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Archive for the ‘Dickens’ Category

My Top Ten novels

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I made a list eight years ago. Some later reading experiences crave for admission!

The Idiot – Fyodor Dostoevsky, Russian, I read it in Swedish though. The novel that has all you need, violent love, tender love, crime, religious debate, ridiculous scenes, doubtful business dealings, all of it. And a rather ambiguous message: the title person gets into catastrophe, but I feel that in the heart of it, he is the only sane person and all the others sick.

Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften – Robert Musil, in German. The Man Without Qualities. A counterpart to the above: a very thick unfinished novel with thin contents, but intellectually fascinating and partly very funny.

War And Peace – Lev Tolstoy, Russian. Read in Swedish, alas. A huge painting of Russia in wartime with all kinds of people running into and out of it, with Emperor Napoleon in an important role.

Le Rouge et le Noir – Stendhal, French. The Red and the Black. Youthful passion crushed by corrupt society. Also a harsh criticism of the Catholic Church.

NEW: Our Mutual Friend  –  Charles Dickens. The fates of some families of different social ranks, who at times get entangled with each other. Some disasters and some survivals among them, and at least one happy end. Almost a Dostoevsky of London!

Fröknarna von Pahlen – Agnes von Krusenstjerna, Swedish. The Misses von Pahlen, a series of seven novels about social life in the early 20th century, focusing on a girl who is raised by her unmarried aunt because both parents are dead. Not outspokenly feminist, but still a pioneer in writing about women and men as women see them.

For Whom The Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway. Spanish Civil War through the fate of an American volunteer who goes there because he loves the country, not really liking to fight.

Das Glasperlenspiel – Hermann Hesse, in German. The Glass Bead Game. The end of civilisation, and mysterious beginnings of a new one.

Villette – Charlotte Brontë. Of all characters in all novels I know, the one that is most like me is the main character of this one – a woman!

NEW: The Alexandria Quartet  –  Lawrence Durrell. It took me a long time to read all four, not that they should be hard to read, but because the whole has a meditative mood which all along evokes new thoughts in the reader’s mind. The life of a limited circle of people who all know each other more or less, during a few years when they all live in the same city. Even though the narrator is an “I”, all of them on occasions step forward, taking the lead. There are even lots of quotations from an earlier novel which was never really written, because its author himself is a fictional character!

Hot beer? Not hot any more

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‘Then,’ said Mr Codlin, [waiting to get food, informed that it would take some time] ‘fetch me a pint of warm ale, and don’t let nobody bring into the room even so much as a biscuit till the time arrives.’

Nodding his approval of this decisive and manly course of procedure, the landlord retired to draw the beer, and presently returning with it, applied himself to warm the same in a small tin vessel shaped funnel-wise, for the convenience of sticking it far down in the fire and getting at the bright places. This was soon done, and he handed it over to Mr Codlin with that creamy froth upon the surface which is one of the happy circumstances attendant on mulled malt.

From Charles Dickens:  The Old Curiosity Shop, chapter 18.

I have read a lot of English classics which describe this and that from daily life in the 18-19th centuries. Many kinds of more or less forgotten food and beverage are thus remembered by me.

Still the above scene struck me unusually when I read it the other day. Actually there was a habit of heating the ale on request, not just serving it luke-warm as it still sometimes is done? I have not noticed such an instance before, not in Dickens, Scott, Austen, Gaskell or others of their kind. Compare with mulled wine which was and is still well known!

Most people like a hot drink when feeling cold, wet and tired. Before the industrial age wine, tea and coffee were expensive, I believe, so what could people of lesser means get, if they were not content with just hot water? In the countryside they might collect local herbs to make a tea substitute, but in town? Beer.

Some more practical information here, to complete what is told by Dickens, who is always eager about visual details.



Written by svensays

June 30, 2013 at 15:10

Posted in beer, coffee, Dickens, tea

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Having finished “The Master of Ballantrae”

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Why did it take so long? It’s not a very heavy book? Nowadays I read books mostly while being out, in the subway or in a pub. At home I watch TV, read blogs, blog myself etc. Unlike Dickens and Walter Scott, Stevenson concentrates on the very action and does not give much details of landscape and gear and such. This may be the “plain” thing about the book, but it makes the story strong. It’s a long time since I read something this fascinating, even more and more towards the end.

Written by svensays

January 7, 2011 at 18:20

Having begun “The Master of Ballantrae”

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My pen is clear enough to tell a plain tale; but to render the effect of an infinity of small things, not one great enough in itself to be narrated; and to translate the story of looks, and the message of voices when they are saying no great matter; and to put in half a page the essence of near eighteen months – this is what I despair to accomplish.
Robert Louis Stevenson: The Master of Ballantrae, Chapter II.
It seems to me Stevenson excuses himself because his novels are not so heavy as those by Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. But I wonder if that makes them “plain”?

Written by svensays

December 13, 2010 at 21:39

Having finished “Great Expectations”

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A lot of pictures remain inside me. Many parts of this story are clear and detailed like film scripts. You could start making a new film at every passage where there is a time gap. Or produce a lot of drawings, as if it were still The Pickwick Papers going on. The humour and the phantasy is still there, for sure.

Written by svensays

November 15, 2010 at 11:35

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Sad memories coming back

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In the little world in which children have their existence, whoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice. It may be only a small injustice the child can be exposed to; but the child is small; and its world is small …
Charles Dickens: Great Expectations, chapter 8.
You may remember from your own childhood such happenings which made you suffer then, and now you have overcome – but you can’t take for granted that your children overcome.

Written by svensays

October 11, 2010 at 22:32

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A whole novel flying around

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Right now I am reading Great Expectations in a pocket edition from Airmont in NYC, 1965 or so. You know what age can do to thin paper and cheap glue, don’t you? The leaves disjunct by and by as I turn them.

Imagine I sat reading it outdoors in the winds of autumn. A lot of paper leaves would cruise around the world, each of them promising GREAT EXPECTATIONS!

Written by svensays

October 9, 2010 at 16:09

Posted in Dickens, Stockholm, unbelief

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Having finished “Waverley”

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The story of a young English officer who by a series of coincidences gets into fighting against his army gives much to reflect upon, and many questions to ask. I doubt whether there has ever been a first novel by any author that has made such an impact on the very milieu where it was created. If you go by train to the centre of Edinburgh, you arrive at Waverley Station. Imagine there could be a Pickwick Station in London, or a Gare Quasimodo in Paris? Or a Red Room Station in Stockholm? It also seems that the growing enthusiasm for “the author of Waverley” who was at first anonymous, gave popularity to the then obsolete kilt as a Scottish national attire.

In this novel, there are more mentionings of whisky than of brandy, quite naturally since the great part of the plot is located in Scotland or among Scots.

Written by svensays

February 5, 2010 at 10:00

The Pickwhisky Papers

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Have you thought about this, how many great novels in English are about travelling? A recent example:  preparing for the final battle against the Dark Lord, Harry Potter and his two best friends have to visit various places in Britain to find some mysterious necessary objects. For Charles Dickens, when he took over the concept of the Pickwick Club which was already conceived by others, the right thing to do seemed to get the whole show moving. And when you are on the move, you need refreshments.

In The Pickwick Papers, published around 1835,  there are some fifty mentionings of brandy. Brandy is the category name of various liquors that are distilled from wine. Mr Pickwick and his friends and foes consume lots of this stuff at many places. There are also three mentionings of whisky, but mark well: no one of the active characters gets a single drop of it. It is only mentioned in some tales that are told by minor characters who occasionally show up.

It can be concluded that in England whisky was very little known, although precisely in those times the government was working hard to get a legislation of the whisky production which had been going on in Scotland for centuries.

Then what happened? In the second half of the 19th century the Phylloxera destroyed much of the vineyards in Europe, causing a shortage of wine. So whisky conquered England, and the world!

Written by svensays

January 15, 2010 at 23:28