Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Back to the Classics 2017: The Summary
click on the image to go to the   
challenge on Books and Chocolate   

Like every year half of the books that I read and reviewed here on Edith’s Miscellany were twentieth-century classics. With ten of these plus two older books that I reviewed on my Booklikes blog called Lagraziana’s Kalliopeion I participated in the Back to the Classics 2017 reading challenge that Karen K. hosted on Books and Chocolate. When I joined in January, I didn’t think that I would read something from all twelve categories because there were at least four of them that weren’t really my cup of tea, but eventually I made the full dozen.

Since literature published before 1900 seldom tempts me, few pre-1800 and 19th-century classics ever make it on my reading list. Still, I found two. Jens Peter Jacobsen’s 1876 historical novel Marie Grubbe about a wilful noblewoman in sixteenth-century Denmark was even more engaging than I had expected. And my imitation leather-bound German edition gave the read the right flair, too. Aphra Behn’s very short “novel” The Adventure of the Black Lady from around 1697, on the other hand, wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. Although it was interesting and I didn’t regret my choice, the book didn’t actually send me into raptures.

The romance and Gothic or horror classics were out of my usual line, too, and it cost me some thought as well as research to find suitable novels that I was likely to enjoy enough to finish them. I believe that I made a good choice in the end although I must admit that neither Mary McNeil Fenollosa’s The Dragon Painter nor Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle succeeded in turning me into a fan of the genres. Despite all, I’m glad that I read their books because if nothing else they entertained me a little and widened my literary horizon. Besides, they were sufficiently well-written to keep me reading.

If forced to name my favourite read for this challenge, I’d waver between The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary and Billiards at Half Past Nine by Heinrich Böll, the first an award-winning African novel that was one of the first introducing environmental and wild life protection into literature and the latter a critical discussion of Nazi reign and World War II in a fictious family setting. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed Anna Banti’s Artemisia, Ana María Matute’s Celebration in the Northwest and Natsume Sōseki’s I Am a Cat, too. As for They Were Counted by Count Bánffy Miklos and The Artamonov Business by Maxim Gorky, they are great novels set in the late nineteenth century through 1914 and 1917 respectively. Only Paula Grogger’s historical novel The Door in the Grimming evoking daily life in the Styrian mountains in the times of the Napoleonic Wars happened to be a bit of a disappointment.

And here comes the summary list of My Dozen of Classics including the categories for which I entered them, dates of release and original titles if they aren’t English:
  1. 19th-century classic:
    Jens Peter Jacobsen: Marie Grubbe. A Lady of the Seventeenth Century (1876), original Danish title: Fru Marie Grubbe, Interieurer fra det syttende Aarhundrede
    »»» on Lagraziana’s Kalliopeion
  2. 20th-century classic:
    Ana María Matute: Celebration in the Northwest (1952), original Spanish title: Fiesta al noroeste
  3. Classic by a woman author:
    Paula Grogger: The Door in the Grimming (1926), original German title: Das Grimmingtor
  4. Classic in translation:
    Bánffy Miklós: They Were Counted (1934), original Hungarian title: Megszámláltattál
  5. Classic published before 1800:
    Aphra Behn: The Adventure of the Black Lady (1684) »»» on Lagraziana’s Kalliopeion
  6. Romance classic:
    Mary McNeil Fenollosa: The Dragon Painter (1906)
  7. Gothic or horror classic:
    Shirley Jackson: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962)
  8. Classic with a number in the title:
    Heinrich Böll: Billiards at Half Past Nine (1959), original German title: Billard um halb zehn
  9. Classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title:
    Natsume Sōseki: I am a Cat (1905), original Japanese title: 吾輩は猫である
  10. Classic set in a place you'd like to visit: Rome - Florence - Naples - London
    Anna Banti: Artemisia (1947), original Italian title: Artemisia
  11. Award-winning classic: Prix Goncourt 1956
    Romain Gary: The Roots of Heaven (1956), original French title: Les racines du ciel 
  12. Russian Classic:
    Maxim Gorky: The Artamonov Business (1925), original Russian title: Дело Артамоновых


  1. Your list is so impressive! I think it's the most diverse list I've seen for this challenge. I was thinking about trying to do the challenge with all books in translation but I decided I really need to read books off my shelves this year instead, but if I make enough progress I may try that next year. Thanks again for signing up for the challenge!

    1. Thank you, Karen! It was my goal to make it as diverse a list as possible because for me reading is much about widening the horizon. But I need to add that knowing several foreign languages good enough to read books, I had to rely on translations only in four cases. The remaining eight novels I could read in the original language.

      And I can't say how much it flatters me to have won the prize!

  2. What an adventure you had! I just finished The Wreath by Sigrid Undset, set in 14th century Norway. She won the Nobel prize so perhaps you have read it. I was struck by how much the problems that the heroine had have not changed that much in all these years.

    1. No, I haven't read The Wreath by Sigrid Undset, yet. It might be a surprise seeing my classics list, but I definitely prefer old contemoprary novels to historical novels written decades, centuries or even millennia later.

      By the en-NOBEL-ed Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset I only read (and reviewed) Jenny... and I loved it!

  3. I agree with Karen. I don't think I've ever heard of any of these books, let alone read them. Well done & congratulations on winning the prize.

    1. Thanks Carol - both for the praise of my list and for the congratualtions!

      I try to present books on my blog that are less widely read or already a bit forgotten. For me it's so much more fun to dig up something unusual than to review the same books as other book bloggers around.


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