Not to be one of those people, but how is it October already? September saw me move into a new flat, start my postgraduate course and get myself into one of those ghastly reading slumps. I found my footing once again at the back-end of the month, though, so all is good. I read 6 books and few essays here and there, as well as DNF’d a book.
As usual, I will post reviews for most of the following books – the ones highlighted will already be live. So, here’s what I read in September…
Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton | 4 stars
Manchester, 1840s, a period of industrial unrest and extreme deprivation. Mary Barton depicts the effects of economic & physical hardships upon the city’s working-class community. Alongside this is the story of Mary herself: a factory worker’s daughter who attracts the attention of two opposite men. She soon becomes caught up in the violence of class conflict when a brutal murder forces her to confront her true feelings & allegiances.
Considering this was Gaskell’s debut novel, it was beautifully executed. It kept me wanting more. Her characterisation, her exploration into the relationship between factory workers and owners, and the dramatic subplot was superbly done. I couldn’t recommend it enough!
Dorothy Wordsworth’s The Grasmere & Alfoxden Journals | 2 stars
A unique recording of her life with William. Invaluable for the insights they give into the daily life of the poet & his friendship with Coleridge, they are also remarkable for their spontaneity and immediacy, and for the vivid descriptions of people, place, and incidents that inspired some of Wordsworth’s best-loved poems.
I had mixed feelings about this one. Some of the entries were really fascinating, bringing to life Dorothy and William’s average day, but some of them were quite boring. They were monotonous, repetitive and mundane. She could be poetical when she wanted to be, but that wasn’t very often. A lovely read, but one I won’t be revisiting.
George Eliot’s Adam Bede | 0 stars
Ah, Adam Bede. What to say about Adam Bede? Well, firstly, I didn’t finish it. Secondly, I don’t want to relive it. I just couldn’t, for the life of me, get into this book. I didn’t like anything about it – the dialect, the characters and the story. I decided to DNF at about 30 pages (which is quite a low page count for me!).
It paints a powerful portrait of rural life, seduction, faith and redemption. Adam Bede explores a sticky love situation between Hetty Sorrel, Captain Arthur Donnithorne, Adam Bede and Dinah Morris.
Anthony Trollope’s The Warden | 2 stars
The Warden is the first instalment of Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire, exploring a quiet cathedral town that is shaken by scandal as the traditional values of Septimus Harding are attacked by zealous reformers and ruthless newspapers. It’s is a drama of conscience that pits individual integrity against worldly ambition, or so says my Penguin English Library edition.
I was quite disappointed with this, to be honest. I thought it was going to be a new favourite of mine, but instead all I found was a weak narrative and flat characters. There was no emotion or individuality to the characters, and the plot was very one dimensional. I will carry on with the series though; I’ve heard it gets better as it goes along.
John Ruskin’s Selected Writing | 2 stars
Thankfully, I was only asked to read three essays from this. I say thankfully because I hate reading essays, and I tend to find critics have very dull writing. Although I did engage with Ruskin a little, I found that his essays got boring very fast. He often went on tangents, speaking of topics that had little relevancy. If he stuck to his original argument, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.
Ruskin is considered the most powerful and influential art critic and social commentator of the 19th century. He wrote about nature, art, architecture, politics, history, myth and so much more. His writing is often defined by his clarity of vision – a characteristic which is often quite unsettling.
Friedrich Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England | 4 stars
I was only asked to read four chapters from Engels’ study of Victorian England, but I couldn’t justify not reading the entirety of this historical account. Written during his stay in Manchester from 1842-1844, Engels complied his own observations with contemporary reports to detail the life of the victims of early industrial change.
I was constantly fascinated by this. It was a hard read, but it was so very rewarding in the end. My knowledge on an area that really interests me grew substantially, and I can now read Victorian novels with an insight to the true class dynamics of the century. The only downfall was the constant repetition. He often repeated his points, which made reading it quite frustrating at times.
Matthew Lewis’ The Monk | 4 stars
I was only asked to read a chapter from Lewis’ famous Gothic novel for my class, but I couldn’t not read it in its entirety. It was published in 1796, and is the story of Ambrosio, a monk, who is torn between his spiritual vows and the temptation of physical pleasure. This then spirals into a dramatic tale of sexual obsession, rape and murder.
Considering the disturbing content of this book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lewis knew how to write an engaging and interesting story – with both good and bad characters. I itched to read this every time I put it down. It blends the Gothic perfectly with social comedy, making it such a riveting tale.
Essays included: Henry James’ ‘The Art of Fiction’, the preface to Georg Lukac’s Studies in European Realism, Catherine Belsey’s ‘Addressing the Subject’, Roland Barthes’ ‘The Reality Effect’, the introduction to Terry Eagleton’s The English Novel and the introduction to Brigid Lowe’s Victorian Fiction and the Insights of Sympathy.
As usual, essays aren’t my favourite thing to read, so I found them quite dry and boring. However, some, such as Eagleton’s introduction, was really interesting. So a balance of both, really.
…so that’s what I read in September. You may have noticed that most of my reads were Victorian, and that’s because I dedicated the month to my university reading list. If you like variety, then you won’t find it in the next few wrap-ups. I am literally drowning in Victorian novels, essays and poetry – FUN!
What was your favourite book of the month? Should I read it? Please let me know, I’d love to add it to my TBR!
Thanks for reading, Lauren X