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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Day 1104: Vanity Fair

Cover for Vanity FairVanity Fair is a reread for me for my Classics Club list. It has been a long time since I’ve read it, though, and I was curious about whether I would have the same reaction to it.

The novel, of course, is Thackeray’s famous satire of society that follows two English girls through their launches into society and later lives. One is Amelia Sedley, the gentle, conventional heroine who has been the only girl to befriend Rebecca Sharp, the charity student. Amelia is only eager to marry George Osborne, her long-betrothed fiancé. Rebecca is determined to be a success and marry a rich man.

It may be perhaps predicted that good, honest Amelia suffers much more than conniving Becky. Early in the book, Amelia’s marriage to George is threatened when her father loses his fortune. Even though we readers already know that George cares for no one more than himself, Amelia goes into a decline.

Meanwhile, Becky makes her own improvident marriage. She runs off with Rawdon Crawley, the heir to her employer’s fortune, thinking that she will be able to bring Miss Crawley around.

The early days of both marriages are set against the backdrop of the battle of Waterloo, as both George Osbourne and Rawdon Crawley are serving officers. With them is George’s best friend, Dobbin, who falls madly in love with Amelia at first sight and helps her throughout the novel.

As a girl, I thought Amelia was completely insipid and admired Becky Sharp. But it must be said—Becky has no morals. This time through, although I still found Amelia a bit tiresome, I found myself sympathizing more with Rawdon and Dobbin.

In any case, this novel is often funny and always entertaining. Although Thackeray presents us with a conventional heroine for the time in Amelia, you can’t help thinking he had some admiration for the unsinkable Becky. By following her adventures, Thackeray shows us the foibles of members of polite society: the fights over inheritance, the sycophancy, the treatment of people as their fortunes wax and wane.

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First Classics Club List Complete!

I have not posted all of the reviews yet, but with Henry VI, Part III, I just finished all of the books on my first Classics Club list. I completed my list almost two years ahead of my posted deadline of February 12, 2019!

That means that I am ready to post my second Classics Club list! I will continue to show my first list in my Classics Club page until all my reviews are posted, and then I will copy it off to a subsidiary page and post my new list.

My first list was an experiment, as I had never belonged to a blogging club before, so many of my selections were old favorites that I hadn’t read in a long time. I think a brief summary of my reading for this first list is called for.

Top Five Books from My First List

Least Favorite Books from My First List

My New List!

I can’t seem to bring myself to make a list of 100 books at a time for the Classics Club. I think it is more satisfying for me to finish shorter lists faster than to finish a long list more slowly. This list is different from my previous one in that I have only previously read about half a dozen of the books on this list. I am posting this list on June 30, 2017, and I plan to finish it by June 29, 2021.

I made this list some time ago, so I see that I have already finished one of the books, The Lark, by E. Nesbitt.

15th Century

  • Le Morte D’arthur by Thomas Malory (1485)

16th Century

  • The Prince by Machievelli (1532)
  • Edward II by Christopher Marlowe (1592)
  • Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare (1588-1593)

17th Century

  • Oroonoko by Aphra Behn (1688)
  • The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster (1612-13)

18th Century

  • Evelina by Frances Burney (1778)
  • The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett (1771)

19th Century

  • Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1814)
  • Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1863)
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (1848)
  • The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins (1879)
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880)
  • The Viscounte de Bragelonne by Alexandre Dumas (1848)
  • Letters from Egypt by Lucie Duff-Gordon (1865)
  • The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow by Mrs. Oliphant (1890)
  • Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott (1821)
  • The Heir of Redclyff by Charlotte M. Yonge (1853)

20th Century

  • The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1907)
  • My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather (1926)
  • The Old Man’s Birthday by Richmal Crompton (1934)
  • Consequences by E. M. Delafield (1930)
  • Vanishing Cornwall by Daphne du Maurier (1967)
  • This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920)
  • The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915)
  • Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame (1957)
  • The Winged Horse by Pamela Frankau (1953)
  • My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin (1901)
  • Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn (1907)
  • The Lady and the Unicorn by Rumer Godden (1937)
  • Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins (1934)
  • Joanna Godden by Sheila Kay-Smith (1921)
  • The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski (1953)
  • Greenery Street by Denis MacKail (1925)
  • West with the Night by Beryl Markham (1942)
  • Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery (1909)
  • The Lark by E. Nesbit (1902)
  • Mary Lavelle by Kate O’Brien (1936)
  • The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault (1956)
  • The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabatini (1915)
  • Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea by Teffi (2016, but written around 1920)
  • Challenge by Vita Sackville-West (1923)
  • Miss Buncle’s Book by D. E. Stevenson (1934)
  • August Folly by Angela Thirkell (1936)
  • I Go by Land, I Go by Sea by P. L. Travers (1941)
  • Madame de Treymes by Edith Wharton (1907)
  • Because of the Lockwoods by Dorothy Whipple (1949)
  • The Priory by Dorothy Whipple (1939)
  • The Wise Virgins by Leonard Woolf (1913)
  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927)

 

Day 1073: Middlemarch

Cover for MiddlemarchBest Book of the Week!
The first section of Middlemarch is concerned with Dorothea Brooke, an ardent but naive young woman who only wants to take part in something good. She thirsts for knowledge and wants to help with something important.

One trait of Dorothea’s that is physical as well as metaphorical is her shortsightedness. As her sister Celia tells her, “I thought it right to tell you because you went on as you always do, never looking just where you are and treading in the wrong place. You always see what no one else sees; it is impossible to satisfy you; yet you never see what is quite plain.”

Dorothea in her youthful ardor and intelligence attracts the attention of Mr. Casaubon, a cleric and scholar in his fifties who has been laboring for years on a work he calls “The Key to All Mythologies.” Dorothea decides it would be an honor to marry Mr. Casaubon and help him with his great work. And she does so, despite the admonitions of her friends and family.

It is while Dorothea is on her honeymoon in Rome that we meet other important characters in the novel, for Eliot subtitled her novel “A Study in Provincial Life.” There are the young Vincys, Fred and Rosamund, who have both been indulged by their wealthy parents. Fred has been raised to expect a fortune from his crusty old uncle, Peter Featherstone. Concerned at first only with leading the life of a gentleman, he has quit his university studies and fritters away his time. He would like to marry his childhood friend Mary Garth, but she won’t have him until he sticks to something.

Mr. Lydgate is a new doctor in town. He hopes to reform medical practices and make some significant discovery in medicine. Although he feels he cannot afford to marry for some years, he has not reckoned with Rosamund Vincy, a beautiful but self-centered young woman.

He also starts out by harming his chances through some outspoken comments and a too close relationship with Mr. Bulstrode. A wealthy businessman, Bulstrode is involved with the local hospital. But he likes to be in control of all his charities and is inflexible in his religious views.

In Rome, Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon re-encounter Will Ladislaw, Mr. Casaubon’s second cousin. Mr. Casaubon has been supporting Will financially through his studies after Will’s grandmother was disinherited from her family because of her choice in husband. Dorothea, in trying to befriend Will, does not see how much Mr. Casaubon dislikes him. That dislike is to have repercussions for Dorothea’s future life.

Eliot masterfully acquaints us with the problems and politics of this provincial area. Her characters are unforgettable, rich and human. There is a strong feminist sensibility, as Dorothea finds that everything she tries to do is balked because she’s a woman. And class is also an important theme. I continue to feel that Middlemarch is one of the best books ever written and was happy to have it chosen for me by the Classics Club spin.

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Classics Club Spin #15

It’s time for another Classics Club spin. We are to choose 20 books from our Classics Club lists, and on Friday, the Classics Club will pick a number. That will determine the book we will read for May 1.

I am getting so close to completing my list that I haven’t had 20 books left to pick for the last several spins. This time I’ll list both Henry VI, Pt. II and III, which will force me to read Pt. II if Pt. III is chosen. Then I’ll be done with old Henry. So, here goes:

  1. The Moonstone
  2. Henry VI, Pt. II
  3. The Idiot
  4. Henry VI, Pt. III
  5. Bleak House
  6. Middlemarch
  7. The Moonstone
  8. Henry VI, Pt. II
  9. The Idiot
  10. Henry VI, Pt. III
  11. Bleak House
  12. Middlemarch
  13. The Moonstone
  14. Henry VI, Pt. II
  15. The Idiot
  16. Henry VI, Pt. III
  17. Bleak House
  18. Middlemarch
  19. The Moonstone
  20. The Idiot

Day 999: Beloved

Cover for BelovedOn some occasions after reading a novel, I find my thoughts about it are not clear. Did I enjoy it? Did I completely understand it? Did I think it was powerful or overpowering? This doesn’t happen very often, but these are my thoughts after reading Beloved.

The novel, when looked at straightforwardly, is a ghost story. Sethe escaped from slavery with her children, although the plan went wrong. Most of the other escaping slaves were killed or captured, including her husband, and Sethe had to come later, giving birth to her daughter Denver on the way.

These events happened 16 years ago, but shortly after Sethe made it across the Ohio River, Schoolteacher, the despotic overseer, came after her. To keep her children from being dragged back into slavery, Sethe decided to kill them. She was stopped, but not before she slit the throat of her daughter, Beloved. (Her name isn’t really Beloved, but that’s what’s on her tombstone; we don’t know her name.)

Sixteen years later, Sethe’s house in Cincinnati, referred to as 124, is haunted. Sethe lives there with Denver, her mother-in-law having died and her sons having left. Denver is a sulky, needy young woman who craves her mother’s attention, but that is all for the ghost of her baby.

The action begins when Paul D. arrives. Paul D. had been one of the young male slaves at Sweet Home, where Sethe was a slave. He has been wandering since the war. When he realizes the house is haunted, he drives the ghost out and lives with Sethe as her lover.

But Beloved comes back, now embodied as a girl the age she would have been if she’d lived. Denver and then Sethe become enslaved to her.

But is Beloved a ghost or just a young girl damaged by slavery? Someone in the text makes a reference to a lost girl enslaved since a child, and I think that’s who Beloved is meant to be. Denver and Sethe have just mistaken her from their own needs. There is only one chapter where we see things from Beloved’s point of view, and it is incoherent.

That is what I think, but I was confused because everyone else seems to take the novel as a straight ghost story and of course, an indictment of slavery. I finally ran across a reference to an article by an academic who believes the same thing, but I never found the original paper.

In any case, Beloved is an unusual work. It uses an unusual combination of storytelling techniques, some of which I enjoyed and some I did not. It is powerful, depicting emotions and events that we can barely comprehend. Did I like it? I don’t know. Does it make me think? Yes. Do I understand it? Not completely.

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Classics Club Spin #14!

Another Classics Club spin is starting, so here is my list. Classics Club will pick a number between 1 and 20 on Monday, and that will determine which book I will read. I only have nine books left on my list that I haven’t read (although I haven’t yet reviewed all that I have read), so I have repeated all of them on this list to make 20. I listed them in order backwards by the time year they were written and then went back the other way, and then randomly filled out the list. Most of the ones left on my list are re-reads. We have until December 1 to read the next book chosen. I can’t wait to finish this list, because I have a new one already prepared!

  1. Cover for The MoonstoneAda by Vladimir Nabokov
  2. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  3. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  4. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  5. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  6. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  7. The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
  8. Henry VI Pt. III by William Shakespeare (if I get this one, I’ll have to read the next one first)
  9. Henry VI Pt. II by William Shakespeare
  10. Henry VI Part III
  11. The Vicar of Wakefield
  12. Vanity Fair
  13. Bleak House
  14. The Moonstone
  15. The Idiot
  16. Middlemarch
  17. Ada
  18. The Moonstone
  19. Vanity Fair
  20. Bleak House