Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Of Human Bondage, by William Somerset Maugham.

Over two years ago I put Of Human Bondage on my Classics Club list, and last week I finally began to read it (it was, incidentally, the 161st book I've read from my list). I knew I'd like it - the blurb on the back describes "the bohemian life of a Parisian art student", which is very appealing, especially to someone who enjoyed Émile Zola's The Masterpiece so much. And there is a sense of Zola in this, Somerset Maugham's eighth novel (published in 1915). 

Of Human Bondage is a bildungsroman: a story of the childhood and young adulthood of Philip Carey, orphaned at nine years old, and who struggles with a club foot. Maugham writes of Philip's young life: his progression and development through the many changes of circumstance, his upbringing in a vicarage by his aunt and uncle, his schooling, life in Germany, Paris, and London, careers as an artist and then a doctor, and the women along the way: Norah, Fanny, Mildred, and Sally. As the title suggests, the predominate theme is that of freedom: Philip's, and humanity's.

Maugham originally intended the title to be 'Beauty from the Ashes', however he chose Of Human Bondage from Part IV of Spinoza's Ethics, titled 'Of Human Bondage, or the Strength of the Emotions' (1677). Spinoza wrote,
Human infirmity in moderating and checking the emotions I name bondage: for, when a man is a prey to his emotions, he is not his own master, but lies at the mercy of fortune: so much so, that he is often compelled, while seeing that which is better for him, to follow that which is worse.
He goes on to discuss perfection, good, and evil, and how humans strive to seek pleasure and shun pain, yet their emotions can, when ungoverned, produce the opposite effects. Philip could be this "human" brought to life, a character who seeks himself and happiness, and tries to overcome the obstacles not only of society's but those of his own making, and these characteristics that are, whilst a part of him, also appear to be independent of him at times: the "infirmity" Spinoza referred to, perhaps.

Bette Davis as Mildred in the 1934 film
directed by John Cromwell. . 
The most striking of these "infirmities" that is his obsession with Mildred, one of the most loathsome characters in English literature (though too well drawn to be completely vile). Their relationship could have been penned by Leopold Sacher-Masoch, the Austrian author of Venus in Furs (1870): the kinder he is to her, the viler she is in return (Maugham was familiar with Sacher-Masoch's work, writing in A Writer's Notebook, 1949, that he understood the work to be a sexual desire in a man to be subjected to physical and mental mistreatment by the woman he loves, and yet be unable to break away from his bondage). I think all readers of Of Human Bondage come to dread Mildred's appearance. She is toxic, sucking the life, pleasure, happiness, and health out of Philip, and every environment she comes in contact with. Yet he persists, even though it is clear she has the potential to ruin him, costing him not only his money but his chosen path to self-discovery and fulfilment; his "freeing of spirit" as it were. Mildred is, in short, a major part of Philips' Bondage. His club foot, whilst a part of the bondage, really is ultimately the least of it.

I said there is a little of Zola in Of Human Bondage. The obvious comparison is The Masterpiece (1886) with the descriptions of Philip as a struggling artist in Paris, but there is also a little of L'Assommoir (1877) with the failing, doomed and unhealthy relationships and the feelings of inevitability at times. The style, too, it has a touch of Zola's ease with a grim realism, though, as with Gervaise Macquart of L'Assommoir, we do hope. Maugham is not Zola, after all.

In short, this is a wonderful novel! There is so much going on in it - I've only written about one part. Each episode of Philip's life is beautifully drawn, and there's a real 'completeness' about it. It's a philosophical novel, as I've said, drawn on the works of Spinoza, but this isn't a novel that seeks to overwhelm or trip up its reader (as Zola did not intend to confuse his readers with the events in the Second Empire: he sought to communicate, as Maugham has done). It's the second novel of Maugham that I've read (the first was The Magician, which I also loved) and I'm looking forward to reading The Moon and Sixpence next. Maugham is, I do believe, one of my more exciting discoveries!

Further reading
Spinoza, Baruch - 'Of Human Bondage, or the Strength of the Emotions' from Ethics.

Sunday, 20 April 2014


To all those who celebrate it - a happy Easter to you! Here's a picture of the hens - in both Charlotte is on the left and Anne on the right. It's a beautiful day here - sunny and warm with a deliciously cool breeze. I do love spring.

Left to right: Oliver, Trotwood, and
Myshkin. The owl is to stop them
going to that corner. It doesn't work.
We're having a quiet day today: Trotwood had a traumatic day yesterday: all three budgies were in the aviary and a sparrow hawk tried to get in (the same sparrow hawk as last time? I don't know). There was certainly no way it could get in as all the doors were locked, but it crashed off the roof and then the sides. In their panic the budgies flew to the side and clung to the wire, and as I went out the sparrow hawk and Trotwood came head to head (albeit Trotwood was on one side of the wire and the hawk on the other). Trot fell down, and remained lying on his stomach with his wings spread out (I think he was playing dead, and he did look dead, which was awful), but then he looked up. I got them all in, the hens (who by this time, 7 o' clock, were also locked away) were fine, they stood and watched it. Obviously Trot was terrified, and he has a small cut across his face, and for an hour or so he sat on my hand, making himself very thin. Thankfully he's recovered, and the cut has healed remarkably fast. Though I know the hawk cannot physically get in, I'm going to do a little work to deter the hawk before I let them out again. The worry is when they panic they fly to the sides, and had the hawk cut Trot's stomach he might not have fared so well. So, the hens are in the bottom half of the garden (secure from aerial attack) and the budgies are flying about in their room. All is peaceful, Trotwood is his usual self, as are Myshkin and Oliver, and the hens are lying in the shade under their seat.

The three volumes of Proust.
So, today I'm mainly reading and writing and eating Easter eggs! If you follow me on Goodreads or Twitter you'll know I've started reading In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. I have read it before, but I read it more to say that I had read it. Now I can say that but I can say little else, which is a shame, so I'm re-reading it at a much slower pace. I've finished the Overture and written a little paragraph on that (I'll publish it when I've finished Swann's Way, the first book), and for the next few days I'll reading the second part, 'Combray'. My basic plan is simply to read each section, write a few words, then when I've finished each book I'll write a review. I'm not structuring this or making plans. In the past I wanted to read each chapter in one go, but the chapter lengths are phenomenally long (hundreds of pages, some of them), so I'm just stopping at places I find appropriate. I'm enjoying it, and not too intimidated because I'm not looking at this as an overall project! Even so, wish me luck!

Today I'm also hoping to finish my review on Of Human Bondage, and I think if I don't finish it I should do on Monday. I read The Wasteland by T. S. Eliot yesterday and I may have a few words to say about that, and, meanwhile, I'm reading Barchester Towers for Amanda and Melissa's Chronicles of Barsetshire read-along, and I am loving it the second time around! Looking forward to May when we read Doctor Thorne, which I've not yet read. 

Finally, because I've not played on my Tumblr for days, I may update that later, too!

So it is a quiet weekend, a lovely warm and quiet spring weekend! I hope everyone's having a good weekend as well: tell me if you have any exciting reading plans!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Sons and Lovers, by D. H. Lawrence.

Nearly two years ago I read D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love, and still to this day I believe it is the worst classic in the Western Canon. Unsurprisingly, I regretted having The Rainbow and Sons and Lovers on my Classic Club list, and until this week I've been unable to even contemplate reading them. Fortunately, Charlotte mentioned that she was thinking about reading Sons and Lovers, and we decided that this week we would have a little read-along. So we did, and we both have finished it. I have Charlotte to thank for two things: one - for getting me to read it, and two - for the fact that I enjoyed it (more on that later). Before I go on: here is Charlotte's review.

It's D. H. Lawrence's third novel, published in 1913, and is described by Lawrence himself (in a letter to his editor Edward Garnett) as being about, 
... a woman of character and refinement goes into the lower class, and has no satisfaction in her own life. She has had a passion for her husband, so her children are born of passion, and have heaps of vitality. But as her sons grow up she selects them as lovers — first the eldest, then the second. These sons are urged into life by their reciprocal love of their mother — urged on and on. But when they come to manhood, they can't love, because their mother is the strongest power in their lives, and holds them.
It is too easy, at this point, to bring up Sigmund Freud, who, by the time Sons and Lovers had been published, had began writing about the Oedipus complex. In Freud's words (from The Ego and the Id, 1923):
The sexual wishes in regard to the mother become more intense and the father is perceived as an obstacle to the; this gives rise to the Oedipus complex.
David Herbert Lawrence.
It is for this reason some regard Sons and Lovers as one of the first (if not the first) English Freudian novel. Yet Lawrence (in 1913), denies having read Freud and his interest in him did not come until a few years later when he, Lawrence, wrote Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (1921) and Fantasia of the Unconscious (1922). His reaction to the Freudian psychoanalysis of Sons and Lovers by Alfred Booth Kuttner (1916) was one of anger:
I hated the Psychoanalysis Review of Sons and Lovers. . . . My poor book: it was, as art, a fairly complete truth: so they carve a half lie out of it, and say ‘Voilà.’ Swine!
To say, therefore, that Sons and Lovers is to be understood in a Freudian framework does not do it service and, clearly, it annoys Lawrence! So for this reason, this will be all I have to say on Freud, though it did have to be mentioned.

Earlier this week I also finished Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage (1915), and I'm in the middle of a review. A little reading around brought me to this quote from Maugham:
Few misfortunes can befall a boy which bring worse consequences than to have a really affectionate mother.
The setting for the Morrel's home in
Eastwood, Nottingham
It has been an absolute coincidence, but I have to say reading Sons and Lovers with Of Human Bondage in mind (and vice versa) has been quite illuminating. This quote from Maugham could happily be applied to Sons and Lovers, and the work of the two authors have at least partly been inspired by their relationship with their mothers: Lawrence was very close to his mother Lydia (like Paul Morel of Sons and Lovers), and Maugham was traumatized by the early death of his mother Edith (as was Philip Carey of Of Human Bondage). A psychoanalysis of the two works would be a fascinating read, but I have to wonder exactly how illuminating it would be to analyse literature in such a rigid framework? Freud is clearly a consideration, so too is some basic biographical information on D. H. Lawrence, but still neither allows me to get to the essence.

Sons and Lovers is a rich, dark, and beautiful book. At first, however, I did not like the beginning, and it's a credit to Charlotte that I persevered. It begins by describing the mother, Gertrude Morrel, and the cottage where she, her husband Walter, and their children William, Paul, and Annie live. Lawrence writes,
"The Bottoms" succeeded to "Hell Row". Hell Row was a block of thatched, bulging cottages that stood by the brookside on Greenhill Lane. There lived the colliers who worked in the little gin-pits two fields away. The brook ran under the alder trees, scarcely soiled by these small mines, whose coal was drawn to the surface by donkeys that plodded wearily in a circle round a gin. And all over the countryside were these same pits, some of which had been worked in the time of Charles II, the few colliers and the donkeys burrowing down like ants into the earth, making queer mounds and little black places among the corn-fields and the meadows. And the cottages of these coal-miners, in blocks and pairs here and there, together with odd farms and homes of the stockingers, straying over the parish, formed the village of Bestwood.
I have to be honest, I couldn't get past the first sentence. "Hell Row" lacks subtlety to the extent that it pained me, still scarred as I was from Women in Love. I read the first chapter, then, with some irritation. Fortunately, Charlotte posted about the first part, saying that she had fallen for it; I wanted to see what she saw, and furthermore, I don't believe I've ever disagreed with her about a book (given how peculiar one's taste in literature can be, this really is quite something). So I restarted it, forgive the first sentence, and remembered that many of my favourite authors can, at times, be like bulls in a china shop. And I felt it more, that haunting quality it has, this darkness in the beautiful Nottingham countryside that Lawrence describes so well. 

First edition of Sons and Lovers.
Following the death of her elder son, Gertrude effectively transfers her love and affection for him on to Paul, the second son. This may sound as though I'm undermining it: I criticised Romeo Montague for doing precisely the same thing, moving his obsession from Rosaline to Juliet in an afternoon, however 'transference', another term from psychoanalysis, is an important part of Sons and Lovers, however distasteful Lawrence found it when applied to his work. Romeo was a passionate young man, but the relationship between Gertrude and her sons is unhealthy. Paul and Gertrude are close, excessively close; she is described at times like his "sweetheart". This leads to a wealth of contradictions: he loves her, and he does not, he is happy, he is not, he wants to please, and he wants to rebel, but from what, it seems, he is not sure. This confusion and his ultimate desire to please and satisfy his mother leads to a series of painful and disastrous relationships. Paul does not simply change into a lover when he is with his own "sweetheart", he remains too a "son", and the boundaries of "sons and lovers" are hopelessly and catastrophically blurred.

It does not matter what we think, what we would do, or what we hope Paul will do. I think many of us know the pains of wanting to please our parent or parents even in our adulthood; disappointing a parent may cause us sadness, however willing we are to do so, or we may have a fear, a great fear: there are some of us still who will avoid doing so at all costs. Paul is one such person. Disappointing or causing any kind of sadness to his mother doesn't make him sad, it causes him a great anxiety that he cannot shake off. No one wants to live a life that pulls us from one awful extreme to the other, no one wants to hurt, so I don't think it does any good to wish that Paul would "get over it". Sons and Lovers, therefore, has a horrible inevitability. We watch and hope, but like a Hardy novel there are other forces at work. They are internal though: this is not fate, this is not the hands of the gods, it is Paul himself. His instinct is confused and broken, and Lawrence chronicles this. He is hurt, and he hurts others along the way. 

It is, as I say, an unhealthy novel, but like Nabokov's Lolita it manages somehow to be alluring and beguiling. Lawrence writes of a working class family living in a perfectly ordinary end of terrace house, but the interior lives are far from ordinary. I was fascinated by this novel, and to those who have only read Women in Love, I urge you not to be put off reading Sons and Lovers.


Saturday, 12 April 2014

Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare.

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventur'd piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, naught could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend. 
[Act I, scene I]

So begins William Shakespeare's Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, one of his earlier plays written around 1595 and published in 1597. It was inspired by The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562 (front-piece pictured on the right), and the prose version Palace of Pleasure by William Painter (1567), but the tale is much older than that. In 1496 Masuccio Salernitano wrote Mariotto and Gianozza (very similar to Romeo and Juliet), and older still, in Canto VI of Purgatorio Dante writes, "Come see the Capulets and Montagues": Purgatorio was written in the early part of the 14th Century, over two hundred years before Romeo and Juliet, Romeus and Juliet, and Palace of Pleasure. There is evidence to suggest that these versions may have origin in 'Pyramus and Thisbe' from Ovid's Metamorphoses - they too were "a pair of star-cross'd lovers" whose end is comparable to Romeo and Juliet's.

Romeo and Juliet, by Frank Bernard
Dicksee (1884)
In my mind, Romeo and Juliet is an excellent example of a classic that should be read with no preconceptions. Like Wuthering Heights, we've been prepared for an epic love story, a great romance that has survived through the centuries. Romeo has become an idealised lover: the Oxford English Dictionary defines "a Romeo" as "An attractive, passionate male seducer or lover", and Romeo and Juliet's love for each other is so intense that they're prepared not only to leave their families, but ultimately die. But is this the case? This is not a romance and this is not love: Romeo and Juliet is a frightening tale of obsession and lust. I don't say this to devalue it, far from it: as a tale of an intense crush, it is more powerful and moving than many of its kind. I loved Romeo and Juliet.

In the beginning, we see Romeo in love not with Juliet but Rosaline, the niece of Juliet's father Capulet (from the first scene of the first act we know the Montagues and Capulets are at war; they have hated each other for generations), and she has chosen to be celibate ("She hath forsworn to love"), and so we meet Romeo in a very dark, depressed state. He is, as he was with Juliet, full of violent and passionate declarations of love: "One fairer that my love! The all-seeing sun / Ne'er saw her match since first the world begun." His family are concerned - Benvolio tells Lady Montague he has seen Romeo pining "underneath the grove of sycamore" (a sycamore can represent eternity, though in Ancient Egypt it stood on the threshold between life and death: as with Hamlet, the symbolism of flowers and trees are an important part of Shakespeare's poetry and plays). She urges Benvolio to speak with Romeo, and it is in this scene where he reveals his love for Rosaline. Benvolio tells him to forget her and find another ("Examine other beauties"), which, as we know, he does.

Juliet and her nurse, by John Roddam Spencer
Stanhope, 1863.
Seeing Juliet for the first time, Romeo says,
O she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
As a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear -
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I'll watch her place of stand,
Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.
On discovering Juliet is a Capulet, he exclaims, "O dear account! My life is my foe's debt". Rosaline (a Capulet) and her "exquisite" beauty have disappeared from his mind, all within an afternoon. The following events are yet faster: it's easy to forget that within less than a week of meeting, Romeo and Juliet would be dead. Later that evening after their first kiss (and words exchanged, so full of religious significance) they decide to get married, which they do the next day. The following day, having learned of her betrothal to Count Paris, Juliet plans with the Friar to take a drug that will make her appear to be dead:
Take thou this vial, being then in bed,
And this distilléd liquor drink thou off,
When presently through all thy veins shall run
A cold and drowsy humour, for no pulse
Shall keep his native progress, but surcease;
No warmth, no breath, shall testify thou livest...
Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, 1996.
She takes the potion that evening, and the next morning is found apparently dead. Romeo, who is banished for killing Juliet's cousin Tybalt, hears she is dead but has not received the message from the Friar. He buys poison to kill himself, and the next day, the final day, Romeo sees her in the crypt. He drinks the poison, Juliet wakes up finding him dead and, like Thisbe, stabs herself with her lover's sword.

This is a tragedy, there is no doubt of that. They were star-crossed lovers, and the portents of doom were seen early with references to stars ("Then I defy you, stars!", "I fear, too early: for my mind misgives / Some consequence yet hanging in the stars", and " O, here / Will I set up my everlasting rest, / And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars / From this world-wearied flesh"), as well as words such as "fatal", and "fortune's fool". Also, Mercutio's mention of Dido, Cleopatra, Hero, and Thisbe too: in the Aeneid, Dido killed herself after she was deserted by Aeneas; Cleopatra allowed herself to be bitten by a poisonous snake after Anthony, who has stabbed himself, believing her to be dead; Hero drowned herself after her lover drowned, and Thisbe, as I've said, stabbed herself on finding her lover had killed himself.

As for love, this I do question. A five day old love, and a man (we can guess he's in his mid to late teens; Juliet "hath not seen the change of fourteen years") whose all-consuming eternal love for one shifted within the space of a few hours to another. It was too short to be enduring, and too quick to be deep. It was lust, as I said, and obsession. It is the crush of two teenagers that would result in their death, and the death of Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, and Lady Montague. If it is love, then it is a destructive love. Furthermore, I do not see it as The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, only the tragedy of Juliet. Romeo is too mercurial, it is too obvious that had they have lived, he would have been lusting after the next "pretty piece of flesh" soon after. This is perhaps unkind of me: he was young and passionate, and as much a victim of it as Juliet was, but as I pitied Hamlet's Ophelia, so too I pity Romeo's Juliet.

I'm glad to have re-read this play. When I first read it many years ago I was full of preconceptions and ideas of how I thought it played out, and I missed what a whirlwind of events it was. It is exceptionally high-paced, and truly it is so very beautiful. I think in revisiting Shakespeare I may be warming to him a little more!

Further Reading

Friday, 4 April 2014

The Warden, by Anthony Trollope.

From March through to August, Amanda and Melissa are hosting the Chronicles of Barsetshire read-along beginning with the first in the series, The Warden.

The Warden (which was originally going to be titled The Precentor) was completed in 1854 (it was sent to William Longman, a publisher, on 8th October) and first published in January 1855, and it was Anthony Trollope's fourth novel (following The Macdermots of Ballycloran, 1847, The Kellys and the O'Kellys, 1848, and La Vendée: An Historical Romance, 1850).  

The idea for The Warden was born when Trollope had returned to England from Ireland and was on a fact-finding mission to develop the rural delivery of letters (Trollope worked for the General Post Office from 1834 to 1867 and is credited with introducing the post box, or pillar box, to Great Britain). During this time he visited Salisbury in Wiltshire, in the south west of England (in the news recently because of the floods). He wrote in his autobiography (An Autobiography, 1883) that he had never lived in a cathedral city other than London, nor had he intimately known any clergymen, yet in Salisbury he was inspired to write The Warden, and indeed the Chronicles of Barsetshire. In The Warden, Trollope tells the story of Septimus Harding, a precentor of the church and warden of Hiram's Hospital. He is a good man who is in possession of a vast income, which, at the time, the Church of England was criticised for. As Trollope writes in the second chapter,
Mr. Harding has now been precentor of Barchester for ten years now; and, alas, the murmurs respecting the proceeds of Hiram's estate are again becoming audible. It is not that anyone begrudges to Mr. Harding the income which he enjoys, and the comfortable place which so well becomes him; but such matters have begun to be talked about in various parts of England. Eager pushing politicians have asserted in the House of Commons, with very telling indignation, that the grasping priests of the Church of England are gorged with wealth which the charity of former times has left for the solace of the aged, or the education of the young. The well-known case of the Hospital of St. Cross has even come before the law courts of the country, and the struggles of Mr. Whiston, at Rochester, have met with sympathy and support. Men are beginning to say that these things must be looked into.
Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop Grounds, by
John Constable (1825)
"These things" were indeed a matter of interest. Victoria Glendinning in her biography of Trollope wrote of "hostile press reports" about almshouses (such as Hiram's Hospital") and other charitable donations "providing incomes for idle clergymen". Whilst Trollope agreed in principle with the press, he found their method, their attacks, as a "second evil": in his autobiography, Trollope writes,
The archdeacon came whole from my brain after this fashion;—but in writing about clergymen generally, I had to pick up as I went whatever I might know or pretend to know about them. But my first idea had no reference to clergymen in general. I had been struck by two opposite evils,—or what seemed to me to be evils,—and with an absence of all art-judgement in such matters, I thought that I might be able to expose them, or rather to describe them, both in one and the same tale. The first evil was the possession by the Church of certain funds and endowments which had been intended for charitable purposes, but which had been allowed to become incomes for idle Church dignitaries. There had been more than one such case brought to public notice at the time, in which there seemed to have been an egregious malversation of charitable purposes. The second evil was its very opposite. Though I had been much struck by the injustice above described, I had also often been angered by the undeserved severity of the newspapers towards the recipients of such incomes, who could hardly be considered to be the chief sinners in the matter. When a man is appointed to a place, it is natural that he should accept the income allotted to that place without much inquiry. It is seldom that he will be the first to find out that his services are overpaid. Though he be called upon only to look beautiful and to be dignified upon State occasions, he will think £2000 a year little enough for such beauty and dignity as he brings to the task. I felt that there had been some tearing to pieces which might have been spared. 
Septimus Harding (Donald Pleasance)
and Eleanor (Janet Maw) in the
BBC's Barchester Chronicles. 
Although in love with Mr. Harding's daughter Eleanor, it is John Bold in The Warden who determines to expose the "first evil", and he enlists 'The Jupiter' (a thin disguise of 'The Times', used in all of the Barchester Chronicles, as well as Trollope's The Bertrams, 1859, and The Struggles of Brown, Jones & Robinson, 1862) to aid him in his quest. The editor, who Trollope wryly notes, "compounded thunderbolts for the destruction of all that is evil, and for the furtherance of all that is good, in this and other hemispheres", portrays Harding as a selfish and greedy man (nothing could be further from the truth), and the image is eagerly taken up by Dr. Pessimist Anticant and Mr. Popular Sentiment, parodies of Thomas Carlyle and Charles Dickens. Here's the description of Mr. Popular Sentiment from Chapter XV:
Of all such reformers Mr. Sentiment is the most powerful. It is incredible the number of evil practices he has put down: it is to be feared he will soon lack subjects and that when he has made the working classes comfortable, and got bitter beer put into proper-sized pint bottles, there will be nothing further for him left to do. Mr. Sentiment is certainly a very powerful man, and perhaps not the less so that his good poor people are so very good; his hard rich people so very hard; and the genuinely honest so very honest. Namby-pamby in these days is not thrown away if it be introduced in the proper quarters. Divine peeresses are no longer interesting, though possessed of every virtue; but a pattern peasant or an immaculate manufacturing hero may talk as much twaddle as one of Mrs. Ratcliffe's heroines, and still be listened to. Perhaps, however, Mr. Sentiment's great attraction is in his second-rate characters. If his heroes and heroines walk upon stilts as heroes and heroines, I fear, ever must, their attendant satellites are as natural as though one met them in the street: they walk and talk like men and women, and live among our friends a rattling, lively life — yes, live, and will live till the names of their callings shall be forgotten in their own, and Buckett and Mrs. Gamp will be the only words left to us to signify detective police officer or a monthly nurse.
Anthony Trollope, by 'Spy'
(Leslie Wood) for Vanity Fair,
5th April 1873).
How it all resolves itself: well, as ever I won't spoil it! But this is one very interesting novel for the subject matter, the portrayal of the social lives of the clergy in the 19th Century, and the attack on Dickens, and it surprises me that it's not generally well received. Even at the time of publication there was little interest in it (as Trollope himself notes, "The novel-reading world did not go mad about The Warden..."). I love it, though - it's a gentle novel, with real, 'whole' characters (George Orwell described it as one of his best works), and Septimus Harding is one of my favourite characters of all time. The novel is the first of a series, but it is not merely that, to me it stands alone also. I've loved Trollope for a long time for his informal conversational style. As Henry James wrote, Trollope was one of those writers "who have helped the heart of man to know itself".


Tuesday, 1 April 2014


The very first day of April, and I have been so busy recently I could happily go to bed and sleep the rest of the day away! Things, as I've said previously, have been hectic, but they're gradually starting to calm down a little: the worst of it is over, in short.

March was a very good reading month, but not so much a blogging month: I did have to make the choice between reading and blogging and the former won: I read fifteen books in March, ten of which were from my Classic Club list (now only twenty to go!). I'm so looking forward to finishing my list, if only so I can write a new one. Reckon I'll finish it around autumn time; I certainly don't plan on reading ten in April and May!

As for March reviews -
I still have a few more to write: I finished The Warden for the Chronicles of Barsetshire read-along, and I want to write about that in the next few days, and I do want to write something on Oblomov (I've written a paragraph so far). Finally, I'm still reading The Odyssey (I think everyone who joined in with that read-along has finished!), so by the end of the month I'll have something to say about that one. 

So, April. Firstly, I'm about half way through Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, and I do want to write about that. Also - the April highlight - Fanda is hosting the second Zoladdiction month, and I'm aiming to at least read and review The Belly of Paris, and I like to think I'll get on to The Conquest of Plassans. I hope that I'll be ready to make my Zola website public next year, which involves re-reading the Rougon-Macquart novels (any excuse!). I'm also contemplating re-reading Lolita for my 25 re-reads, and I'm thinking I might also read Moby-Dick by Herman Melville for The Classics Club Transcendental Literature Month. Quite a lot of re-reading going on, in short! Oh, and how could I forget - April is the month for Barsetshire Towers, another re-read, to join in with the aforementioned Chronicles of Barsetshire read-along. In May, we'll be up to Doctor Thorne - I haven't read this, nor any of the following books from this series.

As for new books (new to me, anyway) - I do plan to read Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, and a few others from my Classics Club list. I may even re-visit D. H. Lawrence (the Women in Love incident is very hard to recover from: I do believe it is the worst book I've ever read), though I don't know if I'll go for The Rainbow or Sons and Lovers (anyone have any thoughts?).

And that is how April is looking! For now, I'm going to go to bed and read Oliver Twist. Love this book!

Anyone got any exciting April plans?

Monday, 31 March 2014

Russian Literature 2014: First Check-in.

We're almost a quarter of the way through 2014 (!), and, as promised, here is the first check-in post for the Russian Literature 2014 Challenge

I aimed to read 12 Russian classics this year, and so far I've read four and reviewed two (though one, Oblomov, is on the way for next week):
And, for good measure, I wrote a little about Virginia Woolf's essay on Russian Literature, 'A Russian Point of View', from The Common Reader: First Series

So, how is everyone else getting along? Anyone tackled War and Peace yet? If you've read or written anything about Russian Literature, let everyone know by leaving a comment to this post, linking your posts in the comments if you've managed to write any, or if you want, write a check-in post on your blog and let us know, again by linking it in the comments (either cut and paste the url(s) or use this code:
I hope everyone is enjoying this challenge! I'm thinking my next Russian novel will be August 1914 by Solzhenitsyn, which is also on my Classics Club list. I'm a little intimidated by this one!