The Classics Club Spin – The Years by Virginia Woolf

Well, I’ve been totally confused about this and I’ve just realised that I read the wrong book for this Classics Club spin.  I should have read Midnight Is a Place by Joan Aiken and I’ve read The Years by Virginia Woolf instead. That was a book which I was meant to be reading for Simon and Karen’s 1937 Club, which doesn’t come up until April.  Midnight is a Place is quite a hefty book so I doubt if I’ll be able to get it read by March, 3rd. Anyway, here we go.

Previously I had read three of Virginia Woolf’s novels and I had decided that she really wasn’t my cup of tea, but I found The Years to be much more enjoyable, probably because it’s a bit of a family saga.

The chapters are headed with a date, beginning with 1880 and continuing to 1891, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1911, 1913, 1914, 1917, 1918 and ending with The Present Day (which of course was 1937.) The first and the last chapters are more novella than chapter length. The setting is London, where the Pargiter family live, they’re a middle class family headed by a father who had been in the army. Colonel Pargiter had been wounded in the Indian Mutiny so has a damaged hand. His wife is dying and is upstairs in her bedroom, strangely everyone seems just to be tired of the whole process, she’s taking too long to die, there seems to be no love there, even from the grown children. The colonel has a mistress, but that’s a rather tepid affair too.

Each chapter contains some of the members of the wider family, over the years some drop out of sight, and re-appear later on, just as often happens in families.

You would think that World War 1 would feature in those war years, but it really doesn’t, it’s still all very domestic.  I thought this one was like a mini Forsyte Saga, but that might just be because it was set in the same era.

Jack also read this and blogged about it here.


Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf

Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf was published in 1941, but seems to have been written on the cusp of war.  Not long after finishing this book Woolf had filled her pockets with stones and walked into the River Ouse, depression is a terrible thing. Her husband wrote that he didn’t think that she would have made much in the way of changes to the text, if she had lived. That’s a real shame as for me the best thing about this novella was that it was only 100 pages long.  Suicide was obviously on her mind as she even mentions a man who had drowned himself.

About half of the book features a local village pageant, something which was popular in the days when people had to make their own entertainment, and also features in one of  E F  Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books, albeit briefly. A pageant is the sort of thing that people would have gone to because ‘their wee Jeannie’ or someone they knew had a bit part in it.  I found it really boring. Between the acts of the play/pageant there’s chat among the audience.

The blurb says: Between the Acts, an account of a village pageant in the summer preceding the Second World War which successfully interweaves comedy, satire and disturbing observation.

Sadly it just didn’t do it for me. I’m a bit worried about having to read her The Years for the Classics Club spin, especially as it’s a lot longer.



Classics Club Spin # 33 – the result

The Classics Club Spin number has been chosen and it’s number 18. That means that before April, 30th I have to read Ordinary Families by E. Arnot Robertson, published by Virago books. It was originally published in 1933.

This book is a fairly recent purchase, I think I bought it just last month in the Edinburgh Stockbridge Oxfam bookshop. I’ve never read anything by the author before – have you? Did you join in the CC Spin this month, if so which book did you get?

Classics Club Spin # 33

It’s Classics Club Spin time again, number 33. The spin number will be chosen on Sunday the 19th, March. Below is my list of 20 books and whichever book corresponds to the number chosen will be the book that I have to read before the 30th of April.

1. The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon
2. The Harsh Voice by Rebecca West
3. Good Daughters by Mary Hocking
4. The Way Things Are by E.M. Delafield
5. The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham
6. The Bridal Path by Nigel Tranter
7. The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham
8. Cheerfulness Breaks In by Angela Thirkell
9. Treasure Hunt by Molly Keane
10. Knight’s Fee by Rosemary Sutcliff
11. The Home by Penelope Mortimer
12. We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea by Arthur Ransome
13. Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
14. Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge
15. The Sound of Coaches by Leon Garfield
16. The Revolt of the Eagles by Jean Plaidy
17. The Battle of the Queens by Jean Plaidy
18. Ordinary Families by E. Arnot Robertson
19. King of Shadows by Susan Cooper
20. My Career Goes Bung by Franklin Miles

Most of the books on this list are light reading and not what I would really regard as being classics, but much as I love Anthony Trollope, Zola and others I don’t feel in the mood for anything particularly heavy and long at the moment. The books on the list have all been around for a fair few years, and they’re all from my unread books shelves, so whichever number comes up it should be a win-win for me I think!

The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff

The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff was first published in 1931 but my copy is a Persephone reprint.

The Stevens family of London consisting of mum, dad, grown son Dick and daughter Mary and younger son Ernie, always have a fortnight in September at Bognor. They always stay at the same boarding house which over the years has got shabbier and shabbier but they stay loyal to Mrs Haykin the owner. As both their older children are now out working there had been talk of Dick and Mary going elsewhere for their holiday this year, but that idea had come to nothing so Mr and Mrs Stevens are extra happy to be going away as normal as a family, it might be the last time.

There’s not a lot going on in this tale, the family pack and arrange for the luggage to be taken to the railway station, buy train tickets, worry about getting seats on the train, eat their sandwiches and resent the other travellers. But arriving at ‘Seaview’ in Bognor is like slipping on an old pair of comfy shoes to them, it’s going to be a great holiday – and it is, with wonderful weather.

Money has always been a bit tight for the family and they’re thrilled when the father decides that they will just be able to afford to hire a beach hut this time, it’s such a luxury. Everything is carefully calculated including the ginger beer they drink with their meals, and the bottle of port as a medicine for Mrs Stevens which Dick carefully marks with fourteen lines so that she knows how much to pour out each evening.

This is a real comfort read about a very ordinary family who presumably live in Sydenham as their home has a view of the Crystal Palace which is half a mile away. They’re such a lovely set of people though and as families go they’re very close, possibly because they don’t live in each other’s pockets and have some time away from each other doing their own thing. It’s their kindness and loyalty to old Mrs Haykin that marks them out as decent people, standing above others who might presume to be their betters, it’s an unexpectedly entertaining read.

I did think though while I was reading this book that young Ernie should have been at school in September, and his elder siblings too when they were still of school age. Presumably that was because Mr Stevens was so budget conscious, and September boarding house prices were lower than July or August rates.

Liza of Lambeth by W. Somerset Maugham – The Classics Club Spin

I have to admit that I failed completely at the The Classics Club spin this time around. I had The Moon and Sixpence at number 6 and I stuck at it for about 50 pages but it just wasn’t grabbing me and life is too short – so I gave it up and substituted Liza of Lambeth, a total cheat I know but I still wanted to take part in The Classics Club.

Anyway, Liza of Lambeth is W. Somerset Maugham’s first foray into authorship, well the first one published anyway. He was a medical student at the time and was able to use those experiences in the story.

The year is around the middle of Victoria’s reign and the setting is Lambeth, a working class area of London and it begins with the inhabitants of Vere Street enjoying themselves on a hot afternoon in August, with the children playing cricket and the women sitting at their doorsteps gossiping. It’s an area where a lot of the women are at various stages of pregnancy and the men are too handy with their fists, but that’s all seen as being normal.

Eliza is young and single, and living with her mother who apparently suffers from ill health, but in reality she’s an alcoholic. Liza is the life and soul of the street though, she loves clothes and dancing and is very popular, especially with Tom who is besotted with her, but Tom is too quiet and boring for Liza’s liking. She’s got her eyes on Jim who is twice her age and has just moved into the street with his wife and five children, soon to be six. It isn’t going to end well.

I really enjoyed this one although it was quite predictable, but after all it was his first book. It’s quite grim in parts, however I’ve no doubt that the setting is very authentic with domestic violence hard drinking and early deaths being more likely than not. Maugham must have seen plenty of evidence of both when he was working as a student doctor in a London hospital.

Did you take part in the Spin this time around?

Lady Susan / The Watsons / Sanditon by Jane Austen

As it’s almost the end of the year I’m just ‘redding up’ (tidying/clearing up) my book reviews. Actually I must admit that this isn’t even a review, just a mention that as expected I enjoyed re-reading Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon. However, it’s so long since I actually read the books that I can’t really go into any details!

Luckily Jack read them just before I did so if you’re interested in his thoughts you can have a look here. Can you believe that Jack had never read anything by Jane Austen before 2019?!

The Classics Club Spin -The Sinful Priest/Abbe Mouret’s Transgression/La Curee

The Classics Club Spin date seems to come around so quickly, but I just managed to get this one finished on time.

The Sinful Priest/Abbe Mouret's Transgression cover

The Sinful Priest which also goes under the name Abbe Mouret’s Transgression is the third book in Emile Zola’s Rougon Macquart series, quite a lot of which I’ve enjoyed in the past, but sadly I can’t say the same for this one.

It begins with a young priest called Serge who has a very dilapidated church in a country area. He really has no congregation at all but is helped by young Vincent, his server. Serge’s younger sister Desiree lives with him, but she is lacking mentally, is very childlike and lives for her animals – chickens, rabbits and a cow. Serge does have a housekeeper, an old woman La Teuse from the village.

Serge is very devout and is particularly attached to the Virgin Mary, in fact the local Christian Brother/Jesuit? named Brother Archangias has warned Serge about what he sees as an unhealthy obsession which he says is “veritable robbery of devotion due to God.” Archangias seems to think that all females lead to sin.

There follows a long section of the book which is about Serge’s – what I think nowadays is called Marianism. I thought it would never come to an end and I found the endless parade of adjectives and purple prose to be tedious in the extreme.

Then Serge goes to visit an estate called Paradou and while there he becomes ill. Nursed back to health by the landowner’s daughter the inevitable happens. This section is so obviously the Adam and Eve story, with Brother Archangias getting involved. Things do not end well, but there is a lot more purple prose.

It’s hard to believe that the same author who wrote Germinal wrote this one, but as I’ve been reading the Rougon Maquart series over the years I would have got around to this one eventually, so I don’t feel that it was wasted time.

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin was first published in 1901, it’s an Australian classic and I’ve been meaning to get around to reading it for years. I kept seeing copies of it in secondhand bookshops but something else always seemed to be shouting louder at me to buy it so I’ve been passing it by for years, that turned out to be really silly as it is a great read. It was a total surprise to me to discover that Miles Franklin was actually a woman Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, she was born in 1879. She wrote this very autobiographical novel when she was just 16, which seems amazing to me.

Sybylla is not quite nine years old when her father decides to move his large family away from the sheep station where she had been living since she was born. Her father thinks that he has a better chance of making a living on a one thousand acre farm in the flat countryside of Goulburn. But he isn’t any more successful there and his drinking gets worse and worse. The mother is worn out, she had come from a fairly well off genteel family and life hasn’t gone the way she expected it to. She takes her frustrations out on her eldest daughter Sybylla who gets the blame for everything while her younger sister (all of 11 months younger!) is her mother’s darling pet. Sybylla is exhausted with all the farm and house work that she has to do, not that she gets any thanks for it.

As you would expect she dreams of a better life, but things go from bad to worse and even their clothes are in rags, there has been no rain for years and there are animals dying for want of water and grass. Sybylla isn’t going to marry a poor man like her father, she wants to write, and when her mother sends her to live with her grandmother in what had been her mother’s family home Sybylla can hardly believe her luck. They even have books! She has never seen such comfort and she quickly becomes a favourite of her grandmother, aunt and others. She even has a rich young man who is interested in her, but she’s torn away from everything she loves as her feckless father has borrowed money, and Sybylla is expected to work in the home of his creditor in lieu of the debt’s interest. She’s just a slave to a large and dirty family.

Throughout this book the author’s love for the Australian land is obvious although I suspect that unless you have grown up with that sort of landscape it’s difficult to imagine and appreciate the beauty of it.

This book has an unexpected ending, but then Miles Franklin had an unusual life and she stuck to her independent spirit throughout it all. She was a feminist, during WW1 she worked for the Scottish Women’s Hospitals in the Serbian campaign and endowed the Miles Franklin Prize for Australian literature and the Stella Prize was named after her too.

Classics Club Spin – number 31

It’s Classics Club Spin time again, so before October the 30th I’ll have to read whichever spin number comes up on Sunday the 18th of September. Have you read any of these ones, are you taking part in this spin? I’d quite like one of the Zolas to come up, but otherwise I’m not fussed.

1. The Island Pharisees by John Galsworthy
2. The Sinful Priest by Emile Zola
3. Othello by William Shakespeare
4. Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare
5. The Master of Ballantrae by R.L. Stevenson
6. A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain by Daniel Defoe
7. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
8. The Pink Front Door by Stella Gibbons
9. Flowering Wilderness by John Galsworthy
10. One More River by John Galsworthy
11. The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle by Tobias Smollett
12. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
13. Good Daughters by Mary Hocking
14. The Harsh Voice by Rebecca West
15. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
16. The MacDermotts of Ballycloran by Anthony Trollope
17. Guy Mannering by Sir Walter Scott
18. L’Assommoir (The Gin Palace) by Emile Zola
19. The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham
20. The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham