One of my favorite winter pastimes is to curl up with Pruitt and a good book (and maybe a mug of brandied hot chocolate as a special treat.) During these inhospitable months, there is nothing quite so comforting as this particular combination.
I'm not one to make New Year's resolutions, but an informal goal I have this year is to read more classic novels. I was embarrassed to realize that, aside from Pride and Prejudice, Anne of Green Gables, and assigned reading from school, I have rather few classics under my belt... and there are so many! The classics can be intimidating, partly because of the language and style, which is so different from how we speak today. However, it's more than worth it to devote a little extra time and brain power. These novels are true works of art; there's a reason they've been popular for 100+years.
This post is a review of the books I'm currently reading - Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. A good sampling of both American and English literature. I should also include a spoiler alert here. If you haven't yet read these books or seen the films, do not scroll any further! You've been warned! :)
- Spoiler Alert - Spoiler Alert - Spoiler Alert -
Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Tess Durbeyfield is beautiful young girl from a poor family in Marlott, England. By chance, her father learns that they may possibly be descended from the ancient and noble d'Urberville family. In hopes of improving their situation, Tess' parents send her to one of the remaining d'Urberville estates in Trantridge. There she meets Alec d'Urberville, who becomes very attracted to Tess and doesn't know how to take "no" for an answer. I'm going to put this mildly and just say that, between her good looks and naiveté, Tess ends up with some serious trouble. Later on in this tragic story, when Tess meets the man she truly loves, she is unable to ignore the events of her past. Trust me, it gets even sadder as the plot unfolds.
This hobble of being alive is rather serious, don’t you think so?
She put her hand in his, and thus they went on, to a place where the reflected sun glared up from the river, under a bridge, with a molten-metallic glow that dazzled their eyes...
Though it is heart-wrenching, Tess of the d'Urbervilles is one of the most beautifully written novels I've read to date. Enclosed in my vintage copy was a small article with all kinds of fascinating background info, from Hardy's struggle to get the entire story published (it was rather scandalous for its time) to how the wood engraving illustrations were created. The article made an interesting statement that "Tess of the d'Urbervilles is composed more like a symphony than like a novel, and...the physical background... varies symphonically with the mood of the novel." Indeed, Hardy is a master at setting the scene. When Tess falls in love with Angel Clare, this takes place in a bright and cheerful valley, "a region of crystal streams and fragrant fields." (That's where my favorite quote about the sun on the river is pulled from.) The more tragic passages of the story are painted as such, against a gray backdrop of desolation. I haven't read such vivid descriptions of scenery since James' The Turn of the Screw.
In Civil War-era New England, the four March sisters and their mother struggle to hold things together at home while their father is away, serving as a chaplain in the war. Each sister has a distinctive character. There's aspiring author and tomboy Jo, pretty and luxury-loving Meg, shy and caring Beth, and aristocratic, spoiled Amy. As they come of age, they all learn valuable lessons, some amusing and some serious.
Be comforted, dear soul! There is always light behind the clouds.
Take some books and read; that’s an immense help; and books are always good company if you have the right sort.
Little Women is a warm, fuzzy kind of a story, but not without its share of Heartache and Dark Days (as some of the chapters are very accurately titled.) The fate of gentle Beth is so terribly sad, especially as we learn of her quiet and prolonged suffering. Another sad scene is when Jo turns down Laurie's marriage proposal. I think many readers wonder at this. Who wouldn't want to marry Laurie? He's tall, and dashing, and wealthy... Later on, we realize that Jo needs someone stable and moral to balance out her own tempestuous ways; Professor Bhaer is just that someone. It all makes sense. Alcott knew what she was doing. :)
What are your favorite classic novels? I'd love to hear in the comments!
Thank you for stopping by,
P.S. Just for fun, you can take a quiz on the PBS Masterpiece website to find out "Which Little Women Sister Are You?"