Another charming wonderland

‘Through the Looking-glass’ – Lewis Carroll

3-star-rating

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Through the Looking-glass – Lewis Carroll

When Alice steps through the looking-glass, she enters a world of chess pieces and nursery rhyme characters who behave very strangely. Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the dotty White Knight and the sharp-tempered Red Queen – none of them are what they seem. In fact, through the looking-glass, everything is distorted.

If you have read Alice in Wonderland and are keen to read this next adventure, be advised that Carroll writes with entirely new characters. Whilst we still follow Alice on her adventure,  I didn’t find the characters as loveable as in the first story.

This time we follow Alice through the looking-glass and she finds herself involved in a giant game of chess. Like the first story, the dialogue is witty: full of puns and literal meanings.  I found this aspect most enjoyable but sometimes found these conversations a bit tedious. There is also considerably more poetry in this story so if,  like me,  poetry doesn’t set your heart racing, don’t be surprised if your mind starts to wander.

This characters in this story largely consist of the giant game of chess that Alice is involved with. Tweedle dee and Tweedle dum feature and I couldn’t help but picture Matt Lucas from the film adaptation. I think my favourite characters would have to be the knights. Such simple creatures who constantly fall off their horse, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them,  especially when it was clear they were trying so hard!

Through the Looking-glass doesn’t have quite the same level of charm as Alice in Wonderland‘ but I am still glad I read this. Carroll’s use of language is most entertaining, such as the ‘Jabberwocky’ poem and the arguments Alice has with so many of the characters, but I don’t think the story is quite as charming. To summarise, I don’t think you would miss out if you did not get round to reading this as I think there are far worthier books in the world that demand attention.

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An essential must-read fairytale

‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ – Lewis Carroll

5-star-rating

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

Journey with Alice down the rabbit hole into a world of wonder where oddities, logic and wordplay rule supreme. Encounter characters like the grinning Cheshire Cat who can vanish into thin air, the cryptic Mad Hatter who speaks in riddles and the harrowing Queen of Hearts obsessed with the phrase “Off with their heads!” This is a land where rules have no boundaries, eating mushrooms will make you grow or shrink, croquet is played with flamingos and hedgehogs, and exorbitant trials are held for the theft of tarts. Amidst these absurdities, Alice will have to find her own way home.

‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ began as a story told to three little girls in a row-boat, near Oxford. Ten year old Alice Liddell asked to have the story written down and two years later it was published with immediate success. Carroll’s unique play on logic has undoubtedly led to its lasting appeal to adults, while remaining one of the most beloved children’s tales of all time.

This story has all the elements that a classic fairy tale can offer: talking creatures, magic potions and loveable characters. I read this story when I was a young girl and I honestly think that I have got even more enjoyment from it now.  It’s like Lewis Carroll’s 19th century written version of ‘Shrek’  – whatever the age you will find something new to enjoy from the story.

Whilst the Johnny Depp adaptation is visually stunning,  ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is a literary dream.  The puns and witty conversations that Alice has in Wonderland are funny to read and Carroll plays with language whilst still keeping this a fun and light-hearted story.  If you have not read the book but have seen the film, I implore you to read this (and it is one of the classic novels that are free to download) because there is so much on offer that will delight imaginations, both young and old.

I really enjoyed reading this and felt the story was a lot shorter than I remembered it to be! The croquet scene was so funny to read and the image of the hedgehogs escaping (they are the balls in the game), the flamingos not cooperating (the bats), and the general chaos caused by the Queen of Hearts made this delightful to read.

This novel should be an obligatory read for all because of how much it has to offer. Disregard what you feel you know from watching film adaptations and immerse yourself into Carroll’s timeless Wonderland. It’s not just Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, but Alice’s adventures in Wonderful.

Nature versus nurture

‘Nature and Art’ – Elizabeth Inchbald

1-star-rating (1)

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Nature and Art – Elizabeth Inchbald

Commands a central place in the history of the English Jacobean novel. Published in 1796, the story explores the opposition between the upbringing and actions of Henry Norwynne, an unspoiled ‘child of nature’ who has been reared without books on an African island, and the corrupt conduct of his aristocratic older cousin, William.

This novel explores the principal of nature versus nurture. Brothers, William and Henry, who go to London to seek their fortune. Whilst William stays in London and pursues his religious studies, Henry travels. Years pass and readers follow the central protagonists, young William and young Henry. Young William has been strictly educated in London and is considered showing proper and impeccable behaviours. On the other hand, young Henry has grown up in Africa, away from books and education.

When young Henry is first introduced to his uncle, (Henry being imprisoned abroad), Henry’s responses to London life and general language use are quite amusing and it reflects Inchbald’s social perceptions of the time. As the novel progresses, the reader sees the difference between young William and young Henry’s natures: the manner in which they treat others around them and how they react to events is to encourage readers what is of more value: education from books and tutors, or education from worldly experiences?

As the novel progresses, I found myself hoping that all wronged characters were redeemed. The fact that this does not happen shows Inchbald’s pessimism and I think this would only be more resounding if readers do a close study of this novel. By this I mean exploring the text’s commentaries and appendices. I had the opportunity of studying this novel at university so feel quite grounded in the context of this story, but certainly feel that this should be taken into consideration if deciding to read this short novel.

I rated this novel so low because I found myself drifting. Despite it being quite short, I did not find myself dwelling on the messages that Inchbald was trying to convey. There is a lot of depth with this story, beyond the short plot, and I think to truly appreciate Inchbald’s work, this should be considered as part of the novel’s offering.

A tale of love, jealousy and destruction

‘Wuthering Heights’ – Emily Bronte

4-star-rating

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Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries.

‘Wuthering Heights’ is a great romantic-gothic novel that transports you to the lonely moors of Yorkshire. The isolation that is prevalent throughout the novel holds you in its grasp and I found myself yearning for character interaction in the story. Because whilst the story of Catherine and Heathcliff is told by Nelly,  I wanted to hear their version of events in a bid to find out more about the mysterious, yet controlling villain.

Heathcliff…. what a rogue! You desperately want to feel sorry for this poor boy at the start of the novel, especially with how Catherine and Hindley (her brother) treat him when he is first brought to Wuthering Heights. But then Bronte reveals more about his character and his ugly ambitions. Heathcliff is a great gothic villain and readers never learn very much about his past, where he went when he left Wuthering Heights and how he came back such a powerful character. However, over the course of the novel, his ambitions become clear and you can predict how he wishes to destroy those around him in revenge to how he was treated as a youngster by the family and even society. I couldn’t help but admire how Heathcliff grew from strength to strength,  proving that no matter how little life gives you at the start,  it is down to your own actions to make something out of nothing.

Now don’t get me wrong,  the control Heathcliff exerts over his wife, son and niece is both remarkable and cruel. It is horrifying to see how he is able to destroy two families through calculated relationships and property ownership. He takes his revenge on the society that spurned him and becomes a very powerful man. As the novel progresses, readers can predict Heathcliff’s next move but it is how he executes it that left me wanting to shout at the other characters for letting themselves be fooled.

I really enjoyed reading this book,  perhaps because of how awful Heathcliff becomes,  but also because I was desperate to see what his ultimate fate would be. Whilst at times I found the narrative a little dense, Bronte’s characters give tremendous fuel to the plot. If you are the sort of person that loves to hate the villain of a story (whilst secretly admiring all that they do), then definitely read ‘Wuthering Heights ‘ and the tale of Mr Heathcliff.

Not a fairy tale by today’s standards

‘The Water Babies’ – Charles Kingsley

2-star-rating-1

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The Water Babies – Charles Kingsley

Tom, a poor orphan, is employed by the villainous chimney-sweep, Grimes, to climb up inside flues to clear away the soot. While engaged in this dreadful task, he loses his way and emerges in the bedroom of Ellie, the young daughter of the house who mistakes him for a thief. He runs away, and, hot and bothered, he slips into a cooling stream, falls asleep, and becomes a Water Baby.

In his new life, he meets all sorts of aquatic creatures, including an engaging old lobster, other water babies, and at last reaches St Branden’s Isle where he encounters the fierce Mrs Bedonebyeasyoudid and the motherly Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby. After a long and arduous quest to the Other-end-of-Nowhere young Tom achieves his heart’s desire.

A satirical, fantastical novel that follows young Tom on his adventures as a water baby, this often becomes quite tiresome to read as Kingsley has a lot to say in as many words! Often he comments that this is a fairy tale, but it is difficult to ignore the satirical comments towards 19th century society. True, it has the narrative voice and attempts to teach like a fairy tale, and, on further research after reading this, it was originally accepted as a child’s novel, but this is certainly not the case when reading it in the 21st century. Yes, his comments are interesting to ponder and sometimes quite funny, it is the manner that it is told in that is most challenging and difficult to overcome.

The characters Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid and Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby summarise Kingsley’s intentions for “teaching” his readers. Whilst there are some humorous parts to this story, such as his commentary on taxing long words, I found it a struggle to keep focused on the story and did find myself racing to the end, simply to find out Tom’s fate.

Give this book a go if you are interested in 19th century satire. It does read similar to ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ because of this social commentary and the fantastical world created. If you have always been curious about this story and what it has to offer, then I would definitely recommend dipping in and out to fully appreciate what Kingsley is trying to say. In fact, I would recommend to all who are interested to read up on this novel once you have finished to really understand the background to Kingsley’s commentary.

The pursuit of happiness

‘The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia’ – Samuel Johnson

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The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia – Samuel Johnson

‘Rasselas’ compresses into a hundred or so pages everything that puts Dr Johnson among the great lions of English literature and life.

Telling how Rasselas and his companions escape from the bland pleasure of their perfectly happy valley in Abissinia to Egypt, to study how people live, the book is a parable and a pilgrimage in which all manner of subjects are discussed – flying machines, poetry, marriage, madness. ‘Rasselas’ embodies Dr Johnson’s most powerful and heart-warming qualities: his tragic sense of life, his justice, his wisdom which is never boring or solemn, and his miraculous ability to balance humour with sympathy in weighing up some of life’s more mysterious problems – what is happiness, and how can we find it?

I find it ironic that the last book I reviewed was a 20th century take on the pursuit of happiness, and now here I am again, but this time reviewing Samuel Johnson’s interpretation from 1759. It’s not surprising that I have rated this as dreary because it is sometimes a bit of a slog. What I mean by this is not just the language and style of writing, but the social commentary that Johnson includes.

The novel follows the Prince and Princess of Abissinia, as they decide to escape the Happy Valley – a plentiful paradise where every wish is fulfilled. They desire more – they want to feel a need for life and desire. In other words, they are no longer satisfied by the material and wealthy life that the Happy Valley offers.

The procrastinating and deliberating of the Prince and Princess is entertaining because they appear to lament on the negativities of society and procrastinate on its issues, but often are not compelled to widen their observations of society. Instead, they seek other ways of living to make comparisons. I think this is clearly summarised in the concluding chapter, titled ‘The conclusion, in which nothing is concluded’ and, like ‘The Beach’, the reader is left feeling that nothing has been gained, questioning whether the Prince and Princess are now truly happy?

The book has very short chapters and this helps you dip in and out of it. I think this is important to fully appreciate Johnson’s commentary because it does require a lot of thinking at times! If you are up on your classics and 18th century history, then definitely give this a go. It is interesting to consider Johnson’s social commentary at the time and undoubtedly this does enrich one’s reading of this novella. However, don’t feel put off at giving this a go. At the very least, you will read a short story about two members of royalty who go off on an ancient jolly!