I am quite excited for the reading list I have set up for August so I thought I would share this with you, something I have never done on my blog before. Usually I have a general idea of what I would like to get through in a month’s reading but I never really plan it out too much, so I am hoping by setting out a list here it will help me remain accountable to my aims. In September I am likely to revert back to focusing primarily on Victorian novels to prepare for my Masters starting in October, so I am hoping to use August as an opportunity to branch out more and enjoy novels from other periods and by some writers I am slightly less familiar with.
Rape of the Fair Country – Alexander Cordell (1959) // (Reread).
I first read this novel when I was seventeen, but I would like to read it again to recap on what happened. Rape of the Fair Country describes the exploitation of the Welsh by the English in the nineteenth century. Ironically, it was written by an Englishman, but you wouldn’t think so because the storytelling is done in such an insightful way. Being from a coal mining town in the South Wales valleys, this is a novel that is quite important to me, and also because we are hardly taught any Welsh history in school unless we opt to study history at GCSE or A-level. Of course, the Victorian era is my favourite, so it is interesting to read this period piece about what life was like outside of England. This novel is the first of a trilogy, so one day I would like to go on to read the other two novels when I have the chance!
Blurb: ‘Set in the turbulent times of the Industrial Revolution in 19th century Wales, this famous novel begins the story of the Mortymer family and the ironmaking communities of Blaenavon and Nantyglo. It is the book which launched Alexander Cordell in 1959 as a bestselling author and was translated into numerous languages to sell millions of copies throughout the world’ (Blorence Books).
Shirley – Charlotte Brontë (1849).
I have read half of Shirley already – I actually started reading it last winter thinking that I might use it for my dissertation as I brainstormed ideas. However, as I finalised my dissertation ideas and realised that Shirley was no longer on the cards I neglected it to make time for the reading for my course and to brush over Jane Eyre and to start Agnes Grey – the novels that I ended up writing about. Charlotte Brontë is one of my favourite writers, and I don’t like to leave a book unfinished, so now I have collected my things from Exeter I will be making this book a priority! I remember finding the prose of this novel more complex than either Jane Eyre or Villette, and it is quite political, but I was enjoying it.
Blurb: ‘Struggling manufacturer Robert Moore has introduced labour-saving machinery to his Yorkshire mill, arousing a ferment of unemployment and discontent among his workers. Robert considers marriage to the wealthy and independent Shirley Keeldar to solve his financial woes, yet his heart lies with his cousin Caroline, who, bored and desperate, lives as a dependent in her uncle’s home with no prospect of a career. Shirley, meanwhile, is in love with Robert’s brother, an impoverished tutor – a match opposed by her family. As industrial unrest builds to a potentially fatal pitch, can the four be reconciled? Set during the Napoleonic War at a time of national economic struggles, Shirley is an unsentimental depiction of conflict between classes, sexes and generations’. (Penguin Classics).
Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen (1817).
Again, this is a novel I have started but am yet to complete . . . I started reading Northanger Abbey in March, came home for the weekend, and then lockdown was called, so the novel was left, unfinished, in Exeter. I read half of Northanger Abbey and what I read I liked. I found it really funny and ridiculous. I will always have a soft spot for Austen because of Pride and Prejudice – none of her other novels that I have read have managed to rival it yet, but I have definitely enjoyed the others I’ve read. My copy of Northanger Abbey is a really tattered version that I picked up second-hand from St Fagans – (a natural Welsh history museum) – last spring!
Blurb: ‘Catherine Morland, an unremarkable tomboy as a child, is thrown amongst all the “difficulties and dangers” of Bath at the ripe age of seventeen. Armed with an unworldly charm and a vivid imagination, she must overcome the caprices of elegant society, encountering along the way such characters as the vacuous Mrs Allen, coquettish Isabella and the brash bully John Thorpe. Catherine’s invitation to Northanger Abbey, in her eyes a haven of coffins, skeletons and other Gothic devices, does lead to an adventure, though one she didn’t expect, and her misjudgment of the ambitious, somewhat villainous General Tilney is not wholly unjustified. However, with the aid of the “unromantic” hero Henry Tilney, Catherine gradually progresses towards maturity and self-knowledge’ (Penguin Classics).
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys (1966).
This novel has been one I have intended to read for a long while. It was gifted to me at Christmas by one of my best friends who is a great enthusiast of Modernist literature. I was thrilled to finally have it on my bookshelf, but wanted to be able to give it proper focus rather than reading it alongside the novels for my course because I knew I would end up getting side-tracked like I did with Shirley . . . The reason I am interested in Wide Sargasso Sea is because of its links to Jane Eyre: Rhys takes on the story of the poorly treated Bertha Mason, Rochester’s first wife who was neglected in an attic. Rhys depicts what Bertha’s life would have been like before her arrival in England. The other novel I have read by Jean Rhys is Voyage in the Dark, which I quite enjoyed but found quite depressing – I am expecting to enjoy this one more.
Blurb: ‘Born into an oppressive colonialist society, Creole heiress Antionette Cosway meets a young Englishman who is drawn to her innocent sensuality and beauty. After their marriage, disturbing rumours begin to circulate, poisoning her husband against her. Caught between his demands and her own precarious sense of belonging, Antionette is driven towards madness’ (Penguin Classics).
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman – Mary Wollstonecraft (1792).
I am really interested in the history of women’s rights and so I like to dip into theory-type texts every so often – I have a small collection waiting to be read. I thought I would break up this month’s reading slightly by including something that is non-fiction and also something from the eighteenth century. This book was initially written as a response to Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. It is clear to see that Wollstonecraft was really forward thinking for her time and this is a book I have been wanting to read for a long time. What I like about the edition I have is that it contains a lot of helpful essays after the main text. I have quoted from the preface because my edition doesn’t have a proper blurb!
Preface: ‘In the wonderfully exuberant letter that she wrote to her sister Everina in November 1787, shortly after arriving in London to make her fortune, Mary Wollstonecraft declared herself “the first of a new genus”: a female intellectual living by her pen. […]
The Rights of Woman used to be assessed mainly as a work on education, and the lineage of second-wave feminism was thus traced to its call for women’s educational equality. Nowadays we are better equipped to trace Wollstonecraft’s dialogues with and challenges to a whole crowd of Enlightenment thinkers: not just contemporary advocates for educational reform but also political theorists meditating on authority and tyranny in the body politic, sentimental novelists and moral philosophers pitting the virtues of love against the dangers of the passions, theologians coming to grips with the democracy of God’s grace, the practitioners of conjectural history […] who correlated the status of women with the advance of civilisation’ (Norton Critical Edition).
Orlando – Virginia Woolf (1928).
The same friend who gifted Wide Sargasso Sea to me is kindly letting me borrow her copy of Orlando. I was trying to decipher which of Woolf’s novels I should read next and opted for Orlando because I have heard good things about its interesting portrayal of gender and it seems completely unlike anything I have ever read before. I have loved everything I have read by Woolf so far – her novels are always so clever and her character development is fantastic. Eventually I would like to have read all of Woolf’s novels, but I must remain patient and juggle Woolf with all the other authors I love.
Blurb: ‘Virginia Woolf’s Orlando […] playfully constructs the figure of Orlando as the fictional embodiment of Woolf’s close friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West. Spanning three centuries of boisterous , fantastic adventure, the novel opens as Orlando, a young nobleman in Elizabeth’s England, awaits a visit from the Queen and traces his experience with first love as England, under James I, lies locked in the embrace of the Great Frost.
‘At the midpoint of the novel, Orlando, now an ambassador in Constantinople, awakes to find that he is a woman, and the novel indulges in farce and irony to consider the roles of women in the 18th and 19th centuries. As the novel ends in 1928, a year consonant with full suffrage for women, Orlando, now a wife and mother, stands poised at the brink of a future that holds new hope and promise for women’ (Wordsworth Classics).
I would like to be able to complete all of the novels on this list by the end of August. I have tried to be quite ambitious while also remaining realistic, because I don’t like the thought of not having completed all the ones on my list. There are other novels I would have liked to include but I tried to give the list some variety and the ones that I don’t think I will get around to will feature in my To-Be-Read list for September! I was entertaining the idea of doing a reread of Wuthering Heights but other novels have had to take priority so I can read as much as I can before I go back to university! I hope this list gave ideas to you – I know that I love finding inspiration from others’ To-Be-Read lists to add novels to my own ever – growing list!