March 2022 in Books

I focused on books from before the Victorian era this month: two were written in the 1700s, one biography about a poet who lived in the 1700s (and 1800s) and one Shakespeare play.

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

This has been the most different, interesting and remarkable book I’ve read this year so far. The title is A Journal of the Plague Year. The book reads like a journal, some parts more like a diary, some news reports, some editorial essays. It’s about the 1665 Great Plague of London. And we have a first-person narrator.

When the plague first arrived in London, the narrator made the decision to stay in the city and therefore witnessed and recorded the horror of those days. He recorded people’s reactions when they heard the plague was coming; some escaped, and some stayed like the narrator himself. He gave the reasons why some people chose to stay or had to stay and his own reaons for staying as well.

He observed the rules and actions of the Mayor of London and local officials to cope with the situation and to slow the spread of death. He noted down the number of deaths as it increased in various parishes week by week. He also retold things that he saw and heard first-hand in the street, in people’s houses and in graveyards. Some of the scenes really reminded me of the Tenth Plague in the Book of Exodus, “there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.” In some sense, this was even worse because often a whole family or a whole household would all die together within a few hours.

It’s a remarkable book because of the subject matter especially as we are at this stage of a pandemic. There are some striking similarities.

It’s interesting for many reasons. One reason is that the book is actually not a journal of H. F. who signed his name at the end of the book, and it’s definitely not a memoir of Defoe since Defoe was only five when the plague happened. The book is actually part fiction part non-fiction.

I want to make a dedicated Reading Journal video for this book where we can spend more time talking about it. So we shall swiftly move on to the next book

Radical Wordsworth by Jonathan Bate

This is a biography of William Wordsworth, talking about his person as well as his work.

‘William Wordsworth’ in my mind equalled his poems; pure text and two dimensional on pieces of paper. This can’t be right. I wanted to know him more as a person so I can understand his poems better. That’s why I chose to read this book.

The book does the job well. It tells about the major life events and the key figures in his life, for example, his childhood, his parents, his brothers and sisters; Coleridge was a key figure; the Hutchinson sisters; he lived with three women a lot of his life, there was also a French woman and a daughter.

The book also explains when the poems were written, in what circumstances and in response to what personal or political events, for example, the death of family or friends, a walking trip with his sister, or the French Revolution, and how were his works received at the time.

I love the story more and theories less. It gets academic very quickly when it starts to analyse poems. But considering how academic ‘English Literature’ is, written by the same author, this really is not too bad.

I love hearing how all the names were connected and interacted in history, e.g. Coleridge was extremely jealous of Wordsworth being surrounded and worshipped by three women; Hazlitt caused a scandal in a local pub and had to hide in Wordsworth’s house from a mob; and Charles Lamb. Charles Lamb sounded like a fascinating character. I first heard of him and his sister in a podcast. He was also featured in Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society as well as this book. Most of his books seem to be out of print. Do you recommend any books from which I can get to know him better?

I’d have loved the book even more if it was more accessible when it talks about his poems. But overall, it’s a great biography. Wordsworth is now definitely more of a person in 3D than just a name.

Evelina by Frances Burney

Frances Burney was Jane Austen’s favourite author. And Evelina was her first novel. It’s about a young woman going into society for the first time, about all the mistakes she makes, all the people she meets and has to deal with, and in the end finding happiness.

Because it comes under the same category as Jane Austen’s novels, i.e. Regency-era social commentary plus husband-hunting, it’s very interesting to compare and contrast them. For example, in what ways Evelina is similar to Lizzy Bennett or Fanny Price. And in what ways Jane Austen was a superior writer.

The book gives us some historical context: What did Jane Austen read? What did she like? What was popular at the time? Was she inspired?

I think she was. To find my reasons for saying so and to read about a few other things, please go to my dedicated blog post on Evelina :)

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

I’ve been slowly catching up with Shakespeare. So far I read Two Gentlemen of Verona, As You Like It, The Tempest and Hamlet.

Macbeth is the most fast-paced and action-packed play so far. There are seven scenes in Act 1, and nine scenes in Act 5. There are usually four or five scenes in each act in other plays. It’s quite unique.

It’s Shakespeare’s Scottish play, which is where most of the story happens. I listened to BBC Radio Shakespeare and thoroughly enjoyed the Scottish accents.

I posted a blog all about it last week, mostly focusing on the witches and their prophecies. You can also find my favourite lines in the play there.

It’s high time I read a Shakespeare biography of some sort. If you have any recommendations, please leave a message!

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close