Wow - what a rollercoaster. I finished Middlemarch last night, on my second attempt, and I am so glad I gave it a second go. Like some other reviewersWow - what a rollercoaster. I finished Middlemarch last night, on my second attempt, and I am so glad I gave it a second go. Like some other reviewers, I found it really slow going at first, hence why I abandoned my first attempt at the novel. I reckon this has something to do with the way in which Eliot wrote the book - it's first couple of hundred pages essentially being two different stories she had begun seperately and abandoned being brought together into one book, and also being written at a time of great personal bereavement. For me this made the early chapters of the book feel a bit disjointed and a bit overly philosophical.
However, once the different stories began to merge together as a whole more effectively, and the plot became more eventful whilst still including the the deeper ponderings of the author on subjects like religion, the book became mesmerizing. Suddenly the characters really seemed to come to life - each one of them, even the saintly Dorothea - having failings and strengths which Eliot describes perfectly. The storyline really draws you in and you cannot help but care what happens to the characters and where events will take them.
I have only read two of Eliot's novel's but I have already come to love her work. Her prose is so lyrical, intelligently structured and she is able to focus on the detail without it ever feeling like the work is being bogged down. I would advise readers who are interested in Eliot's works to start with something like the Mill on the Floss, and work up to reading Middlemarch. The writing, while being Eliot's strength, in Middlemarch is also it's biggest drawback. Once you get into the book you are carried along by it, but at first I confess I did find the writing style and references to current events made reading hard going - I had to concentrate hard and often refer to footnotes (it really is essential to read a version of this book with footnotes) which made for a slightly disjointed reading experience. However, once I got used to the novel's "voice" I was captivated.
Middlemarch is an intelligent, grown up novel deserving of the title of "classic" - indeed it is one of the finest examples of Victorian literature I have had the pleasure of reading. The only reason it is not a 5 star from me is because of the issue of the slow start. Please don't let that put you off - when you have finished this fine book you will not regret the effort invested in it....more
I confess that Anthony Trollope is my favourite author and, whilst I have not read all of his work by any means, I have read a significant chunk, indcI confess that Anthony Trollope is my favourite author and, whilst I have not read all of his work by any means, I have read a significant chunk, indcluding all of the Barsetshire series of which "The Last Chronicle of Barset" is the sixth and final novel. I can honestly say that this is one of Trollope's finest works and the second best of the series behind only Barchester Towers for me. Trollope is a much underrated novelist, superior to Dickens in my opinion, and it is a real shame that his work is not more widely recognised as this book is as fine an example of Victorian literature as the reader could ever hope for.
The main storyline revolves around the very poor curate Josiah Crawley, who uses a cheque to pay a bill which is then found to have been recently stolen. Crawley is unable to explain how it came in his possession, despite his best efforts to recall where it came from, and he is charged with theft and a trial scheduled. Before long the whole of Barsetshire world is talking about these events and is divided between those who think him guilty and those who believe him to be innocent. Alongside this main storyline runs a continuation of the story of Lily Dale and John Eames from the previous book in the series, as well as the romance between Archdeacon Grantly's son Henry and Mr Crawley's daughter Grace.
Trollope skilfully weaves together these main storylines whilst also neatly tying up some loose ends from elsewhere in the series. Despite this being a long book, it never felt like it to me. The story moves at a decent pace, with some minor repetition which I suspect is due to the serialisation of the novel when originally published and which is only a very minor irritation. With the end of every chapter I wanted to keep reading on and it never felt like a slog to get through which can be the case with long books. The storyline surrounding Crawley actually has more suspense in it than many of Trollope's novels, although most keen eyed readers will be able to guess the resolution before it comes. The suspense created helps keep the story moving forward at a decent pace. Part of Trollope's genius is to be able to create a fascinating story which, when summarised does not seem like it should be so, and yet in Trollope's hands it just works.
Arguably Trollope's great skill is his characterisation, and this is on show at it's finest in this novel. The storyline is fairly thin and yet the characterisation means that despite this the book never becomes tiresome. Many of the characters we have come to love or hate in the previous novels are revisted here with great effect as well as the introduction of some wonderful new characters such as Madalina Demolines, Clara Van Siever and Mr Toogood. Mrs Proudie, perhaps Trollope's most splendid creation, is magnificently devious and wicked in this book and yet she does get her comeuppance and I almost felt sorry for her that it was so, and was very sad to see the back of her. Trollope's observation of human nature is nothing short of genius, with his observations about the feelings and motivations of all his characters acutely observed and written. His depiction of Crawley, who these days would undoubtedly be diagnosed as clinically depressed at the very least, is nothing short of stunning. Crawley remains a largely unlikeable figure due to his stubborn, moralistic and judgemental nature, and yet Trollope manages to create massive sympathy for the character through his depiction of a man driven to the edge of his sanity by events over which he has no control. Trollope's characters are human, that is the mastery of his achievement. None are perfect, none are out-and-out evil, but all a mix of everything that makes people human and because of this the characters leap of the page and you almost feel you could reach out and touch them.
The only slight criticism I have, if any, of this wonderful book is the London aspect of the story which is only loosely tied to the Crawley events by the character of John Eames. Whilst it was interesting to revisit the Lily Dale/John Eames/Adoplhus Crosbie story and for it to be resolved, some of the additional storyline that came along with it felt a little unneccessary and perhaps should have been another book in its own right. I would also have liked to see more of Mrs Thorne (the former Miss Dunstable) in this book - she is a brilliant character to rank alongside Mrs Proudie in my view and underused throughout the Barset novels.
I am very sad to have come to the end of both this book and the series as a whole, and look forward to the day when I can pick them up and start all over again in the future. Not many books stay with me enough to keep me awake at night and then to dream of the characters when I fall asleep, but these have surely done so. Perhaps the best compliment I can give to this book, and indeed this series of books, is to quote Trollope's onw words from the last chapter of The Last Chronicle of Barset, which sums up brilliantly both how Trollope felt about these works, how I feel about them and how I am sure any reader who picks up these wonderful novels will feel about them - "But to me Barset has been a real country, and its city a real city, and the spires and towers have been before my eyes, and the voices of the people are known to my ears, and the pavements of the city ways are familiar to my footsteps. To them all I now say farewell." ...more
I know Howards End is considered by many a classic, and gets excellent reviews, but if I am honest I struggled with it. I love classic literature, andI know Howards End is considered by many a classic, and gets excellent reviews, but if I am honest I struggled with it. I love classic literature, and any thinness of plot as in this case doesn't usually bother me as I find character far more important. Despite this, and there being some beautiful examples of prose in here, overall I was just not very excited about this book.
As the themes started to develop I felt like the book became a bit bogged down, repetitive, ponderous, moralistic and that the characters started to feel more wooden, with an over-reliance on coincidence to make the story go anywhere. In the end it felt like this was more a commentary on society of the time, including the role of class and gender in Britain, than actually a novel. I also felt I preferred all the wrong characters instead of what the author had set out to make me like. Margaret seemed too good to be true, Helen and Leonard annoyed me intensely from the middle of the book onwards, and I really didn't think that badly of the personalities of the Wilcoxes (with a few exceptions in their actions).
I am glad I persevered as the end of the book was by far the best bit, with the most action and the characters finally beginning in to make sense to me. I can also see why many people do love the book, particularly as Forster is a most able writer and a pleasure to read in that sense. For me personally though, I just felt that the author tried to weave his philosophical ponderings around a thin story which lacked engagement and ended up losing out on both fronts. ...more
I didn't expect to enjoy North and South as much as I did, if I am honest. It is the first Gaskell I have read and on the strength of this I will certI didn't expect to enjoy North and South as much as I did, if I am honest. It is the first Gaskell I have read and on the strength of this I will certainly read more. I wasn't sure her work would be my cup of tea after Cranford of the TV - I thought it might be a bit saccharine sweet and rom-com for my tastes. I was certainly wrong.
I won't summarise the plot as others have done so much better than I could. So, what did I like about this? Well, I really enjoyed reading the juxtaposition of the Northern and Southern lifestyle at the period Gaskell was writing about, and how little things have changed in some ways. As a northerner born and bred, the descriptions of the industrial north, the way of talking and the character depicted in the Northerners certainly rings true. I really liked the central characters of the book, in particular Margaret Hale, Mr Hale, Nicholas Higgins and of course John Thornton. For me, Mr Thornton easily rivals Mr Darcy and the like as a romantic hero to fall in love with, precisely because of his imperfections but yet he remains a good man at heart. Non of the characters appeared charactertures as can happen in novels of this period, all had imperfections but remained likeable, and I found it easy to relate to them. The political issues covered are fascinating but not rammed down your throat. Never does it feel like a political diatribe of the author's views which has happened in other novels of this ilk.
What did I dislike? The novel ended a bit too abruptly for my liking. My understanding is that, due to the way the novel was serialised, that the author had to rush the ending and it does show. I like to know a little of what becomes of the characters I have invested so much in, and here that doesn't happen due to the abruptness of the ending. It just felt like another 50 pages for the author to complete the ended as originally intended would have made all the difference. Otherwise, there was little to dislike here for me, and but for this one factor I would have rated this a 5....more
Adam Bede is the third book by George Eliot I have read, and I am big fan of her work. I enjoyed this, but it is her first length novel and it shows.Adam Bede is the third book by George Eliot I have read, and I am big fan of her work. I enjoyed this, but it is her first length novel and it shows. I read Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch previously and absolutely loved them, both are truly great literature. It is really an unfair comparison, but Adam Bede doesn't live up to the highest standard set up in those books.
Saying that, there was much here to enjoy. The plot was admittedly slow to get going, very slow in fact and I came close to putting the book down a couple of times, but I am so glad I didn't. This seems to be a feature of Eliot's work, but the pay off for persisting is great. Once the plot kicked in it was gripping, and a brave direction to take given the time it was written. Then there are the characters. At first I found Adam himself a bit insipid and goody-goody, but by the ended he was a much better rounded out character and I found myself more drawn to him. Dinah, Hetty, the Poysers, Mr Irwine, Bartle Massey - the list of interesting and very human characters goes on. The two I found myself most drawn to, though, were Seth and Arthur. I found Seth more appealing than his brother Adam - he just seemed more composed, dignified and charitable, despite being very put upon. Arthur is the scoundrel of the book and yet I really liked him. Eliot described his thoughts and feelings as if she had climbed inside his head, and hence all of his actions seemed so understandable, no matter how regrettable.
The book is a charming depiction of a rural way of life we have now lost forever, a time when life was simpler and slower, yet the nature of human beings means it was no less dramatic. There are beautiful descriptions of farm and parish life. At times this gets a bit repetitive. After all, there are only so many times you can read a description of country scenery without starting to get a little board. However, the standard of Eliot's prose is so high that this more than makes up for issues of this kind. She writes with such an easy yet intelligent pen, and doesn't treat her readers as simpletons but credits them with an understanding of the world, history, religion and so on which is greatly underrated in literature. It is the story and structure of this novel, rather than the writing, which are weaker than some of her better known work in my opinion.
So what did I not like? Well, as I said before I didn't warm to Adam till much nearer the end of the book, and when a character is so central then it can make a book harder work. The book was also dominated, particularly in the early stages, by an exploration of Methodism, which is really not to modern tastes. I myself am religious, but even given this I found some of this a little dry. Whilst it was beautifully written, I wasn't sure what Dinah's sermon in the first chapters really added to the book. I do feel it is important that we have an understanding of religion, its origins and its importance in society, but at times I felt it was a little naively handled here. It was almost like Eliot had decided she wanted to explore this "theme" and in her desire to do so did it a little too overtly.
As I have said earlier, the book was a slow starter and this does detract from the enjoyment in reading it somewhat. In the early chapters there is a lot of local dialect and "peasant" language used which I personally found quite hard to read. As the book progressed this became less of a problem, almost like Eliot found her style and tonal balance more as she went on, and I also "found the voice" in which such words were spoken and it became easier to read once I got used to it in this way.
However, overall I would still say that Adam Bede is a fine and important book and deserves its classic status. Eliot is always worth reading, though if you are new to her work I would suggest starting with the Mill on the Floss before reading this, as it is a better example of her work and style. Would I read it again? Yes, and I reckon I would get more out of it next time around. That is usually a good testament to a book's quality in my view. ...more
I have been thinking of reading Vanity Fair for some time but have been put off in the past by the sheer length, but having some time off work sick II have been thinking of reading Vanity Fair for some time but have been put off in the past by the sheer length, but having some time off work sick I thought I would take the plunge and finally read it. I am so glad I did.
Thackeray's most successful novel is truly an epic saga of the intertwining lives of two schoolgirls and their acquaintances. I wont summerise the story here as others have already done so, and I wouldnt want to spoil it for the reader. Suffice it to say that the story is compelling and gripping from the start. The story is of course complex, given the length of the book, but Thackeray succeeds in drawing together all the strands very successfully although there are one or two characters I would have loved to see more of. The story is easy to follow but not predictable in the way literature can sometimes be, making this a real page turner.
Being a Regency period novel, the language can take a little bit of getting used to, especially if you are new to 19th century literature. However, it is worth persisting with it as once you get used to it the prose is beautifully composed and the story fascinating. My only criticism of the novel would be that sometimes Thackeray seems to go off on a tangent which is not necessary for the story and prolongs the novel by perhaps 30-40 pages too many. However, this is far outweighed by the quality of the story and the characters within. Thackeray is willing to tackle subjects other writers of this period rather gloss over, such as infidelity and murder, which means the novel is still suitable for more modern tastes.
The characterisation is probably, however, the strongest element of the book. Becky Sharpe in particular is a masterpiece of characterisation in all literature - a truly memorable character, and not just a soft, flighty or love obsessed creature like many of the female characters in literature of this period. The subtitle of the book - A Novel Without A Hero - is very apt as none of the characters are wholly likeable and without flaw, but nonetheless Thackeray still succeeds in making you care, and even like, these less than perfect individuals. The characters, even those more peripheral to the story, leap off the page and I had no problem imagining them and joining their world.
If you are thinking of reading Vanity Fair I would strongly recommend you do so - it is a memorable novel which will stay with me throughout life as one of my all time favourites....more
As a Trollope fan, I was keen to start reading the Palliser series and I have not been disappointed. Like some other reviewers, I found the start of tAs a Trollope fan, I was keen to start reading the Palliser series and I have not been disappointed. Like some other reviewers, I found the start of the book a little slow and it took me about 300 pages to really get into the story. It was well worth persisting though, as once I got past this point I was utterly gripped.
I won't surmise the story as others have done so very well. I would say though, that this story has more twists and suprises than Trollope usually gives in my opinion. Usually the story is fairly simple and it is the characters that really occupy his and the readers attention. In Can You Forgive Her? the story is a little more complex than usual, but with the always brilliant Trollope characters alongside, and it really benefits from this. The story also provides a wonderful insight into the political workings of Victorian England and how our political system has got to where it is now, but is never boring for it. However, the main focus is the social and sexual politics of the age and this is acutely observed throughout. Trollope really manages to balance all of these elements of his story to create something really powerful and gripping.
The real strength of the book though is of course the characters, and in particular the Pallisers. Trollope manages to create such rounded characters that even for those who you really want to hate, such as George Vavasor or Burgo Fitzgerald, you still have a kernel of sympathy for them by the end of the book. None are completely bad, none are completely angelic and it is this which makes them so human and real. Trollope describes the characters motivations so perfectly that you feel like you know the people and can understand why they act the way they do, even if you cannot agree.
There is also a real humour and warmth about this book, and particularly so because of the Palliers. Glencora is a wonderful example of a Victorian heroine - witty, wry, passionate, articulate, self-deprecating, a keen observer of society. It is easy to see why Plantagenet falls in love with her so, and he himself is a literary hero to challenge Mr Darcy. I suspect by the end of the series I will be thoroughly in love with him, and want to be Glencora' best friend! These two characters are so wonderfully introduced in this book that I cannot wait to follow them through the series and see what lies in store for them and their marriage. This alone shows what a brilliant story teller Trollope is - he just keeps you wanting more.
I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone - there is something for everyone here, be it story or character. Persist through the first section of the book, do not be afraid of the old-fashioned English (it is very easy to understand) and you will be well rewarded by a literary delight. ...more