Review 2095: We

I am pretty well up on the 19th century Russian novelists, so when I was making my Classics Club list, I asked my husband to recommend someone more recent. He mentioned We.

The introduction calls Zamyatin an inconvenient citizen of both the czarist and Communist regimes, because he believed in complete freedom for the individual. His novel We is the granddaddy of dystopian novels and an inspiration to Orwell.

D-50 is a good citizen of the OneWorld, where everyone eats, sleeps, and works in unison. He is also the creator of INTEGRAL, which is going to be shot off into space to make the entire universe uniformly happy. He is writing a record to explain to the citizens of the universe why they should want to be uniform.

He thinks he is happy with O-90, whom he periodically requests for sex (the one time when they’re allowed to close the blinds of their glass apartments) until he meets I-330. There’s something mocking about her, and he thinks she’s up to something. Then she begins dragging him into situations that he should report her for to the Guardians. But he doesn’t, and soon he is madly in love with her and behaving strangely.

This novel is both dystopian fiction and a satire of some of the beliefs of Communism. At times, it is quite fevered in tone, and I wasn’t always sure what was going on. Characterization doesn’t even make sense in such a novel, so Zamyatin picks out weird facial features to identify people. Not my genre, but interesting.

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Time for Another Classics Club Spin (#32)

The Classics Club has announced another spin. How does this work? Classics club members select 20 books from their lists and post a numbered list of those choices by Sunday, December 11. On Sunday, Classics Club picks a number, and the club member agrees to try to read the book corresponding to that number and post a review by Sunday, January 29, 2023.

I enjoy taking part in these spins, so here is my list!

  1. The Fair Jilt by Aphra Behn
  2. The Methods of Lady Walderhurst by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  3. We by Yevgeny Zemyatin
  4. The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermoût
  5. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  6. The Saga of Gosta Berling by Selma Lagerlof
  7. A Double Life by Karolina Pavlova
  8. Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare
  9. Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
  10. Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston
  11. The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclair
  12. The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  13. The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz
  14. Merkland, A Story of Scottish Life by Margaret Oliphant
  15. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  16. The Princess of Cleves by Madame de La Fayette
  17. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
  18. The Book of Lamentations by Rosario Castellanos
  19. The Moorland Cottage by Elizabeth Gaskell
  20. Miss Mole by E. H. Young

Review 2062: The Prisoner of Zenda

When I was making up my Classics Club list, I thought it might be fun to read The Prisoner of Zenda, a book I’ve heard of for years. I was surprised to find it was really good!

Rudolf Rassendyll is the younger brother of a British nobleman whose family has a tradition that an ancestress had an affair with a Ruritanian prince, bestowing on some of the family a pointed nose and red hair that Rudolph has himself. The family also stays away from Ruritania, but when Rudolf hears there is to be a coronation of the new king, he decides to attend.

Since Strelsau, the city where the coronation is to be held, is going to be crowded, he decides to stay in the village of Zenda and travel in for the ceremony. He lands in Zenda the day before and, while wandering in the woods, encounters the King, who looks exactly like him except for a beard. Amused, the King invites him to Zenda Castle, where he is staying as a guest of his brother, Duke Michael.

When the King drinks a bottle of wine gifted by Michael, his attendants can’t wake him. Duke Michael has drugged him so he’ll miss his coronation. The King’s attendants, Fritz and Sapt, talk Rudolf into impersonating the King just for the coronation. But things don’t go exactly as planned.

This adventure story is fast moving with interesting characters and lots of action. A fun read!

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Review 2051: #1929 Club! Classics Club Spin! Grand Hotel

The first book I chose for the 1929 Club was one that I have long heard of but never read. It was also coincidentally chosen for my Classics Club Spin!

In the 1920’s, the Grand Hotel is the most expensive in Berlin. Staying there are several guests whose lives are going to be changed.

Grusinskaya is a great ballet dancer still at the top of her form. But her clearly classical style has gone out of fashion, and after a lifetime of being alone, she’s very tired.

Kringelein is a poor clerk who has just found out he is dying and wants to experience a few weeks of luxury and “living.”

Doctor Otternschlag is an injured World War I veteran who hangs around the hotel doing nothing. He begins taking Kringelein around Berlin.

Baron Geigern is young, handsome, and personable, but he makes a living as a cat burglar, and he’s after Grusinskaya’s pearls.

Herr Preysing is the general manager of a company there to make a deal who ends up in a mid-life crisis.

Grand Hotel is a zeitgeist novel, very much a product of its time. Baum’s characters show their foibles or redeem themselves. Each one is flawed and complex.

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Classics Club Spin #31

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin. Members who want to participate post a numbered list of 20 of the books from their Classics Club list by this Sunday, September 18. The club takes a spin, and the number selected determines which book from my list I’ll read next.

So, here’s my list:

  1. We by Yevgeny Zemyatin
  2. Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
  3. Love’s Labour Lost by William Shakespeare
  4. The Fair Jilt by Aphra Behn
  5. Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth
  6. Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
  7. Miss Mole by E. H. Young
  8. Cecilia, Memoirs of an Heiress by Fanny Burney
  9. Tis Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford
  10. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  11. The Saga of Gosta Berling by Selma Lagerloff
  12. The Book of Dede Korkut by Anonymous
  13. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
  14. The Prophet’s Mantle by E. Nesbitt
  15. The Methods of Lady Walderhurst by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  16. A Double Life by Karolina Pavlova
  17. Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston
  18. The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclaire
  19. Merkland, a Story of Scottish Life by Mrs. Oliphant
  20. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

I’ll be waiting to see which one I got. Did you join the spin? What book would you like to get?

Review 2004: Classics Club Spin Result! Phineas Finn

When I put Phineas Finn on my Classics Club list, I was just looking for a book by Trollope that I hadn’t read. I didn’t realize it was the second of the Palliser novels, so now I’m going to have to go back and read the first.

Against the advice of his father and his mentor, Mr. Low, Phineas Finn has been persuaded by friends to run for Parliament even though he has just recently finished his law studies. The difficulty is that he has no money and Parliamentary representatives aren’t paid, so his father, who is a country doctor, will have to continue to support him unless he can get a paid government position.

Nevertheless, he goes ahead and gets “elected” as member for an Irish pocket borough, where the lord who awards it has feuded with his son, the incumbent. So, Phineas begins his career.

One of his friends who has encouraged him in politics is Lady Laura Standish, a young woman who takes a great interest in politics. Although she had some fortune, she gave it away to her brother, Lord Chiltern, to pay off his debts in the hopes he can reconcile with his father, the Earl of Brentford. Both the Earl and Lady Laura are encouraging about Phineas’s career, and Phineas finds himself in love with Lady Laura. However, he has a rival, Mr. Kennedy, who is stiff and formal but very rich.

The novel details Phineas’s Parliamentary career as well as his friendships with several young ladies as he looks for a wife. It is thoughtful about the choices for women at this time and deals with the consequences when Lady Laura makes the wrong choice of husband. Another character, Laura’s best friend Violet Effingham, is wealthy in her own right and wants to remain single and run her own household but finds she is not allowed to. Finally, there is Marie Max Goesler, an intriguing character. She is a wealthy widow who is known for her select parties. She is an admitted social climber, but she takes a great interest in Phineas’s career.

Phineas himself is a likable fellow who sometimes seems a little suggestible but by and large works hard and leads an ethical life. I enjoyed this book very much. The only thing I found disappointing was that of the four women he considers marrying, he ends up with the least interesting and most insipid.

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Review 1896: Sense and Sensibility

When I was making up my current Classics Club list, I realized I hadn’t reread any Austen for a while. So, I picked Sense and Sensibility.

When Mr. Dashwood was dying, he made his son John promise to take care of his second wife and daughters, since he was unable to leave them anything due to an entail. John makes this promise with good intentions and tells his wife he will give each of them £1000, but she talks him out of each of his suggestions until he gives them nothing.

On a very small budget, then, Mrs. Dashwood must find a new home for herself and her three daughters, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret. Just as things are getting unbearable at the shared home, a relative of Mrs. Dashwood, Sir John Middleton, offers the women a cottage in Devonshire at a low rate.

Elinor regrets leaving her home all the more because she has developed what she believes is a shared attachment with her brother-in-law, Edward Ferrars. But Mrs. John Dashwood wants her brother as far away from Elinor as possible. Both she and her mother plan for him to marry well.

Relocated to their new home, the Dashwoods find their neighbors, the Middletons, and Mrs. Jennings, Mrs. Middleton’s mother, to be almost overly friendly.

One day Marianne and Margaret are caught out in a rainstorm and Marianne sprains her ankle skidding down a grassy hill. A gentleman rescues her, and he, Mr. Willoughby, becomes a frequent visitor. It is clear he is attracted to Marianne, and she, having fully adopted the ideals of Romanticism, shows plainly that she’s in love with him. Meanwhile, Elinor wonders why she isn’t hearing from Edward.

This novel is about two sisters who deal with unhappy love affairs in opposite ways and the result. It has vividly believable characters, some funny, and in its own way constitutes a sharp social satire. This novel is one of my favorites by Austen.

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Review 1880: The Castle of Otranto

I first read The Castle of Otranto too long ago as assignment for high school and thought it was very silly. However, it was the first gothic novel, written in 1764, and led the way toward a fascination with Gothic culture in a country littered with ruined Gothic churches and abbeys as a result of the so-called “Bloodless Revolution.” So, I put it on my Classics Club list to see what I think about it now.

Well, it’s a silly book. It is represented in the Preface as a manuscript written sometime between 1095 and 1243. Practically the first thing that happens in it is that Conrad, the son of Manfred, prince of Otranto, has a gigantic helmet fall on him out of nowhere and crush him to death on the day he is to be betrothed to Isabella, the Marquiz of Vincenza’s daughter. This is the first supernatural event in a very short book that includes walking portraits, statues crying tears of blood, and various enormous body parts appearing in the castle.

Why? It appears that Manfred’s grandfather took the castle unlawfully, and the legend is that his family may hold it until its real owner grows too large to inhabit it. Hence, the enormous body parts.

This novel exhibits all the hallmarks of the subsequent gothic novels, many of which aren’t that palatable to modern readers—overblown speeches, submissive and virtuous women (Manfred’s wife even being so submissive as to agree to her own divorce), a nearly insane villain in Manfred, a hero in disguise, a lot of fainting, and supernatural events.

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Classics Club Spin #30

The Classics Club has announced another spin. To participate, members post a numbered list of 20 of the books from their personal lists, to be posted by this Sunday, June 12. The club announces a number, and that determines which book to read by Sunday, August 7.

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

  1. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
  2. Cecilia, Memoirs of an Heiress by Fanny Burney
  3. The Moonspinners by Mary Stewart
  4. The Aeneid by Virgil
  5. Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope
  6. Miss Mole by E. H. Young
  7. Weatherley Parade by Richmal Crompton
  8. Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie
  9. Love’s Labours Lost by William Shakespeare
  10. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  11. Merkland, A Story of Scottish Life by Mrs. Oliphant
  12. The Saga of Gosta Berling by Selma Lagerloff
  13. Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
  14. The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  15. The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermoût
  16. Tis Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford
  17. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  18. Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth
  19. Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabo
  20. A Double Life by Karolina Pavlova

Review 1846: Classics Club Spin Book! The Dead Secret

The latest Classics Club Spin ended up with The Dead Secret as the book I should read. It is Wilkie Collins’ first full-length novel but unfortunately not his best.

Mrs. Treverton is on her deathbed at Porthgenna Tower, but she has a secret. She wants to disclose it to her husband but can’t bring herself to do it. So, she forces her maid, Sarah Leeson, to write it down. She makes Sarah promise not to destroy the confession or remove it from the house, but she dies before she can make her promise to give it to her husband. So, Sarah hides it in a ruined wing of the house and then flees.

Fifteen or sixteen years later, Mrs. Treverton’s daughter Rosamond is a young wife. She and her blind husband, Leonard Frankland, are on their way to Cornwall to take up residence at Porthgenna Tower, where Rosamond has not lived since she was five. They intend to renovate the house, including the ruined north wing, but they have had to stop their journey because Rosamond has gone into premature labor.

The local doctor, in seeking a nurse for the new mother and son, consults a householder only to have her housekeeper, Mrs. Jazeph, unexpectedly volunteer to do it herself. However, Mrs. Jazeph’s odd behavior that evening causes her to be dismissed. Before leaving, she tells Rosamond to stay out of the Myrtle Room.

With a ruined old mansion on the coast of Cornwall that is possibly haunted and a secret too awful to tell, this novel promises to be all that a sensation novel should be. However, Collins is clearly learning here, for this novel is dripping with sentimentality and soppiness. Moreover, the behavior of the maid (it’s not hard to guess who she is) is so exaggerated that I could hardly stand to read about her at times. Collins took Dickens for his model, and Rosamond is a typical type for Dickens—sweet, a little foolish at times, loving, needing the guidance of her morally correct husband. Without having spent enough time with Sarah for us to care much for her—in fact, at times her behavior is extremely irritating—he spends too long a time with a supposedly heart-rending scene.

The secret isn’t very hard to guess, nor are the events of the plot difficult to predict. This isn’t a terrible novel, but Collins has written better ones.

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