Classics Club Spin #27

I just posted a new Classics Club list last week, and coincidentally, now they have announced a spin. The way it works is, if you want to participate, you pick 20 books from your list and post that list. The spin picks a number, and that determines which book you read next. The deadline for reading the book this time is August 22.

Since I have a new list to work with, I decided to pick 20 of the books I want to read most. Here they are:

  1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  2. The Bride of Lammermoor by Walter Scott
  3. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
  4. Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum
  5. Weatherley Parade by Richmal Crompton
  6. The Woods in Winter by Stella Gibbons
  7. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
  8. Much Dithering by Dorothy Lambert
  9. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
  10. The Moon Spinners by Mary Stewart
  11. Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith
  12. Rhododendron Pie by Margery Sharp
  13. Merkland, A Story of Scottish Life by Margaret Oliphant
  14. The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins
  15. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  16. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
  17. The Methods of Lady Waldenhurst by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  18. Music in the Hills by D. E. Stevenson
  19. Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope
  20. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

My Third Classics Club List

With The Sea Hawk I have finished my second Classics Club list. By some marathon reading, I finished posting my last reviews exactly a week later than my original deadline, owing to my neglect of the list for a couple of years. I was reading a lot of classics, just not the ones on my list, and I forgot to notice my deadline until six months ago.

In any case, it is time for a third list. Here it is. I am posting this list on July 7, 2021, and setting myself a deadline of July 6, 2026. As usual, I am attempting to read some classics from different centuries. I am also picking books from a few more countries than just England and the U. S. In some ways, this list seems more imposing than my previous ones.

BC

  • The Aeneid by Virgil (30 to 19 BCE)

15th Century

  • The Book of Dede Korkut by Anonymous (14th or 15th century)

16th Century

  • Hero and Leander by Christopher Marlowe (1598)
  • Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare (1598)

17th Century

  • The Fair Jilt by Aphra Behn (1688)
  • Tis Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford (1633)
  • The Princess of Cleves by Madame de La Fayette (1678)

18th Century

  • Cecilia, Memoirs of an Heiress by Frances Burney (1782)
  • The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)

19th Century

  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811)
  • The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins (1856)
  • Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (1865)
  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
  • Belinda by Maria Edgeworth (1801)
  • The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (1878)
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs (1861)
  • The Saga of Gosta Berling by Selma Lagerloft (1891)
  • The Prophet’s Mantle by E. Nesbit (1885)
  • Merkland, A Story of Scottish Life by Margaret Oliphant (1851)
  • A Double Life by Karolina Pavlova (1848)
  • The Bride of Lammermoor by Walter Scott (1889)
  • The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)
  • Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope (1867-1869)

20th Century

  • Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (1953)
  • Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum (1929)
  • The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz (1938)
  • The Methods of Lady Walderhurst by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1901)
  • The Book of Lamentations by Rosario Castellanos (1962)
  • Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie (1976)
  • Weatherley Parade by Richmal Crompton (1944)
  • The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermoût (1955)
  • The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1933)
  • The Moorland Cottage by Elizabeth Gaskell (1950)
  • The Woods in Winter by Stella Gibbons (1970)
  • The Mayor’s Wife by Anna Katherine Green (1907)
  • The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer (1950)
  • Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1862)
  • Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston (1942)
  • Much Dithering by Dorothy Lambert (1938)
  • The Tavern Knight by Rafael Sabatini (1904)
  • Rhododendron Pie by Margery Sharp (1930)
  • A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute (1950)
  • The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclair (1917)
  • Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith (1959)
  • Music in the Hills by D. E. Stevenson (1950)
  • The Moon Spinners by Mary Stewart (1962)
  • Iza’s Ballad by Magda Szabo (1963)
  • Father by Elizabeth Von Arnim (1931)
  • Miss Mole by E. H. Young (1930)
  • We by Yevgeny Zemyatin (1920)

Review 1687: The Sea-Hawk

Sir Oliver Tressilian is in a good place. As one of Elizabeth I’s privateers, he has made a fortune and gained the Queen’s favor. He is also engaged to marry the woman he loves, Rosamund Godolphin, or at least she has promised herself to him. When he calls on her brother Peter to ask for her hand, though, Peter refuses it, determined to keep up the feud begun between their parents. Indeed, he is insulting to the proud Sir Tressilian, so much so that Oliver would have killed him had he not promised Rosamund he would not.

Peter’s refusal seems of little moment to Oliver, because Rosamund will soon be of age. When Oliver’s brother Lionel returns home, however, he has fought with Peter without witnesses and killed him. Oliver promises to protect him but later learns that the wounded Lionel left a trail of blood to his door and everyone thinks Oliver murdered Peter. When Oliver tries to speak to Rosamund, she refuses to hear him. He is able to prove he is innocent to a magistrate and a minister because he has no wounds, but Rosamund will not listen.

Lionel becomes frightened that Oliver will tell the truth, so he arranges with a shady sea captain, Jasper Leigh, to kidnap Oliver and sell him into slavery. Jasper Leigh actually intends to let Oliver buy himself back, but their ship is taken by Spain and both Oliver and Jasper end up as galley slaves.

When next we meet him, Oliver is named Sakr El-Bahr, the Sea-Hawk, for his famous acts of piracy. He has adopted Islam and is a chief of Asad-ed-Din, Basha of Algiers. He learns that his brother and Sir John Killigrew have had him declared dead and Lionel has taken over his property and his former fiancée. Upon hearing this, Sir Oliver sends a messenger to Rosamund with the proof of his innocence in her brother’s death, but she throws it unread into the fire. Oliver is overcome with anger against both Lionel and Rosamund. How will it end?

I thought this was a very interesting swashbuckler, mainly because both the hero and heroine have more dimensions than in the usual adventure tale. There are times when both of them behave very badly, and I especially disliked Rosamund for much of the book because she was so quick to distrust Oliver. However she is also more brave and self-possessed than the majority of adventure story heroines. They get into some seriously exciting situations.

This is my last book from my second Classics Club list, which I have finished a couple of weeks late, so I’ll be publishing another list tomorrow.

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Review 1682: Titus Andronicus

I knew nothing about Titus Andronicus except that it is a blood bath. And it is, too, with rape, murder, dismemberment, and a woman being served her sons’ corpses in a pie.

The introduction to the play in my Riverside edition points out that the play was long poorly regarded and even by some thought not to be the work of Shakespeare. But more lately its reputation has been rehabilitated.

Titus Andronicus is a Roman general who has been fighting the Goths for years—having lost 20 sons in battle—when he returns to Rome. The emperor has recently died, and the citizens of Rome want to elect Titus, but he gives his support to the emperor’s brother Saturninus, who is duly elected but resents Titus for this.

In rapid succession and a confusing first scene, Saturninus says he will marry Titus’s daughter Lavinia while openly ogling Tamora, the captured queen of the Goths that Titus has brought back with him. Titus has just sacrificed her son to thank the gods for his triumph. Then Bassianus, the brother of Saturninus, comes in and claims Lavinia as his own, supported by some of Titus’s sons. Titus kills his own son Mutius for acting against the emperor. Although Saturninus rebukes Titus for slaughtering his own son, he still banishes Titus’s other sons for supporting Bassianus’s claim to Lavinia.

Saturninus marries Tamora, and she begins to plot her revenge against Titus for killing her son, aided by her lover, the villainous Moor Aaron. Aaron convinces Tamora’s sons Demetrius and Chiron to murder Bassianus and rape Lavinia during a hunt. They improve upon this plan by cutting off her tongue and hands, and then they frame Titus’s sons for Bassianus’s murder. More villainy follows, but once Titus has had enough, he gets his own revenge.

There aren’t very many striking passages in this play, but it is very tightly plotted. I could see some similarities to Coriolanus, another Roman revenge tragedy. I think the play might be quite horrifying and effective when performed. This play is one of the last books on my second Classics Club list.

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Review 1679: Evelina

I haven’t read much 18th century fiction, but when I made my Classics Club list, I wanted to pick books from a variety of centuries. So, I picked Evelina.

Evelina’s heritage is unfortunate. Her grandfather married a vulgar woman much below his class and died without providing for his daughter, Caroline, leaving everything to his wife. When Caroline was old enough, her mother tried to force her to marry a cousin. Caroline instead eloped with Lord Belmont, but when her grandmother cut her off without a penny, Lord Belmont threw her off and denied they were legally married. After her mother’s death, Evelina was raised in isolation by the elderly Reverend Mr. Villars, who had been her grandfather’s tutor and had also raised her mother.

When Evelina gets an invitation from Lady Howard to visit London, Mr. Villars is reluctant to let her go because of her family history. But Mrs. Mirvan, Lady Howard’s daughter, offers to take great care of her. Evelina makes some social errors at her first appearances, for example, agreeing to dance with Lord Ormond when she has already turned down Lord Lovel.

Evelina is immediately attracted to Lord Ormond but she is barely able to speak to him at the dance and keeps making mistakes or having people impose upon her, so that she fears she creates a wrong impression. She herself is the typical 18th century heroine, virtuous, compliant, and innocent.

Later, her vulgar and coarse grandmother, Madame Duval, appears in London and demands her attendance. Evelina meets a series of ill-mannered and socially inferior cousins who keep putting her into embarrassing situations.

This novel is a social satire that pits the innocent, gentle Evelina against a number of snobbish or sexually aggressive members of the upper class and against the crassness of her relatives in the merchant classes. Some modern readers may struggle with the elaborate speech. That didn’t bother me, but my patience was a bit tried by the middle section of the book, in which Evelina is on a long visit to her grandmother and rude cousins. In that section as well as those featuring Captain Mirvan, I had a hard time believing anyone would behave so badly.

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Review 1676: The Last of the Wine

It’s the fifth century BC, and the Peloponnesian War has been going on as long as Alexias can remember. As a boy almost reaching manhood, he is more interested in his training as a runner and the teachings of Sokrates. He is often at odds with his father, who has a poor opinion of the Sophists, in which group he includes all the philosophers. Alexias is a beautiful boy who fends off in disgust the advances of his father’s friend Kritias, but he eventually falls in love with Lysis, a man about 10 years older than he, and they form a fast friendship.

Things change as his father Myrom is dispatched to fight against Syracuse. The city of Athens has approved an attack proposed by the charismatic, mercurial Alkibiades. Then, shortly before the fleet is due to leave, someone destroys all the Herms in town, and Alkibiades is accused of this impious act. He leaves with the fleet and is found guilty in his absence without a trial, so he flees, leaving the fleet without the only leader who could have prevailed. Myron is sent with the second wave of warriors.

Before Alexias has even reached his official manhood, he goes off with Lysis to fight Spartans encroaching into the Attican farmlands. The Spartans attack every year to steal or spoil the harvest. The novel follows the two in war, under siege, in famine, and in civil conflict through 10 turbulent years in the history of Greece.

As usual, Renault’s novel is meticulously researched and elegantly written. After so recently reading her Alexander trilogy, though, I began to feel a sameness about her writing. The narration from book to book sounds the same to me, not like different characters (except the one narrated by the Persian boy), and she examines the same themes in Greek culture, although the books are set in different times. Maybe I’m just a little tired of ancient Greece. I read this book for my Classics Club list.

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Review 1674: The Duchess of Malfi

The Duchess of Malfi is a widow, and her brother Ferdinand does not want her to remarry, so that he will eventually inherit her estate. So, he sets a spy on her, Bosola.

Despite Bosola’s efforts, the Duchess marries her steward, Antonio. It’s not clear what would have happened if she had picked someone closer to her station, but this choice outrages her brothers. (Oddly enough, Bosola doesn’t report that she has a lover until she has three children by him.)

At first, the brothers think the Duchess has been whoring around, but the situation isn’t improved by their finding out she is actually married. Ferdinand has her imprisoned in rooms of her castle, and things get worse from there.

When I studied 17th century drama, these plays were called revenge tragedies, but the introduction to my very old Mermaid edition calls them Tragedies in Blood. Since pretty much all the main characters are dead by the end, this is a fitting name.

Webster’s play is a bit rough around the edges. Certainly, it doesn’t have the power of Shakespeare or even Marlowe, and most of it is in prose. Still, there are some effective moments. I think this play is probably much more moving when performed rather than read. I read this play for my Classics Club list.

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Review 1670: Classics Club Spin Result! The Brothers Karamazov

I selected The Brothers Karamazov for my Classics club list because I read it many years ago for Russian Literature and found it fascinating. I was curious how I would regard it now.

The plot of the novel is seemingly straightforward, but it is complicated by the characters’ relationships and several subplots, some of which are only tangentially related. Fyodor Karamazov has three sons whom as children he left to be raised by the servants. The oldest, Dmitri (or Mitya), is an ex-soldier whom Fyodor has cheated of part of his inheritance from his mother. Now, although Dmitri is engaged to Katarina, a girl of high moral values, he has fallen madly in love with Grushenka, a girl with an unsavory past, and Fyodor is trying to compete for her. The second oldest, Ivan, is a cold intellectual atheist. The third son, Alexei or Alyosha, is studying to be a monk.

In my old Penguin Classics edition, the novel is split into two volumes. It is not until the second volume that the action takes place that is the centerpiece of the novel. Fyodor is murdered. Mitya has been working himself into a frenzy and making threats so is immediately the prime suspect. Did Mitya kill his father or was it someone else? If so, who?

We readers know what Mitya did that night, so we can answer the first part of that question but not the second part, at least not right away. Dostoevsky (I’m going to use the spelling of his name that I’m accustomed to, and that indeed is on my old Penguin copy rather than the one shown on the title page above) isn’t interested so much in that but in what happens next. And ultimately he is engaged in pitting atheism against belief in God.

In my student days, I found the long philosophical passages in this novel fascinating. These days, I don’t have as much patience with them and I actually skipped a couple of chapters once I got their drift. The amount of time spent on Father Zossima, for example, a relatively minor character who dies in Book One, is a little inexplicable to me now. I can’t help feeling he might have been based on a real person whom Dostoevsky revered, but his presence in the novel doesn’t seem important enough to warrant several chapters being devoted to his life and sayings.

This is not to say that I didn’t find the novel compelling. Although it is long and sometimes difficult, there was something about it that made me want to keep reading it.

The novel is written with an unusual approach to point of view. The narrator is an unidentified person from “our town.” But the narrator is privy to scenes he could not possibly have witnessed. Yet, the point of view is not omniscient. For example, we see what Mitya does on the night of the murder even though there is no actual witness to that, but we don’t see the murder.

As usual with Dostoevsky, most of his characters are in a frenzy. Were 19th century Russians really this excited? Well, they’re not in Tolstoy, but most of Tolstoy’s characters are upper class, while Dostoevsky’s are not. So, I don’t know whether this is a class difference or a difference in the author’s perceptions or what. And speaking of class, the attitude toward peasants here is not great, and there are also other politically incorrect comments on occasion. Just a warning.

The Brothers Karamazov is considered Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, so if you are interested in Russian literature, you should definitely read it. Dostoevsky’s preoccupations are not mine, however, and I think even less so as I get older. I couldn’t help parsing some of the arguments and thinking about an implicit slant to them. The best example is an assumption—a sort of cognitive leap—that is very important to the plot and is stated several times by different characters. The cognitive leap is that if God doesn’t exist, “everything is permitted.” Only one character questions this assumption—that there is nothing within humans besides religion to stop them from doing horrendous things. But his suggestion is brushed aside because Dostoevsky wants you to conclude that there is a God and his arguments don’t work as well if you believe in inner goodness or inherently moral or ethical behavior. I guess.

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Review 1668: The Vicomte de Bragelonne

My edition of the Collected Works of Alexandre Dumas explains that The Vicomte de Bragelonne was originally published as a massive work but is traditionally published in English as either three or four separate novels: The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Ten Years Later, Louise de la Valliere, and The Man in the Iron Mask. I read the first book, which was quite long in itself.

I felt I was at a disadvantage in reading this book because it is one of the D’Artagnan novels and I haven’t read The Three Musketeers for many years or Twenty Years After ever. Although all four of the original characters appear, I felt that I didn’t understand their relationships to each other. As for the title character, who is the son of Athos, although he makes a couple of appearances, this first novel in the set is about D’Artagnan.

In the beginning of the novel, Louis XIV is a young king, but he has been under the control of Cardinal Mazarin for most of his life. D’Artagnan is the lieutenant of the musketeers, and he overhears when Charles II of England comes penniless to the king to ask for money and men to take back his kingdom. Louis’s finances are kept strictly in the Cardinal’s hands, so Louis goes to the Cardinal to ask for the money or men. The Cardinal, who has made himself wealthy at the kingdom’s expense, tells Louis there is no money and he can’t spare any men. When D’Artagnan sees Louis send Charles away with nothing despite wanting to help him, he resigns in disgust, determined to help Charles.

D’Artagnan’s friend Athos, now the Comte de la Ferre, also wants to help Charles. He was present at the beheading of Charles’s father and knows the Charles I buried a million livres at Newcastle. Athos determines to fetch the money.

This novel seems disjointed. More than half of it deals with the two missions on behalf of Charles, while the rest deals with Louis finally coming into power and sending D’Artagnan on a mission. Perhaps as a complete work, with all its parts, it would seem more coherent, but at this time I was not willing to put in the time to read the whole thing.

I read this for my Classics Club list.

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Review 1666: The Winged Horse

It’s going to be hard to describe this novel without either giving too much away or being too vague. The description on the Virago back cover focuses too much on the role of business tycoon J. G. Baron, when really he is more the catalyst of the action.

Harry Levitt is an American on his way to England for a job with J. G. Baron. He and Baron’s entourage are on shipboard along with Baron’s oldest daughter, Celia, who has been living in the States but is now separated from her husband and moving home.

J. G. is an unlikable person. He surrounds himself with yes men and is hypocritical and self-deceptive. He dislikes two of his three children and terrifies the third. Celia is the only one who doesn’t try to please him, as she dislikes him back.

When we meet Harry, he is a practiced dissembler who feels insecure about his Midwest background so has invented Californian origins. Despite a bad start with Celia, while living in England, Harry develops a close relationship with her siblings Tobias and Liz and with their friend Anthony Carey, a mediocre sculptor known to the family as Thank-God-for-Anthony. Anthony seems perfectly assured and the only person who is not afraid of J. G. The Barons consider him the epitome of probity.

Harry, as he grows to love England and feel accepted, becomes calmer and more assured. However, there is a family tragedy, and subsequent events allow Frankau to explore themes of power, truth, and dishonesty.

At first I had trouble being interested in these characters, but eventually I became involved in this story. I did find irritating the way Frankau handled the characters’ inner thoughts, just as if they were dialogue, which seemed artificial. But this is a minor criticism.

I read this book for my Classics Club list.

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