Posts Tagged ‘Victorian Literature’

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I read Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ for the readalong hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Delia from Postcards from Asia, as part of Dickens in December. Here are the readalong questions and my answers to them.

A Christmas Carol By Charles Dickens

Is this the first time you are reading the story?

This is the second time I am reading ‘A Christmas Carol’. I read it the first time on Christmas Day a few years back. It was an interesting and a different experience re-reading it.


Did you like it?

I liked it very much, but in a different way, when compared to the first time. The first time I read it, I didn’t know the story. So, I was looking forward to finding out what happened next. This time when I read it, I knew the overall story, though I had forgotten the details. I was looking forward to discovering things that I missed the first time. For example, a couple of interesting things that I discovered was that the phrase ‘dead as a doornail’ in the first page of the book must have inspired the title of Charlaine Harris’ book of the same name. And the Ghost of Christmas Past inspired the title of the movie ‘Ghosts of Girlfriends Past’.


Which was your favorite scene?

This is a really tough question to answer. I think it would be one of these three – Belle breaking off with Scrooge because she feels that he has become a person greedy for money, the Fezziwig family celebrating Christmas with their family, friends and employees and how at the end of that scene Scrooge says that happiness comes from things which are impossible to add and count, Bob Cratchit celebrating Christmas with his family.


Which was your least favorite scene?

I don’t think I had a least favourite scene. Because I think every scene was important to the story and was there for a reason, even if some of the scenes depicted characters who were not really nice or circumstances which exposed the not-so-good part of some of the characters’ hearts. I also wish that the third ghost had spoken. Just pointing the finger was not enough for me.


Which spirit and his stories did you find the most interesting?

I liked the second spirit very much, because it showed how people celebrated Christmas with a lot of joy and happiness whether they were rich or poor and how the spirit itself added to the happiness by its magic. The Christmas celebrations of the Fezziwig and Cratchit families were my favourite scenes from that part of the story.


Was there a character you wish you knew more about?

Probably Belle. Wish she had met Scrooge again and they could have become friends again.


How did you like the end?

I found the ending quite heartwarming and nice. I liked it very much. Though I knew the ending already, even while re-reading, it made me very happy. It was the perfect ending to the story.


Did you think it was believable?

I think from the perspective of a Christmas story, the ending was believable. But if I look at it as a real story, it is possible that a person might undergo such a major change in personality when he / she goes through a crisis. But it may not happen always. But it does happen sometimes


Do you know anyone like Scrooge?

One of the things I really liked about the story was that it doesn’t depict Scrooge as a completely selfish, miserly person, but shows that there are two sides to his character and one of the sides has been suppressed because of different reasons and circumstances. I think there are people like Scrooge everywhere or people who have some of his personality traits. For example, I have seen people who have money but who don’t know how to use it to make themselves happy or get themselves creature comforts. The disturbing thing though is that Scrooge’s indifference to the world, his refusal to become friends with anyone, his suspicious behaviour towards anyone who invites him for a dinner / party, the way he has constructed walls around his heart so that it is not accessible to anyone around – these are things which we see everyday.


Did he deserve to be saved?

I think he deserved to be shown a different perspective of life other than the cold, logical way that he looked at it. I am glad that the three spirits did that and I am glad that it changed Scrooge’s heart and made him a better person. I think everyone deserves an opportunity to become a better person.


You can find Caroline’s post on the readalong here and Delia’s post on the readalong here. You can find the answers by other participants in Caroline’s post.

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This is the fourth week of the readalong of ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ by Ann Radcliffe that I am doing with Delia from Postcards from Asia. You can find the previous posts of the series here – part 1, part 2, part 3.


In volume 3, Emily had escaped from the castle of Udolpho with her friends and now she is at the Count Villefort’s home and has become friends with his daughter Blanche. Valancourt also makes an appearance there. Unfortunately, Emily discovers that he is not the same person with whom she parted and after Valancourt had gone to Paris, he had got into debt and had been keeping the company of not-so-good women. At the end of the third volume, we had left Emily on the verge of her meeting with Valancourt when he is expected to explain his conduct.


Volume 4 starts with the meeting between Emily and Valancourt. The meeting doesn’t go well. Valancourt says that he is unworthy of her without getting into the details, while Emily assumes the worst that she has heard about him. Valancourt leaves. Then the story starts moving at a rollicking pace. Volume 4 is the ‘good’ volume – in the sense that good things happen to all the good characters in the story. Emily and her friends get to know that Montoni has been imprisoned and then later he dies in prison. Emily’s aunt’s estates come to her. Emily stays for some time in the convent in St.Clair, but later moves on to her own childhood home. All the mysteries which are described in the earlier volumes are all revealed in this volume – the secret behind the veiled picture in the castle of Udolpho, the identity of the person in the mini portrait that Emily has, the mystery of the music which comes out in the night, whether the different castles are haunted by spirits or not, what was there in the mysterious papers that Emily’s father asked her to burn. Radcliffe is on the side of reason when all these mysteries are revealed – she gives logical explanations for all of them, even for the supposedly supernatural events. Towards the end of the fourth volume, it also turns out that Valancourt, though he is in debt, is otherwise a nice person and he and Emily unite. All’s well that ends well, Emily and Valancourt get married, Lady Blanche and St.Foix get married and everyone lives happily everafter.


One of the things that I liked about the fourth volume was that all the loose ends were tied and all the mysteries were revealed. There was not one loose end left. It showed that Ann Radcliffe had meticulously planned the story. One of the issues I had was on the way the mysteries were revealed. Emily doesn’t really discover the secrets by luck or after pursuing them, but the author describes them to us in her omniscient voice. She doesn’t ‘show’, but she ‘tells’. It takes away part of the enjoyment somewhat, because in my opinion, the beauty of a mystery is partly in the way it is revealed.


My favourite parts of ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ are the one which describes Emily’s life in Gascony with her parents and the beautiful descriptions that Radcliffe gives us here, Emily’s time in Venice which are also filled with beautiful descriptions (this is the part of the book that I want to read again) and the part where Radcliffe evokes the scary, gothic atmosphere of the castle of Udolpho where Emily is imprisoned.


I read the introduction to the book after I finished reading the main story. I do it this way, rather than reading the introduction at the beginning, because most of the time introductions have spoilers. The introduction was by Jacqueline Howard and I liked it very much. One of the things that I liked about the introduction was what it said about how the story combined two different time periods – though the story happens in the sixteenth century, the good characters in the story all have eighteenth century liberal values, while the bad characters have sixteenth century ‘medieval’ values – and though some of it anachronistic, how it still works. The way Jacqueline Howard put it was by describing how Radcliffe was ‘imbuing her Catholic heroine with Protestant enlightenment’.


I think if ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ had been published as a serial in a magazine, it would have worked better, as there would have been a lot of time for readers to enjoy the beautiful descriptions, linger over the beautiful sentences and enter and stay in the beautiful world that Ann Radcliffe had created.


Many thanks to Delia for hosting this readalong. Eventhough I took six weeks to complete a four week readalong, I was glad to be part of it and read this interesting and beautiful book. You can find Delia’s thoughts on volume 4 for ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ here.


I want to read ‘Northanger Abbey’ by Jane Austen now and find out what she has written about ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ in it. I also want to read ‘The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, which has (according to the introduction here) “an animated portrait, bleeding statue, walking skeleton and dramatic appearances of gigantic Piranesi-like fragments of the murdered Alfonso…”. It looks like a book which should be read over a dark and stormy night 🙂

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This is the third week of the readalong of ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ by Ann Radcliffe that I am doing with Delia from Postcards from Asia. You can find the first post of this series here and the second post of this series here.


We left the second part of ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ with Montoni imprisoning his wife, Emily’s aunt, in a remote part of the castle and Emily spending everyday in dread and fear. In the third part, one of the guards tells Emily that he will help her meet her aunt. But he has his own nefarious intentions and tries to get Emily out of the castle into the hands of Count Morano. Emily doesn’t realize this and goes to the remote part of the castle where the guard takes her and suddenly discovers that she has been locked into a dark room. Then she is taken outside the castle to be delivered into her captor’s hands. But before this could happen, her aunt’s maid Annette alerts Montoni and his friends and they come and drive away the new villains. This relieves Emily, but then she realizes that this is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Her imprisonment in the castle continues. Montoni gives her permission to see her aunt, and Emily discovers that her aunt’s health has declined considerably. Her aunt doesn’t survive this and dies one day. Then Montoni starts harassing Emily, asking her to sign away her aunt’s estates to him. Emily declines to do that. Montoni removes his protection on her and Montoni’s friends start stalking Emily. Emily finds it too hard to fend off these ruffians and so signs away all her aunt’s estates in return for a safe trip to France. Unfortunately, Montoni doesn’t keep his side of the agreement. Then Emily hears songs in the castle which are from her hometown Gascony and she suspects that it is that of Valancourt. She fears that Valancourt might be imprisoned in Montoni’s castle. Many things happen after this. Montoni seems to be the head of bandits who plunder nearby towns and castles. One of the owners of the nearby castles puts together a force and raids Montoni’s castle and besieges it. Montoni sends away Emily to a distant village to the care of one of his trusted men. Emily befriends this couples’ daughter Maddeleine. When the siege is over, Emily comes back. Then Emily discovers that the person who is imprisoned in the castle is not Valancourt, but another French admirer of hers called du Pont, who is the person who has written a poem admiring her in the fishing hut in Gascony. Emily, du Pont, Emily’s maid Annette and Annette’s boyfriend Ludovico hatch an escape plan and at one point escape from the castle in a couple of horses. The reach a port and get into a ship and sail for France.


At this point, Ann Radcliffe suddenly has an inspiration to create another heroine. She is Lady Blanche who is nearly the same age as Emily, who is beautiful and sensitive like her and who touches everyone around her with love and kindness like Emily does. She loves nature and writes poems on nature like Emily does (My favourite poem in volume 3 was ‘The Butter-fly to his Love’ written by Lady Blanche). She looks like Emily’s twin sister. I am hoping that towards the end of the story she will turn out to be the twin sister. Lady Blanche and her brother and parents have moved into a castle in the countryside from Paris, near the place where Emily’s father had died. One day a storm blows near the sea there and a ship is blown ashore. Blanche’s father, the Count, asks his people to help out and try to save the ship and the travelers in it and they rescue – surprise, surprise – Emily and her friends. Emily and Blanche become thick friends. Emily writes to her uncle and Valancourt and states that she has arrived back and is planning to join a convent. Valancourt comes back in search of Emily, but she discovers that he is a changed person. He also says that he is not worthy of her. Blanche’s father, the Count, also says the same thing to her and he gives supporting evidence for that. It seems Valancourt is no longer an innocent youth and has become a gambler and a man who hangs out with women of suspicious reputation. Emily is heartbroken. Valancourt wants to have a conversation with her and tell her about what has happened in his life and part 3 of the story ends on the eve of this conversation.


Too many fantastic things happen in part 3 and the story moves to different locations – from Montoni’s castle to the Italian countryside and then back to Montoni’s castle and then to the French countryside. I don’t know why Ann Radcliffe had to create another noble heroine in Lady Blanche. Maybe that will help unveil some of the suspense and tie some of the loose ends of the story later. It looked a bit artificial to me. Like some of the old movies where the hero or heroine suddenly discovers that there is someone else who looks exactly like him / her.


My favourite part of the third volume was the atmosphere which Ann Radcliffe creates throughout – the dark, scary, creepy, gothic atmosphere of the Castle of Udolpho and the labyrinthine corridors and rooms in it, in which one can get lost never to be found again, where unknown dangers lurk in every corridor and every room and where dark and deep secrets are hidden in rooms behind veils and screens. Radcliffe keeps on piling up the dark, scary, terrifying scenes one after the other that transports the reader into a medieval castle and gives the reader many a sleepless night.


I continued to keep an eye for interesting spellings of words and this is what I found in the third volume – ‘controul’ (for ‘control’), ‘enterprize’ (for ‘enterprise’), ‘secresy’ (for ‘secrecy’), ‘centinels’ (for ‘sentinels’), ‘antient’ (for ‘ancient’), ‘depictured’ (for ‘depicted’ – I love ‘depictured’, because it is a version of ‘pictured’ and seems more meaningful and rich than ‘depicted’) and ‘phrensy’ (for ‘frenzy’).


Some of my favourite passages in volume 3 were those spoken by Lady Blanche. One of them is this :


      ‘And have I lived in this glorious world so long,’ said she, ‘and never till now beheld such a prospect – never experienced these delights! Every peasant girl, on my father’s domain, has viewed from her infancy the face of nature; has ranged, at liberty, her romantic wilds, while I have been shut in a cloister from the view of these beautiful appearances, which were designed to enchant all eyes, and awaken all hearts. How can the poor nuns and friars feel the full fervour of devotion, if they never see the sun rise, or set? Never, till this evening, did I know what true devotion is; for, never before did I see the sun sink below the vast earth! To-morrow, for the first time in my life, I will see it rise. O who would live in Paris, to look upon black walls and dirty streets, when, in the country, they might gaze on the blue heavens, and all the green earth!’


Another one is this :


      ‘Who could first invent convents!’ said she, ‘and who could first persuade people to go into them? And to make religion a pretence, too where all that should inspire it, is so carefully shut out! God is best pleased with the homage of a grateful heart, and, when we view his glories, we feel most grateful. I never felt so much devotion, during the many dull years I was in the convent, as I have done in the few hours, that I have been here, where I need only look on all around me – to adore God in my inmost heart!’


This is a beautiful conversation between Blanche and her father which I liked very much :


Blanche : Did these scenes, sir, ever appear more lovely, than they do now? To me this seems hardly possible.


The Count (Blanche’s father) : They once were as delightful to me, as they are now to you; the landscape is not changed, but time has changed me; from my mind the illusion, which gave spirit to the colouring of nature, is fading fast! If you live, my dear Blanche, to re-visit this spot, at the distance of many years, you will, perhaps, remember and understand the feelings of your father.


Another of my favourite passages in this volume was about Emily trying to read. It went like this :


…Emily sought to lose the sense of her own cares, in the visionary scenes of the poet; but she had again to lament the irresistible force of circumstances over the taste and powers of the mind; and that it requires a spirit at ease to be sensible even to the abstract pleasures of pure intellect. The enthusiasm of genius, with all its pictured scenes, now appeared cold, and dim. As she mused upon the book before her, she involuntarily exclaimed, ‘Are these, indeed, the passages, that have so often given me exquisite delight? Where did the charm exist? – Was it in my mind, or in the imagination of the poet? It lived in each,’ said she, pausing. ‘But the fire of the poet is vain, if the mind of his reader is not tempered like his own, however it may be inferior to his in power.’


I can’t wait to read volume 4 now and find out what happened between Emily and Valancourt. As of now, Valancourt has gone down in my estimate and I don’t know whether Emily will forgive him for it. I also can’t wait to find out more about the secrets which have still not been revealed – how Emily is related to the lady in the mysterious portrait, what was there in the papers that Emily burnt and what did Emily see behind the veil in the Castle of Udolpho.


My questions for Delia on volume 3 of the story are :


(1)  Did you guess that the mysterious admirer of Emily, who visited the fishing hut in Gascony was not Valancourt?

(2)  Was the character of Lady Blanche required in the story? Doesn’t she look like an exact replica of Emily? Do you think the introduction of this new heroine was required for tying up the loose ends of the story?

(3)  Does Valancourt deserve Emily’s forgiveness (irrespective of what actually happens later)?

(4)  Which of the three volumes is your favourite till now, with respect to the gothic atmosphere and scary events?


You can find Delia’s review of volume 3 of the book here.

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This is the second of week of the readalong of ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ by Ann Radcliffe that I am doing with Delia from Postcards from Asia. You can find the first post of this series here.


This week we are covering the second volume of the book. Here is what I think of the second volume.




We left Emily, parting with her lover Valancourt at the end of the first volume. In the second volume, Emily and her aunt and her aunt’s new husband Signor Montoni leave France for Italy. The journey through the Alps is quite beautiful. They reach Turin and then Venice. They move into Montoni’s beautiful apartment which opens out to the waterfront. Emily spends every evening with her aunt and other friends going out in gondolas, listening to beautiful music by accompanying musicians and being courted by a gentleman called Count Morano. But Emily hasn’t forgotten Valancourt and so she rejects Count Morano. Unfortunately, the count is persistent. Montoni and Morano come to an agreement and Emily is told that she has to marry the Count and if she refuses she has to face the consequences. A date for her marriage is fixed. While Emily dreads the arrival of that hour, suddenly Montoni asks everyone at home to pack up and leave. They go on a long journey through mountains and reach the castle of Udolpho. Emily feels that she has escaped from being married to the Count, but then she has to face the terrors of the castle. The castle has many rooms which are locked and there are stories of a ghost of the previous owner of the castle passing through different rooms and there is also a rumour of a veiled portrait in one of the rooms. Emily once stumbles upon the veiled portrait, but her aunt’s maid, Annette, who is with her, refuses to help her unveil it. When Emily has a chance during the day, when it is bright, to go to that room again, she lifts the veil, but what sees beneath it terrorizes her and she faints. She realizes that it is no portrait but something which is extremely terrifying. What this terrifying this is, we the readers don’t know. Morano comes to the castle and continues pursuing Emily, but Montoni has a fight with him and sends him away. Relations between Montoni and Emily’s aunt break down, as it emerges that Montoni wants his wife to give away all her estates to him. Montoni imprisons his wife in a remote part of the castle. There are strange people in the castle who look like bandits and who listen to Montoni’s orders. Emily spends every day in dread and fear. The second volume ends here.


I loved the descriptions of Emily and her family’s journey through the Alps. I also loved the description of their time in Venice. I remember reading the description of Venice in Thomas Mann’s ‘Death in Venice’ and not being too captivated by it. But when I read Ann Radcliffe’s description, it seemed like a dream world, where everyone went out in gondolas in the night, with beautiful lights all around and melodious music being played by talented musicians. It looked like it was party-time everyday evening J


The second part of the second volume changes drastically in character. The atmosphere gets drastically transformed from gay, fun-filled Venice to the dark, terrifying castle of Udolpho. I liked very much the poems which continue to come in the second volume of the book. My favourite poem in the second part of the book is The Sea-Nymph’ (you need to scroll to the end of the page at this link to read the poem). However, the poems which continue to flow in fun-filled Venice, suddenly stop when we reach Udolpho.


I liked the way Signor Montoni is described in the second volume. He seems to be a man whose thinking is clear and logical. He doesn’t flip-flop as some of the villains do. I liked this description of him in the early part of the second volume.


He had, of course, many and bitter enemies; but the rancour of their hatred proved the degree of his power; and, as power was his chief aim, he gloried more in such hatred, than it was possible he could in being esteemed. A feeling so tempered as that of esteem, he despised, and would have despised himself also had he thought himself capable of being flattered by it.


It made me think of people who take criticism more seriously than praise. They like praise, but they value criticism more, even though they might not like it. Montoni seemed to be such a man.


I continued to keep an eye for interesting spellings while reading the second volume. Here are some I discovered – ‘antient’ (for ‘ancient’), ‘intestine war’ (for ‘internecine war’), ‘lagune’ (for ‘lagoon’) and ‘shew’ (for ‘show’).


I loved the wordplay in the second volume, as in the first, especially when Radcliffe describes contrasting ideas in the same sentence. For example, this sentence increases the sense of horror by beautiful wordplay :


She now retired to her bed, leaving the lamp burning on the table; but its gloomy light, instead of dispelling her fear, assisted it;


And this also does the same  :


Daylight dispelled from Emily’s mind the glooms of superstition; but not those of apprehension.


And this sentence snippet plays with contrasting ideas too :


Her present life appeared like the dream of a distempered imagination, or like one of those frightful fictions, in which the wild genius of the poets sometimes delighted. Reflection brought only regret, and anticipation terror.


And this longer snippet plays with opposites too :


Thus it is always, when we attempt to describe the finer movements of the heart, for they are too fine to be discerned, they can only be experienced, and are therefore passed over by the indifferent observer, while the interested one feels, that all description is imperfect and unnecessary, except as it may prove the sincerity of the writer, and sooth his own sufferings.


There were three mysteries which were still unresolved at the end of the second volume – the content of the mysterious packet of papers which Emily burnt, the identity of the woman whose portrait Emily has and the portrait (or whatever it was) that was there behind the veil. There was also the identity of the person who writes poems addressed to Emily in the first volume. I can’t wait to find out the secrets behind all these mysteries.


The questions I have for Delia from volume 2 are :


(1)   Did you find the transition of the story from the gay atmosphere of Venice to the dark, somber atmosphere of Udolpho very sudden or was it convincing?

(2)   Does the sense of horror and terror in the second volume come more because of the atmosphere rather than because of the events in the story?

(3)   What do you think about the descriptions of Venice in this story, when compared to other descriptions of this city?

(4)   Is the absence of poems in the second part of the volume by accident or by design? Do you think poems heighten the atmosphere of horror in a story?


I can’t wait to read the third volume of the book and find out whether some of the mysteries are revealed in it.


You can find Delia’s thoughts on the second volume of ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ here.

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I have been away from blogging for a while. I got into a book reading slump and it took me a while to get out of it. I managed to read a few books though – a children’s book by Susie Morgenstern, a few comics, a collection of tales of Edgar Allan Poe, a John Steinbeck novella, a collection of fairytales, a Lewis Carroll book. I also watched lots of movies. (I think these two deserve their own posts. So I will come back with a couple of them later this week.) I am happy now to get back to what I love doing the most – writing about my favourite books and commenting on my favourite bloggers’ posts.


Now about Ann Radcliffe’s book. I discovered ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ through the movie ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’. There is a mention in the movie that Jane Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’ was inspired by ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’, or rather Austen took a dig at gothic romances like ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ in her book. There is a conversation in the movie where one of the characters says that he went and read ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ after reading ‘Northanger Abbey’ because of this connection and another character exclaiming that she didn’t know that it was a real book. So, I got Ann Radcliffe’s book after watching this movie. But because it was a chunkster – my edition has 632 pages of small print, which will probably translate into 900 pages of normal size fonts, and the poems in the book are in really tiny font – I was waiting for the right time to read it. When Delia from Postcards from Asia suggested that we do a readalong of ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’, I happily jumped at the opportunity. The book is divided into four volumes and we will be reviewing one volume each week and asking questions on each volume and discussing on it. Here is what I think about the first volume.



The first volume of the book lays the basic groundwork for the story. It describes the life of the St Aubert family. Monsieur and Madame St Aubert live in a beautiful chateau in Gascony in the banks of the Garonne river, surrounded by beautiful mountains, trees, forests and valleys – the kind of place all of us dream of living in. They have a beautiful, grown up daughter called Emily. The St Aubert’s spend a lot of time together taking walks in the mountains, spending time reading, listening to music, having intelligent conversations and enjoying the sights, sounds and music of nature. Once during one of their walks, Emily discovers that she has a mysterious admirer because there is a poem written in a fishing-house they frequent, which is addressed to her, and which grows with the addition of new lines everytime they visit this place. Other than this unknown admirer, things are peaceful and tranquil for the St Aubert family. Then one day tragedy strikes. Madame St Aubert becomes ill and doesn’t recover from her illness and dies. It is a huge blow to the family and it deeply affects Monsieur St Aubert. The father and the daughter decide to take some time off and travel to nearby places as they feel that a change of scene would be good for their health. During their travels they meet a young man called Valancourt, who helps them during a few occasions. Monsieur St Aubert likes the young man and Emily and Valancourt discover that they have a lot in common and have long conversations and strike a friendship. Valancour however departs after a while leaving the father and the daughter to continue with their travels.


During the journey, Monsieur St Aubert’s health deteriorates. They stop at a place where a peasant family takes care of them. But, unfortunately, it is to no avail. Monsieur St Aubert dies, leaving Emily in the care of his sister. But not before he extracts a promise out of her. The father tells the daughter that there is a set of papers which is hidden under a floor board in their chateau. He asks Emily to take them out and burn them. He also expressly forbids her from reading them. Emily promises her father that she will do the same. Later, Emily returns to her home, very depressed after having lost both her parents in a short period of time. After sometime she finds the papers and accidentally reads a few lines from them. She is shocked at what she reads. But we, the readers, don’t know what she has read. Then she burns the papers as she had promised her father, but she is not able to take her mind off what she has read. Meanwhile, Valancourt comes back and he professes his love for Emily. Emily loves him too, but in the absence of parents or elders at home, she feels that she can’t entertain him at home.


At this stage, Emily’s aunt Madame Cheron walks in, tells Emily that as she is Emily’s guardian now, Emily has to move to her home. After this point the plot starts moving faster. Valancourt asks for Madame Cheron’s permission to meet Emily and Madame Cheron refuses because she thinks that Valancourt’s family’s status is questionable. But when she discovers that Valancourt is from a good family she allows him to meet Emily and even agrees to their marriage. Then a mysterious Italian called Signor Montoni appears on the scene, courts Madame Cheron, marries her and tries to take over Emily’s life. Volume 1 ends with Montoni forcibly breaking off Emily’s engagement with Valancourt, the lovers parting tearfully, and Emily and Madame Cheron leaving for Italy with Montoni.


I found the first part of volume 1 quite leisurely with lots of descriptions of nature. The main characters are either taking a walk through beautiful places or resting somewhere and enjoying the beauty of the mountains and the forests. There are many beautiful passages in this part of the book, especially if one loves Victorian English. One of my favourites was this passage :


The deepest shade of twilight did not send him from his favourite plane-tree. He loved the soothing hour, when the last tints of light die away; when the stars, one by one, tremble through aether, and are reflected on the dark mirror of the waters; that hour, which, of all others, inspires the mind with pensive tenderness, and often elevates it to sublime contemplation. When the moon shed her soft rays among the foliage, he still lingered, and his pastoral supper of cream and fruits was often spread beneath it. Then, on the stillness of night, came the song of the nightingale, breathing sweetness, an awakening melancholy.


There are pages and pages of descriptions like this, which are a pleasure to read.


In another place, there is a description of a face in a picture, which goes like this :


It was of uncommon beauty, and was characterized by an expression of sweetness, shaded with sorrow, and tempered by resignation.


So beautiful, isn’t it?


The subtitle of the book reads ‘A Romance : Interspersed with some pieces of poetry’. At the beginning of every chapter there is a poem or a snippet from a poem (typically written by another writer), while at many places in the book there are poems written by Radcliffe herself. I found this quite interesting, because I haven’t read a book which was interspersed by poems before. It changes the pace of the book and makes it an interesting reading experience, as in many places poems are used instead of prose to describe a scene or the feelings of a character and so it is not something that the reader can skip over.


On page 12 of the book I encountered the word ‘tremour’. I know that many words have different spellings in British and American English (for example ‘colour’ and ‘color’), but ‘tremor’ is the same in both. So, I was surprised at this spelling. The dictionary tells me that it is the archaic version of ‘tremor’. After encountering this word, I thought I will keep an eye for further interesting deviations like this. Some of the interesting ones I discovered were ‘vallies’ (instead of ‘valleys’) and ‘expence’ (instead of ‘expense’).


I also found some interesting stereotypes in the book which were probably the way people thought about things in late 18th century England or probably the way authors tended to represent things in their books during that era. Pastoral life is regarded as more pure and beautiful and innocent and the preferred way of living when compared to city life, natural forests are regarded as more beautiful than manmade parks and gardens, the main characters who are likeable are French who live in a natural environment, the not-so-good characters are French who live in the cities and the really bad ones (not confirmed yet, but whom I suspect so) are Italians.


I have always thought that I have read a few gothic romances. But while starting this book, I thought about it and I discovered that I can’t remember any that I have read. The standard elements of a gothic romance – a castle with mysterious rooms and with strange things happening, a beautiful heroine screaming with terror, a vile Count as the villain, a handsome chivalrous hero coming to the heroine’s rescue – were all part of my story-reading mind, but I couldn’t think of a single novel in which these elements were all there. There are historical romances by Walter Scott which I have read and loved but they are not gothic romances. The closest to a gothic romance that I have read is ‘The Woman in White’ by Wilkie Collins, but if I remember right, there is no castle in the story (but there is an evil Count). It is interesting how we feel that we have read books from a genre, but when we sit back and think, we haven’t read any.


I am looking forward to reading volume 2 now and finding out what happens to Emily in Italy, what the evil designs of Montoni are and what Valancourt’s plans are to win Emily’s hand.


You can find Delia’s post on volume 1 of the book here.

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I have wanted to read ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Brontë for many years now. Finally I got a chance to read it last week. The story of ‘Wuthering Heights’ starts with a man called Mr.Lockwood, who is also the narrator of the story, renting a house called Thrushcross Grange, in the countryside. The owner of the house is Mr.Heathcliff who lives a few miles away in a house called Wuthering Heights. Lockwood tries to become friends with Heathcliff but finds that Heathcliff is a difficult man to talk to. He discovers a young man and a young woman who live in Heathcliff’s house and learns that the young man is the son of the former master of Wuthering Heights, while the young woman is Heathcliff’s daughter-in-law. No one tells him anything else. One evening, while Lockwood is resting at home, because he is unwell and the weather is cold, he asks his housekeeper Ellen Dean, about Heathcliff and his family. It turns out that Ellen Dean knows Heathcliff since the time he came to Wuthering Heights as a child. So Ellen starts telling the story of Heathcliff and Hindley and Catherine, with herself as a childhood playmate of these three. She describes the childhood rivalry between Hindley and Heathcliff, about Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s love for each other, how Catherine chooses to marry Linton because that is socially more appropriate, how Heathcliff hates Hindley and Linton and disappears from Wuthering Heights only to come back a few years later and extract his revenge on them and how he carries on his revenge-taking to the next generation and what happens after that.  

I found ‘Wuthering Heights’ quite dark and intense. There were a few sunny, happy scenes in the beginning and throughout the book, but most of the time it was dark and intense. The part of the book where Heathcliff returns back to Wuthering Heights and proceeds to ruin the lives of Hindley and the Lintons was quite sad and tragic. I didn’t have many favourite characters in the story – I disliked Heathcliff because he is really a man with a  dark heart and I didn’t like Catherine or Hindley either. Edgar Linton was not bad. Probably the younger Catherine was my favourite character in the story. Maybe Hareton was nice too. The narrator of the story, Lockwood, and Ellen Dean who narrates Heathcliff’s story to Lockwood, were likeable, though they didn’t have a major part to play in the story. At some point I despaired on whether the atmosphere of the book will change, and whether a ray of sunshine will come out. It happened on page 360 of the book (the book had 395 pages). So sunshine did come out after 90% of the story was over and things turned out better for the younger Catherine, Hareton and Ellen Dean. I was happy when I read the last 10% of the book.


The book reminded me of an old Tamil movie that I have seen. It is called Avargal’ (it had Rajinikanth and Sujatha in lead roles). In that movie a husband and a wife get  because they are not able to get along well. The wife moves to a different city with her kid and starts working in a new company. She meets a guy there and falls in love with him. The husband follows her and meets her again and tries to be nice to her, and when the wife likes the new guy, he prevents her from taking it forward. He keeps on putting roadblocks to happiness in her life and when the wife discovers that it is too late. When she asks him why he is torturing her he replies that he liked torturing her because it gave him a lot of pleasure and he wants her to be miserable and didn’t want to see her happy ever. It was a very dark movie and one hated the character played by Rajinikanth after watching the movie. Heathcliff reminded me of that role – someone who always tries to be nasty and makes the other person miserable and takes pleasure out of it. At some point in the beginning he seems to have some reason for it, but later when he tries to take it out on the next generation it feels too nasty.


I read a little bit about Emily Brontë, after reading the book. It was sad that she died young – she was just thirty years old. I felt very sad when I read that. I also read that Emily Brontë alongwith her sisters Charlotte, Anne and brother Branwell had a literary club at home and used to write poems, novels and publish a newsletter which the family read. In an era, when there was no internet or telephone or email or music system or film and when avenues of entertainment or intellectual pursuits were limited and when the lives of women were restricted, it was wonderful to know that the Brontës lives a rich inner life, intellectually, culturally and literarily. It is amazing that it takes so little to live a rich inner life and create beautiful works of art, if one puts one’s mind to it, but it is so difficult in the modern age to realize that, looking at the way we are tied down by the telephone and the email and the internet and the other myriad trappings of modern life. 


I want to read Emily Brontë’s sister Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’ next.


I will leave you with two of my favourite passages from the book.


      “You shouldn’t lie till ten. There’s the very prime of the morning gone long before that time. A person who has not done one half his day’s work by ten o’clock, runs a chance of leaving the other half undone.”

 (Comment : This passage made me smile, because I remembered listening to nearly these exact lines in a Luis Buñuel movie called ‘Diary of a Chambermaid’. It is amazing how two unrelated works of art can have exactly the same dialogue. My mind also thought – Did Buñuel get inspired by Emily Brontë’s lines? Or was this a common sentiment which was expressed by everyone during that era?).


‘He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was lying from morning till evening on a bank of heath in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming dreamily about among the bloom, and the larks singing high up over head, and the blue sky, and bright sun shining steadily and cloudlessly. That was his most perfect idea of heaven’s happiness – mine was rocking in a rustling green tree, with a west wind blowing, and bright, white clouds flitting rapidly above; and not only larks, but throstles, and blackbirds, and linnets, and cuckoos pouring out music on every side, and the moors seen at a distance, broken into cool dusky dells; but close by great swells of long grass undulating in waves to the breeze, and woods and sounding water, and the whole world awake and wild with joy. He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace; I wanted all to sparkle, and dance in a glorious jubilee.

      ‘I said his heaven would be only half alive, and he said mine would be drunk; I said I should fall asleep in his, and he said he could not breathe in mine, and began to grow snappish. At last, we agreed to try both as soon as the right weather came;


Have you read Emily Brontë’s ‘Wuthering Heights’? What do you think about it?

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One of my favourite friends during my college days told me about ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ first. I never got around to reading it at that time. My friend told me a little bit about the plot and it looked sad. So, when I got the chance to read the book recently, I decided to take it. I did a readathon a couple of days back and finished reading it. Here is what I think.

What I think

‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ is about a young woman called Tess who is from a poor family. Tess’ father is a haggler – someone who takes a cart out everyday morning and buys and sells goods. One day the village parson tells Tess’ father that he is a descendant of an old family and his family tree is renowned. Tess’ father is delighted. Tess’ parents discover that there is a rich family by the second name of d’Urberville nearby. They send their daughter there to get in touch with their family roots. They also hope that their daughter can become part of this rich family and maybe get a rich husband. Unfortunately this family has a young man called Alec d’Urberville, who is a rascal. He seduces Tess and gets her pregnant. She gets back to her parents’ place and soon gives birth to a baby. Unfortunately, the baby dies after a few months. Tess continues to live in her parents’ house, but this time as a woman with a questionable past. Then one day she decides to go and work in a distant farm as a milkmaid. She starts from scratch and becomes a competent milkmaid there. She meets a gentleman called Angel Clare, there, who is from a cleric family, but who has decided to get himself trained in different farms and become a farmer by profession. Tess and Angel fall in love with each other. Angel proposes to Tess. Tess is worried that her past makes her unworthy of Angel’s love and she declines his proposal. Angel continues wooing her. Finally, Tess gives in to him and accepts his proposal. Tess and Angel get married. Then on the wedding night, Angel confesses to Tess about his past, on how his past is not spotless, but how he is a changed man now. Tess too confesses to Angel about her past. But Angel is shocked at what he hears. He becomes distant from her and then tells her that they need to be away from each other for a while. Tess is heartbroken. She goes back to her parents’ place a second time. Angel decides to go to Brazil to take his mind off things and also to find out the practicalities of starting a farm in Brazil. Tess goes to work in a different farm, where the work is harder. By this time, Alec d’Urberville has mended his old ways and has become a Christian preacher. But he sees Tess again and he is attracted to her again. He meets her and proposes to her. When she tells him that she is married, he continues wooing her. Does Tess succumb to Alec’s advances? Does Angel forget his wife’s past and return back to her? Does Tess find happiness in the end? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.


I liked ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ very much. It depicts quite beautifully life in a farm in Victorian England and asks questions on love and morals and on how society judges people unfairly. I liked very much the part of the story which talks about life in a milk farm. It takes the reader inside the farm and one can hear the cows, smell the milk, the hay and the grass and hear the milk being churned and the butter coming out. Hardy seems to be a master at bringing village life in front of the eyes of the reader. It was also interesting to read about the superstitions in a farm – for example the fact that butter won’t come out when the milk is churned, if someone working in the farm has fallen in love.


I also found most of the characters in the story interesting. I liked Tess very much. I found Alec d’Urberville quite interesting – he seems to be a villain in the beginning, but in the latter part of the story he seems to have reformed and is genuinely concerned for Tess. In the end he is again portrayed as a villain. I was in two minds about Angel Clare – in the initial part of the story, till he gets married to Tess, he comes through as a modern, liberal man, who is ready to stand up for his ideas, even if they are at odds with the world. But when he abandons Tess, I felt that he was quite weak and didn’t stand up, especially when she had trusted him enough to tell him all her secrets. His vacillations continue for the rest of the story and he never regained my affection as a reader. After reading the book, I read the introduction to the book – I always read the introduction after finishing the book, because I want to avoid spoilers – I discovered an interesting sentence there. It went like this : “There are some readers who prefer Alec’s directness and honest amorality to Angel’s fastidious emotions, his hypocritical liberal views, and his peculiar nastiness to Tess when he finds that she is not a virgin.” It looks like this line was written about me – I felt exactly like this!


While reading the book, one thing that struck me was that for a Victorian writer, Hardy had really flirted with danger and had annoyed the moral police of his era. I had read earlier that some of his novels were controversial, and when I read this book, I knew why. There is a scene in the initial part of the book, where Tess is walking back with her fellow farmworkers after spending an evening of festivities in another village, and she gets into argument with another milkmaid, who after getting annoyed strips herself and stands there trying to upset Tess. Hardy, of course, couches it in vague language, describing the maid as a Praxitelean sculpture. I can’t imagine, for example, George Eliot, writing such a scene. In another place, Tess kisses Angel passionately. The note to this scene says this – “Hardy is well ahead of his time in allowing a woman to be passionate.” However, Hardy only flirts with danger, but doesn’t cross the line. When Alec seduces Tess, it is implied and everything is left to the reader’s imagination. It reminded me of how Theodor Fontane does something similar in ‘Effi Briest’. I also read in the introduction that Hardy had to repeatedly cut such scenes out of the book, before it could be published in a magazine in serial form. Then when it was published in book form, the less ‘wild’ scenes were inserted and in each further edition of the novel, more and more deleted scenes were reincorporated and in the final edition published during Hardy’s time, the ‘Praxitelean’ scene was also incorporated into the book. One can imagine how complex, life must have been for a novelist, those days.


One problem I had with the book was in the last part called ‘Fulfilment’. There are going to be some spoilers here and so please be forewarned. In this last part, Angel comes back from Brazil to get back together with his wife, Tess. But he discovers that Tess has become Alec’s mistress, because she and her family had been reduced to poverty and Alec helped them out. But when Tess sees him and feels that she still loves her husband and also feels that Alec is the bad guy, she kills Alec, runs away with Angel and they travel everyday through forests to escape the clutches of the law. Then they reach the Stonehenge and the police catch up with them there. The story in this part of the book read like a thriller. It was so fantastic (in the sense, it was not realistic) and it was very different from the rest of the novel. It was difficult to believe and it seemed like Hardy wanted to influence his readers in a particular way and so had ended the book this way. I didn’t like this part much – it was too artificial and defied belief.


Reading ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ made me think about the other three nineteenth century classics which are stories about the ‘fallen’ woman – ‘Madame Bovary’ by Gustave Flaubert, ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy and ‘Effi Briest’ by Theodor Fontane. I haven’t read any of them except ‘Effi Briest’ and so it is difficult for me to compare them with ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ and see where it stands in comparison to the rest. One way in which it is definitely different from the rest is that the others all talk about women and families which are rich and well-to-do, while Tess is from a poor family. This and the fact that most of the story happens in a farm probably sets apart ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ from the rest.


I would love to watch a movie version of the book. I also want to read more Hardy novels. I will probably read ‘Jude the Obscure’, which one of my friends says is her favourite Hardy novel (and which is the book which created more controversy and made Hardy stop writing novels), ‘Two on a Tower’ (which is about a married woman who falls in love with a younger man, who is a scientist too – who can resist a plot like that J) and ‘The Woodlanders’ (I saw the movie version of this book and loved it).


I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book :


It was still early, and though the sun’s lower limb was just free of the hill, his rays, ungenial and peering, addressed the eye rather than the touch as yet.


The only exercise that Tess took at this time was after dark; and it was then, when out in the woods, that she seemed least solitary. She knew how to hit to a hair’s-breadth that moment of evening when the light and the darkness are so evenly balanced that the constraint of day and the suspense of night neutralize each other, leaving absolute mental liberty. It is then that the plight of being alive becomes attenuated to its least possible dimensions. She had no fear of shadows; her sole idea seemed to be to shun mankind – or rather that cold accretion called the world, which, so terrible in the mass, is so unformidable, even pitiable, in its units.


The gray half-tones of daybreak are not the gray half-tones of the day’s close, though the degree of their shade may be the same. In the twilight of the morning light seems active, darkness passive; in the twilight of evening it is the darkness which is active and crescent, and the light which is the drowsy reverse.


The past was past; whatever it had been it was no more at hand. Whatever its consequences, time would close over them; they would all in a few years be as if they had never been, and she herself grassed down and forgotten. Meanwhile the trees were just as green as before; the birds sang and the sun shone as clearly now as ever. The familiar surroundings had not darkened because of her grief, not sickened because of her pain.

      She might have seen that what had bowed her head so profoundly – the thought of the world’s concern at her situation – was founded on an illusion. She was not an existence, an experience, a passion, a structure of sensations, to anybody but herself. To all humankind besides Tess was only a passing thought. Even to friends she was no more than a frequently passing thought. If she made herself miserable the livelong night and day it was only this much to them – ‘Ah, she makes herself unhappy.’ If she tried to be cheerful, to dismiss all care, to take pleasure in the daylight, the flowers, the baby, she could only be this idea to them – ‘Ah, she bears it very well.’ Moreover, alone in a desert island would she have been wretched at what had happened to her? Not greatly. If she could have been but just created to discover herself as a spouseless mother, with no experience of life except as the parent of a nameless child, would the position have caused her to despair? No, she would have taken it calmly, and found pleasures therein. Most of the misery had been generated by her conventional aspect, and not by her innate sensations.


Have you read ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’? What do you think about it?

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I haven’t read any book by George Eliot before, though I have ‘The Mill on the Floss’ and ‘Silas Marner’ at home, which my sister read, when she did her masters in literature. I have seen a play version of ‘The Mill and the Floss’ though, and I liked it. So I was curious about how George Eliot’s works would be. So, when I discovered that Ana at Things Mean a Lot was hosting a read-along of ‘Middlemarch’ this week, I jumped at the opportunity and joined it. ‘Middlemarch’ has been frequently voted as the most popular book in England (alongwith ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Jane Eyre’) and so I was curious to find out what the book was all about. I also read an essay by Zadie Smith sometime back on this book and that piqued my curiosity even more. But because I got distracted by life in the past few weeks, and also because ‘Middlemarch’ is a chunkster at around 900 pages, it took me quite a while to finish. I finished reading it yesterday and here is the review.

Summary of the story

I am giving below a summary of the story as given in the back cover of the book.

Dorothea is bright, beautiful and rebellious and has married the wrong man. Lydgate is the ambitious new doctor in town and has married the wrong woman. Both of them long to make a difference in the world. But their stories do not proceed as expected.

Middlemarch contains all of life – the rich and the poor, literature and science, politics and romance – and is a stunningly compelling insight into the human struggle to find contentment.

What I think

It took me quite sometime to finish ‘Middlemarch’. At around 900 pages, it was one of the big ‘chunksters’ that I have read. I haven’t read many chunksters and I haven’t read a chunkster in a while. There was a time when I used to read chunksters – ‘Gone with the Wind’ by Margaret Mitchell (around 1100 pages), ‘Shanghai’ by Christopher New (800-odd pages), ‘Destiny’ by Sally Beauman (960 pages) – but it has been quite a while since I read one. The last ‘chunkster’ I read was ‘The Penguin history of the 20th century’ by J.M.Roberts (800-odd pages), which I read a few years back. I have found chunksters to be difficult reads (that is why I am struggling with ‘War and Peace’ now), because it is difficult to do a read-a-thon during a weekend and finish one of them. Because the book keeps coming back at you, reminding you that the number of pages to be read yet are far more than the number of pages already read. One feels that one is always behind, the way one feels when one is 0-2 down in sets in a tennis match. Any amount of effort to read more pages, makes only a marginal difference to the overall reading effort.

I started ‘Middlemarch’ enthusiastically, and finished around 80-odd pages quite fast, but then I got stuck there for a while and moving forward was quite painful. I tried to step on the accelerator, but to little effect. I ploughed through slowly till around 200 pages and it was quite painful to not be able to accelerate and to not be able to read more pages everyday and get to the end. It was like walking in a desert with the hot sun burning my back with a vast stretch of sand in front with no sign of a tree or water and with no end of the journey in sight. But at some point of time, all the hardwork bore fruit. I finally found an oasis at last – the book started singing at me and the song became more and more melodious and it touched a few strings in my heart and my heart started singing back.  Then the pages started rolling by and before I knew I had reached somewhere near the end of the book. Of course, my thinking now had changed quite dramatically – I didn’t want the book to end. This is what happens when one reads chunksters – one resists it a lot initially, but after one gets into it, one becomes a part of the story and one doesn’t want it to end. Reading ‘Middlemarch’ also made my reading more disciplined (“set a target and read so-many pages in a day”) and I am hoping to take that forward in reading smaller books with a higher reading runrate.

Some of the bare facts of the book go like this – it has lots of characters, and though there are a few which one could say are the main ones, like Dorothea, Lydgate, Rosamund, Fred Vincy, Will Ladislaw – there are dozens of others who are equally important, as happens in any epic novel. Sometimes this lack of one or a few main characters, makes the reader exasperated – sometimes I want to know what is happening in Dorothea’s life, and Eliot goes and describes more about Bulstrode or about the political ambitions of Mr.Brooke or about the political thoughts which are currently in favour in Middlemarch. Sometimes one feels that Eliot deliberately takes the focus away from one’s favourite character and bestows it on another one which one feels is not important to the story. But later it turns out that the character which one thinks is not important, plays an important role in the story or makes us better understand the time period of the novel better. There are three love stories which are woven into the strands of the book – one of Dorothea and Casaubon, another of Lydgate and Rosamond, and a third of Fred Vincy and Mary Garth. There is also the love story of Dorothea and Will Ladislaw which forms the backdrop to a considerable part of the book  before it comes to the forefront  towards the end. One of my favourite passages in the book is about how Lydgate and Rosamond fall in love. It goes like this :

      Miss Vincy was alone, and blushed so deeply when Lydgate came in that he felt a corresponding embarrassment, and instead of any playfulness, he began at once to speak of his reason for calling, and to beg her, almost formally, to deliver the message to her father. Rosamond, who at the first moment felt as if her happiness were returning, was keenly hurt by Lydgate’s manner; her blush had departed, and she assented coldly, without adding an unnecessary word, some trivial chainwork which she had in her hands enabling her to avoid looking at Lydgate higher than his chin. In all failures, the beginning is certainly the half of the whole. After sitting two long moments while he moved his whip and could say nothing, Lydgate rose to go, and Rosamond, made nervous by her struggle between mortification and the wish not to betray it, dropped her chain as if startled, and rose too, mechanically. Lydgate instantaneously stooped to pick up the chain. When he rose he was very near to a lovely little face set on a fair long neck which he had been used to see turning about under the most perfect management of self-contented grace. But as he raised his eyes now he saw a certain helpless quivering which touched him quite newly, and made him look at Rosamond with a questioning flash. At this moment she was as natural as she had ever been when she was five years old : she felt that her tears had risen, and it was no use to try to do anything else than let them stay like water on a blue flower or let them fall over he cheeks, even as they would.

      That moment of naturalness was the crystallizing feather-touch : it shook flirtation into love. Remember that the ambitious man who was looking at these Forget-me-nots under the water was very warmhearted and rash. He did not know where the chain went; an idea had thrilled through the recesses within him which had a miraculous effect in raising the power of passionate love lying buried there in no sealed sepulcher, but under the lightest, easily pierced mould. His words were quite abrupt and awkward, but the tone made them sound like an ardent, appealing avowal.

      ‘What is the matter? You are distressed. Tell me – pray.’

      Rosamond had never been spoken to in such tones before. I am not sure that she knew what the words were; but she looked at Lydgate and the tears fell over her cheeks. There could have been no more complete answer than silence, and Lydgate, everything else, completely mastered by the outrush of tenderness at the sudden belief that this sweet young creature depended on him for her joy, actually put his arms round her, folding her gently and protectingly – he was used to being gentle with the weak and suffering – and kissed each of the two large tears. This was a strange way of arriving at an understanding, but it was a short way. Rosamond was not angry, but she moved backward a little in timid happiness, and Lydgate could now sit near her and speak less incompletely. Rosamond had to make her little confession, and he poured out words of gratitude and tenderness with impulsive lavishment. In half an hour he left the house an engaged man, whose soul was not his own, but the woman’s to whom he had bound himself.

 Each of the characters has a different definition and expectation with respect to love in married life – Dorothea wants to be involved in her husband’s work and help him achieve great heights, Dorothea’s husband Casaubon finds her intelligent but doesn’t have a lot of time to spend with her – he prefers to be left alone, Lydgate and Rosamond are passionately in love with each other before they get married, but later discover that they are different kinds of people, Fred and Mary love each other, but Fred is indisciplined and is carelessly frittering away his life causing Mary a lot of heartburn. On thinking about it for a while, I feel (pardon me for these generalizations J) that the word ‘love’ comes packaged with a lot of meaning these days and seems to be a catch-all word which encompasses passion, friendship, sacrifice, conversation, listening, sharing of ideas, activity partnering, sensitivity and concern towards one’s partner, absorbing the pressure off one’s partner, financial security and much else besides. I think that it is extremely difficult for one person to fulfill all these expectations unless that person is a superman or a superwoman.

I liked most of the leading characters in the book – Dorothea, Will Ladislaw, Fred Vincy, Mary Garth, Lydgate and even Rosamond. I also liked very much some of the other characters like Mr.Farebrother the Vicar who loves Mary Garth equally well, but steps into the sidelines because Mary loves Fred. One of my favourite characters in the book was Mr. Caleb Garth, Mary Garth’s father, who knows everything about running a farm and is very much in demand in Middlemarch for managing farms, but who doesn’t care about money. I loved reading the passage where he describes his philosophy of life and work :

‘You must be sure of two things : you must love your work, and not be always looking over the edge of it, wanting your play to begin. And the other is, you must not be ashamed of your work, and think it would be more honourable to you to be doing something else. You must have a pride in your own work and in learning to do it well, and not be always saying, ‘There’s this and there’s that – if I had this or that to do, I might make something of it. No matter what a man is – I wouldn’t give twopence for him whether he was the prime minister or the rick-thatcher, if he didn’t do well what he undertook to do.’

I didn’t like Casaubon much, though he has his redeeming qualities. He seemed like the person who always follows the rules, does his duty, never strays from the official line, worries more about what society thinks than about what will bring him and his family happiness. It is difficult to fault such people in the real world, but difficult to enjoy their company and live with them.

George Eliot seems to have lived an unconventional life – being extremely religious at some point of time and then going to the opposite end of the spectrum, being interested in science and philosophy, having a relationship with a married man and setting up home with him for most of her life and marrying a chap who was twenty years her junior, sometime after her partner died. Some of Eliot’s experience and personality seems to have seeped through the book, especially in the strong women characters (Dorothea , though she is kind and wonderful and sweet has a strong, independent mind and holds her own with others, Rosamond repeatedly defies her husband though with good intentions, Mary Garth turns around her suitor Fred Vincy and helps him become a better person, Mrs. Cadwallader who has friends at all places and tries influencing everyone in her circle). It will be interesting to read George Eliot’s biography and find out how much of her life experiences have inspired her books. It will also be interesting to find out why George Eliot wrote with a pen name and not with her actual name Mary Anne Evans (or Marian Evans).

I found some interesting references in the story. For example, there was a description which went like this : “Did not an immortal physicist and interpreter of hieroglyphs write detestable verses?” I think that ‘immortal physicist’ was Thomas Young who was a 19th-century genius. In another place the book talks about William Wilberforce who fought for abolition of slave trade (I really have to see the movie ‘Amazing Grace’ which is about Wilberforce). There is also a reference to ‘machine-breaking’ which made me remember Kurt Vonnegut’s comments on being a Luddite.

One of the things that I couldn’t resist doing is comparing George Eliot with Jane Austen. I have read Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ many times and have loved it each time. I have also heard some of my friends say that Austen is probably the most popular British woman writer of the 19th century. So it was natural to compare Austen with Eliot. So what do I think when I compare Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’ with Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and more generally the themes which are predominant in Eliot’s books when compared to those predominant in Austen’s? I have read just one book by Austen – ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – and have seen a movie version of one of her other books, ‘Mansfield Park’. And ‘Middlemarch’ is the only book of Eliot that I have read. So any generalization that I make has to be read with a pinch of salt. I think that Austen’s stories are preoccupied with relationships and marriage. Eliot’s stories also have love and marriage as major themes (from my limited reading experience), but there are also other themes woven into this strand. There are the themes of science, religion and politics of the era woven into the web of the story and there are also depictions of the role of women and the battles they had to fight for being treated equally during those times. There are also questions raised and experiences shared on topics like what is the good life and what a person should do to attain fulfillment in life. There are also interesting depictions of how people reacted to momentous social and technological changes during their time. Some of these also form an important part in some of Austen’s stories (for example, ‘Mansfield Park’ also talks about slave trade), but I find that they are embedded a bit more deep in Eliot’s book. Also, letters play an important role in Austen’s stories – a well-written letter is an important part of the story and revelations contained in it turns the story in surprising directions. I think Eliot doesn’t use the device of the well-written letter much to move her plot. I found the significant scenes in her book to be conversations.

The ending of the book is quite happy, in general, for everyone – Dorothea and Will Ladislaw get married, Fred and Mary get married and Fred becomes a more responsible person and the marriage of Lydgate and Rosamond survives and Lydgate becomes successful materially and professionally. But then George Eliot doesn’t want to leave the story at that. She adds a final brief sub-chapter, where she describes what happened to the main characters in the succeeding years. It turns out that Dorothea helps her husband by giving him support and by taking care of their home and their children.  Lydgate shelves his grand dreams of doing research in the medical field, but turns out to be a successful medical practitioner and dies young. I felt sad when I read this – I wish Dorothea had been an equal partner to her husband rather than being just a normal wife. Because for most of the book, Dorothea comes out as a person who is in no way inferior to Will – in fact, she was probably the better person of the two – and influences the lives of others in positive ways. I also wish that Lydgate had found a way of realizing his dream. It feels sad when someone’s dream dies because one has to take care of the annoyances of life like making money and having a good lifestyle. I couldn’t help but feel sad for both of them, though Dorothea seems to have been content with her life.


I am giving below some of my favourite passages from the book.

But what a voice! It was the voice of a soul that had once lived in an Aeolian harp.

‘I don’t make myself disagreeable; it is you who find me so. Disagreeable is a word that describes your feelings and not my actions.’

…their eyes met with that peculiar meeting which is never arrived at by effort, but seems like a sudden divine clearance of haze.

If you are not proud of your cellar, there is no thrill of satisfaction in seeing your guest hold up his wine-glass to the light and look judicial. Such joys are reserved for conscious merit.

…it had already occurred to him that books were stuff, and that life was stupid.

Lydgate was in love with this actress, as a man is in love with a woman whom he never expects to speak to.

‘An accomplished woman almost always knows more than we men, though her knowledge is of a different sort. I am sure you could teach me a thousand things – as an exquisite bird could teach a bear if there were any common language between them. Happily, there is a common language between women and men, and so the bears can be taught.’

…in the kindly mornings when autumn and winter seemed to go hand in hand like a happy aged couple one of whom would presently survive in chiller loneliness…

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.

‘Young folks may get fond of each other before they know what life is, and they may think it all holiday if they can only get together; but it soon turns into working day, my dear.’

An eminent philosopher among my friends, who can dignify even your ugly furniture by lifting it into the serene light of science, has shown me this pregnant little fact. Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination, and lo! the scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially, and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection. These things are a parable. The scratches are events, and the candle is the egoism of any person now absent…

A man may, from various motives, decline to give his company, but perhaps not even a sage would be gratified that nobody missed him.

Scenes which make vital changes in our neighbours’ lot are but the background of our own, yet, like a particular aspect of the fields and trees, they become associated for us with the epochs of our own history…

…a disagreeable resolve formed in the chill hours of the morning had as many conditions against it as the early frost, and rarely persisted under the warming influences of the day.

She was knitting, and could either look at Fred or not, as she chose – always an advantage when one is bent on loading speech with salutary meaning;

…a first farewell has pathos in it, but to come back for a second lends an opening to comedy…

Only those who know the supremacy of the intellectual life – the life which has a seed of ennobling thought and purpose within it – can understand the grief of one who falls from that serene activity into the absorbing soul-wasting struggle with worldly annoyances.

…we men have so poor an opinion of each other that we can hardly call a woman  wise who does that.

Mary Garth – ‘…I don’t love him because he is a fine match.’  Caleb Garth –  ‘What for, then?’ Mary Garth –    ‘Oh, dear, because I have always loved him. I should never like scolding any one else so well; and that is a point to be thought of in a husband.’

‘He was ten times worthier of you than I was,’ Fred could now say to her, magnanimously. ‘To be sure he was,’ Mary answered; ‘and for that reason he could do better without me. But you – I shudder to think what you would have been – a curate in debt for horse-hire and cambric pocket-handkerchiefs!’

Further Reading

Ana, at Things Mean a Lot who is hosting this read-along, has written a wonderful  and brilliant review of ‘Middlemarch’. You can find it here.

Zadie Smith has written an interesting essay on ‘Middlemarch’ called ‘Middlemarch and everybody’ which is part of her essay collection ‘Changing my Mind’. If you get a chance, do try reading it. It is wonderful.

Final Thoughts

‘Middlemarch’ is an interesting and wonderful book. It shows why English literature of the 19th century was really wonderful. ‘Middlemarch’ has been repeatedly ranked as one of the top three favourite books by readers in England. Now I know why.

Zadie Smith says this in her essay on ‘Middlemarch’‘It gets better as you age’. I would love to take down this book from the bookshelf, ten years from now, and find out whether this is true.

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