Classics Circuit: Sylvia’s Lovers

Sylvia’s Lovers

Elizabeth Gaskell

Oxford University Press

503 pages

The saddest story I ever wrote

-Elizabeth Gaskell

When I heard that Elizabeth Gaskell was one of the authors featured on the Classics Circuit, I was ecstatic.  This is another classics author that I have been meaning to read for the longest time, but I just never got around to it.  I would have probably picked up Wives and Daughters or North and South, but when I filled out the survey for the circuit, I offered to read any book that was assigned to me.  A gamble, for sure, but it worked in my favor!

Sylvia’s Lovers is the story of Sylvia, a young provincial girl growing up during the French Revolutionary Wars in a whaling-port in England.  Because the back of the book blurb makes much of the presence of the war, I was nervous that this book would turn out like A Tale of Two Cities, which I loathed.  Fortunately, by fears were unfounded.  The book focused mostly on Sylvia’s maturity and her issues with love as opposed to her political surroundings.

At the beginning of the book, Sylvia is a carefree, impetuous young girl–an only child living with her parents.  She is doted upon and although her family is not well-off, Sylvia is given a lot due to being the only child.  The story starts off with her going to town to get a scarlet cloak, which seemed innocuous at first but gathered meaning by the end of the story.  Sylvia buys the cloak at the local shop, where her cousin Philip Hepburn is employed.  Philip has been enamored with Sylvia for quite some time and is just biding his time until he is able to express his feelings to her.

While in town, the press gangers attack a ship pulling into port–their objective is to kidnap sailors off the boat and force them against their will to fight for the English, regardless of whether the soldiers wish to fight on the war or not.  Sylvia witnesses the riots that ensue once the sailors are kidnapped, and is distraught at the scenes that have played out before her.  However, once she is back home in the country, the thought of press gangs soon fades from memory.

Soon after, the third part of the love triangle is introduced–Charley Kinraid.  He has the reputation of a womanizer, but he and Sylvia soon catch one another’s eye and soon they claim to have fallen in love.  Charley has to set sail soon afterward, but he tells Sylvia he will be back soon to wed her, even gaining her father’s permission before setting off.  As he is making his way to port to set sail, he is ambushed by a press gang and taken prisoner.  Philip just so happens to witness the entire encounter, and as Charley is hauled off, he screams to Philip to pass a message to Sylvia–he will be back and Sylvia should wait for him.  However, Philip is put off by Sylvia’s attraction to Charley and Charley’s reputation, so he decides to keep Charley’s message a secret, leading Sylvia and everyone else to believe that he drowned.

Philip and Sylvia end up marrying.  The circumstances surrounding their marriage are unfortunate, but they lead Sylvia to believe that marriage to Philip will have the best outcome.  However, she eventually discovers Philip’s betrayal and is utterly heartbroken.

It may seem like I have given away a lot of the plot, but it is much more involved than that.  It is also a very difficult story to digest on a whole.  Sylvia quickly lost her carefree ways–her transformation was depressing and her anger against Philip was understandable.  However, Philip was a pathetic character and despite his transgression against Sylvia, he truly loved her and believed wholeheartedly that being with him was what Sylvia would eventually discover that she most desired.  Both characters were tragic and their decisions led to some harmful consquences.

As for Charley Kinraid . . . I don’t know what to believe of him.  He doesn’t act like your typical Romeo, but really, that’s not realistic.  Does that mean his reputation was warranted?  I can’t decide.

As you can see, all three of the main characters are hard to tie down.  Gaskell’s character development is really something to be lauded.  In reading this book, I had some of the strongest emotions I’ve had in awhile.  The majority of the time when I finish a book, I move immediately on to the next one.  But with Sylvia’s Lovers, I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me when I finished the last page.  I remember just sitting there for awhile and attempting to digest what I had just read.

Although Sylvia’s Lovers may have moved slowly at times–it definitely was not as plot driven as novels of today–it was beautifully written and completely evocative.

To check out the tour stops for the Elizabeth Gaskell tour, check here.

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Marcia of The Printed Page.

This week was a tiny bit better for me.  I got three books.  The first one I picked up at the gorcery store on a whim.  Push, by Sapphire, is the book that the upcoming movie Precious is based on.  I’ve seen a lot about Precious popping up and the story sounds like a good one, so I bought it!

Then, from the author/publisher, I received The Purloined Boy.

And finally, I borrowed The Zookeeper’s Wife from my mom.  I have been wanting to read it for awhile now!

What did everyone else get this week?

Sunday Salon: Thankfully Reading

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Mine was great–lots of good food and good company.

I had been so excited to sign up for the Thankfully Reading weekend, hosted by Jen, Jenn and Beth, because I thought I would have tons of time to read over the weekend.  I was kind of wrong, really.

Friday I spent the day at my boyfriend’s parent’s home and then baby-sat for my best friend’s two kids later on that night.  I managed to read one book that day–Tomorrow, When the War Began, by John Marden.  If you enjoy YA dystopic lit, this one is a good choice.  I loved it!

Yesterday my boyfriend and I went to cut down our Christmas tree with my family.  Then we had friends over.  I did manage to read My Darling, My Hamburger, by Paul Zindel, but only because it was a very quick read!

Today I will be reading A Separate Country, by Robert Hicks.  I have most of the day set aside for reading but I doubt I will be able to read the whole thing today.  We will see.  So far though, it has really caught my interest.

I also read The Jade Cat, by Suzanne Brogger this week.  The first portion of the book is phenomenal!  The rest of the book lagged a bit for me but still, it is a worthy read!

Have you been participating in Thankfully Reading weekend?  If so, how are you doing?

Finally-GLBT Challenge Post

I have been completely remiss in posting my sign up post for the GLBT challenge hosted by Amanda of The Zen Leaf.  The official GLBT blog can be found here.

I am going to sign up at the lambda level, which is four books.  The challenge runs from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010.

Here is a tentative reading list.

Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters

Tran-Sister Radio, Chris Bohjalian

Claudine at School, Collette

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Steven Chbosky

Life Mask, Emma Donoghue

The Bermudez Triangle, Maureen Johnson

So we’ll see how it goes.  The list could very well change, but either way I am super excited about this challenge.  Are you joining in and, if so, what will you be reading?

Library Loot

Library Loot is a weekly meme hosted by Marg and Eva.

I braved the Black Friday crowds this morning to venture out to my library.  It is in a strip mall, so the area was pretty crazy, but I had holds to pick up–what is a girl to do?! 🙂

The first two books are for the Shelf Discovery challenge hosted by Booking Mama.  The other two are books I got “just because”.











Which ones have you read?  Let me know what you thought of them!!


Classics Circuit: The Woman in White

The Woman in White

Wilkie Collins

Wordsworth Editions

498 pages

I have had The Woman in White on my shelf for at least a year.  I’d been wanting to read it but it never made its way to the top of the pile.  So when I signed up for RIP IV I thought perfect!  And I added it to my list of books.  And then I still didn’t get to it!  So when the Classics Circuit decided to start off with Wilkie Collins. I knew this would be the absolute motivating factor.  Only problem is, seems like everyone and their brother has already reviewed this book, so my hope is to share some new information that you may not have read yet.

The Woman in White was written by Collins in 1859 and published as a serial novel in 1859-60.  In my mind, this is quite a feat–writing a serialization must be quite different than writing a novel.  Collins knew he had to write the novel in a way that would be easily broken up–each part had to be memorable and leave the reader wanting more, which is why writing a mystery probably made the most sense.

The Woman in White is a compilation of the thoughts and experiences of a myriad of characters, but it all begins with Walter Hartright.  Hartright is traveling alone one night when he comes across a woman dressed all in white who is apparently fleeing from someone.  Hartright comes to find out she has just escaped from an asylum.  His time with the woman is fleeting and she is gone before he knows it.  The next day Hartright goes away to tutor two sisters, Marian and Laura.  The two are half-sisters and completely different from one another–Laura is beautiful but flighty and weak, wheras Marian is the sensible and firm one.  Hartwright becomes very close to the sisters, quickly falling in love with Laura.  At the same time, the mystery of the woman in white is quickly unraveling.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg.  The Woman in White is practically 500 pages and I have just barely touched on the plot.  As I stated before, Collins felt it necessary to include a lot of information early on in the book, with the mystery continuing to become clearer and clearer, because writing the book that way lent itself to a serial publication.  In that sense, it is hard to summarize the book without giving away too much, so I will stop while I am ahead.

I found an interesting article/letter in which Wilkie Collins discussed his method of writing.  I have included an excerpt below, but for more information you can find the article in its entirety herePlease be aware that the following excerpt contains some spoilers.

My first proceeding is to get my central idea — the pivot on which the story turns.

The central idea of “The Woman In White” is the idea of a conspiracy in private life, in which circumstances are so handled as to rob a woman of her identity by confounding her with another woman, sufficiently like her in personal appearance to answer the wicked purpose. The destruction of her identity represents a first division of the story; and the recovery of her identity marks a second division.

My central idea suggests some of my chief characters. A clever devil must conduct the conspiracy. Male devil? or female devil? The sort of wickedness wanted seems to be a man’s wickedness. Perhaps a foreign man. Count Fosco faintly shows himself to me, before I know his name. I let him wait, and begin to think about the two women. They must be both innocent and both interesting. Lady Glyde dawns on me as one of the innocent victims. I try to discover the other — and fail. I devote the try what a walk will do for me — and fail. I devote the evening to a new effort — and fail. Experience tells me to take no more trouble about it, and leave that other woman to come of her own accord. The next morning, before I have been awake in my bed for more than ten minutes, my perverse brains set to work without consulting me. Poor Anne Catherick comes into the room, and says: “Try me”.

Because The Woman in White is lauded as one of the first mysteries, I find Collins’ writing process to be especially intriguing.  The entire letter is quite interesting and I could have quoted practically the whole thing, but for the sake of time and place I went ahead and kept it short.

I know it seems that classics can be trying at times–I certainly feel that way.  Since I graduated from college two years ago, I have been remiss in reading classics but the effort and time involved puts me off a lot of the time.  If you’re willing to make just the tiniest bit of effort though, I would recommend picking up The Woman in White.  As far as classics go, it is readable and engaging and of all the reviews I have read recently on other blogs, I can’t recall even one negative review.

To find tour dates for the Wilkie Collins tour, look here.

More reviews:

Trish’s Reading Nook

So Many Books

The Zen Leaf

things mean a lot

1 More Chapter

Lakeside Musings

Nose in a Book

Rebecca Reads

Fizzy Thoughts