Classics Challenge December Prompt – Wrap-Up

A Classics Challenge
This year I have been taking part in a Classics Challenge hosted by Katherine of November’s Autumn.

The idea of this challenge was to read seven or more classics and participate in some of the monthly prompts Katherine has been posting for us throughout 2012. This is the final prompt of the year and is a chance to wrap up the challenge.

When I signed up last December I posted a list of the seven books I was hoping to read. As usual I completely failed to stick to the list – I read the first two, but the other five are still unread. I do still want to read the books I didn’t get round to and will try to make them a priority in 2013.

Here are the books I was planning to read and the books I ended up reading instead:

1. The Professor by Charlotte Brontë
2. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
3. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope
– replaced with Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome
4. Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
– replaced with Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
5. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
– replaced with Sylvia’s Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell
6. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
– replaced with Emma by Jane Austen
7. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
– replaced with A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

I didn’t manage to answer the prompt every month, but here are the ones I did participate in:

JANUARY: The Author – Charlotte Bronte, author of The Professor
FEBRUARY: Characters – Joe Gargery from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
APRIL: Book Covers – Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
JUNE: A Visual Tour – Monkshaven from Elizabeth Gaskell’s Sylvia’s Lovers
AUGUST: Quotes – Emma by Jane Austen
OCTOBER: Chapter Musings – Chapter 1 of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
NOVEMBER – My summary of the year’s reading
DECEMBER – Classics Challenge Wrap Up

As I have read at least seven classics and participated in at least four of the prompts, this means I’m entitled to display this beautiful button which shows I’ve completed the challenge!

Completed Classics Challenge

I have enjoyed taking part in the Classics Challenge and am looking forward to joining in with Katherine’s Turn of the Century Salon next year.

Classics Challenge November Prompt

This year I have been taking part in a Classics Challenge hosted by Katherine of November’s Autumn. Every month Katherine has posted a prompt to help us discuss the classic novels we are reading.

I have enjoyed taking part in the challenge and although I haven’t managed to answer all of the prompts, I did want to respond to this one as it provides a sort of summary of the year’s reading, encouraging us to look back at all the classics we have read in 2012.

Here are this month’s questions and my answers:

Of all the Classics you’ve read this year is there an author or movement that has become your new favorite? Which book did you enjoy the most? Or were baffled by?

It’s not exactly a movement, but it seems that a lot of the classics I’ve been drawn to this year have been what I would describe as swashbuckling adventure novels: Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini, The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope and Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. I would like to read more books by all of these authors, especially Sabatini and Scott.

I also enjoyed Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men on the Bummel (though not as much as one of my favourite books from last year, Three Men in a Boat) and my two Austen re-reads (Mansfield Park and Emma).

I can’t say I’ve been baffled by any of the classics I’ve read this year, but the one I found the most challenging to read was A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, purely because I didn’t like the style of his writing.

Who’s the best character? The most exasperating?

My favourite character from the classics I’ve read this year is definitely Andre-Louis Moreau, the hero of Scaramouche. I also liked Joe Gargery in Great Expectations – Dickens’ novels are always filled with memorable characters and I remember writing about Joe in response to one of the first Classic Challenge posts of the year.

The most exasperating has to be Sylvia from Sylvia’s Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell. I was irritated by her silliness in the first half of the book and although she did start to mature after that, she still continued to frustrate me with some of the decisions she made.

From reading other participants’ posts which book do you plan to read and are most intrigued by?

The Mill on the Floss seems to have been a popular choice for the Classics Challenge and I definitely want to read that one soon. Vanity Fair, The House of Mirth, The Heir of Redclyffe and East of Eden are other books I’ve added to my list for 2013 after reading other participants’ posts.

Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned in this post? Are there any more classics you think I really need to read next year?

Classics Challenge October Prompt: Chapter Musings

This year I have been taking part in a Classics Challenge hosted by Katherine of November’s Autumn. Every month Katherine posts a prompt to help us discuss the classic novel we are currently reading. The prompt for October is:

Chapter Musings

Jot down some notes about the chapter you’ve just read or one that struck you the most. It can be as simple as a few words you learned, some quotes, a summary, or your thoughts and impressions.

The classic I’m reading at the moment is A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, the story of an American ambulance driver on the Italian front during World War I. This is the first Hemingway book I’ve read and I wasn’t sure what to expect, as he seems to be one of those authors people either love or hate. I’m only seven (very short) chapters into the book so it’s really too early to tell, but so far I’m finding it a lot more readable than I had thought it would be.

Chapter 1, which is the chapter I’ve chosen to focus on for the purposes of this post, is less than two pages long yet it has a lot of significance as it sets the scene and the tone of the novel. We learn almost nothing about our narrator in these two pages, not even his name, and although it’s obvious that he is involved with the army in some way, he seems very detached from what is going on around him.

“Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.”

I’ve included the quote above because I think it’s a good example of Hemingway’s writing style. He uses simple, direct language and seems to like stringing together very long sentences using the word ‘and’! He also manages to paint vivid pictures of his settings while avoiding flowery descriptions. I’m not sure yet whether I like his writing or not, but I’ll see how I feel after reading a whole book written in this style.

Chapter 1 ends with the following two sentences:

“At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came the cholera. But it was checked and in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army.”

Classics Challenge August Prompt: Quotes from Jane Austen’s Emma

This year I am taking part in a Classics Challenge hosted by Katherine of November’s Autumn. The goal is to read at least seven classics in 2012 and every month Katherine is posting a prompt to help us discuss the books we are reading. This month we are asked to share some quotes from our current read.

The classic I just finished reading yesterday was Emma by Jane Austen. This was a re-read for me and I’ll be posting my thoughts on the book next week. For now, here are some quotes from Emma. Katherine’s prompt recommended choosing some that were not so well-known. I’m not sure it’s possible to find any quotes from a Jane Austen novel that are not well-known, so I’ve just posted a selection of my favourites. Some might be more obscure than others.

“That is the case with us all, papa. One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other.”


“I have none of the usual inducements of women to marry. Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing! But I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall. And, without love, I am sure I should be a fool to change such a situation as mine.”


“A sanguine temper, though for ever expecting more good than occurs, does not always pay for its hopes by any proportionate depression. It soon flies over the present failure, and begins to hope again.”


“To be sure – our discordancies must always arise from my being in the wrong.”

“Yes,” said he, smiling, “and reason good. I was sixteen years old when you were born.”

“A material difference, then,” she replied; “and no doubt you were much my superior in judgement at that period of our lives; but does not the lapse of one-and-twenty years bring our understandings a good deal nearer?”

“Yes, a good deal nearer.”

“But still, not near enough to give me a chance of being right, if we think differently.”


Was it new for any thing in this world to be unequal, inconsistent, incongruous — or for chance and circumstance (as second causes) to direct the human fate?


“I cannot make speeches, Emma,” he soon resumed; and in a tone of such sincere, decided, intelligible tenderness as was tolerably convincing. “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me.”


Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken.

Sylvia’s Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell

Sylvia’s Lovers is set in the final years of the eighteenth century in the small town of Monkshaven on the Yorkshire coast. During this period Britain and France were at war and the men of Monkshaven lived in fear of the press-gangs who regularly captured sailors from the town and forced them into action against France. Against this backdrop we meet Sylvia Robson, the beautiful young daughter of a farmer from nearby Haytersbank, and the two very different men who hope to marry her. One of these is Sylvia’s cousin, Philip Hepburn, a serious, reliable man who works in a draper’s shop; the other is the much more exciting and charismatic Charley Kinraid, a ‘specksioneer’ (chief harpooner) on a whaling ship. When Philip discovers that Kinraid is a rival for Sylvia’s love, he makes a decision that will eventually have tragic consequences for everyone involved.

Elizabeth Gaskell said this was the saddest book she ever wrote and I can definitely understand why she would have said that! Apart from the central storyline involving Sylvia, Philip and Kinraid, there are other characters with their own tragic stories to be told. Hester Rose, for example, who works with Philip in Foster’s shop and has been secretly in love with him for years without ever daring to say so. And Daniel Robson, Sylvia’s father, a former whaler who decides to take action to stop any more of the town’s young men being pressed into the navy.

Monkshaven is a fictional town but was based closely on the real North Yorkshire town of Whitby. A few weeks ago I posted a visual tour of Monkshaven – I hope the photos and quotes I included help to convey some of the atmosphere Gaskell created in her descriptions of the town. My own familiarity with Whitby (I’ve been there many times over the years) made it easy for me to picture the scenes. When we were told of a funeral procession slowly winding its way up the steps to the church on the cliff or the crowds gathering to watch a whaling ship coming in, I could see the images clearly in my mind.

Sylvia’s Lovers took a long time to read (it was 500 pages and felt even longer, partly because I had to concentrate on understanding the dialogue – I should probably warn you that this book does contain a lot of Yorkshire dialect) but the setting, the historical background and the characters kept me interested. Sylvia frustrated me at the beginning because she was so silly and immature, uneducated and unwilling to learn; by the end of the book though, she had changed a lot and I found myself starting to like her. I had sympathy for Philip, both before and after he made his terrible mistake, and I loved Hester Rose. Kinraid was the only character who never felt fully developed but I think that was maybe intentional.

This book reminded me of Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, with all the descriptions of scenery, the local dialect, the focus on rural working-class life and the overwhelming mood of sadness and misery. As one tragedy followed another through the second half of the book, it started to seem that there were going to be no happy endings for any of the characters. I can honestly say this was one of the most depressing books I’ve read and on a few occasions towards the end I wondered why I was still reading it. The answer to that is because I find Gaskell’s writing so beautiful and moving and because she had really made me care what happened to Sylvia, Philip, Hester and the others. This is only the second Gaskell novel I’ve read; the first was North and South which is a much more popular book, but I think I liked this one more despite it being so heartbreaking.

Classics Challenge June Prompt: A tour of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Monkshaven

This year I am taking part in a Classics Challenge hosted by Katherine of November’s Autumn. The goal is to read at least seven classics in 2012 and every month Katherine is posting a prompt to help us discuss the books we are reading. Our task for June is to create a Visual Tour of a scene or description from the book.

The novel I’m currently reading for the challenge is Sylvia’s Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell. The story is set in the 1790s in the fictional town of Monkshaven which Gaskell based on Whitby in North Yorkshire. Whitby was also the setting for Bram Stoker’s Dracula and is a beautiful coastal town with a busy harbour and a ruined abbey on the cliff. I would highly recommend a visit if you have the opportunity!

In Chapter 2 of the novel Sylvia and her friend Molly are walking into Monkshaven so that Sylvia can buy a new cloak. While they are there, a whaling ship returns from a voyage to the Greenland Sea. I have chosen some images that I think help to visualise Gaskell’s descriptions in this chapter.

..but as they were drawing near Monkshaven they stopped, and turned aside along a foot-path that led from the main-road down to the banks of the Dee. There were great stones in the river about here, round which the waters gathered and eddied and formed deep pools.

Image from Wikipedia

The next turn of the road showed them the red peaked roofs of the closely packed houses lying almost directly below the hill on which they were. The full autumn sun brought out the ruddy colour of the tiled gables, and deepened the shadows in the narrow streets.

Image from Wikipedia

The narrow harbour at the mouth of the river was crowded with small vessels of all descriptions, making an intricate forest of masts.

Image from Wikipedia – sepia photograph by Frank Sutcliffe, dated around 1890

There the old stone cross was raised by the monks long ago; now worn and mutilated, no one esteemed it as a holy symbol…

Image © bythestars – Caedmon’s Cross at St Mary’s Churchyard, Whitby

The red and fluted tiles of the gabled houses rose in crowded irregularity on one side of the river…

Image from Wikipedia

The fresh salt breeze was bringing up the lashing, leaping tide from the blue sea beyond the bar. Behind the returning girls there rocked the white-sailed ship, as if she were all alive with eagerness for her anchors to be heaved.

Image from Wikipedia – Whitby 1886, a watercolour on paper by Frederick William Booty

I hope these pictures have helped bring Gaskell’s writing to life for you! I’ll be posting my thoughts on Sylvia’s Lovers after I’ve finished reading the book.

Classics Challenge – April: Book Covers

This year I am taking part in a Classics Challenge hosted by Katherine of November’s Autumn. The goal is to read at least seven classics in 2012 and every month Katherine will be posting a prompt to help us discuss the book we are reading. I missed answering last month’s question, on the subject of settings, but might go back and answer that one at a later date. This month the focus is on book covers.

The classic novel I’m currently reading is Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, which I’m really enjoying and finding easier to read than I had expected. Now that I’m no longer intimidated by him I’m sure I’ll be reading more of his work in the future. I’ll be posting my thoughts on Ivanhoe after I’ve finished the book.

I’m reading this novel as a free ebook and it doesn’t actually have a cover image, so instead I’m going to look at the covers of a few different editions of Ivanhoe.

This is the cover of the Penguin Classics edition. The cover image shows ‘detail from a 15th century French illuminated manuscript showing a tournament‘.

And here is the cover of the Oxford World’s Classics edition. The cover illustration is ‘Knight Enters the Lists at the Eglinton Tournament, of Archibald William Montgomery (13th Earl of Eglinton) by Edward Henry Corbauld (1815-1905)‘.

The third image I want to include here is the cover of the Wordsworth Classics edition. As you can see, this one is very different to the other two and shows ‘A medieval knight with his young lover (1898) by P. Clarke‘.

It’s interesting that only one of these three publishers has chosen to focus on the romantic aspect of the novel – if you picked up one of the other two without knowing anything about the story you would never guess there was any romance involved.

What do you think? Which of these covers would make you more likely to read the book?