The Phoenix and the Turtle by William Shakespeare

The Phoenix and the Turtle

I drew The Phoenix and the Turtle, a poem by William Shakespeare, for my Deal Me In Challenge, and after reading it, I’m so confused.  Fortunately, I pulled up an article on it which said it is one of the more confusing poems in English literature, so I feel a little better.  But only a little.  Let’s see what I can discover about it ……

Continue reading

The Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the Willows“The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.”

Like many readers, I read The Wind in the Willows as a child and was completely charmed by the adventures of Ratty and Mole and Badger and Mr. Toad and the other creatures who populated Grahame’s captivating tale.  Yet like any children’s book read as an adult, you wonder if it will have the same effect now as then. Would I relate to its characters, be able to vividly imagine its setting, to become part of the story instead of simply experiencing it? Fortunately, I found time had diminished none of its magic. From the moment that Mole discovered the river and began “messing around in boats,” I was there. I could hear the fresh wind rushing through the reeds and the splash of the water as Mole fell out of the boat.  I could feel the warmth of Ratty’s snug house and the fear of Mole as he trekked through the Wild Woods.  And what became appreciated once again became familiar and what became familiar became loved.

Continue reading

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

The Good Soldier Ford Madox Ford“This is the saddest story I have ever heard.”

It has been a long, long time since a book has made me angry, yet A Good Soldier has managed to disturb my normally cheerful and placid demeanour.  It was part of a buddy read yet most of the participants dropped out after reading the beginning of the book.  Sadly, I persevered and I don’t think I’m the better for it.

Continue reading

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

The Return of the Native Thomas HardyThe Return of the Native: “A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment.”

Oh my, I was laughing after finishing this novel, which perhaps wasn’t the reaction that Hardy had envisioned.  But the drama!  The high drama!  I was beginning to wonder what other circumstance of fate (which actually didn’t seem like fate but a deliberate thwarting of anyone’s happiness) was going to occur to cause yet another catastrophe.  It was a medley of characters making the same mistakes over and over again and never learning one thing from them.

Continue reading

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

 

Continue reading

Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women by George MacDonald

Phantastes George MacDonaldPhantastes: A Faerie Romance: “I awoke one morning with the usual perplexity of mind which accompanies the return of consciousness.”

I read Phantastes for the first time in 2012, and while reading it, I was very confused with the progress of the story.  So many questions swirled around in my head as to the plot, such as why Anodos, the main character, decided to go to a particular place and why he didn’t listen to advice and what was the point of his wanderings?  I approached the book as I would a book like The Lord of the Rings where I was expecting an obvious quest in the culmination of something grand. What I received was a sort of lazy, fanciful wandering by Anodos as he continually encountered faerie princesses and maidens, along with a knight, giants and other evil malefactors.  While there were instances of adventure and situations where he had to employ his strength and good sense, these instances seemed solitary experiences that did not connect to the whole.  I just couldn’t figure out the point of the story.  When I couldn’t find it, I was left somewhat disappointed and unimpressed.  Flash-forward to my second reading this year and an epiphany! ….

Continue reading

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?

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

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

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

Mr. Pickwick slides on the ice
source Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

Mr. Pickwick, picnics
source Wikimedia Commons

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

 

 

The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope

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

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

Continue reading