Sunday, 1 June 2008

Reading Much

One thing I love about the holidays is the sheer unadulterated indulgence of reading for pleasure. I do it lots, when my studies are, for once, not clamouring for my attention instead.

The Medievalists among you may want to check out this review I wrote on one of my other blogs just now. It's my (totally unbiased) opinion on a book by a friend of mine, about East Berkshire from the fifth to twelfth centuries.

But here I wanted to write briefly about a couple of books I've read recently. I reread The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which I first read when I was 11 or 12. I thought it was underrated. I mean, it wasn't a Jane Eyre or a Wuthering Heights, but it was a good enough book in its own right. I think Anne Bronte deserves to have her achievements recognised a bit instead of always being in her sisters' shadow. I can see why Tenant was considered "coarse" and "brutal" at the time it was published, but I think Charlotte Bronte was wrong to call it an "entire mistake." It's controversial for all the right reasons: it highlighted the way in which Victorian women often were trapped and mistreated, by their husbands and by society. A bitter pill for society, no doubt, and little wonder it was shouted down, but I still feel it was a brave thing to write. That said, the book does have flaws. The ending is unsatisfactory and the character of Arthur Huntingdon has awesome potential but is sadly underdeveloped. Yet it was a good read.

I've also, since then, read The Favoured Child by Philippa Gregory, which is the middle installment of the Wideacre trilogy. I need to hunt down Wideacre and Meridon now. I chose The Favoured Child because it's set in my beloved 1790s. There are references to what was going on then, but, knowing the period as I do, I can't help feeling that more could have been made of it. One can tell that The Favoured Child was written earlier in Philippa Gregory's career. I loved it - some great invention - and, yet, I hated it at the same time. Everything was just too awful. It was one catastrophe after another and it turned into a depressing read - so much that I had to put it aside for a few days. It was painful, too painful, and it crossed the line where the empathy wasn't useful or helpful anymore. Plus it was that classic plot device of lots of secrets being kept for no real reason, secrets that only had to be told to make things a whole lot better. That makes me want to scream in frustration. I don't like secrets. I see how they propel a plot, but this was just ridiculous. That said, I enjoyed the little world of Wideacre and I want to know what happens in Meridon. Hopefully baby Sarah will have more luck than her mother and grandmother and pretty much her entire family.

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