Summary: Again, this is one of those novels that is very difficult to summarize. It follows the lives and circumstances of the inhabitants of Middlemarch, a provincial English town in the 1830s. Perhaps the two most major characters are Dorothea and Lydgate, both idealists whose lives turn out much differently than they anticipated. Dorothea has grand intellectual and philanthropic ambitions, but traps herself in an unfulfilling marriage with the dusty and unloving Casaubon. Lydgate aspires to be an influential doctor, a researcher and discoverer of cures, but is drowned in small-town politics and debt. The characters around them struggle with their own private tragedies, disappointments, and challenges. What the novel really strives to show us is how interconnected all their lives are. It urges us, and the characters, to open themselves to sympathy for those around them, to live as full human beings by acknowledging that they are not the center of the universe. It's also deeply interested in the tiniest of interactions, in the small causes that turn our lives in one direction or another.
Review: I will admit, I was a little confused by Middlemarch at first. It was by no means unpleasant or uninteresting, but I couldn't understand all the rave reviews listing it as the greatest English novel of all time. After a little time has passed, and I have had time to digest the story, I can see a little clearer where everyone was coming from. Eliot is a master at isolating the inner workings of her characters' minds, of showing the route of their decision-making from station to station, as no writer really had before her. It is a novel which requires quite an investment of time and attention. You have to be looking for the details, for the tiny moments of human connection and tragedy, to appreciate it.
That being said, this novel is heartbreaking in its realism and truth. It is so hard to see the missed meanings and boundaries that keep the characters from connecting to one another. No one is evil and no one is good. Everyone is needy and precious and alone.
Quotations: "Nor can I suppose that when Mrs Casaubon is discovered in a fit of weeping six weeks after her wedding, the situation will be regarded as tragic. Some discouragement, some faintness of heart at the new real future which replaces the imaginary, is not unusual, and we do not expect people to be deeply moved by what is not unusual. That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life , it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity."
"Namely, that he was not unmixedly adorable. He suspected this, however, as he suspected other things, without confessing it, and like the rest of us, felt how soothing it would have been to have a companion who would never find it out."
Summary: A series of diaries and letters tell of the lives of Laura and Marian, two 'sisters' whose lives are disrupted by a series of sensational events. Quite a bit of the story is told through the eyes of Walter Hartright, the sisters' drawing instructor, who falls in love with Laura only to discover she is previously engaged, yet nothing is as it seems. Laura, who only entered into the engagement to please her dying father, loves Walter and knows next to nothing about Sir Percival. She receives a cryptic, anonymous letter warning her to stay away from him. Walter suspects it has been sent by the same young woman that he met before taking on his post as drawing-master, an ethereal woman dressed in all white, wandering the empty roads outside London at the dead of night. A woman who, for reasons unknown, resembles Laura so closely they might be twins, or a woman and her ghost...
Marian, meanwhile, is a fiery and charismatic narrator. She is fiercely loyal to Laura, and willing to go to any lengths to ensure her safety and happiness. Where Laura is simple, shy, and weak, Marian is cunning, unapologetic, and strong. Though she gave no credence to Walter's warnings prior to her Laura's marriage, when they return from their honeymoon and Laura asks Marian to come and live with them, she begins to observe that something is very wrong. Concerned for her 'sister' (I am putting sister in scare-quotes because they are not sisters by blood, and it has been argued that Marian is actually in love with Laura... there is definitely at least a little flavor of the homoerotic between them), Marian too begins to try to solve the mystery of the woman in white.
Review: Wilkie Collins was a rock star of the Victorian era. His sensation novels - such as The Woman in White, sold phenomenally well. Moralists complained that they were degenerate, critics complained that they were not Art, and everyone else complained that the moralists and critics should shut up because they were trying to read. The Woman in White is deft, compelling, and suspenseful. It is a page-turner, which is VERY unusual given its time period. It may not be subtle or philosophical, but then again it never aims to be. The Woman in White keeps you guessing. It is an exercise in visceral reaction, in terror and uncertainty and dread that propels you from the first to last page.
The characters are magnificent, as well. The titular woman in white has become a stereotype for all kinds of supernatural and mysterious fiction, but in this original portrayal she is nuanced and unexpectedly endearing. The villains, Sir Percival Glyde and especially the Italian Count Fosco, are an absolute delight to read. Marian is the real hero of the story - she's resourceful, self-possessed, and stubborn like nothing else.
One of the more interesting themes that emerges in this novel, which distinguishes it from the gothic, is the domesticity of its settings and events. There are no dungeons and evil kings and ancient curses to torment the heroine. In the 19th century, the prison is her own house, the abuser is her own husband, whose legal rights over her are a socially-sanctioned curse. There is a strong feminist current in The Woman in White as we see Marian struggling against the bounds of a society that tells her to be like Laura, a victim ripe for the picking, or her aunt (the Countess Fosco), unquestioningly subordinate to her husband's every whim. It is heartbreaking watching her try to help Laura, looking for any legal avenue for action, and find nothing.
I was a little worried about the format at first, with the diaries, but it works seamlessly, and keeps the story fast-paced. I highly recommend this novel.
Exerpt:I had now arrived at that particular point of my walk where four roads met—the road to Hampstead, along which I had returned, the road to Finchley, the road to West End, and the road back to London. I had mechanically turned in this latter direction, and was strolling along the lonely high-road—idly wondering, I remember, what the Cumberland young ladies would look like—when, in one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop by the touch of a hand laid lightly and suddenly on my shoulder from behind me.
I turned on the instant, with my fingers tightening round the handle of my stick.
There, in the middle of the broad bright high-road—there, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth or dropped from the heaven—stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments, her face bent in grave inquiry on mine, her hand pointing to the dark cloud over London, as I faced her.
I was far too seriously startled by the suddenness with which this extraordinary apparition stood before me, in the dead of night and in that lonely place, to ask what she wanted. The strange woman spoke first.
"Is that the road to London?" she said.
Summary: This gargantuan novel about London and the old Chancery courts is told in two interweaving narratives - the first is an all-knowing, all-seeing present-tense narrator looking down on the lives of a plethora of characters. The second is the retrospective autobiography of Esther Summerson, around whom all the novel's events are centered in some way.
There is far more in the novel than any review could hope to encompass without becoming grossly overlong. The core story is Esther's search for her identity and a place in the world. She does not know that she is the illegitimate daughter of Lady Dedlock and a man named Nemo; Esther was raised by her cold godmother and at the time of her death taken in by Jarndyce, a generous man overwhelmed by the cruelty of the world around him. At the same time he takes in Ada and Richard, two orphans who become Esther's closest friends. Through them we are exposed to London in the mid-1800s, to see the squalor and hopelessness and hypocrisy of its inhabitants.
The novel revolves around a long-running (and I mean decades upon decades, possibly a century) court case of Jarndyce verses Jarndyce, in which nearly every character of the novel is some way involved. There is also a bit of a detective story around Lady Dedlock and her former lover, different attempts to expose or cover up her secret. What is really at the heart of this novel, however, is the disunity and miscommunication that exists between all the characters. Everyone is wrapped up in their own private stories and ticks, unable to reach out and help one another or see each other or themselves properly.
Review: I will admit, I was not a big fan of this book. How much of that stems from the very pressing deadline that loomed while I was reading it, I can't really know. This was my first experience of Dickens, and while I was absolutely charmed by him for the first 150 or so pages, thing began to get repetitive after that. I know that everyone always says Dickens has too many characters and it is a trite comment but, well, Dickens has too many characters.
It is not only that he has too many characters, but it is the very narrow behaviors and traits of his characters - which do make them distinguishable - that bothered me. There is only one dimension to 90% of the people within the novel, and that one trait or phrase or action becomes so frustrating after one or two instances that reading becomes tedious.
It is a novel about people who are locked into their behaviors and can no longer adapt or have any knowledge of themselves. However, seeing them all locked into their behaviors, the reader naturally longs for something - anything! - to change within the novel, and rarely anything does. I began to have quite hysterical fantasies about Esther being a mild-mannered governess by day and ruthless ninja assassin by night, so powerful was my desire to see 90% of the characters bleed.
I do think it might be a worthwhile novel to read, but you would have to do it in installments over a long period of time, if you really wanted. It doesn't work well as a whole novel, and must have been a better serial. There are some interesting points that Dickens makes, if you squint and turn your head sideways.
Quotation: London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
It is nearly impossible to find a good cover image for this novel. This is the best I could get:
Summary: We see the lives and petty rivalries of the inhabitants of Barbie, a fictional 19th century rural Scottish town. The novel centers around John Gourlay, a dull, tyrannical, proud man who lives apart from the town. He has a monopoly on the carrying of goods in and out of Barbie, and regards its inhabitants with scorn. The townspeople of Barbie are terrified of him, but lash out through malicious gossip and passive-aggressive slights. We see the slow crumbling of Gourlay's power as the novel progresses: a man named Wilson challenges his unspoken ownership of the town, a railroad comes in, his weak-minded and daydreaming son becomes an alcoholic at university, etc. The end result is one of textbook Greek tragedy: unable to adjust or adapt, led down dangerous paths by his pride, Gourlay and his whole family meet their gruesome and inevitable ends.
Review: I read this book in one day, and by the time the sun was setting, a little part of my brain had gone utterly insane - but in the best of possible ways.
Most of the criticism and commentary on this book that is out there focuses on how different it is from the 'kailyard' stories that were so popular at the time it was written. Kailyard stories were soppy soap operas set in rural Scotland that tended to portray the people's lack of education as endearing, making them a simple, happy, generous people. They took in strangers and fed them bread and milk. They went to church and fell in love and had lots of fat happy babies. You get the idea. As my professor so aptly put it, "it was all very Little House on the Prairie".
It is true that the world Brown conjures is the polar opposite. Ignorance makes the people of Barbie mean and hopeless. Materialism, petty jealousy, and hate are the driving traits for the majority of characters. It is a town of despots and drunkards, hypocrits and self-made martyrs, idiots and cruel children. Brown's view of the human race in this novel is very, very bleak.
The reason why this bleakness doesn't become too stifling is the prose. It is incandescent. I cannot think of any other word to describe it. There's not much more to say. You will see in the Quotation section, by example, what I mean.
Brown does a very good job in making the reader hate and look down on every single character. This is harder than it sounds - one is naturally disposed to be sympathetic to the abused wife, or the terrorized son. Brown lets us enjoy that pity, and then makes us despise them. The ending, as well, rather tickled me. It was "Macbeth" meets "Romeo & Juliet" meets "Antigone". Once the Gourlays start to circle the drain, it's fun in a sick way to watch them go.
I know that this is a book that a lot of people outside of Scotland haven't heard of - thus why it was so hard to find a cover online. I would HIGHLY recommend it, if you can get your hands on a copy.
Quotations: "Yet his whole being...was surcharged with the feeling that the fine buildings around him were his, that he had won them by his own effort and built them large and significant before the world."
"They went to the window. The fronting heavens were a black purple. The thunder, which had been growling in the distance, swept forward and roared above the town. The crash no longer rolled afar, but cracked close to the ear, hard, crepitant. Quick lightning stabbed the world in vicious and repeated hate. The rain came - a few drops at first, sullen, as it loth to come, that splashed on the pavement wide as a crown-piece - then a white rush of slanting spears."
"There is nothing worse for a weakling than a small success. The strong man tosses it beneath his feet, as a step to rise higher on. He squeezes it into its proper place as a layer in the life he is building."
"The brake swung on through merry cornfields where reapers were at work, past happy brooks flashing to the sun, through the solemn hush of ancient and mysterious woods, beneath the great white-moving clouds and blue spaces of the sky. And amid the suave enveloping greatness of the world, the human pismires stung each other and were cruel, and full of hate and malice and a petty rage."
"With little power of thought, he had a vast power of observation; and as everything he observed in Edinburgh was offensive and depressing, he was constantly depressed - the more because he could not understand."
Summary: David Balfour, a recent orphan, sets out to live with his miserly, wicked uncle, Ebeneezer. David begins to unravel a mystery involving his uncle, his father, and his own inheritance, only to be cut short when his uncle tricks him aboard a ship of human traffickers bound for the Carolinas. While he is on board, the ship picks up a stranded man by the name of Alan Breck, a colourful Highlander living in exile in France after the failed Jacobite rebellion in '45. Alan and David become fast friends and go on many adventures together - there are shipwrecks, desert islands, clan rivalries, and a deadly game of hide-and-seek across the Highlands.
Review: It's a fun book, guys. It's Robert Louis Stevenson, I don't think this man ever wrote something that wasn't fun. A lot of academics tend to dismiss his work because it's so accessible and, what's more, so playful and utterly free of angst. That doesn't mean there is no merit in it, however. It's also a common misconception that Stevenson's books are "just for children". While they are simple enough to be understood by children, and exciting enough to hold their interest - there are little twists of irony here and there to keep an adult audience engaged, as well.
Stevenson combines many influences - Scott, Dumas, Arabian Nights, ballads and folktales, gothic fiction, Robinson Crusoe, and the juiciest bits of history he could get his hands on. The result is a concise, clear, fast-paced novel that's good fun for all ages. He accomplishes all this with such ease that the reader is left with the impression that it is effortless to produce a novel like Kidnapped - which couldn't be farther from the truth.
Now, of course, it's not perfect. As an English major I've acquired a taste for the meatier, more obscure, tormented and esoteric novel. Kidnapped is none of those things. It follows a predictable pattern; the characters are to a certain degree one-dimensional; there is very little ambiguity, if any at all. To enjoy this book, you have to approach it in the right manner - as a kind of literary palate cleanser. Stevenson wrote in a letter to a close friend:
So, in summary: Kidnapped is that kind of drug. It's nice to read to or with your kids, or for a fun high now and then, but not too often.
(Just for the sake of honesty, some of that review was based on the lecture one of my professors gave today. I didn't know what else to say about it!)
Quotation:"I will begin the story of my adventures with a certain morning early in the month of June, the year of grace 1751, when I took the key for the last time out of the door of my father's house."
Trivia: This has nothing to do with Vanity Fair. HOWEVER did you know, when she published the second edition of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë (who was still publishing under the androgynous pseudonym Curer Bell) dedicated the novel to Thackeray. What she did not realize at the time was that it was common knowledge that Thackeray had an insane wife who he cared for to the best of his abilities, but eventually, after she attempted suicide on numerous occasions and became permanently detached from reality, had to commit into private care. There were many theories about Mrs. Thackeray being the inspiration for Bertha, and a whole maelstrom of rumor and awkwardness. The moral of the story is, be careful with dedications!
Summary: Vanity Fair is a novel that charts the lives of two women - Becky and Amelia. Amelia is a sensitive, innocent, good-hearted girl born to a wealthy family, raised with the understanding that she would marry George Osborne, the son of a rich merchant. Becky is her friend and companion, the orphan child of a painter and a French opera-dancer, who is ruthless, cunning, and ambitious.
After failing to snare Amelia's fat, inspid brother Jos into marriage, Becky is employed as a governess by the Crawley family, a degenerated - but noble - family, amongst whom there is a bitter contest over who can best flatter Miss Crawley, a rich widow, into leaving them her fortune. Meanwhile George is a vain, empty-headed, self-absorbed dandy who is bored with Amelia's devotion. His best friend, Dobbin, a plain, stuttering, low-born man, is enchanted by Amelia. After Amelia's father loses his fortune, George's father breaks the engagement and Amelia deteriorates, thinking her whole purpose in life is lost. Dobbin takes it upon himself to arrange the wedding, whether or not the parents involved approve.
Becky spins her webs around Rawdon Crawley, the favorite to win the inheritance game, who is a gambler and known libertine. The two couples are married, and, just days into their honeymoons, the men are all called off to join the English army at a place called Waterloo...
Review: That summary did not even begin to cover HALF of what happens in the book. Which is to be expected, considering the prodigious length. Vanity Fair is an undertaking. It is long, it is detailed, and it is draining. The portrait of humanity that Thackeray presents is not a cheery one. That being said, it never descends to the level of being bleak. The satire is genuinely funny most of the time. We love to despise everyone. Amelia is weak and self-centered, Becky pitiless and self-centered, George disloyal and self-centered... are you sensing a pattern? Thackeray slowly, carefully brings us to an understanding and loathing of every single character. Even Dobbin, with his generosity and self-effacing love, is not free from fault.
This is a novel, ultimately, about vanity. Every action in the novel is driven by vanity - the hysteria over money and titles, the so-called love, the marriages, the births, the deaths. The characters of Vanity Fair lack any and all introspection. They do not KNOW themselves, and thus do not recognize themselves as monsters and parodies. Everyone plunges headlong into games of self-flattery and charade, like children, ignoring the looming presence of death just in the next room.
Therare glimpses of human goodness which shine out in the novel seem to do so all the more because they are surrounded by so much frivolity and negligent evil.
I would recommend this novel, but it should be read slowly. I know a lot of people love Becky and think she's a fantastic heroine, despite being a wicked little snake. I personally detested her, but to each their own. I detested everyone in the novel, so... that isn't saying too much.
Quotations: "He had placed himself at her feet so long that the poor little woman had been accustomed to trample upon him. She didn't wish to marry him, but she wished to keep him. She wished to give him nothing, but that he should give her all. It is a bargain not unfrequently levied in love."
Summary: A postcolonial prequel to Jane Eyre told from the perspectives of Antoinette Cosway, a Creole woman who would later in her life come to be known as Bertha Mason, the mad wife in the attic of Thornfield Hall. The reader is plunged into the lush, cruel, passionate world of the West Indies shortly after the abolition of slavery. It is from this vantage point that we watch the hasty courtship and slow decay of Antoinette and Edward Rochester. There is so much mystery and multifaceted meaning in this novel that an accurate summary is hard. It is a story of magic and madness, spiritual death, betrayal and abridged, buried histories.
Review: I'm still not sure I understand this novel. I feel that I'm approaching closer to the meaning, but I may need to re-read it several times before I am sure. The prose is lush and captivating in a way that is refreshing after weeks of reading crusty - entertaining, to be sure, but crusty - old novels. Rhys' writing is like a slow, sensual poison.
I was delightfully surprised by how fair this novel was. The summaries and wikipedia page, not to mention what everyone says about it, had me prepared for a one-sided, harping indictment of colonialism, patriarchal order, and The Man. Because of my great affection for Mr. Rochester, I was worried he would be a monster in this novel. However, Rhys deals with his situation very delicately. We cannot in truth blame him any more than we can blame Antoinette. Parts 1 and 3 are in her voice, but the second part gives him a chance to give his view. I appreciated this.
There are few things I like more than parallel novels. The whole concept of seeing the story from another side is enough to have me on board. What Wide Sargasso Sea does goes completely beyond that. It is good to have a knowledge of Jane Eyre in order to understand the ominous hints - the glimpses of attics and fires - but not necessary. Rhys need not merely rail against Mr. Rochester for being a British man, to prove the deficiencies of Jane Eyre. She instead shows the economic and social devastation of the white Creole inhabitants of the West Indies after the abolition of slavery. She has the obeah and the rum, the racial tension and the escalating series of betrayals to explore.
It's such an intricate novel that, even on the most basic level of event, it is hard to tell what is going on. This is not a book to read with half your attention elsewhere - it requires constant scrutiny. This could be a flaw or an attraction, according to what you are looking for in a book.
Quotations: "'You are safe,' I'd say. She'd liked that -- to be told 'you are safe.' Or I'd touch her face gently and touch tears. Tear -- nothing! Words -- less than nothing. As for the happiness I gave her, that was worse than nothing. I did not love her. I was thirsty for her, she was a stranger to me, a stranger who did not think or feel as I did."
"I took the red dress down and put it against myself. 'Does it make me look intemperate and unchaste?' I said. That man told me so. He has found out that Sandi had been to the house and that I went to see him. I never knew who told. 'Infamous daughter of an infamous mother,' he said to me.
But I held the dress in my hand wondering if they had done the last and worst thing. If they have changed it when I wasn't looking. If they had changed it and it wasn't my dress at all -- but how could they get the scent?"
"Wherever I went I would be talked about. I drank some more rum and, drinking, I drew a house surrounded by trees. A large house. I divided a third floor into rooms and in one room I drew a standing woman -- a child's scribble, a dot for a head, a larger one for the body, a triangle for the skirt, slanting lines for arms and feet. But it was an English house.
English trees. I wondered if I would ever should see England again."
Author: I thought I would include a few facts about John Buchan, since he is such an interesting guy and it really does add to the story if you know a little about where he was coming from. The first thing that you need to know about him is that he LOVED the Empire. He was a Scottish man who went down to live in London, spent some time in South Africa, and would later in life become the first baron of Tweedsmuir. This novel was published in 1915, just after the outbreak of WWI. Buchan, 39 years old at the time and in ill health, was absolutely green with envy over all the young men who had the chance to go out there and gloriously die for their country. He considered The 39 Steps his contribution to the war effort. He would later go on to work for the Intelligence Corps of the British Army and reach great success as a war propagandist. He essentially invented the spy thriller.
Summary: Richard Hannay, a Scottish man who has recently returned to London after living in South Africa for most of his adult life, is bored and uneasy with his life - until a mysterious stranger urgently approaches him for sanctuary and reveals to him a spy conspiracy that would devastate Britain. Hannay finds himself caught up in an epic chase, pursued across the wild Scottish Lowlands by the police and sprawling network of nefarious spies. This is a tale of paranoia and disguises, identity and cunning, in which "all that separates civilization from barbarism...is a thread, a pane of glass. A touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reign of Saturn."
Review: I loved this book. I gobbled it all up in practically one sitting - I have always had a soft spot for all things involving spies. Hannay is SUCH a fun protagonist. He is the quintessential action hero - a lonely, loyal man of few words and strange talents, with the drive necessary to do what is right in a dangerous and unasked-for situation. His disguises and evasions, the gleeful chase across the moors, never get old. That is perhaps the best aspect of this book - not a wasted second. Everything that Buchan is necessary to bring us to the thrilling conclusion.
In addition to being a good spy romp with all the appropriate ciphers and body count and explosions (yes, explosions), The Thirty-Nine Steps holds its own as a piece of literature. We were reading this novel in my Scottish fiction class to examine the portrayal of Scotland by a man who left it to live in England, which is an interesting enough lens to approach the novel with, if you care. What I found the most compelling was Buchan's obsession with performance and disguise. Hannay slowly loses his ability to trust anyone, no matter how innocent their appearance, for fear of what they may be hiding underneath. His paranoia, and his isolation and discomfort from normal social interactions, are what makes the novel memorable.
This is an intensely psychological thriller. The main struggles, the battles that catch our attention, are battles of deception and determination. Hannay is thrown about, left vulnerable in the open world with only his wits to protect him. But don't worry - he has plenty of wits to go on. ♥
Quotations: "If you're going to be killed you invent some kind of flag and country to fight for, and if you survive you get to love the thing."
"I remember an old scout in Rhodesia, who had done many queer things in his day, once telling me that the secret of playing a part was to think yourself into it. You could never keep it up, he said, unless you could manage to convince yourself that you were it."
"Contrary to popular belief, I was not a murderer, but I had become an unholy liar, a shameless impostor, and a highway-man with a marked taste for expensive motor-cars."
Summary: Edward Waverley, the son of a wealthy English family, whose head is filled with lofty dreams and Romantic notions, becomes a soldier for the English army and is deployed into Scotland in 1745. There he meets the charismatic Highland chieftain Fergus Mac-Ivor and his sister, Flora. Waverley forges a deep friendship with Fergus, falls in love with Flora, and is enchanted by the traditions and manners of the Highlanders. Inspired by the siblings' passion for the Jacobite cause, he leaves the English army to join the attempt to restore the Stuart monarchy.
Review: Waverley (also called Sixty Years Since) was massively successful in its own day. While it was not the first work of historical fiction, it was one of the first popular manifestations. At just a moment's glance, the novel seems simple: a romance and a glorification of the Jacobites and all that is Scottish. The true genius of Waverley is the way that Scott qualifies and complicates the situation, however. We are seduced along with Edward into loving Fergus and Flora - yet at the same time, we see how fickle he is and how little respect Flora has for him. We notice his at times ridiculous thought processes, and come to realize how malleable and silly Edward really is. He goes from place to place being easily manipulated by those around him, yet he is a good man.
This isn't a story of good versus evil. We are made to sympathize with the Jacobites and the Hanoverians; with those who wish for civil war and those who do not. Scott really captures that sense of sweeping social change, for better or worse.
As with all great works of literature, there are some sections which drag along. I found Baron Bradwardine and everything he did to be sleep-inducing. It is worth the time to weather out these sections, however, just to see the Mac-Ivors and their flawed, passionate, beautiful selves. Fergus in particular is breathtaking; without spoiling the end of the novel - which ought to be impossible if you know anything about the Jacobite rebellion - I must say that the ending broke my heart. I have a very durable heart. That is why Waverley is a fantastic novel.
Quotation: Nothing perhaps increases by indulgence more than a desultory habit of reading....
Summary: Jane Eyre, a plain-faced orphan, is beset early on with hardships. She is sent by her unloving, oppressive relatives to a stifling charity school where the girls are bullied and abused. She not only endures these trials but retains her fierce belief in her own social equality and moral superiority. She observes the hypocrisies and weaknesses of others silently, a sharp-minded voyeur. Employed as a governess for the ward of the ugly, upper-class Mr. Rochester, Jane finds herself captivated by him. Her well-laid plans are derailed when she falls in love. But there are many things that stand in the way of their union - social decorum, tricks and games, and a dark secret from Mr. Rochester's past...
Review: Jane Eyre is a classic for a reason. Re-reading this novel for my Victorian literature class, I remembered all over again why it has endured for so long. It has mystery, romance, rebellion, and ambiguity. Critics cannot get enough of it. Is it a callously Imperialist novel, a conservative re-affirmation of British (and male) superiority? Is it a subversive, explosively feminist manifesto? Is Jane a masochist or a skilled manipulator; repressed or ambitious? The fact that no one can conclusively decide one way or another is the reason Jane Eyre is still taught in most schools.
But it would be unfair to limit this review to the academic sphere. The fact of the matter is, Jane Eyre is fun. It's a fun book with a simple, fantastic storyline. The narrative is singular and passionate. Jane's sometimes self-righteous - but always compelling - struggle for respect and happiness keeps you turning the pages. And there's Mr. Rochester. I dare anyone who reads this novel not to fall in love with Mr. Rochester, even if only for a moment. He's the perfect Byronic hero - proud, selfish, intelligent, jaded, captivating, flawed, mysterious, lonely, kind. He plucks Jane out of a life of tedium and into a whirlwind of drama, and the reader is delighted to be along for the ride.
Jane Eyre isn't without its faults, of course. The section of the novel that Jane spends with St. John is lackluster in comparison to the rest. The pacing stumbles here, lingering too long away from the heart of the story. Patience is required to wade through to the perfect, satisfying ending.
As a whole, however, Jane Eyre earns its place in the literary canon. Who wouldn't enjoy the life story of a woman with sharp wits and a defiant, passionate heart, struggling for her freedom?
Quotations: "You are good to those who are good to you. it is all I ever desire to be. If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people who have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should--so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again."
"It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and kitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags."
"Tell me now, fairy as you are,--can't you give me a charm, or a philtre, or something of that sort, to make me a handsome man?"
"It would be past the power of magic, sir;" and, in thought, I added, "A loving eye is all the charm needed: to such you are handsome enough; or rather, your sternness has a power beyond beauty."
Mr. Rochester had sometimes read my unspoken thoughts with an acumen to me incomprehensible: in the present instance he took no notice of my abrupt vocal response; but he smiled at me with a certain smile he had of his own, and which he used but on rare occasions. He seemed to think it too good for common purposes: it was the real sunshine of feeling--he shed it over me now.