Category Archives: Classic

Dickens in December (actually it’s January)

great_Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I read the Amazon kindle edition.

There is Pip, the orphan, “brought up by hand” by his sister and Joe the blacksmith, visiting his parent’s graves  on Christmas eve.  There is the young man in the graveyard. There is a young boy making a choice, the anguish and guilt that go with that choice, and the consequences that occur from it.

Since that time, which is far enough away now, I have often thought that few people know what secrecy there is in the young, under terror. No matter how unreasonable the terror, so that it be terror. I was in mortal terror of the young man who wanted my heart and liver; I was in mortal terror of my interlocutor with the ironed leg; I was in mortal terror of myself, from whom an awful promise had been extracted; I had no hope of deliverance through my all-powerful sister, who repulsed me at every turn; I am afraid to think of what I might have done, on requirement, in the secrecy of my terror.

Pip makes his choice, and it changes his history.  Later there is Estella and, of course, Miss Havirsham, and the fight with the “pale faced boy” in the over-grown garden.  (I cannot wait to see Helena Bonham Carter in that wedding dress).

Great Expectations is a coming of age story that covers the themes of family, class, greed and ambition, touching on human needs and human failing.  It is a story of friendship and of love.  Interestingly, the original ending was different then the one most of us are familiar with.  Charles Dickens changed it because he was told it was “too sad”.

Reading Great Expectations at the time it was first published must have been thrilling and exciting.  The serialization left cliff-hangers,  characterization and description brought the people, class differences and places to life.   Dickens, like Shakespeare, helped to fuel the idea of popular culture, entertainment made available to the masses along with the elite.  Then there is the question of the literacy of the time, how many people of that era could read?

A great book to reread, Great Expectations also has me thinking about the history of popular literature and class.  The next Dickens on my classics TBR list is Bleak House, a book I have not read.

 

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Dickens In December

dickens-button-01-resized

An event for the coming of Winter, organized be Caroline and Delia.  I had said that I wanted to read some classics during the dark time and what better way to start than with this lovely event.  There is A Christmas Carol Read-along and the weekend of December 14th and 15th is dedicated to watching movies based on Dickens’ novels.  Why don’t you join us?

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Goblin Market – A Classic Poem for R.I.P. VII

The theme for this month’s Poetry  Project is Classic Poetry, not my favorite, as I sometimes find it too dense and convoluted (this probably has something to do with a lousy high school English lit teacher).  Then I thought about R.I. P VII and got all excited.  There are several options, Poe being the most obvious,  then I remembered a poem I heard someone read it aloud at an All Hallow’s Eve party a long time ago.

Goblin Market
by Christina Rossetti

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—

Goblin Market is  Rossetti’s  most familiar poem.  It tells a story that is similar to many folk and fairy tales.  Someone comes in contact with fabulous beings or crosses into a mythical land and, because they eat  food, or dance, or take a lover,  fall ill or are kidnapped.  Two sisters spy on Goblin merchants, who gather each evening and call out the wonderful qualities of their produce.  Both sisters  know that buying and eating this fruit will have deadly consequences but Laura is so enticed that she can’t help herself.

Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
One had a cat’s face,
One whisk’d a tail,
One tramp’d at a rat’s pace,
One crawl’d like a snail,
One like a wombat prowl’d obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry skurry.
She heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather.

Of course, we all know where curiosity leads.  It falls on Lizzie to save Laura and she does so by enduring great suffering.  The images in this poem are very rich, very sensual, some are intensely sexual, but I won’t give any more away.

Rossetti used irregular meter and an uneven rhyme pattern in Goblin Market, building excitement and dread.  Critics tend to see this poem as an expression of growing feminism against Victorian social norms and of Rossetti’s possible sexual orientation.  There are elements of temptation, seduction,  and even the “fall from paradise”.  I prefer to see it as very dark enchantment, and the lengths to which one sister will go to save another.  You can read the entire poem here, thanks to The Poetry Foundation.  Please come back and tell me your thoughts.  And join the Poetry Project  in October for Halloween Poetry!

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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

HarperCollins, New York, 2012

Borrowed from my library.  Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for fiction.

A beautiful retelling of the events leading up to the The Iliad and the first ten years of the Trojan War, told from the point of view of Patroclus, Achilles’ close companion.  This is a tale of love and of the atrocities of war, just as relevant today as in Homer’s time.

Madeline Miller’s first novel has me wanting to reread both The Iliad and The Odyssey.  Maybe I’ll make that a reading goal for this coming fall and winter.  Another book I loved that is written from the point of view of a secondary classical character is Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin.

     Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions.  “No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.”

“But what if he is your friend?” Achilles had asked him, feet kicked up on the wall of the rose-quartz cave.  “Or your brother?  Should you treat him the same as a stranger?”

“You ask a question that philosophers argue over,” Chiron had said.  “He is worth more to you, perhaps.  But the stranger is someone else’s friend and brother.  So which life is more important?”

We had been silent.  We were fourteen, and these things were too hard for us.  Now that we are twenty-seven, they still feel too hard.  From pages 298/299.

A fine novel that will be one of my top ten books for 2012.

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Filed under Classic, Historical Fiction, LiteraryFiction, Mythology, OrangePrize, Thoughts

A Banned Book – Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Perigee Books, New York, 2006

I own this one.

For Banned Books Week I decided to read a young adult classic that has been repeatedly challenged and banned in the US and Canada.  I am also including this one in my books for the R.I.P. VI challenge.

This novel was required reading for me in high school.  I read it again in college and, after several decades, have chosen to read it one more time.

This story of a group of boys who survive a plane crash on a small island is probably familiar to many people.  It is, on the surface, a tale of adventure.   On their own, with no adults, the boys can do what they want.  At first there is a sense of order and camaraderie as  Ralph, and his friend Piggy attempt to organize the group.  The boys gather food, plan to build shelters and organize the keeping of a signal fire.  Soon another boy, Jack, gathers a group and takes off to hunt the wild pigs that roam the island.  Jack wants to lead,  invites dissension and eventually something like war.  A tale of adventure turns to a story of horror and madness.

According to Golding,  Lord of The Flies is not simply an adventure story.  When asked he stated, “The theme is an attempt to trace the defect of society back to the defects of human nature.  The moral is that society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable.”*

I found it to be a narrative on personality, the place of individuals in human society and on group mind, mob mentality.  Of course these are children, would adults behave the same way?

Lord of the Flies wonderfully written, filled with beautiful evocative scenes and nightmarish horror. I read it deeper this time.  It is one of those “required” reading books that I found best read as an adult.

The first rhythm that they became used to was the slow swing from dawn to dusk.  They accepted the pleasures of the morning, the bright sun, the whelming sea and the sweet air, as a time when play was good and life so full that hope was not necessary and therefore forgotten.  Toward noon, as the floods of light fell more nearly to the perpendicular, the stark colors of the morning were smoothed to pearl and opalescence; and the heat – as though the impending sun’s height gave it momentum – became a blow that they ducked, running to the shade and lying there, prehaps even sleeping.  From page 58.

Toward midnight the rain ceased and the clouds drifted away, so that the sky was scattered once more with the incredible lamps of stars. Then the breeze died too and there was no noise save the drip and trickle of water that ran out of clefts and spilled down, leaf by leaf, to the brown earth of the island.  The air was cool, moist and still.  The beast lay huddled on the pale beach, and the stains spread, inch by inch.  From page 153.

*This quote is from Notes on Lord of the Flies by E.L. Epstein from my copy of the book.

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War and Peace Update #1

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

Vintage Classic, New York, 2008

I own this one.  I am reading this for Winstonsdad’s read-along and the Books On The Nightstand/Facebook read-along.

The following is from the introduction to this translation of War and Peace, written by Richard Pevear.  This is a quote from an article entitled “A Few Words Apropos of the book War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy and published in the magazine Russian Archive in 1868.

It is not a novel, still less and epic poem, still less a historical chronicle.  War and Peace is what the author wanted and was able to express, in the form in which it is expressed.  Such a declaration of the author’s disregard of the conventional forms of artistic prose works might seem presumptuous, if it were premeditated and if it had no previous examples.  The history of Russian literature since Puskin’s time not only provides many examples of such departures from European forms, but does not offer even one example to the contrary.  From Gogol’s Dead Souls to Dostoevsky’s Dead House, there is not a single work of artistic prose of the modern period of Russian literature, rising slightly above mediocrity, that would fit perfectly into the form of the novel, the epic, or the story.

I have finished Volume 1 and found it to be quite addictive.  I also found Tolstoy’s skill at observing the life around him and expressing those observations quite profound.  But we know that, that is why his novels, particularly War and Peace are considered classics.

Volume 1, Part One introduces the reader to the main characters and to the social scene in St. Petersburg and Moscow.  Tolstoy takes great delight in describing these parties and social gatherings and all the maneuverings among the wealthy and well-connected.  He also begins to explore the main characters of  War and Peace.

At moments of departure and change of life, people capable of reflecting on their actions usually get into a serious state of mind.  At these moments they usually take stock of the past and make plans for the future.  Prince Andrei’s face was very thoughtful and tender.  His hands behind his back, he paced rapidly up and down the room, looking straight ahead and thoughtfully shaking his head.  Was he afraid of going to war, was he sad to be leaving his wife — perhaps both, but, evidently not wishing to be seen in such a state, when he heard footsteps in the hallway, he quickly unclasped his hands, stopped by the table, pretending to tie the tapes on the strongbox cover, and assumed his usual calm and impenetrable expression.  They were the heavy footsteps of Princess Marya.  From page 105.

In Volume One, Parts Two and Three take place in the fall of 1805.  Prince Andrei, Nikolai Rostov and several others  join their regiments in Austria.  The Russian army and their allies hope to turn back Napoleon and his army.  The French have been cutting a deadly swath across Europe.  It begins to be clear that, even with the strength and willingness of the Russian and German troops, Napoleon has the upper hand.

Zherkov,  with his shoulders raised high,  a familiar figure to the Pavlogradsky hussars (he had recently quit their regiment), rode up to the regimental commander.  After his expulsion from the head staff, Zherkov had not remained with the regiment, saying he was no fool to drudge away at the front when he could get more decorations while doing nothing on the staff, and he managed to set himself up as an orderly officer for Prince Bagration.  He can to his former superior with and order from the commander of the rear guard.
“Colonel,”  he said with his gloomy earnestness, addressing Rostov’s enemy and looking around at his comrades, “there is an order to stop and set fire to the bridge.”
“An order of who?” the colonel asked sullenly.
“I don’t know of who, Colonel,” the cornet replied earnestly, ” only the prince told me: `Go and tell the colonel that the hussars must turn back quickly and set fire to the bridge.’ ”
After Zherkov, an officer of the suite rode up to the hussar colonel with the same order.  After the officer of the suite, on a Cossack horse that was barely able to gallop under him, fat Nesvitsky rode up.
“What is this, Colonel?” he cried while still riding. “I told you to set fire to the bridge, and somebody  got it wrong; everybody’s going crazy there, they can’t figure it out.”  From page 145.

This would all be very funny, if it didn’t mean that Napoleon’s army would appear with artillery, blow up parts of the bridge, kill and wound many Russians soldier and eventually cross the river.  Tolstoy makes it clear from the beginning that there was a level of ineptitude within the Russian high command and command structure that was deadly.

The novel has surprised me.  I believed it would be dense and a struggle to read, but find that the hardest part is keeping all the characters straight.  The Pevear-Volokhonsky translation has a character list, french translations and many footnotes.  It is a highly entertaining and enjoyable read.  I am in awe of Tolstoy’s abilities as a researcher and an author, at his skill with discription and his observations of people, but mostly at his willingness to take risks and write exactly what he wanted to write.

It is a shame that the label “classic” keeps people from reading War and Peace.  There was an interesting discussion on the Books On The Nightstand podcast about this idea.  If you are curious, have a listen.

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Filed under Classic, InTranslation, Leo Tolstoy, Read-Along, Review

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula by Bram Stoker

The Modern Library, New York, 2001

Borrowed from the library.

This is not a review, more a collection of thoughts.  Read for the R.I.P V challenge, this vampire novel brought back memories of my introduction to Count Dracula.  Bela Lugosi’s chilling portrayal gave my sister and myself nightmares, though I have to admit the idea of being able to change into a bat was fascinating. Dracula was not the first but is certainly the most famous vampire story.  I have read that Stoker was inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, a novella published is 1872 and available at Project Gutenberg.

Stoker’s novel, written as a series of letters and journal entries and published in 1897, is atmospheric and fast paced in places, overwrought and melodramatic in others. This is my second reading and,  filled with ideas of class and culture of the time and written in odd dialects, I found myself skimming in places that seemed to go on and on.  I am curious about the reactions to Dracula when it was first published, not so much the responses of critics or psychoanalysts, but the general public.

It is interesting,  how this one novel has influenced so much modern popular culture, from movies to books and television.  I must reread my all time favorite vampire novel, just to see how it compares, and then watch “Let The Right One In”.  If you haven’t seen this film I recommend it.  It is frighteningly beautiful.   I would also like to read the  novel the film is based on.

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Filed under Classic, Horror, Review, RIP V Challenge