4.5 stars. Why are there not half stars? George Eliot won me with Middlemarch. She kept me with Adam Bede. The full five stars were within its grasp, i4.5 stars. Why are there not half stars? George Eliot won me with Middlemarch. She kept me with Adam Bede. The full five stars were within its grasp, if it weren't for a couple of chapters where the author pushed the patience of even this lover of the pastoral pace. I probably didn't need the background of all of the Poysers' servants, who make no other appearance in the novel. But I've gotten a little better at knowing when to skim. Isn't reading delicious? The tale itself is about virtue and compassion, holiness and suffering, loyalty and betrayal, and consequences. It is set amid the advent of the evangelicals to Britain, and highlights the dichotomy between the comfortable morality of the Church of England and the passionate self-denial and soul-winning of the Methodists. There is some top-notch preaching given by the young Dinah Morris, who has become one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. This doesn't make Adam Bede a religious novel, however. It may surprise modern, post-Christian readers (it even surprised me, definitely not post-Christian) that George Eliot had completely rejected God by the time she wrote this novel. Her early life was full of strong religious influences, and it is obvious that the themes fascinated and did not entirely offend her. It is praiseworthy that she created Dinah Morris, so thoroughly committed to the way of Christ, as a deep and admirable character who does not fail to leave people better than she finds them. I am being unfair to the title character, however. Adam is the thread at the center of most of the tale, although several other characters get significant alone time with the narrator (who is also quite a character!). He is complex too, perhaps the most complex, because he so fully exceeds the standards of other men in his class, in thoughtfulness, intelligence, diligence, self-control, and loyalty. Furthermore, he grows, through brokenness, and learns compassion on top of them all. There are two characters who contribute exclusively to the suffering and brokenness of Adam Bede, and they are (amazingly) not caricatures either. Foolish, selfish, self-deceived, but real. I doff my hat to Ms. Evans (Eliot)--she had studied people very well. And there is comic relief; what hillside hamlet could be considered remotely genuine without its share of loud-mouthed men and women whose opinions everyone knows? And there is joy--the narrator's descriptive powers are almost magical, and I don't mind reading for pages and pages without anything "happening." Read Adam Bede. It's wonderful. ...more
It's hard to believe that when Anne Bronte wrote this amazingly bold, rich treatise on gender roles and rules, alcoholism, sensual indulgence, and theIt's hard to believe that when Anne Bronte wrote this amazingly bold, rich treatise on gender roles and rules, alcoholism, sensual indulgence, and the working out of one's faith in the midst of great trial, she was forced to present it to the world, and even to her publisher, as a man. It's hard to believe that she was not quite my age--only 28--when she wrote it, and that, at 29, she died of consumption. It is hard to believe that her sister Charlotte, famous author of Jane Eyre, prevented the book from being republished after Anne's death because, Charlotte claimed, the subject was too distasteful and not in accordance with the nature of its author. The result of this was that Charlotte's and Emily's (Wuthering Heights) works became classics, and Anne's became obscure, until much later. So now we are getting to know Anne, who did not write like quite like her sisters, but put things plainly, ironically, sometimes sharply, always with realism. I wonder if her brother Branwell was the only person in her life who was an alcoholic, or if she had perhaps women friends, or employers (during her years as a governess), whose husbands were like Arthur Huntingdon. She obviously had some first-hand experience, for when her audience accused her (or, rather "Acton Bell") of having "a morbid love for the coarse, even brutal," she asserted that she did indeed know that such people existed, and it was better--more honest, safer, in the long run--to portray them as they are, however uncomfortable the reader may feel. As for the tale itself, I found it engrossing, although more for the subject matter than for overwhelming love for any of its characters (which I did feel for Jane Eyre). Helen Graham (Huntingdon) is a picture of the sadder but wiser woman. When she comes on the scene at Wildfell Hall, her neighbors can say nothing good about her--she is too harsh, too serious, not friendly enough, too watchful over her son, and most likely nurtures some secret scandal. Looking back on their treatment of her after we know all her secrets reveals the cruelty of their ignorant assumptions. After all, she was more cheerful, once, and less watchful. I found it fascinating to learn, thanks to Helen's incredibly thorough diary entries, of the ease with which her stern religious upbringing and the "good head on her shoulders" was turned by the skilled hands of Mr. Huntingdon (and her own pride). She doesn't have to approve of all his behavior, she can save him. He doesn't have to be a saint, yet. She'll spend her lifetime making him one. He doesn't have to be deep because she chooses to love him. Her aunt feels strongly against him, but she must never have been in love. Let the goody-two-shoeses go to those women not up for this kind of challenge. I'm certain this same thought process goes through the heads of otherwise sane women still. Helen walked through fire as a result of her choice, and I so appreciated how the faith she once held in theory became her only real life line. Gilbert Markham is an interesting choice for a hero. Portrayed as a hard-working, serious-minded man who shuns the more vulgar of society's sins (like gossip) but isn't above being enticed by an empty-headed woman in the absence of something better, his emotional immaturity is what really gets me. Granted, the parts about Gilbert are written by Gilbert, in retrospect, and he is honest enough to admit his touchiness ("big baby" is the phrase I'd use) and feels he's come along nicely since. The reader has to take his word for it. But he has temper tantrums repeatedly throughout his retelling, or sulking fits, as the case may be. He and Helen share a thoughtful quality, and Gilbert's faith seems to be more real to him than to most of the other characters (except for Helen), but--especially after what she has undergone--I would have wished so much greater of a man for her. The discrepancy between the emotional and spiritual maturity of heroine and hero is telling. When they finally reach their understanding, the financial gap has increased in her favor as well, and she is so sure of what she wants, and he so tentative, that she actually proposes to him. This, to me, even more than Helen's standing up to her husband, makes this an early feminist novel. Although there were some excellent men in the book--Mr. Lawrence and the young Richard Wilson--in the main relationship of the novel, the woman is the worthier and, in my opinion, more dominant. Their marriage no doubt brings Gilbert to an elevated standing in the relationship (from a social/legal perspective), and I would be interested in Anne's ideas about how their interactions developed after they settled down. I found many valuable insights in this under-acclaimed work, and was reminded of truths put in different ways by different wise people: Eleanor Roosevelt, "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people," C. S. Lewis, "See the bear in his own den before you judge of his conditions," and Scripture, "Pride goes before destruction." I am eager to read Anne Bronte's other major work, Agnes Gray, and will try to forgive Charlotte her great blunder in repressing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
I love Thomas Hardy's writing style. Really! All the verbose descriptions that leave some people cold warm me right up. He has such a way of describinI love Thomas Hardy's writing style. Really! All the verbose descriptions that leave some people cold warm me right up. He has such a way of describing the most mundane things in a way that make you feel like you're there, breathing the air, sipping the cider, experiencing life in a small village. That said, I didn't feel that this book had much substance or strong direction in terms of its message. As it started, it felt like it would simply be a 'slice of life' in a small village as it experienced the changing of the times. The fact that not much character development took place seemed to be pardonable since the village itself appeared to be the protagonist. That theme ultimately got left behind, though, for a love story between two fun, but not great, characters. I almost wish that Hardy had allowed the village story to remain in the forefront, with the love story in the background. It would have given him more to say in the end, I think. That said, it was a fine read and a good early effort by Hardy, just not one for me to read again and again. ...more
This book is beautifully-written, thought-provoking, interesting, and insightful--so why only three stars from me? Some books stimulate the intellectThis book is beautifully-written, thought-provoking, interesting, and insightful--so why only three stars from me? Some books stimulate the intellect while also touching the heart or inspiring the soul; for me, this one did great on the former aspect, but not so much on the latter. That said, I realize that others find themselves interacting on a much more personal level with the tale. One of the most fascinating and yet frustrating (to me) aspects of analyzing this book is the contrast between its seeming morality and Wilde's philosophy that "ethical sympathies in an artist are an unpardonable mannerism of style." Perhaps this paradox was an unnecessary hangup for me, but I like to know where an author is coming from, and Wilde doesn't want to be known ("to reveal art and conceal the artist is the artist's aim"). This concealment is evident in the vast differences of interpretation that are still found between critics of Wilde's novel, and of Wilde himself--is he advocating the philosophy of Lord Henry, or does he recognize its ultimate vanity? If he believed so firmly in aestheticism, why do his aesthetic characters end so badly? Is Lord Henry truly evil, or is he naive to the outworking of his philosophy, to him largely theoretical? Although discussion and perspectives can shed some light on possible answers to these questions, much about them remains dark, as Wilde apparently wanted ("diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital"). All that said, our book club had a very interesting discussion of this book, and I enjoyed it, but Wilde's concept of 'art for art's sake alone' kept me from feeling a real kinship with him or his work....more
What I loved about this book were the contrasts it presented, not only within itself, but with others of Austen's novels. Her final and most 'mature'What I loved about this book were the contrasts it presented, not only within itself, but with others of Austen's novels. Her final and most 'mature' novel shows two protagonists who are real grown-ups, physically and emotionally. They have loved and lost, experienced years of solitude, and learned to hope again. What a sweet joy this offers the reader who has known grown-up trials too! And, although Anne and Captain Wentworth are not teeming over with the unbridled passion of Marianne Dashwood, there is plenty of feeling there--agony, resentment, hope, jealousy, and always a faithful love, expressed with subtle certainty in Austen's unmistakable way. Of course, Jane Austen takes every opportunity to write critiques on her own society, and Persuasion offers a full treatise on the views she formed on gender relations and motherhood, social mobility and class roles, education and literature, all with her wonderful wit and insight. Most particularly, she seems to have sketched out her very best 'self' in Anne Elliot--an ideal of mature womanhood who often puts others first but knows her own mind. I look forward to revisiting this; it's a wonderful enough story without catching every subtle hint, but I'd like to catch them all the same. ...more
This book surprised me in several ways. First and foremost, its heroine, Catherine Morland, is not a typical heroine at all. She is young, innocent, uThis book surprised me in several ways. First and foremost, its heroine, Catherine Morland, is not a typical heroine at all. She is young, innocent, unassuming, and just a little silly (although not unteachable). Her main foibles are related to her strong taste for Gothic romance novels, and Austen parodies these in Catherine's relationship with the Tilneys and with Northanger Abbey itself. I struggled somewhat to identify with Catherine because, also unlike Austen's other heroines, she is a trifle simple--neither very intelligent nor accomplished in any way, nor longsuffering nor particularly wise (although she does grow throughout the story). It almost seemed like the reader is meant to identify with the so-called "biographer" of the story as much as we do with Catherine, since her commentary on the various characters, events, motives, and even her own opinions shows her keen interest in human nature, as well as her sympathy for the struggles Catherine faces. That said, I would have preferred to identify with the heroine, and I think, for me, that prevented me from enjoying the book as much as I wanted to. I did appreciate the purity of Catherine and her family, and their inability to assume the worst of people--what an admirable quality. I wished to know more about Henry Tilney also, and to find out what Catherine and Eleanor talked about that made them such good friends. I still thought the book was very enjoyable, but it wasn't my favorite Austen novel. ...more
This book was such a wonderful read. It chronicles a key period in British history as experienced by the people of a small rural town. And, while therThis book was such a wonderful read. It chronicles a key period in British history as experienced by the people of a small rural town. And, while there are several protagonists and a dozen other important characters, one of the best features of this book is the intricate web their various lives form. No person is an island, and the sway of a good (or a bad) friend is of primary importance in the formation of each character's ultimate identity. The best and most important character, Dorothea Brooke, is lovable in the extreme. She is the inspiration for much of the good done in the novel, despite circumstances that make goodness nearly impossible. She is real, however, and struggles with temptation like the rest of us. She also has a foil--a character who by her continued influence may turn a man's soul to ruin. You'll know her when you see her. There are deserving poor, rigid nobility, idealistic dreamers, society gossips, a vocal churchman with a past, and flighty social climbers. Of course, we can't forget the brooding artist/political writer/vagabond of questionable parentage who loses his heart to our heroine and generally adds spice to life. The book is about the beginnings of a respectable middle class in England in the 19th century, the pressures of society's ideals, the difficulties of marriage (particularly when the partners are not well acquainted beforehand), the hope that we may change our destinies, and the power of financial troubles to destroy that hope. In the end, its message is that the people who mean the most to us will not always be sung about or remembered by the world. Spending one's life serving and inspiring others is perhaps the worthiest life's work of all....more