Posts Tagged ‘classics’

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.

summer will showlyingdaytheconservaitonisty






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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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

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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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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classics club

I have seen this on a couple of blogs now – and I wasn’t sure I would join in – mainly because I know I will be reading at least a couple of books from my classic club list before April. However this challenge gives me the chance to maybe read one of the ones I know I will keep putting off.

What is the spin?

1. By next Monday, Feb 18, list your choice of any twenty books you’ve left to read from your Classics Club list – in a separate post each one numbered from 1 to 20.

2. This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these twenty books in February & March.  So, try to challenge yourself. You could list five Classics Club books you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.)

3 Next Monday, The Classics club will post a number from 1 to 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by April 1.

Well I didn’t have any books I was dreading on my list – but there are some I know I keep by-passing and so I have added them to my list – along with some I am perhaps fairly neutral about and a few I simply can’t wait to read.

This is my spin list
1. Rites of Passage – William Golding
2. The Brimming Cup – Dorothy Canfield
3. Lying Days – Nadine Gordimer
4. Company Parade – Storm Jameson
5. Summer Will Show – Sylvia Townsend Warner
6. The Glimpses of the Moon – Edith Wharton
7. The Song of the Lark – Willa Cather
8. The Conservationist – Nadine Gordimer
9. The Odd Women – George Gissing
10. Uncle Silas – Sheridan Le Fanu
11. The Little Girls – Elizabeth Bowen
12. Salem Chapel – Margaret Oliphant
13. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy – Laurence Sterne
14. Taking Chances – Molly Keane
15. The Squire – Enid Bagnold
16. Summer – Edith Wharton
17. Farewell Leicester Square – Betty Miller
18. The Last September – Elizabeth Bowen
19. The Rising Tide – Molly Keane
20. Emma – Jane Austen

So I will be looking out for that all important number, being drawn next Monday. The corresponding title will either be read towards the end ofthis month or the beginning of March.


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Classically Beautiful

It hasn’t gone unnoticed by this particular book addict that the producers of books out there have really stepped up to the plate lately. I suspect that this is due in no small part to the ebook revolution. I have a kindle – I am very fond of it. However it will never and could never replace actual books for me. I don’t even read that much on it really, although I find it enormously useful for when I am away from home. One of the things that is marvellous about this ebook revolution is that it seems to be encouraging people to read a lot of old books, particularly classics – all those titles which are out of copyright and so therefore available free.

Surely then, it is no coincidence that publishers are producing legions of sumptuous editions of these books that one could simply download for free. They aren’t silly are they? They know how to tempt us. We book addicts (and I am a fully paid up member of that particular group) are easily tempted into buying books which are physically beautiful. It is ridiculous isn’t it? I have a kindle; I could download at time I wish copies of whatever classic tale I might wish to read. The madness however doesn’t even stop there. I already have many many old Penguin and Oxford classics editions of these books. I bought them maybe twenty or twenty five years ago – I bought them to read, I read them (during my previous classics phase –which lasted a good number of years) and often kept them. However they are faded now, the spines slightly cracked, and I have been tempted away from my trusty old editions, and bought new pretty editions. In my defence I am only purchasing new editions of books I intend to re-read – and I like to think I have been doing my (very big) bit for the publishing industry in these difficult economic times. I feel rather sorry for my old editions, a bit guilty as if I am in some way betraying old friends ( yes that is ridiculous) – though I am certainly not just throwing them away – as a somewhat lapsed (but still very much signed up) bookcrosser I am able to pass on my old books to deserving causes. I recently gave away an old copy of Jane Eyre to a friend who decided she fancied re-reading it and didn’t have a copy. I like to think therefore that I am sharing my love of my favourite books, and my old faded copies get a new lease of life with someone else. IMAG0139
The words are the same, the stories as thrilling in whatever edition one reads them in, dusty old edition bought twenty years ago, kindle edition or beautiful clothbound hardback – yet for some reason that I can’t quite explain the reading pleasure is enhanced by reading these texts in shiny new beautiful editions. That suggests that reading is partly at least a physical experience – for some of us at least – I know I am not alone in buying these new gorgeous editions. I also received some for Christmas, they do after all make wonderful gifts so I am sure I wasn’t alone in that either.
During my month of re-reading in January I have been reading a lot of old classics, only most of them have been read in pretty new editions, some I bought particularly to read during my re-reading month, some were Christmas gifts. Joining the classics club a couple of months ago – re-ignited my old love of classics, they are the kinds of books which bear re-reading, and then there are those I am discovering for the first time. I don’t seem to be alone, I am seeing many other readers and bloggers talking about classic literature just lately – another sign I think of the increased popularity of classic books. Is this because of ebooks? Or is it the piles of glorious new editions that are tempting us all back to the Brontes, Jane Austen, Dickens and co? Or have classic books always remained popular – and am I only just noticing it now?
I am determined to carry on re-reading regularly as it has been such a joy – I am certainly not going to replace every classic book in my house with a new edition, though I can’t promise I won’t acquire a few more – they are just so pretty – and I am a sucker it seems for pretty new editions. I will also be reminding myself that the contents of the books are the same – that I don’t really need the new edition – oh but they are pretty.


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