Posts Tagged ‘classics club’


It’s time for another Classics Spin for any who are interested. What is the spin?

It’s easy. At your blog, by next Monday, Feb 10, list your choice of any twenty books you’ve left to read from your Classics Club list – in a separate post.

This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these twenty books in February & March

A number will be randomly drawn on Monday and I will then know my fate, I hope to read my spin book during March.  I have decided to do this again as it has been such fun in the past. I know some people have books on their spin lists that they are dreading reading, There are no books I am dreading on my classic club list though there are a few I keep putting off. Therefore there aren’t any books on my spin list that I am really scared to read –  life is too short to list books I’m not sure I want to read, there are one or two I am nervous about. Despite haing read Henry James before – I have been putting off re-reading him for years, and I feel a bit nervous about Mikhail Bulgakov and Slyvia Townsend Warner for different reasons. There are lots of books I would cheer to have selected though – fingers crossed for one of those – and some, that I no longer remember why I added them to my classic club list in the first place.

So here is my list for this time around:

Women writers

1 The Yellow wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

2 A sea grape tree – Rosamond Lehmann

3 The Land of Green Ginger – Winifred Holtby

4 The Rising Tide – Molly Keane

5 Lolly Willowes – Sylvia Townsend Warner

Kindle books

6.The Custom of the Country – Edith Wharton

7 In Connection with the De Willoughby Claim – Frances Hodgson Burnett

8 A rogue’s life – Wilkie Collins

9 The Leavenworth Case – Anna Katharine Green

10 One of Ours – Willa Cather


11. Agnes Gey – Anne Bronte

12 Mansfield Park – Jane Austen

13 All Passion Spent – Vita Sackville West

14 Doctor Thorne – Anthony Trollope

15 Washington Square – Henry James

Non British writers

16 The Heart of a Dog Mikhail Bulgakov

17  Smoke  – Ivan Turgenev

18 Sunlight on a broken column – Attia Hosein

19 The Phantom of the Opera – Gaston Leroux

20 Sapphira and the Slave Girl – Willa Cather

Looking forward to finding out my fate.


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Today is my Classics club anniversary; it was one year ago exactly that I joined the classic club, and created the Classic club page on my blog. This page is under constant revision – which is exactly what I thought would happen. When I joined the Classics Club I already knew I loved reading classics, and have done for a long, long time. When I was in my late teens and early twenties I read a lot of nineteenth century classics – and a few eighteenth century classics (I suppose those are the ones I like least) moving on to the twentieth century classics later. It was in those days I discovered my great love of Thomas Hardy – many of my favourites are not on my cc list because I re-read them fairly recently and before I joined. These days – twenty years after my love of classics began – I find I am re-reading a lot of things I read in my twenties – with greater enjoyment, and with a different perspective.

classics clubA year ago – there were 130 books on my Classic Club list – today the list stands at 170! Of those I have read 60 in the last year – and I’m currently reading another. I adore the Classic Club – I love joining in with the monthly meme (and I generally hate memes), the classic club spin has been great fun, and I joined in one of the sync reads too. I have discovered other great blogs – while navigating through the reviews on the Classic Club blog – it is so wonderful to find so many other people who love classics.

My top five first time classic club reads of the last year have been:
1 My Cousin Rachel – Daphne Du Maurier
2 Harriet – Elizabeth Jenkins
3 A Favourite of the Gods – Sybille Bedford
4 The Heir – Vita Sackville West
5 Lady Audley’s Secret

My biggest disappointment:

The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton – which promised so much but was really just a little too frothy. Perversely had it not been written by Edith Wharton I would have probably liked it as a bit of vintage froth.

My five favourite re-reads were:
1 The Great Gatsby
2 Emma
3 Jane Eyre
4 Quartet in Autumn
5 The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

(You can find links to my reviews of all those books and more on my Classic Club page)

So here’s to another year on the Classic Club – I don’t pretend there won’t be more added to the list in the next year – there will be, but there will also be a lot of wonderful books read and blogged about. Thank you Classic Club for awakening an old obsession.

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classics club

This month the Classic Club has asked:

Do you read forewords/notes that precede many classics? Does it help you or hurt you in your enjoyment/understanding of the work?

I sometimes read introductions/forwards but only ever after I have read the book. To be honest I am not always that keen on them. So many great works of literature have very long and wordy academic introductions; sometimes I think these introductions can be far more intimidating to read than the works themselves. Then there is the issue of spoilers with a minute picking apart of the story and the author’s intentions. That is why I (and most people I have spoken to about it) only read these introductions and forwards after I have finished the book.
emmaI generally like to make up my own mind about things that I read, and so I’m not sure I always like to have my response to a novel suggested to me by another person, although I do find other opinions interesting and valuable – the trouble with these quite academic sounding introductions is that it can make the reader feel that their different response is wrong. I have often assumed that these introductions/notes are for people studying that work – and not so much for the reader who is reading for pleasure – that may be my mistake. However I don’t ignore these introductions completely. I have really just finished my re-read of Emma – a Penguin cloth bound classic – the one thing about Penguin is that they do always contain proper Introductions and explanatory notes. I do like the fact that the notes and introductions are there – but if I am honest I don’t do much more than skim the introduction – after I have read the book of course. The Introduction to Emma was quite long and while I was interested enough to start reading it – I found after three or four pages my attention began to wander – l start to feel like an inattentive student at the back of the classroom. Explanatory notes however can be very useful – and the ones supplied in Penguin Classics have saved me from confusion on more than a few occasions. I couldn’t have possibly have read Villette without those notes as Charlotte Bronte included so much French conversation – and my French is fairly non-existent.

hideandseek What I do really like however – are the introductions that I often find in Virago Modern Classics. I can remember enjoying the Introductions in the Elizabeth Taylor novels I read last year. I am much more inclined towards an introduction or preface if it has been written by someone (another author) I have heard of – rather than some academic I haven’t. Some of the original green Virago Modern Classics that were issued in the 1980’s have some wonderful introductions (not always by people I had heard of though). However I’m not sure that introductions to the modern VMC’s coming out now are of quite the same high quality – although I do always read them, because if nothing else they give some good background information about the author. I have recently read Breakfast with the Nikolides by Rumer Godden, one of a lovely new series of Modern VMC’s that have introductions by Rosie Thomas,  however the introduction is one that was written for the trio of novels, Breakfast with the Nikolides, Black Narcissus and Kingfishers Catch fire which just gives a brief introduction to Rumer Godden and her career and rather than an in depth examination of the book, there is just a brief discussion of each novel. I’m puzzled by this, I don’t know whether the other Godden’s in the series have different introductions by Rosie Thomas or by other people. These kind of introductions are probably a little more accessible but I don’t know if they add very much.

Also I have often really enjoyed the introductions/prefaces in Persephone books. I particularly remember enjoying the Preface to The New House by Jilly Cooper – who is related by Marriage to Lettice Cooper and provided a fantastic insight into the author’s wonderful literary family and her work. Manja by Anna Gmeyner has a preface by Eva Ibbotson, the author’s daughter who is able to really set the novel in context by briefly telling her mother’s story and how she came to write the novel. manja

Oh dear – I really hadn’t meant to go wittering on for quite so long. When I sat down to write my response to the Classic Club question I thought I would be answering it in just one short paragraph.
So now I’m wondering – how do you read Introductions and notes or don’t you?

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classics club

The Classics Club has made me think again.
This is the question for classic clubbers in July – a brilliant question I think.

What classic book has changed your view on life, social mores, political views, or religion?

That is a pretty difficult question isn’t it. My immediate reaction to that question was none – my political, religious and social views having been shaped in the main by my own experiences and upbringing. However, that can’t be completely true can it? After all literature is powerful stuff – and if, as I have, you have always read voraciously, then surely some bits must have stuck. I am reminded how as a child I loved Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden – a wonderful children’s story set during World War Two – I am sure that children’s novel is responsible for the strong nostalgia and fascination I have for stories set during WW2 – I was born in 1968 long after it was all over.

killamockingbirdWhen I look back over my early reading of Classic literature – I often wonder what I gained from such work, I wasn’t a gifted student – quite the reverse – all the reading I did was purely for pleasure. I first read such works as Jane Eyre, Great Expectations and To Kill a Mockingbird at a very tender and impressionable age. I wonder how much of my hatred of injustices and prejudice were aided by my reading of To Kill a Mockingbird? To Kill a Mockingbird has much to say to a young reader, about bravery and doing the right thing, it is a novel that has stayed with me ever since – I am massively over-due a re-read of it.

“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

Similarly did my early reading of Jane Eyre – which I now recognise as a wonderfully political and janeeyrefeminist work – subtly speak to me of things I was hardly aware of? I think it may have done. Jane has always been one of my favourite female characters in literature – she is tough little thing in world that is not made for penniless orphans or women, and certainly not for female penniless orphans. Jane refuses to be cowed, she sticks by her morals, but refuses to simply be what society says she should.

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

undegreenwoodtreeWhen I was about eighteen I discovered and fell in love with Thomas Hardy – much of Hardy’s work eulogises a changing England – juxtaposing the encroaching modern world with a traditional rural way of life – its social inequalities and pastoral idyll. I love many things about this modern 21st century world that we live in, but there is much of it I hate and that worries me – every generation has felt the same I am sure – so whether Hardy’s writing has influenced that in me – or whether I just recognise the sentiment as being one I understand I’m not sure. Hardy’s descriptions of the English countryside have certainly helped me appreciate the natural world – an appreciation that has only fully come to me in the last few years. Landscapes change over time of course – but essentially Hardy’s England can still be found – in pockets, if you look carefully – and that idea comforts me as I contemplate the very unlovely city streets where I live.

“To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature.”

It is in particular Far From the Madding Crowd, Under the Greenwood Tree, The Return of the Native, The Woodlanders and to some extent Tess of the D’Urbervilles that I feel best capture these things I have been talking about. They are novels I believe I will continue to re-read for the rest of my life.

So I believe I have been influenced by literature – how could I not have been? I know I carry the books I have mentioned (and many I haven’t) with me all the time.

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Classic openings


Back in June – the Classic Club asked:

What is your favourite opening sentence from a classic novel (and why)?

Well I have been thinking about that question ever since – and here we are well into July now. I found I couldn’t answer the question, I didn’t have one favourite – I immediately had the opening lines of several books buzzing around my head, as they have continued to do ever since the question was posed. I quickly realised that my favourite openings – are often comprised of more than one sentence.
There are several kinds of classic openings for me – there are the purely famous – those opening lines that everyone must surely know backwards – their familiarity is surely part of what makes us readers love them still. In to this category I would put that famous opening line from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

I also love the opening sentence to L .P Hartley’s The Go-Between (1953) (a book I must must must re-read) go-between

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

Then there are the lines that raise the hairs on the back of your neck as you read them or hear them quoted; lines such as that famous line from the opening of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938) I don’t think it’s just me that gets goosebumps from:

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again”

However the openings I like best (and here I have cheated these openings contain more than one sentence) are the ones which give me as a reader a strong sense of time and place.
undegreenwoodtreeThomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree  (1872) I love Hardy and the opening chapter to Under the Greenwood Tree I find hugely evocative, here are the opening two sentences.

“To dwellers of a wood almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature. At the passing of the breeze the fir trees sob and moan no less distinctly than they rock; the holly whistles as it battles with itself; the ash hisses amid its quiverings, the beech rustles, while its flat boughs rise and fall.”

Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (1948)
Again the opening two sentences are beautifully rendered in their simple lyricism.  crybelovedcountry

“There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.”

wreathofrosesBut possibly my all-time favourite is from A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor (1949) – these sentences absolutely capture the mood of the novel beautifully.

“Afternoons seem unending on branch-line stations in England in summer time. The spiked shelter prints an unmoving shadow on the platform, geraniums blaze, whitewashed stones assault the eye. Such trains as come only add to the air of fantasy, to the idea of the scene being symbolic or encountered at one level while suggesting another even more alienating.”

Maybe it’s just me – and my passion for Elizabeth Taylor’s writing but those lines transport me absolutely to a small country town station on a hot summer day in 1949. That is what I want from an opening to be transported to place well away from wherever I happen to be.
Well my answer to June’s classic club question has gone on rather longer than I imagined it would when I sat down to write – so I think I will save my answer to July’s classic club question for another day.

Sorry classic clubbers that I have been so late in answering – I do love the way the classic club make me think though. I have been reading the comments on the Classic Club and see there are many different favourites out there – although I saw Pride and Prejudice and Rebecca mentioned by others – so what would your favourite be?

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classics club

The classic spin has spoken – and the number is 6. That means I will be reading one of the five Persephone books on my latest spin list. Phew! The spin has been kind to me again – I was beginning to get nervous – one or two title on the list I might have struggled with.

farewell leicester squareI will be reading (probably in early June)
Farewell Leicester Square – by Betty Miller – first published in 1941 – having first been turned down for publication in 1935 when Miller wrote it.

“In the novel Alec Berman escapes from his restrictive Jewish family in Brighton, and although he has a successful career as a film-maker (perhaps modelled on that of Alexander Korda) and marries the very English Catherine, he always feels a ‘Dago: Jew: Outsider.’ ‘A thought-provoking insight into anti-semitism between the wars,’ wrote the Guardian, ‘not the violent prejudice of Mosley’s fascists, but the discreet discrimination of the bourgeoisie.’

(from the Persephone books website)

betty_millerBetty Miller was the author of seven novels and a biography of Robert Browning. She was part of a London literary circle which included Stevie Smith, Olivia Manning and Marghanita Laski.
I am looking forward to this book – I have heard really good things about it.

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classics club

Tell us about the classic book(s) you’re reading this month. You can post about what you’re looking forward to reading in May, or post thoughts-in-progress on your current read(s).

For this month of reading I have got a little reading project of my own. My birthday reading challenge – it’s my birthday on the 13th of this month and so I will be reading authors only born in May. I have some lovely books selected to read – more than I will be able to manage in fact. Luckily though there are some from my classics club list.

So then this month I hope to read all or at least some of the following:

cousinrachelMy Cousin Rachel (such a pretty edition I have too) and Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier – who shares my birthday. (13th May) jamaicainn

Jamaica Inn will be a re-read for me, I read it such a long time ago, but I remember it with real fondness. I am hoping to be reading that on my actual birthday.

mysteryyellowroomThe Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux (6th May)

ozThe Wonderful Wizaard of Oz – by L Frank Baum  (15th May) a children’s classic I have never read – I anticipate an easy quick and undemanding little read. I will be reading this one on my kindle – though I don’t think I will then be reading the whole enormous series – there are after all rather a lot of them.



In fact I am intending to start on the first of these – The Mystery of the Yellow Room later tonight. Written by the man best known for writing The Phantom of the Opera – it is said to be the best of all “locked room” novels. I’m looking forward to it.

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classics club

This month’s question from the Classics Club:
“Who is hands-down the best literary hero, in your opinion? Likewise, who is the best heroine?”

My favourite Hero? – goodness that’s a hard one – after all I fell head over heels in love with Mr Rochester when I was about eleven. However as a Thomas Hardy fan I must choose a Hardy hero. Gabriel Oak from ‘Far From the Madding Crowd.’ I just adore Hardy’s pastoral novels and shepherd Gabriel Oak is the epitome of his rural working men.

And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you.

far from madding  Gabriel is a wonderfully strong character, a real man I suppose – at one with the land, yet sensitive enough to wait for Bethsheba – fighting fires, taking care of sheep, he makes me go a bit weak at the knees. I also rather adore the reddleman in Return of the Native – but I think Gabriel Oak has to be my hands down hero. gabrieloak

Best heroine? – for me at least – it is hands down Jane Eyre – it is probably my favourite nineteenth century novel. Jane herself is a tough feisty little thing, loyal, passionate and principled. Having read the novel four times, she feels like someone I know. janeeyre

“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!”

A close second however would be Helen Graham from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – those Bronte girls created some fabulous female characters. They didn’t shy away from being controversial both Charlotte and Anne created a stir with their writing, and so in their way they are heroines too. bronte

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classicclub meme

(picture stolen from classics club blog)

I don’t usually bother with memes – but I am getting quite addicted to the classics club and as the question is about Jane Austen I had to join in.

classics club

Here’s the question this month
Do you love Jane Austen or want to “dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone”? (Phrase borrowed from Mark Twain).
1. Why? (for either answer)?
2. Favourite and/or least favourite Austen novel?

I love Jane Austen – although until fairly recently it had been many years since I had read any of the novels. I love her observations of people – her wit and how even after all these years, her characters are recognisable as people we might know. I love the settings – the small communities, the Bath pump rooms and regency drawing rooms.
1. I’m not sure which novel is my favourite – although Pride and Prejudice is the one I have read most often – and for which I still have enormous affection. I always pity Mr Bennett so much in his ridiculous wife – and love Jane and Lizzie. However I also love Sense and Sensibility and recently was reminded of the utter brilliance of Persuasion. jacloth3
2. I am currently in the process of re-reading all of Austen’s novels so I’m not sure if I can pick a least favourite at the moment – although I can remember many years ago, wanting to strangle both Emma Wodehouse and Fanny price. My least favourite used to be Mansfield Park – but I’m not sure it still will be now – it is a long time since I read it – and I think I will enjoy re-reading it at some point. I wonder how I’ll like Fanny after all these years?

jacloth1In 2009 I read Claire Tomalin’s ‘Jane Austen – a life’ – which I think helped to remind me about Jane and how much I wanted to re-read her. I still needed a nudge however. That nudge may have been provided by Lynn Shepherd’s A Murder at Mansfield Park – which I read right at the end of 2011 – which turns Austen’s story on its head – and is great fun for those who hated Fanny Price. So then finally in July 2012 I re-read Northanger Abbey, and in January I re-read Persuasion – I enjoyed them both so much, I am looking forward to my further Austen re-reading. Not long ago I also read the selected letters of Jane Austen – but didn’t find them quite as wonderful as I had wanted them to be.  For Christmas I received three of the Jane Austen clothbound classics – they are such lovely editions and have inspired me. I intend to read Sense and Sensibility over the Easter holidays – and Emma later in the year.

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taking chancesThe classic spin has made it’s choice, the number drawn was 14.

The spin list  of 20 books that I came up with, was made up of five books I was nervous of encountering, five I couldn’t wait to read, five I was neutral about and five others picked for no good reason other than they were on my classic club list unread. I had been convinced that I would be reading one of the five books I know I keep passing by. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Number 14 on my spin list is Taking chances by Molly Keane (often published as M J Farrell the name she originally wrote under)

About the book:

Since the death of their parents, Roguey, Maeve and Jer have cared for one another and for Sorristown, their elegant home. Here this companionable trio have fished and hunted, unravelled secrets by bedroom fires and sipped gin cocktails – a pattern of intimacy about to be broken by Maeve’s marriage to Rowley. A week before the wedding, her bridesmaid Mary arrives. In contrast to acquiescent Maeve, Mary is faintly pagan, elusive. Meeting her for the first time Rowley describes Mary as “a factor for disturbance”, little realising the extent to which his prophecy will prove true for each of them. First published in 1929, this novel perfectly captures the leisured Anglo-Irish lives of that era, but most of all it explores allegiances and love – and taking chances of a desperate kind.

I have read two other Molly Keane books both of which I enjoyed and so this title which was one of the five random picks on my list is a great choice for me.  Devoted Ladies by Molly Keane which I read last year came very close to making it on to my top reads for 2012 list.

So are you playing classic spin? and if so what will you be reading?

Taking Chances will be on my March reading pile – and I will endeavor to get my review up either on or just before April 1st. I have been foolishly excited, waiting to see which classics we all will be reading.

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