Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

When Ann Veronica met Clarissa

Why did I relegate H. G. Wells to the realms of science fiction? If I had read Ann Veronica with no awareness of the author I would never have guessed that the amazingly modern story (for 1909) advocating women’s equality was written by the same man celebrated for The War of the Worlds.

Ann Veronica is a student in her twenties who wants to be completely independent. As Wells puts it, she wants to ‘live like a man’. The plot of this book is based around the various attempts towards freedom Ann Veronica makes. From what I have read about H. G. Wells, he puts a lot of autobiography into his novels: This one in particular is based around his relationship with Amber Reeves. As Wells was already married, it caused quite a scandal, which was exacerbated by the publication of the book.

Reading Ann Veronica I kept thinking about Clarissa. It was written some two hundred years previously but what was expected of both characters is quite similar. Granted I’m still in the early stages of Clarissa, but the desire for independence is there. Neither woman wants to be married off, although Ann Veronica sees deeper problems. The average age for marriage was increasing; two hundred years worth of ‘progression’ for women appears to be boredom. It is more than avoiding marriage for Ann Veronica – she wants a life of value and purpose and what did all those unmarried women do with their time?

As far as introductions to authors go, this was a good one. It was the book mentioned in A Man of Parts that I thought sounded most appealing, and I wasn’t wrong. There is so much more to H. G. Wells than I ever gave him credit for – not a time machine or futuristic war in sight. Although to be fair, I think I’m now much more likely to give those books a try. My favourite part of this book was getting an insight into something completely different: Whilst I have read books by authors of a similar time, H. G. Wells differs by writing with an urgency to change the times he lived in.

Settling Dust

Giving myself a bit of space after the event of reading The Sense of an Ending, I thought I’d post about the book itself. It deserves another look.

The book begins with a series of moments. They are by no means beautiful or extraordinary, just common homely experiences that feature ever so subtly during the story. Most of the book considers the effects of passing time; how it affects our memory, how we see past events as we grow old.

The main character, Tony, is describing his significant relationships since childhood and makes no secret of the fact that his memories are completely subjective. I think one of my favourite parts of Barnes’ writing is how he gradually reveals his characters’ depths. The people he is writing about are so fully formed, that even though my opinion of them changed as the book progressed, they are undoubtedly the same people at the beginning as they are at the end.

A part of the novel I particularly enjoyed is the treatment of time itself. As readers we are let in on some intimate details: For example, Tony and his school friends wear their watches with the face turned into the wrist. This tiny gesture of solidarity is carried with Tony into adulthood, which makes him see time as a uniquely personal artefact. The sense of the ending, events in his life are closing full circle, gives him an awareness of time he didn’t have in youth. I think Barnes was trying to convey the difference as we grow up: when you are young, time is something stretching ahead. Time brings opportunity and is heavily tied up with fantasy (when I grow up I want to – ). Now that Tony is older, his time is used to look back. Essentially, he is evaluating his decisions, reminiscing about them, but the events are over.

The Sense of an Ending is just that: I’ve read it, the last page has been turned, but I’m still thinking.