December Prompt – Wrap Up, A Classics Challenge 2012

I’ve completed A Classics Challenge 2012, hosted by Katherine Cox at November’s Autumn. The aim was to read seven works of Classic Literature in 2012, but only three of the seven could be re-reads. I’ve really enjoyed taking part in this because it’s more than just read a book. Katherine’s monthly prompts provided a new way of thinking about the books and the authors. I’ve also enjoyed reading the views of the other participants.

Each month Katherine posted a prompt, which was general enough that no matter which Classic you were reading or how far into it you were, you would be able to answer it.

This is the final Prompt:

Link to your favorite Classic Literature post you’ve written this year, it doesn’t have to be related to this challenge. Just something you’d enjoy sharing.

Make a list of what you read for the challenge, you could compare it to your original list drawn up late 2011 when you were planning what to read, link to the posts you’ve written for the challenge, how many authors you’ve read or any little stat or detail you’d like to share.

My original list:

  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.
  • Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome
  • Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell.
  • Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens.
  • The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf.

What I actually read:

I think my favourite prompt was June’s prompt, which was to create a visual tour using quotes from the book you are reading; a series of images that closely represents how you see the scene or description. It doesn’t have to absolutely follow the text but it must reflect the mood. For this I used A Tale of Two Cities, in which I concentrated on London scenes – where Doctor Manette lived in Soho.

Now I look forward to next year and taking part in Katherine’s Turn of the Century Literary Salon.

November Prompt: A Classics Challenge

This year I’ve been taking part in A Classics Challenge hosted by Katherine of November’s Autumn. The goal is to read at least seven classics in 2012 and every month Katherine is posting a prompt to help us discuss the books we are reading.

There are several questions for this month’s prompt:

Of all the Classics you’ve read this year is there an author or movement that has become your new favorite? Which book did you enjoy the most? Or were baffled by? Who’s the best character? The most exasperating? From reading other participants’ posts which book do you plan to read and are most intrigued by?

Before I started this challenge I’d have said my favourite author is Jane Austen. She’s still a favourite, but I must add Charles Dickens as a favourite too. It follows that the books I enjoyed the most are by those authors – in particular Pride and Prejudice and A Tale of Two Cities.

I haven’t been baffled by any of the books.

I think one of the ‘best’ characters in the classics I’ve read is Marian Halcombe from The Woman in White. She’s feisty, loyal, passionate, clever, resourceful and assertive.

The most exasperating are also from The Woman in White. They are Laura and Frederick Fairlie  because both are quite irritating – Laura because she is so insipid and her father because he is such a selfish hypochondriac.

After reading Jane’s post about Barchester Towers I decided it was time I read Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles and have begun with reading The Warden. The novels and their characters are all new to me as I’ve never watched any of the TV dramatisations.

October Prompt: A Classics Challenge

This month’s prompt in Katherine’s Classics Challenge 2012 is:

Chapter Musings
Jot down some notes about the chapter you’ve just read or one that struck you the most. It can be as simple as a few words you learned, some quotes, a summary, or your thoughts and impressions.

I’ve just started to read The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles. (I have read this book years ago and seen the film.) The first chapter is very short and sets the scene in a few paragraphs. The narrator is looking back to March 1867, presumably from the twentieth century. Three characters are present, none named in this first chapter, a man and a woman walking along the Cobb, ‘ a long claw of old grey wall that flexes itself against the sea’, and a solitary figure, standing at the end of the Cobb:

It stood right at the seawardmost end, apparently leaning against an old cannon-barrel upended as a bollard. Its clothes were black. The wind moved them, but the figure stood motionless, staring, staring out to sea, more like a living memorial to the drowned, a figure from myth, than any proper fragment of the petty provincial day.

The narrator is authoritative, contrasting the Victorian Lyme of a hundred or so years earlier with that of the present day and contrasting the style of dress and manners. There are literary and historical allusions, including the verse (quoted at the beginning of the chapter) from Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Riddle‘, and the vocabulary is also formal and academic. There are some unfamiliar words – just what I wondered are ‘dundrearies’ that the gentleman (for that is what is implied) was wearing:

… the taller man, impeccably in a light grey, with his top hat held in his free hand, had severely reduced his dundrearies, which the arbiters of the best English fashion had declared a shade vulgar – that is, risible to the foreigner – a year or two previously.

I had to look up this word – ‘dundrearies’ were long sideburns worn with a clean-shaven chin (a bit like Bradley Wiggins, who won this year’s Tour de France, maybe?).  There is also a hint that there is more to this story than a love story, for there is also a ‘local spy’.

This first chapter promises an intriguing novel.

Classics Challenge – September Prompt: Music

Classic Challenge 2012This year I am taking part in a Classics Challenge hosted by Katherine of November’s Autumn. The goal is to read at least seven classics in 2012 and every month Katherine is posting a prompt to help us discuss the books we are reading.

This month’s prompt is to select a piece of…


…that you feel reflects the book. Modern, classical, jazz, anything, it doesn’t have to be from the period of the novel but share what it is about the piece that echoes the novel in someway.

I don’t listen to music when I’m reading because I just don’t hear it when I’m lost in the words and the story. But some books automatically bring music into my head as the book I’m reading this month does. It’s the classic science fiction – The War of the Worlds by H G Wells and the music is Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, an album that we bought in 1978 – wonderful music and words bringing the book to life. It’s narrated by Richard Burton with songs by David Essex, Julie Covington and Justin Hayward.

The opening words and music are always thrilling, heralding the coming of the Martians to Earth:

No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their affairs they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter.

The clip below is ‘Thunder Child’, the warship that destroys two Martian tripods before being sunk.

Whilst I was looking for the clip to include in my post I discovered that there is a new version of Jeff Wayne’s classic album – Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, the New Generation, to be released on 12 November, which features Liam Neeson, Gary Barlow, Joss Stone and Ricky Wilson.

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

It’s hard to know just what to write about Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. The General Introduction to the book advises that you enjoy the book before reading the Introduction (which I did), so I have tried not to reveal any spoilers in this post.

  • It’s Dickens’s last complete book, first published in 19 monthly instalments from May 1864 to November 1865. It’s meant to be read at a leisurely pace.
  • It’s a long multiplot novel, with a multitude of characters.
  • In it Dickens comments on the ills of contemporary society.
  • It concerns mysteries, lost identities, hidden wills, corruption and violence.
  • It’s varied in style, sometimes comic, other times serious, sometimes sombre and dark and at others ironic and flippant.
  • It’s written in both the past and present tense and from the characters’ differing perspectives.

Brief synopsis (from the back cover of the Wordsworth Classic edition)

The chief of its several plots centres on John Harmon who returns to England as his father’s heir. He is believed drowned under suspicious circumstances – a situation convenient to his wish for anonymity until he can evaluate Bella Wilfer whom he must marry to secure his inheritance. The story is filled with colourful characters and incidents – the faded aristocrats and parvenus gathered at the Veneering’s dinner table, Betty Higden and her terror of the workhouse and the greedy plottings of Silas Wegg.

My view

Although it nows reads like historical fiction, in the mid 1860s Our Mutual Friend was modern up-to-date fiction, beginning with the words:  ‘In these times of ours’, in case there was any doubt in the readers’ minds.

The opening chapter reveals a darkly atmospheric scene on the River Thames, a modern scene for its first readers,with a macabre story of a boatman, Gaffer Hexham and his daughter, Lizzie, searching the Thames for human corpses:

Allied to the bottom of the river rather than the surface, by reason of the slime and ooze with which it was covered, and its sodden state, this boat and the two figures in it obviously were doing something that they often did, and were seeking what they often sought. (pages 3-4)

In direct contrast in the next chapter Dickens moves to the nouveau-riche setting of the Veneerings house:

Mr and Mrs Veneering were bran-new people in a bran-new house in a bran-new quarter of London. Everything about the Veneerings was spick-and-span new. (page 7)

Just like their name the Veneerings are all show, all surface, without any depth. They collect people as well as objects. Their standing in society is dependent on their wealth – just as Gaffer Hexham’s is at the other end of the financial strata. And there is a great emphasis on money, wealth and poverty in Our Mutual Friend.

There are some wonderful characters, such as the Boffins, Silas Wegg and Jenny Wren to name but a few. As John Harmon is presumed to have been drowned in  the Thames (the body found by Gaffer Hexham), it is his father’s faithful servants, Mr and Mrs Boffin who inherit the miserly and incredibly wealthy ‘dust’ contractor’s fortune. This pair are at first unchanged by their good fortune and take in Bella Wilfer, the socially ambitious young woman who would have married Harmon, had he lived. Through these characters Dickens shows the effect that greed in all its forms can have.

I particularly like Dickens’s depiction of Wegg, who is employed by Mr Boffin to read to him what he calls the ‘Decline-And-Fall-Off-The-Rooshan-Empire.’ Wegg is a hard, rascally character, out for anything he can get. His wooden leg reflects his nature:

Wegg was a knotty man, and a close-grained, with a face carved out of very hard material, that had just as much play of expression as a watchman’s rattle. … Sooth to say, he was so wooden a man that he seemed to have taken his wooden leg naturally, and rather suggested to the fanciful observer, that he might be expected — if his development received no untimely check — to be completely set up with a pair of wooden legs in about six months. (page 43)

Wegg is one of the characters that Dickens also uses to inject some humour. He is obsessed with his lost leg and goes to Mr Venus’s shop to see if he can find it for him – Venus is an articulator of skeletons and a taxidermist, who has great skill in piecing things together. He boasts:

Mr Wegg, if you was brought here loose in a bag to be articulated, I’d name your smallest bones blindfold equally with your largest, as fast as I could pick ’em out, and I’d sort them all, and sort your wertebrae, in a manner that would equally surprise and charm you. (page 77)

Wegg is positive that he doesn’t want anyone’s bones:

… I tell you openly I should not like – under such circumstances, to be what I call dispersed, a part of me here, and a part of me there, but should wish to collect myself like a genteel person. (page 77)

It’s not just social injustices, the class system, the importance of money, property, greed and materialism that Dickens highlights, but also family relationships – in particular that of fathers and daughters and the position of women. He also concentrates on instances of violence, through drownings and physical assaults.

There is so much in this novel, more that I can explore in this (long) post. I haven’t even touched on the majority of the major characters.

This Wentworth Classics edition includes the original illustrations by Marcus Stone. The one shown below is ‘The person of the house and the bad child‘ – this shows ‘Jenny Wren’, the dolls’ dressmaker, whose back is ‘so bad‘ and whose legs are ‘so queer‘, and her drunken father, who she calls her ‘bad child‘ and treats him as such.

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Ltd; New Ed edition (1 Jan 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1853261947
  • ISBN-13: 978-1853261947
  • Source: my own copy
  • My Rating 3.5/5

August Prompt – A Classics Challenge

This year I am taking part in a Classics Challenge hosted by Katherine of November’s Autumn. The goal is to read at least seven classics in 2012 and every month Katherine is posting a prompt to help us discuss the books we are reading. This month we are asked to share some quotes from our current read.
Rather than a questions August’s prompt is to share a memorable
Quote… or a few of them from what you’re currently reading. Try to select ones that are not so well-known but, of course, if you can’t help yourself share it too!

This month I’ve been reading Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. There are many passages I could quote. Here are just a few:

“Has a dead man any use for money? Is it possible for a dead man to have money? What world does a dead man belong to? ‘Tother world. What world does money belong to? This world. Can a corpse own it, want it, spend it, claim it, miss it,? Don’t try to go confounding the rights and wrong of things in that way. But it’s worthy of the sneaking spirit that robs a live man.” (page 6)

“No one who can read, ever looks at a book, even unopened on a shelf, like one who cannot.” (page 18)

“And this is the eternal law. For, Evil often stops short at itself and dies with the doer of it! but Good, never. (page 95)

“I have made up my mind that I must have money, Pa. I feel that I can’t beg it, borrow it, or steal it; and so I have resolved that I must marry it.” (page 302)

“This reminds me, godmother, to ask you a serious question. You are as wise as wise can be (having been brought up by the fairies), and you can tell me this: Is it better to have had a good thing and lost it, or never to have had it?” (page 410)

“And Oh! there are days in this life, worth life and worth death. And Oh, what a bright old song it is, that Oh, ’tis love, ’tis love, ’tis love, that makes the world go round!” (page 636) (From a popular song usually sung to the French tune ‘C’est l’amour’.)

Classics Challenge 2012 – July Prompt

This year I am taking part in A Classics Challenge hosted by Katherine of November’s Autumn. The goal is to read at least seven classics in 2012 and every month Katherine is posting a prompt to help us discuss the books we are reading. July’s prompt is about

Lasting Impressions

Choose one of the Classics you’ve read this year or are currently reading.

What is a moment, quote, or character that you feel will stay with you? Years from now, when some of the details have faded, that lasting impression the book has left you with? What is it? –or why did it fail to leave an impression?

I wondered which classic to choose for this post, but I knew the answer as soon as I read the the words ‘lasting impressions’ had to be either Pride and Prejudice or A Tale of Two Cities. Both of these are books I first read when I was a teenager, so I know the lasting impressions they have made on me, both the characters and lots of quotations. How could I ever forget Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, or Charles Darnay and the wonderful Sydney Carton? And the opening sentences of both are so memorable.

From Pride and Prejudice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

and from A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

Whereas I’ve read  Pride and Prejudice several times I’d only ever read A Tale of Two Cities once before and my memory of it was that it was about the French Revolution and the sacrifice that Sydney Carton made to save Charles Darnay from the Guillotine, with these words, which close the book:

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

Reading the book this time round the character of Sydney Carton is much clearer in my mind, with several vivid images of his slovenly appearance and drunken behaviour. He is in fact a brilliant barrister, but also an alcoholic, lacking self confidence. He is called a ‘jackal‘, who worked for his fellow barrister, Stryver, who then got the credit.

Sydney Carton, idlest and most unpromising of men, was Stryver’s great ally. What the two drank together, between Hilary Term and Michaelmas, might have floated a king’s ship. Stryver never had a case in hand, anywhere, but Carton was there, with his hands in his pockets, staring at the ceiling of the court; they went to the same Circuit, and even there they prolonged their usual orgies late into the night, and Carton was rumoured to be seen at broad day, going home stealthily and unsteadily to his lodgings, like a dissipated cat. At last, it began to get about, among such as were interested in the matter, that although Sydney Carton would never be a lion, he was an amazingly good jackal, and that he rendered suit and service to Stryver in that humble capacity.

To help him overcome his drunkenness he soaked towels in a bowl of cold water and after wringing them out folded them on his head, and whilst working continued drinking wine, brandy and rum with sugar and lemons.

Two or three times, the matter in hand became so knotty, that the jackal found it imperative on him to get up, and steep his towels anew. From these pilgrimages to the jug and basin he returned with such eccentricities of damp headgear as no words can describe; which were made the more ludicrous by his anxious gravity.

He is moody and morose, and when he falls in love with Lucie Manette, he realises he is a wastrel, a ‘drunken, poor creature‘, that she can never return his love and that he can only ever bring her to misery, sorrow and repentance, blight and disgrace her, pulling him down with himself. 

It is Carton’s resemblance to Charles Darnay that enables him to martyr himself in Darnay’s place because of his love for Lucie. It is these two images that will remain with me – that of the dissolute man, who despite his drunkenness, worked though the night with his head wrapped in damp towels, and the man as he approached his death on the Guillotine with:

… the peacefullest man’s face ever beheld there. Many added that he looked sublime and prophetic.