• Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo, read by Frederick Davidson — I really should retitle these posts “Books I Finished Reading in …” I certainly did not read all of Les Misérables in May. In fact, I drew it out quite a bit, listening to a few hours at a time, mostly while doing a weekly housecleaning job. It really is a fascinating book, but it reminds me of what Jane Austen wrote of her novel Pride and Prejudice:
“The work is rather too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade, it wants to be stretched out here and there with a long chapter of sense, if it could be had … or anything that would form a contrast, and bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness and epigrammatism of the general style.”1
Obviously, Les Misérables is not light or playful, but I think Victor Hugo was afraid it might get too interesting, and so stretched it out here and there with a long chapter about the battle of Waterloo, the history of convents, argot, Parisian sewers, &c. &c. In case you were wondering, “Paris’s great prodigality, its wonderful festival, its Beaujon folly, its orgy, its stream of gold from full hands, its pomp, its luxury, its magnificence, is its sewer system.” (Volume V, Book II, Chapter I).
• The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame — I read this book aloud to several children and they all enjoyed it. It is funny and whimsical. The antics of Mr. Toad, of course, were especially enjoyed. I don’t think any of us quite believe in his reformation. I do have a criticism. The seventh chapter was all about a piping faun. It disrupted the flow of the book and was weird and boring.
• Romola, by George Eliot — “[I]f you mean to act nobly and seek to know the best things God has put within reach of men, you must learn to fix your mind on that end, and not on what will happen to you because of it. And remember, if you were to choose something lower, and make it the rule of your own life to seek your own pleasure and escape from what is disagreeable, calamity might come just the same” (Epilogue). Romola is a historical novel which I read as part of the Eliot Project. You can read some of my thoughts about it here: Book 1, Book 2, Book 3.
• Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons — A parody of “the novel of rustic pessimism”.2 It goes into too much detail about the sex-obsessed Mr. Mybug, but is overall very funny. You have to admire a book with such literary gems as “His huge body, rude as a wind-tortured thorn, was printed darkly against the thin mild flame of the declining winter sun that throbbed like a sallow lemon on the westering lip of Mockuncle Hill, and sent its pale, sharp rays into the kitchen through the open door.” (Chapter 8). I know that is Literature, not sheer flapdoodle, because the author helpfully marked all the finer passages.
1 From a letter to her sister Cassandra, 1813.
2 Wording from The Reader’s Encyclopedia, by William Rose Benét (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1969), p. 211.
Painting is “Girl Reading” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919).