The Turn of the Century Salon: An Introduction

I am always excited about linking up with other bloggers who read the classics. There is so much to share and so much learn from each other. The reading of one book lends itself to various perspectives from various readers. Katherine from November’s Autumn is giving us yet another excuse to mingle with other classics bloggers with The Turn of the Century Salon. It is to be a club of sorts where folk come together to discuss writers, writings, ideas, ideologies, theories and such from the 1880s to the 1930s. It promises to be exciting. Katherine has invited us to share, once very month (mostly on the 4th day of each month), whatever articles or reviews we might have written on anything literary peculiar to these 50 years. Having just begun the club she has suggested that members introduce themselves and their interests and/or hopes in getting acquainted or re-acquatined, as the case may be, with the turn-of-the-century literature.

What draws you to read the Classics? I’ve always loved the following passage from Charles Lamb’s essay Oxford in the Vacation. I think it pretty much sums up why I am drawn to the Classics.

Antiquity! thou wondrous charm, what art thou? that, being nothing, art everything! When thou wert, thou wert not antiquity — then thou wert nothing, but hadst a remoter antiquity, as thou calledst it, to look back to with blind veneration; thou thyself being to thyself flat, jejune, modern! What mystery lurks in this retroversion? or what half Januses are we, that cannot look forward with the same idolatry with which we for ever revert! The might futures is as nothing, being everything! the past is everything, being nothing!

What era have you mainly read? Georgian? Victorian? Which authors? Hmmm…I suspect Victorian would be the age I’ve read most classics from. It was after all the era in which the form of the novel took off from its fledgling roots. I’ve read Austen and Scott (both of the pre-Victorian, of course!), L M Alcott, Hardy, Dickens, the Brontës, Browning, Tennyson, Arnold (these last three being poets), some Kipling, Twain, Wharton, Stevenson, Conrad, and perhaps a few more.

What Classics have you read from the 1880s-1930s? What did you think of them? I’ll mention a few: (on reading through the list again I’ve realised the books mentioned below are all from different genres, so I’ll put the genres they fall into in [box brackets])

  • The Great Gatsby (1925) by F Scott Fitzgerald — I couldn’t get past the first chapter or two the first time I read it. But years later I found myself completely blown away by it. [drama]
  • Heart of Darkness (1899) by Joseph Conrad — Although less than 200 pages this was an incredibly tough book to read and absorb. [colonial]
  • A Farewell to Arms (1929) by Ernest Hemingway — I disliked it when I studied it in college. But I suspect it is a novel I need to give a second chance to like I did The Great Gatsby. However, I really love The Old Man and the Sea. [war]
  • Three Men in a Boat (1889) by Jerome K Jerome — This is a humorous account of Jerome’s trip down the R. Thames with his two best buddies. I loved this one! [humour; travelogue]
  • Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker — I was quite surprised at how much I liked this book. I never usually read stories of horror, but this was well written and subtle, and I liked all that. I gave it five stars on goodreads. [gothic horror]
  • The Prisoner of Zenda (1894) Anthony Hope — I read this when I was in school. I remember it as a swashbuckling novel. I’d have given it five stars then. I wonder how I would react to it now… [adventure]
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) by Oscar Wilde — I’m not sure how I felt about this one. I skipped a few pages in between, but that was because I could not bear the suspense and I was very pregnant at the time. Maybe I’ll need to give this another try. [horror]
  • The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame — This is a beautiful book. Beautiful writing. Beautiful stories. Beautiful tone and atmosphere. It’s the sort of book to be read on a cozy day. It’s a favourite. :) [children's literature]
  • The Age of Innocence (1920) by Edith Wharton — I didn’t care much for this book, although I enjoyed the movie. However, it is a favourite with many, and most certainly deals with an era and a strata of society in a Victorian America that seems to be dealt with by very few. [romance]
  • Mrs Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf — My first stream-of-consciousness read. It was interesting. Not the boring read that I thought it would turn out to be. [stream-of-consciousness; drama]
  • Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley — This is a dystopian novel that freaked me out (like all dystopian novels do). It’s very much along the ‘big brother’ line. [dystopian]
  • Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell — This was simply epic in so many ways! I love its well-rounded main characters, and the setting the story takes place in. An amazing novel. [epic drama]
  • Jamaica Inn (1936) by Daphne du Maurier — I read this so long ago. It is very gothic, and I recall not liking it very much. I guess it is another one I need to try reading again. [gothic romance]

Name some books you are looking forward to reading for the salon. I mention only the books I currently have on by book shelf. There are quite a few on my e-reader, though. But I don’t mention those right now as I am more eager to finish my print books first.

  • Ben Hur (1880) by Lew Wallace
  • The Brothers Karamazov (1880) by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Phantom of the Opera (1911) by Gaston Leroux
  • Women in Love (1920) by D H Lawrence
  • The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck

Which authors do you hope to learn more about? I hope to be introduced to Kate Chopin, E M Forster, Jack London, Jules Verne, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Wilkie Collins and to read more Willa Cather, Rudyard Kipling, F Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy. Also I would like to read a few of the Russians.

Is your preference prose? Poetry? Both? I prefer prose. I’ve never been able to read poetry for pleasure. However, I’d like to try out some plays as well. I have read some Shaw and Wilde, and a piece each from Chekov, Ibsen and J M Barrie. (I suppose there might be others that don’t come to mind.) I think I would like to read more plays from this era. Somehow they seem more relatable.

So, that’s it for now. What do you think of this era of writing? Is it a favourite of yours? Would you like to explore it? Have you read any of the works mentioned in this post? What do you think of them?

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9 thoughts on “The Turn of the Century Salon: An Introduction

  1. Very lovely post! I feel the same as you about The Age of Innocence and as for The Great Gatsby: I don’t usually hate books, but this and Howards End? I feel like throwing them into the river! I couldn’t get past the first chapter of the former, put it aside, returned a month after and finished it out of duty and nothing else. Maybe in a few years time? I’m really looking forward to your posts for this event!

    • Oh, finally! I haven’t met anyone yet who agrees with my take on The Age of Innocence. I’m curious though, what exactly was it about Howard’s End that you disliked? I can guess your antagonism toward The Great Gatsby, since I felt it once. I’ve personally experienced that some books need to be read only when we’ve reached a certain level of emotional and intellectual maturity. Many books I could not stand when I was in college, I am beginning to appreciate now. And there are a few that I probably still am not ready for, and might be able to appreciate only years further from now.

  2. So many wonderful books written in this period! Ironically, you seem to have read all the books I look forward to reading and I have read most of your To Read List! Happy Reading in 2013!

  3. Truth be told, I know next to nothing about this period. I’ve read a few books written during it, but not enough to form an impression on what life and society must have been like then. Out of the classics from the 1880s-1930s you mention, I’ve read The Great Gatsby, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Heart of Darkness (my high school self hated it, but I think I might need to give it a second chance soon) and I’m now reading (and loving) Gone With the Wind.

    Good luck with this project, I look forward to reading your reviews as you make your way through these books. :)

    • I wasn’t even aware I had read this many and a few more works from this era until I started making a list for this post. Consciously, I have always been rather wary of this era…especially of the early 1990s. But, looking back, it has mostly been a positive experience. Which probably why I am finally about to give D H Lawrence a real chance. I couldn’t stand the idea of reading his works in college. Yet he’s considered one of the best of his time, and now I’m curious to know why exactly. I doubt I’d ever read Heart of Darkness again. I think it an achievment that I finished it once through!

      And, Oh yes! I simply adored Gone with the Wind!….Amazing epic. :)

    • Oh, that’s great! :)…we should compare notes if we both manage to finish Ben-Hur this year.

      Terrence Rattigan. That’s a new name for me. A playwright?

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