Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Orlando by Virginia Woolf.

Vita and Virginia.
Orlando: A Biography is quite possibly my favourite novel by Virginia Woolf. It was first published on 11th October 1928, and it is (among other things) a 'mock biography' of Vita Sackville West, Woolf's one time lover. It was described (by Nigel Nicholson, Vita's son) as "the longest and most charming love letter in literature".

The idea was born on the 5th October 1927. In her diary, she wrote,
And instantly the unusual exciting devices enter my mind: a biography beginning in the year 1500 and continuing to the present day, called Orlando: Vita, only with a change about from one sex to another. 
She then wrote to Vita (9th October),
Yesterday morning I was in despair.... I couldn't screw a word from me; and at last dropped my head in my hands: dipped my pen in the ink, and wrote these words, as if automatically, on a clean sheet: Orlando: A Biography. No sooner had I done this than my body was flooded with rapture and my brain with ideas. I wrote rapidly till 12... But listen: suppose Orlando turns out to be Vita; and it's all about you and the lusts of your flesh and the lure of your mind (heart you have none, who go gallivanting down the lanes with Campbell).... Shall you mind? Say yes, or No... 
And Vita responded (11th October):
My God, Virginia, if ever I was thrilled and terrified it is at the prospect of being projected into the shape of Orlando! What fun for you; what fun for me.... You have my full permission. 
I've read Orlando three or four times now, it's almost become a bit of a comfort read, and I decided to read it again last week because it was so cold here and I remembered the description of The Great Frost of January 1608:
The Great Frost was, historians tell us, the most severe that has ever visited these islands. Birds froze in mid-air and fell like stones to the ground. At Norwich a young countrywoman stared to cross the road in her usual robust health and was seen by the onlookers to turn visibly to powder and be blown in a puff of dust over the roofs as the icy blast struck her at the street corner... The severity of the frost was so extraordinary that a kind of petrification sometimes ensued; and it was commonly supposed that the great increase in rocks in some parts of Derbyshire was due to no eruption, for there was none, but to the solidification of unfortunate wayfarers who had been turned literally to stone where they stood.
This is the essence of Orlando to me: the magic in the reality and the blurring of fiction and fact. Virginia Woolf was the daughter of Leslie Stephen, the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography (1885 - 1891), and the granddaughter of Sir James Stephen, editor of Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography. Woolf writes in Orlando,
The true length of a person's life, whatever the Dictionary of National Biography may say, is always a matter for dispute.
She objected to biographies for their attempts and instance on pinning down facts. In Orlando, she goes on - 
Here he came then, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. He saw the beech trees turn golden and the young ferns unfurl; he saw the moon sickle and then circular; he saw - but probably the reader can imagine the passage which should follow and how every tree and plant in the neighbourhood is described first green, then golden; how moons rise and suns set; how spring follows winter and autumn summer; how night succeeds day and day night; how there is first a storm and then fine weather; how things remain much as they are for two or three hundred years or so, except for a little dust and a few cobwebs which one old woman can sweep up in half an hour; a conclusion which, one cannot help feeling, might have been reached more quickly by the simple statement that 'Time passed' (here the exact amount of time could be indicated in brackets) and nothing whatever happened.
More interesting to Woolf than 'facts' is the inner life, the psyche or soul, the essence that she felt Russian writers attempted to encapsulate (in 'The Russian Point of View' she suggested that "it is the soul that is the chief character in Russian fiction"). This is, like Orlando, fluid, and transcends time and gender. Orlando is a young man in the beginning of the novel, which starts during the reign of Elizabeth I, and by the end Orlando is female, 35, on Thursday 11th October 1928, in the reign of George V. By doing this, she not only writes her biography of Vita and her critique of biographies in general, she also considers women, the role of women and gender inequality, relationships, and even marriage in the 19th Century. Orlando is so very dense, yet entirely readable and accessible, unlike some of it's other Modernist counterparts.

On the day of the publication Vita wrote to Virginia,
For the moment, I can't say anything except I am completely dazzled, bewitched, enchanted, under a spell. It seems to me the loveliest, wisest, richest book that I have ever read, - excelling even your own Lighthouse. Virginia, I really don't know what to say, - am I right? am I wrong? am I prejudiced? am I in my sense or not? It seems to me that you have really shut up that 'hard and rare thing' in a book: that you have had a complete vision; and yet when you came down to the sober labour of working it out, have never lost sight of it nor faltered in the execution. Ideas come to me so fast that they trip over each other and I lose them before I can put salt on their tales; there is so much I want to say, yet I can only go back to my first cry that I am bewitched. You will get letters, very reasoned and illuminating, from many people; I cannot write you that sort of letter, I can only tell you that I am really shaken, which may seem to you useless and silly, but which is really a greater tribute than pages of calm appreciation, - and then after all it does touch me so personally, and I don't know what to say about that either, only that I feel like one of those wax figures in a shop window, on which you have hung a robe stitched with jewels. It is like being alone in a dark room with a treasure chest full of rubies and nuggets and brocades. Darling, I don't know and scarcely like to write, so overwhelmed am I, how you could have hung so splendid a garment on so poor a peg. 
Orlando made Virginia Woolf a household name, selling in six months twice as many copies as To the Lighthouse sold in a year. Not everyone loved it - Arnold Bennett said it was impossible to join in with a discussion at a dinner party unless one had read Orlando, a somewhat catty observation of how "fashionable" the book had becomeE. M. Delafield's Provinical Lady noted that she had been able to talk very intelligently on Orlando at parties until she had got around to reading it for herself, and Angela Carter once remarked that it was a "slobbering valentine to an aristocrat". But to me, Orlando really is magic. It questions, provokes, entertains, and and Vita said, dazzles and illuminates. It's so perfectly Woolf, in short.

Finally, some illustrations (in colour where possible) from the first edition of Orlando. The Russian Princess is modelled by Angelica Bell, Virginia Woolf's niece, and Orlando as a woman by Vita Sackville West.

And a gif of Tilda Swinton in Sally Potter's film adaptation of Orlando (1992):


Monday, 29 December 2014

2014 Challenges.

On Saturday I officially wrapped up the Russian Literature 2014 Challenge, and now, with only two full days left of 2014, it's time to wrap up the rest!

This year I only joined in with three challenges because I wanted to focus mainly on my Classics Club list (which I finished in July). The three were The Chunkster ChallengeAdam's TBR 2014 Challenge, and the aforementioned Russian Literature. Here's how I did:

The Chunkster Challenge: I aimed for ten and managed 25!
  1. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.
  2. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol.
  3. Metamorphoses by Ovid.
  4. Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham.
  5. Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence.
  6. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope.
  7. Adam Bede by George Eliot.
  8. Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope.
  9. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.
  10. The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles.
  11. August 1914 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
  12. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie.
  13. The Magus by John Fowles.
  14. Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore.
  15. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James.
  16. The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence.
  17. Jean Santeuil by Marcel Proust.
  18. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope.
  19. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.
  20. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.
  21. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope.
  22. The Divine Comedy by Dante.
  23. The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope.
  24. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
  25. New Grub Street by George Gissing.
Then, my own challenge, Russian Literature 2014. I've already listed these in a separate post, but for the sake of keeping everything together: I aimed for Level 3, 7 - 12 books. I managed 9 books and one article.
  1. 'The Russian Point of View' by Virginia Woolf (from The Common Reader First Series).
  2. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol.
  3. Eugene Onegin by Aleksandr Pushkin.
  4. Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov.
  5. Poor Folk by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
  6. The Village of Stepanchikovo by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
  7. August 1914 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
  8. The Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.
  9. The House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
  10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

Finally, Adam's TBR 2014 Challenge. This didn't go terribly well (actually, it never has, but 2015 will be the year I complete it for sure!). I read ten and reviewed seven. No idea how I didn't get to Ninety-Three, or Sybil or Parade's EndInfinite Jest, however, I do forgive myself for!
  1. The Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.
  2. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.
  3. Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli. 
  4. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  5. Ninety-Three by Victor Hugo.
  6. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.
  7. Parade's End by Ford Maddox Ford.
  8. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
  9. The Wings of a Dove by Henry James.
  10. On Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham.
  11. Metamorphoses by Ovid.
  12. Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope.
  1. Is He Popejoy by Anthony Trollope.
  2. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
2015 will be much more of a challenge, I think! I've joined six, and I am determined to meet my goals, especially Adam's TBR Challenge: I've never yet managed to complete one, but I know in 2015 I will! 

So, what else is left? I have my final review for 2014 to write on Virginia Woolf's Orlando and, naturally, I'll want to write something about the year that has (almost) passed. The last week of December is such a busy blogging time! 

Sunday, 28 December 2014

The End of Year Book Survey.

I think it's time for the End of Year Book Survey! This is hosted by Jamie and it is the monster of all 'year of books' review! 

2014 Reading Stats
My 2014 Author Cloud.

Number Of Books Read: 

Number of Re-Reads: 

Genre You Read The Most From: 

Best in Books

Best Book You Read In 2014?

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn't?

Most Surprising (in a good way way) Book you Read in 2014?

Metamorphoses by Ovid. I thought this would be a real struggle, I never expected I would love it!

Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read In 2014?

I attempted to push Germinal by Émile Zola on to anyone who stood still long enough :)

Best series you started in 2014? 

Favourite new author you discovered in 2014?

Best book from a genre you don’t typically read?

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I rarely like crime fiction, but this I loved.

Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I read this every spare moment I had and finished it in less than a fortnight.

Book You Read In 2014 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?
Revolution by Russell Brand. There's so much to take in and I really loved it, so one read isn't enough.

Favorite cover of a book you read in 2014?

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare.

Most memorable character of 2014?

Jean Valjean of Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.

Most beautifully written book read in 2014?

The Book of the Duchess by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2014?

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read?
Favourite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2014?

Thus when I found I could not sleep
But lately now, the other night,
Upon my bed I sat upright,
And bade someone bring me a book,
A romance, and this I took
To read and drive the night away,
Since I thought it better, I say,
Than chess or backgammon tables.
And in this book were written fables
That scholars had in ancient times,
And other poets, set in rhymes
To read and preserve in mind
When men still lived by law of kind.
This book spoke only of such things
As the lives of queens and kings,
And like matters without fail.
Among all these I found a tale
That I thought a wondrous thing.

The Book of the Duchess by Geoffrey Chaucer (1368).

Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

The shortest: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The longest: In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.

Romantic Pairing of the Year 

It goes without saying that I loved the Pride and Prejudice Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy pairing, but the Jane and Mr. Bingley was also very touching.

Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

Jeeves and Wooster, by P. G. Wodehouse. As ever.

Favorite Book You Read in 2014 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

The Last Chronicles of Barset by Anthony Trollope.

Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Les Halles, from The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola.

Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most Fun To Read?

The Village of Stepanchikovo by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2014?

Adam Bede by George Eliot.

Hidden Gem Of The Year?

A Boy at the Hogarth Press by Richard Kennedy - a memoir of one of Virginia Woolf's employees.

Most Unique Book You Read In 2014?

The Master and Margarita by Mikhaíl Bulgakov.

Looking Ahead

One Book You Didn’t Get to in 2014, but Hope To Read in 2015?

Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford. I've been meaning to read this for far too long now.

Books To Re-Read in 2015?

I have a great many listed in my Classics Club, but I suppose the immediate re-reads ought to be my 25 re-reads Challenge, which I started a year ago.

Blogging Goals for 2015?

I think, first and foremost, never to let me to-be-reviewed pile get out of hand as it did in November! I'm caught up now, but it took a while! Also, to keep reviewing as much as I can, and keep enjoying it!

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Russian Literature 2014 Wrap Up

As we approach the end of 2014 it's time to start wrapping up the challenges. Russian Literature 2014 was my own - I wanted to encourage myself and others to read more Russian Literature in 2014, and I don't think I did too badly! 

There were, if you recall, four levels:
  • Level one: 1 - 3 books 
  • Level two: 4 - 6 books
  • Level three: 7 - 12 books 
  • Level four: 12 + books
I aimed for Level 3, and here's what I read:
  1. 'The Russian Point of View' by Virginia Woolf (from The Common Reader First Series) (not a book, I know!).
  2. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol.
  3. Eugene Onegin by Aleksandr Pushkin.
  4. Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov.
  5. Poor Folk by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
  6. The Village of Stepanchikovo by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
  7. August 1914 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
  8. The Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.
  9. The House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
  10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
So, how did everyone else do? Let me know by leaving a comment or link to your own blog if you do a post there. 

I hope everyone who joined enjoyed it and benefited from it in some way! I definitely enjoyed it and learned a lot, and I finally grew to love War and Peace

Friday, 26 December 2014

Boxing Day.

What a cold Boxing Day this is! We've had no snow, but all day there's been a frost, heavy mist, and grey skies. It's actually been rather beautiful, and the chill was somehow peaceful. Today I've been reading a lot, dozing, and eating too many chocolates. It's incredible - 2015 is less than a week away. I've got a lot I want to do in that time - tidying (can't start the new year in a mess), laundry (I hate taking such dull tasks from one year to another!), and blogging - I've got four posts planned before the new year: tomorrow I'll wrap up the Russian Literature 2014 Challenge, then a review of the other challenges, book stats (a fun post, but it always takes forever to compile!), and a review of Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Naturally, as I'm sure is the case with most people, this is a rather reflective week - what is past, what is to come. No doubt I'll share some thoughts before the year is out. 2015 is so very close. It'll be interesting, not least because of the General Election in May. 

But for now, I thought I'd share my new book stash, and as a bonus, a festive Trotwood!

On the left pile (from Trotwood down) - 
  • Voltaire Almighty by Roger Pearson
  • The Victorian City by Judith Flanders
  • The Mating Season by P. G. Wodehouse
  • Ring for Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
  • Joy in the Morning by P. G. Wodehouse
  • The Stars Look Down by A. J. Cronin
  • Virginia Woolf: Art, Life, and Vision by Frances Spalding
  • Grace Abounding by John Bunyan.
On the right pile - 
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (this and Dracula are both Barnes and Nobles leatherbound classics - I've been wanting one since they came out!)
  • A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas
  • From London to Land's End by Daniel Defoe
  • Paris Reborn by Stephanie Kirkland (ideal for Zola studies!)
  • Cathy by John Carder Bush (a collection of Kate Bush photos compiled by her brother)
  • Revolution by Russell Brand
A lot of reading ahead! And I also got a telescope, so I'm looking forward to setting that up (and, of course, a clear night!). Hopefully I'll be able to share some pictures soon.

For now, I'm going to go back to reading Revolution - I started it yesterday and I love it very much. I would also like to finish Orlando (particularly as I have a review planned!), so I'm going to have an early night I think. I do love the festive period, it's been a lovely Christmas!

I hope everyone else had a good Christmas, too, and lots of lovely books - let me know what you got :)

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

It's Christmas Eve! I love Christmas Eve! I still have a few things to do - a Christmas cake to ice, and presents to wrap, but that is mainly it. I'm looking forward to a very quiet night of relaxing with a glass of Baileys and watching A Christmas Carol (starring George C. Scott). 

So, I wish you all a very merry Christmas, and I leave you with my favourite Christmas illustrations of all time - Arthur Rackham's illustrations from the 1915 edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I have reviewed A Christmas Carol before on this blog and I stand by what I say: it is as important and as relevant as ever, and it's message of hope and redemption is very much needed.

Once again - Merry Christmas! :D

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