Emma by Jane Austen

Title:  Emma

Author:  Jane Austen

Paperback:  416 pages

Date Published: 1997

Publisher:  Wordsworth Editions Ltd

ISBN:  1853260282

The very first subject, after being seated, was Maple Grove, ‘My brother, Mr Suckling’s seat’; a comparison of Hartfield to Maple Grove… ‘Very like Maple Grove indeed! She was quite struck by the likeness! That room was the very shape and size of the morning-room at Maple Grove; her sister’s favourite room.’ Mr Elton was appealed to. ‘Was not it astonishingly like? She could really almost fancy herself at Maple Grove.

‘And the staircase. You know, as I came in, I observed how very like the staircase was; placed exactly in the same part of the house. I really could not help exclaiming! I assure you, Miss Woodhouse, it is very delightful to me to be reminded of a place I am so extremely partial to as Maple Grove. I have so many happy months there!’ (with a little sigh of sentiment.) ‘A charming place, undoubtedly. Everybody who sees it is struck by its beauty; but to me it has been quite a home. Whenever you are transplanted, like me, Miss Woodhouse, you will understand how very delightful it is to meet with anything at all like what one has left behind. I always say this is quite one of the evils of matrimony.’

Emma made as slight a reply as she could; but it was fully sufficient for Mrs Elton, who only wanted to be talking herself.

-Emma by Jane Austen, pages 217-218

I finished this book almost a week ago after being stuck in it for about six months.  I’ve wanted to give it time to sit and think about it before making an official judgment by way of a review.  And, while I still say it was the hardest Austen book so far and my least favorite, I have to admit a serious amount of respect for the women of the era.  I’m definitely grateful times have changed since then!

Long and short of things, Emma Woodhouse more or less grew up the Miss Woodhouse of her father’s home, meaning she was the society keeper.  The golden daughter, beautiful and clever, she has never been denied anything by her father, who’s a bit of a hypochondriac, nor by her governess Miss Taylor, who has just married Mr. Weston in the beginning of the novel.  Emma believes she is responsible for making this match and decides to aim her powers at the single vicar, Mr. Elton.  Her brother-in-law’s brother, Mr. Knightly, however, admonishes her to leave match-making be, to let love take its course, but she doesn’t listen (OF COURSE!) and this sets a series of events into motion that forces Emma to grow up and re-evaluate her own position and judgments and that of those around her. 

What Austen does in Emma is to recreate the sense of isolation and near-claustrophobic sensations of the life and choices living as an early 19thcentury English woman.  She equates the life of a governess as a polite form of slavery.  She also conveys the sense of captivity and inertial force of the class stratification of the era.  Everyone had a place, and everyone had acceptable and unacceptable pools of “friends” within the system to choose from:  Either their equal or many levels beneaththem so as to help improve them, but no one only a little below them.. lest they degrade themselves.  Those who tried to improve their social standing by latching onto those above them and trying the seem their equal were treated with civil incivility:  Invitations “forgotten,” stories told to remind them where they belong, arguments about things immaterial that vented hostilities and prejudices.

Emma by Jane Austen presents the parlor life of  emotional constipation and gilded-cage existence without choices beyond who to invite for dinner that ran on and on until death was begged for.  In this day and age, when I can tell my neighbor flat-out, he’s an ass, and go on.  He and I live a life of pretending the other doesn’t exist, which works well.

The book also conveys the sense of the inescapable lot assigned to a person because of who one’s family is and what they’ve done.  Harriet is a persona somewhat non grata because her parentage is unknown.  She could never expect to marry a gentleman, because no respectable man would take in the chance of social disaster if her father ever turned out to be a criminal or worse.  You are who your grandparents were, and if you screw up your life, you ruin your grandchildren’s chances for a future, destroy your siblings’ reputation and shame your parents. 

It amounted to a suffocating life where the most seemingly trivial choices could destroy one’s life and reputation.  While Emma by Jane Austen is not one of my favorites, it’s a worthwhile book to read.  I’m glad to have read it, as much as I am glad I’m DONE reading it.  4 out of 5 stars.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Title: Wuthering Heights

Author: Emily Brontë

Hardback: 356 pages

Publisher: Dodd, Mead & Company, Inc.

Publish Date: 1942

Miscellaneous: This was a book from the library.

“…I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in Heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as deifferent as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.”he remained, Ishould still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I amHeathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being…”

Ere this speech ended, I became sensible of Heathcliff’s presence… He had listened till he heard Catherine say it would degrade her to mayrry him, and then he stayed to hear no further.

“…My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger; I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being…”

-Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, pages 99-101

I was shocked recently when, while reading Eclipse the third book in The Twilight Series, I had never read Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. As often as the book has been discussed, referred to, and mentioned, I had a generally understanding and memory of the book and thought I had read it. But when I read the quotes from it in Eclipse, I became embarrassingly aware I hadn’t ever experienced it first hand. Even worse, I went to grab it out of my home library only to find I had never even bought the book! *shock!*

So I trundled off to our public library and borrowed a nice, well-worn and slightly tattered book from their shelf and started, “I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.” on Sunday evening, and finished with “I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” earlier today, and loved it!

The story is told by Ellen Dean, who has been a servant all her life between the two houses, beginning at Wuthering Heights with the Earnshaws then at Thrushcross Grange with the Lintons where Mr. Lockwood, reader by proxy, meets Dean and receives her tale. It is a cautionary tale displaying the effects of holding onto wrongs suffered and loves lost and how the bitterness and desire for revenge that can come from them takes over one’s life, leaving no room for love and healthy attachments, and can destroy the lives of people who are innocent of the original offenses.

In Wuthering Heights, the two loves of Catherine Linton nee Earnshaw are juxtaposed and exemplified by the two properties. While Catherine and Heathcliff’s love is passionate, wild and like a force of nature, Catherine’s marriage to Edgar Linton represents all the social respectability and gentility she desires for her life. The uniting of these two loves is foreshadowed when Mrs. Dean finds the lock of Linton’s hair on the floor and a lock of Heathcliff’s in Catherine’s locket and twines the two together before putting the flaxen-and-black twist back into the locket.

While Heathcliff has every right to feel wronged by what is done to him by both Hindley Earnshaw (his foster brother) and by Edgar Linton (the chosen husband of the woman he loves), he could have let go of the past and moved on, experiencing the joys of many neuvo riche have done. However, he refuses to forgive and comes back to Wuthering Heights to set about exacting his revenge on those directly responsible, Hindley and Linton, and on those they love and even on their children, exacting payment from even his own son. In the end, though, he is left with nothing but emptiness, having all the power to finish his plan by destroying the properties, but no longer having the passion to do so.

He tells Ellen Dean:

“With my hard constitution and tempermate mode of living, and unperilous occupations, I ought to, and probably shall, remain above ground till there is scarecely a black hair on my head. And yet I cannot continue in this condition! I have to remind myself to breath – almost to remind my heart to beat! And it is like bending back a stiff spring: it is by compulsion that I do the slightest act not prompted by one thought; and by compulsion that I notice anything alive or dead, which is not associated with one universal idea. I have a single wish, and my whole being and faculties are so unwaveringly, that I’m convinced it will be reached – and soon – because it has devoured my existence: I am swallowed up in the anticipation of its fulfilment… O God! It is a long fight, I wish it were over.”

-Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, pages 342-343

There is an image painted in my mind by Brontë with this book. It is of a sweet, cool brook that babbles through a spring-flower covered countryside. Somewhere along the waterway, the brook’s path has been stopped up by garbage, and the water has spread out and flooded the surround area. The greenery downstream has begun to brown and show wont of regular watering. But as I walk further along the dry brook, I come to a spot where the water has meandered around the ground and come back to its original bed to continue once more as if it had never been seperated. Time, and gravity, often brings sides back together.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is definitely one of my favorite classic books, and would have to be on my top 50 books list. It is fascinating and compelling, and has a universal message that will be applicable as long as people are humans. 5 out of 5 stars :-D

hated it!didn't like itit was okayliked itLoved it!

trailer for the 1992 movie of Wuthering Heights:

Silas Marner by George Eliot

Title:  Silas Marner

Author:  George Eliot

Paperback:  218 pages

Publisher:  Watermill Press

Publish Date:  1983

ISBN:  0893759961

Miscellaneous:  Mary Ann Evans was born in Warwickshire, England on November 22, 1819.  Under the name of George Eliot, she wrote several novels including Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss, and  Middlemarch.  George Eliot died in London on December 22, 1880.

Unlike the gold which needed nothing and must be worshiped in close-locked solitude – which was hidden away from the daylight, was deaf to the song of birds, and started to no human tones – Eppie was a creature of endless claims and ever-growing desires, seeking and loving sunshine, and living sounds, and living movements; making trial of everything, with trust in new joy, and stirring the human kindness in all eyes that looked on her.  The gold had kept his thoughts in an ever-repeated circle, leading to nothing beyond itself, but Eppie was an object compacted of changes and hopes that forced his thoughts onward, and carried them far away from their old eager pacing towards the same blank limit…  The gold had asked that he should sit weaving longer and longer, deafened and blinded more and more to all things except the monotony of his loom and the repetition of his web; but Eppie called him away from his weaving, and made him think all its pauses a holiday, reawakening his senses with her fresh life, even to the old winterflies that came crawling forth in the early spring sunshine, and warming him into joy because she had joy.

And when the sunshine grew strong and lasting, so that the buttercups were thick in the meadows, Silas might be seen in the sunny mid-day, or in the later afternoon when the shadows were lengthening under the hedgerows, strolling out with uncovered head to carry Eppie beyond the Stone Pits to where the flowers grew, till they reached some favorite  bank where he could sit down, while Eppie toddled to pluck the flowers, and make remarks to the winged things that murmured happily above the bright petals, calling “Dad-dad’s” attention continually by bringing him the flowers.  Then she would turn her ear to some sudden bird-note, and Silas learned to please her by making signs of hushed stillness, that they might listen for the note to come again:  so that when it came, she set up her small back and laughed with gurgling triumph.  Sitting on the banks in this way, Silas began to look for the once familiar herbs again; and as the leaves, with their unchanged outline and markings, lay on his palm, there was a sense of crowding remembrances from which he turned away timidly, taking refuge in Eppie’s little world that lay lightly on his enfeebled spirit.

As the child’s mind was growing into knowledge, his mind was growing into memory:  as her life unfolded, his soul, long stupefied in a cold narrow prison, was unfolding too, and trembling gradually into full consciousness.

-Silas Marner by George Eliot, pages 149-151

Silas Marner by George Eliot tells the story of the socially withdrawn weaver.  Once in love and a vibrantmember of society, Silas was betrayed by his best friend, who framed him as a thief who stole church money in order to steal Marner’s fiance.  Silas leaves the land where he has always lived and moves to the southern English country communtity of Raveloe, a town that is far out of the way of the main roads and therefore has retained its simpler, pastoral beliefs and ways.

For fifteen years Silas works at his loom, usually sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, in pursuit of his only companion,  the gold guineas he receives as pay for his work, and shuns all society.  However, when he falls victim to a robbery that separates him from his 270 pounds that he had hoarded over the years, he begins a journey of reclamation and healing.  The arrival of Eppie, the gold-haired girl he, at first, mistakes as his returned gold, slowly reawakens feelings of faith, trust and love within him.

 But… can it be meant to last?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I vaguely remember reading Silas Marner in high school as part of the advanced English Honors program.  As I read through this a second time, I remembered why.  Eliot’s language is slow and thick, at times mind-numbingly so, and some of the descriptions of the society of a bygone era drug on and on with the inane details of gowns and cows and ghosts and blah blah blah.  I found myself wishing for a good Austen novel.  And now I’m not nearly as convinced I want to crack open Middlemarch, a book at least three times the length also by Eliot.

I did, however, love the story itself.  I felt such sympathy and excitement for Silas as I followed him through all his heartaches and then as rejoiced with him as Eppie, the orphaned child who came into his life by chance, becomes the salvation of his humanity and restores all that he once lost.

A few years ago, Hollywood modernized this story in a movie starring Steve Martin as Silas.  The movie is “A Simple Twist of Fate,” and I recommend it to anyone interested in the story (don’t post hate comments for this, but I’d rather watch the movie than read the book any day!).  Of course, the movie is not a substitute for the book as an assignment for school, but could be watched AFTER you’ve read it. ;-)

Obviously, Silas Marner by George Eliot is a literary classic and therefore has merit, but it’s definitely not my favorite classic.  I give Silas Marner 3 out of 5 stars.

The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

Title:  The Silver Chair

Author:  C. S. Lewis

Paperback:  767 pages

Publisher:  HarperCollins

Publish Date:  2001

ISBN:  0066238501

Miscellaneous:  The Silver Chair was published fifth in the Narnia Series, but was meant to be read sixth by Lewis.  The copy I have read is in a complete book.

 

After that all happened quickly.  There was a wild cry, a swishing, dusty, gravelly noise, a rattle of stones, and Jill found herself sliding, sliding, hopelessly sliding, and sliding quicker every moment down a slope that grew steeper every moment…  From the sharp cries and swearing of the other two, Jill got the idea that many of the stones which she was dislodging were hitting Scrubb and Puddleglum pretty hard.  And now she was going at a furious rate and felt sure she would be broken to bits at the bottom.

 Yet somehow they weren’t.  They were a mass of bruises, and the wet sticky stuff on her face appeared to be blood.  And such a mass of loose earth, shingle, and larger stones was piled up round her (and partly over her) that she couldn’t get up.  The darkness was so complete that it made no difference at all whether you had your eyes open or shut.  There was no noise.  And that was the very worst moment Jill had ever known in her life.  Supposing she was alone:  supposing the others… The she heard movements around her.  And presently all three, in shaken voices, were explaining that none of them seemed to have any broken bones….

 No one suggested doing anything.  There was so obviously nothing to be done.  For the moment, they did not feel it quite so badly as one might have expected; that was because they were so tired.

 Long, long afterwards, without the slightest warning, an utterly strange voice spoke.  They knew at once that it was not the one voice in the whole world for which each had secretly been hoping; the voice of Aslan.  It was a dark, flat voice – almost, if you know what that means, a pitch-black voice.  It said:

 “What make you here, creatures of the Overworld?”

 

-The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, pages 612-613

 

In The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, we accompany a kinder, more human Eustace Scrubb back to his school, Experiment House, which seems to be a topsy-turvy socialistic school where the bullies are commended for preying on the weak and the Bible, and anything found within It’s covers, is forbidden.  We also meet Jill Pole, one of the weaker ones and somewhat-friend of Eustace, who is crying after being tormented and hiding from Them.  In an effort to comfort her, Eustace takes her into his confidence and tells her of the world of Narnia.  Wanting to visit this other world, the two call on Aslan and ask him to bring them there.  Thus begins the adventures of this, the sixth Narnian book.

 After showing off and causing Eustace to fall from an unimaginable precipice, Jill is given the harder task of keeping the four signs that will help them on their quest to find and rescue the lost Prince Rillian, only son and heir to the now elderly King Caspian. 

 Right away, the two muff (as Lewis says) the first sign:  Eustace was to speak to the first person he saw in Narnia, who would be an old friend, realizing after his boat has left the harbor that King Caspian was with whom he was to speak.  Things continue to go wrong throughout their journey, as they are almost made into a dinner for a giant’s festival and nearly enchanted into forgetting Narnia entirely.

 In the fashion of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Silver Chair is a fast-paced adventure story with the sense of impending doom and close-call escapes.  Unlike the first book, though, there is no great battle in which Aslan himself defeats the evil.  Instead, it is through the unity of the four that gathers their combined strength, as well as the sacrifice of one, that enables them to overcome the evil enchantress.

 Like the previous five Narnias, The Silver Chair is a Christian Allegory, and second only to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in references.  From the four signs Jill is given, to meeting the beautiful Lady of the Green Kirtle with the lilting voice and musical laughter, to the piercing of Aslan’s paw that resurrects and rejuvenates King Caspian, the reader is shown the nature of a called life with a purpose given by the Omniscient, Omnipresent Ruler of all.

 The Silver Chair is by far my favorite Narnian tale.  It is perhaps the best written of the six I’ve read so far, and is the most exciting and inspiring of all thus far.  I love the Owls in this book, and find Lewis’s conversational voice given to them to be a delight that begs to be read aloud.

 

“Now,” said Glimfeather, “I think we’re all here.  Let us hold a parliament of owls.”

“Tu-whoo, tu-whoo.  True for you.  That’s the right thing to do,” said several voices.

“Half a moment,” said Scrubb’s voice.  “There’s something I want to say first.”

“Do, do do,” said the owls…

“… I’m the King’s man; and if this parliament of owls is any sort of plot against the King, I’m having nothing to do with it.”

“Tu-whoo, tu-whoo, we’re all the King’s owls too,” said the owls.

 

-The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, page 573

  And Puddleglum, part Marvin the Robot, part Eeyore, is a wonderful comic relief (and given the tension in this thrilling adventure, an exceptional one is needed), and is now one of my favorite literary characters.

 

“Why the dickens couldn’t you have held her feet?” said Eustace.

“I don’t know, Scrubb,” groaned Puddleglum.  “Born to be a misfit, I shouldn’t wonder.  Fated.  Fated to be Pole’s death, just as I was fated to eat Talking Stag at Harfang.  Not that it isn’t my own fault as well, of course.”

“This is the greatest shame and sorrow that could have fallen on us,” said the Prince.  “We have sent a brave lady into the hands of enemies and stayed behind in safety.”

“Don’t paint it too black, Sir,” said Puddleglum.  “We’re not very safe except for death by starvation in this hole.”

 

-The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, page 650

 

Puddleglum is that sort of character whom we all know in our own lives:  The one who always thinks of, and points out, the worst of all possibilities.  He is a Marsh-wiggle, a people described as considering every terrible thing that could possible happen, then putting on a brave face in preparation of meeting it.  Those people who seem to almost enjoy spreading the doubt, fear, and negativity, and who “cry wolf” so often that when real danger comes along, they are ignored and their warnings blown off. 

 However, Puddleglum has as much courage and cheek as caution, and without him the quest would have failed time and again.  As Jill describes him, “Puddleglum!  You’re a regular old humbug.  You sound as doleful as a funeral and I believe you’re perfectly happy.  And you talk as if you were afraid of everything, when you’re really as brave as -as a lion.”

 For it’s thrilling drama, fraught with dangers and a wonderful cast of characters, and for the fantastically descriptive writing by Lewis, I give The Silver Chair 5 out of 5 stars, and highly recommend it as the best of the Narnias.

hated it!didn't like itit was okayliked itLoved it!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 494 other followers