Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Tag: Long Reads

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 Last Book List of 2012

I’ve been living in my new house for a couple of months now and I have finally got all my bookshelves back up and organised – including my bookcase of classics.

A small selection…

Obviously this means I have been rediscovering my books and I am craving a doorstop of a read. Chunky books, long reads; I love them. These are the ones from my bookshelves that I am itching to start:

  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  • Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (well, I did start this one… I just stopped)

Alas with seven weeks of the year left I won’t be able to read them all this year, plus I’m not mentioning that I started and laid aside both Martin Chuzzlewit and Shirley. I will get around to finishing both (I don’t give up on books!) but neither of them are right for what kind of book I’m in the mood for.

I am currently reading The Quincunx by Charles Pallister – also a long read at 1191 pages! I’m just over half way through so I think I’ll finish this week. Has anyone else read this? I am really enjoying it. It is a Victorian mystery but written by a modern author. I’ll do a proper write up when I’ve finished but so far, so good, and its great for storytelling in the style of Dickens and Wilkie Collins.

The next book I want to conquer is Clarissa. I’ve already read 500-ish pages of it so it only seems right to read this before I start another massive book. I’ve got 957 pages to go, and six weeks to read them in. That amounts to 159 (and a half) per week – easy. We’ll see anyway. I originally wanted to read Les Miserables by the time the film was released in January (I think) but that might be a bit too short notice. But that will be the next long read after Clarissa because I keep reading other people’s posts about it at the moment. Original credit must go to o, because I immediately bought a copy after reading this.

In conclusion – let’s celebrate winter 2012 by staying inside and reading really long classics.

Bloom, Odysseus, Molly and Me

I put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.

I have journeyed through Ulysses and have lived to tell the tale! This book is nothing but filled with highs and lows. The beginning and ending of the book are amongst the best of any book I have read, but the middle was a winding, secret path full of language and styles that I couldn’t quite grasp.

Ulysses has been described as a modernist thesaurus of possibility which, I think, says it all. When I think of Modernism, I think of Joyce and Woolf striving to write individual subjective experiences. They aren’t like Austen or Eliot whose narrators understand and interpret the world for the reader. But modernism is also a break from past traditions of culture, as well as writing; sexuality, humour, frankness, city scenes, consumerism and so on. What a revolution reading this book would be, if you had never even considered the possibility of a book capturing someone’s thoughts and listening to those thoughts as they come sprawling through white noise. To be able to read a book that represented your own life.

I think what made Ulysses a scandal is the same thing that makes it readable (in parts). For every classical allusion, there is a joke. There are crude bits, bodily bits, bawdy bits, rude bits. It is frank, honest, and real. Whilst these are things today’s reader can appreciate – I suppose because we have conversations that are all of those things – early readers found the novel depressing and chaotic. I wonder what people will make of it in the future? Imagine Ulysses being quaint and outmoded!

The sentences I really loved were the descriptive ones: Joyce certainly is a master of language. I wasn’t expecting to find sentences like the ones I quoted from Telemachus in a book like this one. And I’ll just mention again how great Molly’s soliloquy is… just so you know I really mean it. IT’S WORTH IT. When I read that episode I wished there had been more of her in the book, but I don’t think the chapter would have had such an impact. It’s impossible to think of ways Ulysses would have been improved, because every little detail that I didn’t like makes the book the book it is. For example, I didn’t like some of the styles Joyce used because I found them confusing, but if you take the experimental parts away then it just wouldn’t be the same.

I would recommend reading The Odyssey first, or at least try looking into the incidents that Joyce names his episodes after. According to Joyce, Odysseus was the greatest character in literature and Charles Lamb’s Adventures of Ulysses was a massive influence. This version of The Odyssey splits the story into individual tales, much like the structure of Ulysses itself. Leopold Bloom and Odysseus are, on the surface, very different people. The absolute ordinariness of Bloom’s day – and the book – meant (I think) that any man’s day is an Odyssey. The puzzles and enigmas referred to in the book aren’t always the classical, mythological, high brow references you might think – you can look those up, after all. The puzzles and difficult parts often occur from ordinary circumstances (like the horse race that confused me so greatly). To fully understand anyone’s life, any person’s thoughts is tricky.

All in all, its been good to read a book I was afraid of. I was taken on a voyage through Dublin, through the history of language, through style and thought and description. Reading Ulysses was my very own Odyssey.

Reading Schedules and Other Misadventures

I haven’t been posting very much because I have spent my time (productively) reading – probably one of my better excuses! I had three books to tackle for specific dates but I had forgotten how plans are more fun to make than to follow. The last eleven days or so have been working to this list:

  • Clarissa, Letters 81-160, by April 30th, so as to not get left behind
  • As I Lay Dying, for a book club meeting tomorrow
  • Wolf Hall, by today, ready for the release of Bring Up the Bodies tomorrow

I’ve done it! The April chunk of Clarissa was finished at about 11.30pm on April 30th, I finished As I Lay Dying exactly a week ago, and I finished Wolf Hall about half an hour ago. Hurrah, now some writing to wind down / wrap up. Please excuse the mingling of books: I can’t face writing three separate posts.

Clarissa, Letters 81 – 160, April 6th – April 30th

Clarissa is finally out of the house! She had been kept inside being a disappointment to her family since I began the book back in January, which is a claustrophobic kind of feeling that I think I would have missed if I hadn’t been reading along with the dates. I don’t think I’d have been a very patient correspondent though, her attitude towards Lovelace and her tendency to miss what seems (to the modern reader) incredibly obvious is frustrating to say the least. I’m actually quite pleased to have a scoundrel in the book because otherwise the sheer good-naturedness of Clarissa herself would be a little too hard to bear. I’m pleased that there is a bit more action, but I think I need to devote a little bit more time to this book before it turns into a chore. Maybe I’m just not cut out for two timing my books!

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

This is my second read of Wolf Hall: I loved it the first time, but I adore it so much more now. I’m really glad I read this book again, not just so I’ll know where the second book will be picking up from, but because I got so much more from it. Yes, there were still a bajillion characters called Thomas but I was ready for them. I knew they were hiding in the woodwork so they didn’t catch me unaware.

I felt I really got to grips with the detail of the book and picked up on parts that completely overwhelmed me during my first read. There was more humour, more memories, more texture than I remembered from last time. I could just ramble about how brilliant a writer Hilary Mantel is – she’s up there as one of my absolute favourites. Read her books! Read them now!

You can have silence full of words. A lute retains, in its bowl, the notes it has played. The viol, in its strings, holds a concord. A shrivelled petal can hold it’s scent, a prayer can rattle with curses; an empty house, when the owners have gone out, can still be loud with ghosts.

Sigh.

The wait is nearly over. Bring Up the Bodies is out tomorrow, I’m SO EXCITED.

In other literary news, I have recently read (although not a classic) The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman, and was lucky enough to meet her last week! I solemnly swear to write about it properly very soon. But the book was great and M. L. was lovely and very interesting to talk to.

Clarissa, Letters 31 – 80

Letters 31 – 80, March 13th – April 5th

For had they not been imposed upon her by nature, when she was in a perverse humour, or could she have chosen her relations, would any of these have been among them?

I stuck to my guns and didn’t start a new book until I had caught up with some Clarissa. As long as the dates in the novel don’t overtake the actual date I’ve decided that means I’m doing alright. As ever, plot discussion and spoilers are limited to the next paragraph only.

This section contains the first of Lovelace’s letters. He claims extravagantly to be in love with Clarissa, but his previous character of a universal lover haunts him. We can gather that Clarissa is a prize rather than a wife and the pleasure of the catch is heightened by his dislike of her family and an opportunity to get one up on them. Clarissa tries to appeal to her uncles for help but they are a united front, rallying with her family. They assume she is rejecting their choice of husband as she only wants Mr. Lovelace. Clarissa claims to prefer Lovelace, but only because Solmes is such a bad match for her in terms of education and interests, she sticks to her previous assertion that she would rather remain single than marry either of them. After visits from various relatives, she is told she will be carried off to her Uncle’s house (complete with moat!) and married like it or not the following week. After offering to give up her inheritance, her parents then decide she can remain at home for a week as long as she spends one hour in Solmes’ company. Obviously this goes horribly, lots of shouting and weeping, for some reason Solmes thinks this is some kind of coyness and will continue his suit. Clarissa is to prepare for immediate travel whilst attempting to flee to stay with Anna Howe.

– Spoilers over! –

After such a long break from this book I initially had the same language struggles as I did at the beginning. But after some fair few pages, I got back into the swing of things. I find it difficult to compare Clarissa to modern novels, I suppose because writing letters to people is not the same activity it was in the 1700s. Considering it is a book filled with people writing incredibly long letters to (in many cases) people in the same house as them, it is actually quite exciting!

Now that I am a bit further into it, the characters are starting to gain more shape. As the tension increases, so does their passion, and the debates take on a more philosophical context. Richardson doesn’t shy away from discussing the different statuses of men and women or brothers and sisters. For a male writer in the 1700s when women were more of a margin, a commodity, his treatment of what marriage would be like for a young girl is surprisingly sensitive:

Once more, let me repeat, that this is not a small point to give up: and that it is for life. Why, I pray you, good sir, should I be made miserable for life? […] Marriage is a very solemn engagement, enough to make a young creature’s heart ache, with the best prospects, when she thinks seriously of it! – To be given up to a strange man; to be engrafted into  strange family; to give up her very name, as a mark of her becoming his absolute and dependent property: to be obliged to prefer this strange man to father, mother – to everybody: and his humours to all her own […] Surely, sir, a young creature ought not to be obliged to make all these sacrifices but fo such a man as she can approve. If she is, how sad must be the case! – how miserable the life, if to be called life!

Great paragraph, no? I’m certainly pleased I won’t be marrying an eighteenth century man.

In the last part of this commentary, I wasn’t enamoured with Clarissa herself: This has changed somewhat, as her arguments develop from the initial I just don’t want to. I have enjoyed the introduction of her Uncles, as they make me sympathise more with her parents views than I did at first.

Yes, I’m happy to have picked this back up. On a less serious subject of reading I have rewarded myself for all this Clarissa-ing by reading The Hunger Games trilogy. It isn’t a classic in a historical sense, but I may have to post about them because I’m surprised at how much I’m enjoying them! Watch this space.

The Classics Club

The Classics Club, created by the lovely Jillian is a new book club. Pick 50-200 classics and choose when you want to read them by.

In the next five years I plan to read these classics. At the moment there are 78 – I have tied this challenge into my own personal goal of reading all the books already sitting on my shelves, so that is how I’ve chosen my list.

All the books are new to me, and I’m looking forward to tracking my progress. See the page at the top of my blog for quick links.

I love the sound of this club, because it is a brilliant way to find new blogs and classic fans… and there is no pressure!

Read the rest of this entry »

Clarissa, Letters 16 – 30

My standard Clarissa Commentary disclaimer: The first paragraph is plot. The rest is spoiler free!

Letters 16 – 30 : March 3rd – March 12th

As you can see from the timeframe, there is a lot more happening and letters are flying around everywhere. Clarissa receives several visits from her mother, who is lenient one moment and unwavering the next. What was previously  guesswork is confirmed: It is the wishes of her family to marry Solmes. There is a lot of discussion of duty and Clarissa’s ‘previously agreeable’ character is called into question. She is banished to her room for the foreseeable future, forbidden to speak to her family and only allowed to walk in the garden (supervised) when nobody else is there. Her faithful servant is dismissed for aiding in communication between Clarissa and Lovelace. For all her protesting that Lovelace is too forward and gives her unwanted attention, there must be something appealing in him, as it seems Clarissa would give up writing him letters if she truly didn’t like him. Miss Howe advises Clarissa to claim her inheritance and retire to her estate, but Clarissa doesn’t want to do this as it would further anger her family. This section finishes with a little show down in church: Lovelace is there and compliments Clarissa’s mother. She accepts. Presumably this will be Clarissa’s fault too…

~

I was given some very good advice when I was struggling with the language of the book in the first part of my commentary. This was to keep reading because I would get the hang of it: It is true! I’m very happy to pass this on to other Clarissa readers. I really liked the idea of the Clarissa Readalong (see Terri and JoAnn) which was to read the book over a year on the dates the letters were written. I think this sounds brilliant because it would be like living the events of the novel with the characters, but I really needed to read a chunk of this to get into the language. I think if I ever re-read Clarissa (getting ahead of myself and seeing a time in the future where I will have finished it!) I would probably follow the dates.

The book as a historical artifact is really taking shape for me. The discussion of women’s duty and character is so interesting, because for a lot of women today arranged / forced marriages and male relatives taking control of your property isn’t an issue. It might be the epistolary form that highlights this – the novel and the letters were written to be a copy from life. I read in one of the many introductory pages that Richardson got the idea for Clarissa when he was asked to write a book / pamphlet to educate people in the correct letter writing style. I haven’t previously been particularly attracted to the epistolary novel but am finding it really readable. I reckon the form should make a comeback.

I’ve not completely warmed to Clarissa herself yet, she seems a little too good. I like Miss Howe who is maybe a little bit more satirical – she describes herself as flippant. Perhaps she seems more modern. Clarissa on the other hand – too forgiving? Too misguided? I’m not sure but she’s very much still a character to me, rather than a person.

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.

The Daily Dickens

Bleak House

Bleak House, Charles Dickens

Next year is Dickens’s 200th anniversary, a good time to correct some assumptions I had about him. I read Great Expectations a few years ago, and whilst I didn’t loathe it, I didn’t love it either. This might be because I had to study it, but mainly I thought it was bleak, depressing, and I hated all of the characters (with a slight exception towards Miss Havisham). I decided afterwards that all Dickens novels must be like this one and I wouldn’t like those either.

Well, I was WRONG. I picked Bleak House for a few reasons, mostly superficial:

  1. When I read Howards End is On the Landing, Susan Hill says it is her favourite of all of Dickens’s novels. Anything that might be an influence on Susan Hill seems like a good a recommendation as any.
  2. The penguin cover uses detail from Waterloo Lake, Roundhay Park, Leeds by Atkinson Grimshaw (1829) which has a lovely, atmospheric, slightly gothic quality.
  3. I adore the challenge of a long book.

Rather helpfully, Bleak House was split into twenty parts, published in nineteen monthly installments March 1852 to September 1853 and so the Daily Dickens challenge began.

“Bleak House operates outside, as well as within, its mid-Victorian context. Not only do its themes strike us with surprising immediacy: law, social justice and all the dangers of a diseased society, from political complacency to misdirected philanthropy leading to compassion fatigue; child abuse by neglect, exploitation or emotional deprivation; questions of feminism, the problems of working mothers and dependent parents; the psychology of escapism and frustration, depression and despair; even the deadening effects of the class system have survived the nineteenth century.” -Nicola Bradbury
The broad scope of the novel was incredibly appealing; Dickens included a whole range of society from slums to aristocratic drawing rooms. The novel’s central theme of  the Jarndyce and Jarndyce chancery suit creates very middle class main characters Esther, Ada and Richard. I liked Esther’s narrative running throughout the book, but she is definitely not the most interesting character. The court case spreads to include other levels of society (both above and below) which is where the really eccentric characters join the story.
One of my favourite characters was Lady Dedlock. At first her boredom and restlessness seems typical of her status, but as you delve into her life story her cool exterior becomes fascinating. The discussion of women’s choices in marriage and childbirth were given quite a respectable place in Bleak House, although their actual actions were of course governed by the conventions of the time.
Now that I have finished reading Bleak House, I feel as though I have been let into seeing the world as it was.

Penguin are holding a Dickens Readathon; attempting to read all of Dicken’s sixteen novels, one per month, finishing in the anniversary year. Whilst this is too ambitious a task for me with all the other reading I do, I can definitely now count myself a Dickens fan and will enjoy reading more of his novels in the future.

A Place of Greater Safety

A Place of Greater Safety, Hilary Mantel

This book is historical fiction at its finest. I was in the mood to read something really long, and this fitted that requirement beautifully, at a lovely eight hundred or so pages. A Place of Greater Safety is the story of three men: Danton, Robespierre and Desmoulins, told pretty much chronologically. The men turn out to be instrumental and powerful in and after the french revolution in 1789. My only criticism is Mantel manages to make this exciting period of history a little bit too soap opera. Even so, it was a very satisfying read, and I enjoyed the twists and turns of the characters’ fates.