Thoughts

Thoughts #30: Five Classics I STILL Haven’t Read!

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Despite having always been a big reader, I really do feel that I haven’t read enough classics. I’ve obviously felt this way for a while, having set up my Classics Challenge a few years ago. My recent re-read and following love for Jane Eyre has only served to remind me that there are so many wonderful classics out there that I need to hurry up and read! I wanted to share some of those with you today, and would love to know if you’ve read any of them, and what you thought.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Vanity Fair

Scorned for her lack of money and breeding, Becky Sharp must use all her wit, charm and considerable sex appeal to escape her drab destiny as a governess. From London’s ballrooms to the battlefields of Waterloo, the bewitching Becky works her wiles on a gallery of memorable characters, including her lecherous employer, Sir Pitt, his rich sister, Miss Crawley, and Pitt’s dashing son, Rawdon, the first of Becky’s misguided sexual entanglements. Vanity Fair is a richly entertaining comedy that asks the reader, “Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied?”

Having recently re-watched the film adaptation of Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray and starring Reese Witherspoon, I was yet again questioning why I still haven’t read this. It’s witty and satirical, and I really enjoyed the film. Becky is a wonderful character and a total breath of fresh air compared to many of the female characters of her day. She’s determined, intelligent – and she knows how to use her gender as a weapon for her own benefit. The only thing that’s putting me off at the moment is the length of the book – around 750 pages. But I won’t know until I try, right?

The Odyssey by Homer

The Odyssey

The Odyssey recounts the story of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca from the Trojan war and tells how, championed by Athene and hounded by the wrathful sea-god Poseidon, Odysseus encounters the ferocious Cyclops, escapes Scylla and Charybdis and yields temporarily to the lures of Circe and Calypso before he overcomes the trials awaiting him on Ithaca. Only then is he reunited with his faithful wife Penelope, his wanderings at an end.

Oops. I know, I know. Having done my Bachelors degree in Ancient History and Archaeology, I probably should have already read The Odyssey, right? Well… I haven’t. Yet. I have read The Iliad though, and really love that one. I have this on my Kindle, but I also have a gorgeous Penguin edition which I’d much rather read than the ebook version.

The Monk by Matthew Lewis

The Monk

Set in the sinister monastery of the Capuchins in Madrid, The Monk is a violent tale of ambition, murder, and incest. The great struggle between maintaining monastic vows and fulfilling personal ambitions leads its main character, the monk Ambrosio, to temptation and the breaking of his vows, then to sexual obsession and rape, and finally to murder in order to conceal his guilt.

I can’t remember how I first came across The Monk by Matthew Lewis, but I knew that I had to read it. Although looking at the blurb now, that seems like a strange thing to say… That was over three years ago, and I still haven’t made any progress. I feel like it might be quite a difficult one to read, but as long as it’s not The Scarlet Letter standards of difficult (WORST. BOOK. EVER.) then I’m good.

The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray sells his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. Under the influence of Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life, where he is able to indulge his desires while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only Dorian’s picture bears the traces of his decadence.

Ahh, The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde, I have attempted to read you before. I was foolishly swayed by the film version starring Ben Barnes, but you’re not really much like that, are you? I did enjoy what I read of the book (around half of it), but somehow never quite finished it.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird

A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father ― a crusading local lawyer ― risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

To be honest, I’m really quite amazed that we never read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee at school – I know it was studied in previous years. Despite my love of books set in the Southern US (I really don’t know why… I blame True Blood and that enchanting Louisiana accent), I’ve just never gotten round to reading this classic.

Are there any classics you really feel you need to read soon? Have you read any of the ones on my list?

Thoughts

Thoughts #29: How I Came To Love Jane Eyre

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When I was sixteen, I had to read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë for school, and at that point it didn’t make much of an impact on me. It wasn’t that I disliked the book, but it was always difficult to feel particularly passionate about anything we read in English class – we read books out loud together, and the teacher inevitably ended up picking the slowest reader to read to the rest of the class, which frustrated me. As well as this, many other people in my class just had no interest in books at all, and would muck around for the entire lesson, ruining it for others.

So seven years went by where I had read Jane Eyre, but had no particular strong feelings about it. That is, until I watched the 2011 film adaptation, starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender.

Well hello there, Edward.

Well hello there, Edward.

The atmosphere of the film instantly gripped me. It was dark and Gothic, but also full of hope. Jane was not loved or well cared for as a child, and her teenage years were not particularly pleasant either, but she found joy in the small things like drawing and painting. Like many fellow readers as well as myself, she used fantasies to escape difficult times, painting whatever imagined worlds or creatures came into her head.

The gorgeous score, the wonderful, rugged landscapes, the palettes used, the perfectly cast characters (*COUGH*MICHAELFASSBENDER*COUGH*), the beautiful locations, the camerawork – everything just melded together to make this wonderful, heart-breaking film. And as many an avid reader knows, you’ve always got to read the book the film is based on!

So with that in mind, I dove back into Jane Eyre – and found myself falling utterly in love with it. I read the entire thing in a day, a lazy Sunday where literally all I did was read the book whilst listening to the soundtrack on repeat again and again. That was a good day.

So why do I love it so much? I feel like it transcends its time. At a time where women were meant to be meek, shy little things, Jane stands up for herself. From her aunt mistreating her when she was a little girl, to her time at Lowood School, and finally her time at Thornfield Hall as a governess, she is not afraid to speak her mind and act accordingly. Although Jane finds herself falling in love with Mr. Rochester, despite his apparent indifference, bluntness and more than occasional rudeness, she respects herself too much to let anything happen. And this beautiful, beautiful quote from Jane herself:

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”

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This is a book where our main character recognises that she is plain, but she doesn’t dwell on it – because she knows what matters is how you treat others, how kind, honest and loyal a person is. She recognises those qualities in Mr. Rochester, and proclaims them equals (he is described as not being traditionally handsome), despite his wealth. But what I most admire about Jane is how much respect she has for herself. She may be very much in love with Mr. Rochester, but as soon as she finds out about the ol’ wife in the attic situation she is out of there. She knows that living as his mistress will not be good for her and will always play on her conscience, so she leaves, even though it breaks her heart. She is brave, she is good, and she is ultimately one of the best female role models in fiction for the very reason that she doesn’t make a man one of her sole purposes of being. He has to respect her before he can have her.

She may go back to him in the end, after the situation is er, ‘sorted’, but by this point he has also made his sacrifices. I’m not usually bothered about romance in stories, in fact half the time I feel it gets in the way, but my gosh do I love Jane and Mr. Rochester together. The ending of Jane Eyre makes me bawl and I’m not ashamed to admit it. These two lost souls have finally found each other, and it makes me so happy.

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Have you read Jane Eyre, or seen any of the film adaptations? What did you think?

Review

Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads
Odd’s fish! This was a fantastically fun read.

Admittedly, if you are looking to read some historical fiction set during the French Revolution in order to learn more about that period of time, this really isn’t the book. It is much more a story about the people, than the events. But what you do get, however, is a fun-filled adventure story with a very unusual hero, at least at first glance.

Sir Percy Blakeney is a lazy, dim-witted Baronet, married to Marguerite St. Just, one of the cleverest women in Europe. No-one understands the pairing, and least of all would they expect him to be the Scarlet Pimpernel – which is exactly who he is. The slow, stupid Percy is purely a mask; a mask so opaque that even his wife does not suspect. Yet as both a complete fop, and as the brave Pimpernel, Percy is such a loveable character. He is charming, in both manner and speech, and very much the classic hero. Add to this his quirky speech ‘ “odd’s fish!” – and you get a character that it is impossible not to fall for.

In contrast, Marguerite, whilst described as clever, comes across as a rather selfish woman, who marries Percy only because  he worships her. However, the story gives her a chance to prove herself a worthy character, and she rises to the challenge. As well as the classically handsome hero and beautiful, intelligent female protagonist, Chauvelin, the French envoy to England, plays the role of the typical villain. Often described as thin, with pointed features, and walking with a slight stoop, he brings to mind a rat or other vermin. So whilst all the characters are actually very typical stereotypes of their roles, it works very well – and it must be remembered that this was the book that inspired many future ‘masked avenger’ titles.

Overall, despite the subject material, the book is just very funny – from Percy’s various disguises (including an old hag), to Chauvelin’s soldiers obeying his orders to literally every last word, thereby actually disobeying them – and one of the easier classics to read. If you tend to struggle with classic books, you should still try this one; the slightly later publication date than many others means the language is a little easier, and it really is a story not to be missed.

Also, another note: if you enjoyed the book, watch the film version from 1982, featuring Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen. Or just watch the film, regardless of whether you have read, or plan to read the book – Anthony Andrews gives a fantastic performance and really embodies the character of Percy.