thoughts on how I like to read and Mansfield Park

So it’s been almost a year since I’ve last written here, but tonight I made myself a cup of chamomile lavender tea (due to reading a passage from Proust about tea) and thought of this blog again (the title Lavender Tisane is a bit of a reference to Proust, even though he talks about lime blossom tisane, not lavender. Close enough.).

I’ve been taking a break from book blogging because I was tired of feeling forced to read all the right books that everyone else was raving about. Sometimes it’s nice to be challenged to read something new and different, but personally, I have to feel free to read whatever I want, whenever I want, and to not feel guilty about being myself when I read.

Last year I read a lot of fantasy, for teens, adults, and kids, including four different takes on the Beauty & the Beast fairy tale (my favourite is Beauty by Robin McKinley), and I went back to The Lord of the Rings because I loved The Hobbit movie. I also read some adorable kids books, like The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart and The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall (the third in the Penderwicks series, which are about four sisters and are the absolute BEST, so read them if you want modern-day Little Women homages and general nostalgic the bestness). I also read lots of my lovely Jane Austen, as usual, and more Georgette Heyer. What I didn’t do was force myself to read a ton of books I wasn’t completely into. I didn’t even finish 50 books last year! I just felt sick of putting so much pressure on myself over something that’s supposed to be a fun, relaxing hobby.

One thing about my reading style is that I start a lot of books that I just don’t finish. I have tried to resolve that I will finish more books, but if I’m not in the mood for them, then it’s just not going to happen. I started Little Dorrit last year in the fall (at a very stressful family wedding out in the Maritimes–I finally got to see the Anne of Green Gables museum and all that at Prince Edward Island, but my husband wasn’t able to come with me and there were crazy family times) and had to take a break from it because it was making me too depressed. I picked it up again this year, but the same thing happened. Will I ever finish it? Who knows, hopefully, but I’m not going to push myself. Part of the reason is because I already have depression and don’t need what I do for fun to make me feel worse. I want to read to feel better. Other people have different motives for reading and that’s good too, but I no longer want to feel pressured into copying whatever everyone else is doing.

In the past, I’ve read the entire Twilight series because I enjoyed it. I’ve also read the entirely of In Search of Lost Time, also because I enjoyed it. I love variety in my reading, as long as it’s something I chose and that I’m enjoying.

Anyway, now that that reading manifesto or rant is out of the way… I’m currently rereading Mansfield Park. I love Fanny even if she’s not the most exciting Austen heroine (I’m very fond of all of them and can relate in different ways to all of them too), but I find it hard to read about her struggles with Mrs. Norris and the like because I’ve also been super shy and overlooked or looked down on and didn’t always know how to speak up for myself. I’ve never been a big fan of the Crawfords, although it varies with each reading how more or less sympathetic I feel towards Henry Crawford.

When I read it last year, I felt bad that Edmund couldn’t see Fanny’s beauty sooner, as Henry Crawford does. I wanted Fanny to be with someone who loved her passionately, like Henry does. But this time, all I see is how selfish Henry’s love is. He’s all excited that he’s going to raise poor little nobody Fanny to a position of importance due to his power and of course she will be eternally grateful to him and since she’s so gentle she’ll never have her own opinions but always do whatever he wants, blah blah. He never stops to consider if she actually loves him or if he’s worthy of someone as good as she is, he simply assumes that because he’s rich and charming she’ll be thrilled. Mr. Darcy also assumed that Elizabeth would jump at him for his money and whatever else (certainly not his charm), but when she proved him wrong, he went out and CHANGED for the better. He didn’t try to manipulate her, he actually listened to her and became a better person because of her. 

(Sidenote, I’ve been watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on youtube and very much enjoying them, although I hate waiting for the next one! I don’t know if other book bloggers are watching them, but hopefully some are so we can talk about it!)

So I am reading Mansfield Park slowly, because I have to stop to feel sad for Fanny and worry about the next drama coming her way via Mrs. Norris and the Crawfords, whether it’s an unwanted and pressured marriage proposal or a difficult day out cutting roses in the sun! I’m sensitive enough that a lot of conflict in books gives me grief. I also enjoy just savouring Jane Austen’s writing and not rushing through it. There are other books I want to read after this, but I like taking my time to really live in Austen’s world.

I read Pride & Prejudice before this (due to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and the 200th anniversary of P&P) and also read it slowly. The language and dialogue of Pride & Prejudice especially is so familiar to me, so iconic, that I didn’t want to just rush through it and only enjoy the wit on the surface, I wanted to see beneath to the real characters and their motivations. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries really helped me to see the story in a fresh light, when sometimes in the past it’s felt a little stale to me, and I was intrigued by the story of Elizabeth and Darcy and seeing them not just in a romantic light, where all their fights are ooh so sexy, but looking at them as people still growing up and finding themselves and how they influence each other and change each other.

Well, I think this is enough for now. I don’t know how often I will write here in the future and I certainly don’t plan on getting involved in reading challenges and whatnot, I just wanted a place to share some of my thoughts about the books I read.

Strolling on a Sunday

Hopefully this will be a short stroll today, but we’ll see what happens.

For starters, despite my complaints about Anna Karenina in my last post, after I wrote my review of it, I began rethinking it and also Tolstoy’s view of spirituality in the final chapters. Despite my complaints about how Tolstoy portrays women (and how he treated his own wife at times, see a bit of Sophie Tolstoy’s diary quoted by Danielle at A Work in Progress here), I must admit that I began to contemplate exploring my own spirituality again.

Those who have been following my come-and-go attempts at book blogging for the last few years may know that I grew up in a very strict charismatic (you’d think that was an oxymoron, but no) Christian home, where I felt pressure and guilt all the time to be the perfect little christian girl and also experienced physical and emotional abuse from my mother for not being perfect enough. Eventually in university, I ended up in a huge depression and was very close to a suicide attempt because I’d pushed myself way too hard to be that perfect christian girl, without allowing myself any space just to be myself and enjoy life without judging myself all the time. So since then while I’ve been muddling my way through trying to get out of depression, I became very bitter towards christianity.

And oddly, Tolstoy’s simplified approach to Christianity (he didn’t believe in miracles, thank goodness, since I’m sick of excessively showy displays of faith healing and that sort of thing, which is what I grew up on. He also didn’t like smug religious people who thought they had it all worked out either.) was the first time in a while that I found it appealing. Tolstoy was far from perfect, but he tried very hard to live for something more than himself, to do better than the average aristocrat of his day. I began to consider that the point of Christianity is not about trying to be self-centeredly perfect on your own (Tolstoy’s failures were also about his ego getting in the way too much, I think. Despite his faith, he was terrified of death, of the cessation of his all-important self. Realizing that about him helped me see that in the past I’d also been trying to go about it in the wrong way, to impress God with my goodness), it is about accepting grace and love in the midst of failure.

I don’t intend to become extreme with my faith anymore, since for me, that way leads to depression. I’ve been quietly thinking these things through for about a week now, looking for books to inspire and encourage me on this new path (the first thing I do whenever I have a new interest is head to the library!) and trying to be gentle with myself in the midst of these changes. So I’m happy for an inner spring renewal just as it’s starting to warm up outside and have had some lovely walks this week, full of fresh spring air.

As for what I’ve been reading, Ana’s review (at things mean a lot) of Geek Girls Unite by Leslie Simon intrigued me, so I zipped through it last Sunday afternoon. As she says, it’s more written in a magazine style for teens who are trying to figure out where they fit in geekdom and to be supportive of any sort of geeky (she defines this as being passionate about any specific thing) interests. That said, it’s not without its flaws — for one, I’m a literary geek, but I’ve never longed for my husband to look more like Jonathan Safran Foer! And I far prefer 19th century chunksters to contemporary hipstery writers like Foer or David Eggers, etc etc. Actually, the all-too-brief history she gave of women in writing left me appalled — she completely skipping over THE BRONTES, GEORGE ELIOT, and other amazing women writers of the 19th century that writers today are still only a pale copy of, and jumped straight to the 20th century and the likes of Dorothy Parker (who’s not bad, but she’s no Charlotte, Emily, or Anne!), saying something like, well there wasn’t really much going in with women writers before…. Excuse me??? British women writers of the 19th century were amazing! She does give Jane Austen a consolation prize/mention later on, so that was covered, but honestly. I’d rather read Jane Eyre and Middlemarch over The Bell Jar any day. For one thing, those women made their own happy endings, despite their lack of Sylvia Plath’s more privileged education.

And overall, for a book supposedly about geeks, it had a lot of rather hipstery recommendations going on, especially in the movie, music, and book sections. The point of being geeky is not to become cool, it’s just to like what you like. You like musical theatre or ancient history, great. Be passionate about that and who cares if you like the right kinds of art, like Wes Anderson movies and music by Patti Smith.

I do like this book for reminding me that at times I’ve tried too hard to be cool to impress literary book snobs, etc, and forgot to keep in touch with what I actually like. And at other times, my strict religious approach to life led me to throw out geeky things I really loved. I think that because I denied who I really was at those times, I now have a harder time remembering what it is I really love now. So I’ve now made a list of things that I’ve been passionate about over the years to re-explore some of them and rediscover my passion again and I don’t intend to abandon those interests (and ultimately myself) anymore. I’ve gone back to listening to the christian group Jars of Clay since I used to like them in my teens, but I also see a lot of spirituality and meaning in Harry Potter too. So it’s all a balance.

And I also just finished reading A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz today. Claire’s review (at The Captive Reader) of it last year got me interested and I finally got it out from the library in February. I actually read most of it then and it was what prompted me to go back to Tolstoy in the front place. For starters, I loved it, it’s such an insightful look into what Austen had to say about life and how we can constantly learn something new from the everyday of our regular lives. There were so many good ideas there, about learning to grow in love, instead of fall in love (from Sense & Sensibility) and learning how to grow up and take responsibility for your actions, but also to stay young and open and curious in your approach to life (Northanger Abbey). His focus on what you can learn from Jane Austen helped me to go into Tolstoy with the same approach, with ultimately good results. I could say more, but since most of the book isn’t fresh in my mind anymore and since this has been long enough already, this is going to be it for now!

As to what I’m reading next… after realizing that there don’t seem to be that many christian authors who just write really well (if anyone can think of any, please recommend them! As it is I will probably rely mostly on my 19th century favourites who were also christians in their own varied ways, aka, Austen, Gaskell, Bronte, Tolstoy, the usual suspects. I may also reread the Narnia and Lord of the Rings books the next time I get into fantasy again. There is also Madeleine L’Engle and since I love A Wrinkle in Time and reread it for comfort just late last year, I’m looking forward to reading the rest of her books), I thought I’d do an experiment. I was going to put this off until next year, but I decided that if the Pevear & Volokhonsky translation of War & Peace was on the shelf at my local library when I went there yesterday, then I’d read it this year. And there it was. So obviously I am still more than a little bit into Tolstoy! I also found Gilead by Marilynne Robinson on the shelf and since Rachel recommended that to me a while back, I’m giving it a go too and really enjoying it.

And yet again, another long post/stroll. Oh well, off to enjoy a book and a walk on this beautiful spring day.

Reflections on Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

So I finally finished Anna Karenina last night, but I’m not quite sure how to review it. There’s so much I could say that it seems overwhelming. First off, despite my previous post, I ended up not liking as much as I did from my first reading of it three and a half years ago. (Side note: the painting below is titled Portrait of Princess Yekaterina Alekseyevna Vasilchikova by Ivan Kramskoy, 1867, Russia. And also note, there may be a few spoilers here, although nothing that doesn’t relate to a basic discussion of the plot.)

The main problem is that although Anna Karenina is billed as a romance and titled for a woman who should be the main character, it is also very much a ‘state of the nation’ novel and I would say much more about Tolstoy’s alter-ego character Levin than Anna herself. The nation under discussion throughout the book is of course Russia in the 1870s (the copious endnotes in the Pevear & Volokhonsky translation helped me to make sense of all the issues being discussed; since I’d originally read it in the Constance Garnett translation without notes, I think I missed a lot of the political meanings in the book the first time), and Levin’s many (increasingly tedious) discussions with other men throughout the book on politics, religion, farming (yes, Russian farming in a book supposedly all about romance! See what I mean — it’s been misleadingly categorized!), art, etc, develop many of Tolstoy’s own ideas about every topic he thinks is worth writing about. Meanwhile, while he does sometimes write perceptively from the point of view three main female characters (the adulterous Anna herself, plus Levin’s pretty, good, and slightly bland wife Kitty, and Kitty’s child-burdened sister Dolly), they do not get nearly as much page time as the men, especially Levin.

I know Levin has his fans (for some reason) and at the beginning of the book, I too could empathize with him. He takes delight in working on his country estates with the peasants (called muzhiks, who were formerly serfs until they were freed in 1861, just ten years or so before the action of the story) and it was refreshing to read about his love of nature and working in the country. I grew up on a farm, so I could appreciate that. But during one of several hunting scenes, I began to get impatient. The hunting scene had no real important purpose in the story, it was probably simply there because Tolstoy himself enjoyed hunting (despite also being a vegetarian and against violence at some point in his life…). And that is the problem with the character of Levin: obviously Tolstoy thinks he’s endlessly fascinating, because he gets to share all his (Tolstoy’s) own endlessly fascinating thoughts about everything! But I’m not interested, especially since Levin is often awkward in society and never seems to catch on to what everyone else is talking about, but spends most of his time criticizing them. Levin often seems child-like, he’s willing to admit he doesn’t get things instead of just pretending to be as clever as everyone else, and I don’t have that kind of social courage to act like that myself, so perhaps all of his constant social embarrassments just made me wish he would at least pretend a little more to be normal and get along.

Levin seems to be an excessively didactic character, there only to act as a mouthpiece for all of Tolstoy’s views about every issue in Russia at the time. I wish Tolstoy could have separated out all of those long, boring male-dominated conversations about politics and ‘big issues’ out of the novel, put them in some kind of ranting pamphlet and left the actual story alone for readers to enjoy without all the sermonizing! Instead, every time any group of men get together, they begin discussing some current event and then Levin has to argue with them and angst over it afterwards, and it doesn’t serve the story at all, in my opinion. (I’m sure others, most likely those who share more of Tolstoy’s views, would disagree with me.)

The other main character, Anna Karenina, is not entirely sympathetic to me either. The first time I read the book, I was fascinated by her and this was why I considered it something of a favourite. Anna is beautiful, charming, and intelligent, but on this read I’ve noticed that her main flaw seems to be selfishness. She also deliberately turns a blind eye to reality, literally narrowing her eyes to life so that she can pretend not to see how her own actions affect her, perhaps so she can go on blaming all of her problems on others. Of course Tolstoy means her story to be an object lesson in what happens to women who behave badly and rebel against the conventions of society; although supposedly he found some sympathy for her as he went along, it doesn’t save her from her tragic fate.

In contrast, her brother Stiva (Dolly’s husband), who also sleeps around, is forgiven by his wife and why? Because women don’t have control or power in their relationships. Dolly is devastated that she’s worn out from bearing all his children, while he’s still able to dress up and live it up like a bachelor. She’s no longer attractive to him from having so many children, and yet she’s supposed to forgive him and carry on, in part because she simply has no money to raise five (or more) children on her own. (Although it seems that her husband did marry her in part for her inherited land, but he’s the one selling it off to raise money for his own indebted goings-on.) So Stiva is able to happily carry on fooling around throughout the whole novel without much censure, while Anna’s adultery in comparison is a massive issue, obviously because she’s a woman. (I found out from the book Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes that Tolstoy himself slept around a fair amount, often with the peasant women on his own estate! Perhaps even after his marriage…??)

Anyway. There’s more I’ve been thinking about this novel, but I don’t know how to put all of it into words. Karenin, Anna’s husband, is actually quite a sympathetic and sad character in the end, although initially he comes across as cold and rather heartless. He’s sarcastic with Anna just when she’s trying not to give in to Vronsky’s courting of her, instead of showing her the love and attention she craves. And yet the drama that develops around the threesome of Anna, her lover, and her husband, eventually causes Karenin to crack open and face his emotions, to become a better person, at least for a time. Tolstoy can be heartbreakingly perceptive about all his seven main characters (Anna, Karenin, Vronsky, Kitty, Levin, Stiva, Dolly — all of them tied together in various ways, for example, Vronsky is casually courting Kitty until he meets Anna) and various other more minor characters, but to me, he returns far too often to Levin’s (ie, his own) perspective. Yes, Levin cares about others, yes he tries to do good when others are selfish, yes he questions his life and wants to find greater meaning for it, yes his slow romance with Kitty is sweet and touching but but but. There’s just too much of his story and it’s too day-to-day — almost as if Anna’s scandalous side of the story is simply thrown in there just to make Tolstoy’s own regular life and thoughts novel-worthy. It seems slightly too self-indulgent, even if it is considered one of the truly great novels.

Despite all this criticism, obviously I did read the whole thing and twice at that, so there are some truly great scenes in it. There’s the ball where Anna and Vronsky first dance together, shown tellingly from Kitty’s perspective, with her heart sinking as she realizes Vronsky no longer cares for her. There’s Levin and Kitty skating together in Moscow and their friendship and yet awkwardness together. There’s the night-time train ride with Anna trying to read a novel (someone has suggested it’s by Trollope) and not able to stop thinking about Vronsky and then meeting him at a train station at night in the country, with the snow swirling all around them. There’s Vronsky’s big horse race. There’s even Levin mowing at harvest time with the peasants, which has a quiet peacefulness and grandeur of its own. There are truly many great and genuinely entertaining parts in this novel. I don’t even mind the very spiritual ending of the book, with Levin finally coming to some sort of religious epiphany. I just wish the story was more tightly focused on the seven main characters, instead of Tolstoy trying to throw in solutions to all the ills of late 19th century Russia at once. Admittedly, given that it’s Russia, there seem to have been some major ills going on! But given that the book is supposedly focused around the topic of the importance of the family (as the introduction in my edition states) and how the various families of the main characters function or fail to function, that should have been enough of a topic to go on.

Perhaps the political element was more relevant when it was first published, as novels about 9/11 or what-have-you are now. Maybe including these elements that seem so pertinent at the time dates a novel too much? Jane Austen famously didn’t even reference the Napoleonic Wars in her books, and yet she is read with great pleasure today for her still relevant character studies. She tried not to include references to ideas or objects that would date her books and they have a timeless quality to them still, two hundred years later. I do love some of Tolstoy’s period specific details though, like how he describes Anna and Kitty’s clothes at the ball (which is why I included the painting above, it makes me think of Anna). So I will end with my favourite description of clothes in all literature, written by the excessively moralistic Tolstoy of all people!

 Though Kitty’s toilette, coiffure and all the preparations for the ball had cost her a good deal of trouble and planning, she was now entering the ballroom, in her intricate tulle gown over a pink underskirt, as freely and simply as if all these rosettes and laces, and all the details of her toilette, had not cost her and her household a moment’s attention, as if she had been born in this tulle and lace, with this tall coiffure, topped by a rose with two leaves.

… Kitty was having one of her happy days. Her dress was not tight anywhere, the lace bertha stayed in place, the rosettes did not get crumpled or come off; the pink shoes with high, curved heels did not pinch, but delighted her little feet. The thick braids of blond hair held to her little head like her own. All three buttons on her long gloves, which fitted but did not change the shape of her arms, fastened without coming off. The black velvet ribbon of her locket encircled her neck with particular tenderness. This velvet ribbon was enchanting, and at home, as she looked at her neck in the mirror, she felt it could almost speak. All the rest might be doubted, but the ribbon was enchanting. Kitty also smiled here at the ball as she glanced at it in the mirror. In her bare shoulders and arms she felt a cold, marble-like quality that she especially liked. Her eyes shone, and her red lips could not help smiling from the sense of her own attractiveness.

And then girlish Kitty, who assumes she’s the belle of the ball, encounters Anna, whom she expects to have dressed in the clothes of a matron (the colour lilac), but is instead more of a 19th century femme fatale…

Anna was not in lilac, as Kitty had absolutely wanted, but in a low-cut black velvet dress, which revealed her full shoulders and bosom, as if shaped from old ivory, and her rounded arms with their very small, slender hands. The dress was all trimmed with Venetian guipure lace. On her head, in her black hair, her own without admixture, was a small garland of pansies, and there was another on her black ribbon sash among the white lace. Her coiffure was inconspicuous. Conspicuous were only those wilful little ringlets of curly hair that adorned her, always coming out on her nape and temples. Around her firm, shapely neck was a string of pearls.

Kitty had seen Anna every day, was in love with her, and had imagined her inevitably in lilac. But now, seeing her in black, she felt that she had never understood all her loveliness. She saw her now in a completely new and, for her, unexpected way. Now she understood that Anna could not have been in lilac, that her loveliness consisted precisely in always standing out from what she wore, that what she wore was never seen on her. And the black dress with luxurious lace was not seen on her; it was just a frame, and only she was seen — simple, natural, graceful, and at the same time gay and animated.

… She was enchanting in her simple black dress, enchanting were her full arms with the bracelets on them, enchanting her firm neck with its string of pearls, enchanting her curly hair in disarray, enchanting the graceful, light movements of her small feet and hands, enchanting that beautiful face in its animation; but there was something terrible and cruel in her enchantment.

 The contrast between the two women in this scene, merely through their clothes, is wonderfully done and I often think of it with pleasure. So there you have it, the highs and lows of my experiences in reading Tolstoy.

Introducing the Sunday Stroll

Since the Sunday Salon membership is full, I thought I’d start something a little different for myself: the Sunday Stroll. It’s inspired by the French flâneur — a stroller, lounger, saunterer, loafer, through a city in order to experience it rather than to arrive at any specific destination. This is how I often tend to read, I pick up a lot of books I never finish, although I’d still like to discuss them, since they still have impact and meaning for me. So on Sundays I can recount the strolls I’ve taken through books and/or the bookish world. (Ie, how many trips did I make to the bookstore this week…)

Ever since the end of January when I read The Magicians by Lev Grossman (which I really enjoyed, with its references to Harry Potter & Narnia, as well as relating to the thing about having trouble being content with life as it is, but which also really made me rather sad thanks to the disillusioning ending), I have not been able to finish a book. I have kept trying to find favourites to reread and then giving up and moving on to the next one. I’ve tried Harry Potter, Wives & Daughters, North & South, Anne of Green Gables, even Emma! I got furthest with Emma, but since I only just reread it last fall, I was lured away from it as well. None of my typical comfort reads were working, they all just seemed a little bit too safe and (gasp) boring — they are all essentially coming-of-age stories, as well as romances, they are all about young girls (or boys, in Harry’s case), while I am now into my early 30s and I realized with a start that maybe I am occasionally wanting to read something more mature. (I’m not saying Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell are at all immature, just that I can read beyond young girls growing up and experiencing idealistic romances!)

So I picked up The Age of Innocence since I’d been thinking of rereading it at some point as the first step before embarking on more Edith Wharton reading, as I did like her before, I just found it too sad and knew that if I kept reading her books, more sadness awaited. I found her beautiful style of writing and American perspective to be a breath of fresh air. I’m now over halfway through, but the sadness is building and once again, I’ve slowed down to a halt. Henry James (of all people) is partly to blame, along with my idea for a new reading project that developed from starting on Wharton.

For years I’ve been fascinated by the Second French Empire of Louis-Napoleon III, between 1852 and 1870, and I’ve tried to find books to read about it. Emile Zola in particular of the great 19th century French authors sets most of his novels in that time period, to show the corruption of Napoleon III’s regime. (I reviewed his novel The Kill here on my old book blog.) Flaubert and others were also writing then, but the thing is just that the French are so darn pessimistic. And due to my ongoing depression, while I want to challenge myself with their work and love learning about French history, I just can’t always take it. (Especially when the main female characters keep dying at the end of the books for their horrible transgressive sexuality!) I’ve tried reading the Goncourt brother’s diaries of the time as well and found them sexist and pessimistic (but more because they weren’t getting famous enough) too. And there isn’t a lot of historical fiction written about the period either, sadly. (Although Helen Humphreys, my favourite Canadian author, just released one called The Reinvention of Love, which I received for Christmas and haven’t read yet, about Victor Hugo’s wife and the literary critic she has an affair with.)

So, all that to say, reading The Age of Innocence, which is set in the 1870s of Wharton’s New York childhood, even though it was written decades later, made me think that maybe I could try reading any books from or about the latter half of the 19th century, set in any European or N. American country, preferably among the upper classes. One of the things I absolutely love about these types of books are the clothes. Yes, maybe it’s shallow, but I swoon over the ball and opera gowns described in Anna Karenina and The Age of Innocence, as well as in A.S. Byatt’s Morphio Eugenia and Zola’s books. They all end badly but at least they were pretty while it lasted! (On my tumblr I’m also collecting pictures of paintings and reproductions of dresses from the period, which are so so lovely.)

Which leads me back to Henry James. My local bookstore currently has a large quantity of this edition of The Golden Bowl, which I’d been eyeing for a while, before finally giving in and getting it. (The painting is so pretty, I couldn’t resist! I never used to care much about pretty books, this is all your fault, book blogging!) And then because it was so pretty, I actually started reading it, even though The Wings of the Dove is my book nemesis (I so want to read the whole thing and somehow never can). And then I actually found it interesting and readable! For a few chapters at least. Maybe Wharton helped me get in the mood for James. At all events, now I am yet again adrift in a sea of books, not sure what to pick up or go back to next. I do still want to finish The Age of Innocence and tell you all about it (especially the clothes!), I just have to work my way back there. I occasionally enjoy bookish trips to New York, but most of the time, my reading is firmly entrenched in Europe. And now that I’m back over there, I’m debating something else…

See, there’s a new movie of Anna Karenina coming out this fall (directed by Joe Wright) and even though Keira isn’t my favourite actress for period dramas (although she was surprisingly good in A Dangerous Method), I’m still super excited because I love the book. And now I’m debating a reread. I’ve tried that before and failed, but maybe now I’ll have more motivation? I have taken out the chunky Pevear & Volokhonsky translation from my library today, just in case I decide to go for it. (I think I’ll give it another go, just because. Anna. Karenina! I’m excited and a bit obsessed with pictures from the various film versions.) I read the older Constance Garnett translation my first time because it was the one I liked the best then, but it seems a little too dated this time. Of course the story is also sad, but at least there will be lots of great clothes and glamorous scenes at balls and train stations and horse races! (And also lots of farming and hunting with Levin, which I found awfully dull before, but maybe I’ll like him a bit more this time? Some people find Anna annoying, but I was fascinated by the romantic melodrama of her story last time. I just wish there was more of a balance between how earnest and good Levin is and how exciting Anna is…)

I will keep you posted on how it goes and hopefully I won’t flake out on every book I start for the rest of the year or even for the rest of the month. (Any suggestions on how?) I have nearly finished A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz, so that’s something and I do have a whole week off from school now, so maybe I can power charge through a few of these books! I live in bookish hope. Or maybe I can just enjoy wandering my way through literature, without worrying about needing to prove how much I’ve read and reread. (Although part of the reason I came back to book blogging was to try to challenge myself to finish more things…) I’m also considering posting quotes from books as I read them somewhere, either here or here.

And that’s your Sunday stroll through the way my brain picks up and puts down books, bibliophiles. If anyone wants to sway me on which of these three books to read/finish first (out of Anna Karenina, The Age of Innocence, and The Golden Bowl), you’re perfectly free to! Especially if you want to read along with me.

PS. Also I have been debating rereading Mansfield Park. And I read a chapter or two of The Warden by Anthony Trollope a few days ago, just because it’s so easy to download random things onto my kindle. Stop it, brain.

Back to Book Bloggery

So. Here I am again. After disappearing for about six months from the book blog-o-sphere, I got the itch to come back.

But first, I might as well tell you (if there is any of ‘you’ left to read this!) what I’ve been up to lately. My husband and I moved out to Regina, Saskatchewan at the end of August (after my baby brother’s gorgeous wedding). As soon as we got to Regina, my husband went into the hospital with more Crohn’s related health problems and I was left to unpack (along with my very helpful in-laws) in about a week before going back to school. My husband ended up having another surgery at the end of September, but since Saskatchewan has great health care, it finally seemed to work better than all his other ones and he’s now over his stomach infection and doing much better. But for about a month there, he was on IV antibotics 3 times a day, 2 hours every time. So it was very difficult to sleep with the constant beep of his machine and I’ve had sleeping problems ever since. Also, our car was broken into on my first day of school and wrecked enough that it was a write-off. We got a nicer second-hand car and… the first day we were out driving in it together, an old lady rear-ended us. And it was a write-off too. (And that’s not the end of my tale of woe either… but I’ll stop for a paragraph break.)

Perhaps by now it’s becoming apparent why I had no time for book blogging for a while? One good thing that happened in the midst of all the kerfuffle of moving and hospital times was that while I wasn’t sleeping at nights, I started writing creatively again. But it started to worry me because I’d be up for hours in the middle of the night, writing almost manically and unable to stop and just rest, even though I was exhausted. So I finally went to a counselor and began to seriously face my mental health problems. I’m now on anti-depressants and they are helping. I’ve been depressed to varying degrees all of my adult life and I had high anxiety when I was younger too, but I was always scared to go on medication for it. But it’s only helped me. They aren’t an instant cure but things are getting better.

I’m also taking a course in Office Education, something basic and practical (I am now a whiz at spreadsheets and business report formatting). I had intended to use it to go on to medical transcribing, since as a sensitive, depressed introvert, I’d really like to work in a quiet office by myself! But I’ve since discovered that I also enjoy accounting, of all things! My dad is a Chartered Accountant, but I always thought I was too much into the arts to be able to handle that. Now it seems I’m not as scatterbrained as I thought I was. So I might end up taking more accounting classes instead, I keep changing my mind between the two. I felt like a misfit taking this course, since I already have a university degree, and my first semester there was lonely and awkward. But I’ve made friends with another shy girl, who, when I admitted I liked British books, asked me with a light in her eye: have you ever seen North & South? So now we have Jane Austen movie days together. 😀

One nice thing about living in Regina is that our apartment is a 15 minute walk away from a big bookstore and a library! So we go there very often. Where we continue to indulge in buying more books and Starbucks beverages than we should… (My husband and I both love salted caramel mochas there, btw. So so good.) And I got to go to Toronto for the first time this Christmas, to visit my husband’s sister and her family, where I spent lots of time reading by the fireplace in a conservatory (! glorious), petting kittens. So there have been good things with the bad. I have also developed a cough that won’t quite go away and mild eczema on my hands, both due to the extreme dryness of a prairie winter (even Alberta wasn’t this bad!), which is irritating, but at least spring seems to be finally on its way.

As for the reading I’ve been doing, I’ve indulged in many kids books (The Penderwicks and sequels by Jeanne Birdsall are adorable, about a family of four sisters) and some chick lit, as well as a biography of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress in 18th century France. She had gorgeous clothes, but by the end of the book I was rather disgusted with all the excessive spending in the French court that helped set up the downfall of the monarchy in the French Revolution several decades later. Also I was personally pissed off with her because she tried to get involved with politics by getting Louis to ally with Austria instead of focusing on fighting the British to keep their North American colonies — aka, that’s partly why I now speak English instead of French… Sigh. She was very good at staying in power for a very long time, they called her the unofficial ‘prime minister’ even when she hadn’t slept with the king for decades. So I enjoyed my time reading about the decadent 18th century, but was glad to leave it when the book was over.

I also enjoyed Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939 by Katie Roiphe, which featured the unusual love lives of Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth von Arnim, Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf’s sister), Winifred Holtby, and several others. I liked spending more time in their early 20th century world, marveling at all the shenanigans they got up to and how being a writer didn’t always make them more clear-sighted about their own romantic difficulties.

2011 was also the year I began to read Diana Wynne Jones, a delightful British children’s fantasy author. Howl’s Moving Castle was my first and Fire & Hemlock was next, but over the winter, I’ve also come to love House of Many Ways (a sequel of sorts to Howl’s Moving Castle, although with a different main protagonist), Charmed Life (my first introduction to Chrestomanci), and Witch Week. They are all so varied — this is part of her charm, that you never know what will come next, but it also makes it harder to read her books in a row when you just want something exactly like what you just read. Even if there are some of the same characters from one book to another, the tone is never quite the same. 

Howl’s Moving Castle and House of Many Ways are tied as my favourites (and I made sure I got both of them for Christmas!) and both have a lovely cosy atmosphere of people learning to be friends in the midst of odd situations (specifically odd houses, that either have many strange and unexpected rooms depending on which way you turn the doorknob, or a castle that bounces about at will). Wizard Howl does show up in House of Many Ways in a fantastic disguise (I love him as Twinkle!), along with Sophie, who is still scolding him. It’s so rare that authors bring characters back after the happy ending, so that was lovely to see their married relationship. And that book features a great main character in Charmain, who is constantly reading, even while she eats, until adventures and magic and a volunteer job in the royal library and a little white dog begin to intervene…

However, I wasn’t sure if I liked Charmed Life much until I read the last page and burst into tears. (While on the airplane, flying back from Toronto. Usually I get claustrophobic on planes and can’t wait to get off, but I forgot to be worried while I was reading, so perhaps I was enjoying the book before the last page…) The tone of the book isn’t as happy as the other ones I’d read, despite the introduction of Chrestomanci, of whom I’d heard so much of (he’s an exquisitely dressed enchanter, with a different embroidered dressing gown for every day of the year), but that’s mostly because of the truly horrid Gwendolen who is determined to become powerful, even at the cost of her family. Her brother Cat Chant suffers some chillingly unexpected losses at her hands, but as I say, the ending makes up for it.

And Witch Week is about the horrors of a bad British boarding school with lots of bullying in a world mostly similar to ours, but where witches are still being burned to death. Unfortunately for the students, witchcraft seems to be breaking out everywhere, so they have to call Chrestomanci in to fix things up. This one is my least favourite out of what I’ve read of her work so far, but it’s still thought-provoking and entertaining, with some funny bits.

And I haven’t even mentioned that I’ve finally found a definite favourite out of Jane Austen’s novels… yes, Emma. I’d been leaning towards it for a long time, but last fall yet another reread cemented the deal. I even had to buy the lovely edition at the right just to appreciate it even more. 🙂 Now I have three copies of it, as one should for one’s favourite Austen. To me, the story and comedy and cosy homeyness of it never gets old. It always seems fresh and so funny. I know Emma herself can be annoying, but oh the social misadventures she gets up to! The Christmas Eve party at the Weston’s is very high on my list of favourite literary scenes ever, from John Knightley’s complaints about an inch of snow, to Mr. Elton’s hideously botched proposal. I’m laughing now just thinking about it. I used to think there wasn’t enough romance in the book, but the new BBC miniseries of it with Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller gave Emma and Mr. Knightley plenty of romantic tension under the surface in the midst of all their little tiffs, and I now just adore those two together so much. They are old friends and I love couples who start off that way. It’s fun to notice the little details in the book of where their feelings for each other start to show.

So I guess this is enough of my rambling for a while, hopefully I’ll keep this up more often now! I have a personal reading project I’m thinking of that I might share next time. Oh also, in the midst of my non-book blogging months, I have been happily discovering tumblr. My blog there (Lemon Rose) is mostly full of pictures of period dramas, 19th century paintings, and flowers, etc, but I occasionally write about what I’m reading, so if I disappear again, that’s where I’ve gone to. Salut for now, bookophiles!

Evelina by Fanny Burney

O my dear Sir, in what raptures am I returned! Well may Mr. Garrick be so celebrated, so universally admired — I had not any idea of so great a performer.

Such ease! such vivacity in his manner! such grace in his motions! such fire and meaning in his eyes! — I could hardly believe he had studied a written part, for every word seemed spoke from the impulse of the moment.

His action — at once so graceful and so free! — his voice — so clear, so melodious, yet so wonderfully various in its tones — such animation! — every look speaks! (27-28)

I’ve been romping in the 18th century with Fanny Burney (who was a fan of David Garrick obviously). Evelina is her first novel, about a young girl off to London to hopefully find her real father and along the way running into a satire of the society of the times and a whole lotta unwelcome loving. Evelina is so gentle and kind and submissive and also excessively beautiful that any men, high, low and fop, who see her are suddenly obsessed with her and begin to call her ‘most charming of thy sex’ or just Angel. She has to fight them off repeatedly! And to keep reassuring the grave and gentlemanly Lord Orville that really, things aren’t everything they appear to be… She makes several beginner mistakes at dances, accepting a dance with Lord Perfect Orville there after already turning down a tiptoing negligently imperitnent young fop! Jane Austen has already taught me that just isn’t done, so I was wincing for our shy little country manners heroine in advance. She later claims to be already engaged to dance with Lord Orville in order to avoid another grabby young man, named Sir Clement Willoughby, who keeps showing up again and again to protest his love for Evelina and never stop grabbing her wrists.

But somehow I couldn’t stop reading this, even while rolling my eyes and protesting aloud. It has a cosy classic feel to it, that reminds me of other female authors I enjoy, like Jane Austen of course, who was influenced by Burney (although Austen allows her women to make up their own minds about marriage, instead of requiring elderly fussy old men to guide them) and also Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s not perfect, but I’m glad I read it and it gives a vivid picture of English society in 1778, from the high life in London to the shenanigans at a country home (a sea captain playfully abducts a Frenchwoman) and the placidity of the resort town of Bristol (which was only slightly less poplar than Bath at the time and also had hot springs and mineral waters I think).

We have been to the opera, and I am still more pleased than I was on Tuesday. I could have thought myself in paradise, but for the continual talking of the company around me. We sat in the pit, where every body was dressed in so high a style, that, if I had been less delighted with the performance, my eyes would have found me sufficient entertainment from looking at the ladies.

…When the opera was over, we went into a place called the coffee-room, where ladies as gentlemen assemble. There are all sorts of refreshments, and the company walk about, and chat, with the same ease and freedom as in a private room. (40)

I’ve since been skipping around Mansfield Park, happy to be reading Jane Austen again and the one novel of her’s which I’ve actually avoided for five years now. It is somber, but the writing style is more mature than her earlier books. I can relate to Fanny, being rather shy and sensitive myself (and very religious too, in my earlier years) and my heart sinks for her, even as I shake my head over her extreme earnestness. There’s no other word for it. The problem is, I now have a stack of library books from the big city and simply want to start devouring them! I’m at Henry Crawford’s proposal to Fanny and wishing that he was just a bit better of a person, since he does admire her for her, not just for her principles, as Edmund never fully seems to… Dilemmas!

(Also, yes I have blogged at a few of my favourite books, now I am going to try blogging here, because it feels more casual. I’m going to keep it more open here, blogging about books, but anything else that catches my fancy, so likely more of an inconsistent jumble of all my latest enthusiasms. Also the picture in this post is on the cover of my edition of Evelina, it’s an engraving of Vauxhall Gardens.)

Merry Bookmas!

Merry Christmas all, first off! My husband is finally out of the hospital, so that is my main Christmas present. 😀 We also went book shopping last night, our own Christmas tradition, where we set a limit and pick out what we want within that, rather than trying to guess about what the other might really want. We’d rather get the books we want together than be surprised! I picked out Neil Gaiman’s collection of short stories and poems, Fragile Things and the Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake, a gothic fantasy classic that I’ve been curious about, but then found both books a bit too dark for Christmas reading and was feeling low until I remembered I had a copy of Little Women from the library and that it opens at Christmas.

And although I haven’t read it in about 15 years and had been avoiding it because it seemed too darn moralising, this morning I absolutely loved it. I cried and laughed and felt at home once again with the four good hearted March sisters. I loved Jo, the tomboyish bookworm (I used to like Amy best when I first read it and now can’t imagine why, what a little twit) and treasured sweet and quiet Beth. I had to stop when AMY BURNS JO’S BOOK AND THEN THE MORAL IS JO IS SUPPOSED TO FORGIVE HER. Oh my goodness, I wanted to slap Amy or worse. She’s not punished for what she does! Obviously I’m still a little irked at the preachy tone, especially their father telling them to be ‘good little women’ — I’ve heard that women tend to have depression more often than men because they try to be too internally perfect rather than focusing on outward goals and achievements as men do and Jo wants to, was echoing through my mind — but the reminder to be happy with what I have was also good. Our apartment is very bare this morning since most of our things have already been moved off to my parents’ place and we’ve been having internet tribulations trying to get it working on my laptop and then trying to use the library computers (all full), so now we’re at an internet cafe, but we have each other and our cat. And we’ll be with my family for Boxing Day and perhaps in Florida before the new year!

I’ve loved getting to know so many of you this year and will properly reply to comments at some point when I have normal internet again, for now though, Happy Christmas one and all.

Emma & new shelves

Thank you all so much for your many kind comments on my last post! I’ve told my husband about them and they brought a smile to his face too. He is on a lot of antibiotics to clear up his abscess and infection, instead of a surgery, which is always nice and he may even be home today. I’m just waiting to hear about that. They’re inserting some kind of more direct IV thing into him, so he’ll have to come to the hospital and continue to get infusions of antibiotics every day, but at least he’ll be able to be home again.

Yesterday I picked up some of Claire’s bookshelves as she is moving this week, with my practical sister along to help park the car in the snow (I would have got stuck) and to fit three bookshelves into the car! Here they are in my place now, although I’ll be moving them soon too. The small shelf holds most of my minimalist collection of the only books I’ve kept, the rest are already at the cottage at my parent’s place, waiting for me. You may notice I’ve mixed my favourite movies in with my books, just for something different. The second shelf holds some of my husband’s movies and books and I’ve got a few library books up top, including a very huge biography of Elizabeth Gaskell! I absolutely love these shelves, Claire, so peaceful and orderly and well worth all the pushing and tugging to make them fit in the car yesterday!

I’ve also gone back to reading Emma again (you can see my beautiful clothbound edition first on my shelf) and since watching the lovely new miniseries of it, am enjoying it all the more. Despite often thinking of Jeremy Northam as Jeremy Knightley, Jonny Lee Miller, who seemed very miscast as Mr. Knightley initially, has done a wonderful job with the role too and I now often find myself torn between them! Miller brings such warmth and understated humour to the role. He’s not tall, dark and brooding with stately grace like Northam, he’s “not a gallant man, but he is a very humane one”, as Emma herself says (at about page 208). “I know no man more likely than Mr. Knightley to do the sort of thing — to do anything really good-natured, useful, considerate, or benevolent.” Miller makes the character less romantic or intimidating and more like the best friend you’d always overlooked. He softens Mr. Knightley and makes him more sensible (I especially love his pleasure in walking) yet approachable. Mr. Knightley has always seemed too much of a scold before (see Mark Strong in the role, or better yet: don’t) and really, so much older than Emma, that he just wasn’t as attractive as an Austen hero as some, but with this gentler version of him in mind (and really, there’s nothing saying what he looks like or that he is even tall and intimidating! Mr. Darcy is described that way, but Mr. Knightley is far kinder from the very beginning) I’m liking him more and more.

As usual, I also get a kick out of John Knightley, his younger brother, and the way he complains over everything, especially over having to go out to parties on Christmas Eve! Emma has the best Christmas scenes of all the Austen novels, with Mr. Woodhouse’s fuss over an inch of snow when he’s away from home and his older daughter Isabella’s determination to walk home in the snow to get to her children despite her general overconcern over everyone’s health and of course, Mr. Elton’s botched proposal to Emma. It’s such a wonderful comic piece, I do hope you have time to revisit at least that little corner of Highbury on your holidays!

Here’s one of my favourite phrases in all of Austen (italicised), at the end of this quote:

He was too angry to say another word; her manner too decided to invite supplication; and in this state of swelling resentment, and mutually deep mortification, they had to continue together a few minutes longer, for the fears of Mr. Woodhouse had confined them to a foot pace. If there had not been so much anger, there would have been desperate awkwardness; but their straight-forward emotions left no room for the little zigzags of embarrassment.

Reflections on Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

Yesterday I wrote about my experience of reading hundreds of pages of this novel on the last day (yes, I did finish it in bed at midnight!) and today I’m writing more of a review for the Classics Circuit Trollope Tour, or as I’m beginning to think of it, just sharing a few of my thoughts and reflections on it, as right now it’s rather intimidating to think of reviewing a massive 800 page book I only finished late last night! (Thankfully this is not university.)

Can You Forgive Her? is the first of Trollope’s political Palliser series, which seems to be slightly less popular than the more churchy Barsetshire books, but as I’ve only read the Palliser books (my intro to Trollope took place earlier this year, in an emergency room with The Eustace Diamonds, book 3 of the Palliser series although it stands well on its own and has a nice mystery by the end), I like them better and am now quite committed to moving on with the whole series. It can be intimidating to look at his two long series which contain most of his best known (but quite thick) books, but once you start, you’re hooked in (at least I am) and then the pleasure of watching the characters develop over time begins. (This is also one of the great things about Proust and I will say again, despite how intimidating both authors may look, they do have good stories!)

The story begins with Alice Vavasor, who starts off engaged to the noble and kind (maybe too much so) John Grey, but then is talked into breaking off her engagement because despite loving him, she doesn’t want to be trapped at his quiet country estate and never do anything worthwhile with her life beyond the traditional womanly duties. She doesn’t want to live in London to go to society parties and gossip like most women, she wants to be involved in politics (although Trollope cautions: “She was not so far advanced as to think that women should be lawyers or doctors, or to wish that she might have the priviledge of the franchise for herself; but she had undoubtedly a hankering after some second-hand political manoeuvering.”), she wants to be a politician’s wife. And who should also be interested in becoming a politician but her cousin, George Vavasor, to whom she was once engaged years ago… Alice swears she’s only going to help him get elected since she has money and he doesn’t and that she’s not going to become involved with him again (she was the one who broke off their engagement before because he was up to some sketchy behaviour), but her cousin Kate, George’s sister, is determined to do anything to bring George and Alice back together. John Grey, however, has not given up on Alice either.

Then there’s also Lady Glencora, another cousin of Alice’s, who has been forced to marry the boring rising politician star Plantagenet Palliser instead of the man she really loves, whose name is (hee) Burgo Fitzgerald. Between Glencora and Alice, Trollope plays with his themes of what does true love really look and more importantly act like; women who long for a purpose in life but are caught by society’s expectations; can rather boringly good men make good husbands or is it better to go for the dashing and dangerous choice? Burgo (heehee, he’s described as some kind of Adonis but really) is trying to entice Glencora to run away with him and she is slowly succumbing to the idea as her husband ignores her late each night to prepare for Parliament (they are obviously not making babies or any marital closeness there) and only comes out of his political discussions to scold her when she behaves imprudently by driving her horses too fast, waltzing too recklessly or walking out in the snow too long during a full moon! Glencora was a very rich heiress, but the weight of her money has pulled her down as all the old society ladies try to tell her exactly how to behave properly and though her spirit longs to fly away, she is caught up in what seems a loveless marriage. Is there hope for all these people with their funny names?

Trollope also weaves in a third couple to further work on his themes, this time comic. Kate and Alice’s aunt Mrs. Greenow married a rich old man and since he died she’s got the cash and despite all of her constantly crying into black lacy handkerchiefs, she somehow ends up with not one but two suitors, Captain Bellfield and Mr. Cheeseacre, a prosperous farmer at Oileymead. (Yes I’m giggling.) Mr. Cheeseacre is the safe bet, he’s got lots of money as he is constantly reminding everyone, but Captain Bellfield has that touch of romance and a pile of debts. Mrs. Greenow continues to declare they’re courting her niece not herself as she pretends to mourn her dead love, but she’s got enough vivacity to housebreak either one of them when she chooses.

I loved this book more than I expected because of the sensitivity and insight Trollope shows in developing his characters, especially those quiet decent men who are sometimes infuriatingly proper, with everything for their wives and life all planned out. (My dad’s like that and so’s my husband sometimes, so perhaps it was especially meaningful to me.) I also think, despite the one quote above about Alice not wanting to be a lawyer or doctor or have the vote, that Trollope is very sympathetic to these women who want some measure of control and voice in their lives, who want a purpose and just a little more than calm and quiet affection. And I will hint that things end up better for Glencora and Alice because they dare to voice their true feelings. Trollope is a realist about romantic relationships (there’s even one scene of physical abuse in the book), but somehow he’s comforting too.

Trollope & My Life in Books

I’ve been very diligent today, reading 200 pages of Trollope so far (having a part time job is very handy for these last minute reading binges!) and only have 100 pages left to go, which I’ll do my best with tonight, I love being married to a reader and cuddling and reading in bed together!

I had to walk over to a cafe (named the Purple Perk, incidentally) to read for a while, just so I didn’t feel too apartment bound and actually ended up sobbing while reading for a while, I didn’t expect that from Trollope! I don’t know that I’ll say at what point, but he creates these quiet characters that don’t seem to have much passion in them, but then they surprise you… That certainly made me enjoy the book more, the depth of character that he slowly slowly adds, and I love being immersed in a thick novel like this. At first I feel all squirmy and that it will never end, what more could he possibly have to say about these people, but then their struggles and concerns and they themselves begin to come to life, especially as I read about them hour after hour, looking up occasionally at the Christmas decorations or when someone would hold the door open too long (my table was right next to the door too) and then back to reading, feeling surrounded by a warm slow Victorian hug.

(I was also eating a delicious saskatoon berry crisp while reading, which is pretty much what was recommended here! Yum.)

In Henrietta’s War, the main character writes at one point that her husband has a ‘Trollopish expression’ on his face while reading his novels (don’t have the book to get the exact quote) — I wonder what such an expression looks like? Perhaps some form of satisfied contentment, like after eating turkey? I’m certainly enjoying this novel the further it goes along, even more than The Eustace Diamonds, after that one I bought Can You Forgive Her? to start the Palliser series from the beginning but wasn’t quite sure if I was fully sold on Trollope yet. Now I think it’s happened. (And has anyone else ever noticed how much he writes about people breaking their engagements? In both books I’ve read of his and in watching The Way We Live Now it happens repeatedly! What’s up with that, was he ever jilted? Does he just find it interesting or was it really such a pressing concern in the Victorian era?)

My enjoyment in reading this book, even in such large chunks over the last few days, has definitely further solidified my desire to read more Victorian novels, something I’m planning to do for most of the rest of this year and next year as well! I just love the thick satisfying-ness from them, like a good meal (maybe the eating turkey analogy isn’t far off then!). I’m still thinking of Villette and how much I enjoyed the richness of Charlotte Bronte’s writing style, even if I found it and Jane Eyre somewhat depressing and even harsh on occasion. In Can You Forgive Her? I like how marriage is still valued, even though it’s also acknowledged to be difficult, even when you love the person.

I’ve now been writing this without thinking it all through before as I’ve done so often in the past, planning it all out, and I’ve enjoyed it more. I’ve been wanting to blog more of my immediate thoughts on books, with less fuss over it ahead of time as to saying the perfect thing! I think I will continue to try this new style, more reflective and less boxy, with all my topics checked off a list.

Also, I saw this last night on Victorian Geek and thought I’d try it (bookish procrastination, one of my favourite things):

Using only books you have read this year (2010), cleverly answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title. It’s a lot harder than you think!

Describe yourself: With Violets (Elizabeth Robards)

How do you feel: Hons & Rebels (Jessica Mitford)

Describe where you currently live: A Room With A View (E.M. Forster)

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: 84 Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff)

Your favourite form of transportation: Last Bus to Woodstock (Colin Dexter)

Your best friend is: The Other Mr. Darcy (Monica Fairview)

You and your friends are: Wives & Daughters (Elizabeth Gaskell)

What’s the weather like: Love in a Cold Climate (Nancy Mitford)

Favourite time of day: Tea With Mr. Rochester (Frances Towers)

If your life was a: Goddess at Home (Bronwyn Llewellyn)

What is life to you: The Happiness Project (Gretchen Rubin)

Your fear: Soulless (Gail Carriger)

What is the best advice you have to give: Sense & Sensibility (Jane Austen)

Thought for the day: It’s Hard to be Hip Over 30 (Judith Viorsk)

How I would like to die: The Body in the Library (Agatha Christie)

My soul’s present condition: The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)