Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Mill on the Floss

At the heart of George Eliot's novel is young Maggie Tulliver and her brother, Tom. Their father is a simple mill owner who loves his "dark-eyed, demonstrative, rebellious girl" and hopes to improve his son's lot in life with a good education. But life in an Eliot novel doesn't always go as planned. Mr. Tulliver loses his mill on the Floss in a court case to Mr. Wakem, and when he dies, Maggie and Tom don't have much beyond each other, and their three officious aunts. (They actually have a fourth aunt who is kind, but very poor having eight children of her own.)

The two Tulliver children are a study in contrasts. Maggie is clever and impulsive; she often acts rashly, then as quickly repents. She has a passionate nature, intense feelings, and a need to love and be loved. Tom, on the other hand, is not as clever or sensitive as his younger sister, though he is handsome. Honor and respectability matter to him. And he has a strong sense of justice and of his own rightness, which, at times, can make him a bit cold and heartless. But he does love his sister.

As Maggie grows into a lovely young woman, two men fall in love with her. Only the first is Wakem's son, a young man that Maggie has promised her brother never to speak to again, and the second is her cousin's fiancee. Though grown up, Maggie is still impulsive and passionate, and she struggles to reconcile her feelings for these two young men with what she feels she owes both her brother and cousin.
" is very difficult! It seems right to me sometimes that we should follow our strongest feeling ... But I see there are things we must renounce in life; some of us must resign love. Many things are difficult and dark to me, but I see one thing quite clearly:  that I must not, cannot, seek my own happiness by sacrificing others."
In The Mill on the Floss, Eliot manages to chronicle two ordinary, rather provincial lives from childhood into adulthood and make them extraordinary.  Especially Maggie's. Though sad, her story is memorable and moving. And while I can't say that she's my favorite literary heroine, I will never forget her.
Maggie's destiny, then, is at present hidden, and we must wait for it to reveal itself like the course of an unmapped river; we only know that the river is full and rapid, and that for all rivers there is the same final home.
This is the last of my June rereads, so it's on to new books next week. 

Happy Reading!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Orwell, or Wells?

George Orwell and H. G. Wells.  Two influential English novelists.  If I had to choose between them, I'd probably pick Wells. But they both had important things to say.  Here are ten quotes from these amazing writers. Can you tell who wrote which quote?
  1. "Big Brother is watching."
  2. "We all have our time machines, don't we. Those that take us back are memories...And those that carry us forward, are dreams.
  3. "There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad."
  4. "Orthodoxy means not thinking ... Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."
  5. "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe."
  6. "Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past."
  7. "The past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is or has been is but the twilight of the dawn."
  8. "The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed.  Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed."
  9. "Always yell with the crowd, that's what I say. It's the only way to be safe." 
  10. "An invisible man is a man of power."
Happy Reading Orwell, or Wells!

Answer key:
George Orwell wrote #1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9 and H. G. Wells wrote #2, 5, 7, 10.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Miss Buncle's Book

"...the only thing I could do was to write a book, and the only kind of book I could write was about people I knew..."

Strapped for money, Barbara Buncle decides to write a book about Silverstream, the little English village where she lives, and the people who live there. She changes all their names. And hers, too. But when her book is published, people in her village soon recognize themselves in its pages. The town busybody. The vicar. The doctor's wife. The retired Colonel. And others. Some are decidedly unhappy about how they've been portrayed. Good thing they don't know that Barbara is the author. But what will happen when they find out the truth?

D.E. Stevenson has written a delightfully humorous novel of English manners reminiscent of Barbara Pym's A Few Green Leaves and Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford. There's not a lot of action, but there is a lot of drama. And a little romance, too. I like character-driven novels, and the characters in this novel are a lot of fun. Especially plain, unremarkable (and slightly frumpy) Barbara Buncle. But my favorite part is how Barbara's little novel changes not only her, but everyone in the entire village of Silverstream. It's a great read! I liked it a lot.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Bookish Wishes...

  • I wish there was a way to weed out the so-so books from the "So good!" books before I bought them, or checked them out of the library.
  • I wish I could find an affordable copy of 4-H Filly by Patsey Gray. It's one of my all-time favorite books from childhood. (I wouldn't mind getting my hands on a good copy of Summer Birds by Penelope Farmer either.)
  • I wish the same people who filmed that amazing version of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle would film an equally amazing version of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years when Laura meets  (and marries) her future husband, Almanzo. (I'd watch that!)
  • I wish Suzanne Collins would rewrite Mockingjay (and make it end right this time).
  • I wish J. K. Rowling would create another literary world as wonderful as the wizarding world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter!
  • Most of all, I wish I had as much time to read as I have books.
Happy Reading!
(What's your bookish wish?)

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome drove in silence ... he seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface; but there was nothing unfriendly in his silence. I simply felt that he lived in a depth of moral isolation too remote for casual access, and I had the sense that his loneliness was not merely the result of his personal plight ... but had in it the profound accumulated cold of many Starkfield winters.

As much as I love Edith Wharton's writing is how much I didn't love Ethan Frome the first time I read it. Which is why I felt the need to give it a second chance. It's not a long novel, and there are really only three main characters:  Ethan Frome, Zeena, his grim and ailing wife whose "fault-finding was of the silent kind", and Mattie Silver, his wife's younger cousin whose coming to their house to help Zeena out brought "a bit of hopeful life (that) was like the lighting of a fire on a cold hearth" to Ethan's dreary existence. The harsh Massachusetts winter also plays an important role in this tragic tale.

Ethan's life is a series of misfortune, struggle, and bad luck. Even his marriage is a disappointing mistake. Only in Mattie does he glimpse a sympathetic companion and the hope of some future happiness. But Zeena's penchant for "complaints and troubles" makes even that dream impossible. And that leads to tragedy. As I reread this book last week, I felt only sympathy for Ethan Frome. He deserved better than what he got, but life can be hard and unfair. This is such a sad novel, but it's so beautifully written. And while it will never be my favorite, I do like it more than I did. Mostly because of Wharton's artistry and skill--her writing is so stylish and elegant--but also because this second time reading Ethan Frome helped me to appreciate it, and him, a little bit more.

Happy Rereading!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Revisiting Oz...

The fourteen Oz books written by L. Frank Baum dominated the reading landscape of my childhood. We owned seven of them; the library had the rest. My favorites were Tik-Tok of Oz, Ozma of Oz, Glinda of Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, and Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. But I chose to reread Rinkitink in Oz for two reasons:  first, it's the one Oz book I've read the least; in fact, I only remember reading it once; and second, this classic children's book was written in 1916 making it 100 years old this year!

"Wherein is recorded the Perilous Quest of Prince Inga of Pingaree
and King Rinkitink in the Magical Isles that lie beyond the Borderland of Oz"

I remembered three things about this book: there's a prince named Inga, an island called Pingaree, and three magic pearls--pink, blue, and white--each with a different power. What I forgot is that Prince Inga's parents and the rest of the islanders are captured and taken away from Pingaree by warriors from the North, so Inga, roly-poly King Rinkitink, and an argumentative talking goat name Bilbil must rescue them with the help of the magic pearls. Of course, there are complications. Inga loses the pearls, and then his parents are taken prisoner by the Nome King. But with the help of Bilbil, Dorothy, and the Wizard of Oz, all is made right in the end. (Sorry to spoil the surprise, but ALL Oz books have happy endings.)

Revisiting Oz is like revisiting my childhood:  all that magic and wonder. In Oz, books grow on trees, animals can talk, wishes come true, and Nome Kings are easily defeated with a few eggs. Makes me want to pull out my box of Oz books and reread the rest. Or maybe I should reread all the Harry Potter books instead; they're full of magic and wonder, too. 

Happy Reading!

Related Post:

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bookish Art for June...

Harold Knight - Girl Stands in a Field Reading Her Book
"... any one who's worth anything reads just what he likes,
as the mood takes him, with extravagant enthusiasm."
--Virginia Woolf, Jacob's Room

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Jacob's Room

The blurb on the back of Jacob's Room describes it this way:
"Poetic and nearly plotless, this groundbreaking novel focuses on a flow of random impressions through the minds of its characters. Jacob's Room was Virginia Woolf's first stream-of-consciousness novel--nonlinear and experimental, with an ending that is among the most moving in all of English literature."
Which makes this novel interesting to read, but hard to summarize. The story swirls and eddies around Jacob Flanders, beginning when he's a child collecting butterflies and playing at the seashore with his brothers, to his years at Cambridge arguing Greek philosophy with his friends, to when he's living on his own, presumably working, and falling in love in London, to his travels in Greece when he's just twenty-six. But because of the way this story is told, Jacob remains an elusive, almost ethereal character. We know of him, but we never really get to know him. What I like most about this novel is Woolf's way with words; her writing is lyrical and filled with poetic imagery. I admire how she was always pushing herself as a writer to choose just the right words and to find a new narrative style. For me, Jacob's Room is not as good a Mrs. Dalloway, but it's still a novel worth reading.

But I think I'll let Virginia's words speak for themselves. Here are a few poetic passages from this innovative book:
The waves showed that uneasiness, like something alive, restive, expecting the whip, of waves before a storm ... The wind blew straight dashes of rain across the window, which flashed silver as they passed through the light. A single leaf tapped hurriedly, persistently, upon the glass. There was a hurricane at sea.
"I like Jacob Flanders," wrote Clara Durrant in her diary. "He's so unworldly. He gives himself no airs and one can say what one likes to him, though he's frightening because..." But then, this is only a young woman's language, one, too, who loves, or refrains from loving. She wished the moment to continue forever precisely as it was that July morning. And moments don't.
Jacob went to the window and stood with his hands in his pockets. There he saw three Greeks in kilts; the masts of ships; idle or busy people of the lower classes strolling or stepping out briskly....Their lack of concern for him was not the cause of his gloom; but some profound conviction--it was not that he himself happened to be lonely, but that all people are.
Happy Reading!


Monday, June 6, 2016

Rereading the Classics...

Some books should be read more than once. And lately, I've been wanting to reread some of my favorite books and authors, but I always seem to have a stack of library books that need to be read first. So I've decided that, for the next three weeks, I'm going to take a break from new reads and focus on rereads instead. Especially those classics I've been wanting to revisit for several months now. Here's the short list of books I'm hoping to reread over the next three weeks:

Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
1984 by George Orwell
Rinkitink in Oz by L. Frank Baum
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot 
Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
And something by Willa Cather...I'm just not sure which one yet.

There are other books and authors that I want to reread, of course, but I can't read them all in three weeks. So I'm starting with these. If I have time for more, I might pick up Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne or What Maisie Knew by Henry James, because I'm kind of in the mood to reread those books, too. After all, as Robertson Davies once said:
"A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity, and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen by morning light, at noon, and by moonlight."
 Happy Rereading!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Celebrating Thomas Hardy...

Two on a Tower

Swithin St. Cleeve is a young man interested in the stars. Lady Viviette Constantine is not quite a wife or a widow; her husband, Sir Blount Constantine, has been missing in Africa for years. Before he left, Viviette made him a promise to live as a nun until his return. But then she meets Swithin at the top of the tower where he has set up his telescope. And what starts as an innocent friendship soon deepens.

"The mental room taken up by an idea depends largely on the available space for it as on its essential magnitude:  in Lady Constantine's life of infestivity, in her domestic voids, and in her social discouragements, there was nothing to oust the lightest fancy. Swithin had, in fact, arisen as an attractive interpolation between herself and despair."
For propriety's sake, Viviette determines to keep her feelings hidden.  But then she gets word of her husband's death, and her love for Swithin comes to light. Because of the difference in their ages, and Viviette's desire not to hinder Swithin's study of astronomy, they embark on a secret marriage. And then, as in all of Hardy's novels, other complications arise:  the unexpected arrival of Viviette's brother, the death of Swithin's great uncle and the stringent conditions of his will, and the bachelor Bishop who suddenly decides he wants to marry Viviette himself. It soon seems like Viviette and Swithin will never get their happy ending. But then happy endings and Thomas Hardy rarely go together.

One of the things I like best about Thomas Hardy is his honest portrayal of women and how their lives were so often limited by their circumstances. Viviette finds her choices limited by her sex, her marriage, her age, her poverty ... and finally by her own sense of what she owes to Swithin and his own promising future. So she denies her own happiness. Which made me sad ... and a little frustrated. But that's Thomas Hardy. I really wanted Viviette and Swithin to defy fate and find their own fairy tale ending. Because I liked them. But fate is rarely that accommodating.

Did I like this novel?  Yes!    Is it sad?  A little.   Would I read it again? Definitely.
Do you know what else I liked about it? All the great words Thomas Hardy so masterfully weaves together--words like:  efts, infestivity, weir-hatch, and irrefragable.  Whenever I finish reading a Thomas Hardy novel I always feel a little smarter. I'm looking forward to diving into Far From the Madding Crowd this summer.

Happy Birthday, Thomas Hardy!
(And happy reading.)