Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell Miniseries

I am so excited about this!  

When, when, WHEN is it coming to the US????  Does anyone know???

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope

"I never knew a government yet that wanted to do anything. Give a government a real strong majority, as the Tories used to have half a century since, and as a matter of course it will do nothing. Why should it? Doing things, as you call it, is only bidding for power,—for patronage and pay."

Phineas Finn is the second of Trollope's Palliser novels. After reading his six Chronicles of Barset, I had put off reading the Pallisers since I was afraid of getting drawn into another series -- it's six more novels, and most of them are more than 700 pages long! But I finally took the plunge last year and read the first in the series, Can You Forgive Her?

Set around 1865, Phineas Finn is the story of a young Irishman who moves to London to study law but gets drawn into British politics. Due to a series of chance circumstances, he's asked to stand for Parliament (or as we Yanks would say, "run for Parliament") for his home district. So, at a young age, with virtually no political experience except a love for debate, Phineas becomes a junior member of Parliament.

Much of the novel is devoted to Phineas as he climbs up the ladder as a career politician, having turned his back on the law, and the concurrent wrangling over the Reform Bills going through Parliament. During this time, only a small percentage of the British population were allowed to vote -about one of every seven males. There's a lot of political wrangling and references that I must confess I kind of skimmed over.

And then there's Phineas' love life. Even though there's a sweet girl back home who loves him, Phineas is attracted to the beautiful Lady Laura Standish; her friend, the orphaned heiress Violet Effingham (who has an on-again/off-again relationship with Laura's brother, Lord Chiltern); and the mysterious widow, Madame Max Goesler.

This book had way more politics than in any of the other Trollope novels I'd read before, and I'm sure I would have gotten more out of it if I knew more of the history.  I definitely enjoyed more of the domestic side of the novel than the political side. However, the characters really drew me in and I kept rooting for Phineas, both in his career and his love life.  And it's really quite witty.  Here's a conversation between Violet Effingham (who has a lot of suitors, since she is an heiress) and her best friend Lady Laura:

"I hate a stupid man who can't talk to me, and I hate a clever man who talks me down. I don't like a man who is too lazy to make any effort to shine; but I particularly dislike the man who is always striving for effect. I abominate a humble man, but yet I love to perceive that a man acknowledges the superiority of my sex, and youth, and all that kind of thing."
"You want to be flattered without plain flattery."
"Of course I do. A man who would tell me that I am pretty, unless he is over seventy, ought to be kicked out of the room. But a man who can't show me that he thinks me so without saying a word about it, is a lout. Now in all those matters, your friend, Mr. Finn, seems to know what he is about. In other words, he makes himself pleasant, and, therefore, one is glad to see him."
"I suppose you do not mean to fall in love with him?"
"Not that I know of, my dear. But when I do, I'll be sure to give you notice."

Phineas Finn is only loosely connected to the characters in Can You Forgive Her?, but there are appearances by some of the characters, including Plantaganet Palliser; his wife, Lady Glencora; and the Duke of Omnium.  I suppose one could theoretically read them out of order, but I think it makes more sense to start at the beginning.  I've since started The Eustace Diamonds which is one of Trollope's most popular novels (and it's on my Classics Club list, huzzah!)

I'm counting this as my 19th Century Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Anthony Trollope Bicentennial: Second Giveaway!

Anthony Trollope

It's Anthony Trollope's 200th birthday, and that means it's time for another giveaway! This week, one lucky winner  (world-wide this time) will win his or her choice of any Trollope novel available from The Book Depository ($20 US or less). There are lots of lovely Penguin and Oxford World's Classics available.  Here are just of few of the possibilities  (I've included links to books I've reviewed on this blog):
The Chronicles of Barset:

The Small House at Allington

The Pallisers Novels: 

Can You Forgive Her? 
The Eustace Diamonds
Phineas Redux
The Prime Minister
The Duke's Children

Other novels published by Penguin:

Christmas at Thompson Hall
Doctor Wortle's School
He Knew He Was Right
The Way We Live Now

Other novels published by Oxford World's Classics:

Cousin Henry
The Way We Live Now

Here are the rules:
  • To enter, simply leave a comment and let me know which of Trollope's novels you'd choose if you were the winner (you can change your mind if your name is chosen).  Please include an email address in your comment if it doesn't link to your blog automatically. 
  • The deadline to enter is Thursday, April 30, at 11:59 p.m., U.S. Central Standard Time.  A winner will be chosen randomly and announced the following day.
  • The winner must live in a country to which the Book Depository delivers.  To check and see if your country is included, here is a list
  • The winner will be contacted via email and will have 48 hours to respond with a mailing address; otherwise, I'll choose another winner.  
And that's it! Easy, right? Well, good luck, and happy reading!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Anthony Trollope Bicentennial: First Giveaway Winner!

First, my most sincere apologies for the late posting -- I know, this post was supposed to go up on Friday to announce the winner of my giveaway. (I'm out of town and somehow, my automatic post did not show up on time, and I had no laptop until today).

But without further delay, the winner of the first giveaway is. . . . Melissa at Avid Reader!!  Melissa, I'm sending you an email and we can make arrangements for me to send you your prize, this beautiful Vintage Paperback edition of Can You Forgive Her?

I'll be back home soon, and in a couple of days I'll post some more Trollopian events, including my review of Phineas Finn, a roundup of other posts about Trollope, and my next giveaway!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jane Austen and Crime by Susannah Fullerton

"Crime became a part of her plots, crime revealed character, crime emphasized duty and responsibility, and crime even united some of the heroines with the heroes."

For five of the past six years, I have been lucky enough to attend the Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America (also known as the JASNA AGM). Every year, hundreds of Jane Austen fans gather in a large hotel and discuss all things Jane Austen, from academic analyses to pop culture phenomena. There are costumes, dancing, lectures, discussions, and it's great fun if you're a literature geek like myself.  

Every year, I buy at least one book from one of the vendors that provide the retail therapy at the convention, usually from the wonderful Jane Austen Books -- if a book exists with any connection to Jane Austen, they probably sell it.  At my very first AGM, in 2009, I purchased Jane Austen and Crime by Susannah Fullerton, which examines how crime relates to Jane Austen's fiction and how it would have affected her personally during her lifetime. True crime and Jane Austen -- what is not to like?

Jane Austen lived from 1775 to 1817, during the Georgian and Regency periods.  Life was pretty brutal back then -- if caught, criminals could get the death penalty for offenses as minor as setting straw on fire or cutting down a tree.  Austen's own aunt was arrested for supposedly shoplifting some lace, and spent months in jail before she was finally acquitted, and Austen herself actually visited her aunt in jail.  Austen's own works are full of crimes, though some are not immediately obvious to the reader.  In this book, Fullerton examines actual crimes of the period and how they relate to the novels.    As a fan of history, Jane Austen, and crime writing, this was a literary triple threat. The book includes sections about crimes against life; crimes against property; crimes of passion (including adultery and elopement); social crimes (like dueling, smuggling, gaming, and poaching); gothic crime (regarding the gothic novels so fascinating to readers of the time period, including Jane Austen herself); and punishment and the law.

This book isn't long, but it did take a while to finish. Sometimes I find that history books are just packed so full of facts that I can only read so much at a time. This book has only 218 pages of text, but it took me about ten days to finish it (and of course I'm also juggling other reads as well).  I did learn lots of interesting facts, including the following:
  • Nearly every book by Jane Austen includes adultery, illegitimate children, fallen women, or an elopement. In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet could have sued George Wickham for damages because he'd ruined Lydia's reputation, but ironically, Lydia herself could not.
  • Emma's Harriet Smith commits a crime when she is accosted by gypsies and pleads with them to leave her alone. Theoretically, merely speaking to a gypsy was a hanging offense.  
  • The laws regarding the shooting of game during the time period were horribly skewed to the wealthy and privileged. Essentially, if you didn't own enough property, you couldn't kill a pheasant, but you could sit on a jury and sentence a person to hang for killing a pheasant.
  • Owning a hunting or sporting dog was also reserved for the privileged few who were allowed to hunt.  So, if I had lived in Regency times, it would have been illegal for me to own my Golden Retriever (except they didn't exist back then). Theoretically, I would not have been allowed to own this couch potato:
An extreme close-up of my dog Lucy. On the couch. 
  • Jane Austen's early works are full of murders and crimes. I've read all of her novels multiple times, but I've never read the juvenilia.  I suppose now I need to put this on my birthday wish list:

I'm always looking for a good reason to buy another Penguin Clothbound Classic.

So that's one more book crossed off my TBR Pile Challenge list!  I'm halfway finished and it's only April, so I should have no trouble finishing the list by the end of the year.  How's everyone else doing with the TBR Pile Challenge?  And which other nonfiction books about Jane Austen or the Regency period do you recommend?  

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Anthony Trollope Celebration: First Check-in and Giveaway!

It's the end of the first full week of the Anthony Trollope Bicentennial Celebration!  We're just getting started, but here are some links to Trollopian happenings around the blogosphere:

  • I wrote my first Trollope review of the month about Lady Anna  
  • Jane GS of Reading, Writing, Working, Playing wrote some preliminary thoughts on Framley Parsonage
I've also started reading Phineas Finn, the second in the Pallisers series.  Who else is reading a Trollope novel?  And are there any other blog posts I should include?  Please let me know in the comments. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Anthony Trollope Bicentennial: First Giveaway!

To celebrate the first week of the Anthony Trollope Bicentennial Celebration, it's time for the first giveaway!!   This week, I'm giving away a lovely Vintage Classics paperback copy of Trollope's novel Can You Forgive Her?

Written in 1865, Can You Forgive Her?  is the first of Trollope's beloved Pallisers series.  It's the is the story of Alice Vavasor, a woman torn between two lovers -- the solid and dependable John Grey, and her wild, impulsive cousin George -- but is George just after her money?  Meanwhile, her cousin Lady Glencora has married Plantagenet Palliser, a politician with a bright future, but she can't forget her first love, a handsome scoundrel.  It's a great story -- and did I mention it's 784 pages long?

The rules:
  • To enter the drawing, please leave a comment below, and include an email address if your comment doesn't automatically link back to your blog.
  • This particular giveaway is open to any blogger in the United States.  (But fear not, the next giveaway will be international!)  
  • The contest is open until 11:59 p.m., Central Standard Time, Thursday, April 16.  
  • The winner will be announced Friday, April 17.  The winner will have 48 hours to contact me, either by commenting on the blog posting the announcement, or by email.  Otherwise, I'll select another winner. 

So that's it!!  I'm excited for the first Trollope giveaway of the month!  Check back soon for more Trollope news and more giveaways!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Classics Spin #9

Time for another Classics Spin!  I haven't participated in a long time, since I was in a blogging slump last year.  But I'm back on track and ready to have a random number select the next book from my Classics Club List.

I'm down to my last 20 books, so this was the easiest Spin list to compile so far -- I just split them into four categories.  Hopefully, I won't get #20, The Eustace Diamonds, because I still haven't finished Phineas Finn which precedes it in the Pallisers series.  Some of these are books that I've been putting off for a really long time.  Fingers crossed, I'll be pleasantly surprised by the selection.

Five Classics I really want to read:

1.  Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
2.  Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
3.  Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
4.  A Dance to the Music of Time (1st Movement) by Anthony Powell
5.  Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton

Five Victorians:

6.  Armadale by Wilkie Collins
7.  No Name by Wilkie Collins
8.  Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell
9.  Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell
10.  New Grub Street by George Gissing

Five classics I keep putting off:

11.  The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
12.  The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
13.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
14.  The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
15.  Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson

The other five:

16. One of Ours by Willa Cather
17. The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
18. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
19. The Four Feathers by A. E. W. Mason
20. The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope

Anyone else participating in the Spin?  Are any of these books on your list?  And which ones should I be hoping for -- or dreading?

Updated:  The magic spin number was 2!!  So I'll be reading Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather.  I'm very happy with my spin selections and I look forward to reading and posting about it.  Look for my review on May 15. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope

"Obstinate, headstrong girl! I am ashamed of you!" 

Okay, that's actually a quote from Pride and Prejudice (Lady Catherine DeBourgh, to be exact) -- but it's so perfect for this book, I couldn't resist.  Lady Anna is one of Anthony Trollope's stand-alone novels, and it's basically about a girl who is defying her family to marry the man she loves.  

So, the setup:  the wealthy Earl Lovel, a widower in his late forties, marries a beautiful girl named Josephine Murray, who is from a good family, and they live somewhat unhappily (well, she's unhappy) at his dreary estate in Cumberland. About a year into the marriage, when she's expecting her first child, Lovel drops a bombshell on his young wife: the marriage isn't legal -- he still has a living wife in Italy! This technically makes Josephine his mistress and the child will be illegitimate.  Lovel then sails off into the sunset on his yacht back to Italy, presumably to ensnare another mistress, rubbing his hands together and twirling his mustaches diabolically all the while. Shocking!!

Fast-forward almost 20 years.  The Earl comes back to this estate with another wife in tow, also Italian.  He claims the original Italian wife is dead, and he refuses to acknowledge the daughter he'd left behind in England, who with her mother has been abandoned by all their friends and relatives (who now claim that they knew all along the marriage was a sham.) Mrs. Murray and her daughter, Anna, have had only one friend and supporter all these years -- a tailor named Mr. Thwaite, who has sacrificed much of his own income to help Mrs. Murray in lawsuits against the Earl.  

Then, another wrinkle -- Earl Lovel dies intestate.  So, who gets the estate?  The title automatically goes to a distant cousin, young Frederick Lovel, a second son and military officer who never expected to inherit a dime (much like Matthew Crawley of Downton Abbey).  The money, however, is another story -- does the money go to the new Earl, the direct descendant?  Or is the closest relative his daughter Anna? And what about those Italian women?  It's a mess.  

Meanwhile, some clever lawyers have an idea -- the two English cousins should join forces, discredit the Italians -- and -- wait for it -- get married! Yes, this would solve everyone's problems. Anna and Frederick are both of marriageable age, and this way, they both share in the fortune.  

But naturally, there are more problems. Anna is actually in love with Daniel Thwaite, son of the aforementioned tailor, who was her childhood friend and playmate -- in fact, the only friend who stuck with her for her entire life.  But is she really in love with him, or just feeling a sense of gratitude?  And shouldn't she be aiming her sights somewhat higher, since she's an aristocrat?  Shouldn't she stick with her own kind?  

If the answers were easy, it wouldn't be a Trollope novel.  There's lots of legalese, discussion about social classes, and a lot of arguments between mother and daughter.  It's a domestic novel with a lot to say about class conflict.  

I really enjoyed this novel.  It's a fairly fast read for a Trollope work.  Trollope actually wrote the entire novel while on a journey to Australia, and considered it one his best novels.  I think it's good but it doesn't have quite the complex structure of some of the longer novels, like The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right.  I did find it a bit one-note in places -- some of the characters seemed to keep making the same arguments over and over, and some of them seemed a bit one-dimensional.  But it's definitely great reading, and a good introduction to Trollope if you're afraid of some of the giant Victorian doorstoppers. 

I'm counting this as my Classic With a Name in the Title for the Back to the Classics Challenge

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Anthony Trollope in April

It's finally April, time for the Anthony Trollope Bicentennial Celebration!  This month, I'm hosting a celebration of the life and work of Anthony Trollope, one of the most beloved and prolific of Victorian English writers.   I'll post weekly roundups with links to other bloggers who are writing about anything Trollope related -- a book review, a review of one of the many TV adaptations of his work, or whatever strikes his or her fancy.  To sign up or see a list of bloggers participating, click here

And there will be giveaways!  Once a week, I'll be giving away a book by Anthony Trollope right here on this blog!  Some of the giveaways will be eligible to bloggers world-wide, some only here in the U.S.

To start out the month, here's a list of Trollope's major works -- he wrote 47 novels, including two series, the Chronicles of Barset and the Pallisers.

Here's a (mostly) chronological list of his works, courtesy of 

    (The Barset series is denoted by *, The Palliser series is denoted by +)

  • The Macdermots of Ballycloran (1847)
  • The Kellys and the O'Kellys (1848)
  • La Vendee (1850)
  • The Warden (1855)*
  • Barchester Towers (1857)*
  • The Three Clerks (1858)
  • Doctor Thorne (1858)*
  • The Bertrams (1859)
  • Castle Richmond (1860)
  • Framley Parsonage (1861)*
  • Orley Farm (1862)
  • Brown, Jones and Robinson (1862)
  • Rachel Ray (1863)
  • The Small House at Allington (1864)
  • Can You Forgive Her?+
  • Miss Mackenzie (1865)
  • The Belton Estate (1866)
  • Nina Balatka (1867)
  • The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867)*
  • The Claverings (1867)
  • Linda Tressel (1868)
  • Phineas Finn (1869)+
  • He Knew He Was Right (1869)
  • The Vicar of Bullhampton (1870)
  • Sir Harry Hotspur (1871)
  • Ralph the Heir (1871)
  • The Golden Lion of Granpere (1872)
  • The Eustace Diamonds (1873)+
  • Phineas Redux (1874)+
  • Lady Anna (1874)
  • Harry Heathcote of Gangoil (1874)
  • The Way We Live Now (1875)
  • The Prime Minister (1876)+
  • The American Senator (1877)
  • Is He Popenjoy (1878)
  • An Eye for an Eye (1879)
  • John Caldigate (1879)
  • Cousin Henry (1879)
  • The Duke's Children (1880)+ 
  • Dr Wortle's School (1881)
  • Ayala's Angel (1882)
  • Kept in the Dark (1882)
  • The Fixed Period (1882)
  • Mr Scarborough's Family (1883)
  • The Landleaguers (1883)
  • An Old Man's Love (1884)
  • An Autobiography (1883) 
And here's a great illustration of Trollope that I found thanks to o at Behold the Stars:
According to o, this was a study for a drawing published in Vanity Fair in 1873.  
If you've posted about Anthony Trollope already, please put a link to your blog in the comments below and I'll add them to the weekly roundup.  I've already read Lady Anna and I'll be posting my review tomorrow!  Happy reading!