• Middlemarch, by George Eliot — In August, I finished reading Middlemarch. I was rereading it for the Eliot Project which “Sophie” and I are doing. We are taking a hiatus before beginning Daniel Deronda, and will pick back up some time in November. The rest of these books, I read in September.
• Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen, read by Juliet Stevenson — Jane Austen filled Mansfield Park with fascinating, complex characters. Juliet Stevenson does an excellent job of rendering them.
• The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington — A story about a spoiled brat, George Amberson Minifer. Georgie’s world is changing, however, and his privileged life will not last forever. His musings in the last chapter sounded like a passage of Ecclesiastes. The book was very interesting, but the last chapter was spoiled by one of the characters visiting a “trance-medium” which disrupted the flow, I thought, and made what should have been serious, ridiculous.
• The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus, by William Shakespeare — How much of Titus Andronicus was actually written by Shakespeare is debated. At any rate, I read it solely because it was the only one of Shakespeare’s plays I had not yet read. It is an utterly revolting story, without a single likable character, or any other redeemable quality. The only person I cared about at all was the baby. I definitely do not recommend this play, but now I can say, I have read all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays!
• Vanity Fair, A Novel Without a Hero, by William Makepeace Thackeray — Thackeray’s style combines humor, irony, and realism. Vanity Fair doesn’t have a hero, but it does have two heroines, Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley. Becky and Amelia are very different and their characters and actions invite comparison. It was interesting how Thackeray presented these two and his other characters. Pitt Crawley, for example, though dull and sanctimonious, is also the only person to be genuinely kind to his step-mother, Lady Crawley. He served no self-interest in being kind to her. He also forced his father to send his half-sisters to school, removing them from that man’s destructive lifestyle.
Having read The Magnificent Ambersons earlier in the month, it was interesting to come across another spoiled, privileged Georgy. If it were not for Captain Dobbin, I think Georgy Osborne (Amelia’s son) had a good chance of turning out very like Georgie Minifer.
• Billy Budd, Sailor, by Herman Melville, read by William Roberts — Melville did not finish Billy Budd before he died, leaving it with rather a confusing ending. It is still an intriguing novella, raising a number of interesting questions without making much of an attempt to answer them. Did Billy Budd deserve to die for manslaughter? Does following orders justify one’s actions? Do dangerous times justify harsher measures (or do the ends justify the means)?
• The Edgar Allan Poe Audio Collection, by Edgar Allan Poe, read by Basil Rathbone & Vincent Price — I did not finish listening to this set, but I listened to enough to figure out that I am not a big Poe fan. His poems are fine, but the stories are just plain morbid. For the record, I did listen to the poems “To—”, “Alone”, “The City in the Sea”, “The Haunted Palace”, and “The Raven”, and to the stories The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Black Cat. His poems (at least the ones that I have read) are melancholy rather than morbid and have a pleasing rhythm. Perhaps some of the other stories would have been better, but I didn’t think it worthwhile slogging through them all to find out.
Painting: A Young Girl Reading, or The Reader, c. 1776, by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.