All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque…a Classic in Translation

I am so late in life reading classics which others would have read earlier in life, no doubt due to focus on study in other areas and life focus in other areas. This delicious post-retirement space has opened up, where reading has come into focus again……so glad I did not miss out on this Classic.

Throughout life I have I have had a strong identification with the vulnerability and, too often, the tragedy of young men going to war. World War One epitomised the large scale waste of youth and the devastation of a generation. The small brushes of war in my own life have been…

seeing a cousin drafted into the Army, off to Vietnam at Central Station as a teenager

being aware that my father had had a “long” war in New Guinea in World War Two (Itape to Wewak Trail) making him an older father when he married

The impact of the loss of my mothers young brother-in-law during WW2

watching numerous WW2. Movies with my mother on Sunday afternoons, growing up

researching the death of My father’s older cousin who enlisted in WW1 early, went first to Gallipoli, then to France. He was injured severely three times, and sent back to the Front each time, to be killed a couple of months before the end of the war

always finding ANZAC day Commemoration deeply moving, to weeping

Remembering Rudyard Kipling’s loss of his son, who he foolishly signed consent to join up, his death on the front after rapid field promotions. His grave site not being found till after Kipling’s death. Kipling had looked for it the rest of his life

the poor aftercare that Veterans get too often

a need to augment my small bunch of poppy flowers which my mother (deceased) initiated, in a dish on her sideboard

the poppies at the Australian War Memorial…

Dulce et Decorum est by Wilfred Owen (The old Lie!)…the Old Lie being that old men in faraway rooms decide and manage wars, the young men are thrown as fodder into it….

wonderful movies made by the Australian and British film industries commemorating the 100 years since

I have completed my two WW1 commemoration knitted rug throws…

Virginia Woolf’s book, Mrs Dalloway. Also movie, starring Vanessa Redgrave as the older Mrs Dalloway, and Natascha McElhone playing the younger. A close description of the annihilation of those killed as well as the survivors

All a little tangential to the topic…

I read All Quiet on the Western Front as an audiobook as well. It was stark in its portrayal of the reality for young German men in WW1 at the Front. Aside from a few references to the German forces or the Allied forces, the work could as well have been about British or Australian soldiers. They were all thrown mercilessly from trenches into no-man’s land. I was devastated by the ending, which was very naive of me.

It was first published in Germany in 1929; then 2.5 million copies sold in 22 languages in the first 18 months.

The author, Erich Maria Remarque, was himself traumatised, by his time at the Front as an 18 year old, thus able to portray the tragedy, bleakness and loneliness if being at war. He was injured, and lost companions.

This book was one of the books which were burned at Hitler’s Book banning and burning. It was stigmatised as subversive in Hitler’s Germany and was rendered poorly available. At the same time, it became and remains a classic in the rest of the world.

Remarque changed his name back from Remark (a Germanified form) to reflect the French origin of his father’s family. He replaced his middle name with Maria to honour his mother. Before WW2, he moved to Switzerland to live; later, he became a US citizen, but finished his life back in Switzerland. Later in life he married movie star Paulette Goddard. He wrote other books, but this is the world famous classic.
The book w

A.W. Wheen translated the book into English very early in 1930 for British publishers. His age and war experience was very similar to Remarque’s. Wheen was an almost exact contemporary of Remarque. Born in New South Wales in 1897, Wheen enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) in October 1915. He was quite severely injured and was not well enough to be discharged till 1920. His is regarded as the best text, translated with the knowledge of the experience. There was another translation which is more word for word, but stilted (Murdoch). Then there were two American translations which deleted significant parts to sanitize it for the American reader, the first more than the second.

Such a worthwhile read, conveying the true pall of war.

The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott…a very long classic

The Jewel in the Crown is the first novel in a set of four books called the Raj Quartet written by Paul Scott. (Raj refers to the occupation of India by the British Crown from 1857 to 1947. Prior to that The British East India “ran” the country.
Book 1: The Jewel in the Crown (1966).
Book 2: The Day of the Scorpion (1968).
Book 3: The Towers of Silence (1971).
Book 4: A Division of the Spoils (1975).

A further book, with some of the same characters and settings was called Staying On, referring to the few British who decided to stay on after the independence of India from Britain in 1947. It won the Booker Prize for 1977.


Scott first went to India in the Armed Forces in 1943 during World War 2. He knew the soldiers life, both private and later commissioned, the social heirarchy amongst British and Indians, as well as the politics and cultural context. He returned to India several times after the war. There is an excellent Wikipedia entry about Scott. The author comments that his entries regarding Scott’s writing career were original research.

“Scott’s novels persistently draw on his experiences of India and service in the armed forces with strong subtexts of uneasy relationships between male friends or brothers; both the social privilege and the oppressive class and racial strata of the empire are represented, and novel by novel the canvas broadens.”


I first came to know this story as a British 1984 series of the same name, on the ABC TV. There were fourteen episodes, and I understand the story encompassed the four books of the Raj Quartet. I loved the series then, and have watched it several times. I chose to “read” this long book as an Audible book, starting early in the year, slowly plying though the 33 hours on morning walks.

Reading The Jewel in the Crown gave wonderful depth to the characters and a greater feel for the historical and social context of the book, over and above the television series.

Hari, an Indian young man, raised and educated in Britain was out of place in India. Daphne Manners was a young English woman, who felt at odds with the class system, and racism. The two were very drawn to each other. In the wake of their coming together, a tragedy unfolds, and we hear in depth about them and the many other players in the tragedy from many different speakers.

The book is beautifully constructed, giving us in depth understanding of all the characters and the political and class restraints on all. I am so pleased I have read this book. I also loved learning about Paul Scott’s life. I think he was an interesting man, but also flawed, giving his wife and daughters a hard time with his temper. I would like to read his biography by Hilary Spurling: Paul Scott, A Life of the Author of the Raj Quartet.
A rewarding read.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. A Classic from Africa

These three books in order make up An African Trilogy.

Quite coincidentally in the choosing of this book, it became the second book read in this competition, that is set in Africa, this time in Nigeria, somewhere near the lower Niger. It is set in the late 1800s on the cusp of British colonisation, along with missionaries bringing Christianity to replace the age-old gods of the Igbo people.

It is written by Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian author and poet, and was his debut novel. Published in 1958, the book became regarded as the first African classic written in English, and has since been a set book in many schools all over the world.

In the first of three parts, in each chapter, we meet Okonkwo and his family and fellow villagers of Umuofia (his father’s clan’s village) and Mbanta (his mother’s clan’s village) and the culture of the Igbo tribe of peoples as it was before the arrival of the White Man, in this case British missionaries. The culture was patriarchal, in various ways brutal eg., the killing of twin babies, murder of other tribes-people, the beating of wives; however, the society is very stable and sustaining of countless generations. The protagonist is the strong, proud, but flawed warrior, Okonkwo. We come to know all his family and the culture that defines them all. He is a wealthy yam farmer, wealth being counted as numbers of seed yams possessed. Kola and palm-wine are items of welcome and social offering. He lives in his own hut within his compound with the huts of his three wives and their children in separate huts behind his.

In the second part, we go with Okonkwo and his family, to the neighbouring village of his mother’s family, for the seven years of his banishment for accidentally killing another tribe member. During those years, British missionaries arrived in his home village. They are treated with tolerance and derision at first, and given the worst land for their church; however they embed themselves in the village, and start to change the culture. 

In the third part, Okonkwo and his family return to Umuofia. Okonkwo is angered by the missionaries and the changes, including the conversion of his son. The story continues to a clash between Okonkwo and others with the British authorities. He is released but the story moves to a shocking conclusion with things unbearable, as Things Fall Apart……

I loved reading this book. It is simply presented, (a narrative in the oral style as was the tradition of story-telling in the Igbo culture), and easy to read. I felt immersed in that culture, and loved all the African names of people and villages. For example, neighbours Okoye and Ogbuefi Ezeugo; family members Ekwefi and Ezinma; Agbala the Oracle.

In part 1, Chapter 5, the Festival of the New Yam is described. There is music, dancing, drumming and wresting. Music is provided by the Udu, the Ogene and drum sets.

It is worth adding some quotes from this chapter:

“The drums were still beating, persistent and unchanging. Their sound was no longer a separate thing from the living village. It was like the pulsation of its heart.”

“There were seven drums and they were arranged according to their sizes in a long wooden basket. Three men beat them with sticks, working feverishly from one drum to another. They were possessed by the spirit of the drums.”

“At last the two teams danced into the circle and the crowd roared and clapped. The drums rose to a frenzy.”

“Their bodies shone with sweat, and they took up fans and began to fan themselves.”

“The drums went mad and the crowds also. They surged forward as the two young men danced into the circle. The palm fronds were helpless in keeping them back.”

“The crowd had surrounded and swallowed up the drummers, whose frantic rhythm was no longer a mere disembodied sound but the very heart-beat of the people.”

Perhaps with some deprivation in my education regarding literature, I had never heard of Chinua Achebe. He was a poet and novelist, a chieftain of the Igbo people of Nigeria. Things fall apart has been regarded as a masterpiece. I will read more of him. No infringement of copyright is intended.

True Grit by Charles Portis: A Classic Novella, Back to the Classics 2019 Challenge

Arkansas novelist, Charles Portis’ classic tale turned 50 last year.

My version of the book was a 50th Anniversary Edition published by Overlook Press New York, 208 pages long, with an additional Introduction, Afterward, and Essays.

I really loved this novel. Charles Portis published it in 1968. (The movie rights were snapped up before the book was published!) It is narrated by the iconic heroine Mattie Ross as she recalls, from the vantage point of old age, events which occurred she was 14 in about 1880. Mattie’s family lived on a farming property near the town of Dardanelle, Yell County, Arkansas. Her father had gone about 70 miles west to Fort Smith to buy ponies for hunting in rough country. While in Fort Smith, he was murdered needlessly by his wastrel farmhand Tom Chaney, a man to whom her father had previously shown great kindness.

Mattie’s home was near Dardanelle on the right-hand side of the map. Her father, then herself, rode 70 miles to Fort Smith. Both towns were in Arkansas.
Tracking the outlaw Tom Chaney Lead into the Winding Stair Mountain in Choctaw Country, in Oklahoma. In 1880, however, there were yet no State lines.

Independent, strident, forthright, Mattie, who was also gifted with being able to drive a hard bargain, and having a strong sense of justice, travels to Fort Smith searching for a Federal Marshall to take her into Indian Territory (Choctaw Country, also a haven for renegades) to either arrest Chaney and return him to stand trial and hang for he father’s murder, or to shoot him herself with her father’s gun. She is looking for a man with True Grit to lead her into the Indian Territory and she chooses Rooster Cogburn. 

LaBoef, a Texas Ranger, also in pursuit of Chaney, completed the trio……. 

The horses need a special mention. Rooster’s “tall” horse was called Bo…he is felled in the classic shootout.

Matty’s choice of pony, which she bought back from the horse trader, was named by her, Little Blackie. Little Blackie was probably on the way to the soap factory if not for this. Later in the book, Little Blackie and LaBoef pull Mattie from the snakepit.

Mattie states, “Then I saw the horse. It was Little Blackie. The scrub pony had saved us! My thought was: The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner.”

 Then, Rooster rides her lovely black pony to death to save the snake-bitten Mattie. 

The written and spoken language of the story was contemporary to the time of the events, with many intriguing colloquialisms.

There is a very good review of the book in The Daily Beast by Allen Barra, which reflects on the language. 

“The cadence and rhythms of Portis’s prose in True Grit were shaped by the speech of his older neighbors in rural Arkansas—people who grew up speaking English that owed much to the King James Bible with echoes of Shakespeare’s English and traces of the oral traditions of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. It’s a speech light on contractions and Latinate words, largely unaffected by television or even radio. It’s the resonance of the Old Testament, lightly seasoned, on occasion, with classical allusion. Portis’s ear never lost it. Willie Morris once told me about the old folks where he grew up in Yazoo, Mississippi: “They didn’t read much poetry but knew how to speak it.”  

While in college, he (Portis) had a part-time job at a small paper, editing the stringers in tiny communities, typing up their handwritten reports. All of the color of their idiosyncratic imagery found its way into his notebooks and, eventually, into Mattie and True Grit’s other characters.”

“The language of True Grit influenced scriptwriters of the best westerns of the last few decades, including Tombstone (1993) and the HBO series Deadwood (2004-2006).”

Viewing both the movies of True Grit is also well worthwhile. The 1969 version stars John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, Glen Campbell as LaBoef, and introducing Kim Darby as Mattie. This version was regarded as a vehicle more for John Wayne. I love that John Wayne rode the horse he always rode in his Western movies. Wayne insisted on doing the final scene hurdle of the four-post fence himself on his characters replacement “tall” horse, ie., his own regular movie horse. It was exhilarating to watch.

The 2010 version is regarded as more complex, and sticking more closely to the book. It starred Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn, Matt Damon as LaBoef, and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie.

Below is Allen Barra’s list of the rise of the Great American Western Novel.

“The first shot, so to speak, was Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man (1964), a tall tale told by the only white man to survive Custer’s Last Stand. Then came Michael Ondaatje’s Neruda-inspired book-length poem The Collected Works of Billy the Kid (1970), Ron Hansen’s novels about the Dalton Gang, Desperadoes (1979) and the James Gang, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (1983), Larry McMurtry’s epic story of a cattle drive from Texas, Lonesome Dove (1985), Cormac McCarthy’s novel of Bruegelian carnage in the early Southwest, Blood Meridian (1985), Pete Dexter’s elegiac tale of the last days of Wild Bill Hickok, Deadwood (1986), and most recently, Daniel Woodrell’s Civil War-era novel of Quantrell’s Raiders, Woe To Live On (1987) and Mary Doria Russell’s fictional account of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the O.K. Corral, Epitaph (2015). Next week, The Library of America is releasing Elmore Leonard: Westerns, which includes the original stories for classic western films Valdez Is Coming, Hombre, and 3:10 to Yuma.”

A SEPARATE PEACE by John Knowles (A Classic Tragic Novel)

I selected “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles to read as my choice for A Classic Tragic Novel. This was one of three books which I purchased from Barnes and Noble, 7th Avenue, New York, each written by American authors. It is a coming-of-age novel first published in 1959, regarded as an American Classic, and which has been a set book for study in American schools over the years since it was published. It is set in the Summer of 1942 at a wealthy boarding school in New Hampshire.

The story focuses of a small group of boys who have a further time at school before graduating; however, enlisting looms for all of them. Gene is an introverted academic, sharing a room with the outgoing, adventurous, athletic Finny. Gene becomes jealous of Finny, unbeknownst to Finny. During a dare-devil game participate in by a group of the boys, Gene manages to cause Finny to lose balance on a high tree branch causing him to fall to the ground, instead of into the river below. The book follows the reactions of Gene, the eventual realisation by Finny and the reaction of other boys. A second accident for Finny has the ultimate consequence, with disturbance into the future for many of them. Feelings are admixed with the pervasive sentiments regarding war and peace. Finny had a separate peace.

I was pleased I read this book. I thought it captured the effect and foreboding of the War on these very young men, juxtaposed with the further imprint on them all of a stupid act born of immaturity and jealousy with tragic consequences. It was curious to me that seemingly there were no mature adults having any presence or impact on the psyches of these young men; but perhaps this is the norm for essentially teenagers to be anxious about and aspiring to their own sense of agency without adults. I felt affected by the tragedy myself.

The author, John Knowles, had himself attended Phillips Exeter Academy, on which he based the school in the novel called Devon. Knowles then spent time in the US Army Air Forces at the end of WW11 – in the novel some of the boys considered leaving school at their 17th birthday to join the Air Force, rather that wait to be drafted into the Army on finishing school. Finny was based on friend he met at a summer session, as in the novel; that friend was a friend of Robert Kennedy. Gore Vidal claims that Knowles told him that the character of Brinker was based on him.

Knowles other significant book was Peace Breaks Out, set just after the war, at the same school. but written in 1981, so long after A Separate Peace. Knowles seems to have been processing his own response to youth, camaraderie, war, peace and loss.

I was able to buy the movie of the same name in Google Play. I enjoyed the movie as well, another interpretation of the novel.

Anne of Green Gables (Classic from the Americas)

I cannot remember reading Anne of Green Gables in my own childhood, but it came into consciousness when acquiring it, probably from the Beaudesert Library, for then 10 year old daughter, J. It has been a delight to now read it myself at the age of 66 years. Daughter, J, read several of the sequels, and the Emily books, as well.

Once again, I made an effort to get a lovely version of the book – this time, when unaccostomedly being in New York, trekking down 5th Avenue to the Barnes and Noble bookstore. There was a lovely pastel yellow leather-bound version with gold-embossed pages with ribbon bookmark, and beautifully laid out quality pages with some of the original illustrations. Having read this book, it is now dedicated to J’s little daughter, A – another generation of kindred spirits.

Lucy Maud Montgomery brings us orphaned Anne who arrives at Green Gables, the home of Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, on Prince Edward Island, Canada. Anne is vibrant and optimistic and forthright, fully embracing her new life, inspite of her harsh earlier childhood years. We go on her adventures and misadventures, her growing up, her forging of friendships (and frenemies with Gilbert) and an invaluable family with Marilla and Matthew. She would be exciting and inspiring to the young reader.

Montgomery was able to draw on her own childhood which had many similarities, having lost her own mother very early in her life, and grown up happily with her grandparents, in a green gabled house in the village of  Cavendish on Prince Edward Island.  Montgomery was raised mostly by her Aunt Emily Macneill until Emily was married (when Maud was about 10 years old), and left the Macneill farm. Maud lived with her “grandmama”, Lucy Macneill, and grandfather, Alexander, except for ages 16 – 24: she lived with her father for a year in Prince Albert in 1890, took teacher training at Prince of Wales College and taught in Bideford, PEI, took classes at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and taught school in Belmont and Lower Bedeque, PEI. When her grandfather died in 1898, she returned to the Homestead to take care of her grandmother until her death in 1911. Her later marriage to a parson bore three children, Chester, Hugh (died in infancy), and Stuart; however the marriage itself was unhappy over a lifetime for both parties, both suffering from significant depression, and with the pall of the possibility of suicide over the ending of her life at age 67 years.

Outstanding features in the book for me are the deft use of the spoken word in conversation, of which there is much, especially from Anne! and the lovely, frequently very sensory descriptions of the surroundings, e.g.:

“I’m so glad my window looks east into the sunrising,” said Anne, going over to Diana. “It’s so splendid to see the morning coming up over those long hills and glowing through those sharp fir tops. It’s new every morning, and I feel as if I washed my very soul in that bath of earliest sunshine. Oh, Diana, I love this little room so dearly.

                                        ~

Anne was bringing the cows home from the back pasture by way of Lover’s Lane. It was a September evening and all the gaps and clearings in the woods were brimmed up with ruby sunset light. Here and there the lane was splashed with it, but for the most part it was already quite shadowy beneath the maples, and the spaces under the firs were filled with a clear violet dusk like airy wine. The winds were out in their tops, and there is no sweeter music on earth than that which the wind makes in the fir trees at evening.

                                         ~

  – a glorious October, all red and gold, with mellow mornings when the valleys were filled with delicate mists as if the spirit of autumn had poured them in for the sun to drain—amethyst, pearl, silver, rose, and smoke-blue. The dews were so heavy that the fields glistened like cloth of silver and there were such heaps of rustling leaves in the hollows of many-stemmed woods to run crisply through. The Birch Path was a canopy of yellow and the ferns were sear and brown all along it.

No wonder the island has become a tourist Mecca a hundred years later, as Montgomery evoked the beauty of the island through her books. Anne felt very communal with nature, as did Montgomery herself.

I have always loved Marilla in all her iterations – the book, and both the major film versions.

Marilla was a tall, thin woman, with angles and without curves; her dark hair showed some grey streaks and was always twisted up in a hard little knot behind with two wire hairpins stuck aggressively through it. She looked like a woman of narrow experience and rigid conscience, which she was; but there was a saving something about her mouth which, if it had been ever so slightly developed, might have been considered indicative of a sense of humour.

Marilla was born in 1824 in Avonlea, Prince Edward Island, to Mr. and Mrs. Cuthbert. She was raised there along with her older brother Matthew. A few years later after her birth the family moved to Green Gables, a farmhouse which was built by Marilla’s father.

In September 1830, Marilla attended Avonlea School. There she met John Blythe who was said to have been interested in Marilla once, and people called him Marilla’s beau. Unfortunately, they had a quarrel and Marilla never forgave him. She eventually came to regret it and likely would have forgiven John Blythe if she had another chance.

I have enjoyed the Scottish connection. On Prince Edward Island, the largest ethnic group consists of people of Scottish descent (39.2%), followed by English (31.1%), Irish (30.4%),  French (21.1%), German (5.2%), and Dutch (3.1%) descent. 

On Lucy Maud’s maternal side, following the maternal McNeill side, on WikiTree, her great-great grandfather came in Prince Edward Island in 1780. He had been born in Argyll, Scotland. 

My own ethnic origins include widespread Scottish connections in Scotland, the Orkneys and the Western Hebrides, on my Ancestry DNA. There are also many of my connections on both Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, no doubt some arriving with the Scottish Highland clearances after Culloden………..no wonder I have always felt so Kindred Spirit with Pince Edward Island and the Anne stories……..

http://lmmontgomeryliterarysociety.weebly.com

The website of the L. M. Montgomery Literary Society is very Interesting. It includes a paper regarding ‘A Hundred Year Mystery’ of who did the original illustration on the front cover. It is regarded as now proved that the depiction of Anne is by George Fort Gibbs, an American author and illustrator. The internal book illustrators are credited as W. A. J. Claus and M. A. Claus, husband and wife, for the seven illustrations in the book. This paper also draws attention to that fact that there are collectors of various editions of Anne of Green Gables, and that Canada celebrated the famous novel in 2008 with a 100 year Anniversary edition, a fac-similé of the original in 1908……..I might have to acquire one…….

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer


Back to the Classics Reading Challenge 2019

Classic by a Woman

As a teenage schoolgirl, friends were reading one Georgette Heyer after another. I had a couple of tries then, and recall not getting more than a few pages into the book, due to it’s generally not appealing to me.

Some fifty years later with this challenge, I thought I should read and complete a Georgette Heyer. The Grand Sophy was recommend as a good first book of Heyer’s to read.

The young Sophy got to stay with her father’s sisters family when her father went away. She has a catalytic effect on all the romantic relationships presented and, with no romance at all acquires her cousin as her prospective husband. The main other context is Sophy’s ability and bravado driving horses and different types of carriages.

I have read through some of the reviews on Goodreads of The Grand Sophy. Most are 4 or 5 stars, but about one in ten, are poor reviews. There is clearly a subset of people like myself who have not enjoyed this book for the same reasons.

I don’t like doing a poor review of a book and author generally revered; however, I found myself in the minority group which found the storyline flimsy, the characterisation shallow, especially of Sophy, and missing any level of description of the surroundings and context.

I will be happy to leave others to read through all of Georgette Heyer’s books. 

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope (19th Century Classic)

John Grey with Alice Vavasor, BBC TV 1974


I just loved this book! 

Anthony Trollope was an established author when he published “Can You Forgive Her?” as a serial in 20 monthly instalments in 1864 and 1865. There followed a two volume book version later in 1865. The reader is called to attention immediately with the question in the title. Those early readers must have started to ponder immediately…

Even the 80 “Chapter Titles” must have whetted their appetite for each monthly instalment at the cost of a shilling each.

  1. Mr Vavasor and His Daughter
  2. Lady MacLeod
  3. John Grey, The Worthy Man
  4. George Vavasor, The Wild Man
  5. The Balcony at Basle
  6. The Bridge over The Rhine
  7. Aunt Greenow ………etc to Chapter 80

The illustrations of Hablot Knight Browne (also Charles Dickens essential illustrator), are wonderful. All, along with those of Miss E Taylor, who illustrated Volume 2, are available for perusal at http://victorianserialnovels.org/illustrations-can-forgive/

I was a novice in terms of reading any of Trollopes works; however, I have been a repeat watcher of The Palliser series made by the BBC in 1974.

I decided to “read” the book as an audiobook – 33 hours of listening to David Shaw-Parker narrate so well, altering his voice and accent to reinforce which character was which. He gives Glencora Palliser née Macluskie, a soft Scottish accent, which I wasn’t expecting. I also wasn’t expecting how contemporary the language style is – not stilted or overly complex.

The story focuses on three women, all related in the extended Vavasor family, who, by force of the social context of the day, need to choose between two suitors. Alice, about 24 years old, is the main intended of the question to the reader. She vacillates repeatedly between her cousin George, temperamental and imprudent, and the steadfast and patient John Grey. She has frustrated and annoyed readers down the years due to this. I whole-heartedly forgive her. I think the pressures were great on young women, to choose, or have chosen for them, their marriage partner. The unfolding circumstances revealed the deeper and truer natures of each of these men. 

“Can You Forgive Her?” was the first of the six Palliser novels, also known as The Parliamentary novels. Plantagenet Palliser had previously been introduced to the reader as a minor character in The Small House at Allington, one of the Barsetshire Novels. In this first Palliser Novel, we are introduced to his future wife, Lady Glencora, who, from hereon in the rest of the book series, is a major and important character, acknowledged as one of English literatures most scintillating. She is only seventeen when pressured by guardian aunts and social morés, bent on protecting her large fortune, to abandon her first and most passionate love, the handsome but wastrel Burgo Fitzgerald, for the rising and wealthy Parliamentarian, and heir apparent to the dukedom of Omnium. The title question might well be posed by Plantagenet of his wife’s early inability to engage with him in the marriage due to her distraction by Burgo. (He never considers there is anything to forgive – “It does not signify”. I found his constancy for her breath-taking, a portent of his solidity and his ability in his Parliamentary life.

Before God, my first wish is to free you from the misfortune that I have brought on you. Wood Engraving by Miss E. Taylor for the First Edition, Volume 2.
Softly, slowly, very gradually, as though he were afraid of what he,was doing, he put his arm round her waist. Llewellyn Thomas for The Folio Society version 1989.

I did enjoy the dalliance that Aunt Greenow makes of choosing her next husband in short order after the passing of Mr Greenow. She is a connecting character with the extended members of the Vavasor family. The losing suitor may not have felt forgiving of Aunt Greenow in her final choice. 

There were the earliest stirrings in society in thinking and writing regarding inequality in marriage. Trollope was widely travelled in his day job in the Postal Service, and he later travelled to the continent, the USA, Australia twice, and New Zealand. In the context of the day, I felt that Trollope was empathetic to the plight of women, whether consciously or unconsciously. Harriet Taylor Mill had already published her work, The Enfranchisement of Women. Her husband John Stuart Mill would publish his essay, The Subjection of Women in 1869. Trollope wrote in An Autobiography, “But it must ever be wrong to force a girl into a marriage with a man she does not love—and certainly the more so when there is an other whom she does love”.

Trollope had role-modelling in his own life of a strong, capable, adventurous woman in his own mother, Frances Milton Trollope. Mrs Trollope was also a prolific writer, able to support her family with the proceeds. Hence, it is not surprising that his meeting maverick American journalist and lecturer, Kate Field, at his mother’s home in Florence in 1860 was the beginning of a long warm and deep friendship with many meetings and correspondence between the two. Both these women would have given him a broader perspective on the place of women in marriage and society. Alice asks the question “What should a woman do with her life?”

As the book proceeds, there is the feeling of being immersed with the characters, with growing fondness for them. Previously, I have felt this fondness for characters in a family in the early books of The Forsyte Saga (also pertaining to the same period of time as this novel). My mother had read The Forsyte Saga repeatedly through her life, and indeed needed to read it again, “One more time!” before she died, as “they”, the old Aunts, had all become her friends. It was interesting to hear Trollope express this same attitude to the Characters in Can You Forgive Her? “Of Can you For give Her? I can not speak with too great affection”.

More from An Autobiography:

 “In these personages and their friends, political and social, I have endeavoured to depict the faults and frailties and vices,—as also the virtues, the graces, and the strength of our high classes; and if I have not made the strength and virtues predominant over the faults and vices, I have not painted the picture as I intended. Plantagenet Palliser I think to be a very noble gentleman,—such a one as justifies to the nation the seeming anomaly of an hereditary peerage and of primogeniture. His wife is in all respects very inferior to him; but she, too, has, or has been intended to have, beneath the thin stratum of her follies, a basis of good principle, which enabled her to live down the conviction of the original wrong which was done to her, and taught her to endeavour to do her duty in the position to which she was called. She had received a great wrong,—having been made, when little more than a child, to marry a man for whom she cared nothing;—when, however, though she was little more than a child, her love had been given else where. She had very heavy troubles, but they did not over come her……….Lady Glencora overcomes that trouble, and is brought, partly by her own sense of right and wrong, and partly by the genuine nobility of her husband’s conduct, to attach herself to him after a certain fashion. The romance of her life is gone, but there remains a rich reality of which she is fully able to taste the flavour. She loves her rank and becomes ambitious, first of social, and then of political ascendancy. He is thoroughly true to her, after his thorough nature, and she, after her less perfect nature, is imperfectly true to him.”

My enjoyment of this book is reflected in the 4 versions which I have acquired during the “reading” (perhaps after MY less perfect nature, I MUST have FOUR versions!):

The audio version listened to within my Scribd subscription app, read wonderfully by David Shaw-Parker.

The free book at eBooks@Adelaide.

A paid-for version at Amazon Australia Kindle which has all the original illustrations.

Oxford World’s Classics version with annotation by Dinah Birch.

This last version includes Dinah Birch’s introduction which “discusses the relationships at the heart of the novel and elucidates the complexities of the text. An emphasis on issues of gender, social and economic change, and politics in the introduction clarifies the novel’s place in contemporary life. The edition reflects recent critical revaluations of Trollope’s significance as a major novelist, including the influence of the new economic criticism, and new interests in Victorian liberalism. Invaluable appendix outlines the political context of the Palliser novels and establishes the internal chronology of the series and the relationship between fictional and actual political events, providing a unique understanding of the series as a linked narrative. Biographical Preface provides a compact biography of Anthony Trollope, and a Chronology charts his life against the major historical events of the period. Explanatory Notes elucidate cultural, literary and political allusions”.

Can’t wait for this version to arrive………

The African Queen

The African Queen by C S Forester

I acquired this beautiful little volume of The African Queen (MacMillan Collector’s Library) a couple of years ago, having been additionally attracted by its special presentation. It held comfortably in the hand, felt luxurious with its little blue ribbon book mark, and fine gold embossed pages – augmenting the great satisfaction of this “read”.

The story of The African Queen would be well-known to many, having been immortalised in the 1951 film made by John Huston, starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, with some of it made near location in Uganda and The Congo. 

C S Forester wrote this novel in 1935, just before he started the Hornblower series. The story is set early in World War 1, 1915, when German East Africa had control of Lake Tanganyika, in the west, and also had control of the adjacent Indian Ocean on its eastern border via the port of Dar es Salaam. Forester changed the names of the real name places and boats, giving us fictionalised, but thinly veiled versions of these real places, boats, and events leading to the loss of control of Lake Tanganyika by Germany to the British Forces.

Forester’s names and places in The African Queen:

Lake Tanganyika became Lake Wittelsbach.

The Ulanga River was probably the Ugalla River, with its source on today’s Ugalla Game Reserve.

The Königen Luise was the fictional name for the real ship patrolling the Lake, the Graf von Götzen. (The Graf Von Gøtzen was sunk by the British in real life; then, at Winston Churchill’s orders was refloated and rebuilt and re-launched in 1927, as The Liemba. This was the old name for Lake Tanganyika from Livingstone’s time. She still plies Lake Tanganyika.)

Our completely fictionalised protagonists were Rose (Sayer), a unmarried 33 year old woman “approaching middle age”!!, who, at the beginning of the story, had been helpmate for the previous 10 years, to her missionary brother, in the forest of German Central Africa, and (Charlie) Allnutt . Allnutt is a Cockney engineer employed by the Belgian gold-mining company a couple of hundred miles up the river. He and Rose are thrown together by circumstance just as Rose’s brother has died of fever, exhaustion and the devastation of his life’s work buy the arrival of the German military. 

“It was at this very moment that Rose looked out across the veranda of the bungalow and saw Opportunity peering cautiously at her. She did not recognise it as Opportunity; she had no idea that the man who appeared there would be the instrument she would employ to strike a blow for England. All she recognised at the moment was that it was Allnutt……-a man her brother had been inclined to set his face sternly against as an un-Christian example.”

To escape the further incursions of the German Military, Rose and Allnutt set off in the dilapidated African Queen down the Ulanga River, and quickly contrive, that if they survive the perilous journey down-river they will attempt to destroy the Konigen Luise, the German patrol boat plying Lake Tanganyika, striking their blow for England. 

The story is beautifully written with rich descriptive language. Rose takes to the tiller with aplomb, and guides the African Queen through numerous treacherous rapids, while Allnutt stokes and manages the engine. The description of their deprivation (except for Allnutt’s Gin and cigarettes), what each are doing and thinking, the state of the waters, banks, the boat, the mosquitoes and leeches, the heat, and eventually, the malaria, make the story compelling. I often felt I was Rose, revelling in her new skill and adventure, steering the African Queen through rapids. I could almost smell the water and hear its thunder.

“Rose silently took hold of the iron rod; it was so hot that it seemed to burn her hand. She held it resolutely, with almost a thrill at feeling the African Queen waver obediently in her course as she shifted the tiller ever so little.”

“Outside she could hear the noise of the African night, the howling of the monkeys, the shriek of some beast of prey, and the bellow of crocodiles down by the river, with, as an accompaniment to it all – so familiar that she did not notice it – the continuous high-pitched whine of the cloud of mosquitos outside her curtains.”

Rose had previously led a very ordered, confined life, with no prospect of personal happiness. Allnutt, also had an isolated and lonely life. In the intensity of their efforts to survive, they find each other as lovers. Forester is so deft with so few words, in conveying the deep comfort they experience in their eroticism. Allnutt becomes “Charlie” to Rose, and Rose is his new and familiar “Old girl”, in his Cockney accent.

The river finally descends from the highlands into the reeds, and then the waterlilies of the lowland, and finally, the restrictions of the river delta. With Rose’s determination and Charlie’s engineering skill, they make their chance to strike their blow for England.

My edition of The African Queen had a very informative afterward by author and academic Giles Foden. He tells us that there were three different endings for the book – the  original ending which Forester himself preferred in which Allnutt dies in the last events of the book; the version which I read, in which Rose and Allnutt both survive, without the exact fulfilment of their mission for which they had hoped; and the third, which was the Hollywood version of that final event. I think I prefer the version which I read, which yet leaves us imagining further about Rose and Charlie.

Reading The African Queen was exhilarating. 

The African Queen history

The African Queen today

The Story Behind The African Queen

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019: My List

Back to blogging, after a break!! For some years I have followed a variety of bloggers, mainly with topics about sewing, knitting, health, reading, cooking. A longtime favorite is Katrina from Pining for the West.

Katrina lives in Fife, yet pines for the west of Scotland, where she grew up. She is a prolific reader, and reviewer of her reads on her blog. A recent post of hers inspired me to sign up for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019 run by Karen on her blog Books and Chocolate. Hopefully, I will get the chosen book for each category done and blog reviewed each month. Here is my list, still undecided in one category.

  1. 19th Century: Can You Forgive Her by Anthony Trollope (book one of The Pallisers). I am halfway through the 33 hours of audiobook on my Scribd App, multi-tasked “read” while photoshopping old photos!

2. 20th Century: The African Queen by C. S. Forester. I am nearly finished my visually and tactile-ly pleasing edition by McMillan’s Collectors Library.

3. Classic by a Woman: The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer.

4. Classic in Translation: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.

5. Classic Comic Novel: One of these: Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis; Aunty Mame by Patrick Dennis.

6. Classic Tragic Novel: A Separate Peace by John Knowles.

7. A very long Classic: The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott…probably by audio.

8. Classic Novella: True Grit by Charles Portis

9. Classic from the Americas: One of these: On the Road by Jack Kerouac; The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway; The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath; Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.

10. Classic from Africa, Asia, or Oceania: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

11. Classic from a place you have lived – Australia. The Harp in the South by Ruth Park.

12. Classic Play: I am a Camera by Christopher Isherwood.