Eugene Onegin (1825), in One Really Terrible Sonnet

Eugene OneginThis book is #35 on my Classics Club List.

Pushkin’s Euegene Onegin, what can I say?
He was a great looker, a fine young dandy;
an aristocrat, all work and no play,
danced the mazurka and drank much brandy.
Most readers, they prefer Tanya though;
lovely girl, Pushkin’s finest creation,
‘Russian spirit’, quite why I don’t know
Just the thing to inspire an emerging nation.
Pushkin, he loved Byron and Shakespeare;
Russian aristos they knew English and French
But not their mother tongue, it’s decidedly queer
an appetite for Europe, Pushkin wanted to quench.
How to sum up this novel in just one word?
All the characters are wealthy and extremely – bored.

The atrocious poem above took me far longer to compose than I care to admit. But although it’s quite possibly the worst thing I’ve ever written in my life (seriously – I’ve got some stories about seahorses that I wrote when I was seven years old; this poem makes them look like Shakespeare), it was a useful exercise. 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

Classics Club April: Thoughts on Science, Ageing, Modern Technology, and Frankenstein (In No Particular Order)

classicsclub1This month The Classics Club asked: “Contemplate your favorite classic to date. When was this book written? Why would you say it has been preserved by the ages? Do you think it will still be respected/treasured 100 years from now? If it had been written in our own era, would it be as well received?”

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was published in 1818. This was, as you’ve probably realised already, a very long time ago. Just shy of two hundred years ago, in fact. And, like any good two-hundred-year-old, it often gets asked the same question many grandparents get asked (though not the two-hundred-year-old ones, for obvious practical reasons):

Are you even still relevant any more?

Luckily, in the case of Mary Shelley’s classic novel, the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, I’d argue that Frankenstein is one of those rare books that is even more relevant now than it was when it was first written. A very ambitious claim, I hear you say. I hope you have some proof to back it up. And I do. Allow me to elaborate…. Continue reading

Classics Club Meme: Favourite Literary Period

classicsclub1This month The Classics Club asked a very interesting question: what is your favourite “classic” literary period and why?

Now, for someone who has devoted their life to studying literature, that sort of question is a little like asking a marine biologist what their favourite kind of fish is. Or asking a music lover what their favourite Beatles song is. Or asking just about anybody what their favourite episode of Friends is. (Because who doesn’t like Friends?) Continue reading