romancingtheclassics

One girl's journey to read the top 100 literature classics of all time in the space of 365 days, a quest for only the most foolhardy and brave

Archive for the category “novels”

Home james….

Oh henry james, I just want to go home.. The Wings of The Dove is tortuous.. I’m still going but came across some really well put literature quotes I thought I’d share.

“Literature is a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood.”
Jane Yolen, Touch Magic
 
“Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.”
Charles Dickens
 
“The man who does not read books has no advantage over the man who can not read them.”
Mark Twain (1835-1910) U.S. humorist, writer, and lecturer.
 
“Books are the carriers of civilisation. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.”
– Barbara W. Tuchman
 
oh and how I can relate to this one. Hemingway I’ll always be your groupie.
 
“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.”
Ernest Hemingway (1898-1961) American Writer.
 
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J

Once a cad, always a cad

So ‘To the Lighthouse’ will sit on the bedside table for a while. I feel I need to lock myself up in a quiet room to read it. Virginia’s prose requires complete and utter concentration. I just don’t have that right now. It’s timing. I promise to come back to it.

So with Virginia on hold indefinitely I decided to give Henry James another attempt to woo me. He did so did so badly with Portrait of  a Lady, I thought I’d give him a chance for redemption. I’m a sucker like that.

I’ ve tried to read Cold Mountain by Charles Fraizer 15 times. Every time I would get stuck just a third  of the way in. I simply lose the will to the turn the page. I’m a bit like that with men. Every cad has his chance with me and sadly Henry is turning into one of them with his offering Wings of the Dove.

Look at those eyes, they feel as though they could look right inside your soul. Almost creepy. Shame his writing isn’t doing that. In fact I’m finding I’m Just Not Into Him.

Sorry Henry. I tried. I’ll keep reading because it’s only fair but rest assured this time it’s definitely you, not me.

x

J

Orange is the new black…

Every book is relevant. Say what you will about the author, the character or even the topic but you can’t deny it has its place. But every now and again you pick up one which is like reading a diary. Either your own or someone you know’s, their words, thoughts and expressions in print for everyone to read.

Something so relevant you would swear it had been written for your time, right then and there. Most people feel this way about 1983 or Animal Farm. I discovered I felt this way when I first picked up A Clockwork Orange late last week.

I read it in three days. I felt I was there walking with Alex most of the way. That was my friend who was on the train that he and his gang messed with and took her money, my flatmate was the guy who had his face and library book ruined and destroyed by their gang on the way home. I was the girl who was so terrified of them robbing the house that she didn’t even open her door to them when they asked for help.

For anyone who hasn’t read it, all I can say is read it. Once read, it stays with you for days. Perhaps because I lived in London for three years and saw and heard these gangs every day on the tube and in the street, perhaps because I saw and experienced gang violence once or twice in that time or perhaps because I knew some of these kids in school, or for whatever reason I became hooked on this book.

Written in a hybrid of english teen/Russian slang it’s almost impossible to decipher when you read the first few lines. But before long you’re swimming in their gutter language and relishing this unforgiving, brutal glimpse into their lives.

It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion and there is nothing you can do to stop it. I couldn’t tear myself away from reading when Alex and his droogs ruled the streets with their brutality, or when Alex was being transformed and shaped into a model citizen by the government and or even when the final result caused more chaos then good. I. just. could. not. put. it. down.

It’s a read which is heartbreakingly real, almost tender in some parts and in others, downright stomach turning. It is about lives on the precipice and the big question is if they’ll jump or if someone else will be the ones to push them over. How the author came up with the title is a bit of a mystery to me but what is clear to me is, firstly, orange is the new black and secondly its a book for every generation.

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J

the view from within..

It’s been far too long between posts and I hang my head in shame. However, excuses aside,I have still been working my way through the classics.

The latest to come my way is E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, the tale of  Lucy Honeychurch, a young english woman’s travels through Italy. It marks her  passage from an awkward girl, to a woman with a mind of her own.

 But even in her most expressive thoughts and words as she meets two men who represent two very different things to her, there is an overwhelming feeling of repression throughout the book. Restraint of heart, restraint of sentiment and above all repressed sexuality. There is so little done between Lucy and these men that it almost drives you mad. It is about all that is unsaid and left hanging in the air.

Her Italian trip is was meant to be about her coming of age, but instead she is whisked to and fro by her chaperone and barely able to consider her own mind, leading her to an engagement with an insufferable man.

It took me a long time to finish this book, mainly because it makes you feel so very sad. Sad that this girl’s escape and growth, must only be achieved through engagement and marriage. Not through her own personal journey.

It is Edwardian england after all, but a modern girl can still hope that even a character in that time would have the gumption to stay true to her own happiness instead of what she envisions is expected of her.

The book finally blossoms when she returns home and is sent a curve ball by fate. It rewards the reader with why such a book is on the top 100 list. Lucy’s decisions, dreams and thoughts are all turned on its head as she considers her future with a man she once thought would be ideal.

Her alternative paramour, George Emerson puts it perfectly when he declares this about her fiance:

“He’s the sort who can’t know anyone intimately, least of all a woman. He doesn’t know what a woman is. He wants you for a possession, something to look at, like a painting or an ivory box. Something to own and to display. He doesn’t want you to be real, and to think and to live. He doesn’t love you. But I love you. I want you to have your own thoughts and ideas and feelings, even when I hold you in my arms. “

George’s declaration in A Room With a View is enough to make any girl blush and weak at the knees in fact, he makes Darcy from Pride and Prejudice look like a bit of a buffoon.

I swooned and was swept up by the novel as it galloped to its climax which even to the very last pages leaves you unsure as to  how this girl will ever get her happiness or her man for that fact.

I was glad I preserved with it, as some of the prose was among the most romantic and poetic I have read in a long time. The yearning and repression such added fuel to the fire and is enough to catch any reader’s imagination.

With a title like ‘A Room With a View’ most can be forgiven for thinking it’s all about the outside and how it counts. But really it’s about the view from within.

As George says so eloquently:

 “I don’t care what I see outside. My vision is within! Here is where the birds sing! Here is where the sky is blue!”

italian vistas & prose perfection

No sooner have I finished the last, before I’m on to the next…

I must admit I have attempted E.M. Forster’s Room with a View before, but never finished it. This time I’ve jumped in with a renewed appreciation for differing narrative styles. So far I’m really enjoying the way he is conveying Lucy’s naiveté and innocence.

Thought I’d share a quote from him I found in the opening page.  Humble to a fault and I think he puts it well  when it comes to the core of why writers write.

x

J

S is for satire and skullduggery

“News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And its only news until he’s read it. After that it’s dead.”

For a novel set in the 1930’s, Evelyn Waugh’s satire, Scoop, still has deadly aim when it comes to firing at the heart of the at times farsical, fraudulent and sensationalist nature of the newspaper industry and journalistic profession.

The entire time while I read the book, which is loosely based on Waugh’s stint as a war correspondent for the London Daily Mail, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between it and the current situation the News of the World and News ltd has found itself in. The scheming, the sensationalism and the attempts to retrieve or drum up news at any cost has revealed just how fall the standards of journalism have fallen, prompting the current Leveson Inquiry into media ethics and journalism practices.

With Waugh’s Scoop, you can’t help but wonder if standards were already pretty low to begin with. He delves into the crumbling credibility of journalism , pulling out what really is at the core of a journalist’s world. Basically, the only concern of a journalists is to file a story that will meet with the approval of their bosses at the newspaper. Their goal is to keep one step ahead of the competition at any cost and will go to any length for a ‘scoop.’ He seems to poke fun at the profession of journalism, implying it is mainly characterised by a disinterested search for the truth. Truth is what they decide it is, not that which can be found.

Call me a cynic, but I used to be a journalist and if I didn’t know it was on the classic list, I would have assumed it was written recently. It is still relevant, entertaining and so thoroughly funny that you can’t help but laugh out loud at some of the situations with unknowing, inexperienced principal character, William Boot finds himself in.  His depiction of the characters are so accurate and deft that I challenge you not to come across them in any news room across the world today.

Waugh who has never revealed who Boot is based on, used his experiences covering the war between Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and Italy  in 1935 as inspiration for the book, observing closely the activities of his fellow journalists and the length of skullduggery they would go to just to get a pat on the head from the editors, even it was at sacrifice of ethics, truth and welfare of the nation they were reporting from.

This is a book every newspaper reader/news watcher and aspiring writer/journalist should read. People now have more say over what should be in the news today, , Waugh makes us remember just because a headline screams it as news, it doesn’t always make it so.

x

J

The real beast: For those who are keen to read more, check out the interview between Tina Brown (Founder of the online news source, the Daily Beast, inspired by the fictional name sake in Scoop). She discusses  the influence of Scoop and the infamous John Boot in the Guardian .

Will the real John Boots please stand up: If you are keen to get insight into some of the real life models the characters were based on, read the below article on W. F. Deedes who has spent a career dogged by claims he is the real William Boot.

 

ask not what your book can do for you, but what you can do for your book

With it being Anzac day and all thoughts turning to the diggers lost and diggers serving, I thought it would be appropriate to include a few of my favourite quotes which reflect on war and it’s impact.

“And even if the wars didn’t keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death.”Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five, Chapter 1

“The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one.”Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, Chapter 21

“Anger was washed away in the river along with any obligation.”Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, Chapter 32

“War is not won by victory.”Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, Chapter 9

“All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.” George Orwell

“Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac.” George Orwell

“Patriotism is usually stronger than class hatred, and always stronger than internationalism.” George Orwell

I couldn’t resist including some of my other favourite quotes on the subject. Reminds you just how evocative and powerful the written word can be in any era.

“Wars teach us not to love our enemies, but to hate out allies.’ Ulysses S. Grant

“War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.’ Jimmy Carter.

“War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.’ Theodore Roosevelt

I think Albert Einstein puts it well when he says: “I know not with what weapons Word War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

and say what you will about Agatha Christie, but I think she has got it in one with:

“One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing, that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.”

Fitting words to end this Anzac Day and my journey trying to finish a book about a journalist reporting on a foreign war in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop.

x

J

Who doesn’t like a teaspoon of irony with their coffee?

Enough Hemingway I’m now onto the sarcastic yet dulcet tones of Evelyn Waugh.

Namely her novel, Scoop. I’ve been a fan of her without actually knowing it. Some of her most known quotes are among my favourites, I just didn’t know they came from her.

So in the spirit of all things Scoop which satirizes the world of journalism I thought I’d share some.

“All this fuss about sleeping together for pleasure. I’d sooner go to my dentist any day. ” – Evelyn Waugh

“Punctuality is the virtue of the bored. .” – Evelyn Waugh

“I did not know it was possible to be so miserable and live. But I’m told it’s a common experience . ” – Evelyn Waugh

And my all time favorite:

“Your actions and actions alone determine your worth.”. ” – Evelyn Waugh

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J

Hemingway can I be your groupie?

Perhaps in search or inspiration or simply indulging in procrastination, I recently watched Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. It seemed fitting considering  the film featured many of the writers whose work I have been reading recently.

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Maybe because I’m a writer. Maybe because I’m sometimes I’m not sure I’m any good. Maybe because I too also dream of earlier times, namely the 30’s and 40’s when men were men and women were women. Or earlier still of the Tudor era. Either way I could really relate to Owen Wilson’s character.

Fear of success. Fear of failure. Fear to make a move in a game of chance with life. Paralysed by your own unknown potential.

It is the plague of writers and artists alike. But Hemingway was different and Woody completely captured it.  Or at least the way I imagine him to be. Everything was so certain. So clear. Including his own feelings on life and writing.

Did anyone else’s hearts beat faster when he came into frame? Mine certainly did. Forget being a groupie for One Direction or any flavour of the month band. I’d be Hemingway’s groupie any day.

When I saw him on-screen it made me think of one of his famous quotes and also one of my most cherished:

How could any modern-day Brad Pitt or equivalent heart-throb compare to Hemingway?

So once the DVD was returned to the rental store I thought to myself, what would Hemingway do?

Write. Of course. And so I did..

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J

Running with bulls page by page..

Pamplona. Bull running. San Fermin festival. All through the eyes of Hemingway.

I couldn’t imagine anything better. Especially considering I have been to the very festival and places described in The Sun Also Rises.

It felt as though I was walking hand in hand with the man himself as he traversed the seedy underbelly of cafe life and jazz bars in Paris, the Pyrenees and then Pamplona with his affluent group of friends.

Whether its describing the bulls being unloaded from the corals, sparing with bull fighters, fly fishing in the Spanish countryside or drinking himself silly in Paris’s Montmartre quarter, Hemingway somehow makes everything sound autobiographical.

Of all the authors who I’ve come to meet on this epic literature journey, Hemingway has been the most honest. The most unashamedly real. Making his novels completely relatable.

Whether it’s matter of factly describing an anecdote or interchange between men and women, or probing into the lead characters own flaws, he somehow effortlessly makes you feel you are there in the room. As much a part of the story as the wine and gin they drink.

The simplicity of the prose is deceptive. This is a man who believes less is more and makes the smallest sentence deliver the biggest punch.

The story centers around Jake Barnes—a man whose war wound has made him impotent—and the promiscuous divorcée Lady Brett Ashley. Rather than choose a lead female who is either an old nag or an eligible young woman looking for marriage, Hemingway decides upon a vivacious divorcee who is experiencing sexual liberation and independence in post war Paris and not shy in making the most of it. She is not two-dimensional, but five or even six dimensional. Hemingway paints her in so many ways you aren’t sure at any one time if you like her, loathe or are inspired by her.

Yet again, like so many books in this top 100 list, the plot revolves around those with money and the misery they find themselves swimming in as they struggle to make their hopeless and vain existence meaningful.

Brett who even has a male name, embodies the modern woman, leaving broken men in her wake, including Jake who can never consummate his love with her. There is a sense of irony in this, that as one woman finally secures the freedom and power she craves and the men in her life become weaker.

In fact, Brett may be the first cougar to be put into writing. She captures the ardour of a 19-year-old spanish bull fighter in the middle of the festival and romances him into her bed. An impressive feat for any woman. But a divorcee in the 1920’s? I tip my hat to you dear lady..

In the end, what is left is a book with dominated by cougars, bullfighting, sangria, love triangles and debauchery. Could there be a more winning combination?

I doubt it, unless of course Hemingway was to read the story aloud to me himself. That will just have to be relegated to my day dreams. I girl can hope can’t she?

xx

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