Posts Tagged ‘19th century’

Title: The Grasmere Journals

Author: Dorothy Wordsworth

Published: 1991

Genre: Journal

Blurb: ‘I went &sate with W & walked backwards & forwards in the Orchard till dinner time – he read me his poem. I broiled Beefsteaks.’

Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals are a unique record of her life with her brother William, at time time when he was at the height of his poetic powers. Invaluable for the insight they give into the daily life of the poet and his friendship with Coleridge, they are also remarkable for their spontaneity and immediacy, and for the vivid descriptions of people, places, and incidents that inspired some of Wordsworth’s best-loved poems.

The Grasmere Journal was begun at Dove Cottage in May 1800 and kept for three years. Dorothy notes  the walks and the weather, the friends, country neighbours and beggars on the road; she sets down accounts of the garden, of Wordsworth’s marriage, their concern for Coleridge, the composition of poetry.

How I came to own it: I bought this from Gower St. Waterstone’s after we decided to read it for book group.

What I thought: Two things in particular struck me about this journal. The first was the lack of introspection. Dorothy’s gaze is fixed firmly on the outside world, on nature and on other people. The second is the contrast between the mundane details recorded, quite unconcerned in the lack of interest – “It rained today,” that sort of thing – with the flashes of brilliant poetic, evocative description that recreates her world so vividly. The two, side by side, combined with the divisive nature of a series of short, daily journal entries, made the book very difficult to ‘get into’ and I struggled to keep attention.

Rating: 3.5/5

How I’m doing: 41 to go.


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The Victorian Literature Challenge. My pre-challenge post is here.

Title: North and South

Author: Elizabeth Gaskell

Published: Penguin, 1986 (originally 1854-5)

Genre: Novel

How I came to own it: I bought it in the world’s most fantastic bookshop, an old train station in Alnwick, Northumberland.

What I thought: I was thoroughly enjoying this and then I went sneakily and watched the BBC adaptation. When I came back to the book, the story was just too fresh in my mind and it was spoiled. So I will read the whole thing again later (after the TBR pile is vanquished), when I have forgotten all the details, and I shall review then.

Rating: 4.5/5

How I’m doing: 42 to go.

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“In my mailbox” is a not-very-weekly-in-my-case meme hosted by The Story Siren in which people share the books that they have acquired that week. I threw the rules out of the window long ago. Just keeping it to attempt to fool myself into believing I have some kind of structure going on.

Book group gave me an excuse to go into Waterstone’s in Gower Street on Thursday and pick up:

TBR pile back up to 43.

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The Victorian Literature Challenge. My pre-challenge post is here.

Title: Lady Windermere’s Fan

Author: Oscar Wilde

Published: in ‘The Complete Illustrated Stories, Plays and Poems of Oscar Wilde’, Chancellor Press, 1991 (originally published 1893)

Genre: Play

How I came to own it: This bumper Oscar Wilde collection was an Oxfam bargain at £2.99 several years ago.

What I thought: It’s been so long since I read a play – I thought I might struggle to get into it. This wasn’t the case at all. It’s an easy, fast read, very funny, as expected with Wilde, with those one-liners popping up almost constantly, and yet also rather moving in places. I enjoyed it very much.

Rating: 4/5

How I’m doing: 44 to go.

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The Victorian Literature Challenge. My pre-challenge post is here.

Title: Mary Barton

Author: Elizabeth Gaskell

Published: Penguin, 1994 (originally 1848)

Genre: Novel

Blurb: When John Barton’s wife dies in childbirth, his daughter Mary becomes ‘the light of his hearth, the voice of his otherwise silent home’.

She is silently adored by Jem Wilson, whom she has known since childhood, yet she is determined to break away from the poverty of her background and rejects his love. Without her father’s knowledge she is courted by the self-satisfied, handsome Harry Carson, son of a rich mill-owner, who represents everything John Barton abhors. Unable to find work as a weaver, surrounded by poverty and starvation, John Barton becomes increasingly embittered against the richer classes and strives to bring about change. His efforts prove fruitless and he is driven to commit a crime that is to have deep repercussions on all those around him.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s story of Manchester life in the 1840s is at once a powerful portrayal of a divided society and a moving love story in which she gives voice to the terrible suffering of the working classes and the anguished emotions of her characters.

How I came to own it: I bought or mooched it after it was recommended on Twitter.

What I thought: This is an excellent read, and one that gets better as it goes on. In the early scenes I was frustrated by the stereotypical sentimental description of the struggles of the Victorian poor. But this faded and was replaced with ideas that were radical and ahead of their time, and with a moral ‘message’ which, though explicitly stated, did not make me want to punch the narrator on the nose. It was, for the most part, sensitively handled and I felt myself sympathising with Gaskell’s world view. I was reminded of a less fluffy version of one of my favourite historical novels, The Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge: there was the same Christian ethos and genuine goodness in characters that I came to love. I also saw the novel in a new light when a friend explained to me that much of the content Gaskell had experienced first hand, as she was a minister’s wife in Manchester and did relief work amongst the poor.

Rating: 4.5/5

How I’m doing: 46 to go.

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“In my mailbox” is a not-very-weekly-in-my-case meme hosted by The Story Siren in which people share the books that they have acquired that week. I threw the rules out of the window long ago. Just keeping it to attempt to fool myself into believing I have some kind of structure going on.

I went to a glorious heaven of a book shop in an old train station at Alnwick, Northumberland and I had to buy something, so I picked up:

I love Gaskell and I haven’t read nearly enough. Plus it’ll be useful for the Victorian Literature Challenge.

TBR pile back up to 47.

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This is my second book read for the Victorian Literature Challenge. My pre-challenge post is here.

Title: Vanity Fair

Author: William Makepeace Thackeray

Published: Penguin, 1994 (originally published 1847-8)

Genre: Novel

Blurb: A richly comic dissection of English society during the Napoleonic wars.

Becky Sharp and Amelia Sedley together leave the shelter of Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies. They now inhabit the infinitely more fascinating and dangerous Vanity Fair where the only standard is worldly success. Becky, charming and amoral, is well-fitted for the fight; when an ill-judged bowl of punch ruins her plans for marriage, her quick wits soon find a range of an alternatives. But sweet and sentimental Amelia only longs for her worthless soldier lover.

There are battles, military and domestic, fortunes made and lost, elopements and betrayals. The corrupt, the grotesque and the downright wicked all struggle to make their way amongst the tawdry glamour of the Regency. And through the narrative strolls the relaxed figure of the author, pointing out a moral here and there as he shines a light into society’s murkier corners.

How I came to own it: I don’t remember. This is another old one.

What I thought: Initially, I was enraptured: primarily because of the narrator, who, ironic and detached, was making asides and pointing out the characters’ folly in a style worthy of, if harsher than, Jane Austen. The author had a keen sense of the ridiculous which renders much of this book utterly hilarious. By the time I’d got past the middle, however, the delight wore off. I felt that this, like many Victorian novels, was too long, but maybe that’s just the attention span of the YouTube generation. What I found rather tiresome was the relentlessness of the cynicism which resulted in an absence of genuine sympathy for anybody. The novel parallels the lives of wicked but clever Becky with saintly but foolishly sentimental Amelia.For much of the story, Amelia’s down and out whilst Becky, in spite of her humble birth, is queening it up. There is, of course, plenty of scope for the stereotypical Victorian moralising here. But, refreshingly, it comes with a twist: instead of our being encouraged to get soppy over the goodie whilst hissing at the baddie, the norm is parodied and we mock Amelia’s soppiness. We are spared complete despair at human nature and given the real hero, William Dobbin. He is, naturally, perfect in every way, and thus the novel escapes saying anything worth saying about how life is really more complicated than heroes and villains. Nevertheless, an enjoyable, very funny read which raised interesting questions, if only half-heartedly.

Rating: 4/5

How I’m doing: TBR pile stands at 48.

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