CLASSICS | THE SECRET GARDEN REVIEW

Recently I have felt like revisiting some of the books I loved when I was younger. I remember reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and watching the film several times a long time ago, but for some reason not in the past few years. It seemed like a good choice for a light read.

Despite having read and re-read this book countless times when I was younger, and knowing the plot very well at this point, The Secret Garden still has that sort of magic to it that is difficult to describe. Despite the events of the book being mostly contained in one setting (Misselthwaite Manor and the surrounding gardens) , and there being little conflict in the book, it is somehow still so engaging and lovely to read. You just can’t help but fall in love with the “contrary” Mary, the charming Dickon and the poor, pathetic Colin.

The Secret Garden is definitely one of the books that got me into reading classics years ago, and it’s clear why. A children’s book above all, it is sweet and happy and moral, and an overall pleasing read. Burnett succeeds in creating an enticing setting, and brings readers into the secret of the garden and the beauty of nature.

One thing I did notice though when reading the book this time was that there is some darkness to it. The idea of Colin being shut away, sleeping under a portrait of his dead mother, crying out at night, and being told by a relative – who wants his inheritance for himself – to remember that he is dying and weak is strangely disturbing. Coupled with the setting of the novel on the wild Yorkshire moors, the locked up rooms and the strange, absentee Mr Craven, there is definitely (in my opinion) a Gothic undertone to the story. The darkness that is a backdrop to the story also includes, of course, Mary’s upbringing in India: forgotten by her parents, and the deaths of her family and servants from cholera. There is something almost Bronte-esque about The Secret Garden.

Of course, being a children’s book, the darkness remained only an undertone to the mystery of the Secret Garden and the main characters learning about being good people and friendship. I almost wish there was another book about Mr Craven and Colin’s mother or about the children when they grow up that delved into the possible further mysteries of Misselthwaite. However, this would undoubtedly spoil the magic of the first book. There are some unofficial sequels, which perhaps I will have a go at, but I really don’t want to be disappointed.

Overall, I still really like this book, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes classics or wants to get into them. It really is a beautiful story for all ages. I’d be interested to hear what any of you might think about the underlying darker themes in the novel.

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Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte | Review

PLOT

Today I finished reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. The first part of the book was … interesting. Jane Eyre opens by detailing the life of poor orphan Jane, sent to live with her mean aunt and cousins. This part of the book seemed unoriginal to me, because so many books start with an orphan living with mean relatives. I felt quite bored, especially as at the start of the novel I didn’t really feel any empathy for the character of Jane.

Jane then goes on to narrate her life at the Lowood school which she is sent to for education. This part of the book was definitely more eventful than her family life, and while I was not particularly enjoying the book at this point, I felt like it did pick up a little bit.

For me, the book started to be enjoyable to read when Jane left school and became a governess at Thornfield. This is where the drama starts and it gets exciting. I couldn’t put the book down once I got to this part, because everything that happens is suddenly so much more interesting once we meet Rochester. Without wanting to spoil anything, it really is worth persevering through the less interesting parts of the novel because the good parts are really good.

CHARACTERS

One of the things I liked about this book is that most of the characters were there for a reason. There weren’t any that were useless to the plot. My main issue was that Jane isn’t the easiest protagonist to sympathise with, and I found myself becoming slightly irritated with her.

The character of Rochester was probably one of my favourites in the book. I found the part where Rochester pretends to be a fortune teller a really funny side to his character. While Rochester is essentially the stereotypical mysterious older love interest, I don’t think this really took away from the book much.

The side characters like the Reeds, Mrs Fairfax and Helen Burns were all necessary to the story and interesting enough, but nothing remarkable.

 

Overall, I enjoyed the second half of this book, but the first half was nowhere near as good.

 

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte | Review

I started reading Wuthering Heights on Tuesday and I wasn’t able to put it down. I finished it on Thursday and I want to read it again already.  I was completely wrapped up in the story in a way that I wasn’t when reading books by the other Bronte sisters.

I thought that Wuthering Heights was going to be boring, and at first the story seemed a little slow, but about a third of the way through the story began to speed up and I really enjoyed it.The plot was a bit confusing at times with all the links between all the characters, and I didn’t really have a suspension of disbelief while reading it, but it was still a good book. I liked the plot in general, and I liked that it had a pretty clear plot, unlike some books I’ve read before.

I have mixed feelings about the different characters. The character of Heathcliff was my favourite. I didn’t really know much about the novel before reading it, and I didn’t know he would become so dark, so cruel and so sneaky. But when he did, I really liked that side to his character. The romance between him and Cathy was beautiful. While the character of Cathy annoyed me a lot on her own, combined with Heathcliff there was a lovely romance.

The character Nelly Dean was probably my least favourite. It felt like she was forced into the story because she was the narrator. I kept thinking “Why would a servant be around when…”, and I don’t think she really added anything to the story. I felt a similar thing about Mr Lockwood, other than being a narrator he didn’t give anything to the story.

I didn’t mind any of the other characters, though some of them seemed a bit cliche – like Linton Heathcliff, the sickly invalid type, and Hindley, the classic alcoholic character.

Overall, I really enjoyed Wuthering Heights, its been on my “to be read” list for a long time, and I’m glad I finally read it.

 

Does Studying Books Make Them Less Enjoyable?

It’s a question that has been on my mind ever since reading The Book Thief in class and wishing I could have read it on my own (because I knew I would have enjoyed it, it’s a pretty good book) instead of tearing apart each tiny detail and writing essays about it.

Another time I wondered about this is when I found out that some people study Pride and Prejudice for their exams. I was torn between wishing I could have studied it, and being glad I wasn’t studying it because it would probably end up ruining one of my favourite books.

I think that when a class is forced to read a book that they probably wouldn’t go near otherwise, it is not going to be enjoyable anyway. But the question is does reading it in class make it even worse? Reading books in class can be good because it helps you to understand them and their context more, and it can be interesting to analyse them. However in some cases, for example when reading a Shakespeare play, it can feel as if you are consuming the text in the wrong way. Shakespeare is meant to be performed and watched, not read and over-analysed, so of course reading it in class will not give the same enjoyment as watching it on stage.

Similarly, when studying books at the beginning of secondary school (before you start reading GCSE texts), sometimes (if you’re lucky) you might get to read a more modern novel (such as The Book Thief). While I think this can be good for engaging children more in English, it can still become boring. When the book chosen is one that some people might have wanted to read, reading it in class can become annoying because you read at a slow pace while analysing things that children might not find particularly interesting.

I like studying books, because I find it interesting, but I like reading them on my own more.

So, does reading books in class make them less enjoyable? Tell me what you think in the comments below.

Why Emma is my Favourite Jane Austen Book

Emma is often criticised for being a boring novel. This criticism is, I suppose, valid – unlike Austen’s other novels, the story focuses more on each of the characters and their daily lives/unique personalities rather than trying to tell an exciting romance story. Personally, I like that. I feel as if I know all the characters that live in the tiny world of Highbury that Jane Austen expertly crafts. From Emma’s sensitive father to the flirtatious Frank Churchill, everyone in the community has a backstory, a life, and interacts with the other characters in such a natural way that the reader is pulled into the story even though it lacks any excitement and great dramas.

The title character, Emma, is witty and charming, which also helps keep the story interesting even if it is not fast paced. The way she interacts with the other characters in the novel is often amusing, if not funny, and she is a good lead character.

I also feel as if Emma’s characters are the most realistic portrayal of characters that Austen wrote. Unlike characters such as the overly naive Catherine in Northanger Abbey or the infuriating Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice, the characters in Emma don’t have to be exaggerated or stereotypes to be effective. They have personalities similar to the people you meet everyday, which makes the text more relevant even today.

Most of the characters are also very likeable, which means that though the plot of Emma is not as exciting as other books, the character-driven story works. Although Emma faces criticism for it’s plot, or lack thereof, I don’t think it is as bad as it is made out to be. There is a small amount of conflict, such as when Frank Churchill flirts with Emma despite being engaged to someone she sees as a rival, or when Emma insults Miss Bates and loses Knightley’s respect. For me, this is enough. While other readers may prefer a fast paced story, I think Emma is a great book for showing off Jane Austen’s writing style, and the way she develops great characters. I find it enjoyable to read because of the way Austen pulls the reader into the community of Highbury and shows them what it is like for all the different, unique characters living there.

Personally, I did not enjoy Mansfield Park or Sense and Sensibility, so I would not compare them to Emma, as I found them tiring and not very enjoyable to read. I think the book it is most fair to compare Emma to is Pride and Prejudice. Like Emma, Pride and Prejudice mostly takes place in one community, (though the characters do travel to Darcy’s estate) and deals with heroines who are accomplished but different to other women their age finding love. However while I love Pride and Prejudice, and read it quicker than I finished Emma, Emma is such a pleasing novel to read that it takes the place of favourite. The characters pull in the reader in a way that Austen’s other books don’t do, and at the end the reader is left feeling happy and satisfied, like most of the characters are.