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Next up in the classics: Oliver Goldsmith

classicsclub3The Classics Club Spin gave me book number two from the list of twenty I created which means I am to read The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith.

This is one of the oldest books on my list though not as ancient as Medea by Euripides or The Canterbury Tales.  Published in 1766 it was one of the most popular and widely read 18th-century novels among Victorians

It’s about, surprise surprise, a Vicar and his family of six children who live an idyllic life in a country parish. Dr Primrose is wealthy at the start of the book as a result of his investment of an inheritance. He denotes his annual salary from his job to local orphans and old soldiers.  On the evening of his son’s wedding, the Vicar loses all his money through the bankruptcy of his merchant investor who has left town abruptly. The family are compelled to move to a new and more humble parish on the land of a squire who is known to be a womanizer. What ensues is a series of set backs and calamities including fire, abduction and imprisonment before order is once more restored.

The style moves from the comic to the melodramatic using poems, histories or sermons, which give the reader a broader perspective than that of the Vicar who acts as the narrator.

The Vicar of Wakefield has been on my reading shelf for ten years and more. I bought it at a time when I realised my knowledge of Victorian fiction was rather narrowly confined to the big names (Dickens, Wilkie Collins, George Eliot for example). But I never got around to opening it – every time I picked it up, the description of this as a comic novel was a turn off. I’m hoping my fears are not going to be realised.

Classics Club Spin Revolves Again

classicsclub3The Classics Club Spin is beginning again and I almost missed it but am hoping that, since the team that runs this is five hours ahead of me, I can just squeak in at the last minute. It’s a good way of pushing me to make progress on my list without having the pressure of a challenge. Last time around I ended up with Henry James and Washington Square/Daisy Miller which I wasn’t looking forward to but appreciated in the end. Here’s keeping my fingers crossed I get something good this time around.

The rules for Spin Number 9 are the same as before:

  • Pick twenty unread books from your list. Here’s my classics club list
  • Number them from one to twenty
  • A number will be drawn
  • That’s the book to read by 15th May

I’m going to mix things up a little by adding my own rule: My 20 books have to be from my TBR pile (i.e., I already have them in my possession). That way I get to clear some space in my bookshelf … or floorspace.

So here is my list. Many of them are re-reads – books I read when I was much much younger and feel I didn’t fully appreciate or understand at the time. These are marked **

  1. Vicar of Wakefield – Oliver Goldsmith 1766
  2. Mansfield Park  – Jane Austen 1814**
  3. Old Goriot – Honore Balzac 1835
  4. Can You Forgive Her – Anthony Trollope 1864**
  5. The Way we Live Now – Anthony Trollope 1875
  6. Dr Thorne – Anthony Trollope 1858
  7. Adam Bede – George Eliot 1859**
  8. The Fortune of the Rougons – Emile Zola 1871
  9. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy 1873-77
  10. Daniel Deronda – George Eliot 1876 **
  11. A Parisian Affair and other stories – Maupassant 1880
  12. The Diary of a Nobody – George Grossmith 1888
  13. The Voyage Out – Virginia Woolf 1915
  14. Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton 1920
  15. Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf 1925 **
  16. Frost in May – Antonia White 1933
  17. The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck 1939
  18. The Pursuit Of Love – Nancy Mitford 1945
  19. Cry, the Beloved Country – Alan Paton 1948
  20. Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez 1985

Which one do you think I would enjoy the most?

The symbol ** means I have read them previously

Update: I fixed my terrible spelling of the Balzac title thanks to an eagle eyed reader

Do authors have shelf lives?

gwyn thomas

past his sell by date? Gwyn Thomas

You know how food packaging includes a ‘Best Before’ date that tells us just how long the item will live in the cupboard before it’s past its best.? If you’re house is anything like mine, we often find tins and packets buried at the back of the cupboard that look perfectly fine even if they are two years out of date. Sometimes I’m tempted to open them just to see if the contents have deteriorated.

Last year I started to think that certain authors appear to have a shelf life too. For some like Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, their shelf life runs for several centuries while for others like C P Snow (remember his Strangers and Brothers series?) or even the Booker prize winners, Stanley Middleton and David Storey, it could be a few decades before the book gradually gets pushed to the back of the book store shelves before being relegated to the bin end sale or relegated to the basement at the library. Some of them may get rescued and the

C. P. Snow: yesterday's man?

C. P. Snow: yesterday’s man?

author rediscovered (which seems to have been the case with Elizabeth Taylor) but others seem destined to disappear from our memory.

What promoted this was a book club discussion on a title I’d chosen, The Alone to the Alone, by the Welsh author Gwyn Thomas. It was published in 1947 by an author who went on to become a household name in the UK as a regular chat show participant and broadcaster.  If I tell you that this was the man chosen by the BBC to write and broadcast a eulogy to those killed in one of the UK’s worst mining disasters in 1966, you’ll get a sense of his status.

His written work was widely applauded for its lyrical qualities and acerbic wit. the book club enjoyed The Alone to the Alone yet decided it was very much ‘a book of its time’. In other words, it would have resonated more for readers at the time of its publication in 1947 than it does for today’s readers. Since his other novels are in a similar vein, the group’s assessment probably goes for his body of work as a whole.

Why that should be the case, we were not sure. Thomas wrote about life in the coal mining communities of South Wales during the grinding poverty of the 1930s. Why would this not resonate today yet Dickens’s novel about the poor social conditions of London in the 1840s (Dombey and Son) and Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1850s exposure of the appalling conditions of mill workers in northern England continue to get our attention?  Why are the latter considered literary classics and yet you’d be hard pressed to find a copy of Thomas novel in any leading bookshop (not even in the capital of Wales).  We had no answer except to pose another question:  what makes a book a classic?  We had even less of a clear answer to that question and even suspected that it’s a question to which there is no clear cut answer, just theories.

 

If you’re interested in hearing Gwyn Thomas’s eulogy, its available at the BBC site via this link  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00gmpcf

 

Spinning the Classics Club Spin

classicsclub3The Classics Club Spin is beginning again. i’ve failed miserably with the last two efforts but since we have until early January to read the selected book, I think I’m in with a good chance of success.

The rules are the same as always:

  • Pick twenty unread books from your list.
  • Number them from one to twenty.
  • On Monday a number will be drawn.
  • That’s your book, to read by 5th January.

I’m going to mix things up a little by adding my own rules:

  • My 20 books have to be from my TBR pile (i.e., I already have them in my possession). That way I get to clear some space in my bookshelf … or floorspace.
  • And just to make life a little more fun (challenging), I have chosen titles that I’ve owned for more than three years.

So here is my list. Many of them are re-reads – books I read when I was much much younger and feel I didn’t fully appreciate or understand at the time. These are marked **

  1. Candide – Voltaire 1759
  2. Vicar of Wakefield – Oliver Goldsmith 1766
  3. Evelina – Frances Burney 1778
  4. Mansfield Park  – Jane Austen 1814**
  5. Old Gariot – Honore Balzac 1835
  6. Wives and Daughters – Elizabeth Gaskell 1864
  7. Can You Forgive Her – Anthony Trollope (re-read) 1864
  8. The Way we Live Now – Anthony Trollope 1875
  9. Dr Thorne – Anthony Trollope 1858
  10. Adam Bede – George Eliot 1859**
  11. Daniel Deronda – George Eliot 1876 **
  12. A Parisian Affair and other stories – Maupassant 1880s
  13. Washington Square/Daisy Miller – Henry James 1880
  14. The Diary of a Nobody – George Grossmith 1888
  15. The Riddle of the Sands – Erskine Childers 1903
  16. The Voyage Out – Virginia Woolf 1915
  17. Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton 1920
  18. Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf 1925 **
  19. The Pursuit Of Love – Nancy Mitford 1945
  20. Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez 1985

Which one do you think I would enjoy the most?

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