Monday, April 30, 2012

The Curse of The Woman in White

I'm beginning to think a curse has descended upon my strained relationship with The Woman in White. Every time I try to get to know this iconic Victorian text, literary disaster strikes. Let's recap, shall we?

Reading Attempt No. One: I made my way through the first few chapters before aborting the mission. Fail.

Reading Attempt No. Two: Much closer this time. I got through half of the novel before jumping ship. Fail.

Reading Attempt No. Three: Didn't even crack the book open. Epic fail.

Allow me to emphasize that that three failed attempts have nothing to do with the novel -- I always find it engaging and intriguing. But man, every time I pick it up (or, in this case, resolve to pick it up), life always gets in the way. April would naturally be the month of terrifying interviews, reading ruts and an existential crisis that would smash my determination to finally read The Woman in White to smithereens.

Does the universe throw deliberately throw obstacles in my path each time I eye this book as it sits idly on my shelves? Are we literary star-crossed lovers, doomed to be kept apart despite my best efforts?

Yes, I'm slightly indulging in melodrama here, but frustration is building as I face another failed reading of Wilkie Collins's most popular novel. Has anybody ever faced a similar experience with a novel you just know you'll love yet can't seem to finish? Any suggestions for getting over such a literary hurdle?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: A Percy Post

It's hard work being a chubby, cuddly dog of the manor
(especially when people rather rudely interrupt nap time)
but someone's gotta do it!

Her Fearful Symmetry: When a Setting Steals the Show

'What is more basic than the need to be known? It is the entirety of intimacy, the elixir of love, this knowing.'

Betting on Audrey Niffenegger's second novel was a gamble. Readers whose taste and judgment I admire both loved and loathed Her Fearful Symmetry. In the end, the pull of a Neo-Victorian ghost story set in and around a historical London cemetery was too strong for me to resist.

Unfortunately this gamble didn't pay off. Oh, I wanted so badly to like it, to love it even, to sing its praises to readers all around. I tried, I really tried, but Her Fearful Symmetry left me feeling cold and indifferent.

As seen in the author's wildly popular debut novel The Time Traveler's Wife, Niffenegger's writing has a mystical quality. It draws you in and almost makes you feel as though you're floating about the narrative, just as Elspeth's ghost flits around the London flat she's left to her twin nieces, and every once in a while I'd come across a phrase that stunned me (see above).

But a novel needs more than pretty prose to work as a whole. It needs compelling characters, and in this aspect Niffenegger failed to live up to her authorial potential. The Time Traveler's Wife had me rooting for its protagonists within moments of opening the pages. With all their strengths and flaws, I fell in love with Clare and Henry as quickly as they fell in love with each other. Full engagement with a single character in Her Fearful Symmetry eluded me.

Somewhere I heard the novel described as a testament to the enduring power of love. If by love one means supreme selfishness, deceit and possession, then yes, love abounds in the world of Her Fearful Symmetry. Every relationship, both familial and romantic, seemed twisted and warped to such an extent that it put me off the text as a whole. The majority of the characters chased after the travesty of intimacy. The semblance of love masked the dishonesty and secrecy that underpinned the narrative. That any character professed to have captured this intangible 'knowing' left me baffled. The so-called twists, which any observant reader will see coming a mile away, only enhanced my antipathy. All in all, Her Fearful Symmetry left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Highgate Cemetery is the saving grace in this novel. Established in 1839, the North London cemetery houses the graves of several notable figures: George Eliot, George Henry Lewes, Karl Marx, Ellen Wood, Stella Gibbons, and many members of the Rossetti and Dickens families, among others.

Niffenegger did her research on Highgate Cemetery -- she volunteered as a tour guide in preparation for the novel -- and it shows. For a place that houses the dead, Highgate is teeming with life. The vivid descriptions of this famous Victorian site, infused with a Gothic atmosphere, make Highgate Cemetery a character in its own right. Indeed, it's the star of the show. The sections in which the author takes the reader on a virtual tour, providing an informative and engrossing history of Highgate, were far and away my favorite bits of Her Fearful Symmetry. If only Niffenegger had given Highgate Cemetery its own story and cast aside these unsavory characters! Still, Highgate's presence made the writer's sophomore effort worth reading for me and were almost enough to make me enjoy the text as a whole.


Methinks I see a visit to Highgate Cemetery in my future, and I'm also keen to read up on its fascinating history. I'll be sure to stop by the next time I'm in London. It's wonderful to see so many work to preserve this site of Victorian cultural significance!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Charles Dickens Museum, Vol. II

Precisely two millennia ago, or so it seems, I posted the first of a two-part series chronicling my visit to the Charles Dickens Museum on Doughty Street. Since my Achilles' Heel is procrastination, the concluding post is only now just arriving. Tut, tut.

As someone whose passion for books is, ironically, beyond words, visiting a site of literary significance is such a special time for me. They are my Mecca. Moving about the intimate spaces where beloved authors lived and wrote is a transcendent experience. I often imagine that the ghost of the writer in question lingers behind, looking upon the visitors whose lives he has touched with his words. 

What would Dickens think of the fuss made over him today? Considering he was well known and popular during the Victorian period, part of me thinks he'd be used to the attention. The other part can't help but feel that even Charlie D. would be amazed at the growth and endurance of his authorial celebrity. Would he feel mortified knowing strangers were looking over his commode and other personal belongings? I would!

Here's a glimpse of my time spent exploring Dickens's home on 48 Doughty Street. Located in the lovely Bloomsbury neighborhood in London, the museum warrants a visit from any Dickensian fanatic...

Here I am, in Charlie D's foyer
A Christmas garland festoons the banister
Personal letters line the hall
I believe this one was sent to Dickens's illustrator George Cruikshank
A collection of author photographs
The drawing room was decorated for Christmas, Victorian style
I'm digging the furniture, but what's up with the creepy mask?
I love the Victorian Christmas crackers
Mr and Mrs Fezziwig from A Christmas Carol
Painted by Dickens's daughter Katey, born at this house
Special exhibit on Dickens as an orator
His personal reading copy of Sikes and Nancy
Notes added for emphasis (and when Dickens expects a laugh?)
Oliver! exhibit
Nancy's costume from the musical production
Commode owned by the family
where Dickens presumably sat his royal bottom
The table which saw Dickens's last written words
My favourite item in the giftshop: Charles Dickens Action Figure
Complete with quill pen and removable hat!
Saying farewell...
The view from Doughty Street

Ah, what a fantastic visit. I look forward to stopping by again in the future!

P.S. Vol. I of my Charles Dickens experience.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

On Fishing and Swimming Upstream

Me, in York. Next to Water. Follow the Metaphor?

This week has been hard. At the moment, my life is in limbo. Stuck between my past and my future, the present has left me a bit confused about where I'm headed in life. Getting an interview for a job that would pay me even half of what someone with my education supposedly earns seems a task of gargantuan proportions. The past several months I've been consumed with thoughts of PhD study: writing proposals, rewriting proposals, emailing referees, emailing potential supervisors, applying for a place, applying for a scholarship, sending off a pile of words that I hope somebody will want to publish. Repeat. I've put everything I have into the process. A few days ago I received a personal email from a university, informing me that while I deserved a full scholarship that would pay my fees and living expenses while I wrote a thesis in a lovely English town, I didn't get it.

'This is not the news you deserve.' It's hard to be told you're not good enough, that your skills aren't up to scratch. But not receiving something that I've yearned and worked for, and that I apparently deserve, is more difficult to hear than any criticism I've previously been dealt. 

In short, my poor heart broke a little. Or a lot.

Don't get me wrong. I know I'm a lucky woman. I've experienced harsher difficulties in the past, and even those painful memories are a mere shadow of the injustices people the world over face on a daily basis. Today, however, I'm giving myself permission to admit that I'm struggling, that I don't like it, and that while the obstacles of others are undoubtedly worse, it doesn't make mine any easier to bear.

I'm swimming upstream.

Waiting for the catch

On Wednesday, I was fortunate enough to have a friend take me out for a lovely evening, a much needed distraction from my woes! (How's that for melodrama?!) Venturing out to the cinema, we saw Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (trailer here). Concerned with a sheik who wants to do the seemingly impossible, migrate British salmon to a habitat to which they aren't naturally suited, the film relies on the metaphor of the fish and the fisherman to explore relationships, love and life.

These particular salmon, you see, are farmed fish. The question looming over this Quixotic project is whether these fish, unaccustomed to a wild environment, will swim upstream or allow themselves to be swept down river. As I sat there in the cinema, this disappointing news weighing heavy upon me, I couldn't help but compare my situation to the metaphor of the salmon. Will I continue to swim upstream, fighting against the strength of the current, reaching for something higher? Or will I allow the currents to sweep me away?

But then, [SPOILER ALERT] a flash flood kills the vast majority of the salmon, so perhaps I don't want to compare myself to these unfortunate fish.

Perhaps I am the fisherman.

In a discussion between Fred (Ewan McGregor), a fisheries expert, and the ambitious Sheik Muhammed (played by Amr Waked), the latter asks if the former is religious. No, is the reply. 

'But you are a man of faith,' the sheik insists. Prompted by Fred's confusion, the sheik explains that fishing itself is an act of faith. A fisherman will wait patiently for hours, casting his rod time and again, merely hoping for a catch.

This bit of the movie stuck with me. Like Fred, I'm not particularly religious either, but I can get on board with the idea of faith: the belief in something that is hoped for, but not seen.

So, here I am, metaphorically casting my rod, exercising faith that something good will come out of it. Whether an amazing scholarship miraculously comes my way, I score a fantastic job, or the river steers me in a new direction I didn't see coming, I'm choosing to believe in an exciting future. Things will get better. My education will continue. Travel adventures aren't over. I know it.

I might have to stand in the strong currents of the river for a while, but sooner or later, I'm going to catch something spectacular, a catch work waiting for. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Library Loot

The recently established library in my small town is microscopic. Case in point: any title not aimed at children is placed in one of two sections, fiction and non-fiction. That's how little material these humble shelves hold. It wasn't until I discovered they miraculously had a copy of The Name of The Rose, and just in time for my recent readathon, that I bothered obtaining a card. 

As a compulsive book buyer, I generally prefer to purchase my books. The temporary non-existence of my book budget has compelled me to seek new titles in frugal ways. Though books aren't as plentiful as I would like them to be, I was surprised at how many of the library's titles called to me. I entered intending to get a card, check out the Eco novel and leave.

Somehow I left with an additional six titles. Whoops. I'm not sure how it happened. The chance of completing these texts before their impending due date is as probable as the library suddenly ballooning overnight. But it's nice to have options. I've discovered there's a great deal of satisfaction in walking away from a library, a goldmine of literature tucked under my arm, with the knowledge that I didn't pay for them! Free books for everybody!

Until the inevitable late fines accrue. Oh, late fees, I wish I knew how to quit you.

So, in this addition to the Library Loot event hosted by Claire and Marg, here are the treasures I've borrowed this week.

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

After posting a request for Georgette Heyer recomendations, I shrieked with delight when I found two of her novels on the shelf. (But only on the inside. I wouldn't wish to disturb other book fiends.) The dear friend who kindly gave me Frederica as a gift also had Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle highly recommended to her, and it's also a favourite of Claire's (otherwise known as The Captive Reader). I can't wait to dig into this one!

Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I studied some Barrett Browning for my dissertation and came to the conclusion that she's currently underrated. It seems like people feel the need to take sides and camp with Team Elizabeth or Team Robert. Can't we just acknowledge that both are wonderful in their own unique way?

Poetry has been calling to me as of late, and this volume is on my Classics Club list. Many birds, one stone.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Although this one was frequently requested when I worked at the bookstore, but I never paid it much heed apart from taking note of the unusual title. Whenever a customer said they were looking for a book with a strange title, something about Guernsey or potatoes, I knew exactly to what they were referring.

Since my dear friend said it reminded her of me I've been dying to read it. And I love epistolary narratives. I don't care how many people diss them!

The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs by Alexander McCall Smith

Speaking of unusual titles, this novel surely wins the prize for most fabulous title of the century. At the very least it should be nominated. Though I've heard some enthusiastic McCall Smith recommendations, I would be lying if I said that's why I picked this little book off the shelves. This selection is entirely based on the awesome title and the fact that there's a cute little dog on the cover. I can never resist a cute dog. Seriously, never.

Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly

In the past few months I've come across some pirate documentaries on The History Channel that have been vastly entertaining and educational. When I learned that while pirate law forbade the presence of women on the ship there were still famous female pirates, my curiosity increased ten fold. Girl power?

Hopefully I'll be able to pick more fascinating fun facts from this work of non-fiction.

Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure by Emma Campbell Webster

This specimen of Jane Austen kitsch looked too hilarious to pass up. I have yet to fully look into it, but merely flipping through has led me to some statements that are comical in their absurdity: 'Add "Insufficient Knowledge of Embroidery" to your list of Failings. This has seriously compromised your chances of attracting a rich husband.'

Oh, dear. Is this why I'm single? Should I stick to my sampler and forget the books?

As you see I am spoiled for choice. What are you reading this week?

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Name of the Rose Readathon

Friday Confession: I very rarely read translated texts. Explanations for my blatant elitism do exist, chief among them being that I'm so obsessed with Victorian novels, I have a devil of a time tearing myself away from prose texts written from 1780-1910. They are the delight of my soul, my reason for living and all that. Some might (rightly) argue that such specificity is confining, but I'm amazed at how often I stumble upon yet another Victorian novel to add to my TBR list. I also maintain the rhythm of prose is inevitably lost in translation, resulting in language that feels stilted, that lacks flow.This constantly interrupts the narrative and takes me outside the story.

Yes, I am a snob. I admit it. 

Deep down, I know I would benefit from spreading my literary wings -- and most likely enjoy myself in the process. I was, therefore, thrilled when Caro from Reading Against the Clock announced she would be hosting a readathon for The Name of the Rose, taking place Saturday and Sunday. I've heard fantastic things about Umberto Eco, his intriguing plots and superhuman cleverness. But being the elitist that I am (see above) I've not read a single word of his -- I'm ready to change that.

The Name of the Rose takes place in 1327. William of Baskerville (not the hound, in case you were wondering) investigates an Italian abbey where murders modeled on the Book of Revelation begin popping up. Contained within the mystery are deeper themes of religion, politics and the threatening nature of reformation. Lately, Medieval and Renaissance European history has been calling me. I tune in to History Channel documentaries on bubonic plague, Elizabeth I, Italian architecture and the like at the drop of a hat, so this readathon has serendipitously arrived at the perfect moment. Hopefully Eco's genius will feed my curiosity and encourage me to dig deeper into this fascinating time period.

For a moment, my participation was in jeopardy, as I've been unable to get my hands on a copy of the book that's priced within my budget. Said book budget is currently set at zero dollars and zero cents, which might explain my difficulties in procuring the novel. But miracle of miracles, my small-town library carries The Name of the Rose. Seriously, this is a sign from heaven. The small collection of books available to citizens of my town (I'm not sure it warrants the term library) contains just one Edith Wharton title and only four of Jane Austen's six completed novels. So it truly is an Easter Miracle that this humble library carries anything by Umberto Eco.

Provided the library isn't closed for the Easter Holiday, which would definitely put on a damper on my little phenomenon, I'll pick up the novel as the readathon commences. Because it's Easter weekend, I doubt I'll make much progress, but I'll be adding little updates on the experience to this post throughout the readathon. Go here if you'd like to read along!

Happy Easter Weekend to all!

Sunday 4:24 PM Well, I did manage to pick up The Name of the Rose from the library yesterday. Somehow I came away with five other books, including a Georgette Heyer novel I've not yet read. Whoops. This gorgeous Easter weekend, sadly, has kept me from indulging in the novel as much as I'd hoped. With such lovely, blooming weather the dogs were begging to be walked, eggs required boiling and dying, potatoes are being cooked for a salad.

Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed the 70 pages I managed to read. William of Baskerville is a medieval incarnation of the quintessential Sherlock Holmes whose powers of deduction are narrated by his novice sidekick. Already I've read some great dialogues on religion, heresy and the problematics of the Inquisition. Fascinating stuff. Favourite quote so far:

I like also to listen to words, and then I think about them. 

Tuesday 7:17 PM This update is arriving long after the readathon has ended, but I still wanted to sum up my experience. As predicted, the holiday weekend didn't allow much time for independent reading. I lounged around with my family while idly watching DVDs, partook of the season's first batch of potato salad and devoured my weight in sugar. By staying up into the early morning hours, I did get through a small chunk of The Name of the Rose. Day One: check. Day Two: half a check? Reading a total of 137 pages appears as though the readathon didn't do me much good. Truth to be told, I know I wouldn't have managed the first quarter of the novel if it weren't for the event. It encouraged me to make good use of my time and carve out a chunk of the busy weekend for this fabulous text.

I've been properly sucked in now. A fresh corpse has complicated the mystery of the abbey, but so far I'm just as intrigued by the philosophical dialogues on religion and politics. Immensely readable, William of Baskerville's compassionate and progressive logic continues to make me a fan of Eco's nod to the most memorable detective of all time. Check it out:

But sometimes it is right to doubt...Of us God demands that we apply our reason to many obscure things about which Scripture has left us free to decide. And when someone suggests you believe in a proposition, you must first examine it to see whether it is acceptable, because our reason was created by God, and whatever pleases our reason can but please divine reason.

I'm happily buried under a variety of books and other projects this week, but I look forward to watching Baskerville solve this medieval mystery and listening closely to all he has to say along the way.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

A Sneak Peek into the Bedrooms of Famous Writers

Victor Hugo's Parisian Bedroom

I came across an intriguing article today which provides a sneak peek into the bedrooms of celebrated writers. How authors lived and chose to decorate their personal space is a topic of great fascination for me. Seeing the places where they lived and wrote truly brings these famous figures to life -- it's a reminder that while they produced extraordinary masterpieces they often lived ordinary lives. I revere certain writers to such an extent that I sometimes forget this simple fact! And while I've personally visited the former homes of some of my beloved authors in the past two years, in my personal experience coming across a well maintained bedroom is something special.

After sifting through the photos I've selected two favourites. I love the dramatic Victorian decor of Victor Hugo's bedroom in his Parisian home. All that red! In fact, as soon I laid eyes on this photo I immediately thought of The Red Room in Jane Eyre where the young Jane is locked away for the night, terrified by the conviction that her uncle's ghost haunts the space. Doesn't that red plush armchair look like a cozy spot to curl up with a book?

On the other hand, Virginia Woolf's boudoir (I just love using that word!) seems to be the most literary. The amply-stocked bookshelves and painting above the mantelpiece make this room terribly inviting. If you're half as obsessed with author homes as I home, you'll get a kick out of these fascinating photos.

Virginia Woolf's Bedroom

P.S. I find it quite comforting that for some of these contemporary writers the bedroom becomes a messy workplace. When I'm in the midst of writing essays under a deadline, all hell breaks loose in my bedroom. Papers are strewn here and there, candy wrappers (I must have sugar when stressed) wedge themselves into every available space, clothes litter the floor as all thoughts of tidiness give way to the pressure of producing a a good piece of writing. In, short, it ain't pretty!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Georgette Heyer; Or, What To Read After Running Out of Jane Austen

You know those days when you feel like you're in the eye of a tornado? The world is spinning around you while you're trying to stay calm in the center, waiting for the storm to die down. This, at any rate, is how I was feeling last week, and more than anything I wanted to momentarily leave my stressful reality behind and escape to a warm, happy place. I yearned to enter to the enticing world of evening balls, muslin dresses trimmed with lace and afternoon drives in a fashionable phaeton. A Regency novel was the order of the day.

My go-to Regency author is, obviously, Jane Austen. I have been metaphorically worshipping the ground she walked on since my stroppy teenage years. I literally worshipped the ground she walked on during a holy pilgrimage to her former home in Chawton. In short, I simply adore her and every novel she wrote. In any case, I love five and like one (ahem, Mansfield Park), which is practically the same thing.

The only problem is that I have read each Jane Austen text multiple times. I can quote full passages at the drop of a hat. And while I will continue to immerse myself in Austenland for the rest of my days, sometimes I crave novelty, the excitement of not knowing what will happen on the next page.

Enter Georgette Heyer.

Georgette Heyer is a British novelist who published from the 1920s until her death in 1974. She wrote prolifically, producing an astounding sixty-plus novels, and is most well known today for her contemporary mysteries and Regency romances. My experiences with the latter have sparked a deep and abiding love for this author.

First of all, I would just like to make it clear that I am picky with a capital P when it comes to historical fiction on this period. In general, I'm not keen on Jane Austen sequels, re-imaginings and what not. In high school I read a Pemberley 'sequel' in which Georgiana unrealistically marries Sir Joshua Reynolds (he was cold in his grave long before Pride and Prejudice made its way to the printers), and its historical inconsistencies rather put me off this sub-genre. I have, with few exceptions, steered clear of fan fiction. Sticking a stray 'betwixt' or 'pray, sir' into an otherwise twenty-first century sentence does not a Regency novel make. I emphatically do not need to read novels about Darcy's infidelity or his secret life as a vampire. I just don't.

But Georgette Heyer is different. For a start, she creates her own characters and thereby conveniently avoids interfering with any reader's mental image of Elizabeth Bennet, Mr Knightley and the lot. In my opinion, she successfully emulates the language of the period. The dialogue never feels forced or artificial, allowing me to sink into the Regency world free from twenty-first-century distractions. Heyer is well known for conducting a copious amount of research on early nineteenth-century England, and it shows. The details she includes on a variety of topics truly bring this beloved era to life. Even with my limited Georgette Heyer experience I've come across descriptions of Regency fashion, social etiquette, horses and carriages, engineering, snuff, furniture, and sporting events. It makes me feel as though Regency England were a tangible place, a destination I could jet off to for a weekend away -- and with these books I can! If only all historical novelists followed the example set forth by Heyer.

Yet all these aspects would be meaningless if they centered around uninteresting characters. Luckily, Georgette Heyer is skilled at conjuring up protagonists who are plucky and charming. Take, for instance, my most recent Heyer read: Frederica. The eponymous heroine, a young girl left to play mother hen to her orphaned siblings, enlists the aid of a distant relative in the hopes of making a good match for her beautiful sister. Lord Alverstoke, the relative is question, is a perpetually bored nobleman who only agrees to help Frederica because he views the situation as a source of potential diversion. It's evident from their first meeting that Frederica and Alverstoke will inevitably fall in love, but the pleasure lies in watching the process unfold. I was immediately drawn in by the pair's witty banter, Frederica's quiet self-assurance as she deftly manages family matters and Alverstoke's insistence on forgetting the names of his nieces.

The fun doesn't stop there. The full cast of characters provide a great deal of literary entertainment. There's Felix, Frederica's youngest sibling, a precocious young boy intent on procuring Alverstoke's accompaniment to every site of engineering significance in London; Jessamy, slightly older than Felix, who feels the need to apologize profusely on his brother's behalf; Charis, the beautiful sister Frederica hopes to see suitably married, who harbours rather melodramatic views on romantic love; Lady Buxted, Alverstoke's sister, who constantly applies to the Marquis for monetary assistance in spite of her independent wealth; and the observant Lady Jevington, Alverstoke's other sister, who is the first to see through her brother's protestations that he has no more than a trifling interest in Frederica's affairs. All of these minor characters make each page of the novel an absolute joy. 

My only complaint with Georgette Heyer novels is the disappointing absence of epilogues. I'm the sort of reader who likes to see characters settled into a comfortable life before a narrative closes. I love that Jane Austen lets us know Georgiana is shocked by the way in which Lizzy talks back to Darcy, and the possibility of a future war is  'all that could dim [Anne Elliot's] sunshine.' Apart from this tiny niggle, however, I always conclude a Heyer text as happy as a clam.

In short, pick up a Georgette Heyer novel the moment you've exhausted your copies of Jane Austen or crave the wonder and finery of Regency England. Frederica and Arabella are great texts with which to begin. Both had me captivated, and both are perfect for a day when you need some internal sunshine. Curling up with Heyer and a cup of tea is a splendid way to pass an evening.

Yet my experiences with Georgette Heyer are quite limited -- I've only read four of her numerous publications. I've made my way through Regency Buck and Devil's Cub (though neither wowed me the way Frederica and Arabella did); I'm dying to pick up more of her novels but am spoiled for choice. Which would you recommend? Do you have a Heyer favourite? Please advise me!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Woman in White Readalong

I've barely made a dent in my spring reading plans. Life has got in the way, cruelly pushing literary perusal to the back burner. And yet...

I just can't resist joining in The Woman in White Readalong hosted by Reading Rambo. This wildly popular sensation novel is calling me, and I find myself headed towards the proverbial white light. Joining the cyber-discussion of Wilkie Collins's most beloved text will be great fun, and the month-long schedule will still allow me to progress with my spring reading plans. Perfect!

To kick off the event, bloggers are meant to share their preconceptions about The Woman in White and its author. I probably know a bit more about this 1859 novel than many of the participants, because I've started it twice before and [gasp] never finished it. On my second attempt I was approaching the halfway point before jumping ship. Oh, the shame!

I wouldn't wish anybody to attribute my inattention to Collins's writing. In fact, on both occasions I found the The Woman in White to be intriguing and engaging, and on both occasions the multiple distractions of daily life managed to interrupt my experience. This time, however, I'm determined to succeed!

The readalong has come at an opportune time, because Wilkie Collins has been on this reader's mind quite a bit in recent months. The bohemian lifestyle of this benchmark Victorian writer (a great friend of Charles Dickens) has been a fascinating topic of research. I recently posted about how Collins secretly maintained relationships with two women under separate households. Coincidentally, the bigamy plot permeated the sensation genre for which Collins became famous, though I haven't seen any signs of it in his own fiction. Isn't it funny how art imitates life?

Not too long ago I also completed my first Wilkie Collins novel. Heart and Science was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this lesser-known work compares to the decidedly more famous Woman in White. Contained within a sub-plot of Heart and Science was a compelling depiction of vivisection (experimentation on live animals) -- a practice fiercely debated in the late-Victorian period. From what I've heard, The Woman in White also features representations of animals, a key area of interest for me. Do they anticipate Collins's later fascination with animal welfare? I'm excited to discover more work from this celebrated nineteenth-century writer. 

If you've read The Woman in White, what did you think of it? If you haven't read the novel, but are interested in doing so, consider joining the readalong!