Publisher: Oxford University Press

A Love Story by Émile Zola

Posted February 15, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 2 Comments

A Love Story by Émile ZolaTitle: A Love Story (Goodreads)
Author: Émile Zola
Translator: Helen Constantine
Series: Les Rougon-Macquart #8
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1877
Pages: 272
Genres: Classic
My Copy: ARC from Publisher

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Une page d’amour starts off with Hélène Grandjean’s daughter Jeanne falling violently ill. What follows is the story of Hélène, an attractive young widow trying to care for her daughter and hide her secret love affair with Dr Henri Deberle. This is the eighth book in Émile Zola’s Les Rougon-Macquart series. Subtitled Histoire naturelle et sociale d’une famille sous le Second Empire (Natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire), which really sums up what you can expect from the twenty novels found in the series.

This novel kicked off in a manner that really set the tone and pace but still allows Zola to impress the reader with his elegant style. Normally I find with older classics that they adopt a leisurelier pace but A Love Story was not a slow burn. I was very impressed with the way Émile Zola was able to keep that pace, while I sat in awe of the writing style. Most people know this French writer for Thérèse Raquin and I must admit that I picked A Love Story before knowing it was the eighth book in the series.

The twenty books in Les Rougon-Macquart series covers all aspects of life through the Second French Empire. This is the Imperial regime of Napoleon Bonaparte which took place from 1852 to 1870 (between the second and third French republics but that is too much of a history lesson). Zola wanted to explore French life and these books are often a social critique of the time. The end results is what is considered the most notable books in the French naturalism literary movement.

I will admit that I expected A Love Story to be social criticism, I even went in as viewing through a Marxist lens because the novel was set among the petite bourgeoisie. However I quickly discovered that this novel focused on the psychology of Hélène Grandjean, in particular the differences between love and marriage, as well as motherhood and duty. This was an intense look at a woman who discovered that she was never truly been in love. Her intense relationship with Dr Henri Deberle almost served as a sexual awakening. However the circumstances surrounding their relationship and lives leads the novel to its inevitable conclusion.

A Love Story was such a joy to read, however I do regret not starting elsewhere. There will be plenty more Émile Zola novels in my future, especially since I know that he often focuses on social criticism. I have Thérèse Raquin on my shelves, so I am sure it will happen soon but I suspect La Fortune des Rougon will happen in the near future as well. My love for French literature grows with every book I read, though it will never replace my Russian lit obsession. This is the type of book I would like to leisurely read while sitting in a Paris café, maybe that is how I will re-read A Love Story.

Mini Review – Books About Books

Posted September 17, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 4 Comments

As most people are aware, I am a big fan about books about books. I am fascinated about people’s journeys and relationships with books. As a big fan of books, I like to learn about how people view and write about books; I use this as a way to inspire me to improve as well as give me some new ideas on how to approach this topic. Sadly I am so far behind in my book reviewing so I need to resort to some mini reviews. However it is a good chance to talk about four very different books about books in one hit.

Mini Review – Books About BooksTitle: How To Be a Heroine (Goodreads)
Author: Samantha Ellis
Published: Chatto & Windus, 2014
Pages: 272
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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Samantha Ellis is a playwright and journalist who decided to write about the woman in fiction that have influenced her life. The subtitle to How to be a Heroine is “…What I’ve Learned from Reading too Much” and this really encapsulates what Ellis is doing within the book. This is less of a bookish memoir or literary criticism and more of a revisit to some of her favourite books throughout her life and talking about it through the lens of feminism. This book includes references to The Little Mermaid, Anne of Green Gables, Pride and Prejudice, The Bell Jar and Wuthering Heights.

While this is a very important topic to discuss, I felt a bit of a disconnect to the book in general. There was times where I felt that Samantha Ellis was being dismissive and cynical towards literary criticism. Because I am fascinated and passionate about learning literary theory, I felt that her feelings towards the topic really took me away from truly enjoying the book. I did however enjoy the way Ellis analysed the good and bad qualities about each story and told the story about her relationship with the books mentioned. I think if it was not for that one thing that bugged me about How to be a Heroine I might have had a completely different experience while reading this book.

Mini Review – Books About BooksTitle: Where I'm Reading From: The Changing World of Books (Goodreads)
Author: Tim Parks
Published: Harvill Secker, 2014
Pages: 244
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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Tim Parks is a translator, critic and even a professor of literature, so when I discovered his book Where I’m Reading From, I was excited to see what he had to say on the topic. I went into this book thinking it was a bookish memoir but found out this was a collection of essays he had written for The New York Review of Books. Some of the topics discussed in this book include, Why we read, Should you finish every book you start?, How is the Nobel Prize like the World Cup?, Why do you hate the book your friend likes? and so many more topics. I was very interested in what he had to say about translations, and the concept of how we are reading a second-hand story.

There is so much within Where I’m Reading From that I did not agree with, but I still found it interesting to read someone else’s perspective on the topics. It really got more thinking about the state of literature and the bureaucracy behind the industry and awards in far greater detail. In a lot of ways this book reminded me of What Is Literature? by Jean-Paul Sartre, although Tim Parks’ book was a lot more accessible and did not make me feel stupid. I also did a video review for this book on my YouTube channel.

Mini Review – Books About BooksTitle: Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction (Goodreads)
Author: Christopher Butler
Series: A Very Short Introduction #74
Published: Oxford University Press, 2003
Pages: 144
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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I like to think I am a fan of post-modern literature, but ask me to explain it, I will have a hard time. Post-modernism is often referred to when talking about art, films, architecture, music and literature but what does it actually mean? I picked up Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction in the hopes of understand it a little more but I still do not think I can explain it. For me, I view post-modernism, as a reaction to modernism which seemed to reject past thinking in favour of innovations like stream-of-consciousness. Post-modernism still found value in the past techniques and theories and found interesting ways to use them in new and exciting ways. Post-modernism wanted to invoke thought and criticism; within its literature you might find something bizarre or weird that you just need to talk about.

I know my view on the topic is very broad and it is far more complex but that is what I love about post-modern literature. I want books that force me to think critically about what I am reading and post-modernism forces you to do just that. In Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction, Christopher Butler tries to equip us with the basic ideas behind post-modernism to allow us to recognise and understand the theories more easily. This is still a very complex movement but I am starting to understand why I love it. This is a good starting point, if you are actually interested in the critical thinking side of this movement.

Mini Review – Books About BooksTitle: My Reading Life (Goodreads)
Author: Bob Carr
Published: Penguin, 2008
Pages: 432
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Library Book

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Bob Carr is a former Australian politician and member of the Labour Party; during his career he was a Senator, Premier of New South Wales and the Minister for Foreign Affairs. My Reading Life is a literary memoir about the books he has read and have influenced him; this was written during a period where he was not in politics. Carr divides the book into topics, focusing mainly on the political, which is obviously a reflection of his interests.

One of the things I did not like about this book was the way Bob Carr kept his political face on throughout the entire thing. I would have liked him to drop his public persona and just have a more real conversation about books. I understand that he was still political and he became the Minister of Foreign Affairs after publishing this but I would have preferred a more honest look at literature. I do hope that no Russian’s read this book after he become the Minister of Foreign Affairs, because to me it felt like Carr liked Russian lit but hated everything else about this country. There was some interesting insights made within the book and overall a decent memoir, just a little too guarded.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Posted May 28, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Russian Lit Project / 0 Comments

Anna Karenina by Leo TolstoyTitle: Anna Karenina (Goodreads)
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Translator: Aylmer Maude, Louise Maude
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1873
Pages: 831
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Anna Karenina is the tragic story of the socialite’s marriage to Karenin and her affair with the wealthy Count Vronsky. The novel begins in the midst of their families break up due to her brother’s constant womanising; a situation that preferences her own situation throughout the novel. Running in parallel to this story of Konstantin Levin, a humble country landowner that wishes to marry Kitty, who is Anna’s sister in-law. Anna Karenina is a pinnacle piece of realist literature, exploring a wide range of family issues.

At over 800 pages, Anna Karenina can be a daunting novel to pick up; the large cast of characters does not make it any easier. I look at this classic novel as an exploration into melodrama that just about every family experiences. Born in 1828, Lev (Leo) Nikolaevich Tolstoy was born into a large and wealthy Russian landowning family, and has often been suggested that Anna Karenina is based on a similar social upbringing. While there are vast differences, issues with wealth, religion, farming and morality are issues that seem to parallel between reality and fiction. The story arch of Levin is considered to be autobiographical; Tolstoy’s first name is Lev (although in English he is known as Leo) and the Russian surname Levin actually means Lev.

Leo Tolstoy has been known for adding real life events into his fiction as a way with dealing with current political and social issues. Within Anna Karenina, events like the liberal reforms initiated by Emperor Alexander II of Russia and the judicial reform are used as the backdrop for the novel. This allows him to explore current issues, like the developing of Russian into the industrial age and the role of agriculture in these changing times. Also Tolstoy questions the role of the woman in this changing society and (the ever popular in Russian lit) class struggles.

The story of Anna Karenina is probably the most interesting for me and I enjoyed reading the struggle between love and the public opinion. She was trapped in a marriage and wanted to divorce but Karenin, who was a politician cared more about his public image. Then there is the fact that Anna’s brothers womanising destroyed the family and now she is faced with a similar situation that could cause the same damage. Adultery becomes a big theme within the book and seems to be a common theme within Russian literature to this day. However with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857), these three novels seemed to start a fascination in exploring the themes of passion and adultery in the mid to late nineteenth century.

There is a lot to explore within this book, and re-reading Anna Karenina was such an enjoyable experience. I know big books often scare me but there is something about going back to a much-loved novel that I find enjoyable. Leo Tolstoy intentionally made this novel long, he wanted to replicate life’s journey and the struggles people face along the way. I think he was able to capture that struggle and Anna Karenina will remain a favourite on my shelves and in Russian literature. There are so many more themes that could be explored within the novel but I will leave that for others to discover on their own.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

Posted January 15, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo TolstoyTitle: The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Goodreads)
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Translator: Nicolas Pasternak Slater
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1884
Pages: 256
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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Ivan Ilych’s life revolved around his career; as a high court judge he takes his job very seriously. However after he falls off a ladder, he soon discovers that he is going to die. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a novella that deals with the meaning of life in the face of death. A masterpiece for Leo Tolstoy written after his religious conversion in the late 1870s.

Something that was fascinating about The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the drastic change in writing style when comparing it to Anna Karenina and War and Peace. I am not just referring to the length, but that does play a big part. I have read somewhere that Tolstoy intentionally made Anna Karenina and War and Peace so long because he wanted to replicate life and the journey the characters face. Allowing the reader to experience every decision and moral dilemma that the character is facing, exploring the growth or evolution of each and every person within the novels.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich takes a more focused approach, dealing with major questions revolving around the meaning of life, death and spirituality. Leo Tolstoy had a major conversion in the late 1870s and the questions in this novel were the questions he was asking himself. Whether or not Ivan Ilyich found the answers he was looking for is up to the reader but it is believed that Leo Tolstoy was still looking for the same answers well after finishing this novella.

There is a lot of pain and torment that appears in this book, which reflects the authors search for answers and that is what really stood out for me. Not only was I reading a spiritual/existential struggle of the protagonist but Tolstoy’s own feeling really came out within the pages. This is what makes this a masterpiece that explores the tortured artist in great detail. I don’t want to say much more, this is the type of book people have to read and make their own mind up about the themes presented, but it is worth reading.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Posted January 3, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 4 Comments

Jane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëTitle: Jane Eyre (Goodreads)
Author: Charlotte Brontë
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1847
Pages: 542
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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When Jane Eyre was originally published, it was called Jane Eyre: An Autobiography edited by Currer Bell (Charlotte Brontë’s pen-name), which in itself is a fascinating insight into this classic novel. The idea Charlotte Brontë wanted this to be viewed as an autobiography implies this is more of a social commentary more than a classic gothic novel. This is what I want to focus my review on; what did she want to say about the world when she wrote this book?

Most people know the plot of Jane Eyre, so we can skip that and go right into the analysis. Bildungsroman is the primary genre of Jane Eyre, which is basically a coming of age story that documents the psychological and moral growth of its protagonist, which is interesting because on the surface there doesn’t seem to be much growth for Jane Eyre. Apart from the class struggle; Jane Eyre was an educated orphan who always believed she was low class. She constantly discriminates against herself about her class and this ultimately allows Mr Rochester to be the dominating force he is in their relationship. However it isn’t until Jane has money and returns to find Rochester blind and cripple, that she agree to marry him; what does that say about the social balance?

Though there is a whole idea of independence that plays out within this novel as well. I never thought that Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester had any chemistry and the first proposal was forced upon her. Thankfully it was revealed that Rochester was already married and Jane got out of the position she was in. She had to learn independence and the ability to make decisions for herself. This was tested when St. John (which I discovered is meant to be pronounced together like sin-jun) asked her to marry him.

There is a strong sense of religious morality at the core of Jane Eyre, just look at when St. John proposed to Jane Eyre, it allowed her to played with the idea of a moral decision. There is also an equilibrium between moral duty and earthly happiness that comes into play in this scene. Jane sees John as a brother but he tries to pressure her by implying that it is her Christian duty to marry him and work as a missionary in India. Her refusal to marry him but still travel to India as a missionary was met with disdain. John tries to emotionally blackmail her into marriage using God’s will as ammunition, even though there is no love and would only be a marriage of convenience.

I know I may have asked a few too many questions in this review, but there are some interesting thoughts to be had about Jane Eyre. I am not going to go into how Mr Rochester is the Byronic hero, the gothic themes, or how people should view this book as a Romantic novel and not a romantic book. Personally I think there are interesting elements within this classic book but Charlotte Brontë is my least favourite of all the Brontë sisters. This is the first time reading Jane Eyre and I might read it again at some point; but I hope I offered some interesting insights into the book.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Posted December 30, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Classic / 4 Comments

A Christmas Carol by Charles DickensTitle: A Christmas Carol (Goodreads)
Author: Charles Dickens
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1843
Pages: 438
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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When it comes to Christmas books, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is probably the first book that comes to mind. Published in 1843, this novella was an instant success and has been a beloved classic since then. I am not going to go into a plot summary because I believe most people know the story but if you don’t, go watch A Muppet’s Christmas Carol. Told in five staves (similar to stanzas or verses) this book has been adapted so many times that A Christmas Carol has just become a part of the Christmas period.

While compassion, forgiveness and getting into the Christmas spirit is the major theme of this novella, one thing that really stuck with me is Dickens’ ideas of isolation and loneliness. While it is true that Ebenezer Scrooge never indicates he is feeling alone, since the death of Jacob Marley seven years earlier there is a sense that he has falling in despair. Marley died on Christmas Eve and appeared to be Scrooge’s only companion, which leads to a disdain for the holiday period.

Charles Dickens wanted to emphasise the importance of being with friends and family, especially during Christmas. However I got the sense that he may have treated the idea of isolation poorly. Sure, Scrooge was a grumpy old man who was tight with his money but I got no real indication that he was unhappy to be alone. Scrooge could have been an introvert and enjoyed the quiet solitude; is that really such a bad thing?

Then all of a sudden Scrooge is cured from his rationality and becomes an extravert. This is a little strange, Scrooge’s emotional and psychological makeup might not be pleasant or agreeable to the popular worldview but they were his own thoughts. Scrooge was a financial supporter of The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 and didn’t want to give money to a charity that worked against his political ideology.

I am not bagging out A Christmas Carol, I do enjoy it but as I was re-reading this novella I kept wondering what this story is saying if we take out the element of Christmas. Basically this is the story of curing someone of his or her personality. I had a lot of fun looking at this book from another point of view, it just gave me a lot more to think about. A Christmas Carol is a nice quick story about the importance of being with your friends and family during this holiday period. Next year I might try Truman Capote’s collection of stories about Christmas.

Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Posted December 4, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 2 Comments

Tragedy of Macbeth by William ShakespeareTitle: Tragedy of Macbeth (Goodreads)
Author: William Shakespeare
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1606
Pages: 249
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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I probably don’t need to go into too much detail about the plot of Macbeth as most people are aware of what it is about. The Tragedy of Macbeth is obviously a tragedy the legendary playwright William Shakespeare, and is often considered his darkest play. Set in Scotland, the play explores the destructive psychological and political effects that form when evil is used as a method of gaining power. It is generally believed that this was written between the Elizabethan Era and the Jacobean Era, around about 1599 to 1606.

The Elizabethan Era was generally regarded as a ‘golden age’ for England. Colonialism was strong, England has dominating the seas (defeating the Spanish Armada) and there was great commercial wealth to be found in the ‘New World’. However the Jacobean Era was different; James VI of Scotland inherited the throne in 1603 and things seemed to change drastically. The ‘Gunpowder Plot’ of 1605 failed to assassinate the king and the plotters were executed. This possibly led to the King commissioning a new translation of the bible; the ‘King James Version’ was first published in 1611.

The reason I talk about these two eras is that there seems to be a connection to Macbeth. Set in Scotland, Macbeth seems to reflect the atmosphere of the Jacobean Era and there has been speculation to the play alluding to the Gunpowder Plot. However to try to draw direct correlations between Macbeth and the political situations of the time would require a lot of speculation. I just added this information into this review because there are connections that I feel would be relevant or interesting to readers of this play.

I was lucky enough to have experienced Macbeth as a play being performed before ever reading it for my university course. There is something about the performance that was essential to critically reading the text; I already understood the plot, the tone and the overall emotions behind the words and this allowed me to grasp a lot more out of the play. One thing that I picked up in reading Macbeth that I seemed to have missed was the importance of gender roles within the play.

Let’s look at one example which appears in Act 1 scene 7. Within the scene Macbeth is having second thoughts about killing the king and taking the crown. Lady Macbeth scolds Macbeth and manipulates him to go through with his original plan. How does she do this? Simply by calling him a coward and telling him he is not a man. She even suggested that she is more of a man and stated  she would kill her own child; taking that child from her breast and smash its head against a wall.

There are other themes that are prominent within Macbeth, but the idea of masculinity verses femininity seems to stick with me the most. This idea that claiming you are more of a man than someone else is a common occurrence but the way Shakespeare presented this graphic manipulation really stuck with me. Obviously feminist literary studies would have a field day with this play. I have been picking more and more issues to do with feminism within literature, but I would rather be looking at Marxism or psychoanalyst; why does this keep happening?

Macbeth is this wonderfully dark play that has a lot to offer; I can see why Shakespeare remains a legend. I am not really sure how to review a play like this; there is so much to talk about with plot and theme, however I would rather people discover that for themselves. I do feel like this review turned into something that would resemble a Jackson Pollock with random thoughts flicked onto a page but I wanted to get some of my thoughts down.

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Posted November 18, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan SwiftTitle: Gulliver's Travels (Goodreads)
Author: Jonathan Swift
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1726
Pages: 362
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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Jonathan Swift’s classic satire novel Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships was released in 1726 but in 1735 the title was amended simply to Gulliver’s Travels. The novel was popular not only because it was a parody on the popular “travellers’ tales” genre but as a satire on human nature. It later gained increase popularity in its abridged form as a classic in children’s literature.

It seems a little odd to me that many people have experienced Gulliver’s Travels as a children’s book. Comparing what I know from the abridged children’s book to the version I just read, it feels like a completely different book. The abridged version I believe only focuses on books 1 and 2 and all satire, allegory or symbolism has been stripped from it, which means the bulk of makes Jonathan Swift a great writer has been completely removed and only the fantastical elements remain. Other classics received a similar treatment to turn into a kids book including, Robinson Crusoe, The Thousand and One Nights (known as The Arabian Nights) and to a less extent Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan.

When reading a book like Gulliver’s Travels it is important to remember that Jonathan Swift deals heavily in irony. Take for example his essay ‘A Modest Proposal’ in which he suggests a solution to the population issue in Ireland. He suggested that we need to “regard people as commodities” and went on to say that “A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout.” This straight-faced proposal is a form of Juvenalian satire where Swift mocks the heartless attitudes the government has towards the poor, as well as Irish policy in general.

Gulliver’s Travels’ satirical themes are very subtle but are typically directed towards moral, political, social and religious ideals. The main satirical themes I found within the novel focused on war, corruption in the laws and politics and the ignorance or arrogance of doctors. There is a lot of irony within the book, for example the term medical malpractice refers to ordinary medical practices and horrific carnage is meant to be extremely fun.

This is a book that comes with more layers than an onion; we could look at the travel novel as a genre, colonialism, and even the changes in Gulliver’s opinions and language over the course of the book. You could even read this as a rebuttal to Defoe’s optimistic account of human capability in Robinson Crusoe which was published seven years earlier. On the surface, you can look at Gulliver’s Travels as four different short stories but if you decide to explore it deeper you are heading down a rabbit hole you may never escape.

I have to admit I didn’t spend as much time as I should have and explored some of the ideas within this classic a little deeper. I was very aware that if I dug deeper I would be stuck reading this book for the rest of the year, maybe the next. I am fascinated by this book, I would love to dig deeper in the future but with the aid of a study guide or something similar. I will be reading this book again and I would like to encourage others to pick it up if they haven’t done it in the past. Swift really has a decent grasp on satire; so much so that we have the term Swiftian to refer to his satirical tone and pessimistic outlook in literature.

Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland

Posted November 14, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic, Erotica / 8 Comments

Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John ClelandTitle: Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Goodreads)
Author: John Cleland
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1748
Pages: 240
Genres: Classic, Erotica
My Copy: Paperback

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In 1748 English novelist John Cleland went to debtors’ prison; while he was there he wrote a novel that went on to become the most prosecuted and banned book in history. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure is often referred to as Fanny Hill and is considered one of the first pornographic novels in the English language. Due to the release of this book, Cleland and his publisher Ralph Griffiths were both arrested and charged with “corrupting the King’s subjects”. The book went on to become so popular that pirated editions were sold underground. The book’s popularity eventually saw the book being published in 1821 in the United States, where its first known obscenity case convicted publisher Peter Holmes for printing a “lewd and obscene” novel.

Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure tells the story of an orphaned fifteen year old with no skill and very little education named Fanny Hill. She leaves her village to find employment in London, where she is hired by Mrs. Brown. Fanny believed her employment was legitimate and that she would be working as a maid but she discovered that Mrs. Brown ran a brothel and intended to sell her maidenhead. The prostitute that shared her room opened Fanny’s innocent eyes to the sensuality of sex. She eventually falls in love and runs away with a man named Charles.

I do not want to go into too much detail about the plot of this book; in fact I have only covered the very first part of the story. I started off this review with mentioning that John Cleland wrote this book while in debtors’ prison and I think this is an interesting fact to remember. Cleland plays out all types of sexual fantasies while he is locked away; the novel pretty much covers everything you can think of sexually. The all-important one in this book was losing her maidenhead, which was sold to at least three different clients. However there is something deeper going on within the pages of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.

This novel kept getting banned until 1973 in the United States; it was the introduction of the Miller test which finally lifted its banning. The Miller test is a three prong obscenity tested used in the United States Supreme Court to determine if something should be labelled as obscene. The work is considered obscene if all three conditions are satisfied and I am going to quote the law here so you better understand the Miller test.

(a) Whether “the average person, applying contemporary community standards” would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest
(b) Whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law
(c) Whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

The ban was lifted because Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure holds literary and artistic value and rightly so. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure is a stunning book to read, the proses are elegant but I also found it fascinating how many erotic fiction tropes comes from this one book. I have not read many erotic novels, but from what I know and read, there is a lot that this genre needs to thank John Cleland. All the cliché scenarios and sex scenes owe a lot to this novel but one I am glad I don’t see any more is the use of the word ‘machine’. The idea of men walking around with machines between their legs bugged me and I just didn’t like that terminology; unfortunately the word ‘weapon’ seems to have survived.

This was a fascinating exploration into the origins of erotic fiction and sex scenes in literature and ultimately I am glad to have read Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. It is not that often that I associate steaming sex scenes with literature of the 18th century, so it is good to know that people were deviant back then. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure isn’t just about sex; Fanny Hill works as a sex worker but she also finds love. She discovers that sex outside love isn’t as pleasurable and this is the message that I really took away from this novel. Despite all the fantasies, I think John Cleland wanted to look at how important love is when it comes to pleasure seeking.

The Odyssey by Homer

Posted October 7, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 0 Comments

The Odyssey by HomerTitle: The Odyssey (Goodreads)
Author: Homer
Translator: Walter Shewring
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 8th century BC
Pages: 349
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Paperback

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The Odyssey is one of two narrative poems that have been attributed to the Greek poet Homer; while it is not entirely clear that he actually composed both or any of them. While it can be said that The Odyssey is a sequel to Homer’s Iliad, reading them out of order will not put you at a major disadvantage. Iliad tells the story of the war on Troy and remains popular due to the fact that it is one of the only surviving Greek classics that actually deals with thetopic. The destruction of the Library of Alexandria was a great cultural loss and many poems and documents were lost, leaving Homer’s works even more culturally significant as it pretty much all we have left to go on. The Iliad and Odyssey remain fundamental to the Western canon for being the oldest works still in existent in literature.

While the Iliad focused on the events that happened in Troy, The Odyssey takes place ten years after the Trojan War. Odysseus has still not returned home from the war, his wife Penelope is still hopeful for his return while the Suitors (a group of over 100 men) try to persuade her to marry one of them. The Suitors are enjoying the hospitality of Odysseus, eating up his wealth while he is not around to stop them. Up on Mount Olympos, the gods are debating on whether to let Odysseus return. The goddess Athene pleads to her father Zeus in favour of letting him return, but Poseidon wishes to wipe his ship out. Obviously this is an over simplified synopsis; to give The Odyssey’s plot any justice, I would need to write a few paragraphs of information.

I was a little worried going into this epic poem; I have often found medieval literature difficult and the idea of reading something so much older scared me. I was lucky enough to be assigned a prose translation by Walter Shewring which was a perfect choice for me. Out of interest I had a look at another prose translation, the Project Gutenberg edition (translated by Alexander Pope) and was shocked to see Jove, Neptune and Minerva used in the text. A Greek epic poem that was using Roman gods, that didn’t work for me. Shewring’s was superb; it made things easier for me and helped me find the beauty with this text.

Obviously when The Odyssey was first composed (believed to be around the 8th century BC) it was shared in an oral tradition by an aoidos (poet or singer). We can see a lot techniques being used that have since been established as the literary norm. The Odyssey reads almost like a modern day thriller, continually keeping up a fast pace with slight repetition to remind the audience of key plot points. It is a story of a variety of adventures, told in a non-linear fashion that doesn’t have much in the way of philosophising or introspection.

While the Iliad and Odyssey is attributed to Homer, there isn’t much other information about this Greek poet. The bearded blind man often depicted as an image of Homer is not even one that can be historically verified. The lack of information about the author (if in fact he was the author) means that the poems have to speak for themselves; a new experience for me in my study of literature. It is surprising that the literary terms ‘Homeric Greek’ and ‘Homeric world’ were named after someone we know nothing about.

There is a lot going on in The Odyssey but I want to look at two things I found interesting; first of all the idea of hospitality. Within the poem the idea of hospitality is a little weird; the Suitors just move in and make themselves at home, taking advantage of the hospitality of someone who wasn’t around to stop them. Further in the poem, Odysseus and his soldiers are doing the exact same thing to the Cyclops. Hospitality is expected and within this poem it is often being taken advantage of. What does that say of humanity during the time this was set and has it changed much now?

Secondly I want to talk about gender inequality, ever since reading The Fictional Woman I see it in almost everything I read, so I can’t help but talk about. Odysseus is not faithful to his wife Penelope; there are countless times he is sleeping with someone else. In fact the idea of him being a highly sexual being is pretty much glorified within this poem but if it is a woman, then she isn’t an ‘ideal’ woman or evil. Just look at how Clytemnestra, the sirens and Calypso are portrayed within this poem. In fact Penelope is the symbol of a perfect woman and Odysseus has to test her before revealing who he is. My problem is the scary notion that this gender inequality is still a problem now; in the 8th century BC it was evident; why is this still a problem?

Odysseus is an interesting character, a smart and witty hero; you could even say he had the favour of Athene (goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, strategic warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill) on his side. It is interesting the way Odysseus is portrayed as a hero; it is different to a modern interpretation of the word. He isn’t necessarily a good person, in fact, I would say he wasn’t but his actions are often heroic. He tries to save his men from the Cyclops but his pride and ego almost got them killed and there are many more instances of this. In this modern world we seem to combine a good character with heroics but that isn’t often the case. A person can be heroic and try to protect or save others, doesn’t mean they are not a jerk.

I went into this epic poem nervous and I ended up loving it; I will have to track down the Iliad and read that one as well. I think Walter Shewring’s translation did help and the fact that this was an Oxford World Classics edition meant that I knew I would have some helpful information to help me understand The Odyssey. On a more personal note, writing this review was rather difficult, I had to remember Homer didn’t write this, he spoke it and this is a poem not a novel or book. I have so much I want to say about this poem but I had to edit this review down already.