Clarissa in June

June has been rather thrilling, at least for Clarissa. Or well, as thrilling as Clarissa ever gets. Much has been said by me about Clarissa and the struggle it is to finish it, the repetitiveness of it all, the need for an editor and more, but in June, I must say, Richardson stepped up his game. This has definitely been the best month so far! I have actually been wanting to pick up the book to continue with the story and find out what would happen! And that is because June is the month. This is the month everything has build up to and this is month that will definite everything that is to come.

As always, I start by summarizing what has happened this month but in this month, I’ll also draw some comparisons to Wilkie Collins’ novel The Woman in White. I can’t believe I haven’t thought about the similarities between these two novels earlier!

Lovelace is actually trying to  obtain a marriage license but also still trying to test Clarissa’s virtue and he still wants revenge for (perceived) grievances. Lucky for him, there’s a small fire in the house and Clarissa gets scared and he gets to be in her room while she’s in her bed, in her nightie. He allows himself some freedoms which makes Clarissa beg him to leave her – or to kill her, since her honor is dearer to her than her life. He leaves after extracting a promise of forgiveness from her – and is very impressed with her virtue.

Clarissa is shocked and very angry after this. She cares no longer what others think – Lovelace has made her vile to herself. Even though Lovelace thinks higher of her for her resistance, he still thinks she should forgive him as she promised. She writes him that she will not see him for a week – and he thinks she’s scheming and that if she insists on it, he will have her in his own way.

But for once, Clarissa catches a break. She manage to escape from Lovelace and Lovelace looses it, he’s mad about loosing her and even madder about being outwitted by her. But Clarissa’s escape definitely shows how young and inexperienced she is and it’s really easy for Lovelace to track her down and starts weaving his net again, telling stories to the women she’s staying with that will ensure their sympathy for him, not her. Still Clarissa is resisting him with everything she’s got – and her resistance is almost getting to be too much for Captain Tomlinson too. He’s also starting to have second thoughts and to feel that Lovelace is acting wrong when he pursues Clarissa in this way and don’t just marry her. But Lovelace isn’t done. Since Clarissa already resents him so much, he don’t think she can resent him even more for making one last – and final – attempt at her honor and virtue. And then, he wants her to forgive him – out of love for him…

Since Clarissa’s escape, Lovelace has stepped up his game. He has intercepted a letter from Anna Howe and starts faking letters between the two women, thereby adding to his hold on Clarissa. This has been even more necessary for him since Anna has found out that Clarissa has been living in a whorehouse and suspects Captain Tomlinson to be an impostor. He also succeeds in making the women in the house suspect Anna so they will help him prevent her letters reach Clarissa uninterrupted.

He has two women pretend to be his aunt and cousin and they come and visit Clarissa. They persuade her to come back to London with them to pick up her things. Once they’re back at Mrs. Sinclair’s brothel, they slip out and Clarissa is once again completely in the hands of Lovelace and the women in Mrs’ Sinclair’s house.

And now is the time to stop reading if you don’t want to know what happens because this is the key moment of the book.

Lovelace finally decides to put Clarissa to the ultimate test. He rapes her – with the aid of some kind of medication. He is astonished at her reaction. She sinks into a stupor so deep that he fears for her wit. She stays so for a week before she starts getting better. And when she does, Lovelace is shocked by her reaction. She’s not even close to forgiving him – which doesn’t come as any surprise for anyone who’ve read so far. Lovelace’s friend Bedford is even surprised that she has survived what Lovelace has done to her. And all she wants, is to be locked up in a private madhouse.

She tries to escape again and again. She is rather composed most of the time since she now hates herself more than she hates Lovelace, hates herself for not listening to her family and for not seeing his true colors earlier. But she despises him for robbing himself of his wife’s virtue and swears that she will never ever be his wife. He is mortified that she refuses him – but still schemes. Luckily, Clarissa doesn’t fall for his next scheme that would have made her fall in the hands of an even worse brothel madam than mrs. Sinclair.

When this fails and when Lovelace have to go to his sick uncle, he comes up with another huge scheme, involving all the ladies in the house. However, Clarissa outsmarts them all – and makes Lovelace wants her even more. He goes to his uncle and keeps sending messages to her, trying to get her to name a church.

However, when Clarissa is left on her own in the house with no Lovelace, she finally manages to escape. For good, we take it. And she starts writing letter after letter to find out to what extent Lovelace has tricked her. She writes her friend Anna, she writes Lovelace’s aunt, she writes her old nanny Mrs. Norton – and from everyone she hears, that what Lovelace told her was a lie.

So now we’re at a breaking point in the story. Clarissa has escaped Lovelace but she’s not at all well. She has lost what she valued the most, her virtue and the love of her family. I guess the rest of the book is about how she copes with this.

Incidentally, I just want to point out that for a ver very very wordy book, it sure doesn’t spend a lot of words on it’s climax. This is what Lovelace writes to his friend to announce what he has done: “And now, Belford, I can go no farther. The affair is over. Clarissa lives.” (letter 257). You will be in your full right to feel a bit cheated at this point! Still, the letters leading up to and down from this climax, are just amazing. The letters Clarissa writes in her madness just after, are so tragic and full of sentiment, just heartbreaking. I’m almost positive that this novel is actually worth reading!

How come I’ve never thought about the similarities between Clarissa and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins? The Woman in White was published in 1860, about 100 years after Clarissa. But there’s a lot of similarities in the stories (and of course in the epistolary format). In both, a women is kidnapped by a very charming scoundrel – and what my thoughts about the similarities have made me think more about, is the extent to which we can trust Clarissa. And Lovelace. What we know of what happens between them, is all told from their points of view – and can we trust that they don’t embellish at times to make themselves look better? Especially Clarissa, in fact, since she has the most to loose … Is Lovelace the only one to blame for Clarissa’s rape? Is it only naivety and a lack of knowledge of men and the world that made Clarissa think she could trust him – or did she think she had virtue enough to change him? Or was she just so much in love that she couldn’t see straight (Anna has several times tried to make her admit that she had fallen in love with him.)

(I know I didn’t write much about the similarities between The Woman in White and Clarissa but that’s because too much will ruin The Woman in White for those lucky ones who’ve never read it. I did write about some of the common themes in Moll FlandersFanny Hill and Clarissa in my recent post about Moll Flanders.)

These are my thoughts about June – and lo and behold, I’m actually looking forward to reading July’s letters!

You can see how the other participants in Terri and JoAnn’s read along are doing here.

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Daniel Defoe: Moll Flanders (review)

When I was a teenager, I read Robinson Crusoe several times and I really liked it. So when I was in Brighton in 1994 to study English, I picked up several books in a cheap Wordsworth edition. One of these was Moll Flanders, and although it sounded good, I mostly picked it up because of Defoe being the author. And let me just say, right off the bat, this is nothing like Robinson Crusoe. And not just because of the obvious differences in the stories. No, I thought Crusoe was a really great story – and well, I’m just not quite sure how I feel about Moll Flanders. (Sidenote to myself: I need to reread Robinson Crusoe soon!)

From the get-go I want to make it perfectly clear that, when reading this book, you never doubt that you are reading the work of a very skillful writer. You can feel the talent on every page and even though I at times felt that things ought to feel repetitive (page after page after page about Moll’s criminal career), they just never did. This material in the hands of a less skilled writer would have been a complete disaster. As it is now, I’m basing most of my 3-stars rating on the skills of the writer and thereby the inherent quality of the book, not the story itself – although one could have hoped that he could have made a better novel out of his material.

The story itself is rather simple. In the shape of an autobiographical memoir of the main protagonist Moll Flanders, we follow her life from childhood to she is in her 70s. The entire book is actually summarized perfectly in it’s subtitle: ‘Who was born in Newgate, and during a life of continued Variety for Threescores Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own brother) Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest and died a Penitent.’ And yes – that’s exactly what this book’s about. And doesn’t it sound exciting and thrilling? Why yes, it does. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite read that way.

I think the main reason for my lack of enthusiasm for this book, is it’s main character. Moll Flanders, as she calls herself, is all in all not very likable. I lost count of how many children she had through the book but in the end, she only seemed to remember having one. She leaves several children on several occasions – never to speak of or think about them again, it seems. Even though I know she’s forced into a lot of the mischief, she freely admits that she a lot of the time only repents if she gets caught – and then she only repents of the fact that she got caught. I do get that all her bad luck comes in part from making one bad decision when very young and then having some bad circumstances thrown upon her and because she lives in a time where women didn’t have a lot of options – but still, she does come across as a woman so focused on securing her own hide that she tramples whatever gets in her way. It may be that that was the only way for her – but when reading her story, you don’t get a lot of sympathy for her character and since this novel is completely focused on her, she needs to be interesting enough to carry this. And she’s not.

I’m not sure if I’m damaged by reading John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748) and Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (also 1748) but I’m a bit tired of reading these 18th century books about ‘fallen women’, roughly put. It may be a bit unfair towards Moll Flanders since this is the first published of these three, but the best thing about Moll is that she is much more a get-goer than both Clarissa and Fanny. I rated Fanny 2 stars back when I read it in 2009 and even though I’m not done reading Clarissa yet, I’m so far planning on rating it 3 stars. So these are definitely not books I really love. Both Fanny Hill and Clarissa are rather repetitive and I think the only reason Moll Flanders doesn’t feel the same way is that Defoe is the better writer.

If you choose to see these three books in the context of the emancipation of women and see these books as showing the situation of women and how their dependence on men sometimes placed them in bad situations, forcing them to make choices like prostitution and theft, they do become more interesting. I have only a very cursory knowledge of the suffragette movement and feminism or the roots of each of these but I think books like this paved the way for the equality between men and women – and of course, that owns them a lot of favor. And in that line of thought, it’s interesting that all three books are told from the point of view of a woman – but written by men. Even more so because I think the female voice feels true in all three.

I do feel that there’s an interesting field of study here – the role of women in these 18th century novels as well as the portrayal of women as whores – and not whores as immoral beings who get punished but rather as women down on their luck who end up better than they started, and often better off because of their immorality. I think it could be interesting to read Daniel Defoe’s other novel Roxana (which seem rather similar to Moll Flanders) as well as Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (although I need to finish Clarissa first and have a long breather before committing to another of Richardson’s works) and also Justine (1740) by Marquis de Sade which, however, doesn’t seem to be in favor of women’s right in spite of it having the same seemingly morale as the Defoe, Cleland and Richardson novels – immorality pays and the moral ones suffer, again roughly put.

Without having much literary scholarship to base it on, I feel that Charles Dickens is carrying the social indignation’s torch, lit by Defoe, into the 19th century. He too focused on those down on their luck and just like Defoe, his huge knowledge of the world he was living in and, especially, how the lower classes lived, is the main inspiration for the novels.

Now all these three books are on the 1001 books you must read before you die list – and my feeling about all three of them is that they are included because of their context and social importance, more than their literary merits even though the editors of the book argue otherwise …! They must find some worth in them since all three have survived all three editions of the list – and they are worth reading, definitely. I just don’t think I will read either of them again.

So after writing a review mostly focusing on the social context and literary history, I have to come out and state plainly that although I somewhat enjoyed Moll Flanders, it’s not a novel I see myself returning to and it’s more the context it was written in and the implications it might have had, that interests me, not so much the novel itself.

(And finally – don’t you just love when the books you read, compliment each other so you can have talks and discussions with them and yourself about their meaning, value, importance and so much more???)

  • Title: Moll Flanders
  • Author: Daniel Defoe
  • Publisher: Wordsworth Classics
  • Year: 1993 (original 1722)
  • Pages:  339 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars:  3 stars out of 5

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Clarissa in April

Even though the April letters have been much more enjoyable than the ones in March, I’m having a hard time balancing Clarissa and the other novels I read. I somewhat like Clarissa – for the most part – but it’s not like I’m dying to pick it up again when I put it down. I still think it’s way too long. And repetitive.

But with that being said, April started with a bang. Well, not right away. It starts out with Clarissa still sitting in her chamber, trying to avoid being married off to Mr. Solmes. She has agreed to meet him and her entire family thinks that’s her first step to accepting him. When she meets him, her family leaves the room so she can be alone with him.She tells him off really harshly and when her uncle Anthony comes into the room, she begs him to be free of the marriage. He tells her, that the more she opposes it, the worse it shall be for her. She replies that she will suffer the cruelest death rather than be miserable for life but her uncle doesn’t care and tells her she will be married within a week. Her brother enters and prevent her from leaving and tells Solmes to keep persisting because after two or three more struggles, she will be his. As Clarissa rightly points out about Solmes and why she now wants to marry him even less, ‘/…/ for he that can see a person he pretends to value, thus treated, and approve of it, must be capable of treating her thus himself.’ (loc 8968-73).

Things escalate from here and even though Solmes says he will give her up, her father insists that they shall marry and then her siblings support him. Of course. She argues with her brother and uncle and Solmes intervenes. Clarissa thinks it was designed so to make her see him in a better light. Still, her father is so angry he wants her to leave immediately without packing. Her room is searched and when they doesn’t find anything, she’s allowed to stay a little longer. But when she leaves, she will no longer be allowed pen and paper – and thus, she will be completely without options.

Clarissa is desperately trying to find a way out of the marriage and the whole situation. Lovelace has let her family know that if they force her to go to her uncle’s, he will stop them. To avoid that, they want to have the marriage in her chambers. Her family prepares for the wedding and doesn’t care if she’s ill – they think she fakes it. Uncle Anthony visits Anna Howe’s mother to ensure that they don’t interfere – and don’t allow Anna to help Clarissa. Leaving her without any other options than Lovelace.

So she’s corresponding with Lovelace, arranging to go live with his aunt – or at least, just leave. Lovelace tells her that all he wants, is to free her and she trusts him. They agree on an escape plan but then, Clarissa has second thoughts. She writes a letter to cancel – he doesn’t pick it up, though, so she’s forced to meet with him to tell him in person. However, when she meets him, she goes off with him, tricked by the clever Lovelace. (Finally some action!)

So now, Clarissa is on the run. Lovelace stays close because he clames to be afraid of what her family will do to get her back. He offers to get her old maid back but knows she’s sick and can’t come. He goes to Windsor to look at lodgings for her or so he says but in reality, he doesn’t. There’s a sinister reason for every nice suggestion he makes. He plays her all the time. Even though he at times seem to have second thoughts and seems to really care about her, he is trying to test her virtue and always scheming. ‘If I can have her without [marriage], who can blame me for trying?’ (12676-82) It’s really interesting to see their letters detailing the same conversations, Clarissa always trying to find out if she can trust him and Lovelace constantly being one step ahead, planning mischief. They’re trying to outsmart each other and are two wills battling it out. And he’s not only playing her. He’s still playing her entire family, making her brother intend to kidnap her back and getting uncle Anthony to go to Anna Howe’s home and make sure there’s no help for Clarissa from that source.

Still, he asks her to marry him and eventually, she accepts. But even though they’re not married, he gives that impression in their new lodgings in London – lodgings, she thinks she chose but which in reality he chose and with people running it, that he knows and pays. He wants to trap her pretending to be his wife in front of witnesses. She’s mad at him for this but he persuades her.

Lovelace is really starting to show his true colors. So much in fact, that his friend is urging him to treat Clarissa well. I really like his bigger involvement in the story. He is the master schemer and it really shows now.

So – the letters in this months saw a huge change. Clarissa escaped her home and is now entirely in the clutches of Lovelace. She’s at his mercy. Things can still go either way. She has not played all her cards but she is running out of options. April consisted of the letters from 73 to 160 so there was a lot of reading to do and at times, it was riveting and exciting and really enjoyable. But I’m having trouble picking up the book. I enjoy it while reading it but when I put it down, I don’t feel like picking it back up.

This is a story of a sheltered woman who has always been pampered and have had everyone catering to her every need. Now, she’s suddenly on her own, experiencing real life for the first time, struggling with the biggest player of her time. She’s eloped and has left her family. Thrilling stuff, right? No … not really. I don’t know how Richardson did it but he made all this so so so very boring. If this novel had been only half as long, it would have definitely improved it. I know he tries to show how few choices Clarissa had and by having her write letter after letter, he wants to underline her anguish of not being able to both please her family and her heart even though she desperately tries to find another option. So yes, I get what he wants to do – but he could have done it in a lot fewer pages.

Finally, yes, I know that I’m so very late with this post but after finally finishing the April letters, I had to pluck up my courage to actually write about it. But here it is. Now, halfway through May, I still have to start reading the letters from this month …

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Clarissa – month 3

So January and February was slow, slow, slow. So few letters. But March – wow. So many letters that I could hardly keep up. You can really tell that Clarissa is in so much trouble and is desperate, and that’s why she keeps writing and writing to her friend, Anna Howe. And Anna writes back because she’s so worried about her friend. Also, this is the month where we get to hear from Lovelace for the first time – the letters he writes to his friend.

I was so excited for this month. Finally we got to read a lot of letters and the story could really get going. Only thing is – it doesn’t get going. Nothing happens for the entire month of March. Yes, Clarissa writes and writes – but she just sits there in her chamber and begs her relatives to let her stay single and not marry Solmes.

This month we get to read the letters 11-71. So 60 letters all in all. Mostly, still, these are between Clarissa and Anna. I don’t like the letters from Anna that much anymore because the story only advances itself in Clarissa’s letters and since it moved so ever slowly in March, I only wanted to read the letters where there was a chance of something actually happening. Reading Clarissa became a struggle in March – which is also why I felt a bit behind this month and only finished March’s letters on April 3rd.

For this entire month, Clarissa is sitting in her room with her family trying to make her accept Solmes’ hand in marriage. Her father is raving around downstairs –  ‘I will have no child, but an obedient one.’ (location 1659-63) – and he’s getting angrier and angrier. Clarissa is visited by her various female relatives – her mother, sister and aunt who all try to get her to agree to marry Solmes. Her mother is trying to guilt Clarissa into marrying Solmes by letting her know that she can prevent her mother’s life from being miserable. ‘Say not all the blame and all the punishment is yours. I am as much blamed and as much punished as you are; yet am more innocent.’ (location 3424-29) Her mother visits several times, each time trying harder and harder to get Clarissa to agree until she finally gives up on her.

Clarissa is being pressured from all sides – ‘Who at the long run must submit – all of us to you; or you to all of us? – If you intend to yield at last if you find you cannot conquer, yield now and with a grace – for yield you must or be none of our child.’ (location 2928-30), as her mother says. As the month goes by, Clarissa is becoming more and more desperate and searches for a way out of the marriage even though the fabric for dresses has arrived, a contract has been made up and she is being told that she has to go to her Uncle Anthony’s where she will definitely meet Solmes – and probably be forced into marrying him since there’s a chapel at Uncle Anthony’s.

She knows that she has no alliances in her family – even her mother has given up on her: ‘/…/ it was doubtless much more eligible to give up a daughter, than to disoblige a husband, and every other person of the family.’ (location 3368-74) . She keeps up her correspondence with Anna and Lovelace by hiding the letters in the garden and that’s all the support she has. She writes letter after letter to her family – but as the month goes by, fewer and fewer of them care to receive her letters. She even tries writing Solmes, telling him off for robbing her of her peace of mind, her family and friends and she accuses him of being selfish since he makes her suffer so and still persists. Her letter only encourages Solmes to keep on wanting her.

Anna encourages her to take possession of the estate her grandfather left her and thereby claim her independence. Clarissa does not want to go against her family by doing so. She does at one point offer to give the estate to her sister so that she can marry Solmes instead – and promises that she will remain single and let all her possession go to her siblings when she dies. But nothing that she offers, is accepted. Her family will see her marry Solmes no matter what it takes. Her father states at one point, that he can never forgive his daughter but might forgive Mr. Solmes’ wife … – and her parents will not see her before she is married to Solmes.

Meanwhile, Clarissa receives occasional letters from Lovelace and she admits to having – at times – a conditional liking for him. With her family trying to force her into a marriage with a man she truly dislikes, Lovelace is looking better and better all the time. Lovelace seems to be a very clever man. Throughout the month, Clarissa switches between preferring him to Solmes and truly disliking him. Lovelace uses her family’s attempt to force her to his advantage and says at one point: ‘this stupid family are all combined to do my work for me’ (location 4028). But we know that he is not a nice guy – already in letter 35 he mentions, that if he can’t charm her to come willingly, he might consider kidnapping and raping her.

The entire situation becomes a battle of wills. Clarissa’s family is determined not to let her marry Clarissa and Lovelace is determined to have her to get his revenge on her family. Clarissa becomes a pawn in their game and no matter what she does, she just ends up worse off. Clarissa concludes at one point – correctly so, I think – that Lovelace has more malice towards her family than he has regard for her.

I’ve read that Samuel Richardson tried to make Clarissa shorter but failed. After finishing with the March letters, I must say I could easily shorten this book. It’s so repetitive! She writes the same arguments over and over and over. As the month progressed, I started hoping for her brother to come up and drag her out of there, put her into a carriage and off she goes, just to have something happen. I’m actually starting to feel that she should at least obey somewhat and meet Solmes – it seems that she has formed an opinion about him without ever really meeting and talking to him. He sounds awful, he sounds like he would be a terrible husband – but come on, meet the guy! Do something!

I still find her brother annoying – but the problem is, I find all the characters in this novel annoying by now. Her brother says that ‘To put it out of your power to ruin yourself is the only way left to prevent your ruin.’ (location 5635-40) but everything her siblings do seem to be in their own interest. Clarissa starts talking about preferring death to marriage to Solmes: ‘/…/ there is no misfortune I will not submit to rather than yield to give my hand to the man whom I can allow no share in my heart.’ (location 6480-86) Still, I hardly care anymore about what happens to her – just as long as something happens!

At several points, there is talk about Clarissa is to be married in two weeks or going to her Uncle’s in two days – but every time I got my hopes up for some action, these things were postponed. And even though Clarissa starts to prepare to leave her father’s house by sending linen and letters to Anna, there is still no call to action. She still thinks that she can get her family to change their opinion.

March has really and truly been a struggle. I’ve complained so much about Clarissa that my boyfriend is asking why I even read on. But I’m hoping for some good to come – after all, I did like it a lot in January and February. Here’s to hoping that something will happen in April, that Clarissa will not use as many letters to describe it and that I will start caring again.

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1001 books iPhone app

So there’s an iPhone app for the 1001 books you must read before you die-book. I didn’t know about this ’till Sarah mentioned it but I of course immediately downloaded it and started adding the books I’ve read from the list. It was released in February so I haven’t missed out for too long.

The app gives you the opportunity to track your progress on both the 2006, 2008 and 2010 list – or on either the core books (the ones on all three lists) or on the entire list (of 1294 books!). You can add your own pictures of the books as well as comments, notes and ratings. It contains a statistics part where you can see when you will be finished with the list, depending on your age, country and how many books you read a month. For each list, you can see how many books you’ve read and how many rated as well as other features. You can make your own reading plan and letting the app keep track of your progress. There’s Facebook and Twitter integration as well so what more can you ask for?

I’ve only used it a little but I like having the list with me wherever I go and being able to immediately check to see if a book is on the list or not and to prove to others how far I am 😉 (not very, I’m afraid).

I have had some communications with the man behind this app, Arukiyomi. This was in the days of the Excell spreadsheet so before the app but he was friendly and helpful and really cared about making it work for the people who bought it, so I have no doubts this app will be carefully maintained and that the support will actually be supportive and helpful.

To see more – click here.

Clarissa – month 2

Oh I have been waiting and waiting and waiting for it finally to be time to read this book again. I love the idea of reading the letters on the appropriate days and experiencing the same impatience as the characters do when they are waiting for the next letter. It has been so hard to wait for almost all of February to finally be allowed to read one letter on the 20th, and then a few more letters for the rest of February. 10 letters so far in total.

It’s so hard to wait to read on. But right now, I think it enhances my reading experience. Maybe later, I will read this like ‘a normal book’, just read when I feel like it and not sit around waiting for the dates to arrive but I will probably only do this when rereading it. For now, I’m actually glad to be doing it like this. Eagerly putting a note in my calendar on the date when the next letter is to be read, whenever I finish one letter. Looking forward to reading on. Learning more about these characters. I didn’t think I would like it all that much but I really do.

So in the February letters, we find Clarissa back at home. While she has been visiting her friend Anna, her family has conspired to find her a husband so that she wouldn’t marry Lovelace. This conspiracy is of course led by her brother who really hates Lovelace. Her brother practically takes on the role of presenting Mr. Solmes’ proposal to Clarissa since, as Clarissa states it, Mr. Solmes is only wooing her family and not her. When she avoids him and more, it’s put down to her being coy since everybody is assuming that she naturally will do as her parents asks (demands) and marry this man – whom she dislikes.

Of course, this whole thing is preposterous since Clarissa dislikes Lovelace so and only spends time with him when forced to by social conventions and etiquette – and never alone.

I must say that Clarissa’s constant objections to having any interest and feeling for Lovelace, is making me wonder if she does so after all. Haven’t we all strongly denied being interested in someone because we for some reason didn’t want to admit it, didn’t want others to know? Or maybe was ashamed of feeling so? And I can see – as I read further – that Clarissa’s best friend Anna is also having her doubts about how Clarissa truly feel for Lovelace and has also seen that the way her family is trying to force her to marry another man whom she detest, is thereby pushing her towards Lovelace.

Also, her brother continue to annoy me. I still really much fall into my own role as little sister when he’s in the book and immediately want to protest and disagree with everything he says – to the point of almost rooting for Lovelace. I mean, we don’t know anything really bad about Lovelace except what Clarissa’s brother has told us – and we don’t trust him, now, do we?

The funny thing is, after having written the paragraph above, I read further on and discovered that Clarissa felt exactly the same as me. She too was getting so annoyed by especially her brother’s behavior that she’s starting to consider Lovelace in a more positive light. This book was written back in 1748 and yet, Clarissa and I have the exact same emotions. Isn’t that what great literature is all about? It can be read so many years after it was written and still, we can connect emotionally to these characters.

This is really a great book!

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Charles Dickens: Hard Times (review)

Today we celebrate Dickens’ birthday. 200 years ago, Charles Dickens was born and lived to become one of the greatest novelists. Today, I heard him described as the New Testament in British writing to Shakespeare’s Old Testament. And no doubt about it – Dickens was a wonderful writer who still has a lot to say to a modern audience. I’m looking forward to reading more by him and starting my celebration with this review of Hard Times – as well as today’s Google logo shown above.

One of the things I like most about Charles Dickens, is his social indignation and how he’s able to use this indignation to create wonderful works of literary fiction. He used his childhood to create David Copperfield and he used some of the same thoughts to create Hard Times. Thoughts about how children should grow up, what kind of things they should learn in school, how workers should be treated and more.

“Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I  bring up these children. Stick to Facts, Sir!” (p. 7)

This is the first few sentences in the book. And from here, well, it kind of goes downhill from most of this book’s characters. It starts out rather well, though. A couple of men having a conversation about the importance of education. Only problem is, their idea of education is rather … off, would be a very mild way to put it. What they want, is for children to be taught facts – like a horse is a Quadruped. Graminivoruous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth. (p. 10)

As you might imagine, this is not the best way to teach children. However, Mr. Bounderby and Mr. Gradgrind are both convinced that this is the only way, and since it’s Mr. Gradgrind’s school and Mr. Bounderby is his best friend, their word is law. Mr. Gradgrind is lucky enough to have several children – besides the children in the school – that he can test his ideas on and he does so. His two eldest children, Louisa and Tom, are both heavily influenced by their father’s idea. Of course they are – how can you be anything else when you are constantly being told that all that matter is facts, that emotions have no place and that you are not even allowed to say ‘I wonder …’. Both children have had their imagination starved for their entire childhood and are growing up to be perfect examples of Mr. Gradgrind’s teachings. To their detriment, unfortunately.

Louisa and Tom … Louisa and Tom are raised in the same way but turn out very differently. Louisa closes herself off from the world while Tom instead starts gaming. Louisa protects Tom through everything and he doesn’t exactly return her kindness. His actions are ultimately what unravels everything Mr. Gradgrind ever believed in when he sees what has become of his children.

I’m fascinated by what Dickens implies about education and the upbringing of children in general. Tom and Louisa have had the same upbringing and are taught in the same way. But they become two very different adults which in my opinion is because of how nature plays a role that nurture can’t quite overcome. People react different to the same thing. Because of this, teaching and education should be more focused on the individual and definitely not viewing children as vessels to be filled – or blank slates to write on.

Mr. Bounderby has been watching them from the sideline for their entire childhood – especially Louisa. So when she comes of age, he naturally asks her to marry him, and Louisa, having been taught not to value her emotions, agrees. She does so to take care of her brother who is in Mr. Bounderby’s employment at his bank. Needless to say, their marriage isn’t exactly happy.

In this connection, I just want to mention how brilliant a writer Dickens is. Louisa and her father have two conversations in his office – one when he informs her about Mr. Bounderby’s marriage proposal and one towards the end of the book. These two conversations frame the most important parts of the book where Mr. Gradgrind’s teachings is really put to the test and are so poignant when they show Louisa, Mr. Gradgrind’s favorite child, and how little her father understands her.

I haven’t even mentioned Sissy Jupe. Sissy is a young girl from the circus – she is abandoned by her father and chooses to stay in Mr. Gradgrind’s school in the hope that her father will come back for her. Sissy is everything, Mr. Gradgrind doesn’t want in a girl – emotional, imaginative and hugely empathic. She stays in the school, lives with the Gradgrind family and grows to become very important for the entire family in ways, none of them could have predicted.

And Mr. Bounderby – don’t even get me started on Mr. Bounderby. This annoying man who’s constantly bragging about himself and how he has come from such a terrible start and had to make it on his own, almost since infancy but now he’s Mr. Bounderby of Coketown, a self-made big shot. How I loathed him, that big fake!

As a sidestory, we follow some of the ‘Hands’, the people working in the mills in town. One of these is the weaver Stephen Blackpool who shows how factory work influence the individual worker. Stephen’s is a tragic story in a lot of ways – mostly because he married the wrong woman. He tries to get help to get a divorce but a divorce is not a possibility when you are just a worker. So he has to live on with his alcoholic wife showing up from time to time in a drunken stupor while being in love with another woman, Rachael.

Stephen and Rachael’s story is touching and heart-breaking. This is not a time where you can just go ahead and get a divorce or just be with another person when you’re still married so since Stephen can’t get a divorce, they can’t be together and can hardly even talk to one another. Rachael helps Stephen when his wife shows up and is the rock he needs. When Stephen is ostracized by his co-workers, he leaves town – and is then accused of a crime and ultimately, he suffers a tragic end.

Charles Dickens’ opinions is clear throughout the book. The second chapter in this book, the one really showcasing Mr. Gradgrind’s and Mr. Bounderby’s thoughts on teaching and how children should be brought up, is called ‘Murdering the Innocents’ and shows them as small vessels waiting to be filled with facts. The book clearly shows that this is not a good way to raise children through the fates of Tom and Louisa.

Mr. Gradgrind is the quintessential father in a lot of ways. Even though he’s very dogmatic, he does everything because he thinks it’s the right thing. He fully believes in teaching facts and in keeping his children away from imagination, dreaming and fantasy. When he finally realize his mistakes and see, how his way of thinking has hurt his children in ways that’s probably beyond repair, he’s heartbroken and grows old overnight. He is a loving and caring father and suffers like any good father would if put in this situation.

I haven’t written much about the circus yet although it’s very important. Sissy Jupe came from a circus and this circus stands for everything, Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby does not approve of. Fun, entertainment, relaxation, imagination … When the Gradgrind family needs help in the end, Sissy steps up and saves the day by way of the circus, her family. There’s a scene in the beginning of the book where Mr. Gradgrind catches Tom and Louisa in peeking in on the circus and is shocked and orders them home – the same way, he orders them away from anything resembling imagination and fun. The book comes full circle with Sissy’s invocation of her circus family and their ability to repay the service, the Gradgrind’s did them when they took Sissy in after her father abandoned her. The circus owner Sleary gets the last word: People mutt be amuthed. They can’t be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can’t be alwayth a working, they an’t made for it. (p. 269) I think this is one of the main lessons Dickens wanted us to draw from this novel.

  • Title: Hard Times
  • Author: Charles Dickens
  • Publisher: Oxford World’s Classics – Oxford University Press
  • Year: 2008 (original 1854)
  • Pages: 299 pages
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

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Clarissa – first impressions

As you probably know, I’m participating in a year long read-a-long of Samuel Richardson’s novel Clarissa. The special thing with this read-a-long is that since Clarissa consists of letters, we read each letter on the date it is said to be written. I like this idea because you’re going to feel a bit like the protagonists in the novel – for instance, I’ve read the first 6 letters and now, I have to wait and not read the next letter until February 20th. I cheated a bit and read the first few lines where Clarissa apologizes that it has taken her so long to write – and this delay becomes more real to me because I too have waited for the letter. I like that. It makes the novel more real. I think I’ll have a hard time letting go when I’ve finished the last letter on December 7th!

Especially because so far I really enjoy this novel. It’s still in it’s preliminary stages so we’re still being introduced to the characters and seeing the conflicts slowly evolving. We already know a lot about the characters – even the ones not writing letters. We know that Lovelace’s pursuit of first Clarissa’s older sister and then Clarissa, has created a problem in the family. Even though Clarissa doesn’t encourage Lovelace and doesn’t even like him, her sister and brother don’t quite believe her and especially her brother is acting like he has the right to be the deciding factor of her life and is scheming to either make her go and be a house keeper in his house or marry her off to some rich man. (When I was reading about Clarissa’s relationship with her big brother and the way he acted, I couldn’t help but think that Richardson completely nailed this big brother-little sister relationship! I immediately hated her brother … Probably in no small part because I am a little sister with a big brother and can remember how annoying it was when he acted like he had something to say over my life!). Clarissa’s sister is probably suffering more from hurt pride than anything else since she actually wanted to marry Lovelace but pushed him a bit too far and made him reconsider his relationship with her and choose her sister instead. And of course, both Clarissa’s siblings are jealous since their grandfather willed an estate to Clarissa, making her (on paper at least) independent.

Her parents are also rather typical, I think. The mother who knows how she wants everything to be but is too weak to stand up for herself and therefore suffers more than she would if she was able to stand her ground. The angry father who’s trying to rule the entire family. And then some uncles who haven’t married because they ‘care so much about Clarissa and her siblings’. I can’t help but wonder if that’s the entire reason…

Luckily Clarissa has a really good friend in miss Anna Howe and in the last letter, Clarissa was getting ready to go on a short stay at the Howe’s.

I actually can’t wait to February 20th to read on in this novel but I’ll do my best to do so anyway. I’ve marked it in my calendar so there’s really not much else to do – but wait.

Related posts:

Samuel Richardson: Clarissa

So … Yeah … I think I’ve done it again. I’ve signed up for the Clarissa read-a-long. Yeah. Now I don’t know much about this book – except that it’s written in letters (537 of them) and it’s 1536 pages long. Supposedly it’s one of the greatest of all European novels. And it’s on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die which I’m (slowly) working my way through. And it definitely count as a chunkster – oh, except for the tiny thing that I’m reading it on my Kindle and e-books are not allowed as part of the Chunkster Reading Challenge… So even though it’s 1500+ pages, I can’t use it for this challenge unfortunately. Oh well, then I get to read another huge book this year!

Clarissa was first published in 1748 and it’s about a young girl who after resisting an arranged marriage, is tricked into fleeing with a man called Lovelace. This turns out to be a rather bad idea and well, as far as I can gather, things go really downhill for Clarissa from there.

So the read-a-long I’ve signed up for is hosted by Terri at Tip of the Iceberg and JoAnn at Lakeside Musing. The thing about this Clarissa read-a-long that really made me want to do this is, that the read-a-long reads the letters at the corresponding days. The first letter is written on January 11th and the last on December 7th so if I can keep myself to reading the letters on the right days, I’ll have Clarissa as a companion for the entire year. Of course, I’m starting a couple of days late but not much so it will work out fine, I’m sure.

My plan is to post regular updates on this project as I read along, depending on how caught up in the story I get.

A couple of articles about Clarissa:

Review: The Monk

Matthew Gregory Lewis: The Monk (1794, Project Gutenberg edition for Kindle)

If you read books from a list others have put together, you are bound to find both some lousy reads and also some great books you wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. This falls mostly in the later category. It’s not a book I would have picked up if it hadn’t been for the 1001 books list. I’m glad to have read it although it wasn’t quite what I expected – and definitely wasn’t a cheerful read. If you’re looking for that, this is not the book for you.
This is a story about a fall from grace. Ambrosio is probably the most honored man in Madrid. He is a monk, has been living in the monastery since he was child and has always lived secluded from the world, never having been outside the Abbey walls. He is the leader of the monks, the most holy man in all of Madrid.
When Ambrosio discovers that one of the monks is in fact a woman, hiding in the monastery. Matilda tells him that she’s entered the monastery to be Ambrosio’s friend, to be close to him, talk to him and share his thoughts. Because she threatens to kill herself if he tells on her or throws her out of the monastery, he allows her to stay, sure in the belief that he can’t be tempted.
But of course he can’t. She seduces him and after he has fallen once, he enters a rapid unstoppable fall.
A parallel story to this which slowly end up being bound together is the story of the nun Agnes who disappears from the convent and her relatives is told to be dead by the prioress.
All in all, there are three couples pursuing different goals: Don Lorenzo and Antonia, Don Raymond and Agnes – and the monk Ambrosio pursuing first Matilda and then Antonia.
Ambrosio has a hand in everyone’s fate. He is the main player, he is kind of like a spider sitting in his web sending out his threads and interfering with everyone’s lives. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone fall so quickly – he certainly was quick to learn vice!
This is a sad book in many ways, a tragic books. But it’s also unintentionally comic at points. And not just when the monk is spying on Antonia and a bird – never mentioned before or after – comes flying and hides between her breasts. I think the sheer amount of gothic elements along the way became a bit too much. We have nuns, monks, ghosts, castles, cemeteries, catacombs, mistaken identities, midnight escapes, love lost and found, old cruel practices, dying babies, the Wandering Jew and more. It was great in the beginning but it became a bit much in the end.
Another thing that became too much was the long, long poems interrupting the story. They were all very long – and some of them was (intentionally) bad as when one young boy presents his poem to his master and has it critiqued by him. Did this poem really need to be that long?
Luckily the horror of the story was engaging enough to keep me interesting in finding out what happened to the characters – even though they felt a bit (a lot) one-dimensional. The good guys were all good, the bad guys all bad through and through. Even Ambrosio who is supposed to be the purest of all, is revealed from the beginning to be not so good – suffering from pride among other things.
So – when thinking about what I have written in this review so far, this book doesn’t actually sound like a 4 stars read. But even though it had some major flaws, it was an engaging and very compelling story. I just wanted to reach the end to find out how it all came together, who made it and who didn’t. And it made me cry at one point at a mother’s love for and sorrow over loosing her baby.
But I don’t think it is a book I could read again. When you have read it the first time and know the outcome, know how it all ends, who live and who dies – then I think the huge mass of will be too much. I think this is book worthy to spend time on – but only that one time.
This is one of those books that demands a bit of context. Of course you have to read the book and give your opinion on your own terms but sometimes knowing a bit about the context it was created in, can add or subtract from a work. In this case, it adds to it’s value to know that the author wrote this in 1794, when he was just 19 years old – and that he wrote it in 10 weeks. That’s impressive! Of course, you could also argue that if he had spent a bit more time on it, it would be a book worth reading twice…
In either case I enjoyed my stay in the dark and smelling catacombs under the monastery in Madrid as well as my excursions out into the city and the few travels I also got to take with these people, all cursed by knowing the monk.