Day 1258: Classics Club Spin #18! The Heir of Redclyffe

Frontispiece for The Heir of RedclyffeIt’s a quirk of mine that, while I research the books for my Classics Club list, when I finally get to them, I don’t remind myself what they are about before reading them. So, when I got The Heir of Redclyffe in the Classics Club spin, I vaguely guessed from the title that it might be a gothic thriller. Boy, was I wrong.

In fact, in tone and attention to right behavior and emphasis on everyday family life, the novel reminds me more of works by Jane Austen than anything else I’ve read, although it lacks the Austen humor and sense of the absurd. In addition, it perhaps doesn’t translate as well to modern times because of its sense of piety.

The Heir of Redclyffe is the story of two cousins, the branches of whose families have long held a feud. Guy Morville is the heir, at the beginning of the novel a 17-year-old who comes under the guardianship of Mr. Edmonstone. Guy is a stranger to the Edmonstone family when he comes to stay. He has been strictly brought up out of his grandfather’s fear of his family’s violent tendencies. The Edmonstones find him charismatic and full of the joy of life but quick to temper, always attempting to control his darker impulses.

Philip Morville, Guy’s cousin from the other side of the feud, is long a friend of the Edmonstone family. He is a captain in the army, and the young Edmonstones have been used to think of him as a pattern of well-bred, right behavior. Charlie Edmonstone, an invalid, thinks him patronizing and sententious, and Amabel, who is shy, is a little afraid of him, but Laura, the oldest daughter, thinks he can do no wrong, and her parents rely on his advice.

Unfortunately, Philip takes a dislike to Guy that he does not recognize himself. Instead, he thinks he is concerned for Guy’s welfare when he interferes in Guy’s life and misconstrues his actions. Although Guy forms an excellent relationship with the Edmonstones, Philip creates serious trouble for him by almost willfully assuming the worst about him.

The latter part of this novel is  full of sentimentality and pathos similar to Dickens at his “worst,” but the characters seem believable and interesting, and we care what happens to them. Perhaps modern readers won’t find the quiet and delicate but determined Amy to be the most interesting heroine, but in contemporary times she was considered a pattern of womanhood, as Guy was the epitome of the Romantic hero.

I was interested to read that in her time, Charlotte M. Yonge’s books were as popular as Dickens’s and she wrote to the service of the Oxford Movement, yet these days we don’t know her name. Like many other women writers, she was probably pushed aside by editors and academics as not as worthy to be remembered as her male counterparts.

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Another Classics Club Spin!

The Classics Club has just announced spin #18, where club members post a list of 20 classics and the spin chooses a number. You then pledge to read and post a review of that book by August 31.

So, with no further ado, here is my list:

  1. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall Anne Brontë
  2. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett
  3. My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather
  4. Madame de Treymes by Edith Wharton
  5. Miss Buncle’s Book by D. E. Stevenson
  6. Edward II by Christopher Marlowe
  7. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  8. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
  9. The Heir of Redclyff by Charlotte M. Yonge
  10. The Old Man’s Birthday by Richmal Crompton
  11. Greenery Street by Denis MacKail
  12. Mary Lavelle by Kate O’Brien
  13. Challenge by Vita Sackville-West
  14. I Go by Land, I Go by Sea by P. L. Travers
  15. The Viscounte de Bragelonne by Alexandre Dumas
  16. The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins
  17. Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
  18. The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster
  19. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  20. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

Day 1210: Le Morte D’Arthur

Cover for Le Morte D'ArthurIt’s time for my review for the latest Classics Club Spin, and the spin assigned me Le Morte D’Arthur to read by the end of April.

If I’d been aware of how long this book is, I might have thought twice about putting it on my Classics Club list. It’s not the length that made it so difficult to read, though, but the repetitiveness of one knight after another getting into a joust and smiting right and left.

I tried hard to finish this book, but after a month of reading it (interrupted by a few other books), I decided to skip to the last two books (out of twenty-one), which deal with Lancelot’s break with Arthur and the end of Arthur’s kingdom. All told, I read about 400 pages.

I actually began eager to read the original of the Arthurian legends or at least as original as we have. The introduction to Cassell’s unabridged edition says that we don’t know the source of the book, although Malory makes many references to “the French book.” The structure of the book suggests that it may be a compilation of every Arthurian story known to Malory, as it is full of chapters about fight after fight. In fact, after a while I pictured Britain, particularly Cornwall and Wales, as seething with wandering knights, who, when they encounter one another, go immediately into battle. I was also struck by how often they don’t recognize each other even when in the same room and presumably out of armor.

There are some sustained story lines, such as the tale of Tristram and La Beale Isoud, and they are interesting, but they’re broken up and sprinkled in among the fights, and of course they too involve fights.

Women are fairly negligibly treated, not surprising for the time despite the patina of chivalry, which is supposed to suggest otherwise. We don’t see much of them or learn what they are like. In fact, Arthur says at the end of the book that he isn’t as upset about losing Guenever as the loss of his knights “. . . for queens I might have enow, but such a fellowship of good knights shall never be together in no company.” Which might give us a clue why Guenever preferred Lancelot. In any event, characterization isn’t a strong suit of medieval literature.

I would say that this book is best for dipping into rather than trying to read all at once. It is an important work of literature, and sometimes the language is quite charming. However, its form is very foreign to us now and shows us just how far literature has come. (There is a glossary in the back of the version I read, which unfortunately I didn’t discover until the end.)

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Time for Another Classics Club Spin

Classics Club announced its 17th spin on Thursday. If you want to participate, you must post a list of 20 books from your Classics Club list by March 9. The spin will select a number corresponding to one of those books, which they challenge you to read and post a review by the end of April. Here is my list of 20 books:

  1. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
  2. August Folly by Angela Thirkell
  3. La Morte D’arthur by Thomas Malory
  4. The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster
  5. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  6. I Go by Land, I Go by Sea by P. L. Travers
  7. Oroonoko by Aphra Behn
  8. Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
  9. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
  10. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  11. Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame
  12. The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins
  13. Mary Lavelle by Kate O’Brien
  14. The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker by Tobias Smollet
  15. Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn
  16. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  17. Madame de Treymes by Edith Wharton
  18. My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather
  19. The Viscounte de Bragelonne by Alexandre Dumas
  20. The Heir of Redclyff by Charlotte M. Yonge

There are lots of books on this list that I know nothing about, and only three that I have read before, so it should be an exciting spin.

 

Classics Club Spin #16

Cover for The ShuttleI have finished my first Classics Club list, although I have not yet reviewed all of the books. I’ll be reviewing the last one sometime this month, at which time I’ll post my second Classics Club list.

For a Classics Club spin, we post 20 books from our list and then a number is chosen, which determines the book we will read for the spin. Since I’ve finished my list, I will have to make up my spin list from my second, unposted list. So, here are my selections for the next spin, for which I will post a review by December 31.

  1. August Folly by Angela Thirkell
  2. The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster
  3. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
  4. Letters from Egypt by Lucie Duff-Gordon
  5. The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabatini
  6. Mary Lavelle by Kate O’Brien
  7. The Lark by E. Nesbit (This is sort of cheating, because I have already read and reviewed this book, just not before I made up my second Classics Club list in June.)
  8. West with the Night by Beryl Markham
  9. Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame
  10. Edward II by Christopher Marlowe
  11. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  12. The Viscount de Bragelonne by Alexandre Dumas
  13. The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow by Mrs. Oliphant
  14. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
  15. Oroonoko by Aphra Behn
  16. Madame de Treymes by Edith Wharton
  17. The Priory by Dorothy Whipple
  18. Consequences by E. M. Delafield
  19. Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
  20. Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne du Maurier

 

Day 1130: The Idiot

Cover for The IdiotI think I read The Idiot when I was about 13, and all I remembered of it was that at a tea party, someone stood on the table and shouted. That memory turned out to be false, but they might as well have, and I can’t imagine what my very young self must have made of this novel. My very old self is having trouble enough with it.

The thing about Dostoevesky—and I have read most of his novels, although none for a long time—is that his characters always behave as if they’re in a frenzy. The Idiot is no exception.

Prince Myshkin returns to Russia from years in Switzerland, where he was being treated for epilepsy, to inquire about a legacy he may receive. On the train he meets Rogozhin, who has just inherited a fortune and is on his way to pay court to Nastasya Filippovna Barashkova. Nastasya Filippovna was orphaned as a young girl then brought up by the lecherous merchant Totsky to be his concubine. Now Totsky wants to marry someone else, but Nastasya Filippovna has threatened terrible scenes if he does. Totsky is scheming to marry her off to Gavrila Ardalionovich Ivolgin for the sum of 75,000 rubles.

When the prince meets Nastasya Filippovna, he is so overcome with pity for her that he becomes irrevocably bound with her fate. Later, when he falls in love and wants to marry Aglaya Ivanovna Yepanchin, his entanglement with Nastasy Filippovna ruins him.

Prince Myshkin is completely naive, yet at the same time very perceptive. Dostoevsky wanted to portray in him a simply good man and show how this goodness is overcome by the cynicism and self-interest of society. At times, he is compared to Christ or to a knight.

Although Myshkin is a sympathetic character, he constantly has bad things done to him—is betrayed, libeled, slandered, and cheated—by the people he knows, many of whom are just plain annoying. There is Lebedev, for example, who constantly tells people how vile he is, then behaves badly. And Ippolit, a student dying of tuberculosis, who sneers at the prince, even while accepting his hospitality. Are people really like Dostoevsky’s characters? you may well ask. Of course, Myshkin forgives everyone.

Did I like this novel? I hardly know. I do know that it is one of the last books on my first Classics Club list.

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