The Pickwick Papers or The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club by Charles Dickens

“The first ray of light which illumines the gloom, and converts into a dazzling brillancy that obscurity in which the earlier history of the public career of the immortal Pickwick would appear to be involved, is derived from the perusal of the following entry in the Transactions of the Pickwick Club, which the editor of these papers feels the highest pleasure in laying before his readers, as a proof of the careful attention, indefatigable assiduity, and nice discrimination, with which his search among the multifarious documents confided to him has been conducted.”

It’s hardly believable but O’s 2 year read-along of the Pickwick Papers has finally come to a close and I have her to thank for finally being able to finish this 800-page marvel.  We read it in installments mirroring its original release which was an enlightening experience in itself. Looking back, I enjoyed reading only 2 to 3 chapters at a time, but the space between them, for me, was too long.  It’s not that I necessarily forgot what had happened, but I found that when I picked it up again, I was somewhat disengaged with the characters.  It was almost like starting a book over and over again and never really getting traction.  If I was to do it over, I’d read a chapter per week instead of three at once and that way hopefully remain more present in the story.

Mr. Pickwick slides on the ice
source Wikimedia Commons

And the book itself ….. ?  I quite enjoyed Mr. Pickwick and his marvellous, and at times unbelievable, adventures.  At the beginning of the book, Mr. Pickwick, founder and president of the Pickwick Club, decides that he and fellow members, Nathaniel Winkle, Augustus Snodgrass, and Tracy Tupman, will leave London and travel the countryside to discover the wonderful qualities of life, each reporting to the others what they find. Their adventures lead them to saving ladies in distress, getting embroiled in circumstances they only want to avoid, courting offers of marriage, unwanted offers of marriage, interaction with criminals, jail and even love itself. Dickens imbues this novel with his own brand of humour by having an old confirmed bachelor find himself in all sorts of uncomfortable circumstances.  From finding himself unexpectedly sleeping in a lady’s bed, to being sued for breach of promise of marriage, poor Pickwick finds his dignified sensibilities tried by unexpected challenges yet he always manages to respond in a measured and honourable manner that increased our respect for this lovable character.

Mr. Pickwick’s first interview
with Sergeant Snubbin
source Wikimedia Commons

In Chapter XVI, Pickwick attempts to catch a swindler, Jingle, who is slipperier than an eel.  Jingle plans to run away with an heires and by hiding in the bushes outside the girls’ boarding school, Pickwick attempts to subvert the scheme and expose the criminal.  But through various misadventures and bumbles, he manages to find himself locked in a cupboard by the headmistress and the ladies of the establishment. Rescued by Sam Weller, his valet, and his friend, Mr. Wardle, Pickwick rains imprecations upon the head of the absent Jingle.

Even more amusing, was the incident of the mistaken beds.  Late at night at an inn, Pickwick returns downstairs to retrieve his watch and upon returning, enters the wrong room!  He is just settled into bed when a lady enters and begins her own toilette. Horrified, Pickwick reveals his presence and attempts to assure her of his mistake and innocence, but the woman is frightened senseless, and Pickwick makes a quick exit. Not wanting another repeat of the disturbing and undignified experience, Pickwick plans to sleep in the hall, but is once again rescued by Sam.  The novel has so many amusing anecdotes, that is has to be read to enjoy them all.  And I finally managed it!

Mr. Pickwick, picnics
source Wikimedia Commons

At the time of the writing of this first novel, Dickens was working as a roving journalist and a reporter of Parlimentary news.  After his successful Sketches by Boz, Dickens was called in to write copy for certain illustrated sporting plates created by illustrator Robert Seymour.  Dickens soon began to write the instalments before the plates were produced, therefore changing the illustrative focus of the project to storytelling and he never looked back.  We all know of his illustrious writing career following The Pickwick Papers and I still have to read quite a few Dickens’ novels yet, as I’ve only completed The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, A Tale of Two Cities, Dombey and Son, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, and, a long time ago, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  So many great novels of his still to go.  Perhaps a project for 2018 ……???

 

 

The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope

“Of course there was a Great House at Allington.”

Lily (Lilian), Bell (Isabella), and their mother, Mrs. Dale, live in a cottage on the estate of her brother-in-law, Squire Dale.  The squire, their benefactor, is a stern implacable man who feels a responsibility to the family, yet does not exhibit affection or understanding towards them or their plight.  In spite of the strained relations, the Dale women live a contented, happy life.  However, their cousin, Bernard, one day brings his friend, Adolphus Crosbie home to visit and an attachment grows between him and Lily.  Crosbie is a charming young man, without name or fortune, but with a charisma that captures Lily’s heart, despite his flaws of selfishness and worldliness.  Does Crosbie love Lily?  He certainly convinces himself that he does and as he proposes he anticipates a respectable dowry that he assumes will be bestowed upon Lily by Squire Dale.  But assumptions can go awry and when Crosbie learns that Lily will be the benefactress of nothing but goodwill, her charms begin to diminish in his materialistic eyes.  All attempts to convince himself that love will overcome practicalities fail and he is lured away by a daughter of an earl, Alexandrina deCourcy, of whom he once was an admirer.  Weak and irresolute, Crosbie soon finds himself engaged to the girl despite his own misgivings and the threat of censure that he is certain to receive from various aspects of society.

source Wikipedia

Johnny Eames, who is initially introduced to us as a hobbledyhoy, loves Lily with a quiet, unwavering devotion, however her attachment to Crosbie appears insurmountable in spite of his abominable treatment of her. Even Eames’ preferment by the honourable Lord de Guest does not seem to sway Lily’s heart in his favour.  Meanwhile, her sister, Bell, refuses the proposal of her cousin, Bernard, who is influenced by their uncle, Squire Dale.  The Squire’s desire for the union overrides both parties, and he nearly drives his family away, physically and emotionally.  Yet there is another suitor waiting in the wings, Dr. Crofts, and the pair display a long-standing bond that is quiet and endurable.  Love puts on many faces in this book, yet happiness can be elusive in spite of good intentions.

Lily Dale is a character that is both frustrating and pitiful.  Her devotion to a man of questionable character and weak will is truly appalling.  One can understand her love and finally her disappointment, but it is beyond conceivability that she could maintain such an unwavering allegiance to such a scoundrel.  There are few characters I could claim to fully dislike in classic fiction, but I would have to say, Lily Dale is one of them.

source Wikipedia

During the Barset Chronicles series, one gets accustomed to Trollope’s palate of numerous multi-faceted characters, that populate his pages with a kaleidescope of colourful behaviours and a weaving of personal happenings.  However, with this book, I was somewhat disappointed.  The story itself was  more simplified than the other books of the Chronicles, which is not a detriment in itself, but the major focus on the love story of Lily and its many pitfalls left one with a disquieted feeling.  Because there is little commitment, deep feeling, or love on one side, and an excess of it on the other, there is an inequality of sentiment produced that colours the whole book.  Blindness is a factor in many circumstances and, in spite of Trollope’s lighthearted treatment of some of the characters, there is perhaps a more damning conviction against society at large for its inability to see what is in front of its face, for its lack of motivation to change circumstances, and perhaps even for its helplessness at the hands of fate.

Other books in the series:

The Republic ~ Introduction

“Socrates: I walked down to the Piraeus yesterday with Glaucon the son of Ariston to make my prayers to the goddess.”

Well, I’ve finished History of the Peloponnesian War (except for my final post), yet I’m afraid I’m going to continue on the same track with The Republic and put a number of my readers to sleep.  But I am enjoying this history project ….. as we’ve meandered through Herodotus, then Thucydides, and now Plato, you do see changes and developments within the Greek culture and worldview that can’t be ignored.  And since our civilization, to a certain extent, grew out of it, I believe it’s valuable to learn something about that development.  I anticipate that Plato will be more interesting, but possibly more frustrating.  It doesn’t seem like it was only the ancients who wanted to strangle Socrates …..

Introduction

Plato was born is the year 428/7 BC and his childhood and early youth were overshadowed with the Peloponnesian War, giving rise to a fundamental questioning of the best way to live.  As Thucydides observed in his history that “in peace and prosperity both states and individuals are actuated by higher motives, because they do not fall under the dominion of imperious necessities; but war, which takes away the comfortable provision of daily life, is a hard master, and tends to assimilate men’s characters to their conditions,” and thus Plato saw political life as a type of war for power, money or prestige.

Upon Pericles’s death at the beginning of the war, there ended the reign of a philosopher king, a man whom grew in wisdom through his conversations with the pre-Socratic philosopher, Anaxagoras, and therefore was able to employ both political intelligence and enlightened prudence to his governing of the state.  With his demise, a great chasm began to appear between politics and philosophy.  “To Plato, this drifting apart of the men of thought and the men of action was a disastrous calamity, indeed the root of the social evils of his time.”  (Cornford p. xxiv)  Instead of two separate avenues, each should be united in the other to allow man his full expression.

Plato (1560)
Paolo Veronese
source Wikiart

By mid-life Plato opened his Academy, basing his conversational instruction on his mentor, Socrates, whom he’d studied under since his early twenties.  Plato sought an answer to the problem that if knowledge was a means to power, and power to wealth, then society was doomed to a materialistic cycle that left men blind to not only the consequences of their actions, but led them to mistake the path to true happiness: “which every soul pursues as the end of all her actions, dimly divining its existence, but perplexed and unable to grasp its nature with the same clearness and assurance as in dealing with other things, and so missing whatever value those other things might have.” (5a95 E, p. 216).  With his astute insight, Plato presents a problem that is ubiquitous, a universal dilemma.

The translator, Conford, suggests that in reading Plato, ask yourself why you agree or disagree with Plato’s utopian design, and in response, suggest an alternative.  In this way, through time, you can experience an abstract participation in Plato’s Academy and perhaps determine, as Socrates implied, that it’s just as important to discover what you don’t know, as what you do.

Arcadian Ruins (c. 1720)
Giovanni Paolo Panini
source ArtUK

Book I ⇒


The Histories by Herodotus

“Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time.”

Herodotus was born in Halicarnassus in 484 B.C., a city that is now Bodrum, Turkey.  Very little is known about the man or his life, but it is surmised that he was exiled by the tyrant, Lygdamis, and moved to the island of Samos. Later in life, he appears to have migrated to Thurii, Italy, but it is uncertain where he met his death.

Seen as the first historical writing showing cause and effect, The Histories was written by Herodotus in approximately 440 B.C.  The initial words of Herodotus set up the purpose of his narrative:

“Herodotus of Halicarnassus her presents his research so that human events do not fade with time.  May the great and wonderful deeds —- some brought forth by the Hellenes, others by the barbarians — not go unsung, as well as the causes that led them to make war on each other.”

Known as the first “father of history”, treating it as an investigation or “inquiry,” Herodotus begins his account from the rise of the Persian Empire, following the leaders Cyrus the Great, Cambyses, his son, Darius the Great and Xerxes I which comprise books one to six of his narrative.  Books seven to nine account for the Greco-Persian wars in exacting detail, from Xerxes’ initial aggression to the victory of the Hellenes.

Through Herodotus’ lively accounts the reader becomes acquainted with the Lydians and Croesus, the Medes, the Persians, Egyptian customs and geography, Persian conquests, the tyrants vs. the democracy of Athens, the Ionian Revolt, the Battle of Marathon, the alliance of Athens and Sparta, the battle of Thermopylae, the battle at Artemesium, the victory at Salamis, the victory at Plataea and Mycale, and the end of the war, with Xerxes in an embarrassing retreat.

Clio, Euterpe and Thalia (1652-55)
Eustache Le Sueur
source Wikipedia

Reviewing book by book gave me an invaluable anchoring in these ancient times and a more concentrated view of these bygone adversaries and battles.  The links to the books, which are charmingly named after the Greek Muses, are as follows:

Book I – Clio ~ muse of history
Book II – Euterpe ~ muse of music, song & lyric poetry
Book III – Thalia ~ muse of comedy
Book IV – Melpomene ~ muse of tragedy
Book V – Terpsichore ~ muse of dance
Book VI – Erato ~ muse of love poetry
Book VII – Polymnia ~ muse of sacred hymns and poetry
Book VIII – Urania ~ muse of astronomy
Book IX – Calliope ~ muse of epic poetry

Apollo and the Nine Muses (1856)
Gustave Moreau
source Wikiart

Told with a lively and personal tone, Herodotus’ stories range from the practical to the bizarre, causing scholars to disbelieve some of his tales, yet modern findings have tended to support his accounts.  For example, Herodotus recounted a story of fox-size ants that would spread gold while digging their mounds.  Sounds completely ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Except for the fact that in 1984, a French explorer discovered the existence of a fox-sized marmot in the Himalayas that did indeed spread gold dust and of which there was a tradition of it that extended back into antiquity.  Not only that, but the Persian word for “mountain ant” is apparently close to their word for “marmot” so it may have been a translation error instead of a factual one.  Score one for Herodotus! Personally, as I read The Histories I could tangibly feel Herodotus’ strong desire to recount his findings in an entirely truthful way, and if some of his veracity is in doubt, it would only be through honest error and not by intentional fanciful tales or deliberate deceit.

I’m so happy to have finally read The Histories and hope to revisit them again one day. Now on to Thucydides’, The History of Peloponnesian War in which Thucydides follows up Herodotus’ account of the Greco-Persian wars with his own account of the Peloponnesian War which occurred approximately 20 years later.  More wars but more fascinating Greeks.  What could be better?

 

 

Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson

“One grey morning the first snow began to fall in the Valley of the Moomins.”

While this book is numbered three in the Moomin series, it’s the first Moomin book I read when I was around nine years old, and the Moomin family has lived in my imagination ever since.  Portrayed as cuddly white hippo-like creatures, they are actually a type of troll, but sweet trolls with a lazy relaxed demeanour in spite of their penchant for finding themselves embroiled in adventures.  With the creature, Sniff, adopted into their family, the traveller Snufkin, the Snork Maiden and her brother the Snork, the Hemulen and the gruff philosopher Muskrat, Jansson created a world that has been rivalled by few others.

In Finn Family Moomintroll, when the Moomin family arise after a long winter’s hibernation, they look forward to the awakening of spring.  But Moomintroll, Sniff and Snufkin find a lone black tophat on the peak of a hill, which appears to be the catalyst to a number of strange happenings: fluffy white clouds that can be ridden like horses chase each other, a jungle grows in Moominhouse and there is a terrifying transformation of the Muskrat’s dentures.  Meanwhile, the Hemulen is sad that his stamp collection is complete and at the behest of the Snork, takes up botany.  A sailing trip to an island brings a rather startling encounter with the Hattifatteners, whose ghostly bodies and deaf and dumb demeanor is rather disturbing as they live only to journey.  Thingumy and Bob arrive with their unique spoonerisms and unknowingly bring the cold and chilling atmosphere of the Groke to Moominvalley, as she searches for her missing treasure.  Nothing appears quite as it seems and the Moomins, with their natural aplomb and pragmatism, manage to extricate themselves from exploits and dangers, while at the same time welcoming the adventures as they come, enjoying the undulations of life in their Moomin-world.

It’s rare that I recommend a book without reserve, but honestly, if you die without reading this book your life in this world will have been a little less rich.  But I warn you that once you visit the Moomins and their friends, you might never want to leave their vibrant and delightfully unpredictable world where you never really know what is going to happen next.  However, one can always be assured that if it gets too intense, Moominmamma will pat you on the head, sit you down and give some tea and cookies to soothe your nerves.  In this Moomin-world, life is always an adventure and one must be prepared!

This is my second book read for Amanda at Simpler Pastimes Children’s Classic Literature Event.  Now if only I can get my review up for the first one!

This book also counts for my Deal Me In Challenge:

Week 10 – Deal Me In Challenge – Five of Hearts

The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare

“A wretched soul, bruised with adversity,
We bid be quiet when we heart it cry.
But were we burdened with like weight of pain,
As much or more we should ourselves complain.”

In a quest to focus on my Shakespeare Project for 2017, I’m reading through some of the plays following the schedule of the A Bard a Month group on Goodreads.  They have The Comedy of Errors listed as the first play of Williams Shakespeare yet my The Life and Works of William Shakespeare has it listed as the 5th.  From the evidence, the only thing that’s certain is that no one knows for sure, right?  In any case, it definitely shows in its structure and method a rather simple presentation of a budding farce that nevertheless manages to capture the audience’s interest and tickle their humour.

The play appears to be dated somewhere between 1589-1591.  It did not appear in Quarto form but made its first appearance in the Folio of 1623 and the first documented performance in the Gesta Grayorum was at Gray’s Inn on December 28, 1594.  In dating this play, the rhyme scheme is also of assistance, and classical allusions, fantastic imagery, wire-drawn wit, conceits and puns abound as in earlier plays.  The action occurs within a single day, and the buttressing of dual improbabilities in the duplication of the twin masters and servants, the romantic tension of the parties, and the blending of tragedy and comedy bring some complexity to this unseasoned work.  Resembling Plautus’ play, Menæchmi, portraying whimsical confusion and mistakes involving twins of Syracuse, The Comedy of Errors may also have the basis in another drama, The Historie of Error, performed in 1577-78, although the parallels are certainly less apparent.

source Wikimedia Commons

A trader from Syracuse, Egeon, is apprehended in the port city of Ephesus.  As the law forbids either inhabitant from entering the other’s city, Egeon is sentenced to death unless someone is found to provide the fine of one thousand marks.  In despair, he reveals to the Duke of Ephesus that thirty-three years ago in a storm at sea, he was separated from his wife, one of his twin sons, and one of his two twin servants; he and one son were picked up by a Corinthian ship and his wife, his other son and the other servant by an Epidaurian ship.  The years pass as Egeus grieves the loss, renaming his remaining son Antipholus after his lost son and the servant, Dromio, after the lost servant.  Now, against all statues, he is here in Ephesus to discover the fate of the missing part of his family.

Without a friend in the city, Egeon’s fate seems certain, but his son, Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant, Dromio, turn up in Ephesus unbeknownst to him, also looking for his missing brother as he has been searching for seven years.  And lo, the missing Antipholus of Ephesus indeed resides in the city with his servant, Dromio, and thence the “errors” begin, causing a rollicking adventure of humour and suspense. Adriana chastizes her husband, but why does he not appear to know her?  Lady Luciana, her sister, is horrified by the advances of her brother-in-law.  A gold chain ordered by Antipholus of Epheus, mistakenly ends up in the hands of his brother and accusations, threats and recriminations follow.  An abbey becomes a refuge, yet who exactly is the regal abbess, and will Egeon eventually be saved and the family reunited?

A Scene from The Comedy of Errors
Thomas Stothard
source ArtUK

In spite of all my questions, there wasn’t much mystery to the play, but while hilarity is perceived by the audience who can regularly guess at the outcomes of situations, the characters themselves are often in states of anguish, irritation, despair, and confusion, not at all comedic from their point of view.  The well-crafted tension between these two aspects of the play gives us a glimmer of promise for Shakespeare’s later works and taste of his genius to come …..

Further reading: