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The Idiot

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Russia, mid-1800s.  When Prince Myshkin returns to his native country, he is young, naive, and not fully recovered from the physical and mental illnesses that had sent him to Switzerland.  A sudden inheritance plunges him headfirst into the Russian aristocracy, and he is unprepared for its gritty reality.  Torn between the woman he loves and the woman he pities, Myshkin must face the world for the first time in his life, to either rise above prejudice or be forever labeled "the idiot".

This was my second Russian lit read, after Eugene Onegin.  I was taking the "History of Russia & the USSR" this fall, so it seemed a good time to read some more Russian lit.  I was drawn to The Idiot, moreover, due to its being Dostoyevsky and because of its "saintly" hero, which, according to the back cover, is the reason why Dostoyevsky wrote it.  Overall, I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.  Recommended?  Not sure.

While not necessarily a saintly hero, Myshkin is certainly …

Thoughts on 'The Idiot'

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I am getting very close to finishing this book, and so far, it has been both fascinating and (to my knowledge) truly original.  I have a feeling it's going to end badly--but then again, the plot has not been predictable.  It keeps shifting from scene to scene, focusing on specific characters and their problems, with no continuous plot except the day-to-day life of Prince Myshkin, a very noble character.

There is the common theme of searching: each character is looking for something, and no one has found it yet.  Rogozhin, the anti-hero, is trying to win the love of Nastasya, a mistreated and embittered woman.  She, in turn, is trying to escape from her past and find real happiness.  The middle-aged Yepanchin couple tries (unsuccessfully) to be conventional, and the youngest Yepanchin daughter is looking for independence.  Even Lebedev, a wannabe lawyer, makes it his business to hunt around for gossip. 

And Myshkin?  He searches for stability, peace, and, above all, goo…

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

...I there became acquainted with a Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin. This young gentleman was of an excellent—indeed of an illustrious family, but, by a variety of untoward events, had been reduced to such poverty that the energy of his character succumbed beneath it, and he ceased to bestir himself in the world, or to care for the retrieval of his fortunes...Books, indeed, were his sole luxuries, and in Paris these are easily obtained.This is our mysterious introduction to Charles Auguste Dupin, who stars in a short story trilogy written by Edgar Allan Poe.  A sort of French Sherlock Holmes, Dupin lives reclusively in Paris with apparently no aspirations, except the gaining of knowledge and the solving of puzzles, via probability and logic.  In the first story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, the gory murders of a mother and daughter have baffled the Parisian police force; and when the police give up, Dupin must step in and find the killer.

I first read the Dupin stories many years ago…

Nathaniel Hawthorne / Secret Sharer / Hunted Down

The Secret Sharer
by Joseph Conrad
Overall rating:  5 out of 5 stars.

What would you do if you found out your roommate is a wanted criminal?  This is the narrator's dilemma after he rescues a man, Leggatt, from the ocean and brings him aboard his ship.  The narrator finds that they share not only a similarity in rank, but a similarity in appearance; and this strange coincidence helps influence the narrator's tough decision.

I really enjoyed this short story--the writing style was amazing, as always, and the story itself was more figurative than literal.  Good read.


Hunted Down
by Charles Dickens
Overall rating:  4 out of 5 stars.
...my first impression of those people, founded on face and manner alone, was invariably true.  My mistake was in suffering them to come nearer to me and explain themselves away.So states Mr Sampson, 'Chief Manager of a Life Assurance Office', who believes in the truth of first impressions.  And one day, he has a particularly bad first-impression--tha…

Sylvie and Bruno, volume 1

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{Note:  I only just found out that Sylvie & Bruno is a two-volume book--I read vol. 1 and thought it was the entire story.  In any case, I'll be reviewing this in two parts, and treat vol. 2 as a sequel.}

Outland: a crazy, fantastical world, where the government is about to be taken over by a conniving official, his wife, and his ferociously unruly son.  It seems the wrong place for Sylvie and her brother, Bruno--two fairy-children whose loyal love keeps them together no matter what.  Meanwhile, real-world character Dr Arthur Forester has fallen in love with Lady Muriel Orme, a lady of sense and cheerful character.  Arthur is hesitant about expressing his feelings; and when the handsome, charismatic Captain Lindon comes to visit, Arthur fears he's lost all chances. 




By Leafnode (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Lewis Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno is much like the Alice books, highlighting nonsense and riddles, and featuring children as the main characters.  A…

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came

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Thus, I had so long suffered in this quest,
Heard failure prophesied so oft, been writ
So many times among "The Band''---to wit,
The knights who to the Dark Tower's search addressed
Their steps---that just to fail as they, seemed best,
And all the doubt was now---should I be fit?And with these pessimistic thoughts, the narrator--Childe Roland--sets out on a byway to find the infamous Dark Tower, from which none of his friends ever returned.

This is a very odd poem, to my mind.  Robert Browning quotes a phrase from King Lear and uses it as both the title and the centerpiece, but in the most literal sense--bringing the hero no farther than the Dark Tower.  The imagery is gothic and gory..."Drenched willows flung them headlong in a fit / Of mute despair, a suicidal throng / The river which had done them all the wrong"....."As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair / In leprosy; thin dry blades pricked the mud / Which underneath looked kneaded up with blood"…

Poems / Three Men in a Boat / Through the Magic Door

Poems in Two Volumes
by William Wordsworth
Overall rating:3.5 out of 5 stars

Just what the title says: a (incomplete) collection of poems, by Wordsworth.  Some are narrative, some are world events-inspired, and many deal with nature (particularly flowers).  The Prelude was not included, but the book contained a decent selection, overall.

Sometimes I just find myself in the mood to read poetry.  If you have these moods, too, then this is a nice, relaxing read.  It's not nonstop epically wonderful, but there are some gems here and there.  Certainly gives you a good sample of Wordsworth's work.      

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) (1889)
by Jerome K. Jerome
Overall rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars.  There is one use of a racist word.  I read a public domain and presumably unedited version, though, so this might be omitted in other editions.

Victorian England.  Looking to get away from the daily grind, three friends--and Montmorency, a fox terrier--spontaneously dec…

The Marble Faun

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By Andreas Tille (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Aaron Logan (http://www.aaronlogan.com/ and http://www.lightmatter.net/gallery/albums.php) [CC-BY-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons


By AngMoKio (selfmade photo) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons


Kleuske at nl.wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons


I went to Rome this summer; Hawthorne was my tour guide.  I saw catacombs, cathedrals, gardens, tombs, fountains, picture galleries, countryside--he described it all, with great detail.  And we met some interesting people, too.



There was Kenyon, the American sculptor, studying the statuary and working on a portrayal of Cleopatra.  He's a "well-informed" gentleman, with an unfortunate tendency to go off onto long, philosophical discourses whenever he has an opportunity to do so.  It is very like him not to choose a Roman legend as his subject...wherever he is, his truest thoughts seem elsewhere.







They revert often back to Hilda.  Sh…

Under Western Eyes

Under Western Eyes (1911)
by Joseph Conrad
Overall rating:  5 out of 5 stars

By his comrades at the St. Petersburg University, Kirylo Sidorovitch Razumov, third year's student in philosophy, was looked upon as a strong nature—an altogether trustworthy man. This, in a country where an opinion may be a legal crime visited by death or sometimes by a fate worse than mere death, meant that he was worthy of being trusted with forbidden opinions.Forbidden opinions...those are precisely what Razumov wishes to avoid.  An illegitimate son of a Russian nobleman, Razumov lives alone and has no expectations in the world, nothing except what he can earn through persevering work.  Content with his life, he tries to ignore the revolutionists on campus and instead turns his energy towards earning "the silver medal", by which he can better his academic standing.  But one day, he comes home to find an assassin hiding in his rooms, expecting aid in escape.  Razumov's reaction …

Round the Red Lamp

Round the Red Lamp, Being Facts and Fancies of Medical Life
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
My overall rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Round the Red Lamp is not a novel, but a collection of short stories.  Each is somehow connected with doctors and their work, of the late Victorian era; but beyond that, they hold few similarities.  Nostalgia, romance, horror, comedy, science-fiction, realism--the genres vary drastically from story to story, with plots ranging from the heartwarming to the nerve-wracking.  And oftentimes, the reader can only guess at what is Fact and what is Fancy.

The subject of Victorian doctors may sound, at a glance, boring; but I found this book to be a real page-turner and excellent reading (with a couple of exceptions).  I especially loved the "day in the life" stories that seemed firmly based on reality (i.e. "His First Operation", "A Medical Document"), and the hilarious "A False Start", about a young doctor desperate for pati…

Eugene Onegin

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"  Noise, laughter, bowing, hurrying mixed,
Gallop, mazurka, waltzing—see!
A pillar by, two aunts betwixt,
Tania, observed by nobody,
Looks upon all with absent gaze
And hates the world's discordant ways.
'Tis noisome to her there: in thought
Again her rural life she sought,
The hamlet, the poor villagers,
The little solitary nook
Where shining runs the tiny brook,
Her garden, and those books of hers,
And the lime alley's twilight dim
Where the first time she met with him. "

Eugene Onegin
by Alexander Pushkin
Edition:  Oxford World's Classics, paperback
My overall rating:  5 out of 5 stars. 

Bored by the dissipation and drama of his youthful life, Eugene Onegin withdraws from society to his inherited estate in the Russian countryside.  His only friend is Vladimir Lensky, a young, romantic poet who is engaged to Olga Larin.  Her older sister, Tatyana, is a plain, quiet introvert.  She takes more interest in books and the countryside than anything else, until she meets Onegin.…

The Blithedale Romance

The Blithedale Romance
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Edition:  Oxford World's Classics, paperback.
My overall rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars


19th century New England.  A group of men and women set out to establish "Blithedale", a community of farmers whose aim is to set an example to the world of their peaceful, profitable, and simpler life.  Blithedale is led by three celebrities:  Miles Coverdale, a poet and the narrator; Hollingsworth, a philanthropist; and the elegant "Zenobia", an author and women's rights advocator.  They are also joined by a strange, timid girl, Priscilla, whose very existence and loving personality changes their lives--or rather, it helps bring to light the true characters of those around her.

This book was not originally on my reading list; I chose it at random at the library, because I'd been wanting to read more Hawthorne and it looked very readable.  I really didn't know what to expect.

As a work of American literature, I think The Blit…

The Shadow-Line

The Shadow-Line, A Confession
by Joseph Conrad
Edition:  Oxford World's Classics, paperback
My overall rating:  5 out of 5 stars.  Recommended.

A young merchant officer finds his career taking an unforeseen turn, when he is suddenly promoted to becoming captain of his first ship.  What he doesn't know is that its last captain died a deranged man; and the ship's second-in-command, Mr Burns, is still haunted by the memory. And when the voyage starts to go very wrong, the new captain realises he must fight something different than physical hardships, if he is to lead the ship safely to port.

This is the third story by Conrad I've read, and maybe even the best.  It is only about 130 pages long and very readable, but Conrad's signature style--full of eerie atmosphere, eccentric characters, and intense narration--was strong from start to finish.  At the same time, The Shadow-Line has a very youthful narrator with an entirely different "voice" than Marlowe (the narr…

The Master of Ballantrae

The Master of Ballantrae
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Edition:  Dover, paperback
My overall rating:  3.8 out of 5 stars

Charming, conniving, cruel, yet loved by almost all who know him, James Durisdeer is the oldest son of a Scottish nobleman, and destined--as he believes--for a life of fame, success, and power.  Against others' wishes, he leaves his estate and sets out to become a soldier, only to find that his immoral and wasteful lifestyle leads him to ruin.  He takes out his anger on his younger brother, through whom James means to drain the Durisdeer estate of its wealth.

But apart from James, this book is as much about Henry Durie, who is the younger brother and the more responsible of the two.  Like Guy Morville, Gregor Samsa, and Frodo Baggins, Henry is an upright young man with a strong sense of duty, a person whose consistent goodness is just as consistently persecuted by evil.  Unlike saintly Sir Guy and stoic Frodo, however, Henry is more of an average guy, who heart is torn b…