Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Category: Classics

Fields and Forests Bare: A Reader’s Update and Returning to Wildfell

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After a series of reading misadventures I return to old reading habits, revisiting the Brontës like you would old friends. This week I will be rereading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. When I last read it back in 2011 (how time flies!) I loved Anne immediately. I’ve since reread Wuthering Heights and continued to adore it, but have never returned to Anne Brontë until now.

I’ve read the first couple of chapters this afternoon and there has already been a subversive feminist Victorian discussion concerning male and female upbringing:

You affirm that virtue is only elicited by temptation; – and you think that a woman cannot be too little exposed to temptation, or too little acquainted with vice, or anything connected therewith – It must be, either, that you think she is essentially vicious, or feeble-minded that she cannot withstand temptation, – and though she may be pure and innocent as long as she is kept in ignorance and restraint, yet, being destitute of real virtue, to teach her how to sin is at once to make her a sinner, and the greater her knowledge, the wider her liberty, the deeper will be her depravity.

I couldn’t read this without thinking about poor Clarissa Harlowe. I look forward to judging the rogue in this novel, now that I have read Clarissa – the battle for the worst husband in literature begins.

In other reading news, I read The Castle of Otranto over Halloween and hated it. I was really surprised, with my usual love of the gothic novel. I had a particularly badly formatted edition which didn’t help. But if you’ve read it – please tell me what you thought of it. I have managed to find a couple of contemporary novels which I would highly recommend: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (the greatest twist, completely fascinating, best read if you know nothing about it) and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (WWII novel with utterly heartbreakingly beautiful writing).

Finally, the classics spin has come around again, this was my list:
1. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
2. The Monk, Matthew Lewis
3. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
4. The Life of Samuel Johnson, James Bosewell
5. Vilette, Charlotte Brontë
6. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
7. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
8. La Regenta, Leopoldo Alas
9. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence
10. A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
11. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
12. A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
13. The History of Tom Jones: A Foundling, Henry Fielding
14. Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome
15. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
16. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
17. Ivanhoe, Walter Scott
18. Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
19. Little Women, Louisa M. Alcott
20. Pamela, Samuel Richardson

So I will be reading The History of Tom Jones: A Foundling by Henry Fielding by January 5th. What did you get in the spin? Does anyone want to read along with me?

Hope you have all had a great weekend, I spent today stomping around in the mud with my friend whilst wearing inappropriate footwear. For now, back to the ragged rocks of Wildfell Hall.

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Gathering Books and Blankets: Why I Saved My Reading for Winter

Every year I am taken aback by nature’s force in changing seasons. When summer arrives – glorious! The light and the colour makes me feel as though I have been looking at the world through a film of silk that has slowly rippled away. For some, the end of summer is a terrible and inescapable fate. For me – not so. There is work to be done in the winter.

How could it be any other way for us readers? September is forever associated with going to school with sharpened pencils and enthusiasm and it will always make me yearn for the first experiences of discovering and dissecting great novels. Hugh Walpole (more on him later) said The years of our childhood are of course the foundation of all our life. We never altogether emerge from them. So it looks like I’ll be stuck with odd urges to write essays about literary devices forever and ever. October then. Bringing a dark and nostalgic spirituality – I want to read ghost stories and I will read Wuthering Heights for the billionth time and I wouldn’t have it any other way. November and December come forth with traditions – the Victorians, please.

If you have been reading Charlotte Reads Classics since my old, infinitely more productive writing days, you’ll know that nothing fires up my enthusiasm like a book with big landscapes. Most recently found in Sons and Lovers, akin to the natural, pastoral, wildness of the Brontës. This is what I need in the winter – big reading.

Books I would recommend saving for winter:

  • Bleak House, Charles Dickens
  • Clarissa, Samuel Richardson
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë
  • The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

My winter book this year might be The History of Tom Jones: A Foundling by Henry Fielding. Have you read it? I also would like to try The Castle of Otranto this month to get a quick gothic fix. If I should have a studious book blogger month, I would like to compare the new Rosamund Bartlett translation of Anna Karenina to my dearest, most beloved copy. We shall see what the nights bring.

The book that prompted me to write my first blog post in months (I have of course missed you dreadfully) was one I found in the library this afternoon: Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole. I had never heard of it before, but the blurb was utterly impossible to resist:

The first volume of The Herries Chronicle, which recounts the dramatic fortunes of one family from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century, in a magnificent Lake District setting. Here is fiction in glorious, sweeping measure, set against wild and beautiful scenery and crowded with fairs, balls, weddings, duels, witches, abductions, murder and romance.

Rogue Herries tells the story of the larger than life Francis Herries who uproots his family from Yorkshire and brings them to live in Borrowdale where their life is as dramatic as the landscape surrounding them. Proud, violent and impetuous, he despises his first wife, sells his mistress at a county fair and forms a great love for the teenage gypsy Mirabell Starr. Alongside this turbulent story runs that of his own son David, with enemies of his own, and that of his gentle daughter Deborah, with placid dreams that will not be realised in her father’s house.

The book was published in 1930 and the author was a contemporary and friend of writers like Henry James, John Galsworthy and Virginia Woolf. Whilst they have entered the canon, Walpole’s popularity seems to have vanished almost entirely after his death. There also seems to have been a bit of a scandal regarding W. Somerset Maugham’s novel Cakes and Ale. So with positive and negative reviews, we’ll see.

If you’d like to take my advice on winter reading, here is a handy checklist for when you’re inspired:

  1. Mood lighting. No winter reading should be indulged in harsh glare. Candle light whilst romantic, will hold you back. Aim for something in between.
  2. Heating. It’s cold outside and you will need to be tucked under your finest quilt or woolly blanket for the most immersive reading. Hands can be warmed around a hot mug. Get someone to cook something homely for you.
  3. Reading material. Preferably over 400 pages because you’re compensating for an extra four hours daylight. Pick a classic because they’re tried and tested. Bonus points for themed reading.

The World Was Reduced to the Surface of Her Skin

Art is an old language with a great many artificial affected styles, and sometimes the chief pleasure one gets out of knowing them is the mere sense of knowing. I enjoy the art of all sorts here immensely; but I suppose if I could pick my enjoyment to pieces I should find it made up of many different threads.

I love this quite from Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch and it is particularly handy when I want to write about an author with a very specific style. This is a writer who is so refreshingly original that it is a pleasure to read his books solely for the pleasure of knowing them.

There is no way you could read Gabriel Garcia Marquez and mistake his writing for anyone else. One Hundred Years of Solitude is set in the fictional village of Macondo, in a typical (if there can be such a thing) Latin American country. The things Macondo faces are things that Marquez would have experienced during his childhood in Columbia: civil war, fruit plantations, small villages transitioning into modernity. Whilst the story is of its place, there are plenty of universal themes here; life, love, sadness, loneliness, tradition and family.

Marquez once said that “[a]fter the death of my grandfather, nothing really happened to me any more”. This happened when he was eight. In many ways people read his signature style of magical realism as the world seen through the eyes of a child. This novel is certainly full of that sort of imaginative power.

At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

Firstly, Marquez is king of beautiful sentences. Just read it! The village is founded by the family and has a real Garden of Eden sort of vibe. The Bible here is the magical element mixed with the reality of evolution (‘prehistoric eggs’). This immediately sets the tone for the kind of storytelling that follows. This is a story of a town who suffers from insomnia, of alchemy, gypsies and revolution. Family history becomes myth and legend, and the imagery is outstanding.

The only problem I had whilst reading One Hundred Years of Solitude was that I found it hard to keep all the characters straight – there are about twenty-five Aurelianos! However, even this has a poetic explanation: Time in this novel is not linear and generations of family history is told as though it was happening all at once. Plenty of characters live until well over a hundred, and even the dead don’t always keep quiet.

People say Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ writing is like a carnival and I would agree. It is colourful, always moving, vibrant, strange and foreign. A wonderful combination.

The Lives of Readers

Scenes which make vital changes in our neighbours’ lot are but the background of our own, yet, like a particular aspect of the fields and trees, they become associated for us with the epochs of our own history, and make a part of that unity which lies in the selection of our keenest consciousness.

 

I came across this, my favourite Middlemarch quotes, and wanted to share it with you today. I think it can say a lot about not just our individual lives, but about our experiences as readers.

Just a little post, as there is cinnamon and orange baking away in the oven. Hope everyone’s Christmas plans are going smoothly.

 

Night Walks

 

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Tis the season, and I am exhausted. But jolly. I love this time of year, even though work is absolute chaos. I’ve wrapped all my presents and turned the heating up. I’m still loving reading Middlemarch, slowly, and am just about to finish book three.

 

Whilst battling the crowds and stealing precious quiet moments away to myself, I fancied something light. You might think Dickens doesn’t quite fit this category, but this is a little book from the Penguin Great Ideas series.

Night Walks describes Dickens’ suffering as an insomniac, instead of sleeping he  goes out walking the streets of London until the small hours.

The restlessness of a great city, and the way in which it tumbles and tosses before it can get to sleep, formed one of the first entertainments offered to the contemplation of us houseless persons.

I love this essay as a document of times been and gone. Anything that lets us glimpse into human life, the unseen every day, is completely fascinating. Must read The Diary of Samuel Pepys next year.

Slow Paths, Scenic Route

With just one day off before Christmas Day, things are getting pretty manic. I am still reading Middlemarch, albeit incredibly slowly, but I am enjoying savouring these small dips in and out of the tangled lives of this provincial town. A great touch has been reading Lydgate’s visits to various important members of the community whilst on my own daily journeys. These are quiet moments, away from  busy modern life, a lifeline to a bit of peace.

Not that the lives of the characters in Middlemarch were necessarily peaceful, of course. I had planned to write a beginner’s guide to the reform bill of 1832, although finding the time has been impossible. Ever so briefly, the bill was the turning point in gaining equality in politics and had been a long time coming – ever since the French Revolution. Here are some things that happened because of it:

  • People able to vote almost doubled
  • Power of voting given to those lower in social/economic classes (but still only the rich middle classes)
  • Members of Parliament were redistributed to correspond to the population

Reading very briefly into this means I’ll be keeping an eye out for the rising middle classes in Middlemarch. And hopefully the political part will make more sense. I really enjoyed all your comments about the male/female narrator and George Eliot, they are certainly fuel for thought.

Up tomorrow – a new discovery I’ve very high hopes for…

Hear of Things So High and Strange

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Mrs James Guthrie by Frederic Lord Leighton

There is nothing quite like rediscovering an old favourite. Middlemarch is a book I remember being bowled over by. I was expecting a dry, complicated read (as a teenager I was probably put off by the politics) but was captivated by the world and relationships Eliot created. Now, eight years later, I am returning to see how things have changed.

I finished the first book yesterday evening and am happy to report that though I may be different, Dorothea is as readable as ever. The first book is mainly about the sisters, although other characters are introduced towards the end. Thinking about Eliot writing as a man, I enjoyed finding her both cutting of silly women but supportive of the capabilities of others in turn. I think her world view is very sensible and think she’d probably be quite an inspiring woman to have met in the 1870s.

Seeing as the book covers all aspects of life before the First Reform Bill of 1832, it occurs to me that this is a historical event that I should read up on. Something for tomorrow’s post, perhaps.

All the Charm, All the Beauty of Life is Made Up of Light and Shadow

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As many of you will have already seen, o is reading Russian Literature in 2014.

A plan I had for this year but made no progress with whatsoever, other than writing many many enthusiastic posts about Anna Karenina. At the moment the list I am considering is:

  • Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy, again, always
  • War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
  • Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev
  • Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
  • Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  • A Hero of Our Time, Mikhail Lermontov

There are some re-reads but mostly I’d like to read the fill some of the more obvious gaps in my knowledge. I do love this time of year when it comes to making reading lists, and plans, and lists, and piles of books stacked by the bed, and more lists, and ambition, and learning, and more and more lists of life changing books.

Legends from the Ancient North

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The house is halfway to Christmas. We have a tree standing only in its green glory, the house smells of baked orange slices and I’ve almost finished this year’s wreath. Everything is feeling wonderfully infused with tradition.

The connection between history and tradition is something I have been thinking about a lot recently as I prepared to return to blogging. This time of year makes me want to get on and make things; presents for friends, decorations for the house, food for my family. A big part of it is because it connects us to what people have always done. It is as true today as it was hundreds of years ago.

There was a documentary on last night about folk music and how we are starting to be less satisfied by what is manufactured and looking towards what can be hand crafted. A love of what is genuine and real, an interest in how things used to be made. This made me think about our oldest classic literature. Penguin have released a series of titles (all with beautiful covers) that inspired Tolkein’s Middle Earth. Out of all of the titles it was Beowulf that caught my eye. The oldest surviving work in English, it is definitely one that I am going to read in 2014. It is a work that is partly  a great story, but when read today it’s also about history, ancient customs and heritage.

We are all living on part of a larger timeline, and I can’t think of a better way of connecting to it than by reading the classics and by keeping traditions alive.

Good Morning, Middlemarch

 

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I feed too much on the inward sources; I live too much with the dead. My mind is something like the ghost of an ancient, wandering about the world and trying mentally to construct it as it used to be, in spite of ruin and confusing changes.

 

I started reading Middlemarch this morning and adored this quotation from the truly terrible catch that is Mr. Casaubon. I thought it was particularly amusing in light of yesterday’s post…