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Some Goblins, Some Songs & A Birthday

For somebody enormously fond of literature and passionate about readings, my adventures in Poetry are next to none. Despite majoring in English Literature for my undergraduate degree, I could not develop a liking for this form of writing. I always felt that it takes a very developed and highly sensitized brain to truly appreciate poetry and somehow, I seemed to lack both in the right measure to really become a connoisseur. So I remained in the margins, reading up what others wrote about the texts assigned to me and managed to get the degree with honors, largely because I loved prose and drama. Anyway since the dismal tryst with poetry, I have usually kept such reading limited and at bay;however this year like I keep harping and I am trying to do things differently, as in reading Woolf and Zola, both of which I had dreaded and ended up loving, that not to venture forth with this other albatross seemed silly and I decided to plunge ahead. Since I was planning to take baby steps in reading poetry, I decided to start with someone whose works I have read in the past and enjoyed and did not not struggle through – Christina Rossetti fitted the bill to a T and her Goblin Market and Other Poems seemed the thing that slid very nicely into my Women’s Classic Literature Reading Event as well The 12 Month Reading Challenge, March theme being, A Classic that has been recommended! Goblin Market has been recommended to me for like FOREVER and now was a good time to start!

The Penguin Edition of Rossetti’s works is a collection of the poet’s 20 poems, the most famous being The Goblin Market. The poem describes the coming of the Goblins to sell their wares – the most delicious and freshest of fruits apples, cranberries, peaches, apricots, pears, grapes, pomegranates etc. Two sisters, Laura and Lizzie who live together hear the coming of the Goblins; Laura is tempted by the descriptions of the fruits, but Lizzie cautions against going and purchasing the fruits from the Goblins. Laura however is tempted and one evening lingers around the stream waiting for the Goblins to come and bring their fruits; when the Goblins arrive, she realizes she does not have any money to buy the fruits but the goblins offer to take a piece of her golden hair instead. So Laura gives up some of her hair, gorges herself on goblin fruit, and heads on home to her sister.The next day Laura and Lizzie go about their work in the house, Laura dreamily longs for the coming evening’s meeting with the goblins who will come again with their delicious fruits. But at the stream that evening, as she strains to hear the usual goblin cries of their fruits, she realizes that although Lizzie still hears the goblins’ voices, she no longer can. She slowly begins to fall ill and starts to waste away.  A worried Lizzie has to act soon and decides to confront the Goblins in an effort to save her sister!

This is the primary poem of the collections consisting of 28 stanzas and provides much food for thought! There is of course a vast deal of analysis that is available on this poem and they range from feminism, to sexual freedom to anti-Judaic character treatment etc etc. There is no denying that there is a sexual element to this composition, however, my take is that simply, Rossetti was rebelling against the social mores and restrictions, especially the ending, where the Victorian fallen woman, instead of dying away in oblivion, is resurrected and lives to a ripe old age! There is also the creation of Lizzie as a “hero” noble and brave who goes out to find a cure for her sister – there is no Prince Charming to the rescue here, but rather a theme of how woman must stand by each other! Then there is the aspect of being cautious against things we seem to little understand and letting them be.The poem uses an irregular rhyme scheme and irregular meter and allows some time to pass before the word finds its partner, which makes for a very unique reading experience and is best if read aloud. Apparently this poem was written for children, but I am not quite sure, if that was the only purpose of Ms. Rossetti.

I loved the collection and I completely  “besotted” is the word is guess, by the images and the themes that Ms. Rossetti uses to bring forth in her poems. While I really enjoyed the revolutionary spirit of Goblin Market, I also loved her “Song – When I am dead, my dearest” I cannot help but feel that though this particular poem bespoke of sadness of departing in death, there is also the same element of rebelling that was present in the Goblin Market, where the narrator ironically and iconically points out that the ‘dearest’ will not remember her! Yet another poem, a memorial for Keats called On Keats. Keats was a poet she greatly admired is as beautiful in its lyricism as much as its in its ode to the master poet “Here lies one whose name was writ, In water: while the chilly shadows flit, Of sweet Saint Agnes’ Eve; while basil springs, His name, in every humble heart that sings, Shall be a fountain of love, verily”. I also loved “A Birthday“, a poem where the narrator celebrates and expresses her joy at the upcoming birthday of her love. I loved the simple innocence of a true love and the brilliant way she weaves the words to create a lasting imagery! There is so much I can say, yet all of it will be insufficient to accurately describe the brilliance of this collection! Therefore, I leave you with only one thought – Please read it yourself!

 

The Republic, The Province & The Family

I am not overly fond of French Literature. In fact I am not fond of French literature at all. I had a lot of problems completing Flaubert and I am still kind of ambiguous about Hugo. But if I could make the mistake of trying Daphne Du Maurier so many times, I had to be fair to French literature as well and give it another shot. A good place to start seemed the 12 Months Classics Challenge and its February’s theme – A classic you’ve always dreaded reading; after all if not now, then when? So I bravely plunged forward to try French Literature again and this time in the shape of Emile Zola’s The Fortune of the Rougons.

Set during the eve of the 1851 coup, that created the Second Empire under Napoleon III, the novel explores the rise of the Rougan family from Plassans. The novel opens with the description of Plassans and the secret meeting of 17 year old Silvere and his 13 year old sweetheart, Mitte. They meet in old graveyard, before Silvere sets off to join the Republican forces, but inspired by the Republican’s march, Miette also sets off with them. The novel then moves back in time to introduce the reader to Adelaide Fouque, a rich, scatterbrained and simple hearted woman, who is left orphaned after the death of her parents during the French Revolution. She marries a common peasant Rougon and has a son through him, Pierre Rougon. Soon after the birth of the son Rougon dies and Adelaide takes up with a lowly smuggler and an alcoholic Macquart. She has two more illegitimate children – a boy Antoine and a girl, Ursula. As the three children grow up in a haphazard wild manner, Pierre soon begins to resent his step brother and sister as well as his weak minded mother. By connivance and contrivance, he gets rid of all three, Antoine Macquart is forced into army conscription, Ursula marries and moves away, and finally poor Adelaide starts living alone in Macquart’s cottage after the smuggler is killed. Pierre then gets complete hold of his mother’s property and sells it off and marries the daughter of an down and out oil merchant, Felicité Puech in an effort to rise beyond his peasant background and become the bourgeois. Despite initial success, Pierre and Felicite, who is an equally socially ambitious woman, never really rise much and struggle to make their livelihood. However, they send their sons to expensive schools and university, in the hope that they would make great success of their lives. Eugène the eldest becomes a lawyer but does not set himself up as a success, Pascal, the second son becomes a kind scholarly doctor and naturalist who is happy to treat the poor and explore nature and study it and the youngest and Felicite’s favorite son  Aristide also becomes a lawyer but only dreams of success and does no constructive work. As Pierre and Felicite retire and move into a small apartment, their disappointment in failing to make it big is palpable  but there is no relief in near sight, until Eugène leaves for Paris, two years before the Coup and from there on directs the actions of his father and mother in Plassans that should set them up for success. In the meanwhile, the novel comes back to the present with Miette and Silvere continuing their march with the Republicans. By now the readers are aware, that Silvere is actually the youngest son of Ursula and her husband Mouret. After the death of his parents, Silvere is brought by Adelaide, now called Aunt Dide and is apprenticed as a wheelwright and was introduced to Republican politics by his uncle, Antoine, the latter now back from Army and bitter against his half brother Pierre who he claims has cheated Antoine of his inheritance. As the the clash of the Republicans with the government comes to its, climax, the yellow drawing room of Pierre and Felicite becomes the center of politics in Plassan as the chief patrons of the the town rally behind President Napoleon. Guided by the directions of their son Eugene, Pierre and Felicite plan one of the biggest gambles of their lives for the riches they had always dreamt off and as they near their goal, no sacrifice and no price to high t for the final triumph!

All my fellow readers had assured me that I would love the book. When I read the blurp, I was not sure, I generally like happy things and this book did not seem happy! As I reached the end, I realized that my initial assessment was correct, this was not a happy book, in fact there were some moments of downright heart break, but I loved the book! Absolutely and completely! There are hardly any likeable characters in the book, except Dr. Pascal and Silvere and Meitte, but you cannot take your attention away from them. Exceptionally well drawn and  distinctively different, you can see all them in your mind, down to their stoop and dirty waistcoat. The protagonists are all selfish social climbers, but somehow they are all distinct from one another – Pierre has some native shrewdness, while Antonie is just stupid. Felicite is cunning and shows some streaks of conscience and honesty, but they are drowned in her need to make a material success of her life. You feel sad for poor, foolish Aunt Dide and then are uplifted by the strong convictions of Silvere. The characters are as real as they can get and set up one of the best cases of art imitating life! Zola follows a dual narrative style, starting from the present and taking you back to past and then bringing you back in the present. There are vivid descriptions of the Provinces, the land as well its people and while you do meander somewhat aimlessly at times, it all comes together beautifully in the end! There is much romanticism as well as  a strong streak of condemnation of everything that is narrow-minded, provincial and bourgeois. There are several interesting themes in the book including, the effect of nerves that leads to weak minded, lascivious behavior; the effect of haphazard reading in impairing the complete development of mind and good understanding as well need for good moral conduct being the cornerstone of a good character, rather than material success. The language is beautiful and Zola wrote with sensitivity and deep insights into the human heart, that leaves you awe struck. The ending paragraph displays all of this, the quintessential Zola brilliance, that makes you feel, that you have just undergone an emotional catharsis –

“But the strip of pink satin fastened to Pierre’s button-hole was not the only red spot in that triumph of the Rougons. A shoe, with a blood-stained heel, still lay forgotten under the bedstead in the adjoining room. The taper burning at Monsieur Peirotte’s bedside, over the way, gleamed too with the lurid redness of a gaping wound amidst the dark night. And yonder, far away, in the depths of the Aire Saint-Mittre, a pool of blood was congealing upon a tombstone”

Profound, moving and I cannot help but keep saying heart breaking! One of my best reads of not only the year, but like forever!

 

 

I got all my sisters with me……

 

This is a bit of delayed post for March reading plans, but I really wanted to figure out what the Classic Club Spin#12 would bring, before I chart my course! To begin with, I am really proud of myself as to how well I have adhered to the reading plans of January and February and got some additional reading done as well. I may twist my arm, patting myself on the back, but I cannot help but grin! (Grin!Grin!)

However, wise people say that it is important to look ahead instead of gloating over successes of the past, so I reluctantly but rationally share the plan for March. Now we all know this is the month of International Women’s Day, which is in fact today – 8th March. Coming from a country that was as liberal and egalitarian as it gets on women issues until about 7oo years ago, when we lost all sense of proportion, and become a very conservative and masochist nation, I feel especially strongly about today. Its like having a great thing and then losing it! You never miss what you did not have, but when you have it and then lose, it seems kind of end of the world, not to mention stupid! Anyway, while we have recovered significantly in the last 100 years, I still have sisters in various corners of the country who are deprived of education, financial independence and the simple choice of living life on her own terms! Therefore call me a feminist, but I am all Go Woman!

I therefore have decided that besides the Women’s Classical Literature Reading Event which is a great monthly event, I will spend the month of March only reading Women authors, with the exception of the Readalongs which kind spread over from previous months! This is my kind of celebration of Womanhood! Therefore, to kick start, as part of Women’s Classical Literature Reading Event as well as 12 Month Classic Challenge (March theme – A classic you’ve been recommended), I am reading Christina Rossetti’s The Goblin Market and other poems. In Reading England, I select a crime fiction, because you cannot constantly read heavy literature and I wanted a good romping read towards the latter half of the month when I go on vacation to the Himalaya, and therefore it is Busman’s Honeymoon: Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery by Dorothy Sayers, focusing on Hertfordshire. I also revisit Dorothy Sayer’s in another avatar of a playwrite as I read her The Man Born to be King. I know this more of Christmas play and this is the wrong time of the year, but hey, it is Lent and Easter will be around soon! I think Christ believed that we should keep God in our hearts and remember him always and not during a particular month, so I venture forth on this drama as my Drama read of the month. You know you are lucky when your Spin Read is also a woman author – I will be reading Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Also because I know vacation is cometh and I will be undisturbed in the glorious pastures of Himalayas for a week, I added some more books to my reading kitty –Up the Country: Letters to her sister from the Northern Provinces of India by Miss Emily Eden. Her brother was one of worst Viceroy’s of British India, but I have heard great things about Ms. Eden’s writing so I want to really read this, especially when sitting in a British built hill station, watering place kind of thing! In some additional fun reads, I have got Ms. Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson, something recommended highly by  a grand aunt and Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe. Finally if I do find time, I will also have The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel, though I strongly doubt I will reach that far!

Now for the exceptions – I continue and hopefully will finish The Metamorphoses by Ovid, that I started in January with Cleo and O. I also have The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien Readalong with Cleo, which forms a part of my Lecito List Reading. Finally O is hosting a brilliant and innovative ReadAlong for the The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, that kicks starts this month!

That’s the reading plan for this month! Simple, would you not agree?

Before I bid adieu for this post, though, I came across these lines in Rossetti’s Goblin Market, which seemed so very appropriate for the sisterhood we all belong to and therefore I leave you with it –

For there is no friend like a sister

In calm or stormy weather;

To cheer one on the tedious way,

To fetch one if one goes astray,

To lift one if one totters down,

To strengthen whilst one stands.

Cheers to Us!

 

Spining in 2016

I was planning to blog about March reading plans and get myself a pat on the back for adhering so well to the Jan and Feb reading plans; however as I opened wordpress, I saw a notification from The Classic Club, a notification that I just could not ignore! It was naturally for a Spin event, the #12 in the series and the first one of 2016. Over the years I have read such wonderful books as well as some oh!-I-can-so-have-done-without-this books through the Spin, but they have all been an uniformly enriching and interesting experience! Therefore there was no way in the world I was missing this spin. The rules remain simple as always and I quote directly from the The Classic Club Page

  • At your blog, by next Monday, March 7, list your choice of any twenty books you’ve left to read from your Classics Club list — in a separate post.
  • This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these twenty books in March & April. (Details follow.) So, try to challenge yourself.
  • Next Monday, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to
  • read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by May 2, 2016.

Thus, the List –

  1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
  2. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
  3. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  4. The Wings of Dove by Henry James
  5. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
  6. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
  7. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
  8. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  9. The Name of a Rose by Umberto Eco
  10. A Room with a View by M Forster
  11. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  12. The House of Seven Gables by Nathanie Hawthorne
  13. Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
  14. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
  15. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope
  16. The Tempest by William Shakespeare
  17. As I lay Dying by William Faulkner
  18. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad
  19. Hunger by Knut Hamsum
  20. I Claudius by Robert Graves

Finally I now sit back and await Monday!

The Pickwick Papers Read-Along

Many moons ago, some of the greatest Victorian authors, like the worthy Mr. Charles Dickens, Mr. Wilkie Collins, Mrs. Margaret Oliphant and Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell, wrote some of their best works not in a single bound novel, but as serialized installments in various magazines. Imagine reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell in piecemeal fashion; I am not sure I would have the patience, but her original readers in 1854-55 did. They waited patiently and like Cleo mentions, probably allowed themselves to think over what they have already read, adding another layer to their reading- of course, the thinking could have added a good or a bad flavor, depending on perspective, but it added a flavor nevertheless. It is very unique form of reading, practically unknown in this day of instant gratification unless you look at the Game of Thrones variety as serialized storytelling and really, that seems to be stretching the concept very far!!

I have always been intrigued by this form of literary exploration and when O at Behold the Stars came up with the idea of reading The Pickwick Paper by Charles Dickens as it was originally published in a serial form, to celebrate 180 years of it publication anniversary, I was sold! I read the novel long back and did not enjoy it much, but as O’s friend suggested, it was meant to be read in a piecemeal fashion, to fully enjoy it. Made perfect sense to give it a try this way!

PP

This is probably one of the longest read along ever, its definitely the longest read along I have ever participated in, with a schedule starting from March 2016 and ending in November 2017 and goes like this-

I – March 2016 (chapters 1–2)
II – April 2016 (chapters 3–5)
III – May 2016 (chapters 6–8)
IV – June 2016 (chapters 9-11)
V – July 2016 (chapters 12–14)
VI – August 2016 (chapters 15–17)
VII – September 2016 (chapters 18–20)
VIII – October 2016 (chapters 21–23)
IX – November 2016 (chapters 24–26)
– December 2016 (chapters 27–29)
XI – January 2017 (chapters 30–32)
XII – February 2017 (chapters 33–34)
XIII – March 2017 (chapters 35–37)
XIV – April 2017 (chapters 38–40)
XV – June 2017 (chapters 41–43)
XVI – July 2017 (chapters 44–46)
XVII – August 2017 (chapters 47-49)
XVIII – September 2017 (chapters 50–52)
XIX – October 2017 (chapters 53–55)
XX – November 2017 (chapters 56–57)

I am super exited to participate in this event and will blog over the chapters read every month. A big shout out to O for starting the idea and then getting it organized!

Stay Tuned!

 

 

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