I first read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813) as a young teenager. Like many girls, I loved the romance between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, the clever conversation, and the rags to riches aspects of the Bennet’s story. I’ve reread it a number of times since my first encounter, and I’ve also enjoyed the movie retellings. I was excited for the chance to discuss this favorite novel in a book group discussion format.Continue Reading
In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (published 1814), Fanny Price was the oldest daughter of a poor family, sent at age 10 to live with her generous and wealthy Bertram cousins. Yet, in the lovely Mansfield Park, Fanny was constantly reminded of her lesser status and spent her days for the most part assisting the lazy women of the home in their daily monotony.
As the years pass, Fanny found a friend in her cousin Edmund, to whom she was able to express her frustrations and opinions, although her other three cousins have little patience with “simple minded” Fanny. Edmund knew Fanny, though, and this friendship kept her going. But when her cousins, including Edmund, began courting some of the visitors to Mansfield area, Fanny found herself face to face with impropriety in a society that demanded moral uprightness. She had to decide when she would take a stand and when she would remain silent, all the while considering her own future happiness and her “lesser” status among the wealthy Bertrams and their associates. Continue Reading
I grew up with Anne of Green Gables, which I reread frequently. For some reason, I don’t recall branching out and reading the other Lucy Maud Montgomery novels. As I was reading some longer, denser books recently, I felt the need for a reading break and took the chance to read two stand-alone novels by the writer from Prince Edward Island.
The Blue Castle (published 1926) is one of Montgomery’s novels written for adults. Valancy is a 29-year-old old maid who is constantly criticized, berated, and teased by her extended family, finding her only relief from reality in nature writing and daydreams about her dream home, an exotic Blue Castle. I must admit that when I began the novel, I really did not like the set up. I didn’t know anything about the plot, and I worried that I’d be able to read a novel with a weak woman. Never fear, L.M. Montgomery was able to quickly bring me around. When Valancy receives some surprising news, she comes to a decision that shocks her family: she speaks her mind. I loved Valancy’s transformation, I loved the twists in her life, and the ways in which she struck out on her own. I loved the romance in the story and all the coincidences of the plot. The Blue Castle is a novel I will enjoy rereading, and I suspect each time I finish it, I’ll be able to say with a sigh, “Ah, that was nice.”
Jane of Lantern Hill (published 1936) focuses on a young child (11 years old) but she faces similar frustrations in her life. Her grandmother nags and criticizes her, her loving mother is a weak-willed woman who still succumbs to the grandmother, and Jane longs for something to make her life complete. Like Valancy, Jane retreats from reality in to a daydream, in her case a trip to the magical moon. When she finds out that her long-absent father is alive and wants to spend the summer with her on Prince Edward Island, Jane is delighted by her new freedom. Although Jane transforms in ways similar to Valancy and even Anne Shirley herself, Jane didn’t feel as alive to me as these other favorite characters. Maybe because the romantic notions of a preteen no longer echo my own notions as preteen reading Anne of Green Gables, or maybe the plot simply wasn’t as satisfying. Nevertheless, I still really enjoyed reading about Jane’s self-discovery. It was a hopeful and peaceful book.
I now look forward to finding the other L.M. Montgomery novels I have not yet read!
(Can I just add that I greatly dislike these awful 1980s covers?)
According to my Harmon and Holman A Handbook to Literature, “romance” has had a special meaning in terms of literature since the beginning of the novel. As opposed to a “novel,” a term which suggested realistic manners and society, a “romance” was more unlikely to happen in reality.
In common usage, [romance] refers to works with extravagant characters, romantic and exotic places, highly exciting and heroic events, passionate love, or mysterious or supernatural experiences. In another and more sophisticated sense, romance refers to works relatively free of the more restrictive aspects of realistic verisimilitude. (“Romance,” page 450, William Harmon and Hugh Holman, A Handbook to Literature, eighth edition 1999)
Since I do not normally enjoy science fiction and rarely read fantasy beyond children’s books, I’m starting to suspect that the original classics that were the precursors are likewise not likely to be my favorite of classics. The Monk by Matthew Lewis (published 1796, when Matthew Lewis was 20 years old) is subtitled “A Romance” and such a description, had I realized the original connotation, should have been evidence enough that it would not be a cherished read. I loved the beginning and the end (more on that in a minute) but for the most part, The Monk was a drudge for me to read.
But, this may very well be just the right classic novel for you.
Lest you take my word for it, I will suggest that The Monk is far different from the stereotypical 1790s classic, such as the contemporary and perennial favorite Jane Austen. I picked up The Monk based on Amanda’s review, in which she explains what a fun novel it was. It was funny: I laughed out loud on many occasions. But I simply dislike the extreme drama that is a part of the early “romance” novel. I also didn’t like Dracula for similar reasons. I kept rolling my eyes with both books.
I also will say I went in knowing very little about how it would play out. All I knew was it dealt with monks, love, and fantastic pacts with the devil. There is so much more to it, but knowing little is, I think, a perfect way to approach it. The humorous episodes are much more random when one does not expect them. If you haven’t read this yet and may be interested in doing so, keep in mind that the remainder of this post may contain spoilers.