Though a wistful shadow lies across this book, perhaps in consequence of its author’s failing health, it remains like all her novels a romantic comedy: romantic, because no subject drew on her experience more than the drawing-room society of well-bred and well-off men and women trying to catch wives and husbands; comedies, because she couldn’t dwell long on the subject without an ironic laugh.
Winner of the 1970 Hugo Award for Best Novel, this book by the author of “A Wizard of Earthsea” more than deserves to be in the company of such books as “Stranger in a Strange Land,” “Dune,” “Foundation’s Edge,” “Ender’s Game,” “American Gods,” “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” and “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”. It packs a powerful impact on both mind and heart. It is rich both in world-crafting inventiveness and in human detail. It is—it is, straight-up, devastatingly beautiful.
Peter Blood does not start out as the sort of many you would expect to become a pirate. A physician by training, a soldier and naval warrior by experience, he has just settled down in a quiet corner of England’s West Country when the Monmouth Rebellion breaks out. This bit of trouble was a response to the Catholic James II becoming king of Protestant England in 1685. Being an Irish Catholic himself, Peter takes no part in the rebellion. But when he is caught giving medical aid to one of the rebels, the full frenzy of the Lord Chief Justice falls on him and he is sentenced to hang for treason.
It is at this time in history, in a village close to the marshes along a stretch of the Thames River where the prison-ships anchored, narrator “Pip” cites his earliest memories. He begins his adventures while still a small orphan boy, terrorized by the older sister who has “brought him up by hand,” and comforted only by the affection of an earthy, humble brother-in-law, a blacksmith named Joe. One day young Pip falls into the clutches of an escaped convict hiding in the marshes.
Death by drowning in the River Thames. Murder by blunt object, made to look like death by drowning. Innocent hands made to look guilty of said murder. Money, and expectations of inheriting money, acting as a poison that corrupts men’s (and women’s) virtue, hardens their heart, blights their future, destroys their life. Poverty, even unto starvation, appearing less horrible than the remedy thereof—and possibly even redemptive. Greed, envy, avarice, ambition, fraud, debt, and revenge wreaking their havoc on persons of character ranging from shallow to deep.
The last completed work by one of the greatest English novelists, this book proves that Victorian literature need not be staid, conventional, and formulaic. In fact, it is such a daring and intricately-wrought book that even some avid readers my be intimidated by it. I won’t fib: it’s a big bite to chew. But it is also a mouthful of rare, delicate flavors, and nourishing to the mind and heart.
In the imaginary village of Hayslope, on the frontier between the nonexistent English counties of Loamshire and Stonyshire, round about the year 1799, a strong, manly carpenter named Adam Bede lives with his doting mother (who becomes a widow in an early chapter) and his gentle, sensitive brother Seth. The brothers love the two pretty nieces of a prosperous farmer and his wife who live nearby. Adam’s intended is a vain, saucy, but irresistibly pretty little thing named Hetty Sorrel; the girl Seth wants to marry is a tender, modestly beautiful Methodist lay preacher named Dinah Morris.
And yet I would bet you’re hearing about this book for the first time now. Here some writers would say, “So goes the world,” and let it be. But I say it need not be so. Nathaniel Hawthorne is too important a figure in American literature to be allowed to remain only a figure, silhouetted against the dying light of a bygone age. His writing really is enjoyable, and some of it was designed for the enjoyment of kids. And even though kids’ tastes may change, there still remains a good deal of charm and appeal in Hawthorne’s retellings of the world’s most timeless tales.
This hilarious fairy-tale spoof was written as a “fireside pantomime,” to amuse a group of English children between Christmas and New Year while staying in an unnamed European city. Moreover, it was published under the pseudonym “Michael Angelo Titmarsh,” if you please.
John Bellairs (1938-91) specialized in writing spooky tales of the mysterious and macabre for younger readers. One of the most mysterious and macabre things about him is the fact that he went on writing them after his death. It turns out that four of his books were completed by Brad Strickland based on sketches left unrealized at the author’s death; Strickland then went on to write at least nine more books based on characters Bellairs created.