Monday, 30 June 2014

Russian Literature 2014: Second Check-in.

Incredibly we're almost half-way through the year, which means we're half-way through the Russian Literature 2014 challenge

Here, then, is your second check-in post - let everyone know how you're getting on either by commenting here or writing a post on your own blog and linking it in this comment thread so I can go read :)

As for me: I aimed to read 12 books this year, and so far I've read 6 and reviewed 3. BUT: one of these books was a disaster for me: August 1914 was a book I just could not get into at all so I confess I ended up skimming it. So, in this instance, the definition of "read" is stretched somewhat! I should have just put it down, but it was one of the titles on my Classic Club list so I felt obligated to keep going with it. 

Aside from that, I'm still enjoying this challenge. So far, I've read: 
  1. Eugene Onegin, by Aleksandr Pushkin.
  2. Dead Souls, by Nikolai Gogol.
  3. Poor Folk by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
  4. Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov.
  5. The Village of Stepanchikovo by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
  6. August 1914 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
My favourite? The Village of Stepanchikovo without a doubt. Loved it! And next up: The Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

I hope everyone else is enjoying this challenge and I'm looking forward to see how you're getting along!

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

Vladimir Nabokov.
First edition published
by Olympia Press
It is difficult to imagine a time when Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 masterpiece Lolita was unheard of, when it's reputation did not proceed it, when the shock and revulsion was not anticipated; when, in short, it wasn't notorious. 

The first paragraph promises a love story; the telling of a passionate, erotic affair:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
The second paragraph shatters it, expectations (such as they may have been back in 1955 when this book hadn't been banned in numerous countries) are blown apart:
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
She was a child. Lolita was twelve at the beginning of the novel when Humbert Humbert, the narrator and protagonist, first encounters her. It is written in the first person, entirely from the warped perception of Humbert: Nabokov, in surely what we can agree is a technical masterpiece at the very least, disappears and we lose sight of him: this is Humbert's novel, and he becomes real, free and unguarded, and thus is allowed enough rope to hang himself. This isn't an apology from Humbert (or Nabokov for that matter), and the understanding he, Humbert, wants us to reach does not, cannot, and (on Nabokov's part) is not supposed to lead to sympathy. What we see is a perverted and narcissistic man, an intellectual who is repulsed by American culture, courting sympathy: the constant appeals for understanding as though it were possible to understand. There is nothing likeable about this man, and we discover this through his distorted words. He attempts to normalise his perversions at one point with predictable mutterings of the Greeks in Ancient times, but even he knows that doesn't cut it. And this doesn't stop him.

Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain
in Adrian Lyne's 1997 adaptation.
From the start he dehumanises those girls he finds so alluring:
Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travellers, twice or many times older than they, revel their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as 'nymphets'.
And yes, he offers an explanation in the early part of the book:
Did she [Lolita] have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was the summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.
Her precursor: Annabel, his contemporary, a young girl his own age who he loved and lusted over, who died months later of typhus in Corfu. One could almost feel sorry for him were it not for what follows a few chapters later: Charlotte Haze, Lolita's mother, writes to Humbert telling him she loves him. Humbert writes,
What I present here is what I remember of the letter, and what I remember of the letter I remember verbatim (including that awful French). It was at least twice longer. I have left out a lyrical passage which I more or less skipped at the time, concerning Lolita's brother who died at two when she was four, and how much I would have liked him. Let me see what else I can say?
A French edition of Lolita,
Nabokov's favourite cover.
[See here for his comments on this
and other front covers
Lolita (and Charlotte's) own loss is "more or less skipped": their pain is not important to him. What we see in Lolita is what is important to him: Humbert is an unreliable narrator, and this, as the later part of the book will prove, is not the only fact he glosses over.

Is this a beautiful novel? For many (myself included) it is, somehow amongst the occasional self-pity, the self-obsession, the grotesque deeds, the lack of responsibility (these nymphets, after all, "bewitch"), the shocking statements (referring to the fourteen year old Lolita as "my ageing mistress"), and the most disturbing sentence in literature: "You see, she had absolutely nowhere else to go". How could this possibly be beautiful? 

But it is. It's as though Nabokov has turned the novel on it's head: there are books where one looks beyond the mundane, the ugly, or the gross (James Joyce, for example) to see the beauty, whereas with Lolita one must do the opposite. Given the subject matter, this is the ugliest novel ever written: society (or governments) will not come to terms with this and time will not lessen the impact, but such is the power of language this book, somehow, remains beautiful (and if you haven't read it you'll have to read it to fully appreciate how). At the same time, language can obscure, and one must be aware of this. This is a seductive book, and as improbable as it seems to those who have not read it, one can get drawn in by Humbert's games, make excuses for him, even feel a little sorry for him: he (Humbert) reminds us of Dante's Beatrice, asking us if the age of consent isn't arbitrary anyway, and perhaps, as he wants us to believe, it isn't as bad as it seems. It sounds improbable that Humbert could convince us even with the clues peppered throughout the novel, but then why are teenagers referred to as "Lolitas" (even though, as Nabov said in an interview, "Nymphets are girl-children, not starlets and “sex kittens.")? Why did Vanity Fair proclaim this as "The only convincing love story of our century"? Why did Robertson Davies argue that it represented "not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child." Like Romeo and Juliet this, for some, is a sort of love story, but we know that that's wrong as well. This book could trick some readers. Easily. But Nabokov manages it, so much so that we can forget about him entirely, even without the fake foreword by John Ray, Jr. (just another character). In that interview I linked, Nabokov concludes, "Lolita is famous, not I. I am an obscure, doubly obscure, novelist with an unpronounceable name."

It's one both one of the most beautiful books of the 20th Century as well as one of the trickiest. I am in awe of Nabokov's achievement.

And one final word: Lolita has had a great many different front covers. There's an interesting article about why which you can read here, for now I'll finish with a small selection of my own favourites.

Nabokov's own copy.

Further reading

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.

Virginia Woolf
To The Lighthouse was Virginia Woolf's fifth novel, which she began writing on 6th August 1925 and published in May 1927. It is her most autobiographical. In it, she tells the story of the Ramsays; Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay and their eight children whilst on their summer holiday in their home in the Hebrides, along with their many guests. It is one of Woolf's earlier modernist novels (not the first, though), belonging to the tradition of James Joyce's Ulysses (serialised between 1918 - 1920, published in 1922) and Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time (1913 - 1927) with the experimental stream of conciousness she felt Proust had perfected (it is my belief that Woolf was the one to perfect it). It also contains reflections of Katherine Mansfield's Prelude (1918): Mansfield's was, said Woolf following her death, "the only writing I have ever been jealous of." As you would expect from a modernist novel, the focus is not on events but characters, the inner lives of her key characters and a preoccupation with the metaphysical, a technique of the 19th Century Russian writers such as Dostoyevsky and Chekhov, who she praised in 'The Russian Point of View' (a short essay from The Common Reader First Series). 

To The Lighthouse, I have to say, is a web in which I am hopelessly entangled. I've read it twice: the first time was about twelve years ago (my first Woolf) with no knowledge whatsoever about her. It was the book that started my obsession with her. I've gone on to read and collect all her novels, most of her short stories, much of her non-fiction, and a great many biographies. My return sees me armed with so much background information it makes my head spin, and the novel has revealed yet more to me: it's no longer merely "wonderful", it is an absolute maze which I can't help but feel is hidden from he or she who, unfamiliar with Woolf, first encounters it. It was always a great novel, but only now do I appreciate just how great and how revealing it is, not just about Woolf but about humanity (as all the best novels should be). Untangling this web and laying down my thoughts is a very daunting task, but I will endeavour to do so, starting not with the book, but with Virginia Woolf's mother, Julia Stephen, on whom Mrs. Ramsay is based.

By Julia Margaret Cameron,
1864 / 1865.
By Julia Margaret Cameron, 1872.
By Julia Margaret Cameron, 1874.
With Vanessa, 1879.
In Virginia Woolf's Women, Vanessa Curtis writes of "the rapid progression of heartbreak and illness" of Virginia Woolf's mother Julia Stephen (née Jackson) that was inadvertently chronicled in the photography of her aunt Julia Margaret Cameron and the amateur photography the Stephens were so fond of. In 1867, two or three years after the first picture was taken (when she was 18), Julia married Herbert Duckworth. Three years later, he was dead. Julia suffered terribly, she was absolutely stricken with grief. These portraits show this deterioration; the stress, the hurt, the haunted look that amplifies over the years. In the second picture, she is about 26, still recognisable as the renowned beauty who posed for Edward Burne-Jones (Princess Sabra Led to the Dragon, and The Annunciation). Two years later, the third picture (titled "She Walks in Beauty") shows a stark change from the first picture that was then taken ten years previously. Finally, in 1879, she is almost unrecognisable: indeed it is hard to believe there are only fourteen years between the Julia of 1864 and the Julia of 1879.

Curtis goes on to remark:
After Herbert's death, Julia Duckworth continued to do only two things - to spend time with her needy mother, and to devote herself to good causes, visiting the sick and miserable. This was a self-imposed duty that she was to maintain for the rest of her life; it now formed some kind of effective barrier against the pain she suffered inside. For eight years she mourned Herbert relentlessly, telling her anxious relatives that she only wished to die.
Leslie Stephen and Troy the dog.
In this period, Julia and her three children George, Stella, and Gerald moved to Hyde Park Gate, next door to Leslie Stephen, himself in mourning for his wife Minny Thackeray (daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, author of Vanity Fair), and also left with a child, Laura. In 1879 after a period of resistance Julia consented to marry him, and they had Vanessa, Thoby, Virginia, and Adrian. Curtis argues that Julia "learned to live through Leslie, her mother and her children, as well as acting as a friend, confidante and matchmaker to the many young couples who visited Hyde Park Gate". Julia Stephen was The Angel of the House. She cared for and nurtured the family (though do not make the mistake of assuming she was soft), often pandering to Leslie's outbursts. A H Bond describes Virginia and Leslie's relationship as "a cacophony of contradictions". Furthermore,
From all accounts, he was a bully, a manipulator, and a blustering, pessimistic, emotionally dishonest man. Although he could be lovable, charming, whimsical, encouraging, and deeply devoted to his family, he subjugated the adult women in his household and at least one son to exploitation and abuse, demanding (and receiving from his wife and step-daughter) almost total abnegation of self.  
The Stephen-Duckworths
(Virginia stands on the top row, second from the left)
Leslie Stephen is, of course, Mr. Ramsay.

To The Lighthouse opens with a promise of Mrs. Ramsay to her son to take him to the lighthouse the following day, "if it's fine". Woolf writes of this boy's joy, she writes pure and crystallised joy, excitement, indeed bliss at this prospect. It is quickly shattered by Mr. Ramsay:
"But," said his father, stopping in front of the drawing-room window, "it won't be fine."
Had there been an axe handy, or a poker, any weapon that would have gashed a hole in his father's breast and killed him, there and then, James would have seized it. Such were the extremes of emotion that Mr. Ramsay excited in his children's breasts by his mere presence; standing, as now, lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one, grinning sarcastically, not only with the pleasure of disillusioning his son and casting ridicule upon his wife, who was ten thousand times better in every way that he was (James thought), but also with some secret conceit at his own accuracy of judgement. What he said was true. It was always true. He was incapable of untruth; never tampered with a fact; never altered a disagreeable word to suit the pleasure or convenience of any mortal being, least of all of his children, who, sprung from his loins, should be aware from childhood that life is difficult; facts uncompromising; and the passage to that fabled land where our brightest hopes are extinguished, our frail barks founder in the darkness (here Mr. Ramsay would straighten his back and narrow his little blue eyes upon the horizon), one that needs, above all, courage, truth, and the power to endure.
St Ives, 1894.
Taken from Leslie Stephen's photograph album.
This reminds me of Sylvia Plath's Daddy: bitterness, frustration, and grief frantically spills from Woolf's pen as though she was carried away for a moment. There are many passages like this: To The Lighthouse is an exorcising of demons as much as a novel. It is, as I say, two-fold: a novel to enjoy, to learn from, to be inspired by, and an outpouring, an unreliable autobiography: Woolf warned readers not to read it as an autobiography, but clearly there are elements. The Stephens spent many summers in St. Ives (represented in To The Lighthouse by the Hebrides), something the younger members of the family looked forward to greatly: in Hyde Park Gate News they wrote that going
... is a heavenly prospect to the minds of the juveniles who adore St Ives and revel in it's numerous delights and its close vicinity to the sea.
Virginia Woolf in Vogue, 1926.
[There are a few sources that claim this photograph
was taken in 1924, however Hermione Lee,
 in Virginia Woolf, writes that it was indeed taken in 1926]
Mrs. Ramsay was, as Julia Stephen was, the protector, the mother, the angel, who held the group together. As Julia was "a friend, confidante and matchmaker to the many young couples who visited Hyde Park Gate" (Curtis), so too was Mrs. Ramsay to those who visited their Scottish summer home. Mrs. Ramsay, who dominates To The Lighthouse, represents the past, the Victorian era, and Lily Briscoe, one of Woolf's characters in the novel, represents the now. To The Lighthouse is a break from the past, the novel itself (in experimental form) is radically different from the 19th Century form, the events that take place within it, and finally the understanding reached by Woolf of a childhood filled with tension and loss that had haunted her for so long.  And it was written, perhaps not coincidentally, around the time she posed for Vogue in her mother's dress. It represents, in the speculation on the nature of Leslie and Julia's marriage, a liberation from the past which thus allowed Woolf to move forward. In this respect (among with many others) it is one of the most important novels she has written. Woolf had had an urge to "kill" the Angel of the House: saying in the speech 'Professions for Women' given to the National Society for Women’s Service on 21st January, 1931,
And the phantom was a woman, and when I came to know her better I called her after the heroine of a famous poem, The Angel in the House. It was she who used to come between me and my paper when I was writing reviews. It was she who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her. You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her--you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it - in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all - I need not say it - she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty--her blushes, her great grace. In those days - the last of Queen Victoria - every house had its Angel. And when I came to write I encountered her with the very first words. The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. Directly, that is to say, I took my pen in my hand to review that novel by a famous man, she slipped behind me and whispered: "My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure." And she made as if to guide my pen... I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me.
In To The Lighthouse this angel, if not killed, was certainly exorcised. Virginia Woolf, to paraphrase one of the more famous lines in the novel, "has had her vision".

Julia with Virginia and Adrian.
It is, as I keep saying, one of the most important of Woolf's works, and one of my favourites. It's a web, intensely complex and yet so very readable. It's actually an excellent introduction to modernism. It's a novel that resonates and excites, and it's somehow a private experience for both the reader and the writer. As with most of my reviews I've picked on an element that has interested me: there is, as ever, far more going on in the novel than I've written about. In fact, I think I've only really written about a third of it! It reveals more the more one delves into it. Analysing it and having some understanding of the people and events that inspired it make it seem intimidating, but it's not intimidating. Not knowing all of this didn't stop me from falling in love with Woolf's writing. It is, in short, a beautiful novel. I love it so very much, it's an absolute joy.

Further reading
Briggs, Julia - Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life
Curtis, Vanessa - Virginia Woolf's Women

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The oldest book I own.

This afternoon I went to an antiques shop where I ended up buying what is now, officially, the oldest book I own. It's John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and it was published in 1874 (the first edition was published 200 years earlier in 1678). It's a lovely edition, and I've seen it many times on Pinterest and Tumblr, so I'm very happy to have my own copy! And, remarkably, it was only £2, so I think it was a bargain. Here it is:

And as you can see, I also bought The Old Curiosity Shop and A Child's History of England by Charles Dickens: I got it simply because I don't have A Child's History of England, but I have to admit I do like these gilded editions, they're very pretty.

As for that inscription, it says:
John Edward Grant
from John Bruce
All Saints Sunday School
29th Decm. 1878.
So, there it is! My copy of Le Rêve by Zola (1888) is now the second oldest book in my collection. I don't tend to have much luck with books in antique shops, so I'm pleased with this (99% of my books are purely functional, so it's also lovely to have a few pretty books in my collection, and I do love books with a bit of history to them).

I'd love to hear about your old books and stories, so if you're inclined, leave me a comment and tell me about your oldest book? :)

Saturday, 21 June 2014


Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May,
by John William Waterhouse.
“Summer afternoon - summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words
 in the English language.”
~ Henry James

It's the first day of summer! But, really, it's felt like summer for a few weeks now. The weather has been glorious and I've been enjoying sitting out with the hens and reading, focussing at present on my Classics Club list (ten to go!). I love this time of year (I think I say that about every season, but there different and all very good reasons to love each part of the year, although February often pushes its luck). The swallows have been back for a while now, and there's a nest in the archway between our house and our neighbour's, so I'm looking forward to seeing some of the young ones braving the outside world in the next few weeks or so. And a few days ago I saw not one but two woodpeckers sitting next to each other on the fence (I've never seen two at once!). It's such a busy time of year for the animal world, they're all out and about: the squirrel has been spotted after being away for nearly two years (I imagine it was a different squirrel, but all the same it's nice to see a squirrel), and I've even seen a deer on the green at the front of the house, not to mention owls, bats, and many hundreds of garden birds! In contrast, I think summer's a rather lazy time for a lot of us humans, and I'm looking forward to some relaxing and getting my foot better (I hurt my foot a few months ago and it still hasn't healed, but I think it's beginning to show a little progress).

And, another reason to celebrate: this is my 100th post! I also noticed that I've now written over 40 reviews as well, so I'm most happy with my blog.

As for reading plans (always the fun part of 'new month' / 'new season' posts!): I noticed Marianne had listed twenty books she would like to read over the summer: this is part of Cathy's 20 Books of Summer Challenge, which I've decided to join. As I said I have ten books left from my Classics Club, which are listed here, and the rest are other books I've been thinking about of late:

Classics Club List:

1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
2. The Magus by John Fowles.
3. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rusdhie.
4. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.
5. The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence.
6. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James.
7. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway.
8. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
9. Bouvard et Pécuchet by Gustave Flaubert.
10. Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore.

Other Reads:

11. Jean Santeuil by Marcel Proust.
12. Notes from a Dead House / House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
13. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.
14. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.
15. Moments of Being by Virginia Woolf.
16. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope.
17. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope.
18. Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot.
19. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.
20. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg.

I do have a little bit of a head start on The Satanic Verses (I'm slightly less than half-way through, and though I was dreading it, whilst I can't say I'm wildly enthusiastic about it I am happy enough reading it). Also: I said a few posts ago I wanted to read The Decameron this summer: I'll still be reading it, but it's a read-along that is expected to run into October. Finally, The Last Chronicle of Barset isn't listed: I imagine I'll get to that in the first week or so of autumn. 

I'll list these titles on my 2014 Challenges page and track my progress there. Meanwhile, I have a review I want to write (on To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf), and then I shall return to The Satanic Verses. That is how I'm spending my midsummer's evening!

Happy summer, everyone!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Top Ten Books On My Summer TBR list.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish is:
Top Ten Books On My Summer TBR list...
The Decameron, by Boccaccio.
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov.
The Rainbow, by D. H. Lawrence.
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury.
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of
a Justified Sinner
, by James Hogg.
Jean Santeuil, by Marcel Proust.
The Magus, by John Fowles.
Notes From a Dead House,
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf.
The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie.

This list is a bit of a mix of my Classics Club list (Satanic Verses, The Magus, The Rainbow, and Fahrenheit 451), books I've been meaning to re-read (To The Lighthouse and Lolita), a read-along book (The Decameron), one for the Russian Literature Challenge (Notes From a Dead House, perhaps better known as The House of the Dead), and two that have caught my eye recently (Jean Santeuil and The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner).

I'm so excited for the summer! I'm aiming to do lots of reading, and my major challenge will be to complete my Classics Club list so I can have a brand new list for the autumn. Hopefully I'll be able to read one or two others along the way...

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Is He Popenjoy? by Anthony Trollope.

Is He Popenjoy? is, I believe, Anthony Trollope's 34th novel first published in 1878 (eleven years after The Last Chronicle of Barset). It's an odd one to write about - I can't say I loved it as much as I thought: it was enjoyable, and had all the right ingredients, but somehow I couldn't quite get excited about it.

That said, it doesn't deserve it's status as a minor and obscure Trollope (there's not even a Wikipedia entry for it). Even Trollope himself doesn't have a lot to say about it, from what I've read in his autobiography (An Autobiography, 1883), writing in one sentence the very basic plot (which I won't quote as it may give away the end), then concluding,
Nevertheless the story, as a story, is not I think amiss.
He goes on to note, in a long list of other novels, that it was published in 1878 and so far brought him £1600 (compared to, for example, Can You Forgive Her? from which he made £3525).

The Tichborne Claimant, in Judy, 
or the London Serio-Comic Journal,
24 April 1872.
As with the longer Trollopes, there are numerous plots. The plot of the title concerns Lord Popenjoy, a baby, and heir to the title of Marquis of Brotherton. But is he a legitimate heir? Is he Popenjoy? This novel was inspired by 'The Tichborne Affair', a legal case that ran through the 1860s and 1870s concerning Roger Tichbourne, heir to the Tichborne baronetcy. In March 1853, Roger went to South America aboard 'La Pauline'. In 1854, he was seen in Brazil awaiting passage to Jamaica on board Bella. Bella, four days after the sighting of Roger, was found capsized off the Brazilian coast. Roger was presumed dead, but his family, his mother in particular, did not give up hope and various advertisements were placed in The Times and The Argus (Melbourne). In October 1865, a man claiming to be Roger Tichborne was found. But was he Tichborne? With hindsight, the answer is rather obvious, however the case kept Victorians entertained for many years.

Returning to Is He Popenjoy? - as with many of the long 19th Century books, it has, as I say, numerous plots, and my favourite concerns Mary Lovelace. Like Eleanor Bold (The Warden, 1855 and Barchester Towers, 1857) and Mary Thorne (Doctor Thorne, 1858), Mary Lovelace has strength, integrity, and courage. She is rebellious, determined, and rather forward thinking, yet do not make the mistake of thinking Trollope was in support of women's rights. He may indeed have created some of the finest female characters of the 19th Century, but he certainly was not a feminist, and this is made all to clear in Is He Popenjoy?: as his biographer Victoria Glendinning writes, he "had a field day with the feminist activists" giving them names such as Lady Selina Protest, Baroness Bannman, and Dr Olivia Q. Fleabody. Their group, the "Rights of Women Institute for the Relief of the Disabilities of Females", is known as "the Disabilities" for short. It is not subtle, though Trollope often isn't. All that said, we do see an almost sympathetic portrait of Mary, her growth and, essentially, her emancipation from that (or those) that are holding her back. And, as ever, we see some superb characterisation: whilst caricatures exist in Trollope's novels, I love that his good characters are never pure and his wicked characters are never truly hateful. The latter, too, may grow.

Is He Popenjoy? feels typically Trollope, yet it isn't quite. I've been reading 'The Chronicles of Barsetshire', published between 1855 - 1867, and I've also read He Knew He Was Right (1869). Post-1870, I've only read The Way We Live Now (1875) and I don't remember being particularly excited by that either. Somehow in Is He Popenjoy? and The Way We Live Now his voice is older, and I don't mean more mature. Perhaps a little more cynical to the point of being just a touch jaded. He seems irritated at times, and doesn't explore his prejudices. It doesn't quite have the golden light of 'The Chronicles of Barsetshire'. This is quite a leap, though: I have only read two post-1870. It's simply a feeling.

All the same, I did enjoy it and I do recommend it to any Trollope fans reading (not so much to those who haven't met Trollope yet). And I can't finish this without a note on the title: Is He Popenjoy is one of those odd Trollope titles, up there with his play Did He Steal It? (1869), He Knew He Was Right (1869), Can You Forgive Her? (1865), Not If I Know It (a short story, 1883), and Never, Never -- Never, Never (another short story, 1875). It's full of funny chapter titles, too - 'Drop It', 'Rather Boisterous', 'The Dean is Very Busy', 'How Could He Help It?', and 'Sir Henry Said It Was The Only Thing'. Even if I wasn't in love with it, and even with the irksome prejudice, I do still find Trollope very amusing.

Further Reading

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Top Ten Books I've Read So Far This Year.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke & The Bookish is -
Top Ten Books I've Read So Far This Year....

Read in May, one of my many re-reads of the year. The perfect fairy tale, and very untypical of Zola.

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Read in March. For the first time I felt I 'got' Austen.

3. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.

Read in January. An absolute masterpiece.

Another January read. Woolf hoped to capture "myriad impressions — trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel". And she did.

Read in March. As A. A. Milne wrote, 
One does not argue about The Wind in the Willows. The young man gives it to the girl with whom he is in love, and, if she does not like it, asks her to return his letters. The older man tries it on his nephew, and alters his will accordingly. The book is a test of character.
Beware of anyone who claims to dislike it.

Read in March. Metamorphoses is everything - light and dark, comedy
and tragedy, and full of magic.

Read in February. Frighteningly relevant, particularly for those living under the Conservative government.

Read in April. It's based on Spinoza's Of Human Bondage, or the Strength of the 
Emotions in which Spinoza writes,
Human infirmity in moderating and checking the emotions I name bondage: for, when a man is a prey to his emotions, he is not his own master, but lies at the mercy of fortune: so much so, that he is often compelled, while seeing that which is better for him, to follow that which is worse.
Maugham applies this theory to his main character, Philip, seeking to overcome his bondage.

Read in January. My first surprise of the year. A thrilling mystery novel, not the kind I would
usually go for, but I loved it so much.

Read in May. One of the greatest novels of the 19th Century.

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