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?

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

 Mrs Dalloway cover

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf was first published in 1925 and I never really intended to read it as I’m not a big fan of the stream of consciousness style of writing, but surprisingly I did like it. A friend had had to study it for her degree and she loaned me her copy of the book, however it wasn’t to her taste at all.

The story takes place within one day when Mrs Dalloway (Clarissa), who is an upper-class middle aged woman married to a politician and living in London, is busy getting ready to host a party in her home, it’s just a few years after the end of World War 1.

Clarissa loves walking around Westminster, it’s a lovely day which reminds her of being at Bourton, her childhood home and as she goes to buy flowers for her party her mind wanders back to those days and her past lover Peter Walsh whom she had refused to marry. She thought he would be coming back from India soon, retired. He had had so many plans but in the end had done nothing much with his life. Surprisingly when Clarissa gets back home Peter Walsh is waiting for her. It’s not a successful meeting, Clarissa was obviously correct to turn him down. On the other hand, Peter had always said that Clarissa would be a wonderful society hostess and she seems to have fulfilled that expectation, but perhaps it’s Clarissa’s talents in that direction that have contributed to her husband’s success as a Member of Parliament.

The focus switches to Septimus Warren Smith and his wife Rezia. They’re in London to visit a well known doctor, Sir William Bradshaw. Septimus is suffering from shell-shock due to his wartime experiences and Rezia is hopeful that he can be cured. Their own doctor keeps saying that there is nothing wrong with Septimus, but his behaviour alarms his wife and the servant and Septimus shouts for his dead friend Evans and has conversations with him. It’s not going to end well.

It’s an odd book to write about, but I did enjoy it, unexpectedly, and the party? Well, in the end it was a success of course.

The Classics Club Spin # 25

classic spin

It’s Classics Club Spin spin time again, how quickly it comes around. Ths spin number will be chosen on Sunday the 22nd of November, but this time we have almost 9 weeks to read the book which comes up in the spin. It should be read by the 30th of January. I have a few chunksters on my list so it would be ideal if one of those ones came up. Are you participating this time around?

My spin list is:

1. Montaigne essays
2. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
3. Coot Club by Arthur Ransome
4. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
5. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Parrot by Hugh Lofting
6. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
7. Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
8. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
9. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
10. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
11. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
12. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
13. The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade
14. The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
15. Sing for Your Supper by Pamela Frankau
16. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
17. The Trial by Franz Kafka
18. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
19. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
20. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute

 Pied Piper cover

Pied Piper by Nevil Shute was first published in 1942 and the subject is World War 2, I generally love books about the war that were written at the time, and I loved this one.

The story begins in a London club where an air raid is in progression. Two members get into conversation, John Howard is 70 years old and he tells the much younger club member – a naval officer – of his recent exploits in France. John Howard had gone to France to have a fishing holiday but to his horror the Nazis began their unbelievably fast march through European countries and before long they were in France. John had to get home to England – fast. But a couple of English guests in his hotel ask him if he could take their small children with him when he goes back home, they think that will be much safer for them. The children’s parents are diplomats and intend to travel to Switzerland on their own.

Things start to go awry almost immediately when one of the children falls ill and so begins a suspenseful journey with John Howard gathering more children along the way and having to join the vast numbers of refugees on the roads as the Luftwaffe bombed and strafed them. What should have been a simple train journey home to blighty turns into a complete nightmare when the trains are unavailable as the French army runs from the advancing German army.

Considering the subject matter I can hardly believe that it has taken me so long to get around to reading Pied Piper, I think I enjoyed this one even more than The Chequer Board which had been my favourite. I now want to tread his book Most Secret (1945) as it also has a wartime plot. Have any of you read that one?

I had to laugh at the author’s portrayal of the French rural/country people as being money grabbing and avaricious – nothing changes, that has been exactly our experience of them over the years on various holidays.

Classics Club Spin – # 24

spin

It’s Classics Club Spin time again – number 24. The spin number will be chosen on Sunday the 9th of August and I’ll be writing about whichever book I have to read by the 30th September 2020.

My spin list is:

1. Montaigne essays
2. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
3. Coot Club by Arthur Ransome
4. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
5. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Parrot by Hugh Lofting
6. Summer Half by Angela Thirkell
7. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
8. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
9. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
10. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
11. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
12. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
13. The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade
14. The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
15. Sing for Your Supper by Pamela Frankau
16. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
17. The Trial by Franz Kafka
18. Salem Chapel by Margaret Oliphant
19. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
20. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison

I’ve read quite a few chunky books recently so I’d really prefer to avoid reading some of the heftier books on my list, such as Salem Chapel and The Corn King and the Spring Queen, actually there are quite a few hefty books on this list, the odds might be against me!

The Rescue by Joseph Conrad

1920 club

The Rescue cover

As we have a complete set of lovely Folio Joseph Conrad books I decided to read The Rescue by Joseph Conrad for the 1920 Club, apart from that, it was slim pickings on my bookshelves for that particular year.

Prior to reading this one I had only ever read one other book by Conrad – Lucky Jim – and I wasn’t too thrilled by that one as I recall although it was probably at least 15 years ago that I read it. Anyway, I must admit that I found the first two thirds of The Rescue to be a bit of a turgid slog. I consoled myself by reminding myself that not every book can be as non stop-action packed as a Dorothy Dunnett book, so I ploughed on.

Eventually things did speed up. The setting is the Malay Straits where Tom Lingard is sailing his ship The Lightning, he makes a good living trading in the area. The Lightning is approached by a boat seeking help. Their yacht has run aground on a mudflat and when Lingard boards the yacht he meets with its owner Mr Travers, he is obviously a snob, very rich and is suspicious of Lingard. He’s sure he’s some sort of pirate and is rude towards him. But Mrs Travers who is much younger than her husband is very attractive as far as Lingard is concerned, the feeling seems to be mutual. When Travers and his guest d’Alcacer leave the yacht to stretch their legs on the sandbank they are stranded on they end up being kidnapped by a local tribe. There’s been trouble among the tribes, and in the recent past Lingard had befriended the chief of another tribe, and had sold him arms.

Travers and d’Alcacer are in danger of being murdered and Lingard goes to where they are being held captive in an effort to get them released, despite the fact that he’s completely smitten by Mrs Travers, and her husband is such an unpleasant man. Mrs Travers is tasked with delivering a message to Lingard but for some reason she fails to do so. It all gets very messy.

There’s an introduction by Captain Richard Woodman at the beginning which of course I read after finishing the book. It enlightened me as to why The Rescue felt almost like it had been written by two different writers. Apparently Conrad began to write the book in 1900 but half-way through it he came to a standstill and just couldn’t progress with it. He gave it up and went on to concentrate on The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ which was a huge success, but he didn’t go back to The Rescue until 1915, and only then as his agent had nagged him to finish it. He still couldn’t do it and it was only in 1918 that he tried again and eventually saw his way around the writing problem he had – by then it was TWENTY years after he had given up on it half way through. That’s obviously why the pace picked up two thirds through the book, really he should have gone back and re-written the parts that were twenty years old.

This book is very much of its time and the ‘n’ word appears quite a lot. All the way through the book though I was amazed by the writing as Conrad wrote his books in English, a language that he didn’t even begin to speak until he was in his 20s. His first language was Polish, but he must have had a real talent for languages, he even uses a Scots word in this book.

I might read another of his books at some point in the future, but not anytime soon.

Classics Club Spin # 23

It’s Classic Club Spin again – number 23 – how time flies. The spin number will be announced on Sunday, April the 19th and the corresponding book must be read by the 1st of June.

My list isn’t very different from the last one.

spin book
1. Montaigne essays
2. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
3. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
4. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
5. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Parrot by Hugh Lofting
6. Summer Half by Angela Thirkell
7. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
8. The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively
9. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
10. Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
11. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
12. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
13. The Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade
14. The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights by John Steinbeck
15. Sing for Your Supper by Pamela Frankau
16. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
17. The Trial by Franz Kafka
18. Salem Chapel by Margaret Oliphant
19. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
20. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison

I’m not too bothered about which number turns up although having read a few chunksters recently a slimmer volume would be nice.

The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare

 The Winter's Tale cover

The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare has come in for a lot of criticism over the centuries since it was first published in 1623. The problem seemed to be that it didn’t fall into a distinct category. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, part tragedy, part comedy and part romance. Plus you definitely have to suspend your disbelief at times in the story, otherwise the plot just seems to be far too unlikely.

Leontes, King of Sicilia, and Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, were great friends in childhood and after many years apart Polixenes visits Leontes in Sicilia. After nine months in Sicilia Polixenes is keen to go home to see his son Prince Florizel, Leontes is reluctant to give him up, but is unable to persuade him to stay on. Not willing to take no for an answer Leontes persuades his wife Queen Hermione to twist Polixenes’s arm – and she succeeds, presumably because Polixenes finds it more difficult to say NO to the heavily pregnant Hermione, and he doesn’t want to seem impolite.

However Leontes is immediately suspicious of this change of mind and decides that his friend and wife must have been having an affair, and that the child that Hermione is carrying isn’t his. Very quickly Leontes’s love for his friend turns to hatred and the man that he had praised to the skies becomes number one enemy and Camillo, a Sicilian lord is ordered to kill Polixenes. But Camillo warns Polixenes and they both sail off to Bohemia.

Furious at this escape Leontes turns his wrath on Hermione and ends up throwing her in prison, where she soon gives birth to a daughter. In an attempt to soften Leontes’s heart Hermione’s friend Pauline takes the baby to the king but it has the opposite effect and he orders Pauline’s husband Lord Antigonus to take the baby away and abandon her in the wilds.

Leontes had sent messengers to the Oracle at Delphos to find out if Hermione had been unfaithful to him, but meanwhile Hermione is put on public trial, during the trial the report from Delphos is read out and it says that Hermione and Polixenes are completely innocent and that Leontes won’t have an heir until his abandoned daughter is found. Leontes refuses to believe any of that, but when news reaches the court that his son and heir Mamillius has died due to the stress at the treatment handed out by his father to his mother Hermione faints. Pauline tells Leontes that Hermione is dead and he’s wracked with grief over the loss of his wife, son and baby daughter.

I would definitely say that this part of the story comes under the category of tragedy. Now for the romance.

While all this has been going on Antigonus has taken the baby to the coast of Bohemia and has given her the name of Perdita which apparently Hermione had asked him to name her in a dream he had. Perdita meaning lost. Perdita is found by a shepherd and his son and as there is a cloth bundle containing gold and jewels with her they realise that the baby comes of noble blood.

Sixteen years pass and King Polixenes’s son Prince Florizel has fallen in love with Perdita of course! They plan to get married without asking for Polixenes’s permission but the King knows what is going on and he and Camillo disguise themselves and go to the feast at which the betrothal will take place. Furious at his son’s subterfuge Polixenes threatens the old shepherd and Perdita with death and orders Florizel never to see Perdita again. The young couple run off and set sail for Sicilia, accompanied by the old shepherd and his son and helped by Camillo who then tells Polixenes where they have gone, hoping that the king will follow them to Sicilia and take Camillo with him.

Meanwhile, in Sicilia Leontes is still in mourning for Hermione. His courtiers have tried to persuade him to re-marry in order to get an heir to the kingdom, but Pauline tells him that no other wife will match up to Hermione. When Prince Florizel and Perdita arrive in Sicilia Leontes is very happy to see them, especially as Florizel claims to be on a diplomatic mission from his father. But very quickly Polixenes and Camillo arrive and it isn’t long before everyone realises that Perdita is actually the long lost daughter of Leontes and Hermione. Leontes is thrilled to have his daughter back and of course the two kings will be happy to have their offspring married to each other. Everyone goes off to Pauline’s country house where there is a newly made statue of Hermione, but while Leontes is weeping at the sight of his dead wife the statue moves – YES – Hermione is alive!

And that’s that. There is romance and some comedy and the real tragedy is the waste of time – the 16 years in which Leontes mourned for a wife he thought to be dead and of course the loss of Mamillius due to his father’s suspicious and jealous mind. As human beings don’t change over the centuries the psychological aspect of this story is one which is repeated often.

There is a certain POTUS who seems to have that problem, when people are doing what he wants them to do they are just wonderful, terrific people, but as soon as the possibilty of a perceived disloyalty is suspected – all hell breaks loose!

The Winter’s Tale isn’t a favourite of mine, but I was glad that I read it in an Oxford World’s Classic edition as it has an interesting introduction and lots of notes.

The Classics Club Spin # 22 – the result

The result of The Classics Club Spin number 22 was announced on Monday and it’s 13 which means I’ll be reading Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff.

The Rider of the White Horse cover

I’m happy about that as I enjoy Sutcliff’s writing, but such is life and my book piles the book has been languishing here unread for a long time. Previously I’ve mainly read her books which were aimed at children, but this one is for adults. The setting is the English Civil War, or as it is more accurately called nowadays, The Wars of the Three Kingdoms as it all spilled over into Scotland and Ireland too.

If you’re taking part in this spin I hope you were lucky enough to get something you’re looking forward to reading too.