Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

Novel Insights on Savidge Reads #1

A few weeks ago I was a little bit gutted when the lovely Polly of Novel Insights decided that she wanted to give up blogging, especially seeing as I nagged and nagged and nagged for her to start one in the first place – see I tell lots of people they should start a blog. Anyway I felt the blogosphere would miss Polly’s ‘novel insights’ into the books she has been reading and so I have bribed her (the things I know after twenty seven years being friends) to come and do a monthly post on Savidge Reads of the books she has been reading and rather enjoying. So I will hand you over to her, make her welcome, let us know what you think of what she has been reading and I am sure she will comment back when she can. Hoorah. Oh and watch out for my interjections, ha!

Hello Savidge Readers!

As this is my first guest post, let me start by introducing myself. Until recently I wrote a blog called Novel Insights which ran for four years. You might have read it, or heard of it on here, or just heard Simon mention me, as we have been best friends since we were playing He-man and She-ra as little kids. (Oh my god Polly, I am the one with all the secrets and all the power – of Grayskull!)

Anyway… at the end of last year I decided that I didn’t want a whole blog to myself for reasons I noted down in my final post. It was definitely the right decision for me, but also rather poignant. Imagine my delight when Simon offered me a guest spot on the wonderful Savidge Reads. I couldn’t refuse…

Onto reading (isn’t that why we are all here? I think Polly meant to add… apart from Simon’s stunning wit and delightful manner). I recently read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for book group in December. I won’t go into too much detail about it as it seems a little unseasonable this side of the New Year, but I will say that everyone should read it. Its short (so no excuses), is told in the most remarkably warm and witty voice (you can almost hear Dickens having little jokes with himself now and then), and is sinister but still charms the reader with beautiful vignettes of Victorian life. I have also just finished The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey but I will wait to review that until after it’s been discussed at book group!

Today I’m reviewing Moranthology by Caitlin Moran and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

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Moranthology by Caitlin Moran

I was first introduced to Caitlin Moran when I read her entertaining take on feminism – How to Be A Woman which was so funny that I chuckled out loud to myself more than once in public. Similarly Moranthology caused me to laugh so violently on London Transport that I could barely stop myself from crying and had to turn away to face the door to try to re-arrange my face!

Moranthology is a collection of her best columns which she has curated around favourite topics. She has an opinion on everything from solving the world economic crisis to Lady Gaga and delivers it with her own very personal style.

In any collection inevitably there are articles you love more than others. I have to say that although I find her obsession with BBC TV’s Sherlock funny but I haven’t seen it so couldn’t really relate to those articles. I felt maybe I should watch it, but then she also loves Dr Who and I just can’t get into it. What do you guys think? Anyway I digress….as usual…!

I zoomed through this collection and was thoroughly entertained. Some of the more serious stories gave me pause for thought. With A Christmas Carol still in my mind, I get the feeling that she and Dickens if they had had the chance to chat may have shared some opinions on society and public welfare.

Her tone is so personal, my guess is that you will either love or hate her writing – I obviously fall into the ‘love it’ category. This is because she is funny, observant and unapologetic about her views. She is also up-front about being occasionally quite annoying and self-indulgent (for instance, waking her husband up to ask how he would remember her if she tragically died early – what woman hasn’t done something similar!?). In other words she’s human and entertaining and it makes me wonder why I don’t read more ‘funny’ books.

Oh and I tweeted her about my laughing incident and hurrah – she replied – look, look!

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So she’s nice too. Read her.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I downloaded A Monster Calls on my Kindle (oh you filty, filthy…) after reading Simon’s Books of 2012. I was attracted to read it partly because of the beautiful illustrations and because it seemed like a dark fairytale of sorts, saying something (as all good fairytales do) important about the human condition.

Conor O’Malley is the focus of the novel. A thirteen year old boy, struggling with the knowledge that his mother is sick with cancer, he is frightened, angry and unable to talk about what is happening which leaves him isolated at school and at home. In his dreams he is visited by a monster, who appears to him in the form of the ancient yew tree at the bottom of his garden. However, the monster is not the real nightmare, he dreams of something much worse that he cannot bear to put into words.

I have slightly mixed feelings about A Monster Calls. I think it’s a very accomplished book and as Simon commented, the book deals with a difficult subject in a wholly original and effective way. The one issue I had with it was that sometimes I didn’t quite click with the writing style. Perhaps it’s because it’s primarily targeted to the Young Adult market so I felt very aware that it was trying to convey something to me – I felt a bit hand-held. I think my expectations were very high because of how well recommended. That was my only minor complaint.

It lived up to my impression of the dark fairytale however. What a fantastic creation the yew tree monster is – frightening and wise at the same time. He is neither wholly good nor wholly bad and challenges Conor’s ideas of life, forcing him to consider that people and their actions are often not what they seem. Even though it has a magical edge, the book has its feet firmly planted in reality. The characters in the book were all so easy to imagine and relate to. Conor could occasionally be a quite unlikeable, but this is part of what makes the book realistic. Let’s face it people who are dealing with terrible things often are not that nice to be around. The illustrations in the book are beautiful and atmospheric – making me a little sad to be experiencing them on a Kindle and not in print!

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So that’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed my temporary takeover of Savidge Reads. Do read excellent Simon’s review of ‘A Monster Calls’ and I suspect that he might be posting about ‘Moranthology’ as well at some point! Indeed I shall be as I am dipping into it, and chortling a lot, at the moment between other books and when I have only a few minutes to read something.

Until next time… farewell x Px

A big thanks to Polly for a lovely post. Do let her and I know what you think of the books she (and I, we are like book twins) have read. Oh and Polly forgot to mention she is off to the Phillipines at the end of the week and maybe you could give her some holiday reading recommendations too?

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Filed under Caitlin Moran, Novel Insights on Savidge Reads, Patrick Ness

The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton

I am beginning to think that my little faux pas that Edith Wharton was one of the UK’s canon authors, when deciding on the six authors for ‘Classically Challenged’ with AJ, was actually a twist of fate and an accidental moment of brilliance. While I liked Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ and enjoyed Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ (let us gloss over Trollope’s ‘The Warden’) I have to say that ‘The House of Mirth’ simply surpasses them for me by a long stretch and has been the first to set me alight. I think it is probably going to become one of my favourite novels of all time and has reminded me what joys there are in the classics and forget the side that makes you feel like you are back at school. Now though I have the nightmare task of trying to write my thoughts on this book which I know will never really do it justice. Gulp!

***** Oxford University Press, paperback, 1905 (2008 edition), fiction, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

In New York in the late 1800’s Lily Bart, at the ripe old age of twenty nine, is in the time of her life where she needs to find a husband. She has had many good seasons living with her rich friends of high society, which is quite miraculous as she herself is made of limited means and no fortune yet Lily is wily. We follow her on her quest to find a husband and the gambles she takes not only with her meagre allowance and cards but in the society she keeps and how she plays them and they play her.

Edith Wharton does some wondrous things in this novel. Firstly Wharton marvellously creates an overview of society at the time. As we meet her Lily actually spends most of her time living off her incredibly wealthy friends. Of course nothing comes for free. It is Lily’s beauty, wit and ability to seem fascinated by anyone and everyone whilst having them fascinated by her that gets her in with the right set. Keeping them as friends and on side however is the really tricky part and one that anyone would find hard to pull off. Lily knows that if she marries someone with utmost wealth she could have everyone at her bidding and the life she has always felt she is her due. This was the plight of many women at the time. When not living off friends though, Lily finds herself living off an aunt, Mrs Penistone, who took her because no one else would after her mother’s death. This relationship I think has a real psychological affect on Lily. She doesn’t want to owe anyone, apart from a husband, anything nor does she want to end up like many of the spinsters that her aunt knows, working in factories and living in boarding houses.

The second wonderful thing about ‘The House of Mirth’ is Lily Bart herself. Lily isn’t really likeable and yet we do like her. She has airs and graces above her station and yet she is witty and does care about people, well overall if we give her the benefit of the doubt. She is the creation of a society at the time along with the aspirations left upon her by her mother’s influence from a young age. There is a real sense of sadness and tragedy underlying her beauty and charm however and I think it is this that while we might not always think she is behaving as we would or correctly makes us like her and root for her all the same. For those of you who have read the book it was her behaviour with a certain collection of letters that showed her true character I felt.

With so much going on it is takes a deft writer to throw in another strand to the story and Wharton does this by introducing, from the very start in a brilliant set of paragraphs where he describes Miss Bart so we are left in no doubt as to her looks and personality, the character of Lawrence Selden. This is another master stroke. He is by no means a rich man having been forced to do the thing that everyone in Lily’s set dreads, work. As a lawyer the rich think he might be useful someday and indeed some of the rich married women of high society, like Bertha Dorset, find his handsome charms might just be the thing to provide some light relief in their lives or all sorts. There is a tension and chemistry between Lily and Selden however, though neither of them really wants it as both know that Lily ideally needs to marry for money, being a woman of no stature. Yet this friction and their love hate relationship are part of what we follow throughout.

‘Exactly. And so why not take the plunge and have it over?’
She shrugged her shoulders. ‘You speak as if I ought to marry the first man who came along.’
‘I didn’t mean to imply that you are as hard put to it as that. But there must be some one with the requisite qualifications.’
She shook her head wearily. ‘I threw away one or two good chances when I first came out – I suppose every girl does; and you know I am horribly poor – and very expensive. I must have a great deal of money.’

Their sparing with each other show what Lily is really thinking or planning and why. Also through Selden’s eyes we get this rather brutal and pitying look on Lily and the monster she threatens to become. This was another of the things I loved about this book; the ability of Wharton to flip between Lily’s perception of things and then to the perceptions others have of Lily and her actions, these perceptions of course being based on whether the person has sympathy for Lily or is in some way her rival or superior. This also highlights the calculating nature of a certain group of women, who Wharton was clearly aware of at the time, from the destroyer such as Bertha Dorset and indeed our own Lily in her calculations of how to get a suitably rich husband or live off others, whichever the case may be.

It was not that Miss Bart was afraid of losing her newly-acquired hold over Mr. Gryce. Mrs. Dorset might startle or dazzle him, but she had neither the skill nor the patience to affect his capture. She was too self-engrossed to penetrate the recesses of his shyness, and besides, why should she care to give herself the trouble? At most it might amuse her to make sport of his simplicity for an evening–after that he would be merely a burden to her, and knowing this, she was far too experienced to encourage him. But the mere thought of that other woman, who could take a man up and toss him aside as she willed, without having to regard him as a possible factor in her plans, filled Lily Bart with envy. She had been bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce–the mere thought seemed to waken an echo of his droning voice–but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour of boring her for life.’

‘The House of Mirth’ is a real unflinching and honest lifting of the lid on society and how it worked just before the turn of the 20th century in America and you feel Wharton new exactly what was going on no holes barred. She also looks at the interesting divide of old money and new money and how the latter felt they had to win the other over until the Wall Street crash when roles were reversed. Here the initially, to Lily, odious Mr Simon Rosedale suddenly becomes the man everyone wants to know and many women want to wed. There are so many layers, sub plots and characters to the book I could go on all day, so I shall bring myself to a close and surmise.

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Having had some space from the book and time to mull it over there is very little doubt in my mind that ‘The House of Mirth’ is an absolute masterpiece and could easily be one of my favourite books. I loved Wharton’s prose, her humour and the fact she did completely the opposite of what I was expecting with Lily’s story which alas I can’t discuss in detail for I would completely spoil it for you if you have yet to read it – if that is the case you must go and get it now. Lily Bart walked fully off the page for me and I found myself thinking about her a lot when I wasn’t reading the book. Reading it is an experience, and I don’t say that often. One thing is for sure, I will not be forgetting the tale of Lily Bart for quite some time and I believe I will be returning to it again and again in the years to come.

Who else has read ‘The House of Mirth’ and what did you think? Did anyone else (without any spoilers please) see the end coming? What about Bertha Dorset, did anyone loathe her as much as I found myself doing? Did anyone else think that Selden was a bit of an ineffectual wet lettuce? Which other works of Wharton’s have you read, as I now want to get them all, and you would recommend?

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Filed under Books of 2013, Classically Challenged, Edith Wharton, Oxford University Press, Review

Mariana – Monica Dickens

And so to the second of my Persephone Project reads which also happens, of course, to be the second novel to be re-published by Persephone Books, ‘Mariana’ by Monica Dickens. I have to say that before I had even opened a page of ‘Mariana’ I was intrigued by what it might hold (having not read the blurb as I tend not to do) as it seemed to be a book which had really mixed reactions from many a Persephone –lover. In fact even Nicola Beauman, via the Persephone letter, had pondered that I might not like it. So I have to admit that I went in with rather low expectations and even a little bit wary.

***** Persephone Books, paperback, 1940 (1999 edition), fiction, 377 pages, from my own personal TBR

You could quite easily sum up the premise of Monica Dickens first novel, though she had written a memoir prior to it, ‘Mariana’ as the tale of a young woman’s life growing up in the 1930’s. Even though it is a true enough description, it doesn’t really do justice to the book which I think is more the chronicles (which seems rather apt as she was Charles Dickens great-granddaughter) of a young woman’s life, Mary, and the ups and downs that it brings both for her personally from a young girl growing into adulthood and also chronicles the lives of a family and the differing social circles that they frequented during this period in history. It is like an epic story of the everyman at the time, and a damn good story it is too.

Mary, our protagonist, lives an unusual life. Her mother having been widowed she grows up living on modest means during the term times of her lives before visiting her sadly deceased father’s affluent family in the idyllic summers at Charbury House. Her mother Lily, a teacher come dressmaker, may have said no to any of her in laws hand outs yet remains in good relations with them and so at summer time, and Christmas too, that is where they go, being much more preferable to Mary’s maternal grandmothers who is a bit of a vile old bag. Charbury is where Mary is her happiest, it’s the place she can look forward to as she somewhat bumbles through schools and it is also where she can see the love of her life, her cousin Denys. As we follow Mary’s life Denys becomes a more pivotal character in her life though is that a good thing. From here, without giving away any spoilers, we follow Mary through drama school and fashion college, London and Paris, as she turns from child to adult with all the up and downs along the way.

“All the time she was at St. Martins, even when she was in the thick of everything, and herself one of the goddesses who turned new girls to stone, there was never a time when she could say to herself: ‘I am part of this place; I am one of the things that make it.’ She never got rid of the idea that it belonged to other people and that she was only there on sufferance.”

If someone had told me this is what the book was going to be about before I started I might have been inclined to think that this book really wouldn’t be for me. Yet I loved every single page of it and was completely lost in Mary’s life. Part of that was to do with the character of Mary that Monica creates, she isn’t the picture perfect heroine at all, she can be moody, ungainly and awkward, a little self centred on occasion but she is always likeable, her faults making her more endearing even when she can be rather infuriating. Part of it was also all the characters around her, I want to list them all but there are so many it would be madness, some of them delightful, some spiteful but all of them drawn vividly and Monica Dickens has a wonderful way of introducing a new character with the simplest of paragraphs which instantly sums them up. All of these characters are part of the many things that make you go on reading ‘Mariana’, every page or two someone new lies in store.

“She was always ready and waiting too early. Ever since her husband had forgotten her at a wedding and taken the car home without her, she was always expecting to be forgotten, even by people who could not conceivably have had too much champagne. She was Mary’s father’s sister, the eldest of the Shannon family, a tall, pigeon breasted woman, of whom in her late thirties people said. not ‘What a good-looking woman,’ but ‘She must have been very pretty a girl.’ A little rice-powder was all she would put on her face, and she lay awake at nights wondering if she dared have her hair bobbed. She strove earnestly with life, but was constantly perplexed by it. One of her favourite remarks was: ‘Thank goodness I’ve got a sense of humour.’”

There are plenty of laughs in ‘Mariana’, there are also moments of sadness and despair, and often the two are combined to great effect. This was one of the other strengths in Monica Dickens writing, she gets the mix of the wonderful and happy with the devastating and sad just right. Mary is not in for an easy ride as she grows up and in fact from the very first chapter we know something awful seems to have happened, the first chapter is so clever as is the last, and that fact is always there in the background as we read on as is the knowledge that at some point, due to the age she is living, war must be round the corner. It creates a very compelling, and also rather concerning, tension throughout.

“The clatter and crash of a tile falling from the kitchen roof into the yard deepened her despair. It was a wild storm. She had got to wait. To wait – and try not to think. She went back to the other part of the room. Perhaps if she sat down again and picked up her book, everything would be alright again. Time would click back, and she would find that it had never happened.”

As you may have guessed I loved ‘Mariana’ and am really glad I went into it knowing very little about it. It has elements of the real social history of the time, only fictionalised and is a proper story of our heroine growing into adulthood and all the highs and lows that this brings.  It also has a cast of characters that I am desperate to revisit again and again. As I mentioned earlier on, it is an epic of the everyman really. It isn’t often I read a book and think ‘ooh I must re-read you one day’ yet I have the feeling I will be rejoining Mary many more times in the future. I am also left wanting to go on and read every single thing that Monica Dickens has ever written.

More Monica Dickens to look forward to...

More Monica Dickens to look forward to…

Yes this for me was one of those books that make you want to re-read it and then binge on everything the author has ever done. I shall hold off for a while however. I am hoping the third Persephone makes me feel the same about Dorothy Whipple next month. Interestingly Gran has never read Monica’s books, so I am going to pack this with me next week on my visit as she simply has to read one of her books. Anyway over to you, have you read ‘Mariana’ and if so what did you think? I will be interested to hear your thoughts as it does seem to divide readers. Which Monica Dickens should I read next? As you can see from above I have two at the ready, but she has written so many! Thoughts welcomed.

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Filed under Books of 2013, Monica Dickens, Persephone Books, Review, The Persephone Project

Other People’s Bookshelves #5– Shelley Harris

This week on Other People’s Bookshelves we get to have a nosey through an authors book shelves as we are joined by the lovely Shelley Harris. Shelley was born in South Africa and emigrated to Britain at the age of six. She has been a local journalist, a secondary school teacher, an assistant in a wine shop and a bouncer at teenage discos (no, really). She likes slapstick humour and salted caramels. Her first novel, Jubilee (Weidenfeld and Nicolson – which I have on my shelves) was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and picked as a 2012 Richard and Judy Summer Read. So let us have a nosey through her shelves…

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I tend to keep all the books I read – except the atrocious ones. Those go straight to Oxfam. My favourites never leave unless by mistake, when I lend them to someone who doesn’t give them back (see also: Behind The Scenes At The Museum, A Christmas Carol).

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

OK, this is a bit complex, but here goes:

Most of my books are upstairs, in the room I write in; three walls are covered in shelves, and most are mine (I allow my husband a measly three shelves – he’s very good about it). One of the walls is for non-fiction, and within that there’s history (chronological), auto/biography (alphabetical by subject) and general non-fiction (autobiographical by author). My fiction used to be alphabetical by author too, but this summer I decided to arrange it by colour, and it’s bee-ootiful. I should admit here that it’s sometimes just the teensiest bit hard to lay my hand on exactly the book I want, but – did I mention it’s bee-ootiful? I’ve also got very un-arranged shelves connected with whatever I’m writing at the moment or want to write next. My To-Be-read pile is downstairs. It’s four shelves big.

I do cull my books from time to time, and it’s a curiously double-edged thing for me. I feel that liberation you always get when you shuck off some of your possessions, but also the anxiety that you might be throwing out something you’ll want next week. That actually happened once; a novel stayed on my shelves for two years unread, so I got rid of it. The next week, someone told me it was brilliant.

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I’ve racked my brains, but I can’t remember. What I do know is that at the age of ten I read two books alternately for months on end – maybe I bought them, I don’t know. They were Antonia Barber’s The Amazing Mr. Blunden, and E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children. At some unsentimental moment in my life (stupid early adulthood) I threw them out, but now have replacement copies on my shelves.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

Oooh, now I’m really interested in your Hidden Shelf. I don’t have one; I’m not at all ashamed of anything I take pleasure in, and that includes books which are…what would people scoff at? Stuff that’s considered lowbrow? Erotica? It’s all good.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

That’s a tough one, but I think I might try to save the books my students gave me as gifts when I finished teaching them (they were so relieved, the poor mites). I’m massively proud of having taught, and to have been called ‘a WICKED English teacher’ is one of the best things anyone’s ever said about me.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I remember being transported (as many girls my age were) by Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, and read the book soon after the single was released. I was maybe eleven at the time. But my parents were responsible for lots of the books I read – grown-up and not-so. Dad used to quote a lot of Shakespeare and poetry at me, using a voice he thought sounded like Laurence Olivier (it sounded like a Dalek). And my Mom read and loved The Women’s Room and passed it over when I was about seventeen – it was a really important book for me.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

If I love it I tend to want to keep it – some of my Oxfam purchases are novels I’ve borrowed and loved but want for myself. I read Jane Harris’s Gillespie and I on Kindle (very rare for me) and now have the hardback on my shelves.

Beige books

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

A copy of A Christmas Carol which I bought from Oxfam because it’s weirdly disappeared from my shelves. I suspect our resident twelve-year-old reader.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Yes – I want to magic the next Sarah Waters onto my shelves right now.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I don’t mind what they think, but my best guess is that they’ll notice I mainly read contemporary novels, that I love books passionately (I have lots of them), and that they may suspect I’m borderline OCD.

Red books

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A big thank you to Shelley for letting me grill her and allowing us to nosey through her shelves. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Shelley’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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Filed under Other People's Bookshelves, Shelley Harris

The Third Miss Symons – F.M. Mayor

And so here is the first review of the year and aptly it is for the first book read in 2013, even if I have got a small backlog of books to tell you about from last year. I have mentioned before that I am very superstitious about the first book of the year as it seems to me it will reflect, or predict, the reading experience that I will have in the year ahead. Odd I know, yet true. Aptly I have whim (my main reading resolution of 2013) to thank for my first read being F.M. Mayor’s ‘The Third Miss Symons’ as I had started a few books and not been quite taken with any of them. However on a trip to Shrewsbury last week I spotted this in the Oxfam bookshop, bought it and then spent a few hours in a cafe not long after, while waiting for The Beard to finish a meeting, reading it from cover to cover – before you think I am some super reader it is only 144 pages of rather large print.

**** Virago Modern Classics, paperback, 1913 (1980 edition), fiction, 144 pages, from my personal TBR

Henrietta, or Etta, Symons is the ‘Third Miss Symons’ of the title and this book is really the tale of her life. As the third daughter, and fifth child, of seven she becomes the ‘middle child’, true at a yojng age she does have her time as everyone’s favourite, yet from then onwards she becomes a rather plain and unremarkable woman and we see how this unintentionally effects the rest of her life and her circumstances.

 It is also F.M. Mayors way of talking about a large amount of women who found themselves in a very similar situation at the end of the Victorian era leading into the suffragette movement. A group of women who seemed to somehow be out of kilter with the world though for no fault of their own, even if it might have made them bitter towards the ends of their lives. We still know some people like this I am sure, as youngsters I am sure we were all aware of a ‘local witch’ or ‘crazy cat lady’ somewhere down the road or in the area that we lived. Did we ever try and understand them? No, yet here in ‘The Third Miss Symons’ Flora MacDonald Mayor tries to do just that and explain it all in the life of Henrietta.

“It was clear she was to be lonely at school and lonely at home. Where was she to find relief? There was a supply of innocuous story-books for the perusal of Mrs. Marston’s pupils on Saturday half-holidays, innocuous, that is to say, but the fact that they gave a completely erroneous view of life, and from them Henrietta discovered that heroines after their sixteenth birthday are likely to be pestered with adorers. The heroines, it is true, were exquisitely beautiful, which Henrietta knew she was not, but form a study of ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Villette’ in the holidays, Charlotte Bronte was forbidden at school owing to her excess of passion, Henrietta realized that the plain may e adored too, so she had a modest hope that when the magic season of young ladyhood arrived, a Prince Charming would come and fall in love with her. This hope filled more and more of her thoughts, and all her last term, when other girls were crying at the thought of leaving, she was counting her days to her departure.”

It is not the easiest of reads in part because Henrietta is going to be a victim of circumstance, you pretty much know this from the start, and also because she is never really that likeable mainly as the product of her situation. Often there is a tone to the novel which is rather melancholy, which made me wonder if was the reason for the fact it verges on a novella in terms of length. I should add here that I didn’t find the book depressing in itself, more the society of the time and how it treated women who did end up as spinsters and how this even reflected the way a family might choose to interact with one in their own midst. I make single women sound like lepers here but in some ways that is how families seemed to feel about them, unless of course they could be good for money or should the lady of the house day and a replacement be needed or someone to use for their own gains or motives as they got older, otherwise they were really seen rather as a burden.

“Her aunt’s life was the sweetest and happiest for old age, but could she at twenty settle down to devising treats for other people’s children, or sewing garments for the poor? It made her feel sick and dismal to think of it. Besides, there circumstances were not similar. Her aunt, fortified by the spirit of self-sacrifice, had resigned what she loved, but she had the reward of being the most necessary member of her circle. Henrietta had no scope for self-sacrifice, for she had never had anything to give up.”

I found ‘The Third Miss Symons’ an utterly fascinating and rather different read. Partly this was because of the insight into that period of British history and how women were treated, or ill treated, in that time and partly because of the character of Henrietta which Mayor has created. I am hard pushed to think of another female character I have encountered quite like her. I was thinking of Harriet in ‘Gillespie and I’, Mrs Danvers in ‘Rebecca’ or Miss Havisham in ‘Great Expectations’ yet Harriet is not as unreliable, bitter, warped or feisty as any of them she is ordinary, yet that is what makes her tale all the more extraordinary. It’s an unusual perspective and an unusual read yet brilliantly so. I was also impressed with how Mayor wrote a whole life, and its ups and downs, in such a short book. If my reading year is to be filled with quirky, unusual and such vividly character filled and prose lead as this book then I am in for a very good reading year.

This shows the joys of whim reading, and turning to more golden oldies, instantly doesn’t it? I hope that the rest of my reading year carries on like this. Anyway, who else has read this book and what did you think? I know Susan Hill loves it as she wrote the introduction in my Virago edition, she is also a huge fan of F.M. Mayors ‘The Rectors Daughter’ which is somewhere in my TBR, have any of you read that one at all and if so what did you think of it?

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Filed under F.M. Mayor, Review, Virago Books, Virago Modern Classics

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

Well, what a book to end 2013 on, as I have to admit that I have been reading Charles Dickens celebrated ‘Great Expectations’ right up to the deadline of today which AJ and myself set for this, the third, instalment of Classically Challenged, and I think having completed it I might have a bit of time off from reading for a while. This I have to admit has been the book I have been looking forward to the most and the least all at once. For years and years, much to the dismay of my mother and grandmother and several followers and a few critics of the blog, I have gone on and on about how I didn’t, and wouldn’t, like Charles Dickens and that he was simply paid per word and so wrote too many of them, without having read a word. Well, now I have and I have to hold my hands up and say that I was wrong. That said, I don’t want any ‘I told you so’s’ because whilst it truly was very much a book I enjoyed, and will most probably read Charlie-Boy again because of, I still have the odd reservation.

Oxford University Press, paperback, 1861 (2008 edition), fiction, 442 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Oxford University Press, paperback, 1861 (2008 edition), fiction, 442 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

It seems a little silly to sum up the story of Charles Dickens thirteenth, unlucky for some but not for him, novel because I am pretty sure most of the world knows it, however here it is. ‘Great Expectations’ is really the story of Pip, Pirrip Philip, and his young and formative years. As we meet him, well as we learn after he is accosted and scared to death by convict Abel Magwitch in a cemetery, he is living with his sister and her husband, the local blacksmith, on the breadline in the marshes of Kent. Soon after, at the request of his uncle-in-law Uncle Pumblechook, he finds himself at Satis House and hired in a way as the playmate of the adopted daughter, the rather cold Estella, of a wealthy spinster, Miss Havisham. He falls in love with Estella and his meeting with her and Miss Havisham seems to be the start of a change in his life as whilst training to be a blacksmith with his uncle Joe he receives a large income from an anonymous benefactor and can instead become a gentleman, only as we go on with Pip’s journey we discover great fortune might not bring him happiness or the love he so wants.

Of course this is not the whole story, merely a teaser if you have yet to read the book, as following these events Dickens weaves twists and turns into the narrative which I wasn’t expecting (no pun intended) along with random off shooting stories for some of the lesser characters which create one of these wonderful Dickensian worlds I have always heard so much about.

Did I enjoy the story? Yes. Was it what I expected (pun not intended)? No. In many ways ‘Great Expectations’ was much more than I could have wished for. I became completely immersed in the world that Dickens’s created for Pip and followed his life with great interest. I loved the gloomy and dark opening of the misty marshes at the start, and was completely hooked by Miss Havisham from the first scene in which we met her. In fact I did at several points wonder why on earth Charles Dickens had not just written an entire book about her. I mean in hindsight the tale of Miss Havisham and the forever jilted bride has become the most famous part of this tale hasn’t it?

“I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and like the flowers, and had no brightness left but the brightness of her sunken eyes. I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose, had shrunk to skin and bone. Once, I had been taken to see some ghastly waxwork at the fair, representing I know not what impossible personage lying in state. Once, I had been taken to one of our old marsh churches to see a skeleton in the ashes of a rich dress, that had been dug out of a vault under the church pavement. Now, wax-work and skeleton seemed to have dark eyes that moved and looked at me. I should have cried out, if I could.”

When Miss Havisham appeared, a lot like when Magwitch appears in the cemetery, the book really came alive for me. The gothic elements of it all, and indeed the pre-Victorian London did spring to life when Pip’s journey takes him there. I will say though that if the story was merely just about Pip without these extra characters, or just about him and Estella (why he fell for her I simply couldn’t understand), I don’t think I would have fared so well. He is a bizarre character in many ways, not likeable really but not dislikeable, and one I couldn’t decide if Dickens liked or not as sometimes he seemed to be the butt of Dickens jokes. Here was a shocker for me; Dickens is really quite funny when he wants to be. Pip seemed to like being a bit of a victim, which sounds awful but there are people out there like this, and rather a drama queen and I would find myself laughing out loud at things when they happened to him, was Dickens wanting us all to do this I wondered?

“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.”

These wonderful quotes do bring me to a very important topic – Dickens’ prose. Overall I really liked it; I was at its heart proper storytelling. It is this storytelling nature that makes me think it is so interesting that prose that was written for the masses and serialised has become seen as some of the greatest around. He creates atmospheres and characters brilliantly, sometimes merely in a name we learn everything about a characters traits, whilst also introducing lots of strands of stories weaving off to the left and right of the main narrative. He is a little over wordy though on occasion, being paid per word I am sure I would be too, but occasionally this can become repetitive and on occasion I found myself thinking ‘blooming heck Mr Dickens, why use a word when you can use six paragraphs?’ Part of this might have been my impatience of wanting to know what happened and part of it might simply be that I was reading it straight, not in serial, and with a deadline – either way I noticed it, it wasn’t a major problem it just made me wonder if the sense of atmosphere and wonderful characters could sustain me through a monster like ‘Bleak House’ for example? Also, how on earth did Dickens want to make this story even longer, as was the original plan?

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This all makes me sound rather grumpy and as if I didn’t like it and I did. I think what frustrated me though was that I think Wilkie Collins does it better (which I fancy having made on a t-shirt) especially the twists and the suspense in his books and yet doesn’t get half the credit Dickens does, it seems unfair. That small point made, I got a lot more than I expected (pun now intended) from ‘Great Expectations’. It was far, far, far more enjoyable than I expected it to be. I loved the atmosphere of the novel, especially when it was at its darkest, and some of the characters – mainly Miss Havisham – will stay with me for years to come. I was also impressed by how funny it could be in parts. Oh and, as this seems to be a big point of discussion with this book, I much preferred the original ending that Dickens came up with to the revised, but we can discuss that in the comments not to give anything away for those who you who haven’t read it, or Dickens, yet – and I would recommend everyone give this book a whirl.

So who else has read ‘Great Expectations’, though really I know probably most of you who visit here have and I am very late to this Dickensian party, and what did you think? Who is still a bit dubious? Now I have given this a whirl, and you have seen what in his books/prose do and don’t work for me, would you suggest I try next? Oh and don’t forget to check AJ’s thoughts when they go up, he is poorly so they may be late.

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Filed under Charles Dickens, Classically Challenged, Oxford University Press, Review

Other People’s Bookshelves #2 – Marina Sofia

Normally this new series of Other People’s Bookshelves will go live on Thursdays, however I have done a little swap around of posts this week and so it is here a day early. This week we have the lovely Marina Sofia, who regularly comments on Savidge Reads (for which I am hugely grateful as I am to anyone who does). Marina Sofia is a serial expat, currently living in the French Alps near Geneva. She loves reading books of any kind, with a particular weakness for Japanese and German literature, and crime fiction from any country.  She is currently writing her own crime novel and blogs about poetry, the books she reads and the joys and pains of finding time to write.  Marina is also a regular reviewer for the website www.crimefictionlover.com. She also has the blog http://findingtimetowrite.wordpress.com Do give them both a visit.

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

In an ideal world, I would have all of my books up on the shelves.  However, I currently have books in 3 countries. We are temporarily living in rented accommodation in France, so I have a few old favourites and new purchases here (hence the limited number of bookshelves).  In the attic of our house in the UK I have boxes and boxes of books, which I had to clear out of my beloved bookcases for our tenants. And I still have quite a pile of books waiting to be reunited with me at my parents’ house in Romania.  However, I do have big clear-outs and give away books to charity or local libraries a few times a year.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I used to be really anal about organising books by topic, alphabetical order, colour, size etc.  I’ve mellowed a little over the years and only organize them by topic.  So, all my crime fiction is in one place.  All my books in foreign languages are in another place.  My professional books are in one corner, with my ancient teddy bear to keep them company. And so on.  I can usually find any book in just a few seconds, so there is some kind of system there which works for me.

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I wasn’t given pocket money as a child, so I didn’t buy books with my own money!  Although, to be fair, my parents were very good about buying me books, because they thought it was educational. Hmmm, not so sure all those Secret Seven, Mallory Towers and Chalet School books really qualified as educational, but I adored them all!

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

No, I don’t feel guilty about any of my reading choices. But I do have a tendency to push out my husband’s books out from ‘my’ shelves and hide them somewhere. Luckily, he has taken to using his Kindle now, so I can claim full possession of the study now!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

It would be painful, but I think any books can be replaced.  I would be more likely to try and save my manuscripts and old diaries.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

Back in the 1970s or 1980s, parents had bought a Pan Classics collection of all of Austen’s novels, all the Brontë novels, most of Dickens, some Thackeray and ‘Moll Flanders’ for some reason.  I am not sure that they actually read them (they are not native speakers of English), but they had probably been told it would be a good investment for me in the future.  So I started dipping into them from the age of 10 or thereabouts.  My parents never censored me, but I had the sensation they were a bit of a forbidden fruit nevertheless, so I enjoyed them and probably became far too precocious for my own good.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I borrow a lot of books from the library; otherwise my house would soon overflow with books completely! However, if it’s an absolutely brilliant book that I can’t live without, I will buy it after reading a copy of it. The most recent example of that is a collected edition of Simenon’s noir fiction (the so-called ‘romans durs’).

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

A hardback edition of ‘Burying the Typewriter’ signed by the author, Carmen Bugan. It’s a beautifully written, very poignant memoir of an idyllic childhood in the Romanian countryside which comes to an abrupt end when the author’s father decides to protest against the Communist regime in Romania in the 1980s.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

I do like collected or complete works of my favourite authors.  I would love to own the whole set of Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen crime novels. And I am still searching for that perfect edition of Marcel Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I hope they would think I am a very open-minded reader, ready to try all genres, all kinds of writing.  What my friends and family usually think, however, is: ‘How are you going to take them all back to England again?’

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A big thank you to Marina for letting me grill her. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Marina’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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Packing in the Classics

After the weekend with the homophobic and verbally abusive neighbour from hell, which I might share with you at some point though as the police are involved am not sure if I am allowed, I then had the joys of babysitting my 4 year old twin cousins before coming to Grans where I will be staying for a while. It has already been a whirlwind with a big hospital visit today and then I needed to go out and do some chores and shopping so while I have dinner on and she is gripped by Strictly It Takes Two (don’t ask) I thought I would finally share a post on the books I have packed for this stay, and as you will see I have gone for some classics of all era’s…

Packing in the Classics

I have been thinking about my reading habits and I do seem to spend a lot of time reading those shiny new books. This is no bad thing of course yet I do think this means that I tend to miss out on the classics, be they modern or canon, and I want to address that and so I thought that this trip might just be the time and so I smuggled, well shoved, this five motley crew of a selection.

‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a series I have read but these I have brought as comfortable tales I can revisit, also (most importantly and meaning these will be my main reading fodder) they can be read in random sittings when I am not rushing around. The others however are just books I have meant to get on and read for a while. ‘Madame Bovary’ because both Polly of Novel Insights and Gran herself have both said that it has ‘a real bitch in it who you might really like’; I am taking that as a compliment of sorts. John Wyndham is an author I have always wanted to try and ‘The Chrysalids’ is meant to be very accessible and has an apocalyptic theme which might stand me in good stead if everything kicks off in a few weeks on the 21st ha, ha. ‘Miss Smilia’s Feeling for Snow’ by Peter Hoeg sounds like a literary crime thriller that I would love and some say is the first Scandinavian crime, lovely stuff – I am craving crime at the moment. Finally there is the one I am most nervous about ‘Great Expectations’ by a certain unknown author called Charles Dickens. In fact I think I want to move on swiftly or the worry might start…

Anyway I wondered what older classics, modern or properly olde, you have been meaning to read or revisit of late and why, and if you too ever feel like you end up reading more new books than old or the other way round?

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Classically Challenged Giveaway #3; Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

In conjuncture with Classically Challenged  the lovely Oxford University Press are kindly giving away three copies of the third Classically Challenged choice, as voted by you, ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens on Savidge Reads and another three on AJ’s blog too. But as we discovered the international postage takes longer you only have 24 hours to do so, this means you will get them with some time to spare!

So what do you have to do to win one of these novels?  Well, now that you have asked, you need to do the same thing, but twice. So we would like you to tell us which author you have the greatest expectations of and why? AND you need to do this on both mine AND also AJ’s blogs. This actually gives you double the chance of winning and also means both me and AJ get to chat to you, as it were, which is doubly nice all round.

You have just 24 hours to enter the draw (so basically 14.3 GMT on the 26th of November) and the winners will be chosen at random out of a hat and announced by a special guest I’m introducing you all to tomorrow. Good luck!

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Vicariously Through The Victorians…

As I mentioned a few weeks ago I really do love the autumn, especially for reading. I have been going through my TBR pile on and off over the last week and with certain worrying matters going on off the blog I have been looking for thrilling yet comforting books which will keep me reading. I tend to get readers block when lots of things are going on, I am sure this happens to all of us, and so these reads should combat this. However my version of thrilling yet comforting might not be the same as yours, as mine tend to involve the foggy, mysterious and dark streets of Victorian London, as the hoard I pulled down shows.

Now because I was being all arty-farty by having them on my ever-so suitable Victorian reading chair in the lounge you might not be able to make them all out. Well, it is quite a mixture. First up we have the fiction from the time in the form of ‘The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which I think sums up Victorian London at that time wonderfully, along with ‘The Odd Women’ by George Gissing which I have to admit I really bought (ages ago) because of the title, it just sounds quite me. I am also planning, through my new venture ‘Classically Challenged’, on finally reading two of the authors that many say are the literary greats, Anthony Trollope and the Charles Dickens.

I have thrown in some non-fiction into the mix too. I really struggle with non-fiction, it has to have a narrative and drive or I just get bored. In the case of ‘Beautiful Forever’ by Helen Rappaport (which I think my mother bought me two maybe three Christmas’ ago, oops) there should be no worry at all as it is the tale of Madame Rachel of Bond Street who ‘peddled products which claimed almost magical powers’ ripped people off and blackmailed them. I cannot wait for this, why have I left it so long. The same goes for Mary S. Hartman’s ‘Victorian Murderesses’ which I found in a book swap cafe last year. I don’t tend to mention that I like true crime writing, well I do, and this one looks great. Finally, non-fiction wise, I have ‘Wilkie Collins’ by Peter Ackroyd (I should have read this in the spring) which I am hoping if isn’t a narrative based non-fiction book will hook me in because I am such a big fan of Wilkie, full stop.

Finally I have thrown in three neo-Victorian novels, interestingly all by female authors about fictional women who stood up to Victorian ethics by all accounts, ‘The Journal of Dora Damage’ by Belinda Starling, ‘Little Bones’ by Janette Jenkins and ‘Beautiful Lies’ by Clare Clark. So there is some really exciting reading to look forward to. Yet before I start all these I am going to be meeting some very special ladies who I will be asking for more recommendations from as I will be discussing Victorian books, why they are so tempting to read and to write with them on Tuesday at Manchester Literature Festival

 

Yes, Jane Harris of one-of-my-all-time-favourite-ever-novels ‘Gillespie and I’ fame, who has also rather luckily become a lovely friend and the lovely Essie Fox, who did a special Victorian episode of The Readers and has written ‘The Somnambulist’ and has ‘Elijah’s Mermaid’ coming out soon (which I have read in advance and cannot wait to tell you all about at the start of November. I will be asking them for recommendations from the period, about the period and set in the period – and reporting back of course.

Now… do you have any recommendations of books about/set in the times of/written by Victorians and if so what? Oh and if you have any questions for Jane and Essie let me know and I will ask them especially.

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Classically Challenged… Part II

So last week I told you of my plans with my friend AJ, of AJ Reads, to start challenging ourselves by reading some of the classic canon authors that are heralded by many as the greatest writers of all time, and yet are a selection of writers which neither of us has read. We chose Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton (who I had completely forgotten was American but we are going with it regardless), Thomas Hardy and George Eliot as six authors to focus on over six months but asked you to vote for which title by each author we should read. Well with the exception in the case of George Eliot, as we decided we needed to take on ‘Middlemarch’. Well you responded in your droves, and before I reveal which titles will be read and when, technically on your say so, I wanted to share some exciting news about the project…

The lovely people at Oxford University Press, after a natter with them, are rather thrillingly coming on board with the whole project. Who really could be better with all the Oxford World Classics they print (we have even been talking about doing a European version this time next year with Zola etc)? Now they aren’t sponsoring us or anything but they have kindly offered to help with some special posts and excitingly for all of you (and AJ and I as we have parcels on the way) give away copies of all the books that we will be reading over the next few weeks and months. Starting with a giveaway of the first read today, more on that in another post but that does link into what you voted for!

Both AJ and I were really thrilled with the amounts of votes on both our blogs and on GoodReads and the diversity of titles was quite interesting to see, some neither of us have heard of. Yet the figures have spoken for themselves and AJ has done some magic in making pie charts for each author and how the votes fell. I have made them small so that if you aren’t bothered on anything but the results you can scroll on, if you are more intrigued you should be able to click on them and make them bigger. Anyway, first up Jane Austen…

It seems this October we will be, on the last Sunday of the month as will become the routine, discussing ‘Persuasion’ which was a huge favourite with you all and surprised me as I was almost one hundred percent sure that it would be ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and might have to wade my way through the first fifty pages again. Seems not!

Next up in November will be ‘The Warden’ by Anthony Trollope, I was quite pleased at this because ‘Barchester Towers’ was initially doing really well but, as you may all know, I do like to start a series at the beginning and unlike some of the selections its relatively short.

December will be Dickens. Now here we have a slight problem and so the voting is remaining open, as ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Great Expectations’ are currently in a tie. So we need you all to vote for just one of them and say why. And if you do this in the comments of the post below you can win a copy of ‘Persuasion’ for persuading us, see what I did there?  There will be a second chance to vote again tomorrow with another giveaway.

In January we will be heading to ‘The House of Mirth’ with Edith Wharton which I am rather excited about. I have realised with both Dickens and this title I will get to see Gillian Anderson, who I love, in the adaptations I will watch after, no bad thing that.

February, we will be seeing the spring in with ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’. It was very nearly Thomas Hardy’s ‘Jude the Obscure’ which lots and lots of you said I would really like. Why? I have heard this is the most depressing book on earth, what are you all inferring? Ha!

Finally in March we will be reading the aptly titled ‘Middlemarch’ which by the length of it I won’t be starting in the middle of March but more likely at Christmas and reading it in parts, as it was serialised after all. Phew, that is the lot! If you are a little puzzled as to the chronological order, keep your eyes peeled on the new ‘Classically Challenged’ page on the blog which will be updated with a simpler schedule later.

In the meantime get voting for which Dickens novel we should read in the previous post (and/or on AJ’s post) from ‘Bleak House’ or ‘Great Expectations’ and you could win ‘Persuasion’ with your powers of, erm, persuasion. Also let us know if you might be joining in with any of them with us, we are hoping many of you will.

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Classically Challenged Giveaway #1; Persuasion by Jane Austen

So to get Classically Challenged off to a wonderful start officially Oxford University Press have kindly offered to give away three copies of ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen on my blog and another three on AJ’s blog too. It is the first read of the series, so with only three and a half weeks to get it to you and let you have time to read it for the first Classically Challenged discussion on Sunday the 28th of October this initial giveaway is UK based only.

So what do you have to do to win one of these gorgeously covered copies of ‘Persuasion’? Well, now that you have asked, you need to do a little persuading for me and for AJ. You see ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Great Expectations’ are neck and neck with votes to be read in December and we would like you to simply recommend one of them in the comments below, and/or in the comments on AJ’s post, telling us why you loved it so much. If you haven’t read either yet then you can simply state which one you would most like to read out of the two. It is that simple.

You have until midnight GMT on Saturday night to enter the draw and the winners will be chosen at random out of a hat and announced on Monday when we announce which Dickensian delight we will be reading from your votes. Good luck and don’t forget to double your chances by visiting AJs blog too!

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Classically Challenged… Part I

Over the last few weeks and months you may have noticed I have really been thinking about my reading and blogging and just sussing where I am at. I have pondered if I am literary enough, what kind of reader I am and also last week discussing if I read enough worldwide literature. All big questions. Well, if you listen to this week’s episode of The Readers you will hear me talking to my friend, and now blogger, AJ who came on as a guest co-host and who like me has been pondering the same things. Like me he too has been slightly bothered that he hasn’t read many of the ‘canon’ authors like Dickens, Austen, and Hardy etc and so we have decided to rectify this together with ‘Classically Challenged’ and we need your help.

We have decided we are going to read six novels by six authors who are deemed some of the best British novelists (*subject to perceptions) but as yet we have both never read. This will take place on our blogs over the next six months on the last Sunday from October 2012 to March 2013. These authors will be Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, Thomas Hardy, and George Eliot. We have both decided that we have to read Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’, aptly in March, as it is deemed as one of the greatest British novels of all time. However we have not chosen a novel by each of the other four yet…

So, we would love you to suggest, in the comments below, one novel by each author which you loved/think would be the best way into their work. AJ will be collecting votes on his blog too, and we are asking on Goodreads. The novels which receive the most votes from all of you over the next week will be the ones we will read.

I can’t wait to hear your suggestions, and of course if you are planning on joining in. We will announce the schedule and six novels next week. So get voting; an Austen, a Dickens, a Hardy, a Trollope and a Wharton…

Note: I have learnt Wharton is American this was my bad research due to over excitement! We might have to swap her… or maybe not!

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Filed under Classically Challenged, Random Savidgeness

As Good As Jane Eyre?

I have had the utter joy, amongst several children’s parties this weekend where I think I had as much fun as the children, in watching the latest film adaptation of ‘Jane Eyre’ which came out in cinemas last year. Adaptations are a tricky beast, in fact Gavin and I were discussing this on The Readers earlier in the week, and I have to say that I think that this latest version of Jane Eyre is utterly superb.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga manages to perfectly capture the brooding atmosphere (it made me jump a lot), its dark mysterious aspects and secrets and the wonders of the Yorkshire countryside and also the gothic nature of it all. It does help that Michael Fassbender is a little bit brilliant as Mr Rochester and that Judi Dench is superb in it as Mrs Fairfax and most importantly Mia Wasikowska is a very understated, subtle and powerful Jane Eyre too. It might have missed a few set pieces I love from the book but no adaptation can ever be as perfect as the film version in your head can it. It actually made me want to re-read ‘Jane Eyre’ all over again.

I really do love the book so wasn’t expecting much from the film but I do recommend it, I could also do with some recommendations from you. As I mentioned it has made me ponder a re-read of ‘Jane Eyre’, however it is not long since I have read it and there are so many other classics I really should read (I bet a few of you have just muttered ‘Dickens’ or ‘Austen’ under your breath haven’t you?) and I would like to know which you would recommend for when the dark autumnal nights* draw in? They need to have a brooding atmosphere, some mystery and characters that will walk off the page and hold me through a good few hundred pages. I already have ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘Villette’ as possibilities, do they fit the bill? What else would you recommend?

*I am not wishing the autumnal night upon us by the way, I just won’t be able to start on these until October/November when Green Carnation reading dies down.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness