Original Publication Date
: Romance, morality, provincial life, British, superstitions
: Peter S.
When my friends found out that I was reading Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native
, I heard the words “depressing,” “tragic,” and “heartbreaking.” And after finishing the novel, I knew that my friends were right. The Return of the Native
can indeed by a downer, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not enjoyable. In fact, it’s one of my most wonderful reads this year so far. This is my first Hardy, and I can’t wait to read his other works.
The native that the title refers to is one ClymYeobright, who finds himself returning to Egdon Heath to keep his mother, Mrs Yeobright, company. While Clym was away, Clym’s cousin, Thomasin, was living with his mother. But now, Thomasin is set to marry the local innkeeper named Damon Wildeve. Things don’t go as planned with the marriage of Wildeve and Thomasin, and it has something to do with Eustacia Vye, a beautiful woman who was one time romantically involved with Wildeve.
Eustacia is a restless soul. She hates Egdon Heath with a passion. When Wildeve and Thomasin do get married, she sets her eyes on Clym. Eustacia believes that it is Clym who’ll take her away from Egdon Heath to live in Paris. But when the two eventually get married, Clym reveals that it was never his plan to go back to the city of lights. He loves Egdon Heath, and he dreams of becoming a schoolmaster in the nearby town.
Now here is where my summary can get a little bit spoilery. So unless you want to know what makes The Return of the Native
tragic, tread carefully, dear reader. Clym doesn’t become the schoolmaster that he intends to be. A condition involving his eyes renders him incapable of even reading. He becomes a furze-cutter instead. Poor Eustacia! Stuck with a husband who appears to be happy doing manual labor, while her dreams of living in Paris have gone to the dust. She seeks the help of Wildeve to escape Egdon Heath. It is during this fateful circumstance wherein Wildeve and Eustacia meet their deaths by drowning.
So now the cousins Clym and Thomasin find themselves a widower and a widow respectively. Clym thinks that he and Thomasin can become a happy couple, but we find out that Thomasin fancies the reddleman, Venn Diggory, and decides to marry him. What happens to our native? Clym finds his calling as a preacher.
All the events in The Return of the Native
happen in Egdon Heath. This fictional setting is one that Hardy describes vividly. Reading about this fictional setting makes you want to live there, amid the spirited and gossipy locals and the lush flora. As someone who lives in the tropics, I am smitten by the romantic description of the heath. I can almost smell it.
The month of March arrived, and the heath showed its first faint signs of awakening from winter trance. The awakening was almost feline in its stealthiness. The pool outside the bank by Eustacia’s dwelling, which seemed as dead and desolate as ever to an observer who moved and made noises in his observation, would gradually disclose a state of great animation when silently watched awhile. A timid animal world had come to life for the season.
What I also love in Hardy’s novels are the questions that it poses to the reader. When Wildeve and Eustacia had that tragic accident, was it because of the spell (or curse?) uttered by Susan Nunsuch, a woman who believes that Eustacia is a witch? Was Thomasin simply compromising when she chose to marry Venn after the death of her first husband? Was Clym really happy as a preacher? Or was this also a fallback when his plan of asking Thomasin to marry him fell through? I’d like to believe that he was.
A lot of people say that The Return of the Native
is Hardy’s most representative work. It did make me curious about his other works, and the novel inspired me to talk about Hardy to other book-loving friends. Hardy isn’t really very popular nowadays, yes? Perhaps it is the depressing feel of his novels that turns people off. But Hardy isn’t just about that. He wrote about the mores of his time, the way people once viewed marriage and how they acted based on their social status. He allowed us to glimpse on how people acted when faced when unbearable tragedy. His writing soars amid a backdrop of bleakness.
Download The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
at Project Gutenberg
Original Publication Date: 1909 (in The Lock and Key Library, ed. by Julian Hawthorne)
Genre: short story
Topics: pick ups gone wrong, bad girls, alcoholism, murder, dreams, marriage
Review by Chrisbookarama:
The Dream Woman of Wilkie Collins story is not an angelic creature. Nope. She’s of the nightmare variety.
The Dream Woman is told in 4 parts by 3 different narrators. We are introduced to the story by Percy Fairbanks, who comes upon a groom named Francis while searching for someone to take care of his lame horse. Percy’s wife is intrigued by the man, who appears to be fighting off unseen demons. Since they’ve got time to kill, Mrs Fairbanks persuades Francis to unload his burden and tell her his troubles. It all starts with a dream…
Many years ago, while seeking employment, Francis spends a night at an inn where he has a dream that he’s being murdered by a beautiful woman. The very next year to the day, his birthday no less, he meets a mysterious woman wandering around the streets of his town at night all alone. Of course he instantly falls madly in love with the stranger, but there is something oddly familiar about her. I won’t say any more, but I think you can see where this is headed.
The Dream Woman is subtitled A Mystery in Four Narratives. There’s not much mystery though. It’s more of a tale of what happens when you pick up strangers. The dream woman is a bad girl through and through. She’s rather one note. There’s no explanation for her behaviour, she just is what she is.
The other important woman in this story, Mrs Fairbanks, is much more interesting character and we barely hear from her. It’s because of her that we hear Francis’s story and her pity that drives the plot to the end. However, it’s Percy who tells their part of the story and he has the irritating habit of winking at the reader with a, “Women! Am I right married guys?” Shut up, Percy.
The Dream Woman is a warning to dudes. Bad girls, stay away from them or they’ll make your life hell!
The Dream Woman appears in the Lock and Key Collection mentioned by Tasha in her review of The Lost Duchess.
Download The Dream Woman by Wilkie Collins at Project Gutenberg| Librivox
Original Publication Date: 1814 Genre: Austen romance Topics: marriage, integrity, morality, appearances, religion, friendship, family, loyalty Review by Bridget/Anachronist @ portable pieces of thoughts
Brace yourself, it is my first review here and it will be long, with a detailed synopsis, full of spoilers but hey, the book is a classic, right? Let me indulge myself a bit.
Once upon a time there were three sisters. One of them, being the prettiest, married very well, the second one, a bit wild, married very badly but for love and the third one married just because it was the right thing to do. The first sister, Lady Bertram, a rich wife of a baronet, was spending her days idly by the side of her husband, Sir Thomas, enjoying luxuries of Mansfield Park, their country estate. She had four children: two sons, Tom and Edmund, and two daughters, Maria and Julia. She also decided to help her other two sisters, less fortunate when it came to the choice of husbands.
That’s how Fanny Price, our heroine, aged just 10, arrived to Mansfield Park – she was Aunt Bertram’s charity case. As one of many children of the second sister, Frances, and Lieut. Price, a retired naval officer, Fanny was sent away to live with her fine relatives. Her mother was very grateful as it was considered a great opportunity and social advancement. Of course nobody asked the opinion of the shy, awkward child. Fanny was never exactly mistreated by the Bertrams but she never felt at home with them either. Still Edmund, the younger son, being the most good-natured of all, managed to show his young cousin real kindness from time to time. Fanny’s other maternal aunt, Mrs. Norris, the local parson’s wife, showered attention and affection on her Bertram nieces, particularly Maria, but was frequently unpleasant and mean-spirited toward Fanny, making the girl feeing inadequate.
The narration starts when Fanny is 16. Sir Thomas must leave for a year to deal with problems on his plantation in Antiqua. He takes his eldest son, Tom, along in hopes to isolate him from bad company he had been keeping. Meanwhile Mrs. Norris finds a husband for Maria Bertram – a completely stupid but very rich Mr. Rushworth. Maria accepts his proposal subject to Sir Thomas’s approval on his return, making a very serious mistake.
About this time, the fashionable, wealthy, and worldly Henry Crawford and his sister, Mary , arrive at the parsonage to stay with Mrs. Grant, their half-sister. The arrival of the lively, attractive Crawford siblings disrupts the staid world of Mansfield and sparks a series of romantic entanglements.In order to entertain them the Bertram sisters are staging a play - very inappropriate but funny.
When Sir Thomas unexpectedly arrives home in the middle of a rehearsal, the theatricals are abruptly terminated. Henry, whom Maria had expected to propose, leaves, and she feels crushed, realizing that he didn’t love her. Although she neither likes nor respects Mr. Rushworth, she goes ahead and marries him out of spite. Her marriage will trigger a family crisis of quite epic proportions but fear not - our Fanny will try to preserve her integrity.
What I liked:
If you wonder why my synopsis is so long and detailed here are two main reasons. First – I admit that Mansfield Park is my favourite Jane Austen book and I can talk about it forever. Second – I wanted to show how dissimilar that novel is when compared to those awful movie adaptations. Really, truly, completely different.
First of all the main heroine, Fanny, is perhaps the most complex female character created by Austen, maybe because she is portrayed not as a young adult but we can follow most of her childhood as well. Plenty of readers don’t like Fanny for being a bit priggish. Jane Austen’s own mother thought Fanny “insipid”. I don’t agree with such an assessment. Although, as any young girl, she is sometimes given to wishful thinking and she is often too timid to speak up her mind, Fanny can be surprisingly perceptive and intelligent; it is quite stunning as she lacked any moral guidance or support among her real or adoptive family. Still she is the only one who can assess the Crawfords in the right way, she notices how badly Maria treats her fiancé before almost anybody else and she can criticize the household of her own mother in a very clear-headed way. By rejecting Henry she shows a lot of courage; she also grows in self-esteem during the latter part of the story, weathering a major crisis caused by Maria’s divorce and Tom’s illness.
Many modern readers find Fanny’s timidity and disapproval of the theatricals difficult to sympathize with but I found it in perfect accordance with her introvert character – she did enjoy listening to Henry Crawford’s skillful reading, she just didn’t want to offend her absent uncle doing something overly frivolous; I suppose she also didn’t want to mix with a crowd who treated her indifferently at best and disapproved of her at worst. Their attitude might be well summed up by this quote:
“My dear Miss Price,” said Miss Crawford, as soon as she was at all within hearing, “I am come to make my own apologies for keeping you waiting; but I have nothing in the world to say for myself-I knew it was very late, and that I was behaving extremely ill; and therefore, if you please, you must forgive me. Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.” Mary Crawford, Mansfield Park, Chapter 7
Apart from Fanny there are plenty of other great characters, presented here, but two of them, namely Henry and Mary Crawford deserve a paragraph or two of their own.
They are a pair of antagonists, predators, but they are presented as quite likeable creatures, so nice to be with and so interesting nobody notices their wickedness. Let’s start with the lady. I would describe Mary Crawford as Elizabeth Bennett without moral principles – she is clever, she has a great sense of humour, she is additionally rich (twenty thousand pounds of dowry, no small matter) and pretty spoiled. You might argue that her faults stem from the fact that she wasn’t given proper education and example in her childhood but so wasn’t Fanny and there is vast difference between the way of thinking of these two young women. Mary is so dazzled by the glitter of the beau monde that she rarely notices any real values in people. She likes luxury, she appreciates theatre and fun, she thinks she is entitled to everything the best, including men. Although from time to time she can be also understanding, generous and kind, she thinks mostly about her own convenience and social status. She tolerates Fanny to please Edmund and Sir Thomas but, given a choice, she remorselessly forgets her timid friend to enjoy a more interesting company.
Her brother is even worse – it is a predator similar to Monsieur Vicomte de Valmont from Les Liaisons Dangereuses, another classic. As he has definitely too much money for his own good and is too lazy and lax to find himself a proper occupation he preys on women for fun (mind you we speak about the Napoleonic Wars period, such easy time to find an occupation for an aggressive, clever man of means!). The way he plays both sisters Bertram is really callous and ruthless even though you can argue both sisters deserved that much; after the marriage of Maria he doesn’t hesitate to contact her in public and when she pretends reserve he decides to conquer her again – not because he loves her but because he must prove his seductive skills before himself and all the world around. Of course the fact that he might be ruining more than one life and a reputation of the whole family in the process never even crosses his mind. He would do anything and everything for a moment of thrill.
What I didn’t like:
One small carping: I really hated the fact that Jane Austen didn’t punish Henry Crawford for his villainy. While Maria Bertram was sent into exile in the really acidic company of her aunt Norris he was left with all the privileges of a rich squire; his reputation didn’t suffer either. NOT FAIR. His only punishment? He didn’t get Fanny and he was aware what he’d lost. I wish Austen at least made him poor (gambling?) and then forced him to marry for money some horrible harpy, twice his age.
I may risk a statement that Mansfield Park is not an easy novel to understand. It enjoys that dubious distinction of being disliked by more of Jane Austen’s fans than any of her other novels. Perhaps it is because its themes are very different from those of her other books, which can generally be summed up by one sentence or, indeed a phrase: Sense and Sensibility is about balancing emotions and reason, Pride and Prejudice is about consequences of judging others too quickly, Emma is about growing into adulthood while being terribly nosy, and Persuasion is about giving others and yourself second chances. The theme of Mansfield Park, on the other hand, defies such a simple description. Is it an allegory of Regency England? Is it about the negative impact of slavery? Is it about the good and bad education of children? Is it about the difference between appearances and reality? Is it about the consequences of breaking with society’s rigid rules? In my opinion any, or all of those themes can, and have been applied to Mansfield Park – let it be the proof that this novel is something truly exceptional and worth reading.
Download Mansfield Park by Jane Austen at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|
Original Publication Date
: honor, love, secrets (obvs), resurrection, Germanic hordeReview by heidenkind
Hardross Courage is a professional cricket player. His name is LITERALLY courage (this would be more amusing if his personality was the opposite of that, but no). When playing a cricket match in London, Courage checks into the worst hotel ever, where he meets a man named Guest. HIS NAME IS LITERALLY GUEST. You following me here? It turns out Guest is dying, and there are a bunch of nasties who want to force him to tell them some sort of secret before he kicks off. When a beautiful American woman with an annoying dog convinces Courage to help Guest by letting him spend his final days at Courage’s country estate, Hardross can’t say no, even though he has a sneaking suspicion he’s about to become embroiled in a very sticky situation.The Great Secret
is not to be confused with The Great Impersonation
, also by E. Phillips Oppenheim
. The man apparently really liked the word great! I thought The Great Secret
a much better book than The Great Impersonation
, which is crazy because I enjoyed the hell out of The Great Impersonation
. Despite the annoying Courage/Guest naming, The Great Secret
had a more complex plot than The Great Impersonation
, well-rounded characters, and went in a direction I totally wasn’t expecting.
My favorite part of The Great Secret
was about halfway through the book. I really want to talk about it, but since it’s pretty far into the novel, it’s a little spoilery. So avert your eyes if you don’t want to know…
Still there? Okay, so after Guest dies, Hardross decides to go to America to investigate. It just so happens the woman from the hotel, Adèle, is heading back to America on the same boat! And her matchmaking auntie immediately likes Courage because he’s related to a bunch of muckity-muck aristocrats and pretty rich. So he’s invited into their circle and discovers that one of Adèle’s suitors, M. de Valentin, claims he’s the rightful King of France and wants all these wealthy Americans to fund his return to the throne. And no one says, “But isn’t France a republic now?” Because ‘Merica. In return, de Valentin promises to turn all the wealthy Americans into dukes and duchesses and earls and stuff. They’re eating this stuff up with their silver-plated spoons and Hardross is all like:
But politely, because he has the hots for Adèle and doesn’t want to tell her her friends and relatives are cucking frazy. And somehow it all leads back to an evil German plot, so there ya go!
Speaking of Adèle, she’s 100x better than Rosamund, the love interest in The Great Impersonation
. She’s like something out of an Edward Gorey illustration—very dark and unapproachable and mysterious. I’m a sucker for Edward Gorey, so I immediately liked her. But it was when she told Hardross that she’d never been in love, never wanted to be, and that his blandishments were annoying her that I decided she was awesome. Of course, she changes her mind about Hardross inexplicably just so he can pine after her once he returns to England to save Europe from the Germanic horde; but at least at no point in the story does Hardross describe her as childlike.
I also really liked Hardross, despite his stupid last name. He’s not exactly the sharpest, but he is likable and has a heart of gold.
The extremely meandery plot of The Great Secret
started to lose me in the last third of the novel, and the ending is really abrupt, but overall this is a pretty damn entertaining thriller novel. My goal now is to read every Oppenheim
book with the word “great” in the title.
Download The Great Secret by E. Phillips Oppenheim
at Project Gutenberg
Virgil's Georgics by Charles Bane, Jr.
"All of American Literature begins with one book", wrote Ernest Hemingway, " and that book is Huckleberry Finn." Hemingway had slighted Washington Irving but underlined a truism of great writing: all lasting narratives center on a journey. Siddhartha, My Antonia, Kim, Moby Dick. All voyage deep into the Self, to a new creation.
If this is true, then it is true also that only one individual’s work stands sentinel at the journey’s end: Virgil's Georgics. There is more: long ago we wished into existence faiths that bode of afterlife; of life followed by blank sleep before waking again. OnlyVirgil- to us a pagan- achieved the miracle.
In his first consciousness, he was always ill, but a poet whose patron was the most powerful man alive and the only genius to preside over the Roman empire, Augustus Caesar. The canny Augustus supported Virgil and gave him the pretense of friendship because the poet’s Aeneid was the mythology narrative needed by a civilization whose gift lay in civil engineering, and who Caesar bid ever on the march. Virgil made their movement epic. And Augustus delighted in the Georgics' tilling of soil, for every legionnaire was promised a plot at the end of service.
Virgil was no fool. At the opening of The Georgics he invokes Augustus as a god:
" Or wilt thou, Caesar, choose the watery reign
to smooth the surges and correct the main?
Then mariners in storms to thee shall pray.”
Forgive him. He was not a propagandist. In the Aeneid, the hero and his men are cast on a foreign shore and are terrified ( as the first Roman invaders were terrified of Britain). But then Aeneas discovers stone carvings of great art. He turns to his men and says, “Do not be afraid; these are mortals such as we and mortal things touch their hearts.” Caesar’s eyes lighted on these unRoman words, content. Virgil had created a literature for a nation that “made a desert and called it peace.”
We bid good rest to the poet who, struck with fever traveling, died at the home port of Brindisi and would sleep through the long dark that followed Rome’s collapse. So dreamless was he that when he waked in the Renaissance, Latin had fled. But always, he was fortunate: The English language, rich in vocabulary and inexhaustible, was spaded around the Georgics by John Dryden and burst to life:
" What makes a plenteous harvest, when to turn
the fruitful soil, and when to sow the corn;
the care of sheep, of oxen and of kine;
and how to raise on elms the teeming vine;
the birth and genius of the frugal bee,
I sing, Maecenas, and I sing to thee.”
All of it, all he adores and calls:
" The milky herds that graze the flowery plains;
… from fields and mountains to my song repair.”
The Virgil of this tongue, is it he? Is it, as Tennyson called him, “Roman Virgil”? It is Virgil, as the King James Bible is the Hebrew Torah: a shaping of a poet’s words in a language whose primacy surpasses the antique.
I’ve written that the Georgics is the masterwork that waits for voyagers come home. But it’s in the nature of immortals to set men adventuring and Tennyson set off at once as will all journeyers with a pen who have no fear, like Virgil, of the unknown:
Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Original Publication Date
: science fictionTopics
: Pirates, economics, civilization, technology, coming-of-age, adventureReview by heidenkind
ersatz (adjective): 1. (of a product) made or used as a substitute, typically an inferior one, for something else; 2. not real or genuine.
Bron Hoddan is not a pirate, but he comes from pirates. Instead of following in his family’s footsteps, he’s decided to try to make his fortune honestly, as an engineer on the most civilized planet in the galaxy, Walden. Unfortunately, the people of Walden aren’t interested in his inventions, and when Bron tries to press the issue, they arrest him for creating death rays. WHOMP WHOMP. Fed up with Walden, Bron escapes with the help of the most awesome ambassador ever. But it’s only when he meets a band of outcasts like himself that he has an opportunity to accomplish great things, grow rich, marry some delightful girl, and be a great man… somewhere.
I decided to listen to The Pirates of Ersatz
because it’s narrated by Elliot Miller
, the same Librivox narrator who read The Poisoned Pen
. Also: Pirates! Who doesn’t love pirates? Those lovable scamps. Even though these aren’t “real” pirates, they certainly do act like them most of the time. That being said, The Pirates of Ersatz
is mainly an adventure novel and coming-of-age tale: Bron goes to a wild, uncivilized world called Zan and discovers his place in the world.
Some of the more interesting parts of the novel are where the characters posit theories about civilization and economics that, despite the fact that they’re coming at me from a serialized science fiction novel, I kiiiiind of buy into? Like, even if they’re not true, THEY SHOULD BE. Here are some of my favorites:
"Do you realize," [the ambassador] asked, "that the whole purpose of civilization is to take the surprises out of life, so one can be bored to death? …Government, in the local or planetary sense of the word, is an organization for the suppression of adventure. Taxes are, in part, the insurance premiums one pays for protection against the unpredictable."
"I tell y’, piracy’s what keeps the galaxy’s business thriving! Everybody knows business suffers when retail trade slacks down. It backs up the movement of inventories. They get too big. That backs up orders to the factories. They lay off men. And when men are laid off they don’t have money to spend, so retail trade slacks off some more, and that backs up inventories some more, and that backs up orders to factories and makes unemployment and hurts retail trade again…
"But suppose somebody pirates a ship? The owners don’t lose. It’s insured. They order another ship built right away. Men get hired to build it and they’re paid money to spend in retail trade and that moves inventories and industry picks up. More’n that, more people insure against piracy. Insurance companies hire more clerks and bookkeepers. They get more money for retail trade and to move inventories and keep factories going and get more people hired…. Y’see? It’s piracy that keeps business in this galaxy goin’!"
Okay, twist my arm, I’ll take up piracy. There are similar passages about technology and engineering, since Bron is an engineer. If you’re thinking they slow down the story, you’d be right. But there’s not a lot of them, and they do become relevant later on.
Aside from Murray Leinster’s
economic theorizing, there’s a lot to like about The Pirates of Ersatz
. Both of the characters quoted above—the Ambassador and Bron’s grandfather—are awesome, as is Fani, the woman who’s obviously sweet on Bron (obvious to everyone except him). And then there’s Bron himself—he’s like a sci-fi version of Robin Hood (have I mentioned I’m a sucker for Robin Hood stories?). He’s definitely a reluctant hero, but he can think himself out of nearly any situation and he uses his powers to steal from the rich and give to the poor. And hey, it’s all insured anyway, right? The scene where Bron and his pirates land on Walden to raid a suburb is priceless. You kind of have to read this book just for that.The Pirates of Ersatz
is a fast, fun read with ironic overtones (obviously—it’s a book about pirates that aren’t really pirates, what can one expect?). It certainly won’t change your life, but if you’re in the mood for an adventure along the lines of A Princess of Mars
by Edgar Rice Burroughs, I highly recommend it.
Download The Pirates of Ersatz by Murray Leinster
at Project Gutenberg