Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for October 15th, 2007

Great Expectations

Posted by nliakos on October 15, 2007

by Charles Dickens (narrated by  ?)

I think I have read this before, or listened to it before, but  I didn’t remember much of it.  I know I’ve watched parts of a dramatization or movie, but I think not all.  I do remember Miss Havisham’s ghostly appearance and her horrible surroundings.

Dickens weaves a great story.  “Pip” is a small boy when he helps an escaped convict in the marshes near his home; this good deed (involuntary though it was) will have repercussions on his later life that will change its course completely.  Instead of becoming a blacksmith like his kind, slow brother-in-law Joe, Pip is given the chance to become a gentleman with property and “expectations”.  (I had always believed that the strict class divisions of English society made it impossible for mere money to raise up a person from the low classes into the upper classes; but of course Pip is educated by Matthew Pocket and taught social graces by Matthew’s son Herbert, who becomes his dear friend and rescuer.  Pip erroneously believes his benefactress to be the eccentric Miss Havisham.  He falls hopelessly in love with her beautiful adopted daughter, Estella, raised to be heartless and to make men suffer as Miss Havisham’s intended caused her to suffer by jilting her on their wedding day.

Early in the novel, I wanted to shake some sense into this young man who would choose the haughty Estella over the gentle Biddy, who would be a much more appropriate mate for him, and who is ashamed of Joe, his sister’s husband, who is a saint if there ever was one.  He is repelled by Magwitch when his true benefactor reveals himself to him; he is unable to appreciate the man’s sacrifices for him.

Later on, however, Pip matures into a more likable character than he is at the beginning.  He fully gives himself over to the saving of Magwitch, and he reconciles himself, insofar as possible, to the loss of Estella.  I really enjoyed the story and the narration of it.

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The Birth of Venus

Posted by nliakos on October 15, 2007

by Sarah Dunant

Alessandra is a tall, awkward girl with a passion for painting, living in Florence during the time of Savonarola, the friar who inflamed the city with his abhorrence of intellect, art, beauty and finery. She is the narrator of her own story: her desire to witness the events of her time; her unfortunate marriage at the age of 15 to an older man who turns out to be in search of a cover for his homosexuality in a time when to deviate in any way from Savonarola’s fundamentalist views was very dangerous; her affair with the Dutch or Flemish artist brought to Florence by her father to cover their family chapel with frescoes. I enjoy historical novels, for they make the past come alive in a way that history texts, with their reliance on names, places, dates, and battles, cannot. I can imagine Cristoforo’s terror of being denounced and tortured; the artist’s fall into insanity; Alessandra’s courage in the face of the rising hysteria of Savonarola’s movement. She describes the “bonfire of the vanities” and other actual historical events in a way that makes them real and memorable. The reader can well imagine what it might have felt like to live during that turbulent time. Alessandra herself is torn between her disgust for Savonarola’s methods and her contempt for the corruption of the Catholic Church. Dunant does not force her character into a modern atheistic mindset, but lets her express her belief in God and the Church, as well as her confusion as to who is actually right in the battle between the friar and the Pope.

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