Monday, June 15, 2015

Literary Movement Reading Challenge 2015: June Victorian Check-In

It’s a bright June afternoon…. I can hear Roxette’s voice in my head this afternoon, when I am writing this post. June has always been a promising month for me, but not this year…. I am so hectic on a project I am preparing, and tt has been taking a lot of my time and energy, that my reading target must be reduced this year.  However, the Literary Movement Reading Challenge must go on! I will still read for each movement, but only one book each.

How about you? Hope you are still having fun with this challenge… Meanwhile, June Victorian for #LitMoveRC begins today! The linky for June Victorian is now opened; you can submit your reviews/posts until July 15th. ==UPDATE== For some reasons I could not create the linky today; I don’t know why/what happened, but I’ll try again tomorrow.

Now, our monthly question:

Who is your most favorite Victorian author?

Mine is, of course, Charles Dickens. But sadly, I won’t be able to read any of his books this year. I’ve been meaning to pick Bleak House for Lit Move Challenge, but… besides its thickness, I don’t think I have the mood to read it right now.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The only reason I read Little Women was because high praises have been attributed to it by most of my fellow book-bloggers. My first encounter with Alcott was in Eight Cousins, which left me no impression at all. With Little Women, I had a slight expectation that it might have something more meaningful than Eight Cousins. Plus, I picked it because Alcott had influence in Transcendentalism, which I am tackling this month for Literary Movement Challenge. But after finishing it, well, I still can’t see why people praise it so much. It was really an enjoyable reading, and I think Alcott is a good writer, but that’s all to me. It left my mind as soon as I opened another book, and I even have to google it right now to write this review (I finished reading about a few weeks ago).

Maybe my favorite part of Little Women is the family bonding of the Marches. It is always great to be accepted and loved as we are, and to have a home where we are belonged to. The characters are memorable, but sometimes seem unreal. But unrealistic—angelic in this case—characters, like those of Dickens, are indeed memorable.

From the four sisters, I think Amy is the most natural one, for her age. Beth is too good to be true; she is more like an angel than a little child! Megan and Jo are typical contradiction in books’ characters; they even reminded me of Anne and George in Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five. It seems that girls are mostly divided into two categories. The feminine ones love pretty dresses, play with dolls, like to cook, and always think about getting a husband. While the tomboy ones like to be called with boy’s names, dislike dresses, and do boyish games. Amazingly their names are always similar to boy’s names… Georgina to George, Josephine to Jo. Plus these tomboy girls are usually hot-headed and stubborn. These childish stereotyping is sometimes annoying!

Apart from that, Little Women taught us to place virtues over vanity, which was the theme of Enlightenment literature. In every event of their lives, Mrs. March always reminded her family to keep praying and practicing Christian values. It’s good, but sometimes I think it’s a bit patronizing. I prefer books that don’t tell us to do something straight to the point, but hide ii between the lines. The finding of the hidden moral is often the most valuable point of the reading.

Three and a half stars for Little Women.


I read Puffin Classics paperback

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Literary Movement Reading Challenge 2015: May Transcendentalism Check-In

I have a slight regret to leave the Romanticism behind. It has been very entertaining, really! For a month we were brought to escape the harsh reality of life and enter the romantic, though fictitious, world. But, alas! Everything has an end, and now we must return to the reality. May Transcendentalism for #LitMoveRC begin today! The linky for May Transcendentalism is now opened; you can submit your reviews/posts until June 15th.

If last month we are discussing most excited movement(s) to come, our question of the month is the opposite:

After May Transcendentalism, which movement that you are least anticipated? Why?

Mine is the November Beat Generation/Bloomsbury, simply because I am not convenient with the freedom theme. I am wondering whether I’m going to like it, and whether I have chosen the most suitable book (to my taste). We’ll see then…

Meanwhile, I have finished Alcott’s Little Women for Transcendentalism, and will soon move on to Thoreau’s Walden. Hopefully I can still make it on time!

How are you progressing so far?

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas

After my little disappointment with Ivanhoe, I must thank Alexandre Dumas, père, for once again brought me into the excitement of elaborate plot and romances, through The Black Tulip. Dumas’ novels always make me wonder whether this and that are historical events/characters, or just fiction; as he mixed both in such a genius way you won’t find the boundary.

At first I thought it would be the story of de Witts: Johan the Great Pensionary of Dutch (Prime Minister) and his brother Cornelis, who were lynched by the citizen because they opposed William of Orange. The attack was quite terrible; and it was more so because then I was not yet familiar with the dark history. But after that painful part, came the story of the tulip fancier and his envious neighbor. It was really entertaining, but at that time I didn’t get the connection with the political side, except that Cornelius van Baerle, the tulip fancier, was the godson of Cornelis de Witt. But, as usual with Dumas, the plot slowly intertwined beautifully and closed satisfyingly at the ending.

The Black Tulip combined the history of Dutch political environment and Tulip Mania during the Golden Age. The hero was a bourgeois Doctor with a passion on agricultural, but particularly in growing Tulip. As he was rich, Cornelius equipped his mansion with all possible resources to grow the finest tulips in town. His neighbor, Isaac Boxtel, was also a Tulip fancier but much poorer, who grew envious to Cornelius’ unlimited resources. Then came a grand competition held by the Tulip Society of Harleem, who offered a hundred thousand guilders prize for anyone who succeed in growing a black tulip without a spot of color, which has then never yet been found. But as Cornelius was in the final step of growing his black tulip—spied maliciously by Isaac Boxtel—came instruction from William of Orange to capture and put Cornelius in jail for helping the ‘traitors’ de Witt.

Did Cornelius put his ambition down, then, to grow the black tulip, as he was a convict? How could he manage to continue the labor? And don’t forget the envious Isaac Boxtel who planned to steal the black tulip and claim it as his own, to snatch the prize! Well, just trust Père Dumas; he would spice up the politics and flower fancying with high adventures and romances, that it would be difficult for you to not believing it as a true history. And as usual, everything would be put in its place satisfyingly for all, and mostly for us, readers.

Again, Monsieur Dumas has satisfied me beyond my expectation in this novel. Romanticism—with its unreasonable heroism—usually does not impress me much, but with Dumas, well… it’s just different. Four and a half stars for The Black Tulip!


I read e-book from Project Gutenberg

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Thursday, May 7, 2015


Although the book was titled Ivanhoe, I didn’t think Wilfrid of Ivanhoe is the most distinguished hero in this historical fiction. He was wounded and inaction throughout most of the story, and we only saw his chivalrous battle in the tournament, and then rescuing Rebecca the Jewess. And I disliked his attitude towards Isaac of York and Rebecca, though he was kindhearted enough to help them. Maybe it’s an ordinary sentiment against Jewish people at that time, but if so, what made him deserve the title hero?

I would choose Rebecca instead, she was an extraordinary woman. What she did was beyond any men in this story could do. She was a woman; with every limited source women might have at that time. She was also a Jewish, the cursed and marginalized race. Nonetheless, she was full of love and forgiveness to all who hated her race. What she had to endure was so great; but she was so calm and resilient. I think Rebecca was more Christian than those Christians. She was broad-minded; and always acted for the whole humanity, beyond community, race, or nation.

I read Ivanhoe a month ago—and had just enough time to do a proper review today—so I don’t quite remember the whole plot. It was set in England after King Richard I returned from the Third Crusades, around 12th century. England was dominated by Norman nobility, and Cedric of Rotherwood was the remaining notable Saxon family; he was ambitious to conquer the Normans, his mortal enemy. So, when he knew that his ward, Wilfrid of Ivanhoe, served King Richard who was Norman, he banished his only son.  The story began when some travelers stayed the night under Cedric’s hospitality. There they were joined by a palmer and a Jewish (Isaac of York). And then on Scott wove their adventures and intrigues; adding some other characters into it, so that their faith intertwined with each other, resulting an enjoyable story with intricate plot—as is usual with Romantic novels.

The appearance of Robin Hood and his “merry men” spiced up a bit the story; while the Templar with their strict rules added interesting side to it. But still, I sensed something is missing; I don’t know what… It felt like connecting several facts and figures into a story than creating one from the scratch.

Anyway, Ivanhoe is still quite an enjoyable piece of Romantic lit, for it is full with combination of chivalric adventures and romances. Though in the end you would ask, like I did, what’s special about Wilfrid Ivanhoe? Can you tell me?

Three and a half stars for Ivanhoe.


I read Wordsworth Classics paperback

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Germinal: My Second Reading

It is almost three years ago when I first read Germinal, and instantly fell in love with the book—and much more with the author! This year I have decided to give it a second read; to see if I will still find it as great as my first reading. The interesting thing of rereading is that you know what you’re going to get throughout the book, and especially in the end, you know how the story would go. In the case of Zola books, you might not feel the “blow” as intensely as when you read it for the first time. That is what I got from my Germinal second reading.

I also found out that when the blow was softened, the second read allowed me to feel more of the emotion of each character, and to relate to them better than before. Moreover, I could see now why Germinal has become Zola’s masterpiece. From eight of his novels—seven from The Rougon Macquart series—I have read so far, Germinal is the most beautiful in term of writing. It is more flowing; not as intense as Zola’s other books, and Zola did not put his focus entirely on the working class, but also on the bourgeoisie. It put more emphasizes on how the society needed to change; because both sides were slowly crumbling. If the system remained unchanged, the Voreaux tragedy will crush everything in it; just like a giant beast who swallowed them up greedily—as Zola put it. The tragic incident between old Bonnemort and the daughter of Voreux’ stock holder highlighted the faulted system. It happened naturally, it’s nobody’s fault it seemed, but the old corrupted system.

One thing that perhaps distinguished Germinal from its siblings in The Rougon-Macquart series is the hopeful ending; it really effaced the dark tragedy of the Voreux, as if to say that the miners’ sacrifices will not be useless after all; that there is always new and brighter hope which is germinating from the debris of a revolution.

Zola is always good at painting irony in his novels. He described events so perfectly detailed that you would get the irony without further explanations. When the strike was on going, the manager and the stock holder (the bourgeois) were having a luncheon. While the miners were starving and risked their lives by doing the strike to ask for justice, their masters’ concern was at whether the pâtissier’s delivery boy could deliver the vol-au-vent crusts on time for lunch, despite of the strike. The bitter irony lays in the ending of chapter six-part five; it was the scene after the strike was over, when the sun had set, and everything was calm again:

“…The plain was drowning beneath the thick night; there were only the black furnaces and the coke ovens ablaze against the tragic sky. Heavily, the gallop of the gendarmes approached; they landed up in an indistinguishable somber mass. And behind them, entrusted to their care, the Marchiennes pâtissier’s vehicle arrived at last, a little covered cart out of which jumped a small drudge of a boy, who quietly went about unpacking the vol-au-vent crusts.”

What an ending!—and Zola was great in closing each of the chapters in exactly that beautiful-bitter-ironic way. Some are more beautiful than others, but my favorite remains still in the very ending:

Now the April sun, in the open sky, was shining in its glory, warming the earth as it went into labour. From its fertile flanks life was leaping forth, buds were bursting into green leaves, and the fields were quivering with the growth of the grass. On every side seeds were swelling, stretching out, cracking the plain, filled by the need of heat and light. An overflow of sap flowed with whispering voices, the sound of the germs expanded in a great kiss. Again and again, more and more distinctly, as though they had come right up to the soil, the comrades were hammering. In the fiery rays of the sun, on this youthful morning, the country was pregnant with this rumbling. Men were springing forth, a black avenging army, germinating slowly in the furrows, growing up for the harvests of the next century, and their germination would soon overturn the earth. 

Again—what an ending!

On my previous post I have written about my first impression on (second reading of) Germinal; particularly about Étienne. Well, I think, apart from his personal inherited weakness and indecisiveness, Étienne is a kind man. I liked him for his ability to move forward from past faults, for his kindness towards others; in particular Catherine and the Maheus, and for his principles.

My favorite passage is the one concerning Bataille, the old horse. The way Zola portrayed its agony is brilliant! I think I shed tears for the horse more than for the Maheus’! Zola’s words can be very touching too at times. And reading this passage, only now that I realized that what Bataille felt actually reflected the agony of the miners. And that came in this poetic passage:

“…He galloped on and on, bending his head, drawing up his feet, racing these narrow tubes in the earth, filled with his great body. Road succeeded to road, and the junctions opened into forks, without any hesitation on his part. Where was he going? Back, perhaps, towards the vision of his youth, to the mill where he had been born on the bank of the Scarpe, to the confused recollection of the sun burning in the air like a great lamp. He desired to live, his beast’s memory awoke; the longing to breathe once more the air of the plains drove him straight onwards to the discovery of the hole, the exit beneath the warm sun, into the light.”

It was the agony of a creature who had been used from his early days; who never knew other existence besides what he was submissively forced to take; but one day a longing for a better existence would stir deep in his heart; which made him galloping furiously into the light. It made one reflect a lot, didn’t it?

Now, I have been praising this book over and over again, here, as well as in other comments/thoughts, and I don’t think there would be enough words to describe how I love Germinal! I love the beautiful narration, love the vivid description of the mines (Zola took much efforts in doing observation in this), and love the hopeful atmosphere. In short, I love everything about this book! If you aren’t yet convinced to read it by now, try at least!


I read Wordsworth Classics paperback

This book is counted for:

Friday, April 24, 2015

Witness for the Prosecution

I am an Agatha Christie’s fan since in high school, but this was my first time of reading her play. Now I must admire Christie more than before, as she turned out to be as good a playwright as she was a crime-novelist.

This play is about Leonard Vole, a young man who was charged for murdering an old woman. The scene moved alternately from Sir Wilfrid’s chamber—the defense counsel, to the Center Criminal Court—better known as The Old Bailey. Emily French, a rich old woman, was fond of Leonard for having helped her in a little incident—after which she was very grateful. One night Leonard visited her; and not long after he went home, Emily was found dead with a blow on her head. Leonard was afraid that the police might think he was the murderer, so he asked Mr. Mayhew—his solicitor—for advice. They came to Sir Wilfrid’s office, and during their discussion, the police came to arrest Leonard. And so Sir Wilfrid came to be Leonard’s defense counsel.

Apart from the rather awkward opening scene, I liked this play. As usual, Christie could peel her characters layer by layer to their (almost) real hearts and minds; but still keep the biggest twisting surprise at the end. She wrote it very detailed too; it would be easy to perform it, as she described each little detail of the scene, down to exact location of the furniture. She also described the characters’ movement, for instance: not only “on the desk”, but also “on the down right corner of the desk”. Without watching it on stage, you could easily use your imagination to “perform” it in your own head. And if you read it carefully, some scenes are a bit funny, which will make you grinning amidst the gloomy atmosphere of the brutal murder.

Four and a half stars for Witness for Prosecution; a quite enjoyable modern drama from Dame Agatha Christie.


I read Harper Collins paperback

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