Mind the Gap!

The Classics Club Meme July 2020

Since this month’s question for the Classics Club Meme, was proposed by me, I feel I should really answer it! Here it is:

Which classic author have you read more than one, but not all, of their books and which of their other books would you want to read in the future?

The author I had in mind when I suggested the question was Thomas Hardy. I love his writing and yet I’ve read only a couple of his books. This is because when I think Hardy, I think Tess of the D’Urbervilles and a re-read is sure to follow! I’ve read it at least three or four times over the years while so many of his other books have never had their chance to make me love them.

As a school pupil, I read Far from the Madding Crowd but, although I enjoyed it, as so often I feel I was far too young to really appreciate it in any but the most superficial way. It’s a tricky question, introducing school-children to the classics. On the one hand, for lucky early-developers it can engender a life-enhancing life-long love. But on the other hand I’m sure it puts just as many later-developing children off reading heavyweight fiction for life. Maybe that’s a question for another day – what classics are suitable “starters” for kids in their early- to mid-teens?

I’m currently slowly listening to The Mayor of Casterbridge on audiobook and loving it. This is one I thought I had read before but now realise I hadn’t – this happens often when a book has been adapted for TV several times, or has simply become such a standard that everyone kinda knows the basic plot. Jude the Obscure is another one I haven’t read but feel almost as if I had.

Now that I am in the last year of my first Classics Club challenge, I’ve begun in idle moments to mull over what my next list might look like if I decide to do it again. Rather than going for lots of new-to-me authors as I did this time round, and restricting myself to only one book from each of them, this time I’m considering picking some authors I’ve enjoyed in the past and filling in some of the gaps in my reading of their work. Sir Walter Scott, Graham Greene, HP Lovecraft, the Brontës as a group, my beloved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, Neil Munro, H Rider Haggard, Robert Louis Stevenson – all authors I’d like to read more of. Mrs Gaskell too, although she’s in a slightly different category in that I haven’t read any of her novels – just a few short stories.

So then comes the matter of choosing the books. With Hardy, because I’ve read so little of him there’s a wide choice and my list will be startlingly unoriginal, since it seems to make sense to start with the best-known, and therefore probably best, ones. Here’s my Hardy wishlist – restricted to five…

Far From the Madding Crowd

Definitely time for a re-read of this one, I feel! Once every fifty years or so seems about right. 😉

The Blurb says: Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. 

Under the Greenwood Tree

The Blurb says: Under the Greenwood Tree is the story of the romantic entanglement between church musician, Dick Dewey, and the attractive new school mistress, Fancy Day. A pleasant romantic tale set in the Victorian era, Under the Greenwood Tree is one of Thomas Hardy’s most gentle and pastoral novels.

The Return of the Native

The Blurb says: Tempestuous Eustacia Vye passes her days dreaming of passionate love and the escape it may bring from the small community of Egdon Heath. Hearing that Clym Yeobright is to return from Paris, she sets her heart on marrying him, believing that through him she can leave rural life and find fulfilment elsewhere. But she is to be disappointed, for Clym has dreams of his own, and they have little in common with Eustacia’s.  

The Woodlanders

The Blurb says: In this classically simple tale of the disastrous impact of outside life on a secluded community in Dorset, Hardy narrates the rivalry for the hand of Grace Melbury between a simple and loyal woodlander and an exotic and sophisticated outsider. Betrayal, adultery, disillusion, and moral compromise are all worked out in a setting evoked as both beautiful and treacherous.

Jude the Obscure

The Blurb says: Jude Fawley’s hopes of a university education are lost when he is trapped into marrying the earthy Arabella, who later abandons him. Moving to the town of Christminster where he finds work as a stonemason, Jude meets and falls in love with his cousin Sue Bridehead, a sensitive, freethinking “New Woman.” Refusing to marry merely for the sake of religious convention, Jude and Sue decide instead to live together, but they are shunned by society and poverty soon threatens to ruin them.

(These stills from the various adaptations tell their own Hardy story, don’t they? The meeting, the spark of romance, the love, the passion…. the woman left in misery holding the baby… 😂)

Shocking that I haven’t read these ones! I’m duly ashamed and shall stand in the corner with a dunce’s cap on till I do. But in the meantime, are there any others you feel deserve one of these coveted spaces more, and if so, which of these would you bump off the list to make room for it? And in answer to the original question, who would be your chosen author and which books of his or hers would you put on your list?

HAVE A GREAT TUESDAY! 😀

TBR Thursday 247…

Episode 247

A tiny increase in the TBR this week – up 1 to 209. So fortunately I’ve managed to avoid a book famine for yet another week – phew!

Here are a few more that will be on the menu soon…

Factual

A Vast Conspiracy by Jeffrey Toobin

Courtesy of William Collins via NetGalley. I wouldn’t normally be attracted to a book about a sex scandal, but I thoroughly enjoyed another of Toobin’s books on Patty Hearst, American Heiress, and I’m hoping that, although the blurb doesn’t say so, this one might explain the whole Whitewater thing which was behind the Clinton scandal, and which I never fully got to grips with at the time…

The Blurb says: The definitive account of the Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandals, A Vast Conspiracy casts an insightful eye over the extraordinary ordeal that nearly brought down a president.

First published a year after the infamous impeachment trial, Jeffrey Toobin’s propulsive narrative captures the full arc of the Clinton sex scandals – from their beginnings in a Little Rock hotel to their culmination on the floor of the United States Senate with only the second vote on presidential removal in American history.

Rich in character and fuelled with the high octane of a sensational legal thriller, A Vast Conspiracy has indelibly shaped our understanding of this disastrous moment in American political history.

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Scottish Classic

Bull Calves by Naomi Mitchison

Another from the Scottish section of my Classics Club list and I bet you’ll never be able to guess what it’s about – the Jacobite Rebellions! It’s just as well really that the Rebellions happened or there would be pretty much no classic Scottish literature… 😉 It’s also vying for the award for Shortest Blurb, which is surprising, since it’s a brick-sized book…

The Blurb says: Over a summer weekend at Gleneagles, the Haldane family gather. It’s 1747 and a cautious Scotland is recovering from the ’45 rebellion. To the party the family bring their own suspicions and troubles, and the weekend takes a dramatic turn when one of them conceals a rebel Jacobite in the attic.

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Crime

Maigret and the Ghost by Georges Simenon

The first of the two Maigrets I’ve included on my 20 Books of Summer list, which I’m already falling seriously behind with. And an even shorter blurb! At this rate I’ll need to do a song and dance routine to fill up space at the end of the post…

The Blurb says: During an undercover case Inspector Lognon is shot in a room he was sharing with a beautiful woman who has since disappeared. Inspector Maigret retraces Lognon’s secretive last few days and is drawn into the darker side of the art world.

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Classic Fiction on Audio

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy read by Tony Britton

Sadly I didn’t get on with the narrator of the du Maurier I intended to listen to, so quickly abandoned it and have already started this one. So far Tony Britton is doing a marvellous job and I’m thoroughly enjoying the story, which I wasn’t sure if I’d read before, but am now sure I haven’t…

The Blurb says: In a fit of drunken anger, Michael Henchard sells his wife and baby daughter for five guineas at a country fair. Over the course of the following years, he manages to establish himself as a respected and prosperous pillar of the community of Casterbridge, but behind his success there always lurk the shameful secret of his past and a personality prone to self-destructive pride and temper. Subtitled ‘A Story of a Man of Character’, Hardy’s powerful and sympathetic study of the heroic but deeply flawed Henchard is also an intensely dramatic work, tragically played out against the vivid backdrop of a close-knit Dorsetshire town.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Audible UK or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

A rose by any other name…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When John Durbeyfield is told by a local antiquarian that he is the last of the ancient family of D’Urberville, sadly decayed, Durbeyfield immediately puts on airs, much to the amusement of his fellow villagers. For John is balanced precariously on the line that divides subsistence from poverty and his all too frequent drunkenness ensures he will soon fall. But it is his daughter Tess who makes the mistake that will finally edge the family into destitution, so, from a sense of guilt, she reluctantly agrees to her mother’s suggestion that she should visit the D’Urbervilles, a rich family in a neighbouring town, and claim kinship. There she will meet the son of the family, Alec D’Urberville, and make another mistake that will affect the rest of her life…

On original publication, the book was subtitled A Pure Woman, signalling Hardy’s defence of his heroine against a society that judged the morality of a woman by her chastity. Did Tess succumb willingly to the seductive Alec, or was she raped? The question is left unanswered in the book, perhaps because society wouldn’t have differentiated – an unmarried girl who was no longer virginal had lost her worth, however it happened. Had Tess been less pure of nature, she may have been able to conceal her transgression and create a second chance for herself with the besotted Angel Clare, and we see her struggle with the temptation to do this. This reader willed her to do it, her mother advised her to do it, but Tess, pure to the point of idiocy, believed in a world of fairness, where men and women would be judged by the same standards – if she could forgive, surely she could be forgiven? Poor Tess!

….He conducted her about the lawns, and flower-beds, and conservatories; and thence to the fruit-garden and greenhouses, where he asked her if she liked strawberries.
….“Yes,” said Tess, “when they come.”
….“They are already here.” D’Urberville began gathering specimens of the fruit for her, handing them back to her as he stooped; and, presently, selecting a specially fine product of the “British Queen” variety, he stood up and held it by the stem to her mouth.
….“No – no!” she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her lips. “I would rather take it in my own hand.”
….“Nonsense!” he insisted; and in a slight distress she parted her lips and took it in.

Written in 1891, the sexual theme of the book and the moral questions it poses seem daring for the time, and result in a rather odd combination of a feminist demand for women to be judged equally to their male counterparts, with a heroine described in such sexualised terms that it’s hard to see her as anything other than the embodiment of sex itself. Hardy condemns men for seeing women purely as sexual beings, while seeming to do the same himself. Tess’s lips, eyes, arms, figure, skin are all lusciously described, again and again, so that we are never allowed to think for one moment that any of the men she encounters are attracted to her mind. And yet Hardy shows he is aware of the effect on women of being viewed in this way when he has Tess wrap herself in bulky clothes to disguise her figure and cover her face with a shawl so that men will leave her alone.

Tess’s class plays as much of a role in her story as her gender. Hardy uses the device of her distant distinguished ancestry to show the deep hypocrisy at the heart of the British class system. First, we learn Alec is not really a D’Urberville – his family have bought the name and family crest to disguise their sordid background in trade. Then later, Angel feels that Tess’s claim to the D’Urberville name will somehow make acceptable what he sees, even in his passion, as an unsuitable alliance with a girl way beneath him on the social scale. Tess alone cares nothing for her ancestry – she is who she is and hopes to be loved for that alone. Poor Tess!

Nastassja Kinski as Tess in Roman Polanski’s 1979 film.

Hardy also shows the changes that are taking place in the agrarian society with increased mechanisation leading to fewer jobs and replacing the rural idyll (did it ever really exist?) with more brutal, distinctly unnatural methods of farming. Hardy’s depiction of rural life is wonderful in both its beauty and its brutality, in the wholesomeness of a life in tune with natural rhythms and the increasing soullessness of farming maximised for profit. First we see Tess as one of a group of happy milkmaids, forming deep natural connections with the cows they milk day by day, the cows giving more milk to the touch of the maid they prefer, and the maids singing the songs they know will lull the cows into placidity and greater yields. This is contrasted with a brilliant depiction of Tess – a child of nature if ever there was one – in a later job, battling with the giant threshing machine, racing to feed its insatiable maw, and being shaken to the point of illness by its vibrations as it belches its smoke over the field, giving true meaning to the phrase hell on earth.

….“Did you say the stars were worlds, Tess?”
….“Yes.”
….“All like ours?”
….“I don’t know, but I think so. They sometimes seem to be like the apples on our stubbard-tree. Most of them splendid and sound – a few blighted.”
….“Which do we live on – a splendid one or a blighted one?”
….“A blighted one.”

Although the book focuses almost exclusively on Tess, in many ways she’s a passive heroine, with that passivity forced on her by a society which gives women of her class only two options in life – motherhood or physical labouring – each attended by the constant fear of poverty and homelessness. For Tess, her beauty and the little bit of education she has gained at the new National School (run by the church for children of the poor) seem to give her a third option – to attract a man of a higher class and economic status. But that would depend on her finding a man who could see past her class, past her beauty, past her error, to the purity of her natural essence. Poor Tess.

Book 35 of 90

A wonderful book that asks many questions that are still relevant in today’s world. I enjoyed it even more on this long overdue re-read and am now fired up to re-read more of his books as soon as I can.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Oxford World’s Classics. It includes an excellent introduction by Penny Boumelha, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, which of course casts considerably more insight on the themes of the novel than I’ve touched on here.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Bookish selfie… (PG Rated 😉)

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….The magnate turned the frame around, revealing the image of a radiant blonde with green eyes who could have passed for a European actress. Though the pale, bottomless pools of her eyes and the glint of mischief behind them caught his attention first, Treviño’s gaze quickly wandered to the waves of hair that framed the perfect oval of her face like a crown. Her nose was perfectly sculpted, and it was hard not to want to stare for a long while at the remarkable curves of her full, sensual lips. This girl was born to eat the world alive. Like anyone seeing Cristina for the first time, Treviño was floored.
….“She’s sixteen,” said her father.
….“About to be seventeen,” her mother corrected.

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….“You feeling better?”
….“I’m all right.”
….“Sometimes just some little thing will do it. Like a change of water, something like that.”
….“Probably too much lunch.”
….“What’s that?”
….Somebody was out front, rattling the door. “Sounds like somebody trying to get in.”
….“Is the door locked, Frank?”
….“I must have locked it.”
….She looked at me, and got pale. She went to the swinging door, and peeped through. Then she went into the lunchroom, but in a minute she was back.
….“They went away.”
….“I don’t know why I locked it.”
….“I forgot to unlock it.”
….She started for the lunchroom again, but I stopped her. “Let’s – leave it locked.”
….“Nobody can get in if it’s locked. I got some cooking to do. I’ll wash up this plate.”
….I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers. . . .
….“Bite me! Bite me!”
….I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.

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….He conducted her about the lawns, and flower-beds, and conservatories; and thence to the fruit-garden and greenhouses, where he asked her if she liked strawberries.
….“Yes,” said Tess, “when they come.”
….“They are already here.” D’Urberville began gathering specimens of the fruit for her, handing them back to her as he stooped; and, presently, selecting a specially fine product of the “British Queen” variety, he stood up and held it by the stem to her mouth.
….“No – no!” she said quickly, putting her fingers between his hand and her lips. “I would rather take it in my own hand.”
….“Nonsense!” he insisted; and in a slight distress she parted her lips and took it in.
….They had spent some time wandering desultorily thus, Tess eating in a half-pleased, half-reluctant state whatever d’Urberville offered her. When she could consume no more of the strawberries he filled her little basket with them; and then the two passed round to the rose trees, whence he gathered blossoms and gave her to put in her bosom. She obeyed like one in a dream, and when she could affix no more he himself tucked a bud or two into her hat, and heaped her basket with others in the prodigality of his bounty.

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Those are the days and nights when he misses what’s implicit, the shared assumptions, all the things that don’t need to be said. . . Days and nights when he has to explain everything and listen to everything. One of the modest pleasures of making love to someone from your own country is that if at some point (in that zero hour that always follows the urgency, the enthusiasm, the give and take, the up and down) you don’t feel like talking, you can say or hear just a brief monosyllable, and that little word becomes heavy with associations, implied meanings, shared symbols, a common past, who knows what else? There’s nothing to explain or be explained. There’s no need to pour your heart out. Your hands can do the talking: they’re wordless, but they can be extremely eloquent. Boy, can they be eloquent. Monosyllables, as well, but only when they bring with them their whole train of associations, implications. Amazing how many languages can fit into a single one, Rolando Asuero says and tells himself, contemplating his own reflection. Then he repeats, gloomily: Shit, those bags!

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 167…

Episode 167…

Well, things went slightly better this week, perhaps due to me bricking up the letter box and shouting “She’s emigrated to Australia!” every time the postman knocked the door. So the TBR has fallen by 4 to 226! I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting off the treadmill soon…

Here are a few more that should drop off soon…

Classic Club Spin #18 Winner

Number 9 was called and so this is it! In its favour, it’s short and I loved the film. Against, I really didn’t get along with Cain’s writing in Mildred Pierce (review still to come). So it could go either way…

The Blurb says: An amoral young tramp.  A beautiful, sullen woman with an inconvenient husband.  A problem that has only one grisly solution–a solution that only creates other problems that no one can ever solve.

First published in 1934 and banned in Boston for its explosive mixture of violence and eroticism, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic of the roman noir. It established James M. Cain as a major novelist with an unsparing vision of America’s bleak underside, and was acknowledged by Albert Camus as the model for The Stranger.

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Vintage Crime

Courtesy of Farrago via NetGalley. I’ve been enjoying revisiting a few of the Flaxborough Chronicles as Farrago have been releasing them for Kindle. This one has always been my favourite of the series so *spoiler alert* it will get a five-star review!

The Blurb says: As Miss Lucilla Teatime often remarks, there is no lack of entertainment in the delightful town of Flaxborough. What could be more wholesome than the Folklore Society’s quarterly “revels”, with dancing, a bonfire, and a quaffing bench? Well-upholstered matrons and town worthies enter most enthusiastically into the spirit. So it’s unfortunate when a younger woman, the freethinking Edna Hillyard, goes missing that night.

Then the manufacturer of “Lucillite” (gives your wash lightness, brightness and whiteness), filming a promotion locally, is dismayed to find a gruesome bull’s head ruining his key scene, while desecrations take place in the church, and the press begins reporting on Black Magic and a Town of Fear! Are DI Purbright and his team really battling against evil forces?

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Crime

Courtesy of Grove Atlantic via NetGalley. I’m not sure about this at all – it doesn’t sound my kind of thing. But somehow I have to get South and Central America on my Around the World map, and frankly books from there never seem to appeal to me! So I shall try to go in with an open mind and maybe this will be the one to win me over…

The Blurb says: From a writer whose work has been praised by Junot Díaz as “Latin American fiction at its pulpy phantasmagorical finest,” Don’t Send Flowers is a riveting novel centered on Carlos Treviño, a retired police detective in northern Mexico who has to go up against the corruption and widespread violence that caused him to leave the force, when he’s hired by a wealthy businessman to find his missing daughter.

A seventeen-year-old girl has disappeared after a fight with her boyfriend that was interrupted by armed men, leaving the boyfriend on life support and the girl an apparent kidnap victim. It’s a common occurrence in the region—prime narco territory—but the girl’s parents are rich and powerful, and determined to find their daughter at any cost. When they call upon Carlos Treviño, he tracks the missing heiress north to the town of La Eternidad, on the Gulf of Mexico not far from the U.S. border—all while constantly attempting to evade detection by La Eternidad’s chief of police, Commander Margarito Gonzalez, who is in the pockets of the cartels and has a score to settle with Treviño.

A gritty tale of murder and kidnapping, crooked cops and violent gang disputes, Don’t Send Flowers is an engrossing portrait of contemporary Mexico from one of its most original voices.

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Classic Fiction on Audio

For my Classics Club challenge. I loved Tess when I read it many years ago, and I also loved the 1979 Roman Polanski film. This audiobook is narrated by Peter Firth, who played Angel in that film, so I couldn’t resist…

The Blurb says: Hardy tells the story of Tess Durbeyfield, a beautiful young woman living with her impoverished family in Wessex, the southwestern English county immortalized by Hardy. After the family learns of their connection to the wealthy d’Urbervilles, they send Tess to claim a portion of their fortune.

Considered Hardy’s masterwork it presents a major departure from conventional Victorian fiction, causing controversy and mixed reviews on first publication due to it challenging Victorian sexual morals. The work was subtitled ‘A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented’ as Hardy felt that its heroine was a virtuous victim of a rigid Victorian moral code.

Hardy considered it his finest book and due to his enlightened and forward thinking, the story has captivated audiences since it was first released.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Audible UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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