Sunday, 9 December 2012

December wrap-up: Classics challenge

Among the classics I read this year, there were:
1) Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
2) The Professor by Charlotte Brontë
3) Villette by Charlotte Brontë
4) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
5) The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
6) Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin
7) Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
8) Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
9) A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy
10) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
11) Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell
12) Some of Keats' poetry - Eve of St Agnes, Lamia, Ode to a Nightingale, Ode on Melancholy
13) Tennyson's Mariana
14) Christina Rossetti's poetry - Goblin Market, Remember, Maude Clare, etc.
15) The Monk by Matthew Lewis
16) Patronage by Maria Edgworth

and some which I've probably forgotten.  I didn't write reviews for all I read for the Challenge, because that would have been too tough. Among them I found a treasure in the haunting Melmoth the Wanderer and an agreeable read in Mansfield Park, far deeper than the other Austen canon (except perhaps Emma, whose most interesting and complex characters are in the background. I confess to a distaste for the heroine). A notable triumph is understanding the characters and the motivation in Shirley, a most underrated book that many would enjoy, if you look at the analyses of the characters, even the minor ones.

This year has been surprisingly productive, in the literary way. I got to read poems, something I wasn't so keen on before, after reading Keats' biography. And yes, there were biographies, which I didn't review because they're not strictly classics. I learnt that Keats was from a Cockney school of poets, that he was criticised for using classical allusions because he didn't learn ancient Greek. Nevertheless I rediscovered a verbal delight in his poetry, and thought about his theory on Negative Capability.

Some new insights on Hamlet, too, made it worthwhile, linked to the writings of the Romantic critic William Hazlitt. A few glances on Hazlitt's and Charles Lamb's works made me acquainted with some of Romantic era literary criticism. All in all, I learnt a good deal about the Romantics - not bad, considering my unsurpassable love for the Victorians. I finally gave in and read 3 novels of the Gothic genre.

I also read the biographies of Mrs Gaskell, the Brontës, Hazlitt, George Eliot, Tennyson and the Rossettis. I've recently finished the biography of young Coleridge by Richard Holmes, didn't get to finish Shelley's biography by the same, no doubt because the excessive political radicalism seemed to diminish his own character, unlike Coleridge's life. Started on Wordsworth's life but have yet to complete it - it is rather dry. Juliet Barker is an excellent researcher but she tends to take sides - either oversanctify (Wordsworth and Anne Brontë, though Anne was somehow saintly) or vilify (Charlotte and Emily Brontë). Her main purpose is to destroy preconceptions of literary figures - not the best approach to unbiasedness. Still, it is useful as a source for knowing how outsiders would have viewed these characters, through the biased eye of the biographer. A biographer who hates his subject is one of the crowds who would dislike said person, and by seeing his view, we see the reasons why people didn't like said persons in their lifetimes.

My favourite posts would be on Mansfield Park and Villette. Also on the Romantics, though that badly needs updating.

Here's a list of underrated novels
1) Shirley by Charlotte Brontë
2) Mansfield Park
3) Melmoth the Wanderer
4) Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

I also started Howards End but didn't finish it, loved the cover though. I also got to have interesting comments from Katherine herself and fellow-blogger Lit-Lass, Jane Austen fanatic and acute critic.

Conclusions: Romantic poetry is wonderful. So is Romantic criticism - witty and profound but simple to understand. Novels still belong to the Victorians, sorry guys. Gothicism tends to get on your nerves after a while. Also, the best all-round novelist goes to George Eliot, though she lacks poetry in her prose. Favourite poet is still Keats, with tender affection for Coleridge. Favourite novelist is still Charlotte Brontë.

Next year Katherine is hosting the Turn of the Century classics - around 1880-1930 (I think) which would include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, Wilfred Owen, EM Forster etc. I'm thinking of writing of the most amusing Sigmund Freud - his theories are so hilarious. And delving into more WWI poetry.

1 comment:

  1. You know if I comment on all I have an interest in we might both go off into more tangents. Anyways, fabulous reading list. My classics list is rather meager for this year. Definitely agree with you on George Eliot as the "best all-round novelist". (Bet you'd expect me to give that appellation to Austen, eh? Well, I'm really as much of an Eliot fanatic.) Been thinking about Freud today, so look forward to your thoughts on him.