Humour

Evelina by Fanny Burney

Cover - Evelina

Frances Burney (1752 – 1840) or more popularly Fanny Burney was an English novelist and playwright. Her sharp wit and keen observation prowess were celebrated in her own time.

Evelina: Or the History of a Young Lady’s Entrance into the World was first published in 1778. At that time period it was unthinkable for a woman to become a published author. Fearing negative publicity and the wrath of her father Burney first published Evelina anonymously.

Evelina is an epistolary novel. It tells the story of Evelina, a naive young woman from an isolated village, as she takes her first steps outside her sheltered home to the great big world. Through a series of lengthy letters her trials and tribulations, often funny and sometimes unpleasant, are related to the readers. A satirical version of the norms and fashions of the 18th century English society serves as a background to Evelina’s adventures.

Burney’s writing reminded me very much of Jane Austen’s (1775 – 1817) works. Austen was said to have been an admirer of Frances Burney’s books. In fact, the title for Austen’s celebrated Pride and Prejudice apparently comes from the final pages of Burney’s novel Cecilia.

This is a lengthy book but it didn’t feel long. I fairly flew through it.

The book does contain some irritating qualities. There is a certain repetitiveness in the untoward situations Evelina keeps getting into. Even the dialogues and the way she gets rescued are the same. The only saving grace is she mostly saves herself by running away from her tormentors (even though it does seem a little unbelievable after a while). If she was the type of heroine who depends on a man to rescue her every time and faints at the drop of a hat, I would have hated this book.

Among the main characters the protagonist, Evelina, is good. Her character does have the requisite ‘good woman’ traits but she is not irritating like so many other classic heroines.

Most of the male characters are reckless or boorish or both. The only two exceptions are Reverend Villars and Lord Orville. But they are more like cardboard cut-outs than real characters. Sir Clement Willoughby should be labelled as the villain of this piece but his character does have some ambiguous traits. The character of Mr. Macartney feels superfluous.

Both the characters of Madame Duval and Captain Mirvan I didn’t much care for. They are both insufferable. The way Captain Mirvan treats Madame Duval is outrageous to say the least. The Branghtons are more caricatures than anything else and some of the situations involving them are funny but they are infuriating nevertheless.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Evelina. This is my kind of book. A classic with a simple story, good characters and a happy ending. Recommended.

The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit

Lately I have been making up for lost time. Growing up, I have missed out on a lot of children’s classics. The Railway Children is one of them.

The Railway Children written by Edith Nesbit was serialised in The London Magazine in 1905. It was published in book form in 1906.

After their father is sent to prison, siblings Bobbie (Roberta), Peter and Phyllis along with their mother move into a house near a railway station. The railway station soon becomes the focus of the children’s lives as they become friendly with the local people and the mysterious ‘Old Gentleman’ who always rides the 9:15 down train.

I liked how the children in the book seem real. They do have a lot of adventures and are at times insufferably good but they are also impatient and immature a lot of the time. Things like their everyday fights and trivial shenanigans are also given importance in the narrative. Like the exchange between Peter and Bobbie after Peter gets hurt during their fight over a rake or Phyllis’s honest (and often hilarious) thoughts and opinions on things,

‘He called me un-un-ungentlemanly,’ sobbed Phyllis. ‘I didn’t never call him unladylike, not even when he tied my Clorinda to the firewood bundle and burned her at the stake for a martyr.’

Nesbit was accused of plagiarism in 2011. Apparently a lot of the plot points of The Railway Children were very similar to that of The House by the Railway (1896) by Ada J. Graves. These accusations notwithstanding, I would love to read more of Nesbit’s books, particularly The Enchanted Castle.

Even though I might have enjoyed children’s classics such as The Railway Children more if I really were a child, I do still find joy in them. Other than a few parts (like the chapter The Pride of Perks) I have greatly enjoyed reading The Railway Children.

The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse is a collection of eighteen interconnected stories. The book follows the adventures of Bertie Wooster’s clueless friend Bingo Little, as he keeps falling in love with every other girl he meets. Wooster and Jeeves, of course, get entangled in it all and hilarity ensues.

The book was first published in 1923. All the stories had previously been published in the Strand Magazine between 1918 and 1922.

The stories mostly come in pairs. In most cases the first story ‘starts’ while the second story ‘concludes’ another one of Bingo’s romances.

In Jeeves Exerts the Old Cerebellum and No Wedding Bells for Bingo, Bingo Little loves Mabel the waitress. His uncle poses a threat to his matrimonial designs. So, Bertie Wooster has to pose as an author named ‘Rosie M. Banks’.

Aunt Agatha Speaks Her Mind and Pearls Mean Tears are two of the stories that do not deal with Bingo Little’s many love affairs. Instead they deal with Bertie’s troubles with the frightening Aunt Agatha and how he finally manages to get one up on her.

The Pride of the Woosters Is Wounded and The Hero’s Reward deals with Bingo’s love for Honoria Glossop and his hatred for her kid brother Oswald. While trying to assist Bingo, Bertie gets unwittingly engaged to a girl he loathes.

In Introducing Claude and Eustace and Sir Roderick Comes to Lunch, Bertie’s cousins, Claude and Eustace, come home with a top hat, several cats and a Salmon. Meanwhile, Sir Roderick Glossop, the noted nerve specialist, comes to lunch and questions Bertie’s sanity.

A Letter of Introduction and Startling Dressiness of a Lift Attendant sees Bertie fleeing for his life from Aunt Agatha after the incidents of Sir Roderick Comes to Lunch. Bertie and Jeeves land up in America where they endeavour to stop Cyril Bassington-Bassington from acting in a ‘musical comedy’.

Bingo Little falls for the formidable Charlotte Corday Rowbotham and vows to bring forth a revolution in Comrade Bingo and Bingo Has a Bad Goodwood.

The Great Sermon Handicap sees Bingo hiding out in Twing Hall after the events of Bingo Has a Bad Goodwood. While there he promptly falls for Lord Wickhammersley’s daughter Cynthia. Bertie goes to keep him company and also to indulge in a spot of gambling. The mischievous twosome, Claude and Eustace, reappear.

In The Purity of the Turf, still staying at Twing Hall, Bertie and Bingo bet on the ‘Annual Village School Treat’ and try to fight off Rupert Steggles’s attempt to sabotage their prospects.

The Metropolitan Touch brings about the end of Bingo’s sojourn in Twing Hall. He falls for Mary Burgess and tries to impress her by organizing the ‘Village School Christmas Entertainment’. Needless to say his attempts backfire much to the delight of Rupert Steggles.

In The Delayed Exit of Claude and Eustace, Bertie tries to ship off Claude and Eustace to South Africa. Matters get complicated when the twins try to woo the same girl.

Bingo and the Little Woman & All’s Well, sees Bingo Little finally settling down to marital bliss and the real identity of ‘Rosie M. Banks’ is revealed.

My favourites are from the book are Introducing Claude and Eustace, Sir Roderick Comes to Lunch, The Great Sermon Handicap and The Purity of the Turf. I like Pearls Mean Tears because it is one of those rare Jeeves and Wooster stories where Bertie gets to win albeit with the help of Jeeves.

Bingo Little is irritating at times. Seriously, the amount of times he falls in love is ludicrous to say the least! He is possibly stupider than Bertie Wooster and that’s saying a lot.

Wodehouse’s writing is as usual funny and easy to read. I have come to realise that his shorter fictions always manage to entertain me better than his longer novels.

I liked reading The Inimitable Jeeves. The stories may seem repetitive at times but they are mostly funny. Recommended.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl was published in the US by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. in 1964 and in the UK by George Allen & Unwin in 1967.

The story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory revolves around little Charlie Bucket and his trip to the mysterious Mr. Willy Wonka’s amazing chocolate factory.

The book is extremely short. I finished it in about an hour.

I loved Charlie and his unusual family. Grandpa Joe is especially lovable.

All the chocolates in the book sound delicious! I wish at least some of them were real.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been adapted for the screen twice. First in 1971 as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and in 2005 as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I have watched the 2005 Johnny Depp version of it. Although the plot of the 2005 version differs to a certain extent from the book, the movie version was very enjoyable.

Some of Mr. Wonka’s remarks are very funny. I laughed out loud at certain parts,

‘Whips!’ cried Veruca Salt. ‘What on earth do you use whips for?’

‘For whipping cream, of course,’ said Mr Wonka. ‘How can you whip cream without whips? Whipped cream isn’t whipped cream at all unless it’s been whipped with whips. Just as a poached egg isn’t a poached egg unless it’s been stolen from the woods in the dead of night!’

I liked the illustrations by Quentin Blake. They fit Dahl’s story perfectly. No wonder they collaborated for so many years.

I liked reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but I have my reservations about the book. All of the naughty children get their comeuppance seemingly by ‘accident’, accidents which were rather nasty at times, the Oompa-Loompas obvious joy at the accidents and their songs about those accidents, all of this is frankly disturbing.

I read Roald Dahl’s The Great Automatic Grammatizator and Other Stories, an adult short story collection, last year and found that Dahl’s vision can often be very dark. Even in a juvenile fiction book like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory I can see darker undertones. Overall, I enjoyed the book but I just can’t help but get uneasy at some of Dahl’s rather wicked sense of humour.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

London Lavender by E. V. Lucas

I first came across E.V. Lucas while reading a collection of short stories. The short story was called The Face on the Wall. It created quite a deep impression on my mind and I’ve been on the look out ever since for the original collection from which this story came.

After a lot of searching I finally found London Lavender, published in 1912. Now, I expected this to be a short story collection of some sort. But when I started reading it I was considerably taken aback. What was this? Shall I call it slice of life? Or is this another one of Lucas’ essay collections with a touch of fiction? I’m not even sure whether to call this fiction or non-fiction. One thing is for sure, this book is definitely not what I had expected.

E. V. Lucas (1868-1938) was an English essayist, biographer, novelist, and journalist among many other things. He was a successful writer of light-hearted non-fiction. His subject matter ranged from sports to paintings to family life. One of his most noteworthy contributions was a series of scholarly works on Charles Lamb. Lucas was known for his easygoing style of narration. But unfortunately his reputation has gone downhill since his own time. Modern readers have mostly rejected his writings as dull. He has been criticized for being impersonal. His biographers maintain that he was very different from his writings and was a bitter man with a taste for the obscene.

In London Lavender a very loosely co-related series of narratives are recounted by the narrator of the story, Kent Falconer. He is the one thing that is common among the various vignettes. The stories are weird if not unrealistic. But of course some of them are not stories at all. There is a peek in to the development of early cinema. A holiday in Italy. At least three evenings spent at the drawing room of a gentleman discussing contemporary politics, literature and supernatural experiences in real life respectively. A day is spent at the races. Various folk songs and dances are recorded. And then there are the various stories recounted by the characters themselves. Of course there are proper conclusions to some of the stories in the end. The readers are not left hanging. But most of the vignettes do not need a conclusion at all.

And then there are the characters. What a vast array of people! Most of them are so interesting. There is a zoo keeper who is unnaturally attached to ‘apes’  (not monkeys, as he firmly states), a family of delightful young girls (I did not know young women in early 20th century were ever allowed to behave that way),  a reluctant ‘Knight’, a couple of  ‘modern’ young men and women, a movie director/scriptwriter at the dawn of ‘moving pictures’, a man who becomes a thief by stealing his own property and of course the narrator and his wife.

The writing I found very easy to read. I practically flew through the book.

Lucas’ witty insights and often unorthodox way of looking at things really entertained me. In some places I laughed out loud. Like when the narrator asks a young aviator about his experiences while flying (which was, without a doubt, a very novel experience in 1912),

“What is it like in the air?” I once asked him.

“Ripping,” he said.

“But the sensations?” I continued. “How do you feel?”

“Ripping,” he said.

“And what does the world look like down below as you rush along?”

“Ripping,” he said.

Lucas seems quite liberal towards women. Most of his female characters are strong persons with opinions of their own.

I have only a few complaints about this book. It contains some mild racism and some dull patches. Nothing else really bothered me.

London Lavender was a rather surprising experience for me. Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers  is the only book I can think of that comes close to the structure of this book. It certainly left me with the same contented feeling that The Pickwick Papers did.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.