Final Wrap-up Post For the Back to the Classics Challenge By Catherine Middleton:


Well, it has been a big effort to complete the full twelve books for this Back to the Classics Challenge.

I am so happy with most of the books chosen and feel satisfied that these important books are embedded in memory.

Books which were in this category for me were:

Can you forgive her by Anthony Troolope

The African Queen by C. S. Forester

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

True Grit by Charles Portis

Things Fall Apart by China Achebe

The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

I am a Camera by John Van Druten

The Shiralee by D’Arcy Niland

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Books not enjoyed were:

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.

Classic Comic Novel: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

I decided to read this book as an eBook. The University of Adelaide has a great archive of books which are out of print or out of copyright.

This was the last in the Challenge for me to read, and I was disappointed with it. It is an account of a two week boating holiday from port of Kingston to Oxford and back to Kingston. It was published in 1889, and authored by Jerome K Jerome. This was the main book of Jerome which was greatly popular. The royalties from it kept Jerome comfortable financially indefinitely. The book has inspired film versions over decades. Notwithstanding this, for me the characterisations, including of Montmorency the dog were shallow and two-dimensional; for me, the humour was stilted, repetitious of theme, and mild.
On the positive side, there were some travel descriptions of villages as they navigated the Thames.

I think that the version which I read had only a few of A. Frederics illustrations. I see there were 67 in the copy available on Amazon.

This book has really stood the test of time, and many reviewers have enjoyed it. Seems it just wasn’t for me; and joins the only other book this Challenge that I did not like, The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer.

Back to the Classics Challenge: Classic from a place you’ve lived: The Shiralee (Australia)

This might be my favourite book read for this challenge. In the Australian idiom, a shiralee is a swag or a burden. Macauley was a swagman who walked around the backroads of western New South Wales, who suddenly found himself encumbered with his small four year old daughter on the road. She started out as his Shiralee, but became much more.
The author of the book, D’Arcy Niland, grew up in Glen Innes, in NSW. His father was a cooper and wool classer. Following a brief stint as a reporter, the Great Depression saw D’Arcy travelling the countryside turning his hand to a variety of jobs: farm labourer, opal miner, circus hand, potato digger, and shearing shed rouseabout. Niland had an intimate knowledge of the lifestyle that Macauley, too, led.

Ruth Park and D’Arcy Niland working together.

Later, when Niland married renowned author Ruth Park, they travelled over many parts of western NSW, too. They had 5 children. Their youngest, twins, Deborah and Kilmeny Niland wrote and illustrated children’s book. I loved Mulga Bill’s Bicycle, and When the Wind Changed, with my own children.

D’Arcy Niland died tragically young at 49 from a heart conditions. His wife wrote two books which were autobiographical of her childhood in New Zealand their lives together respectively: A Fence around the Cookoo (1992); and Fishing in the Styx (1993).

Some of the towns and place names mentioned in the book are:
Coonamble; the banks of the Castlereagh; Gilgandra; Dunedoo; Guyra; Dorrigo; Ulmarra; Collarenabri; ”walking across the Gallatherha Plains in the black soil country; Walgett; Potaroo, Moree; the Barwon (river); the Murrumbidgee (river).

A lot of the idiom and thinking used by Macauley is iconically Australian. For example:

No rain at the right time, too much at the wrong. Macauley forced the door shut. He ate a meal out of a tin with bread and butter. He drank the lukewarm tea. He made up his bed and lay on it. He wished the tick were filled with gumleaves. There was nothing better. Straw had a stink, and it broke up and the fluff irritated your nose.

There was a notice on the wall from last year; it was scribbled in pencil and headed up: Craphouse Duties. It gave a list of men’s names and their rostered days. It ended up with the injunction in snaggled capitals: Kangarooing it Not Allowed. And in smaller letters: Remember others have to sit where you shat. The notice was signed by the shearers’ rep. Chalked on a weatherboard slab at the far end of the room was an inscription: Fang Davis shore here in ’37. Underneath it was a postscript added by some other hand: Yes, the moaning bastard.

he was surprised that the old man, too, had seen Buster as a burden to him: a swag to be taken, and often carried, wherever he went.

all she had to do was keep an eye on the billycan and tell them when it was boiling.

This was the man Macauley wanted, this hit-run driver, the dingo of the highway.

From her I found this out: to live is not easy and often by the time a man has learnt how to live his life is over. She had a home with me. It wasn’t much, but she didn’t grumble. She put the hobbles on me. She had a rope round my neck and she wouldn’t let go. I didn’t have to be frightened of her getting away from me. She was frightened of me getting away from her.

Beautiful use of complex English:

He found the sulky among a sargasso of derelicts in the blacksmith’s yard. (Sargasso – banks of tropical seaweed)
All that flightiness was gone, and the cultured guyver. (affected speech)

He told him of the stories the river had told him: of the drover’s horse that whickered in the moonlight, galloping along the river bed, under the surging waters that played music in its nostrils and teased out its tail like a golden bush.

The black earth was a lurry (a confused jumble) of cracks.

I get to give you the best that money can buy buckshee. (free).

I think this book will stay with me always, a deeply rewarding read. I would love to see the two film versions of the story: the 1957 movie starring Peter Finch as Macauley and the 1987 mini-series starring Bryan Brown as Macauley.

Back to the Classics Challenge: a Classic Play: I am a Camera

This was a quick enjoyable read. The story of the play is a working of Christopher Isherwood’s book The Berlin Stories. In his books and the play, Isherwood is an English writer struggling to survive in Berlin just as Hitler is rising, as Isherwood had. Sally Bowles was based on the real cabaret singer Jean Ross. Christopher and Sally lived in adjacent boarding house rooms. Sally Bowles character was only a character in one of the stories in The Berlin Stories, but became the focus of John Van Druten’s play, along with Christopher Isherwood (Her Issyvoo) himself. The play is published by the Dramatists Play Service Inc., and includes an introduction by John Van Druten which is very interesting. The play was first performed in 1951, with the film starring Julie Harris and Peter Harvey following in 1955.

Cabaret, the movie, a further iteration of the play starring Liza Minnelli and Joel Gray. Sally in the play was a failed singer, with a tragic motif through her life. Sally played by Liza Minnelli was consummately talented, and rises triumphant at the end.

Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) was one of the most celebrated writers of his generation. He left Cambridge without graduating, briefly studied medicine and then turned to writing his first novels, All the Conspirators and The Memorial. Between 1929 and 1939 he lived mainly abroad, spending four years in Berlin and writing the novels Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin on which the musical Cabaret was based.

John Van Druten was an English playwright who had moved to the USA by the time he wrote I am a Camera in 1951.

I did enjoy reading this, including it’s format as a play. I look forward to re-watching Cabaret, the movie and also the 1955 film I am a Camera.

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.