La Terre



  • Author:   Emile Zola
  • Genre:   novel
  • Title:      La Terre
  • Published: 1887
  • Table of Contents:  5 parts, 553 pages
  • Book: Published by  Le Livre de Poche
  • Cover: Gil Blas
  • Setting:  Beauce area North of France between Seine – Loire rivers; village of Rognes
  • Themes:   greed, inheritance, individual’s appetite for land
  • Trivia: Le Gil Blas was a Parisian literary periodical. It is named for Alain-René’s novel  Gil Blas. It serialized many  famous novels such as Zola’s Germinal, L’Oeuvre and Lourdes before they appeared in book form.
  • Trivia:  Published  in 1887  Zola yet again causes a scandal  because La Terre  gives the  reader a glimpse into the raw, shocking and brutal life of « les paysans ».
  • Trivia: Zola was critcized by  ‘Le Manifeste des Cinq’ .
  • Five young naturalist writers accused him of  being bogged down in the ‘vulgar’ and motivated  solely by monetary gain.

Structure:  5 parts

  1. Jean Macquart:  29 yrs, returned from The Second Italian War of Independence 1859,
  2. Illegitimate birth of Jules: =  Marriage  Lise – Buteau
  3. Buteau agrees to share the Fouan inheritance =  family conflicts,
  4. Family squabbles, violence, abuseMarriage Jean- Françoise
  5. More abuse, violence and deaths ( murder or accident?)  =   I see no happy ending here!


  • This is a working-class novel describing the hardships and brutality of rural life in the late 19th C.
  • Jean Macquart arrives in the peasant community of Rognes in the area called  Beauce.
  • Jean  finds himself involved in the corrupt affairs of the local Fouan family.
  • Old Man Fouan has decided to divide his land between his three children.
  • But in a community where land is everything, sibling rivalry quickly turns to brutal hatred as Buteau declares himself unsatisfied with his lot.


  • There are there are more than 100 different characters in the book !
  • The action revolves mainly around:

Jean Macquart: 

  • 29 yrs, born in Plassans,  brother of Lise Quenu [Le Ventre de Paris ]  and Gervaise Coupeau  [ L' Assommoir ]
  • He settles in Rognes after leaving the armyBefriends Lise and Françoise Fouan ( cousins of Fanny, Hyacinthe Fouan) and marries Françoise.
  • He has no interest in possessing the land. He just wants to be a farm worker.


  • 14  yrs at the beginning of the book, is honest and hardworking. She is devoted to her sister but feelings change once Lise marries Buteau.
  • She demands her share of the inheritance after her father dies.
  • Unfortunately she is physically abused by Buteau on several occasions.
  • Françoise esapes her situation and marries Jean Macquart.
  • Yet he cannot save her from her violent death.

Buteau Foran:

  • He is married to Lise.
  • Violent and stubborn  he is obsessed with owning the farmland.
  • He is capable of using his ‘killer instincts’  and is responsible for three deaths in order to get what he wants.
  • His wife pales in comparison to her violent husband, but she is an accomplice in two of the murders

The Fouan family:

  • Parents Fouan, eldest son, Hyacinthe (aka Jesus-Christ), daughter Fanny married to Delhomme and the second son Buteau.
  • Fouan’s have worked the lands for years and want to divide the inheritance among the children.
  • This is where the problems and family conflicts begin.
  • Fouan is disgusted with his son-in-law, Buteau.
  • Hyacinthe is a simple fool, perpetually drunk and dabbles in small time theft, poaching and gambling. He has no wish to continue to work the bevloved land of his father.
  • Delhomme and Fanny lead a honest life and are a hardworking couple.
  • Fanny cares for her father but rations and rules everything in his life ( food, drink, tabacco). She is a penny-pinching daughter with insatiable desire for wealth (greedy).
  • She  falls out with her father and they never reconcile their differences..

Strong point:  Zola’s extensive  research

  • Zola lived  on  a farm for a month. He listend to the local stories, observerd  the daily peasent life. He was interested in  the morals of the village, the rituals of births, marriages, deaths  and the accidents.
  • The death of the old Fouan is based on the story of an old farmer who was killed by his family because it cost too much to feed him!
  • Zola did his homework by reading : L’Histoire des paysans  by  Eugène Bonnemère ( 3  huge volumes )  and les Pensées by l’abbé Joseph Roux.
  • These books  gave Zola a basic knowledge of country life.
  • The former  revealed the individual’s appetite for land and the latter the theft of the land by ground rents and taxes.
  • Both topics became themes in the book.

Strong point:   camera like  descriptions

  • The ‘paysage’ (envrionment) is one of the main characters in the book.
  • Zola can describe the land as a panoramic shot or zoom in to the left or right or even give us a close up of the characters to  reveal their thoughts ( exressions).
  • As in many books Zola uses shadows, light and colors to ‘paint’ with  words.
  • Buteau can recognize the variety of grains in the fields by their colors  “le vert jaune du blé, le vert bleu de l’avoine, le vert gris du seigle ” (pg 222)

Weak point:

I could not enjoy ONE of the characters…..NOT ONE!

Sharp contrasts:

  • Characters:  Zola describes humans as machine-like, the faceless farmers  working synchronized in the fields or the rythmn of a blacksmith. (pg 304)
  • La Terre:  Zola describes  ‘La Terre’  as human. Buteau looks at ‘la terre’ as a lover contemplates his mistress “il la desire  [...] sa jeunesse…” ( pg 222-223)
  • Beginning of the book:   Jean is sowing seeds  in the field for growth, regeneration.
  • End of the book:   Jean is leaving Rognes and watches the labourers once again scattering the seeds in the fields, giving the book a ‘full circle’ feeling.

Connecting the dots:

  • The novel is connected to the other novels in the series by the character  Jean Macquart, His  childhood was described in La Fortune des Rougon.
  • La Terre begins and ends with a scene in the fields while a farmers scatters the seed. This  ‘full-cricle’ feeling is also seen in the beginning and end of:
  • Nana. (starts in an empty theater  – ends in an empty bedroom),
  • Le Ventre de Paris ( Florent returns from Devil’s Island – at the end he is deported back to ‘au bagne’).
  • La Faute de l’abbé Mouret ( Serge suffers from and excessive religious fervour – at the end of the book he has  sunk even deeper in this frenzied faith)
  • There  are strong  ties between the  La Terre and  King Lear  (Shakespeare). The father decides to share his wealth among his children.
  • I cannot  spend  time investigating this interesing connection. It would involve much more work, study and another blogpost!
  • It is a ‘nice to know’  element about the book.

Irony:  None!


  • This was NOT a  pleasure to read.  
  • It is a portrait of a struggling and very , dysfunctional  family  community.
  • << C’est le pire livre de Zola que j’aie jamais lu! >> 
  • The  worst Zola book I have ever read!
  • I agree with  ‘Le Manifeste des Cinq’  that Zola goes  ‘over the top’  with vulgarity, rape, abuse, violence and murder.
  • Last thoughts: I had to read it to finish the series but would never recommend the book!
  • Score was almost 1...but he is a classic writer, that is the only thing that kept the book on score 2.
  • Bah!

Score:  2





Posted by on August 31, 2014 in Uncategorized




  • Author: Sir Walter Scott  (1771 – 1832)
  • TtileWhy did Scott name the book Ivanhoe ?
  • The great Lords of Hampden  offered  King Edward III three rich estates to smooth over an argument: Tring, Wing, and Ivanhoe.
  • Scott thought the name “Ivanhoe” had a certain ring to it.   It’s not easy selecting a title!
  • Cover: detail 15th C manuscript showing a tournament, ( see end of my review)  I choose a portrait of a ´good knight´  because it looks so ‘chivalresque‘!
  • Genre:   Novel (historical romance)
  • PublisherPenguin Classics
  • Published:  1820
  • Table of contents: 44 chapters, 401 pages, introduction, chronology of Walter Scott, historical and explanatory notes.
  • Dedication: to Rev Dr. Dryasdust,  Read this keeping in mind that Scott = L. Templeton and perhaps he is using this dedication to express his opnion  if the book is a history or a romance,. I don’t know what to make of this epistle but did notice the name of the reverend….Dry-as-dust !
  • Quotation:`Now fitted the halter, now traversed the cart, and often took leave….but seemed loath to depart. 
  • The motto alludes to the Author returning to the stage repeatedly after having taken leave. (Prior)
  • ThemeSaxons vs Normans,  disguise vs revelation, chivalry, prejudice against the Jew in medieval times
  • Setting: England:  Ashby, Torquilstone, and Templestowe (The book Ivanhoe describes the events in England  during the crusades.)
  • Timeline:  1194
  • Trivia: (personal)  Why do I want to read Ivanhoe? Hélène Grandjean, in Page d’ Amour  finds Ivanhoe boring and lets the book fall to the ground. I want to see if I agree with her!  After reading the book….Hélène Grandjean was probably not a lover of great books as  I am.
  • Trivia: Four of Scott’s novels involved crusades and crusaders.


I was pleased to read a classic plot without  streaming consciousness ( Bolano´s 2666 )  or dreams ( Bronte´s Villette) ! I must admit that there are flashbacks (not on the chart).


  • Wilfred of Ivanhoe is one of the few Saxon families in England that is dominiated by the  Norman conquerors.
  • Ivanhoe has fallen in love with Lady Rowena who is under the protection of his father.
  • Because of  Ivanhoe´s allegiance to the Norman King Richard the Lionheart (fights in 3rd Crusade along side King Richard) he is banished from his father´s court.
  • Ivanhoe returns to England and uses many means of disguise  to conceal his true idenity.
  • (as a pilgrim, in the tournament as El Desdishado, Ivanhoe covers face often wth his hood).
  • Gallantly Ivanhoe takes part in the tournament at Ashby-de-la-Zouche for the hand of Lady Rowena.
  • King Richard returns from captivity and is disguised as  a knight errant (the Black Knight).
  • Sir Walter Scott admits that this historical fact is presented in fictional form. In truth King Richard returned without any attempts to conceal his identity.
  • There are many more action packed incidents in the book:

Character list:   (overview… a quick guide)

  • Fictional characters participate in actual historical events  with historical figures  (Third Crusade, Norman invasion of England, King Richard and Prince John)
  • Hero: Ivanhoe,  melancholy
  • Heroine: Rowena, unworthy of Ivanhoe, and unworthy of her place as heroine, icy, faultless, prim. She never forgave Rebecca her beauty, nor her flirtation with Wilfrid.
  • Heroine: Rebecca, jewess who is admirable, tender, heroic
  • Dishonorable knights: Front-de-Boeuf, De Bois-Guilbert, De Bracy  and Prince John (King Richard´s scheming brother)
  • Patriarchs:  Cederic is Ivanhoe´s father and  Isaac of York is (Jewish moneylender) is Rebecca´s  father
  • Outlaw:   Robin Hood (of Locksley)  —  a lot of the action takes place in Sherwood forest so of course we run into him.
  • Backstory:  Gurth and Wamba are servants who provide information about the political situation in England. I still had to check Wikipedia regularly to understand what was going on.
  • Ex machina: King Richard comes to Ivanhoe´s  rescue  (pg 114) as well as the Saxon nobility in general.


  • The dialogue is filled with thee and thou, hath and hath not and leaveth but it was not irritatiing once you get used to it.
  • Flashbacks were used to give you an idea what  another character was doing during the present action. A sort of ´ meanwhile back at the ranch´ idea. Be prepared.
  • Strong descriptions of main characers. I especially like the one of  “an athletic figure [...]burned almost into Negro blackness by constant exposure to the tropical sun” .(pg 24). We do not know who it is but Scott lets the reader think….could it be a Templar returning from the Holy Land Crusades?
  • Scott  uses the literary techniqe ‘direct address’. For example:   “It is necessary to keep these inconsistancies of John’s character in view, that the reader may understand his conduct during the present evening. ” (pg 126)

Best chapters:  ( just to name a few…)

  • Chapter 8 and 12:  1st and 2nd days of jousting  tournament  Ivanhoe ( Disinherited Knight)  vs Brian de Bois Guilbert ( Templar )   exciting!
  • Chapter 16 and 20:  Friar Tuck meets  the Black Knight ( incognito King Richard the Lionheart) – hilarious!

Best character:  Rebecca

  1. Never adopts any form of disguise
  2. Good judgement of people and situations;
  3. Expresses her love for Ivanhoe as he sleeps because their relationship is doomed from the start ( Christian-Jewess)
  4. ‘The other woman’, if times had allowed she should have married Ivanhoe. The tension between Ivanhoe and Rebecca is palpable. You just have to love her!

Worst character: Lucas de Beaumanoir,

  • He is the he most frightening, and hateful figure in the novel .
  • Lucas de Beaumanoir is the Grand Master, grim interrogator,  the head of the religious soldiers the Knights Templars.
  • He delighted in tormenting Jews,
  • When Isaac approaches Beaumanoird, The Grand Master reacts, “ ‘Back, dog!’ said the Grand Master; ‘I touch not misbelievers, save with the sword. (pg 309)
  • The most historically accurate account of  the Grand Master’s  attempt to have Rebecca burned at the stake and her choice of ‘trial by combat’


  1. One of the great novels about England
  2. Irony:  written  by a Scotsman.
  3. Rebecca: gifted student, teacher with extraordinary talents.
  4. Irony: these wonderful talents will almost cost her her life when seen as magical, the work of a witch.
  5. Rebecca:  tells Ivanhoe she belongs here in England. “I am of England [...] and speak the English tongue, although my dress and lineage belong to another climate”.
  6. Irony: in the last chapter she admits her exclusion as a Jew in England and must leave.  Such is no safe abode for the children of my people.” (pg 399)
  7. Isaac:  is scorned as a moneylending Jew“…those of thy tribe give nothing for nothing…” (pg 65). Isaac lends Ivanhoe  a horse and equipment for the tournament.
  8. Irony:  there is NOT ONE incident of moneylending in the book!
  9. Scott praises the original ideals of the crusaders.
  10. Irony: later Scott criticizes their real behaviour: “… dissolute (corrupt) crusaders, or hypocritical ( professing virtues they do not have) pilgrims… (pg 39)


Strong point:    Characterization of   Rebecca: 

  • This book introduced me to one of the most famous female characters in the Victorian novel, Rebecca
  • She was quiet, subtle yet there was the ever present inner conflict between her jewishness and her love for the christian Ivanhoe.
  • She is the most clearsighted character in the book because she  learned   so much from years of anti-semitism leading her to be very wise and wary.
  • Scott creates  the most  tension in the book  because you know Rebecca and Ivanhoe may never be together, yet you keep wishing and hoping it will happen.

Strong pointScott’s extensive research:

  • Medieval times: He was writing a book about another time and place ( 1194 AD).
  • It includes chivalric code, tournaments, racial attitudes ( Jews), speech patterns, the feeling of occupation (Normans vs Saxons) 150 years after the Battle of Hastings.
  • Language plays an important role in the book. (pg 41) Cederic, Prior Aymer and the Templar (Bois-Guilbert) are not in agreement .
  • Which language shall they use, the one of the victors or the vanquished.
  • Clothes, armor, manners, interiors of great houses as Cederic’s Rotherwood all come to live in  Ivanhoe. It was a pleasure to read.

Strong point:  Scott’s  moral convictions:

  • Scott was an accomplished historian and perfectly aware of the wave of anti-semitism that the preaching of the First Crusade in 1095.
  • I  was surprised to see this side of Scott. I only related him to  all that is chivalrous and not discrimination  of the Jews.
  • Scott introduces Isaac the moneylender in chapter five with words from The Merchant of Venice:Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is?”  Powerful !
  • This is another reason to read the book and become aware of the plight of the Jews in medieval England.

Last thoughts;

  • This was a wonderful book and I am so happy I got around to reading it.
  • Scott’s book was filled  ‘to the brim’  with so many references..( historical, philosphical, mythological, legendery, literary, biblical.  There are also references to many  saints and places.
  • This is proof of Scott’s great knowledge.  I love to look up  latin phrases,  references to Shakespeare, mythology etc.
  • I enjoyed  learning  new words in MY OWN LANGUAGE  instead of French ( see list) for a change.
  • Do not be hesitant to put this on a  “to read Classics List”. The character Rebecca  will linger in your mind, proud,unchanging and inflexible.
  • Scott basically invented the historical romance novel and his influence on fiction of the 19th century is impossible to overestimate.
  • Scott’s  writing style can feel dated, theatrical or at times  even  bombastic, but  it is still surprisingly a great classic read.

Score: 5

(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation   photo(29)








Words: ( just a few examples…….)

  • cudgel – heavy stick
  • subaltern – in lower rank
  • gramercy – many thanks
  • te beseen – to appreciate
  • raiment – clothing
  • to shew – to show
  • to fain – to  be obliged, required
  • to ween – to think
  • sirrah – contemptuous term for a fellow, mister
  • kirtle – long dress with tapering sleeves
  • chamfrom – armour plate for a horse head
  • farrier – one who shoes horses
  • to contemn – to view with contempt
  • to caracol – to execute a half turn to the right or left on a horse
  • to requite – to avenge













Posted by on August 27, 2014 in Uncategorized


European Reading Challenge 2014

ERC 2014

  1. I’ve been  reading ‘ challenge’  material and did not even realize it!
  2. Thanks to Rose City Reader I will enter my ‘FIRST’ challenge in 2014
  3. I’m a little late joining, but  better late than never.
  4. My book selections  are in 3 different languages, English, Dutch and French.
  5. My goal by joining this challenge will be to venture  out of my  comfort zone  countries and explore more of the world!
  7. Five Star (Deluxe Entourage):   Read at least five books by different European authors or books set in different European countries.

My list  January – August  2014 includes:


Posted by on August 22, 2014 in Uncategorized


Book beginnings: Ivanhoe


I discovered Rose City Reader  via  Tracy’s  Bitter Tea and Mystery blog. I’m not a mystery reader but enjoy Tracy’s reviews and enthusiam for the genre.

The introduction to Rose City Reader caught my attention   ‘compulsive  list reader’  

I’m  working on my second Classic Book List   and have never enjoyed reading so much.

At times I don’t know which book to choose!  I just put all the names into a hat and pull one out.

This will be my first  My book beginnings on Fridays:

Here is the opening sentence from  Ivanhoe  by Sir Walter Scott, published  in 1819.

“In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and vallies which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster.

  • Often thought of as a ‘boys’ book, yet it will reveal one of the strongest female characters in 19th C Victorian novels:  Rebecca.
  • Scott has chosen to start his book with a sense of place. I assume  he’s referring to Sherwood Forest because I see Robin of Locksely (Robin Hood) on the character list.
  •  I have a cup of tea and a small piece of 85% pure chocolate ready for moral support. I will have to adjust  my reading to a world of  “thee and thou’s”–  “hath and hath not’s ”  —  “wouldst and leaveth’s “
  • Last thought:  Bit of irony…..classc book about ‘Englishness’ is written by a Scottsman!
  • Now I’m reading Ivanhoe,
  • but progressing is very slow.
  • Tomorrow it will be apparent,
  • what will happen to this knight errant!
  • Yellow hair’d, the blue ey’d Saxon came.
  • In truth no one knew his name.
  • Pligrim, palmer, guide or gentry be?
  • That is what I’ll have to see!

Posted by on August 22, 2014 in Uncategorized


Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates


  • Author: Mary Mapes Dodge ( 1831 – 1905) 
  • Ttile:  Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates
  • Cover: Antique book  ( dd 1901)
  • Genre:   novel
  • PublisherCharles Scribner’s  Sons
  • Published:  1865
  • Table of contents: 48 chapters, 393 pages  and 108 illustrations
  • Dedication: “This book is dedicated to the boys and girls of New Amsterdam ( NYC)  by their friend Mary Mapes Dodge.”
  • Quotation: none
  • Thememoral  obligation  vs  own self-interest;  poor can equal or surpass the rich if given a chance ( skating race)
  • Setting:  village of Brock, The Netherlands
  • Timeline: 1830´s
  • Trivia: (personal)   I received this antique  book as present  just before I emigrated to The Netherlands.
  • Trivia:  ERROR pg 118 Dodge thinks she is writing in Dutch when she says   ´donder and blixin´  (thunder and lightning).  In Dutch is shoud be ´donder and bliksem´!


  • In her desire to be informative Dodge switches her point of view frequently,  This disrupts the structure and flow of the narrative
  • She introduces the main characters (Hans, Gretel and the parents) then suddenly writes ‘travelogue’ chapters  about Holland, its people, landscape, dikes and culture.
  • In the middle section Hans and the Brinker family ‘disappear’  while a teenage boy Peter van Holp and his friends take over the action ( pg 84 – 256)


  • Hans and Gretel Brinker ─  school friends refer to them as “rag pickers” or “peasants.”  (bullying)
  • Mrs Brinker and Raff Brinker ─   father is injured during work on the dikes and is  now an invalid. ( hardships of a poor family apparent when compared to middle class).
  • Peter van Holop ─ middle class boy who promises to send Dr. Boekman to help Hans´s father.
  • Dr. Boekman ─ there is a connection between the doctor´s long lost son and the Raff Brinker`s work accident.


  • The story is simple.
  • The impoverised Brinker family tries to  make ends meet.
  • Hans Brinker enters a  skating race  to win the ´silver skates´ and help his family.
  • Hans´s inner conflict between knowing what ought to be done and actually doing in is the core of the story.
  • This is what young readers should learn from this book.
  1. Should he attack those who humiliate him and his family?
  2. Should he keep the purse he has found or return it to the rightful owner?
  3. Should he spend a gift of money on steel skates or on food for his family?
  • In the end Dr Boekman is impressed with Hans´s choices which show great character.
  • Dr. Boekman accepts Hans as a new young assistant and the Brinker´s family  situation improves dramatically.


  1. The writing style is atrocious. I’ve read other books written around 1865 ( Dickens, Twain, Lewis Carroll) and they all far superior to Mrs. M. Dodge.
  2. Here is an example of a sentence:
  3. ” Giving vent to a good-natured Dutch whistle, the English of which was, that girls were troublesome creatures, he steered towards her.”
  4. This style of writing seems unnatural, choppy,  the verb ‘vent’ is usually used to express ire, anger, pent up emotion.
  5. Brother and sister speak about  their parents  as:  “THE father threw my beautiful shoes in the fire”( pg 3) and  “THE  mother will need us soon.”  (pg 4)
  6. Who speaks like this? No one I know in The Netherlands!
  7. I haven’t read more than 4 pages and I’m afraid this is not going to be one of my favorite children’s books.  But I will give it a chance.
  8. (pg 9)  “..let me ask you to take a rocking-chair trip to that far country…” (ridiculous)


Strong point:  The skating race is used to show how the poor, if given a chance, can be equal or even better than the richer middle class. Mrs. Dodge herself was a widow trying to raise and support 2 young boys. The tone in the book reflects her own situation to improve the family´s financial position through hard work and perserverence. These are the qualities she most admires in the Dutch people.(pg 16)

Weak point: This book is not a language virtuoso performance. I have been spoiled with books written by James Thurber, Lewis Carroll and E.B. White. The narrative tasted like sawdust.

Weak point: The novel (1865)  felt outdated, lacking freshness and musty.  However  i found  The Scarlet Letter (1850) still to be a very  powerful story. The year of publication  has little influence on a book as long as the writing is commendable.

Weak point:  Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates contains TOO MUCH  historical information about Holland and not enough about Hans Brinker!

Weak point: Dodge breaks the golden rule of writing:  write about something you know about!  She has filled the book with historical and cultural information that she has received from two friends, natives of The Netherlands, who now reside in America.

Weak point: Dodge tries to  use  informal dialogue  to give the flavor of the Dutch language. Take it from someone who DOES speak Dutch, the author  fails miserably.   At times it was ´painful´ to read  the awkward speech patterns.

  • Last thoughts:  I so wanted to love this book but it failed to entertain me.
  • It started off with Hans and Gretel and I was waiting for the race.
  • Unfortunately it took hours to read a very  dull ´tourist guide´ through Holland and Haarlem (Peter van Holp and his band of merry boys).
  • The action picks up at the end but this was not enough to salvage the book.
  • I would NOT recommed this book  because there are so many other GOOD  children´s  books to read.
  • Don´t  waste your precious reading time on this one!

Score: 1



Posted by on August 21, 2014 in Uncategorized


Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


  • Author: Lewis Carroll ( 1832 – 1898) pen name  for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson  
  • Ttile: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Cover: Alice and the Queen of Hearts by Sir John Tenniel (1890)
  • Genre:   nonsense literature
  • PublisherPenguin Classics
  • Published:  1865
  • Table of contents: 12 chapters, 102 pages
  • Dedication: none
  • Quotation: a poem by  L. Carroll  “A Golden Afternoon”
  • Theme:   logical reason  vs confusing nonsense
  • Setting: England and Wonderland
  • Trivia: The character of Alice was inspired by Alice Liddell, the second daughter of the growing family who came to live in the Deanery, Christ Church, the college where Charles Dodgson was a fellow.
  • Trivia: Carroll never resolve himself to move to the next stage of his life: he never took holy orders, never rose in the college hierarchy, never married. He was happy only in the company of children.
  • TriviaAlice Through the Looking Glass is now in production. This film by Tim Burton will be released in 2016!  Burton’s version of Alice’s Advertures in Wonderland was filmed in 2010.


  • This a book that is a  ‘story within a story’  (frame story).
  • Carroll introduces the main narrative with the  (frame) poem “Golden Afternoon”.
  • He tells the reader about the origins of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and his friendship with the Liddell children.
  • In the poem  Prima, Secunda and Tertia  are references  to the three Liddell children.


  1. This story  begins with  Alice’s unthinking, irrational, and heedless jumping down the rabbit-hole.
  2. Confusion begins almost immediately because Alice tries to use her  knowledge in order to understand this new and terrifying world.
  3. Alice is confronted with the problem of shifting identity, as well as the cruelty of Wonderland.
  4. The creatures act as though their madness is normal and not at all unusual.  It is the logical Alice who is the queer one.
  5. Alice is often in tears over something that the adult reader finds comical.
  6. She shrinks then  ballons to an enormous size or spurts a ´giraffe´ long neck that scares everybody.
  7. Again she is uncertain who she is. As is the case with most children.
  8. Alice’s outgrows nonsense. In response to the Queen’s cry at the Knave’s trial: “sentence first — verdict afterward,” Alice responds: “Stuff and nonsense!
  9. At last, Alice takes control of her life and her growth toward maturity.
  10. When Alice wakes up from her nightmare, she realizes that reason can oppose nonsense. The chaos is over.

Character list: ( see list at the end of the review)

  • This book has  more characters than a Dickens novel!
  • I had to make  list as a  guide while reading  the book to remind me if the character was surly, contemptuous, friendly,  mad or just stupid.

Chesire Cat:

  • His role in the story is to explain to Alice what Wonderland is…. a place where everything is illogical and nonsense.
  • “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
    “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
    “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
    You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
  • Appears in the story:   in the kitchen with the Duchess –  Alice finds the Cat on a tree limb –  chapter 11 confrontation with Queen of Hearts.
  • Characteristics:    always  grinning –  speaks in nonsense question and answers –  vanishes and reappears showing only his grin or only his head.
  • Best character in the story:   I found the Chesire Cat the best character in the story.  He is the wise philosopher.
  • He reminds me of the following quote: : Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.  (Plato)
  • The cat comes and he goeshe’s is and he isn’the’s there then he’s not.
  • When the queen tries to behead the cat, he disappears, but his head remains and he asks, “can something that does not have a body be beheaded?” (ch 11) ( “off with his head”- allusion to  Shakespeare’s Richard III (III, iv, 76)
  • The cat outsmarts them all  with his logic in this nonsense world of Wonderland!

The Chesire Cat  grin: I had to do some googling  to find something about the grinning cat in the book.


  1. Croft church has a sedilia – a seat for the clergy built into the wall – at one end of which is a carved stone face of a cat or lion.
  2. Could this have been the original Cheshire Cat? Seen from a pew it has a smile as wide as that famous cat’s.
  3. But if you stand up, the grin seems to disappear, just as it eventually does in “Alice in Wonderland”.

Voice of Lewis Carroll:       After 149 years  we can still relate to this….my favorite  quote:


  • I am amazed how much there is to discover in this book simple children’s book.
  • The novel is composed of twelve brief chapters.
  • Strong point: it can be read in an afternoon,
  • Weak point:   it took me hours to do some research about the author and the book in general. The list of characters is long!
  • Weak point: parodies of popular  Victorian  songs or verse were lost on me. I had to depend on the notes to make any kind of connection..
  • Weak point: If you don’t take the time to ‘study’ the book before you read it, you will  miss so much! I can’t imagine a child could understand this story!
  • Strong point: The  pictures and illustrations  are an integral part of the book. A visual pun (pg 28 ) is a very long mouse’s  tail…tale!
  • Strong point:   I learned a new literary device. An antimetabole is the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in opposite order. Alice and the Mad Hatter have a strange conversation at the tea table using several examples ( ch 7, pg 61 ).  “I see what I eat…I eat what I see”;  “I like what I get…and  get what I like.”
  • I found The 13 Clocks a much lighter and more playful children’s book.  This is probably a reflection of the author’s state of mind.
  • Last thoughts:  this was the most difficult children’s book I have yet to read. The issues seem childlike but actually it verges on an adult book!
  • I plan to watch  both film versions ( 1951, W. Disney)  and ( Tim Burton, 2010).
  • I want to enjoy them with the knowledge I have learned about this great classic.

Score: 4


  • Alice -  She believes that the world is orderly and stable.
  • The White Rabbit –  The frantic, harried, timid and at times aggressive.
  • The Queen of Hearts – Queen is severe and domineering, screaming for her subjects to be beheaded.
  • The King of Hearts –  Coruler is ineffectual and generally unlikeable.
  • The Cheshire Cat -  Grinning cat who explains with logic Wonderland’s madness to Alice.
  •  Duchess - Duchess behaves rudely to Alice at first, but later  so affectionately.
  • The Caterpillar – Caterpillar sits on a mushroom, smokes a waterpipe and treats Alice with contempt.
  • The Mad Hatter –  Impolite hatter who lives in perpetual tea-time. He is  happy to be different  (looking at the world from outside in or inside out)
  • The March Hare –  The Mad Hatter’s tea-time companion.
  • The Dormouse –  The Dormouse sits at the tea table and drifts in and out of sleep.
  • The Gryphon –  A servant  to the Queen who befriends Alice.
  • The Mock Turtle – Turtle with the head of a calf. He is friendly  but  exceedingly sentimental and self-absorbed.
  •  Alice’s sister –  Alice’s sister daydreams about Alice’s adventures as the story closes.
  • The Knave of Hearts -  An attendant to the King and Queen.  He has been accused of stealing the Queen’s tarts.
  • The Mouse –  Mouse is initially frightened of Alice and her talk about her pet cat.
  • The Dodo –  Dodo tends to use big words, and others accuse him of not knowing their meanings.
  • The Duck, the Lory, and the Eaglet –  Creatures who participate in the Caucus race.
  • The Cook -  She is ill-tempered, throwing objects and refusing to give evidence at the trial.
  • The Pigeon –  Believes Alice is a serpent. The pigeon is sulky and angry and thinks Alice is after her eggs.
  • Two, Five, and Seven –  The playing-card gardeners are fearful and fumbling, especially in the presence of the Queen.
  • Bill -  A lizard (servant of the White Rabbit) is stupid and ineffectual.
  • The Frog-Footman - Duchess’s footman is stupid and accustomed to the fact that nothing makes sense in Wonderland.

Posted by on August 18, 2014 in Uncategorized


A Writer at War


  • Author: Vasily Grossman (1905 – 1964)
  • Ttile: A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945
  • Cover: Vasily Grossman on German territory, February 2, 1945
  • Genre: eye-witness-account  (history)
  • Publisher: Random House/Pimlico
  • Published: 2005
  • Table of contents: 27 chapters,  350 pg, introduction, glossary source notes
  • Dedication: none
  • Quotation: none
  • Setting: 1941 – 1945  Eastern Front WW II
  • Trivia: Grossman  died  50  years  ago on September 14, 1964.


  • A Writer at War is based on the wartime  notebooks of Grossman.
  • It depicts as never before the crushing conditions on the Eastern Front and the lives and deaths of infantrymen, tank drivers, pilots, snipers and civilians alike.
  • Grossman became a special correspondent for Red Star, the Red Army newspaper.
  • He spent three of the following four years at the front observing with a writer’s eye the most pitiless fighting ever known.
  • In August 1942 he was posted to Stalingrad where he remained during four months of brutal street-fighting. It was a turning point for Grossman. (pg224)
  • He was present at the battle of Kursk, the largest tank engagement in history.
  • A Jew himself, he undertook the faithful recording of Holocaust atrocities..
  • His supremely powerful report ‘The Hell of Treblinka’ was used in evidence at the Nuremberg tribunal.
  • A Writer at War offers the one outstanding eye-witness account of the war on the Eastern Front and perhaps the best descriptions ever of what Grossman called ‘the ruthless truth of war’.


  1. Grossman was able to report the war as journalism but excelled while conveying his thoughts and feelings in fictional form. His book Life and Fate is said to be the best 20th C Russian novel.  I have added it to my Classic list !
  2. Stalin hated Grossman ( pg 61). Grossman never bowed to the personality cult of the tyrant. (pg xv). The wartime notebooks were filled with examples of desertion and insubordination by Red Army soldiers.  If these notes had fallen into the hands of  the military agents of counter-intelligence, Grossman would have been in serious trouble. (pg71)
  3. Interviews were Grossman’s strong point. He would never takes notes during the conversation which helped him win people’s confidance. He was interested in specialist arms. Fighter pilots, snipers and tank troops. Usually the soldier stuck to party line but Grossman was able to discover minor contradictions  in their accounts. (pg 80-82)

Best chapters:  13 – 17

  • These chapters  give the reader a glimpse into the 5 month battle for Stalingrad (August 1942 – February 1943).
  • Anthony  Beevor who studied Grossman’s  the wartime notes  to produce this book  is a British historian. He has won many awards for his book Stalingrad  (1998).
  • Breevor has added excerpts from  Grossman’s notes to his  own knowledge of this epic battle.
  • Rattenkrieg: to wear the Germans down by small-scale night attacks, to prevent them from sleeping, and  playing on their fear of darkness…”(pg 154).
  • An interview with the famous sniper Vasily Zaitsev is compelling reading! (pg 155 – 158)   (trivia:  played by Jude Law in the film Enemy at the Gate)

Best chapter: 21

  • Grossman writes to his mother on the  9th and 20th anniversary of her death.  She was killed by the Germans in Berdichev.  Grossman cannot escape the heart wrenching pain of her death. (pg 259-261)
  • Grossman’s inability to save his mother from the Holocaust became a nightmare he relived everyday. Now I can understand what he was trying to forget. This is a quote I discovered in An Armenian Sketchbook  that expresses more than the reader realises:
  • “the unquenchable anguish in our souls. You want to force yourself into Paradise by drinking to escape the clutches of despair. The doors of Paradise are closed to you, you still drink more.”

Chapter 22: 

  • No words to describe how Grossman was able to sketch what he saw at …. Treblinka.


  • mobile defence –  withdrawal, retreat
  • he has covered himself up –  he has been killed  (referring to  the cover placed on a coffin and sealed)


  • Germans built  fireplaces in the bunkers  to make their positons homely. This was unexpect from  an army which belived in martial qualities and Blitzkrieg! (pg 69)


  • Grossman is a professional journalist. He describes the who, what where, when and why and jolts the reader with a ‘pay-off’ ending.
  • His writing style reflects all the  golden rules  of his trade:
  1. lively language
  2. short, sharp, clear sentences
  3. word choices made for the maximum  amount of understanding with the minimum of risk of confusion
  • I noticed  that Grossman uses  one or two words in a sentence.  It must be  news-style writing  to capture the readers attention because I always keep ‘looking  for a verb’! It is very effective. Here is an example (pg 54) : The Gate. Bare walls. Piles of boxes. Tolstoy’s grave.  All used in a descripton of Grossman’s visit to the Tolstoy estate while fleeing from the Germans. Here is another example: “Night. Snowstorm. Vehicles.  Artillery. They are all moving in silence.”
  • I am impressed by Grossman’s writing because I found in  An Armenian Sketchbook a different writer, He is reflective and his writing is powerful because it is an emotional reaction to Aremnia and its people. His journalism  remains objective while describing a war zone.
  • My WW II reading tends to gravitate around The Netherlands, France and Germany. It was time I learned more about the Eastern Front.
  • I was stunned by the heroism. Grossman reports on red-cheeked high-school girls from Siberia who volunteerd as medics, clerks or signallers. There were 18 girls and 3 surivived. (pg 182 – 185)
  • Last Thoughts: While reading Grossman’s descriptions of the Ukraine during September 1941 – October 1943 I was reminded of a  quote  by Spinoza:   “If you want the present to be different from the past….study the past.  Grossman has so much to teach us.

Score: 5



Posted by on August 16, 2014 in Uncategorized


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