Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Paris in July 2015

It's almost time for Paris in July 2015!! If you're not familiar, it's an annual event hosted by Thyme for Tea. Bloggers are encouraged to explore all things French, including books, movies, food, music, etc. I already have a list of French Classics from my TBR Shelves (can count any of these as my Book in Translation for the Back to the Classics Challenge):

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (I'll probably combine this with an audiobook version since it's so long)
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
La Debacle by Emile Zola
The Fortune of the Rougons by Emile Zola

Books set in France:

Julius by Daphne Du Maurier
The Glassblowers by Daphne du Maurier

Nonfiction books about France:

Renoir, My Father by Jean Renoir (from my TBR Pile Challenge list)
The Black Count by Tom Reiss
The Gastronomical Me by M. F. K. Fisher (can count this as a nonfiction classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge)

and possibly A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse -- my daughter just read this and loved it.

So who else is signing up for Paris in July 2015? What are you planning to read?

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Victorian Celebration 2015

I've already read two Victorian novels so far this summer . . . how many more can I finish? Allie from A Literary Odyssey is hosting another Victorian Celebration this summer, so signing up was a no-brainer for me. Here are just a few of the Victorian novels on my TBR shelves:

Red Pottage by Mary Chomoldely
No Name by Wilkie Collins
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
The Semi-Attached Couple and The Semi-Detached House by Emily Eden
Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell
New Grub Street by George Gissing
A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy
Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy
Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome
The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley
At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald
Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau

. . . plus about a fifteen books by Anthony Trollope. Seriously.

Right now, I'm leaning toward Thomas Hardy since I loved Far From the Madding Crowd; also, Return of the Native is on my Classics Club list, though I don't own a copy, so I've been putting it off. Allie is also allowing books from non-British authors, so I may read some Zola or Victor Hugo, which also counts for Paris in July.

Anyone else signing up for the Victorian Celebration? What are you planning to read? Have you read any of the books on my list?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Well, it took a movie adaptation, but I think I am finally converted to liking Thomas Hardy. I had read Tess of the D'Urbervilles several years ago, which I thought dragged on forever, and The Mayor of Casterbridge later, which was better, but I didn't love it. However, with Far From the Madding Crowd I'm beginning to see the appeal of Hardy.

If you don't know the story, here's a brief setup. Independent and beautiful, but poor, Bathsheba Everdene first draws the attentions of sheep farmer Gabriel Oak. She rejects his proposal, and after a reversal of fortunes, she ends up giving him a job as a shepherd at the farm she has just inherited. Bathsheba has also caught the attentions of a wealthy older farmer, Mr. Boldwood, whom she also rejects. Bathsheba doesn't think she can be tamed by any man and wants to run the farm on her own. Both Oak and Boldwood wait patiently, loving her from afar, until the dashing bad-boy Sergeant Troy arrives and turns Bathsheba's head, and surprise! -- things do not end well for some of the characters. 

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It was quite an easy and straightforward read, and I really liked the character of Gabriel Oak. Bathsheba was a little frustrating at times, but I give Hardy credit for creating a strong, complex female character. It's a great story, with great writing and great characters. I can definitely see that Hardy was also a poet:

It was now early spring—the time of going to grass with the sheep, when they have the first feed of the meadows, before these are laid up for mowing. The wind, which had been blowing east for several weeks, had veered to the southward, and the middle of spring had come abruptly—almost without a beginning. It was that period in the vernal quarter when we may suppose the Dryads to be waking for the season. The vegetable world begins to move and swell and the saps to rise, till in the completest silence of lone gardens and trackless plantations, where everything seems helpless and still after the bond and slavery of frost, there are bustlings, strainings, united thrusts, and pulls-all-together, in comparison with which the powerful tugs of cranes and pulleys in a noisy city are but pigmy efforts. (Chapter XVIII). 

Having now read most of Dickens and an awful lot of Trollope, I can see how different both of them are from Hardy. Hardy's books are more pastoral and poetic, Dickens' works have more gritty characters and settings, with social commentary and melodrama, and Trollope's books are usually middle and upper-class characters, with some sly satire. Hardy also makes a lot of insightful observations. Here's what he has to say about Bathsheba:

When a strong woman recklessly throws away her strength she is worse than a weak woman who never had any strength to throw away. One source of her inadequacy is the novelty of the occasion. She has never had practice in making the best of such a condition. Weakness is doubly weak by being new.  (Chapter XXIX)

Cary Mulligan as Bathsheba and Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak. 

I confess, I probably would not have attempted this book if I had not seen the movie adaptation first -- I usually prefer to read the book first, but my husband surprised me by taking me to a movie with period costumes so I could hardly refuse. I now have the courage to tackle more Hardy. I have two of his books on my TBR shelves, A Pair of Blue Eyes and Under the Greenwood Tree; also, The Return of the Native is on my Classics Club list. 

Bloggers, how do you like Thomas Hardy? Has anyone else seen the movie? And which book by Hardy should I read next? 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

Mary Barton was the first novel published by Elizabeth Gaskell, author of one of my very favorite books, Wives and Daughters. I'd had it on the TBR shelves for several years, and now that I'm getting down to the final books on my Classics Club list, I thought it was time to give it a try. (This also counts for the Reading England Challenge.)

Set mostly in Manchester around 1840, Mary Barton is the story of two working-class families, the Bartons and the Wilsons. Barton and Wilson both work for the mills. Mr. Barton has a pregnant wife, a daughter Mary, aged about 13. Mr. Wilson has small twin sons, probably toddlers, and an older son, Jem, who's about 18. Mrs. Wilson has a disability from an accident she suffered before she was married. 

Mrs. Barton is grieving because her sister, Esther, has run off to be with a man, and they fear the worst. Soon after, tragedy strikes both families; Mr. Barton is depressed and becomes more and more involved with labor unions and the Chartist movement. 

Meanwhile, Mary has grown into a beautiful young woman, apprenticed at a dressmaker. Jem becomes a skilled worker, working with the factory machines. He's in love with Mary but her head's been turned by the attentions of Harry Carson, the mill owner. Times are bad at the mills, with job cuts at the worst possible time. Resentment between the workers and the mill owners comes to a head just as Mary's two lovers have a confrontation. After another tragedy, Mary is caught up in the middle of all this, and her loyalties are tested.

I liked this book, but it doesn't have nearly the charm or the characters of Wives and DaughtersNorth and South, or even the quirky Cranford. I found the characters rather one-dimensional, especially Mary, and the story itself is on the preachy side. It's also a little melodramatic and predictable. Still, it's interesting to read one of her early works. Mary Barton shows glimmers of  Elizabeth Gaskell's great talent as a writer. I still have Sylvia's Lovers on the TBR shelves, plus some of her Gothic tales. Has anyone read either of those?