Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Review: Herbert West, Reanimator


 Original Publication Date: 1922

Genre: Horror, Science Fiction

Topics: Reanimation, scientific experimentation, God complex, unreliable narrators, the undead






Review by Chrisbookarama:

Herbert West, Reanimator is one of the few H.P. Lovecraft stories in the public domain. It was first published as a series for Home Brew in 1922. In it, the narrator tells of the experiments conducted by Herbert and witnessed by himself alone. The narrator’s story is told in six parts. At the beginning of each instalment, he sums up what’s happened in the previous ones. Just in case you didn’t save enough pennies for the last issue of Home Brew you won’t be lost. Herbert is a doctor of the mad scientist variety. He concocts a special solution that he injects into his deceased human subjects in the hopes of bringing them back to life. He and the narrator must continually find “fresh” bodies to reanimate. The results aren’t pretty. Basically, these guys are making homemade zombies.

Let’s talk about the narrator for a moment. This guy’s story is sketchy. He says he was afraid of Herbert. He “shudders” at some of the things he does, but he still hangs out with him. He knows the guy has no scruples and committed at least one murder. Why doesn’t he catch a train to As Far From Herbert As Possibleville? Does he owe Herbert money? I think he’s way more into it than he says.

As for the experiments, I would think that after the first couple of times I created an uncontrollable monster, I’d reconsider the whole endeavour. Herbert wants to reanimate a human with the former intellect intact but all he makes are Hulk Monsters. His obsession with finding the right solution and obtaining enough bodies to test those solutions turns him into a monster himself. Herbert finds opportunities for body snatching disguised as a physician treating the sick or wounded. He even resorts to murder. Herbert’s reasons for reanimating corpses don’t stem from some noble cause like curing his poor old mother or anything. It’s just scientific curiosity. While the narrator believes in the soul, Herbert doesn’t. The soul isn’t a factor. The bodies just aren’t fresh enough, in his opinion.

Be warned that H.P. Lovecraft’s terrible racism and xenophobia reveals itself big time about halfway through the story. You’ll be happy to know, however, that we’re all human-flesh eating monsters under the reanimated skin.

Herbert West, Reanimator is an interesting literary artifact as it’s an early zombie story. In it, the undead run amuck munching on the living, until they are destroyed and disposed of. The viral zombie trope appears later in the literary canon (I Am Legend’s zombie-vampire is the first one I can think of). Herbert has the power to create the undead through his solution only, the bite of his creation will not infect others. The creature will live through various states of decomposition, until shot and “killed.” The 1985 film Re-Animator is based on Lovecraft’s story.

This was a Librivox recording by Phil Chenevert. He doesn’t have quite the chilling voice I’d expect for this story. The audio version is about 90 minutes long.

Download Herbert West- Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft at Librivox

Monday, April 28, 2014

Review: THE OAKDALE AFFAIR by Edgar Rice Burroughs

book cover Original Publication Date: 1918
Genre: mystery, -ish
Topics: journey, honor among thieves, hidden in plain sight

Review by heidenkind:

In the sleepy town of Oakdale, a small thief called the Oskaloosa Kid enters the home of Jonas Primm, the president of the Oakdale Bank, and makes off with some valuables belonging to his daughter. As the thief tries to leave Oakdale, he runs across a gang of much nastier thieves and is nearly killed, only to be saved by a gentleman hobo named Bridge. It's clear both the Oskaloosa Kid and Bridge are more than they appear to be, but who are they? And will they be able to save themselves from a mob that wants to hang them for murder?

The Oakdale Affair isn't the typical story one would expect from Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs is known for sci fi novels like A Princess of Mars or The Land That Time Forgot. I didn't even know he wrote mysteries until I downloaded this novel, mainly because my man Ralph Snelson narrates it. And now I know why he's not known for them.

Not that The Oakdale Affair was awful—well, the ending was definitely awful and completely annoying. But beyond that it was okay. It was like Burroughs was writing an adventure novel for 12-year-old boys. You've got your thievery, your stranger danger, hobos, things that go bump in the night, gypsies, an angry mob, and mistaken identity. It's a lot going on for a short book, and it can get pretty episodic.

That said, The Oakdale Affair was never boring, even when I was like, "Gypsies, REALLY?" or getting pissed off because cruelty to animals. Bridge was an awesome character, a poetry-spouting hobo supposedly inspired by Jack London, who's protective of the kids and tough enough to keep the baddies away. Kind of like a father figure, really, which only made the ending that much worse.

As for the Oskaloosa Kid, the person who started this entire mess—borderline TSTL. I gave the kid a pass because I assumed he was 10 or 12-ish and in over his head, but maybe I shouldn't have. Again: HORRIBLE ENDING.

Overall I liked The Oakdale Affair, but not as much as would have liked it without the twist at the end, and not enough to recommend it unless you're a hardcore Burroughs fan.

Download The Oakdale Affair by Edgar Rice Burroughs at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|ERBzine

Friday, April 25, 2014

Review: The Republic

Original Publication Date: 380 BC

Genre: Socratic Dialogue

Topics: Society, Government, Justice

Review by: Melissa at Avid Reader's Musings

The Republic
by Plato

This famous piece of literature introduces readers to the Socratic method. Socrates was a famous Greek philosopher and his student Plato wrote about his method of teaching. Instead of informing or explaining things, Socrates would ask questions and open a dialogue with his students.

He shared his philosophical view by asking questions and making his students reach the conclusions on their own. His political theories and observations are still relevant, though the book was written in 300 BC. In The Republic Socrates discusses the way to create a perfect society. They work their way through the different rules and regulations that society would need. They decide what their education would focus on and whether there would be equality between the sexes, etc. As they talk through all of the details of their society they come to the inevitable conclusion that it can never exist. Mankind is too flawed and even with the best of intentions, political leaders are corrupted by power.

The other major issue up for debate is justice. Each man comes to the table with a slightly different view of how to define justice. Is justice helping your friends? Is it unjust to injure your enemies? These questions make the Athenians go round and round as they each add their opinions to the mix. This book also includes the famous allegory of the cave, which is discussed in every Philosophy 101 class.

BOTTOM LINE: The arguments aren’t flawless, but it’s the style of arguing that makes this such a compelling read. I enjoyed every second of it and would highly recommend finding an audio version if you can.

“The society we have described can never grow into a reality or see the light of day, and there will be no end to the troubles of states, or indeed, my dear Glaucon, of humanity itself, till philosophers become rulers in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.”

“They agreed to avoid doing injustice in order to avoid suffering it. This is the origin of laws and contracts.”

“Don’t you think this is why education in the arts is so powerful? Rhythm and harmony find their way to the inner part of the soul and establish themselves there, bringing grace to the well-educated.”
Download Title by author at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

Originally posted at Avid Reader's Musings.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: SISTER CARRIE - Theodore Dreiser

  • Original Publication Date: 1900
  • Genre: American, classic, Victorian
  • Topics: Domestic, gender roles, industry, realism
Review by : Liz Inskip-Paulk (

Called “the greatest of all American urban novels”, Dreiser’s Sister Carrie was a good read and I really enjoyed it. It’s not a “happy” read or a “feel good” read, but the narrative arc is strong and the writing was fine. (Dreiser has been criticized by some as having writing that is not sophisticated enough, but I thought this was fine. After having read some drivel lately, Dreiser was a pleasure to read. This was very character-driven as a story, and this was perfect for what was happening throughout the book.)
Sister Carrie is basically the story of Carrie Meeber, a young girl raised in a small rural town who moves to Chicago to chase big-city dreams. You’d think that as it was written during Victorian times, that it might be a heavy-handed morality tale, but it’s not. People do iffy things, but there is no come-uppance for them or even redemption for them to change their “evil” ways. Life continues just fine and in fact, Carrie (she who didn’t fit the Victorian moral code of the time) even thrives despite her unconventional choices in life. (Probably made some of the audience get vapors!)
It is this immorality, if you’d like to call it that, which really irked people when this novel was published. Dreiser has been called one of the first American writers of the Naturalist/Realist school which shocked the socks off of the turn-of-the-century American readers and publishers when it came out.
His storyline was one of the first published U.S. novels that described a woman being supported by a man to whom she wasn’t married (and was living with), and then when she leaves that partner, she hooks up with another man who’s already married and starts to be supported by him – all with little consequence. When the second partner (who’s already married) commits an impulsive crime, they both end up on the run and yet, when they land up in New York for a new life, there is little punishment for Carrie’s actions. (And you know how the Victorians loved their characters to have punishment for poor choices/rewarded for good ones idea, especially for the weaker sex.)
Trying to get Sister Carrie published at first was tough. A wife of a potential publisher read the draft and called it “too sordid” for them to work with, and only 450 or so copies were sold when it was later published. Years after the book was published, Sinclair Lewis said that the novel “came to housebound and airless America like a great free Western wind, and to our stuffy domesticity gave us the first air since Mark Twain and Whitman” (1930 speech.)
And it was a change on many levels and quite shocking to readers. Nothing bad happens to the woman for her life choices, AND she doesn’t learn to change her ways (no redemption) AND she works in the shockingly free world of theater. She’s not that happy, but she’s not punished. Goodness me.
This sounds like a bit of a depressing novel, and it’s not a happy story by any means, but it is a good read. I loved how Dreiser portrayed Carrie without stereotyping her with a Cruella Deville personality. She’s young, ambitious with little useful work training – what other options were there, really, apart from working to death in a poorly paid factory job? Who wouldn’t want to improve their situation if they were in that and didn’t have that many choices open to them? I, for one, am not going to judge her for that.
However, a lot of the audience did judge her for that. His two male characters received a different reception: Drouet (first fake husband that Carrie lived with) and Hurstwood (second already married lover) don’t seem to suffer much at first when they invite Carrie into their lives, but in the long term, the latter certainly does.
His downfall from successful businessman to homeless vagrant is a useful foil for Dreiser to compare Carrie’s rising theatrical success (slightly clumsy but works ok), so perhaps the audience was ok with this man receiving punishment for his immoral ways. Drouet, the first partner, just peels off gradually with no negative consequences. Interesting how the different genders are portrayed – Carrie probably made the female readers very nervous when they read about her…
So – overall, a good read, and as most of it was on-line, it wasn’t too scary length-wise. I think on-line is the way to read scarily long books from now on.) I’ll definitely be reading Dreiser’s other classic (An American Tragedy – pub 1925) at some point.
Download Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|



Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: ULYSSES by James Joyce

  • Original Publication Date: 1922
  • Genre: modernist fiction 
  • Topics: family, life, culture, philosophy, sex, process of thinking, parodies of different genres, Shakespeare, mythology, 
  • Review byBridget/Anachronist @ portable pieces of thoughts


William Blake saw the universe in a grain of sand – he was a genius visionary. Joyce saw it in Dublin, Ireland, on June 16, 1904, a day distinguished by its utter normality – he was a genius writer.

Two characters, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, go about their separate business, crossing paths with a gallery of indelible Dubliners. We watch them teach, eat, stroll the streets, argue, and (in Bloom's case) masturbate. And thanks to the book's stream-of-consciousness technique--which suggests no mere stream but an impossibly deep, swift-running river--we're privy to their thoughts, emotions, and memories. The result? Almost every variety of human experience is crammed into the accordian folds of a single day, which makes Ulysses not just an experimental work but the very last word in realism. In the past, Ulysses has been labeled dirty, blasphemous, and even unreadable and small wonder - the author takes both Celtic lyricism and vulgarity to splendid extremes. It is funny, sorrowful, and even (in a close-focus sort of way) suspenseful. One thing it is not: easy to read.

My impressions:

As the book itself is very long indeed, often called “the Mount Everest (or Chomolungma) of literature”, my review, surprise, surprise, will be uncommonly short. I’ll also try to restrain from using “stream of consciousness” technique although, I admit, the mere idea was very tempting. You get a nice pic instead:

So…yes, I read Ulysses - I mean I read and finished it. Honest injun! ;p Mind you, I did it not because I was forced but because I challenged myself. The experience left me slightly mad and dizzy. In a nutshell I think that if only Joyce weren't a genius he would be a terrific writer. My reading impressions are full of contradictions - the book was full of contradictions as well.

I loved it because it has so many deep literary and classical references: quotes in Latin, French, Greek, Italian, German, Hebrew, Gaellic; Bible quotes, mythology quotes, folk songs, Shakespeare and poems all mixed together. If you say you understand it all and know exactly what was quoted for what reason and from what source it means you are very well educated indeed, being – most probably - one of the English lit professors at Trinity, Oxford, Cambridge or elsewhere. I love long words - this book had plenty of them too. Some short ones as well :p.

I hated it because more often than not was boring as hell. I just couldn't care less about the characters and their navel-gazing, private parts-gazing, food-gazing, bathroom-visits-gazing and such. I just wanted them to get on with whatever they were doing and have Joyce interfere in their lives with his references, his poetry, and his overlong narrative considerably less.

I loved it also because the words, strung together in a stream-of-consciousness mellifluous, onomatopoeic way, read just beautifully, like no other narration I’ve read so far. I do believe that nobody and nothing compares to Joyce. On the other hand: most probably nobody would like to compare because, let’s face it, if you are not a genius such a style would render your book completely unreadable – not even by your most devoted lovers, friends and sycophants.

One thing is sure: if anybody claims they’ve read Ulysses quickly and painlessly, say in 2-3 days or even over a week, without serious skimming and/or cheating they are lying liars who lie. That's why I hated it:  it was a book which I could read no longer than 10-20 pages, 50 pages max, a day. Then, taking a leaf from Mr Bloom’s book who could read Aristotle and The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk at the same time, I had to clean my palate with several pages of any pulp fiction, romance or erotica novel, something easy and cheesy; I used even m-m BDSM which is really not my thing (anyway The Administration series by Manna Francis helped a lot – just so you know).

Final verdict:
To read or not to read? That is the question...I would say: read it, especially as you can download it from the Project Gutenberg for free, but only if you feel you must or you really want to. It took Joyce seven years to write about one day of life of some plain Dubliners; my reading was, fortunately, quicker but still I struggled with that book over two weeks. It is a position perfect for literary masochists; still it is possible to enjoy it in a way but never like any other ‘normal’ novel. After finishing it you’ll never be afraid of any other book, fiction or non-fiction – not really. Can you fear a cat after taming a tiger?

Now four short, beautiful quotes to whet your appetite. Only four and really short, all of them. I promise.

“Love loves to love love.” (And a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose...ah, bully for Joyce for pouring such sentimentality into his masterpiece of high-brow literature. Did you know there’s essentially a romance novella written in the middle of this book? Would you guess it? Apart from that there is a scene with as many as four prostitutes – go figure.)

Think you're escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.” (What a pity I hadn’t known that before, my legs wouldn't have hurt so badly ;p Well-spotted, Mr. J.)

“Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance.” (I wholeheartedly agree. Not that Joyce is much different - hello pot, meet kettle ;p.)

“We can’t change the country. Let us change the subject.” (It only proves that every politician or would-be politician should read Ulysses as well. Some great, ready-to-use lines are waiting.)

If Marilyn Monroe could read it, you can read it too!

Download Ulysses by James Joyce (if you are brave enough that is) at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|
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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Mystery Day!

c auguste dupin

Fun fact: Today, April 20th, is the 173rd anniversary of the publication of the first detective story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe! Poe's detective, C. Auguste Dupin, inspired Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.

To celebrate the birth of the mystery novel, curl up with Poe's Dupin stories: The Murders in the Rue MorgueThe Mystery of Marie RogĂȘt, and The Purloined Letter.

You can also check out my review of the Dupin series, or find out more about the first mysteries.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD by Thomas Hardy

Original Publication Date: 1874
Genre: English, British, rural, classic
Topics: farm life 19th century


Review by : Liz Inskip-Paulk (

Really enjoyed this Hardy title, and found that as the book progressed, it became harder and harder to put down and go and do “real life” things. I ended up doing a marathon read last night and was really immersed into Wessex and the lives of the villagers that Hardy had conjured up.
What I was most interested in this read was the difference in vocabulary and references that Hardy uses in his writing. It’s been a while since I have needed to do a “New Words to Me” blog post, but reading Hardy helped me to add a lot of new words to that list, along with loads of references to biblical and Greek/Roman myths.
So – why is it that more recent/modern writers tend to stick to the familiar vocabulary and images when other older ones didn’t? Yes, some modern writers do play a lot of with language (John Banville comes to mind), but generally speaking, there is not the range of vocabulary in more modern publications. (Perhaps it’s just the ones that I’ve been reading?)
Is it because the older (read: Victorian) writers wore their learning lightly and made these literary references assuming that the reader would know them? Or were these older writers being elitist and showing off their education to their readers? Would the average reader at the time of Hardy know his references to Ixion’s punishment and when “the sailors invoked the lost Hylas on the Mysian shore”? Or were his readers just as puzzled as I was (and hitting the books to find out more)?
Another curious point is the link between the main female character -- Bathsheba Everdene -- and the more current heroic character of Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games”. I had wondered if there was a connection between the two, and in further research, it seems that HG author Suzanne Collins did name Katniss as a homage to the Bathsheba character – both have strong independent characters that don’t always go down well in the society in which they live, both have similar romantic issues (Katniss/Peter (I think), and Bathsheba/Gabriel)… I wonder how many teen readers know that as the reference? Probably not, I would think, which is a shame as Hardy is a great read.
Speaking of literary influences, now I am curious to re-read Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel Tamara Drew which heavily references Far From the Madding Crowd. When I first read the Simmonds’ work, I hadn’t read this particular Hardy title so probably ended up missing a ton of references. I’m interested now to go back and re-read the graphic novel and see the parallels between them.
I’m now thinking of finding the 1967 movie adaptation of Far… as that seems to have the best reviews. (Although I am curious to see David Nicholl’s 2013 BBC adaptation as well. Perhaps I can catch some of that when I visit UK later this fall.)
It’s a shame that more people don’t read more Hardy – I think they think of him as writer of tragedy and sadness, but if you read his Wessex books, they are pretty light-hearted and funny at times. I’d almost classify Hardy as a rural more down-to-earth Jane Austen in some ways, but people tend to get stuck on the disastrous story of Tess and get scared off. They’re missing out.

Download Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE by Thomas Hardy

Original Publication Date: 1878

Genre: Tragedy

Topics: Romance, morality, provincial life, British, superstitions

Review by: Peter S.

When my friends found out that I was reading Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native, I heard the words "depressing," "tragic," and "heartbreaking." And after finishing the novel, I knew that my friends were right. The Return of the Native can indeed by a downer, but it doesn't mean that it's not enjoyable. In fact, it's one of my most wonderful reads this year so far. This is my first Hardy, and I can't wait to read his other works.

The native that the title refers to is one ClymYeobright, who finds himself returning to Egdon Heath to keep his mother, Mrs Yeobright, company. While Clym was away, Clym's cousin, Thomasin, was living with his mother. But now, Thomasin is set to marry the local innkeeper named Damon Wildeve. Things don't go as planned with the marriage of Wildeve and Thomasin, and it has something to do with Eustacia Vye, a beautiful woman who was one time romantically involved with Wildeve.

Eustacia is a restless soul. She hates Egdon Heath with a passion. When Wildeve and Thomasin do get married, she sets her eyes on Clym. Eustacia believes that it is Clym who'll take her away from Egdon Heath to live in Paris. But when the two eventually get married, Clym reveals that it was never his plan to go back to the city of lights. He loves Egdon Heath, and he dreams of becoming a schoolmaster in the nearby town.

Now here is where my summary can get a little bit spoilery. So unless you want to know what makes The Return of the Native tragic, tread carefully, dear reader. Clym doesn't become the schoolmaster that he intends to be. A condition involving his eyes renders him incapable of even reading. He becomes a furze-cutter instead. Poor Eustacia! Stuck with a husband who appears to be happy doing manual labor, while her dreams of living in Paris have gone to the dust. She seeks the help of Wildeve to escape Egdon Heath. It is during this fateful circumstance wherein Wildeve and Eustacia meet their deaths by drowning.

So now the cousins Clym and Thomasin find themselves a widower and a widow respectively. Clym thinks that he and Thomasin can become a happy couple, but we find out that Thomasin fancies the reddleman, Venn Diggory, and decides to marry him. What happens to our native? Clym finds his calling as a preacher.

All the events in The Return of the Native happen in Egdon Heath. This fictional setting is one that Hardy describes vividly. Reading about this fictional setting makes you want to live there, amid the spirited and gossipy locals and the lush flora. As someone who lives in the tropics, I am smitten by the romantic description of the heath. I can almost smell it.
The month of March arrived, and the heath showed its first faint signs of awakening from winter trance. The awakening was almost feline in its stealthiness. The pool outside the bank by Eustacia's dwelling, which seemed as dead and desolate as ever to an observer who moved and made noises in his observation, would gradually disclose a state of great animation when silently watched awhile. A timid animal world had come to life for the season.
What I also love in Hardy's novels are the questions that it poses to the reader. When Wildeve and Eustacia had that tragic accident, was it because of the spell  (or curse?) uttered by Susan Nunsuch, a woman who believes that Eustacia is a witch? Was Thomasin simply compromising when she chose to marry Venn after the death of her first husband? Was Clym really happy as a preacher? Or was this also a fallback when his plan of asking Thomasin to marry him fell through? I'd like to believe that he was.

A lot of people say that The Return of the Native is Hardy's most representative work. It did make me curious about his other works, and the novel inspired me to talk about Hardy to other book-loving friends. Hardy isn't really very popular nowadays, yes? Perhaps it is the depressing feel of his novels that turns people off. But Hardy isn't just about that. He wrote about the mores of his time, the way people once viewed marriage and how they acted based on their social status. He allowed us to glimpse on how people acted when faced when unbearable tragedy. His writing soars amid a backdrop of bleakness.

Download The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: The Dream Woman by Wilkie Collins

shortstoriesOriginal Publication Date: 1909 (in The Lock and Key Library, ed. by Julian Hawthorne)

Genre: short story

Topics: pick ups gone wrong, bad girls, alcoholism, murder, dreams, marriage





Review by Chrisbookarama:

The Dream Woman of Wilkie Collins story is not an angelic creature. Nope. She’s of the nightmare variety.

The Dream Woman is told in 4 parts by 3 different narrators. We are introduced to the story by Percy Fairbanks, who comes upon a groom named Francis while searching for someone to take care of his lame horse. Percy’s wife is intrigued by the man, who appears to be fighting off unseen demons. Since they’ve got time to kill, Mrs Fairbanks persuades Francis to unload his burden and tell her his troubles. It all starts with a dream…

Many years ago, while seeking employment, Francis spends a night at an inn where he has a dream that he’s being murdered by a beautiful woman. The very next year to the day, his birthday no less, he meets a mysterious woman wandering around the streets of his town at night all alone. Of course he instantly falls madly in love with the stranger, but there is something oddly familiar about her. I won’t say any more, but I think you can see where this is headed.

The Dream Woman is subtitled A Mystery in Four Narratives. There’s not much mystery though. It’s more of a tale of what happens when you pick up strangers. The dream woman is a bad girl through and through. She’s rather one note. There’s no explanation for her behaviour, she just is what she is.

The other important woman in this story, Mrs Fairbanks, is much more interesting character and we barely hear from her. It’s because of her that we hear Francis’s story and her pity that drives the plot to the end. However, it’s Percy who tells their part of the story and he has the irritating habit of winking at the reader with a, “Women! Am I right married guys?” Shut up, Percy.

The Dream Woman is a warning to dudes. Bad girls, stay away from them or they’ll make your life hell!

The Dream Woman appears in the Lock and Key Collection mentioned by Tasha in her review of The Lost Duchess.

Download The Dream Woman by Wilkie Collins at Project Gutenberg| Librivox

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Review: MANSFIELD PARK by Jane Austen

Original Publication Date: 1814 
Genre: Austen romance 
Topics: marriage, integrity, morality, appearances, religion, friendship, family, loyalty 
Review by Bridget/Anachronist @ portable pieces of thoughts

Brace yourself, it is my first review here and it will be long, with a detailed synopsis, full of spoilers but hey, the book is a classic, right? Let me indulge myself a bit.
Once upon a time there were three sisters. One of them, being the prettiest, married very well, the second one, a bit wild, married very badly but for love and the third one married just because it was the right thing to do. The first sister, Lady Bertram, a rich wife of a baronet, was spending her days idly by the side of her husband, Sir Thomas, enjoying luxuries of Mansfield Park, their country estate. She had four children: two sons, Tom and Edmund, and two daughters, Maria and Julia. She also decided to help her other two sisters, less fortunate when it came to the choice of husbands.

That’s how Fanny Price, our heroine, aged just 10, arrived to Mansfield Park – she was Aunt Bertram’s charity case. As one of many children of the second sister, Frances, and Lieut. Price, a retired naval officer, Fanny was sent away to live with her fine relatives. Her mother was very grateful as it was considered a great opportunity and social advancement. Of course nobody asked the opinion of the shy, awkward child. Fanny was never exactly mistreated by the Bertrams but she never felt at home with them either. Still Edmund, the younger son, being the most good-natured of all, managed to show his young cousin real kindness from time to time. Fanny’s other maternal aunt, Mrs. Norris, the local parson’s wife, showered attention and affection on her Bertram nieces, particularly Maria, but was frequently unpleasant and mean-spirited toward Fanny, making the girl feeing inadequate.

The narration starts when Fanny is 16. Sir Thomas must leave for a year to deal with problems on his plantation in Antiqua. He takes his eldest son, Tom, along in hopes to isolate him from bad company he had been keeping. Meanwhile Mrs. Norris finds a husband for Maria Bertram – a completely stupid but very rich Mr. Rushworth. Maria accepts his proposal subject to Sir Thomas’s approval on his return, making a very serious mistake.

About this time, the fashionable, wealthy, and worldly Henry Crawford and his sister, Mary , arrive at the parsonage to stay with Mrs. Grant, their half-sister. The arrival of the lively, attractive Crawford siblings disrupts the staid world of Mansfield and sparks a series of romantic entanglements.In order to entertain them the Bertram sisters are staging a play - very inappropriate but funny.

When Sir Thomas unexpectedly arrives home in the middle of a rehearsal, the theatricals are abruptly terminated. Henry, whom Maria had expected to propose, leaves, and she feels crushed, realizing that he didn’t love her. Although she neither likes nor respects Mr. Rushworth, she goes ahead and marries him out of spite. Her marriage will trigger a family crisis of quite epic proportions but fear not - our Fanny will try to preserve her integrity.
 What I liked:

If you wonder why my synopsis is so long and detailed here are two main reasons. First – I admit that Mansfield Park is my favourite Jane Austen book and I can talk about it forever. Second – I wanted to show how dissimilar that novel is when compared to those awful movie adaptations. Really, truly, completely different.

First of all the main heroine, Fanny, is perhaps the most complex female character created by Austen, maybe because she is portrayed not as a young adult but we can follow most of her childhood as well. Plenty of readers don’t like Fanny for being a bit priggish. Jane Austen’s own mother thought Fanny “insipid”. I don’t agree with such an assessment. Although, as any young girl, she is sometimes given to wishful thinking and she is often too timid to speak up her mind, Fanny can be surprisingly perceptive and intelligent; it is quite stunning as she lacked any moral guidance or support among her real or adoptive family. Still she is the only one who can assess the Crawfords in the right way, she notices how badly Maria treats her fiancĂ© before almost anybody else and she can criticize the household of her own mother in a very clear-headed way. By rejecting Henry she shows a lot of courage; she also grows in self-esteem during the latter part of the story, weathering a major crisis caused by Maria’s divorce and Tom’s illness.

Many modern readers find Fanny’s timidity and disapproval of the theatricals difficult to sympathize with but I found it in perfect accordance with her introvert character – she did enjoy listening to Henry Crawford’s skillful reading, she just didn’t want to offend her absent uncle doing something overly frivolous; I suppose she also didn’t want to mix with a crowd who treated her indifferently at best and disapproved of her at worst. Their attitude might be well summed up by this quote:

“My dear Miss Price,” said Miss Crawford, as soon as she was at all within hearing, “I am come to make my own apologies for keeping you waiting; but I have nothing in the world to say for myself-I knew it was very late, and that I was behaving extremely ill; and therefore, if you please, you must forgive me. Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.” Mary Crawford, Mansfield Park, Chapter 7
Apart from Fanny there are plenty of other great characters, presented here, but two of them, namely Henry and Mary Crawford deserve a paragraph or two of their own.

They are a pair of antagonists, predators, but they are presented as quite likeable creatures, so nice to be with and so interesting nobody notices their wickedness. Let’s start with the lady. I would describe Mary Crawford as Elizabeth Bennett without moral principles – she is clever, she has a great sense of humour, she is additionally rich (twenty thousand pounds of dowry, no small matter) and pretty spoiled. You might argue that her faults stem from the fact that she wasn’t given proper education and example in her childhood but so wasn’t Fanny and there is vast difference between the way of thinking of these two young women. Mary is so dazzled by the glitter of the beau monde that she rarely notices any real values in people. She likes luxury, she appreciates theatre and fun, she thinks she is entitled to everything the best, including men. Although from time to time she can be also understanding, generous and kind, she thinks mostly about her own convenience and social status. She tolerates Fanny to please Edmund and Sir Thomas but, given a choice, she remorselessly forgets her timid friend to enjoy a more interesting company.

Her brother is even worse – it is a predator similar to Monsieur Vicomte de Valmont from Les Liaisons Dangereuses, another classic. As he has definitely too much money for his own good and is too lazy and lax to find himself a proper occupation he preys on women for fun (mind you we speak about the Napoleonic Wars period, such easy time to find an occupation for an aggressive, clever man of means!). The way he plays both sisters Bertram is really callous and ruthless even though you can argue both sisters deserved that much; after the marriage of Maria he doesn’t hesitate to contact her in public and when she pretends reserve he decides to conquer her again – not because he loves her but because he must prove his seductive skills before himself and all the world around. Of course the fact that he might be ruining more than one life and a reputation of the whole family in the process never even crosses his mind. He would do anything and everything for a moment of thrill.

What I didn’t like:

One small carping: I really hated the fact that Jane Austen didn’t punish Henry Crawford for his villainy. While Maria Bertram was sent into exile in the really acidic company of her aunt Norris he was left with all the privileges of a rich squire; his reputation didn’t suffer either. NOT FAIR. His only punishment? He didn’t get Fanny and he was aware what he'd lost. I wish Austen at least made him poor (gambling?) and then forced him to marry for money some horrible harpy, twice his age.

Final verdict

I may risk a statement that Mansfield Park is not an easy novel to understand. It enjoys that dubious distinction of being disliked by more of Jane Austen’s fans than any of her other novels. Perhaps it is because its themes are very different from those of her other books, which can generally be summed up by one sentence or, indeed a phrase: Sense and Sensibility is about balancing emotions and reason, Pride and Prejudice is about consequences of judging others too quickly, Emma is about growing into adulthood while being terribly nosy, and Persuasion is about giving others and yourself second chances. The theme of Mansfield Park, on the other hand, defies such a simple description. Is it an allegory of Regency England? Is it about the negative impact of slavery? Is it about the good and bad education of children? Is it about the difference between appearances and reality? Is it about the consequences of breaking with society’s rigid rules? In my opinion any, or all of those themes can, and have been applied to Mansfield Park – let it be the proof that this novel is something truly exceptional and worth reading.

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Friday, April 11, 2014


Original Publication Date: 1895
Genre: Satire/Travel
Topics: Germany, Edwardian, travel, satire
Review by : Liz Inskip-Paulk (

Jerome K. Jerome is a Victorian/Edwardian writer most famous for his literary comic masterpiece of “Three Men in a Boat”, but his range was larger than that as evidenced by the enjoyable “Diary of a Pilgrimage”. It’s a novel about an overland journey of two gentlemen who travel to see the Passion Play at Oberammergau in Germany. This play has been performed every ten years since 1634 (almost every year that ends in “0” and is a religious event for the villagers (in perpetuity) to say thanks for sparing them from a plague that ravished the surrounding countryside.

Jerome’s writing is strong, but this is a confusing work as it seemed to vacillate wildly between being pretty funny and satirical (Jerome has a good sense of humor) to serious contemplations of religion to travel writing. It’s rather a roller-coaster as I was never certain what kind of writing the next chapter would bring: would I laugh or would I be asked to consider something serious such as Christianity? (And that’s ok – this book revolves around a Christian play after all.)

Apart from that slight confusion, Jerome writes some fabulous descriptions of some of the characters that he and his traveling companion B come across especially a scene at the beer garden as they wend their way home post-play. It’s a quick read with some similar humor to “Three Men…” but also a surprisingly serious side as well.

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Review: The Magnificent Ambersons

Original Publication Date: 1918

Genre: Classic

Topics: Family drama, society  

Review by: Melissa at Avid Reader's Musings

At the turn of the 19th century the world was changing incredibly fast. From electricity to automobiles, people could either embrace the changes or get left behind. This Pulitzer-Prize winner’s title describes a wealthy Midwestern family as “magnificent” and then proceeds to chronicle their downfall during this tumultuous time.

The Ambersons’ fortune, managed by their patriarch Major Amberson, had always been there for the younger generations and they never doubted it would always been there in the future. The Major’s daughter, Isabel, married and had one son, George Amberson Minofaur. George grew up to be a self-centered young man who becomes infatuated with Lucy Morgan.

Lucy and her father Eugene Morgan have known the Ambersons their whole lives. Eugene and Isabel have always been close, though their attraction was limited to friendship after Isabel married. Years later when Isabel is widowed Eugene renews his interest to the chagrin of George. His pompous self-worth won’t even allow him to consider the match as anything less than vulgar.

I know that Isabel is the most sympathetic character, but part of me was frustrated by her actions. She allows her son to bully her into a miserable life. The fact that George is completely spoiled and expects the world to be handed to him on a silver platter has to be, at least in part, attributed to how his parents raised him. Isabel turns a blind eye to George’s cruel snobbery and there are never any consequences to his actions.

The ending feels like a really strange add on. It should have ended with George’s accident. I don’t understand what adding a trip to a psychic added to the story except to tidy everything up in an awkward way.

BOTTOM LINE: I was actually expecting to like this one less than I did. It’s not about lovable characters or romance overcoming all obstacles. It’s a story about the world changing whether you want it to or not. It’s about people making selfish decisions and the way that others are affected by those shortsighted views. It’s about hubris and jealousy, selflessness and devotion. To me those counterpoints made for a fascinating look at this time period.

“Youth cannot imagine romance apart from youth. That is why the roles of the heroes and heroines of plays are given by the managers to the most youthful actors they can find among the competent.”

The Movie: There is a 1942 film version that I watched after finishing the novel. It was written and directed by Orson Wells the year after he completed Citizen Kane. It stars Drew Barrymore's grandmother as Isabel Amberson. I was surprised that it clocked in at a measly 88 minutes. I checked online and it turns out 50 minutes had been cut from the final version of the movie and a happy ending was reshot and tacked onto the end without Wells' knowledge. Wells once said that if his original version had been released he thought it would have been a greater movie then Citizen Kane. Unfortunately the 50 minutes of cut footage were destroyed, so we'll never know.

SIDE NOTE: Tarkington is one of the only major authors from Indiana (Lew Wallace, Kurt Vonnegut, and John Green round out the short list). There is a local theatre named after him and I’m glad I finally read one of his books!
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