Sunday, 29 December 2019

The Classics Club 2020

The Classics Club

Here is a list of the classics which I plan to read during 2020. Apart from the saga, these have been chosen from my Classics Club list of 50 books.

Persuasion - Jane Austen

Dombey and Son - Charles Dickens (completed April 2020)

The Small House at Allington – Anthony Trollope

Passage to India - E M Forster (completed August 2020)

The Saga of the Faroe Islands

Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain

Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stove

The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

Little Men – Louisa May Alcott

The Europeans – Henry James

I will be reading Dombey and Son along with the 'Lunch with Dickens Group' which is based at the Shetland Library. The group starts the new year by reading a novel by Dickens. I was a keen member of this group when I lived in Shetland. I found the group really supportive and helped me to continue reading some books when I was struggling to keep going.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Poor Miss Finch

Poor Miss Finch, written by Wilkie Collins, was published in 1872.  It tells the story of Lucilla Finch, a rich young woman, who has been blind from infancy.  The narrator is Mrs Pratolunga, an interesting character, who is Lucilla's paid companion.  Without giving away the plot, this is a story of love, deceit and mixed identities as two young men, who are twins, both fall in love with Lucilla.

I struggled to finish this book, finding it too long and a bit far-fetched.  The only character I liked was Mrs Pratolunga who was a useful narrator, living with Lucilla and able to observe everything that went on in the household.  Her comments were witty adding to my enjoyment of the book.  Her dislike of Reverend Finch, Lucilla's father, was evident in such comments as "that he would end in being reconciled to his daughter—before her next subscription to the household expenses fell due—was a matter of downright certainty." Mrs Pratolunga says of herself, "And I? Oh, I am only a human being—and I feel painfully conscious that I have no business to be in a book".

The novel does successfully describe what is feels like to be blind and to be given the opportunity to see again. However it is certainly not in the same class as The Moonstone or The Woman in White.

Emma by Jane Austen

Emma by Jane Austen was published in 1816 and was the last of her novels to be published during her lifetime. The main character is Emma Woodhouse who is 21 years old and described at the beginning of the novel as being ‘handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition’. The novel is set in the fictional village of Highbury where the Woodhouses are one of the main families.  Emma believes that everyone looks up to them. She lives in a large house called Hartfield with her widowed, elderly father. Her elder sister, Isabella, is married to Mr John Knightley and lives in London. The story begins with the marriage of Emma’s governess, Miss Taylor, which seemed to cause some distress both to Emma and her father. 

Emma is spoilt both by her father and her governess. Mr Knightley, a family friend, tries to give her advice which she is loath to take. Although Emma can paint and play the piano she lacks perseverance and does not practise often enough to develop these skills. Mr Knightley seems to have a good understanding of Emma’s character pointing out to Mrs Weston that Emma ‘has been meaning to read more since she was twelve years old’. She is very good at drawing up lists of books to read but never actually reads them. 

Emma seemed to be lost when her governess moves out as she appeared to be more a companion than a governess. Emma befriends a younger girl, Harriet Smith, whose parents were unknown but believed to be ‘gentry’ and tries to ‘improve’ Harriet. She tries to encourage Harriet’s friendship with Mr Elton, the vicar, as she feels he is a more suitable match than Mr Martin who is only a tenant farmer. This backfires when Mr Elton misunderstands this and proposes to Emma who turns him down. He goes away to Bath and marries a very snobbish woman whose family had made their money through trade. Despite this set-back, Emma continues her match-making schemes throughout the novel but without any success. 

I enjoyed this book and found it easy to read. Although this novel describes life in a small English village at the end of the 18th century it also raises issues of class, poverty and women’s role in society. At this time, women of all classes were dependent on men having few choices in life except marriage. There were very few opportunities for ‘genteel’ women in particular, except to become a governess – this was a difficult situation for the woman being neither an employee nor a member of the family. In the novel, Jane Fairfax was nearly forced into this situation although Mrs Elton thought the position she had found for Jane was excellent.

The characters are well described and there are some very funny scenes in the book especially in the descriptions of Mrs Elton. I did not like Emma although I grew to respect her as the novel developed and was optimistic that Mr Knightley would be a good influence on her after their marriage. She was very patient with her father despite his demands and worries about becoming ill. She also demonstrated that she had a good understanding of Frank Churchill’s character and dealt with him appropriately. And finally, there is a happy ending to the novel!