It’s the final week of Novellas in November and the focus is on classic literature.
Animal Farm by George Orwell, first published in 1945, is an allegorical novella, of the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union. It tells the story of a farm where the animals rebel against the farmer, Mr Jones, and throw him off the land. They hope to create a society where they are all equal, free and happy. Ultimately, the farm ends up in a state that is as bad, if not worse than it was before, under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon. It begins as the old boar Major tells the animals about his dream of overthrowing the human race when the produce of their labour would then be their own and he incites them to rebel. In the story that follows the Major is based on Marx, Farmer Jones on the Tsar, the pigs Napoleon and Snowball are based on Stalin and Trotsky respectively. Their revolution began by declaring that all animals are equal and ended with the added phrase but some animals are more equal than others.
This is one of those classics that I knew the story roughly, but had not read the book, until this month. I was surprised, although I shouldn’t have been, at the violence of the deaths in it and the pathos of Boxer’s story. Boxer, a cart horse is described as an enormous beast. He is hardworking, but naive and ignorant, struggling to learn the alphabet, representing the Russian working class who helped oust the Tsar. He is shown as the farm’s most dedicated and loyal worker – convinced that ‘Napoleon is always right‘, but eventually he is betrayed by him.
It is a deceptively easy read that can be read on two levels either as a simple fairy tale style story – initially Animal Farm had a subtitle, A Fairy Story – or as a satire against Stalin. It is thought provoking and moving.
I’ve read several short classics since I began writing this blog. These are some of my favourites:
Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon by Jane Austen. Lady Susan is a finished novella, whereas The Watsons and Sanditon are two unfinished fragments. I loved these stories. Told in a series of letters, Lady Susan is the story of an unscrupulous widow who plans to force her daughter into a marriage against her wishes. Lady Susan is an attractive and entertaining and totally wicked character, who nevertheless almost manages to fool people for some of the time at least. She is also trying to captivate her sister-in-law’s brother, whilst still holding on to the affections of a previous lover.
The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan, a fast moving action-story, beginning with an international conspiracy, involving anarchists, financiers and German spies. Richard Hannay, having found Scudder, murdered in his London flat, fears for his life and goes on the run, chased by villains in a series of exciting episodes, culminating in the discovery of the location of the ‘thirty-nine steps’. Hannay is a remarkable character, resourceful, and a master of disguise. As well as fleeing for his life he is searching for Scudder’s notebook, which contains clues to the international conspiracy.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, a quick read and very entertaining. The narrator is not named, although Holly Golightly calls him ‘Fred’ after her brother. He’s a writer and at the beginning of the book he is reminiscing about Holly with Joe Bell, who ran a bar around the corner on Lexington Avenue. They hadn’t seen or heard from Holly for over two years. She used to live in the apartment below Fred’s in a brownstone in the East Seventies in New York. Her past is almost as unknown as her present whereabouts. She’s a free spirit, charming and carefree, but craves attention.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. Even though Ethan Frome is a tragedy there is light to contrast the darkness, and there is love and hope set against repression and misery. It’s a book where I hoped the ending would be a happy one, although I knew it couldn’t be. Trapped in an unhappy marriage, Ethan’s life had changed when his father died and he had had to give up his studies to work on the farm. His wife Zeena had always been ill and needing help in the house, which was why her cousin Mattie came to live with them. At first it worked out quite well, but Ethan couldn’t shrug off a sense of dread.