A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Don Quixote’ by Miguel de Cervantes

While Shakespeare was writing plays and fancy sonnets that made him incredibly famous, Miguel de Cervantes was sitting in a jail cell for getting his accounts wrong while working for the Spanish tax department, writing this work of comic genius that would bring him, too, worldwide fame.

As always, the comedic examines important issues and ideas in ways that no other form feels free to do. Think of medieval court jesters and today’s stand-up comedians – they make their mark on the world by saying things nobody else feels free to say and making people laugh at the same time. That’s exactly what Don Quixote does. 

Don Quixote is a story about a man who is so obsessed with stories of chivalry, romance and adventure that he loses his mind and sets off on his own missions of derring-do and knightly behaviour. He is a man who cannot separate the imaginary from the real world, so in his version of reality, he rescues damsels, fights giants, and seeks to solve the problems and wrongs that beset the people he meets. Everyone else, including his own faithful sidekick Sancho Panza, thinks he’s nuts. 

It’s a story that could be sad and pathetic, but it’s written with a strong sense of comedy and powerful wit that enable the reader to empathise with Don Quixote, who is a man living his dream in every sense of the word. There are some “Groundhog Day” elements, with some scenes being relived and reinvented long after the fact, which emphasises both the delusion and the intelligence of Don Quixote as the creator of his own reality.

As the story progresses, it poses an interesting dilemma: if you can’t actually do what you’d most like to do, and if your imagination can take you there and allow you to do it- is it crazy to pursue your dream, or madness to forego the pleasure? 

It’s a fascinating and fun read that, like Shakespeare’s works, has inspired musicals, ballets, films, and countless other stories and novels in the 400+ years since its publication. 

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A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Barchester Towers’ by Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope has quite a few novels to his name, of which I have enjoyed most, but ‘Barchester Towers’ is the pick of the bunch. If you are only ever going to read one of his works, choose this one. 

While Dickens was writing novels that exposed the social issues and injustices of his time, Trollope was doing the same thing in a slightly different way. Trollope’s ‘Chronicles of Barsetshire’ turned the readers’ attention to the structures and conventions of the church hierarchy in Victorian England, framing clerical life in a comedic way that highlighted the hypocrisy and manipulation that plagued the upper ranks of the church. His Palliser Novels series focuses on political life and the machinations of Parliament and government, once again with a good degree of satire and cynicism.

Trollope’s characterisation is every bit as clever and masterful as Dickens’, and the humour with which he wrote is just as engaging. I find it most disappointing that Trollope is not as widely read or renowned as Dickens. The reason for that lies in the fact that Dickens’ books made him the champion of the lower classes, giving him very widespread appeal and ensuring a loyal readership, while Trollope tended to write more about the challenges faced by the middle and upper classes as society changed. Those issues were just as real, but far less relatable and interesting to the masses. 

‘Barchester Towers’ is a gem of a book. It’s quite easy to read, and very entertaining. While The Guardian listed it as one of the 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read’it is much higher on my own list,  hence its inclusion among the novels featured on this blog as one of my top 25 classic novels. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘The Three Musketeers’ by Alexandre Dumas

The ultimate story of friendship, loyalty and chivalry, ‘The Three Musketeers’ is full of the adventure, swordfighting and drama that was life for the king’s Musketeers of the Guard. This book transports the reader to early 17th century Paris and all the intrigues and machinations of courtly and public life.

I always felt a bit sorry for d’Artagnan that the book wasn’t called ‘The Four Musketeers’, but on the other hand, Athos, Aramis and Porthos were exactly the kind of men that a swashbuckling heroic adventure story should be named after.

I guess d’Artagnan could be satisfied knowing that many people would know his name even if they couldn’t name the others.

The Musketeers’ catch cry, “All for one and one for all!” has been adopted and echoed many times by groups of friends the world over, including my beloved Indie Fabs, six author friends bound by friendship, support and loyalty.

This is still a tremendous read which I highly recommend. Of the movies and TV adaptations I have seen, the black and white movies I grew up watching almost did the book justice, and the recent BBC TV production The Musketeers is brilliant, but they aren’t quite the same as reading the book.

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Les Miserables’ by Victor Hugo

Set in France during the first decades of the 19th century, this is a story of the struggles of the lower classes — the miserable, the dispossessed, and the dissatisfied. 

While many people in the 21st century know the story because of the highly popular and quite magnificent musical theatre show, most have never read the book. It is a large novel: epic in its scope, powerful in its storytelling and heartbreaking in its story and drama. 

Many of the key events of the novel were based on events and circumstances that Hugo witnessed personally, adding a depth of detail and authenticity that immerses the reader in the settings and makes them feel as they are right there, watching the events and listening to the characters’ conversations. 

Admittedly, there are some passages that are moral reflections rather than narrative, but they do add depth of understanding to the social issues and conflicts experienced by the French people of the time, and cause the reader to reflect on the responsibility of those with wealth and power to ensure that those under their rule are able to live without despair. Given that it is not possible to separate a work of literature from the society and environment in which it was written, Hugo’s thought-provoking digressions remain relevant to the story overall.   

One can simply watch the musical or a film adaptation, but they will not deliver the full impact of the story as it is told in the book. It’s a magnificent, wide-reaching story with themes of social justice, equality and personal redemption that are still really powerful and resonate with readers today. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens

I have always enjoyed Dickens’ knack for transporting the reader to the grimy streets of London, or to the interior of a neat little Victorian house, and have them understand exactly why they had been taken there. His imagery and characterisation are vivid and his wit is razor sharp. 

I have several favourites among his novels, but ‘A Christmas Carol’ would have to be at the top of that list. In addition to its searing social criticism and powerful message about what actually matters in life, it is infused with some really well written macabre and Gothic horror scenes that have a profound effect on both Scrooge and the reader. It’s a short read with a huge impact. 

Poem: ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ by Thomas Gray

An elegy is a formal poem that usually delivers a lament for  someone who has died, but there is also an element of praise or reflection that makes it positive, even while it’s sad. It’s different to a eulogy – a speech given about someone’s life, usually at their funeral, and also to a dirge, which is entirely mournful.

In this poem, Thomas Gray paints a picture of a mourner, alone in a church yard as evening falls. Left to his contemplation, he reflects on those buried nearby and what their lives may have been. Because this poem is about people who were unknown to him, and not specific to one particular person, Gray’s poem is actually more of an ode than an elegy, but given that he was the poet, he was free to call it whatever he wished.

The imagery of the evening scene before him is breathtaking. The reader can almost feel the weariness in the way the first stanza forces them to slow down and contemplate, alongside the poet, by the use of assonance on long vowel sounds in words like ‘curfew’, ‘lowing’, ‘plowman’, ‘home’, ‘leaves and ‘world’, and alliteration on the ‘m’ and ‘l’ sounds that do, indeed, evoke the plodding of the plowman. Gray continues using these devices throughout the poem, maintaining careful control of the pace and rhythm and ensuring that the reader’s reflections will not be rushed. 

The poem leaves the reader with the understanding that death really is the great equaliser – it doesn’t matter whether one is nobly or humbly born, famous or not: eventually we’ll all end up the same way.

Like Donne’s ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls’, this is another classic poem from which another author took a line as the title for a novel. Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy was published in 1874, 23 years after the poem was published by Gray in 1751.

Although it is likely Gray had written at least part of this poem before taking up residence there, the churchyard referred to in the title is that of St Giles Church in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, England.  In 1788, thirty-seven years after self-publishing  this poem, Thomas Gray was himself buried in the very same churchyard. 

Image: Used with permission. St Giles Church, Stoke Poges
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Mark Percy – geograph.org.uk/p/5571063

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,          
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea, 
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,          
And leaves the world to darkness and to me. 

Now fades the glimm’ring landscape on the sight,        
And all the air a solemn stillness holds, 
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,          
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds; 

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow’r          
The moping owl does to the moon complain 
Of such, as wand’ring near her secret bow’r,          
Molest her ancient solitary reign. 

Beneath those rugged elms, that yew-tree’s shade,          
Where heaves the turf in many a mould’ring heap, 
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,          
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep. 

The breezy call of incense-breathing Morn,          
The swallow twitt’ring from the straw-built shed, 
The cock’s shrill clarion, or the echoing horn,          
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed. 

For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,          
Or busy housewife ply her evening care: 
No children run to lisp their sire’s return,          
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share. 

Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield,          
Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke; 
How jocund did they drive their team afield!          
How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke! 

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,          
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure; 
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile          
The short and simple annals of the poor. 

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,          
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, 
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.          
The paths of glory lead but to the grave. 

Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,          
If Mem’ry o’er their tomb no trophies raise, 
Where thro’ the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault          
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise. 

Can storied urn or animated bust          
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath? 
Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust,          
Or Flatt’ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death? 

Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid          
Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire; 
Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway’d,          
Or wak’d to ecstasy the living lyre. 

But Knowledge to their eyes her ample page          
Rich with the spoils of time did ne’er unroll; 
Chill Penury repress’d their noble rage,          
And froze the genial current of the soul.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,          
The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear: 
Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,          
And waste its sweetness on the desert air. 

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast          
The little tyrant of his fields withstood; 
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,          
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood. 

Th’ applause of list’ning senates to command,          
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o’er a smiling land,          
And read their hist’ry in a nation’s eyes,

Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib’d alone          
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin’d;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,          
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind,

The struggling pangs of conscious truth to hide,          
To quench the blushes of ingenuous shame, 
Or heap the shrine of Luxury and Pride          
With incense kindled at the Muse’s flame.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,          
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray; 
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life          
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way. 

Yet ev’n these bones from insult to protect,          
Some frail memorial still erected nigh, 
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck’d,          
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh. 

Their name, their years, spelt by th’ unletter’d muse,          
The place of fame and elegy supply: 
And many a holy text around she strews,          
That teach the rustic moralist to die. 

For who to dumb Forgetfulness a prey,          
This pleasing anxious being e’er resign’d, 
Left the warm precincts of the cheerful day,          
Nor cast one longing, ling’ring look behind?

On some fond breast the parting soul relies,          
Some pious drops the closing eye requires; 
Ev’n from the tomb the voice of Nature cries,          
Ev’n in our ashes live their wonted fires. 

For thee, who mindful of th’ unhonour’d Dead          
Dost in these lines their artless tale relate; 
If chance, by lonely contemplation led,          
Some kindred spirit shall inquire thy fate,

Haply some hoary-headed swain may say,          
“Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn 
Brushing with hasty steps the dews away          
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn. 

“There at the foot of yonder nodding beech          
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high, 
His listless length at noontide would he stretch,          
And pore upon the brook that babbles by. 

“Hard by yon wood, now smiling as in scorn,          
Mutt’ring his wayward fancies he would rove, 
Now drooping, woeful wan, like one forlorn,          
Or craz’d with care, or cross’d in hopeless love. 

“One morn I miss’d him on the custom’d hill,          
Along the heath and near his fav’rite tree; 
Another came; nor yet beside the rill,          
Nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he; 

“The next with dirges due in sad array          
Slow thro’ the church-way path we saw him borne. 
Approach and read (for thou canst read) the lay,          
Grav’d on the stone beneath yon aged thorn.” 

THE EPITAPH 
Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth        
A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown. 
Fair Science frown’d not on his humble birth,        
And Melancholy mark’d him for her own. 

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,        
Heav’n did a recompense as largely send: 
He gave to Mis’ry all he had, a tear,        
He gain’d from Heav’n (’twas all he wish’d) a friend. 

No farther seek his merits to disclose,        
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode, 
(There they alike in trembling hope repose)        
The bosom of his Father and his God. 

Never Too Busy For Poetry!

This weekend is crazy busy. One evening and two full days of rehearsal for the show I’m in, which hits the stage on the first two weekends of May. 

The show is Monty Python’s Spamalot, performed by Camperdown Theatre Company. We’re working hard and having a blast rehearsing it, although one of the hardest parts is not laughing at the genuine comic talent of the actors.

It’s enormous fun, but it’s fair to say it’s exhausting. 

While most of my social media for the weekend could be scheduled and was organised by Friday, and there were only a few “on the spot” things I needed to do, I decided ahead of time to spend as little time online as I could over the weekend. Any spare time I have will be spent resting and relaxing, which means reading.

One of the lovely things about poetry is you can read it, and keep thinking about it at odd moments during the day. It adds a dimension of beauty and calm to a hectic schedule, and opportunities for reflection that might not otherwise offer themselves.  Even just a few lines can change a perspective and transform a moment into something that lifts the entire day. 

Another lovely thing about poetry is the sense of connection the reader has with the poet. Despite the fact that many of my favourite poets have been long dead, I can still experience a moment of empathy and understanding that reminds me that I’m not doing life in a bubble.

That is my hope for my own poetry. I may not become famous, or even widely known, for the poems I write, but I know that my own readers experience that same connection with me because their reviews and communications tell me so. 

So, even in the midst of a busy weekend, I’ll always make time for a little poetry. 

Poem: ‘When I Have Fears’ by John Keats

This was the first Elizabethan sonnet with which I ever fell in love.

My English teacher lent me a book of John Keats’ poetry when I was in Year 9 at school, and this poem captured my heart. The eloquence, the imagery, the pathos… before the day was out, I had committed this poem to memory.

When I told the teacher the following day, and recited the poem for him, he gave me the book to keep. That I still have it, and that it automatically falls open at this poem should surprise nobody.

Sure, it’s dramatic and very ‘over-thinky’, but who of us hasn’t had those moments?

When I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

If you enjoyed this poem and would like to read more Keats, I suggest either ‘To Autumn’ or ‘Bright Star’ – my other favourites!

Transition.

It’s the last day of March, which brings us to the end of Women’s History Month. In all honesty, I’m feeling a little sad about that.

Blogging about some of the less well known  heroines of ancient and medieval history has been a most enjoyable occupation. I had fun creating some historical memes to accompany the posts and promote them on my social media, too.

I also loved writing about some of the courageous women who willingly took on situations of conflict, oppression and segregation in the 19th and 20th centuries.


If you missed any of those posts, they are easily found by clicking on Women, Women’s History Month or Women’s History categories and tags in the sidebar. 

With those great stories told, I am feeling a little like I do when I have just finished a great book and I don’t really know what to do with myself.

Yet I know that tomorrow  I will feel differently because there are some great things happening in April: not only is it (Inter)National Poetry Month, but it’s also a month-long celebration of Indie books in the Read Self Published group on Facebook. 

The first half of the Pead Self Published month will feature a specific genre or set of genres each day, which readers are free to peruse. The second half of the month will be focused on helping each individual visual reader find what they want to read. There will also be some giveaways, which are always fun — especially for the winners! 

Everyone is welcome to join in those events, which is aimed at showing readers what they want to read without the “hard sell” that many find offputting. 

I know with all of that going on, I will have some great things to share.  I will be posting some of my favourite poems on this blog, and Book Squirrel will be sharing some great reads and book suggestions in various genres.

On a personal level, there will be continued rehearsals for the show I’m in, a very well-earned and much needed two week long term break, and a camping trip over Easter that I am really looking forward to.

So, away with my sadness. I shall welcome April with open arms and a great deal of anticipation.

Women in Horror: Mar Garcia

Mar Garcia knows horror. She reads it, draws it, and blogs about it as The Bold Mom. 

Mar’s website TBM Horror Experts offers recommendations for the best in horror books and films, as well as promotional opportunities for horror writers and bloggers. 


If you are looking for top quality horror, Mar is the perfect person to follow. 

You can find and follow Mar on 

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