Classics Club: The Warden by Anthony Trollope

I’m trying to tackle my Classics Club list seriously this year, so my goal is to read and review one per month. I decided this month to go for one that I owned – yes for reading my own books! I had never read Anthony Trollope before and thought he was an author I should sample. I found an older paperback edition of the first two novels in his famous Chronicles of Barsetshire – The Warden and Barchester Towers – at a used book store for $2.50. I also took the plunge and subscribed to Libro.fm for the audio book version, just in case the book was too dense to get through on paper alone.

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Not the prettiest cover ever!

 

I’m happy to say that I enjoyed both versions – Trollope’s tone is light-hearted and conspiratorial and I didn’t find the writing to be difficult or dense in any way. The characters and story were engaging enough to keep my interest, mostly. (There were a few sections I thought could have used an editor, but that’s true of many classics, I think.) The narrator of the audio book, Simon Vance, has a melodious, soothing voice. After all the dreadful news at home and around the world the past couple of weeks, it was relaxing and comforting to sink into a world where the biggest problem was whether or not someone deserved the salary they were getting.

Ah yes, the plot: The titular Warden, Mr. Harding, has his quiet, pleasant life turned upside down by, of all people, his likely future son-in-law. John Bold takes it upon himself to question whether or not Mr. Harding’s 800-pounds-a-year salary as Warden of the old-age home that the Church is running is just under the provisions of the benefactor’s will as it was written. (I must admit, I didn’t really get why he decided to do this. I may have missed something and if you’ve read this, please enlighten me.) Lawyers are hired on both sides, and the press gets wind of the “scandal” and starts smearing Mr. Harding’s good name. And he really is a decent chap – the old men in the home love him, he takes good care of them and grounds and gardens, and plays his violincello for the men regularly. His younger daughter Eleanor lives with him, and everyone seems confident that Mr. Bold will propose to her soon. His oldest daughter is married to the Archdeacon, Dr. Grantley. Grantley has a very forceful personality and is incensed by what he sees as a frivolous attack on the Church. When Harding suggests that he resign the position, because he can’t bear the personal attacks, Grantley maintains that he must not because he’d be putting future Wardens in a bad position. Grantley is not a very likeable character, but he’s not cartoonishly villainous – just very fixed in the certainty of his opinions and very pushy.

Anyway, there’s not a lot of plot here, really. Will Harding resign? If he resigns how shall he not starve? Will Bold and Eleanor still get married now that he’s stirred up all this trouble for her father? Will the old men at the home get their extra hundred pounds a year? I enjoyed this novel, and I wanted to see how things would resolve, but I don’t think it convinced me that I need to read anything else by Trollope. What do you think – have you read any of the other Chronicles of Barsetshire? Or any of his other works? Please let me know if you think I should add something else by him to my next Classics Club list (if I make one – ha!)

 

Classics Club Spin #22: A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor

Oh my goodness, how do I write about this short story collection? I feel enormous trepidation as I begin this post. This book is just really freakin’ weird. 😃 And dark. And twisted. And brilliant. But I was relieved to finish it, so what does that say?

Ten stories filled with mean people, ignorant people, unwanted visitors, negligent parents, gossips, hypocrites, killers, racists, xenophobes… sounds like a swell way to spend your reading time, right? Yet when I entered into each story (one a day, that’s all I could take) I couldn’t pry my eyeballs from it. The characters, despicable though they might be, were so fully realized and the stories so well constructed that I was hooked.

The collection starts with the title story, and it’s a shocker. A family of four and the grandmother are traveling to a Florida on a road trip, with the grandkids sassing off to their racist, annoying grandmother constantly, until she tricks the whole family into driving down this dirt road so they can see an old abandoned plantation that she “remembered.” (She gets the kids excited about it by craftily telling them that there is a legendary secret panel in a wall in which the family silver was kept.) When a chance accident happens on the deserted road and a band of sketchy dudes comes along on the scene, all hell breaks loose. It’s an eye-opening way to start off, to say the least.

Some of the stories are a bit more sedate but no less compelling. My favorite story was “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,”which features a precocious, mischievous young girl putting up with a weekend visit from her boy-crazy, older second cousins, Susan and Joanne. There’s a traveling fair in town, and two local boys are enlisted to take the girls and get them out of the house for an evening. The title of the story comes from an anecdote that the girls laughingly tell at dinner about part of their Catholic school education.

— if he should “behave in an ungentlemanly manner with them in the back of an automobile.” Sister Perpetua said they were to say, “Stop, sir! I am a Temple of the Holy Ghost!” and that would put an end to it.

When the girls come back from the fair they obliquely tell the child (we don’t learn her name) about something they saw in the “freak tent” that unnerved them.

The tent where it was had been divided into two parts by a black curtain, one side for men and one for women. The freak went from one side to the other, talking first to the men and then to the women, but everyone could hear. The stage ran all the way across the front. The girls heard the freak say to the men, “I’m going to show you this and if you laugh, God may strike you the same way.” The freak had a country voice, slow and nasal, and neither high nor low, just flat. “God made me thisaway and if you laugh He may strike you the same way. This is the way He wanted me to be and I ain’t disputing His way. I’m showing you because I got to make the best of it. I expect you to act like ladies and gentlemen. I never done it to myself nor had a thing to do with it but I’m making the best of it. I don’t dispute hit.” Then there was a long silence on the other side of the tent and finally the freak left the men and came over to the women’s side and said the same thing.

The girls explain that the “freak” was both man and woman but the child doesn’t understand what that means. She later has a vision as she goes to sleep that the “freak” was leading a church service and says they are a “Temple of the Holy Ghost.” Still later in church she again thinks of the “freak” and how they said that this was how God wanted them to be. It’s a quiet, oddly beautiful story, and I loved how the child could embody a kindness and acceptance towards the “freak” that the rest of the characters couldn’t seem to muster.

I’m glad I read this and glad that the Classics Club Spin landed on this selection. I know it’s a hard sell, but I do think this is worth the read. I have all sorts of questions about what O’Connor was like, why she wrote such dark, religious, tense stories. This is the kind of book I would love to have discussed in a classroom setting because I know that I’m missing some nuances and symbolism along the way. I rated it five stars on Goodreads but it’s not one I can call a favorite, simply because I am confident that I will never be inclined to read it again. If anyone has any biographical knowledge of O’Connor or thoughts about any of these stories, I’d love to hear them!

Format: Library paperback, 252 pages.

See my original Classics Club list here.

Classics Club Spin #22 List

It’s time again for another Classics Club Spin, so here’s a rare non-Friday post from me. If I can read and review whatever classic book the Spin Gods choose for me by January 31 then I’ll be doing great (I’ve got some chunksters here so who knows?!) Here’s my list:

  1. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  2. The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
  3. A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
  5. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  6. Howard’s End – E.M. Forster
  7. Wives and Daughters – Elizabeth Gaskell
  8.  The Thin Man – Dashiell Hammett
  9. Life Among the Savages – Shirley Jackson
  10. The Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery
  11. The Gowk Storm – Nancy Morrison
  12. Beloved – Toni Morrison
  13. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories – Flannery O’Connor
  14. The Last Gentleman – Walker Percy
  15. Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner
  16. The Warden – Anthony Trollope
  17. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
  18. Stoner – John Williams
  19. To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
  20. Native Son – Richard Wright
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Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

On Sunday the 22nd, they’ll pick a number and then I’ll know which book I have to look forward to in January. Which one would you pick for me?

Quicksand by Nella Larsen (CC Spin #21)

Frankly the question came to this: what was the matter with her? Was there, without her knowing it, some peculiar lack in her? Absurd. But she began to have a feeling of discouragement and hopelessness? Why couldn’t she be happy, content, somewhere? Other people managed, somehow, to be. To put it plainly, didn’t she know how? Was she incapable of it?

Back in January of 2018 I read and reviewed Nella Larsen’s 1929 classic novel, Passing, and noted that I’d hardly ever come across a novel as slim yet as jam-packed with ideas ripe for discussion. I could definitely say the say thing about Larsen’s first novel, Quicksand (1928.) Both are arresting, probing explorations of race in early twentieth century America, both very readable. And while Passing is perhaps the tighter story, I found Quicksand to be the one that presented me with even bigger ideas to contemplate.

When we meet Helga Crane she is a young biracial woman (her father was black, her mother a white Danish immigrant.) Her mother died when she was very young and she never lived with her father; Helga feels adrift and as if she has no “people.” She is teaching at a Southern school for African Americans and engaged to a male teacher at the school. But she is not happy and doesn’t agree with the school’s educational philosophy. She makes a snap decision to leave the school and go to Chicago, where her mother’s brother lives, to see if he can help her begin anew. So begins her search for belonging and happiness, which takes her from Chicago to Harlem, to Denmark, and back again to the American South.

But just what did she want? Barring a desire for material security, gracious ways of living, a profusion of lovely clothes, and a goodly share of envious admiration, Helga Crane did know, couldn’t tell. But there was, she knew, something else. Happiness, she supposed. Whatever that might be.

Helga never does seem to find a place where she is viewed as a human being, treated superficially as an exotic, sexualized beauty in Denmark and feeling trapped in Harlem by strict rules of social etiquette and her companion’s obsession with ” the race problem.” I felt sympathy for her but also at times felt irritated by how rashly she made major life decisions. She was a compelling character and I eagerly turned the pages to see if Helga would ever find a safe place to land. Her life takes a surprising turn towards the end of the book, but I won’t spoil anything because this short classic is worthy of a place on your TBR.

This knowledge, this certainty of the division of her life into two parts in two lands, into physical freedom in Europe and spiritual freedom in America, was unfortunate, inconvenient, expensive.

Larsen is a thoughtful writer and her biography is ripe for a good biopic. Quicksand seems heavily autobiographical and I wondered how much more she could have written if she grew up in a later time, a time where biracial people’s lives weren’t so restricted by laws and societal conventions. She spent most of her life as a nurse, a career at which she, by all accounts, excelled and enjoyed. There are three short stories I haven’t yet read but that is all that’s left of her work for me to read. It’s a shame there isn’t more to explore, but I’m grateful to have found the novels she left behind.

This is the 16th book out of 51 on my Classics Club list, which you can see in this post.

Classics Club Spin #21 List

It’s time for another Classics Club Spin! I am so grateful for this prompt because otherwise the classics on my TBR list would get pushed down to the bottom. Having this nudge is a life-saver.

I chose 20 books from my master list and put them in a random number generator. Here’s the result:

1. The Last Gentleman – Walker Percy

2. Beloved – Toni Morrison

3. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte

4. The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

5. Quicksand -Nella Larsen

6. Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko

7. The Gowk Storm – Nancy Morrison

8. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

9. Wives and Daughters – Elizabeth Gaskell

10. The Blue Castle – L.M. Montgomery

11. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

12. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

13. 1984 – George Orwell

14. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

15. Crossing to Safety – Wallace Stegner

16. Howard’s End – E.M. Forster

17. A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle

18. The Sweet Dove Died – Barbara Pym

19. The Warden – Anthony Trollope

20. Native Son – Richard Wright

I’ve got some chunksters in there which makes me a bit nervous, but I’ve got to read them sometime. We’ll find out Monday which number is picked and I’ll post then. I’ll have to read and review my classic by October 31.

What would be your pick from my list?

Five Sentence Reviews : Two Classics and a New Best Seller

The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G.Wells

This is short – my edition was 131 pages including an Introduction and a Forward by Margaret Atwood. It was descriptive, atmospheric, and unsettling, and the beginning is mysterious enough to hook the reader. I can see it’s rightful place as a science fiction classic and also how it’s exploration of science and ethics would make for great classroom discussion. But I can’t summon much enthusiasm for it. It’s pretty bleak and parts of it are very disturbing. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie (Miss Marple #3)

Another short book- my paperback was 207 pages- but this one felt MUCH longer. Intriguing premise: a young attractive blond woman is found strangled in a country estate library and of course there are many suspects. Miss Marple didn’t make much of an impression on me here and she disappears for much of the book. The end provides a great twist but it took forever to get there. I love Christie’s other great detective, Hercule Poirot – am I just being too hard on Miss Marple? ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

This was delightful; it reminded me of Elinor Lipman. A baseball player struggling with the “yips” and a youngish widow who isn’t exactly grieving meet when one rents an apartment in the other’s overly big house. Sparks smolder slowly and eventually burst into flames. I appreciated the modesty with which the romantic scenes were written ( I don’t really want a play by play.) This was a cute, smartly written novel about the value of good therapy, true friendship, and two people on the journey to wholeness ( but not co-dependent!) ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

A request for you Christie fans out there: What is your favorite Miss Marple book?

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?