Book Review: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Read: July, 2016

Genre: Gothic, Horror

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Summary from Goodreads:

‘All human beings, as we meet them, are commingled out of good and evil: and Edward Hyde, alone in the ranks of mankind, was pure evil’

Published as a shilling shocker, Robert Louis Stevenson’s dark psychological fantasy gave birth to the idea of the split personality. The story of respectable Dr Jekyll’s strange association with damnable young man Edward Hyde; the hunt through fog-bound London for a killer; and the final revelation of Hyde’s true identity is a chilling exploration of humanity’s basest capacity for evil.

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Review:

Before reading this I already knew what the “big reveal” was – that Jekyll and Hyde were different versions of the same person. It’s kind of tricky not to know that – Jekyll and Hyde is a popular and well known classic, synonymous with the idea of “split personality” as the summary says.

But does knowing this detract from the reading experience? When this was first published, the fact that Jekyll and Hyde were one person was not common knowledge. Those first readers would have stumbled across that revelation along with the narrator, Mr. Utterson – arguably how it was intended to be read by Stevenson.

On the one hand, I feel that if I had gone into this book knowing absolutely nothing about the story I would have found the mystery element of it a lot more… well, mysterious. The clever parallels Stevenson draws between Jekyll and Hyde, the hints, the build-up would have had a better pay-off.

On the other hand, I might not have been able to appreciate those things as much if I hadn’t known what they were alluding to. So, really I don’t think it impacted my reading experience that negatively.

Overall I really enjoyed Jekyll and Hyde – it’s short, fast-paced, and unsettling in a good way as Stevenson raises interesting ideas about the nature of good/evil in humanity.

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Best Quote:

“It is one thing to mortify curiosity, another to conquer it. ”

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Has anyone else read this one? Tell me what you thought!

lizard

Wuthering Heights Book Review

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Author: Emily Bronte

Read: June, 2016

Genre: Romance, Gothic

 

 

Review:

“Wuthering Heights tells the story of a romance between two youngsters: Catherine Earnshaw and an orphan boy, Heathcliff. After she rejects him for a suitor from a better background, he develops a lost for revenge that takes over his life. Attempting to win her back, and then to destroy all whom he considers responsible for his loss, Heathcliff creates a living hell for those who inhabit his intimidating residence, Wuthering Heights. This tale of hauntings, passion and greed remains unsurpassed in its depiction of the dark side of love.” (Summary from Goodreads)

I loved this book – it’s quickly earned its place on my favourites shelf. Wuthering Heights is a haunting tale about darker aspects of love, not once shying away from its depictions of cruelty and obsession.

The novel unfolds as a narrative tale told by the servant Ellen Dean. Ellen has been employed by the families concerned in the novel throughout Heathcliff’s life and, after the tenant Mr Lockwood has an unpleasant encounter at Wuthering Heights with Heathcliff, she recounts the tale to him. This interesting narrative grants added perspective to the story whilst still managing to pull in the reader – like Mr Lockwood, we grow strangely involved in the story of Heathcliff and Catherine, and the misery their doomed love inflicts upon those in their circle. By starting the story near its end, with Heathcliff alone and Catherine dead, their respective spouses gone also, Bronte creates the scene of a car crash and invites readers to replay the events which caused it. It’s horrible, and we know it is fated to end tragically, yet we can’t look away as we become sucked into the story.

Besides the narrative, Bronte also expertly manipulates the setting; Wuthering Heights is cold and gothic, stranded in the bitter climate of rural moorland. The weather is generally bleak, the winters cold and uncompromising. The isolation the location imposes adds a sense of claustrophobia to the novel, further emphasising the idea that the characters are trapped in their poisonous relationships and that the dark nature of love is inescapable for them.

And it is the novels dedication to this theme, the dark qualities of love, that renders the story so haunting. Every ghastly deed Heathcliff does, he does out of a twisted sense of love for Catherine. It’s a warning about letting love corrupt you, or, less dramatic sounding, impede your judgement. For though none of the other character relationships quite reach the intensity of that of Heathcliff and Catherine, there are also many examples of characters making less than sensible decisions out of feelings of love – take for instance when Cathy (Catherine’s daughter) sneaks out of the Grange to visit her ailing cousin Linton at Wuthering Heights, despite her father expressly forbidding and Ellen also warning against it. She has been told to avoid that place in order to avoid Heathcliff, who is as wicked as she has been told, and yet Cathy goes anyway out of love and worry for her cousin.

 Wuthering Heights is a warning about love, illustrating its unnerving and potentially corruptible power over people, the story haunting its readers long after its close. I thoroughly recommend it for everyone.

 

Favourite Quote:

“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

If you like this try:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

The Night is darkening round me by Emily Bronte.

lizard

The Lifted Veil Book Review

Author: George Eliot

Read: June, 2016

Genre: Horror, Gothic

Review:

This book, part of penguin’s little black classics range, includes Eliot’s dark novella The Lifted Veil and the essay Silly Novels by Lady Novelists, which examines the flaws of female writing in Eliot’s time.

The Lifted Veil

“Latimer, a sensitive and intellectual man, finds he has clairvoyant powers: he has a vision of a woman, “pale, fatal-eyed”, who he later meets: she is Bertha Grant, his brother’s fiancee. Entranced and bewildered, Latimer is unwilling to take heed of the warning visions which beset him.” (Summary from goodreads)
 I really enjoyed this novella – Eliot examines the supernatural in an engaging and haunting manner. The narrator – Latimer – is not overtly likeable, but his insecurities and isolation, largely self-inflicted as a result of his clairvoyant abilities, are distinctly relatable and unnerving.
Eliot also explores the consuming, blinding nature of attraction and jealously through Latimer’s infatuation with Bertha and how this later leads him into a poisonous relationship. The twist of the story revealed in the particularly unsettling scene with Bertha’s deceased servant at the end of the novella really emphasises this to readers.
Overall, the story was a dark and suspenseful read that I highly recommend.
Silly Novels by Lady Novelists
 
“Describing the silliness and feminine fatuity of many popular books by lady novelists, George Eliot perfectly skewers the formulaic yet bestselling works that dominated her time, with their loveably flawed heroines.” (summary from goodreads)
This essay was a really interesting insight into Eliot’s opinions on popular feminine literature of her time – she feels that most of it was written poorly and that the characters and stories were overly dramatic/silly. More interesting than Eliot’s direct critiques of these writings however is her concern about how an abundance of such literature would be detrimental to perceptions of women. She felt that through the types of heroine depicted in these novels, harmful stereotypes of women’s intellectual inferiority would be reinforced, or perhaps legitimised. These concerns are communicated effectively, creating a very thought-provoking essay.

Best Quotes:

“We learn words by rote, but not their meaning; that must be paid for with our life-blood, and printed in the subtle fibres of our nerves.”

“By a peculiar thermometric adjustment, when a woman’s talent is at zero, journalistic approbation is at the boiling pitch; when she attains mediocrity, it is already at no more than summer heat; and if ever she reaches excellence, critical enthusiasm drops to the freezing point.”

If you like this try:

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

Emma by Jane Austen Book Review

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Author: Jane Austen

Read: June, 2016

Genre: Romance, Victorian Literature

 

 

 

Review:

Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Loathe as I am to admit it my first foray into an Austen novel has not been an enjoyable endeavour. Emma, what went wrong? Your premise – a match matching, witty heroine trying to organise other peoples’ marriage prospects – promised humour, fun, and romance. This is not what I experienced. 😦

The main character, one Miss Emma Woodhouse, wasn’t particularly likeable, even by Austen’s own admission – “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Not to disagree with one of the most iconic writers to ever lift a pen, but perhaps this isn’t the best way to go about creating one’s protagonist? It made battling through the book a real challenge for me, but Emma’s popularity and critical acclaim as one of Austen’s better novels seems to prove that I, like Jon Snow, clearly know nothing.

But as a reader, my main concern is usually characters – if I like them, I can be pretty forgiving about a lack lustre plot. The issue I had with Emma was that I didn’t much like her to begin with – she was conceited, manipulative and exceedingly superficial. But, some people may argue, characters are supposed to flawed as that makes them realistic. Well yes, but they should also have some redeemable qualities too. Hell, even just one.

To be fair things did improve a little as the book went on. Emma does become marginally less annoying, emphasis on marginally. In saying that, I never felt particularly invested in her life or the supposed obstacles that occur within it at any point in the novel – it is difficult to feel much pity for a rich women who thinks trivial romantic misunderstandings are exceptionally important.

So Emma and I didn’t get along. This was an issue, certainly, but could have been saved had I grown to care about any of the other characters.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t.image

They were all quite… meh. Like lukewarm tea. I’ll stomach it so as not to offend my Gran, and it’s not exactly awful tasting, it’s just that I’d rather be drinking something else. If it was anyone other than my Gran I’d put the cup down – if the author had been anyone other than Jane Austen I would have put this novel down and moved on to something else.

To summarise: characters = not so interesting. Me = heartbroken. Austen, your books are supposed to be amazing, your characterisation ingenious and witty. Why didn’t I get amazing and witty? Why?

So the characters were all a bit useless – this could have been saved by a decent plot, which Emma’s match-matching shenanigans should have provided surely?

Alas, not. This book was dialogue heavy – there were far too many entirely irrelevant conversations. I mean, pages and pages of pointless chatter. The narrative was boring, following the woes of wealthy people and bad relationship choices. It felt long and meandering whilst reading – I feel that things could have been improved greatly by better editing.

And the ending! It was utterly predictable – SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! – Emma marries Knightly and Harriet marries that farmer guy, I think called Robert? Who, as you can tell by my near photographic recollection of his character, was a real stand out (insert copious amounts of sarcasm at your own discretion). Oh and Frank Churchill marries Jane Fairfax. The revelation of their secret engagement wasn’t something I saw coming actually, but my lack of interest in either character made any reaction of mine to this surprise somewhat muted. End spoilers.

Overall, I was hugely let down by this novel. I don’t know if it’s just me? I’ve heard so many fantastic things about Austen, and Emma in particular. I think I’ll attempt another Austen novel before I write off her books as not for me, but I’m definitely waiting at least a year – I need time to wash away the bitter disappointment.

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Favourite Quote:

“Why did we wait for anything? why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!”

If you like this try:

Whilst I didn’t enjoy Emma, I have been told that I would on the basis that I really enjoyed Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. I’m also guessing Austen’s other works would appeal to fans of Emma.

lizard

June TBR

So confession time – I failed at my May TBR. I only read two out of four books. The Shame.

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But I did also read another book that wasn’t part of my original pile, so it wasn’t so bad. And I had exams to cry about and remember things for. There, see, legitimate excuses for my failure.

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Which leads me on to this month, in which I intend to actually finish by TBR pile.

So here goes:

  • Emma by Jane Austen
  • The Lifted Veil by George Eliot
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I’ve already started reading Emma and I’m about 70 pages in. So far, so much Victorian angst.

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