Category Archives: Historic

Crome Yellow – Aldous Huxley

Crome YellowTitle: Crome Yellow

Author: Aldous Huxley

Publication Date: 1921

Review Score: 6/10

Published in 1921, Crome Yellow was the debut novel by Aldous Huxley in which he satires the fads and fashions of the time. The story combines many of the themes of literature of this period, such as the grandiose house party, the history of a rich gentry household and the painful and the misplaced love of a young man doting on the fair lady.

In a way this is the traditional country house novel in which an array of interesting characters eat, drink, debate and sponge of the willing host. However, where this work differs from the norm is in Huxley’s subtle pokes at the ridiculousness of this way of life.

Although Huxley is obviously a great writer and Crome Yellow understandably is seen as a classic novel, I found it incredibly hard going and very unsatisfying. The story is basic and uneventful, the characters are rather bland on the whole and there is very little to hold the readers interest throughout.

A couple of interesting themes do poke their head out through the book, including a reference to ideas found in Huxley’s later and more successful work Brave New World, but they are soon swept under the rug and forgotten.

If like me you have read Brave New World and want to try some of Huxley’s other works I would recommend that you avoid Crome Yellow, as it will not live up to your expectations.

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The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

Dr Jekyll and Mr HydeTitle: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson

Publication Date: 1886

Review Score: 9/10

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a dark, psychological thriller that tells the tale of the respectable, well to do Dr Jekyll and his somewhat baffling association with the contemptible Mr Hyde.

Within this novella we follow one Gabriel John Utterson, a Lawyer who investigates the strange occurrences between his old friend Dr Jekyll and the mysterious Mr Hyde. What follows is a hunt through the streets of London for a killer, a journey of self discovery for the Dr and the shocking revelation of Mr Hyde’s true identity.

I read this book directly after finishing Dracula and Frankenstein, as it only seemed appropriate to read the 3 most renowned classic horror stories together, and I must say I think this was my favourite of the lot.

As with Dracula and Frankenstein I was pretty sure of the ending before I began reading, thanks to years of dodgy film adaptations, but even so I found it no less exhilarating or shocking.

This is only a small book and it keeps you gripped all the way through, what’s more, although written over 100 years ago the ideas are still highly applicable to modern day, as the main theme is based around multiple personality disorder, and so it is still interesting and entertaining even by today’s standards.

The characters and scenes are truly dark and disturbing, thanks to the eloquence and style of Stevenson’s writing and the ideas are original, interesting and brilliant. Overall The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a wonderfully chilling book and the only downside is that it all seems to be over so quickly!

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Castle Rackrent – Maria Edgeworth

Title: Castle Rackrent

Author: Maria Edgeworth

Publication Date: 1800

Review Score: 7/10

Although not a well known novel, Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent is often regarded as the first regional novel in English, the first historical novel, the first Anglo-Irish novel and even the first saga novel.

First published in 1800, Castle Rackrent tells the story of 4 generations of the Rackrent family and their Irish estate, from the wild living Sir Patrick to the debt-ridden Sir Murtagh to the duelling, gambling Sir Kit and finally to Sir Condy, who continues his ancestral foolhardy approach to money and who finally runs the estate into the ground.

The whole story is told by the family’s long serving and incredibly loyal servant, Old Thady, who speaks with a rather unusual vernacular, which once the reader is used to adds a certain charm to the novel.

The tale of the 4 Rackrents and their demise is entertaining but what I found most enjoyable about this novel was the insight into the way of life in Ireland in the late 1700s. Edgeworth had firsthand experience of Anglo-Irish relations and uses this knowledge beautifully to give a great level of depth of detail regarding life in Ireland at this time.

I have read many historic novels based in England, Russia and even India but this was the first historic Irish novel I have read and it was very interesting.

Overall the story wasn’t one that had me on the edge of my seat but given its place in the historic landscape of Irish and world literature I think Castle Rackrent is definitely deserving of its place on the 1001 Books to Read Before you Die list.

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Kim – Rudyard Kipling

Title: Kim

Author: Rudyard Kipling

Publication Date: 1900

Review Score: 5/10

Set in India, just after the Second Afghan War, which ended in 1881, the story of Kim unravels against the backdrop of the British/Russian political conflict, known as the Great Game, which took place in Central Asia.

The story follows a young boy named Kim who is the orphan son of an Irish soldier and poor white woman who have both died in poverty. Although Kim is white, he is seen as any other young Indian boy and spends his days begging and running small errands around the busy streets of Lahore.

One day Kim encounters an old Buddhist monk who is on a quest to find the River of the Arrow and cleanse himself before his life is over. Kim decides to join the Lama on his journey as his Chela, begging for him and making sure he is not taken advantage of on the roads of India.

The pair travel across the country enjoying the rich life and scenery of India until fate throws up a group of soldiers who knew Kim’s farther and what to train him to be a soldier.

Kim soon becomes wrapped up in the Great Game, travelling across India, attending school and continuing to run errands for a variety of unique characters, whilst all the time longing to travel with the Lama and complete their quest.

Although I found the historic setting of this book very interesting and was charmed by each and every one of the characters I must say I found it quite hard going. Kim and the Lama make a delightful pair and are likeable from the first page, but the language and slow pace of the events make it quite a difficult read.

This is definitely not a book for the last thing at night in bed, as it will just send you to sleep, but I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in the history of India or the life of the poor during the late 1800’s.

In summary, Kim is difficult to read and take in fully, but has excellent characters and a highly interesting back drop for a novel.

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Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia – Samuel Johnson

Title: Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia

Author: Samuel Johnson

Publication Date: 1759

Review Score: 6/10

As one of the Prince’s of Abissinia, Rasselas has grown up in the Happy Valley, where all of his wants and desires are met and there is no misfortune, evil or wrong doing. All of the royal children are secluded from the harshness of the outside world in the Happy Valley and will never suffer any of the pains of the real world.

Most of lucky few who live out their days in the palace of the Happy Valley are forever content with their never ending joy, but Rasselas cannot help but muse on ideas of the outside world. Eventually the lure of the outside world becomes too great and Rasselas, along with his wise and trusted friend Imlac and his favourite sister Nekayah, forges an escape from the Happy Valley to peruse understanding of world and discover real happiness.

On their travels, the group of eager pupils of life meet an array of intriguing and well lived people, including hermits, astronomers, politicians, monks and even thief’s and are always looking to find answers on what makes a good, fulfilled and ultimately happy life.

On the surface, Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia sounds like a rather quaint and innocent story about pleasant and joyful people. However, the book does delve into grand theories of philosophy, sociology and psychology, looking deeply into the behaviour of man and the ways in which people choose to live their lives.

Given his sheltered life of seclusion, Rasselas is the perfect outlet for these intellectual theories of life as he approaches them with an open mind and little prejudice. He always expects to find very happy and satisfied men and is more often than not disappointed with people’s disenchanted view on their lot in life.

This is by no means an overly exciting or addictive read but it is a highly interesting insight into the thoughts, wants and needs of man. It portraits a fresh and innocent perspective on life, and although this is often swiftly dashed, it does bring out a sense of pondering wonderment in the reader.

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The Castle of Otranto – Horace Walpole

Obsessed with preserving his noble blood line, the Prince of Otranto has decided to marry his one and only son at a young and tender age, but on the day of the wedding disaster strikes as a giant helmet falls from the sky and crushes the young man.

What follows is a number of ghostly events about the castle, horrific revelations of the true heir to Otranto and a series of catastrophes, all of which seem to be messages to the prince but none of which can halt him from attempting to divorce his wife and marry a younger woman, in the hope of still having a son.

Although by today’s standards this may seem a very timid book, when it was published in 1764 Walpole was so worried about the reaction to The Castle of Otranto that he not only published it pseudonymously but also claimed it to be a translation of an Italian story of the time of the crusades, rather than his own novel.

At the time, readers found the book to be utterly terrifying, and Thomas Gray even wrote that upon reading the book, he and his family were now “afraid to go to bed o’ nights”.

As a lover of literature I can thoroughly appreciate this novel as being ahead of its time when it was published, inspiring to many future authors and well deserving of its place on the 1001 Books to Read Before you Die list.

However, although I can appreciate it that does not mean I enjoyed it. The novel is incredibly Shakespearean in style, with the classic order of scenes, over the top reaction to every event and typical betrayal of family members on the search of a royal throne, and to me this is boring to read.

I am sure that if I had read it in 1764 I would have found it to be utterly amazing, but, unlike many classics of the same period, such as Voltaire’s Cadide, The Castle of Otranto does not hold its own in modern times and has not remained relevant or exciting compared with more recent works.

Put it this way, if you absolutely love Shakespeare read the Castle of Otranto, however, if you appreciate Shakespeare as a play write but can’t actually stand reading it, avoid this book!

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