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)

Classics Club Spin #10!

Cover for The Remains of the DayJust announced was the first Classics Club Spin since April. For the spin, we pick 20 entries from our Classics Club list, and then the Classics Club picks a number. We read the book corresponding to that number and post a review on October 23.

Unfortunately, since I always enjoy the spin, this may be the last in which I can participate with my current list, because I have so diligently read my classics that even though I have more than 20 still on my list, that is only because I have read them but not yet posted my reviews. I have exactly 20 unread books left, so I will be short for the next spin. If I want to participate, I will have to leave off some numbers and hope they’re not picked, or post the same books twice, or something. Any suggestions? I don’t want to change my list until I finish it.

Here is my list for Spin #10! My last 20 books! (My goal was to read all 50 by February 13, 2019. I think I’m going to make it.)

  1. The Vicar of Wakefield
  2. Henry VI Pt. II
  3. Night
  4. A Wreath of Roses
  5. Selected Poems by Robert Frost
  6. The Idiot
  7. Ada
  8. That Lady
  9. Beloved
  10. The Remains of the Day
  11. The True Heart
  12. The Beggar Maid
  13. Troy Chimneys
  14. Red Pottage
  15. Rebecca
  16. The Moonstone
  17. Far From the Madding Crowd
  18. Vanity Fair
  19. Bleak House
  20. Henry VI Pt III (I hope they don’t pick this number, because if they do, I’ll have to read Henry VI Pt II, too!)

Update: The selected number was #5, aargh!

Day 723: Greenbanks

Cover for GreenbanksBest Book of the Week!
This novel begins with a large family Christmas dinner at Greenbanks, the home of Robert and Louise Ashton. It is around 1910. Louise is in her late middle age, a quiet, kind woman who delights in her housekeeping skills and her garden. Her husband, a serial philanderer, has proved a source of pain and humiliation, but she has tried to live it down.

Although the Ashtons are grandparents, three of their grown children live at home. Jim works at the family business, allowing his father to devote little time to it. Charles also purportedly works there, but he prefers to spend time fiddling with inventions, tinkling the piano, and entertaining his adoring mother. Laura is just about to engage herself to Cecil Bradfield. Rachel, the five-year-old daughter of Letty and Ambrose, is Louise’s favorite grandchild.

Robert soon dies in embarrassing circumstances. But even though the novel follows the fortunes of the family over roughly 15 years, it concentrates on the relationship between Louise and Rachel. Rachel, with a self-absorbed mother and an officious father, loves spending as much time as possible at Greenbanks with her grandmother.

The novel has overtones that are feminist for the time, as Rachel finds she has a gift for scholarship. Her father’s rigid and old-fashioned ideas about the place of an education in the lives of young women cost her a scholarship at Oxford, but she manages to continue her education despite him.

Inside cover
The cover at the top is really plain, but for some reason Amazon shows this picture, which is actually the inside of the cover!

One source of disagreement in the family is Louise’s choice of companion. Louise always felt sorry for Kate Barlow when she was a child and tried to include her in family activities. When Kate was a young woman, it was rumored she became pregnant by a married man and had his child, then was thrown off by her parents. Louise meets her in town one day and begins a correspondence with the reluctant woman. After Charles leaves for South Africa and her other two children marry, she invites Kate to become her companion. But Kate never really accepts Louise’s kindness.

The story of the Ashtons is told in spare, matter-of-fact prose that makes no attempt to influence the reader. Many of the characters are flawed and some are unlikable, but there are no heroes and villains here, just a set of ordinary middle-class people. It’s difficult, then, to explain why I so much enjoyed reading this novel. Whipple is a master of style and shows us her characters in the fullness of their lives.

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Day 688: The Age of Innocence

Cover for The Age of InnocenceI have certainly read The Age of Innocence before, but it was not until this rereading that I gained a full appreciation for its subtlety and complexity. I may have read it years ago, but I became really interested in it after an interview with Martin Scorsese about his movie adaptation (my favorite film ever) where he commented on “the brutality under the manners” of the upper class New Yorkers in the novel, set in the 1870’s, and likened them to gangsters.

This novel is about the tension between individual desires and the expectations of a rigid society. However, it is also about the two main characters trying to do the right thing in the face of yearning and passion.

Newland Archer is an intellectually inclined young man interested in art and travel who thinks he understands but sometimes is a little impatient of the rigid and insular customs of his time and social class. He has just become engaged to May Welland during a difficult time for the Welland family. May’s cousin, the Countess Ellen Olenska, has returned to New York to her family, having left her husband, and society is shocked to see them bringing her to parties and the theatre. Archer decides to show solidarity with the Wellands and soon finds himself drawn into the Countess’ affairs in his professional capacity as a lawyer. Countess Olenska wants to divorce her husband, and the family is horrified, asking Newland to convince her not to.

Newland succeeds, but he soon realizes that he is in love with Ellen Olenska himself. Ellen is determined not to betray her cousin.  When she admits she loves Newland, she comments that by getting her to drop her divorce, he has assured that they can never be together. A disappointed Newland marries May.

Within a short time, Newland regrets his marriage and foresees a gray existence of doing the same things with the same people year after year. The innocence and purity he saw in May is actually an incuriosity and inability to grow or change. Although Newland doesn’t see Ellen, who has moved to Washington, he has begun to think of her as the only real corner of his life. All these feelings are brought to a climax when the Countess returns to New York and her family decides she should reunite with her husband.

This novel is vivid with carefully observed descriptions. Underlying it all is an understated yet savage critique of petty and provincial New York society of the time. Almost every sentence is double-edged, such as when Wharton describes a soprano’s solo in the first chapter:

She sang, of course “M’ama!” not “he loves me,” since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences.

Nice! I understand that when this book was published, nearly 50 years after its setting, members of New York society were still able to match most of the characters in the novel with their real counterparts.

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My Classics List

I am following my friend Cecilia’s lead and participating in the Classics Spin. It sounds like fun. It isn’t clear to me if you have to be a member of the Classics Club or not, but anyway, here goes. I have to make my own list of 20 classics, and then each month the club will arbitrarily pick a number, and I have to read and review that book that month. Sounds like fun! Most of these are books I haven’t read, although there are a few I want to reread in the near future. Here is my list, in no particular order.

  1. Cover for The Long ShipsThe Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  2. Summer by Edith Wharton
  3. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
  4. Stoner by John Williams
  5. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  6. The Known World by Edward P. Jones
  7. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
  8. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  9. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  10. Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple
  11. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  12. The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter
  13. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
  14. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  15. Light in August by William Faulkner
  16. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
  17. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  18. The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro
  19. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  20. The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson