their jaunt with the plague, and they have had about 300% more time to figure it out than others.
At the close of Can you Forgive Her? readers are asked to follow suit and forgive Vavasor -- easily -- for what she has done. As a reader in the 21st century I could really care less about her jilting Grey; I once jilted a lover. What I struggle to forgive in Vavasor is her insistence that she can never want to forgive herself.
Gogol's protagonist comes face to face with the temptation of what he wants most. For Tchartkoff, this is money and fame. He buys the wayward painting because he falls in love with it, its undeniable expression of talent and of something else: its evocation of the feminine diabolical. What makes this devil -- like so many devils before and after it in literature -- "feminine" is its Asiatic garb