Tuesday, 10 April 2018

The pleasure of classics

There has not been that many reviews here lately. I have been busy with my studies and also in the process of moving. However, I have read quite a lot, and especially classics. Here are a few thoughts around them.

Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith

This is in a way a hilarious book. Mr Nobody, Charles Pooter, decides to write a diary of his life. Nothing much happens. He relates to everyday life, work, house, wife, son and the social life (not that much) that they entertain. It does not sound very exciting, but it is a satire of middle class life in England in the 19th century, and as such great fun. The brothers were actors, illustrators and writers. When we discussed this book in the Brontë Reading Group references were made to Three Men in a Boat. The same kind of understated humour. I really enjoyed this book.

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

One of the great Russian authors. This is a short novel, written in the realism of the time. Tolstoj was a master in creating timeless characters and describe the human being in all his/her nakedness. Ivan Ilych is a successful man in his profession, has a family and a good life. One day he has an accident which leads to an incurable disease. Instead of trying to come to terms with his destiny, all his efforts go to find another doctor that might be able to cure him. The novel is a criticism of the emptiness of the middle classes and their happiness over trivial things. His colleagues start discussing who should take over his job and his wife tries to find out if she can get a higher pension. All the while Ivan Ilych is lonely fighting death.

Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Another author of realism. I did not really know what to think about it when I read this novel. My first thought was; if you are not depressed before, you will be by reading this novel. Well, of course it is much more than that. Dostoyevsky's novels are a criticism of the times, and especially against the nihilist movement, which wanted to change society by violence if necessary. Dostoyevsky goes into the inner sphere of human psychology and put forward existentiell questions of life. His narrator has finished his work and is living outside the established society, of which he is very critical. Dostoyevsky believed that man was naturally evil and had to learn how to be good. The narrator is about to save a young girl from prostitution, but when she listens to his advice and come to see him, he changes his mind. To save her would go against all he believes in. The narrator is living at an intellectual and emotional "point zero". This is the dilemma for modern man, looking for an utopian society. Well, difficult to read and interpret, but Dostoyevsky has left us a lot to think of.

A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

Desire, I think one of the most famous plays of Williams and well-known to most of us. Williams always manage to give you a dense atmosphere, interesting interaction between people and family, meaning drama. I was not familiar with the theme of The Glass Menagerie but it also highlights people and their desires. After all, is not family relations some of the most difficult ones. Especially, if we are trying to hide things from one another and the outside world.

Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

de Balzac is one of the classic French writers in realism. This novel is about people occupying a boarding house. Eugene is the young man studying to become a lawyer, but wanting to belong to the upper class and their lives, the young girl whose father does not acknowledge here, and father Goriot who receives mysterious visits by two beautiful women from the upper class. It is a satire on the whole society and how rich people spend money on useless things while poor people don't have anything to eat for the day. Well, father Goriot turns out to be someone else than his neighbours thought. The boarding house houses different characters who make up the French society at the time. An easy read and a variety of interesting characters, their good and bad sides. And as in life; the good people are not always good and the bad people are not always bad.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

A classic love story. Gustave Flaubert is a master in writing and the novel is a pleasure to read. Madame Bovary is a bored housewife and have romantic ideas of what her life should be like. All in all she is not living in the real world. Her husband is totally devoted to her and that might be part of the problem. She realises very quickly after the marriage that she does not love him. After some years they get a daughter and it seems she can not give her very much love either. She enters into a relationship with two men (not at the same time). This is what she lives for and when the relationships end she goes into a depression of the deeper kind. I must admit that I don't like Madame Bovary (the woman that is, not the novel). She does not have very many positiv features to here. She is egoistic and live only for herself. The novel highlight the often dire circumstances for women at the time. I can fully understand her boredom and feeling of being stuck, or put in a prison, although with golden bars.

Through my studies I have started to appreciate classics much more. Many of them have kept their freshness and the dilemma people faced then we face today, although in a different way.


  1. That’s an impressive reading list for the year so far!

    1. Thank you. Yes, I am a little bit surprised myself how the reading flows for the time being. Not so much the reviewing though. But, it will come.