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Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, a novel written for boys and first published in 1886, is a book I've read twice now: the first time because it sounded interesting, and the second time to give it another chance after I wearily trudged my way through it the first time. Turns out the reading experience both times was identical, worst luck.
It follows the fortunes, or misfortunes rather, of David Balfour and is set in the mid-18th Century in Scotland after the Jacobite risings of 1745. David is recently orphaned, his mother dying when he was very young and his father just before the novel begins. He decides to leave the lowlands and head to Edinburgh to make his fortune. Before he leaves he is informed that he has an uncle - a rich uncle -  Ebenezer Balfour, so he goes there to claim kinship. Once in the village, Cramond, he learns that Ebenezer is a particularly hated member of the community and with good reason: he's stingy, cruel, and though after David arrives he gives hi…

Of Winter by Thomas Dekker.

It's a chilly morning here in the north of England: it's about minus one, the sky is a pale pink, and the trees are bare, but the sun looks like it will, perhaps, break through the clouds at some point. The snow, where the sun reaches it, has almost melted but there are great patches of thick ice where the snow from last week froze. It was a different story in winter of 1614-25, perhaps when Dekker wrote Of Winter: when he wrote it and where it was published I have been unable to discover for certain but I would guess it was from The Cold Yeare 1614 (unfortunately I can't find it online) or The Great Frost (1608). Snow fell very heavily that winter with patches left even up until May, and Tobie Matthew, the Archbishop of York (1606 - 1628) noted that there was a solid seven weeks snow and frost "never the like Seen in England". People died, frozen in their homes or outside, crops suffered, and hay and straw became scarce.
Which ever winter it was, it inspired De…

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890) is one of my favourite all-time books and I've just finished re-reading it. One (of many!) reasons why I love it so much is the opening two paragraphs, which I do believe are sublime: The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn. From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Jap…

The White Guard by Mikhaíl Bulgakov.

The White Guard (Белая гвардия) is a novel by Mikhaíl Bulgakov (most famous for The Master and Margarita) who was born in 1891 in Kiev, then Russia, now Ukraine. The novel was first published in part in 1925, however the magazine publishing it, Rossiya, closed down so the novel didn't appear in complete form until 1966.
It's set in Kiev just after the Russian Revolution of 1917 during the ensuing civil war, and the Ukrainian War of Independence (1917 - 1921), and it follows the Turbin family as they are caught between the various fighting factions: the Whites (anti-communist), the Reds (the Bolsheviks), the Imperial German Army, and Ukrainian nationalists. The novel begins,
Great and terrible war the year of Our Lord 1918, of the Revolution the second. Its summer abundant with warmth and sun, its winter with snow, highest in its heaven stood two stars: the shepherds' star, eventide Venus; and Mars - quivering, red. But in the days of blood as in days of peace the years fly…

The Georgics by Virgil.

The Georgics (Georgica) is a poem by Virgil written, perhaps, around the same time as his most famous epic the Aeneid. The title comes from the Greek γεωργικά - georgica - which relates to all things agricultural, and it's modelled on Hesiod's Works and Days(8th Century B.C.). It's divided into four books.

The first book begins by addressing his patron Gaius Maecenas (also the patron of Horace): What makes the corncrops glad, under which star
To turn the soil, Maécenas, and wed your vines
To elms, the care of cattle, keeping of flocks,
All the experience thrifty bees demand -
Such are the themes of my song. Virgil then, as tradition demands for such poetry of this time, invokes the gods: You brightest lamps
That lead the year's procession across the sky;
Liber and nurturing Ceres, since your grace
Procured that earth should change Chaonia's acorns
For the rich ears of grain, and grapes be found
For lacing cups of Archeloüs' water;
You too, the present help of f…

The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán.

The House of Ulloa is a novel by Emilia Pardo Bazán, famous for being one of the earliest writers to adopt Naturalism in Spain. Given Émile Zola was a pioneer of the movement in France, I was eager to check it out. It was first published in 1886, and is one of her most famous novels.
It begins with the arrival of Father Julián Alvarez who has been sent to manage the affairs of the House of Ulloa headed by Don Pedro. He, Don Pedro, is quite the libertine and the home is decaying both physically and morally; if we could be in any doubt, Pardo Bazán describes the first evening of Father Alvarez in which a toddler (who we learn is the illegitimate child of the marquis) is forced to drink copious amounts of alcohol and then sent to bed to sleep it off. To make matters more complicated, the marquis is not the only one responsible for the fall of the House of UIloa: the estate manager Primitivo is quite the manipulator who is pocketing what funds are available, and we learn it is his sister …

Leucippe and Clitophon by Achilles Tatius.

There are, it is said, five surviving Greek novels: The Loves of Chaereas andCallirhoe by Chariton, (mid-1st century) Daphnis and Chloe by Longus, Ephesian Tale by Xenophon of Ephesus', Heliodorus of Emesa's Aethiopica, and Leucippe and Clitophon by Achilles Tatius, which I read this week. 
Leucippe and Clitophon (τὰ κατὰ Λευκίππην καὶ Kλειτoφῶντα) was written around the 2nd Century A.D. I can't say I had the most fun reading it, but it's short and it's important so it wasn't all that hard. It begins with a description of a painting of the rape of Europa: Ovid describes it in the third book of Metamorphoses: Jupiter, disguised as a bull, carries Europa off into the ocean: her brother attempts to find her but cannot, but ultimately he and some others found Thebes. The narrator describes the painting and then meets Clitophon, who regales the narrator with tales of his adventures. He tells us he fell in love with his cousin Leucippe despite the fact he was to marr…