Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Top Ten Tuesday.

Happy Autumn, everyone! Oh, how I love this season! It's started with a rather misty and damp morning with a lovely breeze. I woke up to coffee and the dawn chorus, and I have a day ahead with not a great deal planned so I'm looking forward to beginning The Iliad (with the hope that the second time around is a little more successful!), and perhaps writing a post about Macbeth or The Sorrows of Young Werther, both of which I plan on writing about this week. 

In the meantime: this week's Top Ten Tuesday from The Broke and the Bookish is "Top Ten Books On My Fall To-Be-Read list". It's hard to believe that it was three months ago that I wrote "Top Ten Books on my Summer To-Be-Read list". I've just looked at the post and I'm happy to say I read nine of them (the one I missed was The Decameron by Boccaccio). As for the autumn list: I said in the last post I didn't want to make any plans or lists for autumn, so instead of a Top Ten Books on my TBR pile, I give you my Top Ten Autumn Reads (which I may or may not read this autumn):


Top Ten Autumn Reads:
1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.



2. The Poetry of John Keats.


3. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.


4. Macbeth by William Shakespeare.


5. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.


6. Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe.


7. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.


8. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy



9. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.



10. The Divine Comedy by Dante.


All of these books, I think, are great to read in the autumn, but there are a few I'm particularly interested in for reading over the next few months: Dante, Richardson, Tolkien... For now, though, I'm going to begin The Iliad, and my bedtime book is Very Good, Jeeves - I need something a little more light-hearted after The Sorrows of Young Werther!

Once again - a happy autumn to you all! :

Monday, 22 September 2014

Last Day of Summer.

Waiting for autumn!
I can't believe it's been nearly three weeks since I last updated! There are various reasons, firstly I've had an absolute aversion to my various reading challenges. Between 1st June and 1st September I've read 31 books, and 26 of those have been challenge books. Furthermore, 17 of those 26 were from a list made over two years ago. That truly has been tough reading! Most of the books I enjoyed, and for a while I did get used to reading from a specific list, however I've been so reined in I suppose it was only a matter of time before I rebelled! So this month I've been reading the Harry Potter series, which I finished a few days ago, and, of course, watching the Scottish Referendum.

The Borders on the afternoon of
the result.
And that is the second reason why I haven't been blogging: if I've not been reading Harry Potter I've been watching the events unfold. It's been a fascinating few weeks, and though I do not live in Scotland I live so close that a 'yes' vote would have had a great impact on my life (I live, as you might have gathered, in the middle of no where, and "civilisation" as it were is nearer to me over the Scottish Border than it is in England). And, being as I spend a lot of time north of the border and, these days, barely any time south of where I live, I have a strong tie to Scotland and various folks on the border. This is something, in short, that has dominated my thoughts, particularly these past seven days. And I stayed up all night to watch the results! I wanted to see not only how the Borders voted, but also Glasgow, Fife, and Edinburgh, and by the time those were declared it made sense to stay up for the Prime Minister's speech just after 7 am. Gone are the days where I could recover from an all-nighter with a good night's sleep the following night! I'm sad to say I'm still tired! And, of course, there is the expected fall out - everything Scotland was promised is unravelling, plus it's the Labour Party conference, so English politics is particularly engaging (and depressing, actually) at present.

That aside, from now I'm hoping for normal service to resume! It's the first day of autumn tomorrow, which is very exciting, but I have no plans to make any lists, and furthermore I think I'm done with challenges for this year! I'm certainly declaring a "no finish" for the 20 books of Summer list: I have two books left (and have had those two remaining for the past two weeks) - The Small House at Allington by Trollope and Scenes of Clerical Life by Eliot. I know I could, in theory, have finished, but sticking to these lists so rigidly has sapped out the enjoyment. As for the other challenges: I think, given my mood at present, be happy enough to attempt to read the final four Russian books for my Russian Literature Challenge (one of them may be War and Peace!), and I would like to at least read the final two titles on the TBR Challenge (though I doubt I'll blog about all 12).

I'm looking forward to autumn with a clean slate, in short. I'm in the middle of the very short The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, and I expect to finish that tonight, and tomorrow.... Tomorrow, who knows! There have been too many books I haven't read this summer, and whilst, as I say, I enjoyed most of what I did read, I've not enjoyed being on track. This autumn I plan on being very off track! I am considering a re-read of The Iliad, and I'll also need a new bedtime book for when I've finished Young Werther, but it's rather exciting not knowing! I bet, come December, I'll be back to making lists and I'll enjoy doing so, but not this season.

And there are no real plans for autumn, which, after a rather unpleasantly busy year, is a weight from my shoulders. All I can say is that I will be writing about Macbeth quite soon, another Shakespeare I have re-read and enjoyed. I'm starting to think I quite like Shakespeare!

Final bit of news: the budgies are doing splendidly! Zola can now be handled perfectly in the evening (not so much during the day), and Pepys, though he hates being put back in his cage (he flies in; he won't be moved on my finger), he's very affectionate and can be stroked and fussed over and he loves it more that the other three put together. Trotwood and Oliver now seem to love their brothers and call to them in the morning (they're still sleeping apart - the little ones are so full of energy and the few times they have slept in the same cage the older two are tired and grouchy the next morning). I am so happy with them! And the hens are all well, as is George.

All that's left to say is I hope everyone enjoys the last few hours of summer! 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Classic Club September Meme: Jane Austen and Émile Zola

Jane Austen.
Émile Zola.
This month's Classic Club question:
"Select two classics from your list (by different authors) that you have finished reading. Now switch the authors, and contemplate how each might have written the other's book. For example, what if Charlotte Brontë had written David Copperfield, and Charles Dickens had written Jane Eyre? How might the style, focus and impact change in a work of literature by a different author's pen? What about William Shakespeare writing Pride & Prejudice, and Jane Austen writing The Taming of the Shrew? Etc. If you discuss the story, please of course remember to warn folks plot details are forthcoming."

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Pride and Prejudice by Émile Zola.

Pride and Prejudice (Orgueil et Préjugés) was one of Émile Zola's later novels, written a decade after Germinal, Nana, L'Assommoir, and Thérèse Raquin. It is believed to be one of the last novels of his famous Rougon Macquart series, to be published between The Debacle (La Débâcle), 1892, and Doctor Pascal (Le Docteur Pascal), 1893, however Zola himself rejected the novel not long after its completion.

In it, Zola tells the story of sisters Elizabeth and Jane Benné, distant cousins of Gervaise Coupeau (née Macquart, who we meet in L'Assommoir, 1877), who was the daughter of Antoine Macquart and Joséphine Gavaudan (who we meet in The Fortune of the Rougons, 1870). Elizabeth and Jane's father, Monsieur Benné was once a wealthy man, however his wife, Madame Benné (née Macquart) who is typical of the immoral and unruly Macquarts, ruined him. Driven by frustration and envy, she sought to outshine her wealthy (though equally immoral) cousins the Rougons, and she encouraged her husband to speculate what little he had on shipbuilding, and by luck and sheer bloody determination he was successful, however, as we learn at the start of the novel, driven to despair at his unhappy marriage and to pay his wife's debts, he eventually ruins himself and his family with alcoholism, and he relies on the marriages of these two sisters in order to pay his many debts. His wife is unsympathetic and infuriated: trapped in a loveless marriage, she endeavours to ruin Benné, even if it means ruining Elizabeth and Jane's only chance to escape. She plays the fool, however we quickly learn her intentions.

The book begins in a prison cell: Benné has once again been imprisoned and his wife (despite secretly sitting on a fortune made from silk-smuggling) tells him she is unable to pay for his release. His future bleakly staring him in the face, Madame Benné remarks, "We all know, my dear, there are rich men, married or not, in Paris more than willing to pay a great fortune for a young wife - let one of them have our Jane". And so it begins, Madame Benné guides Benné into laying the foundations of Jane's marriage to Monsieur Le Charles, a wealthy and attractive man who has made his fortune in constructing the recently erected Eiffel Tower (1887). He is a good man, but lacks the confidence and spark of his close friend and colleague Monsieur D'Arcy of Aquitaine (south west France), whose fortune appears to know no bounds. Madame Benné conspires with her younger daughter Lydia, a prostitute working on the streets of Paris, and she, Lydia, bribes Monsieur Le Charles, into meeting Jane. Madame Benné, unbeknown to Le Charles, then poisons Jane, and he insists upon her staying at his home and being attended to by his own doctor.

Elizabeth, Jane's closest sister, visits her sister daily. She is a sharp tongued, sarcastic, and violent young woman, who, sadly like her father, inherits his love of alcohol and gambling. She first meets D'Arcy in the home of Le Charles, her feet filthy and covered in cuts and bruises from walking barefoot through Paris. D'Arcy is disgusted, barely disguising his contempt for her as he shows her in to see her sister. Recognising this, Elizabeth decides to get her own back, and from that day she regularly outstays her welcome (also partly to avoid a debt collector, Monsieur Collin, nicknamed "the Rev." owing to his frequent quoting of the Bible, particularly "Vengeance is mine" as he collects his debts) and the two sisters lie in bed together dreaming of a better future even after Jane has long recovered (Le Charles, in his naivety, mistakes Jane's laudanum addiction for illness). Though, essentially, they are not likeable characters (both are foul-mouthed, and are constantly in trouble for theft and, in Elizabeth's case, violence) I couldn't help but warm to them. As with the other Rougon Macquart novels, a great deal of the emphasis is on heredity and environment. Both sisters were brought up in the filthiest part of Paris and their manipulative and scheming mother has clearly had a great impact on their characters. One cannot help but wonder how different their lives would have been if, for example, they had been brought up in the countryside, with a father who loved books instead of betting, and a mother who really was as simple-minded as she pretended to be.

But this is not Jane Austen, this is Émile Zola, and he crafts a dark and bleak tale in which he rails furiously against the injustice and hypocrisy of Second Empire France. Ultimately, we learn of D'Arcy's own laudanum addiction, and Le Charles eventually loses all of his money as a consequence of trying to save his friend from losing his family's fortune. In Elizabeth, D'Arcy sees himself, and, in her revenge for his prejudice, she does all she can to distress and provoke him. Driven mad, he falls in love with her and begs her to marry him, sobbing how unwillingly he loves and admires her, but she rejects him. Humiliated, he takes to walking the streets at night, and one night he fails to return; a week later his body is found in the Seine. Whether or not he killed himself is for the reader to decide. Meanwhile, left destitute and racked with guilt over the death (or suicide) of his friend, Le Charles leaves Paris for London and is never heard of again, though there are some vague hints that Le Charles too dies.

Elizabeth and Jane are therefore left unmarried, and because of their various schemes they are left undesirable and so are of no use to Madame Benné. Their fate is unknown (perhaps to be revealed in the final of Zola's Rougon Macquart novels, Doctor Pascal). The book ends almost like it began: Monsieur Benné is once again found in prison, but this time his wife refuses to see him. It is Lydia who he turns to, and final words in this disturbing and distressing scene are from Lydia, who reminds him that they still have two other sisters, Kitty and Mary, to save them.

It is one of Zola's bleakest tales, and also one of his angriest. He highlights the hypocrisy of Paris's pride in its two representatives, Le Charles and D'Arcy, who are, in the former's case, intensely naive, and in the latter's, deceptive and prejudiced. Neither are any better than the Bennés, despite their money and despite D'Arcy's pretensions. Although the actions of the sisters essentially lead to the ruin and death of these two men, they are, conversely, the victims of Paris and the Second Empire. They are left homeless, however their craftiness will ensure their safety. How life will turn out for Kitty and Mary, however, is also uncertain.

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L'Assommoir by Jane Austen.

L'Assommoir (1813) is Jane Austen's second novel published after Sense and Sensibility, and is her only novel in French, however Austen decided against publishing it, frightened that it was "rather too light, and bright, and sparkling" (a quote is frequently misapplied to Pride and Prejudice).  It is one of Austen's warmest and most comic of novels.

The title literally translates as "The Stunner" and refers to Austen's beautiful heroine Gervaise, who is born and brought up in the Hertfordshire countryside. Her father is Anthony MacBennet, a country gentleman who is kind and generous, though often distracted by his studies, and her mother whose fortune supports the family. The novel begins with Gervaise sitting at the window of the nursery with her younger siblings pining after the dashing Captain Lantier, who has gone to war. Though passionate, Gervaise is an intelligent and reasonable young woman, essentially embodying the Neo-Classical philosophical inclinations of the turn of the 19th Century. Though she suffers at his departure, she keeps her feelings hidden: not even her best friend, Mrs. Boche is aware of the strength of her love. When Gervaise learns of Captain Lantier's marriage to the high society Lady Adèle, she strives to forget him.

Gervaise is a wonderful creation - she is bright, lively, and sociable despite her upset. Her joie de vivre and her love of books, her friends, and her sisters, as well as her willingness to adapt to circumstances ensures her happiness. Through Mrs. Boche she meets Mr. Coupeau, an attractive, rich, and deeply intelligent man, and despite the many twists and turns along the way she marries him (the description of the wedding procession and reception in Bath alone is worth reading this novel!). They live happily together in Bath, and have a daughter (Anna).

It is, as I say, one of Austen's warmest books, very witty, and it does indeed sparkle, however it is not to be dismissed as "fluff". Like many of her novels, she explores social class and its impact on marriage. However well-meaning Captain Lantier is, he proves unsuitable and the reader is ultimately left relieved that they did not marry. Gervaise's willingness to change and adapt prove to be essential to her happiness, and I believe she was most suited to Mr. Coupeau, and I wonder how their marriage (and indeed their daughter) turned out...

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So there it is! If Zola wrote Austen and Austen wrote Zola, how different would the world of literature be....?

Monday, 1 September 2014

September.

September! This is one of my favourite months, it's so full of beauty and possibility. Even though I graduated from university nine years ago I still feel the electric buzz of new starts, new books, and new notebooks! I love this time of year, and October too, the equinox (vernal or autumnal) is such an exciting time.

I'm happy to be leaving August. It's been a sad month, though three good things came from it - a new Classics Club list (which I have to admit I altered slightly despite declaring I wouldn't any more, now, though, I'll leave it alone!), and the two baby budgies - Zola and Pepys. They're doing very well and are in the very early stages of being tamed. My only goal is to get them to sit on my hand and be able to move them, and I can just about manage both but only when they're very tired. As for the hens: they're all well, though not enjoying all the rain we've been having. Daisy's finally learned that it's not good to get wet: until recently I've had to bring her in from the rain, but now she does it herself. And they're getting on almost perfectly (Charlotte's very irritable when it comes to even the very idea of someone stealing her food, and Daisy's very greedy so it's sometime to keep an eye on. But apart from that it's all good). 

As for reading: I'm nearly at the end of my 20 Books of Summer: I have half of The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg, Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot, and The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope left, and the goal is to finish them by 23rd September (first day of autumn). And I have The Adolescent by Dostoyevsky to read for my Classic Club spin. Since around the end of May I've had a very rigid reading list, which is something I will never do again! Once I've finished these titles, the only book I'm really planning on reading is Keats: the Poetical Works. If I can, I would like to get to Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford, but I'll see. I've been meaning to read it for far too long!

So, there are the September plans. This is a rather short post because I say I've had a rigid reading list for some months now, so I fear I'm rather repeating myself with these titles! It'll be good to finish, and all I'll have left is my Russian Literature Challenge and the TBR 2014 Challenge (I hope to read all the books, but I don't think I'll be writing about them all - I read Middlesex last month, and I did enjoy it, but I'm not sure I'll get a good post out of it).

Happy September, everyone!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

"... beware the fascination that lurks in Catherine Heathcliff's brilliant eyes."

The 1840s saw the publications of Vanity Fair, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, A Christmas Carol, and Agnes Grey. Then, in 1847, along came Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, writing under the pseudonym of Ellis Bell. What a shocker of a book it must have been then, yet today it is generally acknowledged to be one of the finest books ever written. Unlike many of our much loved English classics, this is not based in London or the south of England but in the north: the West-Riding of Yorkshire. It portrays a romance of the most brutal, violent, and unwholesome kind between two fascinating characters, at once magnetic and repulsive. Charlotte Brontë wrote, in a preface to the new edition (I'm not sure of the exact date),
To all such [who are unfamiliar with the West-Riding of Yorkshire] 'Wuthering Heights' must appear a rude and strange production. The wild moors of the north of England can for them have no interest; the language, the manners, the very dwellings and household customs of the scattered inhabitants of those districts, must be to such readers in great measure unintelligible, and - where intelligible - repulsive. Men and women who are, perhaps, naturally very calm, and with feelings moderate in degree, and little marked in kind, have been trained from their cradle to observe the utmost evenness of manner and guardedness of language, will hardly know what to make of the rough, strong utterance, the harshly manifested passions, the unbridled aversions, and headlong partialities of unlettered moorland hinds and rugged moorland squires, who have grown up untaught and unchecked, except by mentors as harsh as themselves.
"Harsh" is indeed the word for this novel, everything about it is harsh. The love, the landscape, the characters, their conversations, and even the cursed house, Wuthering Heights itself. Everything is amplified, it is not merely grim, it is violently so. It is not "wild", as Charlotte Brontë wrote later in the preface, but almost bestial. It is a natural horror, with or without its supernatural element, and the moors, the wild and windy moors are a character too, untamed and inhuman. 

Charlotte went on to write, "Whether it is right or advisable to create beings like Heathcliff, I do not know: I scarcely think it is". He is seen as a great romantic character of literature, whose love was strong and unchanging even in the face of her death.
"May she wake in torment!" he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion. "Why, she's a liar to the end! Where is she? Not there - not in heaven - not perished - where? Oh! you said you cared nothing for my sufferings - Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest, as long as I am living! You said I killed you - haunt me, then! The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe - I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always - take any form - drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!"
Earlier in the novel, Catherine says, in the much-quoted passage of Volume I Chapter IX,
"... he's more of myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mind are the same, and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire."
And at the beginning of this speech of hers, she says she dreamt she went to heaven, and "heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out, into the middle of the heath on top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke up sobbing for joy." To call Catherine and Heathcliff "unchristian" is the very mildest criticism of their character. 

Their love, on the face of it, seems to be the very height of romantic, however their love is destructive: it destroys each other and everything and everyone else in its wake. It is a selfish and possessive love that turns Heathcliff bitter, cruel, sadistic, and inhuman. It twists him, and everything he does not have is all he can see, and he violently punishes those around him for his misfortune. I cannot imagine a less desirable lover for anyone, so how he has become a great romantic hero is anybody's guess. It is, for that reason, often misunderstood, and furthermore, it is a novel in two parts: so often in adaptations the second volume, the story after Cathy and Heathcliff, is forgotten. For all it is loved, the entire story is not quite as well known as it ought to be.

Ghosts and devils lurk within Wuthering Heights. It's a frightening book with so much energy in its pages that can scarcely be contained. It is the wind, the moors, and everything that is wild. And because Brontë was so familiar with the landscape she captured she knew better than to make it a beautiful romance, and, with regard to Cathy and Heathcliff, I think remembering it as such does Brontë a disservice. What it is exactly, I do not know. But it is compulsive reading: it draws you in and secures you in the nightmare, and even after reading it for what is now a third time, I cannot look away. The more I read it the more I love it.

So, finally, to conclude, here are some photographs accompanying the 1911 edition Thornton edition: