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Archive for the ‘Classics’ Category

I’m so excited to be partaking in the 5th Annual Austen in August extravaganza of all things Jane Austen! This summer marked the 200th anniversary of her too early death on July 18, 1817, and this is a wonderful way to honor and celebrate our beloved Jane.

Austen in August was launched and is hosted by Adam at roofbeamreader.com. It has spawned several copycat events (true flattery they say), but the original (and best!) event is noted by the hashtag #AusteninAugustRBR

The “official” read is Northanger Abbey, which I just finished rereading for the umpteenth time. It gets more and more delightful. I also opened the month with a binge rewatch of the 1995 TV mini-series of Pride and Prejudice. 

Participants will be reading Austen’s writings, including any re-imaginings of her works, biographies, critical texts, and, of course, watching film and TV adaptations. We can also choose from a wonderful stream of articles that have appeared on Austen all summer long in various print and online publications, and of course many Janeite blog postings!

Sign up to join us for Austen in August at RoofbeamReader.

Link up any Austen in August blog posts on this master page to be eligible for prizes and giveaways!

Check out the series of Austen in August posts from a number of contributors via the official blog site.

Chat about #AusteninAugustRBR with this hashtag on social media.

My Reading List: 

Northanger Abbey—completed

Persuasion—completed

The Incredible Crime, by Lois Austen-Leigh—completed

Lady Susan—completed 

Love & Freindship—completed

Jane Austen’s Letters (4th Ed), collected and edited by Deirdre Le Fayebrowsing reread of selected letters

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Today I am writing about Jane Austen’s Emma over at Sarah Emsley’s blog. Mine is the twenty-third in a series of guest posts celebrating 200 years of Emma. To read more about all the posts in the series, visit Emma in the Snow.

emma-in-the-snow2

I don’t have an “I Heart Darcy” t-shirt. To be sure, when reading Pride and Prejudice, one cannot help but be enamored of Mr. Darcy. But really, when it comes to Jane Austen’s heroes, my heart belongs to Mr. George Knightley.

He has all the advantages of Darcy—land, position, looks—but “with a real liberality of mind” (Volume 1, Chapter 18). Read on …

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hercule poirots christmas lg“It is, then, your opinion that Christmastime is an unlikely season for crime?” asks Hercule Poirot of Colonel Johnson, in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (also published as Murder for Christmas and A Holiday for Murder).

Johnson (whom readers will remember from Three Act Tragedy) has invited the mustachioed sleuth for the holiday and is anticipating a relaxing break free from any detective work. Poirot, however, is not so assured. Nor does he agree with his host regarding the value of a wood fire. The fastidious Belgian feels a draught about his shoulders and pines wistfully for central heating.

Nearby at Gorston Hall, a tyrannical and slightly mad patriarch Simon Lee has gathered his estranged, grumbling clan for their first Christmas together in years. Once again, Agatha Christie shines in providing an appealing cast of disparate characters, from the grasping politician, to the prodigal son, to the mysterious Spanish granddaughter, to the long-suffering loyal son and his well-bred, decorous wife who runs the house prodigiously.

The novel takes place from December 22 to December 28, so it’s fun to read over this time period. Christmas serves as a sort of ironic offset to the action, as the atmosphere is more lugubrious than jolly. After the murder, the traditional festivities are curtailed, and the characters themselves lament the lack of merriment.

Instead, this is a brilliant murder mystery. Christie incorporates both the “locked-room” setup (in which it seems that no one could have entered or left the crime scene to actually commit the murder) and the “closed circle of suspects” (in which the characters know that one of their small number did it).

Indeed, the already strained relations among the Lee family worsen exponentially when they each suspect one another of murder—quite a dysfunctional Christmas!

There’s also international intrigue with complications from the Spanish Civil War and from business ties to South African diamonds.

This whodunit kept me guessing. It seems likewise for Poirot, who in his summation makes a case for how each family member had motive and opportunity in this murder. Ultimately, the reveal is surprising and inevitable—as the best endings are.

Spoiler alert! Johnson and Poirot discuss the outcome of Three Act Tragedy so best to read that book ahead of this one.

Finally, Christie nicely rounds off the subplots and future plans are made to celebrate a traditional English Christmas with all the trimmings. All in all, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is another Christie classic. Most satisfying and highly recommended!

 

Agatha Christmas: A Reading of Christie’s Holiday Classics

agatha christmas logo

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

A Christmas Tragedy by Agatha Christie

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

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Christmas Tragedy“A Christmas Tragedy” is a short story in The Thirteen Problems collection, which was also published under the title The Tuesday Club Murders. I particularly like the setup, in which the different stories are told by a group of friends gathered together to discuss mysteries.

Sir Henry Clithering presses Miss Marple for a mystery that has happened to her. She recalls an incident, which she quickly redefines as a “tragedy.” Indeed, I found this one of Christie’s more chilling stories. While Christmas serves a bit as a plot device, this is not a “Christmas story.”

Miss Marple recounts a visit to a spa for the holiday, but she recalls “a curiously eerie feeling in the air. There seemed to be something weighing on us all. A feeling of misfortune.”

Upon seeing a fellow guest, Mr. Sanders, she immediately knew that he planned to kill his wife. Miss Marple had no proof, however, just gut instinct.

13 ProblemsThe narrative progresses with tension and a sense of impending doom. Some of the characters are shocked by the happenings and some seem to take a “positively ghoulish” delight in it all.

Miss Marple holds it together though, offering one of her classic dictums: “a gentlewoman should always be able to control herself in public, however much she may give way in private.”

So while it’s not a cheery holiday fable, “A Christmas Tragedy” is a typical Christie whodunit—a fast read that ends with one of her trademark inverted plot twists.

 

Agatha Christmas: A Reading of Christie’s Holiday Classics

agatha christmas logo

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

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agatha christmas img lg“A Christie for Christmas” was a popular saying and holiday tradition back when Agatha Christie was writing a book a year. Her latest release would be timed so that it could be in stockings or wrapped up under trees. Reading the new Christie was somewhat of a Christmas Day ritual.

Christie incorporated the holiday into several of her mysteries, so I thought it would be fun to read these Christmas-themed works. I’ll be posting my (spoiler-free) reviews below over the next week.

Agatha Christmas to all!

4 50 from Paddington4:50 from Paddington
Novel featuring Miss Marple
After a day of hectic Christmas shopping, Elspeth McGillicuddy is certain that she witnessed murder on a train.

No one believes her but her friend, Miss Jane Marple …

 

 

 

Christmas TragedyA Christmas Tragedy
Short story featuring Miss Marple

Miss Marple goes to a spa for the holidays in this chilling, not cheery, tale.

Upon seeing a fellow guest, Mr. Sanders, she immediately knew that he planned to kill his wife. She has no proof, however, just instinct.

 

 

 

hercule poirots christmas  Hercule Poirot’s Christmas
(aka: Murder for Christmas and A Holiday for Murder)
Novel featuring Hercule Poirot

“It is, then, your opinion that Christmastime is an unlikely season for crime?” asks Hercule Poirot of Colonel Johnson.

Christmas serves as a sort of ironic offset to the action in this brilliant murder mystery.

 

 

Adventure Christmas Pudding The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding
(aka: “The Theft of the Royal Ruby”)
Short story featuring Hercule Poirot

This longer short story reads like Agatha Christie’s ode to the “old-fashioned Christmas in the English countryside”with all the ritual and trimmings.

This is certainly the coziest Christie I’ve read and a perfect holiday read.

 

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

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Our Classics ClubHere’s my Classics Spin #11 list.

The Spin is hosted by The Classics Club who will pick a number between 1-20 on Monday Dec 7 … and that is the book that all participants have to read by Feb 1.

I went mostly with big, thick, old-fashioned classics which are perfect reading on long winter nights.

Come up with your own Spin list tonight and join us when the lucky number announced by The Classics Club tomorrow.

Follow #ccspin and @ourclassicsclub on Twitter

Lucky Spin Number: 19

I will be reading “The Brontës,” by Rebecca Fraser

1.) Scenes of Clerical Life, by George Eliot

2.) Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

3.) Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope

4.) Greenvoe, by George Mackay Brown

5.) Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery

6.) Frenchman’s Creek, by Daphne du Maurier

7.) Can You Forgive Her?, by Anthony Trollope

8.) Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

9.) Adam Bede, by George Eliot

10.) Jane Austen: The Parson’s Daughter, by Irene Collins

11.) Shirley, by Charlotte Brontë

12.) Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy

13.) Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brien

14.) The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe

15.) Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

16.) A Study in Scarlett, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

17.) Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne

18.) Under the Greenwood Tree, by Thomas Hardy

19.) The Brontës, by Rebecca Fraser

20.) David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens

Village School by Miss Read — Classics Club Spin #10

Classics Club Spin #10 Reading List

Classics Club Spin #7 Reading List

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Village School Miss Read LGI’ve been curious about the Miss Read books and was so pleased when Village School was lucky number #5 on my Classics Club Spin List. It tells the story of the small village of Fairacre, England, as narrated by the school mistress of the local, two-room elementary school, aka “Miss Read”.

Set right after World War II, the book begins on the first day of school with all the anticipation and excitement felt by the two teachers and their students. The story unwinds in a series of slice-of-life vignettes that follow the school year. Miss Read has a knack for creating evanescent moments: children making straw bunches for the harvest festival; strained conversation while drinking tea in a dusty sitting room; an evening of skating on the local pond lit up by a farmer’s lorry (truck) headlights.

Throughout the book I had that wistful feeling of the passing of time, for example this lovely summer afternoon:

“We were disposed at the edge of the half-cut field under the elm trees’ shade. The air was murmurous with the noise of the distant cutter and with myriads of small insects. Far away the downs shimmered in the heat, and little blue chalk butterflies hovered about us … the children sat or lay in the grass with their books propped before them. Some read avidly … But others lay on their stomachs, legs undulating, with their eyes fixed dreamily on the view before them, a grass between their lips, and eternity before them. … When these boys and girls are old and look back to their childhood, it is the brightest hours that they will remember. This is one of those golden days to lay up as a treasure for the future, I told myself, excusing our general idleness.”

The author, whose real name is Dora Jessie Saint, taught school for many years, and the Fairacre novels are fictionalizations of her own experiences—much like James Herriot’s books.

Village School is a delightful, cosy, and relaxed read. That’s not to say that it is sugar-coated. The thatched cottages look pretty, but inside they are dark and damp, with no plumbing or drainage. Likewise the narrative touches on difficulties such as a drunkard father, a boy who has no dinner (lunch) money, and the formidable test that decides the educational fate of 11-year-olds. Miss Read empathizes with her students and neighbors, especially the grubby but beguiling Joseph Coggs. Overall, however, the book is upbeat and highlights the charm of village life. The school janitor (who has laid out all the courses) has a role of prominence at the summer sports day, walking about in a blue serge suit with the vicar.

My one serious complaint is that the “n-word” jumped off page 135, which was shocking and, honestly, somewhat horrifying. Miss Read uses it to describe how hard one of her students is studying. This was especially jarring given the comforting cadence of the prose.

Back in 1939, Agatha Christie had a book with the “n-word” in its title, although when it was released the next year in the U.S., the title was changed to And Then There Were None. The UK version adopted the latter title by the 1980s. Village School was published in 1955, and my edition was reissued in 2001. So it seems even more egregious that this has not been addressed.

That aside, I found this a charming book, and I think the many Fairacre sequels will be perfect reading for cold winter nights by the fire with a cup of tea.

Our Classics ClubTo read other reviews from this CC Spin, check out @ourclassicsclub or #ccspin on twitter.  Why not join us in the next Classics Club Spin?

My Classics Club Spin #10 Reading List

The Classics Club Homepage

The Classics Club Spin Challenge

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