Monday, January 28, 2013

60. Castle Rackrent

Castle Rackrent
Maria Edgeworth
1800
Around 120 pages












Kicking off the 1800s with another short novel that I was able to read in one sitting.  This is one of those books that is so short that you almost feel like you don't have to form an opinion of because it is over so quickly.  But woe is me, because this is a review blog and I must rate it.

This novel is a history of the Castle Rackrent and its various owners, told by the castle's steward, Thady Quirk.  I call using that name as my alias!  Anyway, it is often considered the first historical novel, the first regional novel, the first novel to use an unreliable narrator, and the first Anglo-Irish novel. So obviously this novel is quite influential.  Is it enjoyable, though?

Not really.  Because the novel is so short, we are given very flat, shallow characters.  There is also a great deal of anti Semitism, with the Jewish woman in the novel being obsessed with her jewels.

So overall rather dull but thankfully short.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

The first novel of Maria Edgeworth and one of the few that her father did not edit.

Considered to be the first saga novel.

Edgeworth is often compared to Sir Walter Scott (she served the political interests of Ireland while he served the interests of Scotland).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

1700s…um…Pulitzers?

At the end of every decade in my movie blog, I have a reward post where I comment on the best and the worst of the decade.  I don't do it with my album blog because there would be around 250 albums for every ten years and that would just be ridiculous.  I have never done it on this blog because sometimes there is only three books in a decade and that would be equally ridiculous, for the opposite reason.  But I think we have a healthy amount at the end of this century, which has been absolutely incredible.  I know a lot of people who have probably never read about in the 18th century.  While working on this section of the book, I have found the best, worst, funniest, longest, shortest, richest, shittiest books I have ever read.  I want other people to have this experience and I hope my blog may inspire you to go farther back in time with your novels that you might have otherwise.  Now, without further ado these are the prizes I came up with.  Feel free to comment and if you want another category, I will add it.

BEST NOVEL OF THE CENTURY: Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
NOMINEES:
Cecelia by Fanny Burney
The Sorrows of a Young Werther by Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe
Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choederlios de Laclos
Camilla by Fanny Burney
Amelia by Henry Fielding
Julie by Jean Jacques Rousseau

BEST AUTHOR: Fanny Burney
Nominees:
Henry Fielding
Jean Jacques Rousseau
Voltaire
Denis Diderot

WORST NOVEL: 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade
Nominees:
The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle by Tobias Smollett
Justine by Marquis de Sade
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Adventures of Roderick Random by Tobias Smollett
The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker by Tobias Smollett




59. Hyperion

Hyperion
Friedrich Holderlin
1799
Around 250 pages












And with this novel, we are officially done with the 1700s!  Hurray!

So I have to admit, it took me quite awhile to understand what was going on in this novel.  By quite a while, I mean until Volume II.  Now, before you think I am a complete idiot, it is written in a style that is probably unlike anything you have ever read.  Holderlin was a poet, this was only novel.  However, this novel is really toeing the line of what prose is.  I felt like I was reading Metamorphoses again.  Gives me chills just to think about it!

Anyway, I finally gathered that this is the story of Hyperion who falls in love with Diotima but has to go to war to fight for Greek independence.  The novel is written in epistolary form but my translator seems unwilling or unable to say where letters ended and whom they were written to.  So that added to the fun.

Overall, this was not a great send off for the 1700s.  It was confusing, melodramatic, and just disappointing.

RATING: **---

Interesting Facts:

Holderlin is known as one of the greatest German literary figures of all time.



Thursday, January 17, 2013

58. The Nun

The Nun
Denis Diderot
1796
Around 190 pages













I, for one, am shocked that I am getting out two book blog posts in one week.  This is pretty much due to the fact that I am really sick and cannot motivate myself to get out of my bed.  However, I am choosing to focus on my reading efficiency and not my laziness.

First off, I want to remind everyone of the countdown.  One more book after this and we are done with the 1700s!!!  Of course, I love this era but I love the 1800s just a bit more.  I mean, Shelley, Austen, Doyle, and the Bronte sisters!  Talk about a party!

Sigh.  I need to get more friends.

But that is a topic for another time.  This novel centers on Suzanne, an illegitimate child who is condemned to become a nun.  In this way, the mother can "atone" the sin of having Suzanne in the first place.  However, Suzanne does not want to become a nun and is pretty much tortured by all the other nuns for saying so.  Oh yes, and there is a lesbian subplot.

I really enjoyed this book.  In old novels, you always read about women joining convents after something traumatic happens but you never actually read about what happens in the convents.  Not that I am saying in most convents women put glass in your clothes and lay down hot metal objects that you will step on in the dark.  I am just saying that it is interesting to hear a story take place in that setting.  Actually, come to think of it, I have never been to a convent so for all I know that is a standard practice.

Of course, the main female character is a bit annoying.  She often laments about being so beautiful and refuses to say anything bad about the nuns that torture her. Still, it is worth a read; it is not that long and the plot moves along nicely.  Farewell, Diderot; we had a good time.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

The novel is written in epistolary form with Suzanne begging a Marquis to help her.  Diderot never meant for this to become a book; he just sent the letters to the Marquis de Croismare as a prank.  He later adjusted the letters to a novel format.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

57. Jacques Le Fataliste

Jacques Le Fatalist
Jacques The Fatalist
1796
Denis Diderot
Around 250 pages










So if any of my readers thought we were done with the Enlightenment thinkers, I was right there with you.  I suppose Diderot is getting his last word before we end the eighteen century.  He will be a nice way to send off the 1700s (only two more books people!) since he is a great representation of this amazing era.

This novel is a weird one.  I actually hesitate to even call it a novel.  The book centers on Jacques (who believes that everything that happens is "written on the high" so his actions don't have a lot of consequence; hence, fatalist) and his Master as they travel to a vague location.  Jacques is trying to tell his Master about his love life but is constantly interrupted by his Master, secondary characters, the author, and the reader.  The reason I hesitate to call it a novel is because Diderot seems to spoof all novels with this book.  Now, think about that for a second, because I, personally, have never seen anything like it.  I have read a lot of books that are spoofs of certain genres, but not spoofs of the novel itself.  So, for example, Jacques will be riding his horse and the author will say that Jacques found a dead body.  Then the author will say, that he supposed that is what we would want to hear because we adore scandal.  In actuality, Jacques did not stumble on a dead body and continued on his way.  In this way, it is one of the most realistic books I have ever read.

In addition to the interesting format, we also get some great anecdotes from all the different characters.  These stories are mostly about sex. Sex in this novel isn't something used for shock value or disgust (here's looking at you, de Sade) but rather as a natural thing that everybody does.

So overall, this was a really great read.  Diderot made me feel like I was sitting with the innkeeper, drinking a glass of wine, and exchanging stories with Jacques.  Nowadays, the stories guys usually tell me start with "So me and my friend were completely wrecked…"

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Some of Jacques' love stories are taken directly from Tristam Shandy, which Diderot was quite honest about in the novel.  Team Diderot all the way, I hate Sterne.

One of Johan Wolfgang von Goethe's favorites.

Considered to be in the same vein as Cervantes, Sterne, and Rabelais, but more bawdy.  How can anyone be more bawdy than Rabelais?!?