Tag Archives: novel

Beautiful quotes from The Last Man

The Last Man by Mary ShelleyThe Last Man by Mary Shelley, 1826

As the last of the human race suffer:

“They were sad, but not hopeless.  Each thought that someone would be saved; each, with that pertinacious optimism, which to the last characterized our human nature, trusted that their beloved family would be the one preserved.”

And later,

“We have a power given us in any worst extremity, which props the else feeble mind of man, and enables us to endure the most savage tortures with a stillness of soul which in hours of happiness we could not have imagined.  A calm, more dreadful in truth than the tempest, allayed the wild beatings of my heart — a calm like that of the gamester, the suicide, and the murderer, when the last die is on the point of being cast — while the poisoned cup is at the lips, — as the death-blow is about to be given.”

And as the last man gazes upon the countryside:

“Yes, this is the earth; there is no change — no ruin — no rent made in her verdurous expanse; she continues to wheel round and round, with alternate night and day, through the sky, though man is not her adorner or inhabitant.”

Mary Shelley’s false messiah in The Last Man

The Last Man by Mary Shelley, 1826

The Last Man by Mary Shelley, 1826

I always wonder just what people believed and assumed in years past, most specifically in hundreds of years past.  And these quotes by Mary Shelley from The Last Man, one of the earliest science fiction novels, give me insight that there are always astute individuals in every age.

Centering around a plague that makes its deadly way to England, the few people left are torn between the calm, caring, patient leader who has brought them across the ocean in search of salvation, and the evil power-hungry charlatan who threatens eternal damnation and preaches that sickness is God’s punishment.

“It is a strange fact, but incontestible, that the philanthropist, who ardent in his desire to do good, who patient, reasonable, and gentle, yet disdains to use other argument than truth, has less influence over men’s minds, than he who, grasping and selfish, refuses not to adopt any means, nor awaken any passion, nor diffuse any falsehood, for the advancement of his cause.”

So relevant to our time!  (Donald Trump running for president)  I guess some things never change.

 

The Future as Metaphor (Le Guin)

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin  (1969)

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le GuinIn the last post I stated that Le Guin’s books are about differing perceptions of reality.  In the 1976 introduction of this book she writes that writers, thinking themselves truth-seekers, write down a bunch of lies, accompanied by scientific facts that make it seem more real, and put them out there as “the truth.”

In The Left Hand of Darkness, the beings (essentially humans but with a major difference) on the planet Gethen are androgynous, turning into males or females only a couple of days during their 26 day month.  Genly Ai, the narrator of the book, is a human who spends years on Gethan, and the book is a reporting of his experience.

Seeming to address my question of whether we should attribute statements made by a character in a book as opinions of the author, in the 1976 introduction she says that she is not saying that she is predicting that we will become androgynous, or that we should be androgynous, but that in a certain light we already seem to be so.

I am describing certain aspects of psychological reality in the novelist’s way, which is by inventing elaborately circumstantial lies

Fiction is metaphor. Science fiction is metaphor.  What sets it apart from older forms of fiction seems to be its use of new metaphors, drawn from certain great dominants of our contemporary life – science, all the sciences, and technology…  Space travel is one of these metaphors; so is an alternative society, an alternative biology; the future is another.  The future, in fiction, is a metaphor.

A metaphor for what?

If I could have said it non-metaphorically, I would not have written all these words, this novel; and [the main character of the book] would never have sat down at my desk and used up my ink and typewriter ribbon in informing me, and you, rather solemnly, that the truth is a matter of the imagination.

I strongly recommend The Left Hand of Darkness if you enjoy complexity of truth.