1800s Classics

News From Nowhere by William Morris

News from Nowhere and Other Writings (Penguin Classics) Source: Personal Copy

Five words from the blurb: society, Utopia, Thames, visitor, future

The News From Nowhere was published in 1890 and is a fascinating insight into what Victorians imagined life would be like at the end of the 20th century. The book’s narrator, William Guest, falls asleep in 1890 and wakes up a hundred years later. He is amazed by the differences in society and it was interesting to see which things he predicted successfully, and which he was way off the mark!

The future is depicted as a Utopian society in which everyone works for the benefit of their neighbours: 

It is said that in the early days of our epoch there were a good many people who were hereditary afflicted with a disease called Idleness, because they were the direct descendants of those who in the bad times used to force other people to work for them.

Resources are so plentiful that there is no need for money and every child is educated by their parents. Technology was notable by its absence and it was amusing to see that everyone still travelled around on horseback. 

It wasn’t the easiest text to read, but the reward justified the effort. Much of the writing reminded me oThree Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome, as it had the same light humor and plentiful references to the River Thames. But is also delved into more complex issues, some of which went over my head. 

Unfortunately Morris’ predictions for the future failed to come true. We’re stuck in our viscous cycle of consumerism, but it’s nice to have a glimpse into an alternate version of society. Recommended to anyone looking for something a bit different.


1800s Audio Book Books in Translation Classics Recommended books Uncategorized

Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola (Audio Book)

zola Narrated by Paul Freeman

Five words from the blurb: loveless, marriage, affair, murder, revenge

Zola is one of those authors I always wanted to try, but kept putting off as I was intimidated by his reputation. I really shouldn’t have worried – Thérèse Raquin wasn’t difficult to read. Instead I found an engaging book, deserving of its classic status. 

Thérèse Raquin is a young woman who is forced to marry her sickly cousin, Camille. She resents the time they spend together, especially when she falls in love with Camille’s best friend, Laurent. Thérèse and Laurent begin a passionate affair, revelling in the secrecy of their relationship. Eventually they realise they cannot continue like this forever and plot to kill Camille. This leads to a gripping narrative that is packed with atmosphere and emotion.

I listened the the BBC audio production of this book and I think that this the perfect way to experience this story. The text can appear quite dense and difficult on the page, but Paul Freeman did a fantastic job narrating this unabridged version. He made the story come alive and the difficulties seemed to melt away when the words were put into the mouths of the characters.

This book probably contains the best portrayal of jealousy and regret that I’ve ever read. The complex relationships felt realistic and the fear and paranoia of this couple jumped from the page. I completely understood the thoughts and emotions of everyone involved and was entranced throughout; longing to know what would happen, but simultaneously dreading the conclusion.

He turned the same idea over in his head until daybreak. Previous to the visit of Thérèse, the idea of murdering Camille had not occurred to him. He had spoken of the death of this man, urged to do so by the facts, irritated at the thought that he would be unable to meet his sweetheart any more. And it was thus that a new corner of his unconscious nature came to be revealed.

Beneath the dark and twisted story the book was packed with symbolism. I’m sure that it could be read multiple times, with new layers of meaning being discovered each time. It is amazing to think that it was first published in 1867 – it must have been even more shocking back then.

Thérèse Raquin is a powerful warning about the danger of wanting what you can’t have. I can’t fault this book and it has shot straight onto my list of favourites.


Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it?

Which of Zola’s books do you suggest I try next?


1800s Chunkster Classics

Moby Dick – Herman Melville

Five words from the blurb: whale, avenge, sailor, whaling, crew

Earlier this year I read the wonderful non-fiction book, Leviathan, which contained everything you’d ever want to know about whales. The book also contained discussions on many aspects of Moby Dick. Filled with a new enthusiasm for this classic I decided  it was the perfect opportunity to dust off my copy and finally get around to reading it. That was nine months ago and I’m happy to report that I’ve finally made it to the end.

Moby Dick tells the story of Ahab, the Captain of a whaling ship, who sets out to capture the elusive white whale that bit his leg off on a previous voyage. The book mixes historical facts about whales and whaling with the fictional story of life aboard a whaling ship. For those with the time to analyse the text (or those with a study guide to hand!) this book also contains a hidden depth, packed with symbolism.

I loved this book, but have to admit that it required a lot of effort and perseverance to make it to the end. Some sections were easy to read, packed with atmosphere and totally gripping; whilst others were so slow and difficult that I struggled to read more than a couple of pages at a time. I’d like to be able to say that I found particular sections slow, but I’m afraid both the narritive and the historical sections contained moments of genius as well as long, boring sections. Perhaps it all came down to whether I was in the right mood to cope with the long-winded, descriptive sentence structure?

Next morning the not-yet-subsided sea rolled in long slow billows of mighty bulk, and striving in the Peqod’s gurgling track, pushed her on like giants’ palms outspread. The strong, unstaggering breeze abounded so, that sky and air seemed vast outbellying sails; the whole world boomed before the wind.

I think reading this very slowly was the right thing to do. Nine months was probably a bit too long, but the subtler details would be lost if you tried to read this too quickly.

Moby Dick is a wonderful story, but I think this is one of the few occasions where I’d have prefered to read the abridged edition!


Have you read Moby Dick?

Did you enjoy it?



1800s Classics Mystery Short Story

The Turn of the Screw – Henry James

I decided to read The Turn of the Screw after I heard Audrey Niffenegger describe it as her favourite book. Halloween also seemed the perfect time of year to read this classic, spooky story.

The book is set in an Essex country home and describes the life of a governess who is charged with looking after two children. She becomes increasingly disturbed by glimpses of strange ghostly figures and begins to suspect that the children may have something to do with them.

I’m afraid that I don’t share Niffenegger’s passion for this book. I found it very hard to read – the writing style meant it required a great deal of concentration and I had to continually re-read sections to understand exactly what was happening. His overuse of commas meant that the writing had an irritating, jumpy feel to it.

The large impressive room, one of the best in the house, the great state bed, as I almost felt it, the figured full draperies, the long glasses in which for the first time, I could see myself from head to foot, all struck me – like the wonderful appeal of my first small charge – as so many things thrown in.

The complexity of the writing and the fact that the book is written from the viewpoint of a narrator who wasn’t present as events took place meant that I failed to connect with the characters. I was so distanced from events that I didn’t find it remotely scary.

I loved the ambiguity of the plot and in hindsight I can appreciate the cleverness of it, but I much prefer it when modern writers take aspects of this book and re-write them from a modern perspective.

I am really pleased that I read it, but it felt more like a chore than entertainment at the time.


Did you enjoy The Turn of the Screw?

1800s Classics

Dracula – Bram Stoker

Dracula is one of those classic books that has never really appealed to me, as I’m not a big fan of vampires. When I saw that Fizzy Thoughts was hosting a readalong, just in time for Halloween, I thought I should grab the opportunity to read it with a group of people, before it gathers too much dust on the shelf!

I knew very little about Dracula before starting it, as I avoid vampire films and have never had the urge to ask anyone about it! The opening scene was exactly how I imagined it to be – an English man heading towards a spooky castle in the middle of Transylvania. I enjoyed the first few chapters, as the central character, Jonathan, meets Dracula and observes the old castle.

Hitherto I had noticed the backs of his hands as they lay on his knees in the firelight, and they seemed rather white and fine; but seeing them now close to me, I could not but notice that they were rather coarse – broad, with squat fingers. Strange to say, there were hairs in the centre of the palm. The nails were long and fine, and cut to a sharp point. As the Count leaned over me and his hands touched me, I could not repress a shudder.

I thought the atmosphere was built up well initially and I almost found it creepy, but just as things seemed to get darker, the atmosphere was lifted by some flippant remark. The tone of the book was a lot lighter than I expected and it reminded me of Three Men in a Boat. The book was trying to be funny and I was quite disappointed that it wasn’t creepier. 

I felt that the dark atmosphere was even harder to maintain once the plot left Transylvania. I was very surprised that so much of the book took place in England, as I had just assumed that it all took place in Dracula’s castle. I found myself becoming increasingly bored by the book – the characters failed to engage me and the unlikely plot meant that I didn’t really care what happened.

The ending was very predictable and the length of the book meant that it took far too long to get there. 

I am pleased that I read Dracula, as I have filled a gap in my knowledge, but I didn’t enjoy reading the book and would only recommend it to people interested in the development of the vampire novel.


Have you read Dracula?

Was it how you expected it to be?


1800s Short Story

The Necklace – Guy de Maupassant (Short Story)

41A8X85T6RL__SL500_AA240_Rob from RobAroundBooks is a big fan of short stories, and was disappointed to learn that I don’t like them. He suggested I try The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant, claiming it would “touch my heart and soul”. I happened to have a copy in the house and so had no reason to refuse his suggestion – especially since The Necklace is only 8 pages long! If you’d like to read the story for yourself then just follow the link at the beginning of the post.


Unfortunately The Necklace didn’t come close to “touching my heart and soul.” It only confirmed all the major problems I have with short stories.

Let me explain the problems I had with this story by working through the plot.

  • Couple receive invitation to a party. It’s all going well so far.
  • Woman whinges about how she has nothing to wear. I’m beginning to go off it.
  • Woman begs husband for lots of money to buy a new dress and the husband gives in. The plot continues to cause me minor irritation.
  • The woman then begins to moan about not having any jewelry to wear for the night out. I become increasingly irritated by her shallowness.

“I am vexed not to have a jewel, not one stone, nothing to adorn myself with. I shall such a poverty-laden look. I would prefer not to go to this party.”

  • They decide to borrow a necklace from a friend. Can you guess what happens next?
  • She loses the necklace. You see with a short story there is no time for the plot to develop properly – you can see everything coming a mile off.
  • Instead of owning up to losing it she buys another one, ruining 10 years of her life to pay it off. Do they not have any insurance?
  • It turns out the necklace was a fake, so she has wasted all that time/money on nothing. Stupid woman. I have no sympathy at all.

The problem with short stories is that there is no time for any proper character development. To enjoy reading something I need to become emotionally involved with them. The characters in short stories almost always come across as shallow individuals. This is because there isn’t the time to allow all sides of their character to be revealed. In just a few pages it isn’t possible to show all their flaws and explain the history behind them.

The plot in a short story is always very simple. I can normally see it coming a mile away. I like my plots to be complex and preferably surprising too.

Sorry Rob! This one just didn’t do it for me!

Do you have similar problems with short stories?

Did you enjoy The Necklace?