Books I’ve Read This Week: Jane Austen and other Classics

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 is to read a book (or listen to an unabridged audiobook) every day: 365 books by December 31. I will post my reviews here each week and provide regular updates on Twitter and Goodreads. Recommendations are always welcome!

Week 15: Jane Austen and Other Classics: One of my goals this year was to finish reading Jane Austen’s novels. I had previously read Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion and Emma but did not get around to reading Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey until this year. Once I finished reading the Austen novels, I read a couple of books about Austen including a study of how she incorporated the political, economic and cultural upheaval of her times into her books and an advice book written by a descendant of one of Austen’s brothers. I also read a few other classics this past week as well as a social history of marriages between American heiresses and British aristocrats, circumstances that inspired the television series, Downton Abbey. Here are this week’s reviews.

#99 of 365 Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Genre: Classic Fiction

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 8 hours and 16 minutes

Dates Listened: April 14-15, 2018

Review: My favourite Jane Austen novels remain Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice but Northanger Abbey includes a lot of fun moments including Catherine’s conviction that the Tilney estate is in fact the setting for a gothic novel and every chapter that includes the sarcastic wit of Henry Tilney. Henry delivers the most memorable dialogue in the novel including “Now I must give you one smirk, then we can be rational again” and “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” The story is not especially memorable but the gothic novel satire and characters are very entertaining. The audiobook is well read by Juliet Stevenson.

#100 of 365 Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly

Genre: Literary Criticism

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages

Acquired: Received as a gift

Dates Read: April 15, 2018

Review: A fascinating and engaging book. Kelly places Jane Austen and her novels in the context of their times, and reads between the lines to observe the influence of the political, cultural and economic climate of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Britain on the plots and characters. The chapter concerning Sense and Sensibility was particularly interesting as it discussed how Ferrars, Brandon and Willoughby had more in common than readers (and viewers of the film adaptations) would at first notice. There were sections where I disagreed with Kelly’s interpretations but even the theories that seemed unlikely encouraged me to look at Jane Austen’s work from a different perspective. Highly recommended, after reading all six novels of course!

#101 of 365, Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas 

Genre: Advice Literature

Acquired: Purchased from Book City

Format: Hardcover, 226 pages

Date Read: April 18, 2018

Review:  Austen’s great-great-great-great-great niece Rebecca Smith, writer in residence at Chawton House makes creative use of quotes from Jane Austen’s novels and letters to answer questions about relationships, family, friends, work, household and travel. For example, dress for success as everyone encounters a Caroline Bingley in their career. The overall Georgian diet may not be recommended today but the regency enthusiasm for fresh fruit and tea is still recognized for its health benefits. It is best to read Austen’s novels first as their plots are outlined over the course of the book!

#102 of 365 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Genre: Classic Novel

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Dates Read: April 15-20, 2018

Format: Audiobook, 13 hours and 24 minutes

Review: I greatly enjoyed Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad. I thought that A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, however, was much less engaging. There are some fun moments in the beginning: (“Bridgeport?” said I. “Camelot!” said he.) but the plot seems to slow down mid way through the narrative and the novel becomes Mark Twain stating his views on politics and economics over and over again. There are repeated tirades against monarchical government and long digressions about comparative wages. Also, the novel seemed to replace one set of tired stereotypes about medieval times (Sir Walter Scott’s tales of romance and chivalry) with another set of stereotypes (a credulous society with excessive deference to authority). The narrator is excellent, and manages to make the material as entertaining as possible.

#103 of 365 The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Genre: Classic Fiction

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Format: Audiobook, 3 hours and 28 minutes

Date Read: April 21, 2018

Review:  This short novel is well written, capturing the atmosphere of early 20th century Alaska and the Yukon, and well read by John Lee. However, I found the early chapters of the novel really difficult to listen to because of the upsetting scenes of cruelty to animals and the fights between the sled dogs. The last chapters are quite beautiful though, as Buck bonds with a kindly master, John Thornton, then answers the Call of the Wild.

#104 of 365 The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck

Genre: Classic Fiction

Date Read: April 22, 2018

Format: Audiobook, 3 hours and 42 minutes

Acquired: Purchased from Audible.com

Review: The Moon is Down is an absorbing short novel based on the German occupation of Norway during WWII (though the author is careful not to name the location or “The Leader”), examining how a town comes together to resist an occupation. The complicated feelings of both the occupiers and the occupied are interspersed before it becomes clear that the occupation will never succeed and resistance will continue until the war is won. The novel ends quite abruptly and I would have liked the author to have dramatized the very end of the war. 

#105 of 365 The Husband Hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York by Anne de Courcy

Genre: Social History

Format: Hardcover, 320 pages

Acquired: Purchased from Ben McNally Books

Dates Read: April 21-22, 2018

Review:  Anne de Courcy’s social histories are always enjoyable to read. I have previously read 1939: The Last Season, Debs at War and The Fishing Fleet. The Husband Hunters is filled with fascinating details about elite society in late 19th and early 20th century Britain and the United States. The phenomenon of American heiresses marrying British and European nobleman has been covered in other books, including To Marry an English Lord, but de Courcy’s book is notable for focusing as closely on American social traditions as British ones. She is also interested in the mothers of the heiresses who often arranged glittering marriages for their daughters in the hope of being accepted by established social circles in New York or Boston. I would have been interested to read more about the marriages themselves as the focus of the book is courtship and weddings rather than later married life.

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