Happy 200th Birthday

As I’m sure most people obsessed with books are aware today is he 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice and I couldn’t let this pass without marking such a momentous occasion. I reread the novel about a year ago (review)and haven’t watched any adaptations recently, but that doesn’t mean I can’t remember how amazing this novel is.

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So what is it about this novel that makes it such a popular read 200 years later? I can’t speak for everyone who adores this novel, but I am sure I can hazard a guess at a few good reasons.

Firstly, and arguably most obviously, is the relationship between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy. How can you not fall in love with these characters and will them to be together? They are so blinded by their own pride and prejudice (see what I did there!) that they can’t see what is under their noses, and haven’t we all been guilty of that at some point in life? Elizabeth is so head strong and sure of herself that the reader wants her to succeed and outwit those irritating characters who try to tell her what they want her to do, and Mr Darcy is many women’s perfectly moody romantic hero.

Couple this with Austen’s simplistic and witty language and you have a novel that is a delight to escape into every time you pick it up. Austen is a master at creating hugely entertaining and loveable characters; even the annoying ones like Lydia are still a joy to read about and secretly hate!

I was watching a feature on Pride and Prejudice on the news this morning and a lady made the fantastic perception that thanks to Colin Firth’s wet shirt portrayal of Mr Darcy, a new generation of readers were introduced to, and consequently fell in love with Darcy, Elizabeth etc. Being all of 7/8 years old when the BBC made this adaptation, my introduction to Pride and Prejudice films comes from the more recent film version starring Kiera Knightly, so I am slightly bias and prefer this version, but I admit I can see the attraction on this one.

Oddly enough films are not the only spin off merchandise you can buy related to this novel, and on my little internet browse of book covers I found some lovely book confetti and a beautiful poster version on the novel too! Sadly I can’t afford to purchase anything as I am on the move yet again, but I can dream….

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Sense and Sensibility (1995)

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Sense and Sensibility is my favourite Jane Austen. It is the first Austen I read (and a re-read is long overdue) and that means it always has a special place in my heart, and despite reading Pride and Prejudice far more often, this is still my favourite. I love the relationship between Elinor and Marianne and how they come to depend on one another as they have to downgrade home and cope with the various trials and tribulations of love in an Austen novel.

It has been some time since I watched this 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. It stars many well known Brits, from Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet to Alan Rickman and Hugh Laurie, and I do love a good British film; maybe I’m being slightly bias as a Brit, but I love seeing the beautiful houses and stunning British countryside. For me the actors and their characters are fantastic and whilst watching I became totally immersed in the world of the Dashwoods, I wasn’t sat there questioning why X had been chosen for such a role. This adaptation captures enough of the novel and the magic without cutting too much and without feeling as though it drags on and on and on. I especially like this version because for several years I worked at one of the houses used in the film; the fantastic Montacute House in Somerset which is the home of Mr Palmer (Hugh Laurie).

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One of the best parts of the film for me is when Elinor (Emma Thompson) realises that her love interest is not married to someone else. I like this scene not only because of Elinor’s reaction, but because it plays a role in a great episode of The Vicar of Dibley when Dawn French’s character is proposed to. Throughout modern culture there are always so many links to Colin Firth as Mr Darcy (the Pride and Prejudice version, not Bridget Jones’ Diary), so it is great to see how other Austen adaptations are having an impact on society.

Somewhere I have the DVD copy, but just in case I have saved it to the digibox for the next time I need a good Austen fix.

The Vicar of Dibley Clip

Call the Midwife

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Call the Midwife was a Christmas present from one of my best friends, and was not really a book I had thought about, having missed the TV show. I wasn’t sure if it would be a book I would enjoy, as I tend to steer clear of real life style stories, unless it is a biography of someone famous I want to read about. I was pleasantly surprised!

Call the Midwife is Worth’s recollection of the challenges and triumphs training and working as a midwife in the East End of London in the 1950s. The East End was heavily bombed during the Second World War, mainly due to the Docklands, and the poverty that extended from this is still shockingly evident in the decades after the War and in Worth’s writing. Having completed some nursing training, Worth transfers to Nonnatus House, a convent run by nuns, who also act as District Nurses and midwives to those who need it in the East End. Throughout the course of the book Worth describes the sheer diversity of her job, from premature babies to ‘unexpected’ mixed race babies, to the shocking poverty and the horrors facing young runaway girls forced into prostitution.

Throughout my reading I experienced so many different emotions, going from laughing out loud to tears of shock and sadness. I became engrossed and involved in life in the East End and the lives of the many women who struggled through and flourished throughout lives riddled with poverty and uncertainty. Worth’s writing style was engaging and easily accessible, I truly feel I could have picked the book up after weeks of not touching it and still be right there in the heart of the action straight away. There were lots of occasions where I was squirming, mainly due to the sometimes graphic descriptions of childbirth and various other ailments affecting those who lived in such poverty. But despite this I still felt compelled to keep reading as Worth’s style ensured you quickly becainvokes part of each person’s life and individual struggle. Her description of the various characters she met is incredible; I loved Chummy and her upper class awkwardness and the mischievous nature of Sister Monica Joan. Perhaps my favourite characters were Len and Conchita Warren, who were married with X amount of children and didn’t even speak the same language. I love the romance of their story.

Overall for a book I had very little interest in before receiving it (especially in light of what I hear about the TV programme) I thoroughly enjoyed Call the Midwife. It is a heart warming, yet tragic read, that really brings to the life the hustle and bustle of the East End in the 1950s and I am so pleased my friend gave to me as a present.

Five Go Adventuring Again

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I feel as though I am storming through posts at the moment, however due to a return to school, therefore a dip in the social life, and a re-reading of To Kill A Mockingbird in preparation for teaching it, I was in dire need of a quick and light hearted read last night and I certainly found one.

Five Go Adventuring Again is the second story in Enid Blyton’s infamous Famous Five Series, and as stated in a previous post, I have never read them before, so it was my second journey into the world of Julian, George, Dick, Anne and Timmy the dog. It is the Christmas holidays and due to a family illness the cousins are all back together again at Kirrin Cottage. Unfortunately the winter weather puts a stop to any adventures to Kirrin Island, but there is still plenty of mystery and intrigue for the cousins to occupy themselves with. Hidden cupboards, coded maps, secret passages and being snowed in all add an element of suspense to the story and kept me reading through to the end.

Yes, as an adult it is easy to spot the twists in the tale and pinpoint the prime suspect, but that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment I find in these stories. I am glad the editions I have contain the original Blyton language as for me ‘golly’, ‘gosh’ and so on, add to the nostalgia and the innocence of the stories. They are books that I know I will return to throughout life, no matter what my age.

I love sharing my reading with my family and friends, unfortunately for me my family aren’t huge readers, despite my persistent attempts to change this. However my great aunt (who is like a second Grandma) remembers receiving these books as a child for Christmas and enjoying them, and she has rediscovered reading, and we have been sharing these and discussing them, so I look forward to passing this one her way very soon. In fact it was my aunt who bought me this copy and whenever she visits Corfe and the fabulous Enid Blyton shop she is always sure to bring me a new book. Hopefully the weather will improve so we can make another visit to add the third book to the reading list.

Period Drama Challenge

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Thank you to Breadcrumb Reads for introducing me to another interesting challenge I am planning on taking part in this year. Old Fashioned Charm is hosting a challenge based on period dramas and reviewing different films and TV programmes of this genre. I am rubbish at watching films and shockingly for someone who reads so much I have a short attention span for films and TV programmes and always need something else to do at the same time to hold my attention. However I have a whole host of BBC period dramas upstairs that I haven’t watched as well as countless other DVDs so I think this challenge will be the driving force I need to ensure I finally watch some of these.

I am going to aim for 5-10 period dramas, but I am not going to list which ones as I find randomly choosing them when the mood strikes me as a better way of getting me watching films.

The Shooting Party

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Way back in March, possibly before I even started book blogging myself I read a fantastic post on Isabel Colegate’s The Shooting Party that made me desperate to read it and convinced me that I should give blogging a go.  As is typical of my urgency when it comes to reading books I am dying to devour, nine months later I finally got round to reading it, and it was well worth the wait.

The Shooting Party is set in the Autumn of 1913 and follows the lives of various people involved with, and who just happen to come across, a weekend shoot at a country house.  Over the course of the weekend we witness all walks of Edwardian life, from the aristocrats who are partaking in the shooting, and the women who form part of the shooting party, to the rural men involved in ensuring the birds make their way to the guns, to the man eager to spread the message of social change and reform and condemn the acts of those who participate in what he considers a brutal form of murder.  We witness the loves, losses and reunions (mainly with a duck) of all involved in the party as they begin to discover something about themselves and those around during the course of the party. 

Colegate’s language throughout was simplistic, yet beautifully compelling.  I found myself wanting to savour my reading, and instead of rushing through the novel, I kept it for bedtime reading so I could truly become absorbed in the narrative.  The characters were endearing, especially Cicely, the granddaughter of Sir Randolph, on the cusp of womanhood and beginning to embrace and contemplate all that life would bring her; does she want to marry an Englishman, or journey to mysterious foreign lands?  Is she ready for womanhood, or still slightly naive to the realities of life away from the comfort of the familiar?  She also has what I can only say is the best line in the novel: ‘Oh Ellen, do I want to be loved for my hair ornaments?’

Throughout the novel I felt an impending sense of doom, most of it geared towards the missing, tame duck kept as a pet by one of the grandchildren of the landowner, Sir Randolph.  However it was never far from my mind that this was a novel set in the Autumn before the outbreak of the First World War, and that soon the characters would become swept up in the most horrific and all consuming event of their lifetime.  As Colegate wrote this novel long after the War it is clear to spot many allusions to the devastating future around the corner.  They are not glaringly obvious, and do not rub the fact that the reader is aware of the War in one’s face, but are just dropped in as a reminder of what will come. 

Saying that it is difficult not to make links between the mindless slaughter of the birds with that of men in the trenches: ‘The sacrifice now was not of men but of birds, handsome creatures, bred up in every luxury a bird could wish for by Glass and his men, fed, protected from predators…only to be cast forth by a whole host of rustic angels, bearing not so much flaming swords as sticks and whistles, forced to take to the air reluctantly…forced up and out to meet a burst of noise and a quick death in that bright air.’    This metaphor makes the novel more poignant, something which is supported by the closing pages which tell us of the fate of our characters; how the shoot made them change their lives and their perceptions and arguably set some of them on to a different course in life, something which was aided by the War.

I highly recommend this novel as for me it was refreshing, simple, yet engaging read that kept me gripped until the finally pages.  I love how tension was built up throughout, how I knew something inevitable was about to happen, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what until it was over.  And because I adore anything that reminds me of my Masters dissertation I shall end with a quote that resonates even with modern society – But who invents the rules of manly behaviour?  Who says it’s the height of heroism to kill?  For every hero does there have to be a living sacrifice?

The Turn of the Century Salon: An Introduction

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When I saw this, courtesy of Breadcrumb Reads, I couldn’t resist.  November’s Autumn has started a new club based around literature of the 1880s-1930s.  Anyone who knows me, or who reads my blog and takes in the waffle, will have picked up on the fact I love any literature relating to, set during, based on the First World War, and I have a certain love of classics as well, so I feel this is a club I am eager to join and read more about.  As this is a new club, members have been asked to answer a few questions about themselves and the reason they are interested in this period.

What draws you to read the Classics?

I have a huge love of literature in general, having studied it at university and somehow ending up an English teacher, but I often feel that I didn’t appreciate a lot of what I was reading at the time; too many distractions at university!  I love the language and the fact they often take a fair amount of concentration and engagement to enjoy and learn to love.  I sometimes feel I was born in the wrong era, so literature is a perfect way to escape.

What era have you mainly read? Georgian? Victorian? Which authors?

Until fairly recently I would have said Victorian was the era I tended to favour, particularly Dickens, Hardy and Wilkie Collins, although I have devoured all Austen, so some Georgian thrown into the mix.  However my MA was in History and I focused on the First World War, so I am keen to read anything from this period.

What Classics have you read from the 1880s-1930s? What did you think of them?

Hmmm where to begin?  I think I will mention those I have read most recently as they are fresh in my mind.

  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920) – I wasn’t a huge fan, despite hearing many good things about this novel.  I found my concentration waning, but maybe that has something to do with the fact I was reading it at Christmas.
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy (1886) – I love Hardy and this novel didn’t disappoint.  He writes about the countryside I grew up in and I love reading about it from a fresh perspective and he certainly creates tragic characters well.
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1910) – A story I knew well from the film that was released during my early childhood.  I enjoyed the novel and the subtle differences between the two.
  • Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938) – I usually love Waugh’s novels, but this one did not grab my attention.  Saying that I do enjoy his prose and turn of phrase.
  • Any Jeeves and Wooster by P.G.Wodehouse (1915 – 1974) – How can you not love Jeeves and Wooster?  They are such light hearted reads and always bring a smile to my face.

Name some of the books you are looking forward to reading for the salon.

I’m not sure where to begin.  I would like to reread some work by Virginia Woolf, having studied her at university.  More Jeeves and Wooster and some Persephone novels that I hope fit in to the tail end of the era.  I would like to read more memoirs of the First World War, specifically Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth.  But for now I will just see where my reading takes me.

Which authors do you hope to learn more about?

I  would like to read some E.M.Forster, Wilkie Collins and some more literature from The Bloomsbury Set, but I am open to new suggestions, ideas and love reading other people’s posts/recommendations, so I am sure the list will grow.

Is your preference prose? Poetry? Both?

I tend to favour prose, although I do love the poetry of the First World War.  I would like to read more poetry, so hopefully this will be the perfect opportunity.

I certainly look forward to reading the views and opinions of others who have signed up and I cannot wait to discover some new authors.

Private Peaceful

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Private Peaceful is a book that was recommended to me by one of my Year 7 classes; children’s fiction isn’t a huge interest of mine so I was grateful for any suggestions. We have our own school blog that I have just begun, so far only this class use it as they are my guinea pigs, so it was helpful to have many great reads from the class itself so I could put the list on the blog for when they are feeling stuck for inspiration.

Private Peaceful follows the lives of two brothers, Charlie and Tommo Peaceful. We first meet the brothers before the First World War shortly after the death of their father and read about their experiences of country life in the early twentieth century, experiencing poaching, school, work and, of course, falling in love. As was common of the time, the Peaceful family work and live on an estate, and when the Colonel insists that Charlie Peaceful must go and fight in France, his younger brother lies abut is age and joins him, taking us on an adventure across the haunting battlefields of the First World War.

Since my Masters I have developed a huge interest in literature of, surrounding, about the First World War; for me it is a truly tragic, yet hopelessly romantic period in British history that offers so much opportunity and inspiration for both authors and readers alike. My reading of this period has often centred on adult fiction (bar War Horse), so this was certainly a refreshing and new take on my favourite area of history.

The novel is split into chapters, the titles of which are a countdown of time, instantly creating a sense of impending doom and tension. The chapters are told in dual narratives; the first few paragraphs detail what is happening at hat particular time, each chapter offering a few more clues as to what the mystery is and the rest of the chapter tells the story of the Peaceful brothers throughout their lives and what led them to the battlefields. I found this style of narrative confusing at first, primarily because I’m too impatient and wanted to know the mystery right away. About halfway through the novel I thought I had it sussed and then another unexpected twist threw me off track, making this a highly recommended read from my point of view, so a big thank you to my class for suggesting it.

Christmas 2012 and a new year of reading

It officially isn’t Christmas if I don’t have at least one book on my Christmas list, and this year I even got a few surprise books that I wasn’t expecting.

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It is common knowledge among my friends and family that in recent years I have become obsessed with cooking, cooking programmes in particular, with Hugh’s Three Things being my new addiction. For those of you who haven’t seen the programme it centres on the idea that all good dishes are made up of three good key ingredients with a few stable kitchen cupboard ingredients thrown in. I very much look forward to delving in and trying some new recipes in the kitchen. Staying on the cooking theme I also received a cupcake book, so hopefully more yummy cakes will be on the way.

Through reading various blog posts I have become familiar with Persephone Books, and a particularly good review of John Coates’ Patience saw that quickly rise on my Christmas list and Father Christmas delivered.

I have read all Jane Austen novels, however my copy of Sense and Sensibility was a cheap one with teeny, tiny writing and I have been keen to update and find a beautiful new copy of the novel. I particularly like Penguin Classics as I enjoy reading the ‘Introduction’, so this is a reread I look forward to.

Two new books have joined my collection and I have one of my good friends to thank for both of them. Call the Midwife was an unexpected Christmas present; a risky present choice for someone with hundreds of books as you can never be too sure if I have a book. Luckily I didn’t, and I haven’t seen the TV programme, so another great choice I look forward to. The same friend has been raving about Life of Pi recently, mainly the film version, but as I haven’t read the book I didn’t want to go and see it. And then this evening I found the book on Kindle for 20p, can’t say no to that.

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A recent trip to the cinema (to see The Hobbit, which is amazing by the way) meant I finally got to see the trailer for Les Miserables and although I know I won’t be able to read it before seeing the film, yes I am being hypocritical here, I am going to make it my aim to read it at some point this year. Other than that who knows what 2013 will bring, hopefully I’ll achieve my ambition of getting the TBR list to below 50, but a this rate I doubt it!