Group Reads

Middlemarch: Chapters 1-14


And the #EliotAlong is ON LIKE DONKEY KONG! Considering how anxious Middlemarch had been making me (especially when I saw it was 800+ pages), I’ve been enjoying the first 14 chapters. I splurged a little and grabbed a beautiful clothbound edition of the text, hoping that if I had something a little prettier and special in my hands, I would continue to return to it week after week. We will see how that goes. Originally I was planning on reading two chapters a night, but now that I’ve seen how short the chapters are (some are a few pages) I’ve decided to try and read the week’s allotted reading in one sitting. I usually only read a book at a time, so if I try and read two chapters a day, I imagine I will only read Middlemarch all month. I’m planning on getting some other books read during July too.

I have a feeling that the language would have bothered me, being older than most of the modern classics and genre fiction that I read. However, the last book I was reading was Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne, and so Middlemarch is like a breath of fresh air. So, the language hasn’t been giving me any trouble. Some of the references to literature, people and events of the time fly over my head (even with the short notes section), and so I found myself doing some googling while reading.

The characters of Middlemarch are interesting and intriguing, and the way that George Eliot introduces characters is subtle and interesting. The first book is Miss Brooke, and through her and Celia, her sister, we are introduced to characters that they know and then the characters they know, and it spider webs out from there. I was worried that I wouldn’t like Dorothea, but I came to enjoy Dodo and her over-earnestness. I really liked Mr. Brooke, and one of his lines of dialogue really caught me: ‘The fact is, I never loved anyone well enough to put myself into a noose for them.‘ p. 41.

There are touches of humour through Middlemarch too, for example when Sir James talks to Mrs Cadwallander about the proposal between Casaubon and Dodo, and Sir James says, ‘He has one foot in the grave.’ And Cadwallander responds with, ‘He means to draw it out again, I suppose.‘ p. 58. These touches of humour, of characters bitching about one another to each other.

I’m looking forward to finding out more about the characters and town of Middlemarch, I’m invested in reading on and getting to know who else is involved. I’m considering forming a character sheet though, because I’m worried that the amount of characters is getting out of hand.

Some other favourite quotes from Middlemarch so far include:

‘You don’t understand women. They don’t admire you half as much as you admire yourselves.’ p. 69

Now I wish her joy of her hair shirt.’ – p. 61

Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts – not to hurt others.‘ p.62

How is everyone else going with your readalong? Anyone really struggling or disliking it? Do you guys think we are going to have some kick ass female characters in Middlemarch, or is Eliot going to provide us with some wallflowers?

Middlemarch: Expectations & a little research

In July and August I am participating in a readalong of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, affectionately known as the #eliotalong on twitter. It’s being hosted by the wonderful Bex over at An Armchair By The Sea – go check out her blog and if you’re feeling it – maybe even sign up for the readalong. There’s still plenty of time!

I’ve purchased myself a shiny new copy of the book and was a little astounded by its length. I knew it was a chunker, but boy did I underestimate. My goal while reading Middlemarch is to read one other novel each week. I’m still aiming to complete my #20booksofsummer challenge, and I need to keep up the pace even while reading such a large book.

In my excitement, I decided to share my impressions and preconceived notions about Middlemarch. I then did some very gentle research (like, it was Wikipedia, let’s face it) into George Eliot and Middlemarch.

What I thought about Middlemarch & George Eliot until recently.

  • Until a year ago, I thought it was written by a man.
  • Possibly a romance.
  • It is set in England, and most likely in the Victorian period.
  • Long and painful.
  • Mike, the customer at work who I always talk books and classics with, hasn’t read it. Which is surprising. Also might mean it’s terrible.

What my googling turned up-

Mary Ann Evans. (George Eliot) 22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880. She wrote six other novels: Adam Bede; The Mill on the Floss; Silas Marner; Romola; Felix Holt, The Radical; Daniel Deroda.

She is known for her realism and psychological insight. She published under a male name to be taken seriously and not have her work dismissed as merely ‘romance’. Her father invested in her education because she was very ugly and he didn’t think she would ever find herself a decent husband. Which is horrible, but also made me laugh.

She was also a poet and journalist, and wrote  Stradivarius, which I read a couple of years ago at school and completely forgot. The fact that I remembered the actual poem means it was one of the ones I liked most. Her works draw heavily on Greek literature, which I have little to no experience or background in, so many of these references may fly over me while we’re reading.

Middlemarch was published in eight volumes in 1871-1872. It is set in a fictitious Midlands town in England on the eve of the Reform Bill of 1832. There are some themes that are prevalent in Middlemarch, including political crisis, the status of women, nature of marriage, self interest, religion, hypocrisy, political reform and education.

Originally the reviews of Middlemarch were mixed but it is now considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written in English.

The schedule for the readalong is as follows:

June 27th – July 3rd – Chapter 1 – end of 14 (or all of Miss Brooke and the first two chapters of Old and Young)

July 4th – 10th – Chapter 15 – end of 28 (or the rest of Old and Young and six chapters of Waiting for Death)

July 11th – 17th – Chapter 29 -end of 42 (the rest of Waiting for Death and all of Three Love Problems)

July 18th – 24th – Chapter 43 – end of 56 (all of The Dead Hand and the first three chapters of The Widow and the Wife) 

July 25th – 31st – Chapter 57 – end of 70 (the rest of The Widow and the Wife and eight chapters of Two Temptations) 

August 1st – 7th – Chapter 71 – End


Agnes Grey Read-along – Background & initial thoughts

Agnes Grey Readalong

February is here! Which means it’s time for Agnes Grey to enter my life and take over. I have to admit that I’ve been looking forward to this for the past couple of months, and I’m so happy to be able to immerse myself in such a well loved classic. I’ve just done some very basic research into the author and the book itself, and I am now so excited to crack this spine!

If you are interested in joining us, don’t be shy – participate! It’s never too late. We haven’t even started this book yet. If you want to check out a schedule, you can find it on the signups post – but many of the people reading are on twitter, so check us out at #AggieGrey. Our next discussion post will be around on the 8th of February, which will cover chapters 1 – 6.

Agnes Grey is the first book that was published by Anne Bronte, who went by the pen name Acton Bell at the time. Agnes has been described as a bildungsroman and an autobiographical novel, both of which are genres much loved then and now. It has earned so many accolades over the years, and has a firm place in the literature canon, if often overshadowed by the works of the other Bronte sisters.

I was surprised to discover that the Bronte sisters published three novels, one apiece, in 1847: Jane Eyre (Charlotte), Wuthering Heights (Emily) and Agnes Grey (Anne Bronte). Of these I loved Jane Eyre, finding the story to be engaging and enthralling. Wuthering Heights was on a required reading list during my first year at university, and I hated it with a passion which until that moment has been reserved for the works of Austen. Since then I have matured and changed as a reader, enjoying Austen’s Persuasion and not writing off Victorians with such wholesale abandon.

Needless to say, I am trying to approach the reading of Agnes with an open mind, but without hindering my excitement. The edition I am reading is a much maligned cheapo Wordsworth Classics edition – which I usually enjoy because I can throw them in my handbag without worrying about trashing my copy – but I’ve also got an older hardback and a ebook edition.

In regards to plot, I am expecting something similar to Jane Eyre in style and content, and I have high hopes that I will enjoy the spin that Anne puts on a novel about governesses. As a teacher, I always find stories about the education of others to be interesting, and as I grew up in a country area, some of my friends had governesses in today’s day and age. For them, I know it was not as glamorous as it sounded to me when I was reading books about governesses.

In the past couple of years I have also become really interested in the effects of oppression on people, both the oppressed and the oppressors – so I think that there will be elements of this novel that will enlighten and excite me.

I’m really looking forward to reading everyone else’s initial thoughts on Agnes Grey – please share your opinions on twitter using the hashtag #AggieGrey. I’m planning on tweeting some of my own thoughts and favourite lines, and I invite you all who are reading to join in – it has always interested me to know what others are taking from the same material. Also, if you write a blog post or a discuss Agnes ANYWHERE, please link below in the comments section. 

I brainstormed a couple of questions for this beginning post, and thought I would share them so that if you want to write a blog post or post opinions, you can. No pressure, there is no obligation – just I know sometimes prompts get me into the right headspace.

What do you know about Anne Bronte or Agnes Grey?

Have you read Agnes Grey before? What did you think? (try to keep it somewhat spoiler free, besides the well known facts)

Where did you hear about Agnes Grey?

How are you approaching reading this book? Deep analytical reading or reading for pure pleasure? In a couple of pages at a time intervals over the whole month or in one sitting?

What elements of this novel are you most looking forward to?

What edition are you reading? (ebook, audiobook, penguin classics, ect.)

Agnes Grey Read-Along & Giveaway Sign-up

Agnes Grey Readalong

I’m so very excited to be hosting my first read-along. For the last Classics Club spin, a number of us all placed Anne Bronte’s classic, Agnes Grey, on the same position on our lists and crossed our fingers that it would be selected. It wasn’t, but I kept thinking that I would love to read Agnes with those lovely bloggers, and hence, a read-along was proposed.

We will be reading Agnes Grey during the month of February, and I will be hosting a weekly summary post with my own thoughts and impressions of the novel. I have never read Agnes Grey, or any of Anne’s writing before, so you will have to forgive my uneducated opinions.

So I’m inviting everyone and anyone to join in – read Agnes Grey in February! The following is the schedule – but feel free to be involved in all or none of these milestones, this is a VERY low stress group read.

I will most likely be tweeting general impressions (spoiler free) on twitter as I read. I will use the hashtag #AggieGrey if you wish to join in the conversation!

Monday, February 1 – First post – share our enthusiasm for the book, some background & author information.

Monday, February 8 – First check in – Chapters 1 – 6

Monday, February 15 – Second check in – Chapters 7 – 12

Monday February 22 – Third check in – Chapters 13 -18

Monday February 29 – Final check in – Chapters 19 – 25 & Final reviews

Be warned, the check ins will contain spoilers for the chapters that week!

I will be entering all participants who post a review or contribute to the final post into a giveaway – I will shout you the next classic you wish to read! (up to the value of US$15, as long as book depository ships to you.) You can simply write your impressions on twitter, post a review to any site or contribute to the last progress post on Ranty Runt of a Reader. All you need to do is link to your participation in the final check in. If you don’t want to be considered for the giveaway, just mention that in your comment.

To declare your intent to participate, simply post in the comments of this post, and what platform (including URL) that you will be using to talk all things Bronte!

Gone With The Wind: Chapters 1 – 10

Group read

Warning: This post contains spoilers for chapters 1 – 10 of Gone with the Wind

Okay, let me preface this blog post by stating that I am enjoying Gone with the Wind (GwtW) more this time than the previous time I attempted to read it – although there are still aspects of the novel that rankled me. My least favourite thing about GwtW would have to be Scarlett, I just cannot wrap my head around her, although now she has moved away from Tara and Rhett Butler is involved I am enjoying her more – I will talk about characters later on in this little discussion. I only finished reading chapter 10 this morning, so this post may be a little bit of me working out my feelings, I usually write my book reviews later, about a week or two after reading the books, but with this I want it to be more organic, rambling and my honest thoughts while reading. I will review GwtW for the Classics Club challenge once I have completed my reading!

The first six chapters I struggled through, and it was only when Scarlett became a widow that things started to get interesting in my personal opinion. Before this point it just felt like I was reading a Jane Austen novel, and I’ve made my feelings about Austen clear on multiple occasions – it’s just not for me. Chapter seven and part two certainly start to discuss my favourite topic – war. Before this, all discussions of war were punctuated by Scarlett’s commentary of ‘How dull!’ Once we are in Atlanta, the war is brought before Scarlett, and seeing her deal with her personality in this period is interesting.

I’m one of those readers who is plot driven – a book can have really weak characters, as long as they are doing interesting things. Until part two, the book was driven by characters, and notions of romance, and whilst I enjoy a good character more than a poorly constructed one, it would not have been enough to push me through – I’m pretty sure last time I abandoned GwtW during chapter 5 – just before things got interesting! Having this readalong really pushed me, and I’m glad it has because I’m now enjoying where this story is going – it is starting to have a strong plot.

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the characters at all – and I’ve already said that Scarlett’s not my favourite, but I think that is kind of the point. (is it? Are we meant to like Scarlett? I’m not sure) I love Gerald O’Hara and his blustering, yelling self. I love that he spends half his screen time (page time?) drunk and causing mischief! The Tarleton family are a hoot – I love how they are unashamed horse people and I’ve forgotten the mother’s name, but she reminds me so much of an aunt I have, that I had to laugh. Also, as a flamin’ redhead, I have to say I like this family. The twins strike me as bland, however.

No discussion of GwtW would be complete without a comment on Rhett, and at this point, I feel like I don’t know him well enough. I’ve liked the conversations he has had with Scarlett, and the way he sees through her ‘charms and airs’ and brings out the individual in her. I’d also like to mention the wedding ring thing – how the two ladies donate their wedding rings to the Cause – and Rhett sent back Melly’s so that he would be invited to dine with the family – it made me laugh out loud at his cunning! It also reminded me of a story of the wedding ring woman, who in WWII gave scraps of food to escaping POW’s in Borneo, and because they had nothing of value to give to her, they left the young girl their wedding rings. It’s just one of those things that is meant to touch your heart, and to have Scarlett subvert that, is pretty awesome.

Mitchell certainly can create vivid settings and bring the reader to the Southern landscape – I have never visited America, but at times I looked out my window and expected to see rolling fields of cotton. I didn’t – still gumtrees here in Australia. I found the setting of Tara, although vivid, to be somewhat boring. Once the action moved to Atlanta, I was more taken. I think that might come from being raised in the country – fields and large sprawling houses aren’t new to me, but the bustle of towns always excite me. I like the discussion of the railways and the naval blockaide (if you have only just met me, Hi! I’m a naval and railway nerd!) and that takes place in the city.

I’d be stupid to not discuss slavery – I’ll imagine I will have more to say on this point later – but it is with rose coloured glasses that Mitchell paints slavery in the South, and reading about how the negroes couldn’t cope with information in their small skulls and that they were all happy in their servitude is sickening, given today’s views on such matters. I constantly had to remind myself that these were views common back then, and that, although it was denied, slavery was such a big issue and this work was political – as all literature is. I’ve read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it was the first book ever reviewed on this blog – you can read my review here, if you are so inclined, and I think that the reader needs to take into consideration that both points of view are valid and contestable.

Mitchell’s writing is flawless, and regardless of my opinion of her plot/themes/content, I have to appreciate her way with words. This much discussed line has to be the first that jumped out and stole my admiration:

“She lay in the silvery shadows with courage rising and made the plans that a sixteen-year-old makes when life has been so pleasant that defeat is an impossibility and a pretty dress and a clear complexion are weapons to vanquish fate.”

The foreshadowing in these lines are great too, obviously some bad shit’s about to happen to this character so she no longer thinks that appearance is so important, or that she has power over fate. It also speaks of the invincibility of youth that so many young people cannot see is folly.

Gone with the Wind has also introduced my new favourite expletive, “God’s Nightgown,” because really, how can you not love that expression! I also really appreciated Scarlett’s well put view of what war is,

“The war didn’t seem to be a holy affair, but a nuisance that killed men senselessly and cost money and made luxuries hard to get.”

It’s true Scarlett, you will be wearing your chickenscratch lace before you know it. Also, why the hell are they bothering to sew sofa cushions in the Confederate style? Like seriously, do they think that appropriate sofa cushions with little stars are worthy of their time and helping the war effort? Make your soldiers more clothes, make more bandages! *spoiler alert* You are going to need many bandages, and the war is a long way from finished!

So – I think judging by the fact I just rambled for over a thousand words, I am enjoying GwtW, and I am looking forward to reading more. Things that I am looking forward to in the next ten chapters include getting to know Mr. Butler better and witnessing the reaction when the Confederates don’t “lick’em within a month!” Also, when does the war come to Atlanta? Because I’m always looking forward to a war ravaging!

Gone With The Wind Group Read: Signup, Psychup and Game Plan

Group read

I’ve studied The American Civil War as my Australian university offers an excellent collection of American Studies topics that cover it through the History degree, and Gone With The Wind was required reading for that course. I pretended like I had read it, wrote a paper using the movie instead of the book and discussed the history more than the literature. I only read about 150 pages.

Now that horrible confession is over – I am announcing that I am GOING TO READ IT. GWTW is on my Classics Club list, so I have made the commitment to reading it at some stage in the next couple of years, and then I spied a casual group read put together by the wonderful Corinne and decided that this was the best way to get through Mitchell’s classic. I am a day late to the signup post, but hey, better late than never!

gone-with-the-wind-readalongOne of my favourite things about this group read is its very laid back schedule, it will be read over many months and there will be meet ups every two weeks or so. My goal is to write a post for each of these check-ins, but to get the required pages read at the beginning of the reading period because I’m wanting this to be an enjoyable experience that I am excited about – and most of that is a mental battle when it comes to classics, I think.


Friday, May 1 First post – just to enthuse about how excited we are to begin.
Saturday, May 16
First check-in on Chapters One through Ten
Saturday, May 30
Check-in on Chapters Eleven through Twenty
Saturday, June 13
Check-in on Chapters Twenty-One through Thirty
Saturday, June 27
Check-in on Chapters Thirty-One through Forty
Saturday, July 11
Check-in on Chapters Forty-One through Fifty
Saturday, July 25
Check-in on Chapters Fifty-One through Sixty
Saturday, August 1
Check-in on Chapters Sixty-One through Sixty-Three (final discussion)

I’m already excited. I’ve purchased an ebook copy of the book so I don’t have to lug around my very heavy hardback edition I inherited – I’m thinking this can be my ‘reading at work while on break and between customers’ book for awhile! If you want to read more, or even belatedly join in, you can find more at Corinne’s blog – the pursuit of happiness