This is a book that juxtaposes many opposites: poor and rich, good and evil, selflessness and selfishness, weakness and strength. The arduous week-long journey that Nell and her grandfather undertake also reflects a journey through life: with all its good and bad sides, experiences, disappointments, surprises and temptations. During the course of the story Nell shows herself to be an angel living on earth, whom everyone loves and in whose heart there is only good. She never falls into temptation like her grandfather or other "older and wiser" characters we encounter.
In stark contrast to her stands Quilp, who seems to feed exclusively on the suffering of others, especially when he initiates that suffering. Both find death towards the end of the book - again in very contrasting circumstances. While the one finds a horrible lonesome end by drowning in a dark foggy night, the other passes contentedly surrounded by people who adore her and who will always remember her and her angelic character. Is Nell a real person, or does she represent kindness, of which we readers should take something to heart?
On our way, we see a lot of early 1800s life in England too: the poignant situation in industrial towns, the poverty in London, city and village life, the wandering entertainment scene, the relationships between societal classes. The numerous characters are very Dickensian - caricaturous, but it's Dickens who's created them and he does that for a reason, so he's forgiven. The one who I wouldn't call typical is Mr, Swiveller, for his character indeed develops from just a lousy young man enjoying life to someone who feels responsible for the faith of others.
Apart from the touching and teaching story, I always admire and love the way Dickens describes some of the simplest things and which makes his books such a joy to read - I wish I had some of his talent :)
Max Havelaar was a VERY important book in shaping and modifying the Dutch colonial policy in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.
The protagonist, Dutch colonial administrator Max Havelaar, tries to battle against a corrupt government system in Java, which was then a Dutch colony. Multatuli’s book made European readers aware of the fact that their wealth was only possible because people on the other side of the world were suffering. It illustrates the hypocrisy of wealthy Dutchmen in the colonies, who rather looked away than act against the exploitation of poor natives by the Indonesian government – because it helped them and their home country The Netherlands become wealthier too, of course.
This is one of those books that really made a change in history. People warned me that it was boring, but I didn’t find it that boring at all. In fact, the chapters by Droogstoppel were super funny, and the chapters taking place in the Indies were so intriguing/fascinating they couldn’t be boring.
"Emma" is said to be Jane Austens best novel. I think I agree. The characters are just perfectly designed, and all of them could play a main role in his or her own story. Emma herself is smart, perfectly good hearted and very cheerful. It is impossible not to like her. There are a couple of very funny characters in this book which made me laugh repeatedly: Mrs Elton in her smuggy stupidity, Mr Elton who is sulky after being rejected by Emma, Mr Woodhouse and his everlasting sorrow of getting sick and the chatty, adorable Miss Bates.
Like in all of Austens novels, the main theme is marriage and finding the right partners for the singles in the upper class society of a small provincial town in England. I love the irony Austen lays in describing the ever polite conversations and visits. The realism of the story (this book could just as well have been a true story) is its main strength.
Even if this story is 200 years old, it's still appealing today just because of that. The search for the right partner just never gets outdated.
"Religion, Society, and Nature! these are the three struggles of man. They constitute at the same time his three needs. In Notre-Dame de Paris the author denounced the first; in Les Misérables he exemplified the second; in this book he indicates the third."
This is taken from the preface to Les Travailleurs de la Mer. Having read Les Misérables and Notre Dame, I really felt like completing a philosophical trilogy upon starting this book.
Short summary: Gilliatt is an outsider in a small village on the island of Guernesey. One day he falls in love with the beautiful Deruchette. Deruchette is Mess Lethierry's cousin, and he loves her above everything, next to his steamship called Durande. On day his captain, Sieur Clubin, intentionally causes the Durande to shipwreck so he can run away with a fortune. Lethierry is devastated. Witnesses assure, however, that the machine of the ship is unhurt and still on the cliffs. Deruchette says that she will marry the man who can bring her father's machine home safely. Gilliatt smells his chance, and sets out for the dangerous cliffs. He works for weeks, starving himself, defying storms and even a kraken, and finally manages to return the machine home. On the very same night, he hears Deruchette declaring her love to another man, and knows he does not want to marry her while she's loving another, but Lethierry tells him she should be his. He selflessly helps her and her lover to marry without her uncle's knowledge and they run away to England. Gilliatt returns to the ocean and drowns himself.
The last sentence of this German translation was gorgeous: I looked up the English and French version, but they weren't nearly as striking. When both the ship with the newly-weds and Gilliatts head are out of sight, the last sentence says: Und nichts war mehr, als das Meer. I LOVE that.
Although the translation from 1866 (the same year Hugo published his book) is well done, this edition is very poorly edited, there are lots of interpunction failures and spelling mistakes. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book a lot. Not as much as the 'first two' in this 'trilogy', but still Hugo's brilliant voice and his view on the world shimmered through clearly. I could smell the salty winds, I could feel the sand on my skin, just like Gilliatt's willpower and desperation.
Jane Austen wrote this when she was only 18 years old. One may wonder how she knew of the cunning manners of some women, but after all, Jane was an avid reader herself.
Lady Susan is the only immoral main character in Austen's books, in return, she's extremely immoral. She is mean, egocentric, she seems to hate her daughter, and only wants the best (in terms of finance) for herself. She's absolutely willing to destroy people's lives if it puts herself in a better position. She enjoys to influence Jane Austen wrote this when she was only 18 years old. One may wonder how she knew of the cunning manners of some women, but after all, Jane was an avid reader herself.
Lady Susan is the only immoral main character in Austen's books, in return, she's extremely immoral. She is mean, egocentric, she seems to hate her daughter, and only wants the best (in terms of finance) for herself. She's absolutely willing to destroy people's lives if it puts herself in a better position. She enjoys to influence people - men especially - with her eloquence, of which she is very proud.
The book is Austen's only epistolary novel and she's done it brilliantly. The difficulty in a novel only existing of letters, is that the reader, in contrast to the writer and addressee of the letters, has no previous knowledge of the situation and relations at all. In contrast to an auctorial novel, the author has no mean of introducing characters or stations in letters. Austen solves this brilliantly - in only three letters, she introduces us the seven characters in the book. In the first letter, written by Lady Susan herself, addressing her brother-in-law, one may believe she is a likable woman, with great manners and high intellect. In the second letter, however, written to her best friend Alicia Johnson, the reader is confronted with the true nature of our heroine.
I thoroughly enjoyed this little novel - Austen's ironic style is just the best. I even liked the heroine in a way - at least she's a strong, confident woman, which is seldom for that time. Lovely!
I am still a dummy when it comes to reading Dickens. I have (of course) read A Christmas Carol, and did Oliver Twist earlier this year. But for some reason I think this was the first novel with which I could really get to know Charles Dickens’s work.
Admittedly, it was quite a task getting through the book. My concentration level had to be higher than with other books to be able to really digest everything and I had to scroll back more than once to reread a page. The first chapters were extremely long-winded and lacked all context one needed... At some point I was going to put the book down if it wouldn’t get better soon. Fortunately, it did get better.
What I’ve learned of Dickens so far is that his characters are brilliant and they really come to life turning the pages, and even their names fit to their traits. Likeable characters have lovely names (Lorry, Manette), and for example for someone named ‘Cruncher’ I imagine a rather poor, cantankerous and man with yellow teeth and dirty fingernails and exactly that’s how he’s described.
I LOVE the theme of the book – the French revolution, the Reign of Terror, the Guillotine, and a great deal of social commentary. Dickens was a child of the lower social class himself (his father even was in prison because of debts) and his novels all contain critics on social stratification in his time. But above all ‘A tale of two cities’ is a tragic novel about love – unrequited love, but a love so strong that the lover makes the greatest sacrifice of all. The last couple of chapters that have Sydney Carton in focus were really gripping, and those chapters are definitely worth 6 stars.
After finishing this book I am keen on reading more of Dickens's works, but I still will give this novel ‘only’ four stars for the effort it took me.
BTW I'm not sure if it was a good or a bad thing that the blurb of my edition already gave away the ending. It sure would have been a different reading experience when I didn't know how things would end, but I cannot say if it would have been a better or a worse experience...
Victor Hugo is a true master of language. Under his pen, words turn into gems, forming perfect jewels when strung together. No matter what he writes about, it sounds delightful. A joy for every literature loving eye. But he does not just write about anything; he is also blessed with the gift of writing magnificent storylines and creating extraordinary characters. The main characters in this book are tragic in all kinds of way: tragically ugly (Quasimodo), tragically innocent (Esmeralda), tragically in love (Claude Frollo). One could even say that captain Phoebus is tragically plain.
In ‘Notre Dame de Paris’, Hugo brings a church and a city to life. I choose to use the original title, because the main character is not, as the English title suggests, the bell ringer Quasimodo. I would say the main character is love. The ugly outcast and the priest love the beautiful gypsy girl, the gypsy, in turn, loves a captain. But it’s not just the passionate love the plays its part. The story also is about everlasting love and pain for a lost daughter and the unconditioned love for a younger brother. The bell ringer, the priest and the girl all suffer from unrequited love (even if Esmeralda doesn’t realize that her soldier just wants her for one night, naïve as the young girl is). Unrequited love can be taken for granted if one silently accepts it, as Quasimodo is forced to do because of his looks. But it can also evolve to jealousy, hatred and thirst for revenge – the feelings that swell in the breast of the priest. And so the one who loves her crazily brings her to the gallows. Pierre Gringoire, one of the characters in the book, correctly states: “That’s life… It’s often our best friends who make us fall”.
This is a great and very important book on the development of human life and the world.
Mary Shelley wrote this story in the beginning of the 19th century, when science was developing in an enormous speed. More and more was possible with new scientific discoveries. In fact, scientists were experimenting with bringing animals, even humans, to life using electricity. Mary Shelley, who enjoyed a great education, knew about this and wrote this book. It warns us for the other, dark side of scientific progress: if we don't combine scientific potential with our own reason and moral, bad things can arise; things we aren't prepared for... This happened to scientist Victor Frankenstein in the novel. He is obsessed by the idea of animating dead things, and without thinking about anything else, he brings a human-kind being, excisting of dead bodyparts, into life. He detests it from the moment it takes his first breath, then banishes it and calls it 'a monster'.
The story is surprisingly relevant also in our time, 200 years after. The plot says a lot about humanity in general. We create something that we then detest but do not blame ourselves, but the thing we created instead. For example, we all drive a car and complain that we are in traffic. In Mary Shelley's time, but also now, we are surpressed by the rise of big cities and industries - that we created ourselves. We don't feel free anymore because we are online night and day, 7 days a week; but seem to forget that we created this situation ourselves - by scientific developments and 'improvements'. Are those really improvements, or are we creating more and more monsters, that will eventually haunt us? Think about the global wars of the past century, think about the nuclear threats, and answer for yourself. Science is said to kill God - I think it's different: science makes us think we are gods. With one significant difference: God thought about his creation before performing it.
I had never read this book before. I have never seen the 2005 movie nor the 1990s tv series. Though I couldn’t believe that Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy wouldn’t marry (I mean, the book is known as a romance…), I still felt excited for them until the final moment. Thank you, naivety! And thank you Jane, for supporting it :).
I had prejudices about Austens novels myself, funny enough. I thought they would be cheesy, dull etc. etc. In fact, they are everything but that. After Northanger Abbey (which was big fun) and Mansfield Park (which was lala), I decided to read her most famous. A bit sceptic, still, but already at the first chapter I recognized it’s such a joy to read. I love Austens cynicism. I laughed out loud more than once. I love her characters: I could totally imagine the lovely but little naïve Jane, silly Lydia, ‘this-world-isn’t-getting-better-for-me-anyway-so-f*ck-it’ Mr. Bennet, crazy, exaggerated Mr. Collins, empty-headed Mrs. Bennet, prim-and-gruffy-but-actually-so-good-hearted Mr. Darcy… And so on.
Some people say nothing happens in this book. Well, that is true as long as you expect super exciting things like world travels, alchemical inventions, ghostly appearances or whatever. But this is a 19th century romance written by a middle-class young woman, so the book is about 1-1,5 years from the life of an English middle-class family with five daughters and no heir, so it is important that they marry someone rich (at least that’s the thought of their mother, and, also, the thought of lots of people living in that time). That may sound dull, but Jane Austen is such a talented author, her characters are so funny, and he timing is perfect. I am happy to see that many men (!) give this book 4 or 5 stars. If you are one of the few people alive who haven’t read this book, do yourself a favor and try. I promise it will be fun.
Villette is a special book. I loved Jane Eyre and hoped and expected a similar kind of book in Villette. That was wrong. The narrator in Jane Eyre is openhearted, whereas Lucy Snowe, the narrator and heroine in Villette, is very introvert and holds back her thoughts and feelings from the reader. This annoyed me at first, until the point I realized that Charlotte Brontë did this on purpose. Being reticent is pro Lucy’s main trait. She doesn’t tell us what she’s feeling, neither does she tell any of her friends and acquaintances. She remained a mystery for hundreds of pages, and all of her closer connections have different impressions of her. She giggles about that, but doesn’t reveal herself - neither to us, nor to the people around her.
The book is slowly moving (as many of the books written in that time). There were points at which I thought ‘Is this going to get somewhere anyway? When is Lucy finally going to fall in love with Dr. Bretton, as promised at the backside of the book? Then, I realized that she wasn’t ever going to write it down – that is not her style. One has to read between the lines to get close to Lucy.
She must have suffered so much, but she won’t tell us about her pain. She left England in her early twenties, leaving back no one, to go to Villette, the capital of Labassacour (a fictive, French-speaking country based on Belgium), where no one is waiting for her. She starts working as a teacher in a girl’s school. But because she is so introvert, she won’t have many contacts. She accepts the presence of Ginevra (a spoiled English girl she met on the ferry) even if she doesn’t like her. She falls in love, yet the object of her love would never recognize her as a potential wife – and falls in love with another girl, a girl Lucy loves dearly. A tragic love triangle, but no one except for Lucy will ever know there was one. And then, the second man she loves, and loves deeper even, is taken away from her by a trio of people, who seem to want to destroy her last chance of happiness.
But – and this is a very important ‘but’ - her reticence fades, maybe even disappears, from chapter 38 on. Lucys heartache grows so big that she cannot longer keep her feelings to herself. She drew me into her pain completely. I felt her grief, her sorrow. The last four chapters are the most tragic, yet most beautiful and gripping pages of the book, and the main reason it gets five stars from me.
Oh, dear Lucy, I just hope you found happiness, eventually.