Thursday, June 28, 2018

[Children Classic] The Famous Five: Five Go Off in a Caravan

The Famous Five sets an important milestone on my bookish life. It literally marked my transition from child to teenager; and it was the first novel I read after years of reading (and being read--when I still couldn't read) picture books or comics. I still remember, being absorbed in the adventures of The Famous Five every holiday; feeling each of it became fun and exciting. My parents were not rich and could not afford going on holidays, so when my friends at school telling their exciting family holidays, I couldn't help silently thinking that MY holiday was far more exciting—if you only knew! 

When Back to The Classics challenge set children classic as one of the categories, I knew I had to revisit my five famous childhood friends: Julian (the oldest and mature one), Dick (the kind and simple one), George (or Georgina--the tomboy and the rebellious one), and Anne (the youngest and innocent one). And last but certainly not the least—in presence as well as in importance—Timmy, the dog!

This time the famous five go off in caravans (the title is deceitful; they actually rent two caravans), intending to have a break from any kind of adventures. This time it will be for leisure only, going lazily to the lake in the summer heat. But adventure usually comes seeking them uninvited, not the other way round. This time they were attracted by a circus caravan, whose procession happened to pass by them. And when they decided to camp near it, the adventure has literarily begun. 

They are fond of and befriend a circus boy: Nobby and his chimpanzee: Pongo. But his uncle is unsympathetic, though he is a clown. One night the uncle: Tiger Dan and Lou the acrobat went up the hill and bumped into the children's caravan. Without reason they asked the children to vacant the space and camp elsewhere. Of course the children refused since it was a perfect spot for camping. Then unpleasant things began to happen; the children wondered why the two men eagerly wanted them to move; what's wrong with this spot up the hill? Then one day Nobby's dog found a lump of meat near the children's caravan, ate it, instantly got poisoned, and nearly died! That was it! So it's not just about camping spot; Lou and Dan must have had a mischievous plan, and the children resolved to investigate it—here at last comes the adventure!

Rereading children classics is really comforting. And as I didn't have to care how the adventure will end, I could chew it slowly this time. And by that, I could capture many things I have missed on my first reading as a child, for example the personal character of the children. I just realised that the lovers for adventures are really Dick and George. Julian is more cautious and sensible. Dick is the kind of friend you would want to hangout with; he seems lazy at times, but very sharp when danger comes. And he's witty too. George is the one I dislike most. I don't like people who pretend to be what they are not. She is not only tomboy, but always pretends or wants people to treat her like a boy. She is also selfish and stubborn. The only thing I like from her is her dog: Timmy! Anne—well, there's nothing new about her. From the first I always see her as a sweet and responsible girl who loves to play mother to the boys (and half boy!).

This is the perfect book to be read in holidays, because in about two third of the book, the story felt cozy and relax. The adventure got tensed only on the last few chapters.

Final verdict: 4 / 5

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brönte

It's official now—Anne is by far the best Brönte! I have read Wuthering Heights (hated it), and Jane Eyre (quite liked it but not impressed), but with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I was hooked right from the beginning. Anne used letters and diary as her medium, which enabled her to show the characters' emotion more freely and naturally than if it's in flat narration.

The new tenant of Wildfell Hall mansion is a young widow called Helen Graham, with his little son Arthur. No one knows who she is, where she comes from, or who her husband was. This woman is very reserved—aloof even—and, unlike most women around the rural country, she does not like to socialize; hates gossips and scandals. Her seclusion only creates mystery, and this only gives the shallow society fresh fuel to gossips. Meanwhile, there is a Mr. Gilbert Markham, a gentleman farmer, who, similar to Mrs. Graham, can't endure shallow-minded and hypocrite people of his neighbors and friends. In short, bound by this similarity, he is soon smitten by Mrs. Graham, and she him. They share intellectual, meaningful talks, and similar interests.

But one day scandal is whispered about a gentleman, a Mr. Lawrence—Gilbert's friend and the owner of Wildfell Hall—who was suspected to be intimate with Helen. Gilbert even saw them intimately talking. Crushed and angry, Gilbert stayed away from Helen. However, Helen lent him her diary, letting Gilbert read and learn her real story. Apparently, the enigmatic Mrs. Graham is actually still married to a rouge gentleman, Arthur Huntingdon. He is a tyrant husband, an alcoholic scoundrel, who also cheated on her. Fearing that his bad influence would contaminate their son, Helen run away with the boy; helped by her brother--no other than Mr. Lawrence—who then installed her at Wildfell Hall. Not only clearing any suspicion about Helen's honour, these revelations also raised her already high qualities in Gilbert's eyes.

Between Gilbert's letters to an invisible friend and Helen's diary, Anne brought us readers through this lively, emotional, meaningful, and entertaining story. It's not easy to conclude the central theme of this novel. There is, of course, the love story of Gilbert and Helen, but, alas, how complicated it was! And yet, it is so much more than that. I was hooked by Gilbert-Helen's lively debate in chapter 3—in fact this was the point where I became certain that I would love this book. The debate was about the advantages or disadvantages for a child to be introduced to temptation from its early life in order to make him virtuous. I took pains to quote the dialogs here (though incomplete)—plenty as they are—because I just love them, and because it will actually construct part of the moral theme of this remarkable story!

[By teaching the boy to detest wine] "But by such means, you will never render him virtuous.--What is it that constitutes virtue, Mrs. Graham? Is it the circumstance of being able and willing to resist temptation; or that of having no temptations to resist? ...If you would have your son to walk honourably through the world, you must not attempt to clear the stones from his path, but to teach him to walk firmly over them--not insist upon leading him by the hand, but let him learn to go alone." 
"I will lead him by the hand, Mr. Markham, till he has strength to go alone; and I will clear as many stones from his path as I can, and teach him to avoid the rest--.... [but] when I see the whole race of mankind (with a few rare exceptions) stumbling and blundering along the path of life, sinking into every pitfall, and breaking their shins over every impediment that lies in their way, shall I not use all the means in my power to insure for him a smoother and a safer passage?"
"Yes, but the surest means will be to endeavour to fortify him against temptation, not to remove it out of his way."
"I will do both, Mr Markham."

Helen's opinion, you see, was based on her own experience (of which Gilbert would read on her diary later). Little Arthur, though already armed by his virtuous mother, was still contaminated by his father's evil influence. The only way to save him was by snatching him from his father's company—hence the runaway. So, in my opinion, Helen's opinion is the better.

But I am more interested in their later debate; the feminism aspect in Helen's argument.

"But would you use the same argument with regard to a girl?"
"Certainly not."
"No: you would have her to be tenderly and delicately nurtured, like a hot-house plant—taught to cling to others for direction and support, and guarded, as much as possible, from the very knowledge of evil."

In short, Gilbert argued (or seemed to), that woman, when exposed to temptation, would certainly fall. On the contrary, temptation would only strengthen man; which meant that woman is weaker than man, when exposed to temptation. Again, Helen would prove in her diary that Gilbert was wrong, by determinately refusing Mr. Hargrave's love, and later on—ironically—Gilbert's too. And lo, how she endured her four years of living with the cruel 'monster' Huntingdon, and how calmly—albeit hurt and crushed—she endured her husband's betrayal. Do you still think woman is weaker than man, now, dear Gilbert?

Love and marriage is, of course, another central theme of this book. Through Helen, Anne emphasized that a happy marriage is neither about class, nor wealth; but a good balance of love, interest, and virtue. But most importantly, never let others' judgment influence you in deciding who or when to marry; not your dear parents, and certainly not your friends or neighbors. Always have freedom! is what Anne sounded throughout this book; freedom to choose your future husband, and also freedom to leave him if he tortures you in marriage. Let others say what they want; you must listen to your own heart, since it concerns only your future happiness—a very good and relatable advice for young girls these days, especially in some developing countries, where prejudices are still strong. 

Nameless and Friendless, painted by Emily Mary Osborn (1857).
It might was inspired by The Tenant of Wildfell Hall  | WikiCommons

But they are not the only aspect that makes me love this book most. I can mostly relate to Helen Graham because we share many similar habits and principles; and here I will give you some examples using quotes from the book. Just like Helen, I prefer to live in quiet place, because 'I take no pleasure in watching people pass the windows; and I like to be quiet.' I also 'dislike an extensive acquaintance; but if I have a few friends, of course I am glad to see them occasionally.' While in a party or social event, I, too, 'was wearied to death with small talk--nothing wears me out like that. I cannot imagine how they can go on as they do.' I remember, as a child, at my dad's office gatherings, I always preferred to be with dad and his colleagues than with mom and the wives. Oh, I couldn't endure their small talks, even as a child!

This review has been long enough, and I might have stopped here; but I can't just let the misogynist Mr. Boarham and Mr. Hargrave go freely without my scold (yes, I'm talking to you, Sirs!) First of all, never mistakenly take a wife for a pet. Remember that God created woman as partner for man; partner, Sirs, not servant, least of all pet! Man and woman are different; each has unique strength and weakness, but man is never superior to woman; both are equal in their unique way! So, never think for a minute that a woman needs you to temperate, guide, or right her by marrying her! And learn too to notice a 'no' from a woman, either by words or gesture, when you were courting her. When she means it, stop pestering her just because you want to own her! She is not a horse, mind you!

There... with that, I think I have say all I want about this book. Need I say that this book has become my new favorite? Not only with interesting and well developed characters, I also loved how neatly Anne wove the story through the emotion and struggle of the characters; and with a satisfying ending too! Oh, and don't forget the strong Christian values which wrap the other aspects beautifully. And for all that...

5/5 for Tenant of Wildfell Hall—one book I am sure to visit again and again in the future!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Zoladdiction 2018 Wrap Up

My most anticipated reading event: #Zoladdiction2018 has ended last week. I would like to thank all participants for reading Zola with me, and sharing the fun.

On my side, it has been a productive and enjoyfull month. I read two novels from the Rougon-Macquart series: A Love Story and The Sin of Abbé Mouret. The reading turned to be more fun with #ZolaStyle (capturing Zola's vivid pictorial landscapes within his prose). If I had had more time, I might post another one from A Love Story. Actually I have collected one or two garden paintings for it, but with this and that, I have failed to post it on time.

Apart from the reading and sharing, I have also managed some #Zolashopping 😉, i.e. ordering a copy of The Disappearance of Emile Zola by Michael Rosen and the newest translation of His Excellency Eugene Rougon from Oxford World Classics. It has been my habit for years to shop for more Zolaish book during Zoladdiction, because at that moment (more than any other months) I will be intrigued to know about Zola (or crave for his books).

So, #Zoladdiction2018 has been a success this year. At least there are few new comers, who, I hope, will continue being intrigued by Zola! 😃

As promised, #ZolaStyle came with a giveaway. It's not popular, it turned out (only Brona and I participated), but I enjoyed Brona's posts, especially the one on Bois de Boulogne (from The Kill). As appreciation of Brona's efforts (though I don't believe it's an effort on her part 😏), she won Zola's book(s) of her choice for max. USD 20 from Book Depository. I'll contact her soon about this.

Last but not least, I thank you all for participating, and see you again next year on next Zoladdiction!

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Sin of Abbé Mouret by Émile Zola

Serge Mouret is the son of Marthe Mouret (nee Rougon) and François Mouret, son of Ursule Mouret (née Macquart); meaning he has both Rougon and Macquart bloods running in his vein. Serge has two siblings: Octave (who is most Rougon than the others—appeared in The Ladies Paradise and The Conquest of Plassans); and Désirée, a retarded girl, of whom Serge took under his care.

Like all the tribe members, Serge possesses a certain obsession that is in religion; and so he becomes a priest. He practices total obedience in celibacy and fanatic devotion that leads to mysticism. He intends to cut off any link with the world, and to focus more in his devotion, he requests to be placed at Les Artaud, a remote rural village inhabited by peasants with incest relationship, poverty, and ignorance of religion. At first Abbé Mouret lives tranquilly by drowning himself in total devotion. But abandoning his physical health, he gets ill and loses his memory. A girl who loves to roam in The Paradou, a huge neglected garden, nurtures Serge under instruction of Doctor Pascal Rougon (Serge's uncle). Serge regains his health, but forgets that he is a priest, falls in love with Albine, and even makes love with her under a 'forbidden' tree. Yes, this is a replica of Adam and Eve's Paradise!

This book has so many interesting layers to discuss. I'll try to break it down to several points.

Nature v Church
The battle between nature and church is the main subject of this book. Zola portrayed the Catholic Church as empty, gloom, and dead. He especially disapproved of celibacy, which he believed to be unnatural, because procreation is human's nature. I learned from the Introduction (by Brian Nelson—one of Zola's experts) that when Zola wrote this book, France's birth rate was declining. Maybe this is his critic to the Church, because Zola always believed in fertility.

From the beginning of the story, Nature has tried to invade the Church—sun enters and takes possession of the whole church; sparrows fly into the Church through holes on the window panes; strong farmyard odour enters from front door (the farmyard is managed by Desiree, and is located next to the Church). But the biggest battle of Nature v Church is when Albine seduces Serge. Who wins the battle? As much as Zola liked the Nature to triumph, I think, by making Serge finally triumphs over his sexual desire, and returns to God, Zola has involuntarily given the victory to the Church. *spoiler alert* Although Nature could not be stopped in thriving into Church (Albine's death is taking place at the same time as the birth of Desiree's cow), Nature still cannot fully conquer Church.

Sin and repentance
Maybe this is not Zola’s intention, but this book made me think a bit about sin and repentance. After his memory returns, at one point, Serge feels that God abandons him (right after he feels proud of his own purity). He then succumbs to Albine's invitation, and goes to Paradou to meet her. But when Albine seduces him (taking him to the Forbidden Tree), God guides him again, and he can finally cut off his passionate love to Albine forever. Maybe, when we become proud of ourselves, God deliberately sends us temptation to make us sinned, and is therefore humbling us and making us worthy of salvation.

Le Paradou by Edouard Joseph Dantan, 1900
Naturalism and Research
Judging from the book's main topic, you can surely find naturalism flows abundantly throughout the book. There was a passage where the plants and flowers became alive and at war, attacking the Church! Of course, it's an allegory, but reading it, I felt like I saw it myself! Later, Zola's vivid picturesque narration inspired at least two impressionist paintings: Le Paradou by Edouard Joseph Dantan is one of them. And Zola put big efforts too into his research for this book. He must have analyzed and studied many horticultural catalogues to present so many plants and flowers throughout the book that at one point really bored me! And he has certainly studied the Bible, Catholic Missal, and many devotional books to write vividly of Mass and Sacramental events in great details.

Women, Immorality, and Misogyny
I was quite intrigued by the misogyny level in this novel. Brother Archangias--another religious in Les Artaud (but not ordained?) has a deep hatred towards women; so much that he thinks 'it would be a good riddance if girls were all strangled at birth'. Can you imagine this kind of man being religious?

Les Artaud is actually a tribe, which at the end named the village. Les Artauds people married their own relatives for ages. They are low in morality, and don't go into religion. When girls get knocked up, their concern is only of the loss of hands to work the farm, not of the ruined reputation. Again, getting pregnant means procreation and fertility...

On the other hand, when Serge fell into temptation, I felt that the narrator puts the blame to Albine (the woman brings down the man | woman is temptress); while in fact, both consciously wanted it. It's not the only example, there are several incidents throughout the book. I just wonder.. whether it's a common view in 19th century; or is it a vague evidence that Zola is a misogynist?

The Hereditary Illness
Although becoming a priest, Serge does not devoid of sexual passion. It is through his fanatic devotion and mysticism that he satisfies himself (he adores Virgin Mary as his mistress). It makes sense that, when he loses his memory, his sexual passion reborn through his exposure to the Nature. After his repentance, he switches his devotional focus to God, instead of Mary. Once again, Zola 'proved' his theory of hereditary illness. Could anyone in the family skip it? We should know after Doctor Pascal's final investigation is complete... on the last book: Doctor Pascal.

Meanwhile... 4,5/5 for The Sin of Abbé Mouret.

The Paradou in The Sin of Abbé Mouret | #ZolaStyle

The Paradou is the replica of Adam and Eve's Paradise. It is an abandoned huge garden with various species of plants. As Zola is a great artist in vividly portraying natural landscape into his prose, one cannot resist becoming a little artsy...

As Zola is an active supporter of Impressionist artists at his time, I pick paintings from this era too, mostly from Claude Monet, one of Zola's best friends. Monet owned a beautiful garden at his house in Giverny, and has produced quite many flower and garden paintings. The Sin of Abbé Mouret has also inspired two paintings by Joseph Edouard Dantan and John Collier.

Albine guided Serge to the right, into a field which seemed a sort of cemetery for the flower garden. Scabious were in mourning here. Funeral processions of poppies went along in line, stinking of death, and displaying their heavy flowers with their feverish brilliance.
Poppy Field Near Giverny by Claude Monet

All around them the rose trees bloomed. It was a wild and loving flowering, full of laughter--laughter red, rosy, and white.

Then they went slowly on into the arbour of roses. It was indeed a wood, with a veritable forest of tall standard roses, spreading out leafy canopies as large as trees, and huge rose bushes, like impenetrable thickets of young oaks.
Le Jardin by Claude Monet

New natural paths had formed in the midst of the woods, narrow alleys, and wide avenues, delightful covered passages where one could walk in the shade and the fragrance. These paths led to crossroads and clearings, went under arches of little red roses, and between walls covered with little yellow roses. Some sunny patches gleamed like swathes of green silk, patterned with bold splashes of colour; some shady parts had the seclusion of alcoves, the scents of love, and the warmth of a bouquet wilting on a woman's breast.
Pathway in Monet's Garden at Giverny by Claude Monet

The glade was of big rose trees, rising one above the other in an orgy of branches, a tangle of thorny tendrils, like thick layers of foliage, clinging to each other in the air, and hanging there, stretching from bush to bush like parts of the roof of a flying tent. Through the holes in the lace-like patterning of the leaves, one could see only the tiniest dots of light--an azure screen, letting through light and an impalpable spray of sunshine.

The flower garden, carefully tended for a master with a passion for flowers, had once displayed a wonderful selection of plants in flower beds neatly trimmed borders. Now one could see the same plants, but perpetuated and enlarged into such innumerable families, all gallivanting to the four corners of the garden, that the whole garden was now just a riot, an unruly shrubbery-school, beating against the walls, a suspect area in which drunken nature hiccupped verbena and carnations.

Friday, April 27, 2018

My Blog’s Name in Books: A Fun Meme!

Found this meme from On Bookes (originally from Fictionophile), which I think is quite fun. Let’s play!

The rules:
1. Spell out your blog’s name.
2. Find a book from your TBR that begins with each letter. (Note you cannot ADD to your TBR to complete this challenge – the books must already be on your Goodread’s TBR)
3. Have fun! 


For A Night of Love by Émile Zola
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt


Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
Locked Rooms by Laurie R. King
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
The Siege by Helen Dunmore
The Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
Casino Royale by Ian Feming
Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Mallory
The Fear Index by Robert Harris (OK, I cheat on this, but it’s the closest I could find)
The Tenant of the Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Reading Challenges Update: April

April is always the Zoladdiction month, to honor Émile Zola. We usually read books by Zola or about Zola the whole month. I have hosted Zoladdiction for the fifth time this year, and this year we are having a mini themed challenge. So, I am quite busy on reading, writing, and posting about Zola until end of this month. Meanwhile, here’s my progress:
Book(s) read = 9
Review(s) posted = 9 (yay!)

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (Re-read a favorite classic)
Towards Zero by Agatha Christie for Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (a classic crime story)
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene for #TBR2018RBR and The Classics Club
March by Geraldine Brooks for #TBR2018RBR
East of Eden by John Steinbeck for The Classics Club and Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (a 20th century classic)
Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy for #TBR2018RBR, The Classics Club, and Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 (a classic with single-word title)
A Love Story by Émile Zola for Victorian Reading Challenge

Question of the month from #TBR2018RBR:

Have you discovered any new favorite authors as a result of the TBR Pile Challenge? Read an author you’ve never read before but definitely want to again? Share!
So far I have read 3 books from new authors (new for me): Graham Greene, Geraldine Brooks, and Thornton Wilder. They are all good writers, of course, but I instantly felt connected with Geraldine Brooks when I started March. New favorite? Not sure…, but I definitely want to read her again. In fact, I have secured a copy of her Caleb’s Crossing for my next read.

In general, I am satisfied with my progress. This month I have set a new habit, of dedicating 1-2 hours on the weekends to spend only for writing reviews/other blog posts. I live in an apartment, so I usually go down to the lobby on Saturday mornings (when it’s often deserted), sit on my favorite spot on the sofa lounge…. and write. It is very effective, and I would return to my unit with at least one complete review ready to publish!

Right now I am in the middle of my second book for #Zoladdiction2018, yet also impatient to start Clepoatra: A Life for my 5th TBR2018RBR (this month I have made no progress, but I have read 4 books in 4 month, so I guess I am still on track).😎