Salem Chapel (Chronicles of Carlingford) by Mrs Oliphant – Classics Club Spin

It’s Classics Club Spin time again.

 Salem Chapel cover

Salem Chapel by the Scottish author Margaret Oliphant was first published in 1863, originally in the weekly periodical Blackwood’s Magazine, but I read a Virago reprint which dates from 1986, I think I’ve had it on my Virago shelf almost all of those 34 years! Salem Chapel is part of her Chronicles of Carlingford. Margaret Oliphant wrote over 120 books, she seems to have been one of those Victorian female authors who supported a larger extended family through her writing.

Arthur Vincent is a young newly qualified minister, a Nonconformist who has been chosen by the congregation of Salem Chapel to lead them. Very quickly it becomes obvious that the situation is not quite what Mr Vincent expected. Despite being Nonconformist and so not part of the more fashionable Church of England he is drawn to the more elegant and upper class members of the C of E. He’s really quite embarrassed by the members of his own congregation, they drop their aitches and use double negatives and are mainly small tradesman such as grocers, milkmen and day school teachers.

Mr Tozer is the senior deacon of the chapel so he’s in charge of the business side it seems, collecting the money from the churchgoers who apparently pay rent for their pews. But Mr Tozer deals in butter, cheese and bacon and his home smells of his wares. Mrs Tozer is kind but common and their daughter Phoebe is obvious in her admiration for the minister. But any minister would do.

This book is Victorian melodrama with a capital M. Really it would make a great TV series, much better than the very popular Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford was, having said that it really drags in the middle and the 461 pages could have been cut by at least 100 pages. There’s a railway chase down and up half the country which goes on too long, and there’s an attempted murder and possible abduction. Of course Oliphant would have been paid for each instalment of the book so it was in her best interests to spin the tale out as much as possible.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Miss Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks) which is also part of the Carlingford series. Salem Chapel suffers from a paucity of likeable characters, although I don’t think that would be such a problem if it was dramatised for TV. Really the disdained Mr amd Mrs Tozer were just about the only people that I liked, but the idea of a person finding after years of study that their personality is not suited to the profession they have chosen is very realistic I think.

You can see what Jack thought of the book here.

Classics Club Spin – # 24


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!

Classics Club Spin number 17

classics club

* List any twenty books you have left to read from your Classics Club list.
* Number them from 1 to 20.
* On Friday 9th March the Classics Club will announce a number.
* This is the book you need to read by 30th April 2018

Yes it’s Classics Club Spin time again. Just a bit of fun and the bonus for me is I don’t have to decide which book to read next. So I’m listing 20 books from my Classics Club list. April the 30th seems a long way away to me, but no doubt it’ll gallop up on us. The spin number will be announced on March the 9th.

My list is:

1. The American Senator by Anthony Trollope
2. Nana by Emile Zola
3. The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott
4. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
5. The Black Arrow by R.L. Stevenson
6. The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor
7. Montaigne
8. Summer Half by Angela Thirkell
9. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
10. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Laclos
11. Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter
12. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
13. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
14. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
15. Orkneyinga Saga
16. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
17. The House in Norham Gardens by Penelope Lively
18. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
19. Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant
20. If This Is a Man by Primo Levi

I’m not terribly fussed which number I get but as I’ve recently read Anna Karenina and at the moment I’m reading Pawn in Frankincense, both of which are hefty volumes, I’d rather avoid a chunkster. I’ve just realised though that there are quite a few thick books on my list.

The Classics Club Spin no. 16 – Down and Out in Paris and London

For the Classics Club Spin I got Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell which he wrote in 1933. It was only on the 28th that I realised that I had to read it before today, luckily it’s a very short read at just around 110 pages.

In 1928 George Orwell moved to Paris and ended up living the life of a poverty stricken down and out. No doubt it was all good copy for his writing, in this book he describes what it was like to be jobless and starving in Paris. He had in fact had his money stolen and I’m sure that he would have been able to get more money from friends if he had really become desperate so the experience wouldn’t have been quite the same as your average down and out.

Eventually he got a job as a dishwasher in a posh hotel, a nightmarish and exhausting existence, he describes the disgusting insanitary conditions in the unseen background of such establishments – not for the squeamish, but honestly for anyone who has had any sort of experience in catering none of it will be particularly shocking. I know that one head chef in a hotel frequented by the Queen in the 1970s routinely spat in the frying pan fat to see if it was hot enough!

Going for days on end with no food and having to pawn the clothes on his back in an attempt to survive must have been no fun, but Orwell must always have had the ability to get money from someone as he must have had friends who would have helped him out if he had asked, unlike the rest of the down and outs.

When he did borrow money to return to London so that he could compare the two cities and the experiences of destitute men he had a lot to learn about the rules that tramps had to stick to if they didn’t want to end up in prison. It seems it was easier to get food as a tramp in England, there were religious groups who would provide bread, margarine and tea – in return for being preached at. No mention of soup kitchens though which surprised me, bread and marg seems to be what tramps lived on in London.

They were only allowed to stay in a ‘spike’ for one night before having to move on to the next one, usually about 14 miles away, walking was the only way to get there, otherwise you would be sleeping on the Thames embankment if you were lucky. A ‘spike’ seems to have been a section of the local workhouse. Tramps weren’t allowed to sit down, they had to keep on the move, literally tramping around. Begging would land you in prison if you were caught at it. There were very few female tramps, almost certainly because they could usually get some sort of live-in employment as a servant.

Due to the fact that all your time was taken up tramping around it wasn’t possible to get any work, not that there would have been many jobs around then anyway. There were various types of dosshouses that you could get a bed of sorts in if you had some money. Sadly the other men were often old soldiers from World War 1, the accommodation was always filthy and usually so crowded that they were breathing into each other’s faces. As George Orwell died of tuberculosis it’s a fair bet that he contracted the disease whilst being down and out in Paris and London.

Ninety years or so on from when this was written things don’t seem to be a lot better for some poor souls in our society – a sobering thought.

The Classics Club Spin number result – 4

The Classics Club Spin number is 4. That means I have to read Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. Not exactly a comfy or easy read I’m sure, but I’ve only got myself to blame for putting it on my list! I’ve been meaning to get around to reading it for ages.

To make matters worse my copy is in one of those huge doorsteps of a book, containing four other Orwell books and a collection of his essays. Unwieldy isn’t the word.

Looking on the bright side, I’m sure I’ll feel a great sense of achievement when I get it finished. I should be blogging about it around about the 31st of December. Have any of you read it?

The Classics Club Spin – The Castle by Franz Kafka

The Castle cover

When I got Franz Kafka‘s The Castle in the Classics Club Spin I have to admit that I was less than chuffed. After all, I’ve been studiously ignoring our copy of the book since Jack read it way back in 1976 – or around about then.

The Castle was first published in Munich in 1926, in German of course and called Das Schloss. Despite being born in Prague, German was Kafka’s first language. He died of tuberculosis in 1924 and his friend Max Brod published Kafka’s books posthumously. The family was Jewish and his sisters died in Nazi concentration camps. I was dismayed when I realised that the book is unfinished, for some reason Kafka just didn’t finish it, possibly deliberately given the theme of the book but he apparently spoke about how he intended it to end and his notes are at the end of the book.

It’s apt that he didn’t reach the end of the book as that sort of echoes the book itself. The main character only has an initial ‘K’ – originally K had been ‘I’ throughout the book, so presumably the author was writing from his own frustrating experiences of life.

K is a young land surveyor and he has been given employment at The Castle, he isn’t a local so has had to travel there and he knows nothing of the neighbourhood. The first chapter is: It was late in the evening when K arrived. The village was deep in snow. The Castle hill was hidden, veiled in mist and darkness, nor was there a glimmer of light to show that a castle was there. On the wooden bridge leading from the main road to the village K stood for a long time gazing at the illusory emptiness above him.

The Castle is too far away to reach in the darkness and K stays at a local inn overnight. The locals are fairly sceptical about him being a land surveyor and having been given work at The Castle. The whole town is ruled by The Castle, so it seems and you can’t just pitch up at The Castle and expect to gain entrance.

The entire book is about K’s efforts to get to The Castle and so start his work of land surveying, but the locals say there is no need for such a thing. Every time K thinks he might be getting somewhere he doesn’t, and he ends up in a worse position than he was before. There are plenty of bizarre characters but none of them are what you would call likeable.

The Castle is about how it feels to be entangled with supposed authority and bureaucracy and will be recognisable to anyone unfortunate enough to have had dealings with such entities as the local council, the sorts of places and people where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. It’s also about people’s position in a community giving them a status and the appearance which is very different from the reality.

To begin with The Castle reminded me of a literary version of that Escher artwork with never ending stairs – below

Escher stairs

or a game of snakes and ladders, just when you think you might be getting somewhere you end up back at the beginning. I can’t say I enjoyed reading The Castle, I was glad that I got to the end of it before it completely did my head in.

However – I am glad that I read the book, but I’m not at all sure about reading The Trial which is Kafka’s other well known book.

Classics Club Spin

Well the Classics Club spin number is 15 so that means that I have to read Franz Kafka’s The Castle for August 1st.

I must admit that I had a sharp intake of breath when I realised which book I would be reading.

I turned to Jack and said – I’ve got to read The Castle – and he gave me a big manic grin and said lucky you.

What does he know?!

Classics Club Spin – it’s number 8

Well the Classics Club Spin number is 8 and for me that means Oblomov by Goncharov. I admit that I bought this books years ago, just because it’s a lovely edition, a red leather-ish cover with silver design on it, it also has stylish endpapers. It’s from a series that Heron Books published – The Greatest Masterpieces of Russian Literature.

As to the actual contents I’m completely clueless, apart from it being 515 pages long. It could be horrible and if so it serves me right for being swayed by looks!

The Classics Club Spin #12

It’s Classics Club Spin #12 and below is my list of twenty books, one of which I’ll be reading and blogging about by May 2nd, when I should be in Holland again, but I’m sure I’ll manage to make time to take part in the spin.

1. Veranilda by George Gissing
2. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
3. The Bride of Lammermoor by Sir Walter Scott
4. Angel by Elizabeth Taylor
5. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
6. The Trial by Franz Kafka
7. The Dynasts by Thomas Hardy
8. Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov
9. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
10. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
11. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
12. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
13. Nana by Emile Zola
14. Is He Popenjoy by Anthony Trollope
15. The Castle by Franz Kafka
16. Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope
17. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
18. Quentin Durward by Sir Walter Scott
19. The Fair Maid of Perth by Sir Walter Scott
20. Salem Chapel by Mrs Oliphant

There’s nothing in the list that I particularly dread coming up in the spin, but I suspect that I would get most pleasure from reading a Trollope – so numbers 10, 14 and 16 would be particularly welcome.

What about you, are you joining in the spin this time?

The Classics Spin

Well the Classics Spin number is 19, which means that I’ll be reading John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I’m very happy about that. I’ll be reading it by February 1, 2016. How did we get to 2016 so fast – it’s scary!

I intend to read some more of the classics on my list before then though, almost certainly a Trollope or two.