The goatherds’ observation that “This gentleman must have a few vacant chambers in his head” (page 439) comes at the end of part 1 of Don Quixote by MThe goatherds’ observation that “This gentleman must have a few vacant chambers in his head” (page 439) comes at the end of part 1 of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (first published 1605, translated by Edith Grossman 2003). Yet, that is exactly the thought I had as I began the novel. Why, oh why, is this story of this madman amusing? Why am I supposed to find his bossy relationship with peasant Sancho Panza to be a story of true friendship?
As I continued reading, I began to see that Cervantes is doing something quite interesting. He’s providing an echo to the contemporary novels of chivalry, and he’s questioning what is real in all novels. He isn’t trying to convince anyone to change, and he doesn’t necessarily disapprove of the chivalric novels. He’s making fun of those who take fiction seriously, including his own.
The second half of Don Quixote of La Mancha (written in 1615, a full decade after the first half) is much better than the first half (thoughts here). As the novel progresses, Cervantes’ writing improves, the plots improve, and the character’s personalities become far more distinct. I was drawn into the story in a way I was not drawn in on reading the first half.
In short, I loved the second half. It is still not my favorite book because it is not my favorite genre (I prefer more realistic Victorian-era fiction). But it is clear why Cervantes is considered a revolutionary writer and why this novel was a precursor to other novels. It is landmark for a reason.
I love Bradstreet’s religious themes, but also I loved her personal accounts of life. Although her writing was from a comparatively primitive pioneerI love Bradstreet’s religious themes, but also I loved her personal accounts of life. Although her writing was from a comparatively primitive pioneer era, her poems on motherhood and womanhood, on struggling to find balance in life, on developing and sustaining her Christian faith, and on writing still resonate with me in this very different age.
Ironically, the volume of her own poetry that was published in her lifetime (without her permission) was full of poems that I just could not get into for boredom (a poem on the four elements, one on the four humors of man, etc.). The poems that most resonated with me, those that I would call “the Best,” were the personal, womanhood-inspired poems, ones that she never intended for publication but that reflect her struggles and worries: poems of the heart. I loved those ones.
Although The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club is a long, sometimes laborious novel to read, it is series of vignettes about life among both theAlthough The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club is a long, sometimes laborious novel to read, it is series of vignettes about life among both the well-to-do and the poor in the early nineteenth century London. Before anything else, it is a character book. The characters are wonderfully drawn, and I found myself well engaged in their story by the end of the book. I wanted to know their fates. As for their adventures, I frequently laughed out loud at the jokes, ridiculous situations, and amusing happens. Dickens obviously loved these invented friends of his, and his joy at writing about them made the book a fun romp.
When I first read it, I pitied Emma Bovary. How stuck she was in her world! What a victim of circumstance! True, she made wrong decisions. But she wasWhen I first read it, I pitied Emma Bovary. How stuck she was in her world! What a victim of circumstance! True, she made wrong decisions. But she was trapped in a relationship that bored her.
On this read, I hated her. She made stupid decision after stupid decision. She did not have the ability to love, either her husband, her child, or her lovers. She thought she loved Rudolphe, but from my perspective she lusted, not loved. It was a selfish escape from her boredom. She was naïve and selfish beyond measure. Her husband was doting and kind, and she saw only the negative aspects of his personality. Her husband was, of course, imperfect: that was all she saw.
Regardless of Emma Bovary’s stupidity, I still greatly enjoyed Gustave Flaubert’s wonderfully written book. Lydia Davis’ new translation was marvelous. Reading Madame Bovary reminded me how grateful I am for my loving husband and for our relationship....more
It is not often that I finish a book and feel nothing positive. I tend to like most of what I read, and even if I don’t like it, I try to find somethiIt is not often that I finish a book and feel nothing positive. I tend to like most of what I read, and even if I don’t like it, I try to find something that sheds light on life in some way.
I struggle now to think of what I could possibly find redeeming in The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1894), a painfully realistic look at a young man in the midst of a Civil War battle. There’s plenty of symbolism for the high school student to find, but I don’t particularly want to read it with that depth. It was quite a blah book for me.
Magdalen and Norah Vanstone’s story (which cannot really be discussed without spoilers, i.e., don’t read the back cover) left me less satisfied than uMagdalen and Norah Vanstone’s story (which cannot really be discussed without spoilers, i.e., don’t read the back cover) left me less satisfied than usual with Mr. Wilkie Collins, but there is no denying that No Name (first published 1862) was a page-turning, suspenseful book. As with other Wilkie Collins novels, there are mistaken identities, disguises, tricks on both the good and bad, memorable characters, and opportune deaths. I couldn’t wait to see how it was all resolved. More with spoilers...more
By creating a world with both excessively good characters and excessively evil characters, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel about the horrors of slaveryBy creating a world with both excessively good characters and excessively evil characters, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel about the horrors of slavery is certainly melodramatic.
Yet, given her intended audience and the era in which she was writing, she could not have had the impact she had in Uncle Tom’s Cabin without the melodrama. Although Ms Stowe wrote a rather didactic novel about the evils of slavery and the true meaning of “Christian”, the stereotyped characters became beloved friends to the reader, and the continued action kept the reader engaged. There was nothing remarkable about the writing – and I personally tired quickly of the novel’s style.
Nevertheless, it is clear Ms Stowe created a masterful classic of historical importance by her techniques in writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin (first published 1852). Reading the novel helps one better understand the difficulties of slavery in the years immediately preceding the Civil War, particularly because the arguments against slavery Ms Stowe makes are so emotional and realistic.
Voltaire’s Candide (originally published 17581) is alternatively titled Optimism. A rosy outlook on life is the main target of Voltaire’s satire. RathVoltaire’s Candide (originally published 17581) is alternatively titled Optimism. A rosy outlook on life is the main target of Voltaire’s satire. Rather than embracing a truly pessimistic approach to the world, however, Voltaire seems to me to be arguing for a realistic and reasonable approach to life. The humorous look at both optimism and pessimism (as well as politics, religion, war, chivalric romance, and more) provides fuel for his fire.
Germinal by Emile Zola (first published in French, 1885) is so much more than I can capture in a summary or in an opinion post or review or whatever iGerminal by Emile Zola (first published in French, 1885) is so much more than I can capture in a summary or in an opinion post or review or whatever it is I write. Germinal is 500 pages that immersed me in a world of starving and ill people in an obscure mining town living a life of dire poverty and violence, and it certainly must have happened, given the ways I was drawn in to the story of these people.
Although Germinal is packed full of sexuality and violence, tragedy and despair, Zola somehow caught me in his trap and I couldn’t put the book down. Once I was deeply engaged in the story of the desperate strikers trying to grasp on to some life purpose, it seemed I felt their pain and mourned with them as their never-ending tragedies took away all semblance of hope. More on my blog...more
Having finished my third epic-length Anthony Trollope novel (the third in the Palliser series), I’m beginning to think I’m not really a fan of Mr. TroHaving finished my third epic-length Anthony Trollope novel (the third in the Palliser series), I’m beginning to think I’m not really a fan of Mr. Trollope’s writing style. His novels have wonderfully constructed and carefully developed plots. The characters are well rounded and personable; I feel I know them upon finishing a novel, and therefore it’s fun to see the recurring characters throughout the series. Nevertheless, the novels all seem to miss something spectacular that makes me want to jump up and pull the next one off the shelf.
The Eustace Diamonds (published serially in 1871) concerns different characters from the previous two books in the Palliser series, although Glencora Palliser does have a few cameos in London society (from the first two novels) and Mr and Mrs Grey (from Can You Forgive Her?) appear once. One needn’t have read the first two novels to enjoy this one, as there is no connecting storyline between the three novels.
Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is creepy. Dorian Gray, as an innocent and attractive young man, in a fit of passion exclaimed:
"How sad it iOscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is creepy. Dorian Gray, as an innocent and attractive young man, in a fit of passion exclaimed:
"How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June. … If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that – for that – I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!" (page 25)
And that is what happened. In the beginning, Dorian was fascinated by the painting: scowls (representative of his wickedness) immediately began etching itself on the painting, while he remained innocent and attractive looking in all respects. At times, though, the image of his soul disgusted him and he decided to abandon his life of sin, hoping his image would then right itself. But Dorian Gray found himself unable to stop embracing the life he’d created for himself, even when it disgusted him.
When I found out that Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray was written in 1891, I was surprised. It seemed far more modern than that, since it deals candidly with issues of immorality. It captures issues of sin versus innocence. But such issues seemed appropriate for the late Victorian age, since it is questioning the existing morals and the social constraints of that rigid era.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson transferred me to a world of pirates and sea-life, but best of all the boy protagonist drove the action. BecTreasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson transferred me to a world of pirates and sea-life, but best of all the boy protagonist drove the action. Because he was in the right place at the right time and made great choices, he was able to “save the day.” I think it’s perfect for a child to read, and it reminds me that there is great classic literature for children: this is what I can’t wait to introduce to my son.
Treasure Island’s charm lay in the power of the child. While Jim Hawkins was probably an older boy (age 16 or 17), I still felt he was a “boy” as I read and I think older kids would love relating to his adventures. From the beginning, Jim is the one discovering things and When a pirate dies in his family hotel, Jim finds a map with a treasure marked on it. With some help from a wealthy neighbor, they plan their trip to the island. There are a number of coincidences, of course, but one can’t help fall in love with Long John Silver, the one-legged cook who we are not surprised to find is actually a pirate. (I was so pleased to see how good he really was!)
Maggie Tulliver is a quick-witted child, one with appalling manners for her strict Victorian house and community. She cannot seem to be a proper youngMaggie Tulliver is a quick-witted child, one with appalling manners for her strict Victorian house and community. She cannot seem to be a proper young lady. When the novel opens, she is about nine years old, and I couldn’t help adoring her childish antics, especially as she regularly brought disappointment to her mother and aunts with her lack of girlish charm. From my perspective, who wouldn’t love a girl who is so determined to read, to learn, and to be all the imaginative things she desires?
Unfortunately for Maggie, her life in small-town Victorian village does not allow for women that are different from the norm. Her story, as told in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (1860), was both frustrating and emotional for me to read, because as Maggie herself desired, I wanted so much more for her.
Much as the happenings in Eliot’s Middlemarch (which I absolutely loved) captured the intricacies of an entire community, The Mill on the Floss captured the tragedies of one small, overall rather insignificant family in a rural town. Maggie’s idealistic upbringing to a life of gentlewomanly ease was crushed, and her subsequent story was not a happy one, for her life was changed through a series of misfortunes. To make her situation worse, she was consistently reminded, through the repressive traditions of her society and her own self-imposed acceptance of those traditions, that as a woman she must defer to her male guardian. In Maggie’s case, this was her loving but short-sighted father and her nasty older brother.
My response to the characters and setting was similar to my response to those in Middlemarch: George Eliot’s absolutely masterful prose creates a world so realistic I believe it existed. Eliot creates characters I love by the end because of their depth and sincerity; Eliot’s pen composes a breathtaking yet believable love letter. After spending so much time with Maggie and others, I couldn’t wait to see how their story resolved.
Yet, because of the frustratingly real aspects of the novel, I feel quite conflicted having now finished the novel. I don’t know if I loved it as a whole or if I only liked it or if I’m angry at Eliot for writing such an engaging, wonderfully written novel that left me so unsatisfied in the end. I have really struggled to put my response into words.
One thing is clear: Eliot’s novel is a masterpiece. By capturing one rather insignificant woman’s life story, I was left frustrated by the repressive society, especially by the fact that Maggie created limitations for herself in order to meet societies’ expectations. That is, I think, what Eliot was hoping to accomplish.
Late one evening in 1849, art teacher Walter Hartwright walks from his mother’s home in suburban London into the city. He meets a mysterious woman weaLate one evening in 1849, art teacher Walter Hartwright walks from his mother’s home in suburban London into the city. He meets a mysterious woman wearing white on his path, and he helps her to the city. The next day, he travels to his new employment in Limmeridge House, the Lake District, to teach the lovely Miss Fairlie. As the subsequent events are told through various people’s remembrances, letters, and journal entries, we learn how all the mysterious people and strong personalities are connected. It doesn’t all become clear until the very end.
I loved how I never knew what was coming next as I listened to the audiobook for The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I was surprised to find that the titular woman in white appeared at the very beginning, and then I was surprised to find that I had no idea what would happen next and how it all fit together. I had suspicions that were generally correct, but the details were impossible to predict. That doesn’t mean it was out of the blue: far from it. I was just kept in eager anticipation for how the unknown would eventually resolve.
The poetry is amazingly readable (Hollander and Hollander edition), and I found myself reading the footnotes after each canto with interest: rather thThe poetry is amazingly readable (Hollander and Hollander edition), and I found myself reading the footnotes after each canto with interest: rather than trying to grasp the meaning and symbolism behind each person, action, and setting, I just let it wash over me. In one ear and out the other. As such, I missed a lot, but I enjoyed my first full experience with Dante, and now I want to revisit it with more careful reading and understanding at another point, maybe in conjunction with some criticism and explanations. Initial first read thoughts on my blog ...more