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Showing posts from April, 2015

Basil by Wilkie Collins.

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Basil is my second Victorian sensational novel of the week (following the wonderful Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, published ten years later in 1862). It was written by Wilkie Collins and published in 1852 - one of his first novels, and some would argue one of the first sensational novels. 
A sensational novel is melodramatic, with hints of the Gothic and romantic tradition, and often has themes relating to crime, murder, bigamy, adultery; all perfectly horrid and exciting subjects designed to appeal to the masses, which sadly leads some parts of the literary set to dismiss them as low literature. 
Basil, however, is not low literature. It's a thrilling and an intelligent read (such combinations do exist despite what certain folk may say) about a young man, Basil. Collins, or Basil, writes, I am the second son of an English gentleman of large fortune. Our family is, I believe, one of the most ancient in this country. On my father's side, it dates back beyond …

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio: Day Six.

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The Decameron Introduction and Day I | Day II | Day III | Day IV Day V | Day VI | Day VII | Day VIII | Day IX | Day X
On Day Six of Boccaccio's The Decameron (one hundred stories told by seven women and three men over ten days whilst they escape the Black Death in Florence) the subject of "those who, on being provoked by some verbal pleasantry, have returned like for like, or who, by a prompt retort or shrewd manoeuvre, have avoided danger, discomfiture or ridicule"and Elissa is queen. It is the shortest part of the book and it's tricky to write about because much of it is based upon a one-liner. Furthermore, humour is somewhat of an issue in this, but I'll write more at the end. So, rather than attempt to fully summarise each tale I'll simply give a brief outline of characters and circumstances.

First Story: Told by Filomena (1.3, 2.9, 3.3, 4.5, 5.8). She tells of Madonna Oretta who meets a knight one day in the countryside.
"Madonna Oretta [says the knight]…

Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life by Elizabeth Gaskell.

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Do they want to know why? Then let them read Mary Barton. Do they want to know why poor men, kind and sympathising as women to each other, learn to hate law and order, Queen, Lords and Commons, country-party, and corn-law-leaguer, all alike—to hate the rich, in short? Then let them read Mary Barton. Do they want to get a detailed insight into the whole “science of starving,”—”clemming,” as the poor Manchester men call it? Why people”clem,” … what people look like while they are “clemming” to death … and who looks after them, and who—oh, shame unspeakable!—do not look after them while they are “clemming,” and what they feel like when they see their wives and their little ones “clemming” to death round them; and what they feel, and must feel, unless they are more or less than men, after all are “clemmed” and gone, and buried safe out of sight, never to hunger, and wail, and pine, and pray for death any more for ever? Let them read Mary Barton. Lastly, if they want to know why men learn …

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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The Scarlet Letter was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne and published in 1850. It's one of those books that always seems to feature somewhere on the 'top 100 best books' and I have read it before many years ago, but I decided to revisit it with, I hope, a slightly maturer mind. 
It's set in 17th Century Boston and tells the story of Hester Prynne, a woman found guilty of adultery and condemned, having been released from prison, to wear embroidered on her chest the scarlet letter A. Hawthorne writes of Hester,
The young woman was tall, with a figure of perfect elegance on a large scale. She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam; and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion, had the impressiveness belonging to a marked brow and deep black eyes. She was ladylike, too, after the manner of the feminine gentility of those days; characterised by a certain state and dignity, rather than …

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

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This is the book I've been putting off for quite a while - it's on my Penguin English Library Challenge which I started just over two years ago (7th April '13), and it was one of the last ones left to read (now have only four left!). I never felt drawn to it, and when I did try to read it in December I didn't get past the second chapter. So I've been dreading it all year, in short, and I decided to read it for the readathon to get it out the way. Imagine my joy when I found, after the first few chapters, I loved it! 
There's really not a great deal to say in this post - it's all very simple. It was published in 1862 and was one of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's first novels, in which she tells the tale of Lady Audley, née Lucy Graham. Lucy was a governess and not much else is known about her past, but her beauty seduces Sir Michael Audley and they marry. The novel begins after their marriage when Robert Audley, Sir Michael's nephew, welcomes home is old fr…

Dewey's Readathon Master Post.

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It's readathon time! I think this is my eighth, which is astonishing because my first does not seem so long ago... As usual I want to read everything but I've managed to narrow it down a little: Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. I started this last night and read a little this morning and I'm really enjoying it, which I'm surprised about because when I first started reading it (possibly last December) I couldn't get into it. I'm about a third of the way through now, and this will be my first read.Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell - I would like to get to this today, but I would like to get to - Basil by Wilkie Collins, which I will probably start after Lady Audley.The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. I do love a bit of H. G. Wells, so I'm hopeful I'll read this today.And, if there's time - I'm about a fifth of the way through my re-read of The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot. This I would read if I finish the others.Finally, not t…

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio: Day Five.

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The Decameron Introduction and Day I | Day II | Day III | Day IV Day V | Day VI | Day VII | Day VIII | Day IX | Day X
I'm now at the half-way point of Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron, his collection of one hundred stories told by the seven women and three men escaping the Black Death in Florence in the 1340s. Each day someone is crowned king or queen, and today Fiammetta is queen. She has chosen the theme of the day, which is "the adventures of lovers who survived calamities or misfortunes and attainted a state of happiness". 
First Story: This is told by Panfillo (1.1, 2.7, 3.4, 4.6) and is about Galesus, who is nicknamed "Cymon" which means "simpleton":
... since the sum total of his tutor's persistent efforts, his father's cajolings and beatings, and all the ingenuity of various others, had failed to drum a scrap of learning or good manners into his head, on the contrary leaving him coarsely inarticulate and with the manners rather of a wild …

A Child's History of England by Charles Dickens.

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A Child's History of England is a history book by Charles Dickens which was published in both book and serial form (within Household Words) between 1851 - 1853. In book form there were three volumes:
Volume I - England from the Ancient Times, to the Death of King John Volume II - England from the Reign of Henry the Third, to the Reign of Richard the Third Volume III - England from the Reign of Henry the Seventh to the Revolution of 1688 This book (which was written after David Copperfield, 1850), it is suggested, may have been written for his son Charles Dickens Jr. (Charles Culliford Boz Dickens) who would have just turned fourteen when the first part appeared in Household Words). Dickens was no great historian; this work owed a debt to History of England by Thomas Keightley (1837-39) and History of Great Britain by David Hume (1754-61). Nevertheless he presents a fascinating (if inaccurate at times) history of England from 50 B.C. to 1837 (though the events from James II to Victo…