The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

the age of innocence

The Age of Innocence: “On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.”

It’s 1870s New York, the Gilded Age of America, where substantial economic growth has bred a culture of wealth, class and entitlement.  There are certain ways you behave and certain ways you don’t.  The approval of the masses govern your actions and if you fall out of step, the resulting repercussions could be fatal to your social standing.  However as opulent as the “gild” may appear, gilding is often used to mask flaws, and Wharton, in this Pulitzer Prize novel, examines the cracks and blemishes of New York society underneath the glamour.

The Age of Innocence Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence (1785 or 1788) Joshua Reynolds source Wikipedia

Newland Archer is a young man who is firmly entrenched in the Gilded Age, the dictums of New York society inscribed in his soul with the expectations of the generation preceding his firmly entrenched in his behaviour.  Then enters Madame Olenska. Ellen Olenska is the cousin of his betrothed, May Welland.  While May is simple and uncomplicated, sort of a clear mirror of the society in which they move, Ellen is foreign and complex and holds an attraction for Newland that draws him outside of his societal shell, allowing him a new perspective on life. Suddenly the world he saw as sensible and practical now receives a critical appraisal from him as it appears small-minded, predictable and stifling.  As his attraction for Ellen grows, so does his dissatisfaction.  There is a possible turning point, but the break never materializes as Newland and May wed, beginning their married life.  Yet Ellen appears in their lives yet again and the uncomfortable unknown is always whispering around us: will Archer satisfy his longing and run away with Ellen or will old society New York curb his emotions and steer him on a more dutiful course?

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Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Christmas at Cold Comfort FarmFor someone who has read Cold Comfort Farm, I was so excited to find this book, however I was disappointed to discover the title is misleading.  Instead of being further adventures from Cold Comfort Farm, it is actually a compilation of short stories by Stella Gibbons and Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm is only one of them.  And to add further disappointment, only one or two of them even remotely mentions Christmas.  Fool me once, and all that ……

In any case, for a book of short stories they were quite interesting, even if they were mostly missing the Christmas theme.

 

The Little Christmas Tree

Thirty-three year old Miss Rhoda Harting is a single spinster who makes her living as a writer.  Retiring to a cottage in Buckinghamshire one Christmas season she finds herself lonely, a stark contrast to her usually reclusive yet positive character. On Christmas Day she encounters three children at her door who are attracted by her tiny Christmas tree in the window of her cottage.  After lunch and a wild story, the arrival of their father sets up a question: is Rhoda destined to live life as a spinster or will love rearrange her carefully ordered life?

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A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens“Marley was as dead as a doornail.”

We all know this treasured Christmas story.  Scrooge, a cantankerous old bachelor who lives a solitary life and whose sole purpose is to increase his wealth, initially has a vision of his dead partner, Jacob Marley, on his doorknocker.  Not one for fancy, Scrooge humbugs his daydream, but when he is visited by Marley’s ghost, which is then succeeded by three other spirits – the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future, Scrooge learns many lessons of what he has lost, what he has become, and his fate if he continues on his selfish and merciless path.

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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 Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  3. Classic by a Female Author:  The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot or Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
  4. Classic In Translation:  The Stranger by Albert Camus
  5. Classic Comedy:  Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais or The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
  6. Classic Tragedy: Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare
  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:

 

Top Ten Cosy Reads for Winter

source Wikipedia

Brrr!  After an unusually warm autumn, the temperature has dropped and today I woke up to a chilly -4ºC morning.  However, the sun is shining brightly and while there is a nip to the air, there is warmth in front of the fire and what better day to list my top 10 winter reads for those frosty days of winter.

1.  The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

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A Literary Christmas 2018

In the Bookcase is hosting A Literary Christmas challenge and since I’ve been so neglectful of many of my other challenges this year, I wanted to try to finish on a high note.  Therefore, I’m joining!

All I have to do is to make a list of Christmas books I’d like to read and then finish as many of them as I can on or before December 31, 2018.  I should have some time off this Christmas so I have high hopes of doing well with this challenge.  Plus, I can slot in some wonderful (shorter) children’s Christmas classics, which will make it a little easier on me.

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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!

 

Excellent People by Anton Chekhov

“Once upon a time there lived in Moscow a man called Vladimir Semyonitch Liadovsky.”

Wow, Chekhov was in fine form with this short story!  A narrator relates a story of a literary man trained at law, Vladimir Semyonitch Liadovsky, and his sister, Vera Semyonovna, a listless woman who has been disappointed in life.  At the start of the story, Vladimir has compassion and love for his sister, who had her new husband die, survived a suicide attempt, and now is living with him, quietly revering his talents.
And although there is a peaceful harmony at the beginning of the story, we sense a restlessness within Vera, and a somewhat egotistical, intolerant manner within Vladimir who displays a rather self-satisfied demeanour with regard to his talents and an intellectual judgement over his those who cannot share is views.
However, one day their quiet and predictable life is shaken when Vera poses an unsettling and unexpected question, “What is the meaning of non-resistance to evil?” Suddenly a new idea is brought upon Vladimir by someone close to him, someone whom he is used to seeing as a subordinate and one who praises him, no matter what the situation.  It is a liberal question that presses against his conservatism, a progressive question that goes against tradition, an elephant in the room, so to speak.  At first he cannot quite comprehend but Vera persists, “Where would we all be if human life were ordered on the basis on non-resistance to evil?”  Vladimir attempts to slough off the idea, by approaching it lightly in his next article but his sister is not satisfied, “Why would a gardener sow for the benefit of thieves and beggars, as one did in the story she just read?  Did he behave sensibly?” Vladimir is further distressed as he senses for the first time, the admiration he is used to receiving from her is uncomfortably absent.  He expounds that to write in such a way is to allow the thought that thieves deserve to exist. What garbage!
Moscow in Winter (1872)
Ivan Aivazovsky
source Wikiart
Their interactions increasingly degrade, as the question and Vera’s change in manner begin to tear apart the equanimity and peace of their previous existence.  Vera wants to explore ideas, to search for answers; Vladimir simply wants to remain grasping his ideas, the ideas he has survived on during his life.  They talk and they discuss.  They do not understand each other.
The ending I will leave uncommented on if others want to read this tale, but needless to say, it is not happy. Again, I’m so impressed with this story.  Chekhov explores tradition versus progress through this interaction of genders and siblings.  Who should better understand each other than people of the same blood, people who have lived together in close community and have a certain respect and love for one another?  However, they not only cannot agree, they cannot even understand one another.  But yet, one has to ask themselves what their relationship was built on, as it was only in harmony when the sister admired the brother and only gave compliments?  Was it their lack of a truthful and deep relationship that undermined their ability to comprehend one another, or was it really a clear picture of the struggles of Russian society between the old tradition and the new ideas of the time.  And we must not forget the title, Excellent People.  Both the brother and sister are good people but each have different ideas.  If we focus on “ideas” or “philosophies” and forget that we are dealing with people do we become less human and less able to understand each other?  And while life would have been more harmonious if the sister remained in her apathetic devotion to her brother, and the brother remained happy in his narrow-minded pursuits, would it have been better?  Their lives would have been more comfortable and untroubled, yet not as real.  Ask yourself, is it better to remain peaceful and happy in a life of past tradition and apathy, or is it more “human” to strive for goals and struggle for something better for self and society, but remain miserable within this quest?  And a question from Mudpuddle’s comment below:  I wish I knew if Chekhov meant the title to be serious, in that we can all have good intentions and different points of view and yet still experience unsatisfying and disharmonious outcomes, or sarcastic in that both the brother and sister where not able to communicate their views and come to a resolution, their inner lives became more turbulent from examining them, and nothing really changed, so then they were really “excellent” only in the way they viewed themselves?  Great questions with no easy answers!
I definitely have to read this again at a later date after it settles and percolates a little.  I encourage anyone who has a spare ten minutes to read it and if you decide to come back and leave your thoughts, I’d love it.  While it’s only a 7-8 page short story, it would have made a great read-along.  Who would have thought!
Deal Me In Challenge 2018 #1 ~ Two of Clubs

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

“When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.”

Would you like to read a book with the setting in southern rural England, populated by stoic farmers, simple and often comical peasants, one that explores complex relationships between men and women of that time?  It sounds like a wonderful beginning doesn’t it?

Set in the fictional English county of Wessex, Gabriel Oak is a respectable and reliable farmer who loves the unreachable Bathsheba Everdene, a woman who disparages his hard-working, yet common lifestyle and refuses his proposal of marriage.  When Oak finds himself ruined financially, he must depend upon Bathsheba to give him work and a way to reclaim his reputation.  A thoughtless whim on the part of Bathsheba leads to an obsession in the case of Mr. Boldwood, a neighbouring landowner, and Sergent Troy, a jaunty philanderer, seduces Bathsheba’s servant, Fanny, without much remorse, then deliberately bewitches Bathsheba with his rakish manner and manipulative personality, not to mention his unparalleled swordsmanship.  After a fling in the town of Bath, they marry and he sets himself up at the farm as a rather lazy landowner, but lo!, Fanny Robin returns and Troy decides that he has never loved anyone as much as Fanny, and Bathsheba is as interesting as dirt to him.  His heart is loyal, his mind is captivated by only one and no other.  Tragedy devastates Troy causing him to wander senselessly until it is thought that he is drown in the sea.  But no!, another dramatic twist; he returns, wonders why he ever left Bathsheba and appears to want to re-enter her life.  Sound rather nutty?  It is.

A Mill at Gillingham in Dorset (1826)
John Constable
source Wikiart

Yet amongst the dramatic scenes and the emotional mood swings of the characters, Hardy manages to convey a bold impression of the area and a deep understanding of the characters.  And I can’t quite figure out how he does it.  If I examine the characters and their actions individually, I have all sorts of criticisms about their development and plausibility.  However, if I take the book as a whole, I feel that I have inhabited the county of Wessex with a familiarity that is startling; I recognize the types of characters who reside there, their passions and motivations.  Instead of painting a classical picture with bold lines, bright colour, and detail, Hardy has given us an impressionist canvas perhaps from which up close, is muddy and obscure, yet when one steps back, the big picture comes into focus.

Sheep
Charles Jones
source ArtUK

As for the strong and spirited Bathsheba, while on the surface Hardy appears to elevate her to function adeptly in a man’s world, nevertheless there is an underlying feeling of mockery in his treatment of her.  Although she runs a farm with men subservient to her direction, she is often needing the advice of the stoic, yet devoted, Gabriel Oak, and in the end, her feelings and passions are captured by Troy, a man who, to any astute and respectable woman, should be recognized as a charlatan and a gambler.  Instead of showing good sense and integrity, Bathsheba allows herself to be enslaved by him.

I’ve been a die-hard Hardy-avoider for years, not wanting to partake in the depressed nature of his stories, but I’m glad I’ve chosen to dip my toes into his narrative, exploring his richly created world.  A close inspection of the characters and the period drama shows an imbalance within the work, but nevertheless his prose shines with rich descriptions and elaborate detail.  Hardy shows man in his paradoxical state, both in harmony and conflict with nature, and in sympathy and enmity with each other and himself.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

From Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751)