Amazing to think that Anthony Hope Hopkins was in his early twenties when he wrote this, and it was his first book.
Though it does show some roughnessAmazing to think that Anthony Hope Hopkins was in his early twenties when he wrote this, and it was his first book.
Though it does show some roughness in patches, and whew, it's very much of its period, the story of honor and hopeless love and sacrifice was maybe not new, but the wit and verve with which Hope told his story was refreshing.
For those who like the bromantic element, the duel of wit between Rudolph Rassendyl and Rupert of Hentzau is pretty snazzy--which carries over to the big screen with Ronald Colman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr in the leading roles. (and a fun young David Niven as well.)
The country of Ruritania also grabbed the imagination in a fast-changing, modernizing world, causing a century of spinoffs. (Including one of my own.)
However, don't read the sequel unless you are fond of 100% hopeless tragedy....more
I so looked forward to this book, but it was so disappointing to me. Yet another iteration of Beauty and the Beast, this one with the Beast characterI so looked forward to this book, but it was so disappointing to me. Yet another iteration of Beauty and the Beast, this one with the Beast character even farther away, so we rarely hear him speak, just get pages and pages and PAGES of Chalice talking to herself about him, and asking herself questions she couldn't answer. What little action there is gets mostly fed in flashback form.
It felt like a short story stretched out over endless paragraphs of verbiage that never quite added up to more than two scenes of actual action: the arrival of the Beast, and the dispatch at the end.
I did love the bees--that was the single thing that reminded me of the McKinley I love so much in other books....more
Some years back in one of my APAs, someone castigated Jane Austen's books like this: "All those daft twits rabbiting on about clothes and boyfriends aSome years back in one of my APAs, someone castigated Jane Austen's books like this: "All those daft twits rabbiting on about clothes and boyfriends and manners."
Since then, I’ve encountered other variations on the theme that a modern woman ought not to be reading such trash because it sets feminism back two centuries.
Well, much as I laughed over the first caveat, that isn't Austen. It sounds more like the silver fork romances inspired by Georgette Heyer. Austen's characters don't talk about clothes at all, outside of air-headed Mrs Allen of Northanger Abbey, who doesn't think of anything else.
Austen sticks her satiric quill into young ladies who think and talk about nothing but beaux, such as poor, luckless Anne Steele in Sense and Sensibility. Manners are emphasized but not manners without matter; Austen saves her spikiest irony for hypocrites.
I think it's important to remember that whereas Heyer was writing historical romances in the silver fork tradition, Austen was writing novels about contemporary life, especially the problems facing young women in her own walk of life, the country gentry. She criticized herself in a much-quoted letter to her sister Cassandra, saying in effect, 'the problem with Pride and Prejudice is it's too light and bright and sparkling.' Many have misinterpreted this remark. It seems to me, on close reading of her elsewhere, that she meant the novel to be taken more seriously than it was.
What is it about, really? It's about the wrong reasons for marrying, and how those can affect a woman for the rest of her life. Of course a hard-line feminist can point out that novels about marriage are hideously retro for today's woman, who has many choices before her. During Austen's time, marriage was the only choice a woman had, unless she was rich enough to shrug off the expectations of her society, or unless she was willing to live on as a pensioner to some family member or other, which more often than not meant being used as an unpaid maid. Of course there was teaching, but the salaries for women were so miserable one may as well have been a servant. The hours and demands were pretty much equal.
If one looks past the subject of marriage, the novel's focus is about relationships: between men and women; between sisters; between friends; between family members and between families. As for marriage, Austen sends up relationships that were formed with security as the goal, relationships that were sparked by physical attraction and not much else, relationships made with an eye to rank, money, social status, or competition. And, with abundant wit and style (or as she’d say, with éclat), she offers some truths about the differences between love and lust, and what relationships based on either mean to a marriage months—or decades—after the wedding.
The fact that Austen doesn't use modern terminology doesn't make it any less real than a contemporary novel that has a supposedly liberated woman romping from bed to bed for forty pages while in search of the perfect relationship. The message is the same, that women who mistake falling in lust for falling in love are usually doomed to a very unhappy existence. And in Austen's time, you couldn't divorce, you were stuck for life.
I've had dedicated feminist friends give me appalled reactions when I admit to liking Austen. I don't consider reading Austen a guilty pleasure, as I do reading Wodehouse. I consider Jane Austen a forerunner of feminism. She doesn't stand out and preach as Mary Wollstonecroft did. Her influence was nevertheless profound. Again and again in those novels she portrays women thinking for themselves, choosing for themselves—even if their choices are within the conventions of the time. What the women think matters.
In Austen’s day (and too often, now) female characters were there as prizes for the men to possess, or to strive for, or as catalysts for male action. These days we call them refrigerator women. Jane Austen gave her female characters as much agency as a woman could have in those days, and the narrative is mostly seen through their eyes.
The famed relationship between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy makes it very clear that they were first attracted by one another's intellect—those two were clearly brain-snogging before they ever got to the fine sheets of Pemberley. It is also clear that the man—his higher social and economic status notwithstanding—had to earn the woman's respect, and rethink some of his assumptions, before she could see in him a possible partner. There is no dominant male making the decisions: those two are equal right down to the last page, and Austen makes it clear that it will continue to be so after the marriage.
Each time I reread the novel, I notice something new, but in the meantime, will I continue to recommend it to young women just venturing into literature? You bet. ...more
Captain Harville: "But let me observe that all histories are against you, all stories, prose and verse... Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman's fickCaptain Harville: "But let me observe that all histories are against you, all stories, prose and verse... Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman's fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men." Anne Elliot: "Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands."
I would venture to guess that of all Jane Austen’s novels, Persuasion is second in popularity only to Pride and Prejudice. I love it, but then I love them all. Who could not adore Captain Wentworth of the dashing career and the satiric eye? Who could not love Anne, unvalued by her absurd family, but turned to by everyone else for sympathy and advice?
Is it a perfect novel? Some maintain it is. I think it is fair to say that I love it as if it were perfect, but the truth is, it isn’t. First off, it’s got a huge plot hole, though it in no way diminishes my enjoyment. If anything, it underscores how tightly plotted Austen’s novels are.
A bigger issue is the problematical heroine, who, ironically, seems to get a free pass for the sort of snobbery and judgment that are laid at Fanny Price’s door—which Fanny does not actually practice.
Getting rid of the plot hole first: given how much Sir Walter complains about Anne’s preference for visiting poor widowed Mrs. Smith, “somewhere between thirty and forty,” in Westgate-buildings, it seems impossible that Mr. Elliott, who is popping in and out all the time in order to keep an eye on his future inheritance (and to court Anne) would not have known whom Anne was visiting. Especially as Nurse Rooke, the biggest gossip in Bath, is waiting on Mrs. Smith as well as Mrs. Wallis—and selling Mrs. Smith’s sewing projects to the wealthy Mrs. Wallis. If Sir Walter didn’t complain to Mr. Elliott, Mrs. Wallis certainly would have gossiped, as we’re told that the Wallises talked extensively with Elliott about Anne as the future Mrs. Elliott, and Nurse Rooke also gossiped with Mrs. Wallis.
If Mr. Elliott had known (and he should have) he certainly would have taken steps to do something about that connection, and he definitely would not have dangled the “I used to talk about you extensively with someone” bait in front of Anne.
I suspect Austen would have fixed that if her health hadn’t been failing. She finished this novel the year before she died—and had been sick off and on while writing it. But like I say, this is easy to overlook.
More problematical, I find, is the bad press Fanny gets, when Anne gets away with worse as far as modern readers are concerned, and the conclusion that seems inescapable.
Let’s begin with the most frequent accusation, that Fanny is holier-than-thou, largely because of her position on the Lovers' Vows play. She never actually condemns the play. She’s never read it. She expresses no opinion of the play, except for wondering at Maria’s indelicacy at acting the first scene over and over with Henry, in spite of her being betrothed to another man. (And everyone else notices this as well, some cynically, and Edmund chooses to overlook it because he's too busy chasing Mary Crawford.)
What Fanny condemns as wrong—and the others all know better—is doing the acting while Sir Thomas is away. Think about it in modern terms. You have to make a long, dangerous business trip, one that wears you out. You come home to discover that your room has been torn up, all your furniture shoved around without your permission, and people are carrying on as if you didn’t exist. Wouldn’t you be annoyed?
In Austen’s day, this was considered disrespectful, and everyone with a brain (leaving out Lady Bertram) knew it. So in fact, Fanny is the only one who wasn’t a hypocrite, paying lip service to honor and politeness but actually doing what they wanted. So why is Fanny accused of hypocrisy?
Let’s go on to attitude toward others. Fanny observes, she hurts for everyone in pain, though no one cares about her opinion, except if it serves them. She judges no one except Henry, who deliberately sets out to flirt with Maria, careless of her reputation or emotions.
Anne serves as sympathetic listening post and adviser to the Musgroves, to whom she gently but inescapably feels superior. (Look again at Anne’s observations about how Uppercross house is conducted, and the old fashioned, good-natured but vulgar parents and their large size.) She wouldn’t marry among them, and though she likes them, and helps them, she regards herself a degree their superior. Just a degree.
The real hypocrisy is with Mrs. Clay.
The narrator expects us to despise Mrs. Clay, as Anne does, because she’s low born, and “selfish,” “innoxious”, “clumsy wrist and projecting tooth and freckles.”
Mrs. Clay’s manners are actually far better than Elizabeth’s or Sir Walter’s, her intention, as a poor widow, to get married if she can. Sir Walter and Elizabeth have only two things going for them: birth and looks. They are stupid, venal, hypocritical, servile to superiors, and so bad at management they have nearly bankrupted the estate. They certainly don’t give a whiz for the many dependents on that same estate. But they are family, so Anne tries not to judge them.
But Anne won’t cut Mrs. Clay, who does her no harm whatsoever, any slack at all—she won’t even walk down the street with her. Why? Because she’s not well born. Mrs. Clay’s one act of indelicacy (before the end, when she decamps with Mr. Elliott) is to go to Bath in place of Anne, but that’s because she’s invited by Sir Walter and Elizabeth, who commit the same act of indelicacy. Yet all through the book we hear about how low she is.
This is underscored by Mrs. Smith’s and Anne’s gossiping about Mr. Elliott’s first wife, who was handsome, rich, and well educated, but the two condemn the dead woman for having a grazier for a father and a butcher for a grandfather. And yet, here’s Mrs. Smith, hypocritically praising Mr. Elliott until she understands that Anne won’t marry him. When Anne calls her on it, she explains that she needed to get Anne to ask him to act for her, which Anne forgives immediately. But it’s just as manipulative as Mrs. Clay’s smiling servitude toward the obnoxious Elizabeth in order to gain a husband. I guess we’re supposed to forgive Mrs. Smith because she’s bed-ridden, but as far as desperation is concerned, there’s not much difference between her and Mrs. Clay, who was left penniless with kids to support.
Fanny is nineteen, Anne twenty-eight, they both demonstrate clear-sightedness and sympathy, but only Anne gets credit for it. Fanny is accused of being humorless, when in fact, she laughs a whole lot more than Anne does. Fanny is a stick, she’s a hypocrite, she’s unforgivable, and Anne is admirable because why? It seems to me that the inescapable answer is because Fanny turns down the fascinating Henry Crawford in favor of boring Edmund, but Anne accepts the fascinating Captain Wentworth. In other words, they are judged by the guys they marry.
It doesn't help that the endings of the two novels vary radically in effectiveness.
The ending of Persuasion is a whole lot more upbeat for modern readers than that of Mansfield Park—especially as Austen compounded the error of pulling back the narrator at the end of MP and telling us that Edmund and Fanny (cousins, euw!) fell in love after the “right amount of time” without actually showing it happen. That is far less satisfactory than Anne’s and Wentworth’s lovely, superlatively effective reconciliation.
In fact, I think that the last three chapters of Persuasion are game-changers. This is the more interesting for the fact that we actually have two endings. We can see Austen’s genius at work.
The original chapters ten and eleven of Part Two rely on overheard conversations and misunderstanding before the reconciliation. Very eighteenth century, perfectly acceptable tropes at that time. But Austen ripped out those chapters and instead give us the brilliant conversation between Anne and Harville at the window of the White Hart, about men, women, history and literature, which (I think) had tremendous influence on the entire course of the nineteenth century novel.
This conversation, and the complementary conversation at the beginning of Northanger Abbey in which Catherine and the Tilneys talk about novels and history, were published together in the same book in 1817. Unfortunately Austen did not live to see the effect, but I think we can see it Mrs. Gore, Mrs. Gaskell, and George Elliott, to name three influential female writers, thereafter: for the first time, the female view was put on equal terms with the male. ...more
I do love Fowler's work. But I have to say I found this book a disappointment.
The story concerns the members of a Jane Austen book club--five women anI do love Fowler's work. But I have to say I found this book a disappointment.
The story concerns the members of a Jane Austen book club--five women and one man--who meet to discuss the books. The structure is thus roughly divided into six months, and each month one of the people leads the discussion while Fowler interweaves that person's life story into the discussion, often punctuated by quotes from Austen's books. The prose is good, with a few eye-blinks (My favorite line, from the Jocelyn section: "We are not the saints dogs are, but mothers are expected to come a close second." One of the eye-blinks, during Prudie's section: "Lisa was a sweet girl who wanted to be liked by everyone. With luck she would survive until college, when being likable became a plausible path to that." To what?)--but the tone, overall, stays the same.
Kelly Link is acknowledged as a beta-reader; when I read the third section, and found yet again the tone was still the same, I realized the tone, the structural weaving, all made me feel like this story was somehow channeling Kelly Link. There are times when Link, at least to my eye, seems to impose a monotone voice on her wonderful structural experiments.
The real problem, I realized, was arrived at during that same Prudie section, when we had quotes from Mansfield Park interspersed through the text. Sometimes the quote seemed to echo back from the text, most of the time it didn't, but either way, every single quote, all of them known so very well I could peg them immediately, forced my mind back into the far more vivid imagery, characters, varying tone, of Austen's work. These constant plunges back into MP finally unmoored me from this story and I kept struggling against the urge to put this book down and reread MP; I realized, after yet again consciously disengaging myself from MP and resolutely finding my place on the page that the club people had yet to come to life for me, subsumed as they were by Austen's novels constantly reinvoked.
Was it that sameness of tone? Was it the fact that we get glimpses, and only glimpses, into the subsidiary women far more than the men? Was it that I was unable to perceive a meta-structure, a direction? I don't know, but finally it felt as if this book was cleverly following the patterns of fireflies while a glorious fire snapped and fooshed and radiated heat right behind them, constantly engaging not just my eye but all my senses while I tried to keep my eye on the fireflies.
I did enjoy the book discussions, but always found them far too brief, and that suggests to me that maybe I would have liked this book a lot more if I hadn't been so familiar with Austen. If, say, this had been The Virginia Woolf Book Club as it's been years since I read Woolf's fiction, preferring as I do her essays. The book discussions gradually became more interesting to me than the backstories, and I found myself wanting to argue with the characters instead of read their backgrounds. I could see that Fowler was trying to show us how their backgrounds informed their opinions of Austen.
She gives us a heads-up on her theme right with the very first line: Each of us has a private Austen, echoing Martin Amis's wonderful quote: Jane Austen is weirdly capable of keeping everybody busy. The moralists, the Eros-and-Agape people, the Marxists, the Freudians, the Jungians, the semioticians, the deconstructors--all find an adventure playground in six samey novels about middle-class provincials. And for every generation of critics, and readers, her fiction effortlessly renews itself . . .
Ah, the quotes. Finally, these were the best part of the book for me.
At the end, Fowler gives a precis of the novels (leaving out Lady Susan which I found odd, as Northanger and Persuasion were also unpublished by Austen during her lifetime, so that can't be her criteria) and those, frankly, drove me nuts. In that playful tone she reduces complexities to bald statements. Henry then falls in love with shy Fanny. She refuses the advantageous match and, as punishment, is sent back to her parents. "As punishment." No, that's not right. Not even remotely right, it skews the story and reduces Fanny to a mere victim and the Mansfield family into mere villains. Blech.
Fowler includes some of the responses to the novels recorded by Jane in her own time, which are all given at the back of one of the Chapman edition books. But then she provides those quotes from prominent people through the years since the books were published--all of them interesting, even if I have no idea who David Andrew Graves or Susan M. Korba are. Doesn't matter. Their opinions don't make me want to know anything more about them, but are interesting in the sense of showing how different people react differently to the books. Like Mark Twain's brutal dismissal (Every time I read "Pride and Prejudice" I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.) The last quote is a lovely one by J.K. Rowling.
The best of a lot of good quotes, for me, was that by Rebecca West, published in 1928 according to Fowler. And it kind of sums up the problem I've blundered about in this literary China shop in my attempts to formulate above. I will type it all out here:
Really, it is time this comic patronage of Jane Austen ceased. To believe her limited in range because she was harmonious in method is as sensible as to imagine that when the Atlantic Ocean is as smooth as a mill-pond it shrinks to the size of a mill-pond. There are those who are deluded by the decorousness of her manner, by the fact that her virgins are so virginal that they are unaware of their virginity, into thinking that she is ignorant of passion. But look through the lattice-work of her neat sentences, joined together with the bright nails of craftsmanship, painted with the gay varnish of wit, and you will see women haggard with desire or triumphant with love, whose delicate reactions to men make the heroines of all our later novelists seem merely to turn signs, "Stop" or "Go" toward the advancing male....more
The first six chapters of Patrick O’Brian’s H.M.S. Surprise read a lot like Post Captain; they largely carry on the story from that book, the humorousThe first six chapters of Patrick O’Brian’s H.M.S. Surprise read a lot like Post Captain; they largely carry on the story from that book, the humorous plot threads as well as the poignant.
Jack and Stephen contrast so perfectly. There is no neutral, passionless moment. Jack continues to be central to splendid action scenes; the sea-battle against Linois at the end is breathtakingly vivid and evocative—the moreso as Stephen is playing his cello, a single melodic voice, through the relentlessly accelerating threat of violent action.
There is a significant deepening of the Stephen-as-intelligence-agent subthread; the rescue at Mahon in the early chapters is counterbalanced with the scene with Canning and its consequence at the other end of the book.
As for that intense action at Port Mahon, what is shown, what is left to the imagination—the knife-thrust transitions—and most particularly how and where it ends quicken the pacing to an astonishing degree, which (I find, on my reread) begins to build tension not only through fast action, but on every level.
By chapter seven I began to think that a really good book had become a great book.
Most of this chapter concerns Stephen. It cannot be said that it is from his POV, for O’Brian’s narrator is omniscient, but here we enter Stephen’s Weltanshauung for a protracted time.
Before the partners of the mainmast were renewed he came home with a wreath of marigolds round his bare dusty shoulders, an offering from a company of whores: he hung the wreath on the right-hand knob of his blackwood chair and sat down to his journal.
One sinks deeply into Stephen’s view of the universe, grounded in classical learning, the distinctive eye of the Jesuit-trained thinker, tolerant of all the vagaries of human life save deliberate intention of evil, while constantly wrestling with just how to define what evil really is.
The unruffled acceptance of homosexuality, for example, was, in fact, characteristic of the time, as far as I have found in my reading of period sources; the ability to stand outside a culture and examine its boundaries was just beginning, and is comfortable to the reader now, but does not (at least to me) read as anachronistic because of the language O’Brian uses to describe it: past, both that of the fictive world and when it was written, blend seamlessly with the perceptions and expectations of the contemporary reader, thus smiting time.
But moral considerations were irrelevant to Diana: in her, physical grace and dash took the place of virtue. The whole context was so different that an unchastity odious in another woman had what he could only call a purity in her: another purity: pagan, obviously—a purity from another code altogether.
I tried to find a quote from the brilliant segment where the little girl Dil accompanies Stephen to the parade before the fort, at which he sees Diana again, but I ended up wanting to type up page after page.
That’s a high point. The background, the transitions show the same care, if not the same high pitch of emotional engagement. No minor character is left faceless and still, a mere spear-carrier:
From a distance he was surprised to see a light burning in their house; and he was more surprised, on walking in, to find Bonden there fast asleep: he was leaning over the table with his head on his bandaged arms; and both arms and head were covered with an ashy snow – the innumerable flying creatures that had been drawn to the lamp. A troop of geckoes stood on the table to eat the dazzled moths.
The end of the chapter is nearly unbearable as it brings one brief but profoundly poignant story thread to a close. After a moment he stood up. [Her] face was infinitely calm; the wavering flame made it seem to smile mysteriously at times, but the steady light showed a face as far from emotion as the sea: contained and utterly detached . . .
. . .Prayers, lustration, chanting, lustration: he laid her on the pyre. Pale flames in the sunlight, the fierce rush of blazing sandalwood, and the column of smoke rising, rising, inclining gently away as the breeze from the sea set in.
“…nunc et in hora mortis nostrae,” he repeated yet again, and felt the lap of water on his foot. He looked up. The people had gone; the pyre was no more than a dark patch with the sea hissing in its embers; and he was alone. The tide was rising fast.
For many, that would be a profoundly effective end to a book, but that is not even the midpoint of this one. It goes on, the stakes rising steadily; the climax is not even the duel with the astonishing self-surgery that was wrenched out of this book to be depicted in the film around the events of a later book in the series.
This is the book that dropped the trapdoor on me, and I could understand why Mary Renault, on her deathbed, wanted to make it long enough to read the next O'Brian....more
Another great book in the Aubrey/Maturin roman fleuve.
This one is very much a middle book, mostly ship action, with some excruciatingly funny conversaAnother great book in the Aubrey/Maturin roman fleuve.
This one is very much a middle book, mostly ship action, with some excruciatingly funny conversations, and some very, very dark stuff.
Jack and Stephen are back on the Joyful Surprise, chasing all through the seas. In this book, there is not as much of an emotional roller coaster for Jack, as Stephen's situation builds inexorably, trading off with some good ship action, and a very surprising segment with some fierce islander women.
There is a great deal of running comedy, mostly having to do with the ship's crew and there belief in luck, though there is a very dark side to this thread as well. This thread is especially disturbing when it touches on themes of relationships and marriage.
Stephen is deeply troubled, both professionally and emotionally, and even the segment with the island women offers commentary on relations between the sexes. There is also the on-going trouble in Whitehall, which the reader is in on and Jack and Stephen are not. This is one of the books that seems to abruptly stop rather than end, leaving the reader grabbing immediately for the next. ...more
In this latest installment in the Aubrey/Maturin roman fleuve, Patrick O'Brian does some interesting things. As always on my first read I galloped thrIn this latest installment in the Aubrey/Maturin roman fleuve, Patrick O'Brian does some interesting things. As always on my first read I galloped through it, loving the adventure, the descriptions, the diving bell and the naturalist explorations, far travels, vivid descriptions, various cultures, and exciting battles. O’Brian doesn’t let the reader down, with the expected comedic bits.
But on this reread of the entire series, when I came to this book I became aware of something I hadn't noticed before: I had actually reread it only once. The last couple of times I had reread the whole series, I did it in batches. I stopped with the previous one, The Surgeon's Mate, and then skipped ahead to one of the next.
On this reread, I had to figure out why.
In this book, for the first time, we see the villains and their machinations, while Jack and Stephen are oblivious. Knowing this means that I have lost the tension line, leaving a frustration instead. The frustration is compounded because (view spoiler)[their first big journey turns out to be a long, pointless frustration. Plus there is the frustration of being on blockade, and then the frustration of the decoy attack that leaves Jack’s crew thinking he’s a coward. (hide spoiler)] On a first read, those were deeply absorbing, but after that . . . frustration, because I know what’s really going on, and know it will be a long while before our heroes catch up.
In addition, the emotional arc was not as satisfying. Diana and Sophie are totally absent. Jack and Stephen end up dealing with a woman who is not very interesting in herself(view spoiler)[ with whom they are both assumed to be having an affair, which has dire consequences. (hide spoiler)].
So all in all, despite the nifty segment in which Jack tries his hand at diplomacy, leading to some sharpish action leading up to the (abrupt) end, I think of it is the book of hindrances. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
When I was a teenager, this book was forbidden. Naturally I had to buy it with my babysitting money to see what the fuss was about, especially as thisWhen I was a teenager, this book was forbidden. Naturally I had to buy it with my babysitting money to see what the fuss was about, especially as this was not long after the movie came out, which the adults all enjoyed.
My first reading? I saw the word 'bastard' and thought, that must be the problem. None of the rest of it made any sense. I abandoned it a couple chapters in.
Picked it up in college, found it quaint, the bed-hopping scarcely eye-brow raising. (This was the early seventies.)
That paperback, now sadly shabby after decades of moves, turned up as a bookclub choice. Out it came for a reread, and at last I understood its brilliance.
What we have here is Fielding talking to us as he invents the modern novel.
He broke the novel into eighteen books, each with its subsection. Before each subsection he introduces a mini-essay in a foreword. These furnish us a keyhole view of life and thinking in the middle of the 1700s. Religion--education--class problems--politics--everything gets discussed, in a wry, funny voice that is echoed in Jane Austen's most trenchant wit.
The plot hearkens back to Shakespearean comedies, with its complicated running around, bed-hopping, and general shenanigans. Central are the perfect heroine requisite in those days when the novel was so desperately trying to be respectable. Hapless Tom has a good heart, but he's been badly raised, and so has to learn the hard way to live a moral life.
There are sly references to the Hellfire Club, castigations against Jacobites and Methodists, town versus country (neither come off well) and above all, the battle of the sexes. Though we also get the hairy eyeball cast over woman versus woman and man versus man, before we come to the climactic explanation and all ends well for the deserving, and badly for the evil-doers....more
My theory is that this novel about a fallen woman of the Regency era becoming a detective came out too early. The time for it is now, and I hope it wiMy theory is that this novel about a fallen woman of the Regency era becoming a detective came out too early. The time for it is now, and I hope it will soon appear in ebook form.
Robins opens with a little discursion into manners: the fact that a lady is bound by so many invisible, but quite binding, rules. That a gentleman is not bound by the same rules, and that a gentleman may become a Rake, the implication being that any man but a gentleman, by indulging in the same vices, is nothing short of a criminal.
I strongly suspect that these ponderings are going to underlie the unfolding story--and of course this is Mannered writing at its best. We moderns might enjoy playing at the rules both visible and invisible, but we really want to test the limits--we don't need any reinforcement of the status quo, which does quite well on its own, merci beaucoup. Especially these days, when quite ordinary people who don't otherwise think much about the privileges of rank are wondering why actions committed by Rich and Powerful net nothing but more money and power, but those same actions committed by us would land us in the slammer for the rest of our lives?
Well. Anyway. I admire the deft way that Robins shifted England of 1810 one universe over, giving her a little more freedom of possibility. Not so much with the rules (though she bends them a tad, for example, there is a club for ladies, the Tarsio) but because the famous historical figures are not in exactly the same place as in our own history, treading the minutely familiar ground. There can therefore be some surprises.
Fantasy of manners I call it, though there is no magic--in this novel, the fantasy element is just that: the shifting of the universe one over. ...more
I had trouble with this set of Woolf's work many years ago . . . I think I need to reread all her fiction. The problem is, I so much prefer her directI had trouble with this set of Woolf's work many years ago . . . I think I need to reread all her fiction. The problem is, I so much prefer her direct voice, through her letters and journals, rather than fighting through the heavy filter she chose for her fiction. Artistic, yes, but difficult. And not enough humor for this superficial reader as payoff....more
One of those books I've reread every couple of decades since I first tore through it at age twelve. In those days, the first third was the most rivetiOne of those books I've reread every couple of decades since I first tore through it at age twelve. In those days, the first third was the most riveting, and I skimmed a great deal of the rest as I found it as little comprehensible as it was interesting.
I read it again some time between graduate school and having kids, with marriage having occurred in between: I found Rochester less horrifying than I had as a kid, but the Gothik elements seemed not to fit well with the rest. I wondered if Rochester was supposed to be Byronic (this was before I did any reading about the Brontes.) I skimmed most of the St. John Rivers section as it seemed tacked on.
This reading, wow! I am able to comprehend what a truly great book this is. Enough ink has been spilled about Jane's calm, ethical feminism. I discovered the humor that had eluded me before, including the unintentional humor--such as Rochester's features being carefully endowed with attributes specific to phrenology. So many writers of that period worked phrenology into their physical descriptions as clues to character and personality.
Rochester seems more Byronic than ever--he's not as convincing as Anne's contributions to the Bronteian Byronic hero, but he's far easier to stomach than Heathcliff. (Poor Emily! I'm not surprised that Charlotte burned her second novel, and any traces of it.) His falling in love with Jane has a whiff of authorial wish-fulfillment, but high energy.
What I really found absorbing were the women. I was also grateful that Charlotte kept her anti-Catholic and antisemitism reined in, after her venal excesses in The Professor. I found a lot more references to sex than I'd remembered. (And wondered if there were deeply buried hints that John Reed had molested sister Eliza.)
Poor St. John! What a mess he was--quite a fascinating psychological study. Also deeply appreciated were Charlotte's masterly depictions of the countryside, of weather and the quiet daily life of a household.
Last, I loved the words Charlotte experimented with. "Deglutinated." "Disbarrassed." "His ruth and my ruth . . ."
Finally, my surprise at finding Vampires brought up--I'd totally forgotten that. But then I'd always skimmed the whole madwoman in the attic section: I'd forgotten how many Gothik actions of a supernatural nature there were in this tale....more
I loved, and continue to love, this exciting tale that gives one such a detailed and lovely glimpse of the Greek Isles, which you can tell Stewart lovI loved, and continue to love, this exciting tale that gives one such a detailed and lovely glimpse of the Greek Isles, which you can tell Stewart loved. The sense of history was exciting to me as a kid, as well as later.
I liked the Disney version because of the folk song sung in the middle, which later inspired a novel....more