The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

“Whan that April with his shoures soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;….”

Twenty-nine pilgrims and the narrator meet in Southwark, in Harry Bailey’s Tabard Inn, before setting off on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, where they will behold Thomas Becket’s shrine.  On the journey each pilgrim will tell four tales, two on the way there and two on the way back.  A free dinner will be awarded to the one with the best story.  And so begins Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous poem, a medley of lively stories that gives the reader a captivating window into 14th century England.

Gateway at Canterbury
The Gateway at Canterbury (1889)
Childe Hassam
source Wikiart

 

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Classics Club Spin #20

Classics Club Spin #20

It’s been awhile since I’ve participated in a Classics Club spin.  I think the last one I participated in was #14 and it was a dismal failure which made me realize that I simply don’t have time to read the way I used to.  So I stopped.  However, with my new Classics Club list up, I really need to start to focus on some of these books before it’s too late.  So here I am again, hoping for success.

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Classics Club List #2 ~ Here I Go!

With my first Classics Club list complete, it’s time for another.  This time it was easy, as I used unfinished books from my first one.  So without further ado, here is my second Classics Club List with 50 books to read from November 30, 2018 to November 29, 2023!

 

Ancients  (5000 B.C. – A.D. 400):

The Republic (380 B.C.) – Plato

Aristotle, Ethics (330 B.C.) – Aristotle

Lives (75) – Plutarch

The Twelve Ceasars (121) – Suetonius

Meditations (170-180) – Marcus Aurelius

Address to Young Men (363) – Saint Basil

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Classics Club List #1 – Finished! ….. and not finished ….

November 18, 2018 has come and gone and I can’t believe that my five year anniversary date with the Classics Club has come around so quickly!  It seems like only a year or so ago I was compiling my list and wondering how I was going to read so many books.  So how did I do with it?  Well, here’s what I accomplished ….

First of all, I went completely overboard and instead of choosing the recommended 50 books, I chose 170 books!  Eh, not particularly my most wise decision, especially considering the content of some of them. Needless to say, I didn’t finish my list but, on a brighter note I did manage to read 66 of them, which is better than 50.  I also had a few of them (The Histories, Paradise LostMetamorphosesHamlet and History of the Peloponnesian War come quickly to mind) where I posted by chapter/book/act, so that was a big task in itself and expanded my reading time.  I’ve also started Bleak House, City of God, Crime and Punishment and Dead Souls from my original list, I just didn’t finish in time. 🙁

So here is my first Classics Club list, which I will call complete!

My list:Ancients  (5000 B.C. – A.D. 400): (9 books read)

The Odyssey – Homer (end of the 8th century B.C.)  March 23, 2014
The Histories (450 – 420 B.C.) – Herodotus (because I love my Greeks!)  April 17, 2017
The History of the Pelopponesian War (431 B.C.) – Thucydides  (a very
interesting war.  I can’t wait to get Thucydides viewpoint) June 15, 2017
Oedipus Rex (429 B.C.) – Sophocles  (Sophocles is one of my favourite
Greek playwrights)  May 25, 2014
Oedipus at Colonus (406 B.C.) – Sophocles   June 24, 2014
Antigone (441 B.C.) – Sophocles  December 28, 2014
Apology (after 399 B.C.) – Plato   December 12, 2013
Defense Speeches (80 – 63 B.C.) – Marcus Tullius Cicero  (I’ve started this
and love it!)  August 20, 2014
Metamorphoses (8) – Ovid  (I will finish this!)  March 31, 2016

 

Medieval/Early Renaissance (400 – 1600 A.D.): (6 books read)

The Rule of Saint Benedict (529)? – Saint Benedict  December 2, 2015

The Canterbury Tales (1390s??) – Geoffrey Chaucer  (groan!  It intimidates
      me but I must overcome!)  November 15, 2015
The Book of Margery Kempe (1430) – Margery Kempe   August 1, 2014
Le Morte d’Arthur (1485) – Thomas Mallory  (this read is coming up soon!)  December 6, 2014
Utopia (1516) – Thomas More  (looking forward to reading a good Utopian
      novel)  December 15, 2014
Selected Essays (1580) – Michel de Montaigne  November 30, 2015Late Renaissance/Early Modern (1600 – 1850 A.D.): (17 books read)

Romeo and Juliet (1591 – 1595) – William Shakespeare   October 13, 2014
Richard II (1595) – William Shakespeare   November 30, 2014
Henry IV Part I (1597) – William Shakespeare  December 21, 2014
Henry IV Part II (1596 – 1599) – William Shakespeare  December 24, 2014
Henry V (1599) – William Shakespeare  June 22, 2016
Othello (1603) – William Shakespeare   October 28, 2014
Hamlet (1603 – 1604) – William Shakespeare  January 27, 2015
King Lear (1603 – 1606) – William Shakespeare  December 3, 2014
Paradise Lost (1667) – John Milton (time to use my guide by C.S. Lewis)  February 27, 2014
Gulliver’s Travels (1726) – Jonathan Swift  (I wonder if I’ll like it)   January 3, 2015
Candide (1759) – Voltaire   March 21, 2014
Sense and Sensibility (1811) – Jane Austen  January 25, 2015
Persuasion (1818) – Jane Austen (I have read every other Austen novel but
        this one.  For shame!)   February 21, 2015
Eugene Onegin (1825 – 1832) – Alexander Pushkin   December 1, 2013 & February 8, 2014
The Pickwick Papers (1836 – 1837) – Charles Dickens  (a fun read!)  November 5, 2017
Wuthering Heights (1847) – Emily Brönte   February 1, 2014
David Copperfield (1850) – Charles Dickens   January 15, 2014

 

Modern (1850 – Present): (34 books read)

Villette (1853) – Charlotte Brönte  March 31, 2016
The Warden (1855) – Anthony Trollope  (looking forward to starting The
Barchestershire Chronicles)  April 8, 2014
Madam Bovary (1856) – Gustave Flaubert  (just because)   April 4, 2014
Barchester Towers (1857) – Anthony Trollope   August 7, 2014

Doctor Thorne (1858) – Anthony Trollope  September 25, 2014

Framely Parsonage (1860 – 1861) – Anthony Trollope  December 8, 2016

Fathers and Sons (1862) – Ivan Turgenev  September 19, 2014

The Small House at Allington (1864) – Anthony Trollope  March 31, 2017
The Moonstone (1868) – Wilkie Collins  (for a light read)  January 1, 2016

War and Peace (1869) – Leo Tolstoy  (going on and on and on ……)  August 3, 2014
Erewhon (1872) – Samuel Butler  May 16, 2015
La Curée (1871 – 1872) – Emile Zola (continuing the Rougon-Macquart
series)  April 23, 2014

Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) – Thomas Hardy (I dislike Hardy’s
        novels but should include one.)  June 23, 2016
Daniel Deronda (1876) – George Eliot   February 24, 2014
Son Excellence Eugène Rougon (1876) – Emile Zola   January 31, 2014
A Doll’s House (1879) – Henrik Ibsen  July 27, 2016

The Brothers Karamazov (1880) – Fyodor Dostoevsky (I can’t wait for this
        one!)  November 10, 2016
The Black Arrow (1888) – Robert Louis Stevenson   November 20, 2013
L’Argent (1891) – Emile Zola  August 21, 2015

The Time Machine (1895) – H.G. Wells  January 11, 2016
The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) – Oscar Wilde  September 18, 2014
The Well at the World’s End (1896) – William Morris  October 5, 2016

Dracula (1897) – Bram Stoker  (scary ….. not my favourite genre)  October 19, 2015
The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) – G.K. Chesterton  (love Chesterton!)  August 20, 2014

Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories (1904 – 1911) – M.R. James
          November 13, 2013
Ethan Fromme (1911) – Edith Wharton  May 11, 2015
 The Great Gatsby (1925) – F. Scott Fitzgerald (double groan.  Since the
          first time I read this was in high-school, I need to do a re-read to
confirm that I despise it)   January 2, 2014
Mrs. Dalloway (1925) – Virginia Woolf   January 13, 2014
The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933) – C.S. Lewis  (I think this is a more simpler
Lewis) {No – this was incredibly complex!} November 30, 2013
Out of the Silent Planet (1938) – C.S. Lewis  (love his Space Trilogy – a re-

          read)  September 19, 2014
The Great Divorce (1945) – C.S. Lewis (fascinating plot)  June 15, 2014
Seven Story Mountain (1948) – Thomas Merton  (looking forward to it)  March 15, 2014
East of Eden (1952) – John Steinbeck  (I hated Mice & Men but I will attempt
          to keep an open mind with this one)   February 17, 2015
To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) – Harper Lee  April 5, 2016

Where do I go from here …..??  I’m going to condense my original list to 66 and roll many of the ones I didn’t read into my second list.  Which I’m going to keep to 50.  See!  I do learn by experience!!  Stayed tuned for the second list which I’ll post soon!

 

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“Alexey Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, a landowner of our district, who became notorious in his own day (and is still remembered among us) because of his tragic and mysterious death, which occurred exactly thirteen years ago and which I shall relate in its proper place.”

What a marvellously mysterious first sentence which brings all sorts of questions to mind.  Why was the Karamazov father only remembered because of his horrific death?  What else did he do in life?  Why has the narrator waited thirteen years to tell the story?  And why does it need to be told in its “proper place”?

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The Well at the World’s End by William Morris

“Long ago there was a little land, over which ruled a regulus or kinglet, who was called King Peter, though his kingdom was but little.”

King Peter of Upmeads has four sons, Blaise, Hugh, Gregory and Ralph.  All resolve to set out to seek great adventures but the youngest, Ralph, decides to do so against his father’s wishes.  Encouraged by Dame Katherine, a newly married lady to the chapman, she gives him a beaded necklace of blue and green stones and inspires him to find the Well at the World’s End.

“Son, true it is that the water of that Well shall cause a man to thrive in all ways, and to live through many generations of men, maybe, in honour and good-liking; but it may not keep any man alive for ever; for so have the Gods given us the gift of death lest we weary of life ……

Of strife and of war also we know naught: nor do we desire aught which we may not easily attain to.  Therefore we live long, and we fear the Gods if we should strive to live longer, lest they should bring upon us war and sickness, and over-weening desire, and weariness of life.  …..

…. ye wear away your lives desiring that which ye may scarce get; and ye set your hearts on high things, desiring to be master of the very Gods.  Therefore ye know sickness and sorrow, and oft ye die before your time, so that ye must depart and leave undone things which ye deem ye were born to do; which to all men is grievous.  And because of all this ye desire healing and thriving, whether good come of it, or ill.  Therefore ye do but right to seek to the Well at the World’s End, that ye may the better accomplish that which behoveth you, and that ye may serve your fellows and deliver them from the thralldom of those that be strong and unwise and unkind, of whom we have heard strange tales.”


Ralph’s youth and inexperience are apparent at the beginning of the story, as he travels first to Bourton Abbas and then through the Wood Perilous, meeting up with various adventures and challenges on his journey.  He encounters two women, both of whom he loves, yet one whom he is not destined to keep.  Finally, with Ursula, his love, and with the help of the Sage of Sweveham, they manage to attain their quest, finding the Well and drinking of its bounty.  Their return home is also fraught with danger and intrigue, as Ralph learns the value of perseverance and the rewards of loyalty.

The Vision of the Holy Grail tapesty (1890)
Sir Edward Burne-Jones (design and figures)
William Morris (design and execution)
source Wikipedia

Born in Essex, William Morris had a number of accomplishments and careers during his life, including that of a textile designer, a poet, a novelist and a social activist.  Though classically trained at Oxford, Morris became an architect, and with his friends, the well-known artists Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and archtitect Philip Webb, they formed a decorative arts firm that became the rage of the Victoria era.  His renown as a poet followed, and he further exercised his literary talents as a novelist.    His interest in Marxism and concern for social issues developed an appetite for activism which lasted throughout his life.  He died in 1896 of tuberculosis at the age of 62.

The Merciful Knight (1863)
Edward Burne-Jones
source Wikiart

The Well at the World’s End is a very curious mix of fairy tale, adventure, and rather risque scenes and actions for the time period of Victorian England.  While it reminded me very much of Le Morte d’ArthurThe Faerie Queene, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Morris was not reluctant to reveal the physical attraction between Ralph and the women he encountered, nor did he prevaricate about their physical relationship, however, he did so in rather a romantic knightly way.  Morris was a muse for writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien who admired his pioneering work in the genre of fantasy fiction, and the names “Gandolf” and “Silverfax” which appear in The Well at the World’s End, are echoed also in The Lord of the Rings.

Danaë (The Tower of Brass) 1887-88
Edward Burne-Jones
source ArtUK

This book was a wonderfully rich and exciting read, full of heroic exploits, peril and satisfying resolutions.  Morris was indeed a talented writer and his love for the Medieval is apparent in every word of the story.  I own his book, The News From Nowhere, which I hope to read soon as a follow-up.  Being compared to Gulliver’s Travels and Erewhon, it’s a complete deviation from this story —an utopian novel of a libertarian socialist bent. In any case, his story telling abilities solidified themselves for me with this novel and I’m looking forward to exploring more works from Morris.

Lamia and the Soldier (1905)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart

Classics Club Spin # 14 ……………. and the Winner Is ……..

 

 Number 1

 

 

I must say that I’m rather excited to read We by Yevgeny Zamyatin.  I’ve heard excellent feedback about it and I haven’t read a sci-fi book in awhile.  I’ve also been enjoying a Russian-fest lately, finishing off The Death of Ivan Ilyich and am in the middle of The Brothers Karamazov.  Both books have touched on issues that have lately been on my mind, and I wonder what insights I’ll gain from reading We.

Now I need to finish off some of my recent reads so I can get started.  I hope everyone was as happy with their spin choice as I am with mine!

 

Classics Club Spin #14

Sigh!  I usually get excited about the Classics Club Spin but this time, between my failures to finish my last spins and the load of books I already have on my plate, my enthusiasm is severely compromised.  I should pass …..

…….. however, if I can finish up some of my reads, I don’t have much planned after them, AND I’m always trying to concentrate on my Classics Club List.  So with these excuses in mind, I’m going to give it a whirl …..

The Rules for the spin are:
  1. Go to your blog.
  2. Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club list.
  3. Post that list, numbered 1 – 20, on your blog by next Monday.
  4. Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1 – 20.  Go to the list of twenty books you posted and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
  5. The challenge is to read that book by December 1st.


I used the random list organizer here to choose the 20 books from my master list.  Then I tweaked them, so my list ended up looking like this:
  1. We (1921) – Yevgeny Zamyatin
  2. Address to Young Men (363) – Saint Basil 
  3. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860) – Jacob Burckhardt
  4. The History of Napoleon Buonoparte (1829) – John Gibson Lockhart
  5. The Well at the World’s End (1896) – William Morris
  6. The City of God (426) – Augustine 
  7. Ivanhoe (1820) – Sir Walter Scott
  8. Wives and Daughters (1864/66) – Elizabeth Gaskell 
  9. Dead Souls (1842) – Nikolai Gogol 
  10. If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller (1979) – Italo Calvino
  11. A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and a Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides (1775) – Johnson & Boswell
  12. Tartuffe (1669) – Molière
  13. Twenty Years After (1845) – Alexandre Dumas
  14. Framley Parsonage (1860-61) – Anthony Trollope
  15. On the Social Contract (1762) – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  16. The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) – Ann Radcliffe
  17. The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) – Sigmund Freud 
  18. The Merchant of Venice (1596 – 1598) – William Shakespeare
  19. The Histories (450 – 420 B.C.) – Herodotus 
  20. Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) – Jules Verne

Oh, Lord help me.  I left some BIGGIES on the list without changing them out.  I just hope the spin goes in my favour and misses them.  I’m sure I’ll be tense until Monday. 🙂

Best of luck everyone with your spin!



The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

“Inside the great building of the Law Courts, during the interval in the hearing of the Melvinsky case, the members of the judicial council and the public prosecutor were gathered together in the private room of Ivan Yegorovitch Shebek, and the conversation turned upon the celebrated Krasovsky case.”

Wow!  My last Tolstoy novel read was War and Peace over two years ago and I’d forgotten the depth that Tolstoy could create within his stories with a clear, straight-forward narrative.  The Death of Ivan Ilyich appears to be merely a tale of the last days of a Russian court judge, yet Tolstoy brings the human condition into vivid and startling colours.

Ivan Ilyich has a typical Russian childhood, becomes a respected and accomplished young adult who manages to climb the social strata with aplomb and an admirable acuity.  He takes a wife who, though a nag, through his very avoidance of her, manages to give him a sharper focus to his work, and therefore her very shrewishness assists him in his social ascension.  They have the average and respectable number of two children, a girl and a boy, along with the typical infant deaths of that period, and Ilyich’s life is complete.  Except for one problem.  He is dying.

With Tolstoy’s astute and penetrating acumen, the reader shares Ivan Ilyich’s last days as he slowly sinks into the realization of his approaching demise.  In life, Ilyich was able to focus on the impermanent: his career, the appearance of a normal family life, his status in the community.  All his worth was embodied in these transient things, but suddenly in illness, these symbols fade into obscurity and death forces him, almost against his will, to view his life in stark reality.

Initially, Ivan is confused, and cries out to a God whom he had previously seen only as a inconvenient afterthought:

“Why has Thou done all this?  What brought me to this?  Why, why torture me so horribly?”

Yet slowly a “strange idea” begins to form in his mind.  He does not want to suffer, yet live.  But how does he wish to live?

“As you used to live before — happily and pleasantly?” queried the voice.  And he began going over in his imagination the best moments of his pleasant life.  But strange to say, all these best moments of his pleasant life seemed now not at all what they had seemed then.  All — except the first memories of his childhood …..  As soon as he reached the beginning of what had resulted in him as he was now, Ivan Ilyitch, all that had seemed joys to him then now melted away before his eyes and were transformed into something trivial, and often disgusting ……..  And the further he went from childhood, the nearer to the actual present, the more worthless and uncertain were the joys …..  

He was living ….

“…. as though I had been going steadily downhill, imagining that I was going uphill.  So it was in fact.  In public opinion I was going uphill and steadily as I got up it life was ebbing away from me …..  Can it be I have not lived as one ought?”

Death brings echoes of truth to him, but instead of accepting this burgeoning enlightenment, Ivan chooses to hang on to the mirage of the life he has lived and dismisses the idea.  The reader wonders if Ivan will die as he’d lived, merely existing, and if the true meaning of life itself will elude his grasp?

Death and Life (1908-16)
Gustav Klimt
source Wikiart

In spite of the title, much of the story is about Ivan’s life and through his life, we view his death.  With each sentence Tolstoy drives home the futility and meaninglessness of Ilyich’s daily actions, that brought material success but failed to feed the soul within the man.  It is only at the very end, with the touch of his son’s hand and a kiss, that Ivan experiences an epiphany that expands his whole world.

The universality of the story echoes with a profound yet practical resonance.  Drawing from the narrative, Ivan’s life, though complete with success in business, a (on the surface) contented family life, and respect of his peers, it is really bereft of human relationship in all areas.  Tolstoy himself says Ivan’s previous life “was the simplest, the most ordinary, and the most awful.”   Ivan could be you or I and with his novella, Tolstoy prods us to examine the purpose of our existence.  We need to evaluate our lives ….. not only just skate on the surface, but to dig deeply.  What is truly important in life? What genuinely gives us life as soulful beings and not simply as materialistic creatures who live only for pleasure and business?  And a question that has been on my mind often lately:  How do we struggle against societal pressure to conform to the latter and find a meaningful existence, to live in the “now” yet reach beyond it?

Classics Club Spin #13

I was going to resist the spin this time.  I have too many books on the go and too many of them are atrociously difficult, or inordinately huge.  But one of my goals for the year was to pare down my Classics Club list, so why on earth wouldn’t I participate in a spin?

With that said, I’m not shy to admit that I absolutely manipulated my list.  Well, perhaps not completely, but I did change out about seven books for ones that I’m either currently reading, are shorter novels, or projects that I am struggling with (Shakespeare, that’s YOU!).  Surprisingly, one of the manipulations was not The Faerie Queene.

The Rules for the spin are:
  1. Go to your blog.
  2. Pick twenty books that you’ve got left to read from your Classics Club list.
  3. Post that list, numbered 1 – 20, on your blog by next Monday.
  4. Monday morning, we’ll announce a number from 1 – 20.  Go to the list of twenty books you posted and select the book that corresponds to the number we announce.
  5. The challenge is to read that book by August 1st.


I used the random list organizer here to choose the 20 books from my master list.  Then I tweaked them, so my list ended up looking like this:
  1. Ivanhoe (1820) – Sir Walter Scott
  2. Far From the Madding Crowd (1874) – Thomas Hardy
  3. Framley Parsonage (1860-61) – Anthony Trollope
  4. 1984 (1949) – George Orwell
  5. The Fairie Queene (1590 – 1596) – Edmund Spenser
  6. Henry V (1599) – Wiliam Shakespeare
  7. The Histories (450-20 BC) – Herodotus
  8. Richard III (1592) – William Shakespeare 
  9. Le Rêve (1888) – Emile Zola
  10. Tom Sawyer (1876) – Mark Twain
  11. The Good Soldier Svejk (1923) – Jaroslav Hasek
  12. The Silver Chalice (1952) – Thomas Costain 
  13. A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and a Journal of a Tour
  14. The Lord of the Flies (1954) – William Golding
  15. The Red Bade of Courage (1895) – Steven Crane
  16. The Robe (1942) – Lloyd C. Douglas 
  17. The Twelve Caesars (121) – Suetonius 
  18. The Stranger (1942) – Albert Camus
  19. Tom Brown’s School Days (1857) – Thomas Hughes 
  20. The Merchant of Venice (1596 – 1598) – William Shakespeare

While my intentions are good, if I don’t finish by August 1st, I won’t be surprised.  But nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?  And if I get a book I’m already reading, it will be more of a guarantee for success.  
So let the spin begin!