I Visited Willa Cather’s Grave

One day while reading a short bio of Willa Cather I stumbled upon the fact that she’s buried in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, only an hour and a half from where I live.

As you can imagine, I was ecstatic.

I was shocked when I learned she’s buried in NH because I knew she was born in Virginia and raised in Nebraska. Though she died in Manhattan, she asked to be buried in Jeffrey because apparently it was where she wrote a lot of her novels. She’s buried there with Edith Lewis, the woman she lived with for decades.

The sign on the Meeting House in Jaffrey, NH.

Recently my mom and I made the trek to Jaffrey to see the grave in person. She’s buried in the Old Burial Ground behind the Meeting House, which is a really beautiful old building in and of itself. When we pulled into the dirt parking lot on that rainy Friday morning we weren’t quite sure where we were headed, but fortunately we easily found her grave site because it’s in a corner near a stone wall (which we had to hop). The burial ground itself was actually kind of beautiful, even though that might sound weird. There were so many old, weathered headstones in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Part of me wanted to just stroll through it row by row and take it all in, but the rain encouraged us to be quick to avoid getting completely soaked. I was almost glad it was raining because it made the day feel cozy, peaceful, and even sort of eerie.

When we finally arrived at her headstone I couldn’t help but gasp. There she was. There’s a great quote from My Ántonia on Cather’s headstone, which made me so happy because I love that book immensely. There were also a bunch of rocks and pennies on her grave, most likely from others who admire her work as well.

I was definitely the happiest person in this burial graveyard (and the only person besides my mom).

Standing in front of Willa Cather’s grave was surreal. Too often it can feel as though authors are these untouchable, legendary figures who live on forever through the pages of their work. While visiting a grave like this it’s impossible to not feel a wave of realization wash over you: this woman was human, with hopes and dreams and flaws and desires just like the rest of us. Though I sometimes like to believe that the books I love hold a sort of elevated notion of truth and meaning that emanates from their spines, it’s important to remember that these texts were written by people just like us. Writers exist beyond their work, which is easy to forget when you’re engrossed in their stories and captivated by their words. Visiting Cather’s grave made everything feel much more real, tangible, and within reach.

Needless to say, I want to read everything that Willa Cather has ever written now, even more so than I did before. I’m so happy I had the opportunity to visit such an interesting piece of literary history— it’s definitely a place I would visit again in the future!

Have you ever visited the grave sites of your favorite authors? (Also, how weird is that question out of context?!) Do you have a favorite novel or short story by Willa Cather? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

EMMA by Jane Austen | Review

Last year I saw the movie Clueless, a comedy based on Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma, for the first time. My immediate reaction was: I need to read this book.

Set in Austen’s Victorian England, this novel follows Emma as she attempts to set her new friend Harriet up with a suitable man to marry. Caught up in the strict social conventions of the time, Emma goes through all the hoops necessary in order to make the perfect match… or so she believes. As each potential match flickers out before her eyes, she comes to realize that perhaps she’s been looking the wrong place all along.

It’s clear that Emma has the potential to possess all of the qualities that Austenites admire Jane’s books for having: humor, wit, charm, and a swoon-worthy romance. Unfortunately, I feel as though this novel misses the mark on these characteristics. Had the story been written with a slightly more agreeable protagonist, romantic interest, or ending, it would have made for a much more pleasurable read.

I guess my main problem with this novel is that I just couldn’t get past Emma’s annoying, oblivious, uppity personality. I’m sure this is the point of her character—we’re probably not supposed to like her—but where’s the enjoyment in that? Annoying protagonists are one of my biggest pet peeves, especially when there isn’t much going on besides their inner thoughts. Emma does undergo some character development towards the end of the story and begins to acknowledge that perhaps social classes aren’t as important in marriages as she once believed; however, this slight change was not enough to justify putting the reader through hundreds of pages to get to that point. I know this is a personal preference and is therefore really subjective, but my inability to relate with Emma ended up being a huge reason why this novel didn’t really click with me.

Harriet, on the other hand, was a character I connected with quickly and easily; it’s a shame that she doesn’t play a greater role overall. I’ve also been the girl who looks to others for relationship advice, the girl who feels heartbroken and a bit manipulated by others as they play their own twisted games. I think we can all relate with Harriet in some sense or at the very least feel sympathy for her as she is lead astray by Emma time and time and time again. Poor Harriet!

Overall, I have very mixed feelings about Emma. While I understand the point Austen is trying to make (social classes shouldn’t matter in marriages, the social conventions of the time period were ridiculous, etc.), I couldn’t get past Emma’s irritating, know-it-all personality. There were certainly moments when I laughed and admired Austen’s wit and charm, but it’s safe to say that this definitely isn’t my favorite Austen novel.

What are your thoughts on Emma? Which Jane Austen novel is your favorite? Which one should I read next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

HEMMED IN edited by M.R. Nelson | ARC Review

Hemmed In is a collection of six short stories written by women, about women. In the words of editor M.R. Nelson, the stories in this collection are about “women, the restrictions on their lives, and the ways they found to make space for themselves despite those restrictions.” When I was offered an ARC of this collection in exchange for an honest review I immediately knew I had to accept. Not only does Hemmed In include a story by Willa Cather, one of my all-time favorite writers, but it also highlights stories and writers that are often forgotten. My favorite aspect of this collection is the common thread that links these stories together: a woman’s role in society, both among men as well as other women. I’ve most often come across short story collections organized by shared time periods or by the same author, but this one struck me as particularly interesting and unique. Since there are only six stories, I’ll share my thoughts on each one:

+ “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell. I was sucked into this story from the moment it began. This murder mystery demonstrates a mutual understanding that can exist among women. It emphasizes the importance of being there for each other, being empathetic, and reaching out before it’s too late to do so. Though we may not always realize it, we share similar experiences that we can all learn and grow from.

+ “A Pair of Silk Stockings” by Kate Chopin. I read dozens of short stories by Chopin for one of my courses last semester and I love the way she manages to captivate the reader in just a few quick pages. This story counters the idea that mothers are supposed to be eternally selfless. How can you take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself, too? By choosing to splurge and spend money on herself rather than her family, the protagonist shows that women are people with needs, desires, dreams, and wills of their own.

+ “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Unlike the other stories in this collection, “The Yellow Wallpaper” is written with a sort of stream of consciousness style as though the protagonist is writing her thoughts in a journal. Though her husband, a physician, repeatedly assures her that time alone will help her “recover,” what she really desires is to play a more active, social role in society. This powerful story of a supposedly “sick” woman illustrates the way women have been trapped physically, mentally, and emotionally. Gilman’s writing is clever, genuine, and really puts the reader in the shoes of the protagonist.

+ “Little Selves” by Mary Lerner. This story is just so, so sweet. Despite the fact that the protagonist is on her deathbed, she nevertheless finds solace in looking back on her happiest memories. Lerner’s optimistic story suggests that women are capable of leading fulfilling lives that they can look back on fondly.

+ “The Leading Lady” by Edna Ferber. I love that the overall message of this story is the importance of camaraderie and friendship among women. It made me want to call up all of my amazing friends who are women and thank them for always being there for me, just as the protagonist finds comfort in speaking with the women she meets in the hotel. This is “girl power” at its finest!

+ “The Bohemian Girl” by Willa Cather. I was thrilled when I discovered that a Willa Cather story is included in this collection. I fell in love with this story from the very beginning, especially because it gives off strong My Antonia vibes. In fact, there are many similarities between this short story and that novel. For instance, there are the familiar conflicts between home and away, rural areas and cities, the past and the present. Both Nils and Jim Burden inevitably return to their pasts on the farm, though with differing outcomes. This is actually the first short story I’ve read by Cather, but it certainly won’t be the last!

Overall, the entire premise behind a “taster flight” of short stories such as Hemmed In is brilliant and incredibly effective at highlighting a specific point or theme. In this case, these stories work to showcase not only the talent of women as writers but also the perseverance of women in spite of the discrimination and subordination we have faced throughout history. As an added bonus, I have now been introduced to several writers whose work I need to read more of!

Would I recommend this to a friend?: Yes!! I would recommend this to anyone interested in feminist writing, any of the particular authors featured in the collection, or simply short stories in general.

What are your thoughts on this collection? Have any related recommendations based on these authors? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

War and Peace Newbies Tag

Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is a classic I’ve always been curious about but I’ve never actually endeavored to read it. Fortunately, Laura @ Reading in Bed is hosting a read-a-long for especially for people who have never read this classic novel before. The read-a-long starts today and all of the details can be found on her blog here. Thanks so much to Laura for tagging me on Twitter!!

1. Have you read (or attempted) War and Peace? 

No, but it’s one of those classics that has always been on my TBR list.

2. What edition and translation are you reading?

I know that some people really research different editions of books before they settle on one, but for this read-a-long I didn’t really look into all of that in a lot of depth. I’ll be reading the Barnes & Nobles Classics edition solely because I bought it for a super cheap price. The pages are also wonderfully floppy– I mean, as floppy as a 1156 page brick can be. This edition is a translation to English by Constance Garnett.

3. How much do you know about War and Peace (plot, characters, etc.)?

Absolutely nothing, though from what I gather there’s some fighting parts and non-fighting parts.

4. How are you preparing (watching adaptations, background reading, etc.)?

Erm…. I’m not? I want to go into this read-a-long with as much of an open mind as possible, so I have done literally no preparation. I figure that if I need the help of a movie adaptation or background reading then I’ll just watch or read them as I go along.

5. What do you hope to get out of reading War and Peace?

Ideally, I would love to finish this read-a-long with a love of War and Peace and Russian literature in general. At the very least I hope to gain a better understanding and appreciation for Russian literature.

6. What are you intimidated by?

A few months ago I read The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky, which is the first and only Russian novel I have read up until this point. From this experience I know that I tend to get confused by the complicated Russian names of characters– I can only imagine how confusing a novel of this length could be!! I’m going to try highlighting the names of different characters in different colors as I read and see if that helps me keep them all straight in my mind.

7. Do you think it’s okay to skip the “war” parts?

It depends what you mean by “okay.” Would I skip the “war” parts? Probably not, because I’d like to experience reading the full novel. However, I think if some people want to skip the “war” parts then they’re perfectly fine doing so (so long as they later recognize that they’ve skipped these parts and haven’t read the full) novel.

Thanks again to Laura for tagging me in this tag and for hosting this read-a-long! I can’t wait to get started!!

Have you ever read War and Peace? Do you have any advice for reading this novel or Russian literature in general? Will you be participating in this read-a-long? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

SARTORIS by William Faulkner | Review

It’s difficult to know what direction to turn in when one makes the vague goal of “reading more Faulkner.” Once you’ve read the ones that everyone talks about (The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, in my case) where do you go next? Short stories? Random other novels? In an effort to forge a clearer path I decided to start with what was offered in my local public library. This ultimately led me to choose Faulkner’s Sartoris as my next step. Though I’ve read that this isn’t often considered to be one of Faulkner’s best works, it is nevertheless an important one because it lays the foundation for his later novels and stories. Though the events of this novel take place in the early twentieth century, “the thematic action of Sartoris takes place not over a period of months but in a time span covering four generations, flanked by the Civil and First World Wars and by the two John Sartorises” (Vickery).

What has always stood out to me the most about Faulkner’s novels is how character driven they are in every sense. The plot seems almost secondary, as though all that really matters are the thoughts within and relationships between the characters. (And sometimes this is all we are ever given!) In some ways it feels like more happens in texts that are steered by characters rather than plot because we are always learning more about characters’ changing beliefs, values, and attitudes as the story progresses. It’s also really fascinating to look at what certain characters may represent in the big picture of a text. For instance, one could possibly argue that Old Bayard and Young Bayard are reincarnations of Colonel John Sartoris to a certain extent (at least, that’s what crossed my mind while reading this novel). They both present different sides of their risk-taking, stubborn ancestor yet ultimately end up facing similar ends. Here we see the creation of a sort of myth surrounding the Sartoris family, a dark and twisted tale that casts a shadow over future Johns and Bayards. Put simply, “the Sartorises chose to act in terms of legend instead of history” (Vickery).

Much to my chagrin, Faulkner is rather fond of giving multiple characters the same name. When I first started reading Sartoris I was so confused by the many Johns and Bayards that I actually created a character web or family tree of sorts in an attempt to keep them all straight in my mind. However, I thought this would be a much larger hindrance than it ended up being in the long run because the characters became more defined as I became more invested in the story. In fact, the links between the characters– both linguistically with names and in terms of their relationships and personalities– soon became my favorite aspect of this novel. Faulkner uses the Sartoris family to ask a fascinating question: Are these events caused by the fate of the family or a logical cause-and-effect reaction? In other words, are these people responsible for their actions or have they already been destined (or doomed)?

One of the most surprising aspects of this novel for me is Faulkner’s focus on the female characters. Though the novel mainly focuses on the male line of the Sartoris family as a subject, we often view these men through the eyes of the women in their lives. For instance, we learn a lot about Young Bayard through his interactions with Narcissa Benbow, who reads to him when he is bedridden. Arguably the most prominent character in this novel is Aunt Jenny, the younger sister of Colonel John Sartoris. She is headstrong, opinionated, and bold; one can see how she would have been quite a match with Sartoris when he was alive. These two women act almost as foils to one another, representing two very different generations of women. Perhaps Aunt Jenny’s mental decline towards the end of the novel and Narcissa’s creation of life through her newborn son indicates that the old traditional way of life for Southern women is being replaced by a new one. In some ways, it seems to me as though these women could be considered the true protagonists of the novel.

Overall, Sartoris might possibly be my new favorite Faulkner novel. I’ll stop this review here before I start rambling on and on about how much I loved this novelthere are just so many interesting aspects to discuss! It’s safe to say that I’ll definitely be rereading this at some point in the near future.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely! This will surely be near the top of my Faulkner recommendation list from now on.

What are your thoughts on Sartoris? What other works by Faulkner would you recommend? What is your favorite Faulkner novel or short story? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

THE SONG OF THE LARK by Willa Cather | Review

I’m back with a review of yet another novel by Willa Cather, this being the fourth book I’ve read by her. Set primarily in a small Colorado town, The Song of the Lark is the story of a girl’s journey to stardom as she endeavors to leave her local life behind in pursuit of music. Protagonist Thea Kronberg soon finds herself swept up in a life of auditions, travel, and performances. Though she may move far from her Colorado home, the roots of her past remain persistently visible in the present.

I was enthralled by this novel. Everything about it captivated me from the very first sentence to the very last word. In fact, I was enjoying it so much that I marked all of my favorite passages with sticky notes, only to realize halfway through that I would have to take them all out when I was finished (it was a library book). Notable aspects of this novel include:

+ The Bildungsroman quality. One of the things that makes this novel so memorable is that it follows Thea from when she is a young child being treated by Doctor Archie to when she is an independent adult living away from her childhood home. In some ways Thea changes drastically– in her confidence, musical abilities, attitude towards her family, etc.– while in other ways she remains the same. It’s interesting to note how each setting influences Thea, as though the landscape itself asserts itself as a character rather than a backdrop for the story. Thus, the Thea of Colorado is much different from the Theas of Chicago, Panther Cañon, and so on. Here we are presented with many different versions or iterations of Thea, yet the common thread of her past in the small town of Moonstone runs through them all.

+ Character development. The physical and emotional growth of Thea is but one example of the masterfully crafted character development Cather fosters throughout this novel. Each character experiences some sort of change over the course of the story, even ones we meet later on. My favorite character is Doctor Archie for precisely this reason: he matures subtly, almost realistically, as he responds to the many unexpected events that occur around him. Despite the captivating and intriguing plot, I would still consider The Song of a Lark to be a character-driven novel.

+ The similarities with My Ántonia. This novel simply felt more like My Ántonia while I was reading it; however, it wasn’t until I finished that I realized just how many parallels exist between these two novels. For instance, both novels include female characters who move from rural to more populated areas. More importantly, both novels address a confrontation with the past after emotional and physical distance from one’s childhood home. These novels are obviously vastly different from one another in a myriad of ways, which makes the abundance of parallels even more fascinating.

+ The focus on music. Thea’s growing passion for piano and later singing provides an avenue through which Cather delves deep into the life of a burgeoning artist during this time period. We follow alongside the ups and downs of Thea’s tumultuous life with all of its twists and turns. It’s clear that Cather was either musical herself or did a lot of research before writing this novel. She includes many details about musical techniques, pieces, composers, and performers that add depth and a sense of reality to the text.

+ An exploration of different cultures. Another really interesting component of the novel is Cather’s focus on the relationships between people of different backgrounds and cultures. For instance, Thea’s friendship with a man referred to as Spanish Johnny and her Swedish family’s consequential backlash reveals the sort of social hierarchy and tension that existed between various groups of people during this time period.

+ Cather’s writing style. As always with reviews of Cather’s novels, I must t least briefly mention her beautiful, brilliant, lyrical writing style. I believe this is best understood by simply reading the writing itself, so here is only of my favorite passages from the novel:

“It came over him now that the unexpected favors of fortune, no matter how dazzling, do not mean very much to us. They may exercise or divert us for a time, but when we look back, the only things we cherish are those which in some way met our original want; the desire which formed in us in early youth, undirected, and of its own accord.” 

Overall, The Song of the Lark rekindled the same love for Willa Cather’s work that was initially sparked by My Ántonia over a year ago. Though I wouldn’t say this has definitively dethroned My Ántonia as my favorite Cather novel, it has come much closer to doing so than I ever initially expected.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely! I even think this would be a great place to start with Willa Cather if you’ve never read any of her work before because the story is incredibly engaging and well-developed.

What are your thoughts on this novel? What other works by Willa Cather would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP by Willa Cather | Review

Over a full year after reading (and loving) My Ántonia, I have finally picked up another book by Willa Cather. Set in 1851 primarily in New Mexico, Death Comes for the Archbishop is a story of religion, a clash of cultures, the deceiving concept of the American identity, and living in the present by embracing the past. When Father Jean Marie Latour leaves Europe to become the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico, he hardly expects to be swept up in the tangled knot of history between the whites, Mexicans, and Native Americans. As he continues to serve his religious duties in the following decades we see him become more and more a part of the red hills surrounding what is to ultimately be his final resting place.

For me, the experience of reading  Cather novel is like coming home after months of being away: it’s familiar, refreshing, comforting, and sweetly nostalgic. In particular, I greatly enjoyed the following aspects:

+ The focus on identity. The idea of one’s cultural, national, and personal identity seems to be an important common thread running between many of Cather’s works. Here Cather explores the tension between whites, Mexicans, and Native Americans during this time period. She plays with the question of whether or not land defines one’s identity, simultaneously linking back to the landscape’s past and rejecting the notion that living on what is considered to be “American” soil automatically makes one an “American.”

+ An emphasis on living through the past. Cather showcases and embraces the rich history of New Mexico by presenting these people as developed characters rather than one-dimensional representations. In this way she subverts white superiority, acknowledging the political and social power they had at this time while emphasizing the strength, intelligence, and humanity of the Mexicans and Native Americans. Father Latour embraces these people as the complex individuals that they are. At one point, Cather states:

“Observing them thus in repose, in the act of reflection, Father Latour was thinking how each of these men not only had a story, but seemed to have become his story.” 

Through Father Latour’s eyes Cather shows us the importance and value of remembering the past.

+ The use of Spanish. As someone currently studying Spanish in college, I was intrigued by the way Cather incorporates another language into this novel. Did Cather speak Spanish? Why did she decide to use it in the places that she did? This is likely something that I’ll research further in the future because I think it’s fascinating to learn about.

+ The portrayal of the landscape. Cather describes the landscape of New Mexico in a way that seems to take on the culture of the people living there. For instance, when she first describes the red hills of New Mexico, she writes:

“They were so exactly like one another that he seemed to be wandering in some geometrical nightmare; flattened cones, they were, more the shape of Mexican ovens than haycocks– yes, exactly the shape of Mexican ovens, red as brick-dust, and naked of vegetation except for small juniper trees. And the junipers, too, were the shape of Mexican ovens.” 

Is this a suggestion that whites viewed Mexicans as a sort of homogeneous group of people, similar to how Father Latour viewed the red hills as identical copies of one another? Perhaps. It could also be a way for Cather to demonstrate how the landscape can represent and reflect culture, like the way the hills apparently looked similar to Mexican ovens. (This is why Cather’s writing is SO INTERESTING.) Regardless, I want to emphasize that I believe Cather was attempting to expose the unjust treatment and dehumanization of these people, not promote, support, or justify it in any way. 

+ The incredible writing. I couldn’t write a review of this book without praising Cather’s remarkable way with words. I’m a big believer in writing in my books and I cannot even begin to tell you how many passages I underlined, starred, and made notes next to throughout this novel. For now, I’ll simply share with you one of my favorite quotes:

“If hereafter we have stars in our crowns, yours will be a constellation.” 

Overall, reading Death Comes for the Archbishop has reaffirmed Cather as one of my favorite authors. Was this as good as My Ántonia? Yes and no. More importantly, it has inspired me to pick up even more of Cather’s work. Certainly this must be a sure sign of a successful novel!

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Definitely!! Especially if they have an interest in American history, the Spanish language, or Mexican or Native American culture during this time period.

What are your thoughts on this novel? Would you recommend any of Willa Cather’s other works? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

How to Read Sexist Texts When You’re a Feminist English Major | Discussion

Recently I had the displeasure of taking a course dedicated to Renaissance poetry, and MY OH MY were those old white men a bunch of misogynistic poets. While there were a few glimmers of hope amidst the nearly translucent pages of my weathered Norton Anthology of Poetry (as shown by my previous discussion of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2), the vast majority of the poems I read for this class made me wonder why they were even regarded as important and “great” pieces of writing in the first place, never mind why we continue to include them in poetry collections like this one. It’s safe to say that after reading dozens of these poems over the course of the semester, my patience was worn down to a precariously thin layer of frustration.

It was necessary for me to think of concrete ways of addressing this problem while still being able to do well in the class. Refusing to read the poems was obviously not an option for me, meaning that I had to get a bit creative with my reading strategy.

I must say up front that the following advice is purely based on my own personal experiences reading these works. These steps may not work for everyone and that is perfectly okay. We all have our own tips and tricks to help us confront, interpret, and challenge views that challenge our own– the following pieces of advice happen to be my own personal strategy. At any rate, I hope you find this discussion at least a bit helpful or thought-provoking in some way.

1. Actually read it.

Yes, actually read the incredibly sexist poem or story or novel that you’d desperately like to avoid at all costs (unless, of course, it contains something personally triggering– then do whatever you need to in order to practice self-care). The reason I urge you to read it is that it’s difficult (nigh impossible) to make an educated argument against something if you do not have relevant textual evidence with which to back up your claim.

2. Maintain your distance.

I’m sure there’s a better, clearer, more accurate and succinct way of saying this, but I’ll try my best.  I think it’s important to recognize that someone can acknowledge and understand another person’s opinions without believing in or agreeing with them. For instance, in my poetry class I was required to read, understand, and explicate these poems in order to receive a good grade. However, this did not stop me from challenging the ideas that these poems presented. It was vital that I read these poems with from a certain intellectual and ideological distance that allowed me to understand them without having to agree with their meaning.

3. Allow feminism to fuel your analysis.

While it’s important to understand and think about the poems according to the context in which they were written, it’s also valuable to read them through a feminist lens. Feminist literary theory exists for a reason: to be utilized. Moreover, this class forced me to become comfortable with directly pointing out the sexism in writing that is considered to be canonically “great.” I was not going to sit there and tell my professor that I support the inclusion of Robert Herrick’s “Upon Julia’s Breasts” in the Norton Anthology of Poetry over providing ample space for one of Lady Mary Wroth’s entire crown of sonnets. (Honestly, are those four lines of pure female objectification really a necessary component of this collection?) Just because something has been deemed a “classic” work of literature does not mean that it is without flaws.

4. Think about your own beliefs and values.

At the end of the day, I used this class as an opportunity to assess and spend time thinking about my own core beliefs. What about these poems did I find offensive and uncomfortable to read? Why did I feel this way about what I was reading in the first place? By using this as an opportunity for individual reflection I was able to better understand my own personal values.

Again, I hope this discussion is thought-provoking or beneficial in some way, whether that be in an academic setting or simply while reading in your daily life.

Have you ever read something that challenged your beliefs? How did you handle the situation? What do you think about the advice that I’ve offered? Do you have any advice for confronting issues like this? I would absolutely love to discuss these topics in greater detail, so please let me know what you think in the comments section down below!

Yours,

HOLLY

A ROOM WITH A VIEW by E.M. Forster | Review

“My father says that there is only one perfect view — the view of the sky straight over our heads, and that all these views on earth are but bungled copies of it.”

I decided to read E.M. Forster’s novel A Room with a View with no knowledge whatsoever of the story’s plot or context besides the brief description provided by the back cover. Of course, I had heard this title mentioned amidst the names of other “great” or classic British novels before, and the fact that it has been published as part of the Penguin English Library collection was enough to persuade me to give it a try. (Do I just love these gorgeous cover designs or do I put that much trust in Penguin as a publisher? Answer: it’s a little of both, to be honest.)

Numerous aspects of this novel ensured that I was captivated by this story from the first page: the beautiful writing, the picturesque Italian setting, the charming tone of the narration, and even Lucy herself. As someone planning on studying abroad in the near future, the emphasis on travel also caught my attention early on. The differences between the English and the Italians that the characters continuously harped on made me wonder how I’ll be perceived in my travels. I found myself feeling more and more connected with Lucy as she was exposed to new ideas, cultures, and beliefs.

A Room with a View is basically an English major’s dream novel. As I was reading I couldn’t help but think how many interesting papers could be written about it. You could discuss the entire concept of a “room with a view” and what that means, the contrast between the liminal space of the woods as opposed to the confines of the domestic sphere, the hierarchy of social classes, the portrayal of women and their role in society, the differences between Italy and England– the list goes on and on! What fascinated me the most was definitely the idea of “rooms” in general, which the title obviously indicates is a significant aspect of the story. This concept jumps out at the reader in the very first chapter as Mr. Emerson says:

“I have a view, I have a view…This is my son…his name’s George. He has a view too.” 

It quickly becomes apparent that a “view” is something to be admired, desired, and cherished by Lucy. While Mr. Emerson is literally referring to the view of Italy from outside a hotel window, it can also be said that his “view” could signify his open and refreshing perspective on life. He and his son are not as close minded as many of the other characters in the story, suggesting that perhaps a “room with a view” is not as highly sought after by everyone as it first appears to be in the initial hotel scene. Then there is the question of what one chooses to see and acknowledge in the “view” itself; in other words, does one choose to hone in on art, money, social distinctions, etc.? What someone sees when looking out from their “room with a view” can suggest a lot about their priorities, values, and beliefs. This play on words is incredibly clever and adds an intriguing undercurrent to an already brilliant story.

I fully believed that this novel was going to receive a perfect five-out-of-five rating until I finally read the ending and felt my enthusiasm suddenly wane. I was greatly disappointed by the way that Lucy essentially goes from being brainwashed by pompous, conceited Cecil to following the perspective of George. Even though the latter is clearly more preferred than the former, I was still hoping that Lucy would have elected to take the more independent route. Given the context in which this novel is set– the more restricting and constraining culture of Edwardian England– perhaps it makes sense for Lucy to choose the lesser of two evils rather than venture off on her own into what could potentially be an unknown darkness. It hardly would have been socially acceptable for a young unmarried woman to choose such a path for her life– yet would taking a risk have been that detrimental to Forster as a writer? Would allowing Lucy to make that choice have really hurt his reputation or badly damaged the overall reception of the novel? These are questions to which I don’t have answers, though I suppose Forster had his reasons for making the plot decisions that he did.

Overall, I feel as though Forster’s A Room with a View is a novel that I will most definitely be returning to in the future.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5 smileys

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely!

What are your thoughts on this novel? Any recommendations for related books you think I would like? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD by Thomas Hardy | Review

14800528-2To be honest, my initial expectations weren’t very high for Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Far from the Madding Crowd. All I knew about it before opening the first page was that it’s often hailed as an “epic” love story. My track record with love stories has been hit or miss at best (anyone else feel lukewarm about Romeo and Juliet?), so it was no surprise that I felt a bit hesitant about this story. My wishy-washy attitude towards it probably explains why it’s been sitting on my bookshelf for months, untouched.

Oh, Holly of the past, why do you do this?

Far from the Madding Crowd far surpassed every initial expectation I possessed, leaving my doubts in the dust wondering why on Earth I didn’t pick up this book sooner. This novel has numerous strengths, but for the sake of time I’ll limit my discussion to only a handful: complex characters, the story’s depth beyond that of “just” a love story, Hardy’s writing style, and the novel’s ability to be so emotionally gripping.

First, let me frankly say that I didn’t really care for the character of Bathsheba Everdene. While I admire her independence, work ethic, and determination, it’s clear that she dug herself into many holes due to her stubbornness, impulsiveness, and a foolhardy desire to maintain an unprecedented level of pride. Her inability to step back and view the bigger picture time and time again frustrated my inner realist to no end. But here’s the strange thing: I didn’t really mind. Usually when I dislike a main character it tends to taint the rest of the book for me; however, I felt as though it was partly intended for the reader to have mixed feelings toward Bathsheba. In this way, I’m reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Daisy and Tom and even Gatsby are not necessarily the most moral or thoughtful people (actually, they’re quite easy to dislike), yet I think that’s the point. For me, the most redeeming character in Far from the Madding Crowd is Gabriel Oak, the poor farmer who is the first man we see fall in love with the headstrong Bathsheba. Oak was like a breath of fresh air in a hot, stuffy room. His common sense, strong morals, and kind heart were sorely needed in the midst of everyone else’s ridiculousness. Without Oak’s grounding good nature, it’s safe to say that my opinion of this novel would not have been so positive.

Another important strength of this novel is its ability to transcend the simple and largely stereotyped love story drama. Though the main plot is focused on the love “square” between Bathsheba, Gabriel Oak, William Boldwood, and Sergeant Troy, the novel as a whole is about so much more. One can certainly choose to read this story as solely one of romance and drama; alternatively, it can also be interpreted as social commentary on marriage, gender roles, and the hierarchy of socioeconomic classes. Bathsheba cannot solely consider her own emotions when choosing a husband because doing so might put her social status or wealthy in jeopardy. This complicated web of nuanced details that goes into these relationships is the real brilliance of the novel, in my opinion. Despite the dramatic tone of the story, Hardy nevertheless presents a more realistic view of everything involved in forming a marriage during this time period.

Then we come to the topic of Hardy’s writing style, which surprised me from the very first page. Not only is his writing beautiful, but it’s also accessible in a way that a lot of flowery writing is not. The best way to explain this is undoubtedly to show a quote from the novel, so here is one that I love:

“It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.” 

Flowery without being over the top. Simple yet powerful. Perfect.

Though the ending was fairly predictable, this novel hardly left my grasp until I had completely finished it. Why? Because Far from the Madding Crowd is incredibly emotionally gripping. I became especially attached to the goodness of Gabriel Oak and his determined loyalty to Bathsheba, even though she often showed him little kindness in return. Despite my frustrations with her, I eventually found myself becoming attached to Bathsheba herself. After all that she went through, I couldn’t help but want the very best for her in the end. I think that much of this attachment and emotional suspense comes from excellent character development and the way Hardy makes all of these characters decidedly human and flawed. There’s a degree of familiarity here that is somehow reminiscent of one’s own relationships and experiences.

Overall, Thomas Hardy has converted me into an eager fan of his work with Far from the Madding Crowd. Whether you’re looking to read a love story or simply an expertly woven tale, I highly recommend reading this account of Bathsheba’s struggles.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely!!

Have you ever read this book before? What are your thoughts on it? Have any recommendations of other works by Thomas Hardy that I should read? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY