My first Thomas Hardy novel was simply fantastic. Emotionally poignant but also socially resonant, Tess of the D’Ubervilles provides an intriguing story about Victorian social and sexual hypocrisy through characters with clear flaws to recognize and appreciate. And yet, although it was clearly a commentary on the social structures and sexual morality in Victorian England, Hardy never once lectured or made his novel about those issues. At first and last glance, the book is a tender one about one poor woman and those who associate with her.
Note: this post contains spoilers for the entire novel.
In early nineteenth century Russia, one’s status is decided based on how many enslaved workers (serfs) under your name. Likewise, property owners do not pay taxes on the land own but rather on the number of serfs assigned to them at the last census. Even if a serf dies, a property owner must pay taxes on him or her until the next census rights it. In Dead Souls, Chichikov is an up-and-coming middle class man who has cleverly decided on a get rich quick scheme: buy dead serfs (called “souls”) from property owners to use as collateral in purchasing things for himself.
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (published 1842) is a complex satire. And yet, supposedly Gogol did not intend it to be a satire. In all seriousness, he wrote that this part of the novel (part 1 was the only part he completed; part 2 was unfinished and part 3 never begun) was representative of Dante’s Inferno. This is, to me, a stretch, but I can see it. With the humor in the text, however, I saw Dead Souls as far more than a look at the depredation of man’s soul in post 1812 Russia. I saw it as an amusing satire of Russian society in general.
Somehow, my thoughts on A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (1929) were never recorded! I finished it quite a few weeks ago. As a novel to enjoy in my free time, A Farewell to Arms fell short. However, as a novel that perfectly captures the era in which it was written and the subtlety of its message with masterful writing, A Farewell to Arms certainly has its place. It is well deserving of its classic status, even though I personally can’t say I was a fan. (more…)
Ah, my Wilkie! It is so nice to come back to your familiar voice!
Except no two narrators in Wilkie Collins’ novels have the same voice. It is one of Collins’ masterpieces of talent that he creates unforgettable narrators with personality and voice. His novels are such a delightful comfort read for me because they are so full of life and personality. I love a good Victorian novel, and Wilkie Collins’ sensation novels are a perfect escape.
In Poor Miss Finch, the narrator is Madame Protolungo, a widowed French woman, true to the memory of her Republican husband. She is living in England and as the novel begins, she is beginning new employment as a lady’s companion to a wealthy young woman who happens to be blind. Lucilla Finch is the daughter of the rector of Dimchurch, but due to complicated circumstances she lives independently from her father with her own fortune. When she falls in love with a young man named Oscar and a surgery is discovered that may help her regain her sight, she wants to under go the surgery at any cost so she can see her adored lover. But when Oscar’s identical twin brother Nugent arrives in Dimchurch, Lucilla’s situation is confused with humorous and sensational (of course) results!
Wilkie Collins introduces a number of fascinating and memorable characters in Poor Miss Finch: the conceited Rector, the milky mother (Mrs. Finch) of nearly a dozen youngsters, Madame Prolungo, Herr Grosse the optician, and more. Further, he creates a love triangle and a situation that is page-turning. I’ve been reading lots of more serious nonfiction lately, so reading a book full of sensational characters, situations, and exaggerations was just what I needed. Although I could look at it more deeply (think of the significance of Dimchurch versus the seaside in terms of Lucilla’s vision, for one obvious example), I chose to read this just for fun. And it was!
Poor Miss Finch, while possibly not as complex as Armadale or The Woman in White, is still a Wilkie Collins classic with delightful characters and a fun plot. I am glad I read it this fall!
James Fenimore Cooper created an American heritage in his historical fiction novels of the American frontier. For that reason alone I would be glad to say I’ve finally read one of his works. The Last of the Mohicans (first published in 1826) is a romanticized story of the dying days of the Native American culture. Taking place during the French and Indian Wars (also called the Seven Years’ War), The Last of the Mohicans places a few Americans in the midst of a forest full of blood-thirsty Indians. Only with the help of the all-American hero, Natty Bumpo called Hawkeye, do the Americans have any chance of making it through the wilds of America alive. (more…)