As part of my PhD program, I have to do this Project. It is a big ole project, in place of comprehensive exams. I have set an impossible reading list for myself (301 titles altogether, fiction and critical).
This past week - my spring break - I made it through four novels. Brief review of the four:
King Solomon's Mines (H. Rider Haggard). Somehow, I'd never read this before, though I've read so much critical work on it and other empire texts that I might as well have. Definitely terrible! but interestingly homoerotic - so much time spent describing the massive mighty bodies of the Kukuanas and Sir Henry, not to mention the beautiful white legs of Captain Good. I had quite a hard time reading about the slaughter of animals - elephants and sable antelope. 10,000 "savages" get killed off, too, after the white folk stir up a coup. Glad I read it, glad it's done.
Swallows and Amazons (Arthur Ransome). I had high hopes for this one, not sure why. I enjoyed reading it, but didn't love it - the sailing talk just bored me. And I don't know a halyard from a belaying pin, so I was lost for a lot of the techincal passages (and golly, there were a lot of them. Moby-Dick for the early 20th century child reader!). I DID appreciate the lack of sentimentality and nostalgia in the book; the kids are presented on their own terms, no condescension, no nostalgia. Highly unlikely I'll read the whole series of Swallows and Amazons books anytime soon - I can wait - but I wouldn't mind checking them out during some summer vacation. Made me want to go to camping near a lake.
The House of Arden (E. Nesbit). One of the few Nesbit texts I HAVEN'T read, this one was pretty good and strange and wondrous. I didn't love it as much as I loved the Psammead books, but it was still quite good. The names of the children - Edred and Elfrida - were sort of off-putting, but this was still classic Nesbit, and therefore better than most books written for anyone.
The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Orczy). I don't know why I put this on my reading list, except it seemed important. I wish someone had stopped me. DREADFUL! book!! Pro-aristocracy in a hideously snobby way, wildly anachronistic and historically off (how much duelling went on in 1790s England? I don't know, but swords don't come up much in Austen novels!). It was treacly and sentimental and i figured out very soon who the Pimpernel was. The characters were implausible - that Marguerite was intolerable! - and the anti-republican slurs remarkable. It was also just kind of a boring book.
Now I'm on to Tom Brown's Schooldays, and I wish old Thomas Hughes would quit babbling and get to the damn STORY already. Gad! I KNOW everything has gone to the dogs since he was a boy - let's move ON, already! But it is nice to have proof that everyone always thinks the younger generation are a bunch of good-for-nothings who have lost the true ways.
I'm also re-re-re-reading Peter Pan, which happily is on my reading list as well as being the book I'm teaching right now. Every line of that book is just loaded; it's hard to choose out what to focus on in class. Each re-read of Peter Pan makes me feel even more desperately sad for James Barrie. I wish I could give him a transhistorical hug.