The Readers Review: Literature from 1714 to 1910 discussion

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2016/17 Group Reads - Archives > Moonfleet - Ch 1-5

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message 1: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments I hope you enjoyed the opening chapters...the book is great fun.

Let's get started!

One, the book begins with a poem. What is the central idea behind the poem that connects to the overall plot of the book?

Two, describe John Trenchard. How old is he, who cares for him, where does he live, and what is his relationship with the other characters (the Reverend Mr. Glennie, Ratsy, and Elzevir Block)? What do you think that John's main hopes are for life?

Three, who are the Mohunes and what is their legacy? Who is Blackbeard and what is his legend? How does Blackbeard play into the story and how is he used to cover up the smuggling?

Four, how do John and the other villagers view the smugglers, the contraband, and the revenue men?

Four, what happens in church after the flood? How are the noises explained? What really are the causes of the noises?

Five, the scene in the basement of the church is a bit both gothic and adventure in tone? How?

Six, John is a bit frightened of Elzevir Block at first, but are you, the reader, frightened by him? Or do we have empathy for him almost immediately due to the death of his son, David Block, that we read about right at the start of the novel?

Seven, we had a discussion pre-reading about who the audience is for the book. Now that you are reading it, do you think it is only for children or for both adults and children?


message 2: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 701 comments Question 1: Did you mean to refer to the inscription on the tombstone or the epigraph to chapter 1, “So sleeps the pride of former days”?

Question 2: John Trenchard is fifteen and cared for by his aunt. More on the village that cares for him in the next!

As to questions 4a and 6, I think in nearly all of the places where smuggling was common, the populace viewed the “gentlemen’s” activities with wary appreciation. Wary because of the occasional violence that erupted, plus the threat of retaliation if they were discovered; appreciation because most of these places had lost their economic base and relied on smuggling for both livelihoods and access to affordable goods. (That said, the smuggling in this story, at least so far, seems to be only of liquor, not of everyday goods. The tale is set quite early, 1750s, before a lot of the taxation on tea, fabric, soap, etc. was introduced.)

As for Elzevir, I think the attentive reader gets hints from the start about both his true character and his participation in the free-trade. He wasn’t so grim before his son died; he maintains a pub without many customers; and those customers gather to sing smugglers’ songs. Also it’s pretty much axiomatic of books written about children that if they don’t have a father, they’re looking for one. (Ratsey, of course, is another father option, and perhaps the Reverend Dr. Glennie.) Elzevir is a bit scary but also an emotional and moral touchstone for the village: “He never seemed to lack for money; and if people loved to tell stories of his strength, they would speak also of widows helped, and sick comforted with unknown gifts, and hint that some of them came from Elzevir Block for all he was so grim and silent.”

As for question 7, this one seems to be more of a children’s (or really YA, for a teenage audience) book than some of the classics, which are often written on two levels—the literal, for the child reader, and the satirical or philosophical or mythological (depending on the book), to offer an added dimension for adults to appreciate. Falkner seems to have decided to restrict his perspective to the limits of John’s perceptions (as Dickens mostly did in Great Expectations, I suppose). But from a modern reader’s perspective, I don’t think that makes it a children’s book any more than Great Expectations is a children’s book. I am pretty hostile to forcing books into niches in any case—that tendency seems to be a creation of lazy marketers, who want to capture audiences with a single phrase. Set books free! Let them be whoever they want to be! is my watchword.


message 3: by Lori, Moderator (new)

Lori Goshert (lori_laleh) | 1425 comments Mod
I'm enjoying it so far! It reminds me of a short story by Thomas Hardy, which also took place in a seaside village that had a lot of smuggling business going on. As in Moonfleet, everyone seemed to be ok with it, even the clergy! Seems to me there's some connection between Blackbeard and John that we don't know about yet. Looking forward to the rest of the book!


message 4: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Abigail - I'm using the Gutenberg version. In-between the chapter listing and Chapter 1, there is a poem. Is that missing from the print versions?


message 5: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 701 comments I am reading a purchased Kindle version. Maybe they just left it out!


message 6: by Lynnm (last edited Jul 31, 2016 12:10PM) (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Here is the link for the Gutenberg version - I don't just want to copy and paste in the poem, just in case someone complains about copyright issues. :-)

http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1...

It is between the Contents area and Chapter 1.


message 7: by Pip (new)

Pip | 468 comments I'm currently on holiday on a beautiful Greek island, and West Country smugglers just don't seem to fit with my lazy, languid beach days. I'll be back in the blustery north of Spain by the 4th-5th, so I'll be joining in as soon as possible after that date :)


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Pip wrote: "I'm currently on holiday on a beautiful Greek island,."

You poor thing, to have to suffer so. We sympathize with your misery.

:)


message 9: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Everyman wrote: "Pip wrote: "I'm currently on holiday on a beautiful Greek island,."

You poor thing, to have to suffer so. We sympathize with your misery.

:)"



Lucky you!!! Have a wonderful time.

And it's an easy read so you'll have no problems catching up.


message 10: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 701 comments Thanks for posting the link that leads to the poem, Lynnm! Hmm, I hope it doesn’t come to that in the end. . . .


message 11: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 752 comments Heheh. The black-bearded corpse was delightfully creepy. *shiver*


message 12: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2927 comments Mod
Pip wrote: "I'm currently on holiday on a beautiful Greek island, and West Country smugglers just don't seem to fit with my lazy, languid beach days. I'll be back in the blustery north of Spain by the 4th-5th,..."

Don't forget the sunscreen!


message 13: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2927 comments Mod
I have read the first two chapters so far and am trying to create a picture of Moonfleet in my mind: tumbledown houses, a church and churchyard on a hill, the wind and the waves, the possibility of wrecks and smugglers, a 15 year old protagonist. All the makings for a good aventure story.
The scene in the church, with all the strange noises coming from below, is fun. I can just picture everyone getting more and more tense, until the service ends.
And what were those two men up to in the churchyard?
As for the Mohunes, the gentry had a lot of power in those times and the villagers had every right to be afraid of them.


message 14: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 220 comments I got a late start, but I am up to Chapter 4 now. I'm enjoying the book. The settings are very well drawn, and appropriately creepy at times.


message 15: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 752 comments Yes. Far creepier than I expected. Although, I'm fully drawn into the setting & characters because of all the great mood setting.


message 16: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2927 comments Mod
I am fortunate that the copy I have has all the poems. The poem at the beginning is about ships, smuggling and government men.
Chapter 4 was very creepy. I have issues about being enclosed, so the thought od being locked in a vault is terrifying. John is lucky Elzevir found him, unlike that other poor soul, Cracky Jones.
John's aunt is not a sympathetic character, so he is better off at the Why-Not? John is a sensible sort, with the notable exception of the exploit in the crypt, but also a dreamer. He imagines what he would so with the treasure--including a wife.
Being an adventure book, I am sure the verses in the locket have a secret meaning.


message 17: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments I'm finding so far that it has some strong resonances with Kidnapped, Westward Ho, and other adventure stories of those days when young boys got involved in lots more than they would today. But then I keep in mind that boys of 12 and 13 would ship as midshipmen in the British Navy.


message 18: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Rosemarie wrote: "John's aunt is not a sympathetic character, so he is better off at the Why-Not?"

Well, I do have some sympathy for her. She's a stock figure, so easy to dislike, but she got saddled with her nephew apparently at a fairly early age (My father and mother had both been dead for years). As a spinster, she probably wasn't a mild, malleable young woman, or she would likely have been married. But having accepted, whether gladly or grudgingly we don't know, the duty of raising a nephew who, frankly, doesn't seem an easy boy to raise, she is doing her best (who was kind to me in her own fashion, but too strict and precise ever to make me love her.) And of course she doesn't have a man in the household to help her. Was she strict because she felt that was the best way to do what she would have thought her brother or sister (whose sister was she?) would have wanted? Did she just accept that this is the socially correct way to raise a boy? This is, after all, 1757, still in the age when children are to be seen and not heard. Either she isn't so strict that she doesn't let him roam freely, including in the churchyard at night, or else he is disobedient and goes without permission. She doesn't seem to burden him with chores, and he isn't being made to work as plenty of boys of his age were at that time.

So my sympathies, frankly, are more for her than I think those of some others here might be.


message 19: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2927 comments Mod
That makes a lot of sense. She wasn't overly strict, she looked after his physical needs, she made sure he went to school, etc. She wanted him to have a proper upbringing, but even though he was her nephew, she showed him no affection and was very withdrawn and stern in his presence.


message 20: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 701 comments I have some sympathy on both sides—with her for being saddled with an unexpected burden, and with him for being raised by someone who doesn’t really attach to him. He seems to be in need of parental figures, and takes his parenting wherever he can find it. Just because an adult is making sacrifices for a child doesn’t necessarily mean the child can, or even should, feel appreciative. After all, the child didn’t ask to be in that situation. It seems pretty tough for both of them.


message 21: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2927 comments Mod
I am sure that many young people found themselves in much worse situations if they were orphaned. There was also a small amount of inheritance to help pay for expenses until John came of age.


message 22: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Rosemarie wrote: "I am sure that many young people found themselves in much worse situations if they were orphaned. There was also a small amount of inheritance to help pay for expenses until John came of age."

Nice points. There is neither saint nor villain here, is there?


message 23: by Wendel (new)

Wendel (wendelman) | 229 comments I find it remarkable that there is (thus far) no interaction with other kids - except watching Gracie from a distance.
Not very likely in today's young adult fiction, I suppose. Unless loneliness is a major theme, as in - to take an older example - Nobody's Boy, one of the books I grew up with.
To describe social relations among children probably demands a special talent?


message 24: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2927 comments Mod
I do think John is lonely, as you mentioned above, Wendel. He is 15 years old, so many of the boys his age have probably allready left school at a younger age. He was more than likely a friend of Elzevir's son and lost a good friend when he died. He is of a slightly higher social class than the "fisher folk" and the village is small, so people of his age may be few in number.
He is also a bit of a dreamer, like many teenagers, and spends a lot of time looking out to sea.
I taught middle school age children for 19 years so I have read a lot of YA novels,
It is difficult to write about interactions between children unless you know them really well- and can write well too.


message 25: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 220 comments I did notice the lack of other kids John's age. But he goes to school locally, so there should be someone his age there. But apparently no one he pals around with. I did wonder about how close a friend he was to Elsevir's son.


message 26: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Wendel wrote: "I find it remarkable that there is (thus far) no interaction with other kids - except watching Gracie from a distance. ."

Good point. Though to call a 15 year old in 1757 a kid is, perhaps, not to recognize that probably most of the boys his age are already out working on farms or boats or whatever. Actually, I find it fairly unusual that a fifteen year old healthy boy at that time wouldn't have been working at least at some occupation, even if only scaring crows.


message 27: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments Renee wrote: "Yes. Far creepier than I expected. Although, I'm fully drawn into the setting & characters because of all the great mood setting."

It definitely is creepier than I thought it would be.

Even though it is an adventure story, it borders a bit on the gothic.


message 28: by Lynnm (new)

Lynnm | 3027 comments I also have a bit of sympathy for the aunt, even though she is portrayed as less than unsympathic.

She took John in, feeds in, takes care of him. Doesn't abuse him. Is a bit strict, but he still seems to have a lot of freedom to roam the village.

Her biggest "sin" is that she isn't warm and loving, but as others pointed, she did take him in when she probably didn't have to. Many kids are orphaned when there are relatives who could answer the call but won't.

As long as she isn't abusive - and she isn't - she appears to be doing the best she can.

And not to be controversial, but hard for some adults to deal with the opposite gender - men taking care of little girls, women taking care of little boys - they can't relate as well. Little girls - at that time - didn't traipse around the village alone so it is probably difficult for her to relate to a young boy who needs that independence.


message 29: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 752 comments I keep making connections with Tomorrow Saywer's Aunt Polly.


message 30: by Renee (new)

Renee M | 752 comments Lol. Tom Sawyer. Tomorrow Sawyer was his hippie great great grand-daughter.


message 31: by Pip (last edited Aug 07, 2016 11:27AM) (new)

Pip | 468 comments Well, I'm back! Thanks all for the wishes for happy days and sunscreen and, in Everyman's case, for the commiserations with my miserable plight ;-))

I've caught up with the first week's schedule and am really enjoying the book and the discussion so far.

I also found it odd that John is fifteen and unoccupied, except for school attendance; the impression I get is that jobs were scarce and apprenticeships hard to come by in the village, though his lack of contribution in his aunt's household is noticeable too. All of this makes me think that this was almost certainly written with a young audience in mind. And I would say children rather than teens or "YA" which I think is a far too modern concept for a Victorian novel. People were either children or adults until very, very recently - was it the 1950's when the teenager was invented?!

Anyway - from a young reader's point of view I think John's situation, however unrealistic, is an exciting prospect. Even despite his orphaned state - a condition much more common then than it is now - he has an enormous amount of freedom and time on his hands just when adventure is about to come his way.

I don't find the aunt a sympathetic character. I agree that she has done what she can for the boy, but her total lack of anxiety over his disappearance (which was of several days' duration) and her shutting the door in his face on his return for me cancelled out any previous sacrifices she feels she might have made. Of course, we are hearing all of this from John alone, so maybe it was in his interest to paint her as blacker than she really was in order to give himself a way out.

Finally, the thing about children being seen but not heard: again, I don't think this would have been the case in the eighteenth century, certainly not outside the upper classes. "Seen but not heard" is a Victorian construct and, while the book was written in Victorian times, it is set much earlier. Whatever the case, this reminded me that we are reading a "double historical" novel, i.e.: historical fiction written in the past. Perhaps, unconsciously, Falkner has let his more modern viewpoint influence his picture of the past?

Sorry for the long post. Hope you can find something vaguely interesting among the witterings!!


message 32: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 701 comments I’m intrigued by your reflections about the “double historical” nature of the book (from our perspective)! I always wonder about that, too, when reading books like Treasure Island. How much of what I take to be eighteenth-century reality is really nineteenth-? And not just in historical facts but, as you say, in viewpoint.


message 33: by Pip (new)

Pip | 468 comments Abigail wrote: "I’m intrigued by your reflections about the “double historical” nature of the book (from our perspective)! I always wonder about that, too, when reading books like Treasure Island. How much of what..."

I'm sure there's a proper literary term for "double historical", but I have no idea what it might be! Glad you also find the concept interesting.

It's often mentioned that neo-Vic novels like Sarah Waters' open up the possibility of describing lives and lifestyles which just wasn't possible in prudish Victorian times; by the same token, I wonder whether we can assume that a Victorian novelist writing about an earlier time would have "cleaned up" and/or passed over events, people and customs which would have appeared less than savory to him/her?


message 34: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 701 comments Probably varies from author to author, and from intended audience to intended audience. I recently reread The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë, and her depiction of a failing marriage (or several failing marriages, if it comes to that) was so detailed and emotionally explicit that I found it hard to believe the writer was Victorian. I felt quite squeamish reading it. If Anne had written a historical novel, I doubt it would’ve made much difference.

As far as this discussion connects to Moonfleet, I’m having trouble thinking of pre-Victorian writers who included lower-class, uneducated people as major characters, reproducing their ways of speaking and focusing on their lives. Is that something that began with Dickens (and, incidentally, with the rise in popularity of investigations into folklore)? I see later nineteenth-century writers who tell stories of long ago as focusing on ordinary people more than any writer of an earlier era would—but don’t consider myself well-enough read to pass judgment on the subject.


message 35: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2927 comments Mod
The novel Tom Jones was written in the 18th century and has a wide array of characters from many different social classes.


message 36: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Pip wrote: " Even despite his orphaned state - a condition much more common then than it is now ..."

So many younger protagonists of 17th to 19th fiction are orphans. They are very convenient characters because they need to be out there making their own way in a harsher, harder world than that faced by children or young adults safely cocooned in a family setting.

Pip of Great Expectations. Jane Fairfax in Emma. Beck Sharp in Vanity Fair. Jane Eyre. Jude Fawley of Jude the Obscure. Oliver Twist. Huck Finn. Tom Sawyer. Esther and Richard in Bleak House. David Balfour of Kidnapped. Tom Jones. Anne of Green Gables. Both Mary Lennox of The Secret Garden. Pauline, Petrova, and Posy of the Streatfield Shoes books. The list goes on and on.

I don't think it was just that that there were so many more orphans at the time, but that the orphan faced a set of life circumstances which gave much more scope for the author's inventiveness.


message 37: by Pip (last edited Aug 08, 2016 01:46AM) (new)

Pip | 468 comments Everyman wrote: "the orphan faced a set of life circumstances which gave much more scope for the author's inventiveness.
"


Good point, and great examples. I would also add that an orphan is also a useful character (sounds horrible put like that) for an author because the reader is already predisposed to be sympathetic towards them, and may be more forgiving or at least understanding of any weaknesses or misdemeanours.

And now I have "The Pirates of Penzance" playing on loop in my brain! For flawed but lovable orphans, look no further. Often.


message 38: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Pip wrote: "And now I have "The Pirates of Penzance" playing on loop in my brain!"

Oh, thanks. Now you've got it playing in MY brain, too.


message 39: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 701 comments That’s even more distracting than Van Morrison’s “Gypsy Queen,” which has been haunting my nights lately.


message 40: by Pip (new)

Pip | 468 comments Abigail wrote: "That’s even more distracting than Van Morrison’s “Gypsy Queen,” which has been haunting my nights lately."

You can never have enough Van Morrison ohrwurm :-)


message 41: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 701 comments I so totally agree, except when I’m trying to fall back to sleep at 3 a.m.!


message 42: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2927 comments Mod
So I am not the only one awake at 3 a.m.!


message 43: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 701 comments Come on over and we’ll have a party!


message 44: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2927 comments Mod
I live in Toronto, so unless I have a Tardis, I am out of luck.

To get back to Moonfleet, I really like the way the author creates a perfect setting for an adventure story--the sea, the wind, a church with a mysterious crypt and smugglers. But I really like the way he writes. His descriptive writing is vivid and the conversations seem natural- not stilted or forced.


message 45: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Rosemarie wrote: But I really like the way he writes. His descriptive writing is vivid and the conversations seem natural- not stilted or forced. "

I agree on one level. But on another level, the writing is very unsophisticated, almost rudimentary. There doesn't seem to be very much "there" there, at least for me. It's almost like a graphic novel.


message 46: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 701 comments Can you give examples of what you see as the rudimentary character of his writing? It’s mostly quite straightforward narrative, but I’m not getting what you’re alluding to.

Here’s a deft piece of description that struck me: “He had a thin face with a sharp nose that looked as if it would peck you, and grey eyes that could pierce a millstone if there was a guinea on the far side of it.”


message 47: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 3582 comments Abigail wrote: "Can you give examples of what you see as the rudimentary character of his writing? It’s mostly quite straightforward narrative, but I’m not getting what you’re alluding to."

I think straightforward narrative is an accurate description and covers what I meant. In most serious novels, there's some attempt to address broader societal or relationship issues than just the specific situations the characters are in; there's some material that causes you to think beyond just the events taking place. Here, I find none of that.

For example, he talks about the smuggling, but doesn't even begin to get at the broader societal issues of smuggling, which would be interesting to look at in the context of the times. Was it purely for economic benefit? Was there an element of asserting personal liberties against government control (think Boston Tea Party type issues)?

There's no sophistication in his presentation of the relationship between Elzevir and Maskew. There's no social commentary about Maskew's position in the community vs. that of the ordinary folk.

We don't learn much about the inner lives of the characters, their thoughts and feelings, who they really are. Compare, for example, what we know about John as a person compared to what we know about David Copperfield at an equivalent point in the novel (roughly half way through)

I think this is reflected in the paucity of serious discussion here. There's just not that much meat beyond the bare bones of the story that's worth talking about.

I don't say this to denigrate the story; as a story it's exciting and well written. But that's all it is, just a story. From a novel, I expect more.


message 48: by Pip (new)

Pip | 468 comments Well, it's a children's adventure novel... While that might mean that the plot, prose and philosophical elements are less dense, there's still a lot which is discussion-worthy if we talk about it in that light.

Would modern children relate to this book?
How has children's literature changed over the centuries?
Could this book have been written nowadays?
Who would have read this in its day? In what format?
Etc etc.

Victorian Web has some good links which provide food for thought on Vic kids' lit: http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian...

And remember - doctoral theses have been written about The Very Hungry Caterpillar, so there's always some juice to be squeezed from any book, even though we focus on it in a different way from how we would discuss Dickens, Dostoyevsky or de Maupassant.


message 49: by Rosemarie, Moderator (new)

Rosemarie | 2927 comments Mod
Pip, thank you for the link. I have always enjoyed reading all types of literature. Children's literature has always been a part of that reading. Simple language may sometimes contain deeper meaning. I have just finished reading a book by Ayn Rand, and Moonfleet is a wonderful antidote to her heavy handed writing.


message 50: by Abigail (new)

Abigail Bok (regency_reader) | 701 comments Thanks for the amplification, E’man! Maybe it’s because I have been doing a lot of research into the economic and social basis of smuggling and was mentally filling in the blanks, but I didn’t feel the same lack. These issues were touched on in the beginning in a sketchy way—the fishing economy in the village having tanked and the lords of the manor being absent (perhaps readers in Falkner’s day would have picked up on the significance of that better than we do today)—but certainly not amplified. I feel people living in rural Britain in his day would have realized that Maskew was exemplary of the new rich, who after making money lived a simulacrum of lord-of-the-manor life without fulfilling the traditional responsibilities of the old-style squire (the hollowed-out mansion being a symbol of this).

I’d be interested to hear what you think of books like Kidnapped and Treasure Island in this context, since Falkner seems to be writing for the same audience as Stevenson.

I agree that someone writing for a modern reader would need to amplify a lot more of the context in order to pull out the class themes; and that the characterization is a bit one-note. In the scene (next section) where John is tested ethically, I felt more “told” than “shown” about his struggles. I must admit that I enjoy this type of get-on-with-it story more than the sort of havering Dickens indulges in with his stories about youths!


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The Readers Review: Literature from 1714 to 1910

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Books mentioned in this topic

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (other topics)
Nobody's Boy (other topics)

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Sarah Waters (other topics)