Classic Couple

A Classic Couple: Middlemarch and White Teeth

What’s this?? Another Classic Couple feature after months of nothing? That’s right! A Classic Couple is back with a whole new round of classic-contemporary pairings. Today I’ll be comparing two lengthy but worthwhile novels: Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-2) and White Teeth by Zadie Smith (1999). Although there are countless differences between these novels, there are numerous surprising similarities that are fascinating to uncover. Let’s begin!

Sprawling cast of characters || Both of these novels have enormous webs of characters with multiple generations and new faces appearing throughout the story. I love stories that are primarily character-driven rather than purely motivated by plot, so these books pass the test for me! However, there is a significant difference in the kinds of characters these authors choose to focus on. In Middlemarch, Eliot writes about white middle-class families, whereas Smith’s novel incorporates people of all sorts of socioeconomic classes, nationalities, religions, and backgrounds.

Context || These novels may be set in completely opposite locations– Middlemarch in rural Victorian England and White Teeth in urban late-twentieth century London– yet their contexts are nevertheless essential and integral components of these stories. The settings almost feel like characters themselves because they are referenced so often and in great detail.

Importance of reputations || Since both of these novels focus primarily on family dynamics and relationships between different individuals and groups of people, there is a huge emphasis on one’s reputation in society. Smith’s focus on race adds a complicated yet fascinating layer to “evaluating” people’s “status” in society. Are the younger generations staying true to their different cultural backgrounds, or are they adopting the religions, ideas, practices, and behaviors of their peers?

Questioning truth || Although the contexts of these novels are incredibly different, both pose important questions about what we should take as fact in life and what we should view as fiction. Eliot writes from a perspective of moral realism, meaning that she was challenging accepted notions that Christianity dictated everything rather than burgeoning scientific thought. Likewise, the younger generations in White Teeth start questioning the validity of their parents’ dedication to religion and the belief that there is a set date that the world will end and everyone will be judged for their actions. While Eliot seems to suggest that there should be only one version of truth, Smith asserts the exact opposite.

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with MiddlemarchWhat are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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Classic Couple

A Classic Couple: The Turn of the Screw and We Were Liars

In a past Top Ten Tuesday post I shared pairs of classic and contemporary novels that I saw parallels between. One of the spookiest pairs is Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw (1898) and E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars (2014). These books are take place in very different time periods, settings, and under unusual circumstances; however, there are nevertheless several interesting similarities between them.

Short Length || The Turn of the Screw is actually considered a novella and We Were Liars is only 240 pages long, making these perfect for when you need a quick read. It’s impressive how much of an impact these stories can leave in such a small number of pages.

Isolation || Both of these stories take place under circumstances that lack communication with others. In The Turn of the Screw, the new governess is told that she should not contact her employer (the uncle of the children she cares for). Isolation is much more physical for Cadence because she spends each summer on her family’s private island, disconnected from the mainland.  This separation from society allows unusual events to keep occurring without hindrances.

Suspense || These books are PAGE-TURNERS. I read We Were Liars in one sitting and The Turn of the Screw in two. Though the latter has a slower past, the question of what is going to happen next looms overhead the entire time you’re reading.

Ghosts || I’m not going to talk about this aspect in great detail because I don’t want to give away any huge spoilers. Though ghosts serve different functions in these stories, they’re nevertheless add fascinating twists.

Fantasy vs. Reality || What I love about these stories is that it’s often difficult to identify what is fantasy and what is reality. The distinction is fairly clear at the very end of We Were Liars, but I was still confused when I finished reading The Turn of the Screw. I feel as though part of Henry James’ goal in writing this novella is to blur the line between fact and fiction, forcing the reader to really pay attention to every little detail.

Shocking Endings || I never saw either of these endings coming! I’ve read a lot of mixed reviews of We Were Liars in which readers criticize the conclusion for being predictable and unoriginal, but I honestly never guessed what would happen. I think it has a lot to do with what other content you’ve been exposed to; for instance, if you’ve watched a movie with a similar ending before, then you’re more likely to have seen the ending of the book coming well in advance.

What are your thoughts on these books? Are there other books that share these similarities? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Classic Couple

A Classic Couple: Jane Eyre and Jellicoe Road

A while ago I made a post sharing some classic and contemporary pairs and since then I’ve been explaining each pair week by week. Today I’ll be delving deeper into one of my favorite classic couples: Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Melina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road. As you likely already know by now from the countless times I’ve mentioned them on this blog, these are two of my favorite books. Now it’s time to compare them!

Protagonists || Despite the decades that separate them, there are actually many similarities between Jane Eyre and Taylor Markham. Both young women are independent, clever, and resilient. They’re also both orphans: Jane’s parents died of typhus while Taylor’s mother abandoned her at a Seven Eleven when she was eleven years old. The two girls end up being cared for by institutions (the Lowood Institution and the Jellicoe School). Both end up leaving their institutions eventually (though with varying degrees of success).

Love Interests || How could we not discuss Mr. Rochester and Jonah Griggs? Though these men seem disagreeable at first, they are actually sensitive and caring (can’t escape that romance trope!). Though their budding relationships are certainly dramatic at times, it’s nevertheless really fun to read about them.

Hidden Pasts || Jane and Taylor grapple with secrets from the past, both in their own lives and in those of others. Mystery appears early on in Jellicoe Road as Taylor reads the manuscript Hannah has been writing for years. Over time Taylor pieces together the sections that are written out-of-order; however, she doesn’t realize the full implications of the story until much later. For Jane, the mystery comes in the form of secrets she learns about Mr. Rochester’s past. It seems as though everyone has a little something to hide.

Personal Growth || The character development in Jane Eyre and Jellicoe Road is remarkable. We follow Jane as she matures from a little girl into a young woman and Taylor as she comes to understand her own identity and the person she wants to be. Not only are these women brave, resilient, and determined, but they are also kind, caring, and thoughtful by the end of these novels. Brontë and Marchetta didn’t sacrifice softness for strength, which is something I greatly admire.

What are your thoughts on these books? Are there any other books that share these qualities? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Classic Couple

A Classic Couple: The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Goldfinch

Weeks ago I made a Top Ten Tuesday post listing pairs of classics and contemporary books. After several people commented with further questions about these pairs, I decided to go through them individually in this weekly feature called A Classic Couple. Today I’ll be sharing similarities between dark, intense, captivating novels: Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (2013). 

Atmosphere || Dark. Intense. Ethereal. The atmosphere of these books is similar to that of a twisted fairy tale. Though the writing is beautiful and the characters are witty, there’s nevertheless a looming sensation that something bad is lurking just around the corner.

Art || It’s no surprise from the covers, titles, and synopses of these novels that art is a common thread that runs between them. Both protagonists become obsessed with paintings: Dorian Gray with Basil’s portrait of himself and Theo Decker with a stolen painting that reminds him of his dead mother. These paintings reveal important aspects of the protagonists’ personalities (physically for Dorian and emotionally for Theo).

“Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty?”  {from The Goldfinch}

The above quote comes from The Goldfinch, though it could easy fit in with Wilde’s musings on art in beauty in Dorian Gray. As these characters become obsessed with material objects, wealth, and beauty, they become unhappier, self-absorbed, and distanced from reality. Though their obsessions begin simply out of vanity and grief, they gradually become twisted and more complex.

Ambiguity || Dorian and Theo certainly don’t make it easy to wholeheartedly root for them. Between their bad decisions, foolish mistakes, and horrible treatment of others it seems as though they’re begging to be disliked. However, there’s something about these characters that makes it hard to completely discount them. Perhaps it’s because we recognize bits of ourselves in them: our vanity, pride, grief, confusion, and desire. Dorian and Theo may be flawed, but that’s what makes them human.

(Did I purposely use alliteration in these similarities? Maybe.)

What are your thoughts on these books? Are there any other books that seem similar to either of these? Let me know in the comment section below!

Yours,

HOLY

Classic Couple

A Classic Couple: ON THE ROAD and THE ROAD

At a first glance, it might seem as though the only thing that Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road have in common is their similar titles. Though the contexts and genres of these books are very different—the 1940s in the United States vs. a frightening dystopian future—the stories themselves share many themes and ideas.

The road || I’m sure this seems incredibly obvious, but I’m not just talking about the physical road they travel on; rather, I mean the road as a sign of movement in the future and struggle and what lies ahead.

Sense of lawlessness || In On the Road, the “lawlessness” mostly exists because the protagonists want it to; in other words, they simply ignores the rules and norms to which the rest of society adheres. On the other hand, the situation in The Road is a very different story. Without government, authority, and civilization in general there really are no laws to follow anymore. The man and his son must navigate a world where anything could happen.

“Home” is ever-changing || The characters in these books have an understanding that the idea of a “home” can be impermanent and dynamic if you let it be. In other words, home is less of a location and more of a feeling. This mindset is taken on by choice in On the Road and by dire necessity in The Road.

Narration || These novels are written in a sort of stream of consciousness style, as though the existence of paragraph and chapter breaks is almost irrelevant and unnecessary. I had a difficult time putting these novels down because they have such great momentum. It took a little while to get used to the lack of quotation marks and dialogue breaks (especially in The Road) but I think it adds so much to the story overall.

What are your thoughts on On the Road and The Road? Do they remind you of any other books? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comment section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Classic Couple

A Classic Couple: The Woman in White and Gone Girl

What could a classic novel that was initially serialized in the nineteenth century and a recent bestseller that became a successful movie on the big screen possibly have in common? A lot, actually. Though Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl were published over a century apart, they are nevertheless linked in numerous ways.

Genre || The first similarity is probably the most obvious one; however, I think it’s still worth mentioning because it shows the great influence that The Woman in White has had on literature over time. These thrilling, suspenseful mystery novels have been popular with audiences for centuries, especially with their sensationalism and emphasis on domestic scandals.

Narration || Both of these books have multiple narrators, many of which are unreliable. Though most of the narrators of The Woman in White go out of their way to establish their credibility at the beginning of their accounts, we cannot rule out the fact that they may still be biased in their storytelling. As we read Gone Girl we learn to be on guard when Amy is narrating (her charming diary isn’t quite what it seems). Speaking of Amy’s diary, both of these novels incorporate written records as forms of narration. Not only does this add intrigue to the story and depth to the characters, but it also makes for a more interesting reading experience as different writing styles and voices are used for each narrator.

Duality || I love when books focus on dualities because the possibilities are endless. I don’t want to give away any important details of either book; however, I will say that both authors play with the idea of dual personalities, personas, identities, morals, and meanings. We see the struggle between the perceived and the actual; in other words, what others believe in contrast to what we truly are in actuality. Watching these duos unfold is always fascinating!

Explanations || Plots of mystery novels—especially great ones—can quickly become complicated and difficult to follow. Fortunately, both of these books clearly explain to the reader what has happened and how all of the details are interconnected in a cleverly crafted web. By the end of the novel you know exactly what occurred and why, which I always appreciate. Being left hanging at the end of a standalone can be incredibly frustrating!

Considering parallels like these between books can breathe new life into what we read. Though I didn’t love Gone Girl when I first read it, finding elements that it shares with The Woman in White has allowed me to appreciate it a bit more.

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with The Woman in WhiteWhat are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Classic Couple

A Classic Couple: The Song of the Lark and Paper Towns

It seems fitting that books by two of my favorite authors—Willa Cather and John Green—would connect across different centuries. As mentioned in a past Top Ten Tuesday post about pairs of classic and contemporary novels, I’ve found many interesting parallels between Cather’s The Song of the Lark (1915) and Green’s Paper Towns (2008).

Thea and Margo || These protagonists are headstrong, determined, and different from the people in their hometowns. Thea loves music and is seen as a young woman who holds great potential, whereas Margo is an enigma that no one can understand. Despite the man differences between them, they nevertheless share the same reckless, carefree spirit.

Leaving home || Eventually Thea and Margo move away from their childhood homes, leaving behind people who love and care about them in order to chase the prospect of adventure. Thea heads to the big city of Chicago to pursue a career in music, later finding herself traveling to Arizona, Dresden, and New York City. Margo departs suddenly in a shroud of mystery; she doesn’t tell anyone that she’s leaving or where she’s going to. These young women are running to something—adventure, adulthood, independence—but they’re also running from something: their past identities and the preconceived notions held by people they grew up with of who they should become.

Resistance || In both novels, friends from their pasts find Thea and Margo in the new lives they’ve made for themselves and try to persuade them to come back home. Unexpectedly, Thea and Margo refuse. Though Thea does go back and visit her hometown, she does not stay long and feels as though she doesn’t belong there anymore. Margo won’t even entertain the idea of returning to the town where she attended a high school that she technically hasn’t graduated from yet. Their new ideas and identities seem to manifest themselves in new locations.

Wanting “more” || The underlying current that runs beneath The Song of the Lark and Paper Towns is the desire for more out of life. Thea is enchanted by fantasies of big cities, fame, and a life away from her small, dull town; Margo is denounces the “paper people” she grew up around, yearning for those who are less materialistic and actually genuine, authentic, and real. The question remains: Do they really reach their “more”?

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with The Song of the LarkWhat are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Classic Couple

A Classic Couple: 1984 and Illuminae

It’s time for another Classic Couple, a feature inspired by a past Top Ten Tuesday list. George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 is known for being an unsettling masterpiece of dystopian fiction. Its literary influence spans decades since its initial publication in 1949, as shown by the many elements it shares with contemporary fiction such as Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Though one the former novel takes place in a not-so-distant society on Earth and the latter is set in outer space, there are a surprising number of similarities between these two books.

 

Themes || Control. Authority. Civilization. Resistance. Rebellion. Independence. Individuality. Freedom. I could go on and on listing the countless themes and topics that permeate this classic couple. These themes are universal and always relevant in any society, which is likely why 1984 has thrived in the literary limelight.

A look ahead || These novels offer very different views of the future, one clearly more near than the other. Beneath the surface of these outlooks are warnings about what lies ahead should we take the wrong turn as a society. Will we let technology control us? Will we ruin our own planet? Will we lose all sense of individuality, freedom, and independence? The power of literature allows us to remember these warnings and (hopefully) take them to heart.

Technology || Technology plays an important role in these books, largely involving supervision, subjugation, and maintaining control. From AIDAN that controls the space ship to Big Brother that monitors everything and everyone, technology these writers clearly view technology as a tool that can be dangerous in the wrong hands.

A jaw-dropping ending || These books left me speechless as I turned their final pages. It sounds strange to say, but the endings are similar in their inhumanity: the torture described in 1984 is unimaginable and the rigid consciousness of AIDAN seems like a mockery of the human mind. I wish there was a sequel to 1984 like there is for Illuminae because I would love to see where that society goes in the future.

I still have yet to read the sequel to Illuminae, but I desperately want to! (I know, I know, I’ve been saying this for the longest time…) I highly recommend both of these fantastic books!

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with 1984? What are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Classic Couple

A Classic Couple: Robinson Crusoe and The Martian

As is often the case with books I’ve been forced to read for school, I was one of the few people in my class who genuinely enjoyed reading Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. In fact, I wrote my first ever college paper on the conflict between savagery and civilization in Crusoe’s construction of a new identity for himself on the island. However, it wasn’t until I was thinking of classic and contemporary pairings for a Top Ten Tuesday post that I realized how many similarities there are between Robinson Crusoe and Andy Weir’s recent science fiction novel The Martian.

Plot || It’s interesting to think about how remarkably similar these novels are despite their different settings. Robinson Crusoe and Mark Watney are both stranded alone in foreign places while traveling in groups. They make lives for themselves in unfamiliar conditions, keep records of their surroundings, eventually make human contact, and ultimately escape their isolation. The endings are also similar, though I won’t talk about them in great detail.

Narration || Narration plays a significant role in these two books, especially since they are both written using a first person perspective. Even though they are isolated and there is no promise they’ll be able to return home, Crusoe and Watney still go through the trouble of recording their thoughts and experiences as though someone else will surely read their accounts. This record-keeping says something important about humanity: we long to communicate with others, even when someone else may not actually be listening.

Civilization || Even in the middle of nowhere, Crusoe and Watney are able to develop their own sort of civilizations in isolation. They grew food, wore clothing, and planned for the future. I suppose these tasks were also a way of staying sane in such dire circumstances. What I find particularly interesting is their fear of the unknown: for Crusoe this is a fear of savagery and for Watney it is a fear of what lies in the darkness of outer space. Again, their fear of what is unfamiliar suggests an important point about humans: we tend to think the worst about what we don’t know.

Who would have thought that stories set on a deserted island and Mars could have so much in common? I highly recommend both of these fantastic books!

What are your thoughts on Robinson Crusoe and The Martian? Are there books that also share these similarities? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Classic Couple

A Classic Couple: GREAT EXPECTATIONS and A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY

In a past Top Ten Tuesday post I paired Charles Dickens’ classic novel Great Expectations with the more contemporary novel A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Many people expressed interest in hearing more about the connection I see between these two works of literature even though they seem very different at a first glance. While there are many differences between them— publication dates, settings, time periods—they also share several important similarities.

Protagonists || Both novels focus on the lives of young boys as they mature into adulthood. In Great Expectations, Dickens tells the story of naïve Pip as he moves away from home learns what it’s like to live in the real world. Interestingly, it could be argued that there are two protagonists in A Prayer for Owen Meany: Owen Meany himself as well as John Wheelwright, the narrator through which we are told the events of both of their lives. Pip, Owen, and John all undergo significant character development as time passes, circumstances change, and unforeseen events take place.

Genre || Though these books are of distinct genres– Victorian literature and contemporary fiction– they’re also part of a shared genre: Bildungsroman. Both novels are coming-of-age stories with characters you can’t help but root for along the way. They might make some frustratingly foolish decisions at times—but who hasn’t? What I love about this genre is that it is primarily character-driven. The plot is important, but it is often secondary to what the characters are experiencing and feeling.

Plans || Speaking of plot, the events of these books can get complicated. There are so many tiny details to keep track of that at times it can seem a bit overwhelming. However, Dickens and Irving somehow manage to pull it all together at the end and connect the many dots that never made sense before. I distinctly remember reading the ending of A Prayer for Owen Meany and being absolutely blown away. All of those seemingly random symbols and details suddenly made perfect sense in a way that I never expected. It’s clear that these writers had plans in mind when writing these brilliant books (or maybe they’re just really good at spontaneous success!).

What are your thoughts on these two books? Would you pair them together? Are there books that would make a more suitable pair? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY