Posts

Showing posts from November, 2015

The Doctor's Wife by Mary Elizabeth Braddon.

Image
The Doctor's Wife is one of Mary Elizabeth Braddon's earlier novels published in 1864, two years after Lady Audley's Secret. I loved Lady Audley's Secret, but it did take a few chapters to get into it. So, when I struggled with The Doctor's Wife I stayed hopeful. But, tried though I did, I could not get into it. It was all rather disappointing - I really thought I'd love it. 
The Doctor's Wife is a re-telling of Flaubert's Madame Bovary(1857). Isabel Gilbert is our Emma Bovary, her husband George Gilbert our Charles Bovary. The premise is much the same - Isabel is a dreamer and a book lover, and she wants her life to be like the books she loves so much. Her marriage is disappointing; like Emma, she married only to relieve her boredom temporarily, she finds her husband tedious, and her eye is caught by the rich and handsome Roland Landsdell, a perfect hero for her ideal life. 
The book is full, full! of literary references. Isabel has Florence Dombey of Do…

Britannicus by Jean Racine.

Image
Britannicus is a tragedy by Jean Racine, first performed in 1669. It's also the last Racine I have on my Classics Club list; the other two plays I read appeared later, Phèdrein1677, and Athaliahin1691.
The play is set during 1st Century Rome when Nero was emperor; he who was remembered as a tyrant, and was thought to have started the Great Fire of Rome in 64 A.D. ("Nero fiddled while Rome burned"). But this is set before all of this: in this we see his mother Agrippina (the Younger), who is the widow of the Emperor Claudius, and his half-brother Britannicus, the son of Claudius and Valeria Messalina (Nero was adopted by Claudius, his father by birth was Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus). The rightful heir was Britannicus, however Agrippa's scheming meant that Nero succeeded Claudius.

In Racine's play we see Nero's true nature in anticipation of what is to come. Britannicus is in love with Junia, who reciprocates, but Nero wants Junia for himself, partly because of h…

Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore.

Image
Gitanjali (গীতাঞ্জলি) is a collection of poems by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore (রবীন্দ্রনাথ ঠাকুর) and it was first published on the 14th August 1910 - this Bengali edition contained 157 poems; the English edition (1912), translated by Tagore himself in prose, contains 103. 
The title, Gitanjali, literally means 'song offerings' ('Gita' meaning 'song' and 'anjali' meaning 'offerings'), and these short poems are offerings to God on the subjects of nature and humanity; for this he was awarded the Nobel prize for Literature in 1913 (the first non-European to do so) and he was knighted in 1915 (he renounced this in 1919 however in response to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in which British Indian Army shot at those taking part in the Baisakhi celebrations. The British government stated 379 had been killed, the  Indian National Congress suggest it was 1,000).

Here's the 1ˢᵗ poem or song (translated in prose, as I say):
Thou hast made me endle…

A Love Episode by Émile Zola.

Image
A Love Episode is Émile Zola's eighth novel of his 'Les Rougon Macquart' series in which he writes about the temperament and environment of the Rougon Macquart family during the Second French Empire (1852–1870). A Love Episode, or Une page d'amour (known too as A Page of Love and A Love Affair), was first published in 1878, following L'Assommoir(1877) and preceding Nana(1880). 
It is the novel which Zola hoped would "make all Paris weep", and unlike most of the Rougon Macquart novels (with the exception of The Dream, 1888) there is a dose of sentimentality that reminded me a little (only a little) of The Old Curiosity Shopby Charles Dickens (1841). The main character is Hélène Grandjean, the daughter of Ursule Mouret (née Macquart, who is the illegitimate child of Adélaïde Rougon) and sister of François Mouret (The Conquest of Plassans, 1874) and Silvère Mouret (The Fortune of the Rougons, 1871). Before the novel starts Hélène moved to Paris with her husba…

Reading England 2016.

Image
It's that time of year again! Challenges for 2016 are already appearing, and for 2016 I offer for the second year in a row Reading England (N.B. I'll be putting up a masterpost for the 2015 Challenge in December). This was inspired by the 50 States Reading Challenge, only for this one we would be reading books set in the various English counties. This year however there are two options (you can pick one or the other, or both):
Challenge #1
The Goal: To travel England by reading, and read at least one book per however many counties of England you decide to read.
Example: You aim to read three books set in three different counties, and you read Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, and The Darling Buds of May by H. E. Bates. Reading these means you have read a book from Dorset (Far From the Madding Crowd), London (Mrs Dalloway), and Kent (The Darling Buds of May).
The Rules:  This challenge begins on the 1st January 2016 and ends on 31st Decembe…

Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy.

Image
Desperate Remedies is Thomas Hardy's first published novel, published in 1871: Hardy's first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady was completed in 1867 however he was unable to find a publisher and so destroyed the manuscript. The ideas and some scenes can be found in his poem 'The Poor Man and the Lady' and his novella An Indiscretion in the Life of an Heiress (1878).
I think it's fair to say that Desperate Remedies is a pure sensationalist novel, like that of Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, but (and I did very much enjoy it) not quite as good. These novels were popular at the time - The Woman in White (1860), Lady Audley's Secret (1862), and The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870) to name a few. It has many of the elements - murder, bigamy, villains, danger, and ambiguous identities. It's a thrill of a read, and though set in Hardy's beloved Wessex, Wessex doesn't feature so highly: in this, the drama in central and what it lacks in subtlety, exci…

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.

Image
Madame Bovary is one of the first classics I ever read - not the very first, but without a doubt it was one of the first five. I remember being very impressed with it, and surprised too because I was of the age when I thought classics had to be boring and dull because of their great age (Madame Bovary then seemed to me to be practically an ancient text!). But like it or not, Madame Bovary is certainly not dull.

It was of course written by Gustave Flaubert and first published in 1857, serialised first in 'La Revue de Paris' between 1st October 1856 and 15th December 1856. It was his first novel, and Flaubert was promptly charged with "offence to public and religious morality and to good morals" on its publication. Ernest Pinard the prosecutor argued, No gauze for him, no veils - he gives us nature in all her nudity and crudity.It became notorious for it's depiction of extramarital affairs, but Flaubert was acquitted (though left with a hatred of middle class values …

On Books by Michel de Montaigne.

Image
'On Books' is the tenth essays from Michel de Montaigne's Essays (Essais), first published in 1580: a great surprise to me because de Montaigne feels so much more modern than that. 
The essay opens with the rather odd statement, I have no doubt that I often happen to speak of things that are much better and more truly handled by those who are masters of the trade.Nevertheless he presses on (with the essay and indeed the complete collection, which contains 107 essays I believe), and he tells us why he reads -  In books I only look for the pleasure of honest entertainment; or if I study, the only learning I look for is that which tells me how to know myself, and teaches me how to die well and to live well: Has meus ad metas sudet oportet equus [This is the goal towards which my horse should strain].Thus, he goes on, he does not get too concerned over that which he doesn't understand or like: "What I do not see immediately, I see even less by persisting", and "…

Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.

Image
Clarissa, The History of a Young Lady is by Samuel Richardson and was first published in 1748. It is one of the longest novels ever written and the longest novel in the English language. To put that in context - Marcel Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu, the Guinness World Record holder for the longest novel, is about 1,267,069 words long. Clarissa is less - 984,870 words according to the New York Times. That's about 200,000 words morethan the Bible (783,137 words), but 105,869 less than the Harry Potter series (1,090,739 words). Length-wise, then, clearly half-way between the Bible and Harry Potter. It is undoubtedly huge - the kind of book that tears if not held properly, and with no support whilst reading can easily injure one's wrists (I speak from experience). Is it worth it? Oh yes. Definitely.
You would think for a novel this length I would write a monster length review to go with it, but no - Clarissa, despite all that, is straight forward in its plot. Furthermo…

Ajax by Sophocles.

Image
Ajax (Αἴας) is a tragic play by Sophocles. It's perhaps his earliest play of the seven that survived, composed around 450 - 430 B.C. The hero Ajax has fought in the Trojan War, as Homer tells in The Iliad, where he was known for his strength and courage, however when Achilles died, Achilles' armour was give to Odysseus, thus recognising him as the great hero, not Ajax. At the beginning of the play the two meet again - Odysseus slowly approaches him - Aᴊᴀx: Odysseus! What are you looking for? Still on the trail
Of some advantage over your enemy?
Yes, I have watched you, and I watch you now
Here by the seaboard where the tend of Ajax
Guards the furthest flank of the line; I see you,
Doglike, nose to the ground, reading the tale
Of his freshly printed traces, whither they lead,
Inwards or outwards. You'll find him, if anyone will;
No Spartan hound has a keener sent for the chase.
He's there, the man you're looking for, his head
And hands sweating and blooded from the sword.
Leave…

Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey.

Image
Eminent Victorians is a collection of biographical writings on four 'Eminent Victorians': Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, Thomas Arnold, and General Gordon. It was written by Lytton Strachey, a member of the Bloomsbury Group, and was first published in 1918.
Like Virginia Woolf, Strachey had an interest in biography as a genre or concept. As he writes in his preface - It is not by the direct method of a scrupulous narration that the explorer of the past can hope to depict that singular epoch. If he is wise, he will adopt a subtler strategy. He will attack his subject in unexpected places; he will fall upon the flank, or the rear; he will shoot a sudden, revealing searchlight into obscure recesses, hitherto undivined. He will row out over that great ocean of material, and lower down into it, here and there, a little bucket, which will bring up to the light of day some characteristic specimen, from those far depths, to be examined with a careful curiosity. Guided by these …