Let’s get back to our English classics journey with three more books. You can check out my first English Classics post here!
The Waves by Virginia Woolf (1931)
The Waves by Virginia Woolf follows six friends from their childhood at the same school in rural England to their death. Bernard, Rhoda, Susan, Jinny, Neville and Louis grow up, work, marry, fall in love or raise children, and very occasionally meet for dinner at restaurants. However, a tragic event happens and leaves a permanent mark on their lives. The Waves is an extremely poetic novel that is built on the stream-of-consciousness narrative method that is peculiar to Virgina Woolf’s work. This means that the novel almost exclusively consists of the internal monologues of its six characters, at different moments in their lives. Between these monologues, some passages describe a seashore landscape at different times of a same day.
I can clearly see why this novel became a classic: it is so original, so innovative, so artistic, that it had to become a classic. Woolf’s style is absolutely stunning. But I must admit that, although most of The Waves is mere poetry and I really appreciated that, I also found found this novel very hard to read.
“I, who had been thinking myself so vast, a temple, a church, a whole universe, unconfined and capable of being everywhere on the verge of things and here too, am now nothing but what you see—an elderly man, rather heavy, grey above the ears, who (I see myself in the glass) leans one elbow on the table, and holds in his left hand a glass of old brandy.“
A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)
Dicken’s historical novel A Tale of Two Cities takes place between London and Paris. It begins in 1775, when Doctor Manette, a French physician who had been unjustly imprisoned for eighteen years in the Bastille is released and placed in the care of Jarvis Lorry, an English banker friend of the Manette family. Mr Lorry reunites Doctor Manette with his daughter, the beautiful Lucie Manette. The reasons why Doctor Manette (who has lost his mind during his captivity) has been imprisoned remain mysterious. During their journey to England, our three characters meet Charles Darnay, a Frenchman of aristocrat descent who will become a close friend of theirs. This is the premise of this novel that ends during the Reign of Terror.
It is a brilliant and extremely well-crafted novel. Little by little, the suspense builds up and all the pieces of the plot are masterfully put together. A Tale of Two Cities is described as the least dickensian of Dickens’s novels (it spares a lot of dialogues and characters’ descriptions) but also as Dickens’s masterpiece. A complicated love triangle is at the heart of this novel but a lot of passages are also devoted to the socio-political context of that time, in England and most of all in France. Dickens vividly describes the terrible inequalities and oppression of the Ancien Regime but also the murderous excesses of the French Revolution. This novel will keep you hooked!
“Above all, one hideous figure grew as familiar as if it had been before the general gaze from the foundations of the world – the figure of the sharp female called La Guillotine.
It was the popular theme for jests; it was the best cure for headache, it infallibility prevented hair from turning grey, it imparted a peculiar delicacy to the complexion, it was the National Razor which shaved close: who kissed La Guillotine, looked through the little window and sneezed into the sack.“
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
Jane Eyre is a bildungsroman following the childhood and first years of womanhood of an orphan with character. After having been raised by an aunt who hates her and then placed in Lowood, a boarding school for poor girls where she spends eight hard and hungry years, Jane Eyre manages to get hired at Thornfield Hall as a governess. There, Jane Eyre happily teaches her ten-year old French pupil, and falls for Thornfield Hall’s master, Mr Rochester. But Mr Rochester has his own secrets, and Jane Eyre is not the kind of girl who makes concessions.
This novel is a chunk (more than 650 pages in my paperback edition) and has a rather classical but very fast-paced and rich plot. I must say that, although I understand why Jane Eyre is thought of as a feminist character (she’s strong, independent and only acts according to her own moral principles), I didn’t especially enjoy reading this novel. Overall, I found it a little bit boring. I guess I’m not really into sentimental books. The parts of the novel that I really liked were the moments when Jane Eyre addressed the readers, which seemed quite ballsy to me. And, obviously, I loved the fact that this novel contains a great advocacy of women’s rights and freedom…
“It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. […] Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do.“
Any thoughts on these books, guys?