There and back

“Reading is my favourite occupation, when I have leisure for it and books to read.” —Anne Brontë’s Agnes Grey, Chapter XV

Centenaries are recognised as opportunities to focus on historic events, discoveries and inventions, and on the people associated with them.

This being principally a literary blog I’ve tried, not always too successfully, to use such milestones to examine key works and authors. Last year, for example, being the bicentary of the births of George Eliot and Herman Melville, I still failed to read Middlemarch by year’s end; but I did at least start Moby-Dick (and am virtually at the halfway point). And, of course, 1820 was the year that the whaler Essex was sunk by a bull whale, an incident that partly inspired Melville’s narrative.

This year I’ve alighted on a selection of authors and works associated with the years 1820 and 1920, and have placed them on a notional wishlist — but not as challenges or goals, heaven forfend — a selection which I now offer for your possible interest and consideration. So what’s included on this wishlist?

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Broken resolve

Huh! It’s a couple of days into January and I’ve already broken my blogging New Year resolution.

You know, the resolution I declared on 31st December 2019 that I would not to do any bookish challenges for 2020. Here on this very blog.

What a loser, fallen at the first hurdle! And what is this heinous oath-breaking I’ve committed? You’ll gasp with shock when you’re told. It’s — I can barely bear to say it — something that will freeze the blood of every bibliophile who ever tremblingly anticipated entering a bookshop, taking a book off a shelf, opening it …

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New Year wishes

Shelfie

It’s at the tail end of the year that I look forward to what literary delights the coming year has in store for me, what my wishes are concerning books to be read and discussed.

I’ve already put up a retrospective post here detailing how I got on with the challenges and goals I’d set myself for 2019; now it’s time to see if, knowing what I’ve actually achieved this year, I intend to be as ambitious for 2020.

The answer turns out to be both “yes” and “no”.

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“It hath made me mad”

Here follow final thoughts on Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, certainly for 2019, and definitely for now on this blog. At this point I just want to say a few words for the woman with no real voice in the novel, Bertha Mason, the famous ‘madwoman in the attic’.

Of course, she doesn’t really reside in the attic; moreover, we’re not told the exact nature of her madness — neither do we hear her speak (she only laughs or snarls) nor is there someone to speak for her. Jean Rhys in 1966 famously attempted to do so, in Wide Sargasso Sea, though she changed the timeline somewhat to suit the purposes of her fiction. But it can’t really be argued that Rhys’ protagonist is the same as Charlotte’s Mrs Rochester, nor that this ‘prequel’ is fully compatible with the Victorian original.

Meanwhile, Brontë certainly knew the tale of Bluebeard, for she has Jane picture Rochester’s wife confined to Thornfield Hall’s third storey, along somewhere which is “like a corridor in some Bluebeard’s castle,” and — recalling the young Jane’s terror at being locked in the Red Room of Gateshead as a punishment — we can imagine how such imprisonment might impact on a particularly volatile individual such as Bertha Mason.

But the simile in the phrase “like a corridor in some Bluebeard’s castle” quietly signposts the fact that this is not a simple retelling of the fairytale; and that, despite the literary echoes, this is a vastly more complex narrative that works on several level, perhaps like the different storeys of Thornfield Hall.

Can we find Bertha anywhere in this literary labyrinth?

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Nearing journey’s end

Yay, it’s that time of year again when we glance back over twelve years of things mostly bookish, and I express heartfelt indebtedness to casual readers and followers alike for their likes, comments and even reblogs.

Meanwhile my Goodreads page tells me that I’ve achieved 135% of my 2019 reading goal, having completed 70 books compared to the planned 52. Not crowing or anything but I hope my commentaries have emphasised quality over quantity — especially as the shortest title is only eight pages long!

So, as with many of you fellow bloggers, we’ve at that point when we indulge in retrospection and reflection, the R & R of all dedicated readers. I don’t intend to bombard you with the full details of stats — I’ll leave the My Year in Books Goodreads page to do that — but I do beg your indulgence while I point out a few of my highlights.

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A sense of entitlement

Troutmark Books, Castle Arcade, Cardiff

No, not a comment on certain politicians — my word, aren’t there a lot of candidates for this epithet at the moment! — but a lovely pot boiler of a prompt otherwise called ‘My Life in Books 2019’ which was passed on by Annabel:

Using only books you have read this year (2019), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.

  1. In high school I was—
  2. People might be surprised by—
  3. I will never be—
  4. My fantasy job is—
  5. At the end of a long day I need—
  6. I hate—
  7. Wish I had—
  8. My family reunions are—
  9. At a party you’d find me with—
  10. I’ve never been to—
  11. A happy day includes—
  12. Motto I live by:
  13. On my bucket list is—
  14. In my next life, I want to have—

Of course, this presupposes that like any assiduous bookworm you’ve actually read over fourteen books.

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