Back To The Classics Challenge 2019

Here it is again, the Back to the Classics Challenge where we are challenged to read a number of classic books during the year!  I’m very scared to attempt any challenges after the reading year I had in 2018, but I’m sloughing off my failures and having a very positive, sunny attitude towards my reading in 2019!  With that in mind, I’m going to join Karen at Books and Chocolate‘s Back to the Classics Challenge!  Here are the categories and possible book choices for them:

Categories & Books:

  1. 19th Century Classic: Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson or The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
  2. 20th Century Classic:  The 39 Steps by John Buchan
  3. Classic by a Female Author:  The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  4. Classic In Translation:  The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
  5. Classic Comedy:  Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais or The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
  6. Classic Tragedy: The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  7. A Very Long Classic:  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  8. Classic Novella:  One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
  9. Classic From The Americas:  Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  10. Classic From Africa, Asia or Oceania:  The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield
  11. Classic From A Place You’ve Lived: Roughing It In The Bush (Canada) by Susanna Moodie
  12. Classic Play:  Ajax by Sophocles

The Magdalen Reading ~ Rogier van der Weyden (Public Domain) source Wikimedia Commons

While the books listed are not set in stone, I’m going to try to stick as closely to them as I can.  I think I’m most looking forward to the comedy category ….. I definitely need some comedic relief lately! 😉  I’m also excited about reading another Greek play and perhaps getting back into sync with my ancient Greek challenge, and I do need to read another Shakespeare to get me going on the Bard again.  So many classic books, so little time!

If you’d like to join this challenge too, just hop over to Books and Chocolate and sign up.  It’s truly one of the best challenges of the year!

Previous Back to the Classics challenges:

 

January 2018 and My Reading Challenges

Christmas at the Town Hall
© Cleo @ Classical Carousel

I’ve decided to include my reading challenges in this post because I’ve been doing so little reading lately that I’d have little to say otherwise.  Isn’t that pathetic?  Oh well, a new year is here and with it new resolutions, so here goes ……..

December went by so quickly.  My grandmother ended up passing away 4 days before Christmas.  It wasn’t unexpected but still it was sad to see her go.  We’ll certainly miss her but it was fun to remember her stories and the spunk she showed until the end. She had a long life, well lived.

Continue reading

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

One challenge I participate in every year is the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.  I’m under the mistaken impression that because I read mainly classics, that this challenge will be easy to complete.  Ha!  My 2016 challenge is still lacking three books and one extra review.  I’ll have to go back through my reads and do some fill-ins.  Whether I achieve successful completion is anyone’s guess.

The 2017 challenge has familiar categorizes and those which have been changed up. Here are the guidelines and rules:

The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate in this.

  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing

And here are the categories for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge:

1.  A 19th Century Classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899.


2.  A 20th Century Classic – any book published between 1900 and 1967. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications.


3.  A classic by a woman author


4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories).


5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also.


6.  
An romance classic. I’m pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot.


7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads

8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two CitiesThree Men in a Boat, Slaughterhouse Five, Fahrenheit 451, etc.


9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc. 


10. A classic set in a place you’d like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc.

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received.


12. A Russian Classic2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author. 

And now, the rest of the rules:

  • All books must be read in 2017. Books started before January 1, 2017 do not qualify. All reviews must be linked to this challenge by December 31, 2017. I’ll post links each category the first week of January which will be featured on a sidebar on this blog for the entire year. 
  • You must also post a wrap-up review and link it to the challenge no later than December 31, 2017. Please include links within your final wrap-up to that I can easily confirm all your categories. 
  • All books must have been written at least 50 years ago; therefore, books must have been written by 1967 to qualify for this challenge. The ONLY exceptions are books published posthumously.
  • E-books and audiobooks are eligible! You may also count books that you read for other challenges.
  • Books may NOT cross over within this challenge. You must read a different book for EACH category, or it doesn’t count.
  • Children’s classics are acceptable, but please, no more than 3 total for the challenge.
  • If you do not have a blog, you may link to reviews on Goodreads or any other publicly accessible online format. 
  • The deadline to sign up for the challenge is March 1, 2017. After that, I will close the link and you’ll have to wait until the next year! Please include a link to your original sign-up post, not your blog URL. 
  • You do NOT have to list all the books you’re going to read for the challenge in your sign-up post, but it’s more fun if you do! Of course, you can change your list any time. Books may also be read in any order. 
  • The winner will be announced on this blog the first week of January, 2018. All qualifying participants will receive one or more entries, depending on the number of categories completed. One winner will be selected at random for all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a gift certificate in the amount of $30 (US currency) from either Amazon.com OR $30 worth of books from The Book Depository. The winner MUST live in a country that will receive shipments from one or the other. For a list of countries that receive shipments from The Book Depository, click here

Possible choices could be:

  • The Histories
  • City of God
  • The Taming of the Shrew
  • Travels with a Donkey in Cevennes
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
  • The Twelve Caesars
  • Shirley
  • The Mill on the Floss
  • O Pioneers!
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • A Small House at Allington
  • The Last Chronicle of Barset
  • 1984
  • Dr. Zhivago
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  • We
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Dead Souls

With a dearth of challenges that have been catching my eye for 2017, this one should get some particular focus.  Wish me luck and if you’d like to participate, pop over to Karen’s blog and join the fun!

Metamorphoses by Ovid

“My soul would sing of metamorphoses.
but since, o gods, you were the source of these
bodies becoming other bodies, breathe
your breath into my book of changes: may
the song I sing be seamless as its way
weaves from the world’s beginning to our day.”

Publius Ovidius Naso was born in Sulmo, east of Rome in the year 43 B.C.  As a son of an upper middle class family, his father sent him to be educated in Rome to distinguish himself in a career in law or government.  Ovid was known as an exemplary rhetorician and worked at minor magisterial posts before quitting his public career to pursue poetry. Immediate success followed his first published elegy and by 8 A.D., the year in which Metamorphoses was published, he was one of the foremost poets of Rome.

Suddenly, in the same year, the emperor Augustus Caesar banished Ovid from Rome, and the poet went into exile in Tomis on the Black Sea.  The only clues we have to his exile is from Ovid himself where he refers to his carmen, or songs, and his error, or indiscretion.  Speculations abounds as to these two causes.  His poem Ars Amatoria, or The Art of Love, was a poetic manual on seduction and intrigue, which Augustus may have viewed as corrosive to the moral structure of Roman society, and may very well be the carmen of his sentence.  Rome, at that time, was experiencing a period of instability and Augustus was attempting to re-establish traditional religious ceremonies and reverence of the gods, encouraging people to marry, have children, and making adultery illegal.  Ovid’s earlier poetry espoused extra-marital affairs and Metamorphoses is ripe with a very pronounced, and oftimes strange, sexual element in the myths recounted. The treatment of the gods is not reverential and perhaps it wasn’t surprising that Augustus wished to rid himself of the popular poet.  Lamenting his exile in his poem Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto (letters to friends asking for help with his return),  Ovid died in Tomis in 17 A.D.

Ruins of Tomis
source Wikipedia

Along with O at Behold the Stars, Cirtnece at Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices … and Jean of Howling Frog Books, I began to read Metamorphoses in January and what a read it has been!  Here are links to my posts for all of the fifteen books of Metamorphoses:

Book I / Book II / Book III / Book IV / Book V / Book VI / Book VII / Book VIII / Book IX / Book X / Book XI / Book XII / Book XIII / Book XIV / Book XV 

In Metamorphoses (Metamorphōseōn librī), or Book of Transformations, Ovid relates over 200 transformations.  Composed in the epic meter of dactylic hexameter, as a whole, Ovid’s tales don’t appear to follow an obvious chronological order:  stories break off and are continued in other books; some stories wrap back around on themselves, there is a curious lack of important detail in some (which we know from other sources); and often there are stories nested within stories told in a media res format.  Even how Ovid relates his stories speak of flux and change.

The tales themselves offer a smattering of myths from Greek and Roman legend, including Cadmus, Perseus, Jason, Theseus, Hercules, the heroes of Troy and Julius Caesar, although the narratives can also include mortals and lesser deities.  Murder, rage, hubris, affairs, rape, and judgement of the gods abound in his tales, leaving the reader shocked, disgusted, enamoured, sad, engrossed, irritated, and often, conflicted; Ovid can provoke a myriad of emotions within the same story, evidence of the efficacy of his writing.

Ovid Banished from Rome (1838)
J.M.W. Turner
source Wikimedia Commons

While Metamorphoses is our primary source for some myths, such as Apollo and Daphne, Phaeton, and Narcissus, the playful and ironic tone of the work suggests that we can’t always take Ovid seriously in his delivery, and the myths themselves could have been subject to his alterations.  In addition, the work was set out in fifteen books, rather than the usual twenty-four of the common epic standard, and certain important names and actions are missing from very important narratives, such as Dido, queen of Carthage, Jason and Medea, the Trojan War, etc.  I can’t help but feel that Ovid was writing with an agenda.  Was he perhaps attempting to “metamorphoses” the traditional epic poem, the traditional myths and the traditional religious tenor of Rome as well?

Ovid Among the Scythians (1859)
Eugène Delacroix
source Wikipedia

Yet in spite of the speculation, the graphic description, the sexual inferences, the gratuitous narrative and even the confusion, Metamorphoses is unparalleled as a literary adventure.  Ovid’s work is certainly one that has a life of its own and its owner a share of its fame.  However, as the poem ends, Ovid reveals that fame and glory were his original intent.

” ….. But with the better part of me, I’ll gain
a place that’s higher than the stars: my name,
indelible, eternal, will remain.
And everywhere that Roman power has sway,
in all domains the Latins gain, my lines
will be on people’s lips; and through all time —
if poets’ prophecies are ever right —
my name and fame are sure: I shall have life.”

While Ovid’s works went out of fashion for a time, in the late 11th century classic literature gained a new life.  Ovid’s writings began to have a significant influence on culture, the 12th century often being called The Ovidian Age.  As cathedral schools flourished in the early Middle Ages, Ovid’s work was widely read as moral allegories, with added Christian meaning.  William Caxton published the first English translation of Metamorphoses in 1480, and the poet’s influence continued, imbuing Shakespeare with many of his comparisons.  In fact, the many Ovidian allusions within Shakespeare’s works are part of what makes it difficult reading for modern day readers, unless they are familiar with this work.  Ovid certainly has approached a fame and regard worthy of a great poet, and perhaps has vindicated himself within the realms of classic literature.

 

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

“It is difficult to make a dull garden, but old Mr. Wither had succeeded.”

Stella Gibbons writes rather odd books.  Cold Comfort Farm, her best known and highly acclaimed novel, follows an orphaned, pert young woman to a mucky, rural farm and observes while she neatens and tidies all the morose, lurking, and deranged occupants into their proper places, finding love in the process.  Gibbons has a knack for depicting rather unusual and sometimes bizarre characters, and this flair for the unique has continued in her writing of Nightingale Wood. The introduction to the story labels it as a “fairy tale” and it is, although not along the usual lines one would expect from such a tale.  Gibbons’ evil creatures often have angelic faces, and her happily-ever-afters can leave the reader uncertain of reality.  In playing with her characters, Gibbons appears to play with society and even the reader himself.  Her writing is not easily defined.

When Viola Wither finds herself a widow, parentless and very nearly destitute, she must accept the hospitality of her in-laws for her subsistence.  However, the Wither household is a quirky one, yet Viola, with her quiet and rather doe-eyed vacuity, manages to navigate the excessive expectations of her father-in-law, the ineffectualness of her mother-in-law and her two sisters-in-law, one who is a rather mannish, outdoorsy, opinionated woman, and the other a dull, thin, conventional woman with strangled hopes from an overbearing father.  Yet, in spite of the tedious country life she is forced to accept and Viola’s credulous and nascent view of the world, she somehow manages to find her Prince Charming in this unlikely place.

“It has been hinted that her nature was affectionate; now that it had received encouragement there was no holding it; she was in love, so much in love that she did not realize that it was Wednesday morning and the letter had not come; and that the man she was in love with was the legendary Victor Spring.  Victor had now become Him.  He was less of a real person than ever.  She never once thought about his character or his income or his mother.  She was drunk.  She wandered about like a dazzled moth, smiling dreamily, and running downstairs when the postman came, crying:  ‘Anything for me?'”

Right away, we notice that Gibbons fairy-tale has some rough edges, that will never be filed smooth.  It is romance, but romance with an uncomfortable twist.  While Viola’s Prince Charming is not only handsome, debonair and rich, he’s also engaged to be married.  And although he is physically attracted to Viola, he doesn’t even seem to remember her name.  His reaction to Viola after the ball is not one of an idealized lover:

“He was most strongly attracted to her, but not romantically.  The intentions of the Prince towards Cinderella were, in short, not honourable: and as we have seen, he thought it the prudent thing not to see her.

Sleeping Beauty
source Wikimedia Commons

However, this story is not only about Viola, and the Withers.  We have a number of other unconventional characters who populate the pages of this unique novel:  Hetty, Victor’s cousin who loves books and her family not so much; Saxon, the young, handsome chauffeur whose family has come down in the world, as he tries to manage his rather slovenly, yet sexually indiscriminate mother; the loud and dirty woodland Hermit who takes great delight in terrorizing the gentry with his insightful, yet indelicate observations; and many, many more colourful personalities.  It’s a kaleidescope of the English country life of the 1930s, but while the surface is nice and tidy, underneath there are swirling passions, undisclosed sentiment, and hidden resentment.

Certainly the novel has a fairy tale flavour to it, sprinkled with hyperbole, but Gibbons ensures that she imbues it with a healthy dose of realism.  In a lovely fantasy-style, Gibbons bestows on each character their heart’s desire, yet the outcome of their desires are firmly entrenched in the reality of the 1930s, and their desires can perhaps turn out not to be as desirable as first expected.  On one hand, Gibbons shows incredible insight by investigating human desires, and then showing us how capricious the hand of fate can be, and how indiscriminate human nature can be, yet sometimes she doesn’t seem to like her characters, almost manipulating and abusing them in a way that makes you wary of liking them, even if you wish to.  Reality descends on the characters, but often they seem to reject it, living inside a mental shell of their own making.  It’s sort of an odd experience.  I feel that I’ve witnessed an explosion of Dodie Smith meets Virginia Woolf and I’m not sure if I like it.

Having written over 20 novels, Gibbons was rather annoyed that none of her other works received the attention of Cold Comfort Farm, yet perhaps the criticism is somewhat deserved.  While I enjoyed this book, I felt that it was difficult to really get to know any of the characters.  Perhaps this mental barricade was due to the radical treatment that Gibbons gives her characters, pressing the loud pedal at one time, and the soft at another.  Just when you think you have a character sketched, they behave in a way completely unexpected and you have to start all over again with a likeness.  The characters themselves struggle not only within the definitions Gibbons imposes on them, but societal definitions and self-definition, so the read becomes somewhat unsettling.  A fairy tale, yes, but a splintered fairy tale, where actuality rears its ugly face and blows away the clouds of expectations.

Prince Charming (1948)
Rene Magritte
source Wikiart

2016 Challenges ….. Here I Come!

Karen @ Books and Chocolate is once again hosting my favourite challenge of the year, the Back to the Classics Challenge.  Admittedly, it’s my favourite challenge because it’s my easiest challenge. About 95% of the books I’m reading lately are classics, so I’m all over this one.  I don’t usually make a list for this challenge, as the books I read naturally correspond with the categories, however, I want to concentrate on my Classics Club List for this coming year, and my WEM Biographies Project continues, so there are some “maybe” titles that I can choose:

  • The Lord of the Flies – William Golding (#11)
  • Metamorphoses – Ovid (#4)
  • Framley Parsonage – Anthony Trollope (#9)
  • The Man in the Iron Mask – Alexandre Dumas (#6)
  • The Time Machine – H.G. Wells (#7)
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much – G.K. Chesterton (#8 or #12)
  • That Hideous Strength – C.S. Lewis (#7)
  • The Gulag Archipelago – Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (#10)
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X (#5)

Once again O at Behold the Stars is hosting the Reading England challenge.  I did well with my attempt at this challenge this year, so I’ve decided to do it again and learn more about English counties!

I don’t have any set books planned for this one, but I’d like to read some counties that I hadn’t covered in the 2015 Reading England challenge. And I still have to read my nemesis, Thomas Hardy, so his works are a possibility.


As well as concentrating on my Classics Club List, I also want to have some focus for my Shakespeare Project and I was happy to find The 2016 Bardathon Challenge.  
I’m planning to aim for the Mix-and-Match Shakespearean, reading, watching, performing (ha!), and/or listening to 5 plays.  I think I’ll begin with Henry V, since it’s the only play that I haven’t read from the Henriad.
I’m looking forward to getting back into the Bard!
I joined the Books in Translation challenge last year and really enjoyed it, so I’ve decided to participate again this year.  I’m going to try for the Bilingual level, which is 7 – 9 translated works during 2016, but hopefully I’ll be able to make the top level, Linguist, reading 10 – 12 translated works for the year.  
I’ve participated in the 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge every year and last year was the first year that I didn’t make it and ended up 2 books short.  Yikes!  So in 2016, I need to regain my streak and manage to read at least 1 book per week. If I can’t, I’m going to cry.
Jay at Bibliophilopolis hosts The Deal Me In challenge, my most challenging of challenges!  I tried it for the first time last year and failed miserably, yet it was my most valuable challenge because it forced me to read essays, poetry, short stories and children’s classics that I wouldn’t have read otherwise.  My list for this year:

Clubs – Short Stories
A –  Cabbages and Kings – O’Henry
2 – The Runaway – Anton Chekhov
3 –  The Queen of Spades – Alexander Pushkin
4 – Le Horla – Guy de Maupassant
5 – The Tell-Tale Heart – Edgar Allan Poe
6 – The Life You Save Might Be Your Own- Flannery O’Connor
7 – The Honest Thief – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
8 – A Little Woman – Franz Kafka
9 –  A Haunted House – Virginia Woolf
10 – The Birds – Anton Chekhov
J –  The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Gilman
Q – The Eyes – Edith Wharton
K –   Signs and Symbols – Vladimir Nabakov
Spades – Essays
A – Milton – Charles Williams
2 – Doodles in the Dictionary – Aldous Huxley
3 – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – G.K. Chesterton
4 – On A Faithful Friend – Virginia Woolf
5 – Shooting an Elephant – George Orwell
6 – Hamlet : The Prince or the Poem – C.S. Lewis
7 –  The Tyranny of Bad Journalism – G.K. Chesterton
8 – The World of Tomorrow – E.B. White
9 – Out of Your Car, Off Your Horse – Wendell Berry
10 – Sense – C.S. Lewis
J – Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community – Wendell Berry
Q – Different Tastes in Literature – C.S. Lewis
K – Vulgarity – G.K. Chesterton
Diamonds – Poetry
A – A Man’s a Man for a’That – Robert Burns
2 –  Gesang Der Geister Über Den Wassern – Johann Wolfgang
               von Goethe
3 – The Morning of Life – Victor Hugo
4 – Sonnett XXIII – Garcilaso de la Vega
5 – A Lover’s Complaint – William Shakespeare
6 – Resolution and Independence – William Wordsworth
7 – Ode III – Fray Luis de León
8 – Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night – Dylan Thomas
9 – To A Mouse – Robert Burns
10 – Tears, Idle Tears – Alfred LordTennyson
J –  Easter Wings – George Hebert
Q – On His Blindness – John Milton
K – Phoenix and the Turtle – William Shakespeare
Hearts – Children’s Classic
A – A Triumph for Flavius – Caroline Dale Snedeker
2 – Three Greek Children – Alfred Church
3 –  The Story of the Treasure Seekers – E. Nesbit
4 – Detectives in Togas – Henry Winterfeld
5 – Big John’s Secret – Eleanore M. Jewett
6 – The Tanglewood’s Secret – Patricia St. John
7 – The Wolves of Willoughy Chase – Joan Aiken
8 – Red Sails to Capri – Ann Weil
9 – Sprig of Broom – Barbara Willard
10 – Teddy’s Button – Amy LeFeuvre
J –  Call It Courage – Armstrong Sperry
Q – Tales from Chaucer – Eleanor Farjeon
K – Beyond the Desert Gate – Mary Ray 

And last, but most exciting, is the Ancient Greek Reading Challenge which I posted about here.  I’m planning on reading the dramatists, Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, some comedies, and perhaps even make it to Plato and Aristotle if I’m feeling rather brave.

Other than these 2016 challenges, I have on-going projects such as:

My C.S. Lewis Project:  

I did wonderfully the first year but last year was a sorry sight.  I need to read at least a couple of Lewis this year.  Mere Christianity should be a “gimme” and I’d also love to start and finish The Screwtape Letters.  Otherwise Miracles is my favourite and The Abolition of Man would be a good one to try, as I struggled with it the first time I read it.

My Barsetshire Chronicles Read:

Sigh!  This was a complete failure last year.  I didn’t even get one book read. The next up is Framley Parsonage, so I’m going to have to focus, focus, focus!

The Well-Educated Mind Biographies:

Okay, this is one challenge where I’m doing well, thanks to Ruth!  She keeps me honest.  Next up is Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.  There are 10 biographies left before we move on to Histories, so hopefully we’ll finish them all this year.

My Shakespeare Project:

I’ve been moving reasonably slowly through this lately, but at least I’m moving.  I hope my Bardathon challenge will help me read some more of the Bard in 2016.

I’m also doing a few read-alongs including O’s The Pickwick Papers Read-Along, Amanda’s Children’s Literature Event in April, and a few of us are reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses (beginning now) and Edmund Spenser’s The Fairie Queene (beginning mid-April).  If anyone wants to join in on the last two, please let me know.  We keep getting new recruits!

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark by William Shakespeare

“To be or not to be, that is the question …….”

First publish around 1602 (although a working copy is thought to have been in use in 1601), Hamlet has come down to us in two forms. Issued in 1603, a corrupt or crude and probably pirated copy called the “First Quarto” (Q1) was produced, then in 1604 a more complete and artistically styled “Second Quarto” (Q2) followed.  It is supposed that the errors in Q1, complete with pretentious and often meaningless rhetoric, spurred Shakespeare and his company to press for a more complete and credible version.  Surprisingly, Hamlet was never performed or printed in its entirety during Shakespeare’s lifetime and the copies we read today are a compilation of Q2 and the 1623 Folio edition.  In spite of the errors and incompleteness of the play, there is little doubt that it is Shakespeare’s as it was performed by his own acting company. The evidence of the dating of the play is quite fascinating, as it not only uses clues from registries, but clues imbedded within the play to events that happened in 1601 and 1600. Shakespeare actuates very detailed detective work.

Portrait of Hamlet (c.1864)
William Morris Hunt
source Wikimedia Commons

The legend of Hamlet goes back centuries, dating to around the Scandinavian sagas.  It was familiar to the people of Iceland in the 10th century, although Shakespeare possibly drew from Histories Tragiques (1559-70) by Francis de Belleforest, relating tragic stories of great kings and queens whose lives had been ravaged by love or ambition.  A second hypothesis is that Shakespeare revived an extant version of a play by Thomas Kyd, revising this earlier piece to become the Second Quarto (Q2), and then afterward rewriting the complete acting text and play, which then became the basis for the Folio of 1623.  With regard to the first hypothesis, the similarity of the stories are too apparent to be coincidental, but there are differences in names and some differences in narrative that indicate Shakespeare was intent on making the play his own.

Hamlette at The Edge of the Precipice hosted a Hamlet Read-Along beginning in October and set a very leisurely pace, which was wonderful as it allowed me to dig very deeply into the play.  My scene-by-scene postings were as follows:

Act I :   Scene I,  Scene II,  Scene III,  Scene IV,  Scene V
Act II:   Scene I,  Scene II
Act III:  Scene I,  Scene II,  Scene III,  Scene IV
Act IV:  Scene I,  Scene II,  Scene III,  Scene IVScene V,  Scene VI,  Scene VII
Act V:   Scene I,  Scene II

 

The Young Lord Hamlet (1867)
Philip Hermogenes Calderon
source Wikimedia Commons

The play itself begins in Denmark at Elsinore castle where two soldiers see a ghost on the ramparts.  It is the ghost of the newly dead King Hamlet and immediately they inform his son, Hamlet, of the apparition.  Horatio, his friend, keeps watch with him the following night, whereupon the ghost claims to his son that he has been murdered by his own brother, the new king, Claudius.  To add insult to injury, Claudius has married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, an outrage that can hardly be borne by Hamlet.  Yet questions pile upon Hamlet, enough to smother.  Was the ghost truly there, and if so, was it really his father?  Revenge was called for but how could the deed be done, and was he justified in taking a life?  His father’s life was cut short “in the blossoms of his sin”, but if he dispatched Claudius in his guilty state, would not their deaths become parallel?

Hamlet encountering the Ghost (1768-69)
Benjamin Wilson
source Wikimedia Commons

The contrary questions paralyze Hamlet into a mire of inaction.  He then works out a contrary persona, playing at an odd type of insanity, yet often dispensing insightful, sharp and clear rhetoric to torment Claudius into confusion.  Is Hamlet as dangerous as Claudius believes or is he merely an innocent victim of the circumstances, grief-stricken over the death of his father?  After Hamlet unwittingly commits the murder of Polonius, the advisor of Claudius, he forces the hand of the new king who sends him to England, with the intent of extinguishing any threat to his kingdom.  Yet Hamlet has also injured the mind of one once dearest to him, Ophelia, the daughter of Polonius, and her decent into madness colours the kingdom with further calamity. Upon Hamlet’s return, the culmination of this revenge tragedy is set into motion. Will Claudius’ plotting bring him success?  Can Laertes avenge his father, Polonius’, murder, and will Hamlet’s revenge bring him the peace he seems to seek?

You can see throughout the play the emphasis on action vs. inaction, words vs. action, thoughts vs. action, etc.  While Hamlet bemoans his inability to act to avenge his father’s death, on the surface seeming cowardly and ineffective, the actuality is quite the opposite.  All throughout the play, Hamlet uses thoughts and words to manipulate his enemy.  His thoughts, though he bemoans them, actually have more of an effect than he imagines, controlling certain small acts in a very effective manner.  His act of insanity twists Claudius into a Gordian knot of uncertainty, his letters announcing his return to Denmark pushing Claudius to drastic action. Thoughts and words appear to be more important and certainly more effective than action, torturing his enemy to the very limits of his endurance.  While it’s demonstrated in the play that revenge only brings suffering, is there a underlying theme that words can be more effective than action?

Ophelia (1863)
Arthur Hughes
source Wikiart

While the cultural precepts of the Danish society in Hamlet seem to support the desire for revenge, Shakespeare’s Elizabethan audience would have viewed the thirst for vengeance as primitive, and perhaps rather shocking. There is evidence throughout the play that revenge brings only suffering and death to those involved.  Fortinbras, the heir of the Danish kingdom at the end of the play, calls for all the noblemen to hear the story of Hamlet:

”                                    Let us haste to hear it,
And call the noblest to the audience ……”

He wants the nobles of the kingdom to attend to this tragedy and learn from it. Horatio responds:

“But let this same be presently performed,
Even while men’s minds are wild, lest more mischance
On plots and errors happen.”

Hamlet does get a hero’s remembrance, but the deaths, suffering and pain caused by his vengeful actions, and those of others, are strongly emphasized.

There is a question throughout the play of Hamlet’s sanity.  Is he truly mad, or is it simply an act produced to set a trap for the murderer of his father?  I tend to think the latter, but Shakespeare appears to quite closely link insanity with revenge, perhaps alluding to the fact that vengeance has a detrimental effect on our minds, distorting perceptions to bring about a type of madness.  Hamlet is playing at being mad, but madness also plays with him, his malevolent sentiments poisoning his very psyche, and modifying his entire moral perspective.  The whole character of Hamlet is played out in the agonizing conflict within his mind.  Mad he is, and mad he is not, perhaps making him at once to be and not to be.

 

 

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The Club of Queer Trades by G.K. Chesterton

The Club of Queer Trades is a “society consisting exclusively of people who have invented some new and curious way of making money,” and Chesterton’s delightful collection of fantastical tales give us a view of these entrepreneurs who ply their trades in perhaps an unorthodox manner and often with surprising results.

The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown: The subject of this title seeks out Rupert Grant, an amateur detective, and with the help of Swinburne, the narrator, and Grant’s brother, Basil, a former “mad” judge, they proceed to cleverly solve his dilemma.  Retired and living comfortably and quietly in a tiny picturesque villa, Major Brown has a mania for pansies.  One day while strolling down a lane, he meets a man pushing flowers in a wheelbarrow and is convinced to purchase the pansies among them.  Yet before departing, the man whispers that if the Major will only climb the garden wall, he will see the most admired pansies in the whole of England.  Against his nature, Major Brown accepts a boost up and is flabbergasted by what he sees.  It is not the pansies themselves that catch his attention but the arrangement of them, spelling out “Death to Major Brown.” Never one to quail in any situation, Brown introduces himself to the gardener of the house who takes him inside to meet a peculiar lady who is staring out the window, but he remembers to warn him beforehand not to mention the “jackal.”   They begin to converse but suddenly their conversation is cut short by a blood-curdling screech, “Major Brown, Major Brown, where does the jackal dwell?”  When the Major runs outside, he spies a coal-black decapitated head on the sidewalk, where apparently the screams are coming from.  What is going on?  Who is trying to kill the Major?  And why does idiosyncratic Basil seem unconcerned?   Chesterton ties up his story with his usual aplomb, and yet still leaves you wondering.  There is also a neat contrast between Basil and Rupert, the former using his intellect and the latter acting on impulse.  A very fun tale!

The Painful Fall of a Great Reputation:  Charles Swinburne, the narrator of the last tale, and Basil Grant are travelling on the top of a deserted tramcar, speaking philosophically about the plight of the poor and the perception of them.  Basil declares that in spite of their circumstances, the majority of the poor are good people and that “the very vileness of life of these ordered plebeian places bears witness to the victory of the human soul.”  No sooner has he uttered these words than he spies a man on the street and his astonishment is palpable.  He announces that he’s observing the most wicked man in the world.  When Swinburne requests to know the man’s sins, Grant admits that he has never seen him before this moment.  Swinburne is startlingly perplexed.  How has Basil made his assumption?  But there is no time to question as his friend grabs him and they are off on a chase after the most wicked man in the world.  In a world of fact versus impression and appearance versus reality, how are they to know whom to trust?

The Awful Reason of the Vicar’s Visit:  Swinburne is dressing to meet Basil Grant at a dinner party when suddenly the sound of the doorbell resounds through the house.  It is the Reverend Ellis Shorter who has heard of his friend, Major Brown’s adventures and has come to seek help.  Swinburne, impatient to be off to his engagement, gets impatient with the Vicar’s dodderings and prevaricating whereupon the Vicar gives him leave to go, but states if he does not hear him out before he does, a man will be dead!  He relates a queer story of being kidnapped by a women’s sewing club, and a subsequent photograph of himself that had never been taken.  Swinburne is perplexed and takes the vicar to Basil to sort out the mystery!

Reverend Oliver Maron, Vicar of Lancaster
George Romney 

The Singular Speculation of the House Agent:  Lieutenant Keith Drummond manages to excite Rupert’s suspicions and barely concealed contempt with his larger-than-life stories and exaggerated claims.  Upon Drummond requesting a loan from Basil and claiming a visit to a house-agent, Rupert near demands to accompany him in hopes of exposing sinister purposes.  All four men set off together, and after a curiously unintelligible conversation between the odd little house agent and Drummond, in which the agent presents a ferret, some lizards and a spider, Drummond escapes before the rest.  When they follow him, they come upon a commotion and find that there has been a brawl. Drummond has been part of it, with his clothes torn and his sword, which he commonly carries with him, drawn.  The police get his address, yet Swinburne, Basil and Rupert discover the next day that the address was a fake.  Rupert is exultant with the proof of his suspicions of Drummond’s disreputable character, but Basil merely laughs, claiming that Drummond his one of the most honest men and that truth can be stranger than fiction.  How can this be?  Is some of the mad judge’s madness finally showing through?  The truth will be discovered at the address that doesn’t exist.

Purley, Surrey (now south London)
source Wikipedia Commons

The Noticeable Conduct of Professor Chadd:  Basil Grant doesn’t have many friends, but the ones he does have are a motley collection of idiosyncratic characters.  One day, he is discussing with his friend, Professor Chadd, an eminent ethnologist and expert on the relation of language to savages, the impact of science on the observable knowledge of Zulus versus the knowledge gained by living like a Zulu.  Chadd, a stuffy academic, who has recently been appointed as curator of the Asiatic manuscripts at the British Museum, answers in stuffy, didactic prose.  The next morning, Basil receives a telegram from one of Chadd’s three sisters: Chadd has suffered a mental breakdown and Basil is entreated to come at once.  Upon his arrival, Basil discovers that the Professor will not communicate with anyone and, instead, will only move his legs in a kind of rigid, hopping dance.  The doctor is with him and when Basil approaches, he asks for a moment with his friend.  The observers are surprised to see the respectable Mr. Grant with a paper and pencil, following Chadd about and jotting notes as he goes.  They are further astounded when he begins to hop around in a parody of Chadd.  The situation is further complicated with the arrival of Mr. Bingham of the British Museum. Great Scots!  How can a lunatic be curator of the Asiatic manuscripts?!!  Yet Basil declares to Bingham that they need to pay Chadd £800 per year until he stops dancing.  What?  Has Basil gone mad as well?  Are there two lunatics, one or none?

Bedford Gardens, Bloomsbury
source Wikimedia Commons

The Eccentric Seclusion of the Old Lady:  Swinburne is walking with his friend, Rupert Grant, the amateur detective, when Grant spots a milkman walking ahead of them.  Suspicious because of the careless way the man carries his milk can, Grant swears that if they follow him, they will find a mystery at the end of the trail.  When the milkman disappears down area steps to a basement, Grant follows and emerges triumphant.  He has heard a cry for help in the downstairs room, repeating, “When shall I get out?  Will they ever let me out?”.  Determined to rescue the imprisoned lady, they enlist Basil’s help and with his usual aplomb, Basil gains entry to the house but when he emerges, he claims that the men inside are good chaps.  Incensed, both Rupert and Swinburne insist on entering the house themselves to find the victim.  The “chaps” allow them in but a fight ensues in which our three rescuers are pinned.  Will they get free to release the poor woman who’s been detained?  Yet with Basil Grant, nothing is every as it seems.

Milkman and cart 1900s
source Wikimedia Commons

In Basil Grant, Chesterton creates, not a scientifically brilliant detective like Sherlock Holmes, but one who is astute in the workings of human nature, which makes for truly fascinating cases.  Another fantastic effort by Chesterton who keeps the reader guessing, and never quite sure whether up is down or down is up in The Club of Queer Trades.

Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“I am resolved on an undertaking that has no model and will have no imitator.”

Have you every felt so completely sorry for someone that that emotion eclipses any others that he might stir up inside you?  Have you ever encountered someone who simply is a unique soul, a person who, no matter what they do, does not fit in easily with society?  Have you ever been charmed by someone and then repelled at the same time?  All these thoughts and emotions were boiling up, mixing together, as I read Rousseau’s Confessions, the autobiography of his life.


Rousseau was born in 1712 in Geneva in the Republic of Geneva, a city-state in the Protestant Swiss Confederacy.  He was born to a watchmaker named Isaac Rousseau and his wife, Suzanne Bernard, his mother dying tragically mere days following Rousseau’s birth.  He described her death as, “the first of my misfortunes.”  


Reading his mother’s romance books at such a young age, with his father, appeared to shape Rousseau’s character in an unusual way:

“By this dangerous method I acquired in a short time not only a marked facility for reading and comprehension, but also an understanding, unique in one of my years, of the passions.  I had as yet no ideas about things, but already I knew every feeling.  I had conceived nothing; I had felt everything.  This rapid succession of confused emotions did not damage my reason, since as yet I had none; but it provided me with one of a different temper; and left me with some bizarre and romantic notions about human life, of which experience and reflection have never quite managed to cure me.”

Curiously, Rousseau’s experience with books and their  affect on human character are echoed by themes in other classics including, Madame Bovary, Eugene Onegin, and Anna Karenina.
Les Charmettes where Rousseau lived
with Mme Warens
source Wikipedia

From the age of 10 on, Rousseau saw little of his father, who had moved away to avoid prosecution by a wealthy land owner. The boy was eventually apprenticed to an engraver, but at 15 ran away and began a rather nomadic lifestyle.  In Savoy, he would be introduced to Madame Francoise-Louise de Warens, a woman 13 years his senior, whom he would forever call “Maman.”  She would be his Muse and surrogate mother for the greater part of Rousseau’s life, as well his lover for a short period of time.  Later, his obsessive interest in music would be used to earn money as a teacher, as well as gain him subsequent notoriety as a writer of opera and various other articles and works on the subject.  

In 1742, Rousseau moved to Paris and became close friends with Denis Diderot, another enlightenment thinker, and his renown as a philosopher was born.  His first major-philosophical work, Discours sur les Sciences et les Arts was presented to the Academy of Dijon in response to the question, “…whether the Restoration of the arts and sciences has had the effect of purifying or corrupting morals.”  In it, Rousseau offered a thorough critique of civilization, seeing it not as a chronicle of progress, but instead as a history of decay.  For Rousseau, no one is innately good, but instead must cultivate a rational knowledge to gain control of nature and therefore, self.  
Denis Diderot (1767)
par Louis-Michel van Loo

Upon returning to Paris, after a posting in Venice as a secretary to the Comte de Montaigue, Rousseau took Thérèse Levasseur as a lover, eventually having 5 children with her, all of whom he placed in a foundling hospital, being unwilling to bring them up due to the lack of education and undesirable social class of his in-laws whom he was supporting.  With his later books on education and child-rearing, these callous actions made him the target of vicious ad hominem attacks from some contemporaries, in particular Voltaire and Edmund Burke.  

Through most of his life, Rousseau dealt with various health issues including being unable to urinate without the use of a probe, odd romantic attachments, including a passionate unconsummated obsession with Sophie d’Houdetot, who inspired his novel, Julie, breaks with various friends and acquaintances upon his retirement to the country, and various and numerous attacks of persecution and threats.  When Rousseau wrote that all religions had value, in that they all encouraged men to virtue, an intense uproar exploded against him, and he was finally forced to flee to England with the help of the Scottish philosopher, David Hume.  In 1767, he returned to France under an assumed name and finally in 1770, he was officially allowed to return.  
While the tone of Confessions often oozed of lament and discontent, especially during the latter half, Rousseau also showed a rather mischievous sense of humour:

“As we became better acquainted, we were, of course, obliged to talk about ourselves, to say where we came from and who we were.  This threw me into confusion; for I was very well aware that in polite society and among ladies of fashion I had only to describe myself as a new convert and that would be the end of me.  I decided to pass myself off as English:  I presented myself as a Jacobite, which seemed to satisfy them, called myself Dudding and was known to the company as M. Dudding.  One of their number, the Marquis de Taulignan, a confounded fellow, ill like me, old into the bargain, and rather bad-tempered, took it into his head to engage M. Dudding in conversation.  He spoke of King James, of the Pretender, and of the court of Saint Germain in the old days.  I was on tenderhooks.  I knew about all of this  only of what little I had read in Count Hamilton and in the gazettes; however I made such good use of this little knowledge that I managed to get away with it, relieved that no one had thought to question me about the English language, of which I did not know one single word.” 

One cannot talk about Rousseau’s life without mentioning his passion for nature.  Once removed to the country, he was in his element, his retirement not only giving him an escape from the petty intriguing of Parisian society, but also gratifying his love of long rambles in the woods, his eventual interest in botany and his joy of solitutde.

“Two or three times a week when the weather was fine we would take coffee in a cool and leafy little summer-house behind the house, over which I had trained hops, and which was a great pleasure to us when it was hot; there we would spend an hour or so inspecting our vegetable plot and our flowers, and discussing our life together in ways that led us to savour more fully its sweetness.  At the end of the garden I had another little family:  these were my bees.  I rarely missed going to visit them, often accompanied by Maman; I was very interest in the arrangements, and found it endlessly entertaining to watch them come home from their marauding with their little thighs sometimes so laden that they could hardly walk.”


Rousseau méditant dans un parc (1769)
par Alexandre Hyacinthe Dunouy
source Wikipedia

Rousseau was a man of numerous contradictions.  On one hand, he was self-absorbed, petty-minded, overly sensitive, idealistic, peculiar, selfish, out of touch with reality, yet on the other, he was also rather lonely, at times generous, unique, creative, self-aware, and inquisitive.  He is a puzzling conundrum bottled up in one person.  Yes, he would have been hard to bear at times.  He is one of those people with whom one could never be comfortable, as you would always be wondering if you were living up to his standards.  He had a short fuse, yet also a generous heart. 

How did I come to these conclusions?  Well, you certainly get a sense of Rousseau’s perceived persecution that appeared expanded to gigantic proportions in his mind.  Many reviewers call this obsession his “paranoia,” an imagined grand plot with machinations designed by numerous former friends, ready to invest years of their lives to bring about his downfall.  Yet perhaps this behaviour is not so surprising in a man who had been raised mostly without family, obviously needing the intimacy of human companionship, yet who had never really learned or accepted the proper manners to fit easily in society; French society, in particular, follows certain constructs that do not allow for individuality.  

In spite of Rousseau’s various eccentricities, I couldn’t help feel profound sympathy for him.  With no one to shape his character and with his unwillingness to temper his idiosyncrasies and become homogeneous with his surroundings, Rousseau became a victim of himself, a plight for me that only excites pity.

Persuasion by Jane Austen

“Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch-hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hours, and consolation in a distressed one ……”

Persuasion was the only major Austen novel that I had not read, so I was thrilled when Heidi at Literary Adventures Along the Brandywine announced her read-along.  I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the novel quite as much as Pride and Prejudice, one of my favourites, but I’d heard enough positive reviews to whet my curiousity. And so I plunged in.

Anne Elliot is one of three daughters of Sir Walter Elliot, a vain baronet who is obsessed with the peerage.  While her sister, Elizabeth, is somewhat bossy, and Mary proves a proud, yet questionable, invalid, Anne shows a quiet reserve with more than average good sense and judgement.  Eight years ago, her engagement to Captain Frederick Wentworth was almost certain, but without a mother for guidance, and influenced by a respected friend of the family, Lady Russell, she broke off the engagement with a deep regret.

Manor House, Somersetshire (Halsway Manor)
source Wikipedia

Now, eight years later, Anne is confronted with a number of upheavals in her life. Not only does she and her family have to leave their ancestral home, Kellynch-hall, because of reduced finances, but Captain Wentworth has returned, and to further complicate matters, his sister and her husband are the new tenants of Kellynch-hall.  The blows would have reduced a weaker woman to despondency, but Anne is not only resourceful, she has learned to suffer life’s troughs with resilience, and her positive attitude brings her through the stormy seas.

Initially, Captain Wentworth is all resentment and cool responses, but gradually, as he sees Anne’s quiet sacrifices, calm demeanour, and strength of character, his acrimony softens towards her.  Yet, at the same time, he appears to be playing the eligible bachelor, and it is uncertain as to which woman he will chose to be Mrs. Wenworth.  Both of Anne’s sisters-in-law, Henrietta and Louisa, vie for the title and Anne must watch the perceived courtships with an uneasy mind.  A near-tragedy causes introspection in more hearts than one, Mr. Eliot, Anne’s cousin and heir to Kellynch, enters the picture to further obscure the matters of courtship, but the final culmination exemplifies that a steadfast love is strengthened by misfortune and time, and the past lovers reunite in a now more matured and seasoned alliance.

Lyme Regis

Persuasion is a tale of new beginnings and second chances, not only for Anne and Wentworth, but for the characters surrounding them. Anne’s family, because of their financial straits, must begin a new life in Bath; both the Musgrove girls will be looking forward to the start of their married lives; and even Mrs. Smith, who has found herself in poverty after her husband’s death, is given a second chance at the end of the book as, with help from Wentworth, she recovers money from her husband’s estate that will help her to live more comfortably.

While Austen, as per her usual method, allows the reader to examine certain segments of society, in this book especially, she seems to be highlighting the movements between the social classes, either by marriage or by economic necessity.  Within Anne’s family, we not only have the family as a whole dropping in perceived standing by the lack of money to maintain their position at Kellynch, we also have the numerous characters dealing with the descent with different outlooks.  Sir Walter is obsessed with his Baronetage book and the importance of his place within the realm of society.  At first, he employs denial as to their new position, but thanks to a rather blind self-importance, is able to be persuaded to accept their new situation as if nothing has practically changed.  Anne’s sister, Elizabeth, too, acts as if nothing has altered, yet you can see at certain points in the novel that she is aware of the disadvantage of their new situation and that they must have a heightened awareness of appearance to maintain the respect and dignity that they view as a societal necessity.  Anne does not seem to be bothered by the family’s reduced circumstances, as position to her comes secondary to character and honesty and integrity.  In the old governess, Mrs. Smith we can examine what has come from her rise in stature upon her marriage, and then her subsequent fall upon her husband’s death when she finds herself in financial troubles.  Finally, cousin William Elliot falls from his seat of grace with his scandalous behaviour at the end of the novel.

Pulteny Bridge, Bath
18th century
source Wikipedia

We are given the title of Persuasion for the book, yet Austen did not choose this title; instead her beloved brother, Henry, gave the book its name, as it was published posthumously, and there is no indication of what Austen’s preferred title would have been.  Cassandra Austen, Jane’s older sister, reportedly said that a name for this novel had been discussed, and the most likely title was “The Elliots,” but as Austen passed away before selecting a definitive title, no one will know for certain her final choice. Nevertheless the word “persuasion”, or a derivative of it, occurs approximately 30 times in the novel, a good indication that it is one of the main themes.  Yet as I finished the novel, what metamorphosed out the “persuasion” was the stronger theme of duty.  While Wentworth still appears to be disgruntled by Anne’s choice to follow her family’s wishes in breaking off their engagement eight years before, she however appears to have a different sentiment.  At the end of the novel, Anne concludes:

“I have been thinking over the past, and trying impartially to judge of the right and wrong, I mean with regard to myself; and I must believe that I was right, much as I suffered from it, that I was perfectly right in being guided by the friend whom you will love better than you do now.  To me, she was in the place of a parent.  Do not mistake me, however.  I am not sayng that she did not err in her advice.  It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides; and for myself, I certainly never should, in any circumstance of tolerable similarity, give such advice.  But I mean, that I was right in submitting to her, and that if I had done otherwise, I should have suffered more in continuing the engagement than I did even in giving it up, because I should have suffered in my conscience.   I have now, as far as such a sentiment is allowable in human nature, nothing to reproach myself with; and if I mistake not, a strong sense of duty is no bad part of a woman’s portion.”

In the book Anne is consistently dutiful, to her friend, Mrs. Smith, to her family and, more importantly, to her own conscience; and so we learn that a strong sense of duty and obedience to it is more crucial than any personal inclinations or aspirations.

Sandhill Park, Somerset (1829)
J.P. Neale/W. Taylor
source Wikipedia

Persuasion deviates from Austen’s usual style and content.  By having a hero without ties to nobility, Austen explores in depth an area of society that had to date been given only a cursory treatment by her. Anne, as an older heroine, is presented in a new way; the reader learns of her character not necessarily through how she actually behaves, but more through her silence and by seeing her in contrast to the intensely flawed people around her. Contrary to other Austen novels, the romance develops almost in isolation, as the characters hold little conversation with each other until the end of the novel.  While the novel was interesting for these new features, I felt it to be weaker than Austen’s previous novels, lacking a certain plausibility at times and a solid cohesiveness.  As she was writing Persuasion, Austen was ill with the disease that would eventually kill her, and because of this fact, her usual detailed pattern of revision was not completed; in this light, the diminished quality of the novel can certainly be understood.  However, while not shining with her usual brilliance, Austen still produced a jewel in its own right, and perhaps more intriguing because of its flaws, as these flaws contribute to its uniqueness.  As the character of Anne experiences a new beginning in Persuasion, so does the novel indeed appear to symbolize a new beginning by Austen, this beginning sadly cut short due to her untimely death.

 

Further reading: