New Ways to Kill Your Mother by Colm Tóibín

Honestly speaking, I like Toibin‘s nonfiction more than his novels and short stories. The tone in his stories is always sad and lonely but in his non fiction, he demonstrates his clear and interesting thoughts and he looks deep into religious/human issues.

New Ways to Kill Your Mother– the name of the book attracted my intention immediately. It is not actually killing the Mothers, but in literature sense, the absence of motherly figure. I admitted I haven’t the read whole book; I only picked those with writers whom I am familiar with, namely, Henry James, Jane Austen, Yeats and Borges.

The first piece-Jane Austen, Henry James and the Death of the Mother is so good that I reread it thrice. It offers such unique and interesting perspective to understand the family structure in 18th/19th century and how authors built up characters to develop the sense of self. Now I understand why Jane Eyre is motherless, why David Copperfield‘s mother died young, why Maggie’s mother and aunties are ridiculously narrow-minded in The Mill on the Floss, and why there are so many orphans in Victorian novels. I won’t talk in detail but highly recommend people to read it.

Below are some of my favorite quotes:

Absence of mothers in novels of 18th and 19th c..due to…new necessity in an age of intensifying individualism. This necessity involved separating from the mother, or destroying her and replacing her with a mother figure of choice.

Thus mothers get in the way in fiction; they take up the space that is better filled by indecision, by hope, by the slow growth of a personality, and by something more interesting and important as the novel itself developed. This was the idea of solitude, the idea that a key scene in a novel occurs when the heroine is alone, with no one to protect her, on one to confide in, on one to advise her, and on possibility of this. Thus her thoughts move inward, offering a drama not between generations, or between opinions, but within a wounded, deceived or conflicted self.

… The novel is not a moral fable or a tale from the Bible, or an exploration of the individual’s role in society; it is not our job to like or dislike characters in fiction, or make judgements on their worth, or learn from how to live. We can do that with real people and, if we like, figures from history. They are for moralists to feast on. A novel is a pattern and it is our job to relish and see clearly its textures and its tones, to notice how the textures were woven and the tones put into place. This is not to insist that a character in fiction is merely a verbal construct and bears no relation to the known world. It is rather to suggest that the role of a character in a novel must be judged not as we would judge a person. Instead, we must look for density, for weight and strength within the pattern, for ways in which figures in novels have more than one easy characteristics, one simple affect. A novel is a set if strategies, closer to something in mathematics or quantum physics than something in ethics or sociology. It is a release of a certain energies and a dramatization of how these energies might be controlled, given shape.

Novels reflect most urgent need and concern of people in certain generation. Like what 18th/19th c literature deal with the issue of individualism, fighting for women’s right and freedom, and reconstruction of family relationship, modern literature are more concern on middle class anxiety, racism and sense of loneliness in the city. Sometimes I feel so amazed to see the form and theme of literature keep changing while something would never change–the constant struggle of individuals, the question of death and life and “what is love?”. We try hard to search some answers but we seldom find them.


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