Posts Tagged ‘A month of re-reading’

First published in 1924 – A Passage to India weaves together two complex themes, the friendship between men of different cultures and the colonialism and racism that continually divided those two cultures in British India. E M Forster is a severe chronicler of the British Raj in this novel, although neither British nor Indian come out on top in his story: Forster does not appear to take sides.
When Adele Quested arrives in British India with Mrs Moore – the mother of the city magistrate Ronnie Heaslop, – they are both determined to see something of the real India.

“She watched the moon, whose radiance stained with primrose the purple of the surrounding sky. In England the moon had seemed dead and alien; here she was caught in the shawl of night together with earth and all the other stars.”

Mrs Moore becomes acquainted with Dr Aziz after a moonlit encounter in a local mosque. Mr Fielding a college principle exists outside of the British club – he is a moderate thinking man, unprejudiced he is happy in the company of Indians – and so regarded with a certain amount of suspicion by the British. When the Collector – issues garden party invitations to local Indian gentlemen Dr Aziz finally gets to meet Mr Fielding – and a friendship is immediately born. Their friendship is not an easy one – mirroring the complexities of the relationship between the ruling white’s and both the educated and subservient Indians – they are continually misunderstanding one another.

  An outing to the famous Marabar caves gives Mrs Moore and Adele Quested the chance they want to see the real India. However Miss Quested comes rushing out of the caves in great distress – and returns without the rest of her party – having apparently accused Aziz of some kind of assault. The British rise up against Aziz in defence of a young woman none of them had particularly liked or taken much notice of. Fielding though believes Aziz to be innocent – which puts him even more at odds with his countrymen and women.
The aftermath of his trial leaves Aziz cynical and bitter – his fragile relationship with Fielding is put under greater strain. Although Fielding is sympathetic to his Indian friends – he is still English and for a bruised Aziz represents much of the system which was at work to bring him down.
There are many stereotypes in this novel, stereotypes which would have been particularly recognisable at the time this novel was first published. E M Forster was exposing the British Raj’s racist injustices at a time when in India itself there was beginning the first rumble of the push to Independence from Britain. Forster’s conclusion was sombre but realistic. The following passage coming right at the end.

“Why can’t we be friends now?” said the other, holding him affectionately. “It’s what I want. It’s what you want.” But the horses didn’t want it — they swerved apart: the earth didn’t want it, sending up rocks through which riders must pass single file; the temple, the tank, the jail, the palace, the birds, the carrion, the Guest House, that came into view as they emerged from the gap and saw Mau beneath: they didn’t want it, they said in their hundred voices “No, not yet,” and the sky said “No, not there.”

I first read A Passage to India about twenty years ago. I loved it then – and later loved the film just as much. I have remembered it with affection ever since. Luckily I still love it now. I was surprised though by my memory of Dr Aziz – in my memory he remained a wholly sympathetic character – all the flawed characters I had thought were the British. However I see now that in fact Aziz becomes less sympathetic after the incident in the Marabar caves. Not surprisingly given what had happened to him – so his attitude and bitterness remain understandable – but I found this side of him more irritating this time around. I did love Mr Fielding still too and Mrs Moore. I had also forgotten that this is quite a slow – wordy read – I don’t mind that however – and I liked many of Forster’s descriptions of India.

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Well in fact the month is a little more than half way over. I am still loving this whole re-reading thing. I am finding it interesting – and very pleasing that my reactions to books I read a long time ago have changed so little.

I adored Northanger Abbey, and it led me to buying a book of Jane Austen’s juvenilia and a collection of her letters – I wasn’t supposed to be new buying things! Re-reading Northanger Abbey had made me want to re-read all her novels – and I had to stop myself buying an attractive little box set of Jane Austen hardbacks. I can’t promise I won’t go back and give in to the temptation. I then read Willa Cather’s My Antonia – which although I enjoyed a lot – but I found the second half of the book to be a slower read than I had expected or remembered. Needing a nice cosy/comfort read over the weekend – I read Dead Man’s Folly – Agatha Christie is always such a pleasure to read. I am now into A Passage to India – which I am enjoying a lot – and if I hadn’t have had work to bring home yesterday – I would have read a good deal more – but I’m not sorry at having to spread out the pleasure of it. Dr Aziz, Mr Fielding and Mrs Moore feel like reliable old friends – and it is lovely to be back in their company.

In a couple of days I will move on to Villette by Charlotte Bronte and I am anticipating it with pleasure, then I’ll read Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann for the Rosamond Lehmann reading week. If I have time before August – and I just might – I will be re-reading Emma Larkin’s Secret Histories: finding George Orwell in a Burmese teashop – which I have a copy of again thanks to the lovely Kaggsy If there is still some of July left after that – well I have lots to choose from.
So then, how has everyone else been doing? Is re-reading something you will be doing again? I will I think I might just stick to
Liz’s  original idea of doing it twice a year – despite the impact on my horrendous TBR. There are so many I want to re-visit. Did you change your mind about any of the books you read?
If you didn’t join in this time – maybe you could join us next time, I think we will be doing it again in January  – so plenty of time to get those lists together.

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My sixth re-read in my month of re-reading. I needed something of a comfort read, and for me Agatha Christie hits the spot. Why it should be that murder mysteries should and often are considered comfort reading – is something I have often wondered about. Last night I was so tired – and just a tiny bit grumpy – and yet as I snuggled down against my pillows, a mug of low fat hot chocolate nearby, I read the first few pages of A Dead Man’s Folly and everything seemed suddenly much better.

I first read Agatha Christie when I was about 11 – I have loved her stories ever since. I love both Poirot and Marple, though Poirot is definitely my favourite of the two. It may seem that a whodunit is an odd choice for a re-read – but luckily I usually forget. I can’t even remember for sure which Agatha Christie novels I have read – I just know it’s probably most of them, several of them twice. I watch the TV adaptations too – and those too I forget – so can watch again – it’s very useful at times.
Dead Man’s Folly I think I have read twice before – and have seen a TV adaptation too – so maybe it was no real surprise that I began to remember key points after about 60 pages. It all remained very muddled in my head though and so I had to read on to see what I had remembered correctly.

   In Dead Man’s Folly, Hercule Poirot is summoned to Devon by Ariadne Oliver – a character of Agatha Christie’s that is quite obviously a thinly disguised self-portrait. I’ve always really rather liked Ariadne Oliver, she is an eccentric, and like Poirot, something of a stereotype – still Agatha Christie novels are not the kind of novels to take too seriously. Ariadne Oliver is involved in the preparations of a fete in the grounds of Nasse House – as part of the preparations Ariadne is designing a muder hunt – like a treasure hunt with clues hidden around the grounds. Ariadne tells everyone at Nasse House that Poirot is there to present the prize however her real motive in getting Poirot to Devon is because she is convinced that “something is wrong” There are the usual collection of Christie types scattered around Nasse house and the immediate surroundings, a young married couple, a cynical young architect, the former owner of Nasse house living in the lodge, Sir George Stubbs the wealthy new owner and his much younger wife, who is apparently rather suggestible and the bitter secretary come housekeeper. The day following Poirot’s arrival the fete gets underway – a local girl guide is to play the part of the body in Mrs Oliver’s murder hunt – only Ariadne’s belief that something was wrong proves all too accurate when she and Poirot find the poor girl dead in the boathouse. Within a couple of hours it is also obvious that the beautiful Hattie Stubbs is missing.
One of the criticisms often levelled against Agatha Christie – is that she cheats. Well – yes she does – in that Fred Bloggs will later turn out to be Joe Brown who disappeared down the Amazon seventeen years earlier and hasn’t been heard of since. Some people don’t like the fact that the reader therefore doesn’t have all the information – and so can’t solve the mystery themselves. That has never bothered me. The reader can make a shrewd guess to the who without knowing the why and how after all. I think I always prefer to have everything revealed to me at the end anyway, and so I don’t try to work it out – that’s the job of the detective. This was perfect easy reading for me – as I never tire of dear old Poirot.

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The fifth of my re-reads – and I feel as if I am reading very slowly. I have been, and am still so very tired – that I am struggling to read for long in the evenings – and am now finding it hard to marshal my own thoughts and reactions. Oh well – I’ll do my best.
I had remembered nothing of this novel really – just knew that I had enjoyed it – probably twenty odd years ago. My reading experience may have been affected by my tiredness this week, because although I did enjoy this book very much – I didn’t love the second half of the book as much as the first half – or as much as the Willa Cather novel I read a few months ago – O Pioneers. I would still recommend it highly though.
The introduction of My Antonia opens with two old friends travelling by train and reminiscing about a girl they had once known many years earlier. As a young boy of ten – Jim Burden travels to the plains of Nebraska to live with his grandparents. He quickly falls in love with the life they lead in the wide open spaces of the plains.

“The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers…I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”

Their nearest neighbours are the Shimerdas a Bohemian family struggling to live in pretty rough conditions. Their daughter is the Antonia of the title – four years older than Jim, she is a strong handsome girl, full of life, and Jim is captivated by her. They become great friends – and Jim helps to teach her English. The years pass – Jim and his grandparents move into town, and later Antonia follows as she is hired to work for neighbours of the Burden’s in Black Hawke. Each section of the novel charts a different part of Jim and Antonia’s lives. Their paths diverge – when Jim goes to university, Antonia stays behind, is deserted by a man, has a child and goes back to her parent’s farm. Jim sees Antonia very infrequently although she is often in his thoughts. Antonia is a strong sympathetic character – although only ever seen through Jim’s eyes – she seems to embody the pioneer spirit.

“Antonia had always been one to leave images in the mind that did not fade – that grew stronger with time. In my memory there was a succession of such pictures, fixed there like the old woodcuts of one’s first primer…She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true…She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one’s breath for a moment by a look or gesture…All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions.”

Willa Cather’s prose is deceptively simple – and yet she manages to evoke the Nebraskan landscape and the Pioneer life style perfectly. It is this landscape that is the real star of this novel.

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The fourth of my re-reads this month.
I remember reading this book a long time ago now – I may have been about eighteen, it introduced me to Mrs Radcliffe who I hadn’t previously heard of. I read the Castle of Udolpho and the Romance of the Forest as a result.
In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland is presented to us by a rather tongue in cheek Jane Austen as not being a typical heroine.

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard — and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings — and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on — lived to have six children more — to see them growing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself. A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads and arms and legs enough for the number; but the Morlands had little other right to the word, for they were in general very plain, and Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any. She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features — so much for her person; and not less unpropitious for heroism seemed her mind.

Accompanying some friends to Bath for a few weeks, Catherine soon makes the acquaintance of Isabella and John Thorpe. Jane Austen presents these fairly monstrous creations hilariously, poor Catherine seems unaware of her new friend’s duplicitousness –the reader however is immediately on the alert. Catherine enjoys the society of Bath, and her new friend Isabella, although she takes an instant dislike to her oafish brother. He however has set his sights on Catherine. However soon after meeting the Thorpes, Catherine meets Henry and Eleanor Tilney, Catherine is immediately attached to the Tilney’s finding them to be exactly on her wavelength. Having danced with Henry Tilney, Catherine cannot help but look for him at every dance and at every play she attends. Unfortunately John Thorpe is quite happy to throw a spanner in the works, and is cause for an embarrassing misunderstanding between Catherine and Eleanor. Thankfully the misunderstanding is healed and Catherine is invited to stay with Eleanor at Northanger Abbey, the family home. To Catherine a great reader of romances by such authors as Mrs Radcliffe, the name of Northanger Abbey excites her imagination.
Upon arrival at Northanger Abbey, Catherine does allow her imagination to run away with itself, when she decides there must be some mystery surrounding Henry and Eleanor’s father, and their deceased mother. However just when Catherine finally seems to have settled in to her stay at Northanger Abbey, having put all such suspicions behind her, and to have real hopes of Henry Tilney’s intentions towards her – she is unceremoniously packed off home.
This was a delightful re-read for me. I had forgotten, somehow just how funny Jane Austen is. Her observations of people and their petty ridiculousness’s are quite brilliant; she has a sharp wit and a real eye for the inconsistencies and vagaries of human beings. I am now intending to re-read all my Jane Austen’s at some point – not sure when – the state of TBR being what it is – but I really want to revisit them all.

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So it’s a little over a week since my first month of re-reading began. I wanted to share with you all how I have found re-reading some old favourites. I have also been wondering – how have other people have got on so far?
I started a couple of days early – I was so keen and so now I am re- reading my fourth book of the month.
So far I have read: The Trumpet Major – Thomas Hardy, Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons, Angel –Elizabeth Taylor. I am half way through Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen now too.
My experience of re-reading these novels has been wholly positive. I had remembered very very little of The Trumpet Major – and it was therefore a delight to pick it up and re-discover a novel by my favourite author. It is maybe considered a lesser Hardy novel, but I found it delightful. It is lighter than many of his other works, and I enjoyed it immensely. Cold Comfort farm was a book that had lingered in my memory over very many years – as a book I had loved and laughed over, and had always wanted to read again. I was astounded how I had completely forgotten the rather odd futuristic element to the story; I also found it less hilarious this time, just gently funny and thoroughly charming. Overall though, I still loved it, I am pleased to say. I re-read Angel for the LibraryThing read along – although it was actually a bit less than two years since I read it before. After such a relatively short period of time between readings I hadn’t expected to have a different reaction to it. On the whole my reaction to it was the same as before – although I think my increased reading of Elizabeth Taylor helped me to understand the character of Angel better this time around. I found her a much sadder character than before – when I saw her as merely monstrous. I am now loving Northanger Abbey – and looking forward to the rest of the month. There is something truly comforting about re-reading things that you already hold in great affection. So – how has it been for you?

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Read for the yearlong Elizabeth Taylor read-a-long on Librarything and my own month of re-reading. I first read it not that long ago – in October 2010. I didn’t expect to have a different reaction to a book I read so recently – and on the whole I didn’t. I think I found Angel a sadder character this time around – rather than merely monstrous – which she is too.
Angel, often described as Elizabeth Taylor’s tour-de-force, is a novel really quite different to her other novels. The story concerns Angelica Deverell – Angel of the title – who having been brought up by her mother over a grocery shop in Volunteer Street – dreams of another kind of life. Her life with her widowed mother punctuated by weekly visits by her Aunt Lottie is a dull one for Angel, and is deftly handled by Taylor who brings this world to life brilliantly. The beginning of the novel and the portrayal of Angel’s early life was by far my favourite part of this wonderful novel.

“Angel often felt jolted when the girls stopped at their gate; partly, from having forgotten them; partly, from having to transfer herself too quickly from Paradise House to this mean district with warehouses and factories and great brooding gas holders…..
Halfway down Volunteer Street was a row of shops: a fish-and-chip shop from which children were running with hot greasy parcels; a newsagent’s a chemist’s where light from the interior glowed feebly through three glass bottles of red and green and violet liquid and coloured the bowls of senna pods and sulphur lying in the window. Next to the draper’s and the last in the row was the grocery shop; there the delivery boy, was packing up an order on the counter, weighing sugar into pink bags. The wedge of cheese beside him was covered in his dirty finger-prints. The saw-dust on the floor was scuffed about now at the end of the day.”

Angel’s dreams spill over into real life when she is a young girl as she frequently tells lies. Angel is contemptuous of her mother and her aunt, and considers herself much better than them. Spitefully setting herself above them she sneers at them is idle and unappreciative of the sacrifices made for her education. The novel opens in 1900 when Angel Is fifteen, while feigning illness in order to avoid school, Angel begins to weave some of her romantic fantasies into a novel. She has no doubt of her success, her imagination will not allow for her failure. So Angel becomes a novelist – terribly over written, her novels are not always considered decent, and although they provoke much criticism not to mention literary snobbishness they make her wealthy. Angel is a constant trial to her publisher and his wife – Angel has her own very set ideas and will brook no criticism – and as a dinner guest proves to be a nightmare.

“Hermione’s colours were not flying throughout dinner: they were dipped, less in submission than wonderment. She soon became convinced that Angel was mad, that her own high spirits could never counter such insanity and were not called upon to do so. She fell back into a state of relaxed fascination while Angel attacked Theo on business matters and questioned him closely upon details which he could not have been expected, by anyone but Angel, to carry in his head.”

The character of Angelica Deverell was based loosely on the lives of Edwardian authors such as Marie Corelli and Ethel M Dell. Elizabeth Taylor skilfully allows us inside the head of the Angel – totally deluded, convinced she is a genius – she becomes increasingly selfish and difficult as the years go by. Angel pours the love of which she is starved into a succession of pets, cats, dogs, a parrot and later peacocks she is often irrational in her love of them. When she meets poet Nora Howe-Nevinson and her artist brother Esme Angel begins a new obsession, as she is instantly smitten by Esme.
As a girl she had dreamed of life in Paradise house – a house where her aunt was employed, and where there lived another girl named Angelica. As a wealthy woman Angel is now able to fulfil her fantasies and buy the crumbling shell that Paradise house has since become. Angel is a darkly comic novel – with a heroine who is not very likeable, but is instead often ridiculous. The novel is written with the wonderful attention to detail and fascinating characterisation that is present in all Elizabeth Taylor novels. Angel is a brilliant, sometimes pitiful monster. She is also probably the most memorable of all Elizabeth Taylor’s characters.

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