Category Archives: Victorian Lit

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens 

Hey everyone!

Happy December! I can’t believe we are 16 days into this month already. I hope you’re working your way through your advent calendars! My life has consisted of work and mock marking as well as the Christmas party last weekend (dare I say more!) This is the first Saturday where I’ve woken up and nothing really needs doing. I can have a slow, restful day. This evening I am off to see A Christmas Carol at the theatre and I truly cannot wait.  A Christmas Carol is also a GCSE text I’ve been teaching for the past few weeks. This seemed like a big enough sign and opportunity to review this well loved classic.

 

What’s it all about?

The novel begins on a cold, bleak Christmas Eve in Victorian London. The protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, is a miserable, cold and hard character. He loathes Christmas and all those who celebrate it. His cheery, loveable nephew Fred invites him to Christmas dinner. He declines and ridicules Fred for enjoying the festive period. Two charity workers seek a donation to help the poor; Scrooge sends them away, epitomising the attitude of the upper classes of this period.

“If they would rather die, . . . they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

We also meet Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s clerk, huddled over a tiny fire. He’s very much overworked and underpaid. Scrooge begrudgingly allows him Christmas Day off work, with pay to conform to social custom.

“If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

Whilst at home that night, Scrooge is visited by Marley’s ghost. The omniscient narrator informs us that he was as ‘dead as a doornail’, he died 7 years prior. Marley’s ghost wanders the earth, imprisoned by heavy chains a money boxes created by a lifetime of greed and selfishness. Marley warns Scrooge that he will be visited by three spirits. This is his one chance to avoid the same fate as Marley. However, his chains would be much longer and heavier.

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

The first sprint to visit Scrooge is the Ghost of Christmas Past. This ghost has long white hair and a smooth face. The ghost is dressed in a white tunic with a branch of holly in his hand. On top of its head is a bright flame.

It is here that Scrooge is taken on a journey to his childhood and the events leading to this point in time. Scrooge’s youth showed him a time when he was completely innocent. However, his childhood was a sad one. He was a lonely boy without any friends. He was left at school over the Christmas period. We see a visit from his beloved sister, Fan.

Scrooge did have some happiness in his youth. We meet Fezziwig, Scrooge’s first employer, who treated him like his own son. Work finished on Christmas Eve and they celebrated the festivities together. This reminder jolted Scrooge. He seemed shocked to see his former self.

Perhaps the saddest part of this stave is when Scrooge sees his former love, Belle. She ends their relationship because he is a changed man; he won’t ever love her as much as he loves money. Scrooge is shown Belle in the future, happily married and with a family. It’s a reminder of what Scrooge could have had.

Scrooge is then visited by the second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present. This ghost is quite a presence! He’s large but ages as the stave develops. He has long, dark, curly hair and wears a green robe with white fur. Arguably, this spirit is the most impressive.

This has to be my absolute favourite stave in the novel. The description is luscious and in abundance. Here we see joyous people preparing for Christmas. The Ghost takes Scrooge to see Fred’s Christmas party where all are having fun and enjoying each other’s company.

Most importantly, we are shown Christmas at the Cratchit’s house. Here we meet Tiny Tim, a lovely boy who is a cripple and the apple of Bob’s eye. Despite this, he is a happy child and loves his family greatly.

“He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

The spirit informs Scrooge that unless the course of events change, then Tiny Tim will die. Christmas here is magical, the food is plenty for their family and they really enjoy their time together. They have little but to them it means the world.

These events really shock Scrooge. However, the spirit had not completed his journey. The spirit then shows Scrooge two hideous children: Ignorance and Want. Here Scrooge is given a stark warning, ‘beware them both.’ These children are a clear message from Dickens at the time. They reflect society and the lives of the poor during the Victorian period.

“They are Man’s and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

The third spirit that visits Scrooge is the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. It is this ghost that Scrooge fears the most. This spirit doesn’t speak. It’s dressed in a black cloak with the only feature we can see being his hand.

This spirit shows Scrooge a Christmas Day in the future. We are shown scenes of the death of a much disliked man. People seem to be quite happy. Local business men only wish to attend the funeral if a lunch is provided. We see a range of characters steal some of the dead mans possessions ready to sell them on. Scrooge enquirers if anyone was saddened by the death of this mean. The only happiness came from a very poor couple who were in debt to the man. His death meant that this couple would have more time to repay their debt and get their finances in order.

The ghost then moves to show the Cratchit’s house. Here the family are mourning the loss of Tiny Tim, echoing the warning from the earlier ghosts. This part of the novel utterly breaks my heart.

The final thing the spirit shows Scrooge is a neglected grave. Scrooge realises that this is his own. Sobbing and emotionally drained, Scrooge promises to change his ways to avoid this future.

In the final stage, Scrooge wakes up on Christmas Day. He is a reformed and changed man. He decides to see Fred and celebrate the day with him. Naturally Fred accepts him with open arms. He anonymously sends the largest prize turkey to the Cratchit house, giving the boy a crown for doing so.

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

The following day Bob arrives late for work. Scrooge plays a trick on him which makes it seem like he is going to give Bob the sack. What he really does is give Bob a pay rise. He also becomes a second father to Tiny Tim.

It is from this point that Scrooge treats everyone kindly, compassionately. He’s clearly learnt from the warnings given throughout the novel. The novel ends with the words of Tiny Tim.

“God bless us, every one!”

 

Overview

This novel is pure magic. Everyone has the opportunity to change, just like Scrooge. Despite being over a hundred years old, this novel still carries the same message today. Dickens wanted society to learn from their mistakes, to see what they were doing to the poor. We have a lot to thank him for. You’ll see that each chapter is written in staves, continuing the musical element from the title. Dickens wanted this to be read aloud. I love teaching it because I feel like I’m doing exactly what Dickens wanted: spreading his message far and wide and embracing Christmas with my whole heart.

So, my message is clear: keep on jingling and spreading that Christmas cheer.

Big love

Xx

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Filed under Book review, Christmas, Victorian Lit

Sherlock Holmes: 130 Years

Hey guys! 

Hope you’re well and plodding through October soundly. I’m trying to have a restful Saturday, I have been exploring though! Nevertheless, the focus of this post is that today is the anniversary of the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in A Study In Scarlet. 130 years ago, Sherlock Holmes first appeared and the rest, as they say, was history. I wonder if Conan Doyle know that he had created an absolute literary legend?! 


As an avid Sherlock Holmes fan, it felt like the perfect opportunity to celebrate this occasion with you all. So, to celebrate this I wanted to share 5 awesome things about Sherlock Holmes (in my opinion!)
1. He has his own statue in London. Pretty cool. 

2. Queen Victoria was a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. It had royal approval! She invited Doyle to the palace for a private reading and gave him an emerald tie pin. 

3. Sherlock Holmes has been on film for over century. That’s a lot of variations to watch. 

4. Conan Doyle wanted to kill Holmes off out of boredom after two years. Can you imagine? 

5. 221B Baker Street did not exist in Doyle’s time. It wasn’t until 1930 when the houses were renumbered. It was knocked down the same year anyway. 

What would life be like without Sherlock Holmes? It’s a collection of novels that have changed me because they’re just so smart. After all: “To a great mind, nothing is little.” I refer to Sherlock Holmes in my teaching. Therefore, I can safely say, my life would be very different without him! 

Have a great weekend everyone. 

Big love xx

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Filed under Books, Classics, Victorian Lit

Charlecote Park – The National Trust

Morning everyone, wherever you are! 

As you may know, I am a lover of Victorian novels, and my love for all things Victorian meant that I was incredibly excited to visit Charlecote Park yesterday. It’s not too far from me, being near Wellsbourne, Stratford upon Avon. 

It’s a grand, elegant and beautiful Victorian house, belonging to the Lucy family for over 900 years. You may remember I mentioned Mary Elizabeth Lucy’s memoirs in a recent post. It was really special to experience her house, influenced by their many travels abroad, and their beautiful grounds with her book in the back of my mind. 

  
Within the house, we can only see the central part because the family still live here. The paintings were bold and proud, the wallpaper still in its original form in a number of the rooms dating back to the 1830s. 

  
For me, the library is impressive. It boasts of views across the River Avon, books all around, a comfortable fireplace for winter, and inviting seating. I could have happily moved in. Once more, it is easy to imagine the family reading together, and Mary writing her memoirs here for her grandchildren. 

    

As I’ve mentioned already, the grounds really were spectacular. Deer and sheep roam freely, and it is really quite beautiful and tranquil to see. It’s easy to see how inspiring this place is. 

   
 
One little anecdote that does make me smile from Charlecote, is it’s link to William Shakespeare. It is believed that a young Shakespeare was caught poaching deer from here and was sent to Magistrates court. In his ‘revenge’ it is also believed that in The Merry Wives of Windsor, where the Lucy coat of arms, as well as a poaching incident are referenced, that the character of Justice Shallow is based on Sir Thomas Lucy. Naughty Shakespeare! 

  

There’s also a brilliant bookshop here – I picked up a bag full. Before I spoil it for you, make sure you visit yourself. It really is breathtaking. 

To find out more visit:

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/charlecote-park/ 

BL x

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Filed under Days Out, Historical Fiction, National Trust, Photography, Stratford upon Avon, UK, Victorian Lit

The Figure in the Carpet – Henry James 

Back in February, Penguin released 80 little black classics to celebrate their 80th birthday. Naturally, I went out and bought a number of these. They are cheap (only 80p each!) and they are perfect for a quick read covering a range of writers and topics.  

As you may, or may not know, getting teenagers into reading for pleasure is a big passion of mine. Therefore, with these inexpensive and short reads, I was able to persuade some of my students to buy some of these for themselves. Being as they weren’t faced with a 200+ page novel, some of the resistance towards reading was removed. Thank you to Penguin for such a brilliant idea to celebrate their birthday. 

So, I’ve broken up from school for summer and I’m feeling incredibly tired. I decided to read another little black classic because that way I’m still reading, despite feeling exhausted. Henry James is a fascinating writer I discovered when I was at university. The Figure in the Carpet is a gripping little read with a thought provoking title. 

Henry James is one of the masters of writing Victorian mysteries, and this story is no different. It features an unnamed literary critic, who feels he has reviewed the latest work of Hugh Vereker, a distinguished novelist, as a successful masterpiece. However, when the unnamed critic meets the author in person, Vereker informs him that he whilst he sees the review as being an intelligent piece of writing, he feels he has missed the hidden underlying issue which informs all of his writing. The narrator pushes him into revealing the nature of the mystery, but Vereker adamantly refuses, claiming that it will be self-evident in any close reading of his work. 

The narrator is unable to let the mystery lie, so he enlists the help and support of his friend, the writer George Corvik and his fiancée Gwendolen Erme. However, Corvik’s mother is strongly opposed to the match. They all fail in trying to uncover the secret pattern, but, when Corvik visits India with a commision for journalistic work, he excitedly writes back to announce that he has worked out the secret. 

Corvik then manipulates this power, and refuses to reveal the secret until he has married Gwendolen. He then decides to visit Vereker in Italy on his way back to London. We are then given every reason to believe that Vereker confirms Corvick’s solution to the mystery. Corvick decides the time is right to write the definitive interpretation of Vereker’s works. 

In a turn of events, Gwendolen’s mother dies, Corvik’s wedding takes place, but he is sadly killed in an accident when he is on his honeymoon. When the narrator, rather emotionlessly, appeals to his widow for the key to the mystery that pins the whole plot together, she refuses to reveal any information she may have. It is then revealed that Corvick’s study of Vereker’s work is actually no more than an introduction, which reveals nothing regarding the mystery of the hidden underlying message of the original works. 

The narrator is adamant that Corvick would have revealed the secret to Gwendolen that he contemplates marrying her to gain this information. Despite this intention, Gwendolen publishes another book of her own and marries a fellow novelist, Drayton Deane. He is perceived as a literary and social rival on all levels. This obviously is displeasing to the narrator. 

Gwendolen then dies in childbirth, leaving the narrator to appeal to Drayten Deane. The narrator asks if she had passed any information to him regarding the key to the mystery. Sadly, she has not, and they are both left to contemplate the fact that they may never find out. 

“It stretches, this little trick of mine, from book to book, and everything else, comparatively, plays over the surface of it. The order, the form, the texture of my books will perhaps some day constitute for the initiated a complete representation of it.” 

A punchy little read, with a detailed and mysterious plot. I’ve only selected one quote because I don’t want to ruin it for you, and the story is incredibly short anyway! I was left feeling like I wanted to know the mystery too and frustrated that I didn’t know or work it out. It raised the question of what is the intention of the writer? And why? 
Thank you Penguin for these excellent little black classics for your birthday. 

Big love x

  

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Filed under Book review, Little Black Classics, Victorian Lit

The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Exam season. The most stressful time of year for any teacher, regardless of what subject you teach. Today was the English exam that my lovely Year 11s were sitting. The first year group of my career – they are special to me. I always feel nervous and worry about them all, I am desperate for them to do well. Yet, I could literally burst with pride. They are cool as cucumbers, telling me to “relax miss”  and showing me that they have learnt so much this year. So whilst they are frantically writing remembering all the exam skills we have spent a year fine-tuning, I look back to the start of my career.

I started at the deep end. I was teaching Gothic Literature to a top set, very bright group. Thinking back I know I was incredibly nervous. What if they asked me something I didn’t know the answer to? We started with The Yellow Wallpaper. These students, with some slight changes to the group have shaped me into the teacher I am today. 3 years I have spent teaching them. It has been mostly sheer joy. As a leaving present I bought each of them their own copy of The Yellow Wallpaper (which I signed and dated.) It seems right that today I post a review of this book, which also happens to be one of my own personal favourites.

I can remember the first time I read this incredible short story. I got carried away and it ended far too quickly (6000 words isn’t enough!) I felt a range of emotions when reading this, and still do when I re-read today. Mostly I felt a lot of anger and uncertainty when reading this. It must be the little feminist in me! The fact that the narrator isn’t given a name (or a name that is confirmed. Potentially she is called Jane) still bugs me.

The opening provides crucial information regarding who she is. ‘It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral homes for the summer.’ From this we know the narrator is obviously female as she is married, most likely to be middle class and has a husband named John. These three traits, all in the first sentence, foreshadow the importance for the development of the plot rather than her identity or personal history. As a Victorian story, these highlight the conflicts during this period of time, especially regarding women.

The plot shows how the narrator, unreliable as she is, descends into madness. Her husband tries to be supportive but he lacks the understanding of his wife – typical of the time period. He believes it’s in her best interest to go on a rest cure after the birth of their child. They stay in this mansion which she states has “something queer about it.” They move into a room upstairs which has lots of windows, however they are all barred. There is also tears in the wallpaper and scratches in the floor. The narrator assumes these attributes are from children, yet as a reader I’m not so sure. There is something that doesn’t quite sit right, yet I can’t put my finger on it. (Although it obviously becomes clearer at the end of the text.)

The narrative continues to describe the wallpaper. It’s “yellow smell” and the “breakneck pattern”, missing patches and the way it’s leaves yellow stains on skin and the clothing of anyone who touches it. The vivid description of how the the longer she stays in the room the more it seems to change and mutate is quite astonishing. The narrator believes she can see see a female figure in the wallpaper. The description is so detailed, when I closed my eyes I could easily imagine it for myself.

The wallpaper is clearly a metaphor for the narrator’s own freedom. She believes she needs to peel off the remaining wallpaper to set the woman she sees within it free. On the final day of summer she locks herself in the room and decides she needs to take all the paper down. Yet when John arrives back he has to use a key to get in. Finally, she claims “I’ve got out at last.” This quote will forever stay in my mind. The blurring of the narrator and the wallpaper as they seem to become one is rather astonishing.

This book is truly special in the way it deals with the relationship with madness and Victorian women. The vivid description, the well paced plot, the contextual accuracy makes it a really interesting read. It is important to note that a Victorian reader this text was unprintable and shocking. It’s by no means a pleasurable read. It’s uncomfortable, unnerving even. But it is a superb snapshot into early feminist writing.

BL x

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The Narrative of John Smith – Arthur Conan Doyle

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I stumbled across this book when I was on a book pilgrimage in Hay-on-Wye. I genuinely couldn’t believe my eyes. An unpublished Conan Doyle book that I knew nothing about? I fell in love with Doyle’s writing after reading/sleeping/dreaming the Sherlock Holmes novels at university. I (potentially rather stupidly) expected my same passionate reaction for Holmes to seep through into this book, making it impossible for me to put down. Rather high expectations I must admit! So I had to buy it.

What is rather beautiful albeit slightly sad about this book is the story behind the manuscript. In brief, the original manuscript was written and sent for publishing by Doyle in 1883 but sadly got lost in the mail. Doyle agonised over this lost script and tried to piece it together again but he gave up and never completed it. Fast forward to 2004 and The British Library bought the unnamed, unfinished manuscript at an auction. 7 years later they published it under the title of The Narrative of John Smith.

This work is rather short, spanning over 6 chapters, with each chapter representing a day. It begins with the protagonist, John Smith, being confined to bed for a week with rheumatic gout. After trying to get out of it, the doctor persuades him to use this time to write a book. Various topics are discussed such as: what may drive talent out of a man, what service a doctor brings, as well as other thoughts that don’t seem to link to each other. The image that stays in my mind as well as JS is Mrs Rundle’s three children arguing over a penny.

Chapter two begins with the doctor visiting and a discussion regarding medicine. He meets his neighbours, admits his love of art and then decides to debate ideal conditions for life and more importantly how to achieve eternal life. Another key aspect to the short novel is war and political standings for men and women.

The final chapter opens with the doctor discussing disease as a battle, claiming that JS has won. Then the manuscript ends. It left me thinking what would come next? What train of thought would Doyle have his protagonist have next? It appears to be random so predicting would be futile. To be honest, it left me with more questions than answers! I love the little snippets and the snapshot of different thoughts when one is almost a recluse at home, but I felt a sense of loss. Loss of this story meant that some of the young Doyle genius was lost, and sadly never replaced.

A mixed reaction from me for this book really. It wasn’t as compelling as the Holmes series (I genuinely don’t know if I will find anything to compete with it!) it was much more personal showing snippets of how Doyle really thought as a young twenty something year old man. One little touch which is quite special is the original lines crossed out and reworking of sections. It’s always a treat to see how a novel is developed. I would recommend this book, but it didn’t blow my socks off.

BL x

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