Classics Club Events

My Spin Pick

British Library
Source: British Library

So the Classics Club Spin number has been announced. 3

I will be reading Piers the Plowman by William Langland. Here is what Goodreads has to say about it:

Astonishing in its cultural and theological scope, William Langland’s iconoclastic masterpiece is at once a historical relic and a deeply spiritual vision, probing not only the social and religious aristocracy but also the day-to-day realities of a largely voiceless proletariat class.

This is a phenomenal opportunity to learn more about the predominantly illiterate medieval worker class and their struggles. I look forward to reading it.

Classics Club Events

Classics Spin #17 List

I am super excited to participate in Classics Spin #17 because I haven’t participated in years. Like everyone who joined the Classics Club Blog, I made a list of fifty classics. Unfortunately, I have ignored this challenge in the past three years, so I am nowhere near completion. Reading lists remind me of school, and I have enough reading lists to go through in graduate school. Because I predominantly read classics anyway, I don’t feel guilty about fudging the rules a bit to participate in the Classics Spins.

My list this time will include 20 classics that are on my physical and/or electronic TBRs. In January 2018, I implemented a challenge that has effectively slowed my book buying to a halt. And so far, I am quite pleased with the results. Borrowing has encouraged me to take more reading risks. I read more broadly and diversely than I did in the past.

Please note that some of the books on this list are relatively recent classics. Finally, the books are in chronological order by date of publication.

  1. Metamorphoses (c. 8 CE) – Ovid
  2. The Chronicles (c. 1370-1380) – Froissart (abridged by Penguin)
  3. Piers the Plowman (c. 1370-1390) – William Langland
  4. The History of King Richard III (c. 1513-1518) – Thomas More
  5. Notre-Dame de Paris [The Hunchback of Notre-Dame] (1829) – Victor Hugo
  6. North and South (1855) – Elizabeth Gaskell
  7. The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Two Roses (1888) – Robert Louis Stevenson
  8. The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) – Oscar Wilde
  9. Life of St. Francis of Assisi (1893) – Paul Sabatier
  10. Cyrano de Bergerac (1897) – Edmond Rostand
  11. The Souls of Black Folk (1903) – W.E.B. Du Bois
  12. The Scarlet Pimpernel (1905) by Baroness Emma Orczy
  13. The Voyages of Dr. Doolittle (1922) – Hugh Lofting
  14. Sous le soleil de satan [Under Satan’s Sun] (1926) – Georges Bernanos
  15. The Seven Storey Mountain (1948) – Thomas Merton
  16. The Old Man and the Sea (1952) – Ernest Hemingway
  17. Another Country (1962) – James Baldwin
  18. A Single Man (1964) – Christopher Isherwood
  19. The Chocolate War (1974) – Robert Cormier
  20. Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) – Diana Wynne Jones
A-E, Anonymous, Classics Club Events

Classics Club June Meme: Religious Intolerance/Racism in The Song of Roland

This is the Classics Club question for June: “Think of an example of a classic you’ve read that presents issues like racism/sexism as acceptable within society. Do you think the reception of this classic work would be the same if it were newly published today? What can we get out of this work despite its weaknesses? Or, why would you say this work is still respected/treasured/remembered in 2014?”

I will answer these questions in a roundabout way.

Recently, I read and reviewed La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland). I took a French course last semester in which each student had to give a three-day presentation on a French text of their choice. Because of my love for Medieval French literature (with a particular emphasis on Medieval heroism and sanctity), I chose to present La Chanson de Roland, an 11th century epic poem set during the First Crusade. For those of you who do not know the story, Roland is the hero of the poem and a knight in the army of the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne. In the poem, Roland’s godfather Ganelon betrays Charlemagne and makes an alliance with the Saracen King Marsile. Basically, Marsile had sent messengers to Charlemagne claiming that he wanted to convert to Christianity. However, Marsile, who had lost most of Spain to Charles, wanted to win back his lands through deceit. Charles believed and accepted Marsile’s offer. Roland nominated Ganelon to be Charlemagne’s messenger. In fear and anger, Ganelon swore to destroy Roland for sending his godfather on such a dangerous mission. Arriving at Marsile’s kingdom, Ganelon came up with a plan to defeat Roland and end the war between the two kings. He formed an alliance with the enemy.

At the start of the poem, the anonymous narrator claims that the Saracens are pagans who worship Mohammed and Apollo. The poem is replete with racism and religious intolerance. Christians are holy while Muslims are demonic. Christians/Franks are worshipers of the true God while Muslims/ Saracens are worshipers of statues and presented more like brutes than humans. Religious warfare is anathema to our modern sensibilities; yet, to appreciate the poem and to understand its message, it is necessary to read the poem in the context of crusade ideology.

Leading class discussions was an enlightening experience. The other students struggled not only to get past the religious intolerance but to understand Roland’s pride. In La Chanson de Roland, Roland’s pride costs Charlemagne his whole rearguard. However, Roland is still considered the hero of the poem. Such pride is condemned by modern Christianity, but Roland is not a modern Christian. Reading classics that contain racism/sexism/religious intolerance are important because of their historical value. I have read many historical books on the crusades. Yet, it is often difficult to learn about cultural values and sensibilities through history books.

Why is Roland a hero in the poem? In the 21st century, we would not consider Roland a hero. We wouldn’t justify warfare between Christians and Muslims. We would condemn misunderstandings about the Muslim faith. But in the 11th century when the First Crusade was being fought, the French had a different set of criteria for defining a hero. Roland is prideful, but in that era, pride in warfare was not condemned by the Church. This is is evident by reading another poem of the time, Beowulf.

I personally approach old literature like archaeological artifacts. Medieval literature (poems, plays, etc) reveals much about the values of the time period. These values are embodied in the heroes that are venerated. It is commonly accepted by scholars that La Chanson de Roland was written as crusade propaganda. Therefore, if Roland is the hero, it follows that he embodies values of the 11th century. The poem may be filled with offensive material, but it is valuable. Like archaeological artifacts, stories like La Chanson de Roland reveal not only differences between the 11th and 21st centuries but also the similarities. Maybe Western countries no longer fight wars under the banner of Christianity, but does it thereby follow that Western powers do not have similar motives to the Medieval Franks for fighting wars. I doubt it. Charlemagne claimed that he wanted to spread Christianity throughout the world, but he was a king and also wanted to conquer the world. What about the “War on Terror”? Is the only goal to fight terrorism? What do we gain by fighting these wars? Controversial works like La Chanson de Roland help us explore these questions.

 

Classics Club Events

Classics Club Spin Number: 1

I will be reading The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (in the modern English, translated by Nevill Coghill) for Classics Club Spin #6. I know that this is a challenging work, but I am excited to read this one. Because it is a long poem, though, I better start reading now.

The-Canterbury-Tales-9780140424386

If you are participating in the Classics Club Spin, what book will you be reading?

Classics Club Events

Classics Club Spin #6

I will be participating in the Classics Club Spin #6. Although all the books on this list are classics, not all of them are on my Classics Book List. I have decided to do this because I need to get through the books I have already bought before buying new works.

Books I Am Excited To Read

1. The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
2. Scènes de la Vie de Bohème – Henri Murger
3. The War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells
4. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum
5. The Black Arrow – Robert Louis Stevenson

Rereads

6. Le Père Goriot (Father Goriot) – Honoré de Balzac
7. Jean de Florette – Marcel Pagnol
8. Fear and Trembling – Søren Kierkegaard
9. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
10. Phèdre – Jean Racine

Books I Am Dreading (because of length or subject matter)

11. Eugénie Grandet – Honoré de Balzac
12. La Princesse de Clèves (The Princesse de Clèves) – Madame de Lafayette
13. Vingt Mile Lieues Sous Les Mers (20000 Leagues Under the Sea) – Jules Verne
14. Cyrano de Bergerac  – Edmond Rostand
15. Watership Down – Richard Adams

Others

16. Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
17. The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle – Hugh Lofting
18. The Scarlet Pimpernel – Baroness Emmuska Orczy
19. To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
20. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

Classics Club Events, Woolf, Virginia

Review of Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs._Dalloway_coverMy Classics Spin 2014 book was Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.

Review

The war is over and Clarissa Dalloway will be having a party this evening. But it’s morning, and there is so much to do – buy the flowers, mend the dress, prepare the house. It’s 1923 and Septimus Warren Smith is talking to himself again, thinks Lucrezia Smith. Why does he keep talking to himself and to that nice Evans boy? Holmes says not to worry. But Septimus did talk of killing himself.

Clarissa would rather forget the war.

Where have Sally and Peter been after all this time? Sally Seton, what a character! Clarissa recalls the day when Sally ran through the house naked. She sure gave the domestic a scare! Sally had forgotten the soap.

She could have married him. But here was Peter, standing before her, after all these years, still fidgeting with that darn pocket knife. Why hadn’t she married him? Why had she married Richard Dalloway? But Clarissa could never forgive Peter for thinking her a “perfect hostess”.

What is it that people want? Love, some say. But what is love? Or is it pity that people want?

There is love. There is beauty, thinks Septimus. People are watching me again, thinks Lucrezia. Why won’t he stop?

So much has happened in the last few years. But the war is over. Thank God! There are rumors that the prime minister will be there at the party. Just this morning, some mysterious figure rode through the streets of London. They say it was the prime minister.

But what if all the dull women come to the party? Clarissa must not be a failure. How hard it is to deal with the likes of that gluttonous, pompous Hugh Whitbread. And that odious Doris Kilman. Has Clarissa Dalloway ever tried to convert anyone? Indeed, she has not!

 

Favorite Quotes

“She had the oddest sense of being herself invisible; unseen; unknown; there being no more marrying, no more having of children now, but only this astonishing and rather solemn progress with the rest of them, up Bond Street, this being Mrs. Dalloway; not even Clarissa any more; this being Mrs. Richard Dalloway.”

“Boys in uniform, carrying guns, marched with their eyes ahead of them, marched, their arms stiff, and on their faces and expression like the letters of a legend written around the base of a statue praising duty, fidelity, love and England.”

What a fantastic character study!

Classics Club Events, Read-Along, Voltaire

Reading Candide – March Event

Hello everyone, just a reminder that I will be hosting a Candide read-along in March. Details are below:

The event will be from March 1-31.

I will be reading the work in the original language, but all posts will be in English. Here is the posting schedule:

Monday, March 10 : chapters 1-8

Monday, March 17: chapters 9-16

Monday, March 24: chapters 17-24

Monday, March 31: chapters 25-30 (last post)

After I post about a series of chapters, you have a whole week to comment on those chapters.

Please spread the word. I look forward to our discussions.