The nineteenth-century novel

Today is the second to last day of Rosalilium’s Blog Every Day in May challenge, and the topic of the day is all about inspiration. The obvious thing for me to do would be to talk about the artists that inspire me, but I’m considering a blog series along those lines, so instead I’m going to talk about my studies.

As you probably all know, I’m currently working on a Literature and Creative Writing degree with the Open University, and this year I’ve been studying AA316 (the nineteenth-century novel). Last summer when I was picking my courses I remember been torn between this one, ’20th century literature: texts and debates’ and ‘Shakespeare: text and performance’. What was the deciding factor, I hear you ask? Classics. I love ’em. I love reading books that take a bit of deciphering, that contain beautiful writing, not just an engaging plot. I love the total delusions of a lot of the characters. I love the quaintness of times gone by. I love the romance and the tragedy. Mostly, I love costume dramas.

One of the things that inspired me to do this module was sheer book envy. That feeling you get, when you’re convinced you should read something but just never seem to get to it… that’s what pushed me into the world of the nineteenth-century novel.

Working through my set books, I’ve come across some real gems. I’ve discovered some things I’ve LOVED and some things that are headed straight to the charity shop… even though I really did hate some of them, I’m glad I suffered through (because at least now I know A- who to avoid and B- that a lot of the time other people are WRONG).

So these are those infamous books I’ve had to read (linked to reviews) –

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

My first ever Austen… underwhelming at best.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

A book I’ve read many a time before, and will undoubtedly read many a time again.

Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

The book that changed my mind about Dickens! Despite my love for all BBC adaptations, my torturous experience of reading Hard Times really put me off… but I absolutely LOVED this one. Enough to download the rest onto my Kindle (thank God for Project Gutenberg!)

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

I enjoyed studying passages from this novel more than actually reading it- there’s some truly stunning prose, but the dialects really bug me…

Middlemarch by George Eliot

In a word… long. Came from a snobby hypocrite, but an enjoyable read.

Germinal by Emile Zola

Enjoyed it waaaay more than I thought I would, could never be described as ‘nice’ but I’d recommend giving it a read… I’m currently trying to track down the rest in the series (not as easy as you’d think!)

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

After a slight struggle with the first chapter I really got into this one only to be left a bit cold at the end, not one to read if you’re looking for a bit of action!

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

DREADFUL.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Again, long. A lot of build-up for a kind of boring scandal… I guess times have changed…

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

A good classic to start off with… purely because it’s so short! I thought it was ok the first time I read it but have enjoyed it more and more as I’ve had to study it. An appreciation for symbolism is required for this one.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Enjoyable, if well-known, story. It’s just a shame about the insipid declarations, total chauvinism and two-dimensional characters.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Started to read and couldn’t get into it, then I realized I wasn’t going to get examined on this one so I’m leaving it for another time, and doing some revision instead!

I’ve definitely got a lot more classics on my ‘to read’ list that I’m hoping to get through…

So what do you think of classics? Do you read them because you enjoy them or because you just feel like you should? Do you just stay away altogether?

D x

The Woman in White

This is the book I chose for the ‘colour‘ category of my whimsical reading challenge. It is also one of my set books for the Open University module I’m currently studying (AA316 – The nineteenth century novel), so I would have had to read it anyway.

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Let me start by saying this is a looong book; you have to be seriously dedicated to actually stick with it. Wilkie Collins was not a concise man, despite his apparent fascination with three word sentences.

The novel is formatted as a collection of ‘evidence’ (such as diaries, letters and witness testimonies) to lend some shadow of  ‘fact’ to a totally unreasonable plot. I’m sure the ‘sensation’ of this novel would have prompted a faint or two in Victorian Britain, but I was left wondering what all the fuss was about. Throughout the entire narrative I was promised a huge, outrageous climax (and that’s what made me keep reading!) but when it finally arrived it was a massive disappointment. Scandal obviously has a very different face nowadays.

I would describe The Woman in White as a novel of plot; Collins is far more concerned with showing a panoramic scene than investing in any character development, which meant it was a little bit challenging to bond with the characters. The diabolical villain, Count Fosco, was probably my favourite and that was probably because he just seemed the most interesting (as a non-British middle class delicacy). If a little sinister. I was expecting greater things from Marian Halcombe, our strong-willed heroine, but to be honest I found her a little bit insipid. She was one of those irritating women who were obviously created by a male, because all they do is talk about feminine inferiority. Not exactly what I’d call empowering. She was allowed to live though, which is quite uncommon for ‘rebellious’ women in Victorian literature.

Although reading the novel was pretty hard going, if you look at individual extracts there is some really beautiful writing involved. Not when he cracks out his dialects (which as you know is one of my pet hates), but whenever he’s working on generating suspense. The example that sticks out in my mind falls at the end of epoch 2, when Walter is faced with the veiled lady in the cemetery. This extract also illustrates the development of Gothic literature; Collins incorporates references and literary techniques to evoke a sense of the Gothic in a very domestic environment, establishing himself as a pioneer of his day.

I know I’ve been a little bit negative here, but I invested so much time in this one, that I wish I could have got a little more back… However, I’m still glad I stuck with it, even if I probably won’t read it again.

I hate reading books I’m ambivalent about, they spawn my worst reviews.

D x

P.S. Have you read a book for ‘colour’ yet? Leave a link below!

 

 

 

 

Germinal

Germinal

I could in no way describe Germinal as a nice book. I could, however, describe it as surprisingly enjoyable and extremely well written.

Despite one of my shortest set books, this is the one I’ve been putting off. I blame it on the blurb. Describing it as a “sociological document depicting the grim struggle between capital and labour in a coal field in Northern France” does not make it appeal to the reader. I was emphatically NOT jumping off my seat in excitement.

However, when I actually forced myself to start reading it I found it really entertaining. The characters were so vivid that I felt I was really looking in on their lives, and the sheer grit and general filth provoked a slightly morbid fascination in me. A minor warning- initially the character names can be a little confusing (we have Maheu and Maheude, Mouquet and Mouquette, Levaque and La Levaque) but other than that the narrative really flows, sweeping you deeper and deeper into the mining society.

I have since found out that Germinal is number thirteen in Zola’s twenty volume ‘Les Rougon-Macquart’ series, so I will make it my mission to track down the rest… a Project Gutenberg-based mission I suspect. I don’t know what I liked more, the unrequited love scenes or the comically gruesome death scenes… all covered in a blanket of borderline depressing description. There really is something for everyone!

So tell me, what have you been reading this week?

D x

P.S. I get the impression that this is one of those Love/Hate kinds of books, let me know what you think!