A Classic I Just “Didn’t Get”: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Is there a classic book you just “didn’t get?”

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Madame Bovary A Classic I Didn't Get

Despite my love of classics, there are a number didn’t really “get” (at least until I went to a class discussion about them and could begin to see what other readers were getting out of the book!), but my mind really blanked at coming up with specific titles when I saw the prompt for this week.

In a stroke of genius, I decided to go to my Goodreads shelves and see what classics I had given low star ratings to. The only problem: many of these I read ten years ago or more, and I don’t think I remember enough about them to say why I didn’t like them or what I didn’t get about them! (Though I did actually write a review of The Turn of the Screw for the blog, and I think I “get” Brave New World; I just don’t like it.)

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With all that in mind, I’m officially going with:

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Unfortunately I don’t seem to have written a review of Madame Bovary, which would be helpful in refreshing my thoughts because I read it in 2013. However, personally I’m just not a fan of that genre of novel that (perhaps reductively) could be called: wealthy woman becomes unhappy in her marriage and starts taking lovers and…readers are supposed to be sympathetic to that? I’m not a big fan of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence or The Awakening by Kate Chopin for similar reasons.

I suppose there’s an argument that, in the past, women were stuck in unhappy marriages, if divorce was not an option, and that makes infidelity more forgivable than if they could leave their husbands and pursue new prospects that way. Even with that in mind, I’ve never been on board with books about adultery, especially in instances where the woman isn’t really being treated badly but has just never been truly in love with or excited by her husband.

Madame Bovary really focuses on that point, that Madame Bovary is experiencing ennui. This means 1) it’s hard to feel that she’s doing the “right” thing or “doesn’t have other options” when she cheats because she’s just bored! and 2) the book is kind of boring because it focuses on how boring the life of the protagonist is. I felt as if I were listlessly drifting through the whole book, not as if I were reading anything interesting.

Even if one argues we’re not supposed to sympathize with Madame Bovary, I don’t get the appeal of the book. So Flaubert is just portraying a bored immoral woman and asking us to ponder how bored and immoral she is? I’ll pass, thanks.

Have you read Madame Bovary? What did you think?

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Summary of the Dover version of Madame Bovary:

Bored and unhappy in a lifeless marriage, Emma Bovary yearns to escape from the dull circumstances of provincial life. Married to a simple-minded but indulgent country doctor, she takes one lover, then another, hastens her husband’s financial ruin with her extravagance…

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1888) was brought to trial by the French government on the grounds of the novel’s alleged immorality, but unlike his less fortunate contemporary, Baudelaire, he narrowly escaped conviction.

Falubert’s powerful and deeply moving examination of the moral degeneration of a middle-class Frenchwoman is universally regarded as one of the landmarks of 19th-century fiction. It is reproduced here, complete and unabridged, in the classic translation by Eleanor Marx-Aveling, daughter of Karl Marx.

Briana

Belinda by Maria Edgeworth

Belinda book cover

Information

Goodreads: Belinda
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1801

Official Summary

(Oxford World Classics edition)

The lively comedy of this novel in which a young woman comes of age amid the distractions and temptations of London high society belies the challenges it poses to the conventions of courtship, the dependence of women, and the limitations of domesticity. Contending with the perils and the varied cast of characters of the marriage market, Belinda strides resolutely toward independence. Admired by her contemporary, Jane Austen, and later by Thackeray and Turgenev, Edgeworth tackles issues of gender and race in a manner at once comic and thought-provoking. The 1802 text used in this edition also confronts the difficult and fascinating issues of racism and mixed marriage, which Edgeworth toned down in later editions.

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Review

Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda is an exciting Regency-era novel that throws scandalous characters together with kindhearted ones to tell a story that ultimately brings most characters their happily-ever-after (or, in some cases, their just desserts!).

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Belinda, my knowledge of this time period, of course, being dominated by Jane Austen novels. I was startled to discover a novel that, at times, is a bit wild and over-the-top, with women challenging each other to duels and people playing scary pranks and all kinds of things. I had this vague idea I would be reading about balls and matrimonial maneuverings, and while those are part of the novel, their presence doesn’t make the book staid.

Protagonist Belinda herself, perhaps, will be accused of being dull by some readers; she’s a bit like Austen’s Fanny Price, very nice and proper, a young lady who could never be accused of anything by anybody. Personally I think her goodness grounds the book; if everyone were doing crazy things, the story might lose any sense of reality or any claim to its ability to comment on social issues or contemporary matters. (It does, for instance, quite directly address interracial marriage and the question of what women should look for in a marriage and domestic life in order to truly find happiness.) And Belinda, while a bit Mary Sue-ish, has her little challenges and frustrations to help make her more human.

The other characters are a bit more obviously fascinating. There is Belinda’s chaperone, who is wildly popular but has an unhappy domestic life and a secret she is keeping from even her husband. There are Belinda’s suitors. There is a mysterious girl who is beautiful and naïve and seems like something out of a fairy tale. (And, personally, I’d love to read some academic articles about this character in particular, if I had access to academic databases because I certainly have some questions about her that I’m sure have been explored in scholarship!)

In short, the book is wonderful. I enjoyed every moment of it (though the ending was a bit cheesy), and I’m not sure why I haven’t seen more people talking about this classic.

Briana
4 stars

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

To the Lighthouse book cover

Information

Goodreads: To the Lighthouse
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1927

Official Summary

The serene and maternal Mrs. Ramsay, the tragic yet absurd Mr. Ramsay, and their children and assorted guests are on holiday on the Isle of Skye. From the seemingly trivial postponement of a visit to a nearby lighthouse, Woolf constructs a remarkable, moving examination of the complex tensions and allegiances of family life and the conflict between men and women.

As time winds its way through their lives, the Ramsays face, alone and simultaneously, the greatest of human challenges and its greatest triumph—the human capacity for change.

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Review

You can read Krysta’s review of To the Lighthouse here.

To the Lighthouse is, on the surface, a book not about much: it shows scenes from the lives of the Ramsay family and the impressions of some of their friends who stay at the house, yet without a central plot. However skeptical I was of this at the beginning, I came to appreciate the stream of consciousness and Woolf’s occasional keen insights into human nature and the thoughts that crossed her characters’ minds.

As someone who has studiously avoided any stream of consciousness literature up to this point, I’ve never encountered a book before that represents thinking how it so frequently occurs– that is, people often are thinking about things that have nothing to do with the scene in front of them or the actions they are taking. One might be sitting at dinner but actually randomly remembering something that happened 10 years ago. One might be playing with a small child but actually planning out one’s novel. Woolf captures this excellently.

The thoughts of Woolf’s characters are, of course, not entirely random, and her ability to touch on things like emotional labor and the mental load and how women relate to men also is impressive. For instance, Mrs. Ramsay sporadically thinks about the cost of repairing the greenhouse and how she must remember to bring it up with her husband. This could seem like a boring thing for her to think and a weird detail for Woolf to include– and I probably would have thought this myself about this book if I’d read it at a younger age. Now, however, I can appreciate that randomly intruding thoughts about mundane things are common for people trying to run a household– Oh, we need more milk. Remember to buy milk, Put milk on the list…. Tellingly, these thoughts tend to occur to the female characters in To the Lighthouse. The men are all too busy thinking about their great works, whether poetry or academic, to be bothered with such things.

To be fair, I think one book of this type is enough for me. Since the appeal is really the structure of the book, how Woolf captures thought and sometimes interesting human relations, and not any real plot, I don’t think I’d get much out of reading a second book of this type unless it had a bit more action going on. But for one time I definitely found it interesting, and I’m a bit sorry I put off reading anything by Woolf for so long.

Briana
4 stars

The Best Sherlock Holmes Mystery for Beginners (Classic Remarks)

Classic Remarks

WHAT IS CLASSIC REMARKS?

Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.

HOW CAN I PARTICIPATE?

Leave your link to your post on your own blog in the comments below. And feel free to comment with your thoughts even if you are not officially participating with a full post!

You can find more information and the list of weekly prompts here.

(Readers who like past prompts but missed them have also answered them on their blog later and linked back to us at Pages Unbound, so feel free to do that, too!)

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

Which Sherlock Holmes work should someone start with if they have never read a Holmes mystery before?

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What Sherlock Holmes Story Should Beginners Start With?

Because Sherlock Holmes stories do not need to be read in order (Watson, as narrator, might vaguely mention some previous case having occurred, but the reader needs no knowledge of it), I believe the best place for a reader new to Holmes mysteries is a story that will capture their attention and make them eager to read more. For this, I propose The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The Hound of the Baskervilles has the benefit of being a full-length novel, rather than a short story. Personally, I tend to find longer mysteries more engaging and more suspenseful than short stories, as the length gives the author time to really develop a complex narrative, introduce multiple suspects with multiple motives, etc. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did write some excellent short stories featuring Holmes, of course, but a reader can happily delve into them after becoming familiar with Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles. I believe Hound is also generally one of the most beloved and recommended Holmes stories, so popular opinion also recommends it as a good place to start.

And not all Holmes stories are created equal. In 2020, I read The Sign of the Four, the second of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories, and I found it 1) disappointing and 2) racist. Doyle is a product of his time, of course, but I think this as an introduction to Holmes would be extremely off-putting to many readers. If one were to read the Holmes stories in order, one might start off with A Study in Scarlet, think it fine, and then be quite surprised (negatively surprised) by The Sign of the Four. So while I am generally an advocate of reading books in order, I think it unnecessary and possibly a bad idea in the case of Holmes.

What are some of your favorite Holmes stories?

Briana

Midwinter Murder: Fireside Tales from the Queen of Mystery by Agatha Christie

Midwinter Murder by Agatha Christie

Information

Goodreads: Midwinter Murder: Fireside Tales from the Queen of Mystery
Series: None
Source: Borrowed
Published: October 1, 2020

Official Summary

An all-new collection of winter-themed stories from the Queen of Mystery, just in time for the holidays—including the original version of Christmas Adventure, never before released in the United States!

There’s a chill in the air and the days are growing shorter . . . It’s the perfect time to curl up in front of a crackling fire with these wintry whodunits from the legendary Agatha Christie. But beware of deadly snowdrifts and dangerous gifts, poisoned meals and mysterious guests. This chilling compendium of short stories—some featuring beloved detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple—is an essential omnibus for Christie fans and the perfect holiday gift for mystery lovers.

INCLUDES THE STORIES:
– Three Blind Mice
– The Chocolate Box
– A Christmas Tragedy
– The Coming of Mr Quin
– The Clergyman’s Daughter/Red House
– The Plymouth Express
– Problem at Pollensa Bay
– Sanctuary
– The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge
– The World’s End
– The Manhood of Edward Robinson
– Christmas Adventure 

Review

Midwinter Murder is an atmospheric selection of Agatha Christie short stories that take place around the holidays or generally in winter. As someone who has never read any of her short stories (though “The Chocolate Box” seemed familiar; perhaps I read it in school?), I enjoyed the variety of tales, as they ranged in style and substance and featured a number of the protagonists from her longer works.

Personally, I have never solved an Agatha Christie mystery (though, to be fair, there are many I haven’t read), so I was thrilled to have multiple opportunities to finally become a worthy detective with this collection of short stories. However, it turns out that some of the stories are truly mysteries; there is some plot going on, and the reader might be trying to figure out what is going on, but mostly there’s a lot of talking and characters putting together an intriguing string of events. This is particularly true of the stories featuring Mr. Quin, who is a Christie character I am not familiar with, but perhaps that is in keeping with how the author normally structures his stories.

The first story, “Three Blind Mice,” is the longest and the most like what I would expect a mystery to be: there are clues the reader can pick up, multiple motives, multiple suspects, etc. Alas, I didn’t figure this one out anyway, but my friend who read it did, so really I’m just a terrible detective, and perhaps one day I will finally read enough of Christie’s work to figure out how her mind works and guess the culprit!

The other stories are still interesting, and I don’t think one needs to be familiar with the protagonists to enjoy and understand them; there’s generally enough exposition for one to understand at least generally that Poirot is a famed detective with a keen mind, that Miss Marple is an amateur who dabbles in solving murders, that Tommy and Tuppence are a young husband and wife detective duo. Anyway, characterization is never really Christie’s focus; it’s her plots, so who is solving the mystery hardly matters in some sense.

I’m not sure if these stories are commonly in other collections, but as someone who hasn’t seen any of them (or perhaps only one?) before, I thought it was a great anthology for reading in winter.

Briana
4 stars

The Invisible Chimes by Margaret Sutton

The Invisible Chimes

Information

Goodreads: The Invisible Chimes
Series: Judy Bolton #3
Source: Library
Published: 1932

Summary

When Judy Bolton meets a strange girl who cannot seem to remember her own name, Judy is determined to find out her identity. At first, she wants to help the girl she has named “Honey.” But Honey was found in the company of thieves. Could it be she is not telling the truth about her past?

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Review

The third book in Margaret Sutton’s Judy Bolton series continues the adventures of teenage Judy as she attends high school and solves mysteries in her spare time. In this episode, Judy meets a mysterious girl who seemingly cannot remember her identity. Judy names the girl “Honey” and is determined to figure out where she comes from, so she can notify the girl’s presumably worried parents. As with the previous books in the series, the mystery is rather formulaic and thus easy to solve. However, that familiarity is part of what gives the series its charms. The Invisible Chimes will delight readers who enjoy serialized mystery stories like Nancy Drew.

For me, serialized mystery series like the Judy Bolton books are comfort reads. They follow a predictable pattern and often present mysteries that rely on incredible coincidences, meaning the protagonist can wrap up two seemingly unrelated cases at once, by the end of the book. So far, the Judy Bolton books have followed this formula, allowing Judy repeatedly to connect people and places that ought not to be connected at all. It’s a little unbelievable, of course, but it’s also comforting to know that, by the end of the story, everything will be resolved. Families will be reunited, lost property restored, and justice done. Sometimes one just needs a book where everything comes out all right.

This series is also fun because Judy is not a static character, but one who grows over the course of the series. She’s still in high school in book three, but so far she has already moved towns, changed schools, integrated herself into elite society, and caught the attention of two men, both of whom are subtly vying for her affections. While Judy’s personal life does not get as much attention in this book as it has in previous installments, readers can rest assured that she will continue to face personal problems that make her come to life as a protagonist.

The Invisible Chimes is well worth a read for those who enjoy books of this nature. And the best part is that there are over thirty more books to come! So readers who enjoy Judy can continue to watch her grow up and take life head on.

4 stars

An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott

Information

Goodreads: An Old-Fashioned Girl
Series: None
Source: Owned
Published: 1869

Summary

Fourteen-year-old Polly Milton visits her friend Fanny Shaw in the city, where she is impressed by Fanny’s fashionable lifestyle. However, she also feels that Fanny and her friends judge her for her “countrified” manners and clothing. Over the next six years, Polly keeps visiting the Shaws, until the day she moves into the city to earn her living as a music teacher. She realizes that many of the Shaws’ old set will no longer speak to her, since she is now a working woman. But when the Shaws face financial adversity, Polly will be there to help teach them that a loving family is the greatest wealth of all.

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Review

Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl will feel familiar to fans of Little Women. Once again, Alcott chronicles the coming-of-age of a young woman who realizes that riches do not equal happiness, and who finds her own contentment in serving others and forming part of a loving family. Alcott’s vivid characters, however, with their many foibles, prevent the story from becoming sickeningly sweet or overly didactic. Instead, what readers get is one girl’s personal journey made utterly engrossing by the way in which Alcott tells it.

Even though centuries may separate readers and the protagonist Polly, Polly’s worries about wanting to fit in, wanting to be appreciated, and wanting to be admired, still ring true. Her journey thus becomes a journey that readers can not only go along with, but also one that they can use to reflect on their own. An Old-Fashioned Girl will appeal to fans of Alcott, but also readers who enjoy a good, old-fashioned story where the drama is limited, but the characters make everyday moments feel just as interesting and important.

Some readers may feel put off by Polly’s values. She remains dedicated to dressing and living simply even as she witnesses the extravagances of her rich friends. She also thinks it wrong to flirt for fun, because she could end up hurting a man who takes her advances seriously. She believes it is important to love and support her family, and she values those relationships more than she values her own comforts. For some modern readers, Polly may seem like nothing more than a prudish, subjugated girl who does not know how to have fun. Behind the outward gestures like simple clothes, however, is real conviction. Polly knows who she is and what she wants. She does not need her friends or high society to tell her how to be happy because she already is.

Alcott’s work makes it clear that, even in her day, there was some concern that outward appearances were taking precedence over true happiness and that people, worried about keeping up with their neighbors, were actually making themselves miserable. Even if readers do not agree with Polly that avoiding unnecessary expenses and keeping house for their brother can help them discern what they truly value, the main idea of looking inward for contentment instead of chasing the latest fads can still ring true. An Old-Fashioned Girl thus combines a delightful story with a thought-provoking question, “What really makes us happy? And do we have the courage to chase it, even when society will laugh at us for it?”

5 stars

I Will Repay by Baroness Orczy

Information

Goodreads: I Will Repay
Series: Scarlet Pimpernel Publication Order #2 (Chronological #3)
Source: Library
Published: 1906

Summary

Ten years ago, Juliette Marny swore an oath to ruin the man who killed her brother. But then she falls in love with her sworn enemy. Can she risk her soul–and that of her brother’s–to protect the man she loves?

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Review

This melodramatic sequel to The Scarlet Pimpernel is just the kind of high stakes, over-the-top drama I expect from a Baroness Orczy title. Young Juliette Marny has sworn an oath to her now-dead father to avenge the death of her brother by ruining the man who took his life. But, when she meets the man, Paul Déroulède, ten years later, she unexpectedly finds him to be a good man–one whom she loves. Juliette then has to decide. Is it right to be the cause of a good man’s death? Is it wrong to break an oath sworn to God Himself? I Will Repay is a riveting story, sure to please readers who enjoy a book that never takes itself too seriously.

The plot of I Will Repay is all very contrived, of course, and perhaps modern readers will not feel as strongly as Juliette the gravity of breaking an oath that so obviously seems perverse. However, Orczy tries to let readers into the mind of Juliette, suggesting that her youth, combined with a Catholic fervency, has primed Juliette to be extremely impressionable, especially to heighted emotions and circumstances. She has sworn an oath that asks her brother’s soul never to find peace if she does not ruin the man who killed him. Naturally, if she believes this oath to be true, she will be hesitant to break it, even for the man she loves.

Juliette’s battling emotions are the backdrop against which the story is set, and they find a fitting counterpart in the heightened emotions following the French Revolution. The country has essentially been given over to mob rule, and Juliette and Paul must figure out how to offend no one, even though their wealth and lineage mark them as prime enemies of the state. Their balancing act adds yet another layer of drama to the story, and sets the stage for the entrance of the Scarlet Pimpernel, that bold Englishman who snatches men and women from the jaws of the guillotine.

Readers who enjoy Sir Percy may be disappointed to find that he plays only a small role in I Will Repay, but, for me, the focus on new characters is part of what makes the story interesting. Juliette and Paul’s little drama somewhat mirrors that of Percy’s and Marguerite’s in the first book. Orczy loves a star-crossed romance, and she truly puts Paul’s love to the test as he must decide whether the woman who betrayed his trust is worthy of forgiveness. This journey proves important for the story, however, which can read as a little dated with its depiction of men and women. Juliette’s fall from grace serves to take Juliette down from the pedestal Paul has placed her on and show her to be a living, breathing human with flaws.

Baroness Orczy specializes in dramatic action stories, where everything seems just a little over the top. However, her ability to write dynamic characters, combined with a fast-paced plot full of danger and romance makes her storytelling absolutely riveting. Some may find the gender stereotypes depicted off-putting. However, if one is willing to accept that Orczy was writing in a different historical context, her instinct for drama is second to none.

4 stars

Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

Some Tame Gazelle

Information

Goodreads: Some Tame Gazelle
Series: None
Source: Borrowed
Published: 1950

Official Summary

Barbara Pym is a master at capturing the subtle mayhem that takes place in the apparent quiet of the English countryside. Fifty-something sisters Harriet and Belinda Bede live a comfortable, settled existence. Belinda, the quieter of the pair, has for years been secretly in love with the town’s pompous (and married) archdeacon, whose odd sermons leave members of his flock in muddled confusion. Harriet, meanwhile, a bubbly extrovert, fends off proposal after proposal of marriage. The arrival of Mr. Mold and Bishop Grote disturb the peace of the village and leave the sisters wondering if they’ll ever return to the order of their daily routines. Some Tame Gazelle, first published in Britain nearly 50 years ago, was the first of Pym’s nine novels.

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Review

Some Tame Gazelle is one of those lovely classics that don’t seem to be “about” anything in particular, yet are so interesting and insightful when it comes to the lives of the characters and the place they live in, that one falls headfirst into the story.

I know if I were ever to write a book, it would need to be one strongly centered around a plot; there would be a quest or something particular the characters were doing that would tie the book together. I love books like Anne of Green Gables that are difficult to summarize because they’re not about one major plot point; they’re just about the characters’ lives. I think these books must be among the hardest to write and to write well because they rely so much on the author’s being able to write compelling characterization and make insightful remarks about human nature. Barbara Pym, like some of the great authors before her, excels at this.

The back of my copy of Some Tame Gazelle says the book is about “unrequited love,” which I think is as specific as one can get– but, of course, that’s a theme more than a plot point. Pym explores that theme with sensitivity and clarity, however, offering readers a range of characters who do (or not) experience romantic love: one woman who has quietly loved her friend (now married to another woman) for decades, a man who keeps asking another woman to marry him and being confused, a woman dreaming about men she hasn’t seen for years only to find they’ve changed. The beauty of the novel is that I have practically nothing in common with these people (the main characters are two unmarried women in their mid-fifties), but I see life through their eyes and understand.

And there are small moments, the quiet moments of life that Pym excels at noting and celebrating, that truly make the characters “relatable.” In one scene, for instance, one of the protagonists is thinking contentedly about how she has chose the correct shoes for an occasion, only for her sister to off-handedly remark she had always found that style of shoes a bit frumpy. The protagonist then goes off to her event, uncomfortably aware now that she is wearing dowdy shoes. I’m probably a bit young to feel “dowdy,” but I think many of us can relate a bit to suddenly becoming conscious of being unfashionable or not wearing the right thing, yet stuck wearing it anyway, sure in the back of our minds that everyone must be noticing. These seemingly insignificant scenes — such as a character wearing uncool shoes — are where Pym skillfully gets into and portrays the human mind.

Finally, I enjoyed the absurd amount of literary quotations and allusions in the book. There’s a particular respect for Middle English texts, which is so unusual that I couldn’t help but love it, as I, too, enjoy medieval texts. Characters even admire other characters for their knowledge of Middle English literature. Wild. Now, I am fairly certain that some of the literary quotations (which are from a variety of literary eras) are there a bit to poke fun at the characters (some, for instance, quote texts constantly but haven’t read much since college and seem to be a bit too much invested in reliving their glory days as undergrads rather than living in the present), but I still found it impressive how many were worked into the novel, and I appreciated them simply because I appreciate classics.

This is only the second Barbara Pym novel I’ve read, after Excellent Women, but I think she’s becoming a new favorite author of mine.

Briana
5 stars

What Romantic Classic Should You Read? (Flow Chart)

MORE ABOUT THESE CLASSICS

*Click the book titles to read full reviews.

You can find more flow charts with reading recommendations here:


Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

If unrequited love is more your mood than passionate romance right now, Some Tame Gazelle may be the book for you. Read about the protagonist’s unreturned flame for a now-married friend, her sister who’s been proposed to by the same man multiple times because she keeps refusing him, and all the other delightfully realistic inhabitants of their small town.

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Belinda by Maria Edgeworth

You thought I was going to recommend a Jane Austen novel for a Regency romance, didn’t you? However, everyone knows about Austen…but do they know about Maria Edgeworth? Her novel Belinda features a seventeen-year-old protagonist looking for marriage and was known by Jane Austen herself.

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Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer

A classic love story that has been told and retold (Shakespeare wrote a play, too), featuring star-crossed lovers during the Siege of Troy. If you thought Chaucer only wrote The Canterbury Tales, you’ll be pleased and surprised by the nuance with which he tells the story of Troilus and Cressida and how they fall in love and experience tragedy.

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Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

You probably read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in high school, but have you read it recently? Now is a great time to experience this classic tragedy all over again, looking at it with fresh eyes. And maybe relishing the ending if you’re not really in the mood to think happily ever afters tend to work out. It’s a romance and an anti-romance all in one!

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The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

L. M. Montgomery may be best known for writing Anne of Green Gables (and book three, Anne of the Island, is pretty romantic, as well!), but The Blue Castle is a beautiful, rather overlooked novel that anyone who wants a light story about unexpected love will enjoy.

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SHIRLEY BY CHARLOTTE BRONTË 

One of my favorite college professors recommended this book as “one of the most romantic novels she’d ever read,” and it’s so true and so overlooked due to most people’s focus on Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I do think the book opens a bit slowly, but once it gets going, it’s immersive. It would also pair well with reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, due to the focus on the mill and labor issues (still romantic, though!).