Classics Club Spin #26

Time for another spin and it’s just the inspiration I need! I don’t have 20 titles still to be read from my original classics club list so I’ve duplicated the few remaining and numbered them 1-20. The numbers will be spun on Sunday, April 18th and whichever number comes out I need to read the corresponding title before May 31st. I’m hoping for Maurice. . .

  1. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  2. Eugine Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  3. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  4. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
  5. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
  6. Maurice by E.M Forster
  7. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  8. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
  9. Eugine Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  10. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
  11. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  12. Maurice by E.M Forster
  13. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  14. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  15. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
  16. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  17. Maurice by E.M Forster
  18. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  19. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
  20. Maurice by E.M Forster

Seize the Day

New York 1956. Wilhelm Adler a 44 year old living temporarily in the Hotel Gloriana is on his way to breakfast with his father, a permanant resident of the hotel that is home too many elderly retirees. As the elevator sank and sank and the great carpet billowed and the curtains drape like sails, Wilhelm can sense that this is a day like no other. ‘The waters of the earth are going to roll over me.’

Told in the third person by an omniscient narrator and through Wilhem’s own thoughts and flashbacks, Bellow deftly interweaves pathos and humour to track Wilhelm’s fall from a respectable middle management lifestyle. He’s been fired from his job, is separated from his wife and children and is now on the brink of financial disaster, this is his day of reckoning before he drowns in despair.

Continue reading “Seize the Day”

The House of Mirth

New York 1905. Lily Bart is unfathomably beautiful. Elegant and graceful she’s welcomed at all the fashionable parties. but while she’s from a good family, her father was ‘ruined’ and now an orphan she must live with her aunt who gives her just enough pocket money to keep up appearances but doesn’t quite cover the expenses of her social calendar. At 29 Lily knows the only answer is to marry well.

The society in which Lily moves is an aristocracy that owes as much to European culture as to wealth, a society that mirrors the world of Edith Wharton’s. And it’s through Lily’s eyes and experience that Wharton sets out to satirise the world in which she felt so trapped. The tight knit group of friends that form Lily’s set, are governed by rules. The year is divided between town and country with weekend house parties de rigueur. Husbands provide the money and their wives adorn and delight, with an edge of malicious indifference.

Continue reading “The House of Mirth”

A Film for March: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

At the end of the 18th century a countess (Valeria Golino) asks a young artist to paint a portrait of her daughter Héloïse, (Adèle Haenel), which is to be shown to a wealthy, prospective husband living in Milan.

When Marianne (Noémie Merlant) arrives at the remote island near Brittany she’s told that she needs to paint in secret, pretending that she’s come as a companion to Héloïse; to watch and study her closely as they spend their days together, and then paint at night. Written and directed by Céline Sciamma, this is a simple story about women’s friendship and the unfolding romance between the two main characters, told with pared back elegance.

When I think about this film the first thing I think of is the sound of it. There’s no background music, all the sounds are made by the characters. The sea and the waves breaking, the scratching of charcoal, a canvas being prepared, wooden shoes on floor boards and the hollow clunk of a door being shut. Héloïse has been in a convent and has never heard an orchestra play. The only music we hear, she hears too; tentatively produced by Marianne on a harpsichord and then joyfully by a chorus of women singing and clapping traditional Breton folk songs; until at the end, back in Paris, we hear and see a full orchestra together.

Continue reading “A Film for March: Portrait of a Lady on Fire”

The Portrait of a Lady

Lydia Touchett is a wealthy American who divides her year between homes in Italy and England and every now and then visits her old family home in Albany; which is where she finds her orphaned niece, sitting reading a book amongst a jumble of old furniture, and asks her if she would like to accompany her to Europe.

So, in 1870, Isabel Archer arrives at Gardencourt, the Tudor house set some 40 miles outside of London, with lawns sloping down to the River Thames at ‘the perfect middle of a splendid summer afternoon’. There she meets her uncle, cousin Ralph and his friend Lord Warburton.

Isabel is sensible and kind, full of enthusiasm and fun – all in all she’s a hit. Young men fall in love with her and their sisters adore her, her erstwhile suitor Caspar Greenwood follows her over from America in hope, but Isabel values her independence and has no time for marriage, at least not until she’s travelled and seen some of the world. Gentle Ralph is one of those who love her and before his father dies persuades him to leave a part of his fortune to Isabel. He wants to see what such a spirited character will do given financial security and that action provides the catalyst. Now a wealthy young women Isabel is able to make her own choices.

Continue reading “The Portrait of a Lady”

Death on the Riviera

A counterfeit currency gang are at large on the French Riviera and the French police believe it to be an English set up. A phone call to Scotland Yard sees Detective-Inspector Meredith and Acting-Sergeant Strang pack their bags, open the windows, put the roof down and drive to the South of France hot on the tail of ‘Chalky’ Cobbett.

Bill Dillon, a young Englishman, is also heading to the Riviera and to the Villa Palomo. The villa is owned by Nesta Hedderwick a wealthy widow on a tomato juice diet, who lives with her companion Miss Bertha Pelligrew and a collection of young people – her niece Dilys, the questionable play boy Tony Shenton and his girlfriend Kitty Linden and an artist Paul Latour. When Bill arrives it becomes clear that more than one of them has something to hide and the tension begins to rise.

Continue reading “Death on the Riviera”

Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman

I’ve had a couple of Peirene novels sitting looking at me for quite some time and have been intrigued by the TLS claim that these are ‘two-hour books to be devoured in a single sitting’. I also wanted to take part in Read Indies month, hosted by Kaggsy and Lizzy and so it seemed sensible to give it a go.

As it turns out Portrait of the Mother by Friedrich Christian Delius (translated by Jamie Bulloch) was the perfect book to read in one go as it follows a young German women as she walks across Rome on a January afternoon in 1943, from her lodgings to a Bach concert at Rome’s Lutheran church, all told in one sentence.

It’s a walk that takes her just over an hour and through her internal monologue we get a fabulously detailed look at Rome, the paintings, sculptures, empty shops and people. But we also learn about her upbringing and her families lives, her new husband fighting in North Africa and how she feels as an outsider even though she’s amongst allies.

Continue reading “Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman”

A Film for February: Wings of Desire

I wonder if angels really do live among us? That’s the premise of this ethereal romantic fantasy directed by Wim Wenders and set in pre-unification Berlin. Henri Alekan famously filmed with an old silk stocking covering the lens to give a sepia tone to the black and white of the angels world.

The angels are pre -history and immortal, their role is to observe and record. They move around the city watching, listening and comparing notes, bringing comfort to those in distress. The pacing is languorous and meditative, picking up snatches of conversations and thoughts as if we’re listening to a radio being tuned, but the roving aerial and ground level shots show a desolate city bound by the wall. A hard edge that’s mirrored by the lyrical, poetic dialogue and the post punk Nick Cave music.

Continue reading “A Film for February: Wings of Desire”

Sense and Sensibility

‘The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex.’

I love that opening line, the words can’t be read quickly, they seem to have a slow authority that tell us what to expect. That this is a family drama, about an old family and it hints that change is afoot. We know straight away to settle in and allow ourselves to be wrapped up in their story.

The Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne are forced to leave Norland, their family home when their father dies and their brother John inherits the estate. They take up a cottage in Devonshire with their mother and younger sister Margaret and it’s from here that they must navigate their way to matrimony and happiness whilst avoiding the stumbling blocks of Lucy Steele and Willoughby.

Continue reading “Sense and Sensibility”

Frankenstein

At the end of the 18th century Robert Walton is a young man inspired to travel by reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and writes home to tell his sister about his adventures. But on July 31st a strange thing happens when they become stranded by ice and fog and see a man of gigantic stature on a sledge guided by dogs. The next day they find another sledge being driven by an emaciated man and take him on board. Over the following days as his health improves Victor Frankenstein tells Robert the story of his life so far.

This prosaic structure is so wonderfully everyday and sets the story so firmly on home ground that it adds a chilling factor to an already frightening and exciting tale that at its heart is about abandonment and loneliness.

Continue reading “Frankenstein”