Three Oxford World’s Classics That Deserve Many More Words

Sometimes, books deserve a proper post. A long one, analysing every detail and reaction. But writing such posts is often complicated. And at times, this leads to procrastination and then some more. And so, these books have waited for such a post for a long long time, so long that I now remember little of what I was going to say.

Daniel Deronda - George EliotDaniel Deronda – George Eliot
Oxford World’s Classics, 2009 (originally published 1876)
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Daniel Deronda is George Eliot’s final novel. Like so many of her others, it is a long one. And it deals with several themes, most importantly the coming of age of a spoiled girl Gwendolyn, who begins to consider Daniel Deronda as her mentor. Daniel Deronda, in his turn, slowly uncovers his parental background and adopts a favourable position towards the Jews, a group of people often looked down on in Europe, or even discriminated.

There was much I loved about Daniel Deronda: its slow development of the relationships between the characters, its in-depth view of life at the time, and especially its portrayal of Judaism at the time. There is a certain push-and-pull going on in the novel: between commonly accepted stereotypes that make you wonder what exactly Eliot meant by having characters state them so matter-of-fact and Daniel’s growing sympathy for the plight of Judaism in Europe. There were many questions raised, and things I wanted to discuss, but sadly, this is all I remember now. I hope to return to this one day, and engage with it as I had planned to do.

Little Women - Louisa May AlcottLittle Women – Louisa May Alcott
Oxford World’s Classics, 2008 (originally published 1868)
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I reread this classic tale of the March family just before the beginning of 2011. Winter is really the perfect time to read it. I had never read the complete novel, since before I only owned an edition that printed just the first part of the novel (I am still frustrated about that). Sacrilege, I know, but I first fell in love with the story through the nineties movie version. So when I returned to it last winter, I was sure I was going to love this. But I was left frustrated about one of its general themes: the passivity of these girls! I know, they helped their mother by taking up jobs. And I know that a passive submissive girl was the standard at the time, that the portrayal of Jo in particular must have been very forward. But the general narrative seemed to still represent submissiveness as an ideal. And despite knowing about its historical context, it was the educational tone of this that left the strongest impression while reading it this time around.

Belinda - Maria EdgeworthBelinda – Maria Edgeworth
Oxford World’s Classics, 2008 (originally published in 1801)
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Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda is considered one of the novels that has influenced Jane Austen. If that wasn’t enough to convince me to pick this up, then the cover might have enticed me anyway. Isn’t it beautiful?

Belinda is in some ways very similar to end-of-the-eighteenth-beginning-of-the-nineteenth-century-novels, but then there is a twist that makes this much more rewarding than Evelina, for example. Yes, Belinda is sent to Lady Delacour by her aunt in the hope she will marry well. But, unlike so many female heroines of her time, Belinda isn’t constantly described as silly. Instead, the people surrounding her have faults, and Belinda is portrayed as finding her own way since she slowly starts thinking for herself.

There is much to be said about the themes in Belinda, especially concerning Edgeworth’s portrayal of women as creatures that could be rational (perhaps rather like Mary Wollstonecraft?) and her portrayal of race. The first two versions of Belinda include Creole and African characters that are allowed to be married to other characters (in later editions these characters disappeared, commonly accepted to have been edited out by Edgeworth’s father). While reading, I was a little puzzled how I should feel about Edgeworth’s description of these characters, which seemed to include common stereotypes but also a form of respect. The introduction of Kathryn Kirkpatrick proved helpful:

What Edgeworth does in marrying the African Juba to the English farm-girl is to make overt social connections where economic ones already existed. Her novel thus makes an African “visible” by assigning him a class in the existing social hierarchy and then integrating him into English society through marriage.  By advocating marriage with men other than white English patriarchs, Edgeworth can be read not only as issuing a challenge to the endogamy which falsely represented the actual colonial ties producing English wealth, but also as giving that challenge its source in women’s control of their bodies and destinies through the marriage choice. Indeed, rational love as Edgeworth presents it in Belinda is a process by which a young woman makes her own choice of a husband, a choice informed but not controlled by those whose advice she respects. Relying on time and familiarity for affection, a heroine might use her own judgement to choose to marry anyone, including the Creole Mr Vincent or the African Juba.

One day, I promised myself, I want to reread this and analyse it more thoroughly on grounds of gender and ethnicity. Anyone with me?

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11 responses to “Three Oxford World’s Classics That Deserve Many More Words

  1. It’s been a while since I’ve read Little Women, so I can’t remember if they’re particularly passive or not. Probably Beth is the most passive of all the sisters, but the rest of them seemed pretty active to me, at least in a late 1800s sort of way. Compared to modern women that’s not saying much, but, but, yeah. Didn’t what’s-her-face (I can never remember her name) go traveling or something at the end? And Jo became a writer. What did Meg do? Have kids I think? Um.

  2. I’m a fan of Daniel Deronda. I’ve not read the Edgeworth but I will be interested in doing a readalong with you one day. Keep me posted. I also have a number of reviews to write. I’m procrastinating a lot. Good luck on the final edit of the thesis.

  3. About Daniel Doronda: I really liked the TV adaptation w/ the guy from The Jane Austen Book Club. It made me want to read the novel.

    Little Women: yes, i know what you mean about the passivity of the girls. I enjoy this book, really I do (also got to it through Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder…), but never find it completely satisfactory because I’m absolutely convinced that the marriage Meg-Laurie won’t work!

    Belinda: Have been lobbying for year to get my Classics Bookclub to pick up Maria Edgeworth. Now that we’ve exhausted Austen and the Brontes they may be up for it :)

  4. I loved Little Women as a child but when I read it again as an adult it didn’t hold up well. I thought she should have ended the book at Book 1.

    I’m so intrigued by Belinda. I have a free version on my ebook reader, not sure if it would include that marriage or not. If you do a readalong, I’d join.

  5. Ooh, the Edgeworth sounds fascinating! I’d be interested in a group read of the work.

  6. Yes, I love the Belinda cover! I also really enjoyed Belinda when I read it a few years ago. Lady Delacour is fascinating, imo.

    I only just read LW myself for the first time, and found I liked it so much more than I expected. I had expected to hate it due to the passivity you mention, but it had many redeeming qualities, though I bit long-winded. I liked the movie immensely when I just watched it.

    I’m reading Eliot in order and am really looking forward to Daniel Deronda. The evolution of Eliot’s exploration of religion in society is really interesting.

    Looks like we read a lot of the same kinds of books–looking forward to reading more of your posts and tweets :)

  7. Oh, Little Women! I can’t be objective about it because I read it when I was eight, but my general impression of Louisa May Alcott is that, although she’s didactic for sure, and sometimes awkwardly gendernormy, she doesn’t want girls to be, like, decorative. In all her books she seems to want them to get out and do stuff. I always think Beth is idealized so very much because the Beth sister from LMA’s real life had died. And even with Beth everyone is always telling her she needs to get out there and be less damn shy.

  8. I had never heard of Belinda but now I want to read it, even though I’ve never been a Jane Austen fan. Maybe it will inspire me to give Ms. Austen another try.

  9. Daniel Deronda: That is one of the two long Eliot pieces I haven’t read yet, so I am excited to get to it one day (I skimmed your review).

    Little Women: This is a childhood favorite of mine. I remember seeing the 1993 movie in the theater with my mom. I think, that had I not loved the book as a girl, I would find more at fault in the book itself. Sometimes I can’t separate my memories from what the book actually is.

    Belinda: I adore that cover…and since I don’t own it, I’m going to have to get that edition. I read Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent in college and really loved it, so I’m sure I will love this one too!

  10. You really have me wanting to read Belinda!! And Daniel Deronda. I love Little Women and plan to reread it in 2012. I love it because I love Alcott and her story. Knowing her helps me to understand the depth within Little Women.

  11. I love there covers ,all the best stu

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