Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is a wonderful heroine – determined to win through in a situation and social system that doesn’t give her much of a chance. She finds her own way to escape her impoverished background, and shows real strength of character throughout.

However Rochester is so deeply flawed as a love interest that I find the ending hard to swallow. Is it not enough that Jane has achieved independent wealth and a family that love her? Why does she need to return to a man who would have made a good stepping-stone in learning who she is? An off-page incident in which he becomes dependent on her does not make compelling storytelling to me.

Of course this is probably a very modern perspective, in which moving on to a new man in your twenties is eminently possible, and Jane does very well at managing herself and not settling for an inferior option, or for a man who is in a strong position to exploit her. And she chooses for love rather than duty when it comes down to the final decision, a woman who knows what will fulfil her in the end. I just wish Rochester was a better human being.



Persuasion – Jane Austen

With the second centenary of Austen’s death there are many events going on to commemorate her and celebrate her works. This runs from appearing on banknotes to plays and other cultural events. I went to a modern “retelling” of Persuasion at the Manchester Royal Exchange, which was both true to the original language and hilarious in its modern interpretations. I confess I didn’t recall a foam party in the text.

Having seen the play (at short notice) I then returned to the book, to take in the depths and layers that a play with limited cast and a short timeframe couldn’t include. Cousins are added, the full detail of who Mrs Clay is and a bit more detail that makes the courtship make more sense.

It is of course beautifully written, humerous in places and shows Anne Elliot manoeuvring her position to navigate through life and find a suitable future for herself.

Have you recently revisited any classics?

Lady Susan – Jane Austen

Penguin Classics should be sold at all railway stations, and this one came from Birmingham New Street Foyles. Just the right length for my return journey home and saved me from the bestseller list or a magazine.Lady Susan

Lady Susan is a wonderful anti-heroine. Defying social conventions, she is making her own way in the world and choosing her husband her own way. I love that she does find her own way, in spite of being so far from the ideal of Regency womanhood.

It is a classic epistolary novel, with the whole book (except for the conclusion) told in the form of letters between and from the main characters, the majority of which are of course ladies with time on their hands to exchange details of other people’s lives. So of course my quote is from a letter between two of the men…

I have at this moment recieved your Letter, which has given me more astonishment than I ever felt before.

But of course to reveal what gives such astonishment would remove all the fun. It remains only to say that Austen’s wit shines through and this is well-worth reading.

Eta: What do you know, I’ve read this before!

A Room with a View – E. M. Forster

Grabbed this to read from the shelf in a hostel on a wet winter weekend. Between the low clouds and short days, our trip was definitely lacking in any kind of a view.

Forster transports us to the intrigue of an English Pension in Italy in late-Victorian times. Lucy our young heroine is touring, and navigating with the aid and occasional hindrance of her chaperone the adult world and male relationships as best as she is able.

We learn how she explores Florence, in both its artistic beauty and the more violent nature of the city, whilst battling the constraints placed upon her. Then we return home, and she has to decide what course her life will take, whilst worrying about social expectations, her family and her own happiness.

I quite like the appendix, which I don’t think was included in the early text. This puts those decisions against the context of the later two World Wars, and how her choices will have been tested by wider changes.

A great novel which puts youth and pivotal changes into context, whilst promoting youth and hope.

A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

Set during the French Revolutions, A Tale of Two Cities draws attention to the injustices done to the poor of France, and warns the rich and powerful British against the same treatment. Intertwined with this is a love story, and a tale of a family helping an individual cope with what would now be called PTSD.
The early chapters are highlighted by the phrase “Recalled to life.” and this drags the reader in to the story to find an explanation to this mysterious phrase, in what would otherwise be a story only of the travels of a banker, with the difficulties of coach travel in an age before steam described by Dickens.
The settings and living conditions in both London and Paris are painted well, with the anger of the population in [Paris district] contrasted well the the genteel life which is being led in London.
As social commentary this book fulfills is purpose, that there is a tangiable reason not to attempt only to keep the poor downtrodden alongside the moral arguement.
Dickens sense of justice is clear throughout the book, and this keeps the story from being too grim.
Having read this, I might tackle Les Misérables again.

Lady Susan – Jane Austen

Lady Susan is a collection of letters about Lady Susan’s affairs after she moves to her brother-in-law’s residence after she is widowed.

A satirical look at how a seductress could socialise and manipulate relationships in spite of the limitations placed on her behaviour by the conventions of regency society, the viewpoint moves between narrators showing the horror and delight her friends, family and rivals have at her behaviour with men. Lady Susan is a basically feminist book, with women refusing to accept the position they are expected to take.

The male characters in the book lack detail and are generally assumed to have no grasp of the current situation, but all the women have strong personalities and views to manipulate and run their lives.