Waterstoneâ€™s Classic Book Month
CONTENTS Waterstoneâ€™s Book Month
Pride and Prejudice
Catcher in the Rye
The Last of the Mohicans
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE Jane Austen
Next to the exhortation at the beginning of Moby-Dick, “Call me Ishmael,” the first sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice must be among the most quoted in literature. And certainly what Melville did for whaling Austen does for marriage—tracing the intricacies (not to mention the economics) of 19th-century British mating rituals with a sure hand and an unblinking eye. As usual, Austen trains her sights on a country village and a few families—in this case, the Bennets, the Philips, and the Lucases. Into their midst comes Mr. Bingley, a single man of good fortune, and his friend, Mr. Darcy, who is even richer. Mrs. Bennet, who married above her station, sees their arrival as an opportunity to marry off at least one of her five daughters. Bingley is complaisant
and easily charmed by the eldest Bennet girl, Jane; Darcy, however, is harder to please. Put off by Mrs. Bennet’s vulgarity and the untoward behavior of the three younger daughters, he is unable to see the true worth of the older girls, Jane and Elizabeth. His excessive pride offends Lizzy, who is more than willing to believe the worst that other people have to say of him; when George Wickham, a soldier stationed in the village, does indeed have a discreditable tale to tell, his words fall on fertile ground.
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE J.D. Salinger
J. D. Salinger’s famous and enduring chronicle of Holden Caulfield’s journey from innocence to experience is the quintessential coming-of-age novel—though it’s an unusual one, in which the hero tries to cling to the simplicity of childhood, achieving a kind of maturity almost in spite of himself. As the novel begins, Holden runs away from his stifling prep school, which is full of “phonies” and where he has, in fact, flunked out. Holing up in a New York City hotel, he has a series of small adventures and missed opportunities, all of which emphasize his loneliness and alienation from the world. A visit to his kid sister Phoebe (in which he memorably articulates his confused notion of being a “catcher in the rye”) provides a ray of hope for Holden, as do the ducks in
Central Park that he worries about so compulsively: though they do indeed disappear in the winter, they return in the spring. The novel’s final image, of Phoebe riding the carousel in the park while her brother looks on, in tears, holds out the idea that there may be a future for Holden as well. Salinger’s 1951 novel was a bestseller and became an immediate cult favorite, but it has also, over the years, been subject to criticism and even censorship because of its liberal use of profanity, its frank conversations about sex (though no actual sex takes place), and its generally irreverent view of the adult world.
HAMLET William Shakespeare Hamlet is without a doubt Shakespeare’s finest work aside from being a true romantic and a captivating poet, Shakespeare could also pass as being a psychological genius. Though there are numerous characters in this play, (as in most ofShakespeares works) Hamlet is the main focus of the play and it is seen that his internal struggles often overshadow many of the other subplots throughout the story (though in no way does it leave the reader oblivious to the other happenings in the story). The story is about the prince of Denmark whose father was killed by Hamlet’s malicious Uncle Claudius who has seized control of the throne after his brother’s death. Afterwards, Hamlet undergoes a series of internal conflicts and questions the validity of his father’s
ghost and is ultimately thought to be insane by those around him who witness his unorthodox actions and bizarre coments. After he is ordered sent away and returns, killing Rozencrantz and Guildenstern aboard the England-bound ship, Hamlet is pushed further into his own realm of “insanity” and soon after helps catapult one of the greatest climatic endings of Shakespeare’s works. The final scene of this book is appropriate as it puts an end to the spiral downfall of Hamlet and those around him.
The last of the Mohicans James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper’s novel “The Last of the Mohicans” is a remarkable book for many reasons. First published in 1826, the book represents an early attempt to create substantial literary art from the material of North American history and geography. In the novel, the white woodsman Hawk-eye and his Mohican Indian comrade Chingachgook join forces to help the daughters of a white military officer through hostile territory. The story takes place in a colonial American setting marked by conflict between French and English forces —a conflict that also involves various Indian nations. There are a number of exciting (and often graphically violent) scenes of battle and chase. Hawk-eye, a white man who, to a large degree, rejects European-American values, is a fascinating figure—indeed, he is one of the most enduring fictional
creations in all of United States literature. Through the mouths of Hawk-eye and the various Indian characters, Cooper offers some intriguing criticisms of white culture. The book is not without flaws. The momentum of the book lags for a brief stretch, and some of Cooper’s characters (in particular, his women) at times sound a bit stereotypical. But the overall power and intelligence of Cooper’s work is undeniable. Particularly impressive is his re-creation of a multilingual world of complex cultural and personal conflict. Also noteworthy is his evocation of the American landscape. A tale of death and survival, of betrayal and loyalty, and, above all, of the extraordinary bond between a white man and an Indian, “The Last of the Mohicans” is one classic that deserves to be read and reevaluated by each generation.
OLIVER TWIST L. Frank Baum
Oliver Twist is notable for Dickens’s unromantic portrayal of criminals and their sordid lives. The book also exposed the cruel treatment of many a waifchild in London, which increased international concern in what is sometimes known as “The Great London Waif Crisis”. This was the astounding number of orphans in London in the Dickens era. The book’s subtitle, The Parish Boy’s Progress alludes to Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and also to a pair of popular 18th-century caricature series by William Hogarth, “A Rake’s Progress” and “A Harlot’s Progress”. An early example of the social novel, the book calls the public’s attention to various contemporary evils, including the Poor Law that stated that poor people should work in
workhouses/poorhouses, child labour and the recruitment of children as criminals. Dickens mocks the hypocrisies of the time by surrounding the novel’s serious themes with sarcasm and dark humour. The novel may have been inspired by the story of Robert Blincoe, an orphan whose account of his hardships as a child labourer in a cotton mill was widely read in the 1830s. Obviously, Dickens’s own early youth—he was vulnerable, and a child labourerm ust have also entered. Oliver Twist has been the subject of numerous film and television adaptations, and is the basis for a highly successful musical play and the multi Academy Award winning motion picture Oliver!