A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee

This is such an important book. Through the eyes and experiences of six-year-old Scout Finch, the reader comes to understand key lessons about prejudice, equality, and personal integrity that profoundly influence the way they see and interact with other people. 

The story is told in a very matter-of-fact manner, yet it is laden with irony and quite intricately constructed layers of meaning that give it depth and enable it to have a powerful effect on the reader. The simplicity of Scout’s questions contrasts with the significance of the behaviour and beliefs challenged by her perplexity, while the wisdom of the adults to whom she turns for answers inspires the reader, too. 

I have numerous favourite scenes and quotations from this book, but the one I love most is the tender scene between father and daughter at the close of the book, which really emphasises the message of the book as a whole: 

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A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Vanity Fair’ by William Makepeace Thackeray

‘Vanity Fair’ is the story of Becky Sharp, a woman who starts out with very little and demonstrates that with ingenuity and determination, one could work one’s way up the ranks of society, despite the upper classes pretensions that this could never be so. 

Written with considerable wit and thoughtful insight, it’s a really entertaining story, but it also delivers a fascinating study of human nature and quite biting commentary on social status and those who possess it.

Although our society has changed significantly since this book was published in 1848, human nature hasn’t, so ‘Vanity Fair’ remains quite a relevant commentary on people and how they see and treat one another. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen

Many people assume that this is a book all about love and courtship. That comes into it, of course, but really only the sense that Jane Austen is blowing an enormous raspberry to the way society did those things.

‘Pride and Prejudice’ is full of delicious snark and subversive humour, parody and caricature, that make its observations far more rapier than romantic. 

Of course, Mr Darcy is smolderingly handsome and, as an introvert, I totally get that he was regretting being dragged along to that party long before he even got there, and by the time he was offending all the locals, was busy trying to think of ways to leave without anyone noticing. Further evidence of that is found in the fact that he falls for the one brainy chick who is happy in her own company and reading a book without needing someone affirming her delicate sense of self every three minutes.

Elizabeth is smart and sassy enough to stand up for herself, and to not settle for the first nincompoop who tried to marry her, nor does she agree to marry Darcy just because he’s loaded. No, she is a woman of substance.

Those things are enough to make us love them both more than the rest of the characters, most of whom are either quite socially acceptably bland or rather horrid.

If you’re not sure where to find the sarcasm,  it all starts with the very first line. Let’s be honest: what rich man, living the dream and enjoying his wealth, is desperate to find a wife to keep him at home and spend his money for him? 

Yeah. I don’t think so, either. 

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Anne of Green Gables’ by L.M. Montgomery

Among its feisty, quirky main character Anne Shirley and the entire delightful cast of characters, the wonderful story and animated storytelling, and the magnificent Prince Edward Island settings which I have visited in person, there is nothing about this book that I do not adore. 

Anne taught me that it was a wonderful thing to love books and poetry more than anyone else I knew, and that it was better to be myself than to try to be someone else. She showed me how to embrace my quirks and to disregard the criticism of those made uncomfortable by them. 
This is a wonderful story, beautifully told, which I have loved since I first read it when I was seven years old. Yes, I was a prodigious reader even then, having started reading for myself at the age of three! Like Anne, I started out in the way I was destined to continue.

My vintage copy of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and the postcards I bought at Green Gables on Prince Edward Island.

This vintage copy came to me courtesy of my favourite book rescue shelter, Spectrum Books in Warrnambool. It is the same vintage as the set I inherited from my mother although, sadly, her copy of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ has been lost.

I remember that her book had an original bookplate inside the front cover which she had drawn and painted before adding her name and the date. For me, that is the saddest part of losing her book: her art is lost, too. This is her work inside the cover of the sequel, ‘Anne of Avonlea’, which she received along with the first book for Christmas when she was thirteen years old. 
Her full name was named Shirley Anne – named after both Shirley Temple and Anne Shirley of ‘Green Gables’ fame. 

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: ‘Honour’s Martyr’ by Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte, famous for her classic Victorian gothic novel Wuthering Heights, also wrote poetry.

Her poems do share some qualities with Wuthering Heights: themes of misery, loneliness and grief, and dark, powerful imagery that makes Bronte’s thoughts come to life and leap off the page.

While fewer people are familiar with her poems than that magnificent book, her poetry really does deserve to be more widely read.

This poem captures that feeling of complete isolation and the despair of inner conflict experienced by one agonising over the situation they are in while someone else sleeps peacefully, unaware of the torment of the other.

Honour’s Martyr

The moon is full this winter night;
The stars are clear, though few;
And every window glistens bright,
With leaves of frozen dew. 

The sweet moon through your lattice gleams
And lights your room like day;
And there you pass, in happy dreams,
The peaceful hours away!

While I, with effort hardly quelling
The anguish in my breast,
Wander about the silent dwelling,
And cannot think of rest.

The old clock in the gloomy hall
Ticks on, from hour to hour;
And every time its measured call
Seems lingering slow and slower:

And oh, how slow that keen-eyed star
Has tracked the chilly grey!
What, watching yet! how very far
The morning lies away!

Without your chamber door I stand;
Love, are you slumbering still?
My cold heart, underneath my hand,
Has almost ceased to thrill.

Bleak, bleak the east wind sobs and sighs,
And drowns the turret bell,
Whose sad note, undistinguished, dies
Unheard, like my farewell!

To-morrow, Scorn will blight my name,
And Hate will trample me,
Will load me with a coward’s shame?
A traitor’s perjury.

False friends will launch their covert sneers;
True friends will wish me dead;
And I shall cause the bitterest tears
That you have ever shed.

The dark deeds of my outlawed race
Will then like virtues shine;
And men will pardon their disgrace,
Beside the guilt of mine.

For, who forgives the accursed crime
Of dastard treachery?
Rebellion, in its chosen time,
May Freedom’s champion be;

Revenge may stain a righteous sword,
It may be just to slay;
But, traitor, traitor, from that word
All true breasts shrink away!

Oh, I would give my heart to death,
To keep my honour fair;
Yet, I’ll not give my inward faith
My honour’s name to spare!

Not even to keep your priceless love,
Dare I, Beloved, deceive;
This treason should the future prove,
Then, only then, believe!

I know the path I ought to go;
I follow fearlessly,
Inquiring not what deeper woe
Stern duty stores for me.

So foes pursue, and cold allies
Mistrust me, every one:
Let me be false in others’ eyes,
If faithful in my own. 

More on Emily Bronte: 10 Authors Who Have Inspired Me | Women in Horror Month: Inspirations

A Favourite Poem: ‘The Highwayman’ by Alfred Noyes

For National Poetry Month, enjoy ‘The Highwayman’ by Alfred Noyes.

‘The Highwayman’ is one poem that I have always loved reading, but also one which I have considered an inspiration for my own writing. highwaymanHow I would love to be able to write poetry of this quality!

This poem tells a splendid tale of a dashing hero – even though he was an outlaw – and of daring, deceit and transcendent love.

The imagery is incredible – you only need to read the first verse to see what I mean – and you can almost hear the horse galloping in the rhythm as you read.

There are some old-fashioned words you may not be familiar with, so let me explain what they mean:

  • An ostler is a person responsible for stabling and caring for horses.
  • A galleon is a ship with three masts and squared sails. Think of a pirate ship!
  • A casement is a window.
  • A rapier is a long, narrow sword with a fancy handle designed to protect the user’s hand.

The Highwayman.

PART ONE

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”

He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
(O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.

PART TWO

He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at noon;
And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
Marching—marching—
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.

They said no word to the landlord. They drank his ale instead.
But they gagged his daughter, and bound her, to the foot of her narrow bed.
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest.
They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle beneath her breast!
“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.
Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.

Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding—
Riding—riding—
The red coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still.

Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light.
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

He turned. He spurred to the west; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.
Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;
When they shot him down on the highway,
Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.

And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

alfred-noyes_QFfuE

For your further enjoyment, you can listen to a recording of Alfred Noyes reciting ‘The Highwayman’.

Thank you, Mary Shelley.

How Mary Shelley Has Inspired Me, Yet Again!

Mary_Shelley
At the beginning of February, celebrated as Women in Horror Month, I wrote about Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, as one of my literary inspirations.

 

On this last day of the month, a friend shared with me a post from smithsonian.com titled ‘Frankenstein’ Manuscript Shows the Evolution of Mary Shelley’s Monster’ which speaks of a British publisher releasing 1500 facsimile copies of Mary Shelley’s original manuscript notebooks, complete with revisions and edits, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the book’s first publication.

 

Oh, my heart! I know I’ll never be able to own one of those 1500 copies, but how I would love to read that manuscript!

 

FrankensteinDraft
Even just looking at the photograph of two pages, my author-heart swelled. Here is the work of a woman I have admired almost all of my life, showing that her work, too, needed editing and revising. She understood that no piece of writing is perfect the first time, even if the story itself is brilliant.

 

This is so incredibly encouraging in the moments when I doubt myself, or my story, or my ability to communicate my ideas the way I want to. It reassures me when the words don’t flow for a time. And it reminds me that I’m by no means the first, or last, to experience these things. The doubts and writers block don’t make me any less of a writer; instead, it’s working through them and in spite of them that makes me a better one.

 

Through these images, Mary Shelley inspires me all over again.