Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Category: Quotes

A Collection of Characters

Great Expectations, 1860-1861

I am happy to report that when you aren’t forced to read Great Expectations, you really really love Great Expectations. I might even say really really really love it. It was an absolute pleasure to read from beginning to end; it has so many brilliantly drawn characters, a gripping atmosphere and an absolutely fantastic plot. I think this quotation completely sums up everything about Great Expectations:

That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.

Dickens, you blow my mind. I read that passage, paused, and shivered contentedly. I think Pip as a boy is the key to the universal appeal of this story. The childhood Dickens describes rings so true – it is a bit like reading a part of yourself that you had forgotten. For example, the way Pip imagines how his mother and father looked according to the shape and inscriptions of their gravestones: its so easy to forget as an adult how you once pictured the world as a child.

No review of Great Expectations is complete without a bit of Miss Havisham. She has to be one of my favourite literary characters. On first impressions I admired Dickens’ imagination for thinking of things like stopping the clocks, letting things rot and floating about in a wedding dress. However, on reflection (and a second read) I think it is more admirable to think about what she represents. She is actually very human, she is the worst in all of us.

“I’ll tell you,” said she, in the same hurried passionate whisper, “what real love is. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter – as I did!”

There are so many dimensions to her that I think I would see something different every time I read this book, even if I read it hundreds of times.

The last of my adoring quoting is to do with Dickens’ writing itself. When I read this I had to tell the person I was sat next to what had happened. Luckily I was sitting at home and didn’t have to resort to quoting at strangers. Basically there is a normal paragraph where Pip is out and about in his usual London haunts. And then right at the close of the chapter, Dickens writes:

What was the nameless shadow which again in that one instant had passed?

Oh yes. He manages to completely change your attitude towards the entirety of what you have just read with thirteen words. Yes, he has just irrevocably changed the atmosphere and tone. Yes, you are now tense. Yes, you are hooked. Yes, without reference to the shadow previously you know exactly which shadow he is talking about.

YES, DICKENS, YOU ARE A BLOODY GENIUS.

Clarissa, Letters 1 – 15

The year has begun with a very long book, and so I don’t lose the plot (heh) I will be making an ongoing commentary of Clarissa. I did this most of the way through War and Peace so I could remember all the little details I loved. I won’t explicitly put in any twists (if there are any, I don’t know yet), but this commentary will discuss the plot so please don’t read if you don’t want to know the events of Clarissa!

Letters 1 – 15, January 10th – March 3rd

Clarissa is writing to her friend Miss Howe concerning the details of her family’s introduction to Mr. Lovelace. At first he is treated as a friend of the family with designs on her older sister, Arabella. Arabella is vain, and flatters herself with this supposed attention, which comes to nothing. Her opinion of Mr. Lovelace quickly turns sour, and is supported by her brother James. If this was a battle, I’d say a small skirmish breaks out, James is wounded, and Lovelace contrite. Clarissa is sent to stay with her friend Miss Howe, whilst her family concerns themselves with seeing her married off. On her return home, Clarissa is horrified to discover her family’s plot of having her marry Mr. Solmes. She discovers the motivations to be that her brother is jealous of the estate she received in her grandfather’s will, and her sister wants to see her married to prevent her from marrying Lovelace. In the last letter of this bundle Miss Howe consoles Clarissa about her impending marriage.

Enjoyable quotes so far:

If a man could not make a lady in courtship own herself pleased with him, it was as much and oftentimes more to his purpose to make her angry with him. (Letter 3)

My reading so far is going ok, although the language is more tricky than I thought it would be. The novel was written just a little bit earlier (1747) than others I have read, so the slightly unfamiliar turn of phrase is something I will have to get used to as I read on. At the moment reading is requiring more concentration than usual. My main challenge with this book so far is working out how to read comfortably! This book is huge: It is so tall as well as thick that I’m trying to find a way of holding it up without serious arm ache! Still, I’d pick paper and ink over a soulless imitation any day, sore arm or no…

I’m also trying to get used to reading more than one book at a time. I’m reading Clarissa in bed at night (and early in the morning) but continuing with Great Expectations in the day. This has resulted in me feeling a bit like I’m not reading much of either! Still I am liking the bedtime book experience and am already planning what would be a good one to read next. I’m thinking The Diaries of Samuel Pepys. But mustn’t get ahead of myself because I think I’ll be reading Clarissa for the foreseeable future.

Turning the Screw

If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children-?

– Henry James, The Turn of the Screw

I’ve managed to scare myself with this book already, and I’m not even halfway through.

Bleak House Quotes

It was interesting, when I dressed before daylight, to peep out of the window, where my candles were reflected in the black panes like two beacons, and, finding all beyond still enshrouded in the indistinctness of last night, to watch how it turned out when the day came on. As the prospect gradually revealed itself, and disclosed the scene over which the wind had wandered in the dark, like my memory over my life, I had a pleasure in discovering the unknown objects that had been around me in my sleep. At first they were faintly discernible in the mist, and above them the later stars still glimmered. That pale interval over, the picture began to enlarge and fill up so fast, that, at every new peep, I could have found enough to look at for an hour. Imperceptibly, my candles became the only incongruous part of the morning, the dark places in my room all melted away.
Charles Dickens, Bleak House

The Weird Sisters Quote

Because despite his money and his looks and all the good-on-paper attributes he possessed, he was not a reader, and, well, let’s just say that is the sort of nonsense up with which we will not put.
Eleanor Brown, The Weird Sisters

Mapp and Lucia Quote

It was a mellow morning of October, the season, as Luca reflected, of mists and mellow fruitfulness, wonderful John Keats.
E. F. Benson, Mapp and Lucia

Cold Comforting Humour

‘I think it’s degrading of you, Flora,’ cried Mrs Smiling at breakfast. ‘Do you truly mean that you don’t ever want to work at anything?’
Her friend replied after some thought:
‘Well, when I am fifty-three or so I would like to write a novel as good as “persuasion”, but with a modern setting, of course. For the next thirty years or so I shall be collecting material for it. If anyone asks me what I work at, I shall say, “Collecting material.” No one can object to that. Besides, so I shall be.’
Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm

Favourite Lines from Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë – When she is good, she is very very good.

“I like this day; I like that sky of steel; I like the sternness and still-retirement, its old crow-trees and thorn-trees, its grey façade, and lines of dark windows reflecting that metal welkin: and yet how long have I abhorred the very thought of it, shunned it like a great plague-house?”

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”

“I am influenced – conquered; and the influence is sweeter than I can express; and the conquest I undergo has a witchery beyond any triumph I can win.”

The War at Home

Any cultivated Greek, Cleopatra included, could recite some part of the Illiad and the Odyssey by heart. The former was more popular in Cleopatra’s Egypt – it may have seemed a more pertinent tale for a turbulent time – but from an early age she would have known literarily what she at twenty-one discovered empirically: there were days you felt like waging war, and days when you just needed to go home.
Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra

The Night Watch Quote

Now she became aware of the minutes as they passed: she felt them, suddenly, for what they were, as fragments of her life, her youth, that were rushing away like so many drops of water, never to return.
Sarah Waters, The Night Watch