Thursday, February 28, 2013

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

This book was my much-anticipated leap into the wilderness of Dickens. I knew next to nothing about the plot (I think I had it a little mixed up with David Copperfield and Oliver Twist), so ironically, I jumped into it with few expectations at all.

If you are anything like me and need some informing about the plot line, the story follows young Pip, an orphan being "brought up by hand" by his rather unloving sister and his kind but ignorant brother-in-law Joe. Pip gets into some trouble, meets some rich people, and decides that he isn't at all happy with his life and his future as he knows it (he's destined to become a blacksmith), and he dreams of being a gentleman. Then one day he discovers that he is about to "come into property," and he has "great expectations" by the hand of a mysterious benefactor. 

Of course, I've left out some important details, but that's the gist of it. The story is about Pip growing up, making some foolish mistakes, and in the end, learning what's truly important in life. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A question for the Brit-lit-minded

You've all heard of Downton Abbey, right? Of course you have--you'd have to live under a rock not to have heard of it. All the self-proclaimed lovers of literature are watching it these days. Everywhere I turn I hear about how absolutely shocking the last episode was!

Now, I'm not much of a TV watcher myself. I prefer movies. And when I do watch TV, I like comedies, not dramas (I use it to unwind, not to wind myself up). Yet despite this, I actually have watched a bit of the first season of Downton Abbey. And you know what? It was pretty good, I'm not going to lie. I liked it.

But I didn't keep up with it, and where am I now? Well, not up to date with the last shocking episode, I can tell you that.

Here's the thing. Normally, I am not the kind of person who keeps up with all the popular shows because I prefer reading. But many of the people I know whom I consider very literary (probably more so than I am) are totally up with the times on Downton Abbey.

So I'm beginning to wonder, and I am now asking all of you: Is Downton Abbey simply fodder for the lust that many of us Brit-lit lovers have for period dramas (as I used to think it was--and, okay, still sort of do), or is it really quality television that will enrich and enlighten me? Am I writing off something that is really fantastic? Is it worth my time?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Zoladdiction in April

I'm happy to announce that in April I'll be participating in this lovely event...

In other words, during the month of April, I'll be reading Emile Zola!

I'm sorry to say that I've never actually read any Zola...shame on me. So this event will be a great opportunity for me to read Zola! (I actually recently wrote a post looking for suggestions on a good introductory Zola book, so it's been on my mind.) I just recently added Germinal to my Classics Club list, so that's the one I'm goint to read. I'll probably stick with the first level, "Mahuede," which will only require me to read one book.

See you in April!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Ivanhoe, set in medieval England, is the story of the knight Wilfred of Ivanhoe, a Saxon, who seeks to help Richard the Lionhearted come back to power, defeat several cunning and vicious Normans, and marry his sweetheart, the Lady Rowena. Along the way, we meet various characters--Saxon, Norman, and even Jew--who are intent on supporting King Richard, Prince John, or on raising their own Saxon royalty back to power.

I read this gorgeous
collector's edition.
During the first 100 pages or so of Ivanhoe, I'll admit I was not impressed. The characters seemed stereotypical and flat, the plot seemed overdone and uninspired, and everything about the story seemed unrealistic and fantastic (and not in a good way). It seemed to me (as I mentioned in this post) that Sir Walter Scott was using history to serve as a convenient backdrop to his own heroical fantasies.

But after doing a bit of analysis on the character of Cedric and learning about Sir Walter Scott, I began to see a little deeper into this book. I began to see a side of Ivanhoe where history doesn't take second place to story; story serves to illuminate history.

The characters weren't what I would call "real," but I began to see them less as stereotypes (Hero, Villain, Damsel in Distress, etc.) than as representations. Cedric himself is the older generation; he wants to keep everything the same, to preserve the traditions of his people. The next generation, however (Ivanhoe and Rowena) aren't really interested in this purpose; although they respect Saxons, they are less interested in preserving the actual blood line than they are in preserving the Saxon values (courage, masculinity, integrity). They respect Richard Coeur-de-Lion because he is good and just to everyone, not just his own people.

The story is really about how a nation is created by merging two distinct peoples and cultures. As the reader, we can see both sides. Cedric, as well as the other Saxons, are disrespected and insulted by the Normans; naturally, they want to take control of their own nation again and get rid of the Normans. But on the other hand, Richard Coeur-de-Lion, who is a Norman himself, is a good king and promises to be just to both Norman and Saxon (and he carries out his promise). Why not create a new nation where both can dwell as one under a good ruler?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

And your lucky number is...

Last week, I signed up to participate in the Classics Spin hosted by The Classics Club. The number of the book we're supposed to read was announced yesterday! Even though I'm not posting this until today, I was really excited about excited, in fact, that I ran to the computer to check yesterday morning. (My classics nerdiness is almost overwhelming.)

The number chosen was number 14, which means that I will be reading...

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway 

Wow! What a relief! I was so afraid one of my big chunksters was going to get chosen, I rushed to finish Ivanhoe before yesterday so I wouldn't have three big books to read at a time. (I will get to those chunksters one day, though!) I'm pretty sure The Old Man and the Sea is the shortest book on my spin list, and I could probably read it in a day.

To be honest, I've tried to read this book twice now, with no success. Twice! And it's one of the shortest and easiest classics there is. I really don't know what my deal is with this book. So now I'll have some real motivation to finish it. I'll probably wait until March to read it, so I can focus on finishing Great Expectations this month and so it will match up with A Modern March.

Are you participating in the Classics Spin? Which book are you going to read by April 1st?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott was a normal man. I think that's what strikes me most about him--unlike extreme womanizer Byron or heart-rending tragedy Keats, Scott was a Romantic who was really just trying to take care of his family, pay the bills, and somehow live his dream at the same time.

The closest thing that comes to drama in Scott's life was his small romantic intrigue around 1796 that is still a little mystifying. He fell in love with Williamina Belsches, who broke his heart by getting engaged to someone else. Scott married Charlotte Carpenter only a little over a year later. So, historians wonder...was Williamina Scott's one true love, and Charlotte only the rebound?

I'm not an expert or anything, but there doesn't seem to be much evidence that Scott was pining after Williamina all his life. I mean, I was pretty upset when my boyfriend before my husband dumped me, but I'm certainly not pining after that guy. (Not that I'm comparing myself to Sir Walter Scott; just saying, I can understand how it's possible to fall in love with someone else that quickly.)

Scott wasn't first and foremost a writer. He wasn't the type to be woken up in the middle of the night by inspiration and to spend hours feverishly trying to write it all down. He was just your average family man trying to make a decent living. He actually studied law and was admitted to the Scottish Bar, and held two government offices most of his life that provided a fair salary. Scott's writing almost seemed to be more of a hobby/profession than a life's calling to him.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Character Thursday: Cedric the Saxon

Today I'm trying out, for the first time, Fanda at Fanda Classiclit's meme Character Thursday.

Lovely button, eh?
I'm excited to try out this meme on Ivanhoe, which I'm now over halfway through. Characters, for me, are always the most important part of classics, and some characters I could just go on about all day.

[**spoiler alert** I personally knew nothing about Ivanhoe before starting and I enjoy going into classics that way, so if you're like me, I would recommend you don't read further! It would be too hard to do a character analysis without talking about critical events in the story.]

The character that I find most intriguing so far, actually, is Cedric, Ivanhoe's father. Cedric is a father and is also trying to take care of his extremely beautiful ward, and naturally, his son and his ward fall in love (figures, right?). But rather than congratulating his two favorite people on a splendid match, Cedric is not pleased. First of all, his son Wilfred (aka Ivanhoe) displayed some serious "filial disobedience" by going off to the court of Richard the Lion-hearted, which Cedric didn't like (for reasons which will, we can only hope, become clearer at some point). But what's more, Cedric already had plans for his ward, Rowena, to marry one of Cedric's best pals, Athelstane, in order to get together some of the good tribes, or lands, or...something. (Still fuzzy on that, but that's probably due to my more basic understanding of the feudal system of the time period.) So anyway, Cedric banished his only son, because, you know, filial disobedience and all that.

Confused yet? I know I am, but let's carry on to the good part.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

February Classics Club Meme, and some burning questions

Here is the Classics Club meme question for this month:

"What classic has surprised you most so far, and why?" 

The book that immediately comes to my mind is Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Even though I had been told otherwise, there was still a part of me that was expecting the book to in some way actually resemble the black and white film adaptation I saw growing up. Well, of course, it didn't--not at all! I was stunned by how powerful and poignant the book turned out to be. I think it's unfortunate that this great book sometimes get overlooked as a classic because of its current reputation. Plus, it's a pretty quick and easy read! Definitely recommend it.

Now that I have your attention, I also have a couple of questions that I really hope you'll help me answer!

First: Ever since I've been blogging (which, as some of you may know, hasn't been very long), I've been interested in read-alongs, especially for some of the more difficult books I have on my Classics Club list (like Moby Dick and War and Peace). So I've been on the lookout for these things to be announced. However, every time I hear about a read-along, it's from a participant who's already halfway into it and it's too late for me. Any tips from more seasoned, experienced bloggers on how to find good read-alongs (in time to actually participate in them)?

Second: I really need to add a book by Emile Zola to my Classics Club list, but I'm at a loss which one to choose. I know next to nothing about Zola so I need a good introductory work. Any suggestions?

Thanks, everyone!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Top Ten Romances

This weekly meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish

I haven't done one of these in a while (I've been choosy with the topics) but I liked the idea of listing my favorite romances in honor of Valentine's Day! So here they are: 

10. Amy and Laurie in Little Women. I really liked their story because it was fun, but realistic. Sometimes things don't go the way you planned and you don't end up with the first person you fell in love with, but you end up with someone better for you. (I know that happened to me!) 

9. Emma and Mr. Knightley in Emma. Maybe it's the way-too-practical soul in me (or maybe it's the fact that I married someone several years older than me?) but I've always preferred Mr. Knightley over Mr. Darcy. I like that Emma's and Knightley's strengths and weaknesses complement each other. 

8. Margaret and John Thornton in North and South. I love how these two teach other so much throughout the book. Like Emma and Mr. Knightley, they're opposites that complement each other, but through the book we also discover that they are very much alike. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

My Classics Club Spin List

The folks over at The Classics Club have made a fun challenge for all the participants. The idea is that we each choose 20 books from our Classics Club list that we haven't read yet, and list them at our blogs, numbering them from 1-20. Next Monday, February 18th, a number will be announced, and we have to read whichever book on our list has that number by April 1st! Fun, eh?

So without further ado, here is my spin list (in five categories I made for myself):

Books I'm excited to read: 

1. Wives and Daughters
2. Our Mutual Friend
3. Their Eyes Were Watching God
4. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Books I know almost nothing about: 

5. Middlemarch
6. The Bell Jar
7. Song of Solomon
8. Of Mice and Men

Books I'm afraid of: 

9. Moby Dick
10. The Sound and the Fury
11. Don Quixote
12. The Crucible

Books that would work great for A Modern March (hint, hint): 

13. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
14. The Old Man and the Sea
15. A Room of One's Own
16. A Room With a View

Books chosen randomly (by closing my eyes and pointing): 

17. Slaughterhouse-Five
18. Breakfast at Tiffany's
19. Agnes Grey
20. Bleak House

Well, wish me luck!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dickens and Me

For Celebrating Dickens at Fanda Classiclit, those of us who are participating are celebrating Dickens's 201st birthday today by writing a post about "Me and Dickens"--a little something about our experience with Dickens that the man himself would appreciate, as a little birthday gift.

Dickens has rather loomed in the background of my life. I have many very specific memories with him, myself. I've seen several adaptations of A Christmas Carol, as most of us have, since I was a kid, and last year I finally buckled down and read it, albeit for a class (although sadly, a little far in advance for Christmas). Around the same time, I read a biography of Dickens and was enthralled by his multi-faceted life. In high school, all my friends were reading A Tale of Two Cities for school (while I was homeschooled) and had so many different opinions of it that I just had to read it myself. I watched the BBC adaptation of Our Mutual Friend last month and loved it. And of course, being an English major, I often feel totally surrounded by loyal followers of Dickens.

And yet...I have yet to figure out what all the hype is about.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Minding the Gap in Historical Fiction

As I've been reading Ivanhoe, I've had a different kind of perspective on historical novels. Ivanhoe is an historical novel first published in 1819 about the days of yeomen and knights and tournaments and chivalry and damsels in distress and all that sort of thing. It's understandable that the Romantics would be interested in that, and the book itself is very romantic. And since it's an historical novel that was written nearly 200 years ago, I can more clearly see some of the characteristics of the genre.

Photo by limaoscarjuliet on Flickr
One thing that I believe very firmly about history is that differences deserve to be recognized and respected. We need to be aware that we can never completely understand the world that our historical figures lived in, so we can never totally condemn them for their mistakes, nor can we always completely exalt them for their good deeds. While we may not condone their actions, it's important to understand that there were influences working on them that we can't ever personally relate to. So, in my opinion, whenever we judge people in history, we have to allow for a gap--some wiggle room, you could say--between our understanding and reality. Maybe the gap is only a few inches, or maybe it's several miles. We just have to be aware that it's there.

I've been noticing more than ever with Ivanhoe that all too often, we superimpose current values on history. We like to have characters that promote the values of our society, sometimes forsaking the realities of the time period. I'm definitely seeing this in the first part of Ivanhoe.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Can I just say I loved this book? Austen's dry humor came through so completely in her telling of this story that I just couldn't help but laugh out loud sometimes. I think it's one of Austen's best, actually, although you hardly ever hear about it.

One of the most interesting themes in the book is the idea of reading and how it can influence us--for better or for worse.

I recently read The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe, which made Northanger Abbey even more fun. Northanger Abbey's main character, Catherine, is obsessed with Ann Radcliffe's horror stories (rather like a Twi-hard fangirl today, actually). She's so taken by the Gothic trend of the time that she begins seeing evidence that one of her close acquaintances actually murdered his wife!...or worse...

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Celebrating Dickens--starting, er, yesterday

Everyone, this month I'll be focusing on...

Thanks to Fanda at Fanda Classiclit for hosting!
I'm excited for this event! I'm planning to read Great Expectations (I have a lovely copy on my shelf right now, waiting to be read) and Our Mutual Friend. Both are quite long and I have Ivanhoe to finish as well, but I'd love to get all the way through them in February. I also thought about Bleak House, but that's another gigantic chunkster, so I may not go for that one unless I finish the other two earlier than expected. I may also read a Dickens biography. I'm looking forward to immersing myself in Dickens!

Want to join? Click here