Published on February 11, 2008
Reading Selections: Reading Selections January 2007 Tess of D’Ubervilles – Thomas Hardy: Tess of D’Ubervilles – Thomas Hardy The tragic story of a woman wronged by two men and by the harsh, repressive society in which she lives. Hardy's most striking and tragic heroine, Tess is a woman of intense vitality and innate goodness, and the author's favorite character. The chance discovery by a young peasant woman that she is a descendant of the noble family of d'Urbervilles is to change the course of her life. Tess Durbeyfield leaves home on the first of her fateful journeys, and meets the ruthless Alec d'Urberville. Thomas Hardy's impassioned story tells of hope and disappointment, rejection and enduring love. The Mayor of CasterbridgeThomas Hardy: The Mayor of Casterbridge Thomas Hardy Thomas Hardy’s first masterpiece, The Mayor of Casterbridge opens with a scene of such heartlessness and cruelty that it still shocks readers today. A poor workman named Michael Henchard, in a fit of drunken rage, sells his wife and baby daughter to a stranger at a country fair. Stricken with remorse, Henchard forswears alcohol and works hard to become a prosperous businessman and the respected mayor of Casterbridge. But he cannot erase his past. His wife ultimately returns to offer Henchard the choice of redemption or a further descent into his own self-destructive nature. A dark, complex story, The Mayor of Casterbridge brims with invention, vitality, and even wit. Jude the ObscureThomas Hardy: Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy Jude the Obscure created storms of scandal and protest for the author upon its publication. Hardy, disgusted and disappointed, devoted the remainder of his life to poetry and never wrote another novel. Today, the material is far less shocking. Jude Fawley, a poor stone carver with aspirations toward an academic career, is thwarted at every turn and is finally forced to give up his dreams of a university education. He is tricked into an unwise marriage, and when his wife deserts him, he begins a relationship with a free-spirited cousin. With this begins the descent into bleak tragedy as the couple alternately defy and succumb to the pressures of a deeply disapproving society. Hardy's characters have a fascinating ambiguity: they are victimized by a stern moral code, but they are also selfish and weak-willed creatures who bring on much of their own difficulties through their own vacillations and submissions to impulse. The abridgment speeds Jude's fall to considerable dramatic effect, but it also deletes the author's agonizing logic. Instead of the meticulous weaving of Jude's destiny, we get a somewhat incoherent summary that preserves the major plot points but fails to draw us into the tragedy. Michael Pennington reads resonantly and skillfully, his voice perfectly matching the grim music of Hardy's prose, but this recording can only be recommended for larger public libraries. Frankenstein: Frankenstein At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of science student Victor Frankenstein, who is obsessed with "bestowing animation upon lifeless matter." Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts; but upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature's hideousness. Tormented by loneliness, the creature unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator. Frankenstein, an instant best-seller and an important ancestor of both the horror and science-fiction genres, not only tells a terrifying story, but also raises profound questions about the nature of life and the place of humankind within the cosmos. In our age, filled with news of organ donation, genetic engineering, and bio-terrorism, these questions are more relevant than ever. Jane EyreCharlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte Immediately recognized as a masterpiece when it was first published in 1847, Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre is an extraordinary coming-of-age story featuring one of the most independent and strong-willed female protagonists in all of literature. Poor and plain, Jane Eyre begins life as a lonely orphan in the household of her hateful aunt. Despite the oppression she endures at home, and the later torture of boarding school, Jane manages to emerge with her spirit and integrity unbroken. She becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she finds herself falling in love with her employer--the dark, impassioned Mr. Rochester. But an explosive secret tears apart their relationship, forcing Jane to face poverty and isolation once again. One of the world's most beloved novels, Jane Eyre is a startlingly modern blend of passion, romance, mystery, and suspense. Wuthering HeightsEmily Bronte: Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte Considered lurid and shocking by mid-19th-century standards, Wuthering Heights was initially thought to be such a publishing risk that its author, Emily Bronte, was asked to pay some of the publication costs. A somber tale of consuming passions and vengeance played out against the lonely moors of northern England, the book proved to be one of the most enduring classics of English literature. The turbulent and tempestuous love story of Cathy and Heathcliff spans two generations -- from the time Heathcliff, a strange, course young boy, is brought to live on the Earnshaw's windswept estate, through Cathy's marriage to Edgar Linton and Heathcliff's plans for revenge, to Cathy's death years later and the eventual union of the surviving Earnshaw and Linton heirs. A masterpiece of imaginative fiction, Wuthering Heights remains as poignant and compelling today as it was when first published in 1847. A Tale of Two CitiesCharles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” With these famous words, Charles Dickens plunges the reader into one of history’s most explosive eras—the French Revolution. From the storming of the Bastille to the relentless drop of the guillotine, Dickens vividly captures the terror and upheaval of that tumultuous period. At the center is the novel’s hero, Sydney Carton, a lazy, alcoholic attorney who, inspired by a woman, makes the supreme sacrifice on the bloodstained streets of Paris. One of Dickens’s most exciting novels, A Tale of Two Cities is a stirring classic of love, revenge, and resurrection. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens: Great Expectations – Charles Dickens Great Expectations, described by G. K. Chesterton as a “study in human weakness and the slow human surrender,” may be called Charles Dickens’s finest moment in a remarkably illustrious literary career. In an overgrown churchyard, a grizzled convict springs upon an orphan named Pip. The convict terrifies the young boy and threatens to kill him unless Pip helps further his escape. Later, Pip finds himself in the ruined garden where he meets the bitter and crazy Miss Havisham and her foster child Estella, with whom he immediately falls in love. After a secret benefactor gives him a fortune, Pip moves to London, where he cultivates great expectations for a life which would allow him to discard his impoverished beginnings and socialize with the idle upper class. As Pip struggles to become a gentleman and is tormented endlessly by the beautiful Estella, he slowly learns the truth about himself and his illusions. Written in the last decade of his life, Great Expectations reveals Dickens’s dark attitudes toward Victorian society, its inherent class structure, and its materialism. Yet this novel persists as one of Dickens’s most popular. Richly comic and immensely readable, Great Expectations overspills with vividly drawn characters, moral maelstroms, and the sorrow and pity of love. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen In a remote Hertfordshire village, far off the good coach roads of George III's England, a country squire of no great means must marry off his five vivacious daughters. At the heart of this all-consuming enterprise are his headstrong second daughter Elizabeth Bennet and her aristocratic suitor Fitzwilliam Darcy—two lovers whose pride must be humbled and prejudice dissolved before the novel can come to its splendid conclusion. A tour de force of wit and sparkling dialogue, Pride and Prejudice is also a sumptuously detailed picture of contemporary society, which, in its exploration of manner and motives, has a great deal to say about the society of today. Austen's best-loved novel is a memorable story about the power of reason, and above all about the strange dynamics of human relationships and emotions. Emma by Jane Austin: Emma by Jane Austin Emma Woodhouse is a wealthy, exquisite, and thoroughly self-deluded young woman who has "lived in the world with very little to distress or vex her." Jane Austen exercises her taste for cutting social observation and her talent for investing seemingly trivial events with profound moral significance as Emma traverses a gentle satire of provincial balls and drawing rooms, along the way encountering the sweet Harriet Smith, the chatty and tedious Miss Bates, and her absurd father Mr. Woodhouse?a memorable gallery of Austen?s finest personages. Thinking herself impervious to romance of any kind, Emma tries to arrange a wealthy marriage for poor Harriet, but refuses to recognize her own feelings for the gallant Mr. Knightley. What ensues is a delightful series of scheming escapades in which every social machination and bit of "tittle-tattle" is steeped in Austen?s delicious irony. Ultimately, Emma discovers that "Perfect happiness, even in memory, is not common." Virginia Woolf called Jane Austen "the most perfect artist among women," and Emma Woodhouse is arguably her most perfect creation. Though Austen found her heroine to be a person whom "no one but myself will much like," Emma is her most cleverly woven, riotously comedic, and pleasing novel of manners.