Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Back to the Classics 2021: WRAP UP!

Limping to the finish line, here's my wrap up of the nine books read and blogged for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2021.

1. A classic by a new-to-you author, i.e., an author whose work you have never read.

The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazán  

2. A humorous or satirical classic.

     Right You Are, Jeeves,  Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, Jeeves and the Tie That Binds by P.G. Wodehouse 

3. A classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title. The animal can be real or metaphorical. (i.e., To Kill a Mockingbird).

     Setting Free the Bears by John Irving 

4. A classic by BIPOC author; that is, a non-white author.

     A Grain of Wheat by  Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

5. New-to-you classic by a favorite author -- a new book by an author whose works you have already read.

     Orley Farm by Anthony Trollope

6. A children's classic. 

     The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame 

7. A classic in translation, meaning any book first published in a language that is not your primary language. You may read it in translation or in its original language, if you prefer. 

     His Excellency, Eugène Rougon by Emile Zola 

8. A 20th century classic: any book first published from 1900 to 1971. 

     Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser  

9. A travel or adventure classic (fiction or non-fiction). It can be a travelogue or a classic in which the main character travels or has an adventure. 

     She: A History of Adventure by H. Rider Haggard

As always, a huge thank you to Karen at Books and Chocolate for organizing this and doing all the heavy lifting. My email is naessa [at] yahoo [dot] com. Most were winners and I am very glad to have read them all; any excuse to explore classic novels I’ve been meaning to get to for years!

Monday, December 6, 2021

Back to the Classics Challenge 2021- She: A History of Adventure.

This title was a perfect pic for the category “Travel or Adventure”.  She: A History of Adventure by H. Rider Haggard was first published in serial format between 1886 and 1887 and is a classic tale of a “lost world”. It is also very much worth remembering that the novel was written at the zenith of British Imperialism and when there were still parts of the globe “undiscovered” by Europeans.  I’ll bet the creators of Indiana Jones also drew inspiration from Haggard’s books.

The book is set up as a double frame narrative.  In the prologue, the “editor” claims to have received the story as a manuscript sent to him by Mr. Horace Holly, a man with whom he only has the slightest acquaintance. Along with the manuscript, Holly has sent his wish that the editor publish and profit from the tale as he sees fit, since Holly doesn't intend to return from his adventures.  Then the text jumps to the manuscript itself which starts with Holly recounting a strange visit from his best friend Vincey who (a) knows he (Vincey) is going to die soon, (b) can recount his family history going all the way back to ancient Greece and Egypt, (c) has a five year old son (Leo) whom he wants Holly take on as his ward, and (d) gives Holly a wooden box to be opened only upon his son’s 25th birthday.  It’s a lot to take in, but of course Holly says yes, his friend promptly dies and the boy comes to live with him. Fast forward 20 years, they open the mysterious box on Leo's birthday and adventure ensues. As a result of what they find, Holly, Leo, and their faithful servant, Job take off for Africa to investigate the origins of Leo’s family history and discover the lost tribe of the Amahagger and their mysterious queen, “she-who-must-be-obeyed”, Ayesha.  

For me, the premise of the book was better than the execution. I expected racism and sexism, but I didn’t expect to be bored. I found most of this novel to be cartoonish and very longwinded about details I didn't really care about. And I like a lot of longwinded Victorian authors (Dickens, Trollope), so I think it is Haggard’s style that simply doesn’t appeal to me.  I don’t regret reading it, but I also don’t see myself seeking out any further books from Haggard’s oeuvre.   

There are some aspects of the story that did surprise me, considering the era in which the book was published. Both Holly and Leo fall in love with Queen Ayesha with no jealousy or alpha-male competition between them. They both respect her and accept her superiority to them, which I found interesting.  On the other hand, Ayesha’s main interest in life is waiting for her long lost lover, who may or may not be reincarnated in Leo, to return to her.  I mean, she is 2000 years old, but still pining for the one who got away? That seems a little reductive. 

This is the 9th book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2021 that I’ve managed to blog, while I have read actually 11. But I think I have to call it a day at nine and wrap it up here. I still have trouble finding the time to do the write ups and also to read everyone else's posts. I am sorry that I haven't been as present in commenting on my friend's blogs as in previous years. I really need to re-think how I want to move forward in 2022.