Monday, 21 January 2013

Narrative Poem Challenge

I'm joining the Narrative Poem Challenge hosted by Listra at Half-Filled Attic. Here it is.

I've been very interested in challenges lately, and I myself have joined several of them, and still, am planning to join more. But that's another business.

I have always loved narrative poems. I do, I like them. But somehow reading narrative poems is more challenging than reading normal poems or normal narratives. Looking at my TBR list, there are many narrative poems that I promise to read, both from the Classic Club's Project, and also from my own curiosity.

So, to share the joy of reading narrative poems, I'd like to propose a challenge: What about reading narrative poems in 2013?


I know that some of you must have joined several reading challenges by now. It can be hectic, reading all those book in a year. To make sure that everybody has fun instead of burden, instead of giving a number of poems you have to finish, I'd just give the levels of reading. Feel free to read just as much as you can. The point of all this is having fun, anyway.

Levels of reading:
  • Homer (< 4 narrative poems)
  • Orpheus (5 – 8 narrative poems)
  • Muses (9 – 12 narrative poems)
  • Apollo (> 12 narrative poems)

Rules:
  • You don't have to follow this blog to participate (though I would love it if you do).
  • The challenge will start on January 2013 and end on December 2013.
  • Only narrative poems will be counted. If it's just a good poem, but not a narrative poem, it doesn't count (though I would happily read your reviews about poems).
  • The length of the poems may vary, from long epics such as Illiad and Odysseyto Poe's The Raven. Don't worry about it. If you read a collection of narrative poems, you may write a review for each poem or as a group of it. But please put all reviews in the master post that will come later on.
  • Please put the button in your blog.
  • You don't have to choose your books now, so have fun along the year.
  • Please sign up through the Linky below.

    My list of intended narrative poems (if I can finish them!) are:
    1. The Eve of St Agnes by John Keats
    2. Lamia by John Keats
    3. Endymion by John Keats
    4. Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
    5. Christabel by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
    5. Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
    6. The Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
    7. Paradise Lost by John Milton (a really long read)
    8. The Princess by Alfred Tennyson
    9. Manfred by Lord Byron

    I don't know if La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Keats and Coleridge's "Love" count, but I'll read those too, because they are pretty and somehow related. I realise the repertoire is mainly Romantic, without the Greek greats, but then I know nothing whatsoever of Greek history and mythology.

    I've also bought a Wordsworth volume (think it has Prelude in it).  It is disgustingly prosaic but then I want to know how it was like to live in that exciting era, so I'll bear with it.  The Excursion might be a better bet, but I don't have the text. 

    Some may be wondering where's Homer? As I said, I don't know Greek history. Besides, I read not merely for the plot and themes, but for the language. I don't understand Greek so it would be useless for me to appreciate the beauty of Homer. I might read the translated prose version of Odyssey but that's all. 

    Another good contended for narrative (or shall I say dramatic?) poetry is Robert Browning. I can't stomach him. He lacks melody - and I can't live without melody, unless it is of course prose. One short unmelodious poem is bad enough. Several books are too much. I think Christina Rossetti wrote The Prince's Progress  I love her style so I can stomach any nonsense she writes. But sense from Browning is enough to kill my remaining brain cells, and I need those for science.  Matthew Arnold wrote Empedocles at Etna, but as I said, mythology is beyond me. Besides, he's dull and allusive, not natural and unrestrained. 

    Other recommendations? I haven't tried Cowper's The Task, considered his masterpiece, but I have read The Castaway, or bits of it, which I might review. I don't know if it's strictly a narrative poem, but it sounds like a short version of Rime of the Ancient Mariner's plot (well not really, but it involves a sea.) I wouldn't consider Arthur Hugh Clough's Where Lies the Land? a narrative poem, which has some similarities to Castaway.

    I might try John Clare, peasant poet of Northamptonshire, who wrote Cottage Tales. Whatever. But I will not give way on my belief that Wordsworth's Idiot Boy sucks. So does Peter Bell, which was parodied by John Hamilton Reynolds. Stick to his sonnets and the Lucy poems. But over-simplicity and rural characters are really idiotic and overrated.

"His Books" by Robert Southey

MY days among the Dead are past; 
  Around me I behold, 
Where'er these casual eyes are cast, 
  The mighty minds of old: 
My never-failing friends are they,         5
With whom I converse day by day. 
 
With them I take delight in weal 
  And seek relief in woe; 
And while I understand and feel 
  How much to them I owe,  10
My cheeks have often been bedew'd 
With tears of thoughtful gratitude. 
 
My thoughts are with the Dead; with them 
  I live in long-past years, 
Their virtues love, their faults condemn,  15
  Partake their hopes and fears; 
And from their lessons seek and find 
Instruction with an humble mind. 
 
My hopes are with the Dead; anon 
  My place with them will be,  20
And I with them shall travel on 
  Through all Futurity; 
Yet leaving here a name, I trust, 
That will not perish in the dust. 

Robert Southey with his book. Believe it or not, he was considered a good looker in his time,.

Here is Robert Southey's "His Books." Now Southey was a member of the Lake School of Poets of the Romantic era, though all 3 members were different from each other. Though, to be sure, Charlotte Brontë wrote that Southey's nature poems were good and true. Wordsworth was The Nature Poet, which means southey must have had a similar muse. But what he is famed for is different. It was historical epics involving different cultures he wrote, long narrative poems such as Thalaba the Destroyer and Madoc - which seems in touch with the exotic Gothicism of that era. He made more money than Wordsworth or Coleridge, too, mainly from reviews and historical books, and his poetry seems to have been more popular than theirs when they were young. But he has not lasted so well. I haven't read Southey (partly because there is no anthology of his works easily available I can browse through, and no short lyric he is famous for). But I stumbled on this in Bartleby, which has many interesting literary works online for free.

"His Books" seems to illustrate Southey's own personal thoughts well.  It is told from the perspective of a scholar. "My days among the dead are past," seems to imply that the scholar thinks he is good as dead. Alternately, it might mean that his predilection for the dead (history that is) is gone. Indeed the following lines confirm that he worships the "mighty minds of old," and Southey was a historian and biographer. It seems almost melancholy and pathetic that he resorts to talking with the dead by books, instead of seeing life as it is. Southey once said his poetry has to do with the history he reads, rather than from life and nature, unlike Wordsworth who was into nature and rural villagers. He seeks solace in books rather than people. Southey was a shy person, perhaps this refers to a shy scholar?

He lives in history - he understands their virtues and faults, and feels for them - almost as if he were part of that era rather than the present he lives in. But there's also another side to it - his hopes are with the dead - he wants to be part of them. No, not because he wants to die, but he hopes to live forever in history, and therefore gain immortality. The history we read is in a sense immortal - because only important events get written down (usually) while the petty figures disappear with time.

Now this relates to Southey himself. He said that Wordsworth's works were immortal and would last, whereas his would not. This prophecy turned out to be true, and he feared that he would not be remembered. With his predilection for history, he worships dead things - and often this obsession with history does not guarantee universal immortality. Because to write a great work you often have to be in touch with your time (I know, there are exceptions, but many enduring historical novels are set only a few decades ago). This is because reading up history you are too preoccupied with the facts to concentrate on universal human passions. With the distance of time you cannot imagine how people thought, felt and acted. In your own time you have a vivider idea, which is why many historical novels tend to be dry and flat, though written by good novelists who capture their own time well.  There is no conviction. By worshipping the past you are looking at an ideal of how something existed, because you don't have all the facts and you didn't live in that time.  History also tends to be very factual and scholarly, and most people can't appreciate historical works, unless well-educated or into history. You have to understand the allusions and the context of that time - things only educated or interested people would know. But your average intelligent person wouldn't know or care. (Not all intelligent people are history readers).  Therefore it is not universal.

It comes as strange that the scholar should talk about loving the dead historical figures, and yet hopes for immortality, though the sense of death pervades, almost as if immortality is a vain hope. It is a contradiction, but then Southey may have been speaking as a detached narrator. But it's an interesting insight to how Southey thought. Read about his life, if you can, though his works lack power. But if you like melody, he was considered more melodious than Wordsworth, though the latter more powerful than Southey.

Ironically the thing he is famous for today (and hardly anyone knows his name) is his Life of Nelson. It is for history, not literature he is remembered for, a fitting tribute to one who worshipped the dead. He is known as a critic and historian, not as a poet, a scholar but not a visionary. But luckily he became Poet Laureate in 1813, and was
An older Southey
Can anybody recommend a book on Southey?

Thursday, 10 January 2013

How some silly fashions last

There have been some snide remarks regarding the rise of skinny pants, some of which I must add to. Not that skinny pants are ugly, I do think they make a shapely leg look good, but it sometimes makes me chortle because with skinny pants comes also the rise of leggings, akin to Shakespearean times. It seems almost nude, except for the fact they're opaque, because really you are showing off some leg. Well, a lot of leg. Imagine a bunch of dignified old men walking round in tights. That is what I imagine when I see  people wearing bare leggings. I must confess to having worn some, only it was rather inconvenient as I always had to make sure my blouse was extra-long or I had a skirt or dress above it. What looks ridiculous are people who wear skinny pants with short tops. They look like exercise addicts. I have seen many elegant young ladies walking round with long cardigans and skinny pants who look elegant, no doubt, but it almost seems indecent apart from the long cardigan. Fashion makes fools of us all.

Speaking of Shakespearean costume, I recently saw on this website a pair of shorts not dissimilar to those puffed breeches. By the way this is a mainstream fashion website, meant for ordinary consumption. On the other hand it's a Japanese brand, and we know what Bohemians these Japanese are ...

"Tweed pumpkin pants." Pumpkin is the word.
I couldn't help thinking, what a waste of good fabric! No doubt if you have exceptionally slender legs it will do, but not for the mainstream.

The Regency women passed down to us some of their clothing ideas. For example, have you noticed the rise in one of those sweaters with shirt-collars attached to them? They're supposed to give the impression you're wearing a shirt underneath a sweater when it's just some bits of fabric stitched on, no doubt due to the recession and high cost of cotton.  Or those cardigans with shirt fabric stitched on? Well, the Regency women had detachable sleeves and chemisettes. Instead of wearing a blouse inside a dress they had these small items with a collar.

Regency chemisette
The Victorians are a harder bunch to characterise, being strait-laced and covered up (except for evening dress). But their collars are probably closer to our modern collars - in fact their design is still seen today. The Peter pan collar, for example, was common enough in 1840's dress. Collars are not a modern feminist movement statement worn in the office. I notice though that collars are now less common than they were in the 20th century among females for casual wear. Those days they did have mainstream casual collars. Nowadays casual collars are considered a little dressy and classy and everybody wants to have boring old blouses with the same cut. Urgh.

It's also weird how things concerning modesty have changed. For instance it was all right to expose decolletege in Victorian evening dress, but a little leg, and - oh! shock! horror! Now we are a leggy society where a woman is judged by the sexiness of her leg. That is all right. But mention her bosom and you end up sounding like a pervert. I know novels are now very liberated and whatnot nowadays, but if a man is mentioned to be appraising a woman's bust size it is so obviously sexual. A Victorian novel, which was hard on censorship was fine with novelists praising ladies' snowy bosoms. Which means mentioning bosoms was within the bounds of decency those days. It is acceptable now, not because it is decent, but because indecency is permitted, nay encouraged, everywhere. But why oh why has the bosom become more indecent compared to the Victorians? By the way while on holiday in Cornwall I visited this old house and there was a picture of a woman with her breast exposed. It looked 17th or 18th century. Not just a little decolletege, because 18th century dresses were full of those, but the entire organ itself. I was surprised, having no idea it was mainstream so I did a little googling and it seems in the 17th century it was the fashion to have very low-cut dresses which left very little to the imagination. Since ladies employed wet nurses it would have less unsightly I suppose. It would have been an adornment. Whereas Victorian mothers tended to suckle their own babies hence the sight would have been unsightly. I know celebrities show a lot of stuff nowadays, but that's considered extreme now. But this thing would have been normal back in those days.

The Victorians were shocked with the morality of their ancestors and sought to cover many things up. Certainly even the low-necked gowns are nothing compared to that of previous centuries. And they're evening, not daywear. Some people will go further and say the low-necked gowns showed absolutely no cleavage or else be charged with indecency. this is not true. While not as far gone as the 18th century, illustrations from Dickens' novels show the opposite. And not meant for slutty women either, they were drawn on middle-class, virtuous, respectable heroines.

Can't Live with you, Can't live without you

A very Brontëite notion. It's most noticeable in Wuthering Heights, which most fans glorify as romantic (blurgh!) or cynics denigrate as stupid romantic fluff. I think Emily Brontë was having the last laugh over us. Now Wuthering Heights is not my favourite Brontë novel (I prefer Charlotte and Anne) because honestly, the language is over-abusive, many circumstances unrealistic and the characters not the best-developed. But then Emily was only in her twenties. Still, I thought over it and actually some things begin to make sense to me.

For example, the can't live with you, can't live without you element. Yes, it sounds like romantic crap, but look again. Does Emily romanticise it? Not at all. It is our sick and morbid generation that insists it is romantic or romanticised (and shame on the cynics who claim it is romanticised!) but the contemporary Victorian reviewers were (rightly) disgusted by the pure evilness of the thing. Of course it was meant to be awful and unhealthy, not romantic. Early Victorian novels (not the classics) would romanticise consumption, etc. but Emily Brontë does not do this. There are many deaths, not particularly touching, but treated as matter-of-fact incidents. This would reflect the high mortality rate in certain parts of Yorkshire at the time. So what's the fuss about the can't live without you thing? Having written epic poetry with lots of passion, it was only natural Emily would incorporate it into a more standardised English novel.  This passion can be exciting in the distance to a reclusive girl with an active imagination, but Emily was analytical. She might have shrewdly judged that the passion expressed by these characters, while exhilarating, was unhealthy.

I mean, look at Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. If they were romanticised, surely they would have been more "attractive" to a Victorian audience? Angelic saintly girl and handsome saintly hero. Or alternately witty vivacious girl who is loved by everybody and highwayman gallant. No. Heathcliff is NOT charming. (Well, he is to Isabella Linton, but only to get her money). Both characters are basically unredeemable. Emily wisely chose to have the passionate, otherworldly characters have horrible temperaments with the real world. Perhaps she understood this fact of life: people with elevated notions can be horrible to live with. Look at heroes, who often affect their family standing with their principles. (No offence to political martyrs  but their families suffer for their noble principles. Seriously).  But I haven't said why Catherine and Heathcliff can't live with each other and yet can't live without each other.
a possible inspiration for Thrushcross Grange
Emily Brontë, noted recluse

Has anyone noticed that every character in Wuthering Heights seems to be a recluse? Wuthering Heights marries Thrushcross Grange. They seem to have no choice in other mates. Which indicates they must be very isolated people. This is my main ground for complaint. It is not like this in the real world. Two reclusive families living nearby? But accepting this fact of reclusiveness, it explains why Heathcliff and Catherine can't live without each other. They don't feel comfortable anywhere else or with others (except the in-laws). Emily, hating school and anywhere away from home, would understand this. Victorian reviewers also noticed that the love between Catherine and Heathcliff was startlingly chaste. Someone wrote he does not doubt her virtue as she embraces Heathcliff. Perhaps their wild passion is also a strong, family-like love. Not the most stable love, but an idealisation or desire of stable family love that they don't feel with anyone else. With no one else they cling to each other. And yet two strong temperaments can clash, which is why they can't live with each other. Catherine also won't marry anyone beneath her socially. When they grow up it is accepted that when you love someone the idea is to marry them because Catherine would have married Heathcliff if he had been of sufficient social standing. But this love is very strange. Catherine seems to be fine with the prospect of being friends with Heathcliff and inviting him to the house after her marriage, and trying to get Edgar to be friends with him, something which doesn't really sound adulterous. She seems to take it for granted that she doesn't have to be married to him or have an affair with him to be happy so long as he is close. Only Edgar objects to this, naturally. Their love seems to be more akin to wanting a sense of home and comfort rather than mere uninhibited wild passion. Of course being thwarted by fate makes it all the more passionate and despairing.  The "I am Heathcliff" declaration is supposed to be a romantic thing, but I think it's actually pathetic. It is the cry of an egotist who is only comfortable with another fellow-egotist, with a similar temperament.

The younger generation is never really brought out in the films for some reason. They are nicer and more stable people than their parents, which makes you wonder why they don't. But I guess lack of passion is the reason? Observe that nice people here don't indulge in crazy wild passions and elevated notions. I wonder if Emily was trying to make this point, which makes her even more Victorian than we would suspect.  Mrs Dean, the so-called protagonist of the story (Cathy the second would be another contender for the post) prefers young Cathy to older Catherine, and while she's unreliable as a narrator, Mrs Dean represents sanity. Young Cathy is more likeable as a child, and is more likely to be likeable to the world, except for the fact Heathcliff ruined her life and made her bitter. She is also better taught than her mother, always a good thing in Victorian novels, and for Emily, a well-taught lady herself.  This makes her a saner, stabler and more refined person.  She loves her father dearly, and so her love is more familylike than the elder Catherine, who doesn't seem to have cared for her family. I wonder whether family love is the love that is idealised here? Emily loved the family circle and hated to be parted from it, which would explain it.

Charlotte Brontë would later write this not only in Jane Eyre (where the main obstacle is Rochester's mad wife) but in Villette. Though it is more inclined to "can't live with you," in a sense. Lucy needs affection to live, and is depressed because no one really cares for her. Oh sure Mrs Bretton is nice, but she cares for her in a universally indulgent way because it is her nature rather than because she enjoys her company. And she is Mrs Bretton's goddaughter.  She does eventually fall in love with M. Paul Emanuel, and trusts his friendship. When Madame Beck tries to part them she rebels.  And yet Charlotte Brontë insisted on killing off M Paul instead of letting them live together happily ever after. Why oh why Charlotte?! She told her publisher George Smith that it was better to let Paul die than let him live with that difficult person, Lucy Snowe. Death would be a far more merciful option. We have old Mr Brontë to thank for the ambiguous ending.

This is the "can't live with you" part, in contrast to her former agony that she was to be parted from Paul. She was happy in the 3 years he was away in Antigua. She cultivated plants, taught pupils and lived a happy and useful life (I imagine it must have been lonely, though if she was happy it means she had Paul and Paulina to write to). And she does state, unlike in real life when M. Heger refused to write to Charlotte, Paul does write to Lucy because he likes to, and it makes him happy. Not out of pity for her solitude.  But why is she happy? Wouldn't she rather have Paul by her side? You could say she is contented for settling for less, but I think Lucy also knows (or Charlotte knows) that Lucy needs solitude to think and be herself. She could not always have people beside her. Charlotte was prone to fits of solitude. Much as she hated her loneliness, she knew that she could never break into the London circle and couldn't wait to be home.  This seems revolutionary in light of the recent introvert movement.  Paul in the book is said to live alone and to have few close relations,  which might draw them closer. But he is still a more social being than Lucy, and we know in real life M. Heger was a pillar of the community, and he had several close friends among his pupils. Charlotte could not fit in Heger's life, even if Madame Heger wasn't in the way, and so Lucy can't fit into Paul's life. He gives lectures, goes to concerts, etc. She sees these as occasional treats. Lucy fears loneliness but she also fears crowds. She loves going to galleries alone, to the horror of Paul Emmanuel. Paul has some proper notions. He would want to accompany his wife, and while she loves him Lucy needs space.  And so the balance between being together or not is never really resolved, not even by Paul's death because it means more years of solitude.

Charlotte Brontë eventually married Arthur Nicholls out of fear that her father would die before her and she couldn't earn more money as a novelists as no new novels were coming out. Nicholls would provide for her. Besides, she liked the idea of being loved more than the man himself. Anyway she was comfortable with his presence, I suspect more than with George Smith. While she liked Smith and was certainly comfortable with him she knew she wasn't his very good friend. Polly's lament that Graham preferred his schoolfriends to her is mirrored by Lucy saying she was nothing to Graham compared to his friends, just as Charlotte wasn't George Smith's bosom buddy. That is why even if they wanted to they could never marry. Charlotte was a little in love with him, but when she suspected him of wanting to marry her she tried to avoid him. She knew their temperaments wouldn't suit. Wise woman. This is thinking long-term. Whereas with Nicholls she knew she was comfortable in his presence and the Yorkshire community. But after she married Nicholls insisted she did her parish duties, which she did. But she never had time to herself as such, which annoyed her. Had she lived on the marriage might have become unhappy. But she was grateful to Arthur for his concern.

Arthur Bell Nicholls, Mr Charlotte Brontë
A letter to Ellen Nussey I think shows that Nicholls did go for some church functions of parties, leaving Charlotte at home, where she didn't have to be with people she wasn't fond of. While she liked having time to herself one wonders whether after some time she would have tired of being alone, feeling impotent like Mrs Pryor in Shirley that Nicholls could do all these functions and she couldn't, and the thought he preferred others' company to her own. For someone who wrote such convincing characters in Shirley it is hard not to come to this conclusion.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Some thoughts on Edwardian literature

As you know, Katherine of November's Autumn is organising a challenge to read novels from 1880-1930, an era I thought I was woefully ignorant in. Now it comes back to me, I did actually enjoy some novels from that era, but it was years ago and I had forgotten about it. It's just that "classics" from that era, as in stuffy literary fiction didn't appeal to me. But I used to read George Bernard Shaw avidly when I was 16, HG Wells when I was 17 and EF Benson (1930's I think?) around that time.

Then there was Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard and Jules Verne, old favourites of mine. I liked She and The Lost World. The late Victorian era was the age of adventure stories, "literary" realist classics being limited to Thomas Hardy and George Gissing (yes, I know there more, but the only really well-known one today is Hardy.)  Realist classics were the staple of the early and mid-Victorians, as a late Victorian reviewer in 1895 lamented. They had lapsed to the age of "photographic" writing, where you describe boring scenes of people drinking tea unhappily. (I forget where to find it, but one of the links on the Brontëblog probably has the e-book.)  Still, fear not. This gave us the genre fiction we now know today as fantasy, science fiction and adventure.

Then of course the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, the likes of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Christie was avidly devoured in my early teens, only to give it up in a few years for Grandma's Sayers books, and I went to the bookstore to buy some more. Then I stopped reading those for a few years while feeling down in general about the sort of books there were to read in general (I was doing my A-Levels at the time, and I hadn't started George Eliot or much of Hardy) as I'd read so many interesting classics the rest seemed boring. Even modern fiction was dull. I then went and picked up Terry Pratchett.

If you read TV Tropes, the Agatha Christie novels are the Genteel Interbellum Setting, between the two World Wars. Not quite an Edwardian tea party, but lots of upper-middle class parties and social events and adultery and drinks over a potted palm in colonial India. (Lots of military officers in Agatha Christie). Everyone calls each other "darling" (rolls eyes) and talks about Bohemian stuff. In fact that era lampshaded Bohemian attitudes in general, something that we 21st century readers can smile about today, as we inherited a lot of their Bohemian tendencies, eg pseudo-intellectuals, Marxists and Freudians. Which is probably why they still last today. In 100 years they may not, but let's enjoy it while we can.  If you are into this setting the detective novelists are recommended, Aldous Huxley (not Brave new World), and EF Benson. Evelyn Waugh will do as well. Stella Gibbons parodies some of them in Cold Comfort Farm. This era has more exotic settings i.e. titled or important people in colonies or tropical countries doing English stuff like drinking tea.

Surprisingly there was some good science fiction written eg Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. He later wrote Island, which is after the period I mention, but worth a look. Of course geeks will mention HP Lovecraft whom I haven't read yet.

As for serious literary fiction, I really don't know much. Oh, I know there's Virginia Woolf (ever so dull), James Joyce (nonsensical language), etc. but honestly they can't tell a story like the Victorians. In fact Virginia Woolf couldn't stand the Victorians.  In a brief phase of pretentious teenage-hood I attempted both authors only to fail miserably in disgust. Then I believe I saw something by an Elizabeth Bowen, among other things. I know I spent a fortune in books I never got to read.

If you want to know real-life Bohemian intellectuals, try Freud, (late 19th century to early 20th century). I laughed at Psychology of Love, Studies in Hysteria, The Interpretation of Dreams, etc. Expect phallic symbols, female genitalia and repressed sexual desires, homosexuality and incest.  If you like, have a look at Carl Jung, who seems to think everything has to do with an Egyptian past life.

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.