A meandering novel about life, love, and politics in a small English Cathedral city.
This was just my second Trollope novel, but it won't be my last. I...moreA meandering novel about life, love, and politics in a small English Cathedral city.
This was just my second Trollope novel, but it won't be my last. I am finding them charming. In length and language, they are reminiscent of Dickens, but in tone and plot they remind me more of Austen, since they lack the sensationalism and sentimentality that so characterize Dickens' novels. Instead, like Austen's works, this novel and _The Warden_, which precedes it, deal with the everyday foibles and actions of characters who are neither wholly good or wholly wicked. Even Mr. Harding, the titular character of the first novel in the Barchester series, who is the most admirable, in my opinion, has his weaknesses of character. And even the least admirable has his or her virtues. Also like Austen, Trollope allows his narrator to interpose, though he does so with greater frequency and vehemence.
This narrator occasionally irritates me, not for the fact of his interruptions, which in general I enjoy, but for the content of some of those interruptions. In addition to weighing in on issues of class conflict, which not surprisingly do not agree with my own feelings on issues of class, he pontificates on the "correct" role and behavior of women, which naturally is one of quiet submissiveness to their husbands and fathers. This is to be expected, and if Dickens had a narrator who expressed his views explicitly, it seems pretty clear he would say the same. Trollope, though, in contrast to Dickens, writes a variety of female characters who have an interesting interior life, full of flaws as well as virtues. The reader is not stuck with the choice between an insipid Esther Summerhouse or Amy Dorrit and an interesting but wholly evil Madame Defarge. This makes it especially frustrating that the narrator insists on circumscribing their lives with the same stifling "rules" that Dickens illustrates, but does not specify. And the incredibly satisfying scene in which a sympathetic female character smacks an undesired, overzealous suitor upside the head is undercut by the narrator, who criticizes her for acting in a way that might be acceptable for a lower-class woman, but not for a woman of her upbringing and class. Still, Trollope lets her take her swing, which counts for something.(less)
I read Darwin's account of his famous voyage on a voyage of my own, which included a week in the Galapagos. I highly recommend that chapter in particu...moreI read Darwin's account of his famous voyage on a voyage of my own, which included a week in the Galapagos. I highly recommend that chapter in particular to anyone planning such a trip. I imagine geologists might also be interested in the book as a whole--I had not realized that long before he became famous for theorizing about evolution, Darwin was fascinated by geology. I, on the other hand, am not especially fascinated by geology, so I occasionally found those bits of the book hard going, and the pages and pages of analysis of coral reef formation I confess I skimmed.
For me Darwin's writing works best as he describes the animals he sees, and when he describes specific things that happened to him (for example, an earthquake that took place during his stay in Chile). The geological analysis is clear and persuasive, from what I can tell, but (for me) sometimes tedious. His analysis of the cultures he observes gives interesting if also repellent insight into casual nineteenth century racism and cultural bigotry. (The "ladder" of civilization, to which he blithely assigns many of the peoples he encounters epitomizes his thinking in this vein. Tierra del Fuegans are apparently at the bottom, and England presumably at the top.)
Altogether a mine of information about nineteenth century South America and the South Pacific, and about what a naturalist at the time thought and recorded.(less)
A beautifully written book, even in translation. I can see why it is a classic, and clearly it was hugely important in the history of the novel. I tri...moreA beautifully written book, even in translation. I can see why it is a classic, and clearly it was hugely important in the history of the novel. I trimmed off a star because I found it a bit of a slog. Without much plot, it felt almost like 500 pages of modern poetry. I like poetry, but unless it is medieval, I prefer it in small, intense doses. I will be interested to see if the Morgan Library's exhibit in honor of the book's 100th anniversary (opening this week, Feb 2013) gives me any interesting insights or new perspectives on the book. (less)
I can't say I loved the book, but I give it four stars because even though I set it aside periodically to read other things, the story stayed with me,...moreI can't say I loved the book, but I give it four stars because even though I set it aside periodically to read other things, the story stayed with me, and, picking it up again, I fell easily back into it, remembering all but the most minor characters without any effort, three-part Russian names and all. I can't explain it, exactly, but although not much actually happens, the characters seemed real to me.
I wondered throughout what Levin's role was in a book named for someone else. It clicked at the end, that Anna looks at the world and sees only evil, while Levin sees the underlying goodness. As he gets the last word (and seems pretty clearly to be a stand-in for Tolstoy), his is the philosophy the book advocates. The two characters are foils, taking opposite paths, and it's evident which path is the better one. They both set forth motivated by love, though, so I am not certain where Anna goes wrong: her love is adulterous, could that be it? Or was she doomed from before the start of the book, having married without love?
At any rate, there is much to think about now that I know the shape of the book as a whole.(less)
I enjoyed this account of Irving's time at the Alhambra, particularly since I read it on my trip to Spain and Morocco, which included a visit to the A...moreI enjoyed this account of Irving's time at the Alhambra, particularly since I read it on my trip to Spain and Morocco, which included a visit to the Alhambra itself. While it demonstrates the typical and regrettable attitudes Americans and northern Europeans had towards Spaniards (that they are all simple, lazy, and yet proud), it also reveals Irving's somewhat surprising (to me) admiration of Moorish culture. He seems more hostile to Catholicism than to Islam, and acknowledges throughout the scientific and technological accomplishments of a civilization that we admire today, but that for some reason I expected a 19th century writer to look down on.
Also, some of the stories that he gathered (and rewrote?) are very entertaining.(less)
As I expected, this book's most famous character, Nell Trent, had no appeal for me at all. The parts of the book that I didn't expect to like, I didn'...moreAs I expected, this book's most famous character, Nell Trent, had no appeal for me at all. The parts of the book that I didn't expect to like, I didn't really like. Dickens is never at his best, for my taste, when writing about seriously ill children. It brings out his most maudlin, sticky-sweet sentimental writing. Nell, as well as Dombey's son (whose name escapes me) and Tiny Tim, seems to evoke great emotion for Dickens, but tend to leave me bored. The odd thing about Nell was that Dickens kept describing her as "the young child." I was surprised to read later on that she was 13, a young girl certainly, but "young child"? Hm.
On the other hand, I liked this book more than I thought I would. Much of the plot actually centers on a scrappy young boy, Kit. The contrast between Kit and Nell demonstrates the contrasting skill with which Dickens created male and female characters in general. His women, unless villains, are saintly, flat and boring, at least until closer to the end of his career. His young men, however, tend to be more interesting, even when they are, like Kit, virtuous.
Also of interest in this novel are the cast of characters Nell meets with on her travels: a Punch and Judy show, a freak show, and a travelling wax-works exhibit.(less)
I was slow to get into this book, but engrossed by the end. It combines historical fiction, with its accounts of the Gordon Riots (violent, destructiv...moreI was slow to get into this book, but engrossed by the end. It combines historical fiction, with its accounts of the Gordon Riots (violent, destructive, anti-Catholic riots in the 18th century that I'd somehow never heard of), and a story-line that could have come from vaudeville. There is murder and mayhem galore, not to mention the kidnapping of beautiful women and numerous heroic rescues. Like a Tale of Two Cities, Barnaby Rudge mixes the personal vendettas of its character with the mindless violence of historical mobs. Unlike in the Tale of Two Cities, Dickens does not hesitate to incorporate actual historical figures into his fiction, so the bizarre fate of the real Lord Gordon is included in the usual Dickensian summing-up in the final chapter.
I find it interesting that Barnaby Rudge gives his name to the book. This gentle young man, variously called "silly" and "idiot" due to his child-like mental state, begins the book as a go-between for two thwarted lovers, and ends up innocently taking part in the riots. He seems more like a victim of the the novel's plot-lines than the hero of any of them. I'm not sure I could suggest a better name, though. The Golden Key? (name of the locksmith's shop that figures centrally) The Centaur? (nickname given to one of the story's prime movers) Or perhaps Fathers and Sons, since this relationship, for better or worse (and usually the latter) seems to lie at the crux of the novel's many stories.
In conclusion, not my favorite Dickens novel, but an interesting one that I'm glad I read.(less)
In spite of my recent decision to take a break from Dickens, I'm giving this a try.
So critiques I've read complain that in this novel Dickens is heavy...moreIn spite of my recent decision to take a break from Dickens, I'm giving this a try.
So critiques I've read complain that in this novel Dickens is heavy-handed. True. He moralizes everything, and does it often. That said, his examination of the making of a murderer is interesting; also, I get bizarre satisfaction in seeing the good rewarded and the wicked brought low, so this book held my interest. Additionally, there were fewer perfect mild women shoved in my face--though they're there, mind you, and I was ready to murder Dickens, or Ruth, or both, by the time he left off gushing about this "little woman."
Instead of being constantly irritated by his sexism, I found myself sorely tried this time around by Dickens' class-ism . He goes out of his way to show what a great guy Mark is, and how wrong Martin is to look down on him, and yet continually makes a point of showing that Mark would much rather not sit with his "betters," but instead prefers to wait on them. This servant, happy in his work and cheerfully knowing his place on the social ladder, is hard to swallow. Dickens is spot-on in his criticism of the hypocrisy of Americans who trumpet about liberty while trading in human slaves, but has no trouble writing a character who echoes, however faintly, the preposterous caricatures of foolish slaves, happy in their subjugation, produced by the very hypocrites he writes about with such disdain.
Overall I liked this book, more than Bleak House or Little Dorrit, but less than Dombey and Son.
Next up on my Dickens list: a re-reading of Our Mutual Friend.(less)
I think I need a break from Dickens. Reading _Little Dorrit_ after _Dombey and Son_, and within months of finishing _Bleak House_ has made me frustrat...moreI think I need a break from Dickens. Reading _Little Dorrit_ after _Dombey and Son_, and within months of finishing _Bleak House_ has made me frustrated with his ideal female character. He uses the phrase "active submission" to describe Amy Dorrit, but it could be equally applied to Esther or Florence, characters whose main virtue is waiting without complaint for their objects of devotion to treat them properly, and for their lives to be less miserable. _Little Dorrit_ and _Dombey and Son_ both have wonderfully menacing villains, but without a dynamic hero or heroine to counter them, the plot relies on dramatic external events to wipe them out. All this may simply be a reflection of a Christian ethos, one of suffering patiently, even lovingly, no matter the abuse, and relying on God (in this case, the author) to resolve every problem. It is not my own ethos, however, and I am beginning to find it tiresome.
Of note in this story are the events involving banking, investing, and speculating. One character even turns out to be a Victorian Bernie Madoff of sorts (and "Madoff" could be a name straight out of Dickens, come to think of it). Dickens' cautionary tale is as relevant today as ever.(less)
Dickens can be so nineteenth-century maudlin when it comes to sickly children. In this novel, the "son" of Dombey and Son, Paul, reminds me of Tiny Ti...moreDickens can be so nineteenth-century maudlin when it comes to sickly children. In this novel, the "son" of Dombey and Son, Paul, reminds me of Tiny Tim, and not in a good way. His sister Florence, one the closest characters the novel has to a protagonist, is similarly a nineteenth-century type, the insipid heroine, who is deeply good for no apparent reason, and who maintains a saintly love for an uncaring parent, Dombey Sr.
But to balance out these unbelievable and uninteresting siblings, Dickens offers one of the greatest casts of "Dickensian" supporting characters I've ever encountered: Major Bagstock, empurpled with rich food and self-importance, the good Captain, who can't speak one sentence without a naval phrase, and of course Mr. Carker of the menacing white, white teeth. Also, there is a character named simply the Game Chicken, called the Chicken familiarly. I could go on. (Good Mrs. Brown, who isn't. Mr. Toots!)
To sum up, a long, long book with some decidedly tiresome characters, but a treasure trove for fans of Dickens' portrayals of the less perfect specimens of humanity.(less)
Not my favorite Dickens book. I was particularly turned off by his anti-feminism: every woman in the book who had interests outside the home is made r...moreNot my favorite Dickens book. I was particularly turned off by his anti-feminism: every woman in the book who had interests outside the home is made ridiculous and is shown to be neglectful and cruel to her family. And Esther, the ultimate "Angel in the House" made a cringe-worthy narrator to a 21st century female reader. I did like the spontaneous combustion, however.(less)
There needs to be a category for "partially read." I didn't make it through all these stories. Many were enjoyable, but apparently I need a unifying p...moreThere needs to be a category for "partially read." I didn't make it through all these stories. Many were enjoyable, but apparently I need a unifying plot to keep me reading.(less)
A weird tale that will perhaps surprise those only familiar with the ballet, this edition is worth reading for the Sendak illustrations alone. I don't...moreA weird tale that will perhaps surprise those only familiar with the ballet, this edition is worth reading for the Sendak illustrations alone. I don't read this as faithfully as "A Christmas Carol," but I've read it off and on for years at Christmastime.(less)