Victober (and yes, I know it’s January!)

To say I’m behind with this whole book blogging thing is somewhat of an understatement! The last months have been utterly bonkers work wise and, combined with a bit of a mental health wobble and seasonal ailments, the reviewing just hasn’t happened. Fortunately, the reading part did though! I am determined to start this new year with a couple of bookish catch-ups and a regular (ish) posting schedule. Because I love books and would rather like to be a part of the book blogging community.

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So, first of all: Victober! I absolutely LOVED Victober this year and totally immersed myself in the literature and writers of the Victorian period. I don’t think I’ve ever read so many classics in one month – go me! Here’s a quick summary of what I read:

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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde: This was a buddy read with the lovely Oly Bliss (find his booktube channel here) and I’m so glad that this was the case as I really needed someone to bounce my thoughts and opinions off – I found this book baffling at times to say the least! I knew the premise of course and shan’t bore you with it here but I struggled with establishing what I thought Wilde was trying to say with this story. I constantly found myself asking, “Is this social criticism? Does Wilde really believe this? Where on earth does his empathy lie? Is that Wilde’s voice shining through or is he just playing with the reader? What is it he wants us to know?” I realised that although I know a fair amount about the times Wilde lived in, I actually know very little about the man himself apart from the very obvious. Though he has always fascinated me, and I feel I have a better grasp of his plays, I feel I need to know more to fully form an opinion of this narrative. Did I enjoy Dorian Gray? I enjoyed analysing the story, I appreciated all the commentary and questions it put out there, I loved the exploration of the relationship between life and art and the idea of a painting showing a soul’s decline is fascinating. But in terms of writing style, structure and characters, I felt let down. And I know so many readers love The Picture of Dorian Gray, I know I am in somewhat of a minority but my opinions on this blog are always honest. This book kept me at a distance.

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North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: In contrast, this book was an absolute joy; I totally lost myself in the characters, the class politics, the industrial setting, the role of women, the value of education…and I could go on for quite some time!  This was also a buddy read with Oly and it was a pleasure to share this reading experience with someone who loved the story and the characters as much as I did #TeamMargaret 😉 The thing that struck me most about North and South was how relevant the themes it addresses still are today; there was so much in there to identify with.  This book really deserves a review of its own so that I can do it justice, so watch this space…

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{Isn’t this cover amazing? I now have three versions but who’s counting!}

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë: I read this as a teenager and quite honestly, I didn’t get why it was presented as such an amazing classic piece of literature. The characters were dark and twisted and I didn’t identify with any of them, I couldn’t see any romance whatsoever and parts of it seemed to go on for what seemed like eternity. This time round my experience was totally different: I loved the complexity of the characters and how Emily really explores their psychology in great depth; though the majority of the relationships presented are truly toxic, I really felt the passion, confusion, frustration and power present. I absolutely adored Nelly Dean as a narrator and think she very much deserves her own backstory – time to investigate if such a book exists. I listened to Wuthering Heights as an Audible book with Joanne Frogatt as the narrator; she was absolutely incredible and very much added to my connection with Nelly Dean. When a narrator gets a book so spot on and offers such a genuine, engaging performance, it’s like the story in question is given a whole other layer of meaning. And of course, the whole Yorkshire setting spoke to my heart too; I love the Yorkshire Moors in all their beauty and their stark bleakness and yes, Haworth, where the Brontë sisters lived, is one of my favourite places on earth.


Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë:  I read this in my later teens as well and again I can’t say that it had a lasting impression on me. To be honest, I found it slow going, Jane was far to meek and passive for my liking and I thought Rochester used Jane for his own needs despicably. The nearly 40-year-old me read very differently. I loved the detail, the interludes, the variation of pace (although I do still think that Charlotte could have done with an editor!). Jane was so much more complex than I remembered her to be and her resilience, strong will and people watching skills were just fabulous. What a journey she goes on. The situation with the first Mrs Rochester locked away due to her mental illness was fascinating and frustrating and difficult– Charlotte left me wanting to know so much more and I felt so sad that the first Mrs Rochester didn’t have a voice of her own apart from her aggression. I thought Rochester was  a desperately lost soul and I liked him! Manipulative. Yes. Rather short sighted in his actions and without the best grasp of how to treat women. Yes. But also a very lonely human being looking for connection. And at this point I have to mention my  favourite adaptation of this by the BBC, starring the awesome Ruth Wilson as Jane – if you haven’t seen it, you MUST!

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë: I watched the brilliant BBC adaption of this a few years back with the incredible Tara Fitzgerald as Helen and I remember being stunned by how contemporary the themes of domestic abuse and alcoholism were and how Anne presented such a modern woman in Helen. So, again I’ll be honest: the book wasn’t all I wanted it to be and it made me realise again how adaptations very much depend on the influences of the times they are created. Just like reading really. Although the above mentioned themes still had a lasting impression and their darkness was explored brilliantly, I was left wanting more when it came to Helen. I saw her strength and sheer resilience in the protection of her boy, her intense struggle in her marriage and her attempt to finally break free. But then she returns to him at one point in the story and I almost felt like she was a different person from this point on. The moral aspect of forgiveness and human kindness prevailing above all else just didn’t sit right with me. It was a let down after Anne had put so much energy into Helen and it felt like she changed her mind about a woman being so daring in her behaviour or felt that she had to conform to a more more subtle ending for the readership of her time. Perhaps I feel this way because I am a modern reader with an experience of abuse in my past. Perhaps I don’t like my endings too sweet with all ends tied up nicely. Perhaps I just fell in love with Tara Fitzgerald’s interpretation a little too much.

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To end on a positive note: I still have the Lucy Worsley biography of Queen Victoria on my tbr and I know this will be a such a treat – a unique insight into Victoria’s life and the period she gave her name to. I was lucky enough to spend an evening listening to Lucy talking all things Victorian when her book was launched and, as always, I was in awe of the sheer amount of interesting information she knows and her wonderful quirky humour. For me, history needs to be accessible, engaging and written with energy and I know that this is exactly what I shall find.

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