Well, the quest to read World Classics in Translation continues in its haphazard way. What can I report about what I have read since I last posted on this topic back in, um, April
Persuasion – Jane Austen.
Re-read. A world classic (my edition tells me) and the fifth of Miss Austen’s works I’d read in as many months (I reread Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility in December, followed by Mansfield Park in January). I think it might be my favourite by Jane. The main character is Anne Elliot, a little older and maturer at 27 than JA’s other heroines. One who has loved and lost and knows the pain this brings. The novel is a sustained study of the agony of heartbreak and restraint.
Brother Dusty-Feet – Rosemary Sutcliff
Oxford Children’s Classic. I love children’s novels and this one is by one of my very favourite children’s authors. Rosemary Sutcliff is a hero – and I only regret that I did not discover her during my own childhood. This novel is set in Elizabethan times and tells the story of a young boy who runs away from his unhappy home with his aunt and joins a group of travelling players. There are a couple of adventures before our young hero achieves his goal. I would guess that it is written for children aged about 8-10 years old. A gentle read.
The Rose Round – Meriol Trevor
Another children’s book picked up in a second-hand shop. It is a little reminiscent of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden but as adults are an integral part of the story, it has less of a magical feel about it. Matt is an orphaned boy living with his older sister, Caro, a cook at a big house, where Madame is a bitter woman. Two of her children have died leaving with her with her least favourite, Theo, who was born with a deformed arm. He is now a young man but she continues to make his life unhappy and controls her granddaughter’s life, too. Theo has a heart of gold which Matt and Caro appreciate and, eventually, Madame, repents of her attitude towards him. This is the first children’s book that I ever remember reading that has such a strong Catholic theme guiding (most of) the characters’ actions. It was published in 1961 and is set in the 50s (I think). I’m not sure how many modern 10-year olds would identify with it but they might see it as an interesting insight into a childhood of 50 years ago.
The Peacock Summer – Rumer Godden
Has been sitting on my pile of books to read for about 2 years. Someone recommended Godden as a children’s author but this novel seems to be for adults or at least teenagers.
Two English girls are dragged out of their boarding school at short notice to return home to India where their father needs their presence to lend some respectability to a love affair he is conducting. His lover ostensibly becomes the girls’ governess. The plot takes about three quarters of the book to get into gear (I nearly gave up) but it does finally take off with the heat, dust and passion of India getting under the girls’ skin.
The Road Ahead – Christabel Bielenberg
This is the sequel to The Past is Myself. The first book tells the autobiographical story of a young British woman who marries a German in the early 1930s just as Hitler is voted in. She and her husband do what they can in the German Resistance and he is involved in the 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler.
Once the war is over, they basically have to learn to live together again and decide to move to Ireland with their young family. The back cover talks of how the author becomes involved with the Peace Women of Northern Ireland, but disappointingly, this subject barely covers a page in the book. Bielenberg writes beautifully but her understated style did not leave me feeling that this part of her life was in any way remarkable – despite the challenges and hardships she overcame.
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
I have already vented my spleen on this novel and do wish to revisit the subject! Perhaps I missed the point – but it wasn’t for want of trying. A major achievement in actually reading it to the end. I think my copy will be despatched to the charity shop; I have little enough space on my bookshelves as it is!
Stone Tree – Gyrðir Elíasson
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb. A series of short stories (in some cases, very short stories) with a sort of dream-like quality. I’m not sure I found them a satisfying read in many ways, but certainly different from my usual fare and good for reading in bed. Ten minutes max and you’ve finished the story! Not sure this volume is a World Classic. But it is in Translation. So it almost fits the criteria.
North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell
Essentially a Victorian love-story set in Milton (Manchester) as the Industrial Revolution is getting into full swing. Margaret, our heroine, is obliged by her father’s resignation from the Church to follow him and her mother to their new home in the North having enjoyed an idyllic childhood in countryside in the South. She encounters the grittiness of her new surroundings, not only in the smoke and dirt of the city, but in the gruffness of its inhabitants. She becomes acquainted with mill-owners (primarily Mr Thornton) and workers and is torn in her loyalty to them when a strike breaks out. Life becomes more complicated when Mr Thornton falls in love with her but his affection is unrequited. The plot has many similarities with Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and if I feel inspired enough, I may blog about this one day.
The Quest is not exactly progressing as I had hoped. As mentioned I got a bit bogged down in C&P and even managed to lose it on two occasions…(once for about a month and again for about a week) ! As a comparison, it took me about 3 or 4 months to read its 434 pages. I whizzed through N&S‘s 530 pages in 3 days!
I had a big reorganisation session of my books at the end of September and hoiked off the shelves all those that I have not actually read. These number in excess of 100. Few of them are WCiT. My revised quest is to whittle down this number – although I don’t know if I can go cold turkey and stop buying books altogether!