Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.”

While Northanger Abbey was the first novel written by Jane Austen and sold to a publisher by her brother, Henry, in fact it was repurchased by the author and not published until six months after her death in December 1817.  Austen’s parody of 17th century Gothic novels is told with a good-natured humour, but a valuable lesson lies beneath the surface of its narrative.

Catherine Morland, the daughter of a vicar, is given the chance to travel to Bath with a respectable family called the Thorpes.  Isabella Thorpe is her particular friend and the two absorb the delights of the town with an eager anticipation.  Yet Catherine’s sheltered upbringing has perhaps made her more artless than your average girl of her age, and her innocent and credulous nature allows for a manipulation of her desires by those with more experience in the arts of enterprise and self-interest.  Her steady diet of Gothic novels, combined with her somewhat protected existence, contribute to her highly erroneous perceptions of the motivations and behaviour of others.  When an answer does not immediately present itself, she speeds off in wild internal ramblings of imagination, that rarely represent reality.  Likewise, when she is faced with obvious circumstances, she fails to perceive them.  Her lack of discernment with regard to John Thorpe’s infatuation of her remains puzzling until her understanding is brought into context.  What experience does this young sheltered girl have to bring her presence of mind and an ability to discern attitudes outside of her usual element of a protected existence and romantic Gothic narratives?  With her uncritical naiveté and wild flights of fancy, initially one wonders if Catherine will be able to navigate through the pitfalls of her own mistaken perceptions to arrive at an outcome that will benefit her innocent, and yet misguided, nature.

source

In many ways, Northanger Abbey is a comedy, as Austen treats her character with a gentle type of humour. Catherine, while having admirable qualities, is living a delusion, cultivated by her reading material, yet her mistakes are of innocent intent due to ignorance rather than willful human folly. Her awakening, while somewhat arduous, is brief, and she soon demonstrates her innate ability to put into action the values instilled by her family and, with the guidance of the young gentleman clergyman, Henry Tilney, both her instincts and maturity grow, while her wildly unrestrained imagination is harnessed, and diminished into a sensible and mature culmination of happiness and contentment.  

While this book doesn’t necessarily showcase Austen’s usual brilliance, it is solidly developed and an engaging story until the last chapter. Then the book falls all to pieces. Somehow Eleanor Tilney, Henry’s sister, makes a brilliant match with a character, “a man of fortune,” who has never been mentioned by anyone, including the bride herself, until four paragraphs from the end of the novel; the General (Henry’s father), who has been somewhat gruff and stringent, yet ofttimes displaying a pleasant character, turns into a mercenary, blustering, (and may I add, foolish) tyrant; and Catherine and Henry’s success in love looks in jeopardy.  Yet all is tied up in a sentence or two, and the reader is left feeling like they just hit a brick wall.  It’s not Austen at her finest, yet the book is a charming experiment and an example of Austen at the origin of her art.

Ruin of Kenilworth Castle – a gothic-type building
source Wikipedia

Northanger Abbey has the unique distinction for being known as the novel that alludes to a number of Gothic suspense novels.  If you are a Gothic connoisseur, here is the list for your enjoyment:

  • The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
  • The Italian by Ann Radcliffe
  • Clermont by Regina Maria Roche
  • Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons
  • Mysterious Warnings by Eliza Parsons
  • Necromancer of the Black Forest by Ludwig Flammenberg
  • Midnight Bell by Francis Latham
  • Orphan of the Rhine by Eleanor Sleath
  • Horrid Mysteries by Carl Gross (translated by Peter Will)
  • The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis

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

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

“The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us.”

I read this book for the Classics Club Spin #11.  Was it my spin book?  No, it was Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses, and Prejudices spin book but I decided to read along with her.  Why?  Well, her book was much shorter than my Spin book, and I couldn’t imagine getting through God in the Dock in the allotted time frame.  Yes, I’m breaking the rules, but it’s on my Classics Club list, AND at least I read something!

The unidentified Time Traveller has built a machine that he believes will transport him through time.  After he explains to his dinner guests the concept of his invention, he puts it into practice, returning the next week to regal them with the fantastic details of his adventure.

Having sent himself to 802,701 A.D., he encounters a race called the Eloi, a diminutive race that behaves in the manner of small, wide-eyed children, even though they are of adult growth.  They live an uncomplicated life of leisure, simply eating and resting, and having no initiative or curiosity to speak of. Expecting some sort of greatly evolved being living in the future, the Time Traveller experiences disappointment and puzzlement at their almost backward evolution, wondering how their lackadaisical way of life is supported. But the Traveller’s perplexity turns to dread as his machine mysteriously disappears.  Pursing the theft using reason and action, he eventually discovers another race, living in the depths of the earth; the Morlocks, hideous, pale, savage, troglodyte-like creatures who are in possession of his time machine. Unlike the Eloi land dwellers, these cavernous people exhibit an industry and an ability to reason, but in a primitive way that is only based on their survival. The Traveller discovers that they are providing the means for the Eloi’s rather vacuous paradisical existence using underground tools and machinery, yet they are also the predators of their parasitical neighbours, catching them for food during the night.  Eventually, he concocts a plan to retrieve his machine, his only link with human society, his only means of returning to a civilized world.

Source Wikipedia

Trained as a biologist, Wells developed an interest in Darwinism, and the significance of evolution is apparent in this work.  The Eloi and the Morlocks, descendents of the human race, are presented as two species that have evolved on completely different tracks, separated by social oppression and elitism.  The Traveller observes:

“Again, the exclusive tendency of richer people —- due, no doubt, to the increasing refinement of their education, and the widening gulf between them and the rude violence of the poor —- is already leading to the closing, in their interest, of considerable portions of the surface of the land ……..  And this same widening gulf — which is due to the length and expense of the higher educational process and the increased facilities for and temptations towards refined habits on the part of the rich —- will make that exchange between class and class, that promotion by intermarriage which at present retards the splitting of our species along line of social stratification, less and less frequent. So, in the end, above ground you must have the Haves, pursuing pleasure and comfort and beauty, and below ground the Have-nots, the Workers getting continually adapted to the conditions of their labour ….”

The Traveller had expected unprecedented progress, but instead found a degeneration on each side, of intelligence, empathy, mercy, discipline, respect, etc., in fact most qualities which make us human.

Wells, a commited socialist, was extrapolating some of the problems faced in his own time, such as the widening gulf between the rich and the poor, and hatred or disdain along the same class lines.  But instead of the poor simply being oppressed by the rich, Wells takes it a step further; the rich, in their mindless indulgence, become the prey.  Wells intended to communicate not only these innate problems in society but the lack of success of the solutions that communism and utopian socialism offered for the betterment of society. It’s a very bleak picture of the future.

C.S. Lewis loved Wells’ fiction as a boy, but as he matured and his tastes became more discerning, he began to see cracks in their veneer.  While he praised Wells for his original thought, and his desire to tackle the bigger questions, he found the works “thin” and “lacking the roughness and density of life.”  I’m by no means a Wells expert, but so far I’d agree with that assessment.  The book’s plot is entertaining but rather simple, lacking any subtleties or true character development.  His characters often work on an elementary level, to illustrate the questions, but without being imbued with a life of their own.  The questions themselves, while compelling, are treated quite swiftly, with the narrator often chronicling the issues instead of the reader becoming intimate with the characters and absorbing dilemma through their actions.  While the pace might be useful for a movie, it doesn’t really give the reader time to process, so the ideas thump around in our heads a little but there is no true contemplating of them that leads to a greater understanding, or development that leads to possible solutions.

Ruth from A Great Book Study was also reading The Time Machine at the same time as Cirtnecce and I, so I’m including both of their insightful reviews below.

Further Reading:

Emma by Jane Austen

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings in existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”

Young Emma Woodhouse of Hartfield has been the pet of her father and governess, and perhaps indulged by both to a faulty degree.  However, her character is one of kindness and charity, but enhanced with a healthy interest in the business of others, especially if it includes the subject of marriage.  Mr. Knightley, a close family friend and owner of Donwell Abbey, attempts to correct Emma and steer her on a more prudent path, but Emma’s high spirits require the correction of life experience. As she stumbles through her attempts at matchmaking based on her faulty reasoning, we see Emma grow from a willful, impressionable, decisive girl into a more careful, thoughtful, and empathetic woman.

From the first sentence we can see that this is a type of coming-of-age novel. The struggles and challenges of life are what develop strength of character. Because Emma has lived a relatively trouble-free and pampered life, we initially see in her character a willful blindness which often only serves to punctuate the errors in her thinking and of her actions.  The tension in the story is the uncertainty of Emma’s transformation.  We know that she is able to learn, but with her stubborn nature, will that be possible?  Her personal tenacity does not allow for an instant conversion, and instead we see small steps of correction in Emma’s character, even while she gets into more scrapes and misunderstandings.  Yet Emma realizes, or is forced to realize, the value of the advice of those closest to her, admitting her faults and seeking to amend them.

Hartfield
(Squerryes Court)

As I contemplated this read, I felt that it was not simply Emma who was often mistaken. Not only is Emma completely blind, but all the other characters exhibit their own sort of blindness to varying degrees.  Not only does no one know their neighbour or accurately guess their motivations, often people don’t even know themselves.  Each person is often attempting to hide their observations, either out of personal gain or out of societal politeness, but in each case, these decisions are shown to be unwise. Does this tell us that by understanding our fellow human beings that we will gain a deeper knowledge of ourselves?  However, perhaps Mr. Knightley had a more accurate indication of the issue, when he stated, “Mystery; Finesse —- how they pervert the understanding!  My Emma, does not every thing serve to prove more and more the beauty of truth and sincerity in all our dealings with each other?”  We need to be truthfully transparent with one another, even if it is difficult or uncomfortable, to truly cultivate relationships with minimum complication.

By the end of the novel, Emma is a much wiser woman.  Are all of her faults erased?  Not at all, but many of those faults are what make part of her character so delightful.  It is the opening of her mind, the willingness to admit her wrongs and the receptiveness to bettering herself, that makes her a truly likeable heroine.

Ode To A Nightingale by John Keats

If my memory serves me well, I believe this poem is a favourite of Jason at Literature Frenzy and it was his love of it that inspired me to include it in my Deal Me In Challenge.  Without this inspiration, it would probably still be unread, as Keats, for some reason, intimidates my uneducated poetic sensibilities.

Common Nightingale
Source Wikipedia
Ode to a Nightingale
The Dryad (1884-85)
Evelyn De Morgan
 Wikimedia Commons
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
         But being too happy in thine happiness,—
                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
                        In some melodious plot
         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
                Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
         Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
         Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
         Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
                With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
                        And purple-stained mouth;
         That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
                And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
         What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
         Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
         Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
                Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
                        And leaden-eyed despairs,
         Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
                Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
         Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
         Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
         And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
                Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays;
                        But here there is no light,
         Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
                Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
         Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
         Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
         White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
                Fast fading violets cover’d up in leaves;
                        And mid-May’s eldest child,
         The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
                The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
         I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
         To take into the air my quiet breath;
                Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
         To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
                While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
                        In such an ecstasy!
         Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain—
                   To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
         No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
         In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
         Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
                She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
                        The same that oft-times hath
         Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
                Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
         To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
         As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
         Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
                Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep
                        In the next valley-glades:
         Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
                Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?
Illustration of Poem
W.J. Neatby
source Wikipedia

Keats initially uses extreme contrasts of his dulled, poisoned senses to the happy nightingale, its song urging him out of his despair; one wonders if it will completely succeed.  In the second stanza the poet relates his desire for wine. Why?  Because wine is made from grapes, will it allow him to meld more with nature, or does he simply want to get intoxicated to forget his troubles?  He admits then that he wishes to escape the suffering of life and expresses regret at the transience of youth and life.  Ah, now he claims that he won’t reach the nightingale through wine but poetry, and expresses almost a dualism in that his brain is dull perhaps still with care, yet he is already with the joyous nightingale.  The fifth stanza is even more curious. Though he is in the forest with the nightingale, he cannot see the beauty there, as if he can only get glimpes as he is unable to liberate himself from life’s hardship.  The poet admits to being “half in love with …. Death,” —- I had thought the poet was equating the nightingale’s song with joy, but now he appears to be marrying it with death.  Is this part of his confusion or something deeper that I’m missing?  Yet if he dies, he will cease to hear the song, so perhaps he realizes the dilemma.  The poet then equates the nightingale with immortality and, as we’ve read, the bird almost transcends earthly constraints; its song has been a continuous joy in a temporal world. But alas, the poet is recalled to his sad state, the nightingale’s song abandons him and he is left to wonder if his whole experience was real or a dream.

Portrait of Keats listening to a nightingale (1845)
Joseph Severn
source Wikipedia

This was certainly a difficult poem for a rank amateur.  The themes I could pick up were isolation, death, a transcendent joy that perhaps may be unreachable at least for the poet, abandonment, disconnection, transience of life, and a longing for something beyond this life.

As I was reading, I wondered if the poet was trying to match his creative expression with the nightingale’s song.  It would seem impossible to create at the level of God, but I felt such inspiration in the poem, almost as if Keats was trying to create the poem as intensely as the poet of the poem was wishing to escape earthly adversity.

I’m no expert, but this poem seems to pair well with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s To A Skylark, which O reviewed recently on her blog Behold the Stars.  Both poets put nature front and centre, but Shelley has a much more positive outlook, while Keats’ poem is filled with more nuanced emotions and contradictions.  The similarities and contrasts between the two are intriguing.

Deal Me In Challenge #9 – Ace of Diamonds

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:

Doctor Marigold by Charles Dickens

“I am Cheap Jack, and my own father’s name was Willum Marigold.”

And so we are introduced to Doctor Marigold, bestowed with such an unusual first name for a Cheap Jack in honour of the doctor who delivered him.  I did not imagine him in the appearance of the rather dandified peasant-gypsy looking gentleman on the cover to the left, but I suppose that’s beside the point.  In any case, Doctor Marigold, as you know, is a Cheap Jack. For those who don’t know what a Cheap Jack is (I raise my hand), it’s a hawker who deals in bargain merchandise, anything from plates to frying pans to razors to watches to rolling pins and everything in between.  Marigold has followed his father’s trade like a good son.

Doctor Marigold 1868
E.G. Dalziel
source Victoria Web

Soon Marigold marries a woman who is not a bad wife by his estimation, but whoa, does she have a temper!  She berates and torments her husband, and later beats their daughter, Sophy, while Marigold stands and watches.  Why doesn’t he intervene?  Because it causes more of a ruckus than observing, and then people suspect that he is beating his wife.  Wimp.

Sophy grows up especially attached to her father and fearful of her mother — no kidding.  Yet with their vagrant lifestyle, she becomes ill and passes away.  One fateful day, the now childless couple come across a mother beating her tearfully pleading daughter, and with a shrill scream his wife tears away and drowns herself in the river.  Good riddance.

Lonely Marigold now roams the country alone, until one day he comes across a deaf and dumb child whom he purchases and calls Sophy.  They are devoted to each other for years, until, when she reaches sixteen, he decides to have her educated and puts her in an institution for two years.  When he returns she is thrilled to see him, but as they resume their lives, he learns that she has acquired a suitor.  Old generous Marigold decides he cannot stand in the way of their love —- although Sophy is willing to give it up to stay with her father —- and allows them to marry.  The couple then move to China and five or so years later return with Marigold’s granddaughter for a reunion.

Grandfather
E.A. Abbey
source Victoria Web

Again, Dickens is somewhat of a trial to read.  On one hand, his stories engage you for being overly maudlin and nauseatingly sentimental but I can never shake the feeling that he seems to think that as long as he uses affected emotional scenes and obscurely clever sentences, he can win adherents with such contrived effort.  I find it almost insulting. However, as much as the first part of the story really irritated me, I must admit, I somewhat fell for it in the end. Perhaps Dickens achieved his desired effect after all.

This short story, so far is my least favourite of my Deal Me In Challenges.  We’ll see what next week brings.

Deal Me In Challenge #7 – Three of Clubs

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan

“In this my relation of the merciful working of God upon my soul, it will not be amiss, if, in the first place, I do, in a few words, give you a hint of my pedigree, and manner or bringing up; that thereby the goodness and bounty of God towards me, may be the more advanced and magnified before the sons of men.”

John Bunyan was born in Elstow, a village near Bedford in Bedfordshire, and was baptized on November 28, 1628, the first son of Thomas Bunyan and his second wife.  In 1644, he joined the Parliamentary army as a soldier and was active until 1647.  The year 1655 saw him joining the congregational church at Bedford and the following year he was actively disputing with the Quakers, out of which was born his first book, Some Gospel Truths Opened.  With the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658 and the restoration of the monarchy, the persecution of Non-Conformists began. Bunyan was given every opportunity to conform by the surprisingly tolerant Royalists, but he was staunchly resistant to a compromise of principles that could weaken the faith of his followers.  Prevented from preaching by various imprisonments, Bunyan turned to writing.  Grace Abounding is a record of his spiritual experiences from his first meaningful encounter with God to his life of preaching.

Bunyan admits to having a lack of religion in his upbringing and it was only later, with some the influence from his wife, that he came to entertain thoughts of spirituality:

“But I observe, though I was such a great sinner before conversion, yet God never much charged the guilt of the sins of my ignorance upon me; only he showed me I was lost if I had not Christ, because I had been a sinner; I saw that I wanted a perfect righteousness to present me without fault before God, and this righteousness was nowhere to be found, but in the person of Jesus Christ.”

After hearing a sermon preached from the Song of Songs, Bunyan was struck by the love of God and came to the following conclusions:

That the church and so every saved soul, is:

  1. Christ’s love, when loveless
  2. Christ’s love without a cause
  3. Christ’s love when hated to the world
  4. Christ’s love when under temptation, and under desertion
  5. Christ’s love from first to last

Birthplace of John Bunyan
source Wikipedia

Though Bunyan had moments of euphoric revelation and joyful epiphanies, his conversion was still fraught with doubts and fears.  Had he abused God too much for forgiveness?  Was forgiveness given to others but not to him?  Like Esau, had he sold his birthright and would never be able to regain it?  His agonies leapt off the page with a startling clarity:

“Yet I saw my sin most barbarous, and a filthy crime, and could not but conclude, and that with great shame and astonishment, that I had horribly abused the holy Son of God; wherefore, I felt my soul greatly to love and pity him, and my bowels to yearn toward him; for I saw he was still my Friend, and did reward me good for evil; yea, the love and affection that then did burn within to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ did work, at this time, such a strong and hot desire for revengement upon myself for the abuse I had done unto him, that, to speak as then I thought, had I a thousand gallons of blood within my veins, I could freely then have split it all at the command and feet of this my Lord and Saviour.”

Bunyan eventually is able to reason his way through his doubts and come to peace with his faith.  He realizes that while he prayed fervently when he was in the midst of troubles, he neglected to pray for himself to avoid the pitfalls and temptations.  The sense of being a sinner did not ever leave him completely, but as he grew, so did his understanding of the depth and breadth of the grace of God, and he was finally at peace.

Stained glass of Bunyan in prison
source Wikimedia Commons

At the end of the book, Bunyan explains the cause of his imprisonment, which appears to be directly related to his refusal to use the Book of Common Prayer.  When questioned by the justices, Bunyan stated that he would be pleased to use the Book, if the justices could so kindly point to him in Scripture where the particular book was referenced.  The justices, however, viewed the Book of Common Prayer as second only to the Bible.  Bunyan was stubborn, the justices unyielding, and so began Bunyan’s time in the gaol. When released from prison in 1672, on a declaration of indulgence issued by the king under a new wave of religious tolerance, Bunyan returned to preaching, this time legally, and continue as the pastor of the Bedford Meeting, a position he had been given while languishing in prison a year before.  In 1688, while visiting London, he contracted a fever and passed away on August 31st.

The title Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners comes from two Biblical scripture references:

“Moreover the law entered that the offence might abound.  But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”  Romans 5: 20-21

“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”  1 Timothy 1: 15

My absolute favourite part of this book was when Bunyan realized the impact of conversion.  His fellow men and women were suddenly lovely to his eyes and he viewed them “like a people that carried the broad seal of heaven about them.”  What a transformative experience!  Instead of being irked, or disdainful, or petty, or indifferent toward our fellow man, if we could see them as beloved children of God, how differently we might treat them!

John Bunyan at the Gates of Heaven
William Blake
source Wikimedia Commons

I must say that while I liked this read, so far I’m finding the biography list rather quirky.  Taken separately, the books have been enjoyable, but when taken together, they don’t strike me as a concise, chronological order of biographies that perhaps expand ideas or give insight into changes in societies or thought.  Ruth, I’d love to know what you thought of the novel list as a whole.  The other remaining lists (plays, history and poetry) look much better, but I’m not that impressed with this one.

This book counts towards my Reading England Challenge and since Cat at Tell Me A Story has been doing such a wonderful job with educating us as to the English counties along with her novels, I thought that I should add at least a few photos of Bedfordshire, where the narrative takes place.

Elstow

Elstow Stream

Bridge and Promenade

Bedford Bridge

Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

“He — for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fasion of the time did something to disguise it — was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.”

My experience with Woolf’s writing is limited yet expanding.  I loved reading To The Lighthouse for its somewhat dream-like qualities and was rather pleasantly lulled by its stream-of-consciousness style.  Mrs. Dalloway I enjoyed, but I didn’t connect with it as much as I’d hoped and was left in a somewhat puzzled frame of mind at the end.  After reading Orlando, I was left with this same feeling.  What exactly did I just read and who was this Orlando?

Orlando is a young man born in the reign of Elizabeth I, and the novel follows him through his youth, as he has an affair with a Russian princess, cares for his ancestral estate, travels on diplomatic missions, etc.  The theme of writing is also explored, in his rejection by a famous poet and various other allusions. Finally he falls into a trace and, lo, awakes a woman.  This transformation does not seem  to surprise him, and she carries on her life as if nothing remise has occurred, yet upon returning to England she finds her estate embroiled in financial turmoil.  While remaining a woman, she fashionably switches between genders, eventually marries a sea captain, wins the lawsuit with regard to her property and that’s about it.  Woolf herself acts as an historical biographer and with her comic and satirical descriptions of certain people, I wasn’t sure if she was parodying herself as narrator, or taking a poke at a particular figure of her time and society.

Honestly I don’t have much to say about the book.  Twentieth century literature always does this to me.  I expect to be “informed and amused,” as books attempted to do historically (see my Gulliver’s Travels post for some extra information on writers’ intent) and end up somewhat disappointed when I’m only amused.  While I enjoyed the book, it would probably get only 3.5 stars from me.  In spite of my resolution to love it, 20th century literature always falls short.  Certainly the stream of consciousness writing is an interesting experiment, the disjointed prose perhaps a comment on the human psyche and the other artistic experiments are worth examining, but I’m always left with an empty feeling at the end.  What was the author really trying to say?  What did I learn?  What could I take away from the book that would change me in some fundamental way?

Yet, it turns out Woolf herself perhaps was not as satisfied with Orlando as she’d hoped.  Woolf wrote in her diary:

“I have written this book quicker than any; and it is all a joke; and yet gay and quick reading, I think; a writer’s holiday.”

“……… begun ….. as a joke: and now rather too long for my liking.  It may fall between stools; being too long for a joke, and too frivolous for a serious book.”

“Orlando taught me how to write a direct sentence; taught me continuity and narrative and how to keep the realities at bay.  But I purposely avoided, of course, any other difficulty.  I never got down to my depths and made shapes square up, as I did in the Lighthouse …… I want fun.  I want fantasy.”

And yes, Woolf wasn’t meaning this book to be serious at all:

“My notion is that there are offices to be discharged by talent for the relief of genius: meaning that one has the play side; the gift when it is mere gift, unapplied gift; and the gift when it is serious, going to business.  And one relieves the other.”

And so Orlando was a playful, frivolous fantasy that enraptures the reader, as Woolf captures your imagination with her wonderfully vibrant prose and light-hearted fanciful tone.  And I can enjoy it on that level.  Yet it is still only a wonderfully decorative cake, and I feel like I’ve missed the main meal.

O at Behold the Stars has an excellent review of Orlando, and with her comprehensive knowledge of Woolf, will be able to give you much more insight into the book than I have.

Reading England 2015 Book List

For a general and very handy reference, I’ve included O’s list of books by English county, copied from her blog.

Bedfordshire
                The Two Sisters by H. E. Bates
                My Uncle Silas by H. E. Bates
                Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan
Berkshire
                The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
                Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy 
                Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes
                Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
                The Merry Wives of Winsor by William Shakespeare
                The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde
Bristol
                Evelina by Fanny Burney
Buckinghamshire
                Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson
Cambridgeshire
                The Longest Journey by E. M. Forster
                Maurice by E. M. Forster
                Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf
                Glory by Vladimir Nabakov
Cheshire
                Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
Cornwall
                Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier
                Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
                Basil & Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins
                Basil & Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins
Cumbria
                The Tennant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
                The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices by Charles Dickens & Wilkie Collins
                The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
                Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
                Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope
                The Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth
Derbyshire
                Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë [uncertain]
                Adam Bede by George Eliot
                Uncle Silas by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
                The Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker
Devon
                Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
                Lorna Doone by R. D. Blackmore
                The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
                Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley
                He Knew He Was Right by Anthony Trollope
                Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope
Dorset
                The Worm Forgives the Plow by John Stewart Collis
                Moonfleet by J. Meade Faulkner
                Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
                The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
                The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
                Tess of the D’urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
                Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy
                Thank you, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
Durham
                  (see Tyne & Wear)
Essex
                Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
                Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens
                Nightingale Woods by Stella Gibbons
                The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Gloucestershire
                Cider With Rose by Laurie Lee
                The Tailor of Gloucestershire by Beatrix Potter
Hampshire
                Watership Down by Richard Adams
                The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Herefordshire 
                On The Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin
                The Diaries of Francis Kilvert by Rev. Francis Kilvert
Hertfordshire
                Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
                Howard’s End by E.M. Forster
Huntingdonshire
                To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Kent
                The Darling Buds of May by H. E. Bates
                The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
                Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot
                Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
                The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
                Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham
                Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
Lancashire
                Hard Times by Charles Dickens
                Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
                North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
                Redburn by Herman Melville
                The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell
                Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
Leicestershire
                The Right to an Answer by Anthony Burgess
Lincolnshire
                John Marchmount’s Legacy by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
                The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
                Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson
London
                Emma by Jane Austen
                Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
                A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
                The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Buttler
                The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton
                Fanny Hill by John Cleland
                No Name by Wilkie Collins
                Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
                A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
                Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
                Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
                The Nether World by George Gissing
                New Grub Street by George Gissing
                The Diary of a Nobody by George and Wheedon Grossmith
                Hanover Square by Patrick Hamilton
                Esther Waters by George Moore
                The Diary of Samuel Pepys
                Vanity Fairy by William Makepeace Thackerary
                Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
                Night and Day by Virginia Woolf
Norfolk
                The Big Six by Arthur Ransome
Northamptonshire
                Mansfield Park by Jane Austen [uncertain]
                Mistress Masham’s Repose by T. H. White
Northumberland
                Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott
                Ruined City by Nevil Shute
Nottinghamshire
                Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
                The Rainbow by D. . Lawrence
                Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
                The White Peacock by D. H. Lawrence
Oxfordshire
                The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
                Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Shropshire
                Howards End by E. M. Forster
                A Shopshire Lad by A.E. Housman
Somerset
                Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
                Persuasion by Jane Austen
                No Name by Wilkie Collins
                The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding
                Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer
                The Belton Estate by Anthony Trollope
                Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen by P. G. Wodehouse
Staffordshire
                Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett
                The Old Wives Tale by Arnold Bennett
                Adam Bede by George Eliot
Suffolk
                Celia by Fanny Burney
                No Name by Wilkie Collins
                We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea by Arthur Ransome
Surrey
                The Watsons by Jane Austen
                A Room With a View by E. M. Forster
                The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
Sussex
                Sanditon by Jane Austen
                The Worm Forgives the Plow by John Stewart Collis
                The Last Post by Lord Maddox Ford
                The Collector by John Fowles
                Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
                Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
                The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
                The History of Mr. Polly by H. G. Wells
                The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
Tyne & Wear (formerly Durham)
                Afternoon Off by Alan Bennett
                The novels of Catherine Cookson
                The Stars Look Down by A.J. Cronin
                Rokeby by Walter Scott
Warwickshire
                The Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden
                Tom Brown’s School Days by Thomas Hughes
                Kenilworth by Walter Scott
                As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Wiltshire
                The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
                The Chronicles of Barset by Anthony Trollope
                Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Worcestershire
                Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
                The Well of Loneliness by Radcyffe Hall
Yorkshire
                Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë [uncertain]
                Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
                Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
                The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
                No Name by Wilkie Collins
                Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
                The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
                A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines
                The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
                Dracula by Bram Stoker

For those who would like to learn where the counties are situated in England, some handy references are: this link to a map of the counties; as well as this quiz; and this quiz; and this jigsaw puzzle.

Picture me rubbing my hands together gleefully.  I just can’t wait!