2013 Back to the Classics Challenge

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I read a couple of classics last year and really enjoyed them, so I’m back for more! This challenge, hosted by Sarah Reads Too Much, has six required categories of classics (“classic” defined however you choose) and five optional categories, which I’ve quoted from her site below:

The Required Categories:
  1. A 19th Century Classic
  2. A 20th Century Classic
  3. A Pre-18th or 18th Century Classic
  4. A Classic that relates to the African-American Experience - This can be an African-American author, or a book relating to slavery, civil rights, or African-American culture.
  5. A Classic Adventure
  6. A Classic that prominently features an Animal - This can feature animal characters or animals in the title (real or imagined)
Optional Categories:
 
   A.  Re-read a Classic
   B.  A Russian Classic
   C.  A Classic Non-Fiction title
   D.  A Classic Children’s/Young Adult title
   E.  Classic Short Stories - collection must include at least 3 short stories by the same author, or at least 3 stories collected together by genre, time period, etc.

The optional categories can be added/attempted at any point, and sign-ups close September 1st. I’m hoping to tackle at least a couple of the optional ones, so I’ll just plan to fill out the whole list for now and see how it goes.

Sign up here!

My list so far:

  1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)
  2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  3. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (1782)
  4. Native Son by Richard Wright
  5. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  6. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  1. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  3. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
  4. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Check my progress all year on the sidebar or on my 2013 Challenge Index.

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Persuasion by Jane Austen

Book: Persuasion (A Modern Library E-Book)
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Random House
Originally published: 1818
Source: Borrowed ebook from library
 
Summary from Goodreads: Called a ‘perfect novel’ by Harold Bloom, Persuasion was written while Jane Austen was in failing health. She died soon after its completion, and it was published in an edition with Northanger Abbey in 1818. 

In the novel, Anne Elliot, the heroine Austen called ‘almost too good for me,’ has let herself be persuaded not to marry Frederick Wentworth, a fine and attractive man without means. Eight years later, Captain Wentworth returns from the Napoleonic Wars with a triumphant naval career behind him, a substantial fortune to his name, and an eagerness to wed. Austen explores the complexities of human relationships as they change over time. ‘She is a prose Shakespeare,’ Thomas Macaulay wrote of Austen in 1842. ‘She has given us a multitude of characters, all, in a certain sense, commonplace. Yet they are all as perfectly discriminated from each other as if they were the most eccentric of human beings.’

Persuasion is the last work of one of the greatest of novelists, the end of a quiet career pursued in anonymity in rural England that produced novels which continue to give pleasure to millions of readers throughout the world.

I think this is my first official, completed Austen book. I’ve seen my fair share of the movies, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one from start to finish until now. Tragic, no? I remedied this thanks to the Austen in August event hosted by Roof Beam Reader. It’s always difficult for me to read classics unless I have a good reason to do so, and blog events are a great motivator. 

I knew nothing about Persuasion prior to this event, but all of the participants and other bloggers (Ruby!) commenting that it was their favorite Austen made me wonder what all of the fuss was about. I mean…beating the alliterative P and S titles? It must be pretty good. I had it loaded on my Kindle before August even started.

The beginning was a bit slow. I confess to re-reading large chunks of the first chapters while getting lulled to sleep by my morning commute. Jane is not the person to get me fired up in the morning, I guess. I did very much like Anne, however, and as long as she wasn’t spending time with her horrible father and older sister, things perked up.

Mrs. Charles Musgrove…

Anne’s younger sister, Mary, is a total gas. Can I say that? Is “hoot” better? No? Okay, well, she’s hilarious then. Obnoxious and insufferable, but still fun because for the most part she’s harmless. She has an ego the size of Jupiter and feels entitled to more than she is probably due. Anne manages her fairly well, and Mary’s poor husband Charles certainly tries, but I love Mary’s histrionic style and need to be in the middle of everything.

Anne spends a large portion of the beginning of this tale at Mary’s house, where she gets pulled into the extended Musgrove family (Mary’s in-laws). Anne is a welcome addition, and much preferred over Mary to Charles’ sisters, Louisa and Henrietta, as well as pretty much anyone who has ever met Mary. Poor Mary. For those that don’t know, Anne’s family is living beyond their means, so they set off to Bath and rent their house to the Crofts.

Oh Captain, my Captain…

The important part of this is that Mrs. Croft’s brother is the good Captain Wentworth, Anne’s heartbroken former love. They were set to be married until Anne’s good family friend (and stand-in for her deceased mother) Lady Russell persuaded her that it was a poor match. Then Wentworth goes off to the navy and makes a bazillion dollars and shows up to visit his sister eight years later. You can practically see him and Anne awkwardly shuffling their feet while being forced into the same rooms again after all this time.

Over the course of the book, Wentworth tries to find a new bride out of one of the Musgrove girls, Anne joins her father and sister in Bath, and Wentworth keeps popping up on the scene because of their many mutual friends. He does incredibly nice things and is generally thoughtful and kind and still a big dreamboat as far as Anne is concerned. She starts to think that maybe she should follow her heart after all.

True love at last…

I flew through the last half of this book. I was dying to know when they would get together (because they have to get together!!) and how. There are all of these obstacles (Mr. Elliot, Louisa, different locations) and Anne seems uncertain about the Captain’s feelings, so you’re never really sure if they’ll work things out. By the time Wentworth finally slips Anne a secret love note, my heart was pounding in my chest and upon reading his sweet and poetic words I promptly shed a tear. 

SWOON!

Wentworth does such a good job hiding his feelings that I felt immense relief when Anne gets that letter. It’s the final confirmation after an entire novel of events that he does, in fact, love her despite everything. Up until that point, we see him courting Louisa and avoiding Anne and we’re stuck wondering “Does he or doesn’t he?” But he DOES! Yes! The romance between these two sells the story alone, but the funny social antics on display and the surprising twists and turns of the plot make this a thoroughly enjoyable read. I loved it. 

Have you read Persuasion? What did you think of Mary Musgrove? Were you convinced Wentworth was in love with Anne all along? 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

2012 Dusty Volumes Reading Challenge

**I’ve swiped Small Review‘s format for these sign-up posts, because she is awesome and organized and I am lazy and harried**

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Challenge Basics:

Name: 2012 Dusty Volumes Reading Challenge
Hosts: Midnyte Reader

Starts: January 1, 2012
Ends: December 31, 2012
Eligible Books: Any books read and reviewed in 2012 that have a publishing date before 1960.
Levels: None. Set your own number.
Prizes? None.
Sign up here!

Why I’m Interested:

There are a lot of classics that I still haven’t read, and this gives me a good excuse to read them.

Some books I’m considering:

Gone with the Wind
Pride & Prejudice
Brave New World
Wuthering Heights

Books completed:

Check my progress all year on the sidebar or on my 2012 Challenge Index.

Jane Eyre: A Book and Movie Review

Book: Jane Eyre
Author: Charlotte Bronte
First published: 1847
Source: Project Gutenberg free download

Summary: (from Goodreads) Charlotte Bronte’s impassioned novel is the love story of Jane Eyre, a plain yet spirited governess, and her arrogant, brooding Mr. Rochester. Published in 1847, under the pseudonym of Currer Bell, the book heralded a new kind of heroine–one whose virtuous integrity, keen intellect and tireless perseverance broke through class barriers to win equal stature with the man she loved. Hailed by William Makepeace Thackeray as “the masterwork of great genius,” Jane Eyre is still regarded, over a century later, as one of the finest novels in English literature.

First impressions: It’s always a bit of an adjustment jumping into the classics, and Jane Eyre is no exception. I was surprised at how quickly I fell into Jane’s story, though, and consider this to be very accessible even for the most casual reader.

Lasting impressions: What an incredible journey for our young heroine! Jane experiences some of the toughest situations life can throw at you. Throughout the course of the story she is at times loveless, penniless, homeless, and friendless. When she does meet the few people in her life that bring her joy and affection, they are often torn from her in cruel ways. Yet Jane never lets life get the best of her. It’s easy to see why she has been such an inspirational character for nearly two centuries.

Conflicting impressions: While Bronte’s dialogue sings, some of the descriptive scenes can get quite boring. The book covers a large chunk of time, so I found myself getting impatient when I was ready to move on to the next section of the book. In particular, after she leaves Thornfield Hall and moves in with St. John’s family, I was anxious to get to the part where I knew she’d be reunited with Rochester.

Overall impressions: Jane Eyre is definitely one of my new favorite characters. She is a passionate girl in a time where girls should be anything but. Orphaned at an early age, she is brought up by her aunt – her mother’s brother’s wife – who promised her husband on his deathbed that she would care for the child. She despises Jane, however, and shows her absolutely no love or kindness. As if that isn’t bad enough, her son torments and beats Jane when no one is looking, and when Jane strikes back she is punished for it.

After one particularly unjust confrontation, Jane is locked in the room where her uncle died, and she experiences a haunting that terrifies her until she faints. After this incident she is sent away to Lowood School, where she remains both as student and teacher until adulthood. It is at Lowood that Jane makes, and loses, her first friend. Helen teaches Jane the value of restraint and acceptance in the face of brutality, which serves Jane well as she develops into a young woman. The impetuous nature of her childhood seems to cool a bit, and when Jane emerges as a strong woman from Lowood, she is much more reserved and capable of handling tough circumstances.

Jane’s first job outside of Lowood is as a governess at Thornfield Hall, a property owned by Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester. He has a young girl, Adele, as his ward, who he took care of after her mother died in France – a woman Rochester seems to have spent quite a deal of time with. He is blunt, direct, overbearing, and not particularly handsome. He has a dark past that he hints at and ultimately is revealed later in the book. He is an intriguing character to be sure, and given Jane’s own direct nature, the two engage in some zinging dialogue that carries you through the pages effortlessly.

It is through Rochester that Jane begins to understand real partnership. They are equals, relying on each other for strength, comfort, and the joy of each other’s company. Jane has had no real contact with men, and at times Rochester takes advantage of this fact, as well as his station as her employer, to toy with her feelings. What could seem brutish and unseemly is rather understood to be merely the insecurity of a man who feels he is not deserving of any kind of love or happiness. When he finally reveals his true feelings, you get the urge to smile through your tears and punch him on the arm for putting us through all that.

While at Thornfield, Jane also experiences a number of seemingly supernatural events. She hears voices and footsteps in the halls, wakes to find Rochester’s bed on fire, and on the eve of her wedding, sees a strange creature in her closet ripping her veil. I really liked these spooky elements of the story, and I may be developing a bit of a crush on gothic literature because of it. If you haven’t read the book, do yourself a favor and don’t read the plot summary beforehand like I did. I think the reveal behind the ghostly occurrences is quite powerful and surprising, so I promise not to spoil it for you here.

When Jane is forced by circumstance to leave Thornfield Hall, she ends up losing her belongings in a carriage and finds herself suddenly without money, food, or shelter. It is during this portion of her story that Jane proves herself to be wonderfully resilient. With another small kindness bestowed on her from a man called St. John, she manages to slowly build herself back up, eventually securing work again as a schoolteacher and having her own place to live.

I won’t give away the entire ending, but despite all odds against her, Jane’s story is a happy one. It is also a lesson in the power of who you choose to call family, how you choose to live your life, and what you choose to make of the life given to you. Your real family may disappoint you, and complete strangers may give you just what you need to get through the end of the day. One day you can be full of sadness, and the next may bring you complete joy. It is a journey, but one that should be endured and celebrated no matter what happens, for you never know what tomorrow will bring. Jane Eyre is a magnificent and truly timeless story.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Click the stars for a description of my rating system

I also saw the movie this weekend, and highly recommend it, particularly if you like period dramas. The movie has to skip over some material, as the book encompasses a LOT of story. We are given only the briefest of glimpses into the time Jane spends with her aunt and at Lowood School, with the majority of the movie taking place at Thornfield Hall. I found this appropriate since Jane’s romance with Rochester is such a major point of the book.

The cast was exquisite, and the two leads portray Jane and Rochester with the perfect balance of decorum and playfulness. They downplay some of Rochester’s faults (because Michael Fassbender ain’t exactly hard to look at, if you catch my drift), and portray Jane as a bit more dense than she comes across in the book. Judi Dench is a dream as Mrs. Fairfax, the housekeeper, often getting a big laugh from the audience with nothing more than a glance.

I did have an issue with the Big Reveal – in the novel it is quite a bit more shocking than it came across on film. That was disappointing, especially given how much they played up the supernatural stuff throughout the movie. There was also an inexplicable change to the relationship between Jane and St. John that I didn’t quite get. I thought it was much more effective as written than how they handled it in the movie.

The movie seemed to match the book’s pacing – slooooow. Neither version is jam packed with excitement, even given the volume of events that take place and the nature of the action. I found the movie quite enjoyable regardless, though I am always a fan of 19th century British dramas. If the story interests you but you don’t have the time to read the book, definitely go see the movie – and then email me so we can gab about it!

Movie adaptations

This past weekend while at the movies I saw a trailer for an upcoming version of Jane Eyre.

It looks amazing, full of love, spooky stuff and excellent period costumes.  It reminds me of one of my favorite movies, which also happens to be an adaptation of a classic.

While my first introduction to the stories of Jane Austen came courtesy of Clueless with Alicia Silverstone (and pre-superstar Paul Rudd), the Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet version of Sense and Sensibility is the movie that sold me on her work.  To this day, I hold a special place in my heart for that book above all of Austen’s others.

The movie is beautifully crafted thanks to direction by Ang Lee – the patient yet tense builds in each scene, awkward pauses and loaded subtext expressed throughout.  The rigid etiquette permeates the entire movie so that when we see Marianne careening about in carriages and exploding at Willoughby at the ball, we cringe.  Yet we also ache for her at the patent unfairness of it all, the way she and Elinor are stifled and silenced by their circumstances.  It is a beautiful and powerful film, just like the book.

Inspired by the Jane Eyre trailer, I downloaded a free copy of the book from Project Gutenberg.  I think I may look around for a reading challenge to read more classics.  It occurred to me that I haven’t read that many of the traditional classic books, and I would like to.  If I can’t find an existing challenge, I may just have to host it myself!

What are some of your favorite movie adaptations of books?  Besides Jane Eyre, there are Harry Potter 7.2 and Breaking Dawn to look forward to (or dread, depending on your opinion) next year.  What book movies are you excited to see in 2011?