Thursday, December 11, 2014

Back to the Classics Challenge 2015

I hope this would be the last reading challenge I’d participate in 2015! No more temptation, please… Being one of my most favorite reading challenges so far, this time I decided to follow all categories (twelve) for Karen’s Back to the Classics Challenge 2015. Fortunately, I will be reading so many classics next year for my own Literary Movement Challenge anyway, so it’s not too hard to cross-list it with this challenge. I believe next year would be so much fun, and I can’t hardly wait! Yay…

The rules are here, and here are my choices:

  1. A 19th Century Classic – Far from a Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  2. A 20th Century Classic – Howards End by E.M. Forster
  3. A Classic by a Woman AuthorLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott 
  4. A Classic in TranslationPère Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  5. A Very Long Classic Novel Bleak House by Charles Dickens 
  6. A Classic Novella – The Stranger by Albert Camus
  7. A Classic with a Person's Name in the TitleEthan Frome by Edith Wharton
  8. A Humorous or Satirical ClassicThe Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde 
  9. A Forgotten ClassicThe Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas
  10. A Nonfiction Classic The Dreyfus Affair: J’Accuse and Other Writings by Émile Zola
  11. A Classic Children's BookGulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift  
  12. A Classic PlayDoctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Would you participate too?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Little House on the Prairie

I remember…. When I was a child, our family lived in a rented house, and our television was still monochrome. Every Sunday afternoon we (me, my mom, and dad) would sit calmly in front of our TV, and excitedly waiting for one familiar theme song, and the scene of a prairie with its long grass, where from afar came a little girl with her dog ran across. Yes, it was the famous TV series of Little House on the Prairie. It was my family’s favorite, and it always sent warmth to my heart to see one family that was bound together by love and kindness. Thirty years after, I still remember that scene, that exciting anticipation, that theme song, and that warm feeling, all over again while reading the original book at last.

Little House on the Prairie (number three) is one of eight Little House series Laura Ingalls wrote about her childhood as pioneer in the 19th century. It covers the period when the Ingallses move from the “Big Woods” of Wisconsin to Indian Territory of Kansas. Pa Charles Ingalls has received information that the government would soon open settlement for the whites, and so he immediately packs their belongings on the wagon, takes a long way to Kansas, and finally settles on the prairie before anybody else, so they can pick the best part. The family (Pa Charles, Ma Caroline, Mary, Laura, and baby Carrie) must start all over again to have a comfortable home. Laura tells us in details how his father builds their log house literally alone, the stable, and the furniture, and is only occasionally helped by their neighbors: Mr. Edwards and Mr. Scott.

Throughout the book Laura describes beautifully how she sees the prairie’s nature. My favorite scene is the nightingale song; it’s so serene and majestic! But their life is not always peaceful; there were the wolves which scare them at night. But the more dangerous is the presence of the Indians. Pa Ingalls’ confidence proves to be wrong; the land where they have built the house is actually the Osage tribe’s reservation. After reading how the Indians have been cruelly treated by the whites at Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, it was interesting to read about them from the white settlers’ perspective.

There are mixed feelings among the pioneers. Mr and Mrs Scott seem to believe “the only good Indian is the dead Indian”. Ma and Mr. Edwards might not be that strict, but they dislike the Indians very much. Only Pa is sensible enough to try to make good relationship with them. At one occasion, he even sits and smokes with an Indian in front of the fireplace. And the Indian then saved them when other Indian tribes want to harm the whites. In the end of the chapter about the horrible war cry of the Indians, which makes everybody sleepless at night, Laura tells us that ‘no matter what Mr. Scott said, Pa did not believe that the only good Indian was a dead Indian’.

I too have mixed feelings about this book. Had I read this in childhood, it might have been my favorite, and I would have praised it very high. But, as an adult, and because I have just read an awful history of the Indians and the whites, well… in the end I was troubled as much as I was entertained by this book. Pa Ingalls is kind enough to not make the Indians his enemy, but on the other hand he is just the same as those white settlers, who, knowing that they have settled on an Indian Territory, still claim the land as theirs. They just don’t want to think about the Indians; it’s enough that they don’t harm their families.

Laura’s discussion with her Pa echoed my thought:

Pa: “White people are going to settle all this country, and we get the best land because we get here first and take our pick. Now do you understand?”
Laura: “Yes Pa. But, Pa, I thought this was Indian Territory. Won’t it make the Indians mad to have to—“
Pa: “No more questions, Laura. Go to sleep.

The way Pa sharply interrupts Laura’s phrase only shows that his conscience actually troubles him, but he shuts it up to justify his decision to settle there. He knows that it is only rumors that the government will open settlement, but he hurries up there in order to get the best land. It is only another proof how the whites are greedy by nature, although some of them are good and kind-hearted as Charles Ingalls.

But…. enough of the dark atmosphere of human injustice! Let’s talk about love, because (almost) throughout the book, Laura always speaks about love; the warmth of family life. I admire Mr. Edwards, their bachelor neighbor, who on Christmas day takes troubles within the thick freezing snow, only to get to the city’s store to buy presents for Mary and Laura. How sweet and touching is that scene! The Christmas spirit is really there….

And for all that…. I granted four stars for Little House on the Prairie.


I read Harper Trophy (Harper Collins) paperback edition

This book is counted as:

Monday, December 1, 2014

Back to the Classics 2014 - Wrap-Up

DONE!  Back To The Classics 2014 (by Karen)


Optional Categories:

For the optionals, I only picked these three categories (of five), as the other two do not fit my reading schedule for 2014.

Thanks to Karen for this challenge, and I am really anticipating the next year challenge announcement soon!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Jane Eyre: Final Review

After Wuthering Heights about three years ago, this year I finally got a chance to read another Brontë’s. Charlotte’s Jane Eyre was definitely more enjoyable than Emily’s WH, but I think WH was more intriguing than JE. From the books, we could recognize the different personalities of both sisters; Emily is more passionate, while Charlotte is much reserved. As Jane Eyre has been taken as Charlotte’s autobiographical novel, we can assume Jane’s voice is Charlotte’s own voice.

Jane Eyre is an orphan who is adopted by her uncle, Mr. Reed. After he died, Mrs. Reed dislikes her, and with her children, treats Jane with hostility of being so sensible for a child her age. Jane is quite relieved when she goes to a charity school of Lowood Institute. But there she is also tortured by the poor accommodation. She endures it however, and even becomes a teacher for several years, before finally leaves it forever when she gets a job as governess in Thorfield hall.

Thornfield Hall belongs to an eccentric landlord, Mr. Rochester—Jane’s pupil is his ward. Mr. Rochester lived alone in his big house with the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, and his ward, Adele. Even if you haven’t read this book, you would guess that soon the master and the governess would fall in love to each other. When there is a love story, there must be an obstacle to their relationship. Firstly, their age difference and their social status; but love is more sensible than social laws.

But then, it is revealed that Mr. Rochester is actually still married to his lunatic wife, whom he has secretly been hiding on the house’ attic. This fact gives the couple an immense blow. Mr. Rochester might think that he is eligible to marry another woman, as his present wife is practically lifeless. But to a sensible girl like Jane Eyre, who is a reverend’s daughter and has been educated in strict Christian morality, to become a married man’s mistress is not possible. So she runs away from Thornfield Hall, from happiness, and from her dear Mr. Rochester, to avoid degradation and humiliation. Is that the end of the story? Of course not, Charlotte then takes us to follow Jane’s new life. Whether she will or will not meet Mr. Rochester again, is a question you must keep in your mind while reading on this book to the end. I won’t give you any spoiler, if you have not read it. :)

To me, Jane Eyre is rather dull, especially when Mr. Rochester was absent, or have not yet appeared (in the first part). It is perhaps typical of Victorian women’s character of narration: emotionless and submissive. Or maybe it’s Charlotte’s own personality which was reflected to this story. Either way, I remembered that I have almost thought to put this book down, when Mr. Rochester appeared. Then, this book was not so colorless as before. He is so vigorous and full of energy, that the pace of second part suddenly felt much faster than before. Jane Eyre too, seems to become more alive everytime she converse with Rochester. Their dialogues are always witty, and are actually the best part of the book!

In Jane Eyre, I sensed the struggle of balancing the freedom (for happiness) and the principle (of conscience). In marriage, unlike most Victorian women, Jane seeks love, because marriage without love can’t guarantee her happiness. That’s why she refused St. John Rivers’ proposal, despite of the honor and security he can provide. If Jane could not marry Rochester, and won’t marry other men whom she doesn’t love, what would she get? Yes, she is now a quite rich woman, but I think not that rich that she can support her entire life without having to work. For a woman in that era, I believe this is a difficult choice. But Jane takes it confidently. Maybe this is what the readers see as early feminism: the courage to be herself; to follow her own principle, and not to bow down to the customs.

[spoiler alert] Actually, the feminism theory could be justified if the story ends up there. However, when Charlotte made Rochester fell completely (physically as well as mentally), to open a way of bringing a happy ending to this love story, then I began questioning whether Charlotte saw feminism as woman overpowering man. Is that what she really thought? Of course we would never know, and we would be wondering over and over again, what this novel is really about. Maybe….this is, after all, just about the power of love and a struggle of a woman….

Three and a half stars for Jane Eyre.


I read Penguin Red Classics paperback edition

This book is counted as:

Reading England 2015 Challenge

One more challenge that I would cross-list with my own Literary Movement Reading Challenge.

The Goal: To travel England by reading, and read at least one book per however many counties of England you decide to read.

I won’t read too many English classics next year, so I would just take the moderate level two: 4-6 counties. I picked four books from my challenge which happen to be set in England:

Ivanhoe (Sir Walter Scott) – Leicestershire
Bleak House (Charles Dickens) - London
Far From A Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy) - Dorset
Howards End (E.M. Forster) - Shropshire

If you are interested in participating, please visit Behold the Stars’ announcement post.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Scene on Three (10): Little House on the Prairie - The Nightingale Song

Laura Ingalls was gifted with the skill of narration; she saw things with her soul, and was capable of describing them so beautifully though with simple narration. This scene was taken from Little House on the Prairie; it happened one night after the family had had a cheerful dinner with singing and dancing. After their guest left, and the prairie was back to its silence, this scene took place. While reading it, I could put myself in the scene, feel the majestic atmosphere, and even listen to the nightingale’s and the fiddle’s duet, even though I have never heard nightingale’s voice in my life. It’s just so vivid and beautiful.

“The wind rustled in the prairie grasses. The big, yellow moon was sailing high overhead. The sky was so full of light that not one star twinkled in it, and all the prairie was a shadowy mellowness. Then from the woods by the creek a nightingale began to sing. Everything was silent, listening to the nightingale’s song. The bird sang on and on. The cool wind moved over the prairie and the song was round and clear above the grasses’ whispering. The sky was like a bowl of light overturned on the flat black land.

The song ended. No one moved or spoke. Laura and Mary were quiet, Pa and Ma sat motionless. Only the wind stirred and the grasses sighed. Then Pa lifted the fiddle to his shoulder and softly touched the bow to the strings. A few notes fell like clear drops of water into the stillness. A pause, and Pa began to play the nightingale’s song. The nightingale answered him. The nightingale began to sing again. It was singing with Pa’s fiddle. When the strings were silent, the nightingale went on singing. When it paused, the fiddle called to it and it sang again. The bird and the fiddle were talking to each other in the cool night under the moon.”

*Scene on Three is Bzee’s meme of posting your captured scenes or passages, and explaining why they are interesting. The ‘three’ means we should post them on the dates with ‘3’: the 3rd, 13th, 23rd, 30th, or 31st.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Jane Eyre: Logic and Rhetoric-Stage of Reading

What does Jane Eyre want? What is standing in her way? And what strategy does she pursue to overcome this block?

Jane wants to live happily with Mr. Rochester, but she also wants to be independent. Unfortunately, Mr. Rochester has been married, and living with him would degrade her, and in the end make her dependent. She sacrifices her happiness by eluding her master, thus gains honor and independence.

Who is telling you this story?

Jane tells her story from first point of view, and she often confused me while telling the readers what others were asking her, while using her point of view. And because Jane is a reserved and typical of Victorian women, this story becomes rather flat. I wished Charlotte Brontë wrote it in third POV and let us delving into Mr. Rochester’s mind and feelings more often. :D

Beginning and ending

The story begins with passivity and stagnation. “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” Although it does not sum up the whole story, there is an impression of dependency in that opening line. I don’t know whether Charlotte Brontë meant to do that (I believe she did not), but Jane Eyre’s early life is really hinder her from freedom.

The ending is the resolution. I believe whatever would happen in her marriage, Jane has reached her independence.

Do you sympathize with the characters? Which one, and why?

This might be strange, but I sympathized more with Mr. Rochester than with Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre is a woman with strong character. I knew from the beginning, she would be able to take care of herself. Mr. Rochester is far more vulnerable. He seems to be so strong and powerful when Providence took him in her embrace, but when unfortunates and sorrows came one by one to his life, he became lifeless. Actually, it is Mr. Rochester who is dependent. He needs someone to support him to live; he needs his seemingly-fragile Jane Eyre more than Jane needs him. I kept thinking, what would become of Mr. Rochester if her lunatic wife didn’t die soon? He would be desolate and degraded to the lowest level!

Did the writer’s times affect her?

Yes, very. Had Charlotte Brontë written this in more modern times, Jane Eyre would have revealed her passion and vigor more often, and the reader could have related more with her.

Is there an argument in this book? Do you agree?

People consider Jane Eyre as a feminist novel. I am not a feminist, as I always believe that men and women are created differently. There is no such absolute equality, because they have their own strength and weakness. I think when Jane leaves Thornfield, it is because she wants to keep away from temptation which would then degrade her to sin. Had Mr. Rochester been flawless, she would have pleasantly accepted the marriage. It is not because Mr. Rochester is blind and crippled, and because she is now a rich woman, that Jane finally consents to marry him. The obstacle, in my opinion, has only been Mr. Rochester’s marriage status. I think it is more about morality than feminism.