2012… A year for the classics..

So… 2012 commences and as always I start the year full of the very best intentions (work-wise, health-wise, attitude-wise.. and this year  literary-wise!) I have big plans for 2012 as a year for reading (or re-reading!) all my favourite classic authors (and discovering some new ones I haven’t yet tried..)  I also want to start reading some more contemporary authors (so if anyone has any good tips they will be much appreciated!)

I’m also signing up to some reading challenges for 2012 to focus my reading energies and give me some goals to work to!

Firstly, I will be participating in Darlene’s Book Nook Mammoth Book Challenge – I’m aiming for Level 4: Read 8 or more mammoth-sized books.

2012 Mammoth Book Challenge

I’m thinking a lot of the classics I intend to read will fall into this category so (hopefully!) I should make the 8 if not more: e.g. Bleak House – Charles Dickens, Middlemarch – George Eliot ( I’ve read this before & I LOVE it so it can’t possibly not be on my list!), War & Peace – Leo Tolstoy, The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas, – these are weighty tomes but have to be on my list.

Also, I will be doing the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die Challenge (hosted here http://caitieflum.wordpress.com/2011/12/29/1001-books-you-must-read-before-you-die-challenge-2012-edition/)  I’m aiming for gold medal status (21+ books). There are some amazing classics on the list so it should fit nicely with my resolution to read more next year!

I do intend to post as many reviews of my reads as possible, but my reading list as ever will be posted on here so I can keep track of my progress!!!

As as personal challenge, and in recognition of the Dickens Centenary this year – I’m going to attempt the feat of reading Dickens entire works (‘just’ his novels not short story collections, criticisms, travel writing.) (Optimistic perhaps but I will try my best to give it a go!)

Interested to hear what others sign up for…!


New Great Expectations Adaptation.. and Dickensian ramblings..

So… I love Dickens. Yes, sometimes his novels are looong, winding chunky beasts with tons of characters and sub-plots, but he surely deserves recognition as one of the greatest writers in the English language. His novels are timeless classics and his depictions of various characters have become English institutions- what would Christmas be without Scrooge?

So, I am super excited about the new adaptation set to be shown on the BBC around Christmas of Great Expectations.. (Yes, I know this has been done lots of times- but I think we have room for some more Pip, Estella, Havisham and Magwitch in our lives…!) The casting looks perfect- Gillian Anderson (who did an amazing job as Lady Deadlock in the BBC version of Bleak House) is Miss Havisham, Ray Winstone is Magwitch (yes!), and David Suchet is Jaggers (yes, yes, yes!!) All lovers of Great Expectations will surely be thrilled about this new version (even if there are other neglected classics which the BBC should seriously think about adapting!)

The adaptation is part of the year-long celebrations for the bicentenary of Dickens’s birth in 2012. There are some amazing plans for 2012 across the country (and beyond!) with events, exhibitions, performances and festivals – looking at it all here http://www.dickens2012.org I hardly know where to start with what I would like to attend! I will have to start planning..!! Be interesting to hear what other people are up to!

After completing my read of all the Sherlock Holmes books (one still left to go which I am holding back to save for my holiday!) I think I will turn to a reading (or re-reading) of all my Dickens favourites and the ones I haven’t yet got around to. I still have Bleak House, Little Dorrit, David Copperfield and Our Mutual Friend on my to-read pile so having a Dickens reading project would be a great motivator to get stuck into some of these!! One of my favourite novels is A Tale of Two Cities so that will definitely have to be on the list, along with Great Expectations.. What are other peoples favourites?

Also to highlight this interesting article about an online journal project looking for volunteers to edit content for ‘Dickens Journals Online’  http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/aug/04/charles-dickens-journals-online-project – looks like a hugely beneficial project to spare some time for…!


A Sherlock Holmes Summer…

So.. one of my reading challenges for 2011 was to read the complete Sherlock Holmes novels by Arthur Conan Doyle.  I had seen the 2009 film with Robert Downey Jr. and I heard that a new film was being made, so I really wanted to read the novels to see how well the films adapt the texts.. I also thought it was an unforgivable gap in my knowledge of Victorian literature not to have read ANY of the Holmes stories(!)

I am currently making my way through these beauties.. (and I have to say I am loving!! every minute of the journey..)

1. A Study in Scarlet                                         5. The Hound of the Baskervilles

2. The Sign of Four                                            6. The Return of Sherlock Holmes

3. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes    7. The Valley of Fear

4. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes         8. His Last Bow and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

I (think!) that is the entire works and I’m currently only on the third book, but I am hugely enjoying them so far. I was worried that perhaps the stories would get a little repetitive after a while, especially reading them in close succession.. but on the contrary I find that each new story is unique and clever.. and Holmes gets even more intriguing. The stories are snappy and don’t drag, and each one leaves me rushing ahead to read the next!

I can’t say how well Downey Jr captures Holmes yet, as it has been a while since I have seen the film.. my feel is it wasn’t that accurate.. A re-watch may be in order.. but dare I say it.. I don’t want to spoil the characters I am enjoying so much in the novels by watching any terrible adaptations. Holmes is so clever… and elusive… and arrogant… and charming…and so many other random things that much make the character hugely difficult to bring across in an adaptation. The recent modernisation with Benedict Cumberbatch has also been reccomended to me- what do others think? Which adaptations of these stories capture Holmes the best? Which portray the relationship between Holmes and Watson? Jeremy Brett seems to be the favourite from what I have heard.. but then Rupert Everett seems such a good choice too? I really think I may need to get some of these versions once I am done with the novels!

Anyway.. so I am only on book 3 of 8.. lots more to get through.. I think I am becoming a fan though! 🙂

New D H Lawrence Adaptation…

I am super excited for the new BBC4 adaptation of D H Lawrence’s Women in Love/ The Rainbow! It starts on Thursday 24th and is a two-part series which brings together the two novels. The cast looks fantastic, with Rosamund Pike, Rachael Stirling, Rory Kinnear and Joseph Mawle starring, so it should be a real treat for period drama fans! Pike and Stirling play Gudrun and Ursula, two sisters, who are the focus for the novel as it charts their lives and loves and their relationships with each other.

For anyone interested in the contextual backgroud of the novels, there was a really interesting article in the Guardian this weekend: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/mar/19/rainbow-lawrence-rachel-cusk-rereading The articles focuses on the novels treatment of women and how it subverted traditional Victorian stereotypes of femininity, and how in reading Lawrence we shouldn’t be put off by the connotations of his controversial, ‘highly-sexed’ image. Cusk’s article draws attention to all the reasons why Lawrence’s ‘provocative’ novels should be read by modern-day readers as “a subversive, transformative, life-altering act”.. I couldn’t agree more!!

So.. high hopes for the series..! Not sure how easy Lawrence is to transfer to the screen as often with his novels it is the elegance and poetry of his narrative rather than the plot which is the most striking, but we shall see..!! Definitely think I should put some Lawrence on me to-read list his year!

Dangerous Liaisons with Colin Firth and John Malkovich

In 1782, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s epistolary novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses was published in France to immediate public success. The novel scandalised contemporary readers with its unflinching insight into the ‘immorality’ of it’s two main characters,  the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil. I read this novel last summer and thought it was a beautifully constructed piece of writing which offers an intriugingly unjudgemental (particularly for the time it was written!) insight into the complexities of human morality.  I had been aware of the John Malkovich/Glenn Close adaptation for a while, but not the Colin Firth adaptation which was actually released a year later. A period film with Colin Firth as the leading man, that I hadn’t yet seen? A must-watch indeed…!

Valmont, released in 1989, stars Firth alongside Annette Benning as Merteuil and Meg Tilly as Madame de Tourvel, the morally pure married woman, who Valmont views as a tantilising challenge and sets about trying to seduce. The chemistry between Tilly and Firth is great, and really captures the development of their relationship as Valmont begins to realise he is not emotionally invulnerable. The acting is beautiful and totally believable, and I think this is the real challenge for any adaptation of this novel, as the characters of both Valmont and Madame de Tourvel develop so subtly and it is important not to demonise Valmont, or make him wholly sympathetic. (Incidentally I think the modernised adaptation, Cruel Intentions, with Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillipe in these roles also does a great job with the characters.)

How does it compare with the John Malkovich version then, released in 1988? I have to say, I actually like it better. Dangerous Liaisons is a good film, and the casting is great, but I just think the Firth version captures more of the subtlety and poignancy of the story. Malkovich is great as Valmont however, (he has that king of sinister charisma about him which is perfect for the role) and Glen Close as Merteuil is a brilliant counter-weight of unrepenting immorality. Both films however are fantastic in their own right – beautifully produced period dramas which evoke perfectly the life of French aristocracy in the 18th Century.

The purpose of the post then is to draw attention to this wonderful Firth film, which seemed to have slipped under my radar thus far. Lovers of Laclos’ novel and Firth fans alike are sure to enjoy this film (it even includes a wet-shirted-Colin-coming-out-of-a-lake scene which is always a plus!) Maybe after his recent Oscar win (YAY!), more people will start to dig out some of his old films, and I highly recommend Valmont for something a bit different from his usual roles.

The Many Faces of Mr Darcy

My recent post on the various actors who have graced our screens as Mr Rochester has inspired me to look at those who have taken on the role of Mr Darcy. Some fantastic actors have taken on the part, but who was the best? Darcy is perhaps one of the best loved fictional heros (or he is mine at any rate..!), and it takes something special to get the right mix of aloofness, haughtiness and aristocratic pride, whilst also showing his humour, warmth and vulnerability. It is that combination (mixed in with his dashing good looks and £10,000 a year!), which makes Darcy such a fantastic character.. and I think there have been quite a few actors who have got this just right…

Laurence Olivier was outstanding as Fitwilliam in the 1940 film version, starring alongside Greer Garson as Lizzy. I loved Olivier as Darcy despite the fact that admittedly the film is not completely true to Austen’s text. The costumes for example, aren’t exactly standard Georgian outfits(!) and the ending has a plot twist which I’m not sure Austen would have approved of (even though it’s actually quite entertaining). In spite of this though, I do think Oliver pulled off a good Darcy and his chemistry with Greer Garson was wonderful. He definitely set the standards high for the next generations of Darcy’s..

The BBC made a mini series of Pride and Prejudice in 1980, where David Rintoul played Darcy. I have only seen this series once, a couple of years ago and I wasn’t overly impressed generally. I think this is more to do with my constantly comparing it to the newer versions and the fact that it all seemed a little dated, rather than a reflection on the acting performances. Rintoul is actually quite a good Darcy; his performance is subtle and believable and I would definitely watch it again.

For me, the defining performance however (I know this may be cliched!) was Colin Firth’s in the 1995 BBC production. Andrew Davies is a wonderful writer and this adaptation stayed remarkably close to Austen’s text. Firth was the first Darcy I saw, and this probably is why I always compare other performances to his, but I do think he really captured everything that Darcy is. The lake scene, (whilst admittedly not being an Austen invention), was genius and the scenes with Lizzy at Pemberley are just fantastic- the chemistry between them is spot on, and the development of Darcy’s character (or Lizzy’s understanding of his character at any rate!) is played out wonderfully.

Almost ten years later then we have another performance by Martin Henderson as Darcy in the adapted version of the novel – Bride & Prejudice. This was a modern Bollywood remake of Austen’s text and is actually quite fun. Henderson’s Darcy is a bit too overly snobby for my tastes- I am not sure the character development is as good as in some of the other versions (probably largely down to the fact that it is under two hours long – I am spolit by these six hour BBC versions!)

A year later then we got Matthew Macfadyen as Darcy alongside Keira Knightley. Basing my judgement purely on the casting and performance of Darcy, I have to say, some great choices were made. Matthew has the right combination of haughty indifference with endearing shyness and vulnerability and the proposal scene is just gorgeously performed. It took me a while to come to the conclusion that I liked this version, but now I have seen it a few times, I have been converted.

Lastly then, was Eliot Cowan in the ITV mini-series Lost in Austen: another good performance, although perhaps again, the overbearing rude side to the character was a little overplayed. But then again, I suppose none of the other Darcy’s had to deal with their heroine telling them that she had had lots of boyfriends, and had even (horror of all horrors!) lived with another man…

There have been some other Darcy’s too, but I haven’t had the pleasure of viewing these adaptations as yet- I think most of them are pretty hard to get hold of. Any recommendations are as ever, are gratefully received!  I do believe there is definitely room for more Darcy portrayals in the world however.. It’s been FIFTEEN years since the last BBC version, so surely a remake is in order?! It’s hard actually to think of a perfect casting for a new Darcy – Richard Armitage springs to mind (but that’s largely down to my own obsession with him I think!)- anyone else have any suggestions?!

Miss Pettigrew Lives for A Day…

I stumbled upon this novel recently and took it up upon reccomendation by a friend. I had never heard of Winifred Watson before, or this particular novel… Yes, even in spite of the recent Hollywood adaptation of the book(!) I have to say how much I loved it and how much in general I love that feeling of finding something ‘new’, which totally takes you by surprise..

The novel was written in 1935 and focuses on Miss Pettigrew, a down and out governess with pretty much nothing live for. Focusing on one day of her life (kind of like a 1930’s ‘24’), the book follows Miss Pettigrew through a heart-warming  journey of self-discovery (yes I know that sounds trite.. but I really can’t think of anyway to better describe it!) and is a really up-lifting account of how, just when you things can’t possibly get worse, they actually get far better than you ever expected. What is so lovely about the novel aside from this positive message, is the comedy and the pathos of Miss Pettigrew and how she grows as a character, from this strait-laced governess to a woman full of passion and humour and I really can’t recommend it enough!

I am now looking forward to watching the 2008 adaptation which stars Frances McDormand as Miss Pettigrew alongside a great cast including Ciaran Hinds, Amy Adams and Lee Pace. I really hope it doesn’t disappoint, although the novel was so filmic I don’t see how it couldn’t translate into a bad movie. Fingers crossed!

The moral of the post, (aside from the overblown gushing about Watson’s novel!), is really just a shout out for any other great reccommendations for lesser known novels that have really struck you as being overlooked gems?!

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