Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighty-Fourth Book Review: “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Brontë

There is something about the Brontë sisters and their writing that I simply cannot get enough of, so when the Wall Street Journal Book Club chose “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Brontë several months ago, I jumped at the chance to read it. It’s a longer book, but highly enjoyable with two main characters – Helen, the tenant, and Gilbert, one of the people that lives in the village near Wildfell Hall.

In a town where everyone knows everyone, a new arrival at Wildfell Hall cannot pass unnoticed. When Helen comes to this quiet place, she initially pushes everyone away. In general, she ignores all typical manners and expectations and is generally thought to be rude. Gilbert meets her and finds himself fascinated. Not just by the woman, but the story he knows she is hiding, and so he pursues her relentlessly until she makes him promise that he is after no more than her friendship, only adding to her mystery. The interactions between these two characters are quite entertaining. He of course knows nothing of who she really is and that makes him all the more determined to befriend her and gain her trust. This interaction happens in the first part of “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”. In the second half, we learn a great deal more about Helen and how and why she came to Wildfell hall. It is a very intriguing story and it only adds to the strength of Helen as a character.

Part of what makes this a good read is the depth of Helen as a character. On the surface, she seems to be a very rude woman that wants simply to keep to herself, and indeed that is how she comes off to many of the villagers. But as the story unfolds and we learn more about why Helen is the way she is, it becomes clear that she is not only a fascinating character, but also a strong one. The general attitude towards women in this novel is from a time when women were expected to serve their husbands and that was that. This was reflected well when Gilbert’s mother was talking to him: “Then, you must fall each into your proper place. You’ll do your business, and she, if she’s worthy of you, will do hers; but it’s your business to please yourself, and hers to please you. I’m sure your poor, dear father was as good a husband as ever lived, and after the first six months or so were over, I should as soon have expected him to fly, as to put himself out of his way to pleasure me. He always said I was a good wife, and did my duty; and he always did his – bless him! – he was steady and punctual, seldom found fault without a reason, always did justice to my good dinners, and hardly ever spoiled my cookery by delay – and that’s as much as any woman can expect of any man.” (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, pg 54). Having that attitude so prominently displayed also allows for the strength of Helen to shine through so much more. A strong female protagonist is what you will often find in the novels of the Brontë sisters.

Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone. There are some readers that do not have the patience for Anne Brontë’s prose. There are times when her writing goes on about a subject and could be difficult to digest. That being said, I think she writes beautifully. Her characters are intriguing and well developed. I would certainly read this again. But her writing is not for everyone. Still, if you’re looking for a book to push yourself I highly recommend “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Brontë.

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Becky’s One Hundred and Sixty-Second Book Review: “Forever Amber” by Kathleen Winsor

“Forever Amber” by Kathleen Winsor is an unsung classic in my opinion. It was given to me by my mom only to be neglected on the bookshelf for years. I finally got around to reading it while on vacation this summer. Within the first few pages I knew that this was a book I would read again and again. Kathleen Winsor writes beautifully. Her world and those in it quickly captivated me. “She had never seen anyone like him before in her life. The clothes he wore, the sound of his voice, the expression in his eyes, all made her feel that she had had a momentary glimpse into another world – and she longed passionately to see it again, if only for a brief while. Everything else, her own world of Marygreen and Uncle Matt’s farm, all the young men she knew, now seemed to her intolerably dull, even contemptible.” (Forever Amber, pg 19).

The main character Amber can be challenging to like at times. She is young and foolhardy and quick to want things but difficult to please. There were times while I was reading “Forever Amber” that I just wanted to shake her and get her to see some sense. Still, I couldn’t help but find myself cheering her on in all her crazed adventures. One thing that Amber is without fail is opinionated. Her mind and her thought process was fascinating to follow. “She was already convinced that people had a better opinion of you if you pretended to be something more than you were than if you used them honestly.” (Forever Amber, pg 87). One thing that I found myself relating to in regards to Amber’s opinions were her thoughts on women. “But Amber had never believed that other women were important to her success and happiness, and she did not intend to let them trouble her now.” (Forever Amber, pg 173). I liked the way that Amber was upfront about her dislike of females. I don’t feel quite as strongly as she does, but nevertheless, I can relate.

“Forever Amber” begins in the countryside. When Amber first sees Bruce, she begs him to take her with him. Theirs is a passionate love affair and one that never ends. Their desire for each other burns brightly and I believe that is part of what makes their love so difficult to maintain. “By now Bruce had been back long enough and she had seen him so often that the jealousies and worries that beset her when he was away had begun to encroach upon the pleasure she found in being with him. She had begun to feel more discontented over what she was missing than grateful for what she had.” (Forever Amber, pg 322). This excerpt is a great example of what Amber is like. She wants things so badly that when she has them she doesn’t know how to enjoy it. It is part of what makes her so charming and infuriating at the same time.

Would I recommend this book? I would, most definitely – but not to everyone. It is a book that would appeal much more to the female population. That is not to say that men would not also find this book enjoyable. It was a great read and after writing this review, I want to go pick it up and begin my first reread of “Forever Amber”. Alas, there is not time for that right now. Perhaps next summer.

Becky’s One Hundred and Fortieth Book Review: “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson

“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson is a classic that has been told and retold numerous times. Even though I knew the story from a young age, I had never taken the time to pick up the book and read it for myself. When I did I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. “It was a night of little ease to his toiling mind, toiling in mere darkness and besieged by questions.” (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, pg 13).

I really enjoyed the way that Robert Louis Stevenson manipulated language throughout his novel. Reading him was like sneaking bites of dark chocolate. Even though it was a story that I knew, turning each page was a delicious indulgence. “…the ghost of some old sin, the cancer of some concealed disgrace: punishment coming,” (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, pg 17). Robert Louis Stevenson chose each word so carefully to paint such a dark and addictive picture.

I really enjoyed the way that Robert Louis Stevenson focused on the split personality aspects in the book, the book may be about a man who finds a way to let the monster inside of him come out on his own and be separate, but the true lesson of the book is, “…man is not truly one, but truly two. I say two, because the state of my own knowledge does not pass beyond that point. Others will follow, others will outstrip me on the same lines; and I hazard the guess that man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous and independent denizens.” (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, pg 78). The thing that sets Dr. Jekyll apart from other men is that he finds a way to let the monster out. There is no denying that Mr. Hyde is still ultimately a piece of Dr. Jekyll, one that grows stronger the more he shows his face. In a way, it makes him more self-aware than most. He embraces the monster.

Would I recommend The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Yes, it was a very fun read and even though it would be hard to not know the tale, it was still surprising and interesting. 

Becky’s One Hundred and Ninth Book Review: “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson

“The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson is a classic that I didn’t even know about until I read “Audrey’s Door” by Sarah Langan. It was one of the books that Langan said inspired her to write “Audrey’s Door” (along with “The Tenant” by Roland Topor and a few others I think). After reading and loving “Audrey’s Door” I decided to check out the books that inspired it. “The Haunting of Hill House” was the first that I got my hands on.

The premise of “The Haunting of Hill House” by Shirley Jackson is a group of strangers are invited to participate in a study at Hill House in an attempt to see if any paranormal activity will occur. There is Dr. Montague who does the research and invites several people who have been involved with suspected paranormal activities in the past to participate in his study. Eleanor and Theo both respond and as a condition for using the house, Dr. Montague is required to have Luke stay there as well, a member of the family that currently owns the home.

As soon as the group arrives, everyone is immediately uncomfortable with Hill House. It doesn’t help that in the letters inviting them to Hill House Dr. Montague explicitly states to not stop in the town and not mention that they are heading for Hill House. Eleanor does stop in the town but refrains from mentioning her destination. She finds the town to have a very odd air to it and does not stay long. Once she arrives at Hill House, she is not exactly welcomed with open arms by Mr. Dudley and then she is led to her room by Mrs. Dudley. Neither of whom have much of a personality, and Mrs. Dudley takes things a step further by letting each guest know individually that she leaves before it gets dark. There will be no one to hear you, in the dark, in the night.

Things very quickly become stranger for the guests at Hill House. The group experiences a variety of spooky events including doors closing by themselves and a distinct banging in the night. Very quickly things start to get even weirder and also personal for one of the guests. The book is short, something like two hundred pages and I got through it very quickly. It was quite an entertaining read.

“The Haunting of Hill House” was not only a great book, but has been adapted into a few movies including the 1999 movie ‘The Haunting’ starring Liam Nieson and Catherine Zeta-Jones. It wasn’t until I read this book that I was able to realize how similar it was to the book. There were some changes made of course, but for the most part the movie was true to the book.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that it is one of those books that anyone who is a fan of horror/thrillers should read because it has been the inspiration for many of the now-classics. It was a short read too, so it would be great for even those who do not like to read all that much.

Becky’s One Hundred and Sixth Book Review: “The Shining” by Stephen King

“The Shining” is a classic and it deserves all the credit that it gets. Stephen King himself believes that he was able to take Jack Torrance to a whole new level of frightening because he was so real. The alcoholic who was raised by an alcoholic – a loving father and husband one minute and an abusive bastard the next. This was not the first time that I have read “The Shining” but with the sequel coming out (September 27) I wanted to recapture and relive the horror.

It’s hard to say what it is that makes “The Shining” so frightening. There are many aspects of the book that help build up suspense. You have the flashbacks to Jack’s drinking days, both from his perspective and Wendy’s. Then Wendy frequently turns her mind to the Donner party when she thinks of them snowed in at the hotel. In addition to both adults having paranoid moments, Danny has Tony warning him before they even get to the hotel.

Danny’s dis-trustfulness about the Overlook hotel is obvious to any adult willing to look at him long enough. Dick Halloran tries to get Danny to go to Florida with him in a joking manner, but at the same time he is serious. Dick is the one who explains to Danny what ‘the shining’ is and he also gives him some warnings about the hotel. Dick tells Danny to stay away from room 217. He also gives Danny the advice to close his eyes when he sees something scary and it should go away. Wendy also at one point asks Danny if he wants to go stay someplace else for the winter. There are so many warnings in the beginning, but the Torrance family is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Jack needs the job at the Overlook and the only other option Wendy has for a place to live would be with her mother. Something that leaves an awful taste in her mouth. Not to mention Danny expressing his extreme unhappiness at the thought.

Their stay starts out uneventful enough and Wendy thinks that this is just what the family needed. A fresh start away from everyone else. A place for Jack to work on his play. Danny is learning how to read and is desperate to do so. Wendy thinks this is because he wants to win his father’s approval and while that is part of it, he also is desperate to know what some of the signs are that Tony shows him sometimes. Most of all, Danny wants to know what Redrum is, even though he is very afraid of it.

Stephen King is a masterful storyteller. He is able to take truth and fiction and weave it all together to make a terrifying story. “The Shining” is a wonderful book and a must-read for any fan of the thriller/horror genre. 

Becky’s Eighty-Eighth Book Review: “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald is a book that I read in grade school when it was assigned. I read it like I was required to, but I never felt a real connection with the book. I never felt overwhelmed with emotion while reading the book. This was just as true the second time around that I read it. I know that “The Great Gatsby” is considered a classic, but I really don’t get what all the fuss is about. Perhaps I’m just jaded in my perspective on books. The reason that I picked up “The Great Gatsby” to reread is because of the movie coming out. The previews looked so good that it made me want to read the book again. I’m pretty sure that I will enjoy the movie a lot more than I enjoyed the book. I mean, just take a look at the cast! (I can’t be the only one who loves Leonardo DiCaprio)
Despite the fact that I found the book to be less than an ideal read, there were some moments where I was quite entertained by the language that Fitzgerald uses. “He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you, with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believe in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.” (The Great Gatsby, pg 48). The thing is, while I was reading the book, I spent most of the time wondering when it would all be over. That isn’t the reaction that you want from your audience, but that is how I felt when reading “The Great Gatsby”. It was just too slow for me.
Would I recommend this book? I don’t know. I mean, it seems to be a book that everyone should read, but at the same time, there are so many good books out there that it seems unnecessary to waste your time reading a book that was ‘only ok’. There are some classics that I completely understand why they got that title, and then there are others such as “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald that I just don’t understand the big deal.

Becky’s Seventy-Seventh Book Review: “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books of all time. Re-reading this for I don’t even know how many times made me really focus on the why. Why do I like this book so much? Well, in order to answer this question, I need to take a look at the other book that is my favorite, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith. Both books have female protagonists and between these two characters I see so much of me. First of all, both Francie (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) and Jane (Jane Eyre) are big fans of the written word. This is more true of Francie than Jane, but they both are readers nonetheless which I am able to identify with every easily. They both are also very independent and could be described as loners. While I might not be the best example of independence, I know that I impress my mom at least with my many adventures between moving away to go to college and taking the initiative to chase a dream job. Either way, the loner profile fits, at least in the sense that I don’t feel like I’m one of the popular girls by any means. So I believe that at least part of the reason why I like these two books so much is because I am able to identify with each protagonist on several levels. That being said, here is my review on “Jane Eyre”.

“Jane Eyre” is known to be an important piece of literature for feminism. I went into my reading of this novel with this in mind and focused on different areas that I believe reflect this widely shared opinion. Jane is a very independent thinker even before she is able to be independent on her own. This is apparent early on in the book when she finishes talking with her Aunt Reed, “Ere I had finished this reply, my soul began to expand, to exult, with the strangest sense of freedom, of triumph, I ever felt. It seemed as if an invisible bond had burst, and that I had struggled out into unhoped-for liberty.” (Jane Eyre, pg 39) Here Jane is getting really her first taste of freedom, of independence and here we also see how bold a character Jane is. There are many instances throughout the novel where Jane is both demonstrating independence and also comparing herself to a man, pointing out how she would act if she were a man. “Let their motto be–hunt, shoot, and fight: the rest is not worth a fillip. Such should be my device, were I a man.” (Jane Eyre, pg 178). This kind of thinking was unheard of during this time and that is part of what made “Jane Eyre” so revolutionary.

Her independence does not go unnoticed in the novel either. It is commented on by many different characters including one of her cousins, “you perform your own part in life, and burden no one.” (Jane Eyre, pg 239). Jane frequently comforts herself with the idea of independence and freedom when things begin to look tragic for the heroine, “Still indomitable was the reply: ‘I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.'” (Jane Eyre, pg 314). The independence that she shows is truly remarkable. There are moments when she mentions wanting to give in, to not be so strong but her character won’t allow such frivolous things as giving up. Another example of this is “I wanted to be weak that I might avoid the awful passage of further suffering I saw laid out for me; and Conscience, turned tyrant, held Passion by the throat, told her tauntingly, she had yet but dipped her dainty feet in the flough, and swore that with that arm of iron he would thrust her down to unsounded depths of agony.” (Jane Eyre, pg 295). This is a great example of both independence and the dramatic way that Charlotte Brontë writes. I love the way she manipulates language in her works. Another example of Brontë’s uniquely beautiful writing is, “Turn back: on so lovely a night it is a shame to sit in the house; and surely no one can wish to go to bed while sunset is thus at meeting with moonrise.” (Jane Eyre, pg 247).

I know that I am using a lot of quotes to support my points, but I can’t look at the words Brontë composed when writing “Jane Eyre” and not want to share them. There are so many examples throughout the novel of Jane being independent and part of this is in the frankness of her nature. “There, you are less than civil now; and I like rudeness a great deal better than flattery. I had rather be a thing than an angel” (Jane Eyre, pg 261). Here she is speaking very frankly and again, later in the novel you can see a heated discussion that she is having, “’But I apprised you that I was a hard man,’ said he, ‘difficult to persuade.’ ‘And I am a hard woman—impossible to put off.’ ‘And then,’ he pursued, ‘I am cold: no fervour infects me.’ ‘Whereas I am hot, and fire dissolves ice. The blaze there has thawed all the snow from your cloak; by the same token, it has streamed on to my floor, and made it like a trampled street.” (Jane Eyre, pg 379). Jane is a very stubborn woman and this is part of what helps to display her independence.

Jane approaches the world very straight on with a frank and unyielding character. She comes to a cross roads and has the chance to be dependent or independent and this is how she assesses the situation, “Whether is it better, I ask, to be a slave in a fool’s paradise at Marseilles—fevered with delusive bliss one hour—suffocating with the bitterest tears of remorse and shame the next—or to be a village schoolmistress, free and honest, in a breezy mountain nook in the healthy heart of England?” (Jane Eyre, pg 356). In this quote, not only do you see Jane’s approach to the world, but Brontë uses different language to describe different situations. In the eyes of Jane Eyre, to be dependent is to be a slave, to be remorseful and shamed whereas to be independent is a light, free, breezy approach to life. The symbolism is very obvious here, dependence is like a prison while independence is free, honest, and healthy.

Jane dives even further into the notion of dependence vs. independence later in the book when discussing trying to please a man, “As for me, I daily wishes more to please him; but to do so, I felt daily more and more that I must disown half my nature, stifle half my faculties, unrest my tastes from their original bent, force myself to the adoption of pursuits for which I had no natural vocation. He wanted to train me to an elevation I could never reach; it racked me hourly to aspire to the standard he uplifted. The thing was as impossible as to mould my irregular features to his correct and classic pattern, to give to my changeable green eyes the sea-blue tint and solemn luster of his own.” (Jane Eyre, pg 394) Jane notices that through trying to please this man she is sacrificing her own ideals and becoming less than she was. This same man brings multiple soliloquies discussing what to do with the offered dependence when she has such an independent nature. “Oh! It would never do! As his curate, his comrade, all would be right: I would cross oceans with him in that capacity; toil under Eastern suns, in Asian deserts with him in that office; admire and emulate his courage and devotion and vigour: accommodate quietly to his masterhood; smile undisturbed at his ineradicable ambition” (Jane Eyre, pg 402). Jane realizes that she would never be happy to submit to another.

Overall the story is very entertaining and one that I believe every woman should read at least once, although there is no reason that “Jane Eyre” couldn’t appeal to men as well. Would I recommend it? Most definitely—“Jane Eyre” is a must-read. As much as I talked about independence in this review, the book is so much more than that. It is a tale of a woman who begins life as a dependent and vows to bring herself to independence. Through this journey she finds friendships, love, forgiveness, happiness, despair, family, and love again. It is a great read and a classic for good reason.