Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I Love to Hate

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

This week’s theme is character focussed and gives me the perfect opportunity to think
about some of those characters I get a real kick out of hating. They’re not always the main villains but they’re the ones I can’t wait to see get their comeuppance.

I don’t know if I’m just an angry, resentful person but I didn’t seem to have a lot of trouble putting this list together.

1. Daisy in The Great Gatsby. I will never forgive Daisy. What an awful, awful human being.

2. Toad in The Wind in the Willows. Why won’t he see sense? It’s infuriating.

3. Elizabeth in the Poldark series. Ross is an idiot.

4. Almost everyone except Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth in Persuasion. Austen’s
books are full of perfectly silly, intentionally annoying characters who make the real heroes shine in comparison.

5. Blanche Ingram in Jane Eyre. Although, in fairness to Blanche, Rochester’s behaviour to both she and Jane at this point of the novel is kind of, well… he’s a bit of an arse here, isn’t’ he? Sorry.

6. Grima Wormtongue in the The Two Towers. Having manipulated, lied and flattered his
way into a position of power his downfall is so satisfying to see.

7. Cathy and Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights. I love the book but it’s hard to watch them deliberately hurt each other. They’re selfish, hateful people.

8. Mrs Trunchbull in MatildaA properly terrifying children’s villain.

9. Mondego, Danglars and Villefort in The Count of Monte Cristo. By the end of this book I was egging the Count on with real bloodthirsty gusto; I was so desperate for him to get his revenge.

10. Delores Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. She deserves everything she gets.

This list is quite classics heavy although that certainly wasn’t my intention when I started writing it. Maybe more recent novels have moved away from this sort of character? Or maybe I don’t read the right kind of modern books. I don’t know.

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Top Ten Tuesday: facts about me

It’s been a while since my last TTT post. I let them slide back in March and have been waiting for a good reason to go back; this week’s theme is ideal since it’s pretty vague and doesn’t involve racking my brains for ten books that tenuously fit the given topic! The general idea this week is for a series of bookish facts about me, but I’m rubbish at following very basic instructions so….

Earlier this week I was thinking about how certain books can end up tied to specific times and places in our memories, so I’ve adapted the question to suit this instead. Here are some books and the memories that they spark for me:

1. I read The Great Gatsby during one lonely night in a Polish convent.

2. I read Primo Levi’s If Not Now, When? when I should I should have been writing my Masters dissertation (and I’m eternally grateful to my then flatmate for hiding the book so I could get some work done).

3. I read Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series when I was far too old and I’m not ashamed.

4. I read Pride and Prejudice over several long days in a hospital waiting room when my nan was sick.

5. I read The Lovely Bones against my better judgement and have regretted it ever since.

6. I read Rebecca whilst hidden in a field of long grass by a river at the height of summer.

7.  I read P.S. I Love You at work and was very nearly fired from the horrible retail job I was doing at the time.

8. I read Jane Eyre three times in a week when I was thirteen and off school for the Easter holidays.

9. I read 100 Years of Solitude whilst lounging by a swimming pool in the south of France with my sister by my side.

10. I read Twilight because my friend hated it so much and I was curious.

That’s it for another Top Ten. I’ll try not to leave it quite so long next time!

Emma (1815) by Jane Austen

Emma

“If I loved you less I might be able to talk about it more. But you know what I am. You hear nothing but truth from me. I have blamed you, and lectured you, and you have borne it as no other woman in England would have borne it…” 

At last the germs have gone and I’m feeling slightly more like a proper human being again. Apologies for the long blog silence over the past week.

I’d been intending to read Lady Audley’s Secret for ages but as soon as I started to feel less sick I found myself gravitating towards Emma instead. I’m not sure why it was so appealing just then but I think there’s definitely something quite comforting about reading Jane Austen when you’re tucked up in bed feeling sorry for yourself.  It gives you plenty of time in which to wonder at how daintily her heroines do sickness. I bet Miss Bennett’s cold wasn’t of the disgusting, grotty sort that time she was holed up at Netherfield after catching a chill in the rain. And I also bet Mr Bingley wouldn’t have been quite so amazed at her loveliness if he’d seen her snuffling, red-nosed and bleary-eyed, high on Lemsip and surrounded by soggy, used tissues…. Nice.

After reading in dribs and drabs over the week I had a late surge on Saturday afternoon and managed to finish Emma shortly before tea. Three days later I’m still trying to decide what to think of it. I’m quite sure I liked it, but I couldn’t tell you why or even what the point of it all was. It’s a strange book really; more intricately plotted than the other Jane Austen books I’ve read but it feels like so little actually happens to the protagonist. She does some matchmaking, a little gossiping, and a lot of thinking up love affairs for other people (but not herself). There are a couple of dances, a picnic, some home visits and a walk or two but not a great deal more in the way of ‘action’. The whole point, I think, is that while all these little things are happening we have the chance to observe all the characters through Emma’s eyes. It’s nice but it leaves you feeling curiously detached. It’s such a relief when something does happen to Emma that you just wish it could have happened sooner.

I suppose what I’d really have liked is more Mr. Knightley. And more dancing.

In all that activity it’s the characters that make the book shine. I loved poor Miss Bates, was jealous of Jane Fairfax, detested that awful Mrs. Elton. Austen is so good at bringing you on side with her characters. They’re wonderful. I even grew to like Emma eventually, which is saying much. For the first half of the book I thought she was too spoilt, too silly, too much of a snob to be really likeable. It doesn’t help that she constantly overestimates her own matchmaking abilities and allows her imagination to lead her wildly astray…. but it’s kindly meant. Eventually she realises how hurtful and humiliating her meddling can be.

I’ve had a few days off since Saturday but I started The Sot Weed Factor yesterday, poor Lady Audley having once again been cast aside in favour of another book. It’s a longish one, and pretty heavy going, but I’ll do my best not to neglect the blog so much this week.

Persuasion (1818) by Jane Austen

“Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.”

I have to admit to having been a little dismissive of Jane Austen sometimes. I’m not a big romance reader and I tend to associate Austen with those sorts of novels, albeit ones with drawing rooms and balls and petticoats. It’s unfair really; I know she’s better than that. Until now I’d only read one other Austen novel, Pride & Prejudice (of course), and liked it very much – in my eyes that gives Austen a 100% success rate so far. So why do I feel all snobbish about her work? I don’t know. I am a mystery to myself sometimes.

Image courtesy of www.waterstones.com

Image courtesy of http://www.waterstones.com

Anyway, I bought Persuasion on the spur of the moment one lunchtime last week. It was a decision made purely on the basis of the cover art. I want that red cape.

Persuasion was Austen’s last completed book and was published shortly after her death. Consequently its heroine, Anne Elliot, feels very grown up: she’s 27, which in Austen years is practically ancient. Eight years before the novel begins Anne was engaged to the handsome Captain Wentworth but broke off the engagement quite suddenly at the encouragement of her family and friends who all felt that he wasn’t rich or important enough for her. She’s regretted it ever since, so much so that she’s now a shadow of her former self: thinner, plainer, overlooked by her father and disdained by her stupid sisters. She’s an almost silent presence in the first few chapters, at least until Captain Wentworth returns from sea after a long absence. He’s now rich, and still single, but he makes it very clear that he’s moving on with his life and hasn’t forgiven Anne for her rejection.

It took me a while to shake off the comparisons to Pride & Prejudice but Persuasion got much better when I did so. Anne isn’t spirited and vivacious like Elizabeth Bennett; the other characters flutter around her and she stays silent. She’s an almost invisible presence among them for much of the first half. To begin with you don’t even really know quite how she feels about Wentworth; I mean, she’s inevitably nervous and a bit embarrassed about seeing him for the first time since she jilted him all those years ago, but does she love him? She plays her cards close to her chest. It’s nice to see her come to life gradually as you realise how much she’s concealing inside. Austen does this really well I think and Anne becomes a much more involving character as the book progresses.

I didn’t think Wentworth was as well developed, which is a shame but was perhaps inevitable since he spends so much of the book avoiding Anne. They barely say two words to each other for ages; it’s a clever way of building the tension between them. One of my favourite things about Pride & Prejudice (comparisons again!) is all that heated banter between Elizabeth and Darcy, when they can’t decide whether they’re attracted to each other or if they just really can’t stand each other. There isn’t any much of that here of course; Anne is quiet and reserved so the focus is very much on her thoughts rather than her conversation. This is a much more restrained romance and this feeling is emphasised by the lack of direct speech. Even during the key final scenes much of the speech is reported. It had the odd effect of making me feel like I’d been excluded from the romantic pay off, like I was watching it from a distance. It was a bit frustrating after the drama of the previous scene.

This is actually quite a minor complaint and I don’t really want to sound like I’m having a whinge about Persuasion because I did really like it. It had me hooked for three days and I loved Anne Elliot dearly; she felt like normal person. It’s so nicely written, so witty and sensible, that I was a bit sad to see it end. On this basis Austen maintains her 100% success rate.