Rosie’s Avid Readers #RBRT Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell #Classicbooks #bookreview

Rosie's Avid Readers

Rosie’s Avid readers are people who like reading and have a book to tell us about, they are the voice of a friend who says ” I just read this book….”

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Avid Reader’s thoughts

‘I have always loved Victorian literature, and after reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel ‘Mary Barton’, published in 1848, this love has only been strengthened. First of all, Gaskell explores one of the most central social problems of the era:  the hardship of the working classes. The novel is set in Manchester, a poor, industrial city, and the daily struggles of these factory workers, such as ‘clemming’ or starvation, are portrayed by Gaskell in such a tragic, realistic way that as readers we can feel only deep sympathy for them. 

The protagonist of the story, Mary Barton, is a young, working-class seamstress, whose beauty and kindness, and her emotional sensitivity, makes her loveable from the very start of the novel: the narrative follows this young beauty through times of starvation and hardship, family tragedies (there are a number of terrible deaths throughout the novel), a love triangle, and eventually a shocking murder that implicates those whom Mary loves best. It is this love triangle, with Mary being caught between two lovers of opposite classes, being a factory worker and the son of a factory owner, that gives the novel a more tender, emotional, sensitive edge: amidst all of the shockingly realistic hardships of the poor, and clashes between the social classes, young love and romance can still blossom, and for me this sweetness made the novel more enjoyable. Another aspect of the novel that endeared it to me was Gaskell’s development of a number of complex, unique and loveable characters, who despite being realistically portrayed, making many appear especially cruel and ugly at times, are explored in such detail, down to exact their facial expressions and tone of voice, that they become so true and therefore so endearing. Personally, my favourite character is Margaret, a young girl who becomes Mary’s closest friend, but who also gradually loses her sight: there are a number of these tragic side stories for many characters throughout the novel, which heightens both its drama and its melancholy. Regarding Gaskell’s narrative structure, I also enjoyed how the novel begins when Mary is a baby, and the reader follows her growth through childhood until the pace slows down as she becomes a young adult: I feel that this makes the reader much more emotionally invested in Mary’s well-being and future, as we feel like part of her past. 

However, I do feel that some parts of the novel are unnecessarily lengthy; it feels as if some of the events in the novel, such as Mary’s desperate ship chase, though exciting and essential, are dragged out to last too many chapters, and although the action does move between different characters and settings, the plot feels too slow-moving in places. 

In conclusion, what I love most about ‘Mary Barton’ is how very important social issues of the time are explored, such as the impacts of industrialisation and the power of the Trade Unions in fighting for the rights of the working classes (meet John Barton), yet Gaskell explores these alongside the emotional struggles of a young girl and her love for a certain young man, giving the novel a more moving and relatable feel. And because of this, Gaskell is fast becoming one of my favourite writers of the Victorian era.’

Book Description

This is Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel, a widely acclaimed work based on the actual murder, in 1831, of a progressive mill owner. It follows Mary Barton, daughter of a man implicated in the murder, through her adolescence, when she suffers the advances of the mill owner, and later through love and marriage. Set in Manchester, between 1837-42, it paints a powerful and moving picture of working-class life in Victorian England.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

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Rosie’s Avid Readers #RBRT Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen #ClassicBooks #Bookreview

Rosie's Avid Readers

Rosie’s Avid readers are people who like reading and have a book to tell us about, they are the voice of a friend who says ” I just read this book….”

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Avid Reader’s Thoughts

‘Jane Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ is a novel of contrasts and opposites, a concept established even in the title: in the Georgian era, to have ‘sense’ was to be logical and rational, and to think with your head rather than your heart, whereas to have ‘sensibility’ was to be very emotional and passionate, without self-restraint. These two ideas are symbolised by the novel’s main characters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood; these sisters embark on a journey for love, and these two love stories are explored throughout the novel. Elinor, the character of ‘sense’, falls in love with the quiet, educated Edward Ferrars, who ends up becoming engaged to her ‘arch enemy’ Lucy Steele, but an exciting plot twist means that this marriage never takes place. Marianne, however, falls for the charming, mysterious but unreliable Willoughby, whilst she herself is adored by the older, more mature Colonel Brandon, and whilst it seems that this adoration is ignored initially, Colonel Brandon’s dedication is rewarded eventually. In the end, Elinor’s sense seems to be rewarded by Austen in her choice of husband, whilst Marianne’s reckless sensibility is almost punished with hers.

Whilst on first glance this seems to be a tale of first love and heartbreak, more themes are explored within the book, such as social class and family duty, as well as gender relations and the conflict between idealism, symbolised by Marianne, and realism, being Elinor. It is this complicated set of themes and messages explored by Austen that makes ‘Sense and Sensibility’ so unexpectedly engaging and even exciting, not something that comes to mind when you think of a Georgian novel! Another aspect of Austen’s novel that makes it so enjoyable to read is her satirical narrative style: Austen uses a technique known as free indirect discourse throughout the novel, which is when the perspective or opinion of a certain character is filtered into the third person narrative without the use of speech or the adoption of first person narration. This technique is used by Austen to mock and satirise some of the novel’s characters, such as the materialistic, self-centred Fanny Dashwood and the equally egotistic Robert Ferrars, unlikely brother of the kind, thoughtful Edward: this is yet another contrasting relationship set up in the novel. The satirical tone injected by Austen in parts of the novel gives the book a more light-hearted and humorous edge, to run alongside the more serious, mysterious and emotional narrative. One criticism I have of the novel, however, is that it can feel very slow at times: in some chapters there is drama, dialogue and passion, whilst in many others there are simply descriptions of characters and settings, where very little action unfolds, and whilst the betrayal and mystery of certain characters (I’m looking at you, Willoughby!) keeps the novel engaging and exciting, there are certainly lulls in the plot which I had to force myself to keep reading through.

Romanticism is another concept explored, and criticised, by Austen, as the excessive emotion and adoration of nature encouraged by this cultural movement is symbolised by Marianne Dashwood, who ends up falling severely ill as a result of conforming to it; Marianne’s illness is one of the many plot twists used by Austen in the novel to keep the reader engaged. Overall, this novel isn’t one of my favourites for no reason: Austen’s witty and satirical narrative style as she follows the heart-breaking, heart-warming love stories of the almost juxtaposing, but equally loveable (in my opinion at least) Dashwood sisters, whilst she also explores themes such as family conflict, materialism and a social obsession with wealth and reputation, is what makes it such a literary classic.’

Book Description

‘The more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!’

Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

We welcome recommendations especially from non-authors for this feature, and would love to hear from anyone who would like to leave a comment and follow the blog.

 

Rosie’s Avid Readers #RBRT 1984 by George Orwell #Bookreview #Classicbooks

Rosie's Avid Readers

Rosie’s Avid readers are people who like reading and have a book to tell us about, they are the voice of a friend who says ” I just read this book….”

1984 (Signet Classics)

 

 

Avid Reader’s Thoughts

‘1984’ by George Orwell is undoubtedly a literary ‘classic’, and it is for this reason that I was compelled to read the book in the first place: I felt like I had to. From the first chapter the reader is drawn in to a world that is at once recognisable but at the same time so far from our reality, and it is this disturbingly familiar unfamiliarity that puts you on edge from the very first page.

The book is set in a political world that Orwell imagined ours to become when he wrote it in 1948 (a clever reversal of the dates established the title), and there are therefore many sinister semblances with our life as a modern reader, the presence of racism and class discrimination being examples. Orwell has a very blunt way of describing both settings and characters, going into deep but realistic detail especially with the physical descriptions of the main characters, Winston, Julia and later on, O’Brien. These realistic descriptions therefore create an equally realistic picture of these characters in our minds, and the way even repulsive qualities, such as Winston’s varicose veins, are highlighted by Orwell contribute to this harshly realistic image.

The plot of ‘1984’ involves corruption, deception, political strife and also romance, although the love between the protagonist, Winston, and Julia is presented as something politically necessary and useful, as a way of rebelling against the ‘Party’, rather than as something tender and conventionally romantic. Nonetheless, having a romantic plot thread did make the novel more emotionally relatable, especially to me as a younger reader.

Throughout the novel we are left in the dark in places, and there is a lot of mystery and questions that are left both answered and unanswered; due to this mystery I found the book quite hard to immerse myself in at first, because I was so confused, but after the first few chapters a lot of my major questions were answered and I could follow the story much more closely. However, on hindsight the mystery and wondering, such as not knowing who ‘Big Brother’ was, is what kept me reading, to try and find the answers. The ‘simple’ plot of the novel, if it has one, goes as follows: controlling the world in which the main character, Winston, lives, is the Party, which in turn in led by Big Brother, a symbol of total social repression, control and dominance.

This totalitarian state uses its citizens to rewrite history following the wars, in order to present their enemies, such as Eurasia, as cruel, destructive and inferior, whilst presenting themselves as strong and victorious; this is known as indoctrination. In the end it is these lies and the total loss of political, social and moral freedom (citizens are monitored by cameras, called ‘telescreens’, even when they are sleeping) that Winston wishes to rebel against. However, whilst at first this secret, underground rebellion seems to be both liberating and unnoticed, Winston soon learns that you can trust no one, not even yourself, and that the desires of the Party are much more sinister than he could ever have imagined.

Towards the end of the novel, the tone becomes much darker and more dangerous, with so much action and suspense that I just kept turning the pages; the sinister political and historical relevance of the novel becomes almost unnerving, but makes it much more relatable. Therefore, if you are looking for a novel that is complex, dark, exciting and disturbingly clever, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that you read ‘1984’; it is a literary classic for all of the right reasons. 

Book description

Written in 1948, 1984 was George Orwell’s chilling prophecy about the future.

While 1984 has come and gone, Orwell’s narrative is more timely than ever. 1984 presents a “negative utopia”, that is at once a startling and haunting vision of the world — so powerful that it’s completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the power of this novel, its hold on the imaginations of entire generations of readers, or the resiliency of its admonitions — a legacy that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

Find a copy here from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

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