The Dickensian Second Coming

“The chain of events, the links in our lives – what leads us where we’re going, the courses we follow to our ends, what we don’t see coming, and what we do – all this can be mysterious, or simply unseen, or even obvious.”

One does not embark on reading a John Irving novel lightly…

Is Avenue of Mysteries my favourite John Irving novel? No. Is it still worthy of a 5-star rating? Is it still better than 99% of the books I’ve read in my lifetime? Yes…because it is a John Irving novel.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am a writer and an avid reader because of John Irving. He is one of my all-time favourite authors in the world, and I am absolutely and consistently blown away by each and every novel he writes. He quite frankly is the modern day Dickens; somehow he has managed to write 14 novels, all with vastly different characters and plots but with a distinct Irving style that is sharply recognizable and unlike anything any other authors have put out. Irving is a truly unique voice in literature, and he painstakingly crafts narratives that are sweeping and vast, but with these minute details and intricacies that he reveals with enviable patience and calculated insight. Honestly, a John Irving novel is not a book you can pick up flippantly, or decide to read just for the hell of it – you have to be prepared, emotionally, physically (his books are looong and heavy, especially if you have them in hardcover!) and mentally to embark on a journey that will sometimes be tedious and daunting but will definitely be rewarding!

In his long and established career, John Irving has produced some incredible novels. My personal favourite is A Prayer for Owen Meany, a novel that I actually read twice in the span of one month when I was in grade 12. That novel changed my whole life – it gave me this drive and determination to become a writer because I felt this desire to make something as brilliant as Irving did. I know now that I will most likely never achieve that, but John Irving has always been on this pedestal for me because he is the absolute pinnacle of everything I find impressive and enthralling about literature…he is everything I have ever wanted to be as a writer myself.

John Irving cares about his characters and his stories. I read once that he actually writes all of his novels out by hand, which I have major respect for – as I said, he is thoroughly connected to the stories he creates, and he is committed to delivering tales that are massive in scope but intimate in description. Irving at once provides readers with the idea that they have been on a lifelong journey with his characters, while simultaneously making them privy to the tiniest, most private thoughts of those characters’ minds. Somehow he manages to both create stories that are HUGE and very very small. He is a true genius in that sense, and his characters are more real and fleshed out than some of the actual people I know.

I’m lucky enough to be getting the chance to see John Irving in person at the beginning of September, at one of my favourite buildings at my former university, and this is what encouraged me to pick up Avenue of Mysteries this past week. I actually bought the book when it first came out, in 2015, so needless to say, it has been sitting on my bookshelf, unread, for quite some time. That’s because, like I said before, you have to be in the proper mood to read an Irving novel. It’s the same as with Dickens – you don’t just pick up a Dickens novel off your shelf randomly because it’s such a huge commitment and you know it will take so much effort and brain power to read. John Irving novels are the same – you have to be ready to read something incredibly dense, but to also read between the lines. John Irving reveals things out of order, a tiny snippet at a time, and so you have to be ready, as a reader, to pick up the pieces and patiently wait for everything to come together.

With that in mind, I’ll say that Avenue of Mysteries is a remarkable novel…but then again, every John Irving novel is. Having said that, Avenue of Mysteries is not the John Irving novel I would rush out to recommend to others because it somehow didn’t feel that concise or cohesive. It felt a bit scattered to me, from the beginning, and I think that only readers who are familiar with Irving’s style and appreciate how disjointed his narratives can sometimes be will be able to appreciate Avenue of Mysteries. In many ways, I felt that it harkened back to Owen Meany (for example, Juan Diego’s sister Lupe distinctly reminded me of Owen Meany, from the way she spoke to her sometimes flawed premonitions about the future), but it wasn’t as polished of a novel. I understood that Irving’s focus was the inconsistency of dreams and memories, and I know he intended to make the novel feel like a real mind fuck for the reader (excuse my harsh language, but can anyone think of a synonym for “mind fuck”?), but I just can’t help but feel that if you don’t know Irving, you won’t get this novel at all. I wasn’t disappointed by that because I do believe I know Irving and I didn’t struggle with this text for that reason, but at the same time, I think Avenue of Mysteries is a bit less accessible and generally appealing than other Irving novels. It feels like a novel written by Irving for diehard fans of Irving!

Again, I will state that Avenue of Mysteries is brilliant, in its Irving-ian way. This also means that it’s pretty brilliant in a Dickensian sort of way too, and once again, I was struck by just how similar to Dickens’ style Irving’s is. At the same time, Irving is not playing an imitation game; he’s not trying to emulate Dickens’ style, he just writes in the same sort of style naturally, and seemingly effortlessly. I can pinpoint one aspect of Irving’s style that is so Dickensian in nature: his repetition of concepts associated with his characters. Juan Diego is never simply Juan Diego – he is always “Juan Diego, dump reader”. Edward Bonshaw is never just Edward Bonshaw – he is always “Edward Bonshaw, the parrot man” or “Senor Eduardo”. Irving creates these characters with unique facets and talents and personalities, and then he labels them, and constantly reminds the reader of these labels so that they become intimate friends and allies of the characters. However, Irving is calculated about when he chooses to use these epithets – he reiterates them at crucial moments, in the middle of specific paragraphs, in order to remind his reader of particular pieces of his characters’ identities at moments when they are most relevant and significant. Nothing is coincidental or random in an Irving novel, and this is something Dickens does too, particularly in his largest novels like Our Mutual Friend, and it creates the sense that, as an author, he knows his characters better than he even knows himself. Irving somehow manages to recreate this sort of feeling without seeming to steal from or cheat Dickens. I’ve never known a writer to so closely resemble one from the past the way Irving does Dickens. And then, of course, there’s the fact that his novels are very verbose (which is something that I clearly appreciate and can relate to as a writer)! There are times when reading an Irving novel that you have to stop and ask yourself, What is he trying to say? And then you can rewind, unpack, dissect and finally move on…it is a process that takes time and an inherent love for literature of the most literary kind. Reading an Irving novel is not, ever, an easy task…but then, the best things in life often aren’t the easiest, right?

I recommend that everyone read an Irving novel in their lifetime, but I also know that very few readers will. He’s certainly not for everyone, and Avenue of Mysteries is the ultimate example of that – it is a novel that you will either really love or absolutely hate because it is everything an Irving novel is on steroids…it is the most Irving-est of all the Irving novels. I for one LOVED it, but then again, I love anything and everything Irving touches.

My Favourite Quote from Avenue of Mysteries

“‘What did the Virgin Mary ever actually do? She didn’t even get herself pregnant!’” ~ Lupe

❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5) ~ If it’s by Irving, it will always get 5/5 from me!

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

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JNG’s Weekly Round-Up #2

Hello and Happy Monday!

It’s a holiday here in Toronto, so I decided to postpone my Weekly Round-Up until today to give you a full picture of what I accomplished this week. I’ll be following the same format I used last week, and this was an incredibly productive weekend where I was actually able to finish three books and write reviews of them. I was so happy with this and I really feel like my commitment to reading has picked up a lot this year! Last year, I struggled to balance working full-time, commuting, spending time with my fiancé (we were living apart) and reading in the evenings. My only reading time came during my lunch breaks and my evening bus rides. I was quite worried, when I moved in with my fiancé and started walking to work, that without an evening bus commute, I wouldn’t be reading very much at all. But, as it turns out, I’ve been spending more time than ever reading, and I’m actually zipping through books as quickly as I used to in school – this is all down to the fact that my fiancé and I have this amazing routine where we go to the gym right after work, make dinner and then spend the entire night (hours on hours) reading beside one another on our plush, gold couch with steaming teas. My fiancé is big on reading graphic novels, and he gets so excited about reading beside me and pausing to tell me bits and pieces of his stories, and this offers me so much time to delve into my own fictional worlds. I’m obsessed with this new routine of ours, and honestly, I get really grumpy and annoyed if anything at all happens to interrupt it!

Anywho, on to my more formal update for this week. Here is a reminder of the topics I will be discussing in today’s Weekly Round-Up…

  1. What I’m Currently Reading
  2. What I’ve Recently Finished Reading
  3. What I Intend to Read Next
  4. My Favourite Quote of the Week (from any form of pop culture – literature, movies, music, etc.)
  5. My Favourite/Most Listened To Song of the Week
  6. Photo of the Week
  7. My *Weekly Wish*

• Currently Reading •

At the moment, I’m about 20 pages into Graeme Simsion’s contemporary novel The Rosie Project. I’ve been taking this one slow, since I started it yesterday, because I spent a lot of time reading on Friday and Saturday, so I just want to slow down my reading a touch. Having said that, I don’t know how I feel about this novel just yet. I know I’m not very far into it at all, but I can already tell that I’m not really connecting to the narrator, Professor Don Tillman. I should say that I am not at all a fan of the show the Big Bang Theory, and I’ve heard Tillman being compared to the character Sheldon Cooper, so I am a bit wary of that. But, I’ve been meaning to read this novel for a long time, so I’m going to plug through it and give it a chance. Hopefully, it ends up surprising me!

• Recently Finished •

This past weekend, I finished three books in total, two of which I started and finished within a day. The three novels were Shooting Scars and Bold Tricks by Karina Halle and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. You can read my detailed reviews of them here and here.

• What’s Next •

That is a darn good question! I really have no idea what I’m going to read after finishing The Rosie Project, and this is NOT for lack of physical books around me. I have about 20 books sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be picked up. Some of them are standalone, contemporary novels. Others are massive fantasy series. I have no idea what my plan is, or when I’m going to get through all of these. I’m thinking, though, that after finishing The Rosie Project, I may read one more standalone novel, and then delve into the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo. I think that will allow me to put a significant dent in my contemporary literature pile, but then get back into the fantasy realm that I’m missing a little bit. One thing I do know for sure is that I want to finish off the year reading a classic, and I’ve already decided that my December read will be Bleak House by Charles Dickens. So, if all goes according to plan, by the time I get married, I will be deep into Bleak House – I think that’s fitting considering I’m having a Victorian-inspired wedding!

• Quote of the Week •

This week’s quote comes from a song, rather than a work of literature. I’ve been listening to Sia’s song Helium nonstop for the last little while, and I absolutely love it! It reminds me so much of my relationship with my fiancé, and it is the song I always rush to put on at work whenever I’m feeling the least bit anxious or depressed.

“But even Superwoman sometimes needed Superman’s soul /

Help me out of this hell /

Your love lifts me up like helium.”

• Song of the Week •

Naturally, my song choice of the week is Sia’s Helium. Having said that, my fiancé and I recently signed up for a Spotify account, so that has made sooo much music available to us! This past weekend, we’ve been obsessed with listening to the soundtrack for the musical Hamilton, and I’m literally addicted to it. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius (okay, everyone knows this already, but I felt I should restate it), and if I had to select one favourite song from Hamilton, I’d go with Helpless because it is adorable and harkens back to all these incredible love songs from the 50’s. I LOVE it! Everyone needs to listen to this soundtrack! (I’m actually currently listening to it, as I write this, and My Shot is such a catchy song too – it is just way too difficult to pick a favourite!)

• Photo of the Week •

My favourite photo of this week is another one my fiancé took of me during our bookish photoshoot a couple of weeks ago. I originally thought this photo was too ridiculous to post and that it was a bit embarrassing, but after I put it on Instagram, so many people complimented me on it that I started to see it as cute and endearing. And really, my whole inspiration for it was to look like Eliza Doolittle, balancing books on her head in the hopes of becoming a dignified lady, as paradoxical as that may seem!

• JNG’s Weekly Wish •

My wish for this week is that it will go by quickly. I have so many fun plans for next weekend already, including going to a Greek food festival downtown and celebrating my mom’s birthday, and I just can’t imagine sitting at my desk for hours and daydreaming about freedom. I’m also going out tonight with my fiancé and my dad – we’re heading downtown to see the WWE’s Monday Night RAW live. I am actually so excited about this because I LOVE wrestling and I grew up watching Monday Night RAW with my dad, so I cannot wait to be watching it live, in such a big venue (I’ve been to see WWE wrestling at a smaller venue in Oshawa, but this is Monday Night RAW we’re talking about)! Amidst all this excitement, and considering that my wedding is just over four months away, I really am over work – but I mean, aren’t we all, especially on long weekends? And all things considered, my job and work environment are pretty awesome…so maybe my weekly wish should be that I’ll feel inclined to complain less…???

Enjoy your Monday everyone! I know Mondays can be tricky days, but isn’t it nice to get a fresh start every week? Let’s all try to embrace it!

xox

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

A Different Kind of Bride

havisham

“But, as every girl growing up understood, her wedding day was the most significant she would know: a woman’s crowning glory.”

Havisham, Ronald Frame

A little while ago, I finished Ronald Frame’s novel Havisham, a prequel to Dickens’ much loved masterpiece Great Expectations and a book that I picked up on serious sale at my local Chapters.  I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I was particularly fascinated by Frame’s portrayal of the young Catherine Havisham.  It is a novel that I would absolutely recommend to fans of Great Expectations because it offers just that little extra bit of history about a character whose background is shrouded in much mystery.

In that same line of thought, I believe that the one defining and extraordinary feature of Havisham is the narrative voice that Frame creates for the young Miss Havisham.  Allowing Catherine to speak in first person was a masterful choice on Frame’s part, as it gives her an opportunity to speak distinctly, to take ownership of her personal story and the decisions she makes.  Rather than being an intriguing character in a larger work, Catherine Havisham becomes the centre of her own world, the focal point of a plot that is replete with its own mysteries and misunderstandings.  Miss Havisham is undoubtedly a character that is complex enough to warrant this sort of exploration, and I think that allowing Catherine to speak for herself adds many more layers to her already impressive personality.  Catherine Havisham is an educated, strong and defiant woman with a mind for business and a steely resolve, and although as readers we know that her story has a heartbreaking ending, we are also offered a glimpse into her powerful mind, which is a lot healthier and more robust than we probably would’ve expected.

What is also wonderful about Catherine’s voice is that it is clearly her own; it is a narrative voice unlike any I’ve encountered in a contemporary novel in a very long time.  Frame artfully mixes Victorian-style speech with references to classic poetry and imagery that are unique and vivid.  His descriptions, through Catherine, of physical surroundings, other characters and feelings and emotions are detailed (in homage to Dickens, no doubt) and quite beautifully crafted.

“Did the trees droop by nature’s will, or because I told them what my feelings were?”

“I floated through the day, never so light or carefree, hopeful to the very tips of my fingers and toes.”

Catherine’s narration is also wonderfully cadenced: her lines, both spoken and internally narrated, take on a very poetic quality, which aligns well with her haunting and spectral quality.  She is a narrator whose voice is at once bewitching and relaxing.

“But I was afraid every time he left me, not just unhappy.”

“My imagination threw a caul of gentle thoughts around him, to protect him…”

The one criticism of the novel I remember reading on Goodreads is that one reader said she could not connect fully with Catherine because she never found herself even remotely liking Catherine’s love interest, Charles Compeyson.  Well, with that I must agree.  However, unlike this reader, I think the fact that I disliked and was extremely suspicious of Charles from the start increased my sympathy with Catherine and my overall connection to her.  I have been reading novels (such as Jack Caldwell’s The Three Colonels: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men) and watching television shows (such as ITV’s new series Victoria) recently that have presented me with models of wives and domestic life.  As someone who is engaged and will be married next year, I must admit that the image of Miss Havisham, a not-quite-bride forever suspended in the moment of 9:20am on her wedding day, was not the model of bridal bliss I was eager to encounter.  Having said that, I grew to love Catherine Havisham because I felt her heartache, I was outraged on her behalf, and I understood that the loss of the sort of love that leads to marriage (even if I didn’t like the man she had chosen) would be utterly devastating.  I was wary of Charles from day one because I’ve read Great Expectations and I knew things weren’t going to end well on the romantic front for Miss Havisham, but I could still identify with Catherine’s loneliness, with her desire to find a partner, to have a bit of her burden unloaded on someone she could trust and feel close to.  I didn’t believe that Charles ever properly respected or appreciated her, but I felt how solitary her existence was, and I knew that she craved support and attention, so I didn’t fault her naivety whatsoever.  On the contrary, I felt closer to her because I wanted to protect her from the outcome that I knew was inevitable.  I couldn’t do that, and so I found Frame’s novel so much more emotional and meaningful for the predictable ending it was required to provide.  I would say that the fact that Charles was despicable only made me adore Catherine more.

“He evaded me now because, I realized, he always had.  I had been in love with someone I had half-imagined to life, half-invented myself.”

And come to adore Catherine, I did.  I didn’t expect to become so close to someone like Miss Havisham, who is portrayed as so cold and calculated in Dickens’ original text.  I was drawn to the humanity in Catherine Havisham though, and I think that is testament to Frame’s remarkable knack for writing and mastering his narrator’s voice.

“I sometimes thought that I disappointed him.  He would have liked me to be more of a ‘Miss Havisham’ than I was.  Had he been directing me in a play, he would have heightened the effects.”

I was originally going to say that my one qualm with Frame’s novel is that it extended into the storyline of Great Expectations.  Originally, I wasn’t pleased that Frame chose to explore the famous Miss Havisham of Dickens’ novel in the final hundred pages of his own.  I wished, at first, that he had finished the story after Catherine’s fall into depression, after she remade herself into the ghost-like and miserable Miss Havisham of Great Expectations, before she invited Estella to her home.  I felt that delving into the world of Great Expectations made Dickens’ spectre of a character too human, and this bothered me as I have always appreciated the mystique around Miss Havisham’s character.  Now that I’ve had a chance to think about this more, though, I do like that I now have a new perspective on Miss Havisham.  I know that there is humanity in there, that there is a woman inside the figure who walks endlessly around her breakfast table.  There is feeling there, even if Miss Havisham tries to portray herself, especially to Pip, as frozen.  She has sentiments and regrets and yearnings, and I believe that Frame is very respectful of Dickens’ invention by exploring what lies within Miss Havisham’s soul.

As I said, I am very happy that I stumbled upon this novel and gave it a read.  It added yet another layer to my appreciation of a literary classic, and further informed my understanding of a character I thought I would never have answers about.

❥ ❥ ❥ ❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

The Great Book Rescuer Returns

“After only a few minutes I felt I was giving myself to them: like some flower that’s had a dark time growing, opening at last to the sun.”

Havisham, Ronald Frame

Remember a little while ago when I told you all the story of the incident when I rescued a novel from the disorganized and overlooked shelves of my local Dollarama? Well, it seems that my days as the Great Book Rescuer are only beginning. Just a few weeks ago, I was called to rescue yet another novel from a shelf where it might otherwise have been unloved. Here’s the story…

I was walking through the Chapters at the shopping mall close to my home in Whitby with my fiancé SS. I wasn’t expecting to buy a book on that day; we were actually in pursuit of a present for my dear friend CV’s birthday, and one thing I knew I didn’t need was more books! I was sauntering through the Chapters though, with SS in tow, because I normally like parking close to the store so as to at least afford myself the opportunity to smell and be surrounded by the books.

Imagine my surprise when I almost walked right into the bargain table in the middle of the store. With books at such a good price, how could I not pause to take a look? I promised myself that I was only browsing, that maybe I would pick up a novel for CV, but that I would NOT, under any circumstances, take home another large book to sit on my ever-growing To Read pile at home.

But, the title of a particular novel caught me in its grasp: Havisham. If you’re a Dickens fan like I am, that name will immediately mean something to you. If you’re a Dickens fan who is also a bride to be, like me, then that name will take on a new meaning to you, one equally fascinating and horrifying. I had to hold the novel in my fingers, read its back cover and investigate why this modern-looking book was so loudly proclaiming the name of one of Dickens’ most famous characters.

I learned that Havisham by Ronald Frame acts as a prequel to Dickens’ much loved novel, Great Expectations. Now, I have to admit that Great Expectations is not my favourite Dickens novel. It is, undoubtedly, extremely popular and with very good reason…it’s similar to Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol in that it will always be one of the first novels that comes to mind when someone says “Dickens”. I’m more inclined to prefer meatier and more sophisticated novels in Dickens’ career, such as A Tale of Two Cities and (my personal favourite) Our Mutual Friend, but I do have a huge appreciation for Great Expectations as well; and, perhaps more importantly for our purposes today, I have always been at once terrified and intrigued by the character of Miss Havisham introduced in that beloved novel.

Miss Havisham, if you don’t know, is a constant bride. Well, actually, she was never a bride at all…she never ended up marrying the man she loved. Given the apparently heartbreaking and depressing nature of her separation from said fiancé, Miss Havisham decides to embody the role of the bride for the rest of her life, wandering around her impressive home in her wedding dress, walking in circles around the room where her wedding breakfast was to be held, constantly lamenting the loss of a life she never truly lived. This is, evidently, a fearsome image to behold, particularly in a Victorian novel that is already replete with dark imagery and subject matter. I don’t know many people who are comfortable with the idea of Miss Havisham, and as a future bride myself, the notion of this jilted woman wandering in suspended bridal reality for all eternity is quite unsettling.

So, how could I turn away from a novel that promised to investigate the life of Catherine Havisham before her devastation? I just couldn’t. And, to make my choice even easier, Frame’s novel was on sale at this specific Chapters for only $2. For less than the cost of a Starbucks latte, I could take home and properly love and idolize a novel based on one of the greatest literary masterpieces of all time. It was a no brainer. I had to rescue the book from its solitary existence; I had to bring it home and give it a more fulfilling life on a shelf beside its original source of inspiration.

I embraced my role as the Great Book Rescuer and scooped up Havisham, carrying it to my bedroom with pride and excitement. It took me another week or so to begin reading it, and I didn’t know what to expect at all. The whole experience of finding the novel was surprising enough, but imagine how thrilled I was when I became thoroughly engrossed in it, loving every chapter and eagerly flipping each page. While the story is familiar in that most of us know what’s going to happen to Miss Havisham in the end, I’ve been so totally interested in learning about her upbringing, her childhood, and the events that led her to the man that left her at the altar. It has been a truly entertaining reading experience so far (I’m very close to finishing the novel), and, from what I can tell at the moment, this is definitely a novel I would recommend to fans of Great Expectations.

Moreover, probably the part I like best about Frame’s novel is how it is written. Frame really has a way with words and he creates images and scenes so beautifully. I’ve been taken by many of the passages in the novel, and several of the lines have stuck with me. I’ll leave you now with a few of my favourites. I’ll be sure to update you all on how I like the conclusion of the novel once I get to it!

“‘Suffering and courageous women who deserve their own immortality.’”

“Everything, finally, had been play, which seemed to me not enough for life.”

“Experience can never be undone, or knowledge unlearned.”

“‘Somewhere else. Somewhere that’s just our own.’”

Havisham, Ronald Frame

my-second-engagement-ring

To make matters even better, my new read reminded me of an old and beloved friend.

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

my green heart

The Great Book Rescue — #JNGReads

Last weekend, I was called to my duty as an Avid Reader and forced to rescue a book from a shelf where I believe it would’ve been underappreciated and unloved. The story goes like this…

I was walking through the Dollar Store with my mother. She was in pursuit of masking tape or paintbrushes or something of that sort, and I was slowly following behind her. I found myself in the stationary aisle, looking at the pens and pads of paper and notebooks, and I finally came to the end of the aisle where there was a large shelf full of colouring books and picture books.

I stopped in front of this shelf and began to peruse the various volumes it contained. There were your classic children’s colouring books, but also those adult colouring books that have recently become so popular. There were children’s picture books, but as I  investigated the shelf, I noticed that there were also Young Adult books. I hadn’t heard of any of them personally, but they were proper, quite lengthy novels. Then, as my eyes flitted over the different titles and covers, I alighted on two words I recognized: Jane Austen. I moved closer to the shelf and picked up the book that contained Miss Austen’s name. The Three Colonel’s: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men by Jack Caldwell.

the-three-colonels

I picked up the book and stared at it in confusion. What was a book based on the novels of Jane Austen doing on a shelf in the Dollar Store? I turned it over, still puzzled, thinking there had to be some mistake, and sure enough the synopsis described that the novel was in fact a sort of sequel to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I thought that the book must’ve been left in the story by mistake, but I noticed that in the bottom right-hand corner there was a little sticker proclaiming that the book was…$3! I opened up the book, and it did in fact have pages in it, with lots of words. It was a real novel and it was only $3. I was still very confused by the whole turn of events.

If you’ve read my blog for some time, you’ll know that I’m not the biggest Jane Austen fan. I find her writing style to be too clipped and calculated, to lack sentimentality and emotion. But, I am a student of literature, and I of course respect and appreciate Jane Austen’s contributions to the written word. I love her stories and many of her characters, and so, as I held Caldwell’s novel in my hand, a novel that continued the life of many of these beloved characters, I knew that I had no choice. I had to buy the novel, rescue it from a shelf where it would either never be properly seen or never be rightfully appreciated. It was, after all, only $3…hardly an investment to ensure that Jane Austen’s characters would have a comfortable home.

I took the book home with me. Although I was intending to start reading a new Dickens novel, I figured that I could get through Caldwell’s story more quickly, and so I began it immediately.

I am pleased to say that I am thoroughly enjoying the story so far, and I’m about halfway through it! It’s actually quite lovely…it has its steamy moments, which really surprised me, but for the most part, it does follow Austen’s tradition and portrays many simple, romantic scenes between some surprising characters. Caldwell decides to focus on, arguably, the lesser-liked characters of Pride and Prejudice – Carole Bingley and Anne de Bourgh are his central focus. Rather than being disappointed by this, however, I am actually enjoying getting to know Caroline and Anne. I do prefer Anne because I still feel that Caroline is a bit too ruthless for me, but both women are presented in a respectable light and it is cute and endearing to get to read about their feelings and love stories. I’m enjoying this novel very much…and for $3, I couldn’t have asked for more!

I’ll leave you now with a few nice quotes from the novel. A proper review of it will come once I’m finished.

“‘You are too good, sir.’ … ‘I am a poor fool saved by your love.’”

“It was clear that for her he would do anything.”

“firmly secure in her practice of thinking only of the past as it gave her pleasure”

“‘I shall speak, and then my fate shall be in your hands.’”

The Three Colonels, Jack Caldwell

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Victoria ~ Episode 4: The Clockwork Prince

I’ve just finished the fourth episode of ITV’s series Victoria, and I cannot get the images and scenes out of my mind. This episode was by far the best of the series, and I can confidently say that the caliber of each consecutive episode is getting higher and higher. This particular episode was just…delicious…? Is that a word you can use to describe a television show? I don’t know, but I don’t care because everything about this episode, from Albert’s cross and surly manner to Victoria’s midnight blue gown, was absolutely scrumptious! 😉

Let me start by saying that Prince Albert has finally entered the picture, and his relationship with Victoria blossomed so subtly and fluidly and naturally in this episode. Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes perfectly portrayed these two young monarchs, and their chemistry was undeniable. But, it was a chemistry that was classy and mature and composed, in accordance with the Victorian time period. It is definitely one of those relationships for the books (literally!) and it was exquisitely articulated, from the first abrupt meeting of the pair to the wonderful and lovely proposal at the end. This show is immensely well written, like a well-curated Victorian novel, and the dialogues are only getting better and better as the episodes progress. The characters are also growing and developing in a very human and realistic manner – particularly Victoria, who is evolving from being a tad self-absorbed and self-obsessed into a ruler with greater compassion, intellect and knowledge of the struggles of her people. I already feel like each and every one of these characters is my dear friend…and I cannot wait to attend the royal wedding of one of my favourite (VICTORIAN!) couples VERY soon…

Here are my thoughts on the fourth episode of Victoria…

Episode 4: The Clockwork Prince

– Dash hates Prince A and I can’t blame him; I don’t love him either because I am still reeling from Queen V’s romance with Lord M. Albert also seems to really dislike Victoria (for example, he thinks her piano playing is mediocre and he cannot believe her lack of knowledge of art and the Da Vinci pieces in the palace).

– Queen V must propose to Prince A = the woman has full control over her romantic destiny (for once). How refreshing!

– Queen V already seems rattled by Prince A’s presence and wishes to know if her maids think him handsome = she feels something, while all Prince A feels is disapproval.

– Prince A challenges how juvenile and superficial Queen V is (for example, in the scene where Queen V scoffs at the stamps featuring her picture, although they are a marvelous invention according to Prince A). In classic Victorian romantic fashion, there is dislike, annoyance and disdain…there is tension, disapproval and uncertainty…Prince A brings out something hidden in Queen V and calls her to be a better version of herself already…if I know Victorian romance at all, this will lead to love!

– I also judged Prince A prematurely = he gives money to a poor girl, rather than flirting with women; he is also annoyed with Queen V’s spoiling of and fawning over Dash (“her lapdog”); he finds her selfish and childish, and I began to see her that way as well. He seems to think people indulge and spoil her too much.

– Okay, *swoon* when Prince A plays the piano… Damn, he’s winning me over! And Queen V too, I think!

* I can’t decide if Queen V is a tad bratty, or Prince A is a pretentious prig. I’m questioning everything now!

~ “‘A queen does not have time for scales every day.’

‘Only card games.’” ~

…and yet, the next day, Queen V is practicing her scales…Prince A gets under her skin!

Sidenote: Queen V has the BEST wardrobe! Her sky blue cloak dress while walking with Prince A is gorgeous! And her midnight blue gown with the diamond tiara…oh my gosh! Since I have a particular fondness for satin since purchasing a very special dress of my own, I LOVE Queen V’s style!

– Lord M sends Queen V a white flower before the dance, so now I’m just super confused and conflicted! -_- …Having said that, I’m starting to find Prince A pretty sexy! Damn it!

– This show is so easy and absorbing to watch. The scenes are the perfect length and the flow is very fluid and almost graceful. The story is shot and articulated so well!

– Queen V and Prince A can’t stop staring at each other and the waltz seals the sexual tension; they are still figuring out what the charge and chemistry between them is. Queen V even gives Prince A the flower Lord M gave her = her heart has a new preoccupation!

– I truly have no idea why Prince A cuts open his shirt to put the flower by his heart…but I love it!

– Queen V wakes up sooo in love the morning after the dance! She cannot stop smiling and dancing! She is a changed woman! YAY!

– Queen V is going to Windsor Castle to indulge Prince A’s love of forests and trees = she wants to please him.

BUT does Prince A truly love her too or is he just playing her?

– Queen V tries to favour Prince A with the Windsor uniform, but he is honest about finding “the gold braid heavy”. Ugh!

~ “What would you prefer? Flattery or truth?” ~

* Dickens! YAY! Prince A thinks he writes accurately about the poor condition (he has just written Oliver Twist). Hear, hear, Prince A!

❥ “I like to see you unbound. You are not so much a queen.” ❥

– Prince A is attracted to the woman behind the queen… Queen V looks like she feels as though she is finally being seen.

– Prince A is upset about the poor situation in England and he claims that Lord M chooses not to see it. He will push Queen V to be a better ruler.

– If Prince A accepts Queen V, “it will be with his heart” = that is what Queen V wants, but it also terrifies her.

❥ “I want him to smile at me.” ❥

– Lord M and his influence over Queen V is a wedge between her and the man she now loves and wants. Prince A: “I thought she followed you in everything.” Is Prince A jealous?

– Queen V and Prince A’s marriage will be one full of love and emotion = a true union and one of the first of its kind.

– Lord M intends to retire. Uh oh!

– Okay, the proposal scene nearly killed me! It was absolutely exquisite!!! So simple and so loving….but also sexy! There is emotion but also desire between them. This is a proposal for the books!

❥ Victoria: Albert, will you marry me?

Albert: That depends.

V: On what?

A: On if you’ll let me kiss you first. ❥

BEST EPISODE EVER!!!

❥ “‘…I have no choice.’

‘Neither do I.’” ❥

Oh, *swoon*! What a romance! I cannot wait to see my friends again next week!

Until then, I remain yours, sincerely,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Bellman & Black

Bellman & Black

I’ve just finished the Victorian-esque novel Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield and I have to say that I was extremely impressed by it.

I’ve read many reviews (most of them on Goodreads) stating that this novel was dry, boring, uneventful and a complete waste of time. I could not disagree more. I feel that the readers who wrote these reviews may not be totally experienced with the Victorian genre of novels, and may not truly understand that 19th century literature was not always exciting, enchanting or full of fantasy and extraordinary events. Yes, of course, novels like Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist with their madwomen in attics and fanciful characters like Fagin and the Artful Dodger exist, but there are also those Victorian novels that simply tell the tale of every day life in the 19th century, that choose to focus on one man who is unusual but not altogether very special and tell a tale about his life and struggles. Take for example novels by Dickens such as Our Mutual Friend and A Tale of Two Cities – these novels have become iconic because of the mastery and intellect of their creator, but if you sit down and break them down into their rudimentary components, any reader will find that they are less than extraordinary tales. What does Our Mutual Friend really do but follow John Harman/Rokesmith around London? One entire chapter is devoted to watching him as he walks around the city and contemplates his life. A Tale of Two Cities does much the same, following characters in two different locals, yes, but not doing much more than detailing their personal struggles and trials.

I believe that Setterfield’s novel does exactly the same thing with the character William Bellman, and I found it to be an incredibly accurate, scholarly and loving depiction of 19th century society. Bellman is a fascinating character, even if his story is slow and repetitive at times. Yes, he spends most of the plot completing business, either at his mill or his funeral parlour, but this is what makes his character so interesting and unique – we, as the readers, are called to analyze the actions and decisions of a man who doesn’t do very much, and decide if his success in such a cloistered routine is truly worthwhile. It is true, Bellman wastes much of his life (as his strange “partner” subtly points out to him in the novel’s conclusion) and some may argue that he therefore wastes a perfectly good story – but I would rather choose to believe that the poignancy of Bellman’s story comes from the fact that he accomplishes much technically while simultaneously accomplishing very little emotionally. He has wealth and esteem, and yet he lacks feeling and connection and humanity. He is as complex as any character created by Dickens, and Setterfield allows him to fully inhabit the Victorian era without restraint.

Setterfield is, for this reason, a masterful writer in my opinion. She writes like a Victorian novelist. I have read her first novel The Thirteenth Tale and I thought the exact same thing about her writing style then. Setterfield clearly loves Victorian literature and she isn’t afraid to try to mimic it. Luckily, her strong diction, clever juxtaposition of images and ideas and the smooth, rich pacing of her style mean that she mimics such a prolific genre with class and respect.

Some readers have also argued that Bellman & Black is incorrectly marketed as a ghost story. I wholeheartedly disagree. No, it’s not a ghost story by contemporary standards, but it is indeed a gothic novel in that it deals with dark and macabre themes. It might not be scary, necessarily, but it is eerie, it does leave the reader with a sense of being unsettled and disjointed and contemplative. Perhaps there is no real “ghost” figure, but does Bellman not become a spectre of himself through his losses and turmoil? Is Black not a haunting figure, even if he is merely internal and psychologically fuelled, who follows and torments Bellman’s every move?

I think that readers have been unfairly harsh toward this novel. I had high expectations going into it, and I was not disappointed in the least. It brought me back to reading my favourite Victorian classics. It gave me the same feeling that reading A Christmas Carol for the first time did. No, I was not afraid, but I was moved, curious and entertained. In that regard then, I think Setterfield’s second attempt at novel writing was very successful!

❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart

Time Enough – #JNGReads

So The Time Traveler’s Wife may be the greatest, most beautiful novel in existence! Yes, I’m aware that I’ve already said this about Jane Eyre a number of times, as well as about one of my other favourite novels Our … Continue reading

How to Dress Like a Victorian Literary Hero…in honour of Queen Victoria

Happy Victoria Day lovely readers!

Now, if you don’t reside in Canada like I do, I realize that you may not have any idea what Victoria Day is. It’s a federal holiday here, where most people get the Monday off work (except apparently for my boyfriend, who has to work…which I think is RIDICULOUS)…all in honour of QUEEN VICTORIA’S BIRTHDAY!!! So basically I should be saying HAPPY BIRTHDAY QUEEN V!!! 😀

A lot of people from my suburban town spend this weekend going up to their cottages, having BBQs and parties and what not. That all seems super fun to me…but what upsets me about it is that people seem to forget why we have the holiday to begin with…and most people don’t seem to know who Queen Victoria is at all (HORROR!). As a passionate Victorianist, I feel that it is my job to right this wrong, and so I am writing my second blog post in as many days for that reason. Now, I don’t know that I can say that Victorian literature wouldn’t exist without Queen Victoria, because I’m sure Charlotte Brontë and Charles Dickens would’ve still written if Victoria wasn’t their queen. But I do quite like calling myself a Victorianist, and I like what I’ve heard of Queen V’s history, so I really do quite admire her as a lady! In any case, today’s post is going to be fashion-inspired and Victorian-esque and I hope you will all love it.

In case you missed it, I wrote a post entitled How to Dress Like a Governess a little while ago, in which I dressed like my favourite literary character Miss Jane Eyre. I had such fun writing this post that I immediately came up with an idea to do a similar (but I guess, opposite) post about how to dress like a 19th century literary hero. Strangely enough perhaps, it was easy for me to find items in my wardrobe that a gentleman of the likes of Mr. Rochester would wear, so I took a couple pictures and they’ve been sitting in a folder on my computer for months now. I just couldn’t determine the best time to write the actual entry and make it live and then I thought, “Well, Victoria Day of course! It’s the most logical choice!”. So here we are!

This whole idea basically stemmed from a pair of shoes…or boots rather. I actually went to Target with the sole purpose of finding a pair of boots exactly like this because my mom bought a pair and when I saw them I instantly recognized them as almost exactly like a pair Mr. Rochester wears in the 2011 movie adaptation of Jane Eyre. I mean, on last Thursday’s season finale of the TV show Reign I saw Bash wearing the EXACT same ones, and although that’s set quite a bit earlier than the Victorian era, I know I’ve seen Michael Fassbender as Rochester wear these beauties! You know what, I’m going to find a picture right now and post it on my Instagram to prove it…so click the link and check over there in a little while and see if I’m right! (Sidenote: My Instagram is somehow always full of pictures of swoon-worthy actors in period pieces so you may enjoy it!)

Anyway, these boots are distinctly Victorian to me. Maybe it’s the two different coloured pieces of leather, maybe it’s the height of them, maybe it’s the more masculine square heel. I have no idea…but when I put them on for the first time, I totally felt like hopping on a horse and going for a ride in the countryside!

How To Dress Like Mr.Rochester

So once I had the boots, I wondered if I could make a full outfit of Victorian male items. And I think I accomplished this…

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I wore this outfit to work and I’m surprised I didn’t talk with a British accent the whole day. I’ve chosen a different pair of boots here, a lighter tan, suede pair with a bit of a heel that come up to only the ankle. Again, they felt like something heavier and sturdier, that a gentleman who’s used to travelling through the moors might wear. Then I chose a black pair of dress pants…classic and sophisticated if you ask me. And I paired it all with a long black cardigan that actually has arm patches and a white dress shirt, which seems to me to be the go-to outfit for the 19th century man. Now, the tricky part was finding something that could serve as a cravat, that all too important signature of the Victorian man’s wardrobe. I mean, you do not see Rochester or John Thornton (of Gaskell’s North and South) walking around town without a cravat tightly wrapped around his neck…it just doesn’t happen. Obviously I don’t own an actual cravat, but I do have this dark grey scarf that is long enough to tuck into the dress shirt/black cardigan combination. That’s what I did in this photo and I was so pleased with the result. I know the photo is a little grainy, but I think when you look at all the pieces together, I really do look quite a bit like I fit into a period drama.

So there you have it – a little tutorial on how to dress like your favourite Victorian leading man! I hope you all enjoyed this post…and I hope it will remind a few people to pay homage to the namesake of this lovely era on this important day honouring her.

The Forever Victorianist,

JNG

Girl with a Green Heart

my green heart