Wednesday, December 12, 2012

56. Camilla

Fanny Burney
Around 1000 pages

I have been reading this novel since Thanksgiving, which is pretty embarrassing for me since I consider myself a very fast reader.   I only just finished today and I have to say, it is an enormous relief.  I AM FREE!!

Okay, that makes it seem like I hated the novel.  I actually enjoyed it.  It reminded me heavily of Pride and Prejudice, which is one of my favorite books.  However, if Pride and Prejudice was 1000 pages, I would have gotten sick of it by the end as well.

The story follows Camilla, who is a heroine with attributes that we are all really familiar with by now.  Beautiful, kind, intelligent, and ladylike. So ladylike, in fact, that she is weeping, screaming, or fainting throughout the entire novel.  I would no doubt have punched her in the throat if I was there.  But that is neither here nor there.  Anyway, the novel is mostly about her romance with Edgar Mandlebert, and the various misunderstandings between them.

However, when I talk about this novel Camilla and Edgar are probably the most boring characters in the novel.  Indiana Lynmere, Camilla's cousin, is much more interesting.  She is gorgeous but boring looking (I personally pictured January Jones when here character was described).  She also a vain bitch and reading about her schemes was my favorite part of the novel.  I also loved hearing about Camilla's brother, Lionel, who was a horrible douchebag.  Bad characters are so much more interesting than the good ones.

Although, I did love hearing about Eugenia, Camilla's sister.  Eugenia was horribly deformed owing to smallpox and a seesaw accident. She has to deal with worse problems than Camilla, such as dealing with suitors who are only after her fortune and the jealousy of Indiana, but bears it with a lot more fortitude.  It was very refreshing to have a heroine who wasn't drop dead gorgeous.

When I look back at this novel, I love it.  However, it was extremely hard to get through.  I wouldn't have missed about 300 pages of this novel.  Still, it is Burney and therefore excellent.  I am sad that this is the last Fanny Burney book but also ready to move on with my life!

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Fanny Burney originally named Camilla Ariella.

Referenced in Belinda and Northanger Abbey.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

55. The Monk

The Monk
M.G. Lewis
Around 450 pages

This is another one that I slowly made my way through.  At the beginning, I was highly interested.  Sure, it started almost immediately with the cliche of a woman with a "figure to rival Aphrodite" and a "snowy breast" but hey, we are still in the 1700s here people.  Then, at around 40 pages in Antonia, the main female protagonist, decides to hold her tongue.  Lewis then proceeds to say "As this is the only instance known of a Woman's ever having done so, it was judged worthy to be recorded here."  Asshole.

Still, you kind of have to be immune to sexism if you want to read old books (unless you are reading anything from my boy Billy Shakes!).  So, I continued trucking through.

This novel is about a monk who slowly becomes evil and corrupted (i.e. killing and raping family members).  In fact, this novel really doesn't get interesting until he decides to act on these impulses and then it is just really disturbing.

I simply didn't like it.  First of all, the characters made absolutely no sense to me.  In one scene, a gypsy comes up to Antonia and tells her she is going to die.  Then, Lewis says less than twenty minutes later Antonia forgot about the episode as if it never occurred. Okay, even if you don't believe in psychics, no one just forgets that someone says they are going to die soon.  Also, I am pretty sure we were supposed to sympathize with Ambrosio, the monk, when really he is just a monster and you can't really sympathize with any of his decisions.  If I gave an example I would be spoiling the plot, so I will hold my tongue on that point (second time in history where a woman has done so).

I picked this book to read as my Halloween book but it is not scary in the least, it is just annoying and boring.  Skip it.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

If you read the Wikipedia article, there is a whole section on the anti feminist qualities of the novel.  Click here.

Heavily influenced The Hunchback of Notre Dame because this is the first time a monk was portrayed as evil.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

54. Wilhelm Meister Lehrjahre

Wilhelm Meister Lehrjahre
Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship
Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe
Around 600 pages

For the first time in my life, I haven't felt like reading lately.  I have no idea why.  I don't think this book deserves all the blame, but it certainly deserves some of it.

We really haven't gotten a lot of German literature but I absolutely loved Sorrows of a Young Werther, mostly because it was unapologetically depressing.  I can be weird like that.  But this book, written by the same author, began on a slightly nauseating note.  The main character, Wilhelm, is in love with an actress and so visits her after her performance so they can play with a bunch of puppets he brought.  Their love and her beauty was just described in such a sentimental way that it made me put the book down for over a week.  This probably has more to do with the fact that I am single and couples make me want to puke, but for now, I will blame it on the style.

The novel goes on to describe the lessons Wilhelm learns and his fascination with Shakespeare (whose plays got translated into German in this time period).  It just felt so cheesy.  I don't think this would bother me as much if I hadn't been expecting something better from Goethe.  Usually, around this time of year I am reading gory horror novels. Sigh.

You disappointed me Goethe.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Pronounced Yo-han von Volfgang Gerte.  I pronounced it incorrectly several times to different people, including an English professor.

One of the first bildungsroman books.  WHAT???  It means coming of age literature.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

53. The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Mysteries of Udolpho
Ann Radcliffe
Around 700 pages

I am not sure why the "female imprisoned by tyrannical rapist while nobody does anything" is such a popular genre.  However, this is actually quite a good novel and hey, without it, we wouldn't have Northanger Abbey.

Emily St. Aubert becomes an orphan and is forced to live with her aunt and her scheming uncle.  Although Emily is in love with Valancourt, her uncle attempts to bully her to marrying a rich count.  Will she be able to find a man to save her and most importantly, will he be hot?

It's a little hard to take this novel, just like it was with Pamela and Clarissa.  Of course, I wish that Emily was strong, less melodramatic, and tougher.  But that doesn't stop this book from being damn entertaining, if a little too long.  At least, we finally get a female author!

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Heavily referenced in Northanger Abbey.

UP NEXT: Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Monday, September 17, 2012

52. An Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano

An Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano
Around 260 pages

So right now I am sitting in bed because I woke up with a really bad cold.  I have Good Morning Vietnam playing in the background so hopefully Robin Williams does not make my illness worse, which he has the potential of doing.  However, I did get to finish this novel this morning and have worked up the energy to write this review.  The sacrifices I make for my readers…

All right, so the list has the tendency of representing lots of educated white English men.  This is really not their fault since most minorities didn't have the opportunity to write romance novels…they were too busy being oppressed and stuff (my sickness rears its ugly head).  So it came as a great shock when I saw that the next book was written by a former slave who not only was educated enough to write but actually was wealthy but he married a white woman in England!  Kind of shows how much cooler England is than America; that wasn't socially acceptable until around two hundred years later in the USA.

But I digress.  Anyway, Olaudah Equiano wrote this autobiography about his life, starting from when he was captured as a slave in Africa (in modern day Nigeria) and all the way up to when he was able to buy his freedom.  This is an incredibly, inspirational story.  This is kind of embarrassing but I had never heard of him before.  Why don't schools mention this????

Anyway, the novel lives up to its title.  Absolutely revolutionary and essential reading.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

There is kind of annoying parts about how he gave up heathenism and became a good Christian.  Um, pretty sure the guys who captured you were all Christians but whatever.

Slave trade was abolished in England ten years after his death.

There is a debate to whether or not he was actually born in South Carolina and embellished his African roots to help his movement.

Friday, September 7, 2012

51. The Adventures of Caleb Williams

The Adventures of Caleb Williams
Things As They Are
William Godwin
Around 450 pages

I had to take a break from doing these in order after the train wreck that was Justine.  To become well again, I read The Bell Jar and A Farewell To Arms.  Both were excellent.  Now I am back with Caleb Williams which was merely mediocre.

Let me start by saying this was a really good idea for a novel.  The premise is that Caleb Williams begins working for a man named Falkland and soon realized that he is a murderer.  We get some interesting background into Falkland's history and then proceed with the present.  Falkland finds out that Caleb knows and vows to make his life a living hell.  Which he promptly does.

So far so good.  Actually, it kinds of sounds like an action movie.  Caleb is framed, forced to clear his name, and get revenge on his persecutor.  Unfortunately, it doesn't play out like that at all.  First off, Caleb is a really whiny character.  In fact, the first line of the novel goes something like this: "my life has been a theater of calamities."  Now, of course, if what happened to him happened to me, I would be whining too.  Still, it is not fun to have a hero just sit around moping.  In fact, that is really what he does the entire book.  I will adhere to my promise that I do not spoil but let me just say that once you read the ending, you feel really gypped.  I mean, I expected major ass kicking.  He even says that he exists as a "guardian of my honor".  Well, you suck as a guard, Caleb.

There.  Now that I have bagged on this enough, let's get to the good parts. Godwin does manage to slip in some biting social commentary, especially on the legal system.  He also manages to slip in some Jew slurs. Damn, I am saying the bad things again.  What else was good about this?  Let's see...

All right, I got nothing else.  Good idea, poor follow through.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Godwin chose to publish this novel the same day that the Prime Minister suspended habeas corpus.

Most critics at the time thought he was praising anarchy and attacking the social order.

Monday, August 27, 2012

50. Justine

Marquis de Sade
Around 200 pages

So my wild dream of finishing the 1700s books before September came crashing down in flames when I realized that that meant working my way through another Marquis de Sade book.  By including books by him on the list, the list makers are actually encouraging me to not read since I never wanted to pick up this novel.

What is there to say about this?  More rape, more torture, more atrocities described in the name of realism.  Even if you are into this kind of subject material, after reading about the twentieth rape in a row, you will get bored.

I hate the idea that this sick, sick man will be praised by English professors and literary critics for years to come.  He is disgusting, vile, and cruel and I would prefer to dance on his grave rather than read any other sadistic tales.

RATING: -----

Interesting Facts:

A kind of spoof on Pamela but Henry Fielding so had that covered.

Napoleon ordered the arrest of the Marquis who was in jail for the rest of his life.  Napoleon called it "the most abominable book ever engendered by the most depraved imagination.''

Book's destruction was ordered on 1815.

50!!! Woo hoo!

Friday, August 17, 2012

49. Vathek

William Beckford
Around 170 pages

I am on a real roll here; we only have about ten more books until we are finished with the 1700s.  My goal is to finish them before August.  Is that ridiculously unachievable?  Maybe, but then again, so is this list.

All right, so after reading the most horrifying book in literature, I picked up this novel, eager for relief.  However, this book is one of those novels that is really hard to have an opinion of.  It is not especially bad or good.  It is also not really entertaining but not completely boring.  I think we have all read books like this; the ones you will forget about in a month.  Unless of course, you write a post that doesn't have a point at all and can look back at in a month and remember.

This novel follows the fall from power of Vathek who is obsessed with sex and has a terrible temper.  It is very similar to an Arabian Nights tale, which I reviewed many moons ago.  Utterly forgettable.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Capitalized on the success of the translation of A Thousand And One Nights in Europe at the time.

One of the first gothic novels.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

48. 120 Days of Sodom

120 Days of Sodom
Marquis de Sade
Around 600 pages

All right, I am still figuring out this new computer and for some reason it is not letting me put any images up.  Perhaps it is self defense on the computer's part, for every picture concerning this novel is revolting.

Oh god.  What is there to even say?  That was the worst book I have ever read in my life.  It was disgusting and disturbing.  Let me give you a little history here.  This "novel" was written by a rapist in prison.  He has such perverse ideas that they coined a word after him.  Sadism.  Isn't that something?

People that like this book will say that people who don't like it just don't want to face the truth.  Just because I don't see the world like a sex offender does doesn't mean I am oblivious.  It means I am sane. Maybe he wrote this book to just shock people.  Well, newsflash: it does not take that much skill to do that.  In fact, right now I am wearing a hat, pajamas, and rain boots (I am doing some closet cleaning and was inspired).  If I went out in public like this, certainly I would surprise people.  Does that mean I am a genius?  Not hardly.

I realized I have not given you any idea of the plot.  Some crazy people capture a bunch of people to be their sex slaves.  You are then introduced to every weird fetish people have.  So?  I am not interested about what some twisted madman does in the bedroom.  I have no idea why this was on the list.  The ultimate gross out.

RATING: -----

Interesting Facts:

Part of the book is written in draft form since he never had the chance to finish it.  At least it goes by faster once you hit that part.

Written in the Bastille.  When the Bastille was stormed during the French Revolution, the Marquis believed his work was lost forever.  If only.

God, the movie adaptation of this book is on my movie list.  It never ends.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

47. Cecilia

Fanny Burney
Around 1000 pages

Yay!  Another Fanny Burney!  I have recommended her to several people now.  Some people have just ignored me while others tried her and didn't like her.  However, I am still going to do my best with this review to get you to at least give her a shot.

This novel is actually strikingly similar to Pride and Prejudice; in fact, Jane Austen took that phrase from this novel.  In this book, Cecilia is a charming young heiress with one problem: a clause in her inheritance states that if she were to marry, her husband must take her surname.  I actually imagine that that clause would be a big problem for male egos now, so I can only imagine how huge it would seem during the 1780s.  Anyway, naturally she falls in love with a man who has a lot of family pride.  Will they be able to get over their pride and prejudice (see what I did there?)?

This is a notable book for several reasons.  As in all Fanny Burney books, the secondary characters provide hilarious comic relief during the story.  I tried to explain one of the more amusing scenarios when I was out to dinner and failed so miserably that it is a wonder my face still isn't red.  Anyway, the pacing is perfect.  I guess I should specify that if you don't like Jane Austen you won't like this novel since they are so similar.  Still, I believe everyone can enjoy this book, it is a beautiful combination of humor and social critique.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Jane Austen refers to this novel in Northanger Abbey.

Referenced in Vanity Fair.

Burney was under considerable stress while writing this novel due to her determination to follow up on her success from Evelina.

46. Confessions

Jean Jacques Rousseau
Around 480 pages

Well, this is, at last, the end of Rousseau.  I cannot honestly say I am sad to see him go, though he did have some great insight.  This last work was an autobiography.  I usually avoid autobiographies like the plague.  I really don't care about a famous person's childhood.  Just show me what you did to be remarkable and then kindly shut up.  However, because of this list, we are forced to journey all the way back to the day Rousseau was born.

In my opinion, this book is only motivated by guilt.  He felt like he had to confess random things he did that he always regretted, including framing a servant for a ribbon he himself sold.  Well, I hope this helped alleviate his guilt.  However, I really don't give a damn.  I expected to at least be introduced to some new philosophical ideas he might have had.  But I was disappointed.  He simply talked and talked about his apprenticeship, his female amours, and his regrets.  In truth, I felt trapped and alarmed, like you would if someone you didn't know that well burst into tears and it was up to you to comfort them.  A tedious task, and one that should be avoided.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

You can actually see how hypocritical he is from this book; though he claims he would be the perfect father in Emile, he abandoned five of his children to an orphanage.

Frequently inaccurate (wrong dates, different order of events, etc.).

One of the first autobiographies to be about feelings and events; most were about people's religious experiences.

The quote "let them eat cake" was found in this book, though it is frequently attributed to Marie Antoinette.

45. Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Dangerous Liaisons
Choderlos de Laclos
Around 250 pages

I imagine quite a few people will be relieved that I have finished this book.  I have been endlessly bothering people about it, including my friends, family, boss, and coworkers (no one is safe).  This is owing to the fact that this is one of the most intriguing books I read; it is scandalous, informative, sexy, wicked, and entertaining.

I am sure most people are more familiar with the movie adaptations than the book.  I myself have not seen the movie yet so I will still give a brief synopsis.  This epistolary novel centers on two clever cowards who scorn people who are in love.  Marquise de Merteuil and Viscount de Valmont are actually in love with each other, but as they are too afraid to admit they spend their time making other people's lives hell.  Marquise de Merteuil's ex lover is getting married to the innocent Cecile.  In order to get her revenge on him, she arranges for Valmont to seduce Cecile.  Valmont, however, is more interested in seducing the virtuous Presidente de Tourvel.  Oh, and Cecile falls in love with her music teacher, Chevalier Danceny.  Confused yet?

On a superficial level, it would seem that this book is good with a bubble bath and some champagne. While it can in fact be enjoyed that way, this novel also works on a deeper level.  First of all, Merteuil may just be one of the cleverest, wickedest villains in all of literature.  She seems to control everyone around her, mainly using sex as her weapon.  This makes her fascinating to watch.  This book also has some great insight on love; indeed, it is much more honest than some of the other romantic novels on the list.  For instance, Laclos states that women confuse love and the lover (something that I myself am guilty of).  Finally, the fact that it can still be risque today is amazing.  Laclos accomplishes this by being suggestive which enables you to let your imagination run wild and with this book, it will run in dirty places.

The perfect combination of soap opera and literature.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

One of Marie Antoinette's favorite novels.

The characters of Valmont and Merteuil are often considered the first characters in literature to have acted solely on ideology.

Considered the source of the expression "revenge is a dish best served cold."


Thursday, June 28, 2012

44. Reveries of a Solitary Walker

Reveries of a Solitary Walker
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Around 110 pages

I feel like I always start my posts by apologizing for how long it has been since my last one and this post will be no exception.  This took forever to get to my house but only took me about an hour to read.  I have, however, been reading a lot of books from the 1700s (Mysteries of Udolpho, Cecelia, Confessions, etc.) so I will have posts more regularly.  I also started Ulysses.  If reading Joyce's prose isn't hell, I don't know what is.

As far as authors in the list goes, we have really been with Rousseau from the beginning.  He was pretty much a celebrity when Julie came out, had his book burned when Emile came out, and now is in exile.  I have already started to read his last book, Confessions, which is a very long autobiography.  This novel is so strikingly similar that I really see no reason to have both on the list.  Curse the list makers!

Anyway, this novel is about 100 pages of whining about society.  However, Rousseau happens to be a phenomenal writer so even his whining sounds beautiful.  It reminded me of the album John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band.  Incredibly whiny but you love the whiner so much that you suffer through it.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:


Mix of anecdotes and descriptions.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

43. Evelina

Fanny Burney
Around 450 pages

I just returned from a really fun girls trip to Denver.  Up until then, I had been reading Shakespearean plays and Mr. Vertigo, but on the flight there I was completely absorbed in Evelina, and did not stop until I finished.  I was so entranced with the writing, that I immediately got Cecelia, which is the next Fanny Burney on the list and am reading it right now.

At first, I was apprehensive about the novel because of the preface.  The writing style seemed very stiff, like every word was carefully thought about before it was written down.  However, as soon as the narrative starts, you are immediately immersed in the minds of the characters.  This book is written in epistolary form which gives incredible insight into the character of Evelina.  Evelina is a young country belle who comes to London to experience high society.  In the midst of hilariously embarrassing scenarios and amusing characters, she meets Lord Orville, who she has a schoolgirl crush on, and Sir Clement, who is a ridiculous and over the top admirer of Evelina.

So far in the list, the novels by women have not impressed me.  I felt like the list makers had put in certain novels merely because they were written by women even when they were really crappy.  However, this book actually had a remarkable writing style and insight into the high society of the time.  Actually, I felt like I had picked up another Jane Austen novel.  There were so many similarities in fact, that I felt bad for Fanny who never seems to get the acclaim Jane Austen does.  One of my favorites so far.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Early example of romanticism.

Heavy influence of Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth.

Acclaimed by Samuel Johnson.

First published anonymously but it was revealed in a poem that Fanny Burney was the author.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

42. The Sorrows of Young Werther

The Sorrows of Young Werther
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Around 140 pages

Today I finished two magnificent works.  One was Main Street and the other was this little treasure.  This one took me approximately an hour and I was sad that it was so short.  Of course, I have to read hundreds of pages about some idiot named Tristram Shandy but this poetic novella is only around 140 pages.  How is that fair?

This book is about a character named Werther who falls deeply in love with a girl named Charlotte.  Alas, she is engaged to another.  I do not think there are enough stories about unrequited love.  Movies and books always want to throw you a bone by having some happy ending for the crusher.  However, that is not how real life is (at least for me).  The whole experience of rejection is hugely emotionally and makes for a really interesting subject matter.

In any case, this novel is incredibly well written.  I had to keep making my sister listen to certain passages.  This book is definitely worth an hour.  Worth quite a lot more actually.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Goethe became one of the first internationally known literary celebrities for this book.

One of Napoleon's favorite books.

Goethe resented the success that this book had as opposed to his others.  He denounced the Romantic movement that was influenced by this novel.

Started Werther-fever which led to a lot of freaky paraphernalia, I would imagine.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

41. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker

The Expedition of Humphry Clinker
Tobias George Smollett
Around 400 pages

I delayed reading this novel because a large portion of it deals with London and I was still dealing with post-London blues.  In between I read Franny and Zooey, Sister Carrie, and The Interview With a Vampire.  All pretty good and all better than Humphry Clinker.

All right, so it is no secret that I am not a Tobias fan.  At the risk of being repetitive, he is simply not a funny writer and he tries desperately to be like his contemporaries and just fails.  This is supposedly considered his funniest work but I really did not get that.  This book is centered around Humphry who is not really liked by anyone (particularly me).  It is an epistolary novel written from the point of view of six other flat characters.

At least we are finally done with Smollett.  May he rest in peace with his weirdly named characters.

RATING: *----

Interesting Facts:

Last picaresque novel of Tobias George Smollett.

His travels served as his inspiration.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Happy Birthday To Me!

Hello readers!

All right, so I could have sworn that this blog's first birthday was on May 17 but I just checked and it was May 4!  So happy belated birthday, blog!

I cannot believe it has been a year since I started this (actually a little more than a year because I started the list beforehand).  I felt like I should celebrate.  Then I realized, that is exactly what this blog is.  A celebration. It is a celebration of art, history, literature, people, and adventure.  I hope you guys have enjoyed this journey as much as I have.


Monday, April 23, 2012

40. The Man of Feeling

The Man of Feeling
Henry Mackenzie

All right, so evidently, I am missing something here.  This "novel" is missing huge chunks of text on purpose so there is no smooth narrative action and everyone is okay with this????  I mean, what the hell even happened? What was the plot of this thing???

So apparently, this book is about Harley experiencing some stuff that was pretty boring.  It was really short and I didn't retain a lot of it.  Did anyone actually read this?  Skip it if you haven't.  If you had, I humbly request that you tell me what the hell that was about.

RATING: -----

Interesting Facts:

Inspired future Sentimental novels.

Reached its sixth edition in 1791.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

39. A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy

A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy
Laurence Sterne
Around 200 pages

Look at how impressive I am, doing two posts in two days.  I read this entire book today; it is a very fast read.  I actually had the most pleasant Sunday imaginable despite having to read Laurence Sterne.

So the benefit of this book as opposed to Tristram Shandy is that it is only around two hundred pages.  Besides that, this novel is pretty much Tristram Shandy Part II; even some of the characters were from his previous book.  This novel follows Yorick as through France and Italy.  Along the way, he meets truly forgettable characters that will not move you a bit!

Laurence Sterne died before he was fully finished with this book, so it looks like we will not see anymore of him.  Which is a tragic piece of news.  If I didn't think that, I would be a horrible person, right?

RATING: *----

Interesting Facts:

Sterne met Smollett in his travels and hated him.  To me, they seem like birds of a feather.

Helped establish travel writing as a genre.

Don't believe me about how boring this book is?  Check out a bit of the audio of the novel:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

38. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Laurence Sterne
Around 725 pages

Ugh.  I have been reading the most boring books lately. I read this book on my iPad and I am currently reading On The Road, which is just awful.  If anyone has any book suggestions for me for a break, I would love to hear them!

Anyway, onto Laurence Sterne, who apparently considered himself the successor of Rabelais (zoinks!).  This novel really doesn't tell the life of Tristram Shandy.  Rather, he starts by talking about before he was born and then shares a few adventures from his adulthood.  At least, I think that is what happened.  I was pretty much bored the entire time.  Rabelais is simply not funny if you have any class (or maybe he is only humorous if you have a penis; I have never met a guy that I could ask "hey, do you think Rabelais is funny?") and anyone trying to imitate him is just going to be worse.

This is my first experience with Laurence Sterne and I have to say, I was not impressed.  There was one good line in the novel: "I reckon it as one of the greatest calamities which ever befell the republic of letters."  Unfortunately, for Sterne, I think this quote describes his own work perfectly.

RATING: *----

Interesting Facts:

Looks like the readers of this blog really enjoy Voltaire.  Thanks for voting, people!:)

Sterne copied a lot of his passages from other people's works but no one seems to care too much because he did it with style.  Um, okay...

Adapted into a graphic novel and an opera.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

37. The Vicar of Wakefield

The Vicar of Wakefield
Oliver Goldsmith
Published in 1766
Around 260 pages
Well, that was a very unique kind of boring.  The whole novel consists of good people doing good things and making other people become good and do good things.  As you can imagine, this became frightfully boring after...oh, let's say the tenth page.

The story centers on Dr. Primrose and his loving family.  A series of misfortunes occur which include fires, ruffians, misunderstandings, prison, poverty, and unfulfilled love.  The characters maintain their goodness throughout.  There was one evil guy but for the purpose, of being spoiler free, I will not comment on him.  Anyway, the characters possessed the kind of preachy virtues that are just plain annoying.  For instance, Dr. Primrose is sent to prison so he spends all his time lecturing the prisoners with sermons.  Of course, the prisoners are attentive after awhile and become pious.  Seriously?

Characters that have no faults are not only terribly dry but also awfully unrealistic.  Skip it.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Goldsmith was a good friend of Samuel Johnson's and sent him a message in great distress.  Johnson came quickly and found out that Goldsmith was being kicked out of his apartment for not paying rent.  Johnson took Goldsmith's unpublished novel, The Vicar of Wakefield, and sold it to a publisher then used the sixty pounds to pay his friend's rent.

Referenced in Frankenstein, Emma, David Copperfield, The Tale of Two Cities, Little Women, and Middlemarch.  Woah.

Believe me, you do not want to see the videos on YouTube for this unless you want to venture into the realms of the weird.

Monday, March 12, 2012

36. The Castle of Otranto

The Castle of Otranto
Horace Walpole
Around 300 pages

Hello fellow bibliophiles!  I just got back from a weekend getaway to Philadelphia to see the Philadelphia Flower Show.  It was simply beautiful.  Look, I will prove it:
Was I right or was I right?  Anyway, from being in a hotel and on a plane I got to read a lot.  I not only finished this book but I also read Hard Times (ugh) and started the next book on this blog, The Vicar of Wakefield.

Now to my review.  This book is considered the first Gothic novel of all time.  The story starts with the wedding of Isabella and Prince Conrad.  Conrad does not show up because he is busy being killed by a magic helmet (as you can imagine I had a bit of trouble picturing this scene).  Manfred, Conrad's father, then tactfully chooses to try to rape Isabella.  Will she be saved by the handsome knight, Theodore?  Will the secondary characters that I have not mentioned have a role in the story?  Will Manfred succeed in his wicked designs?  Read the book to find out, ladies and gentlemen!
This novel was a really quick read.  It actually felt a bit trashy to be honest.  I enjoyed reading it but I did not take anything away from it nor will I remember it in a couple of months.  It was a nice junky book to read to take a break from Dickens and the Enlightenment.  Read it if you want something light, not profound.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Walpole was so afraid of the novel's potential failure that he used a pen name and pretended that he was merely translating an ancient manuscript.

Influenced by Shakespeare (which is quite obvious if you read the book).

Inspiration of Edgar Allen Poe.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

35. Emile ou de l'Education

Emile, ou de l'Education
Emile, or on Education
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Approximately 500 pages

Well, that was painful.  I guess I had it coming though since I had a really good streak of books lately.  I have been head over heels in love with the Enlightenment thinkers and I also read Jane Eyre and The Elegance of a Hedgehog which are both absolutely incredible and inspiring.  Yeah, I had it coming.

I want to start by saying that I really liked this book at first.  I had raved about Rousseau in earlier posts and the book's premise sounded interesting enough.  This book is just a series of essays written by Rousseau about how he educated his imaginary pupil, Emile, in each stage of his life.  I at one point even entertained delirious thoughts about using this book as a guide for educating my own children if I ever became a mother.  Then everything went to hell.

First of all, this book wasn't written for women.  Rousseau treated the reader like a future father so I felt like an outsider.  I imagine I would have a similar feeling if I ever went to a Superbowl party.  Not really in on the jokes and completely bored.  Also, he kept yelling at me.  Throughout the novel, he called the reader womanly, hardened, and cruel.  Finally, he treated Emile as if he was his life work; I don't think he ever said he loved him.  Rousseau kept bragging about how much of Emile he controlled and how he was in charge of every aspect of Emile's life (even his wife).  What a nightmare of a father-in-law he would be.

Don't even get me started on the last book of the novel, "Sophie."  This is where he talks about how women should be educated. So I knew going into this that it was going to be offensive.  This was written in the 1760s and Rousseau was sexist.  I get it.  But in spite of myself, I got upset.  Insult after insult for about a hundred pages wears people down.

I thought Rousseau and I were buddies; I feel so betrayed.  He is officially out of the running for my favorite Enlightenment thinker; vote on yours at the top of the blog!

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

This novel was publicly burned in 1762 for the way it discussed religion.

One idea that I do agree with is to let your child pick their own religion when they are at "the age of reason" (which Rousseau said could never be reached by women; ha).

Emile was the inspiration of the educational system during the French Revolution.

Rousseau considered this his best work.

I am happy to see some new followers.:)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

34. Le Neveu de Rameau

Le Neveu de Rameau
Rameau's Nephew
Denis Diderot
Most likely written in the 1760s but first published in 1805

I actually just read this novel in the last two hours.  The reason that this post took so long to come up is because of my boundless ego.  You can get this book free on eBooks.  The catch is that it is only available in French (unless you want to pay like $85).  I had one of those "inspired" moments and vowed to challenge myself by trying to comprehend the novel anyway.  Consequently, I did not pick up the novel until today which is when I decided to Google it.  'Lo and behold, the full text is available online anyway.  Isn't that the darnedest thing?

Now that I have dazzled you with my fascinating history, we can get on with the review.  You are still reading right now which is, at least, a good sign.  This novel is about 75 pages (maybe less) and consists of a dialogue between a traditional philosopher and a cynic.  The traditional philosopher believes that virtues outweigh pleasures and that wealth is not that important.  Rameau's (a famous composer) nephew trains his son to value money above all else and never learn music because it does not lead to money.  Diderot, however, makes the nephew seem like the wise one and never makes him seem like a hypocrite.  This was, of course, very controversial for the time because it criticized Parisian nobility.

I have really loved the Enlightenment authors so far and this was no exception.  The entire novel reminded me of the conversations they had in movies like Diner or Reservoir Dogs (although a lot less dirty).  Sometimes, I get in a really philosophical mood and just feeling like musing about everything.  Of course, it is hard to do that without sounding really pretentious.  Let those feelings out with this novel; it is free online!

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Diderot did not publish this in his life time because he had already had some brushes with the law and wanted to avoid anymore jail time.

Click here for complete text.

This is a great video I found on YouTube that will help you get to know P.Didi as well as I do (that is a private joke between me and Diderot).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

33. La Nouvelle Heloise

La Nouvelle Heloise
Julie, or the New Heloise
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
This novel really was a roller coaster ride for me.  I went from hating it, to liking it, to disliking it, and finally to loving it.  I read Moby Dick in between this and my last book and that was not as much as an experience for me, although Moby Dick is infinitely better known.

Let's start with why I initially hated it.  The book started out with the most insecure, insufferable whiners I had ever had the misfortune of reading about.  Saint-Preux was in love with Julie, who he had tutored all through her childhood.  I think it would have been interesting to read about how they fell in love but the novel picks up after they are already sickeningly committed to each other.  Their letters, though filled with romantic language, were actually quite vicious to each other, and I predicted a murder-suicide.  In one chapter, Julie sent Saint-Preux a portrait of herself. She wanted it to be really accurate so he wouldn't fall in love with "charms she did not possess" because then he would be unfaithful.  Maybe she had good reason for being insecure, because Saint Preux later ended up sleeping with a prostitute in a whorehouse.  He says it wasn't his fault because he was drunk and had mistaken water for white wine.  I am sorry, but if you get those two liquids mixed up, you are already pretty wasted.  But I digress...

Anyway, about half way through the novel, the whining stops and a really bittersweet resolution appears.  Of course, to tell you why I like it so much would ruin it for you, so I must stop myself.  After that, Rousseau gets too preoccupied with secondary characters (the cause of my disliking phase).  At the end, though, Rousseau's writing is absolutely phenomenal which is reason enough to read it.  In fact, I had to keep reading out loud his last end note to random people because it was so sweet and thought-provoking.  So check it out, but don't buy a copy off Amazon because their versions suck.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

This novel was so successful that publishers could not print copies fast enough and ended up having to rent out copies, sometimes by the hour.  People loved the book so much that they flooded Rousseau with letters, making him the first "celebrity author".

Voltaire called the novel's success "the infamy of the century".  Jealous, much?