Sylvia’s Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell

INFORMATION

Goodreads: Sylvia’s Lovers
Series: None
Source: Library
Publication Date: 1863

SUMMARY

Life in Monkshaven is not particularly exciting, except when the impressment gangs come through.  Otherwise, Sylvia lives a calm life on her parents farm.  Her cousin Philip loves her dearly, but she gives her heart instead to the sailor Charlie Kinraid.  But Philip fears Charlie may be false.

Review

Sylvia’s Lovers is a quiet tale, a tragedy played out on a small scale.  Though it may not feature the noble characters that typically people tragedies, it contains all the drama and pathos that might conceivably fit into the life of a person, even the type of person history tends to forget.  From the families torn apart by the impressment gangs to the domestic strain of a married couple who realize their marriage may have been a mistake, Sylvia’s Lovers marches solemnly onward to a conclusion readers feel cannot possibly be pretty.

Sylvia herself is a somewhat petulant and flighty thing, a girl accustomed to following her own whims rather than thinking of the comfort of others (aside from her parents, whom she loves dearly).   She regularly overlooks the positive qualities of those whom she dislikes or finds dull and she tends to think primarily about her own feelings while remaining quite unconscious that others might have interior lives of their own.  Gaskell tells us that, even so, Sylvia exerts a charm and fascination over men.  One can only assume it is her beauty and her pretty little airs.  But, since readers do not get to see these, we are left only with her character, which is, sad to say, not particularly impressive.  It is therefore a marvel that Gaskell can convince readers to care about Sylvia’s story at all.

But care we do, for the inexorable pull of fate lays over the story and readers feel from the start that nothing good will come for Sylvia in the end.  Gaskell gives us a little moral here, for, it seems Syliva might have been happy had she learned to love and forgive others, had she appreciated the good in men and been able to recognize the bad.  But, alas, Sylvia thinks only in terms of her own passions and is at first reluctant to turn to God, then later discouraged from trying to turn to Him by those who claim to know His will.  Perhaps she’ll find Him eventually, but, of course, always too late, too late.  Sylvia’s tragedy may be reckoned as heartbreaking as those of kings.

4 stars

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20 Classics Under 200 Pages

20 Short Classics
Note: Exact page length will vary by edition, and the book may be over 200 pages due to extra material (introduction, notes, critical essays, etc.) or if the volume is a nice one with bigger font and larger spacing. However, the point is that all of these classics are fairly quick reads.  (Click links to be taken to the book’s Goodreads page.)

20 Classics Under 200 Pages

  1. Beowulf by Anonymous
  2. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by Anonymous
  3. The Professor by Charlotte Bronte
  4. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  5. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  6. Maggie, A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane
  7. The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  8. Silas Marner by George Eliot
  9. A Room with a View by E. M. Forester
  10. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  11. Vandover and the Brute by Frank Norris
  12. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  13. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  14. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  15. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
  16. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  17. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
  18. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
  19. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  20. Complete Fairy Tales by Oscar Wilde

How many of these has you read?  Do you have any other recommendations for short classics? Or classics that are approachable?

Emma by Jane Austen

INFORMATION

Goodreads: Emma
Series:  None
Source: Gift
Published: 1815

SUMMARY

Emma Woodhouse is determined never to marry.  That, however, does not prevent her from attempting to set up the men and women of her parish.  Then one day the charming Frank Churchill finally arrives for a visit.  Will there finally be a match for Emma?

Review

Emma may be my favorite Austen work.  It is a deliciously subtle book, one that delights in showing the irony of Emma’s own feelings about class and propriety while describing her censure of others for being proud and vain.  But though Emma’s desire to be cleverer than others often leads her astray, her open nature makes her lovable all the same.  I long for her to find her happy ending every time I return to her world.

Part of Austen’s charm is, I think, her assumption that readers are in on the joke while the characters remain oblivious.  To achieve this, some knowledge of the social customs of Austen’s day is needed, which makes a good edition with footnotes invaluable, though casual readers are likely to pick up many social cues even without annotations.  Hearing Mrs. Elton chatter on about the wealth of her relations, seeing that Emma refuses to associate with the newly wealthy Coles while the rest of her acquaintance have no such scruples, and listening to Emma chastise Mr. Knightley for not using his carriage more often as befits a gentleman are all amusing circumstances.  Intimate knowledge of various types of carriages and how much wealth is needed to keep one is not strictly necessary, though it can often be fun.

Rereads are also delightful as they allow readers a greater opportunity to be in on the intrigue.  Although an astute reader may pick up on the secrets the various characters hold, the certainty of knowing the outcome holds its own charm.  The silences, the looks of characters take on deeper meaning and readers can again feel satisfied and smug.  Emma, with all her cleverness, makes many mistakes.  But we the readers know better.

Something about reading Austen is always deeply satisfying.  It is an experience that enables the reader to feel as if they share Austen’s powers of wit and observation, while also enabling them to enjoy the feeling that they are moving in high circles.  Though many of her characters face financial uncertainty, a good number of them are also concerned with no more than which suitor they ought to choose.  Entering her world is both amusing and wish fulfilling.  After all, we also hold the certainty that the heroines will always end up with their perfect match.  And some income to boot.

5 stars

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Big SleepInformation

Goodreads: The Big Sleep
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1939

Official Summary

When a dying millionaire hires Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.

Review

The Big Sleep follows private investigator Phillip Marlowe after he is hired by a dying millionaire to take care of a blackmail attempt against one of his two daughters for some supposed gambling debts.  Events take a surprising more dire turn as Marlowe realizes that both the women may be caught up with a number of dangerously illegal activities.

I think the big draw for much of the novel is the plot.  It’s partly a mystery as Marlowe investigates the veracity behind the original blackmail notes, but there is not always a clear overarching question of “Who committed x crime?” as Marlowe finds himself going deeper and deeper into the case to discover an increasing number of crimes he didn’t know he was going to become involved with.  The novel continuously teases readers, making them what to know what will happen next and discover how all the threads of the story will ultimately tie together.

Marlowe himself narrates all this and seems like a pretty standard hard-boiled detective type.  He’s tough, doesn’t play games, and maybe likes to flirt with the ladies a little bit.  He seems to know when to keep silent and when to talk, which I thought was an interesting aspect of the story.  He perhaps goes overboard on description for my taste, but I suppose it is the job of a detective to notice things in-depth.  However, he also gets into a number of tight spots while tailing and interrogating suspects, so the book has it fair share of action.

The other characters are generally interesting as well, and there’ enough information for readers to try to start putting pieces together and figure out who had motivations to do what.  Practically no one in the novel seems that nice, however, unless it’s the dying millionaire, who play a fairly small role.  These people fascinating, but they’re primarily the seedy underbelly of LA, so there’s no one much to invest in beyond Marlowe himself.

The story kept me guessing enough that I read the book in one day.  For a crime novel, I think it did its job.  I was in it primarily for entertainment, however, so the parts where it veered off into moralizing, particularly at the end, were somewhat odd.

Note: The book is somewhat a product of its time (1930s) and contains homophobic statements and possible misogyny.  The homophobia is mostly in the form of overt comments from the narrator’s perspective.  The misogyny is more in the fact that the female characters are primarily frivolous, sexy little fools.  Even the more cunning ones are not really that clever; the narrator clearly thinks they’re like children trying pitifully to match themselves against men.

4 stars Briana

Beyond Anne of Green Gables: The Other Novels of L.M. Montgomery

Discussion Post

We’re huge L. M. Montgomery fans here at Pages Unbound. We’ve hosted an L. M. Montgomery reading event and an Anne of Green Gables read-along. We wrote a quiz for you to find out which Montgomery heroine you are most like, which Montgomery hero you should be with, and which of Anne Shirley’s friends you share a personality with. We’ve written reviews for nearly all of her books and wrote a ton of other posts, such as lessons from Anne Shirley and others I won’t list because I could go on and on.

However, nearly every time we post about an L. M. Montgomery book that is not Anne of Green Gables, at least one lovely commenter says that they had no idea Montgomery wrote anything besides Anne of Green Gables!  This is just shocking, I tell you, absolutely shocking.  Since I can no longer allow people to go on unaware of all the wonderful L. M. Montgomery novels they could be reading, I here introduce to you her books besides the Anne series.  There are brief descriptions below the infographic, and you can look forward to future posts from Krysta about how to pick the best L. M. Montgomery book to read next based on your mood, Hogwarts House, etc. (And, yes, there are eight Anne books, for those of you who thought Anne of Green Gables was the only one!)

L. M. Montgomery also wrote poetry and a number of short stories conveniently published in various volumes, as well as an autobiography called The Alpine Path, but we’ll leave those for another day.

Beyond Anne of Green Gables- L.M. Montgomery's Other Books

L. M. Montgomery’s Children’s Series

Pat of Silver Bush

A young girl grows up on a Prince Edward Island farm.  Pat dislikes change and wants to stay at Silver Bush forever, happy with her family, but life goes on and friends and even family must come and go.  One of Montgomery’s few works where both the protagonist’s parents are alive and well. She also has siblings!

Emily of New Moon

When Emily’s father dies, she is sent to live with her mother’s family, the stern and well-respected Murray clan, on Prince Edward Island.  At first she dislikes their ways and their pride, and the way they frowned on her parents’ marriage, but she soon makes fast friends with three local children and begins to foster her love of writing. One of Montgomery’s more Gothic-inspired series.

The Story Girl

Sara Stanley is so good at telling stories that she has been dubbed “the Story Girl” and adults and children alike gather to hear her stories.  The novel covers the lives of Sara and her cousins, as well as some of the stories she tells.

L. M. Montgomery Children’s Stand-alones

Jane of Lantern Hill

Jane isn’t entirely certain about going to visit her father on Prince Edward Island; in fact, she had thought he was dead!  But she soon comes to build a relationship with both him and the island and starts to dream of building a new life.

Magic for Marigold

Marigold was almost not named Marigold; it was her mother’s dying wish, but the rest of the family thinks it’s too much!  Yet a serendipitous turn of events mean she’s named Marigold after all, and the luck and the magic never stop coming into her life.  Montgomery’s youngest protagonist.

Kilmeny of the Orchard

When Eric Marshall goes to teach temporarily in a small town, he has no plans of falling in love, until he encounters an enchanting girl with a mysterious past.  One of Montgomery’s few texts written from a male point of view.

L. M. Montgomery’s Adult Books

A long time ago I read that these are Montgomery’s only two books intended for adults. It seemed odd to me at the time because, obviously, adults enjoy all of Montgomery’s books and I don’t know how many people consciously think of Anne of Green Gables as a children’s book. However, it sort of makes sense. The protagonists of both of these book are adults, and I think the general point-of-view on matters like social standards, marriage, etc. are slightly more mature (not as in “more risque,” just more what an adult with different experiences would think, vs. a child).

A Tangled Web

Before Aunt Becky dies, she tells her clan that she’s going to leave a cherished heirloom jug to one of them–but they won’t know the beneficiary until one year after her passing.  Even worse: she’s not going to tell them how she’s deciding who gets it, so they’ll have to be on their best behavior just in case she’s instructed someone still living to decide who gets it in a year. Shenanigans ensue as everyone competes for chance at the jug.  It’s a ridiculous-sounding premise when you say it’s a novel about people fighting over a jug, but the book is magic and one of Montgomery’s strongest works. It’ also the only one written with multiple points of view, hence the tangled web.

The Blue Castle

Valancy Stirling is known among her family for people respectable, staid, and on the verge of becoming an old maid–if she isn’t one already.  But when Valancy receives a dire medical diagnosis, she decides she wants to enjoy the rest of her life and proposes to one of the area’s most notorious men!  She has no idea what’s worse, though: dying, or not dying and looking like she swindled her husband into marrying her.

The Beauty and the Beast by Gabrielle-Suzanee Barbot de Villeneuve, Illustrated by MinaLima

INFORMATION

Goodreads: Beauty and the Beast
Series:  None
Source: Gift
Published: 1740 (text), 2017 (illustrated by MinaLima)

SUMMARY

A hapless merchant finds himself in an enchanted castle after getting lost in the woods.  There he picks a single rose for the youngest of his daughters, but the owner of the castle, a hideous Beast, claims his life or one of the merchant’s daughters, for the theft.  But is there any girl so virtuous that she would give up her life in exchange for her father’s?  And is there any girl so virtuous that she could learn to look past appearances and give her hand in marriage to a beast?

Illustrated with interactive elements and pop-ups by MinaLima.

REVIEW

Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s The Beauty and the Beast is the earliest known version of the tale–and it is probably very different from what you might expect.  The length of a novel, it covers the fortunes of the merchant and his six sons and six daughters, the backstory of the Beast and his kingdom, the histories of a few neighboring kingdoms, and the politics and magic of the Fairies who travel the world doing good deeds.  At times it feels convoluted and at other times a little dated.  Still, fans of the story will enjoy reading its first appearance.

Perhaps most remarkable in this tale is the emphasis on Beauty’s virtue in rewarding generosity against her personal inclinations.  In dreams she sees a handsome prince who begs her to save him by looking beyond appearance.  She imagines the Beast imprisons him and longs to rescue him.  Each night, however, the beast, who is also rather stupid, asks her to marry him.  But because the beast tries to satisfy all her desires by giving her access to every room in the palace, birds to sing to her and monkeys to wait to her, and a glass that allows her to attend operas and plays around the world, Beauty feels the beast must not be as mean as he appears.  She longs to please him and to reward his generosity.  A very different story from Disney’s version!

Added to this are a few chapters of convoluted backstory that do not, I feel, add much to the story besides [spoiler] playing into the idea that virtue often comes with class.  Were you wondering why Beauty is so kind and generous while her sisters are spoiled, greedy, envious ,and mean?  It’s because she’s really the offspring of royalty!  And thus a fitting bride for the prince.  Yes, there’s a lot of talk about how you don’t need to be well-born to be worthy, but having Beauty be well-born after all undercuts that message pretty thoroughly. [End spoilers.]  However, I think that readers will be fascinated by the differences in this tale from more familiar versions, and may even find themselves interested in the politics described in the final chapters.

The illustrated version by MinaLina and published by HarperDesign adds to the magic and beauty of the tale with the gorgeous images as well as the “interactive elements” that include fold-out maps, pop-up scenery, a ring like Beauty’s to turn, and more.  The edition is really quite well-done, appearing very handsome on the shelf with a cover reminiscent of imitation leather, embossed text and designs, and some gold accents.  The inside is full of illustrations from little designs by each page number to illuminated letters at the start of chapters to a number of full-page illustrations.  It’s the type of book you’ll love to hold and look at, even when not reading it.

This version of “Beauty and the Beast” has quite a few surprises in store for readers.  Not only is the story very different, but the prose is very much a product of its time.  Readers who dislike unfamiliar syntax or an emphasis on promoting virtue might not find the story to their taste.  However, those interested in fairy tales or even in a beautiful and fantastic tale will find much to enjoy.

4 stars