Today I met my supervisor concerning revisions to my thesis. Mostly, he talked about the extent to which my diagrams sucked (seriously, finding a good file type for diagrams in LaTeX is a non-trivial task). At one point, however, he turned to the acknowledgements. I have not yet written my acknowledgements properly*, but I did make a note on this draft of the thesis, mostly to see whether or not my supervisor actually reads the front matter.
More particularly, the template from which I was working came with a lengthy quotation from Edith Wharton. I remembered her from my High School English course, so I appended the following:
TO BE ANNOUNCED. But I should point out, contrary to the mandates of this template, that there will certainly be no page quote from Edith Wharton. Edith Wharton is an early 20th century American author known to me primarily as the scallywag who inflicted the execrable novel ”Ethan Frome“ upon generations of innocent high school English students. I would therefore not give her the gnawed bones of my last meal**, much less a page quote in my acknowledgements!”
Now, of course, to some of you, this may sound a bit harsh. But I can only assume that those of you who hold this view have never actually read Ethan Frome. Spoiler alert: it’s about an inbred hick in rural New England who has an affair with his frigid wife’s cousin behind her back. During this time, a pickle dish is shattered, symbolizing and foreshadowing the inevitable destruction of a young man’s dreams. At the climax, Ethan and his mistress try to kill themselves by ramming a toboggan into a tree. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work, and so both of them are left horribly mangled but alive, in the care of his frigid wife. It’s also really, really boring: indeed, I would say that it contains the most turgid prose that I have ever read outside of an academic paper. The wretched thing is only about a hundred pages long, but it took me two full days to read on account of its awfulness. Even the teacher thought that it was a royal steaming stinker, but he still forced us to read it, presumably because he’d had to do so back in the day, so by gum so would we!
Anyways, my supervisor, as it turned out did read the front matter.
“Who is this person?” my supervisor demanded, drawing a circle around her name.
“American author.” I replied simply. “Considered a classic. But the only novel I have ever read by her was terrible beyond measure.”
“Ah. And I assume that she is compulsory in high schools.”
“More or less.”
He shrugged. “Well, of course, your acknowledgements are up to you.”
The moral of the story is, of course:
Just because a book is a ‘classic’ doesn’t mean it’s not terrible.
*(and I’m still looking for someone to whom I would like to dedicate the thing, although I have a few ideas)
**I originally wrote “I would not give her the steam off of my urine,” but then, thankfully, decided to Bowdlerize myself just in case my supervisor actually did read the front matter.