“A coroner’s pronouncement of suicide (felo da se) resulted in forfeiture of the deceased’s goods and property to the state, often leaving any surviving relatives destitute. So the increasingly common verdict of temporary insanity (non compos mentis) may suggest a change in how people understood the act of self-destruction: no longer construed as a demonic temptation, it came instead to be viewed as a symptom of lunacy.” On the prevalence of suicide in eighteenth-century English literature.
Azar Nafisi thinks the best way to pin down a culture is to take a look at its canonical works of literature. In The Republic of Imagination, as Adam Begley details in a review in the Times Literary Supplement, she examines a few of America’s classic novels, including Babbitt, Huck Finn and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. You could also read Jonathan Russell Clark’s review of the book for The Millions.
I'd heard that the New Yorker excerpt was the opening of Jonathan Franzen's new novel Freedom, but it turns out it is preceded in the novel by this: "The news about Walter Berglund wasn't picked up locally--he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now--but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read the New York Times. According to a long and very unflattering story in the Times, Walter had made quite a mess of his professional life out there in Washington. His old neighbors had some difficulty reconciling the quotes about him in the Times ('arrogant,' 'high-handed,' 'ethically compromised') with the generous, smiling, red-faced 3M employee they remembered pedaling his commuter bicycle up Summit Avenue in February snow; it seemed strange that Walter, who was greener than Greenpeace and whose own roots were rural, should be in trouble now for conniving with the coal industry and mistreating country people. Then again, there had always been something not quite right about the Berglunds."
As you might have heard, the tenth annual Morning News Tournament of Books will commence this Thursday, and to kick things off, the site held a pre-Tournament playoff round. In it, Lev Grossman and David Gutowski (aka Largehearted Boy) try to predict what Geraldine Brooks will choose as her novel of the year. (Our own Lydia Kiesling takes part on the 18th.)