Back to the Classics Challenge 2021 – the wrap-up.

I’ve completed six books in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2021 which is hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.

1. A 19th century classic: any book first published from 1800 to 1899. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope. This one is a cracker, a real page-turner.

3. A classic by a woman – The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison. I felt this one dragged, it is very long and wasn’t really a page-turner for me.

5. A classic by a BIPOC author; that is, a non-white author. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I thought I would, but I will try more by the author.

5. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. This one is a heart-breaking read, but I’m glad I read it.

7. New-to-you classic by a favorite author — a new book by an author whose works you have already read. A Maid in Waiting by John Galsworthy This seventh book in the Forsyte Chronicles was good, just two more books to go.

9. A children’s classic – Pinocchio by Carlo/Charles Collodi. I’m glad I caught up with this children’s classic at last.

Thank you Karen for hosting this challenge.

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope – The Classics Club and Back to the Classics Challenge

 The Way We Live Now cover

The Way We Live Know by Anthony Trollope was first published in 1875 but some aspects of the tale and the characters are so recognisable nowadays. As with most of Trollope’s books it’s a real chunkster but if you have the time – as I have – then you’ll probably find that you manage to read it fairly quickly as it’s a real page-turner.

Lady Carbury is a widow with a son and daughter who are more or less out in the world, or they would be if her son Felix had any gumption, sadly he chooses to spend his time at his club gambling and drinking, and his mother has to write history pot-boilers which are dubious factually to try to make some money to keep body and soul together for her and her daughter. Even so, Lady Carbury just can’t say no to her son when he wants money for gambling, and she gives it to him despite needing the money to pay the household bills, and having to deny her daughter a fair chance in life.

Felix needs to marry a wealthy young woman and with this in mind an invitation to Madame Melmotte’s ball is needed. The Melmottes have arrived in London only recently but they’re reputed to be fabulously wealthy, having made lots of money in France. Lady Carbury wants their daughter Marie for her son. There are rumours though that all might not be as it seems in the Melmotte household. In Paris Mr Melmotte is regarded as a swindler and his business dealings aren’t orthodox. He’s described as being purse-proud and a bully. Melmotte likes to talk about how wealthy he is and throws money around to entertain royalty, but he’s definitely up to no good.

Melmotte is so like the so-called tycoon Robert Maxwell who bought companies just to plunder their pension funds, and he also reminded me of ‘the Donald’. Human beings don’t ever change I suppose and there are only so many different types. This was a great read which I read for the Classics Club. I love Trollope’s writing so I can’t understand why it has taken me so long to get around to reading this one, I suspect that I thought it might not be good pandemic reading – but it was.

I also read this one for the Back to the Classics Challenge which is hosted by Karen K at Books and Chocolate.

Maid in Waiting by John Galsworthy – Classics Club spin #28 and Back to the Classics Challenge

 Maid in Waiting cover

I got Maid in Waiting by John Galsworthy in the Classics Club spin number 28, it’s the seventh book in the Forsyte Saga which should really be called the Forsyte Chronicles, and it continues with some of the characters from the previous book and features the Charwell family (pronounced Cherrell). They’re not nearly as well off as the Forsytes as they’ve mainly opted to become church minsters in slum districts, joined the army or become academics.

While Herbert Cherrell, an academic was on an expedition in Bolivia he had had to shoot a muleteer, he got into that position because he had taken to flogging the muleteers for continuing to ill-treat the mules despite his complaints about it. As you can imagine they didn’t take well to being flogged. There’s a possibility that he’ll be extradited to stand trial in Bolivia and at this danger to one of their own, his very clannish family is incensed and set out to pull strings – or in the case of the women to ‘vamp’ men they think might be able to help.

Meanwhile another of them, Diana, is in trouble. Her husband who has been in a private mental hospital for some years suddenly appears back home, claiming to be fine. But he had been violent to her in the past and she’s terrified of him. Again the family comes to her aid. Mental health is quite a theme, was it hereditary or did his experiences during World War 1 turn his mind?

I really enjoyed this one which is quite topical, humans never really change. The Cherrells, some of whom seem very decent, do however have a sense of entitlement and strangely a feeling that they are being held up to higher standards than others simply because of their connections. They see having friends and relatives in high places as a bit of a disadvantage!

It ended a bit abruptly for my liking and I hope that the next one in this trilogy which is called Flowering Wilderness, features Dinny Cherrell as I became quite fond of her, she’s the young mainstay of the family.
I also read this one for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2021 which is hosted by KAren K at Books and Chocolate.

Classics Club Spin (28) It’s number 12

The Classics Club Spin has come up with number 12, for me that means that I’ll be reading End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy. It has to be read by the 12th of December which seems a very long way away at the moment, but no doubt it’ll arrive in a flash!

My copy of the book is an old one with small print which is probably why I haven’t got around to reading it before now. I’m looking forward to it though. I’ve just realised that it’s actually a trilogy comprising of Maid in Waiting, Flowering Wilderness and Over the River. It’s loosely linked with The Forsyte Saga which I loved.

If you joined in with the spin this month, what did you get and are you happy with it?

Classics Club Spin #28

It’s Classics Club Spin time again, number 28 and as I’m coming to the end of my list I have to put the same books at different numbers. I’ll have to read whichever number is chosen in the spin – by the 12th of December and the number will be chosen on the 17th of October.spin

1. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
2. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
3. The Trial by Franz Kafka
4. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
5. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
6. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
7. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
8. The Trial by Franz Kafka
9. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
10. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
11. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
12. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
13. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
14. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
15. The Trial by Franz Kafka
16. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
17. The Trial by Franz Kafka
18. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
19. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
20. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott

It’s ages since I read anything by Anthony Trollope, don’t ask me why because I really love his writing so I should have polished the one on this list ages ago, anyway, I hope I get his The Way We Live Now in the spin. Are any of your favourites on my list?

The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison – Classics Club Spin #27

he Corn King and the Spring Queen cover

The Corn King and the Spring Queen by the Scottish author Naomi Mitchison was first published in 1931 but my copy is a Virago reprint from 1989, I think I might have owned it since then, the chunkiness of it put me off reading it. I think this book would have been improved if it had been edited down to about 500 pages instead of the 719 that it is. It dragged terribly at times. I must admit that my heart sank when I realised I had got such a chunkster in the Classics Club Spin # 27.

The setting is Marob, a small state on the Black Sea, and Greece, the story switches between both places – between the years 228 BC and 187 BC. Some of the incidents are fictional while others are historical. In Marob the society revolves around the Corn King and Spring Queen as they and their ceremonies are most important in making sure that there will be a good harvest. Tarrik, the Corn King chooses Erif Der to be his wife and Spring Queen. Her father doesn’t want Tarrik to be Corn King as it’s a position he wants for himself. Erif in common with many of the women can perform magic and her father expects her to use it against Tarrik.

When Tarrik rescues Sphaeros a Greek philosopher from a shipwreck he is wooed by all the new ideas that Sphearos has and decides to sail with him to Greece. In Greece they meet King Kleomones of Sparta, he has decided that he wants a more equal society and so the rich are persuaded to give up their jewellery, money and possessions and to free their slaves. They will be given some land of their own. But everyone becomes poor and eats black soup as the peasants had to before. The previously rich people aren’t happy. King Kleomones seems to have kept all the wealth that had been given up so that he could pay for wars against his neighbours, using the money to pay the wages of mercenaries.

This is very much just the bare bones of the book which goes into detail about the ceremonies, particularly the fertility ones which end up with the Corn King ‘ploughing’ the Corn Queen and everyone else joining in in what was basically an orgy, to ensure a good harvest of course! It struck me that this was very racy for the original publication date of 1931. No doubt the mythological aspect of the book helped in that regard.

The book is split up into nine sections and at the end of every section there’s a shortish summary of what happened in that section. Just in case you didn’t understand it I suppose. I don’t think there’s anything particularly difficult about the writing style, it’s just rather wordy, but it is mainly an interesting read.

Mitchison came from a fairly aristocratic family, she was born in 1897 and had a long writing career, as you will see here. She died in 1998. I read a Virago edition of the book which was first published in 1983 and has an afterword from Mitchison.

Jack read this a few years ago. His thoughts are here.

The Masterpiece by Emile Zola

 The Masterpiece cover

The Masterpiece by Emile Zola was first published in 1886. My copy was translated by Thomas Walton in 1950 and I must say that I doubt if anyone else could have done a better job. It’s the fouteenth novel in Zola’s Rougon Macquart series, and it’s a great read. I read this one for Back to the Classics Challenge and The Classics Club.

The Masterpiece is Zola’s most autobiographical novel, he based the main characters – a group of artistic friends on some of his own friends and himself. The artist Cezanne was his friend and there must have been plenty of artistic discussions between the two over the years, so Zola would have had plenty of copy to choose from I’m sure. The character Sandoz is based on Zola.

The main character Claude is a serious young artist, his friends think he has great talent and it’s only a matter of time before he becomes his generation’s Delacroix with his art being hung in The Salon and winning prizes. Claude is developing a new style called ‘Open Air’ (Impressionist). However he makes life difficult for himself, painting on enormous canvases and never being happy with his work, never knowing when to stop. His ideas which start off well somehow always go awry and when he does manage to get a painting accepted by The Salon it’s only in the gallery of the ‘refused’ artworks, where everyone laughs at his efforts. However some years later one of his friend’s steals that composition and changes it slightly and the resulting painting and the artist are lauded.

Zola concentrates on Claude’s story and his wife Christine, but his friends are a sculptor, journalist, architect and of course a novelist, and their lives and how they interact with Claude are also a big part of the book.

Germinal has always been my favourite in this series but this one ran it a close thing, although I must warn anyone thinking of reading it – especially in these angst-ridden pandemic times – that it vies with Thomas Hardy for shock and darkness. However there are some lovely descriptions of Paris, especially at night, Claude was in love with the city.

There’s an introduction by the translator Thomas Walton, obviously not to be read until you’ve finished reading the book, but as it happens the one passage that I had marked to quote is in his introduction.

Sandoz (Zola) is speaking to Claude:

“Has it ever struck you that posterity may not be the fair, impartial judge we like to think it is? We console ourselves for being spurned and rejected by relying on getting a fair deal from the future, just as the faithful put up with with the abomination on this earth because they firmly believe in another life where everyone shall have his deserts. Suppose the artist’s paradise turned out to be as non-existent as the Catholic’s, and future generations proved just as misguided as the present one and persisted in liking pretty-pretty dabbling better than honest to goodness painting! …. What a sell for us all, to have lived like slaves, noses to the grindstone all to no purpose!”

Such is life!

I bought my copy of this book in a charity shop in North Berwick one hot summer’s day a few years ago in the glory days of travel. I can’t say that I like the cover though. It’s an Ann Arbor paperback, The University of Michigan Press, and I bought about five other Zola books along with it, all similarly very far from home.

Coriolanus by William Shakespeare

Coriolanus

In 2020 I didn’t read many books from my Classics Club list (2), in fact it was only the spin books that I read, so this year I thought I would start to chip away at the fewer than 20 that I have left to read from my second list of 50 classic books. So I decided to read Coriolanus by William Shakespeare which I knew nothing about. I picked it up a few hours after watching the insurgents live on CNN as they beat their way into the US Capitol building and it felt just a wee bit spooky with
Act First Scene 1 Rome. A street. Enter a company of mutinous Citizens, with staves, clubs and other weapons.Then they proceeded to march on The Capitol!

Those plebeians – the common people – were revolting over a lack of affordable grain, people were starving while others hoarded grain and made huge profits.

Caius Marcius (Martius) is a top officer in the army and he is absolutely full of himself, according to him he has saved Rome countless times over the years. His mother Volumnia is ambitious for her son and wants him to become a consul, but Marcius really despises the ordinary Romans and doesn’t hide the fact so he’s very unpopular with the citizens. Marcius tells the rioters that they don’t deserve any bread as they’ve never given any service in the army. He’s incensed when two of the rioters are rewarded with seats in the Senate.

News of a war having broken out with the neighbouring Volscians means that Marcius leaves to lead the Roman army in battle. When Marcius wins the war and news comes of his many brave deeds he’s given the title of Coriolanus after the town of Corioloni.

When back in Rome Coriolanus is encouraged to become a consul, but he needs to curry favour with the people which means he has to feign humility, he tries but his real character asserts itself and the upshot is that he is banished from Rome altogether.

In his fury Coriolanus teams up with his old enemy Tullus Aufidius of the Volscians and together they march on Rome. While Coriolanus and Aufidius are camped outside the city walls the Romans are in a panic, as is the army, and two of Coriolanus’s old friends go outside the walls to plead for mercy – to no avail. But when his mother Volumnia pleads with him to make peace he relents. This treachery infuriates Aufidius and Coriolanus can’t stop himself, he’s still bragging about how many people he has killed, which isn’t at all sensible as he’s in the company of a lot of Volscians – the relatives of the people he had killed. It doesn’t end well for Coriolanus!

And so another Shakespeare play bites the dust in these strange times, and there were some even stranger parallels between the two Capitols of Rome and Washington. The boasting and arrogant character of Coriolanus is very reminiscent of Trump, but that’s as far as the similarities go as Trump could never be called brave and at bottom he seems to have despised people who didn’t dodge the army which is the opposite of Coriolanus’s attitude.

My copy of this book is a very old leather bound one with no publication date, but it is inscribed, May N Haxton 25/12/06, so presumably it was a Christmas gift in 1906.

I read this one for the Classics Club and Back to the Classics.

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

 Thomas Mann cover

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann was first published in 1913 and translated from the German by H.T. Lowe-Porter.

Gustave Aschenbach is a successful hard working writer, living in Munich. He had been allowed to add the word ‘von’ to his name, almost raising him to aristocracy. In his younger years he had done a lot of travelling but that had tailed off as he got older and he had hardly left Munich in recent years. On impulse he decides to travel to Venice, a place he had loved in the past.

This is a tale of obsession as when Aschenbach reaches his hotel in Venice he is entranced by the sight of a young blond boy, beautiful and elegant and obviously the only much pampered boy in his family which consists of three older sisters and their mother. Aschenbach can hardly take his eyes off the boy who is dressed beautifully in contrast with his very plainly dressed sisters. The mother is festooned with ‘well-nigh priceless pearls’. The family comes from Poland and Aschenbach eventually discovers that the boy’s name is Tadzio.

Aschenbach gets into the habit of settling himself on the beach where he can have a good view of the family, and his interest is eventually noticed by the mother who calls Tadzio away when he strays too close to where Ascenbach is sunning himself. When Aschenbach can’t see them he walks aroudn the city looking for them, and even follows them around when he finds them.

During all this time visitors are beginning to leave Venice and aren’t being replaced by others, but Aschenbach is too steeped in his obsession to notice. Eventually even he can’t ignore the frequent wafts of carbolic acid that he can smell in the air, but the hoteliers and businesses are in denial, they don’t want to lose the few customers who haven’t already left. Too late Aschenbach is told of the Asiatic Cholera which had begun in the delta of the Ganges and wafted its way through many countries before reaching Italy. Plus ca change – as they say!

This little novella is the first that I’ve read by Thomas Mann, but won’t be the last as he’s such a good writer but I must admit that I started reading this one in bed and decided that it wasn’t bedtime reading, so I started it again in the morning and read it in a couple of sittings. I still felt that it didn’t really get going until Aschenbach reached Venice, which didn’t take long.

I’m assuming that everyone has seen the 1971 film of the book starring Dirk Bogarde, which is why I’ve recounted the whole story, but it’s really just the bare bones of it and it didn’t matter that I already knew the ending, it’s in the title after all. The film is a bit different though.

Back to the Classics 2021 – My list

I’ve signed up for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2021 which is hosted by Karen @ Books and Chocolate. It’s a year long project so should be easy to complete!

Below are the categories for 2021 with my choice in each category in bold. A few of my choices also appear in my Classics Club list but I believe that is allowed.

1. A 19th century classic: any book first published from 1800 to 1899
Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott

2. A 20th century classic: any book first published from 1900 to 1971. All books must have been published at least 50 years ago; the only exceptions are books which were written by 1971 and posthumously published.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin

3. A classic by a woman author.
The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

4. A classic in translation, meaning any book first published in a language that is not your primary language. You may read it in translation or in its original language, if you prefer.
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

5. A classic by BIPOC author; that is, a non-white author.
The Rover by Aphra Behn

6. A classic by a new-to-you author, i.e., an author whose work you have never read.
The Deer Park by Norman Mailer

7. New-to-you classic by a favorite author — a new book by an author whose works you have already read.
The Masterpiece by Emile Zola

8. A classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title. The animal can be real or metaphorical. (i.e., To Kill a Mockingbird).
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

9. A children’s classic.
Pinocchio

10. A humorous or satirical classic.
Jill the Reckless by P.G. Wodehouse

11. A travel or adventure classic (fiction or non-fiction). It can be a travelogue or a classic in which the main character travels or has an adventure.
The Illustrated Journeys of Celia Fiennes 1685-c1712

12. A classic play. Plays will only count in this category.
Troilus and Cressida by William Shakespeare

Obviously I intend to read more classics than this over the year, particularly Anthony Trollope. My project to read everything by him – and that’s a lot – has come to a halt this year for some reason.

Have you read any of these books?