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classics#

In October 2012, I signed up for the Classics Club. 50 books seemed too easy – so when I originally made my list it totalled about 130 books. If that wasn’t bad enough I have kept fiddling with the list over the years – you can see the complete list which include links to reviews here. By fiddling, I mean adding books, I thought I wanted to read, deleting things I had changed my mind about reading. I probably fiddled far too much – the list now stands at – well I’m not exactly sure I keep losing count – but I think it’s about 156.

So I there I was editing in links to my classics club page a couple of weeks ago – when I suddenly realised – that I was supposed to be finishing it this year. Thankfully there are only twelve books left on my list  – I took a few off last year, and haven’t thought much about it since. My original pledge was to finish my list by 12th October 2017 – that’s less than six months away!

This year, was supposed to be the year of no reading challenges – no lists (as soon as I make a list I don’t want to read anything on it), and here I am suddenly remembering that a pledge I made nearly five years ago needs completing – argh!!

One book – A Note in Music – I don’t even have a copy of yet. Another – Effi Briest is winging its way to me thanks to Persephone books. Many of the others I have had on my book case for years – which is why I added them to the list in the first place.

At the time of writing I am about to start reading Mr Skeffington by Elizabeth von Arnim, but I might need a little inspiration to read 2 a month for the rest of the year. Thankfully all the ones left on the list do look very good – it’s just that list reluctance again which might hold me back.

So which of these books should I be reaching for next?

So here is what is left on that list:

Mr Skeffington – Elizabeth von Arnim
The Caravaners – Elizabeth von Arnim
Agnes Grey – Anne Bronte (a re-read)
Eva Trout – Elizabeth Bowen
The Professor’s House – Willa Cather
Cindie – Jean Devanny
Effi Briest – Theodor Fontane
The Yellow Wallpaper and other writings – Charlotte Perkins Gillman (a re-read of Yellow wallpaper)
The Conservationist – Nadine Gordimer
A Note in Music – Rosamond Lehmann
The Matriarch – G B Stern
The Devastating Boys and other stories – Elizabeth Taylor

classics (2)My classic club list has provided me with some fantastic reading over the last four and a half years – re-reads of Hardy, Madame Bovary and The Woman in White among my favourites. Modern classics that have delighted me from Elizabeth Taylor, Sylvia Townsend Warner and Willa Cather – novels which have opened my eyes to what incredible writing can look like from people like Virginia Woolf and Elizabeth Bowen. I really do want to complete it by October 12th.

One important question of course of course is:
What happens if I don’t finish, can I get an extension? 😉 (I suppose I could delete the unread books and shout fiiiinshed!)

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womens classic literature event

The Classic Club have come up with a new reading challenge – one that makes me want to squeal with glee – it is a challenge that speaks right to the heart of what I love most to read; The Women’s Classic Literature event. Read more about this event here.

The event starts right now – and continues right through to December 2016. Now some of you may say that this is not much of a challenge for me – as I read so many classic women already. So the challenge for me is to read more. To read essays, biographies and memoirs too (as I read far less of those and they all count for this challenge – even modern written biographies if they concern a classic woman writer).

The Classic Club shared a quote from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own – which is wonderful.

“Suppose, for instance, that men were only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers; how few parts in the plays of Shakespeare could be allotted to them; how literature would suffer! We might perhaps have most of Othello; and a good deal of Antony; but no Caesar, no Brutus, no Hamlet, no Lear, no Jaques–literature would be incredibly impoverished, as indeed literature is impoverished beyond our counting by the doors that have been shut upon women.”

That brings me to the next part of my personal challenge, as well as reading the many books by women already on my list – I want to concentrate particularly on these writers.

virginiawoolfmargaret oliphant

Virginia Woolf – I have talked before about my difficult relationship with her in the past – which I hope I have overcome. I intend to make A Room of One’s Own my first read for this challenge – (if I can fit it in before my 1924 books).

Margaret Oliphant – I have all the books of her Carlingford Chronicles – but I have only read the first one (very good) though as the others are so big I keep passing them by.

willacather3sylvia Townsend warner

Willa Cather – an author I love – I have read many of her books already I want to read the rest and her letters (which I have yet to acquire) and short stories.

Sylvia Townsend Warner – I have read three of her novels to date and want to read the rest, she is someone I used to be daunted by – now she merely impresses and fascinates me.

The Classic Club have also posted a little questionnaire for those of us taking part in the challenge – regular readers please indulge me as I answer them for other classic clubbers.

classicclub meme

1. Introduce yourself. Tell us what you are most looking forward to in this event.
I’m Ali (most of you know that) and I am particularly looking forward to this event because quite simply it fits right into what I like to read most.

2. Have you read many classics by women? Why or why not?
Lots and lots, too many to count – many I even re-read or intend to re-read. There are so many great women writers of the past many rather over-looked now who I keep discovering.

3. Pick a classic female writer you can’t wait to read for the event, & list her date of birth, her place of birth, and the title of one of her most famous works.
Virginia Woolf 1882- 1941– To the Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway, Orlando.  I will be starting soon with A Room of one’s Own. VW is someone I have always thught I should love, but struggled a little with, I didn’t get on that well with The Lighthouse when I first read it many years ago. Since then I read (and quite liked) Mrs Dalloway and then this year finally read and loved two VW novels Orlando and The Voyage Out. Maybe finally I have found my VW mojo I hope to re-read The Lighthouse and move on to some others and maybe some of her essays which I have heard great things about.

4. Think of a female character who was represented in classic literature by a male writer. Does she seem to be a whole or complete woman? Why or why not? Tell us about her. (Without spoilers, please!)
Marian Halcomb – The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I love her because she’s strong and intelligent, brave and resourceful – unfortunately and perhaps typically for the Victorian period the novel comes from Marian is not allowed to be desirable or attractive – it’s as if she’s an honorary man – the desirable, marriageable women have to be delicate, fluffy and in need of protection. That is irritating.

5. Favorite classic heroine? (Why? Who wrote her?)
Helen Graham from the Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte – I love her and that novel so much, she’s a strong feminist character, and the novel shocked society in 1848.

6. We’d love to help clubbers find great titles by classic female authors. Can you recommend any sources for building a list?
Virago Modern Classics are perfect for this challenge and I read many of them. I found this list on Goodreads which have 178 fantastic titles on it.

7. Recommend three books by classic female writers to get people started in this event.
1. The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton, a fantastic American classic
2. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte – my favourite ever book
3. South Riding – Winifred Holtby – a favourite modern classic which is very readable and just brilliant.

8. Will you be joining us for this event immediately, or will you wait until the new year starts?
Oh immediately, of course, why wait?

9. Do you plan to read as inspiration pulls, or will you make out a preset list?
I will read mainly as inspiration calls me – though I will concentrate on the books already on my cc list. There are many women already there – so I have enough to keep me busy.

10. Are you pulling to any particular genres? (Letters, journals, biographies, short stories, novels, poems, essays, etc?)
I mainly read novels, but yes there will be almost certainly be letters, essays and maybe a biography or two – lovely to be able to read across genres for this challenge.

11. Are you pulling to a particular era or location in literature by women?
I do especially love women’s writing from the first half of the twentieth century – although I have enjoyed many nineteenth century works – that is probably where my heart lies.

12. Do you hope to host an event or readalong for the group? No worries if you don’t have details. We’re just curious!
No plans as yet – but it’s always a possibility.

13. Is there an author or title you’d love to read with a group or a buddy for this event? Sharing may inspire someone to offer.
I think I would love a Virginia Woolf group read – as she is a writer I want to concentrate on.
14. Share a quote you love by a classic female author — even if you haven’t read the book yet.

“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!”

From Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

15. Finally, ask the question you wish this survey had asked, & then answer it.
My question: Who are your current favourite classic women writers? Your must read list?
I love Austen and the Brontes, but my other more modern favourites are: Elizabeth Taylor, Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth von Arnim, Barbara Pym and Rosamond Lehmann.

viragocovers

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Classic club update

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At very nearly the half way mark in my five year long classic club challenge – I am doing pretty well – in some respects. I do have a nasty habit of tinkering around with my list – it now stands at 185! – but no longer contains any books I consider really scary. I am pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to mess around with my list once it was made – but I really can’t leave it alone. There are quite a number of re-reads, many first time reads and naturally enough a huge number of Virago Modern Classics, there are books by favourite writers, and books by people I have never read before. Near enough two and a half years in, and I am still as enthusiastic as ever about the Classic Club. These days I am passionate about twentieth century classics, but remain an enormous Thomas Hardy fan, and have renewed my love for Jane Austen and the Brontes.

classicsclub2According to my dodgy maths (it’s possible I mis-counted) – I have 78 books on the list still to read I have just over two and half years left to do it – 31months makes just over 2.5 books each month for the remaining two years seven months – it’s doable –although is complicated by the fact that several of the books I don’t actually own (yet). I am going to try very, very hard now, to not add to or take anything off my list, but I admit when I was looking at it earlier I couldn’t help but feel tempted to add another 15 books to the list to make a nice round 200, but decided I would leave things as they are. Another fifteen books might just see me fail to complete the challenge – as I can’t help but notice that several of the ones I have yet to read are fairly fat books.

I have loved the books I have read so far for the Classic Club, too many stand out books to mention – some old favourites I revisited for the first time in years, and some new surprises. I have just finished re-reading Frankenstein, the fourth or fifth time I have read it, (review in a few days) and when I have finished writing this post, I am off to bed with Four Frightened People by E Arnot Robertson a novel which propelled the author to literary stardom, such was its acclaim when it was first published in 1931.
Are you a classic clubber – how are you doing?

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Future classics?

classicclub meme

Time for another question from the Classic Club:

What about modern classics? Pick a book published since 2000 and say why you think it will be considered as a “classic” in the future.

It feels like a long time since I have participated in the monthly classic club question, and this is a difficult one – what after all is a classic? Who decides a book is a classic and what elusive quality is it that makes a book worthy of such a title?

So – naturally I have broken the rules a little in my answer and gone for two books.

I suppose it all comes down to what I think a classic is made of. One element I think that will be appreciated in the future is a timeless quality. Many classics of the past of course are firmly rooted in the period that they were written, and we read and love them still, but people change, and I wonder if whether, in another 100 years readers will want books that are very much of the 2000’s? Maybe – but I can’t help thinking that those novels which do have that timeless quality will traverse the years between now and then better – this world is a fast changing place, our tastes so much more fickle than they once were. Then novels which speak of the human condition in some way that never really changes, love, friendship, sexual awakenings, memory, loss, hope, faith and questions of philosophy will I suspect remain the things that make readers reach for novels published many years earlier.

“There are so few people given us to love. I want to tell my daughters this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen. And if you can, at nineteen, count the people you love on one hand, you will not, at forty, have run out of fingers on the other. There are so few people given us to love and they all stick.”

(The Gathering – Anne Enright 2007)

thegatheringThe first novel I have picked is The Gathering by Anne Enright – and I confess I am rather astounded at my own choice. The Gathering won the Booker Prize in 2007, and I read it in 2009. I enjoyed it a lot, although now I realise I enjoyed it far more in retrospect than I ever realised at the time. This is often the sign of a truly exceptional novel and naturally I now want to re-read it. Reading ‘The Gathering’ I must admit, was at times like walking forward in a misty haze, street lights showing most of the path ahead – frequently the reader wanders hesitatingly into regions that are unfamiliar before turning back onto the familiar path. It is a haunting story of memory and family, the setting is split between the present and 1968 – there was for me that timeless quality that I always love so much and which I think will help make it a classic of the future, although at the same time it is very much a novel of twenty-first century families too. The Gathering is essentially the story of a large Irish family who gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. Liam had been a drinker – but it wasn’t that that killed him; it was what happened to him in his grandmother’s house in 1968. Like so many great classics – The Gathering is a novel which divides opinion – and I suspect a lot of people will be perplexed at my choice. The Writing however is gorgeous, lyrical, and subtle – there are depths to this novel that one reading alone can’t do justice.

“If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”

(Life of Pi – Yann Martel 2001)

life of piThe second novel I have picked is a very different novel to The Gathering; Life of Pi by Yann Martel – coincidently another Booker winner. Life of Pi – was a book I actually avoided for many years. It was published in 2001 – and I remember buying it for my Dad in hardback that Christmas – and he loved it. However it wasn’t until four years after my dad’s death that I got around to reading it for myself – fairly sure I’d hate it – I loved it. It too has that wonderful timeless quality, but as well as that it’s a powerful allegory of faith, spirituality and hope. It is of course the story of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. It is an enormously readable adventure – with an ending that often splits opinion (I loved the ending others hated it) – but serves for fabulous long debates – surely a must for book groups if nothing else. Life of Pi is an exuberant adventure, and is surely a book to be enjoyed by future generations.

 

What do you think? Could these books be classics of the future? What would your choices be?

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classics clubDuring November the Classic Club asks:

“Which argument made by an author do you most support or agree with (or disagree with).”

With her 1848 novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall Anne Bronte was clearly saying that women so long having had their lives, happiness and very safety placed into the hands of the men in their lives, should; like her heroine Helen Graham, where possible, take that responsibility upon themselves. Her feminist stance is certainly something I agree with, and has made Helen Graham, one of my favourite heroines in classic English literature.

“When I tell you not to marry without love, I do not advise you to marry for love alone: there are many, many other things to be considered. Keep both heart and hand in your own possession, till you see good reason to part with them; and if such an occasion should never present itself, comfort your mind with this reflection, that though in single life your joys may not be very many, your sorrows, at least, will not be more than you can bear. Marriage may change your circumstances for the better, but, in my private opinion, it is far more likely to produce a contrary result.”

Anne Bronte allowed the character of Helen to be outspoken, independent and strong, and as such it was claimed by critics of the day that she was unfeminine. What Helen did, was to take charge of her own life, and in doing so find a way to be happy, and safe. She removed her son from his father, and for some time lived independently of her husband.

“You may think it all very fine, Mr. Huntingdon, to amuse yourself with rousing my jealousy; but take care you don’t rouse my hate instead. And when you have once extinguished my love, you will find it no easy matter to kindle it again.”

thetenantofwildfellhall1That a woman should take charge of her own life, walk away from an abusive partner, remove her son from the malign influence of a violent and drunken father, is perhaps a less shocking idea to us today, than it was in 1848. At the time of its publication, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was met by a wave of controversy, although it was at the same time an enormous success. Critics called it “coarse” and thought the subject matter unsuitable for women to read. In one particularly famous scene Helen slams her bedroom door against her husband, following his continued abuse of her, this, going against the sexual politics of the times. Helen’s escape of her husband, supporting herself under an assumed name was also contravening English law. A married woman at this time had no independent legal rights, she was unable to sue for divorce, own her own property or have sole custody of her children. In 1913 the writer May Sinclair said:

“the slamming of Helen Huntingdon’s bedroom door against her husband reverberated throughout Victorian England.”

There are many people who claim the Tenant of Wildfell Hall to be one of the first truly feminist novels. It is also incidentally, an absolutely brilliant one, every bit as powerful and compelling as those Victorian readers found it to be.

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classicclub meme

I haven’t answered a Classic Club question for a couple of months – and really it is time I did.

So in July the Classic Club is asking:

“Have you ever read a biography on a classic author? If so, tell us about it. If you had already read works by this author, did reading a biography of his/her life change your perspective on the author’s writing? Why or why not? Or, if you’ve never read a biography of a classic author, would you? Why or why not?”

time torn manIn 2011 I read a superb biography of Thomas Hardy by Claire Tomalin. The Time Torn Man is a really a must for any Hardy fans I think. Regular readers will know I love my Hardy. When I read A Time Torn man – I was preparing to start my Hardy reading challenge. The challenge undertaken by myself and a few friends was to read the fiction (novels and short stories) of Hardy in publication order. I had already read almost everything at least once – there were just two volumes of short stories I hadn’t read before. Reading one book every two months the project beginning in July 2011 officially finished last month with A Changed Man and other Stories. Back in 2011 then, I already knew a lot of Hardy’s writing, but a lot of it had been read many years earlier, and my memories of those books, although fond had naturally faded with time.

In reading The Time Torn Man, I met Hardy as a child and young man, born into a fairly humble family; he was very much a part of the rural landscape he is so famed for writing about. Thomas Hardy a man who grew up appreciating music, who started out as an architect, who had to work hard to marry his Emma who was his social superior. The echoes of all these things are present throughout his writing. Hardy’s first marriage, starting off happy, didn’t really remain so, in their middle age, the two lived largely separate lives, Emma Hardy religious and traditional, Hardy himself critical of religion, feeling more and more trapped by the conventions of Victorian marriage. Again, throughout Hardy’s writing he returns again and again to themes of marriage. After Emma’s death, Hardy married Florence, a much younger woman, and wrote love poetry to the memory of Emma. He was an often conflicted and complex man, and reading this biography highlights this wonderfully. Claire Tomalin is a superb biographer – I also read her book about Jane Austen – excellent too!

Claire Tomalin obviously appreciates Hardy even more as a poet than a novelist – and the one thing I took away from this book – was the feeling that I had a better understanding of Hardy the novelist, the story teller and in a small way as a man, but I really needed to acquaint myself better with Hardy the poet. That remains something I am working on.

When I set out for Lyonnesse,
A hundred miles away,
The rime was on the spray,
And starlight lit my lonesomeness
When I set out for Lyonnesse
A hundred miles away.

What would bechance at Lyonnesse
While I should sojourn there
No prophet durst declare,
Nor did the wisest wizard guess
What would bechance at Lyonnesse
While I should sojourn there.

When I came back from Lyonnesse
With magic in my eyes,
All marked with mute surmise
My radiance rare and fathomless,
When I came back from Lyonnesse
With magic in my eyes!

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classicclub meme

This month the classic club has been asking about which classics we might be avoiding.

Which classic work has caused you to become a master in avoidance? It’s not necessarily because you’re intimidated but maybe there are works out there that just cause you to have the Dracula reaction: cape-covered arm up in front of face with a step back reaction?

Well yes it is true – I have been avoiding some classics – though maybe avoid is a misleading term, because I probably have absolutely no intention of reading them.
Herman Melville – Moby Dick, I can’t see that I shall ever want to read an enormous book about a large watery mammal.
James Joyce’s Ulysses; need I say why? Somethings just sound like too much hard work.
Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey and other such classical works – I read Medea years ago and that frankly was enough. I’m afraid you will never see these works on my classic club list.

Where avoidance and my classic club list come in I must admit there are books that I keep by-passing. I really want to re-read Middlemarch and Bleak House – but they are so big! I read them before and well I just have too many books. Many of the books on my cc list are re-reads, Mansfield Park is another I keep by-passing, the thing I love about re-reads is I already kind of know what I am getting – so why am I avoiding them? I don’t think I can really answer that, although it might have something to do with that enormous number of books I have waiting for me I haven’t read before.

middlemarchbleak housemansfieldpark

 

 

 

 

 

Then there are books I suspect I will have to be in the right frame of mind for – although I have no real point of reference for them, no one has actually put me off reading them, or told me they are hard – I seem to have decided that for myself. These are: Summer Will Show – Sylvia Townsend Warner, The Lying days and The Conservationist by Nadine Gordimer – I have had all three of these for some time but I’m prepared to bet it’s a while yet before I get around to them. Something about them feels dense before I even open them; I know I really shouldn’t pre-judge things like that though.

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So then, should I be getting stuck into those books I’m avoiding? I am up for being persuaded. I can’t say I will ever be putting Moby Dick and The Iliad or James Joyce on to my list though.

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