Posts filed under ‘Classics’

Re Jane by Patricia Park

Rare is the retelling that manages to be an enhancement, rather than a shadow, of the original. Patricia Park’s Re Jane is that retelling. The conceit is simple: Half-Korean Jane Eyre, with Brooklyn, Queens and Seoul standing in for Gateshead, Thornfield and Morton. A modern retelling.

But it’s actually so much more. The book opens with Jane toiling away in her uncle’s grocery market, delightfully called “Food.” Jane, we discover, has a degree in finance but is unable to find a job after one she thought was set fell through. She is uncomfortable in her own family due to the fact that her mother was apparently impregnated, then abandoned, by an American G.I. — something her relatives obviously disapproved of, and which they don’t hesitate to bring up whenever Jane is acting less than perfectly. (more…)


October 23, 2017 at 3:20 pm 2 comments

‘Eligible’ by Curtis Sittenfeld: A Discussion

Kate: Okay, as sick as I am of Pride and Prejudice being rewritten, and as sick as I am of Regency/Victorian reboots in general, I unabashedly loved Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible. More a reimagining than a retelling, this novel updates the original by making all of the sisters older and moving the entire thing to Cincinnati (among other things). So, Corey, first question to you: Do you think Sittenfeld’s work is successful in terms of capturing the spirit of the original?

Corey: Yes! I haven’t actually read any other retellings, but this book makes me want to. There is something so fundamentally charming, entertaining, and satisfying about this story that it feels almost like a fable or a myth. You can shift it around and change the time or the place (or both!) and it still retains its spirit. What do you think that ineffable “tale as old as time”-ness of it all is? Why do we need to keep reading and retelling and reimagining this particular tale?

Kate: Well, it’s Beauty and the Beast. Elizabeth Bennet, beauty — Fitzwilliam Darcy, beast. I suppose readers like to think that the attractive brooding asshole really does have a heart of gold, deep inside, that he’s waiting to reveal to that one special person. Which is the main heroine, a stand-in for the reader. Right? I mean, Twilight is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, supposedly. It’s all the same story.

Corey: I guess that’s my question: what is so compelling about this trope? Is it just the hope that every jerk has a heart of gold waiting to be revealed?


April 12, 2017 at 1:57 pm 1 comment

‘The House of Spirits’ by Isabel Allende

house-of-spiritsI’m not entirely sure what I was expecting going into Isabel Allende’s The House of Spirits. I’d read her Daughter of Fortune and her retelling of Zorro many years ago, before I’d ever heard of “magical realism” or started enjoying Spanish or Latin American books every summer. I remember them both vaguely (and positively!) and I always had it in mind to read The House of Spirits. It was supposed to be her greatest work and so, when I found it at used book store earlier this summer, the timing seemed propitious.

Having now read it, I mostly felt like The House of Spirits was two novels jammed together as one. They flow so nicely that you almost don’t notice you’ve wandered from one to the other until you — seemingly suddenly — find yourself in a Chilean concentration camp for women and wonder what happened to the puckish and magical goings-on that started the book. (more…)

September 13, 2016 at 6:28 am Leave a comment

‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

audleyMy co-blogger Kate recommended Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon to me many, many years ago and, while I did buy a nice copy back in 2012, it mostly sat on my shelf looking pretty and collecting dust. It was on the list to be read during my last spring reading spree in 2014 and, for my second, I was determined to actually read it.

Lady Audley’s Secret has a lot to recommend it, in my view: it’s a Victorian suspense novel along the lines of Wilkie Collins, but written by a woman and featuring numerous, and distinct, female characters. And author Braddon herself is an interesting historical figure. Like George Eliot, Braddon had an unconventional personal life, although hers would, appropriately enough, not be out of place in one of her own novels: the wife of her publisher (and future husband) was locked away in an insane asylum, so, when Braddon and the publisher fell in love, the pair ignored the insane wife, moved in together, and proceeded to act as though they were married. (All their servants quit in protest at such flagrant moral depravity.) Meanwhile, Braddon continued to write and her would-be-husband (they did later marry, after his wife died) happily published her popular novels.

You have to figure with a biography like that, Mary Elizabeth Braddon probably knows her way around a gothic suspense novel.

And she doesn’t disappoint! Lady Audley’s Secret is a wild ride of a narrative with all the frequent twists, betrayals, secret histories, and love affairs that you’d hope for in the genre. Braddon does her precursor Ann Radcliffe proud in this one (more…)

May 13, 2016 at 6:51 am Leave a comment

A Spring Reading Spree

A few years ago about this time, I went on a spring reading spree to cull the many books I had on my shelves that I had never read. I was moving and didn’t want to keep schlepping books around from place to place that I had never read and possibly didn’t even like. My little spring reading spree/cull was pretty successful and I read a lot in just a few weeks, but, unsurprisingly, I still didn’t make it through everything I hadn’t read on my shelves.

This spring, I find myself faced with a different reading challenge: I’ve been in a real, prolonged reading rut. Middlemarch was practically the beginning and end of my reading in 2016 and I couldn’t seem to get into anything else after finishing it. I read, but only lackadaisically, and didn’t finish much.

So I decided a spring kick-start was in order. If I had once plowed through a whole pile of books with sheer force of will, I would do so again! First up? Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. (more…)

May 5, 2016 at 6:25 am 5 comments

‘Middlemarch’ Stray Observations

George Eliot’s Middlemarch is generally accepted as one of the finest works of literature in the English language. To see how they felt about this distinction, Kate and Corey tackled this classic within a few months of each other and, after having a lot of feelings about it, decided to launched The Ides of Middlemarch, a month of discussion and celebration here on Literary Transgressions. Click here to see all posts in the series.


Corey: Okay, I have a few stray thoughts for this week, but let’s start by tackling the “twisty subplot” aspects of Middlemarch, particularly that Bulstrode/Will/Raffles subplot!

Kate: I just found this to be sort of 19th-century, to be honest. Dickens does this, I think. It’s kind of annoying, but also…people’s lives do intersect in sometimes strange ways? All of these people must be connected somehow, right, because they’re all in the same book?

Corey: I agree that it was absolutely classic 19th-century novel, but it also seemed quite off-base given the rest of the book’s focus on women and their limitations in the society of the time. So Bulstrode turns out to be a jerk and is run out of town. So? What is the broader purpose of the narrative? Just to make Will an ever-more tragic figure who was denied multiple fortunes in Dorothea’s eyes?

Kate: I mean….probably? I feel more and more that this whole novel was a bit disjointed, that Eliot was trying to do a lot and appeal to a lot of people. Maybe she put that in there to appeal to novel-readers in general? Maybe she lost a lot of them during the political bits? This was serialized, right? Also, I think Bulstrode is a comment on the church, so his being involved with something very scandalous and gothic is somehow appropriate. The “so” is that Bulstrode is a hypocrite and the Church of England is generally corrupt, I would say.

Corey: That said, I actually did enjoy the “we’re all connected!” craziness of it. It didn’t make much sense in the context of the rest of the novel, but it was fun to have such a  “WHAT?! No way!” subplot about missed connections and lost fortunes and all that gothic good stuff. (more…)

March 30, 2016 at 6:26 am Leave a comment

On ‘Middlemarch’ and grown-ups

Every time I put down George Eliot’s Middlemarch, a quote by Virginia Woolf on the back cover admonishes me. Woolf famously lauded Eliot and Middlemarch especially, calling it “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people.” Naturally, publishers have splashed this quote on every edition of the novel as a ringing endorsement. It is, in fact, the only quote from a critic that is printed on the back of my version.

I can’t help but wonder if that’s true, and, if so, what it even means. Full disclosure: I have only read to the halfway mark, and so my wondering might be resolved in various ways in the next 400 pages or so (yikes). This is an enormous book with a sweeping scope that encompasses romance, politics, religion and morality while trying to present three compelling plots. (more…)

March 22, 2016 at 11:34 am Leave a comment

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