Reviews

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen: Review

Well, I fully intended to finish my reviews of all of Austen’s novels by the end of 2017, but obviously that didn’t happen. Between the holidays and extra hours at work I just didn’t have the time. I woke up on New Years Eve fully intending to power through the last three quarters of the novel in the fiveish free hours I had in the afternoon… only to end up falling asleep after within a page and half. After failing to reach my goal finishing kind fell to the back burner for a while, but this week I finally did it.

To start with the most important point, Edward Ferrars definitely beats out Edmund Bertrum as an Austen Hero. Edward may have made several poor choices, but at least he came to his senses and always stuck to his morals and convictions, which I can’t exactly say for Edmund. Actually Edward reminds me a lot of Fanny Price. His upright character and complete commitment to what he thinks is right even when faced with opposition of his entire family is very much like what Fanny went through in Mansfied Park. Except, of course, that Edward got himself into his own mess through a few very poor choices, where as Fanny never really did anything to deserve her own unfortunate circumstances.

Like Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility focuses around the love affairs of two very close sisters, one of course, Elinor, being the main of the two. The characters of Elinor and Marianne work very well together in the novel. Their vastly different characters excellently set each other off and allow Austen to highlight each girls best characteristics. I love Marianne because she is such an incredible drama queen, but at the same time she has a good heart and good intentions. In certain ways I see similarities between Marianne Dashwood and Lydia Bennet. They’re both girls of very strong feeling with lots of youthful energy to spare. I think the big difference is that Marianne was instilled with a very good education and strong sense of right and wrong, whereas Lydia was mostly left to go her own way.

The two, or rather three, love stories in this novel are of a rather different nature, at least in my mind, than any of Austen’s other romances. To begin with, no other romance is quite so fast, open, and outright passionate as that of Marianne and Willoughby. I wonder if Austen was trying to make a point with that actually, because none of her other romances end quite so disastrously either. Then there’s Elinor and Edward who’s romance is referred to throughout the novel, but there is so little interaction between the characters that the relationship almost feels like a ghost until everything is finally resolved at the end. And, of course, the whole relationship between Marianne and Colonel Brandon pretty much happens within the last five pages.

To be perfectly honest what I enjoyed most about the novel was probably Lucy Steele. Or rather every scene where Lucy tried to get the best of, infuriate, humiliate, degrade, etc. Elinor, because I always loath characters like her who have such an inflated sense of superiority.  So why would I love those scenes, right? I just love the way Elinor handles it all and totally keeps her cool every time, completely secure in the knowledge that all of Lucy’s posturing is just that. It’s incredibly refreshing to read a female character who remains completely sure of herself and stands her ground when confronted with that kind of hostility. Plus, I find real joy in the thought of what Lucy must have gone through when Mrs. Ferrars found out about the whole scandal. And if you’re wondering what the scandal was or why Lucy is so awful to Elinor then I’ve done what I meant to do and you should go read the book right now.

Another solid 5/5. To summarize this and all of my other Jane Austen reviews “Austen rocks and you should totally read her!”

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Reviews

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen: Review

I have always considered Mansfield Park to be my least favorite Austen novel. This second read through hasn’t changed my opinion, that being said, in sticking with the theme of my other Austen reviews, this novel was definitely better on the second read through. The main impression I had left from my first time I read it more than three years ago was that I didn’t like Fanny Price because she didn’t have a backbone. I don’t know if it’s because I was able to form my own opinion this time instead of having to listen to my wacky professors, or if it’s because I have a different perspective now than I did then, but this time I was able to understand Fanny Better.

Fanny will, I think, remain my least favorite Austen Heroine, but now I can at least appreciate her for the tough little cookie that she is. The first time I read her story I could only think how much better things would have turned out and how much faster everything would have been resolved if Fanny would have just stood up for herself and told everyone else what idiots they were being. I stand by that opinion, but I can also now see that Fanny stood her ground as firmly as her incredibly timid personality would let her. In the matters of most importance, where she felt herself to be truly acting rightly, and within the bounds of her social status, Fanny really did stand up for herself, even when facing great displeasure from those who she basically owed her world to. I’ve spent a lot of time arguing with people about the Cinderella fairy tale and how, yes, Cinderella gets everything without technically working for it etc. but the point of the story is that she gets what she deserves because she is a truly good person at heart who does everything right even under incredibly difficult circumstances. Mansfield Park and Fanny Price are a lot like Cinderella in my opinion, Fanny never really does anything to reach her happy ending, but, in the end, she gets what she deserves because she is a morally upright and good person who does everything right, even when it’s hard.

With Fanny being my least favorite heroine it stands to reason that her love intereste, Edmund, would also rank as my least favorite hero. I actually like him considerably less than Fanny and, if I’m being perfectly honest, I would say that I don’t think Edmund deserved Fanny. Mansfield Park is the only Austen novel so far that has made me question whether I really want the hero and heroine to end up together. I didn’t remember the ending to well from last time, though I had some vague notions. Those vague notions of things that were coming were the only things that kept me from thinking that Fanny would be better off with her other suitor. Yes, Mr. Crawford does eventually prove himself to be entirely unworthy of her and she ends up with Edmund as we all knew she would. But really. For a guy who is respected for his moral nature and excellent understanding Edmund certainly seems to spend most of this novel completely blind to how wrong he is and how foolish he’s been acting. Right up until the last couple of chapters. Not to mention that for someone who considers himself so close to Fanny, and who is supposed to understand and value her more than anyone else, he certainly misunderstands, misinterprets, or straight up disregards her feelings, judgements, and opinions a whole heck of a lot. Because this is an Austen romance we all know that they live happily ever after, but, if it had been left up to Edmund they would have all whiled away their lives in misery.

After all that smack talk I do have to say that I really did enjoy this novel, that just because Fanny and Edmund are my least favorite Austen couple doesn’t mean I don’t still love them as characters. I even like Edmund, and I’m glad that everything worked out for him as it should in the end. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t still like to give him a good slap upside the head though.

Even as my least favorite Austen novel (assuming Sense and Sensibility doesn’t completely disappoint) Mansfield Park would still land really high up there in my list of recommended books to read. I know I’m biased, but anything Austen is worth it because even when you don’t necessarily love her characters as people it’s impossible not to love them as works of literary art. 5/5 stars, of course.

Reviews

Persuasion by Jane Austen: Review

Wow, it’s been a while since I wrote a review. I wish I had a good excuse, but I really don’t. What can I say, life just kept getting in the way. Which is why I’m only just getting around to writing this review for Persuasion even though it’s been weeks since I read it. It’s been long enough that I’m tempted to just skip this review and move on to some other books I’ve read since, but now that I’ve started reviewing Jane Austen’s novels I feel the need to finish, and so without further ado, we begin.

I’ll be honest, I was not enthusiastic about reading this particular Austen novel. From my memory of my first read through three years ago I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like it. That just goes to show how much a bad class can influence your perception of the subject. When I first started reading the Persuasion this time around I was enjoying it about as much as I though I would. I was frustrated constantly frustrated by Anne and her apparent lack of a spine, and I couldn’t bring myself to like Captain Wentworth that much because of how fickle he seemed, but, as usual, Austen drew me in.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Austen was a master of characterization. Her characters are so deceptively simple at first that it can take a while to realize just how intricate they are. Not to mention that Austen’s characters grow and develop a lot throughout the novels. There is almost always a lesson that they learn (or sometimes fail to learn) that causes the character to change or at the very least get to know themselves better. That’s the case in this novel. Although Anne Elliot starts out looking like this sweet and completely passive heroine, when the novel ends I feel that Anne has not only grown stronger, but that a lot of her growth comes from learning to trust herself and understand her own worth.

Although I ended up rooting for and liking Captain Wentworth and Anne by the end, and even though I’m a sucker for romance, I don’t know if I’d say that their relationship is my favorite part of the novel.  In all honesty, I think that the best part of this novel is probably Anne’s family. In typical Austen fashion our heroine’s family is a bit, umm, unique. In Pride and Prejudice you’ve got a perpetually improper and effusive mother, an eccentric father, and at least one completely uncontrollable sister. In Emma you’ve got her hypochondriac father and sister. And in Persuasion you have an undeservedly proud, ridiculously showy, and remarkably unfeeling father and sisters. The extent to which Anne’s family, especially her father and older sister, will go to maintain their image and importance is quite comical at times. The way that they are able to deceive themselves into almost anything so long as it boosts their ego is honestly hilarious at times. Even more so in the case of their cousin, Mr. Elliot. The way that those three go about scheming around each other, each convinced that they command the upmost respect from all around them, while meanwhile none of them really have any clue what’s going on is like the best soap opera I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve seen many).

I’m pretty sure I had a lot more I wanted to say about Persuasion when I finished it, but of course I can’t remember anymore. However, I can say that, as always, Austen did not let me down and this is a 5/5. This is one of Austen’s shorter novels so if you’re wanting a bit of a quicker read definitely give it a try, just remember that it can take a while to really get into it so once you start you’ve got to give it a fair shake. I’ve got a few other books to read before I get to them, but I’m hoping to finish my Austen read through by the end of the year, which means Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park reviews will be coming up in the next couple months. I’m hoping I have the same experience with them as I did with Persuasion and I end up liking them better the second time around.

 

Reviews

Emma by Jane Austen: Review

The first time I read Emma was a couple of years ago while I was doing a semester abroad in Ireland. I was overjoyed when I walked into the first day of class and learned that the major author I was going to spend the semester studying would be Jane Austen. My joy did not last long. That was one of the most disappointing classes I’ve ever taken because it was so incredibly poorly taught. The one thing that I can say in favor of that class is that it finally induced me to read all of Jane Austen’s novels whereas before I had only read Pride and Prejudice. For that reason alone I am grateful to the class.

Although that class familiarized me with all seven novels it did not teach me to like them all. I loved Pride and Prejudice already, and Northanger Abbey was lovable on first sight, but my relationship with some of the other novels started on rocky footing, and Emma is included in that. The professor for that class had some very strange ideas about Austen and her writing, and the way she ran her classes left no room for discussion or debate. So I dutifully trudged through each novel only half appreciating what I was reading because I was reading for stuff I could use to craft essays specifically suited to this professors taste (since she didn’t really leave room for writing any other kind of essay). With all that being as it was, I did not like Emma the first read through. I found the character shallow and unlikable, and I pretty much left the novel behind a quickly as I could. I don’t know if it was because it’s better on a second read through, or just because I’m not reading with that professors ideas looming over my head, but I really loved Emma this time around.

During this read through of Emma I think I finally figured out what I love so much about Austen’s novels. If you’ve read some of my other reviews then you may have realized that few things bother me more in a novel than a good plot with underdeveloped characters. Characters make or break a novel, you can have the best plot in the world, but if you’re characters aren’t well developed and believable it’s not going to be worth reading. Austen’s characters are some of the best I’ve ever read and that’s what I love so much about her writing.

Austen’s novels take place in limited settings, with very little “action” as we would consider it. And yet they aren’t boring, in fact, they’re completely absorbing, and it’s because Austen’s characters are so good. I could go in depth into all of the different characters in all seven novels, but since this review is technically about Emma I’m going to try and restrain myself. I think Emma is actually a superb example, possibly the best, of what Austen does so brilliantly with her characters. What I found during this read through was that the characters were all vivid and alive, all so believable, that I actually felt like I knew them, and, in a way, I do. Austen’s characters are people, real people that we know. The best way I have to explain what I mean by that is that the characters are caricatures, but not just caricatures since that suggests a certain lack of depth and exaggeration, which definitely is not the case here.

It’s as if there are two layers to each character. The first layer is the base, the fundamental caricature of a certain type of person. Then the second layer is the the unique individual traits, background, and feelings that make each character unique. My favorite example is Miss Bates. The character is so simple and so beautifully done, I feel like I know her, like I understand her. Even more importantly, because her character seemed so familiar to me I was able to understand and relate to Emma’s feeling towards her. That’s the second thing that makes Austen’s writing and characters so wonderful. They’re emotions and actions are so believable and relatable that you feel like you know them and can sympathize with or understand their actions.

Those two things, or rather the one overarching thing, the characters, are what make Austen so brilliant and why I love her so much as an author. Her character Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice once has a conversation about how she loves to make a study of peoples’ characters, and I think that was a little bit of the authors personality slipping into her character. I think she must have enjoyed watching and studying people, finding their idiosyncrasies, their faults, their virtues, and working out how those things all fit together to make a person, and she used that. I also think she must have been very good at it, and that, in turn, made her a fantastic author.

I’ve gone on enough about the characters, but really that’s the best part of this novel. That being said the plot is also top notch, and quite funny as well. Without giving away to much the entire plot is basically made up of characters whose faults and failings cause them to get themselves into some unfortunate messes. Watching the characters dig themselves into holes and climb back out again is quite entertaining. Even if sometimes you do want to reach through the pages, grab Emma by the shoulders and shake her until she realizes how foolish she’s being.

I had a pretty good segue I wanted to use here, but, since using it would give away to much of the story, instead I’m just going to make this awkward transition into my last point. In my review of Northanger Abbey I’d said that I was still trying to decide between Henry Tilney (from Northanger) and George Knightly (from Emma) for my second and third favorite Austen hero (Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice is obviously my first favorite). Having now reread both novels I’ve decided that Henry Tilney wins out in the end. It was a tough decision. The problem with all the Austen heroes is that they are all so perfectly suited to the heroines that when you read each novel you think that that hero is the perfect guy because of how perfect he is for her, but when you read the next novel you think the same thing all over again. But Henry won in the end because, when I really thought about it, he’s the one I would rather know personally and who I think would be more fun to have a conversation with. Although, when it comes to which one has more merit as a person, I think George Knightly would be the winner.

5/5 in case you couldn’t tell. Also read it, read it, read it. It’s so good.

Reviews

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen: Review

I believe I’ve mentioned in some previous posts how fond I am of Jane Austen and her novels. So it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that I love this one. It’s only the second time that I’ve read it, but this read through confirmed for me that it’s worthy of being my second favorite Austen novel (Pride and Prejudice being the first, of course).

Northanger Abbey is the funniest Austin novel in my opinion. That’s not to say that it’s the laugh out loud kind of funny, but rather that it has a lot of clever jokes and hidden meanings that make it a delight to read because Northanger Abbey is a satire of the Gothic type novel that was very popular during Austen’s time. That being said you don’t have to be knowledgeable about Austen or Gothic novels to be able to enjoy the humor in this satire, yes, there would probably be some stuff that you miss if you’re completely unfamiliar with the genre, but you will absolutely still be able to enjoy the book. I would highly recommend reading the notes as you go though. Normally I’m not a fan of foot notes or end notes unless I’m reading a book for a class, because I feel like always checking the notes to get things explained is an unnecessary interruption, but, in this case, I definitely recommend reading the notes because they help you understand and enjoy a lot more of the humor in the book. For example, if you don’t know what Blaise Castle is, you’re missing out on a big part of the joke in that chapter.

If you’re thinking right now that you shouldn’t read Northanger Abbey because there’s no way you can be bothered to read the notes, I want to change your mind. Even without those extra insights it’s definitely still worth reading. Catherine, the heroine, is the most endearingly naive heroine I’ve ever read. Normally a character like Catherine might get on my nerves, but Austen wrote her so well, and she tries so hard, that I have to love her in the end. Not to mention Henry Tilney, the clever hero who always has something witty to say. He’s definitely in my top three for Austen heroes, and I just need to reread Emma so I can decide between him and George Knightly.

As much as I love the character’s in this novel, my favorite part is actually Austen herself. One might even call her a character in this novel because she breaks the fourth wall on several occasions. In a lot of books that wouldn’t work, but in this one it’s perfect. Northanger Abbey is completely self aware. It’s a satire and it knows that, and the author knows, and the reader knows. Pretty much the only ones who don’t know are the characters, and that’s a lot of what makes it so funny. I’m not going to spend to much time trying to convince you that this is a totally awesome aspect of the novel, because I could never do it justice, and you should just read it for yourself to find out how good it is. I will throw in that the last few pagers are actually my favorite, and the ending sentence is hilarious, specifically because of how Austen breaks the first wall, and sort of makes fun of her own novel and characters.

I could continue to go on at length about this novel, I could write an essay on it, in fact I think I did once. I could even go into my well rehearsed rant about how poorly this book was taught to me in school and how it’s still lovable anyway, but I think I’ve said enough. I give this a 5/5 of course, and highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. Normally I don’t include quotes in my reviews, but today I’m actually going to end with one because of how much I love it:

“we are all hastening together to perfect felicity”  Jane Austin, Northanger Abbey.

Reviews

Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor (Being the First Jane Austen Mystery) by Stephanie Barron: Review

I need to preface this whole review by saying that Jane Austen is one of my all time favorite authors. I have read every single one of her novels (I’ve read Pride and Prejudice twice already this year bringing my total up to something like fifteen of sixteen). I studied Jane Austen’s literature extensively in school and have written multiple essays about her. This book was actually recommended to me by a professor after I wrote about Jane Austen as detective fiction in his class (it sounds weird, but I pulled it off and got an A no less). It’s taken me a long time to get around to reading this first of Stephanie Barron’s novels featuring Jane Austen as the ‘detective’ because, as much as I love Jane Austen, I’m really not that big a fan of detective stories. Given my background with Jane Austen you might imagine that I had mixed feeling picking up this novel. Would Barron do Austen justice? Would it be authentic to the times? Would the story actually be good or was Barron just trying to attract attention to a mediocre novel by using Austen’s well known and respected name? Having read the novel my feeling are mixed, but enough of this intro stuff, lets get to it.

The first few chapters of the book had me enthralled. I was, to put it bluntly, ridiculously excited, because in a very few pages I began to realize what kind of game Barron was playing at. Sprinkled throughout the pages of this novel are dozens of hints, references, and nods towards Jane Austen’s own novels. Character names, places, the personalities of the characters, there were so many things I could point to and say “AHA! I see which Austen character this is based on!” or “This is the conversation that is supposed to ‘inspire’ such and such scene in this Austen novel.” It became something like a treasure hunt, trying to pick out the specific bits that made direct references to Austen’s own  writing. It was this aspect that really got me reading and remained one of my greatest pleasures in the novel throughout. However, after a while the novelty of what Barron was doing started to wear off and I began to pay attention to the novel itself.

The plot of The Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor didn’t hold a lot of interest for me for the first half of the novel or so, but eventually I did start getting invested in the story and trying to figuring out who the culprit was and all that. Unfortunately the story was somewhat predictable, at least in the bigger aspects of the plot. I knew who’d done it, who seemed to have done it but was really innocent, and such and such, way before the big reveal at the end, but I still enjoyed reading the story to see how Barron would have all of her characters figure it out. Still, on the rare occasion that I do read detective fiction I prefer for the plots to be slightly less predictable.

It’s about time that we start coming to my major problems with this book. The novel is written in the form of a journal that was supposed to have been kept by Austen herself and that details the events of the unpleasantness that she is witness to, and involved in, at Scargrave Manor, and that’s where Barron really starts to go wrong. Since the novel is written from Austen’s perspective it, of course, needed to try and imitate her voice, and Barron did a commendably decent job. However, although Barron used Austen’s typical language, phrasing, and syntax relatively well, you could still see the more modern narrative style coming through. Had the novel been narrated from a third person perspective I think this would have been perfectly acceptable, but, since it was supposed to have been written by Jane Austen herself, it ended up seeming false and inauthentic. Even had her writing style been a complete and perfect imitation of Austen’s, Barron’s attempt would still have fallen short because of the necessity of weaving into the narrative information that we, as modern readers, needed to know but that Austen would never have included because of it being perfectly understood in her time without the need for further comment. Barron does save herself from some of this by using footnotes to explain some of the more historical information. At first these footnotes added to the authenticity that she was going for as they were presented in the guise of editor’s notes and explained such things as social class and geography or the like. Then Barron took it too far. The notes started turning to the “history” of Austen’s life. Claiming that this character in Barron’s novel was supposed to be the inspiration for this character in Austen’s novel, and that kind of thing. It was all lies. Had the foot notes been restrained to actual historical information relevant to the story it would have been fine, but I take great issue with Barron trying to twist Austen’s actual life story for her own literary aims. I understand that it’s fiction, and if this had been done to an author that I liked a bit less then I might not care, I might have even thought it was clever, but as it is I found it incredibly wrong that Barron would corrupt the history of an amazing author for her own benefit.

At some point during the novel, around when I started getting more interested in the plot and more frustrated by Barron’s false footnotes, I started trying to read the novel as just another historical novel with a detective plot rather than as anything connected to Austen, her work, or her life. While I could manage to do that I found the story to be a fun read. That, combined with the fun I had picking out all of the little Austen treasures (the real ones based on Austen’s work, not the fake stuff that Barron was making up), kept me from actually disliking this novel. It certainly won’t be ranked among my favorites, and I likely won’t continue with reading the following books in the series, but I did enjoy this book in the end.

Final recommendation. If you like Austen, and you like detective fiction, you should give this book a try. If you read this book without a strong familiarity with Austen’s works then you miss out on a lot of what makes this novel worth reading, but, on the other hand, you could probably enjoy it just for the plot and historical aspect. Final rating 2.5/5 stars. If I were rating just plot or quality of writing then I’d have rated it higher, probably 3.5/5, but I’ve got to take that extra point off for those frustrating footnotes.

Reviews

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: Review

A while back I decided that I was going to start reading my way through classical literature, even the stuff that never held any interest for me, because I think that classical literature is pretty important. Towards that end I made myself a reading jar in which I put the names of a long list of literary texts that I want to get under my belt. A Tale of Two Cities is the most recent book that I drew from my jar, and I was not excited to read it. I read Dickens’s Great Expectation in college, and I was not a fan. Dickens is, to put it bluntly, very long winded. Rumor is that he was paid by the word, although a quick bit of research seems to indicate that this is not the case and he was actually paid for something like every thirty-two pages that he wrote. Either way, it was in his best interest to write in as lengthy a way as possible, which can make his novels a bit hard to get through.

It’s been a couple years now since I read Great Expectations but I remember it as being ceaselessly wordy, and the story seemed to drag pointlessly on when it all could have been wrapped up so much sooner. You can see why I was dreading A Tale of Two Cities, but I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

Unlike in Great Expectation I found that in A Tale of Two Cities Dickens makes excellent use of his wordy style to create an artful, witty, and engaging narrative. Yes, he goes on at length in certain scenes and about certain occurrences that really could have been abbreviated considerably and still done their job very well; however, his way of talking round and round a subject turns in to a kind of double edged wit where he gets across the point of what he is trying to say without ever actually saying it. It’s this style that really sets the tone for the novel, and I really came to enjoy it. That being said, the convoluted paragraphs and run on sentences did get tiresome and hard to follow at times, but once I got into the style I was able to manage without too much trouble.

The characters in A Tale of Two Cities are also a great improvement on those that I remember from my last Dickens novel. I actually liked a lot of these characters. Certainly they have that quality that you often find in classic literature of being pretty one dimensional and seeming more like caricatures than real people, but that actually worked quite well with the story and the style of the narrative. Without a doubt the best character was Sydney Carton. I liked him right away and was never sure quite where the character would go, out of the whole cast he was the only character that I really felt could surprise me and the one I was most invested in.

The plot itself was interesting, if exaggerated and somewhat unrealistic. For the most part, not knowing much at all about the book before I picked it up, I wasn’t able to predict where the plot would go. In the last few chapters I was able to figure out how it was going to end, and, when I figured it out, I realized that there had been clues pointing towards this very conclusion throughout the novel that only made sense after I figured out what was happening, and I thoroughly enjoyed putting the pieces together. I am still not sure whether I only figured it out so late because I wasn’t paying enough attention, or if Dickens did it that way on purpose. For my pride’s sake if nothing else I’d like to give the credit to Dickens and his top notch story telling.

All together I was very satisfied with this read. The story was interesting, the characters were beautifully crafted, and the writing was very well done. This is a solid 4.5/5 with half a point taken away for being confusing sometimes. I highly recommend you give this a read if you haven’t already, after all, you can never read too many classics.