Friday, 13 December 2013

Friday at Mansfield Park

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowIt's the last Friday of the Autumn term in my second year and I'm actually quite sad about it because that means that I'm practically halfway through my degree and I am nowhere near ready for the world waiting outside the University gates. But until then, I will continue faithfully reading my assigned texts and hopefully find more time because I have been terribly neglectful! Now, enough procrastinating and on with the Friday memes.

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and this week's question is:

'Bookselling time: Go to your biggest bookcase, the second shelf from the top and pick the sixth book from the left. Handsell that book to us - even if you haven't read it or hated it. 

I am actually really excited to answer this question because the sixth book on the left is one I recently bought and am really excited about. So I'm going to try to not just sell you the book but also the specific edition. Some weeks ago, I bought the American 1943 edition of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. So first, Wuthering Heights. I know it is quite a divisive book, people either love it or hate it and I can't tell you which of the two it will be for you. But one thing I do know is that no one who has read it and given it a chance has been completely unaffected by it. There is a certain uncanny quality about it, about its characters that are too real to be completely good, bad or likeable.

Now, for the edition. It is absolutely stunning because of the Fritz Eichenberg illustrations. He has managed to capture that distinct dark quality that gives Wuthering Height its desperate yet enthralling grip on the reader. Thankfully he didn't try to make the novel or its characters any prettier than Emily wrote them.

I'm not quite sure how else to convince anyone, but then again, I feel that if a novel like Wuthering Heights cannot sell itself, neither can I.

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice. This week I am using Jane Austen's Mansfield Park which I never really liked until I started studying it. There is so much subtext to it and I'm even starting to find myself appreciate Fanny, to a certain extent that is.

'About thirty years ago, Miss Maria Ward of Huntingdon, with only seven thousand pounds, had the good luck to captivate Sir Thomas Bertram, of Mansfield Park, in the country of Northampton, and to be thereby raised to the rank of a baronet's lady, with all the comforts and consequences of an handsome house and large income.'
I think Jane Austen's style is quite recognizable in this opening, although the irony that is always present in her writing seems a bit harsher here and more judgmental, perhaps.

'Fanny's rides recommenced the very next day, and as it was a pleasant fresh-feeling morning, less hot than the weather had lately been, Edmund trusted that her losses both of health and pleasure would be soon made good.'
I think Fanny's occasional horse rides with Edmund are some of the very few instances in the novel where she is actually active. What I have started to appreciate is that Fanny is the single constant in the novel, the only character you can rely on throughout.

So, what about you?

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Review: 'Robinson Crusoe' by Daniel Defoe

'Robinson Crusoe' is an example of a novel that has become almost too popular for its own good. Everyone knows the story of the man who was shipwrecked on an abandoned island and has to build a life for himself there. Only few know how the novel actually works and until last week I was one of those people. I would probably never have read this novel if it hadn't been for University, but I think this was the perfect context in which to read a book which is, in all honesty, too detailed for its own good.
Shipwrecked in a storm at sea, Robinson Crusoe is washed up on a remote and desolate island. As he struggles to piece together a life for himself, Crusoe's physical, moral and spiritual values are tested to the limit. For 24 years he remains in solitude and learns to tame and master the island, until he finally comes across another human being. Considered a classic literary masterpiece, and frequently interpreted as a comment on the British Imperialist approach at the time, Defoe's fable was and still is revered as the very first English novel.
I gave myself almost two months before reviewing this novel after finishing it, because I wasn't sure how I actually felt about the novel as a whole. The premise is interesting, which is why the novel was survived this long, but it is very much a novel of its own time. Never has this much been written about 'she-goats' and the building of defensive walls on an abandoned island in any other work of fiction I've read. As I said above, there is an incredibly amount of detail in this book which might have been perfect back in the 1700s, adding credibility to Defoe's story, but clogging up the book for modern readers. Occasionally he skips over three years by simple stating he was busy building a cellar to store his crops in. It is impossible to belief that in those twenty-eight years that Robinson was stuck on that island, he never had either sexual or simply social desires but was perfectly content to colonize his little piece of Earth and come to terms with God and his own role in this world.

There is another aspect not many people are aware of: 'Robinson Crusoe' is an incredibly religious book. God and Providence permeate the book and are what guide Crusoe's thoughts and actions. Being completely alone, everything that happens is either the consequence of one of his own actions or has to be have come from God. The footprint is therefore a crucial part in the novel. Let's take a look at Robinson's response to the footprint:
'I stood like one thunderstruck, or as if I had seen an apparition.  I listened, I looked round me, but I could hear nothing, nor see anything; I went up to a rising ground to look farther; I went up the shore and down the shore, but it was all one; I could see no other impression but that one.'
Robinson has completely resigned himself to a solitary existence and the sudden 'apparition' of a footprint is not only a supernatural reminder that there is an entire world out there, but also a threat against the state he has built up there. The presence of a deity that has the power to change your life outside of your choice is a very important aspect of the novel that has not translated into popular culture.

However, I found 'Robinson Crusoe' quite enjoyable once you accepted the time period and genre within which it was written. The extraneous detail and the very imperialistic turn that the novel takes towards the end simply form part of the world Robinson and Defoe both come from. In many ways the true value of 'Robinson Crusoe' lies in it being one of the first, if not the first, novel that created a true psychological profile for its character. Crusoe's psyche is delved into and developed, bringing the reader a true travel novel that journeys through the mind as well as an undiscovered world.

I give this novel...


Purely for the fact that the novel is very much of its own time and many of the aspects of its narrative haven't translated into popular culture, I have given this novel 4 rather than 5 Universes. I enjoyed it much more than 'Gulliver's Travels', an equally famous yet relatively unexplored novel written as a response to Defoe's novel, but mainly for the ideas it brought to the forefront of my mind, rather than for its own content.

Have you read 'Robinson Crusoe'? If yes, what did you think of it? If no, do you think you'd enjoy it?

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Review: 'The War of the Worlds' by H.G. Wells

When I think of my childhood, it is a vibrant mix between Star Wars, Harry Potter, classical music and Jeff Wayne's adaptation of 'The War of the Worlds'. Nothing was ever as scary and thrilling as the Martians' 'Ulla'. Once I actually understood the words in the songs, I discovered that there was also a novel and immediately read it. That was a couple of years ago but now it has been brought back to my attention thanks to University and I have once again been sucked in by the amazing story. The Goodread's synopsis was terrible, so I've decided to use one from Amazon.

"The War of the Worlds" is a first-person narrative of an unnamed protagonist's adventures in London and the countryside southwest of London as Earth is invaded by Martians. Written in 1895-1897, it is one of the earliest stories that details a conflict between mankind and an alien race. The plot has been related to invasion literature of the time. The novel has been variously interpreted as a commentary on evolutionary theory, British imperialism, and on Victorian fears and prejudices. "The War of the Worlds" has been both popular (it has never gone out of print) and influential, spawning half a dozen feature films, radio dramas, various comic book adaptations, a television series, and sequels or parallel stories by other authors.
Before taking a look at the narrative and style of the novel, it is interesting to look at the ideas behind the novel and its foundation in the imperialistic culture Wells lived in. Wells was not the first or only one to write about alien words at the end of the Victorian age. Crucial to the development of this new sci-fi genre was Darwin's theory of evolution, interestingly enough. The idea that humans have evolved from ape-like animals, i.e. were once less developed, also opened up the possibility that the Victorians were not the height of modernity but might only be a lesser step on the stairway to perfection. Rather than invent silly aliens, Wells created a highly superior species that has no interest in communicating with humanity and that is where the true terror of the book lies. The Martians have only one goal, which is profiting from the Earth's resources, not establish contact. In many ways, Wells here echoes the Imperial sentiments of his time but presents them in a negative light. Although the Martians operate with cold intellect, at least their intention is not to maliciously harm humans. The suggestion is made that European colonizers were out to subject other people, not just countries, and rule over them. However, taking Wells' critical stance into account, he is unable to completely write off the possible advantages of an Empire. Being invaded by a superior species has brought new technology to the humans and has thereby improved their lives. 

I personally love the way in which The War of the Worlds is written. As the synopsis states, the story is told by an unnamed narrator. Although we know where he lives, what his profession is and that he has a brother in London, he is not a set character. As such, even the details of his life become stereotypical enough for him to be a template for any kind of reader to empathize with. As we travel through invaded England with him, the terror of the invasion comes a lot closer to the reader because, unlike in many modern alien movies for example, the reader has no contact to the outside world, does not know who survived and who died. This adds a sense of realism which might otherwise have been completely lost in a novel starring creatures from outer space. Although criticism on Wells often highlights the repetitive nature of his characters, he clearly knows this character and it allows him to mix his interest in science and human nature into one narrative.

The War of the Worlds had a lasting impact on popular culture. Aliens have been a constant presence in the cinemas and in science fiction, but not often do the new interpretations manage to live up to the original stories. The Jeff Wayne radioplay is one of the best adaptations around, fastly superior to the 2005 movie adaptation with Tom Cruise. Keeping the setting but changing the main character to a Journalist and introducing new female characters to balance out the otherwise completely male cast, Wayne and co brought the story into the 20th century while adding some great music. I highly recommend reading the lyrics to the songs, especially 'Thunderchild', 'Brave New World' and 'The Spirit of Man'. Naming one of the songs 'Brave New World' was a nice nod, considering Wells had been thought by Thomas Huxley, who was not only a big Darwin supporter but also the grand-father of Aldous Huxley, the author of the famous novel 'Brave New World'.

I give this novel...


The War of the World is the novel in which fiction and science truly mixed for the first time. Wells creates a true horror story while still managing to give the reader an insight into human character. Besides that, some of his comic talent still occasionally shines through, making it an overall truly enjoyable read and deserved classic.