Posts Tagged ‘a month of re-reading in January’


Read for my on-going Hardy reading project – which we are well into now, and for me at least has been a total joy. The Mayor of Casterbridge has always been a favourite for me among Hardy’s novels, and so it remains. Although not quite cast in the same mould as those novels often referred to as his pastoral works, for the setting of this novel is largely a small market town, it is for me, reminiscent of those novels, in the scenes of the country fair-ground and the lives of the people of a small market town.

That the man and woman were husband and wife, and the parents of the girl in arms there could be little doubt. No other than such relationship would have accounted for the atmosphere of stale familiarity which the trio carried along with them like a nimbus as they moved down the road. The wife mostly kept her eyes fixed ahead, though with little interest–the scene for that matter being one that might have been matched at almost any spot in any county in England at this time of the year; a road neither straight nor crooked, neither level nor hilly, bordered by hedges, trees, and other vegetation, which had entered the blackened-green stage of colour that the doomed leaves pass through on their way to dingy, and yellow, and red. The grassy margin of the bank, and the nearest hedgerow boughs, were powdered by the dust that had been stirred over them by hasty vehicles, the same dust as it lay on the road deadening their footfalls like a carpet; and this, with the aforesaid total absence of conversation, allowed every extraneous sound to be heard. For a long time there was none, beyond the voice of a weak bird singing a trite old evening song that might doubtless have been heard on the hill at the same hour, and with the self-same trills, quavers, and breves, at any sunset of that season for centuries untold. But as they approached the village sundry distant shouts and rattles reached their ears from some elevated spot in that direction, as yet screened from view by foliage. When the outlying houses of Weydon-Priors could just be described, the family group was met by a turnip-hoer with his hoe on his shoulder, and his dinner- bag suspended from it. The reader promptly glanced up.
“Any trade doing here?” he asked phlegmatically, designating the village in his van by a wave of the broadsheet. And thinking the labourer did not understand him, he added, “Anything in the hay-trussing line?”
The turnip-hoer had already begun shaking his head. “Why, save the man, what wisdom’s in him that ‘a should come to Weydon for a job of that sort this time o’ year?

Young Michael Henchard and his wife Susan and their child Elizabeth-Jane arrive on foot at a country fair. Michael a hard drinking hay-trusser looking for work, is bound down by the responsibilities of being a family man. Foul tempered and spoiling for trouble, Michael sets to drinking rum as soon as the three arrive at the fair. Shockingly Michael offers his wife and daughter to the highest bidder in the midst of a drunken row, an unknown sailor steps forward, and Michael watches his wife and daughter leave with the stranger. The following day – horrified and ashamed at what he has done, Michael vows to stay off all strong drink for a period of twenty years – one year for each year he has so far spent on earth. In the years that follow, Michael Henchard establishes himself in Casterbridge as a respected member of the community.
Eighteen years after the incident at the country fair, Susan and her daughter return to the country fairground. To the same annual fair that Susan had left with the sailor years before, looking for someone who might know Michael Henchard. They are directed to Casterbridge. The Michael Henchard that Susan encounters now is a changed man, for he is now the Mayor of Casterbridge, a successful business man, with a large house. Henchard initially tries hard to right the wrongs of the past. However Henchard is a flawed man, self-destructive prone to dreadful rages and terrible envy. Yet though Henchard is often tempted to do dreadful things, to plot and scheme, and even plot terrible physical revenge, his sense of right and justice generally overrides his baser motivations. Henchard is a man driven by spontaneity fuelled by his temper – which then often quickly cools.
On the night that Susan and Elizabeth-Jane arrive in Casterbridge another newcomer arrives in Casterbridge, a Scotsman named Donald Farfrae, who in a similar line of business as Henchard, is persuaded by the mayor to stay in the town and go to work for him. Typically, Henchard in a moment spontaneous comradeship imparts the story of his past to his new friend. And so the scene is set for a masterly tale of secrets and lies, misunderstandings, disappearances and reappearances. The Mayor of Casterbridge is the story of a self- destructive man who is nonetheless a very human one. The Mayor of Casterbridge is a wonderfully fast paced construction of action and re-action, full of drama, intrigue and excitement. The fortunes of these men wax and wane, as one might expect from Thomas Hardy, and it is fair to say that the story of The Mayor of Casterbridge is not an especially happy one, but it is an unforgettable one. The story of Michael Henchard which was subtitled – the life and death of a man of character, is one of less melodrama than say Tess of the D’Urbervilles, it is as the subtitle suggests a novel which is very much character driven. Michael Henchard is the most important character of course and he eclipses all other characters in the book, he is a continuous presence even in the scenes he isn’t in. I have to admit that I rather like the character of Michael Henchard – he is a deeply flawed man, but one that I find quite sympathetic, because he is someone we can understand – even when we loathe his actions.


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jane eyre

In this my second month of re-reading I decided it was about time I caught up with my old friend Jane Eyre. We first became acquainted when I was very young, probably around eleven or twelve. I am now over forty, and in a strange way Jane has grown and aged with me. I am amused to wonder what I “got” from Jane Eyre –back when I was a seriously under achieving schoolgirl, the bare bones of the story no doubt and not much else. Yet Jane Eyre is a richly textured novel, which can be read on different levels and experienced in many different ways. I can’t remember when I last read Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece, although I know this was the fourth time I’d read it. I know, as I said I was around eleven when I first read it – and I know I read it again in my early twenties, so it is possible I have read it in (almost) each decade of my life. If so I think that is a custom I should continue.
I suspect for most of us Jane Eyre is a story we could tell quite confidently, in the same way perhaps we could tell Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or The Pied Piper. It is a story we know or we think we know so well, due in no small part to the various film dramatisations of it. Yet to fully appreciate the brilliance of this work, one does need to read it, and re-read it.
On the surface Jane Eyre is the story of an orphaned girl, unhappily brought up in the home of her aunt who does not want her in the house, sent to a charitable educational institution, where she meets her one first friend, later leaving to become a governess and fall in love with her employer. As a novel, Jane Eyre is still, 165 years on, hugely readable, an emotional page turner like no other, a quite brilliant story, that keeps readers up at night, reading on into the small hours – even when one already knows what happens.
However it is also in many ways a deeply fascinating political and feminist novel. Published in 1847 while the working class Chartism movement was coming to its climax, and women had virtually no rights, so often seen as mere chattels, the novel has been seen as a feminist manifesto. Jane Eyre, which advocates personal independence, and raises the issues associated with poverty and the abuse of children in charitable institutions, is also passionate and at times angry. The voice of Jane Eyre herself, from that of the ten year old we first meet up curled up in the window seat with a book, to the nineteen year old who flees from the life St John Rivers would have her lead is both fiercely spikey and intelligent.

“It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”

Jane knows her own mind, and often, unfashionably for the 1840’s speaks it. She is often angry, frustrated and deeply grieved, and through her we can see the angry frustration of her creator, at the unequal world she found herself part of. Jane is passionate and not afraid to show it. We feel Jane’s pain, and can’t help but cry for her.

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”

As a character, Jane Eyre is fairly conservative, even conventional at times. She shuns the impropriety of a relationship with the man she loves – even though she has no family to be harmed by it. Ultimately of course the ending is a conservative happy ever after – could we the reader have tolerated anything else? This is after all a story, an entertainment not a political treatise, and so I think we can forgive Charlotte her conservative ending, she herself while not wholly conventional, was not quite a banner waving radical.

charlotte bronte

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Some Tame Gazelle, or some gentle dove:
Something to love, oh something to love!
(Thomas Haynes Bayly)

My first read of 2013, and the first read of two reading challenges. Some Tame Gazelle fitted into my month of re-reading, and the Barbara Pym centenary readalong with members of the Libraryuthing Virago group and other Pym fans.
Some Tame Gazelle was Barbara Pym’s first published novel; published in 1950 it was in fact written much earlier. Pym was writing the novel while she herself was still a very young woman, she wrote about herself her sister and their circle of friends as she imagined they might be in another thirty years.
Belinda and Harriet Bede are spinster sisters in late middle age, living together in a tiny English village sometime during the first half of the twentieth century. Each of the sisters is preoccupied by local clergy, Harriet by ministering to a series of pale young curates who live in lodgings nearby and for whom she knits socks and makes apple jelly, and Belinda for the pompous self-important Archdeacon Henry Hoccleve who she first knew thirty years earlier.

Belinda, having loved the Archdeacon when she was twenty and not having found anyone to replace him since, had naturally got into the habit of loving him, though with the years her passion had mellowed into a comfortable feeling, more like the cosiness of a winter evening by the fire than the uncertain rapture of a spring morning.

Belinda’s rapturous loyalty to Henry and her dislike of his wife Agatha is a full time occupation. Harriet’s time meanwhile is taken up with wondering whether it is too soon to invite the curate to supper again, and gently fending off marriage proposals from Count Ricardo Bianco – a regular event she has come to depend upon. When Henry’s wife Agatha goes on holiday for a month without her husband it heralds small changes in their community.

“When the day came for Agatha to go away, Belinda and Harriet watched her departure out of Belinda’s bedroom window. From here there was an excellent view of the vicarage drive and gate. Belinda had brought some brass with her to clean and in the intervals when she stopped her vigorous rubbing to look out of the window, was careful to display the duster in her hand. Harriet stared out quite unashamedly, with nothing in her hand to excuse her presence there. She even had a pair of binoculars, which she was now trying to focus.”

Soon after Agatha leaves, a visiting librarian and later a Bishop arrive in the village bringing unsettling feelings with them. Each of these two men is quickly woven into the small group of people who surround the sisters, each of them threatening in their way to upset the comfortable way of life the sister lead.
some tame Gazelle Barbara Pym’s novels are generally described as social comedies, like Jane Austen and Elizabeth Taylor her canvases are small. Here we have a small English community of middle and upper middle class people, their small traditions and absurdities laid bare. Her humour is gentle, clever and beautifully observed. Barbara Pym’s world is not a world I see around me – even in English villages I don’t think it exists anymore – if it ever did, and yet, it is a world which is peculiarly recognisable.

Barbara Pym

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It might seem early but we are now in to December – and January is really not that far away. With the New year comes.. half-hearted resolutions post-Christmas blues – and my month of re-reading. For me January will all be about celebrating some of the books I have loved at different times in my life. I hope there are plenty of you out there who will join me in some re-reading. It can be such a joy to re-read books you loved before. It can also be fascinating, to see how your perception of things can change. Last time I did a month of re-reading, I didn’t suddenly find I disliked books I had remembered loving,  my view of them may have altered slightly, but I retained my love of them.

I admit that there are a few new editions to be savoured in my latest pile of re-reads – but that is all part of the pleasure – reading old favourites in brand new gorgeous copies – well why not? One of the books pictured below – may actually be supplanted by another new edition – Santa permitting.


First of all I reserve the right of course to change my mind at any point about re-reading any of these books, however I doubt very much that I will change my mind about any of them.  This is a pile of books I think I can safely say I could happily salivate over.  The ten books I have chosen then are:

Howards End – E M Forster

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte

The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy (reading for my Hardy reading group)

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Winifred Watson

Some Tame Gazelle – Barbara Pym (I think, assuming that the Librarything Virago group decide to read Barbara Pym in celebration of her centenary year and that if we do we start with this one)

My Family and Other animals – Gerald Durrell

The Warden – Anthony Trollope

Persuasion – Jane Austen ( I may get a new clothbound edition of this for Christmas)

Should I, in a fit of reading mania – read all of those delightful books – there are I assure you plenty of others I may tag on to the end of the list.

So if you are thinking of joining in with my month of re-reading I would love to hear what you think you will read.

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In July Liz and I did our first month of re-reading, several people joined in and I have to say it was a complete joy. So many times we (readers) bemoan the state of our TBR’s and wish we had time to re-read all those books we loved, the books we envy other readers picking up for the first time. So we decided that twice a year – we would forget the TBR, it’ll still be there the following month – and just re-read old favourites.

Now some people couldn’t quite bring themselevs to just re-read the whole month – and so just chose one or two books to re-read – and shared their feelings about the books they re-visited. So as the end of the year is coming upon us fast – I want to draw your attention to a month of re-reading in January.

I haven’t chosen my list of books yet – ooh there are so many I could chose – it’s a big decision. I will let you all know nearer the time. I woud love as many other readers and bloggers to take part and help publicize it.

Will you be taking part?

It occurs to me that this will be a great opportunity for classic clubbers to re-read any books on their lists that they have read before. I think many of my re-reads will be from my classics club list.

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