Category Archives: Classic Literature

Daniel Deronda

I watched the 2002 miniseries of Daniel Deronda a while back and I remember enjoying it, but the book was… less so. The first portion spends so much time on Gwendolen Harleth’s story that it left me wondering why George Eliot chose the title for the book that she did. Granted, Gwendolen’s probably more fleshed out as a character than Deronda, but I’m guessing that’s because Daniel Deronda’s purpose in the novel was more symbolic.

I wanted to know WHY this novel was so important (as opposed to, say, Middlemarch which I loved so much more) – so upon reading up on it, I found that Eliot’s sympathetic presentation of the Jewish plight and Zionism was pretty revolutionary for the time. This is also her only novel to take place during the period in which she lived and wrote (late Victorian era). So, knowing her true intentions and what she was trying to tackle I can see why that particular aspect of the novel seems weaker and than Gwendolen’s storyline. She was breaking new ground in western lit.

I will say, I start to tire of characters like Mirah Lapidoth who just are so ~good~ it almost rots your teeth. But they’re everywhere in this period. I had the same issue with Agnes Grey. I’d take a Gwendolen any day. At least there’s an arc. And boy do I love to hate Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt. Hugh Bonneville is superbas Grandcourt in the miniseries. It took me a while to get through, it’s not a terrible novel, just slow and oddly paced.

Far From the Maddening Crowd

I listened to the Penguin Classics audiobook version of Far From the Maddening Crowd narrated by Olivia Vinall after sampling a few different narrators on iBooks. Narrators really make or break audiobooks. I highly recommend it. I did this a little backward and watched the 2015 version film version of this story before reading the book and enough time had passed that by the time I read the book I’d forgotten some major plot points. So, it all worked out.

Definitely forgot how cringy Boldwood is. YIKES. Bathsheba remains an amazingly complex and flawed heroine and I’m continually surprised how Hardy manages to write women during a time when they were largely presented in one of two tropes. Angel virgin or fallen woman. You’ll be frustrated and at the same time hoping she figures out what the hell she wants in life. If you prefer more perfect heroines, maybe read something else. You might be yelling at the book, but it’s never boring.

16 Dec. 21

Life has been so busy lately with doing a cross-country move, but I have still managed to keep my reading up with audiobooks. Still living in my comfort zone of Victorian literature for the moment so I want to take this time to blast some of my reviews out. If you don’t follow me on Goodreads that’s where I post them first. Long reviews test my patience so I tend to keep them brief and to the point.

Also, people of the internet… please, stop summarizing the book in your reviews. We all learned this in middle school essay writing. That is all.

The Howards End Trifecta

I dove back into my comfort zone this past month: English literature. As you may see from my Goodreads feed in the corner of this blog, I listened to the 2009 Blackstone Audio recording of Howard’s End by E.M. Forster narrated by Nadia May and available on iBooks. I sifted though a few samples before landing on her as my narrator of choice (narrators can make or break an audiobook). This, of course, was after I’d watched the 2017 BBC series based on the novel starring Hayley Atwell and Matthew Macfayden. However, before I decided to compare it with the 1992 feature length film version starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins.

I love watching adaptations. I love getting more of something I already love or seeing how ~maybe~ the movie could make it better *cough cough* The Horse Whisperer *cough *cough* or present it exactly the way I’d imagined and more! Books and their movie counterparts can be equally enjoyable, change my mind. I will say, I was a tad surprised that I found the 1992 adaptation lacking. I was bored stiff, and by amazing actors and performances. But I don’t think it was the running length. Obviously the 2017 miniseries had more time to explore the details of the novel – it was the 1992 versions’ screenplay.

The script followed the outline of the novel well enough, but it was devoid of any of those cinematic moments that truly make you feel for the characters you’re watching. And this is coming from a person who has watched the 2005 Pride & Prejudice FAR more than I ever have the beloved 90s miniseries. The film hit all the right plot points, but I wasn’t torn when Margaret was forced to choose between her sister and her husband upon accepting Mr. Wilcox’s proposal nor was I very worried when Helen suddenly broke contact for mysterious reasons. Those small moments that get us close and intimate with a character I think were lost in the film’s attempt to be a faithful adaptation to the text beat by beat.

I guess I just can’t say enough good things about Macfayden’s nuanced performance as Mr. Wilcox either. He’s an amazing actor to watch. You hate him one moment and love him the next, Hopkins seems far too detached to be likable even in the end when the audience is meant to come around to his character. All the characters seem more fully realized in the 2017 miniseries. Except Leonard Bast… I’m still trying to figure out what Joseph Quinn was doing looking mildly constipated the entire time.

So, here’s the order in which I consumed my media:

2017 BBC miniseries
1910 Novel
1992 Film

I recommend all for comparison, but the novel doesn’t exactly need my endorsement. It’s a classic.

(featured image is Hayley Atwell as Margaret Schlegel in the 2017 adaptation available on STARZ)

greta, thou hast surprised me

Color me wrong. The best kind of wrong.

There were many happy surprises throughout a film that I was prepped not to like, but found myself charmed instead. It reminded me a bit of the book > film adaptation Mansfield Park (1999) which fills out the heroine’s personality (Fanny Price) with characteristics of the story’s author (Jane Austen). A huge deviation from the book, but something that works for one of Austen’s most criticized heroines.

There’s flecks of Louisa May Alcott’s actual life peppered into Jo’s story in the film (her meetings with her publisher) which rely less on the source text of Little Women and more on the actual journey of Alcott as an author. Not a bad choice considering I think the book, overall, is a bit more saccharine than Alcott seemed to be herself.

A friend tipped me off that the story was told in a non-linear fashion, events unfold out of sequence and the movie does a great deal of timeline hopping. This actually reminded me of my initial reading of the novel when I was in high school. I was given the SECOND installment of Little Women, published under the title Good Wives in 1869, as a gift and read it without knowing it was the first half of Alcott’s now famous tale of the March sisters. Much as this reading experience didn’t affect my appreciation of the story – neither did the this choice for the film. A technique of which I am usually skeptical, but Gerwig uses it effectively. One example is with Professor Bhaer.

He’s the first man we meet in the film as it works it’s way back to him again. This gives the audience more familiarity with him than in the book where he can seem like a tacked-on love interest after Jo’s rejection of Laurie. That’s my take on it anyway. If you’re looking for a more in-depth reason as to why Prof. Bhaer is so dreamy in this version I think The Cut covers that pretty well here. And I agree with Gerwig’s choice.

I think the 90s version still has my, overall, favorite casting choices. I won’t harp too much on comparing one film version to another as this is a novel > film comparison, ultimately. I think each adaptation brings it’s own strengths/weaknesses to the table. HOWEVER, if you want a good laugh that will leave you wondering if some critics ever bother to read the source material you can always click here to see why one man thinks what I consider an OK adaptation is OMFG THE BEST EVER. He pretty much hates everything Greta did with a vehement passion and offers no justification tying it back to the actual novel. He says Gerwig “settles for sentimentality.” Classic. Um, have you even *read* Little Women, bro? It’s sentimental AF. Why is that a bad thing? ROTFL. #endrant

Other than that, the reviews I found online were mostly favorable. Mine being one of them. I could go on about casting choices (surprised how much I enjoyed Emma Watson as Meg in this, Gerwig really seemed to bring out her acting chops and not just rely on her Emma Watson-ing), but I think I was pleased with most of them. The actors played well off each other and the sister-dynamic that is so crucial to the telling of Little Women was present and accounted for. Amy was much more grounded in this, but I attribute that to a slight rewriting of her character and less on Florence Pugh’s performance. Another change I didn’t mind.

I think if an audience member comes into this film with no expectations and fresh eyes it can be an amazing experience. I didn’t think a new version of this story was needed. Now, I’m glad we have this one in the canon. I think Gerwig made it just different enough to introduce a new generation to the March sisters and renew an interest in Alcott and her legacy. I just wish the previews didn’t make it seem like such a feminist manifesto, save for a few bolder scenes (Amy’s speech about marriage to Laurie), the film is much more nuanced than that (Jo’s speech to her mother about being independent, but also lonely <— REAL LIFE).

I recommend Little Women (2019) right up there with my other favorite version(s) of the film. Oh yeah, the book is pretty great too.

little women (the preamble)

Today I was asking a friend of mine whether or not she’d ever read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women or seen any of the film adaptations. She had not! A very exciting prospect to consider, coming to such a well-known text with no prior impressions. What a treat!

She then said she always prefers film adaptations which stick closest to the book.

Slightly disagree. I can’t say I entirely agree. There are too many differences in the way a story is told to justify the idea that “the book is always better than the film.” As previously explored in my post about The Art of Adaptation there’s many reasons why major changes to a source text can result in a successful film. So long as the heart and characters of the story remain intact, I’m happy.

Of the 3.5 versions of Little Women I have seen, the 1990s adaptation with Winona Ryder us my favorite. I didn’t even finish the most recent, gritty, BBC series… 30 min. in and it just didn’t feel like Little Women. As for the most recent theatrical release in the U.S., I have avoided it. From what I can tell, feminist anachronisms abound and I am not about that. The Alcott’s were mold breakers in their own time and I prefer to keep their attitudes in context. But hey, I’ll give it a go today and see if it surpasses my expectations.

The Birth of a Podcast: Pride & Prejudice

Ever wonder what two women with degrees think about some of the popular adaptations of great works of literature?  Now is your chance to find out by listening to the It’s Not That Terrible podcast where me and my pal Camilla tear apart and analyze literary classics and their film adaptations.  This episode features commentary on Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (everyone’s favorite) and its 2005 film adaptation (not everyone’s favorite) directed by Joe Wright and starring Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen .

Click Here to download the first episode.  Special thanks to Ace Garcia for our music.

Up next:  The ever popular and currently over-blown The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The House of Mirth

I return to my comfort zone. Another classic: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. Oddly enough, I was not grasping at the chance to read another work of Wharton’s since I did not care for the last novel of hers I read, Summer. By happenstance, I was listening to a dicussion of Wharton’s 1905 novel on WYNC’s weekend segment, Studio 360, and thought the premise sounded interesting: 29 year-old, umarried woman in 1890s New York society with limited means and expensive tastes.

Lily Bart is a real product of the society in which she is raised and though the New York of the late nineteenth century has passed in the material sense, its social scruples remain the same. Women, single and married, vie cattily for the attention of the irresponsible and handsome while their husbands seek solace in the sympathy of any young thing who will lend them an ear and flatter their wounded egos. Those who see human failings for what they really are become the less colorful, jaded, or tragic characters.

Wharton shows as a string command of language and makes it a point to show-off her love of French wherever possible. However, it’s her insights into the mind and its emotional faculties which interest me most: “It is less mortifying to believe one’s self unpopular than insignificant, and vanity prefers to assume that indifference is a latent form of unfriendliness” (123). Indeed. Small obervances such as this are littered throughout and distributed among the characters giving the reader a nice little microcosm of people general.

My personal favorite of these asides may, perhaps, represent the crux of the novel. When Lily asks social-climber Simon Rosedale whether he believes truth makes a difference he states simply, “I believe it does in novels, but I’m certain it don’t in real life” (256).

I downloaded The House of Mirth for free on iBooks.

The Passionate Friends

Once again a movie inspires me to read a book. The Passionate Friends by H.G. Wells was made into a number of film adaptations, apparantly. I saw the 1949 version directed by David Lean which changes the ending of the original novel considerably (Oddly enough, I detected this as I was watching the ending of the film. The whole of the plot seems to build up to nothing.) Wanting to know more than what the Wikipedia article could offer me, I downloaded the book on my Nook and found the perfect time to read it while traveling last week.

Aside from the romance novel-esque sounding title, I think it was a good read overall. Wells tells the story of Stephen Stratton, a middle-class son of a clergyman, and Mary Christian, a young and rich society debutant. A couple whose star-crossed romance never quite fulfills itself in the course of their lives. If you read the book for the “passionate” aspect of it you may be interested to find that it does not lie so much in the love story as in the politics of the late 19th and early 20th century. Stephen and Mary are veritable mouth pieces for Well’s opinions not only on the changing views of religion, but science, social justice, international relations, and the treatment of women.

Granted, one can get lost in the author’s diatribes about the failings of humanity, so much so that it makes the idea that the entire novel is a letter to Stephen’s son seem rather silly. However, as a microcosm of what may have been running through the minds of many British subjects at the turn of the century, just before the outbreak of the first world war, it is fascinating and suprisingly modern in tone.

The Passionate Friends is available as a FREE download on iTunes and $0.99 on the Nook, and probably available at your public library.


This is how I would describe my relationship with Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I have been working on this hefty volume since January and to make myself seem slightly less pathetic let me just say that I am usually reading at least 3 books at once. The lack of cable or television will do that to a person (the count is currently 5 books). However, I have been picking it up and putting it down so many times that here I am in August and still only to page 700 of 1400. Granted, when I put a book down I usually read one or two in-between so I am not exactly helping myself and, really, I just sound like a literary snob right now who prides herself in the amount of books she can read (only partially true). However, there is a rhyme and a reason why it’s taking me so long and why I haven’t “shelved” it just yet.

Hugo likes:

– The prose is beautiful. I am reading the Charles E. Wilbour translation which was published around the same time as the original French novel, as Wilbour was a contemporary of Hugo. I looked though other translations before making my purchase and, believe me, don’t go with any other. There is a difference. I also read unabridged and there are plenty of abridged titles out there of 1000+ page novels. Though they’ve never tried that with Gone With the Wind. I’m sure there would be an uproar if they did.

– Jean Valjean. Can this character get any more human? More flawed? More in need of forgiveness? Every time the story veers away from him I find myself shouting, “Get back to Valjean!” He’s complex and just a pleasure to follow.

– Setting. This seems like a given, but Hugo was not writing about the time period in which he lived per se, but before. So, doubtless he had done an exhaustive amount of research or used what he knew (since he was a genius) to place his characters in a time of conflict, 19th century France, and build a story around them. He blankets the novel with chapters upon chapters of history which is both it’s greatest strength and, story-wise, a great weakness). Too often, novels set in the past fail to totally immerse readers in the historical setting and expect them to be satisfied with only a few vague references.

Hugo dislikes:

– Tangents. He has so much knowledge and opinion that he feels the need to share it. He even states at one point that he knows his rant has nothing to do with the story, but he’s going to state it anyway! All right Hugo, time to get off your high horse. Either write a history book, a political manifesto, or a piece of fiction where, ideally, the characters speak for you.

– Female characters. I feel like Fantine and Cossette fall into archetypes. The fallen woman, the innocent and pure child. They are flawless victims of circumstance. Not to say that bad things do not happen to good people, but they’re very one-dimensional in the sense that we don’t see many character flaws. Granted, this is typical of the time period and even Dickens in all his glory was guilty of placing the “good” women in his stories on pedestals untouchable.

Anyway, I have a long ways to go and Hugo will not fail to impress, overall I am sure. Hopefully, I will keep plugging along and finish it before this year is over!