The Unexpected in Famous Novels

When people crack open a famous novel, they often have certain expectations. But sometimes surprises are in store.

Part of the reason is that many of us (myself included) try not to read too much about iconic books before starting them for the first time. This means not clicking on Wikipedia entries, ignoring Amazon summaries and reviews, and skipping the forewords and introductions in the novels themselves — all of which avoids spoilers and allows for the books to unfold in a fresh way.

My most recent experience with a classic novel that surprised me was D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers (1913). Just about all I knew of it was that its original publisher deleted a number of passages that were “risque” or otherwise “controversial” — passages that were fairly tame by today’s standards. But I was struck by how much more there was to the excellent novel than sexual references. A portrait of a working-class family, an exploration of a mismatched marriage, a depiction of a frustrated mother and her emotionally too-close relationship with her second son, a chronicle of that son’s complicated romantic life, etc.

Then there are those challenging classics that have a reputation for being SERIOUS, yet one discovers when reading them that they contain moments of hilarity — as with the devil “cameo” in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and the Ishmael/Queequeg room-share scene in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

Then there’s Silas Marner, which has been the bane of some high school students who found it (allegedly) tedious, moralistic, and not something to be read unless assigned by a teacher. But I thought George Eliot’s short novel was warm, affecting, inspiring, and more.

Or Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, who has a reputation for writing excellent novels set in New York City’s high society. But EF pulls us in with a tale of far-from-rich folk in rural Massachusetts.

I knew a little something about Of Human Bondage‘s plot before I read W. Somerset Maugham’s masterpiece, but was still shocked by just how much the would-be-doctor protagonist degraded himself with a woman totally wrong for him.

I also knew that Cormac McCarthy’s riveting Blood Meridian was going to be violent. But the intensity of the mayhem (very graphic for a literary novel) took me aback.

Another big surprise was the sympathetic portrayal of a Jewish character (Rebecca) in a novel published in 1820, when anti-Semitism was rampant. The book: Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe.

Along those lines, Alexandre Dumas’ 1843 novel Georges contains exceptionally positive portrayals of black characters for its time. Then again, I shouldn’t have been that surprised given that Dumas was partly black himself, though he usually focused on white characters (as in The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers).

All those unexpected things mentioned above are examples of why reading literature can be so wonderful.

What surprises have you found in famous novels?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area โ€” unless youโ€™re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

67 thoughts on “The Unexpected in Famous Novels

  1. Sorry to be so late again, Dave! I will go slightly off-topic here. I do enjoy surprises in novels. Sometimes the plot is so predictable that I can figure it out. However, I was absolutely bowled over by the big surprise in the wonderful not-so-famous novel “Lady” by Thomas Tryon. No spoilers here ๐Ÿ™‚ The novel SHOULD have been famous! I adore literature written from the perspective of children, as in “To Kill A Mockingbird”, “Lady”, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, etc.

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    • No problem at all, lulabelle!

      Yes, that WAS quite a surprise in “Lady” — a terrific novel you recommended to me four (?) years ago. Yes, that book should be better known than it is.

      When novels are totally predictable, it can be a downer. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      And I agree that literature written from the perspective of children is often very appealing and compelling.

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  2. Hi Dave,

    Iโ€™m glad to hear that you had a terrific trip to CA, though your new topics were definitely missed. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I never fail to be amazed at just how different we all are. I had no idea that people actually went out of their way to know about books and authors before they read them. Of course thereโ€™s no wrong or right, however like you, I prefer to know as little as possible going in to a new novel. And so when I picked up โ€œWe need to talk about Kevinโ€ last week, all I knew was that both you and KatLib are fans of Ms. Shriver (what more praise would she need?!) and that it was about someone called Kevin. Iโ€™d either heard or surmised that Kevin was โ€˜troubledโ€™, however troubled doesnโ€™t even get close. It will come as no surprise to you that itโ€™s a brilliantly written book, however what has surprised me is how creepy it is. Stephen King wishes he could write this kind of horror! About half way through the book, Iโ€™m not sure whatโ€™s worse (better?), putting it down, or picking it up againโ€ฆ

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    • Thank you, Susan! I also missed writing and discussing new topics.

      Yes, not knowing a lot about a novel before starting it works for me, as I see it works for you. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Lionel Shriver seems to be a very versatile writer — doing creepy (as you note in “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” which I haven’t read yet) as well as indignant (“So Much for That”), self-loathing (“Big Brother”), and various other adjectives in other novels. I guess a versatile writer can surprise us with each book as she or he changes gears.

      Great last line to your comment!

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  3. THE LAST BARGAIN

    “COME and hire me,” I cried, while in the morning I was walking on the stone-paved road.
    Sword in hand, the King came in his chariot.
    He held my hand and said, “I will hire you with my power.”
    But his power counted for nought, and he went away in his chariot.

    In the heat of the midday the houses stood with shut doors.
    I wandered along the crooked lane.
    An old man came out with his bag of gold.
    He pondered and said, “I will hire you with my money.”
    He weighed his coins one by one, but I turned away.

    It was evening. The garden hedge was all aflower.
    The fair maid came out and said, “I will hire you with a smile.”
    Her smile paled and melted into tears, and she went back alone into the dark.

    The sun glistened on the sand, and the sea waves broke waywardly.
    A child sat playing with shells.
    He raised his head and seemed to know me, and said, “I hire you with nothing.”
    From thence forward that bargain struck in child’s play made me a free man.

    ~ Rabindranath Tagore

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  4. So good to have you back Dave and i am always late. So it was a such a pleasure as I posted while you were in CA attending the meeting then with family you found time to answer me each time.
    You are the best, i`ll post something tomorrow ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    • Thank you for the kind words, bebe! Though I didn’t have time to post new columns, I was happy to respond to new comments. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Hope everything went well with your hosting of guests last weekend.

      I look forward to your post tomorrow!

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      • Middle of summer afternoon Dave and I was reading ” A Christmas Memory ” , by Truman Capote. Not a Novel but a book of short stories..so out of topic again.
        Couple of my Librarians handed the books to me plus two others ” In Cold Blood” and The grass Harp” I will read eventually.

        Two stories I just read A Christmas Memory” and ” One Christmas ” are so tender and beautiful pulled my heartstrings. I must thank my Librarians tomorrow. I am sure you have read them all.

        We all had such a difficult week Dave I find it soothing to go back to the past to stay away from reality at least this afternoon.

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            • Good Morning Dave..evidently the whole story was split into 6 sections, I wonder why they are not together. Anyways I will watch all eventually one at a time perhaps. No time to sit an hour to watch in u tubes ๐Ÿ˜‰

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              • Good morning, bebe!

                Yes, YouTube can be puzzling — sometimes shows and other things are broken into parts, sometimes they’re all in one long clip.

                I also rarely have the time to watch long things on YouTube.

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          • HA human nature so very compl..wish someone else was the narrator. Tells a man turned out to be calculating and mean also had so much tenderness inside.
            The story itself continued on and the friend was kind and giving. I just see the actor was ” Geraldine Page “

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            • Bebe, if you think it’s disconcerting hearing Truman narrate the film of “A Christmas Memory”, try hearing him read and sob through the entire story about five feet away as I did back in 1975 when I was a young college lad. Strange experience to hear those beautiful words come out of that whiny little voice.

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              • Hahahaha…Brian…I can imagine the torturous incident particularly when perhaps you were in teens.
                Hey, I am sure you have read much of Capote`s. I am new with his writings , I stayed away from the same reasons seen him plenty in talk shows . And now I am beyond being impressed.
                I will also read ” In Cold Blood” , lived in Overland Park KS for almost 30 years. Of course nothing to do with this true story but still…

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              • I’m pea green, Brian Bess! I always had so much compassion for the strange little man! I wonder what he would have been like if he had had a conventional upbringing? I wonder if he ever felt truly loved? Maybe that’s why he “acted out” in such a bad way. I’ve seen children behave badly just for attention. Any kind of attention is better than no attention at all.

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            • As the author, perhaps Capote demanded he be the narrator despite not having a narrator voice? But, as you note, bebe, he was a complex mix of good and not-so-good.

              I had thought the excellent actress looked familiar before I saw Geraldine Page’s name in the credits!

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        • Reading a book with “Christmas” in the title in the summer — I like it, bebe. ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad those two stories were so wonderful.

          Yes, a VERY difficult week, with the two murders by police in Louisiana and Minnesota and then the retaliatory violence in Dallas. Reading fiction does helpfully put our minds somewhere else for a little while.

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          • I simply can not stand to watch TV , had it one in the morning just for the news which is again not good. The in the evening my husband turns it on keeping the remote in his hand ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. So glad to see you among us and blogging. I missed you!

    Novels are sloppy, structurally; they sprawl and contract and ebb and gush as their authors would have them go, or, as often, as their authors discover where they have gone, and maybe will go. The good ones are plenty; the great ones few, and generally, only the most general rules apply as to what makes a novel a novel. Great ones, I would argue, are very often one-off affairs. They deserve our wonder and admiration, but they do less well when employed as models, as their gifts are not easily, if at all, transferable.

    I was surprised and amused to read, in Lampedusa’s The Leopard, a rustic story concerning characters to whom the narrative is otherwise unattached, about a pitiful marriage bargain made among peasants so as to settle a dispute over a pitiful tract of land. It more or less stands alone, and seems to have been inserted, forcefully, into the larger narrative, and could, have as easily been left out, though at the cost of the parallels to be drawn between this little story and the great story surrounding it. But there would be something more than the little story missing had the author chosen not to include it– richness and variety– of insight and scene and the author’s point of view and poetic voice.

    Stendahl’s The Charterhouse of Parma resolves plot points at novel’s end more or less wholesale, while in the body of the work, many pages are devoted to the finer points of prison escape than a reader night expect, especially given the rapidity and abruptness of its last pages.

    My point, such as it is: the best novels are liable to be unique, sometimes unique in several ways, often airy confections that are a miracle– the removal or addition of a story line or character or scene might cause the whole she-bang to come crashing down. The most surprising thing about many is that we should be surprised to find surprises within.

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    • Thank you, jhNY! I missed you and the other commenters, too!

      Very eloquent, thought-provoking comment. The better novels are indeed miracles in a way, and I hear you when you say that they can be so unique that it’s not surprising when they contain surprises.

      “The Leopard,” which you recommended to me about a year ago, is so richly and beautifully written that the plot (plots) was (were) almost irrelevant to me; I just found myself amazed and enthralled by the author’s use of language, turns of phrases, melancholy meditations on life, etc.

      I’ve read that the excellent “The Charterhouse of Parma” was penned very quickly, which might partly explain some things. Wikipedia says: “Stendhal wrote the book in just 52 days (from November 4, 1838, to December 26 of the same year). As a result, there are some poorly introduced plot elements…”

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      • Stendahl did write that one at a breakneck pace, which was mirrored by the pace of the narrative’s events, as driven by dictates of the heart– several hearts. It’s really a novel about emotional life as it might be practiced to the exclusion of nearly any other consideration– by several characters. The pace of its unfolding, and the pace of its conception are complimentary of each other, and a good portion of what vaults The Charterhouse of Parma in to greatness, that place beyond goodness.

        But here’s another: Moby Dick, in particular, its use as a source of study– the chapter in which the author gathers all he can concerning whales, from all available sources, might very well have served as a foundation and syllabus for students of his day. Can’t say one has any reason to expect to come across such a thing in a novel. But there it is, among other unanticipatable things. Surprising!

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        • Interesting, jhNY — the factual and educational “Moby-Dick” content that wasn’t part of the novel’s fictional plot was indeed kind of surprising. Sort of like the non-Joad chapters in “The Grapes of Wrath” that gave societal/historical context to what the Joads were going through, or the footnotes about Dominican Republic history in Junot Diaz’s “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”

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  6. Hi Dave, glad you’re back as you were very much missed. I hope you had a good trip! I don’t have too much to add about classics, but I enjoyed both “Ethan Frome” and “Silas Marner,” especially the latter. I have probably mentioned before about how when reading “Silas” I was struck by the similarity to the movie, “A Simple Twist of Fate,” starring Steve Martin, and he did the screenplay (modernized) as well. I didn’t put it completely together until after reading “Silas,” and verifying on Wiki that Martin’s script was loosely based on Eliot’s short novel. That definitely was a pleasant surprise to me. I must admit that I’m one of those who doesn’t care too much for surprises when I’m reading any book, so I normally read the foreword, introduction, epilogue, reviews, etc., before delving too far into a book, generally classics..

    I also have a habit (my sister finds this appalling) of quite often reading ahead in a book and sometimes (not always) reading the ending before I’ve finished it. I actually can’t recall ever not finishing a book after reading ahead; although I wish I had in the case of “My Sister’s Keeper,” which we’ve discussed before :). My justification for this is that I honestly enjoy rereading books or viewing movies multiple times, so there are many times I already know the ending and it doesn’t take anything away of my enjoyment of either.

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    • Thank you for the kind words, Kat Lib! I missed the blog, too — including the comments that arrive when I post a new column. ๐Ÿ™‚ I did have a very good trip (columnist conference in Los Angeles and then a few vacation days in Santa Monica) — with no flight delays!

      I should see “A Simple Twist of Fate” sometime. Movies loosely based on a novel can be interesting. Reminds me of “Clueless,” the film that’s sort of a version of “Emma.”

      All the stuff (intros, reviews, etc.) you like to peruse before reading a book I also like to peruse…after reading the book. ๐Ÿ™‚

      As for your reading ahead in a novel, whatever works for anybody is fine with me. It’s just great that people read!

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      • Dave, I also enjoyed the movie “Clueless,” which I thought was a very good modern adaption of “Emma.” A couple of things about it that were not so nice was the rather sudden death of Brittney Murphy, as well as the casting of Stacey Dash, a very right wing actress.

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          • Ha! so true! By the way, I keep thinking about the movie “The Money Pit.” I think I mentioned before that I had a sewer backup and damage done to my new home, most of which my insurance will pay for after the deductible; however, the seller had a plumbing company that he deals with come out and put their camera through my sewer line.
            Bottom line is that they found not just a break in my sewer line, but it needs to be replaced from about 9′ from my home to the edge of my property. I asked who was responsible for that, and he told me that I was. Ugh! He told me he’d give me his cost from the plumber, but I don’t know how much that will be. My sister and brother-in-law think I should go to an attorney, but honestly, I don’t especially want to go through that agony and expense. Then yesterday I noticed an infestation of ants!

            Otherwise, the good news is that I’ve finally got through my “reader’s block,” if that is even an expression. I went to Barnes & Noble on Saturday and used up my outstanding gift cards on 4 books. I’ve already read 2-3/4 of them. I don’t know if you’ve ever read any of Lisa Genova’s books. I’d read her most well-known book at least twice, “Still Alice,” about a woman going through early on-set Alzheimer’s, as well as her book “Left Neglected” twice. I read “Love, Anthony” about autism, but it didn’t have quite the same impact as the first two. The other day I picked up “Inside the O’Briens” and read it straight through to the end. I’ve had some interest in that horrible disease(Huntingdon’s) since reading about a couple of my musical heroes, Woody Guthrie and his son Arlo.

            Sorry, I didn’t mean to go on so long! But I’m so excited to be reading books again, rather than relying on my memory for older books that I loved.

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            • Kat Lib, so sorry about the sewer line and ant problems in your new place. One wonders if the previous owners knew or not, but I hear you about the hassle and expense of an attorney if you chose that route. Hope the fixes aren’t TOO pricey.

              Great that you’re reading books again! Totally understandable that that was hard to do while you were dealing with your housing transition and other things. I’ve never read Lisa Genova, but did read a Woody Guthrie biography years ago which dealt a lot with his Huntingdonโ€™s disease ordeal.

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              • It’s another fairly quiet weekend here — holiday week– so you’ll have to listen to me a lot more than some of the other regulars :). I assume you have the same kind of weather as I do, which is extremely hot, although not so humid. The first three days of this weekend were delightful, and I spent most of them sitting on my back deck reading, rather than inside, which I’m doing now. I finished my third book in four days today, and I’m loving it. I already mentioned “Inside the O’Briens,” but I also read “Second Life,” by
                S.J. Watson and “In a dark, dark wood,” by Rachel Ware, both of which were very good thrillers. I think I’m ready to start “A Man Called Ove,” which has gotten some great reviews and word of mouth.

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                • Yes, it IS kind of a quiet July 4th week. And definitely hot here in North Jersey after some very pleasant days. No AC in my apartment, but a well-directed fan goes a long way!

                  Great that you’re still reading so much, either outside or inside your new home. Summer is a nice season for thrillers. (Well, so is fall, winter, and spring… ๐Ÿ™‚ )

                  I’m currently reading Julia Alvarez’s “In the Time of the Butterflies,” a really good 1994 novel about four Dominican Republic sisters who, during the 1950s, turn against the brutal dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo. Have you read it? Will mention it in my July 10 post…

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  7. I was always surprised when I loved a classic that was assigned, like Dickens’, Joseph Conrad’s, Tolstoys’. Your columns are wonderful reminders of why the classics are classics and that we should still enjoy them. And, man, are they great examples of how to write!

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    • Thank you for the kind and well-put words, Cathy! Yes, when we were students, some assigned classics (also including “Jane Eyre,” “The Scarlet Letter,” “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” etc.) were not always welcome — until we read them, and found out that they were great. I guess many (not all) classics are classics for a reason. ๐Ÿ™‚ And excellent point about how classic novels can be real “role models” for how to write.

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      • Dave, I don’t remember exactly which classics I had to read in high school; although I’ve mentioned how I had to read “Julius Caesar” three times at three different high schools and “Idylls of the King” twice at two different high schools. The one classic that stands out was “Bleak House,” which was the longest book I was ever assigned in HS. I think I was the only student in the class that actually read the whole book, and I probably was reading the last few chapters at 3:00 a.m. on the day of class. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed the book and was glad I made the attempt to read the whole thing. I’ve not read much of Dickens’s works, but I loved “David Copperfield,” and of course “A Christmas Carol.” I’m curious, do you find it harder to read very long books as you get older, or is that just me?

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        • Kat Lib, I remember you mentioning your amazing “Julius Caesar”-overload experience (not “et tu,” but et three…).

          In college, I read most of Dickens’ novels, but haven’t reread any of them since!

          I’m still okay with reading very long novels occasionally; that hasn’t changed since I got older. Of course, it helps if the book is an excellent one — and it also helps that I no longer have a full-time office job to cut into reading time. In recent years, the longest novels I’ve read or reread include “The Brothers Karamazov,” “Middlemarch,” “Of Human Bondage,” “The Luminaries,” “The Witching Hour,” and “Shogun,” to name a few. Enjoyed them all.

          From your comment, I gather you find it more difficult to read longer books these days?

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  8. Regarding George Eliot, I’m reminded of what a minister told me about reading Emerson: you learn to read with the mind of the person that created it. I know that sounds a bit odd, but how I apply it is that when I read something challenging, I try to immerse myself as much in the mind of the author as I possibly can, digging deep between the words. Reading a lot about the author before I read it and the circumstances and culture in which the author wrote help a lot as well. This mainly applies to difficult classic authors. When I first tackled George Eliot back in 1993, I already had the experience of reading Henry James and William Faulkner in college so I felt I could handle George. Despite hearing people groan about ‘Middlemarch’ and ‘Silas Marner’ and seeing ‘The Mill on the Floss’ at the top of a ‘most boring novels ever written’ list, I also had the recommendation of my older brother who had read ‘Middlemarch’ in college and also told me about the epileptic title character of ‘Silas Marner’ (I believe he was epileptic; in any case, he would fall into an unconscious state of some sort). I had seen that there was a PBS film of the novel with Ben Kingsley as Silas, so I think I saw that before I read the novel. Once I knew about the story a bit I could get on more comfortable footing. So ‘Silas’ was no problem. I read it AFTER I read ‘Middlemarch’ which I read over the course of a very tumultuous and traumatic summer due to a personal, familial crisis I was having. Immersing myself in ‘Middlemarch’ I was able to travel to another time and place where characters were in situations as desperate and extreme as my life was at the time. It was therapeutic. A few years later, I read ‘Silas’ and then I read ‘The Mill on the Floss’ after seeing the British film with Emily Watson as Maggie. I wasn’t quite prepared for that devastating ending so when I came to the novel itself again I was on fairly solid footing. Since then I have re-read ‘Middlemarch’ and read ‘Daniel Deronda’ with that focus in mind of deep reading through seeing it through the creator’s eyes. I am a much more attentive reader now than I was when I was twenty, so I have been able to just sit back, be patient with the writer and myself, and let myself go for the ride. It hasn’t worked with authors that I don’t think are worth the effort, but with authors like Eliot, James, Faulkner, Proust and a few others, I’ve appreciated their works immensely.

    Regarding the unexpected, I was pleasantly surprised when I first read ‘War and Peace’ to find it so readable. It is not difficult to read; it’s just LOOOOOOOONNNNNNNGGGGG!
    So once I had the cast of characters and their relationships with one another straight in my mind, I felt I was on solid ground. Also, when it comes right down to it, you’ve mainly got about five or six MAIN characters. The rest are supporting actors. So when I first finished the book, I felt triumphant. This massive intimidating tome I’d heard about all my life turned out to be simply a large country that I had just toured from one end to the other along with several side trips.

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    • Outstanding comment, bobess48! You definitely outlined the benefits of knowing a lot about an author and a novel before reading her/him/it. I often read biographies of authors before I read a lot of their works, and that’s helpful, though I still shy away from analyses of their books that might give too much away.

      I went on a George Eliot reading binge a couple of years ago — “Scenes of Clerical Life,” “Adam Bede,” “The Mill on the Floss,” “Silas Marner,” “Middlemarch,” and “Daniel Deronda.” With the exception of “Scenes,” which was good but not great as Eliot was gaining her footing as a fiction writer, the other five works were superb and even transcendent. I think Eliot is clearly among the top five novelists of the 19th century.

      Great observation about “War and Peace”! Some “challenging” novels are indeed “challenging” in large measure because of their length. Certainly the 800-pages-or-so “Middlemarch” is VERY readable, too. And, as you allude to, the depiction of the two troubled marriages in that Eliot novel are an absolute tour de force.

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    • bobess, that’s a good way of looking at reading classics such as “War and Peace.” I read it as part of a course on Tolstoy, as well as “Anna Karenina” when I was in college. Probably the hardest thing for me was reading the “war” parts, but I did it. I also took a history course on the Civil War around the same time, which was easier to follow (yet more heartbreaking), since for many years I’ve lived not far from Gettysburg.

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  9. Nice challenge here in how does one discuss the joy of being surprised by a great work of lit without spoilering( spell check don’t like that ๐Ÿ™‚ ) the surprise for others . A couple of years ago at the behest of a respected and beloved bibliophile ( hi Dave) I read George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, I’d failed many years before to finish her Middlemarch and was expecting to have to slog through the typical Victorian mishmash of beautifully crafted sentences framing larger than life characters held to ridiculously unreal moralistic standards in a universe that delighted in enforcing the same. Instead it was a ripping yarn featuring an almost modern feminist as it’s protagonist surrounded by an honestly drawn yet unpredictable supporting cast leading to an end I never saw coming. Proof that pre judging great authors will leave one all wet.

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    • Terrific point, Donny! Here I am discussing how it’s nice to be surprised by the content of classic novels even while I’m discussing the content of classic novels. ๐Ÿ™‚ (Though I tried not to be too specific.)

      Anyway, an excellent comment with humor and a last sentence that really relates to the ending of “The Mill on the Floss.” I agree — an exceptional book by the great George Eliot. From what I heard, it was her most autobiographical novel as Maggie Tulliver’s struggles with a patriarchal society and a problematic brother partly reflected her own struggles.

      PS: I like your word “spoilering”!

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  10. Hi Dave … I missed you! I don’t have a lot to offer toward your fascinating (as usual) post right now, except for this: your reference to “Of Human Bondage” (required reading for a long-ago college class) triggered a memory of the professor telling the class that the moral of the story was that we essentially have no control over who we love (of course, his comment made me immediately develop a crush on him for the remainder of the semester, lol). Have a wonderful 4th, Dave!

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        • Thanks for your comments, Pat! The “Anonymous” thing happens once in a while; I’ve done it myself…on my own blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

          Great point about “Of Human Bondage”! I’m sure Maugham was saying (as your former professor noted) that logical thought can go out the window when one falls in love with the wrong person. One fascinating thing about “OHB” was how Philip Carey tried to extricate himself from that long infatuation with Mildred.

          VERY funny quip of yours about that professorial crush. ๐Ÿ™‚

          Have a wonderful July 4th, too!

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  11. Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey surprised me, I’d read her more famous works, and expected much of the same. But though her last published (posthumously) was her first written… It’s a hilarious and fun pastiche of Gothic fiction and not at all what I thought it would be, definitely a pleasant surprise. Can’t agree on Eliot however, though I was one of those forced to read and school and have avoided like the plague ever since!

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    • Thanks for your comment, SJJ, and the excellent observation about “Northanger Abbey”! It DOES feel different than Jane Austen’s other novels — partly because (as you note) it was her first written and some of it is a satire of/homage to Gothic fiction. Though I prefer “Persuasion,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Mansfield Park,” and “Emma” (in that order) over “Northanger Abbey,” much of “NA” is still really good.

      Yes, “Silas Marner” is polarizing. But I’m a George Eliot fan. ๐Ÿ™‚ I most recently read her “Daniel Deronda” — which, while perhaps a bit too long, I found absolutely riveting.

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      • I really enjoy Northanger but it is hard to consider it next to the others as it is so different! I would definitely put Emma last when considering the main novels also, it is perhaps the only Austen I never really got in to.

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        • Well said, SJJ! Some people love “Emma,” but I also found it less engrossing than most of Austen’s other work. Plus it bothered me the way Emma Woodhouse interfered with Harriet Smith’s life, though Emma did mature somewhat toward the end of the novel.

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  12. Spoilers never bother me because I know that the experience of reading it will be different from hearing or reading a summary. I usually start reading an introduction, especially with classics, as well as Wikipedia, although sometimes I realize that reading the intro will make more sense after I read the book than it would before I even begin. Of course, the introductions and afterwards usually only apply to classics or to something from the recent past that has been published in a new edition. So, for the most part, I like to have as much info as possible before I begin. It helps put the novel in perspective as well as context.

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    • I see what you’re saying, bobess48, about spoilers, perspective, and context.

      Spoilers don’t ruin a classic novel for me, either, but I still prefer to be as surprised as possible. And I do greatly enjoy reading introductions, reviews, etc., AFTER I finish a book. (I never fail to check out some of the 5-star Amazon reviews and some of the 1-star Amazon reviews. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

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