Saturday, 3 December 2016

Russian Literature Reading Challenge 2017

*** At the end of this post I've included a very long list of Russian texts from the 12th Century onwards. 

Since my 2016 Ancient Greek Challenge was a success (both personally and for others - but more on that later) I've been thinking about what challenge I want to host in 2017. Ever since I first picked up One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich many years ago I've been charmed by Russian Literature and I've been reading A LOT of Russian Literature lately so it was a pretty easy decision. I'm currently making my way through Ivan Turgenev's works so this challenge will collide with that project nicely.

I have many, many Russian Lit novels, short stories and plays I want to read in 2017. I want to continue with my Turgenev Project by reading a few of his novels and most of his short stories. I also want to read War and Peace (I've had an eleven month break from Tolstoy and I think that's long enough), the Brothers Karamazov and maybe another Dostoevsky, Demons by Gogol, Chekov's short story collection, some medieval Russian texts and Pushkin's Fairy Tales. I'm sure I'll think of more as it gets closer to 2017. As I said I'm really into Russian Literature at the moment (always).

I'll just be reading Classic Russian Literature (mostly the 19th Century) but I welcome anyone that participates to read 20th century or contemporary Russian Literature and Non Fiction. I'll be listing the books I want to read on my 2017 Challenges Page.

Like with many challenges there will be four levels (going to make it interesting and name them after my favourite Russian writers):

  • Level One (Tolstoy): 1-3 books 
  • Level Two (Chekov): 4-6 books 
  • Level Three (Dostoevsky): 7-11 books
  • Level Four (Turgenev): 12+ books

You can count short stories, poetry, novels, novellas and plays in your book count. I don't really mind.

If you are going to join me just leave a comment under this post. I made a couple of buttons which you can use to show you're participating if you so desire:

Russian Literature List:
**this is a constant work in progress but if you have suggestions send them my way
*** this is a rough list that obviously doesn't cover every Russian text but I've done my best to include as many as I can
**** works from the 12th-18th centuries are mostly travelogues/religious texts and hard to locate in English but I've included them mostly for my own interest
****** each category and sub category are in chronological order to the best of my ability

Friday, 2 December 2016

Clarissa; a year long project

There is one novel that has been staring or glaring at me for years. It sits lonely at the bottom of my shelves gathering dust. Occasionally I look at it and avert my eyes instantly because I feel guilty. Why do I feel guilty? I know I will love this novel. I knew I would from the moment I picked it up in a bookstore all those years ago but for some reason I just couldn't pick it up. It's MASSIVE but the size isn't what intimidates me. It's the words; the density; the feeling that to read it and understand it and love it I would have to take it slow and let the words seep into my veins. 

What is this novel? It's Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. No book intimidates me more than this one but when I looked at the novel this morning I felt something new: I know I need to read it and if I don't do it now I never will. I have thought long and hard about how I want to read it and I've decided to do a year long read. It's an epistolary novel and the letters inside correspond to dates of the year. The first entry is January 10th and the last is December 18th. The challenge is going to be sticking to the dates. I know at one point or another I will want to leave it be for a while or read fast but I will do my best to stick to the timeline I've set out for myself. 

So this is the schedule I'm aiming for: 

  • Vol. 1: Letters 1-6

  • Vol. 1 - Letters 7-10 

  • Vol. 1 - Letters 11-44 
  • Vol. 2 - Letters 1-28

  • Vol. 2 - Letters 29-48
  • Vol. 3 - Letters 1-62
  • Vol. 4 - Letters 1-6

  • Vol. 4 - Letters 7-55
  • Vol. 5 - Letters 1-9

  • Vol. 5 - Letters 10-36
  • Vol. 6 - Letters 1-51

  • Vol. 6 - Letters 52-73
  • Vol. 7 - Letters 1-63
  • Vol. 7 - Letters 63-84
  • Vol. 8 - Letters 1-47

  • Vol. 8 - Letters 48-71
  • Vol. 9 - Letters 1-48

  • Vol 9 - Letters 49-59

  • Vol 9 - Letters 60-62

  • Vol. 9 - Letters 62-64
  • Conclusion
  • Postscript 

If you've never read Clarissa before or feel like reading it again at a slower pace you are welcome to join me. I'll be writing monthly posts (if all goes to plan which if you've been following me for a while you'll know this is less than probable) and tagging my updates on twitter with #clarissaRA.

I'm also doing a RUSSIAN LITERATURE CHALLENGE which I'm working on now and the post should be up tomorrow or later today. 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

December, and other things

Two. Zero. One. Six. 

This year has been a monster. It's been chaotic and painful and long and stagnant and I, for one, am glad it's the last month of this tumultuous year. I honestly can't remember a year other than this one where I can't really find one good thing to say about it. Personally, it was a year of great change and upheaval. I left the place I had always known and it was a mistake but I learned from it. I've always been of the opinion that change is better than continuity but I couldn't have been more wrong. Both have their merits. This was the year that I realised I didn't want to have a career in the area that I've been working towards for my entire life. But that's okay - it's all part of growing up and finding yourself. This year was terrible but I think I needed this year to shake me out of the drifting I was doing - to remind me that I'm okay and that I'll be okay. 

This year has also been a nightmare of a year for reading. I've spoken about it before but I just lost the ability to concentrate on anything for a long periods of time. I have been reading though - just in small amounts. I've read a LOT of poetry and short stories this year. I finished Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which is one of the greatest texts I've ever read. I've read a few more texts written by Ivan Turgenev - he's now firmly in place as my favourite Russian writer. I've read Greek plays. It doesn't amount to much but for how intense this year has been it's good enough for me. 

Now for what I want to achieve in December... 

I'm currently reading a bunch of books. They include the Decameron (I will finish this by the end of the year - I will not accept failure), the House of Mirth, Spring Torrents (another Turgenev that I recently bought), a collection of Chekov short stories, a Shakespeare play and a Sophocles play. I want to finish them all by the end of the year but if I don't that's okay. I'm really in love with reading again so it's okay to take it slow. I also want to read A Christmas Carol. Dickens is my nemesis (I just can never settle with him) so I'll start small. I have been reading a bit of the Pickwick Papers and I love it so...

I have some great plans for next years reading which I'll post about at the end of December but I'm really looking forward to 2017 and the books I want to read. I think I'll take a turn at hosting another event next year - personally I achieved my Ancient Greek and Roman challenge goal - and if I do it will be a Russian Literature Challenge. 80% of my reading list is Russian Literature and I recently bought a bunch of new Russian Lit books so that challenge should help me out.

For now I'm going to finish writing a review of two Turgenev novellas I read this year and then read some more of Spring Torrents. There's nothing like Turgenev's prose. 

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight [FIT II]


It's been a long time since I published my review/summary of Fit I of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight but I didn't want to continue reading this beautiful poem if I didn't have the time and passion to dedicate to it. As stated in my first post last November (what? has it really been that long?) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a 14th Century alliterative poem written by an unknown writer. Fit I ended with Sir Gawain giving his word that he would find the Green Knight in a years time so he could be dealt a return blow and Fit II picks up with an extremely beautiful description of the parting seasons:

Wrathful winds in raging skies wrestle with the sun;
Leaves are lashed loose from the trees and lie on the ground
And the grass becomes grey which was green before.
What rose from root at first now ripens and rots;
So the year in passing yields its many yesterdays,
And winter returns, as the way of the world is...

After seasons and Michaelmas passes Sir Gawain readies himself to leave for his quest on All Saints Day. Lords, ladies and Knights alike grieve for Gawain and offer him advice. Sir Gawain, optimistic about the road ahead, simply says:

"Whether fate be foul or fair,
Why falter I or fear?
What should man do but dare?"

The narrator then describes the rich clothes, saddle and weapons Sir Gawain is given for his quest which speaks to how rich and noble Camelot is. In other Arthurian literature I've noticed that Camelot isn't like a lot of Medieval cities or seats of power. It's far richer and advanced in almost every way. It's kind of like a dream city, something that could never exist in reality. The narrator then goes on to talk about the significance of the Pentangle on Sir Gawain's garments which shows just how noble and good Sir Gawain is. 

"Why the pentangle is proper to the prince of knights...
For, ever faithful in five things, each in fivefold manner,
Gawain was reputed good and, like gold well refined,
He was devoid of all villainy, every virtue displaying
In the field." 

Sir Gawain then leaves Camelot and travels across Britain. The narrator describes the days that turn into weeks that turn into months and the loneliness that Sir Gawain feels as the traipses on his journey through what is modern Britain and Wales. Sir Gawain scales the mountains and comes face to face with many a man and beast and besting them all. He continues on his journey until Christmas Eve where suddenly he comes across a castle "the comeliest castle that ever a knight owned." Sir Gawain enters the castle and is granted lodging after trudging across Britain for months on end. The narrator then embarks on a long description of the castle, the Lord who lives there and the rich food that Sir Gawain is given. Again, Sir Gawain is marvelled over by the inhabitants of this castle as he is wherever he goes. You really can't help feeling attached to Sir Gawain and the kind of person he is. Sir Gawain then meets the Lady of the castle and instantly takes a liking to her:

Most beautiful of body and bright of complexion,
Most winsome in ways of all women alive, 

She seemed to Sir Gawain, excelling Guinevere. 

The narrator then goes on to describe three long days full of merriment and feasting and details how rich the food is and how rich the company is. You are constantly reminded that this castle is fit for a knight like Sir Gawain to inhabit. As Sir Gawain prepares to leave the next day the Lord of the castle asks him to detail exactly what his quest is. The Lord of the castle tells him that the place Sir Gawain is looking for is only two miles from his castle and Sir Gawain is overjoyed and stays at the castle until the morning of New Year's Day. Fit II ends with the Lord of the castle giving Sir Gawain a deed: while the Lord goes out hunting Sir Gawain must stay and doze until late morning after which the Lady will accompany him until the Lord comes back. The Lord also says that whatever he wins on the hunt will be Sir Gawain's for the keeping and whatever achievement Sir Gawain chance's on in the castle, he exchange's for what ever the Lord brings back from the hunt.

And that's it for Fit II. Let's hope I manage to post the next Fit before next year (I joke, I joke).

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Song of Love Triumphant by Ivan Turgenev

Ivan Turgenev towards the end of his life
It's not much of a secret that Ivan Turgenev is one of my favourite writers. I decided late last year that I would make my way through his novels, short stories and plays. I chose to start with one of his short stories, The Song of Love Triumphant, because I read somewhere he dedicated it to his dear friend (and another favourite writer of mine) Gustave Flaubert and it did not disappoint. It's quite a different piece of writing compared to Turgenev's other short stories, very experimental, but it's a really fascinating insight into Turgenev's state of mind later in his life.

The Song of Love Triumphant (sometimes referred to as the Song of Triumphant Love) was written in 1881 which was two years before he died. It's a work that splits critics and the general reading public alike. Some think it's a creative masterpiece and some dismiss it as a purely imaginative story with no real substance. I saw it as somewhere in between those two extremes. It's not Turgenev's best work but it is very moving and creative and different. The story is heavily based on his life long love for Pauline Vardot, an opera singer and their unique connection that spurned decades. Pauline was married at the time they met but it seems they all come to some arrangement as Turgenev followed them around Europe and lived close to them for a very long time. At one point he lived in a room in their house and at another point built a chalet in their garden and lived there for a while. It was even said Pauline's two children were Turgenev's children - a popular public theory that was never proved.
Louis Viardot after reading The Song of Love Triumphant

The Song of Love Triumphant is set in Ferrara during the Renaissance and is both a look into Renaissance Italy and the fascination in the West with Oriental culture. It follows the story of two friends, Fabio and Muzzio, who were a painter and a musician respectively and their love for the same woman, Valeria. Valeria eventually chooses Fabio and Muzzio travels around the East for five years to recover from the disappointment. When he returns he stays with Valeria and Fabio which is really where the story starts. Muzzio has aquired 'supernatural' instruments while he has been in the East and at night he plays a tune on his new violin 'The Song of Triumphant Love' which mesmerisies Valeria and she has an erotic dream which Muzzio has as well. The next night Muzzio plays the tune again but this time Fabio follows the tune and 'fatal' events ensue. Muzzio somehow survives the attack (its implied he was brought back to life by his attendant) and they quickly leave Fabio and Valeria to live their life peacefully. The story ends with Valeria feeling the "stirring of life" in her womb and the narrator ends the story with an unfinished question.

The Song of Love Triumphant is a funny little tale. It's very experimental and not like Turgenev's usual stories which is why I found it so compelling. As with all of Turgenev's stories and novels I've read so far this story was exceptionally well written and the writing evokes emotion in you in a way that takes you back to a time or a person or a place in your own life. Turgenev was said to be a very gentle person, someone who was attached to nature and light, and you can really feel that in this story.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm

Hansel and Gretel was first published in the two volume set of Fairy Tales Kinder- und Hausmarchen, composed by Jacob and Wilheim Grimm, in 1812. The Grimm brothers heard of the tale of Hansel and Gretel from a family friend but it's certainly not an original tale. It possibly could have originated during the Great Famine in 1315 as there were reports of parents abandoning their children because they couldn't afford to feed them and people resorting to cannibalism. Since then the familiar tale of Hansel and Gretel has appeared across different cultures and times. Tales by Charles Perrault and Madame d' Aulnoy bear striking resemblances to Hansel and Gretel. The Grimm brothers themselves identified these two stories as being parallel stories to Hansel and Gretel. Hansel and Gretel was revised multiple times over the course of 40 years and the original story that appeared in 1812 is quite different from the final version published in the 1850s. Hansel and Gretel is one of the most recognisable tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm and has been adapted countless times for film, opera, plays, etc.

Hansel and Gretel opens with a description of a poor woodcutter who lived with his wife and children. They have always had little to eat and when a Great Famine strikes the land the woodcutter is unable to even supply their bread. The woodcutter's wife, a selfish and horrible woman, comes up with the idea of giving Hansel and Gretel a small piece of bread each and leaving them in the woods to be devoured by animals. The father is extremely weak and agrees, although he's not very happy about it. Unbeknownst to them Hansel and Gretel overheard the plan and Hansel quickly went outside and gathered pebbles so they could find their way home once they were left in the woods. When daybreak hits the family go out into the woods and the parents leave Hansel and Gretel next to a fire. They ate the bread quickly and fell asleep. When they awoke it was dark but the moon shone brightly in the night sky and they were able to follow the pebble track Hansel had left behind them. They eventually returned home safely much to the mothers chagrin.

A few days or weeks later (its not specified) they run out of food again and the mother decides they have to try and leave Hansel and Gretel in the woods once more. Hansel and Gretel overhear this plan again and Hansel decides to grab some more petals but the door is locked and he can't get out. Hansel then decides to use the bread to leave crumbs behind. The next day the mother and father leave them in the woods again but when Hansel and Gretel woke up from their nap they discovered the bread crumbs were eaten by birds. They wander around the woods for three days until they come to a house made of sweets. Hansel decides that he will eat the roof made of cake and Gretel will eat the sugar windows. Suddenly they hear a voice from inside:

"Nibble, nibble, little mouse,
Who is nibbling at my house?"

Hansel and Gretel answer:

"The wind, the wind,
The heavenly child" 

A while afterwards an old woman appears, who is described to be as old as the hills themselves. Hansel and Gretel are frightened but the woman invites them inside and gives them a good meal and a place to sleep. Hansel and Gretel are immediately content and their worries disappear. However, the next morning the old woman (who is actually an evil witch) locks Hansel in a cage and makes Gretel become her slave. The witch had designed her sweet house to lure children so she could eat them. She feeds Hansel every day to fatten him up and only gives Gretel claw fish. Hansel realises what the witch is doing and sticks out a chicken bone every morning so the witch will think he hasn't gained any weight. Eventually the witch grows impatient and decides she will eat Hansel anyway. She makes Gretel boil water so she can cook him the next day. When the day arrives the witch asks Gretel to test the oven out and see if it's hot enough. Seeing what the witch has planned Gretel pushes the witch in the oven, lets Hansel out and they escape from the house just as the witch is being burned to death. But not before they take jewels so they'll never be hungry again. Eventually they find their way home, with the aid of a swan, are reunited with their father and discover their mother had died. All's well that ends well, right?

Hansel and Gretel was much darker than I remember. Cannibal witches, selfish parents who leave their children to be eaten by wild animals, etc. I absolutely love Hansel and Gretel and being older than when I read it the first and second times I can appreciate it for what it is. A story about two incredibly brave and smart children who outwit those who would wish them harm. They deserve the world and they eventually got it. A truly wonderful story that is quite inspiring.


Hansel and Gretel was my week one Deal Me In Pick. The review is a little late but I really enjoyed it. Weeks two and three are White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Bartholomew Fair by Ben Jonson which I am in the middle of reading. I will try and finish them both and write reviews before this week is up so I'm on track again. 

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Devil by Leo Tolstoy

Writing negative reviews is one of my least favourite things and it has been ever since I started writing small book reviews in various notebooks. I'm a positive person, or at least I try to be, and I often find positive things to focus on whenever I read anything. I read the Devil by Leo Tolstoy just over a week ago and when I finished I was struggling to find anything good to say about it. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy is my favourite novel and I was really looking forward to reading Tolstoy's short stories. The Devil was such a disappointing read and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it for a week. One of the pitfalls of reading multiple works by a writer you love is that there is a risk you'll find something that will turn you off or make you feel uncomfortable. Because Anna Karenina means so much to me I had high expectations for Tolstoy's other work and my one main emotion after reading the Devil was that of disappointment. I know some people won't be as disappointed as I was with this work as people have different reactions to things due to different life experiences but this work is something I honestly wish I had never picked up. I will eventually read more of Tolstoy but for now I think it's best to focus on other Russian writers. With all that said I will try and review this as objectively as I possibly can.

The Devil was written in 1889 but wasn't published until after Tolstoy's death in 1911. In 1909 Tolstoy wrote an alternative ending which is included in most modern editions. If you decide to read this novella/short story you should make sure your edition has both endings as both give an insight into the story as a whole. The Devil is about Eugene Irtenev and the consequences of his giving into sexual temptation. There are obvious parallels between Eugene and the Devil which I won't get into now because they don't need an explanation.  The Devil is supposedly Tolstoy's most autobiographical work of fiction and that knowledge makes me extremely uncomfortable. Irtenev is not a good man. He blames his mistakes on other people and he blames his sexual urges on some need for sex because he "needs" to have sex for his physical health. The Devil is well written but the content it what really matters and the content is very unsettling and startling especially when you keep in mind that it's based on Tolstoy's life. I can't go further into the plot as I don't want to give too much away but Irtenev is one of my least favourite characters I've ever come across.

I'm not sure what else I can write without being too negative or giving too much away. I'm sensitive to women in literature and how they are portrayed and that's a major reason why I didn't like this story. It left the impression that Irtenev, and by extension Tolstoy, blamed the women in his life for his affairs and sexual temptations. I haven't given up on Tolstoy completely but I think it's best if I wait awhile before I read another one of his works.


I found out a week ago that I'll be moving to a different state in a fortnight (due to getting into an amazing program/internship) so that's why I've been quiet. I haven't even had time to read. I've read one of my Deal Me In texts and I'm currently reading another so hopefully I'll have those reviews up soon. And I plan on starting Mrs Dalloway after I've finished a play by Ben Johnson.

Saturday, 2 January 2016


It's currently the 3rd of January and I'm a bit late with this post but better late than never! I've been away for a few weeks and it's so nice to be back home. It's quite cold today which is nice because we've had shocking heat for the past week or so. It's great weather to stay in with a book or two. I finished the Devil by Leo Tolstoy this morning which was a disappointing and uncomfortable novella for me but I'm planning to read Mrs Dalloway by Virgina Woolf next so hopefully I have more success with that one.

I have a few reading plans for January but I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself to read set books. I always read more when I just let myself read what I want. In the past I've noticed that I've felt like I need to persevere through books even though I'm not enjoying them and that's something I'm trying to change. There's no use not enjoying your reading experience and I think that's why I've been in reading ruts through the years; I just stop enjoying the experience. Along with writing more reviews/writing original content that's the other bookish resolution I'm determined to stick to.

As for my reading plans this month I have a few books I want to read. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is the first one. I was determined that it would be my first book of 2016 but I didn't finish The Devil in time so it'll be my second. Still, I'm very excited about reading this one. I've wanted to read it for years but something has scared me about it. I'm not sure why because I loved To the Lighthouse and that didn't intimidate me at all. There's just something about Mrs Dalloway that scares me. I'm looking forward to the challenge though. I also bought Mill on the Floss by George Eliot which I'm desperate to read as soon as possible. I've heard nothing but great things about it and it seems like a book I'll absolutely love. I'm making a deliberate choice to read more literature written by women this year and I hope to read at least three or four texts by women this month. For my first Deal Me In text I drew White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky which is really more of a novella than a short story so I hope I have more luck with that one than the Devils. I want to read a Euripides play or two this month as well. I also need to continue reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as I've been unable to read it in recent weeks due to my leaving it at home when I went away. Other than that I'm just going to see where the wind takes me.

Happy reading!