Brideshead Revisited (1945), by Evelyn Waugh

Tbridesheadrevisitedhis book is #64 on my Classics Club list, and #1 on my Back to the Classics list for 2014. Please be warned that there are spoilers below, so please revisit Brideshead Revisited before reading my review!

A soldier reminiscing about his past. An ancestral home under threat. An undergrad with a teddy bear and a penchant for champagne. These are just some of the things that you can expect to find in Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel, Brideshead Revisited.

But it’s not all stuffed toys and bubbly at Brideshead. Because don’t get me wrong – this is a Depressing Book. Charles Ryder, an army officer in the middle of the Second World War, reminisces about an aristocratic family that he met in the 1920s, while he was an undergraduate at Oxford. At university he met and befriended the eccentric, but lovable, Sebastian Flyte, owner of aforementioned teddy bear and soon-to-be-alcoholic. His relationship with Sebastian introduced him to Brideshead, the country house owned by Sebastian’s family. The novel recounts Charles’ continued connection with the family over two decades, including his eventual relationship with Sebastian’s sister, Julia, and (possible) conversion to Catholicism, the family’s religion. It’s not a cheerful story, and although there are no maimings, scarcely any fist-fights, and very few deaths, reading Brideshead Revisited somehow left me feeling depressed, at times even empty. Continue reading

Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812-1818), by George Gordon, Lord Byron

childeharoldThis book is #44 on my Classics Club list, and #2 on my Back to the Classics list for 2014.

Hands up everyone who, like me, thought that Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage was going to be about, oh, I don’t know, a young soon-to-be-knight tramping around Europe and going on grand adventures? I feel like there should be a big sign at the end of the book saying, ‘HA HA. Sucked in’.

Don’t get me wrong, Byron’s first major work is absolutely wonderful – just not in the way I was expecting. It’s been so long since I’ve read poetry that I had more or less forgotten the whole point of the Romantics was less about plot and more about Nature, the individual, the human mind with all its ingenious and imperceptible little nooks and crannies. So I went in expecting some sort of storyline, and found something completely different. Continue reading

All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), by Erich Maria Remarque

allquietonthewesternfrontWarning! There are some pretty big spoilers ahead, so please be careful if you haven’t read this story yet! I’ve tried to be as cryptic as possible, but I don’t know whether I’ve succeeded or not.

This book is #5 on my Back to the Classics list for 2014.

Today I’m deviating from my Austen-inspired posts of the past few months to try and finish the rest of the titles on my Back to the Classics list for this year. There’s less than a month to go before it finishes, so I thought I’d knuckle down and get the rest of my reading done.

I am frightened: I dare think this way no more. This way lies the abyss. It is not now the time but I will not lose these thoughts, I will keep them, shut them away until the war is ended. My heart beats fast: this is the aim, the great, the sole aim, that I have thought of in the trenches; that I have looked for as the only possibility of existence after this annihilation of all human feeling; this is a task that will make life afterward worthy of these hideous years.

(Chapter VIII)*

This quote captures something of the tone of Erich Maria Remarque’s well-known account of a soldier’s life during the First World War. Continue reading

Searching for Jane Austen (2004), by Emily Auerbach

searchingforjaneaustenWell, here it is at long last – the final book I read for this year’s Austen in August readathon. Let’s forget for a moment that it’s already December, shall we?

In the first chapter of Searching for Jane Austen, entitled ‘Dear Aunt Jane: Putting Her Down and Touching Her Up’, Emily Auerbach wonders:

Why … do readers of The Ancient Mariner, A Christmas Carol, and Moby-Dick give little thought to the marital status of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Dickens, and Herman Melville (or should we call them Samuel, Charles, and Herman)? When we think of Milton’s Paradise Lost, do we wonder about John’s marriages (he had three)? Was there a Mrs Chaucer?
Rudyard Kipling (did he marry? do we care?) felt moved to write a verse tribute in 1926 called not “Austen’s Writing” but “Jane’s Marriage,” beginning with the writer ascending into heaven … Finally “Jane” finds every woman’s true reward: not immortality or pride in her own craft, but Mr. Right.

Continue reading

Liebster Award

liebsterawardI’m ashamed to admit how long I’ve left this post, but here I am at last! Way back in August Dani from onlybooksandhorses nominated me for the Liebster Award. Thank you so much! I’d like to finally pass it on now, as soon as I get my head out of the sand where I’ve hid it in shame for being so slow.

The rules for the award are simple:

  1. Link and thank the blogger who nominated you
  2. Answer the 11 questions your nominator gives you
  3. Tag 11 other bloggers who have 200 followers or less
  4. Ask the 11 bloggers you nominated 11 questions and let them know you nominated them!

So, first off, the questions:

1. What was the last book that made you laugh?

I’m reading Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals at the moment. It’s hilarious. Continue reading

Summer Plans, And All That Stuff

summerplansCue dramatic music, please… because I am finally ready to resume normal life. Yes, that’s right, I’ve finally finished my university work for this year. That means that I can now return to regularly programmed human activities, such as showering, holding conversations that last for more that fifteen minutes (and are related to something other than essays and assignments), and actually, you know, leaving the house more than twice a week.

So what have I got planned for my extended summer holidays? Well, I can’t say for sure yet, but I can say with some certainty that it will involve a lot of books. Continue reading

Jane’s Fame (2009), by Claire Harman

janesfame

This book was on my Austen in August reading list.

Jane’s Fame, despite its deliberately frivolous title, is an interesting book for Austen lovers and haters alike. Claire Harman charts the emergence of the ‘Austen myth’, dealing with the way that she has been co-opted, desired, and possessed by readers and critics alike. Throughout, Harman looks at the way Austen has been marketed, written about, and criticised.

The first chapter of the book deals with the details of Austen’s life; Harman stresses Austen’s dedication to her chosen craft, suggesting that the ‘unproductive Bath years’, where it is commonly assumed that Austen wrote no new material, were in fact devoted to a painstaking and continuous process of editing. It’s a pretty logical assumption to make, because one of the defining characteristics of Austen’s prose, particularly of the first three novels, is how highly ‘polished’ they are; this was clearly the result of several years’ work. Moreover, Harman stresses Austen’s love of reading and her continued engagement with the best writers of the age, male and female: Continue reading

Jane Austen’s Letters

janeaustensletters

This book was on my Austen in August reading list.

There is something decidedly voyeuristic about reading the private correspondence of another person. Even if that person happens to have died almost two hundred years ago.

Collections of Jane Austen’s letters have been around since the 1930s, when R. W. Chapman first began assembling them for historians and lovers of the famous author to peruse at will. Since then many have been rediscovered, and the collection has grown with every new edition.

So what might prompt someone to read the letters of Jane Austen? For many historians and scholars, it is a case of wanting to discover more about the life and mind of one of English literature’s greatest heroes. They approach them, no doubt, hoping that her day-to-day correspondence will enlighten the material she presents us with in her novels. Continue reading

Spring, Study, and Other Related Things

springrelatedthings What’s that hint of warmth in the air? Is it really time to shed the scarves and socks already? Yes, sadly my favourite season of the year is drawing to an end. And although I occasionally like the breezy warmth and the petal-strewn gardens of spring, this year I’ll be spending most of my time inside, studying for my classes and bemoaning the fact that all too soon, we’ll have to apply sunscreen before going outside to check the mailbox. Thanks, Australia. Continue reading