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A Doll's House

A Classic’s Club Book Review

Author: Henrik Ibsen

Genre : Realistic Problem Play

Publisher: T. Fisher Unwin

Year of Publication: 21st December 1879

Number of Pages: 101

My Rating: 5 out of 5

I picked a Doll’s House as the next book to read for my Classics Club ’50 books in 5 years challenge’ because my son is reading it for school and I thought it would be cool to discuss it with him and share ideas on the themes.

This exceptional read is a three-act play written by Henrik Ibsen, who was a leading Norwegian playwright. It features Nora Helmer and her relationship with her husband, Torvald. The play takes place just before Christmas.

Nora is overjoyed because her husband has been appointed Manager of the local bank. He is to start at the beginning of the coming year. The family has been experiencing financial problems and Nora is looking forward to having more money than she can spend.

Torvald believes his wife wastes money, calling her extravagant and a spendthrift who cannot save, even as she says that she really does save all that she can. His opinion of her is also evident in the way that he addresses her, calling her ‘a little squirrel’, ‘a little lark’, ‘a little skylark’ and ‘a little featherhead’. Ugh! When he says something that seems to upset her, he gives her money to cheer her up.

Unknown to Torvald, Nora is not as helpless as he thinks, as she reveals to her old school friend, Mrs. Linde. She has had to work hard as well to support the family. Soon after their marriage, Torvald had overworked himself and fallen ill. The doctors had recommended that he travel south. The trip had to be taken, even though the couple did not have money to finance it.

As far as Torvald knew, Nora borrowed some money from her father to pay for the trip. But Nora’s father had also been ailing at the time and she did not want to bother him. So she did the unthinkable and borrowed money from an unsavory man known as Nils Krogstad, without telling anybody else about it.

Since then, Nora has saved what she can and worked long hours on whatever job she can get in order to repay the loan and the interest charged. When Mr. Krogstad realizes that Torvald is planning to fire him from his position at the bank because of a fraud that he committed, he attempts to blackmail Nora. He threatens to reveal that she borrowed money from him (and committed a fraud in the process) if she does not get her husband to retain him in his position. Nora is distressed by this as she knows Torvald detests loans and any impropriety.

This play is a very insightful look into the way that women were regarded in society at the time. Torvald thinks his wife is a feather head and constantly refers to her as ‘little’. It is clear that he has all the authority in the home and does not regard his wife as an equal.

Eventually, Nora realizes that her husband does not really love her, as he even refuses to do a favor for her. He implies that he would do anything for her, but when she faces condemnation, he turns on her and blames her for ruining him. All he cares about is himself.

As appearances mean a lot to him, he is happy to keep her in his house but proclaims that she must not have any contact with her children, lest she infects them with her immorality.

She also realizes that she does not love him anymore. She feels that she has been treated like a doll, first by her father, then by her husband. Her opinion does not matter. Torvald does not understand her and he has no respect for her. She decides to do the unthinkable and put herself first, for once, and look after her own interests.

I found this play very thought – provoking. The characters were so well developed that I felt like I knew them and what drove them, within such a short period. Their obsession with societal expectations was evident as they place this above all else. I thought it was fascinating how they believed that a parent’s immorality or indiscretions would inevitably lead to the ruin of the children. And how Nora was astonished by the realization that altruistic intentions could not forgive a crime!

The play shows us how damaging secrets can be. It also demonstrates how unreasonable it is to expect that others will always be grateful for what you do for them, especially when you cut some corners in the process. I found it hilarious that Torvald was quick to forgive his wife after he realized that no harm was to come to him and how he attempted to make her forget what he had said before when he thought he was going to be ruined.

The only thing that puzzled me was how a mother can walk out on her children, especially when they had such a good relationship and the kids kept on insisting on spending more time with her. In as much as I understand the need to put herself first, this seems a bit extreme to me!

It therefore does not surprise me that Ibsen was made to write an alternate ending to this play (which he called ‘a barbaric act of violence’) for a staging in Germany where Nora eventually decides to stay, as audiences of the time could also not fathom such an ending.

All in all, A Doll’s House was an interesting take on life and marriage in particular in the 19th century and I give it 5 out of 5 stars! I also greatly enjoyed hearing my son’s take on the themes in the play, so that’s an added bonus.

Adaptations

This play was first performed at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 21, 1879.

Since then, it has been performed numerous times and adapted for TV, radio and cinema. I didn’t really enjoy watching the adaptations. I think this is because an adaptation of a play follows the script very closely, so I just felt like I was re-reading the play again!


  1992: Part of the British “Performance” series, with Juliet Stevenson as Nora and Trevor Eve as Torvald. Directed by David Thacker.
1973 : Claire Bloom as Nora and Anthony Hopkins as Torvald. Directed by Patrick Garland.

If you love plays or classical literature, I recommend that you check this one out!

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Emma

Classics Book Review

Title : Emma

Author: Jane Austen

Publisher: John Murray

Genre : Regency Romance/ Classic Literature

Year of Publication: December 1815

Number of Pages: 594

My Rating : 4 out of 5

I read Emma after reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. By the time I read it, I had already watched the 2009 BBC adaptation starring Romola Garai as Emma and Jonny Lee Miller as George Knightley. I was therefore not a stranger to the story, although there are parts of the story that I understood better after reading the book, as usually happens.

Emma is the twenty-one-year old second born daughter of Mr. Woodhouse. She is handsome, clever and rich and has a happy disposition. Following her mother’s death in her childhood, she is brought up by a governess, Miss Taylor, whose mildness of temper hardly allowed her to impose any restraint.

As her father is also affectionate and indulgent, Emma is used to having her own way and doing whatever she pleases.

The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself………”

She declares herself uninterested in marriage and is happy to live out her life at Hartfield with her elderly father.

George Knightley, whose younger brother is married to Emma’s older sister, is described as a sensible man of thirty eight.  He is the only one who ever sees any fault in Emma, or who tells her anything about her faults.

After Miss Taylor gets married to Mr. Weston, Emma believes she is the one who made the match. She takes pride in her matchmaking skills. She sets her sights on Mr. Elton – the vicar of Highbury, in spite of Mr. Knightley’s and her father’s caution against doing so.

In need of a new companion following the marriage of Miss Taylor, she attaches herself to Harriet Smith, a pretty seventeen year old girl whose parentage is unknown. As rightfully suspected by Mr. Knightley, this friendship does not bode well for Harriet.

Emma looks upon those she deems beneath her in class with disdain. Regarding a well- to-do-family of low origin, she thinks –

“The Coles were very respectable in their own way, but they ought to be taught that it was not for them to arrange the terms on which the superior families would visit them.”

She only accepts an invite to their house because all of her friends have already accepted.

She considers Mr. Martin, a respectable farmer, as being someone whom she can have nothing to do with. She finds one of her father’s oldest friends, Miss Bates, tiresome; dislikes Jane Fairfax, not just because she finds her reserved, but also due to her superior talents and elegance.

Emma’s meddling makes a lot of people upset and she ends up presenting herself in very bad light. Mr. Knightley continually tries to steer her onto the right path, although it is only at the end that she reflects upon her behaviour and accepts that she has behaved badly.

I must admit that I was taken aback by Emma’s character, as I previously thought that  Jane Austen’s heroine’s were sensible and pleasant, even as they were surrounded by more disagreeable characters. No wonder then, that Jane Austen herself is reputed to have stated that she wrote a heroine that only she would like.

Although I really liked Mr. George Knightley, I found most of the other characters in the book quite disagreeable – the worst being Mr. and Mrs. Elton, Frank Churchill and his aunt. Emma does have some redeeming qualities in that she takes care of the less fortunate families and is devoted to her father.

I found the story line featuring Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill a bit tedious and did not understand Jane at all – reserved or not, I did not get how she put up with Frank’s horrendous behaviour.

Given the sixteen-year age gap between Emma and Mr. Knightley, the difference in their characters and the way he is constantly correcting her, it was at first hard for me to see these two together as a couple. I wondered what sort of marriage one would have with a man who is used to correcting one’s behaviour since childhood……..

What is clear though, is that Emma holds Mr. Knightley in very high esteem and even though she often seems to ignore his advice, she does not like displeasing him. This is most evident when she gets a tongue rashing from him following her dreadful behaviour at Box Hill.

“It was badly done indeed!”

To her credit Emma is eventually able to see how bad her behaviour is and how her actions hurt others.

“She had been often remiss, her conscience told her so.”

She sets out to apologise and make amends. I liked this aspect of the book as Emma undergoes a lot of growth. It was also interesting for me to see different manifestations of love. Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Taylor showed their love to Emma by indulging and spoiling her, whilst Mr. Knightley showed his love by endevouring to make her a better person.

This is a story of two people who are not fully aware of their feelings and need to be jolted by something to find their way to each other. Maybe because of this, it felt to me like romance was not the central theme of this story as it plays out very late in the book. I think the broader lesson is on the importance of friendship in a relationship.

In as much as class was still a central theme, in comparison to Pride and Prejudice, there wasn’t too much emphasis on women getting married solely to secure their future. It was refreshing to see an alternate life, other than marriage, being proposed for women in that era – like becoming a governess or remaining single.

This book was quite long at almost six hundred pages, especially since the characters do not really get up to much. At some point, I found that it dragged on a bit, especially with the side stories involving Jane and Frank.

For me, Emma is a 3 out of 5 as it was really hard for me to empathize with the main character.

Adaptations

There have been numerous adaptations of Emma, as with most Jane Austen novels. I found many listed with the oldest one being from 1948 and the most recent being the 2009 miniseries. The 1995 movie Clueless is a Beverly Hills American adaptation loosely based on Emma. A new adaptation is expected in 2020.

1972 BBC Miniseries.

The costumes were very different from later adaptations (less cleavage). Mr. Knightley looked much older. This version has the best Mr. Woodhouse!

The 1996 ITV production starring Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong.

They showed us this Emma’s thoughts through reveries and dreams. I loved Kate Beckinsale in this.

The Miramax 1996 movie featuring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam.

I enjoyed this version but thought Mr. Knightley looked younger than he should be. I loved the costumes!

In 2009 BBC made this four part series starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller.

This is my best adaptation so far. I felt it brought out the story better.

Though I found Emma hard to like, I know many readers empathise with her in the end and say her behaviour was due to her naivete. After all, she did eventually reflect on her wrongful actions and change.

Did you like Emma? Did you feel the romance? Let me know!

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Pride and Prejudice

Book Review

Author : Jane Austen

Publisher: Thomas Egerton

Date of Publication: 1813

No. of Pages:478

My Rating: 5 out of 5

Ever since I read this book many years ago, I was captivated by the story of Elizabeth and Darcy and promptly fell in love with the couple. For that reason, I picked Pride and Prejudice as my first read for the Classic Club’s 50 Classics in 5 Years challenge.

Elizabeth is the second eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, who reside at Longbourn and have five daughters. Unfortunately, their estate is entailed to the male line. As they have no sons, it will go to Mr. Bennet’s nephew, Mr. Collins upon Mr. Bennet’s demise.

Since Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have not been careful in their spending, they don’t have enough money to leave to their five daughters, whose only hope for a comfortable life is to make good matches when they marry.

The story begins with this eye catching opener;- “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”.

It’s therefore easy to understand why there is considerable excitement among the locals when Mr. Bingley, a ‘single man of large fortune’ moves into the neighborhood. Mrs. Bennet perceives it as a excellent chance to get one of her dear daughters an appropriate match. Charles Bingley turns out to be good looking, pleasant and easy going. In welcome addition, he takes a keen interest in the eldest daughter, Jane, much to Mrs. Bennet’s exuberant delight.

Charles Bingley also arrives with a close friend, Mr. Darcy, who is even wealthier than him. Unfortunately, his manners are not as endearing as those of his friend. The whole neighborhood soon decides he is proud and disagreeable. He inevitably invites Elizabeth’s fierce wrath when he blatantly refuses to dance with her after being called on to do so by his friend.

Elizabeth “Lizzy” overhears his refusal and his assertion that ;- “She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to temp ME; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men”. Though she reacts in her usual playful manner, Elizabeth’s pride is deeply hurt by this assertion.

In spite of this beginning, Lizzy and Darcy are invariably drawn to one another. Lizzy cannot help but intellectually challenge him at every turn and the two exchange witty banter. Soon Darcy undoubtedly finds himself attracted to her.

He tells his friend’s sister ;- “I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow”.

Even as his feelings change, he realizes that she is a completely unsuitable match for him. To say the least, her immediate family’s behavior is appalling. Although her father is a gentleman, her mother’s family connections are considered unsuitable, as they are not of the same class as he.

Meanwhile, Lizzy thinks Darcy is full of self-importance and pride. Can they overcome their pride and prejudices and get a happily ever after? Luckily for them, they get opportunities to know each other better and re-evaluate their initial assumptions.

I find this book engaging and enjoy Jane Austen’s writing style. She drew me into the story and kept me reading till the end. The language is beautiful, though some of it is very different from how we speak today.

Women are not described as ‘handsome.’ We do not state our age as ‘eight and twenty’ (though I think I might start doing this, it seems fun!). They maintain a very formal way of talking and addressing each other.

It saddens me that most women at the time had no way of supporting themselves, making them so dependent. Because of this, the primary criteria in choosing a spouse was social class and economic security.

This is clearly illustrated by Lizzy’s friend, Charlotte who marries to get a home and stability and not because of love. Lizzy goes against the grain when she refuses to marry a man she neither loves nor respects, simply to get a comfortable life.

I also found it quite disconcerting how society was obsessed with class and connection, with Mrs. Bennet’s relations being referred to as unsuitable because they were working class. Moreover, the foolish actions of one daughter could ruin the reputation of the whole family and consequently the marriage prospects of her sisters.

I love the diverse characters and how they are portrayed. The Bennet family is not portrayed in the best of light, with the exception of Jane and Lizzy. Mrs. Bennet is hysterical and takes to her bed when overcome by her ‘nerves’. Mr. Bennet is often sarcastic and rude to his wife and describes his younger daughters as ‘silly’.

Lydia is reckless and selfish, and Kitty is similar, being easily swayed by her sister. Mary is described as having airs and being vain. In addition, we have the charming Mr. Wickham who manages to deceive everyone about his character ; the pompous Mr. Collins ; the nasty and jealous Caroline Bennet, and the haughty Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

I read somewhere that Jane Austen has inspired a lot of contemporary romance, and it is easy to see why. This story has all the characteristics that I recognize in many romance stories. From the wealthy, tall and handsome hero to the beautiful and witty heroine (who start off despising each other), to the jealous ‘other woman’ who is out to sabotage the relationship. Well, I for one don’t mind the familiar story-line so long as true love triumphs in the end.

What I like about this book is that it not just a simple romance, it is in fact a commentary on the social dynamics of the time. Jane Austen is an acclaimed author and rightfully so.

Film Adaptations – There have been many film adaptations beginning with the 1938 movie to the 2016 movie titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I’m yet to see this last one as I am not really into zombies, but I may just check it out.

My favorite

My favorite adaptation of the book has got to be the 1995 BBC miniseries starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. I loved the chemistry between these two. They pulled off their characters beautifully and were supported by a very believable cast. Not to forget the famous dip-in-the-lake scene.

This 2005 movie version starring Keira Nightley and Matthew Macfadyen also warmed my heart.

Needless to say, I love this story and will probably re-read it again and again! I rate it 5 out of 5 and recommend it to all lovers of classics and romance.

Do you like Pride and Prejudice? Which film adaptation do you prefer? Let me know!

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The Classics Club Reading Challenge

I’m joining the Classics Club today, 6th of September 2019. My goal is to read 50 classics within 5 years, so by 6th September 2024.

Here is the list of books that I have selected, listed in the order that I want to read them. I might make changes as I go along. I selected books that I have heard of before, a few that I have read and others that look interesting, based on the title.

Most of these books are available for free online. Watch out for my progress updates as I move along.

I will post my reviews here and on the classics book club blog.

1. Pride and Prejudice : Jane Austen – Completed 26/09/2019
2. Little Women : Louisa May Alcott
3. Things Fall Apart : Chinua Achebe
4. A Doll’s House : Ibsen Henrick Completed 6th December 2019
5. The Prince and the Pauper: Mark Twain
6. Emma : Jane Austen – Completed 30th October 2019
7. The Blind Assassin : Margaret Atwood
8. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall : Anne Bronte
9. Katherine : Anya Seton
10. Wuthering Heights : Emily Bronte
11. Colored Man Round the World : David Dorr
12. Marriage : Susan Ferrier
13. The Color Purple : Alice Walker
14. A Tale of Two Cities : Charles Dickens
15. Jane Eyre : Charlotte Bronte
16. The Story of an African Farm : Olive Schreiner
17. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Mark Twain
18. The Comedy of Errors : William Shakespeare
19. The Pirates of Malaysia: Emilio Salgari
20. A Grain of Wheat : Ngugi wa Thiong’o
21. The Professor : Charlotte Bronte
22. An Ideal Husband : Oscar Wilde
23. The Importance of Being Earnest : Oscar Wilde
24. Persuasion : Jane Austen
25. Jo’s Boys : Louisa May Alcott
26. A Handmaid’s Tale : Margaret Atwood
27. Sense and Sensibility : Jane Austen
28. The Invisible Man : Ralph Ellison
29. Little Men : Louisa May Alcott
30. Northanger Abbey : Jane Austen
31. Mansfield Park : Jane Austen
32. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer : Mark Twain
33. Frankenstein : Mary Shelley
34. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde : Robert Louis Stevenson
35. Vanity Fair : William Makepeace Thackeray
36. Gulliver’s Travels : Jonathon Swift
37. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding : Julia Strachey
38. Treasure Island: Robert Louis Stevenson
39. Of Mice and Men : John Steinbeck
40. King Solomon’s Mines : H. R Haggard
41. Satires : Horace
42. Gone with the Wind : Margaret Mitchell
43. Man and Superman : George Bernard Shaw
44. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood: Howard Pyle
45. Little Dorrit : Charles Dickens
46. Much Ado About Nothing: William Shakespeare
47. The Hunchback of Notre Dame : Victor Hugo
48. The Bride of Lammermoor : Sir Walter Scott
49. Dracula : Bram Stoker
50. The Hobbit : J.R.R. Tolkien