Friday, 4 January 2013

Turn of the Century Salon

This year Katherine Cox of November's Autumn is hosting a Turn of the Century Salon where you read authors' works from 1880-1930. It's an era I'm not familiar with, but I'm looking forward to reading a new era. Anyway here's an introduction::

What draws you to read the Classics?
To get a sense of an old time, to sympathise with well-drawn characters, and to escape into a new world.

What era have you mainly read? Georgian? Victorian? Which authors?
Victorian definitely. For the early Victorians: Dickens, Thackeray, the Brontë sisters, Mrs Gaskell. The mid-Victorians: George Eliot and Anthony Trollope. The late Victorians: Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde.

What Classics have you read from the 1880s-1930s? What did you think of them?
I've read quite a bit of Hardy. The Woodlanders, Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure would be in this period. I think this era bleak and pessimistic, far more so than their early Victorian counterparts. There's a more acute emphasis of the individual and social concerns involving the working-classes. Basically a great deal of suffering. There also seems to be a great deal of adultery, which I find rather boring. Sons and Lovers should be in this period and it put me off erotic fiction for ever. Screw you, DH Lawrence. Also, a sense of community, the stuff in Mrs Gaskell and Trollope and George Eliot, is gone in these works. No happy neighbours, people who know each other well and help each other out, everybody is friendless blah blah blah. I tried reading Clayhanger and found it dull. On the brighter side, I do like Freud. He makes me laugh. Evelyn Waugh is not too bad either.

Name some books you're looking forward to read for the salon.
I don't know ... EM Forster? There's still Howards End to finish. I wish I could say Ford Madox Ford but that would be a lie. I would like to try Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks and perhaps more poetry. Wilfred Owen for starters. Perhaps I should try the cryptic TS Eliot. Siegfried Sassoon and Gerard Manley Hopkins would be good. And Algernon Swinburne if he is in this period.

Which authors do you hope to learn more about?
The poets. Thomas Hardy (who also wrote poetry).  Algernon Swinburne.

Which literary characters are you most akin to?
The Victorians, naturally. I think I've got Molly Gibson's bluestocking tendencies (from Wives and Daughters), Dorothea Brooke's crazed idealism, some of Maggie Tulliver's restlessness (from Mill on the Floss), Caroline Helstone's thoughts on literature (from Shirley), and Lucy Snowe's acid cynicism and need for quietness.

Which authors do you love?
Charlotte Brontë hands down. I love Mrs Gaskell for Wives and Daughters and Ruth (her famous industrial novels were rather rushed I'm afraid), and the Victorians in general.

Is your preference prose? poetry? both?
Well, my most favourite works are all novels, which would indicate prose. But I only love prose from the Victorian era. From the Romantics, I prefer their poetry, for the modernists, I read very little. But their poetry is a better read than their novels. I must however, confess a weakness for Freud's (non-novelistic) works, because they make me roar with laughter. In fact my dad and I even created a universe where Freud does things like set up a hospital in a bamboo grove (don't ask why) and diagnoses everyone of phallic delusions, uterus delusions, etc. And the hospital becomes The place for the cream of society to go to.  It's still a running joke between us.

15 comments:

  1. I really like your answer to the literary characters you're most like. Haven't read D.H. Lawrence but he seems like a great bore to me. It's one thing to write about sensual and sexual awakening but what little of his writing I've read makes it seem like he takes any of the fun out of sex. It's like attempting to explain a joke - it ceases to be funny.

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    1. I know! Thomas Hardy is much better in the sense, he leaves out enough but puts in enough to intrigue.

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  2. Loved reading your answers (now I actually want to read Freud)! I don't know if you've read Conrad before, but I always recommend him. I read Forster's Passage to India this fall; it was well-written but not very likeable.

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  3. Charlotte Bronte is a class act; I love her work. I wish I had an ear and a heart for poetry. I just don't "get" it. There's always hope, I suppose.

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  4. I love Gaskell too. :) And I want to read some Trollope and Hardy this year I was thinking of The Warden and either Tess or The Woodlanders. Looking forward to reading what you think of Hardy's poetry-- haven't read it myself. I'm very much a newbie when it comes to poetry, only started reading it last year but how I love it!

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    1. I actually bought an old book of his poetry at this secondhand bookshop. The store assistant was very enthusiastic about Hardy's poetry compared to his novels. Nothing beats the Romantics of course, but I like the sincerity in
      Hardy so absent in many Modernist poets. I'm thinking of reading the hoax-poet Ern Malley as well.

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  5. I haven't read much DH Lawrence, but I had vague hopes for Sons and Lovers. Have you read Women in Love? Hands down the worst classic I have ever read.

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    1. I tried to, but it totally sucked. Though the beginning part seemed marginally more interesting than Sons and Lovers. Sons and Lovers is a bildungsroman/how a family develops etc but the issues are dull, and the sex even more so. DH Lawrence is an underrated poet though an overrated novelist. It seems the popular classics nowadays are those with lots of sex eg Madame Bovary, Lawrence, instead of political issues.

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  6. I only ever read one DH Lawrence and that was enough! Have just finished Clayhanger and although it could never be called riveting reading I enjoyed it.

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  7. Part of the reason I like reading classics is because of their escapism too; it can be a breath of fresh air compared to modern literature. I really wish I had the courage to try poetry, I find it to be so intimidating, but maybe I'll buck up and face it this year.

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  8. I hope you do try T.S. Eliot. I want to read more by him this year.

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  9. I think I'm going to like reading your Turn of the Century Salon posts--I like your irreverence!

    If you're looking for poets in this timeframe, I really like Hart Crane. Also, I'm about to start reading some of Edward Thomas's WWI poems also.

    I'm with you on the adultery theme, and it does seem to be one that authors in this time period couldn't get enough of!

    I read Buddenbrooks a long time ago, and liked it better than most of the other Mann novels. I think his novellas and short stories are better than the novels. I consider finishing The Magic Mountain to be akin to finishing a marathon.

    I'm with you on Dorothea Brooke--I think she is one of my all-time favorite heroines. I love to read Victorian novels, but thank my lucky stars I don't have to actually inhabit them.

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    1. Haven't heard of Edward Thomas. Ugh, I notice that with the passing of time, adultery is more popular, and the warm-hearted community novel dies away. Modernist works are noticeably less intelligent than the Victorians partly because of this (it takes less skill to write adultery than politics). But Modernism tends to promote a sort of Bohemian partying socialite sort of setting, which is the sort of thing you associate with adultery. I don't really mind some nookie in novels, but what I dislike is that they glorify adulterous characters. Victorian novels do have adultery, but at least they didn't make a hero out of an adulterer.

      Ironically the best German classics are said to be novellas rather than novels. I wonder why Anglo-Saxon novels are the most entertaining among the famous classics? The French classic novels are more intellectual, but read less like a story, and are less warm-hearted and humane. I tried Magic Mountain but it was too tough to read. It seemed more like a treatise than a story.

      I sometimes think I would have loved the Victorian era. In this era, there are few interesting ideals to espouse, but if I'd been a Victorian, I would have been one of those radicals. Nowadays ideologies are so stretched out and contemptible.

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  10. Do you like adaptations? I think there are several adaptations of Jane Eyre from this time period; those could be interesting to read. IIRC The Secret of Kyriels by E. Nesbit is one.

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    1. I loved the 1973 Jane Eyre TV series! The characters there are the most real. (Yes, I know Jane doesn't say much, and has few facial expressions, but that's how the character is meant to be. The fact the actress isn't charismatic is a good thing here, because it means she's faithful to the novel). Also has the best Rochester - witty, charming and eccentric but brooding. You actually see what Jane loved in him.

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