The Far Cry by Emma Smith

In September 1946  23-year-old Emma Smith set sail for India, to work as an assistant with a documentary unit making films about tea gardens in Assam. She was dazzled by India …

‘I went down the gangplank at Bombay, and India burst upon me with the force of an explosion.’

… and she wrote down as much as she could about her experiences because she so wanted to pin down the wonder of it all.

A few years later she would use what she remembered and what she wrote as the foundation for a wonderful, wonderful novel that would go on to with the James Tate Black Award for 1949

‘The Far Cry’ tells the story of 14-year old Teresa Digby. She’s an introspective and rather award child, and I think it’s fair to say that she is what her circumstances made her. When her parents’ marriage broke down her mother left her to go to America and her father left her for his sister to bring up. Teresa’s aunt wasn’t unkind, she was bringing her up as well as she could, but she lacked warmth and she lacked empathy.

When he learned that his wife was returning to England, and that she wanted to see her daughter, Mr Digby decided that he would take her to India, to visit his daughter from an earlier marriage, who was married to a tea planter. It wasn’t that he was interested in his daughter, it was just that he didn’t want his wife to have her.

He was a self-absorbed, dull-witted man who could never be the man he wanted to be or have the roles in life he wanted to play, but who would never acknowledge that, even to himself.

It’s telling that he remains Mr Digby from his first appearance to his last,

His sister knew his weaknesses, knew what he was lacking, but she believed that she had played her part and  it was time for him to play his.

“He polished off this diplomacy and his visit with a kiss that landed haphazard on the nearest part of her face, and so left. Such kisses are interesting. For it might be thought that lips which had once, so any years before given off those dark flames of roses must always at a touch bestow a scent, the merest whiff, a pot-pourri of passion. But no, nothing like it.”

The relationship between between father and daughter is awkward, they are uncomfortable with each other. They don’t know each other, they don’t particularly want to know each other. He disdained her awkwardness as she dealt with so much that was unfamiliar – getting in and out of taxis, eating in restaurants, holding on to things like gloves and tickets  – but she struggled through, and she came to realise that in attaching so much importance to such things and in not understanding how new and strange things must be for her it was her father who was lacking.

“Teresa, who had watched defeat and then recovery first line and then illuminate his face, observed the breach in his armour: he was old, and therefore weak. And she was young, with her strength growing. Age shook him as fiercely as he had yesterday shaken her in the street. Thoughtfully she ate her breakfast. That she had seen his weakness and was bound to take advantage of it was a tragedy, and a tragedy that the only alternative to his conquering her seemed to be for her to conquer him.”

When they set sail for India Teresa find a role and her confidence grows a little more. She helps with young children, and she formed a tentative friendship with Miss Spooner, an elderly spinster who was travelling to visit her sister. Her father lacks a role, and is left to worry over mosquito nets and play the occasional game of piquet.

In India though the story that had played out in London would play out again. Teresa was overwhelmed and that made her awkward, leaving his father to organise and mange their progress. He was ineffectual, and so Teresa stepped forward, with the interest in the strange new world they were encountering.


The endpapers of the Persephone Books edition of 'The Far Cry'

The endpapers of the Persephone Books edition of ‘The Far Cry’


The early pages of this novel were an intriguing character study, so well done that even seemingly unsympathetic characters became interesting, but in India there would much more. Through Teresa’s eyes I saw the wonders of India, and I was as smitten as she was and as Emma Smith had been. She caught so many impressions so very, very well.

“Teresa’s head was full of sound and colour. Her head was a receptacle for tumbled rags of impression, rags torn from exotic garments that could never be pieced entirely together again; but the rags were better.”

The sea voyage, the journey though India, the feelings of strangers in a strange land are caught perfectly; every detail, every description feels so right.

In Assam Teresa meets the older half-sister her father adores.

Ruth is a beauty, she had been told that since she was a child, but her tragedy was that she was so caught up in presenting that image to the world, that she had lost the woman  she really was. Edwin, her husband adored her, she wanted to tell him how she really felt, but she lacked the courage to tarnish the façade she had worked so hard to create.

It’s a compelling, heart-breaking, horribly believable portrait.

The presence of her father and her half-sister unsettles Ruth’s world; Teresa didn’t realise, she was caught up with new experiences and impressions.

There was a tragedy and Ruth thought that it might offer her an escape. Maybe it did ….

Sadness and hopefulness mingle in the end of this story

There is so much that makes it special.

Smith’s prose really is gorgeous. It’s distinctive, it’s right, and the descriptions so lovely and they catch every sensation. She follows the journey and she manages the both the day-to-day and the  set pieces wonderfully well.

“Lights, no bigger than the candles on a Christmas cake, fringed every balcony, every wall, every stall, every hovel, a multitude of tiny red flames flickering alive in the huge dark night. They were still being lit: glistening haunches bent forward, hands poured a trickle of oil into saucers…The warm air was soft with sorrow. They trod among the muddy unseen ashes of the dead. Widows lay along the slushy steps, prostrate in grief, or crouched forward silently setting afloat their candles in little boats of tin the size and shape of withered leaves.”

The characters and relationships are captured beautifully; with the understanding and the empathy that they lack.

The direction that the plot takes is unpredictable; it isn’t contrived, it twists and turns as life does,

And everything works together beautifully, in this profound story of people alive in the world.

“India went on and on, on and on, as though it had no end, as though it had no beginning, as though seas and shores and other continents were only part of a feverish dream, as though this was the whole world and nothing exited beyond it; a world fat and dry on whose immense surface, far apart from one another, dwelt men and their beasts, living and dying together, generation after generation.”

The Spin Has Spun ….

…. and I am very pleased with the result.

I knew that I would be, because I really wanted to read every one of the books on my spin list. But I’m particularly pleased with this one, because it’s by an author I’ve wanted to read for a long time, because it’s been on my list from the very start, and because I think it will contrast well with the other books I have in mind to read this month.

Number two brought me:

‘Old Goriot’ by Honoré de Balzac (1835)


“Monsieur Goriot is one of a select group of lodgers at Madame Vauquer’s Parisian boarding house. At first his wealth inspires respect, but as his circumstances are reduced he is shunned by those around him, and soon his only remaining visitors are two beautiful, mysterious young women. Goriot claims that they are his daughters, but his fellow boarders, including master criminal Vautrin, have other ideas. And when Eugène Rastignac, a poor but ambitious law student, learns the truth, he decides to turn it to his advantage. Old Goriot is one of the key novels of Balzac’s Comédie Humaine series, and a compelling examination of two obsessions, love and money. Witty and brilliantly detailed, it is a superb study of the bourgeoisie in the years following the French Revolution.~

* * * * *

Did you spin?

What are you going to read this month?

Spinning with the Classics Club

The Classics Club Spin is beginning again.

      • Pick twenty unread books from your list.
      • Number them from one to twenty.
      • On Monday a number will be drawn.
      • That’s your book, to read by 15th May.


I’m already planning on reading Anthony Trollope and Elizabeth Goudge this month, joining events to celebrate their birthdays, but I’m sure I can find time for another classic.

And this time around I’m focusing on the older books on my list, with all my choices coming from the 18th or 19th century.

Five books by five very different 19th century gentleman authors:

1.The Collegians by Gerard Griffin (1829)
2.Old Goriot by Honore Balzac (1835)
3.Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade (1861)
4.La Regenta by Leopoldo Atlas (1885)
5.Thyrza by George Gissing (1887)

Five books I’ve looked at recently and really wanted to pick up and read:

6.Emmeline by Charlotte Turner Smith (1788)
7.A Simple Story by Elizabeth Inchbold (1791)
8.The Morgesons by Elizabeth Stoddard (1852)
9.Moths by Ouida (1880)
10.The Real Charlotte by Somerville & Ross(1889)

Five books by authors I’d be reading for the very first time:

11.The Coquette by Hannah W Foster (1797)
12.The Antiquary by Sir Walter Scott (1816)
13.Hester by Margaret Oliphant (1873)
14.Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (1896)
15.Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley (1899)

Five books by 19th century women I know and love:

16.The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (1848)
17.Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot (1857)
18.Henry Dunbar by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1864)
19.Belinda by Rhoda Broughton (1883)
20.Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim (1898)

What do you think?

Are you spinning this time around?

The Classics Club Spin spun me an intriguing, experimental novel ….

…. I can’t say that I liked it or that I didn’t like it, that you should read it or that you shouldn’t read it, but I can say that I was captivated and that even when I put the book down I went on thinking about it.

Stella Benson was born on 6 January 1892 at Lutwyche Hall, an Elizabethan Mansion in South Shropshire, England, and her aunt was novelist Mary Cholmondeley. Her background was privileged but her health was poor. She became a devoted reader and a regular diarist; she inherited a passionate concern for social issues, and in particular women’s suffrage, from her mother and her aunts.

Wen the First World War came  she worked as a gardener  and she supported poor women in the East End of London who had suddenly found themselves having to earn their own living.

Those experiences provide the foundations for her first novel, published in 1915.


What she builds on those foundations is odd, unexpected, and gloriously creative.

She.tells the story of two characters – a gardener and a suffragette. They are never named, but that really doesn’t matter.

First there is the gardener, a young man with independent means who is proceeding through life by adopting a series of poses that allow him to be exactly who he wants to be and to address those around him in riddles and witticisms.

On the spur of the moment he sets out to try the life of a vagabond.

“I have left everything I have as hostages with fate,” said the gardener. “When I get tired of Paradise, I’ll come back.”

He has not travelled far when he encounters the suffragette. She too is posing: not when she speaks about suffrage, which she cares about deeply, but when she claims not to care about whether she lives or dies, about whether she is loved or not, about whether she is hurt or harmed.

The gardener was concerned when he found the suffragette intended to blow up a church.

‘The gardener, of course, shared the views of all decent men on this subject. One may virtuously destroy life in a good cause, but to destroy property is a heinous crime, whatever its motive..’

He took action, and that was the first step in an adventure that would take them to the a distant, exotic island group and back again, meeting all kinds of characters, having all kinds of experiences and learning all kinds of lessons.

They would pose as a married couple and they would proceed in opposing directions.

The narrator intervened from time to time, posing just as much as her creations, and that balanced things beautifully.

There was a lovely Scottie  dog, there was a recue at sea, there was a lady novelist, there was an earthquake,  there was the indomitable Mrs Rust:

‘”I don’t agree with you at all,” said Mrs. Rust, who now made this remark mechanically in any pause in the conversation.’

The gardener would fall in love with the suffragette; but the suffragette would fall more deeply in love with her cause – or maybe with her pose.

Disillusion was inevitable ….

I could write reams about the plot, but the plot really isn’t the point.

The writing, the style make the story sing.

At the beginning I felt that Stella Bowen was presenting a puppet show; later I felt that she was staging a production at the theatre, but by the end of the story I had been drawn into a very human story. It was a story that explored the relationship between the poses we present to the world and our real concerns in all of its complexity with wit and with such understanding.

I don’t know what Stella Benson did, I don’t know how she did it, but she did it quite brilliantly.

I don’t want to – I don’t need to  – pull her book apart to see how it works. I just want to wonder at it, to be impressed that it does!

And now, of course,  I want to read everything else that she ever wrote!

Bleak House by Charles Dickens

I’ve read a lot of Trollope this year; indeed I think I’ve fallen in love with his writing this year. But after four big books, the first four Palliser novels, I realised that I needed a change, that I needed to read a big Victorian novel written by someone entirely different.

There were lots of reasons why I picked up ‘Bleak House.’ It was on my Classics Club list, I try to read one Dickens novel a year, it’s a book that any people seem to love ….

Now it’s the book that made me love Dickens, and the book that made me understand why he is held in such high esteem.

You see, reading Dickens after Trollope led me to compare the two – very different – authors and to appreciate what each man did.

Trollope took me by the hand and pulled me into his world, introducing me to people, telling me about them, so that I came to know all of them, all of their lives, all of their entanglements.

Dickens, on the other hand, took me into the most wonderful art gallery and he showed me glorious pictures; paintings of people and places that told me a story in a very different way.

I can’t quite find the right paintings to explain what I mean, but I know that they’re out there.

“London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds.”

Don’t those words paint such a wonderful picture?

The voice of the omniscient narrator continues to paint pictures like that. He sees everything, moving through the streets and the wastelands, looking through doors and windows, to tell  a story that is both a wonderful human drama and a clever satire of  laws and  institutions that are so caught up with themselves that the people they protect are often forgotten.

He introduces an extraordinary range of characters: from Lady Dedlock, bored to death; to Jo the crossing sweeper, trapped in poverty; to Mr Tulkinghorn, the capable and enigmatic solicitor; to Miss Flite who tends birds in her rented room as she follows events in chancery; to Mr Bucket, the detective who says little but understands much ….

437135It is said sometimes that Dickens’ characters can be flat. I can understand that because I know that there were sides to these people that I didn’t see, but in ‘Bleak House’ that didn’t matter. I was shown the aspects of their characters and their behaviour that I needed to be shown as the stories unfolded, and I found it easy to believe in these people and their lives.

I say stories, because there is another story twisted together with the story that that unnamed narrator tells.

But there’s another narrator too: Esther Summerson’s voice is quite different. It’s clear, straightforward and dutiful. I couldn’t quite like Esther but there were ties when I felt for her, times when I admired her, and in the end I realised that the Esther who told her story, some time after the events she described, was the product of everything that she had learned and everything that had happened to her.

Esther was an orphan and she had been raised not knowing who her parents were, only being told that she was her mother’s disgrace; but when her guardian died, a lawyer sent her, with two other orphans, who were wards in the unending case of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, to live with John Jarndyce, who might also be a beneficiary of the disputed wills at the centre of that case.

And there were more characters: Mr Guppy, a law clerk who became infatuated with Esther and took it upon himself to investigate her past; Mrs Jellaby who neglects her own family as she tries to help others; Mr Skimpole, who presented himself as an innocent, but who probably wasn’t ….

There were times when I found some of these characters maddening, their foibles overplayed, but there were reasons for them to be there over and above comic relief.

The stories told by the two narrator overlap and characters move between them. The story of the consequences of the chancery suit and the story of the illegitimate child, a story that had been buried but will be disinterred, work together beautifully, although they are linked only by a small number of characters who are involved in both.

I loved the diverse elements, I loved the wealth of detail; and although I can’t sum up the plot and the relationship I had no problem at all understanding all of the implications, and I was always intrigued.

There is so much more her than I can write about – including a murder mystery – but there are synopses and summaries out there, there are people who have studied this book, there are other who have written about it and pulled out quite different thoughts.

I suspect that I need to read it again – I’d love to read it again.

So, for now, just know that I loved it.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

It took me a long time to pick up ‘Vanity Fair’, it took me a long time to read it, and its been a while between finishing reading and starting to write.

I liked the book, enough to keep reading, to want to see the story through to the end. ‘Vanity Fair’, like many big Victorian novels, began life as a serial and so there are lots of plot twists and cliff-hangers, and they helped keep going. Because ‘Vanity Fair’ doesn’t feel like one of ‘my’ books ……

It begins beautifully, with a theatrical manager introducing his puppet show: 

“The famous little Becky Puppet has been pronounced to be uncommonly flexible in the joints, and lively on the wire; the Amelia Doll, though it has had a smaller circle of admirers, has yet been carved and dressed with the greatest care by the artist; the Dobbin Figure, though apparently clumsy, yet dances in a very amusing and natural manner; the Little Boys’ Dance has been liked by some; and please to remark the richly dressed figure of the Wicked Nobleman, on which no expense has been spared, and which Old Nick will fetch away at the end of this singular performance …. “

The manager steps back to become a narrator, but he will step forward again often, to commentate the story that he will have his puppets tell. It is  a colourful, wide-ranging, social satire  that he set in what was, for him, the recent past; the period before, during and after the Napoleonic Wars.


He describes his story as ‘ a novel without a hero’ – and that’s a point that could be debated – but it is indisputable that the story is driven from start to finish by its unforgettable anti-heroine, the bright, ambitious, scheming, social-climbing Becky Sharp.

She was orphaned at a young age, she had to depend on what little charity there was in the world, and she learned to survive. She viewed the world with a clear-eyed and utterly ruthless gaze,  seeing everyone she meets in terms of what she might gain from them, and playing up – being charming, being humble, being or alluring  – whatever was needed to gain what she wanted, to put her foot on the next step of that ladder.

When she left her first position, as a pupil-teacher in an exclusive girls’ school, she didn’t hesitate to speak her mind:

“I have never seen the individual who has dared in my own house to question my authority. I have nourished a viper in my bosom.”

“A viper – a fiddlestick,” said Miss Sharp to the old lady. “You took me because I was useful. There is no question of gratitude between us.”

She didn’t look back, she only ever looked ahead. She was appalling, but she was also inspiring, and she had such charisma.

The only thing that held her back was society. She had influential patrons, she married well, but her low birth would never be forgotten. Becky lived in a world that didn’t value achievement and aspiration, she lived in a world that expected  people to know their place, and stay in it. But of course Becky wasn’t going to accept that, and her schemes and manipulations became grander and grander.

The other characters, drawn in the main from three families who have links with Becky – the Osbornes, the Sedleys, the Crawleys – are pulled through the story by her. At first it sees that they will always be secondary, but they are very well drawn, they are diverse, they are colourful, they have interesting stories of their own. I just wanted to be surprised occasionally, but sadly I don’t think I ever was.

Amelia, whose story is told in parallel with Becky’s, was her opposite and the closest the story has to a heroine. She was kind, she was generous, and she never saw anything bad in anyone. I found her lovely and infuriating in equal measure. And though she was a beloved, favoured child she had a difficult path through life.

A great deal of history plays out as events unfold, but it is only a backdrop; this is a human story. It speaks of the effects of the class system, of wealth and poverty, of marriage, of family life ….

There are times when the story rolls along beautifully, with drama and incident, with shocks and surprises; but there are also times when it is as dull as ditch-water. I particularly remember long chapters in army camps when I so wished that Jonathan Strange might step into this book to move the Napoleonic war along.

But the highs were wonderful, and they made it worth struggling through.

Becky’s machinations and Thackeray’s satire worked together brilliantly.

The ending – and what happened after that – was perfect.

“Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum! Which of us is happy in this world? Which of us has his desire? or, having it, is satisfied? – Come, children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.”

The more I think about the book the more I like it.

I can’t quite say that I love it, but I am glad that I read it.

A New Design for a Reading Life

I have read many wonderful books this year, but something has gone wrong.

tumblr_lwvmyjdxHY1qz71rio1_400I’m aware that I’ve read less then I used to, and less than I might, and that I’ve been spending far too much time working on plans and lists, and hunting down books.

I will always love a project, I will always follow the links from book to book, but I need to do things differently so that my plans and projects are working for me, making sure I continue to read the authors I love, guiding me towards new possibilities, and making sure that my reading time really is reading time.

I’ve been through a lot of ideas over the last few weeks and now I think I have a plan.

* * * * * * *

I’ve ditched my 100 Years of Books project.

Reading the 20th Century was lovely – and I don’t rule out doing it again one day – but the 1850  to 1949 century wasn’t working.  Huge numbers of books congregated in some years and other years offered nothing at all. And suddenly every book that called me was either too late or too early.

So out it goes.

* * * * * * *

My Non Fiction Adventure stays, a list of books that I want to read and I’m allowed to alter.

I’ve read almost entirely fiction – and knitting books – this year , and the non fiction is piling up.

* * * * * * *

I’ve rebuilt my Classics Club list, around the books I’ve read since the club began. The books that were there just because I ought to read them and the books that I’ve lost interest in have gone; and the books I forgot and the books that I’ve discovered since I made my first list have arrived.

It’s still one book for author so that The Classics Club can introduce – and re-introduce – me to as many authors as possible.

I’ll follow up the ones I love; I’ve been doing that since the start.

I think – I hope – that these are the right classics for me:

  1. The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox (1752)
  2. Emmeline by Charlotte Turner Smith (1788)
  3. A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe (1790)
  4. A Simple Story by Elizabeth Inchbold (1791)
  5. The Coquette by Hannah W Foster (1797)
  6. The Antiquary by Sir Walter Scott (1816)
  7. The Collegians by Gerard Griffin (1829)
  8. Helen by Maria Edgworth (1834)
  9. Old Goriot by Honore Balzac (1835)
  10. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
  11. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (1848)
  12. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery (1848)
  13. The Morgesons by Elizabeth Stoddard (1852)
  14. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1852)
  15. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853)
  16. Villette by Charlotte Bronte (1853)
  17. The Daisy Chain by Charlotte M Yonge (1856)
  18. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857)
  19. Scenes of Clerical Life by George Eliot (1857)
  20. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1859)
  21.  Cloister and the Hearth by Charles Reade (1861)
  22. Henry Dunbar by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1864)
  23. Uncle Silas by Sheridan Le Fanu (1864)
  24. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell (1865)
  25. The Fortunes of the Rougons by Emile Zola (1871)
  26. Hester by Margaret Oliphant (1873)
  27. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)
  28. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
  29. The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katherine Green (1878)
  30. Moths by Ouida (1880)
  31. Belinda by Rhoda Broughton (1883)
  32. Bel-ami by Guy Maupassant (1885)
  33. La Regenta by Leopoldo Atlas (1885)
  34. Thyrza by George Gissing (1887)
  35. Eline Vere by Louis Couperus (1889)
  36. The Real Charlotte by Somerville & Ross(1889)
  37. Esther Waters by George Moore (1894)
  38. Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (1896)
  39. The Beth Book by Sarah Grand (1897)
  40. Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim (1898)
  41. Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley (1899)
  42. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905)
  43. Fidelity by Susan Glaspell (1915)
  44. Cullum by E Arnot Robinson (1920)
  45. Kristin Lavransdattir by Sigrid Undset (1922)
  46. Anderby Wold by Winifred Holtby (1923)
  47. The Home-maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher (1924)
  48. The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy (1924)
  49. The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham (1925)
  50. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall (1928)
  51. Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sea by Patrick Hamilton (1935)
  52. The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann (1936)
  53. Mariana by Monica Dickens (1940)
  54. Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden (1947)
  55. One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes (1947)
  56. The Far Cry by Emma Smith (1949)
  57. The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay (1950)
  58. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Tayor (1951)
  59. Fenny by Lettice Cooper (1953)
  60. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West (1957)

* * * * * * *

I ‘m working out the details of  a brand new project too.

There is no list – this time the project builds the list.

It’s called The Remember This Book List and I want it to be a home for the lesser-known older books that I love and that I don’t want to be forgotten.

I think I know how it will work, but I want to make sure before I explain.

* * * * * * *

Suggestions would be very welcome. And please do tell me about your own plans, and how you organise your reading life.

The Classics Club Survey

classicsclubI never could resist a list of questions, and so when The Classics Club Survey appeared I just had to start thinking up answers …..

1. Share a link to your club list.

Here it is!

2. When did you join The Classics Club? How many titles have you read for the club?

I joined in March 2012 and I’ve read eighteen books from my original list.

3. What are you currently reading?

I’m reading ‘Haxby’s Circus’ by Katharine Susannah Prichard – which isn’t on my list, but I definitely think it would qualify as a 20th century classic – and I’m listening to ‘Villette’ by Charlotte Bronte which is on my list

4. What did you just finish reading and what did you think of it?

I’ve just finished ‘Phineas Redux’ by Anthony Trollope and I loved it. Finally falling in love with Trollope and racing through the Palliser novels has been a major highlight of my current reading year.

5. What are you reading next? Why?

‘An Australian Heroine’ by Rosa Praed – for Australian Reading Month.

6. Best book you’ve read so far with the club, and why?

‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ – I loved it and when I came to the end I could quite happily have gone back to the beginning and read it all over again.

7. Book you most anticipate (or, anticipated) on your club list?

‘Kristin Lavransdattir’ by Sigrid Undset

8. Book on your club list you’ve been avoiding, if any? Why?

‘The Trial’ by Franz Kafka – it really isn’t my kind of book, I can’t remember why I listed it, and I think I might have to rework my list soon.

9. First classic you ever read?

I read a lot of classics as a child and I really don’t remember which one came first. ‘Peter Pan’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Little Women’, ‘The Wind in the Willows’, ‘The Secret Garden’ …..

10. Toughest classic you ever read?

‘Clarissa’ by Samuel Richardson – I gave up very quickly, though I think it was just that I picked the book  up at the wrong time.

11. Classic that inspired you?

Reading ‘Far From The Madding Crowd’ at school was the book that gave me the confidence to tackle other classic.

12. Longest classic you’ve read? Longest classic left on your club list?

The longest I’ve read is ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas, and ‘Kristin Lavransdattir’ by Sigrid Undset is the longest book left on my list.

13. Oldest classic you’ve read? Oldest classic left on your club list?

The oldest classic I’ve read is Aesop’s Fables, but I don’t have anything earlier than the 18th century in my list. The oldest book I have left is ‘Manon Lescaut’ by Abbe Prevost, from 1731.

14. Favorite biography about a classic author you’ve read — or, the biography on a classic author you most want to read, if any?

‘The Love-Charm of Bombs’ by Lara Fiegel. Not one author but five, in London during the Blitz.

15. Which classic do you think EVERYONE should read? Why?

I don’t think there is such a book – we all have different characters, different lives, different experiences, and so we will all see books differently.

16. Favorite edition of a classic you own, if any?

I can’t pick out a single volume, but I love my Persephone Books and my Virago Modern Classics.

17. Favorite movie adaption of a classic?

‘Jean de Florette’ and ‘Manon du Source’ from the books by Marcel Pagnol.

18. Classic which hasn’t been adapted yet (that you know of) which you very much wish would be adapted to film.

‘Love in the Sun’ by Leo Walmsley

19. Least favorite classic? Why?

I’m not going to name a book, but I will admit that I don’t get along with modernism very well.

20. Name five authors you haven’t read yet whom you cannot wait to read.

Charlotte Smith, Maria Edgeworth, Sir Walter Scott, Ouida, Lettice Cooper

21. Which title by one of the five you’ve listed above most excites you and why?

‘Folle-Farine’ by Ouida – I’ve read a little bit, and I just love the way she wrote.

22, Have you read a classic you disliked on first read that you tried again and respected, appreciated, or even ended up loving? (This could be with the club or before it.)

I don’t think so.

23. Which classic character can’t you get out of your head?

Anna Karenina

24. Which classic character most reminds you of yourself?

He doesn’t remind me of me, but, like me,  Phineas Finn often takes things at face value only to discover that things are rather more complicated than that.

35. Which classic character do you most wish you could be like?

Madame Max Goesler (from Trollope’s Palliser novels). I just love her approach to life.

26. Which classic character reminds you of your best friend?

Melissa, from ‘Lucy Carmichael’ by Margaret Kennedy.

27. If a sudden announcement was made that 500 more pages had been discovered after the original “THE END” on a classic title you read and loved, which title would you most want to keep reading? Or, would you avoid the augmented manuscript in favor of the original? Why?

I’d really rather not know – I much prefer to be able to wonder what might have happened next.

28. Favorite children’s classic?

It’s so difficult to pick just one, but if you pushed me I’d probably say ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson-Burnett.

29. Who recommended your first classic?

My mother saved the classic books she loved as a child for the time when she had a daughter, and later, when I moved up from the junior to the main library, she steered me towards some wonderful authors.

30. Whose advice do you always take when it comes to literature. (Recommends the right editions, suggests great titles, etc.)

A few trusted book bloggers and friends on Librarything and Goodreads.

31. Favorite memory with a classic?

My mother being excited about the television adaptation of Cranford, because she remembered loving the book at school, some fifty years earlier.

32. Classic author you’ve read the most works by?

It might be Wilkie Collins or it might be Thomas Hardy

33. Classic author who has the most works on your club list?

Nobody – I deliberately chose only one book per author!

34. Classic author you own the most books by?

Edith Wharton

35. Classic title(s) that didn’t make it to your club list that you wish you’d included? (Or, since many people edit their lists as they go, which titles have you added since initially posting your club list?)

‘Les Miserables’ by Victor Hugo. I’d meant to put it on my list, but it got lost somewhere along the way.

36. If you could explore one author’s literary career from first publication to last — meaning you have never read this author and want to explore him or her by reading what s/he wrote in order of publication — who would you explore? Obviously this should be an author you haven’t yet read, since you can’t do this experiment on an author you’re already familiar with. 🙂 Or, which author’s work you are familiar with might it have been fun to approach this way?

I have a few authors I read years ago in mind to re-read in publication order – Elizabeth Von Arnim, Thomas Hardy, Willa Cather ….

37. How many rereads are on your club list? If none, why? If some, which are you most looking forward to, or did you most enjoy?

I have six re-reads on my list.  I loved ‘The Woman in White’ by Wilkie Collins and I’m looking forward to ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by Anne Bronte.

38. Has there been a classic title you simply could not finish?

I’ve had several attempts at ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ but I’ve never made it through to the end.

39. Has there been a classic title you expected to dislike and ended up loving?

No – if I don’t think I’m going to like a book I’m not going to read it.

40. Five things you’re looking forward to next year in classic literature?

I’m trying not to tempt fate by planning too far ahead, but I definitely plan to read more Trollope during his bicentenary.

41. Classic you are DEFINITELY GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?

The Beth Book by Sarah Grand – it’s been sitting on my bedside table for ages.

42. Classic you are NOT GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?

I’m not ruling anything out – I just want to read the books that call when they call.

43. Favorite thing about being a member of the Classics Club?

Knowing that there are so many other people out there who feel the same way about books.

44. List five fellow clubbers whose blogs you frequent. What makes you love their blogs?

gudrun’s tights


she reads novels

fig and thistle


45. Favorite post you’ve read by a fellow clubber?

Lots of them – I really can’t pick out a single post.

46. If you’ve ever participated in a readalong on a classic, tell about the experience? If you’ve participated in more than one, what’s the very best experience? the best title you’ve completed? a fond memory? a good friend made?

‘The Moorland Cottage’ by Elizabeth Gaskell was my favourite, because it’s such a lovely book and I might not have discovered it if not for that particular readalong.

47. If you could appeal for a readalong with others for any classic title, which title would you name? Why?

I’m seriously thinking about reading the thirteen books that make up ‘Pilgrimage’ by Dorothy Richardson next year, and I’d love company.

48. How long have you been reading classic literature?

Ever since I started reading classic children’s novels.

49. Share up to five posts you’ve written that tell a bit about your reading story. Reviews, journal entries, posts on novels you loved or didn’t love, lists, etc.

Margaret Kennedy Reading Week

The Dickens Decision

A Retrospective A to Z to Mark a Milestone

Ten Books for Cornish Holidays

Reading the 20th Century

50. Question you wish was on this questionnaire? (Ask and answer it!)

No, I really can’t think of anything else …..

The Spin has Spun ….

…. and I am very pleased with the result.

I knew that I would be, because I really wanted to read every one of the books on my spin list. But I’m particularly pleased with this one, because it’s a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time, because I needed that extra little push to make me pick it up, and because it fills a year in my 100 Years of Books project.

Lucky number thirteen brought me:


‘I Pose’ by Stella Benson (1915)



“In this incredibly original satirical novel we are introduced to the two main characters as The Gardener and The Suffragette, and so they remain throughout.  We begin by following The Gardener in a shambolic and romantic walking journey, as his inexperience leads him a merry dance through youth’s many poses, away from his shabby boarding house in London, toward the coast. Along the way, he falls for The Suffragette, but she rejects him. The problem is, she likes him, despite herself. But is she capable of traditional love? And so we also follow her, led through not only her political convictions, but also all the less certain parts of her personality, about which she is blindingly honest. Can she fit love for The Gardener into her busy passion for women’s rights? Does she really want to? She thinks probably not. And yet ….”

* * * * *

Did you spin?

What are you going to read?

My Spin on the Classics Club Spin

The Classics Club Spin is beginning again.

      • Pick twenty unread books from your list.
      • Number them from one to twenty.
      • On Monday a number will be drawn.
      • That’s your book, to read by 5th January.

I’m going to do it. And I’m going to put my own spin on it!


It just felt like time to so something different.

This time:

      • Every book is written by a woman (or in one case by two women)..
      • Every book is a book I would really love to read this winter.
      • Half of the books are from my Classics Club List; the other half are books that I wish I’d put on my list …

I am so pleased with this list:

1. The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox (1752)
2. The Coquette by Hannah W Foster (1797)
3. Lavinia by George Sand (1833)
4. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte (1848)
5. Moths by Ouida (1880)
6. Belinda by Rhoda Broughton (1883)
7. The Story of a Modern Woman by Ella Hepworth Dixon (1894)
8. The Real Charlotte by Somerville and Ross (1894)
9. The Beth Book by Sarah Grand (1897)
10. Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim (1898)
11. Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley (1899)
12.Fidelity by Susan Glaspell (1915)
13. I Pose by Stella Benson (1915)
14. The Matriarch by G B Stern (1924)
15. The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann (1936)
16. My Bird Sings by Oriel Malet (1946)
17. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Tayor (1951)
18. Fenny by Lettice Cooper (1953)
19. The Scapegoat by Daphne Du Maurier (1957)
20. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West (1957)

(The new books are italicised.)

And now I must wait to see which number comes up on Monday …

Which number should I be hoping for? Which number should I hope to avoid?