Eugénie Grandet

This was such an unexpected surprise and I feel incredibly fond of this book. On the one hand it’s a simple story of the Grandet family. Felix, his wife and their daughter Eugénie. Their maid Nanon and the two families of friends, the Cruchot’s and the des Grassins who visit them. They live in Saumur, in the Loire Valley region of France in a house whose appearance ‘weighs as heavily upon the spirits as the gloomiest cloister,’. Into this gloomy house comes cousin Charles from Paris and Eugénie falls immediately in love.

But on the other hand it isn’t simple at all because avarice is the enormous all pervading silent character that engulfs their lives on every page. The lowly cooper, Felix Grandet made a fortune in 1789 when he bought land confiscated from the aristocracy. A bumper harvest in 1811 increased his wealth and he’s quick to invest in business, so that by the time the novel opens ‘one day in the middle of November in the year 1819’ Grandet has a fortune so large that his every action is ‘cloaked in gold‘ and he has become a miser who worships his gold at the cost of everything else, keeping it secretly in a strongroom

‘while Madame and Mademoiselle Grandet soundly slept, the old cooper would come to commune with his gold, to caress and worship, fondle and gloat over his gold.’

This is only a short novel, my Penguin copy is 248 pages, and the gathering of his wealth, the swindling and hoodwinking of his neighbours, takes up by far the largest part, so that I did wonder why it wasn’t called Felix Grandet, but it is ultimately Eugénie’s story and that’s why I’m afraid I can’t talk about the book without talking about the ending, although I won’t give away the whole plot.

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Vanity Fair

This has taken me so long to read that I can hardly remember a time before Vanity Fair, and while there were certainly some ups and downs, when I finished, it wasn’t with a feeling of relief but with huge satisfaction at having read a really brilliant book.

First published as a complete text in 1848, Thackeray tells the story of school friends Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley, their families and friends in the first half of the 19th century with London society, the Napoleonic wars and colonisation in India forming the backdrop. The scheming manipulative Becky is a perfect foil to the humble simplicity of Emmy. As they both negotiate marriage, in laws and motherhood they also negotiate the slippery pole of social success and acceptability.

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Classics Club Spin Revealed

was the number chosen and for me that means Honoré de Balzac’s Old Goriot or so I thought – because when I got to the book shelf it appeared that the copy I actually had was Eugénie Grandet! But I haven’t read anything by Balzac and know nothing about him so this, written a couple of years before Old Goriot, can easily take its place I think.

And it’s quite exciting, not the title I’ve been looking at for the last four years and a brand new author to explore. As usual a quick look on Wikipedia has made me feel that I’ve been living under a rock all my life and this first glimpse has revealed an abundance of future reading!

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The Garden Party

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading Katherine Mansfield, this group of 15 short stories written between 1920 and 1922 were so enjoyable; easy to read and insightful. Some of the stories were just a few pages, others ran to chapters but I think what linked them was their thoughts on age.. How the young view the old and how the old view the young but also how at any time we might find ourselves out of step with our age, unsure what’s expected of us or how we’re supposed to behave.

Katherine Mansfield’s view of old age is really quite scary and sad! In Miss Brill, the elderly lady puts on her fur coat and goes to listen to the band play in the park. All is well as she watches and muses on the people around her noticing how odd the old people look ‘as if they’d just come from dark little rooms or even – even cupboards! But then she hears a young couple describing her – is it possible that she is one of the elderly, looking so strange? Seeing herself from a different perspective, the callousness of the couple is so cruel, the effect on Miss Brill is heartbreakingly sad and the loneliness of old age is very real as she hurries back to the familiarity of her room.

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Maurice

Set at the beginning of the twentieth century, Maurice follows Maurice Hall through his school days and adolescents, to his time as an undergraduate at Cambridge and into early adulthood. It follows his loneliness and confusion, his sexual awakening and acceptance of his homosexuality and his eventual happiness.

Forster wrote Maurice in 1913 directly after a visit to Milthorpe, the home of Edward Carpenter (who I did a brief post on here) and his ‘comrade’ George Merrill. He calls Carpenter his ‘saviour’ and Milthorpe a ‘shrine’ and says that they ‘combined to make a profound impression on me and to touch a creative spring. . . The general plan, the three characters, the happy ending for two of them, all rushed into my pen.’ I think this is important because I found Maurice the most intensely personal book I think I’ve ever read.

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The House of the Seven Gables

What an odd book this is! It starts with a good story – at the end of the seventeenth century in a New England town, Colonel Pyncheon, a local dignatory decides he wants the land that Matthew Maule has built his cottage on. Met with opposition the Colonel flexes his political muscles and has Maule hanged for witchcraft. But the imposing house he builds on the site is said to carry a curse and bad luck seems to haunt future generations.

At the time of the novel Hepzibah Pyncheon is the custodian and shares the ‘heavy hearted old mansion’ with her lodger Holgrave, a young believer in radical reform . Clifford, her brother arrives home from prison carrying the mark of a person whose youth has been stolen from him and then Phoebe a young distant cousin arrives, as lovely as fresh air and blossom. The possibilities seemed set for a thrilling tale in a gothic setting.

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Classics Club Spin #26

The spin has been spun and my number 11 was The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Published in 1851 the back cover blurb says:

In the final years of the seventeenth century in a small town in New England, the venerable Colonel Pyncheon decides to erect a ponderously oak-framed and spacious family mansion. It occupies the spot where Matthew Maule, ‘an obscure man’, had lived in a log hut, until his execution for witchcraft. From the scaffold, Maule points his finger at the presiding Colonel and cries ‘God will give him blood to drink!’ The fate of Colonel Pyncheon exerts a heavy influence on his descendants in the crumbling mansion for the next century and a half.

Crikey, this does sound thrilling! I’ve got until the end of May to read it and on flicking through I see there’s a character called Hepzibah, which is another good sign. And to add to all the good news, I was able to buy my copy in an actual bookshop so it really was cheer up Tuesday!

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.

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