Classics Club Spin #25

Time for another spin and a great way to start the new year! On Sunday the 22nd of November the numbers will be spun and the corresponding title must be read by the 30th January 2021 – that’s nine whole weeks, it must be possible!

This is my list:

  1. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  3. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  4. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  5. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  6. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  7. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  8. Swann’s Way by Marcel proust
  9. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
  10. A Passage to India by E.M.Forster
  11. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  12. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
  13. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  14. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  15. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  16. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
  17. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  18. A Passage to India by E.M.Forster
  19. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
  20. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I’d quite like a chunkster for the dark evenings, The House of the Seven Gables or Les Miserables maybe but I’ll have to wait and see. . .

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

‘You must go back with me to the autumn of 1827’ writes Gilbert Markham to his friend Jack Halford in 1847, ‘I know you like a long story, and are as great a stickler for particularities and circumstantial details as my grandmother, so I will not spare you’ and so he begins to recount the story of his meeting with Helen Graham. Gloomy Wildfell Hall has been shut for years, but word comes to the neighbourhood that a mysterious single lady has been seen occupying a few of the rooms with a young child. The chatter begins amongst the local families as they speculate and vie for information and invitations.

We know that she’s an artist, that she is alone with her son Arthur and one trustworthy servant and we know that there’s a secret and that she’s afraid – but what has happened? Helen takes Gilbert into her confidence and dramatically thrusts her diary into his hands.

‘Bring it back when you have read it; and don’t breathe a word of what it tells you to any living being – I trust to your honour.’

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Random Tuesday

I understand that this year we’re having a mast autumn in the south of England. Something that happens every 5 to 10 years when all the trees synchronise to produce a vast quantity of fruit- far too much for the predators to eat so saplings can grow and flourish. And it’s true, the hedgerows are dripping with berries and the quantity of conkers and acorns, crab apples and beech masts make walking a dangerous business, any small gust of wind and the thud of conquers hitting the ground makes Dylan the dog and I stop in our tracks!

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A Film for October: Poetry

A body floats along the river. Mija, (Yun Jung-hee) always dressed in light florals is a quiet, unassuming 66 year old who lives in a small apartment in Korea with her teenage grandson, Jongwook (Lee Da-wit). She is diagnosed with early onset dementia and remembers that at school she was praised for her poetry – something she has given up. Now that words are being forgotten she enrols on a poetry class at her local college.

What is poetry? How do I find inspiration? How do I begin to write? The film is punctuated by her asking these questions of her teacher, other students and poets she hears at recitals. Observe says her teacher. It’s about the importance of seeing. Look closely at everything he advises as he picks up and examines an apple. Mija studies an apple in her kitchen, and starts to carry a notebook and pen around with her constantly taking notes. But still she struggles to find the inspiration she’s looking for.

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The Bell Jar

It’s 1953 and 19 year old Esther Greenwood has arrived in New York for a months work on a fashion magazine. One of 12 girls who have won a placement through a writing competition, it’s a month of all expenses paid and ‘piles and piles of free bonuses’, there are successful people to meet, finger bowls to learn how to use and plenty of advice about their complexions. They all live together in a women only hotel with cocktails and parties and Buddy Willard and Doreen lounging about in a peach silk dressing-gown.

‘I was supposed to be having the time of my life’

Of course it’s all just a matter of filling in time before getting married, what a ‘dreary and wasted life for a girl with fifteen years of straight A’s’, thinks Esther who yearns to write and travel.

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Random Sunday

Listening to the US presidential debates has reminded me that four years ago we were in Vermont in a staunchly Bernie Sanders supporting house.

The sheer abundance of autumnal leaves, pumpkins and rosy apples cast a glow of reds and oranges against the bluest sky that kept me in a state of permanent rapture!

It was a week of steep hikes and apple festivals, eating Ben & Jerry’s, actually watching a bear cross the road in front of us, and sitting on a swing seat on a wooden verandah sipping drinks and pretending I was Olivia Walton or Marilla Cuthbert.

We spent a lot of time discussing exterior house colours and trying to choose our favourites. This gorgeous purple house had paintwork picked out in green and sat next door to a house painted in bright sunshine yellow.

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Our host had moved his Georgian house from the nearby town into the forest and painted it in classic colonial Barn Red and Prussian Blue, building up a small farm, with about thirty Dorset breed sheep.

We breakfasted on sausages and homemade sage cornbread that we ate still hot, straight from the pan. A jug of maple syrup was always on the table, made in the barn every winter when there was too much snow to move.

Larry was a wonderful host and a skilled craftsman and had made this rocking chair, with the seat woven to match the colours of the house. It sits happily by the fire in the kitchen and is just, I think, a perfect reading spot.

As soon as we got home I had to relive it through Diane Keaton in Baby Boom and I think I’m going to have to go and watch it again (and yes, slightly embarassingly I did go and see the actual house!)

A Film For September: The Headless Women

The film begins with a group of children playing on their bikes by a road. Later the same day elegant, middle aged Verónica (Maria Onetto), is seen driving along a deserted road when her phone rings, looking down at it she hits something in the road, bangs her head and suffers mild concussion. We follow her as she gets treatment and we see that she is having a relationship with someone other than her husband. So far, so simple.

But as the days go by with her family and extended family her emotional realities of everyday life start to become a bit hazy. Gradually all her activities from the previous day seem to disappear and under intense observation we watch as her grip on reality starts to unravel. Did she hit a dog or was it worse, was it a child? And this we don’t know, from the opening scene of the children playing it’s a possibility. And is her detachment from her world purely the result of the concussion or is it also guilt? Because of her affair, or is there more for her to feel guilty about? Verónica’s murky, disoriented mindset is portrayed as dreamlike and foggy as her paranoia makes her increasingly isolated.

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Confessions of an English Opium-Eater: Being an extract from the life of a scholar

I kept putting off reading this afraid it was going to be dry and dusty but not a bit of it. Thomas De Quincey is a great raconteur, dropping names wherever he can and making full use of his artistic license he makes us feel as if we’re at a very sociable gathering, listening to him holding forth on his favourite subject – himself!

First published in 1821 opium was incredibly cheap and could be bought anywhere. Jane Austen’s mother took it for travel sickness, Robert Southey for hay fever. On a Saturday afternoon small packages would be prepared in all manner of shops for the evening rush because it was cheaper than ale or spirits. Not surprisingly there was considerable debate about the harms versus the good of opium and laudanum addiction and these Confessions were seen as an encouragement to experiment, TDQ responded:

‘Teach opium-eating! -Did I teach wine-drinking? Did I reveal the mystery of sleeping? Did I inaugurate the infirmity of laughter’

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A Film For August: Do The Right Thing

Set on one street in Brooklyn on one boiling hot day, Mookie (Spike Lee) delivers pizza for Sal (Danny Aiello) the owner of ‘Sal’s Pizzeria’, while Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L Jackson) is the DJ watching the street and providing the soundtrack.

Smiley (Roger Geunveur Smith) wonders along the street trying to sell pictures of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X; a Korean couple have opened a convenience store; Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) blares Fight the Power from his boombox and three men sit like a Greek chorus opposite Sal’s passing comment. As the camera follows them through the day we get to know them all and watch as the temperature rises and hate and bigotry smoulder. It’s hot, bold and provocative from the very beginning when Tina (Rosie Perez) dances to Public Enemy’s Fight the Power, from then on its like a ticking bomb.

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The Salt Path

the salt path

Within a week in 2013 Raynor Winn and her husband Moth lose their home and livelihood and receive the news that Moth has a rare and terminal illness for which there’s no cure ‘Don’t tire yourself, or walk too far, and be careful on the stairs.’

Instead they pack their rucksacks and walk and wild camp The South West Coast Trail, England’s longest way marked long-distance footpath, 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset along the coast of Devon and Cornwall to Poole Harbour in Dorset.

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