Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Tag: Emma

Endings, of Sorts

Time has been flying by this month and I’ve ended up posting this a lot later than I thought I would have. This post is a bit of a mash up of my reading over the last two weeks before Christmas – Christmas posts to follow shortly!

After my bout of complaining about Sense and Sensibility I did manage to complete Emma. I even enjoyed it. It was the first time I had read it, and found its silliness somewhat light relief after ploughing through Sense and Sensibility. I loved the character of Emma’s father; his gruel in the evening, panic at dining in company, wariness of chills, robbers, colds, overexertion, wet feet, mist, marriages… As for Emma herself, I thought she was pretty lucky that everyone was so tolerant and adoring of her. I’m not sure she’d get the same reaction today – although Cher was pretty believable in Clueless. I wonder if Austen felt a little bit of glee in sending up women like Emma (I hope so!). I suppose I read Austen for the marriages not the money, although I did miss having a heroine I truly wanted the best for.

I called it a day on Advent with Austen after that, but I was pleased with what I managed. I read Death Comes to Pemberley, Jane’s Fame, Sense and Sensibility and Emma. My conclusions are: I admire Austen for the legacy she has left and I have no desire to ever read an Austen spin off. At long last I have read all of Austen’s major novels and my order of preference is:

  • Northanger Abbey
  • Persuasion
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Emma
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • Mansfield Park
I didn’t get to read Claire Tomalin’s biography or Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon, but thats okay – they’ll just sit snugly on the shelf until their time comes.
Following the Austenathon I needed something new, but guaranteed to be brilliant. I started writing a round up of the this years reading when the solution was obvious – Margaret Atwood. She is one of my very favourite authors, who I first discovered back in January. I read The Handmaid’s Tale and was immediately hooked by Atwood’s immense talent and sheer genius. She is so intelligent and such a brilliant writer. She creates characters I feel I know inside and out, people I’ve lived with, loved, parted with, and missed as soon as the book is over. I then picked The Blind Assassin and Alias Grace to read back to back and loved them both too. So I chose the last two Atwoods on my bookshelf to see the year out as it began.
Cat’s Eye or The Robber Bride? I could read them both (and did!) but which to start with? I read the opening lines of both:
‘Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space.’ – Cat’s Eye
‘The story of Zenia ought to begin when Zenia began.’ – The Robber Bride
I eventually picked Cat’s Eye because of the introduction by Ali Smith – nothing but praise, enthusiasm and an urging sense that not reading this book means you are missing out… It turns out I had been missing out, because Cat’s Eye is a fantastic book. I absolutely fell in love with the main character, Elaine. The book is about childhood, growing up, bullying, depression, creativity and the passing of time. It was such a realistic portrayal of childhood innocence and the way the rituals and games of youth are remembered. This has definitely overtaken The Blind Assassin as my favourite of all Margaret Atwood’s book which I’ve read so far.

The Robber Bride didn’t hook me in quite the same way: it wasn’t instant love like Cat’s Eye but a growing interest in the characters. Zenia is a fantastic literary villain – after a few chapters I couldn’t believe how much I disliked her! I can’t recommend Margaret Atwood’s books enough, because I haven’t read books by many other authors with such a fantastic imagination.

Lost the Will to Austen

Advent with Austen has had the very unfortunate (and unexpected) outcome of making me unable to read any more. Before I started this, I had grown up appreciating Austen – ever since my Mum and I watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice adaptation. I was eight and had found the pinnacle of romance. We visited the stately homes, talked about the merits of and empire line and I read the book.

So far, so good. At University I had to study Mansfield Park. Despite this being Jane’s favourite I couldn’t get into it, but put that down to (a) studying it, and (b) that Mansfield Park and the heroine differs to her other novels. So even though I was never taken with Mansfield Park I still considered myself an Austen fan. A few years later I read Northanger Abbey and fell in love. Not only that, but it introduced me to a whole genre of writing that I’m still enjoying discovering. Quite recently I added Persuasion to my list, and carried on appreciating Austen.

The first book I read for Advent with Austen was Jane’s Fame by Claire Harman. I really enjoyed this book and it whet my appetite for exploring more of Austen’s writing. The best part of Jane’s Fame is how Harman captures the reception of Austen’s work through each century after publication. I also found out which authors Austen enjoyed – Samuel Richardson for one, an author I can’t wait to try, and who I cannot mention without a reference to o’s review of Clarissa (probably my favourite ever book blog review).

My overall feeling reading Jane’s Fame was guilt for not having read the major novels, let alone any of the short/ unfinished stuff. So here was my opportunity, and Sense and Sensibility was dusted off. As you may have read – I didn’t like it! But other people do! It is some people’s favourite Austen novel! Alas, even with a weeks hindsight, I still don’t see it – and everyone else’s reviews just leave me confused.

Perhaps against my better judgement I decided that finishing the big six would make me feel better so I went straight onto Emma. It has been a week, I’m barely half way through, I have 29 chapters to go and I seem to have lost all enthusiasm for reading. I’m bored. I’m bored with Austen. How has it all gone so wrong? I really and truly love three of her books. Why is she ruining this for me? Maybe this is a lesson in not just liking classics for the sake of their canonical value. I suppose its very unlikely that I’m going to love every classic I read. But the status of books as ‘classics’ heightens their worth for me – they have stood the test of time and are part of history. They shape writing today and in the case of Austen, they shape popular culture.

I’ll finish Emma, but it won’t be the achievement I thought it would be before I started. I can’t be alone in this: Are there any classic authors or novels you felt sure you would love but didn’t?