Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Emma By Jane Austen

I just finished reading Emma (actually listening in this case) for about the third time. I like this book. I think some of the reason I like it so well is that I watched the Gweneth Paltrow version of Emma before reading the book. Although the movie is pretty inaccurate in itself, it’s a happy film and I always got a good feeling watching it. I have a sneaking suspicion that this has coloured my view of the book.

What I like about Auten books in general is that she has such a good variety of characters. Just when you’ve had quite enough of Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Bates comes along to entertain you. Both characters on their own are maddening, but are quite amusing when taken in turns. Although I really would like to slap Mrs. Elton into the middle of next month on more than one occasion in the course of the novel. She is horrifically annoying, which just serves to illustrate Austen’s talents. Austen’s characters all inspire emotion in the reader, lots of emotion. You usually either love or hate them and the aversion you feel for those you hate is usually quite strong – to the point of wanting to slap them into the middle of next month (Mrs. Bennett, Mrs. Elton, Mrs. Norris – slapfest anyone?). She uses the feeling she creates for the characters to make her point. No one in their right mind would actually want to emulate a Mrs. Elton or Mrs. Norris, rather you would probably go a great deal out of your way not to. She uses the same method to illustrate points with her “good” characters as well. Nothing makes you cringe so much as Emma’s blunder on Box Hill when she insulted to good Mrs. Bates so distinctly in front of half of the party. The more you like Emma, the more you cringe at her insolence. Austen uses this to point out that even the rich have both material and moral obligations towards those less fortunate than themselves.

Finally, I like that all of her messages in the book are as applicable today as they were then. The settings may have changed, but the implications are the same. No one is going to like you if you are constantly putting people down, scheming in other people’s lives is never a good idea, we have obligations to others less fortunate than ourselves etc. etc.

Oh yes, and the romantic bit is good too. Nothing like a good romance.

Far From the Madding Crowd

I liked this book. Even though it was the same no-frills style of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, it was a lot cheerier. The characters still had a difficult time of it, but they didn’t suffer quite the hardships as Tess and also didn’t suffer the moral anguish Tess made herself suffer. I think Hardy’s point of success in life through hard work, sense and morals was better made in Far From a Madding Crowd. The characters were likeable, at least those who were supposed to be, and Hardy built up a good picture of what life might have been like in rural areas at the time. It was interesting to see how the social structure of farms worked, especially the labour markets that took place once a year.

All in all it’s a good book and one I would recommend for anyone who likes the literature of the time. Hardy is less romantic than many of the century’s earlier authors, but is still engaging and a good story teller.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Book Meme

1) One book that made you laugh: The Yarn Harlot by Stephanie Pearl McPhee
2) One book that made you cry: The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
3) ---------you have read more than once: The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
4) ---------you have loved but were embarrassed to admit it: The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer
5)----------you have hated: The Da Vinci Code by the infamous Dan Brown. What a waste of time.
6)---------one book you have loved as a child: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (YES!)
7)--------one that has scared you: Dracula by Bram Stoker – bejeebies that man can create atmosphere!
8)--------that has bored you: The Milagro Beanfield War – soooooooooooooooooo pointless and boring, OMG, I thought I’d never get through it. I quite literally had to drink POTS of coffee whilst trying to read.
9)-----that has made you happy: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bontë
10)--------that has made you miserable: Night by Elie Wiesel and all of the other books I read for my Holocaust class. Gave me nightmares.
11)----that you were not brave enough to read: Anything by Stephen King
12)-----book character you have fallen in love with: Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre. OK, there. I said it.
13) last book you have read: To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) and Emma (Jane Austen) One was an audio book and one a real book and I finished them on the same day.

Moll Flanders

My first book was Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe. I have to admit I was a bit shocked at the seemingly cavalier attitude of the main character towards both criminality and immorality. Yes Moll would have preferred to be able to live a respectable life, but seemed to think it a matter of course to change her morals to fit her situation. She almost seems like a cross between the Marquis de Sade and Jane Austen or perhaps Thomas Hardy: wanting to life the moral life propounded by Jane Austen, but realizing that her morality would get her nowhere fast when it came down to it. She fared much better for herself by adjusting her morals accordingly than by staying on the steady, moral path she would have preferred. I suppose her literary opposite would be Tess of the D’Urbervilles who basically ruined her mortal life by striving to maintain a high moral standard in an attempt to save her mortal soul. The Marquis de Sade would have been thrilled to see Tess die an early death by law where Moll lived out the rest of her long life in comfort and ease.

As for the book itself, it was fairly easy to read. The story was simple and straightforward yet still gives glimpses of life from many different perspectives. It also shows how quickly fortunes could be made or lost during the times which helps the reader understand why the characters act and react as they do. Moll’s ups and downs, poor and rich times and the shock of some of her actions kept me engaged. It’s a difficult book to reconcile to oneself to because Moll is a likeable character on the one hand, but on the other does not act as one would wish her to. Her repentance becomes questionable as time goes on because she shows again and again that she will always return to “her evil ways” without much prompting as soon as her circumstances change for the worse. She looks on it as a requirement and as no other alternative is offered to her in the book, the reader gets sucked along in the belief that Moll is doing what she must to survive. This may be so in context of the times, but the author leaves it up to the reader to judge for himself instead of making a judgement within the book.

All in all, and interesting and engaging read that provides plenty of food for thought.