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Archive for February, 2013

THE DICKENS PROJECT 2013

THE DICKENS PROJECT 2013

David Copperfield So, I finally finished David Copperfield.

I want to focus this first post on the girls and women of David Copperfield: Clara Copperfield,, Agnes Wickfield, Dora Spendlow, and Aunt Betsy Trotwood.

Let me start by just admitting that I absolutely despised both Clara Copperfield and Dora Spendlow. They are very similar characters – both extremely childlike and, to my mind, incredibly annoying. Their childishness exceeded all possible bounds of reality, and, certainly, Clara Copperfield’s inability to stand up to Mr. Murdstone and his horrible sister caused great pain to David.

After having such an utterly useless mother, one would have expected that David would avoid marrying someone with the same deficiencies, and yet, nonetheless, he marries a girl who is so utterly incompetent that all she really seems to do is play with her dog. Dora is the most extreme result of a culture in which women are valued only for their appearance. She is pure decoration, without use. I kept wanting someone to hand her a broom and tell her to make herself useful. I am well aware that it is uncharitable, but I was rooting for her to kick the bucket so that David could find a wife who was a woman and not a child.

Spoiler alert: she did.

As much as I disliked Clara and Dora, though, I loved Aunt Betsey and Agnes Wickfield. Aunt Betsey is eccentric and good-hearted, and she becomes David’s guardian after he flees from Mr. Murdstone’s warehouse where he has essentially been enslaved. Aunt Betsey is no fan of men, having been ill-used and abandoned by a worthless husband as a young wife. In fact, the reader first meets Aunt Betsey in the very first chapter, when she arrives at the birth of David and leaves in disgust when he is born a boy and not a girl. Nonetheless, when David arrives on her doorstep, abused and unloved, she takes him in, educates him, and becomes a true friend and advocate to him. Her character is complex and interesting.

Agnes Wickfield is a bit too good to be true, but is likeable nonetheless. She is the daughter of one of David’s schoolmasters, and is a friend of his youth. She is everything that Dora is not: competent, capable and housewifely. She is also a good friend to Dora, though, and is such a kind person that she is careful never to make Dora feel inferior.

Spoiler alert: she marries David after Dora’s death, they have children, and live happily ever after.

In my next Dickens post, I’ll talk about the four villains of David Copperfield: Edward & Jane Murdstone, James Steerforth, and Uriah Heep.

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by Heather Dixon

by Heather Dixon

My second to final retelling was Entwined by Heather Dixon. While the month started out a little bit weak with my first retelling, it is finishing strong. Both Entwined and Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier (the fourth and final retelling that I’ll be discussing) were very good.

Entwined shares some similarities with Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George. It is pretty much a straight retelling, that does not include elements from other tales. In this retelling, the 12 princesses are – again – all named after flowers. Ms. Dixon used a rather pleasant little conceit to keep them straight – their names are in alphabetical order. So, we have Azalea, the eldest princess, followed by Bramble and Clover. The remainder of the princesses have names ranging from Delphinium down to Lily.

Entwined is quite a long book, at 472 pages in length. As a result of the length, there is a lot of character development, and matches are made for the three eldest princesses. Each princess has a distinct personality. Azalea, the Princess Royale, is the responsible one, Bramble is wild and unpredictable, and the beauty of the family, Clover, is kind and self-effacing. Even the younger princesses get their own personalities in this retelling.

The story essentially begins with the Queen fading and dying. The King is devastated by the death of his wife, and handles it very poorly, essentially withdrawing from his daughters. His lack of sympathy drives a wedge between him and the princesses, and when he tells them that there will be no more dancing until the year of mourning is over, they rebel and find their way to a secret ballroom beneath the castle. The villain – the Keeper – draws and repels Azalea simultaneously, as he entices the princesses further and further into his web of deceit and magic.

One of the things that I liked about this story is that there is much less princess-saving going on in this book than in many fairytales. In the end, there is collaboration between the princesses and the heroes that results in the saving of the kingdom. But none of the older princesses are the type to sit around fainting and waiting for their prince to save them, thank you very much. They are quite capable of doing at least some of the saving themselves.

Dancing is a significant part of Entwined. All of the princesses love to dance, and Azalea is the most accomplished dancer of the group. Some of the dance names I recognized as traditional dances, some, like the Entwine, I did not and therefore assume that Ms. Dixon made them up. The magic blends well with the story. Overall, I really loved this retelling and would read it again. This may actually be my favorite of the four – which is saying something, because I thought that three out of the four were quite entertaining.

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Princess of the Midnight Ball My second retelling was Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball. Full confession time: I had previously read this book, along with the sequel, Princess of Glass. I am a fan of Jessica Day George’s books – they straddle the line of middle grade and young adult quite nicely, in my opinion.

Anyway. Princess of the Midnight Ball is far superior to the first retelling. It is a straight retelling, doesn’t attempt to incorporate elements of other legends or fairy tales, and is the better for it. The twelve princesses in this retelling are all named after flowers: the eldest, Rose, is the most complex. This is a rather odd coincidence, because the princesses in the third retelling – Entwined – are also all named after flowers. However, that is just an aside.

One of the difficulties of a book with TWELVE dancing princesses is that it is difficult to develop twelve distinctly different characters. All of the books essentially chose two or three of the princesses and really focused on them. In this retelling, Rose was the focus of the books, along with her sister, Lily. The middle princesses rather blended together, and the younger princesses were noteworthy mostly for their need to be taken care of by the older girls.

The story is set in the imaginary kingdom of Westfalin, and concerns the long-suffering King Gregor and his twelve daughters who disappear each night to dance for the King Under Stone. The story itself maintained the “supernatural opponents” aspect of the original tale as the main conflict. In this retelling, the princesses do not dance by choice, but because they have been essentially enslaved by their well-intentioned but deceived mother. The main hero, Galen, is a returning soldier. Knitting also plays a rather large part in the tale itself, and the book includes some knitting patterns. Manly or not, our hero, is the knitter. The romance between Rose and Galen develops sweetly and convincingly, and is lovely and age-appropriate. I would not hesitate to allow any fairy-tale loving young reader to read this book.

There is now a third book in the series – Princess of the Silver Woods – which takes place 10 years after the original story, and which presents the youngest princess, Petunia, as the heroine. According to the book description, this one takes elements from Little Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood. It looks like a lot of fun. The cover is just beautiful as well.

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Lucky Number 14

Lucky Number 14

Fortunately, I am nearly done with David Copperfield. I guess Barnaby Rudge is my next “Daily Dickens” book.

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I am going to participate in the Classic’s Club Spin, which can be found here:

http://theclassicsclubblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/11/the-classics-spin/

Basically, it works as follows: choose 20 books from my Classic’s Club list(s), numbered one through twenty. On Monday, The Classic’s Club will post a randomly generated number between one & twenty – that will the next classic that I will read.

So, with four categories of five books, here are my 20 selections:

Five books that were not originally written in English:

1. War and Peace by Tolstoy
2. The Three Musketeers by Dumas
3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas
4. Pere Goriot by Balzac
5. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Verne

Five books that were written between 1920 and 1940

6. Whose Body by Dorothy Sayers
7. To Let by John Galsworthy
8. Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
9. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
10. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Five books that were written by Charles Dickens

11. Martin Chuzzlewit
12. Bleak House
13. A Tale of Two Cities
14. Barnaby Rudge
15. Hard Times

Five books written by women writers

16. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
17. North and South by Gaskell
18. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
19. Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
20. The Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter

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Wild Strawberries Angela Thirkell was an English and Australian novelist, born in 1890. She was literarily well-connected as the daughter of an Oxford don, and the cousin of Rudyard Kipling. She is best known for her series of novels set in Barsetshire, the fictional county created by Anthony Trollope in his Chronicles of Barsetshire, beginning with The Warden. These are considered his ecclesiastical novels, centering around the church and the country gentry. Angela Thirkell’s novels equally center around English country life in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Angela Thirkell is a rather neglected novelist, although she inspires intense loyalty among her fans. There are actually two Angela Thirkell Societies, one in the UK, and one in North America. The link to the Angela Thirkell Society of North America can be found here: http://www.angelathirkell.org.

Wild Strawberries was her second Barsetshire novel, coming after High Rising (which I have not read). It was first published in 1934. Her books have frequently been out of print, and are therefore somewhat difficult to find. My edition of Wild Strawberries was published by Moyer Bell and is, sadly, a really fairly awful reprint – riddled with errors and odd page breaks. I understand that Virago is in the process of reprinting at least some of her novels, but I was unable to get my hands on their reprint of Wild Strawberries. None of the books are – at least at this point – available for kindle or in any other electronic format. Hope springs eternal, because I would dearly love to have the complete set for my kindle.

However, getting down to it, Wild Strawberries is purely delightful. It is a light read, and is the kind of book that seems no longer to be written – absurdly comedic and full of wit and intelligence. It is the brief story of a house party at Rushwater House in West Barsetshire. The story itself reminds me strongly of Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina, although the heroine is not the child of a servant. The two romantic leads, however, are a younger brother named David, who is wildly attractive and rather a dilettante, and the older brother, John, a widower, who is a good-looking enough, but is staid and responsible.

While I was reading it, I realized that winter is really not the correct season for this book. Not that it wasn’t a fabulously witty romp, but this is the kind of book that should be read on my front porch on a summer evening.

In any event, in order to convince everyone who stumbles on this post to at least give Ms. Thirkell a try, I hereby offer some of my favorite quotes:

Day followed day in delightful emptiness. Agnes and her mother did their embroidery and had endless conversations about plans for visiting neighbors or having a few people to lunch, plans which usually never got beyond their inception. Mary went for long walks alone, played tennis with the doctor and his wife, and spent much of her time with the children.

and

“Do you think it would be more pathetic if the girl gave her blood and died, and then the man went off into the desert to be a monk, or if the man died and the wife and the girl made friends over his corpse and both became nuns? One might do good business with that, because in films no one much cares if the hero lives or dies so long as there are plenty of lovely heroines.

and

Could Mary care for him except through pity? Kind she had called him, but gratitude for kindness can be very far from love. Shaken and bewildered he could only let the evening bring forth its own fruits. If they were bitter, he could taste them without shrinking.

Wild Strawberries is not a romance, although it has strong romantic themes. It is light, often funny, and entertaining.

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Welcome to Geoff from The Oddness of Moving Things who is my 100th follower. This feels like some sort of a milestone for some reason. And thanks to all of my followers! Drop me a quick comment to say hi, if you haven’t already done so.

There are so many bloggers out there (including Geoff) who are in my reader and whose posts I enjoy so much! It is great to see some of those bloggers showing up to read my little posts as I send them out into the world.

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