Supported by experience 

Rebecca Solomon (1832-86) ‘The Governess’ (1851): public domain image

Anne Brontë: Agnes Grey
Wordsworth Classics 1994 (1847)

There is a stock image of the Victorian governess, isn’t there: the stern, plain figure in black who is given charge of the upper- or middleclass family’s children, shepherding them from classroom to drawing room, and thence to bed. It’s easy to caricature this figure, as Joan Aiken did with the figure of Miss Slighcarp in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, or to portray her as a dominatrix for men (and women) of certain tastes, but I suspect that mostly the romantic view of the governess will rest on the titular person of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847).

However, the life of many a governess is portrayed more realistically in Charlotte’s sister’s novel, the semi-autobiographical Agnes Grey, which even more than Jane Eyre exposed the circumstances which governesses were expected to tolerate without a murmur. Clues that much of the story of Agnes (“pure, holy”) is based on Anne’s own experiences come in the opening paragraphs: both their fathers are clergymen in the north of England; both young women are twice engaged as governesses, the first post being short-lived though the second lasts a few years; and both are involved in plans to begin a school with family members (though in only one case does it come to fruition). And, from what we know of Anne’s life, the circumstances of Agnes’ treatment parallel the author’s own.

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Classics Spin 21

Why do I do it? Set myself another challenge, that is? When I’d decided I would have a break from it all? Clearly this is one of life’s mysteries.

It’s time for the Classics Club‘s 21st ‘spin’. The last one I opted to do was before last Christmas and my pick was Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley. Guess what? It took me till a month ago to finish it. Fingers crossed the next one will be more successful.

The rules for Spin #21:

  • List any twenty books left to read from the Classics Club list.
  • Number them from 1 to 20.
  • On Monday 23rd September the Classics Club will announce a number.
  • This is the book that needs to read by 31st October.

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Bookmarking

As we tread our way to the end of November, with the finish line for Twenty Eighteen nearly in sight, I feel the urge to begin a series of retrospectives—as is traditional for this time of year. This brief post (as brief as anything I ever promise to write) is intended as a snapshot of where I am just now.

First things first, however. The Classics Club blog has just revealed the Classics Spin number for the title members have to read over the next two months, and that number is…

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Classics Club Spin 19

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Thanks to the Classics Club blog I (along with many others) have until Tuesday 27th November to create a post listing twenty books of my choosing that remain ‘to be read’ on my Classics Club list. I have to read just one of these twenty books on this ‘spin list’ by the end of the spin period.

They invite me to try to challenge myself by, for example, listing five Classics Club books I’ve been putting off, five I can’t wait to read, five I’m neutral about, and five free choice (favourite author, re-reads, ancients, non-fiction, books in translation — whatever I choose). In the absence of any alternatives of my own to offer I aim to follow this schema as much as possible.

On Tuesday 27th November, a number between 1 and 20 will be posted. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on my spin list by 31st January, 2019.

But wait! There’s a twist (apt enough for a Spin):

This is an extra special, super-dooper CHUNKSTER edition of the Classics Club Spin. We challenge you to fill this spin list with 20 of those HUGE books you’ve been putting off reading because you didn’t have enough time. With this spin we are giving you the time – nearly 10 weeks in fact – to tackle one of those imposing tomes on your classics shelf.

Erm … I’m running out of those CLUNKING HUGE books on my list, so I’ll just have to fill in with teenier ones (eg 10, 15 and 20), to which I may add a related title or two to make up the bulk.

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Going for a spin

Image from WordPress Free Photo Library

Though under new (but still enthusiastic!) management, The Classics Club have announced another of their eagerly expected Classics Spins for August. A random number between 1 and 20 is generated and whatever is on my personal list is my selection for reading in that month.

I’m genetically programmed to be lazy so I’ve rustled up a previous list, and with appropriate replacements for titles already read these are they:

1. Apollonius: Jason and the Golden Fleece
2. Petronius Arbiter: The Satyricon
3. J M Barrie: Peter Pan
4. Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Return of Tarzan
5. Charlotte Bronte: Shirley
6. Frances Hodgson Burnett: A Little Princess
7. Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Secret Garden
8. Thomas Carlyle: Sartor Resartus
9. Anton Chekhov: Early Stories
10. Charles Dickens: Pictures from Italy
11. Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist
12. George Eliot: Middlemarch
13. Hermann Hesse: Steppenwolf
14. Charles Kingsley: Hypatia
15. Rudyard Kipling: Kim
16. D H Lawrence: The Princess and other stories
17. Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince
18. Daphne du Maurier: Rebecca
19. George du Maurier: Trilby
20. L M Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables

The number generated will be announced on August 1st and hopefully I’ll have read and maybe even reviewed it before the end of the month. (That’ll be a tough call if it turns out to be Middlemarch or Sartor Resartus!)

Update

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Fellow travellers

Ideogram of lift or, if you prefer, elevator. Looks like a man has, again, assumed it’s his job to control things …

My relationship with books is a bit like that one has with passengers in a slow-moving lift, a relationship which is perfectly illustrated by a visit to my bedside table. Here, alongside reading glasses and case, watch, alarm clock, notebook and pen sit a couple of piles of books. (We won’t talk, just now, of the ones that sit out of sight in the top drawer.) I’m a rather faithless reader, picking up books that take my fancy, sometimes sticking with one for the duration but mostly flitting from one to another. I like to pretend that I do this because different titles advantageously inform each other; but it may simply be that I have a goldfish brain, unable to sustain a thought for long.

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A year in books

Twenty Eighteen is well under way and I’m having a think about how I’m going to go about my reading. Well, of course there are several ways to go:

  1. Pick a book at random from the pile on my bedside table
  2. Pick a book at random from the books on my shelves
  3. Pick a book at random from my local bookshop or library

Well, you get the picture. Or I could go with what I’m feeling in the mood for, a strategy that has generally served me well up to now. But I also feel the need for a bit of structure.

In the past I’ve tried a couple or so of reading challenges. These were partly successful, in that I made an effort to fulfil all the categories listed, but when I didn’t quite complete them I felt a bit of a poseur in my own eyes.

Last year’s solution was to (a) turn Challenges into Worthy Goals, thus ensuring no failure was imminent; and (b) set impossibly low expectations, such as only being required to finish 36 books over the year (I actually achieved forty-one and several fractions). Now I’m wondering what plans to go for this year.

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