The Bluestocking Literary Society

A blog about books written by women

Crushed Beneath a Giant Helmet: The Castle of Otranto

Crushed Beneath a Giant Helmet: The Castle of OtrantoThe Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
on 1764
Pages: 106

First published pseudonymously in 1764, The Castle of Otranto purported to be a translation of an Italian story of the time of the crusades. In it Walpole attempted, as he declared in the Preface to the Second Edition, "to blend the two kinds of romance: the ancient and the modern." Crammed with invention, entertainment, terror, and pathos, the novel was an immediate success and Walpole's own favorite among his numerous works.

The introduction to my kindle version of The Castle of Otranto contains the following quote:

This novel has been called one of the half-dozen historically most important novels in English. The founder of a school of fiction, the so-called Gothic novel, it served as the direct model for an enormous quantity of novels written up through the first quarter of the nineteenth century; at one or more steps removed, it has inspired imitations and influenced other forms on up to the present.

And this may be true. If it is true, this proves that something may be influential while simultaneously being pretty awful. Because this book was pretty awful.

Last year, for the R.I.P. IX, I read Uncle Silas, which I described as “a heaping platterful of Victorian gothic what-the-fuckery that must be read to be believed.” I think that Uncle Silas would be considered one of those inspired imitations and influenced forms mentioned in the quote. That being the case, this is one of those occasions where what came after far exceeds what came before in quality.

To summarize, The Castle of Otranto is a short book in which the evil Manfred, a cartoon villain and evil usurper:

dastardly villain

Tries to rape-marry a fainting damsel in distress who previously happened to be engaged to his son, who died when a giant helmet somehow fell on top of him, crushing him on his wedding day. No, I am not making this up.

swooning damsel

The writing is crazy bad:

“I desired you once before,” said Manfred, angrily, “not to name that woman: from this hour she must be a stranger to you, as she must be to me; in short, Isabella, since I cannot give you my son, I offer you myself.” “Heavens!” cried Isabella, waking from her delusion, “what do I hear! you, my lord! you! my father-in-law! the father of Conrad! the husband of the virtuous and tender Hippolita!”—“I tell you,” said Manfred, imperiously, “Hippolita is no longer my wife; I divorce her from this hour. Too long has she cursed me by her unfruitfulness. My fate depends on having sons; and this night, I trust, will give a new date to my hopes.” At these words he seized the cold hand of Isabella, who was half dead with fright and horror. She shrieked, and started from him.”

It’s like a parody, but I think it is meant to be taken sort of seriously. Or maybe not, who can tell? If it is intended to be funny, it succeeded, because there were several moments which I think were supposed to be tension filled and dramatic at which I giggled. I’m not sure that is the reaction Walpole was looking for, but this book is simply ridiculous.

If you are interested in the earliest beginnings of the Gothic novel, by all means, give this one a whirl. If not, I’d skip it and go straight to Uncle Silas, by Sheridan LeFanu or Dracula by Bram Stoker, both of which are far superior in terms of genuine tension and Gothic atmosphere.

Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

Hangsaman by Shirley JacksonHangsaman by Shirley Jackson
Published by Penguin Classics on 1951
Genres: Classics - by women, Classics - Twentieth Century
Pages: 240
Source: Purchased: ebook

Seventeen-year-old Natalie Waite longs to escape home for college. Her father is a domineering and egotistical writer who keeps a tight rein on Natalie and her long-suffering mother. When Natalie finally does get away, however, college life doesn’t bring the happiness she expected. Little by little, Natalie is no longer certain of anything—even where reality ends and her dark imaginings begin. Chilling and suspenseful, Hangsaman is loosely based on the real-life disappearance of a Bennington College sophomore in 1946.

Hangsaman was Jackson’s second novel, after The Road through the Wall, which was published in 1948. Published in 1951, Hangsaman is nominally a bildungsroman about a college freshman named Natalie Waite who attends a Bennington College-like institution. She is the daughter of a second-rate writer and a mother who is a rather desperate housewife. Broken into basically three sections, the novel begins with Natalie at home, on the cusp of going away to college. The second part deals with her first weeks at school, and her fragility and difficulty adjusting to the changes. The third part is a frankly strange look at Natalie’s devolution into what appears to be mental illness. The ending is cryptic and unresolved.

There are several important women in this book. The male characters are largely superfluous to the story – being entirely self-absorbed and interacting with the women primarily as extensions of themselves, Eves to their Adams, created from their ribs, without independent significance. Natalie herself, as a college student, is in a state of limbo, as a young woman who has left the shelter of her father’s home but hasn’t yet transitioned to the shelter of a husband. She is very much in a waiting period – hence, probably, the last name that she was given. Her role in the community and in the larger world is unclear to the reader, and it is unclear to Natalie.

Her interactions with her father show disturbing and inappropriate amounts of enmeshment and a cavalier attitude towards Natalie’s autonomy. Confronted with her unhappiness, her father responds:

There is no doubt but what the class of girls you have as friends is not a representative one, but my plans for you never did include a broad education; an extremely narrow one, rather—one half, from the college, in people and surroundings; the other half, from me, in information. My ambitions for you are slowly being realized, and, even though you are unhappy, console yourself with the thought that it was part of my plan for you to be unhappy for a while.

Natalie’s relationship with her mother is even more tenuous and fraught than her relationship with her father. The first section focuses extensively on a party which her mother is hostessing, which her father has arranged, and there is a long discussion between Natalie and her mother in which her mother explains to her all of her father’s faults, and warns her against marriage. The party itself is excruciating and bizarre, with Natalie interacting with the guests and simultaneously carrying on a mental conversation with a detective who has, in her imagination, accused her of murder. And then there is the sexual assault, alluded to but unexplained, which occurs when one of the guests takes her into the woods behind her home and does something which is never described, nor really referenced again, but which hangs like a pall over the rest of the book.

Both of her parents only see her in relation to themselves, and not as an independent entity.

“It seemed that perhaps her father was trying to cure his failures in Natalie, and her mother was perhaps trying to avoid, through Natalie, doing over again those things she now believed to have been mistaken.”

In addition, Natalie’s fellow students, mostly women, largely dislike her as they jockey for social position, and at least one of her peers is involved in a sordid affair with a professor who is already married to an emotionally fragile ex-student who has grasped the brass ring (marriage, to a handsome intellectual, like Natalie’s mother. Or Shirley Jackson herself) and yet found her prize hollow, retreating into an alcoholic haze to cope. The other young women are superficial, dismissive, and occasionally even mean, but they are brashly capable of navigating a world that is causing Natalie to fall apart completely. Jackson was writing this book in 1951, while her husband was a teacher at Bennington College in Vermont, and as such she would have been intimately familiar with young women in Natalie’s position. There are references, some off-handed, some less so, about conflict between young women living in dormitories, about affairs, sometimes with professors, and suicides, and pregnancies and abortions. As the novel progresses, Natalie’s very grasp on reality seems to splinter, until, after her trip home for Thanksgiving, she is on a bus back to college , and

She wanted to sing and did so, soundlessly, her mouth against the fogged window of the bus, thinking as she sang, And when I first saw Natalie Waite, the most incredible personality of our time, the unbelievably talented, vivid, almost girlish creature—when I first saw her, she was sitting in a bus, exactly as I or you might be, and for a minute I noticed nothing of her richness . . . and then she turned and smiled at me. Now, knowing her for what she is, the most vividly talented actress (murderess? courtesan? dancer?) of our time or perhaps any time, I can see more clearly the enchanting contradictions within her—her humor, her vicious flashing temper, so easily aroused and so quickly controlled by her iron will; her world-weary cynicism (she has, after all, suffered more than perhaps any other from the stings and arrows of outrageous fortune), her magnificent mind, so full of information, of deep pockets never explored wherein lie glowing thoughts like jewels never seen . . .

The narration changes, briefly from third person to first person. Even now, looking back, I don’t know what any of this means – who is the narrator of this passage? Is he – she – real? Natalie’s imagination, again? When Natalie returns to campus, the tension ratchets up, and the book becomes almost a thriller, with midnight wanderings and a terrifying plunging through the dark Vermont woods.

Jackson was adept at plumbing the psyches of disturbed, repressed young women – Merricat, from We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and Eleanor from The Haunting of Hill House, and Natalie. This is an unsettling book, with its look backwards at the cost that society imposed on young women who didn’t fit into the roles that society prepared for them. Not a ghost story, not a murder mystery, Hangsaman is something more abstract but in some ways even more terrifying – a narration of the mental disintegration of a sensitive young woman in a society that neither makes an effort to understand her, nor cares little for her psychological well-being.

A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov

A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail LermontovA Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov
Published by Penguin Classics on 1839
Genres: Classics - Victorian
Pages: 208
Source: Purchased: print book

In its adventurous happenings–its abductions, duels, and sexual intrigues–A Hero of Our Time looks backward to the tales of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron, so beloved by Russian society in the 1820s and ’30s. In the character of its protagonist, Pechorin–the archetypal Russian antihero–Lermontov’s novel looks forward to the subsequent glories of a Russian literature that it helped, in great measure, to make possible.

The description about adventurous happenings, abductions, duels and sexual intrigues makes this book sound far more interesting than it actually is. The “archetypal Russian anti-hero,” Pechorin, is a tedious amalgam of self-absorption lacking in even rudimentary self-awareness, and arrogance untethered from substance.

I actually read a different version. But the cover of this one is so much more perfect than my edition that I had to use it. Because, if I had to come up with a modern equivalent for Pechorin, he is the pretentious, annoying hipster, pretending to be deep and soulful, but really as shallow as a puddle on a hot day. The kind of irritating manipulative assbasket who needs to be unironically beaten to death with his copy of Gravity’s Rainbow before he cuts a swathe of destruction through the lives of other people with twice as much character.

Upon finishing, I was reminded of the men in Fitzergerald’s books (Gatsby, Tom Buchanan, and the relentlessly douchey Dick Diver), whom I universally loathe, and Bungalow 89, a revolting piece of pretentiousness passing for meta-fiction that I somehow stumbled upon in Vice, written (badly) by James Franco. You can find the original here, if you feel like a morning spent retching would be a good use of your time.

If I could Thunderdome him, I’d put him up against Austen’s mistress of manipulation Lady Susan. She’d steal his wallet and roll him for his kidney, leaving him bloody yet somehow still convinced that she is in love with him, and is the most perfect of women.

Conclusion: Skip it and go straight to Tolstoy.


A Framework for the Women’s Classic Literature Event

women's classic lit

While I was making plans for the Women’s Classics Literary Event, it occurred to me that some sort of a loose frame could enhance my reading and understanding. I decided to write a few questions to fall back on when I was reading/writing about the books.

1. What does this book say about women and the roles of women? If the main character is a woman, what are her roles? Does she accept them, or rail against them?
2. What does this book say about female independence and the way that women participate in public life?
3. What does the reception of the book by critics or the public tell us? What role does the work play in terms of women’s literary history and literary tradition?

I’m no literary critic, nor am interested in becoming one, so I will approach these questions pretty generally as a way for me to try to put the books into some helpful perspective. Now that the readathon is over, I’m launching into this project, starting with Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell and Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson.

This is not a list. This is not a list. This is not a list.

Because when I make a list, I invariably scrap it within days if not hours. No, this is a memorialization of some gentle suggestions that I am giving myself for the Bluestocking Project, as I am dubbing it. Books I want to read or reread, and authors I want to explore more fully.

I am seriously considering making 2016 the year of reading (almost) only women* authors.

So, some ideas:

My personal Big 5 women’s classics authors are: Jane Austen, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Edith Wharton and Willa Cather. I have read all of Austen’s novels more than once, but with it being the 200th anniversary of the publication of Emma in December, I have been looking forward to rereading her longest novel. I want to explore all four of the remaining novelists – I am very excited about reading some non-Middlemarch Eliot, and some non-North and South Gaskell. I’ve read a lot of Wharton, but I know there is more out there for me to experience, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of Cather.

In the children’s classics arena, there are so many possibilities: Louisa May Alcott & P.L. Travers leap immediately to my mind, along with Lucy Maude Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Johanna Spyri and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

In the speculative fiction/fantasy genre, I’m interested in continuing to read L’Engle, as well as Diana Wynne Jones, Edith Nesbit,and Tamora Pierce.

I also want to spend some time reading books written by women of color: Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Zora Neale Hurston are the most obvious choices, but also Nella Larsen and Octavia Butler.

There are many other women authors I want to read over the next year – listing them all is impossible, but they would include: Barbara Pym, Muriel Spark, Monica Dickens, D.E. Stevenson, Dorothy Whipple, Mollie Panter-Downes, Angela Thirkell, Stella Gibbons, Dodie Smith, E.M. Delafield & Nancy Mitford.

Finally, women writers are doing some of the most exciting, interesting and compelling writing right now, in YA (Maggie Stiefvater, Brenna Yovanoff and Nova Ren Suma), mysteries (Julia Spencer-Fleming, Deanna Raybourne, and Louise Penney), speculative fiction (Lois McMaster Bujold, N.K. Jemison, Ann Leckie & Kate Elliot) and general fiction (Marisha Pessl, Gillian Flynn, Donna Tartt) that spending a year reading women will barely scratch the surface of what I want to read.

A year of celebrating the passionate intellect of women, by reading gloriously, dangerously, subversively. And writing about it. What fun!

*Of course, I have two ongoing projects that I will be continuing with – I am rereading/reading Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogies and I am doing a long-term one chapter per week Tolkien project on Booklikes, which will continue into 2016 and beyond. So, Tolkien and Sanderson would disrupt my plan, but just a little.

Bring on the Ladies: An Introductory Survey

I haven’t had much energy for my blog since posting my wrap up of the Classics Club challenge. Honestly, I’ve been really wondering what was going to come next for this blog. I still plan to do something with the children’s classics, but just in the nick of time the Classics Club announced something awesome for me to really sink my teeth into!

women's classic lit

As you can see by my classics club list, I have read a lot of women writers already. But every one of the writers I’ve already read has more classics that I haven’t dipped into (well, except Emily Bronte) and there are dozens that I’ve been meaning to get to but haven’t.

Now is the time, and in honor of the project, I’ve renamed my blog “The Bluestocking Literary Society.” More on that, later!

Unable to contain my enthusiasm, I respond to (at least some of the questions) the survey with delightful alacrity (some of the questions are worthy of a whole post in and of themselves, so I will hopefully come back to them in the next few days – you can find the full survey here):

Pick a classic female writer you can’t wait to read for the event, & list her date of birth, her place of birth, and the title of one of her most famous works.

There are so many, but I’m going to choose one that will be completely new to me: Barbara Pym. She was born on 6/12/1913 in Shropshire, and was nominated for the Booker Prize for her novel A Quartet in Autumn.

Recommend three books by classic female writers to get people started in this event.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
My Antonia by Willa Cather
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Seriously, these are all amazing books and everyone should read them.

Will you be joining us for this event immediately, or will you wait until the new year starts?

Why wait? I haven’t been this excited about a project in months. Diving right in.

Do you plan to read as inspiration pulls, or will you make out a preset list

I will make out a preset list, which I will no doubt largely abandon. Self-awareness is a wonderful thing.

Do you hope to host an event or readalong for the group? No worries if you don’t have details. We’re just curious!

I would love to host an event or a readalong, but I haven’t put together anything even in my own head yet. Also, it’s terrifying to jump in and propose a readalong because what if no one comes to a party I try to throw! Yikes!

Share a quote you love by a classic female author — even if you haven’t read the book yet.

A book, too, can be a star, a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.” Madeleine L’Engle

Classics Club: The Future

Today is my Classics Club three year anniversary, and, not coincidentally, is also the day that I decide where I am going from here – because as you know from yesterday’s post, I’ve actually accomplished that initial goal of reading 50 classics in 5 years.

This is also a good time to update and regroup on some of my other projects as well. I’ve always been a fan of the fall, and it has always seemed to me that September 1st, with its back to school new beginning, its shorter days and cooler evenings, fresh notebooks and new television series, is the best time to make reading plans.

fall reading

The Agatha Christie read is clipping along like gangbusters, and I am on track to finish all of Poirot by the end of 2015. I’m way behind on posts, however, so that’s something to work on! I’ve also made significant progress on my Heyer read, although I’m behind on posts there, as well.

Which brings me to goal #1: finish my posts in a more timely fashion.

I am also most active on booklikes – this is where I post updates, non-review posts, chatty stuff, and where I comment on other people’s posts.

Which brings me to goal #2: post more memes and comment more on other blogs!

Finally, new projects:

I want to read more children’s classics – so that will be the focus of my next Classics Club project. There are several series that I will draw from to find classic children’s books:

The New York Review Books Children’s Collection publishes gorgeous editions of slightly-out-of-the-way children’s literature. I already own a couple of books from the collection, but am interested in expanding my trove. Puffin Classics, as well, publishes inexpensive editions of classic children’s books. I also own a lot of children’s books that are begging me for a reread. The only requirement for inclusion in this round of the Classics Club is that the book have been originally published at least 20 years ago, before my oldest was born, on or before 1995.

I also plan to continue exploring classics at my own pace. I want to finish The Chronicles of Barsetshire, read more Dickens, Gaskell, Bronte, Wharton and James. Maybe explore some genre classics as well.

Which brings me to goal #3: 25 more classics in two more years (by my original finish date of September 1, 2018) and 50 children’s classics in 3 years (by September 1, 2018).

Classics Club: Recap

On September 1, 2012, I started my Classics Club project with big plans – I had a long list of hard books that I intended to read. I reorganized my project about 15 months later, after I realized that an assignment list really wasn’t very much fun and was turning the project into something that I wasn’t enjoying. I updated my page with classics that I had read but that weren’t on the existing list, and then decided to scrap the list altogether and just go forward reading what struck my fancy, with some basic ideas as to where I was headed. Recently I realized that I was really close to my initial goal of 50 classics in 5 years, so I made a huge push to get everything reviewed by August 31, the three year mark.

And, whew, I made it. I’m done.

Project Recap:

Total number of pages read: 20,634

Total number of centuries spanned: 3 (1794 through 1962)

Total number of books written by women: 21. I’m actually sort of surprised by the fact that 42% of the books were written by women. I didn’t make any effort at all at gender balance, but I know that I absolutely gravitate to books written by women writers. Even in a challenge that is probably going to be heavy on dead white guys, while I didn’t make it to 50% women, I wasn’t far off.

Oldest book read: Lady Susan by Jane Austen: Lady Susan was my only 18th century work, and just barely squeaked in because it was written in 1794. A novella, it was crisp, entertaining and Austen’s portrayal of the manipulative Lady Susan was first rate. Totally underrated, in my opinion, and should be more widely read by readers who love Jane Austen.

Newest book read: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. One of my few rules was that any book I read for the Classics Club had to be at least 50 years old. This one was published 53 years ago.

Favorite author: Edith Wharton. Before the Classics Club I had only read The Age of Innocence, which I just re-read. After the Classics Club I can honestly count Wharton as one of my favorite authors. I absolutely love the complexity and depth of her books.

Favorite book: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. This book was a total treat for me. I loved so many things about it – John Thornton is right up there with Mr. Darcy in the swoon-worthy category, and many of the supporting characters were complicated and interesting. I can’t wait to read more Gaskell.

Least favorite author: Nathaniel Hawthorne. I read The Scarlet Letter and The Blithedale Romance and I can say unequivocally that I am over Hawthorne. Never again.

Most hated book: King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard. What I thought I was getting: a rollicking adventure story about an Indiana Jones type character. What I got: a book that was devoid of suspense about an obnoxious, racist jackass who slaughters elephants. It had no redeeming qualities as far as I was concerned.

Longest book: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. At 1200+ pages, this was a committment that took more than a year to fulfill. I ended up really liking it, but Hugo never had a thought that he didn’t think was worthy of inclusion.

Shortest book: Lady Susan by Jane Austen. But since I already mentioned that one, the second shortest was The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, which is a fun read for the autumn season, and is more humorous that scary.

Biggest failure: Not finishing The Count of Monte Cristo after two and a half years. Not sure if I will ever go back.

Biggest success: reading four Dickens novels. I initially planned to read all 15 of Dickens’ novels, but struggled through Dombey and Son and realized that I needed a change of plans. I still eventually want to read them all, but I’m not going to force a schedule.

Rating Report
Overall: zero-stars

My Classics Club: The Finish Line

Cover collage! Recap coming tomorrow.

Rating Report
Overall: zero-stars

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South by Elizabeth GaskellNorth And South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Published by Penguin Classics on 1855
Genres: Classics - Victorian
Pages: 521
Source: Purchased: print book

'How am I to dress up in my finery, and go off and away to smart parties, after the sorrow I have seen today?'

When her father leaves the Church in a crisis of conscience, Margaret Hale is uprooted from her comfortable home in Hampshire to move with her family to the north of England. Initially repulsed by the ugliness of her new surroundings in the industrial town of Milton, Margaret becomes aware of the poverty and suffering of the local mill-workers and develops a passionate sense of social justice. This is intensified by her tempestuous relationship with the mill-owner and self-made man John Thornton, as their fierce opposition over his treatment of his employees masks a deeper attraction. In North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell skillfully fused individual feeling with social concern, and in Margaret Hale created one of the most original heroines of Victorian literature.

I read this all the way back in January, and I loved it so much and I had so much to say that I never managed to say any of it. So, settle in. Because this is my favorite Victorian novel of all time. I adore Middlemarch, which comes close, but nothing by Dickens or Collins or Hardy or Trollope can approach the love that I feel for North and South. I can’t believe that I’d never read it.

If I must make full confession, I have to admit that this:

John Thornton

May have something to do with my love for John Thornton. Yes, I’m shallow.

But Richard Armitage isn’t the only reason that I fell in love with North and South. The reasons are numerous:

First, I love the fact that it is set in the industrial north of England, which is a change from much Victorian literature that is set in London. Added to that, the fact that some of the characters are “working class” was a tremendous treat. Nicholas Higgins was a complex character who was treated respectfully by Gaskell, which delighted me. Uneducated though he was, and a bit of a political firebrand, he was willing to humble himself in an effort to get his job back when he took on the obligation of supporting the children of a fellow mill worker who had died.

Second, Mrs. Thornton was a bad ass Victorian lady. After John Thornton’s father speculated badly and lost his money, committing suicide in despair, she was left to raise two children basically by her wits alone. Her son, hardworking and ambitious, is ultimately able to buy the mill and become the owner. He says about his mother:

“My mother managed so that I put by three out of these fifteen shillings regularly. This made the beginning; this taught me self-denial. Now that I am able to afford my mother such comforts as her age, rather than her own wish, requires, I thank her silently on each occasion for the early training she gave me.”

When I take a moment to reflect on how difficult it would have been for a woman like Mrs. Thornton to not merely survive, but to thrive and remain unbowed and unbroken, I am even more impressed by Mrs. Gaskell. Mrs. Thornton has a backbone of steel – talk about strong female characters. In addition, though, she is complex and flawed, which makes her even more compelling.

Finally, the romance between John Thornton and Margaret Hale brings out the best in both of them – eventually. Margaret begins the book haughty, upset at being moved to Milton, missing the sophisticated society of southern England. She is out of her element in the industrial north, and looks down on the working class mill workers. Over time, however, she begins to see the value in their lack of sophistication, plain speech and work ethic.

This same transition occurs with her opinion of Mr. Thornton who proves himself to be more than worthy of Margaret. It is a reversal of the Lizzie Bennett/Mr. Darcy conflict. As Darcy must come to recognize that Lizzie is his equal in spite of her lack of fortune and crazy family, so must Margaret come to the conclusion that Mr. Thornton is her equal, even if he is in trade. He proves again and again that a gentleman is not born, but is made – including when he initially proposes to her, and she rejects summarily rejects him, rather than responding with anger, he takes a different approach:

“Miss Hale might love another — was indifferent and contemptuous to him — but he would yet do her faithful acts of service of which she should never know. He might despise her, but the woman whom he had once loved should be kept from shame; and shame it would be to pledge herself to a lie in a public court, or otherwise to stand and acknowledge her reason for desiring darkness rather than light.”

It takes many months for her to realize that she has fallen in love with him, as he has fallen in love with her.

“At that third call she turned her face, still covered with her small white hands, towards him, and laid it on his shoulder, hiding it even there; and it was too delicious to feel her soft cheek against his, for him to wish to see either deep blushes or loving eyes. He clasped her close. But they both kept silence.

At length she murmured in a broken voice: ‘Oh, Mr. Thornton, I am not good enough!’ ‘Not good enough! Don’t mock my own deep feeling of unworthiness.’”

And she’s right, really – society will think she is marrying down, but it is Thornton who has proven himself to be the more noble person. In the end, they both stand up to their families and declare their love for one another

‘How shall I ever tell Aunt Shaw?’ she whispered, after some time of delicious silence. ‘Let me speak to her.’ ‘Oh, no! I owe to her, — but what will she say?’

‘I can guess. Her first exclamation will be, “That man!”‘

‘Hush!’ said Margaret, ‘or I shall try and show you your mother’s indignant tones as she says, “That woman!”‘

the kiss

Overall, I highly recommend this book to fans of Austen or Eliot. It is a novel of manners, but tackles significant themes as well: the struggle between modernity and tradition, the plight of the working class, appearance of virtue versus appearance of vice, and other things. I predict that it will turn out to be one of those books that I reread frequently.

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