Let’s Talk Classics: A Round-up

I’ve made progress the past few months on my Classics Club list and thoroughly enjoyed myself in the process. I have not been timely about posting on these novels, however, so it’s time to clear the decks with some (very) mini-reviews. Let’s start with the one I read first, way back in March!

Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon by Jane Austen ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

First of all, kudos to me for finally reading the longest sitting book on my Goodreads TBR list. It had been there since 2008! I would recommend this only if you’re an Austen super fan. If you’re not, then DO read the wickedly funny Lady Susan, but you can feel free to skip the other two, which are unfinished novel fragments. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember much about them! They were fine, they just didn’t sing like her novels do. I think the seeds of great books were there but maybe just didn’t have time to blossom into being. Lady Susan is worth the read because it’s really sharp and feels more daring than Austen’s later works. It’s about a 40-something widow and mother who is just awful (in a fun way,) constantly scheming to get her daughter married off and to get herself invited to people’s houses for extended periods, all the while making eyes (and worse) with other people’s husbands. The movie adaptation that came out a couple of years ago is pretty good too and faithful to the novella.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Yes, I did finish this one back in April but it felt and still feels nearly impossible to write about it. It was worth all the time I spent reading it. It really is a marvelous adventure, filled with unlikely but very entertaining twists, dastardly characters, and a very long game of revenge. It’s a commitment but I am so glad I read it and do recommend it.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ (Classics Club Spin Book)

Initially I loved this 1944 novel because it was filled with beautiful, rich, early 20th-century English people saying witty things to one another (one of my favorite genres of entertainment.) The prose sparkled with Sebastian as one of the main characters, but when he dropped out of the story line, my attention wasn’t held as strongly. I don’t think Charles is a very lively character.  He’s kind of a jerk, especially later in the book when he’s married. The scenes on the cruise ship were my favorite parts, though. This was good; uneven, but interesting. I’d like to watch the Jeremy Irons adaptation sometime.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Yes, I said that I might like this one more than Rebecca! I can’t decide – it’s at least as good, okay? The atmosphere du Maurier creates is just as tense and suspenseful (not as Gothic, though.) Young Philip is determined to hate his Italian “cousin” (by marriage) Rachel, but when she arrives at the estate unexpectedly after her husband’s death, she confounds Philip’s preconceptions. She is a fascinating character – one minute I was intensely sympathizing with her and the next I was convinced she was shady as hell! And my feelings about Philip changed over the course of the novel too. Initially I was firmly in his camp and little by little I saw all of his flaws and stubborn blind spots. The writing is incredible and the story is perfection. Now I’m pretty sure I need to read everything else du Maurier wrote.

I’ve read 14/51 classics from my list, and I’ve got about 3.5 years to finish  I guess I need to pick up my pace a little bit and be more intentional about mixing in classics with my contemporary novels. It’s good to take stock of where I am.

What classic works have you picked up lately?

 

Count of Monte Cristo Check-In

I apologize for my absence here the past couple of weeks. We’ve all been sick at my house, the boys with the flu and I with a cold that turned into a sinus infection that has knocked me on my bottom. I’m just now starting to come out of it. Things have also been nutty at work and I’m in the midst of trying to hire a senior assistant. I haven’t had energy to write and not a lot of time to blog hop, but I have been reading! It’s time for another installment of my Count of Monte Cristo reader’s journal (covering pages 417-605.)

9780307271129Here’s what I want to say most about this book right now: Don’t be afraid of big books. For so long I put off reading this classic because its size intimidated me. I was afraid the style would be off-putting or too archaic. How wrong I was! Yes, there are sections that drag a little bit more than others, but on the whole, it’s a remarkably fresh, exciting, well-crafted story. Breaking it up and taking it slow has enabled me to enjoy this classic at my own pace while still reading other books.

Here are some plot highlights of this section (Chapters 34-45:)

  • Two young French men, Baron Franz d’Epinay and Viscount Albert de Morcerf, become acquainted with the Count in Rome. In fact, Dantès orchestrates a “kidnapping” of Albert just do he can save him. Why is Albert so special to Dantès? He’s related to someone from Dantès’ past.
  • The Count is powerful and wealthy enough to save an old associate from being executed, but he’s weird enough to make Franz and Albert watch the other criminal get executed.
  • Franz realizes he’s met the Count before, only when he partied with him in the grotto on Monte Cristo he knew his as “Sinbad.”
  • Dantès and Albert make a plan to meet in Paris at Albert’s house in exactly 3 months.
  • Who should Dantès meet at Albert’s house? Mercédès, his former fiancee, who is Albert’s MOTHER. Dear old dad is none other than Fernand. Mercédès is shaken and unnerved by The Count’s appearance, but she doesn’t say anything about her true feelings to her son.
  • Dantès buys a house in Paris and discovers that Villefort once had an illegitimate child with Madame Danglar there, and tried to kill it. Dantès’ servant, Bertuccio, rescued the child and gave him to his sister-in-law to raise.

Whew! This book certainly doesn’t lack for plot! And all the connections of the characters sometimes make me have to consult Wikipedia so I’m sure I know what’s going on. But it’s still good fun.

So I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, both here and on reading your blogs, friends. I hope you’re all staying well this winter – flu and other illnesses have been running rampant down here. My son’s school was closed because of illness for two days ahead of the holiday weekend. Drink lots of fluids, get some sleep, and wash your hands! 🙂

 

 

 

 

The Second 200(ish) Pages of The Count of Monte Cristo

(Note: I’m making my way slowly through The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas as part of my Classics Club list. I’m reading 100(ish) pages a week and writing up my thoughts reader’s journal-style every couple of weeks.)

1088140So where did we leave off last time? Oh yes, with Dantès and the Abbe Faria, his fellow prisoner and new friend, hanging out together by way of a secret tunnel they’ve carved between their two cells. Faria is showing off his homemade tools to an incredulous Dantès. Well, we pick up in this installment with the two men talking about just how Faria got his reputation for being “mad.” Apparently he has talked for years of a massive treasure that was willed to him long ago by his former boss and friend, the Compte de Spada. (The story of how the treasure is concealed and revealed to Faria is really fun and I won’t spoil it.) Guess where this supposed treasure (Dantès is skeptical) is located? The small island of Monte Cristo! And Faria, in a touching speech, wants Dantès to have it.

“You are my son, Dantès,” exclaimed the old man. “You are the child of my captivity. My profession condemns me to celibacy. God has sent you to me to console, at one and the same time, the man who could not be a father and the  prisoner who could not get free.”

And Faria extended the arm of which alone the use remained to him to the young man, who threw himself upon his neck and wept bitterly.

Fast forward a little bit, and Dantès has indeed escaped prison. I won’t tell you HOW, because that is truly one of the most inspired bits I’ve read so far and caused me to write “OMG!” in my notes. He’s now a man of 33, fourteen years since his arrest.

Then his eyes lighted up with hatred as he thought of the three men who had caused him so long and wretched a captivity.

He renewed against Danglars, Fernand, and Villefort the oath of implacable vengeance he has made in his dungeon.

He hooks up with some amiable smugglers and assumes the identity of a shipwrecked Maltese sailor. Apparently his appearance and even his voice has undergone such a great change in his fourteen years of captivity that “it was impossible that his best friend – if, indeed, he had any friend left – could recognize him; he could not recognize himself.” I had to suspend my disbelief that no one seems to recognize him, but you just have to go with it if you’re going to continue to enjoy the story. Then, in a stroke of luck, the patron of the boat that he has sailed with for a couple of months happens to want to make some sort of clandestine exchange of goods, and which small, uninhabited island would make the best out of the way place for such an exchange? Why, Monte Cristo, of course! So Dantès is able to finally go to the island and try to devise a way to search for the treasure out of eyesight and earshot of his fellow smugglers.

Does he find the treasure? Again, I don’t want to spoil things for you, but suffice it to say that he doesn’t need to keep sailing with the crew of The Young Amelia when his term of service ends.

He charges his new friend Jacopo to venture to Marseilles on an errand, to ascertain the whereabouts of his beloved father and his former fiancee, Mercédès. The news isn’t good. Assuming various identities and accents, Dantès visits both his old pals Caderousse and M. Morrel to get more of the particulars that led to his imprisonment. After playing the silent benefactor to save Morrel from his financial troubles, Dantès leans in to his dark side, with this rousing speech:

“Farewell kindness, humanity, and gratitude! Farewell to all the feelings that expand the heart! I have been Heaven’s substitute to recompense the good – now the God of Vengeance yields to me his power to punish the wicked!”

Finally, we get a strange little diversion with the story of two young, elite Frenchman, Albert and Franz, who want to travel around Europe. The last 50 pages or so of this section are a little strange and rambling and I’m not sure exactly where it’s headed. I mean, obviously Dantès is playing the long game here in his quest for vengeance – after all, there are 1000 more pages to go!

This continues to be a very entertaining read and I’m thoroughly invested in seeing how this all plays out for Dantès. I want to see Danglars, Fernand, and Villefort get what’s coming to them, and good!  Stay tuned for more in a couple of weeks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First 200 Pages of The Count of Monte Cristo

I’m doing it, friends! I’m finally reading this book!

And it’s terrific.

I’ll be posting informal reading updates every 200 pages or so. These are not going to be in-depth lit-crit examinations of the book but more like a reader’s journal. Reading about 100 pages a week works for me, allowing me to continue reading other books and making progress on my other reading goals. I’m pleasantly surprised by how entertaining and easy to read this is. I don’t know what I expected, but I suppose I thought it would be harder going than it has been so far. Where do we get these notions of “classic” novels, that they should somehow be like work?

9780141392462Anyway, the book. Do you guys know how the plot gets rolling? There’s this young sailor, Dantès, who’s virtuous and upstanding, well-liked by his men. He’s about to be married to his true love, the beautiful Mercédès.  He does an errand for his dying Captain, delivering a letter to Elba, where the deposed Napoleon is exiled. Upon his return, and about the become Captain of the ship, he is accused of treason for his errand. How did this devastating turn of events come to pass? Three men, jealous of Dantès for different reasons – Danglars, Caderousse, and Fernand – have conspired to frame him.

The villains are villainous, although I suspect one of them may have a change of heart at some point. One of them I absolutely hate. (Guess which one?) Mercédès is pretty much a non-entity at this point; I get nothing from her except she’s awfully blind to Fernand’s true nature. Dantès’s father is a heartbreaking case.  The injustice of the whole thing propels the plot along. I want to keep turning the pages because I want Dantès to get his revenge! And I know it’s coming, but as I have 1200 more pages to go, probably not for a while. 🙂

Then there’s the whole Villefort/Noirtier side plot, the thing that takes the accusations of the three conspirators to the next level and gets Dantès imprisoned. I’m not sure what to make of Villefort yet  – he’s selfish and conniving – but the meeting with his father was certainly a dramatic moment.

I LOVE that Dantès has found a pal in prison! And they’re doing all sorts of fun prison break stuff together! The Abbé is practically MacGyver (do people remember that show?) He’s made pens out of fish bones, paper out of hankerchiefs, and ink out of soot and blood.

“There is one thing puzzles me still,” observed Dantès, “and that is how you managed to do all this by daylight?”

“I worked at night also,” replied Faria.

“Night! – why, for Heaven’s sake, are your eyes like a cat’s , that you can see to work in the dark?”

“Indeed they are not; but a beneficent Creator has supplied man with ability and intelligent to supply the want of the power you allude to. I furnished myself with a light quite as good as that possessed by the cat.”

“You did? – Pray tell me how?”

“I separated the fat from the meat served to me, melted it, and made a most capital oil; here is my lamp.” So saying, the abbe exhibited a sort of vessel very similar to those employed upon the occasion of public illuminations.

“But how do you procure a light?”

“Oh, here are two flints, and a morsel of burnt linen.”

“And your matches?”

“Were easily prepared, – I feigned a disorder of the skin, and asked for a little sulphur, which was readily supplied.”

I love how nonchalant the Abbé is about the whole thing.

81lq9cbf+sl._sy445_Are there classic novels you’ve put off reading for one reason or another? What’s been stopping you from getting to them? Is the movie version of this book any good? Let me know in the comments.