One From the Archive: Gothic Novels

First published in December 2015.

There is little that I enjoy better in winter than curling up with a startling Gothic novel.  Below are five of my favourites.

1. Florence and Giles by John Harding
‘In a remote and crumbling New England mansion, 12-year-old orphan Florence is neglected by her guardian uncle and banned from reading. Left to her own devices she devours books in secret and talks to herself – and narrates this, her story – in a unique language of her own invention. By night, she sleepwalks the corridors like one of the old house’s many ghosts and is troubled by a recurrent dream in which a mysterious woman appears to threaten her younger brother Giles. Sometimes Florence doesn’t sleepwalk at all, but simply pretends to so she can roam at will and search the house for clues to her own baffling past. After the sudden violent death of the children’s first governess, a second teacher, Miss Taylor, arrives, and immediately strange phenomena begin to occur. Florence becomes convinced that the new governess is a vengeful and malevolent spirit who means to do Giles harm. Against this powerful supernatural enemy, and without any adult to whom she can turn for help, Florence must use all her intelligence and ingenuity to both protect her little brother and preserve her private world. Inspired by and in the tradition of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, Florence & Giles is a gripping gothic page-turner told in a startlingly different and wonderfully captivating narrative voice.’

2. Dracula by Bram Stoker 9780141199337
‘A chilling masterpiece of the horror genre, “Dracula” also illuminated dark corners of Victorian sexuality. When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to advise Count Dracula on a London home, he makes a horrifying discovery. Soon afterwards, a number of disturbing incidents unfold in England: an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the arrival of his ‘Master’, while a determined group of adversaries prepares to face the terrifying Count.’

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
‘”I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.” Bronte’s infamous Gothic novel tells the story of orphan Jane, a child of unfortunate circumstances. Raised and treated badly by her aunt and cousins and eventually sent away to a cruel boarding school, it is not until Jane becomes a governess at Thornfield that she finds happiness. Meek, measured, but determined, Jane soon falls in love with her brooding and stormy master, Mr Rochester, but it is not long before strange and unnerving events occur in the house and Jane is forced to leave Thornfield to pursue her future.’

97818440887994. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
‘Working as a lady’s companion, our heroine’s outlook is bleak until, on a trip to the south of France, she meets a handsome widower whose proposal takes her by surprise. She accepts but, whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is for ever kept alive by the forbidding housekeeper Mrs Danvers… An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young woman consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.’

5. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
‘For lucidity and compactness of style, James’s short novels, or novelles, are shining examples of his genius. Few other writings of the century have so captured the American imagination. When “Daisy Miller,” the tale of the girl from Schenectady, first appeared in 1878, it was an extraordinary success. James had discovered nothing less than “the American girl”–free spirited, flirtatious, an innocent abroad determined to defy European convention even if it meant scandal . . . or tragedy. But the subtle danger lurking beneath the surface in “Daisy Miller” evolves into a classic tale of terror and obsession in “The Turn Of The Screw.” “The imagination, ” Henry James said to Bernard Shaw, “has a life if its own.” In this blood-curdling story, that imagination weaves the lives of two children, a governess in love with her employer, and a sprawling country house into a flawless story, still unsurpassed as the prototype of modern horror fiction.” “The Turn Of The Screw” seems to have proved more fascinating to the general reading public than anything else of James’s except “Daisy Miller.”‘

Which are your favourite Gothic novels?  Are there any which you would recommend to me?


Reading the World: Belgium

My Reading the World series brings us to the lovely country Belgium.  I first visited whilst still rather a small child, for the purposes of visiting Centre Parcs, and have been back many times since.  Despite this, whilst scouring my shelves, I realised that I haven’t actually read much fiction or non-fiction set there.  Despite this, I have four books to recommend to you, and will happily take any of your recommendations to the library catalogue with me!

1. Marcel by Erwin Mortier 9781782270188
‘The debut novel by the great Flemish writer Erwin Mortier, Marcel vividly describes the history of a family in a Flemish village, bowed by the weight of history. Written from the point of view of a ten-year-old boy, Marcel is a striking debut novel describing the vivid history of a family in a Flemish village. The mysterious death of Marcel, the family favourite, has always haunted the young boy. With the help of his schoolteacher, he starts to discover the secrets of Marcel’s ‘black’ past. The story of his death on the Eastern Front, fighting with the SS for the sake of Flanders, and the shame this brought upon his family gradually become clear. Erwin Mortier unravels this shameful family tale in wonderfully sensitive and evocative manner.’

2. The Book of Proper Names by Amelie Nothomb
‘From France’s ‘literary lioness’ (Elle), The Book of Proper Names is the story of the hapless orphan girl, Plectrude. Raised by her aunt, and unaware of the dark secret behind her past, she is a troubled but dreamy child who is both blessed and cursed by her intoxicating eyes. Discovered to have enormous gifts as a dancer, she is accepted at Paris’s most prestigious ballet school where she devotes herself to artistic perfection, until her body can take no more. In a brilliantly succinct story of haunted adolescence and lost mothers, Nothomb propels the narrative forward until Plectrude is forced to take command of her own fate.’

97803072682113. The Professor by Charlotte Bronte
The Professor is Charlotte Brontes first novel, in which she audaciously inhabits the voice and consciousness of a man, William Crimsworth. Like Jane Eyre he is parentless; like Lucy Snowe in Villette he leaves the certainties of England to forge a life in Brussels. But as a man, William has freedom of action, and as a writer Bronte is correspondingly liberated, exploring the relationship between power and sexual desire. William’s first person narration reveals his attraction to the dominating directress of the girls’ school where he teaches, played out in the school’s ‘secret garden’. Balanced against this is his more temperate relationship with one of his pupils, Frances Henri, in which mastery and submission interplay. The Professor was published only after Charlotte Bronte’s death; today it gives us a fascinating insight into the first stirrings of her supreme creative imagination.’

4. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
‘Based on Charlotte Bronte’s personal experience as a teacher in Brussels, Villette is a moving tale of repressed feelings and subjection to cruel circumstance and position, borne with heroic fortitude. Rising above the frustrations of confinement within a rigid social order, it is also the story of a woman’s right to love and be loved.’

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Transitional Authors

I begin this post with a question: what is the first adult novel which you remember reading?  As a child, I always had my nose within the pages of Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis, and had a slight error at the age of seven, when I decided that Moby-Dick looked as though it would keep me busy for a while, and began it only to put it down soon afterwards. face

At the age of eight, however, I vividly remember reading both Jane Eyre and To Kill a Mockingbird – the first my own choice, and the second a gift from my father – and immediately feeling as though I had unlocked a whole new world of wonders.  I swiftly followed these wonderful novels, enduring favourites of mine, with the likes of Wuthering Heights and A Christmas Carol, and haven’t looked back since.

Are the first adult novels which you read classed amongst your current favourites?  If you remember, what made you select the adult books which you did as a child or teenager?


The Gregory Peck-a-long: ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys ****

The first book of The Gregory Peck-a-long, a fabulous week-long readathon project which I am undertaking with the lovely Belinda, is Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea.  This postcolonial novel, which was first published in 1966 and is a prequel to my beloved Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, was a re-read for me.  The book’s blurb says the following: ‘Set against the lush backdrop of 1830s Jamaica, Jean Rhys’ powerful, haunting story was inspired by her fascination with the first Mrs Rochester, the mad wife’.  Author Esther Freud deems the work ‘powerful and haunting…  thick with bright colour and deep, dark thoughts.  Mesmeric and unforgettable’.

I purchased a gorgeous Penguin edition of the novel (not the one pictured) from a lovely secondhand bookshop whilst at University.  The story’s premise intrigued me straight away: ‘If Antoinette Cosway, a spirited Creole heiress, could have foreseen the terrible future that awaited her, she would not have married the young Englishman.  Initially drawn to her beauty and sensuality, he becomes increasingly frustrated by his inability to reach into her soul.  He forces Antoinette to conform to his rigid Victorian ideals, unaware that in taking away her identity he is destroying a part of himself as well as pushing her towards madness’.

Antoinette’s narrative voice is candid, and one immediately has a sense of trusting her: ‘My father, visitors, horses, feeling safe in bed – all belonged to the past’.  Her story is a sad one; her mother ‘persuaded a Spanish Town doctor to visit my younger brother Pierre who staggered when he walked and couldn’t speak distinctly.  I don’t know what the doctor told her or what she said to him but he never came again and after that she changed.  Suddenly, not gradually.  She grew thin and silent, and at last she refused to leave the house at all’.

The ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ culture is evident here from the very beginning: ‘They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did’.  The racial hatred which is directed at Antoinette is heartbreaking: ‘I never looked at any strange Negro.  They hated us.  They called us white cockroaches.  Let sleeping dogs lie.  One day a little girl followed me singing, “Go away, white cockroach, go away, go away.”  I walked fast, but she walked faster.  “White cockroach, go away, go away.  Nobody want you.  Go away.”‘  One of her friends, Tia, then goes on to tell her, ‘Old time white people nothing but white nigger now, and black nigger better than white nigger’.  Rhys exemplifies how incredibly difficult – and often, nigh on impossible – it can be for one to fit in: ‘It was a song about a white cockroach.  That’s men.  That’s what they call all of us who were here before their own people in Africa sold them to the slave traders.  And I’ve heard English women call us white niggers.  So between you I often wonder who I am and where is my country and where do I belong and why was I ever born at all’.

Much of the first part of the novel deals with Antoinette’s painfully trying to come to terms with herself, her awkward societal position, and the fact that she is growing up: ‘I woke next morning knowing that nothing would be the same.  It would change and go on changing’.  The family’s poverty is talked about within the community in a no-holds-barred manner when her mother remarries: ‘Her new husband will have to spend a pretty penny before the house is fit to live in – leaks like a sieve…  As for those two children – the boy an idiot kept out of sight and mind and the girl going the same way in my opinion’.  With the arrival of her new stepfather, the Cosways are suddenly pulled into wealth, something which just serves to make everything worse: ‘The black people did not hate us quite so much when we were poor.  We were white but we had not escaped and soon we would be dead for we had no money left.  What was there to hate?’

Jean Rhys

The brutality of Antoinette’s surroundings has been well evoked: ‘I took another road, past the old sugar works and the water wheel that had not turned for years.  I went to the ports of Coulibri that I had not seen, where there was no road, no path, no track.  And if the razor grass cut my legs and arms I would think “It’s better than people”.  Black ants or red ants, tall nests swarming with white ants, rain that soaked me to the skin – once I saw a snake.  All better than people’.  Colour, as Freud says, plays a big part in the descriptions of Jamaica, and the way in which Antoinette perceives them: ‘I knew the time of day when though it is hot and blue and there are no clouds, the sky can have a very black look’.  Colour is used to show the obvious racial differences within Spanish Town, to the ‘light and dark’ of Heaven and Hell, and the evils of the natural world: ‘Everything was brightness, or dark’.  In consequence, the whole feels rather oppressive; it is as though something sinister is always lurking on the horizon.  Rhys heightens her scenes accordingly, and builds to a stifling, airless whole.

Rhys is incredibly skilled at capturing scenes and actions, and rendering them onto paper.  Antoinette’s voice has been perfectly crafted, and serves to pull one straight into Wide Sargasso Sea.  The story which Rhys has imagined as belonging to the ‘mad wife’ of Jane Eyre is thoughtful and has a lot of depth to it.  The use which she makes of Mr Rochester’s first person perspective in the second part of the novel works wonderfully, and helps to construct a rich, compelling novel, which is difficult to put down.  The different dialects and patois which Rhys has made use of have been well captured, and the heavily-entrenched superstitions of the region are well considered and are woven in accordingly.  One of the real strengths of the novel is the way in which she exemplifies how drastically one person can alter others.  Perhaps to my shame, I have never read any of Rhys’ other work, despite so enjoying Wide Sargasso Sea.  I shall certainly be remedying this as soon as I possibly can.

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Du Maurier December: ‘The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte’ by Daphne du Maurier ****

When my copy of Daphne du Maurier’s The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte arrived, I was pleased to note that it had originally been purchased from the Howarth Bronte shop and still bore a sticker proclaiming this in its bottom right hand corner. Of the du Mauriers which I had planned to read during my du Maurier December project, The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte was one of those which I was most intrigued by. Before beginning to read, I knew a little about Branwell Bronte, but only in the context of his sisters.  I was therefore so interested to learn what he was like as an entirely separate being.

In her introduction, du Maurier sets out her reasons for producing a biography of a figure who was largely overshadowed by the fame of his three surviving sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne: ‘One day the definitive biography of this tragic young man will be published.  Meanwhile, many years of interest in the subject, and much reading, have prompted the present writer to attempt a study of his life and work which may serve as an introduction to both’.

Branwell and his sisters spring to life immediately.  Their sad beginning – their mother dying when Branwell was tiny, and the consequent deaths of the eldest two Bronte sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, in 1825 – caused the four remaining siblings to mould themselves into an impenetrable group.  From the very beginning, du Maurier states that Charlotte, Emily and Anne were all greatly inspired by their brother, particularly during their early childhood: ‘None of these novels [Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall] would have come into being had not their creators lived, during childhood, in this fantasy world, which was largely inspired and directed by their only brother, Patrick Branwell Bronte’.  She goes on to say that in their childhood, the four children wrote tiny books together in ‘a blend of Yorkshire, Greek and Latin which could only be spoken among the four of them, to the mystification of their elders’.  Branwell certainly comes across as an inventive child: ‘Imitative as a monkey, the boy was speaking in brogue on a Monday, broad Yorkshire on a Tuesday and back to the west country on the Wednesday’, and it is clear that du Maurier holds compassion for him.

Du Maurier discusses Branwell’s work throughout, often relating his creative output to the things which he was experiencing in life: ‘Although, on examination, Branwell’s manuscripts show that he did not possess the amazing talent of his famous sisters, they prove him to have had a boyhood and youth of almost incredibly productivity, so spending himself in the process of describing the lives and loves of his imaginary characters that invention was exhausted by the time he was twenty-one’.  His poetry particularly is often vivid:

“Backward I look upon my life,
And see one waste of storm and strife,
One wrack of sorrows, hopes and pain,
Vanishing to arise again!
That life has moved through evening, where
Continual shadows veiled my sphere;
From youth’s horizon upward rolled
To life’s meridian, dark and cold.”

The secondary materials included – a large bibliography, notes, sources, and a list of Branwell’s manuscripts – are extensive, and it is clear that du Maurier did an awful lot of research on and around her subject before putting pen to paper.  The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte includes quotes from Branwell’s letters, as well as his own prose.  Secondary documents of Charlotte’s have been taken into account, particularly when discussing Branwell’s illness and death.  Instances of literary criticism from a handful of different sources are also present.  Du Maurier marvellously weaves in the social history of the period – the death of kings and queens, for example.

Branwell’s painting of Charlotte, Emily and Anne

Whilst he is not always likeable, Branwell is an incredibly interesting subject for a biography, particularly for an author such as du Maurier to tackle.  She has demonstrated the many sides of his character, some of which were reserved particularly for certain people.  Du Maurier does continually talk of Charlotte, Emily and Anne, particularly during their childhoods, but one expects that it would be hard to write such a biography without taking them into account so often.  She does continually assert the place of Branwell in the Bronte family, however, and admirably, he is always her main focus.

Of the portrait of the Bronte sisters shown, du Maurier writes: ‘Close inspection of the group has lately shown that what was thought to be a pillar is, in reality, the painted-out head and shoulders of the artist himself.  The broad high forehead, the hair puffed at the sides, the line of coat and collar, all are there.  Perhaps Branwell did not consider that he had done his own face justice, and in a fit of irritation smudged himself into oblivion’.

The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte was first published in 1960, and remains an accessible and fresh portrait of a shadowy – and often overshadowed – character.  Du Maurier’s non-fiction is eloquent, and is written so beautifully.  She uses lush descriptions throughout, so much so that it occasionally feels as though you are actually reading a novel.  The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte is quite slim in terms of biography; it runs to just 231 pages in the Penguin edition. The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte does follow a largely chronological structure.  Interestingly, however, the book’s initial chapter deals with his death, and then loops back to his childhood.  Through du Maurier, one really gets an understanding of Branwell’s personality, as well as learning of his hopes and fears.

The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte is extremely well set out, and is easy to read.  The chapters are all rather short, and consequently it can be dipped in and out of, or read alongside other books.  Again, du Maurier’s wrork is thorough and well plotted, and provides an insightful and rewarding look into a relatively neglected part of the Bronte quartet.

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Saturday Poem: ‘Evening Solace’ by Charlotte Bronte

THE human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed;­
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,
Whose charms were broken if revealed.
And days may pass in gay confusion,
And nights in rosy riot fly,
While, lost in Fame’s or Wealth’s illusion,
The memory of the Past may die.

But, there are hours of lonely musing,
Such as in evening silence come,
When, soft as birds their pinions closing,
The heart’s best feelings gather home.
Then in our souls there seems to languish
A tender grief that is not woe;
And thoughts that once wrung groans of anguish,
Now cause but some mild tears to flow.

And feelings, once as strong as passions,
Float softly back­a faded dream;
Our own sharp griefs and wild sensations,
The tale of others’ sufferings seem.
Oh ! when the heart is freshly bleeding,
How longs it for that time to be,
When, through the mist of years receding,
Its woes but live in reverie !

And it can dwell on moonlight glimmer,
On evening shade and loneliness;
And, while the sky grows dim and dimmer,
Feel no untold and strange distress­
Only a deeper impulse given
By lonely hour and darkened room,
To solemn thoughts that soar to heaven,
Seeking a life and world to come.


Book Club (September 2014): ‘Poems’ by the Bronte Sisters ****

I have read these poems before, but I enjoyed them so much that I was thrilled when April chose them as our September book club read.  I already had a copy of them on my Kindle, and found myself reading them on Easter Sunday whilst in France – a perfect setting for such beautiful writing.

‘Selected Poems’ by the Bronte Sisters

Each one of these poems, without exception, is beautifully written.  I found myself enjoying those which are non-religious far more, but that is merely personal preference.  I love the way in which the sisters often use history as a backdrop to these works, along with a wealth of other themes, which stretch from life, nature, freedom, writing, philosophy and the changing seasons, to running away, grieving and death.

My favourite poems, split up according to the sister who penned them, along with an example of their work, are as follows:

Anne Bronte – ‘The Arbour’, ‘Home’, ‘Memory’, ‘The Consolation’, ‘Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day’ and ‘Views of Life’.

From ‘Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day’ (1842):
“My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.”

Charlotte Bronte – ‘Mementos’, ‘The Wood’, ‘Frances’, ‘The Letter’ and ‘The Teacher’s Monologue’.

From ‘Frances’:
“SHE will not sleep, for fear of dreams,
But, rising, quits her restless bed,
And walks where some beclouded beams
Of moonlight through the hall are shed.

Obedient to the goad of grief,
Her steps, now fast, now lingering slow,
In varying motion seek relief
From the Eumenides of woe.

Wringing her hands, at intervals­
But long as mute as phantom dim­
She glides along the dusky walls,
Under the black oak rafters, grim.”

Emily Bronte – ‘Faith and Despondency’, ‘Song’, ‘The Prisoner’, ‘How Clear She Shines’, ‘Sympathy’, ‘Death’, ‘Honour’s Martyr’ and ‘Stanzas’.

From ‘How Clear She Shines’:

“How clear she shines! How quietly
I lie beneath her guardian light;
While heaven and earth are whispering me,
” Tomorrow, wake, but, dream to-night.”
Yes, Fancy, come, my Fairy love!
These throbbing temples softly kiss;
And bend my lonely couch above
And bring me rest, and bring me bliss.”

Y soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.
Read more at http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/lines_composed_in_a_wood_on_a_windy_day.html#puiEwmDIddJrwt6V.99
Y soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.
Read more at http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/lines_composed_in_a_wood_on_a_windy_day.html#puiEwmDIddJrwt6V.99
Y soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.
Read more at http://www.poetry-archive.com/b/lines_composed_in_a_wood_on_a_windy_day.html#puiEwmDIddJrwt6V.99

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Flash Reviews (29th April 2014)

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte ***

‘Shirley’ by Charlotte Bronte

I adore Charlotte Bronte’s work, and was so looking forward to reading Shirley.  It seems to be one of her least popular novels.  I began to read it on rather a foggy day in France, thinking that the Gothic elements which I was sure it would include would match the setting perfectly.  Sadly, I did not find it immediately captivating as I have done her other novels and unfinished works, and in no way did it match up to my beloved Jane Eyre or the wonderful Villette.

In Shirley, Bronte has created many character studies, each of them vastly different, and all of them believable.  I really liked the way in which portions of the book were directly spoken to the ‘reader’ of the piece.  The political background which the novel is set against was immensely interesting, particularly from an historical point of view.  Its style is slow and lilting and, as ever, the descriptions are gorgeously vivid and her writing beautiful.  As always with Bronte’s novels, I was struck by her stunning depictions of nature.  The novel is worth reading for these alone.  Despite my lack of love for Shirley, I still class Charlotte Bronte as one of my favourite authors, and will undoubtedly go back to this novel in future.

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Mary: A Fiction by Mary Wollstonecraft ***
I had never read any of Wollstonecraft’s work before, and was not really sure what to expect from it.  The first sentence of Mary: A Fiction states that ‘In delineating the heroine of this fiction, the author attempts to develop a character different from those usually portrayed’.  Mary: A Fiction is a novella, and a beautifully written one.  The turns of phrase which Wollstonecraft uses are lovely, as are her descriptions.  As a character study, it holds so much interest, and I really was fond of bookish Mary at the start of the story; she was rather headstrong and lovely.  As soon as the man of the piece, Henry, was introduced, however, she did become a little insipid, which was a real shame, and her character did not always feel consistent in consequence.  The ending was also rather abrupt, hence my three star review.  I will certainly read more of Wollstonecraft’s work, and hope that she has written many other books and short stories.

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The Story of the Treasure Seekers by Edith Nesbit ****
I vaguely remember reading The Story of the Treasure Seekers as a child, along with some of Nesbit’s other lovely books.  It tells the story of the six rather adorable Bastable children:Our Mother is dead, and if you think we don’t care because I don’t tell you much about her you only show that you do not understand people at all.’  Oswald, one of the eldest Bastables, is the narrator of the piece.  As the children are rather poor and wish to help out their busy working father, they decide to go and seek treasure from their local London area, because ‘it is always what you do to restore the fallen fortunes of your House’.  The Story of the Treasure Seekers is witty and amusing, as Nesbit’s books invariably are.  The children which she has created here are all just charming, with their mounds of naivety and their good hearts.  It is a very sweet book, and is even lovelier than I remembered it.

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Sunday Snapshot: Classics

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
No classics list for me would be complete without Jane Eyre.  The story is a timeless one, and it resonates with

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre (Photo credit: Valerie Reneé)

readers today as much as it ever has done.  Bronte’s writing is beautiful, and the characters and settings she crafts are marvellously lifelike.  Jane Eyre is at the peak of the classics list for me, and I’m sure I shall read it many more times in future.  It stands to reason that many film versions have been released of the book, and I feel that Bronte is as popular as she deserves to be.

2. Middlemarch by George Eliot
I studied English and History at University, and as George Eliot was a relatively local resident to the city, my Humanities building was named after her.  Middlemarch was the first of her novels which I read, and I was blown away by it.  The sense of place and time which she builds up is truly stunning, and I felt as though I was right beside the characters as they lived their lives.  As a social and political study of the 1800s, you cannot get much better than Middlemarch.

3. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
I adore Hardy’s writing style, and his descriptive passages are rarely equalled in literature.  Tess of the d’Urbervilles is not a happy book by any means, but it exemplifies the hideous poverty which many had to live through.  Tess is a lovely character on the whole, and she is also incredibly memorable.  This novel proves a marvellous introduction to Hardy’s writing.

4. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
I find Wilde fascinating, both as an author and a singular figure.  He was such an exuberant and witty character, and this shines through in everything he writes.  Many are familiar with The Importance of Being Earnest from various film versions and theatre performances, but I feel that the best way to appreciate the play is in its original form.  Wilde’s writing sparkles, and his characters are simply superb.

5. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
As far as I am concerned, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a timeless book, much like the aforementioned Jane Eyre.  I have read it countless times, yet still find it utterly magical.  Carroll’s imagination is stunning, and the many film versions of the book – yes, I have seen lots of them – have made such wonderful use of the original material.